Saturday, January 21, 2017
Last night AA surprised me with dinner and tickets to see On Your Feet!: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. The show was great fun. The music and dancing has you clapping, dancing, and singing along with the show. At a pivotal moment in the storyline, when Emilio’s character faces a form of discrimination as a Latino, he astutely points out that he is an American because he was an immigrant. The brief speech resounded in a round of applause. That level of happiness and satisfaction with that particular moment and with the overall show was exactly what I needed last night. I thanked AA on Facebook for the pleasant surprise, and also noted that I was taking the title of the show as a sign of upcoming positive protest and resistance, considering how it had been such a sobering, gray day in history.
I refused to watch the inauguration, joining hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who boycotted it as well. I did read his inauguration speech afterward, and I like how The New York Times annotated it, pointing out a few historical allusions and doing some fact-checking as well. This is, I believe, the first inauguration I have not watched since I was first able to vote in 1988. For the record, I think it’s only fair that I detail my own voting history because, as I’ve noted to friends and family over the years, although I lean Left, I’m not as ultra-left as most of these people close to me are. Case in point: in 1988, I voted for George Bush. In 1992, I did a handwritten ballot, voting for Barbara Bush as President and Hillary Clinton as Vice-President. I remember thinking at that time we needed more women in office, and that even though these two disagreed in policies, one was the severe but supportive grandmother who could take care of us, while the other was the energetic powerhouse who would get things done for us. In 1996, I voted for Bill Clinton, and in 2000 I voted for Al Gore. I voted for John Kerry in 2004, but I admit I wasn’t completely thrilled by his candidacy. Naturally I was enamored of Barack Obama and voted for him in 2008 and 2012, and this past November I voted for Populist President-Elect Hillary Clinton, which is how I shall always think of her, as if we are just waiting for her inauguration. Thinking back on those inaugurations, I remember listening enraptured to Maya Angelou reading her poem at Clinton’s inauguration (“A Rock, A River, A Tree…”), and during Obama’s first inauguration I cried with people around me as we collectively felt that storm clouds had finally started to dissipate over her heads. Not everyone I voted for over those years won the election. That is part of what happens in politics; we accept and we move on. But not this time. This time it is different.
Ever since early November 2016, my own personal form of protest has been an outright refusal to say his name, to give it any more power. His name is a ubiquitous brand that symbolizes an abuse of capitalism and power, which has infiltrated many aspects of our lives, from real estate and fashion to the entertainment industry and mass media. Since the election I refer to him only as the Tyrant, and for however long he will be in his new position, I will refer to him as President Tyrant. The word “tyrant” is appropriate in this sense. One of its definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a king or ruler who exercises his power in an oppressive, unjust, or cruel manner; a despot.” Since he is in power for only about 24 hours at the time I’m writing this, it is too soon to say he already has exercised his political power despotically. However, his business practices, his history of degrading women, Muslims, and other social groups, and the despicable, vitriolic language that pours out of his mouth and on his Twitter account all demonstrate his oppressive, unjust, and cruel demonstration of authority as a human being, forget as a President. His position on women and rights for their body is particularly repulsive, and by “position” I do intentionally mean that in the most sexually aggressive way imaginable. (Jane Fonda reportedly will only refer to him now as Predator-in-Chief.) The Tyrant’s stance on these individuals and issues is about dominance against the underling, a hyperbolic, caveman-like aggression that, shockingly, reverberates with rather than repulses many people. Who are these people? The media calls them the disenfranchised white population of middle America. I see it as people who are experiencing “male panic” because the white man has been losing his identity and self-importance in our slowly-shrinking, globalized world. But are they really disenfranchised? I don’t think so. I believe these people are just terrified of change. They want to revert back to the trickle-down effect of white male wealth and power, because it makes them feel better about themselves.
It seems clear to me, from a socio-political perspective, that as GLBTQ and civil rights have increased and come to the fore as an accepted part of society at large, that as major cities have transformed into global populations of mixed races and religions, and that as women have risen in the professional work force and seek out education and rights such as equal pay, that there also has developed a “male panic” in this country and around the world in reaction to these changes. The fact is, masculinity as it has been entrenched in the human psyche for millennia has to change. White men alone can no longer and should no longer retain all the power to reinforce a trickle-down effect that leaves them exclusively in charge of the world. This is exactly what the Tyrant is doing; just look at the majority of his Cabinet nominees of older white men. I’ve been noting this issue of "male panic" verbally for years, and now I am putting in down in writing. I should note that I am not unaware of the irony of my stating this, meaning that I too am a white middle-class man. Not too long ago, my curatorial colleague and friend MA and I had lunch, and as we bantered on about the pluses and minuses of our jobs and projects she pointed out to me that at least I had a tacit choice about what it was I could or could not do because I was a white man. As a woman of Middle Eastern descent, she automatically was restricted to other opportunities in life. I was taken aback by this because, as a gay man, I have considered myself to be a minority as well. But of course look at what has happened. As I too have moved up the socio-economic strata of society and as I have aged, I am now part of this hierarchy reinforced for millennia by older white powerful men who have always held the power. This nightmare has to stop.
I’m currently reading Grayson Perry’s thought-provoking new book The Descent of Man (Allen Lane, 2016), in which he argues that society has to abandon masculinity as we have known it, because the warrior mentality is based on a structure where the top man’s successes trickle down to the least common denominator that is other people. He calls this figure/structure "Default Man." Perry proposes that this construct is anathema to the development of democracy, which is based on lateral equality for all, not a hierarchical, downward-looking, point-based reward system. What’s worse is that because this Default Man tyranny has dominated the human species for so long, society still judges itself based on this unquestioned system. Perry writes: “Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity has tended to remain unexamined. He ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for his rights. . . . What millennia of male power has done is to make a society where we all grow up accepting that a system grossly biased in favour of Default Man is natural, normal and common sense, when it is anything but. The problem is that a lot of men think they are being perfectly reasonable when in fact they are acting unconsciously on their own highly biased agenda. . . . The Department of Masculinity has an office staffed by Default Man in all our heads, constantly sending out unconscious memos. If Default Man approve of something it must be good, and if they disapprove it must be bad, so people end up hating themselves because their internalized Default Man is berating them for being female, gay, black, silly or wild.” (p.17)
President Tyrant is Default Man, and his followers—including the reported 53% of white women who voted for him—are blindly part of this masculinizing hierarchy that needs to end. Ultimately, I believe it comes down to higher education, where one learns not just book knowledge but the necessity and power of questioning one’s own existence so as to become a better global citizen. The Tyrant and all of his Cabinet nominees lack this education to a large extent; hence, they are so far removed from the ability to question themselves, that they can only rely on reinforcing an outdated, outmoded masculinizing system that essentially emasculates the rest of the human race. Why do it? To maintain the status quo: their power.
Another reason why I name him Tyrant is because of the lack of ethics behind his election. The OED also defines “tyrant” as: “One who seizes upon the sovereign power in a state without legal right; an absolute ruler; a usurper.” Millions of Americans—from Rep. John Lewis to the hundreds of thousands of women who marched today for their rights in Washington, D.C. and across this nation—all see the Tyrant’s election as invalid, illegitimate, immoral, and illegal. This is primarily because of email hacking and behind-the-scenes politicking by Russia to put the Tyrant in power as Putin’s puppet. But the Tyrant’s presidency is also unlawful because he has mastered the art of lying. He has used a reality-television persona to his advantage, somehow blindly convincing people across this nation that he understands the plight of the common man and woman. Yes, Working-Class and Middle-Class America: the billionaire capitalist who has done everything in his power to avoid paying federal taxes for decades and has ignored the basic human rights of his employees apparently understands your needs. This is the same man who called out Hillary Clinton for her associations with Wall Street, and then appoints as Secretary of State the CEO of Exxon/Mobil Corp., who has never held a political office before and who has business allies in Russia. The self-interest evident here is not only shocking but just repulsive. I call Bullshit on the Tyrant!
This is such a sharp contrast to the legacy of Barack and Michelle Obama that it literally hurts. The Obamas were a strong, solid family unit who brought to the White House and this country a feeling of love and respect for one another that has not happened in decades, certainly in my lifetime. Every time I would hear either of them speak, I was drawn to them anew for their intelligence and compassion, and for their consciousness of our global responsibility to the planet and to each other, no matter our race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual/gender identity. Conversely, it consistently shocked me how their critics—particularly so-called “Christians”—could judge this couple as not being American. They are one of the best examples of family values one could ever find in the United States! They are the family anyone would want to have living next door to you, that you couldn’t wait to have come over to your barbecue bringing their homemade potato salad. I remain convinced, and will always believe, that anyone who despised them did so because of racism. No one will ever convince me of anything different. Now, I’m not so blind as to think that Obama was perfect as a politician. I have said from the beginning that he is an ideologue and an academic, and perhaps in some ways he was too willing to allow his beliefs or stances on issues to be compromised in order to work with those who opposed him. He wasn’t able to resolve issues of gun violence, and perhaps the Affordable Care Act was not perfect financially or organizationally. But he did accomplish incredible things for this country, notably figuring out for the first time how all Americans could be entitled to healthcare, and rebuilding and stabilizing an economy that had fallen apart unlike any other time in history since the Great Depression. What stands out for me as the legacy of his presidency will be his humanity and his humanism. When asked what his last public statement as President to the people was, he replied, “Thank you.” He understood his role was that he worked for America. The Tyrant instead has convinced America that it's working for him. I take great comfort knowing that history will see Obama as one of the most admired and respected Presidents in our history, specifically as an individual if not politically. (Some links here here and here to my past posts about the Obamas and their two inaugurations)
My own particular grandstanding about the Obamas, then, perhaps also explains what happened to poor Hillary and why she didn’t win the election. It’s sad to write “poor Hillary.” Critics who detested her of course would be reviled by any form of sympathy toward her, considering her a criminal for her email-related treasonous actions, let alone whatever else she may have done in her deep dark past (because the Tyrant’s record is spotless, apparently). Hillary’s supporters likely would react against this phrase as well, pointing out that she won the popular vote by over 3 million, something no other presidential candidate has ever done in our history. All that may be true for both sides. However, I say “poor Hillary” because the Obama legacy was something Hillary simply could not live up to. We Democrats were blinded by our admiration for the Obamas, for their charisma and charm and humanist spirit. Poor Hillary was certainly qualified to be President, and she had an active demonstrated professional record of understanding what it would take to be President. But We Democrats just didn’t “feel” the same way about her as we did about Obama. And for that we should be ashamed of ourselves.
I voted for Populist President-Elect Hillary Clinton because I believed she was without a doubt a better candidate for President than the Tyrant. And after the coup of this election, I am even more in awe of her ability to maintain grace under pressure, to still come out to greet the people with a smile and let go of all the "nasty" energy he propagated about her. She was not kidding when she said we take the high road and not to succumb to the name-calling and rabble-rousing. I admire her more now than I ever did before. And, with all due respect to We Democrats, I think this is part of our mistake as to why she lost. We Democrats just got a little too lazy and comfortable for own good. With all the great reforms and civil liberties—gay marriage, women’s health rights, labor rights in the work force, and so on—the neo-liberal, bourgeois Left (myself included) got a little too comfortable with our universalizing sense of good will. We relaxed with our chai lattes and kale salads, our iPhones and tablets, and our easy-going, democratized, gender-neutral lives. The disenfranchised in rural America and elsewhere yanked the carpet out from beneath us, and we landed hard on our asses. We took for granted that all these things that we had struggled to attain were a done...wipe your hands clean...and we forgot that the ongoing battle for social reform and humanism never stops. How did we miss this?! The fight for women’s equality dates from over a century ago, when they were first given the right to vote, and it took until 2016 for a woman to become the first female candidate for President from a major political party. She didn’t win, which we can understand rationally, but now in 2017 under the Tyrant there is a backlash and genuine threat that the rights of these same women, and everyone else, can be overturned any day now. I have never been an actively political person, but I am mobilizing myself psychologically to begin to protest and fight for our human rights the minute the Tyrant and his Cabinet begin to remove these rights we have attained.
I may seem like a hypocrite in that I’ve made this statement but I did not join the women’s march. I am proud to know so many who trekked to DC and marched in the City today. But as I’ve told them all I’ve chosen not to do this myself because I feel as if I need to wait and see something start to happen before I protest. Perhaps that seems like an excuse, or I’m fooling myself. But I think one of the reasons why I am waiting is because I feel right now that I have had to learn to accept something over which I am not happy and over which I ultimately had no control. In addiction recovery and other forms of therapy, one learns that sometimes you have to accept things you cannot change. The results of the election have been a grieving process. I have been mourning for months, from the tears that streamed down my face at 2am after the election, through stages of anger and disbelief, and now heading toward acceptance. Regardless of how I feel about the results of this election, I do have to accept that the Tyrant is now President because this is how our democratic process works. And even though I refused to watch his inauguration and am personally miserable about this, I have to respect the peaceful transfer of power as established by our forefathers as a form of patriotism. I even have some tiny glimmer of hope that his actions may not be as detrimental or horrific as We Democrats fear. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It means I’m waiting and strategizing.
I want to end this tirade of a post by noting one final particular point. I’m not saying that poor Hillary should have won because we would have been better off. I’m not even saying that the Tyrant unconditionally will be the worst President we have ever had. What I am saying is that I am afraid of this Default Man, his mentality and his actions that have to change with an emphasis globalism and world peace, not insular America first. I am terrified by the Twitter wars, his agonizing defensiveness, the walls (concrete and imaginary), and the blind-fear these men are propagating as neo-McCarthyites, decrying the America as “carnage” and claiming they will make America great again. But by whose standards? By standards based on fear and isolationism and hatred and bigotry? That is not a great America; that is an America I want to change, immediately. Get On Your Feet indeed. Right now.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Last time I posted a summary of MWAs 21-30, I wrote a preamble about the importance of the project as a form of beauty, how I believe art can be a panacea for the ills and tragedies we experience in life. I still feel that way, and I hope I never lose that. It's been a pleasure to share these works of art with readers, because each has touched me personally, whether it is from a personal encounter or a cultural phenomenon, a seasonal change or an intellectual endeavor. Even more rewarding is that they have impacted others as well.
The Good Shepherd sculpture, late 3rd century, from the Vatican still remains the most popular of the MWAs, currently with 792 views. Friedrich Overbeck's Italia and Germania, 1828, has taken over as second-most-popular with 415 views. The third & fourth are almost a tie: Florine Stettheimer, A Model (Nude Self-Portrait), ca.1915 (362 views) and Edouard Manet, Repose, ca.1870-71 (361 views). Here is a run-down of the works I selected for MWAs 31-40 with links to the posts and their number of views. As you can see from the image above, Houdon's Winter is the most popular of this group.
Madonna and Child, ca.1290-1300 (81 views)
XXXII. Jean-Antoine Houdon, Winter, 1787 (133 views)
XXXIII. John Everett Millais, Spring (Apple Blossoms), 1856-59 (84 views)
XXXIV. Charles-François Daubigny, The Sandpits near Valmondois, 1870 (98 views)
XXXV. Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of James Stuart (1612-1655), Duke of Richmond and Lennox, 1633-34 (104 views; image left)
XXXVI. Botticelli, Mystic Nativity, ca.1500 (26 views)
XXXVII. Frederick Childe Hassam, Late Afternoon, New York, Winter, 1900 (60 views)
XXXVIII. Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770 (45 views)
XXXIX. Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson, 1924 (77 views)
XL. J.M.W. Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834, 1834-35 (83 views)
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
øgg, which was delectable in the chilly weather.
Here's the list of the cities outside the NYC area I was fortunate to visit in 2016...
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Charlotte, North Carolina
Leeuwarden, The Netherlands
London, England (2 visits)
Mexico City, Mexico
New Haven, Connecticut
Portland, Maine (2 visits)
West Palm Beach, Florida
Friday, January 6, 2017
UPDATE 1/7/17: Not surprisingly, a significant amount of the snow melted by later that afternoon. This morning, however, we awoke to news that we are expecting more than double the amount that fell today, so perhaps we should consider yesterday to be the first wave in today's snowstorm...
Sunday, January 1, 2017
If you read this blog on the Web at bklynbiblio.blogspot.com, rather than via email or reader software, you will notice I've modified the look with new fonts and colors, and some fun wallpaper of books on shelves. I think it plays well with the "biblio" part of this blog. In that spirit, the picture above is a snapshot I took of some of my recent book acquisitions that I hope to start reading as 2017 unfolds. (One of them was my Christmas present from the godchildren AEOB!)
To all the bklynbiblio readers out there...Happy 2017!
Monday, December 26, 2016
Every year around Thanksgiving I read a major work of literature. Last year, as I was writing about the Books of 2015, I was reading Anna Karenina, which was an incredible book. I think what surprised me most about that novel was that the story of Levin and Kitty actually felt more engaging than that of Anna and Vronsky, not just because of their love story but also because of the social reforms and anxieties Levin goes through to understand his purpose in life. This year I'm reading the book you see above: Henry James's Portrait of a Lady . So far it's interesting, but it's no Anna Karenina or Middlemarch.
This past year I read 37 books. My longer commute to & from work each day since I moved to Jersey City has definitely given me more time to read on the subway (assuming I actually can get the book out of my bag and read, as sometimes the trains are just too crowded). Among the noteworthy art history books that I read this year, the following stand out: Landscape and Western Art by Malcolm Andrews , a good introductory survey to the history and stylistic developments of landscape painting; Susan Sontag's On Photography , which admittedly now seems a bit dated but still has some interesting ideas; and a few of the short, focused-topic art books published by the National Gallery in London, such as A Closer Look: Techniques of Painting by Jo Kirby , which are excellent overviews with great detail images. In the art-biography realm, I read a few noteworthy things this year, including the book you see here on Romaine Brooks by Cassandra Langer , an excellent story of the lesbian modernist painter, and a journalistic-style biography of Anthony Blunt by Miranda Carter , a man who was Head of the Courtauld Institute and Keeper of the Royal Collection, had tea with the Queen Mother one day, then was exchanging government secrets as a Soviet spy another day, and later in the evening having sex with a tradesman lover, all while writing his latest book on Poussin--quite a life story!
Wrapping up highlights of fiction reads this year, in addition to Anna Karenina my favorite novels included: Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins , her sequel to Life After Life which I loved, although this time the story is about Teddy and not his sister Ursula, and it takes some interesting turns as the story(ies) unfold; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins , which was a great page-turner (note: I have not yet seen the movie); and the autistic-mystery story The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon , that was admittedly tedious after a while but captured so well the mindset of the boy's state of mind--I even made AA read it, and he agreed with me. I also did read this year All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr , which was on the 2014 list; while the story and writing were quite good, I really could not stand the two-page chapters, which I felt broke up the overarching storyline too much and felt choppy then overall.
Finally, I cannot close this post without mentioning that I read (for the third time) Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own . This is a great, classic essay not just about being a woman in history and literature, but about how a writer, any writer, needs a room of one's own to read, to think...to write. I am fortunate that I do have a room of my own to do this very thing, but ironically this evening I am writing this post at the dining room table, where a candle is lit beside my laptop, illuminating my peripheral vision with its tall flame and infiltrating my nostrils with its sweet scent of winter spice. On the other side of me is the dishwasher running, the sound of the rushing water soothing me as I write this post. Perhaps the Room of One's Own sometimes can just be the space which you make for yourself, in which to find the peace of mind you need in order to write.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
One of the long-term projects on which I have been involved since I started as Curator at Columbia was to help with the closure of a major gift of the public sculpture you see above. This is by Henry Moore and entitled Reclining Figure, 1969-70. It is recorded as being one of the largest single-cast bronze works that Moore ever did. This work on Columbia's campus now makes the institution only the second in the U.S. to have two Moores on campus (the other was donated by the Wallach family in 1967). This sculpture was donated by David and Laura Finn (he the author and photographer of a number of sculpture books). They did this in percentages for the past 30 years, with the final .5% coming to Columbia in the last two years. The sculpture now has been installed on campus, as can be seen above. There was quite a bit of drama and protesting about the piece (all you have to do is Google "Columbia" and "Henry Moore" and you'll read all the international press from earlier this year). But when all is said and done, the piece is actually quite nice in its design and new location. Personally, I really like its organic quality. I think it represents well the biomorphic forms for which Moore is well-known, incorporating figuration with abstraction. The patina's hues are variegated, from caramel to gold, and the texture ranges from deep incisions to smooth sections. When the sun hits the sculpture, it really does shine. So we are all very satisfied with the end result. You can read more about the sculpture and the history of its installation by going to the Columbia news site or now at the ArtDaily Newsletter site. The video below (and on the Columbia site) is from the dedication ceremony where we thanked the Finns. I come in at about 7 minutes in and give a talk for about 4 minutes, commenting on Moore's association with educational institutions and his love of nature for his sculptures. This addition to the public outdoor sculpture collection at Columbia's Morningside campus does, then, honor Moore's intentions. I also mention that I am co-teaching with Prof. Harrist next semester on an undergraduate seminar entitled "Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard." There is still room in the seminar, so spread the word and sign up!
Merry Christmas! Yes, another year has passed, probably shocking all of our senses about how the days seem to be moving faster and faster... I decided on the image above as December's Monthly Work of Art, a rather unusual scene depicting the Nativity painted around 1776 by the Boston-born artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815). This painting is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which holds the largest collection of Copley's works in the U.S. The picture measures approximately 24 x 30 in. and is oil on canvas. Copley likely painted this while he was in London, having traveled there in 1774 and spending 1775 in Paris, Rome, and Naples, where he would have been exposed to more Catholic-themed art than he would have seen in his homeland or in London at that time. The depiction reflects some influence of Italian and French Baroque art, with its use of shadows and lighting, but perhaps more so the influence of Benjamin West, another American who was on the rise to become one of London's leading History (i.e. narrative-scenes, not necessarily historical) painters of his day (West has appeared as an MWA too). The challenge Copley faced as an artist was that he, like all painters at this time, strove to become a History painter, which was considered at the time to be the top of the artistic hierarchy. Portraits, a format in which Copley had excelled in colonial America, was a way to make money. To be an Artist, one had to become a History painter. Although Copley had a few successes, by and large these pictures fail as compared to his portraits.
Take, for instance, the picture you see here, which is arguably one of the finest portraits of a child in all of Western painting. It is Copley's portrait of his younger half-brother Henry Pelham, entitled A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (1765). Copley able to capture his brother's likeness beautifully, but he also excelled in depicting drapery and clothing with different textures, and he had an uncanny ability to represent reflections (as in the veneer of the table) remarkably well. This picture was exhibited in London in 1766 and was a great success, largely because of his virtuoso skill in representing so many different types of surfaces. This success inevitably convinced Copley of the importance of making his way to London (then the art capital of the Western world) to develop his skills, but this would not happen for another decade.
The Nativity, unfortunately, fails, then, when seen compared to Copley's portraits. There is nothing "wrong" with it in terms of execution, and the same things that Copley excelled in back in Boston--drapery, physical likeness, veneer--are somewhat evident here. But it lacks the gravitas of a religious painting and thus lacks in spiritual feeling. It is possible he was trying to make the figures more naturalistic and of his day, something 17th-century painters had done (e.g. putting Biblical figures in modern-day dress). But somehow it just doesn't work here. There is theatricality in the presentiment that borders on the melodramatic. The hand gestures and surprised looks seem like something out of a stage performance. The representation of Mary and the baby is perhaps the one area where one can feel a sense of sentimentality, but with her hand on her head and her overall look seeming more like a portrait of an 18th-century Londoner, it just seems all wrong. I posted this painting as the background of my page on Facebook for December, and although a few people "liked" it (some even "loved" it), the best part were some of the comments some of my "FB friends" made about it:
JT: "That is a weird painting."
MP: "Mary needs a nerve pill! Joseph invited all his friends over without telling her and she's already made the unfortunate decision to wear white in a manger.
CoCr: "Clearly she shops in Manger, Stable and Beyond."
DPG: "She looks like I did after giving birth, thinking OMG what have I done, I'm not ready to be a mother!"
CaCo: "Yeah she's looking like 'three hours sleep and Joseph brings all his mates round...'"
Art is supposed to create dialogue, so when it does it works. That doesn't always mean that the dialogue is positive. Sometimes even great painters make mediocre paintings. And on that note...Merry Christmas!
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Since I could not record my actual photo or video of the snowfall as I have in the past (note that last winter's first snowfall didn't even happen until January!), I thought I would share the lovely photograph of a snowflake above. Hyperallergic's Allison Meier wrote an article, published on Dec. 1st, about the first snowflake photographs taken by Wilson Bentley, a farmer from Jericho, VT. He began this in 1885 and recorded over his lifetime more than 5000 different snowflake photographs. The implication behind this is that he managed to "prove" the hypothesis that no two snowflakes are the same. Aside from the science, the images really quite lovely. You can read the article here, which includes a number of these images, with links to other sites where his archive has been digitized.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Roelofs was a member of The Hague School, a group of artists who were inspired by the French Barbizon school of painters, such as Rousseau, Millet, and Corot. These artists began painting the naturalistic landscape of the French countryside as early as the 1830s but came into their own by mid-century, thereafter helping to alter the respectability of landscape painting from something dismissed as a lesser art in prior generations. This idea of depicting the naturalistic landscape as it actually appears, rather than as an idealized scene for a narrative event, arguably goes back to British artists such as Constable and Turner, but in The Netherlands the most obvious source of inspiration goes back even further to the 17th century with the naturalistic Dutch landscapes by artists such as Ruisdael. You can read more about The Hague School here.
While there is an incredible charm to this painting because of the windmill and the beautiful, soft lighting and fluffy clouds, what is striking is how the windmill dominates the space in this vertical painting. Normally one expects to see landscapes as horizontal compositions, panoramic views that show sweeping swathes of nature. Here, however, by reverting to a vertical format, Roelofs transforms the windmill into a portrait, or at least a narrative composition. The pyramidal structure of the windmill and its arms dominate the center point and then moving out diagonally toward the lower left and right lines, creating a pseudo-head-and-shoulders figure. Although the title references the cattle, both they and the man are diminished by the monumentality of the windmill itself, a man-made machine that for the 19th-century viewer demonstrated the development of technology, i.e. man's dominance over nature. Even the arms of the windmill seem to be moving the air and clouds themselves with a superior strength--which is exactly what they are meant to. This interpretation may seem rather droll because the painting is quite beautiful. But this is where Roelofs succeeds. He portrays the power of the windmill as an object of beauty, conveying both its picturesque qualities and the harmonizing of man with nature.
Then back to New York
And skytowers had begun to grow
And front stoop houses started to go
And life became quite different
And it was as tho' someone had planted seeds
And people sprouted like common weeds
And seemed unaware of accepted things
And did all sorts of unheard of things
And out of it grew an amusing thing
Which I think is America having its fling
And what I should like is to paint this thing.
-- Florine Stettheimer, from Crystal Flowers: Poems and a Libretto, eds. I. Gammel & S. Zelazo (Toronto: BookThug, 2010)
For quite a while now, I have been wanting to start a series of posts about poems I encounter, and the meanings they have for me. This past week AA and I were in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and one of the books I read was this collection of poetry by the painter Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944), about whom I have blogged before. Returning to New York from our vacation, and seeing the incredible skyline with the new World Trade Center dominating lower Manhattan, I was reminded that no matter how much I enjoy travel and seeing other cities, it is so rewarding to come back home to my "City." Stettheimer's own words convey this same idea. In the mid-1890s, she and her mother and sisters went to Europe, and they only returned in 1914 when the Great War broke out. Almost 20 years had passed since she had been in New York and in that time "skytowers" grew up, taking over the brownstones, and people of all races and creeds and ethnicities seemed to be accepted for doing their own thing. This was for Stettheimer part of the American spirit: "America having its fling." It is a view of New York City that makes me smile. It is as relevant now as it was a century ago.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
The marble sculpture measures almost 2 meters (78 inches) in height and weighs almost 5,000 pounds. The subject comes from Dante's Inferno, Book XXXIII, recounting the story of Ugolino (ca. 1200-1289), the tyrant of Pisa whom Dante and Virgil meet in the Underworld:
... When I beheld
My sons, and in four faces saw my own
Despair reflected, either hand I gnawed
For anguish, which they construed hunger. Straight
Arising all they cried, "Far less shall be
Our sufferings, sir, if you resume your gift;
These miserable limbs with flesh you clothed;
Take back what once was yours."
Ugolino had been imprisoned by his enemies, along with his 2 sons and 2 grandsons, all of whom died while in prison. Ugolino reportedly ate the flesh of his sons and grandsons in order to survive. Here, though, Dante has Ugolino claim that these men pleaded with him to eat them out of filial piety. Dante is not read by most people today, so at first seeing this sculpture in person one may not understand its context. However, once the viewer discovers the subject, there is an immediate sense of horror, but also sympathy. Carpeaux convinces the viewer of Ugolino's anguish as he contemplates survival in a desperate situation, while these men and boys around him die. This work is one of the most haunting sculptures of the 19th century.
The work was inspired by the ancient sculpture of the Laocoön and owes a great deal to the influence of Michelangelo. In the recent exhibition catalogue on Carpeaux, Edouard Papet writes: "Carpeaux's Ugolino remains a work of profoundly Romantic and pictorial inspiration. ... Like all of Carpeaux's monumental works, Ugolino was the product of a complex integration of disparate sources, both literary and visual, the latter absorbed on-site or in reproductions. This synthesis was combined with a nervous curiosity and irrepressible desire for formal renewal, which, in the days of eclecticism, in no way meant starting from a tabula rasa. ... Ugolino presented all the necessary features: structural complexity, narrative, terribilità, and a variety of expressions. ... Carpeaux's composition closes in upon themselves the open forms of the antique drama of Laocoön and turns it in on itself, while retaining its fundamental elements: nudity, a central paternal figure, conspicuous muscularity, the dying adolescent on the right, and the contrast between a body in its prime and youthful anatomies."
(Translation from Dante and quote: Edouard Papet, "Ugolino," in The Passions of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux [New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014], 66-69.)
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Last week another essay of mine, entitled "The Sculptor, the Duke, and Queer Art Patronage: John Gibson's Mars Restrained by Cupid and Winckelmannian Aesthetics," was released in the new book Rome, Travel and the Sculpture Capital, c.1770-1825. The book was edited by my colleague Tomas Macsotay, whom I met years ago when we were both in Leeds on different fellowships. This latest essay may seem familiar to some as I have presented different versions of the subject at conferences in Montreal and Storrs, Connecticut. This is standard practice, as it allows for opportunities to "test the waters," so to speak, and see how arguments are received by peers before publishing them. I reread my essay on the subway today and, while I think it still holds up, I confess my chronic (obsessive?) need to re-edit my own work makes me wish I had changed a few things. For instance, I think that in a revised version I would likely not be so "all"-encompassing in certain parts, and qualify matters by saying things like "selective" and "most" instead. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that the essay is a valuable contribution to the literature on the homoerotics of neoclassical sculpture, and that it will add to an increased appreciation on Gibson himself.
The British School of Sculpture, c.1760-1832. This forthcoming essay relies more on biography and art-historical interpretation to consider the origins of Gibson's training and career before he moved to Rome in 1817 and set up a studio where he lived the rest of his life. That essay should be released around the time I go to a planned study day on Gibson in mid-December. This meeting (details are still under wraps) will be held in association with the new exhibition John Gibson RA: A British Sculptor in Rome, which opened a few weeks ago at the Royal Academy in London. Among the works on display is this one: The Meeting of Hero and Leander, ca. 1842, plaster (Collection: Royal Academy). This exhibition commemorates the 150th anniversary of Gibson's death, but surprisingly it is also the first monographic exhibition of Gibson's work since he died in 1866. Because he had bequeathed a substantial sum of money and numerous plaster casts and drawings to the RA, perhaps there never was a need to hold an exhibition in his memory as his bequest led to the opening of the Gibson Gallery to allow visitors and students to learn directly from his classical figures from the nineteenth century. But of course no one from his day foresaw the decline of classicism and the rise of abstraction, so that by the 1960s it is not surprising to know that the Gibson Gallery was taken down and the works scattered about and kept in storage.
This new exhibition has been curated by my colleagues Annette Wickham and Anna Frasca-Rath. There is a small publication, but to date I have not seen it, or the show, so I cannot comment on them. Anna (who completed her dissertation on Gibson in Vienna about a year or so after me) also has spear-headed the beautifully-designed online digital project The Gibson Trail, which provides images of his works with short essays, as well as a map outlining a 6-mile circle in London where one can view examples of his sculptures at places such as Westminster Abbey, the Tate, Buckingham Palace, and of course the RA. It's all quite impressive. In fact, I admit I'm a little envious of what they've accomplished. When one works so hard on a project, particularly a monographic project, one often becomes possessive over their individual. As a result it is difficult to acknowledge that one doesn't "own" that artist and that others are allowed to do work on him/her as well. In fact, they likely are doing equal (or even better!) work than oneself. So, inevitably, there can be a feeling of competition among us. (Some academics relish in this competition; these same academics also need serious therapy.) That said, one hopes that we still celebrate our collective achievements, because we are all working on the belief and spirit that this artist's masterpieces deserve reexamination and his career reevaluated and triumphed for what he accomplished at a particular moment in time. I am looking forward to seeing this exhibition and participating in the upcoming programs later this year. It will be a great opportunity for all the "Gibsonites" to come together and have a collegial meeting of the classical minds.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
On that day all those years ago, a state of emergency was called across the nation. I was still living in Florida, and it was my job to oversee building security and related issues at the FAU Library. I announced over the PA system, calmly, that the library and campus was closing, that the governor had declared a state of emergency. People were confused, some not even aware what had happened, but we emptied the library and vacated the campus, and then with frustration sat in traffic for over two hours trying to get home. But once we were there, we sat and stared at our TVs non-stop, tears in our eyes for days to come. For us in that area the next few days and weeks held other surprises for us. The terrorists had been living in Coral Springs, less than 15 minutes away from where I lived. Even more shocking, they had used our library and our computers in Boca Raton and they may have plotted some of this attack right in front of our very eyes, and we had had no idea. Innocence indeed.
Reflecting back on those days, it seems surreal, not just because of all the events that unfolded that day and afterward, but because since then, 15 years have passed, and I am stunned into silence to think about everything that has happened in my own life since then. I have experienced great sadness and painful death more raw and more personal than I did when I grieved on September 11, 2001. But I have also experienced incredible love and true companionship, and I have accomplished many personal triumphs along the way. It is true: we do prevail, we do move on. As it should be. With death comes life; with tragedy comes hope; with destruction, rebirth.
It was five years ago that I visited the 9/11 memorial fountains that had just opened. This morning AA and I went down to the waterfront along the Hudson River in Jersey City for a walk. We knew it was 9/11 and that anniversary events would be taking place. But somehow it didn't occur to us that events would be happening here in JC as well, so we stumbled on the beginning of these events and spent time with many others commemorating this day. I took the photos you see here. The image above shows the Freedom Tower in the center distance while the memorial ceremony took place before us. We are literally right across from where the Twin Towers once stood, their presence replaced by this single tower of rebirth and renewal, their invisible presence still felt by all those who remember the old skyline. The second picture you see here was at the other end of the avenue, where two firetrucks raised their ladders to unfurl this enormous American flag, which blew in the wind and reminded us of our strength and how we have survived, rebuilt, and moved on. But still we do not forget, and as we are home now and on TV downstairs they read the names of the victims once again, we know that all of these poor souls will not be forgotten. Similarly, all the victims of other terrorist attacks around the world will not be forgotten, from the attacks in Paris to the massacre in Orlando. It is our human spirit to commemorate and remember, but it is also in their memory that we must go on.
In the end, today for me is about life and living. This is a day to honor and remember all those we have lost throughout history and time, due to warfare, hatred, anger, sickness, poverty, famine, illness, accident, and natural causes. I struggle when I hear others perpetuate anger and hatred and fear and judgment, because at my core I am a pacifist. So today I try to focus instead on remembrance and honor, a day to commemorate all those we have lost in the spirit of humanity, love, and peace.
Monday, September 5, 2016
This year a work that captured my attention every time I walked down Commercial Street was the image you see above, what I've chosen for the latest Monthly Work of Art: Raven, 2015, by Julie Tremblay. (Coincidentally my friend Shermania blogged last week about this black duck painting by Marsden Hartley that he saw at the MFA Boston and thereafter dubbed "Madam X".) I purchased a photographic print of Raven and will be hanging it in our den not far from the computer where I am writing this post right now. Tremblay runs her own gallery (and full production center, from what it seemed) right at the center of town (I can't even begin to imagine what she must be paying in rent for that space). Much of her work on display is geared toward the tourist market, with lovely scenes of solitary boats in Provincetown Harbor at sunrise and whales emerging from the Atlantic Ocean. I don't meant to suggest anything negative by this remark. The images are charming and perfectly suited for those who want this type of imagery for their homes as souvenirs. Clearly she understands her market, as she makes available reduced-cost prints of some of her works to draw customers in and will even mat and frame them (hence the production center). That said, I'm sure die-hard artists might consider her to be selling out.
Raven, however, goes beyond tourist imagery, and that is what captured my eye. bklynbiblio readers know I love animals and nature, and so of course I am a fan of animal art (e.g. my post on Landseer). Tremblay's website showcases a number of examples of animal pictures that she has captured digitally and on film, and many of these are wonderful depictions of animals in their habitats. But this particular composition profiles this particular black bird as a psychological portrait. This is different from photos of dogs or wildlife animals, presented anthropomorphically posed or in-their-habitat. This image of a bird with its head bowed down, its eyes invisible to the viewer, suggests a form of blindness, not just for the bird unaware of us, but for us as well, our inability to meet its gaze and understand what this creature is. The less one can see, the more one desires to see. Tremblay has a comparably powerful photograph called Sun Screen, 1988, of an elderly woman blocking her eyes from the sun with intertwined fingers, masking her vision and thus our own, making it impossible for us to truly see her, making us realize how much we rely on vision and our need to look into someone's eyes in order to understand who they are. Vision is a form of control and it makes us, as viewers, feel more comfortable with the lives around us. The same holds true for this bird. The less I can see into the eyes of this bird, the more I appreciate everything else I can see, and the more I lament for those who cannot see at all, physically because of blindness, or perhaps worse, psychologically because they wear blinders in support of their own prejudices and agendas.
This photograph also works as an abstract composition, a solid black entity that could just as easily be a human in a black shroud and hood as much as a bird in black feathers. In the center of all that black is a sharp linear V, the bird's beak, accentuated by white hatch-marks that are the scars of its own existence. This is an image of a life well-worn, experienced, exhausted, but not yet a figure of death, despite the association with mourning in the black-so-black you can almost feel the soft downy feathers on your fingertips. Tremblay told me that she doesn't know if the bird was a crow or a raven (I think it's likely a crow), but her titling of it as Raven inevitably conjures up images of Edgar Allan Poe, the Tower of London, and the Gothic imagination. But, contained as it is, with a blurred red-white nature background and a white rectangular photographic edge, the bird's identity and association with darkness is called into question, and one realizes this is more a depiction of solitude, a single moment in this bird's raucous life. It is a black beauty all its own.
Monday, August 29, 2016
I'm writing my annual bklynbiblio birthday post from Provincetown, MA, which is rather appropriate considering that I started this blog 8 years ago today after returning from Provincetown. Among the posts in that first month were a recap of that trip (including a review of a play JM and I saw), a review of the book & then-forthcoming movie about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and highlights of upcoming Fall exhibitions in NYC (reviews of which subsequently appeared in the months afterward: Ernst Kirchner; Catherine Opie; and Gilbert & George). What amazes me when I look back on those early days and posts is how much more time I apparently had free to write! At least there is an archive, because I admit I sometimes forget that I ever wrote about certain exhibitions, books, films, plays, etc.
And so here we are again, 8 years later, in Provincetown. The photo above was taken by me this very afternoon from the pool area at Wave Bar at the Crown & Anchor, looking out toward Cape Cod Bay. It has been gorgeous since we arrived...in fact, a little too hot--I had high hopes it would be a bit cooler! But it is beautiful and relaxing, and that's why we are here.
Commemorating 8 years of bklynbiblio, we discover that this post is #544, and in tracking my most popular tags it comes as no surprise that things have not changed at all for the past few years, reinforcing the focus of this blog. "New York" still comes in at #1 (146 posts), followed by "19th-century art" (100), "England" (90), "photography" (88), and "art exhibitions" (77). So thank you to all my friends and colleagues who have continued to follow me for 8 productive years now. Your ongoing emails of support do encourage me to keep on blogging...