Tuesday, March 13, 2018

19thC Graduate Student Symposium 2018

This coming Sunday, March 18th, is the 15th annual Graduate Student Symposium in the History of Nineteenth-Century Art, co-sponsored by the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art (AHNCA) and the Dahesh Museum of Art. It will be held at the Dahesh in NYC. The Mervat Zahid Cultural Foundation has generously provided the Dahesh Museum of Art Prize of $1,000 for the best paper, and the prize also carries with it the opportunity for publication in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. I was among the jury members who selected the papers this year, and I will be chairing one of the groups of papers. Below is the list of papers, with summary abstracts of each available for reading on the AHNCA website. One of the papers addresses this important, fantastic painting: Edouard Manet's Mademoiselle V ... in the Costume of an Espada, 1862, oil on canvas, in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other papers are on topics like harems, tigers, pickaxes, and Caribbean exoticism. It promises to be a great day of papers!

  • Lucie Grandjean, Université Paris Nanterre, “John Vanderlyn and the Circulation of Panoramic Images in Nineteenth-Century America: Promoting and Diffusing ‘a love and taste for the arts’”
  • Remi Poindexter, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, “Martinique's Dual Role in Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny's Voyage Pittoresque”
  • Alexandra Morrison, Yale University, “Unfaithful: Julie Duvidal de Montferrier’s Copies”
  • Siddhartha V. Shah, Columbia University, “Tooth and Claw: Chivalry and Chauvinism in the Jungles of British India”
  • Clayton William Kindred, Ohio State University, “The Harem in Absentia: Analyzing Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ’s The Gate of the Harem
  • Jennifer Pride, Florida State University, “The Poetics of Demolition: The Pickax and Spectator Motifs in Second Empire Paris”
  • Kathryn Kremnitzer, Columbia University, “Tracing Mlle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada
  • Galina Olmsted, University of Delaware, “’Je compte absolument sur vous’”: Gustave Caillebotte and the 1877 Exhibition” 
  • Maria Golovteeva, University of St. Andrews, “Photography as Sketch in the Works of Fernand Khnopff”  
  • Isabel Stokholm, University of Cambridge, Fathers & Sons? Two Old Peredvizhniki and a New Generation of Russian Artists, 18901914”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Top 10 Read Novels: 2014-2017

Back in September 2014, I posted highlights on the best novels I had read between the years 2010-2013. This was a “sequel” of sorts to the post I had done previously on the same topic from2005-2009. Here it is 3 1/2 years later, and I’m posting a follow-up, highlighting my favorite works of fiction that I read over the past 4 years. I’ve been meaning to write this for a few months now, but my dear friend SVH contacted me the other day about a program her library is doing, identifying favorite novels as written about by bloggers, so I’ve been inspired to catch-up on my list-making. As I noted on my previous posts, these are just the self-rated 5-star novels I read between 2014 and 2017, not that they were necessarily published during that time, although a few actually were. (And don't forget about my annual round-up of reading such as this latest post in 2017.) Here’s my 2014-2017 countdown, from 10 to 1…

10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015). Anyone who commutes on trains and subways—myself included-—knows all about the experience of subtly observing other people. Others prefer the experience of looking outside the window. I do both. This book took that quotidian practice and added a twist: an affair and a murder, as witnessed by a self-professed alcoholic tragedian named Rachel. The plot clearly is indebted to Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel 4:50 from Paddington in which Mrs. McGillicuddy witnesses a murder on a train from the window of her own compartment as it passes the other one (a brilliant set-up, I might add), but Hawkins then turns this novel into a story about what it means to be a woman in a world still dominated by masculine power.
9. Emma by Jane Austen (1816). Written just over 200 years ago, Austen’s literary classic still can entertain. Emma is considered to be one of Austen’s best developed novels, and certainly the character of Emma Woodhouse is someone worth recognized as one of literature’s greatest heroines: a dedicated, kind, intelligent woman who also has ambitions, faults, and makes grave mistakes, but through these experiences finds the love she’s been unaware of having looked for all along. That said, I confess I do prefer Pride and Prejudice (1813), which I’ve read twice, and the character of Elizabeth Bennett, over Emma.
8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005). This book is supposed to be a young adult novel, but I struggle with that classification because the subject matter is a bit emotionally intense at times. When Death is your narrator, you know the story is going to be dark. Young orphaned Liesel Meminger grows up in Nazi-occupied Germany. Fascinated by books she steals them in order to learn how to read, but she also discovers through her daily actions some important, hard lessons about survival and life itself. I challenge your heart not to break near the end.
7. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013). Over the past 4 years I discovered Atkinson, and I’ve since read and loved her novels Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995), Case Histories (2004), and A God in Ruins (2015), but the first book I read by her, Life after Life, gets on this list as my favorite so far. Her writing style can seem abrupt at times, but this adds to the flow of the storyline and the quick-wittedness of some of her characters. In 1910 Ursula Todd is born and then dies; in 1910 Ursula Todd is born and survives. This is not a story about reincarnation, but simultaneous incarnations, and how the decisions we make, or are made for us, determine the lives we live.
6. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016). This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and justifiably deserves it for its unapologetic story of American slavery and its poetic tone throughout. Whitehead’s book is a story of survival, mostly seen through the eyes of Cora, a runaway slave, but the author also adds magical realism with the creation of an actual underground railroad whose road to freedom is fraught with new experiences along the way.
5. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886). This is the first time I’ve ever read Hardy, and at first I wasn’t completely sure I liked it. People say he's dark, and it's true. But about halfway through the novel I realized I was reading the story of my working-class ancestors in England—not their actual lives, of course, but the essence of what their stark daily lives must have been like. No other Victorian novelist had given me that before. The story of alcoholic Michael Henchard, who in the first chapter sells his family off to the highest bidder in a drunken rage, still has the power to shock. The aftermath of that action reverberates through the novel through plot twists to the very end.
4. 1984 by George Orwell (1949). This book was so much more painful to read than I expected, not just because of what happens to protagonist Winston Smith, who dares to have independent thought, but because of the controlling life that he and others around him are forced to adopt in this dystopic classic. What has struck me about the book ever since I read it, is how the potential of what happens in the novel could actually happen today: not from socialism, however, but from capitalist corruption. Concepts like “newspeak” and “doublethink” are practically oozing out of Washington, D.C. these days, and although I would never have considered Pres. Tyrant to be Big Brother, if this level of corruption and totalitarian power that he propagates continues unchecked, that tyrannical party will eventually make our lives unlivable.
3. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881). I never thought I would say this about a novel by James, but this is actually a page-turner, but as you would imagine. Isabel Archer is another one of those great literary heroines, but I found it a struggle early on to sympathize with her because of some of her choices in life which seem immature and foolish. The first half of the book you spend the entire time getting to know her and the people around her; the second half, you can’t put it down because of how those decisions impact everyone, and how Isabel has to come to terms with the ramifications of her own choices, good or bad. 
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878), translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is one of the greatest opening lines in literature and says much about how this lengthy, but incredibly well-written, novel will play out. The mistake most have about this book is thinking the title character’s story of her illicit affair with Count Vronsky is the main storyline. In fact, there is much more going on in this book. I was found myself identifying more with the story of Levin, who tries despierately to figure out his place in life, and almost sacrifices his greatest love in the process. This book deserves to be near the top of this list, and it's only because of how the next book was written that I suspect it isn't my number 1. It took me 4 months to read and it was worth it.
1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857), translated by Lydia Davis. It seems strange to me that at the top of my list are 2 infamous 19th-century novels about women having extramarital affairs. I think what drives me to rank them both so high are the stories of their passions for life and love, rather than their immorality. (I guess I am a Romantic at heart.) Earlier last year AA and I spent a few days in Rouen and Upper Normandy, France, which I think also helped me in deciding to finally turn to Flaubert for the first time and read his infamous story of Emma Bovary. This is another book where I thought I knew the storyline; I had even heard it was a boring read. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this book is one of the most beautifully lyrical I’ve ever read. The descriptions are so lush at times you feel like you’re with the characters smelling what they smell and feeling what they touch. Both Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary come to tragic ends, and the (male) authors of these novels could be accused of misogyny and taking a moral high ground in judgment of them. But it is exactly for those reasons that these books should still be read. One needs to appreciates these novels in the context of their day, but one also should discuss their messages in light of current social politics, most notably the #MeToo movement today.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

E-Journal Session at ARLIS/NA 2018

Tomorrow morning at 9:45am (i.e., Mon., Feb. 26, 2018), I'm chairing a panel session at the 2018 annual conference of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA). The conference is in NYC this year. When I first started my librarian career (over 20 years ago, if you can believe it), I quickly joined ARLIS/NA and made it one of my primary professional organizations, and I've never regretted it. Some of the people I met 20 years ago are still friends and colleagues. At one point I was Chair of their Web Advisory Group, when the organization and its website was still more home-grown rather than professionally managed as it is today. I also served as President of the Southeast Chapter at one point too. But as things evolved in my life and career (PhD work, in other words), I had to pull away from the organization for a while. This is my first time back at the group's national conferences in a long time, and I'm looking forward to a few of the informative sessions and reconnecting with colleagues and friends.

The round-table panel session I'm chairing is entitled "Born-digital and Other E-journals in Art History: Crossing Boundaries Among Art Historians, Editors, and Librarians," and my co-chair is Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Seton Hall University, and Founding Editor of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. We have four speakers who are going to give brief presentations on specific topics, and then it's open-forum with the audience from whom we hope to hear comments, questions, and recommendations for improvement in the publication and dissemination of electronic journals in art history. Here is the full description of the panel and information on our speakers:

E-journals have existed for about three decades. They were pioneered by the sciences and social sciences, but for various reasons, some more valid than others, the arts and humanities were slower to catch on. In the field of art history, in particular, a major retardant was the need to establish protocols governing permissions and licenses for reproducing high-quality color images in perpetuity on the internet.

Today, the e-publishing of art history journals has become an accepted practice, yet it is certainly not the standard. Key challenges remain: how to adapt traditional print journals to digital formats, and how to take full advantage of the possibilities the digital medium has to offer; how to index and archive e-journals, and how to fund them, especially open-access journals that are born digital.

This round-table brings together art historians, editors, and librarians involved in different aspects of journal e-publishing. Interactive in format, the session will address questions about content, format, access, archiving, and new possibilities in the digital publishing realm. The session will begin with short presentations by the panelists about their experiences in e-publishing, highlighting lessons learned and future challenges to be addressed. The second half of the panel will open the floor to the audience for comments, questions, ideas, and information sharing, so a larger cooperative experience can be shared by all.

Elizabeth L. Block (Metropolitan Museum of Art): “The Art History Journal Unbound: An Editor’s Perspective on an Evolving Readership”
Martina Droth (Yale Center for British Art): “Creating a Born-digital Journal for Art History: Objectives, Challenges, and Lessons”
Alexandra Provo (New York University): “Indexing for Access: How Librarians Can Help Situate E-journals Online”
Isabel L. Taube (Rutgers University): “Preservation Management in E-journals: What Are We Doing to Fix Links and Archive Resources and Are We Doing Enough?”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Art in 17th-Century Life: Robert Nanteuil

At work we have been incredibly busy preparing for a new exhibition opening tomorrow in Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. The show is entitled "Art in Life: Engravings by Robert Nanteuil (c. 1623-1678) from the Frederick Paul Keppel Collection," and was curated by students in the MA program in Art History at Columbia, under the guidance of the MA director Frédérique Baumgartner and the Curator of Art Properties (yours truly). This is the first time that the MA program has partnered with Art Properties to utilize art from the permanent collection for an exhibition, thus giving the students an opportunity to curate an exhibition. It has been a lot of work to do this for all involved, including everything from selecting the prints, digitizing them, conserving one, mounting and matting them, and so on, not to mention all the work we've done environmentally, including retrofitting display cases, installing new LED lighting, and constructing faux walls. The short-term work, however, is going to benefit all in the long run, as this is the beginning of what we hope will be a recurring annual exhibition curated by a new student group each year. Below is a view of one of the cases showcasing some of the prints on display.

Nanteuil grew up in Reims, France, where he trained as an engraver. He settled in Paris in 1646-47 and soon established himself as portraitist to the court of King Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, eventually rising to the position of Designer and Engraver to the King. Over the course of his career Nanteuil made over 230 painstakingly realistic portraits, most of which were ad vivum (taken from life). Many of the prints went through multiple states and editions with altered backgrounds. Most are traditional window-style framed portraits as you see in the installation view here. However, a few show individuals in particular settings. The 1659 print of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) at the top of this post is taken from a portrait by Pierre Mignard, rather than life, but Nanteuil depicts him seated in his palace with his kunstkammer of scientific instruments and gallery of ancient and modern sculpture behind him. Among the prints in the exhibition this one is one of my favorites, even if it is atypical of Nanteuil's style. Rather than a straight-on portrait, the print contextualizes Mazarin as a connoisseur and collector, and arguably foreshadows depictions of over famous collectors over time, most notably Charles Willson Peale's The Artist in His Museum, 1822 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts).

These prints were owned by Frederick Paul Keppel, a former dean of Columbia College and son of the NYC print dealer Frederick Keppel. In 1947, 184 of the Nanteuil prints were donated to Avery Library by F.P. Keppel's widow, and for this exhibition the students selected 16 to showcase, arranged in 4 cases with various themes. The exhibition is open to all 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, until May 18, 2018. There is also an online exhibition: http://projects.mcah.columbia.edu/ma/2017.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Poem #3

My guilt is "slavery's chains," too long
the clang of iron falls down the years.
This brother's sold, this sister's gone,
is bitter wax, lining my ears.
My guilt made music with the tears.

My crime is "heroes, dead and gone,"
dead Vesey, Turner, Gabriel,
dead Malcolm, Marcus, Martin King.
They fought too hard, they loved too well.
My crime is I'm alive to tell.

My sin is "hanging from a tree,"
I do not scream, it makes me proud.
I take to dying like a man.
I do it to impress the crowd.
My sin lies in not screaming loud.

-- Maya Angelou, "My Guilt," from Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971)

These days, when we seem to be reeling over and over from the racist rhetoric of our Tyrant and his sycophantic supporters, it seems more important than ever to remember someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as everyone of any race, color, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, and creed, who has died in the fight for equality in this nation built on democracy, equal opportunity, and freedom.

(Here is a link to my tribute to Maya Angelou when she died in 2014.)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy New Year!! Well, yes, we are a bit late for the official, annual HNY message on bklynbiblio (here, here, and here, for instance), but this year we were doing something quite different and extraordinary, and we were traveling on January 1st as a result, so no chance to blog. We went to Ciudad de Mexico! The picture above is AA, his cousin GD, and me...after a few tequilas...ringing in the new year at the balcony bar of our hotel overlooking the Zócalo plaza and the main cathedral. We had a wonderful night, met some new people, ate a delicious multi-course dinner, and danced a bit too.

We had arrived on the previous Friday (after an exhausting red-eye flight), and after an early check-in and breakfast, headed to the Frida Kahlo House with timed tickets we purchased online (good thing too, as they had run out of tickets for the day as soon as we got there). The house-museum is a bit hagiographic, but considering it is meant to give you the sense of who Kahlo was, it does its job relatively well. You do come away sympathizing with her pain and anguish--seeing the wheelchair she used, the corsets and back-braces she wore, and the bed she lay in staring at the mirror on top while painting self-portraits--but I can't say you come away with a greater appreciation for her as an artist. The picture you see here is a photo I took in the exhibition room where some of her indigenous-style clothing was on display. Across from the vitrines were photographs of Kahlo taken by her father in some of these dresses, including this of the artist at age 25. I was pleasantly surprised by the unplanned mirror-effect of how her clothing appeared around her face. What struck me most about the numerous photographs of Kahlo on display was how much, in recent memory, Salma Hayek has come to dominate our impression of what Kahlo looks like and how she acted. It was refreshing to remove that veneer and actually see the "real Kahlo," albeit through her father's photographic eye.

We went for a stroll afterward in Coyoacán, where on a random street I found this beautiful sanctuary for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Other highlights of the weekend included a fantastic dinner at the San Angel Inn (NOT the one at Epcot Center at Disney World!), and a visit to the university art museum at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), where we saw an interest, compact exhibition about Yves Klein (and some brain-numbing exhibitions by conceptual contemporary artists...the same thing also when we visited Museo Jumex...). GD also took us to the fascinating Museo de El Carmen, a former Carmelite convent where you can see some of their cells, view colonial Catholic paintings and polychrome sculptures of saints, and visit the sepulcher where unknown individuals from the nineteenth century had been buried, but whose mummified bodies are now viewable in class-covered caskets. That particular bit of the weekend may seem an odd way to ring in the new year, but perhaps it was a personal, poetic experience we needed that reminded us about the cycle of life and the ongoing march of time. Or perhaps it was just creepy-fascinating. I'm still trying to decide.

Happy 2018!!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

First Snowstorm: 2017-2018 Winter

Today we got hit with our first definite snowstorm of the season! It was supposed to start snowing in the NYC/JC area after about 1am, but when I woke up around 3:30am, there was nothing falling. Needless to say, by 7am, it was coming down in droves, though, and it got worse all day. AA took the photo you see here from outside our window at home...they've been calling it a "bombcyclone" blizzard...I have no idea what that actually means, but presumably it it a meteorological explanation of how bad the blizzard was today. The crazy thing was that, even though every school in NYC closed today, Columbia stayed open, so I had to make the trek into the City and go to work, intentionally arriving early before conditions worsened. I was convinced the school would close early, particularly since I and others slipped going up the stairs of the library among other mishaps, but surprisingly they never closed. I left half-day, though, because the snow was intense and the commute treacherous. It's now about 3pm and AA informed me a few minutes ago that it has officially stopped snowing now. We probably got about 6-7 inches in Jersey City. Now we just need to get ready for the Arctic freeze for the next two days...a high of less than 10 degrees!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Cities and Projects of 2017

Anyone who has been following bklynbiblio for many years now of course will have noticed the general decrease in the number of posts coming from me. It's not intentional. Time (or lack thereof) has been a key factor, but I will admit that I've discovered a shift in my own attitude about life, which also has affected my blogging. That sounds a bit obnoxiously existential, but what I mean is that I find myself focusing more on living in the moment and enjoying experiences as they are happening, rather than attempting to record things afterward as a memory of an event or experience. I believe I've noted elsewhere, too, that as the world of social media has increased with various platforms, blogging is no longer my only online outlet. Facebook, Instagram, and work-related blog posts, all somehow now come together in conjunction with this blog to provide the snapshot of activities, thoughts, and events. (I still have a Twitter account, but I've largely dropped it; Pres. Tyrant has ruined it for me completely.)

I've also discovered, though, that as I'm getting older I'm having a more difficult time just remembering things the way I used to. I read a book and six months later sometimes I can't even remember the name of the protagonist. That never used to happen before, but I hear it is normal aging. (It better be!) In the spirit of commemorating good fortune over the past year, in that I have been able to see more of the world, this post is a revisit of my travels of 2017 (here is last year's post). I thought I would add this time a section of highlights of professional projects (some related to work) over the course of the year as well. I have a tendency to disregard my past professional activities, because I'm always looking toward the next one (and criticizing myself that I haven't done enough, despite what others say to me). So consider this post also an attempt on my part to slow down and recognize what I have actually done the past year, and why there have been fewer blog posts as a result. And to those of you who have been contacting me the past few months commenting how happy you are to see me blogging again, THANK YOU!

I do want to add that with all the travel either AA & I, or I alone, have done, some of the best memories have been celebrating events with family. For instance, this year AA's parents came out to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, and after that we went to Florida to celebrate Uncle Eddy's 89th birthday and then visit Epcot Center with my godchildren. Good times, indeed, were shared by all.

Here is the 2017 alphabetical list of visited cities outside of NYC...

Cambridge, England
Charlottesville, Virginia
Dieppe, France
Fairfield, Connecticut
Houston, Texas
Leicestershire/Northamptonshire, England
London, England (2 visits)
Mexico City, Mexico (well, technically, we haven't gone yet, but we will before the end of the year!)
Ogunquit, Maine
Paris/Versailles, France
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Portland, Maine
Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Rouen, France
Salem, Massachusetts
St. Petersburg/Palm Harbor/Tarpon Springs, Florida (3 visits)
Toronto, ON, Canada
Washington, D.C.

Professional Highlights of the Year (in no particular order):

  • Co-taught with Prof. Robert Harrist an undergraduate, semester-long seminar at Columbia on "Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard" (including watching a bronze pouring of sculpture at the Modern Art Foundry, which was utterly fascinating and almost transcendental; see the picture at left)
  • Took a professional development course on "Basic Drawing Techniques for Art Professionals" at NYU
  • Published an essay "Before Rome: John Gibson and the British School of Art" in the book The British School of Sculpture, c.1768-1837, eds. Burnage & Edwards (Routledge, 2017; this project took seven years to see to completion, if you can believe it)
  • Published a review on the exhibition Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, at the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide (which you can read here)
  • Took two research trips to the U.K. and did work at the National Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Victoria & Albert Museum and National Arts Library, University of Cambridge, and in a private collection
  • Gave a paper at the "New Scholarship in British Art History" conference at the North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Gave two separate talks on the sculptors John Gibson and Auguste Rodin at the Florence Academy of Art in Jersey City
  • Co-presented with Stephen Brown (The Jewish Museum) about artist Florine Stettheimer and her world for the EdelHaus Salon
  • Organized & led a round-table discussion called "The Power of Political Protest Art" for the exhibition ...Or Curse the Darkness at the Atlantic Gallery
  • Served on the selection committee & jury for the Graduate Student Symposium co-sponsored by the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art and the Dahesh Museum of Art
  • Participated in a study day on Pre-Raphaelite art and design at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Participated in a workshop on the care and preservation of paintings, sponsored by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts
  • Attended the College Art Association conference in NYC
  • Attended a Q&A talk with Jed Perl and the Calder Foundation on the release of the first volume of Perl's biography on sculptor Alexander Calder
  • Had outpatient surgery with a relatively lengthy, painful recovery (okay, so this wasn't a professional event, but it did take its toll on me this year), and
  • Went to see on Broadway Get on Your Feet!, Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close, and Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler (again, not professional, but definitely worth recording as important events)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

First Snowfall: 2017-2018 Fall/Winter

Today we had our first snowfall of the season. It began snowing here in Jersey City about 9am. I took these photos around 11:15am, as I was walking from the 4 train down Court Street in Brooklyn (my old bklynbiblio neighborhood), on my way to get my haircut. (Of course I still go to Brooklyn for my haircut!) By strange coincidence, it was almost exactly 1 year ago today that I recorded last year's first snowfall.

As I walked down the street, bundled up in my hat, earmuffs, gloves, and coat, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I still love the sensation of first-snow. It's wet and messy, sure, but I find the sensation of the crisp air in my lungs and the touch of delicate flakes on my face rather thrilling. Perhaps it's the newness of the season that appeals to me, the feeling that something is happening...a change, a shift. I admit I've been feeling a little down about a few things professionally lately, but my walks in the snow today made me smile and feel positive about things again. It even made me smile. I'm sure by the time March comes around, I will be ready for warm weather and daffodils, but right now...today...I find our first snowfall to be rather exhilarating.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Books of 2017

The 100 Notable Books of 2017 from the New York Times came out just before Thanksgiving...rather early this year actually, especially since Thanksgiving itself was early. I usually find a couple of books on their list that pique my interest, but I have to confess that nothing really stands out for me this year. George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo won the Man Booker Prize, and as his first novel it has been received well, so perhaps that will go on the list. I'm not a big fan of modern sequels to literary classics, so even though Mrs. Osmond by John Banville made it on the list, I really don't want to read someone continuing the story of Isabel Archer. Last year when I blogged about the Books of 2016, I was reading Portrait of a Lady [1881]. The first half of the book moved slowly, but was interesting; the second half, however, turned into a page-turner in a way that startled me. It's a classic, just as it is, so I think I'll skip Banville's "sequel." I should add that I've discovered two new books published this year that are not on the 100 list, but have already gone on my Amazon Wish List. They are The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst and Amy Tan's Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir.

On last year's post, I noted some of the new books I was hoping to read. and indeed I did immerse myself in three of them. Lucy Barton's My Name Is Lucy was interesting, but I've been told her novel Olive Kitteridge is better, so I'll give that a go before passing further judgement. Julia Baird's biography of Queen Victoria was well-written and a good read, but I can't say it captured me as other biographies have in the past. I did find myself questioning Victoria and Albert's relationship in a new way, which is a testament to Baird's writing though. The third book on last year's "to read" list was Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. This book was fantastic. It's painful to read at times, but it creatively weaves an imaginary actual underground railroad as a metaphor for the journey of a slave on the run, trying to find her freedom. I highly recommend it, and it certainly deserved both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

In 2017 I read 33 books. Among the more noteworthy art history books I read were the following: Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry [2017], the catalog to accompany the exhibition at The Jewish Museum and, currently, at the Art Gallery of Ontario; The British School of Sculpture, c.1760-1832, edited by Jason Edwards and Sarah Burnage [2017], an excellent collection of essays that explore aspects of British nationalism in sculpture (and, as an aside, includes an essay by me entitled "Before Rome: John Gibson and the British School of Art"); How to Read Chinese Ceramics by Denise Leidy [2015], partly to help my curatorial eye better understand some of the Chinese art we have in the collection at Columbia University; and A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585-1718 by Mariët Westermann [1996], an easy-to-read introduction to art and material culture during the Golden Age of Dutch painting. All that said, my favorite art book read of the year was the book cover you see here: Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong [2013]. This book did a great job making me--as a trained art historian and curator--rethink what art is all about, and how art by its very nature can be used as a form of psychological and emotional therapy, and conversely how examining art can teach us about the human spirit and mind. I've recommended this book to a number of people already.

Among my favorite fiction reads this year--aside from Whitehead and James, mentioned above--was the classic 1984 by George Orwell [1949], which shocked me with its frightening poignancy even today under the current Pres. Tyrant; The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes [2011], which I find myself still a bit unsettled by, perhaps because I'm not pleased with how the book ended; and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier [1951], just so I could become familiar with the book before seeing the movie (I like Rachel Weisz, but the book was better). I also read The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy [1886] this year, which was my first foray into Hardy. What has struck me most about this novel has been how, of all the Victorian books I have read, this one captured best how I imagine my working-class, English, Victorian ancestors actually lived their everyday lives. I look forward to reading more of Hardy, even if he is a bit dark. Right now, however, I'm reading the book you see here: Lydia Davis's 2015 translation of Gustave Flaubert's French classic Madame Bovary [1857]. So far, I'm rather enthralled by the lush, lyrical descriptions, and it helps greatly that AA and I went to Rouen and Dieppe this past Spring, so I have a sense of the region Flaubert describes. Even though this is another one of those tragedies where you know how it ends, I look forward to continuing reading this on the subway and before bed over the next week or two...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Passing of Linda Nochlin

Linda Nochlin, one of the great art historians who influenced more than one generation of scholars, died this past weekend at the age of 86. I first met Linda about 12-13 years ago when I was exploring graduate programs. She kindly met with me in her tiny, book-crammed office at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, where she worked for decades before retiring a few years ago, and we chatted about Simeon and Rebecca Solomon and my interests in Pre-Raphaelite art. I wound up not going to IFA, so I never had an opportunity to take a class with her, but my adviser at the CUNY Graduate Center, Patricia Mainardi, was one of Nochlin's students, so I feel as if she was my academic-adviser-grandmother of sorts. I saw Nochlin every once and a while afterward through the years at various events, and even though she didn't remember me she always graciously reconnected with me about the Solomons when we spoke again. She was the adviser for a few friends of mine who went to the IFA and they remained close to her through the years.

It is her art-historical scholarship, however, that will live on. Nochlin's pioneering essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" (1971) was a watershed moment that changed art history and practically initiated women's and gender studies in the arts and humanities. This evening, Mainardi posted on Facebook that her mentor's essay "was a game-changer, a paradigm-shifter, a breath of fresh air that blew through the art world like a tornado and changed everything and everyone in it. We are all her progeny." If that essay wasn't enough, Nochlin also was a specialist in 19th-century art, particularly that of Courbet, and she wrote an incredible number of social-historical essay about art that are still relevant and worth reading. Among some of my favorites are:

  • "The Imaginary Orient" in which she applied Edward Said's groundbreaking post-colonial theories about literature and history to visual art, teaching us how to really look at exotic pictures of the Middle East;
  • "Manet's Masked Ball at the Opera" in which she tackled prostitution and misogyny in Second Empire France through images of fragmented female bodies and the visual representation of sexual aggression by men;
  • "Degas and the Dreyfus Affair" in which she explored whether one can find evidence of the Impressionist artist's anti-Semitism in his art, and then forced us to consider whether we could look past his anti-Semitism and still appreciate Edgar Degas as a great artist (I've always called this "Michael Jackson syndrome"--can you still like his music if you are disgusted by his actions toward children?--and was inspired to think of this by her article);
  • and "Morisot's Wet Nurse" in which she examined Berthe Morisot's painting of her nurse breastfeeding the painter's infant daughter, considering everything from subject to facture in an attempt to explore the challenges of women having children and careers.

I have gone back to Nochlin's scholarship time and time again because of its insightfulness, but also because of its erudition. She never had to rely on abstruse literary and cultural theory to make her point. She always returned the reader back to the work of art. Some scholars may have gone on to challenge some of her suppositions through the years (that is part of the job, anyway), but everyone who has studied art history since the 1980s has had to contend and acknowledge her contributions to the field and recognize how her work changed things.

Nochlin will be best remembered for "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" Her conclusion ultimately was that because institutions and thus individuals prohibited women from studying properly as men had, it inhibited their ability to become the artistic geniuses their fellow male artists often became. At the end of her essay, Nochlin charged scholars to learn from this mistake of the past and change things for the future. Her words seem prescient for all forms of scholarship that consider minorities and otherness, although at the time she was inspiring women.
What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantages may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought--and true greatness--are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.
You can read more about Nochlin's life and work here, here, and here.
(Photo of Linda Nochlin by Adam Husted.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thinking about Rodin

This coming Friday, October 27th, at 5pm, I'm giving a talk (free & open to the public) entitled "Thinking about Rodin: A Century Later." The image here of Rodin's Thinker is a bronze commissioned by Columbia University in 1930 from the Musée Rodin and installed outside Philosophy Hall the next year. (One of my students this past Spring semester wrote a paper about this sculpture and its placement on campus, which you can read here.) I find The Thinker riveting, not just because of its execution as a figure in the round, but also because it is subject to so many different interpretations. I believe Rodin would have agreed with that assessment. It was clearly a significant work for him: another large-scale version of the statue gazes down on the grave of Rodin and his wife.

My talk will be held at the Florence Academy of Art based in Mana Contemporary, Jersey City (basically right next door to where AA and I live). I gave a talk there earlier this year about Gibson, and Rodin could be seen as a nice antithesis ... or is he? Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is considered by most to be the proverbial "father" of modern sculpture, but when I look at his sculpture I see more of a reinterpretation of art-historical precedents. When you read some accounts of his life and work (e.g. Bernard Champigneulle and Albert Elsen), you sense from these authors an intentional insistence that Rodin broke away from the past to be original and unique. While that may be true to some extent--for just about every artist who strives to be recognized for her/his accomplishments--I don't think it's so "black or white." Successful artists absorb what they have learned and synthesize it with other life experiences to generate something that may seem new or original to viewers. But that doesn't mean their "teachers" should be forgotten or, even worse, elided from interpretations of their work in an attempt to portray them as artistic geniuses.

My talk on Friday will discuss some of this, as well as explore a few interpretations of Rodin's life and work with the numerous centenary-of-his-death exhibitions that have been taking place this year. The picture below is one gallery view I took when we visited the exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was quite comprehensive and informative, but I questioned whether the connections/influence of Rodin on other sculptures thereafter was perhaps pushing the exhibition theme itself a little too far.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Nationalist Sculpture: AAH 2018 Call for Papers

My colleague Tomas Macsotay and I are co-chairing a panel session at the next Association for Art History (AAH) annual conference, to be held April 5-7, 2018, at the Courtauld Institute of Art and King's College London. The deadline for proposals is coming up in a few weeks. Our panel promises to be a combination of object and theory regarding issues of nationalism in sculpture of the long modern period (1750-1950), and we have decided on the image you see above as our "icon" for the session: J.G. Schadow's Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, 1789-91, made of copper (image: https://theshellmeister.wordpress.com). This sculpture has a long, fascinating history that runs from Prussian history through Napoleon and Hitler to the civil rights movement, and thus seems a fitting illustration for our panel. Here are the full details, so contact us to submit a proposal, and feel free to send it along to anyone who might be interested.

The National in Discourses of Sculpture in the Long Modern Period (c. 1750-1950)

Session Convenors:
Tomas Macsotay, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain (tomas.macsotay@upf.edu)
Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University, New York, US (rcf2123@columbia.edu)

Are specific histories of national ‘schools’ of sculpture premised by the codifying of national identities? What role has been reserved for modern European languages and their historical networks of cultural transfer in enabling or inhibiting this circulation of nationalism in sculpture criticism? From the veneration of Greek art by Winckelmann, to the Romantic idea of a Northern spirit in the work of Thorvaldsen; from the imperial narratives of display at the World’s Fairs, to constructions of allegory in French Third Republic art; from monuments to fallen heroes after World War I, to Greenberg’s and Read’s critical biases for national sculptors – varieties of imaginary geographies in the long modern period have congealed into a fitful history where sculpture is entrenched in projections of the national.

Discourses of exclusion and inclusion became part of how sculptors were trained, public spaces were ornamented, and audiences were taught to read sculpture. These discourses also played a role in the strengthening (and dissimulation) of increasingly border-crossing networks of industrial production, globalised art trade, and patterns of urban infrastructure and design.

This panel seeks papers that offer critical explorations of the national and its tentative ties to the cosmopolitan in sculptural discourse, or consider a transdisciplinary dialogue between sculpture and its texts (e.g. art school writings, criticism, memoirs and biographies, etc.). We particularly welcome papers addressing the role of translation and circulation in fledgling modern criticism, as well as papers engaging recent accounts of cultural transfer in the construction of national and modern artistic identifiers (e.g. Michel Espagne, Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel).

  • Please email your paper proposals directly to the session convenors.
  • You need to provide a title and abstract (250 words maximum) for a 25-minute paper (unless otherwise specified), your name and institutional affiliation (if any).
  • Please make sure the title is concise and reflects the contents of the paper because the title is what appears online, in social media and in the printed programme.
  • You should receive an acknowledgement of receipt of your submission within two weeks.
  • Deadline for submissions: 6 November 2017

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Happy 9th Birthday!

Even though my blogging this year has been intermittent and less frequent, it was important for me to sit down and commemorate today as bklynbiblio's 9th birthday. Rest assured, I do plan to get back here and write more posts. The lack of activity is not out of desire, but simply time and energy; there are other writing projects going on, and a number of work-related things are keeping me busy.

This post turns out to be #566, and in tracking my most popular tags there turns out to be no change at all for the past few years, continuing to reinforce the focus of this blog. "New York" still comes in at #1 (154 posts), followed by "19th-century art" (107), "England" (97), "photography" (96), and "art exhibitions" (80).

As always, my thanks to my friends and colleagues who have continued to follow me for 9 productive years now!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Power of Political Protest Art

The past few months I have been crazy busy, which is why I haven't been blogging lately. My apologies for that. I hope I can back into the swing of things again. It seemed only appropriate that I return to this blog with a NYC- and art-themed post, relating to a video project I was involved in that has now gone live.

The Atlantic Gallery in Chelsea recently held an exhibition entitled ...Or Curse the Darkness in which some of the member artists exhibited work that related to their feelings about the current political environment in the USA. Say what you will, pro or con, we are living in extraordinary times under this President and his administration. The poster for the exhibition is the image you see here.

On June 1, 2017, in association with the exhibition, I chaired a panel session at the gallery entitled "The Power of Political Protest Art." Following my introduction, we had three speakers: James M. Saslow, Marisa Lerer, and Amara Magloughlin. Each of them gave their own 7-10 minute take on an aspect of political protest art. We then had a Q&A, and we also spoke a little about some of the art on display, as did some of the artists about their own work. The entire presentation was filmed and edited by NYU student Yijun He.

My introduction covered one particular current event: the now-infamous Kathy Griffin photo by Tyler Shields, showing her holding the severed head of a mannequin-of-sorts who reportedly bore a resemblance to the President. Undoubtedly some of what I say in the video will upset people, but overall I attempted to approached the image from an art-historical perspective and relate it to other political images. I should note, publicly on this blog, that I don't condone the image itself; I don't believe in violence in general, so clearly I don't support this image. However, it's the context and fallout that I talk about, in relationship to what happens when some individuals participate in political protest art. Saslow gave a historical overview, bringing things right up to the ACT-UP movement. Lerer spoke about Argentinian and other Latin American political protests from the 1970s through today. Magloughlin focused on the ongoing reception of Picasso's Guernica as a form of political protest art.

The video is now live. The sound quality is a bit rough the first couple of minutes, but then it picks up and everything works out beautifully for the approximate one-hour presentation. You can find the video on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2zxhhWM7iI

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MWA XLVII: Alma-Tadema's Rivals

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) is considered by most to be a British artist, but in fact he was born and raised in The Netherlands and did not emigrate to London until 1870. He was then a widower with two daughters trying to make a bigger name for himself in the commercial art capital of Britain. He succeeded, becoming one of the greatest names associated with the Aesthetic Movement, his London home a salon for artists, writers, musicians, composers, and actors to socialize and exchange ideas. His second wife and daughters were all painters too. What people love about Alma-Tadema today was his uncanny ability to capture imaginatively Greco-Roman lives from over 2,000 years ago as if they were people we saw in our daily lives today (or, for his contemporaries, in Victorian times). His critics, however, have a tendency to refer to his paintings pejoratively as nothing more than "Victorians in togas."

Last November, when AA and I were in Amsterdam, we took a day trip to Leeuwarden to see the new exhibition Alma-Tadema, klassieke verleiding (Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity). My review of the exhibition has just been published in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, which you can read here for free. One painting in the exhibition, that you see above, is Unconscious Rivals, 1893, from the collection of the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. My own first exposure to Alma-Tadema was through  a reproduction poster of this painting in the mid-1990s, when my mother fell in love with it and we worked together at a framer getting it matted and framed. It thereafter hung in my parents' bedroom for about fifteen years. I was always fascinated by the incredible details in the picture: the glean of the marble benches; the vibrancy of the azaleas; the details in the barrel-vault ceiling. Even more intriguing, however, was the psychological relationship between the two women depicted. I remember my mother and I talking about this when we first saw it, and I think this was the added bonus, in addition to the exquisite details, that sold us on purchasing the poster and framing it.

Regardless of whether or not one likes Alma-Tadema's work, most agree that his attention to detail and ability to paint furniture, drapery, jewelry, architectural settings, etc., are noteworthy. As I write in my review of the exhibition, I was eager to see this particular painting in the show, more so because of my own personal connection to it through that poster. On first seeing Unconscious Rivals in person, however, I admit I was a little disappointed because it is smaller than I had anticipated. This is not an uncommon experience after first engagements through reproductions. But the more closely I examined the painting, the more I could see that it was a jewel of a picture with intricate details like the azaleas, which are almost too hyperrealistic in their depiction.

The scene shows two young women who respond differently to an unseen man with whom each of them, unbeknownst to the other, is in love. (The man, presumably a soldier, is represented by the legs and sword of an ancient statue of a seated gladiator.) This narrative in the picture was part of the tradition of nineteenth-century genre painting, which audiences of the day appreciated and understood well. However, while traditional genre painting offered a moral message, here aesthetics take precedence and the depiction of the two women is more a statement about beauty rather than morality. The viewer (then and now) can identify with them, sympathizing with the shy temperament of the brunette who gazes toward the picture plane with a sheepish smile, or responding sensually to the vivacious red-head (a Pre-Raphaelite trope of the femme fatale) flirting with the lover below the balcony. The painting is a reinterpretation of the allegorical sacred and profane that stretches backward to Titian and forward to Freud. Alma-Tadema’s Unconscious Rivals relies on this form of empathy that transcends time and nationalism to make its point. It appeals to audiences to identify with these women emotionally, regardless if the women or the viewer are ancient Roman, British Victorian, or twenty-first century Dutch or American. It is, indeed, a beautiful painting. You can see more of his paintings, and some gallery views from the exhibition, in my review.