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: 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 (
Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University, New York, US (

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:

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.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Gibson and the Watson Taylor Family

A few months ago I had blogged about some John Gibson-related sculpture publications, exhibition, and symposium. The exhibition at the Royal Academy was excellent. It's unfortunate the show was only in two small rooms (we wanted to see more!), but the designers did a wonderful job with the layout (left: one installation view I took), and colleagues Annette Wickham and Anna Frasca-Rath did a nice job with the labels, publication, and overall curatorial selection. The symposium was held in mid-December. The first day was a trek on the actual Gibson Trail. We started at Tate Britain where Greg Sullivan and Anna led discussions, respectively, about a portrait bust and a sculpture by Gibson. We then trekked along the Thames to Pimlico Gardens where I led the discussion about the William Huskisson monument. From there we had a spot of lunch, went to Westminster Abbey for a chat about Gibson's Robert Peel monument, and then went to the Victoria & Albert Museum where Holly Trusted spoke about Pandora and the Copeland miniature of Narcissus. The next day a number of us gave more formal papers. Anna spoke about Gibson's studio practice, I spoke about Harriet Hosmer and the training she received in his studio during the 1850s. We also heard talks about Gibson's working friendships with the 6th Duke of Devonshire, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Sir Charles Eastlake, ending with Timothy Stevens (former Director of the Walker Art Gallery, now part of National Museums Liverpool) providing an overview of his thoughts about Gibson after many years of engagement with his works. It was a fantastic opportunity for all the Gibsonites and 19th-century sculpture scholars to get together and I appreciated greatly being invited to participate by the RA.

One of the publications I had mentioned in that previous post actually just came out a few weeks ago. It is an essay about Gibson's early career in Liverpool and London before he went to Rome in 1817. The book is a significant collection of what promises to be some quite interesting essays grouped under the title of The British School of Sculpture c.1760-1832, edited by Jason Edwards and Sarah Burnage. I have to say, this was one of the longest publication schedules I've ever been through. We started working on this back in 2010 and it took until 2017 for it to be released. I was a little worried about how dated my essay would seem at this point, but after a quick reread when the book arrived, it seems like it holds up well, although it is extremely dense in its historical details. One component of my essay deals with the Watson Taylor family, who in 1816-17 commissioned six portrait busts from Gibson: Mr. and Mrs., and their four children (there was later a fifth child whose bust was carved by Edward Hodges Baily). In my essay I reproduced only one of the busts (right), which is in the collection of the V&A. This is the son John Walter Watson Taylor. In a footnote I identified the locations of the busts of the father and mother, but noted that the whereabouts of the other children were unknown. But that information has now changed a bit, so I thought I would use this blog post to "reunite" the family through their portrait busts. Alas, the bust of son Simon is still unaccounted for (as is the Baily bust), but the other two have turned up.

Last year, these busts of Isabella and George Jerome turned up in the Christie's auction sale of the collection of artist Claudio Bravo (July 13, 2016, lot 45). Gibson wrote in his memoirs that the baby's bust was "a little thing with no shape at all" (Eastlake 1870, 41), which seems apparent from the round head of the child. Although these two busts were not in great shape at auction, they sold for £2500, more than double the high end estimate (purchaser currently unknown). This connection to Christie's is rather interesting because it also dates back 200 years. James Christie, son of the founder of the auction house, was responsible for introducing Gibson to George Watson Taylor in 1816, who readily commissioned these busts of his family even though Gibson was not yet well-known in London. The sculptor even accompanied the family to the Isle of Wight where they were visiting Lord Spencer's villa, and it was there that he spent some of the time modeling the busts. He completed the children's busts in marble in 1816 and exhibited those of the two older boys at the 1817 Royal Academy exhibition. He finished the busts of the parents in marble in Rome over the next couple of years, exhibiting Mrs. Watson Taylor's bust (left) at the RA in 1819. This bust presumably is still in a private collection, as it was last seen on the market at a Sotheby's auction of November 2-3, 1989 (lot 104), but it did not sell.

At right is the father, George Watson Taylor (1771-1841), M.P. (Member of Parliament) for various locales from 1816-32. He was born George Watson, the son of a Scottish entrepreneur with an estate in Jamaica. In 1810, he married the woman above, Anne Taylor, the daughter of a baronet whose brother was a wealthy sugar planter, also in Jamaica. On the death of Anne’s brother Sir Simon Taylor in 1815, the baronetcy expired and Anne (now Mrs. Watson) inherited the family fortune. Her husband then changed their family name from Watson to Watson Taylor and assumed financial control of their estate, buying properties and furnishing them to great expense. By 1832, Watson Taylor was forced by bankruptcy to sell his estate and belongings, including all of these busts by Gibson, as well as two sculptures of Paris and a nymph that he also had commissioned from him. Mr. Watson Taylor's bust, seen here, is currently owned by Osuna Art & Antiques in Kensington, Maryland. My essay goes into more details about Watson Taylor's friendship with Gibson, including how he tried to entice him not to go to Rome at all, but Gibson was determined to do so. And the art world thereafter was grateful he made that decision. Perhaps one day the other children will turn up, but for now it is interesting to see this family partially united two centuries after the busts were commissioned and made.

(My thanks to Osuna Art & Antiques and Douglas Lewis, who provided me with Lewis's unpublished essay that, along with other original research, helped me in the writing of parts of my essay published in this book.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Art Details: 11-15

Image Credits: All images taken by bklynbiblio/Roberto C. Ferrari. Top to bottom:
  1. Adriaen van Utrecht, Still Life, ca. 1644, oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
  2. Johan Christian Dahl, Dresden Seen from Pieschen, March Haze, 1844, oil on canvas, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.
  3. Monument of Tizoc, Aztec/Mexica, 1480s, basalt, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.
  4. James Thornhill after Raphael, Peter and John Healing a Lame Man, ca. 1730, oil on canvas, Columbia University, New York.
  5. Luigi Lucioni, Portrait of Rose Hobart, 1934, oil on canvas, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Poem #2

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-- Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (1883)

I took the image you see above in Jersey City this evening, at a rally that AA, AG, and I attended to help support the rights of immigrants, refugees, and Muslims who should be welcomed, not rejected, to America. This poem was written by Lazarus to help raise funds for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty (image: Elcobbola, Public Domain,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

MWA XLVI: Dalou's Wisdom

The Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has come into the news lately because of the incredibly generous gift of benefactors Sheldon and Leena Peck, who have given the institution a gift worth $25m, including $8m in endowed funds and a collection of 134 Dutch and Flemish drawings, including 7 by Rembrandt. This is "once-in-a-lifetime" philanthropy that successfully raises the profile of this institution beyond its current popular status as an important university art museum. The art work is not yet on display, but DE and I visited anyway for the first time, since we were in that area for a conference. 

Wandering through the galleries, I saw the bronze statuette you see here. It struck me as being something one might normally pass by with hardly a glance, but it made me stop and examine it closely, so powerful was its composition and allegorical message. The sculpture is entitled Wisdom Supporting Liberty

In our current administration with anti-immigration and discrimination policies at work, this work of art struck me as having a powerful message that is as relevant today as ever. The strength of education, knowledge, and experience will always sustain and reinforce liberty, democracy, and freedom, not matter how it is attacked.

The sculptor is the French artist Jules Dalou (1838-1902). The work was modeled in 1889 and this cast was made after 1905. Because the three-dimensionality of the dark bronze statuette is difficult to see in photographic images, I've included the b/w image above from the museum's online collection, and my own color images taken with my iPhone from different angles.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

President Tyrant

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

MWA: 31-40

I find it fascinating to go back through bklynbiblio at times and see some of what I had posted in the past. Back in March 2012, I wrote the first Monthly Work of Art post (Paul Cézanne's Tulips), and while I've been unable maintain this project every month as I had hoped (life sometimes gets in the way!), the response from people has motivated me to keep it going. It also often turns into a wonderful educational opportunity--for me! After all, as they say, what better way to learn something than to teach others about it!

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.

XXXI. Duccio, 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

Cities of 2016

Following up on last year's list of cities, here is the 2016 list. When I think back on the cities AA and I visited (or that I traveled to solo mostly for work-related reasons), the highlight of the year was related to the picture you see here. AA took this of me at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, northeast of Mexico City. The temple was constructed over 1500 years ago and although one assumes it is related to the Aztecs, in fact it was constructed nearly a thousand years before the Aztecs rose to power. The views from the top at over 240 feet high were breathtaking. The height wasn't what made the climb so daunting; it was the steps that were treacherous and steep, with all these people clutching onto a rope ahead of you. If one person dropped, you knew in a moment all of you would be tumbling down the pyramid like a set of dominoes. I'm not exactly the most physical-fitness-oriented individual, so having reached the top was quite a challenge and it was a great personal triumph. Our long weekend trip to Mexico City over Memorial Day was really fantastic; I look forward to a return trip and to see other areas of Mexico.

The other vacation highlight of the year was our trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen over Thanksgiving. These were two cities I had never been to before. I loved Amsterdam; the picture here is a selfie of us with one of the canals behind us. I have been jokingly referring to Amsterdam as Brooklyn with canals and 17th-century "brownstones." It's a very laid-back city, easy to get around, and everyone speaks English. The scent of marijuana floats through the air in different sections of the city, coming from the numerous coffee houses, so you can't help but be relaxed. It will be great to go back one Spring in the near future to see the tulips and windmills in other areas of the Netherlands. Copenhagen, in contrast, was quite posh (and expensive!), with one Neoclassical palazzo after another lining the streets. The New Harbor area is absolutely charming, and there is a great new food market and rising arts scene too. There was construction taking place everywhere in the city while we were there, which was frustrating, but on the positive side of things the Christmas markets were open and I drank a lot of gløgg, 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
Copenhagen, Denmark
Leeuwarden, The Netherlands
Liverpool, England
London, England (2 visits)
Mexico City, Mexico
New Haven, Connecticut
Ogunquit, Maine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Portland, Maine (2 visits)
Provincetown, Massachusetts
St. Petersburg/Palm Harbor, Florida (3 times to see family & friends!)
West Palm Beach, Florida

Friday, January 6, 2017

First Snowstorm: 2016-2017 Winter

When I was in London in mid-December, the weather there reached the mid-50s and was surprisingly beautiful. In the NYC area, however, the weather at that same time was bitterly cold a few days, and then the area was hit with a snowstorm. By the time I got home, the snow long had melted. Late last night, it started snowing, and we still had some flurries this morning. While I wouldn't normally classify today's weather event as a true snowstorm, I will today since it did stick and it made for at least one lovely shot when I reached Columbia this morning. This is taken from the entrance gates at 116th St. on Broadway. My suspicion is that we are going to have a mildly-snowy winter; we may get a few more flurries, but I don't think we will be hit with major storms. In any case, as always, it is picturesque when you first see the blanket of white dust everything around you.

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

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year! Is it really 2017 already?!?! Last year, AA and I had a quiet NYE in and spent NYD at the movies and roaming through the City. This year, we went to a nice dinner party with AG+GH at AR's new condo in Hell's Kitchen. Watching the festivities on TV, we talked about how fortunate we were to live in a City where all the Times Square festivities were just a few blocks away from us...the center of a Universe at a particular moment in time year after year!...and how we had the luxury of deciding to avoid all of that insanity in order to toast in the new year with our own bottle of bubbly! It was a relaxing, laid-back evening; AA and I even crashed there. As a result, we have been having a very lazy day today. The highlight of the morning was starting off the new year with a delicious cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese. It was so delectable after all the imbibing the evening beforehand. I hope that bagel sets the tone for the year ahead. Knowing the upcoming inauguration is the next major news event in all our lives, we will definitely need lots of tasty bagels to make us feel better.

If you read this blog on the Web at, 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

Books of 2016

I'm a little late writing this annual post. Although the 100 Notable Books of 2016 came out from in New York Times a few weeks ago, I've been incredibly busy (including a London trip), so I've only now had a chance to catch up on my blogging about this and other things. Running through their annual list, there are a few novels that definitely caught my eye. I've heard a number of positive things about The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and it has also made it onto the NYT top 5 books of the year list, so that is going onto my Amazon Wish List. From the 100 list I've also added the 2016 novels The Life-Writer by David Constantine, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, and Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton. I have never read anything by these authors before, so I'm not sure if these will be good "firsts" for me to read or not, but these all seem like things I would want to read. In non-fiction I've added Simon Schama's The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits (which was associated with a 2015-16 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which unfortunately I missed), and Richard Tomb's The English and Their History. As if my Anglophilia weren't obvious enough, I should mention at this point that after the 100 list came out, there was a review for Julia Baird's new biography of Queen Victoria, which I immediately put on my list. Imagine my pleasant surprise with I received it as a Christmas gift from my godchildren, the AEOBs (THANK YOU!!!).

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 [1881]. 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 [1999], a good introductory survey to the history and stylistic developments of landscape painting; Susan Sontag's On Photography [1977], 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 [2011], 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 [2015], an excellent story of the lesbian modernist painter, and a journalistic-style biography of Anthony Blunt by Miranda Carter [2001], 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 [2015], 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 [2015], 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 [2003], 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 [2014], 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 [1929]. 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 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.