Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Follow-up to the Walk...

I posted a couple of weeks ago about participating in the 2014 NYC Walk to End Alzheimer's. The photo you see here is "Team Ferrari and Friends"--AA, PO, bklynbiblio, and JG! We had more people, but a few had to drop out last-minute for personal reasons. It was a brisk morning in Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson, and unfortunately I woke up with a sore throat, but I'm thrilled to say that we accomplished an amazing feat. Our team raised $1,815 in donations to help fight the battle against Alzheimer's disease! I'm very proud of what we've done, and I'm hopeful that all of the donations brought in that day will continue to support more research to eventually find a cure or better way of surviving this disease with dignity, and supporting the caregivers who must suffer through the ordeal with their loved ones. Here's to ending Alzheimer's! Thank you, everyone, who supported our team.

MWA XXIX: Cranach's Salome

Northern Renaissance art is one of those areas in art history where, one day, I will give myself a crash course (recommendations on survey texts greatly appreciated!). Whenever I see works by masters such as Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Gerard David, Lucas Cranach the Elder (ca.1472-1553), and others, I am astounded at their talent, their handling of oil paint, particularly on wood panels, and the often haunting beauty evident in their figures. But I always feel as if I'm missing something, as if there is more going on, beyond what you see, and I struggle to know what it is. I believe part of the challenge in understanding most Renaissance art from the German states has to do with the rise of Protestantism under Martin Luther and how that change altered the development of painting itself. Exquisite Madonnas and Nativities gradually gave way to peasant scenes and still life subjects, more acceptable forms of art that focused less on religious ritual and more on word and action. Cranach was one of those artists who successfully bridged the transition between the Catholic and the Protestant in art.

I've chosen for this Monthly Work of Art Cranach's painting of Salome, ca. 1530, oil on panel (Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest; image: Web Gallery of Art), in part because it's an eye-catching painting, but also because the rather disturbing image seemed appropriate for the upcoming Halloween season. The subject is from the New Testament (Mark 6:21-29 and Matthew 14:6-11). It is the story of Salome, the daughter of Herodias and step-daughter of Herod, who performed the so-called Dance of the Seven Veils and so entranced her step-father that he promised to give her anything she wanted. Her mother, angry at the accusations weighed against her by John the Baptist, made her ask for the prophet's head on a silver platter. Herod was forced to comply, and the cousin of Jesus was beheaded. The legend of Salome of course developed over time. In fact, she is not named in the Bible, but only given her name by Josephus, the first-century historian, decades later. Salome herself evolved over time in cultural history. Early references make her a naive child, but over time she became a femme fatale, a creature whose beauty is so powerful she destroys men. You can see that effect taking place in this painting. Cranach depicts with gore the decapitated head oozing blood while blank, dead eyes stare at the viewer. Salome seems almost devilish, grinning in delight at what she has accomplished. She has long golden braids and wears Renaissance finery (that feathered hat is incredible!), and she clutches with ease the heavy silver platter with the decapitated head as if it weighed nothing. For a Renaissance audience, this type of Salome was a daughter of Eve, a temptress and destroyer of man's innocence from the time of the Garden of Eden. But not every artist over time depicted Salome in this way. If you just do a Google Image search, you can quickly see the varying ways artists have depicted her holding the head of John the Baptist. In some, she looks away in horror (humility?), in others she seems to be in a daze (entranced?). But there are many others where Salome is depicted as in Cranach's painting, an active participant, one who kills, using her dancing and beauty to entrance mankind to her will, and to his demise.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Art Properties in the News

My department of Art Properties has been profiled in an excellent write-up in the Columbia University news by Eve Glasberg. You can read the article and see a slideshow of a few highlights from the collection by clicking here. The image above is a Buddhist sculpture from the collection: Head of a Disciple, 550-577, from China, Northern Qi dynasty, limestone with traces of pigment (S1135). The article gives a good overview of the University's art collections, and how my team and I have been changing the mission to one based more on curricular integration, educational programs, and international exhibition loans. They also filmed us reinstalling art works from the Sackler Collections in the Faculty Room of Low Library, in which I narrate a little bit about these works and the recent graduate seminar in Chinese art in which students researched and studied works from this collection.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top 10 Read Novels: 2010-2013

Regular readers of bklynbiblio know that near the end of each calendar year, I do a "Books of" post highlighting some of my favorite reads of the year. In addition to those posts, just over 3 years ago, I blogged about my Top 10 Read Novels that I had read between the years 2005 and 2009. (Yes, I am actually that neurotic, in that I not only keep track of every book I've read, but I also rate and rank them!) Since posting that in 2011, I have been gathering a few more favorites, so I thought I would write an update, highlighting my Top 10 Read Novels from 2010 to 2013. As with the last list, it's important to realize that I'm not claiming this is my list of all-time-favorite novels, or that the books on this list were published between these years. This is my 5-star ranked list of novels I read between these years. Counting down from 10 to 1...

10. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (1953). Pym was my great author discovery, thanks to TC in TN, although I read this book in 2012 after having read Excellent Women (see below) in 2011. Yes, I have enjoyed Pym's books so much her name appears twice on this list. Few authors have been able to make me laugh aloud with their sardonic observations of everyday life. Here, friends Jane and Prudence, in post-WWII Britain, try to figure out what they truly want out of life and men, living between town and country, all leading to a charming ending.
9. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (2009, English ed.). This third book in the trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo brings it all home in a way that not only resolves a lot of loose ends, but restored this reader's faith in what seemed to be the author's/narrator's blatant misogyny. The women rule the show in this book.
8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002). This is the story of young Susie Salmon, who has been murdered. She narrates her story from the afterlife, struggling to let her family know she's still watching over them, but also trying to help them realize who it is that killed her. There is a spiritual message here, but it's not traditionally religious, and it's surprisingly very human in the end. A touching, beautifully-composed book.
7. A Russian Affair by Anton Chekhov (1896-99). This little book is a collection of a few of the Russian author's short stories, all focusing on love, grouped together by Penguin Books as part of its "Great Loves" series. These stories amazed me with their near-perfection in short form. I'm intentionally waiting a while so I can read them and relish them again, as if it were the first time. "The Lady with the Dog" in particular will leave you swooning as much as the characters do.
6. The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt (2009). Byatt still holds a special place for me as the author of my all-time favorite novel, Possession. Here she tackles twenty+ years in the lives of a group children who grow up from the 1890s to World War I. You can read my review of the book here.
5. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952). This was the first Pym novel I read, and it is (so far) the best. She will have you chuckling aloud as you pour out another cup of tea, and join thirtysomething Mildred Lathbury through another seemingly boring day with her fellow church ladies and her high-strung neighbors. You will be amazed at how much adventure can come from doing nothing. I can see Pym's influence on some of my other favorite British authors, including Byatt and Ruth Rendell.
4. Howards End by E. M. Forster (1910). Of course, I saw the Merchant-Ivory film with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins a long time ago. But having read almost all of Forster's other novels, I finally settled down for what is considered one of his best, and it did not disappoint. The Schlegel sisters are divine characters, but what amazed me most was how the individual houses all were anthropomorphized and became characters as well.
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008, English ed.). My thanks to PR for giving me this book. It is one of the smartest and wittiest (and tragic) books I've ever read. The dowdy, provincial concierge Renee, who works for a grand Parisian apartment building, is secretly a genius, but keeping to herself becomes more and more difficult when she inadvertently befriends both the quirky young Paloma from upstairs, who films her family because they are stupid, and a new resident in the building who sees through her disguise. My friend Shermania has blogged about the book as well and has some interesting observations.
2. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874). I struggled as to whether this book should be number 1 on the list, and in some ways perhaps it is. The books is, truly, a masterpiece, and I think I will struggle to ever find another novel as incredibly well-written. Eliot's genius as a woman writer (using a man's name) was to make her readers realize that everyone has the capacity to think, including women (a rather new idea for Victorian men). The heroine Dorothea Brooke is so well-rounded and complex, struggling as she does to be both an intelligent and a passionate woman. But, honestly, what got to me most was the ending. I sobbed during the last few paragraphs, understanding the story's underlying message: awareness of what one's true gift to the world can and should be.
1. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875). It is rather surprising to think that Trollope's social commentary novel was published in book form just a year after Eliot's masterpiece. They are such different books, it is worth reading both of them to understand that "Victorian fiction" is most definitely not one mode of writing. Middlemarch is certainly a better-written novel and arguably a greater work of literature. But Trollope's novel is timeless in that the plot speaks as much of today's society as it did in the 1870s. Social climbing, greed, corruption, and embezzlement have not changed at all. This book can teach you a great deal about the world we live in today. It's also rather hilarious, which makes for an enjoyable read, and probably the one reason why I made it #1. You can read my pre-review I blogged about here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Walk to End Alzheimer's 2014

Back in 2008, two years after my mother passed away, I decided to participate in the Alzheimer's Association's annual memory walk. You can read about that special day by going here. Having now lost my father to the effects to Alzheimer's as well, I decided to participate in the walk once again. 

Team "Ferrari & Friends" will be doing the 2014 NYC Walk to End Alzheimer's on Sunday, October 19th. Although we are doing this in memory of my mother and father, we are also walking in support of all those who suffer from this horrible disease and their caretakers & families who must endure the pain of this disease with them. My team currently consists of me, AA, MS, JG, and the FF-POs, but we are looking for more people to join us. Our team goal is $2500 and so far we've already raised $375. Will you help us work toward eradicating Alzheimer's disease and make a donation? You can visit our team page and make a donation online by going to Thanks in advance for your help and generosity.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Tomorrow I depart for Munich on a work-related trip associated with the afore-blogged story about Florine Stettheimer, for the exhibition at the Lenbachhaus. This summer got away from me and I never had a chance to blog about my trip with AA to Chicago, or even my recent get-away weekend to Maine. But hopefully I will have a chance to write about Munich. I am actually intrigued to be going here. The sculptor John Gibson visited Munich rather frequently from the 1840s on, and always seemed to enjoy it. Much of the city was destroyed during World War II, so I have been told that the architecture today has a tendency to look as if "something isn't right," to quote my former dissertation adviser PM (who kindly loaned me a little travel guide on the city). This will be a week filled with work-related tasks, but I am hopeful I will get to see many of the important art museums and collections there, most notably the Glyptothek (seen above), which houses some of the more important sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome. It's also Oktoberfest, so I suspect it will be important to drink some fit in with the locals, of course...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

MWA XXVIII: Stettheimer's Model

One of the more interesting aspects of my job at Columbia University as Curator of Art Properties has been researching the art work of Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944). Columbia holds the largest collection of her art work anywhere in the world, so it has been an insightful journey to learn more about her life and art work crafted in and among NYC's artistic elite. She and her fellow "spinster" sisters Ettie and Carrie held a regular salon in their home on the Upper West Side of NYC (not too far from where I live), and Florine had a painting studio in the Beaux-Arts building overlooking Bryant Park. They befriended and hosted some of the leading artists, writers, and theater performers of the day, including Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, and Georgia O'Keeffe. The first international exhibition of Stettheimer's work opens later this month at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, Germany. Columbia is a major lender to this exhibition; you can read the official press release here. As a tribute, I've made September's Monthly Work of Art one of Stettheimer's most famous paintings from the Columbia collection: A Model (Nude Self-Portrait). The following is adapted from my own essay on this painting, which will be published in the catalogue for this exhibition.

"Odalisque: A Model (Nude Self-Portrait) by Florine Stettheimer"
Roberto C. Ferrari

By the time Florine Stettheimer returned to America in 1914, after spending more than fifteen years living abroad, the subject of the female nude in European art was not only a standard part of academic study, but also a means by which to experiment with Modernist practices. Stettheimer had studied at the Art Students League of New York during the 1890s, and she learned the academic practice of drawing and painting the nude female model. It is hardly surprising, then, that around 1915-16 she painted a large-scale reclining nude entitled A Model. Striking, however, is that the figure probably is a self-portrait, albeit a younger, idealized vision of herself, as she was in her mid-forties when she painted this work.(fn.1) In presenting herself as a nude, she offered the viewer a popular artistic subject, but in being painted by a woman the picture challenged its own historic origins. Stettheimer’s European contemporaries Paula Modersohn-Becker and Suzanne Valadon also painted nude self-portraits at this time. It is unknown if Stettheimer ever saw works by these women, but together they collectively introduced a modern image of how women artists could control representations of the female body.

Stettheimer’s choice of Chinese white paint makes the skin of her model modulate in tones from ivory to icy blue, and applications of palette-scraped excess over visible underpainting give texture to the curves of the model’s body. Her orange hair is short, and the playful grin on her face is held up by fragile Botticellian fingers. Her torso is frontal, showing level nipples on small breasts. She lies on an ornamental shawl with a necklace strewn nearby. Surrounded by a fringed canopy, she presents her body as if on stage. She is an odalisque, a reclining nude associated with the harem, intended for voyeuristic display.

The reclining nude has origins in Renaissance paintings like Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538; image here), a work Stettheimer greatly admired, describing it in her 1906 diary as “as beautiful as ever” after visiting the Uffizi.(fn.2) Stettheimer’s Model, however, is not a classical goddess; she shares more compositionally with the modernism of Edouard Manet’s Olympia (image right, Musee d'Orsay). Although Manet’s painting caused a sensation in Paris at the 1865 Salon for featuring a modern-day courtesan, Stettheimer’s painting shows us not a prostitute, but a modern-day woman. Both paintings show the flattening of the perspectival plane and the thrust of the nude into the viewer’s space.(fn.3) The black servant is missing from Stettheimer’s work, but the flowers remain a focal point. For Manet, these were a symbol of sexual commerce, but for Stettheimer the bouquet serves as a distraction. Stettheimer adored flowers, painting throughout her career bouquets that she called “eyegays,” instead of nosegays, because they delighted the eye.(fn.4) Stettheimer’s model holds an ornate “eyegay” in the center of the painting, intentionally distracting the viewer from the triangle of pubic hair below it, the private place that both Titian and Manet drew attention to by placing the woman’s hand directly on it.

Stettheimer’s contemporary Henri Matisse also painted reclining females such as The Blue Nude (1907; image here), which some may consider another source of inspiration. But, in fact, Matisse’s odalisques from the 1920s (e.g. image here) have more in common with Stettheimer’s painting in their depiction of the nude in an exotic setting.(fn.5) And both Matisse and Stettheimer arguably were inspired by another famous nude: J.-A.-D. Ingres’s Grande Odalisque (1814; image here), painted a century before Stettheimer’s work. The manneristic body for which Ingres is famous can be seen in Stettheimer’s model, who seems to lack a skeletal structure. Under ultraviolet light, one can see that Stettheimer overpainted the attenuated legs, which bear a striking resemble to those of Ingres’s odalisque. Thus, inspired by Titian, Ingres, and Manet, Stettheimer shared with Matisse the aesthetic experiment of using shocking colors and elongated forms to modernize the academic nude.

Although A Model is seen today as an important work in Stettheimer’s oeuvre, her contemporaries never acknowledged this painting in articles published during her lifetime.(fn.6) The painting was not shown at her 1916 exhibition at Knoedler, and it was excluded from her posthumous exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. Yet the painting clearly was important to her, for it is the only picture she proudly presented in its entirety when she painted Soirée (StudioParty) a few years later. This work shows the artist, her sister Ettie, and friends such as Leo Stein and the Hindu poet Sankar (seated beneath the model’s pudenda) in her studio. Juliette Gleizes, seated on the couch and gazing at A Model, is the only one who seems to wonder if the figure is Stettheimer herself, a comment perhaps on women’s intuition. It is this reimagining of the woman’s body, painted by a woman artist, that makes Stettheimer’s odalisque a significant contribution to the early history of modern art.

1. Barbara J. Bloemink first argued this painting was a self-portrait, based largely on Stettheimer’s other self-representations with similar orange-colored hair, most notably Self-Portrait with Palette (Painter and Faun). The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 66–68. Parker Tyler dated A Model and Self-Portrait with Palette to the same period, ca. 1915–16, also drawing attention to the similar hair color and style in each figure. However, he did not suggest that they are both Stettheimer. Florine Stettheimer: A Life in Art (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Co., 1963), p. 22.
2. Florine Stettheimer, diary entry, May 30, 1906, Stettheimer Papers, YCAL MSS 20, Beinecke Library, Yale University.
3. For a more extensive comparison between Stettheimer’s and Manet’s paintings, see Bloemink, pp. 63–67.
4. Henry McBride astutely compared Stettheimer’s paintings of flowers to those of Odilon Redon for their mysticism, and to the biomorphic forms of Joan Miró for their abstraction: “The flowers in her flower pieces were . . . mere points of departure. They are, I believe, sufficiently botanical, but they are also unearthly. I never heard her speak of Redon, and she would not have thought herself related to him, yet there is a kinship between their flowers. Both imbued them with the occult, something reaching out of this world to that other; and of the two, Florine granted them more actual freedom, and the blossoms in her vases wriggled upward with a whimsicality in the stems that is not to be outmatched for waywardness in the ‘automatic’ paintings of Miro.” Florine Stettheimer (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946), pp. 15, 18.
5. After viewing Florine Stettheimer: An Exhibition of Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings, held at Columbia University in 1973, the composer Virgil Thomson wrote to the curator: “[Stettheimer] may be a better fauve than Matisse. Certainly she was a better painter.” Virgil Thompson to Jane Sabersky, February 24, 1973, Florine Stettheimer Papers, Box 1, Folder 6, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
6. Tyler, in his 1963 biography, is the first author to reference the painting. It was only with renewed interest in Stettheimer in the 1980s that art historians began to discuss this picture. Controlling her sister’s image, Ettie Stettheimer may have intentionally kept this painting away from public view because of its provocative nature.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy 6th Birthday!

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, dear bklynbiblio!
Happy Birthday to you!
Can you believe our little blog is 6 years old this coming Friday, August 29th? Wow, we really have grown. This current post is #482, and our most popular tags have surprisingly changed very little. Topping the chart is "New York" (124) and "19th-century art" (84), which retain the top spots. "England" (75) has surpassed "photography" (74), but only by a hair, and jumping up the list is "art exhibitions" (69) followed by "gay" (64). It's interesting to assess these numbers in that it shows the blog has had a consistent focus over the years. My thanks to all my readers for staying in touch with this blog for 6 spectacular years!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MWA XXVII: Landseer's Dog

This morning, I discovered on Twitter that it was #WorldDogDay (aka #NationalDogDay). I always wonder who comes up with these official declarations, especially considering I don't recall ever having celebrated this day before (and who wouldn't want to celebrate Dog Day!?). So this morning I celebrated by tweeting a few dog-themed paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chatsworth in Derbyshire, England (home of the Duke of Devonshire--and they tweeted back), and the work you see here from the Victoria and Albert Museum: The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner, 1837, by Sir Edwin Landseer. A herding dog rests his head on the coffin of the shepherd who was his master, his empty chair in the background echoing the loss. You can almost hear the dog whimper in sadness from his expression and bodily position. The Romanticized rustic setting of the farmhouse or stable where the casket is set adds to the overall sadness of the painting. By today's standards, however, the sentimentality exuded by this painting is scoffed at by most who find the scene ridiculously saccharine, particularly because this was once accepted as a form of high art. When one thinks of dogs in art, what is the one picture everyone thinks of and laughs about as the height of bad taste? The infamous picture of dogs playing poker, of course. Admittedly, scenes such as that take anthropomorphism to a new extreme, but one shouldn't be so quick to dismiss all animal paintings because of that kitsch scene (which, perhaps important to note, was part of an advertisement scheme to sell cigars to men).

In the 19th century, the painter Landseeer was tremendously popular. His animal scenes were made into prints and distributed worldwide. He was the only British artist to win the Grand Medal of Honor at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris, and this was in recognition of his contributions to animal painting. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were great patrons of Landseer, in part because Albert loved greyhounds and other dogs, and Landseer was able to paint them so realistically, giving them personalities that Albert-the-dog-lover saw in the dogs himself. This idea that animals had emotions and should be treated with respect as living creatures also began in the 19th century under the influence of William Wilberforce, who eventually founded the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which the American version, the ASPCA, was an unofficial off-shoot). But in the art world itself, the role of animal painting was nothing new. It was recognized by the Academy as a form of genre painting, and animals for centuries had been used as subjects in paintings to convey iconographical representations of pride, sin, sexual prowess, and so on. Grand Manner portraits by Veronese, Van Dyck, Reynolds, and so on, often include dogs or other animals, the visual image telling the viewer that the subject has a sense of refinement and/or is a powerful landowner. And although I am focusing exclusively on dogs for this post, horses were another popular animal that appeared in these same portraits, signifying to viewers the wealth and power of the men depicted by these artists.

Landseer may have painted a few pictures of animals that can be read today as silly or sentimental, but the power of an image such as The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner resonated so greatly his contemporaries that when Landseer himself died in 1873 his bronze tombstone at St. Paul's Cathedral was engraved with the same work of art. It was an appropriate acknowledgment of Landseer's popularity and his significant contribution to British art and animal painting.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Restoration of Simeon Solomon's Grave

Just over a month ago, a number of friends and colleagues associated with the artist Simeon Solomon attended the rededication ceremony of his grave at Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London. I was unable to attend, in part because of the exorbitant prices to fly to London, but also because I was in Chicago at the time. As I had noted previously on this blog, Solomon's grave site long had fallen to ruin, a testament to his own reputation declining after his arrest for homosexual crimes and his subsequent death as an impoverished artist. Mr. Frank Vigon receives all the credit for taking the lead in the restoration of Solomon's grave site. My friend and colleague (and fellow Solomaniac!) Carolyn Conroy has written a short report about the ceremony and provided a number of photos, which you can read and see here on her Simeon Solomon Research Archive (which she has just this weekend updated with a new look). The photo you see here shows sculptor Joss Nankoo working on the new stone, which includes a replica of Solomon's painting The Sleepers and the One who Watcheth. It is our hope that this rededication will be another step forward in reclaiming Solomon's reputation as an important painter among the Pre-Raphaelites and in Jewish and gay/lesbian art history. I look forward to seeing his grave site on my next visit to London.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Off the Grid: Nick Arcidy

It seems incredible to me, following my father's passing, that just 5 weeks ago I was excited about the opening of my guest-curated exhibition "Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise" at the Atlantic Gallery, about which I last posted here. I never did have a chance to announce on this blog best in show. It was a difficult choice, as there were a number of excellent works in the exhibition. I had narrowed the pool down to 5 finalists, and in the end I selected as the winner Nick Arcidy for the work you see here, Ethernet Exhaltation, 2014, gouache on wood, 11 x 11 in.

I was impressed how Arcidy managed in such a small work to capture so much imagery that aptly responded to the theme of the show. He considers the technological grid that we seem unable to escape from in our world these days, and inverts it into a monastic experience, leaving the viewer uncertain if the figure seen here is praising the grid or praying to be released from it. The cathedral-like space behind the figure reverberates with icons of technology, creating a strange noise/silence that is charming and yet full of despair. Arcidy's painting made me think of The Jetsons and pseudo-science, as well as Japanese anime and advertising art. I see echoes of Kenny Scharf's work here too.

Arcidy's prize is a one-person show at the Atlantic Gallery in the spring. I look forward to seeing it in person and more from this young artist in the future. If you would like to see/hear me say a bit more about this work, here's a link to a short video clip someone at the gallery took of me having just announced Arcidy's work as best in show.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lessons from Papà

Today was my father's memorial service in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a beautiful service. Numerous people from the Italian-American Society of St. Petersburg were there, as were members of my family, all in celebration of my father's life. The minister, Tom Lentz, knew my father from the Society, so it was a joy to have someone lead the service who actually knew my father. My "right-hand person," Rose Marcelin, gave a lovely talk remembering the positive and fun parts of my father's life that touched so many people. We played the "Ave Maria" (Bach/Gounod, sung by Andrea Bocelli), as we had at my mother's service eight years ago, and we also played "Miserere" sung by Russell Watson and Zucchero, a song that my father used to sing and loved not only because of its beautiful harmony but because my mother loved the song so much. The message in that song is clear and appropriate for today: although sometimes we go through terrible things, we salute life for all the beauty it holds. We ended with a small group of dancers from the Society performing "La Molisana," a lovely slow dance that was one of my father's favorites when he performed with the group.

The DVD of images from my father's life included many touching moments, but also a few funny ones. I acknowledged the important role that the Society played in my father's life, and the Fountains of Boca Ciega Bay where they helped make his last few years so rewarding and respectful. I also tribute to his dear friend Karin Cline, who was his constant companion the past few years, and to Rose and my cousin Denise for their support and help through the years and at the very end. I've given my memorial talk the title "Lessons from Papà," and I have transcribed the text below. I wasn't sure I would be able to make it through the entire talk, but I'm glad that I did, as I wanted to convey to those present these memories and celebrate my special moments of his life.

Before the memorial service started, I’m sure many of you were watching the DVD of my father’s life. The images tell us a clear story—he truly lived a full life and he took pride in his family, his friends, and things that gave him great joy, like playing the drums and dancing. He also enjoyed himself on stage and performed in drag. I'm proud to say my father did drag! And he was good! For a number of years, my father taught Italian language classes for the Italian-American Society, and although we have no images of him teaching in that DVD, many of us know first-hand how much he enjoyed doing this. He did not have a degree to teach.  In fact, my father’s official education ended during World War II when the Americans bombed his high school in Milan. But even without an official education, his exuberance made him a natural in leading a classroom. Thinking about his role as a teacher, I realized that as my life has unfolded it is my father who was one of my great teachers. So I thought I would share with you some lessons in life I learned from Papà.

When I was 8 years old, I remember struggling to understand why the seasons changed. My father picked up a red apple, removed the stem, and reinserted it at a slight angle. He then began to rotate the apple along the stem’s angle, and moved his hand in a circle in the air. That was how I came to understand how the earth rotates on its axis and how the planet moves around the sun. It was also the first time it ever occurred to me that this man, my father, was rather clever.

When I used to practice the piano, he would teach me about rhythm and tempo, acting as my own personal metronome by clapping his hands to a consistent beat. It used to drive me crazy! But over time I realized how playing his drums wasn't just about making sounds. By playing the drums, he was the foundation of rhythm that made every song sound great.

My father taught me that history was not just facts about the past. He did this by telling stories. He would recount strange tales of growing up under Mussolini, of avoiding bombings, of eating marble dust in bread or marmalade again and again, and of watching Mussolini hung upside-down with his girlfriend after the War. He taught me that history is about an experienced life.

My father taught me about determination and working toward one’s goals. He emigrated to a new country without speaking the language and forged a better life for himself and for his family, in pursuit of the American dream. And he always encouraged me to find my own path and to live my own life, but to always know that he was there for me when I needed him.

One day my father told me about his life before my mother, Chris, and me, that he had been married before and had two daughters. I learned that day about honesty and integrity, but also about fallibility, watching in my father’s eyes a hidden awareness that even though he had tried to do the best he could for his daughters in Italy, he knew he had let them down by not being in their lives the same way he was in ours.

But he also showed me the power of true, unconditional parental love when, during my own personal identity crisis 21 years ago, a time when I even contemplated suicide rather than disappoint him, my father came to me and said, quite simply, “We love you, no matter what, and we are here for you. We will always love you.”

My father showed me through his relationship with my mother the power of passionate love, how it can be romantic, combustible, thrilling, violent, exciting, and extremely painful. But then he showed me the true essence of love when my mother’s sickness got worse and worse. He fed her, he carried her, he cleaned her, he held her. And toward the end, when he could do no more physically, he visited her every single day just to say hello and to hold her hand. After she died, he told me that he had loved her in those last few years more then all the intensely passionate years beforehand.

Everyone here will likely agree that my father was a happy man, someone who always wanted to throw another party, to play music, and to dance. He was not perfect, but he was a decent, hard-working man who wanted only the best in life for everyone. 

My father understood that life is a journey, an opportunity to contribute to the universe with all the gifts, talents, and love that we possess. It is that personal sense of enjoyment and experience, that thing that is not just life but living, that is the greatest lesson from my father that I will keep in my heart above all others. I salute you, Papà, and I say "Mille grazie!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MWA XXVI: Leonardo's Supper

Despite everything that has been happening in my life these days, I didn't want to forgo the Monthly Work of Art, in part because it seemed rather appropriate to share as this month's subject an Italian Renaissance masterpiece that was arguably my father's favorite work of art: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (Il Cenacolo). Because Leonardo experimented with different media in the fresh plaster when he painted this work from about 1494 to 1498, it has suffered and degraded over time. Continuous restorations have attempted to preserve it as much as possible, so it hasn't always been available for public viewing. I saw it once with my father and Zia Marisa, and I remember more the experience of how the spotlight shines briefly then dims, so as not to expose the work to light for too long. It is beautiful in a subdued, peaceful way. It is a testament to Renaissance geometric and spatial practices in art, to create a more humanistic approach to the human form and to fool the eye into thinking a flat wall is a three-dimensional space. (So much has been written about this painting, I won't even bother commenting further. Readers are invited to post comments about their favorite texts that discuss this work though.)

When I think about why my father loved this work of art, I suspect it had less to do with all of that, however, and more to do with the fact that it is located in Milan, his hometown, at Santa Maria delle Grazie. With so many famous Renaissance and Baroque masterworks found in cities like Florence, Venice, and Rome, the placement of one of the greatest of these in Milan is rather unique. For my father I'm sure his love of this work of art was about civic pride, a constant reminder of the beauty of life, particularly during the dark days of World War II when his family struggled to find food and avoid bombings throughout the city. I choose Leonardo's Last Supper for this MWA, as a tribute to my father and to his Milanese cultural heritage.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Passing of Alfredo Ferrari

Although my father has been ill for quite some time, I have to confess I was unprepared for the news that he had had such a sharp decline about two weeks ago. He passed away on Friday, July 18. Fortunately, I was able to get to Florida and spend his last two days with him. Although it was a great challenge to watch him slowly fade, it was, in truth, an honor and privilege to hold his hand as he passed away. After suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease for more than five years, and following up on the long suffering my mother endured as well from early onset Alzheimer's disease, my father is now at rest and no longer in pain. Although my mother's death took place eight years ago, it seems strangely poetic that her death occurred on July 13, five days before my father's did. His memorial service will be held on Sunday, August 10, at Memorial Park Funeral Home in St. Petersburg, FL. I've written his obituary and you can leave comments with the online guestbook by clicking here. But at some point that will come down, so I'm reproducing what I've written here as well.

Alfredo Ferrari, 82, passed away on Friday, July 18, 2014. He was born in Milan, Italy on September 6, 1931, the third son of Giuseppe Ferrari and Adelaide Cogliati, and grew up in Fascist Italy under Mussolini during World War II. He worked for the film and photography company Agfa-Gevaert in Italy, and later emigrated to the United States, living in the Bronx, New York, and continuing to work for Agfa as a warehouse manager in New Jersey. He also was a drummer in the New York-based band Bits-n-Pieces, and later in life played with other musical groups as well. He moved to St. Petersburg, Florida upon retiring in 1989, and became very active in the Italian-American Society of St. Petersburg, performing with the Tarantella Dancers and teaching Italian language and culture. He is predeceased by his wife Kathleen Pape Ferrari, who died in 2006. He is survived by his daughters AnnaMaria Ferrari Polo and Anita Ferrari and their mother, all of Italy, his son Roberto C. Ferrari of New York City, his foster son Christopher Carattini of New Jersey, his sister Rosanna Ferrari Clementi and nieces, also of Italy, as well as grandchildren and a great-grandchild. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Alzheimer's Association, Florida Gulf Coast Chapter,

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gibson, Northumberland, Cupid, and Psyche

On July 9th, Sotheby's London held an auction of 57 works of fine and decorative arts collected by the Dukes of Northumberland, put up for sale by the current 12th Duke. Among the works that sold were two bas reliefs in marble made by the sculptor John Gibson (about whom I have of course written rather extensively!). The reliefs were The Marriage of Psyche and Celestial Love and Cupid Pursuing Psyche, and sold for a rather surprising £122,500 each ($209,953; hammer price including buyer's premium). This is nowhere as high as the millions spent on contemporary art, of course, but in a day and age when many people believe Classicism is dead, it is noteworthy that for some people these works still hold great merit and are considered worthy acquisitions and beautiful works of art. Indeed, after having looked at many of Gibson's works in Europe and America, I can say with certainty that his relief sculptures in marble are among his finest works. Gibson was a draftsman at heart, and relief sculpture often allows the sculptor to "draw" in marble, if you will, in a way that is very different from how sculpture in the round is conceived and made. The image above showing Cupid Pursuing Psyche is actually from the collection at the Royal Academy, as Sotheby's does not allow you to download images, but the two works are seemingly identical based on a visual comparison of the two, which you can see here and here.

The subjects of both works come from the mythical tales of Eros/Cupid, the winged god of love, and the young woman Psyche, with whom he unexpectedly fell in love. The full love story is beyond the scope of this blog post, but it was a love fraught with challenges, and in the end they were united in the heavens, with Psyche being turned into a goddess and granted butterfly wings to join her spouse. Their love story was a popular subject in art at the time, so Gibson was no different from many of his fellow painters and sculptors in trying to capture an interpretation of their story of young love. He worked the subject in marble, in fact, in three different bas reliefs--the two named above, and a third entitled simply Cupid and Psyche, showing the two in a more passionate embrace. The dates of the original designs for all three reliefs probably originate in the late 1830s, for we know that Queen Victoria commissioned one of the earliest marble versions of The Marriage of Psyche and Celestial Love (seen here: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014). It was intended as a wedding anniversary gift for Prince Albert, but she instead gave it to him for Christmas in 1845. Although this 1844-45 version and that commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland seem almost exactly the same, in fact Gibson changed where he put his signature. On the version in the Royal Collection, he signed his name on the bottom of the lyre; in the version for Northumberland, he signed it along the lower left.

Algernon Percy, the 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865), and his wife, the Duchess Eleanor Grosvenor Percy, commissioned the two bas reliefs from Gibson in early 1854, when they were on holiday in Rome and visiting his studio. Gibson noted in letters that he was warmly received by them. In his memoirs, he even credited the Duke with giving him the idea of keeping his famous Tinted Venus statue on display in his studio longer than he intended to help market this masterpiece. The Duke said to him: "If you could keep the Venus in Rome for a considerable time, she would be visited by travellers [sic] of different nations, and they would spread her fame for you." (The Biography of John Gibson, R.A., Sculptor, Rome, ed. Thomas Matthews [London: Heinemann, 1911], p.184). He followed the Duke's suggestion and kept his polychrome Venus for another five years, until the owner, Mrs. Preston, demanded he send the sculpture to her in England as promised.

Gibson kept up good relations with the Duke and Duchess. Extant correspondence shows that he was invited by them to visit them in England in 1855, and he probably did on his visit there that Fall. Other correspondence and his journal at the Royal Academy show that he also visited them at their famous home of Syon House in the suburbs of London from August 1st through 3rd, 1863. These two bas reliefs may have been installed in any one of their homes, as they could be moved and presumably were not integral to the architecture of a particular room. The separation of them from the descendants of the Dukes of Northumberland today is but one of a number of important works in their collection that critics say are sad to see go, but real life often forces even the aristocracy to make sacrifices in order to pay debts and repairs so as to maintain the grand manor estates one wants to visit when abroad.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Off the Grid: Now Open!

I will be writing soon about my amazing trip to Chicago (and Milwaukee!), but for now I just wanted to share the news that my guest-curated exhibition "Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise" at the Atlantic Gallery (last blogged about here) has opened today. You see here two installation views I photographed today. The official opening reception is this Thursday, July 10th, from 5-8pm.

The art work in the show is in a variety of media: painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and drawings. Most, but not all, of the 28 artists are based in the larger NYC area. They include Mayen Alcantara, Nick Arcidy, Niki Berg, Joseph Cavalieri, Andrea Costantini, Lilian Engel, Amanda Fehring, Meryl Salzinger, among others. In selecting the works for the exhibition, I based my decisions on how the artists' submissions responded and reacted to the themes of the grid and noise. Here is my curatorial statement, which will be available to visitors to read when they enter the gallery. The exhibition is on until July 26th at the Atlantic Gallery.

a series of measured perpendicular lines
a geometric arrangement for mapping and plotting points
a logical algorithm to enforce harmony, standardization, and authority
Grids are everywhere. They can be found in reams of paper made for penmanship and drafting. Electrical grids channel bolts of energy that power the insomnia that is New York City. There are monochromatic grids in the paintings of Agnes Martin, and Marilyn-head grids in the screen prints of Andy Warhol. Technological grids operate iPhones and Androids, keeping us wired, day and night. Grids imply perfection and control; but what is perfection and who is in control? Dare we move off the grid…go beyond the noise?

The group exhibition Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise brings together twenty-eight artists whose creative visions engage with or reject grids and noise. The art works on display include paintings, sculptures, collages, prints, photographs, and works in multiple media. Some artists use figurative art and nature to tell their story. Others let line and color convey their abstract thoughts. Still others experiment with new media and techniques. Together these artists share their unique interpretations of the exhibition’s theme, each of them searching for ways to move off the grid and go beyond the noise.