Saturday, March 21, 2015

Week-in-my-Life: Mar 2015 (Pt. 3)

Recapping the last two days of the week... (you can read parts 1 & 2 here and here)...

FRIDAY 03/20/15

6:35am = After falling asleep about 11:30pm the previous night, wake up about 3 times during the night; finally get out of bed to start the day. Breakfast: whole-wheat waffle with peanut butter & strawberry preserves, blackberry-flavored Greek yogurt, and tea.

7:55am = Against my better judgment, decide to launch into a liberal but jocular defense against a conservative post on Facebook by the ex-cousin-in-law KG.

9:00am = Start work day chatting briefly with staff about plans for the day; snack: coffee and two (tiny!) shortbread cookies.

11:30am = Catching up on more neverending emails and projects, but making progress. Receive news at work that donors' tax documents for their donations are signed, so rush off 7 blocks away to retrieve papers and call donors reassuring them docs are on the way, then process via FedEx. Snow starts falling.

1:00pm = Snow is coming down harder now. (Happy 1st day of Spring!) Home for lunch: spinach salad with chicken, tomatoes, apple, Swiss cheese, cashews, and ranch dressing with water.

2:00pm = Grab backpack and laptop, then head downtown to work at Pret a Manger cafe near World Trade Center. Snack: chocolate chip cookie and Earl Grey tea (which, surprisingly, the cashier gives me for nice!). Spend next few hours working mostly on my performance review and catching up on emails. Snow seriously falling now.

4:15pm = Receive my awaited summons from AA to head to NJ, so pack up laptop and walk in blizzard-like conditions to PATH train, on which my iPhone dies at 43% battery for like the gazillionth time, which causes me to curse out Apple yet again, although in my head, not aloud, because passengers will think I'm borderline lunatic fringe.

7:00pm = Lazy in-house early evening with AA channel surfing between Something's Gotta Give and Pretty in Pink, the most schizophrenic and incongruous pairing of flicks ever. Finally select new movie to watch, The Namesake (U.S. premiere 2007), which at first I am hesitant about because I've wanted to read the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri before seeing the film, but then agree and truly am very satisfied. The movie is excellent and highly recommended as a snapshot of the immigrant experience and assimilation into American culture (hence image above). The Indian actress Tabu plays the mother Ashima and is just superb. Dinner during the move: barbecue chicken pizza and salad with red wine. (Why didn't we order Indian?!?!).

10:00pm = In bed, AA quickly falling asleep (see earlier in week for comments on his sleep habits), so I watch Dateline, but then realize there is loud music coming from next door. And, of all things, it's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" by The Shirelles. Then it repeats. Five times!! I wake up AA and tell him someone must have been murdered and the song was put on to mask the screams (the episode of Dateline has clearly affected me). He clearly thinks I'm crazy and falls asleep. Finally the song stops...only to be followed by "Locomotion"...repeated 4 times! Someone must be practicing their karaoke or auditioning for America's Got Talent. It finally stops about the time Dateline ends, and I actually fall asleep.

SATURDAY 03/21/15

7:30am = Wake up from a glorious full-night of sleep...first time this entire week! Huzzah! Breakfast: blood-orange Greek yogurt, English muffin with butter & blackberry preserves, and two cups of coffee.

8:00am = Continue to engage on Facebook with KG using tongue-in-cheek commentary about conservatism/liberalism, then fondly remind him of his NYC liberal roots. Further ongoing commentary leads me to give up and say we should celebrate happier thoughts, like that the DPG-JBs, AA, and I are going to Rome and Florence soon! More huzzah!

9:00am = While AA is in class, I start preparing notes for my upcoming talk in Rome on the sculptor John Gibson (more on that in another post). Make great progress. Snack about 11am: raisins, walnuts, and tea.

12:30pm = AA picks me up and we drive to Edgewater for lunch at Greek Taverna: lamb (AA) and pork (moi) souvlaki sandwiches with homemade herb fries.

2:30pm = Decide to go for a drive and wind up on the Palisades Parkway. Park and admire the view of the Manhattan/Bronx landscape along the Hudson River (see the lovely image AA took below).

3:45pm = At Newport Mall in Panera having berry scone and tea (AA has peach-pecan muffin and coffee), and amazingly they don't charge me for the food (how does that happen two days in a row?!).

4:30pm = At the movies seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, having used a coupon for free tickets courtesy of the M-CAs (thanks!). Movie is slow at first, but picks up fast and is quite an action-packed film, with some uncomfortable environmental truths, dark humor, and some graphic-but-not-bloody violence...overall quite good!

8:30pm = Dinner: homemade chicken tacos courtesy of Chef AA! And (very strong!) blueberry martinis. Dessert: fruit & granola with a cup of tea. And the wind-down for the night is coming soon...

Whenever I write these "Week-in-my-Life" posts, I'm always amazed by the unusual things that happen. There was the library flood or the visit to the Palisades or all the snow. Before writing, you know some things are a given, like what will happen at work or some basic meals that are consistently eaten each day. But after writing, you discover all the surprises, the little twists that make all of it worth having written. One of the great challenges I've learned in life is that it is a continuous series of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Sometimes these are very difficult to deal with and you want them to go away, but other times there are happy moments that you want to last. But they all come together, and we discover that that is life, the adventure, the wave, the laughter and the tears, the giggling and the frustrations, and the quiet moments you spend with those you love. It's all part of life, and these predictable and unexpected experiences are all what makes it worth living to the fullest.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week-in-my-Life: Mar 2015 (Pt. 2)

WEDNESDAY 03/18/15

5:00am = Wide awake after not-so-great night of sleep (again). Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and Greek yogurt, with tea. Decide to lie back down again.

6:15am = Still awake, my brain on overload.

7:30am = Finally must have fallen asleep but now awake. Start getting ready.

8:30am = Step out of subway at 110th St., notice someone's dandruff is flying everywhere, then realize it's actually snowing again. UGH! Get grande blonde coffee and cranberry-orange scone at Starbucks.

9:30am = Visit School of Journalism Library with LS to assess environment for potential loan of paintings they are requesting.

10:00am = Informal interview with prospective intern for Summer/Fall.

11:00am = Meeting about potential collaboration for art & visual literacy program for med students and doctors at the medical campus. Some great ideas shared!

11:40am = Meeting cut short by announcement from TG that there is a flood in the library, and all staff needed. I hurry upstairs and see water is gushing, having come from a burst pipe on an upper floor, water now rushing through the vents and cascading like a waterfall all over about 1000+ architecture books! Everyone called to action trying to salvage books, separating wet from dry, setting up emergency fans, etc. It's a total mad house, but actually quite amazing to see everyone ban together (including a few students studying in the area) to help save what they can, while facilities staff try to stop the flood.

1:00pm = Lunch at local diner: mushroom & goat cheese omelette, potatoes, and wheat toast with coffee, reading my book on the history of the unification of Italy. Get call from LS that there is another flood in a different building and a painting is affected. Rush to finish lunch and head out, only to find out it was not an emergency and nowhere near as bad as other flood, but definite water issues, so we remove painting to storage.

3:30pm = More neverending emails and other projects at work. Finally leave about 5pm. Startled by how cold and windy it is outside.

6:00pm = Phone calls to the Uncle, then DPG to express some concerns about his apathy toward everything. Unfortunate situation.

7:00pm = Dinner: chicken, spinach, tomatoes, and rice in a bowl with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Decide to watch via Netflix on demand the movie Dumb Witness (1996), a murder mystery originally a book written by Agatha Christie, where an adorable Fox Terrier named Bob (played by Snubby) helps Hercule Poirot solve the murder of the dog's mistress Miss Emily Arundel. (I've watched this before and read the book, but it's one of my favorites, hence the image above.)

10:00pm = Go to bed.

11:00pm = Still awake. So annoying! Finally fall asleep about thirty minutes later...

THURSDAY 03/19/15

2:40am = Wide awake and cannot sleep. Make decaf tea and a turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich with apricot preserves.

3:45am = Finally back in bed, falling asleep...

7:00am = Awake, start to get ready, amazed to discover via text that AA is already at work! (Sometimes he's crazy.)

8:45am = At Starbucks eating sausage, egg, and cheddar breakfast sandwich and drinking a grande blonde coffee.

12:30pm = After spending most of the morning working on my annual performance review, meet colleague DCM for a trip to the Upper East Side to visit a gallery briefly and then to meet with a new potential donor. Productive trip, and much for us to discuss.

3:30pm = DCM and I finally eat sandwiches for lunch. I am SO tired though. Spend little while finishing up a few things at work, then head home.

5:30pm = Stop at Gristedes for milk and on impulse buy Entenmann's chocolate chip pound cake and blackberries. (Don't judge!) Go home and indulge in a cup of tea and slice of cake with said berries and dollop of Greek yogurt. (Delicious!)

6:00pm = Sugar crash! I pass out on the bed and fall immediately into a deep sleep.

7:30pm = Awake. Play Candy Crush Soda on my iPad for a few minutes, trying to wake up, then start blogging. Praying silently that I will be able to actually sleep tonight...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Week-in-my-Life: Mar 2015 (Pt. 1)

It's been about 2-1/2 years since I last posted one of these more personal moments: a random week in my life. You can read the last time I did this in August 2012 (here and here). People's comments to me about these often remark about how funny it is to read what happens in my life. The detailing of my food choices are particularly amusing to some. But what I discovered about these posts is that they also force me to think about what I'm doing and what I'm eating. It's like, "If I'm going to be confessional, I better look good!" So it is relevant for me to be doing this again these days, as I've been doing a lot of thinking lately that I need to make a few healthier life choices. I haven't been to the gym in so long I think I've forgotten how to use treadmill (not really, but I hope I don't fall off). One of my friends commented over the weekend that he's been going meat-free for Lent, and while I don't think I can be that extreme, I have wanted to cut back on my overall meat intake and emphasize more fish for a change. (Reading below, however, you will see that so far I have not been too successful in that mindset.) No matter how this week plays out, and any lifestyle choices that I may or may not modify, you can damn well be sure there are some things I just will not give up, like my daily dose of Ghirardelli dark chocolates and my cups of tea. But note: dark chocolate is healthy for your heart, and I don't use sugar in my tea anymore, so already these are signs of how healthy I truly am.

SUNDAY 03/15/15

7:30am = After a night of so-so sleep, I wake up and make coffee. AA is asleep, so of course I wake him up because I've decided he sleeps too much. (Ha! Watch how that bites me back!)

9:30am = Slowly getting going, eventually dress and take AA to Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side (my new discovery last week on Unique Sweets!). I want a roll with chocolate, but they are sold out (dammit!) but get a delicious blueberry muffin instead and AA gets brioche with chocolate, and large coffees. Walk through Central Park, until finally we are so freezing cold we need to head home.

10:30am = Brief visit to friend JM working at florist.

11:00am = Call the Uncle in nursing facility where he is recovering from broken-hip surgery. Afterward, realize the inevitable must now happen: laundry that has been sitting in baskets for over 3 weeks must get done, so schlep to basement and go back & forth, up & down, over next couple of hours doing about 6 loads. AA takes a nap (seriously!).

12:00pm = Reserve tickets for the DPG-JBs, AA and me for the Vatican Museums in anticipation of our upcoming trip in April to Rome. (Fantastico!)

1:30pm = Still doing laundry, AA is awake, but now I'm starving. Order in from Ollie's chicken and broccoli and fried egg rolls. Surprisingly getting caught up in watching on Ovation the fantastic multi-part Colin Firth adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

2:30pm = AA naps. Again. Place a mirror under his nose to make sure he's actually still breathing, then look up narcolepsy online for more information, just in case...

4:00pm = Shower time then AA has to go home (I hate good-byes...boy I hope he sleeps tonight!). Have tea and watch more of P&P.

6:30pm = Meet JM for dinner at Jackson Hole, and can barely finish my 5-lb.(?) bleu cheese burger and fries. (Seriously. It's insane.)

9:00pm = Blogging! And knowing it's time to get ready for work tomorrow. Ugh.

MONDAY 03/16/15

6:50am = After waking up 3 times and contemplating an early start to the day, the alarm finally sounds, I turn it off, then fall right back to sleep and wind up waking up 30 minutes late!

7:00am = Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and Greek yogurt, and tea.

8:40am = At work, slightly humiliated after having carried on the subway a mounted poster map of China (don't ask) that makes me a sight for numerous unknown observers.

10:00am = Deal with morning email and look in on staff handling return of numerous large Chinese stone sculptures from an exhibition. Finally get some morning coffee (and a shortbread cookie).

12:30pm = Spend most of morning hours drafting press release about conservation project of a painting and the donors who made it happen. Won't be able to get out of 17th-century British painting mode rest of the afternoon (not necessarily a bad thing). Lunch: turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich with cashews and cherry tomatoes (brought from home).

3:00pm = More brief visits to see staff and pleased with turn of events in how sculpture is all put away nicely. Finish draft of press release, move on to Excel spreadsheet about various things. More email that never seems to end. But finally...tea time! Earl Gray with a chocolate-chip cookie. Sit outside to enjoy with warm weather in the 50s.

5:30pm = Call from Papa's accountant about his taxes. Decide I need to leave work and go home. Weather is so nice, start walking the 30+ minutes home. With each step finding myself feeling accomplished with progress of the day and actually smiling. Stop in Walgreens to buy nasal spray, then a bodega to buy daffodils (love daffodils! spring is here! hence the photo above), then a wine store for some Sauvignon Blanc, and finally a grocery store for a lemon pepper rotisserie chicken.

7:00pm = Dinner: aforementioned chicken (not the whole thing!) plus leftover tortellini & vegetable soup. Dessert: decaf tea, 1/2 apple and Ghirardelli chocolate mint.

9:00pm = Blogging (is it really that time already??!!). Planning bedtime momentarily....

TUESDAY 03/17/15 (St. Patrick's Day!)

6:35am = Wake from a night of very disturbing dreams about my family, so vividly real that I can hardly believe they were just dreams, and I'm upset for almost an hour, but get support via texts from AA and DPG.

7:30am = Breakfast: blood-orange Greek yogurt and toast with almond butter & apricot preserves, and tea. Back to sleep for brief cat-nap to relax.

9:00am = Slow start to morning. Stop at Oren's for cappuccino and chocolate-dipped biscotti, then finally to work.

12:00pm = Spend morning catching up on various projects (and more neverending email), feeling somewhat accomplished. Lunch: tuna wrap with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, plus Sun Chips and club soda; sandwich not very good, so throw out half.

1:30pm = Brief meeting with conservator to review drawings by American artist Marguerite Zorach for potential exhibition loan.

2:30pm = Productive meeting with Dean at Teachers College about art collections and potential future projects for graduate students.

3:30pm = Drinking a mocha and sitting out in the chilly afternoon breeze on a break.

4:00pm = Caretaker conference call with DPG and staff at nursing facility about the Uncle's health prognosis so far; actually a positive call with some supportive news on their part!

5:00pm = Happy hour drinks with TG and MH: 2 Sam Adams lagers and french fries (no comment--it was happy hour, and it is the official Irish drinking holiday!!)

7:00pm = Dinner at home: chicken, Swiss cheese, spinach & ranch dressing sandwich with cashews and decaf tea.

8:00pm = Follow-up call with DPG regarding earlier caretaker call and plans about our upcoming trip to Italia. Texts received from AA declaring his attendance at a talk by Arianna Huffington to be "very inspiring," which I am very glad to hear -- he needs more converted liberalism in his life :-)


Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Sculpture Victorious

Toward the end of December, I had included in my annual round-up of favorite art exhibitions Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837-1901, aka the long-awaited Victorian sculpture exhibition. It was held in New Haven at the Yale Center for British Art, and currently is on show at Tate Britain. I'm actually a little frustrated because I wanted to see the exhibition again when I go to London in a few months from now, but the show is scheduled to close a week before I arrive. In any case, I'm very glad I had the opportunity to see it in its version at Yale, and I'm pleased to share that my exhibition review in the Spring 2015 issue of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide has just been published. This open-access, peer-reviewed journal is free to read, so you can see my review by following this link:

The image you see above is one of the smaller, technical marvels in the exhibition, a hand-sized figurine of Queen Victoria made by a machine, a work that was but one of the many in the show that celebrated the union of man and technology during the Victorian age. Here is what I wrote about it: "Displayed in vitrines to the left and along the wall [in the entrance] were miniature, mass-produced representations of Victoria available to middle-class consumers, derived from official images of the monarch such as the busts [seen nearby]. One amazing feat of artistic, technical ingenuity, developed early in Victoria's lifetime, was the sculpture-reduction machine. Prototypes had been designed and utilized by James Watt and John Isaac Hawkins, but by 1828 Benjamin Cheverton had launched the most commercially viable machine. His replica of [Sir Francis] Chantrey's bust of the queen, in ivory on a stone socle, measures about 7 inches and dates from 1842. The carving arguably reveals its mechanical origins, but the delicacy in its handling and details is still extraordinary." (Image: Victoria and Albert Museum)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

MWA XXXIII: Millais's Spring

This has been a tediously long, cold winter, and as I think back to January's Monthly Work of Art, Winter by Houdon, it seems only appropriate to shift to the upcoming season of Spring, which we are all looking forward to in the NYC area. As such, the latest MWA is by the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (1829-1896), and is appropriately titled Spring (Apple Blossoms), 1856-59 (image: Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, England). Although we are still officially in Winter, I perceive this painting as positive reinforcement of warm weather on its way. (By strange coincidence, as I'm writing this, I'm drinking Twinings Winter Spice tea, which is described as "a comforting apple flavoured camomile tea spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves." Interesting convergence of associated symbols...)

I first saw Millais's painting a number of years ago when I first visited the Lady Lever with my cousin HA. This museum is not far from Liverpool and has an amazing collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings (among other great works of art). I also saw this painting in Fall 2007 when the Tate Britain hosted the well-displayed monographic exhibition of the works of Millais, curated by Alison Smith and Jason Rosenfeld. In this painting the delicacy and refinement in the eight young women, their vibrant clothes, their outdoor tea party, and the beautiful flowers and grass about them, all create a Victorian-themed fete-galante. But it is that one young woman in vibrant yellow who stares out both innocently and seductively from the lower right, and it is her presence that makes this painting erotic and disturbing at the same time. I will quote Rosenfeld, whose catalogue entry on this painting reveals all.

This painting was part of a small group of pictures Millais painted "equating new ideas of female beauty with natural and human mortality. Low and wide, they are landscape format, on a large scale. ... The girls pose on a lawn, with a low stone wall separating them from a verdant landscape filled with blooming apple trees. The resulting design is claustrophobic ... and the frieze of colourfully clad girls pushes out of the composition. ... The girl in yellow on the far right, ... posed by Alice Gray [sister-in-law of the artist], lounges on her back, a blade of grass between her lips, and looks out of the canvas in a come-hither pose. ... Only the recumbent girl on the far right looks out at the viewer; she is in a prone position and directly engages the deeper theme of the picture, hence the scythe above her. This traditional memento mori, or symbol of mortality, makes plain the meaning of the picture, that human and natural beauty will fade. The scythe is the farming implement the girls have used to cut their flowers, and also alludes to seasonal transitions, as the blossoms of the trees will ripen into fruit to be harvested. In Spring, the garden wall keeps out the wider world, but only for so long; in this season sexuality comes earlier to some than others, and along with it an awareness of its power. The girl in yellow is 'blooming', a term Millais used in his correspondence of this period to refer to young girls in maturation. ... Ultimately the figure is risque."
-- Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, Millais (London: Tate, 2007), p. 136.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Object-Centered Learning Symposium

Next Tuesday, February 17th, my department at work, Art Properties, is hosting a morning symposium at Columbia University entitled Object-Centered Learning: Experiencing the Authentic in a Digital Age. The symposium is free and open to the public. We have an excellent group of speakers. The symposium promises to be an engaging discussion of how close interactions with art works and cultural artifacts enhance classroom teaching across the disciplines, where digital presentation is now the norm. We've intentionally scheduled the symposium to come just after the College Art Association conference (which meets here in NYC this week), hoping to draw people from that. To attend, RSVP by emailing


A morning symposium, free and open to the public, sponsored by


Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Butler Library, Room 523

9:00 a.m. Refreshments
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Symposium


Deborah Cullen, Director and Chief Curator
Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University
The Object in the Gallery: Teachable Moments in and along the Way

Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties
Avery Library, Columbia University
Buddhas, Bronzes, Ceramics, and a Cradle Board: Columbia’s Art Collections in the Classroom

Senta German, Andrew M. Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford
Teaching and Learning at the First University Museum: The University Engagement Programme of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford

Michele D. Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation
Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center, New York University
Partnering with Conservators for Object-Based Study and Learning

Avinoam Shalem, Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam
Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
What Do Objects Want?

(Image credit: Suzuki Harunobu, The Brine Maidens Matsukaze and Murasame on Suma Beach, from Japan, Edo period, 1769-70, woodblock print, Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of Mrs. Horace Stebbins, 1948)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Passing of Walter Liedtke

The horrible news of the train crash on the Metro North railroad yesterday evening was tragic unto itself. This afternoon, however, the names of some of those who died were released and, like many others active in the art and museum world, I was startled and disturbed to discover that Walter Liedtke was among the deceased. Walter (as I and many others knew him) was a curator for 35 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and an internationally renowned specialist in Dutch and Flemish paintings by famous artists such Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer. I had the privilege of meeting Walter a number of times during the 7+ years I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I actually taught him (along with my colleagues) how to use PowerPoint for his art historical presentations, and he attended a few of my instructional sessions on digital imaging. Whenever he came into the Image Library, he would ask me about how my graduate work and dissertation was coming along and encouraged my pursuit of art history as a career. I doubt he would have remembered me outside of my former role at the Met; nevertheless, the news of his death has impacted me more than I expected.

When I think back over those years when I was in graduate school and working at the Met, Walter was one of the more significant curators who inspired me. His art historical scholarship was brilliant, easy to read but always insightful. His presentations were engaging. His exhibitions were thought-provoking in the most creative ways, even when they were at the simplest. He curated, for instance, the loan of a single painting from the Rijksmuseum, Vermeer's Milkmaid, and combined with it a selection of paintings, works on paper, and decorative arts from across the Met's collections, exploring not only Vermeer's genius with this painting but the hidden symbolism behind what ordinarily would be seen otherwise as merely a genre scene. (I blogged about the show at the time.) It opened my eyes to the notion that one could successfully launch an informative show that focused on a single work of art. Similarly, his exhibition of paintings by Frans Hals from the Met's collection was fascinating because he wasn't afraid to move outside his comfort zone of the 17th century and demonstrate how Hals's brushstroke influenced modernist artists such as Manet and Sargent in the 19th and 20th centuries. His work on Rembrandt was legendary, and his Vermeer and the Delft School was always championed as a masterful exhibition and catalogue, although regretfully I never saw the show. Beyond his brilliance and creativity, there was an incredible charm and wit to him that always made one smile. Indeed, I learned from his example as a person how one could balance the international accolades of recognition for scholarship with a down-to-earth persona that could put anyone at ease. The Met has a few video segments and features in which Walter appears, but I think this one video, "Living with Vermeer," does a lot to help viewers understand not only the curator as a scholar but the curator as a man, mirroring the quotidian existence one finds in the Dutch and Flemish paintings he admired and taught so many people how to enjoy. I urge you to watch the short video by clicking here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

MWA: 21 to 30

It was a year ago in February that I revisited the latest round of Monthly Works of Art from 11 to 20. Another ten have passed by, so here is the recap of #s 21 through 30. This MWA feature, which I've been doing for a while now, truly has been an attempt to bring a little beauty, and thoughts about that beauty, to readers out there. In this world in which we live, we are exposed every day--too much and in graphic detail--to news about horrific terrorist attacks and executions, natural disasters and health epidemics that destroy innocent lives, and too much lying and insulting and then false apologizing in politics, sports, entertainment, and the media. It may seem naive, but I hope that these posts about art help bring some beauty into the lives of those who read them, even if just for a few moments. We need more beauty in our lives, and there are so many exquisite examples of visual creativity out there that have demonstrated how unique and ingenious some men and women from all cultures around the world have been over time. Academically speaking, it is often considered a terrible thing these days to emphasize and discuss the aesthetics of art over its social politics, philosophical construct, and/or economic origins and reception. To speak about art's beauty first and foremost is seen to conjure the outdated writings of scholars such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), whose History of the Art of Antiquity and other writings raised personal aesthetic value on par with an understanding of the making, interpretation, and criticism of the work of art itself. Today Winckelmann is usually disregarded as outdated and historically inaccurate, and while some of this may be true factually, reading the writings of Winckelmann at least helps the viewer understand how important it is to trust one's feelings about art and beauty. Is not beauty really why people are drawn to art? It is the visual component, the way a work of art captures the eye of a viewer, makes him or her stop and look more closely, and wonder how and why the artist did what he or she did. I went into art history because I believe the appreciation of beauty in works of art is important, and I contend that we need to keep that in mind no matter how or what methodologies we use to interpret artists and their works. This does not mean to say that every work of art is always beautiful to all people. Indeed, everyone has opinions as to what is or is not beautiful. One person may love a Rubens, another a Rossetti, a third a Rothko, and each might criticize the other as being ugly or incomparable to their own source of beauty. Thus, difference in the interpretation of beauty is as equally important when it comes to appreciating art. A work of art has the power to appeal to individuals on many levels: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and frequently in a way that combines these levels. Art can do all that, and even more importantly, it can make you forget. For I hope this brief narrative about the power of art appealed to you, dear reader, and made you forget, for just a moment, all of the horrible things in our lives that I described in the opening of this paragraph.

In reviewing the past MWAs, I am amazed to see that the Good Shepherd sculpture from the Vatican still ranks as among the most popular with 568 page views. Following it is Edouard Manet's Repose with 244 views, and Isamu Noguchi's Core with 180 views. Here is the list of the MWAs from 21 to 30, and I'm pleased to see a few high numbers here as well, specifically works by the 19th-century German artist Overbeck (image above) and the 20th-century American woman artist Stettheimer (image below). You can click on the title of each to see the work and read more about it.

XXI. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow, 1565 (48 views)
XXII. Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (Spring), ca. 1482 (45 views)
XXIII. John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896 (32 views)
XXIV. Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, 1530s (43 views)
XXV. GianLorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52 (21 views)
XXVI. Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper (Il Cenacolo), 1494-98 (28 views) [This was a tribute to my father.]
XXVII. Sir Edwin Landseer, The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner, 1837 (31 views)
XXVIII. Florine Stettheimer, A Model (Nude Self-Portrait), ca. 1915-16 (88 views)
XXIX. Lucas Cranach the Elder, Salome, ca. 1530 (25 views)
XXX. Friedrich Overbeck, Italia and Germania, 1828 (95 views)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MWA XXXII: Houdon's Winter

The great blizzard we were expecting turned out to be a bust in NYC. We got about 8 inches of snow in Central Park and a foot at LaGuardia Airport. Nevertheless, it is reportedly still windy and cold, with snow blowing everywhere. And anyone who endures this kind of winter weather knows that one of the great challenges is trying to stay warm outdoors. That challenge is, perhaps, one of the reasons why I've always admired the sculpture you see here, which I've selected as January's Monthly Work of Art. The statue is just under life size and was made by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), an artist known to this day for his ability to capture personality and psychology in his portrait busts and statues. This sculpture, Winter, was cast in bronze in 1787 and intended as an allegory, and likely may have been intended to be grouped with other figures representing the other seasons.

Whenever I see this work in the Petrie Court at the Met Museum, I'm always struck by how successfully the sculptor personified the feeling of shivering, to the point that it makes the viewer shiver with her. One could argue that the most obvious reason why is because she is essentially nude but for the shawl draped around her head and shoulders. But the real reason she shivers is because of how she holds her body. You sense a shiver not from her nudity but from her body language. The shawl is clutched around her, her arms wrap tightly together, and her legs are pressed tightly, so as to create a feeling of warmth in the cold. With a title such as Winter, one imagines she has been removed from a narrative scene where perhaps she is poverty-stricken and shivering in the cold. In a greater display of art, it is possible Houdon intended her to be dressed, but he may have reconsidered his plan when he saw the study of the nude form itself and recognized how important the body language spoke the sensation he sought to capture. The position of her leg in contrapposto also suggests motion, and I've often wondered if perhaps she has just touched her big toe into a pool of water and that is what is making her shiver. From that perspective, the title of Winter is misleading, for this is not an outdoor scene but a naturalistic scene of a woman bathing, a tradition in art that one associates more with Japanese Ukiyo-e and Impressionist paintings and prints by Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. Regardless, the girl's naturalism in her body language is what makes this sculpture so fascinating. There is a frisson of sensuality in her nudity as well, for she covers herself modestly like a Venus Pudica, and hides her innocent face with the cloak. In doing so, she is stripped of her identity and she comes to represent any innocent young woman alone in the world. Indeed, the more one ponders her state of being, one cannot help but wonder if she also represents the victim of a sexual attack, something which has robbed her of her innocence and left her shivering in the coldness of society. It is this multi-layered combination of innocence and sensuality, external coldness and bodily warmth, that makes this sculpture such a fascinating work to behold. Details of the sculpture enhance aspects of its naturalism further, how the texture of the cloth differs from her glossy fingernails and supple flesh pressing into her arm. But it is the overall sensation of her body shivering that makes this a magnificent work of art.

The Met Museum recently has launched a new online media component called Viewpoints: Body Language, in which a group of figurative sculptures are given due acknowledgment through the use of video and audio clips, highlighting their power as representations of the human form. It is worth going to the page for Winter (click here) and listening to the curator, educator, and outside scholars respond to the sculpture in short videos and audio clips. There are links on the left to numerous other works in the collection. This is a fine example of how social media can enhance the learning experience of sculpture and educate people about an art form frequently misunderstood and often underappreciated.

Monday, January 26, 2015

First Snowstorm: 2014-2015 Winter

Ever since we had our first snowfall in late November, we have had a few brief spots of snow, but it always melted quickly. Today, however, is the "snowpocalypse" and "snowmageddon" event people reportedly have been waiting for (who comes up with these ridiculous terms anyway?). It was snowing already when I went to work this morning, and by the time they let us out early a few inches had fallen and it was heavy blizzard-like conditions. I took the photo you see here as I was about to walk down the stairs outside Low Library at Columbia and stopped to admire how the snow was building up on the great bronze sculpture Alma Mater. The meteorologists were calling earlier today for over 24 in. of snow in the NYC area, but that seems like an exaggeration now. I predict we will get about a foot to 18 inches tops, although I'm sure Long Island and further north of us they will get more. Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo has stopped all the public transportation (including the subways!) and no one is allowed out in their vehicles after 11pm. We are off tomorrow as a snow day, but I'll be working from home. Overall, it's a bit late in the season for our first big snowstorm (especially when compared to last fall/winter), but you can never predict how each season will go...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Art Properties in the Times

A few months ago, my department of Art Properties at Columbia was profiled in a news article in the university press. Now, I'm delighted to share that we've made it into The New York Times. Appearing in the print and online editions yesterday, Eve M. Kahn's excellent article about how we are raising the public profile of the university art collection is already generating some great feedback. Although I am quoted and credited as leading the charge in this new mission, it is important to emphasize that my staff is essential to everything we do. Without them, nothing could be accomplished the way we are doing it. You can read the article online by clicking here. Also, this seems like a good opportunity to mention that you can also find a few works from the university art collection in digital format by going to our collection page on

Image credit: Florine Stettheimer, Self-Portrait with Paradise Birds (Self-Portrait in Front of Chinese Screen), no date, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 31 3/4 in., Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Ettie Stettheimer, 1967 (1967.23.13).

Thursday, January 1, 2015

500 Posts and Happy 2015!

January 1, 2015...HAPPY NEW YEAR! I start off each year with the proper greeting. Sometimes I modify the layout of the blog, but I've decided to leave it as is for now. However, I have added a link to the bklynbiblio Instagram account, so check it out and follow me there, as well as on Twitter (where we now have reached 515 tweets). The big news, however, is that this New Year's Day post also coincides with the 500th post on this blog. The image above is from the Fortune 500 list from 2014; the bold, gold numbers seemed appropriate for a New Year's association. (It is strangely coincidental that two years ago we reached the 400th post on New Year's Day.)

When I first started this blog back in August 2008, I envisioned it as a space where I could write and see the results of my writing. I was still taking courses in my doctoral program, and I lamented that I could not spend more time writing my own work. A blog seemed to be the most logical way to do this. People claim that blogs today are dead, and arguably social media products like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the preferred way of maintaining communication. But I still find this blog an effective place for me to write. It is a virtual zone where I can be creative or critical, analytical or entertaining. It is an aesthetic arena in which I can share images of works of art so they can be admired and contemplated as objects of beauty and constructs of social engagement. What I never imagined was, more than 6 years later, that I would still be writing this blog and that I would reach my 500th post. It is a milestone, and I am admittedly proud of this accomplishment.

As always, I find these centenary markers an opportunity to share some interesting statistics about bklynbiblio. Since August 2008, there have been 91,565 page views. That works out to be approximately 1189 page views per month. More than half of the traffic coming to the blog is from U.S. Internet addresses, but after that the traffic comes from, in order, the United Kingdom, France, Ukraine, and Germany. (This is an interesting contrast to the top countries when we had hit 400 posts: UK, Germany, Canada, and Russia.) About 40% of readers use Internet Explorer to read my blog posts, followed by 26% on Firefox and 19% on Chrome (note: I use Chrome for all my blogging). Most interesting, of course, are the blog posts that rank as the highest viewed. Amazingly, #s 1 and 2 have retained their top most popular posts, while #3 moves up one from its former position. The next two are new entries and I'm pleased to see at #5 one of my Monthly Works of Art. Here are the official ranks:
#1. Male Enhancement [Jul. 5, 2010; 2090 views]
#2. Review: Yinka Shonibare MBE [Sep. 6, 2009; 1038 views]
#3. Is It Baroque, and Do We Fix It? [Aug. 7, 2011; 513 views]
#4. Post-Queer Art History [Oct. 13, 2009; 445 views]
#5. MWA II: Vatican Shepherd [Apr. 7, 2012; 438 views]
Among the ranks for #6 through #10 are my obituary of art historian Lionel Lambourne and my post about the sale of Simeon Solomon's signed copy of his 1871 prose poem A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep dedicated to Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Although this blog is a way for me to express myself, my writing only has perpetual value because there are readers out there who appreciate, agree, disagree, comment, "like," and respond to these words over time, if not on this blog directly, then in emails, on social media, and in person. Thank you, readers, for helping bklynbiblio reach its 500th post. Here's to reaching 600!

Travels of 2014: From Maine to Munich

I enjoy traveling. be more accurate...I enjoy all the experiences I can gather when I visit a new city or country...but getting there isn't necessarily something enjoyable. Nevertheless, it is a necessity and worth enduring for the end result. I am about to do this yet again as I return to Munich on another work-related trip. Not all travel is a vacation, as the trip to Munich was work (although, as I will comment on below, I did have the opportunity for some site-seeing). And then there are the personal family-related trips, such as the 7 I made to Florida in 2014 that were all largely associated with my father's care. As bklynbiblio readers know, he passed away in July, and although I miss him terribly, I am fortunate that I was able to be with him for his passing. We had his services in August, and it was truly a celebration of his life. On my March visit, I was very glad that AA joined me to meet the family and my father, and a year ago on my January visit I also made a short jaunt to Jacksonville to see my dear friend SVH and meet my canine nephew Winnie, a rambunctious young greyhound. October saw me back again for the SECAC conference in Sarasota, and I took a day to see the family again, and I made another quick trip back for Christmas as well. As emotionally challenging as these visits were to endure while my father was getting worse and worse, it always has been a comfort to know I have family and friends there to help create balance and give me the opportunity to also enjoy some parts of those trips.

In May I made a 60-hour trip to Seattle for the AAMG conference, about which I blogged here. My memory of Seattle from 1997 was better than I experienced this time, but that was because my colleague DCM and I weren't in the downtown area but in the university district, which was removed from the things we would have wanted to see, like Pike Place Market. Over Memorial Day weekend, AA and I joined the FF-POs for a few days in Montreal and Quebec City, which I absolutely loved. I blogged about that trip here. I still have fond memories of Quebec City and look forward to visiting again in the near future.

Over the long 4th of July weekend, AA and I went to Chicago, one of the American cities long on my list of places to visit. I loved it! And I cannot stress to readers how difficult that is for this NYer to admit to! The one thing I did hate was the pizza. Fortunately everything else outweighed that. The city is clean. The architecture is magnificent. Lake Michigan is simply amazing. (We spent 4th of July on JK's boat on the Lake and watched the fireworks from there--just awesome!) Millennium Park is tons of fun; the image you see here shows Anish Kapour's interactive sculpture with the skyline behind it. And then there was the Art Institute of Chicago, where I finally was able to see the work you see at the top of this post: Georges Seurat's Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884-86. I think my photograph of viewers staring at the painting demonstrates well how observers inevitably become part of the melange of social classes intermingling in the park in true pointilist fashion, as Seurat likely intended. On our last day in Chicago AA and I climbed the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and I confronted my fear of heights by climbing out onto the glass ledge. I can't say I am no longer afraid of heights...truthfully it terrified me even more...but it was important that I did it. (AA of course strolled out there like it was nothing. He is fearless. So annoying!) We also took a day trip to Milwaukee, which I wasn't so crazy about, although the Calatrava-designed wing on the art museum is spectacular, particularly overlooking Lake Michigan.

After my father's funeral, I needed to get away for a few days and have a truly relaxing trip with very little to do, so AA and I flew to Boston then drove to Maine. I had not been in Maine since about 1998 or so, and I had only visited Ogunquit at that time. We went there our first night and it was everything beautiful I remembered. Walking along the rock paths overlooking the Atlantic was just breathtaking. I love the fresh smell of sea air, the cool breeze blowing off the water, and the sound of nature's ferocity as waves crash against the rocks like the crack of a slap but with a magnificent electric sting. With each passing day we moved up the coast further and visited Portland, Cape Elizabeth with its famous lighthouse (seen here), Camden (so clam chowder ever!), Belfast, and adorable little spot with nothing to do...exactly what I needed. I hated having to leave, because we only made it 1/3 of the way up the coast, but I do look forward to visiting again. I really loved that relaxing summer weekend in Maine.

As for Munich, I was fortunate amidst all my days of work to have some free time to hit so many of the museums. The Lenbachhaus, where the exhibition was held, is close to the Glyptothek and the Alte and Neue Pinakotheks, so I was able to see all the masterworks of ancient, Renaissance, and modern art that I was eager to see. One of the photos you see here is a zoomed-in shot of the glockenspiel, the mechanical life-sized music performers that play a few times a day in the main square, Marienplatz. Munich surprised me frequently. The old streets wind like concentric circles in a way that as soon as you assume you are walking east, suddenly you are walking southwest. I got lost so many times it was ridiculous. However, it gave me more of an opportunity to see much of the city as a result. I was also surprised at how German and Italian it was. There is Germanic architecture, but there is a surprising amount of Italianate architecture as well, and indeed I found myself able to communicate using Italian more than English with various people. The Oktoberfest was starting while I was there, so I had a chance to visit the grounds. It is basically a giant beer festival, but family friendly (and gay friendly--another surprise!). lederhosen and "beer wench" Bavarian costumes were everywhere. The pastries and pretzels were divine...(why don't we use pretzels as bread? it's ingenious!)...I devoured about 3 of these plum tarts that you see in the picture below. I definitely enjoyed Munich much more than my trip to Frankfurt last year. Rumor has it there is about a foot of snow on the ground in Munich at present, and potentially more coming this better not ruin more chances to see the city over the weekend before work starts!

What's on the travel agenda for 2015? I have a work trip to Fort Worth coming up. I may do a pop-over to London to see a few exhibitions I'm very interested in. But the big trip I'm very much looking forward to is Italia in April. I have not been since 2009, so I am going first to visit family, and then AA is flying over with the DPG-JBs and we are going to visit Rome, Florence, and Milan. I'm even scheduled to give a talk at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome while I'm there. More details coming soon....

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Auction Sales of 2014

Last year when I wrote about the annual round-up of highest art sales at auction, I had listed what was then the top 5 highest prices ever paid at auction for works of art because some new records had been made in the ranks. Those top 5 listings have not changed this year, and Picasso, Warhol, and Bacon still dominate the art market, even if works by them did not break new records in modern and contemporary art. You can read articles about the top sales in the Huffington Post and ARTnews. But the biggest news in this world was that Christie's reached an all-time single-night sale total of $852.9m for its modern and contemporary sale in New York in November. ("The Old Masters are dead; long live the Mod/Con!"--or so it would seem!) The work of other modern artists continue to break records, including new high sales for early modernist painter/sculptor Amedeo Modigliani and, one of the surprises, Cy Twombly, whose untitled 1970 "blackboard"-like work sold for $69.6m. (I am a fan of Modigliani, but Twombly still baffles me.) Joining the top sales of the year were paintings by Ab Ex painters Newman and Rothko, which is not very surprising.

For me, however, the top sales of the year that were most interesting are the four I've listed here, in chronological order of when they were created.
1) J.M.W. Turner's Rome, from Mount Aventine, 1835, broke the record for this important British landscape painter. It was one of a dozen or so paintings by him still held in a private collection, and sold earlier this month in London for £30.3m ($47.4m). The image above shows the magnificent Italian landscape painting held by two art handlers at Sotheby's London (photo: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images).
2) Edouard Manet's Printimps (Spring), 1881 (right), broke the record for Manet's work as well, selling for $65.1m in New York. Of all the sales that took place this year, only this work was acquired by a museum rather than a private collector, with the Getty bringing another fantastic Manet into their collection.
3) Georgia O'Keeffe's Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1, 1932, sold for a record $44.4m in November, breaking the record not only for this significant American modernist painter, but setting  a a new bar as the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art by a woman artist.
4) Alberto Giacometti's Chariot, 1950, sold for $101m. The bronze sculpture of an attenuated woman's figure attached to chariot wheels is not a record, as another work by Giacometti, about which I blogged in the past, still beats it, but this came very close.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Neville & Bagge and The Netherlands Apartments

I moved into my current studio apartment on the Upper West Side in Summer 2013. It is a condo building at present, and I rent my apartment from the owner. The picture you see here is a shot of the outside of the building, called The Netherlands. It is a lovely building with 12 floors and roof access, a beautiful marble foyer for a  rather grand entrance, and doormen, porters, and a superintendent who are all really great guys. I truly have enjoyed living here for the past year and a half. Interestingly, though, about 6 months ago, I discovered that my living in this building was, perhaps, kismet. I was having a conversation in the basement laundry room with my neighbor PC, whom I was actually just meeting at that time. He has been a resident here for a few decades, and knew much about the building's changes over time. At some point in the conversation, he mentioned that it was designed by Neville & Bagge. "Wait," I interrupted him, "did you just say Neville & Bagge?" He confirmed he had. I was dumbfounded. I knew Neville & Bagge had designed rowhouses in NYC around the turn of the 20th century, but I did not know they had designed apartment buildings. PC asked why this interested me so much, and I replied, "Because Bagge of Neville & Bagge was my great-uncle!"

Indeed, this is quite true. My great-uncle was George Arthur Bagge, the older brother of my great-grandmother Jessie Bagge Ambrose (whose daughter Martha was my grandmother, and whose daughter Kathleen was my mother!). I have actually blogged about my great-grandmother in a post about census records, but having now heard this news about the building in which I was living, I got very excited to learn more, knowing one day soon I would write a blog post about all this. That day has finally arrived. (This post may have a sequel, as PC has been waiting anxiously for me to write this, and I suspect he may have more information to share about our building!)

I began my research by consulting architectural historian Christopher Gray's incredibly helpful website for his Office for Metropolitan History Building Permits Database, 1900-1986. I confirmed that Neville & Bagge did indeed design this building. They applied for a new building permit from the City in 1908. The owner was Harry Schiff, who lived at 320 W. 113th St., while Neville & Bagge's office address was given as 217 W. 125th St. To give some sense of meaning to the location of their architectural office, they were in Harlem just down the street from where the famous Apollo Theater would be built. (The theater itself did not open until 1914 and it was originally a burlesque theater, not becoming the Apollo until the 1930s, when it then gave rise to famed musicians of the Harlem Renaissance; read more here.) Construction of The Netherlands began that year and was completed in 1909. One of the earliest advertisements I could find for the building was published in The New York Times on August 29, 1909. The building at that time had 36 apartments, 3 to each floor, and it was described in the advertisement as follows:
This new 12 story fireproof, sound-proof building, has one of the finest locations in Manhattan. Every apartment commands a sweeping view of the Drive [i.e. Riverside Drive], the Hudson and the Palisades on the opposite shore. . . . The apartments are desirably planned and the rooms are unusually large. Perfect light and ventilation prevail throughout. Cabinet hard woods have been used exclusively in the finish. Halls five feet wide, parquet floors; telephones, shower baths, combination wall safes, cedar lined closets, call bells and annunciators, electric wall switches, mail chute, filtering plant and vacuum cleaning apparatus, in addition to the many other improvements.
Rents started at $2,000. I pay almost that much per month for my studio now, which is not unheard of for NYC apartments today, but in 1909 that price got you an 8- or 9-room apartment. We are so accustomed to thinking about rents per month that I actually thought at first $2,000 was the monthly rental in 1909, but one of my neighbors did an historical cost analysis, and we have since determined that was the rent amount per year for an 8- or 9-room apartment. That means the monthly rate would have been on average $167! Times definitely have changed.

PC gave me the image you see here, which shows the 1909 plan for a typical floor of 3 different apartment layouts at The Netherlands. Each apartment had either 3 or 4 bedrooms--and a maid's room! My studio today has been created from one of the bedroom/bathroom/maid's quarters that once was part of the apartment next door. My studio looks out onto what was then called the "court." I confess that natural lighting in my apartment is abysmal, in part because I am on a lower floor and facing only the light shaft. But considering the quality of lighting, it is fascinating to look back at the description above and notice how they comment on the "sweeping view" and "perfect light and ventilation" that were marketing features for the property at the time (not to mention the modern amenities). Many of the larger apartments do still have windows on the outside walls, but it is worth noting that they cited views of Riverside Drive as part of the benefit of living in this building. That feature clearly was short-lived, because just a few years later, a new building went up next door, and it completely blocked views of Riverside Drive and the Hudson River from the west. (And if you want to know more about that building, just read this listing for the William Randolph Hearst penthouse...just a mere $31m.)

The continuing history of The Netherlands has other interesting tidbits that I have discovered. Owner Schiff went on to develop a number of other buildings in the area (e.g. the Cleburne Building on West End and 105th St., originally the site of the mansion owned by Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus, who perished on the Titanic). Schiff ultimately sold his interest in The Netherlands. According to a July 16, 1920 article in the Times, the building was sold to The Netherlands Holding Co., a co-operative comprised of the tenants who lived there, headed by Russell R. Kittell. But the co-op clearly didn't last and presumably reverted back to private ownership. On January 1, 1943, an article in the Times reported that the building had been sold by then-owner Frederick Brown to an undisclosed buyer, and they note that the building had 68 apartments and "was altered some time ago by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company into small suites," probably producing many of the layouts as they still exist today (such as my studio). I have not yet traced many individuals from the past who have lived here, but I am still searching. I did find through newspaper searcher that the German-born artist Anton Schutz (1894-1977) lived here around 1930. Also, in August 1921, Mrs. Mae Jordan, ex-wife of a physician named Dr. William Rosenbaum, was found dead of an apparent suicide in her apartment on the 7th floor of the building. Sadly, she appears to have been broke following her divorce, while her husband lived comfortably up the street in the still-ritzy Belnord Apartment.

Few people know much about the architects who designed The Netherlands, Neville & Bagge, in part because the majority of records and designs from their firm, sadly, no longer seem to exist. Nevertheless, we know that they designed numerous buildings in NYC, including about 15 in my neighborhood alone, as well as many others in the Morningside Heights (near Columbia University) neighborhood. Columbia architectural historian and Professor of Historic Preservation Andrew S. Dolkart has written about Neville & Bagge's work in these parts of the City, citing for instance a number of five-story rowhouses they designed along Riverside Drive, all in the neo-Renaissance style fashionable among the upper middle classes when they were built in the 1890s. In his book Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development, he writes: "Although Neville & Bagge was one of the most prolific firms active in New York at the turn of the century, almost nothing is known about either Thomas P. Neville or his partner George A. Bagge." Dolkart goes on to note that architects such as they were often criticized in professional journals at the time for their lack of education and training, but he points out that they were "proficient in producing well-planned and well-appointed dwellings at the reasonable costs expected by developers" (279), which explains their success at the time. It pleases me to know, then, that I can fill in some of the gaps and provide information, possibly for the first time, about Neville & Bagge.

The architect George Arthur Bagge was born in Manchester, England, on October 16, 1867, and died in the Bronx, New York on January 20, 1958. He was one of 8 children born to George Bagge (1836-ca.1910) and Mary Smith (1842-ca.1910). His father was a joiner and bricklayer from Norfolk who gradually made his way north for work and ended up in Lancashire where he married and had his family. (In a strange twist, however, my great-grandmother Jessie was the only one of their children to be born in Chiswick, near London, during a brief residential stay there.) The family all appear in the 1881 census living in Levenshulme, Lancashire, but later that year and into 1882 they made their way in groups across the Atlantic to settle in the United States. Surprisingly, George Arthur Bagge traveled alone at the age of 11 on the Arizona, arriving in NYC on the June 5, 1882. His father and sister Jessie already were established there, and his mother and siblings would arrive later that year. By 1883 the Bagge family was living at 228 E. 110th St. and father George was working as a carpenter. On October 28, 1892, father George was naturalized with his family, but his son George Arthur contended in a later passport application that he had been naturalized on October 17, 1890.

The image you see here is a detail from the 1900 census showing Bagge's family. On November 16, 1887, George Arthur Bagge married Mary E. C. Willoughby (1869-1954), the daughter of Jeremiah and Margaret Wood Willoughby, and they had three children: Frank (1889-?), George Arthur (1892-1976), and Edward Jared (1894-1977). It is uncertain where or when Bagge received his architectural training, but it is likely that he moved into this profession through his family connections (note: his brother-in-law, my great-grandfather Thomas Ambrose, was a mason). I have found evidence of a few Atlantic crossings for Bagge, in the mid-1890s, 1900, and 1920, and we know he did visit various European countries where, presumably, he advanced his study from direct observation of Beaux-Arts architectural designs. Dolkart claims that Neville & Bagge was established in 1892, and this is supported by the fact that this is the earliest this name appears in the New York City Directory, with their office listed as being on W. 125th St. From 1892 until at least through the 1900 census, Bagge and his family lived on what was then 2187 Seventh Ave., now known as Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., the extension of Seventh Ave. north of Central Park. This address was just a few blocks away from his architectural firm. (As an aside, Bagge's nephew John Edwin Eaton, the son of his oldest sister who remained in England, emigrated in 1905 to the United States to work in the firm as well, clearly a sign of Neville & Bagge's growing success. You can read more about J. E. Eaton in a this earlier blog post.)

Bagge's partner, Thomas P. Neville, was born in 1874 in New York, the son of Irish immigrants Thomas and Ann Neville. The 1900 census shows Neville living with his parents and his occupation is listed as an architect. Hence, this clearly is the man who was Bagge's partner. However, considering that Neville would have been only 18 years old when Neville & Bagge began, it seems very strange that the younger partner would be the primary feature in the firm's name. Upon closer examination of the 1900 census, however, one discovers that Thomas Neville, Sr. listed his occupation as a builder. Hence, the partnership between Bagge and Neville was, then, based not just on architectural design but construction as well. Thomas P. Neville and George Arthur Bagge may have been the architects, but Thomas Neville Sr. presumably built their rowhouses and apartment buildings.

According to Gray's online database for new permits issued after 1900, Neville & Bagge requested permits for 401 house and building projects between the years 1900 and 1917 (note: that doesn't necessarily mean that they built that many, but received permits to do so). After 1917, there are no more permits under that company name, and little is known about what became of the Nevilles. One does find after 1921, however, 29 building permits issued in Manhattan to "Geo. A. Bagge & Sons," and indeed his sons joined their father as architects too. Bagge and his family had moved to the Bronx by 1905, and by 1920 he and his wife were living in Mt. Vernon, NY. After that, we know when and where Bagge and his wife died, but I have yet to trace where they were buried. I also have not had success tracing his descendants. It is hoped that one day perhaps someone will read this post and know who and where those descendants might be. Perhaps then we will discover an archive of architectural drawings and records for Neville & Bagge, including much more information about The Netherlands apartment building, which opened 105 years ago.

Works Cited:
Andrew S. Dolkart, Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development (New York: Columbia UP, 1998).
Christopher Gray, Office for Metropolitan History, "Manhattan NB Database 1900-1986," accessed May 11, 2014,
Census data from the National Archives, provided by
Articles cited from issues of The New York Times.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Art Exhibitions of 2014

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a few hours so I could finally see a number of exhibitions they have on at present. I confess I felt rather nostalgic walking through the galleries, remembering fondly my 7 years of having worked there, reinforced by lunch with my curatorial friend JD and coffee with my former library colleagues and friends CD & SP. The current exhibitions are all excellent. The Renaissance tapestry show of the work of Flemish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst will blow your mind when you turn the corner and see all the gorgeous tapestries installed down a long corridor. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire is luxurious and fascinating for what could be a morbid topic. The room-installation of Thomas Hart Benton's 1930-31 mural America Today is amazing--you can almost hear jazz playing as the characters sway from one American scene to another. But the greatest part of my day was the exhibition on the Venetian sculptor Tullio Lombardo's Adam, seen here, fully restored. In 2002 the pedestal for the sculpture collapsed and, horrifyingly, the ca.1490-95 sculpture shattered. After 12 painstaking years of intensive study, and utilizing new technologies, the object conservators were able to restore this life-sized statue to near-perfect condition. The sculpture is an exquisite piece, clearly an influence on Michelangelo's David, and important as an early idealized male nude sculpture in Renaissance art. The videos on the website and in the gallery amaze you to see how they successfully conserved and restored the sculpture.

This year the best exhibitions for me were all on sculpture. In addition to the Adam just mentioned, the Met put on two excellent sculpture exhibitions. One was on the works of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875), who reinvigorated French sculpture during the Second Empire with a Baroque-style energy that excited and scandalized people of the day. Running earlier in the year at the Met was another sculpture exhibition, The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925, an excellent show that aesthetically changed one's mind about works you once might have considered to be little more than living room kitsch. At Columbia's Wallach Art Gallery, a great sculpture show was put on about Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), about which I blogged here. Finally, at the Yale Center for British Art, the long-awaited Victorian sculpture exhibition there brought together about 130 works that changed one's mindset about what defines sculpture and how it can be made. The show also demonstrated the power of the curatorial eye with a fine selection of finely-crafted statues, reliefs, and decorative objects in an array of media. The first work one encountered in the exhibition, as seen in my photo here, exemplifies the surprises of the show. This is a Minton ceramic elephant measuring 84 inches in height, part of a pair, that was first exhibited at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. I have a review of this exhibition being published in the spring, so I will share more when it comes out, but for now, here is what I wrote about this gorgeous majolica elephant: "The elephant reveals a high degree of craftsmanship that demonstrates the successful union of man and industry, but it also has a deeper meaning. Displayed as part of a cultural parade, its empty howdah decorated in Mughal textile designs and awaiting a royal occupant, the tamed elephant represents the jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown: India and all its riches. This work in the foyer thus foreshadowed others in the galleries of Sculpture Victorious: masterpieces of human and industrial design, and socio-political symbols of the British Empire."

If I had to choose my favorite exhibition of the year, however, it would be, without a doubt, Kara Walker's sugar-sculpture installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: A Subtlety: or, the Marvelous Sugar Baby. Walker is one of my favorite contemporary artists, and in this work she went beyond anything she had done before. Commissioned by Creative Time as a temporary installation, before the building was scheduled to be demolished, Walker designed a massive, sugar-coated, sphinx-like creature with the body and facial features of an "Aunt Jemima" type, to remind visitors of the intricate ties between the West's love of sugar and its intertwined history of slavery. The work was powerful and had lines of people waiting to get in. A group of friends of mine all went together to see it in June, and we were mesmerized. There are numerous images online that people took, so I'm only sharing here one I took to show the scale of the sculpture in the warehouse and the diminutive nature of the people around it. As time passed, the sugar gradually changed color, and the surrounding molasses "little black Sambo" boys melted and fell apart. After you were in the warehouse a while, the smell of the sugar and molasses became so sickeningly sweet you had to leave and get fresh air. This was all part of the artist's intent, to create a temporal, multi-sensory sculptural environment. When the show closed, most of the sculpture was destroyed (what had not disintegrated on its own already), although there is at present at Sikkema Jenkins an after-show that exhibits her sketches and designs, and an arm Walker kept as her own personal souvenir. This sculptural installation was truly a tour de force of artistic achievement, for the artist and the audience.

Aside from sculpture exhibitions, one major art exhibition highlight for me was Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Asia Society. This historical monastery and its Buddhist treasures was constructed in the 12th century but destroyed during China's Cultural Revolution. The installation included discovered and recovered treasures alongside historical photos, but the most amazing part of this exhibition was having the opportunity to witness the monks make a sand mandala. This was an ongoing event for 5 days with 5 monks. You would expect it to be solemn, quiet, and peaceful. On the contrary, the monks were very engaging with visitors, including taking photos with them. They often laughed too, but then quickly would return to their back-breaking, eye-straining work of constructing this mandala. The most amazing moments were when they would help one another, knowing that one had more expertise than another, and they could share in the responsibility of building this sand mandala together. Their humanity made this a very spiritual experience. You can watch a great time-lapse video of them making the sand mandala here.

Other exhibitions from this year worth noting included:
** Pre-Raphaelite Legacy at the Met Museum, a small but groundbreaking show for them to finally acknowledge the accomplishments of these Victorian artists;
** Beauty's Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America at The New-York Historical Society, about which I blogged here;
** At the Guggenheim Museum, the fantastic multi-media exhibition on Futurism, Italy's modernist art movement, and the riveting photographs of African-American feminist artist Carrie Mae Weems;
** Florine Stettheimer at the Lenbachhaus in Munich (although I guess technically I have only seen it "in process" and will have to wait until early January to see the final, full exhibition!);
** And my dear friend and colleague Meera Thompson at Atlantic Gallery.

I would be remiss if I forget to mention my own two small, curated exhibitions--15 Minutes: Andy Warhol's Photographic Legacy and Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise--both of which I thought were rather well done...if I may say so myself.

UPDATE (12/14/14): One of the blockbuster exhibitions of the year, that previously had opened in London and is now on here in NYC is Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Everyone I know who has seen it loves the show, and it has been on my "must see" list, but I dread going to MOMA because of the crowds so I wasn't sure what to expect. Fortunately, AA and I decided to make the trek there today and it actually wasn't as bad of a crowd as I anticipated. The exhibition is very good, demonstrating well how Matisse used paper cut-outs and collage as a form of painting unto itself. It is a smart show about materiality, color, composition, and artistic technique. We also had a chance to pop into the Robert Gober exhibition. He is one of those contemporary artists I typically don't appreciate much, but this retrospective helped change my mind a bit with his theme-and-variation sculptural objects and large-scale installation spaces. It was all rather tongue-in-cheek and clever, I must say, so I do have a better appreciation for Gober now.