Thursday, August 27, 2015

Happy 7th Birthday!

And we're back!! It certainly has been a while since I last posted any messages, but I decided to take an unofficial hiatus from blogging for the summer so I could concentrate on other writing projects. I'm still in the midst of some of them, but others are completed and will appear in print in the near future. It seemed only appropriate to make the return coincide with the upcoming 7th birthday of bklynbiblio, which takes place this Saturday, August 29th. This post also brings us to #515. Per tradition, I've tracked the top tags for the blog, and things have not changed all that much. "New York" still holds the top spot (137) followed by "19th-century art" (91). "Photography" (80) surpassed "England" (79) by one post, and rounding out the top 5 continues to be "art exhibitions" (73). As always, I appreciate that readers have stuck with me these 7 years, and special thanks to some of you who wrote me asking why I hadn't been blogging. Stay tuned...more posts will be coming soon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Talks in Rome, New York, Oxford, and Pittsburgh

I've just returned from an amazing two-week vacation in Italia, as I mentioned would be happening during my birthday post. I may write about some of the details of that trip if I have time over the next few weeks. For now, however, I wanted to blog briefly about a series of talks that already have, and will take place, over the next few months. I am fortunate to have been invited to give talks in three of these locations, and the fourth was only just announced to me as an acceptance of my conference proposal. It's definitely going to be a busy couple of months!

One of the things I did not mention about my trip to Italia was that I was invited to speak at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome on April 23rd. This fascinating institution on the Piazza di Spagna is set up as a memorial with a library and archive of materials associated with the British Romantic poets John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron. I gave an hour-long talk there about the life and works of John Gibson, the sculptor about whom I have spoken and published in the past, entitled "From Mars and Cupid to the Tinted Venus: The Sculptor John Gibson and His Studio in Rome." As far as we know, Gibson never met any of these poets in person, but he did know well the painter Joseph Severn, who traveled to Rome with Keats and was with him when he died (and later buried beside him). Like Gibson he remained in Rome for a number of years as an expatriate artist.

Next week, on May 7th at 6:30pm, I am giving a talk at the Dahesh Museum of Art gallery/shop here in NYC, as part of their monthly Salon Thursdays. My talk is entitled "Jewish Artists in Victorian London: Abraham, Rebecca, and Simeon Solomon" and will encompass aspects of the life and times of the Solomons, as well as highlight important paintings from their careers. The image you see above is by the eldest brother Abraham, Second Class, The Parting, 1854, which will be among the works discussed both as a genre painting and part of the contemporaneous interest in that new mass transit invention, the railroad. The talk is free and open to the public. (You can read more about my posts on the Solomons by clicking here.)

Then, in early June, I am giving an invited talk at a conference to be held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University. The conference is about object-centered learning and the use of museum collections in education. (I confess that I cannot find anything online about this, but it is a conference open to registrants, and is scheduled for June 5 and 6.) My paper is yet to be titled, but will relate to the work we have been doing at Columbia using art works for curricular integration, and comes as a nice follow-up to the object-centered symposium we hosted in February this year. I've discovered also that an exhibition of British drawings will be on while I'm there, so I look forward to seeing that.

And, finally, in October, I will be part of a panel session on globalism in 19th-century art at the annual Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), to be held in Pittsburgh (their first conference north of the Mason-Dixon Line). bklynbiblio readers may recall that I gave a talk about Gibson and polychrome sculpture at last year's SECAC in Sarasota. This year, however, my paper will be based on a rather new project: the visual culture of Anglo-Persian relations around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the more distinct images associated with this, then, will be the image you see here. This is a portrait of Mirza Abul Hassan Khan (1776-1845), painted 1809-10 by William Beechey. The mirza was the Persian ambassador from the Qajar Shah of Iran to the court of King George III at the time this was painted. The painting is in the collection of the British Library. Here is the brief abstract I submitted for my paper, which will take place in about 6 months from now.

James Justinian Morier and Mirza Abul Hasan Khan:
Anglo-Persian Diplomacy in British Art, ca. 1810-20
by Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University

Columbia University’s art collection includes a heretofore unknown 1818 portrait attributed to George Henry Harlow of the writer and diplomat James Justinian Morier (1782-1849) dressed in Persian clothing. The painting seems to falls in line with contemporaneous Orientalist portraits showing Western sitters wearing Eastern garb. However, an exploration into Morier’s life and times shows that this label disregards the painting’s association with the global politics of its day. Indeed, this painting is an important part of the visual culture of Anglo-Persian diplomacy during the Napoleonic wars. Morier is best known today for his Romantic novel The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1824), but he also wrote and illustrated two travelogues (published 1812 and 1818) about his years in Persia as part of a British diplomatic mission.

Equally important in the context of Anglo-Persian diplomacy is a consideration of Mirza Abul Hasan Khan (1776-1845), who in 1809-10 traveled with Morier to England as the Persian ambassador with orders from the Qajar shah to finalize the treaty between the two nations. An exotic arrival in Georgian London, the mirza had his portrait painted by Thomas Lawrence and William Beechey, and he kept his own travel journal known as the Hayratnamah, or Book of Wonders. The mirza’s experiences in London can be seen as a counterpoint to Morier’s life in Persia, an opportunity to understand—and misunderstand—each other’s cultures in the pursuit of diplomacy. This paper will consider these portraits and travelogues as documentation of Anglo-Persian diplomacy in British art during the Napoleonic wars.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday No. 45

Following up on last year's memorable birthday, I thought I would share some highlights of birthday no. 45, which took place on Friday evening. My birthday celebration actually began last weekend, when AA & I took an overnight trip to Philadelphia, which was nice and relaxing. We have, of course, been there a few other times before, but this time I booked tickets for our first visit to the Barnes Foundation, the art museum established by private collector Albert Barnes, with its heavy emphasis on late 19th- and early 20th-century French modernist art. The Paul Cézanne still life you see here, from 1892-94, is just one of the many beautiful paintings by this artist in the collection. In contrast, Barnes clearly also liked Renoir and as a result there are way too many really bad Renoirs there too. I was surprised, however, by the number of paintings by Modigliani and Prendergast, that were all quite good. The reason why one goes to the Barnes, however, is to see his extraordinary installations, mandated by his bequest to be remained as such, for future learning experiences. His eye was based on formal elements: line, color, composition, etc. Subject was irrelevant. As a result, Barnes liked to hang things based on balance and harmonic influences, so one sees arrangements that often seem bizarre with mixed small and large paintings hung crowded together, and with metal ornamental objects like door hinges and scissors hung to balance the linear structure of the paintings. There is a method to the madness, and the more one learns about Barnes and his vision of looking at art, one realizes what a fascinating museum it truly is. The foundation itself did a rather controversial thing in moving the museum from his home in Merion, PA to downtown Philadelphia near the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), but their new building, which opened in 2012 and was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is an example of gorgeous, organic architecture, and the rooms have been retained in their original installations. This is definitely worth a visit if one has never been. We also visited the Rodin Museum, which has the largest collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of Europe, and we also strolled through a few galleries at the PMA too. We also enjoyed strolling through historical neighborhoods like Society Hill, with its delightfully charming 18th-century colonial homes, and the downtown areas near Rittenhouse Square.

My actual birthday was this past Friday, so I took the day off from work. I was suffering from bad hayfever, but fought through it to get my haircut, then eat a delicious lunch with my artist-friend MT. I received in the mail a gift from the PR-AMs: a beautifully illustrated book by Cynthia Mills entitled Beyond Grief: Sculpture and Wonder in the Gilded Age Cemetery. That evening AA & I first met up with my friend JHC and her adorable son D for a glass of wine and charcuterie. Then we had a stylishly hipster dinner of tapas & dim sum at Ma Peche in midtown. My birthday gift? A new iPhone 6! (Oh, how I love that man of mine!) I'm still just getting the hang of it, so I doubt I will write a technology review as I've done in the past, but the phone is fantastic. On Saturday, our friend AR arrived from Zurich, and last night the boys (AR, DM, JM, DC, AA and moi) got together for drinks at Therapy and then dinner at Maria Pia in Hell's Kitchen (veal saltimbocca...molto buono). All these festivities will continue some more on Tuesday when KB arrives to stay at my apartment, and we have a group post-birthday dinner with a few other friends.

But gets better. In a few days I leave for Italia. I'm going to see family for a few days, reconnecting with them after my father's passing. Then AA is flying over with the DPG-JBs, and I am meeting them in Rome. After we visit the Eternal City, we head to Florence, and then a final day in Milan before heading home. It's going to be such a great vacation. I can't believe I haven't been to Italy since June 2009 (about which I blogged here). The image you see here was taken by me back then as well, and shows a view of the Ponte Sant'Angelo with sculptures by GianLorenzo Bernini, taken from the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

As festive as all of this is, I think the most important part of aging and celebrating each passing year is the reflection on our lives, all of our accomplishments, and all the lessons we continue to learn each day. In thanking everyone on Facebook for their wonderful birthday wishes, I wrote the following message, and I hope it has some poignancy for anyone who reads it here as well: "Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful birthday wishes!! Having now reached the 45th anniversary of my birth, I'm starting to accept all those things, good + bad, that accompany the beginning of my 'middle-aged' years (note that I said beginning!!). Gray hair + a few extra pounds aren't that traumatic, I really don't sweat the small stuff like I used to, I've learned through difficult losses, but also with great love, that life IS about the ups + downs and learning how to ride those waves without falling, and--the one lesson I try to remind myself each day--there is truly nothing more important in our lives than the moments we are living right now. I look forward to more of life's lessons as I continue maturing gracefully."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Portal 7

Portal 7: Quebec City (24 May 2014)
(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

A door just opened on a street--
    I, lost, was passing by--
An instant's width of warmth disclosed,
    And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
     I, lost, was passing by,--
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
     Enlightening misery.

-- Emily Dickinson, Life series, Poem CXI

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!