Friday, October 31, 2008

The Nightmare

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would post something Gothic. The image you see here (courtesy of ArtMagick) is The Nightmare (1781) by the British artist Henry Fuseli (1741-1825). Fuseli was born in Switzerland, received his training like most artists in Rome, but was inspired by the Germanic Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement of the 1770s. After settling permanently in England, he had a successful career and eventually became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy. He is considered to be an early Romantic, since so much of his art shows the darker, mysterious side of life, often depicting scenes of the occult and fantasy. However, his forms are quite classical in their design and are an example of "expressive classicism," according to art historian William Vaughan in his book German Romantic Painting. This painting shows a woman in the throes of a nightmare, with a demon sitting on her chest and a demon-like horse sticking his head through the curtains. It's been said that the horse represents the nightmare (get it? the horse is a mare of the night?), but in fact Fuseli denied that was his intent. There is obviously more going on in this picture than just a nightmare. The woman is lying on a bed, and the physical contortion of her body suggests post-coital exhaustion. The demon, an incubus, is not actually on her chest, but on her abdomen, and his rump (and netherparts) are conveniently located just near her own pudenda. The horse, with his flaring nose, forces his head through the parted folds of red curtains, another sexual symbol in case you didn't catch the incubus association. So depending on your take the painting can either be a nightmare because of the demons or symbolize the naughtiness of sexual intercourse. In either case, it's certainly a powerful image. And in that vein, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dogs and the Left Gaze Bias

Thanks to the Towleroad blog, I found out about a new study that says "Dogs can read emotions in human faces." According to the study, humans and dogs share an instinctive behavior: "left gaze bias." Apparently when we first look at another person, our eyes automatically move left so that we look at the person's right side, which is probably because the right side of our body expresses emotions better. As it turns out, dogs are the only other creature to do this, and they only do it when they look at humans. The study suggests that because dogs have been partnered with humans for so long, they've become accustomed to "reading" our emotions the same we "read" the emotions of other people. Of course, anyone who's a dog person already knows that they can read our emotions--that's just one of the reasons why they're such amazing creatures! So in the spirit of "left gaze bias," I found this adorable, tilted-head picture of Newton, a Westie puppy, courtesy of his owner sinosplice's Flickr album.

Doctor David Tennant

Oy! Such a tragedy to befall us fans of Doctor Who! My friend CC in England just sent me word that David Tennant has announced he will be leaving the show at the end of next year's episodes. On the BBC website announcement about his departure, Tennant was quoted from an acceptance speech last night as saying, "Now don’t make me cry. The 2009 shows will be my last playing the Doctor. I love this show and if I don’t take a deep breath and move on now I never will and you will be wheeling me out of the Tardis in my bath chair." (For those uncertain what he's talking about, the Tardis is his time-traveling spacecraft in the form of a 1950s British police phone box.) So life must go on, but without Doctor David Tennant, although the show will continue with a new, 11th Doctor (the Doctor and other Timelords have the ability to regenerate themselves whenever their lives are threatened). Fortunately, Tennant isn't a flash-in-the-pan. The Scottish-born actor is a Shakespearean-trained performer who recently did a stint in Stratford-upon-Avon playing Hamlet alongside Patrick Stewart as Claudius, for which both got rave reviews, so I have no doubt we'll see more of Tennant. In the meantime, executive producer Russell T. Davies is promising to make sure they send off Tennant's Doctor with "the most enormous and spectacular ending, so keep watching." I thought it would be interesting to pair the announcement of his departure with this report on the BBC website from when he first started as the Doctor in 2005. The picture here is from that episode, and just to make things clear, Tennant is the human, not the Sycorax alien in the background trying to take over Planet Earth.

Library Bytes: Google Books

More than once, I have felt the pull in two directions in the debate between those interested in protecting works of art and literature through copyright (e.g., authors) versus allowing free access to all information (e.g., libraries). There is a lot at stake in this debate both for creators and the public, and I can see both sides of the argument. Those who create should be able to protect their works for a limited period of time, but we also should be able to bring freely as much information as possible to the masses. For the past couple of years Google has been involved in a book-scanning project as part of their global ideal of digitizing everything in the world and making it freely available over the Internet. They have been working with major libraries to scan books in their collections and allow people to search them on their Google Books website. The idea isn't new. Companies like netLibrary started something comparable to this nearly ten years ago, but they were charging libraries subscription costs for their patrons to read the electronic books. While Google's book-scanning project works beautifully for those who are researchers and do not necessarily need to read every book cover-to-cover for specific projects (but can if they wish), the fact remains that Google has not restricted itself to scanning books in the public domain. They have been scanning books still protected by copyright and in some cases still in print. As a result, two class-action lawsuits were filed against the company by authors and publishers to protect their interests in Google's project. Google claims that what is it doing is an extension of fair use. The authors and publishers argue otherwise, that Google has not asked for their permission and that this free distribution impinges on their attempts to earn a profit. As it turns out, this week Google has settled, agreeing to pay out $125 million in compensation, although they are denying any wrong-doing in the suit. There are other stipulations, all of which you can read about in an article from Wednesday's New York Times, "Google Settles Suit Over Book-Scanning," but take a look also at Google's own webpage about the settlement and how it will alter their service: Google Book Search Settlement Agreement. Personally, I think Google Books is a fantastic tool. I've used it on more than one occasion in my research, because the scanned books are fully searchable by keyword, which means you can look for references in books to people, places, and events you might not ever think to look in. For my own research in nineteenth-century art and culture, this has been extremely useful, because many of the books published during that century are difficult to find or are too fragile to hold. Contrary to what the lawsuit argued, it has inspired me at times to seek out the purchasing of these books if possible. (After all, the actual reading of electronic books is an unpleasant task. For me, reading a book entails the experience of actually holding a book, and I never want to give that up.) On the other hand, I'm also pleased that there is going to be a curtailing of the free electronic delivery of works protected by copyright. Authors do have the right to protect their own work, at least for a time-limited period. It seems then that the middle road is the most viable for all those involved in this debate.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Siena near Sheffield?

Do you ever dream about what it would be like to "discover" some masterpiece of art? You know, like you happen to rummage through your grandmother's attic and discover not only that she was Picasso's secret mistress, but that he painted a Cubist portrait of her that she's kept hidden all these years because it made her look indecent? The likelihood is that it will never happen, but one can always dream. Still, surprises similar to that do happen occasionally in the art world. Take for instance the news about these "Sienese panels found in English parish church" in the latest edition of The Art Newspaper. Apparently a small church in a mining village in Yorkshire, England turned out to have two heretofore unknown panel paintings by the early Renaissance painter Sano di Pietro (1406-1481). No one is still certain how they got there, but the local aristocracy may have had something to do with it about a century ago. And if all that wasn't interesting enough, turns out there's a New York connection as well. The expert called in to examine the works was Everett Fahy from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Memory Walk

This morning was the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk 2008 in New York City. It was so great to have my brother, nephew, nieces, and some of my good friends along participating in the Memory Walk with me. It was a two-mile walk through Riverside Park. We had spectacular weather, and the view overlooking the Hudson River surrounded by fall leaves was beautiful. Team "Ferrari & Friends" raised almost $1200 in donation for the organization. There easily had to have been about 1000 people (and dogs!) participating in the Walk. The Memory Walk was something that I've wanted to do for the past few years, but I always seemed like I was so busy. This year, however, I was determined to do it, and I'm so glad I did. My mother died from early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2006, and it was one of the most excruciating experiences that our family went through to watch her suffer from this horrific disease. With the support of my family, co-workers, and friends, I can say for a fact that we definitely made a difference today. A hearty thanks goes out to all those who helped sponsor our team, and a big hug goes out to my family and friends in the above picture who participated in the Walk. The photograph of us was taken this morning by my friend Ted Fisher of New York Portraits. Thanks, Ted! Hopefully he'll soon post more photos of the Walk on his blog.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Virginia Woolf Speaks

Over the summer, I finally got around to reading the novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and I absolutely loved it. The stream-of-consciousness that flows from Clarissa Dalloway to different people she encounters along the way makes it a masterpiece of early 20th-century fiction. There are some wonderful quotes as well ("What a lark! What a plunge!" and "I prefer men to cauliflowers" are now two of my favorite sayings--and those are just on page 1). If your only exposure to Woolf is from the movie The Hours, you should know that Woolf was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. She has become an icon for feminists and lesbians for her writing and lifestyle. A part of the talented and polyamorous Bloomsbury Group, she was friends with other great writers like E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey and artists like Duncan Grant. Her sister Vanessa Bell was a Bloomsbury artist as well. But the reason for this post is that the BBC has an article ("Great writers find their voice") about the release of a multi-CD set from The British Library with recordings by various writers. On the article site, you can listen to the audio file that is the only known recording of Virginia Woolf's voice. As always, her quips are fantastic: "Words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind." It's fascinating not only to hear what she has to say, but to actually listen to the intonation of her voice. People don't realize how much the way people speak English (American and British) has changed over the past century. Regional accents have diminished more and more as the global media shrinks our planet. Woolf's voice and words reveal not only her talent as a writer, but as a modern woman as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Library Bytes: Biblioburro

I am starting a new feature with this post called Library Bytes, where I will write about anything related to the magical world of libraries. Our first Library Byte has to do with an article in The New York Times last week by Simon Romero called "Acclaimed Colombian Institution Has 4,800 Books and 10 Legs." Code word: Biblioburro. This is one of those heart-warming stories that makes you admire the resolve of people and recognize the goodness that does exist in the world. For the past decade Luis Soriano of La Gloria, Colombia, a school teacher who makes $350 a month, has taken it upon himself to help promote reading by loading up books onto his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto (you can't make this stuff up!), and bringing the books to children and adults in the mountain villages of Colombia. And to think there are communities in the US that can't even support bookmobiles. Soriano reads to them and loans them the books. When he first started he had only 70 books, but now he's up to 4,800, and he's trying to have a public library built next to his home. Why is he doing it? Because he believes "that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia." He deserves a medal from every literacy organization and library organization, not only for encouraging reading, but making this unbelievable effort to bring reading to people who don't have the resources to buy their own books.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review: Holzer & Opie

My friend JM and I went to the Guggenheim on Friday night to see the Jenny Holzer installation and the Catherine Opie exhibition. JM is a big fan of Holzer's work, and we were both looking forward to these shows. The installation is a projection of phrases by Holzer onto the facade of the newly refurbished spiral building by Frank Lloyd Wright. You should definitely take a look at their website for the installation, as it has a video that beautifully demonstrates what the projection is like. The museum is only showing the installation on Friday nights for their "pay what you wish" entry. The image here was taken by me using my mobile phone (which surprisingly took a good picture). If you can't make out the words, the message says: "RESPECT THEIR RIGHT TO WHISPER, LAUGH, AND LAPSE INTO HAPPY SILENCE." Holzer (b. 1950) is an American Conceptual artist. Her work since the 1970s has been based on truisms, phrases or ideas so self-evident that they almost don't bear repeating. But she does repeat them, over and over, and has them appear on everything from cement benches to building walls. What is interesting about truisms is that the more they are repeated, the more they call into question what they declare to be true, so her phrases make you pause and contemplate the truth behind the message. The medium in which she works is important as well, because it changes how one perceives the message. A large-scale digital projection such as this one conjures up a cinematic experience, a Star Wars-like effect, whereby enormous words hovering over you force you into accepting their message. In contrast, the same words on a cement bench make the message more meditative. The installation was fun to gaze at for a while as her phrases rotated the whole time. Here's another one of the projected messages: "I DON'T REQUIRE CHANGES FROM THE SURF, NOW DILIGENT, NOW SLUGGISH, OBEYING NOT ME." The installation runs until December 31st. To visit links to other works by Holzer, go to Artcyclopedia's Jenny Holzer page.

Catherine Opie (b. 1961) is an American photographer who made a name for herself in the mid-1990s with her transgressive series Portraits (1993-1997). These works, on display here as part of this mid-career retrospective, are a series of head-and-shoulder or full-length-body portraits of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and straight people, all of whom are part of the Goth scene, the leather & bondage scene, the S&M scene, and so on: they are the über-alternative in alternative lifestyles. According to curator Jennifer Blessing on the wall text for the show, these studio portraits were shot "with the dignity historically accorded to members of a royal court." I can see where she's going with this. All of the works are arranged like a gallery of traditional paintings, and all of the works are shot vividly with intense background colors that showcase their subjects. But I think that type of assessment is a politically correct way of making the subject matter palatable to mainstream audiences. For me, the figures are arranged like a freak show, images you would see from some early circus, such as the bearded lady and the fire-eating man. Instead, here you have a drag king named Bo with a fake mustache and butch flannel shirt, and Vaginal Davis wearing green curly-haired clown wigs strategically placed on her nude body. But it's important to recognize that this freak show is what makes the portraits so beautiful. Their transgression is their beauty. They are a type of royal court, but one very different from what mainstream America usually knows or sees. Their individuality is their beauty.

There are other works in the show worth mentioning, namely Opie's Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994), which has her sitting before a luxurious black-and-gold tapestry and wearing a leather mask, pins in her arms, bare-breasted, the word Pervert bleeding, carved in cursive penmanship, onto her chest. This contrasts with Self-Portrait/Nursing (2004), which has her bare-breasted, now staring down at the innocent face of the baby that suckles at her breast, the word Pervert now a scar on her chest, the red-and-gold tapestry behind her echoing Madonna and Child imagery from Renaissance paintings. I love figurative art, so I find these works to be some of her most riveting. However, she has done other types of work that are also on exhibit here, such as a series of images of freeways and storefronts. Her series Icehouses and Surfers border on abstraction and made me think of the atmospheric photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto and an inverted version of zip-style painting akin to Barnett Newman or Jo Baer. Definitely take a look at the Guggenheim's website for the exhibition, which has a short video with Opie talking about some of her work. The exhibition runs until January 7th. More links to images of her work are available on Artcyclopedia's Catherine Opie page.

My friend KB told me afterwards that much of Opie's work, in whatever representation, is about communities, which does make a lot of sense. But as my friend JM said to me, what strikes him about so many photographers since the late 1980s is how they got caught up in the battle over censorship and funding by government bodies. Classic examples are Andres Serrano, Sally Mann, and of course Robert Mapplethorpe. These shocking works became their token oeuvre, and everything afterwards tends to lack the same heightened level of aesthetic experience. I can see what he means by this. Opie's figurative work is powerful and speaks to the mid-1990s alternative lifestyle experience in Clinton America. The rest of it, alas, doesn't seem to speak to me in the same way. Ultimately, I believe it is the portraiture for which Opie will be best remembered in art history, but only time will tell.

Review: Primeval

Have you ever watched a program that you aren't really enjoying, but yet keep watching in the hopes that it might get better? Or worse, you realize you've committed yourself to watching it and now you just want to see how it ends? If so, then you understand how I feel about the television show Primeval on BBC America, which has only two episodes left this season. It seemed like it was going to be exciting. Crystallized anomalies begin appearing that are dimensional gateways linking our time with periods in history when dinosaurs and other primitive creatures roamed the world. So now dinosaurs are stepping through and wreaking havoc on present-day England. Of course all the dinosaurs are violent creatures, and of course our merry band of palaeontological and zoological heroes always save the day. (OK, in all fairness, the episode with the pterodactyl turned out not to be violent, and that was a positive episode with its "let's save the animals" theme, but then again pterodactyls are my favorite dinosaurs.) The whole show is based on computer animated dinosaurs. In other words, it's a special effects show. Fine, no problem. But the acting is stilted, and the editing is often choppy in linking plotlines (you feel like you're missing something at times). Even worse, the writing is drab and uninspiring, and whenever it makes an attempt at emotions, it teeters on melodrama. And why do I have so many questions that I know they're never going to answer? For instance, why are the anomalies only reaching back to millions of years ago or potential futures? Why isn't Robin Hood coming through the anomaly? (Oh, wait, that's because he's on another BBC show.) And why only England? There are no other anomalies opening anywhere else in the world? There was only one major plot twist in the show that worked well: the "oops, we just changed our future" episode when a major character disappeared and no one but lead Nick Cutter remembers she ever existed. But of course how disappointing and predictable was it that they resolved this "mystery" with the return of said character as a newer, fresher, sexier, snob with a new name, just to confuse Cutter. And while I'm at it, why has no one commented on the fact that immediately when that plot twist took place, everyone on the program suddenly had a new hairstyle, including Cutter, who shouldn't look different since he was on the other side of the anomaly? Am I really the only one who noticed everyone looked different from before? Considering how successful the BBC has been in the US lately, airing its programs on BBC America and Sci-Fi and licensing new versions of shows in the US (e.g. the new ABC show Life on Mars was originally a BBC show), it's a shame to see how Primeval has faltered. Doctor Who it is not. It just goes to show that you can't depend on dinosaurs alone. They make terrible actors.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Powerful Artists?

The UK newspaper, the Telegraph, has published ArtReview's 2008 Power 100 List, accompanied by an article as well. The list highlights their choices for the year's most powerful people in the art world today. It's a rather fascinating hierarchy of international artists, curators, gallery owners, and private collectors. There aren't too many surprises. For instance, Damien Hirst, who is THE artist right now, is of course numero uno. His recent escapade of bypassing galleries and selling his own work direct at auction generated $127.26 million (with buyer's premium) in sales. (For more on the sale, check out CultureGrrl's blog entry.) If you're not sure who Hirst is, he's the guy who does sharks and sheep in aquariums, not to mention Beyond Belief, the diamond-encrusted skull that was on display at London's White Cube last year (the image here is the book cover from the catalog, courtesy of Amazon). One of Hirst's shark works, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is currently on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here is the list of just the artists. I've extracted them and reranked them, but their official ranking from the top 100 is in parentheses after their nationality. The list itself has links to their websites where you can get more information on them.
1. Damien Hirst (British, 1)
2. Jasper Johns (American, 9)
3. Jeff Koons (American, 11)
4. Gerhard Richter (German, 18)
5. Richard Prince (American, 19)
6. Takashi Murakami (Japanese, 28)
7. Richard Serra (American, 33)
8. Bruce Nauman (American, 45)
9. Cy Twombly (American, 46)
10. Ai Weiwei (Chinese, 47)
11. Andreas Gursky (German, 49)
12. Olafur Eliasson (Danish, 50)
13. Jeff Wall (Canadian, 52)
14. Peter Doig (British, 53)
15. Marlene Dumas (South African, 56)
16. Mike Kelley (American, 61)
17. Paul McCarthy (American, 62)
18. Banksy (British, 63)
19. Lucian Freud (British, 66)
20. Maurizio Cattelan (Italian, 68)
21. Cai Guo Qiang (Chinese, 69)
22. Robert Gober (American, 75)
23. Louise Bourgeois (American, 81)
24. Cindy Sherman (American, 82)
25. Liam Gillick (British, 86)
26. John Baldessari (American, 88)
27. Subodh Gupta (Indian, 92)
28. Casey Reas (American, 96)
29. Thomas Kincaid (American, 100)

And, yes, if you're wondering if you read the last name correctly, they are talking about the guy whose "artwork" (I say that with a groan) populates every shopping mall in America.

Whose Conference? Doctor Who's!

Academics have been known to be critiqued by mainstream media for outlandish, outrageous, or intensely theoretical topics of discussion or fields of inquiry. One could see how that is possible with Cardiff University's upcoming interdisciplinary postgraduate conference "Whoniversal Appeal." It's about the show Doctor Who and spin-offs like Torchwood. Surprisingly, the BBC seems to be taking a non-judgmental approach in its report on the conference, but considering the show is a BBC program, they presumably have some interest in supporting this. Now, I confess that when I heard about this conference, I immediately wanted to hop on a plane and go to it. While I am interested in visiting Wales, in truth I'm a huge fan of the new version of Doctor Who and I love Torchwood. Multiply that with academic interpretation, and I'm sold. Laugh all you want, but I have to agree with organizer Melissa Beattie, who sees the show's 45-year history as critical to an understanding of aspects of British culture and society. Consider, for instance, the big news released yesterday, that Prince Charles turned down a cameo appearance in the new season of the show; as a result, executive producer Russell T. Davies called him "a miserable swine" for rejecting such an important part of British culture. Alas, though, I won't be able to go to Cardiff, as I'll be at another conference that weekend...listening to presentations (and giving a presentation) on esoteric issues related to British Victorian culture.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The (Gay) Bookstore

Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia is celebrating its 35th birthday this year, and The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article about the landmark store. This gay and lesbian bookshop is one of the oldest in the country (its slightly older sibling The Oscar Wilde Bookshop is here in NYC on Christopher Street). I've been to Giovanni's Room a few times in my life, and I've enjoyed each trip. My most memorable experiences are with the speakers I've heard there. One time I was with my friend SC when the lesbian photographer Tee A. Corinne gave a fantastic presentation of her work. (I had the privilege of getting to know her over the next few years, and she was always supportive of my art historical work on the Solomons.) Corinne's presentation that night was eye-opening, not only because of her provocative lesbian imagery, but also because of how much I learned about a period in American lesbian history about which I knew nothing. I also was there once for a book signing by Christopher Rice; the house was packed with his fans.

Much has been written over the past decade about the demise of gay and lesbian bookstores. I'm not sure that their passing has been higher in number than that of other bookstores for specialized audiences, such as women's bookstores or mystery bookstores. However, I am convinced that the demise of local bookstores--gay or not--is one of the great tragedies of the world of books.

Following the release of my novel Pierce in 2007, I was honored to be interviewed by GaydarNation, an online gay and lesbian arts and literature site based in the UK. One of the things they asked me about was the relevance of gay bookstores today. Are they relics of the past and no longer needed by the gay community? I responded by pointing out that if you removed "gay" from that question, you were left with a rhetorical question: do we still need bookstores? Of course we do. What makes an adjective (gay, Asian, Black, women's) any different? I went on to say: "Specialized books and stores have existed to cater to the needs of specialized audiences. The issue here is not whether gay books and bookshops are relevant or needed. The issue is that large-scale corporate publishers and bookshops are monopolizing the market and eliminating these things because they perceive that they are no longer relevant or needed. Their decision is based on commercial sale value, not the needs or desires of the people. ... In addition, environments like gay bookshops are still necessary because they provide a community in which like-minded people can come together and share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. ... I admit it - I buy most of my books from Amazon. I do it to save money. But when I want to browse for gay books or buy gay fiction, I want to go to a store."

My thoughts haven't changed. I still believe gay bookstores--all bookstores for that matter--serve a needed purpose. What happened to browsing? What happened to simply holding a book, opening its cover as the binding creaks, flipping through pages, inhaling the scent of new pulp or musty pages, reading the first few pages, trying not to read the ending? A book is a book is a book (allusion to Gertrude Stein intended). No online community can replace the tangibility of a book, and no online bookstore can substitute for the experience of being surrounded by books. Gay men and lesbians, like all groups, need to know that these environments still exist for them, that there is a place they can go to listen to their favorite authors read, or meet with other readers to talk about literature, or simply go and look at what you were born to look at without feeling uncomfortable. If homosexuals make up approximately 10% of the world's population, that means there are currently over 30,000,000 gay men and lesbians in the United States. Somehow it doesn't seem fair that they should be forced to browse for their literary needs in a single column with four bookshelves at a local Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

168 Years of Simeon Solomon

Today is the 168th birthday of the gay, Anglo-Jewish, Victorian artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905). And on Yom Kippur of all days! I wonder if he would be celebrating or atoning? The image you see here is a Self-Portrait (1859, Tate Britain) from when he was about 19 years old. For about fifteen years now, I've been doing research on Solomon and his work. In more recent years, I have been working on a long-term project of transcribing and publishing his extant letters that are located in archives around the world. I've also been writing and giving conference presentations on his older sister Rebecca Solomon (1832-1886), who was a talented artist in her own right (his older brother Abraham was also an artist). Solomon was part of the larger Pre-Raphaelite circle, which included artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and writers like Algernon Charles Swinburne. People are fascinated by the lives of these people, from Rossetti unearthing his wife's casket to retrieve his poetry manuscripts, to Swinburne going to brothels in order to be whipped. In that light, how could you not be interested in Solomon, who was arrested in 1873 for public indecency and attempted sodomy in a public urinal? But all salaciousness and infamy aside, Solomon has fascinated me because his work captures a unique spirit of his time. He was instrumental in generating a new consciousness in Victorian art with Jewish-themed works like The Mother of Moses (1860, Delaware Art Museum) and homoerotic works like Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene (1864, Tate Britain) and Bacchus (1867, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery) during a period when both subjects were seen as exotic and taboo. Despite his acknowledged talents, the scandal eventually ended his public career and he lived out the rest of his life as an impoverished street artist. My friend CC is nearing completion of a dissertation on him, and it promises to be a fantastic assessment of his life after the arrest. In the meantime, if you're interested in knowing more about Solomon, check out my website, the Simeon Solomon Research Archive, or get a copy of the 2005 exhibition catalogue Love Revealed: Simeon Solomon and the Pre-Raphaelites.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TinEye: Image Searching

I don't often write about technology on this blog, but TinEye seemed like something both important and fun to talk about since it's related to images, and by extension libraries and art. As we all know, searching for images on the Internet can either be easy or challenging. It depends on how you describe something and, more importantly, how it's been described by the host. Almost all of us use Google Images for most of our image searching. You type in a few words and a page of thumbnails appear. The likelihood is that some of the images are relevant; however, not every work always is an accurate hit. The reason why this happens is because search engines are looking for keywords near the actual image on a website. They're not actually searching the image itself. Admittedly, Google is doing an excellent job of enhancing their image search capabilities by incorporating the Google Image Labeler project, which invites people to participate in tagging digital images for better searching. But, TinEye just may be the future of image searching. It doesn't use text to search, but actual images. You upload an image to TinEye or point it to a particular website with images. The program "reads" the image using an algorithm. It then searches using this algorithm for other images on websites they have indexed. Any matches--including derivative versions of the image--are generated in a list that allows you to click to the website to see its context.

It's pretty neat, but what are the implications for its use? In other words, if you're looking for an image of something, TinEye probably isn't going to help. But if you already have an image and want to find better quality versions, other places where the same image has been used on the Internet, or derivative versions of an image, then TinEye is the way to go. I can see it eventually becoming integrated with Google Images, where you do a basic text search, and if you find an image, you could click on the TinEye link that will allow you to "Search for more images like this one" to generate the type of results you really want. Someone at work suggested to me that it could also be integrated with digitized books. TinEye would then allow one to track everywhere an image has appeared in print. For artworks protected by copyright, it would assist artists and estates in ensuring proper use of an artist's works.

If you want to learn more, check out its functionality by going directly to and registering for free to try it. They also have some fun widgets like the one above, Michelangelo's Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Just click on it and you'll see a random sampling of other websites where this iconic image has appeared in many fun-filled ways.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


After my friend NV from Miami Beach called today, I started thinking about the art scene in the Miami area, considering I lived in South Florida for a while. I don't want to make comparisons between Miami's and New York's art scene (because obviously New York's is superior!), but I think it's worth mentioning some aspects of Miami's cultural world. It really has a unique flair unto itself. The revitalization of South Beach in the 1990s was amazing, with so many formerly dilapidated Art Deco houses and hotels now flourishing as major hotspots. Art Basel Miami, held every December, is one of the largest art festivals in the world and has spawned numerous galleries throughout the city. I could go on, but for now I thought I would write about the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, aka MOCA NOMI.

The building was designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, a major New York-based architectural firm that has worked on institutional projects from the expansion wing of the Guggenheim Museum to the Mina S. Rees Library at the CUNY Graduate Center. MOCA NOMI was constructed in 1996, and the company writes on their website that the museum "transforms an existing parking lot into an urban art plaza and redefines the town center as a cultural complex. The building is composed of four articulated and interconnected elements, which are assembled as a composition of cubist objects to form a dynamic visual collage that provokes curiosity, engagement and an appreciation of both art and architecture." As the photograph by Steven Brooke shows, it has a colorful array of geometrically-shaped parts, and it incorporates aspects of Floridiana with terracotta tiles, water features, and palm trees. Oddly, the colors do make it stick out like a proverbial sore thumb in an urban area. The interior has 23,000 square feet of gallery space akin to a warehouse with movable walls, which works perfectly for a contemporary art museum.

Looking at the museum's website, I realized that while I didn't go on a regular basis and now regret not having seen some exhibitions, I did see some fantastic shows through the years. In October 2004, I saw one of the performances of Pablo Cano's The Toy Box, a marionette performance inspired by Claude Debussy's 1913 children's ballet La Boîte à Joujoux. The Miami-based artist Cano is known for his innovative use of puppets and marionettes, and is commissioned frequently to do work for the museum, including a new exhibition of his work opening this month. Earlier that same year, I had seen the Louise Bourgeois exhibition Stitches in Time which focused on the cloth work she does now later in life (some of which was also in the retrospective I also saw at the Guggenheim this summer). In late 2002, I saw the YES Yoko Ono exhibition that had been organized by the Japan Society in New York. I found the exhibition a fascinating introduction to fluxus and performance art, although admittedly scholars still aren't always sure where to place her in the art history canon. I found much of her work to be very clever, but other works, such as Cut Piece (1965), still can make you shiver, watching men (and women) cutting away her clothing on stage while she does nothing to stop them. And of course I cannot forget the Gianni Versace exhibition, The Reinvention of Material, from 1999. Versace's association with South Beach is well known, so it was appropriate this exhibition was there. They had a section where you could handle samples of his materials, which made sense considering the exhibition's theme. I took my ex, DFG, and my mother to see that show. Needless to say, my fashionista mother absolutely loved it; I had to watch her that she didn't run off with anything.

But, ultimately, I have to say probably the most memorable show I saw there was my very first in 1998. It was the Keith Haring retrospective that had originally been at the Whitney Museum. My memory of it was that it was jam-packed with his work, encompassing everything from his early sketchbooks to his later cartoon-like figures on enormous canvases. It was dazzling and eye-opening in every sense imaginable. There was even an entire room set up recreating Studio 54 with televisions everywhere playing the Grace Jones video "I'm Not Perfect" (1986). You'll notice Haring designing her dress at different parts in the video. Check it out (you really can find anything on YouTube).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Brooklyn Heights, Then and Now

The New York Times has a 8:41-minute video up on their website called Brooklyn Heights, Then and Now. When I started heading back to New York City on regular visits, I used to stay with a friend who lived in Brooklyn Heights, so I got to know the neighborhood pretty well. When I decided to make the move back, I had decided I wanted to live in that neighborhood. The only problem was that it had out-priced my budget. I do go there on a regular basis, and I enjoy wandering through the streets. I've taken visitors to the Promenade for the fantastic view of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. Much of the architecture is "High Victorian," with ornate limestones and brownstones, Romanesque- and Queen Anne-style houses, and a few Art Deco-like buildings. I knew Walt Whitman had lived in Brooklyn Heights and wrote Leaves of Grass there, but did you know that Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's there, and that W. H. Auden had lived there as well? Notice anything "queer" about these connections? Brooklyn Heights always has been a haven for writers and artists of all kinds. After all, Gypsy Rose Lee lived there too. For more information on this great neighborhood, you can check out Wikipedia's entry on Brooklyn Heights (the above image is from there), but I definitely urge you to watch the online NYT video Brooklyn Heights, Then and Now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

40 Years of New York (Magazine)

New York magazine has published a special 40th Anniversary Issue this week. The magazine was launched with its first issue on April 9, 1968 (although I'm not sure why they waited until now to put out this special issue). The editors have put together an overview of how New York City has evolved over the past 40 years and of the people and things that have made New York City the unique cultural epicenter it always has been. It's an interesting tribute, although I'm sure there will have plenty of critics who will argue about what or who they didn't include. Some of my favorite parts of this issue are:

1. "Who Matters Most," a top-ten list from six different cultural pundits who ranked their own all-time New Yorkers from the past 40 years. Who made the list more than once? 4 hits: current mayor Michael Bloomberg. 3 hits: Woody Allen, Jackie Onassis, and Edward Koch. 2 hits: Rudy Giuliani, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Seinfeld, George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump, and Andy Warhol. Whether you agree or not, they've all been powerhouses for New York.

2. "Headliners," informing us that Joey Buttafuoco, after being imprisoned for statuary rape from his affair with "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher (who subsequently shot his wife Mary Jo in the face, as you may recall), was himself subsequently arrested three more times. He is currently living in L.A. with a Yugoslavian wife and is planning to retire to Buttafuoco Wineries in Milan. (I'm not joking. You can't make this stuff up.)

3. "What Things Cost," with the ever-exciting news that a subway ride over the past 40 years has risen from 20-cents to its current $2 (word is, it may go up again next year).

4. "14,600 Nights Out," with a great photo montage of celebrities partying over the years. Don't miss Cher in a see-through sequin top & suspenders rollerskating (my, what large nipples she has!).

5. "Urban Renewal" has a funny set of shots showing the progression of Donald Trump's hair from 1984 to now.

And finally...

6. "The New York Actor," what I think is perhaps the best part of the issue, a portfolio of photographs by Dan Winters. He has captured them in every way that makes them not L.A. actors, but New York actors. These aren't red-carpet, glamour shots. They show the grit, realism, and vitality that makes New Yorkers beautiful in a completely different way. At the same time, they convey the spirit of Richard Avedon, another New Yorker, with the full-on presentation of their subjects and the use of film information as a frame. My favorites are the photos of Lauren Bacall and S. Epatha Merkerson.