Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week-in-my-Life: Feb/Mar 2011 (Pt. 1)

About a week ago, my cousin MB sent me an email that said, "Hope all is well. You have been quiet!!" She's right. I've been super busy lately, and even though I had a few things I wanted to blog about, I never did get around to doing it (yet?). All this made me think that maybe it was time for another random Week-in-my-Life. You'll recall I did this last year (in parts one, two, and three). It was interesting how people commented about my eating habits, and that I was bragging about the number of push-ups I did (a feat I don't think I'll be doing again anytime soon). So here goes...a week of selected incidents in the life of this NYC-based queer doctoral student-slash-writer-slash-art historian-slash-librarian (gees, I'm exhausted just thinking I do all that!).

SUNDAY 02/27/11

8:30am = after getting in late last night and falling asleep about 2:30ish, shocked to discover I'm wide awake and hungry at this early hour. breakfast: scrambled egg & (low-fat, low-sodium) cheddar cheese on a toasted multi-grain bagel with French Vanilla coffee. weather report: sunny, near 50° (yay!).

9:30am = back in bed, trying either to organize my day or fall back to sleep; caffeine wins and have to begin the day. wash dishes.

10:30am = snack: last of the coffee with a chocolate almond biscotti. read first chapter of Satish Padiyar's Chains: David, Canova, and the Fall of the Public Hero in Postrevolutionary France (2007, book cover above), with its insightful socio-(homo)erotic-political interpretations of Jacques-Louis David's 1799-1814 painting Leonidas at Thermopylae.

12:00pm = food shop. on return home, pack up bag to do work at library and go to gym. subway reading: chapter four, "Beauty and Sublimity," in Alex Potts's Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History (1994).

2:00pm = find myself wandering through Macy's, suddenly glad I had the forethought(!) to bring those coupons I got in the mail. discover a gorgeous Michael Kors suit--on sale!--but even the jacket I have them take off the mannequin doesn't fit me right...damn! more browsing, find instead a beautiful navy Michael Kors blazer that fits like a glove...and it's also on sale...ka-ching! $230 later, walk out with said blazer, 1 pair of Calvin Klein jeans, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of underwear, and a golf-size Tote umbrella to replace the one that blew apart during a windstorm last fall in Leeds. feel no guilt whatsoever.

3:00pm = hungry! head to Pret a Manger for late lunch, devastated to discover they're closed, so settle for Pax (i.e. chain bodega). lunch: salad with mixed greens, chicken, and bunch of other stuff, ranch dressing...attempt to be healthy probably not so much.

3:30pm = realize just want to go home, library and gym ain't happening.

4:20pm = settle on the sofa with a nice cuppa tea and a LU petit écolier (chocolate biscuit), start watching episode of House; two hours later, still watching House.

7:15pm = start on dinner: turkey burger and sweet potato fries. Netflix movie indecision: scary Paranormal Activity 2 or silly Something's Gotta Give?

(To be continued...)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recap on CAA 2011 in NYC

Last March I had written about the call for papers for the College Art Association's centennial conference, which was held the past few days at the Hilton near Rockefeller Center. It was a crowded conference this year. Case in point: on Wednesday afternoon I was interested in going to the session "The Crisis in Art History," but the room was so packed that people were spilling outside into the hallway. I decided everyone else can worry about the crisis, I had better things to do with my time. Three days later I still don't know what the actual "crisis" is, but I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. I don't want to suggest that the conference wasn't worth attending, because it is always informative, although I minimized my participation this year because I haven't been feeling well and I was working this week. I did have the opportunity to reconnect and network with colleagues from the past, including friends from the Henry Moore Institute who were in the Exhibitors' Hall with a booth promoting the museum and institute as a center for the study of British sculpture. I did go to some excellent panel sessions, although curiously none of them were the ones I first thought about attending back in March. I decided to use the conference more as an opportunity to fill in gaps for areas I was less knowledgeable about, which turned out to be useful. Below are a few highlights that stand out, but not everything I attended. You can see the entire schedule of sessions by clicking here.

The panel session "Sexuality and Gender: Shifting Identities in Early Modern Europe" included a paper by one of my professors, James M. Saslow, entitled Gianantonio Bazzi, Called the Sodomite: Self-Fashioning and the "Gay Gaze" in Art and History. I have heard him speak of Sodoma in the past, but it was refreshing to hear him go into more detail about other aspects of this 16th-century Renaissance artist's life and work. The image above is Sodoma's sensual painting of St. Sebastian, 1525, in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (image: Web Gallery of Art). Caroline Babcock's paper Illustrating the Sex Manual in the Seventeenth Century: Nicolas Venette's "On Conjugal Love" spent a great deal of time discussing graphic representations of the clitoris in anatomical texts of the day, to the point (unfortunately) that I have no idea what her paper actually was about. Diane Wolfthal's paper Beyond the Human: Visualizing the Posthuman in Early Modern Europe drew our attention to the debates on the posthuman (part-man, part-machine) by focusing on representations of the mandrake root as sexualized creatures in Baroque engravings.

The Thursday afternoon panel session "Rococo, Late-Rococo, Post-Rococo: Art, Theory, and Historiography" had one of the best papers: Colin Bailey on A Casualty of Style? Reconsidering Fragonard’s Progress of Love from the Frick Collection. Bailey is a curator at the Frick Collection here in NYC and is an 18th-century French painting specialist. The image here is Love Letters, 1771-72, one of the exquisite four panel paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard in that series (image: Frick) that eventually were bought by Henry Clay Frick and installed in his house. He offered a new interpretation of these paintings, suggesting the old story that Madame du Barry rejected them for the Château de Louveciennes in favor of a Neoclassical suite of paintings by Joseph-Marie Vien may in fact be wrong, that the architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux may be responsible for their rejection because they no longer fit in with his intended decorative scheme for the music pavilion for which Bailey argues they were intended. Using Photoshop, he integrated the paintings back into archival photos of the room, which offered viewers an opportunity to see the paintings as they may have been intended when first painted.

Finally, the panel session "New Approaches to the Study of Fashion and Costume in Western Art, 1650–1900" offered a few interesting papers that reminded me how closely the history of fashion mirrors the history of art itself. Kathleen Nicholson instructed us not to assume early fashion plates from the period of Louis XIV are always true in her paper When Isn’t Fashion Fashion? Late Seventeenth-Century French Fashion Prints and Dress in Portraiture. Amelia Rauser and Heather Belnap Jensen offered different ways of looking at women's fashion in the Post-Revolutionary period ca. 1800, with the first focusing on idealized beauty and sexuality and the second on motherhood and haute couture. Jennifer W. Olmsted shifted focus to masculinity and portrait painting during the period of the July Monarchy. Unfortunately, I felt like she expressed the obvious, that painters had to come up with alternative ways to depict luxury once men's bourgeois fashion shifted from colorful fabrics to blacks and browns, and ultimately never addressed the issue of masculinity itself, but perhaps it's part of a larger work in which she explains all this in more detail.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sotheby's on Alma-Tadema

Have you missed me? I have been out of commission for a while. I was in Florida for a few weeks helping take care of the Padre, including moving him to a new retirement community, and I came back to Brooklyn with the worst cold and sinus infection, which I still haven't been able to completely shake yet. No's high time bklynbiblio was back in circulation.

Yesterday I received one of my usual email updates from Sotheby's auction house, but this one was a little different. It included a link to a video which they describe as follows: "Please join Benjamin Doller, Polly Sartori and our dedicated team of specialists as they explore the artists and genres that define one of the richest and most varied centuries in art history and reveal highlights from our recent, record-breaking $62 million sale that included Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's The Finding of Moses." The video is quite interesting because they discuss closely some of the highlights from the successful sale of 19th-century European art that was held in NYC this past November 4th. You can watch the video by clicking here. The video of course is being used as a marketing tool because there are future auctions for more 19th-century pictures coming up, and Sotheby's wants to maintain the momentum as much as possible. But the video is still worth watching because it provides a little insight into the business of selling art.

The biggest surprise and best part of the November 4th sale was the Alma-Tadema painting The Finding of Moses, an image of which is above. Even though the subject is from the Old Testament, the Dutch-born British artist painted it with the linear precision and attention to detail for which he was well known. At the same time, the subject is also exotic, so it would have appealed to Victorian audiences because it was a Biblical subject, but tapped into the current Aesthetic Movement taste for Classicial and Orientalist works. The picture was expected to sell for between $3-$5 million, and wound up selling for just under a record-breaking $36 million. That's a lot of money not just for Alma-Tadema but for any Victorian-themed painting. If nothing else, it helps make us aware that there are people out there willing to pay money for Victorian pictures, an auction sale category that at one time was considered the laughing stock of the art world. Look who's laughing now!