Sunday, May 15, 2011

Random Musings 7

Following up on the blockbuster auction surprise of last fall's $35m Victorian painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the 19th-century Dutch-born British artist stunned people once again at Sotheby's New York's May 5th sale of 19th-Century European art. The picture you see here, The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra (1880-83) was estimated to go for $3-$5m, and wound up selling for $25,000,000 ($29.3m with buyer's premium). Victorian pictures get criticized for their sentimentality, but it's clear that some people are willing to pay money for these narrative scenes that emphasize drama (or melodrama) over the formal elements of painting as painting. Cleopatra always has been a favorite subject among artists dating to the Renaissance through now, and one cannot help but think of the potential influence of a picture like this directly influencing movie makers of films like Cleopatra (1963) with Elizabeth Taylor. The Art Newspaper noted the following interesting information about the picture's provenance and past sale history: "Well-received at its Grosvenor Gallery debut in 1882 and subsequently owned then forgotten by the distinguished old master collector Sir Joseph Robinson, Cleopatra resurfaced in a 1958 Royal Academy show of the Robinson collection, only to be disposed by Robinson’s daughter Princess Labia at Sotheby’s London in 1962 for the then not inconsiderable sum of £2,000. Steadily rising in price throughout the ensuing decades, the picture last appeared at auction at Christies in 1993, selling for £879,500 (estimated £280,000-£320,000; $1.3m)." In other arts-related news...

A recent study by neurobiologists at the University College London has shown that looking at art has the ability to trigger dopamine, generating feelings similar to those that make you feel like you're in love. Among the artists whose works were shown to people in the study were Botticelli, Monet, Ingres, and Constable. Upon hearing this, I wasn't exactly surprised. Of course beautiful works of art are going to trigger an emotional response! That is actually the point to art, to evoke a response. Much of 20th-century art has forcibly lost this aesthetic basis in favor of other ideas about art (Rothko being perhaps among the few exceptions). Advertisers realized this a long time ago when pictures started making an appearance in ads. Obviously though not every painting or work of art can trigger the same reaction. Some people like landscapes over people, flowers over animals, etc. Similarly, not every person you encounter makes you feel some sort of emotional response either. So I would argue that much of this has to do with one's own particular idea of beauty, preconditioned or socialized, that one brings to the program. Regardless, it is rather fun to think that art can make you feel like you're in love.

This past weekend my friend KB came to visit from California, and we went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Sam Taylor-Wood Wuthering Heights-themed photographs of the Yorkshire moors (unfortunately, more interesting in principle than in reality), and Lorna Simpson's thought-provoking exploration of African-American identities. I especially liked her collage-like piece Please remind me of who I am, 2009, appropriates discarded photo booth pictures of Blacks from the past, arranging them interspersed with small blank boxes that I believe represent identities we've already forgotten and are now lost for good. KB also stopped by the Met and saw the Alexander McQueen fashion exhibition, which she said was amazing. I absolutely have to agree. I finally saw it last week, and it is incredible, installed both like a runway event and performance art. Over 12,000 people saw the show in one day, and currently people are waiting up to 30 minutes to get in. They've already run out of the first print run of the catalogue (the holographic cover of which is pictured here).

In my last Random Musing, I had reported on some census stats regarding my Brooklyn neighborhood. Imagine my surprise to discover that the neighborhood along Columbia Street ranks as the NYC neighborhood with the most same-sex couples. Who knew!? That's the area just outside my door and across the BQE (Broolyn Queens Expressway...which I fondly call the BQE River because of its constant churning of traffic). I cross the BQE River every once and a while to venture into that area, but I never stay very long because it's pretty much a dead zone. In fact, there is nothing there that would lead you to believe it was filled with gay couples. Although, come to think of it, the B61 bus runs through there and that is the bus that takes you not just to Park Slope but also Ikea. It's also one of the cheapeast neighborhoods in NYC and still close to Manhattan.

Finally, my latest music obsession these days isn't Lady Gaga, but I do seem to be going gaga over Adele. Admittedly, so is everyone else, but you can tell why. She really does have an incredible voice, full of soul and a certain sort of anguish that strains you when you listen her croon out a ballad or pop tune. And to top it off, she's beautiful, in the very natural, unexpected way that isn't a cardboard cutout or a model. Here's the video for "Rolling in the Deep."

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