Monday, December 26, 2011

Keighley and Perry

Although I talk about libraries and museums on this blog, I haven't said much about my job at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I work part time as an Associate Museum Librarian in the Image Library, which for over a century has been the repository and archive for the collection and dissemination of visual images in all media for educational and commercial uses. The collection holdings include stereoscopes, negatives, and 35mm slides, although not surprisingly we work almost exclusively with digital images now. I do a variety of tasks, including reference, instruction, and cataloging, but I'm also project manager for a few digitization projects. For instance, I'm currently working on selecting and cataloging historic views of the Met's galleries from the 1900s through the 1950s, which will be scanned from our lantern slide collection. This is a project being done in partnership with NYU's Institute of Fine Arts Visual Resources Center. But another project on which I was working for more than 5 years (with IFA and ARTstor, in particular a large number of individuals deserving lots of credit for all their hard work over the years) has been the digitization of selected images from the William Keighley Collection, a set of about 35,000 slides donated to the Met from 1958 through the 1970s by Keighley, a well-known film director. He had a second career as an amateur art and architectural historian and with his directorial eye took beautiful images of exterior and interior spaces throughout Europe, including private estates closed to the public at the time. We've been working to make about 10% of these images available for educational uses in digital format, including the image you see here showing the library of Saint Florian Abbey in northern Austria, which ARTstor is using to promote the collection. In order to see and download the images, you must belong to a university/museum that subscribes to ARTstor, but you can read more about the project here and see the official release here.

In related news, bklynbiblio readers may recall my very positive blog review of the Grayson Perry exhibition currently on at the British Museum. I subsequently revised and expanded this review in its entirety and I am pleased to announce that it has just been published in the Winter 2012 newsletter of the Historians of British Art. (I do hope the teddy bear god Alan Measles is pleased by the news.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas 2011

The tree you see here is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. It is installed in the Medieval Hall during the holidays. The enormous tree and the nativity scene, with accompanying angels decorating the tree itself, were made in Naples in the 18th century. To all the bklynbiblio readers out there, here's wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Random Musings 10

I'm heading to Florida for a dysfunctional family Christmas. If you're wondering if this is a picture of my relatives, it's not, but I swear if my lesbian cousins (the DG-JBs) were to ever really let loose, I'm convinced they would be just like Edina and Patsy (more on them below). I've been saving up a bunch of links and posts to blog about, so enjoy this Random Musing.

The Guardian has an interesting interactive guide that allows you to zoom in and find out more about drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, in conjunction with the National Gallery's current exhibition about his years at the court of Milan.

When I was at the YCBA, my co-visiting scholar was Georgina Cole, who received her PhD from Sydney University in Australia. She was there working on a project relating to the senses in 18th-century British painting. She's also started a new blog/website, Early Modern Art Network, which focuses on news relating to art from the 17th and 18th centuries. She's transcribed a funny 18th-century letter to the editor from an enraged parent about how having his children trained to be artists had made his life miserable: "When I the other Day found that Remonstrance was in vain, and rage exerted without Effect, and clasped my Hands and sighed with pure Vexation, my Daughter told me I looked like the Soldier in Belisarius; my eldest Son said I was more like West’s weeping Grenadier, and my youngest, a little Imp about ten Years of Age, got into a Corner of the Room with his Chalks and blue Paper to copy my Face, his own Father’s Face, Sir, for a Head of Despair."

I've blogged about the World of the Year in the past, but unfortunately we now have conflicts depending on the source as to what the actual word of 2011 is. had declared "tergiversate" to be the annual word (huh?), but now Merriam-Webster claims the word of the year is "pragmatic," based on the number of people who searched for that word. Complicating matters is the Oxford English Dictionary, which apparently declared "squeezed middle" the word of the year, never mind that's a phrase, not a word.

Thanks to my dear friend SVH, my latest sci-fi obsession is Farscape. Yes, I'm a little late to this, as it's been off the air for a while, but it's fun. A pregnant bio-ship with a sexy lost human and escaped alien prisoners, none of whom know or trust one another? What a fun concept!

New York magazine has declared 2011 to be the year in which male bodies were exploited in the movies, such as Chris Evans here in Captain America. There is a rather lovely slideshow of images worth seeing on the site, although I do find it odd that they all look alike (never mind why  Evans insists on shaving his chest hair). Unfortunately, my fantasy boyfriend Ewan McGregor wasn't on the list, although I guess he didn't actually take his shirt off in any films this year (a first for him!). His film Beginners, with Christopher Plummer as his aging father who comes out of the closet late in life, was absolutely one of the best movies of the year. The Anglophenia blog put up a post earlier this year with video clips of all things Ewan, so check it out.

And unless you've been living under a rock I'm sure you've heard the news that--20 years after the first episodes premiered--Absolutely Fabulous is coming back with some new episodes with Edina and Patsy partying hard and Saffie scolding them the whole time. I can't wait! Here's a hilarious clip from the newest episode in which they trash-talk the Kardashians (who I still to this day do not understand why people think they are important!!). Enjoy, sweetie dahling!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

28 New Haven Days: Part 4

If you've been following my posts about New Haven, you know that I've been lamenting about the crime here. Shermania commented on my last post about how he's in New Orleans right now and that their crime is much higher, and the RL-DGs have told me as well that since they moved to New Orleans, they have been warned about the crime and it has prevented them from exploring their neighborhood like they normally would. In a bizarre coincidence, The New York Times happened to publish an article last week about crime in New Orleans. This year they have had 175 murders, which is a ratio of 51 per 100,000 citizens. Compared to NYC, where it's 7 per 100,000, that is a shocking difference. The current population of New Haven is about 130,000, however, which means this city has a ratio of about 28 murders for the same number. Clearly it's not as bad as New Orleans, but it's certainly much higher than NYC. In thinking more about this, I've come to the conclusion that 2 issues here are at stake: (1) people (myself included) envision this area as a "New England college town" when in fact it is a city, even if it is small; and (2) NYC has become so safe it has given us a false sense of security about how other cities really are.  On Sunday, the PR-AMs came from NYC to visit, and even they were a bit surprised that we were asked for money by people out in the street about six times. Our favorite incident happened during dinner when a guy asked us for $3 and when we said no he went back to the bar where he was drinking a beer. Not surprisingly, he ducked out without paying.

After all is said and done, however, I cannot emphasize enough how fantastic my time here has been. The staff of the YCBA has been simply incredible. This really has been an amazing opportunity and it has helped me tremendously in my dissertation research. The picture above is a shot of the Reference Library where I spent most of my time in one of those study carrels on the mezzanine level, upper right. I'm going to regret leaving in a couple of days! And in spite of the issues with crime, I have ventured out and eaten a number of delicious meals here: vegetarian restaurant Claire's just across the street from the Taft (great soup), Big Bear Saloon (awesome burgers), Zinc Artisan (tasty personal pizzas), Istanbul Cafe (yummy Turkish), Zaroka (inexpensive Indian buffet), Woodland Cafe (tea & bagel sandwiches), Caseus Cheese food truck (delectable grilled cheese), and of course the old standby Atticus Cafe & Bookshop on the ground floor of the YCBA. There are many good restaurants here too, but I haven't had time to eat everywhere.

As far as my work goes, last Friday I gave a presentation to the YCBA staff. About 25 people showed up, which was great, and they provided boxed lunches for everyone. Although I gave an overview of my dissertation itself using PowerPoint, I focused more on things I've discovered since I've been here. What started out to be an almost 25-minute presentation turned into nearly 75 minutes of round-table discussion with excellent feedback, which I needed and greatly appreciated. One of the challenges of working on an artist from the past (in particular one who hasn't had a book published on him since an edition of his memoirs came out in 1911) is that there is a tremendous amount of information to cover, and so I must be very selective in what I work on, or postpone for a future project. For instance, in the process of working on John Gibson, I've found myself now also interested in his brother Benjamin (1811-1851), who also was a sculptor. This portrait bust of John is by Benjamin, made about the year 1838 (image: YCBA). Benjamin was 20 years John's junior and was never the success his brother was, but he did work in John's Roman studio, taught himself Latin and Greek, and published a few articles on archaeological discoveries in Rome. He was frequently ill, however, and sadly he died near the baths of Lucca when he tripped and suffered a concussion. He is buried in Lucca, but John also set up a memorial in his honor in Rome at the Protestant Cemetery where he himself was buried in 1866. My interest in him is probably not too much a coincidence; he was about my age when he died.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

28 New Haven Days: Part 3

After my last New Haven post, I was starting to think that I may have overdone it in my descriptions about the urban environment here. Okay, so it's a city and it has crime and sharp contrasts in socio-economic classes. But the university area is of course delightful, as you can imagine from the picture I took here of a rather adorable Justice figure decorating the exterior of the neo-Gothic Yale School of Law. But then my friend JM was here for 2 nights (his mother had to have emergency surgery, so I was able to provide him with a place to crash; she's recovering!), and he agreed with me that he saw exactly what I was talking about. Having grown up in CT, he knows many other areas in the state are like this as well. Still, I thought, I must be exaggerating. After all, when last week citizens gathered in the park to light the big Christmas tree, they had a carousel, snacks, petting zoo, and so on. I had no idea there were so many children in this city! It couldn't be that bad. And then, I heard it again: this morning on the local news they announced that yet another murder had taken place during the night. This is New Haven's 32nd murder this year. So now I know for sure I'm not cracking up. Surprisingly though the community seems to getting upset as well. This evening I was coming out of the Beinecke Library and I heard/saw what must have been a crowd of over 200 people protesting and marching in the streets. At first I thought it was an Occupy New Haven event, but their chants corrected me: "What do we want?" - "SAFE STREETS!" - "When do want it?" - "NOW!" I rest my case.

Sticking within the enclave that is the museum and university environment, I joined the YCBA staff for their annual holiday party, which was delightful. I also went to a lunch-lecture last Thursday sponsored by the Material Culture Study Group. Becky Conekin, Senior Research Fellow in the History Department, gave a fun talk about '60s model Twiggy and mopeds. She based the talk on a series of photos taken of Twiggy in the late 1960s and proceeded to explore more about how the moped in the shots related to new ideas about youth, women, sexuality, and London as a new counterculture city. I also went today to an "Art in Context" talk at the YCBA, which is free and open to the public, although many people in the university art community come as well. Set in conjunction with the current exhibition Adapting the Eye: An Archive of the British in India, 1770-1830, the talk was about this near life-sized painting you see here, Dancing Girl, 1772, by a little-known English painter named Tilly Kelly, who had a productive career in India. The talk was given by Gillian Forrester, Sylvia Houghteling, and Holly Shaffer, each of whom addressed different aspects about the painting, from the subject to details like the sari the woman wears. One of the more intriguing things about this picture was that conservation work and x-rays have shown that the subject originally was part of a much larger painting in which the woman was performing or paired with another figure, probably a man who was reclining looking up at her. The background was also completely different and repainted by Kelly, perhaps to suit a patron who decided he wanted just an exotic Indian woman. More research needs to be done to consider other aspects about this picture, but it just goes to show how art shouldn't be taken at face value. There is often much more going on behind the layers of paint, and its social history makes it a much more living thing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gerald Mocarsky: War Paint

My friend Gerald Mocarsky is having an exhibition of works entitled War Paint, a documentary-style photography series with images of women over 40 applying make-up. Some of my favorites from the series are ones like this of Esther because of the way the mirror refracts what you see. The exhibition is at Causey Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn. The opening is on Friday, December 16 at 6pm, so if you're in the NYC area, come check it out. The show runs until January 22, 2012. For more about Mocarsky and his work, including this series, see my blog interview with him, which you may recall also was published in a revised, expanded version in The Gay & Lesbian Review. His website is

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Roman Advertiser

I've been browsing through issues of The Roman Advertiser, a weekly newspaper that premiered in October 1846, but only lasted for the next 3 years. Although it was short-lived, at the time it was important because it provided British and American tourists who didn't speak English with an opportunity to know what was going on in Rome. These tourists would frequently stay in Rome for months, not 3 days like tourists today, so they would become part of this English-language community while they were there. Keep in mind also that "Italy" did not exist as an independent country until 1861, and even then Rome was still an independent country until it was annexed in 1870 (which is why Vatican City is still an independent country). Rome was always a major tourist spot, as you can see from this 1821 painting by Sir Charles Eastlake of A View of Trajan's Forum, Rome (image: YCBA). Painting pictures like this (18 years before photography was officially invented) allowed tourists the opportunity to record visual memories to bring home. In our world, we snap digital pictures and we read our newspapers online, so it was rather exciting to actually turn the pages of a 19th-century newspaper, skimming articles and reenacting what someone else in Rome actually was doing more than 150 years ago. Although I've been focusing on art-related news for my research, I came across a few things today that I couldn't resist blogging about. (Stay tuned for the funny stuff below!)

Even though each issue opened with local news about the Pope and the surrounding Italian states, the real juice was when they talked about the famous people who had come to town and what hotels they are staying in. When the Duke of Devonshire showed up to spend the winter in Rome, the newspaper reported regularly on his dinner parties and the aristocrats he hosted, such as Prince and Princess Torlonia, the Earl and Countess Shelbourn, Lady J. Grey, etc. He also had Mr. and Madame Oury perform concerts for his guests, he a violinist, she a pianist. Although there was social excitement, Mother Nature sometimes got in the way too. In early December 1846, after a storm the Tiber River overflowed and flooded the streets of Rome. Although devastation was more extensive in the Campagna, the city itself had its share of problems. The jeweler Castellani had to take out an advertisement to let patrons know that he had temporarily moved after "being visited by the Tiber in his establishment."

On April 10, 1847, they published an article on current demographics about Rome. At that time, they estimated there were 177,971 people living in Rome. Of this number, 17,606 were domiciled strangers such as John Gibson and other artists living there, which accounted for 10% of the population. There were 32 cardinals, 21 archbishops and bishops, 313 physicians, 223 surgeons, 66 midwives, 339 masters and mistresses of schools, 46,672 shopkeepers, and 16,552 servants. Curiously, they also reported that there were 3,828 Jews living in Rome, which accounted for 2% of the population. To put this all in context, I did some Googling and discovered that at about same time NYC had a population of 371,223, while Paris was at 1 million and London 2 million. In other words, Rome was small in comparison. What is even more staggering is that 1800 years earlier during the reign of Emperor Augustus Caesar, the city of ancient Rome had 800,000 people living in it, and that may not even include the slaves!

Now for the humor. At the end of each issue, there were advertisements. Many of these related to the tourist industry, restaurants and hotels marketing themselves for clients. But there were personal ads also, individuals seeking employment from the tourists. For instance, one young woman was apparently desperate to leave Rome and was willing to work for it: "A LADY wishes to go to England, or Paris, with a family as travelling companion, and would be happy to take the charge of young persons, or to devote her attentions to an invalid." Another woman sought employment in Rome: "WANTS A PLACE as lady’s maid a Swiss who can speak several languages and knows very well her business. The best references can be given." The Swiss maid must have found work, for a few weeks later his mistress was leaving town and wanted to help her find another employer: "A LADY about to leave Rome after Easter, is anxious to procure a situation for her femme-de-chambre (a Swiss, speaking French, German and Italian) whom she can recommend in every respect as honest and industrious, capable of dressing hair, making dresses and getting up fine linen.—Has also no objection to undertake the charge of one child." Women seeking employment as companions, nurses, maids, etc. were not uncommon (image: Justin Cormack's Flickr). A single woman in 19th-century society really had few options if she had been unable to marry. What is very strange, however, is this next ad, in which a man seems to be seeking similar work. I may be reading too much into this, but if I didn't know any better, this guy was looking for his own Sugar Daddy! It ran: "WANTED, by an English Gentleman, of good family, aged thirty, the situation of companion to an Invalid, or Elderly Gentleman, or that of Secretary or Amanuensis. He speaks French fluently, also a little German and Italian; plays on the Organ and Piano with considerable talent; possesses a good voice for reading and writes an excellent hand. Superior and unexceptionable references can be given in Rome, Paris and London." Hey, I could have written that ad! (Well, maybe not.)

Images were not yet regularly appearing in the mainstream press at this time, so advertisers had to rely on clever writing to market their work. If ever you thought bodily concerns were just something we worried about now, think again. Here's an ad for Grimstone's Aromatic Regenerator:
EYEBROWS, MUSTACHIOS and WHISKERS produced in a few weeks, and Baldness removed by the use of GRIMSTONE'S AROMATIC REGENERATOR, an essential spirit, drawn from aromatic herbs and flowers, a few drops of which cure headache in a few minutes; it is also a most delightful, fragrant toilet perfume. Sold only in triangular bottles, protected by the Government stamp, at 4s [i.e. shillings]; double the size, 7s; and double this size, 11s each; enclosed in a Pamphlet, containing testimonials of undoubted authority, entitled "Three Minutes' Advice on the Growth and Preservation of the Human Hair, etc."
It grows hair, removes baldness, cures headaches, AND is a perfume?? No way! Do you think it works? I wonder if anyone has tried it? Well, what do you know...
Mrs. Weekley, of No. 3, Swan-street, Borough, takes this opportunity of publicly thanking Mr. W. Grimstone, of the Herbary, High-gate, for the efficacy of his Aromatic Regenerator, in having completely restored the hair on her head after using it about four months, and her hair is now much stronger and more luxuriant than it was previous to its falling off. Mrs. W. inserts this testimony, thinking that the virtues of his preparation cannot be too generally known, not only in the restoration and production of hair, but in the cure of nervous and other headaches, and will be happy to answer the inquiries of any respectable person.
Technology may have changed, but advertising certainly hasn't!