Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CAA 2012 Recap

I arrived back in Brooklyn early Sunday morning after catching the red-eye flight, and I've been trying to get over the jet lag ever since. The College Art Association 100th annual conference was actually good, which surprises me because overall I wasn't confident that the panels were going to be that interesting. I also wasn't necessarily keen on going to Los Angeles again, but fortunately my opinion of the city has changed as well. I met up with a number of individuals, both colleagues and friends, and saw a few museums too (which I will talk about in another post). So all in all it was a productive few days in L.A.

CAA scheduled the panel session I was on ("Future Directions in British Art") for the same time as the honorary session for renown art historian and critic Rosalind Krauss, which really was rather annoying of them. Nevertheless, we had about 25 people in the audience and at least it seems they received the papers very well. You'll recall of course that my paper was on the sculptor John Gibson (image: Narcissus, 1836-38, Royal Academy). Amy Von Lintel's (West Texas A&M Univ) paper "Art within Reach: The Popular Origins of Art History in Victorian Britain" was an unexpectedly delightful coda to my own paper, in that some of the topics we covered (popular reproductive media and the world fairs of 1851 and 1862) were approached from different, though related, perspectives. She argued that the rise of popular culture helped teach the masses about the history of art in Victorian England. Corey Piper (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) gave an interesting paper on codes of behavior in sporting prints from 1750-1850. The other two papers by Cristina Martinez (Univ Toronto) on legal issues in 18th-century art, and by Irene Sunwoo (Princeton) on contemporary architectural pedagogy, were admittedly more challenging for me, but that was partly because of my lack of knowledge about the topics presented. Discussant Kim Rhodes (Drew Univ) gave an excellent wrap-up to our papers, aptly tying together the threads they shared in pursuit of "future directions" in scholarship. Peter Trippi (Fine Art Connoisseur), our chair, organized the session beautifully.

On Wednesday morning, I popped into the session on "The Materiality of Art: Evidence, Interpretation, Theory," mostly to hear Gülru Çakmak (Univ Mass, Amherst) give an insightful talk on the French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (image: The Death of Caesar, 1859-67, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). She focused on his technical skills in using paint and the canvas surface to create texture and alternative points of view in the picture plane. (Rumor has it we're both speaking at a symposium in England later this year! More on that another time...) Ann Smart Martin (Univ Wisconsin, Madison) gave an interesting talk on the effects of candle and gas lighting on furniture and wallpaper in 17th- to 19th-century England and America. This actually is a topic I frequently have wondered about, as electrical lighting today has seriously altered our understanding of how art from the past was seen in its own day.

On Thursday morning, I went to the session on early photography. Karen Hellman's (Getty Museum) paper on the daguerreotypist Antoine Claudet explored his interest in optics and binocular vision, while Melody Davis (Sage College, Albany) explored stereoscopes as a form of commerce targeted toward women, virulently challenging the scholarship of Beaumont Newhall and Jonathan Crary on these early types of photographs. Margaretta Frederick's (Delaware Art Museum) paper on Samuel Bancroft's collecting practices of Pre-Raphaelite art and photographic prints, and Deborah Hutton's (College of New Jersey) paper on the Indian photographer Raja Deen Dayal, rounded out the papers rather well. I missed the last paper on the panel because I headed to another room to hear my fellow CUNY Graduate Center colleague Tara Burk give a concise, thought-provoking overview of issues associated with the visual culture of queer activism in NYC from 1987-95. On Friday afternoon, the Historians of 18th-Century Art and Architecture held a session on installations and, as I saw it, the interactive roles of public/private spaces. Hannah Williams (Oxford) gave an excellent paper on the change in perception of two 18th-century French paintings as they went from being exhibited in the Salon to their permanent home in a nearby Church. Jocelyn Anderson (Courtauld) spoke about how English country estates and their owners molded the early experience of viewing works of art, and Heather McPherson (Univ Alabama, Birmingham) gave a thorough overview of the socio-economic politics behind Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in London. I also went to hear a few presentations sponsored by the Art Libraries Society of North America ("Collaboration, Access, Sustainability: The Future of Image Research Collections") and the Visual Resources Society ("Paint, Prints, and Pixels: Learning from the History of Teaching with Images"), but I have to admit I didn't find those to be as exciting as the art historical papers. As you can tell from my quick synopsis, there was a lot to hear, and this barely scratched the surface of other panel sessions that were given, all of which can be seen here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

CAA 2012

I'm heading to Los Angeles for the 100th annual conference of the College Art Association, which is being held at the convention center, pictured above. I haven't been to LA since 2001, when I went to the annual conference for the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA). I'm definitely more a NYer rather than an LAer, but I'm looking forward to warm sunshine and meeting up with KB and other friends (and possibly even some relatives). I first found out my paper proposal had been accepted back in June. It's entitled "Reconsidering John Gibson, Remolding British Sculpture" and it's for a panel session sponsored by the Historians of British Art on "Future Directions." I'm arguing that in using John Gibson (1790-1866) as a case study of one who challenged ideas of nationalism, medium, and polychromy, we can expand our notions of what British sculpture itself actually means and thus better integrate it into the overall study of nineteenth-century art. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Downton Abbey

I first wrote about Downton Abbey, that magical 1910s-themed soap opera from Julian Fellows, back in September when I noted that it was then named as the most critically acclaimed show in television history. Those who know me on Facebook also have been following my occasional posts on all the grandeur and excitement of the show. I've even used Maggie Smith's picture as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, as my profile image in honor of tonight's final episode of Season 2, which has been dubbed "Christmas at Downton Abbey." The show is fantastic and rightfully deserves all the awards it has earned. To me, the writing has been key to its success, but equally so have been the attempts at historical accuracy with the costumes, settings, social graces, etc. They cover lots of cultural issues, like women's rights and the challenges of the working classes, but then there are the love stories, and you cannot help but root for Anna (the head house maid) and the lame, married Mr. Bates (Lord Grantham's valet). It's all not perfect, of course, and the high drama that goes on with some of the characters (like finding a dead Turk in your bed) can be a bit over the top at times, but that's part of the charm. Season 2 has been a little more challenging in that the war has preoccupied much of the storyline, making character development suffer a little, but the show still had held on and has been excellent. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, however, is simply divine. She has the best lines in the show ("Don't be defeatist, dear, it's very middle class."). Although her character becomes comic relief she also is an excellent representation of how older Victorian social mores were being forced to change with the onset of World War I and the gradual decimation of the "upstairs/downstairs" social class hierarchy. Best of all, however, she also represents the determination of family and protection of one's loved ones. No matter what happens, we take care of our own, servants included. (Now, who is going to pour the tea?) I won't go into all the details about the show, as you can learn all about the characters and storyline simply be visiting the official US website for the show. If you're interested in knowing more about the manor house, Highclere Castle, home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, you can visit their website as well. (No doubt visitors to their estate will increase greatly and match those of Castle Howard after Brideshead Revisited was filmed there.) You can see episodes of Downton Abbey from Season 1 (which opened with the sinking of the Titanic and ended with the declaration of war) on DVD and streamed online, and the Season 2 DVD set (which covers WWI through 1919) is on sale now as well. I cannot wait until the final episode tonight airs, but I'm also devastated knowing I have to wait a year for Season 3, in which Shirley Maclaine will be joining the cast as Lady Grantham's American mother. Fortunately, New York magazine has provided us with Downton Abbey paper dolls so we can entertain ourselves until next season begins. Lady Sybil Crawley gets female empowerment symbols, but you'll notice the Dowager Countess comes with a variety of facial expressions.

UPDATE 11:08 PM: A most satisfactory season finale! And now that the two seasons have passed, one can sit back and enjoy all the Dowager's best lines and facial expressions.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Library Bytes: NYPL Issues

Everyone knows that the main building of the New York Public Library on 5th Ave & 42nd St is an important cultural center and architectural landmark. I blogged about the NYPL system in 2009 when I found out about a video that promoted more information about libraries and their services. To paraphrase PR, who commented about the video, it is an inspiring video. Back then I also mentioned about the financial cutbacks they were suffering from. Sadly, that has continued to happen, and things are now getting worse. NYPL has been planning a major overhaul of that incredible classical revival building and its services, by turning it into the largest circulating public library in the US. This particular branch of the library as it exists has always been a research facility. The picture you see above is a view from 1913 of what is now called the Rose Reading Room (image: NYPL Digital Library), where anyone can enter, order a book to be paged from the collection, sit down and read it. A number of my PhD friends (and I) use this library and its services regularly. There are other reading rooms as well, but this one is the most famous. The plan now, however, is for NYPL to close 3 branches, ship 2 million books to a storage unit in NJ (that will take at least 24-48 hours to page for users), gut the entire lower floor beneath the Rose Reading Room, and turn the entire facility into a circulating library, just like in towns across America. Some people might think in theory this is a good thing. Certainly their Board and Director think so. It is curious, however, that no one on the Board or even the Director is an actual librarian or holds an MLS degree. They're all business people. But I digress. Their plan also calls for the cancellation of 2 previously planned regional branches they were supposed to built. Instead, they're basically turning the main building into a giant computer center (think an Apple store, no salespeople, but seriously overworked civil servants, and lots of naughty goings-on in the stacks). Not only will this cost an unbelievable fortune to do, but it is destroying the integrity of the entire architectural structure and all of its services for researchers. This past December, Scott Sherman published a fantastic exposé in The Nation on all the secrecy and under-the-table things going on there (including the then-still startling news the new Director had been arrested for drunk driving). The New York Times now has its take on the whole thing, and I'm saddened to say that their article is really a fluff piece that does more to stroke the egos of the NYPL Board and Director. The powers that be claim they want feedback from the community, so speak your mind about this. But make sure you read at least The Nation article first, because it's shocking and eye-opening.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Musings 11

2012 has been a busy year so far, which is why I haven't been blogging lately. I've been working hard at my job, on my dissertation, and on my next conference presentation that is coming up in less than two weeks. So I thought I'd reconnect by posting a Random Musing about some recent things that have piqued my interest.

You know it's going to be a good day when The New York Times publishes an important news story about dogs in art here in New York City. Randy Kennedy writes about paintings and sculptures with dogs, ranging from a 5th-century ceramic coyote from Mexico to drawings of dachshunds by David Hockney. One of my favorite dog-themed pictures in NYC is the 1570s painting you see here by Veronese, Boy with a Greyhound (image: Metropolitan Museum of Art). There is something innately beautiful in the simple way the dog nuzzles the boy as he reaches back to scratch at his neck. And of course the greyhound makes me think of my canine nephew George in FL! Kennedy's article is a preview of sorts for the upcoming exhibition In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature, and Music at the Morgan, opening March 2 at The Morgan Library. 

The art world has been going a bit crazy over the recent news that the government of Qatar (i.e. their royal family) have purchased Paul Cézanne's painting The Card Players, ca. 1900, for the world record price of $250 million. Yes, you read that correctly. It is the highest price ever reported for the private sale of a painting. In comparison, Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust holds the record price for the sale of a painting at auction for $106 million. Alexandra Peers has an exclusive story in Vanity Fair about the purchase, which took place last year but only now has gone public. NPR has an interview with Peers about the story as well. My friend PR has some interesting links about this on his blog, including a startling tidbit I hadn't realized, that 7 of the top 10 highest priced paintings sold privately all have happened just since 2004. Clearly the failing economy isn't affecting everyone in the world. At least the royal family is planning to display the work in their new national museum. I may revisit this whole story again if I have time, as there's a lot more that can be said about this, including just how important this guy Cézanne really is. (Hint: He is important, but this painting certainly isn't his best work.)

I was startled to hear today that art historian John House had passed away at the age of 66. He worked at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, retiring in 2010. A specialist in 19th-century French art, he was one of the few art historians out there whose writing was not only intelligent but palatable. I always tell people that his book Impressionism: Paint and Politics (2004) is one of the best books I've read on Impressionist painting. Both a formalist and social historian in his methodology, his book engages lucidly with how the radical nature of the brush strokes of Monet, Renoir, and the rest of them reflected the changing socio-political and cultural environment in their daily lives. The book also utilizes digital imaging beautifully, publishing high-resolution details of Impressionist paintings that show first-hand how they handled paint, something you can never see as clearly looking at the pictures themselves. 

Speaking of books, I've been trying to keep my big budget under control these days, but I've added a few great new titles to my library over the past few months. In art history, I've been doing some research on 19th-century women sculptors and purchased Kate Culkin's Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography (2010) and Kirsten Pai Buick's Child of the Fire: Mary Edmonia Lewis and the Problem of Art History's Black and Indian Subject (2010). I also had to get the Brooklyn Museum's Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties (2011) since I loved the exhibition. For Christmas my cousin MB and her family gave me Robert K. Massie's biography Catherine the Great (2011), which was on my Books of 2011 list (thanks, MB!). In fiction, I picked up Barbara Pym's Jane and Prudence (1953) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise (1920), and my artist friend MT just gave me  as a thank you gift George Eliot's Middlemarch (1874) because she was horrified to discover I had not read it yet (thanks, MT!). I'm currently reading Timothy Parsons's The British Imperial Century, 1815-1914 (1999), which is surprisingly good, but it could use some pictures. Speaking of imperialism...

This month is Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. Having now reigned 60 years, she is just on the tail of her ancestor King George III, who has held 2nd place for the longest running British monarch (r. 1760-1820). She's still just behind Queen Victoria, who reigned 64 years (r. 1837-1901). I've always thought it was interesting how people feel comfortable referring to Victoria's reign as the "Victorian" age, but no one would ever dare think of the past 60 years as the "Elizabethan" age. The image you see here is a fantastic portrait painting done by Pietro Annigoni in 1954-55, which The Art Newspaper talks about in more detail. It's a powerfully Romantic picture, isolating her against a barren landscape that epitomizes how youthful innocence can also show great power, especially for a nation rebuilding a decade after World War II.