Friday, May 24, 2013

Commencement and Career News


Yesterday, May 23, was my graduation from the CUNY Graduate Center. During the ceremony, I had conferred upon me my hood as a holder of the Ph.D. degree and I received my diploma. The ceremony was held at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. I was so happy to have my cousins the DG-JBs there, along with my good friends AA and JM. I know Momma was beaming with pride from above, and Papà was there in spirit, as were a number of my close friends and family. It's a rather startling moment to march across that stage, hear your name called out, and receive the official notification of your degree. I admit I started getting choked up, but I kept it together, determined to hear my name called out and enjoy with pride my moment. I began the Ph.D. program in Art History in August 2005, and along the way took numerous art history classes, did foreign reading language classes in German and French, took a ridiculous number of exams along the way, then finally had the opportunity begin work on my dissertation, which you will recall happened just last month. And now it's official. I'm Roberto C. Ferrari, Ph.D. Afterwards, a group of 10 of us went out for a lovely dinner (with cocktails!) at Robert's in the Museum of Art and Design building on Columbus Circle.

What makes this moment even more amazing, however, is that I also have a new job. I had been getting very concerned for over 8 months that things were getting more and more difficult, and I started to panic wondering how I even would be able to pay my rent. I had applied for numerous jobs but nothing seemed to be working out. Finally, my networking, experience, and determination paid off (thanks in part to the ongoing support of a number of close friends too). In the spirit of graduation being a true "commencement" (a beginning, not an ending!), starting June 10, I am the new Curator of Art Properties at Columbia University, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. I am essentially in charge of the university's art collection, which ranges from ancient decorative arts and Chinese sculpture to photographs and public sculpture on campus. The job is a faculty-librarian position and has a strong educational component, but I also will be involved with conservation and digitization projects and working to publicize the collection as much as possible. I am absolutely thrilled to have been given this opportunity. Stay tuned on the blog though, as I'm sure there will be numerous Columbia-related art postings in the future!

For now, however, enjoy this short video showing my graduation ceremony with me receiving my hood and official congratulations (thanks, DG, for taking this video!). If for some reason you can't see the video, click here to see it on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pre-Raphaelitism in Oxford

Even though giving a conference paper requires a lot of work in terms of research, writing, image & PowerPoint preparation, etc., sometimes the very fact that your paper has been accepted makes the work all worth it. Case in point: I'm going to be giving a paper at Oxford University in September. Now who wouldn't want to participate in that opportunity? Not only am I flattered to even have this experience, it will actually be my first visit to Oxford itself, so I'm definitely looking forward to this. The conference is called Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future, and it's going to be held at the Ashmolean Museum and St. John's College at Oxford. The speakers will be presenting "new and innovative approaches" to this once-again popular Victorian art and literature movement. The organizers have released the preliminary program to the speakers, and there are some wonderful speakers planned. Even better, Dr. Carolyn Conroy, my colleague, friend, and co-coordinator of the Simeon Solomon Research Archive, will be speaking along with me about our Anglo-Jewish homosexual artist. Her paper is on Solomon's works deposited at the Ashmolean Museum. I will be speaking about the painting you see here, The Mother of Moses (image: Delaware Art Museum), focusing on the mixed-race model Fanny Eaton who posed for Solomon. (She also posed for his sister Rebecca in a painting I blogged about in a previous post.) Here is the abstract of my paper. Enjoy!

"Pre-Raphaelite Exotica: Fanny Eaton and Simeon Solomon's Mother of Moses"
by Roberto C. Ferrari, Ph.D.

At the 1860 Royal Academy exhibition, nineteen-year-old Simeon Solomon displayed his first major oil painting, The Mother of Moses.  Although praised by some critics for the use of color and the portrayal of maternal sentiment, Solomon’s painting was harshly judged for its depiction of the female Biblical figures Jochebed and Miriam.  They were described as too Egyptian, too African, too dark-skinned, or even too Jewish.  This criticism can be read as Victorian racism and misogyny, but it also suggests an inability to label or identity with the exoticism of the women themselves.  This is not surprising when one discovers that the model for both figures was the mixed-race Fanny Eaton, who was born in Jamaica to a former slave.  Eaton’s origins and features enabled her to model for a number of Pre-Raphaelite exotic subjects by Solomon and his sister Rebecca, as well as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Albert Moore, and Joanna Boyce Wells.

Scholars know well the stories of many Pre-Raphaelite models, from Annie Miller to Jane Morris, but little is known about Eaton.  This paper will rectify this by presenting new biographical information, and then contextualizing Eaton’s place in this community by drawing on a range of scholarship, from writings on race by Douglas Lorimer and Jan Marsh, to theories on exoticism by Peter Mason.  Although Eaton came be seen in different exotic roles in Pre-Raphaelite paintings, from an ancient Roman to an Indian ayah, her first appearance in Solomon’s Mother of Moses was most significant, both for the model and the painter.  As the daughter of a former slave, Eaton could empathize with the plight of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt; and as a Jewish artist whose father was among the first generation of post-emancipation Jews in London, Solomon drew attention to his heritage by depicting Jochebed holding Moses, the emancipator of the Hebrews.  The exoticism of Eaton in Solomon’s Mother of Moses thus transforms this narrative painting into a political statement about slavery and freedom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

DC in May

This past weekend, AA and I took a quick trip to Washington, D.C. (Thanks, amigo, for doing all that driving!). The main reason we went was to see the exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900 at the National Gallery (more on that in another post). I last was in DC back in December 2010 when RL and I went to the same museum to see the Pre-Raphaelite photography exhibition, as well as the Hide/Seek gay identity show at the National Portrait Gallery. On this trip, I wanted to see more of what I haven't seen in DC before, which is exactly what we got to do. We were concerned that it was going to rain all day Saturday, but we got lucky: the rain held off for most of the day, and the sun was shining brightly. After the exhibition we strolled along the National Mall, pigged out on ice cream, then queued up for the National Archive. Many of the exhibition areas there are targeted to children these days, but it was worth taking a few moments amid the crowds to peak at the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, although I later jokingly commented on Facebook that I was more excited to have seen the Magna Carta on display.

Although we stayed at the Washington Hilton, we headed to the nearby Bar Dupont at the Dupont Circle Hotel for a late lunch and had wine with shrimp beignets and mussels mariniere. For dinner we went to Casa Oaxaca for a fantastic meal: pollo with mole negro for AA, pollo with mole poblano for me (that's the picture you see here; here's more information about delicious chili-chocolate mole sauce). There were also margaritas, guacamole and chips, and yummy churros with ice cream for dessert. Brunch the next morning included mimosas, coffee, basket of pastries, and omelets at Le Diplomate. All the neighborhoods we visited were adorable, with Victorian row houses and mini-mansions. It made me realize again that DC truly is a charming city and does have a great deal to offer someone--being politically active is probably a necessity though.

On Sunday we visited some of the monuments, and would you believe it was the first time I ever saw the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial? The large-scale inscription from the Gettysburg Address on the wall at the Lincoln Memorial made me stop and read it again, and I was struck by one line in particular: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." American history spends so much time emphasizing this short speech, but even at the time Lincoln himself recognized that it was not his words but the actions of the dead soldiers on the field that truly mattered. It really is a powerful speech. We also visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial as well, which I liked a great deal, with its organic approach, sculpture, stone, and water features integrated into the park that surrounds it. The picture you see here is of me between the over-life-sized bronze statues of Roosevelt and his beloved Scottish terrier, Fala.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was quite interesting from an artistic perspective. I took this picture showing how the larger-than-life statue of the civil rights leader is hewn from the "Stone of Hope," a reference to his famous I Have a Dream speech. The way King projects from the stone conjures the image of the non-finito, the unfinished (think Michelangelo), an appropriate visual statement about how his assassination cut him down before he could fulfill his life's work. The statue is surrounded by quotations from his many speeches, and I found this one from Georgia, 1967, to be poignant: "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective." (I wonder if any Congressmen have read and thought about this?) We also took in the National World War II Memorial, a picture of which you see at the top of this blog post. I really loved this memorial, with the outstretched colonnades reminding me of Bernini's architectural features surrounding Vatican Plaza. The fountain was lovely as well. Situated between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the memorial to those who died in World War II is a beautiful area for contemplation and respite amid all the other memorials on the Mall. (You can read more about the DC parks on the National Park Services website.) Soon afterwards we started our long drive north, amazed at how much we had done in 24 hours, and feeling truly satisfied with our little jaunt to the nation's capital.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CAA 2014 in Chicago

The College Art Association will hold its 102nd annual meeting next February 12-15, 2014, in Chicago. As much as I want to take a trip out there, I do NOT want to go in February, so I'll be skipping next year's conference. (You'll recall this year's conference was here in NYC, and last year's was in Los Angeles.) The deadline for proposals for papers for the 2014 conference is coming up on May 13th. In reviewing some of the panels, I've identified a few that look promising, at least from my particular art historical angle:
** "Antimodernism(s) in French Art and Culture, 1860-1914" (reconsidering the 'other' to the mainstream development of art history's march to modernism)
** "The Maternal Body Exposed: Fecundity, Birth Control, and Countering Infertility in Contemporary Art" (reverse feminism emphasizing the pregnant body?)
** "Re-Examining Fashion in Western Art, 1775-1975" (spinning off from the recent Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibition)
** "The Image of Nineteenth-Century Money" (a session DE is rather excited about, as a new collector of American currency from the 1800s)
** "Studio Shots: Representations of Women as Artists" (mostly in photographs, what do the images say about 'woman' as working artist?)
** "The Art of Display: Context and Meaning, 1700-1850" (effect of installations on art, chaired by my colleague Christina Ferando, a specialist on Antonio Canova)
** "Ethereal Performance: The Lasting Legacy of Temporary Public Sculpture" (short-term exhibitions & installations of sculpture in 19th and 20th centuries)
** "Queer Gothic: Difference and Sexuality in British Art and Architecture" (someone will do a paper on Walpole and Strawberry Hill, I'm sure; sponsored by the Historians of British Art)
** And the prize for best-named panel session... "Drachma-tic Art: The Economics of Ancient Greek Visual Culture"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

PUNK: The Costume Institute Gala

Once again, readers, it's time to praise the highs and boo the lows in fashion at the annual Costume Institute Gala, which was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last night to celebrate the opening of PUNK: Chaos to Couture, the latest annual exhibition from the Costume Institute. (Clearly, this is another attempt to capitalize on the tremendous success of the Alexander McQueen exhibition, and bring in the 20something--and 50something!?--generation.) Rumor has it tickets to the gala were $25,000 each, and for that guests got dinner and entertainment by Debbie Harry and Kanye West. (I was all ready to go but, seriously, can you see me in safety pins and pink hair?) You'll recall I've been commenting on this annual event for the past three years now (here, here, and here), and why miss out on this one? You can read all the details about the actual gala and the nearly 800 in attendance by reading this article in The New York Times. The one thing that troubles me is that in previewing the slideshows of the red carpet event (such as this one from New York magazine), I don't know who half the people are anymore! Have I gotten that old already that I have no idea who anyone under 25 is? Nah...I'm just too damn busy and important to care.

So...I can't even believe I'm saying this, but Beyoncé gets the top prize for her gown as the highlight of the evening (above). It has a 1990s-Baroque-Versace look with its gold-trimmed train, but it's actually Givenchy, designed by Riccardo Tisci, and it does look rather stunning on her busty, post-baby (yet remarkably svelte) figure. Tisci was one of the co-coordinators of the gala, and many of his fashions were a hit on the red carpet. Madonna--who reportedly bitches every year about how much she hates the party and will never return, only to return each year--was rather punky-and-perky in another Tisci ensemble for Givenchy (left). Anne Hathaway was shockingly blonde and punk in see-through, black Valentino. Maggie Gyllenhaal was a stunning lady in red, although her dress should have had more shoulder coverage. Uma Thurman's form-fitting Zac Posen mermaid dress would have been fabulous in any other color but puke green. And that's the good fashion! Get ready for the disasters, because there were some biggies...

Poor Kristen Stewart was all blood-red wearing her grandmother's lace table-runner. I like Kirsten Dunst, but her outfit reminded me of a Swiffer duster and made me want to clean. Poor Jennifer Lopez (sorry, AA!)...she basically skinned a leopard and squeezed it over those killer hips of hers. Emma Watson fell victim to Lord Voldemort with all the slashes in her dress. Sarah Jessica Parker looked like a peacock in her Treacy hat. And Elle Fanning apparently fell into a 1970s tie-dye vat. Without a doubt, however, the absolute worst dresser of the night was Kim Kardashian, who tried to proudly show off her baby-bump but instead wound up looking like a giant balloon wearing Laura Ashley floral wallpaper (surprisingly, another Tisci for Givenchy outfit). Among the men, Marc Jacobs continued to reveal his insanity by wearing Pierrot polka-dot pajamas. I'm still not sure how I feel about Tyson Beckford's pink camouflage blazer. Fortunately some men know you can never go wrong in a good black tux, and Gerard Butler, Alexander Skarsgard, and Andy Cohen all looked rather delectable. To wrap things up I'll end with this charmingly cute shot of gay actor Zachary Quinto (right), who did well among the men by showing off a combination of high class style with some punk in an ensemble by Vivienne Westwood.

(Image credits: Beyonce and Madonna: Timothy A. Clary; Quinto: Dimitrious Kambouris; all from New York magazine)

UPDATE 5/14/13: In following other fashion reviewers and television reports, the number of people who hated Beyoncé's attire has been surprisingly high. I have to admit, after seeing more pictures of her look, with those ridiculous hip boots, the gown was over-the-top and not nearly as glamorous as it seemed at first. Obviously if one sees these celebrities in their finest on the actual red carpet it probably has a different impact than seeing some of these photos. Katie Holmes was lauded by most as one of the most glamorous of the evening, and while I agree that her Calvin Klein white gown was almost Cinderella-like in its diaphonous waves of fabric, she looked just a little too angelic to me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

MWA XIV: Furse's Diana

Few people know much about Charles Wellington Furse. I certainly never heard of him until very recently. British-born, he died in his mid-30s, soon after painting the work you see here, Diana of the Uplands, 1903-04. The model for the picture was his wife Katherine, and according to the Tate's website she recorded that her step-mother-in-law helped create the wind effect, and the greyhounds were hired specifically for the picture (one black dog and one white dog, although Furse combined their coloring). The title refers to classical imagery of the ancient Roman goddess Diana, who was depicted in art as a huntress accompanied by dogs. This genteel woman is meant to be a modern-day Diana, one who may lead the dogs to a hunt in the Highlands, but who would never carry a bow-and-arrow or a rifle to actually hunt, as that is the work of men. This is a modern-day portrait of opulence and refinery, a Gilded Age homage to womanhood among the British upper middle classes. The color palette and brushstroke, as well as the portrait style, clearly shows the influence of Furse's contemporary, the American society portraitist John Singer Sargent. But there also is a feeling of Grand Manner portraiture that reaches back to the eighteenth-century style of Thomas Gainsborough. The loose brushstroke captures the wind-swept feel of the hills around the woman, and her taught arm reaches out to show her struggle to restrain the dogs, eager to hunt. Indeed, the dogs looking outside the frame for prey creates a perpendicular sense of vision that contrasts with "Diana" gazing at the viewer, bringing you the viewer into the hunt scene as well. It is a fascinating, introspective-yet-staged portrait that suggests a particular moment in time.

I never would have chosen this picture as this month's MWA had I not gone this past Friday to see the exhibition Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century at the Yale Center for British Art. The exhibition is ambitious, arranged on two floors, and incorporates paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, decorative arts, fashion, and audio/video works. It ties in well with the popularity of Downton Abbey, but that is a coincidence, as this exhibition was planned long before the show ever aired. In the US, however, how many actually know what "Edwardian" means? It is exclusively British in that it refers to the short reign of King Edward VII (Queen Victoria's heir) from 1901-10, although it stretches Edwardian back to the mid-1890s and up to World War I. Much as the term "Victorian" is fraught with problems because it lasted 64 years, "Edwardian" equally is problematic because, for such a brief period of time, the world and cultural world expanded in ways too difficult to define by a single style. Indeed, one problem with the exhibition itself is attempting to define what Edwardian even means. I left feeling more confused because all the thematic arrangements and numerous works of art demonstrate the diverse approaches artists took with different ideas and the lack of centralization that is "Edwardian." But then again that was perhaps the curators' point, to problematize that idea and move beyond it. I also was surprised that, despite the text-based acknowledgment of the British Empire reaching its height during the Edwardian period, there is very little international art or cultural objects to demonstrate the global impact of British imperialism and its subjects. Nor is there a sense of the working classes or anyone other than the highest echelons of society (hence the "opulence" part of the exhibition). What does make the exhibition exciting and refreshing, however, is the introduction of new ideas, artists, and works that were popular a century ago in the London art world, such as Furse and the portrait above. The pictures by Sargent shine (as always, he was a brilliant artist). Photography is brought in beautifully with rare autochromes (earliest glass-based color photographs) and the thematic arrangement of society photos showing off the first motor cars like equestrian portraits of the past. All in all, the exhibition is interesting in showcasing heretofore little-known works and artists, and putting together a large number of themes that show how many ways the Edwardians celebrated their cultural life. If this exhibition accomplishes anything, hopefully it will be the opening up to future scholarship further examination of the areas and ideas not seen in the exhibition, so as to better demonstrate how fascinating this world just before the outbreak of World War I actually was. Indeed, the charm of Downton Abbey isn't so much what's happening upstairs, but what's happening downstairs and outside the walls of the estate too.