Sunday, June 30, 2013

Avery Library

The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University recently released the official announcement about my appointment as Curator of Art Properties. You can read the announcement by clicking here. After having completed 3 weeks of work, I can say for sure that I truly am thrilled by this new position. There's an unbelievable amount of work involved in this job, but I'm up for the challenge. In the last few weeks alone, I've been involved in potential donor opportunities, a sculpture conservation project, the photographic reproduction of an 1890s portrait painting, meeting a few administrators for the loan program, rethinking some policies and procedures, and looking into some exhibition ideas for areas of the collection. My staff members have been great to work with; I'm learning a lot from their years of experience. All in all, it's been an incredibly busy but rewarding 3 weeks.

I also feel rather privileged to be back in a library community, and one of the most prestigious art and architecture libraries in the world at that. Avery Library has world-class general and special collections, including the recent acquisition of the Frank Lloyd Wright archive. Avery Library was established in 1890 when architect Henry Ogden Avery (1852-1890) died unexpectedly and his parents established his book collection as the foundation of what became Avery Library. In 1912 the library was the first to be established in its own Renaissance palazzo-style building on the campus of Columbia in a building designed by McKim, Mead, and White. You can read more about the history of Avery Library by clicking here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Portal 1

Ever since I began bklynbiblio in August 2008, I've used it primarily for the discussion of ideas and reviews associated with the arts and humanities. I've also brought in my own work, such as my scholarly presentations and writings on the 19th-century artists John Gibson and Simeon Solomon. However, it always was my intention to also use the blog as a portal for the dissemination of my own creative work, especially my photography. For the record, I make no claim to being a professional photographer, and in fact I would only ever claim to be an amateur. To be blunt, I'm not that good, and I know very little about how to take professional photos. Digital photography, not to mention software tools like Photoshop and Instagram, has made all of us photographers in one way or another, for better or for worse. So in some ways for me it's less about the ability to take photos and more the conscious thematic arrangement or composition of them that is important. Over the years, I have worked on an art project that I call Portals, and I've decided to start sharing images from the series on this blog. The work you see here has now been dubbed the first in the series, Portal 1: Firenze (8 July 2005). As I post these from time to time, each will be accompanied by texts, and to begin the series I thought I would write a statement about the project and the images. I hope you enjoy it, and please do feel free to comment on the blog. (Note that I hold copyright on these images. You are free to download them for your personal use, but please ask my permission before using an image for print or electronic publications, including on another website. You should always cite the source and photographer for your images, when known.) And now, my statement...

What is a portal? It's a doorway, a gateway, a passageway. It's the in-between space between here and there, between today and tomorrow, between life and death. It is no space and all space at the same time. Sometimes it is open, sometimes it is closed. A portal's very existence is an invitation to look through it and to pass through it, and in doing so a new world awaits you on the other side. It may be better than what you left, or it may be worse. That is the risk and thrill of a portal. We pass through portals every day of our lives and never think about them. Other portals, however, make us stop and think, perhaps because we see something exquisite on the other side and we cannot fathom how we to obtain it, or because we know something dark is there and it terrifies us and we can barely convince ourselves to turn the doorknob. To pass through a portal is to evolve. Portals may be doors, but they may be windows, gates, or simply created spaces in which to pass to another place. My photography series Portals will show you various types of passageways I have photographed through the years. I leave the aesthetic judgment of each image up to you. Each will be accompanied by excerpts from poetry, literature, essays, and/or spiritual texts, each of which will share how portals have impacted and continue to affect our lives. It is my hope from this series that you will appreciate my images as examples of the beautiful and the sublime. But ultimately I hope that the series may teach you to pause every once and a while when you come up on a portal, to think for a moment about where it is you are in life and where you are going, to relish the very life you are living and the experience you are about to begin, simply by peering through an open window or stepping through a doorway to another space beyond.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

MWA XV: Rembrandt's Trip

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, one of the greatest art museums in the world, reopened its doors this year after a major building renovation. But for those who can't visit the museum, the organization has launched Rijksstudio, a website where you can download over 125,000 high-resolution images of works from the collection for personal or professional use. And it's all free. We're talking about masterpieces of Dutch art by Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Johannes Vermeer, and so on. The New York Times lauded them for this feat, and certainly it is monumental, in particular because of the number of images that were launched upfront. Although they are the first major European museum to do this on a grand scale, others in the U.S. have done this, as I've reported on this blog about the National Gallery of Art and the Yale Center for British Art. Other museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, offer high-resolution JPGs for PowerPoint presentations for free and offer free publication of images for academic purposes through ARTstor's Images for Academic Publishing initiative. But the Rijksmuseum's release of high-detailed images reinforces the ever-rising interest on the part of museums to ensure that if you are going to use an image of an object from their collection, then you should use the highest-quality image available, as color-corrected and authorized by the museum itself.

In recognition of this accomplishment, our Monthly Work of Art for June (seen here) is Portrait of a Young Woman, probably Maria Trip by Rembrandt van Rijn. This oil on panel painting is signed by the artist and dated 1639. I know this is sacrilegious to admit, but I've never been a huge fan of Rembrandt's work. I know this is typically because his brushstroke in his paintings is usually looser, which is often what people most admire about his work. Certainly he is a master of dramatic chiaroscuro. But there are works by Rembrandt that I do admire, frequently his portraits, and this one is an excellent example. I'm amazed by his handling of details, such as the intricacy of the lace and pearls, and the fine strands of her hair that crown the charmingly beautiful face of this woman. She practically glows in a spotlight that highlights not only her beauty but also her socio-economic status. Here is what the Rijksmuseum's curators have to say about this picture: "Maria Trip, daughter of one of Amsterdam's wealthiest merchants, was twenty when Rembrandt painted her portrait. The artist placed Maria against a stone arch and devoted particular attention to the reflected light, the fashionable dress and jewellery. The costly garments are trimmed with strips of gold lace and Maria is wearing a profusion of pearls."