Sunday, June 29, 2014

Portal 5

Portal 5: San Francisco (30 August 2013)
(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

  After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.
  And immediately I was in the Spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
  And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
-- from Revelations 4:1-3, King James Bible

Saturday, June 21, 2014

MWA XXV: Bernini's Teresa

It's been some time in my Monthly Work of Art posts since I wrote about sculpture, so I thought I would return to that medium by writing about one of my favorite works of Baroque sculpture, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52, by GianLorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) [image: Web Gallery of Art]. The sculpture itself is located in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome. I've been fortunate to visit this church twice in order to see this work, and I will return to see it again the next time I am there. The subject is taken from the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), who wrote about spiritual ecstasy in the form of an angel visiting her and piercing her heart with an arrow. Here is an excerpt from her text that describes the experience (which I sheepishly admit I've ripped from Wikipedia):

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Bernini's sculpture is breathtaking to behold, as Teresa lies half-asleep on a cloud as the grinning angel holds an arrow aloft like a spear about to stab her. We clearly have caught them in medias res because we can see from the way her face writhes and her mouth moans in ecstasy that the angel has already been piercing her. The scene is truly nothing less than a representation of a woman experiencing an orgasm. The talents of Bernini's studio workers and the master himself in the carving of these dynamic figures in marble is incredible. Their stone bodies undulate like waves of water, fooling the viewer into thinking this isn't stone at all. But Bernini's talents lie not only in his skills as a sculptor but also in his use of a theatrical tableau to frame his work (see the full installation of this work below). Above the figures are gilded wood rays that emanate the light coming from an unseen window, suggesting divine light from God, and on the left and right are balconies in which members of the Cornaro family--all male--gaze with varying degrees of emotion at the scene before them. Saint Teresa's ecstasy is a performance, arguably not unlike the performance art of Marina Abramovic and others in contemporary art today. The saint's spiritual contortion serves to entertain the Cornaro men, and all men who enter the church and stare along with them at the saint in ecstasy. This is artistic voyeurism at its finest, the spying on a female body in one of its most private moments.

In 2009, I included Bernini in my Top 10 Favorite Things About Rome series of posts. As I noted in that post then, you cannot avoid Bernini and his influence on Rome. He defined Baroque sculpture, and he made Rome the center of that artistic universe. The contortions and vibrancy of his sculpture and architecture is everywhere, whether it's the baldacchino and Cathedra Petri in St. Peter's, Vatican City, or Saint Teresa in Ecstasy at Santa Maria della Vittoria. Bernini is just one of the many reasons why it is worth visiting Rome.

UPDATE 9/24/14: My dear friend MT recently took a trip to Rome and, although she had been there before, it was the first time she saw Bernini's St. Teresa. She described to me in an email her experience in seeing it, and I've decided to record it here for posterity because I found her words and experience so moving. Seeing this work for the first time in-person is an incredible experience: "I had been in Rome in 1979 and 1989 but missed the St. Teresa both times because I was trying to cross reference my guide books with my art books and missed the crucial info of the location of the chapel in the church. But this time I was armed. Who says Google is a bad thing? And we went to the chapel almost directly from the airport. I was so struck by how small the saint is. I had expected her to be monumental in scale. But she looks so tiny and delicate, yet life-like. She brought tears to my eyes. I also wished that I had never seen photographs because I felt that I had to work hard to have a direct encounter with the sculpture. It is as if her fame had  changed her meaning for me."

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hooray Canada!

It's taken me a week to write my latest travelogue, but better late than never. Over Memorial Day weekend, AA and I took a road trip to Montreal and Quebec City with the FF-POs. bklynbiblio readers may recall my 2010 trip to Montreal for the BQH conference (Oh Canada!), about which I was initially excited, but afterward somewhat disappointed (Ugh Canada!). Hence the title of this post: yes, this trip was fantastic. My disappointment with Montreal last time was in large part because of the weather and the conference, but I did have a few highlights, like the Museum of Fine Arts. We did go back there, and it was even better than I remembered, because there was more time to explore the entire museum in all 3 buildings. The decorative arts and design collection is especially impressive. The picture you see above is of AA and I posing with Jim Dine's Six-Foot Hearts outside the museum, in their urban public outdoor sculpture park. We spent our time exploring more of the city, and spent some time at the Botanical Gardens, which we rather nice. We had amazing weather, so we couldn't complain about that at all.

Our two nights in Quebec City, however, really made this trip as great as it was. This charming city is everything I imagined French Canada would be: quaint village-like shops and cafes, a lot more spoken French, and a relaxing place to simply wander and take in the sites. Even better, we had fantastic meals. We stayed in a delightful hotel called Port-Royal, located in the lower part of Old Quebec, and we just meandered through the lower and upper parts of the city. The pictures you see here help narrate some of the highlights for me. The upper part of the city is crowned by the Chateau Frontenac, and had beautiful sweeping views down to the St. Lawrence River. In our wanderings, we found ourselves by the Parliament building, which had a gorgeous French fountain that originally was at the 1862 International Exposition. The bronze sculptures throughout the city, including installed on the Parliament building, are in impeccable condition, a testament to their interest in taking care of their art. The quaint streets are lined with stone buildings, and at night the street had a beautiful misty feel to them, that made me think of John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings, albeit with electric lights, not gas lights, but still atmospheric. Finally, I have to say, I had one of the most amazing meals of my entire life at Cafe Bistro du Cap. The dinner was table d'hote (prix-fixe), starting with a mousse pate, then a main course of beef bourguignon with thyme mashed potatoes, carrots, and asparagus, with panna cotta & berries for dessert. The restaurant was quiet and intimate, with only about eight tables, one server, and the owner who was the chef. Truly, the meal was superb. I definitely look forward to returning to Quebec City in the near future!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maya Angelou

It was just 8 days ago that the world received news the great African-American writer Maya Angelou had died at the age of 86, having just celebrated her last birthday on April 4th. Her death struck me cold, and it has bothered me since. It's not because we are both Aries and I think we are kindred souls (I wouldn't dare compare myself to her genius). Nor am I troubled that she had died too young, or because I thought I "knew" her in some way. I'm saddened because the world will no longer be graced with the power of her voice and the power of her words. Her last message on Twitter, dated May 23rd, was as strong a message as any she had ever written and spoken: "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God." I can still hear in my head her recitation of the inaugural poem "On the Pulse of Morning" in 1993--A Rock. A River. A Tree.--and its final stanza, resonant with hope:

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope--
Good morning.

These past 8 days I have been distressed by her death. I have felt a rivulet of emotion gurgling beneath the surface of my mind and my heart. I have been in mourning, and I only just realized this fact a little while ago. I never had the honor or privilege of meeting Maya Angelou, but there was always something about her voice and her words that have struck me. I am not alone; she has impacted many people's lives. But I realize that I am mourning the loss of a generation and a past and an understanding of the power of words, how when written from the heart and the mind, and spoken from the soul, words have the power to make a difference on a level that transcends basic textuality. Maya Angelou wasn't a perfect woman. She was something better. She was a human being, just like you and me, someone who made mistakes and learned from them, someone who knew that through our creative minds and bodies, one can make a small difference in this world, a difference that can enact positive change, hope, and love. Watch this short video interview with Maya Angelou that Ann Curry did about 12 years ago. You will quickly understand what I mean.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Off the Grid

The Atlantic Gallery here in NYC is holding an open call for artists to submit work for their 2014 Summer Group Show. Guess who the curator is? Yours truly! I've been asked by the Atlantic Gallery to act as their guest curator, selecting the art works for the show, each of them best responding to the theme of "Off the Grid: Beyond the Noise." The exhibition itself will take place from July 8th-26th. I also will be the juror and select the winning art work at the exhibition. The prize is a one-person show to be held at the gallery in 2015. I'm truly honored to be part of this exhibition and competition, and I thank the Atlantic Gallery for this exciting opportunity. Spread the word and submit entries. Details are on the image you see here, or you can go to to learn more.