Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Passing of Peter Letterese

During the night, my Uncle Peter Letterese passed away in a hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. He has been suffering on and off for years from the effects of leukemia, but it never stopped him from enjoying a glass of wine or listening to an aria by Pavarotti. He was 93 years old, so we certainly can take comfort in knowing he had a long, fulfilling life. However, his passing is hard for the family, because he was such a vital part of our lives for decades. His granddaughter, my cousin MTB, has now lost the second half of the duo who did so much to raise and support her through the years, having lost her Nana, my Aunt Florence (my mother's older sister) in 2009. I blogged about her passing at that time. Uncle Pete was admittedly never the same after Aunt Florence died; she was the love of his life. In recent years he spoke honestly about how he wanted to be with her again. By a strange coincidence, New Year's Eve--today--was their 45th wedding anniversary. But he did the best he could all these years. The picture you see above is a shot of Aunt Florence, Uncle Peter, MTB, and her son, ten years ago at a family dinner.

Uncle Pete was a boxer. Not everyone knows that. He gave that up ages ago, though, and eventually worked as an X-ray technician in hospitals in the Bronx and St. Petersburg. A few years ago I uncovered the photo you see here in an issue of The New York Times. On June 18, 1949, he was the X-ray technician on duty who treated French boxer Marcel Cerdan for a torn shoulder muscle, and was photographed with Cerdan by an unidentified Associated Press photographer. The juxtaposition of his lives as a boxer and technician came together on that day.

When Aunt Florence and Uncle Peter finally retired for good in the late 1980s, they moved permanently back to their home in St. Petersburg, and soon joined up with the Italian-American Society of St. Petersburg, taking language lessons and tarantella dancing lessons. They were responsible for getting my parents and me involved in this too. (Yes, I admit it, I used to dance the tarantella and other dances with the group all over Florida!) Uncle Pete went to Italy once with my father, so he met the whole Italian side of family. When I was growing up I remember my aunt and uncle always coming out to our house on Saturday mornings, bringing pastry boxes with rolls and doughnuts. They always bought me a NYC classic: a black-and-white cookie. When my cousins and I were all kids, he was the Uncle who every summer picked us all up and threw us into the pool, doing it again and again, encouraged by our squeals of joy, and in spite Aunt Florence always yelling at him, "Peter, be careful!" As I grew older, it was Uncle Pete who helped educate me about wine. I went to more than one wine tasting with him over the years. He was also the person who first got me interested in opera. Once, he was given free tickets on a night that Aunt Florence couldn't go, so he asked if I wanted to go. My parents drove me into the City to meet him at Lincoln Center. That was my first live opera experience: Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, in box seats, at the age of twelve. It was an amazing experience. (We even sat next to Mia Farrow and Woody Allen--long before the Soon Yi scandal.)

Uncle Pete always had a big heart for everyone and he did truly enjoy life. He simply adored his granddaughter MTB and we know he appreciated greatly all her help over the past few years as things got harder for him. If Aunt Florence taught us how to be disciplined, organized, smart, and strong, Uncle Peter taught us how to have fun, enjoy good things in life, and never to take anything too seriously, because there were always choices and options. When I think of the great phrases that the elders in my life gave me, Uncle Peter gave me two. The first was: "The hardest part of making a decision is making the decision. After that, it all rolls into place." The second was: "And what's the worst thing that could happen if you discover you made a mistake? You change it." Very wise words from our own family wine expert. Salute, Uncle Peter!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Art Details: 1 to 5

About a year and a half ago, I started taking detail shots using my iPhone (now 6, then 4S) of paintings and sculptures in museums that I found particularly fascinating. Although I am an advocate of always seeing art in person to fully appreciate it, admittedly it is not always possible to do that. Thus, images can help supplement the live experience of art to some extent. Art details in particular arguably give us an opportunity to hone in on a work of art, to examine aspects of it so as to attempt to see deeper into the artist's intent or vision. Admittedly, these details also give the photographer (in this case me) an opportunity to be creative in interpreting these masterful works of art. After all, in seeing these, you are experiencing my detail, my interpretation, of these paintings and sculptures. Beauty, indeed, is in the eye of the beholder. I typically post these on my Instagram account, which you can see by clicking here. (Warning: fun, personal images are there too.) Below these 5 images, I've provided some metadata about each. Enjoy!

Image Credits: All photographs taken by bklynbiblio/Roberto C. Ferrari. Top to bottom:

  1. Albrecht Durer, The Paumgartner Altarpiece: The Birth of Christ, 1498-1504, oil on panel, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
  2. Auguste Rodin, The Three Shades, originally designed for The Gates of Hell before 1886, 20th-century cast, bronze, Rodin Museum, Philadelphia.
  3. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata, 1873, oil on canvas, Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
  4. Paul-Albert Bartholomé, Congiunti al di là, 1891-99, marble, Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Moderna, Rome.
  5. Sarah Miriam Peale, Still Life with Watermelon, 1822, oil on canvas, Harvard Art Museums, Boston.

Cities of 2015

Last year I wrote a blog post highlighting all the travel I did in 2014, but this time I am just doing a recap of the cities I visited over the course of the year. I realize on some level this may seem like I'm bragging about my travels, but this blog has involved me writing about my travels since the very beginning, so consider this an encapsulated list rather than an extended post on places I have been. One reason I decided to do this is because 2015 has turned out to be rather exceptional in terms of travel, with more than half of these cities related to my job and career (conferences, talks, courier trips, etc.). The rest was vacation or family visits. The picture you see here is of AA and me on the wall of San Gimignano with the rolling hills of Tuscany behind us. God, what a beautiful day it was and what a beautiful memory it is. Even though I have visited almost all of these cities before (some many times), three were first-time visits (Monteriggione, Beacon, and Kansas City). When I visit these cities, I always strive to visit museums or galleries to see exhibitions or permanent collections, all as part of expanding my knowledge-base on artists, art works, movements, styles, and the materiality of art. I frequently like to go back to museums I've seen before to see old favorites and what may have changed. Every one of these trips, then, becomes a learning experience. But perhaps the most important reason why I am posting this list is because I realize how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to visit these places and to engage with cultures, no matter how similar or different they are from my own. For me, life is about experiences and encounters, and travel helps make that happen. Here is the list, in the order in which I visited them.
  • Munich, Germany
  • St. Petersburg/Palm Harbor, Florida (March visit)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (April visit)
  • Cattolica, Italy
  • Venice, Italy
  • Rome, Italy
  • Florence, Italy
  • San Gimignano/Siena/Monteriggione (day trip through Tuscany)
  • Milan, Italy
  • St. Petersburg/Palm Harbor, Florida (May visit)
  • Liverpool, England
  • Southport, England
  • London, England
  • Oxford, England
  • Washington, DC
  • Provincetown, Massachusetts
  • St. Petersburg/Palm Harbor, Florida (August visit)
  • San Francisco, California
  • Beacon, New York
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (November visit)
  • Kansas City, Missouri

Thursday, December 24, 2015

MWA XXXVI: Botticelli's Nativity

Here in New York City, we are having record-high temperatures for Christmas. It is supposed to reach 74 degrees (23 Celsius)! I thought I was staying in NYC, not going to Florida, for Christmas! Today AA and I happily will spend our first official Christmas together on the actual Eve & Day (rather than before or after the holiday) in Jersey City. Tomorrow we are scheduled to meet up with the nephew and nieces to ice skate in Bryant 64-degree weather...assuming the ice doesn't melt beforehand.

With another Christmas upon us, it seems only appropriate to share another beautiful and important Monthly Work of Art suited to this time of year. The picture you see here is by the Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli and this painting, from about 1500, is called the Mystic Nativity. While the central portion of it celebrates the birth of Christ in a traditional manner--albeit with Botticelli's usual sinuous forms, as best exemplified by the Virgin Mary--and with humans and angels paying homage to the newborn, above them a group of angels celebrate his birth in a rondo dance, and below angels embrace humans as an extension of God's love. These two parts of the painting elevate it to the esoteric.

This painting was likely a private devotional work commissioned by a wealthy merchant in Florence. Today it is in the collection of the National Gallery in London. On their website, here is what the curators say about it: "Botticelli's picture has long been called the Mystic Nativity because of its mysterious symbolism. It combines Christ's birth as told in the New Testament with a vision of his Second Coming as promised in the Book of Revelation. The Second Coming--Christ's return to earth--would herald the end of the world and the reconciliation of devout Christians with God. The picture was painted a millennium and a half after the birth of Christ, when religious and political upheavals prompted prophetic warnings about the end of the world."

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Auction Sales of 2015

Record-high prices from the art auction world continued to astound people this year, even those of us who work in the art industry. Of course, this is in modern/contemporary art, where prices for a handful of artists from the past 140 years (mostly 20th-century) continue to garner often shocking prices in the millions and alter the landscape (no pun intended) in the valuation of art. For instance, in May of this year, Christie's set a new record bringing in for the first time over $1 billion in a single week of sales: $658.5 million from their postwar/contemporary sale and $705.9 million from their 20th-century sale, each a few days apart from one another. Then, in November, Christie's made news with the record-breaking sale of the painting you see above, Amedeo Modigliani's Nu Couché (Reclining Nude), 1917-18. This picture sold for $170.4 million (with fees) to Chinese collector Liu Yiqian, a former taxi-driver, now billionaire, with a private museum in Shanghai. This record-breaker has earned the painting the number 2 spot on the most expensive works ever sold at auction (a Picasso also sold this year as number 1). Now, I like Modigliani's work a lot, but this nude...not so much. These other Modigliani nudes at the Met Museum and the Courtauld (the second one of my favorite paintings of the nude) are far superior in their execution than this one. I also think Modigliani's portraits are hauntingly fantastic, such as this portrait of Paulette Jourdain that sold this year at Sotheby's for $42.8 million (with fees) from the collection of their former CEO A. Alfred Taubman (a highly controversial figure himself). This record-breaking sale of a Modigliani has now effectively escalated the overall appreciation of his entire oeuvre. That may not seem to be a bad thing, because he is a great modernist, but this escalation in value also has skewed the market for his work in a way that costs museums and private collectors more money to insure his art works in their collections. On the surface this may not seem like a big deal, but when museums want to organize exhibitions, it costs them more to ship and insure these paintings, and as a result these costs trickle down to the average museum-goer in the form of higher ticket prices, book and merchandise sale increases, and other costs. The impact factor of these auction sales go beyond what a wealthy Chinese collector is willing to pay for a particular work of art.

Here is my new list of the Top 5 Auction Sales of Works of Art, which is an update of my 2013 post on this with extracted information from sites such as theartwolf and Wikipedia. (Keep in mind that this list is specific to auction sales and does not consider private sales, the most expensive of which is now in the range of $300 million for Paul Gauguin's painting Nafea Faa Ipoipo [When Will You Marry?].)
  1. Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d'Alger (The Women of Algiers) ['Version O'], 1955, oil on canvas, sold May 2015, Christie's New York, $179.4m
  2. Amedeo Modigliani, Nu Couché (Reclining Nude), 1917-18, oil on canvas, sold November 2015, Christie's New York, $170.4m
  3. Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969, oil on canvas in three parts, sold November 2013, Christie's New York, $142.4m
  4. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, pastel on board, sold May 2012, Sotheby's New York, $119.9m
  5. Pablo Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932, oil on canvas, sold May 2010, Christie's New York, $106.5m

In the world of British art, the picture you see here is of one of the more significant sales this year. The picture (taken by AA) shows me examining John Constable's The Lock, ca. 1824-25, when we visited Sotheby's New York in November to see the exhibition of upcoming works for auction. No, we weren't in the market to purchase it, as its estimate was in the millions of pounds/dollars range. This particular painting was number 5 of 6 in a series of Constable's famous "Six-Footer" paintings, i.e. landscapes that were elevated to the status of history paintings, but lacking a narrative. His paintings changed the history of art from the 1820s on when he exhibited them, as they opened up a new appreciation for the natural landscape as a large-scale, viable subject for artists and collectors. Constable's painting sold at Sotheby's London for £9.1m or $13.7m (with fees). (Note that another version of this same subject actually holds the record for Constable at auction, selling in 2012 £22.4m or $35.2m.). The sale of this painting now means that only two more major works by him are left in private hands.

Also in British art, I was pleased to see that this work, Simeon Solomon's Priestess of Diana Offering Poppies, 1864, which has been on the market and in private sales over the years, sold for £43,750 or $65,800 this past week. This isn't a record for Solomon, as his 1871 oil painting Rabbi Holding the Scrolls of the Law sold for £142,400 or $280,460 in 2006, but this latest sale is a demonstrated strength in the market for Solomon's oeuvre overall. For an artist long-maligned because of his homosexual crimes, Solomon has come into his own as an important figure among the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists of the Victorian period, and is now eagerly sought by collectors in this area. (You can see my Solomon blog posts here, and always remember to check the award-winning Simeon Solomon Research Archive which is co-managed by Carolyn Conroy and me.)

To wrap up this auction post, I must comment on what I consider to be one of the most bizarre sales of the year, another painting AA and I had the opportunity to see in person at Sotheby's: Carl Kahler's My Wife's Lovers, 1891. This was a commission to paint San Francisco socialite Kate Johnson's favorites cats from among her 350 of them. I am not making this up. The end result is mind-boggling painting to behold. It measures approximately 6 x 8 1/2 feet in size and is in an incredibly ornate frame. One can appreciate the attention to detail and emphasis on animal physiognomy, Kahler succeeding in capturing the characteristics of each individual cat. But the painting borders on the eccentric. The estimate price was $200,000-$300,000. It sold for $868,000 (with fees). All I keep thinking about this painting is that someone with a lot of empty wall space must really, really love cats. Here is Sotheby's video about the painting, which also shows you how popular in the press the picture was when it was completed almost 125 years ago.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Books of 2015

The "best of" lists for 2015 have begun! bklynbiblio readers will recall that "Books of" is probably one of my favorite posts of the year (here are 2014's and 2013's posts, for instance). While my post is somewhat an assessment of The New York Times Book Review's annual 100 Notable Books, it is more for me a way to look back on the books I read over the year and share/suggest/comment on my favorites (and as you will see at the end of this post, one very much not-so-favorite). This year's NYT list, unfortunately, doesn't inspire me too much, although a few works look interesting. In non-fiction, Mary Beard's sweeping history of ancient Rome SPQR promises to be a great read, but I may have to wait a while to read that one. (I follow Beard, who is a professor of classics at Cambridge, on her blog A Don's Life.) In fiction two books seem promising: How to Be Both by Ali Smith (combined tale of a modern teenage girl and a Renaissance painter) and The Incarnations by Susan Barker (a Chinese cab driver discovers all of his past lives through a series of letters). I was surprised that Toni Morrison's new novel God Help the Child made it on the list because the review artist Kara Walker gave in April lamented the lack of literary beauty and charge that we have come to relish from Morrison's work. But since I do read Morrison (I read Love [2003] this year), that book will go on my my future reading list, I'm sure. Paula Hawkins' debut novel The Girl on the Train made it on Amazon's top list, but not the NYT list; that is definitely going on my list of books to read as well.

Over the past year since I last blogged on this topic, I have read 29 books. Around this time last year I was reading Shearer West's Portraiture [2004], an excellent overview on this subject in painting, and Agatha Christie's Curtain [1975], an excellent wrap-up mystery and the last of my many years of reading her novels in the order they were published. This year I took on two biographies in preparation for my recent conference paper I gave in Pittsburgh. One was the life of the writer/diplomat James Justinian Morier and his brothers (Ottoman and Persian Odysseys by Henry McKenzie Johnston [1998]), and the second was the translated edition of the Mirza Abul Hasan Khan's travel journal to London (A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10 by Margaret Morris Cloake [1988]). I never thought I would find Anglo-Persian politics during the Napoleonic Wars so interesting, but it has been eye-opening to learn about it in the context of our current strained relations with Iran and other parts of the Middle East today. In a more emotional vein, I tackled Joan Didion's powerful The Year of Magical Thinking [2006], her powerful, personal struggle with death, grief, mourning, survival, and ultimately living.

One of the books I am currently reading merges my interest in biography with biography: Richard Wendorf's Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Painter in Society [1996], which so far is an interesting psychological exploration into understanding one of the greatest portrait painters of the 18th century. A great art read this year was a book by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Grayson Perry: Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in Its Struggle to Be Understood [2014]. The artist's frequently-hilarious cartoons accompany his lucid explanations as to how conceptual art has maligned the perception of art and how it has undermined the ideology of craft. This book is a great, entertaining read for anyone who has wondered "Why don't I understand all this contemporary art thing, and why is is so shockingly expensive?" An intriguing contrast to this--which, not surprisingly, I found less enjoyable but still insightful--was Ways of Curating by the uber-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist [2014]. Despite his insistence on how it is the work of art that should speak for itself in an exhibition, Obrist's jet-setting curatorial life (he literally travels the world overseeing exhibitions everywhere) clearly imposes his persona on the curatorial/exhibition experience, ultimately framing the perception and reception of art, no matter what he claims.

In addition to the biography of Reynolds, I have made the great foray into the literary masterpiece Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy [1877], the book cover for which is above. Lately, my running commentary to the frequent question "What are you doing for the holidays?" has been "I'm reading Anna Karenina." And I mean it! (Thanks goes out to my cousins the M+JBs for giving me this book as a gift last Christmas!) The best novel I read this year was Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum [1995]. I discovered Atkinson last year when I read Life After Life, which had been on the 2013 NYT list, and I truly loved that book. This earlier novel won her the Whitbread Book of the Year award and recounts in witty, original prose not only the life of Ruby Lennox (from the time of her conception) but the troubled lives of her maternal ancestry and relatives from the late 1800s to just before the new millennium. I look forward to reading more of Atkinson, including her new book this year A God in Ruins, a sequel to Life After Life. A few of my other favorite fiction reads this year were: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin [2012], a short novel that considers the life of Christ from his mother's perspective; the young-adult novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs [2011]; and The Minotaur by Barbara Vine [2005], an exploration of autism long before it was ever diagnosed for what it is today. I also read Portraits at an Exhibition by Patrick Horrigan [2015] and published a review in The Gay & Lesbian Review. And finally I will now wrap up this post by noting, with unbelievable dread, that I also read early this year The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [2013]. This book won lots of awards including the Pulitzer, but I absolutely detested it. I've since discovered that people who read this book are in split camps: you either love it or hate it. From my perspective, the first 200 pages and the last 50 pages are the best parts of the book. The entire center of more than 300 pages was some of the most tedious, unrealistic, plot-less storytelling I have ever read. What angered me most was that this beautiful painting, that is supposed to be the focal point of the entire novel, dissipates into an invisible shadow and never reappears until it becomes a catalyst to wrap up a ridiculous plot. I can understand why some people loved this book because of its attempt at contemporary realism, but personally I could not wait to finish it. Sorry, Ms. Tartt. I doubt I will ever read another of your books.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gibson the Designer

One of the articles I have been working on for the past few months has now been published in electronic format. Although e-journals still have not garnered the respectability of print journals, particularly in academia, one of their advantages is that the process of writing to publication is much faster than in the traditional print world. (Indeed, another essay I started on back in 2010 still has yet to be released in print format!) A second advantage, in this particular case, is that the article is freely available to the public and is part of the open-access trend in academia, where few ever receive payment or compensation for their scholarly work. bklynbiblio readers will recall my last post about my article in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, another free, open-access e-journal. This latest article is entitled "John Gibson, Designer: Sculpture and Reproductive Media in the Nineteenth Century" (available here for free) and it has just been published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Art Historiography. At 50 pages with 138 footnotes, clearly there was much to say; fortunately, e-journals make it easier to publish lengthier essays. This essay discusses the sculptor John Gibson (about whom I have blogged before) by re-contextualizing his body of work from the perspective of reproduction--the making and dissemination of multiples rather than single, unique works of art. In the nineteenth century, it was more common for artists to make copies and repetitions of works (read the article to discover the difference between copies and repetitions) than it is today, although sculpture by its very nature, as numerous scholars have noted, is a reproductive media and needs to be studied as a multiple, taking into consideration every part of the work in various media. Taking this premise further, I demonstrate in the essay how Gibson emphasized his role as a designer by the mid-1800s, enabling his drawings (but conceptually also his ideas) to be reproduced by others in the forms of porcelain statuary, cameos, and engravings. In emphasizing his role as a designer over that of a sculptor (i.e. a maker just of works in stone), Gibson was able to disseminate his subjects to a wider audience with different socio-economic backgrounds, reinforcing his role as one of the most famous sculptors of the nineteenth century.

Back in February 2013 I had written up MWA XII: Gibson's Cupid. Since then, I have made more discoveries about his sculpture Cupid Disguised as a Shepherd Boy, and these are included in the article as a compendium. This statue was commissioned in marble at least 9 times, making it one of the most popular (quantitatively) of all nineteenth-century sculptures. The image you see above, however, is but one example of a work designed by Gibson but made by someone else, in this case the cameo maker Tommaso Saulini. This shell cameo was produced after 1850 and depicts Gibson's design of Phaeton Driving the Horses of the Sun, the original drawing for which is in the Royal Collection, signed and dated 1850. He also made a marble relief sculpture with the same design for Earl Fitzwilliam, and an engraving was made of this design in 1851. A copy of this cameo was exhibited in London at Saulini's booth at the International Exhibition of 1862, for which the cameo maker won a medal. The subject tells the story of Phaeton, the son of Apollo, the sun god, who asked permission to guide the chariot of the sun across the heavens. Apollo feared for the boy's safety and begged him not to do this, but Phaeton insisted. He did his best to control the horses, but inevitably the boy was unable to handle the reins, and he plummeted from the heavens to his death on earth. For the ancient Greeks this myth taught a lesson about obedience and hubris. For Gibson, the story provided him with an opportunity to depict a dynamic scene and spread the idealism of Greek art to his contemporaries, not through a large sculpture but through a work of art that would have been worn by women in their diadems or comb mounts.

(Image: Phaeton Driving the Horses of the Sun, carved by Tommaso Saulini after design by John Gibson, after 1850, shell cameo, approx. 2 x 4 in., London: British Museum)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Talks and Articles: Fall 2015

Just when I thought I would be getting back to blogging more regularly, a month went by without a post! October turned out to be an incredibly busy month in part because I had a number of presentations to give, not to mention one major meeting at work and a public outdoor sculpture tour. Earlier in the month the first presentation was part of a small group who got together to thank donors for their assistance helping to take care of and conserve an Old Master painting in our collection. I will blog in more detail about this soon enough, when the official press release comes out, but for now rest assured it was a lovely event and the end-product of the project is fantastic. I gave the art-historical talk at that event, discussing the significance of the painting and its provenance, as well as the general conservation procedure that took place.

On October 15, I was the invited keynote speaker for the 41st Annual Stone Circle Luncheon. The Stone Circle is an alumni group for people who graduated from Columbia Law School more than 50 years ago. I had a lovely chat with one gentlemen who was Class of 1941--and still practicing law! I was invited to speak about the art collection and our object-centered educational initiatives. We had some technological glitches just when I was about to start--fortunately it was not my equipment--but they were resolved finally and the show went on. It was quite an honor to be speaking outside my usual circle of art historians and interacting with a number of senior attorneys and judges--I admit I was a bit nervous to be outside my element, but the response since then has been positive. An extension and variation of that same talk took place last week on the 27th when I was invited to give a talk at my alma mater, the CUNY Graduate Center's Department of Art History. It was partly an opportunity to speak about the work we are doing as a curator of an art collection in a non-traditional environment, but also a general "job talk" of sorts with some advice and thoughts for new graduate students thinking about their own futures. And finally, my last major talk this month was my presentation at the Southeastern College Art Conference in Pittsburgh, about which I blogged and shared the abstract a few months ago when I had received word that my paper was accepted, on portraits, travel books, and diplomatic missions between Britain and Persia during the Napoleonic period. Our panel session was late on a Friday, which is never a good sign, so we didn't have too many people in attendance, but I am feeling like this paper needs to be expanded into an article as it covers some new ground involving politics, travel writing, post-colonialism, and stay tuned for more on that.

Speaking of publications, I want to wrap up this post by mentioning that some of my summer writing projects that have come to fruition. My review of Patrick Horrigan's thought-provoking novel Portraits at an Exhibition (2015) has just been published in the November/December issue of The Gay & Lesbian Review. Also just released this weekend is my article "Portraits, Landscapes, and Genre Scenes: New Discoveries in the 19th-Century Paintings Collection at Columbia University" in the peer-reviewed e-journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. This article is a free and available to read online, or there is a link at the top of the article to download it as a PDF. I enjoyed working on this article, as it gave me an opportunity to explore three important works from the Columbia collection that represent the different thematic groups of painting that were popular in the 19th century. I worked on a portrait of Byron, a landscape painting by Daubigny (which I also used as the MWA for September), and the painting you see at the top of this post, a military scene by the German painter Christian Sell (1831-1883). This painting only measures about 8 x 10 inches, but it is painted like a precious jewel, and the more I explored the story of what you see in the picture, the more I realized it was not just another genre scene but a rich nationalist statement associated with the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. No spoilers though, You have to read the article for yourself.

(Image credit: Christian Sell, Military Scene, 1882, oil on panel, approx. 8 x 10 in., Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

MWA XXXV: Van Dyck's Greyhound

I have made a point to frequently blog about our canine friends whenever possible, particularly in art, so it seems only appropriate to make the latest Monthly Work of Art a dog-themed portrait in celebration of #WorldAnimalDay. (I suspect this day intentionally coincides with the Feast of St. Francis, but deemphasizes the Catholic association.) The work you see here is Anthony van Dyck's portrait of James Stuart (1612-1655), Duke of Richmond and Lennox, a stellar painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This magnificent portrait represents a cousin of King Charles I, and as their catalog entry notes it likely was painted in 1633-34 because he wears the regalia of the Order of the Garter, which he received in 1633. Van Dyck is one of the most famous and arguably best portraitists in Western European art. The Frick Collection here in NYC will have an exhibition of his portraits opening in March, that I very much am looking forward to seeing. But for World Animal Day, it seems worth noting not so much the dashingly handsome human subject in this picture, but the beautiful greyhound who gazes up at his master lovingly with devoted eyes as the Duke caresses his head.

The dog's body is painted differently so as to distinguish him from the rich silk garments on the Duke and the billowing the drapery behind them. This gives the dog his own characteristics, but he also comes to represent along with these props the Duke's wealth and power. It's remarkable how van Dyck uses the dog's natural body position, with his front paws lower in the foreground, thus creating spatial depth and perspective and projecting the Duke forward into the viewer's space. His dog symbolizes fidelity, but the gestures between dog and owner also suggest the Duke's strength of character and his mastery over the beast.

Having played and petted my greyhound nephews, first George and now Winnie, on visits to see their mother SVH in Jacksonville, I can attest to the unusual weight of their large heads as it lays against your hip...and that adoring gaze! Their sinewy legs seem impossible to support their lanky, muscular bodies, but in fact these are incredibly balanced, nimble, and of course unbelievably fast dogs. It is a testament to van Dyck's skill that he was able to represent the dog so naturalistically, and one can see here his dynamic preparatory study for the greyhound, a work now in the collection of the British Museum. The artist used a series of strokes to develop and enhance the complicated muscles and contours of the greyhound's body. His attention to these details help make the beautiful dog an important presence in the Duke's portrait.

If you want to learn more about greyhounds and their imagery in art, you can watch Gary Tinterow's entertaining "Connections" video from The Met. Tinterow was then head of the Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art department, but he is now Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Having raised greyhounds himself, he has a personal interest as well in paintings such as this one by van Dyck.

Portals 8, 9, and 10

Portal 8: Philadelphia (4 April 2015)

Portal 9: Munich (24 September 2014)

Portal 10: San Gimignano (26 April 2015)

(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

Doorways are so material a feature in every edifice, so much may the majesty and importance of public buildings and the beauty and convenience of private dwellings be improved or deteriorated by the judicious or inelegant arrangement of the door, that it is to be hoped, these will be considered sufficient reasons for the attention, which it is proposed to bestow upon the subject. If from the mouth the human countenance derives beauty and expression, so does a façade become appropriate and graceful from the proper allocation of the door, the primary object to which every other is subordinate.

-- from Thomas Leverton Donaldson, A Collection of the Most Approved Examples of Doorways, from Ancient Buildings in Greece and Italy, Expressly Measured and Delineated for This Work (London: Bossange, Barthes and Lowell, 1833), p. v

Sunday, September 27, 2015

San Francisco 2015

I'm writing this blog post from my hotel room in San Francisco. I arrived today and will be here just for a brief couple of days. This is work-related. We have a painting at Columbia that will be on loan to the de Young Museum for its upcoming exhibition Jewel City: Art from San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition. I am here to oversee installation and make sure our painting (a gorgeous 1913 landscape by Arthur Wesley Dow), which traveled cross-country, made the trip in good condition. Our painting was in the Expo in 1915, a century ago (I will likely share that work soon, so stay tuned). The picture you see above is the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the Expo, and the work is by Edwin Deakin, showing rather Impressionistically one of the main buildings and the lagoon. I was able to visit this area, along with doing so many other things, when I was Frisco-bound two years ago on vacation here. Indeed, I must say, thanks to AA we saw so much on that trip that I think I have seen all the primary highlights here, including the de Young and the Asian Art museums, rode the cable car and a trolley, saw the Redwood forest in Muir Woods. drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, even took a ferry to Sausalito, and went to Napa and Sonoma overnight for wine-tasting trips. It was a great visit, thanks almost entirely to AA. So this afternoon as I wandered around a bit, I was quickly reminded of a few things, and how insanely crazy the hills are! It was great to have another peak at the Golden Gate Bridge in fog and see the Bay. Time to think about dinner though...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Art of Frames

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend a unique workshop on frames, sponsored by the Appraisers Association. The morning session was held at the studio of Eli Wilner & Co., a company that specializes in restoration work on historical frames and reproduction historical frames. In this first picture I took, one of the studio workers showed us a frame made by American architect and designer Stanford White (1853-1906), and he explained the difference between the sections that were carved in wood and the other parts that were made from compo (or composition), a plaster-like substance that uses molds to make decorative components. You can see the sample molds as blue strips in the lower right. The second picture below is a detail of a frame being hand-carved by one of the skilled wood carvers. These days they use computers to generate the patterns on paper, which are then applied to the wood, enabling the carver to understand what sections are carved out and what is left behind. We also learned more about the process of gilding frames, and I participated in the opportunity to apply gold leaf to a wooden frame. You use a special application brush that lifts the gold leaf almost magnetically and then you gently apply it to the water-brushed surface of the frame. After it dries it is buffed to make it shine. I'm actually abbreviating the process. Technically, there is wood, then gesso, then liquid clay or bole, on top of which the gold leaf is applied. Needless to say, I was amazed at how much more complex the making of a frame actually is. During the afternoon session we had a fascinating "frame history lesson" with Suzanne Smeaton, a specialist in the history and valuation of American frames.

Because of this workshop, I have to say I think I can now look for some general signs of carving or compo, what the color of bole coming through the gilding may mean, and what the difference between a miter joint and a miter joint with a spline is. Before I went to this workshop, I knew zilch about frames, except what I liked, and it has so inspired me to learn more that I'm actually reading Timothy Newbery's Frames and Framings in the Ashmolean Museum (2002). Although the whole day was geared toward appraisers, as the market for historical frames has increased, it was very interesting to go as a curator because I feel it is important for me to consider at times the frames along with the historical paintings in the collection at Columbia University. Without proper documentation and provenance, it is very difficult to know if a particular frame is the genuine one for a painting, but at least I think I can now do a basic survey to determine if a frame is at least historically close to the time period of the work of art itself. Putting this new skill into practice is going to take a lot of time, of course, so I am not making any claims to be an expert, but I do hope I can at least now do some quick, general assessments over time.

Taking this further into aesthetics, I am now also finding myself interested in actually looking closer at frames in museums. For instance, if you look at the glorious frame above, which is from the Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, you can see that it is gilded and carved wood. The tombstone information for this frame also states that it is made of oak, from France, and dates from ca. 1690. During the reign of Louis XIV, French frames reached an apogee in design and style, as did all fine and decorative arts under the influence of the "Sun King." The gilding on this frame would have enhanced the presentation of the art work, particularly in candlelight, giving the work a beautiful glow. This is an ogee frame, meaning that, seen from a cross-section, it has an S-curve that rises from the outer portion and slopes inward toward the picture. The effect of this would have been to draw one's attention into the picture plane, enhancing the intended three-dimensional effect of whatever painting would have been in there at the time. The detail you see here of the lower left corner shows well the remarkable skill in the wood carving, although obviously there is some noteworthy wear and tear considering its age.

Aside from the materiality and history of frames, it did occur to me, over the course of the day, how frames are both painterly and sculptural objects. Because they are so closely attached (literally) to paintings (or photographs, drawings, etc.), we perceive them as part of the two-dimensional art world. But, in fact, the way they are carved or molded follows very closely the methods that are followed in a sculptor's studio. Frames thus are related to fine art, but they are also decorative objects. Their intent is to harmonize a painting with an interior space. These days we are accustomed to seeing framed painting on museum walls, but the long history of easel paintings reminds us that these works were intended for the home, and thus the frame was needed to enhance or decorate the interior space. Frames also change over time based on the taste of an owner. Hence, more modern-looking frames occasionally have been added to historical pictures to make them more appropriate to styles like mid-century modernism. The trend these days, of course, is to return paintings to period frames whenever possible, and places like Eli Wilner keep in stock thousands of actual historical frames from the past for exactly that purpose. But frames are complex creations. They have an in-between status, being two-dimensional and three-dimensional, painterly and sculptural, fine and decorative, all at the same time. Indeed, thinking about them from this perspective makes us realize they are fascinating artistic objects worthy of their own further study and examination. Consider that the next time you walk into a museum and look at your favorite painting by Rembrandt or Van Gogh. You be surprised to discover how its frame impacts the work you see before you.

UPDATE 10/4/15: No sooner had I published this blog post, when Hyperallergic published this article/review by Allison Meier about French frames from the 17th and 18th centuries. Warning readers/viewers to "prepare to be blinded by the gilding that encircles each work like an overwrought halo," Meier reviews the free exhibition currently being held on this topic at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles. It looks like an interesting exhibition, but alas I won't be able to get to it before it closes in January.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Elizabethan II Period?

Last week, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom, beating the previous record-holder, her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. (Who holds the previous second, now third? Victoria's grandfather, King George III, who reigned from 1760-1820, although the last 10 years he was technically incapacitated and his son ruled as Regent.) After being on the throne now for 63 years and 224 days (as of today, but who's counting?), one wonder if someone should give her reign an official name. After all, cultural historians refer to the Victorian period and the Georgian period, so why not the Elizabethan? Partly because there already was an Elizabethan period when Queen Elizabeth I ruled from 1558-1603 (think Shakespeare). But, in truth, there is much more of a consciousness about the limitation of power and influence Elizabeth II has had on world culture when compared to her predecessors. Nevertheless, she is a stalwart to a sense of traditionalism and nationalism that has made her a historical icon. I think the picture seen here of the Duke of Edinburgh and her together, from when she came to the throne and most recently, was a charming image. (I thought it came from the Guardian newspaper, but now I can't find it again.) If you want to see more of how HRH has changed over time, then you must check out this online photo gallery showing her picture every year from her accession to the throne in 1953 up to now. You must admit, the woman really has the most amazing hats and she knows how to wear them. But that turban in 1975 is just fabulous!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

MWA XXXIV: Daubigny's Sandpits

Returning to our Monthly Work of Art posts, I thought I would share this beautiful landscape painting that is part of the Columbia University art collection stewarded by my department of Art Properties. Measuring approximately 31 x 57 inches, the painting is entitled The Sandpits near Valmondois (Les Sablières près de Valmondois) and is by the French artist Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878). Signed and dated 1870, the painting depicts a bend in the River Oise near the village of Valmondois, located about 23 miles north-northeast of Paris. These were areas where Daubigny spent parts of his childhood and adulthood. The artist is loosely associated with the Barbizon school, which included other famous painters such as Corot and Rousseau. These men introduced a new aesthetic for naturalistic landscapes that depicted the forests around Fontainebleau, frequently painting outdoors and capturing nature as it appeared. Prior to the 1830s, landscape painting exhibited at the Salon always was historical or narrative, and frequently represented a classical scene. These artists were considered radicals in their day for challenging this tradition, but gradually taste turned in their favor and naturalistic landscape paintings came to dominate not just the exhibitions but also the homes of the rising middle classes on both sides of the Atlantic. Daubigny favored depictions of river banks rather than forests, and his paintings are often seen today as precursors to the Impressionists with their sketch-like depictions of nature and beautiful sun-lit scenes.

The focal point of this work at first appears to be the fisherman in the center foreground of the painting. His fishing pole points diagonally across the river toward a boat colored with a dab of red paint. Further up the riverbank one sees the eponymous sandpit and sand barge, and to the left of those a village which likely is Valmondois. Together the sandpit and barge create a triangle with the fisherman and the boat, suggesting that at the heart of this tranquil scene is the juxtaposition of labor and leisure. It has been noted by scholars that, at the time Daubigny would have painted this work, the Oise River valley was growing industrially and thus losing its bucolic charm. In response to this, the artist frequently removed these signs of labor so as to present instead a peaceful landscape. Here, however, he has not so much as removed the elements of industry but minimized them so that the viewer focuses on the fisherman and a life of leisure in the countryside in spite of this change.

I have an article on this painting and two other works from the Columbia art collection coming out soon in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, a free, peer-reviewed e-journal. When it is released I will put a link to the article where you can read more about this important work in the collection.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Happy 7th Birthday!

And we're back!! It certainly has been a while since I last posted any messages, but I decided to take an unofficial hiatus from blogging for the summer so I could concentrate on other writing projects. I'm still in the midst of some of them, but others are completed and will appear in print in the near future. It seemed only appropriate to make the return coincide with the upcoming 7th birthday of bklynbiblio, which takes place this Saturday, August 29th. This post also brings us to #515. Per tradition, I've tracked the top tags for the blog, and things have not changed all that much. "New York" still holds the top spot (137) followed by "19th-century art" (91). "Photography" (80) surpassed "England" (79) by one post, and rounding out the top 5 continues to be "art exhibitions" (73). As always, I appreciate that readers have stuck with me these 7 years, and special thanks to some of you who wrote me asking why I hadn't been blogging. Stay tuned...more posts will be coming soon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Talks in Rome, New York, Oxford, and Pittsburgh

I've just returned from an amazing two-week vacation in Italia, as I mentioned would be happening during my birthday post. I may write about some of the details of that trip if I have time over the next few weeks. For now, however, I wanted to blog briefly about a series of talks that already have, and will take place, over the next few months. I am fortunate to have been invited to give talks in three of these locations, and the fourth was only just announced to me as an acceptance of my conference proposal. It's definitely going to be a busy couple of months!

One of the things I did not mention about my trip to Italia was that I was invited to speak at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome on April 23rd. This fascinating institution on the Piazza di Spagna is set up as a memorial with a library and archive of materials associated with the British Romantic poets John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron. I gave an hour-long talk there about the life and works of John Gibson, the sculptor about whom I have spoken and published in the past, entitled "From Mars and Cupid to the Tinted Venus: The Sculptor John Gibson and His Studio in Rome." As far as we know, Gibson never met any of these poets in person, but he did know well the painter Joseph Severn, who traveled to Rome with Keats and was with him when he died (and later buried beside him). Like Gibson he remained in Rome for a number of years as an expatriate artist.

Next week, on May 7th at 6:30pm, I am giving a talk at the Dahesh Museum of Art gallery/shop here in NYC, as part of their monthly Salon Thursdays. My talk is entitled "Jewish Artists in Victorian London: Abraham, Rebecca, and Simeon Solomon" and will encompass aspects of the life and times of the Solomons, as well as highlight important paintings from their careers. The image you see above is by the eldest brother Abraham, Second Class, The Parting, 1854, which will be among the works discussed both as a genre painting and part of the contemporaneous interest in that new mass transit invention, the railroad. The talk is free and open to the public. (You can read more about my posts on the Solomons by clicking here.)

Then, in early June, I am giving an invited talk at a conference to be held at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University. The conference is about object-centered learning and the use of museum collections in education. (I confess that I cannot find anything online about this, but it is a conference open to registrants, and is scheduled for June 5 and 6.) My paper is yet to be titled, but will relate to the work we have been doing at Columbia using art works for curricular integration, and comes as a nice follow-up to the object-centered symposium we hosted in February this year. I've discovered also that an exhibition of British drawings will be on while I'm there, so I look forward to seeing that.

And, finally, in October, I will be part of a panel session on globalism in 19th-century art at the annual Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), to be held in Pittsburgh (their first conference north of the Mason-Dixon Line). bklynbiblio readers may recall that I gave a talk about Gibson and polychrome sculpture at last year's SECAC in Sarasota. This year, however, my paper will be based on a rather new project: the visual culture of Anglo-Persian relations around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the more distinct images associated with this, then, will be the image you see here. This is a portrait of Mirza Abul Hassan Khan (1776-1845), painted 1809-10 by William Beechey. The mirza was the Persian ambassador from the Qajar Shah of Iran to the court of King George III at the time this was painted. The painting is in the collection of the British Library. Here is the brief abstract I submitted for my paper, which will take place in about 6 months from now.

James Justinian Morier and Mirza Abul Hasan Khan:
Anglo-Persian Diplomacy in British Art, ca. 1810-20
by Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University

Columbia University’s art collection includes a heretofore unknown 1818 portrait attributed to George Henry Harlow of the writer and diplomat James Justinian Morier (1782-1849) dressed in Persian clothing. The painting seems to falls in line with contemporaneous Orientalist portraits showing Western sitters wearing Eastern garb. However, an exploration into Morier’s life and times shows that this label disregards the painting’s association with the global politics of its day. Indeed, this painting is an important part of the visual culture of Anglo-Persian diplomacy during the Napoleonic wars. Morier is best known today for his Romantic novel The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1824), but he also wrote and illustrated two travelogues (published 1812 and 1818) about his years in Persia as part of a British diplomatic mission.

Equally important in the context of Anglo-Persian diplomacy is a consideration of Mirza Abul Hasan Khan (1776-1845), who in 1809-10 traveled with Morier to England as the Persian ambassador with orders from the Qajar shah to finalize the treaty between the two nations. An exotic arrival in Georgian London, the mirza had his portrait painted by Thomas Lawrence and William Beechey, and he kept his own travel journal known as the Hayratnamah, or Book of Wonders. The mirza’s experiences in London can be seen as a counterpoint to Morier’s life in Persia, an opportunity to understand—and misunderstand—each other’s cultures in the pursuit of diplomacy. This paper will consider these portraits and travelogues as documentation of Anglo-Persian diplomacy in British art during the Napoleonic wars.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Birthday No. 45

Following up on last year's memorable birthday, I thought I would share some highlights of birthday no. 45, which took place on Friday evening. My birthday celebration actually began last weekend, when AA & I took an overnight trip to Philadelphia, which was nice and relaxing. We have, of course, been there a few other times before, but this time I booked tickets for our first visit to the Barnes Foundation, the art museum established by private collector Albert Barnes, with its heavy emphasis on late 19th- and early 20th-century French modernist art. The Paul Cézanne still life you see here, from 1892-94, is just one of the many beautiful paintings by this artist in the collection. In contrast, Barnes clearly also liked Renoir and as a result there are way too many really bad Renoirs there too. I was surprised, however, by the number of paintings by Modigliani and Prendergast, that were all quite good. The reason why one goes to the Barnes, however, is to see his extraordinary installations, mandated by his bequest to be remained as such, for future learning experiences. His eye was based on formal elements: line, color, composition, etc. Subject was irrelevant. As a result, Barnes liked to hang things based on balance and harmonic influences, so one sees arrangements that often seem bizarre with mixed small and large paintings hung crowded together, and with metal ornamental objects like door hinges and scissors hung to balance the linear structure of the paintings. There is a method to the madness, and the more one learns about Barnes and his vision of looking at art, one realizes what a fascinating museum it truly is. The foundation itself did a rather controversial thing in moving the museum from his home in Merion, PA to downtown Philadelphia near the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), but their new building, which opened in 2012 and was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is an example of gorgeous, organic architecture, and the rooms have been retained in their original installations. This is definitely worth a visit if one has never been. We also visited the Rodin Museum, which has the largest collection of works by Auguste Rodin outside of Europe, and we also strolled through a few galleries at the PMA too. We also enjoyed strolling through historical neighborhoods like Society Hill, with its delightfully charming 18th-century colonial homes, and the downtown areas near Rittenhouse Square.

My actual birthday was this past Friday, so I took the day off from work. I was suffering from bad hayfever, but fought through it to get my haircut, then eat a delicious lunch with my artist-friend MT. I received in the mail a gift from the PR-AMs: a beautifully illustrated book by Cynthia Mills entitled Beyond Grief: Sculpture and Wonder in the Gilded Age Cemetery. That evening AA & I first met up with my friend JHC and her adorable son D for a glass of wine and charcuterie. Then we had a stylishly hipster dinner of tapas & dim sum at Ma Peche in midtown. My birthday gift? A new iPhone 6! (Oh, how I love that man of mine!) I'm still just getting the hang of it, so I doubt I will write a technology review as I've done in the past, but the phone is fantastic. On Saturday, our friend AR arrived from Zurich, and last night the boys (AR, DM, JM, DC, AA and moi) got together for drinks at Therapy and then dinner at Maria Pia in Hell's Kitchen (veal saltimbocca...molto buono). All these festivities will continue some more on Tuesday when KB arrives to stay at my apartment, and we have a group post-birthday dinner with a few other friends.

But gets better. In a few days I leave for Italia. I'm going to see family for a few days, reconnecting with them after my father's passing. Then AA is flying over with the DPG-JBs, and I am meeting them in Rome. After we visit the Eternal City, we head to Florence, and then a final day in Milan before heading home. It's going to be such a great vacation. I can't believe I haven't been to Italy since June 2009 (about which I blogged here). The image you see here was taken by me back then as well, and shows a view of the Ponte Sant'Angelo with sculptures by GianLorenzo Bernini, taken from the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

As festive as all of this is, I think the most important part of aging and celebrating each passing year is the reflection on our lives, all of our accomplishments, and all the lessons we continue to learn each day. In thanking everyone on Facebook for their wonderful birthday wishes, I wrote the following message, and I hope it has some poignancy for anyone who reads it here as well: "Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful birthday wishes!! Having now reached the 45th anniversary of my birth, I'm starting to accept all those things, good + bad, that accompany the beginning of my 'middle-aged' years (note that I said beginning!!). Gray hair + a few extra pounds aren't that traumatic, I really don't sweat the small stuff like I used to, I've learned through difficult losses, but also with great love, that life IS about the ups + downs and learning how to ride those waves without falling, and--the one lesson I try to remind myself each day--there is truly nothing more important in our lives than the moments we are living right now. I look forward to more of life's lessons as I continue maturing gracefully."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Portal 7

Portal 7: Quebec City (24 May 2014)
(For other works in my Portals series, click here.)

A door just opened on a street--
    I, lost, was passing by--
An instant's width of warmth disclosed,
    And wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
     I, lost, was passing by,--
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
     Enlightening misery.

-- Emily Dickinson, Life series, Poem CXI

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Week-in-my-Life: Mar 2015 (Pt. 3)

Recapping the last two days of the week... (you can read parts 1 & 2 here and here)...

FRIDAY 03/20/15

6:35am = After falling asleep about 11:30pm the previous night, wake up about 3 times during the night; finally get out of bed to start the day. Breakfast: whole-wheat waffle with peanut butter & strawberry preserves, blackberry-flavored Greek yogurt, and tea.

7:55am = Against my better judgment, decide to launch into a liberal but jocular defense against a conservative post on Facebook by the ex-cousin-in-law KG.

9:00am = Start work day chatting briefly with staff about plans for the day; snack: coffee and two (tiny!) shortbread cookies.

11:30am = Catching up on more neverending emails and projects, but making progress. Receive news at work that donors' tax documents for their donations are signed, so rush off 7 blocks away to retrieve papers and call donors reassuring them docs are on the way, then process via FedEx. Snow starts falling.

1:00pm = Snow is coming down harder now. (Happy 1st day of Spring!) Home for lunch: spinach salad with chicken, tomatoes, apple, Swiss cheese, cashews, and ranch dressing with water.

2:00pm = Grab backpack and laptop, then head downtown to work at Pret a Manger cafe near World Trade Center. Snack: chocolate chip cookie and Earl Grey tea (which, surprisingly, the cashier gives me for nice!). Spend next few hours working mostly on my performance review and catching up on emails. Snow seriously falling now.

4:15pm = Receive my awaited summons from AA to head to NJ, so pack up laptop and walk in blizzard-like conditions to PATH train, on which my iPhone dies at 43% battery for like the gazillionth time, which causes me to curse out Apple yet again, although in my head, not aloud, because passengers will think I'm borderline lunatic fringe.

7:00pm = Lazy in-house early evening with AA channel surfing between Something's Gotta Give and Pretty in Pink, the most schizophrenic and incongruous pairing of flicks ever. Finally select new movie to watch, The Namesake (U.S. premiere 2007), which at first I am hesitant about because I've wanted to read the novel by Jhumpa Lahiri before seeing the film, but then agree and truly am very satisfied. The movie is excellent and highly recommended as a snapshot of the immigrant experience and assimilation into American culture (hence image above). The Indian actress Tabu plays the mother Ashima and is just superb. Dinner during the move: barbecue chicken pizza and salad with red wine. (Why didn't we order Indian?!?!).

10:00pm = In bed, AA quickly falling asleep (see earlier in week for comments on his sleep habits), so I watch Dateline, but then realize there is loud music coming from next door. And, of all things, it's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" by The Shirelles. Then it repeats. Five times!! I wake up AA and tell him someone must have been murdered and the song was put on to mask the screams (the episode of Dateline has clearly affected me). He clearly thinks I'm crazy and falls asleep. Finally the song stops...only to be followed by "Locomotion"...repeated 4 times! Someone must be practicing their karaoke or auditioning for America's Got Talent. It finally stops about the time Dateline ends, and I actually fall asleep.

SATURDAY 03/21/15

7:30am = Wake up from a glorious full-night of sleep...first time this entire week! Huzzah! Breakfast: blood-orange Greek yogurt, English muffin with butter & blackberry preserves, and two cups of coffee.

8:00am = Continue to engage on Facebook with KG using tongue-in-cheek commentary about conservatism/liberalism, then fondly remind him of his NYC liberal roots. Further ongoing commentary leads me to give up and say we should celebrate happier thoughts, like that the DPG-JBs, AA, and I are going to Rome and Florence soon! More huzzah!

9:00am = While AA is in class, I start preparing notes for my upcoming talk in Rome on the sculptor John Gibson (more on that in another post). Make great progress. Snack about 11am: raisins, walnuts, and tea.

12:30pm = AA picks me up and we drive to Edgewater for lunch at Greek Taverna: lamb (AA) and pork (moi) souvlaki sandwiches with homemade herb fries.

2:30pm = Decide to go for a drive and wind up on the Palisades Parkway. Park and admire the view of the Manhattan/Bronx landscape along the Hudson River (see the lovely image AA took below).

3:45pm = At Newport Mall in Panera having berry scone and tea (AA has peach-pecan muffin and coffee), and amazingly they don't charge me for the food (how does that happen two days in a row?!).

4:30pm = At the movies seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, having used a coupon for free tickets courtesy of the M-CAs (thanks!). Movie is slow at first, but picks up fast and is quite an action-packed film, with some uncomfortable environmental truths, dark humor, and some graphic-but-not-bloody violence...overall quite good!

8:30pm = Dinner: homemade chicken tacos courtesy of Chef AA! And (very strong!) blueberry martinis. Dessert: fruit & granola with a cup of tea. And the wind-down for the night is coming soon...

Whenever I write these "Week-in-my-Life" posts, I'm always amazed by the unusual things that happen. There was the library flood or the visit to the Palisades or all the snow. Before writing, you know some things are a given, like what will happen at work or some basic meals that are consistently eaten each day. But after writing, you discover all the surprises, the little twists that make all of it worth having written. One of the great challenges I've learned in life is that it is a continuous series of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Sometimes these are very difficult to deal with and you want them to go away, but other times there are happy moments that you want to last. But they all come together, and we discover that that is life, the adventure, the wave, the laughter and the tears, the giggling and the frustrations, and the quiet moments you spend with those you love. It's all part of life, and these predictable and unexpected experiences are all what makes it worth living to the fullest.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Week-in-my-Life: Mar 2015 (Pt. 2)

WEDNESDAY 03/18/15

5:00am = Wide awake after not-so-great night of sleep (again). Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and Greek yogurt, with tea. Decide to lie back down again.

6:15am = Still awake, my brain on overload.

7:30am = Finally must have fallen asleep but now awake. Start getting ready.

8:30am = Step out of subway at 110th St., notice someone's dandruff is flying everywhere, then realize it's actually snowing again. UGH! Get grande blonde coffee and cranberry-orange scone at Starbucks.

9:30am = Visit School of Journalism Library with LS to assess environment for potential loan of paintings they are requesting.

10:00am = Informal interview with prospective intern for Summer/Fall.

11:00am = Meeting about potential collaboration for art & visual literacy program for med students and doctors at the medical campus. Some great ideas shared!

11:40am = Meeting cut short by announcement from TG that there is a flood in the library, and all staff needed. I hurry upstairs and see water is gushing, having come from a burst pipe on an upper floor, water now rushing through the vents and cascading like a waterfall all over about 1000+ architecture books! Everyone called to action trying to salvage books, separating wet from dry, setting up emergency fans, etc. It's a total mad house, but actually quite amazing to see everyone ban together (including a few students studying in the area) to help save what they can, while facilities staff try to stop the flood.

1:00pm = Lunch at local diner: mushroom & goat cheese omelette, potatoes, and wheat toast with coffee, reading my book on the history of the unification of Italy. Get call from LS that there is another flood in a different building and a painting is affected. Rush to finish lunch and head out, only to find out it was not an emergency and nowhere near as bad as other flood, but definite water issues, so we remove painting to storage.

3:30pm = More neverending emails and other projects at work. Finally leave about 5pm. Startled by how cold and windy it is outside.

6:00pm = Phone calls to the Uncle, then DPG to express some concerns about his apathy toward everything. Unfortunate situation.

7:00pm = Dinner: chicken, spinach, tomatoes, and rice in a bowl with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Decide to watch via Netflix on demand the movie Dumb Witness (1996), a murder mystery originally a book written by Agatha Christie, where an adorable Fox Terrier named Bob (played by Snubby) helps Hercule Poirot solve the murder of the dog's mistress Miss Emily Arundel. (I've watched this before and read the book, but it's one of my favorites, hence the image above.)

10:00pm = Go to bed.

11:00pm = Still awake. So annoying! Finally fall asleep about thirty minutes later...

THURSDAY 03/19/15

2:40am = Wide awake and cannot sleep. Make decaf tea and a turkey & Swiss cheese sandwich with apricot preserves.

3:45am = Finally back in bed, falling asleep...

7:00am = Awake, start to get ready, amazed to discover via text that AA is already at work! (Sometimes he's crazy.)

8:45am = At Starbucks eating sausage, egg, and cheddar breakfast sandwich and drinking a grande blonde coffee.

12:30pm = After spending most of the morning working on my annual performance review, meet colleague DCM for a trip to the Upper East Side to visit a gallery briefly and then to meet with a new potential donor. Productive trip, and much for us to discuss.

3:30pm = DCM and I finally eat sandwiches for lunch. I am SO tired though. Spend little while finishing up a few things at work, then head home.

5:30pm = Stop at Gristedes for milk and on impulse buy Entenmann's chocolate chip pound cake and blackberries. (Don't judge!) Go home and indulge in a cup of tea and slice of cake with said berries and dollop of Greek yogurt. (Delicious!)

6:00pm = Sugar crash! I pass out on the bed and fall immediately into a deep sleep.

7:30pm = Awake. Play Candy Crush Soda on my iPad for a few minutes, trying to wake up, then start blogging. Praying silently that I will be able to actually sleep tonight...