25 March 2007

powers & the power of art

This month's bookclub selection is Three farmers on their way to a dance by Richard Powers, published about 20 years ago but suggested by Daniel who is reading Powers's newest novel. Three farmers has been occasionally confusing but wonderful. The section on Sarah Bernhardt, directly on Bernhardt, was especially great as have been several sections as I near the end. Here's a quote for you:

"I prefer walking to any other means of getting from A to B. It's a perversity on my part, pure and simple, but I enjoy the feeling of even the smallest, ten-cent errand taking up twenty dollars of my prorated time." (p. 261)

Talk about a different way to say "stop and smell the roses." Of course in New York City it is sometimes faster to walk but then that's just a bit more perversity that NYC spreads about.

That quote is from a section entitled "The cheap and accessible print" which is really a post-Walter essay on the photograph and whether it is more or less real than life. I might just have to take Illuminations with me to Kansas City so I can finally read the "mechanical reproduction" essay by Benjamin. Peter's trip to the catacombs with the bums of Paris is also extraordinarily good.

It wasn't the day I thought I'd have. After an expensive grocery shopping trip in the Bronx (the answer to the unasked question is "yes"), I decided I needed some art and went to the Guggenheim to see the Spanish show. It closes before I get back from Kansas City. It really had some wonderful paintings and not as many dogs as I'd been warned about. There were at least three still life paintings by Juan van der Hamen (signature: Banderamen), a couple of which had "sweets." In one, the cubic sweets looked suspiciously like Rice Krispie Treats. Who knew that RKTs were around in the early 17th century? Great portraits by El Greco, Velázquez, Zurbarán (St Isabel of Portugal), Sánchez Coello (is that Meryl Streep?), Goya. Some of the formulaic portraits had a strangely surrealist look, e.g., the Pantoja de la Cruz portrait of Don Felipe and Doña Ana. I remember having discussions in high school art class about what was Spanish in Spanish art. One of the Sánchez Cotán vegetable still lifes had little wings on the cardoon that Bosch could have painted. And a really wonderful early Picasso "Green bowl and black bottle" (1908, in the Hermitage) that was painted as the shapes were beginning to break up in the cubist melée. The last (or first) painting was the wonderful "Agnus Dei" by Zurbarán from the Prado. The painting was as alone on its wall as the shackled lamb is in the painting.

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