24 March 2009

stories of art and war

I finished reading Stories of art by James Elkins and started Doves of war: four women of Spain by Paul Preston while I was in Toronto for the VRA conference. Jacquelyn Coutré had recommended Stories of art as one of her favorites among Elkins's books. We both enjoyed his Pictures and tears as well.

In Stories of art, Elkins discusses the writing of art history: as narrative, by theme, including non-western. When I was in Toronto, I was struck by the Art Gallery of Ontario's efforts to shake the rigidly chronological or western telling of the art/culture story. For example, they included a couple vitrines of Chinese snuff bottles in a passage way between earlier and later mostly European decorative arts. In a gallery of Baroque paintings, there was a Kara Walker video installation. Still, I most enjoyed the galleries in the contemporary wing featuring individual artists. The Robert Smithson gallery included several other works including Tim Lee's "Upside down torture chamber" which featured a young man tied up, reading Smithson's collected writings upside down. The cover picture on the book features the reflection of Smithson walking on the Spiral Jetty; what's upside down becomes right side up. Martha Rosler's wonderful pictures of the Bowery with words meaning drunk were also on display in the Smithson gallery. The Gerhard Richter gallery was just Richter but a real treat with a small piano with painted underlid.

Priscilla Scott-Ellis, known as Pip, is the first woman featured in Doves of war. A member of the English elite, she went to Spain to do nursing during the Civil War. She worked hard between moments of relaxation with friends and acquaintances, carried on a mostly unrequited affair with a prince, etc. etc. Oh, she was working on the Franco side. Reading this has led to me reflecting considerably on how your view of a political or cultural situation is dependent on your natural inclinations, your experiences, how you were raised, and probably a bit of randomness. From our historical position now, we rather naturally think that all things Franco were nasty and fascist. Just like most people were ready to totally condemn the terrorists that flew into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. Excuse me but your terrorist may be my freedom fighter. We have killed more Iraqis since 2003 than the folks that died in the WTC bombing. I'm not trying to justify the 9/11 attacks as anything but horrible but they were part of the general war and violence we humans can't seem to shake. This morning, I noted Slavoj Zizek's Violence and thought it looked like it might be worth reading. He scares me a bit, perhaps too heavy or philosophical. And of course I also wish that I could figure out where the hacek is so that I could do his name with the diacritics.

22 March 2009

worldcat.org rocks

Well, that was pretty wonderful. I just got back from VRA in Toronto and was reading last week's New York Times book review. The review of Our magnificent bastard tongue: the untold history of English by John McWhorter (Gotham Books) caught my eye. I went to worldcat.org so that I could tag it in del.icio.us with "wannaread" (aka wannabuy but don't want to pack). I searched "our magnificent bastard tongue" and got the bib record for the book AND the citation for the review!

07 March 2009

felt wallpaper waters walk man push cart

Though I should have spent the day sorting and packing, I went up to the Cooper-Hewitt for the ARLIS/NY tour of the "Fashioning Felt" and "Wall Stories: Children's Wallpaper and Books" along with Tulou (affordable housing in China) and Shahzia Sikander selections from the collection. The felt show is marvelous and the curator Susan Brown gave us a fine tour. Among my favorite objects were the Andrea Zittel dresses. Susan explained that Zittel wanted to get totally green and put the fabric together without machinery. The dresses are interesting to look at too. Kathryn Walker did some wonderful rosettes as a molding in the first gallery from the information desk. I had seen the Tulou show before and I really love the model of the circular complex with a square block inside. I also very much enjoy shows in which an artist is turned "loose" in the collections of a museum, selecting things which moved or inspired her or him. Some other memorable artist selections were Kara Walker at the Met a couple years ago, Paul Cadmus at the National Academy before that, and John Biggers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston even earlier. The Biggers retrospective at MFAH included a room of paintings and other art that inspired Biggers as he grew up in Houston. The Sikander selections are in the small gallery to the right of the information desk and the show also includes a large folio she did expressly for this show. The folio is probably about four feet high and each page is about 3 feet across. It's big and rather like a Persian manuscript with modernist interventions, such as Icarus masquerading as an American eagle.

From the Cooper-Hewitt for a quick round of "American Waters" at the National Academy. And then on to the Met where I again visited the Edward Weston and Raqib Shaw shows, looked at the wonderful Kehinde Wiley recumbent Christ, and then did a rather quick round of the late Bonnards. It's not that it wasn't wonderful but it was quite crowded and I'd rather look at a few good Bonnards (and some of the drawings especially were lovely) than gorge myself.

I got my ticket for "Man Push Cart" at MoMA and then went over to Fifth Avenue for a bit of gallery hopping. Forum Gallery had a show of paintings by Alex Melamid of hip-hop artists. The show was done in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, and the catalog had an essay by Francine Prose. The paintings are really lovely and the Detroit and Prose connection was wonderfully serendipitous. Prose is a favorite author and I've read her Goldengrove and Sicilian Odyssey is the past few months. John Maier got me a t-shirt from the MOCAD which he visited a couple years ago. I'd love to see the museum which is currently in a renovated garage (rather like the Temporary Contemporary in L.A. in its early days).

Downstairs for some Elliott Erwitt photos of New York City at Edwynn Houk and a nice little group show at McKee Gallery. McKee has the estates of Philip Guston and Harvey Quaytman so there were a few of each. There were also two works by Kit Rank, with whom I wasn't familiar. I really liked "Monkey's Milk Bar."

And then "Man Push Cart." If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. I wonder how someone who hasn't lived in NYC would react. It's very much the hard life of the push cart vendors, currently mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The movie was released in 2005 and much of the impetus for making it was the horrible and suspicious treatment of brown peoples after 9/11, particularly those suspected of being Muslim. The main actor was at the screening and chatted with us in the lobby after the film. He said the movie had played well outside NYC and showed a different view of the city, not the elegance of Prada or the mad chase scenes but the real life hard hard life of the immigrant who may have been a rock star or doctor but now sells coffee and bagels, getting up at 2 a.m. in all kinds of weather.

Today's weather was not hard to take. It was supposed to get up to 69 degrees today which is pretty toasty for NYC in early March. I was in Los Angeles for College Art Association last week so I'd had my share of warm weather. I really enjoy going to College Art and listening to papers about things I haven't known about ... or things I'm quite familiar with. I stayed with Steve Ong most of the time; he lives in a lovely hillside house in Silver Lake. His late partner Ed Amstrong used to work with me at Bobst Library. I also spent one night at The Hacienda, as Sharon Chickanzeff calls her childhood home where her 96-year old mother still lives. The house is lovely and set in La Habra Heights which is quite a bit higher than other territory in the southeastern part of L.A. The Hammer Museum had a lovely show of portraits and I also enjoyed seeing the Broad Museum and Getty Villa. And eating quite a lot of Mexican food never is a problem.