27 December 2010

over the river and through the woods

I'm on a Christmas-New Year's trip to Queensbury, Portland, and Boston. My older sister Roberta lives in Queensbury, in the exurbs of Albany. We had a nice evening and breakfast. I had it in my mind that I could do a bunch of art hopping on the way to Portland: the Tang Museum at Skidmore College for the "Jewel Thief" group show which looks interesting, on to Troy for an exhibition at EMPAC (Experimental Media Performing Arts Center) at RPI (and maybe to pick up the new book The architecture of EMPAC which includes a picture of three of us art librarians in the blackbox theater), and then some Dürer at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Well, the Tang wasn't open yet, EMPAC was closed this week even though their website hadn't indicated it, but the Dürer print show at the Clark was wonderful. Since I hadn't had my contemporary fix, I stopped in at MASS MoCA and was delighted to find a Petah Coyne show entitled "Everything that rises must converge" (thoughts of Deb Kruse who also uses Flannery O'Connor for inspiration) and another visit to the Sol LeWitt installation, as well as Michael Oatman's work "All utopias fell" which includes a football field-sized photovoltaic cell installation on the roof.

At about this time, the weather reports on the radio were talking about a coastal winter storm. I didn't see snow right away but it was pretty thick and windy as I approached Boston and the drive up to Portland was pretty dramatic. I didn't have any trouble (keep knocking on wood) and enjoyed my evening with Christie and Janet. The morning included considerable worry about Janet's return to NYC via bus and train but she seems to be getting there.

Oh, the picture at the top. When I'm doing the drive from Queensbury to Boston, I like to take the blue highway, Route 2, across Massachusetts. Just after you climb the mountain out of North Adams, you get to the town of Florida, Massachusetts. It is especially fun to see the "Entering Florida" sign in the winter, and I've done that more than seeing the sign in the balmy weather.

19 December 2010

commas and just one semi-colon

Back in September, I blogged about Muriel Barbery's use of the comma in her novel The elegance of the hedgehog. I'm now reading Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt and there's a wonderful sentence that uses commas in quite an extraordinary way: series within series with just commas and only one semi-colon. The passage appears on page 202 in the Vintage International paperback edition and it reads:

"The children themselves, of whom there were perhaps fifty or sixty in the Tower, were not present at this oration, for various ladies had voluntarily taken upon themselves to teach the little creatures the skills of the old civilisation, to wit, reading, writing, figuring, languages, dead and alive, sewing, plain and ornamental, drawing and painting, singing, dancing, playing on flutes, fiddles, tambourines and glockenspiel, making paper carnations, cooking little cakes, observing such humble creatures as spiders, lizards, flies, cockroaches, earthworms and mice; also the growth of beans and mustard seeds."

That single semi-colon is wonderful as a sort of delicacy.

The novel includes two narratives: one set in the present day about a woman rediscovering herself after escaping an abusive marriage and another set in undetermined time, rather medieval or post-apocalyptic. The two stories have some parallels and not. The book was recommended by an artist friend, Moira Kelly, who gave me a little evangelical pamphlet which I decided became an artist's book even though Moira's intervention in the creation of the book was merely the act of giving it to me, with enthusiasm and spontaneity during the NY Art Book Fair which, again this year, blew my socks off at P.S. 1.

(The image is Pieter Brueghel's "Tower of Babel" which is in the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Vienna. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

13 December 2010

"hide/seek" on the t.p. verso

There has been a lot of "ink" spilled over the past ten days since the National Portrait Gallery in Washington pulled a video by David Wojnarowicz from the "Hide/Seek" show and reignited the culture wars. Well, we all know, there are constant cultural differences but we had been cruising along, more or less, since the Mapplethorpe exhibition and NEA Four days of the later 1980s.

"Hide/Seek" has been called the first LGBTQ show at a major museum in the U.S. There have certainly been shows at various venues that dealt with homosexuality but "Hide/Seek" is a big show in a mainstream museum. It was attacked by the Catholic press and then various politicians picked it up. I won't recreate the history here but I have been using the del.icio.us tag of "hide/seek" to hold onto the articles that have especially interested me. You can get upwards of a dozen of the articles there, or you can just google it yourself. There's also a "Support Hide/Seek" group on Facebook which has a good bunch of postings from newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.

What interested me once I was looking at the record for the catalog was the seeming "hide/seek" game that was being played in the cataloging. The subject headings in the CIP are: Portraits, American -- Exhibitions; Sex customs in art -- Exhibitions; Sex symbolism -- Exhibitions. You may note there is nothing about same-sex desire in the subject headings and I think the use of the word desire in the subtitle is very important and telling. The subtitle of the catalog, by the way, is "difference and desire in American portraiture." It is sometimes by looking at the art and perhaps knowing something about the biography of the subject or the artist that shifts a portrait from merely representative to a richer understanding. Of course, sometimes your gaydar (gay or straight, you can SEE desire sometimes) just goes berserk.

Holland Cotter talked in a second article in the New York times about how the censorship had actually led him to look at his reaction to the show again and see that the selection of objects had been significantly more nuanced and rich than his initial reaction that it was a bit of same old, same old.

The moral of this story is that there are times when you can do things and there are times when you can't. I've adjusted the OCLC record for the catalog to include two more subject headings: Homosexuality in art -- Exhibitions; Desire in art -- Exhibitions. And I will admit that the second added one is perhaps subjective. You didn't really believe that cataloging could be objective, did you?

19 November 2010

remembering Christina Huemer

Christina Huemer died a few days ago and this leaves a big hole in the world, my world. She was one of the first art librarians that I knew and helped shape my view of art libraries along with Judith Holliday and Pat Sullivan, the other art librarians then at Cornell. We met in 1970 when she was the assistant librarian at Sibley Library and I was a copy cataloger in the main library.

Many memories of being with Chris are circulating in my brain and soul. One of my favorite times with Chris is probably a visit to a codfish restaurant in Rome, named simply Bacala, I think. They served filets of cod, deep fried, with paper wrappers and you just ordered as many as you wanted. As Chris, Christie Stephenson and I entered the restaurant, the waiters were having an argument about whether Bill Shatner had been in spaghetti westerns. The waiters recognized that Chris was fluent in Italian but American by upbringing so they engaged her in their lively discussion. Chris's fluent but non-native Italian and their fluent and native Italian were a beautiful mix. I don't think we resolved the issue but the cod was wonderful. The restaurant is on the plaza in front of the church of Santa Barbara, near the Campo de' Fiori.

Chris moved to Rome in the mid 1980s, starting at ICCROM and then moving to Florence for a while. She found Rome much more to her liking and I think my love of Rome is significantly due to her enthusiasm. Our discussion of the differences was mostly over a meal with Pat Barnett in Florence, during the IFLA art conference. Rome is gritty and busy, rather like New York City; Florence is rather more precious and a shopper's place. Great art and architecture in both places, undeniably.

After her stint in Florence, Chris became the librarian at the American Academy in Rome. They had been SACO contributors for a while and Chris arranged for me to come over to give some NACO training in 1998. She arranged for me and Bill Connor to have a room in the Villa Aurelia for two weeks as payment for a couple days of NACO training. There was a Sol LeWitt drawing on the wall near the staircase to our room. We had a wonderful time and went on an Academy field trip to the port city of Ostia. Bill and I also went to Fiumicino to see Chris in her apartment one evening. Fiumicino is on the coast and a bit like Jersey shore towns.

Chris usually did a drawing for her Christmas card and I especially remember one she did of the canal in Fiumicino.

I miss Chris. She was a fine person as well as being a good librarian. We shared lots of conversations in person and in letters and cards. On the bleaker side, we talked about our cancer: hers internal, mine skin. It was our enthusiasm for art and architecture, places, people, reading, and life that enriched our friendship. That will stay with me, even though Chris is now gone.

14 November 2010

Roz Chast does Bosch

Imagine my delight to find that Roz Chast's cartoons in the November 1st issue of The New Yorker included a takeoff on "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch. She didn't necessarily pick the things that I find most delightful about life, e.g., 2% body fat, Same personal trainer as Madonna, Shoe sale, but the illustration has her usual humor and twist. The image above is from the New Yorker website and I hope you can see the Boschiness. The clipping is now on the file cabinet next to the phone.

31 October 2010

watch your templates

Our small but lively public library here in Alfred got one of the grants to establish a Public Computer Center. It's the smallest library in New York State to get one of the grants and it will be inserted into the space through rearrangement and using netbooks to maximize space needed as well as allowing for the lending of the computers for those that don't have them at home. At the "groundbreaking" ceremony, the representative of our state assembly member read a letter which praised us for our "woman-owned business." Now I knew that librarianship was a female-dominated profession but really. It was rather more humorous than sad but showed how easily one can use the wrong template for a formulaic letter. Nonetheless, the assemblywoman Cathy Young seems to be pretty good for our region. I haven't decided yet if I'll vote for her (she seems a knee-jerk fiscal cutter).

And speaking of integration of special text into a formula, Jesse Kahn posted a link on Facebook to MoveOn.org's video about President Palin. It uses photos and names from your Facebook archive to personalize the message. I think it works pretty well though it's a bit scary how quickly they can insert themselves into your life.

30 October 2010

friendship is in the water

Last Tuesday night, I went over to Wellsville to hear philosopher Timothy Madigan give his talk "Aristotle's Email: Friendship in the Cyber Age" at the David A. Howe Public Library. He started out with describing Aristotle's three types of friendship: utility, pleasure, good, and how they can help us achieve eudaimonia (literally "good spirit" and usually translated as happiness in the sense of fulfillment). This is described in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. After laying out the foundation, Madigan brought us up to date with how friendship plays out in an era of Facebook Friends, other social networks like Classmates.com, googling your long-lost friends (and finding them sometimes), and TV shows like "Seinfeld" and "Friends." He cited Robin Dunbar's writing in Wired which hypothesized that one's brain is capable of handling 150 friends. So what's that you say? You have 500 friends on Facebook. He and others have followed up and found that 150 is about the number of active friends one might have on Facebook (whatever active means). He said that nobody writes letters anymore but we know that isn't entirely true. On the other hand, one doesn't get much personal mail in the mailbox.

On Wednesday, Lenka Clayton gave a lecture as the visiting artist in the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. Wouldn't you know that one of her recent and ongoing projects is called "Mysterious Letters"? She and Michael Crowe both discovered that they had wanted to do a project to write a letter to everyone in the world. They realized that this was a daunting task but that if both of them had come up with the idea, there must be some reason to pursue it. They started with a residency in Cushendall, Northern Ireland, working out of a tower in the center of the village of 467 households. Lenka and Michael walked around town, taking pictures and then writing individual letters inspired by the houses and whatever. They mailed all of the letters on the same day and their story ended up on BBC News. Next up was Polish Hill in Pittsburgh where Lenka is now living. A couple more are in the planning but don't ask where because they won't tell you. Kind of kills the mystery. In Cushendall and Polish Hill, the letters evoked and provoked considerable comment and some concern among the residents. Folks in Polish Hill met neighbors that they'd seen around (perhaps acquaintances or Aristotelian friends of utility). This project, and much of Lenka's art work, reflects her origins in documentary filmmaking as well as her interest in history and place. Her other projects led to taking apart Bush's weapons of mass destruction speech and putting the words back together in alphabetical order; following the instructions for a trip in NYC found in a notebook bought in a thrift shop; putting people in order by age, finances, length of relationship, and stage of pregnancy; and writing consecutive numbers on 7000 stones in honor of the Steinheim Museum at Alfred University (part of residency in 2008).

Then, wouldn't you know? I get to church this morning and Pastor Pat Bancroft is going to talk about friendship in the cyber age. She didn't call it that. Pat hasn't leapt into the Facebook swamp yet but had read about someone who was bragging about their 4700+ Friends and she was just stunned. Not surprisingly, her take on the topic was more about spiritual friendship but, still, there was much to think about in light of Madigan and Clayton. Pat's husband, Tim, indirectly gave me another assignment in talking about how Aristotle plays out in Boethius and on to Aquinas and then on to later philosophers and thinkers. Yikes, and I just wanted to continue with my reading of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

17 October 2010

Hieronymus Bosch and Francis Alÿs

One of the lovely things about a slow evening on the reference desk is catching up on the current periodicals. This evening, I read a couple wonderful paragraphs, one about Hieronymus Bosch and the other about Francis Alÿs. Matthew Collings is making a movie about the Garden of Earthly Delights and got to spend eight hours filming in the Prado. I wasn't there for eight hours but I did spend a lot of time with the Garden last December. The Garden of Earthly Delights is in a gallery with several other Bosch paintings. And it was the object of research for Peter Glum whose microfilms were my recently completed cataloging gig for the Morgan Library. Francis Alÿs has long been a favorite artist, as Bosch has been. He's a Belgian who lives in Mexico City and does great pieces that are often related strongly to place. It makes sense, then, that someone might want to play on his work and do a show entitled "I'm not here -- an exhibition without Francis Alÿs." The show also played off Todd Haynes' 2007 film "I'm not there." The show was at De Appel Boys' School in Amsterdam. At any rate, here are a couple paragraphs that I found interesting:

"One of the films I've been working on is about Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. ... I say perhaps because no one knows what Bosch's intention was with this or any of his surviving pictures. Piety, lust, and ghastly eternal pain are typical symbols in a Renaissance altarpiece, which is always a moral history of humanity. But Bosch plays such weird games with everything defining religious art up to then (the painting was likely done about 1505) that the rhetorical emotion doesn't seem like anything at all, replaced by an entirely new emotion. Or maybe what is truly new and truly refreshing is the apparent absence of emotion: a kind of sudden loaded bewilderment. I think that may be my favorite feeling in art. I certainly felt happy and privileged to be filming this painting for more than eight hours in the Prado one day earlier this year. Then, as the weeks went by and all the filming was done and the editing began and the footage had to be made into a convincing, seamless narrative, the torture began." (Collings, Modern painters, Oct. 2010, p. 27)

"But sometimes serendipity just falls into place: in the performance Just popped out, back in two hours (2010), artist David Sherry was meant to sit zombie-like in a chair for the duration of the evening, with a Post-it note stuck to his forehead reading 'Just popped out, back in two hours.' But due to the lingering traces of Eyjafjallajökull's eruption, Sherry couldn't get to Amsterdam in time, and was thus replaced by a stand-in, making him even more 'not here' than he otherwise would have been." (Douglas Heingartner, review of the show, Frieze, June/July/August 2010, p. 186)

The image of the Garden is, by the way, from the Wikipedia article on the painting.

14 October 2010

AAT in the museum

I forgot to mention in my blog entry yesterday about my visit to the Albright-Knox that I really enjoyed the wall labels in the small Sol LeWitt exhibition that included several items related to the wall drawing, books from the library, and other items. On the labels for the books and other items, the format was listed as: paper (fiber product). Just like in AAT but "oil on canvas" didn't become "oil (substance) ..." I do remember Toni Petersen or other early editors saying that you wouldn't need the qualifier in a modified descriptor if the context made the qualifier redundant or unnecessary.

Albright-Knox Art Gallery: inside and out

I really enjoyed my trip to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery yesterday. The main reason for making the trip yesterday was a lecture in the evening by Jennifer Walkowski on John Bennett's plan for the city and John Wade's City Hall. John Hosford is taking a couple classes at the UB library school on Wednesdays so we were able to carpool, as it were. And boy am I glad I went.

The main show at the Albright-Knox is the "Beyond/In Western New York 2010: Alternating Currents." I especially enjoyed Joshua Reiman's four-projector installation on the sublime and Sarah Paul and Suzannah Paul's installation of film against a scrim of old windows. The grid of the windows resonated with the Sol LeWitt wall drawing which is being installed in the stairwell between the old and new buildings, one of his mighty fine "enigmatic vortexes of graphite scribbles." Throughout the galleries were arrows pointing your way or to an emergency callbox or similar things, courtesy of Micah Lexier.

The upper picture is not from the Albright-Knox; it is his "This is an arrow in a vitrine with other things" (2009; photo from an entry on the "View on Canadian art" blog). This arrow does nonetheless have about the shape of the AKAG arrows. When I was done inside the museum, I went out on the grounds and found this arrow pointing to the storm sewer drain near the bottom of the grand stairs from the museum down to the Delaware Park lake.

There was an Andy Goldsworthy video in the court gallery: "Rain Shadow." Goldsworthy is lying on the sidewalk near the grand stairs outside the museum as it starts to rain. He gets up and walks away after it has been raining for a while. The dry spot where his body was of course gets wet, and the rain shadow disappears. The video was done on one of Goldsworthy's trips to Buffalo to work on his "Herd of Stones" which is to be finished in the fall of 2011. At the moment, there's a stack of smaller stones and a few bigger ones, surrounded by protective tape, on the park side of the museum. Nearby, some nice sticks on the ground, also transitory.

There are a few more pictures of my day in Buffalo in my Flickr photostream which is available from the bottom of this blog page. Those of you who will be going to the ARLIS/NA conference in Toronto in 2012 should start getting ready; we'll probably be doing a day trip to Buffalo to see the Albright-Knox and maybe the Darwin Martin House by Frank Lloyd Wright and perhaps some of the greenbelt or the city hall or who knows. Maybe even Niagara Falls.

international style?

If a Greek Revival house gets French doors and displays an American flag, is it fair to call it International Style? This house is on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, a few houses South of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

08 October 2010


Lori Hepner is the visiting artist this week in the Freshman Foundation class at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. I went to her talk and interview on Wednesday morning. After a childhood of drawing, she started college as an Egyptology major but soon shifted to photography. It was the hieroglyphics that inspired her and encoding has become fundamental to her work. One of her early works ("Binary nature" pictured above, photo courtesy of the artist) combines glass shards as zeroes and bits of plant material as ones. She spoke of enjoying the natural and the product made from natural ingredients. I like the mix too.

One of her more recent projects -- "Code words" -- is taking pictures of silk ribbons breaking apart in little dishes of bleach. The ribbons were inscribed with a word in binary code. Her titles are wonderful too: using a colon between the words, suggesting a possible relationship, e.g., aplomb:cessation; itinerant:abeyance. While this seems rather mathematical, the results are totally aesthetic. You can see more of the recent work on her website at lorihepner.com.

It did get more technical the next day at the Bergren Forum when Scott Moerschbacher talked about "QCD and the strong interaction." What?!? You don't know what QCD is? It's quantum chromodynamics. While I have no pretense of understanding particle physics, it does have to do with fundamental stuff. The words were beautiful as they passed over us: asymptotic freedom; hadron polarizability; quarks are called up, down, charm, strange, top, bottom. But my favorite discovery was Lattice QCD, the model of QCD which allows the computer to deal with the mush of subatomic particles and turns it into, for our visual delight, a Tinkertoy construction. Maybe you had to be there. I could imagine the talk being redone as a dadaist performance piece but when I mentioned that to Elizabeth Gulacsy after Moerschbacher was done, she thought I was a bit touched in the head. He said he was going to post the presentation but I don't see it yet. I also couldn't help but turn "QCD" into "queer compulsive disorder."

07 September 2010

ode to the well-placed comma, in French

A few days ago, I wrote a blog entry about The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and a passage about a misused comma which sent our heroine into a tizzy. I'm now in Ithaca where I found the original French version L'élégance du hérisson in the main Cornell library. The English translation clearly plays the same game but I'll have to leave it to those with better French than mine to find the rich nuances in the French original. Still, the English translation is magnificent. I highly recommend that you read the book, in whatever language you can. The ending is quite a surprise and very moving. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get to sleep, after an hour each of Daniel Burnham and Henri Matisse on PBS and then finishing the book.

The passage on the comma (virgule) appears on p. 114-116 in the original Gallimard, 2006 edition:

La mort de Pierre Arthens flétrit mes camélias.

J'ouvre l'enveloppe et je lis ce petit mot inscrit au dos d'une carte de visite si glacée que l'encre, triomphant de buvards consternés, a bavé légèrement sous chaque lettre.

Madame Michel,
Pourriez-vous, réceptionner les paquets du pressing
cet après-midi?
Je passerai les prendre à votre loge ce soir.
Par avance merci,

Signature griffonnée

Je ne m'attendais pas à une telle sournoiserie dans l'attaque. De saisissement, je me laisse tomber sur la chaise la plus proche. Je me demande d'ailleurs si je ne suis pas un peu folle. Est-ce que ça vous fait le même effet, à vous, quand ça vous arrive?

Le chat dort.

La lecture de cette petite phrase anodine n'a éveillé en vous aucun sentiment de douleur, aucun flamboiement de souffrance? C'est légitime.

Le chat, dort.

Je répète, pour qu'aucune ambiguïté ne demeure:
Le chat virgule dort.
Le chat, dort.
Pourriez-vous, réceptionner.

D'un côté, nous avons ce prodigieux usage de la virgule qui, prenant des libertés avec la langue parce que d'ordinaire on n'en place point avant une conjonction de coordination, en magnifie la forme:
M'a-t-on fait assez de reproches, et pour la guerre, et pour la paix ...

Et de l'autre, nous avons les bavouilleries sur vélin de Sabine Pallières transperçant la phrase d'une virgule devenue poignard.

Pourriez-vous, réceptionner les paquets de pressing?

Sabine Pallières eût-elle été une bonne portugaise née sous un figuier de Faro, une concierge fraîchement émigrée de Puteaux ou bien une déficiente mentale tolérée par sa charitable famille que j'aurais pu pardonner de bon cœur cette nonchalance coupable. Mais Sabine Pallières est une riche. Sabine Pallières est la femme d'un grande ponte de l'industrie d'armement, Sabine Pallières est la mère d'un crétin en duffle-coat vert sapin qui, après ses deux khâgnes et Sciences-Po, ira probablement diffuser la médiocrité de ses petites pensées dans un cabinet ministériel de droite, et Sabine Pallières est en sus la fille d'une garce en manteau de fourrure qui fait partie du comité de lecture d'une très grande maison d'édition et est si harnachée de bijoux que, certaines fois, je guette l'affaissement.

Pour toutes ces raisons, Sabine Pallières est inexcusable. Les faveurs du sort ont un prix. Pour qui bénéficie des indulgences de la vie, l'obligation de rigueur dans la considération de la beauté n'est pas négociable. La langue, cette richesse de l'homme, et ses usages, cette élaboration de la communauté sociale, sont des œuvres sacrées. Qu'elles évoluent avec le temps, se transforment, s'oublient et renaissent tandis que, parfois, leur transgression devient la source d'une plus grande fécundité, ne charge rien au fait que pour prendre avec elles ce droit de jeu et du changement, il faut au préalable leur avoir déclaré plein sujétion. Les élus de la société, ceux que la destinée excepte de ces servitudes qui sont le lot de l'homme pauvre, ont partant cette double mission d'adorer et de respecter la splendeur de la langue. Enfin, qu'une Sabine Pallières mésuse de la ponctuation est un blasphème d'autant plus grave que dans le même temps, des poètes merveilleux nés dans des caravanes puantes ou des cités poubelles ont pour elle cette sainte révérence qui est due à la Beauté.

Aux riches, le devoir du Beau. Sinon, ils méritent de mourir.

C'est à ce point précis de mes réflexions indignées que quelqu'un sonne à la loge.

art for art's sake

There were a couple dozen students out on the lawn outside the campus center, all looking West-Northwest and mostly in a line. I looked over that direction and couldn't see anything. I asked the closest person what was up; is it that pole rising from the ground? There was a pole over on the hill that way that I didn't remember. She said that they were doing a mile-long line and looking at the other folks, over there, across the valley. I asked "Guinness book of world records?" She replied "art." Probably Freshman Foundation. Sheila Pepe was the visiting artist for the first week of classes and they knitted up a storm, the unknitting of which may find its way into scarves.

(this is not the Pepe project at Alfred which was in a more cramped space in Harder Hall; this is a photo from the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum site)

05 September 2010

sunshine and cancer

"Frank C. Garland, an epidemiologist whose work helped establish a link between vitamin D deficiency and some cancers, including colon and breast cancer, died on Aug. 17 in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He was 60 and lived in San Diego." Dr Garland's research seems to show that exposure to sunlight's vitamin D lessens the likelihood of colon and breast cancer. Ironically, he died of cancer of the esophageal junction and had lived in a place with considerable sunshine.

In late 1997 and early 1998 when I was having a nose reconstruction because of basal cell cancer, my mother was dying of colon cancer. We don't know how we'll go but go we will and this conjunction of sun and cancer is especially compelling for me.

04 September 2010

ode to the well-placed comma

The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is beautifully written, originally in French and translated by Alison Anderson. There are two main characters and the chapters are written in the voice of one or the other. The older of the main characters is the widowed concierge "at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood." She mostly plays the stereotype of slump and TV-watcher for the benefit of others; she really is entranced by art and cultural things. She is also quite a reader.

When one of the tenants dies and wilts her camellias, the concierge Renée Michel gets a note from another tenant that includes this sentence: Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner's this afternoon?

For the next couple pages, we are in Mme Michel's thoughts as she contemplates the misplaced comma after "as." Barbery fills these two pages with incredible sentences of dependent and independent clauses, modifying descriptions, and other complex construction that result in a beautiful tribute to the correct use of the comma.

I'm not much past this passage which appears on pages 108-110 of the paperback edition. Materfamilias Reads has also blogged this matter and has typed in a good portion of the section I'm talking about. cf http://materfamiliasreads.blogspot.com/2009/04/muriel-barberys-elegance-of-hedgehog.html Materfamilias has only selected and typed one paragraph but it's the whole two pages that just fills me with delight but then, like Materfamilias, I'm probably a punctuation pedant. I should probably look up the French original; though my French is not great, I'd probably be able to work my way through this section.

19 July 2010

The Clark(e)s of Cooperstown

Hyde Hall has long been one of my favorite Palladian houses in the United States. Perhaps nothing compares to Monticello for Palladianism but Hyde Hall, designed by Philip Hooker and built between 1817 and 1833, is wonderful. It is set on the northern end of Otsego Lake, not too far from Cooperstown. It probably is relevant that the builder was George Clarke but, alas, there is no reason to think that he is even a distant relative of mine. His family came to the United States through New York City and my Clarkes were Rhode Islanders before moving to western New York State. Still, it's nice to have the nominal connection.

At the other end of Otsego Lake, one finds a good deal of influence from a different family of Clarks. Sterling and Francine Clark are perhaps best known these days as the founding patrons of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I've visited the museum several times, most recently last October when the regional chapters of ARLIS/NA and VRA held a joint meeting there.

My family gathered (as you may know from the last entry here or from Facebook) at a KOA campground near Herkimer over the July 4th weekend. One of the field trips was to Hyde Hall with my sisters Cathy and Carol, and another field trip was to Cooperstown with a couple carloads. Everyone else went to the Baseball Hall of Fame and I went to see the Sargent show at the Fenimore Art Museum. One of my brother's pictures from Cooperstown was of a sign which read "Estates of Edward Clark and Alfred Corning Clark" (grandfather and father of Sterling Clark). The Clarks summered in Cooperstown and were great patrons of a variety of activities, including sports and art.

For years, I've been meaning to read The Clarks of Cooperstown by Nicholas Fox Weber and the visit to Cooperstown certainly raised it on the list even though the reviews on Amazon are not so positive. Sure, it probably could use some editorial tightening but I'm learning a lot and enjoying it.

Edward Clark was an associate of Isaac Merritt Singer of sewing machine fame. Clark and Singer together dreamed up the monthly payment scheme and everybody could then afford to have a sewing machine at home. Clark was the business side of things and owned or controlled significantly more than half of the company. He left an estate to Alfred Corning Clark that Weber says was relatively bigger than that left some years later by J.P. Morgan.

In addition to his life as a rich American businessman, Alfred was also a great patron of tenor Lorentz Severin Skougaard (known professionally as Skougaard-Severini), sculptor George Grey Barnard, and other artists. Alfred's relationship with Skougaard was intimate and he summered with Skougaard's family in Norway. One is generally reluctant to apply late 20th-century interpretations of homosexual relationships but Weber does include information about their activities that provide a rich history of Alfred's parallel lives with his family in the United States and his "artistic" life in Europe.

One of Alfred's paintings was "The Snake Charmer" by Jean-Léon Gérôme:

Weber talks about how we, the audience, see the naked backside of the charmer while the men in the painting are getting a front-on view. Alfred's widow sold the painting after his death but it was repurchased by Sterling and Francine and is now in the collection of the Clark Art Institute. The description on the institute's website does not mention this interesting bit of provenance. (When I wrote this post in 2010, the website description did not include this part of the provenance but it now does in December 2017: http://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/559.)

Alfred's relationship with Barnard was perhaps more complicated since Barnard sublimated his sexual urges in exchange for creative energy. He did marry a woman later but, in Weber's telling, it was a sublimation of his attraction to men. While this may have been frustrating to Alfred, it did lead to some powerful homoerotic sculpture, e.g., Brotherly Love (a memorial to Skougaard), The Struggle of the Two Natures of Man (stood for years in the Great Court at the Metropolitan). When I was at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester last weekend for Rochester Pride, I noticed a wonderful bust of Lincoln which was dramatically illuminated. It was a work by George Gray Barnard!

Alfred Clark also served as champion of Frederick Bourne whom he had met at the all-male Mendelssohn Glee Club, for which Alfred commissioned a concert hall and clubhouse (since demolished). Bourne became president of Singer & Company and was responsible for commissioning the Singer Building from architect Ernest Flagg. It was briefly the tallest building in America and demolished, sadly, in the 1960s.

Singer Building, New York
(Completed 1908, demolished 1968)
(from wirednewyork.com)

Flagg was also commissioned by Mrs. Alfred Clark, after Alfred's death, to build a mansion on Riverside Drive. Weber describes it as "Neo-Palladian" but it is a far cry from the severe Palladianism of Hyde Hall. The illustration in the book shows it to be something like the Carnegie Mansion that has become the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Yes, it has classical detailing but it's more like Newport than Chiswick. I could not find a picture of the exterior on the web but this drawing from the American architect and building news (Dec. 1900) shows the progression of orders around the windows and other detailing which grew from the same roots as Palladio.

In an interesting twist, the caption for this illustration on the St. Croix Architecture site (where it's available as a poster) misspells "Clark" as "Clarke."

That's probably a sign that this Clarke should stop trying to summarize the book and go back to reading it. It has been quite an interesting ride so far, resonating beyond the history of the Clarks of Cooperstown.

06 July 2010

carpenter italianate

We drove through Mt. Vision, New York on the way home from the family gathering at the KOA campground in Herkimer. Mt. Vision is along Route 205 on the western side of Otsego Lake, near Cooperstown. I noticed three houses that looked like siblings as we passed through the village. Each was a tripartite Italianate house with six windows on the front. The center section sticks out a foot or so in front of the rest of the facade, making a simple but lovely and classic composition. Perhaps I'd had too rich a diet of Palladianism at Hyde Hall in Glimmerglass State Park, also on Otsego Lake.

The Italianate detailing was fairly light in these houses: flat roof, simple bracketing under roofline, balanced fenestration, no columned porch. I think of my house in Alfred as carpenter Italianate. It was built by my great-great-grandfather, Martin W. Babcock, and my great-grandfather, Alpheus Burdick Kenyon. They may have used a plan book but mostly it's a cube with sheds appended out back: big cube, little cube, littler cube. The front side is basically tripartite though the porch lightens the verticality and the door is on the side rather than central as in the Mt. Vision houses. Nonetheless, they seemed to be carpenter Italianate like my house, just the work of someone building houses in a small town in the years after the American Civil War.

An added treat was a fancier version on the southern edge of town. The scale was slightly bigger but it still didn't have the porch in the example at the top of this entry. All four of the houses had closed louvers on the upper middle window. And, then, as we drove out of town, there was another bigger one. Its roof had been augmented by a hip roof: practical in snow country but it rather ruins the Italianate feel. I saw quite a few Italianate buildings with such augmented roofs as we drove around central New York State.

Since I wasn't in the driver's seat and we were anxious to get home, I didn't request that we turn around and go back so I could take pictures. The house illustrated above, found by googling "italianate houses" for images, is the Coite-Hubbard House (1856) which I thought gave an idea of the houses in Mt. Vision. The picture comes from Historic Buildings of Connecticut where it is described as: The building which now serves as Wesleyan’s President's House was originally built in 1856 for Gabriel Coite, who became a state senator in 1860 and moved to Hartford in 1862, when he became the State Treasurer. In 1863, his Italianate house on High Street in Middletown was sold to Mrs. Jane Miles Hubbard, the widow of Samuel Hubbard, who had been a US Postmaster General. Wesleyan University acquired the Coite-Hubbard House from her heirs in 1904 to become the new President's House, replacing the first building used for that purpose. [It amuses me that this example is an official residence since that is one of my postcard categories. When Judith Holliday was collecting libraries, I decided I needed a building type to collect and picked official residences. I also did an LCSH subject proposal for "Official residences" which was accepted by LC. They improved it by adding a see-also reference: See also |i subdivision |a Dwellings |i under classes of government or other officials, e.g. |a Governors--Dwellings.]

30 June 2010

glimmers of hope

Lots of interesting stuff during ALA and I'm still processing it. Ronald Murray presented his work on a "FRBR paper tool" which, as someone said after he presented at CC:DA, was either exhilarating, exhausting, or terrifying, or all of the above. What was exciting for me was that it seemed to move us beyond some of my concerns about FRBR. That is, people seemed to be chasing Work, Expression, Manifestation, and Item to the detriment of moving forward toward a response that built a richer as well as collocated response to a query. Murray's networks of bibliographic relationships allow a system to build trees that can use the building blocks. Not only did it seem promising for texts but he also momentarily had a parallel 4-layer context for archives: fonds, series, folders, items (I think that was it). I wonder if there's a similar hierarchy for visual materials and cultural objects which will make sense. A starting point into the web stuff on Murray's work can be found at http://dltj.org/article/frbr-paper-tool-presentation/ (first hit when you google "frbr paper tool" -- the report on a November 2009 presentation at the Library of Congress).

Oh ... and his charts were beautiful. As I was looking at them, I was thinking of hiring a silversmith to turn one into a necklace. Or maybe a knit version? If it was macramé, it would probably work for philodendron.

Later that morning, I went to an OCLC program entitled "Cataloging alchemy: making your data work harder" which included Rich Greene talking about GLIMIR (Global Library Manifestation Identifier). They've focused so far on parallel-record and reproduction identifiers which will help them pull together editions/printings/records for closely-related resources. Rich indicated that they might be able to do some enhancing of the resulting cluster, e.g., access points at the cluster level. I'm dreaming of enhanced subject access because of this, or more contents analysis because one edition has a contents note. Hmm, enhanced RLIN clusters. The basis for GLIMIR building is the new version of the duplicate detection report which OCLC has started using. This will help match and merge simple vendor records with fuller ones, both in batch-loading and already in the database. They plan on working their way through the 195 million records in the OCLC database.

There were other exciting things at ALA Annual, that was just on Monday. I'll work on my ALA report as soon as I can. Meanwhile, it's still a couple hours to Binghamton and then three hours to Alfred. Buses with wireless internet access are pretty nice but it's a little cramped for spreading out your ALA notes.

19 June 2010

books and zines

Pretty exciting. I got to meet my closest parallel book collector in LibraryThing: Paul Ranogajec, a doctoral student in American architectural history. cf. paulranogajec.com He's a buddy of Roberto Ferrari, art librarian and now doctoral student himself, both of them at the CUNY Grad Center. Roberto is Paul's closest LT parallel, or is it the other way around? Anyway, we had a good time talking about our collections and art/architecture interests over a nice brunch in the garden at Bacchus on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I'm not sure that Paul is convinced yet that he should go to library school but we'll keep working on him. After brunch, we went to a couple nearby used bookshops. I escaped without buying any books at either shop or elsewhere today.

On the way to the subway to go to the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), I ran into Bill Jones, former colleague at NYU Libraries. That was fun.

The main reason I was running off to MAD was a panel on "Gay print/queer zines" with Scott Hug of K48, Tony Arena of Anonymous boy collection and other titles, Michael Bullock of BUTT, Jason Lamphier and Noah Michelson of Out, and Dan Avery of NEXT, moderated by someone whose name I didn't catch. Each of them described their magazine or project and then they talked amongst themselves and with us in the audience. I had expected that the hall would be jammed to the rafters but it was fairly sparsely populated. I loved the way Tony Arena talked about his desire for the informal and chaotic. The fellows from Out had some interesting things to say about being fairly mainstream, dealing with print versus web capacity and timing. And almost all of them talked about community as part of their mission. I was intrigued to learn that the founders/editors of BUTT started Fantastic man because they didn't want BUTT to have to go commercial, having started it as a cross between S.T.H. and Index. And the first issue of Gentle woman just came out so there was teasing about covering all the ground now.

This is all fine and dandy but I'm really enjoying the book I've just started: In spite of the gods: the rise of modern India by Edward Luce (Anchor Books, 2008) and I think I'm going to go back to that. I did go read for a while in Prospect Park after discovering and climbing Lookout Hill. The sunset was only just beginning and there weren't enough clouds to really light up the sky with color.

"closed": too early, soccer

It took me quite a while to get going yesterday but I still made it to downtown Manhattan too early for galleries to be open. They mostly open at noon. And ApexArt was playing the Slovenia-U.S.A. soccer game so I didn't go in to see the "Men with balls" show. Artists Space was closed for installation but I did finally get into Leslie/Lohman for "The great LGBTQ photo show" but didn't see any photos that really knocked my socks off. Oh, it's worth visiting.

On to Mercer Street Books, a fine used bookstore near NYU. Getting a bit hungry, I went for the extravagance of a crepe and glass of pinot noir at Shade, a very satisfying lunch. I did hear the guys next to me speculating on the referee in the Slovenia-U.S.A. game. If it wasn't too late or installation, it was soccer but the day was fine altogether.

The Lil Picard show at Grey Art Gallery was on the list so I stopped in. I wasn't familiar with her work and the show is a trip down memory lane, with early postwar and work from into the 1990s. The brochure or wall text included some interesting words about her attempts to be part of the scene but finding the Cedar Bar boys not at all congenial. That is, they just wanted pretty young things, not thinking and acting women. Reminds me of Jo Schaffer's description of visits when she was an art student at Brooklyn College; the girls got to sit in the back row and observe but mostly weren't part of that scene. Thank heavens, we've mostly changed.

It was also interesting to see the drawings of Picard's husband on his death bed in Saint Vincent's Hospital. The last dated drawing in the set was dated June 14th, almost the anniversary.

I ran a couple more errands in the neighborhood and then took off for MoMA PS1 for the "Greater NY" show. Perhaps my favorite moment was the performance in the basement where the artist was putting gold foil on the boiler, using his sweat as adhesive. He was passively standing, brush in hand, on a ladder doing something on a palette. He passed the brush over his neck and then picked up a piece of foil with the brush and applied it to the boiler. Rhythmic and slow-moving. The piece was called "Skewed lies/central governor: a collaborative performance with Saul Melman" by Aki Sasamoto. Among the other works that I liked were Leidy Churchman's paintings, Conrad Ventur's video installation with disco ball, Bruce High Quality Foundation's pedestal exchange, and "Let's face it; we're all queer" (one of the images in A.L. Steiner's "Angry, articulate, inevitable"). Ismail Randall made some interesting mountains out of magazines (sculpted stacks of Vanity fair) in a piece addressing the U.S./Mexico border. Michele Abeles's fine photos had great titles, e.g., "Man, shadow, table, fan, rock" and "Number, fabric, man, hand, rock, icons, cardboard, potatoes."

After I'd done about enough art in GNY, I went to the bookstore and then ordered a cafe au lait. Then, I checked the watch: it was almost 5:30 and I was supposed to be in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn by 6:30. Well, the coffee got drunk more quickly and with less reading than it might have been. Good old 7 to Q however did get me to Cortelyou on the same train that Heidi was on. We went to The Farm on Adderley for some yummy food, with their specialty being local and small-farm stuff. The service and setting were too Manhattan (pretentious) for Heidi's taste but the food was good.

I definitely am of the "eat to live" rather than "live to eat" school but have noticed that these NYC posts from the last few days have all talked about food. The restaurant options in Alfred and environs are definitely thinner than in New York City but the Collegiate Restaurant which has been closed since last fall's fire in the Alfred business district should be open in its new space by the time I get home. Not fine dining, but darn fine food in a friendly atmosphere. When Heidi visits Alfred, she will probably be satisfied that the food and service are a good match.

17 June 2010

West Chelsea gallery hopping

These home-made pencils are only one small bit of a platform with many objects by Ben Gocker in his show at P.P.O.W. Gallery on West 25th Street in New York City. I have been especially enamored of pencils since working at the Amon Carter Museum. There, Paula Stewart and I exchanged pencils as a token gift from our travels. She acquired the habit when she had worked in the photo department before becoming the archivist. Now, I just buy more museum pencils than I can use.

Today's adventures centered on West Chelsea. It started with lunch with Ann Morrell who works at the American Friends Service Committee. Ann and her husband Bill moved earlier this year to the ILGWU apartments on Eighth Avenue. They have a sunny living room with bookcases under the windows. Bright and cheerful. We ate at Le Grainne Cafe, a charming French bistro that used to be Le Gamin. My crepe with turkey, goat cheese, and ratatouille was magnificent.

Food's fine but then we went gallery hopping. Ann joined me for the late Monet show at Gagosian Gallery. As we neared the gallery, we ran into Barbara Reed. Retirement allows one to go gallery hopping on weekdays. It's nice to avoid the crazy West Chelsea weekend crowds.

Ann split after Monet and I crossed 20th Street to Tanya Bonakdar Gallery where Uta Barth and Ian Kiaer were on view. The Barths were especially rich, one with feet on the beach. I am looking forward to going to Fire Island one of the days I'm here in the city. From Bonakdar, I stopped in at Casey Kaplan Gallery and found the Trisha Donnelly sculptures interesting. Donnelly carves big blocks of stone with quite refined parallel lines. Then I went to Printed Matter and actually escaped without buying anything.

Sticking to my list of galleries to visit, I next went to Tracy Williams on 23rd Street to see the Barbara Bloom show entitled "Present" ... as in gift. Great work and Bloom arranged for each of us visitors to get a CD. Haven't played it yet but it is apparently the CD used in the piece with a rug of plans of Steinway pianos. Another piece in the show was a table of glasses with a sound board in the tabletop so that it made sounds as you put your hand over the glasses. This was my first visit to the new Tracy Williams space; they used to be in a rowhouse basement on West 4th Street, an awkward but intimate space. They are working at keeping the intimacy in the new space, partly by interacting with the visitors.

Deborah Bell had a couple dozen photographs from America illustrated by George W. Gardner. Fine photographs. One was of "Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Crumb, Marathon, New York" (1975); I can't wait to get back upstate and ask my sister's partner Barb Crumb if she had relatives in the Marathon area. Another photograph -- "Langhorne, Pennsylvania" (1965) -- included the sign for Flannery's Restaurant along with other roadside stuff. Having just finished reading The violent bear it away by Flannery O'Connor, I was easily finding parallels between O'Connor's characters and the "real" Americans and Americana in Gardner's photographs.

On to the Gocker show entitled "There is really no single poem." Gocker graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and is now a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library. Lots of his works resonated with my librarian brain: pencils, words, letters.

I stopped in at Mitchell Algus Gallery and found him packing up to move his space to Morton Street in the West Village. The mean economic times make for even more volatility in the gallerist's life than usual.

Further West on 25th Street, I stopped at ClampArt to see the "Jesse Burke: intertidal" show. I'd first run across Burke at the New York Art Book Fair last fall. Really love the photos. And Brian Clamp had one of my favorite John Arsenault photos in the back "alley" of the gallery: "Getting it in Italy" (2000). I just have to get me one of those John Arsensault photos someday. Have to quit buying so many books (but I did do some freelance cataloging before I blogged). As much as I like the sexy Burkes and Arsenaults, the prints by Stuart Allan were really fine, the varying light of different hours of the day. Reminded me of Spencer Finch's work on the High Line.

On to Galerie Lelong for the Andy Goldsworthy show: "New York dirt water light" with ephemeral "sculptures" on the sidewalks of NYC which faded with traffic. And next door was the William Pope L. show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. This last show opened with a print which had the word "melan-colicky" across the middle. Just cruising, not feeling very melancholy at all.

I've spared you some of the parallels drawn from the gallery visits, e.g., Barbara Bloom's adopted Chinese daughter (think Karen Muller), the new assistant librarian at Bard's Center for Curatorial Studies who is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop as is Flannery O'Connor, the whole O'Connor connection to Debra Kruse's art ... well, I HAD spared you those parallels.


I don't consider myself religious but I am certainly moved by religious art. I'm in New York City for a week or so before going to the ALA conference in Washington. Diana Mitrano is letting me stay at her Brooklyn apartment while she's in Hong Kong. As I left her apartment yesterday thinking about the day's adventures, I decided to go up to the Cloisters, partly to see if I could find Building the medieval art in the bookshop. Being in that space with the fine art is always very moving for me. The view above is of the apse from the Church of Saint Martin in Fuentidueña, Spain with a crucifix from Palencia. Romanesque and Ottonian are probably my favorite medieval periods.

I'm not really sure where the love of medieval art comes from. My 12th-grade art teacher was fond of Romanesque Catalonian frescoes, or at least I got the small books on them that were a couple of my first art books about then. Them, along with the facsimile of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

Whatever, I found myself tearing up several times in the Cloisters: for the love of the art, for the joy of being in its company.

From Fort Tryon Park, I took the bus down to the Hispanic Society where I was delighted to find that the Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster show was still on view (closes June 27th so get there soon). She created three dioramas with books as the object in the landscape. There's a wonderful wall of quotations too. Since my last visit to the Hispanic Society, the Sorolla murals have been rehung in the room now called the Sala Bancaja. And it's never a problem to visit the collection of Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and others.

I didn't have a guidebook with me but realized that the Morris-Jumel Mansion wasn't far away. I was too far South and missed it but did visit the hole where the Alexander Hamilton house used to be, crowded between a church and an apartment building just North of City College of New York. It's hard to believe that the house fit in the space, the hole doesn't look near big enough.

They picked the house up and moved it around the corner. It isn't open again yet but the setting is certainly more gracious and spacious.

Since I was there at CCNY, I figured I'd go say hi to the librarian, Judy Connorton, and see the new space. The architecture library has way more space, as does the school. Part of the library is double-height with stacks mostly on a mezzanine over the offices. The roof is open for visiting and there is a funky yellow amphitheater which also serves as the sunshield for the skylight over the central atrium. The end-of-year projects were up on the walls so there were some fun projects to look at. There were also some models of buildings by Palladio, Neutra, and others.

On to the Studio Museum which is showing highlights from its collection. Lots of good stuff. They have a print version of the Lorna Simpson video "15 mouths" which I first saw at Sean Kelly Gallery a few days after 9/11. The video is a grid of mouths quietly humming. It was mesmerizing and soothing in the days just after the World Trade Center attacks. The print version is quieter, just still prints of the mouths with a CD of the humming barely audible.

Supper was at Chennai Garden on East 27th Street, with John Maier, Elizabeth Lilker, and Dan Lipcan. We shared three of the combination platters and barely made it through them. The food was incredibly tasty. John and I walked down to Union Square and I figured I might as well as well veer off to the Strand and St. Mark's bookshops before leaving the neighborhood. I did find Building the medieval world at the Strand. It wasn't the fabulous study of architecture in medieval manuscripts that I'd hoped for, more of a general picture book with mediocre illustrations. Nonetheless, I figured that I'd just regret it if I didn't buy it ... and the price was down from retail.

Thinking about buying books obsessively, I am thrilled that I'll get to meet my closest LibraryThing parallel on Saturday. Paul Ranogajec is a grad student at the CUNY Grad Center and a friend of Roberto Ferrari's. We're getting together for brunch on Saturday. We get to talk books, books, books until the cows come home or we decide to go to the panel on queer zines, 3 pm at the Museum of Art and Design.

23 May 2010

thinking about "insanity" and incarceration

The Willard State Hospital (1869-1995, originally Willard Asylum for the Insane) was open for tours yesterday, a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Children's Center which occupies one of the historic buildings. My sister Carol and brother Doug, along with Carol's partner Barb, had gone last year. Carol, Barb and I went yesterday. The hospital site was originally the State Agricultural College at Ovid but Ezra Cornell convinced the state, with land and money, to move the college to Ithaca where it became Cornell University.

The hospital and village of Willard sit on the East side of Seneca Lake a ways South of Geneva. The setting is beautiful with the land rising from the lakeshore, not too steep but enough to give you good views from many places on the grounds.

The hospital plays a role in my family history in that Chester Smedley Clarke (1849-1925), my great grandfather, was a patient there for a time between 1904 and 1907. He worked in the shoemaker's shop and there was an old photo of the shop in one of the display cases in the administration building. As I was looking at the picture, some other tour participants were asking about the canary cages that are visible in the picture. The guide mentioned canaries' use in mining but wondered if it was a kind of Muzak for the patients. After being released from the hospital, my great grandfather settled in Binghamton and ran a shoe repair business, and was never in contact with the family again. My brother has the address of the business and it was probably in one of the wonderful brick four-story thin buildings across the train tracks from the current bus station. Several of the buildings have been torn down in my memory and replaced by simple (boring) buildings. Sigh.

There is now a boot camp correctional facility on the grounds of the hospital. It's for minimum security drug-related offenders who can serve 90 days there or several years or whatever in a traditional prison setting. The boot camp is strict and busy and attempts to build discipline and responsibility, no slacking. My nemesis Sonny was given the "opportunity" to serve there and only lasted a week or two. The state was, I guess, no more successful than I in building responsibility in his case. As I took pictures of the abandoned male dormitory, I could hear the prisoners chanting as they did calisthenics or some chore. Being on the grounds of the hospital with both of these personal connections was quite emotional though not spooky. When we were in the basement of Grand View, the old administration building, one of the women in our group shivered as she looked into one of the closet-like spaces in the basement. It probably wasn't a patient room but you couldn't help but think about being locked into a physical space while your mental space was probably troubling you as well.

Especially in the basements of Grand View and Hadley Hall, I also kept thinking about my visit to Eastern State Penintentiary in Philadelphia. I visited in 2005 when they had an installation by Janet Cargill and George Bures Miller. Sonny and I had been to the Cargill/Miller show at P.S. 1 and even though Sonny didn't have a lot of experience with viewing contemporary art, he loved the P.S. 1 show which was marvelous. The Eastern State installation was chilling in ways that the visit to Willard wasn't, perhaps the time, perhaps the space, perhaps me.

There are some more pictures of my visit to Willard on Flickr.

12 May 2010

resonances and connections

As you may know if you read this blog or talk to me about life and art, I love it when life wraps around and makes connections. The house above is Carlton Towers in Yorkshire, one of the homes of the Duke of Norfolk. It is the setting for the movie "A Handful of Dust" (1988) based on the book by Evelyn Waugh and directed by Charles Sturridge. It stars James Wilby and Kristin Scott Thomas, along with Rupert Graves, Judi Dench, Anjelica Huston, and Alec Guinness. I cannot remember who recommended the film but I was delighted to see the actors' names as they appeared in the opening credits. I'm quite a fan of Kristin Scott Thomas but Wilby and Graves will always be favorites because of their roles in "Maurice."

So why the opening reference to connections? You see I was looking through The Victorian country house by Mark Girouard (Yale University Press, 1979) just the other day which includes Carlton Towers among the featured houses in the second half of the book. It's got a grand tower with an outsized and rather awkward Mansard cap. As often happens in movies, the interior shots don't seem to have been done at Carlton, or at least they seemed to use a different staircase and what's a country house movie without the right staircase?

Not only the house but when Tony, the owner of Hatton as the house is called in the movie, is "kidnapped" in South America, some of the scenes were shot near some dramatic falls which reminded me of Iguacu Falls which were part of one of my ARTstor cataloging assignments. I guess it wasn't Iguacu Falls since the closing credits claimed the movie was shot in Venezuela and Iguacu Falls are on the border of Brazil and Argentina. Details, details. What good are resonances without a bit of slippage?

At any rate, Tony ends up in the hands of a Barbardian-Indian fellow who just wants someone to read to him. He gives some potion to Tony who falls asleep for two days and misses the English adventure hunters who are given his watch and other mementos which will convince them he is dead. They will go back to England and tell the family that Tony is dead. His widow is ruined, I guess, though it would appear that she marries Jock. And now I wonder if there is a fate worse than being lost in the jungle and having to read for your meals.

Those aren't the only resonances. One could revisit the Klukas plan for my country villa, built like Carlton Towers on an ancient foundation. One could talk about how "resonances" and "connections" are both based in French and there have been a lot of French statuses in Facebook recently, thanks to Jonathan Walz and others. But we'll stop and go to bed. By the way, the next movie that Netflix has brought me is "Desperately Seeking Susan" so I'll probably reflect on Sue Sylvester as that flashes before my eyes.

The picture of Carlton Towers at top is from the Ryan Browne wedding photography site.

30 April 2010

art and cataloging and art cataloging

Fannie Hillsmith. "Christmas Tree" (1949)
(Currier Museum of Art)

Just got home the day before yesterday from the ARLIS/NA annual conference in Boston, with day trips on either side for art and architecture. I drove to Boston so I'd have the flexibility of such side trips. On the day before the conference cranked up, I drove up to Manchester, New Hampshire to see the Currier Museum of Art and its Zimmerman House, a Usonian house by Frank Lloyd Wright. An added benefit was lunch with Alison Dickey, currently the librarian at the Currier. The museum has a nice collection. Some of the special treats were Ruisdael's view of Egmont (I've been reading Holland mania by Annette Stott about Americans who visited Holland in the 19th and early 20th century, including Egmont), Fannie Hillsmith (local and NYC modernist, experimenting in a variety of styles), James Aronovich (NH super-realist), "Marc Antony and Cleopatra" by Jan de Bray, and a lovely view of the Campagna by Sanford Robinson Gifford. And they had a fine show of watercolors with several by Arthur Garfield Dove.

The Zimmerman House is nice. The ceilings are even high enough that I didn't feel the need to duck, rather a rarity in a later Frank Lloyd Wright house.

The conference cranked up on Friday with a prelude tour of the North Bennet Street School in the North End. Other than the bird pooping on me in Old North Church yard, it was a lovely morning. The school has a book arts specialty and that was the focus of our tour but we went quickly through the piano and string instrument workshops and up to the furniture finishing room. And I ran into Floyd Zula and his partner Kelly again; they were in Manchester at the Currier as well.

Highlights of the conference for me:

  • Table of contents as a marker of clarity and complexity: both the Wittenborn and Dwyer book award presenters talked about the value of a good TOC or other apparatus. It evoked, for me, the work of Alejandro Cesarco who has done indexes and TOCs for nonexistent books. You have to put the book together based on the proximity of index references, for example.

  • The honorable mention for the Dwyer Award was the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. Always love a new addition to my biographical resources for building NACO records.

  • The Avery Library is thinking about building a Built Works Inventory. It would make a fine complement to the Cultural Object Name Authority which the Getty is working on. More exciting for me is the role the inventory might play relative to our longstanding struggle over the neat bipartite "divided world" in LC authorities land. I hope we can get to a point of an entity authority file, instances and not classes of instances. By the way, there's a CONA webinar on May 4th.

  • The Cataloging Advisory Committee is just about done with the access points chapter of Cataloging exhibition publications--best practices.

  • Cataloging Problems Discussion Group (now in its 35th year, give or take) was a fine gathering. We talked about RDA (testing about to begin), shelflisting (curators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston have enough books in their office that they try to arrange them by call number and notice discrepancies?!?!), OCLC Institution Records (do you make them for all items? no items? selectively? Brooklyn does them selectively and we hope they have criteria to share), and museum publisher contributions to CIP (parallel to a few university libraries that do the CIP for their press).

  • The Joan Mitchell Foundation is funding a pilot project with late-career artists on legacy and estate planning. A database was set up for entry of works. Some of the older artists are being paired with a younger artist. They're also investigating self-journaling and social software. Eumie Imm-Stroukoff talked about this work and the other panelists were Heather Gendron on Cai Guo-Qiang's archive and Greg Hatch on the Utah Artists Project. One of the UAP's treasures is 500K slides from emeritus professor Lennox Tierney and videos and oral history.

  • We western New Yorkers got together with the Ontario folks to begin cranking up for the 2012 conference in Toronto. But first we get to get excited about Minneapolis and the joint ARLIS/NA-VRA conference next year. I haven't been there since the early 1980s and really want to see the new Walker building and the MIA, and Saint Paul, and ...

After the Cataloging Section meeting about shelf-ready copy and new sources and energy for NACO work, Daniel and I went back to the hotel to check out. Daniel went off to the bus and I went to Bill's with my suitcase. After taking a deep breath, I decided to walk over to Mount Auburn Cemetery. Like Forster without a Baedeker, I took off and walked around the whole bloody cemetery before I found the Egyptian Revival gates. It was a lovely day in America's first landscaped or garden cemetery. Back to Bill's and then off to have supper with Alix Reiskind and her family.

Next morning, Bill and I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see the Roni Horn show. It was really wonderful and the most sublime moments were in the narrow gallery with the audio piece: Roni Horn "reciting" the lines from the bottom of the water photographs. The gallery overlooks the harbor and the clouds were settling in on the northern part of Boston.

Bill went off to work and I went to Calamus Bookstore for a while and then back to Bill's and then took off for home. I had decided that I'd somehow get to New York City to see the Dijon mourners and "Belles Heures" at the Met. I had mentioned to Hugh Wilburn who has a new country house and pottery studio in Great Barrington that I might come by and we finally connected ... by email, from Fuel coffee house in Great Barrington. Great evening but the post-midnight bedtime maybe wasn't too wise.

We awoke to snow flakes in the air but I got to the Met a little after noon. It was tough to be at the Met and realize that it is no longer always there for me, just a subway ride away. Especially when there are special shows but just the permanent collection takes my breath away. I stopped to see some of my special favorites in the medieval galleries and then took off for Alfred. The rain stopped after a while and the sky was clear for the last hour or so. The sunset was magnificent but I was glad to stop driving.

22 April 2010

FLW for the main course and dessert

Darwin Martin House, Buffalo, NY, at the ARLIS/WNY meeting on April 8th

Zimmerman House, Manchester, NY, as a personal tour before the ARLIS/NA conference in Boston, April 22nd

04 April 2010

giants, sardines, and apples

Who would have thought when I took this picture in January that I would be reading about how the Beach Cliff sardine packing plant in Prospect Harbor, Maine would be closing in April? Today's New York times has an article entitled "A clattering heritage of Maine's industrial past closes in on a final spin."

A 70-year old woman who wasn't ready to retire, Nancy Harrington, is quoted: I don't know how to do anything else [other than packing sardines]. I don't want nothing to do with computers. I don't have one, I don't want to learn. No, sir. I'm going to do my scrapbooking and quilting."

And thinking about computers and the passage of time, there was also an article in the paper about the lines of fanatics ready to buy an iPad. "Matthew Thouvenin, 26, was born the year Apple introduced the Macintosh ..." But wait, that means that I've had a Macintosh almost as long as Matthew has been alive. I got my first one -- a 128K with external drive -- in the spring of 1985. Now on my fourth, a MacBook ... and still loving it.

23 March 2010

ideal villas

As we rode in the cab from the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel to Rathbun's Restaurant for supper last Saturday night, we passed an interesting building. There it rose on a bluff overlooking downtown Atlanta, rising over the multi-lane street. The style is gentle deconstructivism (if that's not an oxymoron). The view from the big windows (toward the West) must be glorious at sunset.

After I got back to Alfred, I sent a note to VRA-L to see if anyone knew anything about the building. Frank Jackson, Emory librarian who had done some of the local arrangements for the VRA conference responded with a real estate advertisement for the house which is a 1929 or 1930 garage-like building with a villa atop. Now if you know me very well or not even very well, you know I love the works of Palladio and he is, of course, Mr Villa. Frank also led me to the post-pessimist who blogged about the house in 2006. (The pictures above are from the blog entry.) And that led to another Atlantan who blogs about unusual architectural sightings. Love this social networking. If somebody with an extra half million buys the house, I'd love to come visit in real time.

And thinking about villas and ideal homes, I was reminded again of the plan that Arnold Klukas drew for me twenty-five years ago. Arnie was a medievalist and architectural history grad student at Pitt when I worked there just after library school. We loved to talk about architecture and things medieval. He one time doodled up a residence for me, actually "being a library with house attached." The house started around the remains of a 1350 cloister and the last part was a new brutalist garage from circa 1970. Of course, by now, there would be new wings in pomo and decon and Ungers- or Krier-influenced late modern, and perhaps a neotraditionalist development down the road, out of sight (I hope).

19 March 2010


Seen in the English Ceramics gallery at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta ... and then a couple hours later, on my plate at the VRA dinner and awards ceremony:

17 March 2010

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Three or four times today here at the VRA conference, the thought has gone through my head that our modern world is just a faster version of yesterday's world. Or we're going back.

At the Transitions lunch in the spectacular (even on a cloudy day) revolving Sun Dial restaurant at the top of the Westin, someone was talking about how the art faculty members were all building their own collections of digital images as the university collections were being eliminated. In the old days, a professor probably collected the slides they needed and they were just kept on the shelves of their office. Then folks got the brilliant idea of building a collection and there was economy of scale. Now the collection is being dismantled, partly because of ARTstor and other image databases but also because of economics. Now we're seeing individual collections again.

Peter Brantley of the BookServer project at the Internet Archive gave the opening plenary speech. He talked about how information gathering is focused on discovery rather than content. But research has always been discovering the information you need. Social networking does bring it to you but you're really just doing the same kind of thing, just faster. I think he was trying to argue that the networking actually did change the information. Brantley talked about the redundancy of some of the paths and did pass on a wonderful quote he'd heard from someone about trying to keep up and worrying about missing something. Someone had said "if it's really important, the news will find me."

The redundancy of effort came up again in the blogs and wikis panel later in the afternoon. Not everyone will find the same path and information will fly around and you'll maybe find out what you need to know. But it's still just trying to find what you need to know. And I really can't buy Brantley's contention that content isn't the most important thing. Even when he said that sharing is more important than content, it's not worth sharing if it's not meaningful. Or, maybe, the receiver of the content will make something valuable of it even if it isn't inherently valuable. (This is probably all bunk ... as he changed his Facebook status to something else that didn't matter.)

Brantley started out by talking about everyone as publishers and communicators. I couldn't help but think of Benjamin and his writing on authorship (not that I really understand it). Maybe I should have just kept thinking about the modern architecture that we'd seen on the morning walking tour rather than trying to process what they'd said at the sessions. When I saw Dustin Wees, I said I really should do up some SAHARA cataloging, like the First Presbyterian Church in Bath.