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?