19 December 2011

writing about olive oil and nonfiction

While ostensibly just a review of Extra virginity: the sublime and scandalous world of olive oil by Tom Mueller (W.W. Norton), this article by Dwight Garner in The New York times for December 8th expands on the very nature of nonfiction writing. I especially liked the sentences "It's an unintentional master class in how to say waxy and embalming things about fresh food" and "In this regard 'Extra virginity' is another reminder of why subpar nonfiction is so much better than subpar fiction. With nonfiction at least you can learn something." The review ends "That hollered obscenity reminds you that where there's a flask of olive oil, you also pray to find some vinegar."

18 December 2011

me and Herman Melville

I've started cataloging the books in the ancestral home in which I'm living. Yes, I'm doing it in LibraryThing as I have done with my personal library. It was interesting to watch the libraries closest to mine as I cataloged my own books. LibraryThing tells you the closest as weighted, raw, and recent. The weighted comparison is number of common books to total number of books. I've done about 60 books so far from the sectional bookcase in the front parlor downstairs and my closest weighted library is now Herman Melville's. Pretty neat.

I have read a couple of Melville's books in the past few years: Moby Dick and Redfern. Enjoyed 'em both. I think it was the first time I'd read Moby Dick but probably read excerpts at various points in school.

We'll see how this progresses and which books I might keep out of boxes in order to read. The point, you see, is to put some of the ancestral books in boxes so that my own books can come out of boxes.

07 December 2011

shrinking cities but CITIES still and the same

My meanderings so far in New Orleans have mostly been in the French Quarter or along the Esplanade to the New Orleans Museum of Art or, from NOMA, along the avenues of Mid-City and the Garden District. All of that is higher ground than the Lower Ninth or Bywater so not hit as hard by Katrina flooding. Still, as you walk the streets, there are empty houses and lots. We can all read about shrinking cities but it is still sad to see the quotidian effect. New Orleans is different from Detroit; more of the emptiness is still fresh. I admit to having more experience with New Orleans than Detroit but when I visited Detroit a few years ago, it seemed like the vacant lots had mostly been planted or were overgrown. There were lots of broken-down houses but somehow they mostly didn't stretch into the street. Oh, that's right, I was driving and the stretch is way more apparent on foot than from a vehicle.

All of this is swirling in my mind as I wander the streets but I wanted to reflect here because of Roberto's last couple posts about being in New Haven: a relatively high crime rate, town-gown, real cities, streets versus art talks. When I commented, he responded that New Haven didn't seem like a "city" (he should come to Alfred for a bit of small-town town-gown reality) and New Orleans does. Yep.

04 December 2011

watching your templates redux

A year and a bit more ago, I blogged about an unfortunate incident in which the assistant of our state senator read the senator's letter of greeting and it was for the wrong sort of event. Watch "save as" or the "to:" line of email; it CAN be tricky. Anyway, I said then that I didn't know if I'd vote for her or not. Our senator, Cathy Young, does generally serve us well but her latest update letter to us bashed New York City. I hate that! Not only because I love NYC but because I think it is divisive, perhaps as divisive as some of the partisan politics we see too much of.

systems and rules

"The Los Angeles-based artist has long employed systems and rule-based procedures to widen the distance between concepts and their interpretation." -- from "Differential equations: Michael Ned Holte on the art of Charles Gaines," Artforum, Oct. 2011, p. 280-283. Part of an issue with tons of stuff about L.A. which, as you surely know, is very hot at the moment because of the Pacific Standard Time initiative.

One of the other essays is about Asco which was part of a question from Janice just a few days ago. They were new to me, I think, but, then, Janice is in California (S.F., not L.A.) and the Asco show at LACMA closes today!

Image from Steven Wolf Fine Arts website: "Greenhouse" by Charles Gaines http://www.stevenwolffinearts.com/dynamic/artwork_display.asp?ArtworkID=236

big words

Last night at supper, we were talking about the new names for the art studio courses, e.g., lab, project, team. Fuse Lab, Move Lab. We went into a free-floating play on words that started with co, starting with co-lab, the obvious extension to collaboration.

From somewhere, "consanguinity" popped into my brain. Michelle said "what??" and I was kind of glad the conversation kept racing past so I wouldn't have to test my understanding of the meaning of consanguinity. I was right and you can look it up if you want by clicking on the link (Wikipedia) under the word.

There's probably too much inbreeding in art practice anyway.

I want to grill Michelle one of these days about the hot words floating around the art world these days. Does she try to separate participatory art from social practice from relational art? Does she use the word interactive in conjunction with participatory? I like the latter much more than the former but in most of the articles I've read recently, the authors use the words almost synonymously or descriptively.

The image is from the Wikipedia article:
Arbor consanguinitatis in MS BNF lat. 4975, f.121, illustrating Bernard Gui's Arbor genealogiae regum Francorum. Source: http://classes.bnf.fr/arbre/grandes/lat4975_121.htm

23 November 2011

rhymes and homonyms

One of the last credits for Woody Allen's film "Zelig" is to Adele Lerner, now retired from the archives at the Cornell Medical School. Adele and I saw each other twice a year during the 1980s when we'd each represent our respective subject library associations at the Council of National Library and Information Association meetings. Since the excitement of seeing Adele's name in the "Zelig" credits, all the endless credits, I've watched them for all movies. It's a little upsetting when the film locations are not given or even hinted at.

I've just finished watching "Being Julia," the 2004 film directed by István Szabó, written by Ronald Harwood and Somerset Maugham, and starring Annette Bening. (More credits can be seen on imdb.com by clicking on the link under the film name above.)

My favorite credit for "Being Julia" is:
Loop Group - Sync or Swim
Who knows (who cares) what a Loop Group is? And of course it never hurts to have Jeremy Irons and Miriam Margolyes in the cast.

07 November 2011

discovery of the day: Kevin Wixted

Working on some more MoMA catalogs and the next one is for the "Keystones" show of works by Kevin Wixted at the David Beitzel Gallery in 2000. There's a nice essay by Justin Spring whose biography of Sam Steward I've just about finished. The paintings are very nice so I look him up on Google and, small world, he teaches at Alfred now.

Image from the web: http://beitzelfinearts.com/images/Wixted/kw01.htm (which no longer connects). Artist's website: http://kevinwixted.net/

04 November 2011

relax already

"The New York Times is absolutely extraordinary -- the density of language, the breadth of material. Reading it is a great pleasure, but it's not relaxing." -- RoseLee Goldberg, queen of performance art, in Art in America, November 2011, p. 61. Relaxing is overrated.

31 October 2011

obsessed with relational art

A year or so ago when I was at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College for a week of cataloging, Bronwen Bitetti (assistant librarian) asked somewhat innocently if there shouldn't be an LC subject heading for relational art, aka relational aesthetics. She was not having much trouble wrapping her parameters around it but was with conceptual art. For me, it was the other way around but then I got involved with reading art criticism in the heyday of conceptual art, the 1960s. Many conversations, live and online, have happened since then and I think I'm beginning to get a sense of relational art. Now I see it everywhere.

This morning over my breakfast cereal, I was reading the Weekend Arts section from Friday's New York Times. Karen Rosenberg was visiting the Carsten Höller show at the New Museum and said in her review that "Curators tend to place Mr. Höller under the umbrella of 'relational aesthetics,' which, as defined by the critic Nicolas Bourriaud, is all about transforming the museum into a 'festive, collective and participatory' space." She goes on to say that Höller's show isn't really that similar to Rikrit Tiravanija's cooking at MoMA or Maurizio Cattelan's conversation piece sculptures. Each does involve considerable relating between the artist and the audience. And all the sliding down tubes in the Höller exhibition reminds me of the ARLIS/NA-VRA conference reception at the Children's Museum in St Louis. But was that art?

Also in the Friday paper, Carol Vogel wrote about Tiravanija's installation at MoMA which involves serving Thai curry at lunch time. Fire regulations prohibit cooking in the gallery so, alas, the food must be prepared elsewhere in the museum. Still, Vogel quotes curator Ann Temkin: "It's part of what has been called 'relational aesthetics.' Joseph Beuys created social sculpture; it's the act of doing things together, where you, the viewer, can be part of the experience." That brings us back to Bronwen's and my first discussion of relational art and conceptual art.

Dropping "participatory" and "social" into the words above reflect what Bronwen and I are now grappling with. Much of art criticism uses these and LCSH doesn't have anything that tidily reflects "social practice" as it is regularly used by artists and art critics. LCSH does have a reference from "Participatory art" to "Interactive art." To me, "interactive art" sounds rather like interactive multimedia or video gaming; on the other hand, most every essay I've read recently that talks about participatory art uses "interactive" within 25 words of the mention of participatory art.

Art terminology changes over time and it makes it hard for us catalogers who want some sustained literary warrant before we establish a heading. A heading used a few times over a short period of time is probably handled better otherwise and our users probably aren't going to try to retrieve on little-used terms.

In my LibraryThing tagging, I'm a little loose with "conceptual art" and maybe with "artists books" but that's the good thing about personal cataloging. You can be selective and a bit idiosyncratic, though consistency still helps.

I know you're dying to know if Bronwen and I did anything about proposing a subject heading for relational art. As we were working on it, we discovered that LCSH already had "Relationism in art" and the title listed to justify it was actually CAP : art relationnel. We've proposed that that heading be changed to "Relational art" and we've added a scope note (thanks to Roberta Smith) and a couple more references and titles to justify it.

Life is relational and participatory, and both words are getting used pretty widely these days, e.g., participatory librarianship, relational acupuncture. I wanted to find a good picture to somehow represent this posting but ended up being reminded of Dennis Bellone's video of "Joseph Beuys is underrated" in which Bellone faces a fierce cat in imitation of Beuys's and the wolf. I couldn't find a still image on the web but you can watch the video at the link.

23 October 2011


This morning at breakfast at the Collegiate, I heard "Bronzino" and thought of the great painting at the Frick Collection ... which I'd seen just days earlier in a quickie trip to the city. Then I heard words that made it clear they were talking fish, not painting.


My dearest Sammy,
The Mix master came Easter Sunday, and we have not had time to more than read the literature put it together and gloat, oh so beautiful is the Mix master, so beautiful ... we are very happy to have it here, bless you Sammy, Madame Roux said oui il est si gentil, et en effet he is dear little Sammy, Easter morning, what a spring, lovely as I have never seen anything lovely ... Alice all smiles and murmurs in her dreams, Mix master

[Letter from Gertrude Stein to Samuel Steward, 1940, quoted in Secret historian: the life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade by Justin Spring, p. 76-77 in FSG paperback edition, 2011]

Leads one to wonder or reflect:

* Did Alice make her famous brownies with the Mixmaster?

* Are lovely days more dreamy? In the early days of World War II for Gertrude Stein. Or terrifying? The clear skies of 9/11 in New York City and the next few days.

* Steward mailed the Mixmaster by parcel post in November 1939 after having been with Gertrude and Alice at Bilignin, and leaving quickly in August when war seemed imminent.

* Gertrude Stein's words are musical. I'd love to see a revival of "In circles" by Al Carmines from Gertrude Stein's opera "A circular play" which I saw in 1968 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. We got the album and I copied it onto cassette and sometimes sing more or less every word as I'm driving somewhere.

18 October 2011

Meissen ≠ Messiaen

Bitter in the mouth by Monique Truong has been a wonderful read. I was not familiar with synesthesia and there was a wonderful section about artists, writers and musicians who sense things in extra ways. It starts on page 216 of the Random House paperback edition (just in case you want to go read it). The protagonist in Bitter is reminded by words of particular foods. Truong talks about Wassily Kandinsky who saw colors when he heard music. Messiaen saw "musician colors, not painter's colors" when he composed. Scriabin also saw color in music, inventing a clavier à lumières for his Prometheus which Lindamint dreams of seeing at its New York performance in 1915. I read this passage during the course of a day of gallery-hopping in New York City. After the Frick galleries, I was in the bookshop and there was a book on Meissen porcelain ... which I read as Messiaen. I didn't see colors, taste particular foods but it was sensational.

The picture? It's Kandinsky's "Composition 7" from a synesthesia blog.

17 October 2011

planning ahead

Lunch today was a lovely surprise for Heidi as she faces one of those zero birthdays. We celebrated and chatted and had a lovely time. Even Heidi realized hitting such a milestone didn't need to be the end of the world.

I hadn't seen GraceAnne DeCandido for a number of years though we occasionally exchange Facebook interactions. We were talking about aging, freelance employment, retirement, and other things appropriate for a zero-birthday lunch gathering. She said that some doctor or whoever had told her that she should always have two trips in the planning stages. What a good idea. My recent trip planning has been too amorphous and should involve more action. For example, I'd really like to go see Prospect 2.0 in New Orleans. Heidi said go. I whispered to myself: for Prospect, for everything I love about New Orleans.

All this reminds me that a couple times recently I've realized that my retirement planning wasn't full of dreams. Linda Cuccurullo said that she dreamed of being in Italy a lot when she retired, and her Facebook status recently indicated she was there. And there was a similar experience involving someone else though I can't place it at the moment.

And now I'm reading Bitter in the mouth by Monique Truong and we're learning about how the protagonist's great-uncle, Baby Harper, a retired librarian, started his traveling to those places he read about: Colombia for One hundred years of solitude, Chile for The obscene bird of night by José Donoso, Uruguay for The book of embraces by Eduardo Galeano, Rio de Janeiro for The hour of the star by Clarice Lispector.

Now I should stay home and fix the house so it doesn't look like the wonderful market building in New Orleans pictured above ... but I'd rather go to somewhere that I've read about, or not read about.

21 September 2011

Hamilton, Muniz, Wiley, Adams

Roberto wrote a few days ago about the fall 2011 exhibitions that he was looking forward to. Normally, I'm OK with being in Alfred and not seeing every exhibition in New York City. But Friday's Times had three articles on exciting things coming up in NYC. One isn't just coming up: the Grange, Alexander Hamilton's house in West Harlem, is open again in its new old location. I visited it a few times in its old squeezed location on Convent Avenue and once after it had been moved and was being worked on.
But now it's open in all its glory and the Times writer, Edward Rothstein, indicates it's a site to behold. So I'll do that next time in the city.

The show of works by Vik Muniz at Sikkema Jenkins & Company was one of the highlighted shows in the
"Art in Review" column of Friday's Times. This body of work is collages of famous works made from scraps of glossy magazines and the one they chose to illustrate was based on the "Floor Scrapers" of Gustave Caillebotte. A yummy painting that I most recently saw in Vienna in a show of works from the Orsay in Paris. Recent Facebook feed indicated that the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has just bought a Caillebotte of a guy toweling off after his bath. Looks yummy too.

The third ARTicle that especially caught my fancy was the "Inside Art" item by Carol Vogel on purchase of a Kehinde Wiley painting by the Jewish Museum. His work has caught my eye for many years. The Met had a large Wiley on the wall at the bottom of the mezzanine stairs for a while. The Jewish Museum's new painting is "Alios Itzhak" (2011) and it "depicts a handsome Ethiopian-Israeli man in a T-shirt and blue jeans, one hand on his hip, staring with attitude straight at the viewer."

We do have art and art talk in Alfred. This morning's Studio Visit with Lauren Frances Adams was interesting. She's now based in St Louis but grew up on a pig farm in North Carolina. Russian constructivist collage and textile arts play out in her work. She did a series of "Domestic Disturbances" that mix toile decorative pattern with war images, rather like Alighiero e Boetti war rugs, not stylistically. She has also done some work based on portraits of Queen Elizabeth I such as the miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard. Adams talked about how copying the work for hers based on the original brought details such as a horseshoe crab to her special attention. It reminded me how transcription gives you the same concentration on a written text.

When I was moving stuff around a couple weeks ago, I came across my great-grandfather's diary of his trip to Europe in the summer of 1902. It was probably that trip that my grandmother remembered during my last visit to her in the nursing home. She was one hundred years old, she couldn't remember me, but when I held up a postcard from a recent trip to Italy, she mentioned her father describing his time in Italy. The Rialto Bridge will do that to you: unforgettable.

The pictures above: my photo of the Hamilton house, taken June 2010; Vik Muniz "Floor Scrapers" from Sikkema Jenkins gallery website; Kehinde Wiley "Alios Itzhak" from the Times article.

13 September 2011


Sicily has pretty much been at the top of my "wanna go there" list for several years. At the moment, anywhere in Europe might do. I am reading The inheritance of Rome: a history of Europe from 400 to 1000 by Chris Wickham (Viking, 2009) and it was interesting to come to the passage below about Ibn Hawqal. It doesn't discourage me from visiting Sicily; rather, it adds to the story.

"The Arab geographer Ibn Hawqal (d. c. 990) hated Palermo and the Sicilians. Palermo itself, conquered by the Arabs from the Byzantines in 831, was rich and impressive, and Ibn Hawqal spends many pages on its amenities: the large mosque (ex-cathedral) which could contain 7,000 people; more than 300 other mosques, in an unparalleled density, sometimes actually adjoining each other; the very numerous and varied markets; the specialized papyrus production, the only one existing outside Egypt; the richly irrigated gardens surrounding. But the Palermitans wasted this latter fertility on cultivating onions, which they ate raw; the consequence was that 'one does not find in this town any intelligent person, or skilful, or really competent in any scientific discipline, or animated by noble or religious feeling.' No one was qualified to be qadi (judge) there; they were all too unreliable. Schoolmasters were very numerous, but all idiots; they did the job in order to avoid military service; nevertheless, the Sicilians as a whole considered them to be brilliant. They pronounced Arabic wrong; they could not hold down a logical argument (Ibn Hawqal provides examples); they had no idea what Iraqi legal and theological schools believed, 'even though their doctrinal position is very well known.' Nor did the Sicilians know Islamic law properly, particularly in the countryside. Ibn Hawqal was so incensed about all this that he actually wrote a whole book about Sicilian idiocy, unfortunately lost; but he tells us quite enough in his huge geographical survey, The Book of the Depiction of the Earth. He ends amazed that the Sicilians could be so poor, at least these days (in the 970s), when their land was so rich. The only thing they made really well was linen." (p. 318)

Definitely not very complimentary. It was especially compelling to read this so soon after the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and all of the articles on cultural and political diversity. By the way, I have no problem with people teaching as a way to avoid military service, though clearly it would be good if they did it well.

(In the book, the word "qadi" about halfway through the quotation has diacritics: macron on the vowels and a dot below the "d.") (The image is from the Wikipedia article on Ibn Hawqal with caption: 10th century map of the World by Ibn Hawqal.)

10 September 2011

WEMI schmeemy

Why is it that I cannot get more excited about the FRBR Group 1 entities? The most recent moment of ennui (or more) came after reading an email exchange in a working group I'm supposedly working on. The discussion of whether subjects could apply to Expressions, Manifestations, and Items, or only Works, just saddened me. Isn't the ultimate model that you have an entity and relationships? Probably doesn't map well, or play well with others.

The WEMI model does have some strengths for collocating editions. It's hard for me to think outside the MARC box (aka catalog cards). The manifestation model that we've been using since way back (to the earliest library catalogs, I think; just go look at the old British Museum printed catalog) does a satisfactory job. If you had fields that would do more than simply index things the same way, you could get from a Manifestation or Expression up to a Work. I used to dream at Cornell of a way we could just add copies of Hamlet and other classic works rather than have individual records. The online environment should allow you to appropriate all of the common elements of the Work and add whatever is individual about the resource in hand; the user would get a cluster of editions.

And then there's real life. Today was the memorial service for Lois Smith who probably was my first model in life, that is, the first non-family, non-parent-selected, non-neighbor person who taught me how to get on in life. She was a librarian (naturally) and pacifist (also not surprising). I've done library and pacifist too but, even more, it was her way of living with enthusiasm, acceptance, and modesty that I credit as a good model for living. This would have been Mrs Smith's 101st birthday (she died during the summer and Alfred lives on an academic calendar).

Tonight they're doing a reading of "9/10" by Richard Willett, addressing the terror of 9/11, ten years later. As much as I feel for us Americans, perhaps especially those with first-hand connections, I cannot get over the tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan people who have been slaughtered in revenge. Your terrorist is my freedom fighter.

This was rather a ramble over a variety of territory. I recently was cruising the blogs of a couple friends and was struck by the thoughtfulness of their postings. And I was touched that a cousin of mine mentioned that she enjoyed my Facebook postings, particularly a rather dry and wry appreciation of Robert Ryman's "The Elliott Room" at the Art Institute of Chicago.

06 August 2011

Donald Charles Seibert, 1929-2010

Today was the memorial service for Don Seibert, music librarian at Syracuse for upwards of thirty years until his retirement in the 1990s. One of the wonderful remembrances, by Dick Bough, was of Don as older brother and younger brother, mentor and joy-filled friend. Dick told a story of an Adirondack hike up some mountain. As they got to the top of the mountain, it started to rain. Don stripped and danced in the rain. I tried to find a picture of a man dancing naked in the rain but had no success. You have to do a brain picture of the joy.

Someone else mentioned that Don's name authority record had been updated for his death and included "Tchaikovsky scholar" as part of his accomplishments. Don would have loved that.

So here's to music, name authorities, and dancing in the rain, and to Don and his life well lived.

15 July 2011

Alan Sonfist, land artist

The summer 2011 issue of Art news has an article by Ann Landi on Alan Sonfist. I loved walking by his garden of native plants not far from my apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City. Sonfist grew up in the Bronx and contemplated a life as a farmer but discovered that modern farming was more real estate and finance than working with the earth. He discovered, during his student days at the University of Illinois, a book by Hoyt L. Sherman, a professor of fine arts at Ohio State. Sonfist "went on to study under Sherman at Ohio State before returning to New York with a changed perspective on his calling."

14 July 2011

nature and art, before and after

We went on some expeditions to seaside places when I visited CDS in Maine. After exploring some neighborhoods in Portland, we went down to see the Portland Head Light and then on to Two Lights Head. It was pretty exciting as the tide was coming in and the waves crashed ever higher. We went out to Georgetown Island the next day. It's one of the finger points along the coast between Portland and Rockland, South of Bath. The landscape is lovely. The water wasn't too rough either day but the waves are relentless.

I went to the Portland Museum of Art on my last day to see the Marin and Maine modernists shows, along with the permanent collection. Marin really paints the spirit of the ocean and I could feel the ocean as well as see it when I looked at the works. It was wonderful to have the natural and painted worlds so close in time and space.

The Maine modernists show was, however, the reverse. The show included considerable documentary material about the various artists who had worked in Seguinland. That term was then used for several communities South of Bath, including Georgetown and named after Seguin Island which is at the mouth of the Kennebec River. Artists in the show included several that I am fond of, such as F. Holland Day and Marsden Hartley, as well as others with whom I am familiar. I wished that I'd been to that show beforehand. I took a picture near where Day had his house and studio, and where he took some of his romantic pictures of naked young men. Another picture was of a cove, more or less across the road from the Lachaise house.

Hartley used to visit Gaston Lachaise and his wife at their house in Georgetown Center and moved permanently back to Maine soon after visiting Mrs Lachaise after Gaston died in 1935. If we'd seen the show and had the catalog in hand, perhaps we could have wasted a lot of time to find the actual locations and poked our noses into someone's private space. We just got the aura.

There's a wonderful small Hartley in the show that has splotches of rock and water. That was great to see after having stood on the rocks, watching waves.

I'm not sure why Seguinland is so named but I couldn't help but wonder if it was related to Seguin, Texas. Wikipedia tells me that the city in Texas was named after Juan Seguín, veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto and later a senator. I didn't check the Moderns catalog but the web hasn't yet told me the source of Seguinland in Maine.

30 June 2011

Make It Right in New Orleans

A couple of the Make It Right houses in New Orleans. When I was there last week for ALA, I walked from the French Quarter through the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater to the Lower Ninth Ward which was the neighborhood hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The up-top porch of the house on the left looked like a splendid place to spend a warm breezy evening, perhaps with a mint julep. More pictures from the walk and New Orleans at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56294332@N00/sets/72157627071715064/

metaphorically speaking

Some of you may remember my musings in early 2010 on the right bumper sticker to stick on my then new used car. Fanny and I have been together now for about 18 months and I only just stuck the bumper stickers on the car .... but I couldn't quite apply the "Art makes me horny" one created by Aaron Krach. It's in a series of "Indestructible artifacts," after all.

The thought behind the bumper sticker came around again in the book I read as I flew home from New Orleans: The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The hero of the book is Arnold "Junior" Spirit who decides he has to leave the reservation in order to avoid alcohol and/or an early death. He transfers to a new school just off the rez. He and his new friend Gordy are discussing the size of the library and how long it would take to read all of the books, even though it's a pretty small library. Arnold says "Okay, so it's like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn." Gordy replies "Yes, yes, yes, yes. Now doesn't that give you a boner?" Being 14-year old boys, you can imagine the discussion that ensues as Gordy tries to explain to Arnold what he means: metaphorical boner, joy, boner is funnier, reading freak, joyous freak.

Thinking about metaphorical boners from reading is like art that makes you horny. The true aesthetic, spiritual, orgiastic feeling of delight that comes from an enjoyed work of literary or visual art.

True diary has illustrations by Ellen Forney, done as if being done by Arnold who draws cartoons. I thought there was one is which "metaphorical" was replaced by "metaphysical," resulting in a metaphysical boner. I can't find the illustration at the moment but the metaphorical/metaphysical dyad can continue to bounce around in my brain as much as it wants to.

There is much to like in True diary. A ways into the book, I noticed that it is branded by Little, Brown as young adult fiction. Alexie doesn't talk down to us and he deals with adult concerns, or at least growing-to-adulthood concerns.

But, you ask, what bumper stickers DID I stick on Fanny? "War is not the answer" from the Friends Council on National Legislation and the blue and yellow equals sign of the Human Rights Fund. "Art makes me horny" remains on the bulletin board in front of my desk.

22 May 2011

Francis Alÿs in NYC

What is it about Francis Alÿs that makes his work so intriguing? The retrospective organized by the Tate Modern and now at MoMA and P.S. 1 was top of the to-do list on my trip last week to New York City. The videos are compelling, simple but compelling. The paintings are quirky, quaint and just grab you. The Peter Schjeldahl essay in The New Yorker for May 23rd grabs the essence way better than I could. He talks about the simple pleasure in Alÿs's works: chasing tornadoes, dropping his camera when the angry dogs bark and bark, driving repeatedly up a dusty hill (set to a band rehearsal: forward when playing, backward between bits of rehearsing), primitive paintings, walking with a gun in the street, the Coldstream Guards moving from random to ordered and dispersing.

I've been intrigued by the work of Francis Alÿs for some years. Is it the quixotic diaeresis? Whatever, when I read recently that his birth name was Francis de Smedt, I had to check his NACO record and the birth name was indeed missing. So I added it to the record. In all of the MoMA documentation, I never did see it mentioned.

The image is from Tate page for the exhibition.

13 April 2011

miller & shellabarger

Another good artist talk at AU: Miller & Shellabarger, from Chicago. When a student asked about seeing Cai Guo-qiang, Ai Weiwei, and Kara Walker in their gunpowder, black sunflower seed, and cutout works, they wisely responded that materials can be similar but the intent and context are different. An artist that uses oil paint is not accused of ripping off Caravaggio. The point of Ai's seeds is the crafting of the seeds; Miller & Shellabarger use it as a transitory material. Kara Walker uses her cutout to talk about racial stereotypes; M & S use it to talk about their relationship. Any material influence is more an homage than plagiarism. They were also asked about their daily life and Shellabarger responded that he tries to work on his art every day, discipline like going to the gym which he doesn't do ... but I understand. This freelance life needs some discipline too. You get out of practice.

The illustration is taken from the images on their artist page at the Western Exhibitions.

08 April 2011

pepper, silva & goriunova

It's been an especially rich bouquet of art talks the last few days. Today was a gallery talk by Jen Pepper in her show entitled "A glimpse, spark & flash" at the Llewellyn Gallery at Alfred State College. It's a reinstallation of work that was part of a show at the Everson in Syracuse, with changes because of the tsunami in Japan and the Pacific. In the Everson, the blanket of woven wire (1000 feet, in honor of Rauschenberg) was suspended likes waves or medical instrument readings. Here, it was splashed against the wall and spilling onto the floor. The rubber-coated and white-painted silk poppies were strewn on the wall rather than planted in a "pizza box." It reminded me of Petah Coyne but much more approachable (and Pepper, as she calls herself, let me touch one of the buds).

Pepper is a dictionary reader and words are important to her and her art, e.g., liminal space (because of its potency), "soy" which in Dogon means both woven material and the spoken word as it does in Hebrew.

Another exhibition at Cazenovia used engineering student notebooks from 1927-1932, discarded when Kanakadea Hall at Alfred University was renovated (other stuff went to the archives so it wasn't mass destruction). The notebooks included instructions like "Measure a line in which one end is inaccessible." Sounds like Sol LeWitt.

She and her partner did a piece entitled "I'm only number 2 ..." at the Spoleto festival in Charleston some years ago. They "hid" pencils around the city and folks were supposed to let them know if they found one. The results can be seen at http://cracksinthepavement.com/. Paula Stewart and I started exchanging museum pencils from our travels during the time I was at the Amon Carter Museum. I still buy the pencils but they don't get sent Paula-ward very often. I use them.

Olga Goriunova spoke on Wednesday about "Aesthetic emergence: brilliance, repetition & organizational tendencies on the Internet." She is one of the founders of runme.org which "says it with software art!" She spoke of runme.org as an art platform or locus, a catalyst, with creative energy to make brilliant aesthetic work. The talk was quite philosophical and I felt rather like I was drowning some of the time. One of her interesting observations was that new devices are closing down some of the creativity that was possible. The devices have more closed systems and applications. And they do things for you. She showed a wonderful piece of software that took what you're typing and turned it into banners and streams of letters, moving around the screen. Now, there's probably an app so you can just do it. Toward the end of the question-and-answer period, she said "software is fundamental" and I misheard it as "software is temperamental." Also true.

Bisi Silva spoke on Monday and the title of her talk was "Curating in Africa." She put emphasis on the "in." For a long time, western art curators have done shows of contemporary African art, or African art curators have done shows in Europe and America. She is the founder and director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos. Silva is a graduate of the curatorial program at Bard College (home of one of my freelance gigs).

The library at CCA Lagos has 3500 volumes and it's quite an accomplishment to build up an art library in Nigeria. 3500 seems like a small number of volumes but I assume it's quite focused. It made me wonder if we couldn't start a gift program from the art libraries of the U.S.

And I just can't avoid thinking about cataloging as I listen to things. Silva used "lens-based art" to describe artists who use photography, video, and film. We could use a term (subject heading) that covers the waterfront. Pepper likes installation art because you are in the work. File that in the "relational aesthetics" pile for consideration of that LCSH proposal.

Woven through those art talks were presentations by the Alfred State architectural students on their projects for Main Street in Alfred and a talk on "How right was Einstein? or, Stringent tests of the theory of general relativity" by Dipankar Maitra. New jargon: GR.

I must stop now. The Alfred University theater department is presenting "A streetcar named Desire" ... preparation for my June visit to New Orleans for ALA?

03 March 2011

Foster Lake

Bryan Daly read his Phi Beta Kappa "Wit and Wisdom" prize-winning poem "The artist on his shores" at today's Bergren Forum. He introduced the poem by talking about Eddy Foster who created Foster Lake in the middle 20th century. Some of the words I scribbled down as he was reading: the tarp of the sky, it's only irony (about the Segway inventor trying to fly in his Segway), how can I float so long?, eulogy (for Mr Foster) or elegy (for the lake). For Daly who grew up near a reservoir that serves as water supply for Boston, a lake is a deep body of water in which towns have been buried. Alfred's little Foster Lake is not deeper than twenty feet and resides at the top of a hill with two outlets that run to different watersheds. It "miraculously" filled the summer it was built (1950) ... with a bit of help from heavy rains associated with a hurricane. Daly's elegy to the lake was beautiful and thoughtful, and evocative.

His thoughts about Eddy Foster were tangled up with thoughts of his grandfathers. My first trips to Foster Lake were as a child when my family would visit my maternal grandmother and great aunt. And today would have been my father's 92nd birthday. The lakeside trees were small then, and now it's a forest. My mother was a legendary floater too.

We're still buried in snow here and Daly had lovely wintry photographs to "illustrate" his poem. The picture above is one I took last summer during a bird walk around the lake. The walk around the lake was one of my mother's favorite times. So today is for parents and grandparents and hope for spring.

28 February 2011

relics and desire

February disappeared. I meant to write up some of my thoughts from the College Art Association annual conference in New York City. It hasn't happened. Daniel and Gary very kindly let me stay several extra days so I could do a bunch of gallery hopping and see friends and whatnot.

One of the shows I saw was "Objects of Devotion and Desire" at the Leubsdorf Art Gallery at Hunter College. It's on until April 30th and the catalog is available in PDF from the exhibition website. The show was put together by medievalist Cynthia Hahn and the students in a contemporary art class. It included a few reliquaries from the Metropolitan as well as recent works of art that played off the theme.

I read Hahn's catalog essay on the bus ride back upstate. She traces the history of relics and uses the neologism re-licing "in order to put the focus on a verb or action rather than a noun or object" (p. 9). My first thought was that this was a lost opportunity to turn a "c" word into a "ck" word when you use the "ing" ending of the present participle, e.g., picnicking, frolicking. Then, it occurred to me that "re-licing" would be "relicking." This had potential for seeming naughty ... but perhaps is wonderfully appropriate for relics.

The picture is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the work is: Arm reliquary. 13th cent. (with 15th cent. additions). French. Silver, silver-gilt, glass and rock crystal cabochons over wood core. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. Accession number 17.190.353. For more information, click on the name of the work.

30 January 2011

mud pies!??!!

In an article on the return of "Baby Doc" Duvalier to Haiti, the New York Times says that women are selling mud pies out front of Fort Dimanche which once held political prisoners. Mud pies!?! When we were kids and made mud pies, we didn't HAVE to eat them because there was nothing else to eat. Just imagine.

Elsewhere in the paper, there's a review of The haves and have-nots: a brief and idiosyncratic history of global inequality by Branko Milanovic. The reviewer, Catherine Rampell, states that the richest 5% in India makes the same as or less than the poorest 5% in the U.S. That's even counting the Mumbai McMansions. No wonder folks risk their lives to get to the rich countries.

I did find it heartening that Mexico was making progress on universal health care but the overwhelming feeling of social global helplessness in the face of world problems made it a little hard, and very guilt-ridden, to finish my simple breakfast of pancakes and one egg ... especially in light of getting excited about the airfares from Aer Lingus for late spring.

12 January 2011

once more: the comma

Barbery and Byatt fans will remember earlier posts on the comma and good, long sentences. As I work my way through Babel Tower, I encountered this sentence. The last comma would probably have sent the Barbery concierge into a tizzy:

"He is not ready, and may never be, and she may not want him to be, now, or yet, or ever, how can she tell, but the law and Nigel will make it be solid, be cut and dried -- cut, and dried -- gone ..." [closing ellipsis in text]

And you might find the essay on the long sentence by Ed Park in the December 24th New York Times Book Review interesting.

02 January 2011


Hmm. I wonder which is more brutal: the Carpenter Center, Le Corbusier's brutalist masterpiece (top), or what they've done to the old building of the Fogg Art Museum (bottom).

01 January 2011

Polish cabin fever

New Year's Day 2011 in Boston, and the weather is pretty close to perfect. It's in the 50s (at least) and the snow from the Blizzard of 2010 is disappearing except the stacks. What you need after the Eve's drunken excess is a quiet walk around the neighborhood. I'm at Bill's in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he suggested that I might want to see how the Fogg looks as it is being deconstructed and reconstructed to Renzo Piano's grand plan. They've taken down the back wall, lots of the guts, and Werner Otto Hall from the 1990s. The Fogg is next to the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts done by Le Corbusier in the early 1960s, his only building in North America (not including the U.N. building) and a grand brutalist building. You can see a lot more of Carpenter without Werner Otto and Fogg back in the way.

After I got home to Bill's, he was almost done with preparations for folks coming over at 4 and I insisted that he go get some fresh air rather than my going to get a bottle of wine. WGBH was playing a Rimsky-Korsakov work and it ended. The announcer started telling us what she would play next and I thought I'd like to hear the "Warsaw Concerto" ... so she announced she was about to play the "Warsaw Concerto." Magic. It must be a sign that the coming year will be fine.

For the curious, the picture is of the Lazienski Palace in Warsaw, taken by Andrew Ward, Getty Images, and picked at "random" from the Google Image results from "warsaw poland." The picture with snow was from a war game so not appropriate for me. And the fact that I picked a picture of a neoclassical (Palladian) building is totally coincidental.