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.