30 November 2012

what are you going to call it?

A few months after I moved to Alfred, toward the end of 2009, I bought a 2001 Subaru Forester from the proverbial lady who'd had it since she bought it new and which had been maintained by Collins (my brother's regular mechanic) since she bought it. It was Royal Blue and just had to be named after my mother whose favorite color was blue. Her full name (the Forester, that is) was Frances P. Forester but her nickname was Fanny. And, yes, I did enjoy the play on fanny.

Fanny went to Collins for an oil change and look at the power steering a few weeks ago. The framework for the power steering and the back supporting members showed significant enough rust, and inspection was coming up in December, that the Collins said it wouldn't be worth repairing the rusted out bits. Sadly, Fanny was taken to pasture, being in this case retirement to my brother's stable of vehicles to serve as a parts car for Jeanette's 2002 Forester and a stick-shift training ground for my nephew who is now permitted.

Meanwhile, I drove the Blazer from the stable as I thought about what to do next. I wanted a simple car and dreamed of the Fiat Cinquecento. I spent a Saturday with Rachel in Rochester doing test drives. The Fiat was just as cute as could be but it really is small. The column behind your left shoulder is fat because there's an airbag in it. It causes a bit of a blind spot. Though the steering was tight, the stick-shift throw was not. On to the Honda dealer. They didn't have a stick-shift Fit so I test drove an automatic. It was a competent car and gets high ratings but it didn't thrill. On to the Toyota dealer to look at a Yaris. They had a white 2010 Yaris stick-shift with only 17K miles and it was a dream to drive, zippy, really nice short stick-shift throw. I talked to the salesman and they've gunked up the dashboard. The 2010 dash is beautifully simple; it's been turned into a space ship control panel in the current model.

I spent Saturday evening until Monday morning weighing the Fiat versus the Yaris and hadn't reached any conclusion. It would be nice to have a car with a local dealer so I went over to test drive a Ford Fiesta and it rather answered all of the dilemmas. The basic S model is simple. The stick shift was fun to drive. The steering was tight. The gas mileage is pretty good. So ... you guessed it. I settled on the Fiesta. But what was I going to call it?

The Fiesta was black and I was still enthralled with the Fiat so I thought about Franco Nero but he's not an actor that I am especially familiar with or enamored of. Giulietta? I also looked at the new Dodge Dart which is based on the Giulietta by Alfa Romeo, and I love Giulietta Masina. Other names swirled about but I guess I figured it needed to be Spanish, as in fiesta.

Hieronymus Bosch has always (as always as possible) been one of my favorite artists. The Spaniards call him El Bosco but the Prado website uses Hieronymus as his forename. More swirling thoughts. In my rough (9th grade was my only study of the language) Spanish, I came up with Hieronymus, el Bosco de la Fiesta. I checked with Elizabeth who speaks English, Spanish, and Hungarian (and probably more) and she looked at me as if I had said "the cow who jumped over the moon." I explained how the Spaniards call the painter El Bosco, the Bosch deriving from his living in 's-Hertogenbosch (or den Bosch or Bois-le-Duc or the duke's woods). She said it was just weird but at least it wasn't vulgar. You might have La Fiesta en el Bosque (the fiesta in the woods). As a matter of fact, googling that will get you 19 million responses including a Gran Fiesta en el Bosque sponsored by the Fundación Global Nature.

Anyway, meet Hieronymus, el Bosco de la Fiesta.

10 November 2012

taking notes

About a month ago, Beth Johnson spoke at the Bergren Forum on "The social psychology of learning styles and its implications for pedagogy." I haven't ever studied education as a discipline though I had certainly heard of visual or verbal learners. One of the special things I carried away from her talk was that my inveterate note taking (some might say scribbling and doodling) was reaffirming (or elaborating, as she said) what the speaker said. I was naturally taking notes as she spoke. I was converting (repeating) her spoken words as written.

In the New York Times for November 7th, there's an article entitled "Note-taking's past, deciphered today" by Jennifer Schuessler. She's reporting on a conference that concluded a four-year initiative at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lots of interesting stuff in the article including an anecdote about Peter Burke who sent students out from his classes at the University of Cambridge for note-taking. Clearly, they were being inattentive to his lecture. There was a conference panel on comparisons between note-taking and compulsive hoarding. Guilty, as charged.

The picture is by Charlie Mahoney for the Times and appears in the article. It's described in the paper merely as "a copy of Shakespeare's 'Othello'."

The Bergren Forum is, by the way, one of the delights of living in Alfred. Every Thursday at 12:10 pm, someone speaks about something. It's as varied as you can imagine for a liberal arts college. From GIS to African music, learning styles to quarks, butterflies to student trips in Eastern Europe.


blogged about the Shermaniana exhibit we did at the Amon Carter in 1994, a gift to Milan Hughston for April Fool's Day. Janine Henri suggested that I should do an online version so I've been posting Shermaniana on Tumblr at http://shermaniac.tumblr.com/ for a while. As the caption says, I get distracted and post other stuff. If you haven't tried Tumblr, it's very easy to reblog something.

Wednesday's New York Times had a picture of voters at the Center School in Sherman Township, Iowa. I couldn't find the picture in the online version so you'll have to take my word for it.

The picture of this street sign was taken in Meadville, Pennsylvania when I went out there to see a show in February 2010.

14 October 2012

income inequality

Sitting in the Collegiate, reading the Sunday New York Times. One of the front page articles is on Donna's Diner in Elyria, Ohio. It's a small operation, just barely making it. The Collegiate seems to thrive but it's through a lot of hard work on the part of John and Chelly, the owners, and their staff. I couldn't help but think of Alfred's diner and Donna's in Elyria, and how the hard work pays so little relative to that of the hedge fund managers and Romneys of the world.

And then, a few pages in, there was an article about young boys in Mahi Par Pass who used crushed Pepsi bottles as signals to heavy trucks and cars as the traffic navigates the hairpin turns of the mountain pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the boys does this work, as the only employed person in his family, so his brothers can go to school. What if all of the money for war materiel was spent on schools and other services?

These thoughts seem to come naturally, and vigorously, to me and all of us during the election season.

10 September 2012

yes is more

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't really familiar with the work of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). I have indexed a couple things for the Avery Index but I'm in love after reading "High rise" by Ian Parker in the New Yorker for September 10th. BIG has just opened an office in New York City and Bjarke Ingels has moved from Denmark to New York, partly so he can oversee the work on the "giant white wedge of an apartment building that will fill most of an empty block on West Fifty-seventh Street" (seen above in an image from the Architectural Digest website, courtesy there of BIG & Glessner).

Ingels published Yes is More: an Archicomic on Architectural Evolution in 2009, closest copy to Alfred is at Cornell, according to Worldcat but it's not too expensive. What else I learned from the article is that Ingels is pleased that his Danish web address is big.dk.

08 September 2012

reading and hopping

The tag "books and reading" has overtaken "galleryhopping." It's not that I don't have any galleries to hop through in the Southern Tier of western New York State. As a matter of fact, yesterday's post about Gregory Battcock was written between an opening of Josef Schützenhöfer's works on paper at the Cohen Center and that for "Reading through Beuys" at the Fosdick-Nelson Gallery. I stopped in the ceramics library to read Artforum while I waited for the later opening to open. But I do have more time for reading and less art to hop.

And I just finished reading City boy by Edmund White, his memoir of his "life in New York during the 1960s and '70s." I really enjoyed parts of it and found it all interesting, partly because I didn't come out until 1980 and have some regrets that I didn't come out during the high times of gay liberation. White is six years older than I am, not enough older that I couldn't imagine having lived through the times as he did ... if I'd lived in New York City. White is a great believer in the special glory of NYC which I understand.

And back to Schützenhöfer who lives in a small town in eastern Austria (when he's not being the Randall Professor at Alfred University) and who extolled the value of living on the periphery last night in his gallery talk. He also talked about how his Liberation Monument was vandalized and was then displayed in Graz, a much larger city, after being repaired.

The Beuys show, curated by Andrew Deutsch, includes a lot of books and other publications, not too surprising for a "Reading through Beuys" exhibition. A few of the pictures reminded me of seeing the Beuys show at the Guggenheim, oh, maybe fifteen years ago. But I generally can't think of Beuys without being reminded of the riff on Beuys and the coyote, wherein Dennis Bellone in his "Beuys" spends some very scary time with a domestic pussycat in a similar setting. I was lucky enough to actually meet that work in Ghent when it was on display in the inaugural show at the new contemporary space.

Before I "go," I want to pass on a wonderful characterization of an anarchist from the closing pages of City boy (p. 293): During the 1970s I moved away from seeing myself as a socialist and even a fellow traveler to recognizing communism for the sustained international nightmare it was and myself as an anarchist (not the bomb-throwing sort but an extreme individualist).

The illustration is a watercolor by Josef Schützenhöfer of a North Carolina hillside, 1980, from the Werkstadt Graz website. It wasn't in the exhibition at Cohen but there were some truly beautiful watercolors done in Istria as well as the more political works. Not that there wasn't some political undercurrent in some of the Istrian scenes.

07 September 2012

... rather arid semiotic scholasticism ...

"For [Gregory Battcock], Conceptual art had not yet devolved into the rather arid semiotic scholasticism so common today, which, whether descriptive or more ambitiously deconstructive, tends to focus either on Conceptualism's creation of new kinds of objects (albeit 'dematerialized' ones) or on its philosophical demonstration of the artwork's unstable discursive foundations." -- from "Transformer: David Joselit on Gregory Battcock" in Artforum international, v. 51, no. 1, September 2012, p. 508. I remember buying the Battcock anthologies on new tendencies in art, way back in the 1960s and early 1970s.

12 August 2012

wang shu: ningbo

Today's arts section in The New York Times has an article about Wang Shu who won this year's Pritzker Prize. His architecture uses rough and sustainable materials and the shapes are sometimes simple, sometimes sculptural and complex like the Ningbo History Museum (pictured above, image from the About.com: Architecture site). Though I like this building for itself, I also like its evocation of new brutalism.

The Times article:

There has been critical press about the selection of Wang Shu as an individual even though his work is done in collaboration with his wife Lu Wenyu. Marcia Thorne, the Pritzker Prize's executive director, is quoted in the April 2012 issue of Architectural Record as saying that the prize committee looked at the individual as well as the team and decided that Wang Shu was "exceptional and worthy of the prize."

It has been great over the past few months to be doing my latest gig: indexing for the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals. There too, I sometimes debate with myself about individual versus firm access points. As Weinberger said: both/and; it doesn't need to be either/or ... except perhaps for the Pritzker. Christie and I were talking the other day on the phone about the irreplaceable delight of working (being) in a good architecture or art library and having the periodicals at the ready for perusing. It's nice to have Architectural RecordOld-house JournalMetropolis, others on the "to do" stack rather than the "when I've got time" stack.

07 August 2012


Yesterday, my older sister asked me if I'd recommended the movie "The soloist" (no, it was my younger sister that recommended it to me). Today, I am reading Modern painters, July/August 2012 issue and come across the work of Alexander Seton in an article by Jeremy Eccles. The work illustrated above is entitled "Soloist" and is carved of Bianco Carrara marble, about three feet high. Seton's "own values can be discerned in his acknowledged influences: the craftsmanship of Bernini, the wit of Claes Oldenburg and the Swiss artist Not Vital, and the provocations of Christo. In 2006, Seton placed a sculpted marble figure of a man in a sleeping bag right outside the hotel where the Helen Lempriere Sculpture Award was being presented, prompting at least one guest to ask a guard, 'What are you going to do about that poor man sleeping on the lawn?'"

The 35-year-old Seton grew up, by the way, "with tree-changing (an Australian term meaning they retired to the bush) parents in rural Australia, surviving without electricity in an area close to the Wombeyan marble quarry and first taking hammer and chisel to stone at age 8."

The photo is appropriated from the Devid Sketchbook website and there are lots of views of the sculpture from various angles if you google "alexander seton soloist" images.

17 July 2012

Charlotte Buell Coman

It was frustrating not to remember the woman artist I mentioned in the most recent blog entry so I wrote the Arnot Art Museum and got the answer from Laura Wetmore of collections. The information on the painting is:

CHARLOTTE BUELL COMAN (American,1833-1925)
Oil on canvas, 14 x 24 inches
Gift of Alexander D. Falck, Jr., 1969

I don't have a picture of it (and the Arnot doesn't have one on its website) but googling got a decent response of other paintings by Coman. The estimated price on one painting that was up for auction not too long ago was $1000-1500 so maybe I should just go get me one.

A nice side benefit of seeing the Coman was that the name reminded me of Charles Caryl Coleman who did wonderful American Renaissance decorative paintings. The Met has one with "Apple Blossoms" in a majolica jug captioned "Fiore." Is it the Italian that attracts?

13 July 2012

a little "Dahesh" in Elmira

The postcard from the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira said that the "Pasture perfect: the domestic animal in paintings & sculpture" exhibition would close on Saturday, the 14th. It also said that one might be able to see real animals on the lawn on Friday afternoon. So off I went to Elmira. There were indeed some Highland cattle on the lawn and the show was very enjoyable. Most of the works in the show were from the Arnot permanent collection with some additions from a private collection.

Mr Arnot collected lots of Barbizon-infused works and his bequest established the museum in the early 20th century. "Paature perfect" included a fine painting by Auguste Bonheur (Rosa's brother), a couple by Eugène Joseph Verboeckhoven, a lovely one by a woman artist whose surname started with C (should have written it down and it's not in the book on the collection: A collector's vision), "The red cow" by Constant Troyon, and others. The painting by the woman artist reminded me a bit of Andrew Wyeth since she included some chickens in an area of almost white (figure-ground study).

After spending time with the animals and the exhibition of regional artists, I hung out in the permanent collection salon with my punch and popcorn: a couple fine paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme, a cardinal painting by Jehan-Georges Vibert, etc. etc. As I was soaking in the art, it occurred to me that these few galleries were very satisfying at the same time that they were a relative pittance compared to the Metropolitan where I used to escape when I needed to soak up some art.

It's been a fairly rich couple weeks of museum-going since I got to the Albright-Knox on the 3rd of July when I was in Buffalo to pick Bill Connor up at the airport. He came out to western New York for my family's July 4th gathering. Since he'd never been so far West in New York State, we also went a bit further to see Niagara Falls but just from the American side. No problem, it was great fun.

03 June 2012

Mali and Modena

Thinking about Chris Huemer today based on two place-related articles in today's New York Times. She was on her way to Timbuktu for Christmas one year when I visited: she had always wanted to see it, she didn't have other Christmas plans, she did it. Now it would be difficult (read: impossible) to go to Timbuktu because Islamist rebels and Tuaregs are in power in Northern Mali and have instituted Shariah. Chris may have wanted to visit Timbuktu but her favorite cathedral was that of Modena in Emilia-Romagna. Recent quakes have caused significant damage in Emilia-Romagna. Many treasures from smaller towns and the countryside are being taken to the ducal palace in Sassuolo for safe-keeping (fingers crossed). That palace is where Tim Litzmann had an installation when Christie and I were in Emilia-Romagna in 2001. The palace was closed but I've peeked through the window.

"Quakes deal irreparable blow to an Italian region's cultural heritage"

"In Timbuktu, harsh change under Islamists"

(image from Art in Embassies page of the U.S. Department of State:
Carrie Mae Weems, House from Africa Series, 1993, Silver print)

27 May 2012

at swim, two boys

Down in western Kentucky, helping my sister fetch her RV from its snowbird perch. We went exploring in Paducah yesterday and came home via Wickliffe which is on the Mississippi River. We found the town boat launch and two boys swimming after playing basketball. All very romantic.

10 May 2012

knee-jerk preservationist

There was a time when I was quite the knee-jerk preservationist but now I'm more of a both-and kind of person (you CAN have it all). That is, you can have historic buildings but the built environment can be enlivened by a mix of good buildings. I was taken by a description of the Kirkland Oil Field Office in Hennessey, Oklahoma. It was designed by Elliott + Associates Architects and was written up in the May 2012 issue of Architectural Record as part of a section on The Short and the Tall of It. Here's what the author, Beth Brooke, had to say of the building: "Elliott + Associates principal Rand Elliott, an Oklahoma native with a long list of renovation and adaptive reuse projects under his belt, understood that filling the gaping hole [left by a disastrous fire] did not lie in a historicist approach. Instead, he created a bold, 21st-century building that relies on proportion and scale to fit into its historic context. The building is sensitive to the 25-foot-wide lots and the height of adjacent buildings as well as other details of the surrounding vernacular." We had a disastrous fire in Alfred two and a half years ago and I can only hope that the gaping hole will get filled so deliciously. The picture is from the Architectural Record website.

29 April 2012

Packard Plant color scheme redux

At the old Packard Plant in Detroit. It looks like paint but it was "just" pigment, all dusty and ready to cling to your shoes. Megan, Matt and I clambered about in the Packard Plant when I was in Detroit last week. It was glorious fun. A couple people told us there was a scavenger hunt going on and we should look for pink balloons. Matt noticed one down in the subterranean tunnels and climbed down in to get the balloon and attached envelope. Inside the envelope were several UPS labels with images added and a one-dollar bill with a rubber stamp. Matt gave me the label with some old cars driving into the background.
It's end-of-year time for the art students at Alfred University and there have been a bunch of shows in various buildings in Alfred and Hornell and outside too. One of the Freshman Foundations student memory boxes reminded me of the Packard Plant spilled pigment. My time in Detroit for the Society of Architectural Historians conference was absolutely fantastic for a variety of reasons: staying at the Hostel Detroit with several others from SAH and several Brits, a German, and a Tatar; discovering that a pottery graduate from AU last year was renovating a rowhouse next door to the hostel; meandering the city, on foot and in my car; supper with Megan and Les and Matt and Michel in a Mies van der Rohe rowhouse; the conference; visiting Michigan's largest used bookstore, John K. King Used and Rare Books. I might get another blog entry done about Detroit and perhaps Cleveland where I spent a couple days on the way back to Alfred. Meanwhile, there are pictures on my Flickr photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56294332@N00/

09 April 2012

small world all o'er the place

Someone said in their Facebook feed that the world is small, based on some coincidence. I've been having those too recently ... as if it wasn't always the case. I just started reading Hadrian the Seventh about a peculiar Englishman who gets selected pope in the most peculiar way. I'm less than 200 pages into the book and discovered there's a new movie called "We have a Pope" that was just reviewed by Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. The review is entitled "A reluctant pontiff escapes to the streets." Hadrian isn't reluctant, he's got an agenda, and he takes to the streets.

I mentioned in a recent blog post that I was going to Detroit and staying at the Hostel Detroit that had been mentioned by my artist-friend Vagner Whitehead. It turns out that my step cousin who lives in Detroit happens to know the guy that manages the hostel and that his partner is a librarian AND that she's inviting us all over the supper on Saturday night AND that four of the six people in that crowd have forenames beginning with M.

My next cataloging gig is based at Columbia and I'm going down to the City for some training later this week. I just got back from an artist talk here in Alfred and get a pretty good diet of it. Still, I was excited to see that there was a panel on the "queer piers" show at Leslie/Lohman on Thursday night. I thought: OK. And then I read that there's a talk on Bosch and The Garden of Earthly Delights on Wednesday night.

Small world, full of coincidences, indeed.

25 March 2012

tender, immediate, and rich with pathos

Hate to be predictable but there always seems to be something in my Sunday reading that invites a blog post. I work from 2-10 pm at Scholes Library, at the reference desk, usually with some cataloging to do along with whatever comes up. I've cataloged several books, done "add printer" with several people, changed the toner, and decided to look at a few art magazines before supper. The January/February 2012 issue of Art papers has a review by Kate Green of Donald Moffett's recent show at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.

"One of the show's revelations is Mr. Gay in the U.S.A., 2001, a suite of eighteen pencil drawings installed in a small room of their own. A gentle touch is at play in this project, which is based on a court case against Ronald Gay, who was convicted of murder after he walked into a gay bar and fired shots. Gay was apparently tired of receiving flack for his last name. In the work, Moffett presents his visual and linguistic observations of the proceedings on heavy, framed sheets of paper. One page features a sketch of a man's arm accompanied by the words 'turquoise tattoo.' Another includes a set of scales and the phrase 'Lady Justice.' The images are tender, immediate, and rich with pathos for the complicated circumstances that brought Gay to this point.

The most sensual element of the exhibition is Comfort Hole, 2010, a series of eight small monochromatic paintings. In many of these works, blades of white paint stand out three-dimensionally from wooden panels, like hanging patches of heavenly grass. After you tire of trying to figure out the artist's technique, you will marvel at his skill. You might also be amused by the title. The circles that Moffett has punched through these sublime, otherwise pristine paintings are coded references to the holes used in gay clubs for anonymous pleasure. You will walk away from this suite of paintings as you will from the exhibition -- impressed by Moffett's sustained ability to make art that is, in equal measure, visually and socially significant."

I am intrigued by her description of the Mr. Gay series and am dumbfounded by her description of glory holes in the Comfort Hole description.

19 March 2012

labyrinths and mazes: amazing

In yesterday's cataloging, I was looking at subject headings for labyrinths and mazes, particularly gardens. The headings are:

Labyrinths [preferred heading]
Mazes [variant, UF]

Maze gardens [preferred heading]
Labyrinth gardens [variant, UF]

It was interesting to me that the overall term used labyrinth as its base while the garden heading used maze. And, then, in today's crossword puzzle in the New York Times, the clue for 10 across is labyrinth and the answer is, ta da, maze. I'm not sure I've thought of the terms as synonymous but I couldn't tell you what distinguishes one from the other without looking it up. And you may have read that the Encyclopedia Britannica is going totally electronic after the current print edition. It's hard to imagine my youth without volumes of the encyclopedia for drifting through.

The image is of the maze at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, from the Peak District Information page. I did get to Chatsworth once in the 1980s but read Deborah Mitford's memoir recently and would love to go visit again.

11 March 2012

Detroit, here we come

Elisabeth Sussman is asked in the March 2012 issue of Modern painters "Which international city gives you the greatest hope for contemporary art's future?" She responds: "Detroit. It exists at degree zero now, but it has an incredible past: early industrial architecture, Diego Rivera murals, a history of radical politics. It's a haunted and a haunting place."

Can I tell you that my dream to see more of Detroit will come true in April when I go to the annual conference of the Society for Architectural Historians? I'm so excited and I plan on turning it into a real adventure by staying at the Hostel Detroit in North Corktown, thanks to Vagner for mentioning the Hostel. Some of the pictures of the hostel show a plain facade and the one below shows it gaily painted. The aerial view on Google Maps is full of vacancies and greens. Haunted and haunting.

28 February 2012

oh blue heavens above, a walmart?!?

Coop Himmelb(l)au has long been of interest to me. They're based in Austria and much of their work has been built there. When I was in Vienna a few years ago, I did look at their rooftop residence near the Postsparkasse building by Otto Wagner; you can barely see it. I also went out to the Gasometer, some industrial buildings with new spaces by Coop Himmelb(l)au and others. The high school they designed in Los Angeles was almost finished when I was there last time and I went to look at it again this time. I was in Los Angeles for the College Art Association conference and am now sitting in a jetlag/redeye haze. Yesterday I was reading the freebie Downtown News and it said that Walmart is considering putting in one of their smaller stores in elderly housing across the street from the high school.
The better news from the Downtown News was that the Last Bookstore on Spring Street is going to expand!

26 February 2012

words and works

After several days of listening to papers at the annual conference of the College Art Association, it was fabulous today to LOOK at great art at the Getty and the Hammer:
Masaccio: Saint Andrew

Jan Lievens: Prince Charles Louis of the Palatinate with his Tutor Wolrad von Plessen in Historical Dress

Pontormo: Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?)

Francis Harwood: Bust of a Man

All images from the Getty website.

21 February 2012

more is never a bore

"Figuring that more is never a bore, OMA employs three different vocabularies: a Miesian box, the organic blob, and the Postmodern aside."
So says Clifford A. Pearson is a fine report on the new Milstein Hall at Cornell University in the February 2012 issue of Architectural Record. The expansion of the architecture school spaces went through a whole bunch of fits and starts but the new building is now open and I cannot wait to see it. Pearson just whetted my appetite and I've got no excuses since Cornell is only 100 miles from Alfred (even though I'm in Los Angeles as I write this).

You can read the whole article at:

10 February 2012

codex aureus epternacensis

Codex aureus Epternacensis (um 1030)

I'm sitting in on the manuscripts class taught by Kate Dimitrova and am really enjoying seeing the pictures and thinking about great manuscripts.

troubling waters

As you may know, I'm enamored of New Orleans. I love the buildings, cultural diversity, food, tawdriness, and just the general feel of the city. I even went down there for a week in December just because I wanted to be there and to see the Prospect.2 biennial. I've also been watching Treme, the HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans. My first time in New Orleans was in 1980 just as I was coming out as gay so the city has an important part in my personal story.

Last night, I watched Trouble the Water, a 2008 documentary focusing on the story of a couple who happened to make a video of the Katrina moment and find the documentary filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin. Their efforts blend into a compelling story that says much about historic discrimination as well as promise. Educational and employment opportunities have long been slim for black people in New Orleans.

All of these swirling thoughts about New Orleans surfaced earlier this week when I went to a program on the Flood of 1972 at the David A. Howe Public Library in Wellsville, not far from Alfred. The 1972 flood was caused by Hurricane Agnes which came up across the Florida panhandle through the Carolinas and back out to sea before coming back ashore across Long Island while a cyclone came up along to the West. Up to 19 inches of rain fell in a few days in western New York and Pennsylvania. The flooding was pretty bad and Corning (50 miles East of us) took a particularly bad hit.

In the question and answer period at the program, I asked the speaker -- Courtney Waters, a young hydrologist -- what she could say to compare the stories we hear about the 1972 flood and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She sighed and said "Oh, New Orleans." She went on to talk about how Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane and that New Orleans is 100 feet below sea level. I have also read that none of New Orleans is actually below sea level. Admittedly, the city is close to sea level and there's not much elevation shift in the region. I mentioned that we saw pictures of horrible mold and mud. A couple people in the audience also commented about how people had worked hard to clean up the city and there seemed to be an implicit statement that the folks of New Orleans hadn't worked hard at cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. No recognition of the massive evacuation, leaving only the really desperate or higher grounders behind.

I couldn't seem to help myself from thinking that there was perhaps some hidden racism in the comments. You know, white folks up here, we work hard and help our neighbors. I'm probably reading too much into it but it also seems to be reflected in some of the criticism of President Obama.

Perhaps a more viable comparison to Katrina would be to Corning where the flood waters filled the valley rather than rushing past and doing their damage quickly. I haven't checked on that but know that the Corning Museum of Glass was significantly damaged in the Flood of 1972.

06 February 2012

surfing the internet, aka cyberflânerie

When was the last time you surfed the internet? Is there an app for it? Evgeny Morozov writes in the New York Times about how we've lost our cyberflânerie in the face of focused web browsing and social media. The 19th-century Parisian flâneur serendipitously strolled about the city: observing, finding, enjoying, thinking, but mostly not interacting. (Sounds a bit like FRBR user tasks.) Our friends now put articles they find in front of us, taking away our own discovery time and space. And I must admit that my first reaction when reading Morozov's article was to post it to my Facebook wall for all to see.

I've been thinking about intense observation since Michelle Illuminato introduced me to the work of Georges Perec. Among his books are An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris and Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, both great titles. I haven't read either of them yet; I'm too busy reading my Facebook feed.

The Morozov article, in the print edition of the Sunday Review section of yesterday's New York Times, faced two more interesting articles on the internet: "Should Personal Data Be Personal?" by Somini Sengupta and "Facebook is Using You" by Lori Andrews. I very much enjoy Facebook and other social sites and am willing to forgo the loss of privacy but I still want my private thoughts and observations. Solitude, liking yourself, is important. Other articles in yesterday's Times talked about folks living alone. It's not just selfishness ... or loneliness.

The picture is Caillebotte's "Paris Street: Rainy Day" (1877), now in the Art Institute of Chicago (image from Wikipedia article).

29 January 2012

cock and bull story: a bumpy ride

"Cock and bull story" is James Quandt's review of Steve McQueen's new film Shame in the January 2012 issue of Artforum.

The review starts:
"The martyrology of Steve McQueen's Hunger (2008) and his new film, Shame, is founded on the male body, stripped and in extremis."

The review ends:
"McQueen has made a passion play to gladden Michele Bachmann's heart."

(from the wikipedia page for the film)

19 January 2012

"Hieronymus Bosch and being human"

When Bill and I were in Providence, we stopped at Symposium Books. The spine of Circles of Thorns grabbed my attention and the cover had an image of "Christ Mocked" by Hieronymus Bosch, now in the National Gallery in London. The author -- Justin Lewis-Anthony -- uses the painting to discuss what being human means now by describing Bosch's symbolism. Bosch has certainly been "abused" over the years by cultural historians who find magic, alchemy, witchcraft, sin and degradation. All sorts of stuff. Lewis-Anthony divides the book into the circles of politics, elements, temperaments, devotions, and quiddity, and shows how Bosch reflects his time and speaks to our time.

I was a little worried after I got the book home and saw that it might be found on the religion shelves that I would find it not of particular interest. BUT it's been great so far, lots to think about. I'm now in the temperaments chapter but had to share.

The quoted words in the title of this post are the subtitle of the book and the picture is from the author's 3 Minute Theologian blog.

15 January 2012

Bo Bartlett and Saint Luke

I hadn't thought about Bo Bartlett and his realist paintings for some time. And then, last Saturday morning, Moira and I were going to the cafe in Amenia for a coffee and a visit to her studio which is at the top of the same building. A young artist that Moira knows from the Wassaic Project was sitting at a cafe table with a couple friends. We had a nice chat, it was crowded, we went up to the studio. As is so often the case when you meet someone, I didn't catch the name. Moira said he was Man Bartlett and his dad was Bo Bartlett, the painter. I remembered the haunting realist paintings I'd seen several years ago at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. This video is Bartlett's words describing his medical librarian mother who brought home issues of JMLA with old-master covers and about telling your stories in your art and also about letting them go.

One of Moira's in-progress paintings is an Evangelist portrait drawn from imagination but based on looking at many early medieval illuminations. There's an ox in the upper right so it must be Saint Luke. I misspoke and said "Saint Mark" and then found a postcard in my postcard stash of a manuscript at the Morgan which has Saint Mark with the ox of Saint Luke. Hmm. No wonder iconography can be so compelling, so appealing.

The image of the Evangelist is drawn from americanlady's photostream on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/americanlady/3831120935/in/photostream I'm not sure why the white spot appears in the center, perhaps the residue of the scanned postcard's journey through the mail.

04 January 2012

countdown to peace in Afghanistan

You may have noticed the "countdown to withdrawal" widget in the right margin of this blog. It started with Obama's promise to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Well, I just noticed that it's counting up now. Sigh.

01 January 2012

NYC or bust ... or not

The original plan was that Bill and I would go on from Boston to New York City for a couple days. For a variety of reasons, we stayed in Boston but did day trips to New Haven and Providence. I had stopped at MASS MoCA on the way from my older sister's near Albany to Boston to see Bill for the week between Christmas and New Year's. The "Memery" show about those using web-based memes was pretty interesting as were the "Workers" and other shows. It was amusing to be in a gallery with portraits taken against Flickr views of sunsets and sunrises: a couple people were taking pictures of the picture wall though I didn't get a picture of either of them as a meme-on-top-of-meme. The other work in that gallery was "No Sunshine" by Constant Dullart. Loved the contrast.

When Bill and I got to New Haven, we found ArtSpace closed so I guess I won't get an up-close visit to the "Library Science" show. We did however have a really good time at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art to say nothing of Atticus Bookstore/Cafe. The Atticus t-shirts were wonderful: one with a caption saying that unattended children would be given immense amounts of coffee and unlimited access to the internet and the other letting us know that censorship led to blindness. The Yale U Art Gallery has a Bosch panel which is from the same altarpiece as the Ship of Fools at the Louvre.
I'm very fond of the Ship of Fools and once had to keep standing in front of it because the tour group was hogging the Rolin Madonna of Jan van Eyck. Life is tough. We were running out of time and daylight by the time they chased us out of the British Art Center galleries. I got to see my Sickert painting of the hospital in Venice where they cast my arm when I broke it under the full moon looking out over the Grand Canal. There was also a woman dressed in a fine dress that could have been Fortuny (more Venice) in a painting by Alfred Elmore.

On the 30th, we went down to Providence by train and had a good trip to the "Made in the UK" show at the RISD Museum of Art. The UK show was 20th-century British art from the collection of Richard Brown Baker. I really enjoyed the Grayson Perry vase entitled "May My Ashes Blow Away on the Winds of Change." The label talked about the amphora shape and the blue-and-white drape that echoed the English ware traditions but didn't mention the glazed message inside the lip of the vase that said "Mr Grayson Perry is a real pervert." Thanks to Roberto for really bringing Perry's work to my attention. I also liked the "Study for Figure with Towel" by Keith Vaughan; the last line of its gallery label talked about the joy of being naked in the outdoors. And there was a nice Howard Hodgkin here as well as at Yale where Baker also bequeathed some of his collection.

Between our out-of-town visits, we got to the Institute of Contemporary Art ("Dance/Draw" was more wonderful than we expected), Museum of Fine Arts (new Caillebotte, photos of Cuba, Jan Dibbets: Gropius Bau Berlin), and the MIT List Visual Arts Center (Hans Haacke 1967 and Otto Piene: Lichtballett). The Haacke was really sublime and Bill related that his aunt, Virginia Gunter, had been the curator of the 1971 "Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Elements of Art" show at the MFA which had included some similar Haacke works.

So I'm rather sorry that I didn't get to NYC this week to see the "Hide/Seek" show at the Brooklyn Museum or to see NYC friends but .... no problem, we had a great time full of art and bookstores (yikes, don't want to see the credit card bills) and visits with friends. A couple movies: "The Artist" and "Young Adult." I'll finish this off with an amusing overheard conversation: the three students were talking about Gropius and I thought "architecture students" but it turns out there must be a bar of that name. Oh, well; it can't all be art.