31 August 2016

Madame X

There was plenty of interesting art during my driving trip to Maine to see CDS and Boston to see Bill: "This Is A Portrait If I Say So" at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; open studios at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts out on Deer Isle (and saying hello to Jason Green and Stephanie McMahon of Alfred who were there because Jason was teaching ceramics); Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland; "Off the Wall" at the Gardner (masterpieces up close as they renovate the villa); all kinds of stuff at the MFA. This painting -- "Black Duck" by Marsden Hartley -- stopped me in my tracks. I could only see Sargent's "Madame X" ... in the nicest way.

Dessert was a few hours at MASS MoCA on the drive back to Alfred. Plenty of good stuff in "Explore Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder" including a video recreation of the "Recarcassing Ceremony" by Nina Katchadourian, "Silk Poems" by Jen Bervin, and works by Laurent Grasso and Jonathan Allen.

21 August 2016


As I was driving from Alfred toward Maine to see CDS, I was listening to WMHT out of Schenectady. They were playing a Radiolab story entitled "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?" about William Gladstone (19th-century British Prime Minister) and his study of Homer's mentions of colors. Homer mentions black and white dozens of times, red and yellow not so much, and never blue. He also speaks of the "wine-dark sea" and green faces and other odd mixes of color and object. This led Gladstone to think that Homer was color blind. The Radiolab producer Tim Howard then studied a German philological text about mentions of color in a variety of ancient cultures. He found that Homer was not particularly unusual. Blue doesn't appear in ancient Chinese texts and other Mediterranean cultures with the exception of Egypt. Is that because you don't name a color until you can make it? The Egyptians had lapis lazuli. Sky does get mentioned but not blue.

I didn't get to listen to the whole story because WHMT went out-of-range as I went over Grafton Mountain. As I came down into Williamstown, it seemed about time to stop driving for a while. I got to the Williams College Museum of Art and noticed a banner for the current show on Abbott Handerson Thayer. I associate him with angels and golden paint but he also did a lot of research and drawings and paintings of birds and how they use color to conceal themselves. His interest in color concealment among animals also played out in his work on military camouflage. He and Teddy Roosevelt argued about animal coloration but were both very important in conservation efforts in the late 19th century and into the 20th.

In the new acquisitions gallery, there was a Jonathan Monk work called "16 photographs with all combinations of green" in which red (!!) circles are stuck on found photos. What's with the red/green? More color, haunting me. No problem, I really enjoyed the art break and then got on my way across Massachusetts.

12 August 2016

reverse provincialism

As I meandered about at the Strand Bookstore, the voiceover announced that Tama Janowitz would soon be talking upstairs in the Rare Book Room about her new book Scream: a memoir of glamour and dysfunction, just out from HarperCollins. I don't know as I've ever read any of Janowitz's books, from Slaves of New York to more recent works. Still, I certainly knew her name and could recognize her from celebrity photos. The iconic East Village kind of woman from the era she shared with the likes of Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. As it turns out, about five years ago, she headed to Ithaca to move her ailing mother from the house to assisted living. She didn't intend to stay for long but found Ithaca oppressive. So she moved to Schuyler County (one county closer to my house in Alfred). She still looks pretty downtown but talks about rural upstate New York without irony. The titters among the downtown crowd were pretty constant but I was listening real carefully when she talked about being tired of the New York City scene and enjoying her horse and doing pretty well overall in Schuyler County. I might just have to read the book. It's been pretty tough recently but maybe it's just the summer doldrums of a small college town.

Here's a rather good essay from the New York Post"Why Tama Janowitz traded NYC fame-culture for life upstate" by Mackenzie Dawson (August 12, 2016).

For those of you following the genre/form trail, Janowitz did talk about hearing from folks about what can and can't be in a memoir.

10 August 2016

"Essays" per Rebecca Solnit

Genres and forms of library resources have been much in mind for some years now as the art project slowly works its way toward proposals for the Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials (LCGFT). The latest flurry for non-art headings involved whether or not "Essays" was a narrower term of Creative nonfiction and whether the word "creative" was perhaps too narrow. I'm a generalist so I think "Essays" should be used broadly as a genre/form term for short prose pieces without too much consideration of creativity. It's rather like "is it art?" I'm generally willing to accept something as art if it's presented as art.

My current reading is The encyclopedia of trouble and spaciousness by Rebecca Solnit. She's an incredible and creative writer, a leftie rabble rouser. The introduction includes her thoughts about "essays":

"As nonfiction -- that leftover term apotheosizing fiction -- gets defined down as only memoir and essay, I've wanted to open it up again, to claim everything else. Nonfiction is the whole realm from investigative journalism to prose poems, from manifestos to love letters, from dictionaries to packing lists. This territory to which I am, officially, consigned couldn't be more spacious, and I couldn't be more pleased to be free to roam its expanses. And maybe the variety of forms here is part of the book's breadth along with its geographical range. Calling this anthology an encyclopedia was a way to call attention to its range and maybe imagine these almost thirty essays as entries in an extremely incomplete encyclopedia. Essays explore; they also define, every essay is an entry in the author's personal encyclopedia."

Not only is there resonance in Solnit in regard to genre/form. I was reading the chapter on "cults, creeps [and] California in the 1970s" and she mentioned how Jess and Bruce Conner went their own way rather than play along with the East Coast avant-garde critics. I was reading that on the subway and then I was walking toward MoMA and there was a Bruce Conner banner on the streetlight post on 54th Street. Small world, great world, interesting retrospective of Conner's work.

That was yesterday. Today I was in McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street on Soho. The section of books on the landing on the stairs to the basement is labelled "Essays & Creative Nonfiction." Sigh. Then off to the new space for the International Center of Photography, now called the ICP Museum. The main show is "Public, Private, Secret" with plenty of gleanings from internet sites. Then cross the street to the New Museum for the Keeper show about collections. Quite a few of the collections were obsessive and reminded me of the art and autism show I saw at the Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent in fall 2014. The collection of teddy bear pictures seemed rather like an analog internet collection of images.