13 December 2017

canon tables, bureaux plats, and cribs

When I was in grad school at Case Western Reserve University (1968-1973), one of the great advantages of the art history program was the close collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art and its curators. The curators taught courses, mostly seminars and mostly collection-related. Our regular library was the CMA Library. Memorably, I took a medieval seminar with William Wixom and worked on a 12th-century manuscript leaf, with Matthew on one side and canon tables on the verso. Working on the calligraphy of the canon tables to date and place the leaf was delightful.
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Four of us were in a seminar with decorative arts curator Henry Hawley. The topic was French furniture from 1735-1750. We got to crawl around in the gallery, on the rug, under the furniture. I got to work on a bureau plat by noted cabinetmaker Bernard II van Riesen Burgh (BVRB). It has a twin in the Jones Collection which is now in the Victoria & Albert.
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As I was finishing up my M.A. and starting my M.S. in Library Science, also at Case Western, we went on a field trip with Mr. Wixom to New York. We visited Ella Brummer whose late husband Ernest had been a dealer and collector. We also visited Ruth Blumka whose late husband Leopold had also been a gallerist and dealer. She still had the wonderful Crib of the Infant Jesus which has now been given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's just over a foot tall.

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I was reminded of our trip today when Michael Carter, now a librarian at the Cloisters, sent me a scan of a letter he had found in the archives. It was a thank-you note to Mrs. Brummer from a group of Clevelanders. Yes, our little group of eight grad students had sent a note, in the fine hand of Henry Kleinhenz.

When we were at the Blumka apartment on Park Avenue, Mrs. Blumka opened a linen-fold cabinet and took out a velvet-wrapped item. She carefully uncovered an ivory, a beautifully carved French High Gothic ivory. It was somewhat damaged so not considered "museum quality." It was not cheap but one could imagine finding the few hundred dollars and starving a bit. Oh how I wish that Dorothy and I had been more adventurous and bought the ivory.

A few years later when I was working at the Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh, Carl Nordenfalk, noted manuscript scholar, was a visiting professor. We talked about "my" manuscript page. He read my seminar paper and thought it was publishable. I did not proceed with that. I don't regret that nearly as much as not buying the ivory.

Descriptions of the objects:
Miniature Excised from a Gospel Book: The Symbol of St. Matthew (recto) and Canon Tables (verso), c. 1125-1150 - Italy, Florence - ink and tempera on vellum.
Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund 1950.373 (photo from the CMA website)

Table Desk (Bureau plat), c. 1750-1760 - Bernard II van Riesen Burgh
wood marquetry with gilt bronze mounts, leather top.
The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Collection 1944.123 (photo from the CMA website)

Crib of the Infant Jesus, 15th century. South Netherlandish.
Wood, polychromy, lead, silver-gilt, painted parchment, silk embroidery with seed pearls, gold thread, translucent enamels.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Ruth Blumka, in memory of Leopold Blumka, 1974 (1974.121a-d) (photo from an article on the Met's website)

18 November 2017

Flemish farmhand

Rose and Anna went to a thé dansant in York. Rose danced with Sam Thawley, a gardener at an estate near Downton Abbey. He was smitten with Rose. I was rather smitten with the actor that played the role, Jonathan Howard, and couldn't figure out exactly why when I watched the episode. And, then, aha. He's a candidate for a portrait by Hans Memling or Hugo van der Goes or Dirk Bouts.

The scene at the thé dansant:
The scene in the kitchen yard, in which Sam visits Rose and she plays the maid:

27 October 2017

Wassily chairs

A good friend in Alfred is helping another friend clear out her first floor so she can move downstairs in the overcrowded family house. This is a scenario too close to my own situation. I don't have any problem with the stairs but I've got too much stuff. I went up yesterday to help put together some stuff for the Op Shop (thrift shop). There, in the kitchen, were a couple of Breuer chairs that were perhaps destined to go to the Op Shop. My first reaction was "they're worth money if they're good." My second reaction was that they need a new home and appreciative owners.
I sent an email to a few friends to see if they knew anyone local who collected mid-century modern furniture. Then, today, as I was walking up South Main Street toward home, I ran into a neighbor who was going into her house for lunch. She works at the museum so I thought she might know someone who would be interested in the chairs. As it turns out, she used to have a pair of Wassily chairs herself, a gift from her grandfather when she was in college. The chairs had gone to another relative as her college life unfolded. So now she has a new pair of the chairs and my friend's chairs have a new home to be part of.

This little transfer has cheered me enormously.

03 October 2017

Palladium Bridge

Nothing quite like a Palladium Bridge to brighten the day.

01 October 2017

New Paltz brutalism update

blogged in 2013 about a brutalist building at my alma mater -- New Paltz State -- that was going up as I finished college. The building was being stripped, resurfaced, expanded, and otherwise mangled in 2013. Now I've discovered that the civil engineering firm that worked on the renovation has used my "before" photo. Normally, I figure a picture on the web is rather up for grabs -- not really, of course, but there's always a chance. I am disappointed that my photo has been used as if Larsen Engineers -- http://www.larsenengineers.com/Structural_Engineering_Projects.asp -- had fixed the brutalist building and made it solid for another fifty years. Instead, they were part of a process that covered up the wonderful brutal building and left it quite ordinary.

23 August 2017

Fashion photographs RT Documentary photographs

We have been working on the art genre/form project, part of LCGFT, for several years. Too long but it's getting close to the point of submitting the terms. I was looking over (again) the cumulative list of terms after a couple rounds of reviewing by subject experts from the Library of Congress. We hope that we'll be ready to turn the words into records soon. Fingers crossed. After some proofreading, I fixed some supper and perused last Sunday's T: the New York Times style magazine as I ate my soup. The last opening of the magazine was an advertisement for Givenchy.
The credit line is "Documented by Steven Meisel" and this copy of the photo is taken from "Next season's hottest accessory is a cat, according to Givenchy" by Katherine Cusumano, from W magazine (posted July 10, 2017).

We're proposing Documentary photographs but not Fashion photographs. I think the latter is a hybrid term, mixing genre/form with topic .... but if we ever decide to submit Fashion photographs, we might just have to add a RT reference to Documentary photographs. Obviously, I've been spending too much time looking at the terms.

05 August 2017

completing the circle

On Friday, I went up to Buffalo to hear one of the FLW 150 lectures at the Darwin Martin House, being held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Frank Lloyd Wright. This one was by Michael Desmond of LSU on "Shifting Perspectives of Form: Frank Lloyd Wright's Circular Houses." Circular houses would get me every time. It seems so central, so utopian, so right, so Palladio. Desmond talked more, however, about how Wright broke the circle to pull our eye toward a view or through the house. Desmond lyrically traced Wright's career, starting with the Blossom House, the plan of which uses the 9-square grid which comes from Palladio and the Villa Rotunda. But the 9-square is easy to encircle. It tames nature. It gives order. I really enjoyed the lecture and it was evocative. Many of the circular houses that Desmond talked about are relatively late works and not many were built. Desmond noted that Wright left more than 700 unbuilt projects.

In the question-and-answer period after the talk, Desmond paraphrased Ralph Waldo Emerson as saying that if we see an arc, we fill in the circle. And that is what Wright was doing, except when he was purposefully playing with the circles or arcs to disrupt the circle. It was then I realized that I'd experienced a similar relationship to incomplete circles earlier in the day.

One of the exhibitions on view at the Albright-Knox was "Drawing: The Beginning of Everything" and one of the works in the exhibition was Untitled (2011) by Jacob Kassay. On the left is a shaped canvas with an slightly curved right edge. On the right are two small panels with a line drawn in graphite on the wall, also slightly arced. Together, the arc shapes could form a circle but you have to complete the circle with your eyes.

Jacob Kassay
Untitled, 2011
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2011, 2011:49a-d

As I drove home in the rainy darkness, I kept myself company by singing "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" as Joan Baez sings it on David's Album.

29 July 2017

it's on the shelf

I've blogged several times about LibraryThing but not recently. (see posts)  When I first started cataloging my library in LibraryThing, the closest libraries to mine (based on a weighted measure of common books and how many books altogether) were mostly architectural. Then I left New York City and started cataloging my books at the upstate family homestead. The closest libraries shifted to those with lots of gay titles or a mix of architecture and gay titles, and the amount of fiction climbed. I was delighted to notice today that the closest library is now HTCBooks which seems to be affiliated with the History, Theory and Criticism of architecture and art program at MIT, part of the Department of Architecture. Some of the tags look personal, such as SOA Home Guest Room Shelf 1. Maybe that's a good idea: you might be able to find a book when you want it. It might be especially good for the skinny little things without any spine presence. Still, it surprises me how many books are where I first look.

For example, I was indexing an article about a project by Wang Hui. There was an undifferentiated personal name record in LC/NAF for Wang Hui but none of them had any latin-script language titles so I couldn't tell if my guy was included or not. I thought I didn't have the Chinese character version of his name until I checked the firm website: Urbanus Architecture & Design. The projects there included Tulou affordable housing. Almost a decade ago, Tulou was included in a show at the Cooper-Hewitt and I had bought the catalog which was right there on that shelf downstairs with some other architecture titles. Wang Hui is in the colophon so I do have the Chinese character version of his name.

Sometimes I feel like my thousands of books are a burden. Too much stuff to just pick up and go live in Palermo for six months. I sometimes feel like I should give my architecture books to Alfred State which has a new B.Arch. program. On the other hand, it's nice to be able to have Tulou: affordable housing in China readily at hand.

15 June 2017

exemplary buildings

Ten years ago, I blogged here about the Coignet Building at the corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The building was in rather shabby condition in 2000 when I took this picture, looking down Third Avenue. (Perhaps it's better that the building is rather off in the distance.) It was built in the early 1870s as the office building for the Coignet Stone Company and to show off their fine decorative concrete work. The Gothamist site has a good article by Miranda Katz which includes the building's history and some lovely pictures by Scott Heins taken after its recent restoration. This is one of the "after" pictures:

We have the Terra Cotta Building in Alfred that was built in 1892 by the Celadon Terra Cotta Company for its office building and to display their wares.
Photo by Cynthia Wenslow

It's always good to be able to see how construction materials will look on a real building. As I meandered the streets of Ridgewood in Queens a couple days ago, I noticed a stretch of houses on Woodbine Street near Forest Avenue. The fronts of the buildings were of a rich variety and could help you decide how to re-side your row house. Do you want horizontal clapboards, diagonal boards, fancy plaster with an Italianate feel, faux stone, or maybe just an Italian renaissance palazzo?

Oh, how I wish I had any one of these row houses, whatever siding. It was a great week in New York City: lots of museums and galleries, a couple pop-up concerts at Miller Theater at Columbia, meals with friends, sitting with John's cats, going to the Lissa Rivera and BJ Lillis gallery talk at ClampArt and running into Walter on the subway later. Walter knows Lissa and would have liked to attend the gallery talk but he had to go to meetings to plan the 2018 ARLIS/NA conference.

12 June 2017

inequality and fairness

When I was in Havana a couple years ago, there seemed to be a good sense of social interaction on the street. It may have been partly the pleasant tropical climate. People were going about their business or leisure. I know I was ready to see that Cuba was a good place. We did hear from one of the tour guides that the elite did have access to better housing but that they generally did not have more disposable income. The ostentatious signs of inequality in the U.S., such as McMansions and huge black SUVs, are not so visible in Cuba.

In last Sunday's Opinion section in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote about "What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Fairness." Recent research had looked at how monkeys reacted when one of them got a prized grape rather than a cucumber slice in exchange for a pebble. Other research looked at how travelers in coach were more satisfied with their flight if they did not walk through a first-class cabin on their way to the coach cabin. With all the complaints about airplane seating, I've never been able to understand why anyone would want priority boarding. Still other research showed that sports teams with similar player salaries generally did better than teams where some players got much larger salaries than others. The perception of inequality exacerbated the situation.

I suspect that my good feelings about the general sociocultural climate in Havana came from a sense of shared space as well as the afterglow of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Sure, there were some people that were more shabbily dressed than others but it wasn't the grotesque visual clash of socioeconomic inequality.

25 April 2017

design disruption

There was a screening of Design Disruptors this afternoon up on campus. It is a documentary by invision about "the transformative power of design." The emphasis is on the user experience and mostly about how to make it seamless, effortless, intuitive. Some of the things I scribbled in the dark as the film rolled: design sprint; saving time is sexy now; obvious is not easy, great is still hard; iterate iterate; design thrives on constraints. Facebook HQ has 2G Tuesdays where designers and other staff use FB with a 2G connection to get a taste of how some of the bells and whistles work with a slow connection. Lots of good stuff to think about including packaging your ideas.

I was thinking about library cataloging software as I listened and watched. In the past decade or so, I have used several brands of cataloging software: Geac Advance; ALEPH from Ex Libris; III Millennium; Voyager from Ex Libris; OCLC Connexion. Each of them has quirks. I wonder how this software can be so clunky as I'm adding a new field or subfield, or editing the fixed fields, or putting in delimiters. Why do we put up with it? Most of the groovy library catalog developments have been on the user experience end of things, with discovery interfaces and one-box searching, usually with follow-up faceting. Maybe the back-end of some of the applications in the film are as clunky as the library programs. We only saw what Etsy looked like from the user side, not how the data on available objects is created. Still, I cannot imagine that inputting your objects on your Etsy site could be as clunky as the current library systems.

I also have used LibraryThing over the past decade. It is a website where you can catalog your personal books (or "wanna-reads" or "would-love-to-owns") and tag them and put them in collections. It's quite a lot more straightforward than the library systems, at least on the cataloging side of things. The library systems also try to control circulation and acquisition information. Our libraries also have mountains of legacy data.

23 March 2017

build from strength

Maurice Cox is the planning director of Detroit, Michigan, and the recipient of this year's Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal. He was just interviewed by critic Blair Kamin at the opening plenary session of the 105th annual conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in Detroit. Kamin's picture show ended with aerial views of Detroit and Toronto. Cox looks to Toronto for inspiration. Build from strength. Cities are composed of neighborhoods, or cities within cities. Transit-oriented development. Varying scales. Building the connections. After listening to Cox's inspirational and aspirational comments, a Detroit more like Toronto seemed reasonable. Different but rich nonetheless.
 (Detroit photo by Alex S. MacLean for the New York Times)

(Toronto Skyline 2016, by www.peakaerials.com)

13 March 2017

listening to the natives

Some years ago, I read Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia, the company town and rubber plantation developed by Henry Ford in the Amazon. Ford wanted a midwestern utopia where the workers didn't drink and there were cement sidewalks, where Ford Motor Company could get the rubber it needed. Fordlandia was not a great success for a variety of reasons. Utopian attempts are nonetheless interesting. I was reminded of Fordlandia by a recent article in The New York Times by Simon Romero: Deep in Brazil's Amazon, exploring the ruins of Ford's Fantasyland.
(Bryan Denton for the New York Times)

It wasn't the first time today that I read something about attempts to build in relatively inhospitable climes and not use the local and native methods. I was indexing the December 2016 issue of Metropolis and there was an essay by Lola Sheppard and Mason White based on their forthcoming book Many Norths: building in a shifting territory (Actar, 2017). "The growing cities of the Canadian Arctic are contending with decades-old planning mistakes that ignored indigenous settlement patterns and building knowledge." I was surprised to read that "Canada's North is home to the fastest-growing population in the country, with more than 115,000 people living in small, dispersed, and isolated communities." Ralph Erskine and others designed megastructures and microclimate bubbles while the Inuits preferred to build near the shore for proximity to fishing and hunting sites. The Inuits also avoided wind screens because the wind helped clear the snow and wind screens result in drifts. (Tonight and tomorrow, we may get up to 15-18 inches of snow. I wonder if it will drift.)

P.S. A few days later, the New York Times published a review of "Architecture of Independence--African Modernism" at the Center for Architecture in New York City. The exhibition started at the Vitra Design Museum, the "640-page doorstop" catalog was published then. The author of the review, Justin Farago, mentions the small size of the Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster photographs in the show. It is, after all, the 50th anniversary of Complexity and contradiction in architecture, by Robert Venturi, famously illustrated with small images.

14 January 2017

walking and eating

The day before yesterday, I was meandering (walking) around the website for the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, a museum in Lincoln, Mass., that I have visited several times. I was lucky enough to meet DeWitt Godfrey's work there before I met him on the CAA trip to Cuba in 2015.
This work was on display in the summer of 2014. I came across the listing on the deCordova website for a summer 2015 exhibition entitled "Walking Sculpture 1967-2015."
Sorry I missed it, particularly because I am fond of the art of Francis Alÿs among others. And I really like to walk so why not make art of it? The show included Bruce Nauman's Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967-1968 (illustration on the exhibition webpage, linked above).

My supper reading today included "Bruce Nauman, art provocateur, returns. Are you ready?" by Randy Kennedy from the New York Times last September 11, a review of shows opening soon after that at Sperone Westwater and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The principal work was "Contrapposto Studies" which revisits a 1968 video work entitled "Walk with Contrapposto." Circling around, always.

Randy Kennedy reports that during his interview with Nauman at his home in Galisteo, N.M., Nauman served a lunch of supermarket rotisserie chicken with cheese, bread, and apples. I happened to be eating bread, cheese, and apple as I read. My bread was probably more mundane than Nauman's (Wegmans multi-grain with peanut butter).

11 January 2017

colorful neighbors

These happen to be next to each other in my Flickr photostream:

Saint John's Living, for seniors
(Highland Park, Rochester, NY)

Società Concordia Partanna
(corner of Forest Ave. and Palmetto St., Ridgewood, Queens, NY)
(We stopped in Partanna, March 2013.)

Spencer Finch: A Certain Slant of Light
(installation at Morgan Library & Museum, New York City)

08 January 2017

medieval modernism

"Art out of time" has long intrigued me, and perhaps all of us. The way that art and culture play with and against art and culture from another moment, whether near or far in time. In a profile of Steve Reich at 80 in the New York Times (October 2, 2016), he is quoted as saying "I'm not a Luddite, but I understand the Luddites."

After I got back from paper and pancakes this morning, I was sitting at my desk and realized the stack to the left of my computer was annoyingly high and I pulled the issue of Visual Resources (first issue for 2016) since it was the fattest item. An old cataloging trick: do the fat books and your backlog shrinks in size (and generally increases in complexity). The issue was devoted to "Medieval modernity" and I'd bookmarked the article by Graham Smith on "Rauschenberg's modern infernos for Life magazine" for potential inclusion in the queer art bibliography I maintain on Zotero. It grew out of the newsletter of the Queer Caucus for Art that I co-edited for a dozen years. The article doesn't seem to have any particular queer aspect (what? you expect me to really read rather than just peruse it?) but is intriguing as are a number of other articles. cf table of contents

As I was looking through the issue, I remembered that I'd bought a book with a similar title a few years ago: Medieval Modern: Art Out of Time, by Alexander Nagel, published by Thames & Hudson, 2012. I've borrowed the subtitle for the opening of this post. The verso of the title page includes a quote from Walter Benjamin which starts "Historicism is content with establishing a casual connection between various moments of history. A fact can be a cause but it is not therefore historical." (Hmm, why did "fake news" fly through my brain?)

I also was given a start by seeing "Christian Huemer" in the list of advisors to Visual Resources. Now I'm thinking of Christina Huemer, who I met at Cornell in 1970 and who was the librarian at the American Academy in Rome for many years before her retirement and death. She loved Rome, one of those places where the medieval and modern rub up against each other, and the ancient and the whole (western) shebang.