22 March 2020

hunker down? go on a cruise? tell stories in an Italian country villa?

At the end of my morning walk, Drew and Mary were walking down the other side of the street. Drew asked if I was hunkering down or on a cruise. He explained the latter by describing the student houses around town that seem to have taken on new life, at least on a warm day. Folks on the porch, laughing, carrying on. I'd noticed the increased activity around the houses too. There were nine cars parked at the house and a half just before the AU campus. The university is closing the dorms today so residents have been here to clear out their stuff, after spring break. I feel especially bad, in this regard, for the students that come from busy urban areas and live in perhaps small family apartments. I wish the university could have figured out a way to provide for social-distant housing for the rest of the term for students if they wanted to hunker down here in the country. Yes, I realize that dorms involve more than providing a bed, e.g., supervision, food, potential medical care and deeper isolation.

Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio
MS. Holkham misc. 49, fol. 5r
Miniature by Taddeo Crivelli, circa 1467
Bodleian Library, Oxford

Now, if an Italian villa seems a bit difficult at the moment, you might consider a visit to Holkham Hall, perhaps my favorite Palladian house in England. Better make that a virtual visit for the foreseeable future.

16 March 2020

boundaries in a time of coronavirus

This month's Tentative List of LC Subject Heading proposals includes a proposal for:
Boundaries (Psychology)

The author of the proposal (an LC cataloger) found six occurrences of the use of Boundaries--Psychological aspects in the LC catalog. Since the scope note makes it clear that Boundaries in LCSH is used for borders between countries, states, etc., those six occurrences would be more relevant for books about being distraught about immigration or border wall issues. The work in question for which the new subject heading is being proposed is entitled Setting boundaries will set you free. These days, setting boundaries might also keep you for catching COVID-19.

Be well, all.

12 March 2020

separated at birth: anagrammatic dates

Homage to Miro by Gordon Bunshaft, 1939
in a private collection
discussed by Nicholas Adams in Architectural Record, February 2020
Miró, Joan, 1893-1983
Bunshaft, Gordon, 1909-1990

Gordon Bunshaft was born in Buffalo and grew up there. He designed a new wing for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in the early 1960s. For a while, it looked like that wing would be shafted by the present project to build a new wing by Shohei Shigematsu of OMA North America but it's become a new pavilion on the other side of the original building. Thank heavens.

06 March 2020

art and nature

Today I'm wearing the Tom Thomson t-shirt that I bought at the Art Gallery of Ontario many years ago. The text reads "Was his work more influenced by art movements or the movements of the wind and water?"

Today I'm reading about the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2020 being awarded to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. The article in the N.Y. Times about the prize includes this quotation from Farrell in response to a question about fame, recognition, and starchitects: "There are people whose work should be more recognized sometimes. The media goes for the easy thing -- eye candy. Architecture is much more. It infiltrates our lives in a much deeper way. It's important to remember that the earth is beautiful and sunlight is liquid gold. A lot of architecture excludes natural phenomena -- the rising and setting sun, the power of springtime moving up through the soul."

Daniel and I were talking about the glory of the winter sun as you go about looking at buildings.

04 March 2020

separated at birth: eastern and western beasties

Fragment of a balustrade
Late 13th/early 14th century
Limestone with carved decoration
Art Institute of Chicago. The Orientals, 1947.521

capital, late 10th/early 11th century
Museo di Sant'Agostino, Genoa

Apple store grows in Central Park

It looks like the Apple store is in Central Park. This photo is by Peter Aaron from the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (architects) webpage. The store is actually across Fifth Avenue from the Plaza Hotel, at the southeastern corner of Central Park.

01 March 2020

typewriter love

Working on some name authority records and came across this book cover:

October memories

24 February 2020

the beginning and the end

In the greater middle portion of your life, you like to feel like you're in at least partial control. You may make mistakes but you may have some influence over the next thing to happen or tomorrow. You sometimes seem to have only yourself to blame when things don't go right, whatever that is seen to be. And then there's when you are really young or dead. It all just is. You can holler or struggle or just be still.

I'm reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. There are plenty of good sentences but this one on page 16 stood out: "Being on an airplane, even in coach, was the closest an adult could come to the splendid helplessness of infancy." You're just there, for the duration of the flight you cannot move a whole lot, you can't pick from a variety of food and drink and activity. You can prepare but you're mostly helpless beyond a certain point. It's only good if you let the helplessness be splendid. My mom said I'd just happily sit in my playpen when I was an infant, probably running a little car back and forth. Her friends wondered if something was wrong with me, if I were perhaps a little "slow."

On the other end of life, we are often equally as helpless though maybe have too much awareness of our helplessness. There was an article in the New York Times on Thursday (February 20, 2020) entitled "Final moments for all to see" about taking pictures of people who had recently died. The online version of the story is called "The iPhone at the deathbed." The article also talks about the preparation of the body for the picture. There are various terms for the folks who will help you but I think I like "death doula" best. Amy Cunningham, a funeral director in Brooklyn, describes how she was talking to a group of Unitarians in Albany and said that she thought the dead person would want to look their best. A nonagenarian in the back of the room yelled out "You'll get over that!" Her reflection on that experience was that it "got [her] thinking. Wouldn't it be wonderful to die unfettered and free from worrying about how [you] look?" More splendid helplessness, even if you don't know about it.

You do know about how worried you have been all your life about how you looked. Another article in Thursday's paper, entitled "Paramedical tattooos: when ink is the Rx," was about tattoo artists who do healing tattoos like fingernail images on the tips of fingers which have been cut off in an accident. They also might do scar or blemish covering, the point being a subtle blending in with the rest of the person's skin. My nose reconstructions have left me not wishing to have my photograph taken and worried about the misshapen nose. Still I don't feel helpless (most of the time) and I'd rather tell the story about the scars than go through a bunch of operations to smooth it all out, especially since they'd probably not succeed. So the lesson is to do the best you can with what you've got and be patient if you're riding in coach. It will soon be over ... or not.

20 February 2020

what did we use to say?

I was looking at the January 2020 issue of Art in America which is a theme issue on "Generative art: the history and future of creative machines." I wasn't familiar with the term in art and started investigating. The "Generative art" article in Wikipedia is quite mature and traces the history of the term in the arts back to the 1960s. A keyword search in the Library of Congress catalog yielded about 100 hits and about a dozen of them seemed to be relevant, that is, the phrase "generative art" appeared in the title/subtitle. I looked at some of the records and several had the subject heading "Computer art" along with other headings.

The Wikipedia article starts "Generative art refers to art that in whole or in part has been created with the use of an autonomous system. An autonomous system in this context is generally one that is non-human and can independently determine features of an artwork that would otherwise require decisions made directly by the artist." It's a little like social practice with a machine. You give it a situation and it proceeds as it can. Wikipedia also compared it with algorithmic art ("algorithmically determined computer generated work") but generative art doesn't need to be based in an algorithm, I guess.

It definitely seemed like it was time to work on a subject proposal for LCSH. I checked the Art & Architecture Thesaurus and they have a record for generative art. The scope note defines it as "electronic art that incorporates process in the creation of the work. The work itself is usually experienced through time and space, and may include sound, motion, animated graphics, sculptural elements, or any combination of these. Generative art has a performative aspect. For visual art that incorporates algorithms to produce static visual works, use 'algorithmic art.'"

And then the word "generative" started leaping into my life: right, left, and center. Not as part of "generative art" but, for example, to describe the origin of an idea. Sam and I talked around it after an artist talk a couple weeks ago. I was at the College Art conference last week and heard at least a half dozen speakers include the word generative in their paper. I was reading the January 24th New York Times after I got home and this sentence appeared in a review of a book entitled The longing for less by Kyle Chayka: "More generative for him are the examples of artists who became known as Minimalists even as they disavowed the term." What word would have been used a while ago? Not generative, I don't think. Maybe I'm just noticing a word that's been out there all along. Whatever, it's good to have an expanding vocabulary.

09 February 2020

separated at birth: Abidjan and London pyramids

La Pyramide (1973)
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Rinaldo Olivieri, architect
photo by Iwan Baan, from Architect magazine website,

Tate Modern extension (2016)
London, England
Herzog & de Meuron, architects
photo by Mara Brandl / Imagebroker / Shutterstock

01 February 2020

Houdon Paul-Louis

I've enjoyed playing here with name mashing, e.g., Olafur di Paolo, Albrecht Gonzalez-Torres, Palermo Springs. Kehinde Wiley likes to do it too. This bronze portrait bust by Wiley is in the recently-opened "Jacques-Louis David meets Kehinde Wiley" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is focused on "Bonaparte crossing the Alps" by David and the Wiley painting "Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps" that it inspired. Also on display is this bronze portrait bust by Wiley entitled "Houdon Paul-Louis" after the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, a contemporary of David. The bust is in the Brooklyn Museum collection.

09 January 2020

Palermo Springs

Palermo viewed from Monreale
(my picture, spring 2013)

Palm Springs, California
(Daniel's picture, January 2020)

We both studied at the Claude Lorrain School of Landscape.

01 January 2020

the books I read in 2019

Roberto Ferrari posted his best books of 2019 list as well as a complete listing of the 30 books he read last year, in chronological order, with ranking stars from 3 to 5. I wonder if he just quit reading the 1- and 2-star books or whether he's luckier than I am. I have a lot of trouble rating so I've made some observations down below the list. We've had trouble with grade inflation since the 1970s and it's probably worse on social media. You might as well flunk something if you only give it 2 or 3 stars and we know that reading enjoyment is often quite personal.

Here are the books I read this year, in chronological order of reading. The date of publication in parenthesis is usually the first edition with a second date if it is notable.

  • Codex, by Lev Grossman (2004)
  • A people's history of the United States, by Howard Zinn (1980, 2005 edition)
  • Boy erased: a memoir of identity, faith, and family, by Garrard Conley (2016)
  • Finding Fontainebleau: an American boy in France, by Thad Carhart (2017)
  • Mabel Dodge Luhan: new woman, new worlds, by Lois Palken Rudnick (1987)
  • The house on the strand, by Daphne du Maurier (1969)
  • Christ stopped at Eboli: the story of a year, by Carlo Levi (1945)
  • The years, by Annie Ernaux (2017)
  • Christodora, by Tim Murphy (2016)
  • La bella figura: a field guide to the Italian mind, by Beppe Servignini (2005)
  • It can't happen here, by Sinclair Lewis (1935, 2014 edition)
  • Kitchen confidential: adventures in the culinary underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain (2000, 2007 update)
  • Havana: a subtropical delirium, by Mark Kurlansky (2017)
  • The delight of being ordinary: a road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama, by Roland Merullo (2017)
  • Shortest way home: one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future, by Pete Buttigieg (2019)
  • Notes on a foreign country: an American abroad in a post-American world, by Suzy Hansen (2017)
  • The Sparsholt affair, by Alan Hollinghurst (2017)
  • On earth we're briefly gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (2019)
  • Italy: modern architectures in history, by Diane Yvonne Ghirardo (2011)
  • Giovanni's room, by James Baldwin (1956)
  • The big roads: the untold story of the engineers, visionaries, and trailblazers who created the American superhighways, by Earl Swift (2011)
  • No other world, by Rahul Mehta (2017)

Some observations. The book I perhaps most enjoyed reading was The delight of being ordinary, a fantasy road trip with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Just the good tonic I needed. Rather more escape than the believable dysfunction of It can't happen here. Suzy Hansen of Notes on a foreign country came to Alfred. Her book on the perception of the U.S. in other countries and our effect on them was incredibly informative. She mentioned James Baldwin's time in Turkey and his writings about it but also said that Giovanni's room was her favorite Baldwin book. I decided I wanted to read more Baldwin and the Library of America had a special price on the three Baldwin volumes they've published.

A lot of my reading in 2019 was about somewhere other than the United States, either by authorship, setting, or topic. Quite a few of the books were first published in 2017 and several of those came out in paperback in 2018 and were therefore ripe for the reading in 2019. At the same time, I read several older titles: Ghirardo's Italy because I've long been intrigued by Italian modern architecture, but especially since being in Italy in 2018; Christ stopped at Eboli because it is set in Fascist Italy contemporary with the modern architecture; Daphne du Maurier because a bunch of her books were in the stuff at Matt Mueller's house when Hope and Elizabeth were cleaning it out (from her overstuffed house to mine); Giovanni's room as mentioned above.

I really enjoyed the first Alan Hollinghurst novel I read: The swimming-pool library (1989). Several friends, including Roberto, had mentioned The Sparsholt affair. I liked it well enough but not as well as others of his. It is set in England so it joins the foreign settings of much of my reading.

Though I sometimes consciously pick a fiction title after having read a nonfiction title, that is not always the case or it's unconscious. I am amused that the split (11 fiction, 11 nonfiction) is 50-50 this past year. Perhaps a good omen for 2020. Maybe I'll try to read twenty of each. I haven't started reading it yet but the book I put in my backpack, having finished No other world earlier today, is Europe without Baedeker by Edmund Wilson (1947, 1966 edition). Not U.S., check; older book, check; nonfiction, check. Off to a good start.