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Sonrientes Smiling Figure (Sonrientes), 7th-8th c. Remojadas, gallery 358. Not much is known about this happy figure. There are mixed cues: male and female, old and young, spirit and human, dwarf and child. It’s too small to stand alone and too large to admire in the hand. Emotional facial expressions, as in this figure, are very uncommon in Mesoamerica. I was captured by it from across the gallery and spent a good amount of time with that smile . . . Variations On An Ancestral Theme Left: Purrukuparli, Enraeld Munkara, Tiwi people, 1955, gallery 354. The sobbing Purrukuparli is an ancestor from the Dreaming (primordial creation period). He chooses not to bring his dead son back, but instead announces the concept of mortality and creates the Tiwi burial rituals. “Humans too will someday die”. The very beginning of ancestors. Center: Ancestor Figure (Tsmas), 19th–early 20th c., Paiwan people, gallery 354. Of the Paiwan high nobles, minor nobles and commoners, only the high nobles were allowed to commission human ancestral images. These ancestors have powers, but their influence (help or harm) is controlled by the nobility. Class spirits. Very clear. Right: Male Diviner's Figure, 19th–mid-20th century, Baule people, gallery 352. High artistic achievement, the “more expensive the better”, presents not only the wealth and status of the diviner (and owner) of the image, but also “Dazzles the potential clients” of the artist, building his reputation and social position. The professional artist. “ ” Art Upper left: Seated Figure, Djenne people, 13th c., gallery 350, Upper right: Constantin Brancusi, Mlle Pogany version I, 1913, MoMA, NYC, Bottom: Recumbent Figure, Henry Moore, 1938, Tate Galley, London. “The term primitive is to be avoided or used in quotation marks”. - Tate, London. Originally, Nelson Rockefeller’s collection was called the Museum of Indigenous Art and later the Museum of Primitive Art. His museum and private collections became the Art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Met in 1984. The Met had previously turned down the collection - considered by critics an American "Salon des Refusés". Lime Paraphernalia Lime Spoon with Seated Figure, Inca, 13th–16th c., not on view. Lime Container, Usiai Island, late 19th–early 20th c., Lime spatula (Tap), Latmul people, late 19th–early 20th c., Gallery 354. This container (center) was designed to hold powdered lime made from calcined seashells. The lime was removed through a hole in the top by a spoon (left) or a little spatula (right). Lime was a necessary part of the ritual of coca-leaf chewing; the coca leaves were put into the mouth to form a quid, and the lime was added to activate the drug. got montaigne? - 8oz Hip Drinking Alcohol Flask, Black (right) by Knick Knack Gifts Foot Jars ‘n Cowboy Boots Pair of Ceramic Foot Jars, Peru, Inca Valley Paracas, 2nd-1st c. B.C. Gallery 354 “Some boys went to look for his feet. His toes are made of crystal, so he can hide them, and the boys could not find them. Then the boys... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
In Situ (Ex Situ) (Left) Asmat Tribe, New Guinea. (Right) Bis (funerary) Poles, Asmat peoples, 1960, gallery 354 (Nelson Rockefeller Collection). The question that surfaced, after 3 trips to the Africa, Oceania, and the Americas galleries was one of context. Who were these made for? “Two polar types [of art] stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view.” - Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.” (Left) Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid, Buli Master, possibly Ngongo ya Chintu, 19th Century, gallery 352. (Right) Prestige Stool: Female Caryatid, Songye Peoples, possibly, 19th-20th Century, gallery 352. Many Important ritual items were not made to be seen. For the powerful leaders, prestige stools were wrapped in white cloth and hidden in a distant village. As exhibition value has increased (by capital according to the Marxists) cult value is harder to access. The artifacts are gorgeous, even when clearly not viewed as they were meant to be. “I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” - Frida Kahlo In Absentia Michael C. Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller, adjusts his camera before taking pictures of Papuan men in New Guinea in 1961. Revenge: Ber, head of one of the Asmat villages, was related to the men who killed Michael Rockefeller. In 1969, the journalist Milt Machlin investigated Rockefeller's disappearance. Several leaders of Otsjanep village, where Rockefeller likely would have arrived had he made it to shore, had been killed by a Dutch patrol in 1958. This provided some rationale for the tribe’s revenge against someone from the "white tribe". Neither cannibalism nor headhunting in Asmat were indiscriminate, but rather were part of a tit-for-tat revenge cycle. So it is possible that Rockefeller found himself the inadvertent victim of such a cycle started by the Dutch patrol. “After having a long time treated their prisoners very well, and given them all the regales they can think of, he to whom the prisoner belongs, invites a great assembly of his friends. They being come, he ties a rope to one of the arms of the prisoner, of which, at a distance, out of his reach, he holds the one end himself, and gives to the friend he loves best the other arm to hold after the same manner; which being done, they two, in the presence of all the assembly, despatch him with their swords. After that, they roast him, eat him amongst them, and send some chops to their absent friends. They do not do this, as some think, for nourishment, as the Scythians anciently did, but as a representation of an extreme revenge.” - Montaigne, Of Cannibals “I am not sorry that we should here take... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Medallion with Christ from an Icon Frame, Byzantine, 1100, gallery 303 At the Met, lingering in the darkened galleries of the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, I select a few favorites: Eikonomachía - literally, "image struggle" or "war on icons" - is a controversy over the proper use of religious images, and it results in the destruction of icons in all media. Iconoclasts - "breaker of icons" - is the deliberate destruction within a culture of its own symbols . . . for religious or political motives. Iconolater, Iconodules, and Iconophiles are derisive terms for those who revere or venerate religious images. Electric Chair, 1971, Andy Warhol [Met, not on view]. Gold necklace with Cross, Byzantium, 6th century, gallery 301. “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” - Lenny Bruce “Guillotine of History” Head of Christ, Netherlands, 1480-1520, gallery 306; Head of a Cleric from a Tomb Effigy, France, 1450-60, [not on view]; Head of Emperor Constans, Byzantine, ca. 337–40, gallery 301. Throughout the image wars, the destruction of the head, face (and nose) was rampant, because the head was the most potent symbol of the body. “During the High Middle Ages, portraiture did not rely on likeness . . . thus individual selfhood was subsumed in broader forms of corporate identities.” - The Face in Medieval Sculpture - Met Heilbrun Timeline of History. In my twenty years of business air travel, I would study Tiepolo or Raphael and draw heads - of no one in particular - a flight attendant, a sleeping passenger, the occasional celebrity . . . by abstract construction or memory. Apparently my “corporate identities” philosophy is in accord with the Medieval masters. Nice to know. Montaigne concludes Of Physiognomy with a pair of anecdotes in which his life was threatened, but his kindly demeanor and honest words saved him. “If my face did not answer for me, if people did not read in my eyes and my voice the innocence of my intentions, I would not have lasted so long without quarrel and without harm.” But he also writes, “The face is a weak guarantee.” Bread Branding A ceramic Bread Stamp, Byzantine, 500-900, gallery 300. Inscribed in Greek in reverse,“IC, XC, NIKA”: Jesus Christ Victorious. Used for The Eucharist breads. Interesting the “victory” (NIKA) stems from Nike in the Greek. The Uzbek still carries the tradition of bread stamps: now decorative and secular, the stamps appear all over Etsy for “lively flatbreads” (advertisement below). - We guarantee you'll love our bread stamp(s) or your money back - Makes an ideal Central Asia-theme gift - Added durability (made from walnut tree) - Safer from injury (blunted pins) - No chemical or artificial substances used - Comes with a short maintenance guide - As a bonus, you get Uzbek bread recipes in pdf format - By buying this product, you contribute to a better quality of life for rural Uzbek craftspeople Nike,... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Byzantine Leads to Gothic Sarcophagus, Byzantine, early 300s, gallery 300 Capital with Four Heads, Gothic, 1225–50, gallery 304 Just never saw it that way 1,000 years from the end of Rome to the Renaissance: the gigantic new Christian colloid of Rome, Greece, Persia, Scandinavia, England, Syria: no wonder I never saw the connections . . . and the imagery was a continuum of controversy. “The human spirit cannot keep on floating in this infinity of formless ideas; they must be compiled for it into a definite picture after its own pattern.” - Montaigne Break bitter furies of complexity, Those images that yet Fresh images beget - “Byzantium”, William Butler Yeats “As a living man does not have to give reasons for his breathing, he does not need to explain his beliefs.” - Montaigne “It’s Byzantine” Keystone from a Vaulted Ceiling, Germany, 1220-30, gallery 300 It’s too too complex is the consensus. “Pension savers caught out by ‘byzantine’ tax-relief rules,” reads a headline in The Times of London. “Experience in byzantine water policy key in elections at Coachella Valley agencies,” says an editorial in the Desert Sun. “It’s Complicated: Bosnia’s Byzantine System Of Government,” puns Radio Free Europe. The Formats of Old Friends . . . The Storyboard Ivory Altarpiece, ca. 1390–1400, Italy, gallery 306 Stories in units in framed cells. Time divided into sequence in space. Grids of progression. The DNA for films, graphic novels, cartoons, comics . . . Stories in Light Stained Glass Panels, 15th C., German, gallery 306 Q: How do you tell those biblical stories - Mary as Virgin, Queen, Bride, Mother, Intercessor - to a largely illiterate congregation? A: Stained glass. I have heard that the origin of the term kike comes from Jewish immigrants at Ellis Island who would not sign their names with crosses (X), and signed instead with small circles: kikel or kikeleh in Yiddish shortened to kike, i.e. the people who make little circles. The Articles We “Know” The Last Supper, ca. 1500–1530, German or South Netherlandish, gallery 305 Yes, of course. The Last Supper, The Apostles, The Annunciation, The Madonna, The Child, The Pieta . . . familiar, the stuff of Western Civ. Not “chapter and verse” to me, but by osmosis in school, by television, and my childhood neighbors on their way home from Catechism. In Los Angeles I discovered all the freeways have articles; a Spanish influence. New Yorkers take 95 to 395. Angelenos take The 405 to The 101. Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Have We Met? Suddenly the ancient gods are part elephant (Cambodia) gallery 245, or have “groups” of arms (Myanmar) gallery 250, or are standing on a buffalo (Java) gallery 247. With so many cultures in close proximity, the differences are as surprising as the similarities. The elephant Ganesh in Cambodia is the god for the removal of obstacles - an unusual power - guarding daily existence. Ganesh is a pan-Hindu “crossover” whose role changes in Buddhism and Hinduism throughout Asia. Today, Ganesh Tattoos are very popular. “God sends the cold according to the coat.” - Montaigne “What has become of the discs?” In China, “Bi” - the notion of a covering sky (gaitian) that revolves around a central axis - is like an early form of the carpenter’s square. Often jade is the measure of the owner’s moral integrity. The uses are many, and many uses, unknown. Buddah Records first album was Safe as Milk by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. CLEMO UTI – "THE WATER LILIES" By Ring Lardner CHARACTERS PADRE, a priest. SETHSO} GETHSO} both twins. WAYSHATTEN, a shepherd’s boy. TWO CAPITALISTS 1 WAMA TAMMISCH, her daughter. KLEMA, a janitor’s third daughter. KEVELA, their mother, afterwards their aunt. {TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: This show was written as if people were there to see it.} 1. NOTE: The two Capitalists don’t appear in this show. ACT I The Outskirts of a Parchesi Board. People are wondering what has become of the discs. They quit wondering and sing the following song. CHORUS: What has become of the discs? What has become of the discs? We took them at our own risks, But what has become of the discs? (WAMA enters from an exclusive waffle parlor. She exits as if she had had waffles.) ACTS II & III (These two acts were thrown out because nothing seemed to happen.) The Recumbent Pig Pigs in Recumbent Position, China, 1st-2nd Century, Gallery 207 (top, bottom pigs not on view). These recumbent pigs were often placed in the hands of the deceased to express the wish for wealth in the afterlife. If you got pigs (dead or alive), it’s good news . . . wealth, abundance, plenty. Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Streams and Mountains Without End I did some Met mezzanine stuff, but now the second floor . . . China: The landscape in length: “The Mountains in Fog” is a scroll (1’ high and over 20’ long) and is “time over size”, “like time over strength” in “ruin lust” (see Week Two). The involvement of the viewer - walking the path - is a “different” form of contemplation. The landscape in sheer size: “The Palace of Nine Perfections” [Yuan Jiang, Qing dynasty, 1691] is over 6’ high and 18’ long. It dominates the room; the impact is immediate. On the Importance of Being: Flowers and Birds Exaltations of Nature. Vase with flowering plants and birds, China, late 17th-early 18th century, gallery 200. Mankind . . . we regard as only one of Nature’s varied manifestations, and less worthy of appearing in the annals of Art than any other element: the fragile beauty of a flower or the graceful motions of a bird in flight rouses in our hearts, an emotion as poignant as any human loveliness or pain. - The Chinese Eye, Chiang Yee, 1935. Moon Vase Moon-shaped bottle, China, 18th century, “slippery stone”, gallery 200. “Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do”. - Montaigne The Celebration of Error Kenzan-style Dish with Bamboo Leaves, Japan, 17th–18th century (not on view) kintsugi (kintsukuroi) gold lacquer repair. Artist Uses Kintsugi to Mend Cracked Streets with Gold. Window onto Bamboo on a Rainy Day “There are four principal ways of painting bamboo. In fair-weather, the leaves are spread out joyously; in rainy-weather, the leaves hang down despondently, in windy-weather, the leaves cross each other confusedly, and in the dew of early morning the leaves all point up vigorously.” - Henry P. Bowie, On the Laws of Japanese Painting, 1911. Family apocrypha claims that at 2 I was bilingual in English and Japanese. Our gardener Mr. Yamamoto spoke no English, but our talks gave me an appreciation of bamboo, gardens, and the Japanese grid. Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Almost a Hero I was given the middle initial “C” in memory of my grandmother Celia, who had not yet died. The “C” was a placeholder for a middle name I would select. At 15, I chose Clisthenes, the Athenian tyrant and founder of the first democracy. History contains so much quiet violence. After 9/11, my “C” and my Clisthenes were removed by the Social Security Administration. Apparently my parents had not included the “C” on the birth certificate, and I never filed a legal name change (who knew). “On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”- Montaigne Difficult Vocabulary Catullus, Tibullus, Horace and Ginsberg [Carpe Diem, 1968-1972]. It was a difficult time. As teenage poets, Simon Schuchat and I published Buffalo Stamps, a poetry magazine, costs partially paid with my Bar Mitzvah money. We would take the Greyhound Bus to NY and search for poets. We found them, and kindly many gave us poems: Ted Berrigan, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Anselm Hollo, Lewis MacAdams, Bruce Andrews. Simon continued on (and continues today!). Simon somehow got Allen Ginsberg’s phone number and got him to read at our high school. The condition was an airport pick-up and drop-off at his hotel. Simon agreed, not mentioning we weren't old enough to drive. A prize moment, the master reading in the gym, including what our faculty deemed “difficult” vocabulary. “Mouth my tongue touched once or twice all ash [ . . . ] youthful cock tip, curly pubis” - “On Neal’s Ashes” (1971). Catullus, Carmen 16: My Harvard Loeb Classic edition includes the “difficult” lines (“Fuck you, up your ass and in your mouth”) in Latin but excludes them in the English on the opposing page. Other editions presented this complete poem as a “fragment”. Ancient censorship! I was proud that our high school allowed vocabulary that Harvard Press did not. Mesmerized then and now: the comfort of re-reading Kaddish and “Ave atque vale” (“Hail and farewell”) when my father passed away. Two musical tongues: one with and one without definite and indefinite articles. Honey, Milk, Wine and a Prayer No matter how humanistic it got, much of the ancient arts served as entry tickets to the underworld. “The Romans, by reason that this poor syllable death sounded so harshly to their ears and seemed so ominous, found out a way to soften and spin it out by a periphrasis, and instead of pronouncing such a one is dead, said, ‘Such a one has lived,’ or ‘Such a one has ceased to live’ . . . provided there was any mention of life in the case, though past, it carried yet some sound of consolation”. - Montaigne Lonely? I was drawn in: Greek sculptures: their anatomy, their balance, their contrapposto. But also static: perfect musculature but never tense. Repressed, idealized, or both? The abstraction was key. Ivins remarks there are few groups of interacting subjects. A singular wrestler. “The figures are frighteningly lonely.” * I spent... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Almost Gods Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.” - Montaigne Entering the galleries of Greece and Rome was startling, coming as I did from Egyptian art. Jackal heads in profile on frontal torsos had become familiar, normal. But a new normal arrived: geometry, anatomical form, and gods “like us”. “Numberless are the world’s wonders, but none / more wonderful than man . . .” - Sophocles, Antigone “Divine Proportion” 500-400 BCE. Big Math. Discovered, lost, and rediscovered . . . “Things which coincide with one another are equal one to another.” - Euclid The original Met logo was based on a woodcut by Friar Luca Pacioli (1445–1517). He taught mathematics to Leonardo da Vinci, and Leonardo illustrated his “On the Divine Proportion”. You get an actual measure of golden ratio proportion and “beauty” using the golden ratio face calculator that is included in PhiMatrix golden ratio design software (2012). 3G “The Three Graces, so popular in their time . . . that they appear on mosaics, frescoes, sarcophagi, silver tableware, terra-cotta oil lamps, personal objects such as engraved gems, and even coins.” Roman art, gallery 169, MetText Greece and Rome continue: Versace’s Medusa; Super Bowl Roman numerals (I - LIII); the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials; and of course the precedent for txting: the abbreviation. a.k.a., a.m., p.m., i.e., e.g., p.s., (sic), vs., etc. Laws of the Folds Veils in stone. Glorious in execution. Whenever I feel that the artistry in representing the fold is underrated, I look to George Bridgman. I used to give copies of Drawing the Draped Figure: The Seven Laws of the Folds to many design colleagues. Although “not on view”, the annotation of the folds of an evening dress in the Met refers to Oscar Wilde’s principles of dress: "I am not proposing any antiquarian revival of ancient costume, but trying merely to point out the right laws of dress, laws which are dictated by art and not by archaeology, by science and not by fashion; and just as the best work of art in our days is that which combines classic grace with absolute reality, from continuation of the Greek principles of beauty . . . will come, I feel certain, the costumes of the future." Figure/Ground Q: What is it about Greek figure that makes me crazy? A: It grounds what will become neoclassic - the “master drawing” tradition I love. Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Almost a Face Faces are distant, a bit melancholy, with a youthful, somewhat automatic beauty”. Egyptian art, gallery 121, MetText This is the beginning of semi-circular eyes. Semi is sufficient, more than sufficient in these halls of faces. Some faces are more distant than others . . . Ruin Lust Wooden boats to sail to the afterlife. Fragments of jewelry. Wondrous arrangements of shards. Marred lotus blossoms. Photographs when sepia reigned. Ruins, real or confected, embody "the triumph of time over strength, a melancholy but not unpleasant thought". - Lord Kames, Elements of Criticism, 1762. ‘But the closer I came to the ruins . . . the more I imagined myself amidst the remains of our civilization after its extinction in some future catastrophe.” - W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, 1995. “I see a day in the future when the world as we know it has ended and the only reason I am able to survive is the experience I have gained playing these [post apocalyptic role playing] games. Crazy, I know but a man is allowed to dream right?” - Bill Wilson, [PARPG Review], Appauls, 2019. See Frostpunk, Horizon Zero Dawn, Neverdark, Wasteland 2. Not Documented “With time and custom a man doth acquaint and enure himself to all strangeness; but the more I frequent and know myself, the more my deformitie astonieth and the less I understand myself.” - Montaigne On Entering the “Afterwork“ From the galleries 100-138 covering the Kingdoms of Egypt emerge the first learnings. The slow non-directed viewings of these relics allow memory to inform the present. What will my “function” be in the afterwork? I start at 65 this intuitive tracing . . . my Papyrus of Alec. 4.5% Met* *At this writing, rooms 139-149 seem to be missing. So far, not one of the entry staff can explain the missing rooms or room numbers. These will be investigated. Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I propose to walk to the Met 100 times, viewing 8-10 rooms per visit, during the next 2 years. Each visit will be at least 1 hour, but not more than 4, depending on subject, condition, and the intensity of my response. The method will be “of Montaigne” via Gide. Documentation follows. Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 24, 2019