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Nize Baby! Top: Épinette des Vosges, Amant Constant Lambert, late 19th c., not on view. Bottom: Film credits, The Third Man, 1949; Album Cover, Soothing Sounds for Baby, 1962. An épinettier (a player of the musical instrument; see above) followed Montaigne, along with his tutor, from room to room, playing tunes whenever he was tired or bored. This was a ritual he learned as a child. “Being of opinion that it troubles and disturbs the brains of children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and t... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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The Founder Top left: The Adoration of the Magi, Giotto di Bondone, c. 1320, gallery 644. Top right: The Adoration of the Magi (detail), Giotto di Bondone,1305-06, Arena Chapel, Italy. Bottom right: Halley’s Comet, 1986, ESA’s Giotto Spacecraft photograph. Bottom left: c. 1100, Fresco, The Cloisters, New York City. Center: The Virgin and Child (detail), Giotto di Bondone, 1320-30, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. As I wind up the galleries of European Painting, I must touch on a few last painters before proceeding on to Musical Instruments (680-684). At least a nod to Giotto, the founder of European painting: “Real” space was his contribution. He created a sense of depth, by simply placing the figures in tiers, one behind another. Big steps to naturalism and perspective. Compare to the earlier fresco on a similar theme at the Cloisters. Compare also his Halley's Comet — the model for his “Star of Bethlehem” — to a spacecraft photo of it. The European Space Agency named its mission to Halley's Comet “Giotto”, because, although the comet was noted much earlier, he made the first “scientific'” drawing of it in recorded history. And what a punim on that Madonna. "For pictures formed by his brush follow nature’s outlines so closely . . . so realistically that they appear to speak, weep, rejoice and do other things.” - Filippo Villani, De origine civitatis Florentiae et euisdem famosis civibus. Trade, Tronies and DINKs Left to right: Study: Head of a Young Woman, Anthony van Dyck, 1618-20, not on view. Bearded Man with a Velvet Cap, Govert Flinck, 1645, gallery 964. Study of a Young Woman, Johannes Vermeer, 1665-67, gallery 964. Study of an African Man with a Turban, Peter Paul Rubens, 1608, present location unknown. The four oils above are all technically tronies, not portraits. “Tronie” comes from an informal Dutch word for face, like “mug” in English (from the Old French troigne). Unlike the portrait — a commissioned piece with a known sitter — the tronie is an “intriguing” but anonymous face to be sold in the art market. First used as studies and as storehouses of expressions and facial types for history paintings, the tronie developed into its own genre. Van Dyck was directed toward the genre by Rembrandt, who painted many tronies and used them to advance his reputation as a master of rugged human experience. Flinck, a pupil of Rembrandt’s, had so internalized his teacher’s method that, within a year, his paintings were sold as the master’s own. Here he captures the “sitter’s craggy physiognomy”. The Vermeer, in a 1696 auction, was described as “a tronie in antique dress, uncommonly artful”. Rubens painted Study of an African Man with a Turban (his earliest surviving Black tronie) while observing other artists making head studies in Rome. All tronies; no names, no stories. The mercantile class wanted faces from their own societies on their walls, not Heracles, Aristotle, or Marie Antoinette. I was never particularly interested in the museum plaque hypotheses, such as... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Still Life With . . . Left: Still Life with Flowers and Fruit, Henri Fantin-Latour, 1866, gallery 824. Top right: Still Life with a Glass and Oysters, Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1640, gallery 964. Center right: Still Life: Fish, William Merritt Chase, 1908, gallery 774. Bottom right: Still Life with an Apple, Alberto Giacometti, 1937, not on view. Inclined to try an “on-line tour”? Search the Met for “Still life” (https://www.metmuseum.org/search-results#!/search?q=Still%20life). You will find 2,453 results, all relevant, with the exception of the painter Clyfford Still. A few to start: Fantin-Latour always appealed, even in my anti-academic periods. Which is why it seems amusing that the Paris Academy was not a fan . . . and sad that Fantin-Latour himself loathed his own flowers. The Academy considered still lifes the lowest genre of painting, “even allowing woman to exhibit them”. Fantin-Latour said of his flowers, “Never have I had more ideas about Art in my head, and yet I am forced to do flowers. While painting them—standing before the peonies and roses—I think of Michelangelo. This cannot go on.” But many were captivated: Monet, Manet, Sergeant, Whistler, and over 150 years of collectors. Part of the Met’s Founding Purchase of 1871, the de Heem is of the vanitas sub-genre pronkstilleven. (Dutch for “ostentatious still life”), commenting on the “unrelenting lure of earthly pleasures and the sinful nature of humankind.” - MetText. Vanitas usually has death images combined with luxury items but not these. These are filled with known symbols of opulence: lemon peels, oysters, and Roemer glasses (German crystal for white wine). Some art school should claim the motto “Lux et Vanitas”. Ja, natuurlijk! Worried that he would be known to future generations only as “a painter of fish”, yet pleased by his success, Chase considered his fish paintings, "an uninteresting subject so inviting and entertaining by means of fine technique that people will be charmed at the way you've done it." His students wrote about his speed: “He went to the fish market, bought the fish, he painted it, and returned the fish before it went bad". Chase said, “It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.” Giacometti’s mature style evolved through his early struggle with scale. Until 1945, none of his figure sculptures were more than 2.5” high. “Often they became so tiny that with one touch of my knife they disappeared into dust.” His still lifes were no exception — “I was in [father’s] studio drawing some pears on a table, at the normal distance for a still life. And the pears kept getting tiny. I'd begin again, and they'd always go back to exactly the same size. My father got irritated and said, 'But just do them as they are, as you see them!' And he corrected them. I tried to do them as he wanted but I couldn't stop myself. . . . Half an hour later they were exactly... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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POV . . . LOP Enlarged detail and inset painting: Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d'Ognes, Marie Denise Villers, 1801, gallery 629. In my corporate days, I lived with many a LOP, a list of open points. This fine work, always considered exceptional, has one serious LOP. Artist: First attributed to Jacques-Louis David, it was then assigned to Marie Denise Villers, Constance Marie Charpentier, Marie du Val d’Ognes (self-portrait of the sitter), or even her sister. Scene: Whoever made the portrait depicts a woman in one of the studios available in the Louvre to qualified artists. Professional women . . . with private lives . . . in radical outfits? Much is proposed, little is certain. Details: The broken window pane can be read as a subtle reference to the chaos and violence of the French revolution. The pink of her ribbon was “the color” of 1801. Technique: “Perspective is represented by sight lines that cross through matter. Is this why the pane of glass is broken in the Met portrait? Are perspective rays powerful enough to break glass?” - Anne Higonnet “Through a Louvre Window,” Journal18, 2016. But Montaigne would say, “The soul which has no established viewpoint gets lost; for, as they say, he who is everywhere, is nowhere.” Three Knaves and a Diversion Top:The Fortune-Teller, Georges de La Tour, 1630s, gallery 634. Bottom left: The Cardsharps, Caravaggio, 1595, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Bottom right: The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, Georges de La Tour, 1630s, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Quatremère de Quincy coined the term petit genre in 1792 . . . and ranked landscape painting at the bottom, because observation from nature supposedly required little imagination. At the top were grande genre (history paintings), because history required a great deal of imagination. Petit genre (ordinary people in common activities) was in the middle, requiring only some imagination. And of course they were priced and sized for the new bourgeois collectors. The card playing scenes are a mix of diversion and isolation. Modern criticism sees the minimal eye contact of the subjects “as aloneness”. Other readings are possible. The Caravaggio could be titled Maesh, Louie and Babe, after my great uncles. Once, after taking my 10-year-old cousins’ allowance money in crazy eights, Uncle Maesh (a Chicago mob lawyer in the 1920s-30s) advised, “don't bet more than you can afford to lose, and never play cards with strangers”. I asked Uncle Babe (day manager at Caesar’s Palace) why they had Evil Knievel jump the casino fountain. “There will be an extra million dollars of private bets - how many bones he will break, will his bike catch on fire . . . and half of those betting will be ‘ahead’ at our door. That money will not leave the property.” Uncle Louie (a bail bondsman and pawn shop owner) had a standard greeting: “You got two tens for a five and I’ll owe you five?” These petit genre paintings feel like a reunion... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Bellini, Raw Pork and Opium Left: Madonna Adoring the Sleeping Child, Giovanni Bellini, 1460s, not on view. Top: The Night-Hag Visiting Lapland Witches, Henry Fuseli, 1796, gallery 633. Bottom: The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781, Detroit Institute of Arts. Right: The sleep of reason produces monsters, Francisco de Goya, 1799, not on view. Getting the gestalt of gallery 633, titled Goya and the Eighteenth Century in Italy, was tough. Tiepolos, Goya's portraits from his “black period” - when he almost died from illness - and Fuseli’s Night-Hag. The influences on Fuseli are noted: Bellini’s infant on a stone slab; classical pyramid compositions; masterful chiaroscuro. And his utterly personal vision not based on typical themes of the canon. The Nightmare became a mark of Romanticism. “She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair.” - Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818. The narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) compares one of the paintings in the Usher House with Fuseli’s painting: “irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.” Freud had a copy of The Nightmare in his study, enamored of Fuseli’s aphorism, “One of the most unexplored regions of art are dreams.” Ernest Jones used the image for the frontispiece in his On The Nightmare. Although rumors would attribute Fuseli’s visions to consuming raw pork and opium, the results were horrific, but not diseased. Somehow the Enlightenment brought fantasies floating in clouds, winged beasts, and demonic imagination. Five Ways To Conjugate an Oil Sketch Allegory of the Planets and Continents, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1752, gallery 633. Top left: Madame Théodore Gobillard, Edgar Degas, 1869, gallery 815. Top right: Woman with a Dog, painting and riccordo (14 fantasy portraits), Jean Honoré Fragonard, 1769, gallery 630. Bottom left: Fontainebleau: Oak Trees at Bas-Bréau, Camille Corot, 1832, gallery 803. Bottom right: Sketch for The Haywain, John Constable, 1820, not on view. The general term “oil sketch” comes long after the creation of these rapid intuitive paintings. Earlier, more specific names were derived from the function of the work. The modello, for example, was made for clients and was a business task in ateliers. All of these forms were seen only as stages toward finished works and not considered worthy of public exhibition. Modello: A finished presentation sketch specifically for “patron approval”. (Tiepolo’s proposal included this sketch for the Residenz Palace fresco in Würzburg, Germany.) Ébauche: Unfinished (for any reason). (Degas, after several dry media studies, left the oil sketch unfinished. It was a favorite of Mary Cassatt.) Riccordo: A reduced version of a large work for the artist’s records. (Fragonard, after completing his 14 fantasy portraits, copied each oil sketch as a thumb-nail for himself. Although not in oil, they are “riccordos of oil sketches”.) Esquisse: Smaller than final. (Corot enlarged the small landscape (shown above) in his... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Couple Politics Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement, Fra Filippo Lippi, ca. 1440, gallery 644; Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze), Jacques Louis David, French, 1788, not on view; Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, John Singer Sargent, 1897, gallery 771. The Filippo Lippi caught my eye, even online, while simulating my Met visits. This inconvenience is certainly a petty annoyance compared to our viral trauma. Covid-19. If history is a model, the plague that devastated medieval Europe did lay the foundations for humanism and the Renaissance. May we be half as lucky. So . . . I go to the Met map . . . pick a gallery, find its title (e.g. 603, Filippo Lippi to Botticelli) . . . search by gallery number and title . . . hope to find the works in that room. Be wary . . . the search lists every 603, including, for example, the 19th century horse carriage drawing, Design for Coupé, no. 603 ("Medium Size Clarence on C Springs"). The Filippo Lippi is the earliest surviving double portrait. It demonstrates the Italian preference for the profile over the three-quarter view. Her sleeve is embroidered with letters spelling "lealta" (faithful). The scale and pose of the couple invite a lot of discussion in the blog world. . . . They are on separate planes. . . . His hand is on an ownership crest . . . his to share? his to gain? And of course the male’s shadow refers to Pliny’s origin of painting; “a lover traces the contours of the shadow cast by his beloved” (my italics). Does this mean she is the inventor of painting? Robert Burton in his 17th-century bestseller The Anatomy of Melancholy claims the action is by the woman, tracing her man’s shadow, to comfort her while he is off in the wars. Lavoisier was a research chemist, analyzing gunpowder, oxygen, and the chemical composition of water. In 1789 he published a chemistry textbook illustrated by his wife. Because of his politics, Lavoisier’s portrait was withdrawn from the 1789 Paris Salon and not exhibited for a century. Madame Lavoisier sits unusually higher than her husband in the painting and is looking directly outwards . . . at David with whom she had studied. Lavoisier was guillotined, David died in exile, not allowed burial in France. And Marie Anne? She remarried “badly” and kept the portrait in her rooms for the rest of her life. Sargent decided to portray Edith Minturn Stokes in sporty daywear with a Great Dane at her side. Her husband had "a sudden inspiration," he later recalled, when the dog became unavailable, and "offered to assume the role of the Great Dane in the picture." - MetText Blackboard My-Opia Left: Mrs. Welch’s class photo; Right: Monet’s Haystacks, Art Institute of Chicago. Mrs. Welch, my 1st grade teacher, discovered I was myopic. The blackboard was interesting, but I was unaware of anything written on it.... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Met Absent(e) % Met floor plan: Yellow highlighted galleries have been viewed, 3/14/2020. Inset: Dans un café, L'absinthe, Edgar Degas, Musée d'Orsay, 1875; Van Gogh Absente Poster; Photo of Toulous-Lautrec drinking Absenthe, 1910. I have visited ~55 times and viewed all galleries up to 599, 55% complete. As Absenthe is 55% alcohol and often depicted in paintings, it seems to be an auspicious metric for entering “European Paintings”. But now I have an absent Met. Closed due to Corona Virus. Memories of viewings, Met online musings, and modified methods will follow. After all, Montaigne “sheltered in place” with 1,500 books in self-imposed reclusion for almost 10 years. “In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.” - Montaigne, inscription on his bookshelves, 1571. The Shape of Labor The Harvesters, detail, and analysis, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565, gallery 642. Shape: “If Bruegel’s peasants give the landscape its function, their tool gives it its form. Here, an entire world is constructed around the shape of its most essential unit; the shape of the scythe borne by the figure in the lower left corner.” Labor: “Each scythe-arc reveals the stages of the economic system: harvested wheat to the road; a cart to the village; a distant town to the ships; to the centers of manufacture and trade. The painting connects the dots of a newly expanding economy, depicting the peasants as the heart of a system that profits only those at the far end.” Extracts from On Bruegel's The Harvesters, Henry McMahon, The Painter’s Table (blog), 2016. In college I had a neighbor, previously a second-tier official British Royal portrait painter, who’d fallen on hard times. His family trust kept him out of England, quietly in Baltimore when not institutionalized. He gave me a signed copy of a Salvador Dali book in exchange for my K&L Feeds hat with “I eat eggs” on one side and “I drink milk” on the other. His exit came with an alcohol binge: hands painted red, displaying the shapes of labor in the local bar; hammer in one hand, sickle in the other. Halves: Hip Gables and Basement Windows Left: Two Cottages, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1636, not on view. Right: The Anderson’s Half-Hip Home, Alec Bernstein, 2020. Drawn to Rembrandt. The cottages, farms, and feelings of Rembrandt’s half-hip gabled roofs bring thoughts of the Dutch-style Chicago bungalows I grew up with. Good for snow. The sketch is the view out my bedroom window. These homes had basement half-windows at ground level outside and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Ornament , Automata & Crime Left: Two Spherical Clocks, George Seydell, Germany, 17th c. Right: Caricature of Engravers "in the Greek Style", Jean Charles Delafosse, French. Bottom: Ostrich Egg Ewer, Hans Claus I, German, 1630. Sawtooth gravity clock, Isaak Ourry, 1710. Multi-faced Equatorial Sundial, Wolfgang Mayr, 1604. Cryptological Code Dividers, Joachim Deuerlin, 1633. All in exhibition gallery 999. The “Making Marvels” exhibition is a technical side-car of the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries. The elite add machines to their sculptures, as if movement automatically makes decor virtuosic. It is a clear case of just how complicated one can make something when unlimited resources and desire meet. Ornamentation, according to Adolf Loos, “is a luxury that is slowing down the human evolution because men are wrongly focused on things they do not need”. - Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908-13. “Less is more” - Mies van der Rohe, 1947. In the language of my comic book childhood, of which this exhibit reminds me, ‘Nuff said.’ Then again, ornament has been a key element for unconscious release, linked to fantasy and desire*, embodying the never before seen, heard, thought. It has lived on artifacts since there have been artifacts.“Less is a bore” - Robert Venturi, 1966. * Ornament, Fantasy, and Desire in Nineteenth Century French Literature, Rae Beth Gordon, Princeton University Press, 1992. Angel Action Miraculous Writing Machine, Friedrich von Knaus, 1760, Austrian, gallery 999. The video is worth the watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLUoDSNDj4U. Or scroll down to the miraculous writing machine at the Met videos of all automata at https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/making-marvels-science-splendor/art-in-motion. Subtleties: Molded, Pulled, Blown, Pressed, Sold Left: Harlequin, Fürstenberg Porcelain Manufactory, 1764, after model of 1754, gallery 538. Right: Designs for a pastillage pièce montée in the form of a putto in a chariot being drawn by a hunting poodle and (above) hunting poodle “at rest”, watercolor, 1820, The Bowes Museum. Bottom: A view of the Empire dessert setting. https://www.historicfood.com/Royal-sugar-Sculpture.htm. Initially, European porcelain figures were permanent versions of the very popular sugar sculptures. Sugar table decorations for special occasions were called subtleties* and used by European elites from the Renaissance to the 18th Century. At the meal’s end, they were eaten or taken as souvenirs. The Bowes Museum sugar sculpture archive has 47 moulds for a total of 730 different objects, with 62 tools and 26 drawings. In the developing bourgeois society, porcelain figurines found a permanent place on mantelpieces and side tables: an entirely new market success. * see Kara Walker’s sculpture Sugar Sphinx A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, 2014; and Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney N. Mintz, Penguin, 1985. Kick Up Your Heels and...Relax Boiserie from the Palais Paar, 30 Wollzeile, Vienna, Austria, architect Isidor Canevale (1730–1786),1765–72, gallery 526. Inset: Palais Paar, exterior, 1907. The Baron’s Suite, info@chateaugrandluce.com. In case you need an extended, more personal experience of this style, you may rent The Baron’s Suite at the Chateau Grand-Luce in the Loire Valley. Only $15,000 per night, complete with “private... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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And Away We Go Model for a Proposed Monument to Commemorate the Invention of the Balloon, ca. 1784, Clodion (Claude Michel) French, gallery 552. I had walked by this exuberant monument proposal without at first seeing its story. Consider this marvel: “This airy Rococo flight of fancy - in which putti pile bundles of hay to launch the balloon, guided by Fame and propelled by Aeolus - is difficult to imagine in marble. Gradually, hot-air ballooning spread to the point of being commonplace, and the project was dropped.” - MetText This celebration of balloon flight seems a perfect opening to the ESDA department (European Sculpture and Decorative Arts): Hotel rooms, boudoirs, often gilded, and sculpture raw and cooked in bone, wood, silks, marble, crystal. . . and some with all of the above. I knew there would be surprises. Raw Ideas Above: Children and Satyr Children with a Pantheress and Her Cubs, detail and (inset) complete, ca. 1781, Clodion (Claude Michel) gallery 552. Below: Pieta, 1864, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, France, gallery 552. The terra cottas in gallery 552 feel like the first captures of ideas. “Modelling in clay is to the sculptor what drawing on paper is to the painter… In the soft clay the genius of the artist is seen in its utmost purity and truth…” - Johann Joachim Winckelmann, History of Art, 1776. “Mounding the clay pellets and pressing them into shape in mere seconds, Carpeaux’s entire attention is on the Virgin Mary's maternal embrace, to the virtual exclusion of Christ's legs.” - MetText It is my favorite 3D medium. To be well read on the contradictions (classic theme vs. modern expression) of art in the age of reason is one thing. To walk into a gallery and feel it is yet another. Is excluding Christ’s legs rational or raw? Hyphen-Love Le Trait d’Union, June 1872, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, France, gallery 552. “The term trait d’union is French for hyphen, the sign linking the parts of a compound word. Here it poetically signifies the familial ties that were renewed when Carpeaux and his wife reconciled after their little son Charles recovered from terrifying convulsions. Amélie is on Carpeaux’s lap. Charles binds their heads in an embrace. The reconciliation was brief and Carpeaux himself was soon jealous all over again and already desperately sick.” - MetText Poetic hyphen? Desperately sick? Again? On this text description, I would have preferred either much more or much less. Their arms, in this context, look like parentheses, which I love. “Real” Portraits Left: Hypocrite and a Slanderer, ca. 1770–83, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Germany, gallery 548. Right: Child Portrait, Jean Antoine Houdon (French, Versailles 1741–1828 Paris) gallery 552. After early commissions and rising stature, Messerschmidt’s late portrait sculptures were at first considered outsider art - exhibited as a freak-show attraction at a carnival - but much later seen as important precursors to both Modernism and Expressionism. Houdon’s intense naturalism has an equally accurate sense of realism. His children’s portraits express Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “Childhood as a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Tear Catchers (?) Swan-Neck Glass Bottle, Iran, 19th c., gallery 462; Christie’s South catalog. “It is unclear how bottles of this shape were used, though sometimes they are known as ashkdans and were supposedly for collecting the tears of wives whose husbands were away at war”. - MetText It seems that the use of a tear catcher or lachrymatory bottle is probably not ancient nor even Victorian. More likely they are a romantic myth based on the “eye shaped” openings: The bottles hold funeral tears, and when they evaporate, the mourning period ends. No science here, but so beloved by enthusiasts of the Victorian art of mourning that they are sold and collected even now. Christie's sold two 18th c. bottles in 2014, very like the 19th c. bottle at the Met. For tear enthusiasts, see https://tearcatcher.com/tear-bottles/tear-bottle-history/. “With each tear bottle, you will receive an elegant organza gift bag and a small story card that explains the intriguing history and meaning behind the tear bottle”. Pilgrim Flasks Pilgrim Flasks; Left: India or Deccan, early 17th c., gallery 463, Right: Turkey, early 17th c, gallery 469. Unlike the tear bottles, these pilgrim flasks have a clear function, and appear in many regions and eras. These Islamic vessels were designed to collect and bring home holy water, sanctuary lamp oil or sand from a sacred site. Sometimes called a Zamzameyyah, because pilgrims took holy water from the famous well in Mecca called Zamzam. The word derives from Zomë Zomë, meaning "stop flowing" - a command repeated by Abraham’s wife Hajar attempting to contain spring water in the desert. Pilgrim flasks (not on view): Left, Pasargadae, Iran, ca. 4th–3rd century B.C., Middle, Ctesiphon, Iraq, 8th c., Right, Iran, ca. 3rd c. B.C.–A.D. These early ceramic versions are found in Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures and are documented in the Crusades. The twin strap-eyed design has a marvelous continuity over millennia. Parrots Top: Finial in the Form of a Parrot, Northern India, 17th–18th century, gallery 464 Bottom and detail: Dagger with Zoomorphic Hilt (India, Deccan, Bijapur or Golconda), 16th c., gallery 463. In Tutinama (A Parrot’s Tale) the parrot tells 52 stories to his owner Khojasta, to prevent her from having an affair while her husband is away. A mynah and a parrot are her guards. The wife strangles the mynah for advising her not to indulge. The parrot, realizing the gravity of the situation, narrates distracting stories over the next fifty-two nights: a more indirect approach. I lived under flocks of these fine birds in Pasadena, CA and often woke to their extreme calls. I understand their assigned role as storytellers. Textiles Underfoot The Emperor's Carpet and detail, Iran, 16th c., gallery 462. Ushak Medallion Carpet on White Ground and detail, Turkey, 17th c., not on view. Part of Shah ‘Abbas’ (r. 1587–1629) program for restructuring the economy and attracting European merchants was the expansion of both the production and international trading of carpets. They were traded to Europe and the Far East... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for the comment. My learning curve in this terrain is steep. As I depend on Montaigne, I simple quote him here. “Mistakes often escape our eyes, but it is the sign of a poor judgment if we are unable to see them when shown to us by another . . . indeed to recognize one’s ignorance is one of the best and surest signs of judgment that I know.” AB
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Beauty-Writing (Callos-Graphia) “Handwriting is jewelry fashioned by the hand from the pure gold of the intellect.” - treatise on the penmanship of Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, 9th century. The diacritical marks indicate vowels (the alphabet has consonants only). The text is always cursive and has no upper or lower case (although shape variants are used in the beginning, middle or end of a word). Proportions are determined by a pen-stroke dot “grid” system within a circle. How the Arabic letter “teh” is written: in its positions, and with its “isolated” proportion guides. Chat with a Lampstand Lampstand, Iran, 1578-79, gallery 462 Inscriptions are often verses of conversations. This lampstand “speaks” to its owner/viewer in a dialog of flame. “I remember one night as my eyes wouldn’t sleep I heard a moth speaking with a candle Said the moth: Because I am a lover it is right that I should burn [But] why should you weep and burn yourself up?” Planning, Truth and Happiness "Planning before work protects you from regret; prosperity and peace.” “It seems worthless to me, even after all the terrible things we have had to go through, if we writers do not tell each other the truth.” "To its owner happiness, security and life as long as a dove coos.” The bowl with Arabic inscription (top left) has an abstract, almost contemporary, minimalist design, inscribed with a proverb on planning. It is stunning. Iran, 10th c., gallery 450. The plate (top right) 2007, is from the Oskarmaria Brasserie inside Literaturhaus Munich, the cultural institute promoting education and literary events. After the salmon was enjoyed, a writer at our table discovered the phrase on writers and truth on the plate. At the end of the meal, a German colleague went to the kitchen and returned with the plate in a brown paper bag. She forced it from the hands of the staff. The Brasserie’s namesake, Oskar Maria Graf, was a German writer who, when the Nazis did not have his books on the Munich book-burning list, published an article entitled “Burn Me”. He got on the list. The pen box (Qalamdan) (bottom) sends praise to the “owner”, fashioned from brass and inlaid with silver and gold. Iran, 16th century, gallery 462. May there always be cooing . . . Amulets and Talismans This shirt was believed to be imbued with protective powers and may have been meant to be worn under armor in battle. Its surface is decorated with painted squares and medallions and the entire Qur'an written out and bordered by the ninety-nine names of God written in gold against an orange background. Talismanic Shirt and detail, Northern India or Deccan ,15th–early 16th c., not on view. The power of the names of religious figures (Mohammed’s relatives), the Qur'anic verses, and the Shi'i prayers endow this standard with its amuletic properties. E.g. the “Protective Throne Verse”: “His Throne doth extend/ Over the heavens/ And the earth, and He feeleth/ No fatigue in guarding/ And preserving them . .... Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Ancient Anatomies “Abstract” rendering of an Assyrian leg, gallery 401. “Conceptual” 3D digital lower leg. The Assyrians are often critiqued for their artistic expressions of violence. I see only strength and beauty in the style. I love the anatomical languages of the Near East, regardless of interpretation. “The anatomical landmarks and contours of the leg muscles are prominently depicted in an exaggerated manner (just like a bodybuilder’s), to convey the powerful nature of the creature. The skin folds on the right patella and the hypertrophied calf are well expressed (had the sculptor studied anatomy?). There is (or what appears to be) a prominent superficial vein “beneath” the skin of the lower right leg.” - Osama S. M. Amin, http://etc.ancient.eu/?s=Anatomy&submit=Search “Fools that you are; you do not recognize that the limbs of your ancestors are still present therein.” - Montaigne Detail: Statue of Montaigne by Paul Landowski, Square Paul Painlevé, Paris, France. “ON THE POLYSEMY OF THE FIST” Left: Copper Object in the form of clenched fist, ca. Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (Turkmenistan), late 3rd–early 2nd millennium B.C., gallery 403. Center: Abecedario - https://phmuseum.com/francesca_seravalle/story/the-fist-photos-on-the-polysemy-of-the-fist-d883b7a49 Right: “The tiny hands measure 1-1/4" long (right fisted hand) and 1-1/2" long (left hand open palm) with a forearm circumference of 1-7/8" and diameter opening of 1/2". If you have a project requiring (lots of) little hands, this is a wonderful find!” - Etsy There is no understanding of this ancient clenched fist - not its use or any related information. My speculative fist research led me to contradictory semantics, including black power and white supremacy, to the Masonic fist of capitalism to the communist fist of the Spanish Revolution. Babies clench their fists for the first few months of life. A surprisingly similar number of explanations are available, from the palmar grasp reflex to the immaturity of the nervous system to “evolution” (primates hanging from their mothers in the trees). I had a collection of plastic baby hands. In those days the avant-garde considered any found object art. More contradictory semantics. Cylinder Seals: Identity Theft & Immortality Top: Cylinder seal and impression: winged horse with claws and horns, Middle Assyrian, ca. 14th–13th B.C., gallery 403. Left: Cancelled check stub J. Paul Getty. Center: J. Paul Getty’s French Driving Permit, 1930. J. Paul Getty Family Collected Papers, The Getty Research Institute. Right: A cancelled check for three million dollars from J.P. Morgan to the Northern Pacific Syndicate, 1896 “Some seals depicted one's occupation but others . . . revealed one's personal identity, even one's name. The seal was used to certify important transactions. It is no wonder that people worried over the loss of their seal: it would have been as serious to an ancient Mesopotamian as the loss of one's personal identification is today and the threat of "identity theft" just as great then as it is now.” - Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/article/846/cylinder-seals-in-ancient-mesopotamia---their-hist/ There are complete cuneiform protocols for the process of reporting and replacing a lost seal. The bureaucracy is phenomenally similar to replacing a... Continue reading
Posted Dec 22, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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“mow tall, mow often.” Met floor plan: Yellow highlighted galleries have been viewed, 11/22/19 I have visited 43 times and viewed all galleries up to 399 (~300 out of ~900) - one-third complete. “The one-third rule means that when you mow, you want to cut off the top one-third of your grass blades . . . Mowing more than a third of the total height of your grass can stress the plant and make it more susceptible to common turf problems.” - https://lawnpride.com/one-third-rule/ The remaining two-thirds will find their own rules. The Letter (an indivisible sound) Top: Babylonian translation of “Met Percent” into the Cuneiform Alphabet Bottom: Cuneiform tablet: Sumerian dedicatory inscription from Ekur, the temple of the god Enlil, Mesopotamia, ca.16th–15th c. B.C, not on view. These writings are some of the earliest found. The “origin of writing” documents both the origins of the world and the first symbolic capture of emotions and thoughts “on paper”. Cuneiform is by far my favorite alphabet. The seven Sumerian debate poems (below) are world origin myths. When something was recognized as important, its origin became important, and it was given a myth. “The earth first appeared barren, without grain, sheep, or goats. People went naked” (Debate between Grain and Sheep). Debate between bird and fish Debate between sheep and grain Debate between the millstone and the gulgul-stone Debate between the pickaxe and the plough Debate between silver and mighty copper Debate between Summer and Winter Debate between tree and the reed These myths are not universal and have significant variations throughout the regions and eras. No continuity, no Biblical standard, no problem. “It becomes evident that he (Ring Lardner) was deeply concerned that the vast majority of mankind had no idea, earthly or otherwise, where it was going or for what reason”. - Buford Donald Fisher, Ring Lardner as Dadaist, 1970. “How can you write if you can't cry?” - Ring Lardner “An Archeologist of Morning” Cuneiform tablet: a-she-er gi-ta, balag to Innin/Ishtar, ca. 2nd–1st c. B.C., Seleucid or Parthian, not on view. “This tablet contains a lament by Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of fertility, over the destruction of her cities and shrines, and contrasts her present humiliation with her previous power.” - MetText Left: A page from Melville’s “Marginalia”. His constant annotations were studied in depth by Charles Olson. Right: summary counts of the words marked by Melville in his Set of Shakespeare. Decoder rings come in many forms. Charles Olson described himself not so much as a poet or writer but as "an archeologist of morning." Assyrian Beards Relief Panel from the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. ca. 883-859 B.C), gallery 401. Cover photograph of Melville on Call Me Ishmael, Charles Olson, City Lights, 1966. Detail, “The Artist's Studio, a real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life.” - Gustave Courbet, Musée d'Orsay, 1854-55. “Myself painting, showing the Assyrian profile of my head.” - Courbet. Speaking of Olson: “Not since Gustave Courbet grew... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Best Gauntlets, Hands Down Maximilian I’s Gauntlets, from The Last Knight Exhibit, gallery 899. Gladys Cooper as the formidable mother in Now Voyager, from the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty (Sylvia Plath’s patron). From the very start of this project (see Week One), my MetPercent plan was: Move to NY, go through the entire Met, room by room in numerical order.When I described this, every colleague and friend asked, “Even the Armor?” “Yes, even the Armor.” It is upon me. Blades, bludgeons, and blunderbusses abound in the Arms and Armor Collection. Weapons again. Arms and the Man1 (I Sing)2 Warhorses Assorted Shaffrons (Horse's Head Defense), 15th-16th c., galleries 371, 373, and 379 In Old Arabic, the word for “Chivalry” (Furúsiyyah as horsemanship) (فروسه) was also the word for “Virtue” and “Honour” (Múruwwa as chivalric values) (مروه). Romantic chivalry in medieval Europe is widely considered the continuation of al-furusiyyah al-arabiya. Horsemanship and Poetry were two of the foundational requirements. Muru’ah and the Code of Chivalry — Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi’i, the founder of the Shafi’ite rite in Islam.767–820 CE. If you want to live free from harm’s way And in good fortune and honor, Your tongue, if it utters something indecent, stop it and say, “Oh tongue other people have tongues.” If your eyes see something immoral, close them and say, “Oh eyes other people have eyes.” Practice beneficence and be magnanimous to ones who attack And depart with that which is better. Montaigne was a dedicated horseman and wrote an entire essay “Of Warhorses, or Destriers”, covering the War- horsemanship of the ancients. His wish was to die either in his garden working the cabbages or on horseback. Chivalry-Now (and then) Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Honoré Daumier, French, 19th century (not on view). Warrior, religious, and courtly love chivalries. Created and debunked, and yet these chivalries are desired, and return and return, the code usurped and adorned. From Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, abortion bombers (“Protectors of the Code”), the KKK, General MacArthur. . . to the International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now (http://www.chivalrynow.net/sitemap.htm). Hats Off A 1947 survey for the Hat Research Foundation (yes, a real entity) found that 19 percent of men who did not wear hats gave “because I had to in the army” as the main reason. The general belief is that when a formerly functional item of clothing becomes purely decorative, it usually doesn’t last more than a generation or two. Not Quite the Knight Montaigne’s Cenotaph, Prieur and Guillerman, 1593, Museum of Aquitaine, Burgundy. Montaigne was late to Knighthood. “He probably never wore armor during his life, at least not on a battlefield. It must be seen as a final homage to his father, the only member of the Eyquem family who actually waged war. The transformation of Montaigne into a noble gentleman was completed only after his death.” (See Montaigne: A Life by Philippe Desan, 2019). In his cenotaph, his representation is unusual in that his helmet and gauntlets are not worn but placed “nearby”. Weapons,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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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 Nov 10, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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. https://mymodernmet.com/sidewalk-kintsukuroi-kintsugi-art/ 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
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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
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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
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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
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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