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Alec Bernstein
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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 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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, “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 - 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, 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
“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.” - 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
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 ( 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
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
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
Alec Bernstein is now following The Typepad Team
Jun 24, 2019