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Alec Bernstein
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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 2 days ago 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
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Jun 24, 2019