Friday, January 30, 2015

Frickin' Memory

If I've ever been to the Frick before, it's been a good 15 years - and I really remember nothing.*  But the Frick is supposed to be quite nice, so when a friend organized an expedition to take advantage of free admission on a frigid Friday night, I jumped at the chance.

There was a nice exhibition of works from the Scottish National Gallery in the East Gallery, and we went to a talk about Raeburn's Col. Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell.  I like Botticelli, so it was nice to see The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, one of his later works, which (according to the Frick) "has never been exhibited in the United States" until now.  I found myself happily examining the lower portion of the painting for mille fleurs.  (This may be mere contrarianism on my part, as I also end up searching the landscape paintings for tiny details of animal life.)  My favorite of this Scottish collection was actually by an American artist - John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is almost hypnotic.  I initially assumed the effect was created primarily by her facial expression, and particularly her eyes.  But on the way out, I looked at several posters of the work around the membership desk.  Some posters showed the full image, while others were cropped to focus on her head and shoulders.  To my surprise, the close-ups lacked the curious intensity of the full portrait.  It's as the intensity of the eyes somehow requires the setting of her carelessly relaxed posture and opulent dress to be fully appreciated.

I really liked the Turners in the West Gallery - among the rich, dark oil paintings, they looked almost monochromatic and yet felt like a breath of fresh air.  On the north wall, one of my companions questioned why Turner had chosen, while painting a ship in harbor, to depict an overturned tree or tangled branch half-submerged in the water in front of the vessel.  It seemed to me that the lines of that branch echoed the tangled "sail line" if you will (the skyline formed by the sails of the ship) -- that seemed a good enough reason to include it in the composition.

Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening, 1826
In the Portico Gallery, I really liked Jean-Antoine Houdon's sculpture, The Comtesse du Cayla, 1777. An except from the Frick's online description:
Through long tradition from ancient times, portraits, especially those carved in marble, were intended to confer upon the subject an approximation of immortality. Hence it was important to convey a notion of permanence and durability, in addition to the sitter's high character. Houdon's portrait of the Comtesse du Cayla seems deliberately to seek for opposites of these traditional desiderata. Lightness and movement, the fragility of time and substance are captured here in lacy stone.
That actually crystalizes for me a unifying aspect or common theme in my favorite stone sculptures.  I really appreciate sculptors who are able to capture the soft folds of fabric, the delicacy of lace, the looseness of hair in the wind; indeed, to capture all that is transitory, pliant, fragile, in a medium that is unyielding and opaque.  Maybe it's that contrarian thing again.  (I like a similar look in bronze sculptures, but of course on some level it's less impressive because metal is made liquid in the casting process; it is melted into molds.  By contrast, the stone remains solid throughout.)

There was also live music in the Garden Court -- we definitely got our money's worth!

~ ~ ~ ~ Footnote ~ ~ ~ ~

FN* The words "The Frick Gallery" had, until this day, brought to mind a vague recollection of looking at a single painting or sculpture in a corridor, along with an impression of another gallery (perhaps U-shaped) behind it.  It would have been my first summer in New York City, and I almost think I might have been visiting at the behest of a visitor I was hosting from Australia (the friend of a friend, on his way to a fellowship in Cold Spring Harbor, who was amazed at the squirrels in Central Park) or possibly as part of an ill-fated summer associate program with my firm (ill-fated in the sense that I didn't socialize with my fellow summer associates while I was there).  The mental image is also - or alternatively? - somehow connected with a guy from England (this time a friend of a friend of a friend), and a story about how his friend (also from the U.K.) embarrassed him by going to Target to see if he could buy a handgun.  Either way, I had the impression of a museum that was relatively small (not much to see, and too many people to see it with) and I really didn't have the urge to return.  But this visit was not excessively crowded, and absolutely nothing about layout of the place was familiar to me.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Revelation, a rock opera by Mike Doughty

And now for something completely different, as they* say.  A friend invited me to Studio 360 for a heartwarming story of a New Year's resolution successfully achieved:
Last January, singer-songwriter Mike Doughty wrote to us with a creative New Year’s resolution: to write a rock opera based on the Book of Revelation.  “It is an absolutely terrifying, monster-movie, psychedelic tale of destruction, and the language is so beautiful, it is so bizarre and wonderful,” Doughty told Kurt Andersen. “I thought, with the right music, and the right actors declaiming the text, and the right visuals, it would be a great show.”  
The staging was static - the three instrumentalists in back, the four vocalists at microphones in front - and a propulsive club beat and a near-chanting style helped provide a unity of sound for over an hour.

It was the psychedelic visuals projected behind the musicians and appearing on smaller screens throughout the room that really made the show.  The simple black-and-white line drawings illustrated various beasts and scenes and highlighted specific words and numbers from the Book of Revelation.  They constantly flashed and fluctuated and pulsed, but unfortunately most of my camera phone pictures came out blank.

Yes, the figure in back is covered with eyes.

I have never seriously tried to sit down and read the entire Book of Revelation all in one go, but it struck me that this rock opera is a fairly good way to get a sense of it.  Even educational, one might say.   Doughty apparently used four or five different translations to prepare his libretto, and really tried to distill the essence of the book.  He explained to us that he warned his collaborators up-front that they might be eternally damned for participating in the project, since John says:
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. 
Revelation 22:18-19 New International Version (NIV)

Beast with seven horns and seven eyes

 Doughty suggests that John's seeming obsession with numbers bordered on Asperger's syndrome

Amber Gray brought a wonderful intensity to the role of The Word/The Angel.  Her widened eyes, flawless skin, and prominent cheekbones all contributed to helping her look the part.

On the left: Amber Gray, playing The Word/The Angel.
The other female vocalists, Melissa McMillan and Xenia Rubinos, had beautifully harmonizing voices.

Mike Doughty, playing John the Revelator

Doughty explained afterward that he has long been intrigued by the Book of Revelation, which seems to have inspired many of the heavy metal bands he loved in his teenage years.  His own conclusion, as shared during the Q&A session, is that Christianity is all about vengeance.

Of course, individual conclusions may vary.

FN* They being Monty Python, in this particular instance.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snowshoeing in the Park

In all seriousness, it was wonderful to have a snow day.  I think it was a real morale-boosting call for any employer to make.  Both dogs and sledders were in abundance - but no dogsleds that I could see.

After the Blizzard

Thank goodness I made a big batch of black bean and sweet potato chili Sunday night

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Good News!

Just heard back about my Harry Potter paper... Looks like the project is still going forward!  Very exciting.

And I just bought a style book so I can whip another paper into shape (perhaps) for submission to a prestigious journal.  My fellow student who has been published there took the encouraging attitude that anyone can submit something... But of course she was specifically invited to submit her paper for publication by one of the great luminaries in Tolkien scholarship, who just so happens to be one of the editors of the publication.  I am in awe.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Art Gallery Tour

The weather wasn't particularly clement, but it was fine for a tour of art galleries on W. 22nd Street.  I'd invited a small crowd, but as things turned out, only my friend Amanda was able to make it.

We started with the Julie Saul Gallery in particular to see Reinier Gerritsen's photography exhibit, "The Last Book."  On display were a handful of high-definition subway scenes featuring people reading.  Generally speaking, the readers were engrossed in their books (except for one who seemed to be desperately seeking relief from an assigned reading by taking a look at the back cover), but there was almost always someone else in frame who was fully aware of the photographer.  In one instance, someone had obscured his own face by taking a photo of the photographer with his phone (and the phone was enveloped or encased in a decorative sleeve).  It was fun to try to read the actual passages of the books, even where the title and author were obscured.  We also noticed that more colors in clothing and headgear were on display than NYC's monochromatic reputation allows for.  It was interesting, but we wished more works were on display.  There was an accompanying abecedarian newsletter of sorts, which provided head shots of books by author, in alphabetical order.  So there were obviously more works in the series....  And in fact the exhibit is accompanying the release of a book called "The Last Book."  So Mr. Gerritsen perhaps wouldn't want to steal his own thunder, I suppose, by allowing everyone to see all the images in person.

There were some interesting displays on other floors as well.  I really liked the intricate wire sculptures held together with beads (Bill Smith's "Synthetic BioStructure" at the PPOW).  They channeled complex chemical/molecular structures, but at the same time looked like they could almost be made with a very, very large wire bracelet kit.

Down the street, I really liked the Sebastião Salgado photography exhibit at the Yancey Richardson Gallery.  Really beautiful.  Some of them were printed in a way that looked like they might have been drawn with pencil.  My favorite, perhaps was this one:

There was no description posted on the walls at the gallery that I could see, but the International Center of Photography describes this photo as: "Sebastião Salgado, Iceberg between Paulet Island and the South Shetland Islands on the Antarctic Channel. At sea level, earlier flotation levels are clearly visible where the ice has been polished by the ocean’s constant movement. High above, a shape resembling a castle tower has been carved by wind erosion and detached pieces of ice. The Antarctic Peninsula, 2005."

In the back room, there were two works by Kahn & Selesnick from their "Truppe Fledermaus" series.  The work "King of Weeds" made me think of the Green Man.  Next to it, this figure, dressed in cards in a desert landscape, struck me as truly surreal:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Walk in the Park

I've been feeling lethargic for a while, which is usually a sign that I need to get out more and do more yoga and hiking.  But I've also been slowly cleaning out extra books and clothes and other items that have been cluttering up my apartment, which also helps.  

I saw a screening of "Song One" the other night at the Museum of the Moving Image, followed by a live interview with Anne Hathaway, her co-star, and the writer/director of the film, and I was (to my surprise) rather impressed by Ms. Hathaway.  I suppose I tend to lazily and unfairly assume that "Hollywood types" are superficial etc., but she really came across as genuinely warm, lively, and articulate.  It was interesting as well to hear how the project evolved, and how the three main actors got involved.  The film itself was mostly quiet and reflective in spirit (except for one scene in a nightclub), and really lovely to look at.  Not ground-breaking, but certainly enjoyable.

And I also went for a walk in the park, which seemed a lot longer than it should have.  

The other thing I need to do, and am starting to do, is really think through my goals and priorities.  It may be time to make some lists of pros and cons of various projects that have been on my mind for a while now.  But a walk in the park is always a good start.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Brooklyn Museum - Killer Heels

For all that I have read and seen Hamlet, and even studied the work and others inspired by it for an entire semester in college, I blush to admit that I did not, until now, know what a chopine was.  That means I entirely missed (and did not even notice that I missed) this reference in act 2, scene ii:
HAMLET [to one of the Players]: By'r lady, your ladyship is
nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the
altitude of a chopine.  

Italian Chopines (ca. 1550-1650)
The museum explains:
"Platform shoes called chopines, like these made of exquisitely decorated cork or wood, were fashionable in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy. They are often described as having been worn to keep women’s garments from touching the dirty streets. Recent scholarship suggests, however, that they were worn as part of conspicuous public displays of wealth and status. Higher chopines meant that gowns required more expensive, sumptuous fabrics to reach the ground. Some chopines were as high as twenty inches."

Several shoes were shown with their apparent inspirations - e.g., gilded baroque furniture with heels that were gilded and baroque - but my favorite was this one which looks both playful and wearable:

Salvatore Ferragamo. Platform Sandal, 1938. Leather, cork. 

This one is “an early twentieth-century example of the sandals worn for centuries by women in bathhouses of the Ottoman Empire to elevate their feet above the wet floors”:
(Syrian) Sandal, 1920’s.  Wood, mother-of-pearl.  
My absolute favorite shoe of the collection was the Mojito:

“Architect Julian Hakes applied his experience in engineering and bridge design to the design of a high heel… he wrapped his foot with tracing paper and masking tape to investigate the biomechanics of the foot.”
Julian Hakes, Mojito (2012)
3-D-printed material
It's not the right shoe if you want arch support, but it's so very cool!

a front angle so you can see the heel grip

Interesting engineering of the elevation, though I suppose
it's fundamentally the same shape as a normal shoe...
at least, where it actually touches the foot.

Iris Schieferstein, Horse Shoes 3 (2006)

Christian Louboutin, Déj à Vu (2011/12)

Beth Levine / Herbert Levine Inc., Slingback Shoe (ca 1962)

I thought this one was very beautiful as well.  Not wearable, necessarily...

Tamar Areshidze, Walking on Water (2012)

Afterward, since I was wearing sneakers, I strolled around the rest of the museum a bit.  

Baleen Whale Mask, 19th Century. Vancouver, B.C.

Miyashita Zenji, Flower Vase, 1995.  
 This looks like a rabbit to me, but maybe I just have Watership Down on the brain...
"Re in the form of a cat, slaying the serpent Apep, Book of the Dead, Chapter 17"
circa 1190-1075 B.C.