Art

Intimate Heroism: Vermeer in His Time and Beyond

Johannes Vermeer, The Lacemaker, Oil on canvas, 1670-1671. Musée du Louvre.

Thirty years ago, I wrote a poem that ended, “I’ve never lived in a city without a Vermeer.” My cities were, by pure coincidence, New York and Boston. But my interest in Vermeer borders on obsession, and I’m still wrestling with why his paintings are so particularly seductive to me. There’s always the ravishing beauty of the painted surface, the elegance of structure and detail, but also the balance of bravura and a kind of restraint—the way the usual mundane, anti-heroic subjects of Dutch genre painting, however beautiful they are in the work of his contemporaries, take on qualities of the spiritual and even the heroic, qualities that are more like—and sometimes equal—the more overt aspects of spirituality and heroism in, say, Rembrandt. “Rembrandt ist Beethoven, Vermeer ist Mozart,” I overheard someone say to herself looking at a Vermeer. (Could we add Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy? Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman? Or Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell?) That complicated combination of dazzle and modesty may be an essential difference between Vermeer and his contemporaries, including Rembrandt.

Why Draw? 500 Years of Drawings and Watercolors at Bowdoin College, May 03, 2017 – September 03, 2017

Lois Mailou Jones, A Student at Howard, 1947. Watercolor over graphite on off-white wove paper.

Between the limits of the discipline, as it is taught in graduate schools, and the structure of museological functions, exhibitions of drawings usually adhere to a restricted range of formats, which, while continuing to be viable for institutions and the public and useful for scholars in the field, can be felt as constricting for those who conceive and execute them. The scope of drawings exhibitions can be determined by time and/or place (stylistic categories), or an artistic personality (monographic), or collection (“Treasures on Paper from…”), and perhaps a few others. When a curator is faced with such a project, he may may find himself wrestling with an urge to break the mold and create something new.

Urban Planning: A Manifesto

The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.

One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.

The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C. at The Princeton University Art Museum, closing Sunday, June 11, 2017 (REVISED)

Attributed to the Berlin Painter, Greek, Attic, fl. ca. 500-ca. 460 B.C. Red figure Neck-Amphora with Twisted Handles, ca. 480 B.C. Satyr Running with Wineskin. Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek München (Inv. 8766)

Of all the exhibitions in the New York area this season, Princeton’s The Berlin Painter and His World is the richest in aesthetic pleasure, methodological sophistication, and intellectual liveliness. Not only will visitors enjoy the handwork of one of the greatest Greek artists of the Late Archaic Period, they will experience a panorama of ancient Greek mythology, religious practice, athletic and military activities, and sympotic customs, that is, the etiquette and enjoyment of the all-male drinking parties that were the major nucleus of Athenian social life after the great annually-recurring festivals of their gods and heroes. These windows which provide such a vivid view on the outer and inner lives of the Athenians were painted on the surfaces of pottery turned with the beautiful red clay of Attica…

The Museum Workout, Monica Bill Barnes & Company, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Monica Bill Barnes troupe exercised their way through the Met's armor court, the author front and center.

I saw Monica Bill Barnes & Company a few years ago when the troupe performed Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host which I found very entertaining. This experience was just as engaging but in a very different way. About fifteen women gathered before the museum opened and were ushered to the Education Area to put away coats and anything else we’d brought. We were told to wait “and stretch if you like.” After a brief introduction from Robbie Saenz de Viteri, the company’s Creative Producing Director, we were led to the foot of the great stairs where Monica Bill Barnes and her longtime dance partner, Anna Bass, both in sequined gowns and sneakers, greeted us.

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.

Dolorosa, 2000. Video diptych © Bill Viola. Photo The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.

Bill Viola, one of the most sought-after artists internationally, early selected a contemporary medium to address broad humanistic questions. Embracing global perspectives that include Christian theology, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic Sufi mysticism, his videos address our hybrid existence as matter and thought, our memories, empathy with others, and transitions through birth, death and aging. Organized by Asma Naeem, curator of prints, drawings and media art, in consultation with Viola’s creative partner, Kira Perov and the Bill Viola Studio, the exhibition displays eleven works that span the artist’s early career to the present. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed his delight in inviting “visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.” In the accompanying 20-page brochure, Naeern provides a contextualizing overview; the artist comments simply on the action in each piece. The viewer is encouraged to make associations, a direction Viola advocated in an earlier interview: “images have their life because they’re untethered and free floating” (video: Bill Viola and the making of Emergence by Mark Kidel, 2003).

B. F. Kiefrich, Spam Artist, Remembered

You may wonder about my interest in this traditional American delicacy. It comes not from the interests I share with Sgr. Rossini, but from my experiences as a curator in the Cleveland Museum of Art. As my colleagues and I pushed papers and watched western civilization melt into Lake Erie, a remarkable artist from Akron came to our attention. This artist, who worked under the name B. F. Kiefrich, produced sculptures from Spam®, among them an exquisite gilt miniature Book of Hours, known as the Codex Spambergensis and a porcine version of Nefertiti’s lips.

Artist’s Books by Dan Rose; Arbitrary Pleasures-Plaisir Arbitraire, Photon Ecstasy (HD 7924) at the Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania

Dan Rose in the gallery

Arbitrary Pleasures-Plaisir Arbitraire is the most recent exhibition of artist’s books by Dan Rose with a performance by New York Composer-Performers l’Artiste ordinaire (Melissa Grey & David Moneau).

Through Dan Rose’s initiative, the Kislak Center has now acquired the collected papers of Harry Matthews the first American member of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Oulipo, a group of mostly French avant-garde novelists and poets who invented or revived techniques that influenced the trajectory of 20th and 21st century literature.