Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tara Donovan won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award

Pencils, Toothpicks, Tape, Mylar.

I saw the tape installation at the Met.

I like how she transforms everyday types of materials - and relates them back to nature.

The New California Academy of Sciences

The New California Academy of Sciences looks pretty interesting (by architect Renzo Piano). I especially like the roof - but it does look like an interesting combination of "Modern" with a more earth-based sensibility.

A Building That Blooms and Grows, Balancing Nature and Civilization

...Mr. Piano’s building is also a blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment values of truth and reason. Its Classical symmetry — the axial geometry, the columns framing a central entry — taps into a lineage that runs back to Mies van der Rohe’s 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie and Schinkel’s 1828 Altes Museum in Berlin and even further, to the Parthenon.

Just as Mies’s glass-and-steel museum reworked Classical precedents, Mr. Piano’s design invokes Mies’s model, though with a sensitivity that makes the muscularity of the 1968 museum look old-fashioned. The roof of the academy’s lobby, supported by a gossamerlike web of cables, swells upward as if the entire room were breathing. Views open up to the landscape on all four sides, momentarily situating you both within the building and in the bigger world outside. A narrow row of clerestory windows lines the top of the lobby. One of the building’s many environmental features, these windows let warm air escape and create a gentle breeze that reinforces the connection to the natural setting.

From here you can proceed into the exhibition halls, delving deeper into the universe’s secrets. Two enormous 90-foot-tall spheres — one housing a planetarium, the other a rain forest — beckon from either side of the lobby. They are the most solid forms in the building, yet seem to hover in the space. The base of the planetarium sphere floats in a pool; a broad ramp snakes around the rain-forest sphere. Enveloped in gnarled branches, the ramp seems to have been swallowed up by the jungle landscape over millenniums.

Once you reach this point, the genius of the green roof’s design becomes apparent. The mounds of earth visible on the exterior turn out to be hollow: their forms, punctured by round skylights, bulge upward to make room for the giant spheres underneath. It’s as if a lush protective rug has been gently draped over the entire building.

Additional exhibition spaces just beyond the spheres were designed with movable partitions that give them a temporary feel. Large windows open onto more park views.

The museum has also preserved its African Hall, with its gorgeous vaulted ceiling and dioramas of somnolent lions and grazing antelopes, integrating it into the new design. Built in the 1930s, this neo-Classical hall is a specimen of sorts. Its massive stone structure reflects colonial attitudes about the civilized world as a barrier against barbarism. It was intended as a symbol of Western superiority and a triumph over nature.

By contrast, Mr. Piano’s vision avoids arrogance. The ethereality of the academy’s structure suggests a form of reparations for the great harm humans have done to the natural world. It is best to tread lightly in moving forward, he seems to say. This is not a way of avoiding hard truths; he means to shake us out of our indolence.

Joseph Cornell & "Hotel Cassiopeia"

Yesterday, Indiana State University hosted a talk by Brian Whisenhunt from the Swope Art Museum about Joseph Cornell - preceeding a showing of the play, "Hotel Cassiopeia". The play was a dreamlike montage of Cornell's life.

I think if you didn' know much about art, and Cornell in particular, the play may not make much sense. It might be interesting - but it would probably seem pretty odd. I was glad to have gotten the background information from Whisenhunt.

Briefly - Cornell had been raised in a well-to-do Victorian atmosphere. His father died when he was about 14 - leaving many debts. He lived most of his life on Utopia Street in Queens with his mother and his brother who had cerebral palsey. It was up to Joseph to support the family. In his extra time - he made boxes.

He was a self-taught artist - but he was well plugged into the Surrealists. He also made experimental films.

He had major shows at the Pasadena Art Museum, the NYC Guggenheim and the Metropolitan toward the end of his life.

The Art Institute of Chicago and The Menil Collection in Houston have good collections of Cornell's works.

I can relate to his themes of space/plants/birds and natural elements. I also save this and that. I like the idea of making art out of little things saved.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Art and Anti-art and Aesthetics

If you want to break all the rules of the artistic tradition, Duchamp reasoned, why not begin by discarding its most fundamental values: beauty and artisanship. The readymades were Duchamp’s answer to the question, How can one make works of art that are not “of art”?

I've been studying aesthetics and I've been noticing how many aestheticians/philosophers of art want to make room in their definition of art for Duchamp's readymades and other Dada type of things.

Duchamp had become well known in the US based on his cubist Nude Descending a Stairway - shown at the Armory Show in NYC. Which had seemed quite revolutionary at the time. (He had tried to exhibit it at the Cubist Salon des Ind├ępendants in Paris but was asked to remove it because of the title? - apparently other cubists felt "mocked").

Dada had gotten going in Europe as a reaction to WWI - the artists were quite fed up with what their society was doing. (It's interesting to consider that in light of the Iraq occupation and what seems to be the motivations of our current politicians - namely Bush, Cheney, etc.)
Many Dadaists believed that the 'reason' and 'logic' of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality. For example, George Grosz later recalled that his Dadaist art was intended as a protest "against this world of mutual destruction"

I don't think that war is "logical" - and when the vast majority of people are left with little power - and the only power artists have is the images that they make - Dada makes about as much sense as a reaction to what was going on as anything.
According to its proponents, Dada was not art — it was "anti-art" in the sense that Dadaists protested against the contemporary academic and cultured values of art. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend. Through their rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics the Dadaists hoped to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics.

A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that "The Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man." Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, "in reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide."
Duchamp and Dada are most often connected by his submission of Fountain, a urinal, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in 1917. The Independent Artists shows were unjuried and all pieces that were submitted were displayed. However, the show committee said that Fountain was not art and rejected it from the show causing an uproar amongst the Dadaists and led Duchamp to resign from the board of the Independent Artists.

What doesn't make sense to me is the idea that aestheticians ever felt the need to include "anti-art" in their definitions of art.

Of course it ended up being the aristocrats or bourgeois or both who supported the new trends in art - the "anti-art" which became "art". While most everyone else didn't find much sense in it.

Duchamp, meanwhile, fell into obscurity and played chess. It was Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and such astists in the 50s who resurrected Duchamp and put him on the pedestal that he has been on.

I've been going through an Art History book's 2nd edition to see what was dropped from the new 3rd edition. One of the things was Duchamp's 1923 piece (that he worked on for 8 years) Large Glass "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even". An image which looks like this:

This image gives one a better sense of the piece that is made out of wire, paint, mirror plating, foil, dust:

In the long run, I think his Large Glass with the idea of showing that which is invisible is a much more interesting piece than his Fountain. It will remain to be seen how all this goes in the future, how Duchamp fares, how art continues to be redefined...

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the place to see Duchamps. At least the Nude... the Large Glass, and some of his other works. The IU Art Museum (Bloomington, IN) has a collection of his readymades.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


"PORTRAIT OF A PRIESTESS" Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece.
By Joan Breton Connelly.

I had noticed a blog about this NYTimes book review - so when I was at Bloomington's IU Art Museum, today, I noticed the women on the Greek Vases and wondered how they fit into all this.

The surprising thing is that this is news (what with being 2400 - 2500 years after the fact). More covered up/forgotten herstory.

Excerpts from review:

In the summer of 423 B.C., Chrysis, the priestess of Hera at Argos, fell asleep inside the goddess’s great temple, and a torch she had left ablaze set fire to the sacred garlands there, burning the building to the ground. This spectacular case of custodial negligence drew the attention of the historian Thucydides, a man with scant interest in religion or women. But he had mentioned Chrysis once before: the official lists of Hera’s priestesses at Argos provided a way of dating historical events in the Greek world, and Thucydides formally marked the beginning of the Peloponnesian War with Chrysis’ name and year of tenure, together with the names of consequential male officeholders from Athens and Sparta.

During the same upheaval, in 411, Thucydides’ fellow Athenian Aristophanes staged his comedy “Lysistrata,” with a heroine who tries to bring the war to an end by leading a sex strike. There is reason to believe that Lysistrata herself is drawn in part from a contemporary historical figure, Lysimache, the priestess of Athena Polias on the Acropolis. If so, she joins such pre-eminent Athenians as Pericles, Euripides and Socrates as an object of Aristophanes’ lampoons. On a much bigger stage in 480 B.C., before the battle of Salamis, one of Lysimache’s predecessors helped persuade the Athenians to take to their ships and evacuate the city ahead of the Persian invaders — a policy that very likely saved Greece — announcing that Athena’s sacred snake had failed to eat its honey cake, a sign that the goddess had already departed.

These are just some of the influential women visible through the cracks of conventional history in Joan Breton Connelly’s eye-opening “Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece.” Her portrait is not in fact that of an individual priestess, but of a formidable class of women scattered over the Greek world and across a thousand years of history, down to the day in A.D. 393 when the Christian emperor Theodosius banned the polytheistic cults. It is remarkable, in this age of gender studies, that this is the first comprehensive treatment of the subject, especially since, as Connelly persuasively argues, religious office was, exceptionally, an “arena in which Greek women assumed roles equal ... to those of men.” Roman society could make no such boast, nor can ours.

Despite powerful but ambiguous depictions in Greek tragedy, no single ancient source extensively documents priestesses, and Connelly, a professor at New York University, builds her canvas from material gleaned from scattered literary references, ancient artifacts and inscriptions, and representations in sculpture and vase painting. Her book shows generations of women enjoying all the influence, prestige, honor and respect that ancient priesthoods entailed. Few were as exalted as the Pythia, who sat entranced on a tripod at Delphi and revealed the oracular will of Apollo, in hexameter verse, to individuals and to states. But Connelly finds priestesses who were paid for cult services, awarded public portrait statues, given elaborate state funerals, consulted on political matters and acknowledged as sources of cultural wisdom and authority by open-minded men like the historian Herodotus. With separation of church and state an inconceivable notion in the world’s first democracy, all priesthoods, including those held by women, were essentially political offices, Connelly maintains. Nor did sacred service mean self-abnegation. “Virgin” priestesses like Rome’s Vestals were alien to the Greek conception. Few cults called for permanent sexual abstinence, and those that did tended to appoint women already beyond childbearing age; some of the most powerful priesthoods were held by married women with children, leading “normal” lives.

The Greeks don’t deserve their reputation as rationalists. Religion and ritual permeated the world of the city-states, where, Connelly notes, “there was no area of life that lacked a religious aspect.” She cites one estimate that 2,000 cults operated during the classical period in the territory of Athens alone; the city’s roughly 170 festival days would have brought women out in public in great numbers and in conspicuous roles. “Ritual fueled the visibility of Greek women within this system,” Connelly writes, sending them across their cities to sanctuaries, shrines and cemeteries, so that the picture that emerges “is one of far-ranging mobility for women across the polis landscape.”

These aspects of Connelly’s well-documented, meticulously assembled portrait may not seem that remarkable on the surface, but they largely contradict what has long been the most broadly accepted vision of the women of ancient Greece, particularly Athens, as dependent, cloistered, invisible and mute, relegated almost exclusively to housekeeping and child rearing — a view that at its most extreme maintains that the names of respectable Athenian women were not spoken aloud in public or that women were essentially housebound.

Connelly traces the tenacity of this idea to several sources, including the paradoxically convergent ideologies of Victorian gentlemen scholars and 20th-century feminists and a modern tendency to discount the real-world force of religion, a notion now under powerful empirical adjustment. But another cause is a professional divide between classicists and archaeologists....

Connelly, though, is an archaeologist, and she insists that her evidence be allowed to speak for itself, something it does with forceful eloquence. Far from the names of respectable women being suppressed, it seems clear that great effort was made to ensure that the names of many of these women would never be forgotten: Connelly can cite more than 150 historical Greek priestesses by name. Archaeology also speaks through beauty: “Portrait of a Priestess” is an excellent thematic case study in vase painting and sculpture, with striking images of spirited women, at altars or leading men in procession, many marked as priestesses by the great metal temple key they carry, signifying not admission to heaven but the pragmatic responsibility that Chrysis so notoriously betrayed in Argos....

Amy Lowell

I was reading the wiki-bio of E. E. Cummings and found it interersting that he was influenced by Amy Lowell (1874-1925), and imagist poet who was an early adopter of free verse.

I hadn't heard of Amy Lowell - so I had to look her up. There are whole books of hers at - uncopyrighted works.

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

From what I could gather, people like Pound tried to reduce her perceived influence while later on it was people interested in the lesbian aspect of many of her poems who sought to revive her from obscurity.