Sunday, August 25, 2013

Museum in the city, city as museum

Head of a Queen Mother (Iyoba), Edo Peoples, Kingdom of Benin
(Within Territory of Nigeria Today), c. 1750-1800
At the Metropolitan Museum, NYC (for more, click here)
[As always, copyrright of the image and artwork depicted held by the artist or museum and/or their legal representatives; no infringement intended, image presented here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercial.]

The lobster and the canary visited the Metropolitan Museum yesterday afternoon, with no particular goal or agenda except to wander, listen and learn.  We sought counsel with iyobas, and delivered our respects to the beete masks of the Kwele peoples (whose territory falls within the borders of Gabon).   We contemplated the marble sarcophagus of one Arria, who died in the middle of the third century C.E., presumably in Rome itself, given the grandeur of the carvings.   We watched as pale-rust-red runners contended with one another across the flanks of gleaming black vases, abdominal muscles so finely etched we could almost see the sweat flowing along their contours.  We shuddered at a reproduction of Ayne Bru's early 16th-century painting of Saint Cucuphas's martyrdom, marveling at the juxtaposition of all the blood surging from his scored throat and the dog sleeping peacefully at his feet.  We craned our necks to follow the arc of lodge-pole carvings from Vanuatu, monstrously strong figures holding one another on their wooden shoulders.

The world expands within forever, each aperture opening infinitely on halls and chambers ever inside, but all connected, an arcade-work of humanity.

Outside the Metropolitan Museum is the metropolitan museum.

On the Great Lawn in Central Park, sunbathers in bikinis and strollers wearing hijab, both on cell phones and eating ice cream.  Or waffles from the Belgian "dinges" truck.   Tourists from the American Midwest (accents as odd to our ears as those of the French or Chinese tourists in line with them) queuing for Italian sausage from one of the grills parked at the Fifth Avenue entrance, near the enterprising young men selling their own hip-hop CDs, and the violinist in the underpass.  Every kind of footwear and headgear (nice fedora!), every kind of ball game.  

A bestiary on the cornices of the Upper East buildings, here there be dragons indeed.   A veiny-winged griffin guards one particularly grand edifice.  We still miss Botero's rolly-polly "El Gato" sculpture at 79th & Park (where did he go, the cat we mean? where all cats go, to roam the secret by-ways of the moon!).  On 80th near Lex, every townhouse has a painted door, a quiet red, a demure blue, little understatements in our brash city.

On the Lower East Side, bachata and the laughter of children echo from a courtyard.  At the farmacia, notices in Chinese and Russian to get a flu shot before the season starts.  On the sidewalks families promenade in their sabbath best.

Reflected in a window are the lobster & the canary.  Not mere observers.  We hope somebody is blogging about us as we blog now-- two more members of the urban gallery.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Through the heliopause

Voyager 1 sails on, over 11 billion miles from Earth, the farthest out any human-made object has ever been...scientists are debating whether the probe has officially left the Solar System or not (the boundaries of which are uncertain)...but regardless, Voyager 1 is heading into interstellar space and will never stop, unless it collides with something...

The lobster and canary try to map personal time onto space-time...remembering the launch of Voyager 1 in September of 1977 (such fanfare, all the talk about the data on the golden disc), thinking now of all that we have done while the spacecraft made its pilgrimage through the system and onwards....where were we when the dart passed Jupiter, then Saturn?...all those moons and rings...and what were we doing when Voyager 1 turned its camera aft (thank you Carl Sagan) to take the now-iconic picture of the Pale Blue Dot?

Voyager 1 is 125 "Astronomical Units" away (one AU is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun; one light-year is 63,241 AUs), traveling 3 1/2 AUs each year, i.e., something like 55,000 kilometers per AU is 149,597,871 kilometers...I calculate I have run about 120,000 kilometers in my life..once I could run 10 kilometers in just over 31 I can do so in around 41 minutes...say, a dwindling average of 15 kilometers per hour...

Voyager 1's power source is winding down, and will quit around 2025...the lobster and canary certainly anticipate outliving Voyager 1 in that regard...but Voyager 1 will carry on, its initial thrust and inertia keeping it on a steady course through friction-free 40,000 years it will be somewhere in the relative neighborhood of a star, Gliese 445 in the Camelopardalis constellation...and apparently the brave little spacecraft might even outlive Earth itself, billions of years hence...

And maybe, just maybe, sometime between 40,000 years and a billion years hence, out there somewhere another lobster and another canary on some other planet will look up at a miniature star, an incoming not-quite-asteroid, and send a probe of their own, which will intercept valiant Voyager 1... whatever will they make of us?

Click here and here for more.  And here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The street history of painting

Robert Motherwell  

David Reed

[Images found on the Web; artists and/or his legal representatives hold the copyright; used here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercial]

Great quote by artist David Reed in this week's Village Voice:  "It amazes me that in New York there's a history that painters know, a street history of painting, that is totally different from the history that the museums know and the history that is written about in books."    (Click here for entire article; click here for more on Reed).

An insight well worth contemplating and exploring...Reed's own essays on painting (I especially like his memoiristic piece on Rubens in Las Vegas) remind us how relatively few visual artists write much about their work or that of others, the occasional manifesto aside (and who issues manifestos these days?)...reminds me of Motherwell's body of written work, another exception to the rule...

Reminds me also why the interviews in magazines such as BOMB and Turps Banana are so important: conducted by and with visual artists, these conversations form the internal archive containing the alternative "street history" of painting.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Braking for beauty (slow down and see)

Turner, Chichester Canal (c. 1828; in the Tate)

Jennifer L. Roberts (Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard ) recommends that we "decelerate," deploy "strategic patience," and thereby better understand the world around us through close, unwavering scrutiny.  (Click here and here for more). 

The lobster and the canary could not agree more with Professor Roberts.  We've written at length about "the artisanal turn," the need to restore craft, the tactile, the tacit to our work and play (click here) -- the deep patience required to visualize, to shape, to enjoy, to be satisfied.  Decelerated education, Slow Food, DIY, hand-made this and organic that...they are all of a piece with the braking for beauty.  

Above all, to highlight Roberts's insight, we need to engage with what we see, and to do that we need to look, focus, look.  Fall upward into the painting, let the frame expand and disappear, travel with the collier on the canal, listen to the warblers in the bankside reeds, savor the sunlight reflected from cloud and rill...