The more things change

March 24th, 2011 § Comments off § permalink

So good: Back to the Future.

Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees

March 19th, 2006 § Comments off § permalink

Tobias Meyer, the worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, has an uncommon knack for inciting art appreciation in others. John Colapinto describes Meyer’s method in last week’s New Yorker:

In the Antonello [da Messina] gallery, Meyer walked over to an Annunciation on the far wall and explained that the painting was rare in that it depicted only the Virgin Mary, and not the announcing angel. “You, as a viewer, are put in the position of Gabriel, who comes to tell her of the miraculous birth,” Meyer said. He stopped in front of the painting, which was made in about 1475 and is not much larger than a page of this magazine [about 8 inches by 11 inches]. Mary gazes out, past the viewer, her left hand holding her blue robe closed in what Meyer pointed out was a “protective” gesture. “Because you are a stranger,” he said. Then he fell silent. Something about his focussed presence facilitated a deeper absorption in the work, a greater attention to its delicacy, its quiet grace, and its reserves of understated emotion. I could not recall being so moved by a painting. Only when I turned from the canvas did he smile at me and say, with an arched eyebrow, “Amazing, no?”

Lawrence Weschler, one of my favorite authors, has a similar gift but very different methods. His new book, Everything That Rises, is a collection of what he calls “convergences”—visual rhymes that he has noticed between two photographs or paintings—which he uses as a jumping-off point for a vertiginous chain of free association. It sounds a bit like late-night dorm-room bullshitting; at his reading tonight at Cody’s Books in San Francisco, Weschler said one reviewer had described the book as “bong literature.” But Weschler’s erudition and relentless curiosity save the book from that trap. Instead, each page offers a new way to see the world.

Every museum should employ someone like Meyer or Weschler. That someone should neither be featured in a $10 audio tour nor responsible for leading people around hourly. Ideally, visitors would not even know of that someone’s existence until a mysterious stranger sidles up to one of them in a gallery and murmurs a few words that fill the lucky visitor with a sense of wonder.

(Incidentally, Weschler is not at all the timorous intellectual one would expect based on his old book jacket photo. He’s as bold and confident when he speaks as he is when he writes. A more recent photo comes closer to capturing who he is; image and personality would match even more closely, though, if he got a pair of contacts and a clean shave.)

Only connect

February 19th, 2006 § Comments off § permalink

While I was browsing at Cody’s Books last night, I noticed that some wag had shelved Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type under “urban planning.” The reference to grids reminded me of a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik that I had been reading that afternoon, in which Gopnik mentions the grid plans of Shaker villages. The article’s focus, though, is on describing the qualities that give Shaker crafts their distinct appearance:

…Shaker design, while reaching toward an ideal of beauty, unconsciously rejects the human body as a primary source of form. To a degree that we hardly credit, everything in our built environment traditionally echoes our own shape: we have pediments for heads and claw and ball feet, and our objects proceed from trunklike bases to fragile tops. Repetition and the grid are two alternatives to design that refers to classical perspective space and the roundly realized human body. …Once you have got rid of the body as a natural referent for design, and no longer think “pictorially” about objects, grids and repeats begin to appear as alternative systems, whether you are in Japan, Montmartre, or Hancock. …The Shakers made objects that look like objects, and that follow a non-human law of design.

One sees the pattern clearly in the evolution of the casement clocks—what we call grandfather clocks—made by the Youngs family of New York over three generations, in and out of the community of Believers. …Isaac Newton Youngs, the grandson, was reared as a Shaker, and the clocks he made became as reductive as a refrigerator case, with the sides of the clock neither tapering nor swelling, and, telltale sign, with a knob on the clock face as well as on the clock body to allow the worker to adjust or repair the inside: the allergy to putting a functional element on an object’s “face” was overruled, because the artisan was not thinking of it as a face. In each case, the clocks got not merely simpler—though they did that, too—but progressively less figural.

This doesn’t mean that the Shaker objects are “inhuman” in the sense of being cold. They aren’t cold. The brooms and clocks and boxes create an atmosphere of serenity, loveliness, calm certainty. But these are monastic virtues rather than liberal ones. We miss the radical edge of Shaker art if we don’t see that it is not meant to be “humanistic.” …Shaker objects are, like Zen Japanese ones, unworldly but material, far from sensuality but solid as a rock. They annihilate the body, and leave us timeless form to tell the time with.

And that recollection, in turn, reminded me that I had been meaning to get a book about David Ireland, a Zen-influenced artist whose work I saw at the Oakland Museum of California a couple of years ago.

I thought there was a point to this story, but I guess there’s not, except to describe the pinballing way in which I think.


October 23rd, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

A model of San Francisco, made of Jell-O. Would that the city’s actual buildings were so resiliently gelatinous.

Brew by Buñuel

June 30th, 2005 § 13 comments § permalink

This Stella Artois ad is officially the best advertisement of all time. Whether it ever causes a single person to purchase Stella Artois is beside the point.

The awful beauty of debris

February 25th, 2005 § One comment § permalink

Our consumerism holds an anesthetizing kind of mob mentality; collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences… So perhaps my photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-reflection. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know we are awake.

—Chris Jordan

Photos, and more photos.

Old and new

January 27th, 2005 § Three comments § permalink

More rephotography: Chicago Then and Now.

Random link roundup

November 23rd, 2004 § One comment § permalink

Here are some links that I’ve been meaning to post for ages. These should keep you all busy for a while:


September 19th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

PES’ short animated films are brilliant. Most (except for the commercials) are worth watching; KaBoom! and Moth are good places to start.

Heavy little objects

September 9th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

This is so great: Heavy Little Objects, a compendium of small, beautiful things.

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