Archive for April, 2011

Tornado in a Lumberyard

April 29, 2011


  The 1913 Armory Show was arguably the most important exhibition of art ever organized on this continent.  It introduced cubism, futurism, Cezanne, Duchamp, Picasso, and much more to audiences on this side of the pond and inflected the NA zeitgeist like nothing else before or since.    

  It was up in NYC from February 17 to March 15 of that year and then traveled to Chicago where it hung in the Art Institute March 24 to April 16.  From there it went back east to Boston.

  The postcard image above is, of course, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.  My great-grandfather sent it to my great-grandmother from the Chicago venue.  His handwriting encircling the picture reads:

 “This is a photo of one of the cubist pictures.  It is said to be a picture of a nude woman walking down stairs.  I don’t think any of the postal authorities will object to it as improper as it goes through the mails.  I have one more I will bring home with me.” 

  “There is no news.  I went to see this exhibit and must say it is a fright.  Yet I heard one or two fools raving over the beauty of these daubs.  It was worth going to see however just to see what some will praise.  Lorado Taft* says it reminds him of nothing so much as a lumber yard after a tornado.  Home as usual tomorrow at 6.  Yours, EC”

  My great-grandfather was a judge who frequently traveled between Geneseo, Illinois and Chicago.  He died young and left my grandmother, one of five offspring to survive, and great grandmother to fend for themselves.  Grandma adored her father and held dear precious memories and memorabilia through to the end.  Interesting now to allow them to take one back…

   Compare the image on top with the one just above and you will get an idea of an experience none of us will ever again have.  An in-person audience with a work of art will always be different than one with a reproduction**, but any potential for shock and awe has been removed by the quality and ubiquity of virtual experience.

  On second thought, I retract that observation.  Or qualify it I guess with the addition of the following phrase:  given current knowledge of our universe…

*Lorado Taft (1860-1936) was a prominent American sculptor and teacher.  His studio was in Chicago and he taught at the Art Institute.

**I’m pretty sure I’ve used this in a previous post, but in case you’ve forgotten, New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldal wrote: “Reproductions are like pandering ghosts, they show us what we want to see”. 


Pocket of the Groove

April 22, 2011

  Ok.  I’m continuing with my attempt to learn how to play the guitar and enjoy it immensely even though I’ve yet to play anything through without a fat fingered mistake.  It’s amazing how absorbing practice can be.  Just a few notes in, and even the most acute of the day’s existential crises have dissolved.

  Just now trying to find my way through “Scarborough Fair” familiar to me (and you maybe) courtesy of the Simon And Garfunkel cover on their 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.  For me, their rendition was even more important to the 1968 film The Graduate than their “Mrs. Robinson” for the former’s telling of a wonderfully mysterious tale of courtship. 

  It is an old English ballad.  Some say it arose in the time of the plague and that the refrain: “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” refers to an herb bundle used to mask the then pervasive odor of death. 

  Of also Mrs. Robinson perhaps.  It would take something pretty powerful to gain the willing hand of a fair young maiden with the mother of whom the suitor had also slept.  And indeed that collection of herbs held ancient pagan esteem for their power to arouse and attract. 

Love imposes impossible tasks,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Though not more than any heart asks,
And I must know she’s a true love of mine.

  The music itself is interesting for this here novice to play around with.  The first two notes are the same, but the first is a half note and the second a quarter note which means that the first is held twice as long as the second. 

  One obviously doesn’t watch a clock so what is interesting is the different emotional impact of even slight variations in duration.  As luck would have it, Paul Simon was quoted in an article about working with just that in this week’s NYT Tuesday Science section:

  “The stopping of sounds and rhythms, it’s really important, because, you know, how can I miss you unless you’re gone?  If you just keep the thing going like a loop, eventually it loses its power.”

  “My brain is working that way – it’s dividing up everything.  I really have a certain sense of where the pocket of the groove is, and I know when you have to reinforce it and I know when you want to leave it.”

  Well, his is a sensibility to which one can only aspire.

*Interesting to note that Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate, originally wanted Robert Redford for the role that launched Dustin Hoffman’s career.  Shortly into a screen test with Redford he realized that he needed someone else.  “The Graduate only works if it’s a 21-year-old going on 16, who’s sexually insecure.  Well, Redford is this… classic sexual matinee idol…”  From NPR’s Morning Edition Broadcast 12/9/02

Feminization of AIDS in Africa

April 16, 2011


  While back oldest daughter was an intern at an affiliate of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).  Her work took her to a conference in Nairobi “Integrating programming to address gender-based violence and engage men and boys to challenge gender inequality in national AIDS strategies and plans”.

  On her day off, she explored Kibera, the second largest (after Soweto) slum in east Africa.  There, she came upon a group of women selling hand made crafts, such as the pin above, to help defray the expense of their AIDS related medicine.  The women had organized themselves because “no one was helping them”.

  “The women I met had been ostracized because their husbands (and their husbands’ families) threw them out of their house/family when they disclosed their status.  Odds are, they got HIV from their husbands (who are more likely to have been promiscuous outside of the marriage).”

  Three-quarters of those 15-24 living with HIV in Africa are female.  The grim reaper follows with AIDs being the leading cause of death for African women 25 to 34.  Aspects of biology and physiology make females more likely to contract HIV during even consensual sex. 

  Furthermore, “heightened female HIV susceptibility is rooted in gender inequality, which leads to sexual assault and women’s limited ability to negotiate safe sex”.*  Forced sex can lead to tissue tears and abrasions thus facilitating disease transmission. 

  The relative few women able to fund an IV drug habit are similarly disadvantaged because they are usually the last to share a needle. Some HIV positive women have been reinfected by a mutated version of the virus thus complicating treatment programs.

  These are acts of individual violence and discrimination, yet an emerging aspect of the human rights paradigm holds that states are responsible for amelioration. Due diligence principles are being developed with potential to “transform patriarchal gender structures and values that perpetuate and entrench violence against women” and the closely related feminization of AIDS in Africa. 

*These are very few words describing a complex and terrible state of affairs.  Read ”Due Diligence in the Context of Gender Inequality and HIV”, by Tiana O’Konek for more information


Blow Me Away

April 11, 2011

  Kids all live in California.  For now anyway.  Closest pattern in years by far so we decided to visit.  Spent two days with each, drove up coast for two, and rode train home for two.  It was fun.

  Beautiful thing above is the work of youngest daughter.  It’s a bit of found art in a way.  She’s an assistant winemaker in Sonoma and that image is – believe it or not – the result of a test (chromatograph) assessing the degree to which a certain type (malolactic) of fermentation has progressed in this year’s chardonnay. 

  The winemaker drops a few drops onto the paper and then holds it upright to allow for capillary action.  The resulting patterns and distribution of color convey the necessary information.  At the appropriate point a sample is taken to  their lab and analyzed for enzymatic malic acid.  It is this aspect of the chardonnay’s chemistry that can create a ‘buttery’ sensation.    Daughter is responsible for this and the rest of Petroni oenological midwifery while boss is in New Zealand for a month.

  The above is a digital representation of the design for the 2K Sports Corporate Offices in San Francisco courtesy of son/Section V Media.  He and partner/friend from grad school set up shop in Hollywood and dang if they aren’t making a go of it in these incredibly difficult economic conditions.   Speaking as an SOB (son of the boss),  I’m impressed.

  Firm offers a range of design services and has left tracks from coast to coast.  Spaces from Madison Square Garden to UCLA stadium have been graced with the fruits of their labors.  Nike, Simon Malls, Williams Sonoma, Diet Pepsi, and more have had their missions furthered therewith.  You see him above atop Runyon Canyon, the trail for which begins paces from their office.

  Photo above is of the grave of Cesar Chavez  on the grounds of the Foundation commemorating his life and work.  Chavez launched the United Farm Workers for which oldest daughter is a lawyer.  (She can’t call herself a lawyer there because she’s not yet taken the California bar.  But she’s admitted in Maine and Massachusetts and I’m her dad and can call her anything I want).

   She speaks fluent Spanish and enjoys the opportunity to use it in that demanding environment in which accuracy is crucial and picking up on inflection can make a difference. The skill is but one of a considerable set held together by an incredible sense of compassion.  She and her neat (space industry start-up) husband live on a farm off the grid.  Long way from Middlesex St in London or Manhattan’s lower east side.  Below you see her working on their windmill.

  As I’ve said before*, trains are a great way to travel.  The intimacy thus engendered is of a sort all its own and as you can see below, I thus again found myself the subject of my artist wife.  Paraphrasing Giacometti’s last surviving model’s description of the sitting experience: “I think her gaze travelled elsewhere, beyond the person in front of her.  So much so that when she was working on a sketch of me, I had the impression that she was in fact searching for my skeleton”.**  Or even deeper…

  Giacometti’s wife also sat for him and was his most ardent supporter.  “They had a highly poetic outlook on life.  I can’t explain it, [their marriage] was something that broke all the conventional rules.  Sculpture was a mediator between husband and wife, it both united them and highlighted their differences.”

  Yup.  Blow me away.

*cf post 1/31/09

**The Art Newspaper April 2011 p48


April 2, 2011


Ok, here’s what to do next time you visit Chicago’s Art Institute to scintillate the constellation of your synapses. Enter through the original portal between the lions on Michigan Avenue, negotiate admission, and go down and right to room 109 – The Ando Gallery.

As I’ve mentioned before (4/4/08) this particular confluence of space, cirumstance, and spirit engenders the sort of roundedness for which pilgrims yearn. Experience with the objects in this serene room is one of communion not idolatry. you leave imbued with far more than didactics alone could possibly convey.

Make your way down the hall that used to be lined with swords, armor, and coats of mail, but now Buddha, Hinduism, and the way of the Tao. At its end (decorative arts to the right) go left and be overwhelmed by the cavernous great hall of the new wing. Whoa.

Continue north to its end and climb the stairs (!) to the Terzo Piano* – the restaurant on three. It is neutral but well fenestrated inside and breathtakingly open on the outside deck. maintain composure, walk around, and choose a perch.


From any point of vantage you will join the ebullience of this big shouldered city breaking bread head to head with the work of Burnham, Gehry, et al. Enjoy the fine repast, your friends, and the skyline. It’s astonishingly fine to be human. There may yet be hope for us all.


*Terzo Piano – A play on words. It means third floor in italian, but also refers to the architect of the new wing – Italian Renzo Piano.

**Sorry about last week.

Been on a whorl wind road trip. On train now. About all that later. Photos for this post too.