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GLENN LONEY'S MUSEUM NOTES
CONTENTS, February 20, 2000
NEW HAYDEN SPACE SPHERE. Photo: D. Finnin/American Museum of Natural History.
 Space Travel in New Hayden Sphere
 Walker Evans' Photos at Met
 Hiroshige's Views of Edo at BMA
 Breugel to Rubens at the Morgan
 Letters between Two 18th Century Women Historians
 Tilman Riemanschneider's Late Medieval Sculpture
 Mummy Portraits at the Met
 New York on Brink of Bankruptcy
 Ginnie Gardiner Talks with Tiepolo
 "DU" from Chemnitz
 Unprivate Houses in Vienna
 Celebrating Year of the Dragon
 Brut or Naive Art?
 Great Bridge Between Denmark & Sweden
 Chris Ofili Sells "Princess" to SFMoMA
 MoMA & STAPLES
 New Modern Museums
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Copyright © 1998 Glenn Loney.
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Zooming Billions of Light-Years
Up, Up, & Away Over Central Park West!
NEW HAYDEN SPACE SPHERE AND ORBITING PLANET. Photo: D. Finnin/American Museum of Natural History. .
Simulated Space Travel[American Museum of Natural History/Permanent Installation] No more old-fashioned star-shows at the Hayden Planetarium. Gone is the old projector, even the old Art Deco detailing of the much beloved old building.
In the New Hayden Sphere
In its place is an immense new white globe, the Hayden Sphere, resting on three great pylons in the immense glass box that is the amazing new Rose Center for Earth & Space.
It is good that the sphere has such strong supports, for it weighs four-million pounds. Actually, this works out to 2,000 tons, dry weight, but it sounds more impressive with superlatives.
And superlatives are entirely in order, for the Hayden Sphere and the Rose Center are going to weigh considerably more, once thousands of tourists, New Yorkers, and school-kids begin making the rounds of Outer Space—after its official opening on Saturday, February 19.
Dr. Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History, is fully justified in her belief that the Center and the Sphere will soon become one of the major attractions in Manhattan.
This belief is enthusiastically shared by the Rose Family, many other donors, both private and public, and movers & shakers in the city.
Not only is there the Frederick Phineas & Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space, but there are also the Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Hall of the Universe.
Not to overlook the remarkably designed David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. This is adjacent to the Center and opened last June. It has since proved a great hit, both with the passing public and really serious students, old and young.
On first impression, the entire ensemble outdoes any theme-park park installation, in terms of both design and content. But it is more than just a tourist-magnet or a learning-enhancement for grammar and high-school students.
As President Futter and colleagues such as Neil de Grasse Tyson make clear, the Center is already Plugged into the Universe. The American Museum has from the outset been a major center of expeditions, explorations, experiments, research, and interpretation.
The new Hayden is in contact with all the major outposts of space exploration. New discoveries can be almost instantly shared with visitors to the Center, as well as with schools all over the United States.
The genial Dr. Tyson is both an astrophysicist and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He told the press-corps that he had first become interested in what lies beyond our ozone-layer as a school-kid coming to the old Planetarium.
Kids and their parents are going to love the two shows in the Hayden Sphere. They are highly theatrical, but beyond anything you can experience in theatres, live or cinematic, thanks to remarkable computer software and ingenious design.
Large elevators zoom you up to the top level of the Sphere. In the Holding-Area, you are treated to a fascinating introduction to Space and its Exploration.
Inside the circular theatre, leaning back in super-comfort, you will feel your seats begin to vibrate, as a low rumble suggests we are beginning a journey far beyond our own Solar System.
Film-star Tom Hanks narrates our Space Adventure—called "Passport To the Universe"—with friendly urgency. We are going to make astonishing discoveries—as our earth, our own Milky Way, and even previously unknown star-systems recede from us in the utter vastness of Space.
Yes, it does make you—and me—feel absolutely insignificant. As the one-of-a-kind Zeiss Mark IX Star Projector rises out of the center of the arena, you will experience the night sky as you have never seen it before. Even with the old Zeiss projector in the old Planetarium.
Thanks to radio-telescopes, laser technology, and computer-modeling of galaxies and disasters in Outer Space that cannot be seen by telescopes, you will see some absolutely astonishing things.
Frightening even, when you realize that Earth has become an infinitely small speck in this continually expanding Universe.
And nowhere along our trajectory into Outer Space do we see where Heaven or Paradise might be located. This may well be—as for stars billions of light-years away—only detectable by computer-modeling? [Or Death.]
The new technologies aren't going to resolve any conflicts between Science & Religion any time soon.
The level below "Passport" features Jodie Foster and The Big Bang. It all happened so fast, infinities of eons ago, that it's no wonder this show is over so quickly. But it's very dramatic. It may, however, give Creationists second-thoughts.
Leaving the Sphere, we walk down the gently spiraling Cosmic Pathway, where one step can equal millions—or was it billions?—of light-years.
On the floor below the Sphere are a number of interactive displays which encourage visitors to learn more about our planet and its place in space and time. These are better than video-games! And better for you!
All kinds of awards should go this year to architect James Stewart Polshek and designer Ralph Appelbaum. They have devised an Eighth Wonder.
There is a special book for the new center and its varied attractions, but I was not one of the fortunate reporters to be given one. Nonetheless, the cover looked quite attractive.
There will be all kinds of earthbound and inter-planetary souvenirs and publications available in the new museum shop. No aspect of educational and tourist merchandising has been overlooked. Including new snack facilities especially appealing to younger visitors. There will even be indoor parking, including spaces for school-buses.
For a Sneak Preview of the Tom Hanks-hosted Space-Show, check out this website: http://www.1m1.com/passport.htm
For general information, especially about hours, ticket-prices, and group tours, try: www.amnh.org
Documenting A Lost America
Before Color Photography Was King:
WALKER EVANS[Metropolitan Museum of Art/Closing May 14]
Would Kodachrome and Agfacolor have destroyed the career of Walker Evans? He certainly lived long enough to have created a substantial body of photographic work in color.
WALKER EVANS—Half of a Movie Marquee for "Damaged Goods."
From the evidence of the current exhibition at the Met, he saw America, its People, its often astonishing Vernacular Architecture, and its Road & Shop Signage definitively in black-and-white.
Although his personal portraits of poverty-stricken Southern people in the Depression—as with his photos of their homes and ways of living & surviving—were commissioned for a record of social conditions, these men, women, and children stand tall with honesty, openness, and pride.
A single simple white wooden church in a somewhat barren landscape makes a powerful visual—and social and cultural—statement in black-and-white.
But Walker's lens was equally eloquent in the Mean Streets of Manhattan or the steaming, stinking subway cars of New York City.
Some notable images were clearly thought about and studied. But many of Walker's best seem caught on the wing. True, he did set up his camera to snap unseen shots of passersby, catching a series of New Yorkers on the same spot.
But that wonderful image of workers loading a huge electric sign DAMAGED onto a truck is point-and-shoot in its finest hour.
The wall-label doesn't say what this is all about, but I'm certain they must have been removing part of the marquee-sign for the film Damaged Goods," after it had ended its gala NYC run.
Walker had to be there at that exact moment to get such a great shot.
He loved and collected Americana, especially signage on shops and on the highways. He had an eye for the ridiculous and the stylishly naive in the sign-painters' art.
In a pendant display downstairs in the African area, the potent black-and-white portraits he made of major masks and other carvings—in a famous 1935 Museum of Modern Art show—demonstrate another aspect of his art as a photographer.
WALKER EVANS—Quizzical African Mask in 1935 MoMA Show. .
Today, these objects—some of them in the Met's own collections and now displayed with the Walker photos—are photographed in color. And, of course, they look rather different.
Curiously, they have a greater ikonic power in the starkness of black-and-white. Just as color photos of modern slums look a lot more lively than the black-and-white slum photos of Jacob Riess.
Or Evans' photos of Southern Poverty. Not to forget those stark images of Dorothea Lange of similar scenes and people in the Great Depression.
The stark contrasts possible in black-and-white photography can produce an almost clinical coldness which lends itself well to Images of Misery. But the vibrancy of color makes even the most miserable face or scene rather different than it would have been in b&w.
It is interesting to note that Walker Evans owed his initial success to the patronage and friendship of Lincoln Kirstein. This of course opened the doors of MoMA—and many other doors as well—to him.
When he was printing the immense number of photos required for the MoMA African Art Portfolio, he was assisted by the bi-swinging novelist John Cheever. And his association with the novelist James Agee—providing the photos to illustrate Agee's celebrated "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"—suggest that he was especially well connected with a then still closeted community of Gay artists and intellectuals.
Could Walker Evans have been America's First Great Gay Photographer? Not that his varied subject-matter was so oriented.
Woodblock Print Masterpieces—
HIROSHIGE: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo[Brooklyn Museum of Art/Closing April 23]
Even if you cannot come to the Brooklyn Museum of Art before this impressive exhibition closes, you may well wish to have the handsome companion book for your very own!
HIROSHIGE—Boatmen in one of the 100 Views of Edo. .
Beautifully printed by George Braziller Publishers, its reproductions of the original prints on the walls of the BMA look even larger. They are so stunning that you might want to buy the book in paperback so you could dismantle it and frame your favorite prints.
It will be very difficult to decide which to choose, for most of the images are so very special you could fill every room of your home with them. Just as the BMA has lined the walls of two major galleries with Hiroshige's visions of the area in and around what is today Tokyo.
They are organized in accordance with the special qualities of the four seasons. This helps suggest what urban and rural Japan must have looked like 150 years ago. Before its opening to the West and before modern technology transformed its life and customs.
Edo, as the ruling capital of the Shogunate, was the largest city in the world—in population at least—when Hiroshige was in his prime. Its major architectural complexes were Buddhist and Shinto Temples and the Shogun's Palace. Because the feudal lords who ruled Japan's provinces under the Shoguns had to spend every other year in the capital, they also had lavish establishments.
[This requirement was similar to that of the French Court, where provincial nobles and aristocrats were also obliged to wait upon the Bourbon King. Keeping them at court most of the year prevented them fomenting unrest and uprisings in their home-territories.]
While Hiroshige does depict some interesting examples of noble period architecture, many of his prints are more concerned with vernacular buildings, created for religious, practical, or pleasurable purposes, in often colorful landscapes
Though some of his reds, blues, and greens are subtly muted and shaded, they more often are vivid and bold. One of two of the views on display have been contrasted with the use two different colors on several of the many woodblocks in the printing process.
There is even a special case with all the woodblocks carved for the various colors and design-details of a famed print. The precision of this carving—and the exactness of the printer's registry of each block on the same piece of rice-paper—are amazing.
Hiroshige does depict some elegantly gowned & kimonoed Japanese ladies and gentlemen. But, far more often, his scenes are populated with peasants and ordinary folk. They may be out for a stroll, at leisure, taking part in a festival, or doing their daily work.
Whatever their station, occupation, or diversion at hand, they give us a wonderful pictorial record of life and customs of a vanished kingdom. It looks almost paradisical in these prints.
That is partly because Hiroshige devoted himself to sketching a number of notable & beautiful natural sites in and around Edo. A map accompanies the exhibition and the book.
Some prints show dogged, determined men coming toward the viewer. Expressions are quite vivid. Others are much more non-committal—giving nothing away of inner thoughts or emotions. More often, however, groups of Japanese are seen from a distance, with no distinguishing characteristics aside from costumes, tools, or adornments.
Hiroshige anticipated a striking compositional technique of Victorian stereo-photographers. Very large-seeming objects in the immediate foreground make things in the receding background seem almost three-dimensional.
His print of the Haneda Ferry shows only a bit of the deck planks. On the left margin, the hairy legs of the ferry-man jut into the picture at an angle. His two arms are seen above, pushing in from the top of the frame. They guide a tiller, which disappears out of the left side of the frame. A taut rope, stabilizing the tiller, is stretched almost vertically from this pole to the deck.
The result is that the viewer does not see either the ferry or the ferry-man. But they are somehow very real, just the same.
Some of Hiroshige's unusual ways of looking at people, nature, and human activities are positively Modernist!
He also frequently uses a forced perspective on either the right or the left side of his image. This lends depth and dimension to a flat print as well. His view of small boat-ferries on a canal in front of a long white row of identical narrow warehouses is stunning.
And, on the right margin of the print, in the immediate foreground, stands an elegant but impassive Japanese lady, in Obi and Kimono, holding a black parasol, her back to us. On a piling in front of her a lone bird perches, watching four others circle the boats.
This is such an ingenious and powerful image, it's no wonder it was chosen for the cover of the book!
In one print, dazzling in its apparent simplicity, a group of virtually indistinguishable archers in the distance take aim. At the left margin of the print, right in the viewer's face, is just half of their bold white target, suspended from a slim pole.
The other half of the drum-head-like target is hidden behind the trunk of a framing tree, one branch with needles dipping down into the scene from the center top of the print.
This print depicts the Takata Riding Grounds. Sure enough, there are two tiny horsemen riding in the distance.
But they are even less important than the archers! Even sacred Mount Fuji in the far distance is upstaged by some trees in the middle-ground.
To those who regard non-Christian religions as exercises in pagan superstition, it may come as no surprise to learn that there was a venerable Japanese cult of worship of Mount Fuji. You certainly wouldn't want to do this for Murray Hill, but Fuji, even today, is so majestic and mysterious that it inspires respectful awe.
The Holy Mountain was so revered that its worshippers naturally desired a closer association with it than could be had from viewing it from a distance. Or in a print by Hiroshige.
So, at different times, two smaller versions of Fuji were constructed, so the aged and infirm—among other votaries, including the lazy—could climb at least an approximation of the Real Thing.
Included in Hiroshige's Hundred Views are prints of each of the fake Fujis.
Actually, there are more than one-hundred prints in this impressive series—of which the Brooklyn Museum has a complete collection of the deluxe portfolio. This was last shown in 1986, fifteen years ago,
These remarkable images may have to wait even longer for their next exposure at the BMA. So it's worth making a special trip to this Unknown Borough—which was once the Fourth Largest City in the United States. Before it was forced to become part of a united New York City.
You could make a wonderful day of your expedition. Soon the blossoms will be bursting out in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, right next to the museum. Just down the avenue—Eastern Parkway, actually—is the Art Deco Brooklyn Public Library, with wonderful decor, displays, and manuscripts.
The Great Victory Arch of Grand Army Plaza is almost as impressive as that monument in Paris. But, instead of Emperor Napoleon, in all his egotistic glory, you have a bronze statue of a simple, homely Abraham Lincoln on horseback. But with a stove-pipe hat.
Then there's super cheesecake and brisket at Junior's. And perhaps Baroque Opera or Next Wave cutting-edge choreography at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—BAM!
Check it out!
More Treasures from the Morgan!
From Breugel to Rubens:[The Morgan Library/Closing April 30] Major loan exhibitions at the Morgan Library are always important events, but the treasures in its own collections are too seldom on view.
Netherlandish & Flemish Drawings
The new show, featuring about a hundred Dutch and Flemish drawings, permits the public to see some wonderful scenes and portraits not on display for fifteen years.
On May 25, these small but infinitely detailed drawings will be replaced by Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur. So these priceless originals will have to go back into their acid-free storage cases for another long wait.
Of course, if you are a bona fide scholar/researcher with a demonstrable need to study any of these drawings, that can be arranged. But the protective measures which must be taken when you examine the actual drawings are often daunting, if completely understandable.
So it is a real pleasure to be able to stroll around the major exhibition hall and along the long corridor to enjoy and examine the drawings close-up and at leisure.
They range from the Gothic—replete with traditional symbols and styles of representation—to the often flamboyant Flemish Baroque, displaying a buoyant new freedom in portraying Man and Nature.
Between the resonant bookends of Jan Breugel, the Elder, and Peter Paul Rubens, there are also a number of lesser lights and peers of Breugel and Rubens as well.
Hendrick Goltzius' Young Man Holding a Skull and a Tulip is especially interesting. The handsome and richly dressed young squire looks ready for Romance and Adventure. The Certainty of Death—supposedly prompted in Renaissance Man by such gruesome Memento Mori as the skull—seem very far from his thoughts.
While there are a number of biblical subjects, many of the drawings have distinctly Lowlands backgrounds and contemporary costumes. One noted artist, however, escaped the tyranny of living his life under the leaden skies of Flanders and Holland.
In this show, Anthony Van Dyke's View of Rye from the Northeast demonstrates what a Flemming could do under the leaden skies of England.
There are also some bound-books with quite beautiful original illustrations and colored drawings. The Month of May—in the Da Costa Book of Hours, illuminated in Bruges around 1515, by Simon Bening—is especially charming.
MERRY MONTH OF MAY—Medieval illustration in Da Costa Book of Hours in Morgan Library. .
Another charmer is Jacob Hoefnagel's 1613 vision of Orpheus and the Animals.
An Exhibition Footnote at the Morgan:
British-American BriefwechselTo those who know about great historians, the name Macaulay instantly calls to mind the magisterial Thomas Babington Macaulay. How many know of Catherine Macaulay?
Between Two Remarkable Women Historians
She was an 18th century writer and thinker at a time when these were still not thought to be proper pursuits for women. Nonetheless, she wrote nine volumes of history, two philosophical treatises, and some pamphlets.
Over a twenty-year period, she also carried on a most enlightening and stimulating correspondence with an American counterpart, Mercy Otis Warren. Their letters are especially interesting because they were written during the time that America was throwing off the British yoke and trying to find its way in its new Democracy.
Revolution was brewing in France, and both women had strong opinions about political matters at home and abroad. The selected letters on display currently at the Morgan Library make very sobering reading.
Not only are they distinguished by their learning, intelligence, and wit, but they are also informed by the acuity and practicality of their respective writers. Can as much be said today of contemporary exchanges of letters by our Literary Lions?
After savoring the Flemish drawings, the letters—on view in the rotunda between JP Morgan's Study and Library—caught my eye only because I knew Mercy Warren as our first important American Woman Playwright. I had no idea she was also a published historian.
These autograph-letters are only a small part of the very large Gilder Lehrman Collection of documents of American History on deposit at the Morgan.
Anyone who is able to read these letters at the Morgan may want to read one or both of Warren's two Revolutionary dramas. Try to find one today!
Fortunately, my Stanford University drama professor and mentor, the late Norman Philbrick, edited an excellent anthology containing Mercy Otis Warren's "The Blockheads; or The Affrighted Officers" . This appears in Trumpets Sounding: Propaganda Plays of the American Revolution.
Professor Philbrick—like Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, an extremely wealthy man—devoted much of his life and substance to building a library of autograph-documents and rare playscripts of the 18th and 19th century British and American theatre. This library was once housed at his estate near Palo Alto, but is now, I believe, at Pomona College, in Claremont, California.
TILMAN RIEMENSCHNEIDER:[Metropolitan Museum of Art/Closing May 14]
Master Sculptor of the Late Middle Ages
The delicacy and detail of the carving of individual pieces of Tilman Riemenschneider's sculpture are impressive indeed. As visitors to the new Met Museum show will be able to discover for themselves.
LADY & ANTLERS—Medieval lighting-fixture at the Met Museum Riemenschneider Show.
But the tremendous impact of a score or more of these figures as parts of the ensemble of a late medieval altarpiece is almost overwhelming. Unfortunately, there are only two such monumental works extant.
One is in Creglingen, the other in Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, on the touristic "Romantic Road." Understandably, neither of these historic German cities was prepared to let curators dismantle their altars for exhibition in New York and Washington, DC.
The two have, however, been skillfully photographed for the catalogue and the show. So it is possible to have an idea of how a number the individual sculptures in this exhibition might once have looked, deployed in wonderfully wrought wooden Gothic frameworks.
Many of the pieces on display were long ago dispersed from their original altar settings. Statues in several groups in this show have been reunited for the first time in generations, if not since their complete ensembles were broken up.
Two polychrome Deacons, on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art, have been paired with two female saints from the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt-am-Main. All four are believed to have been carved for the same altarpiece.
Just as we are now accustomed to seeing classic Greek and Roman statues in the stark white of their natal stone—when once they were colored, so also are some major works of medieval woodcarving, once colored, now to be viewed in the beauties of their native woods.
But, in Riemenschneider's time, it was the fashion to size and prepare wood sculptures and panels-in-relief for a heavy coat of gesso on which gold and silver leaf could be bonded, along with translucent and solid colors, creating richly glowing religious images and scenes.
In the current show, some of Riemenschneider's masterworks have retained most—if not all—of their polychrome enhancements. As these belong to the taste and the period in which the carvings were created, it may have been a mistake for well-intentioned conservators to attempt to return them to their primal state.
They are very beautiful, especially when gold or silver shines beneath a translucent red, blue, or green.
But when these colors have been stripped away, other beauties in modeling and detail are revealed. Riemenschneider knew very well the powers of his unpainted sculpture.
His mastery of voluminous folds of drapery was a show in itself. Together with Riemenschneider's fantastically detailed carving of masses of curling virginal hair, the faces of some early figures seem wan and weak by comparison.
At the outset of this exhibition there is a magnificent small sculpture by Niclaus Gerhaert von Leiden. It shows exactly this concern with the volumes and thrusts of a many-folded medieval gown, skewed at an angle.
The effect is of rich, heavy robes on very thin, even ascetic, figures. This is a style—or mannerism—which Riemenschneider adopted from the earlier Dutch Master.
The viewer's attention is immediately focused on the gown, rather than the face. And this works far better on the native wood than with polychroming.
Portrayal of the Virgin or female saints with such full gowns, often held high in front by a hand, was a reverent allusion to the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary. Women's dress fashions in the late medieval period also imitated this sculptural style.
Riemenschneider's work was by no means limited to the creation of altarpieces. So some of the more powerful devotional figures—commissioned for family chapels or private prayers—stand alone, without any need for lacy Gothic traceries or golden shrines to frame them.
Riemenschneider's mastery as a sculptor is all the more remarkable because he could work as well in stone as in wood. These are two quite different mediums, requiring some different tools and skills, though the basics and the detailings of Riemenschneider's works in either medium are not that different.
He did, however, choose to work in sandstone and alabaster, which are much easier to carve than marble or granite. At the end of the exhibition, there is a small display of the kinds of tools he must have used to create his masterpieces.
Personal Disclosure Footnote: I have a very special remembrance of Tilman Riemenschneider, and not only for his sculpture. When I was teaching in West Germany in the late 1950s, I decided to use my free time to photograph outstanding examples of medieval sculpture in wood and in stone by such masters as Veit Stoss and Riemenschneider.
In Nuremberg, I discovered treasures by both—even though this historic city and its churches were still rebuilding after horrendous Allied bombing raids. Veit Stoss's magnificent Maria im Rosenhag—suspended in an historic sanctuary—is a truly monumental work.
On reaching Creglingen in my blue-beetle Volkswagen—on my way to find the famous Riemenschneider altarpiece and its sheltering church—my car was suddenly struck on the driver's side by a wild motorcyclist.
He may have seen my American Forces license-plates, but something about my car certainly had incensed him. I was jolted to a halt. He fell to the cobblestone street, with his cycle on top of him.
The police were on the spot in an instant. They recognized him as an old and unreconstructed Nazi, so I was not presumed at fault. On his handbars was a chrome motto: Hals und Beinbruch.
This is an old German boastful toast, the equivalent of our Break a Leg!
Unfortunately, that is exactly what he had done. And the misadventure almost ruined my joy at beholding at last the great Riemenschneider altar of Creglingen.
The catalogue looks beautiful. But, alas, I'm not on the list of press-people who are given catalogues. So I can only tell you it has 352 pages, with 124 color plates and 152 b-&-w images. It costs $65 in hardcover and $35 softbound.
It looks well worth owning, even if only to impress friends who haven't seen this exhibition. I'm told Met Museum catalogues are less expensive bought in its own shops than in outside bookstores. I don't know what the deal may be at Amazon.com.
ANCIENT FACES: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt
[Metropolitan Museum of Art/Closing May 7] After Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony were defeated at the Battle of Actium, Egyptian funerary customs began to change in some interesting and important aspects.
EMBALMED BUT BEAUTIFUL—Greek Portrait on Egyptian Mummy at Met Museum. .
Before the extinction of the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty—with Cleopatra the last of her line—mummies of dead royals, nobles, and people of substance had facial masks or cases which were traditional representations of their sex and class. These are now almost clichés in museum gift-shop souvenirs.
The influence of Greek arts & culture—including dress, jewelry, decoration, and styles of painting and sculpting—had spread around the Mediterranean, making a special impression among the upper classes in Egypt. When Egypt became a Roman Province—a special estate of the Emperor—some of the older traditions were gradually transformed by Greek and Roman styles and customs.
Painted wooden panels began to be inserted into the delicate mummy wrappings around the facial areas. Initially, these faces had a generalized quality, but gradually the panels developed into portraiture which is quite individualized.
In some early and very elaborate masks—which cover the sides and the top of the wrapped mummy as well—faces are modeled or painted to resemble men and women, not hieratic types.
One of these now on view at the Met uses both the Greek alphabet and Egyptian hieroglyphics for its messages and incantations.
This extensive and impressively mounted exhibition includes photos, maps, and diagrams which help explain where the many of these masks, mummies, and artifacts were buried. And when.
The Egyptian practice of mummification and tomb-burial continued through the reigns of over 35 Roman Emperors, coming to a close around 300 AD.
Even those prosperous folk who made Egypt their home—but who were not native Egyptians—seem to have adopted not only the funeral customs but also the religion and the gods.
A small votive statue of the Hawk God Horus shows him in Roman armor, enthroned like the Emperor himself. A surviving head of Zeus or Jupiter has the ram's horns of the Egyptian God Ammon curving through his curly locks.
Both Greeks and Romans found in the gods of other cultures similarities to their own, and so incorporated the qualities of both deities in one image.
Many of the finest of the Greek-style portraits are rendered in encaustic, that is: pigment mixed with beeswax. This technique at its most challenging involves hot wax and color, but the painter had to work very rapidly before the mixture hardened.
One once lovely portrait of a woman has been partially ruined over the right eye by an attempt in modern times to meddle with the encaustic.
There are over 70 mummy portraits in this exhibition, as well as actually mummies, a few surviving mummy shrouds, and a number of sculptures and artifacts which relate to the portraits or the burials.
Shrouds usually had images of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys protecting the body at the sides, with an image of the God Osiris covering the face. Later, Osiris morphed into a portrait of the deceased.
The mummy portraits are displayed in a progression of rooms which suggests the sequence of Imperial Rulers over this 300-year-period. This also helps explain the gradual changes in painting styles, as well as the styles in dress, hair, and adornments.
Greek and Roman statues were often painted originally, but only traces of color remain on some survivals. That bleached museum whiteness is the work of sun and weather over the centuries.
So these mummy portraits offer a much more accurate idea of how people actually looked and dressed. But they are important not only as a testimony to customs and habits, but also as examples of Greek and Roman painting, little of which has survived.
In Classic Greece, there were two great repositories of art. Paintings were preserved in the Pinakothek, while sculptures were displayed in the Glyptothek. Obviously, stone has survived the centuries much better than painting-grounds of fabric, leather, wood, or matted fiber.
Many of the mummy portraits are so distinctive, so skillfully detailed, that you may think as you look at them that these are people you would really like to know.
That is quite a testimony to the special talents—even genius—or some of these unknown portrait-painters.
For a long time after the first portraits came to light, they were not perceived as art at all, but only as interesting burial artifacts.
Once again, it is worth noting that Cleopatra was not a Black African Queen. Although the known images of this tragic monarch are rendered in the traditional Egyptian manner—a style which has suggested to some that all the Pharaohs were Black—Cleopatra was a descendant of the great Greek, Ptolemy.
Her ancestor, the founder of the Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty, was a general of Alexander the Great, who gave him Egypt to govern. On Alexander's death, the Ptolemys were on their way to greatness. Their final chapter has been magnificently recreated by Shakespeare in Antony and Cleopatra. Bernard Shaw captured the queen at the outset of her reign in Caesar and Cleopatra.
Studying some of the especially noble mummy portraits of Greco-Egyptian women in the current exhibition, you may have some idea of how the historic Cleopatra might have looked.
Also Worth Noting:
New York on the Brink:[New-York Historical Society/Closing May 7]
The City's Fiscal Crisis of the 1970s
In the last two decades of Wall Street stock-market booming—and of zooming costs-of-living all over Manhattan and the Boroughs, it's now hard to believe that only 25 years ago, the entire City of New York was on the verge of bankruptcy.
NEW YORK NEAR BANKRUPTCY—Rally to save City University. .
In 1973, I was able to buy a handsome Upper East Side apartment for what are now the yearly maintenance costs of ones higher up in the building—the ones with Central Park Views. I still look out, low down and behind, on the Toilets of the Rich. But the value of the flat has increased almost fifteen-fold.
But at that time, prosperous people were actually fleeing New York, seeking more stable communities, no doubt. But every great city has had its ups and downs over the years and centuries.
No great harbor city like New York can ever die. Even if its shipping and cruises have dwindled to naught.
Even, if like Hamburg, it's virtually obliterated by saturation-bombing. Great cities survive, come back, thrive. How could people have lost confidence in New York City back in 1973?
But they did. And it was a close call. Today, all that seems forgotten. Or perhaps some of the newly minted millionaires were only toddlers or embryos then?
Amazing—the power of our Collective Forgetteries.
DROP DEAD, NEW YORK!—Cartoon of Executioner Gerald Ford with Head of Miss Liberty.
Rich young brokers get richer. While struggling artist and actor-friends are paying $1,200 monthly for decaying rooms in condemned housing on the Lower East Side. It isn't right. Or sound economics.
This bubble of inflated values and costs has to break soon. Or have we lost all contact with Reality—as it used to be?
It might be a sobering reminder of our near-collapse a generation ago to have a look at the compact new show over on Central Park West.
This is installed along the walls of the second-floor corridor. There are some relevant objects and documents in standing cases, but the most potent visuals are editorial and political cartoons, photographs, posters, and quotes mounted on the walls.
Most New Yorkers who lived through those dark days and months of fiscal crisis will never forget that tabloid headline, brusquely quoting President Gerald Ford's response to the City's plea for help with its backlogged debt-service payments: DROP DEAD!
In fact, the graphic signature of the current show is Mark Gotbaum's grisly labor-newspaper cartoon: Ford, as a Medieval Executioner, holds a bloody axe and Miss Liberty's severed head.
Thanks to the intervention of major bankers, insurers, and brokers, MAC was formed to restructure debt, borrow time, restore confidence in city government, and reorganize the way City Hall conducted business.
At the time, this was widely hailed as unexpected civic altruism. Felix Rohatyn, as the Man of the Hour, deserved all the credit he was given for snatching the city back from the brink.
But the Manhattan Financial Chieftains were not about to cede control of the city's affairs and purse to politicians in Albany. So the Last Minute Rescue was hardly pure altruism.
The beleaguered and underfunded New York Police were aided by a spunky little guy from Texas. H. Ross Perot sent the City a gift of thoroughbred horses: the famed "Tennessee Walkers."
A major casualty, however, was the previously tuition-free City University of New York. Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in return for "saving" CUNY, imposed tuition—which has steadily risen, making it increasingly difficult for potential students from poverty-level families to get the education they deserve. And which would, in turn, benefit all levels of society, not just the fortunate students themselves.
ONE LUMP OR TWO?—1862 Tiffany Sugarbowl in New-York Historical Society's Show of Presentation Silver.
Ginnie-Gardiner: Talking with Tiepolo[Michael Gold Gallery/Closing March 18] I seldom have time enough to study major art exhibitions closely, let alone dash around to see even a sampling of solo shows of contemporary artists. Considering the hundreds of galleries—and the scores of smaller specialist museums—this isn't purely a matter of policy. I just cannot keep up with it all.
I'm run ragged now, trying to cover the best in theatre and opera—forget about dance for the while—and in art & architecture. I'm also always at work on organizing and indexing new photos I've taken for The Everett Collection. There are still 65 yellow Kodak boxes of slides from last summer sitting in the closet, untouched & unsorted.
There aren't hours enough in the day, or days enough in the week. Unless someone launches a new, revolutionary Calendar & Clock Reform.
But when I got the invitation—followed almost immediately by the stunning catalogue—for Ginnie Gardiner's new show at the Michael Gold Gallery, I knew I had somehow to manage a glimpse of it.
Between Nam June Paik, Hiroshige, "The Alchemist," "The Merry Widow" at the Met, The Salzburg Marionettes, packing for next week in London, and completing this column and my current Show Notes for the Theatre-Wire.
Curiously, Gardiner's show-catalogue is even more stunning than the show itself. But then, it is the reason I decided to trek all the way down to Broome and Grand and see her converse with Tiepolo.
In the catalogue, everything looks the same size. In the gallery—up a steep sweep of stairs, with no elevator—there are some impressive large canvases. But most of the works are small collages, some smaller than a piece of bond-paper.
Not that these are not also impressive—but they'd be much more so on the scale of the actual paintings—which suggest collage techniques.
As her print-images seem cut from magazine fashion ads and spreads, I suppose enlarging them for larger works of collage and painting would violate some kind of aesthetic principle. Still, the effect could be stunning.
Generally, Gardiner's vibrant colors and elegantly energized figures and objects are breathtaking. And they energize the viewer as well.
Adapting the effect of pasted collages in actual painting, Gardiner brings a range of images into contact and conflict. She is not imitating Tiepolo, but she has an eye for the baroque flourish in modern fashion, advertising, and design.
These arresting fragments, often in strong, memorable colors—combined with outlines of classical images and stylish objects—become a kind of Post-Modernist Baroque on Gardiner's canvases.
Or, in the words of the show's press-release: "Gardiner and Tiepolo revel in a shared love of layered pictorial spaces, luminous palettes, figuration, voluminous drapery, and structural transformation."
Just what I was thinking, but I couldn't find the words to express it so elegantly. But then press-agents are paid, and I am not.
If you are South of Houston sometime soon, go for the Gold to see Gardiner talk to Tiepolo. If you get close to the canvas, you may hear him whispering back.
DU: From the Artists of Chemnitz[Goethe Institute/Closing in March] Colorful and dour abstractions share the walls with semi-symbolist works and mysterious evocations of worlds of reality and fantasy. You've never seen any of these artworks before in American galleries or museums.
Chances are the names of the artists—including Steffen Volmer, Klaus Süss, Wolfram Schneider, Osmar Osten, and Michael Morgner—are also unknown to you.
Unless you've been to Chemnitz recently, that is. All the artists contributing to this very special celebration for the German Premiere of Kurt Weill's long-forgotten opera, Der Weg der Verheissung, are from Saxon Chemnitz.
Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this industrial center was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt for 45 long years. It was a very depressing place—even just to pass through on a train.
In 1945, Allied bombing almost entirely destroyed not only its factories and railyards, but also its ancient city-center and its handsome Jugendstil Stadt-Theater.
Under the rigorous and penurious Communist regime of the DDR, reconstruction and restoration were only a slight improvement on the wastages of war. Nonetheless, rebuilding of the bombed-out theatre-shell was an important priority.
In most German cities, East & West, then & now, the State or City Theatre is a major cultural center, a focus of community-life.
It's curious to realize—especially for New World Anti-Communists—even the most repressive of East European Communist governments made high-quality, low-cost theatre, dance, opera, and concerts a prime priority.
Right up there with electrified razor-wire fences and mined borders, not to mention combat-ready troops to prevent Allied Invasions from West Germany.
Not only were they determined to demonstrate to the world—or those citizens of it who could get visas to visit—the superiority of their Culture, as a hallmark of their Socialist Societies. But also as a reward and consolation for their hard-working peoples, who were prevented from tuning in on news and entertainments from the West.
In Dresden, Leipzig, and Karl-Marx-Stadt—as well as in Warsaw and Budapest—after the sun went down, there was nothing to do at night except stay home or go to the theatre.
So Chemnitzers are understandably proud of their theatre—not only as a noble example of the German style which bridges Art Nouveau and Art Deco—but also as a popular Temple of the Arts.
In 1993, just a few years after the city had its historic name restored—and its freedoms, which had already disappeared in 1933, with the rise of Hitler—local artists, the theatre-personnel, the museum-directors, and local businessmen joined to form Kunst Für Chemnitz. Their aim was to develop and improve the Quality of Life in their reborn city.
They have done wonders in the past decade. A long run of handsome posters for the theatre is only one achievement.
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the city, the arts group organized a major presentation of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, with soloists, chorus, and orchestra from Chemnitz and its British Sister-City, Manchester.
New statuary, historic restorations, new gardens, and one of the most handsome modern railway stations in the former East Germany are all complemented by the artworks of this enterprising group.
The American conductor, John Maucieri, has for 15 long years been trying to interest American and European opera-houses in a revival of Kurt Weill's long forgotten opera-pageant, The Eternal Road. He finally found friends at the Chemnitz Theatre who shared his belief that this is a major 20th century opera.
As the rehearsals got underway, Kunst Für Chemnitz artists decided to mount a complementary art-exhibition to be displayed in the theatre's spacious foyers. And a local gallery. They called it DU, which is the familiar form of You, as used for loved ones, dear friends, and small children.
In the event, the premiere last July—with a revival this past fall—was the World Premiere of Weill's work. When the great German stage-director Max Reinhardt mounted it at the Manhattan Opera House in 1937, he only managed to get three of its four acts on stage.
Even at that, it was over four hours long, with a cast of hundreds, and tons of solidly-built scenery by Norman Bel Geddes—who gutted the theatre to create a massive mountain with a road leading devout but persecuted Jews up to their Promised Paradise.
The libretto, by novelist Franz Werfel [Song of Bernadette], was overlong, unwieldy, and unlyrical, as well. The production, though critically admired, was too expensive to run—and too few people wanted to see it in those dark Depression Years.
So the new production—mounted in cooperation with Opera Kraców, New Israeli Opera Tel Aviv, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music—is a major cultural event to be shared and seen in four nations.
It will play at BAM only briefly late February and early in March and is costing nearly $1 million to bring to Brooklyn. If you aren't able to get tickets, at least have a look at the Chemnitz artists' work inspired by it.
A special dividend of Chemnitz interest in the monumental Weill-Werfel Pageant of Jewish History and Endurance is the citizens' decision to rebuild the Synagogue which the Nazis destroyed on Kristal-Nacht in 1938.
Younger Chemnitzers especially—who knew nothing of Nazi repressions and persecutions—are eager to help the growing Jewish Community thrive. Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe have been made welcome, so there is now a congregation of some 300. Where once there were none.
But the Chemnitz artists don't forget the past in other ways as well.
When the Berlin Wall came down, many cities and towns in East Germany—and much farther east—couldn't wait to bash the statues of Lenin and Marx. In Chemnitz, however, some remembrances of the town that was once named for Karl Marx are being preserved.
On my last visit, I found an old brick railroad outbuilding which still had a faint Karl-Marx-Stadt painted on it. The photo didn't come out. Could Marx have jinxed it? My photos of his Golden Bust in London's Highgate Cemetery are stunning.
Performance dates for "The Eternal Road" at BAM are: February 28 & 29 and March 1, 3, 4, 5. For more information and tickets, search for the website: www.bam.org
The Un-Private House[Vienna's MAK/Closing April 24] If you missed this fascinating exploration of new ideas in houses in New York at MoMA, it's on-the-road. For the next two months, it will be in Vienna at the marvelous Museum für angewandte Kunst, better known as MAK.
Established in a handsome & historic building on Vienna's famed Ringstrasse, MAK is inside an impressive Post-Modernist make-over. Although it has an on-going relationship with NYMoMA, it is actually Austria's Museum of Applied Arts.
There will soon be a major new museum of modern art in what was once the Imperial Stables Complex. But there is more than enough of Austrian genius and originality in architecture, the decorative arts, and practical arts—such as design of tools, machines, and cutlery—that MAK is never at a loss for exhibition themes or objects.
The remarkable creations of the Wiener Werkstätte—which expired under Nazism—are now as prized as the eggs and jewels of Petersburg's Carl Fabergé.
The Jugendstil architecture, furniture, stained-glass, and designs of Viennese Masters such as Joseph Hofmann, Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser, and Joseph Olbrich are still wonders of Early Modernism. Some of Moser and Wagner's household objects, designed in 1900, are as streamlined as anything you can buy today for your table.
The current exhibition—noted in this column when it was at MoMA—features models, drawings, and—where possible—photos of 26 recent projects by international architects. Some are built. Others are as yet Unbuilt.
One or two seem unlikely ever to be realized, but as this show goes the rounds, some wealthy art-lover may be inspired to make imagination reality.
The essential point of the exhibition is that the nature of the professional, commercial, and social lives of commissioning clients has become such that their homes are often their places of business and creativity.
"A Man's Home Is His Castle" was once the dream and desideratum of people engaging architects for very personal and private residences. Home from the office, the factory, or the school? Pull up the Drawbridge!
Today, especially for computer-oriented people who work out of their homes, the practical and aesthetic needs have changed. And for those who need to entertain potential customers or clients—and to demonstrate their wares and skills—an open, welcoming home is a must.
But there are Mean Streets out there, so Fortress Home may still be a good idea for some fearful folks.
Vienna, like many European cities, has had its share of wars, uprisings, and occupations. So historical architecture—both Domestic and Public—has tended toward enclosure, protection, solidity, and substance.
But there are brisk new winds of change blowing in the nations of the European Union. So these 26 projects may provide valuable inspiration for astonishing new homes on the banks of the Danube.
For the February 15 opening of the show, MoMA's own Terence Riley, Chief Curator of Architecture & Design, was on hand. He shared the podium with MAK's dynamic and innovative director, Dr. Peter Noever.
Any time you are able to visit Vienna—which has many important museums—do not fail to check out the current shows and permanent collections at MAK. You might be surprised to discover some outstanding new design ideas in the heart of Europe.
Celebrating the Dragon![Taipei Gallery/Closing March 24] This is the Chinese Year of the Dragon. All born in this year are believed to be especially blessed by Good Fortune. And endowed with Courage and Ingenuity.
It certainly sounds better than being born in the Year of the Rat or the Year of the Ox.
In the Chinese Solar Calendar, the Dragon Year of 2000 is especially blessed. A very propitious time to be born indeed!
It is one of the strange cult and cultural contrasts between East and West that the Dragon is so honored in the Orient. But so feared and despised in the folklore and religions of the West.
St. George slaying the dragon—to save a virtuous maiden from its clutches—is an enormous cliché of religious art all over Europe. And wherever Christianity brought its message of Salvation and its warrior-saints.
Don't even begin thinking about the suppressed sexual suggestions of the Dragon and the Maiden.
After centuries of artists painting, sculpting, and engraving images of St. George in full armor, on horseback, spitting a writhing dragon with his lance, in the 20th century we were dashed to discover that there was never really a Saint George.
Just another ancient legend—but one which certainly came into being for reasons not now known.
In China, however, instead of praying to St. George for protection, the prayers and offerings go to the dragon. Also in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The Dragon is the Totem of China and its ancient Peoples. Although it is a mythical, legendary creature, it has been worshipped—for the powers it represents—for over five-thousand years.
The Chinese are considered in the Orient as "The Dragon Race." Or "The Descendants of the Dragon."
In the West, the Dragon has been for centuries a major Symbol of Evil. In the Orient, He protects Against Evil. He has Supernatural Powers.
The Dragon brings Rain. He raises Hope. He guarantees Sufficiency. More than that, he makes possible Prosperity, Success, Happiness, Justifiable Pride, Power, and Intelligence.
Chinese temples are gaudily decorated with great green-scaled dragons, coiling along the rooflines, their fierce but oddly benevolent faces blazing with red and gold.
Elegant restaurants are equally fond of Dragon-Decor.
Colorful and flamboyant images of dragons can be found everywhere, in fact. Woven in textiles. Printed on napkins. Engraved on glass. Carved in teakwood. Gilded on cast-iron. Carved into stone tablets. Constructed from bamboo strips.
Currently, some remarkable art-objects featuring the Lucky Dragon are on view at the Taipei Gallery, in the basement of the McGraw-Hill Building.
These are made of a variety of simple or semi-precious materials—but with a remarkable craftsmanship. This is often in service of a very original artistic insight—or a very sly sense of humor.
Seventy living artists are represented in the current show. Some intricate works of jewelry are especially impressive.
It was my good luck to arrive when some dragon-inspired flower-arrangements were being devised by highly skilled Chinese ladies. And a genial craftsman showed us how to make hollow balls of woven bamboo strips.
Brut or Naive?[Galerie St. Etienne/Closing Mid-March] The current show at St. Etienne—although it includes some bizarre and unsettling images by the mystical American Naive, Henry Darger—focuses on Self-Taught European Artists.
European Self-Taught Art
In asking the almost "academic" question "Brut or Naive?," the exhibition—and its thoughtful introductory text—really serve to make American admirers of naive native artists aware that in Europe there were more strands to the fabric of "Primitive" or "Outsider" art.
In rebellion against stifling rules and traditions of the Academics, Picasso and other avant-gardists not only admired the apparent spontaneity and seeming simplicity they found in African masks and totems. They also imitated them—or used them as inspirationally new ways of looking at faces and objects.
Knowing little of the highly traditional, if entirely alien, cultures—and the trained craftsmen who executed the ritual objects, each for his own tribe—they assumed an originality and spontaneity that was not actually there. Simplicity there was.
But there were also masks and objects of extreme complexity in structure and decoration. These did not get much attention.
In Europe, unlike America, there has long been a distinction made between purely Naive Art and the Brut, which is often more inward, fantastic, representing strange, unreal private worlds.
Sometimes, we may refer to an uneducated, untrained adult—who one day decides to try his or her hand at drawing, painting, or modeling—as untaught. This show prefers the term Self-Taught for such naive artists.
European avant-gardists in the late 19th century admired both the artists and their artworks as being untainted by rules and training of the arts academies. The farther removed such artists seemed from the salons and the cafés, the better.
Their personal innocence and simplicity made them all the more attractive. Especially because the intelligent, trained, talented Young Turks could feel so good and generous by patronizing them—and figuratively thumbing their noses at their own teachers and critics.
The Customs-Collector Henri Rousseau was thought to be rather child-like and gullible. Actually, he thought quite well of himself as a self-taught painter. And wasn't the approbation of noted young artists proof of that?
The St. Etienne brochure suggests that his true gullibility lay in his "being foolish enough to take himself seriously as an artist." Hindsight is not always foresight, so you can take that judgment cum grano salis. Whatever. Even then, I would have been very pleased to own a Rousseau, regardless of his, or his betters', opinions of the quality of his work.
The essential dividing line between Naive and Brut—if I have looked closely enough at the works on display and understood the texts—is that the true Naives are desperately trying to paint the real world as they see and know it, despite their lack of training and ignorance of their materials and tools.
The real Brut Outsiders, however, have retreated, through madness, religious obsession, or fantasy, into strange Private Worlds—which have little or no relation to the real world.
If you have to have an Explainable Definition before you can admire—or, more significantly, purchase—an artistic oddity or novelty, you are already some kind of Academic yourself.
If you cannot simply take one look at Henry Darger's "War Flag of Calverinia" and say instantly: "I must have that sketch for my living-room!," his art is not for you, Brut or not.
How many thousands of bizarre pencil & water-color visions, such as Darger's, have been thrown out on the trash-heap when their artists' bodies were safely embalmed and buried? And their embarrassed and angry children were trying to rid themselves of all memories and evidences of grandpa's craziness?
Drive from the North Pole to Naples—
Put Baltic Auto-Ferries in Mothballs!
Inauguration of Øresund Bridge[Copenhagen/Official Opening Ceremonies July 1] When EXPO 2000 opens June l in Hannover, I plan to be on hand—and report in this column on the innovative architecture, art, and technology.
Connecting Denmark and Sweden
I had also planned to go to Copenhagen to walk or ride across the great ten-mile bridge which will finally link Sweden directly by road and rail with mass of continental Europe.
The bridge & tunnel Øresund Fixed Link will be ready for use in June, but it will not be officially opened until July 1. At that time, Her Majesty Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden will do the honors.
It will no longer be necessary for autos and trucks to book ferry berths in advance—or have long waits to get on boats sailing between Swedish MalmØ and Danish Copenhagen. Nor will trains from Aarhus or Hamburg have to be shunted onto ships, two or three wagons at a time.
There will be a marked decrease in the time of the journey. The only loss will be missing out on the wonderful seafood buffets which are standard on the ferries.
This new link will do wonders for the economies of both Denmark and Sweden, both partners in the European Union and the most successful social welfare societies in all Europe.
It will also, effectually, make MalmØ and the neighboring area of Southern Sweden: "a suburb of Copenhagen," as the enthusiastic director of the Bridge Museum told me on my last visit to the project.
At the Museum—well worth a visit when you come to try out the Bridge for yourself—there are stunning models and drawings of a variety innovative designs submitted for the bridge.
The model chosen—and the as yet uncompleted bridge—are already both very impressive. It will be wonderful to see them both again in July—but this time with trains and cars streaming across the span.
Part of the rail and roadway is underwater. This permits the "Tall Ships" and other high-flying craft to enter and depart the Baltic without having to build the bridge too high.
If any readers will be in Copenhagen in June, you will be able to walk, jog, or bike across the ten miles at least by the middle of the month. There will even be a Marathon and various celebrations.
Jacob Vestergaard is the Director of Public Affairs for ØRESUNDSBRON. More information can be obtained e-mail: email@example.com
There's also a website for the project: www.oeresundsbron.com
"Princess of the Posse"
SFMoMA Purchases Chris Ofili Canvas—Hizzoner the Mayor, Gauleiter Giuliani, has been continuing his dogged legal strategies—at tax-payer expense—to force the Brooklyn Museum of Art, its priceless collections, and its curators & staff out onto the Eastern Parkway, homeless and despised of all Mankind.
Complete with Signature Elephant Dung
All this for daring to offend pious New York State Roman Catholic voters with Anglo-African Chris Ofili's colorful painting of the Virgin Mary. Ofili's offense—in an otherwise rather handsome and fanciful portrait, certainly one which displays great technical skill—is his inclusion of a huge ball of elephant-dung as the Blessed Virgin's right breast.
As Ofili makes frequent use of these large packets of natural fertilizer in his paintings—often as "feet" for his canvases—they are part of his style and his surreally hip-hop vision of people and ikons.
Had he only titled this painting "African Goddess," there probably would have been no explosion at City Hall. After all, the Mayor needs to court the Black Vote as well in his battle for the Senate, does he not? Or has he already lost that?
Not since the days of Der Führer Adolf Hitler and Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels has there been such a raucous governmental outcry against Modern Art.
In Germany, even before Hitler and Goebbels demanded that state and city museum directors purge their galleries and storage-vaults of "Degenerate Art," some over-eager functionaries were already selecting works they personally hated for the bonfires.
There are no cowards, no Quislings, no Public Censors, and clearly no Kultur-Nazis at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This innovative museum has just bought Ofili's "Princess of the Posse" for its permanent collection of contemporary Black artists.
This feminine ikon—named for a song by Queen Latifah—was exhibited at Ofili's Afrobiotics show in New York last fall. At the same time that his "Virgin" was on view over in Brooklyn at BMA. Ofili's "Princess" won praise from Roberta Smith, of the "New York Times."
Ofili's painting joins artworks by other distinguished Black artists at SFMoMa, such as Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, and Gary Simmons.
Is San Francisco less provincial than New York?
This may be a cultural development to worry about. Tom Stoppard's demanding but fascinating drama, "The Invention of Love," was just successfully mounted by SF ACT. But no one wanted to import it to New York. Nor has Stoppard's "Indian Ink" been seen here either.
Although the Mayor was able to denounce Ofili's painting of the Virgin without having actually seen it, this has never proved a problem to Moralists and Politicians.
Obviously, if obscene artworks, plays, films, or fictions will corrupt those who are exposed to such vile creations, how much more would they corrupt the censors who are appointed to protect us, the public, from them?
So it's better that both the Mayor and the Cardinal not expose themselves to the art of Chris Ofili—even though all three men were raised as Roman Catholics!
The Mayor and the Cardinal have also recently been outraged at a spate of attacks on Roman Catholic religious images, in churches and outdoors. Unfortunately, the cheapness and sentimentality of some of the more popular plaster images of the BVM and the Infant Jesus of Prague would make Michelangelo himself want to smash these Graven Images.
Could these vandals—the persons [or parsons] unknown—be on-the-spot Art Critics?
Or could they be public-school students who had just read the Ten Commandments that Mayor Giuliani has demanded be prominently posted on the walls of every schoolroom?
Along with a lot of pious Republican politicians, the Mayor seems to believe that the merest exposure to the Holy Ten will put a stop to drugs, rape, and guns in schools. But the first commandment ought to be: THOU SHALT LEARN HOW TO READ!
An important Commandment is, however, very specific about Graven Images. Jehovah clearly did not want any of these around, not even in the home or school.
Has any of these rabidly religious politicos really read the Ten Commandments recently? Carefully?
It might seem to some that a few of these Do's & Don'ts now sound Archaic? How about Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Ass?
Were there any Pink Triangles dancing around the Golden Calf?
A very serious priest recently explained to me why religious statues in Catholic Churches in no way violate God's Commandment against ikons, images, and idols:
"God has forbidden only 'graven' images. Most of the Catholic statues you see are of plaster, poured into molds. They are not graven.
"And they are not—as Protestants may imagine—in any sense idols. We do not worship them. We venerate the saints for whom they stand."
OK. But, ignoring that one, are the other Nine Commandments going to make schools safe and raise reading-scores?
MoMA & STAPLES!The old Swingline Staple Factory in Long Island City is to be an alternative exhibition space for the Museum of Modern Art during its creation of a new MoMA on West 53rd Street.
Construction on the midtown site will prevent some planned shows from being mounted there. Rather than cancel any, Director Glenn Lowry has just announced that Los Angeles architect Michael Maltzan has been chosen to design the public spaces for MoMA's new Long Island City venue.
The site is expected to be ready for shows and activities sometime in 2002. The $650 million Midtown Manhattan Museum won't be completed until 2004, so this facility will be used for both international loan shows and selections from the permanent collections of MoMA.
All exhibitions are expected to revert to Manhattan in 2004, but the Staple Factory will be retained for other projects and services of the museum. It is also near the P. S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, with which MoMA has become associated.
NYC's MoMA Redesigned/The New Modern Museum: A MoMA Discussion— In Paris, much Modern Art of the kind that is central to MoMA's New York Collections is on view—or in storage—at the Musée d'Orsay. Among the sculptures, canvases, and designs are notable masterpieces of the early 20th century. But the really modern works are at the Centre Pompidou, just reopened this month after months of repair and renovation on its famed exterior—the one with all maintenance systems exposed. This had not weathered well, but it was, after all, cutting-edge, avant-garde, Post-Modernist Architecture.
Paris's Renovated Pompidou/
London's New Tate Gallery/
There was a time when even Caravaggio was too modern, too innovative for his artist peers and potential patrons. The present problem—now that we are all more or less in a new century and New Millennium—is a redefinition of Modern Art, at least in terms of its beginning cut-off date: When does a Van Gogh Sunflowers stop being Modern Art?
The new Tate Gallery will open in May in the immense Art Deco Bankside Power Station, not far from Sam Wanamaker's New Globe Theatre in one direction and the Royal National Theatre in the other. Its exhibition areas are immense. What will become of the old Tate remains to be seen, but pre-modern British Art and as yet un-canonized contemporary artworks seem likely showpieces.
The Centre Pompidou's presentation of its collections has been rethought & reworked—rather more than its exterior, judging from the slides that were shown at the recent MoMA discussion of the Modern Art Museum of the Future.
MoMA had already increased and redesigned its own exhibition spaces, thanks to construction of the cash-flow residential skyscraper in its heart. But it needs ever more space. Possibly because no one can put a cut-off date at this end of Modern Art. Artists worldwide simply will not stop painting, sculpting, engraving, and finding Found Objects in the streets.
So MoMA is currently on the verge of a newer, larger, more efficient museum on its enlarged site. And it has also just taken that old public school in Long Island City under its curatorial & administrative wing.
This is the relatively new art-space known as P.S. 1. The late Brendan Gill and other leaders of the Municipal Art Society were in the forefront of the fight to save the historic building and find a new cultural role for it.
Its recent shows have been relentlessly cutting-edge and innovative. Also well worth a visit.
But, even though it is only one subway stop from Manhattan, local art-lovers seem as fearful of a trip to Long Island as they are of a foray into another part of the same island, such as BAM or BMA in downtown Brooklyn.
As MoMA's Glenn Lowry, the Tate's Nicholas Serota, and John Elderfeld—representing the director of the Pompidou—discussed new ways of exhibiting old, or relatively old, Modern Masters, one thing seemed certain. The way Modern and Contemporary works would be juxtaposed and explained/interpreted in the future would provide a new kind of "narrative."
This has already been demonstrated in the highly successful fall MoMA installations of People, Places, and Things. Most critics commented favorably—even with some degree of astonishment—on unusual alignments and juxtapositions of familiar and unfamiliar works. Often, the Modern Classic took on new meaning, and the previously neglected or unknown work acquired a significance and resonance it never had before.
But if you are one of those gallery-goers who took Art History—or who actually reads the catalogues—you may soon discover that presentations which used to concentrate on styles, movements, even themes—and the development of same—may now be supplanted by newer "narratives."
Some of these have already been consumer-tested. A show which uses its artworks to explore the Feminine Mystique or Man's Inhumanity to Man—or Woman—seems to be very attractive to viewers who are more interested in Trendy Topics than in artistic imagination, influences, skills, and quality.
Indeed, "narratives" dealing with, say, the exploitation of women in a "Man's World"—or as the social & cultural victims of "Dead White European Males"—have already used even Old Masters to make their points.
What is most inventive & innovative in such shows—controversial and challenging though they may be—is often the wall-texts of the agenda-oriented curators.
Curatorial Agit-Prop may well be the New Art Form of the New Age!
Watch this space for further developments. But do check out P. S. 1 sometime soon! [Loney]
Copyright © Glenn Loney 2000. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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