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Posts Tagged ‘art’

28 JANUARY, 2014

Industrial Sublime: How New York City’s Bridges and Rivers Became a Muse of Modernism

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How a city of contrasts inspired a generation of artists.

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, a cathedral thirteen years in the making permanently changed the riverscape of New York City. In a short period of time, three other major bridges would join it — the Williamsburg Bridge was begun in 1896, the Manhattan Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge in 1901. The waterway was now a river of canyons, and the city became a spectacular form of natural and manmade wonders. Industrial Sublime: Modernism and the Transformation of New York’s Rivers, 1900-1940 (public library), the book companion for the Hudson River Museum exhibition of the same title, reveals how in the first half of the twentieth century, these manmade marvels embracing New York’s river banks enthralled a generation of influential artists who had once turned to nature as their muse.

'East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel' by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1928 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For a youthful America in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the painters of the Hudson River School created a vision of arcadia in the new world, with the waterway at its very heart. The Catskill Mountains and the New Jersey Palisades became as worthy of contemplation as any poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or William Wordsworth.

America, with its vast frontier, could be a place of Romantic wonder.

'A View of the Two Lakes and Mountain House, Catskill Mountains, Morning,' by Thomas Cole, c. 1844 (Brooklyn Museum)

But what some Hudson River painters delicately left out of many of their views were the encroaching factories and docklands on New York’s picturesque rivers. In Samuel Coleman’s Storm King on the Hudson, a factory competes with a local mountain called Storm King for sublime attention: one is submerged in clouds, the other creates its own industrial cloud.

'Storm King on the Hudson' by Samuel Coleman, 1866. (Smithsonian American Art Museum).

'The Hudson River from Hoboken' by Robert Walter Weir, 1878 (Detriot Insitute of the Arts)

The river itself became a place of business as sailboats, steamboats, and tugboats crowded the water like a highway. But the success of a city could be defined in the image of its bustling waterway, and artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and John Sloan became fascinated with the intersections and collisions of nature and industry: the edge of a dock, the darkness under a bridge, the lights along the span of Queensboro at night.

'The East River' by Carlton Theodore Chapman, 1904. (New York Historical Society)

At the turn of the century, Gotham was a city of stark visual contrasts: the brightest day could be met with a shadow from a building that could cast a viewer into night, and electric lights might turn the blackest city park into a bright new square. Sublimity could be found in these contrasts, where joy could turn to fear along any street.

'The Bridge: Nocturne' by Julian Alden Weir, 1910 (Smithsonian)

By 1920, life in America had become primarily urban; according to the census, for the first time more people lived in cities than in the country.

'Office Buildings from Below,' photograph by Paul Strand, 1917. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Even in the 1930s, fifty years after its completion, the Brooklyn Bridge remained a source of inspiration. More architecturally beautiful than its East River counterparts, it was the first hint of the industrial sublime in New York, and its most enduring symbol.

'Brooklyn Bridge' by Ernest Lawson, c, 1917. (Terra Museum of Art)

Hart Crane’s The Bridge became an American response to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, with the East River and Brooklyn Bridge as its inspiration:

A tugboat, wheezing wreaths of steam
Lunged past, with one galvanic blare stove up the River.
I counted the echoes assembling one after one,
Searching, thumbing the midnight on the piers.
The blackness somewhere gouged glass on a sky.
And this thy harbor, O my city, I have driven under….

'Power' by Edward Bruce, c. 1933. (The Phillips Collection)

Industrial Sublime is a vision of New York that recounts a time when artists reconceived the beauty, terror, and awe of the place they called home, as the city’s rolling hills could no longer resist the greatest grid amidst a city at the height of metamorphosis.

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

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27 JANUARY, 2014

John Lennon’s Semi-Sensical Poetry and Prose, Illustrated with His Charming Drawings

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Subtle critique of culture’s hypocrisies, wrapped in bewitching gibberish.

There is something singularly heartening about famous creators with secret talents, about discovering such little-known delights as William Faulkner’s Jazz Age art, Richard Feynman’s drawings, Marilyn Monroe’s poetry, Rube Goldberg’s political art, Liberace’s culinary zest, Hans Christian Andersen’s sketches, and Flannery O’Connor’s cartoons. Among them, unbeknownst to many, was beloved Beatle John Lennon.

In His Own Write & A Spaniard in the Works (public library), released to commemorate Lennon’s 70th birthday with introductions by Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, collects his offbeat poetry and prose along with his charming drawings.

Lennon’s whimsical, semi-sensical writings fall somewhere between Lewis Carroll and Gertrude Stein. He has a particular penchant for unusual wordplay, inventing nonsensical twists on familiar phrases — “a goodbites sleep,” “one upon a tom,” “all of a surgeon” — inevitably leaving the reader to wonder whether there is a deeper meaning, perhaps a postmodernist or surrealist message, or it’s simply linguistic gibberish for the sake of diversion. Paul McCartney writes in the introduction:

There are bound to be thickheads who will wonder why some of it doesn’t make sense, and others who will search for hidden meanings.

“What’s a Brummer?”

“There’s more to ‘dubb owld boot’ than meets the eye.”

None of it has to make sense and if it seems funny then that’s enough.

Still, underneath the amusing and often perplexing writing lies a subtle undertone of cultural commentary on society’s hypocrisies. Take, for instance, the beginning of “Nicely Nicely Clive”:

To Clive Barrow it was just an ordinary day nothing unusual or strange about it, everything quite navel, nothing outstanley just another day but to Roger it was somthing special, a day amongst days … a red lettuce day … because Roger was getting married and as he dressed that morning he thought about the gay batchelor soups he’d had with all his pals. And Clive said nothing.

To Roger everything was different, wasn’t this the day his Mother had told him about, in his best suit and all that, grimming and shakeing hands, people tying boots and ricebudda on his car. To have and to harm … till death duty part … he knew it all off by hertz.

Lennon’s intentional substitute of “harm” for “hold” paints a portrait of the dark side of marriage and all the pain that can live under the hood of this cultural institution masquerading as pure bliss (which Susan Sontag so grimly termed “an institution committed to the dulling of the feelings”), and his use of the word “duty” calls out the misguided mechanism by which dysfunctional marriages continue “to have and to harm” (perhaps, as Sontag observed, because such arrangements are “based on the principle of inertia.”)

Or take this short poem, titled “Good Dog Nigel”:

Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight,
Our little hairy friend,
Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright
Arfing round the bend.
Nice dog! Goo boy,
Waggie tail and beg,
Clever Nigel, jump for joy

Because we’re putting you to sleep at three of the clock, Nigel.

Much of it, however, as McCartney points out, is simply fun — which is more than enough.

THE MOLDY MOLDY MAN

I’m a moldy moldy man
I’m moldy thru and thru
I’m a moldy moldy man
You would not think it true.
I’m moldy till my eyeballs
I’m moldy til my toe
I will not dance I shyballs
I’m such a humble Joe.

In His Own Write & A Spaniard in the Works is weird and wonderful in its entirety. Complement it with Yoko Ono’s equally delightful poems, drawings, and instructions for life.

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23 JANUARY, 2014

Much Loved: Portraits of Beloved Childhood Teddies

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What a forty-something bear might know about the meaning of life.

Most of us grew up with a beloved stuffed animal, to which we pressed our tiny noses as our tiny hearts swelled with adoration. Mine was Laika, a white bear semi-explicably named after the famed Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit Earth. Psychologists call this a “transitional object” — an attachment bridge that helps us separate from our mothers without feeling an overwhelming sense of lonesome insecurity. What’s both perplexing and endearing, however, is that many kids continue to love their “transitional objects” well past the toddler stage, many even into young adulthood, bringing said teddy along to the college dorm room or even setting it in a sacred place in their grown-up bedroom. That’s precisely what Dublin-based photographer Mark Nixon explores with equal parts fascination and tenderness in his project Much Loved (public library) — a moving portrait gallery of people’s beloved bears and the occasional rabbit, monkey, or giraffe, many hugged and kissed down to bare threads to emerge as affection-ravaged amputees and bittersweet survivors of the immortal combat of growing up.

Peter Rabbit

Age: 10

Height: 16 inches

Belongs to: Callum Nixon

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It all began when Nixon witnessed the complete adoration with which his own baby son enveloped his Peter Rabbit, a gift from his 99-year-old grandmother — “the way he squeezed it with delight when he was excited, the way he buried his nose in it while sucking his thumb, and how he just had to sleep with Peter every night.” Inspired by his newfound insight into the emotional world of childhood teddies and fueled by his admiration for legendary photographer Irving Penn’s ability to illuminate the dull and familiar in new and entrancing light, Nixon put out a call for people to bring their own beloved bears and other beings to be photographed for an exhibition at his studio space.

But what had begun as merely a fun creative project soon took Nixon by surprise as a psychological experiment with far more depth and dimension: He had expected mostly children, but the people who showed up were primarily grownups, and they brought with them not only their stuffed animals but also an outpouring of highly emotional memories and stories. Nixon writes:

It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them. Their strength of feeling took me by surprise. They would tell some usually funny story about their teddy … or would speak emotionally about what it meant to them. So the stories and memories became integral to the photographs, adding significance to them and bringing them to life.

Teddy Moore

Age: 43

Height: 14 inches

Belongs to: Daragh O'Shea

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Daragh’s father was given a pound from his parents for his birthday and he bought Teddy Moore for her. Under his hat and clothes, Teddy Moore is held together with nylons.

Although he looks like he was in a fire, in Daragh’s own words, she kissed the fur off him.

He lives in the locker beside her bed; she doesn’t like him sleeping in the bed in case she smothers him.

What makes the project most compelling, however, is that as we look at these inanimate creatures, we can’t help but peer into the souls of their soulless fabric bodies and imbue them with human feelings, confer upon their manufactured mugs human expressions: How joyful some look, happy to have been loved this hard, and how sad others, confused and devastated by their inevitable replacement with a child, a husband, a dog, or some other token of what Tolkien called “grownupishness.”

Ted

Age: 3.5

Height: 13 inches

Belongs to: Anne Marie Lents

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ted lost his eye defending me from a terrier at day care. (That’s the short version of the story.) He also keeps all my secrets in the compartment created by his flattened nose.

Joey

Age: 44

Height: 11 inches

Belongs to: Jean Cherwaiko

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Samuel

Age: Unknown

Height: 12 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Pedro

Age: 47

Height: 9 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Giovanni

Age: 40

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

I knitted Giovanni (formerly Joe) in primary school when I was about eight years old. When Joe was completed, he had a misshapen head and a too-large nose, and I didn’t like him very much.

Many years later when I was in medical school, I took pity on him and performed some cosmetic surgery, giving him a new nose and a better head. My mum made him some new clothes (as he had been attacked by a moth.)

To celebrate his new look, I have him his new name, Giovanni. He is best friends with Pedro.

Teddy Tingley

Age: 45

Height: 5 inches

Belongs to: Nicky Griffin

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Teddy Tingley belonged to my oldest brother, who gave him to me the day I was born.

I remember when I was three years old and we were heading off on holiday by train. I had just settled down in the carriage with my brothers for the journey and as the train started moving, I glanced out the window to see, to my horror, Teddy sitting on a bundle of my comics left on the station platform. Thanks to my mum roaring like a madwoman out the window, “The teddy! The teddy! I just want the teddy!” some kind person picked up Teddy and ran with him as the train picked up speed, reaching up to the window just in time for Mum to grab him. She then had to sit down and face the other passengers for the rest of the journey…

George

Age: 44

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Audrey McDonnell

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Among the private stories are also little-known fragments of popular culture, like the story of the bear U2′s Bono and his wife Ali inherited.

Greg’s Bear

Age: Unknown

Height: 4 inches

Belongs to: Bono and Ali Hewson

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ali Hewson writes:

This little bear is a memory of one of the most incredible men in my life. Greg Carroll became a great friend to me and Bono in the early 1980s. In 1986 he died at the age of twenty-six in a motor accident in Dublin, and he left a giant hole in our lives. Greg was a Maori, and at his tanti, the traditional Maori funeral rite, a mate of his handed us this one-eared teddy bear. It was Greg’s, and it has been with us ever since… a fragment of Greg’s reality, gone but never forgotten.

U2′s “One Tree Hill” was written for Greg and all the great men and women whose river reaches the sea too quickly. Greg’s teddy smiles when his good ear hears it played.

Much Loved is impossibly endearing in its entirety.

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