Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Taste of Brooklyn History

“We mark ourselves by what we choose of our past to shield from the churn of change. Much of this, whether an old building or historic landscape, is lasting and durable by definition. That something as soft and perishable as cheese should make it across 75 years of time and space, outlasting brick and mortar — indeed, much of the city — is beyond remarkable.”
A bit of Brooklyn history told through the story of a round of cheese. Delightful!
“I returned to the city with the edible heirloom that was most likely made from the milk of sheep that grazed on the Lazio plain as fascism gripped Italy and Europe descended into war; that crossed an Atlantic harried by U-boats; that dodged the wrecking ball of urban renewal and survived even suburbia; that was finally, safely home.”
Don't miss reading the full piece in the New York Times by Thomas Campanella, a professor of city planning at Cornell University and author of the forthcoming “Brooklyn: A Secret History.”

Sunday, June 5, 2016


San Francisco is being transformed by big tech companies moving their headquarters to the City. For those of us who grew up in SF, the changes are hard to swallow. In my opinion, it is not simply a growing income equality that is what troubles folks. Rather it is the change in cultural values that is hardest to accept. It seems as if those working in the tech industry are drones, working in a value system that simply hopes to "cash in" one day. As a commenter on this blog points out, it's simply speculation. San Francisco's values have not been so much about achieving financial wealth, but rather about living life with political and cultural integrity.  This is why the animosity to the tech workers is so great. In any case, I recently watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and found it eerily speaks to the change San Franciscans are experiencing today.

Thanks for watching my first video.

Goshka Macuga: Time as Fabric

It's hard not to be impressed by Goshka Macuga's tapestries on view at The New Museum (on view through June 26, 2016). The scale, detail, and sophisticated production are impressive. -- literally and figuratively. Macuga did not weave these hangings herself; they were produced by the Belgian weaving firm Flanders Tapestries.

My husband and I argued over the artist's lack of personal craftsmanship, however there is a long history of artists designing (but not making) tapestries: Raphael (16th century),  Edward Burne-Jones (1890s), Fernand Leger (1920s), Joan Miró (1930s), Henri Matisse (mid-century), Alexander Calder (1960s) plus many others. Today, Magnolia Editions in Oakland, Ca produces Jacquard tapestries for artists such as Chuck Close and Alex Katz.

Tapestries have been woven for thousands years all over the world. In Europe during the Middle Ages, weaving became a highly respected artistic medium. Tapestries flourished due to the Church's patronage. And for the wealthy, a tapestry was one of the most prestigious items one could own. However, during the Renaissance, oil painting started to displace tapestry as an elite form of artistic creation. The notion of the individual artist was gaining standing over the labor of craftsmanship, creating a hierarchical division between tapestry weaving and painting. (And religious persecution disrupted leading centers of high-quality production dominated by the workshops in Brussels, dispersing a pool of highly talented weavers.)

The decline of tapestry persisted until the end of the 19th century when it enjoyed a renewed attention due to the Arts and Crafts Movement helping to revive interest in traditional craft processes, utilitarian artistic production, and the link of artists with industry. With industrial, automated processes on the rise, tapestry became a means to challenge the hierarchical position of painting and elevate materials that were seen as humble or everyday. In 1915, Jean (Hans) Arp exhibited a series of tapestries, noting in the exhibition catalogue that:
“These works … keep a hostile distance from egotism. They are hatred of the immodesty of human baseness, hatred of images, of paintings." 1.
Arp was strongly anti-elitist and chose the medium of tapestry very deliberately. “Arp had an idealized view of the anonymous pre-Renaissance artist, for whom the division between applied and fine art was irrelevant.” 2. Yet despite his call for egalitarianism, the weavers weren't named; only Arp was.

 Hans Arp, Untitled (Diagonal Composition-Crucifixion), 1915. Private collection.

But weavers weren't consistently invisible actors in the production of art tapestries. 3. The author Jean Lipman explains in Calder's Universe that while Calder designed the cartoons for his tapestries and had wool dyed to his specification, the weavings themselves were true cooperative ventures.
"... both Calder's signature and the weaver's trademark are woven into the fabric ...The tapestry an example of the successful collaboration with skilled craftsmen that has characterized Calder's later years ...The weaver follows Calder's forms exactly but improvises to vary the weaves and textures in a free interpretation of the overall design. The tapestries are fresh works of art in their own right, blending the inventiveness of the artist with that of the weavers." 4.

So back to Goshka. Useing appropriation to warp and weave histories together, she arranges disparate elements to form a new narrative. To argue whether an artist should make every work themselves seems outdated and outmoded in this post-Duchampian era. Of course artists don't have to make their own work anymore! You think Tara Donovan, Jeff Koons, or Tom Sachs make their own artworks? Of course not. That being said, it wasn't easy to track down the name of the weaving studio that made Goshka's magnificent pieces, and that isn't right. The tapestry manufactories of the past are renowned now (Arras, Aubusson, Beauvais, Bruges, Felletin, Gobelins, Oudenaarde). Today's manufacturers also deserve credit, for these massive tapestries are a collaborative feat!

1. Eric Robertson, Arp: Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Yale University Press; 1st ed edition (2006), page 33
2. Bibiana Obler, Intimate Collaborations: Kandinsky and Münter, Arp and Taeuber, Yale University Press (2014), page 126.
3. A number of the Soho Tapestry Weavers were named (18th century).
4. Jean Lipman, Calder’s Universe, exhibition catalogue, New York: Viking Press in cooperation with the Whitney Museum of American Art (1976), page 157.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

On Solitude

Do not underestimate the power of alone time:
No sooner am I alone than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around me, and serve my Spirit the office which is equivalent to a King’s body guard… I melt into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be alone… I have written this that you might see I have my share of the highest pleasures and that though I may choose to pass my days alone I shall be no Solitary… I am as happy as a Man can be… with the yearning Passion I have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the ambition of my intellect. ~ John Keats

| Eva Hesse with a rope sculpture, Hermann Landshoff c.1969 | Gerhard Richter, Eis (“Ice”), 1981. Photo: Sotheby’s. |
| Alex Coleville, Man on Verandah, 1953, glazed tempera. Private collection, Germany |

“I must be totally engrossed in my own work, it is only thing that is permanent, matures and is lasting.”  ~ Eva Hesse in Eva Hesse: Longing, Belonging and Displacement by Vanessa Corby, 2010.

Richter's Eis was based on a photograph taken on a solo retreat in Greenland in 1972.

Colville's haunting works are structured around the essentially solitary nature of human experience.

"I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone." ~ Edith Wharton in Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee, 2008.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On the Death of David Bowie

"It is death that ultimately illuminates the full spectrum of our beauty — death, the ultimate equalizer of time and space; death, the great clarifier that makes us see that, as Rebecca Goldstein put it, 'a person whom one loves is a world, just as one knows oneself to be a world.'" 
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

“The people we most love do become a physical part of us, ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.”
~Meghan O’Rourke

Bowie, we always knew you were beautiful, inside and out. A man who struggled, honestly, as a gift to us all. We noticed and thank you.