El Rio – Raul de Nieves

After the 4th of July picnics, barbecues, and fireworks are over, don’t neglect the artistic offerings of the city.

Company Gallery at 88 Eldrigde Street on the Lower East Side offers a visually stunning installation of Raul de Nieves work through July 24th.  http://companygallery.us/

The installation is entitled “El Rio” – The River – and de Nieves brings vibrant color and jewel encrusted objects together to depict a force of nature both terrifying and rapturous. The journey to the gallery involves negotiating the crowded sidewalks of the Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower East Side so time your visit to do some exploring in the neighborhood (more on that in the next post). The multi-media artist, performer and musician, originally from Morelia, Mexico, now resides in Brooklyn so watch for other chances to see him perform or exhibit locally. 

http://www.rauldenieves.com/

http://rauldenieves.tumblr.com

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Orchids and elephants

I have always loved thes gorgeous Sèvres elephant vases at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Only 22 remain in collections today and due to their complexity, they were produced in a very limited quantity. Dating to about 1758, the two examples below are of soft-paste porcelain and were the work of the modeler Jean-Claude Duplessis (ca. 1695–1774).  Much favored by the French court, owners included Madame de Pompadour who owned 3 sets! 

  

 

Madame de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV,  had retreat away from the Court, the Petit Trianon, a small palace built for her by the king.   

Though by the early1750s she was no longer the king’s mistress, she over saw new construction at Versailles as well as recommending the establishment of the Sèvres porcelain factory.

 

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame,  François-Hubert Drouais, 1763-4, The National Gallery, London 

In her honor I also share some gorgeous images of orchids from The New York Botanical Garden show earlier this year.  None of these are the Dendrobium Orchids actually named Madame Pompadour, but they are quite beautiful and I think she would approve.

                

Beasts Magnificent and Mythical

Animals, animals everywhere – beasts magical, mythical as emblems of human power and status. Below is the Este family crest emblazoned with two white eagles as well as six fleur de lys and exhibited by two rampant leopards with a third perched on top of the helmet. A white ribbons binds his eyes symbolizing  loyalty as this panel was likely a gift to someone in the court of Philip the III, Duke of Burgundy (1369 -1467). This is the obverse of a Rogier van der Weyden portrait of Francesco d’Este painted around 1460 and in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  
                           Philip the III, Duke of Burgandy, Rogier van der Weyden

And in Vienna, outside the Hofburg Palace’s Imperial Treasury gilded griffins exhibit the coat of arms of the king of the Romans in honor of Ferdinand the I, a Holy a Roman Emperor.

  Inside, a talberd for the Herald of the King of Bohemia with a rampant lion exquisitively embroidered in gold thread on red velvet.

 As the weather turns colder in New York I had a last outing to the beach yesterday – the only beasts there were many varieties of seagulls, but the light on the water was spectacular.

  
   

Weaving Women

Weaving a story, weaving a tapestry, I’m thinking of women, weaving and spinning this weekend after a conversation with an archaeologist led to reading a paper about identifying tomb occupants by gendered grave goods such as spindle whorls. Most of the weavers in cultures around the world have been women, though there are exceptions, such as the male Navaho weavers. According to legend, Maya women learned their craft from the moon goodness Ix Chel.

  
Maya weavers in Antigua Guatemala,  © rudygiron.com

Weaving and spinning are everywhere in myth and legend. In Homer’s Odyssey there is the story of Penelope”s weaving and then unraveling a burial shroud for Odysseus’ father to fend off the suitors who wish to marry her and thus control Ithaca.

 
John William Waterhouse, Penelope and her Suitors, 1912, Aberdeen Art Gallery

The Lady of Shalott is another weaver but rather than unraveling her work, she unravels her life. Her ability to create her tapestries is destroyed when she gazes on Sir Launcelot. Both women have power. Penelope to accept a suitor and form a new alliance for Ithaca, but her faithfulness to Odysseus and belief in his eventual return is the cause of her ruse with the shroud. For The Lady of Shalott, her craft can only be practiced if she remains isolated and removed from the world. She must view events indirectly through her mirror and weave them into her tapestries. She loses this power when the knight, Sir Lancelot, rides by and she cannot resist looking directly upon him.

 William Holman Hunt, The Lady of Shalott, 1886-1905, Manchester Art Gallery 

    William Holman Hunt, The Lady of Shalott, c. 1890-1905, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, Tate Britain

Weaving and shrouds and death – women as creators and as pawns. Enjoy Tennyson’s poem below and part two of weaving women next week.

The Lady of Shalott (1842 Version)

by: Alfred Lord Tennyson (Author)

Part I.
On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And thro’ the field the road runs by

           To many-tower’d Camelot;

And up and down the people go,

Gazing where the lilies blow

Round an island there below,

           The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver

Thro’ the wave that runs for ever

By the island in the river

           Flowing down to Camelot.

Four gray walls, and four gray towers,

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

           The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil’d

Slide the heavy barges trail’d

By slow horses; and unhail’d

The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d

           Skimming down to Camelot:

But who hath seen her wave her hand?

Or at the casement seen her stand?

Or is she known in all the land,

           The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early

In among the bearded barley,

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

From the river winding clearly,

           Down to tower’d Camelot:

And by the moon the reaper weary,

Piling sheaves in uplands airy,

Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy

           Lady of Shalott.”

Part II.
There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

           To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care hath she,

           The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

           Winding down to Camelot:

There the river eddy whirls,

And there the surly village-churls,

And the red cloaks of market girls,

           Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,

An abbot on an ambling pad,

Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,

Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,

           Goes by to tower’d Camelot;

And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue

The knights come riding two and two:

She hath no loyal knight and true,

           The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights

To weave the mirror’s magic sights,

For often thro’ the silent nights

A funeral, with plumes and lights

           And music, went to Camelot:

Or when the moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed;

“I am half-sick of shadows,” said

           The Lady of Shalott.

Part III.
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,

He rode between the barley-sheaves, 

The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,

And flamed upon the brazen greaves

           Of bold Sir Lancelot.

A redcross knight for ever kneel’d

To a lady in his shield,

That sparkled on the yellow field,

           Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,

Like to some branch of stars we see

Hung in the golden Galaxy.

The bridle-bells rang merrily

           As he rode down to Camelot:

And from his blazon’d baldric slung

A mighty silver bugle hung,

And as he rode his armour rung,

           Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather

Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,

The helmet and the helmet-feather

Burn’d like one burning flame together,

           As he rode down to Camelot.

As often thro’ the purple night,

Below the starry clusters bright,

Some bearded meteor, trailing light,

           Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;

On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;

From underneath his helmet flow’d

His coal-black curls as on he rode,

           As he rode down to Camelot.

From the bank and from the river

He flash’d into the crystal mirror,

“Tirra lirra,” by the river

           Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,

She made three paces thro’ the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

           She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

“The curse is come upon me,” cried

           The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV.
In the stormy east-wind straining,

The pale-yellow woods were waning,

The broad stream in his banks complaining,

Heavily the low sky raining

           Over tower’d Camelot;

Down she came and found a boat

Beneath a willow left afloat,

And round about the prow she wrote

           The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse –

Like some bold seër in a trance,

Seeing all his own mischance –

With a glassy countenance

           Did she look to Camelot.

And at the closing of the day

She loosed the chain, and down she lay;

The broad stream bore her far away,

           The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white

That loosely flew to left and right –

The leaves upon her falling light –

Thro’ the noises of the night

           She floated down to Camelot:

And as the boat-head wound along

The willowy hills and fields among,

They heard her singing her last song,

           The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,

Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,

Till her blood was frozen slowly,

And her eyes were darken’d wholly,

           Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;

For ere she reach’d upon the tide

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died,

           The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,

By garden-wall and gallery,

A gleaming shape she floated by,

A corse between the houses high,

           Silent into Camelot.

Out upon the wharfs they came,

Knight and burgher, lord and dame,

And round the prow they read her name,

           The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?

And in the lighted palace near

Died the sound of royal cheer;

And they cross’d themselves for fear,

           All the knights at Camelot:

But Lancelot mused a little space;

He said, “She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace,

           The Lady of Shalott.”
  

Midwestern Idyll

I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art of a rainy day this week when it was relatively calm and quiet – most galleries I had to myself – perfect for the contemplation of art. And this is not usually possible when there is a mad crush of people in the rooms.  By steering clear of special exhibits most of the permanent collection, with the exception of the Egyptian rooms, can be enjoyed crowd free during weekdays now that summer has ended.

 John Steuart Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape, 1938-39

I grew up in Wisconsin and Iowa – in a suburb of Milwaukee and then later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And finally a stint in Missouri while attending Washinton University in St. Louis. After a summer in Washington, DC interning at the now defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art, I was more determined than ever to move to the East Coast. So by the next summer I was living in Boston.

But I still had my family in Wisconsin and Iowa, so there have been many trips back – some in summer when the fields look as gorgeous as they do in Curry’s landscape above. And other times in late December when the fields are frozen and covered in crisp white snow and the few remaining red barns stand out as cardinals do amidst the more modest plumage of their avian companions.

 Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hay, 1943

And Missouri landscapes such as Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hat harken back to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters. Though Benton’s figures and the land have that strange twisted aspect, almost Mannerist in feel, but contorted in a more compact way.

 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525–1569 Brussels),     The Harvesters, 1565

And finally the last in the trio of Regionalists, Grant Wood, who lived and had his artist’s studio for many years in Cedar Rapids at 5 Turner Alley.

 Photo by Mark Tade

Interior view of 5 Turner Alley, looking east, c. 1925, courtesy of Figge Art Museum, Grant Wood archives, photo by John W. Barry.

Here again as with Benton, and unlike the realism of Curry, we have a contrived bird’s eye view of a little Massachusetts hamlet. Cartoonish hills and rounded surveys set against the angular architecture and a huge spotlight on the town center – the light of an over bright moon to light Paul Revere’s way? Wood subject derives from history by way of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And so full circle from the Midwest to the East Coast. Enjoy the poem! 

 Grant Wood’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

Paul Revere’s Ride 

Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–

One if by land, and two if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar

Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,

Where swinging wide at her moorings lay

The Somerset, British man-of-war;

A phantom ship, with each mast and spar

Across the moon like a prison bar,

And a huge black hulk, that was magnified

By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street

Wanders and watches, with eager ears,

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door,

The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,

And the measured tread of the grenadiers,

Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,

By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,

To the belfry chamber overhead,

And startled the pigeons from their perch

On the sombre rafters, that round him made

Masses and moving shapes of shade,–

By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,

To the highest window in the wall,

Where he paused to listen and look down

A moment on the roofs of the town

And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,

In their night encampment on the hill,

Wrapped in silence so deep and still

That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,

The watchful night-wind, as it went

Creeping along from tent to tent,

And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”

A moment only he feels the spell

Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread

Of the lonely belfry and the dead;

For suddenly all his thoughts are bent

On a shadowy something far away,

Where the river widens to meet the bay,–

A line of black that bends and floats

On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride

On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.

Now he patted his horse’s side,

Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,

Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle girth;

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry tower of the Old North Church,

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;

That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,

The fate of a nation was riding that night;

And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,

Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,

Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;

And under the alders that skirt its edge,

Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,

Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock

When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer’s dog,

And felt the damp of the river fog,

That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,

When he galloped into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he passed,

And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town.

He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of birds among the trees,

And felt the breath of the morning breeze

Blowing over the meadow brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed

Who at the bridge would be first to fall,

Who that day would be lying dead,

Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read

How the British Regulars fired and fled,—

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,

Chasing the redcoats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;

And so through the night went his cry of alarm

To every Middlesex village and farm,—

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo for evermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

 

Through the Looking Glasss

It’s Fashion Week in New York and again my invitations went astray. Just kidding – I can’t afford what most of the shows are displaying in any case, but it’s always exciting to see collections from inventive new designers or new creative chiefs showing their first collection for a house.

I did see the MET’s China Through the Looking Glass exhibit several times this summer and enjoyed the beauty of the dresses – especially those displayed in close proximity to the Buddhist sculptures as here with Guo Pei’s lotus flower dress. If the show had not been so crowded this room could have served as a place of quiet contemplation.

  
 My favorites were the Gallliano designed Diors in the Astor Court which was transformed into “Moon in the Water,” the Chinese translation of “through the looking glass.”

    
The show was a multimedia extravaganza with film clips chosen by Wong Kar-wai throughout the three floors of the exhibit.  Curator Andrew Bolton designed an experience that was visually rich and extravagant. A fine integration of the art and fashion and the cross currents of East and West influencing and interpreting and misinterpreting each other through centuries of contact from early trade in silks, through the history of opium, the Cultural Revolution and beyond to the present. These are light touches at history, but it is all there and may provoke deeper thoughts about cultural appropiations and uses after leaving the crush of visitors in the galleries.

The title of the exhibit seems apt – a world all topsy turvy and difficult to define – what is dream and what is reality.

 John Tenniel 

Lions and griffins and bees

I’ve been seeing animals all around the city – live ones certainly, but of course many representations of beasts in art, architecture and store windows. Though I love visits to the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo, there is always the tension between the excitement of seeing the animals up close and the realization of how compromised their lives are in captivity. I know zoological foundations do much to help the wild cousins of the creatures on display, but I can’t help but feel sorrow for the animals in the zoo enclosures. 

Upper East Side lions – there are so many in all the boroughs guarding  people’s homes!

  

  

Not a lion but a young snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo.

  

Griffins are all over the city too – this one in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is from a bronze cauldron. Judging from the griffin’s size the cauldron itself must have been enormous! Many of these, including this one, were from Olympia at the sanctuary dedicated to Zeus. It certainly makes sense that the king of the gods would merit a super sized one. According to Herodotus, a cauldron created for King Kroisos of Lydia could hold 2,700 gallons.

  
And bees – I love bumblebees and try to grow flowers that will entice them to my terrace. I found this fellow in a The Conservatory Garden in Central  Park.

  
And then this large fellow on Fifth Avenue in the Gucci window.

   
 

Not sure those are the types of flowers that would attract him, but as he’s holding a handbag he’d be hard pressed to gather pollen right now in any case!