Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Robert Buono in Cambodia

Angkor Tom

The more I look at photographs,
the more I see
who is behind the lens
instead of what is in front of it.

So -- it looks like this has become
yet another one of my internet projects:
to collect all the photo sets
of Angkor Wat and vicinity.

And this is a sculptor eye's
emphasizing the projection,
and the dramatic.

I'm guessing that this is one of the views
that the architects were planning for ---
i.e. a grand processional

Wouldn't it be wonderful
to have giant portrait heads
of your own face
dominating a landscape?

How I envy that king !

And how can one be king,
if one does not have armies ?

As a former warrior in Southeast Asia himself,
Robert might have been expected
to find those martial scenes
that my other friends have missed.

Another great processional.

What else was there to do in the temples of Khmer
back in their hey-day,
other than to have parades.

The mind boggles to contemplate a society
that had as many sculptors
as we have computer programmers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When Sculpture was King

And here is the king himself,
that sculpture loving
who emptied his treasury
to build Angkor Wat

Or, maybe monomaniac
isn't a strong enough word ?

Sculptures are as commonplace
in this project,
as light bulbs are in the modern high rise

How much decay will it take
to eventually silence
this ecstatic rhythm ?

So, how many sculptors did they have,
who could work at this level ?

A happy world,
where sculptures seem to multiply on their own,
like telephone poles do in ours

it's not the details
in this place that are impressive.

Or... maybe we should just say
that an entire wall of a hundred figures
is just a detail,
and THAT detail is impressive.

I guess,
once the rhythm
starts flowing through the stone,
it just can't stop

Did women back then,
really wear headgear
that looked like temples ?

A fine place to sit,
and catch one's breath

Many thanks to C.R.O.
for these pictures
from her recent trip.

I've always dreamed of going to Cambodia,
but aren't these vicarious visits
just as good ?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Three Generations of Katsukawa

Shunsho (1726-1792)
c. 1767

Little did I know,

but 700 (that's about 30% )
of all the Japanese prints
in the Buckingham collection
at the Art Institute of Chicago,
came from the Katsukawa school
of actor prints,

founded by

Kasukawa Shunsho

c. 1776


What could be more forceful
and dramatic ?

and economical ?
(nothing for ornament,
everything for energy)

Shunko (1743-1812)
c. 1785

But then we come to the next generation,

Katsukawa Shunko

and things are feeling different,
more refined


and more sensual,
as the figures settle into their space,
instead of jumping out from it.

(note: I don't think these artists are fathers and sons,
but, rather, masters and students)

c. 1791

This is so gorgeous !

... I don't even want to know the story
that's being acted

Shun'ei (1762-1819)
c. 1795

And finally we get to

Katsukawa Shun'ei

The above piece reminds me of
an elaborate doll


.. and this one seems in some kind of swoon.

Might one assume that this progression of styles
reflects a similar progression
in the dramaturgy
they were depicting ?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Contemporary Korean ceramics

Choi Sungjae (b. 1962)

We're told that this is the revival
of the peasant Buncheong tradition from 14th-16th C. Korea
where the artist uses fingers, sticks, twigs, or whatever
to make marks on a liquid slip

depicting ducks on a pond.

Kind of neat
for finger painting.

Kind of neat
for any kind of painting,
there's really a feeling
for wind blowing on the water

Lee Kang-Hyo (b. 1961)

Another piece of Buncheong ware,
this time
swirling the slip
around the pot.


I like these pieces,
and glad they're being shown.

The curator of Korean art
has been given a glass case
to put on a rotating display
of contemporary traditional art.

But why can't the work
of living traditional European artists
be displayed as well ?

The E. M. Bakwin Collection of Indonesian Textiles

It's hard to figure
what gets into a museum.

This is Indonesian skirt cloth
made in 1970.

I think it's pretty spectacular,
can't it's equals
still be found for sale
in markets there - if not here ?

Why can't the museum
have a gallery of contemporary
clothing fabrics -- the best available
in continual rotation ?

The rest of this exhibit

comes from earlier decades,
some going back to early 19th C.

I vaguely remember
a similar pattern on
an Indian print bed spread
I had back in college.

Perhaps you don't have to be stoned
to intensely enjoy these patterns,

but I know it helps.

Is any abstract painting
this enjoyable ?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the I'm not sure

"Madame Francois Buron", 1769

Wandering into the A.I.C. room
of 18th C. French painting,

Here's the Good,
done by the 21-year old
Jacques Louis David.

What a prodigious talent!

He hasn't discovered
his more severe Jacobin style yet,
and this portrait is so charming,
it really has a personal,
almost mischievous presence

and I love the painterly details
in the drapery and on the book,
i.e. all the stuff that painters can do
(and photographs can't)

Fragonard "Figure of Fantasy", 1768

Moving on to the "Bad",
with a painting done a year earlier
by a painter 15 years older
(but still he's only 35)

No ... it's not a bad painting,
just a colorful character
who wouldn't seem to fit into a genteel home
except as a footman or lackey

and the rough,
thick painterly qualities
across this bald pate
are so delicious.

It's nice to remember that loose painting
did not begin with Post-Impressionism

Watteau "Fete Champetre" (1718)

And now for the
"I'm not sure"

because the closer you come
the worse this painting looks

Many paintings are strong in detail
but weak in the whole....
but this one is the exact opposite.

which probably led earlier owners
to attribute it to Pater or Lancret.

It just seems to have been begun by one person,
and then finished by another (and lesser) painter.

There's an awful lot that has to happen here in a very small space,
and if it doesn't look effortless and elegant,
could it really be the great master himself ?

But modern scholarship being what it is,
the experts of the Art Institute of Chicago
have scientifically determined that
the actual artist was Watteau.

(although it does seem that the results are
inconclusive -- and perhaps the conclusion was
reached before the examination was begun)

Monday, December 03, 2007

The New Spertus Museum

Bruno Schatz

I don't even think it's called a "Museum of Judaica" any more, now it's the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies and rather than having a gallery for its permanent collection of visual arts, it has a "Depot" where things are displayed behind plexiglass on a 20 foot high, semi-circular wall -- without labeling of any kind.

So they've given up on being a museum of historical Jewish art and artifacts.

Admittedly, the small, dark gallery in their previous building was hardly appealing -- but instead of expanding on that display, they've retreated away from being an art gallery and towards a collection of memorabilia -- like the old baseballs and team uniforms that might be found in a sports museum.

The shame of this is --- they actually do have some good Jewish art on Jewish themes -- like the work of Bruno Schatz. (like all-too-many museums, they don't allow photography -- but the above piece resembles the bronze panel they have on display) And even if they don't have a lot more -- a good collection could inexpensively be made today -- especially of painting and sculpture from the 20th C. (well... the Marc Chagalls would be expensive)

But what's the point of putting things on display without labels and often poorly lit or poorly seen (i.e. the items placed near the floor or 15 feet in the air)

They do offer an audio tour that's supposed to identify and explain everything -- but what if you don't want to hunt through the entire audio program to hear about the few pieces that you find of interest ? (I don't know how well the audio tour works -- since it wasn't installed yet when I was visiting)

So the only real museum of Jewish art in America is still Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Maybe the current administration feels that America doesn't need a second museum of Jewish art -- and that the Jews of Chicago would not be interested in having one here anyway.

And maybe they're right.