As I get my notes organized to write about the Magritte early works I saw at the Art Institute last week, here’s a favorite later work of his that hangs in the regular galleries where photography is allowed. “The Banquet” (1958) is hard to miss: it’s the painting of a sunset with the dark trees behind the wall, and the sun shining straight through the landscape in an intense ball of almost-neon orange-red. It’s one of the Art Institute’s minor treasures and one of those great Magrittes that is both utterly correct and well composed and completely shocking. In the new Modern Wing it hangs on a shadowed wall so the sunset seems to glow. Last week was the first time I’d ever brought a “real” camera into the museum and I discovered that “The Banquet” is pure catnip from behind a good viewfinder: the temptation to put the focus point right in the middle of that red circle is almost impossible to resist.
And then tonight, when I was taking out the garbage, I looked west across my yard, past the neighbors garage and over the roofs of the houses at the end of the block and there, among the trees, was the setting sun, and it was exactly, precisely the same shade of red.
I am at a house painting party. Here are two of my hosts.
(The next day: This was the first post with multiple images in it I have ever posted from my phone. After some consideration, and in honor of the occasion, I have decided not to correct the extremely wonky formatting. However, I have decided from now on I am going to stick to single images when posting remotely by phone since this looks pretty silly. Seriously, though. I took these dog pictures, cropped them, and posted them on the internet in about ten minutes, all from my phone, while hanging out at a party. Smartphone, you are awesome. Internet, you are also awesome. Also, dogs remain old school, and also quite awesome.)
Just when you thought the drawing of the day could not get any sillier, have a sculptor and a small figure with a very big attitude. For something so ridiculous, this drawing is actually quite formal, inked very strictly in a set pattern on a set of very tight pencils. No brush anywhere– I’ve never been able to control a brush well enough to put my lines exactly where I want them. Any brushwork of mine you see is at least partially chaotic.
Partially chaotic and usually full of corrections. If you look at this drawing closely, it’s clean. When I ink carefully with a pen (three pens in this case) I can actually do it correctly, at least for the short period of time it takes to do one small drawing. If I was going to publish this somewhere else, I would correct a couple of small mistakes (look at the sculpture’s leg) and deal with the shape of the thumb. But I thought I would show it to you here as is, as testimony to how close I can come to perfection if I put my mind to it. By that I mean not very close at all. But (occasionally) it is fun to try.
(I so want to color this drawing, and will probably do it sometime.)
Where have I been all day? I went to to the home of Anish Kapoor’s iconic public sculpture “Cloud Gate”, to visit it and some other fine pieces of art. The Bean was precisely as usual: epic in scale, colossally shiny and surrounded by photographers. I joined their ranks for a while, and who could blame me? The Bean is also extremely photogenic. Don’t worry– I had both the good cameras with me so I wasn’t shooting with the New Phone Camera all the time.
The best thing about the Bean, though, is that it is right across the street from the Art Institute. Residual loyalty to the Cleveland Museum of Art keeps me from telling you that the Art Institute of Chicago is my favorite art museum, but it really sort of is. I’ll be writing later in the week about the very fine exhibition of the early work of Rene Magritte that I specifically went to see, but there was a Big Dumb No Photography Rule in place for that and this is a picture post. Luckily the Art Institute gives cameras and their handlers the run of the rest of the place, so I can share photos of some of my favorite paintings, like The De Chirico with the Artichokes and That Matisse Where the Woman is Staring at the Goldfish Like She Is Somehow Dissatisfied With Their Performance.
There were also two other very interesting special exhibitions. One was a collection of the photographs of Edward Steichen, including not just his wonderful celebrity portraits for Vanity Fair but some of his work is a pioneering military photographer during World War One, including this portrait of General Pershing in a vaguely defined and rather non-military looking space. And the other just rocked the Prints and Drawings gallery with an amazing collection of Mexican prints from the Taller de Grafica Popular (the Popular Graphic Art Workshop, or TGP) which produced powerful, beautifully rendered and primarily political art from 1937 until well into the postwar period. I sure hope my more serious photographs of some of the really bold graphic works are successful, but for now, here’s a small scale shot of one of the smaller scaled pieces, a wonderful 1941 lithograph of a woman and a child visiting a museum by Alfredo Zalce. Looks that that’s a natural history museum rather than an art museum, but the feeling of awe at the space and its contents is exactly the same.
Good news from Mars, space people. Mangalyaan (“Mars-craft” in Sanskrit), launched by the Indian space agency ISRO ten months ago, has arrived safely in Mars orbit and begun transmitting data. This makes India the first Asian country to reach Mars, and the first country ever to place a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet on the first try! You go, India.
Yes, this blog is a particular fan of planetokhody/rovers, but we recognize that orbiters are an essential first step to getting wheels and cameras down onto the surface of other worlds. So any orbiter is a cause for celebration, and a first orbiter from a new visitor is even more so.
US orbiter MAVEN, tasked with researching the history of the Martian atmosphere, is also a newcomer to the skies over Mars this week. Maintain a safe distance, you two. It’s getting crowded up there.
CNN (always a good place to go for space coverage) has an article listing “Five Things to Know About India’s Mars Orbiter“, which includes several videos and the first Twitter “exchange” between Mangalyaan in orbit and rover Curiosity on the surface. Of more serious import is a discussion of India’s policy of “frugal innovation” and of the relationship between the Indian space program and politics at home.
(artist’s rendering of Mangalyaan from the Wikipedia. Read about atmospheric probe MAVEN here.)
Polaroid is making a very small camera in the shape of a cube. It is called the Polaroid Cube, and it is oddly attractive. It is 35 mm in every dimension, is controlled by one big button on the top, and takes a 6 megapixel picture with a wide angle lens. (Video too, for those who want it.) Weatherproof, rubberized case, and a magnet on one face so you can stick it onto things. Lots of accessories, too. Read about it on the Polaroid website here, and a detailed review on Gizmodo here.
I’ll admit I didn’t know Polaroid was making any digital cameras, much less a very small digital camera in the shape of a cube. But this is a very clever and appealing little thing. I wonder how many pennies there are in the big melmac mixing bowl I save up my pennies in? Or should I start writing a letter to Santa?
Along with all your cool and interesting real-human-being style comments, I also get a fair amount of spam comments here on the blog. The blogging software’s filters take care of a lot of it so I never even see it, but every so often a piece gets through. (I stop it myself before you see it, but that means I have to read it first.) Usually it’s this one, which for some reason really ticks me off. Some software robot or scam artist posts this message in the comments to one of my posts, chosen (I must assume) at random:
“I read a lot of interesting articles here. Probably you spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of time, there is an online tool that creates unique SEO friendly articles in minutes, just search in google [search terms]“
Leave aside, if you can, the patent absurdity of buying canned prose from a person or organization that can’t write three simple declarative sentences. Even though I know this dreck is the random droppings of a badly housebroken robotic scam artist, I can’t help but take it personally.
For the record, I don’t mind spending the time. I can’t promise you works of life changing genius, or even stupid jokes and/or weird comments, every day (or any day), but I guarantee that what you read here is written by me and not some “internet tool” I downloaded from some obscure corner of the web on the recommendation of something that’s one step up from a virus.
And if the search engines don’t find that “optimal” that is their problem.
Here in the file of Things I’m Saving Because There Might Be A Blog Post In Them is the tag off a “TEKLA” dish towel from Ikea. That’s the thin white one with the red stripe, the one that’s so excellent for drying glasses. Granted it’s a good dish towel, and very economically priced, but it’s hardly a candidate for internet immortality. But turn the tag over and there’s a treat for any lover of words and lists and lists of words. So here, care of Ikea, is The Word for “Cotton” in Lots of Different Languages:
- cotton English
- coton French cotone Italian katoen Dutch
- algodon Spanish algodao Portuguese
- baumwolle German
- bomuld Danish bomull Norwegian, Swedish
- bavina Czech, Slovak
- bumbac Romanian
- pamut Hungarian pamuk Serbian, Croatian, Turkish
- puuvilaaa Finnish
- kapas Malay
This is very interesting. There are a bunch of Germanic words that mean something like “treewool”, and a bunch of words with Romance roots, including the English and Dutch words, that are pretty obviously related to Iberian words derived from Arabic. The Wikipedia confirms this, but hey, we deduced it from an Ikea dish towel label.
(Note: there were several other words for cotton on the list, but they depend on the use of alphabets I don’t have access to. If you know the word for cotton in another language, and how to spell it in the Roman alphabet, please share it and I’ll add it to the list.)
We had a closer call here than we knew at the time. Yesterday afternoon we had one of those brief and terrible storms, the kind that send your phone vibrating off the edge of the desk with three urgent weather service warnings in quick succession. The sky went greenish, the windward wall of the house was plastered with fragments of shredded leaves — but then it was over, and other than one medium big tree branch coming down there didn’t seem to be any ill effects. (The power never even blipped. ) Made sure the branch wasn’t on the neighbor’s garage, pulled it into our yard, did some basic cleanup, and since it was still raining, went back into the house to listen to the radio and poke at some writing. It got dark before it stopped raining, so I never went out to look at the rest of the neighborhood …
This is the willow tree at the end of the block. It stands alone in the middle of an open space that floods when it rains, so it has the “wet feet” that willows love, and it is as big and old and slightly strange as the willow tree in any storybook. But it’s also a magnet for any storm that comes along. I’ve seen it pounded half to twigs by high winds any number of times, and torn mostly in half by heavy snows as well, so I have at least some hopes that whoever owns it will “clean up and see if it makes it” one more time. It is the nature of willows to have shallow roots and soft wood but a mighty will to live.
These cookies are a little bit too self consciously artistic, and possibly actually cannibalistic. A friend of a friend reports that “the ones with the cookie dough filling” are “gross”, “too sweet” and “taste fake”. And considering that these are Oreos to start with, “too sweet” must mean something with truly cosmic levels of sugar and/or corn syrup.
On the last point: yes, regular Oreos “taste fake”, too, but in a good way.