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Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by

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Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”

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A Profound Experience of Art, and Other News

July 29, 2014 | by

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What the Mona Lisa sees all day—cue a quotation from the “Most Photographed Barn in America” section of White Noise. Photo: Susan Lesch

  • Museums have a real, if enviable, problem on their hands—they’re too popular. “Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.”
  • A proposed virtual-reality edition of Ulysses sounds about as abstruse as the novel itself: “As a user of In Ulysses walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them—they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written—but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images, and links.”
  • Fewer people are giving books as gifts—the number of gift-book sales fell by nine million in a year. (If you’d like to reduce the deficit and you need an excuse to give, today is International Tiger Day.)
  • Trend alert: there’s never been a finer moment to be a deceased performer. “Two thousand fourteen is only half over, yet the year in culture has already been dominated by people who are dead … I mean people like Michael Jackson, who, five years in the grave, performed at the Billboard Music Awards in May. And Rick James, who’s been dead for a decade and who has a new memoir this year. And the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in February and has a new movie out.”
  • From Disobedient Objects, a book about design’s effect on social change, a look at the storied history of defacing currency.

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The Attic of Empire

February 4, 2014 | by

Remembering the National Air and Space Museum and the nation’s guilty conscience.

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Photo: Sailko, via Wikimedia Commons

People think of Washington, D.C., as a transitory place—a city of four-year leases, tourists, and revolving doors—an impression that dates back to the earliest days of the federal capital. The city fathers, desperate to counter the District’s reputation as a provincial backwater, fought back by building monuments. Think of it as overcompensation, the attempt to create an illusion of age-old power. Why else plant a fifty-story Egyptian obelisk in the center of town?

For those of us who were born and raised in Washington, there was both a pride in living near the nation’s symbolic center and a nagging feeling that the city didn’t really belong to us. A drive down Massachusetts Avenue, past the mansions of Embassy Row, was a reminder of how much of the town was actually built on foreign soil. Even the parts that were supposed to be ours were somewhat foreign, in the sense that they belonged to the whole country. Our Fourth of July fairground was the National Mall; the church in which I sang was the National Cathedral; and our local museums were the Smithsonian Institution—the “Nation’s Attic.”

The museums were the best part of living in Washington. My friends and I took a proprietary interest in them. This might not be our town, exactly, but these were our museums, none more so than the National Air and Space Museum, which opened when I was nine years old and obsessed with outer space. Read More »

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Museum Hours

August 2, 2013 | by

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The city is our best shot at escaping the city. Within the big, frantic city, we find places to breathe. Twice in the last month, dozens of times in the past year, I have taken refuge in the National Gallery of Art. Washington has beer joints. Washington has baseball. But when money is tight and the stress intolerable, there are few luxuries like strolling along a wall of Modiglianis for free.

Often the museum has been a family retreat. My wife goes for Whistler’s Symphony in White, a rather suggestive portrait of the artist’s redheaded mistress perched at the end of a corridor that has the feel of a wedding aisle. Beckett, our three-year-old, digs the dragon figurines in the gift shop. Of the galleries, the eighteenth century British, flush with gundogs and lapdogs, are the ones he hates least. Beckett wants a dog, preferably a beagle, for Christmas. A dog or a razor scooter, of which there are no paintings on view.

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Mixed-Up Tweeters, and Other News

April 22, 2013 | by

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  • E. L. Konigsburg, author of beloved children’s titles The View from Saturday, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, and, most famously, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has died, at eighty-three.
  • Speaking of people in museums past closing hours, Whitey Bulger is the subject of another book. (Considering he is “known to be a book reader,” maybe he won’t mind too much.)
  • In other Boston news, The New Yorker talks literature, violence, and the Caucasus in light of last week’s tragic events.
  • And in case you missed this informative memo to tweeters: Chechens are not from the Czech Republic.
  • The 2012 LA Times Book Prize winners have been announced.

 

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New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up

September 14, 2011 | by

In 1962, Olympia Press editor Maurice Girodias published Terry Southern’s story “New Art Museum in Hamburg Blown Up” in the first issue of the short-lived literary magazine, Olympia (it ran for only four issues). Southern’s trenchant and funny piece was in excellent company: the issue also featured ten episodes from William S. Burroughs’s The Soft Machine, poems by Lawrence Durrell, a selection from Southern’s pornographic novel, Candy, and a suppressed chapter from J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. This was not a publication to be taken lightly.

Southern’s story was relegated to “long-lost” status before his son, Nile, proposed it for inclusion in Gabriel Levinson’s forthcoming anthology, A Brief History of Authoterrorism. Were pleased to welcome it back after nearly fifty years.

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