The following synopis of research out of Stanford University is quite interesting. Mexico’s water woes has its roots in the Mexican Revolution!
Detail from, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)
“Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, through January 5, 2014
Perhaps not since Frida Kahlo, has a visual artist so brazenly inserted her own likeness into her creations. Thankfully, this preoccupation with self eventually extends into a larger world, the world of African Americans and their identification as such.
Often, when Weems is both photographer and subject, as in the “Kitchen Table Series,” the photographs seem narcissistic, as if the artist is her own muse. This may very well be the case. But although Weems has once again placed herself in front of the camera in the “Museum Series” and “Not Manet’s Type,” these latter photographs are arresting and poignant. Here Weems has metamorphosed from simply being the source of her own inspiration. Now she paints an isolating portrait of what many are afraid of being or becoming – phantoms and outsiders.
Most of Weems’s photographs are black and white or tinted. One series of tinted photographs — “Colored People Grid” — is striking in its simplicity. When juxtaposed next to “Family Pictures and Stories,” the empty spaces make one wonder: Are there people missing? If yes, who? What are their stories? Will these stories be told and if so, who will tell them? How will they be told? These it seems, are precisely the questions that Weems has been asking all along. She has done a good job excavating truths and untruths and in so doing, has helped create a new history of the African American experience. That she cannot tell it without telling her own story has been her point all along.
In these tinted photographs — part of the series, “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995–96)” — the artist appropriated early photographs and text that have been used to stereotype African Americans:
The artist as photographer and subject
All photos credit of the artist, Carrie Mae Weems
I learned this interesting fact as I started doing research for my trip to Yellowstone National Park: The Yellowstone River is the only river in the contiguous United States that is not damned. The 692-miles long river rises in Wyoming on the Continental Divide, flows through Yellowstone National Park, runs northwards into Montana and finally flows into the Missouri River near Buford, North Dakota.
The River, a tributary of the Missouri, is known for its trout fishing. One of its forks was a favorite fishing spot of author, Ernest Hemingway. In 2011, an oil pipeline belonging to ExxonMobile ruptured in the river. Only with the passing of time will we understand the extent of the damage. No matter where in the world we are, we seem to manage to despoil our rivers.
Unlike the Yellowstone River which I only recently started learning about, I am quite familiar with the Hudson River. The Hudson was the site of many environmental studies and environmental activism during many of the years that I lived in New York. Along with the Long Island Sound, the river had been under severe stress. The details below are an apt description of the Hudson of the 1970s and ’80s, and perhaps, of the ’90s too:
“New York City was dumping 1.5 billion gallons per day of raw sewage into the River, the paint from Tarrytown’s GM plant dyed the River a new color each week, the Indian Point power plant was killing millions of fish each day, the National Guard was filling tidal wetlands at Camp Smith, and Penn Central Railroad was discharging oil from a pipe at the Croton Rail Yard. The oil floated up the Croton on the tide, blackening the beaches and making the shad taste of diesel.”
Man, business and government were killing the river. Today the Hudson has rebounded, thanks in part to a Riverkeeper boat that patrols the river in an effort to protect it from environmental lawbreakers. But other problems like the introduction of non-native invasive species (example, water chestnut and zebra mussels) have altered and impacted the aquatic animal populations. What will the river look like in ten years, fifty years, from now?
The Mississippi River on Exhibit
If you ever read the adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you will recall that one of the biggest stars in both books is the Mississippi River. Just like the Morant and Yallhas Rivers in Jamaica (See The River Road, Part One), the Mississippi held a special place in my childhood fantasies. I read and re-read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and pretended that my local river was the Mississippi upon which steamboats ran and adventures were to be had. Now my old friend is on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum.
In an exhibition that runs until June 2013, photographer, Richard Misrach brings the Mississippi River to life in a way that is far different from Mark Twain’s version of it. Though invisible in some of the photographs, the river is still very much a presence in each of the twenty-one images. The larger than life scale of the photographs (each is about five or six feet high), makes it unlikely that the viewer will soon forget the subject matter. The title of the show? “Revisiting the South: Cancer Alley.”
Cancer Alley is an eighty-five mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge through to New Orleans. There are innumerable industrial plants there. All are drawn to the region because of favorable taxation policies. The first photograph that the visitor encounters upon entering the gallery is to the immediate right. The photograph is striking for two reasons: First, there is an ethereal light beyond which the viewer cannot see and so, cannot imagine what it is that the woman in the photograph is looking at. The second striking thing about the photograph is that the lady doesn’t seem to belong inside this house. Is she standing in a museum looking outwards? Is she the owner of the house or merely a visitor? As you move closer to the photograph you learn from the wall tag that she is a tour guide. The plaque reads, “Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, 1998.”
Today’s Nottoway is a tourist destination. In yesteryears, it was a slave plantation. Not so long ago, this woman would have been a slave in this place. She may have been in the fields or she may have been in the house but either way, she wouldn’t have had time to stand around, looking out windows.
This show makes me Jim, the runaway slave (in Huck Finn) kind of sad. Today there is destruction of communities, the river and the environment. The entire show is dressed in poverty, destruction and degradation. In Huck Finn there was hope — hope that Jim would be free, hope that he wouldn’t get sold down river, hope that he and Huck would remain on the island in the river, happy and undetected. If you read the book as a child, you know all about hoping, hoping, hoping, against all odds. Today, after viewing the show, I hope that the:
- Mississippi River, poisoned and polluted as it is, will make a comeback
- people, like the woman in the photograph, will be able to continue living there
- petro-chemical factories that pollute the area be forced to stop degrading the environment and everything connected to the River (including the nearby communities)
- cancer rates in the area will subside/lessen
As is the case of the pollution of the Yellowstone River, only with time, will one have answers to these questions.
- Cancer Alley photographs by Richard Misrach: http://www.artdaily.com/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=61569&b=cancer%20alley#.UW2A8bWCmSp
This was a busy weekend. I BARTed into San Francisco for a look at the light show at the new Bay Bridge and for happy hour at Chaya (across the street from the bridge). I also went on a behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (awesome!) and today, re-experienced art in the woods at Djerassic, in the Santa Cruz Mountains (more awesome!!).
Friday Night on the Embarcadero
The new Bay Bridge is nearing completion and is set to be opened soon. Here is a nighttime view of the waterfront along the Embarcadero with a view of the bridge. The new installation art piece (an LED light show) is in the foreground of the bridge. (Those are the lights you see in the upper right hand side of the photograph.) It looks like San Francisco is almost ready for the 2013 Americas Cup!
Moon Jellies and Such, Oh My!
Oh, the jellies I saw! Lot and lots of jelly fishes were on show at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Moon jellies. White moon jellies. Purple sprite jellies. Spotted jellies. Mediterranean jellies. Can you figure out which ones these are?
The history of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to be is fascinating. It involves David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) and his daughter who was at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station (in Monterey Bay). The senior Packard was looking for a family project to do with his daughter. That project evolved into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium sits at the far corner of Cannery Row. The entire area was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, Cannery Row, and The Sea of Cortez. His friend Doc features prominently in both novels and also on the Row, where he died in a car crash. One interesting note is that Monterey Bay is, in fact, a bight, not a bay. It is more open (less sheltered) than a bay and shallower also. The rocks in Monterey Bay are also an indication that it is not a true bay. A bay, by contrast, is a inlet of water enclosed on three sides by the land. Monterey Bay is not enclosed at all. It is wide open to the ocean with tide pools and salt water constantly moving in and out.
Here are some art installations in the woods at Djerassic and also, a window view from the Artist’s Barn.
After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.
Dirca and Indian Warrior
It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.
The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?
A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.
Searsville Lake and Dam
One of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.
There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.
To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:
- Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve: http://jrbp.stanford.edu
- The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir: http://www.tchistory.org/tchistory/Wonders_10.htm
To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.
This show runs from October 2012-February 24, 2013
The Nazis’ Entartete Kunst Show Revisited
A better title for the show would have been, “A War on Modern Art: The Notorious Hitler/Nazi Purge of 1937,” or quite simply, “The Entartete Kunst Show.”
The infamous Nazi art exhibition of 1937, Entartete Kunst, sought to stamp out certain art forms, including abstraction. It had the opposite effect. By drawing attention to modern art, the Nazis helped to make it unforgettable.
Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter and theorist, has been credited with creating the first purely abstract Western artworks. He taught at the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed it in 1933. His use of colors, shapes and lines so offended their sense of beauty that in the Entartete Kunst exhibition, they declared his art to be “crazy at any price.” Included in the current Cantor exhibition are several Kandinsky pieces that are representative of the ones featured in the 1937 show.
In 1929, The Great Depression hit Germany hard. Over five-million Germans and Austrians were out of work. The “unacceptable” were blamed for infecting the society. Anything and anyone violating the Nazis’ sense of classical German beauty (Aryan) were deemed degenerate and therefore, to be destroyed. In defense of this destruction, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, is heard declaring on archival film, “Der Fuhrer liebt die Kunst, weil er selbst ist ein Kunstler” (The Feurer loves art. He himself is an artist).* Unfortunately, this love extended neither to abstract/modern art nor its creators.
Book burnings began in Berlin in 1933: German and Austrian books were burned alongside books by “corrupting foreign influences.” This included books by Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells and the German playwright, Heinriche Heine. Heine, in his 1821 play, Almansor had written the following line:
“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”)
The 1937 Degenerate Art show featured many of Kandinsky’s works, including an edition of the book, Klange (Sounds), and the portfolio of twelve prints entitled, “Kleine Welten” (Small Worlds). None of the works in The Cantor’s exhibition were actually in the Nazi sponsored art exhibition but both shows feature(d) a copy of Klange and several prints from Kleine Welten.
Also on view at The Cantor is a reproduction of the 1937 Nazi exhibition catalog (in both German and English). This too, was disturbing and did what it was meant to: It shocks the visitor by its immediacy and also by its accessibility to the English-speaker.
Over one-hundred artists and six-hundred pieces of art (including illustrated books like Kandinsky’s) encompassed the Nazis’ 1937 art exhibition. When the Degenerate Art Law was passed a year later in 1938, the Nazis had confiscated more than 16,000 objects of art.
Julien Bryan’s Archival Films
Chilling and voyeuristic are apt descriptions of Julien Bryan’s 1937 short films. The documentary of the museum goers viewing the show is numbing, disturbing, evocative and sad. You wonder which attendees will become murderers and who will be murdered. What are visitors thinking as they view the show? Is each visitor thinking for himself or has he allowed his thinking to be sanctioned by the State? Who, at that show, will help those in need and who will turn on “the other?” You wish you didn’t know how it ultimately ends.
Three links to various Bryan documentaries are embedded below. These are silent, black and white films. Because they are soundless, they are all the more harrowing. They have a certain magnetic pull, drawing the viewer in in a way that modern films do not. In their silence they force you to pay attention, to listen with your eyes.
Who was Julien Bryan? He was an American photographer, filmmaker and documentarian who traveled throughout Europe in the 1930s. He tried to warn America of the dangers of Nazism and Fascism based on what he saw in his travels abroad, in Russia, Poland, Germany and Austria. His documentary films of the era are now part of the public domain. Access them here:
- Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art — Filmed by Bryan when he visited the 1937 Nazi exhibition.
- Pupils at Goldschmidt Jewish Private School in Nazi Germany — Bryan filmed the Goldschmidt Jewish private school shortly after Jews were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools in Germany. Again, you wish you didn’t know how this all turns out.
- Hitler Youth Girls –Here Bryan documents the indoctrination of German/Aryan school children, even during playtime.
*”PBS Film Chronicles Nazi Art Suppression”, The Daily Gazette, (Tuesday, April 6, 1993) <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1957&dat=19930406&id=XWlGAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LukMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1166,1427669>
The rains have begun. Small streaks of verdant green are beginning to show through brown and golden grasses on hillsides and mountain slopes. There’s a new palette on the landscape. Goodbye summer sounds and colors. I will miss you. But there’s new joy to be found in the outdoors.
Tick season is over. No more checking your clothing, hair and skin for ticks after a good tromp through the woods or alongside stream banks, lakes and ponds. And the bird sounds I’m hearing now are different too – less querulous – methinks. Summer browns and gold, you were beautiful while you lasted. See you again, same time next year?
Last Saturday’s swath of golden grass along Monte Bello Ridge is, I’m guessing, already becoming less brittle, less gold. Little field mouse and rabbits that I encountered on my walk last weekend, have you found shelter from the rains? Are you as happy as I am to revel in this new season? Do you see the splashes of green that I imagine are starting to color your world?
There are olives to be picked before olive fruit flies get into the crop. Little pests! You arrived here about twelve years ago. How did you get here and why are you so destructive? Maybe this year I’ll join in harvesting the fruit before you invade the crop. Perhaps I’ll even learn how to remove the tannic acid from the olives to make them tastier and sweeter.
This fall is already shaping up to be a very busy one. There are several unfinished paintings in different stages, spread out around my studio. And there is the old camera I bought that I haven’t yet taught myself to use. But who’s complaining? Not me!
Up and over the hills at Rancho San Antonio, habitat restoration awaits: We will be installing protective cages around oak trees as we try to give them a chance to grow. Along Jasper Ridge a long awaited hike is finally taking shape, thanks to a lovely, yet unseen Stanford sophomore. Thank you, Laura!
Before I go, two sobering thoughts:
My beloved New York City – along with an extensive stretch of the eastern seaboard – and my old island home of Jamaica are still trying to recover from last week’s hurricane; and it wasn’t so long ago that we were buying and selling human beings in this country. Last week an American friend sent me a copy of this 1830s “For Sale” poster. It is a sobering reminder that in another time, in this place, President Obama never could have become president and he and I would have both been slaves.
The word, “Seen” with a question mark (as used in this title, “Art, Seen?”), in Jamaican vernacular translates to “Art, do you understand/agree?” I first heard the word used that way as a small child growing up in the eastern Jamaican parish of St. Thomas. It was used by the Rastafarians that I encountered on my way to and from school as I wandered along Lyssons Beach. Later on, the word caught on with many in the general population. The use of the word as a question means that you are always questioning and contemplating, seen?
Seen, June 2012
Nigerian Art at the Cantor Museum, Stanford University:
“Art” from the 650-mile long Benue River valley in central Nigeria recently opened at The Cantor. I say “art” in quotes because most of the pieces in the exhibition were created for utilitarian purposes. The more art I see, the more universal the creative process seems to be. Take for example, Munch’s, The Scream and Gaultier’s pointy bustiers — representations of both were seen in these early 20th century creations by the Benue River valley peoples.
The objects presented are drawn from international collections, most of which seem to be from either Paris museums or private Parisian collections. I couldn’t help but wonder if Gaultier had seen these works in Paris and maybe, drawn inspiration from them. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Does it even matter?
One of the two artists represented (who created art for others) was Soompa of Mapeo. He was of the Chamba peoples and was active during the 1920s-1940s. He created beautiful male-female double figures in wood.
Both of these figures were in the exhibition. The one to the left is owned by UCLA’s Fowler Gallery and the one to the right belongs to a private collector in Paris. Both photographs are courtesy of the Fowler. (https://www.fowler.ucla.edu/exhibitions/benue/)
Two of my favorites from the exhibition are:
- a male wooden figure by the Yungur/Mboi/Bana peoples, believed to be created in the 19th century, or before. It too, is from a private collection in Paris. Its highly eroded surface suggests that it predates the 20th century; and
- the rainmaking wands made of iron, used in, you guessed it, rainmaking ceremonies.
In the video montage, “Introducing the Benue River Valley”, and also in the exhibition, there were photographs of people dancing in masks and wearing scarecrow-looking clothes of grass and various materials. These figures in all their regalia would be quite frightening to a child. I saw these same figures as a young girl, growing up in Jamaica. They were the Junkonoo that paraded around the Morant Bay town square at Christmas time. Even more fascinating was the mention of the Idoma and Jukun populations who were separated by the Tiv, relative strangers to the Benue River Valley. I wonder if the Jukun had anything to do with the transfer of Junkonoo customs to Jamaica? Hmmm.
For more on the Benue River Valley exhibition, visit: http://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/benue.html. The exhibit runs until October 14, 2012.
A good informative article on the Jamaican language is Hannah Appel’s, “Jamaican: Language.” http://www.globalexchange.org/country/jamaica/language
A show focused entirely on political satire – in the form of caricatures – is currently on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum. Looking at the lithographs, I couldn’t help but think of the current troubles caused by various representations of the Prophet Mohammed. At issue, then, as now, is the notion of freedom of speech.
The Stanford show, “When Artists Attack the King: Honoré Daumier and La Caricature, 1830–1835,” is political satire at its best. Its equivalent today would be the television shows, The Simpsons, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report.
Louis Philippe I was the last king to rule France. (Emperor Napoleon III was the country’s last monarch.) Louis’ reign began nearly forty years after the French Revolution and coincided with the end of the July Revolution of 1830. At first Louis Philippe seemed to be on the side of the people but later he became fat with power, siding with the wealthy. He was lampooned by various artists in the weekly Paris journal, La Caricature. Foremost of these artists was Honoré Daumier, who Artble.com calls “the Michelangelo of caricature.” Some of the exhibition’s funniest prints are those in which the king is depicted as a corpulent, bulbous la poire (pear).
Why la poire?
Not at all happy with the press’ wicked sense of humor, the monarchy passed a law banning all depictions of the king’s image. Under French law the king’s body became sacred. Not to be deterred, Daumier savagely caricatured the king’s appearance. Through his art, Daumier laughed at the king and his government and in so doing, urged the public who read his journal, to do the same. Daumier’s art, the power of his images and the journal, La Caricature, were quite influential. He and fellow caricaturist, Charles Philipon, both landed in jail on at least two occasions for their satirical lithographs of the king and his government.
The Stanford exhibition is divided into four sections:
- an introduction to the July Monarchy and its politicians,
- examples of La Caricature’s response to censorship,
- samples of Daumier’s caricatures of Louis-Philippe (the prints on view are part of Stanford’s art collection), and
- images depicting the king as La Poire.
Some personal information about the king (unrelated to the exhibition) is that he was in exile before becoming king and so, traveled quite a bit. During his travels, he lived in Germany (in the 1790s) where he taught at a school. There he got the cook pregnant and their child was put into an orphanage. The pregnancy ended his academic career. A year or two later, at age 22, while living in Scandinavia, the housekeeper at the rectory where he was living bore his child, a son name Erik. Later on in his travels, before he became king, he spent four years in the United States. Here he stayed first with his brothers, who were in exile in Philadelphia, and then in New York and Boston. In the latter city he lived above what is now the Union Oyster House, Boston’s oldest restaurant.
This [Daumier] lithograph from the exhibition is reminiscent of the workers that Diego Rivera later depicted in his murals.
For more information on the exhibition, visit http://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/daumier.html