Wednesday, April 29, 2009

the museum experiment

so i'm in philadelphia for the american association of museums annual conference, and i spent my first day walking around overwhelmed by the sheer number of museum opportunities (both arts and heritage related) available to me here. i visited the institute of contemporary art and the philadelphia museum of art, and will be visiting a few more institutions over the next 4 days. these are some things i realized today:

1. i'm really starting to love ceramics - i saw a great exhibition of contemporary ceramics with pieces that were both rough & tumble and elegant & refined.

2. there was bill viola video piece - silent mountain - that brought tears to my eyes. it a diptych comprised of a male and female actor depicting loss and grief over some unknown revelation which has been slowed down so that all the subtle intensity of those emotions are fully and torturously presented. it's excrutiating. and sublime.

3. i had no idea how LARGE cy twombly's paintings really were -- there was an entire gallery devoted to a single piece - 50 days at illium (a reference to classical greek myth and antiquity) - and it was glorious.

4. for some reason duchamp always makes me laugh - i think his work is very witty - but his Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas), which he worked on in secret for 20 years, is as unsettling and complex a piece as i've encountered in a number of years. i am quite ambivalent about it. it is a secret(ive) piece about a secret (hidden) act, and yet it places me squarely as voyeur - and these ideas apply to both the piece itself and the artist (as an artist, perhaps even - in today's pantheon - the artist), as duchamp's project was as much about the role of the artist as about the function of art.

5. i never realized how integral and crucial the plinths/ platforms/ supports were for brancusi's sculptures (and pairing them in the same space as mondrian's paintings was a brilliant choice).

6. i saw an amazing collection of mughal miniatures and medieval prayer-books/ book of hours. breath-taking. inspiring. actually, i walked through that section of the museum with tears in my eyes. the loving devotion and intensity of labour were very moving.

that's all...

Monday, April 13, 2009

huh. "moving pictures".

on may 6, 1895, auguste and louis lumiere demonstrated the first movie projector, the cinematographe, in paris, france. it projected its images out onto a screen, unlike thomas edison's kinetograph, which was a peep show that the viewer looked into, and it weighed only 20 pounds compared to edison's half-ton invention. the first film they showed was workers leaving the lumiere factory. the movie opened with a concierge unlocking the gates, showed people walking through, and ended with the concierge closing the gates again. they made more than 2,000 films like this, without plots or characters, and thought of them just as moving pictures, and despite the thousands of people who lined up at their viewings every night, the lumieres thought that movies would be a passing fad and auguste went off to school to become a medical scientist, and louis went back to working on still photographs.

o, covetous rapture!

this easter weekend i acquired, through the sleuthing of my good friend daniel, 2 books i have been coveting for more than a decade.

the first, which is the fourth iteration of the book, is tom phillips' a humument. for those of you unfamiliar with the project (this edition of the book simply captures the project at a certain point in time - here's more information) it began in the mid-60s when mr. phillips, inspired by william burroughs' "cut-up" writing technique, bought an obscure victorian novel (w. h. mallock's a human document, from 1892) and began to alter it by drawing, painting and collaging the pages of the book and pulling out new narratives (even poetry). the first edition appeared in 1980 (the second edition was published in 1987 and the third in 1998). the fourth edition (the one i just received) was published in 2005 - almost half of the 1980 edition has been replaced/ revamped.

it is generally considered one of the prime exemplars of artists books, particularly the stream that involves altering and editing a text without altering a book's physical structure. and 40 years later, it seems that the project remains inexhaustible.

the other item is the 1971 compact edition of the oxford english dictionary. reproduced micrographically, it contains the entire 13-volume edition of the 1933 OED. it comes with a magnifying glass so you can read the text (it is reproduced micrographically, you know). at one time (i believe it was in the mid-90s), a newer edition had been made available to new members if you joined the book-of-the-month club, which i didn't do, and thereby missed my opportunity for a truly literary steal since the compact OED will usually run over $300. ouch.

according to the encyclopaedia brittanica online: The dictionary is a corrected and updated revision of A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (NED), which was published in 10 volumes from February 1, 1884, to April 19, 1928, and which was designed to provide an inventory of words in use in English since the mid-12th century (and in some cases even earlier). In 1933 the New English Dictionary was reissued in 12 volumes (together with a 1-volume supplement) as The Oxford English Dictionary. Both the NED and OED were published by the Clarendon Press of Oxford.

Arranged mostly in order of historical occurrence, the definitions in the OED are illustrated with about 2,400,000 dated quotations from English-language literature and records. The aim of the dictionary (as stated in the 1933 edition) is “to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, and etymology.”

The publication of the dictionary was first suggested to the Philological Society (London) in 1857, and the collection of materials began soon thereafter. Editorial work began in 1879 with the appointment of James Murray, who was at that time president of the Philological Society, as editor in chief. Murray, during his term as editor, was responsible for approximately half of the dictionary, including the letters a through d, h through k, o, p, and t. Succeeding editors included Henry Bradley, William Alexander Craigie, and C.T. Onions.