Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dumb on the internet


A dear friend of mine is just about perfect except that she keeps sending me friendspam email -- you know, the gee-whiz articles, jokes, photo arrays and heartwarming stories that somebody sent her.

Usually I just delete such messages without reading, but for some reason I looked at this one.  Here's how it started:

OH, HOW TRUE THIS IS!! 
Subject: Fw: How old is grandma?
Stay with this -- the answer is at the end... It will blow you away.
One evening a grandson was talking to his grandmother about current events.
The grandson asked his grandmother what she thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and Just things in general.
The Grandmother replied, "Well, let me think a minute
I was born before:
  television
  penicillin
  polio shots
  frozen foods
  Xerox
  contact lenses
  instant coffee
  Frisbees and
  the pill


There were no: 
  credit cards 
  laser beams or
  ball-point pens

Man had not yet invented: 
  pantyhose
  air conditioners
  dishwashers
  clothes dryers
  and man hadn't yet walked on the moon

I'll spare you the very long middle part of the story, in which grandma smugly carries on about how life was so much better in the olden days and people were more patriotic, more moral, etc.  But the punchline is that grandma is only 72 years old, born in 1942.  We're supposed to feel all gee-whiz at how fast the world has changed, plus (if we're on the old side) pretty smug ourselves for having grown up without all those newfangled contraptions.

I'm still jet-lagged from my recent trip halfway around the world, so I was sleep-deprived and crabby enough to look at this list of allegedly post-1942 inventions with suspicion.  So I looked them up.  And discovered:

  television -- invented in 1925
  penicillin  -- discovered in 1928
  frozen foods -- commercially available in 1929
  Xerox -- invented in 1938
  contact lenses  -- invented in 1887
  instant coffee -- invented in 1890
  ball-point pens -- invented in 1938
  air conditioners -- invented in 1902
  dishwashers  -- invented in 1893
  clothes dryers -- hand-cranked, invented in 1800; electric, invented in 1938

In other words, the story ended before the grandson says in response:  Grandma, you're full of crap.  You're wrong about 10 of the 17 items on your list.

But what I find intriguing is how these founts of misinformation start their endless journeys through cyberspace. Who writes this stuff anyway?  Obviously somebody too old to understand about Wikipedia.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

London museum report 6 -- National Gallery / Monet


I can't help it, I'm a sucker for Monet.  I know that Impressionism is so easy to love, requiring not much rigor, not much sophistication, but still I love it.  And Claude is my favorite of them all.  Yes, even more than Cezanne, although I'll lose art brownie points for admitting it.

So what a pleasure to find lots of Monets at the National Gallery in London.  Some seemed very familiar: water lilies, a train station, a Japanese bridge, boats on the Seine, snow on the countryside.  Because Monet so frequently painted long series of the same scene, exploring different conditions of light, you feel you're seeing old friends even if you've never come across this particular picture in person.

In particular, it felt like old home week to come upon a huge water lilies panel, on the same scale as those in the Orangerie in Paris (built specifically to house Monet's grand gift to the French people) and those at MOMA in New York.  I have spent a lot of time sitting in front of those lilies, drifting happily through that horizonless universe.  Sitting down with this one brought me back to that familiar reverie.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, after 1916


Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, Setting Sun, ~1907


Claude Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1899


Claude Monet, The Gare St-Lazare, 1877


Claude Monet, The Petit Bras of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1872


Claude Monet, Snow Scene at Argenteuil, 1875


Claude Monet, Bathers at La Grenouillère, 1869

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sign of the week























Maybe we should raise taxes instead of selling space in the small-change trays.

Monday, July 27, 2015

London museum report 5 -- National Gallery / modernism


Close readers of my past museum reports know that while I appreciate the old masters, my blood really starts pulsing when we get to the 20th century and beyond.  I was intrigued to find, among the good old stuff at the National Gallery in London, some pictures that seemed modern beyond their years.

Let's start with Manet, famous from your art history class as one of the very earliest "modern" artists.  And perhaps your art history class talked in detail about this very painting.  It's the second of three versions of the same scene that Manet painted; the moment of total failure for French colonialist ambitions in Mexico.  The French puppet emperor Maximilian was overthrown and offed by Mexican  nationalists (a previous battle with the French, which the Mexicans also won, is remembered today as Cinco de Mayo).

Edouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1867-8

It's in pieces because Manet couldn't exhibit the work -- too politically explosive -- and it was damaged during years of poor storage in his studio.  Manet's son cut it into four bits, throwing away the bad parts of the canvas, and Edgar Degas rescued the pieces.  That's not even Max in the picture, just his left hand; the guy in the white shirt is one of his generals.

What makes it modern?  First off, a new take on history painting, with no obvious good guys vanquishing obvious bad guys; in fact, the vanquished is the representative of Manet's own government.  Second, the matter-of-fact attitude of the sergeant at right; he's not brandishing his sword but perhaps wondering how long it will be before lunch.  Manet is clearly appalled by the violence and immorality of the French adventure and its consequences, but he expresses it coolly.

The second painting that struck me as modern was very different -- a hyperrealistic depiction of a rearing stallion by George Stubbs, the great British painter of horses.

George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, ~1762

This guy is BIG -- life-size -- and absolutely dominates the room.  His tail almost escapes the frame.  To me, placing him in a blank universe instead of a grassy field or a racetrack seems very modern; there's nothing to distract us from the monumental presence of the horse.  Even the ornate frame seems to recede and let the stallion burst out.

More art from the National Gallery in later posts.  I hope you're enjoying your visit!