May 2008

When lilacs last...

One of my favorite snippets of musical liner notes comes from Peter Gabriel’s Plays Live CD which, after listing the several concerts at which songs were recorded, duly notes that some sounds were overdubbed at Gabriel’s home studio. “The technical term for this,” the liner notes wryly admit, “is cheating.”

And so I’ll duly note that I did not go to Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum yesterday; instead, I shot this picture in my backyard in Keene last May, when lilacs last in my dooryard bloomed. I’m sure the lilacs in Keene are currently blooming–and I have photographic proof from Leslee and Sara and others that the lilacs were blooming in Boston yesterday–but I spent the weekend holed away in Newton with my paper piles. Here’s hoping I don’t catch any of my students doing anything that can technically be termed cheating, and I’ll see you after I submit the last of my end-term grades sometime before tomorrow’s noon deadline.

Before graduation, 2008

This is the fifth year in a row I’ve blogged some version of the rows of chairs Keene State College sets out each year for graduation. There’s something about the predictable geometry of neatly aligned folding chairs that I find aesthetically pleasing, and at this time of year, I’m always too busy grading papers to blog something new. So while I’m largely off-line dealing with my end-term paper-piles, I’ll leave you to contemplate rows of empty chairs as another class gets ready to begin their lives as college-educated professionals.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Professional. As an amateur, I’m not exactly sure what makes for a “Professional” photo, but given the fact that paid crews take care every year to arrange the seats for graduation in meticulous rows, I figure this shot captures professionalism as well as any other.

Trio of tulips

It’s Finals Week at Keene State College and the second week of a new semester for my online classes, so this week I’m doing the usual juggling act while one set of classes winds down and another set ramps up.


Normally when I teach on campus on Tuesdays, I take a walk before my noon literature class: my chance to see what’s blooming, check out the local chalk-folk, and otherwise root for the home team. Today, however, I didn’t have time for a midday walk: instead, I graded online papers and tended to other teaching tasks while collecting take-home exams and a handful of essay portfolios, the bulk of my end-term paper pile being due on Thursday.

During days like this when my to-do list is long and hours seem short, I’m grateful for the carefully tended horticultural plantings that brighten even a quick stroll across campus. Today I didn’t have time to tiptoe through tulips, but I did have time after collecting exams and before heading home to snap a few shots of the tulips right outside the hall where my office is located: a quick trip to a place where flowers are symmetrically shaped and exotically colored.



Leslee’s view of Josiah McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism is much more orderly than mine, showing the linear repetition of shiny bottles reflected ad infinitum toward a distant vanishing point. From my angle, I saw a chaos of bottles reflecting bottles reflecting other bottles, the clean geometry of classical perspective being replaced by a self-referential visual clusterfuck. From her taller height, Leslee saw the forest; from my shorter one, I saw the trees. I suppose that’s how it is touring a museum with a friend: the two of you can’t step into the same exhibit twice.


As challenging as it can be to understand a single work of art, singly, adding another perspective can sometimes clarify matters. Viewed on its own while you’re on your own, a single work of art speaks a given language; viewed alongside other works and in the company of other views, that same single work might say something else entirely.

When Leslee and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Friday, we were intent on seeing “El Greco to Velasquez: Art During the Reign of Philip III,” and we did. We hadn’t planned, though, to juxtapose the 17th century works of visionaries such as El Greco with the 20th century Spanish realism of Antonio López García, but we did. How better to understand El Greco’s almost hallucinogenic Toledo landscape than by considering it against López García’s almost photographic Madrid? And how better to appreciate multiple artists’ versions of Mary’s immaculate conception than by viewing them before considering López García’s multiple perspectives of a less-than-immaculate bathroom?

Reflective tableau

Upon exiting the Antonio López García exhibit and on our way to lunch, Leslee and I passed the reflective bottles of McElheny’s “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism,” which are contained in a reflective case situated incongruously between the Museum’s upscale first floor restaurant and the stairway leading to its more moderately priced basement cafeteria. Perhaps by reflecting upon the shiny bottles of twentieth century Modernism, you can better decide where to eat? The MFA’s two dining venues provide another sort of tableau, with a dazzling parade of culinary choices being another kind of aesthetic object reflecting ad infinitum toward a digestive rather than visual vanishing point. Shall I have pizza or stir-fry, or soup, salad, or sandwich? In this century more than previous ones, we live amidst a dizzying array of choices. Is it any wonder we occasionally have problems seeing the forest for the trees?

RSVPmfa with passersby

On the wall opposite the reflective case containing Josiah McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism, along the hallway across from the Museum’s restaurant and on the way to the stairway to its cafeteria, Jim Lambie’s RSVPmfa offers a dizzying array of geometric patterns interrupted by three-dimensional objects–chairs, sequined handbags, and the like–erupting from the starkly flat visual pane into the lived space of passersby. Viewed on its own, RSVPmfa is psychedelic enough, its black and white zebra stripes seeming to swirl with your every step: an optical illusion writ large. As luck, chance, or astute curating would have it, Lambie’s wall seems most interesting when viewed reflected in McElheny’s mirrored case, the endless repetition of last century’s RSVP becoming Postmodern when viewed as an unintentional tableau. Sometimes the best way to view one object is by considering it alongside another radically different one.


Click here for my photo-set of these two juxtaposed works; you can find Leslee’s photos from our day at the MFA here. Enjoy!

Baby head with two trees

Dreaming of trees

I’d love to think at least one of the giant bronze baby heads planted outside the Huntington Street entrance of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is dreaming of trees. Titled “Day and Night,” the installation was sculpted by Spanish realist Antonio López García and consists of a pair of bookended baby heads: one awake, the other sleeping. Today, both heads were showered with windblown crabapple blossoms.

If you, too, wish to dream of trees, click over to 10,000 Birds for this month’s installment of the Festival of the Trees. There you’ll find enough tree-related links to keep your eyes wide open.


Click here for my photo set featuring Antonio López García’s big babies. You can see their conception here and installation here. Enjoy!

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