Art

A Caged Bird

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fanny_Hensel_1842.jpg

At least six of Felix Mendelssohn’s songs were written by his sister. Like Felix, Fanny Mendelssohn had trained as a child with Carl Friedrich Zelter, who wrote to Goethe in 1816 that she “could give you something of Sebastian Bach. This child is really something special.” But the bias of the times restricted a woman’s ambitions, and a lady of leisure could not be seen to pursue a profession publicly. Like the Brontës, George Sand, and George Eliot, Fanny found an outlet by publishing under a man’s name.

In an 1842 visit to Buckingham Palace, Mendelssohn found a copy of his Opus 8 songs on the piano in Queen Victoria’s sitting room. When he asked to hear her sing, she chose Fanny’s song Italien. Mendelssohn wrote to his mother, “After I had confessed that Fanny had written the song (which I found very hard, but pride goes before a fall) I begged her to sing one of my own works.”

Tender Minded

Artist J.S.G. Boggs hand-draws depictions of U.S. banknotes and exchanges them for goods and services — he’ll trade a drawing of a $100 bill for $100 worth of goods. The drawings are one-sided, and the patrons understand that they’re not actual currency; they’re choosing to trade goods for artwork rather than for money.

Is this counterfeiting? Well, what is money? A $100 bill is valuable only because we all agree that it is — it’s an arbitrary social convention. If someone can create an alternative that people value equally, shouldn’t he be free to trade it in the same fashion, if all parties are informed?

“It’s all an act of faith,” Boggs says. “Nobody knows what a dollar is, what the word means, what holds the thing up, what it stands for. … That’s … what my work is about.”

Great Minds

boullee newton cenotaph

In 1784, French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée proposed building an enormous cenotaph for Isaac Newton, a cypress-fringed globe 500 feet high. A sarcophagus would rest on a raised catafalque at the bottom of the sphere; by day light would enter through holes pierced in the globe, simulating starlight, and at night a lamp hung in the center would represent the sun.

“I want to situate Newton in the sky,” Boullée wrote. “Sublime mind! Vast and profound genius! Divine being! Newton! Accept the homage of my weak talents. … O Newton! … I conceive the idea of surrounding thee with thy discovery, and thus, somehow, surrounding thee with thyself.”

As far as I can tell, this is unrelated to Thomas Steele’s proposal to enshrine Newton’s house under a stone globe, which came 41 years later. Apparently Newton just inspired globes.

Language Arts

http://books.google.com/books?id=RABQAAAAcAAJ

Johann David Steingruber fulfilled his literary ambitions on a drafting table — his Architectural Alphabet (1773) renders each letter of the alphabet as the floor plan of a palace.

Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico (1839) presents the letters as architectural drawings:

Perhaps next we can actually build them.

Overtime

As a boy in Romania, György Ligeti had been enchanted with the story about a widow who lives in a house full of clocks. “Nobody comes, maybe for a hundred years,” he said. “Nothing happens. So there is a combination of movement, which is machine-like, and absolutely nothing … a timelessness … no beginning and no end.”

When he became a composer, Ligeti set out to capture this feeling with Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes. At a conductor’s signal, each of 10 players winds up 10 metronomes; after an interval, the conductor gives a second signal, at which the players set the metronomes running, each at a unique tempo, and the performers leave the stage.

As soon as some of the metronomes have run down, changing rhythmic patterns emerge, depending on the density of the ticking, until, at the end, there is only one, slowly ticking metronome left, whose rhythm is then regular. The homogeneous disorder of the beginning is called ‘maximal entropy’ in the jargon of information theory (and in thermodynamics). The irregular grid structures gradually emerge, and the entropy is reduced since previously unpredictable ordered patterns grow out of the opening uniformity. When only a single metronome is left ticking in a completely predictable manner, then the entropy is maximal again — or so the theory goes.

All this went right over the heads of the Holland audience for whom the piece debuted in 1963. “The last tick of the last metronome was followed by an oppressive silence,” Ligeti remembered. “Then there were menacing cries of protest,” and a planned television performance was canceled. Undaunted, Ligeti later altered the performance so that the metronomes were already running when the audience entered the concert hall, “so that the piece truly runs like a machine: metronomes and audience are confronted with each other without any human mediation.” “Radicalism and petit-bourgeois attitudes are not so far from one another,” he wrote. “Both wear the blinkers of the narrow-minded.”

Ambassador

http://www.florentijnhofman.nl/dev/project.php?id=190

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman set a 26-meter inflatable rubber duck floating around the world in 2007. So far it has visited Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Belgium, France, New Zealand, and Brazil, and it will eventually reach the United States.

“It brings joy, obviously,” Hofman told ABC News. “It brings people together. We are living on a planet, we are one family, and the global waters are our bathtub.”

Saber Rattling

This musical map, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, presents all 2,053 nuclear tests and explosions that took place between 1945 and 1998, at a rate of one month per second. Each nation is represented by a different tone.

Hashimoto said, “I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave but present problem of the world.”

He undertook the work in 2003, so it doesn’t reflect North Korea’s tests in 2006 and 2009.

(Thanks, Larry.)

Outreach

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moon_Art_Scale_Fingers.jpg

There’s a museum on the moon. As Apollo 12 prepared to depart in 1969, New York sculptor Forrest Myers commissioned drawings from six prominent artists and had them engraved on a ceramic wafer, then arranged for a Grumman engineer to smuggle it onto the lunar lander.

Two days before launch he received a telegram confirming that the engineer had been successful. If he was, then the tiny museum is still up there, bearing drawings by Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, John Chamberlain, Claes Oldenburg, Forrest Myers, and Andy Warhol. Perhaps they’ll attract some patrons.

Trojan Horse

In 1933 sculptor John Skeaping carved a horse of mahogany and pynkado and sent it to be displayed in Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire. “Perhaps I ought to tell you that I have concealed something in the belly of my horse,” he told the Daily Mail. “It is a little bundle of papers containing my private and personal views and opinions about my contemporary artists and their work! … Posterity (if my horse survives) may get some fun out of what I have written. I hope it will, at any rate!”

Skeaping died in 1980. In 1991, conservation workers at the Tate Gallery found a folded document inside the horse:

This is practically my only opportunity of
Saying exactly what I think about
everyone.
In truth I am only interested in
myself and my own pleasure. I think that almost everyone I know
in the artistic world are just one mass
of stupidity
Henry Moore is a good
sculptor in a very limited way.
Barbara Hepworth has hardly got an
original idea in her head.
There are no other sculptors except
J. Epstein is one of the best artists
that we have
_____ Cedric Morris is one of the
_____ painters
__ and _____ ____ people I am ______.

The missing sections had faded or been eaten by insects. “I found this concealed artefact strangely moving,” wrote poet Paul Farley. “It was as if the art object, built from sound materials and designed to endure, had admitted something very human and very fragile.”

Timber!

Michael Craig-Martin’s 1973 conceptual artwork An Oak Tree presents a glass of water with a plaque explaining that it’s a tree — not symbolically but literally: “The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water.”

This is a comment on transubstantiation and, by extension, on the patron’s faith in an artist’s presentation of his work, but it backfired: When the National Gallery of Australia bought the piece in 1977, customs officials barred it as “vegetation.”

Corporal Violet

canu - corporal violet

When Napoleon left France for Elba, his supporters wore violets as a secret sign of their allegiance. This 1815 colour print by Jean-Dominique Etienne Canu, Le Secret du Caporal La Violette, conceals images of the exiled emperor, his wife, and his son. Where are they?

“Surrealist Landscape”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Metamorphosis_of_Narcissus.jpg

On the pale yellow sands
Where the Unicorn stands
And the Eggs are preparing for Tea
Sing Forty
Sing Thirty
Sing Three.

On the pale yellow sands
There’s a pair of Clasped Hands
And an Eyeball entangled with string
(Sing Forty
Sing Fifty
Sing Three.)
And a Bicycle Seat
And a Plate of Raw Meat
And a Thing that is hardly a Thing.

On the pale yellow sands
There stands
A Commode
That has nothing to do with the case.
Sing Eighty
Sing Ninety
Sing Three.
On the pale yellow sands
There’s a Dorian Mode
And a Temple all covered with Lace
And a Gothic Erection of Urgent Demands
On the Patience of You and of Me.

— Lord Berners

Some Palindromes

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Al_roverso_symfonie_47_Haydn.png

In the minuet in Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the orchestra plays the same passage forward, then backward.

When Will Shortz challenged listeners to submit word-level palindromes to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday in 1997, Roxanne Abrams offered the poignant Good little student does plan future, but future plan does student little good.

math palindromes

And Connecticut’s Oxoboxo River offers a four-way palindrome — it reads the same forward and backward both on the page and in a mirror placed horizontally above it.

Read-Only

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haberle_Leave_your_order.jpg

Trompe l’oeil master John Haberle’s 1895 work The Slate induced more than one viewer to reach for the chalk. But the whole image — slate, frame, pencil, string, and erasure — was painted in oils. Haberle intended it to be hung without a separate frame in order to complete the illusion.

Haberle specialized in such playful trickery. “The spectator is very apt to doubt the assertion that the work has been accomplished with brush and oil colors alone until he has been permitted to gaze at the production through a magnifying glass which brings out in bold relief the fact that the statement is indisputable,” wrote the Boston Post of a Haberle exhibition the following year. “[O]ne man who is known beyond the limits of Boston as an art critic was heard to say ‘If I had not seen it through a very powerful microscope, I should have refused to believe it to be a genuine painting without witnessing the artist actually at work on the subject.”

Think Piece

To create the conceptual artwork Vertical Earth Kilometer, Walter De Maria drilled a hole in the Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany, and inserted a brass rod 1 kilometer long.

The rod exists underground, but only its top, a coin of brass 5 centimeters wide, is visible. Is art still art if it can’t be experienced by the senses?

Misc

  • AWE and WONDER are synonyms, but AWFUL and WONDERFUL are antonyms.
  • Abraham Lincoln is in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
  • Ravel described Boléro as “a piece for orchestra without music.”
  • “In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.” — Coleridge

Close Enough

In 2004, Livermore, Calif., paid Miami artist Maria Alquilar $40,000 to create a ceramic mural outside its new library. Its pride was short-lived: The mural misspelled the names of 10 of the 175 historical figures it honored:

Nefertite
Thesues
Michaelangelo
Shakespere
Clara Schuman
Paul Gaugan
Vincent Van Gough
Albert Eistein

German chemist Otto Beckmann’s name was spelled Beckman, and Italian sculptor Luca Della Robbia’s name was spelled Luca Della Robia.

“The most egregious is Einstein,” library director Susan Gallinger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s the worst one.” Livermore is home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Unfortunately, California state law bars the city from removing or changing public art without the creator’s consent, so the city council had to pay Alquilar an additional $6,000 to correct the errors.

The artist was unapologetic. “The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake’s concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words,” she told the Associated Press. “In their mind, the words register correctly.”

DIY

Born in Texarkana in 1912, Conlon Nancarrow had no access to technology that could realize the music in his head. He studied music briefly and played trumpet in venues ranging from beer halls to cruise ships, but he found himself frustrated working with human musicians. In 1940 he withdrew to Mexico City, where, working in almost complete isolation, he began composing pieces for player piano.

This expedient was “a tremendous amount of work, punching all those holes by hand, one by one, hundreds and thousands of them,” but it enabled him finally to hear his music. “I’d never heard it played. Some composers are pianists and can at least play their music on piano, but I couldn’t do even that, because I am not a pianist.”

Freed from the constraints imposed by human performers, Nancarrow’s style developed a dizzying speed, staggeringly complexity, and a bewildering density of ideas. “Nancarrow’s complete works could be heard in seven hours,” wrote composer Kyle Gann, “but within half that time the listener would be as exhausted as though he had consumed Mahler’s ten symphonies in a gulp.”

Gyorgy Ligeti discovered some piano pieces in a Paris record store in 1980 and became an early champion, calling the composer “the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives.” Subsequent admirers included John Cage (“Conlon’s music has such an outrageous, original character that it is literally shocking”) and Frank Zappa (“The stuff is fantastic … You’ve got to hear it. It’ll kill you”).

Nancarrow became a MacArthur fellow in 1982 and returned to writing for live ensembles, finding that the standard of musicianship had improved enormously during his 40-year exile. “Of course it’s pleasing,” he told the New York Times in 1987. “I mean, all those years I had been working now have some point. There are so many artists and writers who are doing something they think is worthwhile, and it turns out to be junk. I thought that maybe mine was the same thing, but now I see it wasn’t.”

(Thanks, Katie.)

The World Backstage

This is charming — an inventory of “all the properties for my Lord Admiral’s men,” taken by theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe on March 10, 1598:

Item: 1 rock, 1 cage, 1 Hell-mouth
Item: 1 tomb of Guido, 1 tomb of Dido, 1 bedstead
Item: 8 lances, 1 pair of stairs for Phaeton
Item: 2 steeples, and 1 chime of bells, and 1 beacon
Item: 1 globe, and 1 golden sceptre; 3 clubs
Item: 2 marchpanes, and the city of Rome
Item: 1 golden fleece; 2 rackets; 1 bay-tree
Item: 1 wooden canopy; old Mahomet’s head
Item: 1 lion skin; 1 bear’s skin; and Phaeton’s limbs, and Phaeton chariot; and Argus’ head
Item: Neptune fork and garland
Item: 8 vizards; Tamburlaine bridle; 1 wooden mattock
Item: Cupid’s bow and quiver; the cloth of the sun and moon
Item: 1 boar’s head and Cerberus’ three heads
Item: 1 caduceus; 2 moss banks, and 1 snake
Item: 2 fans of feathers; Belin Dun’s stable; 1 tree of golden apples; Tantalus’ tree; 9 iron targets
Item: 1 Mercury’s wings; Tasso picture; 1 helmet with dragon; 1 shield with 3 lions; 1 elm bowl
Item: 1 lion; 2 lion heads; 1 great horse with his legs; 1 sackbut
Item: 1 black dog
Item: 1 cauldron for the Jew

Much of what we know about the business of Elizabethan theater comes from a book of accounts that Henslowe kept around the turn of the 17th century. He never mentions Shakespeare directly, but his theaters competed with the Globe.

Difficult Music

faerie's aire and death waltz

Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz, by composer John Stump, includes the directions “Add bicycle,” “Duck,” and “Cool timpani with small fan.” The piece fills a single page.

To perform Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett you’ll need four helicopters and a string quartet. A moderator introduces the musicians, each of whom boards a helicopter, and the four perform the piece while circling the auditorium at a distance of 6 kilometers. The audience watches and listens via audio and video monitors. At the end, the helicopters land and the musicians re-enter the hall to the sound of slowing rotor blades.

Marc-André Hamelin composed Circus Galop for player piano — it’s impossible for a human to play, as up to 21 notes are struck simultaneously.

Misc

  • Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS = STELLAR NAVIGATION
  • 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
  • Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
  • “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler

Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.

(Thanks, Alina.)

Misterioso

Expression markings used by Australian composer Percy Grainger:

  • “Louden lots”
  • “Soften bit by bit”
  • “Lower notes of woggle well to the fore”
  • “Glassily”
  • “Sipplingly”
  • “Bumpingly”
  • “Hammeringly”
  • “Bundling”
  • “Clatteringly”
  • “Like a shriek”
  • “Very rhythmic and jimp”
  • “Rollikingly”
  • “Hold until blown”
  • “Jogtrottingly”
  • “Easygoingly but very clingingly”

Musical directions in Erik Satie’s piano works:

  • “Wonder about yourself”
  • “Provide yourself with shrewdness”
  • “Alone, for one moment”
  • “Open the head”
  • “Superstitiously”
  • “In a very particular way”
  • “Light as an egg”
  • “Like a nightingale with a toothache”
  • “Moderately, I insist”
  • “A little bit warm”
  • “Very Turkish”

One of Satie’s directions — “Very lost” — might have been unnecessary.

Unquote

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AaronCopland.JPG

“The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.'” — Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music, 1939

Winning Colors

The Ferrari 250 GTO has been called the top sports car of all time. Only 39 were manufactured, so they sell for as much as $35 million among collectors.

Chris Smart of Bishopstoke, Hampshire, couldn’t afford to buy one …

smart ferrari gto

… so he painted one on his garage door.