Ghosts of New York

http://richardhaas.com/section/308205_Shadow_of_the_Singer_Building_Near_the.html

Muralist Richard Haas had a romantic notion in 1975 — he proposed painting the shadows of vanished Manhattan architectural landmarks on the city’s modern buildings.

Above, the Singer building, built in 1908 and destroyed in 1967, was briefly the world’s tallest; Haas would have restored its shadow near its former site at 149 Broadway.

He also proposed restoring the shadows of St. John’s Church, on Varick Street below Canal, and the tower of Madison Square Garden, which once stood on the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue.

Alas, the project never went forward.

The Gettysburg Cyclorama

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:High_Water_Mark_from_Gettysburg.PNG

In 1883 French artist Paul Philippoteaux unveiled a remarkable painting: The Battle of Gettysburg, a single enormous canvas 22 feet high and 279 feet long that was curved into a circle so that the viewer found himself in the midst of Pickett’s Charge, the climactic assault of the Civil War.

“It is quite impossible to describe the effect which is received on first coming up out of the little passage into the midst of the picture,” marveled the Daily Transcript. “It is something as it would seem were one to become of a sudden a part of the picture. … In short, one feels quite helpless and wondering in the midst of this new and extraordinary nature. It would seem as though all these queer impressions might be at once met and settled by the simple consideration of the fact that it was only a picture. But that is just it; it is impossible to accept the thing as a picture. Not because it is absolutely natural, but because there is nothing by which to gauge the thing, one has no idea whether the canvas is ten feet distant or a thousand. And so, all means of rational judgement being removed, the spectator must remain, dazed and helpless, feeling much like the little girl in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ when told that she was but a thing in the dream of the sleeping king.”

Philippoteaux added a hidden signature: He gave his own likeness to one of the Union officers.

Full Credit

What Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) lacked in compositional talent he made up in imagination and a wry sense of humor. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), for example, is entirely blank.

Allais’ entries in Jules Lévy’s expositions of “Incoherent Art” — dedicated to the works of “people who do not know how to draw” — included a white rectangle titled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in a Snowstorm. He followed this with a red rectangle titled Tomato Harvest on the Shore of the Red Sea, by Apoplectic Cardinals.

“There was also ‘sculpture’ with the punning title ‘Terre cuite (Pomme de),” writes Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian. “Terre cuite by itself means terracotta; with the parenthetical qualifier, the title becomes ‘Baked Potato.'”

The Calling

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

In 1919, the mother of 9-year-old Samuel Barber found this letter on his desk:

NOTICE to Mother and nobody else

Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing. — Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football. — Please — Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very)

Love,

Sam Barber II

The Paradox of Taste

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Hume_2.jpg

It’s commonly said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder: In contemplating a work of art, the impressions we form are subjective, so all judgments should be equally valid.

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves,” writes David Hume. “It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them, and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity where another is sensible of beauty, and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment without pretending to regulate those of others.”

Why then do we account some tastes “good” and some “bad”? If I say I prefer John Ogilby to John Milton, “no one pays attention to such a taste; and we pronounce without scruple the sentiment of these pretended critics to be absurd and ridiculous.” But “the principle of the natural equality of tastes is then totally forgot, and while we admit it on some occasions where the objects seem near an equality, it appears an extravagant paradox, or rather a palpable absurdity, where objects so disproportioned are compared together.” Why?

Three Non-Tunnels

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

American muralist Blue Sky (formerly Warren Edward Johnson) painted Tunnelvision on the wall of the Federal Land Bank in Columbia, S.C., in 1975. “The idea for ‘Tunnelvision’ came in a dream. I woke up early in the morning and just sketched it out. I’d already seen the wall, I’d sat and studied it for hours, just waiting to see what would come before my eyes, and nothing came. And early one morning, I woke up and it was there. … That’s why I call it ‘Tunnelvision.’ Because it was a vision in a dream.” Wikipedia adds, “Rumors abound that several drunk drivers have attempted to drive into the tunnel.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/isavoch/7354979072/
Image: Flickr

Passing trains clear a three-kilometer “tunnel of love” through the forest near Klevan, Ukraine, each spring. The trains serve a local fiberboard factory.

http://www.hans-peter-reuter.de/raum/ri/rit-2.htm

Visitors to the modern art exhibition documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, in 1977 encountered a blue-tiled tunnel that led to the promise of daylight. They walked 14 meters into the tunnel and climbed four steps before discovering that the rest was an image painted skillfully on canvas by artist Hans Peter Reuter. “The secret of this perfect illusion lies in the combination of a realistic space with a painted surface,” writes Eckhard Hollmann and Jürgen Tesch in A Trick of the Eye (2004). “The picture alone on a white wall could never hope to have the same effect.”

Elevation

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oikema_-_Projet_de_maison_de_plaisir_-_Plan.jpg

In the 18th century, French architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux conceived an ideal city — perhaps too ideal. It contained no hospitals or theaters but included a “shelter of the poor man,” a “Pacifère” where quarrels could be settled peaceably, and, most notably, an “Oïkéma,” or house of sexual instruction, which Allan Braham calls “one of the most extreme instances of Ledoux’s gift for architectural metaphor.”

While we’re on this subject: In William Wycherley’s 1675 comedy The Country Wife, the word china becomes a bawdy metaphor, which makes the dialogue livelier than it first appears:

Lady Fidget: And I have been toiling and moiling, for the prettiest Piece of China, my Dear.

Mr. Horner: Nay, she has been too hard for me, do what I could.

Mrs. Squeamish: Oh, Lord, I’ll have some China too, good Mr. Horner, don’t think to give other People China, and me none, come in with me too.

Mr. Horner: Upon my Honour I have none left now.

Mrs. Squeamish: Nay, nay, I have known you deny your China before now, but you shan’t put me off so, come —

Mr. Horner: This Lady had the last there.

Lady Fidget: Yes indeed, Madam, to my certain Knowledge he has no more left.

Mrs. Squeamish: O, but it may be he may have some you could not find.

Lady Fidget: What d’ye think if he had had any left, I would not have had it too? for we Women of Quality never think we have China enough.

Mr. Horner: Do not take it ill, I cannot make China for you all, but I will have a Roll-waggon for you too, another time.

Mrs. Squeamish: Thank you, dear Toad.

Lady Fidget: (to Horner, aside) What do you mean by that promise?

Mr. Horner: Alas, she has an innocent, literal Understanding.

(Thanks, Stephenson.)

Drop Quote

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Bidlo

This is not a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s a painstaking replica by Chicago artist Mike Bidlo, who titled it, aptly, Not Pollock.

“My work is perhaps an extreme example of this strain of art which references other art because it directly mirrors the image, scale, and materials of the original,” Bidlo told Robert Rosenblum in 2003. “Whatever differences appear in my work are a consequence of my working method and not an attempt at projecting a personal style.”

Is this art? If not, why not?

(Pollock himself had an uphill fight — he received this letter in August 1949:)

Dear Mr. Pollock,

Just a few lines to tell you that my seven year old son Manning couldn’t get over your picture Number Nine. Frankly, it looked like some of his fingerpainting at school to me. However, he insisted that I write you to tell you that he cut it out of the ‘Life’ and put it in his scrap-book — the first painting that he has ever cut out —

He really has quite good taste as you can tell by the Cocker — Snafu — he is holding. He wanted you to have his picture in exchange for his copy of No. 9 — which he loves —

Sincerely,

Mrs. Helen K. Sellers

Trompe L’Oeil

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

This is not a photograph, it’s an oil painting. Irish-American painter William Harnett (1848–1892) produced works of such startling verisimilitude that his paintings of American currency, like the one below, nearly got him arrested for counterfeiting. In 1886 the Secret Service visited him at his studio:

While one of them was asking my name, the other as suspiciously poking his cane into the corners of my room. ‘Have you got any more of them here?’ he asked, after he had finished a hasty search. ‘More of what?’ I replied. ‘Those counterfeits!’ he answered. Then the other detective, for both were Special Treasury officers, explained their mission. I was suspected of turning out counterfeit bank notes and they had come to arrest me and seize whatever illegal property they could find. They were very polite but extremely firm and I went down-town with them to Chief Drummond’s office. I explained to the chief how I happened to do the work and I showed him the harmless nature of it. Harmless though it was, it was clearly against the law, and I was let go with a warning not to paint any more life-like representations of the national currency — a warning it is almost needless to say that it was conscientiously heeded.

To be fair, Harnett was not representing his work as currency — but the Secret Service was on the trail of an even more ambitious artist.

harnett five-dollar bill

Breakup Music

Erik Satie’s 1893 composition Vexations bears an inscrutable inscription: “In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” This seems to mean that the piece should be repeated 840 times in performance, which would take 12-24 hours, depending on how you interpret the tempo marking “Très lent.”

“It is perhaps not surprising that few of the performances [Gavin] Bryars lists have been complete,” writes Robert Orledge in Satie the Composer, “for with the bass theme repeated between each 13-beat harmonization, it recurs 3,360 times.”

“It is probable that Satie’s vexations are those expressed in the latter part of his difficult relationship with Suzanne Valadon, that is to say, somewhere between April and early June 1893.”