Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Must Be Portuguese

“The Portuguese never put anything behind them except a chair to eat lunch.” 

― Robert Wilson, A Small Death in Lisbon 

Illustration:  A Portuguese side chair with embossed leather seat, Third quarter of the 18th century.  The scene embossed on the seat is composed of a border of diaperwork and floral decoration surrounding an elaborate rocaille motif. Within the design a blindfolded cupid points his arrow at a winged and flaming heart with an eye at its center, possibly representing the Eye of Providence.  The flaming heart signifies extreme ardour or religious fervor, and is an attribute of St. Anthony of Padua (also known as Anthony of Lisbon).

Misia: Lagrima (Link)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Symbols Are Containers (Arp)

Symbols are containers of the various levels of knowledge.  They represent metaphysical insight into the organizing principle of life itself.   

At their most condensed and when logically understood for what they are, symbols possess enormous power as sources of psychic energy.  They recapitulate the ontology of natural growth, and more specifically, the evolution of the human race and the intellectual and emotional development of every child.  In effect, the code of human universals resides in two contrasting forms:  the first is in each human brain, the second is in all artifacts comprising the man-made world.  

In terms of practical function and iconicity, every manufactured object and spatial enclosure represents a deductible imprint of specific universals.  Consequently, this code is carried from generation to generation by two separate means: organically through the brain of every living individual and inorganically through the trans-lingual relationships embodied in every artifact, writing, or spatial relationship.  

This invites a great paradox.   


All profound art and writing lies in conflict between being as the essence of spiritual revelation and the illusional permanence of the written word, the icon or the sacred space.

Jack Burnham, “Objects and Ritual: Toward a Working Ontology of Art”, in Great Western Salt Works, Essays on the Meaning of Post-Formalist Art, New York, George Braziller, 1974.

  Illustrations by Jean Arp:

          1. Head-Flag, 1926.
          2. The Navel-Bottle, 1923.
          3. Automatic Drawing, 1916.
          4. Tristan Tzara’s 25 Poems, 1918.
          5. Untitled, 1951.
    6. Lion, 1916.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


    "Madame Tussaud’s is a museum of famous people, or rather of their wax-effigies.  The Royal Family is there (also King Alphonso, somewhat moth-eaten).  Mr. MacDonald’s Ministry, French Presidents, Dickens and Kipling, marshals, Mademoiselle Lenglen, famous murderers of the last century and the souvenirs of Napoleon, such as his socks, belt and hat ; then in a place of dishonor Kaiser Wilhelm and Franz Josef, still looking spruce for his age.   

      Before one particularly effective effigy of a gentlemen in a top-hat I stopped and looked into the catalogue to see who it was ; suddenly the gentlemen with the top-hat moved and walked away ; it was awful.   


     After a while two young ladies looked into the catalogue to see whom I represented.

          At Madame Tussaud’s I made a somewhat unpleasant discovery ; either I am quite incapable of reading human faces, or else physiognomies are deceptive.  So for example I was at first sight attracted by a seated gentleman with a goatee beard, No. 12.  In the catalogue I found : “12.  Thomas Nell Cream, hanged in 1892.  Poisoned Matilda Glover with strychnine.  He was also found guilty of murdering three other women.”  Really, his face is very suspicious.  No. 13, Franz Müller, murdered Mr. Briggs in the train.  H’m.  No. 20, a clean-shaven gentlemen, of almost worthy appearance :  Arthur Devereux, hanged 1905, known as the “trunk murderer,” because he hid the corpses of his victims in trunks.  Horrid.  No. 21 – no, this worthy priest cannot be “Mrs. Dyer, the Reading baby murderess.”

     I now perceive that I have confused the pages of the catalogue, and I am compelled to correct my impressions : the seated gentleman, No. 12, is merely Bernard Shaw ; No. 13 is Louis Blériot, and No. 20 is simply Gugliemo Marconi.

     Never again will I judge people by their faces."

From:  Karel Ĉapek,  "Animals and Famous People" in  "Letters from England," translated by Paul Selver, London, Geoffrey Bles, 1925.


1. HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, exhibited at Madame Tussauds, London.

2.   Mademoiselle Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938), La Divine.

3.  Thomas Neill Cream (1850-92), the Lambeth Poisoner.

4.  Madame Tussauds' waxwork of Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862-1910).  Known as the first murderer caught with the aid of Gugliemo Marconi's wireless as a tool.

5.  Waxwork showing  Louis Blériot (1872-1936), the first aviator to cross the English Channel in a heavier than air aircraft.

6. Applying the finishing touches to waxwork of Diana Dors, Madame Tussauds, London.

7.  Robert Evans, producer of The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story and Chinatown.  Is it real or is it Memorex?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Indeed I am afraid (Book Of Songs)


I BEG of you Chung Tzu,
Do not climb into our homestead,
Do not break the willows we have planted.
Not that I mind about the willows,
But I am afraid of my father and mother.
Chung Tzu I dearly love;
But what of what my father and mother say
Indeed I am afraid.

I beg of you Chung Tzu,
Do not climb over our wall,
Do not break the mulberry trees we have
Not that I mind about the mulberry-trees,
But I am afraid of my brothers.
Chung-Tzu I dearly love;
But what of what my brothers say
Indeed I am afraid.

I beg of you Chung-Tzu,
Do not climb into our garden,
Do not break the hard-wood we have 
Not that I mind about the hard-wood,
But I am afraid of what people will say.
Chung-Tzu I dearly love;
But of all that people will say
Indeed I am afraid.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Vargueño: Spanish, XVIth century Museum of the Hispanic Society, New York

Trolling for good news from anywhere (it isn’t easy to find these days), I uncovered this description of the marvelous Spanish sixteenth century inlaid cabinet shown above:

“VARGUEÑO cabinets exemplified the highest attainments of the Spanish cabinet makers.  In skilful construction and in mastery of the art of decoration, they are distinctly characteristic of Spanish furniture, which, in this art, reached the highest point of excellence.

     These pieces were habitually made of walnut, a wood which lent itself to ornate turning and carving.  At times, inlay, as well as color, was added to heighten the effect.

   The vargueño consists of a chest, which rests upon a stand made expressly made for this cabinet, but which was treated in a decorative manner quite different from the cabinet it supported.

     In this special example, the stand is made up of three legs at each end, which rise from a runner foot and support above a heavy cross rail upon which the cabinet rests.  From these block rail braces, two massive supports pull out to hold the drop front when the latter is lowered.  These sides are ornamented on their exposed ends with the cockle shell motif, carved in high relief.  An arcaded stretcher, richly turned, connects the center leg supports.

A different Vargueño, also Spanish XVIth century

      The exterior of the chest itself is of the simplest nature, depending for decorative effect upon the handsome and intricate designs of the applied ironwork.  In Spain metal trimmings were developed to an extraordinary degree and far excelled this craft in other parts of Europe.


Living, breathing cockles 

From Verna Cook Salomonsky, Masterpieces of Furniture in Photographs and Measured Drawings, Grand Rapids, Periodical Publishing Company, 1931.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


The style of the Rajput paintings is an archaic, unsophisticated style.  The figures mostly appear according to the principle of “perfect visibility,” which is contrary to any attempt at giving the illusion of a third dimension:  the heads are shown in profile, but with the visible eye in full length, the chest is displayed in full expanse and the gestures are confined to the front plane.  The background is, comparatively, simple; buildings as well as landscape settings have often to serve a linear system of surface organization reminiscent, in a fashion, of the compartmental sectioning of the Gujurati miniatures.  But the figures with their striking gestures and expressive attitude convey a feeling of tremendous energy and the background is penetrated by their own emotional atmosphere.

Emmy Wellesz, Akbar’s Religious Thought Reflected In Mogul Painting, London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1952.

Upper:  THE EXPECTANT HEROINE. Kangra school, early nineteenth century. Painting on paper. Lady Rothenstein collection.

Lower:  VAIKUNTHA, THE HEAVEN OF VISHNU.  Rajasthani school, about 1750.  Painting on Paper.  Lady Rothenstein collection.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Personal Memory Of Sally Ride

I spent some time with Sally Ride in 2000.   

   We were both attending a “CEO Summit” at the Sundance Resort in Utah, an event hosted by the venture capital firm that backed the businesses each of us worked for at the time.  
   Sally was the president of a new, pretty cool company called Space.com.  Unlike me, who figured simply as a “gray-hair”/authority/stable management totem at my firm, Sally was a legitimate superstar/trophy/marquee figure for hers, attracting positive press notices and additional investment, both of course quintessential aspects of dot.com life.  


   Our v.c. backers asked Sally to be the featured attraction at one of the conference’s lavish evening events.  (The other celebrity on display there was Gen. Colin Powell.  As big a phony as he usually seems when appearing on television,  in person he really was a riveting public speaker.)   

     Sally’s presentation consisted of a fascinating guided tour through her outer space photograph collection and she was charming, funny and modest describing how putting on slide shows like this one was an easy, automatic way to garner positive attention and rapt audience interest.

   I wouldn’t have accosted her, but we happened to be thrown together during a couple of cocktail hours and, never having met an astronaut, I wasn’t going to shy away from the opportunity to speak to her.  One thing I knew, apart from the things every American had learned about her, was that she had originally attended Swarthmore College, where I also studied as an undergraduate,  so I used this as my “ice-breaker.”  

   Sally flashed warmly on the memory, saying that she loved Swarthmore, but that she had fooled herself into thinking that she might be able to live comfortably far away from the California sunshine of home. One cold, wet Pennsylvania winter followed by a disappointing  spring and the promise of another gloomy January prompted her mid-sophomore year departure for Stanford.  


   We discussed how we both felt like fish out of water at our respective companies (and frankly at the conference) and how basically foreign the all the hyper-drive commercial activities on amped-up display there felt to her.  She said (ever modestly) that she was a scientist and she felt most comfortable being  involved in research and teaching, although she said she also loved working at NASA and her time in the astronaut program.

   So I wasn’t surprised when I learned a few months later that she had left Space.com  and all the pressures, depredations, natterings, dark mutterings and sometimes violent outbursts inherent in dot.com office life.

   I was so very sorry and sad to learn of Sally Ride’s passing on Monday, late in the afternoon of a very hot day, sitting in a steamy house in southeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Swarthmore, waiting for the air conditioning repairman to arrive.  

   Like all astronauts, she was a huge, automatic inspiration to me, but as the “first U.S. woman in space,” of course she held a special place in my heart.