Saturday, June 25, 2016

Back to the Museums

Another Saturday off and another chance to tour Boston art.

I had to take care of some banking business and in the process found some more pieces from the Museum of Fine Arts' Mega Cities Asia exhibition.  The famed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei put together a piece evoking a famous water clock made by Jesuit missionaries for a Qing Dynasty emperor.  It was later looted by European powers in 1860.  The sculptures depict the Chinese zodiac, and these animal heads have a decidedly threatening, ominous feel.   Even man's best friend looks like he's about to bite.


The other animals are similarly menacing, like the pig and the rat:


Ok, so sure, one expects a dragon to be dangerous, but a rabbit?  It's hard to make out, but up close you can see the bunny in the back is baring its teeth.


Back in the Museum of Fine Arts, I checked out some other parts of the Mega Cities Asia exhibition tucked away in different parts of the museum.  These included this really intricate piece by Wu Jian'an, from Beijing:


This image is actually composed of paper cuts:  small pieces of colored paper, cut into shapes:


It's quite intricate and complicated:


One piece I'm glad I didn't miss was Choi Jeong Hwa's Chaosmos Mandala.  A Korean artist from Seoul, he coated the walls of the room with mylar, suspended a brightly colored chandelier (which rotates), and then set up a chair and invited people to have their picture taken in it:


I also found another piece by Ai Weiwei that I walked passed last week but didn't notice as it was on the ceiling:


Around 3 pm I left the museum and walked a few minutes away to the Isabella Gardner Museum.  I think their most famous piece is John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo.  I think I saw this piece in D.C. in the early '90s when the Gardner was being renovated:


As beautiful as the art though, is the atrium garden in the center of the museum.


At the center of the garden is a Roman mosaic of Medusa:


And here's a close up of her head:


I toured the various wings.  Unfortunately, I had left my regular glasses at home, so I had to choose between clean lines and off colors, or proper colors and blurred lines.  Here's a portrait of the collector herself:


I won't inundate you with every photo I took, just a handful of things I particularly liked, such as this Meissen china set table:


Or this Renaissance-era lute player:


Or this Japanese tapestry (this was on the second floor, which was closed for conservation; as a result, I don't know anything about it):


As I mentioned, the second floor was closed, but they moved 25 of the most famous pieces to the new wing.  They included this appropriately terrifying portrait of the Archangel Micheal by Pedro Garcia de Benabarre (1455-1483):



I also really like Bottecelli's The Tragedy of Lucretia.  Here's the full panel:


But the details are what's really interesting.  The painting has three parts.  Parts one and two are on the left and right, with part three dominating the middle.

Part one shows the rape of Lucretia, a Roman noblewoman, by the son of the last king of Rome:


In the aftermath, she commits suicide by stabbing herself in her breast.  In part two, her body is taken out of her house:


Part three, the funeral oration, dominates the piece.  Here, the mourners rally the populace of Rome to overthrow the Tarquin dynasty and create the Roman Republic.


That was it for my art excursions.  Tomorrow afternoon, I fly to Israel and Monday night I should be in my hotel in Jerusalem. Hopefully sleeping.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A day in Boston

The seminar in which I'm participating gives us about 48 hours off over the weekend (from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon), which gave me a chance to visit Boston.

I took the suburban train line into the city and then transferred to a subway to get to the Museum of Fine Arts.  I was particularly interested in seeing their special exhibition called Mega Cities Asia, which involves artists from China, South Korea, and India reflecting on the emergence of these enormous urban areas.


One of the first works in the exhibition was by the Indian artist Aaditi Joshi, who works in Mumbai.  Untitled, it is composed of discarded plastic bags, which have been modified with paint and candle heat.


Visitors are encouraged to carefully walk beneath and look from the other side (which is primarily black).

Subodh Gupta is another Indian artist, though one who works in Delhi.  Titled "Take off your shoes and wash your hands," it is composed of objects commonly found in the kitchens of Delhi households.  "Accumulated and arranged, they evoke densely packed urban neighborhoods...."



There was one other Indian artist who blew me away.  Hema Upadhyay is an artist from Mumbai whose work focuses on the "visual claustrophobia" of the city.  One of the largest slums of Mumbai houses a million people, most of whom live in dwellings measuring 8 feet by 12 feet.  Her piece uses a space of that size to depict the entire slum, reduced to the area of a single average dwelling.




Not all the artists were from India; several also came from east Asia.  Han Seok Hyun's work reflects the experience of Seoul, South Korea, where green spaces are rare and highly prized.  Using items from both Seoul and Boston supermarkets, the artist created a landscape from commercial objects.


Another artist who I loved was Hu Xiangcheng, who works in Shanghai.  There, his art focuses on the widespread destruction of traditional buildings to make way for large, new apartment buildings.  Hu salvages doors from Qing or Ming Dynasty buildings to comment on the urbanization that is reshaping Asia.





I did visit a few other places in the museum.  They have a large collection of Old Masters and Impressionists, but not a lot of post-Impressionist or 20th century art.  I did like these very much:




 I finally found a few contemporary pieces and I really liked them, particularly this one of an artist dissolving a Spanish translation of Orwell's 1984.  As the paper enters the liquid, the letters float off the page, either destroyed or liberated.


After that, I was getting hungry and decided to go for a walk.  I ended up getting a lobster roll sandwich, and it was really good.


I decided to keep on walking, and so I made my way first through Boston Common


And then over the Charles River and headed into Cambridge.


My goal was Harvard, though I took a break along the way in a cafe to recoup my energy (altogether, I think I walked 8 miles today).

Eventually, I did reach Harvard, where I stopped by the Widener Library and learned what visiting privileges I had as a professor.  There was a lot of activity on campus and students were arriving for summer school.

(Memorial Church, Harvard)

On my way home I stopped again to rest and have a coffee.  The suburban train back to Waltham took at most 15 minutes.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spring 2016

Every year, the winter rains (if they come) spark new growth in my yard. This spring, a lot of new stuff is blooming.

First, there is the San Clemente Island Bush Mallow (Malacothamnus clementinus).  I've planted a lot of different shrubs along the west wall of the house, but most died after a year.  I planted this a year and a half ago and it's thriving and now in bloom.


It sounds out under ground runners, so it will slowly expand to fill in the whole west side of the house.  Meanwhile, the Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) that I grew from seed is doing nicely on the left, as is the Canyon Prince Wild Rye Grass (Leymus condensatus) in the center foreground, and the California Wishbone Bush (Mirabilis) on the right side.


California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) bloom year round, but have their most exuberant showing in the spring.  Other California wildflowers, like the blue Globe Gilias (Gilia capitata) only bloom in the spring for about a month.


Most California poppies are orange, but there are some that are in shades of yellow.  Over time, however, the gene for orange will dominate.


 Most sages have blue flowers, but Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) has deep red flowers and a wonderful smell.    Like the Bush mallow, it spreads through underground rhizomes, so even though I originally planted this in the planter five and a half years ago, it spread to the area next to the sidewalk.


This Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) is exuberantly blooming, and I do have to trim it back to keep from overrunning the sidewalk.  It's very drought tolerant.  In the summer, I usually just water it with sink water I collect after washing pots or pans.


The White Sage (Salvia apiana) sends out long flower stalks.  When they bloom, their sticky, musty odor attracts bees.


My favorite smelling plant is the Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans).  It's not actually a part of the sage family.  This was one of the first California native plants I put in my yard, but its parent plant died this fall.  I was going to plant a new one, but then I saw that only the main trunk had died but there were a few side plants still alive.  I let them be and now they've put out new growth and new racemes of flowers.


I really love California Mountain Lilac (Ceanothus); unfortunately, it doesn't like my yard very much.  The mid-sized shrub versions keep dying, but these low-lying ones are doing ok.  The bloom period only last about a month, but I've got 4-5 of them blooming in the front yard.  The lighter green plant in front of it is a Red Flowering Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande) that should bloom in a month or two.


When I first started landscaping, I put in a whole bunch of Coral Bells (Heuchera) to border the part of the yard closest to the house.  Unfortunately, most succumbed to the drought, but this one survived and is now blooming.


This is the second batch of Coral Bells to survive.  They bloom for about two months (if I dead head them).



The monkeyflowers (Mimulus) in the containers are starting to bloom (that's a Mountain Lilac blooming behind them).


I've wanted to grow Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum) but while I've had very good luck with other types of California Buckwheat, I've had less luck with this variety (though it's from the Santa Monica Mountains).  This one, however, seems to be doing ok and is about to bloom.


I bought this house six years ago, and I think the west side has been the most successful in terms of landscaping.