Sunday, November 10, 2019

Kara Walker's Fons Americanus Deserves a Close Look

An artist named Kara Walker created a sculpture on display in London that's a "do not miss".

Well, you can't miss it if you go to the Tate Modern because the sculpture is 13 meters high (or 42 feet, for Americans like me who freeze at measurements in meters).

The work is called "Fons Americanus". It's on display in the Turbine Hall in the former power station. 

But size alone does not make the piece. It's a loose copy of the sculpture that graces the circle in front of Buckingham Palace. 

The Queen Victoria Memorial was unveiled in 1911 in honor of her after her death, and glorifying Britain. The elaborate sculpture was funded by gifts from across the British empire---from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

African-American Sculptor Kara Walker was inspired and angered by England's celebration of its holdings spanning the globe. As a descendent of African slaves, she refashioned the slant on British history. Her work showcases different symbols. Calling her version "Fons Americanus," the symbols decorating her memorial include a noose, sharks cruising the waters in search of slaves, and water spewing from the fountain of a severed head. 

The New York Times called Ms. Walker's work a "countermemorial," celebrating the uncredited proceeds from West Africa. 

Unless visitors look at the images, the imposing sculpture can blend into the background like any other giant memorial. People eat their lunch at its base and kids on a school trip look in the other direction.

Bored kids sitting under noose and sharks, not even looking at it

Antony Gormley Tangles with the Royal Academy of Art in London

I was drawn in to a temporary exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London open until December 3, 2019. Having to climb through spirals of wire to cross a gallery looked like fun.

And it was. It could have just as easily been barbed wire in a prison. But instead it was welcoming--bordering on joyful. If the attached youtube launches, you can hear the wires clanging as people climb through.

British sculptor Antony Gormley's work, "Clearing VII" reminded me of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who peddles in bicycles (pun intended). 

I first noticed Ai Weiwei's work in the lobby of the Mr. and Mrs. Bund restaurant in Shanghai in 2013. A slew of bicycles hung from the ceiling.  

Not long after that, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hosted an exhibit of Ai Weiwei's bicycles. Different bikes. Same medium. Tangles of metal that couldn't be used as intended. 

I wrote a blogpost about Ai Weiwei's two bicycle installations.

All of these works took me back to my roots in Philadelphia, where Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel is in the collection of the Museum of Art. It isn't much of a leap from Duchamp's stool to Weiwei's bikes to Gormley's wire in Clearing VII. 

Image result for philadelphia museum of art marcel duchamp bicycle wheel

I'm no art historian, but I'm seeing a theme. Things are not always what they were meant to be. And when they're not, they can puzzle. And they can delight. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

It Takes a Tractor to Wine-Taste at this Napa Vineyard

When you visit Napa Valley, it’s a safe bet that you will visit a vineyard or two. However, honestly, I do not like lengthy lectures around vats in noisy production areas. This one was different. It offered a twist. And it was terrific.

Our visit to Cimarossa winery started with downloading and printing out detailed driving directions to the location on Howell Mountain in Angwin, near Calistoga. The GPS does not work on the mountain for part of the trip, we were warned. The vineyard is small, with limited distribution and few visitors.

We wound our way up the hill, carefully making sure to keep “small gated olive grove on left” and to bear right at a certain fork and left at another unmarked road. After about a half hour drive from Calistoga’s town center, we arrived at the curlicue-gated entrance to Cimarossa. The gate swung open silently, allowing us through.

A red barn just over the crest of a small hill came into view and a friendly young woman named Michelle pointed out where to leave our car.  “Hop in,” she said, inviting us into a 4x4. 

She drove us through rows of vines as we ascended dirt paths to the tasting room perched on top of the knoll. Originally built as a hunting lodge, its rough wood walls and stone fireplace make for a cozy feeling.

The dining table in the center of the room was set with ten sparkling wine glasses for the two of us, along with a scrumptious lunch. Michelle tossed a delicious arugula salad with pecorino and olive oil, but it was hard to get beyond the truffle potato chips. We tasted but didn’t come close to finishing the charcuterie platter of meats, cheeses and olives. All delicious. Macarons from famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bakery in Yountville were for dessert.

The wines are named for their grapes’ orientation on the hillside. Our favorite was the western facing (Riva di Ponente – where the sun sets).

After we had our fill and heard the history of the place, Michelle drove us through the olive trees and grape vines, back to our car. The descent from the mountain was as easy going down as the delicious wines and lunch.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ridin' the Rangoon (Yangon) Rails

One of the scavenges in the Global Scavenger Hunt was to board Yangon's Circular Train at Central Station and ride it for at least two stops.

We went to Yangon's Central Station and tried to figure out how to buy a ticket. I stood in line at the ticket window. The man who had been working there left his position behind the cage, walked around to the front and then pushed his way through the crowd. He jumped up onto the counter and squatted so that he could use his blue marker pen to write updates on the board.

Way up in the upper left corner of this photo, the small blue sign says "Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourists." Unfortunately, that sign is a rare specimen of any information not in Burmese.

Bought the tickets

Checked the Map
Waiting for the Train

Excellent People Watching

"Brimming With Optimism"

Riding the Train

The blue "Air Conditioned" sign over the doorway is a joke (and it's not funny)

One stop we didn't get off at

Trainman gives the "all clear" signal, waving a green cloth flag out the window

Monday, April 29, 2019

Which Buddha is the Real Buddha?

Which statue is the real Buddha?  I'll never know.
These photos are from just one day's visit to eight temples in Old Bagan, Myanmar. We saw all of these Buddhas. And many more.

It's hard to believe they are all the same person.

Terribly Toasty Temples

Cloth walkway doesn't reach all the way

There are so many temples scattered throughout the Archeological Zone in Bagan, Myanmar that from all the stuff I read, I can't find agreement on how many temples there are. One brochure said "over 2,200." Another guide said there are ruins of 10,000 temples.  However many there are, I can say this. They were all hot. Really, really hot.

You must remove your shoes to visit a temple complex. Only a few of the temples let you wear socks.

No socks allowed (see the sign with the red X's in the left rear of the photo?)

Most of the time, it's bare skin against sizzling stone. Some temples have laid carpet or placed cloth pads that you can hop onto for a moment, before braving the next step onto searing stone.

We found people resting inside the temples, where it was cooler in the shade.
Group nap
Hiding from the sun

Sally crossing the stones; gotta run!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Q. What's that Yellow Stuff? A. Thanaka

We noticed a smudge here, a dab there. At first, when we saw yellow paint on women's faces in Myanmar we didn't think anything of it. Dirt? Yellow Caladyrl instead of pink? 

But then, we saw women and girls with leaves drawn onto their faces. The girls in this photo clinched it that this yellow stuff is on purpose. Nobody has a leaf drawn on her face by mistake. 

The yellow pigment is call thanaka. It comes from grinding the wood of the thanaka tree, a species local to Myanmar. When the wood is scraped from the trunk into a fine powder, it is mixed with water into a paste. Women (mostly women; very few men use it) spread the paste onto their skin. Some paint their thanaka into leaf shapes for decoration. Thanaka is believed to protect against sunburn and to cool the skin. Some people also spread it over their arms. 

We visited a thanaka market where logs are sold. Trees must be about 35 years old or more to be able to produce the powder for the paste.

Even babies get thanaka'ed (if you can say that). Even if you can't say it, that baby's pretty cute, right?