Saturday, October 20, 2007

Public Art: Big Blue Bug

Nibbles Woodaway, the 9-foot-tall, 58-foot-long, 4,000-pound wire-mesh and fiberglass termite also known as the Big Blue Bug, has sat atop New England Pest Control along Route 95 in Providence since it was built by Providence’s Avenia Sign Company in 1980.

Mediocre photo above copyright The New England Journal of Blurry Research.

Iron Guild Halloween pour

The Iron Guild presents “Slaughterhouse,” their fifth annual Halloween Iron Pour at the Steel Yard in Providence at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, with live music accompaniment by Geoff Mullen and Nicole DiMarco.

“Prepare yourself for a frightful night as the Iron Guild attempts to harness the power of fire and madness. Witness molten metal gush from a 3,000 degree furnace into wood molds that explode into flames,” the Iron Guild proclaims.

“These punk rock foundry geeks have been known to pour molten iron inside pumpkins, off cliffs in deep quarries, and onto just about anything that will burn,” the Steel Yard folks write. “Last year at the Steel Yard they hoisted a massive wooden skull with glowing iron wings [pictured above] up into the air. This year, witness the giant Iron Heart!”

Iron Guild Halloween pour, The Steel Yard, 27 Sims Ave., Providence, 7 p.m. Oct. 27, $5. Rain date is Oct. 28.

Cook talks

I’m going to be talking about comics – mine in particular – at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. I will also perform “Pink Hat.”

Friday, October 19, 2007

Goya on Napoleon

Napoleon was brilliant at propaganda, which begs the question: Is the wonderful cocoon of luxury in the MFA’s Napoleon exhibit one more propaganda coup for Napoleon? There's little in the show about France's wars, conquest, and looting that helped make possible all these pretty things. French artists and artisans weren't the only folks inspired by Napoleon; Francisco Goya was secretly etching "The Disasters of War" (reproduced here, but not in the exhibition), a nightmare of massacres, torture, rape, and famine in Spain under French occupation. Of course, Goya’s work should not be considered reporting; he had his own political point to make.

Revolutionary fashion

Something worth noting in the MFA’s Napoleon show is how the French Revolution was reflected in women’s fashion. Political liberation meant women were freed from binding corsets and elaborate hoop skirts. The popular fashion became simple, loose, high-waisted "Grecian"-style dresses in thin cotton. (The MFA, I’m happy to report, presents them on appropriately Revolutionary off-with-their-heads mannequins.) After Napoleon fell, the corsets and hoop skirts returned. It’s part of cycle that you see repeated in America in flapper dresses of the 1920s and hippie styles of the 1960s and ‘70s. Each time political liberalization is reflected in less structured, looser women’s clothing.

This French fashion is one sign of how the French Revolution inspired designers to reject the lavish baroque and rococo ornament of the ousted French royalty and adopt a sober, minimal style. Some of this new Enlightenment-era rationalism was short-lived. The MFA presents a sundial designed in decimal time – 10-hour day with 100-minute hours. The system was abandoned after seven months because people found it too confusing.

Pictured from top to bottom: French formal dress, 1800–05, from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; French empire gown, about 1800–1810, from Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs, Lyon, courtesy of the American Federation of Arts; French dress, about 1805, from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and sundial, 1794–1795, made at Sèvres Manufactory, France, from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style”

Here’s a couple excerpts from my review of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit “Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815”:
Some say Napoleon Bonaparte was at heart a military man whose personal tastes ran to the simple and practical. But the brilliant general knew the power of appearances. His infantry wore bearskin hats intended to make them appear taller and drummed and hollered war cries to intimidate enemies. As a ruler, Napoleon trumpeted his authority by adopting the historic trappings of royalty and commissioning artists to celebrate his glories.

"Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815," which opens Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, surveys the opulent Empire style that spread across Europe as Napoleon toppled old monarchies and built an empire that at its height in 1812 stretched from Spain and Italy to the Netherlands and the edge of Russia. This magnificent exhibition, organized by Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris and the American Federation of Arts in New York, presents some 190 works, many of which have never been seen outside France.

The emperor stares soberly from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's astonishing 1806 painting "Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne" (above). He's dressed in a lavish ermine and velvet robe embroidered with gold bees and holds a replica of Charlemagne's scepter. Ingres achieved a startling verisimilitude: The larger-than-life Napoleon looks as if he could step out of the 8-foot-tall canvas. But the portrait was rejected by the regime and critics: Napoleon had since abandoned references to Charlemagne to appear more modern, the monumental frontal pose was too old-school gothic, and it didn't look enough like Napoleon.

But this masterpiece radiates from the heart of this exhibition. Napoleon could be carved from stone, but curiously he seems to levitate off the floor, as if he is magic. The effect has something to do with how daintily his foot perches on the pillow footrest and how his body and throne disappear in his flowing robes.
Read the rest here.

“Symbols of Power: Napoleon and the Art of the Empire Style, 1800-1815,” Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, Oct. 21, 2007, to Jan. 27, 2008.

Pictured from top to bottom: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres “Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne,” 1806, from Musée de l’Armée, Paris; gondola chair from Josephine Bonaparte’s boudoir at Saint-Cloud, about 1802 to 1803, attributed to Jacob Frères, designed by Charles Percier, from the Musée National des Châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Preau, Rueil Malmaison; on deposit from the Mobilier National, Paris; and throne, 1805, made by François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter, embroidery by Picot, designed by Bernard Poyet, from Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. All courtesy of the American Federation of Arts.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

“Red face”?

Watching the Red Sox play Cleveland, it’s been revolting to see Cleveland fans with faces painted like red clowns to resemble the Indians' team mascot Chief Wahoo (as seen above in a Cleveland Plain Dealer photo from game four in Cleveland). Isn’t this just the Native-American version of black face?

Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, who exhibited at this year’s Venice Biennale, has made searing art about Native American sports mascots, including his 1989 screenprint “Telling Many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi” (below) and his 1998 lithograph “American Leagues” (at bottom).

I asked Heap of Birds what he thought of Cleveland fans in “red face.” He wrote back: "The act of representing red skins or red faces in regards to Native Americans is a direct link to the human skin, of Native people, which was taken from Native corpses for monetary bounty. The skin confirmed that the Native spirit had been murdered. The blood from the severed skin was red hence the color association. Each time a sports fan paints their face or chants out the 'Red Tribe' reference they are in essence skinning themselves in effigy. Perhaps this monetary bounty is still being taken as the sports teams of America reap financial benefits from an on going homage to filleted Native American flesh.”

Native Americans have protested the Chief Wahoo logo for years. The Cleveland group 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance has posted to its website a discussion of the origin of the logo. Also check out the illustrations in the site’s “multimedia” section, and the pins and poster in its “store.”