Once More Into Darkness

I may be the only non-farmer in America who dreads the “spring ahead” point in the year — which happens tonight, in case you’ve forgotten.

Why? It’s not that I don’t like having sunshine later in the evening, for sure. No, it’s because I walk Betty in the morning and we’ve just gotten to the point where the sun peeks over the horizon during our morning walk time — as the picture of one of the Schiller Park aerial sculptures that I took recently shows. With clocks moving ahead an hour tonight, Betty and I will once more be plunged into darkness on our morning stroll. We’ll have to deal with a few more weeks of darkness before the lengthening days give us sunshine at 6 a.m.

Elevator Art

What do hotels consider when deciding whether to decorate their elevators — and, if so, what to use for elevator art?  You’re talking about a space that every single guest uses multiple times during their stay, when they may be in multiple mindsets:  when they first arrive after a day of travel, first thing in the morning when they’re heading down for breakfast, and when they’re heading back up to their room after a long day.  How much care and attention goes into the decision of how to decorate that very unique setting?

You could, of course, choose to leave your elevator unadorned, with just standard elevator walls, the basic mirror facing the door so that people entering can check their hair and their tie, and some information about the hotel restaurant and the daily weather forecast by the row of floor buttons.  Or, as has been the case with some hotels I’ve visited, you could turn the elevator into a kind of tropical rain forest, with photos of exotic birds and insects and foliage and an accompanying sound track with the gentle patter of raindrops and distant thunder to soothe the jangled nerves of your guests.  Or, you could feature compelling photos of noteworthy places to see in the city where the hotel is located, to entice the traveler to leave the hotel premises and explore the city they are visiting.

Or, if you’re the proprietors of the hotel in Phoenix where I’m staying for meetings, you could post this big photo of a reclining woman wearing ripped blue jeans kicking up her heels, with a cowboy hat on her airborne foot.

What message are you sending this this image in an otherwise generic hotel elevator?  The cowboy hat signals that we’re in the western United States, for sure, in case the guests had forgotten that fact.  But what else?  That the friendly folks in Phoenix often lie down and balance their hats on their feet, just for kicks?  That, in a world where ripped jeans seem to be everywhere, in Phoenix they are really destroyed?

I’m guessing that the choice of the kicky gal’s legs was the product of a careful process that included some other potential choices.  Wouldn’t you like to know what some of the other finalists were?

What’s In A Bad Review?

Creative people who put their creativity out before the public have to deal with one thing that the rest of us don’t:  reviews of their work.  Whether it’s an artist overhearing comments about their paintings at a gallery, or a novelist, playwright, movie director, or musician reading newspaper reviews of their efforts, creative people have to get used to the idea that some people, at least, won’t like what they are doing.  And if the creative people can’t get past that issue, they probably aren’t in the right line of work.

Part of developing an artistic thick skin about bad reviews is realizing that the opinions of a critic are just that — one person’s opinion — and that critics are often just wrong.  In fact, sometimes a critic is so wrong about a particular piece of work that their opinions, read years later, seem comically and historically misguided.

beatles-abbey-road-album-label-appleI thought about this when I read about the New York Times review of the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, published right after it was released in 1969.  To his credit, the reviewer, Nik Cohn, found that the nine-song medley on side two was the most impressive music the Beatles had recorded since Rubber Soul — even though he thought the individual songs within the medley were “nothing special” and, for the most part, “pretty average stuff.”  In fact, he thought “some of the lyrics are quite painful,” and “most of the lines here are steals.”

Continuing his critique of the lyrics on side two, Cohn wrote:

“The great drawback is the words. There was a time when the Beatles’s lyrics were one of their greatest attractions. Not any more. On “Abbey Road,” you get only marshmallow.  * * *  On “Abbey Road” the words are limp-wristed, pompous and fake. Clearly, the Beatles have now heard so many tales of their own genius that they’ve come to believe them, and everything here is swamped in Instant Art. ”

And remember that side two of Abbey Road is the side Cohn sort of liked.  The rest of the album, he wrote, was an “unmitigated disaster.”  Come Together, he concluded, “is intriguing only as a sign of just how low Lennon can sink these days.”  Cohn also got it wrong that John Lennon, and not Paul McCartney, sang Oh! Darling.  Cohn thought the two songs by George Harrison — those would be Something and Here Comes the Sun — were “mediocrity incarnate.”  Cohn opined that “[t]he badness ranges from mere gentle tedium to cringing embarrassment.”

I doubt that the Beatles, firmly atop the rock god firmament at the time, paid much attention to Nik Cohn’s views, and of course his opinions have been disproved by the test of time.  Abbey Road is generally regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and songs like Something, Here Comes the Sun, and Come Together are viewed as all-time classics beloved by millions for more than 50 years.

I guess I would say that Nik Cohn got it wrong.  When creative people are putting themselves out there for critics to chew on, it’s something they should keep in mind.

Going Classical

Some architects are up in arms about an executive order apparently being considered by the Trump Administration, called “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again.”  According to a report in the Architectural Record, which says it obtained a preliminary draft of the order, the order would revise the “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture” issued in 1962 to ensure that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for new and upgraded federal buildings.

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.The Architectural Record states that “the draft order argues that the founding fathers embraced the classical models of ‘democratic Athens’ and ‘republican Rome’ for the capital’s early buildings because the style symbolized the new nation’s ‘self-governing ideal.’”  The Record notes that the classical style was the prevailing form of architecture during the time of the Founding Fathers — as evidenced by the designs of Mount Vernon and Monticello.  The Record also reports that the draft order specifically criticizes some recent government buildings for having “little aesthetic appeal.”  The proposed order apparently does make allowances for “traditional architectural styles,” which would include Gothic, Romanesque, and Spanish colonial designs — but would ban “Brutalism,” the blocky, massive style of building that came into vogue in the middle of the 20th century and was the preferred style in the Soviet Union.

The American Institute of Architects says that it “strongly and unequivocally” opposes any change to the guidelines for constructing government buildings, and is urging its members to sign an online petition objecting to the proposed order.  According to one on-line report, the AIA says that “[a]ll architectural styles have value and all communities have the right to weigh in on the government buildings meant to serve them.”

It’s not clear exactly what the Trump Administration is contemplating, as the articles I’ve seen say it isn’t commenting on the draft rule.  However, I wouldn’t object to changing the standards to return federal buildings to the classical style, or the quasi-classical style adopted by many WPA federal buildings built during the 1930s.  I’m glad the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, for example, adopted the classical form of architecture; they are lofty, soaring, graceful buildings that are both attractive and aspirational.

Brutalist and Bauhaus designs are neither of those things.  I shudder to think of what a ponderous, looming, dark, Brutalist Lincoln Memorial might look like — but I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t have its picture taken by millions of tourists every year, as is the case with the Lincoln Memorial we now have.  If businesses want to go the Brutalist route on their corporate headquarters, that’s fine with me — but government buildings should provide a link to the past and our traditions, and do more than simply adopt whatever the prevailing architectural styles might be at the time.

 

En Plein Air

Natural light makes a big difference. It’s why many of the great watercolors were done en plein air.

It’s amazing how bright sunshine, an ocean backdrop, a blue sky, a few shells, and several trillion grains of sand can make a few abandoned beach chairs and an umbrella into a colorful scene that might appeal to a member of the impressionist school.

Facing The Faceless

My recent run of exposure to curious hotel art selections continued this week, during my trip to Washington, D.C.  These pieces were artwork displayed in the interior hallways on my floor of the hotel only a few blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.

What’s the message conveyed by depictions of gangs of silhouetted people moving grimly and silently past government buildings?  Is it that Washington, D.C. is really in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, just as conservatives have long claimed?  Or that, in the political wonderland that is Our Nation’s Capital, you’ll never actually see someone clearly, for who they really are, but only in dim outline?  Or does the artist believe that government buildings, depicted in color and in sunlight, are much more interesting than the people, who are shown only as shadowy forms without any individuality?

Or, perhaps you might initially see the artwork as I did — as suggesting that the people of Washington, D.C. are a bunch of anonymous zombies.

Welcome to Washington, D.C.!  Grab your rollerboard and your shoulder bag and get ready to head out into the Land of the Undead!

The Curious Case Of The Deer On The Bridge

When Kish and I walked to Franklinton on Sunday, we crossed the Scioto River on the Town Street bridge. Just after the midpoint of the bridge we found this life-sized metal sculpture of a fully antlered buck standing upright at the railing of the bridge, facing north.

It’s a fine rendition of a deer. But the sculpture raises so many questions that it’s almost a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Why is there a sculpture of a deer standing on its hind legs on a downtown bridge in Columbus, Ohio?

Is the deer just enjoying a nice view of the Columbus skyline and the Scioto River in its new channel? Or is the trophy buck using the vantage point of the bridge to scan for hunters or predators? On the darker side, could the deer be depressed and preparing to jump? Is there some deep significance to the fact that the deer is facing north, or that it is a stag rather than a doe? For that matter, why a deer at all? I can’t think of any special connection between Ohio’s capital city and deer. If a wolverine were preparing to hurl itself into oblivion at the sight of Columbus, in contrast, it would be understandable.

Experts will tell you that a good test of public art is whether it provokes thought and discussion. By that standard, the curious case of the deer on the bridge is a great success. And for that same reason, I’m not going to even try to scan the internet for an explanation. I’m just going to leave it a mystery.

Suspended Over Schiller

On our walk around Schiller Park this morning, Betty and I discovered that an outdoor art exhibition has been installed at various points in the park. I think it’s the first outdoor art display at Schiller in the time we’ve been living in German Village, and it makes me hope that others will be following it.

The exhibition is called Suspension: Balancing Art, Nature, and Culture and it features life-sized sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora suspended at various points in the park.

As Betty and I walked the perimeter of the park, we caught glimpses of the sculptures in the interior of the park. The pieces had the effect of pulling us into the park, and made a cool, rainy day a lot more interactive and interesting. And now is a pretty good time to see the exhibition — which runs until March 2020 — with the sculptures framed against the remaining colorful fall foliage.

Many of the sculptures have a circus-type theme, but my favorites were the hard-working rower floating above the pond and a headless angelic figure drifting above the Third Street entrance to the park, with the tassels of its dress jostling in the breeze. Kudos to the Friends of Schiller Park for sponsoring a very cool bit of outdoor art.

Stonington Wa

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Our place in Stonington has rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  More rocks, in fact, than the mortal mind can imagine in its wildest, rock-filled dreams.

So what do you do with so many rocks?  I’ve decided to get in touch with my inner wa and am trying to develop an ersatz Japanese rock garden along the edge of the creek, in the weedy waste area between the big boulders and the water’s edge.  There’s lots of different shapes and colors of rocks and stones, large and small, some smooth and some rugged, in the down yard.  I dig up and pick up the stones and then place them cheek by jowl, trying to fit them snugly together like a granite jigsaw puzzle.

No doubt expert rock garden developers would chuckle at this weak effort, but it’s been a fun way of addressing the rock issue that allows for some creativity, too.

Doll Heads

Among the art pieces in one of the rooms of Nellieville, at Nervous Nellie’s Jams & Jellies, are two doll heads on a table. I suppose you could admire the craftsmanship of the dolls’ creators, or consider the different artistic messages that might be conveyed by making doll heads part of the composition — but not me.

Doll heads give me the creeps, and I’m not sure exactly why. Is it the wide, staring, unblinking eyes? Is it the fact that they’ve been dismembered? Is it the placid, vacant, painted-on expression?

I’m not sure, exactly, but I know that the presence of doll heads interferes with my full appreciation of art.

Trash/Treasure

Yesterday we took the New Grandparents to Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies, to show off the uniques sculptures displayed there. The sculptures are the work of Peter Beerits, who has mastered the process of turning ordinary old stuff — some might say “junk” — into interesting artwork. An old metal object, a few prices of wood for legs and a head, and a curlicue metal tail, for example, and you’ve got a pretty convincing pig.

Beerits has used the flotsam and jetsam of America from days gone by to construct Nellieville, a town that combines elements of the Old West, the early 20th century, and rural scenes and random animals. Banjo players, Wild Bill Hickok, outhouse users, lawyers, and barkeepers exist cheek by jowl in structures that are packed with all kinds of interesting old stuff. The rest is a bizarre and fascinating vision where there is a surprise around every corner.

Oh, yeah — Nervous Nellie’s jams and jellies are very good, too.

Monkey Head On A Bridge

When you walk to work, moving to and from the office at a deliberate pace, you notice things that speeding drivers simply don’t see — like this curious, colorful monkey head that has recently appeared on the Third Street bridge over I-70.  It looks to be made of carefully painted clay, and it is affixed directly to the concrete on walkway side of the bridge overpass.

What’s the significance of the purple monkey head?  I freely admit that I gave that issue some thought as I walked by, but my analysis hasn’t gotten very far.  The head has the telltale xs on its eyes that have long been a cartoon artists’ way of indicating death, drunkenness, or unconsciousness, but other than that, I found nothing to tell me the backstory of the monkey head, or why it was placed on the bridge.  Google searches for drunken monkey, dead monkey, and unconscious monkey didn’t turn up anything particularly helpful, either — although the searches did cause me to become aware of the scientific theory that the human taste for alcohol has deep evolutionary roots that go all the way back to our primate ancestors consuming overripe, fermented fruit as a primary food source and the fact that the Caribbean island of St. Kitts is also known as the Island of Drunk Monkeys because of the alcoholic likings of the green vervets that were brought to the island in the 1700s.  Alas, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between these stories and the purple monkey head on Columbus’ Third Street bridge.

Perhaps the monkey head is the start of some artist’s project, a la Christo, or some clever marketing campaign, where similar heads have been positioned in other parts of town and, after some kind of buzz is generated by curious people like me, we’ll learn that the monkey heads are advertising the introduction of some new restaurant or bar or rock band in the Columbus area?  Or maybe the monkey head is a tribute to someone who met his maker on the bridge.

Whatever the backstory is, I’m intrigued by the monkey head on the Third Street bridge.  I’d be interested in any theories about what the monkey head means, and why it is there.