Friday, December 31, 2004

Stone head from Pont Neuf bridge, Paris. Posted by Hello

Detail of stone face on Pont Neuf bridge, Paris, France, June, 2004. This is my first uploaded photo using "Hello" from Picasa.

This picture shows one of the heads that Christos' op art project covered up in 1985 when Christos wrapped about 410,000 feet of beige fabric over the Pont Neuf bridge (Pont Neuf = New Bridge). I'm fascinated by this bridge because it was apparently the first "modern" bridge (begun in 1578 but not completed until the 1700s) in Paris that was built without houses so the people could stroll along the bridge and see the Seine. Here's a historical description of the actual bridge:

"Tronchet’s Picture of Paris (c. 1818) gives the following description of its original construction and characteristics:

"The length of the bridge is 1020 feet, and its breadth 72 feet, which is sufficient to admit of five carriages passing abreast. It is formed of twelve arches, seven of which are on the side of the Louvre, and five on the side of the Quai des Augustines, extending over the two channels of the river, which is wider in this place, from their junction. In 1773, the parapets were repaired, and the footway lowered and narrowed. Soufflot, the architect of the church of St. Genevieve [now known as the Pantheon], availed himself of the opportunity to build, on the twenty half moons which stand immediately above each pile, as many rotundas, in stone, to serve as shops.

"On the outside, above the arches, is a double cornice, which attracts the eye of the connoisseur in architecture, notwithstanding its mouldering state, on account of the fleurons in the antique style, and the heads of sylvans, dryads, and satyrs, which serve as supports to it, at the distance of two feet from each other. As the mole that forms a projection on this bridge, between the fifth and seventh arch, stands facing the Place Dauphine, which was built by Henr[i] IV, it was chosen for erecting to him a statue, which was the first public monument of the kind that had been raised in honor of French kings. " (173-4) Source:

What Tronchet calls "heads of sylvans, dryads, and satyrs" were supposedly "humorous" and grotesque drawings of people at the time, the archetype of the drunkard, the miser, the lover, commoners (the dentist, the barber, the pickpocket) and even the king -- all exaggerated portraits that made fun of people in a time when freedom of speech was generally curtailed by royal decree. So my question is: Why would Christos want to cover up these great satirical heads in his op art project? More research is needed! Go to the Portland Art Museum to see more pictures of Christos' Pont Neuf project:

Posted by Hello
Just want to add this to my blog as a resource. First time use so not sure how this works.

Bill Clinton Daily Diary
We finally got a chance to go up to the Portland Art Museum this week, the one in Oregon. The main exhibit was a photo-montage exhibit of how Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris all is plain beige fabric, covering up those wonderful, satirical heads carved in stone. The project took 10 years (1975-1985) and lots of fabric; apparently people loved it, a splash of avante garde beige across the Seine.

My favorite this time was seeing the European collection (go to through my students' eyes, wondering which paintings would best reinforce the themes from 1400-1750, and if we should try to come up together, gather for lunch at Bush Gardens, wielding chopsticks Japanese-style, then wander the European collection with a docent.

The map in the tiny back room, the earliest part of the European collection, caught my eye because it showed the Etruscans north of Rome. I'd always imagined them east and south of Rome and older, much older than the Romans. Here the map showed the Etruscan culture running parallel to the Romans and the Greeks from about 1,000 BCE until about 200 CE, and located north, well up to the Italian border. Of course, that makes sense, Tuscany today, Etruscans then. And the lovely pottery, rounded painted scallops edge a bowl.

Once into the medieval period, I spotted a lovely small cutout Christ on a cross, painted by Botticelli about 1500. The quote underneath said: "Best known for poetic mythologies but late in his career, under the influence of the puritanical religious reformer, Savonarola, he turned to highly expressive and often archaic religious themes." Hah! So much information captured in that one phrase that ties right back into my interest in Savonarola and his influences on artists of the Renaissance in Florence. Botticelli did indeed paint those lovely "Venus Rising From the Sea" type paintings that decorated the mansions of the rich Florence merchant-princes. Savonarola inspired the people with charismatic preaching of the risks of hell-fire and the need for repentence, protesting the rampant materialism of the rich. Botticelli burned some of his paintings in the now famous bonfire of vanities, where Renaissance paintings and books were heaped up and burned. Savonarola's reward? After ruling for two years: to be hung and burned at the stake in the main piazza of Florence. The impact on Botticelli? Mysterious paintings coded with Savonarola's ideas about God, heaven and redemption. And maybe fewer ethereal mythological maidens. One of the museum notes called the Renaissance, "a balance between divinity and humanity."

The other exhibition-stopping moment for me was the wonderful comparison between two painters to show the essential conflict between realism and rationalism during the Baroque. Caravaggio (1511-1610) was much more influential than I thought in the Northern Renaissance. According to museum notes, realism exploded out of Rome about 1610, and swept through Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands. Here, the Portland Art Museum compares side-by-side Dutch Caravaggist Gerrit Von Horthorst, "Liberation of St. Peter" (1620-1630) with the classical painting of "Mercury and Herse" (1650) by Thomas Blanchet. Both paintings are rather large, but not monumental. But the "Liberation of Peter" is personal, intimate, a dramatic focus on Peter in jail with light pouring in from the right, his face anguished. Blanchet's painting is almost a paint-by-number architectural rendering with small angels appearing to drift across the sky, almost pulled on strings. Realism (the power of the individual emotion, how what people feel strongly motivates them to action) versus classicism (the power of rationality, how what people think causes them to arrange reality).

Was there more? Yes, even a short walk through the somewhat truncated Asian collection just to look and appreciate was fun, and we saved the Native American collection for next time, because we just needed more time. I like to go very slowly through the museum. The last delight, the Mauritshuis Project, a collection of 7 paintings that help us see themes in Dutch painting from the 17th Century, only a corner in the museum, but beautifully documented with careful notes. This little corner, only here through January 29, 2006, was delightful, even with a painting that reminded me at first of the famous Jan Van Eyck Nederlandish painting, "Marriage of Anolfini and His Bride" (1434). Here, Jan Steen's "The Sick Girl" (1661-1665) continues the tradition of a homely scene, still shown with faithful dog but now more satirical, if the observer can read the clues left by the artist (the maidservant's efforts to curtail morning sickness in an obviously young and shamed girl). Compared to Van Eyck, the Steen painting looks almost like a cartoon, as if such paintings made fun of rather than celebrated the people shown. Interesting contrast and a lovely day as we draw to the end of the year to confront the larger issues of death and destruction in the wake of the tsunami.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Filled with the calming breath of meditation,
I wake to obligation.
My friend sees green around me,
but I feel poised between past
and future, my path filled with commitment;
one step at a time,
I try to create harmony.

Focus on what is true.

Words escape me as I hear the hum of the heater.
Inside warm, quiet, almost peaceful.
Outside the finches and sparrows eat sunflower seed
like there is no tomorrow.
For them, the morning begins cold.
They do not worry about
children or elders frail in mind and body.
They need only survive this winter,
this now.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Today began about 4 am, reading those last papers before grades go in, swearing to myself to not accept late papers again! By 8:30, I was in a room with about 30 English teachers, ready to read holistic finals, wondering how the WR121 papers would go. We had a new system for tracking how we evaluated the papers; immediate resistance! How could we possibly reduce how we evaluate student writing to a rubric? Ha! Accusations flew through the air -- we could limit the argument to pronouns. Talk of brownshirts imposing rules polarized the discussion.

This group of teachers cares about learning and helping students and all the good stuff, but we definitely come at it from different angles. One camp forgives the most egregious punctuation errors IF the essay is thoughtful -- or even attempts thoughtfulness, even if that effort challenges the essay prompt, or wanders. Another camp values logical order and correctness (yes, even neat handwriting) over creativity. We can't tell if the essays are tossed off or agonized over. All we have is the written word, not word processed, in front of us. Decoding. Deconstructing. Sometimes desperate.

Today the prompt was if you could "put time in a bottle," what memory would you want to save. I read so many stories: A heroin addict spends his first night in jail and then on release, a quick fix two blocks from the police station. A teen cradles the head of his dying friend following a horrific accident, while the driver of the car takes off. A young man remembers his proposal of marriage; three years later, he relishes the moment his Sarah said yes. Another recalls winning a wrestling match while he struggled with cracked ribs. Young people confronting the end of innocence -- a dying grandmother, a divorce, the lament of always being picked last. But bagels, hot coffee, and chocolate aside, the papers were read, grades were totalled, and squinty-eyed professors went home to an evening of quiet.