Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
One of my greatest joys and, along with brushing my teeth, one of the great constants in my life, is making lists.
While my abiding affection for ordering, lining up and then crossing out (what pleasure!) the things I need to do every day may strike some as oddly misplaced, I come by this crotchet honestly. My father, you see, happened to be a great one for lists, filling yellow legal pads with line after line of “to-do” this and that.
He was in good company. H.L. Mencken liked making lists, as did Ad Reinhardt and dozens of other celebrated artists and writers whose tabulations are currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in a small but winsome exhibition titled “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations.”
Beatnik William Burroughs’s dreams, English art critic John Ruskin’s chess moves, and Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour would seem to have little in common.
All three, however, are chronicled in a remarkable exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum on personal diaries. Long before there were blogs, people actually wrote their jottings in notebooks.
The exhibition in New York, titled “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” which is open until May 22, shows just how varied such entries can be. Visitors can squint at Charlotte Bronte’s tiny letters, which are nearly impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Forget English diarist Samuel Pepys’s entries altogether: He wrote in a shorthand that resembles a kind of military code. Diaries allow the viewer to tune in (so to speak), to the thoughts and action of Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) on the opening night of “Pirates of Penzance.” (Spoiler: He downs 12 oysters and a glass of champagne.)
The finalists for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature have been announced.
Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library has become home to Maurice Sendak’s only mural.
Jonah Lehrer retrieves Thorstein Veblen’s forgotten essay on why Jews become intellectuals.
An Iranian grandmaster claims to have beaten an Israeli chess record after playing 614 people simultaneously in Tehran.
A forthcoming biography of J.D. Salinger and Henry Kissinger’s “On China” are among The Daily Beast’s most anticipated books of 2011.
Is Frank Gehry’s design for the University of Technology, Sydney, a colossal mistake?
While Hanukkah preparations and aftermath can overshadow every other human activity in December, ‘tis also the season for classical concerts, especially although by no means exclusively, in the New York area. These can include much Yiddishkayt, despite the seeming omnipresence of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Mahler-lovers will not want to miss the much-loved British conductor Sir Colin Davis leading the New York Philharmonic in performances on December 2, 4, and 7 of Mahler’s orchestral songs, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Although born in 1927, Sir Colin still conducts with a balletic grace which vivifies everything he interprets.
“Roy Lichtenstein: The Black-and-White Drawings, 1961-1968” opens and closes, quite fittingly, with doors. “Knock Knock,” a 1961 drawing, greets visitors entering the single-room exhibition. The title words splay from an all-white door, its shape defined by heavy, even black lines. Short marks indicate the thwap of invisible knuckles. Later, after circling the perimeter, you step into a nook. Inside stands a real, three-dimensional door, the only remnant of Lichtenstein’s full-room installation at the 1967 Aspen Festival of Contemporary Art. Like the drawing, the door is white outlined in black, and a hand has struck, this time leaving a more phonetic NOK!! NOK!!
The pieces are remarkably similar. Indeed, the entire exhibition focuses on Lichtenstein’s most familiar style. The 55 drawings — on display as a group for the first time — borrow images from commercial illustration, advertisements and comic books. Many feature Lichtenstein’s iconic Benday dots. Though narrow in scope, the exhibition, at the Morgan Library through January 2, 2011, reveals the impact of small adjustments. The drawings, stripped of stylistic variation and color, train your eye on the development of Lichtenstein’s technique.
A few weeks ago, at an absorbing lecture offered as part of the Morgan Library’s “Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves” exhibit which opened January 22 and runs through May 2, the art historian James Marrow explained the exquisite imagery found in the 15th-century Dutch illuminated manuscript on view. Included are such Old Testament scenes as The Judgment of Solomon; The Gathering of Manna; and Israelites Eating the Passover Meal. The exquisite exhibit catalog from Abrams Publishers contains these and related images, as well as essays by Marrow and other experts.
After the lecture, I asked Marrow, who is Professor Emeritus of Northern Renaissance Art at Princeton University, whether the dignified Old Testament Jews depicted so exquisitely in “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves” were indeed thought of as Jews by the book’s 15th-century artists and readers, or whether they were merely subsumed into the New Testament story. Marrow replied that the latter is the case, adding that “when Jews were directly depicted, that’s when the trouble started,” alluding to the notoriously antisemitic imagery in which Jesus is tormented with surreal schadenfreude by Jews.
On February 7, the George London Foundation will present a special recital at the Morgan Library in New York, with pianist Jeffrey Cohen accompanying singers June Anderson and Sean Panikkar, as prelude to this year’s George London Competition Finals on March 19 also at the Morgan Library.
The family of Canadian-Jewish baritone George London (born George Burnstein in 1920) originated in Sirvintos, Lithuania, and as the singer’s widow Nora explains in the affectionate biography she wrote for Baskerville Publishers, “George London: Of Gods and Demons,” the Montreal-born London “did his Bar Mitzvah in Hebrew, and in spite of ups and downs, he retained a solid belief in God and a pride in being Jewish throughout his life.”