30 December 2007

The Friday before last I imagined that everyone at work were incarnations of thoughts I’ve had or moods I’ve felt. The next day I went to see the Francisco Toledo show that I’d only walked through quickly, preparing myself for imagery of the nagual, what the part-Zapotec Toledo describes as spiritual metamorphoses with animals, expressed in mask rituals. Toledo encountered the recently published Accursed Share by Bataille in late 60s Paris while being discovered there as a teenager, which excerpted Bernardino de Sahagún’s transcription of the Aztec myth of the creation of the sun representing the share that nourishes but blinds (Nanauatzin, the sun, who jumps into the fire) and the reflection that can be seen (Tecuciztecatl, the fearful moon). Toledo illustrated a book of the Sahagún transcription. A warm winter night a few days back, the cloud cover was so thick that the moon’s brief appearances felt like an interrogation.

Nagual in some tribes has an aspect that casts a spell against assimilation, which reflects on the conflicts of Toledo’s art and life: the money he made painting was spent both bringing institutions of modernity to Oaxaca (contemporary art museums, art cinema) and archiving local indigenous culture. The Princeton/ UTEP show presents some of his illustrations of Kafka’s Report to the Academy, where a monkey sent to Europe escapes his cage by metamorphosing into a human and describes an essence he can’t return to.

One more week of this show, the best on the East Coast now and the first, though way too small, US retrospective of Toledo in years and years. I’ve never seen his drawings and the draftsmanship is strikingly original. His works presented together enable you to inhabit his mythical logic, play of masks, and mirror hall of sacrifices, ‘the gods had to die.. The wind tore out their hearts and used them to animate the newborn stars.’ (Sahagún)

Toledo’s daughter Natalia has poetry, some of which is written in Zapotec, featured in the Copper Canyon Mexican anthology but has yet to be translated book-length; this portrait of her is most likely based on erotic photos of Francisco in his youth in snake and alligator skin.

25 December 2007

15 December 2007

There’s been some music in town lately. Last weekend the orchestra here tackled Varèse’s Amériques, which you really need to have your local orchestra do rather than an avant ensemble because it requires 120 to 140 instruments depending on the version, including seven french horns, eight cellos, and a lion. I’ve never heard it, thinking until a few months ago that Antheil had the idea to use sirens first (who else would have done it?) I’ve heard so much that imitates it that it sounds like an old favorite warhorse, like the missing warhorse; I will listen to it many more times.

Some virtuoso girls doing Bartók at the Curtis Institute: first Sang Hyun Mary Yong’s over the top rendering of the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra on Monday then Elena Urioste ripping up the Sonata for Violin and Piano this evening. Urioste conveys a broad range of emotions through her mastery of pieces, following up the Sonata with V. Williams’ light, dreamy Lark Ascending, bringing her edge to Beethoven and Janáček, then putting a rose in her hair and (being Mexican-Basque) deconstructing the Carmen Fantasie. An unforgettable graduation recital and I look forward to collecting her recordings.

I bought a bunch of Bartók discs years back and I never really worked them into a listening routine that fit into a particular mood or ritual. I mean, I seem to like every other ‘difficult’ composer. I find his chamber works, or works arranged for chamber, to be more initially engaging because it is easier to appreciate his melodic structure rather than with the combination of melodies in many of his symphonies, which I’m nonetheless inspired to dust off now. Yong's Concerto was exciting, but Urioste enabled me to emotionally connect to Bartók for the first time in a while.

+ on Monday my favorite chamber work, Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. Written in the throes of a complex love affair, it combines Romantic passion with the forms and dramatic structure of modernity. I have gone through long stretches when I’ve gone to bed to it nightly, and I felt as if my mind halfway between wakefulness and sleep was being presented a public meeting.

05 December 2007

At my day job there is an enterprising young Sudanese émigré who plans to return there soon with cash to buy into its economic growth spurt; after talking to him for the first time a week ago I did homework about Sudanese politics, business, history, etc. Today at lunch I found that there’s an elderly African-American who’s also befriended him and done an enormous amount of research, including this gem, at the end of break, which I can’t verify but caused no protest from the native:

that in the Sudan there is so much human blood in the water that the elephants are hooked on the taste, and are beginning to take bites out of the tribespeople. And the Nile he says runs north to Egypt.

01 December 2007

Roberto Matta’s Being With had for a while been at the Southeastern entrance to the first floor Modern galleries at the Met but this situation has made way for an abundantly curated room with Damien Hirst’s shark and other shark and death-related paintings. I asked the guard where the Matta and Beckmann had gone and he said ‘One of them is through there somewhere.’ I had to anticipate which one. It was the Matta, which has found a new home between Barbara Hepworth and Isamu Noguchi sculptures that resemble figures in the painting, facing some complimentary Motherwells. In the old days there was a comfortable couch in front of the Beckmann triptych from which you could look at the Matta from the distance. Sitting on the floor next to the Noguchi you realize that distance was too much. Also, Being With should be looked at after the Ghiberti doors, especially the sequence of the Jacob and Esau relief

and the Adam and Eve relief,

as it relates to the use of perspective (in both) and the whole Gates of Paradise expulsion theme.

You can go to the Mezzanine to see the Abstract Expressionists copy Max Ernst or you could go straight to the new Oceania gallery and walk through Ernst’s soul. That’s a recommendation: if you live in or near NYC, go to the Oceania gallery soon and often. I also found some ancient Egyptian Ernsts with Loplop birds.

I did also get to the Cloisters first and then the Met. It really should be reversed: see the Ghiberti doors on a weekday (til Jan 13) first thing in the morning, and then go to the Cloisters after lunch when the school groups are gone.