Archive for June 2011

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Something so compelling about stone displaying the softness of flesh and  bronze looking wounded.  Yes, those are bloody cuts on the pugilist’s ears — they think they let the metal corrode to denote blood.

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Posted June 30, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in sculpture


A friend has a fantastic rooftop garden in New York, but unfortunately it is so high up you can’t spot it from the street.  Not so in Rome.  Yesterday, as  I wandered the streets I used to roam as a kid, my eyes (and camera) kept flicking upward.  Greenery was everywhere peeking above tiles roofs and spilling over parapets.  Here are a few of the gardens that float above the streets of Rome.  And don’t forget to check out the Battery Rooftop Garden blog to catch a glimpse of what beauty floats, unseen, above the streets of Manhattan.

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Posted June 28, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in Uncategorized

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OF POTS AND PEACOCKS   Leave a comment

Peacock Room newly restored -- at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

These are certainly not the blue and white porcelains that Whistler envisioned living in the delicate gold shelving of his Peacock Room.  And at first I must admit this wide-ranging assortment of pottery came as a shock.  Some of the muted colors disappeared against the peacock blue of the walls and the rough textures felt out of place on the delicate shelving.  And it was hard to take the room in as a whole.

© Freer Gallery of Art

When all the pieces in the shelves were blue and white, they merged into a single compositional unit that was no more than an accent in this three-dimensional fantasy. But in this new installation, every piece demands attention and it’s hard to know what to look at.  But look at it you do, and it grows on you.  Or at least, it grew on me.   It felt less ‘decorator showcase,’ more personal and definitely more Freer —  Charles Lang Freer being the man who bought the Peacock Room and moved it lock, stock and gilded barrel from London to his home in Detroit 1904.  He then proceeded to fill the shelves with pots from Asia, Egypt and Iran.

© Freer Gallery of Art

And, indeed, if you had hundreds of plates and bowls and vases you loved and then got a room with beautiful shelving, wouldn’t you do the same?

So what if the textures and colors aren’t always a perfect fit — that’s called life.

Posted June 15, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in Uncategorized


Lotus, Frog, and Bird Ivory by Ishikawa Rensai Japan, born c. 1832, active mid-late 19th century (3.9 x 4.4 x 1.6 cm) LACMA, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection Photo © 2007 Museum Associates/LACMA

Little round carvings that nestle in your palm, small enough so your fingers need not clamp tight, textured enough so they want to roam the bumps and crannies and curves…. when I see  netsuke I imagine the fun my hand would get out of a mini-sculpture of a rat chasing its tail or a frieze with lotus blooming and a frog trying ever so quietly to escape the attention of a bird.  The closest I’ve come is reading Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes and vicariously tumbling  the small sculptures   (boy, does he ever write about them beautifully — just like you would hope a potter would).

But then I stumbled across netsuke of funny-looking foreigners — there are a handlful of them on display at the Newark Museum.   And they are anything but round and cuddly.

Edo period netsuke of a dutchman -- collection of the British Museum

About three inches long and skinny, they aren’t always flattering for us European types:  goofy expressions, blocky clothes, a predilection for beards and furry beasts.  Though I suspect they are borne out of the same fascination for the exotic and the curious that gave rise to  Yokohama prints, my time in grad school would be wasted if I didn’t try to read something more into it.  So how is this for a twist on post-colonial theory:   here are these foreigners coming through the ports of Yokohama and Nagasaki, looking strange and rattling the status quo.  So along with curiosity they evoke uncertainty and fear in the Japanese — and what better way to gain control over these interlopers than to tether them to your waist and every now and again run your fingers over them for a laugh?   I mean, really, how afraid can you be of a man clutching  a rooster…?

Posted June 11, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art

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Seated Bodhisattva in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

First it was drawings, then came photographs and plaster casts, X-rays and even the occasional CT-scan.  Now art historians can sit at their computers and examine the three-dimensional image of a sculpture, swivel it, upend it, turn it round and round if they like.  And remember the old plaster casts?  Well now there is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a technology that takes a 3-D computer image and extrudes its exact clone in some kind of plastic.  There is a beautiful show on at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art in DC where you can see examples of this technology at work — it helps that the art being studied is absolutely gorgeous:  6th Century Chinese sculptures from the Northern Qi dynasty.

In my review I talk about the way scholars at the University of Chicago used this technology to study a set of temple caves scarred by the passage of looters.  But space constraints did not allow me to include a telling anecdote: the head of the team, Katherine Tsiang, was examining the SLS  clone of a 6th century head, she noticed little dimples in the cheeks.  Strange, she thought, wonder how I missed those when I was looking at the real thing?  When she looked at photographs she realized it was the mottling in the stone that had disguised the dimples.  The replica being one solid color — a bright yellow — there was nothing to confuse the eye.    Now dimples may not seem like a big deal,  but in the jigsaw puzzle work of figuring out what fragment once belonged where, details like dimples can make all the difference.  You can get a first-hand feel for how art historians are using some of these imaging technologies right from your very own monitor: click  here.

Northern Qi Buddha Head in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The show is at the Sackler in Washington, DC, through July 13th then travels to

Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
September 11, 2011 – January 8, 2012


San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California
February 18 – May 27, 2012