Archive for May 2012

“Wilderness of mirrors…”   Leave a comment

This is what Keith Melton called the world that spies and intelligence officers inhabit.  He was giving journalists a tour of “Spy: the Secret World of Espionnage” at the Discovery Times Square and, trailing the little group of notebooks was  former KGB General Oleg Kalugin (whose bio I wish I had read before meeting him), along with former FBI Special Agent Jerry Richards, whose job included ferreting out Gen. Kalugin’s spies.  It is a world in which greed and fear are traded commodities and second-guessing has as many layers as a hall of mirrors. Here, a mole can be a person, an animal or a facial blemish…that might, in turn, be a pooling of pigment or a microdot with state or industrial secrets.  In fact, Mr. Richard pointed out that microdots — microscopic photographs that are virtually undetectable — might make a comeback in this age of passwords.  As a fan of “Moscow rules” I cannot wait…

Slipping  across borders like mist, this gray, formless world is as rich and creative as any borderland can be.  In World War II, the most  sophisticated get-away equipment was a collapsible motorbike parachuted into occupied France or along with agents; in 2001, the get-away technology consisted of a horse saddle and colorful blanket that agents could throw onto the back of horses then disappear into the mountains of Afghanistan.  Where else can dead rats double as dead drops, pigeons turn photographers,  and the desire to spy on earthly neighbors  engender technology that allows us to peer into deep space… perhaps one day to spy signs of intergalactic neighbors….?

Posted May 21, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in museum shows, New York

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Byzantium and Islam   1 comment

Talk about an exciting borderland…. this from an article in the WSJ by Christian C. Sahner on “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition” currently at the Met:

The greatest achievement of the exhibition is to track the birth of a visual koine in the late-antique Middle East. It was an artistic language that transcended the actual religious and linguistic diversity of the period, expressing itself through shared motifs and aesthetic sensibilities. For example, one notices the striking similarity between a fifth-century ivory of the Egyptian St. Menas, his arms raised in prayer inside a domed sanctuary with hanging lamps, and a nearly identical image of a Muslim at prayer, woven into a tapestry from Egypt between the 11th and 12th centuries. There are other objects that reveal the enduring popularity of pagan themes in Christian and Islamic art, such as the bare-breasted Amazons found on silk roundels from the seventh to ninth centuries in Egypt, and the hefty bronze brazier from an Umayyad palace covered with Dionysiac scenes. These images are culturally ambiguous, which can be frustrating for those visitors who crave precision in their museum labels. But on the other, the blurry line is deliberate: One realizes that “Byzantine” and “Umayyad,” to say nothing of “Christian,” “Jewish” and “Muslim,” represent relative, even unhelpful categories for understanding the complex art of the period.  

Ivories of the So-Called Grado chair: Saint Menas with Flanking Camels (made in  Eastern Mediterranean or Egypt, 7th-8th C, ivory)

11th-12th century textile fragment made in Egypt of silk and linen

Posted May 18, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Art, museum shows, New York

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