Archive for the ‘museum shows’ Category

“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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Remember Tintin going to Tibet? Well, he was not alone…   Leave a comment

Years and years ago, I read Tintin in Tibet, but I had no idea that, since the 1940s, all sorts of comic book characters have been visiting this far-off land of snow-capped mountains.   This is what a show at the Rubin Museum of Art explores, and after I had read comic after comic after comic, I found myself thinking of  other incarnations Tibet has had.

The Tibetan community in exile still speaks very much in terms of someday returning to its homeland, and for these Tibetans ‘Tibet’ is a concrete geographic place and culture.  But to us outsiders, ‘Tibet’ is getting more and more narrowly defined.  Whenever I see Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas in a museum, Tibetan embroidery and brassware for sale,  or a stupa rising on the Costa del Sol, I wonder whether ‘Tibet’ may not be reincarnating as an increasingly rarefied collection of objects, rituals, and religious practices that floats around the world.

When we think of Tibet, don’t most of us flash to robed lamas and deep-throated chants…tangkhas and bronzes and the Dalai Lama advocating non-violence…windswept mountainscapes where smiling children scamper and old women look out from wrinkled faces…?  It is a ‘Tibet’ not far removed from the 2-D Tibet of comics, when you get right down to it.  Which makes this following bit all the more relevant (and poignant):  in writing  my review, I learned that some young Tibetans living in exile are launching a Comics Workshop.  Why? To make sure that ‘real Tibetans’ start inhabiting comic book Tibet, just the way they long to inhabit the land of their forefathers.

Posted January 4, 2012 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art, museum shows, New York


Indian painters, whether they worked for emperors or Rajputs, most probably never cowered in the shadows — I imagine the workshops they worked in had just the right amount of daylight needed for them to apply brush to palm-leaf and, from about 1500 onward, to paper.  But in the way art historians have in the past constructed the story, their identities were overshadowed by this notion that beautifully illustrated manuscripts “emanated” from ateliers.  Of course there were people who wielded brush and ground pigments, but according to this paradigm they were somewhat like factory workers executing routine tasks.

It has taken a lot of painstaking research to shift that paradigm — but shifted it has, as “Wonder of the Age,” currently at the Met shows.  My review in the WSJ and images of some of the works on display, including a couple that show how much some artists ventured across artistic borders ….

(click on the image to enlarge it —  scroll over the image to find out who owns the painting)

Posted October 8, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art, museum shows, South Asian Art


When we learn art history — or anything for that matter — we get it served up in neat little categories which makes it all so much easier to digest.  And then, little by little,  it becomes clear that those neat little compartments aren’t quite as distinct as we thought they were.  That behind every new style, every technical innovation, every discovery there is a criss-crossing of conversations, exchanges, observations…

Looks like a Chinese porcelain bowl? Well, it is made of glass by 18th-century Italian Francesco Vezzi in Venice, Italy (1720-1724).

That’s what I find so enchanting about a show at the Corning Museum of Glass:  “East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Influences in Glassmaking in the 18th and 19th Centuries” is all about far flung artists and artisans learning from each other.   I highlight some of these connections in my review in the WSJ and you can read more about it on the museum’s web-site.



Posted August 12, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in Asian art, craft art, glass, glass, museum shows


Vajrapani - Bodhisattva

A worthwhile collection of Tibetan art in Newark — that in itself to most will seem like the ultimate oxymoron.  As one friend wrote to me, “I thought Newark was a cultural wasteland.”  Wrong.  At least not within the wall of the Newark Museum where a very dynamic curator has reinstalled the Tibetan galleries, striking a balance between treating works as religious icon, cultural artifact, and art (I try to convey a sense of that in my review for Wall Street Journal).   To get a sense of the museum’s TIbetan collection, check out its web site as well as its pages on the  Himalayan Art web site.


I was just contemplating the fact that some borders are more beautiful in their breaching — even began in that compulsion that cameras induce snapping photos of breached borders

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— when I discovered the Museum of Broken Relationships.

If you think of a relationship as two people consciously sharing a same space and erecting around themselves a border of commitment and fidelity (or so the theory goes), then a broken relationship is the ultimate breached border.  And just as there is beauty in flowers spilling over a fence, so is there  a  poignant beauty in many of the objects that commemorate a breached love.

The museum, which began as a series of traveling shows and opened its permanent home in Zagreb, Croatia last fall, displays a fraction of the  700 plus objects of its  ever-growing collection.  One of the most affecting was a teddy bear, which belonged to a young girl in Singapore.  An ethnic Chinese, she was in love with a Malay with whom one day she bought two teddy bears, one light brown, the other dark.  He kept the lighter one to remind him of her, she the darker one to remind her of him.  It was the only trace of him in her room — no snapshots, no notes, nothing that would alert her skin-color parents to the fact that she was involved with a darker-skinned Malay.  When they broke up, she writes in the accompanying label, the teddy bear absorbed her tears and, over time, she put the bear away, and “nobody noticed.”

Just so you know, the museum continues to curate traveling shows — the next one scheduled for August-September in London.

Posted July 24, 2011 by leeadairlawrence in museum shows