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Entries in visual art (2)


Then And Now

When I saw this antique map reproduction, I knew I had to have it.

First off, it’s gorgeous. The clean lines, the pure geometric, the sharply contrasting lights and darks: all of these speak to my aesthetic sense.

Also, I’ve been there, back in the summer of 2006 with Gwen and three of our friends. We walked almost the whole width of this map, crossing the river and strolling along the waterfront before hiking up to the cathedral square. We ate there, at a crêperie in a building that’s on this map. The city as it’s shown is a bit different than when we were there, but I suppose that’s what the passage of a century and a half will do.

And that’s what grabs me most about the map: This is Geneva, the home of the Red Cross, the European headquarters of the United Nations, the so-called “Peace Capital” of the world — and the map is dominated by massive Vauban-style fortifications. Part of this attraction is personal irony: On that trip six years ago, after a particularly long and hot day of travel, there was almost a fight between members of our own group in front of the International Red Cross & Red Crescent Museum. We’d miscalculated how long it would take to get there, so it was closed when we arrived, which led to a flaring of tempers that was not helped by our hot and slightly dehydrated states. Fortunately, by the time we’d finished our meal at the aforementioned crêperie, all was forgiven.

But the irony works at the level of the city as well. We tend to see things at this scope as largely unchanging, thinking that places and cities always express the same ideas and values, even if the way those are expressed change over time. We forget that Switzerland was home to some of most intense religious struggles of the Protestant Reformation, that modern Germany and Italy were largely constructions of the mid-19th Century, and that for the first half of the Twentieth Century there was considerable open space and distance between Los Angeles and Pasadena (as Raymond Chandler fans will realize). Maps like remind me that the more things stay the same, the more they change.

Or something like that.


Private Key Art

Gwen and I managed to catch the Picasso and Braque exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art the day that it closed. The exhibit, comprising a double dozen prints and half that many paintings executed by the pair between 1909 and 1912, explores the beginnings of Analytic Cubism. Picasso and Braque worked closely together — often side-by-side — during this period, and the exhibit explores their similar, though not identical, explorations of the boundaries of art.

Talking about it afterwards, Gwen and I agreed that the best way for us to take in Cubist works is to not think about the original objects the artists were looking at. When we do that, we inevitably try to reassemble the work into those objects, which is usually an exercise in futility. (That’s not always true, as several of Braque’s prints involving bottles of Bass demonstrated.) I remarked at one point that the Cubist style is a kind of “artistic cryptography”: You can’t recover the original without having the key.

Other thoughts:

  • I’m not sure why, but I liked Braque’s pieces in this exhibition a little better than Picasso’s.
  • There’s something about the way they both reduced forms to sharply-defined areas of color and texture that led to a preponderance of pyramidal shapes in these works.
  • Their primary choices of subject material (cafe still-lifes) make me think how nice it must have been to hang around in cafes being artistic all day.
  • The layout of the exhibit itself was a bit Cubist, though perhaps unintentionally so. There was no route through the gallery that created a single, coherent narrative. Perhaps we were supposed to simply absorb the whole from different angles.