I suppose I should stop apologizing for missing my Tuesday essay entry once again, gentle reader. At the moment, I find myself busier than ever, between both my work-work and the various projects that I am working on in my own time. This makes taking the time to write a more in-depth examination of a particular topic a bit more difficult right now.
At the start of the quarantine, I had the sense to make an initial list of things that I could and probably should get around to doing in isolation, not knowing when things would get back to normal. This didn’t immediately “take” however, even if I made a start on some fronts. At the outset, the Fortress of Solitude seemed even more solitary than usual, and didn’t provide me with much motivation. There was a definite lack of enthusiasm on my part, to do more than the minimum of what I had to do each day.
Over time however, I’ve found that my natural tendency to set, research, and achieve goals, combined with an equally deep-rooted tendency to pay attention to detail, has led to my putting more energy into what I do right now, than I did at the outset of this involuntary incarceration. Anecdotally, at least, I can say that I’ve observed the same thing among a number of people I know, at least on their social media accounts. As best they can under the circumstances, artist and musician friends are busy painting and recording, fellow scribblers are scribbling away, business owners are trying out new ways to engage with customers. And away from these kinds of tasks, I see people refinishing their old furniture, repainting their walls, and learning how to cook all sorts of things.
Whatever happens when we finally emerge into the weird new world that awaits, my guess is that a lot of us will have some creative achievements to show for our time away. Sure, we may not have become proficient in a foreign language, or we never did get around to reorganizing that messy file drawer. However my hunch is that a lot of people will be able to say, “I made this,” whether it’s a loaf of sourdough bread, a scrapbook, or a coffee table. And for me, anyway, those very human desires to be creative, to keep learning, and to share with others are why I keep being drawn back to the art world, where centuries of those desires have been, and continue to be expressed.
With that said, far be it from me to deny you some curated stories of interest from said world, and here they are:
Art critics generally don’t win Pulitzer Prizes – and I’m certainly not gunning for one – but this year an exception has been made for Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times. Readers may recall my pointing you to one of his very well-investigated pieces regarding the bizarre, ongoing collapse of reason and common sense at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a saga which he has been following through its many twists and turns. From alienating major donors to demolishing significant buildings to embracing truly strange notions about what an art museum ought to be, there’s enough weirdness going on at LACMA for a team of critics and reporters to cover, and yet Mr. Knight has been covering the story better than anyone else. I may not always agree with him, but his work demonstrates how an informed art critic can and should reach a wider audience when it comes to writing about art: this recognition by his peers is well-deserved.
Because like many ancient cities, present-day Rome is built atop many previous versions of herself, any time you need to dig underground, you’re probably going to find something much older. Sometimes however, that digging is involuntary, because the Eternal City is prone to suffering from sinkholes: this is due not only to the vast network of tunnels, catacombs, and demolished ancient buildings that lie beneath it, but also because many areas in the oldest parts of town are characterized by a soft, sandy soil. Last week, a sinkhole opened up in the Piazza della Rotonda, in front of the Pantheon, and workers who came to repair it were able to examine the paving stones laid in a previous, grander incarnation of the square, ordered by the Emperor Hadrian (76 A.D. – 138 A.D.) That layer currently lies about eight feet below the present-day level. Although the travertine marble slabs had been rediscovered almost 30 years ago, they was covered up again to protect them; archaeologists are impressed that despite the erosion and damage caused in the ensuing decades, the ancient stonework has held up much better than the more modern replacement. You can see a video of the site here.
For those of you who need a bit of French royal excess for your study, the Mobilier National de France, which looks after much of the historic furniture and decorative arts in use or on display in official state residences, and is currently caring for the salvaged carpets of Notre Dame de Paris as I’ve told you previously, has announced that it will be auctioning off around 100 works from its collection this September. Proceeds to go toward a foundation to support Parisian and French hospitals headed by the French First Lady. The decision on what to sell will have to be made unanimously by members of the government commission appointed to the task, so that there’s no litigation over, as Le Figaro puts it, selling off the family jewels. There will plenty left after the sale, since the collections consists of over 130,000 objects, from sofas to lamps to rugs.