People of the Book: Post-Grad Reading

It's been two years since I've read a book. Fiction, that is.
Reading a book that fits in your bag and can be easily transported is an amazing thing!
Trading in the Oversize art history books that have turned many trips home from the library into near meltdowns (usually my eyes were bigger than my bookbag). Struggling to carry 10 huge books, for three miles, is never a great idea.

Before I started this crazy grad school adventure, I had several paperback books on my nightstand. They remained there for 24 months. It's taking me a long time to get back into reading these kinds of books. I've only finished two in the last six weeks.

I got one of these books because of a note I had scribbled on a scrap of paper. I have no idea who or what motivated this. I wish I could remember because I loved this book so much and it was the perfect transition from academic art history reading to fun and crazy art history reading. Geraldine Brooks has written a novel based on what medieval art historians do in their attempts to discover the history behind illuminated manuscripts. I'm so excited about this book I can't even describe how much I appreciated it.

The leading lady in this story, Hanna Heath, works internationally as a book conservationist. Heath is asked to examine a Hebrew manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah. A Haggadah is a prayer book used during Passover to tell the story of the Hebrews' journey out of slavery in Egypt. Created in medieval Spain, the Sarajevo Haggadah is a lavishly illustrated Hebrew manuscript made at a time when Jewish belief was firmly against illustrations of any kind. However, as we know from Dura Europos, there are Judaic figural paintings (even nude ones!).

3rd century fresco of baby Moses' rescue from the bullrushes in Egypt.
 From the Dura Europos synagogue, Damascus, Syria.

The novel follows the migration of the actual manuscript, moving backward from:
Sarajevo in the 1940's, then to 19th century Vienna, 17th century Venice, Catalonia during the Spanish Inquisition and finishing (at the beginning) in 15th century Seville. At each of these stops, an artifact found in or missing from the manuscript is explored: a portion of an insect wing, salt remnants, a wine stain, a white hair, and absent silver clasps.

Awesome map from the book.

A thrilling adventure! Each layer of history is revealed, showing the richness of the manuscript and how a moment in time can affect something permanently, often leaving historians in a perpetual state of mystery and obsession.

Much of the story takes place in Spain, which always got me dreaming of my upcoming trip there (72 days!). Plans are going very well so far, now that I've gotten the green light from Colby-Sawyer and some non-refundable airline tickets. ¡SO EXCITED!


Grès Ladies

For the purpose of spreading art historical awareness to the needy in New Hampshire, a shiny new car has been purchased! My anxieties on becoming a "car person" have been quelled by the fact that having this shiny thing allows me to take long distance adventures at any moment! 

Only ten or so years late: my very first car (ok, it's the family car), but still! To celebrate this milestone we embarked on a spontaneous trip to Cape Cod, a place that I have visited every year for exactly half of my life. As we crossed the Sagamore Bridge, we were embraced by the familiar fog and so we went straightaway to Chatham where I spent my formative (summer) years. 

The mystery and magic that I find in the fog reminded me of an interesting article on the dialogue between clothing and sculpture. Madame Grès, the great Parisienne couturier who worked from the 1930's through the 80's, made the most breathtaking dresses which are on display at the Musée Bourdelle in Paris. Madame Grès was originally trained as a sculptor, she claimed she treated “fabric like stone.” Her insanely gorgeous dresses, mostly silk jersey, are shown in glass vitrines alongside ancient sculptures. While the dresses are modern, the inspiration comes from the same time period as these statues.

The textures and dreamy colors of the silk are so similar to the intricate patterns beneath the smudged horizon, the misty places where land and sea meet, and the tidy but weathered shacks always circled by hydrangeas. The soft pleats are reminiscent of the faint lines found in the water, in the sand, and in the movement of the sea grass. If Cape Cod were to have a dress code outside of Nantucket reds, boat shoes and whale prints, Madame Grès would be my choice.

I love the idea of integrating clothing with ancient sculpture in a museum. After all, the advent of High Classical Greek and Hellenistic sculpture was reliant on clothing, to some degree, to express new innovations, namely movement. Costumes, clothing, and textiles are almost always relegated to separate galleries. This kind of isolation renders these productions as shallow and disconnected from the realm of art history. In fact, clothing is a very important part of art history, and I believe museums are missing out on crossover interests and enhanced understanding by keeping them separate. I shall consider it my mission to bring these worlds together.

Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis, Athens, 410 BCE


Nikki S. Lee, Parts.

The photo in the post below (showcasing my thrifty yet luxe find at the Cambridge Antiques Market) made me think of a photographer that I have admired since my days at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Nikki S. Lee, a Korean artist, is similar to Cindy Sherman in that she takes on wildly different personas, making self-portraits. However, Lee often integrates herself with more commitment, joining whichever culture she wishes to emulate. Some of her projects include self-immersed documentation on senior citizens, Latinos, skateboarders, and drag queens. These are the kinds of ideas I had as a kid in my small, homogenous town.

I  particularly like Lee's project entitled Parts in which she, in a variety of guises, poses with a companion. The finished image shows only Lee and a brief, but lingering reminder of the person that has been cropped out of the image.

Part (14), 2002.
Part (23), 2003.


Italian Agenda

After a long break from art and art history related things, I took a friend visiting from California to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (one of my very favorite museums mostly because it is so unlike a museum).

The galleries are situated in a square surrounding the most wonderful courtyard. You cannot enter it, but you can overlook it from the Venetian windows on all sides, on the second and third floor. It is difficult to describe the experience of visiting this museum, it sweeps you in with a drama that is reminiscent of another era. No photography is allowed and certain rules are enforced, this is forgiven because it allows a sense of mystery and the collapse of time.

The objects in each gallery are not labelled, Sophia and I had fun testing ourselves (there are laminated maps in the corner). There were many high fives (art history nerds). She was especially impressed by Titian's Europa (1562).

We lingered for a very long time, taking in the diversity of the galleries, one of which was completely wallpapered with painted leather. Each room is an eclectic collection of objects, you could spend days discovering new things.

The week prior to this adventure, I took a trip to the Cambridge Antiques Market in search of some last minute wedding decor (my first time as maid of honor!). This place is amazing! I can't believe I've never been before especially since it's just down the street from my place. They have five floors full of fun stuff, all in good condition and reasonably priced. We were having so much fun (bride to be, Megan and I) looking at everything and squealing with delight. We were both smitten by a box of sassy Italian sunglasses, she picked up a purple pair (these became her "I'm freaking out and need to put on another persona" accessory) and I chose a neon lucite pair. I also snagged a luxurious leather purse, perfect for summer and made in Italy of course, as I was running out the door ($20 for the lot!).

Photo by Sophia Quach McCabe
Photo by Sophia Quach McCabe

Ready with my outfit, we put on Antonioni's Red Desert (1964).  

Screenshot from Red Desert.

The photography reminded me so much of Philadelphian artist Charles Sheeler (although Leger is said to be the inspiring artist).

Categorized as a Precisionist, Sheeler is known for flat panels of color and creating industrial atmospheres that give off a sense of religious expression. I am very drawn to his pictures. I like the juxtaposition of hard modern lines and dreamy environments.

Sheeler, Amoskeag Canal, 1948.

Monica Vitti.

Sheeler, Side of White Barn, 1915. Photograph.

Oh and Monica Vitti, amazing as always!

Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1932.
Sheeler, Architectural Cadences, 1954.

Colby-Sawyer College and Me!

Old news by now, but I have taken a position at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire: Adjunct Instructor "Professor" of Art History! Professor Teich please.

The campus is stunning: you can see mountains and lakes, the library is comprised of barns and silos, and the Arts Center, where my classroom is, is so mid-century cool (I'm right in between the art studios, the art gallery and the costume shop). It's the dream spot for me! Maybe I can work my way into the costume area while I'm here...

Susan Colgate Cleveland Library
My new library!
The woodsy scent stimulates the brain.
However, it is 90 miles from my current home...which means for my birthday this year I am wishing for a navy blue diesel Mercedes. Which I then need to learn how to drive for long periods of time, in New England. I'm not sure which is the bigger challenge, my first post-grad teaching job or learning how to become a serial long distance driver (hey I've lived in cities my entire adult life)! Anyway, I am very excited and nervous about this opportunity! I'm already plotting my course two months in advance!