Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Impressionist to Modernist: Masterworks of Early Photography

Paul Strand's Toadstools After Rain, Pittsburgh, 2015

Through April 19 the Frick Museum & Historical Center is exhibiting the prints of some of the seminal photographers who worked at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.  Stieglitz, Strand, Kasebier, Brigman, Ruzicka, Ulmann, Steichen, etc., through their dedicated passion for the photographic process, were able to successfully argue - with the work they produced - that photography has a place at the banquet of fine arts.
Look closely and you can see me and my wife in the reflection of the glass covering the print. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Workers Prime

 The Workers, Pittsburgh, 2015
 What, Pittsburgh, 2015
Who They Are, Pittsburgh, 2015

A behemoth in steel looms along the river walk on the south side of Pittsburgh.  So much has changed in Pittsburgh since the steel industry faded (it's not gone entirely, but it is no longer a major employer in the area), yet we tend to still honor it, if not outright romanticize it.  I wonder how the steel industrial history will be viewed once my generation - arguably the last generation whose life was impacted by the mills - is gone.  If history has taught me anything, it'll be even more romanticized, with total disregard to how grueling and dangerous the work was, how there were few options for most young men save for the mills and forty plus years of swing shifts until they mercifully expired.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Intrigue And Snowdrops

 Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, Pittsburgh, 2015

Galanthus nivalis Study, Pittsburgh, 2015

I was outside with the dog when I saw that in a corner of the yard the snowdrops had blossomed.  The only flower hardy enough to bloom while it's still snowing, thus making it the first flower to flower, I decided to spend some time today learning more about the brave little bulbous angiosperm. 
It did not take long in my research into the snowdrop to learn that it is native to Europe, and that international trade of the bulbs is strictly restricted by the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.  My only defense in possessing Galanthus nivalis is that I did not plant them.  They were already here when we bought the house.  Our house was built in the mid-1940s, and the original owner was quite the gardener, and for all I know snowdrops weren't listed as endangered then, or even if 'endangered' was a thing seventy years ago!
So, there's that.
But what I found most fascinating about the snowdrop is that it is at the heart of the very first Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foodstuff debate.  There is an active lectin in snowdrops identified as GNA, shorthand for galanthus nivalis agglutinin, that has been shown to serve as a natural insecticide.  For this reason GNA has been used to create various GMOs (papaya, wheat, potatoes, corn, rice and God only knows what else since the industry doesn't actually share a lot of information on GMOs) with hotly debated results.
In 1998, Arpad Pusztai, a career-long biochemist who specialized in lectins, worked at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland.  He conducted a research study into the effects of GNA modified potatoes on rats.  You can read about the entire experiment and controversy here.
I find the complete discrediting of Pusztai to be extreme, especially since he'd worked at the institute for what, 29 years?  He'd published his findings for previous studies in peer reviewed journals with not even a hint of scandal or disagreement.  And while this is a most curious case, what I would like to see is more studies of GMOs done, and made available, not buried or discredited when the outcome is not what the industry wants.


St.Paul in Reflection, Pittsburgh, 2015

Ever since I first noticed the conflux of disparity reflected in the exterior of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, I cannot not notice it every time I walk down Fifth Avenue.  Because of all the noticing, I've shot hundreds of photographs of the building(s).  What makes it so engrossing is the fact that directly across the street is St. Paul's Cathedral, whose facade is echoed in the technology building's own mirrored panel facade.  It is essentially that place where religion and science/technology collide, and in this instance, it is where religion bends and conforms upon inspection.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Zoology Lesson For Today

Deer Teeth, 2015

One day a few years ago my oldest son came home from a walk in the woods with a deer skull, which he gave to me.  He's so goddamn thoughtful.  I've done photo studies of the skull, and with a little curiosity and a google search, discovered that I could assign an age to the deer based on the wear on its teeth.   By my calculations this deer was approximately 3 1/2 years old when it died, as indicated by the amount of wear on the first molar and the width of the dentine in all of the teeth.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Any Given Point In Time Beyond My Reach

Exposure, Pittsburgh, 2015

For years, since 1984, actually, I've kept a journal.  Those imitation leather bound volumes served as a point of reference to where I was and what I was doing, and most importantly, what I was thinking as I moved through my life.  Then, in 2004, catastrophe hit in the form of Hurricane Ivan and the resultant flooding that occurred in Western Pennsylvania.   The house I was living in at the time was inundated by water and anything that I hadn't taken with me before we bugged out didn't survive.   A tragedy of epic proportions.  Not since the library of Alexandria was torched has so much been lost to humanity.
All that aside, I was reading a review of the Museum of Modern Art's Bjork Exhibition, and unflattering as it may be, it called to mind the first time I was exposed to Bjork via The Sugarcubes on Saturday Night Live.  I'm positive that this was documented in my journal at the time, but as that's been lost to history, I'll just have to rely on memory.  I was in the Allegheny National Forest, spending the weekend in a trailer with several other family members.  Television reception, by way of a dodgy antenna, was also dodgy.  You'd think that we would've been content to play cards or chit chat or wile away the evening playing charades, but no.  We had to watch tv, despite the horrid reception.  Only two channels came in, both broadcast out of Erie, PA, an ABC affiliate and a NBC one.  We opted to attempt to watch NBC's Saturday Night Live, although we didn't have high hopes of making out much of what was happening. 
The only thing that I remember even remotely about that show was the musical guest, The Sugarcubes.  When they came on all of our collective attention was focused on discerning what was happening between all of the bits of white noise emanating from the 13" inch television screen.  I didn't know if this woman was singing or yelling at someone, but I knew that I found what she was doing exciting.  Oh, the late 80s cried out for a change in music, and fortunately led to the Alternative Music Scene of the 90s.
 As soon as the song ended we erupted in discussion/argument.  A couple of us liked it/loved it, and a couple of us vehemently despised it.  And I think that still holds true today.  Whatever it is that Bjork is doing, musically or otherwise ( I wish she'd act more, I loved 'Dancer In The Dark' ), it...startles.  That's what she does to me, startles me out of complacency.  Demands something from me.  I haven't seen the Bjork MoMA show, and probably won't be in NYC anytime soon, but I wonder if I would be walking into with a different appreciation. 
The world will never know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rent By Bleeding Light

Barbie & Kehinde, 2015

     Art is much like dawn:  Darkness rent by bleeding light.  An illumination, whether literal or figurative, something revelatory to the eye, or the mind's eye.  And, as I've addressed here before, and has been argued since the first human scratched an image of a deer on the wall of a cave, art is subjective, everyone's a critic, and nothing riles up emotions like dissension on either or both of the previous two observations.  It's crazy really, it's like railing against the weather, you have no power over it. 
So and thus has a tempest in a teapot boiled over with a hatchet job published by the Village Voice recently about the Kehinde Wiley Brooklyn Museum retrospective.  Read the piece, it's nonsense.  While I'm not a fan of Wiley's factory-style produced works, (he employs a lot of assistants who do all of the background painting, with dubious results), none of what the VV piece claims is actually evidenced in his work.  Such as, the pervy nature of Wiley's renderings of young black men.  The operative word here is MEN, not children, and the portraits aren't even all that suggestive to slip into the realm of pervy.  Which leads one to believe that the author of the article is a homophobe.  So seldom does one come across a true dyed in the wool homophobe in the art world anymore that its'a  shock to the system when a publication as respected as the Village Voice gives precious space and ink to one.
Now, a much more even handed review of the  retrospective is up on the New York Times website.  Although, I don't know how much praise it is to be compared to a mash-up of Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell and Jeff Koons.  Jeff Koons!  The most reviled living artist I can think of.  Ah, Kehinde, you are breathing rarified air indeed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Stupid from A Distance

I'm With Stupid, Nicole Eisenman, 2001

Please, No Photography, 2014

I've been exploring more of Nicole Eisenman's work, her intent and influences.  There's a lot of power, and humor and whimsy in Eisenman's work, which is not an easy feat.  She's able to communicate something very astute, but also funny, sometimes disturbingly so (see her 'Alice In Wonderland' which is one of her paintings featured in the above link).  It was a bit over a year ago that I discovered her work at the Carnegie International Exhibition and I've been revisiting her work included in that showing.  Interestingly conceptually deep, with vivid colors and imagery.
Also, I'm a bit sorry/not sorry that I did take a pic of 'I'm With Stupid', from a distance, even if the little idenitfying card that accompanied the work bade me not to.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Wine Can Only Fix So Much

Death and the Maiden, 2009, Nicole Eisenman

While I imagine that most women do not wear their nipples on the outside of their dresses, on a dud of a date such as the one pictured here, it makes perfect sense.  Drink up, fair maiden!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

And Then There Were 47 Asshats

Hope For the Future, 2015

I do not usually delve into the realm of politics, whether on this blog or in real life - except to set my mother straight after she's been watching Fox News.  But, this dumbass open letter to the leadership of Iran that 47 Republican Senators signed, including, but not limited to, the junior Senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, warrants a response.  And repercussions.  What. The. Fuck.  Of course I have written a hard copy letter to Toomey voicing my displeasure, and wondering if they have undermined our national security with this borderline treasonous act. 
The larger question in all of this is; what the hell has happened to the GOP?  The crazy with them just keeps expanding exponentially, with no end in sight.  They shutdown the government, they demonize science, they underfund education AND the infrastructure, they don't understand what 'rape' is, they think that a woman's pelvic exam could be done simply by her swallowing a tiny camera because, you know, the uterus is part of the digestive tract.  The stupid never ends.  To make matters worse, they are PROUDLY stupid!
Who votes for these people?  Who!?  Well, I'm sort of glad that Toomey signed the letter to Iran because as history has shown in Pennsylvania (Santorum, Corbett), we don't like the crazy branch of the Republican party.  You can be conservative and get elected, but you can't be one of those nutty ideologues. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Woman Pissing With Monkey

Woman Pissing With Monkey, Pittsburgh, 2015

In this cubist re-interpretation of Picasso's "Woman Pissing" (original, 1965) a small monkey enters the scene, posed in a handstand.  The positioning of the monkey figure is crucial to the scene because it serves to interject Picasso himself into the action.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Dark Tetrad

Troll, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 2001

Every once in awhile an internet troll story goes viral, and that's precisely what happened earlier this week when former baseball pitching great Curt Schilling took down the trolls who dared mess with him and his daughter.  I agree completely with how Schilling handled this twisted scenario, especially him identifying the worst offenders, Sean MacDonald and Adam Nagel.  These young men have caused themselves a world of pain because the internet being what it is, this is never going to go away, and they are going to have to work long and hard to prove themselves better men than how they've portrayed themselves thus far.  Of course they have their defenders, other trolls insisting that the men were 'only joking', that last bastion of desperation.  Trolls don't joke, they insult and incite, and if they cross some line, whether legal or moral, they then can always claim to just be joking about raping and/or murdering someone.  The vast majority of trolls are men,  deeply psychologically disturbed men who delight in causing others pain.  At least they can't help but reveal themselves, they yearn to reveal themselves!  Well, anonymously, because if they are revealed for real, then they lose jobs, get kicked out of school, investigated by the police or FBI.  And they don't want that!  Heavens no!  It was all just a....joke.  Only now the joke's on them.  Still not a funny joke, but at least it is bitterly ironic.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Like A Lion, And Out Like An Ass

Winter, Still, Life, Pittsburgh 2015

Winter, I give up, you win.  I know that we're only a couple of days into my least favorite month, and that you're supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. Nonetheless, the last two years you've deviated from that arrangement.  As expected, March '13 & '14 came in like a lion, but then went out like an ass. 
Frankly, I'm exhausted.  All of the shoveling and de-icing has worn me down to a tiny nub.  I'm done.  You can do whatever it is that you're going to do, because, you know, you're weather and March is inherently EVIL, but I'm going to pretend that you don't exist.  The capacity to delude oneself is precious at such times, and I've crossed over into a land that is governed by what I say instead of what actually is.  Reality be damned! 
Sigh.  Make that, bitter sigh.
I have to go and clean off my car so that I can get some work done.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Three Sisters

Seventh & Ninth Street Bridges from the Sixth St. Bridge, Pittsburgh, 2015

Yesterday was cold, like most of this winter has been, but the sun was shining and I wanted to get out and photograph the frozen Allegheny River in the city.  Even on a weekend with no events happening, parking is expensive.  We chose to park on the street and pay only $1 for twenty minutes.  Suddenly we were off to the races to cover as much territory along and across the river as we could in about half an hour.  It's an odd experience to be galloping along, suddenly stopping dead in your tracks and getting a shot, but that's what we did.  Since it was only about 5F, the fast pace also helped us stay warm.
In the above shot we're about halfway across the Sixth Street Bridge, the first of the trinity of suspension bridges known as The Three Sisters, with the Seventh and Ninth Street Bridges, and an unrelated train trestle, upriver in the background.  Officially all three bridges are named for famous people associated with Pittsburgh:  the Clemente Bridge (6th), the Andy Warhol Bridge (7th), and the Rachel Carson Bridge (9th), but locally only the Clemente Bridge ever gets referred to as just that.  During home Pirates games the bridge is closed to motorized traffic and you can walk from downtown to the stadium on the north shore.  I've done it, and it's the kind of oddly intimate urban thing that makes you love your city even more.