Friday, October 31, 2008


To the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this afternoon, primarily to see the new photography exhibition Brought to Light : Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900.

Primeval photographs of blood platelets and urine crystals and body lice. Primeval astronomical photographs. Silvery 19th-century planets.

Photos below from the Museum's permanent collection on the second floor.

An early welded construction by David Smith. In the background is the first Rothko I ever saw in person. That would have been in 1970, long before the museum's present building by Mario Botta was even imagined. As I first knew it, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was spread across an awkward, chopped-up space on one floor of the Veteran's Memorial Building in Civic Center. But the Rothko was there, indeed it was, and that fact in itself was more than enough to make the whole unwieldy place seem important.

Above, Giacometti bust. On the walls, two stars of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Richard Diebenkorn left and David Park right.

Generous swathes of blank wall around each work. That is a good thing.

The museum is particularly proud of several great big paintings by Clyfford Still – partly because so little of his work is available to view anywhere. About 95% of the artist's lifetime output is still owned by the Clyfford Still estate, said to be opening its own museum in Denver in 2010.

The Donald Judd sculpture, a floating monument to minimalism, is always on display, but has moved around to various walls within the galleries half a dozen different times that I can recall. Now it has been sent to live in a corner along with Ad Reinhardt.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lake Zug

This constitutes a get-well card for one who knows that rest is the best medicine. Or, who knows? Maybe not the best. But probably at least very good.

Penelope Fitzgerald

Am excited about obtaining Penelope Fitzgerald's posthumously collected letters. She always nurtured tender feelings for William Morris (the Utopian designer) and wrote about him indulgently. The Morris fabric in the photo above seemingly encouraged the dust jacket designers to adapt other Morris ornaments for the typography, which I take to be a thoughtful tribute to the author's own taste. I recently finished Fitzgerald's collected journalism and essays issued in 2003 as The Afterlife. Below is part of a short piece from that volume, a piece she put together after the usual request to try and explain herself.

Why I Write

First, because something inside me compels me to tell stories. I mean that I get great satisfaction out of making people believe that this event happened at that time. Unlike history, fiction can proceed with confidence.

For example: a few years ago we were living on a Thames barge, and on the boat next door lived an elegant young male model. He saw that I was rather down in the dumps, a middle-aged woman shabbily dressed and tired, and he took me on a day-out to the sea, to Brighton. We went on all the rides and played all the slot machines. We walked for a while on the beach, then caught an open-top bus along the front. What happiness!

A few days later he went back to Brighton, by himself, and walked into the sea until it had closed over his head and he drowned. But when I made him a character in one of my books, I couldn't bear to let him kill himself. That would have meant that he had failed in life, whereas really, his kindness made him the very symbol of success in my eyes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Admirable new book from the Getty Museum. In addition to its own exhibition catalogs the Museum publishes translations like this one of excellent, already-existing European art books. Barbara Furlotti and Guido Rebecchini wrote the original Italian work. For me, their most appealing chapter is Giulio Romano at the Court of Federico Gonzaga. In the 1520s Federico took on Raphael's pupil Giulio Romano as chief court artist, and Giulio (with many assistants) decorated Gonzaga's new-built Palazzo Te with Mannerist frescoes on every available ceiling and wall. Renaissance hedonism (but still in Classical good taste, as conceived at the time).

Pavement Ravens

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gaudily! Giddily!

Today, for perhaps the one hundredth time in my career as a librarian, I attempted to investigate what I have long thought of as "the mystery of Joyce Carol Oates". One of my colleagues is her huge fan. He orders all her books for the library. She writes them (this is no joke) at the rate of three or four per year and has been at it since the early Sixties. Back when I was still young and hopeful I used to ask her great fan, my colleague, for recommendations. "What is a good one to start with? Which one should I read?" He could never narrow it down. "They're all good," he would say. By now I have probably picked up at least a hundred of them at one time or another. Each time, I will read the first page or two, or else read a page or two out of the middle. Every time, feeling defeated, I am sadly compelled to close the book. What is she trying to say? Why is she trying to say it? These are questions I can never answer.

Today, the Oates novel pictured above came back to the library from the bindery where it had been sent for repairs. I opened it randomly at page 241 and read the passage quoted here in bold type.

He went through to the foyer and to the plate-glass lobby. It was early evening outside: lights were on, playing gaudily on the boardwalks. Shar clenched his fists. He felt tears coming into his eyes. When he went outside he was startled at the difference in temperature. It was still warm outside, and humid; he felt betrayed. Crowds passed idly, looking at the motel. Some people still wore sunglasses. Music from the boardwalk rose giddily into the air and mixed with the hot dusty wind and the smell of food and beer and salt and perspiration. Shar stared into the crowd.

Well, I said to myself. Well, it is specific. What organs did Shar feel his tears coming into? The reader knows. What appendages did Shar clench? The reader knows that too. Clench and fists. They just seem to go together. Like tears and eyes. Even better is that repetition of the word outside three different times, a helpful reminder for any readers who are geographically challenged or inattentive. Nobody will be allowed to feel lost. Best of all, though, are the adverbs. I was struck to notice that in this one short passage we have both gaudily and giddily. Plus idly. These words evoke a carnival atmosphere, I concluded.

But then I got to a puzzle. If the music is rising (giddily) into the air and mixing with the hot dusty wind and also mixing with the smell of four different things that are mentioned, this feast for the senses is located well above everybody's heads, right? So who is sensing it? Shar is down on the ground, so I don't think it can be him. With his clenching and crying and staring, he is clearly preoccupied with some inner struggle, anyway. But if he is not using his five senses in the delicate and detailed manner described by the author, then who is?

Why, she herself! Joyce Carol Oates is clinging to the top of a lamp-post! From there, above it all, she can smell the tourists and keep her eye on the protagonist and bestow her perceptions like maple syrup over the entire scene.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Golden Gate Park II

This is the entrance to Golden Gate Park at the busy corner of Stanyan and Fulton in San Francisco. And at this corner is where I catch the bus home after work every afternoon at about the time when this picture was taken. A person can be grateful to wait for the bus in a setting such as this.

Early Morning

Sunday morning making coffee in the kitchen at Spencer Alley and looking out the window and noticing how promising the just-arriving daylight looked and pulling on a sweatshirt and shoes quickly and walking outdoors with the camera to see what else the new light might be offering.

Mission Street was nearly empty and still partly dark.

I had swung over to Guerrero and was headed back for breakfast when the actual bright morning started.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

RIP Jake Elliot

Except for the Franciscan (who is Italian, and roughly 700 years old) this belated memorial service in images is composed entirely of the stray ornaments along the walls of a couple of alleys (but not Spencer Alley, where vigilant property owners prevent activity like this) between Mission and Guerrero.

Friday, October 24, 2008

San Francisco in Flames

An abstracted, fantasized San Francisco, as if painted for a children's book, except that bombs are falling and conflagrations starting. Details from an unusually meticulous mural found along an alleyway in the Mission.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stolen Silver

The best feature in Appolo magazine is always printed on the last page, From the Apollo Archives. There, something interesting from some remote back-issue is reprinted. The October 2008 issue excerpts A Love Affair With Silver written in 1974 by Mary Henderson:

Harold Beresford Hope was a member of the British Diplomatic Service who, just before the first World War, served in the British Embassy in Berlin. There he fell deeply in love with a Polish lady and she with him. One day, however, he went to the Palais de Danse with another friend and was confronted by the distraught Polish lady, who drew a revolver out of her purse and shot herself in front of him. Beresford Hope was then transferred to Athens, where in 1917 he died of typhoid fever. (It is believed that he threw himself out of a window while in a state of delirium, the doctors having failed to diagnose the disease.) When his will was read it was found that, in memory of his love for the Polish lady, Beresford Hope had bequeathed his valuable collection of silver to a British Legation in Poland if such a mission should be established there in an independent Poland within five years of his death.

The Polish Republic was proclaimed in Warsaw in November 1918 and ten months later a British Legation was opened there. The Beresford Hope silver, numbering 176 pieces, was moved from Coutts Bank in 1921. It travelled by cruiser to Gdynia and from there to Warsaw (under Naval guard) on a Polish train in a special British carriage.

Not long after its arrival an attempt was made to break through the steel bars in the strong room, but the thieves fled and, although a team of Embassy officials and armed naval ratings awaited their return the next day, they did not reappear. The collection then remained safely in the Embassy until the evacuation of the staff in September 1939, when the heavy silver chests were left behind in the safe.

When the Hon. Robin Hankey returned to Warsaw as Charge d'Affaires in 1945, he immediately went to the strong room and operated the combination he had set in 1939; the Chubb lock functioned perfectly, but the room was empty. Thieves had bored a hole in the brick side wall. Permission was later granted by the Mayor of Warsaw to dig among the ruins of the Embassy, but only one mustard spoon was found.

In May 1946 the Greek-born wife of the Head of Chancery, Mrs. John Russell, was wandering in the ruins of the old city when she came to a yard selling scrap iron and junk. On a pile of rusty old iron bedsteads she spotted a domed object. On closer examination she found it was a dish-cover with the coat of arms and cypher of George V. Further search revealed a total of thirteen such dish-covers; one was being used as a hand basin by the scrap dealer, who was loathe to part with it until Mrs. Russell purchased him an enamel one in exchange. Although Mrs. Russell did not know about the Beresford Hope silver, when she brought back her prize to clean it – having paid a total of 5,000 zlts, which at the time was worth just under 3 pounds – it aroused great excitement at the Embassy, where, of course, it was quickly identified.

Sad to say, Apollo provided no photographs of the Beresford Hope dish covers (nor of the mustard spoon). Are they still at the Embassy? Has anybody figured out what use to make of them? The George V covered serving piece shown here is the best approximation turned up by a quick picture search – from a 2006 sale at Woodwards Auction Rooms in Cork. That obtrusive sticker (the lot number) looks a little hazardous for the finish, but of course it represents nothing like the perils of the Warsaw scrap heap where Mary Henderson's "domed objects" turned up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Jean Paul Gaultier recently showed his Spring/Summer collection for 2009 in Paris. This photo was taken in backstage glare with no glamor-lighting, which undoubtedly helped it qualify for the Outstanding Horror-Skinny Fashion-Model Award of 2008.