March 2015

Anonymous. Fresco (14th C). Basilica of San Abbondio, Como.

For all the anecdotes recorded in the Passion chronicle, there seems a lacuna at the heart of it. Something goes missing. Something in the text lacks explication. The politics of it are plain enough. But is there not a rupture in the psychology of the crowd, an unaccountable fickleness? Why the discontinuity between Jesus’ reception into Jerusalem and the calls to crucify him days later? Were the Jews that mercurial and unstable? Anonymous. Fresco (14th C). Basilica of San Abbondio, Como. Continue Reading
Man with Mona Lisa

. . . millions of Americans now regularly eat French-fried potatoes with their fingers. We have sunk, anthropologically speaking, beneath the level of the fork. The daily, unrecorded habits of a people are measures of its values. A disintegrated civilization shows not only in the low level of the arts, but in its pop entertainment and its lunchbox.                                                    John Senior, The Restoration of Christian Culture
Nothing is more exhilarating than counting oneself an accomplished spotter of cultural decay. We relish the frisson of it even while we wring our hands. Continue Reading
Thomas Rowlandson. London Penny Post (c. 1800). Museum of London, London.

You would not pass a dollar bill on the sidewalk without picking it up. Maybe not even a quarter. I am sure of that. But a penny? Do you stoop for that? I do. Thomas Rowlandson. Two-a-penny Buns (1799). Museum of London, London. And I just did this morning. Two at time were lying by my car in a local lot when I ran out for groceries. That makes three so far this week. The first was lying on Lexington Avenue outside of St. Continue Reading
Max Beckmann. Medea (1949-50). National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.                                 William Burroughs, Introduction to The Naked Lunch
That book seethed up from forgotten shallows while I watched a recent episode in the third season of House of Cards. Robin Wright’s character, Claire Underwood, wants to avenge herself on a male diplomat who has slighted her. In a previous scene, he scanned her body, and told her how good she looked in the dress she was wearing. Continue Reading
Wally Wood. Disneyland Memorial Orgy (1967).

Children were lifting their tunics for each other before pants ever existed. You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. It is an ancient dare, a forbidden game, played behind bushes, in stairwells, or in rumpus rooms with the door shut. In secret. But when a grown woman plays it by herself in the Musée d’Orsay, under lights, and in full view of other grownups, we know we are not in a playroom anymore. Not even one in Sin City. Continue Reading