Saturday, January 16, 2010

An artful vase

This is not a "visual" piece of art, but it is very visual.  This vase, entitled "Various Worlds, Various Ladders #1" was created early in the career of the ceramics artist Edward S. Eberle. This vase is not very representative of his work in that it is a very traditional template for vases.  Works he has created after this have gone in un-traditional forms, mostly representational of people and places. 

This was purchased at a store that used to be on 2nd Avenue, near 4th St. called Civilization.  It was a gift and housewares store, and unusual at the time because the Lower East Side had not yet gentrified up to the level of some of the items this store carried. 



The piece has a matte black glaze which has been extensively etched by the artist.  Each world, represented by the circles, is separated by a ladder border.  There are top and bottom borders of what I will call filigree. The bottom border serves to ground the whole piece, using hemispheres that relate to the world contained in the quadrant above it. Overall the piece is very harmonious, with all of the elements of the etching fitting together very well in a theme.

Why I like this piece:  

In my naivete, I thought that I had figured out the piece immediately upon my first encounter with it.  The four worlds were not "worlds" in my mind, but simply the four phases of the moon.  The first world (top photo) looks very much like the man in the moon to me, and the third world is a blank spiral, so that was the new moon. 

It has something more to say than just being a vase, and that was the clincher when I bought it.  It was enigmatic, (particularly after I bothered to check the bottom of the vase and found the title for it), and it was decorative in a thoughtful way.  The vase could be turned to present any one of the four different worlds.  The balance among them was always maintained by the ladder borders.  Although the etching is of a piece, it still seems as free as a doodle on paper.

All that being said, it is a piece I would be willing to part with.  In a way, it has become a responsibility that I no longer wish to carry.  After 25 years of ownership the vase has accumulated in value perhaps, but it is  not something I appreciate every day in the way I do the artwork on the walls.  I don't use it for flowers or for any other utilitarian purpose.   

What this piece reminds me of:

I am reminded of what the Lower East Side became during those few short years that were the decade of the 80s.  By the 1990s, there had already been the semi-riots around the development of Tompkins Square Park, the removal of Wigstock to larger venues, and the construction of New York University housing everywhere.  I was a witness to the evolution of the Lower East Side from being a frontier where a friend at the time was mugged for almost every month of the four months he lived on Avenue C before leaving the city in terror  into a territory of high-end bars and restaurants living off the fumes of CBGB's.  

It was a gay neighborhood by default because it was so cheap to live there and the Club Baths were still open on First Avenue.  Quentin Crisp was occasionally glimpsed in the area. There was off-off-Broadway, off-off-price designer duds, and away-from-Soho galleries.  While this piece doesn't trade in any of the grime and grit of that era, it does show what gems can be found amongst the dreck.  

I realize that sounds like I didn't consider the Lower East Side livable until it cleaned up its act, but in fact I started many weekend nights by heading there first.  It is where young smart people congregated and met and hung out.  I never lived there, already ensconced in the much grittier Hell's Kitchen, but what I'm  trying to express is that something is lost when the frictions created by old and the new are homogenized into, for instance, what is now Times Square.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Flea Markets and Photography

Although I had bought a few photos here and there previously, this group of photos represents my first major purchase of photography.  These cabinet cards were found at a flea market which first appeared on Canal Street, and which then migrated to 24th and 6th Ave. in Chelsea.  It was one of those purchases where I went back several times within the space of two hours or so, trying to decide if I could really justify the purchase.

The photos represent scenes from an ascent of Mt. Hood which took place sometime during the late 1800's.  I have placed two of the photos on this post, and the rest can be seen after the jump at the end of the post.


It is the first image that got me excited.  The other scenes you'll see after the jump are mostly beautiful landscapes.  Though direct attribution can't be made, an appraisal undertaken by Swann Galleries noted that these are likely to have been taken by Dewert.  (I'm still trying to find information about him.)  At some point I plan to donate the photos to the Mazamas Organization, a non-profit founded in 1894 which provides education about responsible mountain climbing in Oregon.

Why I like this piece:

These photos take part in both history and art.  It must have been a struggle to lug the equipment necessary for decent photos to the top of Mt. Hood.  And it is interesting to note that the photos in general are very carefully composed.  Nothing is too off-center, and nothing is accidentally cut out of any of the frames.  This is photography that is decidedly not "point and shoot."  The photographer was committed to his subject and provided the best images he could have possibly provided.

Even if the photos are not proven to be by a known photographer, this is clearly a photographer we should know more about.  The men in the photos are relaxed with the camera, although they are posed.  It is not a surprise to them that the camera is there, and it is not really a matter of "showing off" for the camera.  Photography was welcomed as a documentary tool.

So do these "documents" partake of art?  I would say so, and that is mainly due to the care taken with composition.  Even though they are not large images, the viewer gets the sense of the spectacular vistas available to the climbers.  That can be a difficult thing to do without careful consideration of the what is seen through the lens.

What this piece reminds me of:

This reminds of the amount of time I spent walking around New York city. I came upon this flea market after a little Saturday morning tour of Soho in the early 80s. New York was not quite so set in its ways, and real estate, especially unused parking lots on weekends, was  likely to be utilized in a more slapdash manner.

Now, quite a few of the parking lots are built over with condominiums hungry for buyers, or already converted to rentals. As I mentioned above, this particular flea market migrated to 6th Avenue in the lower 20s. Almost all of the open lots that were flea markets are gone. Many have moved to some place near 38th St. and Ninth Avenue, but I haven't visited there. There is still a garage on 24th St. near 6th Avenue which has two floors of vendors, but who knows how much longer that will last.

I am also reminded that I bought a few daguerrotypes at that flea market before I bought this group of photos. Daguerrotypes are very difficult to find now, and even then I was often told, "You should have come earlier. I had some really good ones." If I were a true collector, as was my friend Carl Morse, I would have been there as they were unpacking their trunks to get the real jewels.

The rest of the photos are after the jump:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

And speaking of Paris

In 1985 I took my first trip to Europe to visit a friend who had just moved back to Amsterdam after a career at the U.N. in New York.  He graciously agreed to accompany me by train to Paris.  It was a great trip, and I couldn't leave Paris without a serious souvenir.  I came upon a small frame and print shop and purchased a print and a poster.  The poster will show up in a future post.
I considered the print a real find at the time, as it references both Tintin and Andy Warhol.  The image was somewhat familiar to me, and I was excited to find an original print of it.  The cans of crab arose in a Tintin adventure entitled "The Crab with the Golden Claws."  I quote from the Wikipedia entry:  "Tintin had discovered a smuggling ring which used tins of crab meat in order to smuggle their opium."  The work is entitled "Quatre Boites de Crabe Extra" and was created by Floc'h et Riviere, who are a team of illustrators famous in France for their collaborative work.  The print is numbered and bears the signature of both artists.  It is dated 1983.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photograph, which has some annoying artifacts from the light in the kitchen.  I took the photo with all sorts of lights on and off, but this was the best I could come up with.

Why I like this piece:

Of course, this is as close to an Andy Warhol as I'm likely to own.  The whole piece references pop art and pop culture.  It is jokey and fun, and likely the most saturated with color of any art work I have.  This is in the kitchen, and works perfectly as kitchen art.  It seemed out of place anywhere else I put it in the apartment.  It is vibrant and alive, and yes, it makes me want to eat something.

What this piece reminds me of:

I cannot forget how I found this piece, just wandering near the Sorbonne.  It was a small shop and I went in as much to rest as to browse.  But mostly it reminds me of Warhol.  

I used to go to a gay bar on Avenue A called the Pyramid Club.  It was on my list of places to cruise on a Saturday night, starting in the East Village and ending up on the West side.  They used to run a show which was billed as the first gay soap opera.  On a little stage, which was difficult to see from the bar anyway, there would be practically incomprehensible goings on for about 15 minutes or so, starting around 10:00 p.m.  Then the music would start and the area became a dance floor.  I guess Andy and his entourage were there to see the show, but I didn't notice him until I decided to join in the dancing.  There he was with a few other friends surrounding him, sort of bouncing around the way we used to dance back in the late 70s and early 80s.  

I did see him one or two other times; once at Irving Place, another club and once just on the street in the West Village.  New York allows celebrities to live their lives without too much fear of interruption. 

I also remember showing this and the poster to my friend back at the hotel room.  He had become ill and wasn't able to squire me around Paris as he hoped, but I was getting along fairly well on my own.  When I spread them out for him to see I remember his reaction as less than enthusiastic. Chacun à son goût!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Details, Details, and a thought or two

Because I was so habituated to "Les Bons Moments" I failed to document that each of the three panels are also entitled.  I have edited the original post to include that information, but it is a fair warning that I will not see everything there is to see about the art that I own.  Feel free to make notations in comments if you detect that I have missed some apparent details.  We'll all learn something.  

This is a good opportunity to play with the cliche "familiarity breeds contempt."   Familiarity also breeds a type of ignorance.  If you lived with something or someone for a long time, you begin to ignore some of the traits that got you involved in the first place.  Without revisiting the history we have with the people and things that impact our lives, we may miss the best way to appreciate them.