Okay, I admit it, I have a bit of a book problem

particularly when it comes to art books, and especially when it comes to museum catalogs. Between October 2009 and January 2010, I acquired 10 exhibition catalogs and a handful of critical/survey texts. They’re beautiful books with lush illustrations and scholarly writings — not your typical coffee-table art books you find at B&N.

1. American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915 (The Met)

2. Drawings & Prints: Masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

3. MoMA Highlights (MoMA)

4. Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity: 1919-1933 (MoMA)

5. Playing with Pictures: The Art of the Victorian Photocollage (The Arts Institute of Chicago)

6. Tim Burton (MoMA)

7. James Ensor (MoMA)

8. Kirchner and the Berlin Street (MoMA)

9. Claude Monet: Waterlilies (MoMA)

10. Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art

11. A Century of American Printmaking: 1880-1980 by James Watroux

12. Modern Art in Common Culture by Thomas Crow

13. Bauhaus by Magdalena Droste

This might explain why 1. I’m broke, and 2. I had to order another bookshelf.


The Three Ghosts of Christmas

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. December, 1843.”

putting up the Christmas tree... an epic tradition

And it was with this little letter to his readers that Charles Dickens began his classic “A Christmas Carol.”  Whether it’s through Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog, or Jim Carrey, or Bill Murray, or Dickens himself, you’ve heard the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation from frosty miser to merry man of charity. Dickens warned us, his novel is a ghost story, a merry moralizing ghost story.

A century an a half after Dickens published the novel, his great-great grandson, tours the world reading the tale aloud to throngs of holiday merry-makers. Dickens’ story is so well-loved because it speaks to the power of Christmas to warm the heart. Ultimately, “a Christmas Carol” is exactly what its title says it is — a joyous song about the many miracles of Christmas. Though, as I’ve grown a bit older (only a bit) and a bit wiser (only a very, very little bit), I’ve come to realize that it is not only the Scrooges of the world who are haunted by the 3 Ghosts of Christmas. For all of us, the Christmas present teams with the spectres of Christmases past and Christmases future. Truthfully, Christmas is more haunted than Halloween.

I’m lucky. Most of my ghosts of Christmas past are Caspers. They’re friendly and warm memories of tree-hunting, dinner parties, caroling in front of the fire, and the exciting exchange of gifts. This is not to say every Christmas past was as perfect as a picture print from Currier & Ives, but I have been more fortunate than most to be able to spend my 24 Christmases with the people I love most. As for the ghost of Christmas Present? He promises to bring another Eve and Day passed in good cheer.

But the Ghost of Christmas Future, whether for Scrooge or for us, is less friendly. With his inevitable visit (which usually comes once all the guests have gone and I’m alone in front of the fire), comes a sense of uncertainty. For how much longer will I be this lucky? What will my Christmas look like 10 years from now? Will I still be preparing dinner for my family? Will that family be bigger? Smaller? There’s always a pang of fear with the thought that one day I might spend Christmas alone. Without the benefit of siblings or family in this country, it’s not a total stretch of the imagination. I think of the many things that have happened since last Christmas — of my friends who married, of my friends who broke up, of my cousin’s passing, of my family’s reunion. Uncertainty is the one certainty that comes with every new year, and it’s the post palpable at Christmas.

Luckily, I tend not to dwell for too long on the darker spectres that loom in the future. I prefer to start planning my menu for next year’s Christmas banquet… maybe, I’ll bake a pie. Everyone loves a pie.


“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited…Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know if, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” – Scrooge’s Nephew

Why I’m Not Going to Read Julie & Julia and Why you shouldn’t NetFlix the Movie

Don’t hate me — I’m not a bad person. But, the truth is, Julie & Julia is a bad movie.

First of all, Amy Adams is not captivating or compelling enough to play opposite someone with the presence of Meryl Streep. Yes, I know Adams was nominated for an Oscar when she played opposite Streep’s power-hungry Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt, but in Doubt, Adams was a supporting character whose childish innocence is a foil to the sinister fanatical Streep. In Julie & Julia, her character is an equal. But Oscar nominee or not, Adams is not Streep’s equal.

Second, Julie Powell as she is portrayed is not a captivating character. In theory, her story is great — a failed author works for the city helping mop-up the emotional mess of 9-11, in frustration turns to blogging to find renewed sense of purpose. Yet that story fails to be interesting on screen. Most uninteresting is the fact Julie can cook. Everything she cooks, even before she begins the Julie/Julia project is “amazing.” Lame. I wanted her to actually learn how to cook while working her way through Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I wanted stuff to burn, fall on the floor — in short I wanted Julie to be more like Julia… a little imperfect.

Next, there’s the sex problem. I really didn’t expect to see, or want to see for that matter, Stanley Tucci make out with Meryl Streep or Chris Messina make out with Amy Adams in a movie about mastering the art of french cooking. While “French,” “lover,” and “food” are all terms that meld beautifully with one another in most circumstances, they fail here.

There is hope for redemption in Meryl Streep’s masterful portrayal of the American icon, Julia Childs. Streep’s voice and mannerisms morph uncannily into Childs’. You forget it’s Meryl Streep on screen. The problem is the Julie segments distract horribly from Streep’s Oscar-caliber performance. While Streep deserves the recognition, the movie is so weak on a whole that I feel it’s a crime to give the project any sort of trophy. it’s a shame — Julia Childs’ life is worthy of a film and Meryl Streep was born to play her… but Julie & Julia is the wrong bio-pic.

What a missed opportunity.

Books I don’t have shelf space for but really really want for Christmas

1. Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Svengali, Daphne Du Maurier, Peter Pan, and intrigue — I couldn’t ask for more!

2. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
One of my favorite movies… I should have read the book

3. Lewis Carroll by Anne Higonnet

4. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

5. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

6. New Art City by Jed Perl

Better than the Da Vinci Code… cuz it’s true

002When I see books like “Rogue’s Gallery” (my current read) and “The Judgment of Paris” on a bestseller’s list, I get a little giddy (I have such an intellectual crush on Ross King). It’s refreshing to know that, 1. it’s possible to write art historical books that appeal to a non-academic audience and 2. that there is a hefty audience who finds the real-life intrigues of the art world as consuming as a Dan Brown novel.

Along with the ever popular art-heist thrillers (“The Lost Painting”) there have been some pretty interesting books of late that delve into the history of collecting, museums, and art market. I’ve always been fascinated with the public’s fervent love of art — from the riots surrounding the Paris Salons of the 19th century to the more recent protests surrounding a painting of the Virgin Mary covered in dung, it seems people have always had violent opinions about what should and shouldn’t be art. Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Kammen has written on this subject in Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture (a book that’s been on my shelf for a year, but has yet to be cracked).

Why is it that we’re as fascinated by the history of the Met as by the artwork housed within its walls? Museums are complex symbols of power. We associate them with both with high culture and the exceedingly wealthy, which means there must be some good dirt about their founders and their collections laying around. And it seems a number of researchers have dug up that dirt.

Michael Gross’ Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum reveals the Met’s more sordid and contentious beginnings. We owe Phillip de Montebello a lot for expanding the Met’s holdings to include some of the most stunning and influential pieces in Western art. But before the beloved de Montebello, the Met had some questionable directors who aquired some questionable artworks. In a similar vein, Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures by Cynthia Saltzman revives the Gilded Age characters who voraciously consumed El Grecos and Rembrandts. Saltzman focuses on a few select artworks and a handful of influential collectors who effectively shaped America’s most important art holdings. Her history is as readable as it is well-researched.

There’s also Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren, The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, and The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft — all published within the last 2 or 3 years. “Seven Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thorton attempts to unravel the complex relationships between contemporary buyers and contemporary artists. I read it over the summer as I was starting to get more directly involved in the art world outside of academia — so far I consider it an essential road map.

As someone who wants to make a career out of publishing readable histories of artworks and the periods that produced them, its a relief to know there will be more than 5 PhD candidates reading my books…

Jane Austen on Exhibit

Okay, this is super exciting

The Morgan Library here in NYC is home to the largest deposit of Jane Austen correspondences (only a small number have survived the centuries). They’ve also gotten their hands on a few of her manuscripts. All of it is on display in “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy,” November 6, 2009, through March 14, 2010. So Austenites, Let’s Go!


Leave Auntie Jane Alone


Enough with “The Pemberly Chronicles.” Enough with “Darcyland.” Enough with “Mr. Darcy’s Daughters.” And PLEASE, ENOUGH with the [insert Austen Title] and Zombies/Sea Monsters/Vampires.

First, let me begin by saying that no contemporary author has enough experience with Georgian English and 18th century colloquialisms to write a novel in an authentic Austen voice. Look, I have a Jane Austen quote mug (which I bought in Bath, thank you very much) and a Jane Austen Guide to Romance (which is really just a clever way of marketing an anthology of character analysis essays, I swear), I’ve seen (regrettably) “the Jane Austen Book Club” and I own a cinematic adaptation of every novel, but that’s where I draw the line. I go to Austen for the happy endings, sure, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that I also go to Austen for the language and the satire.

Stop with the sequels. If Jane wanted a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she could have easily riddled it off. I’m sure she was asked to write her own “Pemberly Chronicles.” Diana Birchell, Jane Odiwe, Helen Halstead — Elizabeth Bennet is not your character to play with.

Last but not least, if you’re going to turn an Austen into a Sci-Fi novel, please assign your monsters appropriately. Sea Monsters would be much better supporting characters in Persuasion. I mean, common.

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