Monthly Archives: January 2008

Art in Den Haag

Harlequin - Picasso 1923

Yesterday I journeyed over to Den Haag, mostly to visit the Gemeente Museum, which has a Picasso show up at the moment.  I was interested to see some Picassos in person because I’ve been reading John Richardson’s multi-volume biography of the artist lately.  While one can hardly avoid Picasso when thinking about 20th century art, I had never really known much about the man and his life, and I’m finding the story quite compelling.  The second volume covers the years 1907 to 1916, the cubist years, which in many ways is an anomalous yet revolutionary period for Picasso.  Richardson delves into both the biographical details and the work itself, describing the connections and progressions.

The man himself is a big character – ferociously inventive, superstitious, a bit paranoid, macho, competitive.  He and Braque were moving at such high speed for those few years, moving into and through cubism to finally open up modern art to all sorts of constructions and inventions.  Picasso himself never really went abstract – his subjects are almost all people and still-life objects – even the most difficult cubist paintings are views of real things.

The show itself is pretty patchy – some good work from the early years to about 1913, then very little until the late 1930s and 1940s, then a lot of late work from the 1960s.  Of course there is so much, and you can only gather so many pieces in one place, so this show just gives some perspectives of the overall career.  I hope to get to the Picasso Museums in Paris and Barcelona to round out this investigation into his work.

Also at the museum was a show by a young German painter by the name of Matthias Weischer, who studied in Liepzig and seems to have definite connections with Neo Rauch.  I found his recent paintings of mysterious interiors to be quite intriguing.

Kordel by M. Weischer

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Darkmans – Nicola Barker (2007)

Darkmans

Today I finished the recent novel ‘Darkmans’ by English author Nicola Barker.  I first heard of this book in a couple entries in the recent ‘best of 2007’ issue of the Times Literary Supplement, and I’m glad I discovered it.

The book is long (838 pages), and is somewhat eccentrically laid out, with novel paragraph indentations and internal ‘thought breaks’.  The story concerns a number of people in the English town of Ashford, which is located near one end of the ‘Chunnel’, their relationships today with each other and with the past.  There are also a lot of investigations of the evolution of language, and an underlying network of connections that takes the whole book to begin to untangle.

In some ways a pretty easy read, but with levels that are not immediately obvious, I think this book is worth reading for its ambitions and challenges – state of the art fiction as of 2008.

Back in Utrecht!

Utrecht from the air

Now back in Utrecht in the Netherlands, waiting for the days when the sun is out and things are green again, like in the above photo! But I guess it may be awhile, so I’ll see if I can find some winter amusements.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2008. I spent the last days of 2007 in Ouray, Colorado, a mining town that peaked in population back in about 1893, but is on the rise again as a tourist spot both winter and summer, with its hot spring pools, dramatic mountain setting, and access to both winter and summer sports.

Each year begins with an intriguing question at the Edge – this year it’s “What have you changed your mind about? Why?” – as answered by many prominent thinkers. I’ve only started browsing, and there’s plenty to ponder. To pick out just a couple so far…

Joseph Ledoux – neuroscientist

Like many scientists in the field of memory, I used to think that a memory is something stored in the brain and then accessed when used. Then, in 2000, a researcher in my lab, Karim Nader, did an experiment that convinced me, and many others, that our usual way of thinking was wrong. In a nutshell, what Karim showed was that each time a memory is used, it has to be restored as a new memory in order to be accessible later. The old memory is either not there or is inaccessible. In short, your memory about something is only as good as your last memory about it.

Colin Tudge – science writer (on GMO crops)

But anyone who knows anything about farming in the real world (as opposed to the cosseted experimental fields of the English home counties and of California) knows that yield is by no means the be-all and end-all. Inter alia, high yields require high inputs of resources and capital — the very things that are often lacking. Yield typically matters far less than long-term security — acceptable yields in bad years rather than bumper yields in the best conditions. Security requires individual toughness and variety — neither of which necessarily correlate with super-crop status. In a time of climate change, resilience is obviously of paramount importance — but this is not, alas, obvious to the people who make policy.

Stewart Brand – innovator!

Good old stuff sucks. Sticking with the fine old whatevers is like wearing 100% cotton in the mountains; it’s just stupid.

Give me 100% not-cotton clothing, genetically modified food (from a farmers’ market, preferably), this-year’s laptop, cutting-edge dentistry and drugs.

The Precautionary Principle tells me I should worry about everything new because it might have hidden dangers. The handwringers should worry more about the old stuff. It’s mostly crap.

(New stuff is mostly crap too, of course. But the best new stuff is invariably better than the best old stuff.)