Recent Event Highlights: Things of History, History of Things, and 24 more...
Created by dipity on Mar 22, 2010
Last updated: 03/22/10 at 09:04 PM
Emeritus Professor John Davis (left) at the PhD graduation of Andrew Jacob in 2009. Dr Gordon Robertson also of Sydney University is on the right. Picture courtesy Andrew Jacob
One of Australia’s foremost astronomers, Professor John Davis died a few weeks ago on the weekend of 16/17 January 2010. He is best known for his work on two unique instruments, the old Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer and the current Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI). He had a long association with the School of Physics at Sydney University where both of us, Andrew Jacob and Nick Lomb, had the privilege of knowing him while we were postgraduate students. Andrew was his last research student, receiving his PhD in 2009, while Nick knew him from 1969 when he became a research student in the small Department of Astronomy within the School of Physics. Though John Davis was not his supervisor, he was in charge of research students in the department.
The Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer. Picture courtesy NASA
The Narrabri Intensity Interferometer originated in Manchester where Robert Hanbury Brown with help from the mathematician Richard Twiss realised that a technique he had developed and used for radio astronomy could be adopted to optically measure the tiny angular diameters of stars (1). In 1955 and 1956 Hanbury spent 60 nights trying to make observations at Jodrell Bank near Manchester with a prototype instrument to prove that the concept worked. During some of these nights John Davis, who was making optical observations of meteors, would call in to commiserate about the poor observing weather (2).
One of the small mirrors that made up the Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum (97/278/1). It was donated in 1997 by John Davis on behalf of the then Chatterton Astronomy Department in the School of Physics, University of Sydney. Picture courtesy Powerhouse Museum
A few years later when work began on the full instrument at Narrabri in NSW John Davis was an important member of the small team involved. This instrument consisted of two giant optical mirrors each 6.7 metre in diameter mounted on a circular railway track. It was John who solved one of the early problems with instrument, the decrease in angular resolution (sharpness of vision) as the mirrors were pointed closer to the zenith (3).
Working as a senior academic at Sydney University as well as observing with an instrument almost 600 km away was extremely difficult for Hanbury, John and their two colleagues. With much of the road between Sydney and Narrabri unsealed their regular journeys out to the site of the instrument were not only tedious, but hazardous as well.
By the time the observing program was completed at Narrabri the Intensity Interferometer had measured the diameters of 32 stars. According to Hanbury the list of stars, ‘included the first measurements ever made of main sequence stars and also of any star hotter than type M.’ (4) After combining these measurements with observations of the distribution of radiation reaching Earth made by John Davis at Mt Stromlo Observatory, a temperature scale for hot stars could be established. This scale is still in use today although John stated: ‘It is one of the regrets of my career that, in spite of having done the bulk of the work and writing for the paper…I had to agree to [others who contributed satellite photometry] having first authorship since we were not allowed to pay the page charges’ (5) levied by the journal. This important research at Narrabri was supplemented with a few experimental observations especially that of the spectroscopic double star Spica, which yielded an exceptionally accurate distance measurement of 25.7 +- 1.2 light years for the star.
The central portion of the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI) at Narrabri. Picture courtesy School of Physics, University of Sydney
Following the success of the Narrabri Stellar Intensity Interferometer thoughts turned to a successor instrument. John initially suggested building a larger intensity interferometer, but developments in optics and understanding of atmospheric turbulence (which causes stars to twinkle) convinced him a modern Michelson-type interferometer was the way to go. Soon the Sydney University Stellar Interferometer (SUSI – one of the few uncontrived acronyms in astronomy) was born.
SUSI is a long-baseline optical interferometer, in other words a very long telescope that looks at very small things. Beams of light from two small mirrors separated by hundreds of metres are carefully brought together at a block of glass with a precision of millionths of a metre. A digital camera records the resulting ‘interference’ pattern. It’s a bit like photographing the patterns waves make on the ocean surface as they pass by each other.
SUSI is designed to do fundamental astrophysics: measure star diameters, binary star separations and pulsations of variable stars. Although this may seem dull compared to searches for black holes and the beautiful images returned by the Hubble Space Telescope this work provides the foundation for our understanding of how long stars live, what their mass is and how big and old the universe is.
SUSI would dominate the remainder of John’s career. In a remarkable feat a world-class instrument was designed, constructed and commissioned by just a handful of people and all within budget. The basic infrastructure was contracted out, but the electronics, servo systems, mechanical components and software were developed ‘in-house’ and much of that between teaching duties.
Cutting edge science is always prone to unforseen difficulties and SUSI was no exception. Difficulties in measuring the position of the two light beams, problems with the mirror coatings and a low sensitivity (your eye could see fainter stars than the young SUSI) were gradually overcome.
Nevertheless, a steady stream of science has been produced. The SUSI program has produced over 40 refereed papers, 12 completed PhDs and 6 completed MScs. SUSI has influenced the design of several subsequent interferometers – the enormous VLTI in Chile and CHARA at Mt Wilson owe parts of their design to the pioneering SUSI. In 2010 SUSI continues to evolve with a program underway to further improve the sensitivity, expand the observing program and allow remote operation from Sydney, Europe or the USA. John was thrilled to know that his pride and joy was still growing.
John himself was dedicated to the instrument and he spent a substantial proportion of his life on site under the clear skies west of Narrabri. He has been described as ‘meticulous’, ‘thorough’ and a ‘perfectionist’ – all great qualities for a research scientist. As John’s last PhD student I discovered his thoroughness early on – for meetings I learnt to be extremely well prepared. John always liked to check my analysis and test my conclusions himself.
On the long drives back and forth from Sydney John would regale Andrew Jacob with his stories of the Intensity Interferometer and SUSI: how his three-year visit to Australia morphed into a lifetime; his car packed to the rafters with family and supplies slewing through the mud of the Breeza plain; his disappointment at having to relinquish first-authorship of the 32-stars paper; his incomprehension at how the Australian Research Council was willing to fund construction but not the staff to make the most of the instrument; his passion for optics; his appreciation for the strong support of international colleagues when local interest flagged and his joy that the ‘astronomy gene’, which had bypassed his children, may have settled with his granddaughter.
John continued working on research papers throughout 2009, being regularly at his desk at the University of Sydney forensically delving into some data analysis issue. At Andrew’s last meeting in mid-December he was still carefully investigating our pulsating star data for an upcoming publication.
An authoritative obituary, mainly written by long-time colleague Bill Tango, has appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Emeritus Professor John Davis will be sadly missed.
1. Boffin, a personal story of the early days of radar, radio astronomy and quantum optics, R Hanbury Brown, Adam Hilger imprint of IOP Publishing Ltd, Bristol, 1991, p117.
2. Ibid p125
3. Ibid p142
4. Ibid p153
5. Davis J. (2006) Forty Years of Progress in Long-Baseline Optical Interferometry: 2005 Robert Ellery Lecture, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia 23, pp94–104.
Andrew Jacob and Nick Lomb
We think of convenience stores today as small air-conditioned mini-markets, sometimes open all day and all night, filled with everyday items that are often slightly more expensive than what you would find in a regular market. But go back yesterday, and read how convenience stores - real convenience - was ...
Reading in a Digital Age
The American Scholar • Spring 2010
Food for thought. In an era of shortened attention spans, reading fiction requires deep focus, says author Sven Birkerts. Being a good reader involves two levels: suspension of reality to “live” the narrative premise, accompanied by the “resonance” created through the author’s carefully crafted use of language. “The two levels operate on a lag, with the resonance accumulating behind the sense, building a linguistic density that is the verbal equivalent of an aftertaste, or the ‘finish.’ The reader who reads without directed concentration, who skims, or even just steps hurriedly across the surface, is missing much of the real point of the work; he is gobbling his foie gras.”
A long piece that resonated with my own perceptions of the changes in my reading patterns and habits; in many cases Birkerts helped me name a phenomenon I acknowledged but couldn’t properly characterize. “But more and more comes the complaint, even from practiced readers, that it is hard to maintain attentive focus. The works have presumably not changed. What has changed is either the conditions of reading or something in the cognitive reflexes of the reader. Or both.” I think both. I have felt about Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus exactly as Birkerts describes in this essay. That despite having three copies always at hand to press on those who have never read it.
And related to this essay I very much recommend this book(s) review/essay on a related theme. It’s a very thoughtful reflection by a professional reader on how reading may be changing.
Texts Without Context
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: March 21, 2010
How the Internet and mash-up culture change everything we know about reading.
There’s a very clear-headed reflection on the development of the Archivist’s Toolkit in the most recent Code4Lib journal. Challenges in Sustainable Open Source: A Case Study was written by Sibyl Schaefer who worked on the project. She does the kind of brave, objective reflection on the product’s development that isn’t often done in our domain.
It reminded me of the recent post that Lorcan did on the Ithaka report called Sustainability and revenue models for online academic resources PDF where he quotes the report saying
“The absence of focused effort on use, impact, and competition among these types of projects has deep implications for their potential long-term success.”
Lorcan goes on to characterize one of the further sustainability issues
“much project work is supply-driven rather than demand-driven. Project leaders, they suggest, tend to focus on the inherent values of their work rather than on what might be of most importance to their intended users.”
For a comparably brave and objective reflection from a former product manager and current colleague see Ricky Erway’s post on Desperately Seeking Sustainability.
Over the winter we have been quietly working with the folks at the Clean Annapolis River Project to create and install a series of interpretive signs around the French Basin Trail in Annapolis Royal. These signs will discuss both the natural and cultural history which can be found along the trail. If you would like a less obtuse way of stating the same thing, we will have signs which discuss history as well as the local plants and animals. In preparation for the installation of the panels, Ian Lawrence and I have walked the trail a few times in the last few days. These walks were essentially to confirm our panel locations and to make any last minute adjustments to the stories we are telling. After all, there is really no sense in talking about the turtles in a place where you are not liable to see turtles. I must admit that it is also a fairly pleasant diversion to break up a day at work by walking around a nature trail. A bit of sunshine and fresh air halfway through the day makes the time slip away just a little bit faster.
The collection of pictures in this post were all taken during today's walk around the French Basin Trail. These primarily show Canada geese and muskrats but there are also a lot of other animals (especially ducks) in evidence. The geese and muskrats just happened to be offering the best photographic opportunities on this day. The little muskrat you can see swimming past the goose in the top picture actually turned around and chased the geese into the water. After some hissing and flapping of wings the geese hit the water and the muskrat carefully examined the spot where they were standing. I am sure that he was looking for some eggs to steal. I also had my eye on a couple of turtles but they plopped into the water before I could get a picture.
All for now,
These are some thoughts on a very small museum called the Brazos Valley African American Museum. I was fortunate enough to visit it during the Texas Association of Museums conference, and it brought up some reactions and emotions that I wanted to share with you.
The Brazos Valley African American Museum is in the town of Bryan, TX, a town of about 75,000 right next door to Texas A&M University. It’s everything you’d expect from a tiny, community-built museum: a couple small rooms, a haphazard collection of objects, labels typed on printer paper and laminated or stuck to the wall.
But this museum, more than many others I’ve visited, had a very powerful and apparent reason for being. Its founders, Willie and Mell Pruitt, came to the area in the 1950s and were concerned that no one seemed to be documenting the history of the local African American community. They were educators and were heavily involved in the schools, first the segregated black schools, and then later, in the 1960s onward, with the integrated school. The curator of the museum, Wayne, is the son of the former principal of the black school, and about a third of the exhibits showcase people and objects from that school. The museum itself is in a building that used to house one of the segregated black schools.
Walking around, I felt a strong sense of the urgency and importance that the founders of the museum put on its existence. There were several exhibits that just told the stories of the founders and other local folks, and other displays that simply presented biographies of famous African Americans who were born in or had some connection to that part of Texas. Every display, from the ladies’ church hats to a prize-winning quilt to former Miss Teen Texas photos to artwork brought back from Africa, seemed to be filled with the stories and the lives of the people who had created, contributed, or were featured in them.
My favorite part was a wall of photos and transcribed oral histories from local elderly community members. It didn’t look promising (I wish I’d taken a wide view shot) –a bunch of framed pictures with full pages of text fixed to the wall next to them. It wasn’t even 100% clear which stories went with each photo. But the stories were totally captivating. I eagerly read hundreds of words and then moved onto the next one. I’ve included a couple of pictures I took of ones I particularly enjoyed. The stories conveyed the unique voice and spirit of these people in a way that helped me feel connected to them—even though we come from entirely different worlds. I learned about Juneteenth, the annual celebration commemorating June 19, 1865, when news of Emancipation finally reached Galveston Texas. I read stories from women who wore hat and gloves every day of their lives and women who trusted “Dr. Jesus” to help them deliver fourteen children. I read about penny candy and the circus coming into town on wagons that got stuck in the mud. It was one of those rare times where you read something in a museum and it helps you really understand something outside your own experience.
I don’t think I’m over-romanticizing my experiences in Brazos Valley, but I’m not entirely certain why I took such pleasure in this small museum. I’ve been in other small historical societies with a comparable level of amateurism without feeling comparably affected by the experience. I think what I loved about the Brazos Valley African American Museum was the fact that it told a story that might not otherwise be shared. I felt lucky it existed. People—a lot of people—had to put in a great deal of time and effort and care just to make those stories available. As a non-Texan, non-Christian, non-African American, I learned a lot from people who I perceived as generously and genuinely sharing their life experiences. I never questioned why the museum existed or who it was for. It was for the people who had built it. It was for their unique, small community. And it was for me, too.
Have you ever had an experience like this?
Canstruction begins tomorrow! Sure, they don’t look like much now, but on March 23, 2010, these cans will be transformed into works of art. Teams representing ABNA Engineering, Black & Veatch, Shannon & Wilson, Arcturis, Collier Turley Martin Tucker, Charter Communications, Lewis & Clark Community College – AIAS, Mackey Mitchell Architects, Maryville University Department of [...]
The Library and Research Center’s Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room displays material from our collections. Our first topic for the year was race and ethnicity in St. Louis. Once we decided on this topic my first thought went to a researcher who years ago used to use our library quite frequently. She was researching the [...]
Here are some of Clio's favorite quotations about the importance of women's history. This topic was already discussed and debated in the nineteenth century in Europe. Since then historians in every country in the world (mostly but not all women) have made enormous progress digging out women's pasts. The first quotation is from Jane Austen, in her novel Northanger Abbey(1803): “…History, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. Can you?” “Yes, I am fond of history.” “I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome.” ---------------------------------- The second, published the same year, comes from the vicomte de Ségur, Women: Their Condition and Influence in Society(1803): “The proper study of mankind includes the study of both sexes.” But, he added: “we must write their [women’s] history.” ---------------------------------- A third celebrated observations comes from Charles Fourier, Théorie de Quatre Mouvements(1808); this thought had been developed by Scottish historians and missionaries during the later eighteenth century, but Fourier's rendition made it famous: “Social progress and historic changes occur by virtue of the progress of women toward liberty, and decadence of the social order occurs as the result of a decrease in the liberty of women.” … “The extension of women’s privileges is the general principle for all social progress.” ----------------------------------- The fourth quotation is from a Belgian feminist, Zoe Gatti de Gamond, who signed as Marie de G***, Revue Encyclopédique (December 1832)...
Peggy Bacon'sThe Patroness
This year's Collectors Roundtable series was formed in part by feedback the museum received from the previous one. People wanted more Collecting 101 presentations, so this year's program was shaped with the budding collector in mind. Plus, this year the three lectures are also free, so that leaves more money to put aside for your art collection. Perhaps you'd like to start with a print?
On Tuesday, March 16, New York art dealer Mary Ryan presented suggestions for both the 101 collector as well as those who have moved on to levels 102 or 103. "One of life's great pleasures is collecting art, particularly prints," Ryan told us at the beginning of her talk. "And D.C. is one of the best places on the planet to view prints," she added, speaking of the richness and breadth of the museum and gallery collections in the city.
Ryan showed us images from artists as varied as Edward Hopper, Richard Diebenkorn, and George Bellows. She is also particularly interested in women printmakers and feels, "aside from Mary Cassatt and Louise Bourgeois, women are undervalued." She showed us examples of prints by early-twentieth-century American artists Clare Leighton, Peggy Bacon, and Ethel Mars, who was born in the Midwest but worked with Henri Matisse in France. All three artists created prints that Ryan clearly recommends for anyone's collection.
During the course of her ninety-minute presentation, Ryan showed us the value of acquiring iconic images such Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe. A set of ten prints comprises the series, yet prices for each print vary by color. The blue Marilyn is seen as inferior to the both the pink and black versions and therefore costs a lot less. This could be a good window for the collector interested in Warhol. "Iconic images hold up over time. If you want a classical Warhol, Marilyn would be a good bet," Ryan told us.
Mary Ryan's suggestions for the beginning collector include:
Buy a print from a reputable and knowledgeable dealer
Have fun with it
Don't feel you have to be an expert
Figure out how much you're comfortable spending
Find a work of art you respond to or covet and just buy it
"Buy what speaks to you, not what you think you should like, but what you really like. Over time they will become an important part of your life and the prints will bring you great pleasure," Ryan added.
The Collectors Roundtable will continue on Tuesday, April 6, with Crafting a Collection with Elmerina and Paul Parkman and John Kotelly. The series will conclude on Tuesday, May 4, with Richard Kelly's talk, Collecting for the Long Haul.
Art Collecting, Mary Ryan, American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum
You’ve probably heard the latest by now: although the legislature approved $2 million in bonds to help start a restoration of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Governor Pawlenty line-item vetoed the project from the bill.
While the news is obviously very disappointing, we have much to be proud of. This was the first year the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board made a request for Sculpture Garden funding. It often takes multiple attempts for a project to simply make it onto the legislative agenda. The Sculpture Garden made it into the bonding bill on the first try, an affirmation of its status as a beloved Minnesota destination.
We also saw an overwhelming show of support for the Sculpture Garden’s proposed preservation. Literally thousands of Minnesotans rose to the occasion to advocate on behalf of the project.
If you were involved in any wayâ€”writing to your legislators, sending a letter to the editor, spreading the word about the projectâ€”thank you! Your help has been essential in laying a solid groundwork for future collective efforts and eventual success.
What’s up next:
Through aÂ public-awareness campaign, which will begin unfolding over the next couple of months, we expect to grow our network substantially and ultimately secure the funding we need to restore and preserve the Sculpture Garden.
How you can help:
Join the Action E-List.This e-mail list is exclusively devoted to information and calls to action regarding the Sculpture Garden project. Youâ€™ll likely receive just three or so e-mails per year, and only at critical junctures where action is needed.
Become a partÂ of theÂ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s Facebookgroup. Post your favorite pictures, share Garden stories, and keep up on the latest Sculpture Garden news here.
Invite your friends to join both of the above.We need a broad representation of folks from around the state who have an affinity for the Sculpture Garden. A successful grassroots effort includes Minnesotans from every legislative district! Use the http://garden.walkerart.org/bondingÂ URL to forward information to your network.
Thanks again for everyone’s efforts to help restore and preserve the Sculpture Garden. We’ll be back! As they say, it’s not over ’til it’s over.
Shoshone Falls, Idaho, 1868, by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
In the fall of 1868, Timothy O’Sullivan peered through the lens of his camera at Shoshone Falls, on Idaho’s Snake River, and captured the roaring waterfall with its mist breathtakingly suspended in the air. The moment, says contemporary photographer Thomas Joshua Cooper, was pivotal. Why? Because, as Cooper puts it, O’Sullivan “deliberately altered the emphasis from something descriptive to something contemplative.” (Check an audio slideshow of O’Sullivan’s work at the bottom of the post with narration from the exhibit’s curator)
As a photographer for two of the great surveys of the American West after the Civil War, it was O’Sullivan’s job to be descriptive. His assignment between 1867 and 1874 was to photograph areas of the greatest geologic interest—sand dunes in Nevada, river valleys in Colorado, buttes in Wyoming—for scientific and political purposes. And yet O’Sullivan did more than document the geology of the western landscape. He captured the spirit of the American West, by making very artistic choices in where he set his camera and how he framed his shot.
“It is true that O’Sullivan was doing a job,” says photographer Martin Stupich. “But because it was him and not somebody else behind the camera, because of the good fortune of it being him, he got it down in a way that has been acknowledged by photography as being really, really right.”
Shoshone Falls, Snake River, Idaho, View Across Top of Falls, 1874, by Timothy H. O'Sullivan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Very little is known about the photographer beyond scanty biographical details. O’Sullivan was born in Ireland in 1840 and emigrated with his family to the United States two years later, settling in Staten Island, New York. He shadowed portrait photographer Mathew Brady, who had a studio in New York, and eventually moved to Washington, D.C. He gained some recognition from photographs he took on the battlefield during the Civil War, particularly at Gettysburg, and then participated in geologic surveys. After the surveys, he did some brief government assignments and worked for private photography studios. O’Sullivan died on January 12, 1882, at age 42, from tuberculosis. He and his work were largely forgotten until the 1970s, when he reemerged as an important photographer of his day.
“Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through May 9, is the first major exhibition of O’Sullivan’s work in three decades. A collaboration between the American Art Museum and the Library of Congress, the exhibit consists of more than 120 photograph, some of which have been rarely seen by the public since 1876. Also on display are images and observations by six contemporary landscape photographers, including Thomas Joshua Cooper and Martin Stupich, who view O’Sullivan as a pioneer and inspiration.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to a single person with a camera making decisions, and the ones O’Sullivan made were pretty interesting,” says Toby Jurovics, curator of the exhibition, on the museum’s blog Eye Level. ”What you can tell about O’Sullivan is that he had very different ideas about how to structure his photographs. If you put one hundred nineteenth-century photographs in a box, you can pull out the O’Sullivans pretty easily.”
by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Fort Collins Local History Archive
True visionaries in Italy invented eyeglasses in the 1200s, but specs didn’t start becoming fashion statements until the Victorian era. During the mid-20th century, improved plastics allowed bespectacled folks to let their personality shine through their lenses. Take a gander at these examples of Fort Collins residents in their high-style eyewear from the 1950s and 60s! (Names have been suppressed to protect the innocent.)
Do you wear glasses? Do you have fond memories of a certain pair? Add a comment!
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is set to pay off the Super Bowl bet director Max Anderson made with New Orleans Museum of Art director E. John Bullard.
JMW Turner's The Fifth Plague of Egypt [left] will go up at NOMA on Thursday morning. The painting will stay there for three months
I have just started listening to an new podcast from the BBC, A History of the World in 100 Objects, written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Aside from the obvious reductionism and the occasionally irritating interstitials (lots of ambient chanting and pan flute music), the show is excellent, taking one hundred objects from the British Museum’s collections to tell the history of the world from the point of view of its material culture. MacGregor is a natural, and his guests—fellow curators, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and others—are engaging story tellers.
Yet even more interesting from an educational point of view are the live “readings” of artifacts these scholars provide, demonstrating to the audience just how experts tease knowledge from primary source objects. This is much the lesson we at CHNM attempted in our Object of History collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The focus was narrower—six iconic objects in U.S. History—but the idea was the same: objects have histories and their curators very particular expertise in bringing those histories to light.
How much do you know about magic? It’s time to see through the illusion! The Magic! exhibit is now open at HMNS. Throughout the run of the exhibit, check back here for exclusive videos and descriptions of the unique items on display from curator Scott Cervine.
This hand was the centerpiece of a popular late 19th and early 20th Century spiritualistic stage effect.
The carved wooden hand, resting on a sheet of clear glass held by audience members, would rap out answers to questions. Traditionally, the hand would rap once for “yes” and twice for “no”, but it could also respond with numerical answers to personal questions, such as “How many children will I have?” and “How old will I be when I marry?”
The effect could be played straight or tongue in cheek, depending on the performer and audience.
© 2009 Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Drive, Houston, TX 77030
It’s a well known fact that the Brooklyn Museum has a great Egyptian collection but did you know that we have one of the best libraries devoted to the study of Ancient Egypt that is open to the public? We work to get the word out through public programs, Library displays and several online resources.
I’m delighted to report that on March 6th we had a well attended talk in the Library as part of a series of lectures presented in memory of Evelyn Ortner, a beloved Library Donor and Museum Guide who gave tours of the Egyptian collections. Our speaker was Dr. John Lundquist, former Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Collections at the New York Public Library, who discussed nineteenth century references on Ancient Egypt. We own several of the rare books that were discussed such as Belzoni’s Narrative of the Operations and Rosellini’s Monumenti dell’Egitto—you can even see one of the Rosellini volumes in the To Live Forever exhibition here. We also looked at several volumes of the Description de l’Egypte, the subject of a previous blog.
These rare books were from the personal library of Charles Edwin Wilbour (1833-1896) remembered today as a scholar, collector and accurate copyist. Indeed the collections he assembled became the foundation of the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian antiquities collection and the Wilbour Library of Egyptology. Captivated by Egypt and its monuments, Wilbour spent every winter in Egypt starting in 1880 until his death in 1896.
He used his houseboat, named “The Seven Hathors,” as a place to entertain his fellow Egyptologists, family and friends. Wilbour acquired all of the important texts published on ancient Egypt available at that time and used his personal library as a way to educate himself. He kept key works with him in Egypt so that he could carry the books to specific sites to compare the texts with the inscriptions on the monuments. His unique annotations to these texts are important to researchers especially since they document monuments that have deteriorated significantly since Wilbour’s time. According to his son-in-law, the artist Edwin H. Blashfield (1848-1936), his passion for Egypt was tireless:
“In the center of the space was his steamer trunk, on the same was the huge folio of Lepsius and behind it on a camp-stool was the Egyptologist comparing texts. He stood discomfort wonderfully - with the mercury at one hundred Fahrenheit in February, he could spend long hours some twenty-five feet above the pavement, with his folio propped somehow between ladder and Egyptian gods in incised relief, upon the outer wall of Edfou or some other temple. Very heavy boxes of books accompanied him everywhere …”
After Wilbour’s death his children offered his antiquities and library collection to the Brooklyn Museum as a memorial to their father. Wilbour’s heirs continued to donate objects to the Museum and in 1932, the Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund was set up by Victor Wilbour to support both the Library and the Egyptian collections here at the Brooklyn Museum.
Stay tuned as Tom Hardwick, an Egyptologist who is volunteering here, blogs about letters Wilbour wrote while he was in Egypt and if you are in the museum, drop by to see a selection of photographs, letters and books documenting Wilbour’s work and his family interests on view in the library display cases on the second floor. If you would like to visit the Wilbour Library of Egyptology just send us an e-mail—we’d love to see you!
Doris Salcedo, "Shibboleth" in Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, 2007. Broken concrete. Photo: © Laura Porter, Courtesy About.com, Inc.
Rwandan genocide, melancholy photographs, bronze truisms, museum interventions, a giant battleship, and more in today’s roundup:
Tonight at 6pm, Season 5 artist Doris Salcedo will speak at the Americas Society in New York City. The event is part of Vis-à-vis, a series of conversation between artists, curators, and critics from the Western Hemisphere. Salcedo (who created a colossal crack in the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2007) is among the nearly 200 artists, architects, and designers invited to imagine interventions in the Guggenheim’s famed rotunda for the exhibition Contemplating the Void. According to Artistbloc.com, Salcedo’s “mash-up art piece [at the Guggenheim] combines a downward view of the rotunda with a photograph of a New York tenement by the German-born artist Hans Haacke. The tenement photograph, part of his series documenting the holdings of a local real-estate baron, was scheduled to be featured in the 1971 Haacke show at the Guggenheim that was canceled for what were widely believed at the time to be political concerns by the museum’s director.” At the Americas Society Salcedo, and artist Javier Téllez, will discuss their work, artistic visions, and related issues in contemporary art. Click here to register.
On March 26, the New York Guggenheim will open Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance, a two-part exhibition that surveys photographic imagery since the 1960s that “seems to view history with melancholy or mourning.” Drawn primarily from the Guggenheim Museum collection, Haunted will feature recent acquisitions, many of which will be exhibited by the museum for the first time. Included in the show are works by Art21 artists Sally Mann (Season 1), Roni Horn, Hiroshi Sugimoto (both Season 3), An-My Lê (Season 4), and Cindy Sherman (Season 5). Haunted, part one, runs through September 6. Part two opens June 4.
On March 24 at 4pm, Season 4 artist Alfredo Jaar will lecture at the University of Connecticut about his work around the Rwanda genocide. His six-year investigative piece, The Rwanda Project, 1994-2000, was created in response to “the criminal indifference of the world community in the face of a genocide that claimed one million lives.” Eight years after Jaar completed The Rwanda Project, he was invited to create a monument to victims of the genocide. As part of his design process, he visited existing memorials and accumulated new visual materials that are at the center of his new work, We wish to inform you that we didn’t know, a three-channel video about Rwanda sixteen years later. The video is on view in the University of Connecticut’s Contemporary Arts Gallery through April 22.
Season 5 artist Yinka Shonibare MBE is making history with a new commission for the Fourth Plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square. According to Sun News, his installation will be the first commission to reflect specifically on the historical symbolism of the Square, which commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar. It is also the first of such commissions by a black artist. Scheduled to be unveiled on May 24, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle is a 16 x 8 foot replica of the battleship HMS Victory set in a giant bottle. Listen to the artist discuss the project here.
Season 4 artist Jenny Holzer is recipient of the 6th Award to Distinguished Women in the Arts, presented by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Established in 1994 to recognize “the many gifted women providing leadership and innovation in the visual arts, dance, music, and literature,” the bronze plaque given to each recipient was designed by Holzer and features one of her truisms: “It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.” An award luncheon will be held in Holzer’s honor on April 28.
About Jenny Holzer (2009), a documentary film about the artist, will screen at Montreal’s Festival International of Films on Art (FIFA). Directed by Claudia Müller, who followed Holzer over a ten-year period, the film traces the artist’s career from the late 1970s to her LED installations of today. FIFA continues through March 28. (Also screening at FIFA is “Transformations,” the Season 5 episode of Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-First Century featuring Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy and Yinka Shonibare MBE.)
How to Appear Invisible (2009), a film by Allora & Calzadilla (Season 4) that documents the demolition of a prominent landmark of the former German Democratic Republic, is showing at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver through April 25. The piece is part of the group exhibition After the Gold Rush, which explores post-event “afterness.” The show is meant to call attention to Vancouver’s own experience post-Olympic Games.
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Nu er trenden også kommet til kulturarvens verden, nærmere bestemt den museale. Nina Simon har skrevet en bog om museers muligheder for brugerdeltagelse. Jeg véd ikke helt, hvordan man bedst kunne oversætte titlen “The participatory museum” … måske “Det sociale museum” eller “Det personlige museum” eller noget i den retning. Ihvertfald kan man læse hele bogen on-line (man kan naturligvis også købe den) på http://www.participatorymuseum.org/.
Jeg er selv gået i gang med den, og har bl.a. noteret at der er nogle interessante aspekter for den ABM-intereserede i kapitel 2, der bl.a. handler om den individualiserede tilgang til museet “You are what you do”. Personligt tror jeg der er fat i en pointe – måske ligefrem en lang hale – her. På rigtigt mange områder bliver vi stadigt mere og mere individualiserede i vores ønsker til omverdenen, hvorfor så ikke også til kulturarv? Hvordan kan – og vil – institutionerne møde dette ønske? Er den klassiske “one-size-fits-all”-udstilling på vej i graven?
Der er utvivlsom mange flere interessante sysnpunkter og pointer i Simons bog, der som sagt kan findes på http://www.participatorymuseum.org/
Americans have few common spaces or vocabularies. Our divides -- red-blue, urban-rural, black-white and plenty of others -- have a created an America in which it is entirely possible for Americans to avoid people who are not like them, who don't think like them, who are somehow different. We've turned everything from children's books to women's bodies into a battleground. We can't even agree on definitions of globally accepted terms: Climate change and evolution are accepted science, but to American conservatives they're a falsehood (and, on unexpectedly warm January days, the butt of jokes.) "Terrorism" seems like a straightforward word, but right-wingers apply it only to Muslims, not to evangelical, government-haters who commit acts of, well, terrorism. [Image: Catherine Opie, Football Landscape #5, (Juneau vs. Douglas, Juneau, Alaska), 2007.]
If there's one 'place' where Americans come together, it's sports. We cheer for our kids' teams together, for our hometown hockey team, and for the women who now play volleyball at our alma mater, even if we graduated from State U. 20 years ago and can''t name a single volleyball player -- from 20 years ago or now. Because sport is such an unusually shared American landscape, it should be no surprise that American artists have long used sports or athletes in their work. For artists, using references that are points of national commonality is a good artistic strategy. In pro wrestling parlance: It helps get the work over.
Looking back: George Bellows and Thomas Eakins painted boxers. In 1962 Andy Warhol used a news image of New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris in Baseball, his first photo-silkscreened canvas. (The previous year Maris had become a breakout star by breaking Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.) Robert Rauschenberg included athletes in each of his Rebus paintings.
Artists, more than anyone this side of legendary magazine writer Gary Smith, have been interested in sports not because of who wins or loses a particular game, but because of what sport can reveal to us about our society. Artists even take it a step further, using sports as a conceptual launching pad from which to make points about societal contradictions or under-examined truths.
"Hard Targets" an exhibition on view through April 11 at the Wexner Center for the Arts examines how artists are using sport. The show, curated by Christopher Bedford, presents artists exploring two primary themes: The places where hyper-masculinity and homoeroticism overlap in sport and the way in which sport is a site of social mobility. The show is notable for catching many artists -- including Catherine Opie, Sam Taylor-Wood, Hank Willis-Thomas, Jeff Koons, Collier Schorr and the tag-team of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno -- at the top of their, er, game. When artists are self-motivated to reach audiences beyond the commercialist art ghetto, they free themselves to make their strongest work. (A much smaller version of this show was on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008.)
This is the kind of exhibition that more contemporary art museums should present. It positions artists as important observers and chroniclers of contemporary conditions rather than as mere formalists or as collectible pawns. It's particularly noteworthy that in a season when some kunsthalles are emphasizing the gap that exists between contemporary art and audience and between the artist's idea and the reasons that art is on view, the Wexner is pointedly engaging audiences outside the art ghetto. The museum has even found ways to involve Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel and Buckeye gridiron legend Archie Griffin in the presentation of the show. Best of all, the Wexner and the exhibition manage to widen art's circle without dumbing down the show, its content or muting the points of view of the included artists. [Image above: Hank Willis Thomas, Scarred Chest, 2003.]
Tomorrow and Wednesday: Looking at the show's two primary themes.
[See post to watch Flash video]
Hey all, a brief clip from last Thursday’s fabulous My Barbarian performance in the Atrium. This LA-based performance collective has been producing “site-specific plays, musical concerts, theatrical situations & video installations” since 2000, and this was a great introduction for many of us in the audience that night, as we were treated to a sampling/retrospective of My Barbarian projects, in what they called ‘retroactive self-appropriation’ of their ‘post living ante-action theater’. The number here called “La Reina”, from Non-Western.
My Barbarian is Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon and Alexandro Segade. For more: Their website is excellent.
And, they’re speaking tonight at SFAI as part of the visiting artists and scholars lecture series. (FREE! GO!). Details.
Grazie mille to Jim Granato for videography & quick hand-off on the clip!
Today is Museums Advocacy Day in DC.
You can follow along with the conversation on Twitter.
One of the recent AAM tweets caught my eye:
AAMers: Don't think you have to work for a museum in order to advocate for them. Your opinion might matter even more. #MuseumsAdvocacyDay
I would like to pose a question to the AAM in response to that statement. If you acknowledge the important voice of people who don’t work for museums, then why do you not have a membership category for them? People who have volunteered for or studied museums in the past (but do not currently have an affiliation with a museum) may still want to join the AAM, but there is no category for “museum fan” or “museum studies graduate, unemployed.”
Under the current categories, I am not eligible to join the AAM. I just find that a bit strange, considering how much of my time I spend thinking about museums.
Dear AAM – if you recognize that Museum Advocates come in all shapes and sizes, then you need to extend AAM membership to Museos of all types.
Regardless, good luck with Museums Advocacy Day! Museos Unite supports the cause/revolution.
After a well-attended pilot event in January—with over 80 participants spread across 18 teams and music provided by Mary Heilmann—Art21 is returning to host a second installment of Culture Wars: A Night of Trivia with Art21 in collaboration with the 92YTribeca this Wednesday, March 24, 2010, at the 92YTribeca in New York City.
The bar opens at 6:00 p.m. and the event begins at 6:30 p.m.
This trivia event is inspired by contemporary art and the culture of our time. In the spirit of Art21’s mission to increase knowledge of contemporary art and in combination with the social traditions of game night and happy hour, this multimedia event invites you to test your knowledge of current art, film, music and online cultural phenomena. All are invited to form a team of colleagues, friends, and frienemies—or come solo and join a team on the spot to meet other art appreciators/lovers/aficionados—and compete for cultural greatness…or maybe just a prize.
Prizes are generously provided by 20×200 and the Phaidon Store in SoHo.
Follow the action on Twitter (#culturewars) leading into the Wednesday-night event.
Already have a team assembled? Share your clever team names in the comments below, on Twitter (use hashtag #culturewars), or on the Facebook event Wall.
Teams may consist of 2 to 5 people. This is not a ticketed event; however, there will be a cost of $5 per team, payable at the bar, to participate. For more information, please visit the 92YTribeca event page.
The United States healthcare debate is, of course, not just about access to doctors and treatments, but about how the U.S. sees itself: as a land of freedom, but also personal responsibility, or the...
(What's on the minds of the curators of the Americas Collections at the British Library)
Following the fantastic success of the NHS Open Art Shows ‘Future Bright’ (2008) and ‘Identity’ (2009) Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) is proud to announce its brand new show for 2010. ‘Lost and Found’, is now open for submissions. Now in its third year, ‘The NHS Open’ has been created to demonstrate how art – creating it [...]