You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

For the must be shared file:

My SO David ran across a blog a few days ago that has kept both of us pretty fascinated. Yes, there are a lot of great blogs but this one is a stand out. If you are interested in the phenomenon of digital social networks, Greg Satell is worth your time. He’s our new favorite smart person.

And he’s even found a catchy name—Digital Tonto. (You can read here how Satell came up with that moniker.)

Here are two postings that I found particularly compelling:

The Primal Forces that Drive Social Networks

Top Posts of 2009


Greg Satell (Photo: Greg Satell)


More lists! This time, it’s books. Amazingly, the overlap of favored titles is not extensive.

The year’s top books as chosen by the New York Times:


Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy
Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls
A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert


The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes
The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel
Lit: A Memoir, by Mary Karr
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, by Liaquat Ahamed
Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, by Carol Sklenicka

Maureen Corrigan does book reviews on NPR. I am always interested in what she has to say even though I don’t always align with her tastes.

Here is her list for best books of the year:


The Believers, by Zoe Heller
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
The Man in the Wooden Hat, by Jane Gardam
The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter


Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story, by Isabel Gillies
The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’S Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience, by Kirstin Downey
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin
Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein

From Publisher’s Weekly:


The Scarecrow, Michael Connelly
The Fate of Katherine Carr, Thomas H. Cook
Spooner, Pete Dexter
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
The Man in the Wooden Hat, Jane Gardam
Ravens, George Dawes Green
Tinkers, Paul Harding
The Believers, Zoë Heller
The Vagrants, Yiyun Li
How to Sell, Clancy Martin
New World Monkeys, Nancy Mauro
The Last War, Ana Menendez
Nemesis, Jo Nesbø
Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips
The Cry of the Sloth, Sam Savage
Drood, Dan Simmons
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead
Once the Shore, Paul Yoon


Cheever: A Life, Blake Bailey
Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon, by Neil Sheehan
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin
Big Machine, Victor LaValle
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Richard Holmes
Stitches, David Small
Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann


Chronic, D.A. Powell
Museum of Accidents, Rachel Zucker
The Bitter Withy, Donald Revell
The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, Trans. from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn
Upgraded to Serious, Heather McHugh

And finally here is a list that is closer to home. My highly literary friends Michael and Mary Pat send their list of the year’s favorite reads as part of their holiday letter. I have come to rely on their recommendations as consistently on the mark.

Happens Every Day, by Isabel Gillies
(“File under ‘Guilty Pleasures’…but Gillies turns out to be an absolutely terrific writer.”)

Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
(“Perhaps more than you want to know about Ivy League admissions, but full of local color and a fun read.”)

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
(“A brief, somber powerful novel”)

Stone’s Fall, by Iain Pears
(We’ve been hooked on Pears’s historical fiction since reading An Instance of the Fingerpost…Stone’s Fall is an intricately plotted thriller”)

Home, by Marilynne Robinson
(“As quiet and moving as Gilead“)

A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit
(“An extraordinary, profound, and beautiful book…This year’s if-you-read-only-one-book-on-the-list pick”)

So far I’ve only read four of the books on these lists. Here’s to catching up during the cold winter months.

Paul Klee, mystery man

Some highlights the Sunday Times Book Review:

A new biography about Arthur Koestler, The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic, by Michael Scammell made the cover. Koestler’s work, The Sleepwalkers, was one of the books that launched me during adolescence into a lifelong interest in the philosophy and history of science. (Koestler’s book led me in turn to one of the most seminal books of my teenage years, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn.) Based on the review by Christopher Caldwell, Koestler’s personal life falls into that oft-encountered category of I-wish-I-didn’t-have-to-acknowledge-that-a-brilliant-person-is-a-flaming-jerk-in-real-life (and there are oh so many artists who are cohabiting in that particular domain.)

Here’s a taste:

Scammell’s is an authorized biography and a sympathetic one. But the Koestler he depicts is consistently repugnant — humorless, megalomaniac, violent. Like many people concerned about “humanity,” he was contemptuous of actual humans. He ignored and snubbed his mother (who had pawned her last diamond to pay for his passage to Palestine), and he rebuffed every attempt to arrange a meeting between him and his illegitimate daughter. What made him such a creep? Perhaps alcohol — Koestler threw tables in restaurants and was arrested for drunken driving on many occasions. Perhaps insecurity — he was tormented by his shortness (barely 5 feet 6 inches) and used to stand on tippy-toe at cocktail parties. “We all have inferiority complexes of various sizes,” Koestler’s Communist editor Otto Katz once told him. “But yours isn’t a complex — it’s a cathedral.”

That’s a great line, one that I’ll use again: “Yours isn’t a complex — it’s a cathedral.”

Continuing on a theme of the great ones who aren’t so great in real life: John Simon has reviewed The Bauhaus Group, Six Masters of Modernism by Nicholas Fox Weber. Highlighting the lives of Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef and Anni Albers, Weber spends time exposing the personality quirks of Klee:

While helpfully discussing the work of Paul Klee, Weber also makes hay of the painter’s eccentricity. Klee was more involved in communicating with birds and plants than with human beings. He never in his life thought of concealing what was either childlikeness or schizophrenia, and blithely expressed it in his art. His upscale marriage to Lily Stumpf, a doctor’s daughter, provided him not only with an accompanist for his violin playing, but also with her income as a piano teacher when she was not being treated for “nervous disorders.” Paradoxically, this very modern painter seems to have played only Haydn, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.

Although he was the chief nurturer of their only child, Felix, and passionately involved in cooking, Klee was almost as devoted to Fritz, his beloved cat, to whom “he always sent greetings” in his letters home. “Laundry is the household task I haven’t tried yet,” he once wrote. “If I could take it on, I’d be more universal than Goethe.” Whereas in his favored park walks he would stop to talk to a snake, his class lectures were often incoherent balderdash. But his epistolary accounts of what he cooked or ate were clear and explicit.

Weber dwells on Klee’s sexual ambivalence. His subjects included cross-­dressing and hermaphroditism, dominatrixes and evil androgynes. As he wrote, “When girls wept I thought of pudenda weeping in unison.” In his lectures, he mostly discussed natural phenomena; his first lesson was: draw a tree.

To him, Ravel’s music was coarse, and his friend Hindemith’s “stark.” He ate “more cauliflower than anyone else in history,” considered Americans the only ones ignorant of how to live, frequently spoke a single word instead of a sentence and conducted to the gramophone records the Gropiuses played. Klee’s eyes, Weber writes, “usually were looking upward, as if connecting with the heavenly sphere.” And despite his “belonging to the obscure reaches of the cosmos, two of the essentials of his life — food and art — were of a piece.”

A final debunking of public vs private image, and this one done by the artist himself: Jonathan Dee’s review of J. M. Coetzee third “autobiographical” installment/novel, Summertime. Coetzee lingers in that zone between truth and fiction, personal aggrandizement and self-abnegation, inviting the reader to ask difficult questions.

The vandalism Coetzee commits upon the easily checked facts of his own life ultimately serves to sharpen a question that does seem genuine, and genuinely self-­indicting: Doesn’t being a great artist demand, or at least imply, a certain greatness of spirit as well?

“Consider,” says Julia. “Here we have a man who, in the most intimate of human relations, cannot connect, or can connect only briefly, intermittently. Yet how does he make his living? He makes his living writing reports, expert reports, on intimate human experience. Because that is what novels are about — isn’t it? — intimate experience. . . . Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

Yes and no. The gap between the life we live and the one of our imagination can be gynormous. Not a requirement for genius but certainly a common (and very human) shortfall.

Blur, Expo 02, Yverdon-les-Bains, 2002. This sensational pavilion, which was designed by New York architects Diller + Scofidio, was the star of Switzerland’s Expo 02. A cat’s cradle of tensile steel, 20m high and 100m long, it brooded at the end of a steel-and-glass jetty over Lake Neuchatel. Inside, some 30,000 water jets created clouds through which mesmerised (and damp) visitors could walk, again and again. (From the Guardian)

I have a love/hate relationship with Top 10 lists. I can’t resist reading them, but I am incapable of assembling my own. I think this personal failing is due to the fact that I find it difficult to pull back so far that you can be objective about an entire year. And an entire decade is even more daunting.

So while I cannot provide a comprehensive list of my own, here are a few in the architectural space that seem worth sharing.

In addition to his short list, Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post had a few comments about architecture in the aughts that feels hopeful:

Perhaps the greatest and most encouraging architectural trend was the widespread acceptance of new and green building technologies, and the pervasive use of a common environmental standard to judge sustainability. Near the end of the Aughts, hardly a week passed without the announcement of a new LEED silver or gold or platinum building, proof that sustainable design wasn’t just a fashion, but a bottom-line value recognized by architects and investors alike.

But if you wanted to describe what the buildings of the past decade looked like, you’d be hard-pressed to settle on any particular description. A cool, sleek, almost chilly modernism prevailed among some designers, while others pursued exuberant and dazzling forms. Museums went through a great age of expansion, though as the decade ends, it’s not clear if they may also be in for a new age of overextension hangover. The “starchitect,” a neologism that seemed to define the decade, also became something of a dirty word, as momentum grew for a new kind of modesty and problem-solving, rather than flamboyance and busted budgets.

Kennicott’s list of his favorite buildings from the decade:

Tate Modern in London (Herzog and de Meuron)
Beijing National Stadium (Herzog and de Meuron)
Disney Hall in LA (Frank Gehry)
Seattle Central Library (Rem Koolhaas)
Alice Tully Hall redesign in New York (Diller Scofidio and Renfro)

And his worst: Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

From the Guardian:

Millennium Dome in London (Richard Rogers Partnership)
Blur, Expo 02, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland (Diller + Scofidio)
Serpentine Pavilion in London (Toyo Ito and engineer Cecil Balmond)
30 St Mary Axe (“The Gherkin”) in London (Norman Foster)
European Southern Observatory Hotel in Cerro Paranal, Chile (Auer and Weber, with engineers Mayr and Ludescher)
Beijing National Stadium (Herzog and de Meuron)
St Pancras station in London (Alastair Lansley)
Le Viaduc de Millau bridge in Aveyron France (engineer Michel Virlogeux and Norman Foster)
Neues Museum redesign in Berlin (David Chipperfield)
Burj Dubai (Adrian Smith and Bill Baker of Chicago-based SOM)

And the top five buildings according to the London Times:

Neues Museum redesign in Berlin (David Chipperfield)
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles (Rafael Moneo)
The Eden Project in Cornwall (Nicholas Grimshaw)
30 St Mary Axe (“The Gherkin”) in London (Norman Foster)
Casa da Musica in Porto (Rem Koolhaas/OMA)

Interested in a New York-specific list? Curbed NY has assembled a good slide show on their site.

Herb Vogel doing his laser gaze thing on a John Chamberlain sculpture, part of the Herb and Dorothy Vogel collection that was donated to the National Museum of Art.

I’ve been thinking about Herb and Dorothy all weekend. I finally saw the Megumi Sasaki documentary (it was released on DVD on December 15). It isn’t that the documentary itself is all that well done; in fact in many ways the structure of the film is a bit pedestrian and predictable. But Herb and Dorothy! Now that is a story that will rise to the top no matter what form the telling takes. It is the stuff of legends, the kind that are told over and over again. And maybe those retellings will inspire a spawning of more Herb and Dorothys in the future, an outcome that would be yet another extraordinary legacy from the lives lived by these two unpretentious people.

Why is this story so singular?

The answer is layered, to be sure. But for me the crux of the Herb and Dorothy phenomenon is two fold: 1) Herb’s amazing set of eyes*, and 2) the power—and I chose that word with care—of operating outside the ego-driven needs of prestige, money, status, acceptance. Something huge shifts when someone makes the decision to operate from a place of pure passion and authentic response. And the something that gets unleashed is irresistible and extraordinary.

Herb is a man of few words. He is also a man with no pretension. He spent years keyholing mail at the post office, work that required very little intellectual capital. But when Herb looks at art, his gaze is laser-like. The intensity with which he devours everything in his line of sight is astounding, and that intensity is coupled with an intelligence that is undeniable. In the film artist James Siena describes how Herb would come to his studio and find his most seminal pieces in a stack of drawings, the same ones that other collectors and curators had not seen as significant.

What’s more, Herb’s intelligence was not confined to just one style of art. The scope of the Vogel collection makes it very clear he was able to span and master a number of styles and genres. Watching the footage of him in the documentary made me realize how easy it is to collapse into our comfort zones and familiar categories, even (and at times, especially) those of us who are artists. Watching him in the film has inspired me to be more open and less quick to judge work that may exist outside my aesthetic meme.

From an article by Julia Klein:

Filmmaker Sasaki says she first met the Vogels in 2004 at a New York reception for the husband-and-wife artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The collectors made an immediate impression. “They were so beautiful,” Sasaki says. “They were very small, but their presence is amazing, their energy.”

Sasaki’s documentary, which follows the Vogels into artists’ studios and includes reverent commentary by a number of their artist friends, became “a story of their love affair—with art and artists and each other.”

Six months into the project, Sasaki says she felt blocked by her inability to coax more art analysis from the Vogels. She says the artist Lucio Pozzi broke the logjam by telling her, in effect: “That’s why Herb and Dorothy are so unique and special. They just look and look and look. They don’t care how you talk about art. They are seeing something.”

The second aspect of the story that is so memorable is that Herb and Dorothy never sold out, quite literally as well as figuratively. They never parted with any of the work from a collection that has, over time, become extremely valuable. Instead they kept the pieces together and have set up a program to lend out work to museums willing to show them in groupings of 50 (Vogel 50×50). While age has made them increasingly less mobile, the Vogels continue to reside in the same small Queens apartment filled to the brim with art they love.

They also never sold out in the sense that they did not lose the wonder and passion of their early years of collecting. As notoriety and media coverage have made them into reluctant celebrities, they remain charmingly unpretentious and unfazed. When it is revealed that Herb was getting weekly phone calls from several internationally known artists who had, over time, become good friends, it is presented as no big deal. Herb and Dorothy (until quite recently) would be out looking at art every night of the week, so of course they could report on what was going on in New York with more reliability than many of the leading art critics.

This is more than a feel good story of two people who loved art and made it the central purpose of their lives. It also has a lot to say about preconceived ideas in our culture, about the distance that exists between contemporary art and just everyday folks. The Vogels are not portrayed in this film as folk heroes because they are actually quite exceptional. But there is an everyman message in their undeniable demonstration that it does not take deep financial resources to find great works of art. Herb and Dorothy started simple, and they learned how to navigate with expertise in a world that too many think is complex, elitist and out of reach. Not so, not so.

* While Herb and Dorothy both participated in decisions about purchasing work, Dorothy openly and easily defers to Herb’s astounding set of eyes. While I don’t want to underestimate her valuable contribution to the collection, it is the singularity of Herb’s gaze that I found so mesmerizing.

Zaha Hadid, in her home. Now that’s what flamboyant looks like! (Photo: Miles Aldridge)

Two weeks ago I read the article written by John Seabrook for The New Yorker about architect Zaha Hadid. Up until now I’ve watched her international success with a curiosity and respect, but with a certain detachment. Her work doesn’t exhibit the aesthetic sensibilities that are more in line with my own—Shiguri Ban, Kenzo Tange, Steven Holl, Elizabeth Scofidio, Rem Koolhaas, to name a few.

But Seabrook made Hadid enchanting to me. As is often the case with New Yorker profiles, eyes have been opened at the back of my head and I’m looking at things very differently.

For example, this passage captures some of that magic:

The twisty geometry of an ordinary potato chip, to say nothing of the curves in modern cars and phones,is a reminder of how few buildings look as if they belonged in the digital world. Hadid is devoted to helping architecture catch up. In her buildings, walls are never quite vertical, floors seldom remain flat for long, and the twain meet not in ninety-degree angles but, rather, in the kinds of curves one finds in skateboard parks. (“There are three hundred and fifty-nine other degrees,” Hadid likes to say. “Why limit yourself to one?”) Few repeating forms—columns, windows, doorframes—guide you through her spaces, which may be why some people, on entering a Zaha Hadid building for the first time, are reminded of childhood experiences in large structures: You’re disoriented. You can’t say, “I’ll be in the back,” because there is no back. There’s no front, either.

Thus the title of the article: The Abstractionist: Zaha Hadid’s unfettered invention.

The part of Hadid’s story that is most compelling to me has to do with her early years at the Architectural Association, the oldest independent school of architecture in the U.K. While still a student she encountered painter Kazimir Malevich’s 1926 manifesto, “The Non-Objective World.” In that document Malevich claimed that “the new art of Suprematism, which has produced new forms and form relationships by giving external expression to pictorial feeling, will become a new architecture: it will transfer those forms from the surface of canvas to space.” Malevich produced abstract models for buildings that he referred to as “architektons” but was unable to pursue his ideas once Stalinism determined that abstract art was bourgeois and banned from exhibition.

But Hadid saw something in Malevich’s architektons, something no one else had seen before, and she made it her project to complete his work. In other words, she wanted to create a truly abstract building.

In the beginning, not many understood what she was doing. But she was relentless, working night and day, until “the two dimensional solids in the Malevich paintings started to give way, and they began floating like transparent volumes, layered in space.”

Soon others began to get was she was doing. She ended up winning the Diploma Prize for her portfolio which contained the design for a fourteen-story hotel. Although never built, she described the project this way: “The structure’s fourteen levels systematically adhere to the tektonik, turning all conceivable constraints into new possibilities for space.”

According to one critic, Aaron Betsky, this was a watershed piece of work:

You can’t underestimate the impact that her project had. It really was one of those very rare moments when a fissure opens up in architecture, and a different way of seeing emerges. We no longer have to be bound by gravity. We don’t have to accept reality—she will unfold her own reality.

There is something gnawing at me about this story, this relentless drive to get to the bottom of something. Maybe that gnawing sense I am feeling is similar to the way Hadid just had to dig into Malevich’s Supremacist manifesto, forcefully getting it to make sense for her, her work, her vision. It is an ancient archetype, one that is common in most cultural traditions. In Western culture we have Noah and the Ark and other mad visionaries who are misunderstood but end up breaking through what everyone else imagined was impenetrable.

One of my friend recently told me of a rich and deeply meaningful dream image. The phrase she used was clear cement. She was very insistent that the substance was not lucite, glass bricks or any of the other transparent building material. It was cement, she said, and it was clear.

Somehow that feels like a perfect metaphor for Hadid’s breakthrough, and one that I am still chewing on with satisfaction, curiosity and awe.

Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley describes her mother thus: “She was always pointing out colours: in the sea; the sparkle of dew: changes of colour when the dew was brushed away. If she arranged anything on the table like a bowl of fruit […] she would point out the colours. ‘Look it’s almost got a blue on it.’ She wasn’t a painter, she was a ‘looker’. The pleasure that one could get from looking was part of her personality.” Riley’s mother and I have this in common. Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real, just opened at Parasol Unit in London, is an exhibition irresistible to lookers, because they are made to feel important – more important, perhaps, than they actually are – rewarded, intrigued and thwarted by looking, and looking long.

This wonderful quote is from a review of the referenced show by Laura McLean-Ferris. As the phrase goes, most people with eyes can see, but a smaller subset has the ability to look.

A few one-liners on this same topic:

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. (Henri Bergson)\

Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. (Jonathan Swift)

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. (Henry David Thoreau)

Sight is a faculty; seeing is an art. (George Perkins Marsh)

A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears. (Gertrude Stein)

And one more addendum to this, more a comment on being seen than on seeing: Deborah Sontag of New York Times recently highlighted the late in life success of Carmen Herrera. She sold her first painting at age 89. Now, at 94, she is being heralded as the talent she has been for years.

The road to the Salts’ house, Fairfax County

Everyone along the eastern seaboard has their own Saturday storm story, and I’m no different. I went to Washington DC to see my it’s-been-too-long nieces and nephews on Friday. I ended up having to wait until Sunday afternoon to finally make it to the Salt house. Our “over the river and through the woods” adventure was reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago, not what you envision when you plan a weekend in Fairfax Virginia.

But it was a weekend with highlights in spite of the weather disruption. I had the good fortune to spend time with fellow blogger Maureen Doallas (her site is Writing Without Paper ) and found so many overlapping areas of interest we could have spent the entire weekend exploring those common veins. Finished two novels that each feature the point of view of opinionated, highly intelligent and more than a little pissed off middle-aged women (a strong drink, both of them, but a point of view previously underrepresented in contemporary fiction IMHO)—Olive Kittredge (this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, translated from the French. And the perfect snowy day activity, a matinee viewing of Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking) which continues Reitman’s roll towards cinematic exceptionalism.

Now I’m home, a house full to the brim. I’ll be posting off and on this week while we cash in on the months we have spent apart.

In the meantime, here’s a seasonal sweet one from Kenneth Patchen:

The Snow Is Deep on the Ground

The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

–Kenneth Patchen

View from the Salts’ porch

Rubin Museum of Art chief curator, Martin Brauen, left, and Felix Walder, great-grandson to Carl Jung, inspect Carl Jung’s “The Red Book” (Photo: Rubin Museum)

The Rubin Museum exhibit (and accompanying lecture series) that features The Red Book by Carl Jung has been on my mind since I first saw the show a few months ago. (I have referred to it previously here and here.) What is this oversized Bible-like tome that Jung used to record his personal journey over a number of years? I have never seen anything like it, particularly from someone whose primary contribution to the culture of ideas and concepts is as strong as Jung’s. On the content itself, I am not in a position to respond and evaluate as expertly as many Jungian therapists have done. But the meticulous calligraphy and polychrome illustrations (which he refers to as “mandalas”) are striking and reveal Jung’s strong visual orientation. Can it be approached as an art object? No, not for me. It feels like an intimate diary—more of an artifact—of one soul’s journey into the deep space of the subconscious. It is curious, peculiar, intense, and a bit haunting.

That’s the reason I have continued to follow the reviews and discussions around this event. I’ve included a few salient reviews, some laudatory and some very critical. It’s everyman’s call.

Do the decades between the completion and publication of “The Red Book” render it less potent or interesting? Not at all. As Shamdasani observes, “in a critical sense, ‘Liber Novus’ does not require supplemental interpretation, for it contains its own interpretation,” and so it is at last possible to begin a study of Jung with the work he held above all the rest. “The Red Book” not only reminds us of the importance of introspection, but also offers a guide to separating the self from the spirit of a time that would have astonished and offended Jung with its endless trivial distractions, its blogs and tweets and chiming cellphones. The creation of one of modern history’s true visionaries, “The Red Book” is a singular work, outside of categorization. As an inquiry into what it means to be human, it transcends the history of psychoanalysis and underscores Jung’s place among revolutionary thinkers like Marx, Orwell and, of course, Freud. The dedication — the love — with which it was assembled makes “The Red Book” as beautiful and otherworldly as a medieval book of hours.

Kathryn Harrison
New York Times

But what is particularly strange about this book is not its pretense or pomposity but its talismanic power. It was stashed away in a cabinet for decades by the family, then jealously withheld from scholarly view because of its supposedly revealing nature. Since being brought into the open, partly through the efforts of the historian and Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani (who is also curator of this exhibition), it has become a sensation.

Edward Rothstein
New York Times

Jung, shaman of the collective mind games that are supposed to give healing significance to the average person’s deepysleepy land, was one of the inventors of modern intellectual celebrity and its egomaniacal constructs. The Red Book is nothing more than a projection of his giant vanity and, observing the book in the flesh, so to speak, one cannot help but view it more as a manufactured testament than the spontaneous recording of Jung’s nervous breakdowns that it is purported to be.

Charlie Finch

Was he going mad? After World War I broke out in 1914, Jung decided with relief that his disturbed imagination had actually been sensing the coming conflict. He also concluded that he had entered what we would now call a midlife crisis, a period in which he was being compelled to re-examine his life and explore his deepest self. To do this, he recorded some of his dreams and visions in what were later called his “Black Books” (which have been available for some while). But he also began a remarkable visionary text, illustrated with his own bizarre paintings: “The Red Book” or “Liber Novus.” This he composed during a state of “active imagination” — that is, of reverie or waking dream. As he said, he wanted to see what would happen when he “switched off consciousness.”

Michael Dirda
Washington Post

For those of you who are not near New York, the show is coming to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (from April to June) and then to the Library of Congress in Washington.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I just found a spunky rebuttal to the much-discussed article by the Times’ Robin Pogrebin about the recent era of museum overbuilding. Pogrebin’s article is referenced in yesterday’s post, and anyone who has read her piece should also read through Lee Rosenbaum’s article on CultureGrrl, Not Dead Yet: Museum Building Projects Are Alive and Kicking. (Rosenbaum has written a more detailed analysis of major omissions in Pogrebin’s piece in an earlier posting, also very interesting.)

Rosenbaum’s bottom line with expansion delays and other ongoing projects:

Museum expansion isn’t an evil to be avoided, as Robin’s article seems to suggest. It just needs to be done for the right reasons and with a secure financial underpinning. That means not only knowing in advance where the necessary construction money is coming from, but also amassing the endowment funds required to cover the increased operating costs of the expanded facility. If you don’t know where that money is coming from, you need to delay the project. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Showing a geographical bias, I was pleased to see Rosenbaum highlight U.K.-based Apollo magazine’s choice of Boston’s MFA director Malcolm Rogers as their Personality of the Year. “Among its many photos of its cover boy, the magazine features a shot of Rogers ‘amid construction of the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Visitor Center’—part of the major renovation and expansion (including a new American wing) designed by Norman Foster. The project successfully concluded its capital campaign in June 2008 (good timing), raising a whopping $504 million.”

The scheduled date for completion of the MFA project is the end of 2010.