Review: Sigmar Polke at the MOMA
art | review | Sabin Howard | Sabin Howard sculpture | sculpting | talent

Review: Sigmar Polke at the MOMA

I saw a lot of art in Italy. The Accademia in Venice, the Uffizi in Florence, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the Canova Gipsoteca in Possagno, and a thousand Tintoretto/Tiepolo/Giovanni Bellini-graced churches in Venice. Then I came home to NYC and went to the MOMA with my museum buddy Ying.

The Exhibition Guide for the Sigmar Polke show was filled with the kind of pretentious art-speak that gives art historians a bad name because it distances viewers from art. For example, it describes Polke, a German artist who lived from 1941-2010, as having a “promiscuous intelligence.”

Ying and I had a conversation about that diction, “promiscuous intelligence.” Why couldn’t the writer just say Polke was interested in many subjects? Or something equally direct and to the point. It would be nice if artspeak didn’t try to call attention to itself, but rather served the art it references.

I should note that Ying is even more educated than I am, and has a few advanced degrees. She’s also one of the most dauntingly engaged readers I know. If she’s taking exception to word choice, her opinion matters.

My husband Sabin Howard the master sculptor has a lot to say about the vanity, self-importance, and general silliness of most art historians. He believes that great art should stand on its own, without need for the conceits and airs of PhD’s who are trying to justify their scholarly degrees.

Indeed, no one needs to explain the immensity and gorgeousness of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel–they deliver themselves directly to your heart.

Sabin would have been skeptical of Polke, who worked in many mediums: painting, photography, film, sculpture, drawing, print-making, television, performance, and stained glass.

Sabin Howard is about mastery, uplift, perfection. Polke was about experimentation, curiosity, irreverence. Sabin operates from an admirable, even enviable, inner certainty. Polke was questing.

I enjoyed the show, though I did roll my eyes at Potato House, a wooden lattice with potatoes nailed into it that was supposed to evoke pedestrian objects in German life: the garden shed and the potato.

But I do like the wit and boundless curiosity with which the prolific Polke approached his art, and what do you call it if not art? In this I disagree with my husband, who would call it entertainment.

Maybe it isn’t the eternal high art of Michelangelo or Botticelli, but it’s valuable and important, partly as a cultural document–Polke grew up in post-war Germany, and that carries its own weight, a particular gravity. But Polke’s works offer more than cultural and historical reverence. His works attempt to change the viewer’s consciousness, to provoke questions and a kind of delicious uncertainty akin to Buddhist beginner’s mind. In that, it often succeeds.

Though I must agree with Ying who commented, “I like it, it’s very intellectual. But will I be thinking about it in two weeks? Will I be thinking about it in two hours?”

An insightful question, perhaps the salient question. I’m still thinking about Giotto’s frescoes and Botticelli’s Primavera.

Worth seeing, and do go to the Painting and Sculpture I floor, where are housed some stunning Kandinskys.

Sigmar Polke at the MOMA

Florence, the Medici Chapels, the Uffizi, and Social Media
art | gratitude | healing | hope | life model | love | mind-body connection | sculpting | travel

Florence, the Medici Chapels, the Uffizi, and Social Media

There are too many tourists in Florence. Plenty of them are dreadful.

Today I overheard an American as he stood in front of Leonardo’s sublime Annunciation and wondered aloud in a nasal voice if he would be “done” with the museum by 2:00.

I wanted to spit at him.

Some of us go to the Uffizi and we show up. We bring ourselves to the art, not so we can cross if off some list, but so we can participate in something larger than ourselves: great art, the finest art humankind can create. Beauty, truth, and love.

The Botticelli room does it for me. It grabs my internal organs and squeezes and uplifts me and forces me into transfiguration. I want to kneel and pray in front of the Primavera. Every time I go to the Uffizi, every time I pass through that room with its dazzling paintings, I am a different person than when I entered. I am a better person. I am someone who has been weeping with joy and grace.

Sabin the classical figurative sculptor loves Michelangelo, and Sabin in his own right is a master artist, so he’s earned the right to his opinions. He’s also read every book in English or Italian written since 1750 on the Renaissance, so he’s educated.

But for me, it is Botticelli. Botticelli understood women, he understood beauty, he loved femininity, he conveyed grace like no one else, he got it.

This is a debate Sabin and I have every time we discuss Michelangelo and Sandro Filipepi. It is hard for me to relate to Michelangelo who just didn’t like women. Michelangelo’s female figures wear coconut boobs and the most butch arms this side of construction work. OK, I understand, his architecture of the body is unparalleled. But still.

Then there is Leonardo il Maestro. The golden-ringleted angel in the Verocchio painting. That stunning Annunciation, and was that the only painting naughty, restless, genius Leonardo ever finished? Holy god.

And now we are allowed to take photos in the Italian museums. Why? Free advertising. Joe Schmoe American in front of the David on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram will bring in 20 other Schmoes, and Italy needs their $. Gotta love social media.


Sound Editing
authors | hard work | novels

Sound Editing

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”

Because I am married to a classical figurative sculptor, Michelangelo occupies a luminous position in our home. His wisdom matters to us.

In this case, I’m quoting him because, well, he’s a Big Deal around here. I don’t know if this bit of thoughtful humility on his part really applies to the situation at hand. I am thinking rather simply about hard work. Specifically, editing sound files as I turn my novels into audiobooks.

Sound editing is some of the most laborious, tedious, difficult, grueling, and time-intensive work I’ve ever done. It ain’t fun. And it requires perfectionistic focus. It’s a good thing I’m detail-oriented, because I hone in on every single click, hiss, hum, rattle, or pop in the narrative that I read with such feeling, and recorded so carefully.

Two different programs, Audacity and Wavepad, serve to manipulate the audio files, to filter out noise and to optimize the quality. First I use Audacity for recording. It’s a great free program, and it works beautifully for basic noise removal, equalization, and compression.

But…I record in my office, not in a foam-insulated studio, so there’s some reverb. I nailed a big fluffy quilt up behind my desk to absorb some of the echo. But there’s still a little awkward sounding whoosh in the background. Enter Wavepad, which has a marvelous high pass filter that, yes, filters out the reverb. God bless Wavepad.

I suppose I am learning a new skill, and that’s an asset. I’m always grateful for assets that I acquire through hard work.

Nor ought I complain. I know people who work much harder all the time. I’m thinking specifically about my beautiful stepdaughter, who is such a lovely young woman, sweet and loyal and thoughtful and grateful, a pleasure to be with. She’s studying diligently for the MCAT’s while working at a high pressure medical research job.

So I’ll keep chipping away at the giant, obdurate block of stone that is my raw recording files, hoping to reveal the art within.