Details 3: Egypt

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art there’s an amazing collection of ancient Egyptian Art. The most imposing is the Temple of Dendur:


It is easy get overwhelmed by sarcophagi and mummies, and amazing stone statuary. Last summer I saw yet another large fragment of an ancient wall tucked away in a small gallery off to the side of the Temple of Dendur—pretty much at the end of my Egyptian tour route, full to the brim with Egypt. I could easily pass it by—and probably have done so dozens of times.

FBK Egypt

BLOG Egypt wall label

But then I notice something really amazing:

BLOG Egypt

Look at how the artist, working 3,000 years ago, managed to depict in stone the light translucency of the garment! OK, that really amazes me.

(BTW, if you click on the image it gets bigger so you can see it better.)




Details, details

Living in Portland, Oregon, I’m lucky to have been able to make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art just about every year. The masterpieces have become familiar, and I find that I now am attracted to looking at little things like coins, silver work, and other small articles in display cases. There’s amazing little stuff.

This big thing below is made up of little things—small carved bone panels—and I’ve walked right by it for decades, probably. A couple months ago I paused to look it over and was amazed by the imagery. I don’t know what is going on in these little panels—that would take some study that I’m probably never going to do. But if you are at The Met, check this out.

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Who are these folks? Where are they going? How about that crane lifting/dropping the person into the boat? I like the trees, too.

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Who is this person with all the babies? And what’s with the deer? Not Romulus and Remus.IMG_4138 a

And Big Bird being carried on a litter? (Nice detail of shutters in the windows above.)

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And this is really strange:

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Yeah, take some time to check out the little things. You just never know.




On Drawing: Mirrors at The Met

I’ve been very lucky, living about 3,000 miles from New York, to be able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art just about every year for the past 30+ years. Nowadays I plan to get there about lunch time (after taking the train from Connecticut into the city) and after gathering my thoughts in the cafeteria I spend a leisurely afternoon noodling around just seeing what might catch my attention.

Of course I enjoy revisiting big name masterworks, but it seems that the memorable (and photographable) incidents now are little things, little surprises tucked away in more crowded displays in vitrines.

So here are some great line drawings, on the backs of Etruscan bronze mirrors, 3rd century BC.

Mirror a crop

Look at the descriptive quality of a few well chosen lines.

Mirror b crop

Look how that composition fits into the circle.

Mirror c crop

2,300 years before the loose lines of Matisse…


…or the exactitude of lines by Picasso.


Who knew the Etruscans could draw like that?

Stella + Judd: Carpeaux

Early on my attitudes about art were shaped by the thinking exemplified in Questions to Stella and Judd by Bruce Glaser (Art News, 1966* ), e.g.:

GLASER: Why do you want to avoid compositional effects?

JUDD: Well, all those effects tend to carry with them all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain.

Recently I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and found myself marveling at Ugolino and His Sons (modeled ca. 1860–61, executed in marble 1865–67) by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827–1875). Far from the minimalist 60s values of Frank Stella and Donald Judd.


I’ve walked by this piece many times before. It was far too melodramatic for me. This time just this little detail caught my eye:


Really!?!? Interwoven toes?

Once stopped I noticed more.

Digression: Once upon a time a farmer was motoring down a country road when he came across a friend pulling on a rope tied to a mule. The mule was steadfast. The farmer asked, “What are you doing?” “Trying to get this dang mule to cross the road,” replied his friend.

The farmer reached into the back of his truck and grabbed a short length of two-by-four. He walked up to the mule, gave it strong whack on the back of the head, and calmly led the mule across the road.

“How’d you do that!?” asked his friend. “First you gotta get their attention,” said the farmer.

(Apologies to animal rights activists.)

How do these figures manage to fit together?


Like a great mannerist puzzle. Look at the delicacy of the child—and yet more straining toes!


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Then I noticed the hole through the whole…

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Back to Stella and Judd:

STELLA: Maybe that’s the quality of simplicity. When Mantle hits the ball out of the park, everybody is sort of stunned for a minute because it’s so simple. He knocks it out of the park, and that usually does it.

Carpeaux is not simple. He knocks it outta the park. Very complicated. Amazing. Still sappy melodrama to me. But I’ve got to respect him as an artist.


From the Met’s web site:

H. 77 in. (195.6 cm)
Signed (incised in script at right front facet of base): Jbte Carpeaux./Rome 1860; (incised at right end facet of base) JBTE CARPEAUX ROMA 1860
Purchase, Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Foundation Inc. Gift and Charles Ulrick and Josephine Bay Foundation Inc. Gift, and Fletcher Fund, 1967 (67.250)

ON VIEW: GALLERY 548   Last Updated September 4, 2013

Dante’s Divine Comedy has always enjoyed favor in the plastic arts. Ugolino, the character that galvanized peoples’ fantasies and fears during the second half of the nineteenth century, appears in Canto 33 of the Inferno. This intensely Romantic sculpture derives from the passage in which Dante describes the imprisonment in 1288 and subsequent death by starvation of the Pisan count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his offspring. Carpeaux depicts the moment when Ugolino, condemned to die of starvation, yields to the temptation to devour his children and grandchildren, who cry out to him:

But when to our somber cell was thrown
A slender ray, and each face was lit
I saw in each the aspect of my own,
For very grief both of my hands I bit,
And suddenly from the floor arising they,
Thinking my hunger was the cause of it,
Exclaimed: Father eat thou of us, and stay
Our suffering: thou didst our being dress
In this sad flesh; now strip it all away.

Even THE MET screws up

Last January I posted

VANDALISM at The Portland Art Museum

about how the careless installation of a Robert Irwin work at PAM effectively destroyed the work and lied about its meaning.

Last week I was at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and saw this installation of Robert Rauschenberg’s Winter Pool, 1959:

RR Winter Pool

Note the goofy extension of the baseboard/floor—a plinth. I cannot find any rationale for this plinth other than the idea that because this is a “painting” it needs to be hung at a similar height to other “paintings” on the wall. And then the ladder needs something to sit on.

But there is a difference between a ladder extending to the floor and a ladder being supported by a plinth. And The Met knows it is supposed to be a floor. From their own website:

The work, in exceptionally fresh condition, consists of two separate canvases, each about the height of a man. A wooden ladder bridges the gap between them, and its legs extend to the floor, inviting the viewer to climb into the picture.

You might be “invited to climb” from your place on the floor, but less likely from a reserved space on a plinth. BTW, here’s The Met’s own pic of the work from their website:



You can see that someone there thinks it is correct to have it be on the floor.

This isn’t as bad as the PAM/Irwin fiasco, but it does distort the meaning of the work. It’s just dumb.