Category Archives: Sculpture

Who Was That Lady?

Athena or Hera or Demeter or Aphrodite or Someone ElseSay good-bye to this ancient Roman goddess before she leaves her present home in The Getty Villa in Los Angeles. She will return this Sunday to her birthplace, Sicily, where, we hope, she will be better treated than before when she was left buried like an old tin can for several millennia. Having seen how nice she looks when cleaned up, the Sicilians suddenly want her back, so back she goes.

Her name is Aphrodite or Hera or Demeter or Athena, depending on the now-missing identifying objects she once held, and on the now-missing headpiece she once wore. Maybe the Sicilians can kick around in the dirt and find something to I.D. the lady.

You can see that Jane Doe — Giovanna Cervus in Latin — is a doughty hunk of woman. Eight feet at least, without shoes. The picture above includes a field trip kid for scale.

Mostly she’s made of limestone, but her head, arms and feet are marble. Marble, intones the informational card on her pedestal, was an expensive Greek import and so was saved for the nicer bits.

We’re also told that close inspection reveals faint traces of pink and blue pigment in the crevices. No such close inspection was vouchsafed this member of the public. The alert museum guards forbade pedestal clambering. Peer as we might from the allowed distance, nothing pink or blue was revealed to our sight. But we take the coloration as a matter of faith from the Getty curators who have never lied to us.

The statue was carved sometime around 400 B.C. Or 400 “B.C.E” to you godless heathens out there. It’s well preserved — not too badly weathered, that is — so we guess the Sicilians valued Ms Unknown Goddess and took good care of her for a while, until they forgot where they’d put her.

Maybe she's Miss Etna 400 B.C.


I Left My Heart in a Bowl of Rice-A-Roni™

Much more fun than cable TV.The onrushing cable car above hints at where we’ve been.

We spent a couple of carefree days strolling up and down (way up and down) the City by the Bay. Hadn’t climbed those  quadricep-challenging hills in years. We feared we might have to relearn that Awful Truth “What youth deemed crystal, age finds out was dew,” but San Francisco is one of the few places in this disappointing world that is exactly as nice as you remember it.

Even nicer in some ways. This giant hand, one of six, wasn’t there last time we passed through:

Three Heads Six Arms, 2008, by Zhang HuanNor, for that matter, was the present home of the Asian Art Museum where we spent about five times the amount of time we’d budgeted. After all, you can’t just rush by items like this seated Buddha from the 4th century:

There's a date inscribed on the back corresponding to 338 AD.It happens to be the “most published” item in their entire collection. Every book on Buddhist sculpture includes it, says the helpful placard nearby.

Then there’s this stern soldier — a “haniwa,” or Japanese funerary figure in terra cotta, made in the 3rd millenium BC  — who won’t let you pass until you pay your respects:

The entire figure is maybe three feet tall.And what would a sojourn in the Bolshiest city on the Bolshy left coast be without an hour browsing for lewd and seditious literature in City Lights Bookstore? This is the indy bookshop from which, in 1957, extruded Allen Ginsberg’s epic Howl. Signs in the upper story windows exhort passersby to “keep an open mind” and also to “turn left.” But can a passerby do both at once?

The best minds of MY generation were destroyed by Cocoa Puffs.We patriotically held out the palm and sneered “nyet!” to all the Bolshy blandishments, but before we could launch into our chant of “Sarah Barracuda” the Red Youth Brigade (now rather aged) spotted our red, white and blue hearts and ejected us into Kerouac Alley…

On the Road, In the Alley.… into which poor drunken Mr Kerouac had been tossed more than half a century ago from Vesuvio, a bar in which he had been demonstrating once again that the Beat Culture was more acceptable on paper than in the flesh.

But if you have to become so inebriated that crawling along the sidewalk becomes a reasonable mode of transportation, and street signs loom too far in the distance above your lolling head to help guide you to your SRO in the Tenderloin, don’t worry. San Francisco helpfully molds the street names into the concrete at every intersection:

Chewing gum splotches were Photoshopped out to protect your refined sensibilities.Next Post: A visit to San Francisco’s De Young Museum of All Kinds of Art.

—L’autre direction! dit l’abeille.

He was right, too!We went a-hunting for a Los Angeles bookstore selling books in French. A store with more titles than the measly selection in the big box bookstores. The magic mind of the Web told us to go to Skylight Bookstore on North Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz.

Well we found it eventually, but not before we got lost in a section of the city called “Wilshire Center” because it would be impolite to call it Shabbytown. Our mapless wandering up and down miserable streets was, happpily, of short duration. A friendly statue of a gesticulating bee [see above] seemed to tell us the direction in which to go. We obeyed. The bee did not lie: Reader, we found Skylight Bookstore.

The number of books in French that were on sale there filled four or five short shelves; indeed more than you’ll find in Barnes & Borders, but not nearly enough to justify the grueling car trip over the mountains. The rest of the books throughout the store, humbly standing on plywood planks, spoke of the “poisonous doctrines of Milton Friedman” and offered tips on planning your gay wedding. A shrine dedicated to Bukowski’s prose and poetry rose Mayanlike in tiers. The giant bee who had been so helpful back when we were driving in circles proved to be a homosexual Marxist alcoholic.

Old Mission Santa Barbara, an Old Mission in Santa Barbara

Today we left L.A. behind and drove 71 miles up Highway 101 with a single purpose: to see a famous old mission founded by the Franciscans back in 1786. Old Mission Santa Barbara is still a going concern. Monks study there, retreatants are put up, Mass is said in the church, and the grounds are maintained and art restored for tourists like us.

The Stairway to Hell had vending machines!

Our first stop on the self-guided tour of the monastery was the famous STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. We ached to climb those timeworn stairs, but we hung back, daunted by the legend according to which those with stained souls would only find cactuses on every step. Somewhat shamefacedly we gave the Stairway the go-by and headed for the centuries old GRAVEYARD.

Not audio-animitronic.There, too, we met resistance. The SKULL-HAID DOOR challenges all comers with three riddles, one from each skull-haid. Answer correctly and you may pass safely through the portal. Answer wrong and you may still pass, but the skull-haids smirk and make you feel uncomfortable.

Tries to do like St Francis and get the birds to sit still for a sermon, but so far no dice.On the way out, as we wrapped up our self-guided tour and a visit to the (excellent) Gift Shop, we met BROTHER CAT who blessed us and let us rub his belly.

Who’s That Nibelung at My House?

She's got a ticket to ride.

We were free this July 5th and so we all piled into the RAV and crossed the mountain to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Within those walls we spent most of our time looking at… at what? That spooky lady up atop this post is a costume for the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It’s a Valkyrie riding a horse. Fans in the body of the Valkyrie’s horse (actually just an outline of horse made of pipes) blow scarlet-lit flags up and backward to suggest forward momemtum. The name of the assemblage is Walkurenritt, which is German-talk for Ride of the Valkyries.

Other nightmarish costumes by the production’s designer, Achim Freyer, hang behind Ms Valkyrie as part of an exhibit of artwork inspired by the stories of Siegfried and the Nibelungen (also by the Bros Grimm). Among the artists whose work appears are David Hockney (with six fairy tale etchings from 1969), Henri Fantin-Latour, Aubrey Beardsley and George Grosz (the German artist whose sketches of Weimar German nightlife inspired the set design for Caberet). An alcove contains a monitor continually playing scenes from Fritz Lang’s 1924 silent epic Die Nebelungen and from a real creeper called Der Golem (1920).

If you have any questions, please feel free to sit alone forever at the Information Table conveniently located just outside the gallery.

What do you want? 'Information.' You won't get it. 'By hook or by crook, we will.'

Wiener Whistles March Forward

The new one is more of a choking hazard than the old.Today an adventure-filled trip to Van Nuys ended happily with an up-close encounter with one of the fleet of world-famous Wienermobiles. This one, with the license plate “RELSHME” sat festooned with pennants in the parking lot of a Lucky (née Alberton’s) grocery market. It’s drivers, the Wiener Women, handed out Oscar Mayer wiener whistles and took photographs of civilians in front of the sleek, sausage-shaped vehicle.

When I was child — as the Pink Floyds sing so mournfully — I had one of the original Oscar Mayer wiener whistles. It was the shape of a hot dog — no wheels, no bun, no anything; just the dog. The temptation to swallow it was too great for many unfortunate youngsters, and so the toy was withdrawn for safety’s sake. My own minimalist whistle was swept away with the years that took my innocence, and I was left with only the later version, a whistle with a wide, less ingestible base, to console my old age.

The child-safe wiener whistle has never fully satisfied. It looks funny, wrong, not wienery at all. To make matters worse, it’s music is harsh and unpleasant. Those faults have been set right in the latest version handed to me by a Wiener Woman in Van Nuys. In the photo above, you can compare the wide-based, child-proofed whistle on the left, with the 2010 model on the right. Note the improved coloration of the new one, as well as the more realistic rendering of the automobile body. The whistle’s tone, as everyone around me these past few hours can attest, is sweet and loud.

Come in! Come in! And bring your mother!

Five Smooth Stones, Five Sore Coyotes

They agitate our kitties from the valley next door. They gibber like scary girl-ghosts at night. They dare prowl the streets by day.

They are the coyotes of California. And their days are numbered.

Well, their haunches are numbered anyhow. Behold my new stealth missile launcher:

I call it the Varminator. The varmints will soon call it “The Invisible God That Spanks My Butt at Night.” They want to howl? I’ll give the devils reason to howl.

Morgan the Penguin and Bjorn the Gnome already know the power of the Varminator. Soon the world will know.