Category Archives: Statue Hands

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.


From 3 Kingdoms to 2 Koreas: Korean Art Galleries at LACMA

Also spelled 'PO-ja-gi' - Your choice

What have we here? A painting from the 1920s by Paul Klee? A Jazz LP cover from the 50s? A Louis Vuitton scarf from the 00s?

Nope. Wrong wrong wrong. This colorful, seemingly contemporary assemblage is in truth a silk craftwork made in the 19th century in Korea. You’re looking at a “wrapping cloth” or to give it its Korean name it’s a… ah… just a minute. It’s a…

Now you know as much as I do.Oh, here we go. Fortunately my memory was augmented by my past self with this photo of the information placard near the bojagi in the new Korean Art Galleries of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The stitched-together fabric artwork is called a bojagi or pojagi, depending on which transliterator looks more trustworthy to you. Korean women have been making them for centuries, but they all look as new and stylish as if they were made yesterday. You need not take my word for it: Read the placard yourself and grow wise.

Forgot to read the info card. Sorry. Turtles are for luck, by the way.So much to see in the Korean rooms at LACMA. I guess it’s the largest collection of Korean art on display outside the nice half of Korea. The time-frame represented by the statues, figurines, ceramics, paintings, woodwork, and loads else is vast: From the Three Kingdoms Period (way back when), through the Goryeo Dynasty (from then up til 1392), through the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910), right up to a sample of that great contemporary Korean work such as was seen so recently in LACMA‘s eye-popping “Your Bright Future” show. Here’s a figurine from the somethingth century (forget to make notes) holding a turtle. The rooms hold many turtles. There are turtle stamps and turtle clasps on turtle boxes. You will enjoy the wealth of turtles. I know I did.

To help you picture the size of the bojagi, here is the first photo repeated, with the head of an Abenaki Indian for scale.

Look up 'Northwest Passage' on IMDb

For a more intelligent and informative essay on the newly installed Korean Art Galleries at LACMA, see Dorothy Guest Tours the West.

The Burghers of Calais

Bronze group by Rodin. Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena CA

From 1346 to 1347 England’s King Edward III laid siege to the city of Calais.

The citizens of Calais were by now near starvation; the commander had already expelled “all poore and meane people” — those who could not contribute to the defence of the town and simply constituted extra mouths to feed — to the number of 1,700. Further resistance was pointless. [Garrison commander Jean de Vienne] now signalled his readiness to surrender, provided only that the King would promise safe conduct for all the citizens. Edward first refused point-blank: Calais had cost him vast quantities of money and the lives of countless soldiers and sailors, together with almost a year of his own. But when his two envoys, Lord Basset and Sir Walter Manny, returned to report that in that event the city would continue to resist, he relented. Manny was sent back to Jean de Vienne with new conditions: six of the principal citizens must present themselves before the King, barefoot and bare-headed, with halters round their necks and the keys of the city and of the castle in their hands. With them he would do as he pleased; the rest of the population would be spared.

The English terms were proclaimed in the marketplace, and immediately the richest of all the burghers, Master Eustache de Sainte-Pierre, stepped forward. Five others joined him. There and then the six stripped to their shirts and breeches, donned the halters, took the keys and made their way to the gates, led by Jean de Vienne himself mounted on a pony, his sword reversed in token of submission. On their arrival before the King they knelt before him, presented him with the keys and begged for mercy. Edward refused to listen, and ordered their immediate execution. Sir Walter pleaded with him in vain. Only when Queen Philippa, then heavily pregnant, threw herself on her knees before her husband and begged him to spare them did he finally relent.

You can learn the entire story of the 14th century Siege of Calais as well as read about the lives and times of the English Kings from Edward II all the way to Henry VII in John Julius Norwich’s lively Shakespeare’s Kings — from which the lengthy quote above was filched. Norwich examines the eight (plus one) “history plays” of Shakespeare, outlining the bare (albeit sometimes hair-raising) facts as determined by punctilious historians and comparing them with the story as made zippy by Shakespeare who, after all, had a theater to keep filled with satisfied customers.

The photo at the top of this post is of a grouping of six slightly larger-than-life-sized bronzes by Rodin from 1889 entitled The Burghers of Calais. It stands near the entrance of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA.

Shakespeare’s Kings
The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485
by John Julius Norwich
(Scribner Book Company, Paperback, 432pp.)

St. John of Capistrano

San Giovanni di Capistrano by Buglioni

Around the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Florentine sculptor Santi Buglioni was preparing to be born and enter upon those crucial six or seven years of playing in the mud so necessary to the later career of a ceramist. Around 1550 Sr. Buglioni had amassed enough skill to create this formidable lifesize statue of the formidable larger-than-lifesize Saint John of Capistrano, or San Giovanni di Capistrano as he was known back home.

Glazed terracotta is the medium chosen by the artist to depict the canonized hero of the Battle of Belgrade — and isn’t it the perfect material for a Franciscan man of action? Robes, banner, rosary, cincture and sandals are all glowing with color, but the hands and head and feet reveal the natural, matte, rugged orange-brown of the “baked earth” of Italy.

Here we see a detail of one of those hard-working hands clutching a banner while the other upraised hand rallies some 30,000 armed and ticked-off Hungarians to repel the “Hope and Change” being ushered in by the invading Islamic barbarians.

You can marvel at the actual objet at LACMA any day except Wednesday (when LACMA rests), but you’d better not delay long because Muhammedans have a nasty tendency to destroy art (and artists and art collectors and art lovers) when they are in the driver’s seat and it looks like this nation’s long-standing policy of resistance to Jihad is coming to an inglorious end.

One Moore Hand

Knuckle Sandwich from Mom.Henry Moore required two and one half tons of molten bronze to cast his sculpture Draped Reclining Mother and Baby. Fortunately for the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden at THE Getty, he had it. The end result is too big to look upon and live, but details are comprehensible, and so we continue our narrow study of hands in figural sculpture.

This particular hand is big enough to serve as a disgusting end table. But, after all, it needs to be big to protect and nourish the baby trusted to mom’s ponderous care. Baby is strapping: You can see the shins and feet of Baby Gort behind the loose fist.

Baby Gort’s feet are more footlike than you might expect from Moore. After finding the basic form of his subject as he does with those lil guys, Moore doesn’t usually stop there; he usually plays out the form like a jazz musician going at a melody. These feet are just simple feet.

But it’s the hand that really surprises me: Here Moore actually describes the fingers, knuckles and all. He can’t quite bring himself to separate the digits (maybe he never read an information card in an art museum about the “lost wax” technique) but still, it’s more like a hand — none of that blobby improv — than Mom’s head is like your average non-Gort head.

What does all this mean? Oh! So many things! And, you know, if I were writing a doctoral thesis instead of a web log I would tell you those things — with footnotes! — but I’m not, so I won’t.

The Sound of One Hand Oxidizing

Rodin's Jean de Fienne, Dressed, 1884-95You can tell a lot about a figural sculptor from his treatment of hands. Or, to be more accurate, you can tell one or two things about a figural sculptor from his treatment of hands. Or, well, okay, to be perfectly honest, you may or may not be able to tell anything about a figural sculptor from his treatment of hands — I have no idea — but I wanted to start out this photo-essay with an artsy sounding assertion that made me sound more knowledgable than I am.

Rodin's Pierre de Wissant, Naked as a Jaybird, 1884-95That’s a detail up there, of a bronze by Auguste Rodin that stands motionless (though it walks at night) on the grounds of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It seemed to me that an artist working in clay — especially on a monumental scale — would be thinking about his paws more than the usual guy, if only because they were chronically dry and itchy. So I risked armed response from the lurking guards by tip-toeing up close and getting a shot of Jean de Fiennes‘s ambiguous gesture.

The next photo, on the left somewhere, shows one Pierre de Wissant, aghast, raising his bronze hand as if to say, “WTF?” Actually, the face on this one caught my interest more than the hand, but let’s stick with the theme, shall we?

Down below, I give you a pair of fierce, grippy hands belonging to one member of a group of Burghers of Calais, 1884-95. Now there is a pair of sculptor’s hands, don’t you think? Blue-collar hands. I don’t know how much manual labor those Calais Burghers had to do, but I suspect these sinewy mitts have more to do with Auguste than Jean, Pierre or any of their fellow public servants. I’ll bet they all had French tips.

Rodin's Burghers of Calais, 1884-95

Rodin's St John the Baptist, 1878-80As long as we’re hanging around on the lawn anyhow, let’s get within guard-alarming distance of the graceful hand of Rodin’s Saint John the Baptist, 1878-80.

Nice hand, eh? But I think Rodin has it a little backwards: this should be the Burgher’s hand, and the Burgher’s hand should be here instead. John Baptist lived an ascetic life in the desert subsisting on bugs and honey. I picture something a little more weatherworn and rugged on the end of his wrists, though maybe all the baptizing had a softening effect. The gesture is surely meant to be an orator’s flourish in keeping with John’s role as a voice in the wilderness.

Rodin's... uh, I forget. Pierre de Wissant, I think.One more Rodin hand. This one belonging to… oh, rats. My notes are all in disarray. I think it belongs to Pierre de Wissant, but it might go with one his many Burgher Buddies. They’re milling all over the lawn at the Norton Simon; it’s hard to keep them straight. And which Pierre was it? There are two studies  — one draped and one nude– and yet another Pierre amid the group portrait.

Sorry, I just can’t remember which one the hand goes with, but I suppose a draped hand would be wearing a mitten, yes? We’ll just call it the Bare Pierre and let the ever-vigilant error-finders of the Web pounce if we’re wrong.

Maillol's Three Nymphes, 1930-37 at the Norton Simon Museum.Now, just to round things off, let’s lean mere inches from one of the three ladies comprising Aristide Maillol’s bronze Three Nymphes, 1930-37. I include it mostly because I have it, but also because it provides a nice contrast to Rodin’s rugged technique. Maillol’s sculptures are smooth as eggs and as geometrical, too. They come dangerously close to being ice-cold and Deco-ish, but some residual animating grace saves them. After all, even the 20th century didn’t manage to be completely anti-human. That will be the job of the 21st, beginning tomorrow.