Temple of Knowledge

There are a great many good reasons to visit your neighbourhood’s public library. And when this happens to be the Stephen Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the fourth largest library in the world, being a ”curious tourist” is one of them.

The New York Public Library’s historic Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room recently completed a major ceiling restoration that went on for two years, since May 2014, when a rosette fell overnight and prompted a full inspection of the ceilings. And while it was agreed that they were in an – otherwise – excellent condition, the Library decided to take advantage of the already set up scaffolding to do some restoration work. The rooms reopened on October 5th, 2016 and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself.

The sheer size of the rooms, the epic beauty of these 105-year-old ceilings, the rows upon rows of accumulated knowledge can hardly be described in words. Capturing its essence on camera is an impossible task. It requires physical presence; slow steps, long pauses, quiet respectful gestures; as all temples do.

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November 27th, 2016

Four Cats and a Mouse

Looking at those little wonders of skill and craftsmanship that are the works of Henri-Charles Guérard, on show at the New York Public Library, is a pure pleasure and an excellent introduction to the artist. But the fact that felines (and other animals) were featured prominently in his work, warmed me up to the person too.

Here are the three stages of a Cat on a Newspaper:

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Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression
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Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression.
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Henri-Charles Guérard, Chat sur un journal (Cat on a Newspaper), before 1887. Etching and drypoint, unique proof impression.

A Cat’s head sealing an announcement by the Black-and-White Society:

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Henri-Charles Guérard, Tête de chat noir (Head of a Black Cat), before 1888. Etching and drypoint on found paper.

And a mouse:

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Henri-Charles Guérard, Rat in a Vase Gazing at the Moon, ca. 1886. Colour etching and aquatint.

Accompanying caption: [Although Westerners generally have an aversion to rats, the creatures play an important role in Japanese culture, for the rat, or nazumi, is thought to be the messenger of the god Daikoku. It is said, moreover, that if rats eat the New Year cakes, there will be a good harvest. Guérard’s endearing treatment of this rodent climbing out of a vase decorated with Japanese motifs seems more closely aligned with Japanese than Western sentiments.]

A small consolation to weary New Yorkers, little impressed at the thought of having to share their homes, parks and subway with millions of them creatures…

A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard (1846-1897)

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

New York, NY, 10018

November 27th, 2016

A Curious Hand: The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard (1846-1897)

These and a lot more from ”the engraver of curiosity par excellence” can be viewed at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building until February 26th, 2017.

Don’t go in a rush, the exhibition is more extensive than one might expect; although this was supposed to be an added bonus to my visit, it quickly became apparent that it merits a lot more attention than a mere skimming through.
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Henri-Charles Guérard, Porte-bouquet et crabe (Vase and Crab), 1882, Colour etching

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Henri-Charles Guérard, After Diego Velásquez. Portrait du cardinal infant Don Fernando (Portrait of Cardinal Infante Don Fernando as a Hunter), 1888, Etching

[Beginning in the 1870s, Guérard assisted Édouard Manet with biting and pulling his prints, and their working relationship eventually blossomed into a friendship. In 1879, Guérard married Eva Gonzalès, Manet’s favourite pupil, who died in childbirth in 1883 shortly after Manet’s own death. Manet was not only a friend and colleague of Guérard’s but also an important source of inspiration.]

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Eduard Manet, Printed by Henri-Charles Guérard. The Boy with Soap Bubbles, 1868-69, Etching
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Henri-Charles Guérard, Soleil couchant (Setting Sun), 1895-96, Woodcut

[The image, which shows a troop of tiny Japanese men climbing energetically over a woman’s shoe of Western style, captures the droll and occasionally baffling behaviour of the figures in Hokusai manga. Women’s feet and, especially, their shoes have long been fetishized in both the West and the East, and the conduct of the ”assailants”, which includes a figure clambering on the slipper’s ruffled pompom, is suggestive. The impression shown here reveal Guérard experimenting with jaunty colours, one hot pink, the other bright yellow.]

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Henri-Charles Guérard, L’Assaut du soulier (The Assault of the Shoe), ca. 1888. Etching, drypoint and aquatint with roulette in pink and yellow

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[Guérard designed these multipurpose sheets for menus or notecards. They exhibit a whimsical mashup of Western and Japanese art and include a number of his favourite motifs, including the monkey spilling ink, the marionette, Japanese masks, and even his dog, Azor. References to cooking, including the buffoonish figure in an apron and the men wearing chef’s hats, make the connection to menus.]

All notes are from the accompanying captions and brochure (available also on-line).

New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)

New York, NY, 10018

November 27th, 2016

Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918

It was a very cold day with breathtaking, eye blurring strong wind gusts, the first after an unusually long and mild autumn and it caught me unprepared. Then, there was a queue outside the Neue Galerie which, considering it was a weekday, also caught me unprepared. It was my second visit at the premises but the first one to the galleries, the last being a coffee break at the Vienna-inspired Café Sabarsky – for which there is a separate queue given its popularity which competes with that of the Galerie itself.

A staircase (or elevator) brings the visitor to the high-ceilinged reception rooms with their wood floors and wall panels, where Gustav Klimt’s Ladies await to welcome guests into their fin-de-siècle golden world of art nouveau, showing off their costumes, accessories, decorative objects and furniture. All this tends to feel a little cramped – this is a private mansion after all and the guests are eager and plenty – but it’s only a small inconvenience quickly brushed off once guests are made to feel at home by the charming Ladies.

Consisting of 12 paintings, 40 drawings, 40 works of decorative art, and vintage photographs of Klimt the exhibition is of a smaller scale compared to what we’re becoming used to in The City and certainly far smaller than the extensive collections I had the chance to experience in Vienna.

Having said that, I’m always surprised – with mixed feelings – when I finally get to see a work of art, like the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for example, in the gallery that actually owns it and learn about its long trip home; a home sometimes to be found in the most unexpected places.

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Photography is strictly not allowed in the galleries and hallways but here is a photo of the elegant black-and-white staircase, the only place I could take one away from the accusing eyes of the guards.

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Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918 runs through January 16th, 2017 and while, as already mentioned, small and in no way representative of Klimt’s work it will certainly be an hour – or two – spent in good company. After all, we can all use some Golden Age glamour this holiday season, cant we all?

November 21st, 2016