BBC, again

There, the BBC did it again.

Their new series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, here, presents 100 art objects in the British Museum collection in short, 15 minute programs.  Not all are interesting:  the Olmec stone mask and the Paracas carpets are fantastic objects about which not enough is known to make up a fifteen minute program.  Others are smashing hits, like this Chinese Han Dynasty lacquered cup story — which has a great story to tell.

This is my favorite, so far:  it is a Jomon jar — the Jomon of Japan were the first people on earth to make pottery — some fifteen thousand years ago; and they made this pot.  They were an interesting people — a settled hunter-gatherer nation; their invention changed us phenomenally as a species; but this is not all:  in the sixteenth century someone adopted this object, by then perhaps six or seven thousand years old, as a water pot for tea ceremony and had its inside lacquered in gold to reflect its new, precious status.  The resulting object embodies many aesthetic theories associated with tea ceremony:  a combination of rough and polished, the contrast of ancient and new, the idea that one honors one’s tradition by modifying it.  It’s a perfect object for meditation.

See this page on the British Museum website for more photos.

Types of useful reviews: the silly review

One could, of course, just have fun writing a review — especially when one reviews something as dull as Alfred Brendel playing Beethoven’s Number 3 in the otherwise excellent company of Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (proof, if ever one was needed, that not even a demi-god can strike a spark out out of a wilted leek).  One could notice, for instance, that the first flute is probably carrying on with the Divine Claudio — her knowing glances at him were really very transparent, too transparent:  please, for decency’s sake.  Claudio on the other hand managed to acknowledge the eye-contact in a warm and friendly manner without — giving out a thing.  Practice, of course, makes master; in his case 77 years of it!  The first flute is a pretty hot number, by the way.  Good for Claudio.  Let’s hope we can match him at his age.

None of this would of course have crossed our mind if Brendel’s playing had not been…  what it was…  which is to say… somehow…  unnoticable.  Our mind wondered.  Every x minutes we suddenly reminded ourselves with a start:  wait, isn’t someone playing the piano in the room?

Art view

You are of course religiously reading art.view, are you not?  Articles like this one, concerning the heated nationalist debate between the English and the Germans regarding who was the first one in Europe to reproduce (copy? monkey? knock-off?  — do we really want to be proud of this?) Chinese porcelain.

(Before the clever chemists of Augustus the Strong, King of Poland (hold the ovation, thank you), there was apparently a certain Lord Buckingham in England, an avowed alchemist…)

Or this one, about the Chinese provincial nouveaux riches going out in force to buy back Chinese art treasures now in the West — which has had a phenomenal inflationary impact on prices.  The treasures are great, no doubt about it, but should this beautiful jade brush washer really fetch $900K?

$900K?  Holy cow, you could have had this thing for maybe $20K at most only two Decembers ago!  Good grief am I glad to have locked in some Ming cloisonne when the going was still cheap (ish)!  And — what difference does 24 months make! (About 4500% to be precise).

Or this article, about the incredible revelations and twists of fate at the Maastricht fair, to which I have been vainly trying to invite our own Chris Miller for what seems like years and years?  There you could have oggled this, if not exactly picked it up (it went, again, for $900K):

a panorama of a visit by Louis XIV to the chateau of Juissy, which a dealer found and bought at a provincial auction for $70K, grimy with soot, only to restore it, re-attribute it and — flip it for a 1200% profit.

My, my.  Hardly ever anything as exciting on the financial pages, you know.  Smart operators who went into Ford debt at 14 cents 18 months ago only made 600%.  And how often does that happen?  And when it happens, is there even a quarter as much pleasure in it?  Or even a tenth?

Preljocaj’s Siddharta

Why are there not 50,000 large size photos of this production all over the internet as a matter of simple promotional tool?  Why are there not hundreds of youtube video snippets for the same reason?  All I can find on internet there are these two:  the photo above (hardly representative of anything) and this video snippet.  (I do not embed it here on account of youtube’s penchant for shoving LSO cookies into your browser and not even telling you about it. If you use Firefox, read here on how you can protect yourself against these little monsters).  Yet, youtube’s nefarious LSO cooking doings should not stop you from watching the snippet:  it’s a good one.  (It comes from a tableau intended, I suppose, to represent Siddharta’s struggle against himself — two very similar guys dancing now together now against each other, etc.)

Le Monde pans Siddharta.  Too heavy handed, it says, too gimmicky, too predictable (by which, I think, they mean, transparent:  the French like their symbols to be “intelligent”, i.e. demanding).  Le Figaro is more nuanced, yet it also complains:  not surprising; and too pretty.

It’s true:  there is a lot of just plain pretty here:  the Bayadere-like prancing school of long-legged lithe girls in flimsy muslin on a shiny floor is well… absolutely…  gratuitous pleasure; and though I can see how using a beautiful woman as a symbol for Awakening (yawn) can be seen as somewhat hackneyed, shall we blame Aurélie Dupont for being so very beautiful? Is, after all, the whole point here not — looking at beautiful bodies moving beautifully? One can say the same about the snippet above — Siddharta’s struggle against himself:  the tableau topic and imagery is hackneyed, no doubt, but the dance — well, the dance is very good, is it not?

I suppose I could say that I have found the performance enjoyable mainly because I did not try to understand what each tableau represented.  After all, what is the meaning of a flower? Besides, why assume a choreographer may have anything interesting to say about anything? Certainly the Carlson documentary showed that choreographers can sound like complete morons when they attempt to speak.

I suppose the stage sets were a little gimmicky, and at times it all seemed a bit frenetic, but the chereography and the dance were great.  No, I did not go to Paris for it.  I saw it on Mezzo.  When will your cable distributor finally carry it?