Harvard Art Museums

This summer when the Beav and I went down to Concord, we took a day to go see the renovated space for the Harvard art museums. The expansion is quite beautiful and we had a nice day wandering through the collections. Since I’d like to show something here to remind me of which trip this was, here are three works that stuck out for me that day.

The Drunken Silenus was a large-scale painting of large-scale bodies of the type we never get to see.

The Drunken Silenus
The Drunken Silenus

This Ammi Phillips portrait is gruesome and gorgeous.

Ammi Phillips
She only has one foot.

And for personal, traumatic (read: foolish) reasons, I will forever be drawn to paintings of Gloucester, Mass.

Fitz Henry Lane
Flashbacks of safe haven after a storm.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

Unless you are Oedipus or David Copperfield, your story should probably jump to the interesting stuff right away rather than starting with your birth.

But then these characters do spend years inside isolated, steel grey research bunkers wearing headphones and typing on keyboards before spending years in isolated, steel grey military bunkers wearing headphones and typing on keyboards. Aside from a couple CGI powered Disney rides in a metal capsule they never really leave, they never go anywhere.

So maybe “I was born” is their story’s sweet fruit and not to be missed.

Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism

I didn’t realize it was possible to have so many orientalist paintings on display without having at least aspects of the collection seem queer. Somehow this show pulled off the trick and felt, well, it felt like something dead, stuffed, and put in a museum.

The best thing on display were a handful of photographs by Lalla Essayed tacked on in the last room that used arabic script and mosaic patterns to flatten the space and merge the figures and ground.

(image from linked museum site)
(image from linked museum site)


UPDATE: I finally found the one photograph that I took walking through the exhibit. (I snap quick photos to help me make sense of my notes. So no photos often means nothing noted.) Here it is:

My one "note to self" from the exhibit.
My one “note to self” from the exhibit.


It really is a beautiful painting and it pairs nicely with Essayed’s photograph.

The speech I love is a simple, natural speech, the same on paper as in the mouth; a speech succulent and sinewy, brief and compressed, not so much daily and well-combed as vehement and brusque.

—Michel de Montaigne

Free Fall

Free FallI watched this because Max Riemelt was playing gay and after watching him in Sense8 I was a bit crushed out. Shallow? Yes. But alas, the truth.

I expected very little from this film, but I shouldn’t have worried. It was quite good, a quiet drama about a very together gay man (Riemelt) who becomes the lover of the married protagonist.

What I like about how the movie played out is that the protagonist never arrives at an identity. He only arrives at a choice. And when he finally makes it, his decision feels like the wrong one, that it’s not authentic. But worse, he comes to the decision much too late. His wife and his lover have both left him.

That sounds depressing but the final shots suggest that the experience wasn’t lost on him. He’ll get it together.

The Trouble with Normal

The Trouble with Normal CoverI read this book late. Gay marriage is legal in North America. The politics denounced by Warner have won in court. So what’s the value now of his book’s careful but strident denunciation of national lesbian and gay organizations’ efforts to legalize same-sex marriage?

I think when queer people find that the change in their legal situation has changed little in their actual situation (and I think this will happen) and they begin to try to understand why discrimination persists, this book will, in part, point the way.

David Altmejd, Flux

The best show that I saw this past summer was of David Altmejd’s sculptures at the Musée d’art contemporain. Each object felt like a confrontation with a completely new sensibility. The sculptures were complex, mysterious but always beautiful.



As we walked out, I told the Beav I felt like I felt the first time I watched Robert Lepage performed (by Yves Jacques) at the Théâtre du nouveau monde.

Which was my idiosyncratic way of saying “changed.”

The gods are strange. It is not our vices only they make instruments to scourge us. They bring us to ruin through what in us is good, gentle, humane, loving.

–Oscar Wilde, De Profundis