Fallen Carytid Carrying a Stone – Auguste Rodin (on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)
I had a few hours to kill. I sat in an overpriced but deliciously warm cafe in New York City and read a couple of William Trevor short stories while I savored a pain au chocolat. Trevor’s story are so wonderful. He is the kind of writer that makes me want to be a writer. The stories are always so deceptively simple and humorously melancholy. El Greco was mentioned off handedly in one story so I walked over to the Met to visit his paintings.
Naturally that was the single gallery that was closed that day. Oh the frustrations of my life! Well, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea. I saw a marvelous exhibition of photography called Faking It, all about the manipulation of photographic prints past and present. It was really fun.
“The camera is an incurable liar; all that is necessary is to choose the method of deception.” Angus McBean 1940
Particularly in the earlier works, the joy of experimentation is palatable. I mean how can you not love a piece titled Same Man Five Times in Judge Costume -(1880’s France) ?
But then – I found what I hadn’t know I was looking for.
I could have spent all day with Rodin. We share an interest in hands: their beauty and symbolism, but that was not what captivated me on this day. Rodin’s gift, his genius is in the angles of his subject’s heads. All the feeling and emotion he is trying to convey is caught in the tension of a twisted neck, the fought gravity of a downturned face.
Cupid pressing his head away from Physche is enough to make you cry. But Rodin seems to me to have a more tender understanding of the women in his art. Eurydice and Eternal Spring, each arched or angled head exposes the swelling despair or desire (and both) so poignantly – The Old Courtesan in anyone else’s hand would have been cruel.
Fallen Carytid Carrying a Stone is the Myth of Sisyphus as felt by a woman. There is no action involved. Our burden, our absurdity, is simply a dead weight that we can not even pretend to DO something with.
But her toe! That is where the story is. She seems to sink into the weight of her despair, but her toe is active. By this small sign we know she has not capitulated. Her ability to bear the weight, bear the suffering, is given away by the insubordination of her toe. It is reaching out – to all of us.
Posted in Art, Reading, Thinking
Tagged Angus McBean, Auguste Rodin, El Greco, Faking It, Fallen Carytid Carring a Stone, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Myth of Sisyphus, photography, Rodin, sculpture, short story, The Met, William Trevor
Whoever keeps you and me
from being we,
let his house cave in.
If I don’t become we, I’m alone.
If you don’t become we,
you are just you.
Why not make The East
Why not force open
the hands of the vile?
If I rise,
if you arise,
everyone will be roused.
If I sit,
if you take a seat,
who will take a stand?
Who will fight the foe,
grapple the foul enemy hand to hand?
-from “Blue, Grey, Black” by Hamid Mosadiq (1969) translated from the Persian by Sholeh Wolpé and Tony Barnstone taken from Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the modern Middle East (Words Without Borders) Reza Aslan, editor
The Islamic wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recently reopened after a long renovation. My daughter and I had been shopping in the fashion district for fabric and ended up walking all the way up to the museum to see it. She had suggested walking, I think out of ignorance of the distance. When we finally arrived we were quite warmed by the exertion. It was an unusually temperate fall day. We stood in the elevator, waiting for all the people to enter. We had both removed our sweaters. An elderly man with a smart looking cap entered the elevator with a woman. He stood in front of my daughter and brazenly stared at her chest. Eventually he must have felt my eyes burrowing into him because he looked up at me and I gave him a look that clearly said: I have a book in my bag and I will hit you on the head with it. That’s right Mister: it’s hardcover.
I had conflicting urges to cover my daughter up or go her several steps better and strip down to my underclothes in the stuffy heat. These were my thoughts as I exited the elevator into the Islamic Wing of the Met.
It’s the mastery of pattern and color that I love in Islamic art. Western paintings of similar periods can sometimes seem time sensitive with endless images of Christianity as seen through the controlling eyes of a pious male hierarchy. The Arab world’s favoring of abstract design over images created beautiful reflections in mathematical, artistic, and natural terms. There is nothing stuffy or dated about the works on exhibit. Whereas with some historical art and artifacts it helps to understand the context of the time and culture, the pieces on display at the Met need no interpretation or relativistic explanations, they simply are. The language is universal. Religious and culturally warping influences cannot permeate the pattern. There are no conflicting urges to attend to.