Cultural notes

(1) I do not love Leonardo [da Vinci, that is]. As the show that just closed at the Met demonstrated, he was a superb draughtsman. However, there is nothing in those exquisite drawings to suggest he cared about people. There is no religious feeling in his drawings of saints and virgins, just meticulous studies of skin texture and anatomical proportions of pretty girls and muscular, usually contorted men. Grotesque faces also interested him, but just their external, nothing of their contexts, nothing to suggest what life might feel like for the persons within those faces. And Leonardo lavished equal attention on those war machines he kept inventing, the beauty of a mortiferous shower of missiles into a castle or a town, the striking and gouging power of ingenious bolt-hurlers, and so on. Not so much as a line or a shadow to suggest the effects of such machines on human beings. No, I do not love Leonardo, because he did not love me or thee. He loved only the power of his creations. Sort of like the guys who thought up "shock and awe" for Iraq.

(2) The other super-exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a sharp contrast: Manet/Velázquez, on view until June 8. Velázquez, Murillo, Zurburán did feel for their subjects. They all seemed much more eager to portray the lives of their models than their anatomical peculiarities. We see the subjects' attitudes, moods and expectations. Then, 200 years later, comes Goya. This was another superb draughtsman, expert in portraying contorted bodies, most notably in the series "The Disasters of War" (scenes from the Spanish resistance to French occupation of Spain under Napoleon) and many others, but with a passion utterly different from Leonardo's. Manet, Degas, even Courbet reinterpreted those passions. And the Americans (Sargent, Whistler, et al.) commodified them. (If you can't get to the show, be sure at least to check out the website.)

(3)Midnight's Children: We caught the last performance at the Apollo Theater on Sunday. Terrific play, in the original sense -- that is, terrifying. We spotted Salman Rushdie himself in the audience, only a few seats away, but we didn't fight through the crowds afterwards to greet him. I don't know what I would have said, other than "I've loved your work." Satanic Verses I especially loved. I never got through the book Midnight's Children, I confess; it's long, and requires close attention to follow, and other things came up to take my attention away from it. Now that I know how it comes out, I want to go back to the book. You can perform a lot more magic on the page than on the stage.

(4)The side benefit of going to the play was that it took us to 125th Street, Harlem's main drag, where before the play we visited one of our favorite places, the Studio Museum in Harlem. The main show, open through June 6, is "Challenge of the Modern: African American Artists 1925-1945." Very, very impressive works by artists famous (van der Zee, Jacob Lawrence) and less famous. Oddly, they include the Cuban, Wifredo Lam (whose name they misspell as "Wilfredo"), but I was happy to see more of his exuberant paintings, whatever the pretext.

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