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April 23, 2003

One of My Rave Faves


The New York Times of April 23 has a special section entitled “Museums.” Since museums are some of my favorite places (art, science, history, you name it, I like ‘em all) I eagerly scanned through the piece. While many of the ads and the stories seemed tantalizing to my museum-junky brain, the most intriguing was the ad for—of all places—the Cleveland Museum of Art:

I don't know from art, but I know what I like!

Not that I have anything against Cleveland’s art museum (I’ve never visited it); it just wasn't an institution I expected to see advertising in the New York Times or one that would showcase Indian sculpture. But if they wanted my attention, they made the right choice.

I just love Indian sculpture. I’m crazy about the stuff. The combination of monumentality and cartoon-y design, of significant form and sexiness, of charged energy radiating out into space and the calm self-sufficiency of the design knocks me out. But perhaps the ultimate seductive aspect of this stuff is its ability to be wildly flamboyant (six arms! elephant heads! spherical breasts and buttocks! impossible contortions!) and at the same time totally disinterested in shock or confrontation.

I assume that some unique combination of Indian culture, history, religion and whatnot allowed this spectacularly un-prudish—and yet unprurient—art of carnal and spiritual celebration to flourish, but that’s just a guess. Another unique aspect of this art for me is that I’ve never had the slightest interest in “studying” it. I know nothing—nada, zip, zilch, zero—about the artists, the dates, the periods, the styles, the iconography. I just walk around exhibits of this stuff (almost never well attended—I’ve no clue why) with a big smile on my face.

Perhaps you remember our conversation during our West Coast Blowhard Convention back a few weeks ago, when we wandered around the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and its whole blissful department of Indian sculpture. As I recall, our conclusion was that on the one hand, this stuff comes awfully close to convincing you that further effort in the art of sculpture is no longer required (everything meaningful having already been accomplished), while on the other, it makes you want to immediately rush out and attack a piece of stone with a hammer and a chisel, it looks so darn fun.

I know you have some brilliant pent-up piece about eroticism, India and art in you—when are you going to share it with the world?



posted by Friedrich at April 23, 2003


I think you just wrote the piece you were asking about. Great posting.

Now: on to Lachaise and Maillol!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 23, 2003 7:24 PM

Cleveland Rocks, as they say. For reasons that are not clear, Cleveland is a hopping town.

Posted by: j.c. on April 23, 2003 8:21 PM

"Another unique aspect of this art for me is that I’ve never had the slightest interest in “studying” it. I know nothing—nada, zip, zilch, zero—about the artists, the dates, the periods, the styles, the iconography. I just walk around exhibits of this stuff (almost never well attended—I’ve no clue why) with a big smile on my face."

I think there's something to that---and a rather nifty definition of 'art' (or at least an accessible one) in general.

Posted by: annette on April 24, 2003 7:30 AM

Wonderful descriptions of Indian sculpture ...
When it comes to museums, much as I worship the Met, my favorite museums are often small ones. They don't have to have fabulous collections, either, like The Frick. I'm fond of visiting the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. What about you?

Posted by: Polly Frost on April 24, 2003 8:12 AM

Thanks for the enthusiasm about Indian art....but I'm left wondering about background emotional tone from unfamiliar cultures. A lot of Chinese paintings and sculpture of animals look humorous to me--I have no idea whether they looked that way to the artists and the intended audiance.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on April 24, 2003 10:00 AM

I love Indian sculpture, too, though I've mostly seen it in photographs :(

Have you read about the recent protests and vandalism by Hindu nationalists against paintings and photographs that depict partially nude Hindu goddesses? Given the history of Indian art, this seems truly absurd. A couple of links here and here. Much of it seems to directed against HL Husain, whose principal error may be that he's Muslim. Gotta love a guy who can title a painting "Clint Eastwood Finds Meryl and Madhuri on the Bridge of Madison County"

Posted by: Michael Snider on April 24, 2003 1:07 PM

Nancy, I think those animals are playful. Winking and rolling eyes - something common in Chinese horses and camels - are generally viewed as arch. The critters capering through the illustrated "Story of Hamza" (a Persian heroic/religius epic) are so zany that some of them seem painted to amuse children.

Posted by: j.c. on April 24, 2003 2:11 PM

Ms. Frost:

I actually visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for the first time about six months ago on my most recent trip to that fair city. I really enjoyed the museum, especially since it combined two of my special areas of interest: Indian sculpture and under-recognized American art of the late 19th century and early 20th century. All in all it was a great little middle-of-the-week getaway with my wife until my daughter (attending school in L.A.) decided to miss connections for her ride home and force us to drive back to retrieve her asap! (Ah, the pleasures of parenthood. Next time I'm going to Europe!)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 25, 2003 12:45 AM

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