Category Archives: Art

The grotto of miracles where statues pray to each other. Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 2009

As a piece of visual communication, I find the iconography in the photo below, confusing.


 I mean to say, “what’s going on”?

A statue of what I presume to be Mary, or maybe it’s supposed to be a pilgrim, praying to Mary in a fake grotto where crutches have been left behind. Is the big statue (with it’s back to the viewer) meant as a way to communicate to the illiterate that they should pray in the direction the statue is facing?

If statues are supposed to represent some sort of Christian idea, rather that being idols, why are people encouraged to pray towards them? Most people I’ve seen praying in churches, tend to do so with their eyes closed, which would mean that they can’t see what they are praying towards. Perhaps the statues give the devout something to focus their thoughts on before they shut their eyes.

I’m guessing that the crutches have been left by people whose prayers have been answered. It would be interesting to see how many crutches would be collected if those who prayed, but didn’t receive blessing, had to leave their equipment behind as punishment for being unworthy of divine intervention. Which reminds me of the following exchange from the movie, “The Island”:

Lincoln Six-Echo (played by Ewan McGreggor): What’s “God”?
McCord (played by Steve Buscemi): Well, you know, when you want something really bad and you close your eyes and you wish for it? God’s the guy that ignores you.

To me the grotto is almost like one of those chain mails that circulate in our e-mails every now and again. Read the message, believe you will get something and then pass it on.

Oh, and by the way, the polyptych behind the altar is by Titian.

Some feminine art from the Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris, France. 2009

Here are some images of art that I really liked from the exhibition of feminine art called “elles@centrepompidou” at the Centre Georges Pompidou that we went to yesterday.

Generally (this is were I whack the hornet’s nest), when ever I hear the term “feminist art”, I think about so many shows that I’ve seen that have been dominated with works dealing with, vaginas, blood and naked artists making statements about how they’re treated as sex objects. I’ve always had a problem with the notion of “feminist art” because I think that if we are all equal then it shouldn’t matter what sex a person is and their work should be judged on its own strengths and not the sex of its producer.

I’ve never liked the idea of victimhood from any group.

And before anyone gets full of righteous rage and wants to start jumping all over my case because I’m a middle aged white guy (the punching bag of choice by the world’s disaffected), all I have to say is, “try growing up as an overweight freckle faced red headed male”. I’ve never seen a poster of a guy like me on any teenage girl’s wall or my type described as the ideal, but yet life goes on and we can’t all be the focus of everyone’s desires and in control of the world.

Having had my little rant and bleat, there are of course many issues faced by women artists, like they are discriminated against and their work is often ignored. While at the exhibition, I gave myself the task of naming female artists and you know what, I could only name about five.

I hang my head in shame.

Having banged on about “feminist art”, the refreshing thing about the elles@centrepompidou exhibition was that the museum was displaying the feminine side of its own collections rather than making just a feminist statement.

The Guerilla Girls make plenty of salient points and combat discrimination with sharp wit and humor. No victimhood here just action.


Alisa Andrasek’s “Biothing” is a beautiful tour de force of applied intelligence. 


Adaptive Agent Based Extreme Structures are created using a computer program, not unlike the one Engogirl uses in her work in Computational Fluid Dynamics. As a matter of fact my wife got very excited about Alisa Andrasek’s work and I’m sure that she’d like to meet her and play around with the software she uses.

Niki de Saint Phalle is someone I’ve been aware of for a while, and this work is quite different from most of her work that I’d seen before.


Kristin Backer’s “Passage at section K-P” (2004) acknowledges how structures are so dominant in the landscapes we now live in.


Lee Bontecou’s untitled work (1966) is about sitting on a jet airplane’s wing. I really loved this piece and it’s something that I’d like to own so I could look at it more often.


I’ve saved Helen Frankenthaler’s “Spring Bank” (1974) for last as it was the piece I liked the most.

Some interiors from the Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris, France. 2009

Engogirl and I went to the Centre Georges Pompidou today as an antidote to going to the Prado a few days ago. We just had to see something that was more expressive than the visual catalogues of possessions owned by the rich and powerful from years gone by, that makes up most of the Prado’s collection. Let’s not even talk about the mountain of stuff with the guy nailed to a cross and his bummed-out friends.

It was just the same thing over and over again.

I’ve never been a fan of the outside of the Pompidou center. It just looks like a industrial plant that has become a little shabby over the years, but some of the interiors are fun. There are sections of the restaurant on the top floor that look as though they were lifted straight out of Kubrick’s “2001,  A Space Odyssey” and then crossed with Roger Dean’s designs.

Although the price of the automatic machine produced coffee was scandalously high (a whole family in a developing country could be fed for a week, for what we paid for our two drinks), it was a pretty cool place to hang out in for a while, just to soak up the design ideas.

A short while after we finished our coffee, a staff member came by and sprayed scent on all the roses. No, it didn’t smell anything like roses but the roses themselves were real.

Go figure?

This next shot is of a little bar (not open at the time we were there) that was tucked away in a little bubble-like silver dome structure.

Around the corner from the bar are restrooms, which have to been seen to be believed.

The whole place was mirrored and you can have the dubious pleasure of watching yourself on the can from four different directions……..


Buying the stairway to heaven. Burgos Cathedral, Spain. 2009

About three weeks ago I was in Burgos, Spain, where I visited the Catedral de Santa María which is the burial place of El Cid.

Needless to say Hollywood’s version of El Cid’s life bears no resemblance to the one lived by the man himself. There isn’t that much of El Cid’s life to be seen at the cathedral other than a marriage contract and an old trunk said to be his coffin. El Cid has been buried under the floor of the cathedral and unlike so many other people intered there, there is nothing but an inscription to mark where the great man is buried.

This brings me to the point at which I start my rant.

There are times when I look at gigantic structures like cathedrals and I think to myself, “what a colossal waste of time, money and effort”.

When I was in Bangkok a few years ago I can remember having the same thoughts about the Buddhist temples and then it occurred to me how much industry and commerce religion causes. For example in Thailand there is a whole industry employing thousands of people who just prepare the offerings that are changed everyday, that go into household shrines.

In short religion keeps a lot of people in employment.

Even the small shrines and chapels in the nooks and crannies of the cathedral would’ve kept teams of craftsmen busy for years. So when I was looking around the cathedral in Burgos I found myself once again thinking about all the people and the wide range of skills that were employed to construct such an amazing building. Make no mistake, the Burgos Cathedral is amazing. It has it all; beauty, size, complexity and history.

The trouble I started to have with the cathedral was when I started thinking about where the money came from to build it. The answer of course is the people. Back in medieval times the common person’s life was short, brutish and full of misery. Archeological evidence from medieval graves has shown that the lower classes quite often suffered from malnutrition and often went through long periods of starvation while their overlords lived the high life.

Which brings me to my next problem; the aristocracy.

Back in the old days if you were a bigger and nastier than other people you just took their stuff and if you were really good at fighting you built up a gang around yourself and made a career of making other weaker people’s lives miserable.

As Thucydides (c. 460 B.C. – c. 395 B.C.) once said, “”Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

The aristocracy is basically a group of people who have descended from the worst kind of people and who for some strange reason think that they are better than others. It always blows me away when I talk to people who defend the whole idea of rule by monarchs as though it were a good thing. The idea that someone who comes from a long line of selfish bloodthirsty bastards would make a good leader in this day and age strikes me as completely ridiculous.

So what has this got to do with Burgos cathedral?

Over time Burgos cathedral has become shrine to aristocratic hubris and ego. Huge chunks have been added to the original medieval cathedral by rich people trying to buy their way into heaven. All over the church are either paintings or statues of rich people that try and associate them with god.

For example there are paintings of archbishops (a common person could never hope to rise so far in the old church) in triptychs showing the crucifixion as if to say, here is god and I’m his best mate.

Probably the most disgusting display of overwhelming arrogance and cluelessness on display is the Chapel of the Constable which houses the bodies of Pedro Hernández de Velasco, Constable of Castile and his wife Doña Mencia de Mendoza.

The chapel it’s self is a tour de force in carved stone with lifelike carvings in Carrara marble of the constable and his wife. The chapel was begun just before Columbus found the Americas so gold that had been tortured out of the Indians wasn’t yet available for its construction so it can only be assumed that the peasantry of Castile paid for its construction with their blood sweat and tears.

Building a church that employs a lot of craftsmen because the people have a fervent faith is one thing, bleeding an already oppressed people to build a hugely expensive monument to one’s greed and desire to buy their way into St. Peter’s good books is utterly unforgivable.

A pox on Pedro Hernández and people like him.

Leaving some money in Sarajevo. Bosnia. 2009

Before leaving on our trip I knew that I wanted to buy something from the old bazaar in Sarajevo as I knew that Sarajevo is one of the last remaining places in Western Europe were there was still a Turkish influence.

Whenever I travel I like to buy something really nice from the area where I’m visiting. 

I’ve always thought that the cheap souvenirs that are on sale in so many places aren’t worth buying and that it was much better spend much more and buy something really good. The trouble with Western Europe is that it’s a first world place and anything very nice is going to cost real money of the kind that is just too rich for my blood.

Sarajevo, because of it’s recent history of war, is a country that is struggling to get back on it’s feet and it felt particularly good to leave a chunk of money there. Places like France and Germany don’t need our money like Sarajevo does. Needless to say, I still try and get the most I can for whatever I spend and when we decided to buy a hand embossed metal tray in the Turkish style by the noted coppersmith Sahib Bašcauševic (mentioned in the UNESCO book on Traditional arts and crafts of Bosnia and Herzegovina) I was ready to haggle to get the best deal.

Sahib Bašcauševic’s work is sold in a store located in the old bazaar by the very cultivated and self assured Mido.


Mido is one of those types of people who really knows his stuff and doesn’t mind telling a person when they are in the wrong. When I said I was interested in silver plated copperware instead of the tin plated stuff, he asked me why and when I said, “because the silver plated copper was better”, he calmly but forcefully said to me, “you are wrong” and then went on to explain why.

I can imagine that not too many people can handle such a response and would’ve tossed their plaits and stormed off in a huff. Knowing that I don’t know everything helped me cope with Mido’s directness and I was glad that I stuck around to get the skinny on the advantage of tin plating over silver plating.

Apparently hundreds of copper goods can be coated with a very fine coating of silver with just a few coins electrically and very quickly, but the trouble is that the silver wears off very easily. Tin plating is much harder to do because it’s manually applied with some skill and is much harder wearing. Mido then went on to explain that although many foreigners buy his copperware for decorative purposes, it’s all actually made to be used and the value of an item was based not only on the skill of it’s decoration but also on it’s utility and not just a few microns of a semi-precious metal like silver.

When it came to haggle, Mido made it clear that he wasn’t going to knock much off the price, pointing out that the tray I wanted took over a week to produce by one of the best craftsman in the country. I did get Mido to drop his price a bit but when I pressed him to take another $25 off, he said, “that sort of money won’t make you a poor man and it won’t make me a rich man so let’s stop here”. He was right of course in the face of such truth I just paid up. To be honest, I didn’t mind at all because it was a pleasure dealing with someone who was so straight up and we all pay for things that we value more than the money that we hand over.

Sahib Bašcauševic's work

Some art I’ve seen in Venice. Italy. 2009

Following Epicurienne and Pat’s advice, Engogirl and I went and had a look at the Guggenheim museum and some of the Biennale art exhibits that are on at the moment.

The Guggenheim was a tour de force of some of the biggest names in 20th century art. It was a real who’s who of modern art. I’d see a painting and I’d think to myself, “gee that looks like Léger’s stuff, but surely it can’t be”, but it was and so it went on. I kept on seeing styles that I recognized but couldn’t believe I was seeing them for real.

There was even one of (there are nine bronzes) Brancusi’s “Bird in space”. I couldn’t believe that such a famous statue was once owned by one person and not an institution. Every time I’ve seen pictures of “Bird in space”, I’ve wondered about the thinnest part of the statue near its base, as it looks too thin hold the weight of the rest of the statue. Sure enough, the thinnest part of the statue does look like it has been repaired, and not that well to boot.

Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum so I wasn’t able to take many shots of the art there. Out at the rear of the museum that backs onto to Venice’s Grand Canal is Wim Delvoye’s “Torre”.


As stunning as Delvoye’s sculpture is from the outside, a shot from underneath shoes even more amazing detail.

Looking up into Torre

Just down from the Guggenheim is the French billionaire, François Pinault’s new art museum in the Punta della Dogana. We didn’t go in (the cheeky bastards wanted 15 Euro) but at the back of the museum is Charles Ray’s “Boy with frog”.

Charles Rays Boy with Frog

Apparently Ray had wanted to make the statue larger but changed his mind in consideration of the locals who enjoyed walking in the area in the past. Trouble is that the statue is small enough to vulnerable to vandalism and now has to be guarded full time. It’s not hard to see why. That frog would snap off real easy.

Near where the hotel where we are staying are a few Biennale exhibitions. One is by Grazia Toderi

and the other was by Iranian artists.

Minding the Iranian art was the photographer Ali Reza Karimi Saremi. Ali is a very friendly and personable guy but unfortunately we couldn’t communicate with each other too well because of language difficulties.

I tried to ask Ali about the human and animal representations in the exhibition and if that meant that the religious leaders of his country weren’t so fundamentalist (the Koran proscribes Muslims from creating images of people and animals) as the western media shows them to be. Ali didn’t understand what I was trying to ask but he did understand that his country gets a lot of bad press in the west.

As best as he could, Ali explained to me that Iran is a beautiful country full of decent people who create art and lovely music. He then went on to explain that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was only one man and that not all people in Iran were like him. Then Ali went on to say that just like the various artists in the Iranian exhibition who all created different art, the people of Iran all have their own ideas.

Iranian photographer Ali Reza Karimi Saremi

It was easy for me to see how sincere Ali was being and it was obvious that what the western media had to say about his country hurt him but that didn’t prevent him from showing me the utmost courtesy and hospitality. As we were leaving I shook his hand and as I did, he asked me to wait and he ran out the back, brought back a small box and presented it to Engogirl, saying that he hoped we would one day visit his country.

In the box was a lovely pendant made of blue Persian tile.

Paris is a very 3D place.

Paris is like a reef of culture that is encrusted with sculpture. Sculpture is all over the city. It’s almost like the Parisians despise an empty flat spaces and have some primal urge to decorate pristine places and make them conform to their will.

Outside of the gothic church Saint Eustache at La Halle Paris

When I visited La Cuesta Encantada, also nick-named “Hearst Castle” in California, USA, I was struck by how much religious art, William Randolph Hearst had carpet-bagged during his lifetime. It wasn’t that Hearst was a particularly religious man; it’s just that the best art from the time periods that Hearst was interested in was religious in nature because the Catholic Church with its enormous appetite for iconic images was the greatest patron of the arts in Europe during those eras.

Outside of La Madeleine

In Paris, the church still seems to play an important role in supporting the arts. Not so much in the commissioning of new work but by providing space to display it.

Outside of La Madeleine

One such place is the huge neo-classical pile known as Église de la Madeleine or just La Madeleine. It’s a dark inside the church but the outside is surrounded with sculpture.

Outside of La Madeleine

Outside of La Madeleine

All the parks are populated with sculpture that range from overwrought romantic nonsense through to surprising modern pieces like Dubuffet’s “Le Bel Costumé”, which was almost hidden by a hedge of trees in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Dubuffets Le Bel Costumé

The surfaces of the buildings haven’t escaped attention either, and many have been covered with so much carving they seem to be writhing with life. Even the portico roof (which most people wouldn’t even look at) of the Pantheon is stunning, never mind the rest of the building.

I looked at this so long it gave me a sore neck

It just goes on and on.

I think that if I lived in Paris I’d want my home to be a plain white minimalist cube. Not because I don’t like sculpture, but to just to give my brain and eyes a rest.