Metropolitan Faces

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It’s been a year since I posted last, so here is something new: a picture taken from a roof terrace of my office, looking east to Fifth Avenue .

John Margolies (1940-2016)


John, whom the New York Times, in a beautiful obituary by Margalit Fox, called “the country’s foremost photographer of vernacular architecture," was the longtime partner of my friend and colleague Jane Tai.

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Photograph by John Margolies

I had numerous occasions to sit in Jane’s garden in Manhattan and discuss the day with John, who was devoted to his dogs and cared (a lot) that he had freshly ironed handkerchiefs at the ready. Anyone who knew John appreciated the fact that he lived for his art, and that his art came first. It’s not an easy approach to life, but in John’s case it yielded a trove of pictures and ephemera that in future years might favorably be compared to, say, the best of Atget. A toast, then, to those who remember and celebrate and preserve the lost worlds.

A Dandy

I bought this postcard from an ephemera dealer at the Elephant’s Trunk flea market in New Milford, Connecticut.

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There is precious little information on the card: nothing except the title, in faint red serif lettering at upper left, and a serial number of sorts, “5533.” A quick Google search of “dandy,” “postcard,” and “5533” yields a surprising number of images of vegetable dumplings. Add “litter” to the search, however, and you come up golden: one fairly pricy online card dealer, Card Cow, places it in India and charges $14.95 (I think I paid $2). 

Given the title, one might expect the protagonist to be a man, but the hat suggests otherwise (unless we are witnessing an early casting call for RuPaul’s drag race, the Raj edition. But wait! I then found other images online of women being thus transported, and they too use the word “dandy.” Then it dawned on me: here “dandy” refers not to the person in the litter but to the litter itself. And yes, a quick check of the classic reference volume A Manual of Hospital Transport defines “dandy” as a rickshaw-type litter used in the Himalaya. On the back of a similar postcard, found online, the writer duly warns her correspodent that being carried about in a dandy was a regional mode of travel one occasionally has to “endure.”

 

Renaissance

The art-historical debate surrounding use of the word "Renaissance" hangs on the degree to which one sees a break between what we define as late medieval culture and the characteristics we associate, in particular, with fourteenth-century Florence. As Erwin Panofsky famously elaborated, those in the arts tend to see greater separation between what came before and what followed. At this stage of my life, I see immense value in the concept of rebirth.

Florentine humanism seems remote indeed from Pierre Huyghe's spare, one might say postapocalyptic installation on the roof of the Museum this summer. And yet Beatrice marveled to find amid Huyghe's carefully planned ruins new life: a colony of insects thriving in the rain-fed pools and windblown weeds that now seed the pavers on top of the Met.      


Geology of a Trauma

When someone you love and trust tells you suddenly that they no longer reciprocate those feelings, the physical reaction, the force of the blow, should not be underestimated. As I shivered in the cold early evening air of the Pemigewassett last Friday, standing outside Galehead Hut after dinner, I thought of the violence that must have caused the fracturing of this slab of rock: the sudden cleaving of something that appears timeless but is as helpless in the teeth of change as you or I. Kiss your family and hold them close and never take a day with them for granted. 

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