Matthias Grünewald(1470 — 1528)

When the remains of the Domus Aurea (Golden House) of the ancient emperor Nero were discovered under the Esquiline hill in Rome, artists including Raphael lowered themselves down on ropes into its subterranean painted galleries. The Renaissance frescoes this opulent palace inspired – all fantastical foliage, masks and satyrs – was called “grotesque” from grotto (cave) because the underground corridors were like caverns.

The strange ornamental designs that were found there ‘featured elaborate fantasies with symmetrical anatomical impossibilities, small beasts, stylised human heads, and delicately-traced, indeterminate foliage all merged into one unified decorative whole.’ Pliny, in his Natural History, recorded the principal artist’s name: Fabullus; recounting how the painter went ‘for only a few hours each day to the “Golden House” to work while the light was right…

By the turn of the sixteenth century, some artists had begun to incorporate elements of grotesque decoration into their own, contemporary works.


Perugino’s ceiling of the Cambio in Perugia (about 1500)

Grotesques of Palazzo Vecchio:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Arent van Bolten (1573-1633):

Arent van Bolten(1573-1633).

Arent van Bolten(1573-1633).

Heinrich Aldegrever (1501-1502 – 1555-61)Heinrich Aldegrever (1501-1502 - 1555-61) Ornament

Joris  Hoefnagel (1542 — 1601):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous paintings of ‘composed heads’ date from the late 1560s.


Winter from Arcimboldo’s seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn)

Daniel Heumann (1720-174):Daniel Heumann-1720-1740

Francis Bacon  (1909 — 1952) engaged in what he called a “pitiless analysis” of his subjects, objectifying them in order to find new methods of description. Nonetheless, any meaning in the work was always tied to his search for a beauty within formalism. In this way his images of violence and death were never politicized. He was no Picasso or Goya. Instead, they were existential.

It didn’t matter much to him if people liked his work anyway. If they didn’t, he knew he was doing something right. (From How Creatives Work)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some call him 20th century Bosch. But Bacon wasn’t Bosch either.

Hieronymus Bosch was a moralist and didn’t believe in showing things as they appeared. His fantastical imagery earned him the nickname ‘the creator of devils’. Grotesque devils that is.Bosch

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Michael Hutter makes (and generously shares) his re-imagining of searing Bosch-like art. Yet another non-Bosch. And non-Bruegel, and non-Grunewald.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then there is Jonathan Payne  and his Fleshlettes — utterly disgusting creations made of materials like super sculpey, polymer clay, acrylic, and… human hair:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[…] images like Payne’s come from a place “underground”, from an ugly malformed part of the imagination. The grotesque in modern art was heightened by the real-life horrors of the first world war. It is at the heart of dada and surrealism. The most grotesque images in 20th-century art include Picasso’s bullfights, Dali’s self-cannibalising creatures, Hans Bellmer’s mutilated dolls, and Francis Bacon’s tragic anatomies.

… The horrors that painters saw 500 years ago are just as disconcerting as anything today’s artists create. When we look into the dark, the monsters are always the same. (The Guardian. Shock horror: why art’s so obsessed with the grotesque.)

Fly Me To The Exoplanet

Though astronomers are still awaiting concrete evidence, theoretical arguments suggest that many exoplanets should be able to maintain an atmosphere as massive that of Earth. Pictured is an artist's impression of a hypothetical planetary system.

Though astronomers are still awaiting concrete evidence, theoretical arguments suggest that many exoplanets should be able to maintain an atmosphere as massive that of Earth. Pictured is an artist’s impression of a hypothetical planetary system.

Whoa, things have really gone tits up on Planet Earth if with all seriousness people talk about habitable exoplanets, having babies on Mars, and new scientific theories lead to a massive boost in the hunt for alien life.
Future of humanity

Astronomers have been focusing largely on Earth-like planets around distant space for traces of alien life. However, some exoplanets might have the ability to hold water and are believed to be locked in a rotation around their sun with only one side facing the sun. But the new research shows that exoplanets rotate around their stars and have day-night cycles just like the Earth. The new theory might state that there are increasing chances of finding life on these celestial bodies.

“Planets with potential oceans could have a climate that is much more similar to Earth’s than previously expected. If we are correct, there is no permanent, cold night side on exoplanets causing water to remain trapped in a gigantic ice sheet.” (Jérémy Leconte, a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) at the University of Toronto.)

Dr Leconte also said that the new understanding of exoplanets’ climate will pave the way for answering more questions about whether these planets are capable of supporting life.


Kepler-16b is unique as it orbits two stars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-16b has something the other exoplanets cannot offer: a double sunset! The exoplanet, discovered in 2011 by the Kepler spacecraft, is unlikely to be habitable but could provide a unique travel experience. The Saturn-size planet may be a gas giant and too cold to sustain life, but it’s still exciting.

“Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now.” ( William Borucki, principal Kepler investigator.)


NASA’s travel poster for HD 40307g, which could be a “Super-Earth” or a “mini-Neptune.” NASA/JPL-Caltech

There is plenty of mystery surrounding HD 40307g. The exoplanet is one of six orbiting the star HD 40307 and is in the star’s habitable zone. HD 40307g is eight times more massive and at least twice the size of Earth. It’s located 42 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. Its composition and atmosphere are still unknown; it may or may not be rocky. The planet receives almost as much light as Earth and is not tidally locked, meaning it is likely to rotate like our planet.

Hopefully NASA will keep the exoplanet travel bureau going and create posters based on new exoplanet discoveries. Two candidates could be Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b. The exoplanets are likely to be rocky and were found in the habitable zone of their respective host stars.


In separate research, astronomers said they believe there are two unknown planets waiting to be discovered well beyond Pluto. They claim these planets are changing the position of objects away from Neptune, causing them to behave in strange ways.  These objects, known as ETNOs (Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects), describe minor worlds such as Pluto that orbit the sun at a greater average distance than Neptune.

Matters Of Heart

preview_5479e75f5a5b930c988b7bfcf699ee5fPress the palm of your hand to your chest. Feel the heartbeat, and just imagine…

Reflections of Research 2014 is an annual competition, reflecting the groundbreaking research of the British Heart Foundation through images.

The image above, ‘The Clot Thickens’, by Fraser Macrae, BHF-funded researcher at the University of Leeds.

This image shows a blood clot in close detail. The thick grey mesh is the clot, capturing a mixture of different cells – seen in different colours. A BHF-funded researcher in the 1970s was the first to prove that clots can cause heart attacks.

Dr Anne Géraldine Guex
A BHF-funded researcher at Imperial College London

BHF-funded scientists use scaffolds containing microscopic holes to grow healthy heart cells that could potentially be implanted into a patient’s damaged heart after a heart attack.

Dr Francesco Iori
A BHF-funded researcher at Imperial College London

Using the same computer modelling programs that engineers use to design aircrafts, BHF-funded scientists can now precisely model the blood flow in our blood vessels. These models can be used to design better techniques for dialysis that limit the disruption to a patient’s natural blood flow.

10931628_10153081681935854_3245138497107476356_o‘Seeing is Believing’
Dr Graeme Birdsey
A BHF-funded researcher in the Endothelial Homeostasis Group, NHLI Vascular Sciences at Imperial College London

This image shows the intricate network of newly-formed blood vessels in the retina of a mouse eye. Understanding how blood vessels grow is an important part of understanding cardiovascular disease.

10931339_10153081682100854_6175772168312844276_n‘Heart Cells made from Stem Cells’
Dr James Smith
A BHF-funded researcher at the University of Nottingham

The banding seen in this microscopic view of heart muscle cells is vital for the contraction of the muscle that is needed for the heart to beat. BHF-funded scientists can now make heart cells from stem cells and study how changes in this banding can lead to the heart not beating properly.

10919411_10153081682345854_8375175501067036397_o‘Until Death Do Us Part’
Maria Pieri
A BHF-funded researcher at the University of Manchester

Seen under a powerful microscope, two individual blood vessel cells are shown here, coincidentally forming a heart-shape in between. Understanding blood vessels at a cellular level helps BHF-funded scientists learn about the fundamental processes that keep our blood flowing, and what happens when they go wrong.

10922672_10153081682330854_1184434197817304899_n‘Getting to the Heart of the Matter’
Dr Sarah Ivins
A BHF-funded researcher at University College London

This shows the blood vessels and lining of a developing mouse heart. At the top of the image, clusters of cells are starting to form blood vessels in the heart alongside a major artery – the aorta. BHF-funded scientists have shown that mice have the potential to repair their own hearts – now they want to encourage the human heart to do the same.10827880_10153081728130854_8382712627056268921_o‘No Smoke Without Fire’
Dr Neil Dufton
A BHF-funded researcher in the Endothelial Homeostasis Group, NHLI Vascular Sciences, Imperial College London

This picture is a blood vessel that doesn’t work properly and is leaking. The blood vessel is seen in red, with the leaks seen in grey. Maintaining healthy blood vessels is vital to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Philosophy Of Unfriendly Skies


Since the late 1990s, instances of sky rage are on upswing.

Definition of sky rage: Abusive or violent behavior exhibited by airline passengers, often as a manifestation of impatience or stress.

And another one: Anger and frustration—more commonly seen in economy class than in upper class—which occurs before, during or after a commercial airline flight, generally while the passenger(s) is still aboard, related to prolonged sitting in an uncomfortable position, aggravating seat mates, low quality food, and other factors which set the stage for a rage reaction that may lead to physical or verbal assault on crew members or other passengers.самолет5

Airlines, for PR reasons, don’t report the vast majority of incidents, unless there’s an extreme case requiring legal action. The airlines’ unstated policy is to minimize damage  by removing disruptive passengers the hell out of the aircraft — and then let it go.

The 2003 invention of 6’3-tall American Ira Goldman, the Knee Defender, is a small pair of plastic clips that attach to your lowered seat-back table, locking the chair in front of you in place so the passenger can’t recline. “I was tired of being bumped in the knees by reclining seats,” says Goldman.knee defender

This invention has brought to the fore the usual comments on plane etiquette. Some say such devices infringe on passenger rights. Simply put, if an airline offers a reclining mechanism — and some low-cost carriers don’t — then tough luck for the fellow behind you. More controversy ensued, sky rage incidents increased in number.

So what’s really going on between you and your neighbor, when he (or you) press the button in the armrest and carry the weight on your back? In the public space people find themselves in a special mode of interaction, as if pretending to be behind a transparent wall. Sociologist Irving Goffman defines such state as the state of “polite inattention.” You meet the stranger’s eye and drop your stare to break the contact, thereby demonstrating the non-interference in the privacy of the stranger, no matter how dense is the crowd.

Anthropology Professor of the St. Petersburg European University Ilya Utekhin explains why reclined backrest on the plane is not just a banal rudeness (call it abusive or violent behavior or anger and frustration) but a complex social phenomenon, and as such — a philosophical issue.


Professor Utekhin uses such terminology as personal space and proxemics to elevate the phenomenon of sky rage to the level of philosophical subject.

Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached. (Wikipedia)


Proxemics can be defined as “the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture”.

In the middle of XX century, American cultural anthropologist Edward Hall turned to the study of spatial patterns of behavior of people in different cultures. He called this area of research proxemics, as yet another way of nonverbal communication. In the context of proxemics, such devise as knee defender is akin to a statement that forcibly imposes your will on other person thus limiting their actions.


Humans share proxemics mechanisms with animals — territorial instinct, aggression as means of defending their territory from invaders — and then add some “cultural software” to this inherent programming — different societies developed different notions of “comfortable distance.” According to Hall, these differences in defining the borders of comfort zones explain why American,  comfortable to converse maintaining approximately three feet distance from the other person, might feel that his personal space is invaded by his Arabic interlocutor, whose comfort zone is noticeably smaller. American would instinctively step away, while Arab might grow suspicious and deem him untrustworthy.


Even if people do not talk, they still communicate with one another by sending messages through multiple channels, whether they are aware of it or not. One of these channels is the distance that people maintain. The distance that separates us from other people, however, is not measured in feet or inches. Rather, it’s an expression of what you can do or feel at this distance.

Intimate distance allows us to feel the other persons breath, body heat and smell, to reach out and touch other person’s hand, to talk without straining our voice and hearing. As a rule, the higher the person’s social status, the more space he/she demands and secures. The most expensive tickets on intercontinental flights provide a separate, quite spacious passenger compartments.  The curtain that separates business and economy classes spare holders of more expensive tickets the sight of less fortunate, but also protects them from the envious stares.skyrage155

Passenger in economy class feels lucky if a seat next to him is empty. Not only it increases his private space, but also greatly increases the satisfaction of the flight. However, the reason for the sky rage is not so much tightness and squeeze as the uncertain status of inches considered to be a part of one’s private space. A dog travelling in a cage in the luggage compartment has no such problem: its little personal territory, albeit small, nonetheless is completely at its disposal, interfering with no other dog.

Suggested modus operandi en flight?  If you routinely fly in first class, you need none. Otherwise, philosophy aside, bring your seat in upright position, just in case.

The Day Cupids Fly


While many people every where going through the happy routine of Valentine Day, and in spite of the gleeful joy of getting my share of millions red roses and heart-shaped  chocolates — me being Valentina! — I feel hopelessly uninspired to post anything “Valentiny” today. 

Honestly, this Valenina has nothing new to say on the subject that Valentina haven’t said already on the two Valentine Days in the two years this blog exists:

Amor, Aves et Amatores

Valentine And Valentina

Well then, Happy Lovers Day to everyone — lovers, loving, loved and those hoping for a cupid’s arrow to hit’em in all appropriate places! 


Oh, For Haven’s Sake!


Robots with intelligence equal to or beyond that of humans is called “strong AI” or “strong AGI” where AGI stads for Artificial General Intelligence.  When, one wonders, technology to create strong AI will become an everyday occurrence? Some experts are betting it will happen in the next two decades.roadmap-5-ai

Great! No?

In the past year, people-in-the-know — Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among others — have warned about an eminent to threat to humanity — the rise of super-intelligent robots. (More on the subject: AI Or Die — Summoning The Demon and Number 1 Risk For This Century.)

What would their super-intelligent high-tech “brains” makeup be? Would super-intelligent robots have any MORALS whatsoever? What moral compass will guide them while their superior intelligence, having digested the entire uploaded Wikipedia, start developing ideas of their own?

robotWhat could be better than religion, right? No?

Shouldn’t any superintelligence created by humans have a notion of God?

Preaching God to automatons, no matter how autonomous, sounds kind of wacky, no?

Actually, not so much, if one doesn’t overlook statistics of U.S. demographics in relation to Christianity. About 75 percent of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians, and 92 percent of our highest politicians in U.S. Congress belong to one or another denomination of Christian faith.

jesusAn associate Pastor of Providence at the Presbyterian Church in Florida, Reverend Dr Christopher Benek, believes religions may help AI live alongside mankind.He is convinced that AIs won’t be worse than us or that they will intentionally mistreat people.

I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings. It’s redemption to all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world.’ (from a recent Gizmodo interview with  Reverend Benek by  Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager.)

The question of “soul” is quintessential in the coming transhumanist age of machine intelligence. Does AI have a soul? Can it be saved?

Marvin Minksy, a pioneer on the field of artificial intelligence and an MIT professor doesn’t see why not.

‘What humans have is a more complex and larger brain than any other animal — maybe a whale’s brain is physically large, but it’s not structurally more complex than ours,‘ he told the Jerusalem Post.

‘If you left a computer by itself, or a community of them together, they would try to figure out where they came from and what they are.’

Even Pope Francis recently sounded off on the possibility of aliens being converted when he affirmed that the Holy Spirit blows where it will.

Dominican monk robot?

Dominican monk robot?

Pope Francis said he would welcome Martians to receive baptism. Would the Catholic Church be as welcoming to a fanciful pile of electronically wired inorganic hardware created by human hands?

Also, god knows what surprises alien chemistry holds… No wonder some scientists are seriously suggesting that alien life that earthlings meet one day might as well be smartly put together alien machines.

To think of it, earthlings that aliens meet might be human-made super-advanced AGIs. What if these machines greet extraterrestrials with a smile and warm “Do you accept Jesus as your personal savior?”   “Allahu akbar!”  “Namaste” or whatnot.

silver-robot-with-cosmosOnce you start thinking like that, it opens up even more questions: How would AI fit into to the religious tension already present around the world? Who is to say a machine with human intelligence wouldn’t choose to become a fundamentalist Muslim, or a Jehova Witness, or a born-again Christian who prefers to speak in tongues instead of a form of communication we understand? If it decides to literally follow any of the sacred religions texts verbatim, as some humans attempt to do, then it could add to already existing religious tensions in the world.  (Zoltan Istvan’s  article in Gizmodo When Superintelligent AI Arrives…)

Interesting article, actually, with a great number of  amusing comments too…

‘Who is to say that one day AIs might not even lead humans to new levels of holiness?’  Indeed. That is, if humans would reach ANY level of holiness by the time THEY arrive.


February 6. Capre Diem

internationalFemale genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Sami National Day

sami peopleThe Sami people, also spelled Sámi or Saami, are the indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway.

On February 6, 1917 was held the first Sámi congress in TrondheimNorway. This was the first time that Norwegian and Swedish Sámi came together across their national borders to work together to find solutions for common problems, thus the Sami National Day.

Barman’s dayBarman_by_razoomanet

The Barman’s day is celebrated on February 6, on the Day of St. Amand and have become the professional holiday of barmen and restaurateurs in many countries all over the world.

The patron saint of wine makers and barmen is St. Amand, Bishop of Maastricht (584-679). He actively  evangelized wine-making regions of France, Germany and the Flanders and thus became the official patron of wine makers, merchants, brewers, bar and restaurant keepers and, finally, bar workers (including barmen and dishwashers).

Day of Stairs and LaddersРоб  Гонсалвес

This, I believe, is an entirely Russian thing. Other than drinking beverages of your choice (preferably alcoholic) under/upon/suspended from and hanging off various ladders, on rooftops, between stair flights, on stepladders etc. I found no other significance of this designation.  Rob Gonsalves’ ladder laden painting, however, make the day of ladders worthy of mentioning. 

National Wear Red Day – February 6, 2015wear red

In 2003, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute took action against a disease that was claiming the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year – a disease that women weren’t paying attention to. A disease they truly believed, and many still believe to this day, affects more men than women.

Stemming from that action, National Wear Red Day was born. It’s held on the first Friday in February every year to raise awareness about heart disease being the No. 1 killer of women.

Discovery of germanium winkler

Clemens Alexander Winkler (December 26, 1838 – October 8, 1904) was a German chemist who isolated the pure element, germanium, on this February 6 day in the year 1886. He published his results, thus solidifying Dmitri Mendeleev‘s theory of periodicity.

 Ban on dueling in France, February 6, 1626пушкин-дуэль-дантес-фильмы-911268

At the turn of the 16th century, duels spread through Europe like wildfire, they happened on an unprecedented scale in France. Dueling was outlawed in France in 1626. The edict was issued on February 6. However and unfortunately, the ban had little blood-cooling effect on avid French duelists for many years to come. Estimates suggest that more than 10,000 duels resulting in more than 4,000 deaths took place in the last 30 years of King Louis XIV’s reign, which ended in 1715. 

Economist Matthew Jackson says laws against dueling were ineffective because they went against deep-rooted social norms, which also discouraged others from intervening to stop the bloodletting.

Thus, capre diem: wear red (Sami national costume theme is suggested), abandon your dueling weapon, visit your favorite bar and, after having a sober moment thinking seriously what should be done about FGM, drink a toast for Winkler… under the ladder or looking down the stairwell.

Please note: there is no significance in the order of appearance of notable events mentioned in this post. In a word, I honestly don’t assign more importance to the discovery of germanium than to Russian drinking on the stairs and ladders.

Good Books — Bad Reviews

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Writers Hate Writers is more amusing a subject than this one, still it’s a enlightening to remember that books that nowadays are considered classics haven’t been recognized as literary gems immediately upon publishing.

“A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long.” The New Republic

“But the most conspicuous lack, in comparison with the classics of the fearsome-future genre, is the inability to imagine a language to match the changed face of common life. No newspeak. And nothing like the linguistic tour de force of A Clockwork Orange – the brutal melting-down of current English and Slavic words that in itself tells the story of the dread new breed.

The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” The New York Times

“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him. …

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.” The New Republic

“The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness…” The New Yorker

“I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to, say, 500 pages — but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer an [sic] well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.” The New York Times

“It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called “beat” generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus.” The New York Times

“Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees… [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.” NYHTBR

“Miss Lee’s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn’t consistently solved it.” The Saturday Review

“Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…

This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story — that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people.” The Chicago Tribune

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive…

Past the artistic danger line of madness is another even more fatal. It is where the particular mania is a perversion like Humbert’s. To describe such a perversion with the pervert’s enthusiasm without being disgusting is impossible. If Mr. Nabokov tried to do so he failed.” The New York Times

One doesn’t have to agree or disagree with the expressed opinions of venerable literary critics — or anyone’s opinion for that matter… That is to say, I hold my own about all of the books above and, I confess, I’m not 100% disdainful of some of the criticism… of some of the critics… of some of the books above.

Matter of note: several of the book weren’t merely negatively received by literary critics — for a period of time shortly after their publication the following books were altogether or nearly banned : Lolita (in France, Argentina and New Zealand),  The Catcher in the Rye (in Australia, USA), Brave New World (in some states of the USA, in Ireland and a number of other European countries),  Slaughterhouse-Five (many people in the US were in favor of banning the book, accusing its author in vulgarity, violence, profanity, immorality and lack of patriotism. In some European countries, the book was banned for its anti-militaristic sentiment. More on this in Kurt Vonnegut, Extraordinarily Insulted.)

Bad books — good reviews… well, that should be a different story altogether.

A Hairy Piece Of Rancid Cheese

Robert_Gober_4Robert Gober‘ s exhibit at MOMA ended on January 18th, widely noticed by major publications and to overwhelmingly glowing reviews. Read on. Bold highlights throughout are mine.

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober

Over three decades Gober, one of the most powerful but puzzling artists to emerge in 1980s New York, has produced sculptures and drawings that are spare, sad, eccentric and deeply moving – but moving in a way that can be maddeningly hard to explain. (The Telegraph. Robert Gober opens at MoMA: sober, haunting and genuinely affecting.)

 Untitled. 1991 Photograph: / K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Untitled. 1991 Photograph: / K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

The brooding realism of Robert Gober […] is as American as apple pie — with the sugar left out. The sharpness of his tenderly handmade sculptures and installations — a repertory of familiar yet startlingly altered playpens, sinks and easy chairs and truncated human limbs and bodies — brings us up short. (The New York Times. ‘Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,’ at MoMA)

 Robert Gober, Untitled. Photograph: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Robert Gober, Untitled. Photograph: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

His work is very intimate, intelligent and simple. It also holds a dark humor within. For his sculptures, usually named Untitled, he works with objects such as chairs, cribs, sinks, drains, legs and clothes. To these objects, he cleverly integrates different elements to communicate concepts such as about family holding you up, religion, sexual problems, politics, moving on in life or just rancid cheese. There is one thing that all pieces have in common, an amazing technique. (From the blog-post in

 Leg with Anchor, 2008 Photograph: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Leg with Anchor, 2008 Photograph: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Early in his career, he made deceptively simple sculptures of everyday objects–beginning with sinks and moving on to domestic furniture such as playpens, beds and doors. In the 1990s, his practice evolved from single works to theatrical room-sized environments. In all of his work, Gober’s formal intelligence is never separate from a penetrating reading of the socio-political context of his time. His objects and installations are among the most psychologically charged artworks of the late twentieth century, reflecting the artist’s sustained concerns with issues of social justice, freedom and tolerance. (Artbook)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I readily acknowledge that categories such as  intelligent, moving, sober, haunting, sad, genuinely affecting and even psychologically charged are not entirely closed for interpretation.

What puzzles me, however, is where the venerable art critics of The New York Times, The Telegrapgh etc. observed the socio-political context and sustained concerns with issues of social justice, freedom and tolerance? Perhaps, inconspicuously hiding between chairs, cribs, sinks, drains and legs?

What exactly in Gober’s artwork speaks about religion, politics, moving on in life or family holding you up? Sugar-free American apple pie? Sexual problems – perhaps. A hairy piece of rancid cheese can speak volumes.

Ah, well, clearly, Robert Gober’s brooding realism, amazing technique and the sharpness of his tenderly handmade sculptures and installations are beyond my comprehension. Call me retrograde if you must.

Confusion In The Head

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Character Head

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Character Head: The Beaked

This is the work of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, a German-Austrian (Swabian) sculptor (1736-1783). One of the most fascinating sculptors of the Enlightenment, he enjoyed great success working in Vienna for the imperial family under Maria Theresa. At the beginning of his career he was a rather “conventional” artist, having completed his studies at the Vienna Academy, and taking up a position as a bronze chaser at the Imperial Armoury in Vienna’s Renngasse.

But then something happened… in his head, and he created his most famous group of works, the studies of heads known today as Character Heads.Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Character Head9

He began to suffer both from hallucinations and have paranoid ideas — evil spirits were after him, determined to possess him and destroy his art.

His situation came to a head in 1774 when he applied for the position of leading professor at the Academy (where he had been a teacher since the late 1760s).  Far from getting the promotion he expected and desired he was barred from teaching altogether.   The Chancellor of State, Count Kaunitz felt compelled to write a letter to the Empress explaining why this had happened.  Messerschmidt’s state of mind was referred to as a ‘confusion in the head’ in this letter.  Whether it was schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or another condition will never be firmly established but many art historians believe this to be the case. (Madness of Messerschmidt.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Apparently, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt had been suffering for years from a digestive illness (perhaps, Crohn’s disease.)  The twisted faces were the variation of his own facial expressions: to alleviate the agony of discomfort he felt constantly, he’d pinch his chest, causing terrible pain…

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt Character Head8

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Character Head: The Vexed Man

We might call it art therapy today but the busts in marble and bronze were to template himself for future medical study.  (Madness of Messerschmidt.)
In 1781, Messerschmidt confided in the noted German author, Friedrich Nicolai, that he felt he had angered the ‘Spirit of Proportion’ who it was said guarded the knowledge of universal balance which he was trying to express in his work. The spirit would come to him in the dead of night and inflict endless and humiliating tortures on him, which inspired one of his head, The Beaked, above.

Messerschmidt worked obsessively on these altogether 69 heads, the majority of whose faces are contorted into extreme grimaces. The spectrum of heads, which he conversationally referred to as his ‘Portreen’ – portraits – extends from natural-appearing busts modeled after those of antiquity to heads with exaggerated, highly expressive facial features whose supreme exertions manifest emotions that defy interpretation.

Excluded effectively from society by the powers of the Academy, Messerschmidt died in isolation, labeled both antisocial and unreasonable.  His hyper-real portraits, however, have survived the centuries. He has been a truly sick man, perhaps even mad, but his suffering has become his inspiration. Messerschmidt died in 1783.

16 original heads, the world’s largest collection from this group of works, and numerous plaster casts of the total of 54 extant works, currently housed in Vienna’s Belvedere Palaces.

The Upper and Lower Belvedere were built in the 18th century as the summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.