January 10, 2010

Iguan-erot:  (noun) Images of women with lizards, primarily iguanas, intended to produce erotic arousal or laughter.  [Derived from iguana + erot(ic);  “Among the most bizarre manifestations of displaced erotic force is … R. von Craft-Dubbing, Psychopathis Sexualis, 1901]

The Wave

November 15, 2009

Another view of Mount Fuji

As I posted earlier, I have been venturing into Japanese flower arranging.  The pull of the Japanese minimalist aesthetic is very powerful for me, and I was first introduced to it in college when I took a survey course on Japanese art.  I have thought about it a lot, and I decided to write my professor a thank-you note about it – thirty years late.  It took a bit of doing to locate her – her name has changed – and in searching, I came across a talk she gave about this famous print by Hokusai, “The Great Wave.”  [Complete talk  here:  Totebags, Teeshirts, and Tableware: The Domestication of Hokusai’s Great Wave.]

In her talk, she addresses issues of the commercialization of art, mass reproduction of images and commoditization for the consumer economy, cultural appropriation of icons, and the history of japonisme in Western art.  The latter has been known for a century among art scholars as an important influence on Art Nouveau, Impressionism, and other trends, but it was brought to the fore in the public mind with one of Thomas Hoving’s first “blockbuster” exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Among the ironies Professor Guth points out is that in Japan in the 1970s, Hokusai, and the Ukiyo-e genre in which he worked, was not exactly a universally lauded high point of Japanese culture.  Indeed, he was considered a practioner of a rather disreputable art form, and not a member of the high-art pantheon, not the least  because he worked in woodblock prints, a medium intended for popular mass consumption.  Ukiyo-e, the floating world, is the culture of the pleasure district, if not the red light district, and one of his more kinky essays in that direction is shown here:


Imagine this on display in a high-profile exhibit of loan works from Japan during its heyday as the International Bogeyman of the American economy!

Guth takes a broad minded view of the inevitable mixing of art and commerce, tracing the ways in which museums aided the transformation of The Great Wave into one of the most recognizable images of Japanese art today.  She dismisses the attitude of one critic whom she quotes early on as saying that museums must hold the line between art and mass-consumption, accepting the situation of today.  After all, anytime you put a person in front of art, you never know what kind of experience they will have.  An opposing view, whether from the right or the left of the political spectrum, decries the degeneration of cultural capital in favor of profit, spectacle, kitsch…etc., sharing a remarkably similar lack of confidence in the power of ordinary people to evolve imaginative responses of their own to art works.

I became aware of the ubiquity (highlighted at this blog) of the Hokusai print myself when I noticed the logo of a clothing line with which my son was obsessed during his skateboarding phase.  I don’t think I have seen another example of the appropriation of the image through such abstraction.

Quiksilver logo

In the realm of myth…

November 5, 2009

…we are everywhere at home.

lastest from Salzburg Viennese by von Stuck

Still riffing…

sphinx collage

Modern sphinx pose sells clothes.… on the sphinx…

Everywhere at home??

October 31, 2009

The entrance to hell?

One of these days, I’m going to visit the strange Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo, Italy. If I go, will I be greeted and led to the Hell’s Mouth by a sultry nymph with delightful long legs like this one?  Will my wife, and all my family obligations and history melt away, my middle age fly off to leave me youthful and desirable, my heightened emotions and vigor to be quenched in a unique, bizarre, erotic embrace within some weird grotto?

Not likely…This renaissance (Mannerist) oddity is nicely photographed and discussed in this fine book which I own.  I’ve known about the park for a very long time, but it seems that it was forgotten by Europe for centuries, until being rediscovered and somewhat restored by the efforts of Salvidor Dali and Mario Praz.  Popularity followed, and now it’s a “family destination” for tourists.

The image is from a catalog for Schneider’s of Austria, a clothing manufacturer, that was all shot in the garden.  What is going on here?  Their slogan is “Everywhere at home.”  This reminds me of the classic formulations of kitsch consciousness, i.e., that everywhere kitsch-man goes, everywhere he looks, he sees himself.  Thus, he is never open to new, genuine, experience.  Do I believe this?  Ich bin ein kitschmensch!

Fashion advertisement, and in this case, a pretty high-end, classy example of it, trades on all sorts of moods, half-understood cultural allusions, snobbisms, innovations, cultural quotes, etc. to endow the product, the look, with a feeling, a cachet.  Moody, hip, sophisticated, mannered, mysterious, cultured, refined and esoteric, sooo European…These are a few of the things this catalog has to say about Schneider’s clothes.  And you know what?  I buy it, all of it!  I want that raincoat I saw in Century 21!!  I’m a pretty unremarkable dresser, and I don’t think my appearance turns any heads, but I look at other people’s looks a lot.  Sometimes I become fixated on a woman’s coat, a man’s shoes, a purse, a pair of glasses…okay, it’s probably 80/20 when it comes to the time I spend on women/men – it’s not just fashion that catches my eye.

I’ve never been able to figure out or come to terms with exactly what is going on here.  It feels dreadfully superficial, even childish or stupid in a way.  On the other hand, it feels totally human and natural.  Does there have to be a moral evaluation involved?

I told my wife once about an incident when I was twenty years old, and I saw a Panama hat in a window of a shop in Europe during my summer travels there.  The “vision” of that hat stayed with me for days.  On the long train ride, I imagined myself wearing it in all sorts of situations – how it would make me feel all sorts of ways just by being on my head.  (Hats – the mediator of the man-sky interface.) She rolled her eyes.  That’s one reason I married her.  She keeps me somewhat tethered to reality.

Bring on La Maniera. Hail to La dolce vita!


La Duchesse de Langeais

April 22, 2009


From Balzac’s History of the Thirteen, we have this novel about a coquette noblewoman who goes a bit too far.  She revels in teasing men and making them think she will be theirs, only to dump them and watch them squirm.  She meets her match in the smoldering General Montriveau, an idealized self-portrait of the author.

Once the General realizes that she is only playing with him, he concocts a scheme to teach her a thing or two – he has his men, initiates to the cabal of The Thirteen, abduct her and prepare to scorch her brow with a hot brand.  Talk about scarlet letters!  There is much knotting and unbinding of wrists and ankles as she is led here and there, blindfolded, to undisclosed locations before being deposited back at her party from which she was snatched.  Her footmen are all drunk – part of the plot no doubt.

The General scorns rape as undignified – she falls in love with him, truly, after being totally in his power, power which he disdains to exercise over her.  (He drops the branding idea when she instantaneously, under the influence of her helplessness, goes from ice-queen coquette to passionate adorer of him.)

Balzac is always very discreet, but the overtones of sadism, misogyny, kinky sexual passions, and brutal sexual warfare are quite strong.  My apologies to J. A. D. Ingres for defacing his masterpiece, Madame Contesse D’Hausonville, now hanging in the Frick Collection in New York, one of my favorite museums.

Knife Throwing

December 30, 2008


When I was a boy, I was very proud of my collection of paperback books, mostly classics.  They were packed tightly on a bookshelf.  I was also fond of building plastic models of cars and planes, and so had a collection of X-acto knives that I used to trim parts.  One day I discovered the joys of knife throwing!  I would hurl the blades across the room at the books, and they would penetrate the flat spines of the classics with a satisfying “thunk” while the blade and handle would vibrate…”doinnnng….”  (I also enjoyed setting fires with a large magnifying glass, and setting off mini-explosions with accumulated gunpowder from caps.)

Yes, well, so I was taken by the knife throwing scene on Jahsonic’s blog from “Girl on the Bridge.”  A conjunction of those two old favorites:  sex & death.   My montage is below, but you can see the original scene of the first stage act at his site.

This film is an enjoyable, wacky fairy tale with an intense and strange thread of eroticism running through it, but the relationship of the two main characters is not…well…physical.  There’s nothing like a near-death experience to make a nice girl feel really alive!  If I had only known what gets a girl going, maybe I’d have thrown my knives in a different direction!  Of course, as the Richard Sala image up top shows, accidents do happen.  (In this movie too, to hilarious effect, if you can believe it.)

As I mused on the theme of Platonic love in this movie, I thought of another favorite of mine, “Intimate Strangers,” and was amused to learn that they are both by Patrice Leconte.  I should have made the connection.   Such a theme isn’t exactly common in movies these days.

trop intimesThe original title is “Confidences Trop Intimes,and I think the translation would be more accurate but less felicitous as “Inapproprate Confidences.”  A troubled woman on a first visit to a therapist, opens the wrong door, sits down, and starts spilling her guts.  The man is an accountant – people tell him their secrets all the time, for tax purposes – but he figures out pretty quickly la femme nikitawhat’s going on.  She’s so beautiful and helpless though, he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth.  And so it goes on…Eventually, their relationship is broken off, then reinstated, but on a basis of honesty and full disclosure.  They both crave the friendship of a good listener.  Sandra Bonnaire is lovely – another skinny, boney, French actress with high cheek bones – and the uncredited supporting actor is the cigarette.  If you think smoking can only be seen as a foul habit, this film might change your mind.

Deep, deep, deeper…

December 1, 2008


Audition, is a very creepy film by a Japanese director known for creepiness, Takashi Miike.  A middle-aged, middle-class widower wants to remarry, so his cut-up of a friend in the entertainment business suggests they do an audition for a maybe real, maybe phoney show.  He meets the girl of his dreams, an aspiring actress who wants the main part.

Problem is, she’s a bit of a nut case.  The film is a little of Fatal Attraction, Psycho, and a whole lot of other horror films thrown together, but it’s paced surely, and it is actually quite restrained in its use of violence and gore, despite what you may read about it.  I mean, during the final scene when the lovely naif shown above is torturing her victim and severs his foot with a tourniquet wire, they don’t show the foot, blood, or anything.  How’s that for “art?” 

It is rather difficult to watch, but not as disturbing as what you might think from the reviews, just a different arty-Japanese twist on an old theme of the avenging femme fatale.  As she pushes the needles into the paralyzed body she’s tormenting (the drug prevents movement but not the feeling of pain) she says, “Deep, deep, deeper…” But then, maybe I just have a thick skin, heh, heh, heh…

There are all sorts of ways you could interpret this film:  misogynistic, sadistic, subversive of traditional male sexist values, kinky-erotic, whatever.  The director denies them all. 

I was most taken by the portrait of the main character, a regular guy with a little too much of the traditional romantic in him who got sucked in way, way over his head!