Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination: Hausmann v. Kokoschka!

Willem de Kooning and Jeff Koons came in together, and they go out together. Both artists left us this week with records of 1-2, with de Kooning falling to Oskar Kokoschka and Koons overpowered by Raoul Hausmann.

Today's contestants share a loss to Domenico Ghirlandaio. Hausmann fared better against the Florentine master than did Kokoschka, but that doesn't matter today, as they go head to head for the right to survive into the Third Round!

Raoul Hausmann
1886 - 1971
Austrian; worked in Germany and France

Oskar Kokoschka
1886 - 1980
Austrian; worked internationally

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Through History with The Monday Quiz: the 1030s

What, you don't know anything about the 1030s?  That's OK!  Neither did I, last week! 

1. Yarn is made by twisting fibers together tight enough so that they form a continuous thread. There is evidence that in the 1030s, in China, a simple machine was being used that would, with refinement, speed up this process enormously. What was this yarn-making machine?

2. Godwin, Earl of Wessex, was at the height of his power in the 1030s. His support was essential to the reign of Harold Harefoot, and later in securing the succession of Harthacnut to the throne. In what kingdom was Godwin a leading mover and shaker?

3. Gang Gam-chan, leader of the peninsular Goryeo kingdom, died in 1031. Under the Liao Dynasty, the Khitans had attempted several invasions of Goryeo. In the third and last of these invasions, Gang Gam-chan ordered a river dammed, and then had the dam destroyed while the invaders were crossing the river below. The resulting victory meant the survival of the Goryeo Kingdom, which in turn allowed the continued development of its distinct culture.

What do we call Goryeo these days?

4. A number of contemporary writers noted that an unusual number of Christian tourists made the trip to Jerusalem in 1033. What did they figure was so special about 1033?

5. Michael IV the Paphlagonian (no relation) started as a servant in the women’s quarters of the palace, but something about him caught the fancy of the Empress Zoe, who made him her lover. Soon afterwards, on April 11, 1034, Emporer Romanos III Argyros was found mysteriously dead in his bath; Zoe and Michael were married that afternoon, and Michael was crowned emperor on the next day. This is the kind of palace intrigue that gave what empire a bad reputation?

6. A new business model!
“After having spent some decades in the business of ferrying Latin pilgrims to the Holy Land, in 1034 the Pisans hit upon the idea of combining such a voyage with a return-trip raid on ‘Annaba in Islamic Ifriqiya, a raid in which the pilgrims would be invited to participate. Thus, the Pisans, who lacked ground forces, could pillage a Muslim town with the help of the pilgrims, while the loot the pilgrims carried off would help them recoup the cost of their voyage. Because ‘Annaba was a Muslim town the attack could be presented as a virtuous act of piety, and all the participants would come away not only richer, but having redeemed their sins.”
Brian A. Catlos, Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors
 What does Professor Catlos mean by “Pisans,” and why were they in a position to try out this enterprise?

7. Some people say that Saint Sophia Cathedral was completed in 1037; others that construction began in that year. Here’s what it looks like these days, after a number of remodelings of course. What city, then as now a capital, must it be in?

8. Here’s a little story that was probably first told in the 1030s, although it is set much earlier:
The Buddha gathered his disciples. They sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But the Buddha said nothing; he only held up a flower.

The disciples were very confused at the Buddha’s silence. But Mahākāśyapa understood that the flower was itself the sermon, and smiled.

“What can be said I have said to you,” said the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahākāśyapa.”
The story of the “Flower Sermon” is a foundational story of what specific belief system?

9. In 1037, Tughril Beg united the Turkic peoples of eastern Islam and founded an empire that would rule a vast area of the Middle East for the next century and a half. This map shows the empire and its neighbors at its late eleventh century peak. What do we call this Turkish empire?

10. In 1038, a Tangut leader declared himself emperor and demanded that his former ruler, the emperor of Song, recognize him as an equal. After a rocky start, the Tangut Empire would last for almost two centuries, coexisting with the Song and Liao dynasties, until their society was destroyed by the Mongols in 1227 in one of history’s first and most effective examples of attempted genocide. It's another chapter of the complicated history of what country?

Through History with The Monday Quiz: the 1020s

1. "...died at home in Greenland" -- Leif Erickson.
2. The Vaspurakan Kingdom -- was Armenian.
3. What important job was thereby kept in the Tusculum family? -- The Papacy.
4. The not-quite-forgotten empire -- Ghana.
5. "Short Discourse on the Discipline and Art of Music" -- Don't make it harder than it is!
6.  Abū ʿAlī ibn Sīnā, one of the most important figures in the history of medicine and science -- we traditionally call him Avicenna.
7. Robert of Normandy's little bastard -- William the Conquerer.
8. King of England, Denmark, Norway, and sort of Sweden -- Cnut, or Canute the Great.
9. Kaifang was where the Yellow River met the Grand Canal, the less hyped but more important of China's linear ancient engineering marvels.
10. The Rainbow Serpent holds an Australian passport these days.

Therefore, good readers, we have a tie -- a TIE -- with both pfly ("these are too hard for poor me") and Unwise Owl ("Who knows what you want here?") crushing it with 8/10.  Will they triumph again next week, or will they, like Srivijaya, go into decline after the 1020s? History will tell!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Morisot v. Moroni!

Berthe Morisot
1841 - 1895


Giovanni Battista Moroni
1520ish - 1578


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, June 26, 2015

At the Movies: "Oldboy"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Park Chan-Wook, 2003.

imbd: 8.4 (imdb 250: #69)
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80% Fresh

Going into Oldboy, I knew only that it was a Korean thriller that, according to a little blurb on the front of the box, has “Quentin Tarantino's seal of approval." Based on this, I thought I'd be seeing a little violence, a little action, and a few twists, and figured it would be a good movie to watch while I took care of some chores. But the chores never got done. Oldboy grabbed me and held me, completely fascinated. Not because it explores interesting issues, not because it tells an especially fresh and surprising story, and certainly not because it is realistic or particularly insightful. It's just a pure, well-paced, well-structured entertainment machine. It's engrossing.

Plot: Oldboy is a direct descendent of another very successful piece of action-adventure entertainment, The Count of Monte Christo. Dumas' hero spends 15 years in a miserable prison, escapes in an irritable mood, and spends the next chapter of his life inflicting horrible -- and entertaining! -- social, psychological, and economic revenge on the people who framed him. Oldboy's hero, Oh Dae-su, is similarly locked up in solitary confinement for 15 years, and naturally feels inclined for a little revenge. In this case, however, Mr. Oh has no idea who imprisoned him, or why. As he starts to investigate, he begins finding galling clues which suggest that his laborious escape was all part of his captor's plan. This gives him a three questions to pursue: Who was his captor? Why was he put in prison? And, why was he released? The answers to all three questions will be a bit strange.

Visuals: Oldboy is told as a sequence of episodes. There are only a few instances where the film cuts between two actions taking place simultaneously; in general, we progress from setting to setting. These episodes aren’t necessarily single incidents (Oh’s captivity is shown as a montage covering fifteen years) nor are they strictly confined to one place (his initial detective work will involve sampling the fried dumplings of all the restaurants in town), but each episode has its own look and feel -- if not its own “visual language,” than maybe its own visual dialect.

There is a lot of inspiration from film noir here, and most of the episodes are either dark, grim, and gritty or dark, grim, and kind of sleek. Oh is a classic noir hero, battered, discouraged, and weary. There is a standout fight scene, in which he takes on twenty strong young toughs. Now, you’ve seen a number of movies where a hero takes on twenty men and wins, and he has done it with his amazing, superhuman fighting skills and in cheerful defiance of physical laws. In Oldboy, our hero wins his battle without any particular skills and without a single martial arts move.  All he has is an indifference to pain learned through 15 years of solitary confinement. As the camera pans down the hallway in one continuous take, Oh, dressed in his street clothes, beats on the younger men while they beat on him, winning solely through his capacity to absorb damage. It’s like the world’s grimmest side-scroller video game. Now, I’m pretty sure that in real life it’s not really possible for a middle-aged man to beat up 20 youths armed with staffs, but if it was possible, this is what it would look like.

Dialog: In Korean. Information rationing is excellent: it takes a long time to confirm your suspicions about what’s going on.

Prognosis: Hard to beat as a modern film noir action thriller.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #39/64

Faceoff #1: Laurencin v. Masolino

Marie Laurencin
1883 - 1956

Fought to a tie with Sir Thomas Lawrence in her First Round debut, in July 2014.
Lost to Jan Davidsz de Heem in her second try at Round 1.


1383 - c.1433

Lost to Quentin Massys in Round 1.

Faceoff #2: Matta v. Mengs

Roberto Sebastian Echaurren Matta
1911 - 2002

Lambasted by Henri Matisse in Round 1.


Anton Raphael Mengs
1728 - 1779
German; worked internationally

Couldn't hold off Hans Memling in Round 1.

Vote for the two artists of your choice! Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.

Please note that you may vote only once in each face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Wednesday Post

Recap of an American Roadtrip, part 3
the premier marina facility for megayachts within the Caribbean.

...in which we find out what's happening these days at the sites of last week's boring postcardst!

View from Art Museum and Skyline,
Philadelphia, Pa.

The view from the Philadelphia Art Museum is still there.  A number of new buildings attest to the continuing vitality and development of the City of Brotherly Love.

“World’s Greatest Highway”

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is still there.  In fact, there's more of it.  Twice as much Blue Mountain Tunnel, for instance.

Burpeeana Giant Zinnias Growing for Seed on Floradale Farms in California

Floradale Farms no longer exists.  The Burpee facility, just outside of Lompoc, was shut down and sold at the end of 1985.  For more about the development of big big zinnias at Floradale Farms, scan through the extravagant article on the Legacy of W. Atlee Burpee on the Burpee Seeds website.

On U.S. Highway No 1. 14 miles South of Washington D.C. 7 miles South of Historic Alexandria, Virginia. Individual colonial cottages.

Keystone Court no longer exists.  Indeed, it seems to have left very little impression in the fabric of time except this postcard and a few entries in period business directories.  With changes to the landscape and the street numbering system in the ever-burgeoning suburbs of Northern Virginia, it is pretty tough to figure out where the individual colonial cottages once stood.  The site of this newish post office is my unconfident best guess.  If you've got a better best guess, it's time to stand up and be counted!

Yacht Haven and West India Company Docks

Yacht Haven and the West India Company Docks are still thereYacht Haven bills itself as "the premier marina facility for megayachts within the Caribbean," a popular facility for people with very large boats, more money than is good for them, and no shame. The West India Company Docks, now as then, is a moorage for cruise ships. Cruise ships have, of course, jumped scale in the interim. In 1968, when the postcard was sent, the world's largest passenger ship was the SS France, 66,343 tons. Today, there are about 60 cruise ships of over 100,000 tons, and they have names like Disney Fantasy, Norwegian Getaway, and Carnival Triumph.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Goldsworthy v. Magritte!

Andy Goldsworthy
born 1956

Finished First in Phase 1, Flight 12 of the Play-In Tournament, with a voting score of .923.
Finished First in Phase 2, Flight 4, with a voting score of .500.
Beat contemporary Tony Cragg decisively in Round 1.
Walloped L.S. Lowry in Round 2.

René Magritte
1898 - 1967

Skunked -- skunked! -- sculptor Aristide Maillol in Round 1.
Won a close one against Mabuse in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Through History with The Monday Quiz: the 1020s

Relatively few things happened in the 1020s that we're still talking about today.  At the time, though, they seemed really busy! 

1. Sometime between 1019 and 1025, the famous guy commemorated in this stamp died at home in Greenland. Who was he?

2. In 1021, Senekerim-Hovhannes Artsruni (Սենեքերիմ-Հովհաննես Արծրունի), the sixth ruler of independent Vaspurakan, surrendered his kingdom to the Byzantine Empire in exchange for a governorship and personal lands. The Vaspurakan Kingdom, as seen on this map, was part of the turbulent history of what cultural group?

3. When his brother died in 1024, a guy named Romanus was picked to keep the job in the family -- two of Romanus's uncles had also held the position, and a nephew would take over after him. Romanus wasn't technically qualified, but that was easily solved: after a quick ordination as a bishop he was ready to take up his new post. What important job was thereby kept in the Tusculum family?

4. Roughly in the area shown here, there was a kingdom that had been around for a long time before the 1020s, and would be around for a long time afterwards. Unfortunately there’s not really much known about what went on there. It is thought to have prospered on the salt trade, but whether it was really “so rich that its dogs wore golden collars, and its horses, which were adorned with silken rope halters, slept on plush carpets,” I have my doubts. What’s the name of this not-quite-forgotten empire?

5. In 1025, Guido d'Arezzo established a "four-line stave" and the use of "ut–re–mi–fa–so–la" in what is technically called "solmization." In English, his very influential publication is called Short Discourse on the Discipline and Art of what?

6. In 1027, the Kitab Al-Shifaʾ or Book of Healing, a comprehensive work on science and philosophy, was published by Abū ʿAlī ibn Sīnā. Along with his other best-seller, the Canon of Medicine, the Book of Healing would be remain highly influential for the next five centuries. Abū ʿAlī ibn Sīnā is still considered one of the most important figures in the history of medicine and science. What do we call him in English?

7. In about 1028, Robert I, Duke of Normandy, fathered an illegitimate son with his mistress Herleva. The little tyke would grow up to be famous! What do we call him these days?

8. After the ouster of King Olaf II of Norway in 1028, the thrones of England, Denmark, Norway, and, less decisively, Sweden, were united in one very powerful guy. He was one of the most successful rulers of his day – but he still couldn’t command the tide not to rise. Who was he?

9. Kaifeng, the capital of the Song Empire, had probably become the most populous city in the world by the 1020s, and would remain so for the next century. It had a highly advantageous commercial position, being located right where the Yellow River meets what enormous human-made transportation corridor?

10. Meanwhile, by the 1020s, the Rainbow Serpent had already been venerated from five to seven thousand years.  This water-associated creator spirit is widely considered -- how to say it? -- the longest continuously recognized deity in the world today.  It has many names, including Borlung, Dhakkan, Kajura, Goorialla, Kunmanggur, Ngalyod, Numereji, Taipan, Tulloun, Wagyl, Wanamangura and Witij.  What region of the world is home to the Rainbow Serpent?

Last Week's New Monday Quiz Classic (tm)

1. "...just returned from a visit to my landlord" -- YES, Wuthering Heights..
2. "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's" -- NO, that's Finnegan's Wake.
3. "In my younger and more vulnerable years" -- YES, Gatsby.
4. "The drought had lasted now for ten million years" -- NO, that's 2001, a Space Odyssey.
5. "You are about to begin reading" -- NO, that's Umberto Eco's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.
6. "Someone must have slandered Josef K." -- YES, The Trial.
7. "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan"  -- NO, that's Ulysses.
8. "It is a truth universally acknowledged" -- NO, that's Pride and Prejudice.
9. "Far out in the uncharted backwaters" -- NO, that's Hitchhiker's Guide.  Far out.
10. "In an old house in Paris" -- NO, that's Madeline.
11. "I wish either my father or my mother" -- YES, Tristram Shandy.
12. "Happy families are all alike" -- YES, Anna Karenina.

Therefore Susan wins her second consecutive quiz with 11/12, an almost perfect literary performance.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Morandi v. Moreau!

Giorgio Morandi
1890 - 1964


Gustave Moreau
1826 - 1898


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.