Has Sculpture Become Just Another Pretty Face?

NYT – By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN

BERLIN — Sometimes on a whim I stop into the Bode Museum here to commune with a tiny clay sculpture of John the Baptist.

It’s in a corner of a nearly always empty room, a bone-white bust, pretty and as androgynous as mid-1970s Berlin-addled David Bowie. The saint’s upturned eyes glow in the hard light through tall windows. Attributed to the 15th-century Luccan artist Matteo Civitali, the sculpture is all exquisite ecstasy and languor.

Sometimes it’s not the saint I check on but a sculptured portrait in the same room of the banker Filippo Strozzi — stern like a Roman emperor, the face of rectitude and power — by Benedetto da Maiano, Civitali’s contemporary. Then I usually climb the stairs to admire Houdon’s bust of Gluck, the composer, and ogle a towering pair of craggy German knights, relics of Renaissance pageantry made of painted wood, each taller than the N.B.A. star Dirk Nowitzki.

Mostly, though, I go to the Bode for the silence.

Like a sentry commanding the northern tip of Berlin’s Museum Island, its back turned to the busier Pergamon Museum, the Neues Museum, the Altes Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode seems to attract just a few handfuls of visitors a day. Some go there to see the paintings, coins and Byzantine art. The sculpture rooms are mostly abandoned.

Is it me, or do we seem to have a problem with sculpture today? I don’t mean contemporary sculpture, whose fashionable stars (see Koons, Murakami et alia) pander to our appetite for spectacle and whatever’s new. I don’t mean ancient or even non-Western sculpture, either. I mean traditional European sculpture — celebrities like Bernini and Rodin aside — and American sculpture, too: the enormous universe of stuff we come across in churches and parks, at memorials and in museums like the Bode. The stuff Barnett Newman, the Abstract Expressionist painter, notoriously derided as objects we bump into when backing up to look at a painting…

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Eric Hitchens (born 13 April 1949) is an English-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008. He is a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits and in 2005 he was voted the world’s fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll.

Hitchens is known for his admiration of George Orwell, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson and for his excoriating critiques of, among others, Mother Teresa, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Henry Kissinger. His confrontational style of debate has made him both a lauded and controversial figure. As a political observer, polemicist and self-defined radical, he rose to prominence as a fixture of the left-wing publications in his native Britain and in the United States. His departure from the established political left began in 1989 after what he called the “tepid reaction” of the Western left following Ayatollah Khomeini’s issue of a fatwā calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie.

The 11 September 2001 attacks strengthened his internationalist embrace of an interventionist foreign policy, and his vociferous criticism of what he called “fascism with an Islamic face.” His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, while Hitchens insists he is not “a conservative of any kind.”

Identified as a champion of the “New Atheism” movement, Hitchens describes himself as an antitheist and a believer in the philosophical values of the Enlightenment. Hitchens says that a person “could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct,” but that “an antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there’s no evidence for such an assertion.”

He argues that the concept of god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilization. He wrote at length on atheism and the nature of religion in his 2007 book God Is Not Great.

Though Hitchens retained his British citizenship, he became a United States citizen on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial on 13 April 2007, his 58th birthday. His latest book, Hitch-22: A Memoir, was published in June 2010.Touring for the book was cut short later the same month so that he could begin treatment for newly diagnosed esophageal cancer.

The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Hitchens as a “gadfly with gusto”. In 2009, Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media”. However, the same article noted that he would “likely be aghast to find himself on this list”, since it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism.

Hitchens became a socialist “largely [as] the outcome of a study of history, taking sides … in the battles over industrialism and war and empire.” In 2001, he told Rhys Southan of Reason magazine that he could no longer say “I am a socialist.” Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. Capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as “innovative and internationalist.”

He stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism “ahistorical” both on the world stage and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are “more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation” whereas “the present state of affairs … combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies.”

In 2006, in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis, Hitchens commented on his political philosophy by stating “I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist“.In a June 2010 interview with the New York Times, he stated that: “I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist”.

In 2009, in an article for The Atlantic entitled “The Revenge of Karl Marx“, Hitchens frames the late-2000s recession in terms of Marx’s economic analysis and notes how much Marx admired the capitalist system he was calling for the end of, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was. Hitchens was an admirer of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, commenting that “[Che’s] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time, he was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do — fought and died for his beliefs.” In a 1997 essay, however, he distanced himself somewhat from some of Che’s actions.

He continues to regard both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky as great men, and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernization of Russia. In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin’s creation of “secular Russia” and his discreditation of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing it as “an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition”

The killer bull who’s pulling in the crowds

EL PAÍS – By IGNACIO ZAFRA

“I’m really sorry about what happened in Xàtiva, but I don’t think it’s reason enough for Sueca to go without seeing its most famous bull.” Those were the words of the mayor of Sueca, Salvador Campillo, on Wednesday, to explain why Ratón, a bull that claimed its second fatal victim in 10 years last weekend, should appear on the bill of the town’s fiestas in September.

“The rancher and the council want the bull to appear here because he was born in this town, yet we’ve never seen him,” Campillo said. He went on to explain that Ratón – whose name means “mouse” in Spanish – would not be running through the streets of the town, but instead would appear in a kind of “portable bull ring,” where “sufficient security would be in place to ensure that no one can get in if they are in an inappropriate condition.” In other words, if they are drunk.

The legend of Ratón, who is 10 years old and weighs 500 kilos, began with another death: that of a 54-year-old man who was gored by the bull at the Sagunto fiestas in 2006.

Last Saturday, during the taurine fiestas in Fira d’Agost in Xàtiva, a 29-year-old man, who had been drinking before getting in the ring, was gored to death by the bull.

The mayor of Sueca argues that the decision to keep the bull on the bill is “unanimous,” but some of the town’s residents beg to differ.

“Yes, it’s a great bull, but he should have been withdrawn years ago, because he’s a killer, and these are supposed to be fiestas,” local resident José Luis Giménez told Efe.

Those who support the council’s decision, however, lay the responsibility squarely with “those who choose to enter the ring, who should know what they are doing.”

But all of the residents agree on one thing: Ratón will attract more people to the fiestas.

Un mozo salta la barrera ante la embestida del toro 'Ratón '

LiveScience – By Jennifer Welsh

This mummy seems to be missing a brain and other vital organs, new images reveal, and the finding suggests the man held a high status when alive 2,500 years ago in ancient Egypt.

The images indicate that embalmers removed the man’s brain and major organs and replaced them with rolls of linen, a superior embalming method used only for those of high status, researchers at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History said in a statement.

When this mummy was transferred to the Smithsonian from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in the late 1950s, it was partially unwrapped, and very little was known about the individual, until now.

The new images suggest the mummy was a male who died at age 40 (a relatively mature age by ancient Egyptian standards), and who lived in Lower Egypt sometime between the 20th and 26th dynasties.

The images were taken with a CT scanner, which uses X-rays to generate three-dimensional images of the inside of an object, or mummy in this case.

This and other CT images of human and animal mummies will be displayed on a website to accompany a newly expanded exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, called “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt.” The exhibition opened April 5, and the Web-based images and videos will be posted and additional mummies will be on display starting Nov. 17…

Coco Chanel: Fashion house says Coco not a Nazi

LA Times – Susan Denley

Chanel has come to the defense of founder Coco Chanel, who is accused in a new book of being a Nazi spy.

“She would hardly have … counted Jewish people among her close friends and professional partners such as the Rothschild family, the photographer Irving Penn or the well-known French writer Joseph Kessel had these really been her views,” a Chanel spokesman told British Vogue in reaction to Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War,” by Hal Vaughan.

“We also know that she and [Winston] Churchill were close friends for a long time. She apparently approached him about acting as an intermediary between the Allies and the Germans for a peace settlement known as Operation Modelhut…More than 57 books have been written about Gabrielle Chanel. To decide for yourself, we would encourage you to consult some of the more serious ones.”

And indeed there have been numerous books, films and television dramas about the creative, convention-defying woman who remains fascinating 40 years after her death.

Photo turns new US envoy a hero in China

Edward Wong, New York Times

BEIJING: The word on the street these days, whether in Washington or Beijing, is that the US is on the decline and China is on the ascent . But it has taken nothing more than a cup of coffee and a backpack to show that American officials can still evoke awe, respect and envy among Chinese, even if unwittingly.

A photograph taken last Friday of Gary F Locke, the new United States ambassador to China, buying coffee with his 6-year-old daughter and carrying a black backpack at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport has gone viral on the Chinese Internet. The seemingly banal scene has bewildered and disarmed Chinese because they are used to seeing their own officials indulge in privileged lives often propped up by graft and bribery and lavish expense accounts.

Locke and his family were waiting to fly to Beijing when a Chinese-American businessman shot the photograph and posted it on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social networking site. It has been reposted over 40,000 times and has generated thousands of comments. State news organizations have weighed in with favorable articles about Locke…

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