Archive for December, 2009

December 19, 2009 Snow Storm

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

It snowed in Washington, DC, on Saturday, December 19, 2009. About 16 inches blanketed my neighborhood. For kids and dogs it was time for play and tail-wagging:



Connecting the dots

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

You Are What You Buy . . .

America’s embrace of this belief is a major cause of the nation’s current economic, social and political predicament. When did we first adopt this way of life? The answer is there was no single moment; the seduction was gradual. Yet if you were to go searching for markers along the path to our present baleful state, one way station might be the event mentioned by Deborah Solomon in her review of two books about Pop artists Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, in today’s NY Times:

“It is probably relevant that in July 1959, the so-called kitchen debate was held between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon. Staged in Moscow, in a faux suburban house constructed expressly for the occasion, the encounter offered Vice President Nixon the chance to demonstrate the everyday comforts and conveniences of American life, from Pepsi-Cola and Betty Crocker cake mixes to Cadillacs and G.E. dishwashers. The debate was seen around the world and redefined America virtually overnight as a consumerist utopia where the goods you stored in your kitchen cabinets were as much a symbol of cherished values as the bald eagle and the flag.”


kitchen debate


Found art with a seasonal theme

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

This week I raked leaves in front of the house. While cleaning out the tree box near the curb I found, amongst brown oak leaves blown there from up the block and around the corner, a crumpled piece of paper. Unfolded, it revealed a drawing done with colored pencils. The artist’s use of line and color suggests it is from the hand of the same child artist responsible for the sidewalk chalk-drawing of a Mouse Musketeer I came upon last summer. (That earlier work is reproduced here.)

On the 9″ by 6″ sheet are two figures: a reindeer and snowman. The snowman sports a two-tiered hat, a classic carrot-orange nose, a lopsided mouth like Dick Cheney’s — and a rarely seen pair of legs and feet.




The relational displacement of the snowman’s eyes, nose and mouth recall the portrait innovation Picasso developed in the 1930s — a style that led many exasperated viewers to blurt out, “My kid could do that!”:




i live. i ride. i am. i yi yi.

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

The first six words in the title of this post — if you count each un-capitalized “i” as a word — is the tagline of a new advertising campaign for Jeep vehicles. The campaign’s 30-second TV commercials have not been well received by media observers. See, for example, comments herehere, and here. Jeep is also placing “i live, i ride, i am” advertisements in magazines, and in my opinion these are truly, madly, deeply, bad. I’m talking about text so awful it defies parody. Here is a two-page spread in the December 14, 2009 edition of TIME magazine (pages 34-35):




The words that appear in faint gray type in the upper right quadrant — the text providing the premise for the punchy tagline — reads as follows:

i’ve been through hell and high water

i can text but prefer to talk

i read Keats and wear cleats

i think toy dogs are ok

but big dogs rule

i get my “fresh catch” from

the sushi bar sometimes

i wear all earth tones,

but mud is my favorite.

Yes, those lower-case “i”s are indigenous to the copy. It wouldn’t surprise me if a phalanx of Apple attorneys were suspiciously eyeing those “i”s. It also wouldn’t surprise me if those same lawyers offer Chrysler, in lieu of crippling litigation, a friendly settlement proposal calling for minor changes in the tag line:

i live. i ride. i phone. i pod. i mac. i am.

But for now let’s give credit where credit is due. It was the Mad Men at Jeep’s advertising firm who came up with the idea of eschewing margins in favor of pseudo-poetically centering each of the nine descriptive lines. And it was their idea to italicize the word sometimes — a nuance sure to render many a reader weak-kneed.

I confess I was puzzled, however, to find the bold lack of punctuation surrendering to convention just when the statement reaches its final two lines. It’s as if the copywriter, almost done with the task, was suddenly touched by the ghost of her tenth grade English teacher, who whispered a plea:  A comma and a period, please!

On the other hand, who among us can resist forming a wry smile at the rhyming of Keats with cleats?  Clever.

As for the trendy sentiments expressed in the ad, yes, they’re sophomoric. But so what? (The visiting ghost came from the tenth grade, remember?) Maybe the whole thing is an homage to the malarkey found in the Manifesto of Thompson Hotels?

But enough about words. The bigger oddity is the photo in the left panel of the ad. This, presumably, is the Keatsian survivor of the fabled watery hell (or was it hellish waters?). This is a man who does not know for sure whether tonight’s dinner will include sushi. Can you blame him for scowling at us? Of course not.

But I wonder: Why was he asked to take a pose that is in-your-face and awkward, macho and goofy? Hey, I know the arm swing’s a guy thing; I do it too. But here’s the risk: Someone will be tempted to suggest this guy’s next gig ought to be on stage playing opposite Katisha (She: “My right elbow has a fascination that few can resist.” He: “Ditto my left, baby.”)

Is it just me, or do you also find the more you stare at the picture the more his bare forearm looks like a raw turkey drumstick attached to his left ear? (OK, maybe it’s just too close to Thanksgiving for me.) Whether it be a drumstick or an arm, the fact is the thing’s projecting forward from pictorial space, and none too elegantly. As artists will testify, foreshortening can be a bitch. See, for example, Durer’s posthumously published treatise, De Symmetria. So why did the creator of the ad go there, and why compound the problem by featuring a limb that’s freakishly fingerless?

At least when we watch Simon Cowell’s bad habit of scratching the back of his neck, we see him in motion (as in this video at 1:41 – 1:43) and we get to see his hand, as shown in this screen shot:




[As for the title of this post, if you want to read more about “i yi yi” (aka, “Aye Yi Yi”), an expression used to show frustration, hopelessness, sadness, annoyance, click here and here.]

New Acquisition: Forged Steel Sculpture by Herb Babcock

Friday, December 4th, 2009

I recently acquired at auction this abstract sculpture.  Four views:







Just 16″ tall, this is an early work in forged steel by the contemporary sculptor, Herb Babcock. Babcock was born in Bloomdale, Ohio in 1946. In 1967 he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, then received his BFA in sculpture from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1969 and an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1973. He currently serves as Chairman of the Glass Department at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he has been a professor since 1974. Babcock lives in Oxford, Michigan. His website is here; a curriculum vitae, which unfortunately stops at the year 2000, is found here. An example of his work in glass is this beautiful vessel. Today Babcock may be known best for his public commissions, often of a monumental size, that combine glass, steel, and stone.

UPDATE (04-02-2011)

On March 12 I received the following email message from the sculptor, Herb Babcock, along with three photos. His title for this 1967 piece is “Balanced Forms”:

Mr. Ettner,
Can’t remember if I sent you these images of when this sculpture was new. It was a purchase prize award at the Cleveland Institute of Art Spring Student Show, 1967, where I was in my 3 year working on a BFA in sculpture. The piece was made up of forged and cut steel. The interiors of the steel forms were polished metal. The outside areas were finished with a patina of burnt in linseed oil.  It looks like the piece has not been cleaned for quite a while.
Best regards,