365 Days of Art: December 14 – Roger Fry is Born

Roger Fry, by Roger Fry, 1930-1934
Roger Fry, by Roger Fry, 1930-1934

December 14, 1866

Roger Fry, British artist and art critic, is born.

He holds many roles in his lifetime, including writer, painter, member of London’s Bloomsbury group, expert on Italian Old Master paintings, inventor of the term “post-Impressionists”, and Curator of Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

365 Days of Art: December 12 – Artists Protest Whitney to Demand More Female Inclusion, Cornell Hosts a Party

Artists Ann Arien and Lucy Lippard protest outside the Whitney Museum, 1970
Artists Ann Arien and Lucy Lippard protest outside the Whitney Museum, 1970

December 12, 1970

Artists with police whistles protest at the opening of the Whitney Annual because of the few women the Whitney historically exhibits. Faith Ringgold recalls:

In the fall of 1970 Poppy Johnson, Lucy Lippard and I, formed an ad hock [sic] women’s group to protest the small percentage of women in all past Whitney Annuals…Our goal for the 1970 annual was 50% women…The Whitney Museum became the focus of our attention. We went there often to deposit eggs. Unsuspecting male curatorial staff would pick up the eggs and experience the shock of having raw egg slide down the pants of their fine tailor–made suits. Sanitary napkins followed… Generally, everywhere the staff went they found loud and clear messages that women artists were on the Whitney’s “case.” The Whitney Annual that year was to be a sculpture show… Because of the Whitney’s well-known preference for abstract art, …Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud…were the ones I unconditionally demanded to be in the show. Saar and Chase-Riboud became the first black women ever to be exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The total percentage of women in the Whitney annual in 1970 was twenty-three percent as opposed to the previous year’s average of five to ten percent. This was better than ten percent, but it still wasn’t fifty. We decided to demonstrate during the opening to make that point… At a pre-determined time, Lucy Lippard and I began to blow our whistles… We continued to blow. The people gathered around us and we formed a big circle on the floor. Then we got up and walked around chanting, “Fifty percent women, fifty percent women.” Throughout the show we demonstrated every weekend, blowing our police whistles and singing off key…”.

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949
Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

December 12, 1971

Joseph Cornell, known for being so shy that he disappears for an hour in the bathroom to avoid social interactions, hosts a party at his house, with art critic Dore Ashton, writer Octavio Paz and his wife, and editor Barbara Burn.

Ashton recalls:

Knowing his love for desserts, Barbara had baked a pie, and thus, I’m inclined to think, set the tone for the long afternoon. Joseph, who knew of my friendship with Paz, had asked me and when he caught sight of Octovio’s vivacious French wife, he smiled broadly — something few of his acquaintances had ever witnssed. Usually Joseph’s smile was small, hesitant. During the afternoon, Joseph spoke with unaccustomed ease, bringing forth his knowledge of French poetry and engaging in an animated discussion of Mallarmé’s sonnets with both Octavio and Marie-José [Paz’s wife]. He took us to the cellar, showed us all his works in progress as well as some completed boxes and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Before we left, he drew me aside, and whispered with a certain ingenuousness: “Was he really an ambassador?”

365 Days of Art: December 11 – Stolen Mona Lisa Recovered in Hotel Room, Séraphine Dies

La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517
La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517

December 11, 1913

By appointment, antiques dealer Signor Geri and director of the Uffizi Gallery Signor Poggi arrive at Leonardo Vincenzo’s Florence hotel room to inspect what Leonardo claims is the stolen Mona Lisa. Leonardo removes underwear, shoes, a shirt, and a false bottom from a trunk, to reveal the Mona Lisa.

Geri and Poggi are convinced the painting is the original because of the Louvre seal on the back. Poggi bluffs that he needs to authenticate the painting by comparing it with other da Vincis in the Uffizi’s collection. Incredibly, Vincenzo allows the men to walk out with the painting.

Geri and Poggi send the police in to arrest Vincenzo, whose real name is Vincenzo Peruggia.

Now to solve the mystery: it’s far easier than anyone has imagined. Peruggia’s only goal has been to return the painting to Italy. He becomes obsessed with this Robin Hoodesque idea while working at the Louvre five years before. Because many of the guards know and recognize him still, he’s able to walk into the Louvre easily. He takes the painting when he see the Salon Carré is empty. He brings it into a secluded staircase, removes it from its frame, hides it under his painter’s smock, and walks out of the museum.

Art lovers everywhere are overjoyed to hear the Mona Lisa is found. She goes on a celebratory tour of Italy before being returned to France at the end of the month.

December 11, 1942

Séraphine Louis, known as “Séraphine de Senlis”, a self-taught painter of flowers, patterns, and religious imagery, dies in a mental hospital. The movie inspired by her life and work (Séraphine) is incredible.

365 Days of Art: December 10 – Art Thief Tries to Negotiate Return of Mona Lisa

La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517
La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517

December 10, 1913

A man enters Geri’s antique shop in Florence, and after waiting for the other customers to leave, announces that he is in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The man gives his name as Leonardo Vincenzo, and says he has the painting in his hotel room. He explains that he has stolen the painting in order to wrest it back from France and return it to Italy, and asks for a half million lire. His two stipulations are that it be hung in the Uffizi Gallery, and never returned to France. He is put out by what he views as Napoleon’s theft of one of Italy’s rightful pieces of heritage.

Like a smooth operator, Signor Geri, the shop owner, agrees to the price but stalls for time, saying that the director of the Uffizi must see the painting. Leonardo suggests they all meet in his hotel room the next day to take a look.

After Leonardo leaves, Geri contacts the police and the Uffizi.

365 Days of Art: December 8 – Frida and Diego Try Marriage Again

Frida and Diego sign the register in San Francisco, December 8, 1940.
Frida and Diego sign the register in San Francisco, December 8, 1940.

December 8, 1940

After being divorced for a little more than a year, Frida and Diego marry for the second time, at the courthouse in San Francisco. He goes to work later that day, on the murals on Treasure Island. When he takes off his shirt, his assistants and the public spectators who are there see that his undershirt is covered in Frida’s magenta lipstick.

365 Days of Art: December 7 – Judges Consider Brunelleschi’s Proposal for Duomo

Filippo Brunelleschi, plans for lifting construction materials for Duomo, c. 1418
Filippo Brunelleschi, plans for lifting construction materials for Duomo, c. 1418

December 7, 1418

Judges consider the model that Brunelleschi submits for the competition to build a Duomo for Florence’s cathedral.

His proposal includes not only building techniques to make such a large structure possible (a self-supporting shell with a rib structure, and using brick laid in rotating herringone patterns) but also the use of machines he invents to lift the materials into position. It is an engineering first.

365 Days of Art: December 5 – Dieter Roth Receives Award for Artist Books

Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (Literature Sausage), 1969, Ground pages of Halbzeit by Martin Walser, gelatin, lard, spices, in natural casing
Dieter Roth, Literaturwurst (Literature Sausage), 1969, Ground pages of Halbzeit by Martin Walser, gelatin, lard, spices, in natural casing

December 5, 1960

Dieter Roth is awarded the William and Noma Copley Foundation Award for his artist books.

He’s credited as the inventor of this genre, where the book isn’t meant to be read in the way we might read a paperback novel, but to be appreciated as a work of art. For Roth, books don’t need to have text. They don’t need to have bindings or pages either.

Humor and wordplay are a staple of his work. He gleefully titles one book Schiesse (Shit). What author does this? A favorite pun is the proximity of his last name to the term “rot”, and he frequently works with food to emphasize this connection. Another book contains no pages per se, but labeled envelopes, inside of which are bits of vanilla pudding and mutton.

In the work above, Roth grinds up real pages of a book called Halbzeit by Martin Walser, then adds gelatin, lard and spices and puts the meaty mess in a casing. Voila! A book sausage, or a Literaturwurst.

Needless to say, his works are either a dream or a nightmare for art conservators. I went to a show at MoMA several years ago and the sweet smell of chocolate was surprisingly prevalent in the gallery, even 50 years after the creation of the works. There were stained and rotted sausages and cheeses, but thankfully I couldn’t smell those. Other exhibitions aren’t so sweet: there are stories of museum guards having to stand outside the gallery because of the putrid smell of rotting food.

I love this guy!

365 Days of Art: December 2 – MoMA Writes Back to Cornell

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949
Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

December 2, 1938

Miss Iris Barry of MoMA replies to Joseph Cornell’s letter of November 3:

Dear Mr. Cornell:

I am sorry to have kept you so long for an answer about the three films you so kindly let us examine. We should like to acquire THE PAPER DOLL (Paper White) and the untitled Eclair film about red Indians. Though they are all in rather bad condition, Mr. Kerns thinks that perhaps we can make something of them by duping…”

.

His letter was so polite and kind, is it silly that I wish hers to him were nicer? She didn’t even ask if the injury he mentioned had healed…