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Puff Piece: Ooh, shiny!

Your Humble Blogger spent much of yesterday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Actually, Your Humble Blogger spent much of yesterday mocking the MFA,B, which richly deserves it, what with their pitiful collection of contemporary art, their baffling insistence on blockbuster shows of not-art, and their risible wall-text. And their delusions of grandeur. Great salad bar, though.

Actually, the thing about the MFA,B is that for all my animosity, I am forced to admit that they have a magnificent collection. Their ancient Greek stuff, for example, particularly the vases, is astonishingly good, and it is incredibly instructive to spend twenty minutes or so looking at a couple of dozen painted vases, each slightly different from the others, giving a picture of the range of subject matter and style, while also making clear the similarities, each to the other, particularly in subject matter and style. Admittedly, you have to really want to find this marvelous collection, because it’s in a darkened corner at the end of a corridor that’s been blocked off for construction. But it’s worth it. And there are more wonderful things: a set of breathtaking works of Arabic calligraphy in marbled paper; a gaggle of Roman heads, of various times and styles; enough Egyptian stuff to satisfy any ten-year-old boy, including, yes, mummies; some insanely lovely Asian scrolls; a tiny ivory Christ as Good Shepherd from Asia with the cutest little-widdle sheep, more like hedgehogs, really; a magnificent Titian-haired St. Catherine, with actual Titian hair; all that Impressionist crap people seem to like; an enormous Medieval Spanish portal, with all the stonework around it; a Sol LeWitt they are hiding somewhere. So, you know, I mock it because it deserves the mockery, but I still go, when I can.

But that’s not what I’m here to puff today. No, I mention the MFA,B because at the moment the cavernous West Lobby space is occupied by a piece called “Artificial Rock # 85”, by Zhan Wang. It’s a big, shiny scholar’s rock made of stainless steel. Now, I walked in to the lobby and went “ooh, shiny scholar’s rock!” and knocked over a bunch of old ladies to go over to it (this is a joke, for those of you unfamiliar with Bostonian Old Ladies in Bombazine; one would hesitate to attempt to knock over a BOLiB with an earthmover. Many of these are the same old ladies who were BOLiB when Francis Dahl wrote about how the Nazis couldn’t knock them over with a Panzer), and it was pretty cool, but when I had a chance to look at it over a long period, I found myself a trifle discontented with it. I liked the idea of it, but it somehow didn’t quite work for me.

So I’m not here to puff the Artificial Rock # 85, either. Now, it happens that a friend of my Gracious Host (and an acquaintance of mine, as well, who I would be happy to be friends with if the opportunity really arose) recently started a blog, on which she posted some lovely photos of scholar’s rocks. Real ones, you understand, not shiny ones. Which reminded me of the Artificial Rock (# 85); I don’t know if Kam would particularly like it, but I wanted to mention it to her. So I decided to do a little internet searching, and immediately found out the name of the artist, which I had of course forgotten, and several pictures of shiny scholar’s rocks, including one at the DeYoung in Golden Gate park, one that’s at the Kennedy Center and one that is evidently in Shanghai.

And then those links led me to a shiny floating island and a shiny rock in a stream, both of which are very cool and, um, shiny, and an installation that evidently just closed up at Williams of a shiny cityscape that looks very cool indeed. And the flickr tag for Zhan Wang has a bunch of pictures of what appears to be a very disturbing installation at the 2006 Shanghai Biennale. Some of those pieces look much cooler than Artificial Rock # 85 (“I thought it would be a series of three—four, at the most"). But that’s not what I’m puffing.

What I am puffed about, at the moment, is that the internet exists. And more than that, that it has accumulated this vast amount of trivia. Much of it searchable. Ten years ago, the internet existed, more or less, but if I had come across something that I was vaguely interested in, a search like that would have been almost totally useless. If I had happened to see a big shiny Scholar’s Rock at more or less the same time that a friend’s friend expressed interest in scholars rocks, I would have been unable to quickly find out the name of the artist I had seen, and probably wouldn’t have bothered mentioning it, because it wouldn’t have been worth it, just to say that there is a big shiny scholar’s rock in Boston at the MFA. And then, I wouldn’t have known that this friend of my friend had an interest in scholar’s rocks anyway.

For all the annoyances of the internet and the bizarre nearness of trivia, it’s terrific to me to have this odd coincidence of interest lead me to a quick, annoyance-free introduction to a handful of pieces of art that I would likely never have seen. Even though I don’t think all the stuff is fantastic, even though I’m not an instant fan. It’s just a nice thing, a new bit of interesting stuff for me, a tasty treat in the box.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Hey, are you in town, or were you recently?

Where in town means either in a vehicle or on the grounds of the MFA,B, yes. Where in town implies some more expansive freedom of movement, not so much.


I have also been marveling about serendipity on the 'Net lately. I mean, I had long ago decided that the actual techniques used by knitters who put tension on the yarn by wrapping around their necks would forever be a mystery to me. All the English books that I've seen mention it refer to it as a dying or obscure art and show a small picture of a Peruvian(?) man doing it, with no guidance. Also, they refer to it as a knitting style which makes purling easier than knitting! Which just makes me itch to try it.

But now that I've posted my little video about casting on to YouTube, the keyword thing at the side leads me to a video of a Portuguese woman casting on using just this technique. Turns out that it's how the Portuguese knit, too. Obscure? Dying out? I think not!

I promptly sat down with needles and yarn, and voila! I now know why purling is easier with this method. I'm such a geek.

*English-language books.

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