Wednesday, February 11, 2015


To the New York Historical Society to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibition, Pilgrimage, which was terrific.  But first, a pilgrimage of a different sort, for me, to Thomas Crawford's figure of the Dying Indian Chief Contemplating the Progress of American Civilization - usually seen in company on the pediment of the Capitol in DC, but here turning his head away in deep despair from the nouvelle italienne cuisine on offer in the NYHS's cafe.  I really can't see this representative of his race thinking all that much of ricotta cavatelli with lobster tail, brussel sprouts and chervil.

The Leibovitz show was an exercise - a very moving exercise - in taking portraits of people without the living beings themselves (plus a few landscapes - Niagara, Old Faithful, Spiral Jetty - the latter a kind of Alpha and Omega for AL).  Her personal pantheon included Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln, Emerson and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and Darwin and Freud, and Julia Margaret Cameron - many of them the same names (and indeed landscapes) that I'd have come up with, which made the exhibition curiously personal.  Everything was shot with a very long exposure in low light, deepening somber colors, representing the ordinariness of their interiors or garden, whether it was the dull acqueous blue-green of Georgia O'Keeffe's bed linen, or - perhaps my favorite - Emerson's dull grey-green hat hanging on grey/green art nouveau wallpaper.  It was full of love and melancholy and loss.  

What I hadn't known - and the top image is an homage to the fact - is that Daniel Chester Trench used his own hands as models for those of Lincoln on the Lincoln Memorial - I wonder if those are Crawford's hands, above?

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