Chillin’ at Manet’s Bar, a Chilly Mix, and A Warm Poem

Happy New Year everyone! I hope this finds you well.

The Cortauld Institute is arguably London’s most famous and traditionally-minded art history school, and they host one of London’s most important collections of Medieval through Modernist art. Maybe it’s because they’re so traditionally-minded that the lighting was so bad: it felt like I had been transported back to Italy where no one gives a shit whether or not you can see a DaVinci. At any rate, I’m grateful that I got my lazy ass out of bed early, because it gave me the opportunity to be alone with some of the most remarkable Cezannes and Manets I’ve laid my eyes on.

The collection of Cezannes they have is intriguing: a couple still-lives, a landscape, and a couple late-life portraits distill his career into highlights. His portraits, in particular, resonated in their atmospherics, colors, and cartoonish brilliance. It’s unsurprising that more contemporary artists like the dudes from the Triplets de Belville (I’ve cheated here by giving you two remarkably similar pictures, but you have to admit…) are still following in his footsteps: there’s a quality and clarity of line in his art that I think is overlooked, often, in favor of his colors and forms.

The highlight, of course, was Manet’s The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres, which is an artwork I’ve always known I should read up on, but have neglected to do so. Maybe Olympia just seems more historically crucial. But I spent a long time with this one, trying to figure out that exact spot where the gaze I receive from the barmaid and my reflection as the top-hat dude might work out. Surprise, surprise, it never really does. But what actually interested me the most was that, as far as I could tell, none of the bottles at the bar had been opened. Maybe I’m missing something here, but surely, if it’s as crowded as it looks in here, a couple people besides myself would have stepped up to the bar by now and asked for a drink. Granted, it looks like a pricey place. I guess this just adds to my intrigue with this painting and the big theme of performance: real events and objects are distorted, fragmented, repositioned. We have just the acrobat’s legs, the odd distance between the bar and everything else happening here, the performance of this social space, the barmaid that some have suggested in also a prostitute (?), the mirroring image (both within the mirror itself and in the imperfectly horizontally-reflected still-life of the bar), and the absorption of the viewer into the false architectural space of the painting. Not to mention the fact that I could never grown facial hair that is so awesome, or that the barmaid would be so nonplussed by seeing me. At any rate, it’s an astonishing artwork, and I read up on it a wee bit in the gift shop. Apparently there’s some sweet stuff about consumer culture in there too, which makes sense.

In my free time this afternoon, I created short but chilly January mix for you all. None of it is particularly new, just nice to listen to these days. I hope you can hear it – I’ll only leave it up for a few days.

January Mix

I’ve had this poem in mind ever since I heard Kay Ryan read it to me. It manages not to be saccharine, while inventing a gorgeous metaphor for a hackneyed poetic subject:

Tree Heart/True Heart

The hearts of trees
are serially displaced
pressed annually
outward to a ring.
They aren’t really
what we mean
by hearts, they so
easily acquiesce,
willing to thin and
stretch around some
upstart green. A
real heart does not
give way to spring.
A heart is true.
I say no more springs
without you.


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