Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Speer During The Final Winter Of The War

A weary Albert Speer rests on a doorstep during the final winter of the war.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

An Acute Observation

Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation; you do not find it among gross people.

Samuel Johnson

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 1944

Admiral William Halsey shares Thanksgiving Dinner with seamen aboard the USS New Jersey in November 1944.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving 1944

American soldiers enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner in a bombed-out residence in Waurichen, Germany, in 1944.

On Thanksgiving Day 1944, it was believed that the bulk of the fighting in the European Theater had ended, at least on the Western Front. Americans were already on German soil, and it was expected that the march to Berlin would be a relatively easy one.

The Battle Of The Bulge was soon to alter that assumption.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Art Goes On During Wartime

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988)
Ginger Rogers
National Portrait Gallery, Washington

Pink Georgia Marble
Dimensions Unknown


During the war, Ansel Adams had received permission from the U.S. Government to photograph the Japanese internment camp of Manzanar.

At the very same time, at another Japanese internment camp, the Japanese-American sculptor, Isamu Noguchi, was working as a voluntary internee. Noguchi was the only voluntary internee of the entire war—but his voluntary status quickly became, on government orders, involuntary. He was declared “a suspicious person” and, in late 1942, the government actually attempted to deport him (Noguchi fought the deportation, and prevailed).

While in internment, Noguchi sculpted his famous bust of the film actress, Ginger Rogers, a close personal friend of Noguchi.

Upon receipt of the artwork, Rogers kept the bust on prominent display in her Hollywood home for the rest of her life; after her death, the bust was purchased from the Rogers estate by the National Portrait Gallery. It has been on display in Washington—unless on tour or on loan—ever since.

Noguchi was a close personal friend and admirer of German sculptor Arno Breker. The influence of Breker may be seen in the portrait bust of Rogers. During the Noguchi-Breker friendship, Breker was to sculpt a portrait bust of Noguchi.

Germany’s defeat resulted in the end, for practical purposes, of Breker’s career. Much of Breker’s work was destroyed by Allied occupiers, a stupid and vicious act of vengeance. Ever after, Breker found it near-impossible to reestablish his pre-war reputation and acquire new commissions, even within Germany.

In contrast, Noguchi’s career thrived after the war. He became one of the most prolific and popular sculptors of his time, not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

Anyone who has seen, in person, Noguchi’s portrait bust of Rogers knows it is an inspired work of art, striking and original and true. It instantly captures the viewer’s fascination—and holds it. It always draws a crowd.

Having seen the bust three or four times, I would estimate its height to be 22 inches (the National Portrait Gallery does not offer the bust’s dimensions on the NPG website, nor do other standard and reliable sources).

Not everyone appreciates Noguchi’s bust of Rogers.

Washington Post cultural writer Philip Kennicott called it “hauntingly blank” and “an impassive, dour mask”.

The bust is anything but blank, impassive or dour.

I must assume semi-abstraction has yet to make its way to Kennicott’s world—and that Kennicott would never appreciate Greek Cycladic art, which the Rogers bust greatly resembles.

During visits to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, Noguchi surely studied Greek Cycladic busts at the Louvre. The influence of Greek Cycladic art is almost as apparent in the Rogers bust as the influence of Breker.

If I were Kennicott, I would have a second look.

The piece is unforgettable.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Art Goes On During Wartime

Ansel Adams (1902-1984)
The Tetons And The Snake River
Records Of The U.S. National Park Service


I am not at all a fan of Ansel Adams, but this is undeniably a great photograph.

The photograph was taken at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

It may be my favorite of all Ansel Adams’s works.

Monday, November 12, 2012

“Geld Und Geist"

In a high civilization, the things that satisfy our innumerable desires look as if they were supplied automatically, mechanically, so that nothing is owed to particular persons; goods belong by congenital right to anybody who takes the trouble to be born.

This is the infant's normal greed prolonged into adult life and headed for retribution. When sufficiently general, the habit of grabbing, cheating, and evading reciprocity is the best way to degrade a civilization, and perhaps bring about its collapse.

Jacques Barzun


Peter McGuire, violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra, has announced that he is leaving the orchestra, having accepted a position with the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich.

In making his move, McGuire is taking a brutal financial loss. Musicians of the Zurich Tonhalle are paid far less than musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. Further, Zurich is one of the three or four highest-cost cities in the world, with a cost of living more than double the cost of living in the Twin Cities. The financial sacrifice McGuire is making is considerable.

Why is McGuire leaving? Because he is upset that the Minnesota Orchestra has asked musicians to accept a pay cut.

Why Zurich? Because other U.S. orchestras are reluctant to hire Minnesota Orchestra musicians, as Minnesota Orchestra musicians have long been known within the orchestra field as labor agitators. When Minnesota Orchestra musicians transfer to other American orchestras, they invariably are obliged to move to orchestras with less prestige and lower pay, such as the Oregon Symphony.

McGuire is not a learned or sophisticated man (as the photograph above amply demonstrates). In a news story about the current labor troubles at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the local press offered the following quote from McGuire:

There was this kind of “the bully's going to meet you at lunchtime” feeling for at least a year and a half. You say I'm much less valuable than I have been, and what choice do I have but to prove that's not the case? A 42 percent cut? Would you not look for work the next day?

If I found myself in McGuire’s shoes, I would certainly—unlike McGuire—not choose to cut off my nose to spite my face.

However, I am not a hillbilly. It is difficult for me to grasp what goes through the mind of a hillbilly.

(In the back of my mind is one thought: I wonder whether McGuire is leaving the Twin Cities in hopes of improving what clearly is a deplorable housing situation. I would be the first to acknowledge that McGuire’s current abode appears to be truly gruesome, and impossible to endure much longer.)

McGuire, I fear, has a few unpleasant surprises in store once he leaves the U.S.

In Zurich, McGuire will find, very quickly, that the Swiss, as a people, do not take to hillbillies.

McGuire will also find that the Zurich Tonhalle is not an orchestra in which hillbillies are welcomed and made to feel comfortable.

Lastly, I predict that McGuire will be shown the door within two years of arriving in Zurich. The Tonhalle will seize upon some technicality, as the Swiss are prone to do, as excuse for evicting McGuire not only from the Tonhalle but from Switzerland itself.

What will McGuire do then to earn a living? Return to the U.S. and pray for a revival of “Hee Haw”?

More likely, McGuire will simply ask for handouts.


According to Dobson West, President of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the musicians of the SPCO, having rejected all salary cuts, have proposed that the SPCO take the following steps in order to raise revenue so as to sustain their current salaries:

(1) Increase ticket prices.

(2) Raise more donations.

(3) Reallocate and redefine restricted gifts.

(4) Initiate “extraordinary” draws from the endowment.

(5) Borrow money.

I pity Mr. West.

Mr. West is dealing not so much with a musician labor problem, always amenable to solution, as a musician IQ problem.

IQs are determined at birth, and the musicians of the SPCO clearly were not winners in the Great IQ Sweepstakes—and there is nothing Mr. West and the SPCO Board can do to address IQ deficiencies among the Saint Paul musicians.

IQs are fixed, permanent and immutable, not amenable to being improved through encouragement and enticement, no matter the effort.


What kind of person issues public letters full of basic grammatical errors?

In fact, what kind of person issues public letters at all?

Well . . . “Mary Lois Hall, M.D.” does.

“Mary Lois Hall, M.D.” has written two public letters criticizing the Board of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (she very well may have written more than two such letters for all I know). The letters are chilling for the lack of education they evince on the part of the author.

I offer two sentences, one each from the letters signed “Mary Lois Hall, M.D.”:

Please re-read the excerpted paragraph above, especially the part about how an organization can be debilitated, damage its reputation, and loose its focus at a strategic and operational level.

Now I am truly scared that the SPCO will loose many of these extraordinary artists, which will destroy the soul of our beloved and unique chamber orchestra.

Would someone please offer assistance to this foolish woman, and explain to her the difference between “lose” and “loose”? And bring her up to snuff on the rules of parallel construction?

That there are people like “Mary Lois Hall, M.D.” out there, running loose, writing idiotic letters, is what makes ME feel “truly scared”.

According to state records, there is one physician named Mary Lois Hall licensed by the State Of Minnesota. Mary Lois Hall, according to such records, obtained her medical degree from Rush University.

I suppose that explains everything.


There is something sordid, creepy and cancerous running through the world of music today.

Last night, I read a dumbfounding statement on the website of a major American orchestra that just wrapped up a tour of Europe.

Yesterday, the concertmaster of the American orchestra wrote his own personal weblog entry on the orchestra’s website. In his entry, the concertmaster, among other things, praised the guest artist, a European instrumentalist, that had joined the American orchestra on its European tour.

The guest artist in question, from 2002 onward, had faced numerous allegations of pedophilia in his home country, with the result that a summer music camp he personally founded was first seized and later shut down, permanently, by his nation’s government.

It is inconceivable that the concertmaster of the American orchestra, who studied in Europe at the time in which the investigation was coming to a head (and being widely discussed among musicians and lawyers all over Europe), was not fully aware of what had happened.

Nonetheless, this particular concertmaster wrote on his orchestra’s website yesterday:

It has been a real pleasure to work with [so and so] on this tour. He is a fabulous [instrumentalist], as well as a very nice guy.

I managed to restrain myself from submitting a comment: “And I bet the 11-year-old boys he raped (and later paid off) think he’s a real nice guy, too!”

Thursday, November 1, 2012

London 1940

A rare color photograph of Central London in 1940, showing damage caused by The Blitz.

In 1940, The Blitz was ongoing, not to end until May 1941.


World War I broke out largely because of an arms race, and World War II because of the lack of an arms race.

Herman Kahn