Sunday Salon 11-25-12

I’m finally making a return visit to the Salon after a few weeks away. Those weeks have been fairly full. A short visit to San Francisco (and its art museums) was part of the mix. Writing program notes for the Reno Chamber Orchestra’s annual Nevada Chamber Music Festival was also a time and energy devourer – ten concerts worth of research and note taking, and 9,000+ words of actual writing, in less than two weeks. Those notes will be available at the Reno Chamber Orchestra website later this week. Add in grading piles of papers for my Music Appreciation class, and the full-time job, and … just writing about it makes me tired and ready for a nap.

Spending a goodly amount of time with the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy was quite inspiring. It’s a world of art and artists with which I was completely unfamiliar. Now I’m working my way through the exhibition catalog. So don’t be surprised if in the coming days, there are a number of calligraphy-related posts. Exploring both the work and the lives of great artists like Zhao Mengfu and Dong Qichang should be enlightening and entertaining.

The Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind’s Eye exhibition at SFMOMA is also well worth your time if you’re in the neighborhood. His work is much, much more than the familiar, ubiquitous targets and flags, which are in fact but a very small part of the exhibition.

After taking far too much time to do so, I’ve finally completed and written about 1616: The World in Motion by Thomas Christensen (who happens to be Director of Publications at that same Asian Art Museum). It’s a great, fact-packed read with many beautiful reproductions of art works.

The books and compact discs and DVDs and Blu-Rays keep accumulating on my shelves, and couch, and floor, and just about every other available surface on which I might pile things. Who knows where my attention will land next – certainly not me. But through this blog, if I behave myself and post regularly, you’ll find out not long after I do. Enjoy your week!

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Thomas Christensen: 1616

Thomas Christensen
1616: The World in Motion
(2012, Counterpoint, 384 pages)

Books examining events within a particularly significant year in history have proliferated recently. Leading the way would probably be Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, although Gavin Menzies’s work of speculative history 1421: The Year China Discovered America has also garnered much attention. Thomas Christensen’s 1616: The World in Motion distinguishes itself by the breadth of his vision, taking in the entirety of the globe as he does, as well as the book’s numerous wonderful illustrations of art works and period maps. The California-based Christensen is the author of The Discovery of America and New World/New Words: Translating Latin American Literature, and the translator of works by authors like Carlos Fuentes and Laura Esquivel. Director of Publications at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Christensen, one of whose occupations is the design of art exhibition catalogs, executed the uncommonly beautiful design of 1616. In the Preface, Christensen notes that, while 1616 isn’t an iconic year in history like a 1066 or 1492, it is possible “to make out intimations of modernity in developing globalism, militarism, imperialism, diasporism, colonialism, capitalism, rationalism, bureaucratization, urbanization, [and] individualism.”

His Prologue lands us in the court of James I of England on the first day of 1616. James is about to witness a performance of Ben Jonson’s The Golden Age Restored, a masque (a stage play incorporating elaborate costumes, scenery, and dancing) that depicts the reform of a corrupt world by Jove, the king of Heaven, and the goddess Pallas Athena. Christensen uses this masque as a frame in which to discuss that fragile, rapidly changing time, where culture after culture, while welcoming progress, also longed to return to the stability and grandeur of the past.

A portrait of the recently established port of Acapulco opens Chapter 1, “Silk and Silver.” Paltry and dirty though it appeared then, the town was very important because much of the world’s silver trade passed through there. Goods exchanged in Acapulco might travel the 200-mile China Road to Mexico City (then the center of New Spain), or perhaps be taken via the Europe Road to Veracruz, then transported to Seville and on to Europe. Acapulco was also the only legal port in the Americas for the trans-Pacific trade. “The Manila-Acapulco galleons,” Christensen tells us, “were the final piece in the connection of the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia – they marked the beginning of globalization.” Read more