In the Footsteps of Titans
Last week, as I was doing research on Elsa Rady for my thesis, I came across a show, put on by Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1993, that featured her work alongside Robert Mapplethorpe’s. The show combined Rady’s wheel thrown vessel still lifes and Mapplethorpe’s photographic still lifes. Since this is what C and I are doing- wheel thrown work/still lifes + black and white photographs of minimalist still lifes- I immediately set about getting my haptic hands on a catalog from the exhibition. I requested it through the interlibrary loan (ILL) system available at the university’s library. A few days later, I received an email from the library saying the library could not order it. Crestfallen but stubbornly insistent on getting it, the next time I went to the library, I asked about what had happened. I was told that there was only one other library in the country that owns the catalog and they were unwilling to loan it out.
Before I continue the story I must provide some background. I have somehow befriended one of the librarians. A nice though unintentionally patronizing guy with the worst adenoidal voice ever, I was introduced to him and, since I willingly engage in conversations with him, have earned a certain amount of his attention. He and I will most likely never be besties but being in his presence doesn’t result in a sharp increase in my homicidal internal monologue either- a rarity in my life. So now I have a friend who works at my school’s library. Back to the story…
As I was standing at the counter trying to silence the voice in my head instructing me on the various ways I could dismember and dispose of the corpse of the ILL librarian (when I asked him if there was some other way to get the catalog he suggested amazon.com… I guess I should have qualified my statement with “.. without my having to pay for it.” though I always thought that went without saying.) my librarian friend came out of his office and rescued the ILL idiot from certain death. I went back to my friend’s office where we proceeded to chat about the catalog and why I needed it. He eventually realized that I wanted it because it was absurdly relevant to what C and I are doing and bought it for the library so that I could be the one and only person to ever check it out.
Picking up the catalog was sort of like what I imagine holding a first edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray would be. Call it a revelation, an epiphany, a spiritual awakening, whatever- I was looking at a show with the same intent and look as what C and I hope ours has, except this one was by people who were titans of their respective media. Not only are they titans but they are titans that both C and I love and admire, which makes the whole thing infinitely better.
After spending a few minutes getting the *SQUEES* out of my system, with T recording it for posterity/backmail, I began examining the pictures and read the essay written by the curator of the show. After the first reading there was another round of *SQUEES* and then a call to C to *SQUEE* to her. Then we met up and *SQUEED* over the catalog together.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the show was that it wasn’t of Mapplethorpe’s figures. The exhibit was of his still lifes. If you have been living under a rock for the last century, Mapplethorpe is best known for his striking, frequently homoerotic, black and white portraits. The portraits are stunning but his still lifes make up a huge portion of his oeuvre. They are quite minimalist in their composition, black and white, and breathtaking. And because Mapplethorpe was Mapplethorpe, there is a level of sexiness in them, even if the subject is a lone eggplant. Coupled with Rady’s pottery, the works showcased were divergent and interconnected at the same time. So stunning in print that I can only imagine what seeing them in person would have been like. I would have died, happily, from an overdose of *SQUEES*.
Having this catalog is a boon for many reasons. The essay will be an excellent source for my thesis. It provides C and I with a precedent, of sorts, that we can work from when putting together our show. The biggest boon, however, is for the haptic (by the way, I just learned this word and adore it. I’ve used it repeatedly, without any provocation, since.) part of me. When I look at Rady’s work I can feel, without having ever physically felt, the texture of her vessels, their fluid, unbroken lines, the subtle throwing rings, the dry yet silken matte glazes, and the dry softness of the unglazed porcelain. Mapplehtorpe’s photographs counter those textures with the slickness of the paper and the moist, living feel of plants.
The discovery of the show and my eventual procurement of its accompanying catalog has added another, happily serendipitous, chapter to the final show saga. 7 months from now C and I will be using the catalog for inspiration as we install and introduce our show for the final chapter. Till next time…