Jan 28, 2012


Mary Boone Gallery
January 7 - February 4
541 West 24 Street, NYC

How many Chinese does it take to create
130 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds? 

Ai Weiwei knows the answer.

1,600 artisans in the Chinese town of Jingdezhen sculpted and hand-painted over 130 million ceramic seeds.

Ai Weiwei's  current installation at the Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea is a smaller version of the original commissioned by the Tate Modern in London.  The Tate allowed visitors to walk, sit, run or recline on the installation.  It turns out that a toxic dust was given off from all that perambulating. Visitors had to be prevented from stomping on the seeds, as is the case at Mary Boone Gallery.  But no matter.  Whether or not you can interact with the seeds in a tactile way or from afar, it's still worth taking a trip to the gallery.

If you want to buy a sunflower seed... Sotheby's sold 100,000 seeds weighing 220 pounds for $559,394 which equals $5.60 a seed.  Perhaps, if you received a tax bill for $2.8 million, you would also have to think on a monumental scale.
Photo by Peter Mauss.  For use of this photo contact Peter Mauss @ESTO Photographics.
According to Richard Dorment reporter for The Telegraph, Ai Weiwei "chose to reproduce sunflower seeds in porcelain because during the famine years under Mao they were one of the few reliable sources of food, comfort and social interaction.  For him they symbolize the Chinese people..."
Perhaps in a similar frame of mind, but with a very different motive, Sasha Gong and Scott Seligman have written The Cultural Revolution Cookbook.   Gong contends that  this restrictive and terrifying regime caused people to use what they had, which was very little and produce simple, but tasty dishes.  The book is a collection of recipes, historical narrative and personal memories.

For WeiWei food is symbolic of comfort, for Gong food is comfort.  For the visitor looking at the sunflower seeds, its massiveness cannot fail to impresses, even in its altered form.  In 2007, I was in Berlin Hamburger-Bahnhof Museum. The lobby was filled with a carpet of gold candies, a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
The question I am still asking myself is: 
How is the intention of Gonzalez-Torres piece different from Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds?
Answer:  The Gonzalez-Torres piece is much better for the dentists.

Jan 23, 2012

Creating Plant Communities


Breaking the Rules
Ecological Design for the Real World
New York Botanical Garden
Thursday, January 19, 2012

What will happen if I do nothing? 
When it comes to gardening,
I probably ask myself that question everyday. 
Usually, my answer is disaster. 
Larry Weaner said NO! NO! NO! 
And I tried to listen. 


Yes. Really.  Match the plants to the habitat where those plant grow.  All native plants are not the same even if they all come from the Northeastern US.

PLANTS are married.
A plant is part of a COMMUNITY and that is the most important part of looking at any plant. Plants complement one another in a competitive landscape.  They benefit one another.  It's understanding those relationships, that lead to a successful ecological design.

Try an

Weaner advocates using disturbance to your advantage.  Perpetually weeding will spread weed seed.  Things change over time.  In nature plants die.  Understand how plants have involved over thousands of years.  And use that knowledge.

CUT it down.
BURN it up.

Mow it down.  Mowing is a management technique.  Selecting when and how high to mow creates stronger plants and eliminates weed seed.  Most interesting and used widely in Europe, is burning.  And although, in the US it would be hard to do, Weaner told us that the Native Americans had been using this method for years and years.  Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omar Stewart.

Weaner ended by playing part of Hayden string quartet.  For him the music expressed what he feels when he is "in" one of these landscapes.

I thought what he was saying was profound.  Some of us understand parts of it.  I am still learning.

I include the outline Weaner handed out at the lecture, because if you have the opportunity to hear him speak, do so.

Wildflower Meadow Randall's Island


Because considering ecological science changes everything.

Plant Communities
Specialist and Generalist Species
Plant Proliferation Strategies
Competition and Vegetative Stability
Natural Succession
R and K Factor Species


Vertical Layers
Planning for Plant Compositions that change over time
Design  by Management
Design by editing during the Management Phase

Soil Preparation
Imported Topsoil vs. Native Soil
Amendments:  Organic Material and Fertilizer
Supplemental Nutrition
Applying Disturbance

NATURAL RECRUITMENTLook for naturally recruited desirable plants before you mow or weed
Assist propagule disperal
Seed dispersal
Foliar Disturbance: Revealing Succession
Expanding Nurse Plant Zones
Manipulating Sunlight



Relative Vegetative Stability
Native Plant Dominance in the Seed Bank



All photos from the Wildflower Meadows
on Randall's Island

Jan 19, 2012

There's the RUB!

Eric Fonteneau:
La Bibliotheque

FIAF Gallery
22 East 60 St.
January 19- February 11
Hotel Sofitel
45 West 44 St.
January 19 - February 11
To Be or Not to Be?
Hamlet is not the only one who asked himself this question. So has Eric Fonteneau. His installation at the Alliance Francaise Gallery puts all of us iPad users to shame.  Over the past three years, I have sold, given away and refined my collection of "real" books.  The shelves are now filled with digital devices. There are a few tomes that no matter what have to stay.  Eric Fonteneau reminded me why.  He has turned the tables on all of us 21st. century geeks.

Fonteneau likes libraries, especially the beautiful old books they contain: moroccan leather bindings, embossed lettering, peculiar typography and the rhythm of laden shelves are his subject matter.  Rubbing, an old technique associated with things endangered of disappearing are the art form Fonteneau has taken to a new level. 
In a dimly lit room, overlaid with sepia tones, illusionistic, but based in reality, Fonteneau creates a work of art literally pieced together with push pins.  It's a amalgam of his travels to libraries around the globe.  The bindings become more mesmerizing than they would in real life. The tiny protruding plywood desks and chairs add a note of humor to an otherwise sober experience.  The quiet gives way to laughter. 

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but Eric Fonteneau through artifice makes me want to open an actual book once again.

Jan 13, 2012

Identity Crisis

Collecting the

Then and Now

Michelle Facos and David Werner

Scandinavia House

What defines Swedish painting?
I am not the only one who has no idea.
At the end of the 19th century, the painters of Sweden asked themselves this question.  They moved to France, cavorted with the Impressionists, picked up a few tips, were called imitative, fled  home and began to investigate visual ideas about their country.
On Thursday night Michelle Facos (art historian) and David Werner (collector) attempted to define what characterizes Swedish Modernism.  Werner compared the mood of these landscape paintings to a Bergman movie:  introspective, contemplative and symbolist.  Facos agreed.  These artists translated their emotional connection with the landscape to the canvas.  Their palette: shades of gray.  Swedish painters of this period wanted to create a national school = national identity.

They did not succeed.  This period is a minor blip in history of art.  The American Scandinavian Foundation in organizing Luminous Modernism wants us to take another look at this period.   And although these paintings will probably not remain in my memory, I do appreciate the attempt to articulate a passion for landscape; after all that is what I am trying to do in my own work.


Scandinavian Art Comes to America, 1912
Scandinavia House
October 25, 2011 - February 11, 2012 

Michelle Facos is Professor of the History of Art at Indiana University, Bloomington.  She is author of Nationalism and the Nordic Imagination:  Swedish Art of the 1890s.

David Werner is a practicing ophthalmologist with a sub speciality in pediatric ophthalmology.  He has been a collector of Scandinavian art for the last fifteen years.

Jan 10, 2012

Half Provokes A Tear: UXMAL, Mexico

WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVELING, I usually follow the advice of friends.  Mexico is different.  I have resisted going south of the border for years.  Feeling my heart is in the Nordic world, I wondered if  the colors, sounds and textures would seduce me. 
Approach and pause - there is a feeling here
That stifles words - and half provokes a tear;
That comes abroad with wonder overcast,
And coldly points to a mysterious past;
Like to some jewels rare whose radiant trace
Loud mocks the poor dead fingers they encase,
Or Dungeon's gloom that here and there hath won
A stream of light from some far-distant sun-....
from Contemplation of the Uxmal Ruins
Venier Voldo
I include this poem by Venier Voldo, because it captures what I cannot.  The power of the Maya...the ruins at Uxmal in Yucatan.  You wonder how they built the pyramids, what they mean, but what matters is the spell they cast.
 As Nicholas Mitchell said in his poem Mexico: Uxmal, Yucatan (Ruins of Many Lands) in 1876, "Beauty and grace with Time are struggling there..."
Coming home after a trip is always a little bit of a struggle.  I am glad to be home: having a strong nesting instinct.  At the same time, the first day is always disorienting.  I kept the words of the Mitchell poem in my mind as I thought about the descent into the Apple.

These are our monuments and they are beautiful.  In the 19th century Mitchell describes Uxmal: "Where luxury dwells, and soft allurement smiles...".  NYC does not have a soft side to me, but magnetism and enchantment abound and that keeps me here.