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An antidote to dull, grey days

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That is a famous painting called “Meules de Blé”, in English, “Wheatstacks” and it’s by one of the most famous artists in history, Vincent van Gogh.

If you think you recognise it that may because you’re thinking of a similar painting he made called “Wheatstacks in Provence”. There is a connection between the two:

Painted in Arles in June 1888, the blazing watercolor is a study that the artist days later turned into the oil painting “Wheatstacks in Provence,” which hangs in the Kröller-Müller Museum, in Otterlo, Holland.

But in many ways this painting may be more extraordinary because last week was the first time it had been displayed to the public in 116 years. Even the copies seen were not in colour. The story behind that is amazing itself.

According to Martin Bailey, writing last week in The Art Newspaper, the watercolor was bought in 1913 by a Berlin Jewish industrialist and collector, Max Meirowsky, sent to a Paris-based dealer just before World War II when Meirowsky fled the Nazis to Holland, and purchased by Miriam Caroline Alexandrine de Rothschild, daughter of the great Zionist benefactor, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild. When she in turn fled, to Switzerland, the painting was seized by the Nazis, and it subsequently disappeared, despite her best efforts to recover it after the war.

Somehow, someway, it turned up again in the late 1970’s in New York, where it was bought by a Texas oilman who hung it in his Dallas mansion and told few people about it. He died last year and after much negotiation with the heirs of Meirowsky and Rothschild, it’s up for auction at the famous Christies in London.

The article from the first link is worth reading in its entirety. One of the small aspects I love about it is the sheer joy the writer gets from the whole, personal experience, including seeing this painting up close in a way that will likely never be possible again, even in a museum:

Unlike in some museums, here at Christie’s, astonishing works of art are displayed with truly intimate access. Wheatstacks — its color crisp and bright, as though it were painted if not yesterday, then fairly recently, and certainly not more than 130 years ago — shared a small room with two other Van Goghs, an ethereal small Degas and several other wondrous works, all from the Cox Collection, also bound for auction. There were very few visitors and you could get up as close as you wanted to the works, and stay with them for as long as you liked, albeit under the slightly wary eye of a Christie’s staffer.

I was glad to read that last part. Were it me I’d provide several such staffers. It’s expected to sell for between $20-30 million.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 24, 2021 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art, History

Omens from Chicago

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When looking around the world for trends that may impact us here, we have increasingly looked at the USA over the last fifty years.

Even as a child I could still see in New Zealand many cultural influences from Britain, right down to children’s TV shows like Thunderbirds (although that was a mix) and slang, as well as countless British TV shows in drama and comedy. We were aware of American of course, who could not be with Hannah Barbera cartoons, Disney every Sunday evening and The Roadrunner. The movies were overwhelmingly American. US TV comedies were despised, with exceptions like All In The Family and Barney Miller.

But as I got older and into music it would be fair to say that the British music scene outweighed the American one, largely due to Punk attacking Disco, a distinct appeal to those of us who could not dance like Tony Manero.

Nowadays the cultural influence of America is vastly greater. Even as recently as twenty years ago a person using the word “pissed” was clearly talking about someone who is drunk. The American use of the word (angry) was barely known and a source of bemused puzzlement. Now among young people it’s standard thanks to US cultural spread via the giant new machines of Social Media, which dwarf their predecessors of TV, movies and radio.

The ideas are coming thick and fast too. Old Socialists still bitterly complain about “The Chicago School” of economics that smashed into this nation in the 1980’s. But the main ideas have come from the East and West coasts of the USA.

Still, Chicago can still be a place where ideas, both good and bad, can be seen in their practical, everyday implementation by supposedly solid Midwestern children of the prairie.

On the vibrant diversity front came a story about the wonderful Art Institute of Chicago, one of the great art museums of the world, with probably the finest Monet collection. Like most such places it’s kept afloat by a combination of regular charitable donations, permanent private endowments, and local government support, plus relatively small charges from the visiting public.

Even so, the place could not operate without the help of the docents, about a hundred unpaid guides who guide millions of visitors around the Institute every year, explaining the art. Given the lack of money for doing this, the docents are largely older, White women, and in our age that’s a problem:

The Art Institute of Chicago fired all of its trained volunteers and guides last month, who were mostly older White women, to diversify its team. 

“We were surprised, we were disappointed,” Gigi Vaffis, president of the docent council, said in an interview with radio station WBEZ of the firings. “There is an army of very highly skilled docents that are willing and ready and able to continue with arts education.”

Word to Democrat voting “Liberals” in the Blue Cities and States: you should not be surprised by this.

[The] executive director of learning and engagement, Veronica Stein, sent an email on Sept. 3 firing them all…The firings were apparently sparked by the fact that most of the docent staff was composed of older White, financially well-off women, the outlet reported. Stein said that the museum needed to take a new path:

“… in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility.” 

“Equity” is the new magic word being cast by the 21st Century Left – and they’re not just talking about income or wealth any longer. In fact they’re not talking about that at all as did the old communists. This “equity” applies to all areas of life, as the Chicago docents have just discovered.

Meantime the increasingly doomed Mayor of the town has little time to get involved in such fights – assuming she disagreed with them anyway, which she likely does not – because she’s engaged in bigger brawls, like with the Chicago Police Department over Covid-19 vaccine mandates:

So, what is Lightfoot up to, really, in this petty and vindictive Covid war of hers against cops and firefighters who don’t want to comply with her mandate? She threatened them last week, played her unnecessary game of chicken, and when cops pushed back, she ran to a judge to get a gag order put on the police union boss.

This week, on the day a police officer was shot in the face and survived, she was back at it, all cold bureaucratic vengeance, calling cops in, stripping the non-compliant, even if they’d been vaccinated, of their guns and badges. Police Supt. David Brown began threatening officers who are considering retirement—and there are thousands of them in police department that is down at least 1,000 officers. His memo states “sworn members who retire while under disciplinary investigations may be denied retirement credentials.”

Incredible. She’s actually threatening even the retirement packages of cops who think they can just retire instead of complying. That makes no sense outside of trying to demonstrate raw power. The problem is that Lightfoot does not have the real leverage that provides power, for three reasons. First, she’s already caved to the Chicago Teacher’s Union on various Covid issues. Second the people she’s now attacking were, in 2020, hailed as “heroes”, so it’s terrible PR to now threaten them, and it’s not just cops.

From the outset of the pandemic, as Chicago Public School teachers stayed at home, other city workers, cops, firefighters, paramedics, Streets & San workers, all showed up on the job. They came to work with no Covid protection, no real direction, just City Hall saying get out there and work.

The mayor calls non-compliant cops and firefighters “insurrectionists,” even though they’ve risked their lives for the people of Chicago throughout the pandemic. 

If you’re one of the propagandists about the January 6, 2021 “insurrection”, you’ll love that little shout-out. In the future crafted by the Democrats everybody, including the parents of school kids, will be an insurrectionist and a “Domestic Terrorist” – and probably not just for fifteen minutes.

Third, we’re talking about one third of the CPD quitting or being fired in a city that is already a war zone.

And she’s desperate. She can’t deal with skyrocketing violent crime, in the rough neighborhoods and now violence is in the Loop, on the North Side, everywhere. And now police are issuing warnings about violence on Michigan Avenue. She has no clue. She never had a clue.

The writer is long-time beat reporter, John Kass, long recognised as the inheritor of the world-famous shit-stirring Chicago journalist and writer, Mike Royko. He’s been a supporter of Lightfoot, but is now reluctantly looking elsewhere politically. Elsewhere meaning inside the Democrat Party.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 22, 2021 at 1:00 pm

Two Artists and two works of Art

The first artist is a guy who simply produces YouTube videos showing him restoring tools.

If there are parts that are too worn or broken he’ll just make new ones, hence his merchandised shirts with the catchphrase:

This particular video I’ll show you has 28 million views to date.

No music. No talking. Just getting work done.

As one commentator has said:

There’s just something amusing about a guy with seemingly every tool who can also seemingly make any tool who enjoys restoring old tools.

The second video could not be a more different subject and more obviously falls under the title of “Art”.

This man, Rick Beato, is a musicologist living in Georgia and his YouTube channel is Everything Music. What this guy does not know about music is not worth knowing. He picks songs he regards as great and then takes them apart track by track to show exactly how they were made.

Built might be a better description.

To quote one of his commentators:

It’s funny, I’m a software engineer by trade but I watch these videos like the apes staring at the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You took the words right out of my mouth. In the following video he takes apart Peter Gabriel’s great single, In Your Eyes, from the monster 1986 album, “So”.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 6, 2021 at 8:00 am

Posted in Art

Kiwiblog and Jane Austen

Blog comments, and comments on more modern Social Media sites, are well known for being perpetually grumpy, even angry, with the latter emotion at full tilt on FaceTwit.

So it’s always a pleasure when you randomly encounter comments that are fun, even if they take the mickey out of other commentators.

Such a thing happened on Kiwiblog the other day as DPF finally caught up with the story of the North Korean defector, Yeonmi Park, in the US: “Even North Korea is not this nuts”. He got there because the NZ Herald covered the story with its usual copy and paste from a US MSM source (yes, DPF still feeds clicks to these bastards).

One of the comments Park made was about her love of Jane Austen and the response she got:

During her orientation, for instance, a staff member scolded her for liking classic literaturesuch as the writings of Jane Austen.

“I said ‘I love those books.’ I thought it was a good thing,” Park said of her orientation. “Then she said, ‘Did you know those writers had a colonial mindset? They were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.’”

In the comments section one long-time commentator, “MikenMildAgain” had some fun with this by parodying the famous opening lines of Pride and Prejudice:

Well, she likes Jane Austen, so perhaps it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single student in possession of a university education, must be in want of a grievance.

Which I have to say was quite clever. MMA has been there for years and specialises in entertaining himself by dropping ten to twenty comments each day, most of which are pure snark. A few years ago when a comment counter still existed there I did some train spotting on him that showed he had exceeded the notorious Pete George with some 20,000 KB comments in just a few years. MMA is probably at 60,000 by now.

Some of that has been regularly directed at another commentator who posts under her own name; Maggy Wassilieff, a retired biological scientist who incurs MMA’s wrathful snark because she doesn’t buy into a lot of the AGW Crisis claims. She challenged MMA to try the opening lines of Persuasion instead but he declined, saying it was too long: you can read the original lines at that link.

Maggy’s response was a hit right between the eyes:

MMA of Manor Park, Lower Hutt, was a man who, for his own amusement, never ventured into social media but for Kiwiblog; there he found occupation for his idle days, and consolation in his distressed ones; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect by contemplating the smears and abuses of his earliest comments; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from long-lost arguments changed naturally into pity and contempt as he read through his almost endless screes of bile from bygone days; and there, if every other comment were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest that never failed.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 23, 2021 at 11:17 am

Views from on High

You’ve likely all seen the famous photograph of a bunch of construction workers eating their lunch while sitting on the steel beam of a skyscraper a thousand feet in the air, the city spread out below them and nothing to stop them falling.

It’s in thousands of framing and photo shops around the world.

So here’s a photo of the guy who took that photo, Charles C. Ebbets, and how he did it. It wasn’t just construction guys who had courage.

Next up is more recent and straight out of some Bond movie plot.

Where’s the Kaboom? I was expecting an Earth-shattering Kaboom.

Luckily there are plenty of other planets in the universe, as this photo implies. There are a million stars in this one picture, taken by the DE Camera, high up in the Chilean Andes, part of the Dark Energy Survey Project.

Getting to them is the problem, one that won’t be solved by the rockets of today, which are being used for other things both beautiful and terrible. On the left are the rockets of Hamas being fired at Israel. In the centre and right of the picture are the Iron Dome missiles twisting and turning as they rise and reach out to meet them. Possibly the photo of 2021.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 22, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Eat your meat like you mean it

One of the most memorable meals I ever had was at a steak restaurant in Chicago in the lead up to the Millennial Celebrations in 2000.

We’d recently shifted to NZ but were back to show our babies to the grandparents, so I got the night off and headed downtown to meet up with two IT consultants I’d worked with.

A very large waiter who looked rather like a steak himself, complete with Marine bootcamp haircut, arrived at our table with a large metal platter on his shoulder, upon which lay samples of the steaks we could choose that night. He explained each one. In detail.

Then we feasted, but I have to say that as much as I enjoyed that steak, as much as I’ve ever enjoyed any steak, I’ll never enjoy one as much as this little guy does.

Of course there are other types of eating as well, and the kitty clip put me in mind of this great, but under appreciated band, who cover the bases both on band name and song title.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 11, 2021 at 10:21 am

Posted in Art, Humour

Beauty – both Nature and Human

There’s a ton of such photos as this one on the Interwebby thing, but it stood out for me. It was photographed in West Texas.

The second is more unusual, but I think if you watch all three minutes of it you’ll understand what I mean by the title of this post. I thought it was beautiful. I think you will too.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 4, 2021 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art

The Power of Glamour

I’m shamelessly using the title of this book, which I would recommend you read even if you can’t stand the fashion industry- perhaps especially if you can’t stand it.

For the simple fact is that our societies are driven as much by these ephemeral things as by the literal nuts, bolts and electronics of our technological world.

From vacation brochures to military recruiting ads, from the Chrysler Building to the iPad, from political utopias to action heroines, Postrel argues that glamour is a seductive cultural force. Its magic stretches beyond the stereotypical spheres of fashion or film, influencing our decisions about what to buy, where to live, which careers to pursue, where to invest, and how to vote.

The post I put up the other day on cleverly painted water towers reminded me of a couple of other such things that I’ve come across recently.

First up is the emergence of a very rare turbine-powered Chrysler car from the 1960’s.

The 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car was one of 55 that were built to evaluate the use of turbine engines as part of an automobile powertrain and given to real-world drivers for short loans.

The thought was that a relatively simple, smooth operating engine that could run on a variety of fuels would offer a reliable and efficient alternative to piston engines, but poor emissions and fuel economy doomed it to the history books after a couple of years of testing.

All but nine of the cars were sent to the crusher after the project was complete in 1966. Chrysler kept two, five were sent to museums and two ended up in private hands.

Not surprisingly, car nut, Jay Leno, (former host of The Tonight Show back when it had mass appeal) owns one, but the second privately owned one is back on the market for the first time in decades.

It looks very cool on these shots although if you click on the link you’ll see that the front view is not so great: obviously YMMV. But the inside is just gorgeous, right down to the “turbine look” in the centre console.

As crazy as it might have sounded originally, turbines have been used to power other machines, perhaps most notably the US Abrams Tank.

It’s no coincidence that Chrysler was the original manufacturer of the Abrams.

Despite turbines only really being effective when they’re running at constant speed the big advantage is that they can burn any fuel, which was one inspiration for the turbine car. But as the article notes, they’re fuel hogs. The Abrams uses 10 gallons (38 litres) just to start up and the same per hour when idling.

I suppose there are people – likely military people – who find the Abrams glamorous.

The other piece on this subject that I ran across arose from a criticism by Senator Cruz of the Harris-Biden Administration’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. Cruz said that they cared more about the people of Paris than Pittsburgh.

It’s the usual soundbite alliteration beloved by politicians and it rather annoyed right-wing writer Claire Berlinski (There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters), who lives in Paris and took Cruz to task for his populist shout-out:

An American writer named James Lileks, who lives in the Mid-West, acknowledges what Cruz was doing but then gently points out to Berlinski that there are two cities called Paris; the one she loves and defends and …. the newer Paris.

I’m sure there’s some lovely modern architecture in Paris. Few people go to Paris to seek it out. Only the die-hard architectural masochists feel required to make a pilgrimage to the Pompideu HVAC Museum:

I recall reading all the gushing guff published in the 1980’s when this thing was opened: about its “challenging”, “shocking” and (of course) “revolutionary” design. People go to see what’s inside, where it’s not at all like this. But they don’t go to admire the building.

Then there’s the Mitterand Library. The four buildings stand like open books, which is nice. They have a serene, spare quality, and also would not be out of place as the HQ for the advanced species that has colonized earth, eliminated 92% of the population, and now rules with a gentle hand because the survivors know the death rays strike without warning or sound.

Which brings me to this Paris concert hall, and the idea of Europe as synonymous with Grandeur And Splendor Which True Murcans Must Reject.

Do you get the sense of some alien creature blindly advancing on the city, its tentacles dripping with silvery ichor?

Of course it’s likely that there are people who do find these structures glamorous, in the same manner of an Abrams Tank.

Lileks finishes up his piece by pointing out what such things may mean for French society, in the context of Berlinski’s remark about what Cruz’s remarks mean for American society:

She’s right about Paris being the seat of arts and culture. Paris is beautiful, but its beauty is an artifact of its past.

Which brings me back to the idea Claire expressed: the sentiments she gleaned from the remark about the values of the Parisian elect “are not the mark of a healthy and self-confident society.” I think one could say the same about the structure above. It doesn’t just reject the norms and forms of history; it erases them and insists they never were.

Perhaps these are the marks of a society that loathes itself – either for what it was, which it feels was characterized by iniquities and inequities, or for what it is, which is not as great as it used to be when we were awesome. The contradiction can drive one barmy.

You can’t unmoor Parisians from the past, but you can dissolve the bonds that carry the past into the future. The city becomes a bustling pretty crypt, full of altars to gods no one believes in.

What’s left as a belief system? Statism, Art – which is either ancestor worship or institutionally “disruptive” modernism – and the notion of the Perfected Future, in which men in suits and their severe but glamorous wives go to structures like the one above and sit through a twelve-tone opera with a blank face

Written by Tom Hunter

May 13, 2021 at 11:36 am

Posted in Art, Europe, History, Humour, Ideologues, Technology, USA

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Charismatic Cisterns

We’re all used to seeing water tanks that look like these ones, particularly in New Zealand and Australia where they’re a common site on farms, although they’re usually no longer in use. These two actually don’t look too bad, probably because the sagging lean of their platforms has added some style to their image, courtesy also of a good photographer.

When it comes to our urban areas New Zealand lucks out with its hilly geography providing an automatic gravity-fed capability. Huge water tanks and cisterns can be buried on the top of hills, perhaps with less than half of the structure sticking above ground.

That’s a good thing because their basic functionality means that they are not pretty to start with.

In other parts of the world where towns and cities are surrounded by hundreds of miles of flat land, the townsfolk are not so lucky. Their water tanks, more correctly termed water towers, have to be raised on a platform to gain sufficient height above the surrounding buildings that they supply. When I first drove through the American Mid-West my attention kept being drawn to these water tanks, not only because I found such structures unusual but because they often looked like the following.

Butt ugly in other words.

Even more so when extra functionality is added by turning them into cellphone towers.

So it was with some pleasure that I discovered that as painting technology has advanced people are no longer willing to accept ugly-functional as the water tank/tower look. There’s even a competition to judge the best ones, Tank Of The Year, which you can view at your leisure by clicking on the link. But here’s some of my favourites

I don’t agree with all the winning selections of course, but here’s my favourite winner, from 2017.

PinInterest also has a nice selection of water tower photos , although it’s labeled “weird” for some reason.

Even the much older concept of cisterns can be prettier than water towers, even if they’re hardly ever seen because they’re underground, like this one in the Peniche Fortress (Forte de Peniche), Portugal.

Bulls Water Tower

Meanwhile back here in NZ, in the heart of the Rangitikei Plains, we’ve got one of our examples of the classic water tower, courtesy of the area being one of the few parts of the nation that are as flat as the American Mid-West.

Yes, that’s the famous/infamous water tower that greets travellers entering the township of Bulls.

I see that it has been de-commissioned because it’s not earthquake proof but has been saved from demolition by a public vote. I realise that architects probably will swoon over it as a classic example of mid-20th century Modernist building style, but I doubt that the old Ministry Of Works architects were thinking that when designing it.

No, it’s functional – and a butt ugly wart on the landscape. Perhaps, having saved the damned thing, the public could be inspired by the links above to apply some creative painting to it.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 11, 2021 at 11:13 am

EXPLAIN HOW IT HAPPENS, PLEASE?

The Cancel Culture is gaining speed and appears to have no Brakes. We are watching an author born over a century ago having books loved by millions across Nations, Cultures, Faiths, and from all walks of life from rich and famous to simple parents wanting children to be children and grow up nurtured, clothed and fed to the very best of parents abilities gone sans any due process!

Theodor Seuss Geisel, born in 1904 wrote a series of children’s books after WW2 that became preeminently famous over the Globe. His literary standing gaining many awards to the point where his birthday became the signal date for the “National Read Across America Day”, an initiative to bring books to all US children. Even Michelle Obama was a fan for their Children.

No more sadly, as a small Woke brigade, ignoring all references to the mores and times in which Dr Seuss was created in book form at least six of the published children tales have been banned. Not merely ceasing reprinting by the Publisher but Ebay, the US Trademe, has banned all trading in the little gems that due to being banned are now inflating in market value exponentially.

Where to next, Shakespeare?, regarded as a massive pillar of literary history through the centuries , even the bloody Bible, lord knows there are many facets of the widest published genre, has passages that will offend some snowflake somewhere.

Cancel Culture raised its unprincipled and disastrous campaign here in Godzone when activists occupied public space in Wanganui and promptly destroyed a statue of a former NZ leader John Ballance, 14th Premier of the emerging Nation, largely just because it came under the control of urban terrorists illegally occupying Moutoa Gardens. The short actually recorded history of this Nation is littered with such mindless acts of destruction based on often nefarious behaviours and often unchallenged by authority due to perceived racial overtones. The tree that gave recognition to an area of Auckland City, various churches, many on the once very desirable East Coast amongst them.

How much better for the simple Ijits to have just allowed Dr Seuss to continue bringing endless joy to the young and voracious for information and enjoyment, and employ what is now deemed so insensitive to be a focus for debate and discussion. Not gunna happen as such demanding intellectual facet would be well beyond the capability of the mindless morons who see another Crusade on their oh so limited horizon.

Banning books, removing self responsibility and self reliance are all to be cast on the bonfire as Group Think and Social Manipulation swamp freedoms countless people have perished to protect, just gathers momentum.

Again I suggest, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”?

Written by Gravedodger

March 6, 2021 at 10:34 am

Posted in Art, Free Speech, Ideologues