The Young Woman Who Personified Everything

Back when it was a print zine and not an (all too irregular) blog, John Yohalem’s Enchanté had some articles on “gods of the city”—architectural and sculptural representations of the Olympian deities and other Neoclassical figures.

Somewhere in there, perhaps, were sculptures based on a young woman named Audrey Munson.

Dreamy and pale, slender and softly curved, Audrey played muse to a generation of New York City sculptors at the turn of the 20th century. Her undraped figure still graces Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum and the Municipal Building. Though she tried to translate her beauty to the new medium of film, her career ended suddenly as Modernism — and her 30s — arrived. . . .

Audrey Munson

Audrey Munson

She was asked to personify, among other notions, memory, peace, abundance, mourning, industry, beauty, and America. Her statues still dot her city, from the Firemen’s Memorial in Riverside Park to the Brooklyn Museum. Daniel Chester French, sculptor of “Memory” and later of Lincoln for the president’s Washington, D.C., memorial, called her ethereal. For fame’s sake, Audrey withstood sucking air through a tube while being cast in plaster, dousings with cold water for a piece called “Waterfall,” and endless hours of painful posing. But she seemed at ease unclothed. And despite spending so many hours naked in the company of men, she was often portrayed in news stories as a simple girl-next-door who lived with her mother, a beguiling naïf who said things like, “Why clothes anyhow?”

The rest of her life was not so good.


Abstract Expressionism, Cool Jazz, and the CIA

No. 5, 1948, by Jackson Pollock

No. 5, 1948, by Jackson Pollock (Wikipedia)

This is not a new topic, but many people still do not realize how much the Central Intelligence Agency, through various fronts (cooperative or fake foundations, for example), influenced the artistic movements during the peak of the Cold War years—the 1950s and 1960s.

For example, Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock got huge boosts  through important exhibitions and other patronage.

Why? The Soviet Union, like Nazi Germany before it, officially disapproved of non-representational art. In that government’s view, non-representational art was morally degenerate—in other words, insufficiently propagandistic.

But we in the freedom-loving United States championed Abstract Expressionism and made it almost official in our towers of government and commerce, to the point where even people who did not like the style knew that it was High Art and above criticism.

Likewise jazz. There was no point in competing with the Soviet Union in the realm of classical music—their system identified talented musicians and ballet dancers young and trained them rigorously. They sent the best of the best on international tours, and the only problem was that sometimes the talent ran away (see, e.g., Mikhail Baryshnikov).

Soviet dissidents listened to jazz, so it was programmed on the Voice of America. And sending top American jazz musicians on world tours showed that we valued free artistic expression, etc. etc. and also, incidentally, that not all American Negroes were oppressed, an accusation frequently made by Soviet critics. We did also play up composers whom the Soviets did not like, such as Shostakovich.

It’s not exactly The Da Vinci Code, but sometimes there are indeed conspiracies behind world events.

It has always seemed to me that modern jazz began to lose its coolness cachet in the 1980s, and I cannot but think that such a loss was connected to the “winning” of the Cold War and the loss of secret funding. Abstract Expressionism has faded too, although whether the loss of secret support matters as much as the faddishness of the art world, I cannot say.

The City Dionysia in Colorado Springs.

“Just when you thought you knew what Colorado Springs was all about,” commented a poster on one of the Colorado Pagan email lists.

It was the City Dionysia festival, complete with a performance of Euripides’ The Bacchae.

There is, of course, a Facebook page, where you can see some photos.

I missed it by going camping, an homage to a different god. Maybe next year.

You have to admit that this event nicely counters the usual “Fort God” image that is commonly encountered.

Magical Women

A series of portraits by British Columbia artist Linda Macfarlane, some of individuals in the Western occult tradition (e.g. Maud Gonne), others of representative types. (The Wikipedia entry, however, skips over Gonne’s involvement with ceremonial magic.)

Via The Galloway Chronicles.

UPDATE: As discussed in the comments, Geocities is gone, and so is this site.

Fundie art and sex

I knew Jeff Sharlet from Killing the Buddha and his great Harper’s piece on New Life Church in Colorado Springs. It turns out that he has a quirky personal blog too: Call Me Ishmael.

Check out his comments on Christian fundamentalist art.

My tentative theory: As religious art traditionally uses eroticism to channel worldly desires toward spiritual concerns, contemporary fundamentalist art uses eroticism to channel sex — the visual currency of power in an advertising culture — away from women and toward men. Either that, or it’s a vast gay conspiracy.

The Rehabilitation of Rosaleen Norton

Back in the 1950s, the artist and occultist Rosaleen Norton was the witchcraft scene in Australia, at least according to some of the older books I have read. Her relationship with Sir Eugene Goosens, conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was a scandal, as were her paintings, some of which were confiscated as indecent.

Now that scandal has achieved folkloric status, and Norton’s memory is a local tourist attraction, as you may read here (scroll to the bottom).

Things have changed a little.

Goosens, incidentally, worked hard for a new classical-music venue in Sydney; now the Sydney Opera House with its white “sails” is the tourism-poster icon of Australia. I think that it will be a while before there is a Rosaleen Norton retrospective exhibit in the lobby, but think of the connection.

Lose Yourself Here

The Internet Sacred Text Archive is an amazing place. Recent additions include the complete corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry, in Old English, of course. (Time to dig out my undergraduate copy of Bright’s Old English from Prof. Harper’s class.) Thanks to Language Hat for the link.

You were wondering if they had Pagan texts. Yes, they do. But why that cheesy cheap graphic that looks like a computer-game backdrop? No stock photos of Stonehenge? No John Waterhouse paintings?