Monthly Archives: November 2016

2 New Works Confront The Refugee Crisis With Empathy And Humanity


Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary, Fire at Sea, is set on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of migrants come ashore each year.

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Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary, Fire at Sea, is set on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa, where tens of thousands of migrants come ashore each year.

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If any image haunts TV news, and perhaps our conscience, it’s the seemingly ceaseless river of migrants seeking refuge from war, dictatorship and poverty. These desperate souls inspire pity, fear and election-year arguments about whether to offer them welcome or keep them out.

Not surprisingly, many artists feel compelled to confront this refugee crisis. But the big question is: How do you engage a humanitarian tragedy without haranguing the audience or laying on a guilt trip? You get different but complementary answers in two prize-winning new works from Europe. One is an observational documentary, the other a quasi-mythic novel.

Gianfranco Rosi’s ravishingly shot Fire at Sea takes place on the tiny, unglamorous Sicilian island of Lampedusa, 70 miles from the coast of Africa. Year after year, tens of thousands of migrants turn up on disastrously overcrowded boats. So many come that the UN has an entire hazmat-suited system for handling them — they’re rescued at sea, cleaned up, photographed, handed gold-foil survival blankets and put in holding camps before being shipped to the mainland.

Rosi cuts between these newly arrived refugees and an impressionistic look at the islanders. For the locals, another boatload of refugees is basically something they hear about on the radio between golden oldies, like the one that gives this film its title.

The newcomers don’t affect the locals’ daily round of cooking, scuba-diving or working as fishermen. Yes, there is one heroic doctor who helps the migrants and is outraged at the world’s apathy — I salute you, Pietro Bartolo — but he’s exceptional in every sense.

The island’s true exemplar is Samuele, a smart, naughty, but decent pre-teen who practices the slingshot and pulls words out of his tight-lipped relatives as if he were their therapist. While Samuele enjoys a happy, stable life, he is not without problems that feel a bit, well, metaphorical. He has a lazy eye that limits his vision and a gnawing anxiety he can’t explain, although maybe we can, because we know what’s happening in the background of his life.

Without ever saying it, Rosi suggests that Samuele is, like most of the West, cut off from the refugees’ pain. Indeed, even as Fire at Sea moves us with the refugees’ vulnerability, it shows how their tragedy has become normalized. It’s been so folded into the routine of life in Lampedusa that folks scarcely notice it.

You get a very different approach to the refugee situation in These Are the Names, a taut novel by the acclaimed Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa, which possesses a symbolic sweep that recalls J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. Set in the former Soviet empire, the book also weaves two storylines, yet Wieringa’s point differs from that of Fire at Sea.

One of the stories centers on a boy who joins a small group of migrants traveling to the West from the republics of Central Asia. Abandoned in the middle of nowhere by crooked human traffickers, this rag-tag group — which includes a poacher, a small-time crook and a defenseless woman — begins a grueling, dog-eat-dog trek across a no man’s land that’s every bit as harsh as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Wieringa juxtaposes their story to that of Pontus Beg, a lonely, 53-year-old cop in the imaginary city of Michailopol who feels that his life and his society have become unmoored. This starts to change when Beg investigates the death of a local rabbi and uncovers truths about his own origins he never dreamed of. As the refugees make their journey across the landscape, Beg journeys into the past — and into his own identity.

Unlike Fire at Sea, the two different realities in the novel intersect. I won’t give away what happens, but I will say that, unlike Samuele and his fellow islanders, Beg is pushed out of his comfort zone in a way that opens him to life. Reading the biblical Book of Exodus — the novel’s title comes from its opening line — he realizes that these straggling migrants are living out a universal story about the search for the promised land.

Taken together, Fire at Sea and These Are the Names offer us a two-step course in feeling empathy. Where Rosi suggests we must stop cloistering off the refugees’ reality and acknowledge their presence as part of our lives, Wieringa reminds us that the refugees’ desire to find a safe, nurturing place to call home doesn’t make them unspeakably alien. It makes them just like us.

William Christenberry, Artist Whose Muse Was Rural Alabama, Dies At 80


Artist William Christenberry at his home in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Christenberry died Monday at the age of 80.

Greg Kahn/GRAIN for The Washington Post via Getty Images


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Greg Kahn/GRAIN for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Artist William Christenberry at his home in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Christenberry died Monday at the age of 80.

Greg Kahn/GRAIN for The Washington Post via Getty Images

It was in 1974 that William Christenberry found the little red house.

The photographer and painter, a vital chronicler of rural Alabama, came across the building standing alone among the pine trees, deep in the Talladega National Forest. All he had with him was his tiny, no-frills Brownie camera — a long-cherished gift that “Santa brought my sister and me.”

“I was just infatuated with it proportionally,” Christenberry said during a 2006 interview with All Things Considered. “The fact that they took this artificial brick siding, which you can buy in rolls and staple or tack it up there, and somebody who must’ve had a great sense of humor, or was totally ignorant of what he or she was doing, covered the front door and made it look like a brick door!”

William Christenberry, Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1996.

William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.


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William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.

Christenberry died Monday at the age of 80, from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, according to his daughter Kate. And among the many pillars of his legacy is the odd, little house that so fascinated him.

Though he had moved to Washington, D.C., in 1968 to take up a position at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Christenberry returned every year to rural Alabama, where he had spent his summers as a child. It was a pilgrimage he made for decades. There, he photographed the house — which he later learned was once a one-room schoolhouse — along with small churches and roadside businesses, as they changed with age.

William Christenberry, Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1981.

William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.)


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William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.)

William Christenberry, Church, Sprott, Alabama, 1981.

William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.)

“I’d go into that landscape, what I call the landscape of my childhood, and make these snapshots,” he told NPR. “Never did I dream that years later the world of fine art photography would see something in these.”

And the world of fine art did indeed take notice.

“What was really spectacular about [his work] is that he made that subject matter universal,” Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, senior curator of art at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, told Tuscaloosa News. “When you look at his work, what you see is basically the transitory nature of our life and our world and how things are inevitably going to change over time.”

Christenberry, who also worked in abstract painting and sculpture, forged an enduring friendship early in his career with another photographer, Walker Evans. Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book of photographs that recorded a trip he took with poet James Agee to Hale County, Ala., in 1936 — the year of Christenberry’s birth. After the two photographers met in the early 1960s, Walker’s work and advice helped shape Christenberry’s development.

William Christenberry, Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 1991.

William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.


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William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.

William Christenberry, Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 1991.

William Christenberry/Courtesy Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.

“Walker was a great influence. We exchanged ideas until his death, and I like to think there was a lot of cross-influencing,” Christenberry told Afterimage magazine in 2005.

Yet, despite the fact they shared a subject at times, Christenberry said his relationship to Alabama was always different.

“His view was objective. My stance is very subjective,” he told the magazine. “The place is so much a part of me. I can’t escape it and have no desire to escape it. I continue to come to grips with it.”

And even as he won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Christenberry said the long-beating heart of his art remained the same.

“I don’t want my work to be thought of as maudlin or overly sentimental. It’s not. It’s a love affair — a lifetime of involvement with a place. The place is my muse.”

In ‘ODY-C,’ A Greek Hero Worthy Of Women


Odysseus was the man of many minds and many ways, according to his Homeric epithets. And among the many minds of Odysseus, there’s room for a space queen.

Odyssia is warlike, merciless, “witchjack and wanderer,” “starminded,” ‘”wolfclever,” “lightspeed,” a “wolfwitch.” Written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Christian Ward, ODY-C is a beautifully colored space Odyssey, both graphic and novel, which makes Homer new.

The war against Troiia lasted a century; Paris stole the man He [Helen] from Ene [Menelaus], and, in return, the heroes Odyssia, Ene, and Gamem [Agamemnon] conquered Troiia with a trick. Battered but victorious, Odyssia now turns homewards in her C-shaped ship, to Ithicaa. But the gods — here, goddesses — keep her circling the galaxy instead, fighting strange beasts and strange women. The Cyclops is rendered with a massive eye and cascading breasts like the famous many-breasted Ephesian Artemis. The Lotus-eaters are wraith women who smoke the plant and sink into sinister stoned passivity. Aeolus is a planet ruler who tosses women who don’t bear him sons into space.

In the world of ODY-C, most of the men are dead, killed by Hera so children aren’t born to threaten her rule. The gods and heroes are warrior women, not the disposable sylph-shapes with impossible waists familiar from classic comic books. Spectacular, powerful, muscled warriors with flowing hair, they are flawed and they are merciless. The rape of women in myth is constant. That is true in these stories, too. But the moral, this time, is different: “You reap what you sow, motherf——-.”

ODY-C has the excess, grandeur, violence, and strangeness of the original, rendered in saturated, flowing colors by Ward. The opening of one book shows bearded Hera in a overseeing a battlefield wet with blood: “Achaean blood runs riot, the thick smell of wet coins, hot and heavy, hangs in the stifling air,” Fraction writes; he draws not only from Homer but also from Aeschylus, the Thousand and One Nights, and various other myth traditions. In a tale inspired by Scheherazade, two brothers murder their cheating spouses. The massacre takes place in a hothouse full of flowers, and, in Ward’s panels, butchered limbs are interspersed with orchids, brains with tulips. This meeting of beauty and butchery is typical of Homer, who compares deadly warriors to flowers or cranes in magnificent similes.

Fraction often plays with an adapted version of Homer’s own stately meter, dactylic hexameter. “He with the c—- that once launched, in its honor, some tenthousand swiftships,” begins one sentence, an explicit turn on Doctor Faustus’s “face that launched a thousand ships,” with the final five syllables imitating the meter of a Homeric line ending.

The story of the house of Atreus is one of murder, cannibalism, incest, and the curses of the gods. In his version, Fraction is inspired by Aeschylus, but in place of the tragedian’s dire, opaquely sinister tragic verse, the whole story is told in eerie limericks. Fraction picks up beautifully on threads in the original — Aeschylus’ metaphorical “nets of fate” become literal nets cast over the last bath of Agamemnon (Gamem, in this telling). After Menstra (Clytemnestra) kills Gamem, Fraction writes:

The crown of Atreus, its proud golden sheen

Its bloody past known, its future, unseen

Awaited adorning

Menstra-in-mourning

“Motherf——-s, bow down to your queen.”

The last line appears alone on a magnificent portrait of Clytemnestra, robes flying, eyes flashing, blood flowing around her as she places the gory crown on her own head. Each page of ODY-C could almost be framed, it is so electric and lush.

The collection finishes with a series of essays by the self-described “reformed classicist” Dani Colman. These are the only things in ODY-C that are not wonderful; her essays on classical themes are rife with basic factual errors and vague, unsupported assertions. We can’t all be Anne Carson, but we can all for the most part do a Google search for “Homer” and discover that no one really thinks he was a blind bard anymore.

ODY-C isn’t gender flipped in the usual gimmicky sense — that is, a female world built in direct opposition to a male model. Instead, these fearsome women feel entirely whole and natural, not inverted images of men created to make a point. Reading ancient literature can occasionally feel like a lesson in the disposability of women. But change is the essence of Homeric poetry, and with ODY-C, two male comic book creators have made a Greek hero worthy of women.

In A First, Spain’s Prado Museum Puts The Spotlight On A Female Artist


Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado


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Museo Nacional del Prado

Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Spain’s national art museum, the Prado, has been around nearly 200 years and has one of the world’s biggest collections of Renaissance and Baroque art.

But only now has it devoted a solo exhibition to a female artist: the 17th century Flemish painter Clara Peeters.

Not much is known about Peeters’ life. The mysteries include her family background, the dates of her birth and death, and even her age in 1607, when she painted her first known work — a dark, intricate still life of a candlestick next to sprig of rosemary and a glass of wine. Barely 40 of her paintings have survived the centuries. Fifteen now hang in the Prado as part of this exhibition, many on loan from other museums and collections. Most were painted in 1611 and 1612.

A few of Peeters’ paintings had been in the Prado for years, mixed in with other artists from the Baroque period in northern Europe. But until now, she never had a room of her own.

When the Prado decided a few years ago to search for a female artist to showcase, the museum’s director went to Alejandro Vergara, the senior curator of northern European paintings. Vergara says Peeters immediately came to mind.

Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado


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Museo Nacional del Prado

Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

But Vergara also tells a personal story from several years earlier, when his wife at the time came to visit him at work.

“Visiting the museum one day, she asked, ‘Where are the women artists?’ And I couldn’t find any,” Vergara recalls. “So I went into our storage and we brought [Peeters’] paintings out.”

Peeters’ works are mostly still life paintings of fruit, fowl, fish, bowls and goblets. But there’s a twist: She painted her own reflection — tiny self-portraits — hidden in her compositions.

“Several of her paintings have metal gold cups, and on those cups you see seven reflections with her face — seven self-portraits,” Vergara explains. “That is a very unusual thing to do at the time. [It] seems to speak of someone who’s discreet and modest, but really is seducing you into looking closely and carefully. And when you do that, you find her. So she’s really trying to be seen.”

She was trying to be seen in the 17th century art world, run by all-male art guilds. Peeters may have come from a family of painters. But she wasn’t a household name — then or now.

“That was, I must admit, the first time I heard her name,” says Flemish Culture Minister Sven Gatz, describing the call he received from Prado officials inviting him to this exhibition of a Flemish painter. He says he had to look up who Peeters was.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle


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Staatliche Kunsthalle

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle

“But it was quite nice to see that the old masters were not always the ‘old boys,'” Gatz says. “There were also women.”

In modern art, there’s more gender parity. But when you browse through collections of medieval, Renaissance or Baroque art, it’s mostly male artists.

“I think there have been equal numbers of male and female artists. It’s just that we have history being told exclusively through male eyes and voices,” says Micol Hebron, a feminist artist, activist and associate professor at Chapman University in California.

A few years ago, Hebron launched Gallery Tally, a survey of gender in hundreds of museums and galleries worldwide. She says she found that even in contemporary art, there’s a roughly 70-30 split of male versus female artists on display. With older art, it’s even harder to find women — but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, she says.

“There were many women artists who took on the names of male artists or who had anonymous attributions to their work — or who were doing the work in male artists’ studios and were under-acknowleged,” Hebron explains. “A lot of that information is no longer secret.”

Museums are now starting to act. Over the past decade, the National Gallery in London has held at least two solo female shows. The Louvre in Paris has spotlighted contemporary women’s art. The Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium — Clara Peeters’ hometown — recently hosted a solo exhibition of her work, including many of the paintings now on loan to the Prado.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado


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Museo Nacional del Prado

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

In conjunction with the Clara Peeters exhibition, which runs through Feb. 19, 2017, the Prado is hosting an academic conference on women in art, organized by Maria Cruz de Carlos, an art historian who specializes in religious images, women’s culture and engravings.

“The historical facts deny the idea that women didn’t have a presence in the arts. They always did,” Carlos says. “It’s art history that has hidden that presence.”

She says stodgy old art museums, rooted in tradition, are slowly changing. The Prado’s collection includes more than 5,000 male artists and 41 women — though it likely has more, with their works labeled as “anonymous,” Carlos says.

As women emerge from behind those works, they reveal their role in an art world mistakenly seen for centuries as all-male.

Clara Peeters made that clear, with her self-portraits popping out of dark corners in her still life paintings — demanding to be seen.

In ‘ODY-C,’ A Greek Hero Worthy Of Women


Odysseus was the man of many minds and many ways, according to his Homeric epithets. And among the many minds of Odysseus, there’s room for a space queen.

Odyssia is warlike, merciless, “witchjack and wanderer,” “starminded,” ‘”wolfclever,” “lightspeed,” a “wolfwitch.” Written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Christian Ward, ODY-C is a beautifully colored space Odyssey, both graphic and novel, which makes Homer new.

The war against Troiia lasted a century; Paris stole the man He [Helen] from Ene [Menelaus], and, in return, the heroes Odyssia, Ene, and Gamem [Agamemnon] conquered Troiia with a trick. Battered but victorious, Odyssia now turns homewards in her C-shaped ship, to Ithicaa. But the gods — here, goddesses — keep her circling the galaxy instead, fighting strange beasts and strange women. The Cyclops is rendered with a massive eye and cascading breasts like the famous many-breasted Ephesian Artemis. The Lotus-eaters are wraith women who smoke the plant and sink into sinister stoned passivity. Aeolus is a planet ruler who tosses women who don’t bear him sons into space.

In the world of ODY-C, most of the men are dead, killed by Hera so children aren’t born to threaten her rule. The gods and heroes are warrior women, not the disposable sylph-shapes with impossible waists familiar from classic comic books. Spectacular, powerful, muscled warriors with flowing hair, they are flawed and they are merciless. The rape of women in myth is constant. That is true in these stories, too. But the moral, this time, is different: “You reap what you sow, motherf——-.”

ODY-C has the excess, grandeur, violence, and strangeness of the original, rendered in saturated, flowing colors by Ward. The opening of one book shows bearded Hera in a overseeing a battlefield wet with blood: “Achaean blood runs riot, the thick smell of wet coins, hot and heavy, hangs in the stifling air,” Fraction writes; he draws not only from Homer but also from Aeschylus, the Thousand and One Nights, and various other myth traditions. In a tale inspired by Scheherazade, two brothers murder their cheating spouses. The massacre takes place in a hothouse full of flowers, and, in Ward’s panels, butchered limbs are interspersed with orchids, brains with tulips. This meeting of beauty and butchery is typical of Homer, who compares deadly warriors to flowers or cranes in magnificent similes.

Fraction often plays with an adapted version of Homer’s own stately meter, dactylic hexameter. “He with the c—- that once launched, in its honor, some tenthousand swiftships,” begins one sentence, an explicit turn on Doctor Faustus’s “face that launched a thousand ships,” with the final five syllables imitating the meter of a Homeric line ending.

The story of the house of Atreus is one of murder, cannibalism, incest, and the curses of the gods. In his version, Fraction is inspired by Aeschylus, but in place of the tragedian’s dire, opaquely sinister tragic verse, the whole story is told in eerie limericks. Fraction picks up beautifully on threads in the original — Aeschylus’ metaphorical “nets of fate” become literal nets cast over the last bath of Agamemnon (Gamem, in this telling). After Menstra (Clytemnestra) kills Gamem, Fraction writes:

The crown of Atreus, its proud golden sheen

Its bloody past known, its future, unseen

Awaited adorning

Menstra-in-mourning

“Motherf——-s, bow down to your queen.”

The last line appears alone on a magnificent portrait of Clytemnestra, robes flying, eyes flashing, blood flowing around her as she places the gory crown on her own head. Each page of ODY-C could almost be framed, it is so electric and lush.

The collection finishes with a series of essays by the self-described “reformed classicist” Dani Colman. These are the only things in ODY-C that are not wonderful; her essays on classical themes are rife with basic factual errors and vague, unsupported assertions. We can’t all be Anne Carson, but we can all for the most part do a Google search for “Homer” and discover that no one really thinks he was a blind bard anymore.

ODY-C isn’t gender flipped in the usual gimmicky sense — that is, a female world built in direct opposition to a male model. Instead, these fearsome women feel entirely whole and natural, not inverted images of men created to make a point. Reading ancient literature can occasionally feel like a lesson in the disposability of women. But change is the essence of Homeric poetry, and with ODY-C, two male comic book creators have made a Greek hero worthy of women.

In A First, Spain’s Prado Museum Puts The Spotlight On A Female Artist


Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado


hide caption

toggle caption

Museo Nacional del Prado

Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Spain’s national art museum, the Prado, has been around nearly 200 years and has one of the world’s biggest collections of Renaissance and Baroque art.

But only now has it devoted a solo exhibition to a female artist: the 17th century Flemish painter Clara Peeters.

Not much is known about Peeters’ life. The mysteries include her family background, the dates of her birth and death, and even her age in 1607, when she painted her first known work — a dark, intricate still life of a candlestick next to sprig of rosemary and a glass of wine. Barely 40 of her paintings have survived the centuries. Fifteen now hang in the Prado as part of this exhibition, many on loan from other museums and collections. Most were painted in 1611 and 1612.

A few of Peeters’ paintings had been in the Prado for years, mixed in with other artists from the Baroque period in northern Europe. But until now, she never had a room of her own.

When the Prado decided a few years ago to search for a female artist to showcase, the museum’s director went to Alejandro Vergara, the senior curator of northern European paintings. Vergara says Peeters immediately came to mind.

Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado


hide caption

toggle caption

Museo Nacional del Prado

Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

But Vergara also tells a personal story from several years earlier, when his wife at the time came to visit him at work.

“Visiting the museum one day, she asked, ‘Where are the women artists?’ And I couldn’t find any,” Vergara recalls. “So I went into our storage and we brought [Peeters’] paintings out.”

Peeters’ works are mostly still life paintings of fruit, fowl, fish, bowls and goblets. But there’s a twist: She painted her own reflection — tiny self-portraits — hidden in her compositions.

“Several of her paintings have metal gold cups, and on those cups you see seven reflections with her face — seven self-portraits,” Vergara explains. “That is a very unusual thing to do at the time. [It] seems to speak of someone who’s discreet and modest, but really is seducing you into looking closely and carefully. And when you do that, you find her. So she’s really trying to be seen.”

She was trying to be seen in the 17th century art world, run by all-male art guilds. Peeters may have come from a family of painters. But she wasn’t a household name — then or now.

“That was, I must admit, the first time I heard her name,” says Flemish Culture Minister Sven Gatz, describing the call he received from Prado officials inviting him to this exhibition of a Flemish painter. He says he had to look up who Peeters was.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle


hide caption

toggle caption

Staatliche Kunsthalle

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle

“But it was quite nice to see that the old masters were not always the ‘old boys,'” Gatz says. “There were also women.”

In modern art, there’s more gender parity. But when you browse through collections of medieval, Renaissance or Baroque art, it’s mostly male artists.

“I think there have been equal numbers of male and female artists. It’s just that we have history being told exclusively through male eyes and voices,” says Micol Hebron, a feminist artist, activist and associate professor at Chapman University in California.

A few years ago, Hebron launched Gallery Tally, a survey of gender in hundreds of museums and galleries worldwide. She says she found that even in contemporary art, there’s a roughly 70-30 split of male versus female artists on display. With older art, it’s even harder to find women — but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, she says.

“There were many women artists who took on the names of male artists or who had anonymous attributions to their work — or who were doing the work in male artists’ studios and were under-acknowleged,” Hebron explains. “A lot of that information is no longer secret.”

Museums are now starting to act. Over the past decade, the National Gallery in London has held at least two solo female shows. The Louvre in Paris has spotlighted contemporary women’s art. The Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium — Clara Peeters’ hometown — recently hosted a solo exhibition of her work, including many of the paintings now on loan to the Prado.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado


hide caption

toggle caption

Museo Nacional del Prado

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

In conjunction with the Clara Peeters exhibition, which runs through Feb. 19, 2017, the Prado is hosting an academic conference on women in art, organized by Maria Cruz de Carlos, an art historian who specializes in religious images, women’s culture and engravings.

“The historical facts deny the idea that women didn’t have a presence in the arts. They always did,” Carlos says. “It’s art history that has hidden that presence.”

She says stodgy old art museums, rooted in tradition, are slowly changing. The Prado’s collection includes more than 5,000 male artists and 41 women — though it likely has more, with their works labeled as “anonymous,” Carlos says.

As women emerge from behind those works, they reveal their role in an art world mistakenly seen for centuries as all-male.

Clara Peeters made that clear, with her self-portraits popping out of dark corners in her still life paintings — demanding to be seen.

In A First, Spain’s Prado Museum Puts The Spotlight On A Woman Artist


Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado


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Museo Nacional del Prado

Alejandro Vergara, curator of northern European paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, stands in front of several works by 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters. She is the first woman to receive her own exhibition at the nearly 200-year-old museum.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Spain’s national art museum, the Prado, has been around nearly 200 years and has one of the world’s biggest collections of Renaissance and Baroque art.

But only now has it devoted a solo exhibition to a female artist: the 17th century Flemish painter Clara Peeters.

Not much is known about Peeters’ life. The mysteries include her family background, the dates of her birth and death, and even her age in 1607, when she painted her first known work — a dark, intricate still life of a candlestick next to sprig of rosemary and a glass of wine. Barely 40 of her paintings have survived the centuries. Fifteen now hang in the Prado as part of this exhibition, many on loan from other museums and collections. Most were painted in 1611 and 1612.

A few of Peeters’ paintings had been in the Prado for years, mixed in with other artists from the Baroque period in northern Europe. But until now, she never had a room of her own.

When the Prado decided a few years ago to search for a female artist to showcase, the museum’s director went to Alejandro Vergara, the senior curator of northern European paintings. Vergara says Peeters immediately came to mind.

Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado


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Still life with Fish, Candle, Artichokes, Crabs and Shrimp was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

But Vergara also tells a personal story from several years earlier, when his wife at the time came to visit him at work.

“Visiting the museum one day, she asked, ‘Where are the women artists?’ And I couldn’t find any,” Vergara recalls. “So I went into our storage and we brought [Peeters’] paintings out.”

Peeters’ works are mostly still life paintings of fruit, fowl, fish, bowls and goblets. But there’s a twist: She painted her own reflection — tiny self-portraits — hidden in her compositions.

“Several of her paintings have metal gold cups, and on those cups you see seven reflections with her face — seven self-portraits,” Vergara explains. “That is a very unusual thing to do at the time. [It] seems to speak of someone who’s discreet and modest, but really is seducing you into looking closely and carefully. And when you do that, you find her. So she’s really trying to be seen.”

She was trying to be seen in the 17th century art world, run by all-male art guilds. Peeters may have come from a family of painters. But she wasn’t a household name — then or now.

“That was, I must admit, the first time I heard her name,” says Flemish Culture Minister Sven Gatz, describing the call he received from Prado officials inviting him to this exhibition of a Flemish painter. He says he had to look up who Peeters was.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle


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Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblets, Coins and Shells was created by Clara Peeters in 1612. Peeters hid small self portraits in the goblet on the right.

Staatliche Kunsthalle

“But it was quite nice to see that the old masters were not always the ‘old boys,'” Gatz says. “There were also women.”

In modern art, there’s more gender parity. But when you browse through collections of medieval, Renaissance or Baroque art, it’s mostly male artists.

“I think there have been equal numbers of male and female artists. It’s just that we have history being told exclusively through male eyes and voices,” says Micol Hebron, a feminist artist, activist and associate professor at Chapman University in California.

A few years ago, Hebron launched Gallery Tally, a survey of gender in hundreds of museums and galleries worldwide. She says she found that even in contemporary art, there’s a roughly 70-30 split of male versus female artists on display. With older art, it’s even harder to find women — but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, she says.

“There were many women artists who took on the names of male artists or who had anonymous attributions to their work — or who were doing the work in male artists’ studios and were under-acknowleged,” Hebron explains. “A lot of that information is no longer secret.”

Museums are now starting to act. Over the past decade, the National Gallery in London has held at least two solo female shows. The Louvre in Paris has spotlighted contemporary women’s art. The Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium — Clara Peeters’ hometown — recently hosted a solo exhibition of her work, including many of the paintings now on loan to the Prado.

Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

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Still life with Flowers, Gilt Goblet, Almonds, Dried Fruits, Sweets, Biscuits, Wine and a Pewter Flagon was created by Clara Peeters in 1611.

Museo Nacional del Prado

In conjunction with the Clara Peeters exhibition, which runs through Feb. 19, 2017, the Prado is hosting an academic conference on women in art, organized by Maria Cruz de Carlos, an art historian who specializes in religious images, women’s culture and engravings.

“The historical facts deny the idea that women didn’t have a presence in the arts. They always did,” Carlos says. “It’s art history that has hidden that presence.”

She says stodgy old art museums, rooted in tradition, are slowly changing. The Prado’s collection includes more than 5,000 male artists and 41 women — though it likely has more, with their works labeled as “anonymous,” Carlos says.

As women emerge from behind those works, they reveal their role in an art world mistakenly seen for centuries as all-male.

Clara Peeters made that clear, with her self-portraits popping out of dark corners in her still life paintings — demanding to be seen.

Stand Clear Of The Doors: TV Finally Gets On Board With Mass Transit


Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) routinely take the subway in Broad City. But public transit hasn’t always been featured so prominently on television.

Linda Kallerus/Comedy Central


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Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) routinely take the subway in Broad City. But public transit hasn’t always been featured so prominently on television.

Linda Kallerus/Comedy Central

In the 1990s and early 2000s, TV shows didn’t have a lot of love for mass transit — as Homer Simpson pronounced, “Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians.”

Even on iconic shows set in New York City, characters didn’t take advantage of their mass transit options. The stars of Sex and the City rode in taxis and cars. Same with Seinfeld (except for that one time when Jerry’s car was in the shop and Elaine was forced to take the subway.) So, too, in fictional Springfield — Alex Marshall, who has written about public transportation in popular culture, says he can’t recall even seeing a bus on The Simpsons.

But now, things have changed. On shows like Girls, The Mindy Project, Broad City and Mr. Robot, New York characters routinely use public transit. Watching Mr. Robot, Marshall says, “I almost feel like they’re showing my life.” (In a city dweller sort of way, not a paranoid hacker sort of way.)

Marshall is a public transportation fanboy. He appreciates when TV characters use subways and buses to navigate their fictional, but very recognizable, worlds. “Infrastructure is aspirational,” Marshall says. “It’s not just a means to solve a problem or to get from here there.”

And it’s hardly just New York. On the TV show Atlanta, characters have deep conversations on the bus. And on Jane the Virgin, Jane takes public transportation all over Miami. She even goes into labor on the bus. (All the other passengers unite to make the driver take her to the hospital.) Public transportation is public theater on these shows. It’s a social space where people accidentally run into each other and find civic cohesion.

Dramatic potential aside, mass transit can be a drag. People often take it because they have no other choice. You sacrifice privacy, and the pleasure of literally being in the driver’s seat. “You do pay a time penalty in most places for riding public transportation,” says Michael Manville, who teaches at UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

Recently, transit systems across the Northeast have been struggling — there were strikes in Philadelphia, a federal safety investigation in New Jersey and a crippling financial crisis in Washington, D.C.

Some analysts see hopeful signs that President-elect Donald Trump might support mass transit. At a campaign rally in March he said, “You go to China, they have trains that go 300 miles an hour. We have trains that go: chug, chug, chug, and then they have to stop because the tracks split.”

Trump has just nominated former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary. But so far, there’s little hard evidence that Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan will help out ailing bus and subway systems or add new ones — even though there’s strong support for mass transit among voters. That’s why Marshall thinks it’s important to show people benefiting from public transportation on screen.

“TV and popular culture acts kind of like a force multiplier,” he says. “We have visions in our heads of how we want to live. … We want to get there and it’s something to strive to.”

Perhaps, Marshall suggests, policy makers who want to improve our buses and subways should pay a bit more attention to what’s on TV.

A Giving History: Smithsonian Exhibit Showcases Americans’ Charitable Acts


(Left) A firefighter’s boot used to collect money from motorists for the “Fill the Boot” campaign for muscular dystrophy which started in 1954. (Center) A Habitat for Humanity belt was used by a volunteer in rebuilding homes in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. (Right) Bucket used by Jeanette Senerchia in 2014 launching the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History


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Courtesy of National Museum of American History

(Left) A firefighter’s boot used to collect money from motorists for the “Fill the Boot” campaign for muscular dystrophy which started in 1954. (Center) A Habitat for Humanity belt was used by a volunteer in rebuilding homes in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. (Right) Bucket used by Jeanette Senerchia in 2014 launching the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History

Remember a couple of years ago, when it seemed like we were all one big happy family, Americans of every age and political stripe, joined in common pursuit? Millions of us spent that summer pouring buckets of ice water on our heads, to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Philanthropy has always played a big role in the United States, helping to shape who we are, what we do and how. Now it’s the subject of a new exhibit called “Giving in America” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge turned out to be one of the most successful fundraising efforts in U.S. history. But museum curator Bonnie Lilienfeld says it had a very modest beginning — a blue plastic bucket that you might use for a mop.

The pail belonged to a New York woman, Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband has ALS. A relative challenged her to dump ice on her head to raise awareness about the degenerative disease and to post the video online. She did just that, and the rest is philanthropic history.

“People just started dumping ice on their heads,” Lilienfeld says. “It seemed like a kind of crazy thing, and at the time people wondered what it really was going to do.”

But the grassroots campaign raised more than $115 million to fund medical research and became the latest symbol of Americans’ creativity when it comes to giving. Lilienfeld says U.S. philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes.

“Like this wonderful 1764 silver plate that was given by Thomas Hancock to his church in Boston, Massachusetts,” she says, pointing to a large communion dish on display. The border of the plate is inscribed with the name of Hancock’s church, but also his own name, making clear to all the other parishioners that he was the one who made the donation.

Lilienfeld says people not only give to help others, but sometimes to help themselves.

These early 19th century alms boxes were used to collect money for religious institutions and charities.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History


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Courtesy of National Museum of American History

These early 19th century alms boxes were used to collect money for religious institutions and charities.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History

Still, U.S. philanthropy has met important social needs over the years, often funding things that government did not. In the 19th century, wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie used his money to build libraries across the nation. He believed the rich had a responsibility to support the common good.

And in the early 1900s, philanthropist Julius Rosenwald worked with Booker T. Washington to build thousands of schools in the South to educate black children, who would otherwise have had an inadequate education. The exhibit includes a metal lunch tray from one of those schools.

But Lilienfeld says charity isn’t just about those with money. Far from it.

“It’s amazing what just a little bit can do,” she says, pointing to a small orange box, the kind trick-or-treaters used on Halloween to collect spare change. Over the years, the money added up, raising more than $175 million for UNICEF.

A UNICEF Halloween collection box, late 1990s. Amid concerns about world affairs after World War II, Americans were encouraged to donate to international relief. Philanthropy became the human face of global American influence and organizations and foundations frequently funded projects led by the United Nations.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History


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Courtesy of National Museum of American History

A UNICEF Halloween collection box, late 1990s. Amid concerns about world affairs after World War II, Americans were encouraged to donate to international relief. Philanthropy became the human face of global American influence and organizations and foundations frequently funded projects led by the United Nations.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History

Sometimes, giving doesn’t involve money at all. The exhibit also includes a blood donation kit.

“That’s really sort of the ultimate gift of really giving of yourself,” says Lilienfeld. “We included that story here to get people to understand, sometimes the smallest act really is an act of philanthropy.”

Maryland slaveowner George Burchhartt granted freedom to his slave in a letter from 1793.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History


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Courtesy of National Museum of American History

Maryland slaveowner George Burchhartt granted freedom to his slave in a letter from 1793.

Courtesy of National Museum of American History

She says many Americans prefer to do something more to help charity than just writing a check. There’s a tool belt on display that a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity used to build a house. And a t-shirt from a charity race.

But not all giving was quite so benevolent. The exhibit includes a 1793 letter from a Maryland slaveholder, granting one of his slaves her freedom.

“It’s not always a happy story. I mean for her, at least she got freedom, but it really reminds us of the power this man had over her,” says Lilienfeld.

She adds that mostly, giving in the U.S. has been aimed at improving life, and seems to fill a need many Americans have to take matters into their own hands.

“This idea that we come together in a crisis, we come together to take care of each other, we come together to get things done,” she says.

The exhibit is on permanent display at the museum.