Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The post-modernism all around us

I am having a love affair with the Chazen, the building that houses the Chazen Museum of Art, the Kohler Art Library, and the art history department offices and classrooms here on the UW-Madison campus. I love the overstuffed leather chairs in the library, the elegant wood panelling in the seminar rooms, and the convenience of having everything in one place. I also love that one of the stone benches out front inscribed with the name of the museum has taken a turn for the worse. It has broken into two solid pieces and tumbled to the ground, and it now sits rather forlornly and absurdly covered by an orange and white painted barricade.

I love this ruined bench because it seems like a readymade piece of public conceptual art: an allusion to the broken institution of the museum, an examination of the band-aids that bourgeois culture slaps over its wounds, perhaps even a reference to the obstacles to art making. Its twin, still whole and sound, sits proudly across the way. In contrast it appears as a smug symbol of art's snobbery and claims to the completeness of a whole work of art. It is an embodiment of modern aestheticism, whereas my beloved broken bench embodies the post-modernism all around us, a youthful energy so vital it can tear a stone in two.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Amateur Flower Arrangements

The only thing I bought during my recent experience at the Dane County Farmers' Market were some exquisite and inexpensive gladiolas. They make a perfect arrangement all on their lonesome, because their fluttery petals nicely balance their spiky stalks. Stick them in a trumpet vase and you get an arrangement with some flare.

I've been watching the light from my big picture window play on these gladiolas for a couple of days now, and I just had to take a picture. In fact, I usually take pictures of the flowers I arrange, like I need photographic evidence that I actually created something worth looking at. This arrangement of carnations I remember took me quite awhile. I was trying for a perfect dome of tightly-packed flowers and in the end I wound up with a vaguely circular shape.

I was somewhat more successful with this arrangnement of daffodils. My secret was leaving the rubber bands from the florist on and putting the flowers together as bunches instead of individual stems.

A much more (intentionally) free-form arrangement uses the same fishbowl vase to create a similar domed shape. This one mixes deep purple lilacs with some feathery chartreuse something or other.

I'm always keeping cut flowers out longer than I should. Once the petals start to drop my roommates hesitantly start asking me when I'm going to throw out the dying flowers and I start insisting they still have a few good days left. The arrangement above mixes thistle with virbinum, and while it wasn't my most successful it was long lasting (part of it anyway). I ditched the virbinum and kept the dried thistle around for months. In an even later incarnation I cut off all the dried green outer petals and put the purple cones in a little white teapot.

One of my favorite arrangements from the past year peppered dark carnations with ranuculus in shades of red and yellow. But of course you don't have to mix flowers to get color variations. What could look better with mauve tulips tinged in white then their own spring-green leaves and stems?

Let me know which arrangement was your favorite . . .

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dane Country Famers' Market

As regular readers of the blog know, I had visited Madison a total of one time before I moved there a week and a half ago. The visit was brief, but although I was very much occupied with finding an apartment, I did manage to catch a few snippets of what life might be like in the capital of Wisconsin. There appeared to be, as you might expect in a university town of this size, quite a local music scene. There was a co-op in the hippy part of town, lots of sailboats on the lake, and a farmers market. So this morning I eagerly walked over to the capitol building to check out the last of these amenities. I was envisioning a few stalls along one side of the square and hoping for some flowers mixed in with the produce. What I found was an absolute crush of people slowing walking around the entire square, perusing organic vegetables, award-winning cheese, honey being sold next to a bees in a glass hive, potted plants, gladiolas for 60 cents a stem, fresh trout etc., etc. It certainly put the Union Square Market in New York to shame . . .

The market took up all four sides of the square around the state capitol building. People took a time out from the hectic pace of the market to relax on the squares verdant lawns. At the corners of the square, non-profits and political groups set up stands and tables to take advantage of the passing crowds.

Active shoppers battled though touristy crowds to get to the goods. Some of the produce displays rivaled the aesthetics of my beloved New York delis.

Potted plants share stall space with arrangements of dried flowers. Fall is right around the corner.

One clever farmer had even turned dried sunflower heads into these hanging bird feeders, seeds for everyone. The fun continued down State Street, which leads from the capitol to the UW campus. State Street was also lined with stands for the annual "Taste of Madison" fair, which I'm hoping is why the farmers' market was so crowded. Because if it's like this every Saturday, well, I'll just have to go on Wednesdays instead.