Category Archives: Arts

@ le Bois (de Boulogne)

I begin this post at the edge of the woods…and with some trepidation. It’s not the trees that cause pause; rather, it’s writing about the Frank Gerhy-designed arts center that appears to have landed beside the Bois de Boulogne just outside the city limits of Paris. In short, I am writing a long way from the 10’ X 15’ house that contained Thoreau’s examined sense of necessity and architecture pond side at Walden. And, as if to double the danger, I’ll be writing about La Fondation Louis Vuitton named for the maven of a focus on and sense of fashion that would surely not find its way to approval in Henryland.

Still, there seems to be more than a fragile link between the ways in which Henry Thoreau and Frank Gehry imagined space. So.

Upon approach I see a ship – of the air? washed in from the sea? – apparently at rest. Its curved, glassy sides look as if they have been opened for airing after a long voyage; it looks also like approaching the nose of a huge and complicated blimp that is powered by sails.

 

Upon Approach

Upon Approach

As is often true when you go to see sensation, we join the queue that straggles back beyond the sign that promises a 30-minute wait. Still, on this transparent day with temps in the 50s, our queue-mates are in good moods, and a number of languages rises companionably above the line. I toy with a usual fantasy – is this the crew selected for lift off? Are these the ones with whom I’ll leave this world for whatever’s beyond it? I’m sure the ship-like image of the building and our line’s position right beneath one of its exfoliated, glass sides nudge my mind in that direction. I am, in many senses, a long way from home. And I am nearing the head of the line.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board

Thoreau too liked to inhabit houses of the mind, creative spaces whose “rooms” often soared. There is the famous “big house,” imagined over pages in Walden (see quotation below). And there is the Spaulding Farm in his essay Walking. Both of these conjured structures featured big space for Thoreau’s large dreams and ideas. Sometimes, I’ve felt that Walden itself is a big house that the reader is asked to leave on his last morning of reading.

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head…A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird’s nest… Walden

But back to the Bois: As noted earlier, the Vuitton Center looks like a landed ship – from the air or the sea. It’s glassy surfaces seem so many fins or wings partially deployed and at rest…temporarily; it seems immense – it is. We pay our Euros and make our way into a soaring lobby that features a thirty-foot tall rose. It’s not often (never?) that I have walked out into a building, but that’s the feeling I have now: I feel as if I am leaving this world for another, perhaps only to see this world more clearly when I get out there.

Okay, I think, prepare for an outsized experience. And now, once in the “ship,” even though approach has been to strangeness, I feel good, embarked on adventure. The building/ship has a core and a purpose – its 11 galleries display art in various forms and narratives and, somehow they are never crowded – height has something to do with this. But for me, the deepest pleasure lies in walking up various stairwells and corridors and ramps with openings and sky always happening or materializing around a corner. I feel lifted off, transported.

Up the Stairs to the Sky

Up the Stairs to the Sky

Architecture doesn’t affect me in this fashion often, but this “ship” does. I want to return when it’s storming to see how it sheds water and furrows on into the sky.

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Filed under Arts, Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden

Season of Sight Season of Heart

For me November has always brought the advent of sight’s season, especially in the woods; often, what has been hidden by leaves – a burl, a nest, an old sign – comes clear. And the long-boned outlines of the land also appear. Then, there is the thin transparency of November’s light; on a cloudless day, it is the clearest glass. Yes, the span of daylight is short, but vision’s length and depth more than compensate for that.

The other day, I was poking around in Thoreau’s November Journal writings, figuring that he too might have found revelation in the month’s light, when I came upon this:

Day before yesterday to the Cliffs in the rain, misty rain. As I approached their edge, I saw the woods beneath, Fair Haven Pond, and the hills across the river, — which, owing to the mist, was as far as I could see, and seemed much further in consequence. I saw these between the converging boughs of two white pines a rod or two from me on the edge of the rock; and I thought that there was no frame to a landscape equal to this, — to see, between two near pine boughs, whose lichens are distinct, a distant forest and lake, the one frame, the other picture. In November a man will eat his heart, if in any month. Journal, 11/1/52.

A different sort of November day, to be sure, but no less lovely in its grays and greens and browns. Here too was Thoreau in the museum of his vision, finding “frames” for the “pictures” hung liberally there. He walked his woods with no less reverence than the slow, heel-clicking strides of museum-goers as they cross polished stone floors and contemplate painters’ visions.

Tree-framed November Light at Walden

Tree-framed November Light at Walden

But what stopped me was the final sentence in this passage – what does it mean to eat your heart? And what in November might incline one that way?

It’s common enough to say “Eat your heart out,” when we think we have something others want. Well, okay, but envy seems unrelated or a small reading of Thoreau’s sentence. Somehow, I thought, it is the unequaled nature of the “frame” that triggers his observation. And the image of Thoreau stopped near the edge of the Fairhaven Cliffs, looking at this loved landscape came clear to me. There he was, and here I was, looking through his eyes at a landscape hung just so; here, contained by the lichened boughs, was the best world, a world to swell your heart.

Tree-framed Cardigan Mountain - heartland

Tree-framed Cardigan Mountain – heartland

For a while I could live on that expansive vision, in that framed, chosen world. Perhaps feeling such affectionate surplus is what it means to eat one’s heart.

But you may see through other eyes, see it otherwise. If so, let us know.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

A Thoreauvian Artist in Amsterdam

By Corinne H. Smith

You never know when or where you will meet another fan of Henry David Thoreau. Even if the person may be long gone and may have left only a few clues behind.

In my part-time job at a bookstore specializing in art books, I recently came upon a unique catalog from 1965. It consisted of black-and-white illustrations of artwork by an artist named Viktor IV. I had never heard of him, and we certainly didn’t have any other books about him. From what I could tell, he then lived in Amsterdam and created unique pieces out of wood and other materials. This was a small and quirky publication that was probably self-published. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought too much of it. But the three-line dedication at the top of the opening page took me by surprise:

viktorwords

What? Wait. Who WAS this guy? I had to do some online research to find out.

Viktor IV was the professional name of New York-born artist Walter Karl Gluck (1929-1986). As a young man, he traveled around the world before settling down in Amsterdam in 1961, with the intent of being a photo-journalist. It is said that the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy had a profound affect on him. He immediately decided to become a full-time artist instead of a photographer. After he made a collage based on the assassination, he renamed himself Viktor IV. He set up his studio and home on a small ship docked in one of Amsterdam’s waterways. And he soon became one of the art community’s notable characters. People got used to seeing him riding his painted bicycle or walking around the city, in bare feet and dressed all in black, with wild white hair and a bushy beard, looking for inspiration.

Viktor at Home

Viktor at Home

Viktor’s early art was created from driftwood and other found pieces in the river. He assembled decorated wooden panels that he called “ikons.” But he didn’t limit himself to small creations. He also put additional structures like extra masts, towers, and rafts on and around his ship. As long as he didn’t block the entire waterway, he was free to add to it as he pleased.

Throughout his life, Viktor kept a set of artist journals filled with writings and drawings. He later developed these into thousands of individual pieces of artwork. When Viktor eventually became intrigued with time-keeping, he devised what he called “Bulgar Time,” and designed a clock to run backward. You can see a virtual example of the clock on his web site at http://www.viktoriv.nl/en/home.html. It’s a tad disconcerting at first to watch the hands move the wrong way, but it’s fun.

Sadly, Viktor drowned one day while making underwater adjustments to his flotilla. He had gotten tangled in the ropes beneath his ship. He was 57 years old.

Reports say that the two people who were the biggest influences in Viktor’s life were Dutch painter Anton Heyboer and American writer Henry David Thoreau. He read “Walden” and “Civil Disobedience” at some point in his youth. How Henry led Viktor specifically to Amsterdam is not spelled out in the brief bios I read. What IS clear is that Viktor IV followed his Different Drummer, and he found his own Walden. He discovered not only where he needed to be, but what he needed to do in life. This Thoreauvian lesson attracts both the heart and the head.

Maybe today Viktor and Henry are floating in a boat somewhere, looking for driftwood, nodding to each other, and laughing about time running backward. Good for them.

 

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, The Roost