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Ornament , Automata & Crime

Left: Two Spherical Clocks, George Seydell, Germany, 17th c. 
Right: Caricature of Engravers “in the Greek Style”, Jean Charles Delafosse, French.
Bottom: Ostrich Egg Ewer, Hans Claus I, German, 1630. Sawtooth gravity clock, Isaak Ourry, 1710. Multi-faced Equatorial Sundial, Wolfgang Mayr, 1604. Cryptological Code Dividers, Joachim Deuerlin, 1633.  All in exhibition gallery 999.

The “Making Marvels” exhibition is a technical side-car of the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts galleries. The elite add machines to their sculptures, as if movement automatically makes decor virtuosic. It is a clear case of just how complicated one can make something when unlimited resources and desire meet. Ornamentation, according to Adolf Loos, “is a luxury that is slowing down the human evolution because men are wrongly focused on things they do not need”. – Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908-13. “Less is more” – Mies van der Rohe, 1947. In the language of my comic book childhood, of which this exhibit reminds me,  ‘Nuff said.’ 

Then again, ornament has been a key element for unconscious release, linked to fantasy and desire*, embodying the never before seen, heard, thought. It has lived on artifacts since there have been artifacts.“Less is a bore” – Robert Venturi, 1966.

* Ornament, Fantasy, and Desire in Nineteenth Century French Literature, Rae Beth Gordon, Princeton University Press, 1992.


Angel Action

B2E95F49-959D-4636-BAB8-F2A4B41E6DDFMiraculous Writing Machine, Friedrich von Knaus, 1760, Austrian, gallery 999.

The video is worth the watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLUoDSNDj4U. Or scroll down to the miraculous writing machine at the Met videos of all automata at https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/making-marvels-science-splendor/art-in-motion.


Subtleties: Molded, Pulled, Blown, Pressed, Sold


Left: Harlequin, Fürstenberg Porcelain Manufactory, 1764, after model of 1754, gallery 538.

Right: Designs for a pastillage pièce montée in the form of a putto in a chariot being drawn by a hunting poodle and (above) hunting poodle “at rest”, watercolor, 1820, The Bowes Museum.
Bottom: A view of the Empire dessert setting. https://www.historicfood.com/Royal-sugar-Sculpture.htm.

Initially, European porcelain figures were permanent versions of the very popular sugar sculptures. Sugar  table decorations for special occasions were called subtleties* and used by European elites from the Renaissance to the 18th Century. At the meal’s end, they were eaten or taken as souvenirs. The Bowes Museum sugar sculpture archive has 47 moulds for a total of 730 different objects, with 62 tools and 26 drawings.

In the developing bourgeois society, porcelain figurines found a permanent place on mantelpieces and side tables: an entirely new market success. 

* see Kara Walker’s sculpture Sugar Sphinx A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, 2014; and Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney N. Mintz, Penguin, 1985.

Kick Up Your Heels and…Relax

E248FA7A-BFB6-47B2-98CE-580BB573E4D6Boiserie from the Palais Paar, 30 Wollzeile, Vienna, Austria, architect Isidor Canevale (1730–1786),1765–72, gallery 526. Inset: Palais Paar, exterior, 1907.


The Baron’s Suite, info@chateaugrandluce.com.

In case you need an extended, more personal experience of this style, you may rent The Baron’s Suite at the Chateau Grand-Luce in the Loire Valley. Only $15,000  per night, complete with “private library stocked with French literature.”


Or Just Kick Up Your Heels . . .


Dance Movement “G”, 1910–11 and Nijinsky, 1912, Auguste Rodin, gallery 556.

Stravinsky said in his autobiography that the riots at “The Rite of Spring” premier were not because the music was “radical”; it was because the dancers could not keep up with Nijinsky and stumbled on the stage. 

Rodin’s two captures of the dance in this gallery felt like seamless extensions of the earlier expressive terracottas (see gallery 552 in Met% week sixteen), particularly the bas-reliefs. “Nijinsky conceived a strict two-dimensional limitation; his dancers moved as in a slot, with abrupt profile turns. Poses recalled Greek Vases and stone reliefs. . . . Sculptures of draped maidens from Egypt or Phoenicia”. – review of Afternoon of a Faun, 1912.

Rodin said he had “captured movement” in this work. Once in a meeting on neuro-marketing at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in Los Angeles, I was told they had discovered a small single area of the brain that is only activated when a still object – that appears to be moving – is seen. A message center for false danger . . .  

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