Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah. Salutations for the winter solstice. Alas, in the past tense. One of the lessons I learned late in 2003 was that if you go to France for the first ten days of December, your holiday letters don’t get out before the 25th ... unless, of course, they were ready before you left. Fat chance. So, I hope you had a lovely December, celebrating whatever holiday(s) you honor, and that you are ready for a good 2004.

My December trip to France was focused on the romanesque churches of Burgundy. I have been enamored of them since first becoming familiar with Vézelay, Autun, Cluny and the rest in art history classes in college. They are lovely, compelling, and awesome, especially in the low winter sun. My swooning and/or soaring moments were the late afternoon sunlight on the wall of the abbey church of Fontenay, the brilliant and wall-dematerializing light in Vézelay, having the abbey in Cluny almost to myself on a dramatic foggy day, the approach to the royal saltworks in Arc et Senans, walking through the Tuileries on a sunny December afternoon, and being in Notre Dame in Paris in the early evening with thoughts of having seen a dozen or so of the great medieval churches in ten days. It was fun to see the city and town streets in their Christmas gear. And it was just good to be there. I did part of my traveling by car and enjoyed pretty decent weather for early winter. My last 24 hours were spent in Paris and it is such a great city -- a wonderful combination of the grittiness of New York with the grand monuments of Washington, only probably better. If you want a more detailed travelogue, I’ve posted one on my Geocities site at artcataloging.net (under miscellany).

2003 got off to a good start with a few days in Montréal, Canada and a lovely New Year’s Eve party in the City, and a few purchases at a show of inexpensive art at a clothing shop on lower Orchard Street. The Medici show in Chicago was calling to me so I went to Chicago for a weekend in mid-January. The Medici show was good and I was thrilled to find a show on the architect David Adler also at the Art Institute. I had a lovely evening with my friend Anne Champagne and also got to the Gillian Wearing show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and briefly joined an anti-war rally on Daley Plaza. I didn’t find the renovated public housing that was on my viewing list but had a good time walking about in Chicago.

ALA Midwinter was in Philadelphia in January, with the regular round of meetings and seeing friends and colleagues. I met Joan Berman of Arcata, California with whom I talked about the great and recently-departed photograph historican Peter Palmquist. College Art was in New York City in February and I got to play the interesting game of trying to be at a meeting and keep up my regular life. My chief responsibility with College Art is co-editing the Queer Caucus for Art newsletter and being secretary for the Caucus. It is also enjoyable to go to some of the topical sessions, quite different from the detailed and practical sessions of ALA and ARLIS.

A couple weeks later, I went to San Diego for another gathering of the group working on the Union Catalog of Art Images (UCAI). I feel very honored to be included with those who work at the participating institutions: University of California San Diego (the lead institution), Cleveland Museum of Art, and Harvard University Visual Collections. Of course, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit friends and museums in San Deigo. The Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla has a wonderful neon work by Ed Ruscha on the terrace side. The text reads “Brave men run in my family.” Alas, when I googled on the text to confirm the artist, I discovered the quote goes back, at least, to a Bob Hope line in the movie “The paleface.” I still like the thought that bravery doesn’t necessarily mean attack.

Baltimore was the setting for ARLIS/NA in later March and I was thrilled. I have been to Baltimore a couple times but never for more than a quick visit. The conference hotel was near the waterfront and Charles Street, both of which were great candidates for viewing. The scale of the buildings along Charles Street is wonderfully in tune with the width of the street. I really enjoyed visiting the Walters Art Gallery and remembering a trip there in grad school in 1973 when Dorothy Miner, their great manuscripts curator, was still alive. The UCAI group had a delightful dinner in the Fells Point neighborhood.

April brought the Visual Resources Association conference in Houston, again with a lot of interaction with friends and colleagues and lots of stimulating sessions, etc. I flew up to Fort Worth after the VRA conference to see the renovated Amon Carter Museum and the new Modern Art Museum, and to visit with friends. I stayed with Allen Townsend who will never forgive me for nominating him for ARLIS/NA President. I also got to see my former colleagues at the Amon Carter, the new building of which is still in good scale. The Modern is a good building but not very pedestrian-friendly. The Guston show was fabulous and I later read the book by his daughter Musa Mayer which also talks a lot about Woodstock so there were further memories of college times. The Nasher sculpture garden in Dallas wasn’t open yet so that’s a reason to go back to Texas yet again.

At the end of April, I went to Washington for a meeting and then spent the weekend with Sherry and Woody Kelley. They were also in Burgundy in the fall and I got to see the Ellsworth Kelly show at the Corcoran. That show had started in San Diego and would later be in NYC at the Whitney.

For a while, it looked like the ALA summer conference in Toronto would be cancelled or moved because of the SARS epidemic. It happened, there were fewer people there than normal, but Toronto was very nice. Daniel and I stayed at a guesthouse some distance from the convention center which meant more walks through the various neighborhoods but that wasn’t a problem. On the last day there, we went up to Casa Loma, the castle on the hill. Our regular third roommate Scott Wicks stayed with his friend Oktay but we did have a nice dinner with them in the harbor district on our last night there. We took the train from NYC to Toronto, along with a few other librarians.

Later in the summer, I spent a week in upstate New York, mostly visiting with family but I also was very glad to attend the partnering ceremony of my sister Carol. She and Barb held their ceremony at Empire Haven naturist resort in the Finger Lakes and it was truly a “clothing optional” event, the most optionality I’ve ever experienced. I really thought it worked. I also had dinner with Christie in Ithaca. It was strange to share time with her there when our connecting has mostly been in NYC or Italy and she now lives in Ann Arbor, but she was in Ithaca for a meeting and I was there to visit. I finally got to the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, on my way from Alfred to Ithaca. On the way back from Ithaca, I stopped at Carol and Barb’s farm. They weren’t there but I got to have a potentially life-altering experience. I sat in the twig chair made by Barb’s son and read, and I realized that I maybe didn’t NEED to live in New York City, that I maybe could survive in the country.

There were a couple more trips in the fall -- a week in Provincetown with Bill Connor and a short conference in New Orleans with ARLIS colleagues from Texas and the Southeast. Bill had rented an apartment and invited me to share it, and we had a good and relaxed time. New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit. The conference was good, including tours of the Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans Museum of Art, the Garden District, and Old St Louis Cemetery. One evening, Daniel and I had dinner with a bunch of other guys and two of them are buying a retirement house in a small town in Dordogne, France. I was envious.

I went to Alfred for Christmas this year. My father had an operation in November to deconstruct a squamous-cell growth and to reconstruct his left temple. We now both have patches but were also both “lucky” enough to have removable skin cancers that didn’t require chemo or radiation.

Traveling to conferences and for pleasure was not of course all I did during the course of 2003. My job at NYU continues to be mostly satisfying and to provide rich opportunities for thinking and interacting with people. I have had an extra job or two most of the time I’ve lived in the City, presently working one evening a week at the Morgan Library and another at MoMA except when life gets in the way. Watching sunsets over the Hudson River are great moments (tonight’s was beautiful). Rachel Stuhlman from Rochester has been coming to the City more often to help her parents, and that has meant we have seen more of each other. She also joined me at my sister’s partnering ceremony in August. Jenny Tobias had a party for MoMA staff on her East 12th Street rooftop and the view is stupendous, particularly because it overlooks a lower cityscape where church steeples are the predominant higher buildings. It gave me a sense of what it must have been like when there weren’t so many taller buildings.

There were also lots of books to read, theater and dance to watch, music to listen to, and lots of gallery and museum hopping. The late Crystal Graham used to write, in my opinion, a model holiday letter, including the books and movies she had found most enjoyable or inspirational. The books I guess I most enjoyed reading this year were the new biographies of Anthony Blunt and Glenway Wescott, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The red and the black by Stendhal (a bookclub choice, and read while in France), Cinnamon gardens by Shyam Selvadurai, The book of salt by Monique Truong, Affinity by Sarah Waters, and most recently The piano shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart (a wonderful narrative set in Paris about the power of music and about growing up). Reading is great solace (and a distraction) when life seems to be getting me down, but that’s another whole story.

Among the art shows that especially spoke to me were “Drawing now” at MoMA, the El Greco show at the Met, the Valeska Soares show at the Bronx Museum, the Nan Goldin photos of lovemaking couples which I saw just as the Iraq war was starting in earnest (powerful contrast and thoughts of what is truly pornographic), the Park Avenue cubists at the Grey Gallery (a very nice installation), “Witch catcher” by Brian Tolle in City Hall Park, French artists in Rome at the Dahesh, “The American effect” at the Whitney, the architectural drawings at Tulane, and many many more. The gallery district in West Chelsea now has a couple hundred galleries and it is gridlock on a warm Saturday afternoon. A recent visit to the traditional gallery district on 57th Street was bucolic by comparison.

Each spring brings the group of conferences and they do sometimes bunch up geographically. 2004’s conference sites are San Diego, Seattle, Portland, and NYC so it looks like it might be a west coast kind of spring.

Please forgive this little exercise in reliving the past year. I hope some of it will be of interest and I send you warm wishes for the new year.

Sherman Clarke
14 Washington Place #6J
New York, NY 10003

sherman.clarke@nyu.edu


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