Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Amidst my acquiring an art
education, there were many
other aspects of my work
and time in the city that took
up clumps of energy. I was
always diligent and after
things : information, history,
photos. One advantage of
being there was the massive
outreach it allowed to the
private libraries  -  things
like the Morgan and the
Frick Collections. These
were insanely wealthy
people, from the Gilded
Age, the 1880's and such,
whose palatial estates were
more like little kingdoms
of collected and bought
objects. Whatever the
world overall may have
been at the time, these
people had at their disposal
the riches of everything  -
travel history, gold and
jewelry, ancient and old
manuscripts, art, reliquaries,
relics, collections of pens
and chamber pots and the
crazy sort of stuff you
never think of. It all had
to start somewhere, and
they scapped it up. Earliest
Photography, still in its
infancy, maps and the
everything else from the
most far edges of the
known world. Carnegie.
Frick. Morgan. Vanderbilt.
All those crazy old names
from another world. Many
of them, in their mansions
along what is now Madison,
Fifth, and the rest of the old,
and well gilded, avenues,
preserved all things, and
held them open now, or at
least their 'corporations' and
'libraries'. For the viewing
and 'enjoyment' of the rest of
the world. Call it vanity, call
it whatever you'd like, but
these places were there.
I used to go into these
locations, just to see, to
notice all I could. Furnishings,
implements, tales of travel,
display cases of precious
objects. It was all ordered
and set out with little cards
of explanation, travel-route
maps, all those dotted lines
of Egypt, old Germany, or
(what was then called,
collectively), 'The Orient.'
Now we ooh and aah at
planets, stars, and cosmic
wonders. Back then the
other end of some ocean
was still exotic enough.
One of the most striking
things I ever saw  -  and it
still somehow stays with
me, was a photo array of
what was, or is, called the
'Bamberg Rider.' It's probably
nothing, and maybe it's
even old hat to today's type
of traveler  -  the kind who
leave the Princeton Mall
and are deep in the midst
of old Europe the next
morning for their quick
'getaway'  -  but to me
 it all was stunning. The
town or burg, or city or
village, in Germany, is
Bamberg, in northern
Bavaria. It's one of those
grand, old medieval towns,
fortressed for its protection
back then on the river. Like
Magdeburg too, which
presents a harsher medieval
face for being more on the
ancient 'frontier', Bamberg
has all of its fortresses,
lookouts, castles, walls,
hospitals, charity halls  -
all that old stuff  -  hugging
the river. And, of course,
its church presence, its
cathedrals and churches.
Life-centers back then.
Bishop's houses, red-tiled
religious centers, etc.
Inside the cathedral is
the Bamberg Rider. It
was carved about 1230
and no one now has any
idea of who it is or who
it's supposed to represent.
It is considered to be the
first full-sized equestrian
statue made in Europe
since the fall of the
Roman Empire. I was
enraptured by a photo
spread they showed of it
in one of these places  - 
all of the aspects of this 
odd statue captivated 
me  -  the anonymity, the
way in which everything 
eventually counts for 
nothing, the symbolism
within ecclesiastical 
thinking, the rather strange
countenance of the face and
hair, massive, curly, a bit 
flat-faced, an awkward 
diversion of space and 
depth, as if the sculptor 
was still trying out, maybe
learning on the job. The 
horse, the meaning. Christ 
riding Salvation's steed? 
A paean to force and 
armaments and protection? 
(The opposite, I guess, 
of a Christ reference)? A
symbolic nod to the King's
or Duke's protection and
watchfulness over all those
secular, mundane affairs 
of maintaining safety 
and being? To me, it 
seemed a little of all
those things, yet I also 
felt it to be a tad too self
conscious about itself,
shunted over to this 
wall-spot, half-high up
a staircase, without too 
much of any reason left.
What is our time and all
of our travels? What really 
is Destiny and work? How
do we live, if only to die?
All that kept tolling in 
my head, yes, like some
massive, medieval cathedral
bell in the town square of
my mind and art and reason.
The Bamberg Rider had me
in its grip. The face was, to
me, maddening  -  looking
almost to be of either sex, it
little  mattered, it bore much
of the same countenance of so
many of the 1967 hippies, in
fact, as to be startling : a poise
and an innocence all combined.
A Pre-Raphaelite type bump
on this very modern, smooth
highway. How it had ever
been placed halfway up a wall
like that intrigued me as well.
Why there? How high?
And then it hit me  -  it as
just like Art today! 1967 or
now. Display. To be seen.
Halfway up a wall, and treated
with deference. What else was
Art? What else could it be? You
may remember, some 50 years
later, as I reported it now, 8 or 
10 chapters ago  -  that framing
guy in Princeton who doubled
as an interior decorator setting
people homes in order with total
redecoration, as he mentioned 
to me that he'd be able to, if 
I could produce, place my 
paintings in people's homes  -  
we'd work out a deal together so 
I'd be paid my cut through 
his fee  - all as a part of his
redesign: this painting here,
that one there. Nothing ever 
came of it, and I'm probably 
glad too. ('I need a blue one 
for here, a green one for the 
entry wall, and how about
something yellowish for over
by the kitchen entry?')  -  but 
how much different is such 
display from the display of any 
art? Wall art, like the Bamberg 
Rider, there I guess both to make 
a point, and to decorate. My point 
would be mine, and at the same 
time, in that person's house, I'd be 
anonymous. Unknown. In the 
Studio School we'd study art and 
artists and get  to know each one 
of them  -  name, predominant
themes and motifs, painterly 
mannerisms, subjects, techniques, 
etc. All these centuries later, the 
Bamberg Rider  - just a big  'huh?'

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