Circus (last part of the show, continued)



119. Another Rauschenberg, Kickback, 1959.
This "combine" contains clothes, including pants and a tie probably obtained from one of the many second-hand shops in New York. What is second-hand or waste kicks back and returns.

Meanwhile, near the North Pole, the conning tower of one of America's new nuclear subs breaks through polar ice.

Connect the dots.

A visitor walks up to one of the museum guards. He points to his program. "It says here that they move all this stuff around everyday. Who does all that? That's what I'd like to know. Is he a museum worker?"

The guard is guarded. "It takes lots of them to set this up everyday. They come in early in the morning."

Is there a question behind the questions?


   50. R. Buckminster Fuller, Dymaxion Map, 1980.
Unmoor traditional orientation of North and South, Europe and Africa to the right, the Americas in the middle, Asia and the rest to the left (at least this is the common Mercator projection world-map used by U.S. schoolchildren).

The Mercator projection greatly projected the size of Europe, making it bigger, whereas it's actually much smaller---especially in comparison to a huge continent like Africa. I remember growing up also thinking that Greenland was about as big as the entire U.S.

Unmoor the "First World" and "Second World" (already undone) on top of the map, with the mostly "Third World" countries underneath. Henry Kissinger once said that in world history nothing important happened below the equator (or words to that effect). He could say that; he thought they were all beneath him.

Dis-orient. Let continents float sideways, or "upsidedown" (there's no settled up or down, right or left, in space anyway.) Erase the political boundaries "between" countries, change the axes of longitude and latitude, allow more latitude, notice how the shapes and sizes of all the continents, and the isthmuses connecting them, are seen anew. Fuller's map is fuller.

111. Isamu Noguchi, Seen and Unseen.
Black bronze shapes appearing to emerge out of the floor, one about 2 ' high, the other much flatter. Both seem to rise and move as you watch them and walk around them---as if they are emerging from under the floor. The shapes have odd swells and bumps here and there and seem in motion. I have to catch myself as I reach out to touch one. My immediate response is, I love this!

Brancusi made a sculpture for the blind; this attempts to sculpt the unseen.

Think what could be looming just below the floor, beneath the tips of these noguchi-bergs.

   104 and 105, 2 Louise Nevelson sculptures.
Refuse that is not refused but reused. Finials. Legs. Orts and surds. Black as defining shapes, as shape-shifting, as mourning, as the edge of morning.

110. Barnett Newman, Untitled (Number 2).
One line (or edge) connecting "In the beginning" to "lema sabachthani"--- "why? why did you forsake me?"

124. Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1952.
A blue cross emerges then disappears then re-emerges from the painting's ground: the crux.

Later, reading one of the drawers in the rolling plexiglass boxes, I find a letter from Reinhardt to Cage complaining about patronage in the arts. It is written in perfect sentences, without a blot or revision, using an italic pen.

I go inside the 2 Japanese screens in one area of the room and find 2 stools plus various hanging scrolls: 86. Kusan, Enso; 8. William Anastasi, Rice Cooking Enso; and 103. Nantembo, Enso at 83.

At last, a comfortable place to sit and think in an art museum show!

I should learn what an enso is. A circle or shape for meditation, ink drawn on paper? (Or any circle.) Zen.

Kusan's asks "What is it?" below his rough-edged, brush-drawn enso-circle, which seems to vibrate even now with the energy drawn from a deep well when it was drawn.

Nantembo's scroll is inscribed, "Born within the enso of the world, the human heart must also become an enso." Especially when you near death at 83, meditate upon the ourobouros. (I misspell this last word in my notes and can't find it in the dictionary when I try to look it up, and so keep my original attempt at spelling it. I'm not sure which vowels go where. The deep, open vowels in the word somehow "sound" right to me, making a link between the shape of the word in the mouth and the action of the abstract thought in the mind as it shapes itself.)

The Anastasi piece has a zen humor about it; it appears to be made using a used cloth filter from a rice cooker (?). Around the perfect circle on the textile are fractal-like brown-edged stains, like a corona. The rice was good, the corona even better.

The circular "brands" in some of Cage's drawings in the previous room: ensos?









   99. Jackie Matisse. Study for Underwater Kite No. 4, "Bottled Dreams."
Glass, water, india ink, and paper. One of the pieces of paper is hoop-like; the others are ribbony. Is that glitter on the floor of the bottle?

This reminds me of herb vinegar bottles, a sprig of rosemary, say, flavoring the liquid.

Others put ships in bottles, Matisse (!) flies a dream-kite.

An Eric Satie drawing, I forget the number, called "Castle."
Trees and humans and buildings live together on a ledge spiralling up a tower.
A circus castle, or a babel, is our home.


153. Wedding Sari, India.
I crane my neck up and up. The sari's silver fabric hangs high on the wall, its edge trembling slightly from invisible air currents in the room.

I break the rules and glance over some of the items off to the side, stored for use in the exhibit another day, along with fascinating machinery, museum ex machinas. I also see the little wooden desk and the computer (complete with "post-it note" reminders) the technicians use to determine where to put all the items into play each day.

One item in particular catches my eye, a Joseph Cornell box [item 37].

It is full of star tracings, a universe in a box, with angels and cosmic dust and much dark matter. There is also a fragment of a thin, coiled sea-shell, appearing as if it is floating against the imaginary constellations. Near it is the timing-spring or -coil from an old clock, the kind you would have to wind up with a small key. The spring is in the shape of the chambered nautilus' spiral.

Drummers in the Caribbean say that they are putting their drums "to sleep" when they put them in a corner after playing. All these pieces along the side of the room are sleeping too.


Time to go. No time today to play with the computer that's part of the show. I want to come back again anyway. On my way out, I catch briefly today's performance of some of Cage's writings (I'm running late and still have to go grocery-shopping for dinner tonight). The show is off to one side, in another room, with folding chairs and a small, sharply lit "stage."

A line from the little that I have time to hear: "One must be patient to wait well."

Leaving the museum, I notice that it's gotten even hotter. The sun hurts my eyes. The huge tent is still empty. A man is off to one side of the courtyard in the shade of the museum, shirtless, juggling about 5 orange balls. I'm not making this up. Probably there's going to be some big party here tonight.

Omnium gatherum, quodlibet. As I write all this down the next day, I listen to a controversial first recording and reconstruction of Charles Ives' Universe Symphony, plus his "The Unanswered Question."

Then, to further the spirit of things, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz !

Balance on that rolling circus log....


shadows on an outdoor Robert Morris sculpture
Allen Art Museum
Oberlin, Ohio

Go to "Gnats," a prose poem for John Cage

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