I was chatting with a journalist friend about the rococo style the other day. It is amazing how a few pointed questions can tie the tongue in knots. “How good is this mirror and why is it so good?” The first part of this question is easy to answer, because I have looked at thousands of rococo mirrors, but the second part is much more difficult. My reference points are to pieces that I have seen, but it isn’t just that they were in a museum or country house, it was because they were beautiful which is a function of design and execution.

Years ago, I had a rococo mirror dating circa 1755 that was very simple. It had the usual rocaille and trees with leaves and flowers and was extremely elegant. I liked the mirror a great deal, but it most certainly was not the best of the best, because the carver clearly had reservations about how much depth to give all these elements. In other words, the design was beautiful and superbly drawn, but the carving, as far as dimension was concerned, was flat. That is not to say that details weren’t well carved because they were.

The rococo is particularly thorny in this regard because the philosophy behind the style is at moments whimsical and at other moments, heavily sculptural and full of drama. Sometimes there is a story and sometimes there isn’t, just a play on the understanding of another culture or age. Hence, trying to rate a mirror or table as being the best is close to pointless. What is much more interesting is to try and divine exactly what the carver/designer was trying to get across. This is not so easy, but it is rewarding and will make the style far more accessible to being understood.

There are words that are particularly redolent of hot spells in the summer. Herewith a list and a few qualifying definitions.

Lassitude-Who has the energy to define this? Maybe William Faulkner or Tennessee Williams.

Torpor-Not the right word, but it feels right when the humidity is high.

Ennui-When you miss the last air conditioned bus for fifteen minutes.

Bus-A conveyance that runs in packs, particularly when it is really hot or really cold.

Degrees-Who is counting?

“..and it feels like one hundred and…” An oft quoted phrase that has no meaning but lots of cruel implications.

Sweat-Possibly the most common spoken word in summer.

Cockroach-Indistinguishable from sweat rolling down your back.

Garbage-Talk about redolent?

Beach-The place that you think you would like to be, but which you have forgotten to take sun block to and you consequently burn to a crisp thinking the sun isn’t so hot.

Tar-The gooey stuff that streets are often paved with and which totally destroys your carpets.

Concrete-Similar to oven walls when the thermometer is over ninety degrees.

Sticky-Please don’t embrace anyone in this state. Equally good as an excuse for not hugging your mother in law.

Humidity-What is lacking during a cold snap. When you are zapped by static electricity, you actually wish there was some. Don’t be fooled, a quick shock is easier than two weeks of sweat.

Clothes-Something women seem to be able to wear less of in the summer.

Breeze-Men like strong ones when women are wearing next to nothing. Gentle ones are preferred by all.

Blog-Much harder to write in summer than in winter.

Reading-The classics are not made for summer. Detective stories are. Love those Scandinavians.

Air conditioning-An alleged panacea to the three H’s. Sort of, but not really. Try visiting the Maritimes instead.

I think I could go on, but I think you get the idea. See you on the cool days like today.

Space has been a fascination of mankind since the dawn of time. The questions about who we are and why we are here cannot be answered until we somehow understand our place in the cosmos both literally and figuratively. Religion has tried to answer that question figuratively, but that has hardly stopped man from wanting to go into space to explore the unknown. Concrete answers may not be forthcoming, but the experience will certainly be enriching.

The ride into space is what my generation has been most closely focused on. President Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon was a challenge that was embraced by America. That success has led to private jaunts into space by people willing to pay ten million dollars for the privilege. But ten million dollars for a ride in space is not like hopping a jet to Detroit. Most of us don’t have that kind of wherewithal so we need to find other modes of transport.

As far as I can tell, museums have, oddly, taken up the gauntlet. The other day, my daughter took me to see the James Turrell exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. Turrell’s work is about how we see, a worthy cause for any artist, but Turrell does it with light. If this isn’t the most fundamental aspect of our experience then I don’t know what is. The very first display, “Aten Reign”, was light in the stairwell that subtly altered tonality offering an otherworldly experience. I have to say that Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, jumped into my mind almost immediately.

The museum experience has always been about light. Certainly painted surfaces are about light, or the lack of it. The same is true for sculpture and design. That contemporary artists are exploring this in different ways is interesting, but just as Monet’s, “Water Lilies”, palls fairly quickly, for me at least, so do exhibitions of light. The interest is there, but the sustained interest, meaning I want to go see it again type of interest, is not. But, and this but is huge, as a spaceship, it works really well.

Exhibition: http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/on-view/james-turrell

I read Sharon Waxman’s book, “Loot”, with great interest, primarily because I have never believed that art work, such as the Elgin Marbles, should be repatriated. I was curious to see if she would convince me otherwise. However, Ms. Waxman is not trying to convince me of anything, she is merely reporting the state of the antiquities world, a subject which is vast but whose major touchstone is the acquisition by interested parties in antiquities. This may be obvious, but the trade in antiquities has been curtailed by the presumption that many of the items that are currently on the market were not excavated prior to 1972 and are therefore not legal for sale. And even if they are, the nationalistic arguments for their return has a compelling aspect to it.

What I found most interesting about the book was the role that individuals have played in making things happen one way or another. Whether it was a museum curator, collector, archaeologist, smuggler, journalist, government authority or whomever, it was clear from Waxman’s portrayals that all of them were motivated by ego. This is, of course, very human, but the artifacts that were being discussed also have a role. As far as I could tell, however, they were secondary. The egos, be they on the side of nationalist sentiment, knowledge, or just plain profit, dominate the stage. There seems to be little effort to come up with solutions that are workable.

Part of the problem may be due to making something of antiquities that they aren’t. None of them are nationalist symbols since they reflect cultures that are long dead. The relationship of a Cycladic figure, for example, to Greek culture today is so tenuous that it doesn’t bear mentioning. What these objects are for the countries in which they are dug up is, of course, a natural resource. Yes, they are also a source of knowledge of the past as well, but is every single object and every single site worth roping off and examining inch by inch? It is an impossible question, but it should try to be answered in a reasonable fashion.

What the business of antiquities should be is a business. Countries rich in such natural resources should assess what they have to the best of their abilities and they should exploit it just as if it was a pool of oil that needs tapping. Could a system be worked out that precluded smuggling? Is it possible to prevent tomb robbers, illegal sales, or to create working excavations that advance knowledge so as to capitalize on assets—these questions can be answered. The value of the antiquities market is likely to be huge and the benefit of opening it up, provided the politicians don’t meddle too much, is enormous. What is required as a system that does not allow for individual interpretation. That may be asking too much, given Waxman’s portrayal.