Author Archives: beckchris

Pandemic Art Adventures: MIT

The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal.  In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art.  College campuses are great place to find art, so one day in June I visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside.  I found quite a bit of art, which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. MIT has an excellent website with additional information here.

K2B Eero Saarinen - MIT Chapel (1956) Cambridge, MA
Although Eero Saarinen’s 1956 MIT Chapel is a work of architecture, it’s compact size and modernist belltower make it feel like a sculpture, so I am including it here.  Other interesting works of architecture on campus are Baker House (1948), one of only two permanent structures in the US designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (see below),
baker house 3
and of course, the whimsical Stata Center (2004), by Frank Gehry.
stata center 1
stata center 5

L8B Alexander Calder - La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965) (1) MIT
Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965), made of painted steel, is located in McDermott Court.
L8C Alexander Calder - La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965) (2) MIT

N1C Louise Nevelson - Transparent Horizon (1975) (1) MIT
Transparent Horizon (1975) by Louise Nevelson is made from Cor-Ten steel painted black and is located in front of the Landau building.
N1D Louise Nevelson - Transparent Horizon (1975) (2) MIT

N9B Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 3) MIT
Gary Wiley’s Invaders, completed in 1981 and installed in 1982, consists of three different butterfly figures and is made of wrought iron, soft steel, mirrored and colored Plexiglas, marbles, and paint. The sculpture is intended to be mobile and is moved to different locations on campus from time to time.  I saw it at the alumni pool building.
N9C Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 2) MIT N9D Gary Wiley - Invaders (1981) (detail 1) MIT

B1C Mark di Suvero - Aesop's Fables, II (2005)(1) MIT
Mark di Suvero’s Aesop’s Fables, II (2005) is made of steel painted red and is located on the northeast sector lawn.
B1D Mark di Suvero - Aesop's Fables, II (2005)(2) MIT

C6C Jaume Plensa - Alchemist (2010) (2) MIT
Alchemist (2010), by Jaume Plensa, is made of stainless steel painted white and is located on the lawn of the Stratton Student Center.
C6B Jaume Plensa - Alchemist (2010) (1) MIT

Pandemic Art Adventures: Harvard University

The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal.  In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art.  One place to find art is college campuses, so one day in June I visited Harvard University in Cambridge, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside.  I found quite a bit of art, and some of it was fairly easy to identify either through plaques or online searching.  In one case, I had no luck with IDs.  If you know anything about the unidentified artworks, please leave a comment!

29A1 Brunswick Lion (original 1166, replica 1900-03) Adophus Busch Hall, Cambridge, MA
Outside Adolphus Busch Hall proudly stands a replica of the Brunswick Lion. The original was made in 1166 and is located in Dankwarderode Castle in Braunschweig, Germany.  This replica was made in about 1900-1903.

Speaking of lions, these two Chinese protector lions are located at the entrance to the Harvard-Yenching Library, but I have been unable to locate any information about them. If you have anything to share (artist, date, provenance, country of origin, etc.), I would appreciate it.

99C Daniel Chester French - John Harvard (1884) (1) Cambridge, MA  99B Daniel Chester French - John Harvard (1884) (2) Cambridge, MA
Certainly the most famous sculpture on the Harvard University campus is Daniel Chester French’s 1884 statue of John Harvard, which, as any student can tell you, is not a likeness of 17th Century benefactor John Harvard (there are no paintings or drawings of him) but of 19th Century Harvard student Sherman Hoar.  Daniel Chester French’s most famous work is the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

J4A Richard Lippold - World Tree (1950) Harvard University, Cambridge, MAAlthough much of the architecture at Harvard consists of traditional 19th and early 20th Century brick  and stone structures, in 1948, the University commissioned The Architects Collaborative, led by Bauhaus innovator Walter Gropius, to design a Graduate Student Center on campus.  The modernist features of the multi-building complex serve as a stark contrast to the ivy-covered walls of old Harvard.  As part of the project, Gropius commissioned a number of artworks, including this one, called World Tree (1950), by Richard Lippold.
world tree photo
An archival photo from the 1950s shows Gropius and his colleagues (including John Harkness) posing on the sculpture.

M8E Louise Nevelson - Night Wall I (1972) (2) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
My personal favorite work of public art at Harvard is Night Wall I (1972) by Louise Nevelson, which is located outside Hauser Hall at Harvard Law School.  The multi-component sculpture, made of steel painted black, presents many different views as you walk around it, and reveals more layers of detail the more time you spend with it.  As seen in these photos, the play of light and shadow on the various steel surfaces is an added component of interest – the time of day and season of the year will affect the viewing experience.
M8D Louise Nevelson - Night Wall I (1972) (1) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

G9A Marla Allisan - Hope (pandemic series) (2020) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA G9B Marla Allisan - Uncertainty (pandemic series) (2020) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA G9C Marla Allisan - Hope III (pandemic series) (2020) Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
During my June 2020 walk through a deserted campus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this triptych in the windows of the Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building.  The works are (from left): Hope, Uncertainty and Hope III (all 2020).  They are part of the Pandemic Series by Marla Allisan, who is listed on Harvard’s website as a member of the University’s Health Services staff.

 

Listening to Black Voices: The African-American Artists List

One of the downsides of meta-lists is that they tend to be conservative. To a certain extent, they confirm the conventional wisdom and perpetuate the status quo. “Best of” meta-lists, which combine the results of multiple lists from different sources, focus on the consensus: what most people can agree on, not the controversial, the outliers, those that push the envelope.  In the case of the lists of best artists and best artworks, the meta-lists tend to confirm the stereotype that nearly all the great artists were male and white.

But these lists don’t tell the whole story.  Great artists come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and genders.  And every artist tells a different story, presents an individual viewpoint, even as they (as all artists) absorb or react to their culture, environment and historical context.  By ignoring these voices, the standard “best of” lists tend to marginalize the marginalized, and oppress the oppressed.

I recently created a new meta-list of the best African-American artists: Best African-American Artists of All Time.  The 23 artists on at least three of the original source lists are featured, along with images of their work.  These men and women range throughout the entire history of the United States – the earliest was born in the 1760s and the youngest was born in 1977. They provide an important counterbalance to the narratives and visual styles of white artists.  You may recognize some of the names on the list, but some of them may be new to you.  Most of them were new to me.  In order to make a better world, we need to listen to each other’s voices, as expressed in words, music, and, here, in the visual arts.

If you want to go even deeper into the story of African-American art, check out these other names of artists who were listed on two of the original source lists:
– Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)
– Sargent Claude Johnson (1888-1967)
– Beauford Delaney (1901- 1979)
– Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)
– Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
– Roy DeCarava (1919-2009)
– Betye Saar (1926- )
– Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
– Martin Puryear (1941- )
– Howardena Pindell (1943- )
– Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017)
– Glenn Ligon (1960- )

More Music of the Decade: Jazz, World & Classical

I’ve gone through the “Best Music – Year by Year” meta-lists from 2010-2019 and separated out the best in jazz, world music, and classical.  You can add these to the meta-lists of the best music (albums), best songs, best books, and best films of the 2010s decade.

Here are the links:

Best Jazz Albums of the 2010s
Best World Music of the 2010s
Best Classical Music of the 2010s

 

 

My Life at the Movies: 2010-2019

I spend so much time compiling other folks’ lists into meta-lists that sometimes I forget to have my own opinions. So here is a link to a list of my personal favorite movies of the 2010s decade. Please note that this list may grow as I see more movies in the coming years.

Favorite Movies of the 2010s

I haven’t seen that many 2019 movies, but here are my favorites so far:

The Souvenir (US/UK, 2019) Dir: Joanna Hogg
The Irishman (US, 2019) Dir: Martin Scorsese
Marriage Story
(US, 2019) Dir: Noah Baumbach
Parasite (South Korea, 2019) Dir: Bong Joon-ho
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (US, 2019) Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Atlantics (Senegal/France/Belgium, 2019) Dir: Mati Diop
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (US, 2019) Dir: Joe Talbot

Just in case you wanted to know my least favorite films of the decade, here is a list:

Inception (2010)
Source Code (2011)
House at the End of the Street (2012)
The Endless (2017)

The Best of the 2010s: A Decade in Review

As 2019 comes to a close, various publications and critics have put out their Best of the Decade lists in film, music and literature. As is my wont, I have collected these lists and compiled them into meta-lists for your convenience. Here are the links to the meta-lists for best movies, best books and best music (albums and songs) of the 2010s:

Best Films of the 2010s
Best Books of the 2010s
Best Music of the 2010s – Albums
Best Songs of the 2010s

Too busy to click on the links? Need some information right away? Here are some sneak peeks at the top items on the lists:

FILMS
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Moonlight (2016)
Get Out (2017)
The Social Network (2010)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Lady Bird (2017)
Under the Skin (2013)
Inception (2010)
Boyhood (2014)
Parasite (2019)

BOOKS
Fiction
THE NEAPOLITAN NOVELS (2011-2014). By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein  
AMERICANAH (2013). By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
THE GOLDFINCH (2013). By Donna Tartt 
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (2016). By Colson Whitehead
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
 (2010). By Jennifer Egan 
STATION ELEVEN (2014). By Emily St. John Mandel   
THE SYMPATHIZER (2015). By Viet Thanh Nguyen 
HOMEGOING (2016). By Yaa Gyasi

Nonfiction
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (2015). By Ta Nehisi Coates
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS (2010). By Rebecca Skloot 
JUST KIDS (2010). By Patti Smith 
THE ARGONAUTS (2015). By Maggie Nelson 
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer (2010). By Siddhartha Mukherjee 
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010). By Isabel Wilkerson
WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012). By Cheryl Strayed 
BAD FEMINIST: Essays (2014). By Roxane Gay 
H IS FOR HAWK (2015). By Helen MacDonald    

MUSIC
Albums
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
Beyoncé
 – Lemonade (2016)
Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Robyn
 – Body Talk (2010)
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Rihanna – ANTI (2016)
Arcade Fire
 – The Suburbs (2010)
Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017)
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018)

Songs
Dancing on My Own – Robyn (2010)
Royals – Lorde (2012)
Formation – Beyoncé (2016)
Hotline Bling – Drake (2015)
Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Runaway – Kanye West (ft. Pusha T) (2010)
We Found Love – Rihanna (ft. Calvin Harris) (2011)
Rolling in the Deep – Adele (2011)
Video Games – Lana Del Rey (2011)
Everything Is Embarrassing – Sky Ferreira (2012)
Oblivion – Grimes (2012)
Old Town Road (Billy Ray Cyrus remix) – Lil Nas X (2019)




The Best of 2019: Books, Music, Movies & TV

Every year in December, various publications and websites announce their best of the year lists in various categories, and every December I collect those lists and combine them into meta-lists.  Usually I make lists of best books, movies and music (albums), but this year I added TV shows, in acknowledgement that we are in a period of unprecedented quality in television.  Here are the meta-lists for 2019:

Best Films of 2019
Best Books of 2019
Best Music of 2019
Best TV Shows of 2019

Check, Please: The Arts Checklists

One of the reasons I started making lists was to figure out what movies to watch, music to listen to, and books to read.  There is so much out there and more gets produced every year.  How do you decide how to spend your limited time and energy?  My primary goal was to increase the likelihood that I would be getting high-quality material and reduce the chances that I would be wasting my time with dreck. I also wanted to avoid getting into a rut of sameness – I wanted to explore new artistic visions, not just those I was familiar with already.  I concluded that the best way to achieve my goals was to collect lists made by critics, academics and other experts of what they considered the best in each category.  I might disagree with any particular individual’s taste, but if a consensus of critical opinion formed around a book, movie, recording, or any other work of art, then there was a good chance it was worth spending my time and money on it. This process has worked very well for me for nearly 20 years now. I still have my disagreements with the critics and my own personal preferences, but going through the lists has given me huge rewards – intellectually and emotionally – and has exposed me to works of art that I never would have discovered on my own.

As I have made this journey through the arts, I found myself wanting to keep track of my progress through the meta-lists I had made. So I put together giant lists in four categories: (1) literature; (2) visual art and architecture; (3) music; and (4) film.  This lists are aggregations of various other meta-lists on the Make Lists, Not War website.  Then I began checking off the books, stories and poems I’d read, the works of visual art I’d seen, the music I’d listened to; and the movies I’d seen. I couldn’t figure out how to do an actual checklist, so instead I just highlight the items I’ve seen/heard/read in blue.  I keep a running tally at the bottom of each list.  The lists for books, movies and music get longer every year as I do my end-of-year meta-lists.  I don’t think I’ll ever finish any of these lists – that’s not the point – but it’s fun to keep track of what I’ve already checked off.

Here are the links to my checklists. I’ve also included the total number of items, the number I’ve checked off so far and the overall percentage:

My Checklists – Film  Total: 2,012.  Seen: 1,195.  Percentage: 59.3%
My Checklists – Music  Total: 2,001.  Listened to: 1,152.  Percentage: 57.5%
My Checklists – Literature  Total: 3,520.  Read: 1,427.  Percentage: 40.5%
My Checklists – Visual Art  Total: 2,897.  Seen: 391.  Percentage: 13.4%

You can use these lists too. All you have to do is cut and paste the list, get rid of all the blue highlighting and start to go through the list on your own.  Make sure to keep the items numbered to make it easier to do a tally of the ones you’ve checked off.

Know What I Like: My Five-Star Films, Books & Albums

One of the occasional challenges of running a meta-list website is having to explain to people that the rankings on the meta-lists are not my personal opinions.  I compile these meta-lists after collecting lists made by other people and combining them; the more original source lists an item is on, the higher it is on the meta-list ranking.  I do keep my own personal lists of favorites, but I don’t include them in the meta-lists, because I prefer to focus on lists created by academics, critics and other experts, not the average person.

But for those who are curious about my own personal opinions, I am providing the links to my lists of favorite movies, books and albums:

My Five-Star Films
My Five-Star Books
My Five-Star Albums

Why five stars instead of Top 100 or some other defined number? Well, if you love books, movies, and music as much as I do, and you’ve ever had to come up with a Top 10, Top 25 or even Top 100 list, you know how painful it can be to cut your list of favorites down to the required number.  Many years ago I decided that this pain is unnecessary. I have many more than 100 favorite books, albums and movies and I don’t see the point of eliminating items from the list just because of an arbitrary number.  My approach is to rate every film I see, book I read and album I listen to on a 1-5 or 1-10 basis.  Then the list of favorites makes itself, with no pain: every item that I rated five out of five (or 10 out of 10) stars goes on the list, with no numerical cutoff.  There is also no worrying about whether you like the number 1 item more than the number 2 item and so on.  Everything with five stars is a winner – there’s no competition among equals. The resulting lists, although considerably longer than Top 100 lists, depict my tastes and interest much more accurately than any arbitrary Top 10 or Top 100 list could ever do.

 

The Reel Deal: The New Improved Best Movies List

It’s been several years since I’ve updated the Best Films of All Time lists, but I found the inspiration to do the update in a new book, The New York Times Book of Movies: The Essential 1,000 Films to See, edited by movie critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott.  I added that book’s list to the existing best movies meta-list, as well as a number of other recent lists I found online. The movie meta-list now contains over 25 lists of the best movies of all time.  I’ve made three versions of the new meta-list: one is organized by rank (that is, with the movies on the most lists at the time); one is organized chronologically; and the third version is organized by director (listed in order of birth date).  Here are the links:

Best Films of All Time – Ranked
Best Films of All Time – Chronological
Best Films of All Time – By Director

There are many excellent movies on the meta-list and a few that I don’t think deserve to be there.  There are a number of movies (and movie directors) missing from the meta-list that should be there.  There is also a bit of a cultural bias:  the meta-list is skewed heavily towards American films, and most of the foreign-language films on the list are from Western Europe, although there is a significant contingent of films from Asia (particularly Japan). There is only one African film on the list, for example, and the absence of at least one movie by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène is shocking. Other well-known and/or well-respected directors who didn’t make the list include: Tim Burton, Todd Solondz, Darren Aronofsky, Catherine Breillat, Baz Luhrmann, and Kathryn Bigelow. (At least some of these directors – including Sembène – are on a separate list of the best film directors and their best films.) Despite these flaws, I think this is a very interesting list and well worth reading. 

As I often need to explain, this meta-list does not reflect my personal opinions of the best movies, although I do keep track of my favorite movies in a separate list.  Just for fun, I decided to compare my list of 253 favorite movies with the meta-list.  Most of my favorites (198 out of total 253) are on the meta-list. It is interesting to see which of my favorites didn’t make the meta-list.  Most of the movies on my list that are not on the meta-list fall into one of four categories: (1) short films (including animated shorts); (2) offbeat picks by well-respected directors; (3) documentaries; and (4) very recent films.  I’m not surprised by the number of my favorite recent films that are not on the meta-list; critics don’t tend to put very recent films on “best movies of all time” lists – they want to wait and see if the films of the past few years stand the test of time.  Here are 53 films I’ve rated 10/10 that are not on the meta-list of best films of all time:

Shorts

  1. The Pawnshop (US, 1916) Dir. Charles Chaplin
  2. One A.M. (US, 1916) Dir: Charles Chaplin
  3. One Froggy Evening (US, 1955) Dir: Chuck Jones
  4. What’s Opera, Doc? (US, 1957) Dir: Chuck Jones
  5. Cosmic Ray (US, 1962) Dir: Bruce Conner
  6. Ruka (The Hand) (Czechoslovakia, 1965) Dir: Jiří Trnka
  7. De Düva: The Dove (US, 1968) Dir: George Coe & Anthony Lover
  8. The Wrong Trousers (UK, 1993) Dir: Nick Park

Offbeat Picks by Well-Respected Directors

  1. The Virgin Spring (Sweden, 1960) Dir: Ingmar Bergman
  2. The Trial (France, 1962) Dir: Orson Welles
  3. Darling (UK, 1965) Dir: John Schlesinger
  4. Women in Love (UK, 1969) Dir: Ken Russell
  5. Swept Away… (Italy, 1974) Dir: Lina Wertmüller
  6. 3 Women (US, 1977) Dir: Robert Altman
  7. Return of the Secaucus Seven (US, 1980) Dir: John Sayles
  8. Stardust Memories (US, 1980) Dir: Woody Allen
  9. My Dinner with Andre (US, 1981) Dir: Louis Malle
  10. Baby It’s You (US, 1983) Dir: John Sayles
  11. Short Cuts (US, 1993) Dir: Robert Altman
  12. Before Sunrise (US, 1995) Dir: Richard Linklater
  13. Traffic (US, 2000) Dir: Steven Soderbergh
  14. Waking Life (US, 2001) Dir: Richard Linklater
  15. Dogville (Denmark, 2003) Dir: Lars von Trier
  16. Slumdog Millionaire (UK, 2008) Dir: Danny Boyle
  17. The White Ribbon (Germany/Austria 2009) Dir: Michael Haneke
  18. The Tree of Life (US, 2011) Dir: Terence Malick
  19. Moonrise Kingdom (US, 2012) Dir: Wes Anderson

Documentaries

  1. Night and Fog (France, 1955) Dir: Alain Resnais
  2. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (US, 1968) Dir: William Greaves
  3. Microcosmos (France, 1996) Dir: Claude Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou
  4. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (US, 1997) Dir: Errol Morris
  5. Capturing the Friedmans (US, 2003) Dir: Andrew Jarecki
  6. Tarnation (US, 2004) Dir: Jonathan Caouette
  7. Fahrenheit 9/11 (US, 2004) Dir: Michael Moore
  8. Grizzly Man (US, 2005) Dir: Werner Herzog
  9. Encounters at the End of the World (US, 2007) Dir: Werner Herzog
  10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (US, 2010) Dir: Werner Herzog
  11. The Act of Killing (Denmark, 2012) Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer

Very Recent Films

  1. Anomalisa (US, 2015) Dir: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
  2. Moonlight (US, 2016) Dir: Barry Jenkins
  3. The Florida Project (US, 2017) Dir: Sean Baker
  4. The Favourite (Ireland/UK/US, 2018) Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
  5. The Souvenir (UK, 2019) Dir: Joanna Hogg

Other

  1. The Vanishing (The Netherlands, 1988) Dir: George Sluizer
  2. Ed Wood (US, 1994) Dir: Tim Burton
  3. Happiness (US, 1998) Dir: Todd Solondz
  4. Requiem for a Dream (US, 2000) Dir: Darren Aronofsky
  5. Fat Girl (France, 2001) Dir: Catherine Breillat
  6. Moulin Rouge! (US, 2001) Dir: Baz Luhrmann
  7. American Splendor (US, 2003) Dir: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
  8. Downfall (Germany, 2004) Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel
  9. Once  (Ireland, 2006) Dir: John Carney
  10. Juno (US, 2007) Dir: Jason Reitman