“Woman From Bahia”

Woman from Bahia

“Woman from Bahia,” 19th century painting. But, wearing white gloves, a midnight-blue gown, and ropes of gold beads, she’s a self-contained presence. Credit Museu Paulista da Universidade de São Paulo.

A large 19th century painting titled “Woman From Bahia” stands in contrast to all this. We don’t know who the subject is, or who painted her, or when (the guess is around 1850). But, wearing white gloves, a midnight-blue gown, and ropes of gold beads, she’s a self-contained presence. She doesn’t seem to notice or care that the painter, or we, are there. She has a life and thoughts all her own. She may be an ex-slave; she’s also a queen.

(Holland Cotter, “Brazil Enthralls With an Art Show of Afro-Atlantic History,” NYTimes, 10-13-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Distance from Marfa

Donald Judd

Donald Judd in the Architecture Office in Marfa, Tex. Credit Laura Wilson.

That Marfa is becoming a destination might have been amusing to the artist [Donald Judd]. “When Judd lived in Marfa, he already thought it was too crowded,” [Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art] said. “He kept buying ranches to get further and further away.”

(Ted Loos, “Judd Foundation Is Renovating Its Marfa Buildings. The Project Isn’t Minimal,” NYTimes, 10-13-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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A “four-button mongoose”?

Lenny Bruce

The comedian Lenny Bruce tested the boundaries of what was considered free speech in the 1960s. He is having a resurgence. Credit Dove/Getty Images

The Times described Mr. Bruce in 1959 as “a four-button mongoose” imbued with a streak of moral indignation. “The kind of comedy I do isn’t, like, going to change the world,” Mr. Bruce said in the interview. “But certain areas of society makes [sic] me unhappy, and satirizing them — aside from being lucrative — provides a release for me.”

(Laura M. Holson, “Lenny Bruce Is Still Talking Dirty and Influencing People,” NYTimes, 10-13-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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1987: Andrew

Andy1

Andy1

[Dear Mother,]

E*** was with Andrew at Albertson’s the other day and told me that every time they announced some instore special over the intercom Andrew would holler, “OK!” She looked at him and said, “They’re not talking to you, baby!” She said his expression seemed to say, “How could they possibly not be talking to me?”

When you address him saying, “Andrew!” He almost infallibly answers, “Yes?” Here’s a little ritual dialogue that we’re all playing on him these days. He rises to the bait almost every time:

“Andrew!”
“Yes?”
“Do you need a kiss?”
“No!”
“Andrew!”
“Yes?”
“Do you need a hug?”
“No!”
“Andrew!”
“Yes?”
“What DO you need?”

The answer here varies. It usually ends with him getting hugged and kissed and tickled.

His cussword is “dummy!” He hurls the epithet with such vigor it sounds like “dammit!” E*** sometimes loses patience when she’s been called “dummy!” a dozen times and pops him on the butt. He succumbs to a tragic fit of tears for about 30 seconds, then miraculously pulls himself together and presses on to chase the cat or browse in the garbage can.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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1987: High-Tech Verse and Allergies

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[Dear Mother,]

Charles B*** asked me to co-edit an anthology of high-tech verse which he has been commissioned to do by his publisher…. I’ve thought fairly seriously about it, but am thinking of passing it up in favor of things more computer-oriented, just to economize effort. It’s tempting to be drawn into something “literary” again, but doing so is usually the equivalent of working for free, and that’s no longer attractive.

Our general health is mediocre; everyone wakes up and hawks sputum for the first hour. It seems to be a Victoria-wide phenomenon; our air is loaded with dirt and pollen, which induces chronic reactions on the part of the respiratory system, which in turn causes everyone to strangle in phlegm. Sore throat for weeks on end goes with it all. Contrary to what the Chamber of Commerce may trumpet, this is emphatically not God’s country. Several doctors have said we’re the allergy capital of the country. We had occasion to take Andrew to Bobby O*** several weeks ago; he was covering for McC***, who has a large cattle operation and was out of town selling prize bulls somewhere. I graduated from high school with O*** and remember him at least from Crain. We still don’t have a satisfactory physician. McC*** is arrogant and moody. E*** has said several times that it tires and unnerves her to be exposed to his alternations of mood.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Hilma af Klint (1862-1944)

Hilma af Klint

“The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood” (1907). Credit The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm.

The idea that a woman got there first, and with such style, is beyond thrilling. Yes, I know art is not a competition; every artist’s “there” is a different place. Abstraction is a pre-existing condition, found in all cultures. But still: af Klint’s “there” seems so radical, so unlike anything else going on at the time. Her paintings definitively explode the notion of modernist abstraction as a male project. Despite several decades during which modernism’s history has been expanded and diversified, there is something towering about the emergence of af Klint, which really began in earnest in the 1980s. (She knew she was ahead of her time, and stipulated that her work not be exhibited until 20 years after her death — but it took even longer.)

(Roberta Smith, “‘Hilma Who?’ No More,” NYTimes, 10-12-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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“Whereabouts”

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas, Juan van der Hamen, 17th century (Instituto Valencia de Don Juan)

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas, Juan van der Hamen, 17th century (Instituto Valencia de Don Juan)

Quite a few readers wrote to us last week to take issue with this sentence at the end of a briefing: “His whereabouts is unknown.”

Surely, they wrote, it should be “whereabouts are.”

Well, yes and no.

Times editors consult an in-house style guide for grammar and spelling questions like this. And the entry for “whereabouts” tells us to “construe it as a singular.”

But why?

While “whereabouts” is commonly used as a noun, it began as an adverb (“Whereabouts are you from?”). That means the “s” at the end is an adverbial suffix — think of “always” or “besides” — and not an indicator of a plural noun.

Historically, “whereabouts” has been considered both singular and plural when used as a noun, though in recent years the plural has been winning out.

Philip Corbett, our top editor for standards, said that in cases of two acceptable usages, the Times stylebook often specifies one, and sometimes the more traditional one.

“At some point,” he said, “we may have to consider whether to change our stylebook guidance, if only to avoid distracting readers who may believe that the singular usage is wrong.”

(Jennifer Jett, “…Back Story,” NYTimes, 10-12-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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