Sunday, February 27, 2011

Long Live Free-Form Radio! Long Live WFMU!

Appreciate free-form radio? Then consider supporting independent station WFMU during its annual fundraising Marathon that runs February 28 through March 13, 2011. WFMU first hit the airwaves on April 24, 1958 at the now-defunct Upsala College and has never looked back. Currently based in Jersey City, New Jersey, WFMU broadcasts at 91.1 Mhz and via a second signal at 90.1 Mhz in Mount Hope, New York. WFMU has also long been an Internet pioneer, streaming its programming 24/7 in multiple formats, including iPhone and Android. Past shows are archived at the station's website, which also features WFMU's entertaining and content-rich blog.

What is free-form radio you might ask? WFMU describes itself as follows:
WFMU's programming ranges from flat-out uncategorizable strangeness to rock and roll, experimental music, 78 RPM Records, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop, electronica, hand-cranked wax cylinders, punk rock, gospel, exotica, R&B, radio improvisation, cooking instructions, classic radio airchecks, found sound, dopey call-in shows, interviews with obscure radio personalities and notable science-world luminaries, spoken word collages, Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks in languages other than English as well as country and western music.
And because WFMU is 100% listener-supported, with zero corporate, government, or other underwriting, WFMU DJs have for years maintained complete autonomy and control over their own programming, which is indeed extraordinarily eclectic. Check out the current WFMU audio smorgasbord, and see for yourself!

Note: The poster shown above was designed by Dave Cunningham for the 2002 Marathon. The premiums for this year's marathon can be viewed here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

UNC Heart Surgeon Dr. Benson Wilcox Honored

Valentine's Day
is an appropriate day upon which to note that Dr. Benson Wilcox [1932-2010], a prominent cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of North Carolina for many years, has been honored with the renaming of the Special Collections Reading Room at the Health Sciences Library. Now known as The Benson Reid Wilcox Historical Collections Reading Room, the new name was approved by the UNC Board of Trustees on July 22, 2010; on January 14, 2011, a dedication ceremony, with family members, friends, and several library staff, was held to commemorate the occasion.

The Common Curator can personally attest to the contributions that Dr. Wilcox has made to the library's collections, both through his Rare Book Endowment and through the donation of over 1,400 volumes from his own personal library. The breadth and depth of the Wilcox Collection are truly remarkable, and make a significant impact upon students and researchers. An earlier post, Dr. Benson Wilcox: Surgeon, Scholar, Benefactor, describes this influence, and Dr. Wilcox' illustrious career is detailed in his obituary, also available at the Common Curator.

Note: The papier-mâché heart shown above was acquired with funds from the Wilcox Endowment. Designed by Dr. Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux (1797-1880) and fabricated circa 1870, this and similar anatomical models were an important tool in the teaching of human anatomy in the nineteenth century. As cultural, legal, and environmental concerns limited the efficacy of using cadavers for instruction, Auzoux pioneered the development of papier-mâché anatomical models, which were employed to represent the structures of humans, as well as animals and plants. For those interested in learning more, the Smithsonian Institution's online exhibition, Artificial Anatomy: Papier-Mâché Anatomical Models, is highly recommended.

Below are pictured three UNC medical students in the Wilcox Historical Collections Reading Room examining several early volumes from the rare book collections. All are members of the longstanding Bullitt History of Medicine Club, which Dr. Wilcox helped organize in the 1950s while himself a medical student.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

120th Anniversary of Grant Wood's Birth

The 120th anniversary of the birth of artist Grant Wood [1891-1941] is today; born in Anamosa, Iowa on February 13, 1891, Wood died one day short of age 51 in Iowa City, where he had become a professor of art at the University of Iowa. Best known for "American Gothic (1930)," Wood is still widely admired and studied, with books such as American Gothic: The Biography of Grant Wood's American Masterpiece and Grant Wood: A Life appearing in recent years.

Although Wood worked successfully in a variety of media, the iconic American Gothic--parodied countless times, as a perfunctory web search will reveal--tends to overwhelm consideration of his work as a whole. The original painting, of course, is best viewed in person at the Art Institute of Chicago, which awarded Wood the Harris Bronze Medal at the 43th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculptures. American Gothic was also acquired by the Institute, for $300.

As an aside, the Common Curator had the good fortune to have an early solo exhibition of paintings at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum overlap with one featuring Grant Wood (and his contemporary and friend, Marvin Cone; see announcement above). While American Gothic was not then on display--it only rarely leaves Chicago--it was nonetheless a great honor to temporarily share the walls of the museum with Wood.

A memento of Wood's artistry, incidentally, is readily available to all in the form of a U.S. 25-cent piece. The State of Iowa utilized Wood's 1932 painting, Arbor Day, to design its entry in the U.S. state quarters series (below).

The Value of Jackson Pollock's "Mural"

Jackson Pollock [1912-1956] painted Mural in one energetic outburst in 1943 (or possibly 1944). Commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, who gave him carte blanche, it is his largest work, measuring approximately 8' by 20', and arguably his finest. Pollock himself remarked that: "It was a stampede...[of] every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddamn surface." Guggenheim eventually donated Mural to the University of Iowa in October 1951, where it is today the centerpiece of the Art Museum's extensive collections.

The catastrophic flooding of the Iowa River in 2008, however, resulted in many of the collections being temporarily housed at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa (where Mural is currently being featured in the exhibition: A Legacy for Iowa). In the aftermath of the flood, controversy ensued when Michael Gartner of the Iowa Board of Regents floated the notion of selling Pollock's Mural, which has an estimated value of $140 million. In the face of widespread opposition from the University, citizens of the state, and others, nothing came of this proposal.

Last week the idea of selling the painting resurfaced, with the introduction into the Iowa General Assembly of House Study Bill 84 by Representative Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale), who is Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The bill proposes that:
The state board of regents shall provide for the sale of the Jackson
Pollock painting, “Mural”, held by the state university of Iowa. The proceeds from the sale shall be credited to a trust fund. Usage of the moneys in the trust fund shall be limited to providing scholarship assistance to undergraduate students at the university who are residents of this state and majoring in art.
Predictably, this has also met with staunch disapprobation. The University of Iowa's Faculty Senate President Ed Dove is quoted in the Press-Citizen (Iowa City) as stating: "Getting rid of that national asset, the Pollock painting, would be a disaster for the university." In addition to numerous local voices of opposition, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Association of Museums, the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, and the Task Force on University and College Museums have issued a joint statement, which observes that:
[We] are alarmed to learn of the recent proposal to sell the Jackson
Pollock painting Mural to underwrite costs at the University of Iowa. Such a sale would violate a fundamental ethical principle of the museum field, one which all accredited museums are bound to respect: that an accessioned work of art may not be treated as a disposable financial asset.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason has forcefully spoken out against such an action in the past. We applaud this courageous stand and deplore the treatment of works of art held in trust for the public as a ready source of cash. We offer our support and call on the arts community to help prevent this permanent and irredeemable loss for the University and the people of the state of Iowa.
Given the fact that the Iowa Senate has a Democratic majority, the proposed bill is unlikely to pass--at least during the present legislative session.

For further reading on Pollock's masterpiece, the book Human Rights / Human Wrongs: Art and Social Change (Iowa City: The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1986) is recommended. It contains two essays and a poem devoted to Pollock: "Pollock's Mural," by Prof. Rudolf Kuenzli (Comparative Literature); "Human Wrongs: Jackson Pollock's Mural," by Prof. Antonio R. Damasio (Neurology); and "Pollock and Canvas," by Jorie Graham (Iowa Writers' Workshop).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Mercury Cougar-Rama Muscle Car-'Splosion

Musician Neko Case is joining forces with 826 National to present the Mercury Cougar-Rama Muscle Car-'Splosion. Case is donating her classic 1967 automobile, featured on the cover of her album Middle Cyclone, for a drawing to benefit the organization's tutoring, writing, and publishing programs for students aged 6 to 18. The organization originated with 826 Valencia in San Francisco, and has grown to include centers in New York, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Using a project-based teaching model, the educational programs emphasize creative collaboration and result in student ownership of final products such as newspapers, films, and books. Collectively the various centers worked with 24,000 students in 2010.

Case explains her motivation for aiding 826 National thusly:

Reading saved my life. As a kid, books sparked my imagination and gave me a place to look forward to outside of my bad situation and poverty. I did not go to good schools and never graduated high school (though I did end up getting my G.E.D. and graduated from university), but I still had books. Reading led me to writing and writing to music and art. It exploded my world of possibilities. All those disciplines are intertwined and become more powerful the more you use them together. You become fascinated by the world of learning and suddenly, there is nothing you can't do. They prop open the doorway to ANY path, be it the art of tying knots or astrophysics.

826 gives young folks the opportunity to see their own works PUBLISHED, tangible and important. I want all young people to see the path illuminate before them as their self-worth grows. 826 is a positive AND challenging place for young minds from ALL different backgrounds. 826 also strives to raise the profile of teachers in America, and celebrate them as the superstars they are! I am so proud to be a part of this event, and I hope to do 826 proud with this drawing.
Beginning on Monday, March 14, 2011, 826 National will draw a prize a day for five other lucky winners, and the car will be drawn on Friday, March 18, 2011. Tickets are available for $45 apiece (or two for $75, three for $100). Further details for the drawing are available on the web sites of Neko Case and 826 National.