Wordplay and Cornell’s prince

I guess five hours is my limit in museums these days. Boy, I’m not even 30 and my stamina is shot to hell. 🙂 However, I found a couple of really cool things in the short time I wandered around.

Cornell's Medici prince, on display in the East Gallery of Washington's National Gallery.

First, Cornell’s Untitled (Medici Boy) is in fact on display in the National Gallery’s East Wing; it wasn’t there two years ago. They’ve moved it with the two works that were previously displayed to the second level—while I didn’t get as much of a cool feeling of exclusivity as I did in the days when you had to climb up to the tower to find them, the works are placed much more prominently.

Second, Xu Bing. Contemporary Chinese artist whose medium is calligraphy—but what calligraphy! A permanently installed three story mobile chains together the word for “monkey” in eighteen languages, each fragment shaped like a monkey. A flat plane containing three dimensional Chinese characters describing birds takes flight, as characters for “bird” become shaped into a flock of birds. A room is filled with scrolls, newspapers, and books printed with “Chinese” characters that in fact have no meaning. Walls are filled with a hand calligraphed speech from Mao — but the characters are English words written as though they were Chinese calligraphy. (This was a favorite—there were two indigo iMacs in the room running a Mac OS X program that took a typed English sentence and rendered it in this style of calligraphy in near real time. Okay, after 30 seconds. But the first few words of “The Waste Land” look really cool as neo-Chinese calligraphy.)