Monday, February 23, 2009

Who is Jan Lievens and What Does He Have to do with Flying?

In my continuing effort to get out of the house, I committed myself to attend the MAM After Dark event “Lievens on a Jet Plane”, put on by Cedar Block Gallery, and while I don’t know everyone involved, one of the folks putting it together was ex-Downer Schwartz bookseller Brent Gohde, so once I said I would attend, I felt uncomfortable backing out.

Honestly, isn’t it easier saying yes a month in advance? Then you get closer and think, “Why did I commit to this?” I think it is all explained in Stumbling On Happiness. Everything else is explained in this book, so why not this too?

Though I attended solo, I did have a fantastic dinner at St. Paul Fish Company with Kirk beforehand. My one-pound lobster dinner (for $12.95!) was delicious. I will not go into detail here because I have vegan friends, but I highly recommend it. It’s located in the Milwaukee Public Market.

Just as an aside, for a lovely lobster novel, you can’t go wrong with Stewart O’Nan’s lovely Last Night at the Lobster. I was on a plane recently and a Philadelphia venture capitalist (he helped raise the money for that academic program called Blackboard) recommended O’Nan to me; he couldn’t remember his name but I figured out that book he loved was Wish You Were Here. As always, figuring out a book someone is talking about without knowing the title is always a triumph; that’s why I jump up and down when I solve one of these queries in the bookstore.

Oh, were we talking about art?

I had know idea what I was walking into, but soon figured out that this was a tie-in to the Jan Lievins show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Lievens was a Dutch master, very popular in his time, but now lives in the shadow of his friend and rival Rembrandt. It turns out that several of Lievens paintings were mistakenly attributed to the big R, who also appears as a model in some of the artwork. Apparently some of this was discovered only recently, in the course of putting together this show.

Note to writers: the friendly-rivalry between the two artists, and their parallel rise and fall seemed like a great idea for either a novel or one of those Ross King-style narratives to me. I did some research and I-Page and there’s nothing, nothing!

The official tie-in to the show is Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered. You may know that in these kinds of shows, only the art museum sponsors the show gets the tie-in paperback. We only get to carry the hardcover, which is $65. Think of it as five $13 paperbacks. You’re not afraid to buy a $13 paperback from me, are you?

Let's be totally frank. $65. In February. When we're closing. We didn't bring the book in for stock. We can still get it from our warehouse for you but you really have to buy it. Promise?

So the Lievens on a Jet Plane part is that 25 or so local artists reinterpreted several of Lievens inconic paintings in their own way. It was great! While I thought that some folks may not have really been inspired by Lievens, others, particularly those who chose Samson and Delilah as inspiration, went all out.

There were also creative art stations, a Lievenator that turned photos into paintings, and a jerky film-strip style presentation of the new works that made them look like they were dancing. I looked at all the new works first, which made the Lievens work really come alive. I don’t normally feel this way in an art museum, but all the energy, the music, the really good turnout of art lovers, and one glass of sparkling wine gave me chills.

Oh, if I could have an event like this at the bookstore once in a blue moon, it would all be worth it!

If you want to read a good history that puts the lives of Rembrandt and Lievens in perspective of Dutch 17th century history, there’s nothing better than Simon Schama’s Embarrassment of Riches. Meanwhile, go see the show, and make sure you attend the next Cedar Block presentation.

One last note: we will stop taking warehouse orders for our shops on March 1st. After this post, I will only be linking to our web site if the book is in stock at one of our shops. Once the Boswell Book Company web site is up and running, the buy links will return.

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