Follow the Dots and Reflect on the Beauty of Yayoi Kusama’s Art

Follow the Dots and Reflect on the Beauty of Yayoi Kusama’s Art

Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, with the Guest House and Yayoi Kusami’s Pumpkin

Yayoi Kusama is now the featured artist as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  Crowds are lining up out the door to see her exhibition, “Infinity Mirrors.”  It’s a blockbuster show made up of mirrors and dots that’s capturing the public imagination with huge crowds. 

When I went to visit Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut for the very first time in September, there was an installation of Kusama’s art in the house and on the property.   Red polka dots of various sizes were attached to all the glass walls.  

To me, the dots fit perfectly into Philip Johnson’s iconic house–as flat red circles on a very flat building.  Some visitors at that time remarked that it interfered with how they had hoped to appreciate “The Glass House.”  But the dots didn’t interfere with the building’s transparency. Shadows and reflections appeared that would not have been there otherwise. Perhaps the dots made me even more aware of the house’s transparency, and color shined through along with the light.
As for the Johnson property, there’s an eclectic mix of buildings, 14 in all.    They’re totally different from each other, representing the great diversity in Johnson’s architectural genius.  Each building was a work of art in itself, with a sense of wholeness to it.  Set into the landscape of 49 acres, it is part of something much larger than itself, an entire park or environment.
The polka dots of Yayoi Kusama are much the same.  They’re small pinpricks in the center of something much larger.    In reflecting on the dots, and in experiencing a multiplicity of dots, we become aware of the universe much larger than ourselves.   We go outside of ourselves, into the larger universe.  Presumably the Hirshhorn exhibition will make that world seem infinite and thus the title, “Infinity Mirrors.”  

 The difference between Kusama’s installations at The Glass House and in “Infinity Mirrors” is the difference between seeing the expansiveness of life in nature and being inside of our own small world and being forced to expand outward. The Hirshhorn is expecting an explosion of “selfies” taken at the exhibition. Visitors will only be allowed in the six installation rooms, with the doors closed, for a limited amount of time.

Pumpkin on the grounds of The Glass House

Kusama displayed one of her large pumpkins on the grounds of the Glass House.  The metal sculpture was pierced with polka dots and has a red interior. Kusama’s pumpkin theme repeats in one of the six installation rooms of the the Hirshhorn Exhibition.  It’s an installation called “All the eternal love I have is for the pumpkins.   (One of these glass pumpkins broke last Saturday, forcing a temporary closing of the exhibit.)

The photo by Domus was taken in November, 2016

Pumpkins, like the polka dots, are a lifelong obsession for the artist.  According to Kusama, “In Japanese, a ‘pumpkin head’ is an ignorant man or a pudgy woman, but for me, I am charmed by its shape, form, and lack of pretension.”    There’s a humor in Kusama work, too.

The Glass House’s Kusama installation also featured mirrors in an entirely different form — different from those at the Hirshhorn.  They were spherical balls in a pool of water called Narcissus Garden, surrounding the Pond Pavilion designed by Johnson. They spheres, 1300 of them, each 30 cm wide, moved and floated with the ponds currents.  They reflected the sky, the water and land.  Like Monet’s Water Lilies, Kusama’s water art unifies the elements of water, earth and air, except that it’s not done in a series of paintings. Its a form of kinetic sculpture.  In it’s effervescence, Narcissus Garden reminds me that some things can never appear the same again.

Philip Johnson’s Pond Pavilion and Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, September 24, 2016, view from above

Kusama, born in 1929, is now 87.  She moved from Japan to New York in 1957 and played an important role in the avant-garde movement of the ’60s.  She participated in events with Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman and Allan Kaprow, instances of performance art called “happenings.”  But in 1973 she moved back to Japan, exhausted and suffering from hallucinations.  She has lived in a mental institution since that time. There was a rebirth of interest in her art in the late ’90s.  Her work perfectly embodies Pop Art and Conceptual Art, bridging the two movements, as well as Environmental Art and Performance Art.  

The public appreciation for installations and Conceptual Art has finally risen, giving her the broad audience she has today. The Hirshhorn Show is a retrospective celebrating 50 years of her life as an artist.  It will travel to four other museums around the US and Canada.  Sometimes it takes a life time of work and struggle to finally achieve what you’re here for and today is her time. (The Narcissus Garden is a variation she had introduced years ago at the Venice Biennale in 1966.  The “Infinity Mirrors” concept actually goes back in Art History, used in the Hall of Mirrors and integrated into the design of the Palace at Versailles.)   

Yayoi Kusama

According to art critic Philip Kennicott, Kusama says, “My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.” Is it a combination of the obsessiveness in OCD and the hallucinations of schizophrenia?   If it is mental illness that creates this great art, then we can recognize mental illness as a special gift and not stigmatize these people who suffer from it.  (Read Philip Kennecott’s Review.  He sees her as criticizing the art world’s narcissism. I believe that criticism is justified.) 

She has given us a visualization of the connectedness of all life. The only other contemporary artist who does it so well is Anselm Kiefer, or possibly Bill Viola (now at SAAM). Kiefer and Kusama distinguish themselves with their spiritual insights.  And her audience is enriched, coming away with an understanding of life that is so much fuller. Can’t wait to see the Hirshhorn show. 
(The best article on the Glass House exhibition is from DeZeen.)

Roman Arches, Vaults and Romanesque Churches

A first century temple to Mars, or possibly Janus, near Autun (ancient
Augustodunum) in Burgundy may have inspired the large churches of this region
in the 11th and 12th centuries. Only a fraction of this building remains today.  Here,
a family from the Netherlands had a picnic while climbing the ruin.

A movement  to dot the landscape of Europe with large churches in the 11th and 12th centuries was fueled by deep Christian faith, but, initially, the important building technologies had inspiration from the remains of ancient, pagan buildings. The population surged at this time and the last invaders, the Vikings and Magyars, had settled down.

A transept of St. Lazare, Autun, built around 1120
has tall arches and a blind arcade like many
late Roman buildings. The rib vaults
vault are an innovation of Romanesque

Romanesque is the name given today to that style of art, reflecting its common traits with Roman architecture: arches, barrel vaults and groin vaults.  Although the library at the monastery of Cluny, in Burgundy, had a copy of the Roman architect Vitruvius’ treatise on architecture which described how to make concrete, the medieval builders did not use concrete.  They looked at the stones around them, used their compasses and measures, and created a marvelous revival of monumental building.  It was a time of pilgrimages and Crusades, and stone masons moved from place to place, spreading architectural ideas.

Porte d’Arroux is the best preserved of four gates 
erected in Autun during Roman times.

In the first centuries of Christianity, builders reused Roman columns, which were plentiful in the forums surrounding civic buildings of the ancient cities.  Romanesque sculptors invented their own style of column capitals and used them to tell stories in sculpture.  Even in monastery churches, Romanesque builders needed to allow for pilgrims coming to see relics and they built big.  For the proportion of nave arcades to the upper levels of churches, the gallery and clerestory, they took some cues from Roman buildings, aqueducts and gates and made the upper levels smaller.  At times, late Roman architecture of the 3rd and 4th centuries, which tended to be more organic and experimental than buildings from the Augustan age, probably served as models.

 Porte St-Andre is one of the two Roman gates standing in Autun, Burgundy,
although much of it was restored in the 19th century.

Outside of Autun, the remains of a temple to Mars or Janus, of Gallic fanum design, has magnificent high arches that reminded me of Arches National Park in Utah. Two Roman gates and the remnants of a Roman theater are in Autun, also.  It’s surprising so much remains, because the city was sacked by both Saracens in the 8th century and Vikings in the 9th century.   Because of the richness of the ruins, it’s not surprising that some of the greatest cathedrals from Romanesque times were built in the Burgundian region of east-central France: St. Lazare in Autun, Ste. Madeleine in Vézelay, St. Philibert at Tournus, and, above all, St. Pierre at Cluny.  The church at Cluny remained the largest Christian church until St. Peter’s, Rome, was completed in the 17th century.  Most of it was damaged during the French Revolution.

The Baths of Constantine, Arles
dated to the 4th century

Further south, in Arles, the Baths of Constantine, built in the 4th century, may have inspired medieval builders.  (It’s hard to know how much was built over it or covered up at the time.)  It has clusters of bricks which alternate with limestone in forming the arches.  This Roman decorative variation was sometimes imitated. The curved end and semi-dome of the “tepidarium” (warm bath) resembles the apse end of churches from the Middle Ages.  In fact, curved exedrae, which are shaped like semi-circles, were ever present in all types of Roman buildings.   Probably the best example of Roman vaulting techniques were seen in the theatre and an amphitheater in Arles, dating to the early empire.

The curved Roman exedra form of this
bath building was imitated in the curved
east end of Romanesque churches

Nearby was a famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, with three rows of superimposed arches harmoniously proportioned like the two or three levels in the naves of Romanesque churches.  In Nîmes, there was also a Roman tower, an amphitheatre, and a theatre that has vanished. The Maison Carrée in Nîmes, a famous Augustan temple, served as inspiration mainly because of its decorative details.  The straight post-and-lintel construction did not offer practical solutions for the large size desired in the Romanesque churches.  (In neoclassical times, Thomas Jefferson used the Maison Carrée as the model Virginia’s state capital building.)

Most art historians talk of the relationship between the design of triumphal arches and the facades of churches in Provence.  Certainly the abundant decorative details of churches in Provence, including Saint Trophime in Arles, is in imitation of classical decorative motifs.  This church and others in Provence had continuous bands for narrative sculpture, called friezes, as on classical buildings.

The layout of St.-Gilles-du-Gard near Nîmes, France, is often compared to
the design of Roman triumphal arches.  The frieze is a continuous narrative in sculpture.
Additionally, the shape of the round tympanum and pilasters has parallels with the
 so-called Temple of Diana, below left.
In Nîmes, the remains on the inside of a 3rd 
century Temple to Diana, may have inspired
the design of the tympanum and barrel vault,
standards for Romanesque church design

However, I note the similarity between St.-Gilles-du-Gard, in the Rhone delta, and the building traditionally considered a Temple of Diana in Nîmes, probably from the 3rd or 4th century.  It provides a model for the shape of a tympanum, an important field for sculpture over the doorway of Romanesque churches.  Only portions of the interior remain, with the beginning of a reinforced barrel vault, pediments and pilasters.  It is easy to see how the shapes of Roman buildings determined some shapes in the churches and cathedrals.  Certainly the doorways at St.-Gilles resemble three-part triumphal arches, like the Arch of Constantine or triumphal arch in Orange (see photo on bottom).

At St-Gilles-du-Gard, two heads look like Roman
portraits.  One that grows out of a Corinthian capital
is dressed like a priest. A snake is approaching the
other head. Only an artist of the Middle Ages
could use classicism with so much wit and whimsy!

When Romanesque builders took inspiration from ancient art and architecture, they added much of their own creativity and ingenuity.  They began to make the arches taller, the vaults more elaborate and pointed, reflecting their borrowings  from Islamic architecture during and after the Crusades.  (One such Romanesque Church, which took in so many diverse influences, including sculpture in the style of Provence, is Monreale Cathedral, discussed previously on another page in this blog.)

The Triumphal Arch in Orange, France was a
richly ornamented, a trait carried over in the
Romanesque churches of Provence

When it came to sculpture, they were very imaginative, whimsical and emotionally expressive of the religious zeal of a bygone age.   At times, they re-used classicism in ways that would not have been acceptable at all, as in Sainte-Marie de Nazareth in Vaison-la Romaine.

Romanesque architecture developed very quickly and led to the Gothic style, which began in Paris around 1150 and spread almost everywhere within a century.

The Via Lucis website has the best and most comprehensive photographs and explanations of Romanesque art and architecture.

Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

Construction and Destruction: The Stones of the Acropolis

The Erechtheion is an Ionic building, with its porches going in different directions.
It commemorates the founding of Athens, with the contest between Athena and Poseidon

Glistening white marbles which is seem to grow out of the hill form the picture on my mind of the Athens’ Acropolis, from what I’ve seen in textbooks.  The city’s highest hill has been a wonder to the world for 2500 years, and a symbol of Greek civilization since ancient times.

One climbs the hill to get to the Propylaia, monumental gateway to the Acropolis.
 A wide opening in the center allowed horse-drawn chariots
to enter.  This view is from inside the hill.
Although the Parthenon is
Doric, this column on the
ground was Ionic

Yet, at any given time, so much on the Acropolis is in the process of restoration, covered up by scaffolds.  I was there on the first day of June, which, unusually, was not a sunny day.

A view of the Acropolis ruins leads to another hill, capped
Athens Tower

I was surprised to see that there are as many stones on the ground as there are against the skies.  It appears that the archaeologists have carefully arranged, catalogued and labelled the stones with numbers to fit them into a puzzle which could locate and determine their placement in the past.   I must confess to be a lover of ruins who finds them very dramatic and sees great beauty in their fallen state.  Close-up views reveal the artfulness that goes into creating fine decorative designs.

Of course, the Parthenon is the best known, most beautiful and most perfectly proportioned of all Greek temples.  Most of the building’s west end was hidden from view, while I was there.  From a few angles it’s possible to see a good deal of its former glory.

East end of the Parthenon from inside of the Acropolis

The pediment on the left side of the east end, the heads of
 horses pulling the chariot of the sun and a reclining god
are visible.  These plaster casts replace the Elgin marbles. 

Unfortunately, the center of the Parthenon blew up and was lost for good in 1685, when the Ottoman Turks were using it as an arsenal and a Venetian cannon hit it.  In 1804, Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, took most of its marble architectural sculpture and brought it to his home in Scotland.  When he financial problems, he sold these originals, called the Elgin Marbles, to the British Museum, where they remain today.  In some accounts, the marbles were being damaged and at risk of more damage under the Ottoman rule of the time.

However, there are plaster casts on the building, including sculpted horses and a reclining god (Dionysos or Heracles) on left side of the east pediment.  These  gives a great impression of how the the sculptures fit in under the roof.  Replicas of the rest of the sculpture are on display at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, completed in 2009.  The museum’s display reveals fairly well how the large sculptural program related to the architecture. 

Above a triglyph is a horse’s head on 
the opposite side of the pediment

I was surprised to find out that a few of the
original square relief sculptures, called metopes, are actually in the Acropolis Museum.

One of these reliefs is particularly beautiful: Hebe and Hera, mother and daughter who sat among the gods and goddesses deciding the outcome of the Trojan War.  Despite all the damage, the panel was recently restored.  The drapery of the seated goddess, Hera, is so beautiful that we can sense the distinct folds of an undergarment as well as the outer clothing.  Experts think that the Parthenon’s chief sculptor, Phidias, did this panel. 

The Metope of goddesses Hebe and Hera
are among 4 metopes still in Athens

There’s so much more history of construction and destruction.  The classical building of 442-432 is actually a replacement for the earlier temple to Athena which was burned by the Persians in 480 BC. Many fine statues of young women (kore, called korai, plural) and young men (kouros, called kouroi, plural), which were buried after the Persian pillage, are on display at the museum.  Besides the elegant Peplos Kore, there are many other less famous votive statues of women from the Archaic period.  Despite the archaic stiffness of many of these sculptures, they are extremely beautiful.  I also appreciated the beauty of the relief statues of Nike (victory) figures from the balustrade which had surrounded the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis, built after the Parthenon.

 The modern, recently-built Acropolis Museum, is set on an angle, but in an axis facing the Parthenon.  The Theater of Dionysos, from the 4th century BC covers the hill, between the Parthenon and Acropolis Museum. 

We can see more of the Erechtheion, an unusual temple formed with slender porches reaching out on three different sides.   Because of its tall, Ionic columns and the Porch of the Maidens, I found the Erechtheion the most impressive of all buildings on the Acropolis.   The caryatids are replacements for the original statues.

The Erechtheion is an Ionic temple.  Its decorative
details contrast with the simple Doric columns of the other structures

The original statues can be seen from all sides in the new Acropolis Museum.  A trip to that museum is a must for understanding the many stages of construction and destruction on the Acropolis, and for understanding the many building programs of the Acropolis.  The Athenians had begun building their temple around 490 BC, before the Persians destroyed it.  However, there are sculptures reflecting at least two even earlier temples to Athena, one from about 570 BC, and another dating around 520 BC.  The stones of one of these temples are beneath the Erectheoion.  Construction and destruction were constants in the lives of the ancient Greeks.

A view behind the Porch of the Maidens over to the long side of the Parthenon
reminds me that the Erechtheion stands over the stones of a giant Archaic temple,
an earlier templet to Athena, 
Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016

The Splendor of Knossos and the Minoans

This summer I finally had the opportunity to go to Greece and see the sprawling Palace at Knossos.  Actually, it’s not certain if this site was a palace, administrative center, giant apartment building, religious/ceremonial building, or all of the above.  Yet it is so huge that, when discovered in 1900, archeologist Arthur Evans certainly thought he had found a true labyrinth where the legendary King Minos lived and kept his minotaur.  The name Minoan for the Bronze Age people who lived in Crete from about 2000-1300 BC has stuck.

Covering 6 acres, the palace of Knossos and the surrounding city may have
had a population of 100,000 in the Bronze Age

According to legend, the king of Athens paid tribute to King Minos by sending him 7 young men and young women who were in turn fed and sacrificed to the half-man, half-bull minotaur. Eventually, with the aid of Minos’ daughter and the inventor Daedalus, Theseus carried a ball of thread to find his way out and to slay the beast.

Although the art at Knossos doesn’t play out the precise myth, carvings and paintings found there involve imagery of bulls.  Acrobats jumped and did flips over the animals’ horns, perhaps part religious ritual.  It must have been an exciting but highly dangerous sport, and it’s easy to understand that as the story changed over time, later generations would envision a bull-headed monster in a spooky maze.

The palace at Knossos is on the hillside, about 5 kilometers from the sea.  It was never fortified
Other,  smaller palaces have been uncovered on the island.

Could a prisoner escape without Theseus’ clever trick?  Three or possibly four entrances to the palace are off-axis and may have appeared entirely hidden.   The building also had windows, light wells, air shafts and ventilation.  It was an engineering marvel. No wonder its architect Daedalus became a god to the Greeks. When I was there, it not only felt like a “labyrinth,” but also like “babel.”  Its the only place I’d ever been where so many different, unfamiliar languages were being spoken at once.  Despite the number of people, it never felt too crowded, because the palace covers six acres.

The downward taper of Minoan
columns is unusual but may have
religious significance.  The capital
resembles the cushions of Doric
columns of Greece 1000 years later

The building runs over 5 levels of twists and turns, on the hillside, not on top of a hill.  It had 1300 rooms at one time and could have housed as many 5,000 people.  There’s a large central courtyard, perhaps where crowds observed the bull-leaping sports. At least four other ancient maze-like palaces have been excavated on other parts of the island, but none as large as Knossos.  It is thought that only 10% of Minoan Crete has been excavated and that bronze age Crete had 90 cities.  I remember reading that Knossos had a population of at least 100,000 people around 1500 BC.  Minoans traded with Egypt and Mesopotamia.   Archaeologists have uncovered a Minoan colony in Egypt, Tel-el D’aba, and at Miletus in Turkey.

The North Entrance has a restored
fresco of a bull.  Minoans were probably
the first to paint in fresco, on wet plaster

Evans spent 35 years digging, researching and restoring the Palace of Knossos.  The restoration reveals the Minoans’ unusual, downward-facing columns, with the narrowest parts on bottom.  The earliest builders used the cypress tree and turned it over, so it wouldn’t grow.

There were both small frescoes and life-size frescoes, most of them now in the Archeological Museum in Heraklion, including the bull-leaping fresco.  Since Egyptians painted in secco, on dry plaster, it’s believed that Minoans invented the fresco technique of painting on wet plaster. Colors such as blue, red and yellow ochre are very vivid.  Generally Minoans painted with a freer and more organic style than the artists of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and often had more naturalistic depictions.  However, whenever men or women are found marching with erect stiff postures, it’s conjectured that they functioned as priests and priestesses partaking in the religious rituals.  There’s a famous bull-leaping fresco in the local museum.

La Parisienne from Knossos

Archeologists of today would not take as much liberty and restore as extensively as he did.  While Evans  pieced together restorations of the palace based on the remnants and shards, he also used his knowledge to restore what is missing.  Personally I appreciate that his reconstruction fills in the blanks for us, giving an idea of the size and grandeur of the palace.  Also, there’s a great deal to speculate as to what it may have been like to live there.  It seems that grains, wine and olive oil may have been milled and pressed at the palace, and also stored in huge pithoi (giant vases) under the floor.

The word labyrinth originates from the labrys, a double-axe related to the double horns of the bull.   The language used at the time the first palace was built, around the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, has not yet been deciphered.  A second language which appeared at Knossos after mainland Greeks took over the palace after 1500 BC has been translated and is related to the classical Greek language

The life-size Prince of Lilies was thought by
Archeologist Arthur Evans to be a priest.
Lilies are common in Minoan imagery.

All the inscriptions on cylinder seals are commercial records and inventories.  Besides myth, the art and artifacts are the best way to figure out the story of these people.  Only about 10 percent of the ancient Minoan sites have been excavated.  Although the contents of the Archeological Museum of Heraklion, near Knossos, is well known and published, the beautiful pottery and artifacts from the museum of Chania, Crete’s next largest city, have not been published.  Getting outside of the cities and into the countryside leaves the impression that the rural life really hasn’t changed too much in 1000 years.

The grand staircase at Knossos spans 5 levels.  The layout of rooms is organic around a
central courtyard.  What seems to be a haphazard arrangement may reflect
building and rebuilding after earthquakes.

Certain things that date to the Mycenaean takeover of the palace include the Throne Room.  Amazing, when the room was discovered, the gypsum throne was intact.  Evidence points to the suggestion that the palace had to be abandoned all of a sudden, because of a fire, natural disaster or invasion.   Even if this culture eventually went into oblivion for a few hundred years, when the Greek culture re-emerged around the 8th century BC, the Greeks culture retained so much of the Minoan heritage in its art and myth.  The myths of the minotaur, Minos, Europa, Theseus, Daedelus and Icarus involve Crete, but so does the story of Zeus who was said to be born in Crete. 

The Throne Room was found with oldest throne in
Europe, dating to Mycenaean occupation of Crete, around
1450-1400 BC.  Evidence shows people had fled suddenly.

Knossos has a theatre right outside the palace. Performances took place at the bottom of two seating areas set perpendicular to each other, rather than at the end of curved seating area as in later Greek theaters.  The ancient Minoans also gave the world two important inventions, indoor plumbing and the potter’s wheel.  Wouldn’t it be something if some of the first great Greek literary masterpieces also had an origin here, 1000 years earlier?

Occupation of the palace ended sometime between 1400 and 1100 BC.  In the classical era Crete was never as important as Athens, though it is clear that much of what formed later Greek culture came from Crete.  A settlement re-emerged in Knossos during Roman times, but during the Middle Ages the population shifted to the city of Heraklion, about 4-5 miles away.

An area outside of the palace has two sets of seats set at a perpendicular angle. Acoustics indicate it was a theater.


Copyright Julie Schauer 2010-2016
Pleasant Surprises on the Backroads of Crete

Pleasant Surprises on the Backroads of Crete

The Church of St. Nicholas in Kourtaliotis Gorge, Crete
Piles of stones beside St. Nicholas Church

I cherish my trips with Backroads Travel Co.  To me the backroads of Crete are full of surprises, in addition to olive orchards, oleanders and orange groves.  On our 3rd day we road from the north to south part of the island. On the way to the beach at Plakias, we bicycled through the Kourtaliotis Gorge. The scenery was breathtaking.  A tiny church, St. Nicholas was nestled behind the oleander and the rocks.  It seemed to be a place where only a handful of monks prayed a long time ago.  Behind it were small piled-up shrines of stone, which resemble votive offerings beside the church.

Crete’s small country churches surprised me, but even smaller churches, or replicas of churches dot the sides of the country roads.  These small shrines are all over the place.

A typical memorial erected among the orange groves of Crete

They’re memorials to loved ones who’ve died and we saw them frequently.  One of the hotshot men on our trip, Dennis, reprimanded me for taking photos of graves in churchyards.  He told me, “It is bad luck.”  (His mother’s family is from Crete.)

The day after we went to the Kourtaliotas Gorge, I experienced bigger surprises — a pair of surprises.  Cindy (she lives in Shanghai and was also on the lookout for great photos) & I came upon an abandoned church, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  We both took pictures. Cindy biked on, but I decided to check out the inside. 

A 14th century church between the villages of Koufos and Alikianos

Through the opening of a locked door, I could see that in the center of the church was a fresco of Mary surrounded by two saints.  It was too narrow to photograph, but the image was clear but had two big vertical cracks. There were more frescoes to the sides and above, but I really couldn’t see them.

On the outside of the church, a fresco of Mary adorns the pointed arch over a side door. It was badly damaged, but I took a picture (below).  It also had painted trim  directly under the arch in a beautiful red and blue pattern, and a Greek cross below that.

A badly damaged fresco of Mary over the door dates
to the 14th century

Paintings on the outside of a buildings can’t withstand time and weather.

The sign on the road pointed to Church of the Zoohodos Pigi (in Greek and in English, but what could that possibly mean?)  (Later when I was home and looked it up on the Internet, I found a few churches of the same name in Greece.)

This church lies between Alikianos and Koufos. It was built in the early 14th century following an earthquake of 1303, but over the foundations of a 10th century church.  (Earthquakes have always been a problem on this island, and in much of the Mediterranean.)

 Zoohodos Pigi means “life giving source.”

El Greco, Greece’s greatest artist in modern times, was from this part of Crete.  No one knows exactly where El Greco was born, but his family was from Chania and this church is about 10-20 miles away.

We had already passed a town called Alikianos where there was large new blue and terra cotta colored Greek Orthodox church. It’s easy to understand why a church in the middle of nowhere was abandoned.

I hope that the Church of Zoohodos Pigi will be restored.  Apparently it was quite an important church at one time.  Zoohodos Pigi means “life-giving source.”

There’s a new Greek Orthodox church in the village of Alikianos

Just a few miles down the road, I had caught up with Cindy. We had to go up hills too steep for my endurance, and then we turned a corner and stopped.  Here came the the biggest surprise of all:

It was lunch time and someone had just dumped a big truck of excess oranges in a goat pen and the goats were chomping away, peels and all.  They were chomping like crazy, as if in a contests to finish first. We took many pictures.

How funny to realize that these delicious goat cheeses we’ve been eating in Crete come from animals who feed on oranges, the delicious oranges of Crete!

The Goats’ lunch — so good!

I discovered both Greek cheeses and orange cake, also called orange pie, on this trip. My grocery store oranges aren’t quite like the oranges I had been eating, and I haven’t found Graviera cheese in any of my local markets.  There’s nothing like feeling close to history, the land, the animals and the sea than in a Backroads biking trip.

Marseille: New Glass Designs for an Old Port

Marseille: New Glass Designs for an Old Port

Villa Méditerrannée, a new building by Stefano Boeri, has an auditorium below the sea, but much if its exhibition space is suspended in mid-air.  This view leads to the towers of Marseille’s 19th century multi-colored marble cathedral.

France’s oldest city and one the great ports of the Mediterranean has been revitalized to become a European Cultural Capital of Europe this year.  Some of the most innovative practicing architects of today are making their mark on the city, cleaning up old areas and transforming it into an exciting new seaport environment.  Abandoned parts of the old port and places where immigrants first entered the city are in the process of being turned into new commercial areas, with restaurants, art galleries, museums, music venues and shops.

Marseille became a Greek city about 2700 years ago.  The
 island is where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.

Sheaths of glass, concrete and metal, the materials of new architecture, butt up against the old stone towers, hills and masts of this port which geographically reminds me of San Francisco to a certain extent.  (Reminiscent of the Alcatraz, there’s an island in the harbor containing Chateau d’If, where the Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.) Yet, the feeling inside is more rugged and grittier than San Francisco, with a multinational flavor.

Ricciotti designed MuCEM with
a ramp linked to Fort Saint-Jean

My photos taken last month showed the MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean) nearly finished, adjacent to the Villa Méditerranée.  The 236 square foot box building, right, will be the country’s largest museum outside of Paris. In essence, the building has two facades, the glass covering and the concrete covering.  The outer covering is a dark blue concrete which I actually thought was made of steel/ it shields the glass and museum visitors from the intense Mediterranean sun.  The “lacey” outer face and “glassy” inner building and the two parts connect with a ramp.  A walkway also links the new building to the very old 12th century building and tower, the Fort Saint-Jean.

From another vantage point (Parc du Pharo), the 19th century multi-colored marble cathedral pops up behind the t concrete lattice patterns of the brand new Museum of Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM).

Architect Rudy Ricciotti’s style has also raised eyebrows. He designed a floating gold roof on the Louvre in Paris to house the Islamic collection and a Jacques Cocteau museum in Menton.  Each building is quite different, though, unlike Frank Gehry’s architecture.  MuCEM’s concrete shell resembles a fisherman’s net. Its concrete is blue-gray, but that color will change with reflections of light, water and the sun. Ricciotti calls the eight different lattice patterns “sun-breakers.”  They are meant to shield the southern and western facade from intense sunlight.  MuCEM opened June 7, 2013.

A fishnet pattern of concrete
shields MuCEM from intense
sun on the south and west.

Next door is the Villa Méditerrannée, a product of Italian architect Stefano Boeri’s design studio, and a building devoted to exhibiting Marseille’s Mediterranean culture.   It has a huge, cantilevered roof, but below it is an area with a view into the sea basin.  The building’s auditorium goes under the water, too.  The museum officially opened last weekend.  Its exhibitions and films visualize the present and the future of the sea.  Supported by the region of Provence-Alpes-Cote’Azur, Villa Méditerannée hopes to encourage communication among the many countries which have ports on the Mediterranean   It can be understood as an exciting new cultural center for the entire Mediterranean region. 

Another view of Boeri’s Villa Méditerannée, with Ricciotti’s MuCEM and Fort Saint-Jean to right.  Glass is used extensively in the new buildings to take
advantage of reflections of sun and water.

There are other new museums, including the Musée des regards de Provence, where the old health station had been and where immigrants first went as they entered Marseille. The museum has a Michelin three-star restaurant. 

There’s a new museum of decorative arts and a fine arts museum at Palais Longchamp has reopened after being closed many years.  (That museum and the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence are hosting large exhibitions of the shares a major exhibitions of the many important artists who painted in the region, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, etc. In fact, Arles and other venues in Provence are sharing in the European Cultural Capital events.  The Palais du Pharo, on the shoreline of Marseille has a large sculptural exhibition of steel arcs by Berner Venet, in celebration of the events.) 

In the Parc du Pharo, the sculptor Bernar Vernet designed 12 steel arcs, called
Desordre, created a pattern of light and shadow against the shoreline.

Reflective glass creates is s museum without walls,
at FRAC, a regional museum of contemporary art.

It seems that all the contemporary architects working here–the local and the international ones–respect the city’s very irregular seaport.  They design with the knowledge that water reflects light and that glass reflects water and light.  Multitudes of glass heighten the reflections many times over.

FRAC (Fonds regional d’art contemporain or the Regional Collection of Contemporary Art) opened in March, 2013.   The building has about 55,000 square feet.  Its the work  work of Japanese architect Kenzo Kuma. The exterior is covered with 1,500 panes of glass, all of which have been recycled and enameled in the workshop of Emmanuel Barrois.

Kenzo Kuma designed FRAC, a regional museum of
contemporary art

Kuma, like Ricciotti, is concerned with shielding the sun. (It’s interesting that exhibition while I was there concerned environmental art.) The glass is hung and diverse angles, offset from the building at various places.  Kuma tries to evoke a museum without walls, and a feeling of openness prevails.  There is a beautiful, peaceful aura to his building, a feeling modern Japanese architects convey so well. Kuma also said that he imitated the flow of space learned from the study of Le Corbusier, a labyrinthine, interlocking flow of space.  

Le Corbusier, Cité Radieuse, 1947-52.  It has 347 apartments on 12 stories

Going to Marseille warrants a trip to the Cité Radieuse, Le Corbusier’s masterpiece of modern architecture, formerly called l’Unité d’Habitation.  

Entrance to Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse
The ground floor rests on muscular “pilotis” made
of concrete, which hold up the building

His blueprint for modern living, completed in the 1950s, unifies all aspects of living, eating, school, doctors and recreation in one building. Unfortunately, there was a fire last year which harmed some units but most of the building is intact.  Many portions of the building have recently been painted and the colors make a brilliant splash reminiscent of Mondrian.  It’s hard to go to the restaurant without disturbing clients or to visit one of the individual apartments without an invitation. 

The ground floor lobby radiates warmth and color

As much as I don’t necessarily think architects should try to be sociologists who tell people how to live, but this building succeeded and the residents like it.  The concept and design were repeated again in Nantes, Berlin, Briey and Firminy.  Le Corbusier proved that the modern concrete  could be beautiful, colorful and expressive. Concrete, usually when reinforced with cast iron, need not be sterile.  

An art school is on the rooftop.  The
force of brutal concrete pushes
against the sky

The day we were there, a film crew was making a television commercial on the roof and all kinds of goods were set blocked off and set aside for film use.  It was May 22nd, and the sky was making some interesting cloud designs.  Like Antoni Gaudí, Le Corbusier made his ventilation shafts into expressive, sculptural forms.  The brutal, rough-hewn concrete has force and muscle which come alive against the muscle a alive against the sky.

The rooftop is a communal terrace and residents have a straight view to Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea.   We’re left with the feeling that yes, Marseille is a city with muscle and it will be a force for 2700 more years.   

Notre-Dame de la Garde, perched high above
the old port, has protected the
boats for years

Construction was going on everywhere the other time I went to Marseille, in 2011. The photo below on the left, taken at that time, may represent a vista that’s gone now.  It was on the other side of the port and opposite the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Fishing and seafaring have always
been the business of Marseille. 

Boats, fishing and seafaring will continue for a long time, as long as we respect and protect our resources.