Moby-Dick in Covington and Tokyo in 2015

Entry begun on Monday, August 4, at 10:15 am

During the month in which I’ve been home, I’ve been meeting weekly with Emma Rose Thompson, the Art major and Honors student who is my co-curator for the exhibition Moby Comes to Covington scheduled for the Covington Arts Gallery in April and May 2015.  All of the work in the show is from students in my literature classes at Northern Kentucky University.  We have selected 103 works by 53 student artists as the ingredients for the show.  We will publish all of the artworks in the exhibition catalog even though there will not be room for all of them on the walls. We are calling the catalog Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish because each artwork has some connection to Melville’s novel while at the same time being independent of it. Emma Rose is designing a two-page spread for each student artist, and we will present them chronologically from earliest (Spring Semester 1994) to the most recent (Fall Semester 2013). Jessica Slone, a student in my graduate class in Melville and Douglass during the 2011 Fall Semester, is one of several who has used Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish as the name of her own creation.

Jessica Slone presenting Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish to ENG 689 in December 2011

Jessica Slone presenting Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish to ENG 689 in December 2011

In each two-page spread, the reproduction of the artwork itself will be accompanied by the student’s artist statement, the “presentation photo” I took immediately after the student presented the work to the class, and my short biographical recollection of each student. With the help of several grants, Emma Rose and I arranged to have all of the hundred-plus art works photographed by the end of the 2014 Spring Semester. We are designing the book to be published by Blurb in a landscape format for each two-page spread. I have now supplied Emma Rose with all of the ingredients for each spread and she will soon have the layout completed for each one. When we meet this Thursday, we will each bring drafts of the catalog essays we are writing independently.

I posted an early draft of the two-page spread for Fred North (our first student artist, from Spring 1994) in the “Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish” entyr in Part 2 of this blog.  Several students who created multiple Moby-Dick artworks, either during the class or after, will have four- or six-page spreads. Here are the opening spreads for two students whose work has been mentioned in the course of this blog, Abby Schlachter (Langdon) from the Spring 1997 course and Kathleen Piercefield from Spring 2004. 

First two-page spread for Abby Schlachter in Spring 1997 section of catalog draft

First two-page spread for Abby Schlachter in Spring 1997 section of catalog draft

:

First two-page spread for Kathleen Piercefield in Spring 2004 section of catalog draft

First two-page spread for Kathleen Piercefield in Spring 2004 section of catalog draft

Emma Rose and I are currently planning to open next year’s Covington show on April 17, to conduct a Marathon Reading of Moby-Dick in the exhibition space on April 25 and 26, and to hold a one-day Symposium on Moby-Dick at the Arts at NKU on April 27. Beth Schultz has agreed to give the keynote address for the Symposium; Sam Otter, editor of Leviathan, will deliver closing remarks, and the Symposium will also feature NKU student artists along with Moby-Dick artist Matt Kish and Jeff Markham, a high school teacher at New Trier near Chicago whose students do an ambitious Moby-Dick art project every other year. Dates and venues might change slightly given that the City of Covington appears to be in the process of selling the space of the current Covington Art Gallery, but Cate Yellig, the gallery director, expects to be able to find an appropriate venue for each of the exhibitions currently scheduled for the 2014-15 season.

Group sculpture by Jeff Markham’s Spring 2014 students at New Trier High School, Tattoing the Whale: A Complete Theory of the Heavens and the Earth

As soon as Emma Rose and I have produced a sample proof of our Moby catalog, we will design the catalog for the exhibition of Emily Dickinson art scheduled for the Eva G. Farris Reading Room of the W. Frank Steely Library at NKU from January to May 2015 (“I took my Power in my Hand”: Emily Dickinson Art by Students at Northern Kentucky University). This catalog will be smaller and less complex than the Moby catalog because it features only 40 artworks by 39 student artists. Our signature event for that exhibition will come on Valentine’s Day weekend, when we will hold a Marathon Reading of Dickinson’s poems on February 13 and 14, punctuated by a reception for student artists and an Emily Dickinson song recital on the evening of February 13. In the photo below, Emma Rose is standing before one of the Emily Dickinson artworks in my office, Camilla Asplen’s I took my Power in my Hand.  She is wearing one of the limited-edition T-shirts created by the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the Whaling History Symposium in honor of the Charles W. Morgan.

Emma Rose Thompson with limited-edition T-shirt from New Bedford Whaling History Symposium

Emma Rose Thompson with limited-edition T-shirt from New Bedford Whaling History Symposium

One month after Moby Comes to Covington closes in May 2015, the 10th International Melville Society Conference will be held at Keio University in Tokyo. Every Melville scholar I know is very excited about this conference. Japanese scholars have been a major presence at our previous international conferences. Wherever we meet, whether it is in Greece, Hawaii, Poland, Jerusalem, Rome, or any of our multiple venues in the United States, ten or more Japanese scholars are usually present to read papers and mix with Melvillians from around the world. Japanese scholars have published very impressive books and essays on Melville; Sky-Hawk, the journal of the Melville Society of Japan, is now in its thirtieth year; and at last count there were eleven different translations of Moby-Dick into Japanese.

Translation of Moby-Dick by Toshio Yagi exhibited at Northern Kentucky University in 2011

Translation of Moby-Dick by Toshio Yagi exhibited at Northern Kentucky University in 2011

 

Looking into The Sphynx in Kitakyushu in 1991

Looking into The Sphynx in Kitakyushu in 1991

I first went to Japan in October 1991, when the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum on the island of Kyushu held a retrospective of Frank Stella’s career that included nine large metallic reliefs from the Moby-Dick series he had begun in 1985. I had become interested in the series when I saw nine of the Wave prints at the Solway Gallery in Cincinnati in November 1989.  At that time it was very hard to study the metallic reliefs in the United States. By the time I flew to Japan to see nine of the metallic reliefs in one room of the Kitakyushu Museum, I had only managed to see four others at widely scattered American sites. In addition to getting to see the Moby-Dick reliefs in Kitakyushu, I met Stella himself when he gave a talk to open the exhibition.  I was able to interview him the next morning and to continue to do so several times a year at his studio in New York until he finished the series in 1997.  Without the flight to Kitakyushu (in process of which Delta Airlines lost my luggage and Japan Airlines found it), I could never have published my book on Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick: Words and Shapes in 2000.

Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick, publihed in 2000

Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick, published in 2000 and reprinted in 2007

 

The Spirit Spout, Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art

The Spirit Spout, Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art

As I got further into my research into Stella’s series, it became clear that I needed to make a return trip to Japan, this time a more wide-ranging attempt to see Moby-Dick reliefs scattered throughout the country. The Kitakyushu retrospective had been a temporary exhibition; they did not have any Stella Moby-Dicks in their own collection. I had one of the best research trips in my life as I tracked down Stubb’s Supper in Osaka, The Spirit Spout in Hiroshima, The Pequod meets the Rachel in Kochi, The Shark Massacre and The Grand Armada on the island of Naoshima, and Merry Christmas, The Mast-Head, and The Sphynx at the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura. These large, gleaming, edgy, and sometimes densely painted three-dimensional metallic constructs must be seen in person in roder to experience their physical scale and imaginative power.  These venues in Japan provided me an experience of the series I could not the available in the United States.

One of the great surprises of the trip to Japan in 1994 was to enter the brand-new Museum of Art in Kochi and see Stella’s The Peqood meets the Rosebud permanently installed in the lobby as the signature piece of the entire museum (which is also known as the Ark of Art because it is surrounded by water).  This museum’s acquisition of this particular work is enriched when one recalls that “The Pequod meets the Rosebud” in one ot the chapters in Melville’s novel featuring a cross-coltural encouter with the ship of another nation (in this case the French).  One can hope that some of the Moby-Dick reliefs on American soil will be included when the Whitney Museum of American Art opens the inagural season in its new building on lower Manhattan with a major retrospective of Frank Stella’s career (Fall 2015 – Spring 2016).

The Pequod meets the Rosebud, The Ark of Art, Kochi

The Pequod meets the Rosebud, permanently installed in the lobby of the Museum of Art, Kochi

I was also very fortunate to be visiting the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Sakura during the summer of 1994, when Stella’s fabulous installation Hooloomooloo was on view. This was a massive spin-off from the Deckle-Edges prints with which Stella was concluding his Moby-Dick series. Stella named this work for an imaginary island in Melville’s Mardi, published two years before Moby-Dick. The Kawamura Memorial Museum had commissioned Hooloomooloo as a site-specific work and had intended to purchase it. Unfortunately, the financing fell through and the installation had to be broken up and sold off in five different parts. It will probably never again be seen whole. In one way this is oddly fitting, given that Melville’s Hooloomooloo is an imaginary island, all of whose residents are crippled, but who do not realize it because they all share the same condition.

Hooloomooloo, Kawamura Memorial Museum, Sakura, Japan, 1994

Hooloomooloo, Kawamura Memorial Museum, Sakura, Japan, 1994

I hope to revisit some of the painted metallic Moby-Dicks when I return to Japan in June 2015. I plan to discuss those earlier visits to Japan in the paper I am proposing for the Tokyo conference.  This would allow me to contrast Stella’s creation of the Moby-Dick series at the end of 20th century with art of those 21st century Moby-Dick artists featured in the exhibitions I am curating in New Bedford in the summer of 2014, in Covington in the Spring of 2015, and in Greater Cincinnati in June 2016.

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