From the culture desk: images

Or: Pomodoro will get you Bellows, and Monet too. (Backward in time ran the artists until reeled the mind.)

A passing mention of Arnaldo Pomodoro recently — I don’t even remember where — took me immediately (but electronically) to the Columbus Museum of Art, where back in the 1980s the artist installed one of his Sfera con sfera sculptures in a prominent place (the central  courtyard of the museum, as I recall), where I visited it often, to admire it: big, solid, reflective (both literally and figuratively), complex (worlds within worlds).

(#1) Sfera con sfera in Trinity College, Dublin

Searching on Pomodoro and the CMA together then brought me to the Joy of Museums site for the CMA, which promised a Virtual Tour of the museum — but offered only thumbnail sketches of three of the museum’s holdings, not showing them in their settings or giving the history of their acquisition. (The site does offer whatever documentary footage already exists about the museum, but it doesn’t create its own tours of museums.)

(Previous culture desk report in my posting yesterday, “From the culture desk: admirable words, admirable things”. Note: I am not a scholar of art and art history or a trained critic, not any kind of expert, nor an artst myself (any more; I was once a collagist) — just a guy who likes to look at art and write up his responses.)

The Joy of Museums CMA three. From the site itself:

“River Front No. 1” by George Bellows
Weeping Willow by Claude Monet
“Sphere Within Sphere,” “Sfera con Sfera,” by Arnaldo Pomodoro

(The works are listed in the order of their creation.)

The (rather flat-footed) thumbnail sketches for these (with reproductions found on the net). First, the Bellows:


“River Front No. 1” [1914] by George Bellows depicts the city’s poor boys bathing at the riverfront docks, on a hot day. Bellows took an ordinary urban subject and celebrated it with color.

The contrast between the blues and the pale bodies and the explosion of human diversity all draw our attention.

Bellows painted many river scenes throughout his career, and he also focused on the human form in a number of his works.

His urban New York scenes depicted the chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods. [this wording inadvertently mischaracterizes Bellows’s attitudes towards his urban subjects, which was one of sympathetic advocacy — grounded in socialist ideals — not disrespect]

Then the Monet:


Weeping Willow [1918], by Claude Monet, depicts a … weeping willow tree … located on the bank of Monet’s water garden, with its water lilies.

The tree’s trunk, its cascading branches, and its reflection can be seen in the mural-scale Nymphéas canvases that were his focus from 1914 until his death.

And finally the Pomodoro, above in #1, with this lengthy (and actually informative) Joy of Museums write-up:

“Sphere Within Sphere,” also known as “Sfera con Sfera,” is a series of sculptures created by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.

The sculpture depicts an enormous metal sphere with a cracked surface, revealing an intricate interior with another cracked sphere inside.

The internal layers resemble the gears or cogwheels of a machine that symbolizes the complexity of the world. The fractured cracks symbolize the fragility of our society.

Pomodoro began his series of spheres in the 1960s with Sphere no. 1 and has continued for nearly forty years designing the globe-like pieces, each depicting different maps of destruction.

Each of the outer balls is fractured, revealing an intricate interior that unveils yet another cracking orb. The design of the internal layers mimics the gears of a clock or the inner workings of a grand piano, revealing the hidden complexity.

Pomodoro created the first version for the Vatican Museum in the 1960s and later began creating similar versions for many other institutions that can now be found in choice locations all over the world. [a sampling of this list is given in the Wikipedia entry, below]

The artist’s initial vision was that the inner ball represented the Earth, and the outer ball represented our institutions.

The artists once more, in reverse chronological order. For Pomodoro, two highlights from the Wikipedia entry (which presents a detailed account of the artist’s career):

Arnaldo Pomodoro (born 23 June 1926) is an Italian sculptor. He was born in Morciano, Romagna, and lives and works in Milan. His brother, Giò Pomodoro (1930–2002) was also a sculptor.

… Some [versions] of Pomodoro’s Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera con Sfera) can be seen in the Vatican Museums, Trinity College, Dublin, the United Nations Headquarters and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, American Republic Insurance Company in Des Moines, Iowa, the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, the University of California, Berkeley, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, and the Tel Aviv University, Israel.

From Artnet, more attention to the works themselves:

Arnaldo Pomodoro is a contemporary Italian sculptor known for his geometric bronze works. His sculptures often contain tears or stalagmite-like aberrations, appearing to be caught in the process of gradually transforming into another object altogether. Throughout his practice, Pomodoro has created multiple versions of his Sphere within a Sphere in a variety of scales, from monumental outdoor commissioned pieces to small, handheld works. Born on June 23, 1926 in Morciano, Italy, he went on to study stage design and goldsmithing, eventually moving to Milan where he met avant-garde artists like Lucio Fontana.

For Bellows, from Wikipedia, a few highlights of his artistic development:

George Wesley Bellows (August 12 or August 19, 1882 [in Columbus OH; he also attended the Ohio State University there] – January 8, 1925) was an American realist painter, known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City. He became, according to the Columbus Museum of Art, “the most acclaimed American artist of his generation”.

[Bellows was a serious semipro athlete in baseball and basketball, but moved to NYC in 1904 to study art.]

Bellows first achieved widespread notice in 1908, when he and other pupils of [Robert] Henri organized an exhibition of mostly urban studies. While many critics considered these to be crudely painted, others found them welcomely audacious, a step beyond the work of his teacher.

… Bellows’ urban New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods, and satirized the upper classes. From 1907 through 1915, he executed a series of paintings depicting New York City under snowfall. In these paintings Bellows developed his strong sense of light and visual texture, exhibiting a stark contrast between the blue and white expanses of snow and the rough and grimy surfaces of city structures, and creating an aesthetically ironic image of the equally rough and grimy men struggling to clear away the nuisance of the pure snow. However, Bellows’ series of paintings portraying amateur boxing matches were arguably his signature contribution to art history. They are characterized by dark atmospheres, through which the bright, roughly lain brushstrokes of the human figures vividly strike with a strong sense of motion and direction.

One of Bellows’s boxing paintings that turns out  (by sheerest accident) to have been important to me as a child, in a Wikipedia entry:


Stag at Sharkey’s is a 1909 oil painting by George Wesley Bellows depicting two boxers fighting in the private athletic club situated across from his studio. It is part of the Ashcan School movement known in particular for depicting scenes of daily life in early twentieth century New York City, often in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. Participants in the boxing ring were usually members of the club, but occasionally outsiders would fight with temporary memberships. These fighters were known as “stags”.

Bellows used quick strokes to create a blurred image, simulating the two fighters in motion. He also chose a low point of view to put the viewer among the crowd watching the fight. He chooses “expressive involvement” in the action. He said: “I don’t know anything about boxing, I’m just painting two men trying to kill each other.”

My Bellows story (long, with some childhood sexuality, so not to everyone’s taste).  Early in my grade school years, faced with an extremely odd, way off-norm, but scarily smart child, my parents opted for nurturance (rather than trying to mold me into someone more like what they’d expected). Early in my grade school years, as part of this strategy, they bought me (at, I realized later, considerable financial sacrifice) a World Book Encyclopedia, so that I could look things up, learn things, right there in my bedroom; some boys got sports equipment, I got an encyclopedia — with which I spent many happy hours. The encyclopedia taught me the basics of differential calculus when I was, like, 9, and I thought it was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

(a), this experience set me up to become a math major at Princeton, where one of my many part-time jobs (for four years) was tutoring Princeton undergrads in differential calculus (and that experience taught me a lot about teaching). And (b), I realized that my wild enthusiasm for calculus would probably not play well with the other third-graders and was best concealed. (Much later, I talked about my calculus thing with my man Jacques  — who was passionately concerned about early childhood education (plus, math teaching was pretty much the Transue family business) — and we ended up agreeing that if you went about it the right way, you could probably slip calculus by most third-graders fairly easily.)

The World Book also offered me a superficial but photo-rich history of art. With an illustration of 20th-century realism. Stag at Sharkey’s.

The reproduction in the encyclopedia was absolutely electrifying to me; every time I looked at it — of course, I stole glimpses of it frequently — I was physically thrilled, for reasons that I could not have articulated, except that the source of my pleasure was clearly the raw physicality of the boxers’ bodies. I was baffled by the appeal of boxing and disturbed by its violence (see Bellows’s comment above), but somehow I desired those men, not as opponents, but as companions, affectionate buddies.

I did realize that my electric attraction to these men — and other grown men, especially in films and then on tv — would probably not play well with the other third-graders and was best concealed. Certainly the other boys (many of whom already ragged on me for being, in their view, girly, a fairy-boy called Arniella) would be merciless, even brutal, in their treatment of me if they knew, as they were with boys who were in fact effeminate.

For a while, I didn’t understand the nature of my attraction, but I soon realized that my desire to kiss the objects of my attraction meant that sex was somehow involved. I doubt that the World Book had an entry on sexuality — it was the 1940s, and the encyclopedia was aimed at children — but the Kinsey volume on male sexuality came out in 1948 and I was soon (by a fluke) able to consult it in the Reading Public Library. There I learned about homosexuality (but apparently lots of guys had sex with both men and women, so fantasizing about men was sort of ok, though nothing you wanted to talk about publicly) and homosexual acts (where I understood the anatomy but didn’t really appreciate, with my own boyish body, how the acts could be so pleasurable that men would go to some lengths to perform them with one another). Then puberty hit me at age 10, and it suddenly was penises all the way, yes, I got it. And it was really something you wouldn’t want to talk about with another boy.

Still, the first powerful trigger for my desires was Bellows’s boxers muscularly, sweatily pounding one another at Sharkey’s.

Finally, for Monet. From Wikipedia, the bare facts

Weeping Willow is a 1918 oil painting by Claude Monet [1840-1926] which depicts a weeping willow tree growing at the edge of his water garden pond in Giverny, France. It is exhibited at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio.

The painting is one of a series of Monet paintings of this weeping willow.

The garden, of course, became one of Monet’s great subjects. As boxers did for Bellows, and the sphere of the world has for Pomodoro. All of it available on E. Broad St. in Columbus OH.


8 Responses to “From the culture desk: images”

  1. eric zwicky Says:

    We’ve had one of the Pomodoro Sfera in Richmond for decades, at the VMFA. In recent years it’s been moved to storage for some reason. It’s always been my favorite thing there… I could stare at it for an hour. Now that you’ve brought it to mind, I will have to ask the museum what’s going on with it.

  2. eric zwicky Says:

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      For readers who are hesitant to click on undescribed URLs: this is a (very nicely positioned) photo of the VMFA Rotating Sphere.

      • eric zwicky Says:

        oops, sorry ’bout that!

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        A cute variant: the sphere has a hole through the center of it, which you can see through to the other side and see the scene there (if you’re properly positioned towards the sculpture); that is, it’s topologically not a sphere, but a torus — which is topologically the same as a donut. So if you view the sculpture from a different angle, where you don’t see the hole, the thing looks like a sphere. (That’s like looking at a donut from the side, where you don’t see the hole.)

        Cool. Two, two, two sculptures in one, depending on how you look at it.

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    A somewhat whimsical digression, which I defend as having some possible linguistic interest: The surname “Pomodoro” amuses me somewhat, as I try to estimate the probability of an English-speaking family with the surname “Tomato”. Similarly, I recall more than once seeing (and being amused by) the Italian surname “Malatesta” (“Headache”).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      It was only by a hair’s breadth that I chose not to digress in this direction myself. On the Italian food surname front, there’s Matthew Calamari (“Squid”), currently in the news because of his long-standing position in the Grabpussy Organization.

      Squid in tomato sauce is delicious, and it could be served on macaroni (Southern Italian surname Maccerone < macceroni 'macaroni').

      • Robert Coren Says:

        And the combination is unlikely to give you a headache, unless you accompany it with too much wine.

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