Maureen Mullarkey is a painter who writes on art and culture. Her essays have appeared in various publications, among them: The Nation, Crisis, Commonweal, Hudson Review, Arts, The New Criterion, First Things, The Weekly Standard, and The Magazine Antiques. She was a columnist for The New York Sun.

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Mater Gloriosa

From Maureen Mullarkey

15042-polyptych-of-the-misericordia-piero-della-francescaPiero della Francesca. Central panel of the Polyptych of Misericordia (c. 1460)

Pray for us O holy Mother of God,

that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

The Museum of Motherhood

From Maureen Mullarkey

Motherhood, as you understand and honor it, is passé. Outmoded. It has faded into a quant bit of Americana, an artifact of folklore like Johnny Appleseed or Aunt Jemima.

 

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 That is the undisquised message of the Museum of Motherhood (MOM), established this past January on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Following the lead of “museums” of contemporary art, MOM exists neither to preserve nor conserve an iota of cultural heritage. It obtains exclusively to promote a product. In this case, the article on display is a stake through the heart of our “cultural fairy tale” of what constitutes a family.

 

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MOM’s website features a daily blog, Mamablogger365 , open to submissions on the subject of “reframing” motherhood. Kimberly Dark’s entry for May 5 th is a definitive decoction of this new and exciting project. Substance is all there in the title: “Queer Parenting—Can We Stop Acting Like It Is Something New?”: 

Even if we find the fairy tale [of traditional marriage and family] foolish and think there’s nothing wrong with non-adherence, this story is in our cultural consciousness.


Ms. Dark, aka Mommy Queerest, welcomes the MOMuseum’s mission to supplant the antiquated preachments of our false cultural consciousness:

Here’s the truth of it: Sometimes people meet and marry and have children. Often, people start having sex with one another before marriage and sometimes children result. Sometimes marriages involve sexual fidelity – sometimes not. Sometimes multiple sexual partners are a planned part of loving relationships, sometimes not. And any combination of those people can create children, or not. Some people have children without marrying. Some people can’t have their own children because neither of them is able to give birth – either because of their own fertility or because both of them are the same gender. Yes, sometimes people of the same gender have sex, and fall in love, and sometimes they even marry – either because gay marriage is legal where they live or they gain state support by concealing or changing one of their genders in order to conform to cultural norms. All of this has been happening for all of recorded time. All of it. Families are complex and we construct them both in accordance with and in opposition to cultural norms and laws.


For all of recorded time . All of it . Ms. Dark, an LBGT performer and sociology professor, puts queer scholarship to work in the war against the intellect that has become the hallmark of popular culture.

Go to MOM’s website, follow the links, and weep. Under the gaudy banner of gay liberation and reproductive rights, women have succeeded in doing what Western patriarchy has not. They have maneuvered women to the status of brood mares. And proud of it.

• • • •


Note: MOM is here . Kimberly Dark’s site is here . Joy Rose, foundress and executive director of MOM and The Motherhood Foundation, can be found here . The Foundation is a certified 501(c)(3), tax exempt contribution to the demotion of traditional concepts of marriage and family.

 

Mother’s Day Looms

From Maureen Mullarkey

Here it comes.

Truth to tell, I do not like Mother’s Day. It is a mawkish, manufactured holiday—a counterfeit tradition like Kwanza. But now that it is upon us, women might as well make the most of it. This is the day to milk what remains of filial guilt for all it is worth. Lay it on thick, sisters.

Get the jump on neglectful, inattentive offspring. Do not wait for your begets to send the usual Mother’s Day boilerplate from the greeting card industry. Plug the ooze of pastel, market-researched sentiments. Go on the offensive; upend protocol. Drop this in the mail to your slack brood:

 

silly old day

 

  If you prefer suggestive indirection, you can remind them of your tender, sheltering, watchful, supportive maternity with this:

 

sometimes I cry

 

 Then there are our own mothers to be thought of. No problem. Ask the endearing Zeichen Press to run this off for you:

 

let us not dwell.2


   • • • •

Anna Jarvis, unmarried and childless, founded Mother’s Day in honor of her own mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis. Mrs. Jarvis was a dynamic woman, an eloquent public speaker, organizer and true humanitarian in the Civil War era. She also knew her own worth and impressed it upon her daughter:


I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.


 

William Meyers’ Street Photography

From Maureen Mullarkey

The eye never has enough of seeing.


Ecclessiastes 1:8


 

What is the point of having a weblog if I can’t talk about things I like? One of them is the photography of William Meyers. He was my colleague on the culture desk of The New York Sun during its balmy years as a print publication . He writes on photography now for The Wall Street Journal. You might well have read his commentaries but you have not seen his own approach to the craft he observes. And celebrates.

 

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William Meyers. Riverdale, NY.

 

Though he did not devote himself seriously to photography until the late ’90s when he was about 60, Meyers aligns himself with the generation of photographers who developed their visual language in the 1960s and ’70s. (He was born in 1938. Lee Friedlander was born in 1934, Joel Meyerowitz in 1938, William Eggleston in 1939). All were heirs of Garry Winograd, sophisticated documentarian of the 1960s’ social landscape. All shared a lively determination to seize small moments of humanity out of chance glimpses on the streets.

 

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William Meyers. Broadway & 86th Street, Upper West Side (2009)

 

Let Bill explain himself:

Most of my pictures were taken on anonymous streets where the people of the place live and go about their business; they represent the quotidian, not the spectacular; they are the outer boroughs of the spirit as well as of the physical city. The work is not concerned with documentation, the way things look, but with . . . the feel of a place at a particular moment. Each image represents a certain time in a certain part of a certain city where, I have found, even in unlikely neighborhoods there are occasions for beauty.

. . . Rather than shoot intrinsically exciting sites like mid-town Manhattan, I sought out ones that would be considered uninteresting and tried to take compelling pictures of them.


His first solo exhibition opens this Tuesday at the Nailya Alexander Gallery, 41 E. 57th Street. If you are in Manhattan or passing through between then and June 8th, you might want to stop up to the gallery.

 

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William Meyers. Williamsburg, Brooklyn (2005)

Modernism: An Apologia of Sorts

From Maureen Mullarkey

Modernism in the arts is an indefinite term. Like fascism , the word gets bandied about despite the absence of any firm idea of what it means. Even the editors of Modernism: 1890-1930 , a widely used text, fell back on this:

The name [i.e. modernism] is clear; the nature of the movement or movements … is much less so. And equally unclear is the status of the stylistic claim we are making. We have noted that few ages have been more multiple, more promiscuous in artistic style; to distil from the multiplicity an overall style or mannerism is a difficult, perhaps even an impossible task.

At about the same time, critic Monroe K. Spears echoed the sentiment when he prefaced an important book on the same subject by observing that “Modernism is, of course, an impossible subject.” That was the mid-1970s. Here we are thirty years later and head-long into post-Modernism, yet still with no definitive idea of precisely what we are post of.

So we have to be careful not to discard the achievements of modernism in the arts—the visual arts, my chief concern—on ideological ground that has more sand in it than we like to think.

 

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Max Beckmann. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1917). St. Louis Art Museum

 

Pius X’s condemnation of modernism as the “synthesis of all heresies” has reverberated in unsuspected ways. The shadow of heresy-by-association blankets the fragmentation and disjunctions of modern art (much of it a reaction to the horrors of war). Since modern art challenged the authority of preceding art, it was disdained as an expression of the same heretical impulse.

This over-simplification is far less interesting than the reality. The entire history of Western art has been a succession of challenges to previous art as well as a story of intricate branching and wandering, with many false starts along the way. People of faith, skeptical toward unnuanced Darwinian hypotheses about the origin of man, accept without question mainstream Darwinian views of art history. Following the received wisdom, they lend themselves to the myth of the supposedly organic structure of art history, imagining an unbroken line of progress from classical times to the Renaissance. (Some stretch it to the 1880’s and the beginnings of Impressionism, but no later.) After that, in the modern era, the presumed ladder of ascendancy collapses. Believers jump ship to take up the unsmiling game of modernist-spotting. The visual correlative of heresy-spotting.

And that is too bad. The volume and scope of art dismissed by this attitude is staggering. Stay awhile with Beckmann’s interpretation of the theme of the woman taken in adultery. There is great power in Christ’s gesture, staying the mob of accusers with one hand; with the other, making a gesture of acceptance toward the woman. While the crowd mocks, it is they who look grotesque, not Christ—self-assured and protective—and not the woman who places herself under his protection with closed eyes in trust.

And the paint! The beauty of it does not translate onto the screen. It is one of modernism’s great gifts.

Biking in the Buff

From Maureen Mullarkey

Have you been following the annual World Naked Bike Ride? A moveable feast, it has been going for some years now in various cities around the fossil-fuel-consuming world. Morally sensitive bikers bare all in protest against Big Oil, the global injustices of energy dependence, the horrors of drilling, demon auto, bad driving and everything else that ravages our planet. At the same time, it strikes a blow for “body freedom” against the repressive forces of Big Clothing. Its motto: “Less gas, more ass.”

 

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Portland’s edition of the Naked Bike Ride, now in its tenth year, is one of the largest in the world, and typically draws between 4,000-5,000 bicyclists in birthday suits. What makes 2013’s escapade notable is that the Portland Art Museum is sponsoring the ride this year. The museum invites buck naked cyclists to travel the blocks around its building on SW Park Avenue. Coincidentally, the museum plans to launch its new exhibition, “Cyclepedia: Iconic Bicycle Design” on the day of the ride, June 8th. Nice timing.

No doubt none of you are ready to drop your shmattes and hop a bike for the planet. Still, we have to admit there is a certain charm to the ride. Not to its politics, but its sense of theatre. Nakedness as a fey expression of reforming zeal has historic precedent. Lady Godiva, riding horseback in the eleventh century to protest taxation, comes straight to mind. Closer to our hearts is St. Francis. Il Poverello did not have a bike but he had a similar strain of exhibitionism. He stripped to his hair shirt to symbolize rejection of his father’s resources. He would depend on God alone—something bikers do whenever they weave through heavy traffic or take country roads after dark. Biking in all kinds of weather instead of driving—Vivaldi on the radio or an audio book in progress—is one of the rare mortifications that recommend themselves to a secular culture.

 

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  All that remains to be seen—other than the bikers themselves—is whether the Portland Art Museum will welcome unclad visitors inside as did the Leopold Museum, Vienna, during its February exhibition “Nude Men”. PAM’s patronage, a bald marketing strategy, goes some way toward illustrating Aldous Huxley’s reprove: “High art, low loins.”

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Our Fall

From Maureen Mullarkey

Myth does not share the status of history. It is not a factual chronicle of primordial events but a poetic insight more profound than an account of incidences ab origine , lost to us in time. Its dignity lies in what Jacques Maritain called creative intuition: “that intercommunication between the inner being of things and the inner being of the human Self which is a kind of divination.” Poems originate in the individual self; myth commences in communal instinct, the collective Self. At the core of myth is man’s quest to apprehend the hidden truths of existence. The myth of Original Sin is one such truth.

 

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Masaccio. The Expulsion from Paradise. Brancaccii Chapel, Florence.

 

That brings me to a broadcast letter from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Yonkers. It came during Lent as part of the seminary’s annual Paschal Appeal. I have kept the letter for its quotation from Alexander Schmemann, theologian, liturgist, and establisher of an autonomous Orthodox Church in America. Father Schmemann finished writing a text on the eucharist shortly before he died in 1983. These words radiate the character of his theological reflection—on the eucharist and the myth of the Fall:

In our perspective, the original sin of man is not primarily that he disobeyed God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a non-eucharistic world.

 

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Max Beckmann. Adam and Eve (1917); Museum of Modern Art, NYC

 

We rise from the pew to take the Eucharist easily. But what it means to live a eucharistic life has no ease about it. If we fully grasped what it signifies—if we are even capable of it—we would crawl to communion on our knees.

Nikos Salingaros: Resilient Architecture

From Maureen Mullarkey

You only need a theory if you don’t know how to do something.


Leon Krier


What we call the New Urbanism originated in the conversion of Leon Krier, architect and urban planner, from modernism to classicism. A blunt critic of vertical sprawl, he once declared “modernist architecture and town planning is inimical to human beings . . . based on the Darwinian concept that evolution is open ended, that there must always be something new and better.”

 

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City plan of Canberra, Australia, 1913.

 

Nikos Salingaros, architect and urban theorist, writes in sympathy with Krier’s appraisal of the ravages of modernist architecture. His article ” Toward Resilient Architectures 3: How Modernism Got Square
,” published in the current issue of Metropolis Magazine , is a studied contribution to the discussion of why the modernist ethos has given us so many barren structures together with overwrought expressionist ones—our urban smear. The article is the third in a series. The previous ones are: Biology Lessons
, an adroit argument from the complexities of biological systems, and—my favorite—a measured remedy for green fever: Why Green Often Isn’t
.

 

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Benedict O’Looney. Free-hand drawing of the main street in Bern, Switzerland (2006)

 

The pith of Salingaros’ argument:

Science forces us to conclude that the Modernist view of environmental structure itself appears unmodern—and, moreover, unsustainable. It rests upon now largely discredited theories of culture, technology, environmental geometry, and building form—theories that have never been properly reassessed by their proponents.

For far from being an inevitable product of inexorable historical forces, the evidence reveals 20th Century design to be highly contingent historically, developed as a series of rather peculiar choices by a few influential individuals. The story goes back to a small group of German, Swiss, and Austrian architect-theorists, and . . . the particular ideas of one of them regarding ornament—which, as we shall see, turns out to have far-reaching implications.


Whether science forces an anti-modernist conclusion or simply escorts it is arguable. What is not arguable is that theory is the enemy of sensibility. No matter how idealistic or optimistic the claims of theory, they are doctrinaire by nature and, consequently, substitutes for sensibility. Abstraction fuels ambition, not discernment. Salvation through architecture, the dogmatic heart of the modernist dream, is messianic hubris fixed in steel and concrete. But grandiose theorizing is not easily checked. When Theory is king, it takes yet another postulate to tilt at the reigning one. Salingaros offers his own in recognition of the fragile truth that modernism—its brands and its works—is not destiny.

The Walrus and The Carpenter in Boston

From Maureen Mullarkey

God spare us any more of these interfaith shows.

Organized to kick-off the civic healing process—a cant phrase for a delusional concept—these political reiki events presume to make us feel better about feeling bad in the wake of horrific assault. A Daily News headline intones “Boston Marathon Survivors Begin the Healing Process as President Obama Leads Prayer Service.” The article gives us the comfort of knowing that Barack and Michelle visited victims at Massachusetts General Hospital “to try to heal a little more.” US News burbled in a subhead: “The president issued a love letter to Boston during speech at an interfaith service.”

Sanctimony oozed from platitudinous coverage of the president’s “message of healing.” The Cathedral of the Holy Cross could have held a quiet, unspectacular Mass for the dead and wounded. Instead, it staged a pseudo-pious photo-op for the same feckless politicians whose policies and ideological timidities open doors to terrorist aggression.

It was left to Investor’s Business Daily and the UK’s Daily Mail to note that, prior to the Marathon, our Consoler-in-Chief had slashed funds for a program to deter domestic bombing. He cut the bombing prevention budget by 45 percent against the advice of a leading military IED expert. Not so long ago he went to bed while his ambassador in Benghazi was being murdered. No prayers wasted on that carnage. Yet he feels our pain, does our high rolling healer. Much like Lewis Carroll’s canny walrus who wept for the oysters he devoured.

4.4

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said: /”I deeply sympathize.” / With sobs and tears he sorted out / Those of the largest size/ Holding his pocket-handkerschief / Before his streaming eyes.


We need to retire the word healing divorced from its medical applications . Like hope and change , it is a word for hire. It can be rented out to any purpose whatever:

 

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 “I am excited to be a witness to healing, and grace, and peace,” burbled one female attendee at the service. It is hard to say which is more virulent, her narcissism or her naiveté.

In an oprahfied, therapeutic age, there is no end to Psychological Man’s maneuverings to avoid unpleasant realities. One reality is that—a presidential love letter notwithstanding—this bombing was not about Boston. It simply happened there. It was about the difficult truth that Islam is fueled by a theological imperative to conquer. Bumper sticker slogans (“Forgiveness,” “Peace”) on hand-held signs in the crowd outside the cathedral announce our vanishing capacity to realize that sometimes peace has to be imposed. That we have no standing to dispense forgiveness as if it were a lollipop. And that we are obliged to recognize humbug when we hear it.

Candy Floss & Camp

From Maureen Mullarkey

BBC News Magazine’ s Jon Kelly discusses Behind the Candelabra , a current movie about Liberace’s six year affair with a much younger man. Throughout his life , the entertainer strained to maintain the fiction that he was heterosexual:

Most famously, he sued the Daily Mirror over an innuendo-laden article by William Connor, who wrote under the pen-name Cassandra, which described the musician as “the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter . . . a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love”.

 

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 Whether Connor’s phrasing (this was 1956) would be “too homophobic” for today’s newspapers as Kelly suggests, it is a marvelous bit of writing. Connor continued, calling Liberace a “superb piece of calculating candy-floss” whose popularity raised doubts about the character of the popular—largely female—mind: 

There must be something wrong with us that our teenagers longing for sex and our middle aged matrons fed up with sex alike should fall for such a sugary mountain of jingling claptrap wrapped up in such a preposterous clown.


William Connor ought to have gotten a PEN award for lively expository prose. Worthy of Mencken. And—be honest—it is an accurate enough description of Liberace’s theatrical persona which appealed hugely to women.

A pianist, he brought to the popular stage the kind of exotic burlesque—equal parts vaudeville, bacchanalia, and concert—that opened in Seattle’s The Garden of Allah in 1946. America’s first gay cabaret, The Garden was a celebrated oasis for female impersonators; its Prima Donnas and Dames dressed as garishly as Liberace on TV. A drag show—more precisely, the mildly risqué hint of one—beat Tex Ritter and the Andrew Sisters. The Ed Sullivan Show was ready for Liberace.

Connor had no sympathy for Liberace’s glittering chintz and bravado: “He is the summit of sex . . . .Everything that he, she or it could ever want.” Where is the slander here? This was language used as Orwell prescribed, “as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”

Liberace won his suit by lying under oath. And he got the last word: “I cried all the way to the bank.”

• • • •

By now, camp sensibility has become mainstream. Nowhere is it more evident than in the gay marriage debate. What ought to have been taken as an exercise in camp role-playing was instead greeted with dead seriousness. This was one time we ought to have been listening to Susan Sontag: “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance.” She expanded:


Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment . . . . What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different—a supplementary—set of standards.

Sontag ended “Notes on Camp” with an observation that applies a certain bite to our descent into dandyisme in the name of rights:

Camp taste is by its nature possible only in affluent societies, in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence.