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Behold!  Here is the Tiara of Saitaferne, a crown of gold acquired by the Louvre in 1896.  The crown is wrought from a gold sheet and features gorgeous Greek youths surrounded by vines and birds.  A Greek inscription on the headdress reads “The council and citizens of Olbia honour the great and invincible King Saitapharnes.” According to classical lore, Saitapharnes was a Scythian king who menaced the Greek colony of Olbia (on the northern tip of Sardinia).  The colonists had to bribe him to leave with precious tribute, including this crown.  The crown was a sensation in France (and greater Western Europe) when it was purchased for 200,000 gold francs and precipitated much admiration for the matchless craftsmanship of antiquity.

Except…the object is a complete forgery.  It was made in 1894 by Israel Rouchomovsky, a master goldsmith from Odessa, on commission from antiquities dealers Schapschelle & Leiba Hochmann.  They told Rouchomovsky that the object was for a friend who was a classical archaeologist and they provided Rouchomovsky with detailed instructions as to how to make the tiara.

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Israel Rouchomovsky

When Rouchomovsky learned about the deceptive sale to the Louvre, he was aghast and he traveled to France to explain what had happened.  Museum experts refused to believe that he had wrought the crown, until he incontrovertibly proved that he was the responsible goldsmith.  The revelation led to disgrace for the Louvre’s experts but it made Rouchomovsky a sensation and he became an esteemed art nouveau jeweler in Europe.

The crown itself is now held in the Louvre’s secret archives of shame and and disgrace, but it makes periodic reappearances at exhibitions of famous forgeries.  Like the Meidum Geese (which snookered Ferrebeekeeper), the Tiara of Saitaferne raises difficult questions about the meaning of artworks and how their value is contingent on when and by whom they are made.  Such questions are becoming more prominent in contemporary art (which has become deeply fixated on political questions of identity and diversity) but, as you can see, the underlying issues are ancient.

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For the last month-and-a-half, New York City has been besotted by a new sweetheart.  “Who is this gorgeous heart throb?”, you ask.  Is it some otherworldly super-model, a sexy head of state (of a different nation, obvs.), or a cultural hero with a new philosophy to recontextualize everything?  Ummm…maybe?  We don’t know as much about our new crush as we might since, um, he is a duck.

The mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) is a perching duck from East Asia (Japan, Korea, China, and maybe that creepy part of Russia above China).   Longtime Ferrebeekeeper readers will know that it has an important place in Chinese symbolism.   Due to the strange and disquieting mirror-verse symmetry we have with China, there is a very similar North American species of duck, the wood duck (Aix sponsa) which lives in the eastern half of North America from Canada down to Mexico.  The two sorts of ducks are the only species within the genus Aix.  The East Asian duck is perhaps a bit fancier.

This particular mandarin duck, who has been christened “Mandarin Patinkin” (in an awkward homage to a noted thespian) is thus not a native, but not from a wholly dissimilar ecosystem either.  He appeared in Central Park in early October. The duck has a brown band on his leg, so presumably he escaped from such rich Westchester bird lover’s aviary or from a farm specializing in non-native waterfowl.   He is a gifted flyer and when he is not preening before adoring throngs in Central Park, he flies off for some quiet time across the Hudson in New Jersey.

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I love birds! Just witness the drama of LG (who is doing quite well, by the way, although his goose spouse was injured by a wild animal).  Also, mandarin ducks are self-evidently lovely. Yet I am a bit perplexed by the extent to which the City has gone ape over this one renegade duck.  Here is a link to Gothamist articles following the bird in minute detail with paparazzi-like stalkerish obsession.  Holy Toledo Mud Hen! If you need celebrity dirt about this duck and his big city life, it is all there!

Yet, although this duck obsession is a bit odd, I feel that is a good thing.  Contemporary society is TOO addicted to celebrities. Most of these “stars” are meddling narcissists who spend all of their time building a by-the-numbers personal mythology and then sabotaging ancient reptilian religious pathways in the human brain in order to beguile the weak-minded to obsess over them (maybe this description will bring other New York “celebrities” to mind).  Perhaps some good old-fashioned bird watching will help us deconstruct some of this dangerous idolatry, but if not, at least we have spent our time paying attention to a cool duck instead of some goofy rapper or Kardashian or Andy Warhol wannabe.

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Also I will keep you posted if the duck has any torrid flings, money troubles, or runs over a bystander.

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Self Portrait with Sculpture, Marisol, 1965

Sad news from the art world:  Marisol Escobar (who went by the single name “Marisol”) died on April 30, 2016 at the age of 86. Marisol was one of my favorite living sculptors.  She turned away from minimalism and conceptualism (the emotionally and intellectually empty aesthetic forms which monopolize contemporary art) and built her own powerful visual idiom.  By mixing ancient and modern forms (and joyously combining 3 dimensional sculpture with 2 dimensional painting), Marisol created astonishing portrait sculptures which capture the humor, heroism, and conflicted self-identity of America in the sixties and seventies.

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Women and Dog (Marisol, 1964, wood, paint, mixed media)

Although she is loosely affiliated with the Pop movement, Marisol based her sculptures on Pre-Columbian sculptural forms. Her sculptures of people are like a combination of giant ancient sarcophagi, wooden toys, and folk painting.  The rude forms are sometimes grotesque—but they capture true emotional intensity…and real humor (so much a part of life, but so infrequently seen in fine art).

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Dinner Date (Marisol, 1963. wood, paint, mixed media)

Just as three-dimensional objects have many sides: Marisol’s wooden people present different aspects of their identity from different angles—to such a degree that they have multiple faces or too many arms.  This multitudinous bricolage of overlapping identities was second nature to Marisol, a French Venezuelan who moved to Los Angeles as a teen ager. She was deeply involved in the private asceticism of Catholicism, yet she was also overexposed sixties celebrity in New York’s libertine art world.

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“Mi Mama y Yo” (Marisol, 1968, mixed media).

Her works often portray celebrities du jour—and the multitudinous juxtaposed iconography of the portraits gives insight into the strange stagecraft of fame.  In the portrait of John Wayne below, the famous actor has been grafted, centaur-like, to his horse.  Multiple blockish hands reach for multiple fake guns.  Only the solemn politician’s face and the quotidian cowboy boots seem real. The cartoonish formulaic aspects of Hollywood oat operas is combined with larger-than-life western iconography, which is combined with a real man.  The synthesis provides a surprisingly realistic and sympathetic portrait of the actor.

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John Wayne (Marisol, 1963, wood, paint, mixed media)

A famous anecdote about Marisol concerns her taking part in a panel discussion with four famous male artists.  She arrived wearing a white mask which she kept on during the discussion.  Marisol was a famous beauty and the crowd began to chant for her to remove the mask. When the hullabaloo drowned out the conversation, she untied the mask…only to reveal that her face was made up exactly the same way.

 

Her shyness and unease at the performative spectacle that is identity gave her unique ability to discern and portray the multiple faces–greedy, solemn, sly, sad, and laughing aloud–which we all wear.

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

Exciting celebrity news for Central Florida today! A king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) has decided to forgo its native range—the forests in India and Southeast Asia–and pay a visit to Orlando, Florida.  The king cobra is the world’s longest venomous celebrity with a length of up to 5.6 meter (18.5 feet) (although the one “visiting” Florida is a mere 2.2 meters (8 feet) long).  Unlike many other celebrities, king cobras are known for intelligence, sensitivity, and potent neurotoxic venom.  They (king cobras) also have the ability to rear up the anterior 1/3 of their body, extend their hood and growl loudly. The creature escaped decided to visit Orlando when a tree limb dislodged by a storm crashed open its terrarium.

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King cobras are known for hunting smaller snakes and large rodents.  A ten man team is desperately trying to capture the celebrity before it bites anyone or escapes into the wider ecosystem (like Florida’s famous albeit disreputable pythons).

Hold on…my editor is frantically mouthing that King Cobras are not part of America’s celebrity culture—apparently they are only revered in Hindu and Hinayana Buddhist societies and Christians deplore them (and all other snakes) as taboo. King cobras have never been featured on “American Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars” (although I think it would really spice up those extremely formulaic shows).

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It is important to distinguish between celebrities and dangerous poisonous snakes, I have failed to do that here and I am exceedingly sorry. Please be sure to make this distinction in your own life (except when feeding rats to Sean Penn).

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