Friday, July 30, 2010


I have always had a fascination with guardian lions. Despite the fact lions are quite violent creatures that likely caused much havoc when we humans roamed the African plains, we seem to be drawn to their form. The oldest known lion depiction is a 32,000 year old cave painting in Germany. Apparently the Europeans have always loved the lion. Of course the Chinese have used lion garden statuary for centuries, from about the 5th century BC. Interestingly , lions were not native to China and the first sculptures were somewhat odd looking. They got better once the lion was imported from India, but they are still quite stylized. Here is a set of bookends I purchased while in Beijing:

For me the fascination is not so much with strength and power most often associated with these symbols. For me I prefer the status and romanticism that they conjure...of the old English variety... overgrown with ivy, protecting a crumbling, haughty residence. I suppose at heart, I feel I belong in such a grand English country estate, shut off from the world by an ornate iron gate and two stunning lion sculptures, where my days are spent throwing elaborate themed parties and wandering the moors writing poetry. Well, I have yet to acquire the country estate, however, I am happy to announce I am now the proud owner of a lion sculpture which guards the front door of my one-bedroom condo. Please see above, the beautiful photo taken by my fabulous photographer- Michael Tallman ( Next week he will be supplying photos of the entire condo for your viewing pleasure.

Besides all the connotations of pedigree and old money, probably the thing I enjoy most about lion statuary is the wide variety of expressions and the distinct personalities they seem to present to the viewer. Of course, many are just plain regal and dignified such as these classics:

The NY Public Library lions:

And the Trafalgar Square lions:

Some are quietly distinguished and look almost sweet and cuddly, like the lions in front of Anthony's antique shop here is SLC:

And others look terribly stern; not so intimidating, more like a strict principal such as this one in New York's Upper East Side:

However, many are not quite as dignified...

Here is another set at Anthony's...he looks a bit shell shocked doesn't he? Quite surprised to see anyone at the gate at all.  More frightened of the camera than frightening:

My father's lion shield which I cannot wait to inherit one day... even if he is ever so slightly goofy looking:
And these guys just look annoyed:

Understandable when you see what they are in fact guarding (not exactly a chateau):

So what about mine? Well, I feel he is quite catty and sinuous....he evokes memories of the antagonist from the Lion King....what was his name again? Scar?

While he is trying to be fierce, he comes across as more than a bit bitchy. Look at that roar:

And look at this pronounced he starving himself for some event?

And that tail...not exactly manly...this is a sensuous lion. The first gay lion sculpture perhaps?

Please come back next week for the full effect of his surroundings!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Sure, those of you outside of the land of Zion are wondering why the 4th is being celebrated so late on this weird blog from the hinterlands.

Well, that is because in Utah no one cares much about our national holiday. That's right. The 4th? Nope. The real holiday is the 24th, the day the first Mormon pioneers arrived in Salt Lake: Pioneer Day. Much more important than any signing of any kind of declaration back east somewhere sometime in the previous century. The flag waving, the picnics, the fireworks, even the parades are postponed until the 24th. I have been told that it's not just me who finds this whole thing odd...apparently everyone that moves to this state is horribly baffled. It doesn't help when you move just a few days before the 4th and a few weeks before the 24th.

So since its almost the 24th, I thought this would be a good day to view some local murals in celebration of this day.

The old railway station in the center of town is no longer functioning, but luckily someone realized it was a cool building and put it on the National Register of Historic Places. While it's not quite Grand Central,

it is worth saving. Too bad it's now attached to a shopping mall. Granted, it's a nice mall, but still. Luckily it has yet to have shops placed within it. Instead it sits empty.

There are many nice original details also on view:

LOVE the greek key floors and the acorn plasterwork (although I am not sure how many acorns there are in Utah).

However, the good news is that its emptiness affords good views of the two lovely Depression-style murals as well. The first depicts the grand arrival of the Mormons in Salt Lake Valley lead by the late great Brigham Young.

This is how things actually looked:
Here is Brigham in the mural:

And this is what he actually looked like (a bit rougher around the edges, but actually has some good rugged type features, doesn't he? Just a bit dangerous, old West outlaw-like, don't you think?  I guess he had to have something get so many people to follow him out into the desert):

You can see what a beautiful and lush countryside these pioneers decided to settle in.  See those hills in the background?

And yes, that is actually what it looks like:
I understand they had been persecuted and were looking for somewhere remote, but, I cannot imagine telling all my followers: look! This is the place! The wonderful valley where we shall settle! Isn't it perfect?! They must have had a lot of faith, especially since most of them were Scandinavian or British (whose population is even more pale-skinned than the Scandinavians).

The second mural depicts another great day for the state of Utah (not to mention the entire, not interested in that. right. sorry.): the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit which completed the transcontinental railroad. Yes, that did happen in Utah, and once again we see good Brigham Young at the center of the scene. He in fact, supplied a great deal of money and men to the railroad...anyone read 'Nothing Like It In the World' by Ambrose?

  And here is what it actually looked like:
And here is Brigham again (he is looking pretty mighty with that sledgehammer):

And here is what Brigham actually looked like in his older years:


Such artwork always causes my mind to drift ever so slowly to propaganda art. Of course, I am in no way saying these murals or any of the typical American New Deal style art is propaganda. However, it might, on occasion, be a slight manipulation of reality. But everyone does this...every country. Some better than others, some manipulate more than others. Of course the communist countries take the cake every time. And there happens to be a North Korean art exhibit on right now in Vienna! And as per last week, there has been some stir...some complaints. But I for one, find these images positively fascinating and endlessly amusing. How could I pass this up? It's not possible. So here is a quick peek...
Happy North Korean street cleaners:
Happy North Korean farmers surveying their bounty:

And happy North Korean children: that the North Korean version of a Hello Kitty backpack?

And here are more happy children with the leaders of North Korea.  Wow, what a happy and productive nation.

I, stupidly, was under the impression the country was more like this:

Although there does seem to be just a touch of militancy in one particular painting that may, at first glace appear perfectly innocent.  No, these children are not making a snowman, they are instead making a snow-nuclear weapon.  They start them young.

Although you have to admit there is some pretty awesome architecture in this country where they don't feed their people...

oh wait, of course they feed them...and they are all happy. I know this now thanks to the highly informative images above.

Happy 24th of July everyone!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Those of you from the West likely did not experience the joys of Epcot as a child. What kind of parent would take you all the way to Florida when there was a perfectly good Disneyland over in California. Well, let me tell you, there is a difference. As an East Coaster, Epcot was always an integral part of any Disney World (not Land) trip despite the strong yearning for the fun rides of the Magic Kingdom instead of the highly educational so-called 'rides' such as the Innoventions Pavilion (yes, they make up new words, this is not a typo) or the National Treasures show featuring many dead Presidents lecturing about America's past. Not exactly what a child's vacation dreams are made of. However, I can't be too harsh with Epcot, as I always loved the country pavilions. Even at a very young age the travel bug was in me. However, not all country pavilions were created equal and it was generally agreed upon in the oh, I would say, 4th grade, that Mexico and Norway were the best, as they had the coolest rides. No, make that the fact they had rides at all. Sure it's fun to walk around a fake bazaar in little Morocco, or the streets of some Bavarian village, but a ride was gold. And no, I did not brainwash all my friends into agreeing upon Norway...they have a great ride, full of trolls and fierce storms at sea.

Well, children of the West, you don't need to journey back east to experience Epcot...I found out last weekend that Salt Lake has their very own little Epcot-esque park, the International Peace Gardens. Even though it was over 90 degrees, I ventured out to this park last weekend... all for the sake of your entertainment, and maybe a bit of my own too.

The International Peace Gardens are nestled next to the Jordan River in the Jordan Park, and very well maintained. The Gardens opened in 1947 by a hopeful group of women, the Salt Lake Council of Women. They installed a plaque which reads: "America bids the world to be done with the instruments of war and in the spirit of these gardens to cultivate the arts of peace." It was a time a great optimism, we can't blame them for that. So basically, they wanted to create a lovely garden that would bring together the countries of the least those countries that happened to have at least one immigrant in Utah. So these women poked around the state and found as many local immigrants as possible, and asked them to design some sort of pavilion embodying their culture. These women were obviously warm-hearted...even offering the Germans and Japanese their own pavilions. They were serious about being done with war and apparently any bad feelings about the war too.
So I thought we could take a quick tour and I could point out my very favorite pavilions.

Enter...and instead of Mickey, you have this lovely lady greeting you...likely the head Councilwoman....or is it just 'peace'?  Probably the head Councilwoman posing as 'peace'.

And of course there are many predictable pavilions, such as China:


And Japan:

But wait, I don't remember seeing onion domes featured in Japanese design...

India: (doesn't look much like Ben Kingsley though)

Anyway, Asia, you did a great job at creating pleasant and fairly accurate visions of your countries.  Africa, I guess there were relatively few immigrants from your fair continent in those days, so the women decided to just give you one area all together.  You all get along pretty well and the cultures are all pretty much the same right?

However, I must say Europe takes the cake in my view.  Europe, you went all out.  And who can't love the perfect replica of the Eiffel Tower...Gustave, this must make you proud.

Actually, I think the bench seating one is meant to use when contemplating the tower is actually much for French than the tower....

If I just sit on the bench and not look at the piddly tower, I might just be able to feel a bit French.

And Wales...isn't that the Guinness logo?  Oh, no, that's right, the Guinness symbol faces the other way...this is the Irish national symbol, sorry.  But I guess there's not much difference, right?  And by the way, Pavilion is often meant to be more than one item.

Switzerland, you certainly pulled out the big guns...I guess in the 1940's there was a bit more money to go around than most of the other European nations.  Sorry, lets not talk about the war.  I must say this was one of my favorites.  The Matterhorn in some sort of odd material that was likely once strikingly white!  And the lovely Swiss chalet below....all to scale, well, better scale than the Eiffel Tower, but probably not quite accurate...

But one country and one coutry alone pulled out all the stops.  Italy.  What is there to say?  Really, what?

Is this Italian dirt? An Italian sand box? Contemporary art perhaps? Are you being funny? Mocking the gardens? For a country so rich in culture, well, I actually was not disappointed. I loved the Italy 'pavilion' and it brought back fond memories of the EU Czech-commissioned sculpture by David Cerny displayed in Brussels last year. So, I must show you just a bit of it.

Did anyone get a chance to see this is person? I would have loved to, but I think many of the sculptures spent their life covered in black cloth to prevent any more insult to national pride. So, now for the back-story. When the Czechs gained the EU presidency last year, the president commissioned a Czech artist to create a sculpture to commemorate the event. Cerny put forth a proposal where 27 artists each from one of the EU nations would create a piece of artwork that would epitomize their country's culture. Sounds pretty similar to the Peace Gardens, huh? Anyway, the whole thing was a hoax/standard contemporary art of sorts...Cerny had no intention of hiring other artists. He instead, simply did all the works himself. And every work just plain mocked the particular country. And then he hung them all in a very public EU building. There was so outrage, disdain, anger, and some threats. Its understandable. While I find the whole thing rather amusing, I have the benefit of not having my country mocked. Norway has yet to have any interest in joining the mess that is called the EU.   But Cerny was just having fun and being a contemporary need for death threats...

A quick taste:

Romania, Dracula's theme park:

France, on strike, no art today:

Bulgaria, the Turkish toilet (OK, so this is pretty offensive):

The Netherlands, underwater, only things left are the Islamic minarets:

And Spain, covered in concrete and scaffolding:

And what did Cerny come up with for Italy?  Not dirt.  Just football:

Alas, I was unable to see the above works, so I must content myself with the Salt Lake Peace Gardens.  Have any of you locals had a chance to visit?  I highly recommend it!  See you next week!