Piranesi: The Etchings collects the etchings of the Italian print maker Giovanni Battista Piranesi, was edited by Luigi Ficacci and published by Taschen. Purchased through AbeBooks from the Oxford, U.K. bookseller Greensleeves, after reading Susan Tallman‘s article “The Perpetual Provocateur” in May 11th, 2023 issue of the New York Review of Books.
The article concerned the exhibit “Sublime Ideas” that closed today at the Morgan Library and Museum from March 10th to June 4th, 2023. I visited the exhibit last weekend — my first travel to New York since COVID.
Visiting the Morgan Library’s Exhibit “Sublime Ideas”
I was a little underwhelmed by the size of the exhibit (basically a one-room show), but this is hardly the first time that my imagination was failed by reality and not a fault to be attributed to the Morgan.
I arrived after a sedate two hours in the Megabus, reliving the days when I used to commute two to three days a week to teach for six hours at NYU. Except that the Megabus was always full. And one had to ask people to take their bags off the seat next to them. Whereas on that Sunday the bus was nearly disconsolately empty, sad that only tourists graced its seats.
I walked from 34th street between 11th and 12th avenues — the Megabus depot, as it were — to the Morgan on Madison Ave between 36th and 37th. I kept thinking that because it was a holiday weekend (the day before Memorial day), the museum would be as empty as the Megabus. I reveled in my intellectual, cultural superiority since I would not merely enjoy the appearance of friendship in a garden party, drinking beers and eating burgers, like so many others. Pshaw!
Yet, like in nearly every other moment, my imaginations and hermetic self-congratulations ran askance reality. Lots of people at the Morgan. Most of them looked better than I did. Had more money. Better clothes. And no black eye (the result of a mountain biking faux pas three days earlier).
Luckily, my opportunity to stand (bruised) head and shoulders above them emerged when I entered the gallery and slowly consumed each and every image, more lovingly, more carefully, more profoundly than every other person.
Did I mention that I’m special? Me?
A game of sorts that I began back in the 1960s when I would visit museums and compete with other museum goers. Who could stand their longer?
Me, that’s who.
Pain, Then Glory: Boredom, Then Beatitude
Sometimes you need to do stupid things to do smart things. As I have explained in my treatise “Only Boredom Can Save Us Now“, we need to be pushed to the point of boredom before we start to see things. Eyes must trace curves and crevices; the mind must be forced to try to put into words what things resemble.
Reading Tallman’s article and contemplating Piranesi’s veduti (It.: views) dazzled me.
First, I’ve always been a sucker for etchings ever since I encountered the work of Stanley William Hayter. Hayter was a 20th-century expressionist artist, whereas Piranesi lived in the 18th century. He was trained as an architect but quickly realized that his prints would permit a more substantial existence. In fact, during his life he had only two architectural commissions and only one saw realization.
Second, the word sublime is right to describe Piranesi’s images because of the scale they summon. Like Kant describes, it boggles the imagination, pushing it to its limits — as in the “Architectural Fantasy with Colossal Facade” included above.
I gluttonously search everywhere for that experience.
Unlike Kant, I do not seek it for moral rectitude.
Now that I’m middle-class again, I have money to burn and of course a justification for purchasing yet another book. For the progeny, of course. Posterity.
Also, me likes to look at the pictures.