Blog Archive

Big News Blog

 Big News Blog

The biggest news, for me, is that I am moving at last back to Berkeley, permanently, after years of living mainly in Vancouver. My reasons are too complex to explain, but they include the presence of my daughter Sarah and her family in Berkeley, along with many friends and colleagues and former students; my twin sons Julian and benedict approaching adulthood and going off soon to pursue higher education; and the increasing difficulty of living more or less alone here in Vancouver, climbing up & down the stairs constantly, not going out much. My collaborator on the video-lectures Rand Chatterjee has agreed that we can continue to work together at long distance, on our computers and with occasional visits to Berkeley by him. So, from next Tuesday, May 22nd, I will be living in Berkeley. Still reachable by email, still accessible to friends & others who want or need to see me for some reason. I don’t give my phone number here because I don’t want to be phoned by people I don’t know--use email instead please. And not Facebook or LinkedIn: I seem to be on both, through the kindness of other people, but I won’t use them for real communications--too public, too twittery. Email please. I don’t own a cellphone, never have, never will--I may end up as the last person standing who isn’t holding one.


The sad news today (Saturday the 19th) is the death of Crawford Greenewalt, called by his friends “Greenie,” who was a professor in U.C. Berkeley’s Classics Dept. and the Director of the archaeological excavation at Sardis in Turkey for many years, as well as a major supporter of that excavation. Coming from the du Pont family, he was very rich, although you wouldn’t have known it from his manner, which was always modest. He was one of my son Nicholas’s teachers, and Nick, who has been deeply engaged in the Sardis excavation every summer for many years, is the new director of it. He is quoted in the NYTimes obituary, and has been in Berkeley helping with the disposition of Greenie’s papers and other effects.

More news: the death of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who is being hailed in obituaries as the finest art-song singer of the 20th century, the one who gave us the definitive Winterreise, etc. He was a fine singer with a wide repertory, and I suppose he was indeed the best of his time. But the best of the 20th century, for us oldsters who grew up with his records, was the great Gerhard Hüsch. He was known to me first as the Papageno in the original Magic Flute recording, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham and starring also, among others, the brilliant coloratura Erna Berger, who sang “Die hölle Rache”, missing one high note near the end--record afficianados listened to hear her sing it flat, in an otherwise dazzling performance. Gerhard Hüsch recorded the wonderful Schubert song cycles, along with vocal works by Beethoven (“An die ferne Geliebte”) and others. I remember once arguing for his pre-eminence in these with a woman who taught about musical performance in our Music Department at U.C., and lending her his recordings (on DVDs) when she was skeptical. She returned them saying that she hated people who did this to her, but that I was right. So: if you are a Lieder-lover, find the Gerhard Hüsch recordings and listen to them.

The latest New York Review of Books has a review by Julian Bell of a retrospective of Damien Hirst, titled “Brimming with Sheer Cheek.” Worth reading. He quotes Donald Judd as writing in praise of this kind of art--no, this kind of stuff: “’The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting’--not the illusionism, the imagining of bodies and symbols, that dogs the painting tradition and is ‘one of the most salient and objectionable relics of European art.’” Great, now we know. So much for all the real painters still going--I won’t name them, but could make a list. As I’ve written before, this adulation of the conceptual has an element of hypocrisy, because if we were to open an exhibition of one of the great painters who employ the objectionable “illusionism”--Verlasquez, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet and Monet, Degas, make your own list--it would be vastly more crowded than any exhibition of one of the illusionism-haters, and people would linger longer before the paintings than they do in the galleries of those new celebrity artists who scorn them. The Damien Hirst-Jeff Koons kind of thing is for dumb multi-millionaires who need to get rid of money while enjoying the prestige of patronizing artists and getting reputations as connoisseurs and collectors.

Other news I won’t comment on, except briefly. Non-white babies now outnumber white ones in U.S. births: good. And we will intermingle: better yet--mixed-race people are on the whole handsomer, smarter than us pure-bloods. China’s wealth is being drained away by corrupt officials and their relatives into foreign bank accounts: Poor China. Time to change the system. Maybe I will live to see that happen. And so forth--mostly bad news, bad guys winning out, people who do good things losing out to those who do bad things but make lots of money at it. I will continue to watch this as a non-participant from Berkeley, which I have called “that bastion of right-minded but ineffectual resistance to the wrong-headed directions taken by the rest of the country, and the world.” Or something like that.

Our first series of video-lectures, A Pure and Remote View, is now complete and accessible online, except for another insert that Rand and I mean to put into Addendum 2B, the one about Riverbank as a Zhang Daqian forgery. A so-called copy of Riverbank, which I believe is really a try-out that Zhang and his mounter-ager made before doing Riverbank, has turned up and we were able to photograph it in detail. Still another revelation! And one that adds to the overwhelming evidence against Riverbank being a genuinely old painting. But not, as I add at the end, one that will persuade the true believers in Riverbank that they are wrong--nothing could do that. For them, it has become an object of quasi-religious veneration, like the Shroud of Turin, far above the understanding of profane doubters.

We are ready now to go on with finishing and posting the first dozen or so lectures of the second series, called Gazing Into the Past: Scenes from Later Chinese and Japanese Painting. The picture and music chosen for our opening and closing credits are movingly expressive of the whole theme of the series, how some art evokes the images and styles of earlier art in a way that tugs at one’s heartstrings. But I won’t divulge now what it is--wait and see. Some sixteen lectures in this new series are now finished in draft, waiting for final checking and posting, and another twenty or so are planned, with the images for many of them already brought together. How many I will finish during my remaining years remains, of course, to be seen. Please join me in hoping that the move back to Berkeley, my real spiritual home, will help to prolong the already long life of your antique blogger,

James Cahill, Berkeley High, Class of 1943

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...