Sunday, November 23, 2008

Michigan is the Best

It's been a week since my talk at the University of Michigan. Although short, the trip was intellectually intoxicating. I met so many interesting people, saw so many wonderful things, had so many enlightening conversations; my head is spinning. Michigan truly is an archaeological powerhouse (and I was wrong to think that its glory was connected to individual star faculty). It is also a beacon of Modern Greek Studies, a program well integrated with the archaeology. I'm sure I'll be blogging about my trip for weeks to come, but I would like to briefly list some highlights.

1) Vassilis Lambropoulos and Artemis Leontis are two of the nicest people I've ever met in Modern Greek Studies, and they also happen to be brilliant (each in their own way). Hosting me over lunches, dinners, and drinks, we discussed all kinds of topics, from the future of Byzantine Studies to the complications of Modern Greek and Greek American Studies. Artemis and I are now emailing odd bits and pieces of a larger puzzle that involve American School figures and Eva Palmer Sikelianos, on whom she is writing a cultural biography. God is in the archival details. It was also fantastic to have met Elizabeth Sears (in Art History), who works on social networks in connection to Aby Warburg. I look forward to future conversations.

2) The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology was quite a treat. Although closed for a grand enlargement, Laurie Talalay gave me a full behind-the-scenes introduction. I saw Kelsey's archival photographs, the fresh new exhibitions spaces, and even the storage areas. Michigan's excavations of Karanis in Egypt must have produced the greatest comparanda of domestic artifacts for the Late Roman period. Thanks to the dry climate, there is an amazing array of wooden objects (furniture, toys, locks, architectural elements, brooms, combs, pins, etc). For early Byzantine domestic archaeology, Karanis is a gold mine. The Kelsey is housed in Newberry Hall (1886), a Romanesque Revival building that originally housed the Student Christian Association. Laurie did not fail to show me a spectacular Tiffany window in the auditorium of the original Christian Association (photo), connecting my lecture with the physical fabric. I was also fascinated to learn about Laurie's late mother, Marjorie Talalay, founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Cleveland. Mrs. Talalay brought contemporary art to Cleveland; she tragically died this May in a car accident.

3) After my lecture, Elaine Gazda asked a question about Francis Kelsey's commitment to non-Classical archaeology. In 1895, the AIA went through a little identity crisis. AIA founder Charles Eliot Norton clashed with Classics professors (Francis Kelsey from Michigan and John Williams White from Harvard) over the direction of the institute. But my information comes only from Norton's biography, James Turner, The Liberal Education of Charles Eliot Norton (Baltimore, 1999), p. 369. Elaine Gazda has put me into contact with Hima Mpallampati, a Michigan grad student writing on Kelsey. Hima has discovered that Kelsey was extremely supportive of Native American achaeology even within the state of Michigan. At the end of my talk, I met Christina Crockett, a fountain of knowledge on the Greek Phanariot community in London, who directly inspired the Pre-Raphaelite love-affair with Byzantium. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to visit a Richardsonian church near her house.

4) The worlds of Ann Arbor and Cleveland connect. My friend Jon Seydl tells me that indeed, Marjorie Talalay was a monumental figure in the Cleveland art world and her loss is greatly mourned. Coincidentally, the water-color copy of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii (commissioned by Kelsey right before his death in 1925) is currently restored at the Cleveland Museum. Drawn by Maria Barosso, the canvas has been the subject of an exhibition and essay by Elaine Gazda, "Replicating Roman Murals in Pompeii: Archaeology, Art, and Politics in Italy of the 1920s, " in Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, ed. Victoria C. Coates and Jon Seydl (Los Angeles, 2007). When the Kelsey opens again, the painting will be permanently displayed in a special space replicating the Roman original. That's going to be a double testament to Pompeiian wall painting and 1920s artistic endeavors.

5) The Iggy Pop pilgrimage went great. I visited his home, a trailer park in Ypsilanti, his high school, and other Stooges landmarks. Unfortunately, the Fun House has been torn down. I'm convinced that there are some critical connections between the godfather of punk and Byzantine aesthetics (via modernism and the avant-garde, of course). Proximity to Motown, the Chicago blues, connections to Warhol's Factory and to David Bowie, make Iggy Pop one of the most important case studies for Punk Archaeology. On the plane to Michigan, I finished the excellent biography by Paul Trynka, Iggy Pop: Open up and Bleed (New York, 2007). And who would have known that Iggy Pop has even contributed essays in Classics journals?

6) There was also lots of talk about Byzantine kitchens. Veronica Kalas is writing an article on Cappadocian kitchens, so we discussed the evidence in Greece and the sad state of employment for Byzantine archaeologists. Lots of good stuff in Michigan. I must now order Sufjan Stevens album Michigan to maintain the aura.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States