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16  |   D E  C O N S O L A T I O N E  P H I L O S O P H I AE
Collage, 1986 [1992]
Cut-and-pasted paper and enamel paint on wood
305 x 458 centimeters [10 x 15 feet].


The five montages in the graphic essay THE HOUSE OF FAME do a fairly good job of discussing this larger work for which they served as preparatory drawings.

THE HOUSE OF FAME I–V, 1984, five montages, each 100 x 70 cm.

Having determined that DE CONSOLATIONE PHILOSOPHIÆ was to possess the actual ten-by-fifteen-foot  dimensions of Henry David Thoreau’s house at Walden Pond, I adjusted the diameters of the concentric circles in the white marble intarsia pattern of the tabletop seen directly below—and in THE HOUSE OF FAME III—so that they would fit the larger work’s scale and, at the same time, correspond to a cross section of the spheres that are determined by the volumes of the five Platonic solids when these are contained one within the other, each solid touching the sphere which circumscribes the next solid within it.

Antoine-Gabriel Quervelle (1789–1856), mahogany center table, Philadelphia, ca. 1830, height 75.7 cm, diameter 87.6 cm.

Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I drew the resulting, concentric pattern to scale on clear Mylar so that its overall diameter could fill the projected work’s fifteen-foot width, whereas the outer circles were cropped to its height of ten feet. I then laid this drawing over a detailed map of the near side of the moon and began to search for a medium, or material, with which I might be able to create a reasonably accurate image of the lunar surface thus defined.

Map of the near side of the moon 1 : 5,000,000 (Hallwag, Berne) overlaid with a pattern drawn on Mylar, 83.5 x 83.8 cm, 1985.

I found just what I thought I was looking for printed in the 13 December 1985 issue of the weekly magazine section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: a photographic essay replete with full-page reproductions of stone sculptures exhibited before rough stone walls. The sculptures were  the severed heads of the statues of the Biblical kings that had graced the façade of the Cathedral of Notre Dame from the early 13th century until they were vandalized, during the French Revolution, five and a half centuries later. Salvaged and buried, I assume by Royalist sympathizers, they had remained hidden for nearly two hundred years before being discovered, in 1977, during excavation work for the extension of a bank building. They are now on permanent display within the ancient walls of the Hôtel de Cluny, once the Parisian pied-à-terre of the abbots of Cluny and now the French National Museum of the Middle Ages. I ordered a hundred back-issue copies of the magazine from the publishers, and they were able to provide me with nearly ninety.

Left: Tête de roi, ca. 1220, Collection Musèe de Cluny, Paris; right: DE CONSOLATIONE PHILOSOPHIÆ (detail).

Using squares and rectangles scissor-cut from this material, I fashioned a representation of the mountains, valleys, and lakes of the lunar landscape into a large collage, juxtaposing the textures, curves, and muted shades of the ear laps, eye sockets, beards, and brows of once-crowned heads ravaged by time and violence. Thus, in strict keeping with the moon’s meridians, which appear as fine, raised “welts,” I produced a composite image reminiscent of the photo-montages created from early pictures radioed back to earth from spacecraft orbiting the moon. Next, I rendered the superimposed pattern of the table’s marble framework using my “white” collage technique, and, at the very center, placed a glossy black disk, three inches in diameter, to represent Thoreau’s looking-glass.

DE CONSOLATIONE PHILOSOPHIÆ, cut-and-pasted paper/enamel paint on wood, 305 x 458 cm [10' x 15'], 1986 [1992].

In 1992, I was invited to take part in the triennial exhibit Toyama Now ’93, at the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, in which the three German-speaking countries—Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—were participating. I chose to send my “moon picture,” but wanted to make some last-minute adjustments before having it shipped to Japan, namely, painting over most of the white paper pattern of rings and radiating “ribs,” or “spokes,” with glossy, black enamel—which greatly increased the vertiginous suggestion of depth the work possesses. My CONSOLATIO was, I believed, at last complete  as moon and dome and Fortune’s wheel. For the work's exhibition at the VII. Literaturbegegnung Schwalenberg, in 1998, however, I added simple wooden three-by-fives (3 x 5 inches, that is), finished with a mahogany semi-gloss stain, to the left- and right-hand sides of the piece, as a rudimentary wooden frame—a nod in the direction of that mahogany and marble pedestal table from whose surface I had taken the pattern that now seemed to hover like a space-station rotating before the surface of the moon.



I grew up just as heaven’s bright wanderer was becoming domesticated. Science had long since disabused us of the green-cheese theory, yet I do recall moon-gazing with my father one evening in early autumn 1957—following the summer of Sputnik 1 and preceding that of hula hoops and Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star”—and having him tell me that, as yet, no one knew for sure exactly what Earth’s satellite was made of.