I had enough time between working in the hotel room in the morning and the start of the MLA Board meeting in the afternoon to walk down to the Art Institute for lunch. The last several times I've been they've had one small room in the Rice building devoted to his work. Yesterday it contained an excellent cross-section of etchings and paintings from across his career -- if you knew nothing at all about Whistler, spending an hour in there would give you a very good notion of his evolution as an artist and the principle themes of his work. Whoever is curating that room is doing a superb job -- although I still get annoyed at the obsessive emphasis by art historians on his "art for art's sake" esthetic. (The descriptive panels at the Freer and NGA annoy me in the same way). All one needs to do is spend a little time studying the faces in some of his portraits and etchings to see that he was interested in much more than just harmonious arrangements of line and color. For all of his idiosyncratic posturing and prickliness as a person, he is one of the most utterly humane and sensitive artists of the last two centuries.
The board meeting is off to a good start. I think there is a good bit of excitement among the board members about the prospects for doing more with the new technology tools. The MLANET redesign is up, the social networking taskforce is off and running, and there are some intriguing ideas in the works for making annual meeting participation available to members remotely. During the discussion of the business plan (i.e., what can we actually afford to get done), Mark (MLA pres) said, "my ambitions for this stuff are limitless." I think most of us feel that way, but we are always hampered by being a small association with a modest budget. Nonetheless, the will on the part of the board and headquarters staff is clearly there, so I'm optimistic that we'll make some useful steps this year.