Strings Attached at the Columbus Art Museum

Back in spring 2013, I spoke at the Business History Conference in Columbus, OH.  Of course, I investigated the local museums and was thrilled to find out about an exhibition of Czech puppets at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Puppet theatre was a way for Czechs to express their culture and traditions while under the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.  Puppeteers could travel from town to town, sharing folk tales and traditions.  In the 20th century, puppetry evolved into animation, inspiring filmmakers like Tim Burton.

The Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague created an exhibition incorporating different types of 19th and 20th century puppets:  Strings Attached – The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets.  Columbus was the only US stop, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the exhibition.  

Classic Puppets

Classic Puppets

The puppets were used to enact classic tales from Shakespeare, the Bible, or universal folk tales like Pinocchio.

Grotesque Puppets

Grotesque Puppets

Surreal or grotesque puppets explored the fantastic aspects of Czech culture, also seen in Kafka’s writings and other art forms.

Devil Puppet

Devil Puppet

A number of devil puppets were also on display.  Remember these are devils with the small “d”, not the Biblical Devil with a capital “D”.  The pictures can’t show the detailed craftsmanship and vibrant colors in the original puppets.  The faces were incredibly evocative.  In the hands of a master puppeteer, the movements must be equally compelling.    

As to the Museum itself, I am a fan of local art museums.  The Columbus Museum of Art was surprisingly small, given Columbus’ size.  The collection is a mini-version of a large city art museum:  some Europeans, some Americans, a few Old Masters, and some photography.  The special exhibitions are the real value of the Museum, ranging from artist retrospectives to provocative themes like “In _____ We Trust, Art & Money.”  

If you are in Columbus and have one or two hours for culture, check the exhibition schedule.  The museum is located in the heart of downtown but can be tricky to find.  My cab driver had some difficulties, which is why I always travel with a map and directions.  You will have to walk a couple of blocks back to a main street to grab a cab back to your hotel. 

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Oppression/Confirmation

I spent most of last week in pharma country, giving presentations to the oppressed souls who foist “medicine” onto the unsuspecting public.  Most of the people in the rooms had the same look of panic, fear, and desperation.  Some aggressively foisted their uncertainties onto the poor vendor (me).  Others appeared resigned to their fate or were making the best of their situation.  The trip definitely confirmed my decision to flee corporate life.

For our intellectual exercise this week, we shall tie the idea of dying empire to the corporate world.  Empires falling are classical historical areas of study, but are typically restricted to nations or tribes.  I argue that corporations are similar.  When the corporation becomes too large or unwieldy, its leaders shift focus from the original goals of the company to merely perpetuating its size.  We must grow larger, assimilate other companies, and expand our power into governments, banks, etc.  Employees live in their own bureaucratic world, ignorant of their counterparts in other departments.  My job is to ensure this form is filled out properly, and I don’t care that my intransigence is derailing a key project.  Team spirit is lost.  We are all cogs in the wheel.  Eventually, the corporation will self-destruct via greed, over-expansion, or chicanery.  (Yeah, I’m cracking out the vocab!  GRE test date is April 2.)  As Rome fell, so fell Tyco, Enron, etc.

For those who prefer a more artistic expression of corporate oppression, the works of Sinclair Lewis, King Vidor’s The Crowd (a film), and Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons explore the ideas of 1) losing oneself in the corporation, 2) the transition from a rural/simple life to the urban/hectic life, and 3) business as an empire.  Orson Welles’ film of Ambersons is excellent, too – though bastardized into a mere 90 minutes.  That’s a topic for another day.

For the historians in the crowd, Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is legendary.  Read it now.

I’m thinking about some book reviews for next week.  Maybe my top 10 favorite history books.  We shall see.