Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bashford's Grotto

Bashford’s Grotto (2006)
Bashford’s Grotto was an informational exhibition at Wave Hill in the Bronx about the Riverdale Chadwicks’ mysterious neighbor, Bashford Dean, who, in addition to being a professor of ichthyology at Columbia, a famous arms and armor collector, and an adviser on helmets and body armor for the allies in WW1, was also a curator, simultaneously, of fishes and reptiles at the Museum of Natural History and arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum.

Unlike the other exhibitions, “Bashford’s Grotto” began not with an invitation, but rather with two younger Chadwicks taking the initiative to research their neighbor on the grounds of Wave Hill, which as it turned out, did not recognize the Chadwicks’ ancestral right-of-way; nor did they appreciate the improvised excavation within Wave Hill’s sumptuous gardens that was necessary to unearth the relevant archaeological specimens. That these specimens—in particular a scale model of a pyrotechnics forge whose outer casing resembled an enormous volcano—turned out to demonstrate amazing and as yet unrecognized facts about Dean was perhaps what led to the Chadwicks’ release from prison; it was certainly what led to the exhibition at Wave Hill, which Blachly and I, in the Chadwicks’ absence, were forced to install.

Nor were the controversies over then. First, the Chadwicks offered a public lecture on Dean in Dean’s own armor hall at Wave Hill, a reasonable enough venture except that Chadwick Dalton IV (one of the unauthorized excavators) decided to deliver the lecture in a full suit of plate-mail and, thinking that Torrent Chadwick III (his accomplice) was still in prison, proceeded to blame the latter’s branch of the family for the misunderstandings about the excavations.

But in fact Torrent arrived part way through the lecture, learned of its contents, and the lecture devolved first into shouting and then into a jousting match.

After the Chadwicks had cooled off, they asked us to help them prepare the contents of their discovery for an article in Cabinet magazine. This same magazine that had benefited from the Chadwick Family’s remarkable collections in the Gordon Matta-Clark tour, now, without consulting us, invited a German historian, Maiken Umbach, to write a scathing critique of the Chadwicks’ findings—appended to our article! Umbach claimed, preposterously, that Dean’s garden volcano was derived, unacknowledged, from a German Enlightenment precedent—an absurd argument we will not even address here.

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