Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ana Tzarev's World of Flowers

I'd been meaning to visit the Ana Tzarev Gallery at 24 West 57th Street since it opened in late November 2008 in New York. In the months leading up to the opening, the city seemed to be flooded with advertisements for the gallery on buses, taxis, sides of buildings, and in high-end lifestyle and art magazines. The art world wondered who Ana Tzarev was.

Finally this afternoon, I visited the 14,000 square foot glass and marble space, which was designed by James Harb and occupies the first and second floors of the New York Gallery Building. Not a single detail has been left to chance; Ms. Tzarev's publications and paintings are tastefully displayed in the gallery. You have to be present to get a sense of the extraordinary colors and textures in Ana's World of Flowers, which opened June 24th and continues through August 8th. In particular, I liked Priceless, an oil on linen whose red roses glow; Red Silk for the same reason; Vincent's Flowers; and Loveliness. The works sell from $150,000 - $250,000; however, giclées of some of the flower paintings can be purchased for $250.

So who is Ana Tzarev? She was born in Croatia in 1937 and grew up in Australia and New Zealand. According to a New York Observer article, Ms. Tzarev started out as a dressmaker, but made her money with husband Robert Chandler by founding a successful New Zealand luxury department-store chain called Chandler House, where she designed the store's apparel. After getting out of the business and giving the money to their sons, the couple moved to Monaco and Thailand. Justin Warner, a Sales Associate at the gallery, told me that Ms. Tzarev currently divides her time between Phuket, Thailand, and Monaco, where she paints daily in her studio there, taking inspiration from the flowers in her garden. In fact, she wanted to be a gardener, and has said that "flowers are the standard by which I judge all other beauty and the inspiration for the pure color I use in my work." Influenced by Post-Impressionist and Modern artists such as van Gogh and Matisse, Ms. Tzarev combines an impasto style with bold color choices. Some flowers and even individual petals look as though an entire tube of paint was used. The paintings almost appear to be three-dimensional sculptures.

Ms. Tzarev's extensive travels throughout Africa, Asia, and Hawaii provided material for subject matter that moved beyond the realm of flowers and incorporated the human world of emotion. One of her books, Through Ana's Eyes, contains paintings of a range of subjects that include Japanese lovers, portraits of African, South American, and Hawaiian women, dancing Indian gods, and haunting depictions of “dispossessed” and “displaced” people. Mr. Warner told me that the next show will feature paintings of people - I hope it includes some of these earlier works.

Some people have criticized Ana Tzarev’s bold entree into the New York art world and her choice to take what might appear to be a vanity publication style approach to promoting her art and books. I must confess that I initially had similar thoughts; however, I was proven wrong in a quietly graceful way. Not content to rest despite her good fortune, Ms. Tzarev continues to create inspired art, and is involved in humanitarian missions such as the Washington DC and Brussels-based Search for Common Ground.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Sadness in the West Village - Jarnac is Closed

This afternoon, I stopped by the tag sale of my favorite restaurant in the West Village - Jarnac - which served its last meal on Saturday. A three-year conflict with the landlord was the reason the owner, Tony Powe, decided to leave. He told me he was going to take the summer off, while keeping his Lower East Side place, Barramundi, up and running. Jarnac will continue to operate as a virtual restaurant of sorts, providing catering services. Powe also has his private party lounge “2nd floor on Clinton” and plans to open a new restaurant and bar in Brooklyn.

Jarnac disassembled into bundles of silverware, sugar containers, and dishes in the light of day is a poignant sight. I had to close my eyes and overlook the staff outside hosing off all of the grills and dismantling the kitchen so that I could recall many warm memories of past dining experiences. Despite my annoying tendency to not make reservations, Anthony, Jarnac's stellar host, always managed to find a table for my friends and I. The food, of course, was always good, and the owners stopped by to say hello to all of the diners, regulars or not.

Although I did not purchase anything at the tag sale, Tony kindly gave me a tiny safety flashlight marked with the restaurant's name, as well as two packets of sugar, likeiwse marked "Jarnac."
Jarnac and staff, you will be missed. Merci, au revoir, et bonne chance!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Roses on the Rocks

I returned to New York yesterday after spending a week with my family in Connecticut and Rhode Island in time to see the final matinee performance of The Roses on the Rocks at the Manhattan Theatre Source on MacDougal Street. The contrast of being back in the jarring city - screeching subways and all - after the quiet of the Shoreline and the stately calm of Newport's mansions was heightened by this play's dark, disturbing themes.

Written by Ellen Boscov and directed by Richard Caliban, The Roses on the Rocks is not for the faint-hearted. Four mesmerizing actors effectively evoked good and evil, light and dark, beauty and horror. The Dali-esque play teased at every turn; just when it verged on the maudlin, in came the ghost of Bill, played by a devilish Scott Sowers, to shake everything up, blood and all. Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 1991 album, would have been a good choice for an alternate title for this story which features a dead pimp (Bill), the underage Mexican prostitute he rescues from death (Blossom) in order to torment his widow (Peggy), and the prostitute's mother (Mama Ghost). The impressive cast included Rachel Jones (who played Anna to Lou Diamond Phillips' King of Siam in a regional production of The King and I) as Peggy, Laura Montes as Blossom, Scott Sowers as the Ghost of Bill, and the excellent Colombian former dancer Fulvia Vergel as Mama Ghost. Live music courtesy of cellist Helena Espvall and violinist Alberto Villa-Lobos provided the eerie icing on the cake.

After the performance, the actors and the playwright came out on stage for a Q&A session with the audience, a rare opportunity indeed. Because the actors so realistically played their roles, it took me a moment or two to extricate them from the story and address them out of character. I asked how each performance differed and how they got into their roles. All agreed that the mood of the audience affected them, as did their own moods and past experiences. The playwright Boscov acknowledged that the actors had some leeway to interpret the script, playing off each other as they saw fit. She also said that the version we had just seen was about halfway through its maturation if the play were to be fully produced. Since yesterday's performance was the last, I wonder if it will be picked up for full production by a larger theater and if so, what form it will take.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Visit to Dia:Beacon

To elevate our rainy day moods, my friend and I decided to get out of town yesterday. We headed up the Hudson to explore the six-year-old Dia:Beacon, a former Nabisco box printing factory which houses a remarkable collection of art spanning the past 50 years. We spent nearly five hours wandering among the galleries contained within the 240,000 square foot space.

One of the most important features of Dia is that each of the galleries was created especially for individual artists. You really feel as if you are in that particular artist's world and no other. At times, it seems as though the artist is there with you. For example, I could easily imagine Andy Warhol sitting next to us on the comfortable sofas placed in the center of the gallery which contains his 1978–79 multi-part work Shadows. I enjoyed a similar sensation while viewing Dan Flavin's series of fluorescent light monuments to V. Tatlin. Same thing with the Sol LeWitt galleries. My friend and I enjoyed walking through Torqued Ellipses, Richard Serra's massive russet steel sculptures. We learned that Leonard Riggio, CEO of Barnes & Noble, and an important patron of the museum, was instrumental in choosing the space because it was a large enough venue to properly view these and other works of Contemporary Art. [Mr. Riggio stepped down as chairman in May 2006 and resigned from Dia’s board in October of that year.]

My friend and I wished that Robert Ryman had really been with us to explain his white paintings, however. It was an excellent idea to offer Minimalist-inspired laminated cards with backgrounds about the art/artist at the entrances and exits to each of the galleries. Using wall text to explain the pieces would have ruined the aesthetic experience. Some of the cards were written better than others; unfortunately, Robert Ryman's fell into the latter category. The pretentious explanation of Ryman's philosophy numbed our minds and sparked a conversation about the opacity of so much art criticism these days. I doubt that Mr. Ryman himself would have understood what was being said about his work.

Imi Knoebel's tribute to his friend, the German artist Blinky Palermo, needed all the ample space it was given to be appreciated. The colorful, quasi-geometric shapes were reminiscent of Ellsworth Kelly, but upon closer examination, they went beyond the parameters of Kelly's work. Zoe Leonard's You see I am here after all, 2008, consisted of 3,852 vintage Niagara Falls postcards displayed as a panorama. While conceptually interesting, the piece required more light and space than it was given.

We liked Antoni Tapies' The Resources of Rhetoric, John Chamberlain's colorful, twisted metal sculptures, and Fred Sandback's string sculptures, which framed random areas of several of the galleries. The pieces were rather disconcerting at first, seeming to appear out of nowhere, framing nothing but air. Louise Bourgeois' phallic sculptures were tucked away upstairs in a darker part of the museum and one of her giant spider sculptures waited patiently for us, as spiders do, back in the corner.

We chose a perfect rainy weekday to visit Dia - except for a handful of other visitors and unobtrusive guards dressed in black, we had the place to ourselves. The enveloping sense of quiet was eerie; we were often startled by the appearance of other visitors occasionally coming into view thousands of feet away.

Before catching the train back to Grand Central, we had time to explore Beacon's Main Street, which unfolded before us in a succession of art galleries, bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops. We stopped in at the Chill Wine Bar for an excellent, inexpensive glass of wine, accompanied by a savory plate of meats and cheeses. I spoke with one of the owners, Jim Svetz, who told me that some New Yorkers have been relocating to Beacon because of its laid-back atmosphere. Coupled with its burgeoning art scene, and anchored by Dia:Beacon's stately presence half a mile away, Beacon has a lot to offer in a beautiful setting just an hour from the city.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I have been enjoying many excellent films lately. I went to see one of them with an artist friend yesterday. Séraphine tells the story of Séraphine Louis (later known as Séraphine de Senlis), a simple French woman who painted from deep within her psyche, directed, as she said, by a guardian angel. Known as a Naive Artist, today she would be considered an Outsider, having had no formal training in art. Séraphine was a housekeeper for the German art dealer and critic Wilhelm Uhde, who was living on the outskirts at the start of World War I. Uhde was an early champion of Picasso, Braque, and Rousseau. He discovered one of Séraphine's early paintings quite by accident and eventually became her patron.

The most thrilling scenes in the film are those of Séraphine as she paints. A kind of religious ecstasy comes over her, she begins to sing in an otherworldly voice, and then passes out only to awaken and be "frightened by what has come out of her" while in this fugue state. She employed vivid colors and patterns to show her intense relationship with nature and God. Some paintings resemble violent versions of Persian carpets incorporating the Tree of Life motif. Her flower paintings allowed a glimpse inside her mind. You have to look hard to find artists with this kind of power.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Lincoln Center to see The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, one of over 20 films featured as part of the 20th Human Rights Watch International Film Festival , which runs from June 11-25.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was formed in 2002 after 60 countries ratified the 1998 Rome Statute, which defined the mission and scope of the court. The mission, similar to that of the Nuremberg Trials, is to "investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity." The ICC, not a part of the United Nations, is a court of last resort, i.e. it can only be called upon after a member country's internal court system has failed or its government is protecting criminals. The ICC can only investigate and prosecute crimes that were committed after its formation and it cannot intervene in matters involving non-member countries (e.g. Sudan), except by a vote of of the United Nations Security Council.

The Reckoning documents the ICC's four major undertakings to date. The first names Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda for crimes against humanity, which include rape, torture, and murder of civilians, and abducting children to convert them into rebel soldiers. Interviews with these young men and women were disturbing to watch, as was the graphic evidence of mass killings. In 2005, the ICC issued its first arrest warrants for five senior LRA leaders, including Kony; however, no arrests have been made to date and two of the five have been reported killed. A major obstacle is the fact that the ICC has no police force of its own, and therefore must rely upon the governments of member countries to cooperate.

The ICC has had more success with their case against Thomas Labonga Dyilo, who was arrested in 2006 by the Democratic Republic of Congo government and handed over to the ICC to stand trial in The Hague. Labonga is accused of conscripting child soldiers, genocide, torture, and rape. His trial began in January 2009.

Next, to Colombia and its 60 years of war and drug violence. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who was an assistant prosecutor during the trials of Argentina’s military junta, attempted to persuade stronger enforcement of President Alvaro Uribe’s "Justice and Peace Law."

Moreno-Ocampo engaged United Nations Security Council members in the matter of the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accused of ordering the rape, torture and starvation of the civilian population in the country’s Darfur region. Recent events not included in the film: On June 5, Moreno-Ocampo told the UN Security Council that the arrest warrant for al-Bashir was sent to Sudan's government, which has the responsibility to arrest him. [Sudan rejected the warrant issued by the ICC on March 4 to arrest al-Bashir.] Despite their opposition to the indictment of al-Bashir, it is telling that the 30 African member countries decided not to withdraw from the ICC and are expected to request a deferral of the arrest warrant for an unspecified amount of time.

As of June 2009, there are 108 ICC member countries. Russia, China, and the United States are non-members, although the Obama Administration has demonstrated a less hostile attitude towards the ICC than the aggressive stance taken by John Bolton under the Bush Administration. Whether or not the U.S. will become an ICC member is fraught with legal and political issues, not least of which is its military presence in countries throughout the world. In light of Obama's platform of hope, I echo Christine Chung, former ICC Senior Trial Attorney, who wondered if allowing impunity is the best that humanity can do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Magick, Secrets, Politics, and a Pool at P.S. 1

Avant garde film-maker Kenneth Anger provided the Magick, Lutz Bacher the secrets, Jonathan Horowitz the politics, and Argentine artist Aleandro Erlich the pool.

My school days come back to me whenever I visit MoMA's "Contemporary Wing" across the East River, P.S. 1 in Long Island City, Queens. Three floors, a basement, and even some of the stairwells in this former school contain retrospectives and artwork of established as well as emerging Contemporary artists. You don't know what you'll find around each corner, down the corridors, or in the next room. You can sense the ghosts of students past roaming the halls with you, scheming about ways to play hooky. This atmosphere highlights the insouciant effervescence of the artwork and adds to the overall viewing experience.
The chlorine smell from Erlich's swimming pools assails you immediately upon entering the museum. It looks like a regular pool, but then you realize that the installation continues below-ground in the basement. You can actually stand in the pool and look up at the thin layer of water which, when viewed from above, creates the illusion of a full pool of water. Those looking down into the pool perceive that there are people standing under eight feet of water.

New York-based artist Jonathan Horowitz effectively communicates his political views on the Iraq war, among other controversial issues, through a variety of media including photography, film, video, and text. His work is infused with numerous references to pop culture. My favorite piece was Silent Movie (2003), a combination of scenes from The Miracle Worker, Tommy, and others. The film is accompanied by a player piano and you experience all of this in a darkened room - the effect is unnerving.

I'm not sure why California-based artist Lutz Bacher's show is called My Secret Life. Featuring a range of her Conceptual work spanning 40 years, the exhibition includes a series of photographs depicting Manhattan, films accompanied by disturbing music, and humorous captions on famous photos. This was my least favorite area as the works seemed disjointed from room to room and the atmosphere jarring. Although this was likely the intention, I didn't linger here as long as I did in my favorite section of the museum...

...the Kenneth Anger exhibition. Only vaguely familiar with his name, I was unaware of the extent of his influence on people like Martin Scorsese, who called Anger "an artist of exceptional imagination." David Lynch cited Anger as an inspiration, as did the The Rolling Stones, whose song Sympathy for the Devil was an homage to Anger. The exhibition consisted of eight films focusing on his early iconic works, such as Fireworks, which Anger submitted to a festival in Biarritz, France in 1949. Jean Cocteau who was on the jury, awarded Anger the prize for poetic film. The films are Surreal, replete with occult and magical imagery.

One of the great pleasures of life is encountering someone who takes crazy bites out of life. Kenneth Anger (pictured above as a young man and still alive and working today at the age of 82), fits this bill. An avant-garde filmmaker, former dance school student who counted Shirley Temple and Judy Garland as classmates, Aleister Crowley acolyte, author of the underground classic Hollywood Babylon, and former collaborator with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, I wonder what Anger will do next.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beating the Recession Blues

In order to beat the blues, or "the mean reds," Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly in the film version of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, headed to Tiffany's, where she believed that "nothing very bad could happen to you there."

Nothing very bad happened today when I went to Tiffany's to pick up my godson's [relatively inexpensive] christening present. On the way up to the 6th floor, Freddy the elevator man entertainingly named every category of items that could be found on each and every floor to each and every person. Freddy said that he'd had this job for six years and with only four elevator walls to look at all day, he had to do something to make the job entertaining.

On Sunday, I went with a friend to the St. Patrick's Old Cathedral 200th anniversary parade and block party in NoLiTa, former neighborhood of Martin Scorsese, who narrated a film we watched in the nearby Youth Center. Newly-installed Archbishop Timothy Dolan officially opened the parade with some remarks. After visiting St. Michael's, a Russian Catholic church of Byzantine Rite around the corner from St. Patrick's, my friend and I walked around the small cemetery in the back, which contained mostly Irish headstones, very old. Brunch at Delicatessen was a great people-watching experience and the gelato al limone at Caffe Roma afterwards was refreshing.

Other remedies I've tried to beat the recession blues include spinning away the toxins and practising yoga at the gym, and watching (on PBS) Yo Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble perform at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center. Having a cheap, delicious, spice-laden meal from my favorite Indian food street cart on Park Avenue elevated my spirits, as did spontaneously deciding to see the French film Summer Hours at IFC Center in the Village.
Frankly, I would do (and have done) these things when economic times were good. But nowadays, they add brighter colors to a beige job search.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Kiran Bedi, Revolutionary

I asked the representative from the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) what crime the women I saw walking around freely with knitting needles had done and she responded "murder." Mostly, murder committed in self-defense against their physically abusive husbands. Yet, these women were smiling, singing, praying, knitting, and some were even caring for their young children as they walked freely on the landscaped grounds.

Nothing about their demeanour suggested that we were in the women's cell of Tihar, the largest prison in South Asia.

During my two-year posting with the U.S. Embassy in Delhi from 2002-2004, I had the opportunity to volunteer at several places, courtesy of the AWA, formerly the American Women's Association. Aside from the Mother Teresa Homes in Delhi and Calcutta, I helped out at the women's cell in Tihar Prison. I had never heard of Kiran Bedi, although the people I talked with at the prison spoke her name reverentially when I asked who was responsible for the completely un-prison like atmosphere in what had been the most notorious prison in South Asia.

When I returned to the Embassy, I stopped by our bookstore and bought a copy of It's Always Possible, Bedi's account of her life as the first female police officer in the Indian Police Service and later, the Inspector General of Prisons. Bedi has a law degree, a master's degree in political science, and a Ph.D. in the field of drug abuse and domestic violence. The book illustrated the dramatic reforms she enacted, which included improving the hygiene, nutrition, education, and overall morale of the prisoners. Bedi also initiated intense group meditation sessions.

While championed by many, Bedi's revolutionary tactics went against the grain of the Indian bureaucracy, and she was moved (demoted) from position to position for years. Winning the South Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize and being invited to the Clinton White House did not earn points in her favor. While waiting for an impending coup de grâce performance appraisal by a hated superior, she won a competitive position with the United Nations as Civilian Police Adviser in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, a position she accepted, but served just one term before accepting the Police Commissioner of Delhi position offered to her. She returned to Delhi to begin her new post and to care for her aging father, only to have the position snatched out from under her and given to a junior officer.

The life of Kiran Bedi is movingly portrayed in Australian director Megan Doneman's 2008 documentary, Yes Madam, Sir, which was shown on June 5th and 6th as part of MoMA's The New India film festival running until June 18th. The film, narrated by Helen Mirren, premiered in September 2008 in Toronto. It is scheduled for release on October 2nd in New York and in India in January, 2010.

After the film, Bedi was on hand to answer questions from the audience, who gave her a standing ovation. I was not alone in marvelling at the enormous charisma of this 5' 2" woman who has the courage of her convictions and does what is right, no matter the cost and no matter the enemy. According to the closing notes at the end of the film, Bedi is currently considering a number of career options, including politics. As evidenced by both the film itself and the young Indians in the audience with me today, she clearly has the power to rally the support of the Indian people. If Bedi chooses to run for political office in India, it remains to be seen whether this support will be enough to change the face of entrenched Indian bureaucracy and allow her to implement real change in the world's largest democracy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sous Les Etoiles, Revisité

I attended a group photography exhibition at SoHo gallery Sous Les Etoiles last night which featured the work of the following artists, all MFA students at the Rhode Island School of Design: Shirin Adhami, Michael Cevoli, Gigi Gatewood, Ania Gozdz, Marta Labad, Sunita Prasad, and Laura Skinner.

It was a secret pleasure to view the photographs in slide show mode on computer monitors located in the smaller rooms within the gallery because you have the work all to yourself, if only for brief moments. For a different perspective, the framed, full-sized photographs can also be seen in the entry hall and on the walls throughout the gallery. When I last visited Sous Les Etoiles two months ago, the show was curated in a similar manner.

I particularly enjoyed the work of Laura Skinner, whose intimate portraits of a family, a soldier, and a beautifully-lit woman in the back seat of a car quickly drew me in and then almost as quickly, caused me to draw back as if I had spied on very private moments. I had the same sensation when viewing the framed mini-stories in Sunita Prasad's work, as if I'd inadvertently walked into something that was none of my business.

Maybe it was Michael Kimmelman's New York Times article I read the other day about a controversial photography exhibition in Paris, combined with my recent reading of Susan Sontag's 1997 treatise On Photography. As an avid photographer, this issue has been on my mind for several years now - when I take a picture (or make a picture), what is it that I am really doing? And why?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Shiny Happy People

Known in Chinese as The June Fourth Incident, today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square Massacre which took place in Beijing in 1989.

The original New York Times article describes the event, which initially began with student demonstrations commemorating the death on April 15th of the widely admired former Communist Party leader, Hu Yaobang. Support for the students increased during the next six weeks as the peaceful demonstrations grew to became a pro-democracy movement complete with Lady Liberty, the students' version of The Statue of Liberty. After 160 students went on a hunger strike and the movement was supported by even more Chinese, the government declared martial law. During June 3 -4, 1989, the Chinese military invaded the square and allegedly massacred from 200 - 3,000 people, although the true number is not known for certain even today. CBS correspondent Richard Roth, who was detained by the Chinese during the incident, claims that using the word "massacre" to describe the events of that day is completely inaccurate.

In fall of 1989, I was living in London after having travelled throughout much of Europe during the summer. I was working at the Royal National Theatre (The National) at the time and in one of the galleries, there was an exhibition which featured photographs taken of the incident in Tiananmen Square earlier that year. I believe it was there that I first saw the iconic image pictured above right.

For the first half of 1993, I was teaching English at a university in Wuhan, China. A Samoan friend - a student at Beijing's Renmin University - who I'd met in Wuhan invited me to visit Beijing. After a 19-hour train ride, I arrived and only then realized that it was the fourth anniversary of the 1989 event. I wasn't harassed initially, but when we arrived back at my friend's university after a night at the Beijing clubs, the guards refused to let me back into the university, and accused me of being a journalist, despite my teacher's ID. I had to wait for several hours before the matter was cleared up, but the incident drove home the ingrained Chinese government's suspicion of foreigners, especially at that time.

Last night, I saw an interview with one of the student leaders of the 1989 demonstrations, who is now a businessman living in New York. When asked how China had changed in the past 20 years, he responded that while the media reports economic growth and advancement, most of the people still live in poverty and have little access to accurate information about the outside world. China does not have the Internet, it has an Intranet, which is strictly controlled by the government.
Along these same lines, back in 1993, I remember watching a story broadcast by Xinhua, the official news organ of the Communist Party. The controversial Three Gorges Dam Project was just getting underway (it is nearly complete now), and the news clip showed an elderly Chinese man weeping as his home was being bulldozed to make way for the dam. The English translation, instead of being what I expected however, said that the man was crying because he was so happy to serve his country in this way. I don't believe for a second that the 1.2 million people who were also "displaced" felt this way.

In case you were wondering, I called my post Shiny Happy People because this R.E.M. song title allegedly came from a piece of Chinese propaganda (Shiny Happy People Holding Hands) and the song itself is about the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

David Sedaris at The Strand

Although I did get back into town in time to make it to The Strand just after 6 pm, I joined approximately 50 people who were waiting in line outside with the hopes of being let in to hear the humorist David Sedaris read from his collection of essays entitled When You Are Engulfed in Flames. A Strand employee assured us that our chances of success were practically nil. Even though the event was sold out (about 200-300 lucky people were either seated or standing inside), it was fun to talk to others in line about our favorite Sedaris books. One surprising thing I learned was that Sedaris is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, my father's alma mater.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Art Institute of Chicago

Who wouldn’t like to see drawings by these artists all in one place? Matisse, Kippenberger, Picasso, Guston, Derain, Marden, Johns, Baselitz, Tuttle, LeWitt, Weiner, Mangold, Oldenburg, Gorky, Krasner, Lichtenstein, Polke, de Kooning, Pollock, Kelly, Matta, Tanguy, Dubuffet, Man Ray, Ernst, Dali, Mondrian, Le Corbusier, and Ozenfant are all in a quiet wing where they can be viewed in tranquility.

I was happy to see the Allsdorf Galleries’ transformation from a dark, medieval, knight-laden gauntlet to a light Indian, Himalayan, Tibetan gallery of gods, goddesses, and mandalas. At the end of this hall, there used to be a Chagall stained glass window, designed especially by the artist for the American Bicentennial in 1976. Unfortunately for us and for the artist, trees that were planted in the outdoor dining area back then have now grown to heights that prevent the natural light from backlighting the window; therefore, the window was moved to the basement of the Art Institute about two years ago. Rumor has it that it will reappear later this year in the Modern Wing. I hope so.

I made it a point to visit the famous residents of the Art Institute, e.g. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Ivan Albright’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Orozco’s Zapata, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Collection, the wonderful Marsden Hartleys and Arthur Doves, and Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath.

In the the new Modern Wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano, I liked the light, airy feeling of the entrance and its view of Millennium Park. The photography gallery to the right, aside from a couple of intriguing Jeff Wall photo boxes, did not work well as it was a little hard to maneuver and visitors ended up cramped at the back of the room. It almost seemed like photography was an afterthought here, included to appease younger museums-goers intent on viewing newer media.

The Abstract Expressionists were nicely represented by Jackson Pollock’s Greyed Rainbow, hung directly across from Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape. A robust Franz Kline was complemented by a Fontana, an exceptional orange, peach, and yellow Rothko, an exquisite Yves Klein, a Calder mobile, a couple of Jasper Johns (one of them, my favorite – False Start, 1959), a Rauschenberg, a Twombly, and a Chamberlain wall sculpture.

Further along, a Martin Puryear sculpture commanded its own entryway space, as did a Francis Bacon (only Bacon can be in the same room as Bacon). There was a truly wretched Jeff Koons piece entitled Woman in a Tub from the lamentable Banality series. I hurried past this to dive into a room full of art by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Hockney, Katz, Ruscha, Stella, Andre, and Martin keeping company with one another.

The third floor's natural light reminded me of the light in Paris’ Musee D’Orsay. It’s a very good way to see all of the works here by Fernand Leger, Arshile Gorky, Matta, Jean (Hans) Arp, Jean Helion, Joan Miro, Rene Magritte, Man Ray, Picasso, Dali, Max Ernst, and a secluded area filled with a number of Brancusi sculptures – he really has a room of his own.

A great gallery filled with the work of Kandinsky, Lipschitz, Gris, and Braque nearly provoked a Stendhal Syndrome attack, but fortunately I made it out in time to encounter a soothing Henry Moore reclining sculpture bathed in sunlight.

I was reluctant to go into the darkened rooms of the Bergman Collection, but could not resist the opportunity to see the fine collection of 37 Joseph Cornell boxes, among many other works gifted to the Art Institute by the Bergmans.

The Cy Twombly exhibition consisted of 30+ “natural world-themed” works that the artist created between 2000 – 2007. A museum employee told me that Twombly created these works especially for the Modern Wing and specified that there be no stanchions to prevent museum-goers from approaching the sculptures and other artwork. The peonies series was marvelous.

I have high hopes for the Pritzker Garden on the lower level of the Modern Wing. For now, though, it consists of little more than Ellsworth Kelly’s White Curve, bunches of prairie grass, and some forlorn patio chairs.

After the lightness of the Modern Wing, I went upstairs to the older galleries, which contained Cezannes, Picassos, Toulouse-Lautrecs, Gaugins, Monet’s Haystacks, van Goghs, George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Streets, Rainy Day. All of them seemed imprisoned in a dungeon and I was relieved to emerge into the Potter Palmer Gallery to which the Renoirs, Manets, Monets, and Pissarros have recently returned.
The Art Institute of Chicago is now the second largest art museum in the country and after its most recent improvements, it is ready for its close-up.

Where's Wallander?

He was in New York last night (on PBS), but unfortunately not in Chicago, which is where I am now. That's okay though. For a couple of days, I consoled myself with murder and mayhem courtesy of Erlendur, a detective who is the star of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason's crime novel, Tainted Blood. I picked up the book when I was in Reykjavik last summer. Similarities between Wallander and Indridason include the following: both are divorced; both have problematic relationships with their daughters; both suffer from insomnia or nightmares; both have unhealthy lifestyle habits; both operate in countries that have extremes in light and dark; and both deal with grisly murders on a regular basis. Perhaps PBS will show the final installment of the Wallander series in New York again soon. If not, there are a few more books in the Erlendur series I have yet to read.