Sunday, August 24, 2008

Suzanne Vega played a concert on Thursday night in what seemed like an unlikely and surprisingly modest venue - the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in beautiful Fort Greene, Brooklyn. With an opening by Christina Courtin, Vega was crisp, funny, and perhaps even a bit self-conscious, but I think she reminded all of her fans why her albums were played over and over in the 1990s.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another weekend in the Berkshires, and the weather cooperated.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Museum of Modern Art's Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling is attracting the kind of interest that would not have been possible before the days of HGTV and Dwell, when only architecture students would have prowled the stuffy, model-filled architecture & design Siberia of the old MoMA. Now the hipsters are bringing their friends and children to compare materials, see "discrete" construction, and explore the idea that buildings are only a resting state for materials.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Salmagundi celebrates city workers

The Salmagundi Club at Forty-Seven Fifth Avenue is celebrating art by city workers. The reception and awards ceremony on Thursday night was a festive affair.

Above: City Worker (1-3) by Patrick Ashley

Friday, February 08, 2008

Beauty, kitsch & controversy at Radio City

Chinese New Year Splendor at Radio City Music Hall is billed as “a spectacular showcase of classical Chinese performing arts accompanied by a full orchestra and a dazzling high-tech backdrop,” and in most respects, that’s probably true.

The show comprises a series of musical and dance performances, each with elaborate costumes and an accompanying video projection that features a pastel-colored landscape of mountains, lakes, Chinese pagodas, or flowering cherry trees that would make the Teletubbies feel at home.

In between each performance, a pair of Chinese announcers (unconvincingly introduced as “Jerry” and “Kelly,” in tuxedo and floor-length gown, respectively) provide a bilingual commentary on the cultural significance of each piece, punctuated by amiable jokes (a piece about dreams prompts Jerry to remark about his dream of opening a seafood restaurant in Flushing) and exhortations to learn a bit of Chinese.

So it’s easy to believe that you are watching a celebration of Chinese history and traditions, likely sanctioned and promoted by the government as a way to spread awareness of its performing arts. But fairly soon the show takes on a didactic and preachy flavor, particularly when the lyrics to some of the songs (which make repeated references to Truthfulness, Benevolence, and Forbearance) are translated into English and projected onto the giant video screen.

Soon Jerry tells the audience that this program could not be seen in China because of its repressive government. The dance performances become explicit enactments of torture and imprisonment at the hands of black-clad evildoers. The show culminates in a particularly unsettling sequence set in an urban park, a vision of utopia in which modestly dressed citizens are enlightened by the ideals of living in harmony.

The show, as noted in the Times, is an outreach of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is banned in China. I did notice a number of people leaving, as mentioned in the article, but I didn’t realize they were likely objecting to the content of the show. During intermission and after the show, interviewers from New Tang Dynasty Television, which produced the show, approached audience members for their reactions.

The full realization of what we had seen didn’t unfold until later, and although it doesn’t particularly bother me, I’m surprised that I was so slow to recognize propaganda – wholly unapologetic and on a gargantuan scale.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Improve your vocabulary and help feed the world by playing a game.

Via Dove's Eye View.
This reminds me of when I edited a Wall Street weekly and some of the analysts wanted to publish something called a "blog." It was supposed to be edgy and topical.

"But it's edited and printed - how is that a blog?" I objected. "Do they even know what a blog is?"

Here it is: The Metropolitan Museum of Art's fashion blog.

(And here is a well-considered view of the matter, via Ed W.:
"Bloggers are golden when they're at the bottom of the heap, kicking up. Why? When you write for pay, you worry about lawsuits, sentence structure, and word choice. You worry about your boss, your publisher, your mother, and your superego looking over your shoulder. And that's no way to blog.")
Highly recommended: the documentary Helvetica.

As if you needed any more proof that graphic designers are lunatics.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What I've been doing since Christmas... & Kara Walker

I made pernil, or Puerto Rican pork roast, from a recipe by Mark Bittman.

I made my first apple clafouti from a recipe by Julia Child.

I made bread for the very first time from the famous Bittman/Lahey recipe that appeared in the New York Times and has been blogged about ad nauseam. And yes, it is just as fantastic as everyone says, and no, you do not need a Dutch oven to replicate the results. (I would detail my alternative workaround here but I don't want to turn this into a cooking blog.)

I started learning Greek using Rosetta Stone.

And I watched countless movies - too many and perhaps too varied to list here, but I am still listening to the lovely soundtrack from Once and re-reading Persepolis.

But lest I forget the primary reason I started this blog almost two years ago, I have been trying to see some art when I can. Last weekend I dutifully went to see Kara Walker at the Whitney Museum of Art. Walker is an artist whose career I've been following since the 1990s for the truly banal reason that we are (almost) exactly the same age. What can I say? My mother once said that the first time she ever felt old was when the President in the White House was her contemporary. In the case of Walker, the fascination for me was to see how someone who grew up in the US as my exact contemporary found her voice and its most perfect expression by exploring, almost exclusively, this country's history of slavery.

Walker, enviably, has been called a genius since her twenties (literally - she was awarded a MacArthur genius grant in 1997). I think I first became aware of her at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, when her cut-paper silhouettes were exhibited either alongside or around the same time as other African American female artists like the distinguished photographer Carrie Mae Weems. The Walker, always politically correct and ahead of its time, still had a way of compartmentalizing these artists so that your immediate reaction was "race" and not "art." Or perhaps this was a mid-1990s art-world phenomenon - the depressing suspicion that museums were exhibiting only those black artists for whom race was the central subject matter.

To that end, Kara Walker fit the bill perfectly. Her silhouettes of slaves and plantation scenes were consistently angry, poetic, and unnerving. Her choice of subject matter was unwavering and, to put it mildly, dreadful - a so-called "reclamation" of something that no one wanted. Even an older generation of black female artists - led by Betye Saar - emerged to oppose her use of imagery and stereotypes that had taken so long to recede in popular culture.

So it was with some resignation that I went to see her traveling retrospective, if that is the right term for someone so young, because I knew what to expect: An ingenious formal device, a stomach-turning subject, some hints at where she would go next, but in the end an inescapable feeling that "there's no air in here."