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31.5.04

Private Collectors: Get Your Art into a Museum Now

An interesting little article (Nazi claims cloud Berlin art show, May 31) by Bethany Bell from BBC News reports that a German collector, named Friedrich Christian Flick, has offered to loan his collection of some 2,500 modern art works to a modern art museum in Berlin for seven years. Jewish leaders call the offer an attempt to whitewash blood money and claim that some of Flick's collection and money were inherited from his grandfather, who notoriously supplied arms to the Nazis by using slave labor. I suspect that this may have something to do with learning from the mistakes of Charles Saatchi.

I think the BBC's regular copy editor must have been sick, because the article claims that the collection includes "pieces by Marcel Ducon and Alberto Jacometti," for which I think we should read Duchamp (who would surely have loved the unintended naughtiness of this error) and Giacometti, and the museum in question is listed as the "Hamburger Banhoff," meaning the Hamburger Bahnhof.

In Memoriam

Ionarts thanks all the men and women who, when asked to do terrible things for our country's sake, have responded with courage and selflessness. Our duty is to make sure that they do not give their lives for an unjust cause.

Kerr Eby, Last Rites for the Sergeant
Kerr Eby (1899–1946), Last Rites for the Sergeant (charcoal, 1944)
(from the Navy Art Collection Branch Online Exhibits, which features a fascinating collection of art made by artist-soldiers during wartime)


Walt Whitman (1819–1892), from Leaves of Grass ("Drum-Taps")

Dirge for Two Veterans
1
The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

2
Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.

3
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles;
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

4
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

5
For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.
6
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the day-light o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

7
In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin’d;
(’Tis some mother’s large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

8
O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

9
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.

30.5.04

Paris during the Occupation

Available from Amazon.fr:
cover
Jacques Yonnet, Rue des Maléfices: Chronique secrète d'une ville (2004)
A review (Les enchantements d'un Paris méconnu [The delights of an unknown Paris], May 28) by Pierre-Robert Leclercq in Le Monde des Livres got me interested in an older book that has just been published in a new edition: Jacques Yonnet's Rue des Maléfices: Chronique secrète d'une ville. This account of Paris during the Nazi occupation, with photographs by Robert Doisneau and some of the author's drawings, was originally published in 1954 as Enchantements de Paris. This version restores to the book the title originally desired by Yonnet. Here is an excerpt from the review (my translation):
An event. A masterpiece. Unique. Exceptional. These are words one should use sparingly so as not to cheapen them. Then two, five, ten pages make them necessary, all the way up to the last. An exceptional author is making a comeback, and he is truly unique, his work being only this one masterpiece whose republication is an event. [. . .] As soon as this book appeared, Queneau, Audiberti, Prévert and several others of clear judgment did not hesitate to declare that we were taking part in the birth of a great among greats. [. . .]

This prodigious chronicle of a population that, without being separated from the events in an occupied capital, taking part or simply witnessing, is no less individual, outside of time and space, in the closed universe of its alleys, its shop, its street people, and its bistrot people. It's a fascinating voyage at night's end between the Place Maubert ("la Maube") and the Mouffetard neighborhood ("la Mouffe"): if Céline, from whom we take so much, has an heir, it must be Yonnet!
This book is on my Christmas list.

29.5.04

Pelléas in the Musée d'Orsay

Here's what I read in this item ("Pelléas" de Debussy au musée d'Orsay [Debussy's Pelléas at the Musée d'Orsay], May 26) from France 2:

The Parisian museum is producing Debussy's opera, which will be performed from June 1 to 6. Pelléas et Mélisande will be presented in its original version, with piano accompaniment only. The performances will showcase bariton François Leroux, with tenor Jean Fischer (Pelléas), soprano Ingrid Perruche (Mélisande), bass Renaud Delaigues (Arkel), and mezzo soprano Marie-Thérèse Keller (Geneviève). Two children from the Maîtrise de Notre-Dame, in alternation, will perform the role of little Yniold. The staging was created by actor Vincent Vittoz. Before the 1902 premiere of his lyric drama, in the Salle Favart in Paris, the composer had presented this version with piano for a circle of his close friends.
If you're trying to picture where exactly such a performance will take place in the museum, there is an actual auditorium where this sort of concert event takes place, although I don't know how or if the opera could actually be staged. For another view on the event, see Jacqueline Thuilleux, A l'Auditorium du Musée d’Orsay, «Pelléas et Mélisande» (in Figaroscope, May 19), which also informs us that Alexandre Tharaud will be at the piano. There is also some information on this production available from the Musée d'Orsay.

27.5.04

Orchestra in a Vegetative State

File this one under the truly strange. In an article (Un orchestre...de légumes [An orchestra...of vegetables], May 26) from France 2, I read the following (my translation):

Cucumbers, potatoes, and eggplants also have a musical soul...

In Vienna this weekend a new kind of orchestra made known the curious sounds produced by vegetables. The musicians, that is, played several pieces on a carrot shaped like a flute, a saxophone-cucumber, and a pumpkin transformed into a contrabass. In order to improve the sound quality, the vegetables had been carved and put together only one hour before the performance, as the Austrian group explained. The size, texture, and water content of the vegetables are the most important determining factors for timbre, the musicians continued.

"I would never have imagined that you could make a sound come out of a cucumber," explained one woman in the audience. Others apparently appreciated the vegetable smells emanating along with the melodies, from vegetables that, once the concert was over, concluded their artistic careers . . . in a soup.
The group gave concerts in Hamburg, Germany, on May 21 and 22, as reported in another article (Légumes et cucurbitacées en concert à Hambourg [Legumes and cucurbitaceous vegetables in concert in Hamburg], May 24) in Libération, which also tells us that this unusual group boasts nine members. The same Reuters report is available in English as German Audience Savours Vegetable Orchestra, from May 24, with the following additional information:
The sound of 40 kg (90 pounds) of finely tuned cucumbers, leeks, potatoes, radishes, peppers, aubergines and marrows entertained a German audience at a weekend concert by the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra [an Austrian ensemble of three women and six men]. "Ordinary vegetables work better together than organic vegetables," said Matthias Meinharter, who plays a violin fashioned from leeks.
Since there are no pictures in these articles, I did some searching and located the Web site for Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester (The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra), which has some images of the instruments. It turns out that they have actually been around since 1998. (You can buy their two CDs and listen to some excerpts from them here.) Also, when CNN carried the Reuters report (Veggie orchestra plays with food, May 26), they included a video of the performance (unfortunately, difficult to watch). This MSNBC article also has some great pictures. According to their Web site, the group will be in London, at Royal Festival Hall, on May 31 and June 1, and at the Henley Festival in England, on July 7 and 9. No U.S. concerts on the schedule yet.

Amphitheater Discovered in Aix-en-Provence

Gradus of Roman theater in Aix-en-ProvenceFrom the Departments of Francophilia and Reviving Interest in Antiquity, here is a translation of an article (Un amphithéâtre à Aix-en-Provence?, May 26 [now in subscription-only archives]) in Le Figaro about another archeological discovery in southern France:

To no one's surprise, the municipal team of archeologists in Aix-en-Provence have just unearthed nine ancient seat-rows (gradus) in excellent condition, belonging to a theatrical edifice that can only be the theater or amphitheater—until now unknown—of the Roman town of Aquae Sextius. This discovery should allow the community, which has wanted to create a public space, to design a "park of ruins" [on the site].

Located in a public area, formerly the property of the Sisters of the Holy Sacrament, the site of 3.5 hectares [8.65 acres] lies to the west, on the outside of the old city but within the Roman fortification, of which another section has also been found during this dig. Archeologists, under the leadership of Nuria Nin, have dug out a trench 100 meters [328 feet] in length and 5 meters [16.4 feet] wide. Besides the seat-rows, an interior corridor and a part of the interior space (cavea) have also been discovered. However, the curviture of the seat-rows is not enough to determine if the building was semicircular (theater) or oval (amphitheater).

Aix, the oldest of the Roman cities in the Narbonne region because it was built in 122 B.C., would logically have had at least some sort of theatrical building. Arles, Nîmes, and Fréjus, built subsequently, all have a theater larger than 89 meters [292 feet] in diameter and an amphitheater exceeding 110 meters [361 feet]. If the city's request for further digging is accepted by the Ministry of Culture, researchers will surely be able to determine the building's function. Whatever it was, this is already a major discovery for the city of Aix.
Agence France-Presse broke the story (Un édifice de spectacle antique mis au jour à Aix-en-Provence [An ancient theatrical building discovered in Aix-en-Provence], carried here by Voila.fr [link no longer good]) on May 18. Another interesting article on the find is Aix-en-Provence: découverte majeure [Aix-en-Provence: major discovery] (May 19, France 2), with a video of the site from their May 19 news broadcast. It was related in that item that the site was discovered as a result of preliminary digging for a public park.

UPDATE:
Now that most of the links in this article are no longer active, the best place for information is the site of the Mairie d'Aix-en-Provence, which has some pictures available.

25.5.04

George Antheil

The library at school has been receiving large numbers of donated CDs, which I have been sifting through and finding all sorts of interesting things (see one previous CD review to come out of this process, Jordi Savall: Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe le Fils, March 1). One of the recordings I have been listening to regularly in my office and have brought home for a while is dedicated to some of the lost piano sonatas of George Antheil. Since I have been planning to write something about this disc on Ionarts for a while, imagine my surprise when this past Sunday morning, I heard NPR's Liane Hansen give a fascinating interview with Guy Livingston, the pianist/musicologist featured on it. (The recording was made in the Église de Saint-Marcel, a Lutheran church in Paris's 5th arrondissement, and Mr. Livingston spoke from a radio studio in that city, where he lives, lucky devil.)

Available at Amazon:
cover
George Antheil, The Lost Sonatas (no. 3, 4, 5, Sonate sauvage, and Woman Sonata), Guy Livingston, piano
Antheil was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and was a virtuoso performer on the piano, as well as a daring and controversial composer in his early career. He is probably most famous for the strange Futurist piece known as the Ballet mécanique (Mechanical ballet), recorded in 1924 by the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Percussion Ensemble (available from Amazon). This unusual score calls for 16 player pianos, percussion, airplane propellors, bells, and a siren, to create an effect that you will not soon forget. (It was originally intended to be a film collaboration with Fernand Léger.)

Other Resources:

Picture Gallery from the Antheil Estate

George Antheil: Composer, Pianist, Inventor

George Antheil's grave in Trenton

Paris Transatlantic (music magazine published by Guy Livingston)

60 Seconds for Piano (Guy Livingston's first recording, featured on NPR in May 2002)
Antheil did not (or was not able to) publish many of his piano sonatas before his death, but his widow, Böski, had kept boxes of manuscripts, which ended up in the New York Public Library. Livingston came into contact with the scores and did the excruciating work of transcribing Antheil's difficult handwriting for this remarkable recording. It was good work.

There are sonatas from two different periods of Antheil's compositional style, and for me it is the two short sonatas from 1923 that are the most fun. The Sonate sauvage is as percussive and dissonant as the Prokofiev piano sonatas that make such good listening (no. 2 and no. 7 are my personal favorites). Antheil titled the three movements in French, which give us some clue as to what he was trying to depict. The first movement is called A la nègre (In negro style), which I think makes it the Stravinskyesque companion piece to a work like Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk (see my post on February 25), that is, a grotesque conception of black life and humor. (In his notes for the CD, Livingston refers only to the influence of the "African-American, ragtime, and Creole music of his youth.") As Messiaen distorted the melodies of Gregorian chant through a modern harmonic lens, Antheil renders the rhythm and bounce of African-American music with a modernist vocabulary.

The second movement (Serpents) features a repeated-note motif that is devilishly difficult but that Livingston handles admirably. Ivoire (Ivory), the title of the third movement, may refer to a traditional form of African carving, and in a very short space, Antheil recaps some of the themes from the first movement for a satisfying finish. The other 1923 piece, Woman Sonata, is in three unbalanced movements: Woman (Languor) (5:02), Tree (Prestissimo) (0:27), and Flower (Moderato) (0:37). The substantial first movement is less about percussive effect (there are still some driving passages that could belong in a Stravinsky early ballet score) and more about gorgeous, dissonant harmonic structure. The ludicrously short second movement returns to that rhythmic style, with glissandi featured prominently, a device Antheil used to excess in his piano works. The third movement makes it clearer than ever that Antheil was listening to Stravinsky, for he imitates briefly the famous passage from Rite of Spring, in which there is a steady rhythmic pulse with dissonant short chords crashing in off the beat.

The three other sonatas are from the 1940s, and they are all longer than the earlier works. The Third Sonata, from 1947, seems to reflect Antheil's later career most clearly: "In the late 1930s," according to Livingston's notes, "Antheil headed for Hollywood, where his music took a decidedly traditional turn, to the point that he was referred to as the 'Shostakovitch of Trenton'. During the forties and fifties this neo-Romantic music enjoyed wide popularity, and his stirring and patriotic symphonies found acclaim across America." The first movement (Allegro) makes sly, dissonant references to Beethoven's Appassionata sonata (op. 57) and concludes on a minor triad. The second movement (Adagio), a somewhat dissonant distortion of a sappy Hollywood song that ends on a major triad, is overshadowed by the strange third movement (Diabolic "Cartoon"), where the Prokofiev side of Antheil's musical personality peeks through again.

In the Fourth Sonata (1948) and Fifth Sonata (1950), Antheil writes in three movements that recall more clearly the traditional form of a piano sonata, and there are no more descriptive titles. While these are beautiful pieces that show Antheil's mature voice (the last movement of the Fifth Sonata is a highlight), it is for the, by analogy, immature and brash pieces of the 1920s that you would buy this disc, I think. You will certainly enjoy hearing Guy Livingston, as technically sure and bold as his playing is, rollick along with this notorious bad boy of modern music, especially in those pieces from the era of his greatest daring.

An Apolitical Palme d'Or?

As promised, a little report on the jury's press conference in Cannes, by way of a translation of Jacky Bornet's article (Le Jury justifie son palmarès [The jury explains its awards], May 23) from France 2:

While the media saw a political motive in the awarding of the Palme d'or to Michael Moore's inflammatory anti-Bush movie Fahrenheit 9/11, the jury president, Quentin Tarantino, confirmed simply that "the best film in competition" was the one that received the award.

With his colleagues in full agreement, the director of Kill Bill added: "If [Moore] had made a bad film, I would have been against this Palme d'or. If he wanted to do politics, Michael Moore would not make films, he would pursue a political career." For the Scottish actress Tilda Swinton, the film "pays homage to the cinema." The Haitian-American novelist Edwige Danticat, for his part, believed that Michael Moore "speaks for people who have no voice." Emmanuelle Béart saw Fahrenheit 9/11 not as "an anti-American film but a film that speaks of America in a different way."

The Grand Prix winner, a cult manga adaptation (Old Boy), "could have won the Palme d'or," Tarantino stated who, according to sources, argued with his colleagues that the award should go to the South Korean film and not to Moore. It was a close race between the two films," he added. "This is not second prize. By only two votes, Old Boy could have won: it touched everybody."

Questioned about the Best Actor prize given to young Japanese actor Yuuya Yagira (14 years old) for his role in Nobody Knows by Hirokasu Kore-eda, the Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde defended it by saying, "He moved us. It's a character who evolves, who grows up: age makes no difference, it's about truth, the emotions he has to go through that convinced the jury."

The Best Screenplay award, given to Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri for Comme une image, was "one of the easiest awards to make," according to President Tarantino. The screenwriters of Comme une image, directed by Agnès Jaoui and written by both of them, were "candidates for the Best Screenplay award from the start," he added. "It shows us universal feelings, and everyone recognized that."

As for the esoteric Tropical Malady, the first Thai film ever shown at Cannes, which was given the Prix du Jury, "it's a film that moved us deeply," declared Hong Kong director Tsui Hark. "It had a great number of advocates on the jury." The director of History of Chinese Ghosts confirmed that it was a good idea to lean toward a film that elicited such diverse reactions. "I believed it was important and was worth the trouble of being shown," he concluded.
The article (see link above) has some nice pictures, too.

24.5.04

That's Good Reading: Fully Credited Links

From Miami, Franklin Einspruch sticks up for painting at artblog.net, in a vivisection of art critic Blake Gopnik's article from last Sunday's Washington Post (In Tradition-Bound Britain, Brushing Off Paint, May 16).


The folks of The Literary Saloon at the Complete Review, thank God, are still sexist (May 20). It's good to know that some things never change.

The people behind the Whitney Biennial have a new Flash site with lots of images of the 2004 exhibit, as described in an article (The Whitney celebrates online, May 20) by Jim Regan for the Christian Science Monitor. Can every other museum do this with their exhibits, please, as I have requested numerous times?

To add another pint of kerosene to the issue of controversy and modern art (see post on Antimodernism, May 22), I give you Souren Melikian's article (Nonpicture perfect, or is it vice versa?, May 22) in the International Herald Tribune:
What does it say for a society and its culture when the body of a taxidermied horse hoisted with a rope and a pulley is offered as "art"? This happened the other day at Sotheby's. In a room tense with excitement, bids came from every side. The horse, credited to Maurizio Cattelan, was auctioned for $2.08 million. Overwhelmed, the crowd broke into applause. [...]

Immediately after the dead horse came a set of rectangular pieces in galvanized iron banded on the narrow edge with blue Plexiglas. Prudently, Donald Judd, who died 10 years ago, left the group "Untitled," the word used as a title by Sotheby's. The expert gave it a two-page entry. Judd, he explained, created what the artist called "'specific objects,' a term that stresses their neutral nature as opposed to 'sculpture,' which is associated with the hand-crafted art of an earlier date."

The "nonhandcrafted art" manufactured to Judd's specifications went down well. This is a perfect solution for artists eager to be above petty criticism: They did not do it. A nonhandcrafted-art lover, carried away by the simplicity of the iron-and-Plexiglas set, paid $1.12 million to secure the coveted prey. He/she may have felt this was reasonable. The estimated price bracket, not counting the sale charge, stood at $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Maurizio Cattelan, $2.08 million. This plays naturally into the rumors, from a few weeks back, that the MoMA could be "trading its Picassos, Légers, and Pollocks for a flock of butterfly paintings and vitrines by [Damien] Hirst" (Jason Edward Kaufman, Is MoMA buying the Hirsts on show at Tate?) in The Art Newspaper, with thanks to ArtsJournal for the link. You may also want to check out Tom Lubbock's article (Figuratively speaking, art is just a matter of fashion, May 20) in The Independent, again with thanks to ArtsJournal, which boils down the art world today to two camps, "Conceptual Art" and "The Campaign for Real Painting."

I should have mentioned an article (Being There, May 7) by Jerry Saltz in The Village Voice, but I'm just now getting around to it. It's a commentary on an exhibit about a recent video by Eve Sussman, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (part of this year's Whitney Biennial), at Roebling Hall in Brooklyn from April 24 to May 17. An example of what Sussman calls "cinéma vérité costume choreography," the 10-minute video recreates the scene shown in Velázquez's Las Meninas. Although Bill Viola's video The Greeting, which recreated a painting by Pontormo, is mentioned, Saltz makes no mention of another recent and vehemently criticized example of this sort of derivative art, the J. Seward Johnson show at the Corcoran (see my post on November 5, 2003).

23.5.04

Apple Time

Ahh, so much to see and so little time. On a foray into the big city (NYC) this week, I think I got the most out of just walking around and taking it all in. New York has such an incredible amount of activity and emotion on every block: an' everybody's got a story, ya' know whud' I mean? Tuesday someone went on a stabbing spree in Greeley Sq, and Wednesday a hit man shot a guy in the diamond district at four in the afternoon on a busy 47th Street. Sometimes it's just nice to come home.

Whud' about da' art, you say? Well, first stop was the Javits Center and the International Stationary Show. My wife is an artist/designer/many things and the stationary show is a must to see all the new lines which will be in stores this year, anything from paper clips to hand-pressed papers, limited edition cards to mass market. This show also serves as a time to meet, greet, and catch up with everyone in the industry. There is a lot to see and much to avoid, but the real challenge is to bring really great design to the marketplace. In the commercial industry of publishing and stationary, there are often layers of opinion to hurdle in order to get an idea from conception to market. It's a right-brain/left-brain process that creative people in this field have to master.

At the same time, the Javits also has one of my favorite exhibits going on, ICFF, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, a feast of some of the best of contemporary furniture design from around the world. Lots of ultra-suave Italian leather loungers and sleek kitchen and bath installations. When we're so inundated with bland mass market products, this show lifted my spirits and reminded me that there are thinking people out there, that we are not alone. This fair isn't only for established companies either. At least half of the show is devoted to new young designers. There is a submissions process and a long waiting line to get one of these coveted booths, and if you're a designer introducing a new line of cool lamps or home accessories this show could make or break your launch and career. Some vendors make all their sales for the whole year at this show. An important component to this fair is the addition of design schools giving students their first opportunity to show their wares to the public and perhaps more importantly a chance to interact with people from all areas of the industry.

Willem de KooningFrom Javits I made my way the few blocks to Chelsea. I like to start low, on 14th St. I'll leave it to Jerry Saltz at Artnet to give his opinion of Drunk vs. Stoned at Gavin Brown, as it didn't strike me as well. Walking up 9th Ave., I came across Alanis Morrisette giving an impromptu lunchtime concert on top of a sightseeing bus parked sideways on 16th St. She's got a very strong voice and a nice new short hairdo. Artwise the exhibit that stayed with me is Willem de Kooning (one painting shown at left) at Gagosian Gallery. For a de Kooning lover this show is fabulous and a perfect space to view all 39 paintings in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. What beautiful paint. He was one of the best, certainly the best pure painter.

Many Chelsea galleries already seem to have their summer group shows beginning. In about a 3-hour period I probably cruised up and down stairs and elevators through 40 to 50 galleries: in some I lingered but in most cases not. For better or worse, it's a process I have developed over the years. In addition to seeing what kind of art is being shown, how it's presented, what kind of frame, I'm always searching for a potential gallery to represent my work. Finding a gallery to rep your work is a story I'll tackle at another time. I think it's safe to say that all artists have it in their mind, in addition to seeing if you can get the gallery receptionist to look up and acknowledge your presence: I won a $5 bet once and it wasn't easy.

John Constable, Cloud StudyThe next day I had enough time to take in the 79th St. area. Salander-O’Reilly has two beautiful shows, one of 15 small landscape paintings on paper by Corot from his trips to Italy. On the second floor you'll find a collection of beautiful cloud studies by Constable (see image at right). [See also this Ionarts post, Constable in London, from November 23, 2003.] Most all of the paintings by both artists curiously are on paper. It's rare, for me anyway, to see so many paintings on paper from this period. I was told that it's a heavy bond handmade paper and that both Corot and Constable used paper for sketching and en plein air painting. It's interesting to see a variety of framing choices. The V and A goes for a combination of matting, while the Tate centers the paper on linen with no matting, and both work. Most of the works are from private and museum collections, including the Tate and Victoria and Albert Museums. One Corot painting was bequeathed to the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, by a Sir E. Farquhar Buzzard: I've never seen that one in a baby name book.

Acquavella Galleries has what is billed as the first New York gallery exhibition of Lucian Freud paintings in 18 years. It was the first time I had seen so many of his painting at one time. This makes it much easier to get a feel for an artist's process. Freud is a great painter, especially of flesh, both human and beast. There is a painstaking layering of paint, and certainly it takes many months for him to complete a work, but the paint is still fresh and loose. What impressed me most of all is what Freud doesn't paint. He's not spending all that time pursuing the minutiae of detail, but instead it's the essential: nothing is unnecessary in a Freud painting.

In order to escape the rain I ducked into the Met, if one can actually duck into the Metropolitan. The place was packed with groups and the guards were gruff. I guess looking for terrorists will do that to you. I made the rounds visiting all my friends and the new exhibit of the Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection. Tyler Green and Terry Teachout get their digs on this show. They're more astute as to the darker side of museum politics than I am. I was a little starstruck thinking what it would have been like if my dad were Henri Matisse and the circle of friends and artists I would have known. Ahh, but could you really know Picasso? Or was it Uncle Pablo? As expected, the collection has a lot of Matisse but also Giacometti bronzes as well as drawings and paintings. The bronze cat is fabulous. Rarely (if ever) seen Chagall, Dérain, and Dubuffet paintings are included, as well as everyone's favorite pedophile, Balthus (I do like his compositions). So that was my week, and now I'm back home with the cicadas. Now I know where the sound track to The War Of The Worlds came from.

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist working in Baltimore.

Cannes Wrap-Up

So, the Cannes juries awarded the prizes. The big news was that the most important award, the Palme d'or (Golden Palm), went to Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, as predicted right here on Ionarts last week. (It is the first documentary to win the Palme d'or since Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle's Le monde du silence did so in 1956.) According to reports from Agence France-Presse, Jury President Quentin Tarantino was barely able to pronounce the syllable "Fah-" when the crowd of 2,200 invited guests rose unanimously for a 9-minute standing ovation punctuated by shouts of "Bravo!" In his acceptance speech, Moore dedicated the movie to the Iraqi people and all those who are suffering because of the United States. Twice more during the speech, the crowd rose for a standing ovation.

The main jury also awarded the second prize, the Grand Prix du jury, to Old Boy by South Korean director Park Chan-wook, the Best Actor award (perhaps the Festival's biggest surprise) to Japan's Yagira Yuuya (who is only 14 years old) for Nobody Knows (directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu), Best Actress to Maggie Cheung for Clean, Best Director to Toni Gatlif for Exils, Best Screenplay to Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri for Comme une image, and Jury Prizes to American actress Irma P. Hall (for the Coen brothers' Ladykillers) and the film Tropical Malady by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the first prize ever at Cannes for a film from Thailand in competition).

The short film jury gave its Palme d'or to Romanian director Catalin Mitulescu's Trafic and its Jury Prize to the animated film Flatlife by Belgium's Jonas Geirnaert. The Caméra d'or (Golden Camera, given to a film by a first-time director) went to Israeli director Keren Yedaya's Mon trésor. As noted in other news reports, some of the darlings of the French media were not awarded, including Wong Kar-wai's 2046 (which was shown a day late, after the film arrived only because a special air lane had been reserved to get the jet carrying the canisters to Cannes in time, in a very dramatic presentation on Thursday—so dramatic it may have been staged, some cynical journalists said), Serb director and Cannes favorite Emir Kustirica's Life Is a Miracle, and Geoffrey Rush for his much-appreciated performance in The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers.

Since the announcement of the prizes was moved ahead by a day this year, the final day of the Festival (today) will feature an unusual press conference at which the Jury members will explain their decisions. As the selection process at Cannes has always mystified me, I'll be reading about it.

22.5.04

Antimodernism

I've been meaning to make some sort of comment on the two posts by David Nishimura at Cronaca (If Art Is Meant to Provoke... and ...But What about Stockholm?) on May 16, an invective against certain types of controversial modern art:

Most surprising is critics' inability to see that not everyone accepts the contemporary art world's self-serving rules, where "art" is a special sphere in which artists get to say and do whatever they want without fear of contradiction or consequences, and the masses are expected to understand as best they can, grateful for the edification. Art's job is to provoke and discomfit? Looking back through history, that sure leaves a lot of art that didn't do its job.
David's bugbear is Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and his sculptural installations that realistically depict bodies of adults or children hanging from trees (he would probably have a similar negative reaction to this outrageous sculpture erected in and subsequently removed from a public square in Salzburg, after protests related to its vulgarity, which I wrote about here back on August 14, 2003). About this time of year, I am mentally exhausted from having spent several weeks trying to convince my students why they should care enough to learn something about modern art. It's difficult enough with Picasso, Matisse, and Duchamp, but it only gets worse by the time I am lecturing on Judy Chicago or Damien Hirst. Needless to say, I could not show a slide of or even mention something like the Salzburg sculpture.

By way of a response to David's remarks (with which I find myself alternately agreeing and disagreeing), I offer this translation of an article (Trop trash l'art contemporain? [Contemporary art too trashy?], May 17) by Annick Colonna-Césari in L'Express, which offers views from two experts, pro and con (with links I have added):
Depiction of mutilated bodies, fascination with death, sordid dramatization of daily life... Certain directions followed by contemporary artists shock critics and viewers. Provocation disguised as nonexistent artistic alibi or revealing evidence of a civilization that has come unmoored?

IN FAVOR [i.e., Yes, contemporary art is too trashy]
Jean Clair, Director of the Musée Picasso (Paris)
"A cynical aesthetic, without a moral compass"


For thousands of years, art had a civilizing mission: to instruct the spirit and delight the senses. Contemporary art, on the other hand, sees its triumph in the impure (immonde), meaning according to etymology (immundus) vileness, trashiness. It's all good: nudity, mutilation, fascination with blood, fluids, even excrement. Robert Gober uses beeswax and human hairs, Andres Serrano uses blood and sperm. As for David Nebreda, he covers his face with his own excrement and takes photos of it, which he sells as artworks. One could certainly say that the search for the sublime in the horrible has a long history in art generally (for example, Rembrandt's Woman Pissing [image of that and many other interesting examples in this issue of Chimères]) and in modern art, in particular, in the work of [Salvador] Dalí [for example, Young Virgin Autosodomized by Her Own Chastity, from 1954] or [Hans] Bellmer, for example. However, today we go to the next level. There is a distinction between the act of representing these things, no matter how disgusting, through a work that can be seen as admirable, and simply committing the act itself without any elaboration. Georges Bataille imagined bloody ceremonies but they remained a fantasy, which was not the case with the Vienna Actionists. In the 1960s, they appeared in public actions, such as self-flagellation or flagellation of others, drinking urine and blood, eating excrement, celebrating Black Masses with animal sacrifices while in religious habits, taking part in orgies that involved minors.

This fascination with horror also derives from a theological basis. Georges Bataille gave voice to eroticism and human sacrifice as the idea of an ambivalent sacred rite, dirtyness and holiness at the same time. For the Actionists, as for the artists cited above, there is no notion of sacrilege or blasphemy. Things happen in the absence of any reference to morality or social cohesion, under the umbrella of an artistic alibi. One of the heroes of this cynical aesthetic is Gunther [von] Hagens. The German has recently organized across Europe an exhibit in which he displayed corpses he has "plastinized." This was neither beautiful or scientific, but 14 million spectators went to see it. All of this is a sign of Western society's disintegration.

AGAINST [i.e., No, contemporary art is just fine]
Guy Boyer, directeur de Connaissance des arts
"To focus solely on the sordid part is simplistic"


Like cinema and theater, contemporary art deals with notions of the everyday, images of blood and death, but certainly no more than in any other time. This fascination for horror and the sordid is present throughout art history. We have only to look at the transis of the Middle Ages, these sculptures of the dead represented as cadavers, with worms coming out of the chest cavity. There is a longue litany of such art, from the gallow trees engraved in the 17th century by Jacques Callot to the very violent war scenes of Otto Dix.

To focus only on the trashiness of today's art is simplistic, because this tends to single out only the most shocking images from an overall body of work that is nevertheless quite diverse in its form and content. Above all, to condemn the whole after considering only one aspect is dishonest. For example, can we say that the abstract paintings of Helmut Federle or Gottfried Honegger, the videos of Michal Rovner or Anri Sala, the luminous installations of Claude Lévêque or Ann Veronica Janssens focus on dirtiness? Furthermore, to consider the work of some artists according to these notions alone seems like blindness or a lie. To see in the work of Andres Serrano only photographs of blood and sperm is to overlook other horrifying works, like those of costumed Ku Klux Klan members, which are in effect a critique of American society. It would make more sense to put these works back into the context of an artistic process. To read Robert Gober's sculptures as simply an exhibition of a body and mutilation is erroneous. Gober's intent—in fact, in a line of tradition from Duchamp and Pop Art—is not to show naked legs with hairs in a very realistic way. His works reproduce objects of daily life (which explains the use of sinks and beds) or display body parts in a dramatic or surreal setting, à la Magritte, because he is obsessed with death. In fact, these artists are wrapped up in life and are expressing their despair or their fears. If they do not hesitate to underscore the problems of today's world, it is because they are its prophets.
If you want to be further outraged or you just like to wallow in the grotesque excesses of modern art, check out Art Crimes. Just remember that you were warned.

21.5.04

Ives

Tombstone of Charles IvesJens's review yesterday got me onto an Ives kick, because I had heard and seen some tributes to him this week (Wednesday, May 19, was the 50th anniversary of his death). NPR ran this tribute to Ives by his biographer, Jan Swafford, so I have put together a little compendium of Ives links. Swafford's summation of Ives's role in American cultural history is apt, the "Walt Whitman of sound": his music is at once familiar and exceedingly strange, lyric, and at times bordering on the insane.

· Justin Davis, The Philharmonic celebrates Charles Ives complicated and confounding music, May 9, in New York Newsday, about the series of Ives tribute concerts given by the New York Philharmonic (through May 29)

· Anthony Tommasini, Finding Iconoclastic Playmates for Ives, That Musical Loner, May 13, in the New York Times (review of one above concerts)

· Chicago Sun-Times music critic Wynne Delacoma chastizes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for not programming any of Ives's music this year or the next (Aimard celebrates all-American Ives, May 18)

· Jan Swafford, How Ives Jibes: Understanding America's contentious composer, May 17, in Slate

· Anastasia Tsioulcas, Ives Thrives on 50th-Anniversary Release, May 14, from Reuters, about the Ives recording by singer Susan Graham and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, including pieces they have been playing around the country (reviewed by Wynne Delacoma in Chicago above, and by Anthony Tommasini on May 20)

· David Schiff, The Many Faces of Ives, January 1997, in the Atlantic Monthly

· Jan Swafford, Ives the Man: His Life

· Jan Swafford, A Question Is Better Than an Answer

Jan Swafford, First Chapter of Charles Ives: A Life with Music

· The Charles Ives Society

· Danbury (Conn.) Museum and Historical Society (in Ives's childhood house)

· The 32¢ postage stamp issued in Ives's honor in 1997

· Charles Ives Web Site

· Thomas Hampson, I Hear America Singing: Charles Ives

· Charles Ives, Essays before a Sonata (Project Gutenberg)

· The Charles Ives Papers (Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale)

· Listen to a recording of String Quartet No. 1 ("From the Salvation Army") by the Concord String Quartet
I hope that will be enough to keep you people busy.

19.5.04

Do Something Like Men!

Heat and humidity (as well as an all-20th-century program?) kept the audiences away from the National Gallery’s Sunday concert again. Last week I wrote with giddiness almost about the most challenging and wonderfully exciting concert program (see review on May 12): had I only looked ahead on the schedule, I could have known then that Mme. Schein's riveting recital was going to be followed by a string quartet presentation every bit as modern, exciting, and (even without the economic aspects at the free concerts playing much of a role) daring program. Once again, only one composer on the evening's list was dead, with the dubious honor going to Charles Ives this time. (Aaron Copland had his musical postmortem moment of glory last week.)

Carter's Elegy, a work that had several incarnations for different ensembles (from viola or cello sonata in 1943, to string quartet in '46, to string orchestra in '52, and a general revamp in '61), was first to go. Carter, to whom I had already flippantly attributed "Grand-Daddy" status of living American composers last week showed his stuff again in another accessible work of his.

The very charming and relatively young Colorado String Quartet, all embracing smiles as they entered the stage, started this piece with all the feeling that the title suggests. A sailing, coherent sound with a beautiful tone made the most of this soothing work, which ought to have charmed even the more conservative ears in the audience. More fluid and melodical even than the powerful Piano Sonata by Carter from around the same time (a piece Ann Schein had played), this work, too, is a far cry from his far more thorny (though rewarding) string quartets. The one-movement work was rightly appreciated with warm applause from the thin audience.

Writing that Robert Maggio was next would be doubly true: called forth by the first violin's gesture, the tall, slender 40-year-old composer (looking barely 30) gave a little introduction to the Songbook for Annamaria, his first string quartet from 2001. Quick and very amiable, pointing out the difficult acoustics of the West Garden Court en route (usually a hobby of mine in my reviews), he pointed to the children song relations of the four movements, as the piece was composed in part for the advent of his now three-year-old adopted daughter. The other part of the compositional impetus was a "goodbye" in response to the passing away of his grandmother, the namesake of little Annamaria.

"We’re Bound Away...", with the song "Shenandoah" as its anchor, is about the journey that becoming parents—perhaps particularly those adopting a child—undergo in the process. My unfortunate ignorance of all the related songs made it impossible for me to determine how far they truly underlie the individual movements or whether they were rather the perhaps melodically remote inspiration. "When You Wake...", based on "Little Horses," denotes the difficulties of parents finding sleep with a toddler in the house. The very slow and subtly progressing music then sounded either like the portrait of an unwilling insomniac or as the cure for such a condition. "Jimmy Crack Corn..." ("Bluetail Fly"), depicting 'play', was naturally more animated and a little bit more daring musically, much to its benefit. The very concentrated-looking Colorado String Quartet made this fine music shine brightly.

The music itself is superbly interesting. Not modernist entirely (though at times, that, too)—nor gratuitously difficult (which would make little sense anyway, given the topic)—far from 21st-century archaism à la Pärt or Taverner, tamer than Carter, Hoiby, or the late Michael Tippett, yet never boring, never flat or cliché: it is a very attractive example of tonality reasserting itself in modern music without throwing the 'modern' part overboard or stooping to some backwards-looking rehashing of a bygone musical vernacular. More conservative tastes than mine (I actually like Tippett and Hoiby) might perhaps attribute to Mr. Maggio's music the rekindling of the spiritual element that they often find lacking so direly in much of the modern music of the last 60 years.

"All the Live-Long Day", based on "I've Been Working on the Railroad," was particularly successful. Judging from the applause and the comments overheard, the audience—in good part of a rather mature makeup—felt the same way. Of course, the composer's presence does help (as opposed to distort).

Since the audience had been lamentably small to begin with, it was not really detectable whether it had shrunk much after the intermission—though I doubt it, given that most attendees seemed to have genuinely enjoyed the music presented. This enjoyment of modern music is a wonderful thing, and when I champion the attendance of these exciting concerts, it is not so much because of a hidden, modernist agenda that I carry in my heart, but rather because the neglect of the art produced and created around us that is suffered by classical music especially is a neglect that comes at our own peril. Surely, classical music made it difficult to stay with it and enjoy it (especially at a superficial level) over the last half-century or longer. But not only are many of these all too harsh edges being rounded off now by new composers: among those very edges, too, are hiding true marvels that expand our horizon, musical or otherwise, if only we give them an enthusiastic and determined fair chance.

At the Gallery to help us with that was "Poison Ives" and his 1911–13 second string quartet, which had been moved ahead of the Joan Tower piece because it was deemed better fitting and nicely contrasting with the Maggio work, in that it is based on songs and musical quotations. This is true, though not as obviously and much as its predecessor, the hymn-based String Quartet no. 1 ("From the Salvation Army... Not Quite"), recently served up so adequately by the Leipzig String Quartet at the Library of Congress (see my review on April 18).

The quote on Charles Ives by Arnold Schoenberg, found among the papers in Schoenberg's estate, bears repeating: "A great man lives in this country—a composer. He has solved the problem of how to stay true to oneself and still learn. He reacts to neglect with disdain. He needs neither accept nor snub criticism. His name is Ives."

Being true only to himself and throwing all conventions to the four winds (more easily done, being the millionaire he was), Ives has fun with a piece that originated out of a most noble motivation, namely to cure the Kneisel Quartet from an apparently all too girlish or else pedestrian performance he observed, and instead make "those fiddlers get up and do something like men." A later memorandum—we can gather all that from the as always excellent program notes by Elmer Booze—describes it as depicting "four men who converse, discuss, argue (in re 'politicks'), fight, shake hands, shut up, then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament." Most notable among the musical references in the first movement (Discussions) is a first straight, then painfully twisted "Dixie" quotation. The 'Discussion' runs the whole gamut from heated exchange to more amiable, relaxed conversation, when Arguments turns up the heat with Allegro con spirito with its witty arguments, often brought forcefully by one instrument and then angrily rejected by the rest.

This banter, back and forth, came across wonderfully in the Colorado String Quartet's impeccable playing: spirited and with enough aggression. Further allusions in the music were sprinkled in at will, it seemed—most notably "Freude schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus[...]." The call of the mountains, the Romantic view of enlightened stargazing in the setting of male, gentlemen-like friendship (I imagine a North-Pole-expedition-like comradery, minus the polar bears and frozen toes) is for the better part a rather arduous ascent. Adagio-Andante-Adagio allows for the final contemplation atop the summit, and the rather peaceful solution sent us to Joan Tower's one-movement Quartet no. 2 (In Memory), commissioned by the Tokyo String Quartet and written first in memory of Mme. Tower's friend Margaret Shafer—though after September 11, it continued including the mourning for all those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Starting with a wailing solo violin voice that descends meanderingly until the second violin (strangely muted throughout most of the evening, to find at least one point of criticism) falls in and the movement of the melody becomes less directed and more frustratingly lamenting. Increasing energy and tension are achieved through increased tempi with perpetual 3-, 4-, and 7-note figures in the lower, then the upper registers. Abrasively struck, repeated notes separate these blocks and lead into gentler, if no less desperate, musical waters. A beautiful cello line gets to lament (Shelomo by Ernst Bloch came to my mind at that point) before the memories become a group affair again and a back and forth between the violins and the viola with the cello prepare for the end that features a viola pizzicato over a coming and going single note.

The reaction from the crowd was heartwarmingly open-minded and enthusiastic. The Colorado String Quartet deserved it every bit for their outstanding performance in all respects. The ensemble, by the way, is made up of Julie Rosenfeld (violin), Deborah Redding (violin), Marka Gustavsson (viola), and Diane Chaplin (cello). You couldn't have found a better quartet to "get up and do something like men."

Alexandra Kerry Makes an Impression at Cannes

As reported just about everywhere, filmmaker and presidential candidate's daughter Alexandra Kerry enjoyed a succès de scandale, resulting from her choice of clothing, when she ran the mandatory press gauntlet on the Croisette at the Festival de Cannes. The flashbulbs of photographers' cameras made the black fabric of her already revealing gown semi-transparent. The flattering photo from Agence France-Presse is shown in a hilarious article (La fille de John Kerry met en émoi la presse américaine [John Kerry's daughter puts the American press in a titter], May 18) in Le Figaro. What makes me laugh about the French take on this event is that Ms. Kerry's self-exposition is not the story. The Puritanical reaction of the American press is (my translation):

American newspapers partially censored a photo showing the daughter of the American Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in a very transparent gown, revealing her breasts at the Cannes Festival. Alexandra Kerry, 30 years old, had arrived Sunday, on the Croisette's red carpet, dressed in a long gown, baring her right shoulder and covering her left shoulder in an ample sleeve. A large bow held together a slit at the top of her right thigh. Under the effect of photographers' flashbulbs, her gown became transparent, revealing that Alexandra Kerry was not wearing a bra.

The Washington Post decided to publish the photo, in spite of everything, but with a censor's band over her chest. Not wearing a bra "is no big deal on the French Riviera," the newspaper proclaimed. The New York Post, as early as Monday, had published the photo with the caption "Kerry daughter is in top form." The Boston Herald settled for publishing the young woman's photo, but only from the neck up. "She seems to be doing her best Janet Jackson imitation," joked Robi Blute, a local Boston celebrity interviewed by the newspaper. (The singer Janet Jackson had scandalized America by uncovering her right breast in an impromptu way on television, in the middle of the American football championship in February.)
Here are the links for two of the American articles (you have to pay to get the New York Post's Web site):

· Alexandra Kerry's 1/125 Second in the Spotlight, in the Washington Post's Reliable Source (with the doctored photo described in Le Figaro)

· Andrew Miga, ...And lots more of Kerry’s daughter, May 18, in the Boston Herald (they used an older photo, not from Cannes at all)

18.5.04

When You Need More Cannes

In case you need to satisfy that craving for news from the Festival de Cannes, here are some of the best pages sponsored by newspapers:

· Cannes Film Festival, from the International Herald Tribune (in English)

· Cannes 2004, from The Guardian (in English)

· Cannes Film Festival, from the London Times (in English)

· Cannes 2004, from Le Monde (in French)

· Cannes 2004, from Le Figaro (in French)

· Cannes: le 57e festival, from Libération (in French)

· Sur l'air de la Croisette: Un carnet de bord du 57e Festival de Cannes, Antoine de Baecque's Cannes weblog, from Libération (in French)

· Dossier: Le Festival de Cannes 2004, from Le Nouvel Observateur (in French)

Plus, just for the fun of it, I'll throw in Cassandra Jardine's interview with Emmanuelle Béart, which you will want to read if only for its title: 'Sometimes, I am like a whore', May 17, in The Telegraph. Admit it: you feel compelled to read an article with such a title.

17.5.04

More on Milton Avery at the Phillips Collection

Sunday was the last day of the exhibit Discovering Milton Avery: Two Devoted Collectors, Louis Kaufman and Duncan Phillips at the Phillips Collection here in Washington. Fortunately, I did manage finally to see the show on Saturday, and I was very glad I did. This was not without some trepidation: while Terry Teachout, at About Last Night, with the promise that he will blog about the show in detail later, pronounced it "fabulous," Tyler Green's one-word review at Modern Art Notes was "stale." I knew a few of Avery's paintings (most of which I had seen in the Phillips permanent collection, before it went on tour and into storage, during the museum's seemingly endless building project, which I noticed this weekend is in full swing). I have to say that I was very glad to see a few more of the paintings, especially those that were lent by private collections like that of Louis and Annette Kaufman (see the checklist of works in the exhibit).

Related Resources:

James Panero, Milton Avery: then & now, in The New Criterion (May 2004)

Katherine Stephen, Avery's family life, distilled on canvas, in the Christian Science Monitor (March 3)

Mark Barry, I Found Milton Avery, for Ionarts (February 22)

Susan Stamberg, 'Discovering Milton Avery', from NPR (February 17)

Blake Gopnik, An Uneasy Brush with Modernism, in the Washington Post (February 15)

Milton Avery (1885–1965), from the Artchive (with other paintings not in this show)

Paintings by Milton Avery, from the Tigertail Virtual Museum

Milton Avery, Self-Portrait (not in the exhibit, but the harried, darkened eyes are similar to other self-portraits)

Milton Avery's paintings in the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sadly for those of you who missed this exhibit, the Phillips Collection's Web site, in comparison to those of other museums, is pretty lame. Needless to say, they have not heeded Ionarts advice to provide a Web page including images of all works in the exhibit, in this case, 80 works, including 42 paintings. However, if you are one of those unfortunates who did not make it to the Phillips Collection in time, Ionarts has got your back: I've scoured the Internet for images of as many of the paintings as I could find. (There is no guarantee as to how long these links will last, however. If you find any of those I couldn't, listed at the bottom of this post, write a comment!)

Starting with the portraits, if we go through these paintings in chronological order, which is not the way the show was organized, we start with Sally Avery with Still Life (1926, Smithsonian American Art Museum). This was one of my favorite paintings in the show, and I spent a lot of time staring at it where it was hung over one of the fireplace mantels. I was fascinated by the reflection of the fruit bowl in the shiny surface of its table, as well as the beginnings of Avery's strange treatment of the human face, evident in this portrait of his wife. What Avery did, at least in many of the portraits in this show, was to render the face almost as something disconnected from the body, with the eyes especially highlighted with unusual shades or colors. One example is Louis Kaufman with Red Suspenders on White Shirt (1931, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection), a portrait of Avery's friend, who was a violinist and, along with Duncan Phillips (founder of the Phillips Collection), one of the first people to collect Avery's paintings. This disjunction of a portrait face is the most pronounced in Portrait of Louis M. Eilshemius (1942, Smithsonian American Art Museum), an eccentric New York artist who is captured with a most troubling expression on his face.

Another personal portrait is Portrait of Annette Kaufman in a Green Dress (1933, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection), which Louis Kaufman commissioned for his wife, a pianist, to place at the entrance of her performing venues. About 10 years later, Avery did another portrait of Annette, Annette Kaufman in a Black Dress (1944, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection). As shown in this photograph, Louis Kaufman often exchanged musical performances for paintings he admired, a practice that I find interesting. Here is another photograph of Annette Kaufman with her portrait.

Girl Writing (1942, Phillips Collection) was shown prominently over another fireplace mantel, with an interesting preparatory sketch on another wall. Chinese Checkers (March Avery and Vincenzo Spagna) (c. 1941, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection) and March on the Balcony (1952, Phillips Collection), both featuring the painter's daughter March, have the same warm, family-oriented tone, although the latter seems to reveal a close study of Matisse. Portrait of Chaim Gross (c. 1943, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection), the print Mark Rothko with Pipe (1936, National Gallery of Art), and Sally with Skull (1946, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection) struck me as a little stranger, less affecting. The colorful Nude with Guitar (1947, Smithsonian American Art Museum) was hanging in the stairway up to the exhibit, and I found it quite appealing for its sweeping curves and bright colors.

Some of the best paintings in the show, and here I agree with Mark's earlier review of this show, were the landscapes and seascapes, which became increasingly abstracted and colorful. California Landscape/Seascape (1942, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection), made after a driving trip along the California coast, is still somewhat representational, with dramatic swoops of light color added to give contrast to land and sea. By the time we get to Grey Rocks, Black Sea (1956, Milton Avery Trust), Black Sea (1959, Phillips Collection) and Pink Meadow (1963, Milton Avery Trust), Avery is interested less in any specific landscape than in the shapes suggested by all landscapes. One of my other favorite paintings in the show, shown in the upper room of the second floor with the spectacular Study in Blues (1959, Milton Avery Trust), for which I can find no image, was Birds over the Sea (1957, Phillips Collection). This painting has a pattern-like approach to its subject, with the three birds arranged like some sort of heraldic seal above the horizon.

There were several still lifes in the exhibit, but I found an image only for Pine Cones (1940, Phillips Collection), which is not all that inspiring. One of the most unusual paintings in the show is White Horse (1962, Milton Avery Trust), the subject of which reminded me of Gauguin's Le Cheval Blanc (1898, Musée d'Orsay), although visually it's quite different (I saw that painting at the big Gauguin show in Paris last fall, as reviewed here at Ionarts).

Paintings from the exhibit for which I can find no images:
Still Life (1928, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection), oil on masonite, a younger painting, heavy application

Still Life with “Pop” Bottle (1928, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Still Life with Bananas and a Bottle (c. 1928, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Still Life with Iron, Plant, and Bananas (c. 1928, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Portrait of Clara (1929, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Portrait of Thomas Nagai (1929, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Winter Riders (1929, Phillips Collection)

Harbor at Night (1932, Phillips Collection)

Trees (1936, Phillips Collection)

Pink Still Life (1938, Phillips Collection)

Self-Portrait with Red Tam and Scarf (1938, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)
Milton Avery in a Gray Shirt with “The Chariot Race" (c. 1938, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Gladiolus (1940, Phillips Collection)

Shells and Fishermen (1941, Phillips Collection)

Vermont Landscape (1941, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Portrait of Marsden Hartley (1943, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Green Landscape (1945, Watkins Collection, American University)

Leo Lerman in Mitzi Solomon's Studio (1948, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

The Convalescent (Self-Portrait in a Red Sweater) (1949, Louis and Annette Kaufman Collection)

Milk Pitcher (1949, Phillips Collection)

Reflections (1958, Milton Avery Trust)

Rolling Surf (1958, Milton Avery Trust)

Rock and Wave (1959, Milton Avery Trust)

Study in Blues (1959, Milton Avery Trust)

16.5.04

News from Cannes

If you haven't figured this out yet, I'm a sucker for the Festival de Cannes, which conveniently combines my love of film with my love of France. Since there is so little coverage in the American media (it's apparently much more important to report on American "news" like what happened last night on "American Idol" or "The Swan"), I get most of my information from reading French newspaper Web sites and watching the broadcast of the evening news from France 2.

Other Cannes articles to read:

· Cannes If I Want, by the cinetrix at pullquote, May 11

· Nine Happy Mavens: Cannes Fest Jury Gets Ready to Let the Good Films Roll, by Desson Thomson, May 15, in the Washington Post
The big news this year is not about movies but the protests of the intermittents du spectacle, part-time workers in the performing arts who are opposed to the French government's plans to reduce their entitlements. Last summer, the group's protests disrupted numerous events and totally shut down some of the big summer arts festivals (thanks to David Nishimura at Cronaca for linking to Ionarts on this), so the fear was evident this year when they set their sights on Cannes. The latest report (Intermittents: des centaines de manifestants à Cannes, une échauffourée [Part-time workers: hundreds of demonstrators in Cannes, a scuffle], May 16) in L'Express show that the conflicts between demonstrators and police seem to be escalating (my translation):
The intermittents du spectacle briefly interrupted the Cannes Festival on Saturday, and three people, according to police (five, according to the demonstrators), received minor injuries in an incident, but the main demonstration against the reform of unemployment benefits took place peacefully.

Elsewhere in the evening, journalists, including one from Agence France-Presse, were assaulted by members of the CRS [the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, a sort of national police force or national guard] in front of the Cannes police headquarters where a couple scores of part-time arts workers were calling for the release of six of their arrested colleagues. [. . .] Six people were arrested in the late afternoon during a police intervention in a cinema in downtown Cannes that was taken over by some demonstrators and their sympathizers, causing two injuries to the demonstrators (five, according to the demonstrators) and eight injuries to the police, according to the subprefect of Grasse, Claude Serra.
The other big story was the appearance of Michael Moore, in Cannes because his new film Fahrenheit 9/11 is in competition. (Given the state of political relations between France and the United States, I think Moore may have a good chance of winning something.) Walking among the demonstrators with French activist José Bové to enthusiastic applause and approval, Moore said over a loudspeaker, "Work is a right. A living wage is a human right." (There are good pictures in the article linked above.)

15.5.04

Another Dalí Museum

I don't want to sound like I have Dalí on the brain (see post on May 13), but there is more news. Agence France-Presse has reported on the continuing plans to build yet another Salvador Dalí museum in, of all places, Prague. (The story was carried, in an English translation, by the Miami Herald: $25.7 million home for Dali art may go up in Prague, May 13.)

Renowned U.S. architect Daniel Libeskind on Tuesday unveiled his design for a modern museum on Prague's waterfront that will house works by the late Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. [. . .]

"To develop, cities have to be in competition at every level. This will be a magnet which will take the tradition of what is happening in Prague and extend it into the 21st century," he said. The museum, which is expected to cost around $25.7 million, would display between 1,000 and 1,500 Dali works on loan from collections in Spain, France and Germany. The privately-funded project would also include a contemporary art hall, a restaurant, flats for visiting artists and a theater. Its exterior would be based on a circle and square, which often appeared in the artist's paintings.
Other news reports I read (but which were taken offline before I could link to them) have focused on the opposition to the project in the Czech capital, where at least some people do not see the connection between Dalí and Prague that would justify the expense. Now I like Dalí as much as the next person, but I suspect that there may be a better way to spend $25.7 million.

14.5.04

A Friend Returns

It happens every spring in my yard. From a very fragile-looking shaft the most beautiful blossoms appear. I'm told it's a wild rhododendron. Whatever the species, it makes me very happy. Life is good.

Mark Barry, Rhododendron, 2004
Mark Barry, Rhododendron, 2004

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist working in Baltimore.

13.5.04

That's Good Reading: Fully Credited Links

As regular Ionarts readers already know, one of the many anniversaries being celebrated this year is the 100th birthday of Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, which was on Tuesday (see The Center of the Universe, According to Dalí, February 18). As a result, there have been lots of good articles on him this week:

· Visit Dalí's homeland with observations by the painter's childhood friend, in Salvador, my greatest companion, May 11, by Ewen Carmichael in The Scotsman

· The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, wants to move to a new building. The newly revealed proposal calls for a three-floor building, with 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, on the site of an arena at Bayfront Center that will be demolished in 2005. See Salvador Dali Museum names its site in St. Petersburg, May 12, by Carrie Johnson, in the St. Petersburg Times. It will not be designed by Frank Gehry.

· The centennial festivites at the Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueras, Spain, were covered in Figueras honore Dali, né le 11 mai 1904 dans la petite ville catalane, May 10, in L'Express.

There is also this article on the upcoming Edward Hopper retrospective at the Tate Modern in London (May 27 to September 5): How to see sadness without being sad, May 8, by Alain de Botton in The Telegraph. Now, the Telegraph's Web site requires a registration, but the Old Hag tells us that these people can help you with things like that.

There is too much Cannes news to track here (TV5 has an excellent Cannes dossier). The Festival opened on Wednesday without any major incident (see my post Demonstrations at Cannes, May 10), but the intermittents du spectacle were represented in both official and unofficial capacities. The evening news from France 2 showed a group of approved demonstrators, in evening dress, ascending the steps to the opening ceremony, with the word négociations spelled out on their backs (where they were recognized with a sign of support from Jury President Quentin Tarantino), as well as a group of unapproved demonstrators, blocked from approaching the festival buildings by the police. For the first time, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (whose films I love) officially opened the festival and was the first to present a movie, his La Mala educación (Bad education), some clips of which were shown on the news.

Tarantino, looking like a kid in a candy shop, said only a few words at the opening: "I love cinema and it's an honor for me to be president at this magnificent festival. VIVE LE CINEMA!!!" The next American star to preside at Cannes should call me several months in advance so I can coach him or her on a couple of sentences to say in French, which will guarantee a warm reception. (This is not just an American thing: Almodóvar spoke in Spanish.) Alternatively, you can take a page from the classy book of Johnny Depp, whose francophilia is just one of the many reasons why I admire him. When he was given a special award at the Césars (the French Oscars) in 1997, he held a tape recorder to the microphone that played back prerecorded remarks in flawless French.

Among the less serious news from Cannes (Les cancans de Cannes, May 12, from TV5), actor Adrien Brody arrived early in Cannes on Tuesday, at the head of an informal race called the Gumball 3000. Rich people with time to waste drove from Paris to Cannes by way of Madrid, Marbella, Casablanca, and Barcelona. Sixteen drivers got carried away on the autoroute between Béziers and Montpellier and got speeding tickets. John Kerry's daughter Alexandra will present her short film (The Last Full Measure), about a daughter's relationship with her father after he returns from the Vietnam War, and will attend a party for the event on May 16 at the private Man Ray club, "one of the Parisian clubs that have moved to Cannes for the duration of the festival."

12.5.04

A( )live Music

Ann Schein, a 20-year veteran faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, has had an outstanding career that is perhaps less recognized than it should be. From her Carnegie Hall debut to working with the Who's Who of great conductors (George Szell, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, David Zinman, Stanislaw Skrowacewski, Sir Colin Davis—to name just a few) to playing the complete major Chopin repertoire at Lincoln Center in 1980 (a feat also accomplished by one of her teachers, Arthur Rubinstein), Ann Schein has always shone brightly.

Available at Amazon:
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Schumann, Davidsbündlertänze, Arabeske, Humoreske, with Ann Schein
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Alban Berg, Altenberglieder, Ann Schein with Jessye Norman
She did again, on a hot, gorgeous Sunday, in the half-empty, half-full West Garden Court in the National Gallery of Art. The ominous audience absence was understandable due to the weather, but a true shame—all the more so because the program on offering was the most exciting I have seen and heard in Washington since the Zehetmair Quartet presented Schumann, Bartók, and Cage in January 2003, also at the National Gallery of Art. Nay—make that the most exciting program ever! An all-20th-century composer program featuring Aaron Copland (1900–1990), Elliot Carter (b. 1908), Sydney Hodkinson (b. 1934) and Richard Danielpour (b. 1956)! (Truth be told, it was perhaps in part the program and not just the weather that kept people away, though I would loath to admit that.)

Unassuming, perhaps like a young, still noble grandmother (of the charming type), Ann Schein came on stage. She rang the first Copland notes out like an assertion of self. So much gusto went into the first chord that a hairclip of hers was flung to the ground. Mechanically, steadily, and yet with a continuous line, she started to assemble the Piano Variations (1930) like an ever-growing Fisher-Price construction kit. As she added notes to this musical building, the structure, the building became more and more visible to the ears, while only the individual building blocks were actually audible at any given time. Fine pianissimos were executed clearly and so delicately that the scratching of my soft pencil seemed obstrusive. Spirited flocks of notes shot all over the piano, like hundreds of ascending flamingos running across the New York Steinway & Sons of the National Gallery.

When someone like Mme. Schein champions a piece like the seldom-heard Piano Variations by Copland (not generally a composer suffering from neglect in this country), it puts the work almost beyond reproach. In this very concentrated, determined performance, still with communicated joy, it would be impossible to dismiss the beautiful (medium-thorny) piece as a flashy intellectual exercise by some modernist composer or deliberately difficult hotshot performer. The only composer no longer alive on the night's program was well served.

Well served, too, were the audience members with Richard Danielpour's The Enchanted Garden from his Preludes, Book 1. These five pieces, 12 years old, are most delightful American impressionist vignettes, and while it may be unsophisticated or at least "too easy" to speak of an "American latter-day Debussy," the association comes necessarily, and not just because of the titles of the work.

Promenade is very much cast in this musical light, if perhaps without the delicate inward structure and tone colors of Debussy. Mardi Gras is more distinctly Danielpour, and the jostling, jazzy rhythms and brassy sections are always present, underlying the music—a visceral audio postcard from New Orleans that should have had everyone's rear moving in their seats. (Admittedly, save mine, I saw no evidence of this.)

Childhood Memory is a more laid-back "dreamery," a sound-weaving of lazy, hot reminiscences, of a different substance than Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 but a similar taste. From the Underground has a comparatively unsettling murmur to it, though I thought that the individual notes took over from the painted mood after a while. Despite the brisker tempo, it is wholly within the vernacular of the other pieces, as is Night, a Whistler-like nocturne: small, nebulous, hard to define, but with distinct moods and calling cards of chords that suggested comfort to my ears. The more vivacious lead-up to the once again soft ending wrapped it up nicely: a most worthy musical discovery for me, indeed.

After the intermission, the few Washingtonians who had not been kept away by the sun were scared away after Copland and Danielpour were finished with them. Only a hard core of a few dozen listeners (a fairly even mix of old and young) stuck around to hear the Sydney Hodkinson 1981 Minor Incidents: Four Character Pieces for Solo Piano, which started out in a somewhat typical modernist way—Lee Hoiby without the bounce—but recovered quickly. Con energia e audace sounded more promising from the title than it was; enjoyable though, still. Con leggierezza, muted and in darker hues, was a fair note-assembly but not one that I could relate to at once or detect structure within, though I would more likely blame myself for this shortcoming than the piece or the composer. The piece, as did the following movement, Con duolo, still had enough to offer on their sonic terms alone that made them more than just bearable: enjoyable (if only just). Con violenza becomes true to its name only at the very end, but has by then fully justified itself.

Elliot Carter, the grand-daddy of American 20th-century composers and his raucous Piano Sonata (1945–46) came next. It often rubs traditionalists the wrong way that the modernist, experimental composer Carter is the predominant living composer in the U.S., at the expense of many very fine, more traditional composers such as David Diamond, Roy Harris, Morton Gould, Stephen Gerber, or Paul Moravec. But while all the latter certainly deserve more attention—Terry Teachout, for example, has always championed Moravec and rightly so, support crowned by Moravec being awarded the Pulitzer Prize last April for his Tempest Fantasy—pieces like the Piano Sonata show why Elliot Carter has the standing that he enjoys. Far more accessible (though no less wild) than his time-experiments (a.k.a. string quartets), this is great music of its time and for all times. The Piano Sonata, as will his Piano Concertos, I am convinced, shall have a place in the repertoire of future generations as firm (if less often performed) as any Beethoven piece of that sort. (All that said without making a direct qualitative comparison of the two, which could only get me into trouble.)

The Carter, it will not surprise, was marvelously played—with all the necessary flexibility and power, at times raw, at times held back. The usual bad acoustics of the West Garden Court that so particularly mar piano recitals seemed to matter little or not at all the entire evening. While the cynic may suggest that these pieces could not be harmed by bad acoustics as one would not be able to tell the difference, and while I may grant him the chuckle, admitting that they may well be more robust than say the Waldstein or Appassionata sonatas by the aforementioned Beethoven, there was also some simply awfully good playing involved. That, and more importantly, intelligent, appropriate playing.

A concert among the very finest for the very few. A refreshing treat of music that screams of being alive, not part of the classical-music-museum-cult that would have classical music end with late Beethoven or, more radically, Ravel. As I overheard a lady say on her way out: "I don't understand the music, but it's excellent." Right on, madam! Excellent indeed. Fabulous. F-ing Fabulous, to be precise.