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GLENN LONEY'S MUSEUM NOTES
CONTENTS, October 31, 2004
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Hats are all very well for Dr. Seuss and his remarkable Cat in the Hat. But there is such a thing as having entirely too many hats to wear on all occasions. That is the momentary difficulty of your stolid scribe. As the Principal Correspondent for the New York Theatre-Wire, I finished & filed my reportage on major European Music & Theatre Festivals in September, on my return from two months on what used to be called the "Continent."
As Principal Correspondent for the Theatre-Wire 's collateral website, New York Museums.com,, I also fully intended to file a report on especially interesting Museum & Gallery exhibitions abroad. There were a number of them on view, some of which should come to the United States, funding being found.
Unfortunately, almost immediately on my arrival in Central Europe, I was attacked by a raging infection—caused by a Wisdom Tooth extracted the day before my departure. [DO NOT FLY IMMEDIATELY AFTER HAVING MAJOR DENTAL SURGERY!]
In two days, the swelling and mucous were so severe I couldn't open my jaw, and I could hardly breathe: like a combination of Diphtheria & Lockjaw. Rushing to Emergency at Krankenhaus Schwabing in Munich, I was sent back to my hotel by the lady-doctor on duty as having a mere case of Laryngitis.
After two more days of increasing suffering, my luck was to have a Munich friend—just returned from holiday to help me—send me back to the same hospital, but this time to Ear, Nose, & Throat Emergency. The infection was judged Life-Threatening, so I was operated on that night. I insisted on staying no more than five days as I had so much [unpaid] reportage to do for both websites. The result was that I had a difficult time catching up, compounded by computer-agonies.
[For the Record: My total Munich hospital bills for these five days—including surgery, all other medical procedures, examinations & tests, half-hour penicillin-drips four times daily, nursing-care, private hospital-room and meals—cost me only about $4,000. You could pay that much for only a day in a Manhattan hospital! This fee would have been significantly reduced had the hospital accepted my New York HIP medical coverage. The room would have cost 34 Euros, instead of 340 Euros. But, in the light of this experience, is there something American health-care is doing wrong?]
On my return from the Edinburgh Festival, I had almost 200 film-cassettes of European images to have developed & printed. These—both slides and prints—I have been labeling image by image, organizing in large albums, and computer-indexing for my INFOTOGRAPHY™ ArtsArchive™ Collection which will soon be online.
This is my major project in retirement, and it takes almost all of my time, so I can no longer write extensive review/reports of theatre-productions or museum & gallery exhibitions. At this moment, I am two days away from departure for China and scores more of print, slide, and digital images of that Not-So-Sleeping Giant.
Thus, I can do little more than list new shows at Theatres & Museums—with a very brief commentary. If I ever get caught up on the photo-indexing, I hope to be able to share more extended impressions of the plays, musicals, operas, ballets, & concerts I see almost every evening and most matinées in my capacity as Founder/Advisor of Modern Theatre Online, Secretary of the Outer Critics Circle and Awards-Nominating Member of its Executive Committee, as well as being a voting-member of the Drama Desk, the Theatre Library Association, the American Theatre Critics Association, the Music Critics of North America, and the Dance Critics Association.
Not to overlook my regular reportage for New York Theatre-Wire & Critics Choice for New York Museums.com, plus Western European Stages, among other venues for discussing Arts and Performing Arts events and achievements. This is all fascinating, but it is much easier to experience than to sit at the computer-keyboard and describe it. So Listings will have to do for a while…
[Closing January 16, 2005]
Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait), 1796
The stature of President/General George Washington continues to dwarf all other aspirants to the highest office in the nation. Now, at the Met Museum, the dignity and elegance of that stature can be measured as never before. No less than fourteen of Gilbert Stuart's iconic portraits of Washington are on display in one room. On one wall are four full-length portraits, including the famed Lansdowne image—with two copies made from it. It is unlikely that ever again all these important canvases will be shown together.
In that same room are also on view the unfinished Athenaeum image and the Vaughan portrait—from which many later portraits were copied. Stuart himself did a brisk business in providing copies of Washington portraits.
But, thanks to good connections and his own talents and charm, he also was commissioned to paint many famous American faces. A number of these are on display at the Met. He often improved on the reality, but he prided himself on capturing character essences, frequently through chatting with his subjects during sittings, which enabled him to get to know them better.
Trained in London, where he achieved some early success, he removed to Dublin, then returned to the Colonies, where his reputation grew. But, considering his success as a portrait painter in important American centers such as Philadelphia, New York, Washington, and Boston, it is amazing that, at his death, his family was left destitute. Where did all that money go?
There are almost a hundred Stuart works on exhibition at the Met, all of them of interest. But the wall-text story-line of Stuart's career is almost as fascinating. If you cannot see this impressively mounted show, you will surely want the catalogue.
[Closing February 27, 2005]
J. Trumbull, George Washington before the Battle of Trenton
This charming pendant to the Stuart exhibition is easily missed as it is on view far from the Stuart galleries. In the American Wing, at the opposite end of the vast Met Museum, it is nonetheless well worth a visit. There are even some Gilbert Stuarts not in the main showrooms. But then he painted so many Washingtons!
Famous Washington busts by Hiram Powers and Horatio Greenough are on display, as are many lesser images in a variety of media, including printings on cloth and mugs. Even if originally inspired by Stuart images, the gradual softening of the Presidential Visage in lackluster copies by hack artists is interesting to note.
There was a voracious appetite in the developing Republic for images of the greatest of the Founding Fathers. Indeed, this remained so even into the 20th century. In the one-room grammar-school I attended way back in 1936, a large engraving of George Washington—after Stuart—hung at the front of the room, above the blackboard!
[Closing January 23, 2005]
From 2 to 14 November, your scribe will be in Mainland China, but some of its major art-treasures will not be on view there. They are currently at the Met, gathered from important collections across China. Never before have these 300 artworks been shown together, so this is an unparalleled opportunity to survey the emergence of distinctive Chinese subjects and styles in six centuries early in the Christian Era. [Though they, of course, weren't counting the passing years on a Western Calendar…]
Sculptures and ceramics loom large, but there are also remarkably fashioned small objects in jade, gold, silver, and bronze. Scrolls, wall-paintings, and textiles are also given pride of place. This show also emphasizes how Chinese arts changed owing to immigration, foreign conquest, and exterior trading. It is a rich visual banquet.
What makes this exhibition even more important is the fact that most of the objects on view have been excavated in the last 30 years. You may see some remarkable Chinese artworks in the National Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, but these were removed from Mainland China when the Chiang Government fled to Formosa. They were preserved or excavated years and years ago.
[Closing January 30, 2005]
After you have seen this glittering exhibition of some 250 Saxon Treasures—on loan from Dresden's great collections in the Zwinger and the famed "Green Vault"—you may well want to plan a trip to the capital of Saxony to see them again in their proper settings. Then you will also have the opportunity to see the great Frauenkirche, rebuilt from the pile of ruins left after Allied bombings in World War II, which reduced Dresden to ashes.
Actually, a number of the objects displayed at the Met have not been shown in Dresden either, as the major exhibition-rooms of the Grünes Gewölbe were badly damaged in the bombing & firestorm. Only in 2006 will they and their galleries be restored to their historical Electoral Elegance.
Not only fantastic jewelry, gleaming cutlery, gold & silver flatware, and crystal goblets are on view. Also, richly decorated armors and weapons, as well as elaborate small statues of stags, steeds, and mythical beasts. How about a delicate golden figurine of a hunter with a stag's head and one horn of baroque coral!
Until Bismarck unified Germany in the 1860s, Saxony was a separate kingdom. Indeed, in the period of the Met's exhibition, it was one of the most powerful Electoral domains. The Elector of Saxony was one of that anointed group who elected the Holy Roman Emperor. [Who was, as the old saying goes, neither Holy nor Roman.]
The most famous Saxon ruler was August the Strong, a Lutheran Protestant who became a Roman Catholic so he could also accept the Crown of Poland. [Polish nobles being notoriously wary of one of their own acceding to the throne.] Some of the most magnificent artworks in the current show were created for this great Electoral lover of the arts.
[Closing December 12, 2004]
Eucharisitc urn in the form of a pelican Silver, partially gilt with gold and precious stones, cast, molded, repoussé, and chased with burnished punchwork.Monasterio de Nuestra Señora Del Prado, Lima.
With Francisco Pizzaro's Conquest of the Inca Empire in 1532, centuries of native arts and crafts were at threat from the Catholic Conquerors who wanted to stamp out any evidences of Pagan Beliefs and Practices. Fortunately, the mandated destruction of sacred codexes and pagan images was not as wholesale as in Cortez's Mexico, but ancient gold and silver objects were generally melted down for their value as metal.
The new Spanish rulers, as well as their priests, recognized the artistic talents of Andean weavers and silversmiths. Thus it was, that in a mere generation, age-old crafts and traditions were adapted to new iconologies. The Met's exhibition shows some dazzling survivals from the Inca Culture, as well as many marvelous silver objects and weavings created for various Viceroys of Peru and for major churches.
Wedding European imagery with Andean traditions and perceptions often created astonishing new iconology. In the area around Lake Titicaca, Andean artists painted pictures of the Archangels Gabriel & Michael for Roman Catholic churches. But they painted "Angels with Rifles," instead of with flaming swords and golden trumpets. They reasoned that the Spaniards had conquered them with rifles, so the All-Powerful Angels should also have firearms, not swords. [Your scribe has one of these amazing Spanish Colonial paintings, but it must be a Minor Angel, as he has only a pistol and a powder-horn, not a full-fledged rifle.]
[Closing February 13, 2005]
It was comparatively easy for Spanish Catholic priests to burn the Sacred Codexes of the Aztecs when Hernando Cortez conquered Mexico. Fortunately, Aztec architectures, stone sculptures, and large-scale ceramics were not so easily reduced to Christianized rubble. Now, a number of the most impressive of these ancient artifacts and artworks are on view at the Guggenheim, on loan from Mexico City's major museum of History and Anthropology.
Your photographer-scribe was forbidden to photograph any of these objects in situ at the Guggenheim. Fortunately, years ago the director of the Mexico City museum permitted me to photograph anything in the collections on public display. If the Taliban attacks the Federal District, its churches and museums, I have at least an INFOTOGRAPHY photo-record of some of these impressive images of Cannibalistic Gods and Sacred Snakes.
Today, it must be a great honor to be chosen Miss Mexico City. But in Aztec times, your mother would cry her heart out—because yours would soon be torn out. For, tomorrow, garlanded with flowers, bedecked with rich jewelry, you would ascend the great steps of the Templo Mayor and have your living heart cut out of your beautiful body with obsidian knives.
Talk about Religious Sacrifices! The Aztecs thrived on a cult of War & Death. Many of the objects on display at the Guggenheim exemplify that.
But what is a major museum of Modern Art doing with all these ancient artworks on display? The "modern" hook—or excuse—for this show is its brilliantly designed installation, by artist-architects Enrique Norten and J. Meejin Yoon.
They have negated the exhibition-unfriendly curving walls of the Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda-spiral with an undulating serpent-like dark-chocolate wall that snakes down the spiral, with major objects cached in its bends and curves. This makes coming upon them, rounding a curve, even more of an astonishment!
This handsomely designed exhibition could be viewed as an extended invitation to purchase astonishing pieces of contemporary American Indian jewelry. And, indeed, you can acquire some impressive brooches or bracelets in the show-shop.
But it is much more than that, as distinctive modern pieces are shown alongside more traditional works of jewelry, as well as baskets, carvings, buckskin garments, and other cultural artifacts of the daily lives of the various Indian tribes represented.
At the opening ceremonies—which were distinguished by live Native American music and greetings by major modern artist-jewelers—it was noted that most traditional jewelry was crafted from minerals and materials readily at hand on tribal lands. Thus, you are not apt to find turquoise insets in beads and bracelets in most traditional Northwest Coastal native jewelry.
Today, however, leading Native American artists are adapting the images and icons—as well as the materials and styles of other tribal cultures—to their own imaginative creations. And it is only recently that the Indians of the American Southwest have been coming to know their cousins of the Northwest Coast!
[Closing January 8, 2005]
As part of its on-going Hellenic Festival, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts has devised an interesting visual & textual reminder of how much 20th century American artists in theatre and dance owe to Classic Attica.
The recent Athenian Olympics may have had something to do with this, and the visit of the National Theatre of Greece to City Center could also have helped inspire this show. Then, there was also the visual, musical, and intellectual delights of Steve Sondheim & Aristophanes' The Frogs at the adjacent Vivian Beaumont Theatre!
It's interesting to note—although the exhibit doesn't make much of it—how important San Francisco and the University of California at Berkeley was in this Greek Revival of ancient plays, texts, myths, artworks, costumes, and architecture.
San Franciscans Isadora & Raymond Duncan were in the forefront of this movement. High in the Berkeley hills, even today, the Temple of the Winds still sits proudly, its fluted columns recalling the Glory Days of the Duncans and the Boyntons, in their hand-woven garments and Greek Dances. [Even your scribe has danced on their portico in his days as a UC undergraduate!]
The great American tragic actress Margaret Anglin is shown in the Lincoln Center exhibition onstage in a Greek drama in UC's William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre!
[Your scribe staged the annual UC Sophomore Farce on this vast stage. And Samuel Hume, a UC professor—who was nearly his uncle-by-marriage—staged the entire Oresteia in Greek in this great amphitheatre! Hume also invented Card-Stunts for football games… The Gold Rush Era musical-play I chose for the Soph Farce was A Live Woman in the Mines, written by a Founder of the Mother Lode gold-mine treasure-house, Grass Valley. He was Alonzo Delano, also an early-day correspondent to the New York Times!]
In addition to Sam Hume's Oresteia, there is another historic theatrical connection of Hearst's Greek Theatre to things Hellenic! In 1935, the most famous director of Central Europe, Max Reinhardt, came to Berkeley to stage Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream on the great stage and in Faculty Glade. If you cannot immediately see the connection, you may not remember that most of that Hellenic-Inspired comedy takes place in the Forest outside Athens, with its courtly scenes in the Palace of Duke Theseus.
Reinhardt's stroke of genius—he was already famous on Broadway for turning the Century Theatre into a Cathedral for his mimed religious drama, The Miracle—was to have the forest scenes with the young lovers set in the Glade, thick with ancient oak-trees. Lights in the trees helped illuminate the action, but it was formally, ritually lit by costumed lackeys, bearing immense silver flaming torchères. For the Return to Athens, they led the players and audience through campus lanes to the Greek Theatre. [These same torchères were still leaning backstage when I made it home to a Gold Rush musical!]
Reinhardt's Dream was such a success that he repeated it—with some changes—in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Then he took his concept to the Hollywood Bowl. After that, he made it into the famed film of Midsummer Night's Dream, which featured Mickey Rooney as Puck! Shakespeare, not Aeschuylus, but still Hellenic-Inspired!
The Chorus in the 1915 Margaret Anglin production of Electra, photographed at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, California. no photographer credit. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
One wall in the Library's Astor Gallery is dominated by a period poster for Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, an American Civil War version of the Orestian Original.
Photos, videos, texts, and programs also celebrate the achievements of Martha Graham and other inspired American performing-artists who have found renewed power in the Ancient Greeks. Even Richard Schechner's innovative Hippie Dionysus in '69 is featured.
[Closing January 16, 2005]
Mysore silk pachisi-snakes and ladders dual silk cloth with ivory pawns and a pair of stick-dice
India; 19th Century, ca 1830
Silk and ivory
Board: 30 5/8 x 30 ½ inches, b - 3 1/8 x ½ x ½ inches
You may not have a clue about playing Mah Joggn, but many other Asian games have over the centuries been transmitted—or transmuted—into extremely popular western games. This handsome show at the Asia Society shows the roots of Chess, Parcheesi, Ludo, Snakes & Ladders, and even Playing-Cards in the Orient.
Some games are illustrated in paintings, scrolls, prints, and even scholarly studies of various games. Including even Polo! Most of the games included are also represented by their playing-boards, dice, counters, figurines, or card-suit images. Many of these are also works of art, but some—through long and enthusiastic use—show their age.
[Closing January 2, 2005]
The artifacts and photos in this show are from the magnificent Polsky Collection and the Metropolitan Museum. They cover a range from the 2nd century BC to the early 20th century. Because they are focused on arts of Northern India, both the Muslim-influenced arts of the Mughals and Hindu arts & images are on view.
The gulf between Life-Affirming Indian Art and Western Christian Sex-Denying iconology is underscored by the exhibition's large sculpture of a man and a woman entwined in an erotic embrace. This image derives from antique sculptures of the Gods, Radha & Krishna, in a similar intimate pose.
You surely won't ever find an 18th century Christian representation of Jesus embracing Mary Magdalene as a lover. But someone may one day find a medieval image of this, as there was a centuries-old legend that they were Man and Wife. Some believe that their descendants are living today: Royal Blood, Holy Blood…
[Closing January 14, 2005]
Gold necklace and earrings set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds
South India; 19th century
Necklace: 50 cm length; earrings 5 x 2.4 x 0.6 cm, each
Susan L. Beningson Collection
Photo: Benjamin Harris B.S.K.
The delicate and precious objects from Susan L. Beningson's collection of Indian jewelry make an intimate exhibition. But their very intricacy invites a much closer inspection, so one should plan to linger in this small gallery.
Although primarily of wonderfully worked or cast gold, most of the objects are richly encrusted with glittering precious stones. Interesting to note that Indian Potentates—and Mughal Emperors in particular—were fascinated by great gleaming stones, usually not faceted in the European style.
[Closing January 2, 2005]
These beautiful bronzes are all small-scale but they are often breath-taking in their execution. The Frick is the only venue for the showing of masterpieces from the Quentin Collection. Among the sculptors represented are Giambologna, the two Susinis, Franco Fanelli, Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, & Hendrick de Keyser.
The influences of Classical Antiquity are everywhere apparent. Among the treasures: Giambologna's wonderful nude Mars, the nude wrestlers, Hercules & Antaeus, Fanelli's Mercury & Cupid, and Adrian de Vries' Allegorical Deity Seated on Grotesques.
Mounted in small gold frames, these wonderfully observant portraits of older and wiser men than are now on Public View are from Domenico Tiepolo's etchings in Raccolta di Teste, a series of sixty published prints. They were all directly taken from images his famous father, Giambattista Tiepolo, had either painted or sketched. Only 24 of them are on view at the CUNY Center in the old B. Altman building at Fifth and 34th.
[Closing January 9, 2005]
In the European Revolutionary Year of 1848—most of the uprisings failed—Charles Cordier won his first critical attention and public acclaim with a bust of a Sudanese male artists' model, Seïd Ekness.
In Prince Albert's London Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, the bust was shown along with a female bronze bust, African Venus. Queen Victoria bought the pair for her Consort. The Royal Purchase is now on view on Madison Avenue at the Dahesh.
In fact, many of 60 Cordier sculptures on display in the splendid show now at the Dahesh have never before been shown in public. Nor have they previously "got to know each other," even in Cordier's studio. His work was so popular that it seldom stayed on the shelf or in the showroom.
Cordier was the first French sculptor of his time to concentrate his talents on sketching, painting, and sculpting men and women of other races and cultures, emphasizing their facial and physical beauty, rather than any popularly-perceived ethnographic peculiarities or "Otherness."
He was, of course, criticized for this, Greek & Roman classical statues and themes being considered the proper province of Academic artists. That he also used colors on his bronzes—and mixed colored marbles and bronze in his carved statues—outraged the Purists. But he also found many admirers of his creations.
After his death, however, he rapidly descended into oblivion. Only now is his star again rising. Still, I must be a throwback to those Academics of 1848, for I find the mixtures of marbles, with bronze heads or hands, more a stunt than a brilliant artistic statement.
Judge for yourself! This is fascinating show, with many imposing sculptures almost as crowded as a subway at rush-hour.
[Closing January 16, 2005]
No, you won't see any of the Brooklyn Museum's famed adult portraits by John Singer Sargent in this show. The only adults on view are doting mothers with their sons and daughters. A number of these portraits have a very special charm, but individual paintings of lovely young patrician girls are even more impressive.
One of the finest Mother & Son pictures is the Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis, and Her Son Livingston Davis. But Mrs. Carl Meyer and Her Children is also arresting. Then there's also the handsome canvas: Mrs. Knowles and Her Children.
Or study Lady Warwick and Her Son, followed by Essie, Ruby, and Ferdinand, Children of Asher Wertheimer.
Not all the pictures are of the spawn of the wealthy and socially significant. There are some charming early pictures of Italian children of no pedigree. Although Sargent's parents were from Philadelphia, he was born in Florence. He trained in Paris under Carolus-Duran and made his initial reputation in England. But Sargent always thought of himself as an American.
[Closing February 5, 2005]
Immediately downstairs from Sargent's young people are Kehinde Wiley's colorful portraits of vital young New York black men. They do not have the illustrious Wasp backgrounds of Sargent's sitters. In fact, Wiley's Special Method is picking them up off the street, inviting them back to his studio, letting them look a artbooks, and then urging them to choose a painting, pose, era, or costume from the Past which appeals to them. The results are astonishingly vibrant—a vitality which Wiley heightens by enmeshing his subjects in vivid Pop Art design-grids.
[Closing January 9, 2005]
Color and vitality are also hallmarks of the artwork of Romare Bearden, now on view at the Whitney in the largest retrospective ever. Some 150 of his finest works have been borrowed from private collections and museums. To those who know him primarily for his ingenious funky collages, it may come as a surprise to discover his range in styles, subjects, and media.
While there is a great deal of vibrance in Bearden's celebration of Black life and heritage, there is also a darker, grimmer, sharper side to some of his visual meditations on Negroes in American life.
If you cannot get to the Whitney, you should at least get the catalogue. It is itself so vibrant with Bearden's genius, energy, imagination, and his strong sense of color that it could make the ideal Holiday Gift for artlover friends and family!
[Closing January 16, 2005]
Of course you can see splendid Noguchi sculptures in his sculpture-garden out in Queens. And there are special weekend buses to take you there. But why make the trek out to Queens when MoMA has come back home to West 53rd Street?
And the Whitney up on Madison Avenue has an entire floor of Noguchi sculptures and drawings currently on display! These offer a range of his work and suggest his artistic development over time. This show will move to the Hirschhorn in DC. And there's also a handsome catalogue, but it cannot offer the visual and almost tactile—DO NOT TOUCH!—sensations one experiences seeing these abstractions up close.
Not all of the works on view are abstracts, however. The portrait bust of Bucky Fuller is almost vintage Art Deco in its streamlined simplicity. The large marble ring of The Sun at Noon gives a new meaning to Celestial Geometry. But Noguchi's 1934 Death (Lynched Figure) conveys a singular and futile struggle.
This provocative show has excited a lot of interest among art-critics. Some of them—who never thought Germans to have a Sense of Humor—are now more certain of this than ever. Indeed, some of the visual and graphic satires on view are exceedingly strange, even vicious and cruel. But, as Hilton Kramer has suggested, what may seem like savage caricatures by George Grosz and other inter-war artists may also not be far off the mark during the Weimar Republic.
The brilliantly Anti-Nazi collages of John Heartfield—born Herzfeld—use the grotesque as Social Commentary, or downright Anti-Propaganda. He offers a very untraditional German Tannenbaum, or Christmas Tree, with its branches twisted to form Swastikas!
The earliest of the German artists of the Grotesque is noted here as Arnold Böcklin, who enjoyed a brief eminence as a critical favorite, only to be rapidly demoted and derided. Nonetheless, his haunting vision in Isle of the Dead—not on view here, as it is not really grotesque—remains a fine achievement.
It is to the credit of the curators that they have included the movies of Karl Valentin, Munich's favorite clown. Indeed, in the era of silent-films, Valentin was Germany's answer to Charlie Chaplin!
Valentin—in addition to his cabaret performances and movies—even opened a Museum of Curiosities. He was the Ripley of his day! His Wunderkammer was filled with his Rube Goldbergian inventions and fake Prodigies of Nature. Among other artifacts…
Most of these are now preserved in Munich's wonderful Stadtmuseum am Jacobiplatz. Right across the street from the new Jewish Center & Museum! [Currently still under construction, however.]
[Closing January 16, 2005]
Had not such a great effort been made to research the life and work of Friedl Dicker-Brandies—and to find as much of her surviving art and design as possible—this remarkable artist and human-being might have been lost to our memory.
Bauhaus-trained, she later opened an architecture & design atelier with her partner, Franz Singer. First in Berlin, later in Vienna. In the best spirit of Bauhaus artists, they put their considerable talents to work, creating furniture, household utensils, interiors, stage sets & costumes, children's toys, and even materials for schoolroom use.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, she became a Communist and created anti-fascist collage-posters in the style of John Heartfield and Hannah Höch. This change in the political and social scene also led her to abandon Bauhaus aesthetics and develop a very special figurative style. All this is carefully & thoughtfully documented in the show at the Jewish Museum.
She married her second cousin, Pavel Brandies. She had been briefly imprisoned by the Nazis, but she obtained a visa for Palestine. He did not. She would not leave without him, so they were both sent to Theresienstadt. There, she taught children to express their traumatic experiences through art. Before she was sent to die in Auschwitz, she packed two suitcases with their testimonies in art. These drawings have survived. Oddly enough, so did Pavel Brandies…
The Worlds of Art & Education lost a great friend and talent when Friedl Dicker-Brandies was so brutally murdered by the Nazis. It is a blessing that her life and career have now been restored to history and to view through this exhibition and catalogue.
[Closing February 28, 2005]
Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), 1792
John Trumbull (1756-1843)
Oil on canvas
On loan from the collection of Credit Suisse First Boston
This is a most impressively designed and information-packed exhibition. It not only celebrates the 200th Anniversary of Alexander Hamilton's Death in that infamous duel with US Vice-President Aaron Burr, but also the 200th birthday of the New-York Historical Society which is the venue for this fantastic survey of Hamilton's remarkable contributions to the founding and development of the United States of America.
Stephen Vincent Benet once wrote: "Burr, Burr, What have you done?/You've killed great General Hamilton!" Fortunately, 200 years later, Americans can be secure in the knowledge that VP Dick Cheney would certainly not challenge John Edwards to a fatal duel… That is not the way of Modern American Politics: we kill Reputations, rather than lives.
Hamilton was clearly a most gifted and far-sighted man. Even as an orphan—legally a bastard—on St. Croix in the Caribbean, his talents as writer and thinker were apparent. They earned him passage to Colonial America where he rapidly came to General George Washington's attention, both as a courageous officer of artillery and a far-ranging planner.
Washington swiftly advanced him, and his counsels, letters, and essays helped secure for us our incredible Constitution, not to mention our first National Bank, and the New York Post.
One of the more interesting recognitions to emerge from this exhibition—thanks to its generous use of textual quotes—is the essential negativity of the Agrarian Thomas Jefferson to new ideas for developing and securing the economy of the new nation. This Freedom-Loving Aristocratic Virginia Slaveholder was determined to prevent manufacturing from finding a foothold in the new Republic. Americans would remain farmers forever—and buy manufactured goods from Europe: so thought and fought Jefferson—against Hamilton.
[Closing November 5, 2004]
Frankly, this large-scale & colorful exploration of the New York City Subway's History is so interesting & informative that it ought to be extended. Certainly, when it closes, it must be preserved and put on permanent view—perhaps in an abandoned subway station?
In fact, the New York Transit Museum is located in just such a station in Brooklyn Heights.
But here at Grand Central are the Turnstiles: Golden Agers may remember the Miss Turnstiles contests? Here are the wonderfully Art Deco ceramic station decorations and mosaics. Here are models of rolling-stock, old and new. Samples of graphics and advertising over the decades are also on view.
A handsome illustrated free brochure accompanies this show, filling majestic Vanderbilt Hall—once a New York Central Waiting-Room. There is also smaller Transit Museum gallery & shop in Grand Central. When the show is closed, you may be able to get a copy there. You can certainly buy the book of the show, either at the shop or via www.mta.info/museum
The Riders and the Rebirth of City Transit: 25 Years of Advocacy By the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign
This, though small-scale, is an important pendant exhibition to the MTA's own presentation. These exhibition-panels make it clear that the subways would not now be so safe, speedy, attractive, or costumer-convenient, had it not been for the Improvement Activists who continually badger the MTA. There is also a free brochure for this show, obtainable at the Urban Center in the Villard Houses behind Saint Pat's Cathedral.
One of the more impressive developments in recent years at the annual Bregenz Festival is the increase in special exhibitions of artworks, historical and modern. New galleries have sprung up, and the major museums/galleries make a point of summer shows when tourism is at its height. In addition to the provincial Vorarlberg Museum and the Palais Thurn und Taxis, the unusually Post-Modernist Kunsthaus Bregenz can be counted upon to provide a unique showcase each summer for a major—or at least internationally-known—artist. Recent talents so honored include the aesthetically-challenged Jeff Koons and the oddly eclectic Franz West. This past summer, the honorée was none other than Jenny Holzer!
[Closed September/Possible Future Venues]
In addition to projecting some of her famous slogans & mottoes on cliffsides and historic facades in Bregenz and other Austrian cities on or near Lake Constance, Among these was the quarry near Hohenems. Ms. Holzer placed her works to good advantage in the cavernous spaces of the Kunsthaus.
The outdoor Xenon projections of her scrolling monumental texts require 185 mm film and very high-powered Xenon lamps in specially-constructed projectors. The Kunsthaus itself served as one of the projection-surfaces. Also outside the museum were a number of Jenny Holzer Billboards. They showed six sentences—in large letters—chosen from her Truisms and her Survival series.
Among Holzer's texts—in English & German: DON'T PLACE TOO MUCH TRUST IN EXPERTS. ABUSE OF POWER COMES AS NO SURPRISE. SACRIFICING YOURSELF FOR A BAD CAUSE IS NOT A MORAL ACT.
In the lobby of the Kunsthaus an immense tree-trunk was hung overhead. This work is called President, and it is spirally ringed with texts from Henri Cole's To the Forty-Third President.
On the upper floors of the "arthouse," Holzer positioned her famous zipper-sign running-texts. The theme of the entire show was the Involvement of the United States in the Middle East since World War II, up to and beyond 9/11. Most of the texts were taken verbatim from previously classified government documents. Thanks to the so-called Freedom of Information Act, Holzer was able to obtain memos, correspondence, and transcriptions of secret meetings and public testimonies.
Some of the running-quotes from secret Iran-Contra discussions at the highest levels are astonishing. The arts-press was given Xerox-copies of some of these de-classified documents. A letter from General Colin Powell was so heavily censored that it had little more than salutation and closing remaining to be read.
In other documents—also heavily blacked-out—it was unsettling to find the names of retired military officers, subsequently working for the Military-Industrial Complex about which President Dwight D. Eisenhower had warned Americans. One retired general's name was deeply involved with the Iran-Contra scandal, but he has been rehabilitated by the Rumsfeld-Cheney Complex.
It is to be hoped the Bregenz Holzer show will be seen around the United States!
Salzburg's Very Own MoMA: New Museum der Moderne:
For quite some time now, Thomas Krens, the empire-building head of New York's Guggenheim Museum, has tried to get Salzburgers to vote for their very own Guggenheim. But it wouldn't be in an office-building as the Berlin Guggenheim on the Unter den Linden now is. Nor would it be flamboyant explosion of titanium sheeting as is the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Not at all. Krens' idea—with plans by Hans Hollein, the amazing Post-Modernist Austrian architect who created the bizarre Haas Haus across the square from St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna—is to hide it inside the great granite Mönschberg mountain which shelters the Old City of Salzburg. Twice voters have rejected the project. But some things are sure to happen with persistence and the Passage of Time.
In the meantime, to offer an alternative Salzburg venue for exhibition of Modern Art—the historic tract of the Rupertinum being too oddly shaped and too small for really great shows, the beloved Café Winkler, sited atop the Mönschberg, was reduced to rubble so that a truly soulless series of cavernous halls could be created for the new Museum der Moderne. Salzburg's own MoMA.
One of the leading local political and cultural leaders has said: "We have to make the best of it." But it is an obvious disappointment to those who know something about architecture and arts-display spaces.
When New York's MoMA opened its first major enlargement—some years before the current enlargements and re-alignments—in conjunction with an apartment-tower which was supposed to provide some income, it was to be hoped that the long, large new galleries would permit more display of the permanent collections. That was not to be. Artists like Joseph Stella and others simply painted larger, longer canvases to fill up the space. With no appreciable gain and artistic achievement…
Salzburg has no great & historic permanent collections of Modern Art to require such vast spaces, however. So the opening exhibition had to fill the spaces as best it could. Next festival-season, this MoMA on the Salzach may have something more original and interesting to show?
The solution for filling the spaces—which are not only cavernous, but also dark—has been to sprinkle some projections, some video-installations, and some large-scale standing art-installations in the foyer and three other floors of the new Museum der Moderne.
All the works are concerned with Light, as "light is the source that makes optical phenomena possible." Ben Vautier's quote seems to have been the curators' Guiding Light: "There is no art without light."
You know, even in German, That Is So True!
Some of the artworks are actually original and provocative. Others are mindless space-fillers. Obviously, Jenny Holzer's electronic zipper-strips and projections of slogans and mottoes could not be left out of such a show. Although Salzburg hates to cede any credit to Bregenz, which has just celebrated Holzer's art in such a Very Big Way.
Other international artists on view—and in the Light: Tracey Emin, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Jack Pierson, Darren Almond, Pipilotti Rist, Carsten Höller, Olafur Eliasson, and Won Ju Lim!
This show was followed, on 23 October 2004, by Vision: einer sammlung.
Down in the Old Town, the Rupertinum offered two small-scale shows in its odd spaces. The Gustav Klimt exhibition was instructive and provocative. Art Nouveau and Germanic Jugendstil—styles and subjects—were examined not only in terms of Klimt's dazzling creations, but also those of others interested in new movements in art, freed of the Academic. Such tags as Symbolism, Death, Rapture, Soulscape, Sleep and Death, Still Waters, Deep Waters were evoked as subject-areas.
Fernand Khnopff: Sphinx & Tote Stadt
Eric Wolfgang Korngold's neglected opera, Die tote Stadt, was an important premiere at the Salzburg Festival, so visual references to this so-called Dead City, sketched and painted by the Belgian Symbolist, Fernand Khnopff —who lived in Bruges, the haunting site of the opera, were especially welcomed in festival-time. Khnopff even designed the cover for Georges Rodenbach's symbolist novel, Bruges-la-Morte, which was the inspiration for the opera.
Salzburg Looks Forward To Mozart-Jahr 2006 With New HAUS FÜR MOZART
Actually, the new Salzburg House for Mozart will not be an entirely new Festival Theatre. It is, in fact, the old Kleines Festspielhaus, made over. "Conversion" is the operative word. Its stage-areas have already been completed, with work on the auditorium and foyers proceeding currently. Video simulations of the interiors make it seem almost clinically sterile and simple in the public-areas, but the auditorium is made more vital with lots of intense red and glowing white light.
But the only thing that really matters is the acoustic of the renovated auditorium. The public won't know about that until 2006, apparently. The auditorium will be broadened, shortened, and lowered, with the creation of two curving spectator-circles above the main-floor. Nonetheless, the side balcony sight-lines do not seem much changed or improved in the plans. The house will seat 1,650, 270 more seats than before.
It's to be hoped no harm will be done to the historic chamber linking this theatre to the Felsenreitschule, the great manège of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. This noble hall has an immense baroque ceiling fresco of a Medieval Tournament, in which beheaded Turks seem to be getting the worst of it.
This is not the first time architect-founder Clemens Holzmeister's plans for the Salzburg Festival's first proper opera-theatre have been altered. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Austria—after the infamous Anschluss—he ordered the auditorium reconformed to his own architectural ideas. He also ordered the destruction of the Art Deco-styled Faistenauer frescoes in the front foyer destroyed.
Fortunately, they were carefully stored after removal—not destroyed—and most of the sections have been returned to their proper places. The entire work will be restored for 2006.
If only Vienna had admitted the young Hitler to the Arts Academy, how different the 20th Century might have been!
In Edinburgh: CONSERVATION LIVE At National Galleries of Scotland:
Rescuing Benjamin West's Immense Painting: Alexander III of Scotland Rescued from the Fury of a Stag by the Intrepidity of Colin Fitzgerald:
The 18th century American-born artist Benjamin West—a mentor of Gilbert Stuart—was a master of the Historical Scene. But he outdid himself in celebrating Scotland's historic king, Alexander III. This vast painting covers a mind-boggling nineteen square meters of canvas! The monumental painting covers an entire wall of the National Gallery of Scotland!
Unfortunately, after a restoration early in the 20th century, a varnish-layer was added which has over time oxidized severely. It formed an almost opaque yellowish over-layer. This not only ruins a viewer's perception of West's original colors and their vibrant vitality, but it also flattens the figures, making them less impressive in their violent actions.
There is no room in the National Gallery to which this great painting could properly be moved and cleaned. So it is being restored in situ on its wall, and visitors to the museum can watch the progress. This is a fascinating experience. And there is a fine color-brochure available to explain what is involved in this work.
If you plan to attend the Edinburgh Festival & Fringe in August 2005, you will surely want to check out Alexander III. The work may still be in progress. But it it's completed, so much the better!
You could also visit the new Scottish Parliament—which has to be one of the most peculiar Post-Post-Modernist Public Buildings recently constructed. Its window-treatments alone make it a bizarre oddity! [Loney]
Copyright © Glenn Loney 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, Curator's Choice." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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