Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Negativity squared.

Prepare to be bored with another land art adventure.

In my never ending quest to visit the West’s best claim to art-world fame, on my first day in Vegas we rented a car and headed to another remote land art destination. This time it was Michael Heizer’s Double Negative located a couple hours outside of Las Vegas in the wilds of Nevada.

Created in 1969 and 1970, this is the work that put Heizer on the fine-art map. Land art was all the rage at that moment in history, with Robert Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty completed in 1970 and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels created in 1976.

Double Negative asks many of the questions for which Heizer is famous. Mainly, what happens if art isn’t about building something, but instead about taking something away? Double Negative creates a rectangular void that spans a large ravine. As Heizer himself said, “There is nothing there, and yet it is still a sculpture.” God love the crazy artist.

This work is massive and challenging. It doesn’t offer the intrigue and charm of Spiral Jetty. But it is engaging. I wanted to see it because rumor has it that Michael Heizer’s City (another massive land art project that’s been under construction since 1972) is going to be open to the public in 2010 and I wanted to see this work before I experience City.

Double Negative is hard to find, largely because the work is fading into the landscape—and the artist doesn’t mind. The work is owned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (although I’m not sure what it means to own this.) And the artist has given very explicit instructions that Double Negative is not to be restored or conserved. Rather, nature should be left to tend to the sculpture.

And nature is doing its job. Double Negative is cut into very soft strata. The once sharp edges have now softened, to the point that it almost feels like a natural phenomenon. And yet, it still inspires.

I’m sad there are no land artists today. Because trekking to the middle of nowhere, driving through the remotest areas of rural America, meeting new people, experiencing works of art on the most massive of scales, and discovering new landscapes so remote you’d never be there without the art is intensely rewarding.

Here are pictures from the North side of Double Negative:

Here are pictures from the South side of Double Negative.

Monday, September 28, 2009

And now, the return of the Flirtcam.

For years, I seldom went out without my Polaroid i-Zone camera. The i-Zone, with its postage-size instant photos, was the perfect icebreaker. Snap a quick picture of strangers and give it to them, and you’re suddenly friends. It was the ultimate Flirtcam. Even today, some of my best friends are people I met by giving them a Polaroid while out on the town. Unfortunately, i-Zone film was one of the earliest casualties as Polaroid killed off its entire line of instant film.

But Polaroid is back with its new Pogo printing technology and this spring they launched a digital camera with a Pogo printer build in. It may signal the return of the Flirtcam. It’s not as immediate as the i-Zone. And the quality is even worse. But, as I discovered on my recent trip to Vegas, the reaction a Pogo photo elicits from strangers is very similar that of an i-Zone.

On our way to the strip for a night on the town we ran into BMX racer John (in town for a BMX awards show) and his friends Courtney and Mathieu. After a couple of instantly-printed Pogo photos, we were suddenly friends. We spent hours wandering the strip, hitting the casinos, and enjoying Vegas nightlife. I don’t think I got back to my room until well after 4:00 a.m. Oh the power of the Flirtcam.

One difference with the Pogo is that it’s a digital camera. So I can keep a copy of the picture even after I’ve given away a print. Here then, are a few photos of John, Courtney, and Mathieu as well as some of the Flirtcam friends we made at the Pet Shop Boys concert.

Me and Felix with John (left) and Mathieu (right).

From left to right it's Mathieu, John, and Courtney.

And a few of our Pet Shop Boys Flirtcam friends.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Boys will be Pet Shop Boys.

The official reason for my visit to Las Vegas? The Pet Shop Boys Pandemonium Tour live at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel. This is my third time to see The Boys and as always, they delivered. Let’s start with the staging. Imagine you’re hangin out with the Pet Shop Boys talking about what they might do to make their upcoming tour amazing. And you suggest, “How about if we build the entire set with cardboard boxes?” And everybody says, “That’s a great idea, let’s do it.”

That’s what I imagine happened for this show. Because guess what, virtually the entire set is made from large, white cardboard boxes. And it’s so cool, you’re well into the concert before figure out what’s going on. But then, when the initial wall of boxes comes crashing down to the stage (only to reveal an even bigger wall of white, cardboard boxes), and stage hands dressed in white hard hats and lab coats start reassembling the fallen boxes into an series of platforms, you realize this is no ordinary pop show.

Part of what makes the cardboard so cool is the projection technology. The boxes are transformed into constantly changing motion and color. The Pet Shop Boys like their multimedia and this show is a multimedia dream.

Of course none of this matters if the music isn’t any good. But with one of the most distinctive sounds in music, serious live performance skills, and a never ending supply of dancetastic hits, it's impossible not to get swept up in the magic of a Pet Shop Boys concert. And you haven’t experienced Euro pop until you’ve been part of the crowd when the Pet Shop Boys sing It’s a Sin. It’s the definition of crazy, fun gay irony.

One of the things I like best about Pet Shop Boys concerts is the crowd. I’ve been to a lot of concerts but I’ve never seen fans like Pet Shop Boys fans. These are people who grew up with Chris and Neil and many of them know every lyric to every song. And they’ll be happy to tell you where they were the first time they heard each song. They love the Pet Shop Boys' emotional, smart, intoxicating music and they love that it's a just whole lotta fun. I also like how easy it is to make new friends at a Pet Shop Boys concert. Everyone wants to be your friend.

Toward the end of the concert, the big box wall begins to fall. But in a moment that was more magical than anything Chris Angel put on stage, the boxes freeze and hang suspended in mid fall. The crowd goes wild and we can hardly wait to see what the Pet Shop Boys do next.

Here are few picture from the concert. Sorry for the blur but concert photos are tough.

The most beautiful, worst show I've ever seen.

On my recent trip to Vegas, we decided to get some last minute show tickets and since Felix refused to see Donnie and Marie, we ended up seeing Chris Angel Believe at the Luxor. The show is another spectacle imagined by the wizards of Cirque du Soleil. And as is the Cirque way, this show is beautiful right from the moment you walk through the doors. The halls are lined with amazing lenticulars featuring Angel and other characters from the show appearing to change mystically. Lenticulars are used even more effectively behind the bar in the theater. Here a rich red curtain appears to part revealing magical rabbits.

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Then there’s the stage with one of the best red curtains I’ve seen, all surrounded by a gilt proscenium sculpted with more magic rabbits. And as you’d expect with Cirque du Soleil, there was an amazing cast of dancers dressed in a spectacle of costumes.

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Even with all that, this show still sucks. Why? Well, because of Chris Angel. Angel performs a whole bunch of standard, boring magic tricks that you’ve seen a million times before. Not once during the show did I find myself asking, “Wow, how did he do that?” (Except maybe when he showed the video clip from his TV show.) Sure, I may not know the particulars of the tricks, but I had a pretty good idea about the general principles for each trick.

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I know it sounds harsh, but Chris Angel Believe would be a whole lot better without Chris Angel. Maybe Donnie and Marie wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A peach of a diner.

By the way, if you’re on your way back from the Spiral Jetty, take the back roads into Brigham City and you’ll drive by the Peach City Diner. Stop. It’s a great small-town diner with a staff that’s so friendly you’ll feel like a local. The diner’s been around since the 1930s and it makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. I particularly liked the trio of servers with identical (and strange) hairdos. And the waffle fries are amazing. Also, don’t pass up the lime rickeys.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New at Lagoon: Land Art Land!

Recently, I made a return visit to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. As we drove past Lagoon we had a total art-geek moment, imagining that near Lagoon's Pioneer Village or Kiddie Town we’d find Land Art Land. You’d be able to ride The Spiral Jetty, rickety carts that spiral downward on a precarious track. Or how about The Sun Tunnels? Spinning, twisty tunnels that randomly flash lights in the shape of constellations. Or maybe The Double Negative, a thrilling, gravity-defying zip line over a rocky gorge.
OK, only an art geek would laugh as hard as we did. But we in the Rocky Mountain West don’t have much when it comes to destination art. Land Art may be our one claim to fame. And after my second visit to Spiral Jetty, I think that fame is well deserved.
I’m guessing Smithson would be pretty dang happy with the way the whole Spiral Jetty thing is going. I last visited exactly five years ago when, thanks to a long drought, the Jetty had emerged from the Great Salt Lake. It was beautiful, crystallized white with sparkling salt diamonds. It almost disappeared against a vast expanse of blindingly white salt flats.

This trip, the blindingly white salt flats remained. But the Jetty’s salt crystals have worn away revealing a dramatic black-rock spiral. It was beautiful in a whole new way. OK, it’s a trek to get to the Spiral Jetty. (And the last ten miles of rocky dirt road are tough traveling.) But the trip was worth the inspiration. I plan to visit this and other Land Art destinations more often.
Here are a few photos from my recent visit to Robert Smithson’s intriguing Spiral Jetty.
Felix at the epicenter of the Spiral Jetty.

Me on the hike to the hill above Spiral Jetty.

Amazing orange lichen on the black rocks in the surrounding area.
Sunflowers are everywhere on the road to Spiral Jetty.
My white tennies against the blinding salt flats.
And finally a few random photos of the Spiral Jetty.

Dance is back.

With the arrival of fall, it’s not just school that’s back in season. The local arts groups are back at it. And that means preseason performances that get us ready for the official start of the performing arts season. So here are two quick reviews of early dance performances.
Momentum Elevated
This is the Ririe-Woodbury alumni performance bringing several past dancers back for works choreographed by many of the dancers. This year’s show left me a little cold. It felt more like a school dance recital than a professional contemporary dance performance. One big reason? The casting. There were 20 female dancers (many of whom were students) with only three male performers. That’s a ratio you usually find at a high school dance recital, where real men don’t dance.
But I’ll focus on the positive. Like two works by current Ririe-Woodbury dancer Caine Keenan. He’s the dancer I love to hate. I’ve been watching him for years and he always comes across as a snob. So I could hardly wait to tear his works apart. But damn you Cain Keenan, you’re work was some of the best on the program. His self-choreographed solo Elre was athletic, beautiful, and surprisingly humble. And Act 4, Scene 7 Line 180 featuring “six fierce Ophelias” demonstrated a surprisingly mature perspective.
The other pleasant performances came courtesy of Jill Voorhees Edwards. She choreographed and performed two works. Les Filles started with Jill facing away from the audience back muscles (beautifully lit) were a character in themselves. And Shed performed by Jill and Jillian Harris was brilliant.

An open rehearsal from Ririe-Woodbury.

A more exciting preview performance was a recent open rehearsal for Ririe-Woodbury’s reconstruction of Alwin Nikolais’s Kaleidoscope Suite. I’m a longtime Nikolais fan, mainly because Ririe-Woodbury is something of an official repository of Nikolais choreography. This is the 14th Nikolais work to be set on the company. You’d be hard pressed to find many other companies in the world that know so much Nikolais choreography.

Kaleidoscope was choreographed in 1956. And as is the case with most of Alwin’s works, it is surprisingly current. The evening featured four segments from the full work.
The excerpts featured the expected props, lighting, original music, and costumes that you expect from Alwin Nikolais. But what surprised me more were the themes that now seem so evident. Themes that explore tension and balance. Take the opening excerpt performed almost entirely on one leg. I’m still not sure how the dancers did it. Or the beautiful male trio featuring dancers constrained by elastic bands, reminiscent of Tensile Involvement.
The fourth excerpt lampooned the fashion industry, a devious demonstration of the futility of trying to keep up with current trends.
Unfortunately, we won’t get to see the full-length work any time soon. That’s because the work will premiere in New York City in May of Next year as part of the international Alwin Nikolais Centennial Celebration. But I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m always surprised at how popular Ririe-Woodbury is in the rest of the world. Their shows sell out in cities everywhere, from New York to Paris. But there are always plenty of seats here in Salt Lake City. Let’s hope we’ll get to see the full Kaleidoscope performance during the 2009-10 season.