Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The next great, gay memoirist.

You know the names.  Truman Capote. Augusten Burroughs. David Rakoff.  Simon Doonan. And of course, David Sedaris.  Just a few of the great gay memoirists.  

Now, we're watching the newest gay-memoirist's life unfold. In 15 to 20 years we'll be reading his best seller. It's latest chapter was a moment on the premiere of Dancing with the Stars, Season 10.  I'm talking about Kate Gosselin, famous for her role as a mother of eight.  And with eight kids, the chances are pretty dang high there's a gay in the bunch. And with a gay in the bunch, who has a crazy childhood that's broadcast on a reality TV show called Jon and Kate Plus Eight, he's bound to write about it.

I can see the chapter now.  He sees his slightly-crazy mom in her beautiful, pink, rhinestone-clad princess dress, waltzing gracefully on national TV. And suddenly he knows what he wants.  He moves to New York, gets hooked on the hot, trendy new drug (a substance we haven't even herd of yet), tries drag (but only once), and falls in love with a Frenchman. It's hilarious!

With that in mind, I offer this advice to the Plus Eight.  Take notes. Write down your feelings. Work hard in your writing classes.  And above all, embrace the craziness that is your family. Then, about the time you're 20, find a job in publishing so your humorous voice can get the notice it deserves.

I promise, I'll be one of the first to buy your best-selling book.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What do artists see when they look in the mirror?

What's more fun that a trip to Happy Valley?  And by Happy Valley, I mean Brigham Young University; my alma mater; the BYU.  These days there's pretty much just one reason I head back to the BYU and that reason is art.  Because ever since the BYU Museum of Art hired Jeff Lambson as the curator of contemporary art, the institution has had some of the best contemporary shows in the state.  

The current show, Mirror Mirror: Contemporary Portraits and the Fugitive Self is no exception.  Right from the start, this exhibit sucks you in and makes you pay attention not only to the artworks, but also to the artists behind the work.  Even the exhibit statement is engaging.  At the entrance to the show you find this:

But turn around and align yourself within the human-shaped outline of type, and you find this.  I like it when the curators make me smile.

I'm not going to say much more about the show in general other than you should see it.  And that it's great to see an exhibit that features so many young artists, many born in the 1970s.  Rather than offer much more commentary, I'll just share a few of my picks from Mirror Mirror.

Near the entrance is a mesmerizing, backlit image created from Plexiglas and packaging tape.  Yes, you can express this much emotion with packaging tape.

Ani and Sofie (Packaging tape on Plexiglas in lightbox, 2007), Mark Khaisman.

You don't get to see much of Takashi Murakami's work in Utah.  But here you get to see a whole set of Mr. Dob (one of Murakami's favorite characters) prints. 

All of these works are entitled And Then and Then and Then and Then and Then with each version titled with Lemon Pepper, Green Truth, Yellow Jelly, Cream, Hello, Kappa, or untitled (Screen print, 2006), Takashi Murakami.

This work by Rebecca Campbell is spectacular.  It's an avocado tree that is meticulously covered in black velvet. The workmanship is beautiful, a tribute to her mother's domestic skills.  Perched on the tree are glass birds filled with bright blue Windex. This sculpture spoke to me about what makes us human and how our families and our surroundings influence who we are.  I loved it.

Do you really want to hurt me? (Avocado tree, velvet, steel, fiberglass, Windex, glass, bronze, 2009), Rebecca Campbell.

My inner old lady won't let me with leave this exhibit without mentioning Julie Moos's photographs of ladies with hats.

Hat Ladies, Mrs. Watkins and Mrs. Craig (Chromogenic print, 2000 - 2001), Julie Moos.

The exhibit features a series of amazing oil paintings by Mary Henderson.  These were perfectly realistic and yet somehow strange.

Reservists (Oil on panel, 2008), Mary Henderson.

I've been a big Julian Opie fan for a long time and some of his best works are the graphic portraits like this one.  He's become a bit of a superstar with on of his iconic LED works featured prominently in U2's 2005 tour.

Gary, Popstar (Screenprint, 1998-1999), Julian Opie.

These weren't my favorite works in the show, but as people who work on advertising campaigns for Microsoft education, Felix and I couldn't help but laugh at these photos by Dawoud Bay which feel like images from the Microsoft education photo library only without all those happy smiles.  Somehow, these feel more honest.

BYU graduate Valerie Atkisson created a precise family tree with more than 4,000 entries that track her ancestry back to Claudius, King of the Franks, who lived in 9 A.D. What I loved most about this is that each final segment of the line had open copper rings, as if waiting for the next tiny child to add to the lineage.  I couldn't help but consider that the ring attached to my name would remain forever empty.

Hanging Family History (Patriarchally Oriented) (Rice paper, copper, wire, ink, 2009), Valerie Atkisson.

Last but not least, I'll offer some important advice if you choose to visit Mirror Mirror.  Plan your visit around the lighting of the mustache in the sculpture garden.  I wasn't aware we needed to do this and so we missed the lighting.  We would have had to wait several hours to see the next lighting.  Here's what Andrew Sexton's whimsical Self Portrait (Steel, propane, rubber, and fire, 2009) looks like without the fire.

And here's what it looks like with the fire.  (I took this photo from the museum's website.)

I know I've shown a lot here.  But believe me, there's plenty more to see that's just as interesting and engaging.  You can see Mirror Mirror now through May 8, 2010.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The All New, Updated, Complete Polaroid History of Leslie Hall in Salt Lake City.

Leslie Hall returned to Salt Lake City last weekend and she just keeps getting better.  She's slimmer and sexier than ever and her show sparkles with even more glittery sounds.  And while you may have recently seen The Complete Polaroid History of Leslie Hall in Salt Lake City, that slide show is now out of date.  So here is the revised version, complete with six new Polaroids of the Gem Diva herself, resplendent in gold spandex and with hair that's bigger and better than ever.  One note: I'm now down to using Polaroid film that is years past the expiration date so the color just isn't as good as with fresh film.  But I'm hopeful that with Lady Gaga using an old school Polaroid in her most recent video with Beyonce, that we'll see the return of my favorite photo technology. Thanks to Felix for scanning and color correcting which made the new photos look a lot better.

And now, The All New, Updated, Complete Polaroid History of Leslie Hall in Salt Lake City. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book eight: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

I can't seem to escape the books with Brits.  First there was Pride and Prejudice.  Then it was The Uncommon Reader. And I just finished Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a novel caught somewhere between Jane Austen and the 21st Century. 

This is the story of an old-school brit, Major Pettigrew.  He's a widower who's brother has just died.  And that means two antique rifles (given to his father by the Maharajah for saving a young wife) should now be united.  The father had split them at his death giving one to each of his sons with the understanding that whoever died last would reunite the pair.

But there's a whole lot more to this story. There's the village shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali, a mature women of Indian descent who enters the Major's life at a time when he seems convinced that romance is no longer option.  Add to that the ladies of the local country club planning their annual theme ball, a son who just can't relate to his father's traditional ways, and a few outrageous Americans, and you have a story that's just delightful.  And it's all wrapped in some top notch writing.

For a first-time novelist, Simonson is a dang good writer, with a voice that captures both the British stiff upper lip and the vulnerability of an improbable romance.  She can even hold her own when the story turns toward action adventure.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a lot of fun and filled with humanity.  So it gets a solid Read It! rating.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wallace (Squared).

Plan B Theatre Company's production of Wallace is the story of two famous Utah Wallaces.  The play, written by Jenifer Nii and Debora Threedy tells the story of Wallace Stegner (Pulitzer Prize winning writer, environmentalist, and graduate of the University of Utah) and Wallace Thurman (American novelist during the Harlem Renaissance who was born in Salt Lake City).  While the two were born within ten years of each other, Thurman died at the young age of 32 while Stegner lived well into his 80s.

Strong performances by the actors (Carleton Bluford as Stegner and Richard Scharine as Thurman) couldn't save this play from tedium.  To be fair, that may be more because of my lack of knowledge than the actual performance.  Maybe I needed a greater knowledge of the central characters to truly understand the material.  And while I've often said that the only way to really enjoy opera is to study up before the performance, I'm not sure I think I should be expected to do homework before attending a play.

Additionaly, I waited the entire performance for the two stories to come together in some meaningful way.  For me, it never happened.  Possibly a conversation with the playwrites would have helped to shed some light on the intention.  Although I suspect that just because two guys with Utah ties, born in a similar time period, and who share the name may not have as much in common as you might hope.

I don't want to sound like a total negatron, so I'll once again commend both actors for strong performances.  And the staging was also commendable, which is no small feat in the tiny studio theater at the Rose Wagner.  I've seen a lot of performances in that space that faulter.  Plan B always uses the space brilliantly even when the production is minimalistic like this one.

The show runs through March 14.  But tickets may be hard to come buy.  Even when I purchased mine last week the run was nearly sold out, a testament to Jerry Rapier's dedication and smart marketing.

A related note: Trent Call's paintings collectively called Uconoclasts are currently on display in the main lobby of the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. A departure from the style I associate with Call's painting style, these small portraits somehow feel historical and contemporary at the same time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Vintage Vancouver.

OK, so the Olympics are over and I've long since returned from Vancouver but before the memories fade, I still have a few experiences I want to commit to the Art Lobster.  So here is final, mish-mash of photos and stories that don't really relate to each other but didn't seem quite big enough to be their own posts.

Take for example, Code 2. As you may recall, there were four venues for Vancouver's digital arm of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad called Code.  Code 2 was at the Vancouver City Library.

Before we get to the installation, a word about the library.  I've heard and even read the criticisms that the Salt Lake City downtown library is little more than a rebuild of the Vancouver downtown library.  And I can see why people make the comparison. 

Here is a shot of the exterior of Vancouver's library:

And here, an exterior shot of the Salt Lake library:

The atrium in Vancouver.

The atrium in Salt Lake City.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I could find my way around the Vancouver library with little assistance just because the layouts are so similar. 

But I don't think the criticism that Salt Lake's building is just a repeat of Vancouver's is valid.  That would be like saying that the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. is just a rebuild of the Guggenheim Bilbao.  Sure they're similar.  And they both present works of great art.  But the similarity is more a reflection of the design aesthetic of Frank Gehry than of a repeat.  Likewise, the libraries of Vancouver and Salt Lake City represent the design sensibility of Moshe Safdie.  And when you really start to look at the two buildings, there are dramatic differences in the final products.

But enough about libraries.  Let's talk about Code 2, an installation held inside the Vancouver library.  This installation had something to do with the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Truce.  The accompanying explanatory text was a little vague but I guess we're all hopeful that an Olympic Truce will prevent some of the tragic political occurrences of Olympics past.  The idea was this:

Write your suggestion for furthering world peace (like "travel the world and make friends") on a piece of paper.

Fold and tape the paper according to the instructions.

Then load the the folded paper into a contraption that blew air through a very long plastic tube.  (Unfortunately my photo of this portion of the installation doesn't quite demonstrate its visual interest.) Your hope for world peace is then carried high into the library atrium where it blows out the top of the tune and flutters downward until it lands in a net above the spectators. 

Some of the folded papers had blinking LED lights attached to the tips which made the mass of peaceful wishes twinkle like so many stars. I'm not sure what it all meant but it was sure fun to watch.  And it elicited a constant chorus of oooohs and aaaaahs from the mesmerized crowd.

On another subject, you may think I was kidding when I said the Winter Olympics in Vancouver would have been more appropriately called the Spring Olympics.  But on a walk through Vancouver's West End, the sky was blue the trees were in bloom, and winter was nowhere in sight.

The Royal Mounted Canadian Police are just cool, as is evidenced by this photo from the opening ceremonies.

There were several Mantique men's clothing stores in Vancouver although only one had this spiffy neon sign.  I'm sure the name is designed to be a mash up of "man" and "boutique."  But I read it in a different way.  I wondered how old one has to be before he's a mantique?  Am I a mantique?  Does one go "mantiquing" on the weekends?

And with that, I bid Vancouver a fond farewell with the hope I'll return someday soon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It's just another spring day in Utah.

It's spring in Utah and that means unpredictable weather. Like yesterday's lunchtime turn from warm and sunny to cold, wet, and windy.  And then there's this, spotted just this morning in my front yard.  The season's first miniature iris, in bloom just in time for a soggy spring snowstorm.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book seven: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet.

Remember the excitement of reading as a kid? I'm not talking about children's books. I'm talking about those first "real" books you read.  Books with more than 15 or 20 pages.  Books with no pictures.  My first "real" book was a biography of Harry Houdini that I checked out from the Washakie County Library.  The library was in a building that was formerly the hospital where I was born. (As a child, when asked where I was born I was known to answer, "the library.") The Harry Houdini book ignited my imagination.  As kids do, I read the book, reread the book, and then read it again. I wondered what it would be like to live during the time of Harry Houdini. To know Harry Houdini. TO BE Harry Houdini.  And then I lamented my extreme misfortune, being born in a time and place that wouldn't allow me to even see Harry Houdini perform.

As a kid and youread more and more, it gets harder and harder to find that same sense of wonder in books.  Maybe we all just get a little jaded. So imagine my excitement when, for the first time in a long time, I read a book that, if it didn't ignite my imagination, it certainly gave it a good jolt. That book is Alan Bennett's novella, The Uncommon Reader.  The story opens with the Queen (yes that Queen) discovering a mobile library truck outside the palace (a brilliantly silly construct).  Inside the Queen meets a young reader named Norman who works in the royal kitchen (and has a penchant for books by gay authors). Out of a sense of duty, the Queen checks out her first book. Her royal sensibilities have prevented her from reading in the past. However those same sensibility encourage the Queen to read the borrowed book.  And she likes it well enough.  Norman is promoted out the kitchen to become the royal literary adviser.  The Queen becomes obsessed with the joys of reading. And the rest of the court and country are dismayed by the whole affair. 

The Uncommon Reader is a short, love letter to the book lovers everywhere. It's a jewel of a tale that can be enjoyed in an afternoon.  It's packed with wonderful images like the Queen calling the library to apologize yet again for her dogs, who've chewed up another book because they too have grown weary of the royal reading habits.

Just like reading as a kid, this book inspired wonder. What would it be like to know the Queen? How fun would it be to talk books with HRH?  Imagine recommending a book to my friend and fellow book lover, THE QUEEN!  The Uncommon Reader is a must read for anyone who loves books.  And it's the perfect read for anyone who wishes they loved books.  The Uncommon Reader gets a great big, warm and fuzzy Read It! rating.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Art Lobster: Lady Gaga edition.

In support of my theory that artists are helplessly drawn to the creative power of the lobster, I give you this.  All hail the Gaga Lobster.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Complete Polaroid History of Leslie Hall in Salt Lake City.

Since her rise to fame, gem-sweater diva Leslie Hall has made it to Salt Lake City three times.  I've been to all three performances with fellow fan Felix and my trusty Polaroid, recording the strangeness that is Leslie Hall.  Leslie is set to return to Salt Lake City later this month.  In honor of her upcoming performance, I'm posting a slideshow of Polaroids from the last three performances.  The photos are from the these dates: 

March 9, 2007 at the Pickle Company
March 14, 2008 at Kilby Court
March 28, 2009 at Kilby Court

Of course, I'll be there at the Urban Lounge on March 13 for the return of Leslie and Ly's to Salt Lake City.  And I'll have my Polaroid ready to capture all the festivities.

And now, the Complete Polaroid History of Leslie Hall in Salt Lake City.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In search of the Chow Truck.

After my culinary adventure in Vancouver with the Japadog, I resolved to look for more street food opportunities. So on my return to Salt Lake City, I started looking for new urban food stands.  I was delighted to learn of the Chow Truck and immediately went about planning a trip.
The first trick is to find the Chow Truck.  The truck has no set schedule but fortunately posts its weekly stops on the Web.  Learning that the truck would be making a stop at Trolley Square, I convinced coworkers Reid (who someday hopes to open Salt Lake City's answer to Japadog) and Kara to join me for a trip to the Chow Truck. The food was terrific. Here are a few photos:

The lines aren't as long as at Japadog, but there was a steady stream of customers.

Reid and Kara wait impatiently for their orders.

Self portrait with Chow Truck. 

Reid started with the flash-fried calamari dusted with Asian spice.

Kara opted for tacos, one with coconut-lemon grass chicken and one with ginger-pineapple pork.

I enjoyed a taco and a spicy beef slider with cilantro-chile pesto, Asian slaw, and wonton crunchies.

Here I am enjoying lunch.  Yum!

Book Six: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

These days it seems like Jane Austen is everywhere, with all the rewrites of her books and the endless articles about Austen, her novels, and their influences on contemporary romance stories.  Combine that with the fact that my desk is right next to my friend Kara's who is a bit of an Austen expert, I decided it was time for me to read a Jane Austen novel.  Yes, I have to admit that I've never read anything by Jane Austen.

Based on an article on Salon.com, I decided to read Pride and Prejudice. The first half of the book had me worried.  It was a little tedious and it took me a while to adjust to the historical language. But by the time I got to the second half of the book, and the story cut loose, I could hardly put it down. The second half owes much its excitement to the first half, which is the perfect set-up for the delightful machinations that make the ending so rewarding. Here are a few of the things I like about the book:

Letter writing. Pride and Prejudice made me want to write letters.  I loved the fact that whole days were planned around the writing and reading of letters. Text messaging just doesn't create the same sense of anticipation that an old-fashioned, well-crafted letter can. And when those letters are filled with juicy gossip or expressions of young love, they become a perfect literary device to drive a plot forward.

Mrs. Bennett.  This busy body reminds us all that sometimes when kids are mortally embarrassed by their parents, it's for a darn good reason. Her dialogue is some of the best and funniest in the book. I'm pushing a new colloquialism; "A Mrs. Bennett."  As in, "My dad pulled a total Mrs. Bennett when he started dancing the robot at my birthday party."

The language of courtship. I regularly found myself charmed by the innocent conversations of Austen's courting couples.  Although to a modern ear, the conversations are sometimes filled with innuendo that I doubt is the original intent.  The book is packed with phrases that would make fantastic euphemisms. Let's just say that if I ever suggest we "take a turn in the garden," it won't involve a walk in the woods.  With all the rewrites of Pride and Prejudice, I'm considering a version where I strategically insert the phrase "that's what she said" throughout the book.

Elizabeth. For a story that takes a decidedly antiquated attitude towards women's role in relationships and society, Elizabeth is an absolute powerhouse.  Outspoken, independent, and smart, she's a character that I'd like to know. There's more than just a hint of early feminism in this story.

Pride and Prejudice gets a rating of Read It!