Sunday, December 7, 2008

Printmaker paradise.

I’ve recently spent time contemplating the artwork of Takashi Murakami. And my respect for the artist continues to increase as I learn more about his tradition, process, and ideology. As part of my investigation, I discovered that one of the influences in Murakami’s art and his concept of "superflat" is the tradition of Japanese woodblock prints.

Recently, at the BYU Museum of Art, it was obvious how this ancient tradition could inspire something like Murakami’s paintings, sculptures, and other products. Windows on a Hidden World: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the BYU Collection is an exhibition featuring prints spanning hundreds of years. And you can see how they might have influenced Murakami.

You might think that Murakami’s use of Manga and Anime couldn’t come from influences in the early 1800s. But then you see Triptych Battle Scene by Utagawa Toyokuni, a print that feels comic-book modern, even though it's 200 years old.

And what about the line work in Behind the Waves off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)? This may be the most famous print in the show (and a print owned by Murakami). The line work is reminiscent of that in Murakami’s furiously happy flowers. It’s interesting that both Hokusai’s wave and Murakami’s chrysanthemums can be both friendly and menacing.

Some of the best prints in the show involve rain or snow. These prints seem illuminated from within, even in the exhibition’s dim light.

It’s worth seeing this show for its diversity and meditative nature. It’s even more interesting as you realize the influence these print makers have had on art, including the work of Manet, Monet, Degas, Cassatt, Van Gogh, and now Murakami.

Windows on a Hidden World is on display through January 19, 2008.

Hunting for a little Christmas spirit?

Here’s a strangely heartwarming story. It reminds me why small-town America is so great. My first morning in Wyoming started with a front-page story in the local newspaper, The Northern Wyoming Daily News. The feature photograph included my 15-year-old niece surrounded by a whole bunch of teen boys. Why? They’d gone hunting. The Wyoming Department of Fish and Game allows a certain number of deer to be killed and provided as food for the local food bank. My niece shot two deer as part of the program. The following day, she helped process the meat.

I gotta give Maggie credit. From my perspective, that’s real dedication to helping the needy. I’m happy to write a check to the Utah Food Bank. But I won’t be shooting any deer and processing the meat to feed the hungry.

Friday, December 5, 2008

American rifleperson II.

What do you do when you’re in Wyoming for Thanksgiving? Go shooting, of course. I’ll admit, guns scare me and I really don’t understand their allure. Guns are outside my comfort zone. But this Thanksgiving forced me to confront my fears.

Normally, I would skip a shooting excursion. But my dad and my 15-year-old niece Maggie were so excited about the idea of me with a gun that I didn’t want to disappoint. Plus, Maggie just got her learners permit so she was driving—how can you pass up an adventure that involves teen drivers and guns?!

We all loaded into the Suburban and headed out to Uncle
Bob’s farm and his personal shooting range. (Yes, I have an Uncle Bob who owns a farm on which he has installed his own makeshift shooting range.) There we met Uncle Bob, other relatives, and friends for an afternoon of guns.

The talk at the shooting range? The gun-ownership disaster that is Barack Obama. Jokes about how to avoid surrendering your weaponry to the new liberal administration were popular including statements like, “I gave all my guns to Scott” or “I threw my guns in the river.” I’ll be surprised if anyone actually loses one of his or her guns but considering the small arsenal on display, I decided it best to keep my liberal mouth shut.

I spent most of the time taking pictures. But my niece, my dad, and my brother were so excited about me firing a gun, that I succumbed to peer pressure. The first part of the day involved handguns. For this, the targets were posters of “perps” (perpetrators). I borrowed my brother’s new handgun and took a few shots at the bad guys. I don’t remember all of the gun details, but I’m pretty sure it was a Beretta, only because that’s the gun James Bond regularly used and I’m bit of a Bond fan. If the “perps” had been real, two out of three would have killed me.

For the second part of the day, we broke out the serious weaponry. This was a special occasion. After all, President Obama will soon take away my family’s assault rifles. That’s right, I said assault rifle. I can now say that I have fired an AR15 assault rifle. We fired at targets positioned at 100, 200, and 300 yards. I hit targets at both 100 and 200 yards and then stopped while I was ahead. But my niece had no problem hitting the 300-yard target. The targets were thick metal and the 200-yard metal pig made a beautiful tone when hit. I’m sure this won’t go over with the gun crowd but shooting could be more rewarding if it were more musical.

I’m not going to run out and buy a gun. But I have to admit, the outing was more fun than I expected. And it brought me closer to my family. So I’ll finish this post with a few photographs from Uncle Bob’s firing range in the badlands of Wyoming.

Preparing the "perp" targets.

Maggie taking aim.

Me, taking out a few "perps."

The target at 200 yards.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This is too scientific to be art, right?

I’m not sure Maya Lin can decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Maybe a scientist, maybe an architect, or how about an artist. I think the art world has decided she belongs in a museum gallery, no matter what you call her. Her current exhibit at the de Young, Systematic Landscapes is a showstopper. Like SFMOMA, the de Young hints at the artwork hidden in the basement by offering a spectacular work in the main lobby. 2 x 4 Landscape (2006) is just what it claims to be, a landscape-like scene created from 2 x 4s. But that’s part of what makes Lin’s work amazing, simple materials are transformed into astounding vistas. You can watch the installation of this work here.

It’s funny how themes begin to appear as you spend time in museums. Lin’s exhibit was the perfect compliment to Martin Puryear’s show at SFMOMA. Both shows tried to define spaces that are nearly impossible to characterize. They both ask the viewer to consider the idea of self and our relationship to the environment around us—an interesting idea at a time when we seem intent on jeopardizing our world and ourselves.

One of my favorite moments in the show is the maquette for Lin’s work that is now a permanent sculpture at the California Academy of Sciences, just across the street from the de Young. This is a big maquette, nearly filling one end of a large gallery. So you can only imagine the size of the final work. And the accompanying photographs that show how the sculpture was created add to the interest.

Systematic Landscapes
is packed with beauty and emotion. It’s on display through January 19, 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My god can beat up your god.

Religion and war; two ideas that are weirdly related. I’ve personally contemplated the relationship in my own attempts at art. And history proves the two just can’t get over each other.

At the de Young, I encountered an artist I’d never heard of, Al Farrow. He creates mash-ups of religion and violence. Mash-ups so beautiful, you have to look twice to spot the aggression.

Farrow uses the detritus of war to create art. Bullets, guns, and other weaponry are his medium. I’m not talking about representations of these items—he uses the real stuff. He architects these materials into sculptures that are pure religion. Take The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro (see inset photo). This work is a stunning cathedral crafted from weaponry. It’s amazing how much a machine gun can mimic the flying buttresses of a Baroque cathedral.

Farrow doesn’t just pick on the Christians. He also takes on mosques and synagogues. It seems that no matter who’s your god, he or she wants you to blow up the sinners.

The art of war takes on a whole new meaning. In the Name of God: War, Religion, and the Reliquaries of Al Farrow is on display through February 15, 2009.

Lauren Bacall, Katherine Deneuve, and HRH Princess Grace of Monaco walk into a haute couture bar.

The COMME des GARCONS line at the H&M wasn’t the only fashion event in San Fran this month. The de Young was hosting a show featuring clothes by legendary designer, Yves Saint Lauren. While the show was tiring (there were a lot of dresses), it offered a rare glimpse into the world of haute couture.

What is haute couture? It’s exclusive, made-to-measure fashions that are created for a specific customer. In France, the term is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de Commerce et dâ Industrie de Paris. The requirements to call a collection haute couture are extreme—that’s why such collections are so rare.

The best clothes in the show are the simple dresses from the 50s and 60s that defined the career of Saint Lauren. And many of the dresses were labeled with the phrase “made to order for,” followed by names like Catherine Deneuve, HRH Princess Grace of Monaco, Diane Von Furstenberg, HRH the Duchess of Windsor, and Lauren Bacall.

I will say, the craftsmanship on many of the dresses was mind-boggling. The beading, embroidering, rhinestones, appliqué, and other time-intensive work—always done by hand—were spectacular. It’s no surprise these dresses cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Some of the most outrageous works came in the form of wedding dresses. Take the hand-knit, wool wedding dress that looked like a giant cocoon. I couldn’t stop thinking that the outfit would make for one hot, itchy bride. Balance that with the barely-there, floral wedding dress on the opposite end of the gallery. This was nothing more than a gauzy wisp of fabric and a few strategically placed silk roses. I know which dress the groom would prefer.

All in all, this show was too much. The crowded galleries made the most spectacular clothes seem ordinary. I think the show would have been better in a bigger space, or with fewer clothes. But it was still fun to see fashion at its best.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nice crack.

Step onto the walkway that leads to the entrance of the de Young and you’ve stepped onto a work of art. The beautiful stone pavement is flawed. And I’m guessing that most visitors see it as a flaw. But in reality, it’s the beginning of a site-specific artwork created by the wizard of environmental art, Andy Goldsworthy.

Drawn Stone (2005) is inspired by the unique character of California’s tectonic topography. It’s a crack. At first it’s a straight crack that runs right through the walkway. But then it runs into a rock—a rock that is split by the same crack. As you enter the courtyard the crack wanders through the paving stones and splits other large rocks imported from Goldsworthy’s home of Yorkshire, England. These rocks now serve as seating for museum visitors.

This is art that lives up to Goldsworthy’s ethereal nature. And at first it seems simplistic. But as you follow the crack, it gets ever more intriguing. You realize that in the world of art, where cracks are almost always a bad thing, this is one nice crack.

Listen to your crazy cab driver.

How about those San Francisco cab drivers? They all seem just a little crazy. Most are at least chatty. Many are flat out excited that you’re in their car. Take the non-active Mormon who drove us to the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park. He had plenty to talk about from the weather to smog in Beijing (even producing a newspaper photo of the horrific Beijing smog.) “San Francisco doesn’t have smog,” he noted.

But the big news from the driver’s seat was the recent opening of the new California Academy of Sciences, just across the street from the de Young. He suggested the de Young is nice, but our trip might be even better if we went to the Academy.

I wouldn’t have taken this comment seriously except the new building for the California Academy of Sciences was designed by Renzo Piano and has been all the rage in the architecture and art magazines. It’s also the greenest museum in the world, having achieved a LEEDS platinum rating, an almost impossible accomplishment.

Though time was tight, we decided to hit the Academy just as it opened. At $24.95, it’s not a cheap museum ticket. But the place is unbelievable. We only had a couple of hours and that is no where near enough time. You can easily eat up the better part of a day at the Academy. We had to focus our time so we spent the morning exploring Water Planet on the lower level.

Here’s an aquarium like none I’ve visited. The walls in the central walkway are composed of a perfectly lit, undulating silvery material. The projection technology is so cool it almost upstages the creatures in the tanks. Almost. The fish, frogs, and snakes are great. Take the tank filled with Leafy Sea Dragons and Weedy Sea Dragons. I can’t even describe them. And the Mossy Frogs—it took a long time to find them, even though they were right in front of our eyes resting in their mossy home. In fact, that was part of the fun. Many of the displays were like a biological Where’s Waldo game as you tried to find the creatures hidden within each tank.

We also visited the swamp where we found an albino alligator and turtles saved in the 1970s, rescued on their way to a restaurant—how’s that for a San Francisco story. One turtle stared up at us, imploring us to help him escape again.

Things we didn’t get to do? There was no time to go through the Rain Forests of the World, a giant, gleaming glass globe that contains an actual rain forest. We didn’t make it to the Planetarium, a giant white globe on the opposite side of the museum. Nor did we have a chance to make the trip to the roof, 2.5 acres of which is planted with native vegetation, making it the largest area of native vegetation in San Francisco. At least I have another good reason to return to San Francisco soon.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No beach. No Blanket. Maybe a little bit of Babylon.

A lot of people throw around the word camp. But few deliver real camp like Beach Blanket Babylon, that most San Franciscan of cheap theater. And by cheap, I mean theater that relies on smart performances, creative costuming, and clever sets more than big production budgets.

Since 1974, Beach Blanket Babylon has been a San Francisco tradition, with a constantly changing cast of characters, instantly updated songs, and ever bigger hats. It all takes place at Club Fugazi, a space that feels like something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sure, the whole thing has become a little touristy. But it’s still funny—and wildly entertaining.

Beach Blanket Babylon
owes much of its success to the cast, a hard working group of performers. They’re either on stage singing and dancing or behind the scenes making some impossible costume changes—morphing into caricature after caricature of politicos, entertainers, even French poodles.

And then there’s the whip-smart, oh-so-current humor. Though the elections took place just days ago, the admittedly loose story line and the lyrics have already been updated to reflect the new reality. I’m guessing the show is different almost every time you see it. Maybe that’s why it’s lasted more than thirty years.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sticks and stones and tar and rawhide.

I like the way SFMOMA uses it’s atrium to hint at the special exhibits hidden inside the museum. Last time I was there it was Olafur Eliasson’s crazy fan. This time, it was two dizzying works by Martin Puryear: Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996) and Ad Astra (2007), a 63-foot tall sculpture that rises all the way to the museum’s fifth floor. You’ve got to have a big museum to show these works. And I still wanna know how they moved this exhibit from New York to San Francisco.

After the lobby, you don’t see another Puryear sculpture for the next four floors. You almost forget the dramatic nature of the sculptures. Finally, as you cross that scary mesh metal walkway to the fifth floor galleries, you’re ushered into the strange and beautiful world of Martin Puryear. These monumental, contemplative works are intricately crafted from wood, stone, tar, and rawhide.

The sculptures are all about craftsmanship taken to astonishing heights. They also feel strangely historical and seem to speak to personal or cultural identity. A perfect example is Self. This monolithic wood sculpture was created by covering an armature with a smooth, rounded shell. The armature was then removed leaving a void that the viewer cannot see, only imagine.

Much of Puryear’s work is about defining space and creating containment. Take Brunhilde (1998-2000). The basket-like sculpture made from wooden slats seems ready to burst in its effort to contain space. I loved the thousands of staple holes, remnants of the effort required to create the shape.

Even the presentation of the exhibition seems designed to reflect Puryear’s understanding of space. This show is beautiful. The open expanses of SFMOMA’s fifth floor are a perfect environment for the sculptures. And a perfect place to escape.


A quick break from my San Francisco posts.

A long time ago, before we were McCann Erickson, before we were Boede & Partners, even before we were the disastrous MarchFirst, I had an office stalker. Michelle Suzuki was her name. And as part of our office shenanigans, she created The Stalker Box, a Valentine box emblazoned with my image.
Images of me even crept from the box to places all over the office.

I’d forgotten about The Stalker Box until this photo recently showed up on my Facebook page with this comment, “the stalker box LIVES!”

It’s so flattering to be stalked. Thanks Michelle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Modernism at SFMOMA

I like it when museums show off. Sure the big, traveling exhibits are often the draw for going to a museum, but it’s great when a place takes pride in its own collection. That’s why I like Passageworks: Contemporary Art from the Collection, on view now at SFMOMA. This is the museum proudly proclaiming that it has the curators, the building, and the money to create a first-rate contemporary art collection.

Here are two works that for me were nostalgic. Why? Because both artists were part of the very first big show from a museum collection that I experienced—that was at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a long time ago.

Robert Smithson, whose most famous work is right here in Utah, was featured with Nonsite (Esson Soil and Mirrors). This work from 1969 is just what it claims to be, mirror and soil. But it begs for interaction.

Who doesn’t like Felix Gonzales-Torres? And few of his works are as intoxicating as Untitled (Golden), a 1995 work that consists of “strands of bead
s and hanging device.” Sure it’s just a giant bead current—but it’s one damn good bead curtain.

The other thing I like about shows from museum collections; they almost always allow photography (no flash of course). So here are a few photos from our visit.

Passageworks is on display through January 19, 2009.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is it OK to laugh-snort in a museum?

It’s not often you find yourself giggling at a museum, let alone laughing uncontrollably, but The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now at SFMOMA is a regular chuckle fest. Sure there are plenty of inspiring, stoic works but this exhibit is most notable for the fun.

The entrance to the show features Delayed, a 2002 closed-circuit sound installation by German artist Matthias Gommel. Two pairs of headphones hang from the ceiling. You put the headphones on with a partner and talk into the microphones. In the inset photo, Felix is wearing one pair. I’m taking the photo while wearing the other. As you speak into the microphones, your voices are delayed. The conversation becomes an illogical collection of statements and sounds. Before long, we were laughing out loud, creating a baffling laugh track. I had to go back and do it again.

We also participated in The Gift (2000/2008) by Jochen Gerz. This work features a photography studio and a wall hung with large, black and white portraits. Museum visitors can sign up to be models. Once registered, Felix and I had our pictures taken. Portraits are printed large, framed, and shown in rotation on the museum wall. Models receive an invite to attend the closing event in February, 2009 where they, “will receive the gift of a framed portrait.”

One of the funniest moments came as we were trying to figure out how to interact with the U.S. debut of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive sound installation, Microphones (2008). This work is a ring of old-fashioned radio mics that records visitors’ speech and then plays back previous recordings, building an archive of utterances over the course of the exhibition. There were four of us in the room tentatively speaking into the microphones, not wanting to be too loud in a museum. But nothing happened. Finally, the stern, Asian woman who was the SFMOMA attendant in the gallery heaved a disappointed sigh and stepped up to a microphone. In a startlingly loud, shrill voice she spoke and screeched into the microphone with an accent so heavy I’m still not sure what she said. But it worked. The artwork came to life. And the microphones shouted back, returning her voice and the voices of others. I finally got the nerve to shout into a microphone and was rewarded with children giggling and someone telling me to “shut up.”

There is plenty more participation in this show. Tom Marioni and his guest bartenders invite museumgoers to the gallery every Thursday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. for The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art. It’s a bit of performance art where, you guessed it, everyone drinks beer. And everyday at noon you can hear a performance of John Cage’s piano work 4’33”. There are works of art you can sit in or sit on. Even works that allow you to take part of them home. It makes for a great day at the museum. The Art of Participation is on view through February 8, 2009.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Confessions of a shopping amateur.

Here’s a lame reason to plan a trip to San Francisco—shopping at the H&M. It would be lame, except this wasn’t just any H&M shopping trip. It was for an H&M collaboration with COMME des GARCONS.

I’ll admit that when I mentioned why I was going to Frisco, most people responded with a look that said, “COMME des GAR what?” But Rei Kawakubo and her COMME des GARCONS brand are the darlings of the fashion world and have been for some time. Her unwillingness to go big, her s
ubversive stores that are often difficult to find or open only a few months, and her unconventional clothes, have given her a reputation as a designer’s designer. So a clothing line created in conjunction with global mega retailer H&M sparked interest.

I learned two things from this shopping trip.

First, I’m a naïve shopper. My friend and I flew into San Francisco the day the COMME des GARCONS clothes hit the racks. We arrived on the earliest flight
and headed straight to the store, getting there 30 minutes after opening. As we approached the Powell Street store we were greeted by window displays emblazoned with vinyl graphics proclaiming, “H&M COMME des GARCONS.” As we entered the store, a woman in a display window appended those graphics with the words, “SOLD OUT.”

Inside it was mayhem. People scrambled to grab whatever, whether it fit or not. The desperate loitered near fitting rooms nabbing anything left behind by shoppers disappointed that the clothes didn’t fit. Others bartered, trying to trade items for things they wanted more. I entered H&M to stares that said, “Oh look at the shopper from Salt Lake, isn’t he quaint?” My friend and I managed to navigate the scene and find a few items thanks to some friendly shoppers and a few flirty sales personnel who took pity on us, probably because of the stunned looks on our faces.

We later learned that savvy shoppers queued up hours before the store opened to score the best clothes and that such lines happen for most of H&M’s collaborations. In about an
hour, everything was gone. And the most dedicated COMME des GARCONS fans waited in line to purchase the display clothes from the windows.

The second thing I learned is that I’m not cool enough for COMMES des GARCON. To be truthful, I learned this lesson years ago in New York City on a visit to the Chelsea store. I walked past the entrance four or five times before realizing that an unmarked aluminum tunnel set in the face of an old brick building was actually the store entrance. As I walked in, I was scrutinized by the staff and immediately written off. I spent the rest of my excursion looked down upon from eyes perched atop some very long noses. Imagine my relief when they actually allowed me to make a purchase.

Sure, the H&M experience was different. Finding the store is a cinch and the sales staff are friendly in a way only San Franciscans can pull off. But the kids buying the clothes (and at my age I use "kids" for anyone under 35), they out-cooled me by miles. Friendly, urban, global, and smart, they seem intent on living in a world where you can be what you want. Maybe that’s just the San Francisco in them. But it sure serves to bolster Rei’s reputation and to make for what might be the most exciting shopping excursion of my life. Who knew retail could be so invigorating?

One night in Frisco.

Two days and one night in San Francisco. It might not sound like much but when a friend and I attacked the city for a two-day break, the result was a mini vacation packed with fun. The weather was so good, I had to buy short-sleeve shirts just to stay comfortable. And as always, San Francisco delivered with shopping, culture, and plain old camp. So over the next several posts, I’ll record my adventures from the city by the bay.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Mexican vacation is closer than you think.

Recently, after attending a Day of the Dead festival, My Favorite Mexican* took me to Paisa Grill. It instantly became my favorite Mexican restaurant. Step through the doors and you're transported to someplace south of the border. We walked in on Mexican Karaoke and were quickly ushered to our table.

The décor was Funky Mexican Beach Shack with brightly colored, Aztec-inspired chairs. Signs advertised buckets of beer for $9.99. Weathered tin buckets arrived at tables filled with six iced bottles of Corona.

We ordered the rolled tacos which were deep-fried delicious. Then we shared the Molcajete Grill Supreme. This piping hot stone bowl was loaded with chicken, beef, shrimp, cactus, onions, and a delicious green sauce. It came with house made tortillas. Yum.

If that wasn’t enough, about halfway through our meal, Banda Agave started to play. These handsome Latino musicians were clad in bright green jackets embroidered, studded, and glittered up with the Banda Agave logo. When they started to play, the party kicked into high gear. The group was all brass and drums and Latin vocals that got the crowd to its feet for a night of dancing.

Strangely, I ran into someone from work. Crystal Keating walked past on the way to her table and proclaimed, “What are you doing at my place?” Well, Crystal the secret is out, it’s no longer “your place.”

If you’re looking for an adventurous, authentic Mexican meal without the flight down south, visit Paisa Grill at 2126 South 3200 West.

*My Favorite Mexican informs me that I can no longer call him My Favorite Mexican. His recent naturalization means he's now a citizen and proud to be an American. So consider this a fond farewell.

Monday, November 3, 2008

When I'm dead, I hope you celebrate like this.

Halloween is interesting. But I’ve decided that the Mexican celebration known as the Day of the Dead is better. I came to this conclusion after attending the Day of the Dead Fiesta at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center located at 1355 West 3100 South in West Valley City.

It was fun. There was a scary dance performance by men, women, and children dressed in skulls, black and sinister clothing, and dramatic feathers that reached high into the air. Most were scary, although one girl wore a skirt with rhinestone skulls that were so cute they didn't do much to intimidate. (Eat your heart out Damien Hirst.) The dancers performed to live, exhilarating drumming. I was amazed at how much music three drum
mers can create. It’s startling how powerful such pounding rhythms can be. And watching little kids react is fantastic.

That was only part of the fun. The Day-of-the-Dead shrines were just plain cool, replete with skulls and candles and notes and pictures and colors and paintings and more. We also got to decorate miniature sugar skulls with glittery glue (see the inset photo). And a Day-of-the-Dead celebration just wouldn’t be complete without pan de muerto (day-of-the-dead bread).

What a wonderful way to remember some of my favorite people who are no longer here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Faking it in the photo booth.

I decided I needed a photograph of me for my blog. I don’t know why? It just seemed like a good idea. So I asked Felix to act as the official Viva Variety photographer. His qualifications include a degree in photography from the University of Utah and graduate work at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Not too shabby.

Felix took a bunch of pictures and knowing my penchant for photo booths, (I recently tried to purchase the photo booth at a K-Mart going-out-of business sale) he suggested the faked photo booth photo seen here. I think Felix made me look pretty dang good. Thanks Felix.

It’s like an old-timey radio show. Only without the static.

This year for the first time, Plan B Theatre Company’s annual Halloween radio show crept out of the Radio West studios and into the Studio Theater at Rose Wagner. That meant theatergoers could watch the show live. And it was more fun than I expected.

The show was Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, adapted for the 60-minute presentation by Ivan Bennett. Starring as Doctor Frankenstein was KUER’s Doug Fabrizio. He proved more convincing in the dramatic role than expected. And the other actors were just as engaging, even though they never left their chairs and read the entire show.

The most fun elements of the evening were the Foley artists, Jennifer Freed and Sam Mollner. They created a wide range of special effects from water lapping against a ship to sails blowing in the wind to driving rain. Two of my favorites; the sound of the ship’s captain’s pencil writing the Doctor’s story, and the constantly beating heart.

Not long ago, I listened to the unabridged audio book of Shelley’s Frankenstein on a trip to Wyoming. And it’s no small work of literature. So I was skeptical that one could stay true to the story, keep the show to 60 minutes, and not lose the audience. But this performance succeeded. It was the perfect story for a dark fall evening.

The run of the show has ended. But you can listen to the Radio West broadcast here.

A chase in the park.

I’ve lived in the neighborhood for over a decade and I’ve walked past the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts at least a thousand times. But until last weekend, I’d never entered the building. Bored on a rainy fall day, I thought I might as well check it out. It is, after all, free.

There was no one else there except for a little old lady, the volunteer museum attendant. She was delighted to see me and immediately began to dust and polish the cases to make sure I had a clear view of the treasures inside. But it was obvious that these cases get plenty of dusting and polishing.

The woman provided some valuable info about the museum. First, all of the items inside (although from diverse cultures) are made by Utah residents. Which is a surprising tribute to the cultural diversity of the State.

Also, the curators of the museum scour the state in search of folk art. These are not recognized artists but are ferreted out by the museum staff. I think that’s what gives the museum its quirky elegance.

And there’s plenty of quirkiness. Take the whittlings and small sculptures in the Rural Gallery. Many of the wooden whittled works are fantastic. And the miniature metal sculptures by M.J. Alldredge are deceptively folksy. On closer inspection, the big-breasted women are so sexually charged that the works feel like they were influenced by current art stars. And I’d own one of the paper cuts by Ada Rigby. They’re spectacular.

My other favorite room was the Ethnic Gallery featuring works from cultures around the globe. Of particular note were the Latin-American works like crucifixes by Jeronimo Lozano and Robert Martinez as well as the day-of-the-dead sculptures by Guillermo Colmenero.

There’s plenty more to see at the museum with galleries dedicated to Native American works and occupational crafts that are both functional and beautiful.

I don’t think most people are aware of this small, charming museum. But it’s definitely worth a visit. Unfortunately, it’s only open April through October. So plan a spring visit.

I like where we're headed.

With the title of his new book (The Way We’ll Be; The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream), John Zogby acts like he can predict the future. Surprisingly, his arguments make a lot of sense. And I hope he’s right. Because I like many of his predictions.

There’s a fair amount of fluff in this book. And a lot of the set up can be tedious if you’re comfortable with the basic tenants of research. But there is plenty of interesting information. Take the comparison of Traditional Materialists to Secular Spiritualist. As with most pollsters, Zogby likes to give groups catchy names. These two groups are introduced with a story about Frederick Tudor and Henry David Thoreau. Here’s the idea, both men look at the same pond. As a leading ice manufacturer of his day, Tudor sees Walden Pond as an economic opportunity for ice harvesting (The Traditional Materialist). Thoreau sees the pond as a metaphor for America’s individualism, liberty, and our relationship with nature (The Secular Spiritualist). And it seems we may be moving in the direction of Secular Spiritualists—less concerned about what we own and buy and more concerned about how fulfilled we are personally and spiritually (and that doesn’t necessarily mean religion).

Zogby also argues that if you want to know what the future will look like, just look at the opinions of those ages 18 – 29. He calls this youngest age category First Globals. First Globals are really changing the game. Many of their ideas, from technology to consumption to expectations are dramatically different than previous generations. They seem more realistic about living in a global environment. They’re more tolerant and embrace diversity like no other generation.

I was particularly surprised about how much the kids these days are comfortable with the gays. I’ve always suspected that younger people are OK with homosexuality, but the number in this book surprised even me. By a nearly two to one margin, First Globals see no problem with same-sex marriage. Almost all of them have friends who are gay. And in this case, the phrase “some of my best friends are gay” doesn’t seem like the preface to an anti-gay argument.

Sure, even in this book the young can come across as frivolous and impetuous. But it’s been a long time since a book about numbers made me feel real hope for the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

American Rifleperson

Last night, on my way to hear David Sedaris read, I received a text message. My 13-year-old niece Maggie sent me a cell phone photo (see inset) and this message, “As a subscriber to American Rifleman, and a strong member of the NRA, I find myself hating Barrack Odrama more and more.” (Emphasis added)

Thus began one of the most enjoyable political exchanges ever. I responded ironically saying, “You know, Barrack has been inspiring young people all over the nation to get involved politically. Looks like he’s inspired you too.”

After that, we traded witty political barb, for witty political barb; clever conservative punch for clever liberal punch. Finally, I commented, “Aren’t you offended that it’s American Rifleman? Shouldn’t it be American Rifleperson?” Maggie responded with what amounts to a text-message, teenager roll of the eyes. And then she called me a feminist.

As a proud feminist, nothing could make me happier than my favorite conservative—a girl of thirteen who can stand her ground and keep up with her crazy liberal uncle who’s more than twice her age. Keep it up Maggie.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Holding back protects your vital energies.

It was a beautiful fall day. And BYU wasn’t playing football. So I thought the traffic would be bearable for a trip to Provo. Why go to Provo? To see Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art at the BYU Museum of Art. I’m guessing an academic came up with the title.

The exhibit takes viewers from the Abstract Art of the 1960s, through Minimalism and Conceptual Art, and on to Contemporary Art. I buy the show’s idea that Minimalism and Conceptual Art were a reaction to abstraction. I’m not sure I agree with the notion that Minimalism led to the explosion of artistic styles we see today. But whether or not you agree with the premise, the art is worth seeing.

Let’s start with some of the earlier works in the show like Frank Stella’s Agbatana III (Fluorescent Acrylic on Canvas, 1968). This huge, shaped canvas feels like something from Austin Power’s bachelor pad—it’s just plain groovy.

From the minimalists, we get two spectacular works. The first is Donald Judd’s Untitled (Anodized Aluminum and Plexiglas, 1969). The piece uses simple materials to deliver astonishing finishes that mimic the high-tech surfaces of works by Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor. And Sol Lewitt’s impressive 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes (Enamel on Steele, 1967-71) is a whole new approach to cubism.

Later works in the show are just as intoxicating. Take Jenny Holzer’s Truisms 2 English (Mini LED Sign, 1977-79). The work is exactly as described: A tiny LED sign scrolling bits of wisdom like, “Holding back protects your vital energies.” The sign is so small you can barely make out the words. The effect is mesmerizing.

My pick of the show is a 2008 work by Uruguayan artist Marco Maggi, Double Hotbed (Cuts on 98 Letter-Size Sheets of Paper). This piece is both imposing and delicate. It’s like a gleaming white city of the future—a place I’d like to live. This work is hard to describe. Think miniature pop-up-book sculpture—only on a strangely grand scale.

Recommending Turning Point is tricky because so many people find this type of art perplexing. But you should go. It’s worth the trip. And if you’re afraid to go alone, call me. I’d visit again.

Turning Point is on display through January 3, 2009.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mid-century Modernism. It's not just for architects.

I know, mid-century modernism is all about architecture and design. But some times the same ideas spread to music and even dance. Repertory Dance Theatre’s (RDT) recent show The Messengers offered an interesting dose of mid-century modernism, mixed in with more contemporary works.

RDT is moving up in the world. This show is one of the best I’ve seen in several years. Maybe it was the stellar choreography. Maybe it was the better dancers. Whatever it was, it was a big leap in the right direction.

Let’s start with the overture performed by PARTCH, an ensemble that specializes in the music and instruments of composer Harry Partch. Partch’s work is an innovative mash-up that’s part John Cage and part hermit-like instrument builder that lives deep in the woods. The music is radical and the custom-built instruments are just plain cool. The overture was the first movement from Partch’s Castor and Pollux. From the glass bottle bells to the hand-built marimba-like instruments, this was a percussionist’s dream.

And the group returned later to accompany the dancers, a rarity to have live music with modern dance. The piece was Castor and Pollux, choreographed by Elizabeth Waters in 1958. And beyond the brilliant music, there was plenty of dancing to like. Take couple #1: Ashley Segura and Aaron Wood. I don’t want to like Aaron Wood but he’s making it hard not to. He’s proving to be a good addition to RDT. Combined with the newest dancer in the company, Chris Peddecord, the more experienced male dancers in the company have a lot to worry about.

I also have to mention Ariadne (1985), a solo by choreographer Ze’eva Cohen and danced by Chara Huckins-Malaret. I normally don’t like solos because it’s hard to appreciate the choreography. But this dance was so stylized, so precise that the choreographer’s presence was strong—it felt almost like she was sitting in the wings.

The best performance of the evening was Mythical Hunters (1965) choreographed by Greg Tetley. I’ve heard a lot about Mr. Tetley but this is the first of his works I’ve seen. The dance was challenging but thanks to the addition of several dancers from Ballet West, the company rose to the occasion. The work was created in 1965 for the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. I liked the earthiness of modern dance combined with the long, lean lines of ballet.

Thanks to this intriguing performance, I’m more excited than I’ve been in a while to see what RDT does next.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nair doesn't work for everybody.

I know, I said I don’t do favorites. But for the second time in just two posts, I’m ready to proclaim a favorite. Armistead Maupin is my favorite writer. After reading my third Maupin book, I’m hooked. I recently finished Maupin’s first book, Tales of the City. And it’s about as close to perfect as you can get.

First, a warning: I’ve taken to not recommending books because people get so sensitive. I never know what will offend. So as a warning, this book contains homosexuals, philanderers, druggies, potheads, child pornographers, and adulterers. Don’t read it if you’re going to get all preachy.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the book. Armistead Maupin pens better dialogue than any other writer I've read in a long time. Conversation drives the story. And you just can’t stop reading. The book reminds me that few things are as pleasurable as a great conversation. I'm dedicating myself to becoming a conversationalist. I want to chat with friends and acquaintances in a way that is charming, flirty, honest, emotional, sincere. I want to exit the room with short, carefully crafted statements loaded with intrigue and innuendo.

Then there’s the snappiness to Maupin's writing. Every word matters. There’s no need for embellishment. And that crisp, tight writing is refreshing.

Armistead also uses literary devices that I love. Take for example the way short, smart sentences punctuate the end of chapters. These sentences make it hard to put the book down. Before you know it, you’ve read a dozen chapters. And you still want more. Some of my favorite examples of chapter-ending morsels include:
  • Connie, apparently, was still popular.
  • Taped to the note was a neatly rolled joint.
  • Venus reentering the clam shell.
  • “Tell that to your gynecologist!”
  • “O.K., O.K. So Nair doesn’t work for everybody.”
  • “What else? Sickle cell anemia.”
Each short chapter in Tales of the City is a jewel; a sparkling gem that tells a complete story in just a few pages. And then, all those gems come together to create a tiara, a bracelet, or a brooch that dazzles and delights. And I love the literary bling.

Monday, September 29, 2008

TOWERing genius.

For the most part, I don’t do favorites. Why should I be forced to choose when there are so many things to like? “Who’s your favorite this?” “What’s your favorite that?” I don’t know the answers. But I’ve gone gaga for Alwin Nikolais. So I will commit to this. My favorite choreographer is Alwin Nikolais. And lucky for me, somehow, someway, Salt Lake City is a Mecca for Nikolais’ addictive works.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but a few years ago Ririe-Woodbury was designated as the official re-creator of Nikolais’ works. And it’s paid off for the dance company. Early in the new century, the New York Times chose Ririe-Woodbury’s first all-Nikolais program as one of the ten best performances of the year. That’s the New York Times choosing a performance from a small modern dance company in Salt Lake City as one of the ten best. How did that happen?

Now Ririe-Woodbury is back with another all-Nicolais performance. The evening started with Crucible. This was the third time I’ve seen this work and you haven’t experienced dance until you’ve been through the Crucible. It involves a giant mirror and various body parts reflected in said mirror. It’s genius. I’ve seen very few works of art that are this good. All those multi-million dollar paintings from the same period have nothing on this.

And there was plenty more to love. Tensile Movement is the Alwin Nikolais work I’ve seen more than any other. And no matter how often I see it, it still inspires. Let’s face it, tension is sexy. Like most great artists, Nikolais has themes that appear constantly in his works. Tension is one of his best. Tensile Movement is all about tension. But you also see the theme of tension in several movements from Liturgies. Take Reliquary. It features a women in a lacquered mask tied with stretchy bands to two men. And then the company danced Celebrants, where the performers forced themselves into strange silhouettes that were confined and restricted. It all made for a performance that feels like a precursor to Mathew Barney.

Another Nikolais theme is reflection. It’s most obvious in Crucible. But you also see it in several movements of Liturgies and Tensile Movement. Once again, Nikolais seems to have influenced visual artists after him. Like Jeff Koons’ polished stainless steel works. Or the slick artistry of Anish Kapoor. Even the works of Josiah McElheny. Alwin is a visionary who set the stage for art that followed. And don’t get me started on how Nikolais may have influenced pop culture from Star Trek to Cirque du Soleil.

Tower was the newest work in Ririe-Woodbury’s Nikolais quiver. I liked its 60s, go for broke, performance-art feel. But (and I’ve complained about this before) asking dancers to speak is almost always a mistake. The Ririe-Woobury dancers did better than most. Still, this wasn’t Mr. Nikolais’ best. But even his less-than-best stuff is dang good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Less than a fair lady.

My Fair Lady is one of my favorite shows. The lyrics, the songs, and the story are just plain loverly. So when I heard Pioneer Theatre Company is opening its current season with My Fair Lady, I was more than excited.

Unfortunately, the Pioneer Theatre production doesn’t live up to the material. The reason, the two leads just don’t deliver. Elizabeth Stanley as Eliza Doolittle is flat. The Eliza character usually makes me choke up in at least two or three moments. This performance? Nothing. I think Ms. Stanley was worrying way too much about the accents and not enough about the acting.

And Paul De Boy is no better as Henry Higgins. In fact, he’s worse. I know Henry Higgins is supposed to be a curmudgeony, sexist intellectual but we’re still supposed to like him. Mr. De Boy’s Higgins is just annoying. What’s with those hand movements? I’ve seen American Idol rejects that give more convincing performances.

OK, I’m probably being too hard on the leads. But these roles are iconic. And I think I have the right to expect more. Thank goodness not all was bad. Jeff Brooks as Alfred Doolittle gets off to a shaky start but warms up to steal several scenes. The trio of men providing back-up vocals turn out to be more than just a little bit of luck. And the costumes during the racing scene are stunning. I just wish the company delivered performances to match.

It’s early in the run. Maybe performances will improve. And there’s always the possibility I just got it wrong. So see for yourself. My Fair Lady at Pioneer Theatre Company runs through October 4.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Classical pop.

Keith Lockhart opened the 2008-2009 Utah Symphony season (and Lockhart’s last season as music director) with what can only be described as classical pop—some of the biggest hits in the history of music. And why not? The house was full, the orchestra was energized, and the crowd thrilled to the all-Beethoven program.

Garrick Ohlsson (who’s become something of a Utah Symphony regular) opened the show as soloist in Beethoven’s Concerto No 4 for Piano in G major. The dizzying demands of the concerto were delivered effortlessly. This is music that moves and astounds. And that was just the first half.

The second half featured Symphony No. 9 in D minor, also called the Choral Symphony and commonly referred to as Ode to Joy thanks to the concerto’s big finale complete with soloists and chorus. This symphony is one great moment after another. The music is so good that even a bad performance is rewarding. But there was no bad performance here. The Utah Symphony delivered a big, confident performance. And by the time the choral finale rolled around, I expected to see banner-waving crowds and cheering in the streets afterward.

I think I’ll spend more time at the Symphony this season.

Monday, September 22, 2008

This ain't no tango.

Last year Stephen Koester contributed to the dance season with Demolition Derby, an evening length work that was mostly a wreck. Mr. Koester was back for this year’s Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) Link Series with a presentation titled Who We Are? I can answer that question. We are a lot happier with this year’s program.

Who We Are? featured four works choreographed from 1999 to 2008, several were premieres. Koester’s choreography is frequently predictable with movement that could come from dozens of choreographers. Sometimes it feels like the dancers are just making it up. But in this performance there were several bright spots.

Men’s Suite featured two such moments. The first came in a movement called #1 Posers—Veloci-Italians. Performed by Juan Aldape and Jersey Reo Riemo, this work made you realize how gay machismo can be. The results were entertaining and amusing even if the dancing wasn’t perfect. For better dancing, see another movement from the same work, #3 The Ascetic. Graham Brown delivered a powerful performance with Agnus Dei, a track by Rufus Wainwright, as music. You can’t go wrong with moving music and a strong dance performance.

Even with some less-than-enjoyable works, Who We Are? was one of the better performances I’ve seen in the Link Series. And I’ll bet we’ll see more from Stephen Koester in future series.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Be careful what you wish for.

I love first time novelists. And I particularly like it when a writer’s first novel is good. That’s why I recommend All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown. This novel has everything. A drug addicted mom. A lousy, cheating husband. An even lousier, cheating best friend. Teen pregnancy. A crazy, bitter feminist. Christians. Even a stoner pool boy. And who doesn’t love a good pool boy?

The thing that makes this book great is that it’s trashy enough to be a fun, page-turning read. You could read this at the beach or on a rainy weekend and be perfectly happy. But it’s so well written, you don’t have to be embarrassed that you’re reading it. You can even recommend it to your snobby book club friends.

This is a cautionary tale; that greed, and lust, and desire will just make you miserable. But it delivers this lesson without preaching or beating you over the head with morality. Now, some might put this novel firmly in the Chick Lit category. But I’d be careful making that assessment. The crazy feminist might hunt you down and kill you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Basket case.

A long time ago I went to an exhibit at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C. The show was called Language of Containment. All the works were baskets created by a single artist whose name I can’t remember. Woven into the bottom of each basket were words written in deep, 3D letters. Those were baskets. But they were also art.

Baskets as art now come to Utah with Interweave: Innovations in Contemporary Basketry, now showing at the Salt Lake Art Center. The exhibit features 17 works by 10 artists and many of them dazzle. As a side note, I once again pay tribute to the people running the Salt Lake Art Center. I complain constantly about how poorly art is shown in Salt Lake City. But the Salt Lake Art Center always delivers. And this show is even more beautiful than usual. You should go just to see how well these baskets are displayed. Plus, the baskets are really cool.

You can see Interweave: Innovations in Contemporary Basketry from now until October 4. And as always, admission to the Salt Lake Art Center is free.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Viva la curator!

You may recall last summer’s 337 Project; before tearing down the building at 337 South 400 East right here in Salt Lake City, the owners decided to open it up to a free-for-all of artists who transformed the property into what turned out to be a mess. I wrote about it here, here, here, here, and here. While there were a couple of interesting moments, the overall result was sloppy.

Fast forward one year and behold the power of the curator. That’s right, I said curator. Artists are sometimes better when they’ve been corralled by a good curator. Case in point, the Salt Lake Art Center’s current show, Present Tense: A Post 337 Project. While this show masquerades as a review of the 337 Project, I’d bet that almost nothing currently in the Salt Lake Art center ever set foot in 337 South 400 East. Maybe the concrete spheres in Shawn Porter’s Impermanence of Containment, which by the way was one of my picks for the best works in the original project.

Here’s the amazing thing. By assigning a curator, by selectively choosing appropriate artists, by thoughtfully displaying the work, the current show at the Salt Lake Art Center is leaps and bounds better than the original project. Many of the works still maintain some of the manic nature, the chaos of the original project. But they are presented so artfully that the whole dialogue changes. In fact, was there really any dialogue in the original project? Instead, guest curator Campbell Gray gives us something to talk about. His selection of artists drives the discussion of how art changes space. The artists deserve their credit too. They deliver works that are more thoughtful than those from the original project.

Here are few of my favorites:
  • Master Blaster’s Big Day, Trent Call and Shri Whipple’s large, candy-colored canvases that can be viewed with 3-D glasses for added effect.
  • Dave Dornan’s The Garden maintains an attitude of street art but with a decidedly sophisticated edge.
  • American Mandala by Dessi Price doesn’t need the “sofa, coffee table, and bowls.” The kaleidoscope canvas with drawn fast-food logos is delicious on its own.
  • Impermanence of Change by Shawn Porter looks glad to have escaped 337 South 400 East. It was good before. It’s better now.
  • And my pick for the best piece in the show, Benjamin Wiemeyer’s Self Titled featuring “latex on Tyvek, walnut, steel, 12v. battery, winch.” I can’t explain it. You should see it.
Present Tense: A Post 337 Project is on view at the Salt Lake Art Center until September 27. Go now. It’s free.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Three to see.

And now, my three favorite picks from Monet to Picasso at the Utah Museum of Fine Art (UMFA).

1. Pierre Bonnard’s The Dessert, or After Dinner, 1921. OK, so I like Bonnard and the fact he was included in this show is one of the reasons I was excited to go. This work (unlike the other Bonnard in the exhibit) demonstrates why the artist is so likeable. I could stare at this painting for hours trying to figure out what’s going on. The woman, looking concerned; or is that disdain. The boy who seems lost in a daydream, or did he just disappoint. And then that dog. I like the brushwork, the colors, the subject matter. I could live with a painting like this.

2. Auguste Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, 1875-76. There are plenty of nice Rodins in this show. But this life-sized statue stops you dead in your tracks. It’s hard to communicate the emotions inspired by the young man; the clenched hand, the grasped hair, the powerful stance. You can see why people found it hard to believe that this wasn’t cast from an actual human. Ah, the magic of art. I may not know what it means. But I know it means something.

3. Salvadore Dali’s The Dream, 1931. I like Salvadore Dali. From the Lobster Phone, to time melting, to those wacky films, I’m not sure Mr. Dali gets the credit he deserves. I’m pretty sure that without him we wouldn’t get to Pop Art. And many of today’s most well-known artists like Jeff Koons seem to have a direct line to Dali. Even artists like Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst, and Tim Hawkinson seem to tip their hats at Surrealism. This painting is classic Dali; the creepy figure with no eyes or mouth; the meticulously painted ants. And is that two guys making out in the background? It just makes you want to grow a crazy mustache.

Now it’s your turn. Visit the UMFA before September 21 and pick your three favorites.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Monet to Picasso and right on through to the break room.

The Utah Museum of Fine Art’s (UMFA) current exhibit Monet to Picasso is crowded with so much art, I decided it was worth a second visit. So recently I made trip two to spend more time with some of the works I liked best.

Let me start with a few general comments about the exhibit. First, the show is crowded. A little too crowded for my taste. The early galleries offer some breathing room but by the time you get past Picasso, things are cramped. The Expressionists and the Surrealists are crammed into what feels like a break room. Seriously, I’m talking industrial gray carpeting and a tile ceiling that begs you to throw pencils at it.

This show is also a reminder that just because a painting is by a great artist, it isn’t necessarily great. The show could have easily lost a dozen works and been better for the editing.

Then there’s the audio tour. I used the audio device my first visit. I enjoyed the exhibit more without the audio tour. And don’t even think about listening to the “family” audio segments.

But enough complaining. Let’s talk about the good stuff. The show features some dang good art. And it’s a dandy little art history lesson, going from pre-Impressionism all the way through to Surrealism. In fact, there’s enough to see, that I’m going to split my post. This post will talk about the exhibit from a general perspective. A later post will offer my picks for three must-see works.

Here are some highlights:

July: Specimen of a Portrait (1882) by Jacques-Joseph Tissot is a lovely transitional work early in the show. The beautiful portrait of a woman in a lace dress is intoxicating.

Just around the corner, past the Manets, you run into the Monets. (Yes I just skipped Manet. As I said, there’s a lot in this show so I can’t talk about everything.) Three works by Monet offer excellent examples of how beautifully the Impressionists used color and light.

The post Impressionists offered some nice surprises. I expected to enjoy The Poplars at Saint-Remy (1889) by Van Gogh. It’s thick, shiny paint made you want to touch it. (But in general, museums don’t like it when you do that.) I was surprised by a different arboreal work, Pine Tree (1897) by Giovanni Segantini. The thick paint and dark colors made for an extravagant picture.

I think the show features more works by Picasso than by any other single artist. There were at least eight. I’m not the world’s biggest Picasso fan. Cubism tends to leave me cold. But I was surprised at how much I liked the earlier works like 1903’s La Vie.

Past the Picasso gallery, the art work is crammed in as tightly as possible, with little or no room to stand back and admire. There’s Matisse, Modigliani, a surprising self portrait by William Orpen, Gauguin, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And that’s all before you get to the break room.

The break room is home to the Expressionists, like Karl Schmidt-Ruttluff. His Self Portrait with Hat from 1919 uses blues and greens in a style that made me want to like Cubism. Not to be outdone, Louis Corinth offered a 1915 painting called Self Portrait with Hat and Coat. Apparently self portraits with hats were all the rage among the Expressionists.

The Surrealists made a strong showing with works by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte (although the Magritte was a little on the boring side), and Salvador Dali.

Alright, I’ve bored you long enough with paintings, and sculptures, and art works. But if you haven’t seen the show, go. For two reasons. First, there really is stuff worth seeing. And second, it will encourage UMFA to bring in more shows like this. But hurry, because it all goes away September 21.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Triple Goddess birthing from the cosmic web.

Warning: I’m about to make a sports analogy—this seldom works.

Every fall, teams of elite athletes gather to prove their physical prowess. Fans and alumni everywhere rejoice. Last Saturday, was the pre-season shoot-out, a preview of the regular fall season. No it wasn’t football. (I sense your surprise.) It was Momentum “Untold Stories,” Ririe-Woodbury’s annual alumni performance. A bonus evening of dance before the regular seasons start next month.

The show features works choreographed and performed by current and past members of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. It’s generally a mixed bag of contemporary dance performance. This year’s show had more good than bad. Take a boy ina Box treading water Watching a bird play scrabble pt. 1. Yeah that title tries way too hard and features capitalization that could only have been imagined by a 14-year-old girl (shouldn’t a heart dot that second i?). But the duet choreographed by Liberty Valentine delivered a new style of movement with an intricate intertwining of bodies.

Less successful was Tammy Metz Starr’s Saffron Days, which felt like a mash up of Singin’ in the Rain and the Care Bears. It was definitely saffron.

Intermission brought Beyond Movement/Moving Beyond, a site specific lobby installation featuring knitted yarn, organza veils with oil paint and screen prints, three dancers, and “the Triple Goddess birthing from the cosmic web.” Yeah, I snickered too. The performance was awkward and I wrote it off. (Disappointing because the piece was imagined by one of my favorite Ririe-Woodbury alumnus, Javier Cordoba.) But wait, as intermission ended the three female performers, nearly naked except for Asian-inspired markings and make up, moved oh so slowly into the theater. Then they magically stepped into the first piece of the second half. The effect was haunting, setting the stage for a beautiful performance of Cordoba’s Letting Go.

The show ended with two exceptional works. Uncongealed Vitality choreographed and performed by Aaron Draper took street dance and elevated it to an impossible, mesmerizing level. And the final duet (broken Regained) choreographed and performed by Juan Carlos Claudio and Jill Voorhees Edwards reminded me how rewarding it is when two bodies move together with such intent.

Damn liberals.

That's right, it's the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I generally find the conventions tedious and largely meaningless. But at least this year I'm getting an insider's view. My friend (and one time resident of Salt Lake City) Steven Rivas just happens to be an actual delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Steven now lives in Austin, Texas (damn conservatives) and the Austin Chronicle asked him to report from the convention for their Gay Place Blog.

A warning: Steven's one of those crazy Hillary supporters and I think he's still a little bitter about Hillary's loss. So if you're a Barack supporter, be kind; we're still healing. And if you're a McCain supporter, visit the blog and send Steve a "Hillary Supporters for McCain" t-shirt or something. What have you got to lose?

You can read the blog here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Darling indeed.

My friend Kara said I need to start writing on my blog again. So Kara, this one's for you.

Since I'm always looking for a reason to hang out with the lesbians (and lured by the promise of an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet from The New Yorker), last Friday I headed over to "The Party On the Patio" at Paper Moon. The Paper Moon is one of Salt Lake's most popular lesbian nightclubs.  I have to say, the promoters grossly underestimated lesbians' appetite for seafood. We arrived thirty minutes into the affair only to discover the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet was already eaten.

But that's not the point of this story. We came for the floor show featuring the Voodoo Darlings. Who are the Voodoo Darlings? They're a group of sexy ladies (and a couple of random guys) who are part of Salt Lake City's burgeoning burlesque scene. Yes I said burgeoning burlesque scene. After all, the Slippery Kittens are in the finalists of ABC's America's Got Talent.

I'm not going to pretend to remember all the ladies' names. Nor even the details of their performances. But they're certainly worth a blog entry, for two reasons. First some of the ladies were good. And hot too. I was particularly enchanted by the dark and mysterious secret spy lady in her slippery black trench. Who knew garter belts were so hot?

And if the acts weren't fun enough, you also got to watch the lesbians. Since the burlesque dancers were working for tips, there was a built-in meter for which acts got the crowd most excited. Take the hula-hoop performer. She was OK, I guess. But wow, the ladies in the audience went crazy for her. I saw dollar bills stuffed in places that surprised even the performer.

The show was fun. The lesbians were fantastic. I'm calling the VooDoo Darlings a hit.