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.