Friday, July 30, 2010

Country Kylie.

As I've previously noted, my song of the summer is Kylie Minogue's All the Lovers.  So I just couldn't resist posting this update.  At a recent Scissor Sisters performance in Melbourne, Australia, Kylie joined the the band for a performance of their bluegrass version of her summer hit.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book twenty one: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Here's one reason I like book club: It encourages me to read books I likely wouldn't otherwise consider.  For example, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This is the story of a young Jewish girl (Sarah) whose family is taken by the French police and delivered to a concentration camp.  I don't want to spoil the story so I'll try not to give too much away about what happens to her and her family.

Interspersed with her story is that of a mother living in modern Paris.  She's a journalist assigned to cover the events that lead to Sarah's imprisonment.  And since she has a daughter, roughly the same age, she takes more than a professional interest in the story.

Sarah's Key is a nice read that helped me better understand the horrors of World War II.  And many of the characters are endlessly likeable, like the older couple who help Sarah when she needs it most.  I also like the way the book seriously dealtswith the morality of abortion, exploring the gray areas instead of embracing the traditional black and white attitudes.

But the book isn't without its problems.  There are some surprisingly convenient plot twists that didn't make much sense and seem designed simply to allow the story to continue.  And sometimes the writing is simple and uninspiring.  But overall, I give this book a thumbs up.  And certainly anyone interested in compelling, historical Holocaust stories should consder this read.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art everywhere.

Seriously, there's so much art crammed into Washington, D.C.'s mall that you can't walk more than a few blocks without literally running into it.  On a walk back to my hotel I stumbled across the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Of course I had to take the detour.  There was lots to see.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Joan Miro delights with his bronze interpretation of a Lunar Bird (1944 -1946, enlarged and cast 1966 - 1967, bronze).

I love the surrealist dream represented in Judith Shea's Post-Balzac (1991, bronze).

Yoko Ono brings her peace-y, love-y art attitude with Wish Tree for Washington, DC (2007, live tree and mixed media).  In this work,  visitors write wishes on paper tags and hang them on a tree in the sculpture garden.  Yes, I wrote a wish but I refuse to divulge it for fear of jinxing it.

Yes, I stole one of the Yoko Ono Imagine Peace pencils.  Sorry.

Finally, how can you not love Roy Lichtenstein's massive Brush Stroke (1996, painted and fabricated aluminum).

Monday, July 26, 2010

What I didn't expect to find at the National Museum of the Amercian Indian.

With the unbelievable concentration of museums in Washington, D.C., you're bound to run across a surprise or two.  On my cab ride to the National Botanic Garden, I noticed banners for an exhibit of Brian Jungen's work called Strange Comfort.  It was showing at, of all places, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. While I enjoy historical and cultural museums, I'll almost always pass them up in favor of some good contemporary art. So it was a big surprise that the NMAI was featuring Jungen, who's a bit of darling in the  art world right now.  I quickly learned that the museum not only features the types of exhibits you'd expect, it also celebrates the art of living native Americans. (Although I had no Idea that Jungen qualifies as a Native artist but it does make sense and gives his work new meaning.)

Just this past year I've run across Jurgen's work twice.  First, I saw one of his massive sculptures at the Vancouver Art Gallery during my trip to the 2010 Olympics.  (Jungen lives and works in Vancouver.) Then this spring I saw one of his masks at the Flag Art Foundation.  Since the NMAI is just across the street from the National Botanic Garden, I decided to pay a visit. I'm glad I did, because it was the favorite thing I saw in Washington.

Jungen is a master of taking the ordinary and making it magical.  And he has an uncanny knack for cultural criticism; whether it's suggesting that our plastic, throw-away culture has consequences or pondering our cultural worship of the sports god.

Skull (2006-2009, baseballs, softballs) may not be about social criticism.  But it sure is cool.

There were several carved plastic gas cans.  This one is called White Death Camas (2007, carved five-gallon gasoline jug) and features a poisonous flower that can be found all over British Columbia.  What an interesting juxtaposition of ideas and a strangely beautiful object.

People's Flag (2006, recycled textiles, natural and synthetic fibers) was created on site at London's Tate Modern. The flag was inspired by a 19th Century socialist anthem and more modern banners created by environmental groups like Greenpeace. This massive red work is mesmerizing.

Shapeshifter (2000, white polypropylene plastic chairs) is similar to the sculpture I saw in Vancouver.  There is so much you can read into these works.  There's the fact that whales were hunted to near extinction in the 19th Century for their oil.  And today, oil of a different kind seems an equally hazardous threat to citizens of the ocean, a fact that is more ominous when you consider that this work is made of plastic, a substance manufactured largely from oil.

The Prince (2006, baseball gloves and dress form) is a little scary.  Instead of commenting on the work, I offer this response from Jungen when asked why so much of his work features sports imagery: "Mainly because I've always been interested in sports.  But I've also thought that if it's okay for North American sporting teams to use imagery and language and even some crude ceremonial practices of Native Americans, then I feel I have the right to use sports equipment.  What sports fulfills in contemporary North America is this kinship ritual among fans.  It's essentially a ceremony that's very specific and has rules and colors."

My favorite works in the show were these amazing totem poles.  Each one is created as a remembrance of the past six decades of British Columbian history.  For example, 1960 saw the Canadian Bill of Rights paving the way for Native voting rights.  The Oka rebellion of 1990 was sparked by the expansion of a golf course on Mohawk lands.  And in 2010 the Winter Olympics in Vancouver showcased native art and culture to an international audience.  Here is an installation view of 1960, 1970, 1980 (all 2007, golf bags with golf balls and painted golf tees), and 1990 (2007, golf bags, cardboard tube).  

And this is a detail from 2010 (2007, golf bags, cardboard tube).

I love shows that offer interesting facts about the culture I live in.  For example, did you know that Michael Jordan was fined $5,000 every game he wore his Nike Air Jordans because the NBA didn't think the colors were appropriate?  I learned that tidbit while looking at several of Jungen's ceremonial masks created from Air Jordans. Here are three of the masks which I can't accurately identify by title due to some sloppy note taking on my part.

I'm end with a bonus surprise from the NMAI.  This is an object that wasn't created by Brian Jungen.  I found it included on a wall of amazing beaded items.  It's a meticulously beaded American flag titled Nations created by Jenny Ann "Chapoose" Taylor. It's constructed from 130,910 glass beads, leather, and nylon thread. If you look closely, you'll notice that words about our nation are carefully beaded into the flag.  It's like a sparkling, shimmering Jasper Johns painting.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The nation's gardens.

If there was a cultural theme to my recent visit to our nation's capitol, it might be gardens.  First there was my visit to Hillwood.  Then there was my visit to the White House where I saw the first lady's new kitchen garden. 

And finally, I paid a visit to the United States Botanical Garden, the highlight of which is the conservatory. I've been to better conservatories, but this was still fun.  The building was recently remodeled, resulting in a beautiful facility that explores plants from around the world.

Outside the conservatory, the botanical gardens offered delightful, edible garden ideas including these entry arches that demonstrated how you can garden up instead of gardening out.

Inside, visitors are greeted by delightful topiary bears holding flowering treasures.

The main hall of the conservatory is dedicated to the jungle.  And it's hot, steamy environment with its sky-high walkways makes you want to visit the tropics.

And while Hillwood boasted about its dedication to orchids, their greenhouse couldn't compare to the stunning orchids in this conservatory.

I end with a self portrait from the nation's botanical gardens.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Party in the USA.

The reason for my recent visit to our nation's capitol was to attend the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.  There's a lot to enjoy at the WPC.  The demos of the latest Microsoft technology are always cool.  Finding out what Microsoft believes is the future of technology is intriguing.  And since Microsoft is my primary client, it's good to get insight into what we I need to consider to help my clients succeed.  This year there was even a keynote address by former president Bill Clinton.

And then there are the parties.  In a city like Washington, there are some great places to host a party.  There was the Public Sector party held in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery which recently got a new canopy that's an architectural delight. The party lighting only made it more spectacular:
Here's my friend and colleague Sara chatting with one of our public sector clients.

The US Partner Team invited us to a party at the Newseum, where you could enjoy snacks and drinks next to an amazing chunk of the Berlin Wall.

And the OEM Group commandeered the rooftop of a DC office building with an amazing Washington view. 

Possibly the most exciting part of the OEM party was the freak storm that nearly blew the tent right off the roof, knocking over an entire catering table of glassware. That was exciting. Here are a couple of short videos of the storm and our part in it:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunday in the park with Gertrude.

It's no secret that I celebrate my inner old lady.  In fact, my friends have named my old-lady persona.  She's Gertie (short for Gertrude).  And Gertie was in heaven on a recent trip to Washington D.C. where she visited Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens.  This is a place created by an old lady, run largely by old ladies, and visited predominately by old ladies.  They actually serve afternoon tea . . . in the garden!

If you plan to visit Hillwood, make sure you know how to get there because this place is off the beaten path.  My taxi driver wouldn't have made it if I hadn't brought a printout of the directions.

Hillwood is delightful for its unabashed ego.  You're greeted with banners that read, "Where fabulous lives." (I know some gay men who might beg to differ.)  Even their admission buttons (and this is the most insignificant museum I've been to that has admission buttons) brands visitors as fabulous.

I was greeted by an old lady (dressed in a smart, Chanel-like suit) who was devastated when I turned down the docent-lead tour.  "But how will you know what you're seeing?" she asked.  I responded that I'd get by.

While I planned my visit mostly to see the gardens, I started by wandering through the mansion turned museum. It was more enjoyable than expected.  Hillwood was created by Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heir to the Post cereal fortune.  Her father died while she was relatively young leaving her a vast fortune.  She was an undeniable eccentric who married and divorced four men, two of whom were the U.S. Ambassadors to Russia. She loved to collect things.  The Hillwood mansion is filled with stunning collections.  Some of the best feature Russian gems including a whole bunch of Faberge eggs.  I love how casually the collections are displayed.

The mansion is curated beautifully.  I like that the staff haven't made the house too museum like.  Instead, you get a feel for what it must have been like to attend a summer party at Hillwood; the opulence, the dinners, the conversations, and the after-dinner entertainment.  This room was designed for performances, including a balcony complete with theater-style seating.

Most interesting were some of the more mundane areas of the mansion, including the 50s-style kitchen left just as it was when the house was entertaining.

However the gardens are where Hillwood really excels. The grounds smell as good as they look.  I'm not sure who oversees the plantings but it feels like they want you to smell the gardens as much as see them. And then there are the birds.  Sure we have songbirds in Utah, but nothing like the overwhelming sound found in these gardens.

Ms. Post definitely left enough money to allow for a substantial gardening staff (and they were busy at work while I was there). The grounds are meticulously well kept.  Take the formal garden just outside the mansion.  The sculpted box woods are stunning.

Let's talk ivy.  I've never seen so much ivy used to such great effect, from ivy walls to sculpted ivy borders.  One of my favorite ivy moments is an area that brags about its royal heritage.

There's also a lovely Japanese-style garden.

There are plenty of interesting areas on the grounds (including four fallout shelters; how very 1950s).  One of the most beautiful is the greenhouse filled with orchids.  Marjorie Merriweather Post loved having orchids in her home so she created a greenhouse designed to ensure a constant source of the flowers.

Finally, my favorite spot in the whole place was the pet cemetery.  The pathway leading to the cemetery was flanked by stone dogs.  Then there were the marble markers, with their quirky pet names that celebrated the happiness these dogs obviously inspired.  It's strange that as I approach the one-year anniversary of my dog Cairo's death, this pet cemetery made me happy. 

Oh Marjorie, I wish you and Gertie could enjoy afternoon tea in the gardens at Hillwood. I'm sure the two of us would get along famously.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

American modern.

The modern galleries at the Smithsonian American Art Museum are not just beautiful, they contain a host of great, contemporary art works by some of my favorite artists.  Here are a few of the works that caught my attention.

It's no secret that I like Jenny Holzer's work.  Visitors to the American Art Museum are drawn into the modern gallery with a spectacular Holzer sculpture.  This work is perfectly installed and uses technology in an ingenious way.  It's an LED system but it's like nothing I've seen before.  Here's a quick video of For SAAM (2007, electronic LED array with white diodes).

Nam June Paik offers a spectacular view of the American dream with Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii (1995). This dazzling neon map features Paik's trademark TV screens that deliver location-related video clips from classic American works like The Wizard of Oz and Oklahoma.

Duane Hanson's hyper-real sculptures that depict every-day people are noteworthy not just for their spectacular executions, but also for their creepiness. This is Woman Eating (1971, polyester resin, fiberglass, polychromed in oil with clothes, table, chair, and accessories).

And I can't leave without noting this work by artist Deborah Butterfield.  It's not that I'm particularly fond of the work, it's just that I think I've seen more Deborah Butterfield horses than just about any other artist's work.  From art museums around the country (including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts) to airports to public spaces, Butterfield's horses are everywhere.  Here's Monekana (2001, bronze).

Hyper reality.

A recent business trip took me to Washington D.C.  And I was invited to a party at the National Portrait Gallery.  In the same building is the Smithsonian's American Art Museum.  I decided to head to the party early to see the current exhibit, Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.  That's right, the two famed directors are big Norman Rockwell fans and from what I've heard, never loan their paintings.  But in D.C. you can see a surprising number of Rockwell paintings spanning the artist's lengthy career. The show is up through January 2, 2011.

I don't think Rockwell gets the respect he should from the art world.  He's often written off as just another illustrator.  But this show demonstrates his immense talent.  And I think Rockwell was a pioneer of a style I'll call hyper-realism; art that transcends photo realism to create something that can't be expressed in the real world.  That's a trend the art world has more recently embraced (particularly in sculpture) with artists like Duane Hansen and Ron Mueck.

There's a lot to like at this show, particularly if you work in advertising.  Rockwell did a lot of work for corporate America and his paintings deliver wonderful moments from the American dream.  Take Merry Christmas Grandma . . . We Came In Our New Plymouth (1950, charcoal and crayon on paper).  There's not a car in sight.  Instead, we see what owning car meant to the modern, mid-century American family.

I also love the way Rockwell is capable of depicting the style of the moment.  With paintings that cover at least 40 years of American style, Rockwell had to have a perfect sense for what defined the now.  Like the young woman in Window Washer (1960, oil on canvas).  She's the definition of the modern, 1960s career girl.

I can see why movie directors would like these paintings; they're perfectly composed, beautifully lit, and executed with a precision that rivals some of histories best films.  These are also images that define America.  I'll end with what was my favorite painting in the show.  The Connoisseur (1962, oil on canvas mounted on board) is a portrait of a man contemplating a Jackson-Pollack-like painting.   I can see something of me in this painting.  And that might be what makes Rockwell so enthralling; that we can see something of our collective selves in his work.