June 2009 Archives

Ben Godward Goddess (with post-modern tits) 2009 dimensions variable, mixed media with beer [installation view, without the beer]

After this Sunday it looks like it's going to be up to those who were touched and enriched by the unique creative society which centers on Austin Thomas's storefront in Bushwick to continue its mission elsewhere - or perhaps everywhere. The artist-run space is described in the press release for this, the final show, as:

. . . a social sculpture. It is also a gallery and a post-studio artist residency that blurs the lines between artist, dealer, gallerist, viewer and participant.

There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in New York, but this little utopia closes on Sunday.

The friendly note, "Ben Godward will serve beer.", appeared within the announcement for the reception of the current show. The image at the top is of the keg machine the artist constructed for the event. We were in Chicago that weekend, but I have it on good authority that both of those kegs were "stereophonically" emptied that night, as good an indication as any that Pocket Utopia has performed or excelled in the role its creator, Austin Thomas, had planned when she opened the door of the former hair salon two years ago. She did so in what much of the city would have regarded as a somewhat precarious neighborhood for the display of art, even if the artists themselves had already settled in.

Bushwick has certainly changed since early 2007, and some of the healthier changes the art world has seen during that same time just might have been inspired by the gentle, generous and creative genius of the project which began on Flushing Avenue just 24 months ago.

I'm looking forward to Thomas's next thing, but first I'm going to head for the "The Final Salon", this Sunday, June 28. There will be a gathering at 4pm there which will include readings by Andrew Hurst and Kevin Regan, and we're also told Ben Godward's Goddess will be flowing again!

"Finally Utopia" includes current work by a few of the artists who have shown in the space before. They include, in addition to Godward, Rico Gatson, Andrew Hurst, Molly Larkey, Kevin Regan, an occasion-specific text piece by Thomas herself, and Jonathan VanDyke. Valerie Hegarty's piece can be seen in the image below.

Valerie Hegarty Cracked Canyon with Flowers 2009 dimensions variable, poster, paper, paint, glue, staples, artificial stems and flowers [installation view]

The Iranian protest movement is using social media in innovative ways to organize and get their message across. In this June 9 photo, a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi films an election rally. - Spiegel Online

The exigencies of the continuing crisis in Iran have eclipsed the importance of traditional media institutions virtually overnight.

Because of a frightened theocracy's police controls and its effectiveness in blocking both access to and the filing of news, the role for television, radio and newspaper news reporting during the unraveling of one of the most important stories of the decade has fallen into a new category: In the telling of the story the traditional news organizations now occupy a middle position, in time and distance, somewhere between actual news reporting and what we will eventually find in the accounts of historians.

We have all become the reporters, in a gradual development whose significance is made clear and dramatic in the way in which we are learning about what is going on in the streets and homes of Iran this month, where it is new media which is keeping a popular revolution alive. Long live new media!

The impotence of old media may look like merely the consequence of a single emergency, but at the moment it's an emergency without a denouement. Also, because there are certain to be others like it, and because our social media tools are only going to become more accessible and more ubiquitous, it's looking like an impotence from which it may never completely emerge.

Together with the many past and continuing criminal failures of our news establishments and my excitement in watching the human and technological drama of a growing popular role in creating and reporting the news, I have to balance my treasuring a modest early experience in print journalism and my enduring pleasure in reading the best work of journalists published in hard copy. For that reason I have complex feelings while watching what may be the imminent demise of these hoary, once-great institutions which are already-so distressed: It's pretty sad, and I confess to feeling embarrassed for all of us when I read postings, on the BBC, the New York Times or the Guardian sites for instance, apologizing for not being able to get a story from their own reporters and camera crews.

The television, radio and print news media may soon be left with merely a secondary role (if any) sifting, analyzing and commenting on information provided by outside and structurally independent reporters on the scene who are using the latest personal technology.

[image caption and otherwise uncredited image from Spiegel]

Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate 2004-2006 polished stainless steel 33' x 66' x 42' [detail of installation]

I think I expected to be charmed by Anish Kapoor's sculpture in Millenium Park, but when Barry and I encountered "Cloud Gate" on the first full day of our visit to the city two weeks ago I thought it was even better than the reviews had reported - and even more fun than its billings.

But it's also an incredible photo opportunity, and this was one of those rare times I totally went with it. The underside of what Chicagoans had early on dubbed "the Bean" is described as an omphalos, or navel, a complex, curving indentation whose mirrored surface multiplies anything found beneath it, but in the other images I snapped the same afternoon I concentrated entirely on the first of the foreshortened Barrys I spotted above me.





low down on the High Line

Barry and I visited the newly-opened first stretch of the High Line last Thursday, in spite of a light mist which probably reduced the crowds of the curious that afternoon. The experience was more lovely than I had dared to expect. My favorite things are its physical position (three stories above the street snaking around and through some other interesting structures, often within view of the Hudson), the handsome naturalistic plantings, and the fact that it's only a few blocks from our apartment.

It's a really, really wonderful thing. Its delights start even before you climb (or "elevate") to the height of the old freight railway, with the breathtaking sight of smiling, happy people out in the open air beyond an old railing thirty feet above you, and it never stops. Actually, I think we're both still high a week later, just thinking about it.

But I do have quibbles about some of the fancy details. I think that certain features introduced by the design team, led by landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations with architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, seem a bit too fussy, and their design may not age well. I'm thinking of the concrete-and-stone composite seat supports and "fingers" stretching from the path into the crushed-stone planted areas. I assume there's a practical reason for their being there, if not in their precise configuration, and in any case nature may soon disguise or soften a lot of what now seems too much like an affectation.

The monstrous commercial Chelsea Piers operation robbed Chelsea of the kind of access to the Hudson River enjoyed by most of the communities north and south of us when the designs for Hudson River Park were approved. Chelsea is only now getting its first real park.

I've included only one photo here, an aesthetic and historically-referenced impression of the new High Line. It's a detail describing some of the materials used in its construction, including the edge of the pavement, a very low steel railing, a segment of the original freight rails, and a look at the beautiful ornamental grass. I decided to hold back on any images documenting the park more thoroughly (they're available all over the internet anyway), in order to make it easier for the reader to experience the environment visually unprejudiced.

Harness dresses 2003

Half Moons Blossom into a Cornflower dresses 1998

One Seam lace dress 1998

Broomstick Librarian shirtwaist dresses (hand-painted by Ruben Toledo) 2008

Pouch skirt and one-sleeve corset top 1988

I wandered over to the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology [FIT] this morning at dawn (okay, 10am) for the press preview of "Isabel Toledo; Fashion from the Inside Out". Why? Because I've always been interested in innovative and creative clothing of any kind, both historical and contemporary, and because I've been particularly enamored of Toledo's gentle art and the independence and originality with which this beautiful woman and her equally-beautiful husband and partner, the illustrator Ruben Toledo, have gone about making New Yorkers beautiful since the early 80's. I moved to New York in 1985, the year of Isabel's first show.

In many ways this mid-career retrospective is about both Isabel and Ruben. Isabel refers to herself not as a designer but as a seamstress, "the one who views fashion from the inside!" She describes her creative process as beginning with a feeling and an idea in her head which she describes to Ruben who then illustrates it in drawings.

Actually, I'd describe her as an architect as well - top-notch. Maybe that's what really brought me to the show.

"Isabel Toledo" opens to the public tomorrow. There are some wonderful moments, with great beauty and simplicity balanced by some serious humor and awesome complexity.

I was surprised to read in the press release that Toledo was "unknown to the general public" until Michelle Obama appeared in her ensemble on Inauguration Day. That "lemongrass yellow wool lace shift dress with matching overcoat " is installed behind glass and next to a guard at FIT, and to most of the journalists present this morning it was obviously the most important piece in the show, even if it was certainly the most conservative and otherwise the least remarkable.

But should it be a surprise that the cult of personality is very much alive in the world of fashion? Still, while I'm happy for this beautiful couple that the inevitable installation of this dress and coat within the Smithsonian Museum won't hurt their visibility, anything approaching popular hysteria still seems pretty alien to the more subtle art of the rest of the work installed inside the museum on Seventh Avenue.

Isabel meets the press in front of "the ensemble" as Ruben records the moment

some of the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters marching in silence today in central Tehran (green was the signature color of the opposition's campaign)

I think they're going to make it. There will be more demonstrations tomorrow, and the protests are likely to be more broadly-based and increasingly countrywide. A general strike has been called for the same day.

Iran's twentieth-century political history is a complex story, and the second half especially includes a far-from-innocent involvement on the part of the U.S. [fed first by our lust for oil and Cold War hysteria - okay, it was actually pretty disgusting], but today it suddenly appears that the people who created and maintained one of the greatest civilizations in human history just may be about to emerge from the tyranny of a crude religious fanaticism which had briefly hijacked both their own best hopes and the world's admiration for their magnificent culture.

I'd like to add that I wish that ordinary U.S. citizens had the kind of political courage being displayed on the streets of Iran today; We could certainly use it. Beginning last November I've been expressing my doubts about whether we were going to get what we had voted for. I should be writing more about my increasing fear and disgust, but I'll wait for another occasion.

ADDENDUM: I just saw this Ted Rall cartoon. Although I said I wouldn't go into Obama's failures now, I couldn't resist the adding this note. I do this even though Rall doesn't address our hope-and-change President's equally disturbing failure to address the economic meltdown (instead handing over the government to Wall Street), and his cynical reversals on gay rights issues.

[image, from the Guardian, by Abedin Taherkenareh/European Press Photo]

the flat

the caf

Barry and I both love Mark-Anthony Turnage's work, and we love our fifteen-year-old CD of his 1988 opera, "Greek", in which he reinvents the Oedipus myth in London's East End during the plague years of 1980's Thatcherian England, using a 1984 play by Steven Berkoff as a base. I don't think we ever expected to see a production of this exciting piece in the U.S., especially here in New York, where opera programmers and patrons haven't even begun to acknowledge the music of the last one hundred years.

We had already made arrangements for a trip to Chicago (from which we returned late last night) when we first learned that Chicago Opera Vanguard, a spunky young opera company, was staging "Greek" somewhere on the edge of downtown while we were going to be there. We would probably have traveled west just to see this work live but it appears that the ancient gods aren't dead yet and had secretly made the arrangements for us.

As it turns out, not only was the pleasure we got for our short trip out to Wicker Park Saturday night all out of proportion to the small effort we had expended, we would even have considered it worth the 1500 round-trip miles if we had made a special trip just for this particular "Greek".

No, there were no supertitles, so in the planned-chaos and fantastic mix of this thrilling staging some of the dialogue may have been lost, but the extraordinary beauty, intelligence, creativity and sheer exuberance of everything and everyone involved in the production made it one of the most exciting operatic performances I've seen. It doesn't hurt that the setting also summons the devils of our own contemporary plague years. And, yes, it really is opera.

The production was carved out of a somewhat eccentric late nineteenth-century "defrocked" (very appropriate, that) church, now the St. Paul Arts Center, with a wonderful and oddly-anachronistic avant-garde theater seating plan.

We arrived early to pick up our tickets and when I peeked through the doors to the theater space from the foyer where the "box office" was located I saw what appeared to be a set still in the making (scaffolding, buckets and sheets and such). Minutes later I saw instead that what I was looking at was actually a detail of the most thoroughly-broadcast set decoration operation I'd ever seen. The entire church was the stage for the opera, as we learned the moment it began, and that included the balcony above us, where music director/conductor Christopher Ramaekers and the nineteen members of the excellent orchestra were installed.

I took the images at the top, of two sections of John Sundling's wonderful set in this theater-kind-a-in-the-round, a few minutes before the performance began.

There were four excellent singers (and real actors!), and their moves (choreographed by Erica Reid) were augmented by a fleet and nimble crew of supernumeraries/stage assistants which managed to be everywhere doing just about everything an actor, dancer, properties person or technician could be asked to do. Philip Dawkins's costumes were spot on. I was enchanted by the kind of special effects (generally pretty low-tech) which might have intrigued a small eighteenth-century theater director, and the improvised magic lantern stuff was a terrific "stocking stuffer".

The cast:

Justin Neal Adair (Eddy), Ashlee Hardgrave (Mum/Woman/Waitress/Sphinx), Brad Jungwirth (Dad/Police Chief/Manager), Caitlin McKechney (Doreen/Woman/Waitress/Wife/Sphinx)

Sean Eweert, Dwight Sora, Cassie Vlahos, Kelly Yacono (in various roles)

Chicago Opera Vanguard appears to be basically the creation of its amazing composer/director, Eric Reda. The COV site describes the company's laudable mission:

Chicago Opera Vanguard is dedicated to exploring the delicate balance needed between performance, music, words, design and technology in order to make a truly immersive and transformative experience.

COV is commited to creating accessible and exciting theatrical experiences, both concretely and virtually, by producing new works, giving a second voice to important or overlooked modern pieces, and completely reimagining the standard repertoire.

There shouldn't be an empty seat in the house for something this good. Now that the work has received some awesome reviews, tickets may be hard to find for the last three performances, this Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

For those who can't make it, I just found a listing for a DVD of a television production.

We definitely want to go back to Chicago, since we had such a great time and thought the people were great, but another COV production will definitely do it for us.

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