Culture: June 2003 Archives

Paul, Barry and Scott stop to check out the mysterious Galapagos black pool during our tour of Williamsburg gallery openings Friday night.

[revised June 26 with additional information]

I can't believe I hadn't yet posted anything on a wonderful artist very new to New York, who is opening a one-man show tonight at Daniel Reich.

Disclaimer: We bought three of Paul P.'s works from Daniel's last, wonderfully-over-the-top show, "Karaoke Death Machine," one painting and two images in colored pencil on paper. They are a treasure.

Even as they were effectively mounted as only a part of the magical collage-of-the-whole which composed that show, Paul's pictures, the pink boys and vases of flowers, stood out for their purity and energy - and beauty. In fact they are together the survivors of two plagues. The boys are innocent faces drawn from pre-AIDS porn, the flower arrangements pay homage to Manet's last works, those in which he delighted while dying of syphilis. The title of the show at Daniel Reich is "Paul P. Last Flowers."

The lines of the pencil images float, like delicate etchings, softly colored, on tissue. Tonight's opening should be dynamite, and that's without accounting for the crowd, which should be worth a run-through for its own beauty and its frisson!

Toronto-based, Paul has shown work in Toronto, Stratford, Winnipeg, Santa Monica and on the othergallery, a web-based nomadic gallery that, like its Winnipeg home gallery, focuses on Contemorary Canadian Art. [Who knew that Winnipeg was in Scotland? Listen to the delightful accents of several of the people interviewed in the CBC story.]

Daniel Reich is located at 308 West 21st Street, 2A, New York. The show continues until July.

Oh, has anyone else noticed how hot Canada is these days - at least here in New York?

Joseph Chaikin died on Sunday at his home in Greenwich Village.

The great actor and creative director had lived for years with the burden of a congenital heart disease, but this weekend he finally had to leave the boards. His sister, the actress Shami Chaikin, who was with him when he died, reports, in today's NYTimes obituary, how he worked up to the end. He was in Philadelphia auditioning actors on thursday and friday, and he was supposed to have a meeting in his home yesterday.

"He always felt he had to work," Shami Chaikin said. But over the weekend, she added, he felt weak and thought he might have to use a wheelchair. "Everything started to fail," she said. He took a sleeping pill and went to bed, and awoke with distress. She said she asked him what was wrong.

"I don't know," he said. She said those were his last words and he spoke them questioningly, almost analytically, as if trying to understand his role.

I came late to Jerry Salz's beautiful tribute to Mark Lombardi last month in the Village Voice, having pulled it off my reading stack only this weekend, but Saltz's paean and his regret for our loss of this wonderful artist has probably gained even more profundity with the passage of even these few weeks. Lombardi hanged himself in his Williamsburg loft March 22, 2000.

Needless to say, our post-9-11 age would have been Lombardi's glory days. I don't mean this lightly. We need him. It's heartbreaking that he isn't here to help diagram everything that has happened lately.
Saltz's memorial was inspired by the incredible show then hanging in Joe Amrhein's iconic gallery, Pierogi 2000, in Williamsburg.
Lombardi is more than a conceptualist or political artist. He's a sorcerer whose drawings are crypto-mystical talismans or visual exorcisms meant to immobilize enemies, tap secret knowledge, summon power, and expose demons. The demons Lombardi concerned himself with, however, weren't otherworldly. He was after real people who were either hiding in plain sight or who had managed to fade into the woodwork. Lombardi was on a mission: He wanted to right wrongs by revealing them. Instead of critiquing the system, like so many contemporary conceptualists, or journeying to other psychic dimensions like shamans, Lombardi assumed the personas of the grand inquisitor, the private investigator, and the lone reporter. He followed the money.

I loved the way his mind worked. But it was his wildly suspicious imagination and his maniacal attention to and ultra-distrust of the status quo that made me think Lombardi was ill-starred. He was a rangy, whimsical, articulate guy, prone to fidgetiness and discomfiture, and if you asked him anything about his work, you'd get a way too detailed answer. But these garrulous explanations always came with a crooked smile and an expectant look that seemed to say, "I know this is strange, but it's all true."

Thanks Mark, Joe, and Jerry

Spencer Tunick did his thing in Barcelona on Sunday. But Barcelona did more than Spencer's thing.

While Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani censored Tunick's art, along with the inclination of New Yorkers to happily get naked in its service. Giuliani had managed to arrest, and sometimes jail, Tunick 5 times. Three years ago a photoshoot much smaller than Barcelona's was proposed for a Sunday dawn in an area virtually empty of people, but there was to be no joy, no art in Gotham that morning, thanks to our prosecutorial hypocrite.

In Barcelona the authorities seem to have had no problem with 7,000 (described as up to 12,000 elsewhere) happy naked Spaniards filling a "sweeping Barcelona boulevard" in daylight, and even provided a nearby massive convention hall for an assembly area.

But the Catalonian crowd was interested in more than art or mass urban nudity. As Tunick gave them the go-ahead, speaking into a microphone,

The crowd erupted into cheers and then chants of "No War!" and "No to Bush!"

Ozan Sezen, who works with computers, said he had read with dismay of Mr. Tunick's repeated installation-related arrests in New York City several years ago. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Mr. Tunick had a right to stage his art outside without being jailed, but the Giuliani administration rejected his subsequent permit request; Mr. Tunick has not approached Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for permission.

Mr. Sezen, 35, who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Rock Solid Beefcake," prepared to take it off.

"In many of his exhibitions, there are a lot of fat guys, which makes it much easier," he said.

The time came. There was loud cheering, and the sound of thousands of underpants hitting the floor. Everyone walked outside, naked.

The intrepid reporter joined them, with only a notepad for cover.
Then it was over. Some people jogged nude up and down the boulevard. Others re-dressed. Inside, Scott Ansell, 31, an Englishman who had already taken part in an earlier work by Mr. Tunick, involving hundreds of naked people riding the escalators in a London department store, mused on the cultural differences.

"The English seemed a bit more giggly," he said. "I get the impression that half of the people here will be naked later today, anyway."

His friend Jane Hyde, 44, said of the apparent Spanish tendency to spank their own naked rear ends as a form of applause, "That bottom-smacking thing is rude!"


For a small slideshow of pictures, see Reuters.

I couldn't recomend more highly the Les Arts Florissants production of Rameau's "Les Boréades" which opened June 9 at the Brookly Academy of Music. I'd be astounded if it hasn't sold out already, but the Academy Howard Gilman Opera House is a very big space.

The music is gorgeous, and until recently inexplicably neglected. The singing is superb, and the visuals are magificent, modern but fully respectful of the formalism of mid-eighteenth-century France.

The story and the libretto, with their elevation of la Liberté to the highest order, well, next to the redemptive qualities of love, are pure Enlightenment, and a healthy reminder of how much we still owe to the French, who taught our Fathers so much we seem now to have forgotten ourselves.

Rameau wrote the music in 1763. He was 80, and he died the following year. The text was the work of a Freemason, which may explain why it was never performed in his time. The work but had to wait for its premier until just a few years ago. This is it's American premier.

More than most operas, "Les Boréades" is a balance of theater, music and dance. There are long sections with no vocal lines whatsoever, where the dance soars.

Director Robert Carsen and his creative team flood the stage with summer blossoms, mountainous piles of autumn leaves, punishing winter snows, and thunderous spring storms. The soloists, chorus, and dancers, 140-strong, are costumed in late 1940s, Dior-inspired dress to simpler garments to no garments at all. And then there are the marvels of Rameau, a master whose haunting airs and orchestral dances for Les Boréades put many more familiar operas to shame. Rameau called on a lifetime of experience in its creation, but above all he knew the human heart.
The huge chorus and the dancers (astoundingly, they are virtually indistinguishable for much of the evening in this production) are individually and together exceptionally beautiful and athletic, and lucky in their choreographer. The sets and lighting would please Wieland Wagner and Robert Wilson.



Adding to our own entertainment on opening night was the buzz created by the presence of the dashing young Canadian equery who accompanied "Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D., Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada" and her consort, the essayist and novelist "His Excellency John Ralston Saul, C.C."

This handsome, perfectly-bilingual couple sat immediately across the aisle from us and joined the champagne patron receptions during two intermissions. The smiling equery, equally bilingual, clutched a thick leather portfolio (documents which might be needed to identify the GG, in the event of some unpleasant emergency, like our INS mistreating another Canadian citizen?) and never strayed far.

I have to gasp at the biographies of these two and admire what that says about their nation, especially when we look at what passes for the "qualifications" of our own current pretender to the office of U.S. chief executive. Of course the Canadian executive office has no real power, but it does clearly represent what Canada holds dear. Both nations regularly select lessor creatures to do the real ruling business.

[Note: The Governor General is nominated by the Canadian Prime Minister and approved by the Queen (Canadian Head of State) as her representative in Canada.]

By the way, Clarkson and Saul were at BAM on Monday not because of any official Canadian connection, but just for the show (they're both interested in the culture of all nations, and Saul especially is interested in promoting that of the French). Just a night out.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from June 2003.

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