Category Archives: Review

More Art In Amsterdam

Busy day at the galleries today, as well as plenty of walking and some shopping and lots of crowds.

First stop today was Hermitage Amsterdam, for the twin exhibitions, Portrait Gallery Of The Golden Age, and Alexander, Napoleon & Josephine.  Since the largest crowds were heading towards the latter, I started with the former.  Glad I did.  I allowed myself almost two hours to stroll, enjoy and learn in these expansive galleries.

This former alms house for “old” women (those over 50) and later for similarly “old” men, built in the 1850s, have been converted into a truly astonishing gallery complex.  The ceilings are high, the rooms are airy, the installations complex and extraordinary.  An astute eye reveals just how flexible the space is, as large “doors,” wide enough to block an entire hallway, can be swung completely out of view.  These doors, acting more like moveable walls, can reshape the gallery the way many museums use velvet ropes or temporary panels.

In this case the exhibit starts in a series of small chambers which give us the back story of Amsterdam society in the 1600s, the civic councils, guilds, guards, etc. and how members of the upper classes moved between these and through them administered the affairs of the city.  These were Calvinists, almost exclusively, although they did tolerate other Protestants, and (to a degree) Jews.  The city was already an international trading hub — several of the street scenes include men in fez or turban — and the burghers wanted to ensure that the populous was more or less happy and content.  Discontent being bad for business.

The entry salon uses an ingenious system of projections onto painted walls to single out four civic leaders who we will follow throughout the rest of the exhibit.  This technique allows the incredibly well written text lead us through about 125 years of history, from the founding of the Dutch Republic through to the end of the 17th century, and, ultimately, into the present day.

The real focus here is on the appetite of the ruling merchant class for portraits of themselves serving the civic good, in groups, thus establishing their rightful place in the social order.  Almost always, especially in the earlier, more rigidly posed portraits, the men (and they are all male in the early years) are shown in two ranks.  These early portraits are of civic guard units — the long bowmen, the cross-bowmen, the pikesmen, etc. — are analogous to more modern military unit portraits.  As time progresses, and civic attention turns to more than just the guard and the protections they offer, to charitable works — alms houses, prisons, hospitals, etc. — we see boards of governors and governesses (yes the ladies do start to appear).

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After this introduction, we enter a grand gallery which is hung “salon” style, but here that means only two ranks of paintings, even though the room is over two storeys tall.  Here’s an example:

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See, the paintings are just so huge that they couldn’t fit any more!  Each of these is about 20 feet or more long, and, as you can see, about 7 feet tall, or more.  Several of the frames have metal joining plates in the middle of the horizontal segments, as can be seen on both of the paintings closest to us.  By the way, note the two smaller figures to the left of the closest picture.  Those are governesses on this board.  The text explains that the painter was likely not told ahead of time that he was to include them, and so ran out of space.

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The large video screen, seen above, is used for a ten minute long explainer, which plays with the other images in the room and quite effectively draws us into the subject.

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Here the large, central, gallery is seen from above in the second floor chambers.  There are several openings like this, into the large gallery, which allows for clever interaction between the exhibition content in the two locales.  For example, in one upper gallery, text by the side of an opening tells the viewer to look down into the lower gallery and identify both a woman (to the left in the right-most lower picture, above) and to her daughter in an adjacent (not seen here) portrait.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, and the creativity of the presentation.  Four stars!

Now, out into the city again, and to find something to eat and maybe some shopping.  Here’s a few snaps, mostly at a flea market, along the way:

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I was about to just head over to Rembrandthuis, but found myself standing right outside of something I’d espied from the tram a few times, DWDD Popup Museum.

I honestly had no idea what it was, but had been intrigued by the idea of a pop-up museum (something I’d like to try some time) and figured, “what the hell?”  Again, it helped that I had a Museumkaart, as DWDD accepted that for free admission, as did all the museums I entered today.

So, what is DWDD?  It’s “De Wereld Draait Door.”  I think it’s something like The World At Your Door, a series of galleries each curated by different person, each from the collection of another major cultural institution in The Netherlands.  I say, “I think…” because there was absolutely no English translation available for any of the exhibit text, catalogue, pamphlets, etc.  So, I was flying blind.

Okay, just checked Wikipedia, which tells me that DWDD, “de wereld draait door,” actually means either “The World keeps turning” or “The World is going crazy,” and is the name of a Dutch television program.  I’ve had a devil of a time learning more about it, but did find this list of curators:

Halina Reijn (Museum de Fundatie), Joost Zwagerman (Gemeentemuseum Den Haag), Marc-Marie Huijbregts (Van Abbemuseum), Pieter van Vollenhoven (Rijksmuseum), Jasper Krabbé (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Nico Dijkshoorn (Drents Museum), Herman Pleij (Museum Catharijneconvent), Jan Mulder (Groninger Museum), Cécile Narinx (Centraal Museum) en Fidan Ekiz (Nederlands Fotomuseum).

And this capsule explanation of the project (in a poor Google translation from the Dutch):

The World Keeps Turning tenth anniversary. The moment for a particular idea. Send ten patrons of the much watched television program to ten museums in the Netherlands. Give them free access to repositories and let them choose their own favorite work of art. The result is a unforgettable pop-up exhibition that will take place January 30, 2015 in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. A look not only in the treasuries of the ten museums but also in the spirit of the guest curators.


And also this magazine article, which is unfortunately in Dutch, as well:
https://www.scribd.com/doc/254075006/DWDD-PopUp

Anyway, it was a cool, if somewhat mystifying exhibit experience.

After all that, is was back in a big loop around the neighborhood and up to Museum Het Rembrandthuis; The Museum in Rembrandt’s House.  This is the actual house, quite large and grand, in which Rembrandt lived and worked for 20 years, in the mid 17th century.  There’s a lot of artwork up, some of which are by Rembrandt, and some of which were in his rather large collection (he sold other’s art as well).

Here’s a few snaps of his Cabinet of Objects de’Art, which was a large salon on the first floor in which he stored all manner of artwork, books, sketches, models, etc.:

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Also intact is his studio, shown here with his large easel, painting supplies and various tools:

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Finally, the upper level housed Rembrandt’s atelier, the classroom and workshop where he trained his apprentices and they worked for him.  This was also preserved, more or less, and one can take lessons here even today, as several people were:

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From here we’re led into a modern annex, which houses both permanent and temporary exhibits.  The temporary exhibit up now is Rembrandt’s Late Pupils, a hat-tip to the larger Late Rembrandt show up at the Rijksmuseum right now.  This was interesting, but a little cramped.  Did enjoy it, however.

Oh, and by the way, no I am not going into “coffee shops” and getting blasted; not that there’s anything wrong with that.  You know, it’s really something; everywhere you go, in some districts, you smell weed.  It’s kind of odd, that smell so distinctive, and so unexpected in such public settings.  But, it’s really only in some places that it’s so pervasive.  Other places one may smell it, but it does stand out.

Okay, that’s all for today.  I had a blast with this all, and again, get a Museumkaart, it’s the way to go!

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Museums and musings

Friends,

Tuesday, 5 May, brought both showers and sun, as well as one big thunderstorm and some extraordinary winds.  Whew!  What a day.  The most serious of the rain found me on line at the van Gogh museum, umbrella at the ready.  Good show, a real mix of Vince’s stuff along with many of his contemporaries, which helps give the entire exhibit shape and meaning, in an art-historical sense.  He and Theo had collected voluminously during the years Theo was selling art, and that formed the backbone of the museum’s collection.  Monet, Seurat, etc. etc. — too many to remember here.

I really liked a couple of the understated pieces,

Small bottle with peonies and blue delphinium (1886)

Small bottle with peonies and blue delphinium (1886)

Sprig of flowering almond in a glass (1888)

Sprig of flowering almond in a glass (1888)

Click the images to see larger versions at the museum site (which is really good, by the way).

Also was moved by this Monet:

The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1868)

The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1868)

Outside there were pink flower petals everywhere, in blankets, like something right out of an impressionist painting:
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Tuesday was Memorial Day, and a bank holiday, so Museumplein was full of people, as were the museums, as one might imagine.  However I was still able to navigate both Museum van Gogh and Stedelijk Museum just fine.

The latter had three special exhibits up, The Oasis of Matisse, Ed Atkins – Recent Ouija and The Stedelijk Museum in the Second World War.  I enjoyed the first immensely, the second somewhat and the third not so much.

The Oasis of Matisse is to that French master similar both in depth and breadth as the van Gogh Museum exhibit was to him.  In a similar approach, most pieces by Matisse in this expansive exhibition is teamed with one or more by a contemporary of his, and the effect is satisfying, informative, engaging and delightful.  We see often times quite similar compositions, scenes or subjects by Matisse and others, and through their work we see his mature and grow; we are given a fuller understanding of the movements underway at the time.  Fauvism is given a better placement in time and place when we see more instances of it, for example.

There is an awful lot to this exhibit; hundreds of items, in all the media in which he worked, and several, via his contemporaries, in which he didn’t.  There are the paintings, and the papercuts, costumes — both as paper maquette and final product — carpets and textiles, stained glass and ceramics, bronzes and works in marble, and notebooks, letters, envelopes and more.  The portion on the ground floor is given to the more manageably sized works, but the real triumph of the exhibit comes on the first floor, in the main gallery, where the largest of the papercuts are displayed; The Parakeet and the Mermaid, and others.

La perruche et la sirène, 1952-53

La perruche et la sirène, 1952-53

Woman in Blue, 1937

Woman in Blue, 1937

I have seen many exhibitions on Matisse, from a major (>400 items) show at MoMA in 1990, to Picasso & Matisse, at the Art Institute just a couple of years ago.  I’ve enjoyed them all, but I feel this one brought more to the table, and I am ever so glad I’ve seen it.  Much gift store shopping ensued. :-)

It’s worth noting, lest the reader think I’m forking over Euros left and right to see these shows, that I’m not.  I bought a Museumkaart at Gemeente Museum, for about €60 (~ $70) I have a year of free admission to literally dozens of museums throughout the Netherlands, history, art and cultural.  Since the Museumkaart site is not available with an English translation, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page, which lists most of them.  This is like buying an enhanced museum membership in one card.  Easily the best investment I’ve made on this trip.

Enough about yesterday.  Today, Wednesday 6 May, brought more new neighborhoods and shows, and some good fortune…

I’m so excited; I just booked a seat to the opening night of De Nationale Opera production of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, directed by Terry Gilliam, of all people.  This is a co-production with English National Opera, London, and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, sung in French but with English and Dutch subtitles.  Ooh, I can’t wait for Saturday!  I was interested in the show already, and then when I went to book tickets, I just happened to notice that Gilliam directs.

My seat is not great, back row of the first balcony, but given that this is the only night I could see it, I’ll take it.  There were only a few seats left.

Today I went to De Dam (Dam Square), and mainly strolled around the whole area from there up to Centraal Station, down through the shopping districts of Nieuwendijk and Kalverstraat, down to Spui.  Dam Square is sort of like Times Square or Trafalgar insofar as it serves as a central plaza — complete with Nationaal Monument and Palace — and as a tourist center.  There’s Madam Tussauds, the Amsterdam Dungeon, and somewhere between 50 and 100 H&Ms.

Here’s a shop front I think some of my friends would like:

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The shopping districts are a hoot!  I was looking for some heel inserts to help with my walking pains, and there were like a million shoe shops, but all they sell are Clarks, Nikes and Timberlands.  I did find a “Footlocker” which had some inserts, as well as Nikes and Timberlands, so there’s that.  I had a Dutch pancake, simple (just sugar and syrup), along the way, and did enjoy the World Press Photo 15 exhibition at De Nieuwe Kerk, next door to the Palace.

Final fight for Maidan by Jérôme Sessini

Final fight for Maidan by Jérôme Sessini

Istanbul Protest - Bulent Kilic

Istanbul Protest – Bulent Kilic

Russian Interiors - Andy Rocchelli

Russian Interiors – Andy Rocchelli

Side Effects - Kacper Kowalski

Side Effects – Kacper Kowalski

Okay, that’s almost enough to make me put my camera away.  But I didn’t.  Here’s a couple of snaps from the day:

Athenaeum Boekhandel

Athenaeum Boekhandel

Seafood Bar Spui

Seafood Bar Spui

I was going to walk over to l’Hermitage Amsterdam, but then the skies opened up, so I just hopped on a tram and headed back home, stopping along the way to grab some groceries and liquor for the flat.  The sun did come back out, briefly, around 15:10, but then a nasty thunderstorm, with pouring rain and sleet, came rumbling through, so, instead, I wrote this stuff, had some tea and biscuits, and generally relaxed.

Tomorrow there’ll be time for both Rembrandthuis and l’Hermitage, which are quite near each other, and more wandering.  The weather is supposed to improve, so maybe a canal trip will be in order?

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In Den Haag, dag twee

Having recovered somewhat from his jet lag (is that Jet Laag in den Haag? Nee, is jetlag) Pawn has set about the city with a bit more purpose, but somewhat less resolve.

This reminds Pawn of a post his old buddy Dave Malekar wrote some years back, over at 100 Word Rant:

Read Cautiously

You know what’s stupid? The phrase “drink responsibly” is stupid. You know why? Of course you do. It’s stupid because the whole entire point of drinking is to escape responsibility. Like anything else, drinking should be engaged in with unflinching dedication and a wholehearted commitment to getting this damn thing done right. By “right” I mean waking up with teeth that taste like tiny ashtrays and a vague awareness that at some point in the recent past you have done something absolutely unforgivable. Drink responsibly? Then what – nap resolutely? It could probably be done, but what would be the point?
Okay, enough glory reflected from Dave’s wit.  Moving on…
Yesterday there was some purpose, and great resolve; find “Slijterijangel” which translates as “Liquor Store Angel.”  Described thusly on Den Haag Shopping, yet another blog:
In Dutch, they are referred to as ‘de zussen van de slijter’, the liquor store sisters. Aida (22) and Hoda (29) Shojaee are from The Hague. Aida has a management assistant diploma and was trained as a dancer. Hoda studied international business. Together, these strong young women run the trendy Angel liquor store in the heart of the city.
Now anybody who watches weekday morning telly in the states knows that when it comes to alcohol, Hoda should know, am I right?  I’m not sure, since I don’t watch weekday morning telly.  But I do know that any trendy liquor store run by strong women just has to be good, so off I went in search of it.
It’s worth noting that in today’s world of smartphones and GPS this is no longer such a problem.  And sure enough, even though I wandered greatly along the way — stopping to traipse through several shopping districts, have lunch, admire architecture, etc. — I did finally find myself on Spui, and next to a gated and closed shop.  Oh well.  I guess when Den Haag Shopping reported that:
These two women demonstrate an approach and enthusiasm that simply brims with energy. This is even reflected in their opening hours. The store is open no less than seven days a week (six days until 11pm). And it is open even on official holidays, something you don’t see very often.
I didn’t think to ponder what time they might open, something which is also not reflected on their own website.  Oops, not before 2PM it seems.  Do not fret, but enjoy this video, Haarlem Shake in Angel Liquor Store, instead

 

 

I ended up shopping at the far more prosaic Gall & Gall, just down Zoutmanstraat from here.

So that was yesterday and this is today, day two in The Hague, and a day embraced with great hope and desire, but little expectation and frail resolve.  Purpose?  Yes, there was the conference to check in with, which was dealt with early.  Then there was the matter of returning to the hotel to scope out plans for attending conference sessions (none today worth the bother) and trying to get in at least a little culture before leaving for Amsterdam in three day’s time (3 May).
The latter greatly assisted by various web searches and map pondering and the like, narrowed down, at least initially, to Gemeente Museum, GEM and Fotomuseum Den Haag, all clustered together not too far northwest of the lovely Hotel Sebel.
Off I went.
I walked.
It bears mentioning that even though I whole heartedly embrace the wonderful public transportation options here — train, tram and bus — I have had spectacularly bad luck with timing.  This has been reflected in walking out the door, a block from the tram stop, on at least four separate occasions so far, only to see the tram already at the stop, and pulling away.  Also in waiting at the Mariahoeven bound 24 stop long enough that three (3) different buses should have come, yet none did (last night).  Today, however, I figured that I would just walk anyway, and then take the tram back (the 17, my tram, stops right in front of the museums).
The draw, for me, at these museums was a massive, sprawling, comprehensive, retrospective, Hollands Deep, on the work of photographer Anton Corbijn.  You may not know him, but you know his work.  He has shot portraits of the famous for decades, album covers for everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi to Johnny Rotten to Kim Wilde, Depeche Mode to Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Cave to the Rolling Stones, Nirvana to Courtney Love, the Bee Gees to Metallica.  His portraits of Miles Davis and Lucien Freud are iconic, as are his many portfolio over the years from Famouz to Star Trak to strippinggirls.
Here’s a few of my faves, snapped in the gallery of Gemeente Museum where Hollands Deep is located:
Nick Cave - London 1988

Nick Cave – London 1988

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

David Bowie

David Bowie

Assorted people from Famouz

Assorted people from Famouz

More people from Famouz

More people from Famouz

Nick Cave - 33 Still Lives (1999)

Nick Cave – 33 Still Lives (1999)

Damien Hirst - Everybody Hurts (2003)

Damien Hirst – Everybody Hurts (2003)

Patti Smith - 33 Still Lives (1999)

Patti Smith – 33 Still Lives (1999)

David Byrne - 33 Still Lives (1999)

David Byrne – 33 Still Lives (1999)

You get the idea.  But wait, there’s more.  The subject is so huge that it spilled into the neighboring Fotomuseum, for the sister exhibition, 1-2-3-4, where there were mostly portfolio of the different musicians he’d worked with, such as:

John Hiatt - LA 1988

John Hiatt – LA 1988

The first time I met Nick - 1982

The first time I met Nick – 1982

Kim Wilde - London 1980

Kim Wilde – London 1980

It bears noting that the catalogues from these exhibits ar extraordinarily well made, with thick pages and exquisite printing.  No, I did not buy them (to haul home) but likely will (once I get back there).  The two volumes, together, weigh about as much as my luggage for this trip. :-)

Lest you think I saw nothing but Corbijn, here’s some other treasures along the way.  In Gemeente Museum is a stunning gallery full of Francis Bacon’s work, the center of which is occupied by a humongous carousel:

Bacon gallery with carousel - view I

Bacon gallery with carousel – view I

Bacon gallery with carousel - view II

Bacon gallery with carousel – view II

GEM, the modern art museum, currently features and expansive exhibition of Charles Avery’s work, entitled What’s The Matter With Idealism?:

Charles Avery

Charles Avery

Finally, there’s the gift shops.  At Gemeente Museum I grabbed a copy of strippinggirls, a joint effort between Marlene Dumas and Anton Corbijn, in which they went to the strip clubs of Amsterdam, met the performers, and produced both paintings (Dumas) and photographs (Corbijn) of them:

WARM - From Strippinggirls

WARM – From Strippinggirls

Marlene Dumas - strippinggirls

Marlene Dumas – strippinggirls

And lastly, an assortment of postcards from both Gemeente Museum and Fotomuseum, including these two gems:

Iggy Pop & The Stooges

Iggy Pop & The Stooges

Ata Kando - Haute Couture, Paris 1954

Ata Kando – Haute Couture, Paris 1954

But now that I’m back at the hotel, having thoroughly enjoyed my outing, my resolve to do any more is shattered, as my feet are all pain and strain.  No more long treks today.  Perhaps a quick outing to a cafe along Zoutmanstraat for dinner, and then reading in the room, while letting these tired dogs relax a bit.

Ta!

PS – It’s come to my attention that CNN has a pretty good story up about these shows.

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Waiting For Dimeitravitch

The Trunk is a new piece by Savio(u)r and Crow Theatre, at The Space, in Isle of Dogs.  We know little about it beyond these few comments,

Inspired by Chekhov’s short stories, The Trunk paints a blackly comic portrait of our everyday introspections.  It tells of five characters forced out of their routine by the peculiar, unexplained actions of a sixth.

We arrive at The Space a bit early, after a mad rush-hour, packed-in-like-sardines tube and bus trip from Soho, and grab a quick bite at Hubbub, the bar and café upstairs (quite good food!).  As we emerge from the café, we are greeted by travelling waifs, a card sharp dealing Three Card Monte on a trunk, and other assorted characters who people the courtyard around the building, an old church.  Once we finally file into the building, we find a charming performance space and some inhospitable looking folding chairs.  I lunge for a well padded one, front row, and X slumps into a less friendly looking one next to me.  You’ve gotta be fast to save your tuccus in this town, I tell ya!

The show is an ambling, and wander, by five characters – a maid, a professorial type, a bag woman, a traveller and the station master.  Oh, and a trunk, a large, heavy trunk, which the maid, after great effort, positions centre stage.  There is a small stage-like area to the back end of the space, but most of the action takes place before that, on the floor.  Where the trunk sits.

We are to believe that there is a man in the trunk, Dimeitravitch, whom the five other people inveigh upon to come out and reveal himself.  They talk to him, singly and in pairs, and seem, for the most part, ignorant of each other.  There are times when these people interact in pairs, but that’s about it, they are otherwise in their own worlds, and we are brought along on their musings and meandering thoughts.

No real point to this, at least as far as I could tell, but that doesn’t really matter.  It was a fun night of theatre, not deep, but sometimes deep, not powerful, but sometimes…

I liked it, I guess, but sometimes not.

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Warhol, Burroughs and Lynch; Oh My!

The Photographer’s Gallery is a true gem of London, and one to which I keep returning.  This trip we find a trio of iconoclastic artists exhibited here who are primarily known for their work outside photography; William S. Burroughs, David Lynch and Andy Warhol.  Of the three, only Warhol based much of his regular art practice on the form.

First, however, we need food, so go to the Coach and Horses, formerly frequented by Jeffrey Bernard, a dissolute and dissipated writer for Private Eye and The Spectator.  They’ve gone all veggie, however, so we quickly flee and find succour at Thai Cottage nearby.  They are renown for having caused a terrorist alert several years ago whilst cooking down chilli peppers for a special condiment.

Once at the gallery, we start at the top, literally, with David Lynch, The Factory Photographs, on Floor 5.  These images, about 90 in total, are from abandoned factory-scapes in Lodz, Poland, England and the US.  All black and white, the mood of these photos seems not the least out of character for Lynch, whose eerie industrial score accompanies the exhibit.

David_Lynch_Factory David_Lynch_Factory_Photo

Floor 4 houses Taking Shots: The Photography Of William S. Burroughs, a collection of the prominent author’s personal photography, collages, constructions and some commercially exhibited works.  Mostly amateur in feeling, one can still see Burroughs literary techniques in visual form here, too.

burroughs-portrait-in-mirror burroughs_collage

burroughs1

The Andy Warhol exhibit, Photographs 1976 – 1987, is much closer to his familiar work than that of Lynch or Burroughs.  Some of Warhol’s most memorable pieces, after all, the boldly coloured portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or Joan Collins, are based on photographs after all.  Several on exhibit here, such as this piece featuring Jerry Hall, are stitched together (literally, by seamstresses) in arrays of 4, 6 or 10 images:

People-in-the-Street

All in all, a nice day at the gallery.

We followed this up with wanders around Cavendish Square and a visit in a Soho wine bar with friend C, who had come in from Hanwell for the day.  So nice to see her again!

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Leaving Skagway

A favourite venue here in London, for our theatre viewing pleasure, is Arcola by Dalston. This year they are in the midst of a Spanish play series, which don’t much interest either of us, but also host In Skagway, by KTR Productions & Irish theatre company Gúna Nua. This four-hander, all-woman show by Karen Ardiff, directed by Russell Bolam, occupies the small Studio 2 space.

In Skagway

This is a story of four women in Alaska at the end of a late 19th century gold rush, in the lonely village of Skagway, as the claims have been spent. May (Geraldine Alexander) is taking care of her sister Frankie (Angeline Ball) following the latter’s stroke. Frankie is a faded dance hall performer who had also relied on prostitution to get by, May her younger (?) sister who follows her slavishly from Ireland to New York to Alaska — and all points between — fawning over her and taking whatever scraps may fall to the floor, be it food, funds or men. T-Belle (Kathy Rose O’Brien) is May’s daughter, a miner herself, and as we learn the issue of Frankie’s one-time pimp, to whom she had sold May for a night or two.

The script has its moments, but is in general a confused muddle with May’s worship of her sister the only apparent motivation for half the action that unfolds. We’re given hints as to the origins of this madness, but not enough to be able to sort it out satisfactorily. Adding to our confusion is the age indifferent casting. May looks quite a bit older than Frankie, but the script seems to imply she’s younger. Frankie is a vivacious young woman, but described as a wretched old krone by T-Belle. T-Belle returns from weeks in the wilderness, of mining and frolicking with her Indian lover, Joe, but looks ready for a night on the town with her plucked eyebrows and perfect face.

T-Belle and Nelly

A breath of reality comes in the form of Natasha Starkey in the role of Nelly, a local barmaid and dancer with whom T-Belle tries to hatch a scheme. Starkey is believable in the role, and provides a depth to the performance which seems lacking elsewhere. Not that Ball, Alexander and O’Brien turn in poor performances, but they have great heights to scale to overcome the casting, make-up and costuming choices which have left them at a distinct disadvantage.

Not our best night at the theatre, I dare say.

A special note, too, for Arcola. This small studio could be a nice space, but the seating is atrocious. This 87 minute, one act play was about a half hour too long for one to sit comfortably on these terrible plank benches. There have been nice improvements elsewhere in the facility — the new toilets, well appointed bar and evolving lobby — but the seating in the studio is in desperate need of upgrading. I shan’t come back here until that’s been done.

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Tempest From The Front Row

People thought I was mad, mad, when I suggested it, but now that it’s done, I say Brilliant!

X and I had already planned our trip to London when I first heard of Kate Tempest, an amazing young poet and playwright from South London. Tempest is the winner of the Ted Hughes prize for innovation in British poetry, and well deservedly, for her epic poem The Brand New Ancients. It was on Charlie Rose on 16 January that I first saw her. I highly recommend that you watch that clip, and you’ll understand a lot about this young writer. Tempest, at the time, was in the midst of a 9 day stint at St. Anne’s Warehouse in New York (BAM). No way I could make it to see that.

kate-tempest-brand-new-ancients

Upon searching YouTube for that clip, so I could share it with others, I came across this clip, from Battersea Arts Center. That lead me to the BAC home page, where I learnt that her tour of the UK would be ongoing during our visit. After telling X of this, she checked the venues and we found that they either were sold-out, or close to it. Our first choice of Oxford — just an hour by bus — was already out of reach, but Manchester — 3 hours by train — was still available. This meant an overnight hotel stay, in addition to the not-cheap train fare, but I had a feeling that this would be something special. Plans were made, tickets and hotel booked, train timetables consulted. We were set.

Was it worth it?

In every trip, one hopes to find an event — a show, exhibit, event — which all by itself would make the entire trip worthwhile. In London, 2012, it might have been Pitchfork Disney, or shows by Paper Cinema or Silent Opera, or even a Punch & Judy show. In New York, 2013, it was Event Of A Thread, by Ann Hamilton at Park Avenue Armory. This trip? Well, it’s not over yet, but so far — as good as everything has been — I’d have to say this is it, The Brand New Ancients has set a new bar which will be hard for anything to surpass.

X was nearly speechless (and if you know X, that’s saying a lot). The 2,000 people who came to Manchester to see Prince performing in the arena next door to Contact Theatre may have thought they were seeing the best show in town that night, but they’d have been wrong. Tempest is a powerhouse performer and Brand New… is just that good of a piece.

Tempest starts out by asking us to accept a fairly simple premise:

In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves,
the things we’ve made ourselves into,
the way we break ourselves in two,
the way we overcomplicate ourselves?
But we are still mythical.
We are still permanently trapped somewhere between the
heroic and the pitiful.
We are still godly;
that’s what makes us so monstrous.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that now is somehow all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry —
but the life in your veins
is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it
Take it from the tears of the poets.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

Tempest takes to the stage with her 4 piece ensemble behind her: Kwake Bass on percussion, Jo Gibson on Tuba, Natasha Zielzinski on cello and Emma Smith on violin. This band will provide the pulse beneath her words, and a pace through those portions where Tempest falls silent and recovers a bit. For hers is a titanic performance of mostly rapid fire delivery over an hour and twenty minutes. These silences from Tempest are rare, but necessary for her and for us.

staging-tbna

The poem itself is a story of two families and several side players, and takes place across some 25 years or so. The lives of these people are at once banal and heroic, simple and convoluted, noble and shameful. Theirs are real lives in real places with real consequences and are described in a performance style which struck me as operatic, but plain spoken.

You’ve heard of “Rock Operas” like Tommy (by The Who) but this is something different; this is a hip-hop flavoured, jazz laced, epic non-stop aria, a spoken-word tour-de-force. Tempest’s voice, one moment plaintive and thin, is then vengeful and sharp. Using her voice with all the temper of a well trained singer, she moves us with her, the ups and down, the epic peaks and disastrous crevasses.

When complete she is spent. The blackout seems almost gratuitous, for we know the journey is over. We’ve met the gods, and have celebrated and mourned them in equal measure. We have seen ourselves and our loved ones, and she has shocked, entranced and taught us.

The audience stood almost as one, a rare sight indeed in England, where ovations are more parsimoniously given than in the states. Also worth noting is this; Tempest rarely deploys flowers of language or clever turns in her work, it is much more spare and plain than that, but when she does hit us with a beautiful phrase, one hears the snapping of fingers in the audience, redolent of the coffee house reception of the beats.

I don’t know if or when Kate Tempest will come back to the USA, but if she does I will go see her, and encourage you to do likewise. The Brand New Ancients is available on Picador.

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From Here To Eternity

Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Darius Campbell (Warden) and Rebecca Thornhill (Karen) in From Here To Eternity.

We always manage to fit in at least one West End production whilst in London, and this trip we’ve chosen the recent musical adaptation of From Here To Eternity, known to most from the successful 1953 film by Fred Zinnemann, from the novel by James Jones. The musical has music and lyrics by Stuart Brayson & Tim Rice and book by Bill Oakes.

A musical of From Here To Eternity? you might well ask. Well, yes, and as it turns out it works as such pretty well. To answer the question of Why?, just read this paragraph from the WikiPedia page:

Jones’s novel From Here to Eternity was a best-seller and well known for its successful movie adaptation. Jones’s manuscript was heavily censored by his publisher to remove profanity and references to gay prostitiution; the unexpurgated version was not published until 2011. Once it was, composer Stuart Brayson thought it might be adapted as a musical, and proposed the project to Tim Rice, who acquired the stage rights and wrote the lyrics.

And there you have it; a sub-plot of gay/straight relations, and the tension therefrom, take a significant role in this telling of the tale.

A scene in the barracks.

A scene in the barracks.

A mid-afternoon visit to the Liecester Square TKTS booth yielded three in stalls (7th row center) for X, A and I. A hasn’t been to a West End show in years, so appreciated the treat. Also appreciated was the American-style “Proper” burgers at Byron before show. (note to Byron, American pickle spears are dill, not sweet, and while our malts may be made in the steel cup, they are not served in it).

The show was a joy to watch, quite beautiful and great story telling. The sets, costumes and lights were all one expects, the usual high West End standard. Choreography was quite good, especially near the end of the piece (not giving anything away, as this will likely transfer stateside).

The Boxing match.

The Boxing match.

No stand out performances from this cast, although I quite liked Ryan Sampson’s portrayal of Private Angelo Maggio and Siubhan Harrison’s Lorene. The entire ensemble is strong, however, and acquit themselves well throughout the 2:45 (with interval) performance.

All in all, I’d give it 4 stars, and know that X & A loved it, too.

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Fool’s Gold

Neither X nor I had been to Saatchi Gallery, nor had A, so there we went on Friday, the 21st. As the title of this post implies, we were in concordance that Mr Saatchi’s wealth exceeds his taste, at least where art is concerned.

Oh, we did all seem to agree on the impactful nature of Marianne Vitale’s Markers (2011):

markers

X liked Kasper Kovitz’s Carnalitos (2010):

carnalitos-arana

A liked Kate Hawkins’ Hans Heights (2012):

hans-heights

I liked some of the Tanyth Berkeley photographs (those reminiscent of Sargent’s work):

tanyth-berkeley

Okay? ‘Nuff said…

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Art Is… Continued

A bit of a break has ensued since last we’ve written, but now that we’re back on it, here’s a continuation of Thursday, the 20th.

Following the advice of the shopkeeper from Book Arts Books, we strolled back down to the Shoreditch high street and Merchants Tavern for a lovely and extravagant dinner and cocktails: cauliflower croquettes, seared scallops, leek and bleu cheese tart and X had encrusted fillet of cod with creamed celeriac root. Yum YUM!! It helped, ho doubt, that we were being served some well made Martinis, which are a rarity here.

Doing-the-Business

Dinner settled, it’s back to the theatre, a double bill of works by Doug Lucie. First up was a revival of Doing The Business, in which Peter (Matther Carter) a smarmy City Boy in a bright red tie and tight hip-riding blue flood pants held up by braces tries to explain to Mike (Jim Mannering) a grammer school chum newly in charge of a theatre company dependent upon Peter’s largesse, that if they would just make some changes (not compromises) to the company’s plans, there would be cash aplenty to sort their debts and deficits.

This is a taut play of speeches, mostly, with very little actual back-and-forth dialogue. Written in reaction to the draconian cuts to government arts funding in the late 1980s, this is a sermon preached to the choir. These two, while hard to imagine as schoolboys of the same cloth, have matured into archetypes of the most severe sort. Peter is smug and self privileged, father of two young girls, who are the receptacles of his only true charity. Mike is self righteous and suffering, with high-minded ideals uncompromised by the vicissitudes of real-world life.

While predictable in its story arc, the play none-the-less forces us to consider all of the issues involved with corporate grant giving and the necessary deal making that goes on alongside it. Of course we want to hate Peter and side with Mike (we wouldn’t be in the audience otherwise, would we?) but we see Mike willing to throw away his high morals when presented with the wealth he needs to achieve his (now lowered) goals. Despite the short comings of predictability and convention, this was a bracing piece of theatre. The performances were stunningly clear and utterly believable — we saw two characters on stage, but no actors — as it should be. The technical aspects of this show, as with Blind, are of workshop standards and not to be criticized one way or the other; they sufficed.

Blind, the second half of the double bill, is a newer piece, and has as its subject the interrelations between patrons and artists, and the differences between the commerce of art, the commercialization of art; between the valuation of art and the value of it; between a patron and a sponsor, a buyer and a dealer, a dealer and a market maker; between an artist responding to their muse and an artist responding to a market. This is diamond-hard naval-gazing for the truly ennobled artists among us; and a fun bit of drama for the rest of us around the periphery of that.

Alan (Cameron Harle) is a young artist put up in a studio he could never afford by his patron, Mo (Jon McKenna), an older man with an ill wife and a whole closet full of skeletons. Mo is sitting (nude) for a portrait and as Alan paints, we get the exposition to setup the story of Mo taking a liking to Alan’s work, and deciding to support him via the rental of the studio. We get a sense, too, of a bond, call it paternal, between them; Alan is an investment, true, but more of a spiritual than a monetary one, for Mo.

Maddy (Janna Fox) is an in-your-face artist-cum-anti-artist in the mould of Tracey Emin, and is making work of stark contrast to Alan’s classicist painting. Her’s is a denial of art (i.e. “turd in a teacup), more meta and conceptual, and her personality is half the story. Clashes with the press, insults slung across galleries at stodgy arts types, explosive addictions and abuse of all around her. She takes a liking to Alan, however, and introduces him to her sponsor, Paul (Daniel York) a smarmy, Charles Saatchi type, who eyes art with dollar (or pound) signs in his eyes, always thinking of how an artist can get him to the next market nexus.

As we know it must, a romance of convenience (for which side?) develops between Alan and Maddy just as commerce of convenience develops between Alan and Paul. Where does this leave Mo? A scene of conflict between he and Paul revealing the skeletons in Mo’s past (not as shocking as the playwright may have wanted) is quickly followed by a détente of convenience between Mo and Maddy, who is redeemed by her evident mastery of drawing (a conceptual artist with actual artistic skills, who knew?!?) and as the play comes to and end, we see the depths to which Alan has been drug by the devils he has chosen, Maddy elevated by her return to art’s roots, Mo on the verge of life changing events and Paul has simply vanished, much as the whims of the art world change from season to season.

It is dense and knowing, this work, and presumes both an acceptance of convention (and classical themes) and I dare say an agreement with Lucie’s interpretation of the validity of one take on the art world over another. While I enjoyed the night of theatre, I do not accept the false dichotomy presented therein. Art and commerce are inevitably intertwined whenever the artist seeks to make a living from art. This must be so, whether it is patronage or sponsorship or selling portraits in a market stall, commerce is commerce, trade is trade, custom is custom, money is money. If we monetize the creation of beauty, then we have commercialized it to one extent or another.

If an artist chooses to make art free of commerce, there is ample precedence for that — look at the vital world of what Pawn calls “Private Art”. Often classified as “naïve,” “self-taught,” “visionary,” or “folk” art, this may veer to the commercial (crafty art sold at tag sales) but is often conceived, executed and kept for the artist’s private use and enjoyment. Occasionally hoards of private art are discovered, brought to the world’s attention, and (often posthumous) celebrity rains down upon the artist. Henry Darger and Vivian Maier are prime examples of such private-made-public collections.

All in all, Doing The Business and Blind are fine theatre and represent an ambitious undertaking by Triple Jump Productions. The performances were all stellar. Jon McKenna was a breath of fresh air as Mo Dyer in Blind in that he was age appropriate, as is too rare these days from smaller companies. Daniel York brought just the right level of sneering smarmyness to the role of Paul Stone, and we hated him for it, as with Matthew Carter’s turn as Peter (the City boy).

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