Category Archives: Review

Level 9 Food Porn

The day of Brexit voting was also notorious as the day A and I were evacuated from Level 9 restaurant at new Tate Modern Switch House, right after ordering champers.  Then couldn’t get back up, due to bollocksed-up lifts.

This evening we returned.  This is an account of our visit.

For starters we had the Cornish Blue Double Baked Soufflé:


A says Yum!


And for mains, Rump of Lamb with Heritage Vegetables:


For the record, the veg were asparagus, beets, baby onion, baby carrots, in a parsnip puree.  We also added some more asparagus.


Finally, for pud we got the Strawberry & Apricot Salad.  That lime green stuff is some fanciful pistachio creation.  The base is a very thin white chocolate slab:


Our review?  Four Yums!

Don’t get us started on the building, lifts, windows, chairs…

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Elevation, Evacuation and Rapture

The day began with a stroll east along the Regent’s Canal to Cambridge Heath and Vyner street, to meet with the lovely ladies of Degree Art, my favourite gallery in London.  Along the way I received an email from Is:

Am currently sitting in the coffee shop on the corner of Vyner St as I had to lend my keys to one of the members of staff yesterday and because of the storms and flooding, the trains are very delayed and everyone is running behind schedule, so if I spot you coming down Vyner Street before I get into the gallery, I might leap out and grab you for a coffee in here!

There had been raging thunderstorms in the overnight.  Nothing too severe to my Midwestern sensibilities, but quite out of the ordinary here.

Sure enough I fond Is sitting in the cafe, and as we waited for the rest to show up, we had a nice chat about art & business.  Then off to the gallery to look over some new artists and confer on recent purchases.  A joined us there, and once all was sorted, she & I said our farewells and hopped a bus down to Millennium bridge and over that to Tate Modern and its new Switch House expansion.

The Switch House represents a significant expansion of the already mammoth Tate complex, and is a stunner.  Rising 10 storeys, just to the south of the Boiler House and Turbine Hall, Switch House springs from large concrete silo bases.  We first queue with many others for one of the four elevators to the observation deck on 10.  Shockingly, each elevator is quite small, claiming a capacity of 17 each, but we figure more like 12.  People pack into each car, often to the point where doors won’t close.  The whole lift situation seems poorly considered.

Here are views from the 10th floor:


A points out just how new this addition is; the paint is still wet!


The Shard, commonly known as The Salt Cellar.



The neighbours likely didn’t expect this level of exposure.




New Blackfriar’s Bridge.


St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge, Boiler House in the foreground.

Once done on 10, we descended to 9 for the restaurant.  We were seated, ordered a glass of champaign, and made our selections — blue cheese soufflé starter and lemon sole main — when all of a sudden a klaxon sounded and a voice came over the PA, “Please follow your steward’s instruction and evacuate the building by the nearest exit.”


We walked down countless flights of stairs and spilled out into the rear courtyard. Here’s the crowds outside

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We did ultimately get back inside, but had to settle for a rubbish meal at Leon’s.  Here’s some of the art from the permanent and temporary exhibits within:

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We did try to go back up the tower, to the member’s lounge on 8, but the lifts were totally unusable, and after waiting about 15 minutes, we gave up.  Grumpy, we left Tate.  “Coffee and cake!” declared A, and off to Paul, a posh French patisserie,  we went.


Shortly after we settled in to chairs at Paul, with our coffee and cakes, a downpour ensued.  Everyone in the shop looked on with awe at the sheer volume of water coming down; fists full of rain lashed the windows and overtopped the table umbrellas outside the door.  We hid out there over an hour, waiting for the storm to clear.  I went to find the gents, and what I found was a toilet spewing shit into the air, overwhelmed by the torrents of rain hitting the sewers.


A long, grueling bus ride up to Camden Town took us to Oxford Arms and Etcetera Theatre for Rubber Duck Theatre’s production of Rapture.  This taut little show envisions a near future in which medical wonders have rendered much disease moot, and with the long lives which ensue, there is now a need to cull the population.  The process by which this happens is the Citizen Review.  Our four protagonists are there to represent, to justify their existence.  A fifth, the auditor, is there to facilitate the process.

I won’t delve further into details, but it was a good and thought provoking piece of social commentary, especially crisp on this night of Brexit.  Kudos to the entire cast, who took on archetypal roles with gusto and nuance (more than was written for them) and found humanity within each of them.

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London 2016, Day 2, Summer Exhibition

Yesterday was an art and recreation day.  After fitful sleep and early rising, breakfast ensued.  Then a voyage down to Green Park underground and out into the hustle & bustle.  My destination was the Royal Academy of Arts for their annual Summer Exhibition.  This is a riotous celebration of art, with over 1,200 works selected from 12,000 entries by a hanging committee of 10, including architects & artists, sculptors & painters.

Pawn was especially drawn this year by the news that among those selected was Sophie Derrick, six of whose pieces are in Pawn’s collections.  Sophie’s Shift 6 hangs in gallery 11:

There is so much to see in this show, and it fabulously presented.  Here are a few shots to give you an idea of just how dense the show is.  I would draw your attention, however, to how many “red dots” there are!):

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Above overview and detail of The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci, by Kutlug Ataman.  On these hundreds of small LCD screens appear faces of people with whom Sakip Sabanci, a prominent Turkish business tycoon and philanthropist interacted.


138: When They Come Out o Play, Mick Rooney; 143: Apartment, Seung Yeon Choi; 147: Facade, Tom Down; 137: Lesson, Max Renneisen; 144: Princess Aurora, Stella Parsons; 145: I Am Rick, Kirsten Goemaere.


637 (left): How To Operate As A Human Artist, Or The Antichton, Alex Anikina; 638: Jane Eyre – What She Wrought, Charlotte Cory.


599: Snowfields, Nadia Attura; 601: Grand Hotel II, Tracey Emin; 598: Inishowen, Tim Allen; 602: Grand Hotel I, Tracey Emin; 597: Puppet, Stephan Balkenhol; 603: Billiards, Stephan Balkenhol.



576: Solo In Blue, Eileen Cooper; 582: Luna, Eileen Cooper.


963: At The Sign Of The White Horse, Tom Barker.  The text reads, “A charming Georgian tableau, a young woman with a familiar dilemma, has she overpacked?  The coach awaits, Tobys loiter, perhaps the situation will have its benefits.”


1196: Rave In The Basement Of The Elks Lodge, Braddock, Mark Neville; 1197: Shift 6, Sophie Derrick; 1199: Mouthwatering, Oliver Dunsch.


1139: Iggy, Stephen Haines.


1051: David Noble Tractus, John Humphreys.


1109: What Unites Human Beings Is Huge And Wonderful, Bob & Roberta Smith.

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Ambitious Isn’t Always Good

Last night brought Pawn the first performance of this trip; Karagula by Philip Ridley, at the new Styx performance space in Tottenham Hale.

I’ve long been fond of Ridley’s work, since seeing Pitchfork Disney at Arcola, back in 2012. That show has stuck with me ever since, and represents a high bar for any new work to overcome. Sadly, this latest from Ridley, Karagula, does not achieve escape velocity.

Last year Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, at Soho Theatre was a quirky & delightful treat, with strong performances, concise direction, a clean book, and good lighting. A highlight of that trip’s shows. In contrast, however, Karagula is quite simply a mess.

It should be a tip-off when all of the review quotes on the adverts use some version of the word “Ambitious.” That’s a good term for this sprawling Sci-Fi/Poli-Sci mashup which takes place in a galaxy far, far, away, in a time other than now (we think) and spans centuries. The dozens of characters are performed by just 9 actors, with varying degrees of success. The fault lies not with performances, however, but with the far-too-messy script and poorly executed technical aspects.

This show is 3 hours long, with a single interval. The entire theatre is rearranged during said interval, going from audience seated along the two long sides of the rectangular black-box space, to all seated along one short side.

The basically unadorned stage of the first half is supplanted in the second act by a cave set, in which the ceiling is represented by a patchwork of parachute fabric, coffee & tea stained in colour, held aloft by ropes. These ropes are affixed to the fabric by Velcro, to facilitate tear-away scene changes. Unfortunately, early in the action, a critical support tore away prematurely, leading to the collapse of one side of the drop, and flooding the audience with bright, white light from the back-lights. No effort was made to correct for this, leaving a blinded audience to squint at the rest of the scene.

There is much frenzied action during this play, which like most of its genre depends heavily on seemingly important exposition delivered in opaque language with unfamiliar or invented terminology. Unfortunately, in this case much of that is shouted, with or wihout amplification, with a very wearing result. By the time of the final scenes, Pawn found he just wanted it to be over, and was actively rooting for the doomsday device to be triggered.

Fans of Burgess, Orwell & Huxley will find many familiar themes here, from milkshakes to Marshalls, teachers to cheerleaders, oracles to animals. Little coherency binds them to the story, and one often might think they’ve napped through some vital section, but with no awareness of such nap.

You’ve let me down, Mr. Ridley. I do hope this show returns to workshop, however, and reëmerges some day, trimmer, sharper, quieter and more orderly.

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2015 MKE Film Festival picks

It’s been a few months since the end of the 2015 MKE Film Festival, and many of the films screened are now available, either in theatres or via streaming or disk. Here’s my 4 and 5 star selections. There are trailers available for most of these films on <a href=””>MKE-Film’s YouTube channel

Four Star picks: ****

  • The Russian Woodpecker

A quirky documentary follows a tenacious Ukrainian activist as he seeks to bring a Cold War Russian intelligence scheme to light, all while a revolution plays out in Kiev.

  • Stockholm Stories

Five interlocking stories weave in and out over the course of a few rainy days. Clever and visually lush.

  • Almost There

Moving documentary by two friends who discover an “outsider” or naive artist living in the same dilapidated house he grew up in, a house which is tumbling down around him. Thus begins an 8 year effort to save this man from himself, and bring his art to a broader audience. Several interesting turns await.

  • Nicola Costantino: The Artefacta

Biopic of the Argentinian artist provocateur as she prepares new work for the 55th Venice Biennale. Very lovely to watch, strange art and sometimes inexplicable acts.

  • Magicarena

Documentary tells of a Spanish theatre company, La Fura dels Baus, presenting Verdi’s Aida on the bicentennial of his birth, in the 1st century Verona Arena. They recruit people from the area to serve as supernumeraries, technical & stage hands, grips, and prop makers. A beautiful setting, visually stunning presentation and engaging story.

  • Villa Touma

An orphaned teenage girl goes to live with her upper-class aunties, Palestinian Christians, in their closed and stultifying household, following her parent’s deaths. A deeply moving portrayal of life in an odd temporal bubble, a disappearing part of Palestinian life. This film was made by Palestinians, with Israeli support, but both countries have disowned it.

  • Second Mother

Brazilian look at class and work. We meet Val, live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family — a Reality TV star, her Art Professor husband and spoiled-brat son. Val’s own daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in ages, having sent her to live with relatives, comes to town to enroll in college (the same haughty school as the brat son). This disruption lays bare the compromises Val has chosen to make in her life in order to make money, and the truth of her feelings for her own kin versus the sense of importance she gleans, reflected, from her employers.

  • Hallahalla

A middle-aged woman tries to put her life back together having been left by her husband for a younger woman. Disrespected in her work in the local hospital, desperately seeking a new grip on a life she no longer feels connected to, in a suburban (Swedish) world she never wanted to inhabit, Disa slowly finds her way through episodes both comedic and tragic.

  • 30 Seconds Away

This documentary by local film maker, and former federal agent, Faith Kohler, exposes the reality of life lived on the streets of Milwaukee, focusing on a handful of mostly middle-aged men struggling to survive in spite of societies’ efforts to help them, however altruistic, intrusive or ill-advised such efforts might be, and in spite of their own efforts to sabotage any do-gooders they encounter. A deeply effecting, but ultimately, to me, incomplete and reductive film.

  • Breaking a Monster

A fun and music filled documentary about a heavy metal band of teenage African-Americans from Brooklyn who make it big after video of them performing in Times Square goes viral in 2007. They go on to be signed by Sony, play Cochella, open for Metallica… It’s a whirlwind ride and we get coach seats. Wildly engaging and loads of fun.

  • Imperial Dreams

An ex-con, recently released, tries to hold on to his son and some kind of life after his girlfriend goes to jail. He struggles to stay away from the same dark forces which left him behind bars in the first place, and to keep his son and himself free.

  • A Ballerina’s Tale

Biopic on Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal performer for a major company (American Ballet Theater). A well made, engaging and compelling film.

  • Theeb

A young Bedouin boy joins his much older brother to guide a British surveyor in the remote reaches of the Ottoman Empire as the Great War and the Great Arab Revolt encroach from all sides. The men are slain by bandits, and the boy must learn to make his own way without camel, water or adults. A tale of betrayal, distrust, danger and revenge, Theeb could have been made by John Ford. Rich, lush and parched.

Five Star picks: *****

  • Safety Last

No chance to see this as we did, sorry to say. This is a classic Buster Keaton silent feature screened with live organ accompaniment on the Oriental’s lovely Kimball organ. An all out joy; thrilling and hysterical.

  • Beatles

Norwegian coming of age drama set in early 60’s. Beatlemania hits and a group of youth imagine themselves as the Fab Four, each taking as his idol a different Beatle. This engaging and touching film brings us inside the lives of these four kids, mostly focusing on the young Paul McCartney wannabe. While such films are often predictable and pat, this outing manages to both hold one’s attention and reveal truly unexpected and sometimes dark aspects of the young protagonists.

  • The Wonders

Magical Thinking comes of age in this “Felilini-esque portrait.” A young girl is being groomed to take over from her beekeeping father. Her family lives in an idiosyncratic outpost along the Italian coast. Both parents are dreamers, little anchored to reality, but for the imperative of the constant filling of buckets of honey by the centrifuge. A reality TV show seeking to find Italy’s “Most Traditional Family” while shining a spotlight on the region’s natural food products, comes to town and brings with it a disruptive spirit and an enchanting hostess. This was my favorite of the festival, and left me with a warm glow.

  • Romeo is Bleeding

An amazing documentary focusing on a youth diversion program in suburban Richmond, CA, “RAW Talent.” A young poet, Donte Clark, himself just out of high school, leads a group of similarly detached and disaffected youth in a production of Romeo & Juliet, but this is not the version you read in high school. The kids in this gang infested city know all too well the meat of the story — the two feuding families, forbidden love — as Central Richmond and North Richmond have been engaged in a gang feud over two decades old. Even the old-timers can just barely remember why the gangs are fighting. The students rewrite Shakespeare’s story in their own words, raps and songs, weaving their own stories of love and loss into the fiber of the tale, amidst a rising death toll all around them. Easily the best documentary of the festival, and the winner of multiple awards, I cannot express enough just how good and moving this film is.

  • Bang Bang Baby

This was a fun romp, silly and stupid, and just loads of fun. Many people will not like it, but I sure did. A blend of 1950s musical and schlocky Si-Fi. Stepphy is a high school girl with big dreams of making it big in music and winning the heart of performer Bobby Shore. But industrial disaster, purple haze and walking dead threaten her happiness.

  • Very Semi-Serious

A documentary of New Yorker cartoonists and cartoons. Well made and hilarious.

  • Hotell

A Swedish film telling the tale of a group, a Group Therapy group, who decide the venture out of the community center and into a hotel, where they expose their deepest secrets and desires to each other, and allow themselves to try to live their dreams in the safe embrace of each other’s trust and support. A very strange view of the group dynamic, and a reflection on what we allow of ourselves when we just let go.

  • No One’s Child (Nicije Dete)

A Serbian film which deals with a difficult time in that nation’s history. Based on a true story, this bleak film starts with the 1988 discovery of a feral child living in the Bosnian wilderness, literally raised by wolves. He is institutionalized in Belgrade, in an orphanage, where he struggles to adapt to shoes, clothes, language and eating utensils, not to mentions other kids. With the death of the dictator Tito and the collapse of the Yugoslavian state, he faces ejection from Serbia and a return to Bosnia. This film reveals a countryside as desolate as the war and a child with an indomitable will and incredible cunning. One of the most powerful films of the festival.

  • The Wrecking Crew

A documentary literally 20 years in the making, this film tells the story — not yet complete — of the greatest session outfit of all time. “Their music won the Best Record of the Year Grammy six consecutive years. Their hit records span decades and number in the hundreds…” began the program description. These musicians made records with everyone from the Birds to the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra to Sam Cooke. There is just so much good music in this, you’ll be tempted to get up and dance more than once. A great double feature with 2013 festival favorite 20 Feet From Stardom.

  • Run Boy Run

In the spirit of Europa Europa, this German/French film tells the true story of a Polish boy, a Jew, who is left to fend for himself in the countryside during Nazi occupation. Srulik takes a Christian name, hides with people of great warmth and love and with people of opportunism and caprice. He takes charge of himself and nearly loses touch with his history and the legacy he represents. Pair this with No One’s Child for a double feature of Oprahesque dimensions, and make sure to have plenty of tissues on hand.

Okay, so I went a bit overboard I guess. I hope you can find and see a few of these. In retrospect, I guess it was a better festival than I thought, as 2/3 of the films I saw I ended up rating 4 or 5 stars!

I didn’t mention here the major studio films which were also part of the festival. Those were Youth, which is now in theaters; starring Michael Caine and Harvey Kietel as aging best friends, one a retired composer and conductor, the other a film maker looking to redeem himself after artistic and critical failure. Set in a Swiss resort in Davos, this film is beautifully shot with wonderful scenery. The minor characters are a treat, as are the supporting roles played by the likes of Paul Dano, Rachel Weiss and Jane Fonda.

Also on the program as the Member’s Only screening was Mississippi Grind, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds. Mendelsohn plays Garry, a down on his luck gambler and Reynolds a free spirit who seems like a winner and befriends Garry when he’s down. This is a road film of sorts, with many twists and turns, and a few detours along the way. Fun, and not too formulaic…not as formulaic as you fear it will be. A great performance by Mendelsohn, normally relegated to supporting roles but allowed to shine here.

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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).


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:


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.


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.


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:

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:


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


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:


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:


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.


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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