Category Archives: Art

Manifesto! The Velvet Reunion!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, but it’s also the commemoration of the student uprising of 1974, a full 15 years earlier, and a communist crackdown which followed on the heels of that.

So I went to the National Gallery, and caught my tram, the number 17, suitably enough, on 17 Listopadu, (17 November) street, so named for the more somber commemorative event.

A plaque there reminds us, in English & Czech

This, combined with my early morning hectoring (see a couple of posts down), served to jog my brain’s connective tissues and I suddenly realized why there were no performances at area theatres, etc. this evening.  The Velvet Reunion is today!  That explains those temporary stages I saw being put up in Wenceslas Square yesterday!

Doh!

So I caught my tram up to the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the more modern portion of the Czech National Gallery collection (it’s scattered about among several museums, the main one of which is closed for renovations until 2019).  This building, about a century old, is a functionalist marvel, and pretty darn cool.  Makes a good museum, too.

Turns out that this being the Velvet Reunion day, admissions to national museums is free.  Cool!  Still have to pay for the temporary exhibit I want to attend, but at 150 CK (about $6.50) I don’t mind one bit.  Less than the cost of a matinée at your local movie theater.

And that’s a bargain, since what I’m going to see is the Julian Rosefeldt film Manifesto, as it was intended to be seen, on thirteen separate screens, in one large room, all going at once.  Splendid!!

Those of you who were lucky enough to see this during the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, or on DVD (Netflix has it, which is how I saw it, thanks to X) you already can imagine where this is going.  For those of you who know not of which I speak, allow me to summarize.  Actually, allow the mystically translated words of the National Gallery serve that purpose:

The 13-channel film installation Manifesto pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artist manifestos, ultimately questioning the role of the artist in society today. Manifesto draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, and the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers. Passing the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant, Sol LeWitt, Jim Jarmusch, and other influencers through his lens, Rosefeldt has edited and reassembled thirteen collages of artists’ manifestos.

Performing this ‘manifesto of manifestos’ as a contemporary call to action, while inhabiting thirteen different personas – among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, a newsreader, a factory worker and a homeless man – Australian actress Cate Blanchett imbues new dramatic life into both famous and lesser known words in unexpected contexts.

In the anteroom of the gallery is an exhibit of manifesti (what is the plural of Manifesto?), many of which are featured in the film.  Here’s some unartful snaps of them; pardon the glare:

No, I didn’t read them all.  But, the photos are actually pretty hi-res, so I probably still can.  I did enjoy listening to the Czech-lish descriptions of them all from the multi-lingual tour guide who’s group was lagging a little behind me as I browsed.  It was especially fun to hear him explain such concepts as Fluxus, Dada and such in the context of today’s “Fake News!” world (his citation, not mine).

Now into the main gallery.  The darkened room is quickly filled with light from a large projection screen, which is filling with licks of flame as the first of the manifestos is spoken in voice over by Ms Blanchett.  I am drawn not to sit before this screen, however, as I want to get a sense of how the whole thing is laid out.  I enter further into the space.  The walls are all blacked out, as are the pillars.  All that’s not black are the screens and the benches before them.

The screens are scattered around the space, and not too close together.  Not all of the screens have sound on all of the time.  Some have sound throughout, but others only have sound at the “golden moment” (as I’ll call it). Back to that shortly.  Each screen is showing a segment in a loop.  All of the loops are the same length, and all have just the right kind of beginning and ending that they loop seamlessly, more or less.  I hadn’t recognized this when seeing them all strung together into a sequence, in the film.  But it becomes quite clear when you’re watching one and all of a sudden realize that you’ve come around full circle.

You can generally hear some sound from other screens around you, but it’s not intrusive.  Some of the characters voices carry more than others.  The high-strung, severe choreographer, for example, can be heard just about anywhere in the space, as can the vagrant with a megaphone atop the ruins.  The mother saying grace (sort of) is fairly quiet, as is the woman saying a eulogy.  But then the Golden Moment arrives.

This moment comes about 2/3 of the way through the loops, I think, but it’s not really clear to me that all of these loops start and end at the same moment; just that they’re synchronized with each other,  That much is clear.  At this moment, every screen is taken up with a close up of Blanchett’s face, who is staring straight into the camera, and speaking in a high-pitched, almost robotic voice.  Each iteration of Blanchett is speaking words which belong with that incarnation’s manifesto, but there is an almost unison effect between them.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the only time when all of the screens have audio, so it can be quite arresting when the stock trader you’ve been watching in relative silence suddenly is starring straight at you and barking out some pith.

I spent over an hour in this space, wandering about, standing and watching, or sitting on a bench.  I loved the entire experience!  The multi-lingual tour group from the outer exhibit found their way around, and tended to sit, as a group, before each screen, whilst the guide flitted about stage whispering to them in different languages.  I noticed one couple, man and woman in their 20s, just sat side-by-side in front of the puppet maker screen for at least four or five loops.  They were enthralled with it (easy to understand).

What a great way to spend part of my Friday!  I love this stuff.

There was a lot more to see in the museum, and I did thoroughly enjoy my visit.  Didn’t even drop any dough in the gift shop, because it wasn’t a gift shop, it was a book shop, and I don’t read Czech! 🙂

More photos from the day later.

O Egg
GREAT EGG!
OUTSTANDING EGG!
BONJOUR!

London Journal, A November Week

Just over a week ago the US held a national election. Then we fled the country.

That’s the simple version of events, but it’s really never the simple version, now is it?

The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Prompt off the ORD runway, quickly through LHR border control, and little turbulence in between.

Our first real encounter with a local was our cabbie on the way from Paddington to our flat in Southbank. Upon hearing our accents he asked if we were happy with our election outcome. Further discussion revealed that he was a firm Brexit supporter, entirely due to immigration fears. Had we told him we intended to settle, however, I’m sure he would have welcomed us, given our colour.

As with our last team visit here, X & I hit the ground running, as it were, with a show our very first night: Wordless! a jazz concert cum lecture put together by illustrator Art Spiegleman and jazz musician Phillip Johnston. It’s a history of the graphic novel layered atop a jazz sextet performance. Great stuff.

He opens with the works of Lynd Ward and moved on to Frans Masereel, H.M Bateman, Otto Nuckel, Milt Gross and Si Lewen. Spiegelman closed with a new, short, autobiographical sequence — Shaping Thought — which he introduced by referring to “America taking a nihilistic mudslide to apocalypse!”

Indeed.

But prior to our theatre experience at Barbican Centre, we stopped in at their Martini bar.

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This garish pod of craft cocktailing is a holdover from the Designing 007 exhibition from a few years back.

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Our bartender, a willowy waif, starving artist type with blackened fingertips, stringy hair and not the slightest whiff of pretension about him, took our order (£5 happy hour!) and then tendered his apology thus: “To all of my American customers I say, `I’m sorry’.” He then proceeded to whip up a couple of truly spectacular drinks. Dowsed the ice in a rocks glass with vermouth, chilled the Martini glasses with ice water, added spirits (vodka for X, gin por moi) to each glass after draining off the vermouth, and then stirred with ennui. Finally decanted into the now cold glasses, the drinks were served sans garnish (at our request) and met with accolades by us both. I think it was the ennui that did it.

An inquiry into the cause of the previously mentioned blackening of his fingers revealed him to be an art student, who just that afternoon had been dying paper pulp. Pawn suggested rubber gloves for future such projects.

Saturday, coincidentally enough, was the Lord Mayor’s Show day, which consists of a flotilla up tthe River Thames followed by a procession through the streets of The City, and culminating in fireworks from Victoria Embankment at dusk (an early 5pm here). Despite mist and drizzle we slogged our way across the river and up to Ludgate Circus and got prime viewing just as the procession approached.

The City of London these days most often refers to the financial centre of the country, but has historical roots dating back to Roman times. Indeed the London Wall — remains of the original fortifications of Londinium — define what is also called The Square Mile or, simply, The City. Even as the monarchy arose and various stages of city and state grew around it, The City has remained fiercely independent. The Lord Mayor does, however, extend the occasional invitation to the monarch to come and visit, and this is one such occasion.

The procession is comprised of various guilds and orders, Masons and Joiners, Nurses and Accountants, as well as military units, government bodies, municipal grandees, etc. It was a joyous event, that’s for sure. Here’re some snaps (note: coming soon).

Finally a repast at Slug & Lettuce in St Mary Axe, and a meet-up with our friend A. She had been fighting through obstructed traffic to try to get in some long postponed shopping, and seemed glad for the burger and tea we had waiting for her. Then off to Whitechapel and Thick Time, an exhibition of works by William Kentridge.

X & I had enjoyed a large retrospective of the South African’s work, several years ago, at MoMA in New York. This smaller exhibit focused on recent works, including environments, films, animations, book-arts and studies for an opera, Lulu, which, coincidentally, we were to see in two day’s time. A was tickled to learn that!

There was a lot to like, and some to love, in this compendium. Of particular note was the large installation, The Refusal of Time.

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This collaboration with a team of artists comprises sound, light, video projection, a large “Breathing Machine” and more. It was truly a stunning, enveloping experience. Other favourites include the many artist books on display and the film Second Hand Reading. The exhibit closed with another installation piece, smaller and more theatrical, Right Into Her Arms, which included footage, imagery, illustrations and sound from the workshop process for Lulu.

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It was wonderful to have this little taste of this work prior to seeing the show.

Surprisingly, no show Saturday. After parting ways with A, we returned home to Southbank and stayed in. This is a fairly nice flat, tucked into a block-long side street, behind the OXO wharf, just west of Blackfriar’s bridge. There’s a Little Waitrose two blocks away, a couple of cafés around the corner, our choice of pubs, even a cake-making school! A damp terrace abuts the lounge through lovely French doors, adding some light and greenery to our stay.

A “Supermoon” hung in the sky as we traipsed uptown to Islington and the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) for a Sunday performance of Rigor Mortis, an Irish two-hander of recent vintage. Jazz Dancing Criminals brought this stiff little one-act, fire breathing, chest thumping, pogo-sticking, drug addled, funereal farce to the Hope for it’s British premier following a successful run of its earlier “incarnation,” Urbs Intact Manet in Waterford, Ireland.

A drunken tosser has pinched his late friend, casket and all, from the mortuary, he discovers when he awakens, hung over, to the pounding on his door from his equally dissolute mate. They proceed to wok their way through a monumental pile of cocaine and a couple cans of stout as they wake their friend and debate what to do with his remains.

Irreverent, loud and at times barely indecipherable, it was a fun 75 minutes of Irish mayhem. Thumbs Up!


NPG have Picasso Portraits on special showing, so we went and saw it. Lovely stuff, as one might expect. The real treat here, aside from the expected and widely known masterpieces, such as woman with hat and self portraits, were the small sketches from his youngest days.

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Often meant as throw-away pieces, these are little gems. Whimsical and light. Unfortunately, no good samples on the web to show here.

Lulu, the aforementioned opera directed and designed by William Kentridge, is based upon “the Lulu plays” by Frank Wederkind, by Alban Berg, and completed by Friedrich Cerha (English translation by Richard Stokes). This production originated at Dutch National Opera, and last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The fourth producing company is Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Each country providing a new cast, the real attention getter is the stunning, almost literally, as in hit-you-over-the-head, visuals; a combination of projection, props and constantly unfolding set (set design Sabine Theunissen).

Here are a few images from the production (most from ENO, but some from other stagings):

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“Solo Performer” Joanne Dudley

Lulu is 3½ hours of discordant music, striking imagery and implausible story, but a wonderful time. The “Solo Performers,” Joanna Dudley and Andrea Fabi nearly stole the show, but Brenda Rae, in the title role, was amazing, as was James Morris as Dr Shön/Jack the Ripper (yes, really).

More to come…

An Embarrassment of Museums

Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.

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As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.

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It is breathtaking!

One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.

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Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.

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This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.

Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.

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Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:

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But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.

So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…

It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:

  • A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
  • Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
  • After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
  • Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
  • The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
  • Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
  • Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
  • Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna

You can find information on all of these at Bozar’s website.

I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.  There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.  This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.  Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:

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Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .

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I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Mus̩e Fin-de-Si̬cle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 Р1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

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What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!

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In heaven but starving by the time it was over. A wander down into the neighbourhood led to Café Leffe, a brasserie linked to the brewer. A dish of boef carbonnade was just what I needed, and washed down with Leffe Blonde. Yum!

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Okay, home again, blisters on the soles of my feet.

Banksy/Warhol @ MOCO

MOCO is a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam, next to van Gogh Museum on Museumplein.  Their inaugural exhibitions are Banksy/Warhol, separately presented, in the most part, but with some overlap.

Pawn has seen several exhibit of Banksy, which is always a little odd, since he’s known primarily as a street artist, a Graffito.  Here, however, we see quite a few of his works on canvas, board, metal and wood.

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There are still samples of his street work, such as these, excised from their original locations:

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As for Warhol, while there are many familiar items on display, the real joy was in seeing some of his drawings and paintings without the Pop-Art angle.

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There is of course much similarity to be drawn between these two artists, and that is where the strength of this paired exhibition lies.  Here are some side-by-side encounters:

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Kate Moss, Gray – Banksy, 2005 Marilyn – Warhol

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The problem with this show, however, lies in the simplistic and sometimes baffling text panels.  One wonders if the curatorial staff has any clue.  Pawn was particularly irked by the panel accompanying Forgive Us Our Trespassing, a Banksy work.  Here is the piece, originally conceived in collaboration with Los Angeles schools students:

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The original version, in LA, was created by the kids placing graffiti on a wall, and then Banksy painting the window frame and praying boy on top of that.  Here, however, is the text the curators chose to place with it:

Like Cardinal Sin, a work with a biblical theme. “Forgive us our trespasses” is the 7th sentence in the English Catholic Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, the most used prayer in Christian tradition.

Trespassing is also an act and word strongly associated wit Graffiti and street art, as street artists have to trespass private property in order to get a certain tag or artwork on a particular wall.

In this work, Banksy used a very literal approach by depicting a church window, which is tagged on with colors and by different artists.  In front of the work, a boy is praying for forgiveness.

The implication here is that the boy seeks forgiveness for having tagged the window.  To my eyes, however, the boy is seeking forgiveness for having painted the arches on top of the tags.  He has seen beauty in the colours of  the graffiti, and has converted the mess of tags into stained glass.  I think they’ve got it all wrong!

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:

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

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The Shard, commonly known as The Salt Cellar.

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

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New Blackfriar’s Bridge.

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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.”

Lovely.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.”

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

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1139: Iggy, Stephen Haines.

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1051: David Noble Tractus, John Humphreys.

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

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!

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?

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.