Monday, November 30, 2009
Gonna be in New York anytime soon? The reviews coming in say there's never been anything like "Fela!" on Broadway before... Check out the rapturous New York Times review, below:
The hot (and seriously cool) energy that comes from the musical gospel preached by the title character of “Fela!,” which opened on Monday night, feels as if it could stretch easily to the borders of Manhattan and then across a river or two. Anyone who worried that Bill T. Jones’s singular, sensational show might lose its mojo in transferring to Broadway can relax.
True, this kinetic portrait of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian revolutionary of song, has taken on some starry producers — including Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — and shed 15 or 20 minutessince it was staged Off Broadway last year. But it has also acquired greater focus, clarity and intensity. In a season dominated by musical retreads and revivals, “Fela!,” which stars the excellent Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo (alternating in the title role), throbs with a stirring newness that is not to be confused with novelty.
For there has never been anything on Broadway like this production, which traces the life of Fela Kuti (1938-97) through the prism of the Shrine, the Lagos nightclub where Fela (pronounced FAY-lah) reigned not only as a performer of his incendiary songs (which make up most of the score) but also as the self-proclaimed president of his own autonomous republic.
Yet Verve has just released “Twelve Nights in Hollywood,” a four-CD boxed set of Ella Fitzgerald singing 76 songs at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles, in 1961 and ’62 — and none of it has ever been released until now.
These aren’t bootlegs; the CDs were mastered from the original tapes, which were produced by Norman Granz, Verve’s founder and Fitzgerald’s longtime manager.
They capture the singer in her peak years, and at top form: more relaxed, swinging and adventurous, across a wider span of rhythms and moods, than on the dozens of other albums that hit the bins in her lifetime.
Examining music in a museum space is no simple task; exhibitions about musicians tend to downplay the music itself. But “We Want Miles,” an ambitious show about the life and music of the jazz great Miles Davis, at Cité de la Musique through Jan. 17, is a remarkable exception. In this exhibition, the music is central.
The flow and form of the exhibition at Cité de la Musique (221, Avenue Jean-Jaurès; 33-1-44-84-44-84; www.citedelamusique.fr; Métro: Porte de Pantin), in the Parc de La Villette, is infused with the spontaneous and elegant nature of the man and his music: cool and understated in all the right places. Broken into a chronological series of eras, the constant evolutions and revolutions that characterized Davis’s work are central themes.
The exhibition itself takes a hands-on approach: plug into various listening stations to experience Davis’s tunes. Or sit and lose yourself in a series of “mutes” — acoustically designed rooms, shaped like the trumpet device that Davis used to great effect, with music piped in. There’s also film of “live” concerts, some projected onto big screens.
With “Pops,” his eloquent and important new biography of Armstrong, the critic and cultural historian Terry Teachout restores this jazzman to his deserved place in the pantheon of American artists, building upon Gary Giddins’s excellent 1988 study, “Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong,” and offering a stern rebuttal of James Lincoln Collier’s patronizing 1983 book, “Louis Armstrong: An American Genius.”
Mr. Teachout, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal and the chief culture critic of Commentary magazine, writes with a deep appreciation of Armstrong’s artistic achievements, while situating his work and his life in a larger historical context. He draws on Armstrong’s wonderfully vivid writings and hours of tapes in which the musician recorded his thoughts and conversations with friends, and in doing so, creates an emotionally detailed portrait of Satchmo as a quick, funny, generous, observant and sometimes surprisingly acerbic man: a charismatic musician who, like a Method actor, channeled his vast life experience into his work, displaying a stunning, almost Shakespearean range that encompassed the jubilant and the melancholy, the playful and the sorrowful.
Monday, November 23, 2009
FOR WHOM IS THIS RETREAT: for anyone who senses a call to shepherd artists. In the church. In the marketplace. In educational settings. In coffeeshops. In official and un-official capacities. This retreat is for anybody who feels a yearning to love artists and to help them grow strong and whole and holy.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Solomon R. Guggenheim, the museum's founder, was a major collector of Kandinsky's art, amassing no fewer than 150 canvases in his lifetime. (He died in 1949, five years after the artist.) The work was perhaps the most profound influence on the collector's thinking about nonobjective painting, which shed direct relationships to the visible world. Kandinsky instead explored the emotive possibilities of color and form, study central to avant-garde art for the next half a century.
In 1939, a scant decade after the collector bought his first Kandinsky, he opened the Museum of Nonobjective Painting -- the precursor to today's Guggenheim. And 20 years after that, Frank Lloyd Wright's radically designed Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue opened, showing just how much nonobjective art had informed a variety of advanced ideas. A powerfully expressive, light-filled void pierces the building's core.
Wright's building recently underwent a much-needed, beautifully achieved restoration. As a celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Kandinsky retrospective (running until Jan. 13) not surprisingly elicits a major "Wow."
Julian Goins, the 15-year-old leader of the Ranger$, a five-member jerking crew, hops onto the tips of his sneakers — the Tippy Toe — and then swivels his body ground-ward, legs crossed at the ankle. He pops up like a jack-in-the-box, spins and bounces, gliding backward in the Reject, a move that resembles nothing so much as the Running Man, an ’80s dance-floor step but in reverse.
The other kids in the schoolyard pay scant attention to the star in their midst. Until his Ranger$ schedule exploded and his mother decided to home-school him, Julian was just another student.
Goofy, gentle, nimbly amateurish, jerking was little known outside certain precincts of this sprawling city until a year ago. But in the last nine months or so, jerking began an unexpected run as an Internet phenomenon.
When the New Boyz — two teenagers who had been playing high school auditoriums — released “You’re a Jerk,” the song raced up the Billboard ladder, sold 750,000 copies on iTunes and another 400,000 ring tones, provided the duo with a base for a national tour and, of course, gave rise to untold copycats.
“Jerking started off in L.A. as just a little inner-city dance,” said one of the New Boyz, Earl Benjamin, 18, known as Ben J. “We used to search for it on YouTube and we noticed it had potential to be bigger than it was. It was like when you first saw break dancing: it has so many different parts, and when you get the dance down pat, you wanted to do it all the time. It reminded you of how fun hip-hop used to be.”
The painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco, almost certainly heard it growing up far to the south on the island of Crete. You can hear it today when you visit “The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete,” a lustrous exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown Manhattan.
With its extraordinary ensemble of almost 50 religious images, most of them painted on Crete — seven by El Greco and some of the rest by artists whose names are not known — the show is essentially a dual-purpose visual essay. On the one hand it roughs out the texture of a specific, cosmopolitan, East-meets-West island culture. On the other it tells the story of a great artist who emerged from that culture, lived outside it and lastingly belonged to it.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Aiming to revive the age-old ties between the Catholic Church and artists — and perhaps to put a more positive face on a contentious papacy — the Vatican pulled out all the stops for more than 250 artists, architects, musicians, directors, writers and composers from around the world, but largely from Italy.
Benedict made “a cordial, friendly and impassioned appeal” to the artists, calling on them to be “fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty.” He urged them, “Do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history.”
In an interview, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the director of the Pontifical Council for Culture who organized the event, said the aim was “to re-establish a dialogue” between the church and artists “that’s necessary and fertile for both.”
Friday, November 20, 2009
Roger Ballen, 59, is a professional geologist, a “mineral explorationist.” For decades he traveled to nearly every African country looking for deposits of diamonds, clay, cobalt and coal.
“That’s what I did for 30 years,” he said. “I roamed the continent and looked for minerals, but I also always kept my eyes open for photographs.”
In the early 1980s, Mr. Ballen said, “My photography really got going when I started photographing these small towns — dorps — in South Africa.”
Before this time, many of the images Mr. Ballen had made were exteriors. In South Africa, he went indoors with his camera. “There was sort of this metaphoric movement — inside the place, inside my mind,” he said.
Trained to discover valuable deposits, Mr. Ballen exposes rich emotions in his photographs. He witnessed the goings-on at an abandoned building he called the Boarding House, located between two big mine dumps on the eastern side of Johannesburg. His aim was not only to share the story of the building or the community of residents — human and animal — within it. Instead, his haunting, cramped images offer mere clues and thwart any expectations of a clear narrative.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Los Angeles Times' arts blog, "Culture Monster", reports the following this morning:
On Friday the National Endowment for the Arts presents a live webcast of its daylong Cultural Workforce Forum. From 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, an assortment of academics, federal bureaucrats, and staffers from private think tanks and research organizations will assemble in Washington, and in cyberspace at www.nea.gov. They'll attempt to elucidate, ponder and talk about how to broaden and improve the statistical evidence supporting the notion that what those composers, writers, painters, et al do is not just fluff and filigree, but part of the dollars-and-cents fiber of the country.
Panel topics include "What We Know About Artists and How We Know It," featuring an economics professor from Northwestern University, an executive from the AFL-CIO, and arts researchers from the NEA and Columbia University; "Putting the Research to Work"; and "Widening the Lens to Capture Other Cultural Workers."
First up this morning from The Wall Street Journal, an exciting and inspiring little piece on a young Jazz woman from the legendary writer Nat Hentoff (a prolific writer who for fifty years wrote for The Village Voice, among other publications.)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
During a recent week’s stay, I found this description remarkably apt.
The southern part, on the Romanian side, is a world of rolling farmland and steep forested hills, where antique villages and peasant culture coexist with new industry and modern construction. Horses and carts (and the occasional herd of cows) share the roads with SUVs, and intricately carved wood and other ornamentation still decorate many village homes and farmsteads.
Here, too, however, are religious sites far less known and rarely visited that also form important components of the region’s deeply rooted spiritual patrimony. These are the centuries-old Jewish cemeteries, whose weathered tombstones bear extraordinary carvings that meld folk motifs and religious iconography into evocative examples of faith expressed through art.
I was in the Bucovina to carry out research on Jewish tombstone art, and spent many hours photographing the richly sculpted tombstones in cemeteries in Radauti, Siret and other towns.
But, traveling by car, I was also able to visit nearly half a dozen of the painted monasteries, all of them located within an easy drive of each other.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
This Thursday at Duke Divinity School, New Creation and Creation Care Connections are co-sponsoring an event to celebrate the arrival of the book The Gift of Creation: Images from Scripture and Earth by Duke Divinity's very own Norman Wirzba. The book includes beautiful images of the Earth along with essays from well known biblical and theological scholars, including another of Duke's own, Ellen Davis. There will be a dramatic reading of selected excerpts and a discussion with Dr. Wirzba and Dr. Davis. All of this will be enjoyed over free homemade soup made with natural ingredients!!
When: Thursday, 11/19 from 12:30-1:20
Where: Div. School 0015W
What To Bring: 1) Questions about the relationship between Creation, theology, and arts, and 2) a bowl and spoon for the soup so that we don't have to use paper plates (there will be extra bowls and spoons, so please come even if you forget to bring your own.)
This morning, courtesy of the Associated Press, is a continuation of yesterday morning's post on the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.
PRAGUE (AP) -- With their country in deep political crisis, Czechs took to the streets throughout the country Tuesday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of decades of repressive communist rule.
They will celebrate with exhibitions, concerts, speeches and rallies. Thousands of people in the capital, Prague, plan to participate in a reenactment of a student protest -- an evocation of the event that triggered the Velvet Revolution that peacefully toppled the communist regime in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Monday, November 16, 2009
PRAGUE — It has been called the Velvet Revolution, a revolution so velvety that not a single bullet was fired. But the largely peaceful overthrow of four decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia that kicked off on Nov. 17, 1989, can also be linked decades earlier to a Velvet Underground-inspired rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. Band members donned satin togas, painted their faces with lurid colors and wrote wild, sometimes angry, incendiary songs.
It was their refusal to cut their long, dank hair; their willingness to brave prison cells rather than alter their darkly subversive lyrics (“peace, peace, peace, just like toilet paper!”); and their talent for tapping into a generation’s collective despair that helped change the future direction of a nation.
“We were unwilling heroes who just wanted to play rock ’n’ roll,” said Josef Janicek, 61, the band’s doughy-faced keyboard player, who bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon and still sports the grungy look that once helped get him arrested. “The Bolsheviks understood that culture and music has a strong influence on people, and our refusal to compromise drove them insane.”
Vaclav Havel, the music-loving former Czech president and dissident who championed the band’s cause when several members were imprisoned in 1976 for disturbing the peace, credits it with inspiring Charter 77, the manifesto demanding human rights that laid the groundwork for the 1989 revolution.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Have a final paper coming down the line on theology and/through the arts and need a better idea of what books are out there in the field? Working on your own craft as an artist and looking for additional resources? Maybe you just recently heard about the up-and-coming field of theology and/through the arts and want to learn more? Or maybe you're trying to find the perfect Christmas present for someone who's interested in this field?
In today's New York Times, an article on perhaps the hottest young playwright in America, Tarrell Alvin McCraney, author of the acclaimed trilogy "Brother/Sister Plays."
On other nights the boy stays with his mother. She is a crack addict with an abusive lover, with unpaid bills. Now and then the electricity is cut off. Now and then the boy is picked on by other boys for being gentle, shy, quiet. Still the boy is content; he loves his mother. She moves them to another project to give the boy a fresh start. Three years later a hurricane named Andrew hits their home, destroys everything. They return to Liberty City. The mother checks herself into rehab. Some years later, when the boy is a man of 23 and his mother is 40, she dies of an AIDS-related illness.
This is Mr. McCraney’s own story, and this is the kind of language — terse and unsentimental — that has helped make him a playwright of uncommon acclaim.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
This past Thursday (November 12) saw the opening of another exciting exhibit at Duke's Nasher Musuem of Art. Together with the on-going Picasso and David Roberts exhibits, The Nasher unveiled "Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids"
The exhibit reveals an important dimension of Warhol's process in creating his famous large-scale portraits. Although his Polaroids served as aids for painting portraits, in and of themselves they are significant works and represent a relatively unknown body of Warhol's work. At the Nasher Museum, the exhibition includes his portraits of Patsy, Andrea, Joan and Nancy Nasher, accompanied by the original Polaroid studies. A selection of Warhol films from the 1960s will also be part of the exhibition, to help provide greater context for the photographic work.
"Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids" is organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; the Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. All three institutions received gifts of about 100 original Polaroid photographs and 50 gelatin silver black-and-white prints in 2008 from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in celebration of the foundation's 20th anniversary.
Film-maker Peter Rodger journeys to 23 countries to ask anyone and just about everyone a great and ancient question: "What is God?"
In every corner of the world, there’s one question that can never be definitively answered, yet stirs up equal parts passion, curiosity, self-reflection and often wild imagination: “What is God?” Filmmaker Peter Rodger explores this profound, age-old query in the provocative non-fiction feature “Oh My God?”
This visual odyssey travels the globe with a revealing lens examining the idea of God through the minds and eyes of various religions and cultures, everyday people, spiritual leaders and celebrities. His goal: to give the viewer the personal, visceral experience of some kind of reasonable, meaningful definition of one of the most used--some might say overused--words in most every language.
Rodger’s quest takes him from the United States to Africa, from the Middle East to the Far East, where such fundamental issues as: “Did God create man or did man create God?, “Is there one God for all religions?” and “If God exists, why does he allow so much suffering?” are explored in candid discussions with the various Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and even atheists the filmmaker meets along the way.
“Oh My God?” stars Hugh Jackman, Seal, Ringo Starr, Sir Bob Geldof, Princess Michael of Kent, David Copperfield and Jack Thompson.
Just in from The New York Times - a review of two U.S. exhibits centering upon the history of art in the Jain religion (a close relative - especially visually - to Buddhism).
The Jains house a tradition of exquisite sculpture and narrative painting, as one soon discovers in this article and accompanying slideshow...
Mohandas Gandhi, who used nonviolence as a political tool, learned a lot from the Jains. But in the West we still know little about them and even less about their art — brilliant little narrative paintings, sculptures of sleek nude saviors — which we tend to misidentify as Buddhist. Not that there’s much around to see. The last major American survey was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1994, and it never came to the East Coast. Scant Jain material is on regular view in New York museums.
This fall, however, brings two Jain shows to New York: “Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection” at the Rubin Museum of Art and “Peaceful Conquerors: Jain Manuscript Painting” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Neither show is as spectacular as the Los Angeles exhibition, although the Rubin Museum one approaches it. Together they provide an in-depth survey of a great art tradition and a complex faith that has nearly five million followers in India.