Let’s Go to the Movies


The Oscars are over. However, even though the awards have all been given out and Best and Worst Dressed have been announced, you might still have movies on the brain. Well, fear not film fanatics, your need for an Oscar fix can still be satiated – at least through April 18.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the Folks Behind the Oscars) was founded in 1927 and has grown from 36 founders to over 6,000 honorary members. Bearing the mission of advancing the arts and sciences of motion pictures, the Academy awarded its first honorary membership to Thomas Edison. In addition to their prestigious list of members both past and current, the Academy is also the keeper of an impressive library and film archive.

How does this satisfy your Oscar fix you ask? Well, the Academy is currently playing host to two fascinating film-related exhibits at this very moment.

The More the Merrier: Posters from the Ten Best Picture Nominees, 1936-1943

If you were paying attention to something other than the dresses this year, you may have heard that it was an historic Oscars before Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director. From the Academy’s founding through 1944, there was anywhere between three and twelve Best Picture nominees at the annual awards ceremony. However, in 1944, the amount was capped at five nominees. This year, for those of you playing at home, there were 10.

The More the Merrier showcases campaign art from the films nominated during the eight consecutive years that 10 films were up for the big prize. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, A Star is Born, and a rare original painting for Gone With the Wind are all on display in this exhibit. Whether you’re nostalgic for the “Golden Age” of film, a general movie lover, or interested in seeing some of the (arguably) best movie posters ever created, then you should really swing by.

Star Quality: The World of Noel Coward

A touring exhibition – it will also make stops in Wisconsin, London, and San Francisco – Star Quality puts the talents and tales of the playwright, director, actor, composer, and artist on never-before-seen display. Time magazine once described Coward as having “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise,” while others praise his noted wit and charm. Even Coward himself said: “Star Quality: I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got it.” The photos, audio and visual clips, costume designs, sheet music, letters, playbills, and Coward’s famous silk dressing gown assembled in The Academy’s Fourth Floor Gallery seek to reflect and describe how the man came to be such an icon of popular culture.

So, film fanatics, get thee to Hollywood, these exhibits are too good to miss.


Life Lessons from a Gallery Tour


All art was modern once. This is sometimes difficult for me to remember when, for instance, I stand in front of Monet’s Haystack series at the Art Institute of Chicago. To me, it seems perfectly natural for them to be touted as masterpieces in one of the world’s great museums. However, this was not always the case. Even Monet was rejected from inclusion the Royal Academy’s show in 1871, his works too  “edgy” for their taste.

I tend – like many people – to dismiss modern art outright. However, I used to do the same with country music, which I now rather like, so modern art and I might still have a chance at reconciling our differences. Therefore, it was with this hope-for-the-best-but-expect-the-worst attitude that I joined a lovely group of women (you know who you are) for a guided tour of a handful of Chelsea galleries.

Enter our guide, the knowledgeable and gregarious Rafael Risemberg. Holding a PhD in Arts Education, Rafael runs the small company New York Gallery Tours, which offers both regularly scheduled Saturday public tours as well as private gallery tours.

The lovely ladies and I met Rafael at the Sean Kelly Gallery to see a computer art installation by Anthony McCall. Before the art experience could begin, however, Rafael wanted to explain what we were to see over the course of our afternoon in Chelsea. By visiting the over 300 galleries that call Chelsea home and the hundreds of exhibits that come on and off their walls on a regular basis, Rafael had compiled a list of seven of what he considered to be the best shows in Chelsea at that moment. He explained that the art that you find in a museum is decades old at the very least, but the art of the gallery world is new. Not only is it new, it is meant to provoke, to challenge your very notion of what is art.

Gallery #1: Sean Kelly Gallery

Feeling fortified by the feeling of being “in the now” and with an expectation of the avant garde, it was now time for our first gallery show. Pulling aside a heavy black curtain, I immediately started the awkward, stutter-step walk that I employ when the lights suddenly go out and I don’t know if I’m going to run into an ottoman or a doorjamb. Arms outstretched in the black void, I hear Rafael say, “Don’t worry, you’ve got nothing to run into but other people.” OK, ottoman-free zone. Eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, I see two clear shapes projected onto the wall. One shape – what would be a circle, except a piece is missing – is larger than the other. Well, wouldn’t you know it, that diminutive neighbor actually is the missing piece of the larger pie. I stare transfixed as the size of the shapes slowly alter, moving in tandem, one always completing the other. Meanwhile, the light from the projectors is infused with a misty haze that causes the beam to look 3-dimensional. Our trusty guide assures us that the chemicals used to create the mist aren’t toxic, but I’m not sure I believe him. I reach out to try and touch the misty beam like a stoner contemplating the deeper meaning of a toothbrush. I blame the mist.


Installation View, Leaving (with Two-Minute Silence); Alexander McCall show at Sean Kelly Gallery; Photo by Jason Wyche.

Gallery #2: Bruce Silverstein Gallery

On to Gallery #2, otherwise known as the Bruce Silverstein Gallery. No trippy mood mist here, but there is the futuristic digital “appropriation art” of the German artist, Martin Denker. Drawn from images across the interwebs, my first impression is that these works look like sticker collections, only digital. Rafael explains that the artist is trying to create a response to the barrage of images from technology that has overrun society. If I messed that up, which I most likely did, I apologize. Whatever the message, walking around the gallery, the bright colors and Where’s Waldo-like fun of trying to identify objects within the clutter made this an enjoyable stop.


6.3DayChemicalHighway by Martin Denker

Gallery #3: Barbara Gladstone Gallery

Barbara Gladstone Gallery had a show that I like to call “Blue Collar Lunch,” but was actually Lunch Break by Sharon Lockhart. Visiting the Bath Ironworks factory in Maine, Lockhart attempted to capture the identity and culture of the salt-of-the-earth-like workers through portraits of lunchboxes, (one man’s lunchbox is another one’s picnic basket), glimpses of the cafeteria (Dan’s Delicious Devil Dogs are just $1.00), and the most depressing lunch break in 1/8 time (with the drone of the factory in real time overhead). Poignant? To be sure. Depressing? Debatable. Very well done? Indeed. Through her beautiful photography, Lockhart made it all feel quite real. As one of the lovely ladies remarked: “Like a contemporary Norman Rockwell.”


First panel from Mike Dickey, Tinsmith, 2000 by Sharon Lockhart.

Gallery #4: Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Collage can be juvenile, or cluttered, or cheap. The collages of Matthew Cusick, on display at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, were anything but. Easily my favorite exhibit of the day, Cease to Exist attempted to capture the culture of 1970s California through a mishmash of vintage maps. This was my thought process…

“That looks like a painting of a golf course. But wait, that’s not paint. Oh cool, he cut up maps and meticulously       pieced them together to create a picture. Is that sand trap a map of Michigan?”

From far away these images succeeded in capturing the feeling of the Golden State: muscle cars, the swell of a cresting wave, golf courses, and even a portrait of Manson’s women. However, it was the detail provided by the maps that stole the show. A patchwork quilt of cartography, my mom found the location of her wedding reception amid the outline of a TransAm, while others found out they grew up a few miles apart from those same contours. The beautiful thing about this exhibit is that it succeeded where many a museum has failed: it enabled connections and interaction. People were not just taking in the images, they were processing them and giving back to the artistic experience. There were a thousand stories to be told in those collages, and you didn’t need an audio guide or wall plaque to tell them.


Kara’s Wave. By Matthew Cusick.

Gallery #5: Margaret Thatcher Projects

Margaret Thatcher Projects had paintings. Alas, these were no ordinary paintings. These were 3D paintings. Colorful Koosh balls of pure paint shoved through the canvas from the back. Round geodes with fissures of color, cracks exploding with oranges, blues, reds, yellows, and a million other hues. It took all of your effort to stop yourself from reaching out and squeezing them. It’s one of those you have to see it to believe it type of exhibits, and really, you should see it. Vadim Katznelson, check him out.


Like Green Plants by Vadim Katznelson.

Gallery #6: Daniel Reich Gallery

The Daniel Reich Gallery showcased the consumerist commentary of Christian Holstad. Wilted shopping carts expressed both the fatigue society feels from constantly buying things as well as the symbolic wind leaving our sails as the recession set in. There were also paintings that I refer to as “Trashcan Testimonials.” Essentially portraits of people, minus the people. Trying to convey the belief that you can tell a lot about a person by what they throw away. To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t that interested. However, we were shortly off to our final stop of the day.


The Road to Hell is Paved (Best Buy) by Christian Holstad.

Gallery #7: Pace Wildenstein

Pace Wildenstein is one of the more well known galleries in the world, and they were featuring the work of one of the “hot” artists in the world today. Rafael informed us that Zhang Huan got his start by covering himself in honey, going into an outhouse, letting the bees or some other flying critters swarm his face, and videotaped the experience. Wonder what the 1871 Royal Academy would have thought about that? Not being a big fan of bees myself, I was relieved to see that this exhibit lacked insects of any variety. It was a peaceful, almost stark, and seemed kind of normal for such an “edgy” artist – and this with a giant Buddha made of ash in the center of the gallery. The black and white paintings, drawn from scenes from the mythology of a 7th-century Chinese prophecy book, were given a greater amplitude of interestingness by the unexpected use of feathers. It seemed fitting to start with a strangely soothing computer art installation and end with a modern twist to centuries old religion.


Rulai by Zhang Huan.

And so concluded our gallery tour of Chelsea. We bid adieu to Rafael, who through his insight and clear passion for the work, had made the trip informative, provoking, and downright fun. The shows we had seen had done exactly as Rafael had promised: they had been new, they had provoked me and my coterie of lovely ladies in both good and bad ways, and they had challenged at least my definition of art.

However, the greatest thing that I took away from this excursion was this simple fact: I had enjoyed a day with modern art. I wasn’t angry. I didn’t feel cheated by having to pay for art that I didn’t think was worthy of being called art. Rather, I felt invigorated. There was a life lesson in there somewhere, keeping your mind open to new experiences or something, but all I could say was: “Well played, Modern Art. Until we meet again.”


Among the Masters: A Journey to the Frick


It was a beautiful January day in New York City. With only a light wind blowing down Fifth Avenue to contend with, I left the quirky little boutique hotel that served as home for the weekend, and set off toward the Frick Collection. Momentarily flattered when a woman stopped me to ask for directions – there’s something strangely satisfying about not being seen as a tourist even if I was unable to answer her question – I was in a decidedly good mood when I reached the steps of the imposing mansion on East 70th.

The Frick Collection, arguably one of the finest assemblies of Old Masters paintings around, is a museum created from the artistic treasures of robber baron and steel magnate, Henry Clay Frick. The museum is housed in the Frick mansion – built on an entire city block – that was constructed in 1913-14. Strolling through the home/museum, it seems impossible that people once lived among art of such caliber and quality, but it would sure be fun to try it out for a little while.

Admission – $18 for adults, $12 for seniors (62+), $5 for students – includes an audio tour, which I highly recommend. Simply punch in the number of the painting into the little handheld device, and you will be rewarded with enlightening information about the artist, the subject, how the painting fits into the Frick collection, or perhaps a bit about Frick himself. For instance, from the audio guide, I learned how Whistler was the only American artist deemed worthy enough by Frick to be included in his almost exclusively European collection (Stuart’s portrait of George Washington is the only other painting by an American artist, and was most likely chosen for patriotic reasons rather than some commentary on his standing among the European pantheon). It also brought certain paintings to life, like when it provided greater context for Reynolds’ paintings of “very beautiful women in very important hats.”

In the galleries of the Frick Collection you will find the gigantic canvases of Veronese, elongated El Grecos, a room full of frothy Fragonards, the quiet beauty of Vermeer, a gentle landscape by Corot, figures emerging from Whistler’s black backgrounds on one wall opposing the same artist’s studies in pink and white on the other, a healthy handful of Gainsborough, Rembrandt’s self-reflections, and much more.

Can’t make it to New York? Well, lucky for you the Frick’s stocked collection is searchable through their online database. Holbein’s Sir Thomas More may be breathtaking in person, but it’s still pretty darn impressive on a computer.

Although my journey to the Frick Collection lasted just over an hour, it was an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a collector (even if he was the most hated man in America). The Frick succeeds not because of the quality of their artworks, which doesn’t hurt, but in the stories they are able to tell through their collection.

I set off back down Fifth Avenue in an even better mood than when I started. I had seen great art, the weather was beautiful, the wind was at my back, and when the next person asked me for directions I was able to tell them where to go.


A Postal Post


So, still seething from the information that my rent check got lost in the mail (I mean, come on, I even paid it early!), I popped into the Charleston Post Office to pick up a change of address form. The wonderfully pleasant man behind the counter did quite a bit to put me back in a good mood, but what really turned my frown upside down was the unexpected surprise of a postal history museum.

Complete with diorama and artifacts of postal service days past, this little gem of a museum was well worth the trip. Here you can learn about a brief history of the P.O. Box (apparently “pigeonholes” were being used as early as 1800) and look upon some Confederate letters and stamps.

Upon leaving the historic post office on Broad Street, I couldn’t help but echoing the exclamation of the individual who wrote in the museum’s guest book: “Hurrah for the Postal Service!”

Here are a few images…






If You Build It, They Will Climb


Oh, public art: the beautiful, the strange, the poignant, the misunderstood. Whatever way you view it, great public art tends to leave a rather memorable impression. However, the impression is not always the one the artist/architect intended. The latest example of unintended use comes in the form of Ben van Berkel’s Centennial Pavilion, which was installed in Chicago’s Millennium Park to celebrate the centennial of the Burnham Plan.

As seen in the photo above, the once glossy white structure is now scarred by the marks of visitors of all ages. Not even the signs asking park-goers to refrain from climbing on the structure have deterred people’s urge to scale the Pavilion.

Are visitors to blame for the destruction? Several say no, including Harriet F. Senie of City College in New York. In Blair Kamin’s recent article about the closing of the Pavilion for repairs, Senie is quoted as saying: “Why is this a surprise to anybody? The first thing people do with public art is they climb on it.” Her argument makes quite a bit of sense. Having seen the Centennial Pavilion, it practically begs people to climb up, skate on, and touch its smooth sloping surfaces. It was shortsighted, at the least, not to have foreseen the inevitable damage that would ensue.

Discussing whether or not the architects should have foreseen the damage begs the question: Is destruction of public art by the public’s use of it something we should be trying to prevent? Or, is it something we should be embracing as integral to the public art experience?

What is it about public art that causes people to give in to their compulsion to interact with the works without any guilt? Is it the venue in which public art is housed? People are apparently able to control these urges within the confines of the museum. What is different between the venues? An easy answer is more security, which is exactly what Burnham Centennial organizers are suggesting; placing more guards around the pavilion when it reopens to discourage climbing. But to me, the increased security seems to go directly against the idea of public art.

Museums, it is argued, hold items of cultural, historical, and artistic importance in the public trust. The items technically belong to the public, but there are restrictions about how and when the public may interact with them. These restrictions include visiting hours, standards of conduct, limitations of space, and more. These restrictions exist so that these important items may be preserved so that generations to come may enjoy them as well. The ends and means are in harmony.

This is not the case with public art. Preserving an item for future generations is not a goal of public art. Public art is temporary by its very nature. There is no institution charged with maintaining public art in perpetuity. The public understands the difference, which is clear in their behavior. However, it is apparent that not all public artists understand this, which is evident in Van Berkel’s Centennial Pavilion.

I would love to see the Pavilion left as it is, exposed plywood and all. I would rather have public art that shows the wear and tear of human interaction than a large white climbing structure in a public space with no climbing allowed.

What are your thoughts?


Exhibit: Sacrosanct


Hey New Yorkers! If you’re looking for art with a side of spirituality, you should check out Sacrosanct at St. John’s Episcopal American Catholic Church (1610 Lexington, New York City). As far as exhibit space, a church that has been abandoned since 1990 seems like a fairly interesting venue. According to the show’s write-up, 10 artists were asked to “create, install, and perform pieces that respond to the sanctity of the environment.” One installation includes a modern-day “Last Supper” interpretation. Visit Sophie Lvoff’s site for more info and AnimalNY for photos. Better hurry, show closes June 21st.


The Blockbuster is Back!


In what comes as no surprise to this Hogwarts-lover, the Museum of Science and Industry has just announced that it will be extending its Harry Potter exhibit for an additional three weeks. Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which was originally set to run from April 30 – September 7, will now close on September 27. The Museum of Science and Industry will be the only U.S. location only Midwest stop on the exhibit’s tour schedule, so unless you are planning on going abroad to get your Potter fix, you’d better get your tickets soon. You can buy tickets online, at the museum, or over the phone (773) 684-1414. Now with 10,000-square feet of exhibit space, will visitors be able to play some Quidditch? Nope, apparently broom-flying is not included.

Thanks to Jack Wlezien for forwarding the press release and to Brian Packer for letting me know about my mistake!


Art Institute of Chicago


It’s a good month to be an art fan in Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago is free this February, and who doesn’t love free things? However, there are several other reasons to go explore this Chi-Town classic before the month is through.

  • The Impressionists are back! Arguably the most well-known part of the Institute’s collection, the Impressionists are back from their vacation in Dallas. As a longtime visitor, I was pleasantly surprised to find the familiar paintings back along with some new pieces. I was a bit thrown by the fact that some paintings had been moved around within the galleries, Sunday on La Grand Jatte in particular, but change is good (yes, even in museums).
  • Show me your “O” face. That’s right, Edvard Munch is coming to town. The exhibit opens February 14th and runs through April 26th. In March and April, it will cost $20 for adults. However, since February has free admission, exhibit tickets are half-priced through the end of the month.
  • The new Alsdorf Galleries are open. Designed by the Renzo Piano team (the same guy who designed the new Modern Wing, which opens May 16th), these galleries showcase Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic art. I personally thought the empty display case I saw was awfully zen.
  • Of course, the lions standing sentry are always worth a visit if you need another reason.

So, there you go, plenty of reasons to get your culture on this month. See you at the Art Institute.

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