Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Boxer

When I got back to New York I was presented with a smorgasbord of exhibitions at 6 museums that interested me and I was not sure if I would make it to all of them, but in the end I did.  As is usually the case some that I thought I would love were a disappointment, and others that I was not that interested in turned out to be marvelous.  At the Metropolitan Museum you can pick up a sheet which is called, “Now on View” which had 26 different exhibitions listed.  That did not include the wonderful reinstallation of the Old Master Galleries which I only walked through and I look forward to seeing them thoroughly at a future date.

Not all the exhibitions have a great deal of material.  In fact 2 of them only had one work of art.  These were lent from Italian institutions to celebrate “The Year of Italian Culture”.  One was a Velázquez of “Duke Francesco I d’Este,” 1638
 from the Galleria Estense, Modena.  It is a half-length portrait and the Met has better works by Velazquez in its permanent Collection.  The other, however, was amazing and I found it absolutely captivating.  The title of the exhibition is, “The Boxer an Ancient Masterpiece”  but it is always referred to as “Boxer at Rest”.  This life size bronze figure is sitting on a rock, which is not original,  It dates between the 4th and 2nd century B.C., the Helenistic period, and is in extremely good condition.  It has been lent by the Republic of Italy and comes form the Museo Nazionale Romano in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.  What I know about ancient art would fill a thimble but I remember very clearly, even from high school, that this period for art was prime time and some of the greatest surviving objects come from it.  Never has it been so obvious as with our “Boxer at Rest”.  One of the few names that I remember from this period is Lysippos and though it is purely conjecture this bronze has been attributed to him by some.

An eye witness to its excavation in 1885, the archeologist Rodolfo Lanciani said in part “…In my long carreer…I have experienced surprise after surprise… but I have never felt such an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi-barbaric athlete…”  That is what I felt as I came through the main entrance of the Greek & Roman department at the Metropolitan Museum.  There he sits and you worry that you may be invading his space.  A colleague of mine commented that “it was a privilege to be able to see the boxer here” I usually find this kind of comment exaggerated but I found myself in total agreement.

The bronze was excavated on the south slope of the Quirinal Hill in Rome near the Baths of Constantine.  In the brochure for the exhibition it says that something catches his eye because he is turned to right.  In the show he happens to be staring at the didactic panel and practically takes the viewer to it!  I found it mesmerizing. I felt as if he would rise at any moment.

The figure is so very realistic, totally nude with all his parts exposed and intact.  He has clearly been punched in his nose and on his ears often and drops of blood from his face have landed on his thigh where they are represented by bits of copper. He is still wearing his boxing gloves with strips of leather attached to a ring around the knuckles and fitted with woolen padding which had the capacity to be lethal.  He is clearly resting after a very tiring round against his opponent and getting ready for he next round.  At this time it was still possible for men of some standing to be boxers.  In Roman times it was only the gladiators who fought.

As I was looking for “The Boxer at the Met” on the internet, I came across the Met’s painting of a boxer by John Hopner (1758-1810).  This fellow looks like he was never even spanked much less punched and is totally idealized, hardly the reaction we have to the ancient bronze.

"Richard Humphrys, the Boxer" by John Hopner (1758-1810)

Unfortunately, the loan of the Boxer at Rest is for only 6 weeks and is scheduled to leave the Met on July 15.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hotel Del Coronado

The weekend of June 14 was, not only Fathers’ Day but also my son Hunter’s birthday so it seemed a good excuse to pay him a visit in Los Angeles.

I thought that even for me it would be a good idea to stay away from any art museum or exhibition for a few days so that it would not just be another busman’s holiday.  It would also not be a treat for Hunter to just do what he has always done with his parents.
So we decided to spend the weekend at a resort near San Diego, not too far from LA, except on Friday afternoon when the 2½ hour drive took 5 hours!   It was worth it, however.

We stayed at a historical resort, the Hotel Del Coronado also known as the Del.  It is a nineteenth century fantasy castle.

In fact our room mirrored part of the fantasy.   We had a view over the beautiful garden with palm trees that were higher than the 3 story hotel. We also had two closets one with a window that had room enough for a cot.  Hunter said, I could have brought some of my friends along!

In 1885 two mid-western businessmen, Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story, bought the entire uninhabited Island of Coronado and decided to build their fantasy, which opened in 1888.   It was the largest resort in the country and in 1977 it was designated a Historic Landmark.

The purchasers of the island, Babcock and Story had to bring electricity (quite a modernity at the time) to the island and they clearly were not so sure about its reliability since they ran the electric lines along the gas lines to the rooms.   They also brought fresh water to the island delivered through pipelines under the bay.  They built a steam ferry capable of carrying 60 people and 13 teams of horses.   Even though the island was only a mile off shore in the 1960’s a 2½ mile bridge was built from San Diego to the island.  Since the North Island had become a Naval base they had to make the bridge that long in order to achieve a height under which an air craft carrier could pass. Babcock and Story held a land auction to help defray the costs of the hotel, offering benefits to those who started building within the first 6 months of ownership.   Already by 1887 a year before the hotel was to open Babcock was having financial difficulties and in 1888 he started borrowing funds from John D. Spreckels of the Spreckels Sugar Company and by 1889 Spreckels was the majority shareholder but Babcock continued to work at the hotel for the next 15 years.  Spreckels brother stayed in San Francisco where they had grown up and his heirs became good clients of Rosenberg & Stiebel.  Some years ago the director asked me to look up the history of works of art that they had received from the family many years ago.

Quickly, the Del captured the imagination for its beauty and luxury.  11 U.S. presidents have visited the hotel starting with Benjamin Harrison in 1891 going up to modern times and George W. Bush.   Another client of our art gallery is mentioned in the brochure of the hotel, the Prince of Wales came in 1920.  He would become King Edward VIII and when he abdicated to marry the American divorcee Wallis Spencer Simpson became the Duke of Windsor.  I remember that they had pug dogs and they bought several 18th century Meissen pugs from us.

Less surprising is that many actors visited the Del since it is so near to Hollywood but we also find films were made here.  The 1950’s were not a great period for the Del, which made it less expensive for producers giving them a further enticement.  The run-away hit “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis was filmed there in 1958.  The in-room film about the history of the hotel included clips from several other movies that had been made there.

One of the tidbits that I found particularly appealing was the Frank Baum who wrote the “Wizard of Oz” wrote some of his later Oz books there and I wouldn’t be surprised if parts of Oz were not inspired by the hotel itself.  Baum spent many months at the hotel every year and in fact he designed the chandeliers for the hotel’s grandest room.  They echo its name, the Crown Room.

From 1887, before the hotel even opened, the property became a popular place to hold weddings.  Both nights that we were at the hotels we saw weddings and one was celebrated on the beach with the cocktails and dinner also in the sand.  There were many other couples who were celebrating their anniversaries.

To take full advantage of all the restaurants at the Del as well as the many shops, the pools and, of course the beautiful beach and oceanfront a few more days would not have been wasted!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Illusion at the Art Museum

Again I returned to a contemporary art exhibition but this time I found it accessible on different levels.  Maybe that had something to do with the fact that I went back 4 times and each time something else became apparent though it did not always leave a positive impression! .  I also read a couple of reviews but both were written in the vernacular of contemporary artspeak and I am happy to say they have absolutely no influence on what I am writing about, an exhibition of 16 works by Peter Sarkisian which opened at the New Mexico Museum of Art recently and runs through August 18th.

Peter Sarkisian was born in 1965 in Glendale, California.  He is a video artist who now lives and works in Santa Fe.  He has exhibited all over the country and his work can be found in the permanent collections of museums from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The New Mexico Museum of Art is the last venue for his traveling exhibition that has been on the road since 2010.  It represents video works from 1994 to 2011.  It is difficult for me to come to terms with because I enjoy many pieces in the show, though I am not sure I would not tire of some and they might seem like just a parlor trick after a while.

Then again I find a few works disturbing.  Does this make them more important that they have an effect on me… so does a gory movie and that can or cannot be considered art.  For instance there are two pieces that combine real objects with videos.  In  “Cup ‘a Joe”  2011 you are looking into a cup of what looks to me like Ovaltine and there is a corpse doing the dead man’s float in the cup.  Along side is a real bar check with 5 pennies, ostensibly as a tip.  In “White Water” 1999, a bowl contains what looks like a nude woman floating in milk.  She twists around exposing her breasts when she comes to the surface on her back.  If it was a bubble bath it might be sexy but this definitely is not.  The artist is leaving it all to our imagination.

Later in the show is by far the largest piece and the one that causes the most tension.  It  is a full scale fiberglass replica of a yellow Ferrari car frame and you see its smashed windows and a crazed driver (the artist) swerving this way and that through a surrealistic town.  When he does a sharp enough turn, like when he is avoiding a police car you will see the body of a gaunt man (his father) swing up into view from the back seat and fall back down again when the car is on a more steady plane.  It is a surrealistic world and maybe that is what Sarkisian’s world boils down to, surrealistic illusion.   For me it evokes Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  It shows clocks bent over objects.  Are we revisiting surrealism through video?  It certainly allows for many more opportunities to play with the viewers mind.

There are some fun objects such as the pencil that seems to float up and down and the man who crawls out of the turned over ink bottle and slides his body across the surface until he makes it to a real spiral note pad where he lies obviously exhausted until he fades away into the paper.  The next time he comes out of a different side of the flowing ink.

The museum is in the process of acquiring a very colorful work, “Extruded Video Engine, Large Shape 1, Version 3” 2007 that seemed to me as if I was looking into the workings of a pinball machine.  The clanging and rings are all there magnified many times.  In fact, throughout the exhibition there is the cacophony of noise bleed. 

A mercifully quiet one is also my favorite piece in the show.   “Book 1” 2011, is a projected dictionary with a man in blue shirt and khakis (the artist) crawling out of the binding of the thick book and moving around the page writing his commentary in bold print, “CHECH (sic) SPELLING”, “NO”, “BLAH, BLAH BLAH”, etc. .  When he is done he turns the page.  One of his comments is, “WHO CARES”.  It was humorous and also keeps one thinking.  How often have you read a book or article and thought the same thing, “WHO CARES”?


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hershey Felder’s, “Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein”

I slept on it and I still can’t come down from the one-man performance we saw last night. It’s hard to hold a stage on your own for an hour and three-quarters without an interval but that is exactly what Hershey Felder did last night in his “Maestro:  The Art of Leonard Bernstein”.

All I had expected was a review of Bernstein’s music, ‘On the Town’, ‘Candide’ and ‘West Side Story’ which I saw with the first girl I kissed so it had extra special meaning to me.  I knew that Bernstein had written some classical music but that had never been of particularly interest.

Coming in to Santa Fe’s Lensic theater you see Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) projected on the backdrop doing one of his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic for which he had become Music Director.  He is teaching his audience the art of conducting.   At the appointed time Felder comes on stage and takes over the role.  The set consists of a grand piano with an armchair on each side and a wall behind which acts as a screen on which images of an orchestra or a character in the narrative may appear.  The colors will also change according to the mood of the moment.  Felder plays, Beethoven, Mahler, Gershwin or Bernstein and once in a while he conducts an unseen orchestra, which is clearly from a Bernstein concert.  Felder has done similar treatments in “George Gershwin Alone” which played in London and New York and “Beethoven as I Knew Him”.

We learned that Lenny wanted to be remembered as a great classical composer.  Instead, he is known for his show tunes and as the great educator of music to the American Public.  Most importantly he became the great interpreter of music for the youngsters through his public broadcast of the Young People’s Concerts for CBS with the New York Philharmonic.

In this one-man show Felder plays Bernstein as an arrogant bisexual who is never satisfied with his life.  Felder has constructed an amazing piece of art, which gives us a very personal view of Bernstein being open to interpretation not only by the audience but by the author as well.


One thing that does not change is the talent and passion of the Maestro and I am not speaking of Bernstein but rather Hershey Felder.   He seems possessed.  The passion of the piece comes through in the fierceness of the performance which sometimes does not allow the words or notes to come out precisely but one is always waiting for the next beat with baited breath.

The show lasts one hour and forty-five minutes without intermission, which seemed to me a bit long at the start but I soon realized the action would not and could not stop.  Yes, I said action, Felder throws himself from piano stool to one chair and then another as he tells us of Lenny’s very religious Jewish refugee father and Lenny’s beloved wife, Felicia, who he leaves after 3 children and a quarter century of marriage for a quickee  affair with the “love of his life”, another man.  in less than a year he came back to be with Felicia who died of cancer shortly thereafter.


It all works magically well as a whole.  I left debating what I remembered of Bernstein himself and how he saw himself as interpreted by Felder.  Bernstein believed that every great work of art is based on what came before and Felder demonstrates the similarities between Beethoven, Mahler and Gershwin, with points borrowed by Lenny!

According to Bob Martin, Executive Director and Impresario of the Lensic the piece may very well go to Broadway but along the way it is being reworked and adjusted in its tone.  The fact that the “Co-Presenter” of the event is Martin Markinson owner of the Helen Hayes Theater in New York adds strength to the argument.  Also, the Helen Hayes has hosted other Felder productions.  Reading a review of the play in the Los Angeles Times showed substantial differences to the play we just saw here in Santa Fe.