Sunday, June 25, 2017

Building the Wall

Santa Fe is an arts town with a great Performing Arts Center, The Lensic, but we have sorely missed a black box theatre where small serious theatre productions could be done.  A bit over a year ago Maureen and Bruce McKenna opened the Adobe Rose Theatre to fill the need.  I hope to do a Missive in the near future on this dynamic duo but that is not my focus today.

The Adobe Rose recently held a gala where they presented a show called “Building the Wall” by Robert Schenkkan.  The unusual aspect of this play according to the author was that there were less than 6 months between conception and the first production.  Also, that the author wanted the play to roll out in multiple venues, each venue with their own interpretation.  The McKenna’s and their team felt the mood for the show would be properly set if we were given blue or red dots when we arrived, had to come through a small door and go through a security check with a simulated scanning device, standing on the foot prints and raising our arms. On the other side was another agent who sent sent those with blue dots through one aisle and the red through another.  We, of course, all arrived in the same seating area in the round.  The Adobe Rose has variable seating for different productions from 87 to 140 seats and for this production there were 116 seats.   According to Bruce McKenna, “Geoff Webb, the theatre designer, wanted for this production a "flies on the wall feel: the audience would be pressed not only close to the action, but to each other.”  During the founders’ intro they made a pitch for the theatre and said with particularly relevant insight, “Theatre can act as a mirror on ourselves”. 

The play takes place in 2019, and projects the harrowing consequences of the current administration’s policy towards law and order and illegal immigrants. It is a two character piece; a prisoner in an orange jump suit, played, in Santa Fe, by Todd Anderson and a black (though it could be any minority) history professor who studied psychology and sociology, played here by Danielle Louise Reddick. She is interested in getting a story for an article or a book on why the prisoner, a former security officer, did what landed him in prison. The latter makes an excellent case for his discontent with his country which he feels needs to be given back to white Christians, though he repeats over and over again that he is not racist and seems to believe it. Under continuous questioning he slowly reveals how things can go too far and seem out of our control, not wanting to reveal even to his wife what he has allowed to happen. - Just following orders, Sir.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

Directed by Kristin Goodman, this is a morality play which like the late medieval piece “Everyman” tells the story of a time when man had forgotten about God, gotten carried away but ultimately must pay. Here the director in rehearsal with her cast.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

Last November, after much thought, I wrote a blog stating my fears about the direction our country was going.  We have a number of friends who said it could not happen here because we were protected by our Constitution and our system of checks and balances.  I have now learned from a Pulitzer prize winning author that I was not alone.   In the play the professor is getting more and more upset by what she is hearing but drawn to learn more.

Photo Courtesy of Adobe Rose Theatre

In a Q& A after the show Robert Schennken told us that he started writing in October, 2016.  His first draft was written in a week, but he has been making changes ever since in response to current events. The version we saw was not quite the same as the one that opened in New York.  As Schenkann said his primary concern was not royalties or prizes, the show was not released slowly in the normal pattern, on its way to New York. He wants professional, semi-professional and amateur productions as well as readings so that his cautionary tale can reach as many as possible and get a dialog going about our country’s direction and future.

Bruce McKenna and Robert Schenkkan

Schenkann has published the script, so it is available on Amazon and has been translated into French.  To list just a few of its many venues: Los Angeles, Seattle, Tucson, Chicago, Denver and Austin.  It just closed in New York and is going to Vienna and Tehran. He is also negotiating with London and Costa Rica.  Catch it if you can!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

An Exhibition of “Sargent the Watercolours”

For once I am ahead of the game because I was sent a review copy of the catalog of the exhibition, “Sargent the Watercolours” that will open later this week at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Dulwich is technically in London but from what a tourist would consider the center you need to take some form of transportation, which is not difficult.  In any case,  it is a small museum with a great collection of old master paintings and wonderful special exhibitions. 

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is considered an American Artist because his parents were American expatriates. He was born in Italy and studied art in France and, though he painted in many countries, England seems to have been where his soul was.  The press release from Dulwich refers to him as an Anglo-American artist and notes that this is the first exhibition of his watercolors in England in almost 100 years.

Sketching in watercolor was an escape for Sargent from the demands of being the most sought-after portrait painter of his day. The earlier American portraitist, Gilbert Stuart, who painted George Washington, complained,  "What a business this of a portrait painter - you bring him a potato, and expect he will paint you a peach."  Sargent likewise confided in a friend, “I have an entirely different feeling for sketches and studies than I have for portraits which are my ‘gagne-pain’ [livelihood] – which I am delighted to get rid of – but sketches from nature give me pleasure to do…”  [A couple of weeks ago in response to my blog on drawings from the British Museum a journalist friend wrote, “Drawing has always seemed close to reporting and journalistic, non-fiction writing.  Painting is fiction, though truth may be present.”]

Sargent only started selling his watercolors in 1909 when he consigned 86 sheets to the Knoedler Gallery in New York where the Brooklyn Museum bought 83.  A second show at Knoedler in 1912 to which he consigned 45 watercolours was sold in its entirety to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

As an aside in 1994 a friend of ours, the late American portrait painter Nelson Shanks (1937-2015), invited my wife and me to visit him while he was working in Sargent’s London studio on Tite Street.  That summer he was most excited to have been painting a portrait of Princess Diana for which they had 50 sittings and she became good friends with both Nelson and his wife Leona.

Exhibition catalogs used to be lists of what was being exhibited with a brief introduction and, if you were lucky, illustrations.  Today these catalogs have a great deal of information which often includes little known or previously unpublished material   The beautifully illustrated catalog accompanying this show is written by Richard Ormond, a Sargent scholar and grand-nephew of the artist.  His co-author is Elaine Kilmurray an art historian and research director of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue RaisonnĂ©.  They have been most thorough in their coverage of the artist.  The Concise chronology of Sargent’s work at the beginning of the catalog will surely make the life of researchers far easier. The exhibition consists of stunning examples of Sargent’s watercolors, gathered from private and public collections from all over.  It is divided loosely into categories such as Fragments, Cities, Landscapes, and figures though I believe one could slip some images into one of the other categories without anyone noticing. 

I won’t be able to get to the exhibition but I can pick out a few examples from the catalog that I would love to see in original.  From the Fragment category there is “The Fountain, Bologna” of 1906 lent from a private collection.  It makes me think that the photographer might have wanted to stand further back to catch the whole fountain, but then I too have often tried to capture details in my lens.

In the Cities section “The Rialto Bridge, Venice” brings back fond memories. It is also from a private collection, courtesy of The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.  It certainly does capture the feeling of Venice, a city on water. The unusual vantage point of the composition is at water level, with bridge shown from below it immediately gives you the right feeling for the town.

The image I have chosen from the Landscape section to my mind stretches the category a bit but I find it compelling for other reasons.  It is “A White Ox” of 1910 lent from a private collection.  Maybe what attracts me is the fact that it immediately reminded me of an 18th century drawing in the Albertina, Vienna of “A White Bull and Dog in a Stable" by Jean-HonorĂ© Fragonard, a period which was my first love.

My last example from the Figures section is what I find the perfect Sargent,-- “The Lady with the Umbrella” of 1911, which to my mind could be by no other artist.   It is lent by he Museu de Montserrat in Spain.  The face is finished and recognizable but the rest is freely sketched. The appealing image is of the second of his three nieces, Rose-Marie Ormond.  She served as a model for several of his pictures.

As always I implore my readers to see art in the original but, if a journey is not in the cards, the catalog will stand you in good stead.  You will learn a great deal about Sargent’s subjects and his use of the medium of watercolor through the book’s first rate illustrations.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beads: A Universe of Meaning

“Beads: A Universe of Meaning” opened recently at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, in Santa Fe. The exhibition traces the history of imported glass beads as a medium of exchange, artistic expression, and identity for indigenous peoples throughout North America.

Who would think that it was the Europeans who introduced the Native Americans to one of their greatest art forms, beading.  From first contact in the 15th century the Europeans brought strings of glass beads as gifts and trade items.  Even today the most coveted beads are made in Czechoslovakia.

In primary school I learned that the island that I was born and lived on, Manhattan, was bought from the Indians with just $24 worth of beads.  (Today there is still debate about what the medium of exchange was.)  Even then not a great sum of money but the beads served as currency.  The Indian woman found it a lot easier to work with these beads and not have to find and prepare stone, shell, bone or porcupine quills for adorning garments.  The Europeans also found that the Indians valued blue beads above the other colors.  On his 1804 exploration of the Northwest, Meriwether Lewis (Lewis & Clark expedition) reported “The blue beads occupy the place which gold has with us.”

You have probably seen the classic postcard, “Greetings from Indian Country”.  In 2002 it was turned into an artwork by Marcus Amerman  (Choctaw) and was lent to the show from a private collection.  He adapted it with updated and more political imagery.   When we moved out here I bought my wife an Amerman beaded bracelet, which showed a New York City scene, the hawks nesting on a Fifth Avenue apartment building, on one side and the open range on the other as a symbol of our move!

There are many striking images in the show, here is a Nez Perce Woman’s Beaded Yoke circa 1900 from the Collection of Lee and Lois Miner who have lent a number of items to the show.  If you are not familiar with the Nez Perce tribe, don’t be surprised.  I don’t know if anyone can name all of the over 560 recognized Indian tribes.  The Nez Perce, were historically nomadic and, when this piece was made, they claimed parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana as their homeland.   From about the same period, and borrowed from the same collection, is this vest from the Plateau region, which included around 17 tribes including the Nez Perce.  These Indians lived between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Coastal Mountains to the West.  They went as far North as British Columbia.  Obviously, these tribes traded among themselves and borrowed decorative ideas from each other as well as Anglo sources like floral printed cottons.

Children’s clothing is always thought precious and takes extra skill to work in small scale.  This Cheyenne child’s dress must have been made for a very special occasion around 1890.  It was lent to the show by Nikki Vandenberg.  It is shown with a pair of high top child’s Moccasins from the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation around 1940 and were lent by a private collector.

I love the idea of a pair of man’s moccasins that are beaded on the bottom as well as the top.  They too must have been made for a very special situation because they could not have been comfortable to dance in.  They are Sioux, circa 1890, and lent by Robert Vandenberg.

It is well worth seeing this exhibition for these are works of art that tell stories and express the identity of their creators and their communities.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now

What a wonderful team they make, Bridget Riley, the well known British Artist; Hugo Chapman, Simon Sainsbury Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum (BM) and Isabel Seligman, Curator for the Bridget Riley project.  The idea started when Bridget Riley, a prominent British artist who had been inspired by a life-drawing class in her student days, asked Hugo Chapman if would be interested in a project that would bring art students to the Drawings Study Room at the British Museum to learn about drawing.   Using funds from the Bridget Riley Foundation they hired a curator, Isabel Seligman and a part-time Project Officer, Sarah Jaffray to undertake these workshops.

More than 1000 students have passed through the BM Study Room since the project began three years ago.  The students came in groups of 10 and were asked their interests. Then 10 to 15 drawings were selected from the 50,000 in the collection for them to study, discuss and eventually draw in reaction to what they saw in the master works before them.  The exhibition “Lines of Thought: Drawing from MIchelangelo to Now” reflects selections that, in Chapman’s words, “might excite or intrigue the students to think more deeply about the practice of drawing.”  

The resulting show I found extremely exciting.  It is divided into various intellectual categories of the drawing process but one is not forced in any way to follow that.  As far as I am concerned you can view it in any order you wish, and get a hell of a lot out of it!  The wonderful catalog by Isabel Seligman is full of marvelous quotes by artists of all eras.  One I found most succinct is Matisse’s reference to drawing as the “Clarification of thought”.

The exhibition starts with a 3,000 year old piece, an Egyption funerary papyrus from the Book of the Dead.  Without having a clue what it is about, I found it a drawing that stimulated my imagination.  Turns out it is of a religious official “Nestanebetushiru, kneeling and having her heart weighed against the feather of Maat, the symbol of cosmic order and truth.”  That tidbit certainly makes it even more intriguing!

You could call this just an A-Z exhibition but it is so thought out that the drawings actually do have one contemplating the act of drawing.  The problem for me writing about these 70 sheets is what to pick to share with my readers.  As usual I will choose drawngs that either spoke to me, or made me see something in the artist I never had thought before.  One such was a very small Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962) of just a few strokes of calligraphic form.  Maybe because his brush strokes usually do not make sense to me writ large, here I find them most accessible.  In contrast to Kline’s freedom look at the incredibly controlled lines of Bridget Riley’s (British, 1931- ) study for a series of OP Art works with kaleidoscopic qualities called “Blaze”, 1962.

Andrea del Sarto’s (Italian, 1486-1530) “Studies of Children”, some making gestures showing that probably the artist was working on studies for a painting of John the Baptist is inspiring enough that a detail was chosen for the cover of the catalog.  Contrast this image with Albrecht Durer’s (German, 1471-1528) “Studies of arms for Adam and Eve” for the famous engraving of the couple from 1504.

It is hard to pick a Rembrandt (Dutch, 1606-1669) when there are several wonderful ones, but I will take my wife’s favorite since it is sure to please mother’s of all ages.  It is of a mother and grandmother(?) teaching a child to walk.  Their backs will ache in the morning!  Contrast this evocation of few lines with the highly finished and shadowed Victor Hugo (French, 1802-1885) representing a “Landscape with a Castle”.  Hugo produced around 3,000 images during his life time sometimes using such diverse materials as coffee dregs and soot, as well as ink, to achieve his spooky results.

I have presented here images from Ancient Egypt as well as the 16th, 17th, and 19th centuries from The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain.  And yes, there are examples from the 18th Century and France as well.  It is a most digestible course in drawing as well as art history.  Just in case I have not convinced you yet to visit Santa Fe this summer, I have not illustrated the Leonardo for the Sistine Chapel or two Michelangelos.  You will just have to come and see the show in Santa Fe.  Works by artists of this caliber do not usually come to these parts!   It will be here until September 17 and then move on to the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI.