18 August 2014

Time Doth Flit



“Time doth flit; oh shit.”—Dorothy Parker

You said it, Mrs. Parker. Here we are, already half-way through August, summer almost gone, and my best laid plans for this blog have gone astray. I am blaming this solely on the fact that all I've done this summer is work—no vacations, no long weekends, no long rambles with the camera. Just work. But with things starting to settle down into a routine more or less, there should be some new tales popping up here shortly. Until then, please be patient with your tired author; there's a list a mile long of posts I want to share with you and promise to do so. Until then, please be sure and follow me on twitter and instagram where I've managed to make more routine appearances.

12 August 2014

Farewell to a Legend


This is a week filled with sadness. First came the terrible shocking news about Robin Williams and now, less than 24 hours later, the announcement that Lauren Bacall has passed away at the age of 89. The woman known for the "look" (chin down, eyes tilted upwards) and that voice was one of the last stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. 

Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 in the Bronx, she studied drama and worked as an usher and model before director Howard Hawks brought her to Hollywood, where he put her under contract and changed her name to Lauren Bacall (she never liked the new moniker and had her friends call her Betty). 

Her film debut was in Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1944) in which she was cast opposite Humphrey Bogart. She was 19 and the new kid; he was 25 years her senior and a huge star. Yet Bogie and Bacall had an immediate chemistry that heated up the screen, and they were paired together three more times in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948), becoming one of the most famous couples in film history.

Off screen the two fell in love during the making of their first film and were married after Bogie obtained a divorce from his third wife. They had two children together and remained happily married until Bogie's death from cancer in 1957.


Bacall continued to act both on the screen and stage, winning two Tonys for Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981), and wrote a best-selling autobiography, By Myself (1979). Never afraid to speak her mind, she was politically active and a lifelong supporter of Democratic causes. She went on to marry another great actor, Jason Robards, with whom she had a son (that marriage ended in divorce). Yet she will forever be linked to Bogie. 

While Bacall starred in many good films, her best ones remain the four she made with Bogie. All of them are classics starting with To Have and Have Not in which she delivered her most famous lines. After kissing Bogie, Bacall starts to leave the room only to stop at the door and say, "You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow." The stuff of legends. Farewell, Lauren Bacall.

07 August 2014

Summer Art











"USA. New York City. Little Italy" Leonard Freed (1956) 

While my busy schedule this summer caused me to miss some art exhibits (Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory), I did manage to sneak in some gallery and museum visits. Here are some of the things I saw.

The late Magnum photographer Leonard Freed had a lifelong love affair with Italy and its people and an exhibit at the Leica Gallery New York showcases some of the many images he took over a period of 50 years in Milan, Naples, Rome, Sicily, and New York's Little Italy. His photos wonderfully depict everyday people going about their daily lives—working, playing, celebrating weddings and religious holidays—perfectly capturing the essence of a place and culture. At the Leica Gallery through August 9, 2014.



"Actress Sophia Loren in Italy" David "Chim" Seymour (1955)

Contact sheets give viewers insight into a photographer’s creative process and the recent “Magnum Contact Sheets” exhibit at the Milk Gallery was a photography fan’s dream with examples from some of Magnum's greatest photographers on display including Rene Burri’s iconic images of Che Guevara, David “Chim” Seymour’s shots of a sultry Sophia Loren, Eve Arnold’s behind the scenes images of the doomed cast of The Misfits, and one of Elliott Erwitt’s famed dog shoots. The exhibit is sadly over but if you have the money to spare, you can purchase the book, Magnum Contact Sheets.

"Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Royal Portuguese Reading Room)" Caio Reisewitz (2004)

One of the current exhibits at the International Center of Photography is devoted to the work of Brazilian artist Caio Reisewitz who creates large-scale colour photographs of locations in his country that are stunningly beautiful. One of my favourites is of the interior of the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura; it's so big you feel like you could step right inside. Also included in the show are small photo collages where urban scenes are found within the wilds of the Brazilian forest. At the ICP through September 7, 2014.

"A Certain Slant of Light" by Spencer Finch on a Sunday afternoon. Photo by Michele.

“A Certain Slant of Light” by Spencer Finch is just simply beautiful. With 365 films of colour placed onto the glass walls of the Morgan Library and Museum’s Gilbert Court and with additional ones hanging on glass panels, the result is a daily change in light patterns. Inspired by the library’s collection of medieval Books of Hours, the films have been arranged strategically to correspond with the changing seasons and the red panels symbolize important birthdays of such people as Emily Dickinson. This is an exhibit I plan on seeing again on multiple visits. At the Morgan through January 11, 2015.


 "Balloon Dog (Yellow)" Jeff Koons (1994-2000)

The large Jeff Koons Retrospective at the Whitney Museum is the museum’s last major exhibit before they move to their new space in the Meatpacking District next year. While I’ve never been a big Koons fan there is much here to like: his oversized balloon dogs and giant hanging heart are delightful and there’s his sculpture of Buster Keaton and of course Michael Jackson and his monkey, Bubbles, in full porcelain glory. But then there’s “Sponge Shelf,” which is literally a stack of kitchen sponges, and pieces from the “Made in Heaven” series featuring Koons and his then wife, the former Italian porn star La Cicciolina, that just leave me shaking my head. At the Whitney through October 19, 2014.

04 August 2014

The War to End All Wars



This year marks the centennial of the start of World War I, which began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia after the assassination the month before of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. Four long years later, on November 11, 1918, an Armistice was signed and the war was over at a cost of 21 million military and civilian wounded and 16 million dead.

"The war to end all wars" saw the maps of Europe and the Middle East reconfigured; the collapse of four empires—Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, German, and Russian; and an entire generation of young men in countries like France and Great Britain practically wiped out. Meanwhile America, who had entered the war late in 1917, became a world powerhouse while Europe struggled to recover; communism and fascism both made advances and the seeds of World War II were planted with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  


This was a war like none before. Soldiers bunkered down in trenches (which at one point ran nearly 400 miles), allowing neither side to gain much traction resulting in a stalemate that prolonged the war. Meanwhile, they contended with new weapons of war including machine guns, poison gas, and tanks as well as the introduction of aerial warfare.

Yet out of the ashes of the war emerged what is arguably the most important group of writers and artists of the 20th century, the Lost Generation, whose works reflected their experiences and the effects of the war. With a jolt, World War I forced the world to leave the Victorian age behind and jump into the Modern Age. As Paul Fussell points out in his book, The Great War and Modern Memory, the romanticized language used at the beginning of the war by the likes of Rupert Brooke who described the blood of young men as “the red/Sweet wine of youth” would become "not the least of the ultimate causalities of war." 

And so with the arrival of the centennial, many ceremonies will be held beginning this week. Today, European leaders and royalty gathered in Liege, Belgium to mark the day that Germany invaded Belgium and Britain in turn declared war on Germany.  And in Britain, lights were turned out for an hour and a single candle lit, a nod to what their then foreign minister, Edward Grey, said at the time, "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Remembering World War I is important—there are connections that can be drawn to events happening in the world today and lessons to be learned. Above all, World War I reminds us of the horror that is war and that battle is anything but glorious.

In the words of the brilliant poet Wilfred Owen who was killed in action on November 4, 1918, just one week before the end of the war:

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory
That old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

29 July 2014

Sigh

Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon (1957)

Oh, Marilyn. I know just how you feel. July has been one exhausting month. I started a new job while finishing up another one (I've now worked 16 days in a row and have three more to go before a break), changed my routine (earlier hours) and commute (I now join the hoard doing the great dance across Grand Central Station five days a week), while trying to work on my writing. The blog, naturally, suffered a lack of attention from me but I promise to have things back up and running with more regular posting. I just need to get some rest and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, please be sure to follow me on twitter and instagram.

17 July 2014

Here's to Elaine

"Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch—Everybody rise."—Stephen Sondheim

Today we lost a legend. An actress and singer who appeared on stage and in film and television for nearly 70 years, Elaine Stritch with her brassy voice and sharp observations was an original who epitomized what it meant to be a New Yorker even though she was born in Detroit, Michigan. Yes, she could be difficult and blunt, never mincing words when it came to her opinion, but she was also a professional who was always toughest on herself. 

Born on February 2, 1925, Stritch was a convent school girl who after graduation moved to New York to study acting at the New School. She ended up staying for 71 years until retiring to Birmingham, Michigan last year. After making her Broadway debut in Loco in 1946, she would go on to be a cast member in multiple Broadway productions throughout her career including Pal Joey, Bus Stop, Sail Away, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?A Little Night Music, and most famously Company. She had roles in a variety of television shows including her last as Alec Baldwin's mother in 30 Rock and starred in numerous films including A Farewell to Arms, September, and Small Time Crooks

She didn't have an easy life; she lost her beloved husband, John Bay, to cancer after ten years of marriage and battled alcoholism with varying degrees of success. In her later years, diabetes and memory loss made performing extra challenging yet she continued on, making public appearances almost until the end. 

Stritch spent her last decade in New York living in room 309 at the Carlyle Hotel where for eight of those years she performed a cabaret show downstairs at the Carlyle Café wearing her signature outfit of white shirt and black tights (no pants). The documentary Shoot Me, which was released in February, centers around her last show at the Carlyle (I highly recommend it).

I greatly regret that I never got to see her perform live. Her passing in many ways is like the end of an era; there will be other stars of the stage but there will never be anyone quite like Elaine Stritch.

14 July 2014

Schiava Turca

"Schiava Turca" Parmigianino (ca. 1531-34)

Saturday I took advantage of a free morning to dart over to the Frick Collection (which was, blissfully, near empty) to see a mysterious Italian woman.

There in the center of the Oval Room was Parmigianino's "Schiava Turca," a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Beautiful with a direct gaze and slight smile on her face, the subject of the painting exudes an air of confidence that only adds to her allure. The mystery is no one knows who she is. Some have said she is a fantasy, the ideal woman as imagined by the painter. Others have ventured to guess that she's Giulia Gonzaga, a young noblewoman. Curator Aimee Ng suggests that she may actually be a poet, perhaps Veronica Gambara, who would have been known to Parmigianino and his circle. Hence the title of the show, "The Poetry of Parmigianino's Schiava Turca." 

What we do know is that she was neither Turkish nor a slave. A cataloguer at the Uffizi in the 18th century wrongly identified her as wearing a turban, which led to her misleading name. The rich fabrics of her gown threaded with gold chains on her sleeve tell us she came from wealth and her headdress is not a turban but a balzo, which was popular with court women in Northern Italy at the time. 

As for the poetry connection, there are clues in the painting that could be read as supporting this claim. In the center of the balzo is a medallion of a winged horse, a Pegasus, often used as a symbol of poetic inspiration. And while she is holding an ostrich feather fan, it could represent a feathered pen. Her pose and attitude could also signal that she's a member of an artist circle, not troubled by social convention. Yet whether she was a poet or not, we will never know.

She is accompanied in the exhibit by portraits of four Renaissance men: another Parmigianino, two Titans (one of whom is the playwright Pietro Aretino), and a Bronzino. The last one, of Lodovico Capponi, comes closest to rivalling "Schiava Turca" in the attitude department yet he is but a court page, certainly no match for a grown woman of the world.

Once owned by Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, "Schiava Turca" has resided at the Galleria Nazionale di Parma since 1928. This is the first time that she has visited America. She is at the Frick Collection through July 20, 2014, after which she will travel to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. For more information, visit the Frick's website here.

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