Precious Little Talent – Theatre Review

Precious Little Talent program cover by StageLightMagazine.com

Ella Hickson’s Precious Little Talent, hailing from Edinburg and London, is making its New York City debut with a limited-run on the west side.

The play proceeds on two tracks – the first, a romance between Sam and Joey (whose real name is Joanna) who meet by chance and have a fling, but…  Sam’s relentless American optimism and Joey’s British cynicism collide head on, as do their realities, when Joey discovers that Sam is the caretaker for her father George, whom she hasn’t seen for several years.  While trying to decorate George’s apartment for Christmas, Joey discovers that her father – a former professor and the smartest man she knows – is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  What she can’t see is his private agony over letting the outside world, especially his daughter, know about his condition; his refusal leads George to push away the people he loves, and who love him.

Precious Little Talent  is chock-a-block with ideas:  in addition to its poignant depiction of dementia,  and its comic depiction of culture clash, the play also highlights the problems today’s recent grads have entering the workforce.  At times it seems to want to take a political turn – there’s a scene at the Obama inauguration that feels dropped in – but overall the play conveys how unsettled the world can easily become, and the consequences of our decision to share or not share our private struggles with others.

All three actors  – Connor Delves, Eliza Shea and Greg Mullavey give really fine performances.  The set, by Maruti Evans is quite imaginative.  Under the direction of George C. Heslin, the play moves along, keeping you engaged.

Precious Little Talent is playing only until September 30th at The West End Theatre, at The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 West 86th Street.

Bamboo in the Big Apple

Japanese bamboo work is having something of a moment, with a major exhibition on this art form at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art.  Over at the Erik Thomsen Gallery you’ll find Masterpieces of Bamboo Art  a fabulous exhibit  of 30 Japanese baskets, all signed by their makers, and made in the last 100 years. Bamboo basket making originated in Japan in medieval times and baskets were first used to display flowers on Buddhist altars, then later in tea drinking ceremonies.  The baskets in this exhibit are primarily from three eras: the Heisei (1989 – present); the Showa (1926-1989); and the Taisho (1912-1926).  Executed in various shapes such as hexagonal, conical and round, the pieces all display the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry of the basket makers,  especially in their range of weaves (or plaits) which include lozenge technique, circle plaiting, and twill plaiting (herringbone effect).

Handled Flower Basket in the form of a gourd, Maeda Chikubōsai, Showa era (1926-89)

The main body of this basket by Maeda Chikubōsai is executed in a variant of mat plaiting, using double horizontals and creating an intricate undulating surface. There’s elaborate knotting on the branches which form the handle, and around the rim.

Auspicious Clouds flower basket in Chinese style with small handles, Suzuki Kyokushōsai, Taisho era (1912-26)

Auspicious Clouds, by Suzuki Kyokushōsai exhibits a number of elaborate plaiting techniques, including hexagonal and circular (base) as well as wrapping and knotting. 

Tall Handled Flower Basket, Wada Waichisai II, Taisho era (1912-26)

Wada Waichisai II was the second in a lineage founded by Waichisai I (1851–1901), one of the pioneers of bamboo art in the Kansai region.

Connection, Tenabe Chikuusai IV, Heisei era (1989-present)

Tanabe Chikuunsai IV was born in 1973 to one of Japan’s most prestigious families of bamboo craftsmen.  He is the chosen son, representing the fourth generation of bamboo artists in his family. It’s easy to see why – his technique is fabulous. He also created a site-specific sculpture for the Met show.

For this exhibit, the gallery has also commissioned a detailed catalogue  with lovely photos of the works.

The exhibit continues through November 10th.  Erik Thomsen Gallery  is at 23 East 67th Street.

Austrian Wild West

Untitled (Franz West), Rudolf Stingel, 2010, ink, oil and enamel on paper

The Austrian Cultural Forum is hosting a new exhibit, Wild West, featuring the work of Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012).   Rejecting formalism and fine art traditions, West used ordinary materials, such as plaster,  papier-mâché and aluminum to create his sculptures.  Influenced by performance-based art, he wasn’t interested in the final work so much as the idea of creating a dialogue between the viewers and objects in a given space. 

Since I wasn’t familiar with West’s work, I was delighted to attend a conversation with Andreas Reiter Raabe, the exhibit’s curator (and West collaborator), and Alison Gingeras, a curator and writer.  During their talk, a recurring theme was the collaborative nature of much of West’s art, including his decision to include other artists in his “solo shows.”  The exhibit continues in this vein – there are three pieces by West, with the rest by West’s New-York based contemporaries, as well as newly commissioned works by Austrian and New York artists.  There’s also a film about West (by Raabe), who seemed to delight in thumbing his nose at the establishment (in the film you’ll see the brightly colored phallic sculptures he used to replace the hood ornament on his Rolls Royce).  Here are some of my favorite works from the exhibit:

Untitled, Tillman Kaiser, 2016, cardboard

Tillman Kaiser was born in 1972 in Graz, Austria.  He now lives and works in Vienna.  I especially liked this work, composed of cardboard pieces with a series of…

detail from Untitled by Tillman Kaiser, 2017, cardboard

unrelated black & white images that are constantly rearranged one over/next to the other. It made me think of the houses we used to try to construct from playing cards.

Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments, Rudolf Polanszky, 2009, mixed media (foil, mirror strips, aluminum and color on linen)

The Viennese Actionist and Post-Actionist artist Rudolf Polanszky worked alongside Franz West.  The images in his Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments are not apparent the first time you look at the pieces (there are 2 in the show), but emerge slowly as your eyes move across the canvas.

Lemurenkopf, Franz West, 1987, papier-mâché and dispersion

According to one source I found, the title of this piece by Franz West, Lemurenkopf or “lemur heads” is derived from a common Viennese phrase, and means to wake up with a hangover after a festive night of drinking and seeing “Lemuren”, or zombies. I may need to go to Vienna and verify this personally.

Fleur Mal, Franz West & Andreas Reiter Raabe, 2012, LED lamp, papier-mâché, cardboard, acrylic and metal chain

In the lobby of the Austrian Cultural Forum you’ll find these two fun sculptures by Franz West and Andreas Reiter Raabe.  If you stand below them and clap your hands or stamp your feet, the lights will blink and change color!  

Wild West will be on until January 22nd, 2018.   The Austrian Cultural Forum is located at 11 East 52nd Street.

Governors Island Wonderful Art Show

Visual Playground 2, Marek Jacisin

Once again, the annual art fair on Governors Island, organized by 4heads has lots to offer. Featuring work by 100 artists from the US and abroad, spread across five buildings in Colonels Row, as well as in the windows of Ligget Hall, and on the lawns between them (like Marek Jacisin‘s piece above), this show contains many, many fine works. Very often the artists are also present, so you have a chance to talk with them.  The styles and techniques are quite varied, so look in each room – even if you haven’t found something you like on the first floor of a building, go up to the second floor – I guarantee you’ll find something completely different. Leave yourself plenty of time to explore this exhibit. Here are some of my favorites:

Royalty, Zeren Bader, 2014, archival print on metallic paper

In Building 404B, Zeren Badar has created a series of 23 imaginative and fun photos, entitled Messing With Old Masters, in which he takes images of old paintings and embellishes them with objects such as eggs, or macaroni, or rubber bands, then photographs the new image, which, by throwing you off balance, makes you look at portraiture in a new way! 

Anna Cone and Zeran Bader

While I was talking with Zeren, another artist, Anna Cone, whose work is in the next building, and explores similar themes, came in to see Zeren’s work. (more about her work later)

Portrait of Shirley Chisholm by the Lower East Side Girls Club

On the second floor, the Lower East Side Girl’s Club was exhibiting prints of Women who Change the World, a mural created on the walls of the First Street Garden in 2011 by teenage Girls Club members and artists who painted portraits of 19 women who inspired them, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Dorothy Day, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.

Spatial Magnetic Field Visualization, Inhye Lee and Hyomin Kim, interactive installation

In Building 405A, the scientific-based art collaboration of  Inhye Lee & Hyomin Kim have two pieces in this show that reference the earth’s magnetic field.  The Spatial Magnetic Field Visualization above consists of about 100 ball compasses inside transparent globes – the black and white on the balls indicate their polarity, mimicking the magnetic files around the earth. (They have a printed sheet with a more detailed explanation). They also have a Magnetic Field Drawing Station which is pretty cool. 

Fire, by Richard Sigmund

On the second floor you’ll find Fire by Richard Sigmund, a series of drawings that are variations on this word.  Richard had been intrigued by all the “fire” signs that are painted on the roadbeds in New York.  On a visit to India, he thought about this word, which can represent purification, death and emotions, and so each day he did a sketch of the word “fire”. 

Pink Collar Worker, Paola Citterio, metal chain with wool fibre

On the porch of Building 406 B, you’ll find a wonderful work in metal chain and wool by Paola Citterio, but it was her Pink Collar Worker inside that grabbed me, having worked many years as a secretary.  Paola made this piece using a baby blanket she found (it made her think of Vivienne Westwood) to which she added the metallic chain and the wool fibre lettering.  Paola dyes her wool, and felts it using a needle felt technique, which takes hours – but for her, the process is part of the art.

Anna Cone installation

On the first floor, Anna Cone has created a version of a salon/drawing room, filled with portraits of Disenchantresses, large scale modern nudes styled as goddesses, set against collaged images from Old Masters paintings, placed in antique-looking frames.  Using her background as a fashion photographer, Anna’s work pushes back against the images of “acceptable” women’s bodies that we’re saturated with, to include others that might be considered more “unconventional.”  Be sure to look at the chairs, which also contain collaged images from Old Masters.

Allison Sommers in her installation

In Building 407A, Allison Sommers has created a room that addresses movements in a domestic household, and the anxiety around house-making when you find yourself suddenly plopped somewhere.  I was not surprised when she told me she’s a military brat.  Allison offered no more by way of explanation of her installation, saying that she wants to leave it open to the viewer’s interpretation.  I confess I found her piece challenging, but I could relate to it on many levels.  Check it out!

Loteria de la Migracion, Tabla 2, Richard Fleming

In Building 408A, Richard Fleming has created a wonderful project, Loteria de la Migracion,  centered on migration from Central America. He has taken the Mexican card game Loteria and re-imagined each of the 54 cards as a series of obstacles and challenges facing migrants fleeing violence,  sometimes changing the images (i.e., a pear in the original Loteria becomes grapes in his version).  This project is based on his experiences as a sound recordist working in Chiapas.

Vornado, HYSTM, acrylic on wood

HYSTM is really two people: the New York-based art tag team of Keith Pine and Rich Zitterman, who work as one.  I spoke with Rich, who told me that either he or Keith will start a painting, then the other will add to it, and they will keep on this way until they think the work is done.  By the end of the process, neither one knows who started it, and often can’t remember which are their own contributions.  Rich said they get their inspiration from what’s around them, whether that’s TV or found images or their own imaginations. 

There’s much, much more to see.  The exhibit is open only on the weekends and only through October 1st.  More information on the ferries to Governors Island here .

Looking towards Brooklyn from Governors Island

Rebel Clay at Cavin Morris

Earlier this month, Cavin Morris Gallery opened a new exhibit, Rebel Clay, featuring some 60 non-mainstream ceramics.  The works were rendered in a wide variety of styles – whimsical, utilitarian, spiritual – with finishes that range from unfired natural clays in browns and grays to highly glazed, brightly colored pieces.  Below are some of my favorite pieces:

Shekinah, Straiph Wilson, 2016, ceramic

The show contains several highly glazed and brightly colored ceramic fungi by the Scottish artist Straiph Wilson.

Black & Blue #15, #13, #14, Kevin Sampson, 2017, porcelain, canvas, wood

Kevin Sampson, a self-taught artist and former police officer creates works that often address issues of social justice and cultural resistance. This piece made me think of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, whose arrivals are the subject of much debate these days.

Untitled, Nek Chand, 1950-1980, concrete over metal armature w/mixed media

Nek Chand is known for his huge environment in Chandigarh, India with its thousands of expressive figures and exquisite architecture. I found this man he created from concrete absolutely irresistible, and so full of energy!

Seated Figure, Burgess Dulaney, ca. 1970-89, clay and marble

There’s something very appealing about Burgess Delaney’s Seated Figure, made from unfired clay from near his home in Mississippi.

Untitled (Head), Kazumi Kamae 2004, shigaraki stoneware

Kazumi Kamae was one of four Japanese Art Brut artists the gallery discovered when they visited the Yanomami Art Center near Shigaraki Prefecture in Japan.

Mask from Nepal, early 20th cent., cow dung, clay, organic materials

On one wall you’ll find five masks from Nepal, created in the early to mid-20th century using cow dung and clay.

This is a small sampling of the ceramics in this exhibit, which will remain up until  October 7th – but don’t wait until then to see it.  Cavin-Morris is located at 210 11th Avenue, Suite 201, in Chelsea.

Bronx Artists Residencies Exhibit

This summer, the Bronx Arts Space offered residencies (6 weeks studio space and a $500 stipend) to a group of six artists.  At the end of August, they held an exhibit of projects this inaugural group had worked on during their residencies. I had a chance to speak with three of the artists, and I definitely want to continue following their work.  Here’s why:

untitled, Alexis White, book pages and crayon

I was very attracted to Alexis White’s book-based work.  Against one wall were several works featuring  strong geometric patterns with vibrant colors – on closer inspection, these figures were drawn in crayon on the pages of a book.  Alexis began this series when her father, who works at a psychiatric facility, came home one day with a psychiatric book about “Children of Color.” 

Untitled, Alexis White, mixed paper and book collage

She also created a second collage series using pages from a found book (Les Etoiles by Alfonse Daudet), on which she pasted images cut from magazines.

Melissa Calderón’s embroidery art grabbed my attention immediately – it turns out her grandmother is a seamstress.  Melissa employs unconventional surfaces, such as wood, to create her sculptural embroidery pieces. Her work covers a variety of social issues, from the environment to housing. 

The Arctic Meltdown, Melissa Calderon, 1979-present, thread and wood

Against one wall is a series of 8 pieces, which show how the Arctic ice has been melting since 1979 and will continue to shrink through 2035, based on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Bronx Housing Court Monster, embroidery on linen, Melissa Calderón

I especially liked The Bronx Housing Court Monster – the title and the image say it all!

 

diarama of room in Harlem with videos of Shilo, OH by Erica Bailey

Erica Bailey’s dioramas deal with transience and impermanence.  She exhibited two rooms: one a recreation of her childhood room in Shilo Ohio, and the other, her first studio apartment in Harlem. As the artist noted, she wasn’t the first person to live in these spaces, and she won’t be the last.  In the “windows” of each room are street scenes from the other location, demonstrating their connection despite their differences.

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next from these three!

Ikebana at the UN

The Japanese Mission to the United Nations  has hosted a series of events with the theme “Peace Is…”  using art and culture as a medium for connecting people with the UN and its objectives.  The Permanent Mission of Japan has collaborated with Japanese artists residing in New York, who believe in the power of art to bridge divisions and bring people together. 

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, “Peace Is Beautiful” guided the activities of this fourth event, which included a demonstration of Ikebana, led by Master Noritaka Noda of the Ikenobo Society of Floral Art. More than flower arranging, Ikebana is an elevated art form in Japan, using plants to create new forms suggesting the forces of nature and the beauty of longing in our hearts. Working with two assistants, Master Noda began with the tall leaves, then the flowers (coxcomb and iris), then the smaller leaves and finally the ferns, selecting, trimming, placing and bending them…

Noritaka Noda explaining his Ikebana arrangement to Hajime Kishimori

into an arrangement representing mountains, cascades, a town, a river and the beautiful landscape.   Afterwards, the ambassadors from ASEAN and the other guests were invited to make our own flower arrangements, assisted professional Ikenobo teachers. 

Liz Daly and Hitomi with their Ikebana

I was lucky to have the guidance of the very patient and gracious Hitomi, who helped me create this piece.

Dancers from ASEAN countries performed at Peace Is…

Attendees were also treated to a lovely performance of traditional dances from Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia.

Congratulations to the Permanent Mission of Japan for this excellent initiative!

World War 1 Through Artists’ Eyes

Poster by Howard Chandler Christy, 1917

The NY Historical Society  is also commemorating the 100th anniversary of the US’s entry into the First World War, with World War 1 Beyond the Trenches, a terrific exhibit of more than 55 paintings and posters from that era.  The show opens with works by Man Ray, George Bellows and Childe Hasssam. 

detail, Gassed, John Singer Sargent, 1919, oil on canvas

However, it is John Singer Sargent’s oil of blindfolded men who had been gassed that dominates the room, not only by virtue of its size at 7-1/2 ft x  20ft, but also because of his technical mastery and use of classical composition to capture the horror of the combat.  Sargent created this for a Hall of Remembrance in London, based on a scene he had witnessed at Arras in France, in 1918.  The show has more oils and some watercolors by Sargent, who toured the Western Front.

The Flag, Georgia O’Keefe, 1918, watercolor on paper

You’ll also find two intense, abstract works by Georgia O’Keefe, whose younger brother Alex fought in the war (he was gassed, and died ten years later).

The End of the War: Starting Home, Horace Pippin, 1930-33, oil on canvas

The use of very thickly applied paint makes the soldiers really stand out in Horace Pippin’s  depiction of German troops surrendering to African-American soldiers.  The collage effect is made more powerful by the frame, adorned with helmets, bayonets and other symbols of war.  It took Pippin, who was seriously wounded fighting with the Harlem Hellfighters, three years to make this painting.

Letter to Mr. Chasin, from Salvator Cilis, Camp Upton, October 1917

A display case in the center of the room features letters from soldiers like Salvator Cillis, describing and illustrating his experience in training at Camp Upton on Long Island (the “melting pot” camp), where he met many soldiers who had been born outside the United States, of “every race, color, religion and opinion”. 

Armistice, Times Square, Theodore Earl Butler, 1918 oil on canvas

In 1918, the Armistice was signed, and this oil by Theodore Earl Butler captures the energy of that day as New York City celebrated in Times Square.

The Subway, Walter Pach, 1919 oil on canvas

One of my favorites in the show is this 1919 oil by Walter Pach of the subway in post-war NYC, which captures how the City’s different ethnic and social groups came together on our public transportation system – if it weren’t for the period clothing, this could have been painted today.

The show also has a number of posters in a corridor off the main room.  The Committee on Public Information created over 20 million copies of some 2,500 posters, many of which were designed by the leading fine artists and graphic artists (Gerrit Albertus Becker, James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy) to be visually compelling enticements to support the war, exhorting men to enlist in the armed services, women to become part of the war effort, and everyone to buy Liberty Bonds.  Private organizations such as the YMCA and the Red Cross recruited women to be drivers, mechanics, and nurses, and to fill other positions left vacant by men who had gone to the front.

Colored Man is No Slacker, E.G. Renesch, publisher, 1918

Even though African-Americans were segregated in the armed forces, many nonetheless signed up to serve.  This poster was probably privately published, as the official recruiting materials rarely depicted black men or women.  (Slacker meant “draft dodger”)

detail, somewhere listening: Company B, 365th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division A.E.F., 2014 graphite on paper, Debra Priestly

In the main lobby opposite the building entryway is a moving series of 212 charcoal sketches, arranged in 3 rows, that Debra Priestly made from photographs of the members of the 92nd Division, an African-American unit that fought in France, including Priestly’s great uncle.

There is much much more to see in this excellent exhibit, which is up until  September 3rd.  The NY Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West and 77th Street.

A New Look at Tiffany Glass

detail, Poppy Shade, probably Clara Driscoll, 1900-06

I’ve never been a big fan of Tiffany glass, but I’m glad I saw the fabulous collection of 100  Tiffany lamps on the fourth floor The NY Historical Society.  It gave me an appreciation for the design, craft and technological innovation of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who developed his own opalescent sheet glass, which he manufactured in Corona, Queens.  While most of the artisans and designers of Tiffany Studios were anonymous, this exhibit highlights the role of women designers, especially Clara Wolcott Driscoll, who not only managed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department (the “Tiffany Girls”) but designed many of the lampshades and mosaic bases.  She was also paid the same as her male counterparts!  One of the explanatory panels in the exhibit recounts how Tiffany started hiring women (many with art school training) as an experiment when the male glass cutters went on strike in 1892.  It worked out well, so he continued employing women, believing that they were better at selecting colors, cutting the glass and wrapping it in copper foil.  However, the mores of the day dictated that women stop working once they married, so there was constant turnover.  Clara Driscoll left after 21 years when she married in 1909.  I was impressed by the wide variety of designs – most taken from nature, some inspired by Japan and China.  As you go through you’ll see that much care was also taken with the bases, which were designed separately.  Here’s a small selection of what you’ll find:

Lotus Pagoda Shade and Mushroom Base

There’s no designer attributed to this Lotus Pagoda Shade (and Mushroom Base), but you can clearly see the marrying of a “nature” and an “Eastern” theme.

Daffodil Shade, designer unknown, 1910-13 with Library Standard Base

Daffodils were one of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s favorite flowers.

detail of Cobweb Shade, mosaic floral base, Clara Driscoll, 1899-1902

The Cobweb Shade, designed by Clara Driscoll, has a mosaic base of narcissus flowers.   

Bookmark Shade Nodes, designer unknown, 1906-10

This Bookmark Shade 1906-10, is the only lamp known in this pattern, which pays homage to the15th and 16th century printers, whose marks are on the rondels.  This colophon of the anchor and dolphin belonged to the Italian Renaissance printer Aldous Manutius.

detail, Peacock lampshade, probably Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll probably designed this shade depicting peacock feathers; I especially liked the blue-green “eyes”  and the gold and orange borders. (There’s also a Peacock base)

Iron calipers, pincers, shears, jacks and paddles used in making leaded glass

Up on the mezzanine level you’ll find not only more lamps and lampshades, but also glass blowing tools like these, used by Maurice Kelly in the early 1900’s.

Bamboo Shade, designer unknown, 1900-06

This Bamboo Shade (1900-06, designer unknown) is the only lampshade that used curved glass.

This is a very small selection of the 100 lamps on display.  Be sure to get up to see this, yes, illuminating exhibit at the NY Historical Society, 170 Central Park West and 77th Street.

Artists Residency Open Call

The New York Art Residency and Studios (NARS) Foundation   is now accepting applications for the International Residency Program from international and US based artists. The NARS residency supports emerging and mid-career artists and curators working across all disciplines through three and six-month residencies, creating a space for artistic dialogue and international cultural exchange for an extended period of time. 

NARS offers 24/7 access to furnished, private or semi-private studio spaces (280-325 sq ft) in our diverse artist community in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. As a studio based residency, the focus is on the artistic process and the experimentation that results from working alongside other artists, within New York’s cultural and sociopolitical context.  Deadline is September 30, 2017.