Rembrandt in Morningside Heights

RembrandtMade it up to the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University for their wonderful exhibition “Rembrandt’s Changing Impressions”.  The show, assembled from 14 collections, highlights 18 of his prints and several of their altered versions, most of which date from the 1650’s.  All were done during Rembrandt’s lifetime, and those not by him were probably done under his direction.

The first room contains portraits of several of Amsterdam’s prominent citizens who probably commissioned these prints:  Lieven Willmesz van Coppenol, Writing-Master; Jan Asselijn, Painter, Jan Uytenbogaert, Gold Weigher (and prominent tax collector)…   There are multiple states of each portrait, in which Rembrandt changed an element such as a background, or the drape of a garment.  In his portrait of the goldsmith Jan Lutma, the background in the first state is bare, while in the second one, there’s a window in a niche.  This portrait is also a fine example of how Rembrandt created textures – take a closer look at the sitter’s hat, beard, and wrinkles.

I wasn’t familiar with term “state,” but the gallery staff explained that the images were made by the artist directly on copper plates, which were then inked, and the image transferred to paper.   A different version of the same print is called a “state” because changes were made directly on the same copper plate, thus limiting the supply of each “state”.  The exhibit also has a small display case of etching tools and clear explanations of the different processes, such as drypoint, engraving and etching.

No one is quite sure why different states of the same print were made – in some cases, it may have been to freshen up the plate; in others, it may have been because the artist wanted to change something; another possibility is that collectors would want to own at least one of each state, so having several states would make the print more valuable. This latter theory is posited for the etching of a woman sitting half-dressed beside a stove, which has 7 different states (not all in the show): in one state, she’s wearing a cap; in another, the cap is gone and you see her hair pulled up; other states have changes to the stove… 

RembrandtAnother room is full of Biblical scenes, and show how Rembrandt took advantage of the characteristics of different paper types to affect the appearance of a print:  European paper gave a deep richness, while the thinness of Chinese paper permitted details to stand out, and the ivory color of Japanese paper afforded a softer look, as you can see in the “Adoration of the Shepherds” of 1657.  While most of the prints in this exhibit are small – around 5” x 7” or 8”x10” this room contains two dry points that are considerably larger – about 12” x 15” which is an unusual size for prints made using this technique.

This exhibit is really quite lovely; not only did I enjoy it, but I also learned a lot about printmaking and about Rembrandt!   There will be a symposium the afternoon of November 5th, followed by a reception, all free of charge.  

Make the time to get up and see it before it closes on December 12th.

A Great Night In Harlem

IMG_0417I got lucky and scored one of the last tickets to the concert at the Apollo Theatre that was part of the Jazz Foundation of America’s Annual Gala.  What a night – jazz, gospel and rock ‘n roll – starting off with a musical tribute to civil rights leader Julian Bond.  Next up were the great Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath and Randy Brecher, performing in a tribute to tenor sax legend Sonny Rollins, who was given the JFA Lifetime Achievement Award.  Rollins, who at 85 is slow of gait, was full of spirit, invoking a long list of jazz lions who have passed on, including Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, who “set our world in motion with the music.”  Lastly, Keith Richards and friends performed a tribute to Merry Clayton, who gave us those wonderful vocals on Gimme Shelter.  Ms. Clayton was honored with the first annual Clark & Gwen Terry Award for courage in the face of adversity – she lost both her legs in a car accident in 2014.  Her videotaped acceptance speech was very moving, with Ms. Clayton singing a few lines of the Joe Cocker hit, You are so Beautiful. (If you haven’t seen the movie “20 Feet from Stardom”  drop what you’re doing and see it – a terrific documentary about back up singers, many of whom you’ll recognize, if not by face, then by their vocals).

Throughout the evening, there were many fine performances as one would expect from    Davell Crawford, Ivan Neville, Keb’Mo, Donald Fagen, Ravi Coltrane, and the Cecil Bridgewater Big Band, to name a few.  A big surprise for me was opera great Renee Fleming’s rendition of the Beatles classic In My Life.

The Jazz Foundation of America does wonderful work, providing housing assistance, healthcare and emergency financial support to musicians and their families, as well as running a jazz in the schools program. 

Here in New York City, on Monday nights they host a jam, free of charge and open to the public – you can join in the jam and open mic if you want, but even if you just sit and listen, you’ll hear great music!  And, its a wonderful way to unwind on a Monday night!

Congratulations to Executive Director Wendy Oxenhall, who was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts for her work as a musicians’ advocate!

Alice on the Stage

Magic Lantern from 1890

Magic Lantern from 1890

If you missed the exhibit on Alice in Wonderland at the Morgan Library, don’t despair – there’s lots more going on during this 150th anniversary.   Head over to the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center  for a charming exhibit on theatre, music and dance inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. 

One of the first things you’ll see is a magic lantern, a slide projector of the kind Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) would have used narrating exhibits for schoolchildren. This particular one, dating from 1890 has 24 slides, some with Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.

Dodgson was also an avid theatre goer, and counted many actors and actresses among his friends, so Alice’s leap to the stage was quite natural.

Alice in Wonderland first appeared as a theatrical production in 1866 in London.  Written by Henry Saville Clark and with songs by Walter Slaughter, it was the hit of the Christmas season. The production was revived many times, and in the exhibit you’ll find posters and photos from the various productions, beginning in 1889.  You’ll also find published scripts of the Alice stories from 1880 and 1882 with non-Tenniel drawings. 

Mad Hatter marionette by Tony Sarg

Mad Hatter marionette by Tony Sarg

Alice was a hit on Broadway – a full production of Alice in Wonderland opened in 1915 – in the exhibit you’ll find some fabulous photos from the many staged versions that followed.  Irving Berlin wrote Alice-themed songs for The Century Girl, a 1916 revue, and for the 1924 Music Box revue. Tony Sarg even created a marionette production of Alice in 1930. 

You’ll find photos and programs documenting some of the more notable theatrical versions of the Alice stories such as Eva La Gallienne’s 1932 production which has been revived three times on Broadway (no mean feat); André Gregory’s experimental version in 1970; and Elizabeth Swados’  1982 “Alice at the Palace” starring Meryl Streep. You’ll find photos and programs documenting these productions.

The exhibit also displays album covers of recordings from various stage productions including the 1944 adaptation whose star was none other than Ginger Rogers, as well as a boxed set of readings of Alice in Wonderland made by Cyril Richard in 1957, and one by Christopher Plummer in 1985.

Alice also inspired major orchestral pieces and symphonies, such as the 1923 “Through the Looking Glass Suite for Orchestra” by Deems Taylor, and “Alice Symphony” by David Del Tredici.

Throughout the exhibit are listening stations, where you can hear songs from various productions.  My all time favorite has to be “Will You Walk A Little Faster” – if that’s not the ultimate NYC theme song, I don’t know what is.

The exhibit runs until January 16, 2016, but don’t wait until next year to see it.  The Library also has several events around this exhibit, such as a screening of the 1988 film Alice, directed by Jan Svankmajer on October 27th, and spoken word performances inspired by Alice in Wonderland on November 19th.  For more information, visit the Library’s website.  

Egypt at the Met Museum

Head of Senwerset I Shrouded

Head of Senwerset I Shrouded

I’m not into ancient art, but I’m glad I caught the new Ancient Egypt exhibit  at the Metropolitan Museum this past weekend.  The NY Times gave it a fabulous review, and rightly so!  Focusing on the Middle Kingdom (mid-Dynasty 11–Dynasty 13, around 2030–1650 B.C.), when Egypt was re-united, this exhibit has wonderful statuary  and stelae – some monumental, some miniature – as well as exquisite jewelry and ritual objects.  There are over 200 objects in this show, many from the Met’s holdings. The Met has sponsored excavations related to this period of Egyptian history since the early 1900’s.

Relief of a Man Carrying a Papyrus Bundle

Relief of a Man Carrying a Papyrus Bundle

While you will find many heads of pharaohs, princess and princesses, there are also block sculptures commissioned by more ordinary people with money, who were now imitating royalty in their quest for immortality.  From Thebes there are some especially lovely painted limestone reliefs from royal temples and tombs, as well as others with depictions of high officials, and even some everyday workers.  As you wander through the gallery where there are many Pharoah heads, notice how over time, the style changes – from smiling and youthful to careworn and more realistic.

Cowerie Shell Girdle with Set of Lion Bracelets and Anklets

Cowerie Shell Girdle with Set of Lion Bracelets and Anklets

Though there is not a lot of jewelry on display, what is shown is magnificent (check out the ankle bracelets) I’ve put some on my Instagram feed.

Early in the exhibit you’ll find a scale model of the pyramid complex of  Senwosret III (around 1878-1840 B.C.) at Dahshur that you might want to spend some time with.

If you have time (or the suds) wander over to the Temple of Dendur, which was built between 22–10 b.c., during the reign of Cesar Augustus, in Nubia, on the west bank of the Nile River, fifty miles South of Aswan.  This magnificent structure was was given to the United States by Egypt in 1965 and installed in the Museum in1978.  

Temple of Dendur

Temple of Dendur

I had visited it earlier this year, and I really like the wing the Met built to house the temple, and other objects from Egypt:  it’s full of light, and the water adds a peaceful element.

Do try to get up to see these wonderful collections!

A Wonderful Revival

Over at Lincoln Center, The King and I continues to delight.  I’ve always loved this Rogers & Hammerstein score – it still sounds wonderful, and the play is timely.  Kelli O’Hara and Ruthie Ann Miles are standouts.  I also liked the minimalist stage design, which lets you concentrate on the story, and, I think, makes clearer the many conflicts King Mongkut faced as he tried to modernize his country, and ensure Siam didn’t get colonized like it’s neighbors.  Be sure to pick up the “Lincoln Center Theatre Review” in the lobby – it contains a lot of background information (did you know that King Mongkut was a Bhuddist monk for 25 years?) as well as some interesting interviews.  I’m really glad I saw this production, which continues through next April.

If you’re looking for something light to eat before you go to the show, I’d recommend grabbing a bite at American Table Cafe and Bar by Marcus Samuelsson.  it’s great if you just want a light bite or something heartier, and it’s reasonably priced.

Himalayan Art in the West Village

Mask of Begtse Chen, Mongolia, 20th cent.

Mask of Begtse Chen, Mongolia, 20th cent.

I found the perfect place for a rainy Saturday afternoon last week, when I went to the Rubin Museum,   which has several wonderful exhibits I’d recommend taking in.  And if you don’t know a lot about Himalayan art, on the 2nd floor in the Gateway exhibit  you’ll find excellent explanations of the iconography, influences, materials and other elements that shape the art of this part of the world.

On my visit, I started on the top floor at the Becoming Another exhibition.  As the explanatory notes remind us, the act of being hidden often allows revelation.  When masks represent characters such as the fool, they  permit the expression of ideas that might otherwise be uncomfortable, even forbidden.  When representing archetypes, like a fox, or historical figures, masks can be a sort of shorthand.  In other circumstances, the mask allows the wearer to lose him or herself to another power, as in shamanistic rituals.

Mask, Spirit of Tengu, Japan, Edo Period

Mask, Spirit of Tengu, Japan, Edo Period

 

The section on Theatrical, Performance and Storytelling has about two dozen masks, some from the 19th and 20th centuries, from Bhutan and Tibet, of either papier mâché, or painted or lacquered wood.  One section is devoted to masks used in Japanese Noh theatre, most from the Edo Period (1615-1868), representing characters such as  beggars, goblins, or suffering ghosts.

Thunderbird Mask, Pacific Northwest, before 1917

Thunderbird Mask, Pacific Northwest, before 1917

In the section on Shamanistic rituals, there are not only terrific masks from Mongolia and Nepal, but also a short film of a Mongolian shaman dance.  Reaching across continents, the exhibit also includes many wonderful, large masks, especially of birds and some animals, made by First Peoples in the Pacific Northwest for ceremonies and rituals.

At the end of the exhibit are screens that allow you to take your own picture “wearing” a mask.  It was fun to do, and I’ve posted mine on my Instagram feed.

Amulet Box (Gau), Tibet, 19th Cent.

Amulet Box (Gau), Tibet, 19th Cent.

The “Collecting Paradise” exhibit explores how Western Himalayan art incorporates Kashmiri aesthetics.  There are many paintings on cloth, almost always religious in nature, with many wrathful deities depicted. There are two wonderful ones of  the wrathful deity Mahakala that stood out for me. In several instances I was struck by the vibrancy of the color – these paintings are mostly from the 15th to 17th centuries – but, as I learned on the 2nd floor, pigments were made from crushed semi-precious stones such as malachite, azurite and cinnabar, mixed with glue, which makes them durable.

Throughout the exhibit you’ll find exquisite sculptures of silver, brass and copper alloy, dating from the 7th through 13th centuries, when artists from Kashmir were invited to Tibet to create Buddhist sculptures.    Be sure to also look at the folios from the illuminated manuscript “Perfection of Wisdom.”

Saddle, Tibet or Mongolia, 18th-19th cent.

Saddle, Tibet or Mongolia, 18th-19th cent.

The  “Masterworks”  exhibit explores the influence of Chinese, Indian and Mongolian art on Tibetan art, especially on the Geluk School of Central Tibet in the 19th century.  Be sure to see the thangas (paintings on cloth) of the 5 Tantric Buddhas.

The Rubin hosts lectures, films, performances, yoga, and activities for children;  you can find more information on their events page

Design in Action

Model for UK Pavilion at 2010 World Expo, by Heatherwick Studios

Model for UK Pavilion at 2010 World Expo, by Heatherwick Studios

If you want to to see how design and real life intersect, get up to the Cooper-Hewitt to see “Provocations, the Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio”   Through photographs, models, drawings you see how the studio of UK architect Thomas Heatherwick has responded to some real-life challenges, such as designing the UK pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai – and you’ll also get insight into the thought process, which originates in a “provocation” or question the studio asks itself.  In the case of the UK’s pavilion, the provocation arose over 10 years earlier, when, designing temporary garden structures for the grounds of Belsay Hall, the studio asked itself how could it build a structure out of the architectural equivalent of matches!  You’ll get to see the model for the sitooteries they created out of plywood and steel for Belsay Hall in1999. Then go look at the model for the World Expo Pavilion to see how they expanded that theme.

Model for a Rolling Bridge Over the Thames by Heatherwick Studios

Model for a Rolling Bridge Over the Thames by Heatherwick Studios

I especially enjoyed the model for a Rolling Bridge across the Thames.  Based on an actual bridge near London’s Paddington Station that the studio designed, when high ships pass under it, the bridge opens and folds in on itself like a snail.  I was lucky to be at the exhibit when they used the model to demonstrate how this works – it’s really fun to see.  Check the Cooper-Hewitt website   for demonstration times.  In addition to these larger projects, Heatherwick has also designed stores, news stands, furniture and handbags.  They are currently re-designing London’s double-decker bus (in the exhibit)!   Heatherwick Studio has taken on projects around the globe, including the Learning Hub at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Pier 55 on the Hudson River in NYC.

Model Staircase, 18th cent. France

Model Staircase, 18th cent. France

Be sure to stop on the second floor, to look at the 18th and 19th century architectural models, especially the staircases in the style of the French compagnonnage movement, whose grace and precision are testament to the talents of the woodworking masters who made them.

 

 

Adire wrapper, Nigeria

Adire wrapper, Nigeria

On the first floor, great memories of my trips to Mali and Ghana were triggered by the exhibit of African textiles from the museum’s permanent collection, chosen by the architect David Adjaye. It will come as no surprise that many of the textiles he chose have strong geometric elements. In addition to prestige Kente cloth, you’ll also find adire (indigo and white) cloth

from Nigeria and Gambia – each made with a different technique, as well as an adinkra (symbol-language) wrapper from Ghana, hand woven cottons from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, cut-thread and mud cloths from Nigeria and Mali.  Make sure to take a look at the men’s hats in the room’s niches, which are also part of the exhibit.

On your visit, take advantage of The Pen  – as you go through the galleries, you can touch it to a label about an item, and the information on the item is sent to a unique website, where you can view your “collection” at your leisure;  or you can use the pen’s tip to draw on the interactive tables in the museum.  It’s really, really cool.

Cross-Cultural Comedy

Why would an Irish-American stand-up comedian move to China?  To learn how to do stand-up comedy in Mandarin, of course.  I caught Des Bishop’s  delightful re-telling of how and why he did this, and some very hilarious instances of cross-cultural kerfluffles.  To find out more about Des’ adventures, which included being on the top dating show on Chinese TV, go see him at Lucky Jack’s this weekend before Made in China closes.