A Fresh Look at Hungarian Art

Hommage à Albers, Tibor Gayor, 1975, acrylic on wooden board


With the Eyes of Others: Hungarian Artists of the Sixties and 70’s, the current exhibit at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, is a museum quality exploration of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde, reminding us that even under repressive regimes, art can flourish.

Postwar Hungary suffered under the dictatorship of the Soviet Union, whose ideology was hostile to modern art.  Even though the Hungarian regime was a more “friendly barracks,” artists still needed to make sure that any “political” gestures – which included embracing Western art practices rather than Soviet Realism – were not overtly visible to either the censors or the viewing public. 

In this atmosphere, Hungarian artists combined their unique visual language with Western forms such as Conceptualism and Pop Art, to create a  radical new approach to Conceptualism, resulting in art that was, by its existence, an implicit rebuke to the norms of the Hungarian state.  The authorities established three categories of work:  supported, tolerated or rejected, so many of the political pieces use a highly coded language or employ humor to cover or deflect from their  critiques of officialdom. Sometimes the political message was so coded that only those inside could understand it; the wall texts and the gallery’s exhibition checklist are helpful in understanding the context of the works.

In Hungary artists were establishing their own unofficial art scene, in private apartments where they held clandestine semi-illegal exhibitions and performances, leading to a flourishing – albeit underground – cultural milieu. These “flat” exhibits for a few hundred friends of friends allowed artists to transmit current styles and trends.  Even though they were not able to freely travel, artists in Hungary found other ways of engaging with their peers in other countries, especially through the international mail-art movement, sending small scale works via the postal service to avoid censorship. 

Radial Enamel I-IV, Karoly Halasz, 1969, enamel on four iron plates

There are almost 100 works on display, with the vast majority from the 1970‘s, but on the ground floor you’ll find works from the 1960’s in that era’s abstract geometric style, including Károly Halász’, Radial Enamel I-IV.

Wall-Hanging with tombstone Forms (Tapestry), Ilona Keseru Ilona, 1969, stitching on chemically dyed linen

The motifs in Ilona Keserü Ilona’s 1969 Wall-Hanging with Tombstone Forms, reference the iconography of rural Hungarian cemeteries, such as the one she visited in 1967 in Balatonudvari, which contains over 60 heart shaped tombstones.

5 out of 4, I-III, Dora Maurer, 1979, acrylic on wood

The exhibit contains several works by Dóra Maurer, whose oeuvre spans print, photography, films and drawings.  Many of her pieces from the ’70’s such as 5 out of 4, are quite rigorous, combining rule-based compositional logic  and geometric abstraction.  Maurer, who had an exhibit at MOMA in 2015, is married to Tibor Gáyor, whose work is at the top of this article.

SUN-OX-FACE, Imre Bak, 1976, acrylic on two canvases

Pride of place is given to Imre Bak’s abstract geometrics, with their strong colors, and strict, sharp, forms and lines.  Along with lona Keserü, László Lakner, and István Nádler, whose works are also here, Bak was  a member of the Iparterv, one of the leading Hungarian neo-avant-garde groups of the second half of the Twentieth century.  His delightful SUN-OX-FACE from 1976 greets visitors at the entrance to the exhibit.

Landscape Transformation, Imre Bak, 1974, acrylic on canvas

Nearby is his 1974 Landscape Transformation, emblematic of his hard-edged paintings.  In the gallery’s office space, you’ll find a number of his smaller works on paper.


Concept Like Commentary 1-7, Geza Perneczky, 1971, gelatin silver prints

The second floor is almost entirely given over to photographs of that era, including two of Géza Perneczky‘s 1972 black-and-white conceptual photographic series. In  Art-Ball (concepts like commentary) he took a tennis ball inscribed with the word “art” and placed it in unusual places, such as  a bird’s nest, or in a bowl of water, or seemingly looking at itself mirror (above).   A second series, Art Bubbles, shows the artist blowing bubbles with the word “art” inscribed on them.  Even though Perneczky emigrated to Germany in 1970 he was  present on the Hungarian art scene and actively involved in the international mail art movement. He publishes his works and writings privately under the pseudonym Softgeometry.

Nouveau Bandage, Laszlo Lakner, 1971, gelatin silver print

László Lakner began his career as a Surnaturalist painter, mixing Surrealism and Naturalism, but in the 1970’s he painted photorealistic objects that had particular meanings.  Because of the political nature of his art, the government classified it as either “tolerated” or “forbidden” which made it extremely difficult for him to exhibit or sell his works.  In 1974, he received a scholarship to study in Berlin, where he continues to live and work.

Lenin in Budapest, Balint Szombathy, 1972/2016, gelatin silver print

Bálint Szombathy took some serious risks with his  performance art, as can be seen in his series Lenin in Budapest, in which he walked around Budapest after the 1972 May Day parade with a photo of Lenin mounted on a placard.  This was extremely risky, because the authorities could have interpreted this gesture as Szombathy parading the head of Lenin on a stick, as I did.

Balint Szombathy, Poetry & Language VI, 1977, ink stamp on vintage gelatin silver print

In 1977, his work took on a more semiotic tone in his Poetry & Language series, in which he would stamp the words Poetry and Language onto photographs, whose images seemingly had nothing to do with either word, but nonetheless forced you to take another look and reconsider them. 

You’ll also find photographs documenting Tamás Szentjóby’s Sit Out/Be Forbidden happening, on which is inscribed – Tous ce qu est interdit est art.  Sois interdit.  (Everything that’s forbidden is art.  Be forbidden).  He wasn’t as luck as Szombathy – instead he was arrested and expelled for his samizdat activities in 1975.

The 30 artists featured in this show employ various media and styles – I’ve covered only a tiny fraction of the exhibit.  You’ll also find photo performances by Bálint Szombathy, Katalin Ladik and Tibor Hajas and other artists, who performed intimate staged events without audiences, often with a political or subversive overtone, sometimes pushing their body to extreme limits, like other performance/body artists in Europe in the 1970’s.  There are also small monitors showing videos created by Dóra Maurer, Katalin Ladik and Ferenc Ficzek.  In addition to works by Budapest-based artists, the show includes pieces by artists associated with the Pécs Workshop, which played an outside role in this period.

The exhibit also features a number of works by the witty Endre Tót – on one wall is his Very Special Gladness series which highlights his wicked sense of humor, especially his photograph of a man reading a book with Lenin’s image on the cover – the photo is entitled,    I am glad if I can read Lenin.  Be sure to look at his conceptual “rain” series in the vitrine.

At All Times 1, Istvan Nadler, 2008, casein and tempera on canvas

Don’t leave without stopping in the small gallery space on the second floor where you’ll find works by Imre Bak and István Nadler that they’ve created in the 2000’s, allowing you to see the continuity with the abstract, geometric vein they were working in in the 1970’s.

With the Eyes of Others continues through August 12th, so before then get up to this fabulous exhibit at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery 2033/2037 Fifth Avenue (126th Street). 

New York City and the Selling of World War 1

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the U.S.‘s entry into World War I. To commemorate this event, the Museum of the City of New York has organized Posters and Patriotism: Selling WW1 to New Yorkan exhibit of posters, flyers, magazine art, sheet music covers, and other mass-produced images made in war-time New York.

Help the Red Cross, Herman Roeg, ca. 1918

When war broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson had declared that the U.S. should remain “neutral in fact, as well as in name.” But the tide began to turn, especially after the Lusitania was sunk, claiming the lives of 128 Americans, and the U.S. joined the war on April 6, 1917.

While the exhibit focuses on posters, it also shows how every available means – print, music, film, lectures, and performance—were used to publicize, popularize, and gain support for  the U.S.’s entry into the conflict, and how dissenting voices also employed these media.

Women’s Peace Parade on 5th Avenue, August 29, 1914, Library of Congress photo

In the early 20th century, there was a strong pacifist movement  in the U.S.  New York City mirrored the dissent and divisions in the American population, which can be seen in a display in the center of the room with black and white photos of various anti-war rallies, including the 1914 Women’s Peace Parade on 5th Avenue. 

Mother Earth, Man Ray, artist; published by Emma Goldman, September 1914

There are also displays with socialist and anarchist publications like The Masses, and Bull, as well as Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth – all three publications were banned from the U.S. mail, and their editors were tried under the Espionage Act. The exhibit clearly shows  the whiplash in the American public’s sentiments towards the war, and the favorable turn in opinion was aided by anti-sedition laws which helped enforce patriotic loyalty.   During the war years, over 1,000 people in the U.S. were convicted of anti-draft activity.

Sheet Music for “Wake Up America” artist unknown; George Graff, Jr. & Jack Glogau, composers. Uncle Sam is kneeling in between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

You’ll also find illustrated sheet music published for people with pianos at home – they were still fairly common in American households – showing how music reflected the shifting  American opinions towards the war, from neutrality to patriotic involvement,  and capturing the conflicted feelings of parents whose children went overseas, in songs such as I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier Boy.  As U.S. troops headed overseas, Tin Pan Alley composers  led the charge  with gusto – George M. Cohan’s Over There is from this era .  Other songs, such as To Hell with Germany by Noble Sissle were widely disseminated, and many of Irving Berlin’s songs echoed that sentiment. 

Once the U.S. entered the conflict, dissenting voices were shut out, as censorship was enforced during the war.  Because New York City was the center of advertising and media, the U.S. Department of War housed its Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP) here to sell the wary  American public on supporting the US War effort.  Many artists eagerly jumped on board: the DPP was headed by none other than Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girls;” he and James Montgomery Flagg (creator of Uncle Sam) helped found ‘the Vigilantes,” a group of artists and writers using their talents to promote patriotism, and exhorting Americans to serve in combat, buy bonds to finance the war, and conserve food, clothing and energy so these resources could be sent overseas.  

The posters in this exhibit clearly reflect their creators training, revealing their backgrounds as either fine artists or the graphic artists found in the commercial (advertising) art world.

Poster, August Wiliam Hutaf, 1917

Recruitment posters aimed their message at men: by enlisting in the armed forces, they would demonstrate their patriotism and their “manly” outrage at German war crimes; other posters appealed to potential enlistees’ sense of adventure, while others played on their guilt.   Their efforts were wildly successful – the Army swelled from 200,000 recruits to 4,000,000!

Poster by Charles Dana Gibson, 1917

The war was sold as defending France and Belgium – apparently Americans didn’t harbor favorable feelings towards the British, even though the Revolutionary War had ended 140 years earlier, but they remembered the assistance Lafayette and his compatriots gave the fledgling republic.  Anti-German sentiment ran high, with posters, pamphlets and children’s books exhorting Americans to take up the fight against “The Hun”. 

Americans were asked to make sacrifices, even being encouraged to grow their own food, so more could be sent overseas, and in 1918, Daylight Savings Time was introduced as a fuel conservation measure. The Museum’s blog post on the Civilian war effort in the two world wars gives you a very good idea of how ordinary men and women contributed to the effort. 

Poster, Edward Penfield, artist, 1918

Because men were fighting in Europe, women went to work in large numbers outside the house: not only in factories and firms in the US, but also  as ambulance drivers and nurses on the front, fueling their demands for equal rights.  However, it wasn’t until 1920 that American women were granted the right to vote.

Poster, produced by Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company, 1918

The war effort was financed by the sale of Liberty Bonds – by the end of the war, Americans had loaned over $17 billion to their government.  Buying bonds was seen as a sign of loyalty, and refusal was met with suspicion. 

Still from “The Bond” 1918 Charlie Chaplin

Immigrants were exhorted to simultaneously demonstrate their pride in their origins and in their new country by enlisting in the war effort.  Nowhere was this effort more successful than in Hollywood – many in the industry were immigrants who showed their patriotism by creating films that fueled the public’s hatred of Germany and pumped up their patriotic fervor.   At the end of the exhibit there’s a screen showing selections from The Bond, a 1918 film featuring Charlie Chaplin. 

James Reese Europe performing with his band in France, ca. 1918, Library of Congress photo

Jazz also became popular, personified in the bandleader James Reese Europe, who led the marching band of the Harlem Hell Fighters, the 369th Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit (Noble Sissle was also a member) bringing jazz to troops in France and England.  The Harlem Hell Fighters  emerged from the war with one of the most stellar combat records of any Army unit.  However, when they returned home, they found that the same old racism prevailed. 1919 brought the Red Summer, when cities all across the U.S., particularly in the Jim Crow South, erupted, with whites attacking and killing blacks over employment and housing.

And when the war was over …  

Advertisement for Scot Tissue Towels from Time, October 19, 1931

Many of the wartime poster artists went on to become successful commercial and journalistic illustrators.  New York City became America’s financial and cultural hub in the Roaring 20’s.  The US began to return to its isolationist stance; however, the government continued to look for spies, especially among the foreign-born in New York.  The exhibit has a map depicting NYC’s immigrant neighborhoods, prepared by US Army Officer John B. Trevor for the Lusk Committee’s investigation of “subversives.”  The Cold War was beginning.

Nonetheless, the idea of globalization started to take hold, as people from all over the world met each other serving on the front.  As the song goes, “How ‘ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paree).”   The League of Nations was founded after the war, and even though it folded after several years, its successor,  the United Nations continues to this day. 

Many of the issues the country had grappled with at the turn of the century – freedom of speech, immigration, espionage, race relations – continue to dominate public discourse today, making this exhibit exceptionally relevant.

On August 24th the Museum is hosting an  event associated with this exhibit, Hot Jazz Moonlight Social  with the Gotham Kings and jazz historian Ricky Riccardi at 6:00.

The exhibit continues until October 9th.  But don’t wait until then to see it.

The Museum of the City of New York  is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street

Interview with Author Carol Rinzler

Carol Ann Rinzler

I’ve known Carol Ann Rinzler for a long time, but as an advocate for community-based planning and for green space.   It was only two years ago that I discovered her writing talents when I read Leonardo’s Foot – a book that is but one of more than twenty she’s written on the subject of human health (including Nutrition for Dummies).

This year she published Spare Parts , a look at several of so-called “vestigial” organs, along with many interesting detours along the way – from the Chinchorro of South America, who were mummifying their dead some 4,000 years before the Egyptians, to a romp through depictions of “future man” in film and literature, starting with Jules Verne’s 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon.   After having read the book, I decided to interview Carol to find out more about her interest in this field and how she came to develop this specialty.

Liz: What drew you to medical topics?

Carol: Paul de Kruif, the 1930s/40s medical writer who covered such fascinating moments as the discovery of what caused pellagra. His books were on my parents’ bookshelves and in my hand every day after school. I had thought about medical school, which was why I went to Mt. Holyoke which, in my day, was the women’s science school. But I realized I was a better observer than an actor and chose to write about medicine rather than practice it.

Liz: Why the topic of vestigial organs?

Carol: I like writing about body parts (one of my books, Leonardo’s Foot, tells how the foot, not the brain, fueled our rise up the evolutionary ladder). The appendix was just starting to be recognized as part of the immune system, so I picked up on that right away.

Liz: How long did it take you to write this book?

Carol: Two years: one to think, one to write.

Liz: Tell me about how you researched it.

Carol: In my own library and on the Net, across borders – it is amazing to send a question to a professor in Italy and have an answer within hours.

Liz: In what way(s) is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Carol: My editor encouraged me to expand it from a book on the appendix to a book on the Darwin Six: appendix, wisdom teeth, coccyx (tailbone), external ear muscles, body hair, and plica semilunaris conjunctive (third eyelid). He was right.

Liz: Was there anything you were surprised to learn as you researched this book?

Carol: That life may have originated on land, not in the sea, with the Ediacaran biota posited by University of Oregon paleontologist Greg Retallack.

Liz: Was there anything you were pretty sure of that was confirmed by your research?

Carol: That we are not unique. And that while Darwin was unquestionably a genius and clearly right on evolution, lacking our modern technology and biochemistry, he could not see inside the body nor could he truly evaluate processes such as immunology and the immune system. I have no doubt at all that, were he living today, he would agree that the “vestigals” are integral parts of a fully functional human body. Evolution deniers aside, as one of my favorite doctors says, “The human body is so marvelous that nothing is there by accident”.

Liz: Let’s talk for a second about your fascination with Leonardo and Darwin, and why you come back to them all the time.

Carol: The fact that you’re asking is interesting because you have just made me realize that there is a connection: Leonardo’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man showing a perfectly proportioned human male, along with his dissection of the body, done mostly in secret because the Church forbid it, led me to Darwin. Leonardo showed the body. Darwin took it apart and explained how we got here, how Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man evolved. So they were two sides of the same coin, and I hadn’t realized it until you asked it how connected they were. I have to find the third person in the triad because there must be someone who ties these two together. Leonardo was 15th century and Darwin was 19th century, so what we’re really looking for is someone at the end of the 20th or the beginning of the 21st century who’s gone a step further, and tied the multiple functions of the body together. And if you find him or her, you must call me and tell me.

Liz: What’s the next book going to be about?

Carol: Sorry, it’s a secret.

Kim’s Convenience – Theatre Review

The play takes place during one day in Kim’s Convenience Store, located in the Regent Park section of Toronto, which is being developed. The store was opened many years ago by Mr. Kim, who left his teaching job in Korea and immigrated to Canada with his wife.  One day, a former customer visits and offers Mr Kim a large sum of money (we don’t know how much) for his store, telling Mr. Kim that this could insure his future, as Walmart is thinking of moving in, which would devastate Mr. Kim’s business. 

Mr. Kim refuses the offer, and the customer’s parting question to him – “What is your exit plan?” – spurs the action of the play, as Mr. Kim now has to confront the existential dilemma of his legacy; not only his store’s future, but also his relationship with his children:  Janet, a 30 year-old photographer who is still single, and Jung, his 32 year old son who left home at 16 and hasn’t been back since.

Even though the play is centered around an immigrant family, its themes are universal, touching on our relationships with the people around us – neighbors, customers, friends as well as family members, and questions such as, How do we pass on life’s lessons to the next generation?  How do we let go?

The play illustrates the ways in which we do or don’t communicate our expectations of one another to each other, and like many in the audience, including me, you may find a tear running down your cheek at some point… There’s an especially moving scene when Janet uses the adding machine to calculate the dollar value of the “free labor” she’s put in at the store over the years, and her father parries back with the cost of school, piano lessons, camp….

The play runs for 85 minutes – a perfect length – and alternates between the comedic and the dramatic, keeping the piece from getting maudlin, and moving it along nicely.  The playwright, Ins Choi, has a good ear for the way people really talk (he’s also an excellent actor) , and the cast of five is very strong, keeping you engaged all the way through.

The play closes on July 15th;  see it before it leaves.  

More information on Soulpepper’s website

Soulpepper in the Big Apple

On July 9th, I attended a performance of the fabulous play Kim’s Convenience Store (review in separate article), which is part of a month-long theatre festival by the Canadian theatre company Soulpepper  at the Signature Theatre on 42nd Street.  Afterwards, a few audience members had an informal, free-ranging discussion with Albert Schultz, Artistic Director and one of the company founders.  Below is an excerpt.

How did you decide to come to New York?

Albert:    I had the idea since 2014, so we’ve been planning for a long time.  This is the first month of our twentieth year.  Because our 20th anniversary lined up with the 150th of the country, it seemed a kind of poetic confluence.  This is the largest collection of Canadian artists outside of  Canadian soil – we got a lot of support from back home; …then Come From Away the musical from Canada comes … And everyone was talking about that in May and June, and through the award season, and we ended up riding on the Canadian coat tails of that. 

Irene Sankoff, Robert McQueen, David Hein, Albert Schultz (l-r) in the Signature Theatre

At this point  Irene Sankoff and David Hein, writers of Come From Away, and Canadian theatre director Robert McQueen, who were coincidentally in the theatre, stopped by to chat with Albert for a few minutes. (Editor’s note:  you can find my review of Come From Away here)

Why didn’t Soulpepper come to New York earlier?

Albert:  We’re a repertory company. So if you saw Of Human Bondage, and then you saw Spoon River in the space of one day, you’d see twelve members of the company who are doing this beautiful, deeply dramatic play, [then later they] would then be acting sort of silly, playing trombones and trumpets and all sorts of stuff; our company is all diverse in what they can do.  That’s the kind of company we develop, so if we need a band, they’re in the company.  Because of that, our work at home is very interwoven. 

Of Human Bondage is a 4-year old production, Spoon River is a 4-year old production, Kim’s Convenience is a 5-year old production, we toured it all over,  everywhere else, but we couldn’t get things out because everyone’s in another show at home.  The Kim’s Convenience run is only two weeks long because we’ve made a national television series out of that play – it’s a huge hit and it got picked up last year on our national broadcast, the CBC.  We produced it, so Soulpepper was able to keep quality control;  the playwright is the head writer and producer with us. It’s been a huge artistic and commercial success at home, and hopefully will be here, but it means that the actors are busy shooting all the time, so we had to put the series on hiatus, but we couldn’t do more than two weeks because you’d loose the crew, that’s why that run is short.  It’s a very complex organization in that way, any individual artist is involved in so many things.  What we had to do was to plan to bring not a show – we had to bring the company to New York.  We have 65 artists here and 10 support staff.  It was a major military operation. 

We found this space, which is grander than our space – we have a central lobby which is about 70% the size of this body;  but outside of this it is very similar, we have little portals just like this, we have four spaces off of ours, so when we walked in here we went, “This is just like home.”  This is the only place we could bring our company because we needed several spaces, we needed public space where we could do conversations like this because that’s what we do at home.  Last night we had 60 youth from a program called Epic Theatre Ensemble, out of Harlem [and we also] set up partnerships with the 52nd Street Partnership. Because we do youth programs at home, we wanted to do one here. 

Tell us about Soulpepper…

Soulpepper came out of the gates in 1998.  There were twelve artists who founded the company, myself and eleven others – five of those 12 are here.  Twenty years later, 9 or 10 of them are still actively involved in the company.  In our first season we had a massive splash.  Everything came together right.  We’ve grown the company exponentially, so we’re now by far the largest employer of theatre artists in Toronto, which is our main city.   

And [Soulpepper] has been very progressive in the way we’ve welcomed new audiences and new voices, Kim’s Convenience being an example of that.

We started a school 10 years ago, the Soulpepper Academy.  We train directors,  playwrights, designers,  performers and now producers.  Our very first class had 10 artists.  We took in one director, Weyni Mengesha, who’s an Ethiopian-Canadian.  Lorenzo Savoini was the designer in that Academy – he did the lights for [Kim’s Convenience], Weyni directed that show.  Our second class had Ins Choi, who wrote the play and is in the play, and Ken Mackenzie who designed the set and costumes.  Of Human Bondage was designed by an Academy grad; Spoon River is composed by an Academy grad, and designed by an Academy grad…

How did you find this theatre – did you know people here?

Albert:  We hired a general manager to help us with all the New York connections: how do we get a production team?  who do we use as a press agent?  marketing?  This is all very new to us so we hired someone based here, and she took us on a tour of four spaces, and she very craftily had this one be the last.  We walked up the stairs here, and Leslie, my life partner and Executive Director walked in and said, “I want the whole building.”  That was the first thing she said.

Well you have three things going at once here…

Albert:  We have a show happening in the [Irene Diamond stage], we have a show that just came down in the  [Alice Griffin Theatre], we have a show going in the [Alice Griffin Theatre] at 8:00pm, we’ll have a cabaret happening in this space [Signature Cafe & Bar].  Some days we’ll have 4 spaces running, we have the fourth theatre behind us where we have 3 shows in rep – so we have 12 productions here, plus a different cabaret every single night.

Tell us about the cabaret…

Albert:  The cabaret is from our company – there’s so much musical talent – sometimes it’s poetry, but mostly it’s music  of all styles.  We have in the company for example, Jackie Richardson, and Jackie is someone who could exist only in a country like Canada.  Because we don’t have a real star system in Canada, there are a handful of people in our country who attain a level of dominant excellence, so Jackie Richardson is the best gospel singer in the country, the best jazz singer in the country, the best blues singer in the country, the best reggae singer in the country.  She’s 70 years old – because she’s been doing it for 55 years, she’s the first call for every gig.  On opening night here – we had 500 people in this lobby, and all I did was get up and thank people, then introduce Jackie [who sang] Bridge Over Troubled Water, and she ripped the roof off this place. She sings it in our New York Melting Pot program, which we’re doing the 21st and 22nd.  She will be appearing in the cabarets next week, and in fact, at the end of next week, there’s a concert called First Ladies with Alana Bridgewater – she’s in her 40’s, she’s the next generation; Sophie Milman, an extraordinary jazz singer and leader in her generation – she’s in her 40’s – between them and Jackie is Mollie Johnson, who’s around 60 and a legend in Canada.  We have maybe the best jazz musicians in Canada who are coming here to be the band to support those four ladies.  You can’t go wrong seeing it – it’s the 14th and 15th.  And then the Friday and Saturday matinee of the following week we have a show called The Melting Pot which I host and wrote, with several singers.  My thesis at the top is that three refugee cultures, the Jews, the Irish, the African-Americans, all refugee cultures – and I wrote this before Trump –  those three cultures in one neighborhood on the Lower East Side created the soundtrack of the 20th Century, whether it be Broadway, or music from the Brill Building, so much of it came from those cultures listening to each other and learning from each other.  That’s on the 21st and 22nd. 

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who played the father [in Kim’s Convenience] was wonderful, I thought.

Albert:  Wasn’t he!  And he’s done almost exclusively this since 2012.  He’s done over 600 performances of the play.

And he still manages to keep it fresh.

Albert:  And he keeps it completely fresh.

Jean who plays the mother, was a pioneer in the Asian Toronto theatre scene at a time when there were no Asians on the stages.  Immigrant parents didn’t arrive here saying [to their children], “Now make yourself an actor and a playwright,” – it’s only right now in this generation that immigrant families are allowing their children to even think about the arts.  And why this play has been so huge – and the series is even bigger – is [because] for the first time ever, Canadians, particularly immigrant Canadians, are watching a national broadcast television series in their living rooms and saying “I can be that girl.”

And I can see it happening in front of my face in Canada.  Our production of Kim’s Convenience has been on the stages of the nation since 2012 and now the series … When we cast the series after five years of doing the play, it was a different thing than when we cast the play five years before.  We had choices to make in every single part, which five years before we didn’t have. So it’s happening at home and it’s exciting, and I hope it’s gonna happen more.

Will you come back?

Albert :  The challenge with coming back, and its a huge challenge – it’s big, it’s expensive and it’s complicated.  But, a week in, both critically and in terms of audience and feedback it’s been an unmitigated success.  And we did not know that – you go and you have no idea what it’s going to be.  So that’s already shifted my brain – I’m sure that everyone back home is saying “Oh dear, it’s going well,”  because I’m now actually thinking we should do this semi-regularly, maybe every two to three years we should do something like this. 

Soulpepper  will be at the Signature Theatre  through July 29th.  You can find the complete schedule on Soulpepper’s calendar.

Aux barricades, hmm? Aux fêtes, OUI !!!

Yes, Bastille Day isn’t until the 14th, but, nonetheless, festivities begin this weekend, and will also continue next weekend.  The full list is in the Current Events  section!

If you’re looking for French books, films, music or conversation, look no further:

There are 67 French-related organizations in New York City, under the umbrella of the Committee of French-Speaking Societies  which organizes a fabuleux Bastille Day Ball.  I’m just going to talk about a few of them.

If you’re looking for French film, theatre, lectures, books or even lessons, here are some great places to start:  the French Institute, Alliance Française (FI:AF)  which has all of the foregoing, all year round.   In addition to their midtown facility, FIAF also has language classes in Brooklyn. 

The Maison Française at NYU and the Maison Française at Columbia offer a wide variety of lectures, screenings and exhibitions. 

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in NYC  has been a  force for spreading French Culture in NYC.  You can find out about dual-language education programs here  ; they maintain a robust calendar of film, theatre, readings, festivals on their events calendar 

If you’re looking for books – in both French and English, head over to  Albertine the book store located in the Cultural Services building, or Idlewild  bookstore, which has locations in Manhattan and Brookyn.

If you’re looking for good conversation and good food, the Paris-American Club always has interesting guest speakers at its monthly luncheons.

If you’d like to be part of an on-line community of French speakers and people interested in the French language, check out New York in French.

For more general information about the French in NYC, take a look at French Morning which publishes in both English and French, and covers French activities in LA, Miami, San Francisco and Texas

You also might want to take a look at French District, which has 10 editions in the US (three are also in English), and a large directory of service providers.

To find out about Québecois artists appearing in New York, go to Québec’s international page   then scroll to “Events” at the bottom  

The Consulate General of Luxembourg has events posted on its website 

Belgium Consulate General in NY Facebook page and it’s Twitter feed  

For Swiss events in NYC, you can sign up for a newsletter through the Consulate’s website 

A great source for finding information on concerts by musicians from French speaking Africa and the Caribbean is Afropop  

Amusez-vous bien, mes enfants!

Art Deco and All That Jazz

Canapé Gondole, designed by Marcel Coard, ca. 1925, carved indian rosewood, indian rosewood-veneered wood, brass, and linen velvet.
Textile, Le Feu (Fire), designed by Yvonne Clarinvaland manufactured by Tassinari & Chatel, 1925 Warp: silk weft: tussah silk and its technique is compound satin weave

The turn of the 20th Century has become a hot topic this year, since 2017 is the centenary of the U.S.’s entry into WWI.  The Cooper Hewitt examines the period following the end of that conflict in The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s, an overview of  the various European  trends –  considered hallmarks of refined taste – that influenced Art Deco, such as  Bauhaus, deStijl, Scandinavian and Viennese design. Covering two floors, the show contains  400 examples of interior design, industrial design, decorative art, jewelry, fashion and architecture inspired by these styles.  

Evening Dress and Underslip,designed by Gabrielle Chanel and produced by House of Chanel, 1926 blue silk chiffon with applied blue ombré silk fringe

The Roaring 20’s  was an age of new beginnings, as Americans threw off the strictures and mores of the 19th century and sought to put the war behind them.  It was an era when things moved faster.  Rapid industrialization dramatically shortened manufacturing times, thus facilitating mass production – and consumption.  The rise of the automobile and the airplane made transcontinental and intercontinental travel faster, easier and more accessible.  Design became sparer, more abstract, incorporating geometric and arabesque motifs influenced by advances in transportation and industry.  Musical tastes were changing, as African-American musical forms such as the blues and jazz entered mainstream America’s living rooms via sheet music and radio, and could also be heard  in the numerous cabarets and supper clubs that sprung up as night life – dining, drinking and dancing outside the home – became increasingly popular ways for Americans to shake off the post war doldrums. Cocktails and cigarettes became symbols of a newly liberated society.   This was the age of the Flapper:  having served their country in various capacities during WW1, women gained the right to vote in 1920, cut their hair,  shortened their hemlines, and started to claim their independence.  Changing norms and a sense of possibility infused those heady times.

 Here are some examples of what you’ll see in this wonderful show (it was hard to edit my selections). 

Poster, designed by Charles Delaunay and printed by Imprimerie R de Gonell, 1934, offset lithograph on paper.

Perhaps nothing personifies that age like its music and films. This exhibit showcases how jazz music and the social world surrounding it shaped design, with images of musicians and  dancers gracing everything from vases to textiles.  It also shines a light on the ambivalence – on both sides of the Atlantic – towards Africa and African-Americans, featuring textiles and jewelry inspired by  African masks and wildlife, along with  a video loop of short clips of performances by Louis Armstrong,  Josephine Baker and Lena Horne,  but also offering examples, such as the posters by Paul Colins, of how the contributions  of Africans and African-Americans were exoticized  and caricatured.  

Blues by Archibald Motley, Archibald J., Jr. (1891-1981), oil on canvas 1929. Photo, courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt

This 1929 oil painting Blues by  Archibald Motley Jr. (a significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance and in the Chicago arts scene) conveys the sights and sounds of a mixed race (or black-and-tan) nightclub in the late ’20s, where patrons could be free from the censures of white society, as racial barriers continued to be widely observed and enforced. 

Purse, (France)1910–30 cotton, glass and metal beads. Stitching on black cotton machine-made net; chain stitch using a hook and block cotton threaded with glass beads.

Egypt-mania was spawned in 1922 with the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and imagery of that era, especially scarabs and lotus flowers, invaded every facet of design.  Cartier and other luxury jewelry designers offered their own versions of King Tut’s resplendent jewels in diamond encrusted platinum brooches, bracelets , earrings and cases, often accented by rubies, emeralds, onyx, coral, jade and lapis.

B3 Chair, designed by Marcel Breuer 1925, manufactured by Standard-Möbel 1927-28. Chrome-plated tubular steel, canvas. Photo courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt

At the beginning of this era, original works in American colonial designs as well as those from 17th- and 18th-century France and England still conveyed social status.  However, the International style of chrome tube furniture by renowned architects such as  Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer soon came to be seen as symbols of the future; not only was  this  metal used in emblems of progress like cars and radios,  but it allowed for a  cleanliness in design, marking  a break with Victorian stuffiness.  Because of chrome’s affordability, these new designs could be mass manufactured and widely diffused to an emerging middle class.

Zeppelin Airship Cocktail Shaker and Traveling Bar, J.A. Henckels Twin Works, 1928, silver-plated brass. Photo courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt

Airplane purse,designed by Josèph Andrée Chouanard; Automobile purse, designed by Rose; both manufactured by Beauvais Manufactory, 1928, tapestry and silk; Pair of Airplane Brooches, produced byCartier, 1930s, diamonds, platinum

Travel – in automobiles, trains, airplanes, airships and balloons – was a dominant motif of the 1920’s, found in jewelry, cocktail shakers, furniture and accessories.

Brooklyn Bridge, Joseph Stella, 1919-20, oil on canvas

The influence of industrial design, an appreciation of New York’s urban environment, and a fascination with travel are captured in Joseph Stella’s oil painting of the Brooklyn Bridge, whose fractured light through the suspension cables give it a futuristic undertone.

Renards (Foxes) Ten-Panel Screen, designed by Armand-Albert Rateau, ca. 1921–22. Gilt and lacquered wood, patinated bronze

The exhibit continues on the second floor focusing mainly on the influence the Parisian  1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (hence Art Deco)  had on textiles, clothing, and home décor, not only those sold in luxury boutiques but also ones found in department stores.  You’ll also find examples from the Wiener Werkstatt and Italian Futurism that found their way into American fashion and furnishings of that era.

The exhibit continues through August 20th.  Be sure to see it.  But don’t stop there….


Mystery Clock, produced by Maurice Coüet and Cartier, 1929, carved nephrite, enamel, gold, cabochon emeralds, cabochon rubies, carved citrine, rose-cut diamonds, carved and calibré-cut coral, pearls, carved stone, platinum.

Also on the 2nd floor, you’ll find two ancillary exhibits.  In the room that had been the Carnegie family library (a/k/a the Teak Room)  is the fantastic Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era:  The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection.  Prince Sadruddin was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 12 years, as well as a  co-founder of the Paris Review and an ardent environmentalist. This collection, which is being publicly displayed for the first time,  was created for his Egyptian-born wife Catherine from 1972 until his death in 2003.  It is absolutely fabulous.

Box, produced by Van Cleef and Arpelsand manufactured by Strauss, Allard & Meyer, 1928, lapis lazuli, calibre-cut and other diamonds, frosted rock crystal, jadeite, white gold

In it you’ll find over 100 examples of luxury cases, compacts and other small items, mostly for women,  from notable houses such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Bucheron, made between 1910 and 1938,  featuring  exquisite craftsmanship and complex designs executed with diamonds, lapis lazuli, coral, cabochon rubies,  enamel, gold and platinum.  It will come as no surprise the Prince and Princess collected  Persian miniatures and manuscripts . 

This exhibit is on through August 27th.  And since you’re on the second floor,  

eModel D25 WE Radio, 1952 and E15 WE Radio, 1953, both by Crosley Rdio, molded pastic and metal

Also stop by The World of Radio , where you can see eight decades worth of radios,  and a rare public showing of  “The World of Radio” a 16 foot-wide cotton batik mural by Canadian artist Arthur Gordon Smith that covers one wall. 

Radio was made possible by Giulio Marconi, inventor of the long-distance radio transmission, and in the 1920’s radios became smaller and sleeker.  Powered by household electrical outlets, it quickly became part of Americans’ household furnishings – think of those large wooden radio cabinets – and a shared family experience. Over time, with the development of the transistor, radios in the 1950’s became even smaller, portable, and multi-functional, like the clock radio.  You’ll find not only  models from the early days of this medium, but also an iPod nano with an FM tuner, bringing this show into the 21st century.

You’ll also find sketches for radio designs and photographs of the interiors of homes showing how radios were incorporated into domestic environments.

detail, The World of Radio, Arthur Gordon Smith, 1934, cotton batik

The highlight of this exhibit for me was the 1934 batik mural The World of Radio  whose center  depicts the singer Jessica Dragonette, standing atop a globe with an NBC microphone held up by the allegorical figure of Radio.  She is surrounded by skyscrapers, airplanes, zeppelins, and other icons of the age’s technological breakthroughs. If you look closely at the mural, you’ll see that the lines that radiate from her – seemingly rays of light –  are actually made up of music notes. 

This exhibit is on display until September 24th.  However, I urge you to see all three of these shows before the main one closes on August 20th.

The Cooper Hewitt is on Fifth Avenue at 91st Street.