Archive | February, 2013

Boston Art Museum Preview

26 Feb

It may already be February, but it’s not too late to resolve to make art a bigger priority in 2013. Below are four suggestions to start you off on the right cultural footing:

MFA Boston

testino - demi-moore-nude

Mario Testino photograph of Demi Moore

As you embark on your journey to explore Boston’s eclectic cultural offerings, The MFA Boston will serve as your home base. We are fortunate to have the fifth most visited museum in the US right across the river. If you’ve never explored the expansive museum, it’s worth reserving a full day just to explore the permanent collection. As you’d expect from one of the largest museums in the US, the permanent collection of 450,000 objects covers everything from the ancient to contemporary, textiles to musical instruments, and a comprehensive look at artistic achievements from every corner of the globe.

If your heart is set on seeing many of the MFA’s most iconic masterpieces, however, you may leave disappointed. As is common practice, the museum has lent several works to other museums to flesh out special exhibitions. That’s not all that is missing, however. Joining other exalted museums including the Phillips Collection in DC and most recently the Baltimore Museum of Art, the MFA Boston is engaging in what is shamefully becoming too common place: renting paintings to private companies and institutions for large sums of cash.  Select works are already back on the walls, but between the loans to other museums and the revenue-raising leases to private companies, don’t expect to see all of your favorites.

Fortunately, the MFA Boston has several worthwhile special exhibitions to keep you busy. From 1900 until the widespread adoption of radio and the telephone, Americans and Europeans went crazy for postcards. For The Postcard Age, curators selected 400 of the 100,000 postcards in the Leonard A. Lauder collection to illustrate why so many people became obsessed with collecting these tiny canvases.

While many famous artists at the time produced postcards, the exhibit’s charm comes from seeing how many uses were found for postcards. From the commercial (advertising Dutch railway schedules and trying to sell home electronics to women) to the political (one work depicts a little girl sitting on her father’s lap asking, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?,” others compel patriots to buy war bonds), the exhibit attempts to shine a spotlight on the forgotten postcard craze.

Also worth your time is “Art in the Street,” a look at the original street art. At the same time Europe experienced the postcard craze, it went through “poster mania” with colorful posters advertising consumer products at the turn of the century. Be sure to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

If you missed the electrifying fashion photography exhibit “Mario Testino: In Your Face,” which I’m assuming most of you did since attendance was disappointingly low until the very last weekend, his portrait series of the British Royal family is still on view. It may not be quite the same experience as seeing larger-than-life prints of nude celebrities like Demi Moore and Naomi Campbell (full disclosure: this was the first time I’ve ever been aroused at a museum), but it will serve as a useful introduction to one of today’s most important photographers.

Even if you have an allergy to paintings and sculptures, the MFA can offer you a month-long retrospective of the films of legendary director Stanley Kubrick including “Dr Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Finally, I’m tempted to remind you not to miss the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the lobby, but considering the icicle tower is 40 feet tall, weighs 10,000 pounds, and is lime green, you won’t have a choice but to pass by it. The MFA Boston is free for Harvard students.

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

David Hammons, "How Ya Like Me Now?," 1988. Photo courtesy of John Kennard/ICA

David Hammons, “How Ya Like Me Now?,” 1988. Photo courtesy of John Kennard/ICA

While the MFA requires several full days to do every gallery justice, the ICA asks for just an hour or two of your time. This Seaport District contemporary art museum has produced exciting shows such as the first solo museum exhibitions of street artists Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos, but only a small fraction of the building is dedicated to displaying art.

In addition to offering one of the best views of Boston’s Seaport, visitors will be treated to the first major US museum retrospective exploring the art of the 1980s. This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics doesn’t shy away from hot button political issues such as the HIV/AIDs crisis, globalism, and the dominance of mass media. Among the 90 artists on display are Robert Maplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Keith Harring, and Jeff Koons.

You’ll get the most out of your ICA visit if you attend First Fridays on Mar. 1, two days before the 80’s exhibit closes. For $15, you’ll be treated to a screening of Oscar-nominated short films, invited to roam the galleries, and be rewarded with pizza and popcorn in the café. Advanced reservations are recommended.

100 Northern Avenue, Boston

SoWa Artist Guild

If you prefer to peruse contemporary art while juggling a glass of wine in one hand and a cheese plate in the other, then make your way to the South End on the first Friday of each month. Over 60 artists in the SoWa Artist Guild open their doors monthly from 5-9 pm to bring the art-loving community together. During February’s event, not only was I impressed by the breadth of local talent, but delighted by the extensive opportunities for people watching. Impromptu tango classes anyone? Best of all, the affordable and essential Boston restaurant Myers + Chang is a mere two blocks away if you didn’t fill up on free cheese.

450 Harrison Ave, Boston

Ed Ruscha Standard

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station” (1966)

Rose Art Museum

Asking students to leave Cambridge’s comforting bosom to make the quick jaunt into Boston is a tough enough sell, but students willing to make the 45 minute journey by train to Brandeis University will be rewarded with a stellar retrospective of Ed Ruscha. This comprehensive survey spanning the 60 year career celebrates one the most prominent living artists with 70+ paintings, photographs, prints, and films drawn from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). You are guaranteed to leave with a better understanding of how this artist closely associated with Pop Art and Los Angeles continues to influence architecture, graphic design, and modern art. Admission is free for the general public.

415 South Street, Waltham

Avi Roth: Coffee as Art

26 Feb

Dinner and theatre, whiskey and female rock bands, art and extreme sports. When two of my favorite things are combined, I sit-up and take notice. That’s why I just had to see what artist Avi Roth was doing with coffee.

For Roth, coffee doesn’t just fuel his creativity – it’s his medium. About the process from Pardon my French, who presented Roth’s work to benefit the Armory Center for the Arts in my native LA:

“Artist Avi Roth uses coffee as his medium to create truly iconic images. Coffeegraph® – the process of applying coffee grinds and coffee by-products as organic pigment without a binder to solid and porous surfaces by way of staining, layering and water burning. Subsequently the artwork is converted into digital data, from which limited edition impressions are reproduced by various printing methods. Coffegraphs are storytellers, communicating images of imagination that engender contemplation between the seen and unseen, between thought and feeling.”

Avi Roth’s own site waxes poetic about our special relationship with coffee:

“For centuries, the most intimate kind of conversations has taken place over a cup of coffee. In many urban centers around the world, from the coffee houses of London and the terraces of Rome to the bohemian haunt of the Latin Quarter in Paris, intellectuals, lovers and dreamers came to share their feelings and secrets. We will never know their discourse, but the spirit of reticence lingers deep in the coffee cups that brought them together. When those precious moments were over, the spell was broken and memories were wandering in the obscure and distant valleys.

“Through an encounter of events and with the passion, creativity and aesthetic sense of an artist, Avi Roth has connected with those wandering memories and created with them his own dimension of personal space and creative expression. It has become his canvas. A canvas of tales conveyed by forces of nature.

“Hidden at the bottom of every coffee cup is an image of what was. The swirls and patterns of coffee reveal the secrets veiled by time through a silent language of their own. It took the creative genius of Avi Roth to discern these hidden messages and become the pioneering liaison of a new universal vocabulary. Roth, a graduate of the London Film School and an international photographer of unique and extravagant objects, was drawn to these quaint formations, and after years of rumination he began to understand how to channel them into a space of light and shadow. Hence, preserved is the language of Coffeegraph®.”

Can’t wait to gaze at Avi Roth’s work in person and contemplate where my life would be without coffee and art. In the meantime, I’ll be at Voltage Coffee & Art in Kendall Square.

Star Power Illuminates “The Glass Menagerie”

16 Feb

The Full Cast of the Glass Menagerie (Image courtesy of A.R.T.)

The Full Cast of the Glass Menagerie (Image courtesy of A.R.T.)

A version of this review previously appeared in The Citizen newspaper

This may come as a bit of a shock, but in the 32-year history of the American Repertory Theater, the celebrated pillar of the local theatre community has never staged a Tennessee Williams play. Armed with some serious star power thanks to Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield and Zachary Quinto as her son Tom, Tony Award-winning director John Tiffany is delivering the production of William’s most autobiographical play Cambridge has been waiting for.

Neither Jones (Awake, Ocean’s Twelve, 24) nor Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek, 24) are strangers to traversing between the stage and small screen. The challenge and inimitable beauty of live theatre, especially one featuring a small and talented cast, is recognizing that the audience’s own experiences and openness to emotionally engage allows for a play set in 1937 to feel fresh and urgent.

Sometimes an audience member’s ability to draw upon personal perceptions and experiences can work in an actor’s favor. From Amanda’s elegant dresses that have seen better days, to the way her tired hair struggles to maintain its curls while she effortlessly strings together a series of biting criticisms, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own grandmother.

Born in 1920’s Winona, Mississippi, my Grams will never let you forget that she’s a true Southern Belle, representing the last of a dying breed even though life hasn’t always been so kind to her. Just as Amanda exhumes a faded, ostentatious dress from her charmed youth when expecting company, my grandmother still primps for hours and talks wistfully of her modeling days before heading to her job as a WalMart greeter.

Watching Jones gracefully float across the cramped apartment, I can see why Tiffany was so insistent on recruiting her. There are few actresses still in the game who grew up among these larger than life Tennessee matriarchs, and it’s quite the coup that Jones agreed to come to Cambridge.

Conversely, the audience’s previous experiences can give an actor an unfair disadvantage. Quinto delivered a solid performance, but as he lurked in the shadows generously provided by gifted lighting designer Natasha Katz, I wanted to shout “Watch out Laura! Sylar is about to cut open your head!” Fortunately, I think a majority of the audience remembers him from the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, and unless Quinto throws on some pointy ears, there’s no confusing the tumultuous Tom with the stoic Spock.

As Tom warned in the opening monologue, the play shifts tone when he brings home a coworker (Brian J. Smith) to meet his sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger). “Being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from,” the Gentlemen Caller’s unbridled charisma brightens up the drab apartment. As he attempts to psychoanalyze the emotionally crippled Laura, the chemistry between the two is undeniable.

The strong cast worked well together, but the true star of the play was the set designed by Bob Crowley. The one constant throughout the play is an imposing and winding fire escape that serves as a constant reminder that restless Tom is forever trapped in this suffocating apartment because of his love for his sister. This beautiful sculpture dominates the sparse set, and wouldn’t look out of place next to the Chihuly currently in the MFA Boston’s lobby.

Besides the rare but distracting line flubs, first by Jones and the next night by Smith, there’s little to criticize. Instead, I’m compelled to consider the missed opportunities. Tom emphasizes the surrealist nature of the play at the very outset, “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.” The illusion of Laura seamlessly slipping through the couch to enter and exit the stage reminds us that each character eschews the real world in favor of the safety of their preferred illusions – going to the movies for Tom, glass animal figurines for Laura, and Amanda constant retelling of the time when she received 17 gentlemen callers in a single day. I’m glad the focus was on the strong performers and the script by Williams, but perhaps too much restraint was shown and a few more whimsical touches would have further developed the memory play theme.

Another unexploited opportunity was utilizing the placid reflecting moat meant to emphasize how the characters and apartment exist only in memory. Considering how much effort must have been spent on creating a reflecting pool with black goo, a few more risks by the director could have made this a definitive production of this iconic Williams’ play.

Fortunately, the Loeb Drama Center isn’t afraid to take a few risks by allowing audience members to enjoy a cocktail from their seats. As an agitated and inebriated Tom stumbles about, you will be grateful you got that Berkshire Mountain Corn Whiskey on the rocks so you can get in the spirit and toast to a praiseworthy production.

The Glass Menagerie at the Loeb Drama Center runs through March 17. Tickets available at ART.