Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No More Seattle Post Intelligencer

I am too sad to say anything much. Our great paper has been done in by the Hearst corporation who wanted to put it online, by lots of people who read it online already, by commuters who drive (nobody has mentioned how using mass transit means you read the newspaper everyday, as I do), by young people who love their electronic gadgets, but older people who love their electronic gadgets. By Craig's list ( that's a big one), and by so many other forces. So many great writers are now online alone including my friend the art critic, Regina Hackett.

It is a sad sad day. I tried to look at the online version and aside from David Horsey's editorial, I could find nothing but fluff . I know it saves trees, but computers use electricity that is consuming resources also. I WILL NOT do all my reading of news digitally. Thank goodness for the New York Review of Books. 

As a journalist, I am crying.  

Coffee Strong GI Coffee House and Counseling

Coffee Strong is a GI Coffee House near Fort Lewis Military Base between Tacoma and Olympia. It is a place for a good cup of coffee and great conversation about war, resistance, how to know your rights whether you are in the military or not! They gave me a card that documented 51 people who had the courage to resist  " Support the Troops who refuse to fight"
Robin Long is the most recently publicized case of a war resistor who was sent back to the United States by Canada and is currently being held in a brig in San Diego. It is important to support these brave people. It is so easy for us to go to a demonstration and hold a sign and yell and march, but these people really put their personal lives on the line to say no to war. 
They also gave me a card about the GI Rights Hotline.  Another invaluable piece of information for everyone is  "what are my rights"  that said if a police stops you you can ask if you are free to go . If the answer is yes, just consider walking away. If they say you are not under arrest, but are not free to go, then you are being detained. The police can pat down the outside of your clothing, if they have reason to suspect you might be armed and dangerous. If they search any more than this say clearly "I do not consent to be searched. " You do not have to answer any questions. 
This is good information for anyone who is an activist. You might be asking about the art part of this post. Well, they had that covered too. Great 40 remixed propaganda posters like the one posted at the top of this blog. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Kentridge Return of Ulyssses Opera

I have already previewed this amazing work. The full production was absolutely fabulous.
How lucky Seattle is that Stephen Stubbs decided to found Pacific Operaworks in Seattle and to bring us this phenomenal performance.
The Monteverdi opera is, of course, the story of Ulysses return to Ithaca after all of his adventures where he was waylaid by various beautiful women and natural disasters, wayward gods, and adventures ( Homer's Odyssey). The Opera was presented by extraordinary singers. The baroque era is clean and melodic compared to later opera. The singers were mostly paired with a large wooden puppet for each character, ( except Ulysses who had two), Penelope was the star, seen here with the brilliant singer Laura Pudwell and her "handler" , then there was Telemachus, Ulysses son, Zeus and Eumaeus ( a shepherd), and there was also Athena, Neptune, Time, and more
The baroque music was performed on stage with amazing period instruments including the chitarrone played by Stephen Stubbs. For an informed review on the music see the Post Intelligencer writer R.M. Campbell The stage design itself was Kentridge's idea, it was a seventeenth century theater.
Behind them was Kentridge's animation. It was brilliantly correlated with the action on stage. There were flowers growing when love was sung about, body parts and medical imaging - including colonscopy, open heart surgery, sonograms) for the dying Ulysses in the center of the stage ( a Kentridge addition to put him in Johannesburg, South Africa), images of flowing water for the wandering Ulysses evoked by Penelope and other life forces. When Penelope was sewing we had Kentridge lines at strong diagonals moving around, when she sang of love plants turned into bodies, hearts turned into plants; lovers were blotted out when Penelope sang about the brevity of love, when the courtiers tried to woo her a scale appeared with gold on one side and a heart on the other. I loved the scenes when Ulysses was travelling and the animation traversed cities, landscapes, Greek temples, as he swayed in front of them, utterly convincing, like those old movies when people were in cars, and the landscape moved behind them.
It all worked incredibly well. He did finally get home, inspite of Penelope's doubts. In Kentridge's staging, the two re united over the dying Ulysses in a hospital in Johannesberg. So it fit with his performance. No matter what, we want to hold onto our dreams and ideals, and carry them on our backs forever. It was of course obvious that Penelope would ask after the joyous reunion
"where have you been big O?" but the play ended first.
The action of the puppets was unbelievably subtle, utterly convincing as movement of actors.
The singers were stunning.
Don't Miss It!!
For another opinion you can read this article on artdish. I completely disagree with what is written there, but I should at least honor that it has been written. And perhaps you might agree with it.

William Kentridge takes Seattle by storm

This week we were on the cultural map with a performance by William Kentridge on Monday and an opera by Kentridge on Wednesday.
At the Henry Art Gallery, the performance, "I am not me, the horse is not mine"had its North American Debut. Naturally, I wasn't allowed to take pictures. This is a picture of a related idea, as you will see. I did take a few notes
The stage set echoed his studio, with a simple scaffolding, a working wall, with pentimenti of work removed, and the artist running through sets of notes. Back projected on the studio wall appeared the artist himself, once, twice, three times, at various times. The real Kentridge sometimes seemed to chase off these other Kentridges, sometimes dictate to them while they took notes, sometimes bore them to tears, and sometimes collaborate with them, as when he threw his real notes away and his photographic double caught them.
He started out with Gogol's The Nose from 1837 which was made into an opera by Shostakovich in 1928 at a critical transitional moment in the early Soviet Union, when creative thinkers were still allowed to work, just before the Stalinist era began. (Kentridge is actually going to present this opera next year)
He told some of the story ( one can't help but notice that the artist has a prominent nose, and therefore perhaps is attracted to stories about disappearing and reappearing noses)
He went backwards to an earlier version a story in a story from the seventeenth century, then Don Quixote.
Meanwhile the wall also projected some of his "stone age animation" images, and such images as video footage of himself (already mentioned above) and him awake at four am with a busy mind. The title refers to cut out collage pieces that seemed to form a horse for us, and as it fell apart, we still saw horse forms.
Here are a few quotes, that I found provocative:
"how much of the outside world do we need inside us to make sense. And we cannot stop making a meaning from shape, even as it disappears we hang onto it. 
We hang onto a skeleton of utopia.
Constructing meaning in the world is half of who we are.
We are heads banging against our own limitations. "
Meanwhile, animated images of things falling down including "that ridiculous blank space"
The animation also included the familiar marches of burdened people, but here they seemed to be carrying slogans from revolutions, rather than their worldly possessions as in his works that focus on South Africa.

The idea for me is that this performance speaks to a time when things in the world are changing ( as they are now, the performance was presented at the Sydney Biennial in 2008) when we carry dreams and ideals around until they have no meaning, much as we carry things around. Since Kentridge was shaped by apartheid South Africa, the post Apartheid era has been just that. Where do we carry our ideals and principles now. How do we go forward with our old ideas of equality and liberation.
It speaks also to our current state in the United States: as Obamamania gives way to reality, that he is of course part of the same system as George Bush, and a pawn in a larger system than he can possibly really change, what do we do with our hopes and dreams? Do we keep on lugging them around. Of course we do, even as they come crashing down. We go on demonstrating and protesting. 
A long section at the end of the play was reading from the trial of Bukharin, one of the most pivotal of the early revolutionaries, as he was forced to explain himself, and yet taken off to prison. The crashing of his ideals is in every line. 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trespassing in Bellingham Washington

One top image is by John Feoderov Totem Teddies, the bottom is by Tanis S'eilten, Blood for Shares.

This exhibition is only up until March 22. It is in the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham Washington. But what a great show. It includes all contemporary Native American art by John Feoderov, Tanis S'eilten ( two friends of mine whose work I really admire) as well as Roxanne Chinook, Ka'ili, Larry McNeil, Ramon Murillo . The works are quirky, funny and intensely political. Tanis addresses issues that relate to Alaskan natives, like the pollution from cruise ships, land grabbing then and now, and the corporate culture that was forced on native tribes in the first oil agreement for exploring the North Slope. Fedeorov is relentlessly mixing contemporary culture and religion, kitsch shamanism in works like the Office Shaman and Temple. The other artists all address environmental and cultural issues. It is so refreshing to go to show where all the artists have something to say and aren't afraid to say it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Garden and Cosmos Seattle Asian Art Museum

The work just above is Mahraj Bakhat Singh at the Jharokha Window of the Bakhat Mahal, 1735, 37 x 29 inches. You see the Maharaj seated in a window looking down to women who are dancing.
The work at the top is Jallandharnath and Princess Padmini Fly over King Padam's Palace, 1830.29 x 37" This is taken from Hindu stories.
These are huge paintings.

This is an astonishing exhibition We are so fortunate in Seattle to have extraordinary exhibitions come to our city. We have the ONLY WEST COAST SHOWING of this amazing group of GIANT Indian miniature paintings, that were discovered in a chest in the home of the current Maharajah of Jodhpur. Literally, in a closet, according to Debra Diamond the curator. And they re wrote the history of Indian miniature painting. The exhibition just goes on and on with fascinating revelations. I went to this exhibition an astonishing eight times, revelling in its intricate detailed renderings of trees, birds, flowers, fish, and of course, Hindu mythology and Kingly pursuits. The first room has the Maharajah apparently relaxing entirely amid the ministrations of dozens of beautiful women. Of course I thought, oh dear, how decadent.

But appearances are deceptive. According to expert historians, the kingdom at this time (1735)was going through massive transitions from security to insecurity, from the security of affiliation with the Muslim Mughal Empire, to the insecurity of being ordinary leaders of kingdoms with ( in the case of Marwar-Jodphur one of the Rajput Kingdoms in the North) few resources. The purpose of these miniatures is to "Maintain a Kingly Aura in Hard Times" . This is the phrase of Purnima Dhavan, an assistant professor of history at the University of Washington. She gave a brilliant lecture explaining this with big arrows sweeping across the state from various directions. Therefore we can see that these paintings, like those in "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", are also government propaganda.

The next two sections of the show are using religion to promote kingly power, Hinduism, and Nath yoga "aesthetic" yogis ( apparently they were very well off). But it is actually all about power plays, how leaders use the people around them, or other people to stay in power. How do artists respond to this desire by painting the invisible, that is what we learn in the last sections of the show. We of the West look at the colors, shapes, lines and say how beautiful. But there is much more to it. According to Michael Shapiro these miniatures are about sharing emotional states called Rasas. anger, fury, fear, tranquility, eroticism, pity, compassion. Perhaps that is more obvious to us now that we have all seen Slumdog Millionaire.

I am addicted to this fascinating exhibition about a period of art that I know nothing about. At the end of March, the current Maharajah Gaj Singh II came to Seattle from Jodphur. He was a delightful and modest man. He has founded an international organization that addresses head injuries because his son suffered from a serious injury in a polo fall. He is also encouraging women's education. His position is now what he calls "tribal" . Under the British Raj in the late 19th and early 20th century, the traditional status of Maharaja's was diminished. Then after democracy, they were further moved out of the political system. But Maharajah Gaj Singh II is still a regal figure with a deep concern for the people in his region. He pointed at the painting of the installation of the Maharajah centuries ago and said he remembered the same event in his own life when he was four years old.
This piece is called Cosmic Oceans, 1823.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Ok, here is a chestnut. What is wrong with me you might be asking. And there is that cliche in the title of the blog. Well believe it or not, the Yale Art Gallery is loaning some of their stellar works to the Seattle Art Museum and that is the title of the show. These are the original paintings of American art history and its partner, the myth making foundations of the Republic. This painting for example is pure myth as we were told. These people were never in the same room together. John Trumbull traveled all over to get portraits and then assembled them in the painting. Of of course, all white men with property and Jefferson biggest in the center, although he owned slaves, as did George Washington.
The whole show is a stunning group of works in every sense of the word. It includes the movement west, manifest destiny ( we even have the Golden Spike photograph of the connecting of the East and West railroad in Utah, of course the Yale people don't know about our own Seattle based Zhi Lin, and his brilliant work commenting on the marginalization of the Chinese workers in the photograph.) And great political cartoons
The Yale American Art Collection contains almost primal benchmarks of the history of American art perhaps even the history of America on some level. It includes all the major artists, Homer, Bierstadt, Eakins, even Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the outstanding African American artists.

But it is all propaganda, by privileged artists on the East Coast, painting for a privileged audiences.

And of course artists of color are represented only lightly, one African American walking stick, one chair made by a slave, a chest maybe by Mexicans, the painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner (who had to live abroad because of racism). There are also pencil drawings of the Amistad mutineers that are worth seeing in themselves. Amistad is the name of a ship on which the slaves rose up and killed the white crew. They were tried in New Haven in 1839 during the abolition movement and then sent back to Africa. The decorative arts are more "multicultural" in a way, intriguing sources in various places in the world.
And then there is the miniature with the interwoven hair of George Washington and Martha Washington. That was kind of astonishing, and you would miss it on the back of the painted miniatures unless you know what to look for.

It is intriguing to line this show up with Cosmos and Garden at the Asian Art Museum. That is also a mythmaking show, of maharajas in India. I will get to that next entry, but not tonight.

William Kentridge in Seattle

Take a look at this image. It is pretty extraordinary. This is the work of William Kentridge in collaboration with Hand Spring Puppets and Monteverdi. We went to a press preview with an excerpt on Friday. In the center is Ulysses as a hand carved wooden puppet lying in a hospital bed dying in Johannesburg, reliving his life. He appears a second time on the right. He is remembering his return to Penelope after all those years. Penelope is on the left and in the middle are three of her courtiers. Opera singers sing the parts of the Monteverdi Opera Death of Ulysses, but the puppets are the center of attention. The opera singers are subsumed behind the puppets, the puppets move as they "sing" The micromovements of the puppets is the really subtle aspect of the performance according to the puppeteers.

The background has a video by Kentridge. All of these elements are pretty hard to take in at once. Then there is the Baroque instruments, period harps and other instruments. Pacific OperaWorks is bringing this complex performance to Seattle. It is really something not to miss.

At the same time, the Henry Art Gallery is having a show of Kentridge's work (as is the Greg Kucera Gallery, which I haven't yet seen). It is an intriguing little collection of works that I really enjoyed. Several of his "stone age videos", animated are always fascianting. You have to take time with them as in the bureaucrat eaten alive by his profession, and and line taking over the artist. The idea that the medium somehow has a life of its own has always been one of my favorite Kentridge ideas. His videos often seem to consume themselves, swallow themselves alive, in a type of Jonah and the whale feeling. Life is sucked out of the screen.

In addition, there are drawings, paintings, prints, sculpture. The little bronze collectibles set me back. They seemed so commercial. But the sugar lift aquatints really give you a sense of his graphic talent. In the show as a whole, you also have a sense of his classical roots as an artist, Durer in particular. Also his sense of humor.

Kentridge is a theater person. The opera is his idea, but of course he is using Monteverdi. The staging it with puppets and adding an animated backdrop is his idea. This is a work from 1993. It is not new, but Pacific Operaworks is new.

So where are the politics in all of this ? I asked the puppeteers and they said it wasn't political. But I disagree. There is a lot to think about here. Fragmentation of relationships, death, life, seduction, deception, all wrapped in a multimedia complexity that requires a lot of thought. The trick is not to be seduced by any one element, but to see the big picture of where Kentridge is coming from. Life and death caught up in forces beyond their control leading to tragedy.