Saturday, April 30, 2011
(click to enlarge; all photos by C. G. Wagner unless otherwise noted)
... so I finally got myself downtown to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I signed up for membership about a year ago or so, and even donated them some extra money recently. Figured it was about time I saw what they were all about. And I even remembered to bring my membership card! I couldn't find my Philips Collection card, so that decided things.
NMWA is an easy subway ride: exit at Metro Center via 13th Street, and it's just a couple of blocks up to New York Avenue. You'll know you're in the right neighborhood when you see this:
which is the New York Avenue Sculpture Project featuring the whimsical figures by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Since I hadn't done any homework before going, I planned to just take the exhibitions, permanent and otherwise, as they came (or as I came to them). And the first thing was a neat display of the jewelry of Paloma Picasso, with a video featurette wherein she describes her experience choosing stones to work with at Tiffany's. I loved how she talks about the warmth of the gold and the joy of the colors that all come from the earth, explaining that the craftsmanship of working with the stones and metal is what connects us to them and gives them warmth.
As objects meant to be worn, these pieces of jewelry are functional. Viewing these reminded me of the objects over at the Freer Gallery that I visited a few weeks ago (and haven't gotten around to writing about or posting photos - sorry), in that you can trace the history of civilizations through how we feel about the objects in our lives and how they make us feel. What is jewelry for, exactly? Its beauty brings joy, and we borrow its beauty to enhance our own joy.
What I really liked about this museum was its graceful spaciousness (and also the fact that it wasn't jam-packed with tourists. They are still in line at the restrooms at the Air and Space Museum, as far as I know). I also appreciated the great diversity of the collections.
Here are just a few of the highlights of the main collection. I'll get to the photography exhibit in a minute.
Vivienne (1998, mixed media) and detail, by Shonagh Adelman (Canadian, born 1961)
(Left) White Column (1959, painted wood) by Louise Nevelson (American, 1899-1988)
(Right) Untitled #781 (1994; wax, plastic, cloth, and steel) by Petah Coyne (American, born 1953)
I liked that the galleries were curated/organized around subject matter and not just by medium or style: still lifes, streetscapes, abstracts, landscapes, etc. Stepping into portraiture, I wondered if I would see anything by Alice Neel, whose work I got to see with my mom at an exhibit in Minneapolis a few years ago. What distinctive style! And sure enough, I recognized the artist immediately:
T.B. Harlem (1940, oil on canvas) by Alice Neel (American, 1900-1984)
Any prejudgment about women's art being homey, sweet, and sentimental should be gone. Like Neel's unflinching portait of the impact of poverty, Frida Kahlo (clearly the celebrity of the Museum) paints with political inspiration.
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937, oil on masonite), and detail, by Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907-1954).
Interestingly, the abstracts had a softer touch from the female hand than I'm used to ...
(Left) Bacchus #3 (1978, acrylic and charcoal on canvas) by Elaine de Kooning (American, 1920-1989)
(Right) Orion (1973, oil on canvas) and Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses (1969, acrylic on canvas) by Alma Woodsey Thomas (American, 1891-1978)
... so even the Lee Krasner piece that clearly aligns with the Jackson Pollack style is somehow less disturbing.
The Springs (1964, oil on canvas) by Lee Krasner (American, 1908-1984)
Okay, I'll stop posting my poor photos of great art. The highlight of my excursion was the photography exhibit on the second floor, Eye Wonder: Photography from the Bank of America Collection.
It was great to see a range of visual artists besides the ones you'd expect, like Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange. My big complaint here is that there was no exhibition catalog! The handout available at the entrance to the exhibit doesn't include all of the pieces on display, and is only slightly more useful than the About the Exhibit page linked above. This is such a shame for people like me who just don't have memory for details, like the unfamiliar German and Dutch names in the captions.
And no, I did not take pictures of the pictures; in the other galleries, I photographed the caption information along with the art so I could have a record of what I saw and enjoyed - after the Renwick debacle last year, where the book about the museum was decades out of date, I vowed not to lose the basic information about my experiences. It's the same reason I keep the programs from all the plays I attend.
The best I can do to share the experience is to use the press photos from the museum. So here are just a few of the many wonderful images I got to see today:
Snow Halter, Salina County, Kansas (December 22, 1990, Chromogenic print) by Terry Evans. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Automat, 977 Eighth Avenue (1936, Gelatin Silver Print) by Berenice Abbott. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Magnolia Blossom (1925, Gelatin silver print) by Imogen Cunningham. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Backlit Radishes, Iwate-ken, Japan (1986, Gelatin silver print) by Linda Butler. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Revenge of the Goldfish (1981, Cibachrome print) by Sandy Skoglund. Credit: Bank of America Collection
If I had an exhibit catalog (or if I'd been able to take a picture of the caption information), I could tell you how she got that picture. Sigh.
eta, sorry for the messed-up spacing; Photobucket went wack-o on the last two pix and I had to switch to the blogger uploader - which I've never been able to position correctly. Not my day for technology...
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
When RCA (unwillingly, I suppose) signed up Clay Aiken, he had just wowed the world and won American Idol (almost) in May 2003. I give the marketers credit for knowing they had to release a single from him almost immediately in order to leverage the buzz.
So, rather than forcing Clay to hold off recording until after the winner, Ruben Studdard, had recorded something, AI and/or RCA took both performers' "wow" songs and released them to the music-buying public (ignoring the fact that their real audience was TV viewers, not music lovers - prelude to the F*ck ups to come).
In Clay's case, the AI-mandated "winner's anthem" was "This Is the Night" (an original), but the wow song was "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (a standard that he made his own).
The wow song should have been the single released to radio, but it wasn't. F*ck up number one.
To make matters worse, the recorded version of BOTW tried to improve on Clay's perfect live performance by making it more grandiose. The engineers seem to have added more layers of the background choir on top of Clay's brilliant glorious power note, which had left everyone gasping for breath. On the recording, that note was buried. F*ck up number two.
By the time RCA had to work a full-length album out of Clay, they probably had an idea that they were not dealing with the next Justin Timberlake, but that didn't stop them from trying to make him into one. The marketing department got him lots of Tiger Beat and 16-Magazine type photoshoots, bleaching out his nerdy, small-town smart-ass charm and playfulness into something kind of artificial and creepy. F*ck up number three.
Short-term success of that approach got Clay millions of album sales for Measure of a Man, but the product was packaged in layers of over-engineered boy-band pop and largely disposable tunes that, a few years later, Clay himself would forget even recording. F*ck up number four.
All this time, RCA let Clay's true audience be marginalized and even ridiculed. The enthusiasm and fervor came from a demographic that RCA frankly didn't want: older women who are not perceived as cool. RCA wanted Justin Timberlake fans to buy Clay Aiken music, but it let Clay's natural audience bear the ridicule of being branded as "crazy blue-haired Claymates." F*ck up number five.
Actually, another natural audience for Clay was also discounted: Children. In 2003-04, the perception of being gay (Clay did not come out publicly until 2008, though he was "out" to the industry) was still unjustly associated with being a child molester. It didn't help when late-night comedians like Conan were telling exactly those kinds of insensitive jokes and inviting their own audiences to revile a good man. RCA should have stepped up to the plate and protected its product. F*ck up number six.
I remember standing in the electronics department of Walmart one evening when a promotion for Clay's 2006 album, A Thousand Different Ways, came on the flat screens of a dozen shiny TVs: I watched two tiny hyperactive tots come to a serene stop, mezmerized by Clay's soothing voice. If RCA had chosen to leverage Clay's appeal to the toddler demographic, he could have had his own children's show like his hero Mister Rogers or even an uplifting animated series like Fat Albert. F*ck up number seven.
I'm only counting the ones I remember off the top of my head; there are many many more, including the way Clay's Christmas TV special in 2004 was produced, which again engineered all of the personality and charm out of Clay Aiken's performances.
RCA wasn't the only f*ck up here. Decca tried to mold Clay to the PBS crowd, which it too thought it had a handle on with models like Michael Buble to apply. But in editing the TV special, which was even filmed in Clay's own hometown, they stripped the snark, the teasing, the twinkle out of their product. And they couldn't overcome the "Clay Aiken's a joke and so are his fans" tarnish that had built up from RCA's mismanagement--even in their own marketing staff, who tweeted that they couldn't believe they had to promote this guy.
I did say this was a parable and that I learned something about marketing from what I observed.
Marcus Aurelius told us to understand the thing in itself. What is "its" nature? Marketers have to understand both their product and its audience. You may be gaga over Lady Gaga, but if you've got Clay Aiken to sell, don't expect to attract the little monsters. (I'm generalizing, of course; there are a great many Gaga fans among Claymates. So why not the reverse?)
I bring this up now because my organization is trying to revamp its marketing strategy. I was told yesterday that our older members don't count. They're the "chicken and greenbeans" people. They are not cool, and they are not the "future" of our organization.
I totally disagree. From one perspective, yes, young people are the future. But younger people, while they are young, typically have no loyalty, no time, no perspective, no attention span, and no money. Our membership base skews older because they have matured and grown into our market. They have loyalty, time, an attention span, and perspective; before they retire, they have money, too.
The problem with going after what's cool is that it changes, and often very quickly. You chase it, catch it for a moment, and it evaporates. I prefer warmth, sincerity, integrity. Our organization can offer that. We can be the steady light in a stormy sea. We may be viewed as nerds by the general public, just as Clay and his Claymates are, but we've got something real and valuable and well worth offering.
Another metaphor, and then I'll let it go. Marketers see a hot trend in gold prices, so they go panning for gold. I will just tell you not to throw out the emeralds, diamonds, and other gems in your pan just because you don't know how to market them.
The last caveat: The opinions I express are my own.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I had enough cash (I think) in my pocket for a cab ride last night if it were raining, but fortunately it was clear, so decided to walk to the subway and use the cash to pick up dinner (who knew a "meet-up" at a bar scheduled for 6 to 9 pm would not include buffalo wings?).
Alas, by the time I checked my pocket on the subway platform, the cash was gone. Karma down.
But one of my colleagues this morning told me that our other co-worker had found my money after I left!! Karma rises!
But the finder of my lost money wasn't sure it was mine (even though she found it on the couch I'd been sitting on most of the evening). So she left it with the bartender. Karma swoons.
I suppose I could go back to the bar and try to claim the cash - a $20 and some ones and maybe a $5, or was that a $10. Sigh. Never mind.
Oh well. I'd gotten a free orange juice, and the young crowd there probably didn't know to leave tips. Thanks, barkeep.
back to hiding in my room, where karma can't find me.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Entrance to the Eisenhower Theater, bust of Dwight Eisenhower. Photos by C. G. Wagner. Click to enlarge
I start out telling you Peter Brook is legendary without telling you why, but it's a name I recall studying 30-odd years ago at college in a class called Modern European Drama. That will have to do, I guess. I just knew I wanted to see this, and the good reviews supported my pre-existing enthusiasm.
This is what theater is supposed to be, actors on a stage conveying a writer's dreams (or nightmares) to a room of strangers, with the assistance of a visionary director.
Wait, maybe that's what life is supposed to be. I get them confused, staying in the audience all the time.
Since it had been that long since I studied drama (my "reviews" are actually recaps of experiences and do not pretend to expand anyone's understanding of theater making), I thought I would have liked a text to follow along, or help me afterwards to know "what it meant." But it really wasn't necessary.
In the first piece, "Rough for Theater, I," Yoshi Oïda plays a blind musician, and Bruce Myers, an amputee, two homeless men who are "fragments" that make an attempt to connect, to become whole. The result is ultimately mistrust and violent failure.
The centerpiece, "Act Without Words, II," reunited the hobos in a comic mime, wherein Oïda emerges from his sack in the morning to curse the day while Myers emerges raring to go, checking his watch every few seconds as though trying to make every moment count.
In only the fourth of the five pieces would I like to have had a text to refer to - the second monologue, "Neither," by the lone female of the troupe, Hayley Carmichael. It simply came and left before it could really engage me.
The final piece, "Come and Go," brought all three performers back as old women, gossips on a bench, pairing off to tell each other a filthy secret as soon as each in turn has turned her back. The funniest moment for me was when they affectionately held hands as they did when they were girls, the two on the ends clutching each other's hands across the one in the middle, as in the pas des quatres from Swan Lake. To think these hens once were swans! (No, Carmichael, Myers, and Oïda did not dance.)
The most melancholy and thought-provoking piece was Carmichael's first monologue, "Rockaby," the second piece of the program. The looping monologue showed how absurdists of the era deconstructed text to create new meaning, which is something that can only be done in the theater (well, I'll give you film, too).
A woman sits in the chair and repeats a soliloquy on loneliness and despair: "I said to myself (whom else?)" at first means "Of course I said it to myself, do you see me talking to anybody else?" but toward the third or four iteration, it has become, "Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?"
Her character seems to see her own reflection in the windows she faces on other buildings, other people with the blinds now up, now down, and wondering "whom else?"
A happy coincidence for me during that piece was that I was sitting in the section where the pair of sign-language interpreters were seated to give the show to the hearing impaired. Happy, because the young woman signing Carmichael's lonely monologue perfectly reflected her reflections. They were like narrative dancers in two mediums, telling the same story. It was an unexpected dimension that added to my experience.
That's why I go to the theater.
I do wonder whether all of us fragments really do add up to a complete whole, or should we try to be complete within ourselves, as the blind musician in the opening piece said: "I am as I always was." Too much of society turns out to be violators and the gossips that make life miserable.
Didn't mean to depress anyone, but it's what the play made me think about. The theatrical experience somehow brings me more rewards, and for me, that's okay.
ETA, I'm a little confused on the titles of the last two pieces; they are listed in the program as "Come and Go" fourth and "Neither" last, but in both the Washington Post and the Washingtonian reviews these titles are reversed. So I need text after all. Accurate text. I made my recap above consistent with the two professional (HAHA) reviewers, but I'm not sure of that. "Come and Go" seems more like what that short poem was about, but as I mentioned, I kind of missed it.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Saw the new production at Ford's Theatre last night, Liberty Smith, a lively musical romp through the Revolutionary War.
< Geoff Packard as Liberty Smith and Kelly Karbacz as Emily Andrews in the Ford’s Theatre world premiere musical Liberty Smith, directed by Matt August. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
When I asked my family members attending the show with me what it was "about," they hesitated a little, saying "It was about the Revolutionary War...."
My answer is, it was about learning how to communicate your message. The Forrest Gump/Zelig character of Liberty Smith, on a mission to free the American colonies from British oppression (in exchange for Martha's devotion... haha), finds himself apprenticed to the brilliant boiler-down-of-ideas-into-pithy-slogans, Ben Franklin.
As Forrest Gump learned, bumper sticker, T-shirt, and Twitter-worthy reductions of revolutionary concepts is how you make them marketable.
So Liberty Gump goes to Boston to unite all the guys behind the idea of rejecting "Taxation Without Representation"; then to help Jefferson compose the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be sooooo obvious...." or let's try "Self-Evident"); and even to France to explain to the Spamalot-worthy French monarchy why they should lift a manicured finger to help the Americans against the British ("the enemy of our enemy is our friend").
So that's my take on what it was about. Communication is the key to everything, from marketing your invention to selling your revolution.
As for the show, it had just about everything a great musical production needs: a charming hero who just needs an occasional slap in the head to see the virtues of the adorable self-evidently his soulmate-heroine (as opposed to the vainpot sub-heroine)... goofy villains (the pompously pompadoured Benedict Arnold)... It even had a silly kickline.
I enjoyed the songs while they were singing them (though I personally think these actors' voices weren't that great - better voices are getting kicked off of American Idol just now), but there wasn't that one "hummer" to leave the theater with.
Of course, I thought the same thing about Wicked, so what do I know. "Defying Gravity" is now one of my favorite songs from recent Broadway-as-performed-on-Glee.
Anyway, good luck if you want to see the show. With the U.S. government likely to close down, the show will not go on. Since Congress will still pay itself its salary, I suggest they pay for a special performance of Liberty Smith - they could learn what this country is about.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
As someone who’s spent her entire career and the majority of her life at THE FUTURIST, I smile when I think of myself as the “new” editor. So let me first thank Edward Cornish, our Founding Editor, for his mentorship and for having confidence in me.
Longtime readers will see few significant changes in the approach that this magazine takes in dealing with important issues. We aim for diversity of subject matter and neutrality in coverage. We rely on contributors who volunteer their expertise and work closely with our staff editors to present ideas to our readers in a way that is engaging and thought-provoking.
Our goal will be to ensure that each issue of the magazine covers the following four general areas:
Toward that end, we have enhanced the Future Active section (see page 66), edited by Aaron M. Cohen, to cover news for the futurist community. More such stories about news and events are also featured on our Web site. Additionally, Rick Docksai covers the latest future-oriented literature in his Books in Brief column (page 56).
We are also dedicated to delivering more content to members electronically via our free monthly e-mail newsletter, Futurist Update and via our Web site. World Future Society members may now read the text of all articles online and download a PDF reproduction of the magazine.
I hope THE FUTURIST will continue to be a welcome guest in your home, office, school, or wherever else you may be when you are inspired to journey to the future with us.
Cynthia G. Wagner is Editor of THE FUTURIST.