Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Anything Goes': Cole Porter's World

Another Washington, D.C., November note:

For a farm boy, Cole Porter has to be considered one of the most 'urbanized' of men.
As the New York Times noted at the time of his death, age 72, in 1964, he and his wife were unstinting in their embrace of a grand lifestyle that took advantage of what every major city could offer, Paris, Venice, etc:

Their home on the Left Bank in Paris had platinum wallpaper and chairs upholstered in zebra skin,  and Mr. Porter once hired the entire Monte Carlo Ballet to entertain his  guests. For a party in Venice, where he rented the Palazzo Rezzonico for $4,000 a month, he hired 50 gondoliers to act as footmen and had a troupe of high-rope walkers perform in a blaze of lights.
 Unusual taste for  a man born on an Indiana farm. His talent showed early and later garnered him  enormous success and admiration across the board for a sophisticate who knew how to entertain the masses with such jazzy tunes as those in 'Kiss Me Kate' now playing at Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Hall. The production is loud and brassy -  starting with the opening sequence (the familiar "Another Op'Nin, Another Show") on a Baltimore backstage. (More city references follow: Padua, Mantua, Verona, etc., introduced in the show-within-a-show.)  What the revival lacks in subtlety, it makes up in a joyful display of acting and dancing talent. This is a show for a new generation hooked on instant feedback and sound bites, aiming for the solar plexus rather than the brain. Musical numbers come and go with crackerjack timing and breathtaking gymnastics. the

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cartoonists Without Their Pens

It wasn't surprising that a public symposium at the National Archives called "Drawn from the Headlines: Communication & Political Cartoons" would draw (!) an overflow crowd. Four top 'drawer' names in the field spoke off the cuff with moderator David Sipress, the longtime New Yorker magazine artist: Keith Knight, Jen Sorensen, Tom Toles and Signe Wilkinson. This took place only days after ISIS' carnage in Paris, less than a year since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so it was a bit of a surprise that only later in the evening a question was asked about what limits the panelists impose on themselves, given first amendment rights to 'speak truth to power.'
But whose truth and what kind of power?
"As a functioning cartoonist I'm extremely conflicted. it's a real quagmire. In the history of political cartooning there have been shameful chapters - viciously anti-Semitic and extremely racist  work- that have had serious consequences," said Toles (a Pulitzer Prize winner  with the Washington Post ). It's not that he would refuse to consider mockery but in what context, he seemed to say. To what end?
The balance, always the balance, was the answer to another question about the best way to get a point across: not to be too obscure'; not to be 'too clever.'
"You want [the point or message] to be like the viewer thought it up himself," said Sipress, whose introductory remarks included guidelines the New Yorker follows. (You can't advocate for a cause, or support any one party. Caricatures are forbidden, so he sticks to archetypes. I.e a politician who rants like a king can be portrayed in royal robes. Witness a recent drawing of his showing two kings in the midst of opposing armies saying, one to the other"On the other hand, we could join forces and attack the media." Which of the presidential candidates haven't hinted or proclaimed this outright?
Signe Wilkinson, best known for her work with the Philadelphia Daily News, one of two women panelists ('today there is woman who is a full-time paid cartoonist"), batted off any suggestion about a 'woman's point of view' as did Jen Sorensen, who called herself a 'generalist,'  open to the world. "The first goal is to make a point," in any piece. "The second is to be funny." Comedy chops are required above all or who would bother. " Knight, creator of (th)ink and other columns, keeps in mind "the guy in the bar." He told of the rise of 'niche' cartoonists, even one who deals solely in sex toys - a symbol of the  ever-divisible media world where the cartoonist has maybe have a thousand followers, receiving maybe $75 from each. An audience but not much of a living...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Urban Lady's Allure

November 2015
The French-American artist Louise Bourgeois was certainly an urban lady. She had all the family dysfunction  you could imagine but instead of taking out her hurts on others, she turned to art and the art world followed -  slowly. But it finally found and embraced her sculptures and later prints and drawings, although the latter  may not be as familiar to contemporary fans as her provocative and commanding sculptures. She is the spider woman, known best for the graceful but intimidating immense form she composed in many guises. (See it in the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, among other places.)
NGA currently offers a fine new exhibit of some of these lesser-known works in the West Wing, nearly all real and promised acquisitions for their Bourgeois collection. Curiously, one of the most arresting pieces on show is a small white sculpture (kept well protected so not to tempt prying fingers) illustrating the thrust of several fingers through a round base angled on its side.There is a suggestion of lusciousness in the shape, as NGA curator Judith Brodie  pointed out in a press preview, saying, coincidentally, how "Chocolate (for itself and as a subject) is very popular with artists." There's much to see in these two small rooms about variety of LB's creative impulses and their relation to the times. She grew up in the 'age of anxiety' so-called, a time when a existentialism was in flower thanks partly to Jean Paul Sartre. "No Exit," however , wasn't entirely a negative in her mind. It had also to do with free will  - the ability to choose one's life. Bourgeois did that to the end of her life, making freedom and positivity her hallmark, staying active and engaged until her death at 98 in 2010. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Boom Boom Town

Praises be, the District of Columbia and a few - very few - of its suburban 'hoods, are being hailed as hot. With hot goes hype and high prices. And the hordes coming through.
While earnest informed voices offer free insights into relationships between art and literature at the National Gallery of Art these days (thanks in part to integration of Corcoran collection of American painting), a few blocks away the redoubtable Harrington Hotel and Harriet's restaurant soldiers on to accommodate the 'foreign hordes.' (Yes, increasing numbers of tourists coming all seasons to DC).   Notably, according to our chef source, a stutterers' convention came to dine,  as often do  FBI  employees having celebrations since the restaurant can guarantee no direct shot into its dining room from any outside protagonist. And recently, the entire body of a Caribbean island high school, plus  sons and daughters of some of Mexico's richest families who matriculate and travel with bodyguards in tow. Improbably enough, they were seated next to a group of solidly right white offspring from the  South, and never the twain did meet - or even talk together.
Such variety is the stuff of life. The Mexican kids - no surprise - opted for spice and more spice; the offspring of alleged KKK boasted of a rib eating contest - up to 12 and then 24, as though this were an initiation into manhood. Eat and compete; grow bigger, die sooner.