31 January 2015

Life Across America

"Little Leaguers (including their formidable leader, Dick Williams, center), await missing parts of their uniforms, Manchester, New Hampshire" Yale Joel (1954).

This afternoon I caught the last day of the "Life Across America" exhibit at the Leica Gallery. Comprised of iconic images from the pages of Life Magazine, the exhibit served as a reminder of the importance of the publication whose mix of celebrity and everyday people photos made it one of the great chroniclers of the 20th century. With just one image Life's photographers, who ranked among the best in the field, could convey the American experience to readers around the world.

A perfect example is this image by Yale Joel that originally ran in the June 28, 1954 issue. These Little Leaguers, waiting in a classroom for the missing parts of their uniforms, appear to be bored, restless, or just tired (look at the boy yawning in the back). Yet one boy, Dick Williams, clearly fed up with having to wait, stands in defiance, voicing a complaint on behalf of his fellow teammates. We've all known a Dick Williams. He was the kid you could always count on to speak up when everyone else was too shy or indifferent. He didn't care about getting in trouble; he just wanted to right a wrong whether it was complaining about unfair treatment or simply trying to get a pair of pants. What a brilliant photo.

The exhibit is now over but to find out more about the Leica Gallery and upcoming events visit here.

26 January 2015

Snow Supplies

 "Ice bar. Zürs, Austria" Robert Capa (1949-50)

Like many other people on the East Coast, I’m at home waiting out the blizzard. I really don’t mind; I have films to watch, books to read, and lots of writing to do. Yesterday I ran errands and stocked up on supplies. While the norm for a snowstorm is to go for milk and bread, I made sure that I had plenty of whiskey and champagne to see me through the next few days. So let it snow. In the meantime, I'll be in the kitchen whipping up a hot toddy.

20 January 2015

In the Galleries

"Shenzhen 2" Erwin Olaf (2014)

Saturday I visited a bunch of art galleries in my neighbourhood (Chelsea). While some of what I saw wasn't exactly my cup of tea, there were some shows that I liked a lot.

 Selections from Erwin Olaf: Volume I & II” is a collection of striking oversized portraits by the noted Dutch photographer. The lush colours and vintage feel of the images can give the impression that one is looking at recreations of paintings. As for the subjects—a boy scout with an ice cream cone and his dog, an elderly man and woman in a hairdressers, a young blonde girl with her back facing the camera—they are all alone even when sharing the frame with another. My favourite was a group of black and white photos titled "Shenzhen," accompanied by a video installation in which a beautiful bobbed-haired woman sits at a table in a restaurant, waiting for her date. At first she seems to be patiently waiting but soon she begins to fiddle with the glass in front of her and to glance at her watch. Slowly her face shows the realisation that he’s not coming. It's mesmerizing to watch. “Waiting: Selections from Erwin Olaf” is at Hasted Kraeutler Art Gallery through February 28, 2015 (more info here).

“Art is Long, Life is Short: Marsden Hartley and Charles Kuntz in Aix-en-Provence” combines some of my favourite things—the Lost Generation, Provence, and Cezanne. Hartley was already a well-known poet and artist while Kuntz was just starting out as a painter when their paths crossed in 1925. Kuntz convinced Hartley to join him and his wife in Aix-en-Provence, the hometown of Cezanne. There the two painted the same sites and landscapes that Cezanne had including the great man’s studio. It’s interesting to observe the artists’ paintings side-by-side, often of the same subject, and notice the differences in perspective and colour. I especially loved Hartley’s “Landscape #29, Vence” (1925) and Kuntz’s “Mount St. Victoire in Clouds,” their vibrant colours so indicative of the South of France and Cezanne's influence. Sadly, Kuntz was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1928; it’s believed he never exhibited during his lifetime. Now's the chance to see his work. “Art is Long, Life is Short” is at the Driscoll Babcock Galleries through March 7, 2015 (more info here).

"Las Meninas renacen de noche IV: Peering at the secret scene behind the artist" Yasumasa Morimura (2013)

“Yasumasa Morimura: Las Meninas Renacen de Noche (Las Meninas Reborn in the Night)” is Velázquez' famed painting “Las Meninas” re-imagined by the Japanese photographer. Morimura started by photographing the original painting along with the room where it resides at the Prado in Madrid. He then cast himself as each of the figures including the Infanta Margaret Theresa. In his version(s), the characters are allowed to move around within the painting and even to step out of the frame and into the museum. It's a bit disturbing at times (some of the images could be stills from a Tim Burton film) but still intriguing. As a bonus, there's a room in the gallery that includes a collection of black and white portraits of Morimura impersonating various movie stars including Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Liza Minnelli, and Audrey Hepburn in full Holly Golightly gear. “Yasumasa Morimura: Las Meninas” is at Luhring Augustine through January 24, 2015 (more info here).

I’m a John Waters fan so naturally I had to check out “John Waters: Beverly Hills John.” Needless to say, it was exactly what one would expect from Mr. Waters. Hilarious, at times over the top, and highly entertaining. Some of the objects on display include "Fellini's 8 1/2," an oversized wooden rule measuring just that; "Library Science," in which a series of old paperback covers are matched with reworked Adults Only versions; and "Bill's Stroller," a baby stroller complete with a spiked leather belt and cloth decorated with sex club logos. The best though is a video that features a table reading by a group of kids of Kiddie Flamingos, a children's version of Waters’ infamous Pink Flamingos complete with a miniature Divine. Enough said. “John Waters: Beverly Hills John” is at Marianne Boesky Gallery through February 14, 2015 (more info here).

18 January 2015

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grant!

Cary Grant. Photo: John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images (ca. 1947)

Archibald Alexander Leach was born on January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol, England. After enduring an unhappy childhood, he literally ran away and joined the circus, travelling to America to perform in vaudeville and later on Broadway. When Hollywood came calling in 1931, he changed his name to Cary Grant and the rest is history. He went on to grace the screen in more than 70 films and become one of the biggest movie stars of the 20th century. He was handsome, charming, and funny, and showed off his acting chops in a broad range of films from comedies to dramas to musicals. So Happy Birthday, Cary Grant. You will always be my favourite leading man.

14 January 2015


"Annie Oakley's Heart Target" Annie Leibovitz/Contact Press Images

“Pilgrimage” at the New York Historical Society is an Annie Leibovitz show without a single movie star in sight. That’s because the photographs in the exhibit represent a two-year journey that Leibovitz took documenting places and objects associated with people from the past who have inspired her.

Beginning at Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, she travelled across the US and UK seeking out the homes and haunts of people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Georgia O’Keefe, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, and even the King himself, Elvis Presley. She shot images of their homes, places connected to their stories, their personal possessions. Among the 78 images on display we see the hat and gloves that Abraham Lincoln wore the night of his assassination; Henry David Thoreau’s bed; a gown that belonged to singer Marion Anderson (one of the most impressive of the photos); Virginia Woolf’s ink-stained desk; one of Annie Oakley's target hearts, which she would shoot through the middle and pass out to fans; and Ansel Adams’ darkroom. There are also some locations that she found moving like Gettysburg and Niagara Falls, which she was visiting with her children when she came up with the idea for the project.

If you’re used to Leibovitz’ celebrity shots and are expecting glamour, this may not be the exhibit for you. But if you’re a history nerd like me who would gladly take the time to visit Julia Margaret Cameron’s house to see one of her camera lenses (like Leibovitz did) then you just might enjoy “Pilgrimage.”

“Pilgrimage” is at the New York Historical Society through February 22, 2015. For more information, visit here.

12 January 2015

Egon Schiele: Portraits

"Reclining Woman with Green Stockings" Egon Schiele (1917)

The Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) was something of a boy genius and rebel. At the age of 16 he was accepted into Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. At 17 he counted Gustave Klimt as a mentor and at 18 had his work included in a public exhibition. At 19 he and some friends dropped out of school to found the New Art Group and by 21 had his first solo exhibit. He would die young, leaving behind a body of work that would make him one of the most important European artists of the early 20th century.

“Egon Schiele: Portraits” is a compelling exhibit at the Neue Galerie that includes 125 of his drawings and paintings. Although often shocking, sometimes grotesque, and rarely beautiful, you can’t help but be captivated by them.

"Erich Lederer in Front of a Window, Gyoer, Hungary" Egon Schiele (1912)

The portraits in the front of the show are of a variety of family members and acquaintances. There’s the Klimt-influenced portrait of his sister, Gertie (there were rumours about an incestuous relationship between the two siblings); the portraits of the Lederer family, including multiple ones of the son, Erich, looking like a follower of Oscar Wilde (Schiele caused some trouble when it was discovered that he was introducing Erich to his female models); and a portrait of gynaecologist Dr. Erwin von Graff that is absolutely terrifying with his long arms covered in what looks like a combination of blood and burns.

Some of Schiele’s favourite subjects were children who he would invite into his studio to pose for him. In 1912 he was arrested and accused of kidnapping and raping a minor. In the end he was only charged with offences against morality (for having pornographic material on display for minors to see) and spent 24 days in prison. Afterwards, Schiele primarily stuck to painting adults. The exhibit includes a small room dedicated to this event with sketches Schiele completed while in prison.

"Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Standing (Edith Schiele in Striped Dress)" Egon Schiele (1915)

In the final gallery two of Schiele’s obsessions, women and himself, come together. Here the visitor is greeted with numerous images of women in various states of undress and sexual arousal (sometimes with Schiele joining in). Knickers and stockings of all colours play an important role. Sometimes the women look at the viewer; other times their faces are hidden among their clothes or covered by their hair. A few are of his longtime partner, Wally, while others are nameless. A nearby full-length painting of his wife, Edith, stands in stark contrast, fully dressed and while colourful a bit dull in comparison.

"Self-portrait with arm twisted above head" Egon Schiele (1910)

And then there are the self-portraits: Schiele pouting and preening, his body twisted, emaciated, sometimes dressed, sometimes not, looking like an Austrian Sid Vicious. A few have religious connotations including one that comes right out and announces that it’s Schiele as St. Sebastian pierced through with arrows. Seen collectively, it's hard not to think of Schiele as a narcissist (or maybe he was just young).

One of his later paintings from 1918 gives a clue that the artist was looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life. “The Family (Squatting Couple)” depicts a father and a mother, naked, with a baby at their feet. Schiele posed for the figure of the father while a model stood in for a pregnant Edith. Yet this imagined scene of Schiele’s future was not to be. Edith died while she was six-months pregnant, a victim of the Spanish Flu epidemic. Schiele followed her just three days later. He was 28.

"Self-Portrait with Peacock Waistcoat, Standing" Egon Schiele (1911)

One can only speculate what direction his art would have taken had he lived and how he would have fared a few decades later as a middle-aged man living under Nazi rule. Schiele's early death means he will forever be the young artist who left behind a trove of work that continues to shock and fascinate a hundred years later.

"Egon Schiele: Portraits" is at the Neue Galerie through January 11, 2015. For more information, visit here

05 January 2015

Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery

"Lady Agnew of Lochnaw" John Singer Sargent (1892) 

There’s currently a small exhibit at the Frick Collection that’s a welcome respite from the larger shows around town. “Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery” features ten works from that museum's strong collection that look right at home on the walls of the Frick. 

The paintings, which range from the 15th to the 19th century, include Botticelli’s serene “The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child” (ca. 1485) with that wonderful Renaissance blue and a Virgin Mary who looks an awful lot like Uma Thurman; “An Allegory (Fábula)” by El Greco (ca. 1585–95), which depicts a boy “blowing fire,” rendering an interesting glow to the painting (there’s also a monkey by his side); “The Ladies Waldegrave” by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1780-81), featuring the grandnieces of Horace Walpole, shows a varying range of beauty and leave one wondering how the sisters fared in life (they all received marriage proposals after the painting was finished so on the surface they did well); and a requisite kilt to represent Scotland in Sir Henry Raeburn’s larger than life portrait of “Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell, 15th Chief of Glengarry” (1812).

Yet it is the youngest painting in the bunch that is the star of the show. John Singer Sargent’s portrait of “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw”(1892) holds court at the end of the gallery. The former Gertrude Vernon (yes, Gertrude) was married to barrister Sir Andrew Noel Agnew who commissioned the portrait from Sargent. Lady Agnew was obviously very beautiful but it is her very modern, straightforward gaze at the viewer and seemingly languid pose with her arm draped over the side of the chair that lends a sensual air to the portrait. Add the white and lilac colours of her gown with the flower-patterned chair and Chinese wall hanging and you have one gorgeous portrait. 

When the painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1893 it received raves from the critics, bolstering the reputations of both the sitter and painter—Lady Agnew went on to become a popular hostess and Sargent would be known as the go-to portrait painter for the wealthy.

Ironically in 1922 a widowed Lady Agnew inquired about selling the painting to the Frick but Helen Clay Frick, daughter of the museum’s founder, declined. Some 92 years later, it’s finally arrived if just for a temporary stay.

Lady Agnew and the other paintings will be at the Frick through February 1, 2015. For more information, visit here. And if you go be sure to check out the gift shop, which has items from the National Gallery's shop including a fun mug dubbed "Men in Socks."

02 January 2015

Darkened Cities

"Paris 48° 51’ 03’’ N 2012-07-19 lst 19:46" Thierry Cohen

One of the downsides of living in a major city is the lack of stars—not the movie kind but the ones in the sky. The amount of light and pollution produced by cities virtually blots out any chance of seeing the stars above us. Look up in New York for example and the blinking lights you see are probably from a passing plane.

"New York 40° 44’ 39’’ N 2010-10-13 lst 0:04" Thierry Cohen

In his series “Darkened Cities,” French photographer Thierry Cohen imagines what the evening sky in these cities would look like if we could see the stars. He manages this feat by first shooting the cities during the day when no lights are on and then shooting the skies over less-populated areas that share the same latitude. For example, the stars shining over Paris in his photo are from Montana. The results are stunning and beautiful.

"Rio de Janeiro 22° 56’ 42’’ S 2011-06-04 lst 12:34" Thierry Cohen

To see more images from the series, visit here.

01 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Dorothy Sebastian (1929)

A new year, a new chance to start anew. Every year I make a long list of new year's resolutions, most of which go out the window within a week. This year I plan on parring down the list and trying to stick to a few important resolutions. At the top is focus on my writing and photography, which might mean taking a class to learn something new or giving up other things in order to have more time and energy to devote to them (no more binge watching old TV shows on Netflix). And who knows, after all these years I might just figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Like Dorothy Sebastian, I'm ready for an adventure so come on 2015. Let's go.


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