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  • 02/12/14--07:49: London
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    Sale of the Week: Earliest Superman Cover Art at Heritage Auctions

    The earliest existing Superman cover art is up for sale from February 20 through 22 at Heritage Auctions’ “Vintage Comics and Comic Art Signature Auction” in New York. The black and white cover of “Action Comics #15” by Fred Guardineer, depicting the Man of Steel underwater and rushing to save a U.S. submarine, is ranked #67 on Overstreet’s Top 100 Golden Age Comics list and is expected to realize $200,000. In August 1939, the date of the issue, that comic went for a mere 10 cents.

    “Guardineer’s cover is the earliest Superman cover art in existence,” said Heritage senior vice president Ed Jaster in a statement. “It is a blockbuster piece of early American comic art history and a fitting companion to the landmark finds in this auction.” 

    But Superman isn’t the only comic hero whose first appearance will be celebrated at next week’s auction. Among the roughly 1,200 lots on offer is “Amazing Fantasy #15,” which includes the first appearance of Spider-Man. The punchy colorful cover of this 1962 Marvel comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, featuring Spider-Man sailing across a city skyline in his signature blue and red outfit, is in “Very Fine/Near Mint” condition, or a 9.0 grade by Certified Guaranty Company. A high-grade copy of “Tales of Suspense #39,” with the first appearance of Iron Man, is also up for grabs.

    At the other end of the comic hero spectrum are the “flunked out hipsters” and “stoned out gurus” of Robert Crumb’s original 1968 drawings for the three-page story “Ducks Yas Yas,” which appeared in “Zap Comix #0,” and are also up for auction. “Finding any published R. Crumb comic book original art from this period is remarkable,” reads the description, “but getting the chance to bid on a complete story like this is practically unheard of.”

    Action Comics #15

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  • 02/12/14--08:40: London
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  • 02/12/14--11:54: San Francisco
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    Mind Games: Alain Resnais's "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" at Film Forum

    The criminally under-appreciated French director Alain Resnais is still cranking out complicated and elusive movies, puzzles of memory and emotion, at the age of 91. For that alone we should applaud. What will you be doing at that age? I’ll probably be watching Alain Resnais films that I’ve downloaded onto the hard drive installed in my brain.

    Film Forum will screen a restored 35mm print of Resnais’s 1968 journey of the mind, “Je t’aime, je t’aime,” February 14-20. The film is in desperate need of reexamination, or really any kind of examination at all. Resnais is an international treasure (his newest film, “Life of Riley,” recently premiered at the Berlin Film Festival) with a staggering body of work. It’s one of the most brilliant in the history of cinema and it’s nearly impossible to easily see. Large chunks of his filmography have been obscure even to his most devoted fans (the Criterion Collection and others in the U.S. have slowly started to make his work more accessible), which makes every chance to see something from Resnais a major event.

    Never released on DVD in this country, “Je t’aime je t’aime” stars Claude Rich as man selected to undergo a time travel experiment after a failed suicide attempt. But in the process something goes wrong, and the patient’s memories become fragmented, unspooling in bits and pieces, out of order, sometimes looping back again and again. In the process, we see a relationship come together and fall apart, and the tragic nature of what we’re watching isn’t clear until the final moments.

    Or maybe it’s clear all along. Resnais is a master of making tightly constructed films that are deceptively nebulous — the montage is very important here — and “Je t’aime” is one of his most surreal. Moment to moment, we’re unclear of what we’re seeing even when it seems so simple, so plain. As the narrative continues to spin around like a zoetrope, a visit to the beach or a quiet conversation in bed acquires new meanings as the film progresses. It’s as much a love story, or a science-fiction story, as it is a story about storytelling itself, and continues on themes Resnais had developed in “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad” (influenced by the work of nouveau roman writers such as Alain Robbe-Grillet) — life as it is lived and perceived is not a chain of events; rather, it’s like shattered glass. We’re left to put the pieces back together.

    Claude Rich in Alain Resnais's "Je T'aime, Je T'aime," 1968.

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    Iconic East Village painter Martin Wong left behind a legacy not just through his work, but also with an eclectic collection of unique art and objects amassed during his lifetime. Through close friendships with significant members of New York’s graffiti scene during the 1970s and ’80s — including LEE (Lee Quiñones), DAZE (Chris Ellis), and SHARP (Aaron Goodstone) — Wong put together an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and rare “black book” sketchbooks from the period, all of which he donated to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994, five years before he died of AIDS. A selection of those items are now the subject of the exhibition “City as Canvas: Graffiti Art From the Martin Wong Collection,” curated by Sean Corcoran and open through August 24.

    The show explores New York City’s street art scene through some 150 works from the 300-piece collection — the largest of its kind held by a public entity — along with historic photographs of murals and spray painted subway cars, and an assortment ephemeral objects. What sets “City as Canvas” apart from other recent street art blockbusters like MOCA L.A.’s “Art in the Streets” are the smaller, personal works that form the backbone of Wong’s collection, providing an in-depth look at the progression of New York City’s influential street style.

    “City as Canvas” comes at a significant crossroads for New York’s current street art scene. In November, the long-time graffiti refuge 5Pointz— a legal oasis for writers — was controversially whitewashed following a landmarking initiative driven by artists to prevent destruction of the building. With few legal places for large-scale works to be made, the future of the city’s street art scene is once again in the hands of its artists. “City as Canvas” provides an appropriate reminder of the far-reaching and continued significance of the scene.   

    ARTINFO’s Alanna Martinez spoke with curator Sean Corcoran about the exhibition’s planning, Martin Wong’s legacy, and the future of New York street art. Vanessa Yurkevich also visited the show and caught up with featured artists LADY PINK and FUTURA 2000

    Read our interview with Sean Corcoran below; watch our video on “City as Canvas” by clicking the player at the top of this page.

    How did this exhibition come together? What inspired it?

    The collection was donated in 1994, and it had been used in a few other small projects over the years. When I started at the museum in 2007, part of my responsibilities included the prints and drawings section, and the black books were part of that collection. When I came across the black books I was pretty inspired by what I saw. That led me to do a lot more research on what was in the Martin Wong Collection. Basically, for the past five years or so, I’ve been doing research on the collection, learning who the artists are, and doing all the background necessary to be able to put something together in a way that is true to what Martin was collecting and what the overall history of the movement is — because it is its own art genre.     

    It sounds like the black books really kicked things off for you.

    That was really the hook for me. Looking through them, and seeing the raw creativity — that was really where ideas were formed and shared among the graffiti writers.                  

    What else about the collection makes it so unique?

    The blacks books are — in a public collection — very unique. Typically, those are the kinds of things that writers keep; they don’t sell them, and they don’t really appear in public collections often because they are very personal things. That component of the collection is very rare. But what I think really makes the collection so special was the person who put it together, a painter named Martin Wong, and his relationship to the writers. He put the collection together in a very personal way; he had very personal connections to most of the material in the collection.

    A particular example is Lee Quiñones’s “Howard the Duck” painting. Martin was a very close friend with Lee, and that painting is a reproduction of a painting that Lee did on a handball court on the Lower East Side. It was near where Martin lived. He was so enthralled with it and thought that the city should preserve it forever, but Lee knew that was never going to happen so he agreed to make this painting specifically for Martin.

    What other kinds of works are included in the show?

    It’s worth noting that most of the works in the collection were consciously created as art — not everything, but almost everything was. They were made to be shown in people’s homes, or sold through galleries. The black books are an exception, and there are a few things that are found objects. But generally, it is mostly canvasses or specially created objects to be considered artwork. For instance, there are elaborate wooden sculptures made by the artist Delta II that look like totems and there’s a very abstract wooden sculpture made by SHARP. Some pieces are made on metal scraps, but the vast majority is pretty traditional work on canvas.   

    Who was Martin Wong and how did he come to acquire many of the pieces in the collection?

    Martin was a born in San Francisco, and went to Humboldt State University where he studied ceramics. He wasn’t trained as a painter but he wanted to be one, so he moved to New York, because that’s where, at the time, you would move to have a career. He arrived in New York in 1978 and showed his first paintings not too long after at ABC No Rio. He lived on the Lower East Side and quickly become part of the community, and the city itself became his subject. He painted the tenements and the people he saw in the neighborhood, and to make his living he worked at places like Pearl Paint.

    Through showing his work at the local East Village galleries, being on the scene, and working at Pearl Paint, he met a lot of graffiti artists because they were also showing in galleries and coming into the art store to buy supplies. He developed relationships with many of them, and eventually he began trading work. Sometimes he would trade his own paintings to an artist for their work. Occasionally he would buy, sometimes through galleries or sometimes directly from the artist. But with a handful of them, he became very close friends. They would come over and talk about painting for hours on end with him, or they would watch him paint, and it became a mutual friendship where they could talk about painting or talk about their motivations with each other. To a certain extent he became mentors to them, or maybe they’d share advice about what it was like to be part of the gallery.

    Though Martin is known foremost as an artist, it’s interesting that he’s developed an “unanticipated” legacy as a collector. The Danh Vo show at the Guggenheim in 2012 featured his collection of Americana, and now this show focuses on his collection of street art.

    That’s one thing I haven’t mentioned so far: Wong was a born collector. He had that “collecting gene.” What you had in the Danh Vo show was mostly tchotchke Americana kinds of things, but Martin also had a huge lunch box collection and an early rock poster collection. It was just part of who he was, a natural born collector.

    Obviously a lot has changed over the years for graffiti, from style and materials to trends in tagging and imagery. Can you tell me what stands out to you looking at the work in Martin’s collection, compared to what is going on in the scene today?

    Martin was very open-minded and he was really interested in what was made in the ’70s and the ’80s. He was interested in the progression of the work and he thought of it in a certain art historical context: how the form developed and changed. He collected some very early work by a graffiti writer named Wicked Gary — a writer from the early ’70s — who gathered up all the signatures from the earliest writers in New York in this tag collection of hand-style signatures, compiled from 1970 to 1973. Martin was interested in the beginnings of the modern graffiti writing movement, but he was also interested in the figurative paintings that DAZE was making that you see in a work like “Amazon Hotel.” Between “Wicked Gary’s Tag Collection” and “Amazon Hotel” you’ll see the differences in style and time period, and the wide range of interest Wong had.

    As for how that compares to what you see today, I think in today’s scene we think of a lot of what’s happening as “street art,” and the difference is there are a lot of people who have gone to graduate school and have their MFAs, or they’re trained artists that are making work on the street with a very clear goal of being working artists. The earlier generations had different motivations, and many of them were certainly not classically trained artists. So there are possibly different origins and purposes at play at this point.

    The show comes at an important moment for New York street art, with the recent loss of Long Island City’s 5Pointz. Do you have a prediction for what the future of graffiti and street art in the city might be like?

    It’s coincidence. We were working on the show long before it happened, but New York City is constantly changing. In 1989, when the MTA declared the subways “graffiti free,” public art continued on. With the closing of 5Pointz it might be a similar kind of crisis to some artists, but I believe it’ll continue on in some form that hasn’t necessarily appeared yet. There are places that already exist like the Bushwick Collective, where more people are painting regularly, so there are some outlets that are still here, and I’m sure something else will come along as well.

    Inside Look: The MCNY's Classic Graffiti Exhibit "City as Canvas" [VIDEO]
    Lee Quiñones’ Howard the Duck Handball Court mural

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    Airport Nixes Bieber Art, Obama Nominates NEA Head, and More

    Airport Refuses Bieber Art: The Indianapolis International Airport has nixed a commissioned art installation that took jailbait pop star Justin Bieber as its subject. The airport expected New York-based artist Tre Reising to create something on the topic of art and hip-hop, but were none too pleased when he installed a painting that depicted the word “belieber” in rainbow-colored letters. Reising will be taking his piece home with him, but the airport promised that it would still pay him his $500 commission. [NY Post]

    Obama Nominates NEA Head: President Obama has nominated Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, as the next chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. The nomination is a long time coming as Broadway producer Rocco Landesman left the position more than a year ago. “Jane’s lifelong passion for the arts and her background in philanthropy have made her a powerful advocate for artists and arts education in Kansas City,” Obama said in a statement. “She knows firsthand how art can open minds, transform lives and revitalize communities, and believes deeply in the importance of the arts to our national culture.” [Variety]

    — Peggy Guggenheim Léger Determined to be Fake: The Institute of Nuclear Physics has determined that a work in the Peggy GuggenheimCollection previously attributed to Fernand Léger is a fake. Art historian Douglas Cooper first suspected the authenticity of the painting, believed to be from the artist’s “Contraste de formes” series of 1913-14, in the 1970s, and consequently the work has never been exhibited or catalogued. Peggy Guggenheim Collection director Philip Rylands, relieved to put the 40-year mystery to rest, said, “Thanks to the application of innovative scientific techniques, the cloud of uncertainty has at last been lifted and Douglas Cooper’s connoisseurship vindicated.” [TAN]

    — Artprice Says China is Top Buyer for 2013: With global art sales — of paintings, sculptures, and photographs — at a record high of $12.05 billion in 2013, China retains its position as top buyer, claiming $4.078 billion in sales, according to art market data firm Artprice. [Artdaily]

    — German Officials to Discuss Independent Center for Restitution of Nazi-Era Looted Art: Prompted by the widespread criticism related to the handling of recent discoveries of Nazi-era looted art, including the trove found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, German officials will begin discussing an independent center for managing restitution claims for stolen art. The proposal, by minister of culture Monika Grütters, has been favorably received by culture ministers from several German states. [NYT]

    Google and Saatchi Gallery Team Up to Create Prize for gif Artists: Calling it the Motion Photography Prize, Google and Saatchi Gallery have teamed up to award artists who create gifs — the brief, repetitive animations that are a beloved form of Internet art. High-profile judges, including director Baz Luhrmann and artist Cindy Sherman, will choose winners in six categories. [TAN]

    —A giant sinkhole opened under Kentucky’s National Corvette Museum yesterday and swallowed eight cars. [NYT]

    — The Frank Gehry-designed Ground Zero performing arts center has hired David Lan, of London’s Young Vic Theatre, as its temporary artistic director. [NYT]

    — Actor Jerry O’Connell has set up his own art installation (sponsored by humor site Funny or Die) right next door to Shia LaBeouf’s “performance art” residency in L.A. [LAT]

    ALSO ON ARTINFO

    Contemporary Keeps Climbing at Sotheby’s

    Inside Look: The MCNY’s Classic Graffiti Exhibit “City As Canvas” [VIDEO]

    Sale of the Week: Earliest Superman Cover Art at Heritage Auctions

    George Clooney Tells Britain, “I’m Not Ignorant of Pantheon Marbles”

    Murakami Makes Over Fashion Luminaries in New Harper’s Bazaar Portraits

    First-Ever Smithsonian Craft Show Awards Go to Wendell Castle and Albert Paley

    Check our blog IN THE AIR for breaking news throughout the day.

    Justin Bieber

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    James Levine Back in Full Force for Metropolitan Opera's New Season

    The Metropolitan Opera announced its 2014-15 season, which is set to feature 26 operas — 18 revivals and six new productions. The season opens on September 22 with Richard Eyre’s new production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” conducted by James Levine (who is “back to full strength” after a spinal injury from which he has been recovering for more than two years, according to a Met Opera press release), and will close with a production of Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” also conducted by Levine.

    Premieres include a “dreamlike production” of John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer,” directed by Tom Morris (“War Horse”); Rossini’s “La Donna del Lago,” conducted by Michele Mariotti and directed by Paul Curran; and Tchaikovsky’s one-act opera “Iolanta,” presented on a double-bill with a new production of Bartók’s one-act “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.” Additionally, James Conlon will conduct Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of “La Boheme” returns, along with many others.

    “My return to the company has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life, and I’m delighted to resume a full working schedule of six operas next season for the first time in several years,” Levine said in a press release. Those include the above-mentioned Mozart and Stravinsky, along with Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” Verdi’s “Ernani” and “Un Ballo in Maschera,” and Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

    The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, added: “Jim’s return to a full slate of operas is the ideal icing on our cake.”

    A scene from Verdi’s "Un Ballo in Maschera."

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    Performing Arts Pick: The Selected Writings of Kim Gordon

    The always busy Kim Gordon has been especially prolific since the breakup (or hiatus, depending on who you’re talking to) of Sonic Youth. Over the last year, she’s released a new record under the name Body/Head, a collaboration with musician Bill Nace; had a solo exhibition at the White Columns Gallery in New York; and even appeared on an episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls.” It’s as if the dissolution of the group forced Gordon to peruse a multitude of projects she had been keeping on the shelf.

    This week’s Performing Arts Pick is a collection of Gordon’s writing on art and music, published by Sternberg Press. “Is It My Body?: Selected Texts” reaches back to the earliest days of Gordon’s life as an artist, when she was still a student. Many of those pieces are about avant-garde music that was happening in New York in the early 1980s. Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca, inspirations for Sonic Youth, get mentions, and the book includes remarkable essays on the nature of rock clubs and the fusion of experimental music and popular culture.

    As the book progresses, the writings become consumed by visual art. An essay that begins by talking about the punk rock band Black Flag becomes focused on Raymond Pettibon, brother of Flag guitarist Greg Ginn who did all the early artwork for the group. These discursive essays, which mix forms and conflate ideas, resemble the writings of artist Dan Graham, an early mentor (his book “Rock/Music Writings” is indispensable).

    The best pieces in the book (along with a Sonic Youth tour diary from 1987 titled “Boys are Smelly”) are a conversation with the artist Mike Kelley (Gordon recently performed as part of his major career retrospective at MoMA P.S.1, and Kelley’s art graced the cover of Sonic Youth’s album “Dirty”), where Gordon talks about the intersection of rock music and art; and a comprehensive interview with Jutta Koether from 2003. These pieces, collected in one volume, form the missing link in the career of an important artist.

    Kim Gordon

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    Canvases spotted on the Fall 2014 catwalks were some of the most diverse and delightful in recent seasons.  References ranged from literal — like Novis’ soft, muted iteration of Paul Klee’s “Ancient Sound” on wool bomber jackets or Yeohlee's De Stijl collection — to abstract, such as Lela Rose’s sartorial interpretations of El Bulli’s molecular gastronomy, using feathers, lace and silk to ethereal effect.

    Even Instagram showed its mettle as a style influencer: Lisa Perry, inspired by the humorous and creative gaffer tape art by illustrator Donald Drawbertson (whose Instagram handle is @donalddrawbertson) turned some of his bold, graphic motifs into runway-ready looks, playing with both proportion and pops of color.

    Reed Krakoff, presenting his first collection since the corporate divorce from Coach Inc., showed immaculately tailored, feminine silhouettes, mixing sheer materials with metallics, and punctuated with dots, recalling Alexander Liberman's oeuvre.

    Barbara Tfank, who presented her collection in the Leila Heller Gallery, translated Francesco Guardi's classical paintings of Venice into elegant, ornate, gold-dusted sheath dresses and coats. (Watch Tfank talk to Blouin Artinfo about her collection.)

    Recent exhibitions, as usual, proved fertile ground for ideas as well. Pamella Roland, inspired by T.J. Wilcox's panoramic film installation “In the Air" (2013) at the Whitney Museum, appropriated graphic outlines of the city scape on sheer body con blouses and sequined bias-cut slip dresses. Meanwhile, the Proenza Schouler duo (of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez) cited ceramicist Ron Nagle’s recent installation at the Venice Biennale as a possible starting point.

    And what’s a runway show without Andy Warhol’s flowers, somewhere, somehow? This season, Thakoon’s Patagonia-inspired collection was awash with Technicolor blooms layered over ruched chiffon in inventive pieces — like a “turtleneck shoulder topper”.

    To see these looks and more, click on the slideshow.

    Canvases on the Catwalk: New York Fashion Week Fall 2014
    Canvases on the Catwalk

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    Feuds, Egos, Turmoil, and Glory: Britain's National Theatre at 50

    In Daniel Rosenthal’s brilliant tome, “The National Theatre Story,” about Great Britain’s illustrious institution on the Thames, the actor Henry Goodman is quoted as saying, “There’s something about being at the National which encourages [you] to find the balance between the vanities of theatre and the virtues of it — because without the vanities nothing would happen.”

    Fights, feuds, and egos, as well as triumphs, are all detailed in Rosenthal’s exhaustive overview of the National Theatre’s history, from the less-than-stellar 1963 inaugural production of Peter O’Toole in “Hamlet,” directed by Laurence Olivier, its first artistic director, to the more recent successes of “The History Boys,” “War Horse,” and “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

    The book is a welcome companion to the TV special, “National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage,” which will air on PBS’s Great Performances series beginning on February 14. This valentine to the institution, directed by NT’s artistic director, Nicholas Hytner, includes rare archival footage — Maggie Smith swanning around in a 1964 revival of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” — as well as performances by the likes of Judi Dench (as Shakespeare’s “Cleopatra” and later singing “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music”); Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi in a scene from Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land”; Helen Mirren in an excerpt from Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra”; and, most movingly, Dame Joan Plowright resurrecting a speech from George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” a role she originated in 1963.

    There is also a very funny scene from Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys,” which serves to underscore an important thread throughout Rosenthal’s colorful tapestry: the National Theatre as an invaluable source of Broadway product through the decades. “The History Boys,” which won the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play, is just one of more than three dozen productions that were imported to great acclaim and numerous awards from the National Theatre. These included not only Tom Stoppard’s Broadway debut, 1967’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” but also, remarkably, the American premieres of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” championed by Harold Pinter, and Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” both of which had first been presented at the National’s London home. Rosenthal also makes the case that the National rehabilitated Arthur Miller’s reputation, turning his 1994 Broadway flop of “Broken Glass” into an award-winning success with a West End transfer, a national tour, and a TV film. 

    “The NT’s impact on American theater is obvious from those productions,” Rosenthal said. “I hope I’m not paraphrasing him badly but Arthur Miller praised the theater for keeping the straight play alive on Broadway and the warmth of its audiences for sustaining him.  He’d become very embittered about the state of theater in America because he could not get his [new] plays produced there.”  

    Of course, as a government-subsidized theater, the National was in a prime position to make a commitment to develop new plays and musicals without attending to the commercial pressures of either presenting the work of established writers or casting major box-office stars. Its governing ethos, Rosenthal said, was to put on a show in which quality control was paramount. The rule went: “If it does well and transfers either to the West End or Broadway, that’s great. But the moment you start thinking about that first, that’s the moment when things start to break down.”

    Nonetheless, given the temptations of prestige and lucre, a certain amount of drama did arise over the Broadway transfers of National Theatre productions, especially during the controversial tenure of Peter Hall, who succeeded Olivier as artistic director. A case in point, covered in a riveting chapter in Rosenthal’s book, was Hall’s production of “Jean Seberg,” a 1983 Marvin Hamlisch musical about the tragic American actress who, at age 17, had been discovered by director Otto Preminger to star in his 1967 film, “Saint Joan.” Hounded by J. Edgar Hoover for her leftist politics and maligned in the tabloids, Seberg eventually committed suicide, at age 40.    

    In a recent interview with ARTINFO, Rosenthal discussed the history of National Theatre productions on Broadway, what it meant to both sides of the pond, and why “Jean Seberg” aroused such antipathy in the British press.

    When did the relationship between Broadway and National Theatre first take root?

    From the beginning, really, with Peter Shaffer’s “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” [presented in 1964 at the National and on Broadway in 1965].  With Christopher Plummer as Pizarro, it featured a huge cast and was much too expensive for a West End commercial producer like Michael Codron to put on. So what you had was the National using its subsidy to put on a very ambitious play and then when it did transfer it became a virtuous circle for the theater because of the money they made as the originating producer.

    I gather from your book, the idea of transfer gained traction with Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” 

    It did. The National made the equivalent of a seven-figure sum from Stoppard’s play because [Broadway producer] David Merrick financed the production through his foundation and gave the theater 50 percent of the profits. Later on, the same applies to Peter Shaffer’s plays, “Equus” and “Amadeus,” which brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds to the National. They became an amazing asset for the theater, especially “Amadeus” because of the success of the film.   

    National Theatre productions usually move first to the West End and then to Broadway. Which venue is more lucrative?

    Oh, it’s Broadway because of the size of the theaters that those plays went into, and the length of the run. By the time they transferred to the West End, 80,000 to 100,000 people had already seen them at the National. Most of the Broadway audiences had never seen them and it’s a much bigger market.

    When Peter Hall came along, he raised the ante regarding transfers, didn’t he?

    He absolutely did and that was a source of a great deal of criticism. People were concerned that he had one eye on Broadway and that was why he was putting on this musical about an American with music by Marvin Hamlisch. And the real crux of the matter is that he was directing. All of the media criticism came from the idea, “Hang on, Peter is about to have a four percent royalty on Broadway because of this.” They felt that he was being disingenuous in saying that he was doing it because it was a great piece of art.

    Was the backlash in part because Hamlisch was coming off of this tremendous success with “A Chorus Line”?

    I think no. If he’d handed it off to another director at the National and he’d been able to say, “I’m purely the producer here,” it would have been fine. Of course, you had [playwright] David Hare going around saying, “What the hell is Hall doing with this musical at the National?” The most damning criticism and the most valuable praise comes not from the press but from your practitioners and closest colleagues. It’s a jury of your peers.  

    In your book you provide the statistical evidence that during Trevor Nunn’s tenure as artistic director, 20 percent of his entire audiences came from the six musicals he produced, presumably American musicals. Did he also have his eye half-cocked on Broadway as well? 

    No, I don’t think they’re comparable for the simple reason that Peter Hall was always under immense financial pressure because of his large family, the alimony, and school fees. He’d never made the money that Trevor Nunn had made from his musicals so by the time Nunn became director of the National, his estimated net worth was 30 million pounds a year and an estimated income of two million pounds from royalties from “Les Miserables,” “Starlight Express,” and “Cats.” He was as financially secure as any theater director in Britain could be. I think with him, as with Richard Eyre [his predecessor], it was, you might say, that they were raising the white flag saying, “We simply can’t make the Olivier work with simply a classical repertoire. We have to do musicals to shore up the finances.” It wasn’t a black and white issue of being for or against musicals at the National. It was the disproportionate size of the audience for them.

    Did the disaster of “Jean Seberg,” as well as the musical version of “Carrie” at the Royal Shakespeare Company, quash this idea of the National as a “tryout venue” for Broadway-bound musicals?

    It did quash it. You do see Broadway producers sniffing around shows at the National but that’s in an attempt to get on the ground floor for the transfer. What does develop is how to make these transfers in the right way so that the National Theatre could maximize the amount of money which they could make from having originated the shows at their own expense. And that’s what you have with the relationship between the National and Boyett Ostar [Productions] on such productions as “The History Boys,” “War Horse,” and “One Man, Two Guvnors.”

    Did the National actually put up capital for these productions? 

    I’m not one hundred percent sure of how or whether the National has been a genuine, sign-on-the-dotted line upfront capital investor in any previous Broadway transfer as opposed to the “National Theatre presents.” The attitude has always been and still is, “We are a non-profit theater and therefore should be risk-averse in commercial activities.” That was the reason why the board would be nervous about putting one hundred thousand pounds into a transfer. If it failed and they had to write it off, that’s a lot different in accounting and philosophy from investing a hundred pounds to put on a challenging play in one of the theaters that then draws only a 30 percent audience. The risk is always towards putting on the best possible show of the highest quality.

    A pre-recorded “live” performance of the National Theatre’s Tony-winning production of “War Horse” will be shown on February 27 at the Ziegfeld Theatre and other selected theaters across the country as part of the National Theatre Live series.  

    The National Theatre

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    The fresh, warm, Belgian dark chocolate (4,000 lbs of it, courtesy of Callebaut) dripping down the walls of Opening Ceremony's Fall 2014 runway show in Tribeca was irresistible; absolutely transporting was Rodarte's Star Wars-inspired LED light set in Chelsea, and Hugo Boss' spring garden, replete with blooms and mirrors, delectable.

    But it was the vast, dreamy cloudscape at Marc Jacobs, which closed New York Fashion Week, that takes the cake. To a repetitive soundtrack of the spoken words "Happy days are here again.... Let's sing a song of cheer again," the designer sent out a beautiful, ethereal, pared down collection in grayish, muted pastels, on models that walked what was probably the longest runway ever constructed.

    If the clothes maketh the man, the set maketh the show. And who maketh the sets? Many of the most spectacular backdrops at New York Fashion Week this season can be credited to Bureau Betak, the special events and fashion shows production company founded by French fashion and furniture designer Alexandre de Betak.

    The designers' use of materials like mirrored panels, graphic motif runways — not to mention scents and smells — and, in Alexander Wang's case, a rotating finale runway amid industrial steel columns in a warehouse in Brooklyn, all served to heighten the feeling of being in a space where you felt the designer had total control over the environment, and your experience. 

    If this is the way forward (and it certainly seems like major designers are favoring independent studios to stage their shows), the Lincoln Center tent and its generic runway configuration is definitely in trouble. 

    For resetting expectations on show standards, Blouin Artinfo's pick for the top six sets this season are: Opening Ceremony, Rodarte, Hugo Boss, Alexander Wang and 3.1 Phillip Lim, and Lacoste. 

    To view these sets, click on the slideshow.

    To watch the Rodarte's intergalactic fantasy-inspired show, see the video below:

    7 Best Set Designs at New York Fashion Week [VIDEO]
    Alexander Wang Fall 2014 runway

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    London—Powered by a runaway Francis Bacon portrait, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary evening sale—the last of the London season—surged to £124,192,000 ($206,158,720) on Thursday. The results toppled pre-sale expectations of £87-107.5 million ($144.4-178.5 million) and decisively bested Sotheby’s £87.9 million ($144.5 million) tally on Wednesday evening. 

    Seventeen works sold for over a million pounds, 25 hurdled the million dollar mark, and seven artist records were set. Only eight of the 48 lots offered failed to sell, for a trim buy-in rate by lot of seventeen percent and five percent by value. 

    The big tally easily outscored last February’s equivalent sale, with its £81.6 million ($127.7 million) total for the 65 lots sold.

    Thursday’s auction started with the sale for charity of Damien Hirst’s personally donated “Mickey” from 2012, a spot painting in household gloss on canvas that depicts an abstracted version of the Disney mouse. It sold for an impressive £902,500 ($1,498,150; est. £300-500,000/$500-820,000) and benefitted Kids Company, a UK-based organization providing support to vulnerable inner-city youth.

    In a surreal moment of marketing, all of the specialists and client service reps manning the banks of telephones donned black Mickey Mouse ears for the Hirst, which made for a light mood in the jam-packed salesroom.

    For the third evening in a row, a large canvas by young New York artist Lucien Smith tested his rollicking market as “Secret Lives of Men” from 2012, another from his rain painting series executed with a paint-filled fire extinguisher, brought £158,500 ($263,110; est. £30-40,000/$50-65,000.)

    The slightly older market darling Oscar Murillo was also featured early on with “Untitled (Burrito),” from 2011, a large canvas in oil, oil stick, and dirt dominated by the word Burrito in yellow. It sold to a telephone bidder for £194,500 ($322,870; est. £20-30,000/$33-49,000).  

    British sculptor Rebecca Warren also made a big impression with “Untitled (Twins)” from 2004, a pair of clay female figures standing on a plinth. It sold to an Asian telephone bidder for £266,500 ($442,390; est. £80-120,000/$140-200,000).

    The evening also included a group of several paintings and a sculpture by artists made famous by ther inclusion in the epoch-making 1997 show “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection,” which started at the Royal Academy and later generated much controversy when it came to New York.

    Of those YBAs, Jenny Saville was represented by a grandly scaled nude self-portrait, “Plan” from 1993. Showing the diagrammed lines on her torso and thighs for liposuction surgery, it sold to the same telephone bidder for a record £2,098,500 ($3,483,510; est. £800,000-1.2 million/$1.4-2 million). London dealer Pilar Ordovas was the underbidder.

    Chris Ofili’s elephant dung and glitter canvas, “Popcorn Tits” from 1996 made £386,500 ($641,590; est. £400-600,000/$660-980,000), selling to London dealer Hugh Gibson, and Gary Hume’s “Vicious” from 1994, in which the outline of a glossy male figure is set against a lush landscape, realized a record £410,500 ($681,430; est. £300-400,000/$500-650,000).

    But Hirst’s two-part “Adam and Eve (Breaking Open the Head)” from 1994-2003, containing two severed bull heads in a formaldehyde solution brutally decorated with shards of mirrored glass, bought in at £380,000, either too gruesome or expensive for the market (est. £500-700,000/$820,000-1.1 million).

    A work by a fellow YBA painter, Peter Doig, that was not part of the trove, “Tour de Charvet” from 1995— featuring a distant view of skiers on a snowy slope—crushed expectations, selling to a telephone bidder for £2,378,500 ($3,948,310; est. £900,000-1.2 million/$1.5-2 million).

    Though not the hot commodities they were in the late ’90s, the group seems to have some legs for future appreciation.

    “Sensation” aside, the biggest drama of the sale swirled around Francis Bacon’s “Portrait of George Dyer Talking,” from 1966, a seminal and rare-to-market depiction of the artist’s lover and muse seated cross-legged on a bar stool in the middle of an otherwise empty studio—a scene dominated by a bare hanging light bulb, a red carpet and monochrome wall painted in an eye-popping shade of lilac. Dyer tragically committed suicide just hours before the opening of Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971. This work was included in that exhibition, and its history no doubt fueled the competition to own it, which ended with whopping top-lot bid of £42,194,,500 ($70,042,870; est. on request in the region of £28/$47 million).

    The Bacon last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in November 2000 for $6.6 million,  a record at the time. On Thursday night it carried a third-party financial guarantee.

    Brett Gorvy, Christie’s world-wide head of contemporary art, took the winning bid, which beat back six other contenders. After the sale, Gorvy acknowledged the buyer was American but declined to give further details, apart from saying, “he’s a very good poker player and has great taste.”

    Though two Bacon triptychs have sold for more, including ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud” from 1969 that made a record $142.4 million at Christie’s New York in November, this portrait stands as the most expensive single Bacon canvas, vanquishing  “Study from Innocent X” from 1962, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007 for $52,68,000.

    Asked about the price, veteran dealer David Nahmad, who watched the action from the front row of the salesroom but didn’t bid on the picture, said, “I don’t know anymore, but I bought my first Bacon, a portrait of a businessman, at auction in London in 1964 for £800.” Thursday at Christie’s, he added,  “was another crazy night at the auctions.”

    Other standout offerings included Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” from 1989, tapestry like in its scale and richly marbled in a cacophony of colors, which fetched £19,570,500 ($32,487,030; est. on request in the region of £15 million). It too carried a third-party financial guarantee, meaning the seller wanted insurance that the painting would sell for a certain price no matter what transpired in the salesroom.

    Another Richter, “Portrait Schniewind” from 1965, a grainy  and cropped example of  the artist’s photo-realist  black and white work, failed to sell at £1.4 million—just not sexy enough, it seemed, for current taste (est. £2-3 million/$3.3-4.9 mllion).

    The market’s hunger for paintings appeared unquenchable as Bridget Riley’s striped “Chant 2” from 1967 sold to London dealer Pilar Orvovas for a record £2,882,500/$4,784,950 (est. £2.5-3.5/$4-6 million). It was first exhibited at the British Pavillion of the Venice Biennale in 1968,  and most recently at Riley’s Tate Britain retrospective in 2003. It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s London in July 2008 for £2,561,250.

    Classic, Post-War European painting stood out as well, with Pierre Soulages’s “Peinture 195x155cm., 7 fevier 195,” in oil on canvas—looking somewhat like a cousin of Franz Kline—selling for £3,666,500 ($6,086,390; est. £2-3/$3.3-4.9 million) and Nicolas de Stael’s color-charged, red-sky landscape “Selinute” from 1953, bringing £2,882,500 ($4,784,950; est. £1-1.5/$1.7-2.5 million).

    More remarkable was the fevered bidding for Domenico Gnoli’s Pop Art-like figurative painting “Black hair” from 1969, in acrylic and sand on canvas, which ultimately sold to London dealer Guya Bertoni, who apparently beat out a determined Chinese telephone bidder. Bertoni acknowledged that she had bought the painting on behalf of a client as she raced out of the salesroom.

    American artists also made a good showing, with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Slide Germ” from 1982, a large-scale collage of oil and acrylic on paper laid down on canvas, bristling with Basquiat’s signature cartoon and graffiti elements, bringing £2,322,500 ($3,855,350; est. £2.2-2.8/$3.6-4.6 million). 

    Jeff Koons’s perfectly cast “Cracked Egg (Magenta)” from 1994-2006, fabricated as one of five unique versions in mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, sold to another telephone bidder for £14,082,500 ($23,376,950; est. £10-15/$17-25 million). Part of Koons’s storied “Celebration” series, this version of the pristine egg was part of his 2008 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It was the first appearance of a Cracked Egg at auction.

    Cy Twombly’s decidedly more esoteric “Untitled (Rome)” from 1960, brashly executed in oil based house paint, lead pencil and wax crayon and energized by a dense field of his poetic scrawls, sold to Turkish collector Kemal Has  Cingillioglu for £2,658,500 ($4,413,110; est. £1.2-1.8/$2-2.9 million).

    “The global art market follows quality,” mused auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen moments after the blockbuster sale, “and it’s very striking.”

    Big Night at Christie's Caps London Contemporary Week
    Francis Bacon's "Portrait of George Dyer Talking," 1966, which sold for £42.2.

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    "House of Cards": Clawing to the Top, With Nowhere Left to Go

    Even though it aired only a year ago — and I watched it in two days over a weekend, only leaving my apartment to order tacos (twice) — the first season of “House of Cards” seems like it happened in another period of my life, a period before the end of “Breaking Bad,” before “Girls” turned into schmaltz and “Orange in the New Black” became the most overhyped show on the planet. Back in February 2013, people still thought “Homeland” was worth watching, if you can believe that. The first season of “House of Cards” feels like it happened (and it definitely happened— it was an event) so long ago that I forgot how totally ridiculous the show really is.

    It didn’t take long for me to remember. Dropping a major twist in the first episode (which I won’t spoil for the few people who did not watch it) seems like a subversive move, leaving the viewer puzzled and confused. The only problem is, the show ends up killing one of its more interesting and major storylines in an attempt to start anew in season two — which is fine — but backtracks from its brazen move a few episodes into the season by essentially replicating that killed storyline, just with different characters.

    It’s a weird move, just the first of many in a season that, unlike the first, seemed to drag. There’s an unnecessary and confusing narrative thread involving cyber-terrorism that seems ripped-from-the-headlines and cartoonish, and a sex scene involving three characters (I won’t say which ones) that literally comes out of nowhere and turns the show on its head. Part of the thrill of season one was that we didn’t know if the relentless plotting of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) would result in him moving up the Capitol Hill food chain. There was tension, and something was at stake. In season two, it’s assumed that Frank will succeed in bringing down everyone around him on his road to the top. There’s nothing that’s threatening his ascension.

    The character of Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) was a welcome addition, a power hungry politician who turns out to be a worthy accomplice to Frank’s scheming. As in the first season, the best thing about the show is Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), who has mastered the art of the polite but cruel takedown, the phoney niceness of the rich and powerful. She seems to have repressed all her anger and frustration from season one, and her turn from co-conspirator to equal, if not more ruthless partner, is chilling. The Underwoods are now a two-headed beast and nothing can stop them.

    The ending of the season is inevitable, almost assumed. Frank keeps rising to the top. His powers of manipulation over two seasons have been miraculous — he has basically fooled everybody around him into clearing a path toward becoming the most powerful man in the country. But once he’s there, what happens? “House of Cards” is a difficult show to watch because the villain wins. But now that he’s won, there is nowhere left to go but down. 

    Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of "House of Cards."

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