After 4 years of expert renovation to the highest standard, a new “palace” is opening its doors on August 1. The Peninsula Paris is blending French aesthetic with a strong dose of Chinoiseries in a century-old classic building that has been restored to its Haussmanian soul, yet fully modernized for the 21st century. We give you a sneak peek of what to expect.
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Articles on this Page
- 06/24/14--04:52: _Slideshow: “Sherato...
- 06/24/14--07:15: _Picasso Museum Dela...
- 06/24/14--09:47: _Highlights from "Ca...
- 06/24/14--10:52: _Slideshow: Christie...
- 06/24/14--11:21: _Toronto
- 06/24/14--11:28: _New York
- 06/24/14--11:28: _Miami
- 06/24/14--12:01: _Bronx
- 06/24/14--15:57: _Slideshow: Jeff Koo...
- 06/24/14--16:15: _Christie's Falls Fl...
- 06/25/14--04:34: _All Aboard That “Gr...
- 06/25/14--05:52: _Sneak Peek: Behind ...
- 06/25/14--07:02: _George Lucas Picks ...
- 06/25/14--08:39: _Slideshow: Gilda Ol...
- 06/25/14--11:11: _BAM Celebrates the ...
- 06/26/14--04:59: _Daniel Heidkamp Fin...
- 06/26/14--06:28: _Slideshow: Awol Eri...
- 06/26/14--06:42: _Slideshow: Masterpi...
- 06/26/14--09:38: _Slideshow: "The Pho...
- 06/26/14--09:56: _MoMA PS1's 3rd Annu...
- 06/24/14--07:15: Picasso Museum Delayed Again, Brazil’s Open-Air Art Park, and More
- 06/24/14--10:52: Slideshow: Christie's London Impressionist & Modern Art Sale
- 06/24/14--11:21: Toronto
- 06/24/14--11:28: New York
- 06/24/14--11:28: Miami
- 06/24/14--12:01: Bronx
- 06/24/14--16:15: Christie's Falls Flat on High Expectations
- 06/25/14--04:34: All Aboard That “Great Koonsian Adventure”
- 06/25/14--08:39: Slideshow: Gilda Oliver at Nina Torres Fine Art
- 06/25/14--11:11: BAM Celebrates the Work of Spike Lee
- 06/26/14--04:59: Daniel Heidkamp Finds Greatness in Normalcy
- 06/26/14--06:42: Slideshow: Masterpieces That Hang in Mauritshuis, The Hague
- 06/26/14--09:56: MoMA PS1's 3rd Annual Benefit Gala
— Picasso Museum Opening Delayed Again: France’s culture minister Aurelle Filippetti delivered more bad news for Paris’s Picasso Museum, announcing that its opening has been pushed back another month to October 25. The new date will coincide with what would have been Picasso’s 133rd birthday, and Filippetti stated the delay was to make sure there were “good secure conditions” in place for the artworks on display. The final cost of renovations to the museum’s 17th-century baroque mansion has also increased to €52 million. [Art Daily]
— Brazil’s Open-Air Art Park: The Guardian takes a look at Brazil’s Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, a 500,000-acre, open-air art gallery located in the botanical gardens in the southeast, just two hours from the World Cup city Belo Horizonte. Designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and opened in 2006, the collection features works by Olafur Eliasson, Doug Aitken, Vik Muniz, Anish Kapoor, and Adriana Varejão spread throughout the grounds on pavilions. Long-term plans for interactive art park include an 80-room luxury hotel and spa, and eventually even more art pavilions. [Guardian]
— National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens: The National Center for Civil and Human Rights finally opened in Atlanta. The 42,000-square-foot, $68 million facility is located near the city’s Centennial Olympic Park. The center houses a special display space for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s manuscripts and artifacts, on rotation from Morehouse College’s collection. Along with the National Civil Rights Museum (which opened in April), the center is another landmark institution on the region’s growing list of important museums dedicated to the civil rights movement’s history. [NYT]
— American Art Museum Gifted $5.4M: The Smithsonian American Art Museum received a $5.4 million gift from David M. Rubenstein for renovations that include an overhaul to the Grand Salon, which will be named in his honor. [Washington City Paper]
— Jersey City to Build Artist-Friendly Apartments: New renderings of Jersey City’s Art House, a residential development that will include creative and gallery spaces for local artists, have been released. [The Real Deal]
— Kunsthall Stavanger to Auction Hepworth: The Kunsthall Stavanger’s art association is testing fate (not long after the Delaware Art Museum lost its accreditation for a similar stunt) by putting “Figure for Landscape” by Dame Barbara Hepworth DBE up for sale at Christie’s. [The Foreigner]
— “We all have gone a little bit insane,” reported one of the troubadours who has been playing the same song — every single day — at Ragnar Kjartansson’s solo exhibition at the New Museum. [WSJ]
— Albuquerque will invest $300,000 to bring an iconic piece of art to its downtown area. [Albuquerque Business First]
— The new “Art Illumination Cruise” will take passengers on a seven-night trip down the Seine to see some of France’s most renowned art sites and world famous artworks. [LAT]
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Burdened with what appeared to be too many ambitiously estimated works, Christie’s London major evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art stumbled badly on Tuesday, delivering a disappointing £85,784,000/$146,004,368.
Twenty of the 60 lots offered failed to sell for a flabby buy-in rate of 33 percent by lot, unusually high for an evening sale in this high-stakes arena. The tally, including the cumulative buyer’s premium, trailed pre-sale expectations of £86,450,000-141,450,000/$164,157,900-240,747,900. Those estimates do not include the added on fees. Twenty-two lots made over one million pounds and 32 hurdled the million dollar mark. The lackluster evening still beat out last June’s £64/$100.4 million result for 37 lots sold. The buy-in rate that evening was 16 percent.
Tonight, one artist record was set and it was a doozy, with a rare and large-scaled Kurt Schwitters (lot 8) “Merzbild” relief painting from 1920, titled “Ja-Was?-Bild,” which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for the top lot price of £13,970,500/$23,777,791 (est. £4-6 million). Executed in a mixed-media, found object array of oil, paper, corrugate card, cardboard, fabric, wood and nails on board in an artist’s frame, the Dadaist-inspired piece was as fascinating on both its front and back sides, a kind of early Rauschenberg combine, but made in Berlin. It smashed the artist’s previous mark set at Christie’s London in June 2012, when “Merzbild 9 A Bild mit Damestein (L Merzbild L5),” from 1919, made £1,273,250/$2,004,802.
“It shows,” said Jay Vincze, London department head of Impressionist and Modern art, of the record-breaking Schwitters, “that when something that is so unique and so ground breakingly important comes up, people respond in kind.”
It was one of nine works from the storied German collection of Viktor and Marian Langen previously housed at the Langen Foundation in Dusseldorf that made £20,335,000/$34,610,170, easily outstripping pre-sale estimates of £9.6-14.1 million. But that monumental amount of bidding that started off at £3 million and slowly climbed to its final hammer price of £12.4 million (before fees) was a prime example of what the market appetite is for top-class works.
There was a less hearty reception for lesser examples by famous names, even fresh to the market ones, such as (lot 7) Henri Matisse’s Nice period self-portrait, “L’artiste et le modele nu” from 1921, that sold to another telephone bidder for £6,802,500/$11,577,855 (est. £7-10 million). It last sold at auction back in November 1985 at Sotheby’s New York for $1.15 million. Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer and president of Christie’s Europe, egged the audience on with snippets of art historical information about the painting, informing the audience it was once owned by famed American art collector John Quinn, but the pitch didn’t do much.
The first moments of the sale went decently well as (lot 5) Fernand Leger’s 25 1/8- by 19 3/4-inch “Contraste de forms” from 1913, in gouache and brush and ink on paper laid down on board, sold for £1,426,500/$2,427,903 (est. £1.2-1.8 million)
But trouble brewed moments later when a fresh to market Piet Mondrian painting, “Composition A, with Double Line and Yellow” from 1935 and still encased in the artist’s frame, came up and died at £4.2 million, well shy of its £5-8 million estimate. Even the great James Johnson Sweeney provenance didn’t help achieve the ambitious estimate.
More trouble hit moments later with a group of four works by Alberto Giacometti, including the striking cover lot bronze, “La Main” from a 1947 cast and shown in the artist’s breakout show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1948. It last came up at auction at Sotheby’s New York in May 1985, when it sold for $214,500. Tonight, bidding opened at £7 million and stalled out at an imaginary £9.5 offer off the chandelier, and Pylkkanen murmured “passed,” the auction term for unsold.
Overall, there were nine Giacometti’s offered during the evening, with four failing to sell, evidently too many for the current market taste to absorb. But Vincze, in a post-sale interview, didn’t attribute the cover lot buy-in as a victim of its estimate. “I honestly don’t think it was a question of price. It’s a challenging piece.”
Giacometti’s “Femme de Venise II” (lot 13), a lifetime bronze cast with a gold patina from the 1956 plaster and consigned by the same owner as “La Main,” found better reception, selling to the telephone for £9,042,500/$15,390,335 (est. £8-12 million).
Early Modernist works fared favorably for the most part, as (lot 30) Franz Marc’s dynamic and Fauve like colored “Kinderbild (Katze hinter einem Baum)/Cat Behind a Tree” from 1910-11, a once restituted work and most recently on long-term loan to the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel am See, sold to the telephone for £6,242,500/$10,624735 (est. £5-7 million). The Blue Rider group painting has a mystical air to the composition, executed before the onslaught of World War I.
There were rather slim pickings on the Impressionist front, but (lot 18) a beautifully simple Claude Monet seascape of the Normandy coast from 1882, “La cote de Varengeville,” from the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, realized £2,882,500/$4,906,015 (est. £1.5-2.5 million). It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 1994 for $607,500.
Other highlights included (lot 44) a large-scaled and deceptively studious Balthus oil on canvas from 1963-64, “Le trois soeurs,” that made £3,218,500/$5,477,887 (est. £3-4 million). It also attracted light bidding, squeaking by at a hammer price of £2.8 million. It last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2006 for $6,736,000, not exactly a great investment.
There were certainly moments of more energetic bidding as a generously scaled (lot 52) Joan Miro painting from 1925, “Painting (The Circus Horse),” dominated by a gold/brown background and formerly in the Rene Gaffe collection, sold to Zurich dealer Mathias Rastorfer of Galerie Gmurzynska. It made £2,994,500/$5,096,639 (est. £1.4-2 million).
“Anything that was fresh and important,” said Rastorfer after the sale, “did extremely well.”
Other Surrealist works also found favor as (lot 57) Rene Magritte’s “La voix du sang,” undated but believed to be from circa 1960 and one of the artist’s nocturnal landscapes with a compartmentalized tree trunk, sold buoyantly at £1,538,500/$2,618,527 (est. £500-700,000).
Still, the sale left a flat taste to some observers.
“Like always,” said London dealer Richard Nagy, who attended but didn’t bid at the sale, “overestimated things of mediocre quality don’t sell. It’s a really simple formula.”
Everything about the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art is over-the-top. That includes the press-conference-cum-love-in that opened Tuesday’s media preview, during which museum director Adam Weinberg whipped himself into a subdued but hyperbolic frenzy, rhapsodizing about how Koons’s artistic career had a partial genesis in a 1974 Jim Nutt exhibition Jeff saw, age 19, at the Whitney; calling Koons “one of the defining artists of our time”; and rattling off the many ways in which his career has been a “study in contradictions,” with work that ping-pongs from one polarity to the other (“accessible yet esoteric... innocent and erotic...”). Curator Scott Rothkopf was up next, delivering lines that, out of context, might cause any Martian visitors in the audience to wonder what the hell this peculiar human race was getting up to (we’d soon see, he explained, that “the balloon dog had company with the mermaid-troll.”) Koons himself took the podium among the click-clack of cameras, discussing his career in terms of a journey, explaining that art has “taught [him] how to feel” and enabled him to “become a better person.” He was enthusiastic and polite, as if he were dedicating a ship. The ship was Jeff. And then we were off, scattering through four floors of “the great Koonsian adventure,” in Weinberg’s summation.
But oh, throughout the press conference, how thickly the anticipation of eager hatred simmered! Weinberg cautioned the gathered throngs to “forget what you know and what you think you know,” but all I saw was a mob of journalists ready to one-up each other; it certainly wasn’t a matter of whether or not the Koons show would be garbage, but rather how to accurately render the degree of garbage-ness. Because, of course, within most critically minded art world circles, admitting that Koons is a decent artist is akin to wandering into an Occupy meeting and defending the meritocracy of capitalism. The difference in opinion tends to be whether you think he’s merely harmless shit, or dangerous shit, i.e. shit that symbolizes the impending apocalypse in which the market eats us and we all die, our corpses floating out to sea on a platoon of inflatable-monkey boats.
I approached these four Koonsian floors with as open of a mind as possible — not expecting to unveil some previously unheralded genius, but also not simply seeking ammunition for a predetermined this-guy-is-Satan-in-a-suit thesis. Overall, the retrospective — which is Koons’s first in New York, and will next travel to the Centre Pompidou and Guggenheim Bilbao — is brash, fairly entertaining, and as digestible as a pack of M&Ms. Much was made of how this show presents Koons’s career in narrative form, but that story is told in broad strokes, as if the wall texts themselves are really struggling to be taken seriously. The journey, as it were, goes from simple assemblages from the early ’80s — including some with lights that might be described as Flavin-with-a-toaster or Flavin-with-a-tea-kettle — through works of advertising appropriation; hyperrealist sculpture; the inevitable floating basketballs; porno-romantic kitsch; lots of mirrors and shiny things; and paintings produced by a legion of assistants and conceptualized using Photoshop. Many things are corny, probably intentionally so. Some are delightful on a surface level, though it’s mostly all surface. If the retrospective’s chronological narrative has something to teach us, it’s basically that Koons pushed the readymade in some interesting directions; that he was always striving to scramble the high with the low, as in a series of stainless steel sculptures presented here, with a tiny Bob Hope next to a bust of Louis XIV; and that he also was at the vanguard of really expensive, really high-tech fabrication methods, marshaling resources worthy of NASA to create enormous metal hearts and other baubles.
Does this make the show sound terrible? It’s not, really. It’s just that it’s impossible to get too excited about any of this. The title for this exhibition could have incorporated that over-used, awful phrase: “Jeff Koons: It Is What It Is.” How mad can you get at a giant sculpture of Play-Doh? The show might try to present Koons as someone with a critical eye on his surroundings, but the overall impression is more wide-eyed. Everything seems plucked from a bright, lobotomized America. (Is it any wonder that one Koons series, “Celebration,” shares its name with the planned Disney community in Florida?) It’s an America of shopping sprees, of kid’s toys, of crummy figurines; an America that sees dicks and boobs a lot of places where they are not; an America in which the only black people appear as basketball players, in appropriated Nike posters, or in Hennessy ads, or in the form of Michael Jackson, posing with his chimp.
Dropped like a bomb into the middle are the works from the early ’90s series “Made in Heaven,” which feature Koons with his later-wife, Italian porn star Ilona Staller. There are the requisite child-safety warnings on the walls. There is a side-room in which the non-pornographic “Wall Relief With Bird” is sandwiched between the self-explanatory “Ilona’s Asshole” and “Exaltation,” a poetic exploration of the money shot. After this it’s back to the family-friendly with the worst series in the show: “Easyfun,” a group of dumb animal-head-shaped colored mirror pieces that the wall text seems to infer were made by Koons as a form of therapy to deal with the fall-out with his marriage to Staller. Escape that room and you get to “Easyfun-Ethereal,” a series of actually interesting oil paintings whose compositions are made on the computer, jamming together all manner of imagery — corn kernels, moist lips, spurts of milk, olive-eyed lunchmeat faces — into flat, overloaded nightmares. One painting, “Bagel,” 2002, combines fishnet stockings with meat and slices of male and female bodies. There’s no real foreground or background, everything’s just tossed together, as if it’s trying to short-circuit the eye. Similar paintings elsewhere in the show play the same tricks, squishing cartoons and photographs together, reprising imagery from the sculptures in two dimensions, and layering Koonsian doodles on top of hyperrealist images of classical statues. The retrospective builds and climaxes on the fourth floor: Balloon dogs! That Play-Doh! A giant kitten hanging in a sock! All of them, per that wall text, “some of the most technologically demanding objects ever produced in the history of postwar art,” as if the measure of a work’s success might be how much it cost to make, and how big of a headache it gave the poor, put-upon fabricator.
During the introductory remarks, Koons spoke of how inspiring he’d found the Whitney as a younger man, and how it’s an institution that is especially open to young artists. It’s hard to determine what a young artist stumbling through his retrospective might be inspired to do: maybe retreat into the quiet cave of a tiny, unremarkable minimalism? There’d be no way to outdo this stuff, to make it bigger or brighter or more expensive. It’s cool, and fun, but it’s not deep, and any attempts to make it seem so are inevitably going to ring a little sad. At this point in time Koons is such a well-known quantity that he’s less of a person than a phenomena. There’s no reason to hate him for that. All you can do is go, and gawk — enjoy yourself, and try not to think too hard.
The late 19th century classic French-style building was first built as one of Paris’ most famous “grands hotels,” The Majestic, which opened in 1908 as the first Parisian hotel to offer private bathrooms in its guestrooms. In 1936, the hotel was sold to the French government and became the UNESCO Head Office between 1946 and 1958, and then the International Conference Centre for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hosting high profile events until 2009. In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords, which ended the Vietnam War, were signed here.
The building is full of history.
On May 18, 1922 five of the greatest artists of the 20th century (James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Pablo Picasso, Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky) sat down to a late supper at the hotel at the invitation of Sydney and Viola Schiff to celebrate the debut of Diaghilev’s ballet “Le Renard.” The menu featured dishes plucked from Proust’s novels.
George Gershwin wrote An American in Paris while staying there for 4 weeks in 1928.
Restoring the hotel to its former glory was a labor of patience which took 4 years and was carried out in close consultation with France’s three principal heritage bodies – Les Architectes des Batiments de France, Les Monuments Historiques, and La Commission du Vieux Paris.
The four-year renovation included 40,000 pieces of gold leaf, 1,000 individual pieces of wood removed, restored and replaced, “fish scale” slate roof tiles fashioned by hand, and 20 stonemasons working on the façade
The delicate blue and gold Etruscan-style Salon Adam was recreated and hand-painted from four photos of the original salon by Gohard artists, using extensive research to ensure an identical replica of the original.
40,000 pieces of gold leaf, each measuring 8 sq cm and covering an area of approximately 200 sq m, were used in the restoration of The Peninsula Paris. Following 22 initial steps to prepare the wood, each gold leaf was applied by hand and small brushes by the team of Gohard Atelier, a family company founded in 1962.
Three types of limestone were used for the façade – St Leu-la-Foret, Chauvigny and Comblanchien. They all came from the same quarries as the original construction which started in 1906. The façade restoration employed the talents of 20 skilled stonemasons from historic monument specialist Degaine to restore the 10,000 sq m area with its elaborate carved stone flowers, bows and ribbons. Each flower cascade took a stonemason three weeks of work, with 12 hours for a small bow.
The grand white lobby gives a sense of arrival to guests. The “Dancing Leaves” installation by Lasvit with 800 individual hand-blown crystal leaves is a nice change to the usual central flower decorations. It was designed to replicate the leaves on the plane trees lining Avenue Kléber, one of the 12 avenues leading to the Arc de Triomphe.
The hotel has a few art installations including "Moon River” by the Spanish sculptor Xavier Corberó.
The bronze and wrought ironwork of the ornamental staircase leading from the Lobby was created by Schwartz & Meurer, the company which constructed the Eiffel Tower.
Lili One of the hotel signature restaurants is Lili, dedicated to Cantonese cuisine. Its entrance offers a world-first – a large 3 x 3.3 m fibre-optic portrait of nylon webbing and net fabric, woven through with optical fibre to produce a glowing, flowing effect. It was created by Design Percept, a company founded in 2004 by industrial designer Clementine Chambon and fashion designer Francoise Mamert, in conjunction with The Peninsula’s interior designer Henry Leung and Jerome Declercq of Passementiers Declercq.
The rest of the restaurant has been designed to resemble a Chinese opera house, with a center dome inspired by the sound stage of a hall in Shanghai, four custom-made blue Oriental tassels using 15 kg of silk created by Passementiers Declercq, a triptych of traditional Chinese paper-cut panels using paper from Chinese-French dictionaries.
The hotel was re-roofed with 100,000 slate tiles from the same quarry in Angers-Trélazé as those on the original building in 1906. Its top floor restaurant and bar offers a stunning view of Paris.
The customised car fleet includes a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II (pictured here), along with a Rolls-Royce EWB Phantom, two MINI Clubmans and 10 BMW 7 Series limousines - all in The Peninsula Hotels’ signature green livery.
With all this grand architecture, let’s not forget the rooms! The Peninsula Paris’ 166 rooms and 34 suites are among the most spacious in Paris. Each bedroom has a hand-carved leather headboards whose design has been inspired by the domes of the Grand Palais. They also have all the latest technological amenities, including a printer.
— George Lucas Picks Chicago: After months of speculation and city rivalry, George Lucas has at last decided on Chicago as the future home of his Cultural Arts Museum. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been courting Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson (a Chicago native), for some time and has promised a 17-acre site near Soldier Field for the museum. “I can’t thank George and Mellody enough for choosing Chicago,” Emanuel said. “This will be a tremendous opportunity, a significant step for the city. No other major American city has these types of cultural and educational institutions, with a great Northerly Island creating a vibrant, green museum campus unparalleled in the United States.” [NBC Chicago]
— LACMA Expansion Avoids La Brea Tar Pits: Architect Peter Zumthor has altered his existing designs forLACMA’s proposed exhibition hall. The new renderings, released by the museum Tuesday, show the building stretching across Wilshire Boulevard in order to avoid the La Brea Tar Pits — unlike the old plan, which had concerned critics and raised environmental issues for its proximity to the historic site. LACMA director Michael Govan said the building’s planned 400,000-square-foot campus will remain the same and the new design “doesn’t change our basic vision and has the added benefit of lightening the mass in the park.” [NYT]
— Queen’s Royal Collection to Be Surveyed: Britain’s Royal Collection, which totals 7,564 oil paintings, will undergo the most ambitious condition survey ever attempted on a major group of paintings this summer. Each work in the Queen’s collection will be condition-checked, photographed, and cleaned, and many of the new digital images will be published online. The collection includes works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck. [TAN]
— Conservation at the 9/11 Museum: The Wall Street Journal takes a look at what conservation means at an institution like the 9/11 Museum. “Most museums bring in conservators to fix things,” said Alice Greenwald, director of the museum. “Our conservators had the extraordinary obligation of figuring out how to present artifacts that were destroyed, falling apart, dented and mangled. They had to maintain the integrity of the destruction.” In other 9/11 Museum news, the institution has already had 300,000 visitors since it opened a month ago. [WSJ, AP]
— Koons Nostalgia: Koons koverage might have reached a kritical mass, but this republished Roberta Smith review from a 1988 Koons show gives some refreshing perspective on the artist’s career. [AiA]
— Seattle Spends on Public Art: Seattle plans to install $5 to 7 million worth of public art as part of its downtown waterfront redevelopment project. [AP]
— Thomas Ganter is the winner of the BP Portrait Prize for his painting of a homeless German man named Karel. [Guardian]
— Katia Meir was named director general of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. [Art Daily]
— The Rubin Museum of Art has appointed Noah P. Dorsky and William E. Mayer to its board of trustees. [press release]
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There’s no better place to screen “Do The Right Thing,” Spike Lee’s still-blistering and sweaty ensemble masterpiece, on its 25th anniversary than the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Located just a short distance from the Bedford-Stuyvesant block — specifically Stuyvesant Avenue, between Lexington and Quincy — where the film was shot, the storied venue is an extremely visible reminder of the changes that have overtaken the neighborhood and the tensions that still simmer, a problem that Lee continues to be vocal about, much to the dismay of supporters of gentrification.
The celebratory screening of “Do The Right Thing” will launch a complete retrospective of Lee’s films, running June 29-July 10, and co-presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The series includes everything from “Malcolm X” and “Jungle Fever” to more obscure work such as “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads,” his NYU thesis film, and “4 Little Girls,” a documentary about the 1963 bombing at a Birmingham, Alabama church that killed four girls, aged 11 to 14.
The series is also a reminder that behind all the noise — much of it created by the man himself — Lee is one of the best American filmmakers still working, whose career, if spotty at moments, is only so because he refuses to fall into a specific mode of working. Is there another American narrative filmmaker that could make films as different as “Girl 6” and “Clockers,” one a comedy whose colors pop and the other a gritty drama that’s seemingly devoid of it?
A moving special addition to the series is a tribute to the actress Ruby Dee, on June 29. The actress, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 91, was an iconic artist and civil-rights activist who starred in “Do The Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever.” The tribute, which is free to the public, will feature friends and colleagues along with clips from her most famous work.
“I don’t have to go to Tahiti, or depict some imaginary, Surrealistic craziness,” Daniel Heidkamp said of his enplein air painting philosophy. “I could go to Greenpoint, Brooklyn — looking at the normal stuff in a way that brings the art out.” For a series of works currently on view at White Columns in New York, his focus was the leafy environs of Central Park surrounding the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (A previous series, shown in 2013 at Half Gallery, painted Greenwood Cemetery, which is close to his home and studio in Sunset Park.) Heidkamp chose these varying views of the Met for their mixture of the familiar and the slightly exotic — a huge number of people have been inside the museum, he explained, but for many, the stretches of nature surrounding it are “mysterious and unknown.” The resulting compositions are confident, with certain landscape elements rendered in a type of visual shorthand: a boulder’s dark swirl, the dashed lines of a tuft of lawn. In some canvases, the Met building looms like an angular, beached space ship; in others it’s merely one small element in the background, with Heidkamp giving equal attention to brilliant foliage, tangles of grass and brush, and the occasional human protagonists (often his wife and their infant son).
Heidkamp’s current practice of painting from life, often outdoors, arose from a decision several years ago to focus on his immediate studio surroundings: “Being in a room, and painting what’s in the room.” That has grown into a body of work that flexes oil painting’s basic muscles, and proves that landscape — a genre championed by the likes of octogenarian Wolf Kahn— still has relevance for a much younger generation of artists. “The more I experimented, the more I realized that there are certain things that are intrinsic in oil painting,” said Heidkamp, whose style has undergone subtly seismic shifts. “If you can get those — illuminate and find the secret of those things — it’s the best way. And if you can do that, you can make all the weird stuff you want.”
While he often used to work from photographs, painting en plein air has given his practice a sense of speed and urgency, with many canvases completed during a single session. “You don’t have a lot of time to correct things as you go,” he said. “It’s a call and response.” Detritus from the natural world also makes its way, quite literally, into the compositions: shards of leaves in “Dad MET,” 2014, or an actual dead fly in “Mothers’ MET,” 2014. (It landed near the painted image of Heidkamp’s son, he explained; he kept it there, and augmented it with miniature painted wings.) “It adds a sense of time and place,” he said, also noting that certain of those elements are liable to decompose or break down over time. “I like the idea that the painting changes, like nature changes.” Heidkamp plans to continue the landscape works, though he’s most likely done with the Metropolitan as a subject glimpsed from afar. He might venture to the Hamptons (“loaded with art energy and baggage”) and, despite the previous assertion about Tahiti, he hasn’t fully ruled out the romantic Gauguin option.
He’s also knee-deep in another very different series of works — some of which will be included in a group show, “Some Thoughts About Marks,” opening this Friday at Jack Hanley Gallery in New York — which depict various iterations of a character he calls “the Slugger,” a youthful, comically inept baseball player. One massive example, nearly 9 feet tall, portrays a grinning boy caught mid-run. There’s something unnerving about the dip of his knees and the angle of his stride; the Slugger here is a bit bottom-heavy, but his facial expression — a kind of dazed ecstasy — shows that he’s not overly concerned about any of this. While the paintings are technically about baseball, they’re not really about baseball at all, Heidkamp explained. The slugger is “maybe a little naïve, with this doughy face. He doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Or he’s about to be shut down by the world, but he’ll keep smiling.”
Heidkamp later realized that his most recent work has an odd connection to some of the earliest art he made as a child — drawings of sports icons from baseball cards. (As such, he actually traces the genesis of the “Slugger” works back to 1987, when he was an adolescent non-professional who answered to “Danny.”) His goal for the summer is to conscript fellow artists and other peers to dress up in baseball uniforms and pose, outdoors, as further variations on the Slugger. It’s not about athletic heroism or sporting competence, unlike when he was a kid drawing images of the game’s stars. “It has that human feeling,” Heidkamp said. “The Slugger’s an Everyman — it’s about going through life, slugging it out, with humor and perseverance. I’m not going to go paint Derek Jeter — unless Jeter comes to my studio and puts on the Slugger uniform.”