Sunday, July 23, 2017

EdFringe Here We Come -- Again!

I wasn't going to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh this year -- honest! And, for the record, neither was Wendi. We had agreed that we were taking the year off, despite it being the Festival's 70th anniversary. There are just too many other places to see and things to do.

So you can imagine my surprise when Wendi dropped the news in May that she was going to this year's Festival for five days.  My first response was, "Without me???!!!"  My second reaction was, "But you'll only be able to see about 30 shows!" (For those unfamiliar with the Fringe format, each show runs about an hour, so you can fit alot in in one day if you're willing to run all over Edinburgh and forego sit-down dining. We see at least six shows each day; hence, the number 30.)  She mentioned several performers she'd be seeing whom we'd enjoyed in the past. I was tempted, but still on the fence. Until, that is, I opened her email entitled "A True Sign."

The email had a link to a show by a comedian we saw our first year -- Hannah Gadsby.  Her show provided insights into famous works of art, and it was pretty darn funny.  She hasn't been to EdFringe since, so it was nice to see that she'd be back.  But I couldn't figure out why I would be sufficiently excited about her return to push me over the edge. Did she somehow call out my name? The answer is -- yes.  Quite ridiculously, her show is called Nanette.

The show description reads, "Hello, I have another show for you. It's inspired by a woman called Nanette. Although we didn't exchange a single word or even a glance, Nanette has changed my life. She hasn't, but she did prompt me to think about some things, and those things I thought have become this show." Nanette won Best of Show in this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival.  I am taking some credit.  And, obviously, it's at the top of the list of shows I'm excited about seeing this year.  (To read my review of Hannah's 2014 show The Exhibitionist, click here.)

Also on the comedy front is another returning performer to whom Wendi and I have taken a shine -- Trygve Wakenshaw. Trygve is a charming and funny Gaulier-trained clown whose talent works in both intimate venues and large auditoriums. (We've seen him in both.) This year he's doing two shows. The one I'm most looking forward to seeing is Trygve vs. a Baby. Yes, this consummate performer is going up against a baby to see who's more entertaining. And not just any baby -- his own one year old son Phineas. This could go wrong in so many ways.  I can't wait. (To read my review is Trygve's 2014 show Kraken, which included some pretty funny nudity, click here.)

Letters to Morrissey features Gary McNair, yet another actor whom we've seen at a previous EdFringe. McNair's one man show revisits the letters his character wrote to the English singer Morrissey 20 years ago as a lonely 11-year old boy trying to make sense of the world.  Has he changed or has the world?  McNair is a terrific actor, and his A Gambler's Guide to Dying was a sell-out in 2015. My only concern about this show is that it's first up on our first day at the Festival (as, coincidentally, was Gambler's Guide). A potentially quiet show in a dark theater isn't overly compatible with jet lag. I will be sure to have a Diet Coke at the ready.

I'm intrigued by a two-part show entitled Speaking in Tongues: The Lies and Speaking in Tongues: The Truth. The shows' age-old themes of love, deceit, and scandal make for good theater. But what's intriguing is the physical set-up of the productions. In an inversion of theater-in-the-round, audience members sit in the center of the stage in swivel chairs that allow you to choose which characters to follow. It sounds like an opportunity for confusion and a lot of knee-knocking with your neighbors, but the shows have gotten good reviews. And the truth is that whether or not I give Speaking in Tongues lots of stars in Wendi's and my finely honed rating system, this is exactly the type of outside-the-box theater I go to Edinburgh to see.

These are just five of the seven shows Wendi and I will take in on our first day of EdFringe. We expanded our stay from her original plan of five days to eight, but we know we're going to miss lots of good theater. Our schedule only includes 42 shows so far, so we have a few slots to fill.  I'll be sure to report back upon our return. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Talking Music with George Mancini

George Mancini
I'm a sucker for pianists. While I enjoy the music, what really grabs me is watching their fingers fly up and down the keyboard in a seemingly effortless manner. So it wasn't a hard sell when my friend Tony Gil invited me to Sheraton Four Points to hear George Mancini's jazz trio play. Within moments of entering the room, I realized Mancini is the real deal. The time flew as I bopped along to jazz standards, with a ridiculously wonderful version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" closing the show.

Dave Bise and I had the chance to chat with George for our Partnership for the Arts podcast. After a lifetime as a professional musician, George has more than a few good stories. But perhaps none is more interesting than how he got his start.

With a name like Mancini, it's no big surprise that George is Italian. Music is an integral part of many Italian families' homes, and the Mancini household was no exception. From an early age, George was introduced to classical music and opera. It was a given he would learn to play an instrument, but his parents left the particulars up to him. And so a five year old George found himself standing outside a music store with his mother looking over his options. "Which one do you like?" she asked. George confesses that he couldn't even name most of the instruments. But he was intrigued by the colors and buttons on -- wait for it -- the accordion. They marched into the store and bought a woman's accordion for George to play. (I love the visual of a five year old George hefting his new possession.)

But there was a hitch. George's hometown didn't have any accordion instructors. Undaunted, George's parents signed him up with a violin instructor and an organ teacher. Together, they figured it out. George says the experience taught him early that playing an instrument isn't about the mechanics; it's about the sound. It didn't take long before George's musical talents had drawn some attention. By the time he was eight, he was performing on a weekly TV show, playing his own take on whatever style of music was called for. 

George's life as a professional musician was just getting started. A scholarship to a German university launched him into the international world of music (via a KLM propeller plane). Although he'd taught himself to play jazz piano, it was his first formal piano training. Later, he traveled the world as a clinician for The Hohner Group, showing off the versatility of the accordion. For more than a decade, he logged over 100,000 miles annually between his piano and accordion concerts and his work as a clinician. 

Whenever George found himself in a location for an extended period of time, he took on students. Despite his success as a performer, his true passion is teaching. Language was never a barrier, a fact to which his German, Japanese and Dominican students will attest. Music, he says, "transcends nationality." And learning the accordion at the knees of instructors who didn't know to play the instrument taught him the importance of aural training.

George's unique educational experience has also made him a proponent of critical thinking, a skill he teaches his students through the techniques of music. He works with them on math and science as well as music. It's all interrelated, isn't it?

He tells a funny story about a kid who couldn't get the concept of tied notes. George had tried all of his usual techniques to teach the concept. Finally, he asked the student, "What do you think of when you think of tied?" "The detergent my mom uses to wash the clothes," the child replied. George laughed, took off his shoes, and tied the laces together. "This is the type of tied I'm talking about," he explained. It was a reminder for this veteran teacher about the importance of communication.

As you can probably tell, I've become a huge George Mancini fan. He's charming and incredibly talented and fun to watch perform. His trio--comprised of George on piano, Ron Harris on drums and Isaac Mingus on bass--appears every Monday night from 7:00-9:00 at Sheraton Four Points in Punta Gorda. No cover. Just stop in, grab a bite or a glass of wine and enjoy some great music. There's often a guest musician as well, sometimes one of his talented children (a story for another day) and other times one of his students.

George's daughter Michelle Kasanofsky
And if you want to catch George on the accordion, he'll be performing this week with daughter Michelle Kasanofsky at Venice Theatre in her show "To All the Men I've Loved Before." (Michelle is the choral director at Port Charlotte High School and a fabulous pianist in her own right.)  Performances are on Thursday and Friday, July 20-21, at 8 p.m.  Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Last, but certainly not least, to hear our interview with George, click here.  (Just scroll down a bit to get to the interview.) I hope you'll enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed chatting with him. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What's on My Nightstand

Unpacking the books I brought home from BookExpo was like opening a Christmas present I'd picked out for myself but couldn't quite remember.  (That's how we do it in my family, at least!)  I was immediately excited about most of my new books, although a few left me somewhat bemused.  Read on for descriptions of what's made it to my nightstand.

"The Resurrection of Joan Ashby" by Cherise Wolas (out September 12th). I was intrigued by this debut novel the second I opened its cover. The first page is an article from a literary magazine entitled "(Re)Introducing Joan Ashby." Ashby wrote two astonishing story collections in her youth, leaving readers anxious for more for over three decades. The article includes an excerpt from a notebook a 13-year old Ashby kept entitled How to Do It with nine precepts that would govern her life as a writer. Among them were "Do not entertain any offer of marriage," "Never ever have children," and "Never allow anyone to get in my way." Also included in this article are two excerpts from stories she wrote.

Not surprisingly, Ashby's life didn't go quite as she had planned. I was immediately engrossed in the plotline, but it's the excerpts from her stories and other writing that are truly phenomenal. Part II liberally quotes from her interrelated stories about a character named Simon Tabor. I ratcheted up from my usual flag noting a passage I like to a large post-it on which I scribbled, "I desperately want to read this story collection." I wrote Wolas' editor to find out if a book of stories was forthcoming. (Sadly, unbelievably, it's not. Surely she wrote more than just those excerpts, given how incredibly vivid and compelling they are.) 

I finished this the last--534th-- page of "The Resurrection of Joan Ashby" yesterday wanting more. I loved it.

"Mrs. Fletcher" by Tom Perrotta (out in August). I am a fan of Tom Perrotta, with the exception of his "The Leftovers" about the rapture. (I apparently was in the minority, since this book was adapted into a hit HBO series.) His latest features Eve Fletcher, a divorcee struggling with empty nest syndrome.  Eve becomes obsessed with a seemingly errant text message she received that read, "U r my MILF!" (Like Eve, I have no idea what that means.) Simultaneously, her son is getting a bit off-track at college, as he struggles with an environment that challenges his white privilege background.  Time magazine has called Perrotta "the Steinbeck of suburbia."  I'm eager to plunge back into his world.

"The Twelve Mile Straight" by Eleanor Henderson (out in September). The premise of this book pulls me right in. In 1930 Cotton County, Georgia, a white sharecropper's daughter gives birth to twins -- one black and one white. A field hand is accused of rape and, inevitably, murdered. Henderson's narrative envisions the aftermath of these events. Interestingly, Henderson's own grandfather was a sharecropper in south Georgia during the Depression. As a result, she grew up hearing stories of her father's rural youth. "When I began to imagine the world of Cotton County," she said, "I wanted to capture the innocence of these country stories and also to fracture it."  Count me in.

"The Golden House" by Salman Rushdie (out in September). Although I've never read Salman Rushdie, I've always been fascinated by him. You probably remember that his "The Satanic Verses," inspired in part by the life of Muhammad, prompted Ayotallah Khomeini to issue a fatwah against Rushdie that was in effect for nearly a decade.  And then, of course, there's the fact that he was married to Padma Lakshmi, perhaps the world's most gorgeous foodie. But I digress.

Random House characterizes Rushdie's latest novel as "equal parts The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities as it tackles contemporary politics and culture.  The book begins, "On the day of the new president's inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile."  Whew!  I can't wait to see where this story goes.

"Grist Mill Road" by Christopher Yates (out in January). For me, no book list would be complete without a thriller. It was hard to overlook the blurb on the cover of this book from NPR's All Things Considered, which reads, "The highly anticipated new novel from the author whose [2017] debut was called 'the smart summer thriller you've been waiting for..'" Somehow I missed last year's hype over Yates and his Black Chalk.  But the quote did its job -- I was primed.

The first sentence of "Grist Mill Road" leaves no question about what kind of novel this is. "I remember the gunshots made a wet sort of sound, phssh, phssh, phssh, and each time he hit her she screamed."  What did leave a question--for me at least--was the description of the book as a "Rashomon-style tale." A quick Google search revealed this means a story told from the perspective of several different characters in an unreconcilable way. (The term derives from a 1950 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa of the same name.)  It sounds like a great book to read with a friend so you can sort out what's happened when you get to the end.

By the way, if you're interested in getting a better sense of what BookExpo is like, click here to read an article I wrote about this year's experience for Florida Weekly. Happy reading! 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Short stories generally aren't my genre. I like my characters to have the chance to develop. And so, despite having loved Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena," I was resistant to reading his "The Tsar of Love and Techno." But weeks after finishing this collection, I am still marveling over these intertwined stories. A big thank you to my friend Althea, who put this book in my hands.

The book starts with an intriguing epigraph: "It's a minor work." The quote is attributed to Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets regarding his 1843 painting Empty Pasture in Afternoon. While Zakharov was a real Russian artist of Chechen descent, no such painting ever existed. But the role Empty Pasture plays in story after story made it as real as any painting on the walls of my home. Such is the power of Marra's writing.

Marra's first story -- "The Leopard" -- introduces us to Roman Osipovich Markin, an employee of Russia's Department of Propaganda and Agitation. He is a "correction artist," whose job it is to modify paintings and photographs to remove evidence of those who have fallen out of favor with the State. 

"Last July I had the opportunity to correct one of my own paintings," Roman tells us at one point, "A scene of the October Revolution oiled a decade ago, in 1927. Amid an ardent proletariat uprising, I had mistakenly included the figures of Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenv, who couldn't have been there, not after having been proven perfidious in a recent public trial  I replaced our villains with our hero; Stalin was there, is there, is everywhere..."  

Roman is a villain in his own way. When removing evidence of the existence of dissidents, he often inserts an image of his brother in their place. It's a dangerous--and traitorous--action. His brother, you see, was executed after being found guilty of religious radicalism for his belief in the existence of heaven. While this sly act of treason isn't what trips Roman up in the end, it does create a trail of breadcrumbs for another character to follow.

In "The Granddaughters," Marra moves from Leningrad to the Ukrainian city of Kirovsk. We meet Galina, a character whose claim to fame is a grandmother who was a prima ballerina with the Kirov. Sadly, Galina didn't inherit her grandmother's talent. But her great beauty becomes her own passport to another world.

We also meet Kolya, a character about whom Marra says, "If we could we would airbrush him from our story....Kolya was a hundred meters of arrogance pressed into a two-meter frame, the kind of young man who makes you feel inadequate for not impressing him...In another country, he might have grown up to be an investment banker, but here he grew up to be a murderer..."

The two fall in love, with their lives crossing paths repeatedly in later stories. Trust me when I say this is no ordinary love story.

Anthony Marra
Each story in "The Tsar of Love and Techno" is a gem. But it's the way the stories build on one another that makes this book so extraordinary. I was torn between racing through it and savoring each story. I wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished. I want to read it again now that I've been paging through the stories. In case I've left any question, I loved this book.

For some insights from Marra into the book and his writing process, click here to read a terrific interview. (I particularly enjoyed learning about the epigraph.) If you're still on the fence about the book, this should catapult you right into your nearest bookstore to grab a copy. Don't overlook the mixtape playlist Marra put together that appears after the reader's guide. It's a marvel in and of itself, a bonus story of sorts -- and you can listen to it on Spotify. 

Happy reading!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Is the Whitney Biennial a Bunch of Baloney?

"Claim (Whitney Version) by Pope.L
I couldn't resist this inflammatory question, the genesis of which will shortly be revealed. But I don't think it's a stretch to say it's a reaction many people have to contemporary art. How many times have you heard someone in a gallery say, "My kid could do that?" (Or, admit it, thought it yourself?)  But the art world would be pretty boring if there were only Monets. And so I'm learning to appreciate contemporary artists who push the envelope in their attempts to make meaningful art. 

During my recent trip to New York, a visit to the Whitney Biennial was at the top of my list. Now in its 78th iteration, the biennial exhibit showcased what American artists are doing right now. Most works in the show were created within the last two years.  I was grateful to have docents guide me through the exhibit, which was spread over two floors of the museum. 

Edward Hopper's "Early Sunday Morning" (on display
at the Whitney, but not part of the Biennial)
Our docent began her talk with an acknowledgment that the exhibit might not be that accessible to an art lover wandering in off the street. But, she noted, the first Whitney survey in 1932 featured the work of Edward Hopper. At that time, Hopper's paintings were considered strange and controversial. His work is now, of course, an integral part of American art history. It's all a matter of context. She also noted that the works in the show were selected before last November's election. So while many focused on hot topics in today's political dialogue -- income inequality, racial tensions and global warming, to name a few -- they are not a direct response to the policies of the current administration.

"Exodus Evolution" by Jon Kessler
Jon Kessler's "Exodus Evolution" is the latest in a continuum of work he's been doing with found objects for 40 years. The piece was inspired by the Syrian migration crisis. A rotating circular base hosts figures he found on eBay using the search word "travelers." It's an extremely varied collection that includes classic Hummels and Lladros, African wood carvings and tiny figurines. There are so many figures crammed together that it's hard to make them all out (which I think is the point). To the right of this picture, you'll see an iPhone videoing the journey. This component is intended to simulate surveillance, as the video streams onto a screen in the center of the base. 

"Open Casket" by Dana Schutz
"Open Casket" by Dana Schutz wins the award for most controversial work in the Biennial.  Emmett Till was a 14 year old African American boy from Chicago accused of flirting with a white woman during a visit to Mississippi in 1955. A few days later, the woman's relatives kidnapped Till, beating him beyond recognition before shooting him and throwing his body in the river. His mother brought his body back to Chicago, where it was displayed in an open casket for the world to see how her son had been treated. Thousands of people attended his viewing. She also took pictures of his disfigured face and distributed them to the media. Till became an icon of the Civil Rights movement. 

Why, you might ask, is Dana Schutz' portrayal of Till so controversial? Isn't this a moment in history we shouldn't forget? The primary answer is because Ms. Schutz is white. “The subject matter is not Schutz’s,” one African-American artist wrote in a Facebook post. “White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others..."  There were protests in front of the painting, with demands that it be taken out back and burned. The Whitney did not comply with these demands, although it did post a response by Ms. Schutz.  Schutz said she approached the work as a mother and that she would never sell the painting. (The protests, however, have surely had the unintended effect of raising Ms. Schutz' profile.)  To read more about the controversy, click here.

"The Times Thay Ain't A-Changing Fast Enough!"
by Henry Taylor
The Biennial featured several works by Henry Taylor, including "The Times Thay Ain't A-Changing Fast Enough!"  The painting depicts the shooting of Philandro Castile, the aftermath of which many of us saw in a video taped by Castile's girlfriend. The immediacy of the image confronts the viewer, demanding our attention.

Our docent explained that the social commentary in all of Taylor's work should be viewed through the lens of his personal history, which includes a grandfather who was lynched.  One commentator suggested that what distinguishes Taylor's paintings from Schutz' "Open Casket" isn't the color of their skin but the seeming departure by Schutz from her typical subject matter.  Click here to read this article.

Detail from PopeL.'s "Claim (Whitney Version)"
And now, as our docent said, on to the meat of the exhibit -- PopeL.'s "Claim (Whitney Version)." In the middle of one gallery was a freestanding open-roofed building of sorts. Both the interior and exterior walls were gridded, with each square inhabited by a slice of bologna (yes, real bologna) with a black and white photograph of a person affixed to it with white latex paint. There were 2,775 squares in all, give or take. The number was intended to represent .25% of the Jewish population of New York City. When the Biennial first opened, there was apparently a distinct bologna smell in the gallery. As the meat cured, its oils and salt streamed down the walls. Troughs were set up to catch the liquid. The walls of the work now glisten.

"This work isn't easily explainable by just looking at it," our docent acknowledged as our group peered at the creation. "Claim" (which is just one in a series of similar works) is intended to question the efficacy of data collection and the resulting categorization of individuals. PopeL. grew up with his own number as part of the welfare system. Today he's an associate professor in the Visual Arts Department at the University of Chicago. 

The Whitney Bienniale took some work to appreciate. And that's fine with me. In the days since my visit, I've found my thoughts returning to the exhibit as I continue to consider works I saw. While I like a pretty painting as much as the next person, I also enjoy art that makes me think. As I said, the art world would be pretty boring if there were only Monets.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

All the Buzz at Book Expo

Each year, Wendi and I kick off Book Expo with a talk by six editors promoting the books they hope will be the year’s hottest read.  I don’t know how the panelists are selected, but the slots must be highly coveted.  After all, the editors have a room filled with hundreds of eager booksellers and librarians waiting to hear why “their” book should be prominently placed on their shelves. 

Jennifer Jackson’s pitch for “Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebayo grabbed me right away with her evocation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Having now read the book, the comparison is a bit of a stretch. But there is one striking parallel. In both, women are defined by their fertility. In the Nigerian community where “Stay with Me” is set, family is everything. Men take multiple wives whose primary responsibility is to provide them with children. Our protagonist told her husband upfront, “I don’t do polygamy.” He was fine with the proposition until, four years into the marriage, the couple remained childless. The book’s narrative focuses on what happens after the couple reaches this juncture, with numerous plot twists. "Stay with Me" has already been published in the U.K. and was shortlisted for the prestigious Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. The novel will be available in the U.S. on August 22 and is being published by Alfred A. Knopf. 

If you’ve ever wondered how you would live your life if you knew the day you would die, “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin is for you. Four young siblings encounter a fortune teller who reveals to them their final days. They take her revelations to heart (without telling their parents, who of course would have laughed the incident off).  The book spans 50 years as each sibling’s story is told in turn, building on what has transpired before. Editor Sally Kim called the book “the love story of a family” and said it “demands to be discussed.”  I'm eager to read this one. "The Immortalists" will be available in January and is being published by Putnam.
"The World of Tomorrow" by Brendan Mathews takes place over the course of one week in June 1939. The New York World's Fair is the backdrop for a story featuring three Irish brothers (two of whom stole a small fortune from the IRA), a retired hitman conscripted into one last job, and a female Jewish photographer whose visa is running out. Editor Ben George compared Matthews' ability to keep his multi-layered story on track to that "a juggler who keeps adding balls without dropping any." George shared that Little Brown acquired "The World of Tomorrow" based on a partial manuscript, which is definitely not the norm. Mathews would periodically send George emails saying how surprised he was by the direction a character had taken. While the process surely caused George some anxiety, he is clearly enthusiastic about the final product, a book he says "captures the vitality of New York."  "The World of Tomorrow" will be available on September 5.
Editor Sarah McGrath opened her presentation of Gabriel Tallent's "My Absolute Darling" by saying the book gave her "faith in the transformative power of reading." McGrath also shared that she received an unsolicited email from Stephen King about the book that read, in part, "The word 'masterpiece' has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one." Clearly, she has no qualms about setting high expectations for this book.  Our protagonist is Turtle, a young girl being raised in an isolated home--complete with a gun range--by her father. He's a charismatic survivalist who exerts absolute control over his daughter. But as Turtle gets a bit older, she does what adolescents do -- she begins seeing the world from her own perspective, making her own friends and choices. This change in Turtle is not well-received. Without revealing any plot points, McGrath said the book made her think about violence in a new way. She also lauded Tallent's use of nature as a character and its exploration of "the intersection between human and physical landscape." I am highly intrigued. "My Absolute Darling" will be available on August 29 and is being published by Riverhead Books.

"I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her." Editor Jackie Cantor began her presentation of "Unraveling Oliver" by Liz Nugent with this opening line from the book. And while this sets us up to hate Oliver, it's a bit more complicated than that. Oliver is a sociopath whom Cantor compared to literary and cinematic characters we all have mixed feelings about -- Dexter, Hannibal Lector and Tom aka "The Talented Mr. Ripley." "Unraveling Oliver" digs into Oliver's past in search of an explanation for his behavior.   Like "Stay With Me," "Unraveling Oliver" has already been published abroad. It won the IBA (Irish Book Award) Crime Fiction Book of the Year in 2014. The book will be available in the U.S. on August 22 and is being published by Scout Press. 

Last, but not least, was "The Woman in the Window" by A.J. Finn.  This one has a particularly interesting backstory. Unbeknownst to his colleagues at William Morrow, editor Daniel Mallory was writing a book in his spare time. It wasn't until his own publishing house had agreed to publish the book that he revealed the author's true identity. (Editor Jennifer Brehl said she was shocked the book was written by a man, much less her colleague.) Being an editor doesn't, of course, automatically translate into being a good writer. But it sounds as if Mallory has hit one out of the ball park. "The Woman in the Window" will be published in 37 countries, and the film rights have already been picked up. In case you're wondering, the book tells the story of an alcoholic, drug-dependent, agoraphobic woman who witnesses a crime from her window. As I'm sure you recall, the police didn't trust Jimmy Stewart's reports of a crime, and his only disability was a broken leg. I'm already anticipating seeing this book at airports after it comes out next January. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Visiting Storm King Art Center

"Gui (Mistletoe)"
 by Alexander Calder
The hills are alive at Storm King Art Center -- not with music, but with more than 100 sculptures sited around its grounds.  And what grounds they are. Storm King boasts more than 500 acres of rolling hills, meadows and trees woven with paths for walkers, bikers and the occasional tram.  But who wants to stay on the paths when you can get up close and personal with the sculptures? 

As Andrea and I set off to explore, I declared my intention to see every sculpture, checking each off the brochure as we encountered it.  "I like a woman with a sense of purpose," Andrea commented. But my plan quickly fell by the wayside as I realized the enormity of the task. (The lack of signage for some sculptures didn't help any.)  So instead we adopted Andrea's approach.  "It's kind of like shopping," she analogized. "We don't have to check out every rack -- just the ones we're attracted to." 

Andrea in Armajani's
"Gabezo for Two Anarchists"
And so we wandered, meandering within each area before moving on.  The North Woods was our starting point, and the initial sculpture we encountered was Siah Armajani's "Gazebo for Two Anarchists: Gabriella Antolini and Alberto Antolini."  The name plate gave some background on this work, which memorializes the imprisonment of Alberto in the early 20th century for the transportation of explosives. The wrought iron of the gazebo signifies prison bars, and the chair in which Andrea sits is a nod to the electric chair.  (The gnats were so heavy in the wooded area that subjecting Antolini to them alone would have been sufficient punishment.) 

Smith's "Primo Piano III")
Museum Hill was jam-packed with sculptures of all varieties, including a special exhibit of David Smith's white sculptures. Smith lived on what had been a fox farm in Bolton Landing, New York. He transformed the property into a "sculpture farm" as he planted his works in rows reminiscent of a crop. The medium for much of his work is bronze or rusted steel in its natural state. But he did paint some of his sculptures. When Smith died, eight white sculptures were installed on his property, presumably to be painted once he decided on the appropriate color. A debate ensued as to what should be done with the "unfinished" works.  It was ultimately decided they would be left as they were and viewed as a part of Smith's exploration of the potential of the color white. They are incredibly striking sitting atop the hillside outside Storm King's Visitor Center.

Kadisman's "Suspended"
The aptly named "Suspended" by Menashe Kadisman might have been my favorite sculpture. The engineering behind this work is mind-boggling.  I was so enamored of the floating rectangle of weathered steel that I barely took in the fact the base balances on one narrow side. Needless to say, I couldn't resist a photo in which I attempted to hold up the floating rectangle. The work is so large that my extended arms came no where near touching the sculpture. Next time I visit, I'll bring a step ladder.

Noguchi's "Momo Taro"

I loved the story behind Isamu Noguchi's "Momo Taro."  When Noguchi was invited to create a sculpture for Storm King, his concept was a sculpture devised from two split stones. But when the boulder shown here was split, it reminded Noguchi's assistants of the Japanese folk story of Momotaro. In the tale, a child emerges from a giant peach and becomes the son of an elderly couple. Noguchi immediately revised his design. The sculpture in its entirety is comprised of nine granite pieces weighing in at 40 tons. 

Showing the love
to an Easter Island Head

After three hours of exploration, we decided to call it a day. I suspect we saw 75 or so sculptures during our visit, so a return trip is definitely in order. But an outing to Storm King really isn't about checking off the sculptures you've seen. It's about enjoying time with friends and family in an idyllic setting sculpted into an incredible outdoor gallery. Just remember to bring the bug spray. 

For information about Storm King, including images of all of the works in the collection, click here

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