Friday, March 27, 2020

Anyone for an Illusion?

Hoping there will still be some activity
by the time the quarantine is over.
The Chalk Festival is one of my favorite events of the year. Artists from around the world congregate in Venice (or, on occasion, Sarasota) to create works of art that will be gone with the next hard rain. The budget for the Festival has grown to more than $300,000 and includes travel and housing expenses for the international artists. (It's not as if the artists can sell their work to cover the cost of their trips!)  To raise much needed funds, Festival organizers called upon some of its artists to create the works in the 3D Illusion Museum. Happily, the temporary Museum was open during Wanda's recent visit.

Wanda was a natural at interacting with the paintings. That is, after all, what makes 3D art so much fun. The organizers limited visitors to ten at a time so we wouldn't have to fight a crowd to get a good picture. It also was built-in social distancing at a time when we were on the cusp of shelter at home recommendations.

As at the Festival, there were some artists at work on their illusions. We chatted with Ruben Arriaga from Mexico as he created the first of two paintings. Amazingly, he estimated the time from start to finish to be only four hours.

Ruben Arriago at work. Next up was an old-fashioned camera.
That doesn't, of course, take into account the time he spent in advance. The image was meticulously gridded out to ensure the artwork creates the illusion of being three dimensional.  Surprisingly, Arriago is new to the art of 3D painting. His aptitude made a lot more sense when we learned he's an architect.

The Festival is typically held at the Venice Airport, with the art drawn on the runways. The indoor venue provided artists a leg up in creating their illusions. They utilized the walls, floors and even the occasional ceiling to full advantage in the creation of their work. Corners were surely coveted real estate.

"You're gonna need a bigger boat.... " 
Being inside also provided an opportunity for artists to incorporate different effects than are possible at the Festival. Our "Jaws" wannabe here was all the more ominous due to the lighting. (Remember the shadow is created by a light beaming on a painting rather than a 3D object. I confess to being mystified.)

Another artist used neon for his artwork, an open-mouthed fish with an ice cream cone dangling from a fishing line. While the fish seemed eager to try a bite, Wanda stepped in to enjoy the treat. (You can click here to see my Instagram feed with more photos, including a snap of Wanda approaching her first taste.)

Artist Kurt Wenner is credited with the invention of 3D pavement art. He frequently participates in the Chalk Festival, quite a feather in the caps of the organizers. In 2014, Wenner designed a Megaladon shark that held -- for a nanosecond -- the Guinness World Record for the Largest Anamorphic Pavement Painting. Click here to read my long ago post about the 2014 Chalk Festival with a snap of Wenner's 18,900 square foot illusion. It's worth noting that the actual creation of the illusion was done by more than 125 artists working for 12 days. 

The Museum includes one of Wenner's works, an actual structure with 3D art in the interior. If you made it to last fall's Festival at Burns Court, you probably saw this piece. Unfortunately, it was being installed when we visited, so we didn't get the full effect. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Wenner is quarantined in Italy so he wasn't able to make his scheduled trip to Sarasota to create an additional work on site. For my blog post from last fall that includes a picture of Wenner's work as installed, click here. To see more of Wenner's amazing creations, click here. And for an interview with Wenner about the appeal of pavement painting, click here.

In the midst of some rather unappealing pavement artists
The Museum helpfully provided some background on the history of pavement art to give us some context for the exhibit. Pavement art dates back to 16th c. Italy when "madonnari" traveled the country drawing on sidewalks in exchange for a few coins. (You can guess by their name what the subject matter of many of their works was.) In the mid-19th century, pavement artists began to make their presence known in London. They often added written messages to their drawings.  And so these artists were known as "screevers," likely a nod to the Italian word "scriver" or "to write." Chances are you've been introduced to a classic screever on film - Bert in the eternally charming "Mary Poppins." (And here I always thought of him as just a chimney sweep!)

Wanda peruses some art with other "visitors" 
Wenner himself had a stint as a madonnari in Italy in 1982. His tenure on the streets of Rome was short-lived, though; that same year he traveled to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art where he introduced pavement art to the United States. And so began an American tradition continued by festivals around the country, including our own Chalk Festival.

The 3D Illusion Museum is scheduled to be open through May 31. Here's hoping we will all be out and about before then. Click here for further information. For more pavement paintings from past Festivals, click here and here

NOTE:  Apologies to the artists for not giving them proper credit for their creativity.  I was so excited by the illusions I failed to note their names!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hearing from Thriller Writer David Baldacci, Part 2

In another life, author David Baldacci could have been a comedian. The stories he told at his recent appearance on behalf of Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County had the audience in stitches. Take, for instance, the trip his family made to Barga, a small medieval town in Tuscany where his grandfather grew up.

Before the visit, Baldacci reached out to a city official to see if his family could get a tour of the town if they made a stop during their Italian vacation. He was assured it would be no problem. Baldacci envisioned no more than two hours from start to finish. After all, how much could there be to see in a town with a population of 10,000?

When the Baldacci family arrived, they found an unexpected amount of traffic and a 14' poster of David prominently displayed. He rolled down his window and asked the obvious question, "What's going on?"  "It's David Baldacci Day!" the resident happily told him. His wife's response?  "Are you freaking kidding me? Look at what we're wearing!"

What had started as a quick detour into some family history turned into a day to remember. Once the Baldaccis were out of their car, the mayor, draped in the regalia of Italian and American flags, welcomed them. On his heels were a marching band and videographers and journalists. His daughter -- a teenager -- gave David the evil eye that clearly conveyed he had ruined her life. His son, however, took to the unexpected attention, bowing and throwing kisses to the crowd.

As the crowd settled in for David's "grand" speech -- for which he was 100% unprepared -- the mayor gave gifts to the family. Baldacci's present was a genealogy chart dating back to the 11th century. But the best was yet to come. In a day full of surprises, the biggest one occurred when David was taken to meet a group of four elderly gentlemen -- ages 85 to 103 -- holding a variety of his books. They were members of the Baldacci family who had traveled from the surrounding environs to meet David. How special is that?

While nothing could top that story, Italy has yielded some other interesting experiences for Baldacci as well. Baldacci's "The Winner," a book about a rigged lottery, came out in 1998. A year later, he got a call from an Italian journalist asking if he had been following the Milan Lotto scandal. It seemed the method used for the fix was quite reminiscent of the technique used in Baldacci's novel. Would he care to comment?  Baldacci's official response was, "Well, that's very bad." In his head, though, he was thinking, "That is super cool!" Perhaps that's one reason "The Winner" made Baldacci's list of what he considers his top five novels. (To see the list, click here.)

Then there were the issues surrounding publication of his book "Absolute Power." Baldacci explained that international publishers sometimes want different covers or even different titles for a book. Given the country's history, his German publishers suggested the book might be more appealing to readers if it were renamed "The President." Baldacci agreed.

His Italian publishers were fine with the title of the book. It was Baldacci's own name they wanted to change. You see, they explained, while Italians love American thrillers, they don't like to read books by other Italians. Hmm. When confronted with this quirk of the Italian public, other writers have made seemingly logical choices. Steve Martini has been published under the name Steve Martin; Lisa Scottoline as Lisa Scott.

But what to do with the name Baldacci?  Instead of using a variant of his name, Baldacci blurted out, "How about David Ford?" He did, after all, drive an Explorer at the time. And so it was. He said he's happy the family had decided to sell their Subaru. (For the record, he is now sufficiently established to publish under his own name in Italy.)

While the evening filled with laughter, Baldacci talked as well about the power of literacy. He lauded the work of Literacy Volunteers, an organization that provides tutoring to adults who are learning English as a second language or working to improve their reading skills. Baldacci and his wife have their own literacy non-profit, the Wish You Well Foundation. The foundation has made grants to hundreds of literacy organizations. I understand Baldacci charged no fee for his appearance, which of course is another type of donation.

Baldacci is a big fan of Mark Twain, and he shared one of his favorite Twain quotes with us. "Travel," Twain said, "Is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Not everyone has the opportunity to travel the world. But, as Baldacci pointed out, we can all read about other cultures and ways of life. It's one way to make the world a little bit smaller.

Thanks to Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County for a wonderful evening. To learn more about the organization, click here. And to learn a bit more about Baldacci and his work, click here. And now I must get back to my book.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Hearing from Thriller Writer David Baldacci, Part 1

With Wanda and David Baldacci 
The last big gathering I attended before the world closed down was a talk by author David Baldacci sponsored by Literacy Volunteers of South Sarasota County. At my side was family friend Wanda McKenzie, who has read every single Baldacci book and considers herself his number one fan. Her visit -- capped off by the Baldacci talk -- had been planned for months, and I am so glad the evening came off.  I cannot remember when I've laughed so much.

Baldacci was happy to learn that virtually no one in the audience had heard him speak before. "Oh, good," he said.  "I can recycle my material." And what material it was.

Baldacci is a trial lawyer turned writer. He said it was hard to explain to his kids -- then three and five -- why daddy was suddenly sitting around at home in his sweatpants all day. (In fact, his kids weren't the only ones confused about why he was home so much. The crew that cleaned their house was so concerned they took up a collection for him!)

It all began to become clear to the kids -- sort of -- once he took them to a book signing. At one event the bookstore owner asked his daughter if she knew why everyone was asking her dad to sign their books. She looked at the woman with a "duh" look on her face and declared, "It's obvious. My dad has the nicest handwriting." His son showed great entrepreneurship on another bookstore outing as he loudly and proudly announced to anyone that "My daddy will sign any book you've got for $2.00."

Baldacci's books have sometimes elicited strong responses from his readers. He shared a story of a voicemail his editor forwarded to him with the caveat of "Don't worry. The FBI is all over it."  The letter related to his book "The Last Mile," the second in his Amos Decker series. Baldacci explained that what got the reader riled up was his depiction of a racist politician in the Deep South in the 1950s.

First, the reader said, "I'm going to blow up your publisher's building." Then, he continued, "I'm going to come to Virginia and burn your house down." And this is where it got weird.  The message went silent for a period of time.  The reader came back on and explained, "Sorry, I'm in a bad cell area."  More threats ensued.  Eventually, he hung up.  But he did call back again, ending his call with the standard, "Have a good day."

The FBI was able to locate this mastermind immediately. He was an old guy more or less sitting in a rocker on his front porch.  "How did you find me?" he asked with amazement.  "Well, sir, you used your phone," they explained. "You can track that?" he exclaimed. Clearly, neither the publisher nor Baldacci and his family were in grave danger.  (If this story inspires you to learn more about "The Last Mile," click here for a video of Baldacci's appearance at the Chester County Book Company in Pennsylvania. In addition to filling you in on the book, it will give you a sense of how charming and smart he is.)

Baldacci has had his own brushes with the law. He enjoys doing research for his books, both to make sure he gets it right and to learn. His preference is to conduct his interviews in person. But sometimes that isn't possible, as happened with the questions he had for a forensic scientist in a Medical Examiner's Office when he was working on "Split Second." And so Baldacci settled into his seat on the Acela train across from two businessmen and made his call.

"This is how I want to murder the guy," he said in quiet voice so as not to disturb his neighbors. He went on to propose an intriguing way of poisoning the victim that, he informed us, the scientist agreed would be quite hard to detect. Baldacci continued with his conversation, only looking up from his note-taking after he hung up. One of his seatmates had spilled his coffee, leaving a huge brown stain from his neck to his crotch. The other guy was wildly waving his hands while saying, "Oh. My. God." over and over.

When the train pulled into the station, the Amtrak police detained Baldacci. (He kindly suggested to us that neither his seatmates nor the police read many books.)  It all worked out -- after a while.  Baldacci includes an acknowledgment in the book that reads, "Lastly, my apologies to any passengers on the Amtrak Acela train who overheard me discussing with various experts poisoning techniques for the storyline and were probably scared out of their wits by my seemingly diabolical intent."

In case you haven't gathered, Baldacci does not take himself too seriously. Nor does his wife. Case in point was an encounter the pair had with a reader while out to dinner. As they were enjoying their quiet night out, Baldacci couldn't help but notice a woman across the restaurant who was staring at him with laser eyes. Eventually, the woman came over to their table.

"Are you who I think you are?" she coyly asked. "Well, I guess I am who you think I am," he replied. The woman was thrilled and bellowed out to her husband across the restaurant, "I was right!!!!  It's John Grisham!"

Without missing a beat, Baldacci explained that she had the wrong author but the right genre.  "Oh," she said. "Are you David Baldacci?" He confirmed that indeed he was. Again, she yelled across the room to her husband. "You were right. It's the Italian." Baldacci's wife literally blew iced tea out of her nose.

Stay tuned for more Italian anecdotes from our evening with author David Baldacci in Part 2 of this blog.  Stay well.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Cassandra King Conroy Talks "Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy"

With Cassandra King Conroy
It's always a treat to hear an author talk about her book. But when Cassandra King Conroy took the mic, she was there to do more than promote her memoir "Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy." She also wanted to remind people how groundbreaking Conroy's books were and to give his readers a sense of what he was like as a person. I left with a new appreciation for his work.

The title of her memoir comes from Pat's unflagging interest in other people's lives. "Tell me your story," he'd often say, including to readers standing in line for an autograph. Both the lines -- and the time it took to get to the front -- were apparently legendary. Not surprisingly, Cassandra had a good story of her own about how the two met.

The time was the late '90s, and Cassandra had her first book coming out.  She was invited to a writers' conference at which the famous Pat Conroy -- one of her favorite authors -- was going to speak. When she checked in, she asked if he was around and was told he'd already left for the evening. She consoled herself by heading to the refreshment table. After all, she had missed dinner.

Just as she stuffed something a bit cumbersome in her mouth, a scruffy looking guy ambled over and they started talking. She was taking such delight in her makeshift meal that he asked for her recommendations on what to try. They walked around the table and she pointed out various tidbits that she'd enjoyed. One of Cassandra's friends eventually joined them, saying, "Oh, Cassandra, I see you met Pat! Have you told him about your book?" Yikes -- in so many ways.  It turns out Pat thought she was the caterer while she had mistaken him for someone's husband forced to attend the event.  From that rather inauspicious beginning came more than two decades together.

It's been a while since I read any of Conroy's books, but my vague recollection was that "The Great Santini" was autobiographical. Cassandra confirmed my memory, noting that it had taken a lot of courage for Pat to write about his relationship with his abusive father. (Remember, the novel was written in 1976, long before tell all books became the norm.)

But "The Great Santini" wasn't the first -- or last -- of Pat's books that shed light on social issues.  In 1972, he published a memoir entitled "The Water is Wide." In the book, Pat shares his experience teaching Gullah children in a two room schoolhouse on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina. The education these kids had received was woefully inadequate; many middle schoolers were reading at a first grade level. Corporal punishment was routine, and the students had grown to associate learning with pain.

Pat set out to change these children's relationship with education. He eschewed books in favor of real-world experiences, often taking the students to the mainland. His approach was not favored by school administrators. Despite support from the parents, Pat was fired for "gross neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming" and blackballed as a teacher. The students' loss became the literary world's gain.

Later books in which Pat tackled societal issues include "The Lords of Discipline," a novel about hazing rituals at Citadel. (It's one of three books Pat wrote that were inspired by his experience as a Citadel cadet.) The upshot: Pat was banned from the campus and any Citadel-related events for many years. Cassandra shared that there were times when the situation had settled down and Pat was close to being brought back into the fold. Inevitably, he would make an inflammatory comment that would reignite the battle.

After Pat died, his hometown of Beaufort wanted to do something special to commemorate his life. It was suggested that a statue would be a striking memorial. The town administrators were a bit taken aback when Cassandra summarily rejected that idea. What they didn't know was that Pat and Cassandra had discussed this very idea on a trip when they came upon a statue of a prominent local author. "Don't ever let them do that for me," Pat said. "It would just give the pigeons a chance to do what the critics have done."

Instead, the Pat Conroy Literary Center now stands proudly in Beaufort.  Its mission is to "nurture a diverse community of writers, readers, teachers and students by offering educational events that celebrate the transformative power of story..." The Center offers a variety of programs, from author readings to mentorships for writing students to professional development for English teachers. Cassandra is not alone in thinking this is a much more fitting memorial to Pat. To read more about the Center, click here.

Thanks to Copperfish Books for bringing Cassandra King Conroy to Punta Gorda. It was an afternoon everyone in attendance will long remember.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Designing "Murder on the Orient Express" at Asolo Rep

James Monaghan, Paul Tate dePoo III and Tracy Dorman
I'll admit it. I'm a theater junkie. I love sitting in a dark theater and watching a story unfold. But I also enjoy listening to people talk about the process of getting a show from the page to the stage. Whether it's a madcap comedy, a high kicking musical or an intense drama, it's the job of the designers to create the trappings of the alternative world in which the actors and the audience will immerse themselves. It's a big responsibility.

Twice a season, Asolo Repo provides avid theatergoers the opportunity to hear firsthand from designers how they make their magic happen. And so I found myself front and center when dramaturg James Monaghan chatted with scenic designer Paul Tate dePoo III and costume designer Tracy Dorman about their work on "Murder on the Orient Express." The show is a comedic adaptation by Ken Ludwig of the Agatha Christie mystery. As always, the talk was both fun and educational. 

DePoo and Dorman have clearly developed a great working relationship. Their conversation flowed easily, with each listening with interest to what the other had to say. For ease of sharing their thoughts, I'll break it down by designer. 

Dorman's work on "Murder on the Orient Express" is her seventh engagement at Asolo Rep. Most recently, she designed "The Crucible." It would be hard to imagine two more different aesthetics. The colors of the costumes in "The Crucible" were unrelenting shades of brown. Dorman explained she utilized the drab tones to convey how trapped these characters were in their small environment. 

The characters in "Murder,,,," on the other hand, are constantly in motion -- literally. The fabrics and colors and designs are luscious. Just check out these silk pajamas. As Dorman said, "Who would really wear these to bed?"  Those sleeves would be a serious nuisance. 

Dorman's favorite part of her work comes when collaborating with the actors in the fitting room. "The real joy," she said, "Is in helping them find their characters." Take, for instance, her time with Jim DeVita, who plays Hercule Poiret. The detective is a bit on the persnickety side. And so she and DeVita spent time talking about the costume details that the audience might not notice but that help build their characters' identities, like how his pocket watch should be placed and how his handkerchief would be folded. The finessing doesn't end until opening night. 

When asked about the importance of tech night, Dorman laughed and shared an incident that had taken place the previous evening. One of DeVita's wardrobe changes somehow didn't make it onto the schedule, and he ended up on the other wing of the stage from his clothes. It was pretty obvious something had gone awry when he appeared onstage half-dressed. That take is one for the blooper reel.

The Asolo's production of "Murder..." uses video to a number of ends, including providing the backstory for some of the characters. Dorman had been slightly apprehensive when she realized just how much video there would be. Her costumes are, after all, designed for the stage rather than the screen.

Having seen the final product, Dorman is a clear convert to the video component. She marveled at how much complexity it adds to the story. "I probably shouldn't say this, but the writing of the show almost doesn't deserve this level of beauty," Dorman opined. It's the perfect segue way to dePoo's scenic design. 

DePoo was just as charming as he was at the brunch when he discussed his scenic design for "The Sound of Music." When Michael Donald Edwards called him and said, "Dahling, Orient Express,,,,", dePoo had to give it some serious thought. Marked across his January and February calendar in bold print were the words "Make Sure It's Worth It." It's often difficult, he explained, for people to get back into the groove post-holidays. An opening scheduled for early January was fraught with opportunities for disaster. DePoo is very grateful he said yes. 

One factor that drove his decision was having seen the original production of Ken Ludwig's adaptation at a theater that will remain unnamed. It was terrible. The design included three separate train cars and left him feeling exhausted. He knew he could do better.

With a bit of chagrin, dePoo shared that his original idea for the scenic design was an abstract sense of a train. "If the curtain had risen and the audience just saw a bunch of lines, it would be pretty disappointing," he said with a laugh.

The final design -- more or less -- was the result of an all-nighter he pulled after the design team met with director Peter Amster back in May. While I haven't seen the show yet, word is the set is spectacular -- and about as diametrically opposed to an abstraction as you can imagine. DePoo said he had to apologize to the production team responsible for creating the train cars. They had breathed a sigh of relief when he originally told them no wood detail would be required. Oops!  And -- spoiler alert -- the elaborate set is on a turntable that allows both sides of the train car to be visible and creates a sense of motion.

DePoo is in awe of the final product created by Vic Meyrich and his team at the scenic studio. "It's insane what this company has built," he said. "It's ginormous." And let's not forget that the show will soon be in repertory with "The Lifespan of a Fact" and "Into the Breeches," so the set must be moved on and off the stage with great frequency. The logistics are daunting.

The pair were in agreement as to their favorite element of the show -- a scene that takes place on the Observation Deck of the train. In a show jam-packed with action and movement, it's a quiet moment when lights sparkle and a character turns and reveals the low-cut back of the dress shown above. Dorman said, "It's cinematic, but magic. And that's theater. That is why we go to the theater."

"Murder on the Orient Express" runs at Asolo Repertory Theatre through March 8.  Click here for more information.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

Timing is everything. I picked up Steve Martin's "An Object of Beauty" a few years ago, and it didn't grab me. When a friend literally put a copy in my hands recently with a declaration that it was one of her all-time favorites, I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd already soundly rejected it. So I gave it another try. And...I loved it.

The novel tells the story of Lacey Yeager, a young woman whose career in the art world begins in the basement of Sotheby's where she catalogues and measures 19th century American paintings. She is dressed to the nines and always ready with a quick quip. She is supremely confident that her wit (and looks) will get her places, and she's right. Her days are spent at Sotheby's and her nights in the East Village. As our narrator explains, "The contemporary art scene was the left bank suburb to Lacey's right bank, uptown art world." The stage has been set for an exploration into all sectors of the art world from the perspective of the ambitious Lacey.

"Nude Bathers" by Milton Avery (1946)
Lacey eagerly comes into Sotheby's on Saturdays to assist with the deliveries of paintings to be put up for auction. The art handlers aren't there that day, so she can get up close and personal with all kinds of people. When an elderly couple hobbles in with a Milton Avery they paid $300 for back in 1946, Avery's work is described this way. "His pictures were always polite, but they were polite in the way that a man with a gun might be polite; there was plenty to back up his request for attention." (You might be starting to get an idea about why this book captivated me so much.)

Lacey's rise at Sotheby's began when she took on the Avery as a pet project. While the curator estimated the painting would fetch $80,000, Lacey suggested to her colleagues that it would go for $170,000. She worked to make it happen, having the painting reframed and pumping the pipeline for buyers. And it worked. Lacey was starting to get a reputation.

"November in Greenland by Rockland Kent (1932)
As the story progresses, Lacey finds herself immersed in the gallery scene, sometimes on her own and sometimes as a memorable representative of Sotheby's. Her transition to a gallerist begins when she works with gallery owner Barton Talley on a project to bring 40 Rockwell Kent paintings to the United States from Russia. Negotiations -- and machinations -- akin to that of an international summit ensue, with Lacey as part of the prize. (She is not reluctant to take full advantage of her sex appeal.)

Lacey's life is nothing short of a romp through the art world at a time (much like today) when the sky seems to be the limit. While I loved the story, it's Martin's writing that propels it forward. It's funny and fun and thought-provoking and educational. I enjoyed meeting some new artists along the way. (The pictures in the book are terrific.) Martin even managed to work in a storyline about the heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It also happens to dovetail nicely with my own exploration of contemporary art. Here are a couple more passages that will give you a sense of why I didn't want to put this book down.

"La Nona Ora" by Maurizia Cattelan
(of duct-taped banana fame) (1999)
As to a Warhol that Lacey couldn't quite explain why she loved, Talley said, "Darling, I call that the perverse effect. Those things that you hate for so long are insidiously working on you, until one day you can't resist them anymore...It just takes a while to see the complications in them. It's why outsiders hate the art we love; they haven't spent time with them." (This sentiment echoed that of Anne-Marie Russell, Executive Director of the new Sarasota Art Museum, who talks about her love of art that initially made her recoil. Yes, "recoil" was her exact word.)

As to the overwhelming nature of Art Basel: "There was no way to go from start to finish without doubling back, which created an ongoing loop of deja vu, and I was surprised to see a painting for the second time yet have no recollection of the other pictures around it. It became impossible to evaluate the artworks but easy to enjoy them; they were like a steady parade of beauty queen contestants where you find yourself saying after the fiftieth lovely one, 'Next.'" (This made me feel SO much better about my own overwhelming Art Basel experiences.)

"Felt Suit" by Joseph Beuys (1970)
As to the reference to art works being "in dialogue": "'In dialogue' … meant that hanging two works next to or opposite each other produced a third thing, a dialogue, and that we were now all the better for it...It also hilariously implied that when the room was empty of viewers, the two works were still chatting." (This is precisely what everyone has been talking about with respect to the Museum of Modern Art's placement of Picasso's "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon" adjacent to Faith Ringgold's "Die" in its new space. Click here for more on that story. Martin's description also made me think of the movie "Night at the Museum.")

The bottom line is this: "An Object of Beauty" is a perfect book for any art lover who doesn't take herself too seriously. And as a reward for reading to the end of this post, you can watch Martin analyze two paintings by clicking here to see him in a segment of the Museum of Modern Art's "The Way I See It." The entire series is outstanding. Enjoy!

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Family that Throws Together....

Suzanne, Tim, Drew, me and TJ (missing Liz -- and Jakie!) 
I wasn't really offended when my sister told me we were going axe throwing over the holidays but that it would probably be best if I just watched. After all, there was that time when I attempted to throw a softball and it landed about two feet in front of me. The mere mention of it makes my family convulse with peals of laughter. Given my clear athleticism -- and the dangers of a sharp-edged instrument -- I was content with the idea of being a bystander. Until, that is, I saw how much fun everyone was having.

Tim throwing two handed while TJ throws with one hand
Our adventure took place at the Axe Throwing Society in Pompano Beach. Two of TJ's friends joined us for the outing, rounding our group out to two teams of three so long as I stayed on the sidelines. We started off with an orientation, some training tips and a safety lecture from Kyle, our personal "axe-pert."

Two players throw at a time in an area contained on both sides by a chain link fence. There's a barrel with an assortment of axes to choose from and two targets. The most important rule: Don't collect your axe until the other person has thrown. It seems pretty self-evident, but the adrenalin can get the better of you sometimes. The second most important rule: If you're not throwing, stay out of harm's way behind the counter situated a few feet behind the competitors. And then there's the rule that visibly intoxicated people wouldn't be allowed to play. The lawyer in me was particularly happy to see that one.

One of Suzanne's early throws
You can throw one- or two-handed. Either way, you need to have your elbows up as if you were doing some tricep work with a weight.  If you elect to use both hands, you lean back a bit before you throw. It's an opportunity to engage your core. (My trainer would be proud.)

The objective in the first game was for a team to get exactly 50 points. I'm not sure how you score darts, but I suspect the systems are pretty similar. Your points increase the closer you get to the target, with the outermost circle being a one and the bullseye being a six. If you happen to hit one of those little blue circles, you get eight points. If your axe sticks outside the target or ends up on the ground (a not infrequent occurrence), you've left your team high and dry. If your team's score surpasses 50, it resets to 44. I have no idea why. Each player gets five throws per round from a distance of 12-15' from the target.

In the second competition, the teams went up against each other in a game of hangman, with the phrase being "Bad Axe." You threw against an opposing team member, with each player getting three throws. The player with the higher of the two cumulative scores for the round got a letter. By the time this game was over, I was eager to join the fun.

I went up against Suzanne in another round of the 50 point contest. I was quite proud when four out of my first five throws stuck, and I actually got a bulls-eye. Beginner's luck at its finest. (Everyone in our group got at least one bulls-eye over the course of the two hours.) Just in case you're wondering about the odd number of people, our axe-pert joined my team to even things out since the others were now highly experienced throwers. He wasn't particularly good and mentioned several times that it was the first time he was throwing that day.

Last up was a take on some cricket game. The objective was for each team to hit a particular area three times; e.g., three throws hitting the outermost circle. This was clearly a game for more experienced throwers who actually have the ability to aim. Our time ran out well before either team completed this challenge.

It was definitely a fun and unusual way to spend an evening. And while I'm not going to become an axe-pert, I'll definitely do it again. After all, Axe and Bull is just around the corner....

Anyone for an Illusion?

Hoping there will still be some activity by the time the quarantine is over. The Chalk Festival is one of my favorite events of t...