May 28, 2006

Cirque du Soleil :: Corteo

Le Grand Chapiteau
Cirque du Soleil on Randall's Island, New York

For devotées of the Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil, word of a new show is cause for celebration. The latest offering to come to the big blue and yellow tent installed on Randall's Island on the East River, is "Corteo". It does not disappoint! The marvellous thing about Cirque du Soleil is they manage to delight and amaze every time. Just when you think they've reached a pinnacle, they outdo themselves again!

"Corteo" is the imagined story of a clown's funeral. Far from macabre, it is a joyous fantasy celebrating life, love, magic, and comedy set midway between heaven and earth. Punctuated by breathtaking acrobatics and hilarious clowning, Corteo gently reminds us of how precious life is, how important it is to laugh, and the golden rule - to treat others with kindness.

May 25, 2006

Renzo Piano and the Morgan Library

With much fanfare, the newly rennovated Morgan Library & Museum re-opened on April 29th. It had been closed to the public for 3 years while the Directors orchestrated a major re-design of the reception area and exhibition galleries. The star of the show is Renzo Piano, the Italian architect probably best known in New York for the new New York Times building presently under construction but with a world-wide reputation as a master of contemporary museum design.

One enters the Morgan on Madison Avenue, through a marble and glass atrium with a stand of bamboo visible on the far end. It is light and airy, but there is no clear direction for the museum visit. After the ticket counter, one has 3 choices where to begin: the original mansion featuring Mr. Morgan's sumptuous study and library, the petite "Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery" showcasing the superb medieval collection, or the new exhibition spaces intended for temporary shows. Also located in the new entrance is a café (20 minute wait for a table for 2 for lunch) and downstairs is an auditorium and education center.

The opening exhibition is entitled "Masterworks of the Morgan" and features 300 of the finest examples of drawings, prints, books and manuscripts from the Morgan's outstanding collection. Strongest in the Old Master era, the Morgan's selection of drawings and prints represents the best of the best. The gallery of drawings features works by Leonardo, Raphael, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Rembrandt and Rubens. A pen and ink drawing by Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch 1558-1617) "Young Man Holding a Skull and a Tulip", 1614, so closely resembles an engraving one has to look twice, and carefully, before realizing that it is indeed a drawing. The collection continues with works by Gainsborough, Turner, Constable and William Blake (1757-1827) whose "When the Morning Stars Sang Together", 1804, from the Book of Job, is as fresh today in both color and subject as it was 200 years ago. More modern examples include drawings by Van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne and Egon Schiele's exquisite "Portrait of the Artist's Wife, Seated, Holding Her Right Leg", a crayon and gouache from 1917.

The visitor then moves into the gallery devoted to Illuminated Manuscripts and Books. Being as Mr. Morgan was a true bibliophile, this collection is superb. With outstanding examples of printed works from Bibles to livres d'artistes, one can see the biggest single private collection of 15th Century Milanese Tarot cards, Volume 1 (on display from the complete set of 20) of Edward Curtis' photojournal "The North American Indian", 1907-1930, and the original "Frankenstein" manuscript by Mary Shelley, all in one room!

Moving upstairs one enters the Engelhard Gallery which currently features an exhibition of original music and literary manuscripts. The most stunning object is an original score by Mozart, composed in 1782, and given to Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria for his birthday in 1865, in a presentation case of silver and velvet worthy of its recipient. Also interesting are original drawings for the Babar children's books, notes and drawings by Alexander Calder and a hand written manuscript by Jane Austin.

The "new" Morgan is indeed splendid and well worth a visit, however, in all honesty, I was under-whelmed by the much touted Piano addition. Basically no more exciting than a hotel lobby, it remains the original collection assembled by Mr. Pierpont Morgan that astonishes the observer with its quality, connoisseurship and intellectual stimulation.

May 19, 2006

Sylvie Elegance

The website for my business, Georgina Kelman :: Works on Paper, gets looked at by people all over the world and it's always a thrill to see that someone in say, India, has found you and spent time reading what you've put out in the ether that is the Internet. Generally, my website and blog visitors are "voyeurs", they come and look without leaving a comment, but every now and then I am contacted by someone with something really interesting to share.

Last week I received an enquiry from a boutique in Montreal who found me through the Art Deco Society of New York website. Sylvie Groh, is a native of France and trained at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts de Nancy and the Ecole Supérieure de Design Industriel de Paris. She worked in Paris, emigrated to Canada, and eventually decided to pursue her dream and opened Sylvie Elegance Studio. Here she combines her talent in the fine art of porcelain doll making with a interest in fashion and interior design.

At first I wondered why a doll company was contacting me. After visiting her website and seeing the exquisite presentation of hand-made porcelain mannequins dressed in gorgeous period costumes and posed in dioramas reflecting the décor of the day, I realized that these are not merely dolls, but truly works of art. Each figure is fully articulated and meticulously finished with hair and hand-painted faces. But the real art is in the details. Sylvie has used her knowledge of Parisian fashion and design to re-create scenes and events from the Belle Epoque through the Jazz Age. The magic of Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel and Madelaine Vionnet is brought back to life in perfect detail by this 21st Century artisan. Her homage to the past is what keeps the Jazz Age alive for dreamers like me.

May 11, 2006

French Book Art at the NYPL

When people hear the term "rare books" they generally think of a first edition Charles Dickens or a leather bound set of the complete works of William Shakespeare, or even their family Bible. Most people are unaware of the marvellous works of art to be found within the covers of the "Illustrated Book". I'm not talking about color-plate books with reproductions of flora and fauna, but books with original prints or drawings created by artists to complement the text.

This genre actually began in medieval times with illuminated manuscripts, but the late 19th Century gave birth to the concept of the "Livre d'Artiste" or "artist's book". In this new exhibition at the New York Public Library, the collaboration of artist and writer is explored by curator Yves Peyré, who sees this medium as a form of mutual creativity that broke with tradition and offered new forms of artistic expression resulting in "books of dialogue".

Beginning with "Le Corbeau (The Raven)" an 1875 work uniting the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé with the images of Edouard Manet, this exhibition proceeds through the 20th Century with 126 examples of fine artists' books. Highlights of the show include Max Jacob's "Saint Matorel" with Cubist etchings by Picasso, Marcel Duchamp's "La Mariée mise à nu par ses célebataires, même (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even)" also know as "The Green Box" and Fernand Leger's "La Fin du Monde". My personal favorite is the exquisitely beautiful "La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France" a 1913 work by Blaise Cendrars with pochoir illustration by Sonia Delaunay.

In the center of the exhibit space is a small gallery devoted to photographs of the artists and writers whose work is represented in the show. These portraits are taken by various photographers including Man Ray and Cartier Bresson, and offer the viewer a more personal glimpse of the creators of these literary works of art. It's a clever touch and certainly adds to the visitor's experience.

"French Book Art" will remain at the New York Public Library through August 19th, 2006. It's free, with hour-long guided docent tours available several times a week. It's worth stopping by to discover the treasures hidden between the covers of these books.

May 01, 2006

Katrina 8 Months Later

The newspapers are filled with stories about the success of the first New Orleans Jazz Festival since Hurricane Katrina struck 8 months ago. Everyone is thrilled that the city was able to come back to host this annual event and pleased that so many people are coming to support the city, its music and its reconstruction.

However, just a few miles from the French Quarter is an entirely different scene. We had an opportunity to come to Louisiana to visit an art collector who was evacuated from her home in Lakeview, and, after living like a refugee for months, is now in a one-room apartment in Metairie waiting to be allowed to go home. Mrs. Phyllis Hudson is a very youthful 88 year old with an incredible spirit and an amazing story. We came to see some art, and we left with impressions that no television report can convey. She asked if we'd like to see what's REALLY happening in New Orleans and we drove together through what is left of Lakeview, an upper-middle class town right on Lake Pontchartrain. Lakeview and St Bernards (the Ninth Ward) were the two hardest hit communities when the levee broke and the lake water came rushing in and totally devastated the entire area.

I can't describe to you the gut-wrenching feeling of seeing block after block of what had recently been a thriving, well-to-do township of very lovely brick and clapboard homes, now completely destroyed. Dead trees and garbage were everywhere and most of the houses were gutted on the interior so one could see straight through. Below is a photo of a condemned home where you can clearly see the high-water mark on the front and the emergency workers' spray paint on the front door.

This "Craftsman" style home has been cleaned out and the infamous "FEMA Trailer" is parked in front indicating that the family intends to keep the property and will hopefully be able to rebuild.

Here you can see where a building has been lifted by a tree. Many of the trees did not survive three weeks of being underwater and are now dead. Again, you can see the high-water mark on the house to the right.

Phyllis Hudson herself is a survivor! Not one to be scared by a little hurricane, after all, she'd survived Betsy and Camille and many smaller ones in between, she laid in her supplies, parked her car on high ground and waited it out. Living on the 14th floor of a condo building with a fabulous view of the Marina and Lake Pontchartrain, she figured she was well above flood level and no wind gust could blow the building down. Unfortunately, the wind blew in the windows upstairs and the enormous quantity of rain flooded the building from the top down. She and her neighbors waited, without electricity or telephone, for 4 days and were eventually rescued by boat off their pool deck after walking down the emergency stairs.

The good news is that this building is undergoing repairs and the residents will probably be allowed to return in the next few months. They are the lucky ones. Many homes are un-inhabitable and have been abandoned or are awaiting tear-down. The re-building project is enormous, but there are little signs of hope. As we were driving, she pointed out what used to be her shopping center and was delighted to see that the gas station had just re-opened for business.

In desperate circumstances like this, it's hard to keep the faith, but one can never give up on the indominatability of the human spirit. God Bless You Phyllis Hudson, you are an inspiration to us all.