March 31, 2016

A Symphony of Lights

Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour is one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen.  Day and night, the waters between Hong Kong and Kowloon are plied by all manner of vessels from cruise ships to barges to the signature Star Ferries to the last remaining Chinese junk with its rust red sails.  Indeed, I would urge any visitor to Hong Kong to pay the premium for a hotel room with a harbour view as the sheer volume of water traffic is a sight not to be missed.
The other benefit of a room with a view is the magnificent skyline of majestic sky scrapers that impresses even me, a jaded New Yorker!  So how can one possibly improve upon this spectacular setting?  Add a nightly dazzling light show that plays off 47 waterfront buildings and you have "A Symphony of Lights"!

Cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest permanent light and sound show, this extravaganza of colored lights set to music is truly the icing on the cake.  I had seen the light show from various viewpoints but last Sunday, on my final night in Hong Kong, I took the Star Ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon waterfront for a prime view of the fifteen minute spectacular. 

The boardwalk was jammed with tourists on this mild night, and at eight o'clock, on the dot, the music started and the light show began...

Unfortunately, on Sunday nights the narration is in Cantonese so I could not understand the descriptions but later learned that the program is a celebration of the history, growth, diversity and glorious future of Hong Kong.

"A Symphony of Light" began in 2004 with 18 buildings in Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai on the Hong Kong side of the harbour.  By the next year, it had expanded to 33 buildings on both sides.  11 more were added in 2007, one more in 2012 and the latest two joined in 2014.

Laser lights, search lights and projection lighting in all colors of the rainbow flashed, strobed and migrated in patterns, pictures, and blasts.  And before I knew it, the show was over and it was time to get back on the Star Ferry and return to the Hong Kong side for a Peking Duck dinner.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful trip!

March 28, 2016

Hong Kong Hello!

Hello from Hong Kong where I have spent the last week attending Art Basel Hong Kong and generally enjoy the sights and sounds of this fabulous city.  As far as the art fair - I think it was a huge popular success but the recent downturn in the Chinese economy meant cautious buyers and less than stellar sales.  But I'm not here to report on the state of the art market, I'm here to share some of the fun activities unique to Asia's World City!

View of Hong Kong from Kowloon

Despite anticipation of warm, sunny days, the weather here has been rainy, windy and chilly, making me even more grateful for Central's extensive system of underground passages and covered pedestrian walkways.  As some of my readers may remember, I had visited Hong Kong once before, about four years ago, and visited many of the main attractions then.  This time I wanted to see a little more of Hong Kong Island and last Thursday morning boarded a double decker Citybus for the 45 minute ride up and over the mountains and down to the other side.

Even though the weather did not cooperate, the views were spectacular as we drove from the heart of Central, past the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Race Track, climbing up through the Mid and Upper Levels via Wong Nai Chung Gap Road until descending toward the beautiful beaches of Repulse Bay...

The road was narrow, steep and winding and the bus ride was a little more thrilling than most I've experienced, but we made it safely and on time in the historic town of Stanley, on the southern coast of Hong Kong Island.  Founded during the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620) as Chek Chu, the village was re-named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, around 1841.  At that time Stanley was one of the most populated regions on Hong Kong Island and it became the base for the British garrison.  It continued as a center for military and police operations with strong fortifications built against attacks from the sea and the largest prison in Hong Kong.

 Stanley Beach facing East

Stanley Beach facing West

Stanley Fort was the scene of fierce fighting between British and Canadian forces mounting a last stand against Japanese invaders during the Battle of Hong Kong.  The few remaining survivors surrendered in December 1941 and were interned, along with government officers and and foreign civilians, in the former British barracks during the period that Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation.

Since the 1970's Stanley has capitalized on its beautiful beaches and proximity to Hong Kong to become a popular seaside tourist town.  Its restored historic area features Murray House, a Victorian era barracks formerly located in Central and re-located brick by brick to Stanley Main Street where it now functions as a shopping mall, and Blake Pier, another transplant from Central that allows access to the water for both pedestrians and boaters.

In 2011 the town of Stanley opened Ma Hang Park, a nature preserve that also houses the historic Pak Tai Temple.  Built in 1805 when Stanley was a major fishing port, the temple is dedicated to the protector of fisherman (God of the North) and is still very actively visited by worshipers.  Originally constructed out of local rocks and maintained by the villagers, it now contains few of the authentic furnishings and is managed by the government, but still provides a glimpse of the area's history and a lovely view over the bay.

Another historic temple can be found at the end of Stanley Main Street, near the Stanley Plaza.  This one is dedicated to Tin Hau, named the "Empress of Heaven" after her death around the year 1000 in recognition of her life of holiness and miracles and for her ability to rescue people in danger.  The Stanley Tin Hau Temple was founded in 1767 and Tin Hau's powers were quite literally put to the test in 1942 when two Japanese bombs hit the temple but failed to explode, thereby sparing the people sheltering inside its walls.

A few steps away on Stanley Main Street is a group of three small buildings that comprise the Tai Wong Temple dedicated to Hung Shing, a deity popular in Southern China but whose particular importance I could not determine but this temple apparently has good Feng Shui.

These days Stanley is probably best known for its market, a maze of tiny shops filled with goods mainly for the tourist trade.  With the inclement weather the plastic sheeting covered walkways did provide some shelter, and while maybe not the finest example of Chinese arts and crafts I did find a few good souvenirs to bring back home.

After a late lunch in a beach side restaurant it was time to catch the bus back over the mountains to downtown Hong Kong.  Once again the ride was "stimulating", to put it nicely, but the vistas were truly breathtaking.  My day trip to Stanley provided an interesting counterpoint to the big city hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and was a great way to see a different side of this amazing island.

March 20, 2016

A Visit to the Musée Gustave Moreau

The French painter Gustave Moreau is generally considered the preeminent practitioner of the Symbolist art movement popular during the late 19th century.  His large canvases of biblical and mythological scenes are beautifully colored works that are abstract, poetic, mysterious and uniquely his own.

Beside being a very talented painter, Moreau was also a fine draftsman and watercolorist and a dedicated teacher at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  A man of few friends, he was devoted to his parents and lived with them almost all of his life.  In fact, it is the family home at 14 Rue de la Rochefoucauld in the IX arrondissement, that is now a museum dedicated to work of Gustave Moreau and my destination on a recent Sunday afternoon.

What is particularly noteworthy about this building is that Moreau always intended it to be a museum after his death.  When the house was purchased in 1852 it served as both the family apartment and his atelier.  In 1895, after the death of both of his parents, he ordered the expansion of his studios and the addition of two rooms on the main floor all with an eye to a permanent posthumous exhibition space.  The museum opened to the public in 1903, five years after his death, and was a favorite haunt of the Surrealists.  It was renovated and re-opened in 2003 and is now a popular destination for Parisians and tourists alike.

Unlike most museums dedicated to the work of one artist, the Musee Gustave Moreau allows visitors a look at both the private apartment and the working studios and offers over 8,000 works of art for your viewing pleasure.  Entering on the ground floor we find a reception area and a few very small rooms that are filled floor to ceiling with drawings and paintings.

Upstairs on the first floor is Moreau's private apartment that is furnished as it was when he lived there.   We find a dining room, in his mother's former bedroom, now filled with art and Majolica porcelain...

the artist's bedroom...

and his boudoir/office...

As you can see, each of these small rooms is like a cabinet of curiosities with not a square inch of space left empty!  This claustrophobic decorating scheme changes entirely when we mount the next flight of stairs and enter the vast studio that comprises the second and third floors joined by an incredible spiral staircase.

Moreau commissioned this super-sized atelier to accommodate his massive canvases, although how he moved them in and out is a mystery!  Some of his paintings are truly monumental, like his masterpiece "Jupiter and Semele" that measures over seven feet tall.

Literally hundreds of paintings are hung "salon" style, each one ornately framed and together they cover the surface of the entire wall.

As if this is not enough of a treasure trove, ingeniously designed cabinets, both free standing and against the walls, can be opened to reveal an enormous collection of matted and framed drawings and watercolors.

Truth be told, I have never been a huge fan of the work of Gustave Moreau finding it a little too much in the realm of "fantasy" art, but as often happens after viewing a single artist exhibition, I gained a new appreciation for his technique and vision.  Nevertheless, the opportunity to explore a historic home, especially one with such unique decorative features, is not to be missed and I would recommend a visit to the Musee Gustave Moreau to anyone interested in an off the beaten path experience.

March 13, 2016

It's TEFAF Time Again!

The most anticipated event of the art and antiques season is undoubtedly the opening of The European Fine Arts Fair, or TEFAF as it is more commonly known.  Now in its 29th year, this is the gold standard by which all other art and antiques fairs are judged - an extravaganza of the finest and rarest the market has to offer.

I had the very good fortune to receive an invitation to the opening last Thursday and took the early train from Paris to Liège and then on to Maastricht and walked through the doors with thousands of other fair-goers shortly after noon.  As this was not my first time, I was prepared to be amazed at the magnificent floral displays for which TEFAF is famous, and once again they did not disappoint.  Hundreds of test tubes, suspended from the ceiling, each with a white flower and/or a green flower, gave the impression of stars twinkling above the fairyland that waited beyond.

TEFAF has earned its reputation for "Excellence, Expertise and Elegance" by accepting only top ranked exhibitors and subjecting every single item offered for sale to a stringent vetting process.  This careful selection assures the 75,000 collectors, curators and merely curious who pass through the fair each year, that they can buy (or at least window shop) with confidence.

This year, 273 dealers from 21 countries are exhibiting paintings, furniture, decorations, coins, rugs, jewelry, books, porcelains, clocks, armor, sculpture, marine instruments, and anything else you can possibly imagine, covering over 7,000 years of history.  Here are a few pieces that caught my eye:

On the stand of Dickinson, London, is this beautiful oil painting by Renoir entitled "Au Bord de l'eau", 1885.  This Impressionist masterpiece had a firm reserve at $12 million by the end of the opening day.

Georg Laue, Munich, is known for his "cabinet of curiosities" presentation.  This year was no exception with this 17th century carved alabaster plaque depicting "Adam and Eve in Paradise" by Leonhard Kern...

and this gorgeous amber chess set made in Germany in 1700.

This very rare complete set of Russian icons depicting The Annunciation and the Four Evangelists came from a Royal Door made in the second half of the 19th century.  It was on the stand of Jan Morsink Ikonen, Amsterdam.

One new exhibitor, Jean-Michel Renard, France, presented an entire booth of historic musical instruments.

While Portuguese dealer Luis Alegria created this clever display mixing an 18th century rosewood commode with a South American Colonial polychrome sculpture of the Holy Family.

This enormous Roman marble foot dominated the stand of Cahn International, Switzerland.  Amazingly, despite its vast size it sold almost immediately!

One can almost imagine oneself wearing these gorgeous 18th century turban ornaments from Dehli, displayed at Van Gelder Indian Folk Jewellery...

...while ensconced on this Anglo-Indian solid ivory armchair made in Murshidabad circa 1800 across the aisle on the stand of A. Mohtasheme, London.
One of the more curious pieces was this 18th century Bavarian walnut wood and ivory sculpture of card players shown by Senger Bamberg Kunsthandel, Germany.

This charming little carved and painted ivory apple is called an "Okimono".  It is from the Meiji period in Japan (1868-1912) and was already marked "sold" on the stand of London dealer Ben Janssens Oriental Art.

As you can probably imagine, it is nearly impossible to choose a single favorite piece at a fair like this.  But in a "burning building" scenario, I would have to pick this incredible Swiss clock, made for a Turkish collector, shown by Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.  This heavily decorated ormolu birdcage featured two enameled automaton birds that chirped and fluttered their wings while a column of crystal in the center simulated a cascading waterfall.  The actual clock face is on the bottom and can be viewed when looking up at this marvelous example of craftsmanship and fantasy.

What better way to end such a delightful day than with a glass, or two, of champagne!  I can hardly wait for next year!!!

March 05, 2016

What's On at the Fashion Institute of Technology

While the Fashion Institute of Technology is first and foremost a highly respected college for design, fashion and art, it also boasts a very fine museum with an outstanding exhibition program.  Located in the heart of New York's Garment District, the galleries offer a wide variety of themed shows with fashion and costume, both historic and contemporary, as the common thread.

Right now, the Museum at FIT is presenting two distinctly different exhibitions, one practical, the other fanciful, but both worthwhile.

Upstairs, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery, is "Denim: Fashion's Frontier", a small but interesting look at the history of denim clothing from the 19th century to the present.  While jeans are a staple in almost every modern wardrobe, that was hardly the case when Levi Strauss and Co. began to produce woven cotton denim work pants for prospectors in the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800s.  What began as purely a work wear fabric, expanded into uniforms and prison garb before becoming the preferred material for "Western Wear" and play clothes for tennis and the beach.

With factories hiring women workers during World War II, denim apparel was a practical option.  By the 1960s, jeans became groovy and a fashion statement all by themselves and it wasn't long before denim entered the mainstream for good.  The wearing of denim, once the symbol of a manual laborer, became haute couture and was embraced by designers around the world.  It continues to be re-purposed and re-interpreted in ways that Levi Strauss could never have imagined!

 Hand-embroidered pair of Levis denim jeans, circa 1969

A denim leisure suit by Raphael, circa 1973

A denim dress by Junya Watanabe, 2002

Moving downstairs, to the cavernous Special Exhibitions Gallery, we come to "Fairy Tale Fashion", a fantastical exhibition that looks at fairy tales through the eyes of high fashion.  Over eighty costumes and gowns from the 18th century to today are grouped to illustrate fifteen fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Lewis Carroll.  In some cases the gowns were directly inspired by a fairy tale, like these capes that relate to Little Red Riding Hood...

Or this beaded gown by Alexander McQueen that resembles Rapunzel's long, golden tresses...

In other cases, it is not a direct link but more of a feeling that the design of the gown exudes, like this hooded cape by J. Mendel that looks like something Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen would wear...

Or that the princess in Grimm's "Furrypelts" would be dressed in a glittering star frock like this one by Mary Liotta...

It is not hard to link the idea of fabulous fashion with fantasy characters.  Designers have always endeavored to created confections that make their wearers feel beautiful and special, like a fairy princess going to a ball.  After all, who doesn't have a bit of a Cinderella fantasy hidden deep down inside?!