Archive for February, 2010

Henri Matisse - The Dance II mural at the Barnes Foundation

Watched The Art of The Steal, a documentary about the battle for ownership of the great art collection put together by Dr. Albert Barnes. He made a fortune selling drugs which he spent on art, especially on post-impressionist works,which he championed way ahead of the established US museums. The movie points out that The Barnes Foundation has more works by Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse than are in Paris, the Met, or MOMA.

I was interested in the film as I visited The Barnes Foundation, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, back in 1985 when it was only open two days a week – as stipulated in the will set up by Barnes who wanted the foundation to be an educational establishment rather than a public museum. The will also said the paintings were never to be moved, loaned or sold – but since it is now valued an estimated $25bn, it seems inevitable that in the modern art world his wishes would be ignored.

Given the documentary’s title it does not pretend to be objective and it is put together as a thriller with the real-life characters portrayed as good guys or bad guys. Like a good thriller, it holds your interest and is well-paced, but I would have preferred a more nuanced discussion on issues such as sticking to Barnes’ wishes versus giving as many ordinary people as possible access to the collection. And although the film is about art, the actual art does not feature very heavily.

At one point, protesters who object to moving the foundation picket a fund-raising gala which one of them dubs ‘The Predator’s Ball‘ – an event hosted by Micheal Milken, when he was head of junk bonds at disgraced securities firm Drexel and raising money for hostile takeovers of well-established US corporates.

It is ironic that after watching the documentary you are left with the impression that the art world is a lot more murky than Wall Street – at least on Wall Street they are honest enough to admit that it is all about the money.

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My walk to work this morning after a foot of snow fell overnight

Snow on 7th Avenue

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The design of the new production of The Tempest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music looks fantastic according to this photo in the New York Times;

and this is a review from The New Yorker. I am still unsure whether they think this is a good production but the piece is headlined Big Magic  so that must be a positive.

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Absurd ideas

This article has a great quote from Albert Einstein: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

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Just read the New Yorker’s Letter from Ukraine on how and why incumbent, Viktor Yushchenko, lost the Presidential election despite winning the Orange Revolution in 2004. The writer, Keith Gessen, is shown around by Sergey, a translator of foreign films and TV shows including Miami Vice, which results in Sergey showing off two-day old stubble.

I can’t help but recall Alex, the young Ukrainian translator, in Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything Is Illuminated – one of the first books I picked up when I came to New York and was looking to discover new American writers. It is unclear if Sergey has the same originality with the English language as the fictional Alex:

“My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all my friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with my friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother.”

Beneath the humour is the moving story of Safran Foer going back to Ukraine to look for the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis and the New Yorker goes to Lviv to look for the vestiges of the Jews in today’s Ukraine. Gessen writes that Yuvchenko was also searching for Ukraine’s past in order to create a new country but was ultimately unable to cope with the demons that he raised:

“Jeered and whistled by at be a crowd of fifty thousand at the opening of Donetsk’s magnificent new soccer stadium, last year, he’d still got a cheer when he concluded with ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ Now, at last, he’d managed to unite the country in its rejection of him.”

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