ARTS BEAT NEWSLETTER - Dec 26 - Jan 1, 2001

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  • CAN MACHINES IMPROVISE JAZZ? "Even more than most creative endeavors, jazz is surrounded by a rhetoric of intuition and inspiration, especially with regard to the central role of improvisation. Yet now another endeavor once thought to be our own exclusive cognitive province has, it would appear, been colonized by faster, smarter, ever more complex computing systems." Feed 12/25/00
  • REPORTS OF MY DEATH... Eight years ago tales of doom and gloom about American orchestras were rampant. "Despite the troubling statistics - in 1992 three-quarters of American orchestras were posting debts - the business of making music has improved markedly over the past eight years. Today, three-quarters of American orchestras are balancing their books each season, accumulated debt has decreased, and some prominent and once-troubled groups have enjoyed unprecedented philanthropic favor and are on the road to stability." Washington Post 12/31/00
  • SELLING ART: Our cultural institutions have been pushed to attract ever greater audiences to justify their success. "It's a difficult moment because, on some level, not-for-profits are being asked to be very entrepreneurial. At the same time, there's a growing awareness that if this is pushed too far, then the issue of cultural and artistic integrity can be compromised." Los Angeles Times 12/24/00
    • WHAT PRICE SUCCESS? John Walsh has been checking out other museums since he stepped down as director of the Getty in September. "I keep thinking, what price success? Museums are drawing huge audiences, but to what? To dazzling new buildings or renovated ones, very often, or to ballyhooed exhibitions of overexposed art (even things with a dubious place in art museums like motorcycles and guitars). In settings like that, looking at works of art is becoming a point-and-click sort of thing. There's a crowd flowing around you, noise . . . glance, move on." Los Angeles Times 12/28/00


  • PRESERVING DANCE: It's quite possible with the dissolution of the Martha Graham Company, that her works will fall into oblivion. "Whatever its quirks, though, the Graham case is part of a widespread phenomenon: the disappearance, real or potential, of choreography. Even in this era of satellite imaging and fingertip access to unfathomable resources, much of the world's dance catalogue has been erased." Washington Post 12/31/00

  • THE INTERNATIONAL ART: "Just as no football fan would ever mistake a Brazilian forward for a German one, so the seasoned ballet-goer likes to think they can tell an American or a Russian from the back of the gallery. Go to any performance of The Nutcracker in London or Manchester this week and you'll see Danes dancing with Spaniards, Italians dancing with Japanese. Look hard and you may detect subtle differences of style. Yet stereotypes need to be handled with care: the surnames tell only half the story." The Telegraph (London) 12/26/00


  • MEDIOCRE - BUT IT SELLS: Hard to find a movie critic who doesn't think 2000 was a down year for movies. But box office receipts from the US and Canada are expected to reach $7.7 billion - a record - by New Year's Eve, thanks largely to the sudden success of Dr Seuss' 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas', which has become the year's top-selling film." BBC 12/29/00
  • BEFORE THE STORM: "If the doomsayers are right, the next six months could be the last happy times for Tinseltown for quite a while. The Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild contract expire with the movie studios and major film and TV producers. With the very likely prospect of two crippling strikes shutting down movie and television production over the summer and into the fall, Hollywood is on a frenetic pace to green-light and rush into production as many films as possible." Los Angeles Times 12/31/00
  • THE INEVITABILITY OF DIGITAL? Director George Lucas will spend about $15,000 for videotape stock to film his newest "Star Wars" installment. "Had he gone with traditional film stock, the cost could have reached $2. 5 million." San Francisco Chronicle 12/31/00
  • TOUGH TIMES FOR MOVIE THEATRES: High-flying Canadian movie theatre chain Cinaplex Odeon has had a roller-coaster existence. After a few good years, the company now faces bankruptcy. "After the building of many expensive new cinema complexes over the past few years, there are far too many screens for the market. The public has deserted the old-fashioned ones, but Cineplex is stuck with long leases." Toronto Star 12/31/00
  • IMPROBABLE DREAMER: Your star die? Your set burn down? From Betty Grable's million-dollar legs to Oliver Reed's death while making "Gladiator," movie insurance covers a lot of contingencies. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/28/00



  • CLASSICAL DEFINITION: "What is the relationship of America's classical music to its popular music? Should singers be allowed to go back and forth between the opera house and popular radio? Are Broadway musicals the real American opera? Should symphonic composers use jazz and popular music in their works? There was a very good reason - cultural self-definition - to have these discussions, but at some point it should have become obvious that these were mostly hollow questions about the status of different types of music, rather than real issues of substance." Washington Post 12/31/00
  • DEFINITIVE UPDATE: With 25 million words, with more than 29,000 articles from 6,000 contributors in 98 countries, the New Grove is changing fast. Sunday Times (London) 12/31/00
  • THE BACH YEAR: After a year of Bach celebrations the world over, what did it all add up to? "Paradoxically, all the fuss and manic eagerness to outdo the competition seems only to obstruct an understanding of Bach's music. The more we are led to believe that we can catch hold of Bach in his entirety, the more he slips from our grasp." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12/31/00
  • MUSIC ON THE SIDE: It costs more to buy a movie soundtrack recording than to see the movie. But sometimes the music is better than the movie. "There may have been a dearth of Oscar contenders this year, but there was no shortage of noteworthy soundtracks. Some were loaded with new hits, others more like mix-tapes of beloved oldies." National Post (Canada) 12/29/00
  • USING NAPSTER TO MAKE MONEY: The music industry has always feared whatever was the latest technological advancement. "But instead of trying to burn down the bridge that now exists between users and musicians (and their labels), why not use that bridge to create, say, a list of all the people who loved the lastest Dido album? Then you can talk with them when it comes time to sell her next one. What's that worth? Well, let's see: you can sell way more copies of her next album." 12/27/00

Plus: Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer gets his name back ~ Tina Turner was the No. 1 selling concert performer in 2000 ~ The Beatles take the top of the music charts again, 30 years after splitting up ~  Plans for the future of Carnegie Hall are uncertain after its director resigns.



  • THE CUBAN PICASSOS: Relatives of Pablo Picasso are discovered in Cuba. "Today, the black Picassos, as they call themselves, are thrilled about the discovery of their connection with the artist whose name from a clipping, cousin Luis Picasso, has kept for years in his wallet, simply because he found the coincidence of the spelling amusing." CNN 12/29/00
  • LAST OF THE STONECARVERS: Vincent Palumbo, the last of the Washington Cathedral stone-carvers, died last week at the age of 61. "At his funeral in the nave on Wednesday, Palumbo was remembered as 'the last of the classically trained stone carvers', one who learned from his father, who had learned from his father and so on." Washington Post 12/29/00
  • ACTOR JASON ROBARDS DIES: "Mr. Robards, 78, started out as a stage actor in the 1950s, gaining critical acclaim for his performances in Eugene O'Neill plays, including 'The Iceman Cometh' and 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'." Washington Post 12/27/00


  • USED PROTEST: Authors and publishers are protesting that Amazon has begun selling used books. "Authors earn royalties from new book sales but get nothing when used copies of the same books are resold. Used book sales are also not counted in creating the bestsellers lists or the publishers' sales records. The crux of the complaint is that Amazon is making used books available within weeks of a new release." Wired 12/31/00
  • WHY BOOKS ARE PUBLISHED: "Forty years ago an editor decided to publish a book because it, or the author, captured their fancy. Marketing, accounting, and publicity mattered, but not nearly as much as editorial preference. This led to the discovery of some great writers who wouldn't have stood a chance in a more dollar-conscious environment, but it also led, as you might expect, to a reasonable share of self-important blather. Over the last decade the ethos of narcissism once so common has been displaced by an equally dubious operating principle: The corporate mindset." Feed 12/29/00
  • THE SECRET TO MY SUCCESS: The average independent bookstore turns over its inventory about 3 1/2 times in a year - a bit better than the chains do. What makes an independent successful? The formula's not so difficult. Washington Post 12/28/00
  • THE BAD OF BIGGER IS BETTER? Critics decry the consolidation of the book business and the declinee of independent book stores. But anyone who has walked into a Barnes and Noble or Borders can see that most Americans have more access to a wider range of books of all qualities and types than ever before. Is this a bad thing? Reason 12/27/00
  • WHERE IS SOUTH AFRICA'S NEW GENERATION? "There seemed to be an expectation that as apartheid collapsed and its legacy faded a new generation of young black writers (let’s call them YBWs) would emerge in their full glory, spurred on by the new freedoms of a new democracy. It was thought that the combination of apartheid censorship and lack of educational advantage had held them back, but now their time had come. Yet they are scarcer than viable South African feature film projects." Daily Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 12/22/00
  • BEST IN SHOW: What were the best academic books of the 1990s? The readers of Lingua Franca vote. Camille Paglia is No. 1? Really? Lingua Franca 12/22/00


  • NEW ISN'T BETTER: Lottery money has led to massive building of theatres in Britain. But "theatre isn't about bricks and mortar - or, these, days, concrete and glass. It's about what happens on that stage inside. It's about imagination, about content and about ideas. The heresy that a new building was more important than a new idea began about a generation ago. The glamorous, if sometimes tacky, Edwardian music halls were pulled down. Lottery money made this obsession with rebuilding even worse." London Evening Standard 12/29/00
  • THE ART OF CHANGE: "Theatre is rapidly changing, and audiences shun routine and crave something special. It may take the form of a day-long event - the shared experience of watching together from morning to night forges a sense of community. But the profusion of short plays also implies that audiences are happy to have a short, sharp theatrical shock, an intense experience as a prelude to dinner. To reverse Brecht's dictum, first come the morals, then the bread." The Guardian (London) 12/27/00
  • IS OUR THEATRE OKAY? Should a critic express grave concern over the state of Canadian theatre when the poorly funded non-profits embrace facile populism and the commercial sector shrinks to a shadow of its former self? Or do all those dynamic little shows popping up here and there indicate irrepressible creativity and renewed health?" The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/25/00
  • LANCASTER'S MIRACLE: "It's a musical theater extravaganza of truly biblical proportions that will play to more than 200,000 people before the run ends in two weeks here in Lancaster County. And those people will gaze upon the power and the glory of the highest production values, and they will rejoice." Washington Post 12/25/00



  • WORLDWIDE ART THEFT: The list of stolen art work is constantly growing. Estimates worldwide of art theft run from $2 billion to $6 billion annually. "And the possibility of getting your prized possession back is slim to none. Recent UNESCO statistics show that only five to 10 per cent of stolen cultural goods are ever recovered." CBC 12/25/00
  • THE DOME RECONSIDERED: The press beat up on London's hapless Millennium Dome in 2000. But "if the Dome was vacuous or meaningless - as has been claimed by newspaper editors who spent this year filling their pages with articles about Nasty Nick and The Weakest Link - well, so are most of the 6.5 million people who attended and had a rare old time. Will posterity acknowledge their existence?" The Telegraph (London) 12/30/00
  • MUSEUM VANDALS: Two men vandalized the Jewish History Museum in Bucharest. "The men entered the musuem, which is housed in a former synagogue, early on Thursday morning, asking 'Where is the soap made of human fat? Is there any Auschwitz soap?' They punched a 63-year-old guard in the face and choked him, smashing windows and scattering exhibits on the floor, before leaving." BBC 12/29/00
  • PARTHENON PROPAGANDA: Last month Athens opened a new subway stop at the Acropolis, decorated with replicas of the Parthenon marbles that Greece wants to retrieve from Britain. Next up are plans for a new Acropolis Museum, designed to up pressure on the English to return the sculptures. The Art Newspaper 12/29/00
  • CAN ONE BUILDING BE ALL THIS? "The Tate Modern is literally and figuratively the biggest thing to happen in the world of contemporary art, anywhere, for the last 25 years. The mutant offspring of such questionable immensities as the Pompidou Center and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Bilbao Guggenheim, and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, the new Tate represents either the beginning of the end of the British art scene, or the end of the beginning. It makes you wonder if success will spoil the English art world." Village Voice 12/28/00
  • THE RICH GET RICHER: London doesn't just have a roll call of fancy new arts buildings in which to play. There's a lot to go inside, too. "The long-term effect of the building programmes of recent years is now beginning to be felt; in terms of the number and quality of our exhibitions, London's visual culture is now the richest in the world." The Telegraph (London) 12/27/00
  • BACKGROUND RIGHTS: A half dozen major museums, artists and university presses are being sued for "appropriation" of copyrighted images. "The plaintiffs are seeking to hold the defendants liable for promoting and selling the disputed image, which they say was distributed on T-shirts, magnets, books, brochures, cards, websites and street billboards, including two immense building displays in New York arranged by the Whitney Museum. The lawsuit raises the question of what happens if an underlying image used in such a work is not in the public domain." The Art Newspaper 12/27/00

Plus: Archeologists, calling their discovery the "Sistine Chapel of the ancient world," have discovered 30 new sites filled with drawings carved into rocks unseen by human eyes for up to 6,000 years ~ The artist Kitaj sold a drawing on a Post-it note for £640 ~ What the top ten German collectors bought this year



  • CHINESE REVIVAL: China spent a good part of the 20th Century distroying its past, particularly during the years of the Cultural Revolution. But history has become hot among today's Chinese youth, and a revival of things of the past is underway. International Herald Tribune 12/29/00

  • PROSPECTS FOR PEACE: Hollywood weighs a new Bush administration. Sen. John Ashcroft, Bush's nominee for attorney general, gets mixed reviews. Variety 12/28/00

  • AGING THROUGH THE AGES: "If André du Laurens's tract on the subject is to be believed, growing old must have been a positively blissful experience back in 1594." So what happened? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12/27/00

  • THE COMPUTERS UNITED: All those millions of home computers out there laying idle much of the time could be put to good use while their owners aren't working on them, say researchers. "With about 300 million PCs connected to the Internet but idle 90 percent of the time, there's huge potential for scientific projects utilizing distributed computing power, researchers argue in a report." Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Scripps Howard) 12/28/00

Plus: Singapore holds a "No Art Day," an occasion for people to reflect on the role of art in Singapore Culture. 



  • MINING THE CLASSICS: A comic book remake of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" in Russia has critics upset. "Convertible cars, cocaine and sushi bars provide the backdrop for the comic-book reworking, set in the present day and casting its characters as fast-living members of Russia's idle rich. The novel's heroine is depicted as a femme fatale with a mobile phone, a taste for luxury lingerie and, by the end of the comic, a drug habit that drives her to suicide." National Post (Canada) 12/28/00
  • WANNA JOB KID? A high school kid who joined an English printing firm for a fortnight's work study program came up with and implemented an idea that earned the company millions of pounds and saved it from bankruptcy. The Telegraph (London) 12/28/00
  • BODY PARTS IS BODY PARTS: Promoters of a production of "The Vagina Monologues" in West Haven Connecticut put up a billboard overlooking theNew England Thruway. But "it seems that the word 'vagina' writ large shocked a number of people who drove past." The marketer "started receiving rambling, incognito messages of outrage on his answering machine, and the local media picked up the story. He has been accused of deliberately enlarging the inflammatory word on the billboard, though as he points out he's simply using the play's logo." Variety 12/29/00