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Week of  November 5-11, 2001

1. Special Interest
2. Dance
3. Media
4. Music
5. People
6. Publishing
7. Theatre
8. Visual Arts
9. Arts Issues


DOES TOO MUCH INFO LESSEN UNDERSTANDING? The problem with studying art history? Too much information. "The piles of information smother our capacity to really feel. By imperceptible steps, art history gently drains away a painting's sheer wordless visceral force, turning it into an occasion for intellectual debate. What was once an astonishing object, thick with the capacity to mesmerize, becomes a topic for a quiz show, or a one-liner at a party, or the object of a scholar's myopic expertise." Chronicle of Higher Education 11/05/01

WHY ART? Douglas Coupland wonders: "Where do ideas come from? That's the last thing people understand about themselves, if they ever do. I find that if I am really fascinated by something, or if I'm driven to collect something, that you have to follow your instinct and collect it or explore it. If you do that, then whatever it is inside you churning way down deep, if you're lucky, it will percolate up at the top at a verbal or analytical or critical level." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/10/01

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN IDEAS AND REALITY: Why do deep intellectuals - philosophers - seem so often wrong about political theory? "If by 'intellectuals' we mean those devoted to the life of the mind, we can see why they face more intensely a problem all human beings face: that of negotiating the distance between ideas and social reality. What intellectuals are prone to forget is that this distance poses not only conceptual difficulties but ethical ones as well. It is a moral challenge to determine how to comport oneself simultaneously in relation to abstract ideas and a recalcitrant world. The New York Times 11/10/01 (one-time registration required for access)


SPEAKING OF DANCE: "In the United States, at least, dance theater often amounts to mawkish dancing to the choreographer's own low-grade romantic poetry, clichéd movement interpretations of blundering political rants, or performance art studded with feeble moments of affectless gesture. In each case, the perpetrator pumps up one medium at the expense of the other. But in witty Aerobia, an agile and nuanced relationship develops between the talking and the dancing." The New York Times 11/11/01 (one-time registration required for access


HARRY VS HOBBIT: Which will do better at the box office this winter - Harry Potter or the first Lord of the Rings movie? If you feel strongly about it, you can bet. Oddsmakers are taking a variety of wagers on the box office: will Harry Potter tie or break the "first-five-days-of-release gross" record of $100-million set by George Lucas's The Phantom Menace in 1999? "The odds are 1 to 2 that it will tie or break, 3 to 2 that it will not." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/10/01

NO FUN FAT: Plus-size advocates are protesting the new Shallow Hal movie: "Thin stars wearing fat suits to performing in blackface, now considered offensive and demeaning to blacks. If we wanted white actors to play black people, would we paint their faces black? No way." Hartford Courant 11/11/01

MEDIA ART FROM - LITERALLY - THE DUSTBIN: In the early years, TV programmes on BBC often were not recorded, or the recordings were lost or destroyed. A recent public appeal has turned up more than a hundred such "lost" shows. Among the recovered gems, a 1963 appearance by the Beatles on a TV chart show (they evaluated an Elvis recording), and a 1962 Benny Hill show. CNN 11/08/01

FILE-SHARING GOES TO WAR: "The Pentagon is taking a friendlier view of Napster's file-sharing concept than are America's big entertainment companies. Rather than trying to shut down the new computer networks that allow people to directly connect other personal computers, the military wants to enlist their creators in the war against terrorism." Washington Post 11/08/01

WHITE HOUSE WANTS HOLLYWOOD TO HELP: "Several dozen top executives in the film and television industry plan to meet on Sunday morning with Karl Rove, a senior White House adviser, to discuss what Hollywood can do to aid the war effort. 'The gathering is to brief studio executives on the war on terrorism and to discuss with them future projects that may be undertaken by the industry,' a White House spokesman said. 'The White House has great respect for the creativity of the industry and recognizes its impact and ability to educate at home and abroad.' Several executives emphasized today that they were not interested in making propaganda films." The New York Times 11/08/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE SOUND OF PUBLIC RADIO: In recent months, protests over program changes at public radio stations around the country have been successfully fought. The protests trace back to David Giovannoni. "A brilliant analyst of public radio's audience — who it is, how much it listens, when it listens, what it listens to, when and why it donates money — he is quite possibly the most influential figure in shaping the sound of National Public Radio today, the sound heard by upward of 20 million Americans weekly." The New York Times 11/11/01 (one-time registration required for access)

DOWNSIZING PBS: Commercial broadcasting isn't the only sector laying off employees in the economic downturn. PBS is cutting its staff by more than 10%, (59 jobs). "The cuts, to be made through a combination of 27 layoffs and the rest in unfilled positions, follow a 9% staffing reduction, or 60 positions, in March, and will bring PBS' total number of employees to just over 500." Los Angeles Times 11/06/01

THIRD TIME'S A CHARM: After being canceled twice, the Emmy Awards finally go off when planned. West Wing wins most statues, while Sex in the City becomes the first cable comedy series to win best comedy series. Ten of the 27 winners were not in attendance. Los Angeles Times 11/05/01


STUCK IN THE PAST: Why are North American orchestras in danger? "No other industry has been so resistant to renewal. Orchestras play much the same menu, at the same time, in the same venues, for the same duration and wearing the same waiters' uniforms as they did when Roosevelt was president. Experiment is ruled out by archaic rules. The culture is governed by compromise and fear." The Telegraph (UK) 11/07/01

THE PROBLEM WITH ORCHESTRAS: "Ironically, overall attendance at symphony concerts rose in the 1990s by 18 per cent, according to the American Symphony Orchestra League. And yet, about 10 orchestras have had to declare bankruptcy or undertake major restructuring within the last decade and a half. The good news is that all but one of those orchestras have since returned to the stage. The bad news is that their problems have been recycled by other orchestras. Why this roller coaster between solvency and panic? Because our orchestras lack financial security. They are so inconsistently funded that they lurch from crisis to resolution and back to crisis again with frightening ease." Toronto Star 11/03/01

ADAMS PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE: John Adams has faced resistance, complaining, and outright hostility towards his music on his way to becoming one of this era's most popular and successful composers. On the heels of the Boston Symphony's cancellation, for reasons of subject matter, of Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer, the composer remains convinced that audiences are more adventurous, intelligent, and willing to be challenged than they are usually given credit for. Andante 11/07/01

  • SF CRITIC - BOSTON SCREWED UP: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Boston Symphony Orchestra will now soothe you with its rendition of 'Kitten on the Keys,' performed on kazoos. It hasn't quite come to that, but it just might, given the orchestra's ridiculous decision last week to cancel performances of "Choruses From 'The Death of Klinghoffer' by Bay Area composer John Adams." San Francisco Chronicle 11/07/01

CALGARY PHIL SETTLEMENT: The Canadian orchestra has settled its contract dispute with locked-out musicians. The 64 musicians had been locked out since Oct. 7. Calgary Herald 11/05/01

DOUBLE BOOKING: Just how bad are the St. Louis Symphony's financial woes? One set of books "shows year-end deficits going back to at least 1994 and increasing to more than $8 million for 1999 and more than $10 million in the 2000 fiscal year. For 2001 and the current fiscal year, which began Sept. 1, [the orchestra's financial officer] calculated deficits of about $7 million each." But another set of "audited financial reports and statements filed with the IRS, show the Symphony operating in the black for some of the same years, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 11/04/01

ST. MARTIN'S IN THE DOLDRUMS: The Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields is one of the most-recorded orchestras on the planet - its recording in the 60s and 70s were ubiquitous. But "does the orchestra fill any useful niche today? The period-instruments movement has produced groups that play the classical repertoire with more fire in the belly and more precision; and for those who refuse to abandon the old ways, there's a revival of interest in the big, puffed-up, imperial approach to the 18th century that flourished before the Second World War. Which leaves the Academy in no man's land, neither authentic nor truly retro. It's left trying to make a case for music that is merely pretty." Washington Post 11/05/01

IRON MAN DOMINGO: Five years ago Placido Domingo said he thought he had about five years of singing left in him. But one of the world's busiest musicians is making vocal commitments five years from now. Will he know when it's time to quit? "I have a good ear and a good sense, and my wife would tell me." The Sunday Times (UK) 11/11/01

EMERSON ON TOP: The most venerated string quartets tend to stick together for a long time. The Emerson Quartet is 25 this year, and arguably at the top of its field. A set of birthday concerts in London explain why. The Sunday Times (UK) 11/11/01

UNDER-PERFORMERS: For all the operas that have been written in the last few hundred years, the standard repertory is quite small. Opera Magazine asks a couple dozen music critics, artists and opera administrators which operas they'd like to see more often performed. La Wally? Really? Opera News 11/01

THE KING OF MELODIOUS OPERA: Let's hear it for Bellini. Better yet, let's hear Bellini. Verdi said that his music was "rich in feeling and in a melancholy entirely his own," with "long, long melodies such as no one wrote before him." And even Berlioz, who didn't like Bellini, admitted that, near the end of the first act of I Capuleti, "I was carried away in spite of myself and applauded enthusiastically." The Irish Times 11/06/01


PRANKSTER SLEEPS: "Ken Kesey, whose LSD-fueled bus ride became a symbol of the psychedelic 1960s after he won fame as a novelist with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, died yesterday morning. He was 66." Baltimore Sun (AP) 11/11/01

ISLAND OF GLOOM: VS Naipaul just won the Nobel Prize for literature. But he's still not very happy. "Asked if he reads reviews of his books, he almost - but not quite - snickered, twitching his head in silent mirth. 'No, no, no.' So others' opinions about his work have no value? 'No, no, no'." Chicago Tribune 11/09/01

SONY CHAIRMAN COLLAPSES CONDUCTING CONCERT: "Norio Ohga, 71, the chairman of Sony Corporation, was conducting the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at the Beijing Music Festival last night when he collapsed during the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. He is currently recuperating, in a stable condition, at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing." Gramophone 11/08/01

THE GREAT AUCTION HOUSE TRIAL: The trial against Sotheby's ex-chairman opens this week. "For the incestuous art world, where auction-house proles can grow up to be lordly dealers, the price-fixing trial has a certain Freudian tone. Alfred Taubman, the former Sotheby's chairman - and still its largest shareholder - plays the role of overbearing father, and Dede Brooks, his former protégée, is the bossy big sister. 'Of course he's guilty,' said one spectator, relishing the Lear-like scene. 'He's such a megalomaniac'." New York Magazine 11/05/01

POET CANNED: The American Academy of Poets has fired its popular executive director. "William Wadsworth, 51, a poet and former wine store owner, ran the 65-year-old organization for 12 years, during which he updated its image, increased its profile, created a popular Web site to encourage poetry reading and turned April into poetry month." But the organization has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt... The New York Times 11/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)

SIR ERNST GOMBRICH, 92: The eminent art historian's "The Story of Art (1950, 16th edition 1995) has been the introduction to the visual arts for innumerable people for more than 50 years, while his major theoretical books, Art and Illusion (1960), the papers gathered in Meditations on a Hobby Horse (1963) and other volumes, have been pivotal for professional art historians. The Guardian (UK) 11/06/01


MORE FRANZEN FALLOUT: What does the Oprah Winfrey/Jonathan Franzen flap say about today's literary world? "Franzen has to grapple with a serious paradox here, which lies in being so blatantly image-conscious, even while he criticizes the image-makers. His concern is not about what he writes, and whether it connects with readers, but how he is perceived, and what kind of readers he connects with. This is the very kind of attention to branding that he claims to deplore." National Post 11/06/01

  • SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ART AND COMMERCE: It's easy to condemn Jonathan Franzen's tactless swat at Oprah's Book Club. But the sentiment is not foreign to serious writers - of course writers want audiences, and the bigger the better. But that doesn't mean they necessarily want to go whoring after them. Not that being an Oprah writer is whoring, but maybe... Boston Globe 11/10/01
  • THE LAST WORD ON OPRAH: Critic Jonathan Yardley's no Oprah fan, but he's respectful of what her book club can do for a writer. "If I were forced to choose - perish the thought - between reading a year's worth of Oprah selections or the top dozen books on the fiction bestseller list, I'd make a beeline for Oprah. The literary taste of the American mass market is execrable. Oprah Winfrey is doing her part to elevate it. If in the process she's elevating herself as well - this is, after all, the woman who publishes a magazine named after herself with her own picture always prominent on the cover - so what?" Washington Post 11/05/01

POETS CUT BACK: After ousting its popular executive director earlier this week, the board of the Academy of American Poets has decided "to lay off 8 of its 17 employees and to sublease half of its office space in SoHo" in an effort to stave off a looming financial crisis. The New York Times 11/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

RANDOM HOUSE DROPS E-BOOK LINE: "The Random House Trade Group, one of the first publishers to announce the creation of a line of purely digital books last year, became the first to cancel that idea yesterday, quietly scuttling its AtRandom imprint in recognition of the scant consumer demand for books that can be read on screens. But the company will continue to publish electronic versions of books." The New York Times 11/09/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE ARTIST WITHIN: When he's not busy being a dictator, Saddam Hussein is an artist. "Underneath a seemingly tyrannical nature, there lives a passionate soul yearning to share his deepest, most delicate and intimate thoughts. Saddam has written a romance novel. Released earlier this year, Zabibah and the King appears to have won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and made Saddam Hussein a best-selling novelist - according to the Iraq Press it has been selling out of Iraqi bookstores and there are already over 1,000,000 copies in print." The Weekly Standard 11/08/01


THEATRE IN NEW YORK: A group of cultural leaders gets together to talk about the state of theatre in New York: "Theater-making is bracketed by the need for money and space, and the talks centered on such crucial issues as public policy, real estate, and the relations among theater, film, and television industries. A flurry of reports made clear that the events of 9-11 have exacerbated preexisting trends: people choosing stay-at-home entertainment, audiences hesitating to purchase tickets in advance, and government abandoning its support of the arts." Village Voice 11/06/01
  • THEATRE SINCE 9-11: "One of the panel's most salient points was the growing gap between Hollywood, which has moved on from the events of September 11, and New York, where artists are still digesting the effects of the attack and searching for meaning within their own work." Actors Update 11/06/01
  • WHO GETS WHAT IN NY THEATRE: It's a $13 billion industry. "Twenty-nine companies with budgets of $10 million or more, representing the largest arts organizations, account for 70.7 percent of the total revenue among arts groups. Meanwhile, at the bottom of this pyramid, 185 organizations with budgets under $100,000 constitute one half of one percent of total revenue." Actors Update 11/06/01

BARNUM, THE FATHER OF POSTMODERNISM? "The fragmentation of truth, the ascendancy of appearances, the fluidity of self, the breakdown of master narratives, the triumph of ironic detachment: all the tendencies that we loosely label 'postmodernism' are commonly assumed to be the products of mass-media technology and multinational capital." But look back a century farther, to the P. T. Barnum who observed that "The public appears disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived." The New Republic 11/12/01

MAYBE IT'S JUST BAD THEATRE: West End theatre business is down 15 percent from last year. Eight shows have closed recently. But is the current crisis to blame? Nope. "Would an all-male Canadian play about an obscure Antarctic expedition have done any better in boom times? Would Ronald Harwood's ridiculous Hollywooden exploration of a composer's private problems - with dialogue like: "Hello Freud." "Hello Mahler"- have wowed them even if the midwest tourists had been arriving as usual? I can't think of a single show that doesn't owe its demise either to its own internal failings, rotten reviews, or the simple fact that it had exhausted its audience." The Guardian (UK) 11/07/01


MUSEUM DIRECTORS' SALARIES: The salaries of museum directors in the US and Canada have risen fifty percent in the past four years, according to a survey by the Association of Art Museum Directors. In Britain, salaries are dramatically lower: the top British salary, $160,000 (£110,000) at the Tate, is the same as the mean US salary. The top US salary is $1.7 million (£1,170,000), in Houston. The Art Newspaper 11/09/01

VATICAN ART SCANDAL: Two Vatican officials "are accused of trying to sell works of art falsely attributed to artists such as Michelangelo, Guercino and Giambologna, to art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the National Gallery in Washington." The Guardian (UK) 11/07/01

AFGHAN ART IN PERIL: As bombs fall on Kabul, those interested in art worry about the safety of what's left of Afghanistan's cultural heritage. Ironically, there was a plan two years ago to rescue remaining artwork for safekeeping. "Were it not for the red tape surrounding the movement of cultural heritage, at least part of these collections could have been safely moved to the West." The Art Newspaper 11/06/01

WHAT IS IT ABOUT VINCENT? A new van Gogh show is a big hit in Chicago. But why? "More than a century after van Gogh's death, many of his images are entrenched in the cultural conscience, and his name attracts people in a way that curators and art historians struggle to understand." The New York Times 11/08/01 (one-time registration required for access)

HIDDEN MASTERS: For years, a Detroit-area cardiologist and his wife collected art by some of the most important names of the 20th Century. They kept a low profile, kept the work in crates, and told few people they had it. Last week, when the collection was donated not to the big Detroit Institute of Art, but to the smaller Cranbrook Art Museum, there were a lot of surprised Detroiters. Detroit News 11/11/01

ART OF ENLIGHTENMENT: This year's Turner Prize exhibit is up, and what's grabbed the early attention? Martin Creed's empty room with a light that flips on and off at intervals. "Creed's installation does exactly what is says. Every five seconds the lights go on and off in the biggest and emptiest room of this year's show at Tate Britain. There was also much muttering about whether Creed, 33, had simply recycled a five-year-old piece and why the electrician who had made it had seemingly not been credited." The Guardian (UK) 11/07/01

THE BIG AUCTION HOUSE TRIAL: The former heads of Christie's and Sotheby's auction houses go on trial next week "as the masterminds behind a conspiracy to fix prices and cheat more than 130,000 customers over six years. Next week's courtroom drama will feature a cast of characters as diverse as the treasures that fill the refined and hushed halls of the two auction houses on Manhattan's upper East Side." New York Daily News 11/04/01

  • POSSIBLE JAIL TIME: "If past cases are anything to go by, the odds are against [former Sotheby's chairman] Alfred Taubman's acquittal, as 60 per cent of defendants in recent American anti-trust trials have been found guilty. If convicted, he could go to prison for up to three years." The Telegraph (UK) 11/05/01

RUSSIAN MUSEUMS UNIONIZE: Some 600 museums across Russia have formed a museum union to lobby for the industry. "The Museums' Union must define and defend the professional interests of the country's existing museums and create a basis upon which new museums can emerge and develop." St. Petersburg Times (Russia) 11/2/01

MILWAUKEE'S NEW STAR: The Milwaukee Art Museum Calatrava-designed addition is a big hit, and crowds have been coming to see it. "It is an astonishing thing, an engineering feat made of 72 fins of white painted steel that unfurls at the touch of a button. In the course of a few minutes the hydraulically powered tubes rise into the air, transforming a steep, stable conelike form into a graceful creature whose mighty wings, spreading 217 feet, run parallel to Lake Michigan's distant horizon." Washington Post 11/04/01


LINCOLN CENTER EXPLAINED: Why is Lincoln Center's $1.2 billion plan for a fix-up so fraught with controversy? "It is clear that the spending on Lincoln Center's infrastructure is necessary and that some additional expenses are justified. It remains to be seen how much of the 'wish list' will ultimately be incorporated into the project — and to what extent, and with what enthusiasm, the constituents will support the inevitable fundraising to be done (in addition to their own development efforts) in this restricted charitable climate." Andante 11/09/01

BOSTON ART SCENE, GLUM BUT NOT GRIM: "It was only last spring that Boston-area cultural groups had heady hopes of raising as much as $1 billion to rebuild and burnish Boston's long-neglected museums, theaters, and concert halls. These days, talk of expansion in cultural institution offices and board rooms is reserved. No organization has canceled building and renovation plans outright - yet. But many are delaying or downsizing their dreams and schemes." Boston Globe 11/09/01

NEW LINCOLN CENTER PLAN: Lincoln Center organizations agree on a $1.2 billion renovation plan to submit to New York's City Hall. But observers say that "even as the parties shook hands on the submission to the city, elements of the package were still in dispute and could change in the coming months and years." The New York Times 11/07/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THREE REASONS TO END GOVERNMENT ARTS FUNDING: "If we want the arts to thrive, we must largely decommission the Canada Council, and the provincial arts councils, and ask our artists to grow up and learn how the real world works. Then, perhaps we will have a vital arts community, one that lives in the entire community, not at a smug superior distance from that community. And that creates plays, ballets, symphonies, operas, literature that is engaged with the real world, not diddling with the notion of a cockeyed destructive dream of a socialist utopia." National Post (Canada) 11/02/01

BOLDLY FORWARD IN TIMES OF ADVERSITY: Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser says cutting back on arts funding initiatives and arts employment in the current economic downturn would be shortsighted. "It is these two very activities that encourage income flow to the arts," he said. "Donors and ticket buyers are attracted to exciting artistic adventures and the marketing that explains these new initiatives." Washington Post 11/02/01

WHAT FESTIVALS OUGHT TO BE: This year's Melbourne Arts Festival was unlike any other. "When the Melbourne Festival officially opened at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on October 11 with a poem for peace read by East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, followed by massed choirs singing Berlioz' Te Deum and fireworks, you could sense this was going to be no ordinary arts festival." The Age (Melbourne) 11/05/01

WHY IDEAS DIE: Britain ruled the world of invention in the 1800s. But that dominance has long since passed, and the UK files fewer patents with each passing year. Why? "We now live in a commercial culture that in many ways is counterproductive to invention. The first thing I teach new engineering and design recruits is that they will learn more from failure than from success. Failure is exciting. It leads to new ideas. And it teaches the process of discovery by making single, small changes. Unfortunately, that spirit requires long-term investment and does not square with an ethos that wants immediate results." Britain has not made the investment in a long time. The Telegraph (UK) 11/10/01

10. FOR FUN 

NATTERING NABOBS OF (CANADIAN) NEGATIVISM? Canada's artists and critics have always had something of an inferiority complex when it comes to comparisons with its much-larger neighbor to the South, but Toronto's National Post seems to engage in the self-loathing culture bashing more often than most. What exactly does such smirking negativism accomplish? Only the further weakening of the country's arts infrastructure, according to a rival critic. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/07/01

TWO MINUTE WARNING: Artist Jonty Semper has spent two years collecting every surviving recording of the two minutes of silence marking Armistice and Remembrance Days since 1929. In the 1988 ceremony a baby cried. It's a double-cd. He'd like you to listen. "I really don't think people will find it boring. All the silences are quite distinctive. What is remarkable is how different they are." The Guardian (UK) 11/09/01

DICKENS? DOYLE? FLEMING? MILNE? NO, IT'S....Rowling who has created England's most famous imaginary hero. In a nationwide survey, asking people of all ages to name the first fictional character who came to mind, 22 percent said Harry Potter. Tied for second place, with 2 percent each, were Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, James Bond, and Winnie the Pooh. New York Post 11/07/01

HARRY POTTER, OCCULT SEDUCER? One of Britain's biggest teaching unions has issued a stern warning to parents and teachers that J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful creation could lead schoolchildren into the sinister world of the occult. The Guardian (UK) 11/06/01