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Week of  November 12-18, 2001

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


THE RELIGION OF ART: All world religions have had to deal with the issue of art. Is art somehow an affront to God? "Today, we are so far removed from our cultural ancestors' fear of idolatry that we forget the ancient but enduring power of the human image. As we flip through the pages of a magazine, catch a video billboard out of the corner of one eye or lazily channel hop, it's hard for us to even conceive of a culture that sees an ancient statue of somebody else's god as we might view the vilest pornography." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/15/01

BILLY'S POETRY: Billy Collins, America's new poet laureate, is "the antithesis of virtually every cultural cliche that Americans have about poetry - that poets are pompous, that poetry is hard to read and harder to understand, that poetry is no fun." He says that much modern poetry isn't very good. How much? " 'Eighty-three percent of American poetry is not worth reading,' he said playfully, mocking the American emphasis, especially among journalists, on statistics. 'I haven't done a study, but 83 percent seems like the right number. I think 83 percent of movies aren't worth going to, and 83 percent of restaurants aren't worth eating in'." Chicago Tribune 11/14/01


PLAYING BY HER OWN RULES: A 650-page biography of the tempestuous life of Isadora Duncan is out. "Isadora is pieced together from a vast archive of love letters, magazine clippings, diaries, drawings and photos - to the extent that Peter Kurth's job occasionally appears as much editorial as biographical." Salon 11/12/01
  • ISADORA - 10 YEARS IN THE MAKING: "I'm lucky. I signed to do Isadora Duncan's biography 10 years ago, in another world, nation, century, millennium and life. My agent worked me like a dog on the proposal -- he kept sending it back. It's good, he'd say, but not good enough; more of this, less of that. I came down to New York from Vermont to meet some big editors, but ultimately decided to stay with Little, Brown. For a moment, I felt golden and secure. But I had two secrets no one knew about. The first was that I was dying of AIDS. The second was that I knew nothing about Isadora Duncan; nothing at all." Salon 11/12/01


DOWN WITH THE ARTS: Has the BBC, once an exemplar of arts programming, failed the arts? "High culture, alas, is something in which the mainstream BBC has lost practically all interest. Curiously this notion that 'the arts' is simply a highbrow ghetto rather than something that ought to be part of all our individual lives rises above the current cultural landscape like a kind of mantra." The Times (UK) 11/13/01

THERE GOES PUBLIC BROADCASTING: Canada's culture minister suggests that the publicly-owned CBC ought to make a partnership with rival commercial network CTV. "Sheila Copps told MPs the multi-channel universe has left CBC-TV and private broadcasters struggling against one another for shrinking audiences." CBC 11/10/01

LA'S NEW THEATRE FOR A STATUE: Los Angeles has a new opera house. OK, it was designed for the Academy Awards, and it's located in a shopping mall. It was also designed "with blind eye and tin ear." It's designed for TV and it's an "ungracious building" for a human audience. "Inside the theater, the assault never ceases." And the acoustics? A mess. Los Angeles Times 11/12/01

BEAUTIFUL NEWS: Why must the people who read us the news be "beautiful people?" "Hiring attractive people is certainly nothing new in television, but the premium on Barbie-doll looks seems more pronounced than ever, with newswomen overtly trading on their sexuality as a come-on to viewers." Los Angeles Times 11/14/01

BUYING AUSTRALIAN: A weak Australian dollar brought foreign movie makers to shoot their films Down Under. Foreign producers spent "a record $191 million in Australia in the 2000-1 financial year," and the movie industry increased expenditures to $808 million. The Age (Melbourne) 11/14/01

YOU DON'T NEED TO TELL THEM TWICE: It raised quite a few eyebrows last week when word leaked out that the U.S. government had been prevailing upon Hollywood to get cracking on a new batch of good old-fashioned, ass-kicking American Patriot movies, preferably involving shady Afghan terrorists. But as critics are beginning to point out, Hollywood really doesn't need any encouragement to churn out such mind-numbing propaganda. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/17/01

THE SELLING OF HARRY: Is all the merchandising hype going to ruin Harry Potter? "Some fans of the book say all this Potter paraphernalia is ruining a wonderful tale. But pundits of popular storytelling suggest that this charge may sell everybody short: Books differ from movies, which differ from video games or Legos or stuffed animals. Each medium can have something to contribute to experiencing a great story, they say." Christian Science Monitor 11/16/01

WHEN COLLABORATORS TAKE OVER: When the writer of Billy Elliot went to make his next film, he assumed he'd have more creative say in the script. "Any screenwriter knows that a screenplay is more like a recipe than a sonnet, and much of the fun and best creative discoveries are gained by getting your hands dirty with your collaborators as you make the pudding." But by the time the movie came out, it was unrecognizeable. The Guardian (UK) 11/16/01


MUSIC RETURNS TO KABUL: After years of exile, secular music returned to Afghanistan's major cities this week, as Northern Alliance forces swept across the country. Music had been largely banned by the Taliban, causing many prominent Afghan musicians to flee the country. Now, from synthesized pop to folk and classical traditions, Afghans are renewing their love of music. Hartford Courant 11/16/01

PROMO INSTEAD OF PAY: Microsoft's new video games contain music by numerous band. But in most cases MS isn't paying for use of the music. Instead, the company got musicians to give them music as a way to "promote" themselves with game players. Some bands aren't so happy with the arrangement, even though they went along. The New York Times 11/15/01 (one-time registration required for access)

WHAT THE GRUNTS THINK ABOUT THE MAESTRO: It's the man with the baton who takes the bows, and often, the brickbats from critics when a performance doesn't live up to expectations. But the conductor is more than a figurehead - he is the literal boss of each of the musicians arrayed on stage in front of him. So what do the musicians think of conductors? Well, let's put it this way: what percentage of the time do you like your boss? San Francisco Chronicle 11/18/01

PATRONAGE OR EXTORTION? Chicago's Bein & Fushi, dealers of some of the world's top string instruments, have been accused of price fixing, collusion, and generally unsavory practices for the way they buy and sell their Strads, Guarneris, and Amatis. But the company also runs the Stradivari Society, which lends priceless violins to promising young performers, courtesy of various rich patrons. What's the catch? The recipients of the Society's "generosity" are expected to kowtow to their patron's every want and Bein & Fushi's every demand or risk having their instrument taken away. Chicago Tribune 11/18/01

FINALLY, SOME GOOD NEWS: To judge from what's being written on the arts pages these days, you'd think that every orchestra in North America is about to fold like a pup tent. "But the American Symphony Orchestra League, a New York-based service organization whose members include virtually every professional orchestra in the United States, says orchestra concert attendance increased almost 3 percent between 1995 and 2000, to 32 million. Meanwhile, the percentage of orchestras reporting deficits declined from 49 percent in 1990-1991 to 29 percent in 1999-2000." Dallas Morning News 11/18/01

  • OR IS IT? Even orchestras that are doing comparatively good business are suffering from the weakened economy and the supposed decline of interest in classical music. In Minnesota's Twin Cities, the presence of two major orchestras and countless smaller ensembles is making it difficult for anyone to take the chances necessary to stay ahead of the curve, musically speaking. St. Paul Pioneer Press 11/18/01

LIFE AND DEATH: The Toronto Symphony is locked in negotiations with local and federal governments trying to come up with a bail-out plan to keep the orchestra alive. "But realistically, in a best-case scenario, even with hotshot new executives and a fresh board, how many seats a year can the orchestra hope to fill? And even if it improves its lacklustre performance in the area of corporate fundraising, how much money can it hope to raise given the current state of the economy and the TSO's affairs?" Toronto Star 11/14/01

DAD, CAN I HAVE THE KEYS TO THE CAR? The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra just turned over its musical direction to a 25-year-old who's never been in charge of an orchestra of his own. Choosing "Ilan Volkov as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor is a brave one. Whether it is a wise one is a question no one can answer yet." The Scotsman 11/14/01

STARS IN A TIME OF WAR: Since September 11, "orchestral managers are using the emergency to cut back on soloists who have wavered in this crisis. 'We'll honour current commitments,' says one manager, 'but that's as far as it goes.' Festival dates are being dropped, programmes revised. 'We should all be pulling together,' wail the artists' agents, but solidarity was the first casualty after September 11, when stars looked to their own safety." The Telegraph (UK) 11/14/01

THE POLITICS OF CANCELING: When the Boston Symphony canceled a performance of excerpts from John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer because of sensitivities over its terrorism subject matter, Adams protested vehemently. But the orchestra is defending its decision: "John is angry, and I feel terrible that this has hurt him. I'm a big supporter of his music. I perform it all the time, and I will continue to, and I'm sorry he took offense. But I don't agree with him that we did the wrong thing." The New York Times 11/14/01 (one-time registration required for access)

LA SCALA'S MURKY REBUILD: La Scala is set to shut down its house for two years while a major redevelopment plan is undertaken. If only it were that simple. The costs aren't nailed down yet, funding's a mess, and Italian politics loom large... Andante 11/12/01

KEYS TO CONDUCTING: Pianist Leon Fleisher makes his living as a conductor these days. "I had a couple of lessons from a couple of friends, but the secret of conducting? The eyes are very important. More than that, it's what the conductor hears in his inner ear. It has less to do with time-keeping and traffic control. As with any musician, it is a question of listening to the implications of the notes. Once an orchestra gets tuned into them it can be quite wondrous." Toronto Star 11/11/01


ART OF WINE: Robert Mondavi made millions selling wine. Now he's giving some of those millions away to the study of wine and the arts. Sacramento Bee 11/14/01

LA STUPENDA AT 75: Joan Sutherland is 75, an amazing age when you consider she was still singing romantic leads until 1990. What does she think about modern opera companies? Too many "don't care about singing, are not interested in whoever wrote the opera, know nothing of the period and try and dress it out of the cheapest shops". The Age (Melbourne) 11/14/01

WHAT HO, WODEHOUSE? P.G. Wodehouse, creator of the wildly popular "Jeeves" stories, and a national hero of humor in the U.K., has been dead for more than a quarter of a century now, but still, clouds of controversy continue to swirl around the details of his life. The most disturbing allegations, which dogged the writer for his last thirty years, had Wodehouse betraying his country and siding with Hitler during World War II. In truth, writes his biographer, Wodehouse's relationship with the Third Reich was much more complex. The Observer (UK) 11/18/01


WRIGHT SWEEPS CANADA'S TOP LIT AWARDS: Last week Richard B. White won Canada's Giller Prize. Now he's won the Governor General Award too. "Wright's winning novel, Clara Callan, tells the story of two sisters who correspond with each other during the 1930s from their respective homes in New York and the fictional Ontario village of Whitfield." National Post (CP) 11/14/01

SHORT LIST FOR THE WHITBREAD: The Booker sometimes gets more attention, but the Whitbread is worth twice as much in cash. The shortlist for the Whitbread novel award includes Ian McEwan, Andrew Miller, Helen Dunmore, and DJ Patrick Neate. McEwan appears to be the favorite, but then he also was the favorite for the Booker, which went to Peter Carey. The Guardian (UK) 11/14/01

MODESTY IN GREAT ONES: "Chekhov's modesty, both in his youth and when he was a mature writer, draws his reader toward him, as if it produced a kind of unspoken bond between them. Thomas Mann, a writer by no means remarkable for this virtue, observed that true modesty was the rarest gift a great writer could have, and that Chekhov not only possessed it but, like Shakespeare, gave no indication that he was even aware of the fact." New York Review of Books 11/29/01

BIG AND SMALL: Is this year's crop of Canadian books "small" because they concentrate on small-town themes? "Regionalism is dead. The notion that the particular may be made to stand for the universal in art is passé. William Carlos Williams's belief that 'localism alone can lead to culture' doesn't apply in the age of the global village." GoodReports 11/16/01

THE BATTLIN' BIBLE: What's the biggest selling book in Manhattan this week? Wrong if you answered Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (that's so last week's news). No, number one with a bullet is Desecration: Antichrist takes the Throne, a Christian book based on the Biblical book of Revelations. "The book, written from a spiritually based outline penned by LaHaye, a minister, follow the adventures of Rayford Steele and his Tribulation Force as they battle to save the world from the evil warmonger Carpathia." New York Post 11/13/01

BOOKS, BOOKS, EVERYWHERE... Last year 120,000 books were published in the UK, and the number will probably grow again this year. So there's no shortage of something to read. But what to read? Since the canon of books everyone agreed was worth reading went away, quantity has ruled over quality, and the news isn't necessarily good. The Observer (UK) 11/11/01

A POSTMODERN POOH: Frederick Crews has written another parody of literary critics, using Winnie the Pooh as his subject. "Crews' targets - Deconstructionists, Poststructuralist Marxists, New Historicists and others - are so egregiously fatuous and self-righteous that Crews' parody is overshadowed by the quotations he lifts from their actual books." Toronto Star 11/11/01


FINDING A NEW NICHE FOR THEATRE: No corner of the arts world has suffered since September 11 to the degree that large-scale theatre productions have. And although ticket sales are beginning to rebound from their disastrous slump, tourists are still staying away from the big shows in New York and London. Does this mean that theatre will finally turn away from the sort of big-budget, flashy spectacles designed to draw out-of-town rubes, and back to serious displays of acting? Maybe, but the industry has to get through the winter first. Boston Herald 11/18/01

A PASSION FOR AMERICANA: For some reason, the British love American theatre, perhaps more than most Americans do. "You could, if you were a dyspeptic American theatre critic, attribute this to schadenfreude on the part of the British public, ever eager to extract solace from writers who have found cause to question the sanctity of the American Dream, but you would be entirely wrong. First of all, far from being cynical about American culture, for more than 50 years the British have had a love affair with it." The Telegraph (UK) 11/17/01

STRASBERG AT 100: Acting teacher Lee Strasberg is a legend (and still a living one). "Because of the on-camera success of so many of Strasberg's students - Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman among them - he gained a worldwide reputation as the father of modern film acting." On the other hand, "The estimable director/critic Robert Brustein once labeled Strasberg a 'highly overrated cultural icon,' and Marlon Brando wrote that it wasn't Strasberg who taught him to act but Stella Adler and Elia Kazan." Backstage 11/14/01

PRINCESS DI ON STAGE: A new musical about Princess Di has opened in Germany. "This is only the latest in a line of art events based on or dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales in the four years since her death. It is performed in German for now, but will switch to English when it moves on a tour of the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The musical interprets the story of Diana's life from her first public appearances to her now famous interview with Martin Bashir to her last evening in Paris." BBC 11/12/01

PUBLIC DOWNTURN: New York's Public Theatre has laid off 20 percent of its staff to balance its budget. "The theater's endowment is now down to about $23 million from $40 million, largely because of its two consecutive Broadway flops — On the Town, and The Wild Party, which together lost $14 million — and the closing of successful Public productions on Broadway like Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk." The New York Times 11/15/01 (one-time registration required for access)


RELEVANCE OF ART: Artists try to sort out what art to make after September 11. "The mundane and banal, ironic and frivolous have never been obstacles to contemporary art—far from it—but that was 'before.' Now, as in 'after,' artists feel impelled to defend their vocation, even as they struggle to find applications for most of their strategies. Postmodernism, some commentators argue, has been swept aside by this event, where reality has clearly superseded metaphor." ARTNews 11/01

AUCTIONEER ON TRIAL: The price-collusion trial of Sotheby's former chairman gets underway. First you have to explain to jurors how the auction business works. "By the measure of his wealth, Mr. Taubman is hardly being judged by a jury of his peers. One is a health aide taking care of an Alzheimer's patient. There is a Transit Authority ironworker and another transit employee, a station agent. There is a letter carrier, a forklift operator, a second-grade teacher, a former corrections officer and a deli owner and restaurateur." During a "somewhat dry tutorial on auction house practices and terminology, one of the jurors, the ironworker, appeared to be fighting to stay awake." The New York Times 11/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

CROWDED FIELD: With Philips auction house spending lavishly trying to establish itself as a major player, and Sotheby's and Christie's having down years (for a variety of reasons), something will have to give in the auction business. Is consolidation in the works? Forbes 11/14/01 

WHITNEY BIENNIAL TO GET LOCAL: "After curators at the Whitney Museum of American Art visited artists' studios in 43 towns and cities in 27 states and Puerto Rico, plans for the 2002 Whitney Biennial are in place. Unlike the mammoth survey of contemporary art two years ago, organized by six outside curators, this Biennial, opening March 7, will be a homegrown affair." The New York Times 11/16/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE FATE OF CORPORATE ART: Aer Lingus is selling some of its art collection to pay corporate bills. A trend? "Whatever really motivates big commercial concerns to amass art collections - investment value, tax dodge, chairman’s whim or altruism - the current world recession, and some recent well-publicised sales in the auction rooms, have prompted some observers to speculate that more collections might follow." The Scotsman 11/13/01

JUST SAY NO: They all want you to love Norman Rockwell. "A cadre of museum directors, curators, national critics, art historians, and suddenly populist art theorists want you to love him. Rockwell is a postmodern fad. He's hip. He's also a big moneymaker and crowd pleaser, an everyman artist everyone can understand. He gives good box office where museums are concerned (over a million people have seen the current traveling retrospective); lends street (or it is suburban?) cred to those who don't want to seem snobbish; and revs up hucksters like Thomas Hoving, who spouts gibberish in the catalog about the cooling of 'the obsession for abstraction'." But really, people...resist the hype. Let good sense prevail. The Village Voice 11/13/01


CREATIVE COMPUTING: "Could there ever be a day when computers are composers, theoretical physicists, or artists? There are already a number of projects in artificial intelligence that try to recreate creativity in computers." BBC 11/11/01

SELLARS GETS THE BOOT: After months of controversy and a festival program announcement that didn't exactly wow critics, Peter Sellars has been forced out of directing next year's Adelaide Festival. "Mr Sellars, a charismatic Californian who persuaded many of his radical community vision, resigned after the festival board lost faith in his limited program and asked him to broaden its appeal. He refused and yesterday issued a statement from Paris." The Age (Melbourne) 11/13/01
  • "CALAMITOUS AS IT GETS": Sellars's resignation yesterday - four months from opening night - is as calamitous as it gets. The responsibility for Sellars's departure must be borne by the festival's board because there is little doubt Sellars was pushed. Until last month there was the hope he would live up to his vision splendid and present a festival that was truly radical, remarkable and inclusive. But once the meagre program was seen - at a desultory launch in Port Adelaide while Sellars was doing his own thing in Paris - that hope had gone." Sydney Morning Herald 11/13/01

NO AGENDA HERE: Last week a Globe & Mail critic attacked the National Post for being negative about Canadian artists. A Post critic replies: "We are always being told that Canadians have a national inferiority complex that makes them resent any of their compatriots who get ahead of the pack. (We hear it, amusingly enough, from both the left and the right, though usually in different contexts.) I don't see it." National Post (Canada) 11/12/01

WEST SIDE STORY: Why is Lincoln Center having such a tough time getting its renovation plans in order? "It isn't a prosaic matter of upkeep or real estate. The troubles in our idealistic (if hardly idyllic) paradise involve internal unrest among the constituents: nasty rivalries, power contests, unreasonable ambitions, turf wars, ego conflicts and, ultimately, the worst-laid schemes of mice and managers. It's all so operatic." Andante 11/14/01

NYC ARTS FEELING THE PINCH: "Already reeling from plummeting ticket sales after Sept. 11, museums and theatres across New York City are beginning to lay off staff and cancel exhibitions and programs after city and state governments slashed funding in anticipation of lower tax revenue." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/18/01

OHIO ARTS TO BE SLASHED: "The Ohio Arts Council, its budget slashed by another 6 percent, has issued letters saying its grant recipients can expect to receive approximately that much less money over the final three quarters of the current fiscal year. The arts council's annual budget was reduced virtually overnight by nearly $1 million, from $15.6 million to $14.6 million in round figures. It's the second cut since July." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 11/16/01

10. FOR FUN 

MAJOR FAN: Serbian pop star Goca Trzan came out for her sold-out concert in Belgrade last week to find only one seat occupied. An unknown fan - a wealthy Serb businessman - had bought up all 4000 seats, and sat in the 20th row. The value of the tickets added up to $35,645. Sydney Morning News 11/12/01

WHY PROFESSIONALS DO IT BETTER: "The brain waves of professional musicians respond to music in a way that suggests they have an intuitive sense of the notes that amateurs don't have. The research offers insight into the inner workings of the brain and shows that musicians' brains are uniquely wired for sound." Nando Times (AP) 11/15/01