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Week of  December 3-9, 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


TEXT=50 SECONDS, ART=4 SECONDS: The Washington Post's Blake Gopnik conducts a little research and observes that visitors to a gallery spend far more time reading the explanatory texts on the walls than they do looking at the art. "People are understandably confused and threatened by the complexities of art. But when the devices used to help them overcome discomfort end up standing in for works on show, we have a major problem on our hands. Museums are supposed to be about experiencing visual art, but they're in danger of becoming nicely decorated reading rooms." Washington Post 12/09/01

DISNEY - AMERICA'S MOST FAMOUS ARCHITECT? "This may startle some, because we think of him as a cartoonist, filmmaker, TV host or theme park entrepreneur, not an architect. But that's the point. Blessedly free of an architectural training, he was brilliantly self-taught in the defining art form of the 20th century - the movies. And he brought that mastery of the cinema and the forces of popular mass entertainment to his architecture. At his 1955 masterwork, Disneyland in Anaheim, and later on a larger canvas at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Disney created the template for any number of major developments and suburban centers ever since." San Jose Mercury News 12/09/01


AILEY'S CHOROEOGRAPHY PROBLEM: While conceding that the Alvin Ailey company has terrific dancers, New Yorker critic Joan Acocella believes the company's choreography has never lived up to the quality of its performers. That may be changing with the addition of Ronald Brown's work; he comes out of a Garth Fagan tradition rather than that of Ailey. The New Yorker 12/10/01

THE PREGNANT DANCER: "Ballet dancers are among the leanest, fittest women on the planet. Their professional success is won by exerting phenomenal control over their minds and bodies. They are a completely different species from the gently swelling mother-to-be, whose world is ruled by hormone rushes, heartburn, bloated ankles and piles. While a few dancers embrace the mad biology of motherhood with pleasure, most will confess that it's hard to ditch the habits of a lifetime." The Guardian (UK) 12/12/01

BIRTHING A CLASSIC: A year ago Northeast Magazine held a contest to come up with a new "holiday classic" set in Connecticut. The winner features Elvis, dancing martini glasses, The Jetsons and insurance elves. Hartford Ballet took up the idea, and decided to produce it this Christmas. The story's author followed the process of turning her work into dance... Hartford Courant 12/16/01
SAN JOSE A YEAR LATER: It's been a year since Cleveland San Jose Ballet left the midwest to reform in Silicon Valley. "Ballet San Jose now operates on a $6.5 million budget, making it one of the 14 largest ballets in the United States. Among the 40 dancers now listed on the Ballet San Jose roster, only 14 performed in Cleveland. More than 20 members of the former Cleveland troupe moved to California last year when the company collapsed. But several departed at the end of the season to pursue other careers or join ballet companies in less expensive cities." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 12/09/01


NOT OKAY TO BE SMART: "In Hollywood, you can never be too rich or too thin, but you can be too smart. It's OK to have a beautiful face. It's not OK to have a beautiful mind. Smart people are socially inept, inward-looking and compulsive, bedeviled by their obsession with whatever it is that they do, be it mathematics, piano, painting, lexicography, chess, cryptography or just general "Jeopardy!"-like knowledgeableness. Lurking in the background is the computer nerd. There has been a frenzy of projects featuring such characters recently, and there's more to come." Los Angeles Times 12/16/01

THE PROBLEM WITH DIGITAL ART: "Galleries don't really show a lot of new media - it's hard for them to present it. It's not like a painting that they know how to hang. Another problem is commercial: Many pieces aren't meant to be sold, and in any case, the market for such works is small. Part of that is due to newness; part is due to 'problems of the future' - like, is there tech support for the art when things break down?" Los Angeles Times 12/16/01

ARTS ON AUSSIE TV - M.I.A.: For the first time in a decade, the Australian Broadcasting Company doesn't have an arts magazine to broadcast in prime time. "The ABC is now asking whether the arts-magazine format has had its day and whether a more cost-effective and successful way to cover the arts is through documentaries and specials." The question is whether ABC is living up to its charter obligation to provide arts programming. The Age (Melbourne) 12/13/01

PENALTIES FOR FILM SUBSIDIES? US filmworkers have filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Commission "asking the government to examine the legality of Canada's subsidies to U.S. filmmakers. It proposes tariffs be levelled against U.S. filmmakers in the exact amount of the Canadian subsidy they receive." Predictably, Hollywood studios oppose the idea. Toronto Star 12/09/01

TECH PERFORMANCE: Some internet art is evolving into performance art. One project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music monitors "the live activity in thousands of Internet chat rooms and message boards, then converting these public conversations into a computer-generated opera. The New York Times 12/08/01 (one-time registration required for access)

FINALLY - PEACE AT PACIFICA: The board of Pacifica Radio Network has been at war with some of its long-time fans and supporters for two years as the board tried to professionalize the operation while listeners (and many staff) tried to preserve the network's alternative community base. Now the factions have come to a settlement that will return control of Pacifica's stations back to local interests. San Francisco Chronicle 12/13/01


KIMMEL CENTER OPENS: A night after Elton John opened Philadelphia's new concert hall (in return for a fee said to be $2 million), the Kimmel Center's real tenants moved in. "Rough edges in the still-to-be-finished performing arts center were well-hidden; the Philadelphia Orchestra's next music director, Christoph Eschenbach, was helicoptered into Philadelphia after his 5:19 p.m. curtain at New York's Metropolitan Opera; and guest cellist Yo-Yo Ma courted disaster when his chair slipped off a raised platform while performing (he was caught by orchestra violinist Nancy Bean)." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/16/01

  • FIRST REVIEWS - NOT A RAVE: "On Saturday the Philadelphia Orchestra played its first concert in its long-awaited home, the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall in the new $265 million, two-hall Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Alas, the first report can't be called wildly enthusiastic. Finished in almost unrelieved red mahogany, Verizon is a bit oppressive visually. And, at least in its initial incarnation, it's seriously short of sonic warmth." Dallas Morning News 12/16/01
  • SOMETHING NEW IN CONCERT HALLS? Philadelphia's new Kimmel Center concert hall is not your traditional shoe-box design. "The Philadelphia Orchestra's new cello-shaped home, part of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, is a uniquely curvaceous, wood-lined concert room that may change the way future generations think about concert halls, the role of the arts in this city, and Philadelphia in general." Philadelphia Inquirer 12/09/01

A WINNER AT BAYREUTH? The battles in Bayreuth over who will control the Wagner Festival may be settled. And it looks like Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandson, has won his way after a long, bitter and very public fight. Wagner, 82, "announced that he had appointed Klaus Schultz, one of his steadfast supporters and longtime confidants, as his artistic adviser, starting in January." The New York Times (AFP) 12/14/01 (one-time registration required for access)

NOT MUCH TO SING ABOUT: Chorus members rarely - if ever - make money for their work; they get their rewards in other ways. But "a deep gloom has settled over the volunteer sector of the singing world - not the pros who bury Aida nightly at the opera or tweet exquisite Messiaenisms for the 32-strong BBC Singers, but the lawyers, plumbers and home-makers who, from time immemorial, have given up three nights a week for rehearsal, no expenses paid. The choral tradition is in trouble. Money is tight, the music is monotonous and ensembles are turning sloppy." The Telegraph (UK) 12/12/01

MR CHRISTMAS CAROL: "In the world of music, John Rutter is Mr Christmas: the most celebrated and commercially successful carol-composer alive. Given the state of world affairs it's hard to predict the supply of peace and goodwill among the nations in the next few weeks, but one thing you can guarantee is that Rutter's choral packaging of those sentiments will be on the lips of countless millions in cathedrals, churches, chapels and mud-hut missions, from Nebraska to Nairobi." The Telegraph (UK) 12/14/01

ANOTHER ORCHESTRA LOCKOUT: "The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has locked out its musicians for the first time in its 54-year history. The move followed a unanimous vote by the players yesterday afternoon to reject binding arbitration with conditions that would recoup a projected $400,000 loss at the musicians' expense." Winnipeg Free Press 12/14/01

THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN: Is the sun finally setting on the aging gods of rock music? Elton John announced last week he'd made his last album. And "new releases from rock's other fifty-somethings, such as Rod Stewart (56), Mick Jagger (58) or Sir Paul McCartney (59), have bombed with younger audiences. Jagger limped into the British top 75 last week with his new album Goddess in the Doorway. It sold sold an unimpressive 954 copies on its first day, and just about managed to sell 12,000-odd to reach No 44." New Zealand Herald 12/10/01

MORTIER TO TAKE PARIS OPERA: Outgoing Salzburg Festival director Gerard Mortier has been named director of the Paris National Opera beginning in 2004. "Mortier, 58, earned a reputation at Salzburg both for sponsoring offbeat productions and for clashing noisily with conservative Austrian politicians. The New York Times 12/08/01 (one-time registration required for access)


PATRIOTIC FOG: "Because of the events of September 11, John Adams finds himself accused of being an 'anti-American' composer, a label with uncomfortable echoes of the McCarthy era of the 1950s." In the New York Times, musicologist Richard Taruskin charged Adams with "romanticising terrorists" in his 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer - and, by implication, with romanticising the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, too. Taruskin's article provides some flavour of the atmosphere in the US today. "If terrorism is to be defeated," he wrote, "world public opinion has to be turned decisively against it." That means "no longer romanticising terrorists as Robin Hoods and no longer idealising their deeds as rough poetic justice". The creators of The Death of Klinghoffer - Adams, librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellers - have done just that, he argued. The opera was "anti-American, anti-semitic and anti-bourgeois. Why should we want to hear this music now?" The Guardian (UK) 12/15/01

MASUR GETS TRANSPLANT: New York Philharmonic music director Kurt Masur is recovering from a kidney transplant operation. "The 74-year-old conductor suffered no complications during the operation, which was done Nov. 29 in Liepzig." Andante (AP) 12/10/01

SIR JIMMY: Flutist James Galway is to be knighted this week by Queen Elizabeth. "After his knighthood for services to music was announced, in June, in the Queen's birthday honours list, he said he was unsure whether to call himself Sir James or Sir Jimmy. The Queen is also presenting a CBE to academic Simon Schama, whose television series A History of Britain has been an enormous success for the BBC." BBC 12/12/01


HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN: Eighteen months ago, e-publisher MightyWords was the hottest thing in digital online publishing. Stephen King wrote a novella that the company sold for download over the internet, and hundreds of thousands of buyers jammed the site. But the market for e-books never developed and the company is closing. Toronto Star 12/14/01

BOOK SALES REBOUNDING: In the weeks right after September 11, sales of books collapsed. Booksellers were pessimistic for the usually lucrative holiday season. "A key reason for that anxiety was the lack of attention that new books and authors had received from radio, television and other news media that were focusing their coverage, almost exclusively, on terrorism But higher-than-expected sales in the days after Thanksgiving have raised hopes throughout the book-selling world." Chicago Tribune 12/14/01

THE DARKER SIDE OF POOH: Winnie the Pooh is 75 years old and never bigger: "The spiritually minded can read The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet while logicians have to choose between Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving and Pooh and the Philosopher. For literary critics there is The Pooh Perplex and The Postmodern Pooh while businessmen take lessons from Winnie-the-Pooh on Management. There is even a book for urban hipsters looking for the grungy side of the Hundred Acre Woods; Karen Finley's Pooh Unplugged." And yet, a case can be made for the insidious side of the Way of the Pooh. National Post 12/11/01

PRIZE MESS: Literary awards are good for encouraging and promoting new books. But the ill-fated Chapters Prize, launched three years ago by the Canadian book superstore, forgot one crucial rule - administration counts. The Prize's three year history (it was canceled in mid-contest this year) is an example of everything that can go wrong. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/15/01

TRENDSETTING: Some trends are easy to trace - it makes sense that a successful book about embroidery will spawn a cluster of imitators. But what drives the myriad boomlets of books about arcane things - like a wave of books with the color red in the title or the word "honeymoon"? Surely there's some cosmic order to it all... Mobylives 12/09/01


WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK: "Actors come in two types - those who read reviews and those who read them but tell you they don't. Whether your notice appears in the Uttoxeter Bugle or the London Evening Standard, the possibility that you're being heralded as the next Lawrence Olivier is simply too much to resist." The Guardian (UK) 12/12/01

A FUTURE FULL OF $480 TICKETS? So is anyone buying those $480 tickets to The Producers on Broadway? Evidently - "so far, the primary target audiences for these tickets are corporations that want to entertain clients or hotel concierges." And the idea has been successful enough that a company wants to expand the super-premium idea to other hot shows. Los Angeles Times 12/14/01

ACTING AS ARCHAIC ART: What's it like being an actor in Canada? "Being a stage actor is kind of like pursuing an archaic art, in the way people perceive it. Sometimes it feels as if you're a member of a medieval guild still making horseshoes. Here it does feel a bit odd at times to be an actor, especially a stage actor, because people don't really get what that is. People always have to say, 'Well, have you done any commercials?' so they can place you somehow." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/16/01

TV'S ERODING INFLUENCE: So much post-war drama owes its roots to live stage forms. "But today music hall, variety and revue are all virtually extinct, which means that writers have no popular bank on which to draw. TV, with its endless dreary round of soaps, quizzes and celebrity-led self-improvement shows, is our inherited common culture, giving dramatists little to work on." The Guardian (UK) 12/16/01

WHEN DIRECTORS STEP ON PLAYWRIGHTS: Playwright David Grimm was looking forward to seeing his play produced at Washington's Studio Theatre's Secondstage three weeks ago. But he walked out at intermission, angry at the wholesale changes the director had made in his script. Soon rights for producing the play were withdrawn, and the production has closed down. "The reason it is copyrighted is that it is the property of that author. You can't make changes to the play without the author's permission. It's as simple as that. And theaters violate that all the time." Washington Post 12/09/01


CREED WINS TURNER IN ODD CEREMONY: Martin Creed has won this year's Turner Prize. "Having said earlier he regarded Turner as 'just a stupid prize', he said of his installation: 'It doesn't make it a better piece of work just because it wins a prize'." Presenter Madonna also took some swipes at the award, calling awards "silly" and asking: "Does the artist who wins the award become a better artist? Is it nice to win 20 grand? Definitely - but after spending time in this city, I can tell you that it won't last very long." BBC 12/10/01

  • IT'S OFFICIAL - NATIONAL POST DECLARES 'END OF ART': The editorial page writers for Canada's National Post play art critic, weighing in with a judgment on Martin Creed's winning artwork for this year's Turner Prize: "Mr. Creed literally made nothing. He has achieved the logical end of art, for if anything and everything may be regarded as art - even a room devoid of anything except a light bulb - then nothing is art. This is obviously all to the good. The practitioners of contemporary art can all go home - and we can all ignore them." National Post (Canada) 12/12/01
  • OTHER CRITICS DISAGREE: "Itís a very profound thing. Heís trying to make art with nothing - with the most ordinary, denigrated, degraded, run-of-the-mill materials like Blu-Tak or Sellotape. He is an up-to-date version of the conceptual artist. The art is a concept made momentarily transitory. He was asking the final question, which is about the spectator. He made the people going into the room look at the room and ask a question about what was the room doing. Rooms in galleries are beautifully lit; you donít expect them to be suddenly in darkness." The Scotsman 12/12/01
  • SOME FIND A MIDDLE GROUND: There is no doubt that Creed's work is minimalist. But much of the fascination of his stuff is the sense that such conceptual pieces are "the product of an artist engaged in a kamikaze game of chicken with the critics." Like it or hate it, you've got to give points for the brashness. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/13/01
  • AND THEN THERE ARE PROTESTERS (NATURALLY): A 52-year-old grandmother has been banned for life from the Tate after she went into Creed's room and threw eggs at the walls. "What I object to fiercely is that we've got this cartel who control the top echelons of the art world in this country and leave no access for painters and sculptors with real creative talent." BBC 12/13/01

ART INSTITUTE ALLEGES FRAUD: The Chicago Art Institute has accused a Dallas financial firm of maybe defrauding the museum of millions of dollars. "As much as $43 million in museum endowment funds placed with the firm appear to be at risk, the Art Institute said. One fund containing $23 million from the museum is said to have lost as much as 90 percent of its value, according to the complaint." The firm promised "protection from any plunge in financial markets." Chicago Tribune 12/11/01

CHEATER CHEATER PUMPKIN EATER: So great artists might have used an optical device to help them draw. "Allusions to deception (or cheating) have now emerged in the reception to artist David Hockney's new book, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. But whatever the optical device (including a modern camera) and whatever the time period, one thing remains the same: Using an optical device does not make art easier; it makes art look different. That's a point easily lost." Los Angeles Times 12/12/01

LET'S GET RID OF ANYONE WHO KNOWS ABOUT ART: Madrid's Prado is one of the world's great museums. But a series of scandals and missteps in the past decade has made it the object of ridicule. Recently, the museum's latest director was removed and replaced by a bureaucrat with no art experience. The "putsch has scandalised Madrid's cultural elite. Is he qualified to go shopping for new Goyas? Madrid's art world thinks not, but Eduardo Serra has the support of the conservative prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, who no longer trusts anyone from the art elite to run the museum." The Guardian (UK) 12/15/01

L.A.'S NEW LANDMARK: In Los Angeles, Frank Gehry's new Disney Concert Hall is taking shape. It's sure to alter the cultural architecture of the city. "The crazily curved building - which evokes the hallucinatory shapes of Disney's more fantastic cartoons - will surely be another milestone in the architect's long career. Now 71, for much of his life he was underappreciated in his adopted city." The Age (Melbourne) 12/13/01

HMNNN - IS IT REALLY A VAN GOGH? The recent attribution of a heretofore anonymous painting as have been painted by Van Gogh is a bit of a mystery. Not only is it now said to be by the Dutch master, but it's also supposed to be a portrait of Gauguin. "Why should this extraordinary find, which its supporters now claim is worth an estimated £5 million, have been dismissed for so long? The answer lies in the fact that Man in Red Hat is a crudely executed work. Modest in size and hastily painted, the supposed Gauguin portrait is far from a masterpiece." The Times (UK) 12/12/01

BANFF CENTER APOLOGIZES FOR ARTWORK: Canada's Banff Center has publicly apologized for art one of its residents created. Artist Israel Mora masturbated into seven vials, "placed the vials into a cooler and wheeled it around Banff on a cart. He then hung the cooler between two trees. A message on the exterior explained the nature of the contents. Mora has said the vials represent seven members of his family." The Center said: "There are some differences in public taste. We're a publicly funded institution and we need to be cognizant of those things." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/14/01

ANOTHER VIEW OF ART HISTORY: University of Chicago art historian Michael Camille has caused a stir with his challenges to conventional readings of art history. "His reading of early Western art as an enforcement of power has provoked mixed responses, reflecting broad disagreements among commentators over the notion, as detractors put it, that culture is a conspiracy." Chronicle of Higher Education 12/10/01

MODERN SICKNESS: It's only been open three years but Stockholm's modern art museum Moderna Museet, is "being forced to close next month because of what is known as "sick-building syndrome," a series of seemingly unrelated construction defects believed responsible for health problems reported by numerous staff members." The New York Times 12/10/01 (one-time registration required for access)


GETTING INVOLVED: "In recent years, the term 'activist' has tentatively resurfaced at art panels. Participants have voiced a mix of renewed interest in addressing social and cultural problems, frustration that so many of those issues remain little changed after decades of awareness, and reluctance to adopt the last generation's model because, in retrospect, it was too absolutist." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/16/01

RUSTY HINGE: England's "Arts Council is no more than the hinge on the door that should lead the public to the arts, and artists to their public. But has there been a creakier, dodgier hinge in the history of metaphorical carpentry? Has there been a single year out of the past 20 when the Arts Council has not been going through some 'upheaval' or 'crisis' ó usually entirely of its own making?" Another "reorganization" isn't helping. The Times (UK) 12/11/01

ART IN ECONOMIC TERMS: "No doubt about it, the arts today are a hard sell. This is a problem because, despite all protestations against commercialism and 'selling out,' art has always had a tendency to follow the money. To an extent still far greater than many critics are willing to concede, all of the arts are economically determined, and their failure can be described in simple economic terms. There has been no problem with the supply of art (leaving aside arguments over its quality), what has been lacking is the demand." GoodReports 12/11/01

ALL IN ALL - A GOOD YEAR: The Australia Council released figures measuring last year's artistic output in Australia. All, in all, it was a pretty good year - "new Australian works increased by 41 per cent compared with 1999, with new dance and chamber music works accounting for the increase. Audience numbers reached record levels in 2000. Audiences increased 4.5 per cent between 2000 and 1999. The Age (Melbourne) 12/11/01

DIGITAL DIVIDE: "Artists have been exploring digital art since the 1960s, but only in the past few years has it become widely practical because of better technology and prices." Cell phone symphonies, digital graphics, interactive art..."it's evolved to the point where artists are getting better at taking advantage of the tools and making better art. We've reached the level of seeing more museum-quality work." Chicago Tribune 12/11/01

10. FOR FUN 

CONDUCTING A BID: A 25-year-old from Arizona was browsing on eBay when he spotted an offer to conduct the Sydney Philharmonia Choir in a performance of Handel's Messiah. So he anted up his life savings of $7,500 and won the bidding, which was part of a fund-raiser for the chorus. "The funny thing was, no-one had bid on it when I saw it. So I thought, 'OK, I'm game'. And I won. It was as simple as that." Sydney Morning Herald 12/14/01

NEW FORM BEGGING: The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is trying out a new way to raise money, saying it urgently needs new funds. The company is asking donors to "sponsor" props for performances - "£150 to pay for Macbeth's gold crown, £250 for Othello's sword, £500 for a wig in the production of Queen of Spades, £750 for a rifle in Il Trovatore, £1,500 for a sedan chair in Don Giovanni and £4,500 for a Madonna in the same opera." The Telegraph (UK) 12/12/01

A STRONG OPINION IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE SHOW: Actor David Soul (from Starsky and Hutch) wins a case in British court against a critic who claimed that Soul's play was 'without doubt the worst West End show' he had seen." Turns out, the critic actually had never seen the show... The Independent (UK) 12/12/01

TRADITIONAL TREE: The Tate Museum surprises everyone by putting up a traditional Christmas tree. "After years when the traditional tree sculpture in the London gallery's foyer was either hung upside down from the ceiling or dumped in a skip to protest against consumerism, the artist Yinka Shonibare was determined to do something really controversial and make a jolly one. 'Christmas is a happy time. This is happy tree'." The Guardian (UK) 12/14/01