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Week of  December 24-30, 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 YEAR IN ARTS: Publications around the world choose the best and worst in arts in 2001. Here's our compilation of "Best of/Worst of" lists.

OLD PROBLEM: "As any regular patron can tell you, the people who turn out for music, dance and theater are more likely to be concerned with Medicare than with student loans. It's a tricky population twist for arts managers to navigate as they try to accommodate their reliable, though aging, subscription base while also pulling in new blood for the future. It's not a particularly new problem - the core audience has always been those who have no babies and some disposable income - but modern demographics and economics have given a new urgency to the issue." Washington Post 12/23/01

WHEN ART IS ISOLATED: Eyes glaze over for most people encountering issues of aesthetics. But maybe it's not their fault. "I would say that western philosophy and western fine art are designed to be irrelevant to the lives of most folks. They are supposed to be incomprehensible to people like most of the students I have taught. We’re working with a conception of art in which most art is isolated in little cultural zones like the museum, the concert hall, the poetry reading, where art is supposed to function by sweeping us from our grubby little world and into the exalted realm of the aesthetic." Aesthetics-online 12/01


THE DANCING SWAN: "Ever since Swan Lake got the choreography and the attention it deserved, it has been one of ballet's most frequently performed works. But in the course of its travels it has been tarted up, dumbed down, made over and psychologised more than any other ballet." The Guardian (UK) 12/26/01

CLEMENT TIME: Financial Times dance critic Clement Crisp is one of the most respected critics in the UK. Crisp "commands English like a maestro controlling a vast orchestra of thousands upon thousands of instruments, some splendidly abstruse. Readers scurry to their dictionaries. Ballet, which of all the performing arts offers the highest challenge to any attempt to express it in words, has produced a tiny handful of star writers able to match the brilliance of the achievements they saw on stage with their own verbal artistry." 12/01

THE POINT OF BALLET: Scottish Ballet's decision to move away from traditional ballet meant there were no Nutcrackers this year. But "one might ask what is the point of having a Scottish ballet company if it doesn't plan to do the great ballets. It is like the English Shakespeare Company saying it is sick of doing Shakespeare. It would be much cheaper to do something with a lot fewer actors that didn't require such a big theatre." Glasgow Herald 12/29/01


BOOKS ON SCREEN: "The process of turning novels into movies is an inexact science. When it happens, it happens. Getting there, novelists and filmmakers said, can be delicate and harrowing." Los Angeles Times 12/26/01

SUCCESS ABROAD DOESN'T TRANSLATE AT HOME: India is the biggest producer of movies in the world. But India's film industry is trying to crack the world movie market outside India. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum ("Sometimes Joy Sometimes Sorrow") is the most expensive Indian film ever made. "The 400 million rupee ($8.3 million) production made it to number three in Britain in its first week, the highest position an Indian movie has ever reached in the British top ten, and earned 450,000 pounds ($647,000) in the weekend ending Dec. 16." But at home the movie is not faring well... Nando Times (AP) 12/24/01

AT ODDS WITH THE CRITICS: The Top 10 Movie lists of critics and audiences are very different. "Comparing our Top 10 list with theirs is like scanning the menus at McDonald's and Chez Panisse. Both have potatoes. We loved Rush Hour 2. The critics adored The Man Who Wasn't There. We dug The Mummy Returns. They preferred Ghost World. Not a single foreign word appears on our list." So what good are critics? Washington Post 12/27/01

THE EVIL THAT IS HOLLYWOOD: Is the Hollywood film industry "a sort of Frankenstein that has high-concepted itself into a weird, ugly blandness while stomping on fragile cinematic cultures worldwide even as it attempts to befriend, co-opt, and sometimes imitate them?" A new book charges corruption and coziness between Hollywood and the American government, which encourages a bland status quo. American Prospect 12/17/01

  • CONSPIRACY OR PLAIN INCOMPETENCE? So when exactly did Hollywood go bad? The whole culture of big-budget filmmaking is so generic and unadventurous that even as earth-shaking an event as 9/11 failed to change anything in the long term. And most films these days seem to be little more than "sense-stimulating bombardments designed for pacification and crude social programming." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/28/01

THE DIGITAL MARCH: Digital art flourished in 2001, even as the Dot-bust gained momentum. Perhaps they were motivated by the recognition that making digital art might yield greater, if less tangible, rewards. 'We're past the initial glow of excitement about a new medium. Now the challenge is to take this beyond a small group of intrepid explorers and the gee-whiz of a new technology and into an art form that can engage a larger audience and sustain itself in the long run'." New York Times 12/24/01 (one-time registration required


UPBEAT TIMES FOR ORCHESTRAS: With all the bad news about the health of symphony orchestras, it's easy to think the orchestra world is on the ropes. But a closer look gives plenty of reason for optimism. Plenty of new talented musicians, interesting young conductors, and "the graying of the classical orchestra audience is a myth." Los Angeles Times 12/25/01

BRING ON 2002: It would be overstating the case somewhat to say that 2001 was a dismal year for America's classical music industry. But with multiple orchestras in a financial bind (with some actually shutting down,) and some high-profile groups using September 11 as an excuse to cancel performances of controversial and difficult music, it's hard not to wonder whether the nation really values its cultural heritage as much as it says is does. San Jose Mercury News 12/27/01

A DOWN YEAR: "After a banner 2000, sales of recorded music are down for the first time in years. A souring economy caused fans to think carefully before plunking down $125 to see Janet Jackson, and tour interruptions following Sept. 11 dealt the live-music industry another setback. To make matters worse, as record labels struggled unsuccessfully to combat online file-sharing of individual songs, sales of blank discs soared, thanks to the growing popularity of home-computer CD burners able to copy entire albums." St. Paul Pioneer Press (KR) 12/30/01

BAD BUT POPULAR? Promoter Raymond Gubbay's Christmas Festival is the best-attended classical music event in Scotland. So why do musicians and "serious" music fans disdain them? "Executives and administrators of full-time classical orchestras are usually contemptuous in their dismissal of the whole Gubbay empire, whose populist musical extravaganzas range across the calendar and throughout the UK. Many professional classical musicians will have nothing to do with Gubbay concerts - the phrase 'it's only a Gubbay gig' is usually delivered with a snort of derision and the equivalent of a spit." Glasgow Herald 12/28/01

MIAMI'S ENDANGERED CLASSICAL MUSIC STATION: The new owners of South Florida's classical music radio station says they're going to abandon the format in favor of talk radio. So the previous owner is launching a campaign to get the station back and save the music. "But he probably won't know the results of his efforts for 60 days or more, and should he prove unsuccessful, the future of classical on our local airwaves looks bleak." Miami Herald 12/23/01

SAVING ST. LOUIS: The financially-endangered St. Louis Symphony has seen a swell of support since it announced a cash emergency. "The contributions ranged from a $5 check sent in by a school bus driver to $3,000 raised by a student string quartet, from $20,000 from a brand-new patron of the orchestra to $25,000 from the mostly volunteer, 130-member St. Louis Symphony Chorus." St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/23/01

WHAT'S HAPPENED TO AUSSIE MUSIC? "I've come to conclude that in an important sense orchestras are museums and that it's right and proper they fulfil this function. But just as they seem to be doing a better job of new music than at any time since the 1960s, there is room for improvement on the museum front. In particular, in the wing of the museum marked 'Australia', someone appears to have removed all the pieces for cleaning and then forgotten to put them back again. A foreigner could attend symphony concerts all around this country in 2002 and conclude that Australian music began in about 1998." Sydney Morning Herald 12/28/01

BORING ME SILLY: More and more musicians are keeping online journals. But why are they so banal? "The common denominator of these notebooks is their superficiality. They have none of the serenity of Janet Baker's late journal, nor the energy of the young Kenneth Branagh's. They serve, ostensibly, as a token of the artist's urge to communicate. But since the artist has, in most cases, nothing to say, they reduce art to mundanity and deflate our eagerness to hear it." The Telegraph (UK) 12/26/01


DIETRICH AT 100: "Marlene Dietrich's 100th birthday is being celebrated in Berlin, the home city of the late Hollywood star." Among many events celebrating Germany's dark diva, "the Berlin Film Museum is staging a special exhibition and showing never-before-seen private films of the late star." BBC 12/27/01

SIR NIGEL HAWTHORNE, 72: The actor died at home. "Sir Nigel achieved world-wide fame as the bumbling yet suave civil servant Sir Humphrey in the TV hit Yes Minister, but was a classical actor with a wide repertoire ranging from Shakespearean leads to raw comedy. It was once said that he spent the first 20 years of his distinguished career being ignored and the rest of it being discovered." The Guardian (UK) 12/26/01

THE SINGING ICON: Julie Andrews is 66 and facing a career without her famous singing voice. "Ms. Andrews is a rare version of an icon. There is no great enigma that trails her, none of the dark shadings of Judy Garland, or the smokiness of Frank Sinatra, or Madonna's air of entitlement. This doesn't mean she will come over to your house for lunch, but if she did, you would talk easily with her, and she would listen closely." The New York Times 12/23/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE SCULPTING ICON: Sculptor Louise Bourgeois turned 90 Christmas Day. "She has witnessed most of the art movements of the last century and influenced her share. She is still innovating. She puts demands on her viewers to go with her into a discomfiting zone of trauma and endurance." The New York Times 12/23/01 (one-time registration required for access)


THE STORY WITHIN: "English-language writing about Hong Kong and much of Asia has long been the province of Western expatriates or writers passing through, but increasingly this work is being done by Asian authors." The New York Times 12/25/01 (one-time registration required for access)

SADDAM HUSSEIN, HUMBLE AUTHOR: Saddam Hussein has published a second novel. "Al-Qala'ah al-Hasinah ("The Fortified Castle") appeared this week in bookshops and all public libraries in Baghdad and was hailed on state-run television and by the newspaper al-Jumhouriya as a 'great artistic work.' The cover gives no clue to the writer's identity, saying cryptically that it is a 'novel by its author,' while a note inside explains that the writer 'did not wish to put his name on it out of humility and modesty'." 12/20/01


OFF-BROADWAY'S BIG YEAR-END: From November to early March, Broadway is blah as far as new productions opening. Why? It's all about jockeying for Tonys. Off-Broadway, on the other hand, has had a very productive end of the year... New York Post 12/23/01

THE ART OF SCIENCE: Time was the arts ignored the fields of science and math. No longer. "The new math-sci drama cluster has justifiably been hailed as a welcome trend. By investigating this terrain, one can address all the standard passions — love, competition, jealousy, benevolence, evil — while tackling issues of philosophical and social importance. And maybe teaching us a little something to boot." Seattle Times 12/23/01

ROAD SHOW: The Full Monty is a hit on Broadway. But plans for a national tour took a dive. Now new producers for the tour have been found, and everything from the ad campaign to the way the show looks and loads and travels has been changed. Will it work? Los Angeles Times 12/30/01

OUT WITH A BANG? Several of London's top theatre directors are stepping down from their institutions in 2002. "But what’s the best way to say goodbye to a top job in the theatre itself? With a bang, a whimper or something in between? Is there a temptation, especially if one has been financially embattled, to blow one’s annual grant on a self-indulgent splurge of spectacularly improbable work?" The Times (UK) 12/27/01

KAREDA PASSES: Legendary Canadian theatre manager and critic Urjo Kareda has died in Toronto at the age of 57. "Mr. Kareda was a former theatre critic at The Toronto Star and literary manager of the Stratford Festival as well as artistic director of the Tarragon Theatre for the past 20 years." Toronto Star 12/27/01


WAITING FOR THE NEXT NEW THING: "The contemporary scene, currently, is like a tide at still waters. Watchers are all waiting to see which way the flow will run. As the Turner Prize attests, the art world cannot churn out ground-breaking talents every generation. Having shortlisted six dozen candidates since it was established, its remit has recently seemed pretty sparse. And after this year’s shenanigans it may have to fight harder for attention in 2002. The public, like a wily old trout, may refuse to take the bait." The Times (UK) 12/27/01

BANNING TREASURE HUNTING: "According to estimates by commercial salvors, there are some three million undiscovered shipwrecks scattered across the world’s oceans." More and more of them are becoming accessible because of improvements in diving technology. So UNESCO has banned underwater treasure hunting, in an effort to protect sunken artifacts from plunder. UNESCO Sources 12/17/01

A RIGGED AUCTION? After a John Glover painting sold on auction last month at what experts say was an extraordinarily low price, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating to see if price collusion went on between bidders - two Australian galleries. "The commission is investigating the suggestion that art museums may have been discouraged from bidding, or talked each other out of bidding for the picture, to the detriment of the market-place and a fair price for the vendor." The Age (Melbourne) 12/26/01

WHY IS AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE SO BLAND? "Among practicing architects here and abroad, it is axiomatic that there is much more contemporary architecture of high quality to be found in Europe than in the United States and that innovative, inspiring architecture - as well as architecture that is well built and long lasting - is constructed less frequently here than almost anywhere in Europe. American architecture is, as a rule, conventional, bland, and dull." American Prospect 12/17/01

POP GOES THE EASEL: As museums around the U.S. struggle with attendance figures and constantly evolving competition from new and exciting pop culture offerings, many are turning to pop art exhibits to draw in the younger set. From the Guggenheim's motorcycles, to SFMOMA's Reeboks, to a widely criticized display of Jackie O's clothing at no less a gallery than New York's Metropolitan Museum, it cannot be denied that museums are dumbing down. But is this a failure of the arts, or a success for marketing? The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) (AP) 12/27/01

BEIJING'S NEW CAPITAL MUSEUM: Construction has started on Beijing's new Capital Museum. It will cost $94 million and be 60,000 square metres large, reportedly the largest building built in the city since 1949. It is expected to open in two years. China Daily 12/26/01

CLEVELAND'S NEW MUSEUM: The Cleveland Museum of Art is about to start building a new home, designed by Rafael Vinoly. "With an estimated construction cost of $170 million, the museum job will cost nearly twice the $93 million it took to build the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In dollars and square footage, the art museum project qualifies as one of the biggest and most complex cultural efforts in the city's history." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 12/23/01

FEEBLE NONSENSE? So David Hockney believes that great artists of the past may have used lenses to aid them in their sketches. And he's made his claims in a book that many critics are taking seriously. But critic Brian Sewell does not: "This is a silly and meretricious book, a demonstration of naive obsession, of remote improbabilities presented as hard facts, of shifting ground for every argument, self-indulgently subjective, a farrago of feeble nonsense that should never have been published and, had it been sent to Thames and Hudson by Uncle Tom Cobleigh or Jack Sprat, would not have been." London Evening Standard 12/26/01

ENRON'S ART VENTURES: Enron had been making substantial investments in art before its recent collapse. "Most of Enron's art-buying was for its new building." In addition, the company supported Texas arts groups. "Last year, the firm gave $12 million to local charities, about one percent of its annual pre-tax revenues of $110 billion. (By contrast, the firm spent a mere $2.1 million on political lobbying in Washington.)." The Art Newspaper 12/26/01

ANOTHER WHACK AT THE TURNER: Prizes such as the Turner proclaim they celebrate the new and experimental. "The trouble is that contemporary art so often is not new. It seems that many artists know nothing about even the most recent past, or if they do, have no scruples about copying it." The Art Newspaper 12/20/01


NEA KEEPS KEEPIN' ON: President Bush's nominee for chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts was confirmed by the Senate last week. It's been a tumultuous few decades for the NEA, though the political turmoil has calmed a bit in the past few years. But the government is not likely to pay the arts much heed until they get new champions. "The arts are a strange part of American life. Almost everybody loves them on some level, but they haven't been educated to think about it as part of government." New York Times 12/24/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE START OF... Fifty years ago, Canadian Governor General Vincent Massey produced a report on culture whose "recommendations led eventually to the creation of the Canada Council and the National Library. But the report exerted other influences that were less obvious and less beneficial. What seems clear now is its political bias. It framed support of the arts in essentially political terms, and we have been burdened by those terms ever since." National Post (Canada) 12/24/01

SMART AS A MACHINE: Machines don't have the intelligence "imagined by Stanley Kubrick in 1968, when he released the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. This year, we can now say at the safety of its end, did not bring us a Hal, or anything like it. Computers can play a pretty good game of chess, transliterate speech and recognise handwriting and faces. But their intelligence does not touch our own, and the prevailing scientific wisdom seems to be that it never will." The Economist 12/22/01

ARE PACS ALL THEY'RE CRACKED UP TO BE? "PACs have become the hot new urban fix, following the festival market, the convention center, the baseball stadium, the sports arena, the aquarium, and the museum... Yet it took Lincoln Center 25 years to become a destination instead of merely a venue. That's one of its forgotten lessons. Without the simultaneous development of shops, cafes, housing, and hotels, performing arts centers quickly become marooned by their own lofty intentions." Dallas Morning News 12/28/01 (one-time registration required for access)

LANGUAGE VS. TECHNOLOGY? The education ministry of a prosperous Indian state is under fire from self-styled guardians of culture, following a proposal to allow high school students to study Information Technology (IT) as a second language. Opponents fear that, since students are only permitted to pick one language to study, IT will quickly become the course of choice, replacing Marathi, the local language which is in danger of dying out. Wired 12/25/01

COMING TO TERMS WITH ART'S RESPONSIBILITIES: It has become almost cliched to point out the importance of art's survival in a culture so shaken by the trauma of 9/11. But for artists themselves, who are now expected to have something relevant to say on the subject, the journey from horror to productive creation is not an easy one, and the decision of how to address the grieving of a nation without seeming trite or preachy is not an easy one. Christian Science Monitor 12/28/01

OLD PROBLEM: "As any regular patron can tell you, the people who turn out for music, dance and theater are more likely to be concerned with Medicare than with student loans. It's a tricky population twist for arts managers to navigate as they try to accommodate their reliable, though aging, subscription base while also pulling in new blood for the future. It's not a particularly new problem - the core audience has always been those who have no babies and some disposable income - but modern demographics and economics have given a new urgency to the issue." Washington Post 12/23/01

10. FOR FUN 

WHAT IF ARTS AND SPORTS TRADED PLACES? "There are sports people and arts people, the two alien civilizations whose populations are greater than all others combined. Throughout history, sports people have had little tolerance for the artsy-fartsy types, just as arts people have looked down their noses at the beer-swilling lunkheads." But "how would things be different if the arts were sports, and if sports were the arts?" St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/23/01

SO WHO NEEDS COMPOSERS? At a conference in Germany, an inventor shows off his robotic/computer composer. "On six strings tuned to one chord, and with connected equipment producing a rock-like effect without human involvement, the contraption really did play something that sounded like the blues. With distortions and overdrives, the resulting sound was somewhat weird, gruff and expressive, resembling Jimi Hendrix's live version of Voodoo Child. The artist claimed that the digital computer taught itself to play, in the best tradition of a basement band, as it were. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 12/27/01

REBUTTING THE NYT: Earlier this month, The New York Times dissed the Milwaukee Art Museum and its new Calatrava-designed building. Deborah Solomon wrote: "The museum has only a B-level art collection - it does not own a Fauve Matisse painting, a Cubist Gris painting or a Surrealist Magritte or Dali - but has nevertheless managed to become a cultural landmark. As city planners everywhere have clearly realized, a museum can become a global attraction along the lines of the Tower of Pisa - and if the outside is good (and slanty) enough, it really doesn't matter what is inside." In defense, the MAM's director has written to the Times: "Perhaps Ms. Solomon's piece comes under the issue's 'conceptual leaps' category, since she neither visited the institution nor saw the collection." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 12/26/01