May 2008 Archives

I drove out to Marfa, TX for the first time a couple of weeks ago. How deeply embarrassing is it that I didn't make it to one art gallery? (Kind of incredible, really, considering I'm not sure there's one building in that town without "Judd" stamped on it.) (Donald, that is.)

So why was I out there, if not for contemporary art? Good question: I made the almost-six-hour trek to attend the inaugural Marfa Film Festival, a five-day event founded by San Antonio transplant Robin Lambaria and her fiancé, filmmaker Cory Van Dyke. (Incidentally, I did, at least, see Rainer Judd's excellent autobiographical short film, Remember Back, Remember When.)


Marfa itself is without a technical movie theater, so the local theatre venue, the vaguely Alamo-reminiscent Goode-Crowley building served as the main screening space. (Recently-released-on-DVD flicks are shown at the town library. I know: I stayed with the super-interesting, super-sweet guy who runs the program.) Most of the films were shorts and docs; at night the Alamo Drafthouse lent its giant, inflatable Rolling Roadshow screen for outdoor screenings of classics like Night of the Hunter.


The entire weekend was surreal, and honestly it was difficult to separate my "new town" experience from my film fest experience, and so my coverage in the Current ran a little like a travel article. I ran on about the charming Brown Recluse, but neglected to mention the Marfa Book Company, where I spent less time but over whose gorgeous volumes I lusted at length during one afternoon. So many art books, so many screenings to make.


The most surreal event was the MFF's showing of There Will Be Blood on the inflatable screen on the still-standing set. As I expressed in the Current, I struggle with that film: Does it make sense structurally? Tonally? Is there any emotional core, and if not, is it one of those cases where its absence is excusable, even necessary? Why is it when P.T.A. makes a distinctly non-P.T.A. movie, the critics love him? I tend to be of one mind with Nathan Lee when it comes to heaping praise on the dead, and movies that recall too closely their dead forebears. To crudely paraphrase, is like: OK, we've done these old movies -- can we do something new? When in comes to TWBB, I just keep feeling like, Huston and Kubrick did their thing. What's next?


But under the incredibly clear and bright nighttime sky in Marfa, with 300ish others, settled between Little Boston and the Train depot, I appreciated TWBB in a way my two previous viewings hadn't allowed. Methinks it was the meta. (And the margarita. Fine.)


The festival programmer told me they hope to have three daytime screening venues for next year, and with King Airways planning to make a stop in the Marfa area, I imagine more folks from all over Texas will make the MFF a must in the future. I'm sure gonna try. 

May 29, 2008 9:30 AM |
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Actor Michelle Hurst and writer and director Ain Gordon  in Lexington's Downtown Arts Center where they are presenting In This Place . . . , a play inspired by the "alternative history" of Lexington. Copyrighted Lexington Herald-Leader photo by David Perry.

Jim Clark, the president and CEO of LexArts, invited stage writer and director Ain Gordon to come to Lexington to find a story in the city's history to tell.

It is the sort of thing Gordon has done in New York and New Jersey, and Clark has seen how it generated interest and dialogue in the communities where Gordon worked.

"I started walking around downtown and saw all of those historic plaques," said Gordon. "My first reaction was, it's all been taken care of. There's nothing for me to do. This town is covering its history."

But then he started to think about the plaques and how in most cases they couldn't possibly tell the whole story of what happened at each site. He also spotted a place that curiously did not have a marker: 245 South Limestone.

"It was as old or older than many of the houses that had markers, and it wasn't marked," Gordon said. "I thought, 'Why is that? Whose house is this?'"

Through his investigations, Gordon found the 1830s-era house was originally the home of Samuel Oldham, the first free African-American man in Lexington to own his own land and build his own house.

Now, Gordon is giving two unique markers to the house -- which was bought in 2006 by Coleman Callaway III and is being renovated.

First, there's a play, In This Place ..., which opened Thursday for a three-night run at the Downtown Arts Center. The one-woman play uses traditional theatrical techniques and multimedia to tell the story of the Oldham House through the owner's wife, Daphney.

Later this summer, a new-concept historic marker will be unveiled at the house. Rather than try to encapsulate the history into a paragraph like the familiar bronzed signs dotting downtown do, the new marker will direct viewers to a Web site full of research Gordon did while writing In This Place .... The site will also showcase video from and for the play's production shot by Lexington documentary filmmaker Joan Brannon.

May 23, 2008 10:08 AM |
CMFB - Han, Finkel.jpgWu Han (center) and David Finckel (right) at Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Ky., last year with their daughter Lilian. Photo courtesy of Finckel and Han. (Below) Meadow View Barn, a renovated tobacco barn, is the venue for the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.

Last year, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center participated in a pioneering effort: The first Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.

Presented by the Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts and its director, George Foreman, the fest was held at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky., off the beaten path for most concert goers, in a renovated tobacco barn, an atypical venue for musicians more accustomed to cozy concert halls.

And it was a smashing success.

The concerts were sold out, and the chamber music society's press representative says the musicians haven't stopped talking about Kentucky.

So, with the second edition upon us, we got on the phone with cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-directors of the Chamber Music Society, to talk about the second edition of the festival and their return to the Bluegrass.

Lexington Herald-Leader: Tell us about your trip here last year and what made it so great.

David Fickel: The most wonderful thing, besides being in Kentucky, and in such a beautiful place and having such beautiful weather and meeting all the new people and playing for a new audience was being present at the birth of a really exciting new project. These days, when classical music takes root in a new location and blossoms, it's wonderful news for everybody involved. We also look at our involvement at the Shaker Village there as being something that the Chamber Society is good at, something that we should do, being the kind of organization we are, we should go around and help people start new things because we can present great art in great programs and get people excited.

In the end, we all had a marvelous time. We made a lot of new friends, and we've really been thinking about it ever since.

Wu Han: In a regular concert, we usually hit a city and play for an audience of 500 to 2,000 and then we probably split the next morning and hit the next town. That's a performer's life.

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So, to have the opportunity to base in such a gorgeous environment - it's inspiring to be in such a pure and spiritual place like the Shaker Village - and to have the opportunity to be involved in a festival is incredibly satisfying. Festival is a place you come to meet people to have exploration, to have a community that has the opportunity to mingle, to eat meals together, to talk and to share a space and exchange ideas. At the end of the festival, we know the presenters very, very well, we get to know the audience, we get to know where to eat locally, we get to hike a little bit and the audience bonded with us. We have so much to share and it's a very different sensation from just traveling from city to city and doing one night stands. The setting of the Shaker Village is fantastic. I don't have the TV to distract me with CNN and 30 minutes of updating in my hotel room. And everyday I would wake up in the same place and it is very close to nature and I get to meet my audience in the daytime.

That's unusual for musicians and I think it's unusal for the audience to be that close to the musicians.

And playing the tobacco barn is so unusual. It's very close to the earthiness of what we do using the chamber music form and its intimacy. It's a project I really treasure.

Q: Last year, before you came, you said you were curious as to what the venue was going to look like. How did the tobacco barn turn out as a place to play?

WH: I loved it. To have a little bit of cowbell and the birds flying around the Dvorak Piano Quintet is not a bad thing at all.

May 20, 2008 10:13 AM |

Matt Lively - Recent Works at Adam Cave Fine Art

Raleigh NC   March 28 - April 29, 2008

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Turgid Type, oil on paper, 30"x40"  (all images courtesy of Adam Cave Fine Art)

        Matt Lively creates paintings that live up to his surname.  His works are never dull but instead are about the fanciful flights of everyday objects that foray off in unexpected directions.  The Richmond based artist has developed a style imbued with a tremendous dose of whimsy and often a good bit of surrealism thrown into the mix for good measure.   His paintings recently on view at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh depicted stage set-like tableaux of domesticity: sitting parlors with groupings of striped and patterned chairs, living or bedroom like spaces with large windows and wind blown curtains, ironing boards fraternizing with high chairs, and staircases that curl around small tables like your grandma's that held the family telephone.  Ordinary household items, often of the old-timey, made-in-USA era variety, are a common thread that reappear in the canvases and visually tie this series of works together.  These items are central in the paintings and are typically actual objects the artist owns- an antique film projector for instance, an old circulating fan, a rotary dial telephone- and they simultaneously lend an air of nostalgic familiarity coupled with an unsettled air of mysterious tranquility.

The paintings share much with the fundamentals of still life painting in that the main subject matter consists of carefully composed objects, attentively painted, within a supporting background.  Yet in Lively's paintings these objects are always strongly metaphorical and seem to be stand-ins for the missing occupants of these spaces. This in turn gives rise to all sorts of associations that your mind begins to draw. Has the occupant of the room just left for a second and we're catching the precise moment when they are absent? Or are they ever really coming back? Why are their belongings blowing all around in the drafty breeze like that? Who really owns that many chairs and how can their house have so many little rooms?

Indeed for all the tendency of your mind to have a traditional Westerner's point of view (i.e. focusing on the objects rather than the space around them) it is a more intangible element that recurs throughout that gives these works their chutzpah: namely the continual breeze that appears to be blowing across the scene. It is a constant presence whether blowing the papers out of an antique typewriter in the painting titled "Turgid Type"or loosing the dots right off the pattern of a hanging dress in "Fall in Place" leaving them tumbling down onto the floor. It is a tough task this; the painting of the wind, yet this abstruse breeze seems to me to be the true inhabitant of these spaces.  It flutters and flows about, making its way around and between the objects in the rooms as handily as we viewers survey the painted subjects themselves.  

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       Fall in Place, oil on canvas, 30"x30"       

        A few live elements do occur to bring a sense of the living into the fray: a bird just flown out of a birdcage, a comical swarm of bees in flight mounted on curious little miniature unicycles. But one particular inanimate item that caught my attention is the recurring old fashioned plug-in electrical cord that is generally present with each painted appliance.  This cord curls out and away from the fans, clothes irons, and movie projectors towards a wall socket as if to seek out some broader harmony for the objects within their surroundings. It is a tangible element of connection -a literal power source- that suffuses Lively's work with a sense of tactile linkage.  In our accelerated present, a time of wireless and unplugged everything, sometimes it takes an honest time-worn item like this to connect us back to fundamental notions of inhabitance and spaces we might call our own.   


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     Flutter and Click, oil on paper, 30"x40"

a postscript...

    The painter, I learned from his recent interview on WUNC radio's "The State of Things," also has an intriguing alter ego- Matthew Lively- who is more the brooding type, preferring to work with darker, more menacing themes.  Matthew is more prone to show his work in bars and pubs - his own art underworld if you will- whereas Matt's work is more content in hanging (no pun intended) with the traditional gallery crowd.  The work done under each guise rarely crosses over into the realm of the other and Lively (who I have to imagine must have to constantly refer to himself as the Artist formerly known as the other M) is perfectly ok with that. Indeed it is a modus operandi that serves him well as it has many other creative types through history from Duchamp / Rose Selavy to the multi-heteronymical Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.  The overall benefit is that Lively is able to cleverly pursue multiple, simultaneous streams of thought in his work in a fruitful way.  He in fact becomes his own multi-tasking editor as this working method allows him to let varying ideas and concepts be utilized (or not) in a pluralistic variety of working styles.   In doing so he is able to tinge his works with various subtle shades of meaning that have the benefit of broad resonance with viewers...whatever sort of art venue they tend to frequent.   The artist noted in this same interview that practically none of Matthew's fans are likely to cross over to see the paintings done by Matt and vice versa due to the differences in venue and the type of crowd each attracts.  But do yourself a favor if you get a chance; break this trend and check out what's going on in both places. It's well worth the trip to see what's coming out of the flip side of this artist's palette.

May 13, 2008 8:57 PM |
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I was speaking with someone this week about a local artist I hadn't thought about in awhile and I got to pondering why this was the case.  (Since I'd been thinking about local folk or outsider artists lately this seemed a natural choice for me to write about this time out also.) The sculptor's name is Vollis Simpson and he's become especially well known nationally in the past decade or so for his giant whirligigs. These are windmill-like contraptions that he builds in his garage in tiny Lacama, North Carolina. Vollis is a retired machinist so he has the know how (plus the requisite shop space and importantly a serious tool collection) to build such things and for the most part, they are some pretty large and intricate constructions. Perhaps I've just taken these artworks for granted as they are accommodating, crowd pleasing, a hit with the kids, and actually just plain fun to watch. Every time I see one of these whirligigs I get a small inkling of what it must have been like to see Calder performing with his circus back in the day. It's like catching a maestro at the top of his game; in this case one with a welding torch in hand and metal grinder in the other. 

There is always an element of kinetic anticipation with these sculptures since for all their lightheartedness and carnival-like whimsy they are actually very precisely balanced and engineered; constructed to spin even in very slight winds. It is easy to be transported back to childhood memories of kites and handheld windmills when you look at Vollis's work because they in fact conjure up all these associations. Hand built, home made toys cobbled together for an afternoon's enjoyment come to mind but most particularly they exemplify flights of fancy straight from the imagination of a child.  To get an idea of what one of these looks like, picture a triangulated metal truss painted up in red, white, and blue and decked out with small cup shaped propellers, reflectors, metal cut out figure shapes, fan blades, and festive spirals that project up and about.  This truss is typically perched upon a metal post directly proportional in height to the whirligig's overall size (i.e. the larger the truss then the taller the post.)  There is often a large propeller shape at the front end and a vertical wind vane-like tail at the rear to help the whole construction spin on its axis and orient itself to the best winds.  There is always with these whirligigs a guarantee of a multitude of shapes and colors glittering and spinning in harmony at the whim of the breeze all through the day. 

One of Vollis's more spectacular whirligigs which is at least the size of a Volkswagen rises magnificently up on a tall column base sited along the sculpture walk that circles the North Carolina Museum of Art. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has an equally large whirligig prominently sited just outside their main entrance and it is effective as an eye-catching announcement to potential museum-goers that a different type of art is housed there.  Downtown Raleigh is actually the beneficiary of 3 small whirligigs that reside in a tiny little park near Moore Square. Unfortunately this park (and especially the artwork) is so woefully underutilized that it is actually cordoned off by a high metal fence circling its entire perimeter. The park space is likely to be part of the redevelopment associated with Raleigh's downtown renaissance and the ongoing building boom which is bringing a plethora of new mixed-use construction (and some much need housing) to the downtown scene.  Along with all this is the great hope of enhanced vitality for the downtown scene.  The whirligigs in such a scenario don't really stand a chance against the promise of bona fide leasable square footage and the lure of restored retail spaces long-lost to the suburbs.  much needed retail and teeming with retail and anxious shoppers (or this is how certain hopefuls see it) eager to try the newly rechristened downtown shoso they seem up for grabs.

What my companion and I actually talked about was Vollis's extensive collection of original whirligigs scattered abouts his property in Lacama and how they've weathered over time.  The artist has been at it now for a good couple of decades and some of his first sculptures have been out in the elements since then.  They've gotten a little creaky as a result and we were contemplating this fact as my companion had been fortunate enough to see some of the early whirligigs when they were brand new and freshly installed outside Vollis's garage workshop.  Their movement, he told me, was flawless and silent; like a fine tuned machine motoring along with the breeze.  Part of their awe was seeing the whimsy and crudity of some of the cut-out sheet metal figures and windmill blades contrast with superb engineering allowing their high degree of wind-blown performance.  Would the artist be amenable to restoring his constructions to such a state of super-smooth efficiency if asked?  Or would he instead prefer their weathered appearance acquired over time in situ?  It struck me as an odd pair of juxtapositions: one set of folk art sculptures whose only real problem is that they have simply been outside now at the artist's home for quite awhile now and have consequently suffered pm;u at the hand of Mother Nature, and another trio of small whirligig cousins whose only crime is that they sit on some now highly valued land deemed much more appropriate for something other than a teeny-tiny urban park that no one can enter or use.  



May 9, 2008 10:21 PM | | Comments (1)

You can't talk to print newspaper reporters for very long these days without getting into the subject of online multimedia. It is not enough anymore, it seems, to just be able to scribble coherent and informative sentences. Now you must be able to collect audio, blog, shoot pictures and video, and edit them all together in coherent and informative packages for the Internet.
There are basically two camps on this:
  1. I'm a writer and I didn't sign up for all of this other stuff.
  2. This is an exciting way to explore new ways of telling stories.
Both sides have equally valid arguments. But arts journalists and editors should be leaning toward and looking for ways to execute No. 2. It is true, being a strong writer does not necessarily make you a good multimedia reporter. But the Internet has opened up a great new venue for arts reporting.
After all, what are the arts, except for literature: sight and sound.
But considering most local TV news outlets wouldn't cover an arts event unless the concertmaster shot the conductor or the theater burned down, arts journalism, at least in my nearly -- I hate to say this -- two decades of experience has been relegated to the written word. It's not that we don't love the written word -- look what I'm doing now -- but there have definitely been times that I have wanted to be able to show the readers how beautiful this voice was or how funny that scene was.
Budgets being what they are, a lot of midsized papers don't have resources to hire new videographers or other multimedia producers. But an industrious reporter can learn new tricks and maybe persuade some people to partner with them. At the Lexington Herald-Leader, I've enjoyed this trying to chronicle the final concerts of the Lexington Philharmonic's music director of 37 years, George Zack, in audio and video. The most recent was an audio slide show in which photographer Matt Goins and web producer Todd Van Campen enthusiastically collaborated, and the video, above, created by my former partner-in-crime, Jamie Gumbrecht.
No, they aren't perfect. But they are progress and they are showing viewers our local arts in different ways, maybe even generating some new interest.
Yes, there is a gloom and doom atmosphere in journalism in general. But in arts reporting, we should embrace the opportunities the web presents as a potential renaissance.
May 5, 2008 8:57 AM |

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