“The Salt of the Earth” (2014) –Drawing with Light

Salgado's Iguana Hand
Iguana Marina

Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned Brazilian sociopolitical photographer,  is the subject of this emotionally harrowing documentary. The viewer witnesses photographs of heartbreaking gravity and human agony, both unprecedented and breathtaking. The 2014 Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth reveals Salgado’s masterpieces of portraiture, political journalism, landscape, and animals in a way that evokes strong feelings. A display of Ansel Adams this is not!

Perhaps the most startling experience in watching The Salt of the Earth is the beauty that is embedded in the tragic and cruel situations of his subjects. Here we see the evidence of his emotional response to what he photographs and frame by frame, in mostly black and white photos. Each black and white photograph is a meditation, not a representation and Salgado is keenly aware of this as he narrates each photographic series: “Workers”, “Exodus”, “Genesis”, and others.

The majority of The Salt of the Earth is extremely painful to watch–a testimony to violence, genocide, and holocausts beyond even the most grotesque of imaginations. Deeply affecting, this documentary visualizes the inhumane, abject conditions that much of the world’s population, particularly women and children, endure. The Salt of the Earth is a must-see. Courageous and compassionate, Salgado explains his photographs in elegant poetic form: “Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” With soulful voice and unbelievably sad eyes, he is unflinching in reporting on the ugliness of human existence but also the beauty of those struggling to survive. The underbelly of human behavior is powerfully depicted, mostly in stark monochromatic photos, with the support of the extraordinary director Wim Wenders (of “Buena Vista Social Club” and “End of Violence” fame).

Blind Woman of Mali
Blind Woman of Mali

Anyone watching The Salt of the Earth will wonder how Salgado survived the horrors of what he witnessed,– the heart of darkness,– with his soul intact. “We humans are terrible animals” he says at one point. He himself confesses there were times when all he did was sob throughout the night. Photographing war and genocide may have brought Salgado to the edge of despair and insanity, but recently his projects have been redirected to renewing and restoring the planet.

Salgado is a living testimony to how art can be witness to truth.  His photographs and experience, his “drawings in light”, The Salt of the Earth is unforgettable. You cannot but be moved by this film!

Note:  Available on Netflix

 

Carmel Bach Festival–The Joy of Music

Carmel Bach Festival 2017 program

Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, the world-renowned Carmel Bach Festival has just begun its summer season! If you are in the Carmel, California area sometime between July 9th and July 29th, stop by and experience the exuberant classical and contemporary music masterpieces being featured.

A touchstone of music in scenic Monterey and Carmel, this world-class music festival offers more than 25 chamber concerts, traditional chorale recitals, and full orchestraI programs. Some of the Carmel Bach Festival concerts are free, often accompanied by lectures by the Art Director and Principal Conductor. Open rehearsals and workshops for emerging musicians are educational and thoroughly enjoyable too.

I was fortunate to listen to one of the first pre-festival concerts so far this season at the beautiful Carmel Presbyterian Church. The Circle of Strings Quartet–featuring the violin virtuoso Emlyn Ngai as well as three other exceptional chamber musicians–played two 18th century pieces (by Beethoven and J.S. Bach) as well as 20th century compositions by Reinhold Gliere, Samuel Barber, and Philip Glass. Ranging from soothing, calming and undulating movements to a humorous duet and then to the passionate and poignant finale by Barber, the five selections managed to be a microcosm of the evolution of music from its baroque days to the masterful works by Philip Glass (who celebrates his 80th birthday this summer too).

The Carmel Bach Festival is held in a wide-ranging selection of venues throughout the town as well. Some concerts are held outside on the patio under the Clock Tower of the Carmel Sunset Center (the city’s performing arts center) while others are held in beautiful churches in the community (including the Church in the Forest in Pebble Beach) and the historic Carmel Mission. Candlelight concerts are particularly enthralling as the audience imagines a Mozart quintet or a baroque piece in its original lighting of the period.

And as an additional attraction for art lovers, there is an art auction raffle of miniatures by local artists as a fundraiser for the festival. This year’s theme is The Joy of Music to celebrate the cultural and musical vitality in our community. Plan to visit either this summer or next–the Carmel Bach Festival always is scheduled in the month of July.

Carmel Bach Festival Art Raffle
My “Jellyfish” print for Art Raffle

Enjoy!

Note: For tickets and more information call 624-1521 or visit www.bachfestival.org Remember, there are many free events at this festival, including music, lectures and special events. Whatever your budget, you can enjoy this marvelous event!

 

“A Third Gender–Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints”– Japan Society, New York City ( March 10- June 11, 2017)

 

A Third Gender--Japan Society

“A Third Gender–Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints” is a mind-bending exhibit which resonates today.

The Royal Ontario Museum has loaned its extraordinary collection of 65 Japanese woodblock prints to the New York branch of the Japan Society. The exhibit focuss on wakashu (“young beauties”) –a unique “third” gender.  The notion of gender fluidity — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is the essence of these woodblock prints. They challenge modern notions that male and female are obvious either-or identities.

Wakashu were most often handsome teenage boys (and sometimes adolescent girls) who were highly desired by both older men and women. The young women who participated as wakashu were most likely the daughters of geisha.These young boys and girls did not carry the social responsibilities of adults, but were nonetheless sexually mature and sexually ambidextrous. During this stage of life, before full-fledged adulthood, it was socially permissible to have sex with either men or women and to engage in crossdressing. Later on, the wakashu self-identified as they wished.

The most discerning feature to identify a beautiful figure as wakashu is the hairstyle, an essential but subtle visual cue in woodblock prints. Combs and hairpins as well as very elaborate hairdos were traditionally markers for identifying young women. Forelocks or slightly carved bald spots, were markers for identifying young male wakashu. Young women could also dress as samurai but with a tell-tale obi (waist sash) tied in traditional feminine fashion. Wakashu males would also wear long-sleeved kimonos like unmarried women,. In several prints, you have to look closely to find the shaved triangle in the hair, or spot a sword tucked in a geisha wakashu’s sash (impersonating a female). In erotic woodblocks (shunga), the genitals telegraph the gender.

Many permutations of gender and sexuality were acceptable: men or women in liaisons with wakashu; female geisha dressing like male wakashu engaging in sex with male patrons; male prostitutes cross-dressing as women; and even a male Kabuki “actor” impersonating a woman who pretends at one point to be a man aggressively initiating intercourse. Such fluidity of gender identity is deliberate, playful and often arousing.

The prints range from lively humorous scenes of daily life or classical myths (mitate-e) to uninhibited portrayals of desire. Sometimes the young wakashu males practice feminine arts such as flower-arranging or playing the samisen . A screen shows several wakashu surrounding a Buddhist monk, tickling him and plying him with alcohol, suggesting foreplay before male-male sex (not prohibited in Buddhism). A young woman passes a love note to her male wakashu lover behind the back of an older artist who is signing his name to a painting. A male wakashu dreams of sex with a famous prostitute, while another woman tenderly covers him with a jacket. One of the artworks at the very end of the show, dating back to the 1800s, showcases lesbian intercourse with a dildo, demonstrating an example of non-heteronormative sex at the end of the Edo period.  

The show reveals how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s. More rigid notions of gender and “acceptable” sexual expression followed. The tradition of wakashu ended. Homosexuality was outlawed. The suppression of this sexual component of Japanese culture runs so deep that most Japanese are unaware of the historical existence of the wakashu.

This Japan Society exhibit is a corrective to past misidentifications of wakashu as young women as well as a portal to a new world of gender fluidity.  Walking through “A Third Gender” is a reckoning with categories, definitions and how uncertain the lines between genders can be.  This exhibit is not to be missed.

David Bowie–Connoisseur of Art

[Guest blogger, Ray Hecht, has provided a post on David Bowie’s private art collection in Hong Kong.   Ray now resides in China.  For more photos, please visit his website: www.rayhecht.com]

Originally posted on the Ray Hecht website on October 24, 2016

 On my last trip to Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to go to the exhibition from the late David Bowie’s private art collection. Although I didn’t bid on the auction any of the pieces, it was a great experience to be able to witness works of art that Bowie had personally owned!

Really fascinating works. The man had an incredible aesthetic, as we all know. The Basquiat pieces particularly stood out:  20161013_163532

And there was even a work of art that Bowie collaborated on with Damien Hirst:

20161013_164030

More information can be found at Sotheby’s blog.

Unfortunately, the exhibition was only on for one week before moving to London for November 10-11. During the London weekend festival, Sotheby’s hosted five talks with a panel of curators, writers, designers and producers – all with a connection to Bowie and the art he collected and loved. Held in the galleries and then videotaped for Facebook,  the discussions were hosted by Sotheby’s specialists in Modern British art, Contemporary art and 20th Century Design  allowing audiences a unique opportunity to ask questions about the objects surrounding them in the galleries, and Bowie’s creativity in the art world and beyond. At the heart of the auction is Bowie’s collection of 20th-century British Art, which moves from Damien Hirst from the 1990s to Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Caulfield, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. The selection includes key works by Marcel Duchamp, a major influence on Bowie.

Enjoy the Facebook site and have a vicarious visit!

 

“The Broad”—A Vast Expansion of Modern Art

 

Murakami
Murakami

The Broad Museum, funded by billionaire philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, is one of the hottest tickets in downtown Los Angeles. Just scan the huge stand-by crowds for tickets (which are free) on a weekday early in the afternoon. Maybe they heard about the special selfie opportunities?

The millennial crowd seems to  swipe patiently on their iPhones while eating from food trucks parked in front of the giant white building. Origami-like corrugated folds covering a vault-like interior with glass elevator and escalator, The Broad’s architecture accentuates the contemporary art inside.

Housing more than 2,000 works of art (with about 200 displayed on rotation), this stunning museum exhibits some of the most prominent holdings of postwar and contemporary art worldwide. With its innovative “veil-and-vault” concept, the 120,000-square-foot, $140-million building features two floors of gallery space to showcase iconic examples of the prime works of Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami—to name a few.

Basquiat
Basquiat

I was left speechless by the special exhibit of Cindy Sherman’s body of work. Featuring her earliest black-and-white photos to images completed this year, this expansive exhibit extends over all of her major periods. We see her chameleon-like transition as she interprets different social themes using herself as the model—woman as sex object, victim, warrior, society matron. This is nothing less than spectacular. [The exhibit closes October 2 and advance reservations are highly recommended.]

Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman

The social media star at The Broad is undoubtedly “Infinity Mirrored Room”, the creation of Yayoi Kusama (better known for her polka dots). With its colorful blitz of glimmering outer-spacelike points of light, it resembles the LACMA’s “Rain Room” exhibit. [The singer Adele filmed a music video inside Kusama’s installation.]  “Infinitely Mirrored Room”  is a selfie magnet for posting on  Facebook and Instagram. The other popular selfie is the gigantic ten-foot-tall wooden sculpture “Under the Table” by Robert Therrien.

One of my hands-down favorite works is Murakami’s 82-foot-long mural “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow”, featuring demons, dragons and mythic Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian figures roiling in a tsunami. This has been one of the Broad’s biggest attractions for children and teenagers.  His “Red Blood, Black Blood”, is also a mesmerizing painting.

Murakami
Murakami
IMG_3139
Murakami

Breathtaking in beauty, The Broad rivals any contemporary art museum I have ever visited (including MOMA in San Francisco, NewYork and Los Angeles, London’s Tate Modern, Chicago’s Contemporary Museum of Art, New York’s Guggenheim and Whitney.) As the preeminent museum for featuring the ever-growing popularity of younger artists, The Broad provokes and challenges our appreciation of art in our own era. Reserve your tickets now!

 

“Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography” at the Getty Center [until September 6]

Light, Paper, Process
Light, Paper, Process

For anyone who loves photography, “Light, Paper, Process” is mind-blowing. Do you want to know what can be done with a photograph processed the old fashioned way? Before Photoshop? This exhibition features experimental photography from seven artists—Matthew Brandt, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Chris McCaw, Lisa Oppenheim, Alison Rossiter, and James Welling—who focus on light sensitivity and chemical processing including smearing emulsion so that the representational is coaxed into the abstract, often dunking the amorphous semi-developed image into different liquids. One photographer even develops his own gigantic camera and climbs into it for part of the photographing. Other photographers digitize the resulting image and use Photoshop for even more dramatic effects.

Marco Breuer
Marco Breuer

The first images in the exhibition feature a brief retrospective from the Getty Museum’s twentieth century photograph collection, especially photographs by Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. “Light, Paper, Process does indeed provide a glimpse into the ongoing reinvention of photography today.

Alison Rossiter
Alison Rossiter

Getty Center’s brilliant show breaks the mental boundary and categorization of photography’s mission as attempting to capture the essence of the object being photographed. Instead, “Light, Process, Paper” turns that mission on its head. The artists are more concerned with exploring the fundamental nature of the medium itself, the unfolding accident-driven discovery of what can be done with the process from the inside out.

Note: If you are at the Getty Center, also   try to see “Power and Pathos—Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World” (ends November 1), a dazzling collection that displays rare bronzes influenced by both Greek and Roman styles of the human form, including eyes molded by metal and marble, with distinctive copper eyelashes. Some are newly excavated and being open to the public for the first time.

 

Windhover—Where the Mind Can Hover

 

Zen Fountain
Zen Fountain

Over Memorial Day Weekend I visited Windhover, the new spiritual and contemplation center on Stanford University’s campus, a minimalist architectural style suggesting Zen and personal renewal. Windhover takes its name from the series of five giant paintings by the internationally renowned Bay Area figurative artist Nathan Oliveira (1928-2010) who, in turn, named this series after Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem (1877).

Windhover provides an extraordinarily beautiful and serene venue for quiet reflection exclusively for use by Stanford students, faculty, and staff. If you know someone at Stanford, you can walk into Windhover, a calmly powerful testimony to the necessity for meditation and reflection in daily life. [For the general public, there are docent-led tours every Tuesday at 10:00 am.]

Windhover Contemplation Center
Windhover Contemplation Center

As I approached the landscaped grounds I saw a granite labyrinth, a small Zen stone garden, a small grove of ginkgo trees, and a reflecting pool. Floor-to-ceiling windows suggest a sense of a museum, brilliantly combining art, spirituality, and nature. To the right as I stepped through the front doors, was a room for borrowing a zafu (Zen meditation pillow). The first painting one sees is Big Red, a large abstract oil painting of a kestrel (aka “windhover”) flying in a red sky.  Oliveira’s other paintings include the magnificent Diptych, White Wing and Sun Radiating in either earth tones or sunshine yellow.

Windhover Diptych
Windhover Diptych

Windhover is an elegant and understated refuge in nature, its simple lines an eloquent design for meditative thought.

If you’re visiting campus, you could spend a wonderful day taking the Tuesday morning tour, followed by a walk around the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and then a hike up to the Dish in the Stanford Foothills. If weather proved uncooperative, the Cantor Center for Visual Arts and the Stanford Museum would be time well spent.

Zen Garden
Zen Garden

 

 

Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection

 

Life of the CatsCalling all cat-lovers! Recently we had the delightful experience of seeing the “Life of Cats” exhibit at the New York branch of the Japan Society. It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. The “beckoning cat for good luck” (maneki neko) with its raised right paw is suggested by this amazing gate. The legend is that Japanese merchants carrying Buddhist sutras across the seas from China also brought a few cats who purred their way into the hearts of Japanese and their culture. Ninety prints on loan from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Foundation together with other works borrowed from U.S. collections total 120 artworks of Japan’s love affair with our feline furry friends. “Hello Kitty” is just a recent reincarnation.

The ukiyo-e and paintings range from realistic — a beautiful white kitty gazing out a window at rice paddies and Mr. Fuji (created by Utagawa Hiroshige in 1857) — to the fantastic — an entire village of cats jumping rope, playing taiko drums, and walking on stilts. The fine-gauge carving of the fur almost looks fuzzy.

The strangeness and aloof nature of cats are also accentuated in this artform: elegant, but also Buddhist in equanimity and enlightenment, sometimes even depicted as humans with cat faces for a humorous, rather clown-like interpretation.20150313CATS-slide-D1M4-jumbo

There are also cats who bring bad karma to those who are not solicitous of the correct behavior towards others. The majority of times, however, cats are believed to detect evil spirits or be mischievous like the fox.

It’s a beautiful show, greeting us with a custom-made wooden gateway as a portal into the world of cats and the almost irrational, inordinate affection some of us bestow on these sentient beings. If you have a chance, go visit “The Life of Cats” at the Japan Society in New York before June 7, or visit the website for a sampling of the artwork.IMG_3109

 

 

Los Angeles Book Festival—Not for Book Lovers Only

logo-FOBThe Los Angeles Book Festival attracts approximately 150,000 people each year and is the largest book festival in the country. Not only booksellers, authors, and publishers attend but also musicians, and local artisans who sell food and clothing. Movie stars present their recent memoirs and children’s books they have written. Cooking demonstrations on some stages promote cookbooks. There is even a tent where you can have your name written in Arabic calligraphy. This annual event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, is now held on the University of Southern California’s campus.

Authors and publishers are not the only ones to give presentations, discuss their books, and offer autographs. Young children and teenagers discuss why they love reading, what their favorite books are, and school journalists suggest what news is important to them.

A major event for people like me who are writers and who want to know what books are currently being promoted, the Los Angeles Book Festival is a worthy all-day event for anyone interested in entertainment, arts, and culture. A beautiful day of fun and stimulation — I highly recommend you check it out next year. The Los Angeles Book Festival is always held in April.

Step into Nature—Patrice Vecchione

 

Step into Nature

Recently I attended Patrice Vecchione’s Monterey book launch for Step into Nature, a personal journal of solitary walks in and their influence on her art (as a collage artist and painter) and on her poetry. Step into Nature invites the reader to join her on a quiet and unassuming spiritual journey, a discovery of the symbiosis we share with plants and animals as thinking, feeling creatures. Her book soothes the imagination and brings a Zen-like equilibrium to the reader.

The book launch was jointly sponsored by the Carmel Art Association and Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore and Secret Garden. Vecchione read excerpts dealing with a world of surprising relationships: with a rat, a fox, a puma, an owl, a hive of bees.   Her reading exuded her enjoyment and connection with the sheer beauty of mother earth. As Patrice states on her website blog:  “I think of collage as a visual poem. Poetry distills experience into language. Often disparate ideas and emotions coalesce. Collage unites images from varied sources to tell a new story….—we retain a ribbon of memory from that day and another from years before. There in that mix are the stories of our lives.”

I look forward to co-authoring an article with Patrice over the summer on the symbol of the rat in Buddhism and evoking empathy.

 

 

 

“Seduction” and “The Printer’s Eye”

Katsukawa Shunshoi
Katsukawa Shunshoi

More than 200 artworks are now on exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (February 20-May 10, 2015), an exploration of Japanese art and the world of desire (“ukiyo-e”—floating world). Elaborate scrolls, woodblock prints, sculptures, and kimonos are vivid examples of the transient and evanescent world of the senses, particularly the highly rarified courtesan culture for the extremely wealthy samurai and aristocratic classes.

As the Buddha famously observed, a lifespan is like writing in water, a moment of illusion and sensory experience soon disappearing. The Yoshiwara district in Edo (1615-1868), now Tokyo, epitomized a uniquely Japanese subculture of entertainment (theatrical and musical performances) centered on sexual affairs. Special foods and sake were also reserved for those patrons affluent enough to partake.Fragment of Hishikawa Moronobu

Into the world of unrestrained indulgence, ukiyo-e artists created paintings, woodblock prints, and sculpture idealizing the beauty of famous courtesans in their private quarters. One of the collection’s centerpieces, “A Visit to the Yoshiwara”, by Hishikawa Moronobu (whose wife was a former courtesan)—is a panoramic guide, a fifty-eight-foot-long handscroll taking the viewer on a journey inside the secret life of the courtesan, the tea houses and restaurants reserved only for the exclusive minority of Yoshiwara patrons.

Katsushika Hokuun
Katsushika Hokuun

The seductive portrayals of the Yoshiwara lifestyle are intended to both fascinate and entice the viewer who can only experience vicariously what that world must have been . These handblock prints were produced in multiple editions so cost was extremely low, the price of a bowl of noodles. Ordinary residents could enjoy the luxurious pleasure district in much the same way we are entertained by television and movies. A video of the technical difficulties of woodblock printmaking help the viewer appreciate the technical mastery of this art form by those artists on display.

The subtext for the contemporary observer has to include the darker side of these two exhibits: profiteering from sexual services. Yet there is an intriguing dichotomy: women poets have their delicate images displayed prominently in some prints, often evoking the tentative or ephemeral nature of life itself. Very Buddhist indeed.

Both “Seduction” and “The Printer’s Eye” unlock secrets of complex images, of sexuality and impermanent, with wit, charm, and a breathtaking beauty inherent in the finest detail of a rich life few could partake in. This is a world not to be missed!

 

“Apparitions: Frottage and Rubbings from 1860 to Now” @ Hammer Museum (UCLA)

 

Dominick Di Meo-- "Untitled (numbers creatures)"
Dominick Di Meo– “Untitled (numbers creatures)”

This  pioneering exhibit—the first to focus on frottage as an art technique– currently ongoing until May 31, is a scintillating, deceptively simple display of approximately 100 artworks by fifty artists using the technique known as frottage (French: “to rub”).   Rubbing a textured surface with a pastel, charcoal pencil, crayon, or printer’s ink over paper or canvas on top of a textured surface, the artist creates a relief image. Associated with the surrealist movement, particularly Max Ernst (1891-1976) , these rubbed images add texture and imagery often as one layer of many in a composition. It is believed that Ernst was inspired by an old wooden floor where the grain of the planks was raised. In “Apparitions” several contemporary artists pay homage to Ernst’s wooden planks. Giuseppe Penone states: “I feel the forest breathing.”

Giuseppe Penone, " His Being Until the 49th Year"
Giuseppe Penone, 
“His Being Until the 49th Year”

Eileen Agar creates two different planks, suggesting the intertwining trees after death of the two lovers in a Greek myth.

Eileen Agar--"Philemon and Bancis"
Eileen Agar–“Philemon and Bancis”

“Apparitions” evokes the transient and dream-like images of frottage in a stunning exhibit ranging from medieval church rubbings and gravestones to the sophisticated and unexpected contemporary (post-1960) compositions that play with the cognitive blind spot in which people think about an object conventionally, and not as shapes (e.g. bolts and screws become body parts). Like photography, the technique borrows from the real world but infuses the rubbing with the imagination of the artist and the viewer. Highly influenced by Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, frottage was a darling among Surrealists who considered it a semi-automatic process tapping into the subconscious. Frottage continues to be a popular and experimental practice today.

The Hammer Museum is the first museum to explore the contemporary impact of this technique. Key examples of the technique by artists from various periods and regions are wildly diverse, including provocative examples by  Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst and Jack Whitten.

Sari Dienes--"Composition in Black, Red and Green"
Sari Dienes–“Composition in Black, Red and Green”

Try to see “Apparitions” before it moves on to the Menil Collection in Houston from September 11, 2015, to January 3, 2016.