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Archive for the ‘Visual Art’ Category

B.D. Speaks!

From Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury (with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing)

Garry Trudeau – author of the landmark comic strip Doonesburystopped by the studio recently to talk with Kurt about 40 years of penning the ever-expanding Doonesbury universe.  He offered some great insight into the history of the Doonesbury characters, including B.D.’s service in Vietnam and Iraq, and on his own, real-life relationship with military veterans, as well.

It’s a challenge to cover comics (or really anything visual) on the radio, so Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky made dramatized versions of a few key strips.  And when it came to the website, we thought “Why not sync up the sound with the original strips on which they were based?”  With a little cropping and some video-editing software, we were able to give voices to some of Trudeau’s amazing characters.

Listen to Kurt’s conversation with Garry Trudeau here:

– Michael Guerriero

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Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photographs of David Plowden

David Plowden spent his childhood obsessed with trains. He would ride them just for the thrill of it, often without any direct destination in mind. A couple years ago, Plowden told Kurt “I rode all over the place, to the despair of my uncles and aunts and my mother’s friends who said, ‘What’s he going to amount to?  He rides trains!’  And my mother said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing, but he does.  Leave him alone.  He’s gathering grist for the mill.’”

You can hear their full conversation here:
[AUDIO=http://audio.wnyc.org/studio/studio011108f.mp3]

Plowden began taking pictures of steam engines because he knew they were becoming obsolete and he wanted to make sure they were well-documented — he had no intention of becoming a photographer.  By his his twenties, photography (documentary and art) had become a career — he assisted O. Winston Link and worked closely with Ansel Adams, among others greats. Plowden’s travels by train eventually led him to the Midwest, where he made a distinguished career capturing the beautiful expanses of the Great Plains, as well as the desolate railroad towns the once welcomed the railways.

Requiem for Steam is Plowden’s love letter to the steam engine, full of moving portraits of the machinery, the rails, and the people he’s met on a lifetime of journeys.

– Max Bass and Jenny Lawton

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There’s a new art installation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that’s creating quite a stir.  It opened just last weekend, but already, it’s commanding attention for its dramatic, novel use of light and sound.  You may have heard of the artist: Leonardo da Vinci.

Sort of.

The artwork in question is a kind of collaboration across the centuries, between da Vinci and British film director Peter Greenaway.  Greenaway — best known for 1989’s controversial “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” — applies his expertise with film techniques and technology to a 45-minute treatment of da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

The Original: Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” 1495 – 1498.

Greenaway wants viewers to “retrain their gaze,” so they can experience classical paintings with the same immediacy as the original Quattrocento audiences.  Writing about 50 years after da Vinci completed the painting, artist Giorgio Vasari described it as “wondrous” in its depiction of confused, suspicious, and sorrowful Apostles trying to figure out who would betray Jesus.  Da Vinci was a master of realism; he reproduced lifelike images in paintings that took years to create.  It’s a skill that doesn’t have quite the same effect on today’s viewers, many of whom can experience, reproduce, and alter just about anything at which they can point a camera phone.

The resulting loss is doubly-felt. Modern viewers, no longer awed by the technical brilliance of da Vinci’s work, also miss its deeper meanings.  If the gaze isn’t held by a painting’s forms, the mind won’t linger long enough to engage them.  It’s an abandoned state of mind that Greenaway seeks to recreate.  The director wants to rediscover The Last Supper’s “multiple layers of meaning, the techniques used and the metaphors intended.”  He wants to “investigate and educate but also to fascinate and celebrate these extraordinary complex images.”

So how do you overcome 500 years of distance between viewer and painting?  Greenaway adopts the language to which modern audiences are accustomed — and with which he is most comfortable.  He inserts the busy, rapid, loud, and sometimes bombastic visual language of film into the painting.  Through a succession of projected images and music he forces viewers to reread the painting’s details and composition.

The Wade Thompson Drill Hall in New York’s Park Avenue Armory (photo by James Ewing)

Greenaway takes over the expansive 55,000-square-foot drill hall in New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, dividing it into two spaces.  Viewers enter the first space and are flooded with images and music from the past five centuries of Western culture.  The projection of a male ballet dancer leaps around them, evoking, then giving way to da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man.  Verdi meets Bach.  Present-day Rome mingles with Masaccio.  It’s a modern “mash-up” of five centuries of art, music, and architecture.  The effect is at once disorienting and somewhat cliché, evoking a giant, overwrought introduction to some generic PBS special on Italian art.

Director Peter Greenaway’s installation fills the Armory’s drill hall (photo by James Ewing)

After the commotion of the first room, the audience is invited to enter the calm of a second viewing room, housing an exact reproduction — the company that produced it calls it a “clone” — of The Last Supper. It is here that Greenaway really draws from his bag of cinematic tricks.  He “animates” the painting, manipulating light and projecting digital images onto it.  The Apostles’ hands appear by themselves, accentuating the expressiveness of their gestures.  Then the knife in Peter’s hand is spotlighted.  Birds — a fascination of da Vinci’s — flutter through the painting.  Bright colors fade to grey, and then surge back to their former brilliance.  These constant shifts in lighting invest Jesus and the Apostles with density and weight, drawing them out of the painting and into the Armory.  At times they seem almost real — if not alive, then present in a tangible, sculpted form.

Greenaway's effects illuminate the reproduced painting.

The installation is part of the director’s ongoing series Ten Classical Paintings Revisited — and it’s a series with a purpose.  The Wall Street Journal calls it “an appeal to youth who are lacking an education in the art of the past,” those who in Greenaway’s words “think there is no painting before Pollack and no film before Tarantino.”  The appeal to youth and to modern audiences is clear.  With all the bells and whistles of a 21st century motion picture, Greenaway isn’t trying to reproduce the same relationship a renaissance viewer would have had with The Last Supper…but he does provide an entertaining way to understand it.

-Michael Guerriero

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Lee Friedlander, Montana, 2008, from the series America by Car, 1995-2009. Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

In the 1960s and 70s, the photographer Lee Friedlander took his family on summer road trips.  Along the way, he took pictures that established him as one of the most acute, celebrated, modern chroniclers of America.  He captured vast swaths of the American landscape, lonely billboards, drive-thru kitch in stark black and white.

Forty+ years later, he’s still at it — and these new images feel just as remote and nostalgic, maybe more so.  “Lee Friedlander: America By Car” (featuring work from 1995-2009) is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, through Sunday November 28.

For those initial expeditions, Friedlander’s young son Erik was sitting in the back seat.  He grew up to be an innovative cellist – and he made an entire album of music inspired by those trips, all performed on solo cello: Block Ice and Propane.  The tracks recall Erik’s summers on the road: picking up big blocks of ice to keep the food fresh; sitting above the cab with his sister, watching the stars as his father drove through the night.  It’s a quiet, varied album ranging from rootsy Americana to tracks that sound dissonant and modern.  Much of the music was generated while improvising in the studio.

Back in 2007, Kurt asked him to improvise in our studio.  We were working on episode around the theme of “On the Road” (it was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel).  When Erik came by to talk about his album, Kurt asked him to riff on a passage from Kerouac’s travelogue.  The result was pretty terrific:

(Kurt reads the passage at 8:30, followed by Erik’s response at 9:25)

– Jenny Lawton

In the 1960s and 70s, the photographer Lee Friedlander took his family on summer road trips.  Along the way, he took pictures that established him as one of the most acute, celebrated, modern chroniclers of America.  He captured vast swaths of the American landscape, lonely billboards, drive-thru kitch in stark black and white.  You can see some of those photos in “Lee Friedlander: America By Car,” an exhibition now on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, through November 28.

Friedlander’s young son Erik was sitting in the back seat.  He grew up to be an innovative cellist – and he made an entire album of music inspired by those trips, all performed on solo cello: Block Ice and Propane.  The tracks recall Erik’s summers on the road: picking up big blocks of ice to keep the food fresh; sitting up in the cab with his sister, watching the stars as his father drove through the night.  It’s a quiet, varied album ranging from rootsy Americana to tracks that sound dissonant and modern.  Much of the music was generated while improvising in the studio.

Back in 2007, Kurt asked him to improvise in our studio.  We were working on episode around the theme of “On the Road” (it was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s novel).  When Erik came by to talk about his album, Kurt asked him to riff off of a passage from Kerouac’s travelogue.  The result was pretty terrific.  (Kurt reads the passage at 8:30, followed by Erik’s response at 9:25)

– Jenny Lawton

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Last week on the show, we heard about Mark Twain’s new autobiography, released (at Twain’s expressed direction) a century after his death: “It has seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead and unaware and indifferent.”  It’s kind of a doorstop.  Robert Hirst, one of the book’s editors, told Kurt that the volume — which is only one of three — is about as long as they can get it and still be able to bind the thing.

You can hear their whole conversation here:

If you don’t love Twain enough for 743 pages, here’s a treat.

Ward Sutton boils it down to just 19 frames – it’s Mark Twain, the graphic novel.  Sutton strips the book down to its essentials, retaining strong doses of Twain’s wry sense of humor, and injecting some of his own.

Sutton’s column “Drawn to Read” appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review. He covers a variety of books in a variety of styles: from a psychedelic take on Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice to The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh rendered in tongue-and-cheek brushstrokes.  If only all reviews could be as clear and colorful.

– Jenny Lawton

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Recordings of choral music can be discouraging: soft and diffuse, like the music is coming through cotton balls, evaporating like fog.  Even live performances can prove disappointing when lyrics are lost to the acoustics of a venue, and you experience a wash (rather than a wall) of sound.  I think the best place to hear a choral performance is inside of one — but then you have to work for your pleasure.

That’s what so fantastic about Janet Cardiff’s sound installation “The Forty-Part Motet,” now on view at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.  The Canadian artist presents the wickedly complex work of 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis with brilliance and clarity.

Tallis wrote “Spem in Alium” (“I have hope in none other than Thee, O Lord”) for eight choirs of five singers, each singing a unique part – that’s 40 distinct vocal lines.  Cardiff recorded the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing the piece, putting each voice on a separate channel.  For the installation, each voice gets its own speaker – arranged in a circle, you can wander between the voices, checking in with various singers, catching the interplay of melodies.  Stand in the center and the voices combine into something truly transcendent.

Atsushi Nakamichi/Nacása & Partners Inc. Courtesy of the Fondation d'entreprise Hermès, 2009, Janet Cardiff, Luhring Augustine, New York and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin

"The Forty-Part Motet" in Tokyo (Photo by Atsushi Nakamichi/Nacasa & Partners Inc. | Courtesy of the Fondation d'enterprise Hermes, 2009, Janet Cardiff, Luhring Augustine, New York and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin)

You can really feel the changing shapes, colors, and textures of the music – qualities so rich and real you almost see them: “It reveals the piece of music as a changing construct,” Cardiff explains. “I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space.”

You can get a taste of “Spem in Alium” (performed the traditional way) in this episode of BBC Radio 3’s “Discovering Music.”

“The Forty-Part Motet” is on view (for free) in the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center through Saturday, November 13 as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.

– Jenny Lawton

recordings OF CHORAL MUSIC CAN BE discouraging: soft and diffuse, like the music is coming through cotton balls, evaporating like fog.  Even live performances can prove disappointing when lyrics are lost to the acoustics of a venue, and you experience a wash (rather than a wall) of sound.  THE BEST PLACE TO HEAR A CHORAL PERFORMANCE IS INSIDE OF ONE, . . .  BUT THEN YOU HAVE TO WORK FOR YOUR PLEASREU But I’m biased – I love choral music because I sing in a choir and I get to experience it, literally, from the inside.

That’s what so fantastic about Janet Cardiff’s sound installation, “The Forty Part Motet.”  Cardiff presents the wickedly complex work of 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis with brilliance and clarity.

Tallis wrote “Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui” for eight choirs of five singers, each singing a unique part – that’s 40 distinct vocal lines.  Cardiff recorded the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing the piece, putting each voice on a separate channel.  For the installation, each voice gets its own speaker – arranged in a circle, you can wander between the voices, checking in with various singers, catching the interplay of melodies.  Stand in the center and the voices combine into something truly transcendent.

[IMAGE]

You can really feel the changing shapes, colors, and textures of the music – qualities so rich and real you almost see them… but, of course, you can’t. And that’s the point: “It reveals the piece of music as a changing construct,” Cardiff explains. “I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space.”

“The Forty Part Motet” is on view (for free) at Jazz at Lincoln Center through Saturday, November 13 as part of the White Light Festival.

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Artist Joe Petruccio has given sports fans and comic book nerds something to talk about.

His new blog features comics that recap New York Knicks games with player portraits and conversational captions. His combination of art and journalism — he calls it “Art That Rocks” — is anything but unbiased, and truly captures the fan perspective.

– Max Bass

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