Today's Featured Articles Archives. August-September, 2007...

September, 2007
Architecture News Home - NeoPopRealism Journal

The ribbon cuttings this season begin at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, finally opening after a decade of delays. Bernard Tschumi’s delicate exercise in blending contemporary architecture into a weighty historical context carries a political message from the Greek government. It's an argument for bringing home the Elgin Marbles. In Washington, Norman Foster's new courtyard addition to the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art, part of the Smithsonian, is to be unveiled in November. The courtyard’s lacy new glass-&-steel canopy's meant to give a touch of elegance to the Greek Revival setting. The Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Renzo Piano's building at the LA County Museum of Art is scheduled to open in February. Though not as adventurous as an earlier proposal by Rem Koohaas, Mr. Piano’s sparkling new structure, to be accompanied by a renovation of the existing 20-acre museum campus, should add light & clarity to its currently motley collection of 6 buildings. Finally the completion of the New Museum of Contemporary Art (on the Lower East Side) in December is expected to be a significant cultural development in the city. It designed by the Japanese firm SANAA. The bento box configuration is wrapped in glorious aluminum mesh cladding, a beacon for hope in the city’s architectural fortunes. New Yorkers'll see several major nonmuseum projects getting under way this season. These could bring about the biggest shift in decades in the city’s physical identity. The most startling is a $14 billion plan by the developers Stephen M. Ross, Steven Roth to rebuild a swath of Midtown that includes Madison Square Garden, Pennsylvania Station & the James A. Farley post office. The plan is to be released in the fall, & hanging in the balance is the fate of the old Penn Station. Another huge project is the $4 billion Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, & Frank Gehry'll soon unveil his redesign of its 1st phase. It will soon become clear whether Brooklyn'll receive a dazzling 21st-century version of Rockefeller Center or a conventional retail-entertainment-sports complex inside a pretty architectural wrapper. A new Jean Nouvel tower in midtown. A Richard Meier apartment block in Brooklyn. The relentless march of luxury residential towers never ceases to redefine the city skyline...


Luciano Pavarotti died...

Luciano Pavarotti died Thursday at the age of 71. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer. Leslie Oakley of Davenport, Florida shared her memories. She grew up in a small town in Kentucky where opera didn't exactly fit in the scheme of things. Her family wasn't at all musical either butseeing as though she took an interest in it, her parents indulged her with opera recordings. One of the 1st ones she received was The Three Tenors. Luciano Pavarotti was to her what Michael Jordan was to other children. He was her hero. She even did a report on him one year in high school. She can remember sitting in her room listening to his voice, closing her eyes and seeing the operas unfold in her mind. He inspired her to teach herself to sing, and she went on to win awards in high school & to sing for 3 professional groups out of college. Singing has enriched her life immeasurably, & she owes it all to that beautiful voice that so entranced her as a child. She has many fond memories of Pavarotti. His voice always moves her to tears. It is the feeling of being given a glimpse of the divine that she will most remember about him. Her prayers & thoughts are with his family, friends. There will never be another Pavarotti. Edmund Chua of Singapore memories:
Maestro's voice was truly a blessing, he said. That exciting & fascinating quality, that, sigh too many adjectives. There was that unforgettable personality. Personally, he doesn't know if this is a right thing to say but, he saw Italy in him, always loving life. He was fighting cancer but always thought he'd recover. Edmund was hoping I'd be able to watch him live but he guess it'll only be in the footage. He's indeed a legend lost, a legacy remembered. We'll miss him, Edmund said.
Tina Minges of Woodland, California said that she never cared for opera ... then she heard Pavarotti ... & from that point she loved it...


"On The Road" Jack Kerouac, 1922-69

riting's not usually thought of as excessively physical, which is why some writers feel the need to compensate by racing bulls or whatever. But feeding that 120-foot roll through the typewriter seems like a feat of strength. Most writers produce effete works on paper, but Kerouac went & wrestled with the tree itself. Contrary to legend, the scroll was not a roll of teletype paper but a series of large sheets of tracing paper that Kerouac cut to fit & taped together, & it is not unpunctuated, merely unparagraphed, which makes a certain physical demand on the reader, who's deprived of the usual rest stops. Contrary to received ideas, Kerouac by his own admission fueled his work with nothing stronger than coffee. The scroll's slightly longer than the novel as it was finally published, after 3 subsequent conventionally formatted drafts (in 1957). The biggest difference between the 1st draft & the finished product, though, is that while we know “On the Road” as a novel (the great novel of the Beat Generation) the scroll's essentially nonfiction, a memoir that uses real names & is far less self-consciously literary. It is a dazzling piece of writing for all of its rough edges, stripped of affectations that in the novel can sometimes verge on bathos. As well as of gratuitous punctuation supplied by editors more devoted to rules than to music, it seems much more immediate & contemporary. The differences're minor. “On the Road” in all of its versions is the story of a series of cross-country trips made by Kerouac between 1948 & 1950. “Trips” rather than “travels,” because they're all about covering ground, whether by hitchhiking, by bus or by drive-away car. The cardinal points're NYC, Denver & San Francisco, with spikes down to New Orleans, the San Joaquin Valley & Mexico. The trips're sometimes motored by impatience, if only the Rockies began on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel! But most often Kerouac revels in speed as an ecstatic medium, a way of concentrating as much experience & as many aesthetic & spiritual highs as possible into a week or less. Essential to the whole enterprise is Kerouac’s relationship with Neal Cassady, called Dean Moriarty in the novel, who's one of the greatest characters in American literature without any need for imaginative tinkering on the part of the author. A writer sufficiently attuned to an idea can find all the materials required for its fulfillment lying around in the street. Kerouac, a working-class French Canadian boy from MA who won a football scholarship to Columbia but decided before long that he was less interested in sports than in writing, had given evidence of his obsession with the road as early as 1940. Meeting Neal Cassady made it possible for him to write the mid-20th century answer to “Huckleberry Finn.” Cassady, with his need to move, vast yahooing enthusiasm & insatiable priapic drive, could have stepped out of Western legend. He stole cars instead of guiding wagon trains & achieved enlightenment in bebop clubs rather than medicine lodges was merely a function of history. He wasn’t a primitive, & was more than a found object. He read books & wrote sometimes spectacular letters. He was more on top of the zeitgeist than his big-city admirers. He was a born hero & a euphoric lover of the world. He gave the Beats their soul, saving them (if just barely) from choking on their own mysticism. In “On the Road” he's the love object, as Kerouac chases him from one coast to the other. As being Kerouac’s Huck he's also his Virgil & his Dr. Johnson. He's the book’s biggest voice, a matter much more apparent in the scroll, where the voice's allowed to wail & swoop & riff without the commas that hobble it in the novel. It may not be immediately apparent from a brief excerpt out of context how the lack of punctuation replicates the speaking voice. The frantic rush of 16th-notes that'll finally be punctuated halfway down the page by a thunderous “Yes!” or “Yass!” Not only did the editors of the novel add 6 unnecessary commas, but Kerouac himself can be charged with interpolating one sentence, 2 phrases, & an adjective that groom & housebreak the character as well as his jazz. Besides changing all the names, arguably necessary for legal reasons, & cutting or veiling the depictions of sex, Kerouac altered the scroll to make it a novel mostly by garnishing it with sprigs & drizzles of literature. One of the most famous passages in the novel appears as “the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing ... but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” In the novel he inserts “mad to be saved,” while the roman candles become “fabulous”. And they're “exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ” None of his sort of eager-beaver poeticizing litters the scroll, which just keeps its head down & runs, & is all the more authentically literary thereby. In the scroll the use of the word “holy” must be 80 percent less than in the novel, & psalmodic references to the author’s unique generation're down by at least two-thirds. He uses of the word “beat,” for that matter, clearly favor the exhausted over the beatific. While such things may not assist the Kerouac legend or brand name, they help the book immeasurably. The scroll clarifies the book’s connection to the past , to Mark Twain & tramp narratives & Woody Guthrie & cowboy sagas. And underlines the features it shares with its nearest contemporaneous cultural relative, Robert Frank’s great photographic road book “The Americans.” The novel that “On the Road” became was inarguably the book that young people needed in 1957, but the sparse and unassuming scroll's the living version for our time.

August, 2007


Desiderio da Settignano is backHome - NeoPopRealism Journal
Reputation's the strangest thing. An artist is on top of the world... He dies, & his work's forgotten as fashions change & canons form. Then suddenly he’s back in the spotlight, with scholars scrambling to make up for lost attention & time. This is the story of the 15th-century Florentine sculptor Desiderio da Settignano. He was famous in his days. His name continues to hold a firm place in the history books. But the record of precisely what he did, & why, has grown dim since his death in 1464. He has had to wait almost 600 years for the career retrospective now at the National Gallery of Art. Only 15 of 28 can confidently be assigned to him. Desiderio fits into two little rooms. His chief monuments (a tabernacle in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence & the tomb of Carlo Marsuppini in Santa Croce) are absent because untransportable. Traveling exhibitions of Renaissance sculpture're rare events. “Desiderio da Settignano: Sculptor of Renaissance Florence” is proof . Desiderio’s art is about light, touch & modesty of scale, it makes most sense when seen live. He was born around 1429 in the village of Settignano, a short distance from Florence. He was from a family of stonemasons who supplied material for the city’s sculpture workshops. His talent must have been apparent early. With an older brother, Geri he opened a Florentine studio. It prospered. He married, had children, He died in his 30s. The church in Florence where he was buried is demolished in the 18th century. That’s what we know of his life. He studied with Donatello. But that sculptural pioneer was in Padua creating the altar ensemble for the church of St. Anthony during Desiderio’s apprenticeship years. They did work together later. Donatello influenced his younger colleague profoundly. Just by being there, he also cast an absorbent, obscuring shadow over his career. One of the most familiar pieces in the Washington show, a marble relief of the Virgin & Child called “The Turin Madonna,” was long assumed to be by Donatello. Other Desiderio sculptures have been similarly misattributed. A main pretext for the exhibition (organized by the Louvre, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, & in Washington by Nicholas Penny & Alison Luchs of the National Gallery) is to give credit where credit was due. Seeing a number of Desiderio pieces together is enough to suggest a difference of temperament between the two artists. Donatello was a powerhouse who thought on a grand programmatic scale, moved around restlessly & worked in broad strokes, leaving the finishing touches to others. He helped create the romantic model of the artist as hero. Desiderio have been a hands-on, stay-at-home craftsman. His biggest projects are made up of a thousand individual delicacies, which may help explain why his output was scant. Biographers acknowledged his technical precocity but recommended his art for charm rather than power. The reliefs, some so finely cut as to be all but invisible from a distance, represent Desiderio at his most virtuosic. Each is a slowly revealed tour de force. In the so-called “Foulc Madonna,” the Virgin and Child emerge from the marble as if from some pliant, yeasty substance. The fingers of the Virgin’s right hand're even half-immersed in it. The child’s flesh swells against his tight swaddlings. The young mother’s breasts push against her robe. Cherubs gather behind them, staring, their eyes blank, their mouths agape. The Virgin & Child have the same expression. They look serenely demented, high on this world of softness, with its cushiony heft and surface like silk. A panel, with a scene of St. Jerome at prayer in the wilderness, complicates this strangeness with narrative. The old man kneels before a crucifix in a kind of faceted canyon. In the background his pet lions chase a panicked intruder away. Although the panel is barely an inch thick, its planar recessions seem infinite, with Jerome himself, his face & raised arms deeply undercut, almost 3-D, a fleshly eruption in a spectral world.

B. B. King Blues Festival
He pantomimed. He rucked up his shoulders so they nearly touched his ears, like a kid confronted with a perfect birthday present. He covered his face with one hand, opening a peek hole between two fingers. He crossed his arms over his chest in ecstasy; made bug eyes in mock surprise; squinted at his sidemen in mock suspicion. B. B. King was headlining his own tour, the B. B. King Blues Festival, which made a local stop at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, known as the Theater at Madison Square Garden. It’s his party, but he makes a lot more of these in-between monologues than the average concertgoer might want. He knows his physical limits. He is 81, with diabetes & one-nighters scheduled into the foreseeable future. He copped to it. He said that the papers will kill him tomorrow, they’ll say ‘Old B. B. was pretty good, but he talked all night.’ He played tunes that have been lodged in his sets for quite a while: “Key to the Highway,” “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Nobody Loves Me but My Mother.” They were deep, as was the humor. A lot of jokes & stories can render his guitar playing more precious in small doses. As soon as he took his seat in front of his 8-piece band, he made his instrument roar. The 1st meaty thunderclap from Lucille, his matte-black guitar, is always rougher than we expect from a man who prides himself on family-friendly entertainment. Then, not to be too easily defined, he scaled his sound down quickly into delicate lines. Between ideas were vocal-sounding guitar interjections: a wolf whistle, a throat clearing, a shout. Sometimes he let go of his instrument altogether. B.B. King is a powerful singer, with a voice much like his guitar: rough & toothy, then suddenly soft... The B. B. King Blues Festival continues on Saturday at the Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore.


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