Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: Love is the answer

Barbra Streisand has been in the entertainment news a lot this past week, all in anticipation of the release of her 63rd album Love is the answer. Anthony Tommasini interviewed her in The New York Times (noting she had never before been asked about her diaphragm); they discuss the nuances of how she sings from the perspective of opera. The Today show aired Meredith Vieira's interview with her this morning. If you want to own some Streisand memorabilia, she’s auctioning off clothing, art, furniture, and other items in October to benefit her foundation (browse the catalog online). Mattel also just announced that they’re releasing a Barbra Streisand doll (Hello, Gorgeous!). But of course the big news here in NYC was that she gave a free private concert this past Saturday at the Village Vanguard club in the West Village for about 100 people. Among the VIPs were the Clintons, but most audience members were contest winners who were lucky enough to get one of the special seats. Of course I entered the contest, but, alas, I wasn’t among the lucky few. There are brief videos popping up online now, but I suspect they may release a DVD of the concert.

Her new CD, officially released today, and this concert, take Brooklyn-born Streisand back to her performance roots in NYC jazz clubs in the 1960s. In fact, when you play the album, turn down the lights and grab a glass a wine, because you'll feel like you’re in a jazz club, the sound is so intimate and her voice so crisp. The album is a masterful collection of warm melodies. The album may even surprise some people who have gotten used to her material from the past 25 years. Back in the late 1970s when she began experimenting with disco and pop, and then returned to Broadway show tunes, things took on a bigger sound that was definitely of the time and were magnificent in their own ways. Sometimes, though, I think the pure sound of the first 15 years of her career got lost in that later shuffle of music. As I grow older, I find myself tuning in more and more to that early work, listening to an effortless Streisand, enjoying her voice with its own sense of romantic innocence.

I'm pleased to say then that Love is the answer brings all of that back, but with a voice that has matured into a warm, velvety sound that still makes you tingle. The album’s title takes its name from the lyrics of one of the songs, “Make Someone Happy.” The album is available with orchestral music, or as a deluxe version with a second CD of the same recordings accompanied by a quartet. If you're not sure which one to buy, go for the deluxe set, because the second CD is even better than the first. Sinatra standards like “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” get new interpretations that are exquisite. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” has an endearing quality that makes you realize her power as a contralto. The bossa nova beat behind “Gentle Rain” and “Love Song” adds extra kick to the album. “Where Do You Start?” and “Some Other Time” will bring tears to your eyes. My one disappointment was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” which starts off beautifully but then modulates too erratically for my taste.

Jazz artist Diana Krall is on board with this album as producer and performer for some of the piano solos. Their collaboration is fantastic. It will capture the hearts of people who aren’t even Streisand fans. I cannot say there is one song that will stand out forever as a new Streisand classic, like “People” or “Evergreen,” but the entire album works beautifully as a way to sit back, relax, and enjoy a romantic evening. Admittedly, the cynical single side of me wants to respond sarcastically to the title of the album, Love is the answer, by quoting back an old Ziggy cartoon: "I wonder what the question was?" But the other half of me, the part that pines for romance and love, recognizes true beauty in a collection like this. That is a true testament of my feelings about this CD.

I can’t end this review without pointing out a major selling point: the inclusion of pictures of Sammie, her Bichon Frise. How could you turn away from a CD that included such an adorable fluffy dog on the back cover? Also, here’s a video interview Streisand did for Amazon.com, where she talks about how the album came about. (Or you can see it and order the CD by clicking here.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Architecture in the Gilded Age

My friend Paul Ranogajec is organizing a great symposium entitled New Perspectives on Architecture in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. It will be held at the CUNY Graduate Center on Friday, October 16th, from 9am-1pm. The symposium is free and open to the public. Speakers include David Van Zanten, Michael J. Lewis, Gail Fenske, and others. Here's the official write-up on the event: "This half-day symposium will explore some of the new ideas that have emerged about late 19th- and early 20th-century American architecture. Established and emerging scholars in the field will present their work and suggest new directions for future scholarship on this important but often maligned period of building. The demise of the canonical modernist paradigm has given scholars new opportunities to appreciate and critically examine this architecture; this symposium will explore some of the implications of this recent historiography and the new paradigms of thinking. Panelists will also suggest the interdisciplinary aspects of the field of architectural history by situating this work within its broader cultural, political, and social contexts in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era." For more information on the symposium, send an email to pranogajec@gmail.com.

Paul's dissertation is on the development of classicism in NYC architecture and urban planning at this time. This was an era of many important civic buildings like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. All of these buildings were constructed with classical elements that still carry in our minds semiotic associations with democracy and civilization. One such example was the second version of Madison Square Garden, which you see above in a historic picture (image courtesy of A Digital Archive of American Architecture, Boston College). This building was located on Madison Square (Madison/4th Ave. and 26th/27th Streets). It was designed in 1889-90 by the architect Stanford White in a Renaissance palazzo style. Crowning the 304-foot tower was the very modern-looking 14-foot bronze statue of Diana (left) by the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, now owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sadly, White's building was demolished in 1925, which is in fact part of the devastating legacy of these amazing buildings, that so many were torn down for the sake of "modern" construction. Note that the present MSG sits on top of Penn Station, another eyesore that was built after the original exquisite train station designed by McKim, Mead, and White was demolished in 1963. As an aside, one scandalous bit still holds on in the history of all this: White lived in one of the towers of his version of MSG, and in 1906 he was killed during a musical performance by his mistress's husband.

Monday, September 21, 2009

World Alzheimer's Day

World Alzheimer's Day is almost over, but it's not too late to make a donation to the Alzheimer's Association to help the 5.3 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. As you may recall from last fall, team "Ferrari & Friends" participated in the NYC Alzheimer's Walk in honor of my mother, for which we raised nearly $1200. Since I can't participate in the walk this year, the least I can do is help promote today's fundraising efforts. Early this morning, Vice President Angela Geiger sent out a mass email to everyone on their mailing list asking for donations to reach $3500. Celebrity spokespeople like David Hyde Pierce (pictured left in one of the organization's purple-themed outfits) were on programs like Today promoting the need for ongoing research in combatting this horrific disease. The response was so great that by midday Geiger was able to up the call for donations to $5300. As of tonight, the thank you email coming from her notes that they managed to raise a whopping $22,000 in donations today alone! It's an incredible accomplishment, but they could always use more. I just donated online $10 in honor of the 10 million caregivers who help victims of the disease. They have some other reasonable amounts that match some statistics, like $5.30 for the 5.3 million Americans with Alzheimer's, $35.00 for the 35 million people around the world with Alzheimer's, $148.00 for the $148 billion annual cost to our nation, and so on. But a donation in any amount will help, so click here to donate now, and let's help combat this dreadful disease.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Library Bytes: www.ilovelibraries.org

I confess that I have not renewed my membership in ALA (American Library Association) for a few years now. It's not that I don't support the organization, but that I already belong to other library and academic organizations, and all those memberships take money which I don't have right now. The best I can do on occasion is help promote libraries, and I thought a post today on ALA and libraries might be an interesting way to do so. Did you know, for instance, that the ALA Store sells posters with celebrities holding books as part of their READ campaign? The image you see here is one of them, showing off my fantasy boyfriend Ewan McGregor with a book of tales by Beatrix Potter, which presumably was released about the time he co-starred in Miss Potter with Renée Zellweger (which, by the way, is a surprisingly fantastic movie that I highly recommend). While reading a news story on The New York Times online, I followed an ad for another of ALA's campaigns, ilovelibraries.org. The site advertises itself as a way to keep people informed about the state of libraries and to promote what libraries can do for Americans of every race, ethnicity, religion, class, and gender/sexual orientation. According to the site's Get Informed page, "If you’re looking for the heart of any community, look no further than the local library. It’s the one place in America where the doors are open to everyone ... providing everyone the same access to information and opportunities for success." (Note that for some of the webpages, there's a weird design flaw where you have to scroll down past the white emptiness to read the text.) The website even has a special feature right now called "Nominate Your Librarian," with monetary prizes for some of the best librarians in the country.

So there's no doubt about it. Libraries rock, as I've commented about before on this blog. Not all types of libraries are the same. They are usually divided into four broad categories: public, school, academic, and special. Public is self-explanatory, but can range from small-town establishments like the adorable Provincetown Public Library to large city systems like the Brooklyn Public Library. School refers to elementary through high school, while academic is colleges and universities. Special Libraries encompass everything from corporate to museum environments. From this breakdown then, you can see that the types of environments are very different, and you can imagine that the types of services and clientele are worlds apart in many ways.

I admit that I've always enjoyed what I've seen as the luxury of working in academic and museum libraries. I would never work in an elementary school (my migraines couldn't handle the screaming children). I would probably also quit working in a public library within the first week. When I answer a reference question, I need them to be intellectually stimulating questions, not smelly homeless people demanding the newspaper or crazy people masturbating in public (these are actual incidents I've heard about). I know I'm being judgmental, but I'm being completely honest as it applies to my idea of work satisfaction. That said, I have an incredible amount of respect for my friends and colleagues who do work in public libraries and can handle this type of clientele with such aplomb. They have to take on the role of social workers and psychologists without any professional training, and as my friend SVH has pointed out, the instances in which one genuinely helps an individual desperate for real information, like health news on a medical condition, legal information to fight a corrupt landlord, or simply useful books on Martin Luther King, Jr. for a high school research project, makes being a librarian in this environment one of the most rewarding careers ever.

So get online and nominate your librarian for the I Love My Librarian Award to thank him or her for everything they've done for you, and remember to support your libraries!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Milkmaid

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has loaned to The Metropolitan Museum of Art one of its most popular paintings, Johannes Vermeer's The Milkmaid. Painted from about 1657-8, it is truly one of the best examples of Dutch painting. I'm not an expert on the Dutch masters, but I can say that Vermeer is one of my favorite painters. Then again, who wouldn't like Vermeer? His handling of light and color with such simple subject matter reveals the hand of a master at work. The painting itself it actually much brighter than the digital image you see here (this is a detail of the painting and the cover of the small exhibition catalogue). In the painting, the colors pop from the canvas and you get the sense that you've approached the milkmaid at a particular moment when the sunlight coming through a window has illuminated her. It creates a sensual, luminous effect that is difficult to find elsewhere in the history of painting. The small exhibition has been curated by Walter Liedtke, a noted expert on Dutch painters from Vermeer to Rembrandt, and includes paintings, drawings, prints, and decorative art from the Met's collection to complement and contextualize Vermeer's picture. Perhaps most interesting is the theme on which Vermeer borrowed: that of the milkmaid's "reputation for amorous predispositions," according to the exhibition's website, which means that there is a tradition in Dutch painting of busty milkmaids being seen as sexual objects. (Hm...that Christmas song where 'maids-a-milking' are followed by 'lords-a-leaping' now suddenly makes sense...) What Liedtke is arguing then is that this picture has subtle hints that suggest a conscious romantic theme beyond a genre scene. In later art, certainly the sexuality-labor theme runs true to form. In her groundbreaking essay on Morisot's painting of her daughter and wet nurse, Linda Nochlin has written about the visual associations of mothers and breastfeeding with animals and labor. In the essay, she cites Segantini's painting The Two Mothers, 1889, which shows the pairing of a human mother and a cow both with their newborns, as an example of this conjunction of women's role as animalistic laborer. It is a picture that can be seen as sentimental, but it also demonstrates the perception of women as beasts of burden and, by implication, their social status beneath men, as it was understood at that time. Indeed, if you think about it, the theme of the milkmaid has direct connections with cows and the production of milk, both as a form of labor and in women's biological construct as a mother or wet nurse, so Nochlin's 19th-century example certainly has historical precedents in Dutch genre scenes such as this Vermeer painting. If you're in NYC this fall season, make a point to see the exhibition, as you'll be rewarded by the painting's beauty. If you're interested in learning more about Vermeer, check out the website Essential Vermeer that my friend PR just happened to pass along to me the other day. Also, if you haven't seen the film The Girl with a Pearl Earring, starring Scarlett Johannson and Colin Firth, I recommend it as an art film that captures the essence of light and simplistic beauty that makes Vermeer's paintings so exquisite.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DW: The Waters of Mars

Imagine my pleasant surprise this morning when I discovered that BBC America was showing a marathon of episodes from the last few seasons of Doctor Who! I was seriously tempted to watch, even though I've seen them all already (some more than once), but since I had other things to do today I just switched on the TV every once and a while to see what episode was playing. It still strikes me how fantastic the show is. David Tennant really brings The Doctor to life (it helps that he's adorable to look at...great hair!). His co-stars are all superb as well. Tennant, sadly, is leaving as the 10th Doctor and they've been filming his last few episodes as specials that are being released over the course of this year and into next. After the recent Planet of the Dead episode (about which I wrote back in April), there are 3 left, and the next one coming soon is entitled The Waters of Mars. The new 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, will be premiering next year, probably in the very last Tennant episode when he regenerates. I've been a bit disturbed at how young he and his female co-star Karen Gillan look, as if the producers are targeting a younger generation of audience members, but I don't want to pass judgment yet. I think some of the best episodes are the ones when past companions return, and I have my suspicions that The Master, his longtime nemesis, will be part of the final episode, and that they will be bringing back the characters Donna Noble, Martha Jones, and Captain Jack Harkness. I'm also convinced that there's something about rings involved...the one on The Master's pyre, and then the one flashing on Donna's finger at the end...hm, we'll see... Speaking of Captain Jack and Torchwood, I was pretty shaken from the Children of Earth miniseries. Oddly, I was in the UK when it premiered in the US, so I watched it upon my return on DVD. It made for incredible sci-fi television, and I highly recommend it. There were moments when I was jumping in my seat it was so frightening, but I must confess that by the end of the fourth day, I was a bit of an emotional basket case after one of my favorite characters was killed. But one must move one, right? So we await the release of Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars. Rumor has that it will air in November. Here's a preview.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reattributing Velázquez

Every once and a while, great news comes from the museum world that works of art have been found, discovered, purchased, attributed, or even occasionally reattributed. Today was such a day. During a meeting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell (Director), Keith Christiansen (newly appointed Chair of European Paintings), and Michael Gallagher (conservator in Paintings Conservation) gave a presentation announcing that the collection's Portrait of a Man, c.1630, formerly attributed to the 17th-century painter Diego Velázquez, then attributed to his workshop, has now been reattributed back to being by the Spanish master himself. All of this has come about after conservation work was done on the picture. The removal of a heavy varnish showed new details that revealed it to be undoubtedly by the artist himself. Further analysis is showing that the work could in fact be an early self-portrait. The picture you see here is a detail of the face from the newly cleaned painting. (This image comes from The Metropolitan Museum of Art and was published online in The New York Times.) The work itself is a tour de force. For instance, look closely at the finesse and detail in the brushstroke of the mustache. It's brilliant! For those who are uncertain why this is a big deal, reattributing works to the master and not just to a workshop elevates the work's importance in the art world. It establishes a benchmark and thus adds to the level of appreciation of the artist and his (or her) works in general. Of course, it would be foolish to deny the other obvious factor: it also means the museum has a piece now valued even greater in the art world and adds to the already enormous respect the museum has garnered for its collections. Now, admittedly, I have written on this blog a bit disparagingly about the hoopla over things like whether a particular painting was actually of Shakespeare or not, and one could argue that this situation is just like that. But I would disagree, because the Shakespeare portrait was not by a well-known artist and creates more of a debate over what the playwright actually looked like. In this case, Velázquez is an extremely well-known and important artist (e.g., you know his Las Meninas at the Prado, and he painted the portrait of Pope Innocent X about which I wrote following my trip to Rome). Furthermore, this reattribution can only assist in continuing dialogues about the artist's style, technique, themes, self-perception, and so on. All that said, I have to admit that probably I was most intrigued by the whole announcement because I was sitting in the audience when they made it. They showed the image you see here and before and after shots, as well as related works. The excitement in all of their voices quickly spread throughout the audience, and I couldn't help but be as excited about the whole thing. It was like discovering a hidden treasure. That, my friends, is just one of the many reasons why I love art history. For more information, click here for the museum's press release, or click here to read Carol Vogel's article about the painting appearing in Thursday's New York Times.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review: Yinka Shonibare MBE

The first time I ever read the name Yinka Shonibare was on a wall label in a museum around the year 2000. I still cannot remember which museum I was in when I read his name and the title of the piece. However, I do remember clearly the work of art itself, and how much I laughed at its sardonic, artistic referentialism. The piece was Mr. and Mrs. Andrews Without Their Heads. The figures and their dog are taken from a picture by Thomas Gainsborough in which he was both honoring, and ridiculing, his parvenu patrons. To this day, whenever I encounter Shonibare’s posed mannequins in museums, I cannot help but grin because of their playfulness, originality, and consciousness about art and history. The Brooklyn Museum is one of 3 cities showing his mid-career exhibition of sculptures, photography, and films. I returned today for a second look. To quote curator Rachel Kent from the exhibition catalog, Shonibare’s work “engage[s] with themes of time: of history and its legacy for future generations, of how we live in the present and of cycles or patterns that repeat across time, despite their often destructive consequences” (12). I was pleasantly surprised when a security guard told me I could take pictures without a flash, so the image you see here is by me (sadly, my digital camera takes terrible pictures in museums). The 2001 work is called The Swing (after Fragonard); placed at the entrance to the exhibition, it beautifully encapsulates Shonibare’s oeuvre.

Yet, despite its frivolity and humor, Shonibare’s work also conveys serious commentary about cultural relations. He is a British-born Nigerian artist who in 2005 was knighted as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), a title he proudly wears because of the ironic associations it has with the subtext of his art. The textiles he uses on his mannequins are Dutch wax fabrics, originally manufactured in Europe for the West African market in the 19th century. Yes, believe it or not, most of the textiles we associate with traditional African clothing originated in northern Europe, meaning that this trademark of “Africanness” was in fact branded by European imperialism to give them an identity that Westerners could recognize as “African.” This intercultural ambiguity is part of Shonibare’s intent, for he consciously obfuscates national identities in his sculptures. Shonibare’s work also references masterpieces of 18th- and 19th-century European art. The Rococo and Victorianism are of particular interest to him. The Rococo is associated with Western aristocratic frivolity and nouveau riche leisure, but it is worth recalling that much of that wealth came from their involvement in the African slave trade. Victorianism in turn alludes to the British Empire’s worldwide domination over third-world lands like India and Africa. Shonibare’s sculptures thus reference Western scenes of success while implying their unseen opposite, the dominated people and lands of Africa, India, and so on.

The Swing (after Fragonard) comes from a 1767 painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard located in the Wallace Collection, London (image courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art). I think this painting shows one of the most erotic scenes in Western art. Notice how the woman kicks off her shoe, flirting by exposing her silk stockinged leg to her lover hiding in the bushes before her. But who is pushing the swing? A priest, who presumably is another of her lovers. The cotton ball-like shrubbery and statue of Cupid are classic Fragonard and add to the sensuality of the subject itself. Shonibare borrows on the eroticism of the woman, excising her from the picture and aestheticizing her in sculptural form. What is missing of course is her head, and this introduces another fascinating layer in Shonibare’s work. Despite that his mannequins have a startling sense of naturalism, they are all in fact headless. One need only think of the guillotine to realize what is being referenced here: Revolution. Every Western empire eventually loses its proverbial head, and so the decapitated body in Shonibare’s work becomes a pseudo-memento mori of Western dominance. At the same time, however, Shonibare’s headless figures are still eroticized bodies. He is fetishizing the fragment. In her groundbreaking essay “Manet’s Masked Ball at the Opera,” Linda Nochlin argued that in Western art the fragmented female body becomes a form of sexual commodity for men to possesses. In some ways, I think Shonibare’s decapitated bodies fall in line with this mode of thought, in particular because the mannequins wear fabrics that are directly tied to imperialist trade between Europe and Africa. As a result, figures like the woman in The Swing become fetishized, imperialized bodies, but the line between dominatrix and slave are blurred. These figures create erotic commodity, but they are simultaneously complicit in their own exploitation.

For the Brooklyn exhibition, specially commissioned figures of children have been posed in some of the period rooms, which adds an interesting layer to things, seeing them in actual historic settings. His large installation piece, Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, 2002, is shocking and hilarious. Conjuring aspects of the Grand Tour with sexual awakenings, 11 mannequins are dressed in their finest but posed in a variety of sexual couplings (my favorite is the threesome with a woman bent over a traveling case while a man penetrates her from behind and is simultaneously penetrated by another man behind him). Shonibare’s photographic series Dorian Gray is based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel and the 1945 film adaptation. Here the artist poses as Gray and his aging portrait. His films are interesting, perhaps hypnotic, as the characters move as if in real time and take the sculptural tableaux beyond space to the next dimension of time. If you’re in NYC, you need to experience all of it for yourself. The exhibition (which began in Sydney, Australia) closes at the Brooklyn Museum on September 20, but it moves to the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. from November 10 through March 7, 2010. On the Brooklyn Museum’s website for the exhibition, you can also see an excerpt of a video in which Shonibare talks about The Swing. For more information, see the exhibition catalog, which has essays about Shonibare’s work, an interview with him, and incredible full-color images of his work.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Review: Sweet Charity

When we were in Provincetown one night at the video bar, they showed this video of a bizarre dance sequence that none of us knew but liked for its craziness. Someone nearby must have overheard us talking about it, because they told us it was from Sweet Charity, the film starring Shirley MacLaine. We made an attempt to rent the DVD while we were there, but we couldn't get it. Thanks to Netflix, I just watched it tonight. What a strange musical!

I really knew nothing about it before now. In 2005, Christina Applegate starred in a Broadway revival that got so-so reviews, and that was about all I knew until tonight. It premiered on Broadway in 1966 with Bob Fosse as choreographer and director. Fosse went on to perform the same roles when the film version was made in 1969 with MacLaine as Charity Hope Valentine, the dance-hall girl who goes through man after man in her idealistic search for love. The story was originally a Federico Fellini film entitled Le notti di Cabiria, in which the lead was quite blatantly a prostitute. Broadway and Hollywood, of course, cleaned this up for America and made her "just" a dance-hall girl, but even that had issues, as the story shows. In fact, one of the things that struck me with the film was how it was striving to be modern, addressing issues of sexuality and the place of women in society, and using musical numbers and dances that were wild for the day. Charity even has a tattoo! At the same time it conformed to traditional musical status (think The Sound of Music from 1965), as if to recapture a sense of innocence and sweetness (hence the title) of America itself during a time when Vietnam was raging, civil rights marches were occurring, and drugs were affecting the sensibilities of an entire generation. It is in essence a strange juxtaposition of modern realism and fantasy.

Aside from MacLaine, the film has some big surprises in its cast: Sammy Davis, Jr. as the hippie preacher Big Daddy, Ben Vereen as a backup dancer, and Ricardo Montalban as an Italian movie star. Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly play Nickie and Helene, Charity's close girlfriends and dancers. The one exception is probably John McMartin who plays the important role of Oscar Lindquist; he's recognizable for us as a character actor who has been on just about every television program for the past 30 years. For the cast alone, one should definitely see it. I have to confess that I didn't actually find MacLaine all that great though. I felt like she was overacting the whole time. But since the role does call for her to remain constantly hopeful, and it is a musical, maybe a touch of starry-eyed melodrama is necessary.

The best reasons to watch this movie, however, are for the following: (1) the dance numbers; (2) the costumes and make-up; and (3) the shots of NYC in 1969. The dance sequences are superb. "There's Got to Be Something Better Than This" with MacLaine, Rivera, and Kelly is a top-notch performance, but "Big Spender" and "The Rich Man's Frug" (which was the crazy dance sequence that got me started on all this) are the highlights of the show (there are links to videos of both numbers below). Edith Head did the costumes, and they are really brilliant. On the DVD, there is an excellent 10-minute documentary from 1969 where Head talks about how she envisioned the costumes to be a satirical take on high fashion and society in NYC at the time. And of course this is a great NYC movie. The on-location scenes in Central Park, Wall Street, in the subways, etc., are all fantastic. They conjure up a wonderful historic sense of the City at that time, although I suspect it was probably a bit dirtier than they make it seem in the movie.

Among the bonus features on the DVD is another short documentary from 1969 about Bob Fosse and his bringing of the musical to the screen. This movie was the first that Fosse directed, so he talks about his experiences of moving from a smaller theatrical setting to the enormity of the film world. But even better among the bonuses is an alternate ending to the movie. It turns out that Fosse filmed a second ending that is completely different from how the musical and movie actually end, out of fear the Hollywood people would insist on a "happier" ending. It's worth watching, just for the surprise to see how it goes, because it changes the entire context of how you perceive the film and Charity herself.

Here are the two dance sequences I was talking about. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Fall Semester

Today was "back to school" day for me. I started in the PhD program in Art History in 2005. It seems like ages ago in some ways, and then in others just like it was yesterday. I've been taking 2 courses a semester, but for the fall I'll be taking 3, so I expect to be pretty busy. The good news is that this will be my last official semester for coursework (by "official" I mean for a grade). One class I'm taking is a lecture course entitled Watteau and His Legacy. We're studying the brief career of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), the French artist whose name has become synonymous with the early Rococo and the fête galante, scenes of aristocrats frolicking in romantic gardens or actors and musicians performing for the viewer. The picture above is by him: The French Comedians from 1720-21. It shows actors performing in a melodrama. The picture is owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it probably will be hanging alongside other works for a special exhibition opening there 3 weeks from now called Watteau, Music, and Theater. Watteau was important for introducing this new subject matter into the art world at the time, and his untimely death at the age of 37 from tuberculosis helped jettison ongoing interest in his subjects, which were picked up by later French artists such as Fragonard and Manet.

My second class is a seminar entitled The Role of Travel 1750-1900, and it relates to how travel impacted the European and American art world at this time. The topics that we will be covering include: the Grand Tour (when wealthy aristocrats from England in the 1700s used to travel to Italy for extended visits to be "civilized" by the art there); Travel Books and Prints; the Railroad (how it became both a new way in which to travel, and a subject for art in the second half of the 19th century, such as works painted by Turner, Manet, and Monet); Artists' Colonies (rural colonies like Barbizon to urban colonies like the Nazarenes in Rome); National and International Exhibitions (e.g. the Great Exhibition of 1851, etc.); Orientalism and Primitivism (artists and their interactions with non-European cultures).

My last class isn't really a class but an independent study with my advisor, which means lots of reading and summarizing, then preparing an extensive annotated bibliography and proposal as it relates to the focus area for my Oral Examination in the spring and my ideas for a dissertation. I'm going to be working on 19th-century British classicism in painting and sculpture, and the career of John Gibson (1790-1866). Gibson was a British sculptor who lived in Rome for nearly 50 years. He was a member of the Royal Academy and counted among his important patrons Queen Victoria herself. I was pleased to see a few of his works, albeit briefly, when I was visiting Buckingham Palace in July. You may recall I gave a paper on one aspect of Gibson's career last November at Yale, but there's a lot more work to be done.