New in New York
Broadway will be reopening in September and, elsewhere in New York, live performances have begun happening again, all great news. During a recent visit there, though I noticed only a few street musicians, I was able to go to a number of museums, some featuring special exhibitions, one in an exciting temporary location, and two even in Queens!
While The Frick Collection’s home on Fifth Avenue is being renovated, highlights of the magnificent collection have moved over a few blocks to the famed Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue and 75th Street, former home to the Whitney Museum. It’s been dubbed Frick Madison and is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to see masterpieces up-close and away from all the ornate trappings of the Frick mansion.
As you proceed from the second to the third to the fourth floor, the works unfold in more or less chronological order, grouped, as well, by geographic area with detours for plush Indian carpets, rare Asian & European porcelain, and ingenious clocks & mechanical devices.
On the second floor, Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1658) and Frans Hals’ Portrait of an Elderly Man (c. 1627-30) so astutely capture their sitters’ personalities that they seem like they were painted yesterday instead of nearly 400 years ago. What a treat to see all eight of the Frick’s portraits by the great Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck in one room, including one of the demurely sexy Frans Snyder (c. 1620), a fellow artist. Following this, the Frick’s three Vermeers have been brought together, enabling you to compare and contrast their subtleties.
Two female busts by Francesco Laurana greet you on the third floor, sublime in their tranquility. Further along, Bronzino’s aristocratic Lodovico Capponi (c. 1550-55) hangs in the Italian section with his imposing codpiece. Stand close, in the Venetian nook, to Tiepolo’s Perseus and Andromeda (c. 1730-31), with him rescuing her on his winged horse Pegasus, and it seems rather flat; move further back and it pops into 3D. Around the corner, not only are Veronese’s two large canvases, The Choice between Virtue and Vice (c. 1565) and Wisdom and Strength (c. 1565), glorious, but kinda cool to discover, in the fact-filled (and free) guide, that they were once owned by Queen Christina of Sweden and, later, the Duke of Orleans.
Further along, a room full of small bronzes displays, for a presumably straight guy like Frick, a surprising number of naked gents; even if quite a few come from mythology (Hercules, etc.), they would be equally at home at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay Art. A large room of Spanish paintings follows filled with incredible works by El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo and Goya.
If the fourth floor features a bit too much rococo froufrou for me, the four large Whistler canvases are stunning and the tour ends with five refreshing Impressionist paintings by Corot, Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir.
Newly-painted battleship gray walls may convey an austere atmosphere, but they allow you to better appreciate the art qua art as opposed to mere sumptuous decorative objects; for the Frick collection, with so much fabulousness, less truly is more. And, as opposed to the somewhat random hanging of the works on Fifth Avenue, at the Breuer, the grouping of geographically-related art enables each room to “speak the same language,” a nice touch.
Frick Madison expects to exist for two years. Don’t wait.
Nearby, at the Metropolitan Museum (Fifth Ave. & 82nd St.), Alice Neel: People Come First (through Aug. 1) gives the American artist a bracing retrospective. Neel (1900–1984) is primarily known for her portraits and many of them can be encountered here including a cooly dignified one of playwright Alice Childress and complex images of Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis both in and out of drag.
I was just as taken, however, by her haunting cityscapes as well as a seemingly Edvard Munch-inspired sunset; these employ a more rigorous composition than too many of her portraits which I often found merely photographic rather than psychologically penetrating, as her best ones are. Still, it’s heartening to see her get the overdue acclaim that her fellow 20th century portraitists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud have enjoyed for ages.
I love David Hockney’s works but I was a little disappointed with David Hockney: Drawing from Life (through May 30) at the Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Ave. at 36 St.). I can’t blame the exhibit though; it was exactly what it promised to be, a retrospective of Hockney’s portraits on paper focusing on five people he has depicted repeatedly over the years: his muse and confidante, the designer Celia Birtwell; his mother; his friend, ex-lover and curator Gregory Evans; master printer Maurice Payne; and the artist himself.
If the works generally lacked the vibrant colors I associate with Hockney (1937-), except for a group from 2012 done on an iPad, the images provided a fascinating look at how these people have aged over an extended period of time.
I wish I had left myself more time for Conversations in Drawing: Seven Centuries of Art from the Gray Collection (through June 6) on the Morgan’s second floor. Richard Gray, one of America’s foremost art dealers, and art historian Mary L. Gray clearly had discerning eyes as they amassed these masterworks from Rubens, Seurat, David, Picasso as well as lesser known but equally gifted artists. Focusing mostly on the human figure and accompanied by informative wall texts, this exhibition merits extended engagement.
It’s easy to take sculptor Alexander Calder (1898–1976) for granted; after all, his entrancing mobiles and hulking stabiles have been with us for as long as I can remember. Yet as Alexander Calder–Modern from the Start (through Aug. 7) at the Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53 St.) demonstrates, he reimagined sculpture as an entity in space and motion, upending centuries-old notions that sculpture should be static, grounded, and dense by making artworks that often move freely and interact with their surroundings.
Bringing together early wire and wood figures, works on paper, jewelry, kinetic creations of varying forms, and monumental abstract sculptures, Modern from the Start serves as a excellent introduction (or reintroduction) to the full breadth of Calder’s career and inventiveness. If I might’ve liked more of those ever-changing mobiles, a wire sculpture of Josephine Baker (c. 1927) casting a shadow on the wall as it floats in the air is, alone, nearly worth the price of admission.
While merely going up and down the ramp of the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Guggenheim Museum (1071 5th Ave. at 89 St.) might be worth the price of admission, the art’s the thing and, currently, for my tastes, there’re too many exhibits that are conceptual (Christian Nyampeta: Sometimes It Was Beautiful in the rotunda thru June 21 and Off the Record thru Sept. 27) or abstract (Away from the Easel: Jackson Pollock’s Mural thru Aug. 30) or both (Knotted, Torn, Scattered: Sculpture after Abstract Expressionism thru Aug. 2).
The enigmatic photographs of Deana Lawson (1979-), in a show entitled Centropy (thru Oct. 11), however, draw you into a Black-centric world, from the newly married couple bedecked with dollar bills of Latifah’s Wedding (2019), to the poseurs of Barrington and Father (2021), to the David Lynch-like An Ode to Yemaya (2019), each of which hints at an involving narrative and encourages sustained viewing.
Winner of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize, Centropy, implying renewal through creative energy, includes some large-scale photographs which are embedded with holograms, something I’ve never seen before and which tantalize with added layers of implication. All this plus a spectral rendering of a torus in the center of the room and large crystals tucked into its corners combine to form a intriguingly mysterious realm…and a desire to see what Lawson will come up with next.
Crossing the East River by bicycle over the 59th Street Bridge took me to Queens and two museums I had never been to before.
The Noguchi Museum (9-01 33rd Rd., Astoria) offers a calming escape from the world in its renovated photogravure plant/gas station where the great Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) opened his museum in 1985. Noguchi’s sculptures fill its two floors with abstract forms made of stone (marble, granite, basalt, etc.) as well as metal. Though, as mentioned, I’m not always a fan of abstract work, these impress with the sheen of their highly-polished surfaces, contrasting colors (such as alternating bands of pink and white marble), or Noguchi’s witty chiseling that seems to create stoic faces in the rock.
Outdoors one can enjoy the garden where more of Noguchi’s works can be found, an oasis in an industrial part of Queens with its ivy-covered walls and a variety of trees growing amid the artwork. Through September 5, Christian Boltanski’s gentle sound installation Animitas, consisting of 180 small bronze bells on steel stems, fills the garden with a “music of lost souls.” If this sounds appealing, it’s worth the quick trip to check it out and, perhaps, rent it for your wedding reception (as is possible).
Less than 15 minutes of biking south took me to MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City) an exhibition space housed in a repurposed public school building. There Niki de Saint Phalle–Structures for Life (through Sept. 5) holds forth celebrating this underappreciated artist’s creativity, perseverance and AIDS activism.
Though I have a Saint Phalle (1930-2002) serigraph and have seen her buoyant outdoor works in Paris and Hanover, I was not aware that she began her career as an artist provocateur, creating abstract paintings using paint balloons and a rifle to disperse them on a canvas(!).
Nor did I know about her many huge outdoor installations, some commissioned, and many influenced by the grand Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí which are the focus–using photos, maquettes and drawings–of the large first room of the exhibition.
And in a nod to my print, titled You Made Me Discover, Structures for Life also made me discover that when too many of Saint Phalle’s friends were dying of AIDS in the 1980s, she created compassionate images, a book, videos and even a Swiss postage stamp with a colorful phallic symbol on it, to support those with the disease and help combat the public’s then-disapproving perception of it.
Though I was already familiar with (and love) Saint Phalle’s enormous, hyper-feminized Nana’s as well as her kinetic works done with her husband, Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, I wish there had been more of these jubilant works in Structures for Life. Still, it’s an extremely worthwhile show and I’m happy it finally got me to see PS 1. Of course, had I not moved to New Orleans many years ago, I might’ve wound up living nearby, but that’s another story.
With COVID restrictions mostly lifted, theater is finally returning to Orleans Parish, and happily so. It may be a while before things fully return to normal but, for now, it’s a start. Meanwhile, theaters on the North Shore continue to offer a wide range of productions. Here are some that will be debuting soon.
After a year’s delay, the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen will finally present HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, Fridays-Sundays, May 21-30. Writer/performer Heather Massie’s one-woman show explores Lamarr’s Hollywood stardom from the 1930s to ’50s when she was known as “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World,” and her inventive achievements during the war effort for which the Viennese-born actress used the understanding of munitions she had acquired while married to Austrian arms dealer, Friedrich “Fritz” Mandl.
Lamarr employed her knowledge to support the US Navy during World War II by inventing “The Secret Communication System” with composer George Antheil, which made torpedoes more accurate. Also referred to as “frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology”, her discoveries are still used today in cell phones, Wi-Fi, CDMA, GPS, Bluetooth, and myriad other wireless systems.
Sounds like a fascinating tale, well worth the wait. More info and tickets at https://www.nationalww2museum.org/programs/hedy-life-inventions-hedy-lamarr
Also from May 21 thru 30, in Hammond, RoBenHood Productions presents its second show, Topdog/Underdog, a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity. Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winner, seen only once before in this area many years ago, tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future.
Playing at the Tangipahoa African American Heritage Museum (1600 Phoenix Square), Topdog/Underdog is directed by Ben C. Dougherty and stars Robinson J Cyprian (Lincoln) and Detalion Dixon (Booth), with Dougherty and Cyprian switching their director/actor roles from last fall’s The Pillowman. If Topdog/Underdog is as good as that production, it will be well worth the drive to Hammond. More info and tickets at https://www.tickettailor.com/events/robenhoodproductions/516159/
Not far from Hammond, in Ponchatoula, Swamplight Theatre (950 SW Railroad Ave.) presents Smoke on the Mountain which is set in a rural North Carolina Baptist church in 1938 and revolves around the Sanders Family Singers. The songs used in the production are mostly old hymns, with some original bluegrass songs mixed in, and the cast plays their own instruments.
Smoke on the Mountain premiered off-Broadway in 1990 and, after a rave review in the New York Times, ran for over a year going on to become one of the most produced shows in the world. It has only six performances at Swamplight (June 4-13) so if you enjoyed such other folk musicals as Pump Boys and Dinettes or Oil City Symphony, book your tickets now. More info at https://www.swamplight.org/2017-season
Also on the North Shore, Little Shop of Horrors will blossom at 30 by Ninety Theatre (880 Lafayette St., Mandeville) from May 29 until June 13. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s horror/comedy/rock musical tells the story of Audrey, a pretty blonde who works in a flower shop; her abusive boyfriend who’s also a sadistic dentist; and Seymour, her hapless co-worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. Sounds like tasty entertainment to me.
Lori Molinary directs a cast that includes Michael Breath, Jr. as Seymour, Charles Early as the boyfriend Orin, and, as Audrey, Madison Antrainer whose mother Emily won the 2004 Best Actress in a Musical Ambie Award for the same role. Can’t wait to see if such talent runs in the family; I suspect it does. For tickets and more info, go to https://30byninety.com/shows/little-shop-of-horrors/
And after a year’s absence, Summer Lyric Theatre makes a welcome return with Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. Directed and choreographed by Polanco Jones Jr., this theatrical song cycle features Prentiss E. Mouton, Meredith Owens, Adair Watkins, DeAngelo Renard-Boutte, Madison Jones, Eric Shawn, Julia Swann, and NOCCA alum Ximone Rose who, after winning a 2010 “Someone to Watch Out For” Special Ambie Award, went on to appear in the Tony Award-winning revival of Once on This Island on Broadway.
Instead of its usual locale of Tulane’s Dixon Hall, Songs for a New World will be performed June 4-12 outside in the courtyard of the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade Ave.). There’ll be reserved seating and also a “bring your own chair” option.
SLT will head home to Dixon Hall for its second production, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Grand Night for Singing; this musical revue of classic Broadway songs will play June 24-27. Ticket info for both these shows can be found at https://liberalarts.tulane.edu/summer-lyric-theatre/events-tickets/tickets-box-office-info
Welcome back SLT–it’s good to have you back where you belong!