Culture Watch

The state of the arts around the world

Fifteen Minutes . . . and still ticking

In the past, Wayne Koestenbaum, a contributor to these pages, has written, in biographies as exquisitely crafted as a Fabergé bijou yet modern as next season's Prada handbag, on bigger-than-life personalities like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Maria Callas. In Andy Warhol, published this month by Viking, he deconstructs the Pop artist. Koestenbaum's forte has always been his uncanny ability to bare truths without baring fangs. Who else, for example, would have summed up Warhol quite like this: "It is false to say that Andy Warhol left nothing behind. He left behind his own example, the gestures and actions of a comic, heroic life; he'd rather have been called a heroine, but he was less Lois Lane and more Superman, transforming his alien self into a costumed, metropolitan ubiquity. As well known for his odd verbal style as for his art, he stands before us as a formalist, an abstract thinker who reformed the way we see concepts, names, species, and categories. . . . By collecting and socializing, by making amused cameo appearances, by producing abundant sculptures, paintings, prints, drawings, films, photographs, videos, time capsules, and books, Andy organized and boxed the world into digestible units, modular perceptual containers that can be stacked, repeated, and counted, and that might last forever."

—Richard David Story

Vintage Orrefors glass works such as Bathing Tent (1925) will be on exhibit at the International Art + Design Fair 1900-2001, at the 7th Regiment Armory in New York City (Sept. 29 through Oct. 2).


Trick and Treat

The captivating creatures of Hieronymus Bosch have taken over Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen through November 11, in the largest exhibition ever devoted to the medieval artist (ca. 1450-1516). Practically every being he depicted—from monstrous insects to cunning devils to snarling dragons that kept your eyes wide open as a ten-year-old—is on view.

Why are we ordinary mortals still enthralled by Bosch's grotesque renditions? "Once his rich sense of fantasy draws us in, we're transfixed by his artistic mastery," says art historian Bernard Vermet, who coordinated the show. Bosch possessed a dazzling technique, rendering his creatures and landscapes with remarkable detail, and he was also a vibrant colorist. "He influenced generations of painters, beginning with Bruegel through to the Surrealists and up to now," Vermet says.

The museum's own six works by Bosch are supplemented by selections from both European and American institutions. In addition, original paintings and copies by Bosch's circle (such as The Concert in the Egg, left) and works by contemporary artists like Robert Gober, Sue Coe, and William Kentridge, who evoke the spirit of the macabre artist, are also on view.

If you can't get to the Netherlands, there's the just-published Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Paintings and Drawings (Abrams), by Vermet and two other experts, Jos Koldeweij (who curated the show) and Paul Vandenbroeck. You can also take in the museum's www.boschuniverse.com, which contains well-presented historical information and a cunning game. It's the virtual world of Bosch—both heaven and hell.

—Brook S. Mason


Dancercise

They bound high from rocky outcroppings that resemble the surface of the moon. They spin out across expanses of blue sky. Dressed in climbing shoes, mountaineering gear, and billowy costumes, the dancers of Project Bandaloop inhabit a world quite different from the proscenium stage or rehearsal studio. The troupe is probably the only dance company in existence whose personnel includes a "risk manager," riggers, and a renowned rock climber, Steve Schneider. Its "stages" have ranged from the Vasco da Gama Tower in Lisbon to Yosemite Falls. In August, the company filmed its 65-mile journey, 11,000 feet high, across the rugged Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, for a multimedia piece titled Crossing, to be performed next year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. This month Bandaloop performs from September 1 to 3 at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival.

Amelia Rudolph, who trained in dance in her native Chicago, founded the Oakland-based troupe ten years ago after taking up rock climbing. The company is named after a freewheeling dance performed by fantasy Himalayan creatures in Tom Robbins' novel Jitterbug Perfume. Ironically enough, the freedom of competing with birds has given Rudolph "a renewed love for the subtleties and nuances of just moving on the ground."

—Jennifer Dunning


Mezzo Forte

Opera fans who check out Susan Graham's America Online profile might be surprised to discover that her hobbies include Rollerblading, jazz, and poodle psychiatry. She lists her occupation simply as "musician," but this singer's screen name involves a delicious pun on her own voice category, mezzo-soprano, while her personal quote philosophically tells us that "life is what happens while you're planning for it." Clearly Graham is a diva with a good sense of humor and a taste for the unconventional—not many opera stars have the nerve to go on-line to chat and trade opinions with fans, critics, and colleagues.

Nor does Graham's busy international career follow predictable paths. Unlike most opera singers nowadays, this glamorous 41-year-old from New Mexico actually enjoys tackling new music, and her impassioned interpretation of Sister Helen Préjean helped make the world premiere of Dead Man Walking a big hit last year in San Francisco. With its music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally, this operatic retelling of the Oscar-winning film dealing with capital punishment proved so successful that the Erato label is issuing a complete recording of the work.

This fall Graham celebrates her tenth season at the Metropolitan Opera, performing Idamante in Mozart's Idomeneo. It's perhaps a sign of the times that voices like Graham's—lyrical, flexible, brightly textured—are now plentiful and seem happiest when singing either contemporary music or the classical operas from Mozart's day and even earlier. The throat-tearing dramatic roles in the Verdi and Wagner operas are not for this aristocratic instrument, but that still leaves plenty of juicy repertory for her to explore.

"I'm lucky in that respect," Graham says, "and hardly feel like I'm a prisoner of a trend. Although my voice doesn't fit the big Verdi parts, it responds naturally to Mozart, French opera, and much new American music. Jake Heggie specifically wrote Sister Helen for a lyric mezzo because he felt that best suited the character's personality." This type of voice has also recently captured the public's imagination in a big way. Graham modestly credits Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade, and Cecilia Bartoli, but she could easily include herself in this royal line of mezzo-sopranos.

—Peter G. Davis


Short List

STILL IN PRINT Sensuous courtesans, ancient fishermen, and fantastical demons fill the Japanese woodblock prints, books, and scrolls in The Floating World of Ukiyo-e: Shadows, Dreams, and Substance, celebrating the Library of Congress' holdings of Ukiyo-e works (Abrams; $50). With 160 color images and four scholarly essays, the volume is an overview of the genre's complex history, and makes the connections between the initial prints of the early 17th century and works by such Western artists as Mary Cassatt, who absorbed their influence and labeled it "Japonisme." History and daily life play critical roles in prints depicting the changing cityscape of Edo (later Tokyo) and in portraits of warriors and actors. Throughout, the brilliant colors and minutely rendered details convey the texture of a world long gone.
—Jackie Cooperman

SUPREME ABSTRACTION "I reject the soul and intuition as unnecessary. On February 19th, 1914, at a public lecture, I rejected reason." So went the uncompromising artistic life of Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), the visionary Russian artist and founder of Suprematism—his quest, through geometric abstraction, to achieve "the supremacy of pure sensation in creative art." The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg has organized a traveling exhibition of more than 120 of its Malevich works (including Suprematismus, 1915, above), which opens September 5 at the Bank Austria Kunstforum, in Vienna.
—Andrew Long

ROCKING THE BOAT Best known for his paintings of rowers on Philadelphia's Schuylkill River (such as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, below), Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) merged a distinctly American sensibility with his European training to also depict artisans and families. A retrospective opening October 4 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores Eakins' work in oil, watercolor, drawing, sculpture, and photography. The artist's unflinching eye often scandalized still-inhibited America. Critics lambasted Gross Clinic, a portrait of surgeons in an operating amphitheater, as well as his detail of a model's clothes strewn haphazardly as she posed for sculptor William Rush. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts fired Eakins for providing his students with nude models. Undaunted, he maintained his European aesthetic. At the Prado, he praised Spanish works as being "so strong . . . so free from every affectation," and strove for the same himself.
—J.C.