The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: M

Mexico’s Next Master?

Given the country’s long history of avant-gardism, it’s surprising Mexico hasn’t produced a contemporary architect with the visionary ambition of, say, Frank Gehry. In the early 2000s, it looked like Enrique Norten would take the baton from Mexican masters like Luis Barragán and Ricardo Legorreta. But there’s a new generation on the rise, led by the 38-year-old maverick Fernando Romero.

Before starting his firm, Laboratory of Architecture (LAR), in 2000, Romero worked for Rem Koolhaas, serving as project leader on the acclaimed Casa da Música in Portugal. In his own designs Romero has been no less brash. He has buried a house underground and opened its roof to the sky, used the Rio Grande as inspiration for a border-town museum (its façade suggests flowing water), and fashioned a residential addition after a common garden snail.

Today LAR has more than a half-billion dollars in commissions, including a huge Mexico City project with office towers, hotels, shops, and an experimental building for Carlos Slim Helú’s Museo Soumaya. “He’s truly at the cutting edge of architecture,” says Raymund Ryan, who curated an exhibition devoted to Romero’s work at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art through May 31. “He’s helping to bring a new reality to his country.”

Men Of Inaction

In the post-Seinfeld era, most of us no longer feel cheated by a play in which nothing happens, filled with gnomic, vaudevillesque patter that exemplifies and parodies absurdity. Indeed, the appeal of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is stronger than ever in these recessionary days of paring down and reconsidering what is truly meaningful.

How timely then is the pair of star-packed Godots landing on Broadway and in London’s West End this spring. In New York the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production at Studio 54 features Nathan Lane as Estragon and Bill Irwin as Vladimir, while the modest part of Pozzo is played by John Goodman, and the near-silent role of Lucky by John Glover. It’s a terrific cast, but we’re even more intrigued by the staging across the Atlantic, at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Britain’s two senior Shakespeareans (and mortal enemies in the X-Men films), Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, play Vladimir and Estragon, and we can’t resist the idea of these big hams trying to upstage each other as bantering bowler-hatted tramps. They are joined by Simon Callow as Pozzo and Ronald Pickup as Lucky.

Debate still rages over what the play represents: religion? depression? Cold War politics? There’s little doubt, however, about what Beckett considered the vilest epithet of all. When Vladimir and Estragon hurl insults at each other (Moron! Vermin! Sewer rat!), the latter shocks his companion into silence with the ultimate scorcher: Critic!

Manchester FEST

The much-anticipated first opera by Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will have its première at the Manchester International Festival, after the Metropolitan Opera turned down the commission. (He refused to translate the French libretto, and the Met said tout alors.) Titled, appropriately, Prima Donna, this tale of an aging opera diva is one of the festival’s highlights, along with a series of Bach suites performed in a funky chamber music space designed by Zaha Hadid. July 10–19

Modern Moment

Despite its important links to the Bauhaus, New York’s Museum of Modern Art hasn’t had a major show on the German school since the landmark 1938 exhibition curated by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. To mark the school’s 90th anniversary, MoMA is staging “Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity,” featuring icons like Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair, artworks by Josef Albers and Paul Klee, and rediscovered objects rarely seen outside Germany. November 8–January 25, 2010