Ultimate Guide to Arts and Culture

MATTHEW KARAS

A

Avatar-itis

Everybody’s got it: that lust for the kind of knock-your-socks-off visual effects that have earned Avatar $2.6 billion and counting. Movies like Clash of the Titans and the two-part Harry Potter finale were reworked for the 3-D cash cow, joining Shrek Forever After, Toy Story 3, and Piranha 3-D. (Even the next Bond will reportedly bust out of two dimensions, a prospect that, frankly, leaves us more shaken than stirred.) Not that dazzling technology equals quality films—a clear subtext on Oscar night, when the white-knuckle realism of Best Director Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker triumphed over Avatar’s computer-generated feats of fantasy. As digital technology hurtles ahead, our world is becoming increasingly defined by virtual reality, CGI, and experiences on our multimedia screen devices. And it’s taking culture in all kinds of new directions—from music-making iPhone apps to multimedia e-books and 3-D video games to high-tech opera and dance. You can hardly go to a contemporary theater production these days without seeing some sort of digital projection, but this is what we expect now—this is how we’re wired. As Nicholas Carr argues in his new book, The Shallows, as inveterate multitasking screen users, we’re losing our “depth of comprehension” and an important part of “what gives our thinking and our culture richness.” The danger of sacrificing our humanity to technology was a theme of Bigelow’s 1995 film, Strange Days (cowritten by James Cameron), which portrays a world where virtual reality has become a dangerous narcotic. In 2010, 3-D is our techno drug of choice, and having gotten a taste of its potential, can we ever go back?

All About Yves

Call it a blue crush. The art world, especially the art market, can’t get enough of Yves Klein, the French provocateur best known for paintings and sculptures in his signature International Klein Blue. But the influential artist, whose career was cut short in 1962, when he died of a heart attack at 34, also used pink and gold in his often monochromatic Conceptual-metaphysical works that explored ideas of transmutation and infinite, immaterial realms. At the big winter auctions, Klein (whose prices have exceeded $20 million in recent years) once again headed the top-ten lists. In May at Christie’s, Klein’s nine-foot-wide ANT 93, Le Buffle (“The Buffalo”), from 1960–61, is expected to bring around $10 million. The timing couldn’t be better, as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., will debut the retrospective “Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers,” May 20 through September 12. The first major U.S. show of Klein’s work in nearly 30 years, it moves on to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in October.

Art Takes Center Stage

This year’s crop of Broadway imports from London includes two acclaimed plays, Red and The Pitmen Painters, about artists—a subject that hasn’t always made for great theater. (Remember Lautrec: “22 vapid songs,” with “more déjà vu than ooh la la”? as London critics described it.) A look at the painters who are making it big in the footlights.

Red

The Show: John Logan’s play, directed by Michael Grandage, with Alfred Molina as the painter Mark Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant, opened at Donmar Warehouse and is now at the John Golden Theatre through June 27.

The Story: In a tale that pits big money against high ethics, the tormented Rothko works on a troubling commission while his employee turns from a puppy to a viper. A high-octane duet that is part ballet, part cockfight.

The Verdict: “Brilliantly acted,” say critics, calling Redmayne (right) “thrilling to watch” and praising Molina’s “totally convincing portrait of the artist as a working visionary.”

The Pitmen Painters

The Show: Billy Elliot author Lee Hall’s latest play transfers, ensemble cast intact, to the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in September.

The Story: A group of 1930s English miners take a painting class and—improbable but true—become the Ashington Group, a hit with critics and at upper-class tea parties. It’s a story that examines the power of art.

The Verdict: “Full of warm, gritty humor,” wrote one reviewer. The show “asks big questions without ever being patronizing, stupid, [or] boring,” said another, calling the acting “a series of sublime performances.

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B

Baas Hits

There are few right angles in the whimsical, sometimes dark world of Maarten Baas, the 32-year-old jovial maverick known for his burnt (literally) “Smoke” furniture and Seussian hand-molded clay chairs and tables that look as if they’re made of Play-Doh. In December he was honored as Designer of the Year at Design Miami, where the asymmetrical, alien-looking cabinet of welded steel he created for the occasion was the talk of the fair. “I’ve always regarded Maarten foremost as a sculptor,” says New York design dealer Murray Moss, “whether it be sculpting with fire, modeling with clay, or shaping hot steel into impossible forms. His ‘jump first, think later’ approach has produced a whole new design language.” Baas’s latest projects include a line of whimsical porcelain tableware for the Italian company Skitsch and hand-sculpted wooden chairs for the London firm Established & Sons that are slightly, intriguingly irregular. Says the designer: “I want to redefine the borders of what we consider to be normal.”

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C

Caffeinated Moca

After years of burning through its endowment to cover deficits, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art found itself in a crisis in late 2008, prompting talk of closing or a merger. Director Jeremy Strick resigned. That’s when billionaire collector Eli Broad stepped in with $30 million and MOCA went on a 12-step program of staff cuts and tighter budgets. Confidence restored, MOCA has since raised another $30 million, reenergized its board with new trustees, celebrated its 30th anniversary with a flashy gala, and in January hired New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch as director—a controversial move that has galvanized huge interest in the rehabbing museum. Here, the main players in a turnaround drama that has the entire art world watching.

Jeffrey Deitch, Director
The bespectacled and besuited onetime Citibank art adviser became a downtown art world hero thanks to his edgy, up-for-anything program at Deitch Projects (which will close before he starts, on June 1). Some question his lack of museum experience and potential conflicts from his dealing days, but those ties to super-rich collectors should come in handy.

Eli Broad, Life Trustee
Santa Monica? Beverly Hills? The big question hanging in the L.A. haze is where the city’s top arts sugar daddy will plant his Kiefers and Koonses, having decided the L.A. County Museum of Art and its $56 million Broad Contemporary Art Museum (which he paid for) won’t do. In the meantime, he’s playing white knight to MOCA, a museum he helped build 30 years ago.

Paul Schimmel, Chief Curator
Given all the MOCA headlines, few have noticed that 2010 marks Schimmel’s 20th year as chief curator. The driving force behind the museum’s exhibitions, he tends to favor high-impact installations. See: the madhouse show “Ecstasy: In and About Altered States” and the spectacle that was “© Murakami.” One can only imagine what he and Deitch will dream up together.

Maria Bell, Board Cochair
The irrepressible board cochair is also the coexecutive producer for The Young and the Restless (created by her father-in-law). She’s been instrumental in expanding MOCA’s entertainment-industry ties and has helped bring a bit of glam to its events: Kanye West performing at the Murakami opening, Lady Gaga at last fall’s swanky 30th-anniversary gala.

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Dance Card

These are Particularly rich days for dance. From Twyla Tharp’s Broadway show Come Fly Away to New York City Ballet’s robust spring slate (featuring new works by Benjamin Millepied, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, and Wayne McGregor) to major anniversaries and not-to-miss premières, it’s a full season. Grab your calendar.

May 14: New York City Ballet premières a new piece by Wayne McGregor, his first for an American company. The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer, who also heads his own experimental company, Random Dance, has stretched classical dance in thrilling new directions.

May 19-23: Dallas Black Dance Theatre debuts a duet set to jazz from the dynamic young Camille A. Brown, whose work smartly mixes ballet, modern, and African influences. She will premiere another new piece at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts, on June 30.

June 16-19: The latest work by the influential—if underappreciated—John Jasperse comes to New York’s Joyce Theater. Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies continues his exploration of the body’s capacities and displays his eye for unexpected beauty.

June 18: In the midst of a two-year farewell tour, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company opens the Montpellier Danse festival in France with Roaratorio, a piece not seen in full for years. The festival, through July 7, celebrates its 30th year with a slew of big names.

July 8-11: To mark its 40th anniversary, the Trisha Brown Dance Company is touring all over the world and staging special events. At Bard SummerScape in July, the group will perform L’Amour au théâtre and revive early collaborations with Robert Rauschenberg.

Dollar Signs

Phew! You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief last November, when Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer’s hammer hit the podium, bringing the price of Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills to $43.7 million. As symbolism goes, it was a potent moment, all the more so given the subject of the early Warhol. While the mood in the market had been slowly improving, this was as close to a turning point as anything—a marker of renewed confidence. It was followed a few weeks later by a $48 million Raphael and a $33.2 million Rembrandt and, in February, the improbable $104.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s 1960 bronze, Walking Man I, making it the most expensive work ever sold at auction. Not to confuse a few stratospheric prices with a recovery, it’s worth remembering that auction totals are well off their highs from a couple of years ago, quite a few galleries have closed or merged, and many endured long stretches last year without selling much. We’ll see better how much things have turned around—at least at the top—during an ambitious round of auctions in May, highlighted by a pair of blockbuster estates at Christie’s: Works owned by Michael Crichton and by Frances and Sidney Brody are expected to fetch close to $250 million combined.

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E

E-Harmony

Saying digital technology has revolutionized music is pretty obvious. Earlier this year, violinist Joshua Bell performed a Grieg sonata at Lincoln Center accompanied by Rachmaninoff at the piano, thanks to technology that feeds data from old recordings to a computer-controlled Steinway. Emily Howell, a software program created by David Cope, writes concert-level musical scores and even released an album in February. Then there’s the multitude of Web sites and smartphone apps that have radically democratized music. One of our favorites is Ocarina, an app that allows an iPhone to be played like a flute. Created by Ge Wang, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, it also allows you to listen to other Ocarina players around the world. Wang even founded a mobile-phone orchestra, MoPhO, whose members play their iPhones in performances that can be scripted or improvised.“We are perhaps going back to a time,” says Wang, “before recording, radio, and TV, when a family might spend an evening making music together.”

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Film Fest Favorites

Andrew O’Hehir, a critic for Salon.com, recommends a few hits from the international movie festival circuit to look out for this year.

Ondine
Directed by Neil Jordan

“Colin Farrell plays an Irish fisherman who catches a woman in his net who may or may not be a mermaid. It’s got magical, mythical elements, but don’t expect a straightforward fairy tale from Jordan.” U.S. release: June 4.

The Kids are All Right
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

This “very funny” portrait of a lesbian couple, starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, is “the gay marriage comedy that so far hasn’t happened in American film. I could see it in Oscar contention.” U.S. release: July 7.

Night Catches Us
Directed by Tanya Hamilton

“Set in Philadelphia in 1978, this story of a doomed romance,” with Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie, “is an elegaic portrait of the black community at a particularly vulnerable moment. People are going to be blown away by this movie.” No release date yet.

Four Lions
Directed by Chris Morris

“It’s a terrorism comedy—a relatively unexplored genre—about a group of guys in northern England who decide to wage jihad, but they’re inept. It’s a really interesting, dark combination of slapstick and fairly terrifying possibility.” No release date yet.

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Gormley Park

Event Horizon, New York City

British artist Antony Gormley has New Yorkers looking up. This spring he installed 31 life-sized casts of his body around the Madison Square Park neighborhood, a few at street level but most perched dramatically at the edge of rooftops—including the Empire State Building’s. Through August 15.

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H

Hit Musical

Since opening on Broadway in November, the musical Fela! has become a phenomenon. Directed by Tony-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones and backed by producers like Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, the show celebrates the life and music of the Nigerian Afrobeat founder and political activist Fela Anikulapo–Kuti during his heyday, in the seventies and eighties. Having garnered rave reviews (Ben Brantley declared in The New York Times, “There should be dancing in the streets”), TV appearances, and huge awards buzz, the show will make a rare jump to London’s National Theatre in the fall. It has ushered in a full-blown Fela renaissance. “More attention has been paid to him and his works in the past year than any time since he first set foot in the U.S., in 1969,” says Rikki Stein, Kuti’s manager from 1983 until his death, from AIDS, in 1997.

Focus Features will soon begin shooting a film chronicling Kuti’s life, to be directed by British artist-filmmaker Steve McQueen, who’s cowriting the screenplay with Nigerian novelist Biyi Bandele. As the Broadway show makes clear, there’s no shortage of storyline, from Kuti’s creation of Afrobeat (a mix of Nigerian highlife, Yoruba rhythms, and American jazz and funk) and his potent political lyrics, to his hundreds of court appearances, two runs for the Nigerian presidency, a brief involvement with the Black Panthers, and 27 wives.

Fela’s discography is also making a comeback. Knitting Factory Records began re-releasing his 45 albums in October, with the remastered Best of the Black President. The debut of Chop ’n Quench, a six-disc set of nine albums recorded from 1969 to 1974, followed in February, with another batch due out in May (available at fela.net). “Fela’s music is rock and roll and funk and jazz and African, and it’s dance music with huge vitality and sensuality,” says Fela! producer Stephen Hendel. “It’s about things that are universal to the human soul.”

The Holl Shebang

If this is indeed going to be China’s century, Steven Holl will be there to help build it. Often described as brilliant, aggressive, and high-minded (not always as a compliment), the esteemed American architect has been working out of New York and Beijing since 2006. “The artist Walter De Maria has argued that a great cultural work requires three things,” Holl, 62, says. “The right place, the right time, and that the artist does the right thing. China is the right place, in the right time, to realize new architecture.”

Holl’s first large-scale China project was the remarkable Linked Hybrid complex in Beijing, completed last year. The campus features eight high-rise towers with 644 apartments, a hotel, school, movie theater, and shops, all connected via a ring of sky bridges. It has been lauded for its democratic design as well as its eco-friendly geothermal wells for cooling and heating. Holl’s other buildings in China include the nearly completed Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture, a multi-level structure with mazelike cantilevers straight out of an Escher drawing.

While big urban development projects have become a larger and larger part of Holl’s practice, he’s best known for inventive cultural buildings such as the Cité de l’Océan et du Surf, in Biarritz, France, opening in early 2011. A collaboration with his wife, Brazilian artist Solange Fabião, the design revolves around a central plaza that Holl describes as “open to sky and sea, the horizon in the distance.” It proves he’s still capable of simple poetic gestures.

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I

iPad and Onward

E-readers and tablets are being heralded as the future—even the savior—of books and magazines. Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Readers, and Apple’s preordained juggernaut, the iPad (along with our laptops and smartphones), aren’t only changing the way we read but how our minds function. That’s the focus of Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Norton), coming out in June.

How is the "subtle mind of the book reader" being replaced with the "distracted mind of the screen watcher”?

Sitting with a book, there aren’t distractions coming through the medium; it encourages deep immersion. With a screen, especially one connected to the Internet, we’re constantly interrupted: e-mail, Tweets, Facebook updates. As we spend more time online, our brains are being rewired to take in information quickly from many sources simultaneously. This has been shown to distract from linear reading and take a mental toll. We lose the depth of comprehension.

Can’t such devices allow us the same level of concentration as a traditional book?

Yes, but we’re training ourselves to value multitasking. Take Apple’s iPad: Even if you don’t buy the 3G access, you still have a multifunctional device with all those apps that you can download. The evolution of electronic devices is toward greater functionality.

Do you use an e-reader?

I don’t have one. I read a lot online, and I’ve used Kindle software. But it’s clear that as computer devices become the way we access all media, not only words, we lose something. We lose an important part of what makes us human, what gives our thinking and our culture richness.

Is all this changing the way books are written?

After Gutenberg invented the printing press, making books cheaper and more available, reading became a popular pursuit. Through the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, there was an explosion in literary innovation. Authors began to take it for granted that there were readers who would immerse themselves in a piece of writing. So they could get really complex or experiment with syntax. As writers write for a more distracted audience who reads on screens, I think we’ll see a retreat—and it’s already going on—from experimentation and eloquence. I think we’ll see a move away from literary style toward more utilitarian, conversational writing.

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The Joannou Affair

Beware of the Greek bearing gifts! That was the cry sounded by critics when the New Museum of Contemporary Art on New York’s Lower East Side announced its current exhibition of works owned by Dakis Joannou, the Athens-based megacollector who also happens to be on the museum’s board. The problem with museums showing such collections, detractors say, is that nonprofit institutions put themselves in the position of enhancing the value of privately owned works while largely forfeiting curatorial independence. Adding to the show’s incestuous—and, some say, ethically unsavory—nature is that it’s curated by Jeff Koons, one of the best-represented artists in Joannou’s collection. Nonissues, insist others, arguing that a collection as esteemed as Joannou’s (he has his own Deste Foundation, in Athens) doesn’t need a museum’s imprimatur. Plus, such displays of private holdings, which are commonplace at museums across the country, give the public access to important but often little-seen works. It’s a spirited debate that isn’t going to end with this show, which runs through June 6.

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Kindred Spirits

In a sense, the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s masterpiece in New Canaan, Connecticut, and the summer retreat that Mies van der Rohe designed for Edith Farnsworth in Plano, Illinois, are twins separated at birth. Though the Glass House was finished in 1949, two years before the Farnsworth, Johnson’s radical transparent rectangle was deeply indebted to Mies’s design, executed in 1947. There’s been plenty of debate over which house is more successful, but each is a brilliant distillation of midcentury modernist principles. “Philip’s building, I have always argued, is probably Mies’s best building,” says Michael Graves, who notes that the two houses “stretched the language of enclosure, structure, and space to a dimension where it hadn’t been.” Graves is one of more than 80 architects, designers, and artists invited to create original artworks based on their responses to these twin icons as part of “Modern Views,” a project launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The contributions, from heavyweights such as Tadao Ando, Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid, James Rosenquist, and Frank Stella, range from sketches to photo-collages to models. All the works will be compiled in a book by Assouline and exhibited in Chicago and New York this fall. After that, they’ll be auctioned off by Sotheby’s, with the proceeds going toward restoration work at the two houses.

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London Calling

June through early July has long been known as “the London season,” when collectors come to buy at the major auctions, fairs, and special dealer shows before heading off to summer retreats. But times aren’t what they used to be, and last year one of the season’s linchpins, the 75-year-old Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, called it quits. Jockeying to fill the void are at least three shows, all aiming to breathe new life into the traditional antiques show model. Arguably the most intriguing is Masterpiece London (June 24–29), featuring more than 80 dealers in a temporary pavilion at the former Chelsea Barracks. A collaboration between several top galleries—including Mallett, Ronald Phillips, and Asprey—the fair promises to juxtapose, say, 18th-century clocks and cabinets with jewelry, wines, vintage Ferraris, and contemporary design. There should also be quality food and drink (a rarity for these events), as the organizers are bringing in Le Caprice, The Ivy, Scott’s, Bam-Bou, and Harry’s Bar. “The idea is to provide entertainment,” says Mallett managing director Thomas Woodham-Smith. “To do a top-end show that will be fun, even.”

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The Maxxi

It’s a clever acronym of sorts, but MAXXI, the popular name for Rome’s new National Museum of 21st-Century Arts, also captures the bold spirit of its architecture. (Those Xs—all caps, please!—form part of the Roman numeral 21.) Situated in northern Rome’s leafy Flaminio neighborhood, the building is a big leap forward for the Eternal City and one of visionary architect Zaha Hadid’s best yet.

Italy’s first national museum for contemporary art and architecture, the much-delayed, $200 million MAXXI opened—empty—for a two-day teaser preview in November. The official unveiling comes on May 30 with five debut exhibitions, including a show of contemporary works from MAXXI’s collection, a show on architect Luigi Moretti, and “Italian Geographies,” an installation by Studio Azzurro tracing Italian design through the last half century.

Since the preview, critics have been dying to see how the art interacts with Hadid’s architecture. From the outside, the structure seems to defy gravity, its curving pale-gray concrete galleries perched atop slender columns that weave around restored military barracks like circuit board wires. Inside, galleries capped by ribbons of skylights and accessed via blackened steel-wrapped staircases, ramps, and bridges create a dynamic sense of movement, of fluid connections. With its seductive intertwining spaces, MAXXI is less “a building as signature object,” Hadid says, than “a world to dive into.”

Media Savvy

Every so often in the art world there’s a curator who seems to perfectly embody the moment, simultaneously reflecting and creating the zeitgeist. These days it’s “Herr Zeitgeist,” as German-born Klaus Biesenbach was aptly dubbed by New York magazine. If you’ve spent any time in the contemporary art world—particularly in that anything-goes vortex where performance, film, music, and installation art meet—you’ve bumped into Biesenbach, 43, the tireless, hyper-connected curator at large at New York’s Museum of Modern Art who’s now also director of the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, MoMA’s edgy, free-spirited sibling. Perhaps the hardest-networking curator in the business, he’s impressively everywhere, his snowy flourish of hair easily spotted at openings and events from New York to Berlin with VIPs like Matthew Barney and James Franco never far from his side. He’s kept his position at MoMA, where he headed up the celebrated retrospective of performance art grande dame Marina Abramovic (through May 31). At P.S.1 he’s overseeing the latest, much-anticipated installment of “Greater New York” (May 23 through October 20), a career launching pad for young artists that’s held every five years.

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Narrative Theater

Gatz, a six-and-a-half-hour word-for-word reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, was hailed as “one of the most exciting and improbable accomplishments in theater in recent years.” So said The New York Times after Gatz’s brief run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Produced by the Brooklyn group Elevator Repair Service, the play is set in an anonymous office where a copy of Gatsby is discovered on a desk. The narrator picks it up, starts reading, and never stops; the action onstage increasingly mirrors the text as the show goes on. For those frustrated that the touring hit (based on an American classic, no less) has appeared in Brussels, Oslo, and, this spring, Singapore, but not New York, there’s good news: The battle over rights that was the culprit has been resolved, and the Public Theater will present Gatz four times a week, from September 26 through October 31.

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Outing Thomas

Thomas Heatherwick is known for shattering boundaries between art and design, between craft and engineering. Last fall, at the Haunch of Venison gallery in London, the British designer showed seven gorgeous, sweeping aluminum benches that resembled stretched-out pieces of chewing gum—a description that doesn’t do justice to their high-tech origins. Made without a single joint or hinge, they are actually the world’s largest pieces of extruded metal. Perhaps because his groundbreaking work is so idiosyncratic, the 40-year-old designer has had a rather limited profile outside his field.

That should change soon, as Heatherwick is about to make a very big splash on the global stage with his most ambitious project yet: the $20 million British Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, opening May 1. Even in the company of some pretty exotic architecture, Heatherwick’s structure stands out. It’s a six-story box covered in 60,000 transparent acrylic “quills” that draw light inside by day and give off a colorful glow at night, billowing in the wind like the cilia of some microscopic organism or the fronds of a giant, groovy fiber-optic lamp. The otherworldly “seed cathedral,” as Heatherwick calls the pavilion (specimens from Kew Gardens’s seed bank are embedded in the hollow filaments), has been aptly described as “an exploding dandelion.”

“Thomas comes across as a gentle soul, but his buildings and sculptures are anything but,” says Paola Antonelli, curator of architecture and design at New York’s MoMA. “They are often awesomely mean, dangerous looking, and always surprising.”

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Pyramid Schemes

He’s the world’s most powerful archaeologist. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, is a rare celebrity in that scholarly field. When he isn’t crusading for the return of important Egyptian pieces in foreign collections (the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum; the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum), he’s a prolific author, churning out books like The Lost Tombs of Thebes, published last fall. Or he’s a TV star, appearing in shows for the National Geographic and Discovery channels. Hawass is also Egypt’s premier cultural ambassador, raising funds for digs and a new Cairo museum with blockbuster traveling exhibitions such as “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.” Seen by seven million people since 2005 and having raised more than $150 million (tickets are around $30 a pop), it’s final U.S. stop is at the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York, through the end of the year. A related show, “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” opens at the Denver Art Museum on July 1, while “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt,” featuring finds from underwater expeditions near Alexandria, debuts at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on June 5.

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Quick Change

Musician Allison Weiss, 23, wanted to produce a thousand-CD run of her latest indie-pop album. The problem? She’s a cash-strapped college student who isn’t signed with a record label. Enter Kickstarter, a year-old fund-raising Web site that connects creative types—musicians, authors, designers—with donors willing to provide financial support. Each project is given its own page, where the artist provides a pitch (often a quirky video), states the financial goal and deadline for raising the funds, and lists the tiered benefits backers will receive. Weiss, for example, gave anyone who put up $30 an advance copy of the album; $150 scored a T-shirt; and those who gave $500 got their own song. The full amount must be raised by the deadline (Kickstarter takes a 5 percent cut) or no money changes hands. Since the site launched, more than 650 projects have been funded, from a print run for the 360-page Designing Obama ($84,614 raised) to a pilot about a fictitious congressman ($20,841 raised). Weiss, for her part, easily exceeded her $2,000 goal, ultimately raising $7,400, which she used for extra studio time and for promoting the album. “What I was able to raise definitely gave me added street cred as an artist,” says Weiss. “And most of all, it proved to me that I have fans willing to pay it forward.”

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Required Reading

It’s time to put that summer reading list together, and we’ve got a few new titles to recommend. Australian novelist Peter Carey invents a fictionalized account of Alexis de Tocqueville’s travels in the nascent U.S.A. in Parrot and Olivier in America (Knopf). For the follow-up to his Booker Prize–winning Life of Pi, Yann Martel creates a moving Holocaust parable, Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel (Spiegel & Grau), whose title characters are a howler monkey and a donkey. Martin Amis returns to form with The Pregnant Widow (Knopf), a comedy of manners about the Sexual Revolution set at an Italian castle in the summer of 1970. In Bruce Feiler’s moving The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me (William Morrow), the author deals with his cancer diagnosis by asking several friends to serve as surrogate fathers to his twin daughters. Wide Awake: A Memoir of Insomnia (Spiegel & Grau) is Patricia Morrisroe’s fascinating account of the years she spent talking to experts in search of a cure for her sleeplessness. For some visual stimulation, The Düsseldorf School of Photography (Aperture) surveys the work of Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth, and the rest of that hugely influential German group. Knoll: A Modernist Universe (Rizzoli) tells the story of the company that helped define midcentury design in America. George Lois: The Esquire Covers at MoMA (Assouline) revisits the designer’s unforgettable takes on Ali, Nixon, the Vietnam War, and Women’s Lib that changed the face of magazines. Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) (Prestel/DelMonico) accompanies a traveling exhibition of the incomparable illustrator’s work. And for a reminder of how cooking in this country has changed, there’s Spécialités de la Maison (Collins Design), a reissue of a forties recipe book put out by the American Friends of France, with gelatine- and cream cheese–heavy dishes from luminaries like Fanny Brice, Charlie Chaplin, Katharine Hepburn, and Salvador Dalí.

Return to Zero

Adults barely registered in Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, the novel about college-age Hollywood kids that in 1985 made the 21-year-old author one of contemporary fiction’s boldface names. Now Clay, Julian, Blair, and the rest of the glamorously dissolute gang are all grown up—and so is their bad behavior—in Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms (Knopf), due out in June.

Why revisit Clay and company, now in their 40s?

The question just wouldn’t leave me: What was Clay doing now? Though I realized with a sense of dread that I’d be writing a Hollywood novel. Also, I started reading a lot of Raymond Chandler, and I liked the idea of retooling the noir.

Why dread the Hollywood novel?

I didn’t want to write a satirical novel, which is what those tend to be. But I felt the characters from Less Than Zero would’ve become involved in the industry [Clay is a screenwriter]—it’s what they grew up in. And the central storyline of that world is exploitation, so that’s what I wrote about.

And sometimes it gets violent?

I’m drawn to violence in my literary world, though I’m not a violent person. I don’t like violent movies. If I could answer why, it’d be boring.

Spring Awakening’s Duncan Sheik is adapting American Psycho as a musical?

I thought it was a good idea, and I like how they’re going to do it—it’s very cool. It’s not going to be a bunch of Wall Street guys in a chorus line.

Ring Leader

Los Angeles Opera

A decade and many millions in the making, the L.A. Opera’s new “Ring” cycle is here. Achim Freyer’s visionary staging of Wagner’s four-part epic—with fantastical puppets and masks and neon lights—will be performed in full this May and June.

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Signs of Leo

Could a chalk-and-ink portrait of a young woman, catalogued as early 19th-century German and sold at auction for $19,000, in fact be a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci worth $150 million or more? Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of art history at Oxford, says yes. Multispectral photos of the canvas have revealed, among other details, a fingerprint that matches one on Leonardo’s St. Jerome. Kemp lays out his full case in the book La Bella Principessa: The Story of the New Masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci (Hodder & Stoughton). The portrait is privately owned, but it’s on public view through August in the exhibition “And There Was Light” at the Eriksbergshallen in Göteborg, Sweden.

And while there is no uncertainty about the authenticity of the Mona Lisa, debate over the sitter’s identity continues. Members of Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage have received preliminary permission to exhume Leonardo’s skeleton from his tomb at a Loire Valley castle. They plan to use any remaining facial bones and digital imaging technology to re-create the artist’s facial structure and test the theory that the painting is actually a veiled self-portrait.

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Test Tube

Get ready for the great 3-D TV experiment. Following its success on the big screen, the phenomenon is coming home to revolutionize the way we watch movies and sports and play video games in our living rooms. Television manufacturers are now introducing models, along with Blu-ray DVD players, with 3-D capability. Initially these sets will be expensive—starting at around $3,000 for 50-inch models. And families will need extra 3-D glasses, which can cost as much as $200 a pair. Whether consumers will pony up remains to be seen, as many purchased HD flat-screen TVs recently. And how will viewers like wearing those clunky glasses once the novelty wears off? Still, networks are betting there’s an appetite for it. ESPN is launching a 3-D channel that will debut with several World Cup matches this summer and select college football and basketball games in the fall.

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The Ukrainian

In just a handful of years, a man few in the West had heard of has become one of the highest-profile art buyers and patrons in the world. Victor Pinchuk, a 49-year-old Ukrainian who made his initial fortune (now estimated at $3.1 billion) in the steel pipe business, has amassed a blue-chip collection of stars like Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky, and Takashi Murakami. He is said to have paid tens of millions for pieces at auction. In 2006 he opened Kiev’s first major contemporary art space, the Pinchuk Art Centre, and is planning a second, more lavish museum. The center, which has attracted some 900,000 visitors since it opened, has staged surveys of Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood as well as provocative exhibitions like “Sexuality and Transcendence,” which runs through September 19. Here, four questions for the enterprising collector.

What inspired your involvement with contemporary art?

I took an interest in contemporary art long ago, though initially I was collecting, let’s say, more traditional works. At the same time I realized that although Ukraine is physically the largest country in Europe, it has occupied a significantly smaller place on the global cultural map. I had a belief that our key resource was not yesterday but tomorrow, and I set a goal for myself to create a major contemporary art center here.

And you’ve succeeded?

Kiev has become a center of gravity, an Eastern European pole on the cultural map. In spite of the economic crisis, we have been able to establish two prizes for young artists: a national Pinchuk Art Centre Prize and a global Future Generation Art Prize.

What will contemporary art bring to Kiev?

The impact is already being felt throughout Ukraine. Now the only queue that we regularly see is people waiting outside to visit the Pinchuk Art Centre. Ninety percent of these visitors are young people. The modernization of the country is impossible without the modernization of the cultural domain. It shifts the ways of thinking and sets a course.

Can you describe how you approach collecting?

I collect work by artists who in some cases I am honored to call my friends. I treasure the opportunity to be in a three-dimensional system of collector/work of art/artist rather than just the two dimensions of collector and work of art. I also appreciate the great masters of the 20th century—Warhol, Francis Bacon, Picasso—but as a collector I try to stay focused on the new century.

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The View

Lost is ending. The new hot talent is 88-year-old Betty White. Jersey Shore got reviewed in The New Yorker. And the only place to follow Conan O’Brien is on tour or on Twitter. Clearly it’s a time of transition in TV Land.

Fox’s high school glee club dramedy Glee has become the new American Idol and, as James Wolcott put it in Vanity Fair, “empowered theater queens everywhere to embrace their inner Liza.” It also, memorably, made Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” a feminine anthem. This spring Olivia Newton-John teams with cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, on a duet of “Physical.” Shazam!

It was only a matter of time before the reality competition shows got around to this: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, debuting on Bravo in June (the winner gets a museum solo show). The hosts are China Chow and auctioneer Simon de Pury, who in one episode declares, “The vibrator changes everything.” Don’t expect Sunday painters.

Have the ghosts of Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw finally left HBO? Critics are clearing Sunday nights for Treme, a new series about jazz musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, created by The Wire’s David Simon. Coming in the fall, Martin Scorsese is producing Boardwalk Empire, a series about gangsters in 1920s Atlantic City. Perhaps HBO’s biggest coup was lining up director Kathryn Bigelow for the pilot of the drama The Miraculous Year, now in development.

And waiting for Mad Men season three on DVD, we got hooked on old episodes of the better-than-we-remembered Columbo, from Netflix. We heard the arc of the plots was patterned after Crime and Punishment.

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Whiz Gang

Jeanne Gang, the 46-year-old founder of Studio Gang, is rising fast in the ranks of women architects so talented that gender is beside the point. An environmentally conscious designer of what could be called radical-responsible buildings, Gang recently completed her first supertower, the 82-story Aqua Tower (for the record, it’s the third tallest by a woman), just north of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.

The hotel, condo, and rental building’s wavy façade, featuring individually curved balconies, has attracted most of the attention, but just as impressive are its sustainable features, which include Chicago’s first public electric vehicle charger in the garage. “It took daring to pull off something like this,” Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote, noting other adjectives people are using to describe Gang: “striking, visionary, pragmatic, and ambitious.” The animal rights group PETA even gave Gang a Proggy Award for developing a glass treatment that deters birds from flying into the panes.

It’s the kind of R&D twist Gang aims for in all her work, such as taking recycled rebar and weaving it into a nest-like screen for the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, now being built south of Chicago. Gang says she and her husband, firm coprincipal Mark Schendel, learned about the power of research while working for Rem Koolhaas. Big projects are now coming in from Germany, India, and China. And Gang’s already got one of the tallest buildings in Chicago—the birthplace of the skyscraper—under her belt.

Wine Culture

Though the pairing of wine with blue-chip art and architecture isn’t exactly new, the results keep getting more interesting. Sure, plenty of artists have created labels for wineries, but Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, the venerated Tuscan producer, takes it a step further with its annual Vendemmia d’Artista project. For Ornellaia’s 2007 vintage, Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh created various hand-painted, etched, collaged, and embroidered labels—all incorporating bits of the phrase “Happily Ever After”—for special limited-edition large-format bottles. A portion of the bottles were auctioned off in April to benefit New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

Indicating just how significant the art-architecture-wine connection has become, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will present “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now,” November 20 through April 17, 2011. The exhibition focuses largely on the boom in starchitect winery buildings—from Zaha Hadid’s sweeping, decanter-shaped tasting room at López de Heredia in Spain’s Rioja region to Herzog & de Meuron’s stunning stone-caged headquarters for Dominus in Napa Valley. The show will also include artist-designed labels and glassware and examine the growth in wine tourism.

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X-posure Time

Even as photography has taken its rightful place alongside painting and sculpture, galleries and museums specializing in the medium haven’t slipped into irrelevance. In fact, they’ve proliferated. The past year has seen the opening of two spaces—one in Los Angeles, one in Paris—with different models and agendas that reflect the field’s diversity.

Launched last spring by philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A.’s Century City has a populist, educational mission to present a wide range of photography in state-of-the-art galleries, including a central space with HD rear-projection displays for digital images. The current exhibition (through June 13), “Water: Our Thirsty World,” showcases works by photographers like Jonas Bendiksen and Edward Burtynsky that document the earth’s dwindling freshwater supply.

In Paris, the name that’s synonymous with photojournalism, Magnum Photos, recently opened a cozy new gallery in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Despite the agency’s close identification with war photographers like cofounder Robert Capa, the gallery features an array of imagery, even things “you might not expect from Magnum,” says director Valerie Fougeirol. On view May 18 through June 26 are Alpine landscapes by Jean Gaumy. All works are for sale. And at the gallery’s rear, each of Magnum’s 79 photographers, living and dead, has a box filled with work, from vintage prints to hard-to-find monographs. It’s a rare trove.

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The Young and the Listless

Guiding Light, which began as a radio program during the Great Depression, is already gone. In September As the World Turns will end its 54-year run. And rumors persist that Days of Our Lives, on the air since 1965, will be next. Afternoon soap operas, the longest running shows in broadcast history, are classic American creations, like baseball, Big Macs, and 32-ounce Slurpees. Generations of mothers and daughters (and a few sons, too) have stuck by these shows, where terrible, improbable things happen every day. Evil twins turn out to be evil clones. Evil matriarchs threaten to freeze the entire world. People are shot, thrown off bridges, or explode in fiery car crashes, only to reappear years later. They marry—a lot—and manage breathtakingly complicated love lives. Story arcs can take years to resolve.

Unfortunately for soap lovers, most afternoon TV viewers these days prefer to get their fill of trashy behavior from real people screeching at each other in front of Judge Judy or baring their souls to Oprah. Next fall only six network daytime soaps will remain. That’s less than half the number crowding the airwaves in the seventies. Still, it’s hard not to root for the soaps. After all, aren’t these shows a celebration of good old American values like optimism and perseverance? Characters triumph over multiple personalities, irreversible comas, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Former hookers marry doctors, and star-crossed lovers usually find a way—even if it takes a decade. We once watched Erica Kane on All My Children lose her child, her husband, and her company in a single week. If she could get through all that and still have perfect makeup, how can we possibly complain?

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Zombies: America’s Next Top Ghoul

While the vampire craze is far from over, trend watchers have already tabbed werewolves as the next big obsession, citing this year’s release of The Wolfman (with Benicio Del Toro), an upcoming MTV remake of Teen Wolf, and Howl, a new series Fox is developing about werewolf families in Alaska. Fine. But aren’t those shaggy beasts really just an extension of the vampire trend? (See: the Twilight and Underworld series.) Instead we’re betting on a different horror mainstay: zombies, which tend to be less serious and a lot funnier, even when they’re scary. On May 28 the grand master of the genre himself, George Romero, is releasing his eighth—count ’em—zombie film, Survival of the Dead. A remake of the 1943 classic I Walked with a Zombie is in the works. And Natalie Portman will star in the David O. Russell–directed adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, last year’s surprise best seller that set Jane Austen’s tale in an England overrun with the undead and recast Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy as skilled zombie slayers. Steve Hockensmith has even written a prequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, just out from Quirk Classics. Sounds like the perfect guilty pleasure for a lazy summer weekend.