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March 30, 2010

What You Need to Know

The list from A to Z

A

A is for Authenticity

Researching my book on the notorious Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren forced me to think a lot about authenticity. John Groom has called it "the abiding perversion of our times. It is indulged as a vice, worshipped as a fetish, embraced as a virtue…. Everything it touches turns to gold."

For as long as mankind has coveted works of art for their history, their beauty, their proximity to genius, a forger has been lurking, ready to satisfy demand. Today fakes are a booming business, from Chinese antiquities to Russian paintings to Damien Hirst-designed T-shirts. The literary world has recently been hit by high-profile frauds and acts of plagiarism. And the classical music community is reeling from reports that the late pianist Joyce Hatto passed off more than 100 recordings by others as her own.

To the cultural world the forger is a failed artist out for revenge; to the media he’s a con man in it for the money; to the public he is often a folk hero. Michael Douglas is working on a movie inspired by the story of John Myatt, who used household paint and K-Y jelly to fake Braques and Dubuffets while his accomplice, John Drewe, slipped phony documents into key archives to "confirm" their authenticity.

Later this year the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, and the McMullen Museum in Boston will offer a rare opportunity to view 32 previously unseen Jackson Pollocks—or a collection of crude fakes. Though scientific analysis concluded that fractal patterns in the works don’t match those of other paintings by the artist and the pigments used weren’t available until decades after his death, the owner hasn’t thrown in the towel. After all, authenticity is hard to prove. And there’s a lot at stake.

"People don’t buy a painting because they think it’s beautiful," a forger once said to me. "They buy it for the signature." Cynical? Of course. But in our desire for the authentic, we sometimes neglect to ask, Is it any good?

—Frank Wynne is the author of I Was Vermeer, published by Bloomsbury last fall.

Auction Rivalry

Sotheby’s versus Christie’s: This classic heavyweight fight has raged for as long as anyone can recall—except for that time, of course, when the two houses colluded to fix commissions and cost themselves huge sums in settlement fees and fines. For those keeping score, Sotheby’s sales in 2006 totaled $3.75 billion—not too shabby but far below Christie’s record $4.67 billion. The results can be attributed in part to Christie’s historic Impressionist, modern, and contemporary November sales in New York, which reached a that-must-be-a-misprint $866 million. A few months into 2007, it’s too close to call.

B

Boutique Publishing

Swedish-born Sigrid Rausing is a current darling of the London book world. She’s rich (heir to the Tetra Pak food-packaging fortune), generous (an influential philanthropist), and formidably intelligent (she holds a Ph.D. in Estonian anthropology). Already owner of the literary journal Granta and its publishing house, she founded Portobello Books two years ago as an alternative voice to the big conglomerates. Her partners are Eric Abraham, the Oscar-winning head of the film company Portobello Pictures, and Philip Gwyn Jones, whose stable of writers at HarperCollins’s Flamingo imprint ranged from Doris Lessing to Arundhati Roy. From their Notting Hill offices they put out around 25 titles a year on culture, politics, and history, as well as fiction by up-and-coming writers. Among their successes to date: We Are Iran, a compilation of extracts from 64,000 Farsi blogs, and the novel Wintering, by Derek Johns. This spring look out for Jonny Glynn’s car crash- compelling debut novel, The Seven Days of Peter Crumb.

Bombay: the Next Berlin

That’s an exaggeration, of course, but the art scenes in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore are taking off, and there’s no doubting the rising international interest in India’s modern and contemporary art. Auction prices for the Bombay Progressives—M. F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, S. H. Raza, and F. N. Souza—are hitting seven figures. Galleries in London and New York focusing on Indian art are doing brisk business, and waiting lists for sought-after younger artists such as Subodh Gupta, Surendran Nair, and Shibu Natesan are growing. New York dealer Jack Shainman is showing large-scale canvases by Natesan this spring. "Even though he’s not well known in the States," says Shainman, "if you wanted to buy a painting of his today in India, it would be near impossible."

Broadway’s Boom

Times are good on the Great White Way. Ticket sales are robust (hitting a re-cord $906 million in 2006) and the quality has arguably never been higher—especially for plays—thanks to some sterling British imports and stars who are big-time theater performers, not just Hollywood crossover marketing ploys. "In this climate," says Matt Rego, a producer of Wicked, "if you have a strong show, there’s every opportunity to really succeed." Five of our favorites:

Grey Gardens

The Story Jackie O’s odd-couple aunt and cousin slip from high society into solitary squalor.
The Cast Christine Ebersole—a Tony shoo-in—stars and Mary Louise Wilson deftly supports.
Critical Buzz Alternately poignant and hilarious, the show rides on Ebersole’s performance—called "one of the most gorgeous ever to grace a musical."
Box Office Solid sales (roughly $400,000 per week) at close to 75 percent capacity.

Deuce

The Story Former champion doubles tennis partners reunite and lob Terrence McNally’s razor-sharp dialogue.
The Cast Theater giants Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury team up.
Critical Buzz When you get two legends doing eight shows a week for 18 weeks, how can you go wrong?
Box Office If you don’t have a ticket yet, good luck.

Jersey Boys

The Story Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons become stars; personal demons break them up.
The Cast John Lloyd Young as Valli and costar Christian Hoff both snagged Tonys.
Critical Buzz Hailed as a model of what a jukebox musical ought to be: meaty and melodious, with superb performances.
Box Office Still one of the hottest tickets, raking in $1 million weekly.

Inherit the Wind

The Story A renowned lawyer takes on a Bible-thumping politico in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
The Cast Showy roles for Tony-winning veterans Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy in this revival.
Critical Buzz Classic drama, big-name actors, plus the creation-evolution debate still resonates.
Box Office With its limited run of 16 weeks, there aren’t many empty seats in the house.

Spring Awakening

The Story Teens in love are beset by hormones and sexual repression in 19th-century Germany.
The Cast An ensemble cast of unknown young actors give gritty, rollicking performances.
Critical Buzz Setting Frank Wedekind’s 116-year-old play to rock and roll produced "the best new musical" of the past year.
Box Office It’s been drawing younger audiences and word of mouth has helped push sales to almost 90 percent capacity.

C

Cult Classics

Robert Fagles has improbably made ancient literature chic with his best-selling translations of Homer’s Iliad (1990) and Odyssey (1996) and, most recently, Virgil’s Aeneid, which combined have sold nearly two million copies. Written in the first century b.c., Virgil’s great work is particularly resonant today. "It tells the story of imperialism, of the high costs of war, of the legacy of endless loss, and of the burdens of empire, where duty and suffering come together in a lethal bind," says Kathryn Court, Fagles’s longtime publisher at Viking. "In Aeneas we have a hero whose private life and feelings are at perpetual war with his sense of patriotism, and it is this struggle that makes The Aeneid a poem for our time."

Celebrity Curator

In an era when some curators have become as famous as the artists, Hans Ulrich Obrist is a true superstar. Since the age of 17 he’s been navigating the globe, seeking out artists and important cultural thinkers, all while reading, legend has it, a book a day. By his mid-twenties he was organizing shows in museums and art projects in offbeat locations like hotel rooms and newspaper pages. But it’s his large-scale exhibitions, such as "Utopia Station" at the 2003 Venice Biennale, that most typify his free-form, global, and willfully chaotic approach.

Last year the 39-year-old Obrist put down roots at London’s liveliest art museum, the Serpentine Gallery, having been wooed by its dynamic director, Julia Peyton-Jones. His opening act was to collaborate with Rem Koolhaas on the Serpentine’s summer pavilion—a semitransparent dome that served as the site of a 24-hour marathon interview session the two men conducted with some 70 art world figures, from Damien Hirst to David Adjaye.

Obrist’s two fall exhibitions demonstrated his global range. "Uncertain States of America" presented an unruly vision of this country through its young art, while "China Power Station," an off-site installation of recent Chinese work, drew huge crowds to London’s disused Battersea electric plant. The latter was tantalizingly labeled Part I, whetting appetites for more to come. This spring he’s working with artist Olafur Eliasson (see "O" entry) and Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen on the next pavilion.

Cultural Amnesia

We love this clever title of Clive James’s idiosyncratic encyclopedia, subtitled Necessary Memories from History and the Arts and just published by Norton. We discovered the book, as it happened, while doing our own A-to-Z culture list. James, a London-based critic and poet, spent four decades on his wide-ranging compilation in which, as he puts it, "the organic complexities intermingled into a texture so intricate that any order extracted from it could be called only provisional."

The "C" chapter alone has entries on Dick Cavett, the 18th-century French playwright Chamfort, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, and the antifascist Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce. In typical fashion James turns the Chaplin section into a riff on links between scientific and cultural inspiration, citing the actor’s appearance alongside Albert Einstein at the première of the 1931 film City Lights. He concludes with the observation, "Whoever was inspired to invent the tuxedo…did the world a service: On the big night, the two different geniuses looked like the equals that they were."

Contemporary Collectors: the Heaviest Hitters

Cultural patrons or robber barons using art as a fig leaf? America has always had a complicated relationship with its wealthiest collectors, from Morgan and Frick to J. Paul Getty and Armand Hammer. These six deep-pocketed collectors are stirring conversation—and debate—today.

1 Eli Broad: The biggest player on the Los Angeles art scene, he’s bankrolling a new $50 million Renzo Piano-designed building for the L.A. County Museum that will house his singular collection of contemporary art.

2 Steven Cohen: Helping to turn "hedge fund manager" into an art world buzzword, he’s spent more than anyone in the past few years, buying blockbuster contemporary works (by the likes of De Kooning, Warhol, and Hirst) for a planned private museum in Connecticut.

3 Kenneth Griffin: The head of Citadel investment group in Chicago and a major patron of that city’s Art Institute, he made headlines last fall by paying David Geffen $80 million for Jasper Johns’s iconic 1959 painting False Start, pictured at left.

4 Ronald Lauder: The cosmetics mogul’s purchase last year of Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, for which he reportedly paid $135 million, will no doubt be remembered as the deal that changed everything, lifting the psychological price ceiling on top-tier works essentially overnight.

5 Alice Walton: The world’s third-richest woman, the Wal-Mart heiress has been gobbling up 18th- to early-20th-century American masterworks at huge prices—often to the consternation of others—for her Crystal Bridges Museum, which is slated to open in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 2009.

6 Steve Wynn: Less active than he was a decade ago, the casino magnate remains on the short list of potential buyers when prices top $50 million. Still, he could be best remembered for accidentally putting an elbow through Picasso’s Le Rêve, torpedoing a deal he had to sell the painting to Cohen.

D

Dance, Dance, Dance

Jacob’s Pillow, America’s longest-running dance festival, is one of those historically pivotal institutions that most of us take for granted. This year marks its 75th anniversary, and troupes ranging from Nederlands Dans Theater to Paul Taylor to the Royal Danish Ballet will jeté and pirouette through a slate of some 150 performances in the bucolic Berkshires of western Massachusetts between June 16 and August 26. Modern dance icon Mark Morris and his company will perform works current and classic, including Italian Concerto, which premièred in January with a Bach score. And winsome Georgian ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, a fixture at the American Ballet Theatre for 14 years, will give highly anticipated performances with the State Ballet of Georgia of "The Grand Divertissement" from Don Quixote and Balanchine’s Mozartiana. "Nobody’s in black tie," Ananiashvili says of the festival. "People come to see art—they want to see new work, new dancers, new companies. It’s not because they want to see the Metropolitan Opera house."

Diller Scofido + Renfro

Once thought of primarily as theoretical architects, the firm suddenly has its name on a roster of high-profile cultural buildings and development projects.

With its envelope-pushing Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, which opened in December to universal praise from critics, Diller Scofidio + Renfro gave that city its best public space in years. Now the firm is collaborating with the landscape architects Field Operations on transforming the High Line, the abandoned elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side, into a rustic retreat. And DS+R has designed a tilted grassy plane for Lincoln Center’s plaza, creating unimagined opportunities for urban picnickers. We caught up with Elizabeth Diller, one of the principals.

Q: What interests you in public space? Diller: It’s the interstice between the streets—with their particular logic, speed, and norms—and the privatized spaces of buildings with their own logic and norms. Because public space falls outside defined codes of behavior, it’s in flux and it’s where interesting things can happen.

Q: Where do you love to hang out? Diller: Actually, I find the most comfort in the act of getting somewhere, not in the destination.

E

Edgy Pair

For 35 years button pushers Gilbert & George have made photomontages exploring class, race, religion, and sexuality with cheeky wit—always with themselves at the center. A huge retrospective leaves London’s Tate Modern in May for munich, Turin, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and New York. The two-volume, 1,240-page Complete Pictures catalogue is worth its weight.

Exhibitionism

These days—with every interna-tional city worth its cultural salt staging a biennial—globe-trotting collectors, curators, and other art professionals barely know whether they’re coming or going. São Paulo? Taipei? Moscow? Three prime stops on this year’s circuit:

1. Venice: The granddaddy of them all, La Biennale is the one everyone feels they have to go to. Former Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr has organized the main international exhibitions, including a survey of art from all over Africa. From June 10 through November 21

2. Documenta: A biennial in spirit if not practice—it’s held every five years—this megaexhibition in Kassel, Germany, is the other must-see. (Many people combine this with a trip to the concurrent Sculpture Projects in Münster, held just once a decade.) Curator Roger Buergel’s vagueness about the details has only heightened anticipation. From June 16 through September 23

3. Istanbul: The dynamic crossroads of Europe and Asia has gotten a lot of art world attention lately. Chinese-born curator Hou Hanru, an old hand at big international shows, plans to place artworks in symbolic sites throughout the city. From September 8 through November 4

Electric Conductor

Who would have guessed 30 years ago that today’s American conductor of the moment would be a boyish, 48-year-old Finn? Working out of a swirling, steel-clad hall by Frank Gehry, Esa-Pekka Salonen has made the Los Angeles Philharmonic arguably the most exciting orchestra in the country. An eclectic composing-conducting force, Salonen has become an unlikely household name in L.A., uttered as regularly as Kobe, Beck, and Nobu. On the podium, he’s developed a reputation for crisp, surging interpretations of everything from Brahms to Steve Reich. He’s also doing innovative musical programs, commissions, and savvy business initiatives, such as hooking up with iTunes for live-concert downloads. His own compositions have been described as a cross between Brahms, Stravinsky, and Sibelius with some minimalism and original Finnish flavor thrown in. Salonen epitomizes the new L.A., and he’s reintegrating classical music into the culture, without dumbing it down or using silly ploys to "reach the young people." This spring keep an eye out for his fascinating Shadow of Stalin fes- tival of "music from behind the Iron

Curtain" and catch world premières at Disney Hall by contemporary composers Thomas Adès, Steven Stucky, and the kinetic maestro himself.

Established & Sons

Launched in 2005 by Alasdhair Willis (who happens to be Stella McCartney’s husband) and four partners, this British collective has been generating huge buzz in the design world for its cutting-edge collaborations with superstars such as Jasper Morrison and Zaha Hadid. Currently Established & Sons has ten designers on board, producing both limited-edition and larger-production pieces, such as Amanda Levete’s dynamically curving polyurethane bench from 2006, shown below. This year’s collection, part of which was unveiled at the Milan furniture fair in April, includes four white-lacquer stools by Hadid that fit together like a puzzle.

F

Faces of Evil?

North Korea, the Far East link in President Bush’s Axis of Evil, is the subject of new photographs by Andreas Gursky and no fewer than four books out this spring: Patrick Swirc’s DPRK, Charlie Crane’s Welcome to Pyongyang, Inside North Korea by Mark Edward Harris, and North Korea by Philippe Chancel, whose image of the only-in-North Korea Arirang Festival is shown here.

Frost/Nixon

It has been Peter Morgan’s year. His script for the acclaimed film The Queen earned him an Oscar nomination. The Last King of Scotland, which he cowrote, was a big hit with critics. And his first work for the stage, Frost/Nixon, made the jump from London to Broadway amid mostly gushing reviews. The play tells the story of British talk-show host David Frost’s historic 1977 television interviews with Richard Nixon, with Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in the lead roles. Like Morgan’s two films, this is a portrait of power, but it’s as much about the playboy Frost as it is the disgraced former president.

In the pivotal scene, the night before their final taping session—just as Frost is wondering if these interviews are the biggest mistake of his life—he gets a call from Nixon, who is a little soused. It’s a brilliantly written exchange in which they make small talk about cheeseburgers and Nixon points out to Frost what similar creatures they really are.

Nixon Watergate. It’s a small consolation to me that for the next couple of days, that word will be as much of a millstone around your neck as it has been around mine. Because I guess the way you handle Watergate will determine whether these interviews are a success or failure. Should I be nervous?

Frost Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Nixon Quite right. No holds barred. No holds barred. You know, it’s strange. We’ve sat in chairs opposite one another, talking for hours, it seems days on end...and yet I’ve hardly gotten to know you. One of my people...ah...as part of the preparation of this interview...did a profile of you and I’m sorry to say...I only got around to reading it tonight. There’s some interesting stuff in there. The Methodist background, modest circumstances. Then off to a grand university. Full of richer, posher types. What was it? Oxford?

Frost Cambridge.

Nixon Did the snobs there look down on you, too?

Frost I...I...

Nixon Of course they did. That’s our tragedy, isn’t it, Mr. Frost? No matter how high we get, they still look down at us....

G

Gilles Peterson: Out-There DJ

This globe-hopping, genre-bending deejay and talent scout from London has been compared to Motown founder Berry Gordy for his tastemaking influence. His weekly program on the BBC’s Radio 1 has a cult following as do his eclectic compilation albums, which span world beats from Finnish soul and French rap to vintage Brazilian samba. Between spinning at festivals and clubs around the globe, Peterson also runs Brownswood Recordings, his label devoted to styles as disparate as classical, soul, and nu-jazz. He offers up some insight on five of his favorite new releases.

1 Colombia! by various artists (Soundway). "An excellent compilation of rare Colombian recordings from the crate diggers at Soundway. They unearth things from corners of the world that are untapped musically by the mainstream."

2 Yesterdays Universe by Yesterdays New Quintet (Stones Throw). "A sublime collection of left-field jazz from one of my favorite twisted producers, Madlib, the natural successor to Rahsaan Roland Kirk."

3 Brownswood Bubblers Volume II by various artists (Brownswood). "Brownswood is dedicated to modern soul music and rare forms of modal jazz. On this album I’ve assembled the most essential new tracks."

4 Welcome to the Best Years of Your Life by Ben Westbeech (Brownswood). "A future classic from this Bristol-based singer- songwriter. A mutual friend played me Ben’s demo in a car at Creamfields, a UK dance festival. He has a relaxed live attitude, which is in keeping with Bristol bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, and Reprazent."

5 The Hype EP by IG Culture (Jazzy Sport). "A vinyl-only EP from the father of broken beat, whom I’ve played with many times. I’m loving his bounce, and he’s always coming up with something fresh—a totally new UK style of production."

The Green Museum

Cultural institutions have hardly been at the forefront of environmentally conscious architecture, but the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan aims to take the lead with its new building by Los Angeles architect Kulapat Yantrasast, opening this fall. It’s the country’s first art museum to receive the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification—no small feat given the energy-guzzling climate controls essential to the display and care of art.

Greg Lynn

Curators of the Cooper H. Hewitt’s recent National Design Triennial called Los Angeles designer Greg Lynn "one of contemporary architecture’s most provocative thinkers." Lately he’s turned his talents to products as well, and his Supple espresso cup for Alessi was among our favorites at the triennial. Whether doing a building or pieces for the tabletop, Lynn has a way of softening rigid materials. Though bone china, the Supple cup looks squishy, its bulging form seemingly molded by the liquid inside or the hand that grasps it.

Gunter Grass

The German novelist’s lightning-rod memoir, Peeling the Onion, in which the Nobel Prize winner revealed that he served in a Nazi SS tank division during the war, comes out in English in June. He’ll be in Manhattan for a week of talks and other events—at the New York Public Library, the 92nd Street Y—as well as a show of his drawings and prints at the always interesting Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. "In his writing Grass is known for his vivid images, and that comes out in his art," says Kasher, who has works spanning Grass’s 60-year career. "They’re both satiric and incisive—a word, of course, that comes from etching, his favorite medium."

H

Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Hardly a household name with American audiences, the Taiwanese filmmaker made many critics’ best-of lists last year with his seductive, gorgeously minimal Three Times. His next movie, Ballon Rouge (his first in French), stars Juliette Binoche and is expected to première at Cannes. This would be his seventh film in competition at the festival. Maybe it’ll be the one that wins him the Palme d’Or.

Hot Stuff

Some will never be able to resist temptation when valuable works of art are there for the plucking. There are the smash-and-grab jobs, like the thefts of the Munchs in Norway. And the stealthy cover-of-night break-ins, such as the one in Paris that claimed two Picassos worth some $65 million from the artist’s granddaughter. But the most insidious thefts—and the toughest to prevent—are those carried out by people granted trust and access. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is still recovering from the shocking case of a curator who had been taking pieces home for years (in an odd twist, she keeled over dead around the time she was found out). And the infamous map thefts by collector-dealer E. Forbes Smiley III continue to have repercussions as libraries around the world take stock (have we been hit?) and rethink security. Smiley is now serving three and a half years in federal prison for stealing about 100 maps, valued at up to $500,000 each. Speaking at Smiley’s sentencing last fall, Robert Karrow, the maps curator at Chicago’s Newberry Library, described him as a symbol of the vulnerabilities of libraries. "His fame and the monetary value of the objects he pillaged almost guarantee that he will have imitators," Karrow said, "and some of them will learn from his mistakes and outwit us again."

I

Issey Miyake

Famous for his collaborations, the "Pleats Please" fashionista has teamed up with product designer Naoto Fukasawa and art director Taku Satoh on Tokyo’s first design exhibition space. Called 21_21 Design Sight, it’s not a traditional museum— it won’t do historical shows or build a collection—but it will serve as an incubator for ideas about the role of design in our lives. The building, by architect Tadao Ando in his signature steel-and-concrete minimalist style, opened this spring in the Tokyo Midtown section of the Roppongi district. Fukasawa curated the inaugural show, "Chocolate," a selection of some 70 objects inspired by cocoa. Fans will have to wait until next year for the first Miyake-curated show. No word yet on its subject.

Instant Access

Who doesn’t love Google Maps and its flashier companion, Google Earth? Within seconds they transport you just about anywhere on the globe, right on your desktop. But Google faces serious opposition to the video-sharing site YouTube (see "Y" entry)—which it acquired for $1.65 billion in stock. Viacom has filed a $1 billion lawsuit alleging massive copyright infringement. And the company was previously sued by the Association of American Publishers over its controversial book-search technology, which will provide free access to the texts of millions of digitally scanned volumes. To some it’s the ultimate democratic library. To others it’s a threat not only to copyright protections but also to the pleasures of printed books. Welcome to the new culture wars.

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, the author of Free Culture, is an outspoken advocate of open access. "There’s a huge opportunity to learn a great deal about our cultures and knowledge, using the massively multiple processing that the Internet enables," he says. "If every time a Larry Page or Sergey Brin had a great new idea about how to link knowledge he had to ask the lawyers at the Association of American Publishers, we’d see the potential of the digital era swallowed by a force as backward and self-interested as the one that threw Europe into the Dark Ages."

The Illusionist

Vik Muniz always has some brilliant trick up his sleeve. Look closely at this photo, Sisyphus, after Titian, and you begin to make out old tires and rusty cans. It’s one of several mythological scenes the Brazilian artist created for his recent series, "Pictures of Junk."

Island Book Party

It doesn’t have the prestige and star power of the New Yorker Festival or Hay-on-Wye, but the Calabash International Literary Festival has staked out its own very cool, very laid-back niche. It’s held in May on Treasure Beach, a fishing village on Jamaica’s southern coast. One reason Calabash is such a success is that the people who organized it (Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, and Justine Henzell) didn’t really know how to put together a festival, they just knew the kind of festival they wanted to go to. Most of these events put a lot of emphasis on exclusivity, but Calabash’s founders understood that the opposite works best. There’s no VIP area—everyone just mingles. It’s all very casual, with a minimum of fuss. The stage is set up by the ocean and all the events are free. This being Jamaica, there’s a lot of music, and every night ends with a party on the beach. Most performers have some connection with the island or the Caribbean, but this is pretty flexible. While Calabash gets plenty of big-name writers—Caryl Phillips, Maryse Condé, and Michael Ondaatje this year—it’s being there, the vibe, that is unforgettable.

—Geoff Dyer’s most recent book is The Ongoing Moment, a history of photography.

J

James Turrell

While his signature "skyspaces" have become the ultimate trophy for certain collectors, the 64-year-old artist soldiers on with his lifelong project: transforming Roden Crater into a celestial observatory in the Arizona desert.

Jacob Weisberg and Slate

We’ve always favored Slate over the softer, slower-paced Salon, and editor Jacob Weisberg, the supersharp political columnist, has only made it better. Each morning the site greets readers with a frothy mix of smart news analysis, opinion, and reporting on politics, books, and culture—all flavored with Slate’s contrarian attitude. Whether it’s acerbic columnist Christopher Hitchens taking the piss out of politicians, stellar literature critics like Meghan O’Rourke and Stephen Metcalf dissecting the merits of Auden, or addictive features such as "Explainer" (typical entry: "Do Astronauts Have Sex?"), we can always find something on Slate worth logging on for.

K

Kara Walker

Using Victorian-style silhouettes and imagery from the antebellum south to create narratives of violent, sexually charged Race relations, walker established herself as an original, unabashedly irreverent voice in American art. a mid-career retrospective of her work is At Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center until May 13, then travels to the Whitney Museum in New York and the Hammer in Los Angeles.

Korean Filmmakers

Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho are darlings of the festival circuit and heroes of fan-boy Web sites. A judges’ panel headed by Quentin Tarantino awarded Park the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004 for the second installment in his Vengeance trilogy, the stylish and brutal Oldboy. Bong’s monster movie, The Host, got a 20-minute ovation at the festival last year. (The Web site AintItCool.com declared it "Super-Extra-Double Great.") The two Korean directors have managed this feat by combining action, horror, and cop-movie conventions into something new: a gorgeous, intelligent blend of melodrama, political com- mentary, and violence. Over the past couple of decades a new Asian country has helped reinvent American film every several years—Hong Kong in the eighties and nineties, Taiwan at the beginning of this decade. Now it’s Korea’s turn.

L

Living Legends

1 Robert Rauschenberg: The 81-year-old artist isn’t working much due to declining health, but the stellar show of his "Combines" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year demonstrated not only his place as a giant of his generation but also his enduring influence. The National Gallery of Art has a survey of his prints this fall.

2 Norman Mailer: "He’s the world’s most ambitious writer," says novelist Andrew O’Hagan, who just interviewed Mailer for The Paris Review. "Famous since 1948 for The Naked and the Dead, he has captured for several generations the inner life of America. From sex and the atom bomb to the nature of political charisma, he has done them all." This winter Mailer, 84, published his first novel in more than a decade, The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler’s childhood.

3 Tom Stoppard: His Coast of Utopia trilogy has New Yorkers suddenly obsessed with 19th-century Russian intellectuals. His latest, Rock ’n’ Roll, comes to Broadway this fall. Lincoln Center Theater executive producer Bernard Gersten, who’s worked with Stoppard, 69, on four plays, cites his "extraordinary language and wit," and calls him "the greatest living playwright working in the English language."

4 Louise Bourgeois: At 95 she’s still selling out shows of her wholly original sculptures. "She has seen the major art movements arrive and pass," says her dealer John Cheim of Cheim & Read. "Her work has anticipated, encompassed, and outlived all of them." A retrospective opens in October at London’s Tate Modern.

5 I. M. Pei: The master just turned 90. Though slowing down, he’s finishing his Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar (see "Q" entry), and consulting with the Louvre on improving crowd flow in his signature glass pyramid entrance.

M

Modiba

Founded in 2004 by Eric Herman and Jesse Brenner, when they were still students at Wesleyan, Modiba is a record label dedicated to promoting African music and raising aid money. ASAP, Modiba’s first album, which includes Afrobeat ensembles Antibalas and Akoya, rose to the top of iTunes’ world music charts. All profits go to relief in Darfur. Modiba’s latest album is the well-received debut of Vieux Farka Touré. "There’s a total authenticity to their project," says Judy Cantor-Navas of MTV’s digital music service, Urge. "And they’re bringing world music to a new audience."

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Neo Rauch

This summer the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is showing 11 new canvases by Rauch, arguably the biggest name in German painting today and the forefather of the so-called Leipzig School, known for his distinctively retro-hued, oddly surreal dystopian fantasies.

The New New Museum

Set to open this fall, on a rapidly gentrifying stretch of New York’s Lower East Side, is the city’s most hotly anticipated building in years. It’s the $50 million New Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in the avant-garde Tokyo firm SANAA.

Sejima, partial to wearing sober Comme des Garçons, and Nishizawa, typically buttoned-down in a Mod Squadish black suit and tie, aren’t superstars in the vein of the flashy Rem Koolhaas. They’re architects’ architects, obsessed with proportions and light, fastidious details, and façades that blur the boundaries between interior and exterior. Their buildings are sublime but not showy, minimalist but not monastic. The Dior flagship they designed in Tokyo’s Omotesando district radiates elegance, and their understated Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art delights with its shimmering, layered walls of curved glass.

The New Museum looks like a stack of aluminum mesh-covered boxes that are precariously piled, each a different size and shape. Inside, the side-to-side set-backs allow for skylights on almost ev- ery level—a deceptively simple idea. The seven-story structure makes no pretense of melding into its gritty surroundings. It’s a stridently forward-looking symbol and a beacon for one of New York’s most dynamic, ambitious institutions.

The Nonbelievers

No, God is not dead in publishing. Religion is a booming category in the book business. But the past couple of years have brought a wave of interest in atheism. Scan the best-seller lists and you’ll find titles such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, which essentially argue that religion is irrational and does tremendous harm. Sharp-witted contrarian Christopher Hitchens, whose God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything has just been published by Twelve, weighs in.

Q: What’s behind the recent crop of books with pro-atheist perspectives?

Hitchens: My book is a contribution to a growing movement of impatience about the sheer presumption shown by people of so-called faith. All the evidence suggests that life on our planet was evolved and not "created." Yet every day we are told to respect those who prefer a complacent and discredited myth, and in the mass media the voice of rationalism is represented, if at all, as something almost quaint. We are not such a small minority and we refuse this patronizing treatment. Appalled as we are by proposals to teach "design"—the equivalent of astrology— in schools, we are outraged by the permission given by the faithful, to themselves, to commit murder in the name of God. It is high time to defend the open society from those who think blasphemy a worse crime than homicide.

Q: What do you hope to add to the conversation?

Hitchens: I want to engage with those who believe their own faith is different and show them the danger that results from any surrender to unreason. As in Camus’s La Peste, this latent menace remains even in the most apparently innocuous forms of religious observance. Or, as Bertie Wooster put it in another connection, it is no use telling me that there are good aunts and bad aunts. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.

O

Opera Boss

people said it would take ages, but new Metropolitan Opera general manager peter gelb has done it in one season—Minghella’s Butterfly, Tan Dun’s First Emperor, movie-theater simulcasts, discounted tickets, the lobby art gallery, plans for commissions, and new productions, including a Ring Cycle in 2011-12.

Olafur Eliasson

Always engaging, often dazzling, the Icelandic artist’s atmospheric works—such as his Weather Project at the tate modern, shown here—deal with landscape, perception, and sensory experience. he gets his first full-scale survey in this country at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the fall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York next spring.

Opinions Critical: Who We Read

Truth be told, this list is woefully short and easily changeable, but these are critics we like right now.

Jerry Saltz on art: The best-informed, most fun-to-read reviewer trolling New York’s gallery precincts, he’s one of the few reasons left to pick up The Village Voice.

Sasha Frere-Jones on pop music: His New Yorker dispatches from the front lines of new music are incisive, democratic, and often laugh-out-loud funny—whether he’s deconstructing Janet Jackson or Brazilian Tropicalist Caetano Veloso.

John Powers on movies: Amid the avalanche of frivolity and frocks looms the most entertaining, insightful, and erudite of film critics. Lucky Vogue readers.

Ada Louise Huxtable on architecture: We do love Witold Rybczynski’s columns on Slate, but Huxtable’s the gold standard. From her perch at The Wall Street Journal, she’s a voice of authority, especially on urban planning and historic preservation.

Jonathan Yardley on books: The Washington Post critic actually has a genuine enthusiasm for reading after all these years, and his reviews are a foil for the world-weary savagery you get from Michiko Ka-kutani in The New York Times.

Jancis Robinson on wine: Her brilliant and authoritative column is a must-read in the Financial Times’ first-rate weekend section. And she’s better than Robert Parker.

Anthony Lane on anything: He’s such an entertaining writer, we read his New Yorker pieces less for his opinions than his prose.

Oh Canada

Vying to establish itself as an international capital of summer culture, Toronto is launching Luminato, an ambitious $13 million festival (June 1-10) that will nearly rival Edinburgh in scope, with an impressive lineup of events in theater, dance, music, art, literature, and film. The short list includes performances of Rite of Spring and Re by Shen Wei Dance Arts; an installation of video portraits by filmmaker Atom Egoyan and artist Kutlug Ataman; a new concert collaboration between Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen, with readings by Cohen set to Glass’s music; and the world première of the oratorio Not the Messiah by Monty Python alum Eric Idle and his partner on the musical Spamalot, John Du Prez (Idle narrates).

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Power Dealers

The contemporary art market is red hot, and these gallerists stoke the fire.

1 White Cube: London’s premier gallery hands down. Its stable of artists includes Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Sam Taylor-Wood, the wife of owner Jay Jopling. It recently opened a second, huge space in Mason’s Yard in the West End that reportedly cost $20 million.

2 Marian Goodman: In a low-key space on Manhattan’s 57th Street, far from the contemporary art world’s main streets in Chelsea, she manages the bluest of blue-chip rosters. She recently lost artist Daniel Buren to a younger gallery, but right now only PaceWildenstein, Gagosian, and David Zwirner can really compare.

3 Robert Mnuchin and Dominique Lévy of L&M Arts: Major power brokers in the secondary market for postwar art, this duo joined forces a year and a half ago. In the last two rounds of evening sales in New York, they’ve snapped up top lots, from De Kooning to Lichtenstein.

4 Barry Friedman and Pearl Lam of Contrasts Gallery: The New York veteran and the Shanghai-based dynamo have—independently—jumped into the increasingly fertile intersection of design and art from opposite sides of the globe. Both are exhibitors at Design Miami, the influential show (held in Miami in December and in Basel, Switzerland, in June) that is helping revolutionize the way design is marketed and sold.

The Populist Poet

The Times Literary Supplement has called Paul Muldoon the most significant English-language poet born since World War II. The 55-year-old Irishman, who teaches at Princeton, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for his ninth collection of poems, Moy Sand and Gravel. But he’s also a child of rock and roll, hence his other life—as guitarist and lyricist for the band Rackett, which plays gigs at Joe’s Pub and the Knitting Factory in New York.

For his lyrics, Muldoon draws inspiration from the "patter-song" style of Gilbert and Sullivan. "They’re much more difficult to write than poems," he says. "In a song, when you’ve got your template established for the first verse, you have to stick with it. Whereas these days poets have been released from that."

The band’s music is raucous while Muldoon’s lyrics are full of witticisms. His new song "Good as It Gets" begins:

Like Holden Caulfield in spotting phonies
or Stephen Sondheim in winning Tonys
you’re a sort of pioneer
like Davy Crockett in knowing trails
Or Salome in throwing veils
over what had been quite clear

"Writing songs is loosening me up," says Muldoon. "Let’s face it, the pressure per square inch in the song lyric can’t quite be so high as in a poem, but my hope is to make it slightly higher than it is in general. Those of us who grew up with rock and roll are meant to be grown up now. So it should have something to say to us in ways that are not entirely boneheaded."

Pride of Baghdad

Not exactly disney’s Lion King, This collaboration between graphic novelist Brian K. Vaughan and artist Niko henrichon tells the story of Lions that escaped the Baghdad city Zoo during U.S. bombing raids in 2003.

The Pranksters

Sacha Baron Cohen The master of baiting people into thoroughly embarrassing themselves on camera had us howling and squirming throughout Borat, his big-screen romp. He’s been sued by southern conservatives, frat boys, and an Israeli comedian who claims he owns Borat’s exclamation "Wa wa wee wa." Cohen, who won a Golden Globe, got $40 million-plus to make Bruno, based on his gay Austrian fashion reporter persona.

Banksy The work of this guerrilla artist—known for surreptitiously hanging his own sardonic pieces in museums (that’s his chimp at right)—is about authorship, ownership, and challenging the establishment. While Banksy’s identity is the source of much speculation, the fast-rising value of his work has even prompted thefts of his street graffiti.

Stephen Colbert On his faux O’Reilly Factor show, The Colbert Report, the sandbagging’s all aboveboard but brilliantly funny. After skewering the prez at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, he landed on Time’s 100 most influential list. He also made People’s sexiest men alive. Simply put: He’s the most authentically fake talk-show host on TV. And that’s the word.

Q

Qatar and the UAE: The Next Culture Stop

The Persian Gulf is beginning to look like a major center for international art and architecture. Qatar is constructing new museums in Doha designed by high-profile architects I. M. Pei and Santiago Calatrava. In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is putting up the world’s tallest building, as well as hosting Christie’s auctions and the Gulf Art Fair; Sharjah has a contemporary art biennial (on view through June 4); and Abu Dhabi has plans for a multibillion-dollar cultural complex that will include a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim outpost, a controversial branch of the Louvre by Jean Nouvel, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando, and an otherworldly performing arts complex by Zaha Hadid.

"The challenge in Abu Dhabi is how to bring culture to the Middle East and how to show it," Hadid says. "Arabic culture has been somewhat sidelined by the West due to misunderstanding. In reaction the population, like anyone would in a similar situation, resorted to the vernacular. In many Gulf cities this is a moment when we can do something completely new. There’s a pride and national identity but also a trust in Western ideas of modernization."

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Radio Days

Our beef with public radio is that too often people mistake its earnestness for seriousness. But Kurt Andersen’s weekly program, Studio 360, gives us reason to gather round the old music box. He’s buzzy and just enough out-there to make it fun. He’s done shows themed around Superman, Andy Warhol, and the Wizard of Oz as well as great segments on Zadie Smith, Miles Davis, and the links between Wagner and heavy metal. We detest the word zeitgeist, but Andersen gets it and twists it as sharp as a lemon peel in the cultural martini.

"The show’s mission is, in this age of narrow, fractured audiences and interests, to help people see that ’the culture’ is one vast, vibrant, cross-fertilizing panorama," says Andersen. "Our aim is to animate a conversation about all sorts of new work. By talking to artists and storytellers and designers, and often visiting them as they work, we try to give listeners a sense of the ideas and passions driving art and entertainment now, to provide glimpses into the creative process, and to connect the dots between apparently disparate realms."

We almost forgot: Andersen, a true neo-Renaissance man, recently published his second novel, Heyday (Random House).

Rivington Place

Culture seekers in London should see this fall that the sun hasn’t so much set on the British Empire as redistrib-uted its rays. Rivington Place, England’s first space devoted to contemporary work by culturally diverse artists, is opening in Shoreditch, East London’s melting pot of immigrants where many art- ists live and work.

The building, by Tanzanian-born architect David Adjaye, was inspired, he has said, by the scored surface of a Sierra Leonean Sowei mask. It will also house the Institute of International Visual Arts and the photography collective Autograph ABP, which are similarly dedicated to multicultural expression. Blue-chip artists of the African diaspora on both sides of the Atlantic—Glenn Ligon, Isaac Julien, Chris Ofili, and Carrie Mae Weems among them—have created a portfolio of limited-edition prints to help raise funds.

"Rivington Place is not just a physical building that will express global cultural creativity in the visual arts," says artist Yinka Shonibare. "It should also serve as a forum for the celebration and understanding of our cultural differences and similarities—an urgent endeavor in a world troubled by conflicts primarily based on the lack of understanding of each other."

Ross Lovegrove

Born in Wales, Ross Lovegrove always liked walking along the rocky coast, picking up stones worn smooth over thousands of years. Today he designs forms that seem to be shaped by forces as patient and persistent as water, working for clients like Apple, Issey Miy- ake, Peugeot, Olympus, and Tag Heuer. Take his Ty Nant water bottles and his Istanbul line of bathroom fixtures for the Turkish ceramics firm VitrA, for which he studied Ottoman tiles, calligraphy, and sacred geometry. These, he says, "are graphic and yet liquid, organic and highly sensual."

He also creates stunning sculptural furniture and lighting—he has done pieces for Kartell, Cappellini, and Luceplan. A recent exhibition at Phillips, de Pury & Company in New York showcased a group of seven new limited-edition pieces, inspired by the ginko leaf and dolphin vertebrae. (Prices ranged from $90,000 to $235,000.) Cast in either carbon fiber or aluminum, they seem to be liquid, frozen in a moment of time as if by photography.

S

Saatchi’s Site

Charles Saatchi channeling Simon Cowell? A blunt, ego-driven, oft-maligned Brit whom everybody still watches to see what he likes? Yeah, that does sound like him. And the London collector is even doing a version of the Idol shows on his popular Web site (saatchi-gallery.co.uk). Saatchi revamped the site a year ago by adding Your Gallery, where artists can post works and exchange messages—kind of a MySpace for the art world—boosting traffic to millions of hits per day. A special section for art students, called Stuart, was added last fall. Now there’s Showdown, an open competition in which visitors rate thousands of uploaded works and, later this summer, pick a winner. That lucky "art idol" gets $2,000 and, more important, a chance to show at the new Saatchi Gallery when it opens in London’s West End in November.

Seafair

In the oversaturated world of art and antiques fairs—all of them more or less variations on a theme—it’s hard to imagine a truly original idea, but entrepreneur David Lester came up with one. He’s putting 30 antiques dealers on a $20 million custom-built yacht, the Grand Luxe, and docking it for five-day stretches at ports along the Eastern Seaboard—Boston, Newport, Southampton, Philly, Charleston, Savannah, and around the coast of Florida. SeaFair, the first-ever floating an-tiques show, launches this fall.

Showtime

It’s the new HBO, thanks to original series like the white-knuckle terror drama Sleeper Cell, the irresistible suburban send-up Weeds, and that stylishly grisly Dexter.

Public Art

For years creative Time has produced consistently great public art (practically an oxymoron), from its ongoing 59th Minute project in Times Square to its recent collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art on Doug Aitken’s multipart film Sleepwalkers, shown here, which was projected dramatically on the building’s facade.

The Salesman

During the Frieze Art Fair this October, Phillips, de Pury & Company will unveil a fabulous new 40,000-square-foot London headquarters, occupying an 1894 postal sorting station in Howick Place. It’s the latest sign that the once beleaguered auction house and its resilient chairman, Simon de Pury, have clawed their way back from the brink.

Today Phillips is a company with a very different outlook than it had in 2001, when De Pury and his business partner, Daniella Luxembourg, came on board. Their aim was to, if not beat Sotheby’s and Christie’s at their own game, at least steal a chunk of their top-end business. That failed experiment resulted in stinging losses: a couple of woefully underperforming auctions, the withdrawal of Bernard Arnault’s LVMH Group, De Pury’s split from multimillionairess Louise MacBain (his girlfriend and the firm’s short-lived CEO), and finally, Luxembourg’s departure to start her own art advisory. Many figured it was just a matter of time before Phillips closed.

But De Pury, 55, hung on and refocused the company as a boutique auction busi-ness based in New York, with offices in select international cities. He doesn’t like to call the firm an auction house. "This is an art company that does auctions, exhibitions, private sales, and consultancy," he insists. "We’re not like Christie’s or Sotheby’s, so any such comparison doesn’t make sense." While it’s no longer vying to auction multimillion-dollar Monets, Van Goghs, and Picassos, Phillips is a serious player in contemporary art, design, photography, and—to a lesser extent—jewelry.

Make no mistake, this auction veteran (he was previously chairman of Sotheby’s Europe) and Zurich gallerist knows the market. His contemporary sales emphasize recent work by hot artists, he’s added lower-priced Saturday@Phillips auctions (up to $20,000) to lure younger buyers, and he is staging attention-getting selling shows: Mario Testino photos, Robert Wilson’s VOOM portraits, furniture by Ross Lovegrove (see "R" entry).

"We’re accessible, not intimidating," De Pury emphasizes. "Our new London space, like our Manhattan premises, will have a vital edginess—centrally located but a little off the beaten track." And after Howick Place? He says Shanghai is next.

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Taschen

The smartest showman in the book business, Benedikt Taschen, has opened an emporium in New york’s SoHo. designed by Philippe Starck, with comfy pillows and candy-colored murals by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes, it’s the perfect showcase for Taschen’s frothy mix of art, architecture, pop culture, and erotica titles.

The Trial

For better or worse, it’s still topic A in the antiquities world: the ongoing proceedings in Rome against former Getty curator Marion True and dealer Robert Hecht, who sold objects to the museum and a number of other institutions. Both have been charged by Italian authorities with conspiring to traffic in looted artifacts, and the outcome of the trial, heading into its third year, could have huge implications.

Already the trial’s tentacles have reached into some of this country’s most prestigious museums and private collections, with Italy using the case as leverage in its stepped-up campaign to recover antiquities it believes were illegally excavated and eventually sold to buyers here. Last year the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached a landmark accord with the Italians, agreeing to hand over around 20 pieces—among them the famous Euphronios krater—in exchange for future loans. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston soon followed suit, and others are now said to be considering cutting similar deals.

The Getty has returned a number of disputed objects, but negotiations have stalled over another 46, in part because of a 300-100 b.c. Greek bronze of a "victorious youth" (at right). It’s one of the marquee pieces in the exquisitely renovated Getty Villa, and the museum re-fuses to relinquish it. For her part, True has expressed anger at her former employer for offering little public support and, she has argued, essentially throwing her under the bus Lewis Libby-style.

The Met, meanwhile, isn’t out of the woods. The Italians have their sights set on one of the museum’s big patrons, Shelby White, whose name (along with that of her late husband, Leon Levy) is on the central court of its sparkling new Greek and Roman galleries, unveiled in April. The Met has quietly distanced itself, insisting that those discussions are between White and Italy. Don’t expect this to cool down anytime soon.

Thom Mayne

Thom Mayne used to be a bull in a china shop. The man who helped put the Santa Monica, California, ar-chitecture scene on the map when he launched the firm Morphosis in 1972 made his name with aggressive, unorthodox buildings—and a prickly personality to match. Nowadays he’s a darling of an unlikely client: the U.S. government. The 63-year-old Pritzker prize winner is getting raves for his courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, and for his mesmerizing ecofriendly federal building in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Mayne’s biggest project is in Paris, where he beat out Herzog & de Meuron, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas with his design for the $1 billion Phare Tower, the centerpiece in a redevelopment of the widely scorned La Défense. Mayne’s sinuous 984-foot-tall "lighthouse"—its glass skin draped like a diaphanous couture sheath on a twisting steel skeleton—will be a green building, featuring power- generating wind turbines atop its crown. It also promises to be user-friendly, with cafés, shops, and gardens at the base. The maverick has become a man of the people.

U

Up and Coming

For all the polyglot talking, shout- ing, and singing in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel (see "Mexican Directors"), it was the one entirely silent member of the ensemble cast who caught our eye. Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi’s portrayal of a deaf-mute teenager was so provocative, so full of desperate rage that she outshone costars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Gael García Bernal. The performance earned the 26-year-old—previously best

known for doing Japanese commercials—Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. We’re looking forward to Kikuchi’s next role, in Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, with Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, and Rachel Weisz, due out in 2008.

The Undiva

Beautiful, glamorous, and supremely gifted, Anna Netrebko was recently described by The New York Times as "on her way to becoming opera’s biggest megastar since Luciano Pavarotti." The 35-year-old Russian soprano, the antithesis of the diva, is gracious, down to earth, and committed to her craft. She’s been winning breathless praise not only for her lustrous singing but also for her commanding presence in the title role of Massenet’s Manon at the Vienna State Opera and as Elvira in Bellini’s Puritani at the Metropolitan Opera. The New York Post’s Puritani review noted, "I assure you that Joan Sutherland, in the opera’s mad scene, didn’t go down to the footlights and dangle her hair over the orchestra pit. Netrebko could, and got away with it."

V

Vienna Deconstructivists

For nearly four decades, Coop Himmelb(l)au, the experimental Vienna firm founded by Wolf Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky, has been creating buildings that make you think, in forms that look as if they might take wing. The cheekily named partnership (the name means "sky-blue" if you include the parenthetical "L" and "sky-build" if you ignore it) is putting the final touches on its first large-scale project in this country, a boldly contemporary expansion for the Akron Art Museum, opening this summer.

"I can’t summarize the many ways it is antimodernist," says the museum’s di- rector, Mitchell Kahan. "It’s a psychologically complex building that takes you out of your body and makes you soar." Featuring a three-story glass "crystal" and a dramatically cantilevered steel "roof cloud," it’s the latest in a series of mu-seum buildings—in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo—that have made Ohio a destination for important architecture.

Prix and Swiczinsky were cult heroes before a 1988 office extension they did for a Vienna rooftop—all broken and pointy—turned them into critical darlings. It was an early example of the Deconstructivist architecture that came to be associated with Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, and Zaha Hadid. Most in that edgy group have gone on to mainstream glory and now it appears to be Coop’s turn: The Akron museum will be followed by a high school in Los Angeles and new Frankfurt, Germany, headquarters for the European Central Bank.

Visual Stimulation

1 The Book on Vegas (Greybull, $125) With 300 high-gloss, gilt-edged pages and a padded cover that looks like a candy box, this compilation celebrates the city’s centennial in appropriately sensational style. But it’s as smart as it is glitzy, packed with great photos by sharp observers such as Joel Meyerowitz, Richard Misrach, Guy Bourdin, and Bruce Weber. Boffo entertainment.

2 Henri Cartier-Bresson: Scrapbook (Thames & Hudson, $85) This collection is based on an album of snapshot-size prints the photographer assembled for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (initially planned as a posthumous show because he was presumed to have died in a German POW camp). The range of images, taken all over the world from 1932 to 1946, is astonishing, and the variations of famous pictures allow us to see the shots that came before and after the "decisive moment."

3 David Maisel: Oblivion (Nazraeli, $60) Known for his aerial views of toxic landscapes, Maisel hovers high over Los Angeles for this gorgeous volume. The images, exquisitely reproduced like negatives in stark, reversed black and white, make the flat cityscape look as lifeless as a magnified computer chip—and dangerously alluring.

4 Dolce & Gabbana Fashion Album (Skira, $185) This massive, glorified look book, designed by the art director of Vogue Italia, isn’t for D&G fetishists only. It’s a trove of work by some of the best photographers in or out of fashion. Top of the heap: Steven Meisel, who gets a miniretrospective. Right at his heels: Paolo Roversi, Mario Sorrenti, Peter Lindbergh, and Steven Klein. Add a splash of Helmut Newton and you’ve got it—sensational and chic.

5 Boris Mikhailov: Yesterday’s Sandwich (Phaidon, $60) This is the first publication of 52 color-slide "sandwiches" that the maverick Russian made in the sixties and seventies in defiance of official Soviet art. The images are sexy, scruffy, and hallucinatory and each is on its own unbound page so they can be shuffled at will like playing cards.

W

William Kentridge

Known internationally for his distinctive and highly original films made from mostly black-and-white drawings, the South African artist has been gaining recognition for his stunning opera productions. In adapting the style of his hand-drawn films—which deal with South Africa’s sociopolitical history—to Mozart’s Magic Flute, Kentridge conjures a spellbinding setting of fanciful creatures, classical architecture, and swirling skies. The production, which has played to strong reviews in Brussels, Brooklyn, Tel Aviv, and Lille, France, travels to the artist’s native country this autumn.

X

The XBox Generation

Ever waited in line to get your hands on the latest console? And was that for your kid or for you? These days two thirds of U.S. households have a game system (nearly $4 billion was spent on Microsoft Xbox 360s, Sony PlayStation 3s, Nintendo Wiis, and games this past holiday season), and well over 60 percent of the people playing Grand Theft Auto, Guitar Hero, and Madden NFL are 18 or older.

"With each generation you see more adults who played video games as children who are continuing to play," says Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. "Today’s platforms bring things to the screen that couldn’t have been rendered in a film ten years ago, let alone on a television screen."

As the consoles become more sophisticated—managing a variety of media files and displaying high-definition video—the en-tertainment industry is looking at new ways to tap this growing demographic. Microsoft’s Xbox Live service not only allows users to download game-related content but also sells movies and TV shows, and Sony has begun expanding the offerings for its PlayStation network. Tellingly, magazines such as Wired and BusinessWeek devote pages to the latest game news and reviews. Then again, how can you ignore a worldwide phenome-non that generates $30 billion in annual sales?

Y

Year of Magical Thinking

New playwrights are always welcome. But how rare—and how typical of Joan Didion—it is to debut as a Broadway dramatist in your seventies. We know that most people attending The Year of Magical Thinking go expecting a recital of the book. But what they see is different: a blindingly original monologue that not only reinvents Joan’s experience of losing her husband, John, but also addresses the subsequent death of her daughter, Quintana. Working on this material has been an exhilarating experience. To understand that paradox, you have to see the show.

—David Hare is the director of the one-woman show, starring Vanessa Redgrave, at the Booth Theatre in New York.

You Tube

Turns out, the sprawling video-sharing site isn’t just a bottomless pit of other people’s home movies and cell phone clips and all those snippets from South Park and MTV’s Real World that Viacom is suing over (see "Instant Access"). Dig around a bit and you’ll discover plenty of higher culture, too—including some hard-to-find footage. Pictured here is Johnny Cash playing his legendary 1969 San Quentin State Prison concert; the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Beach Birds for Camera in 1992; Yoko Ono doing her landmark 1965 Cut Piece at Carnegie Hall (during which audience members took turns scissoring off bits of her dress); and Joan Sutherland singing the title role in Bellini’s Norma in 1964.

Z

Zee End of French culture?

The unthinkable happened when four of France’s top literary awards went to foreign writers. American Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) snared both the Goncourt and Académie Française prizes. Canadian Nancy Huston’s Lignes de Faille (Fault Lines) won the Femina. And, finishing off the sweep, Congolese-born Alain Mabanckou took the Renaudot for Mémoires de Porc-épic (Memoirs of a Porcupine), an ironic and imaginative fable that plays on the traditional African belief that every human has an animal double.

The 41-year-old Mabanckou is a very contemporary breed of globalist. He teaches literature at UCLA and blogs in French about social and cultural issues in Africa, Europe, and the United States. His novel African Psycho, the darkly comic tale of a would-be serial killer who plots but fails to murder a prostitute, was just published in an English translation by Christine Schwartz Hartley (Soft Skull Press). Recently we put a couple of questions to the prizewinning author.

Q: What’s the significance of the major French prizes going to foreign writers?

Mabanckou: This is not about French literature opening up to writers from other countries but about a reality that France is not able to counter anymore. It means France no longer has a monopoly on the language and that another literature is being born, a world literature that’s very splintered, very rich, with universes hailing from the five continents. People should take into account what is being written in this language from abroad. A wind has been blowing for some time.

Q: How do you view your own work in the context of French literature?

Mabanckou: I see myself as someone who is fighting against the ghetto in which Africans are often confined. This is why I’m against imprints that publish only Africans. I write because I was nourished by writers from around the globe. Consequently, in the French literary sphere, I consider myself a migratory bird.

Zhang Huan

With prices escalating, collectors flocking to Beijing and Shanghai, and exhibitions popping up around the globe, it’s clear that the Chinese contemporary art phenomenon isn’t going away. Zhang Huan, who came to prominence in the early nineties, is one of the artists whohas played a central role in drawing the world’s attention to the East.

Living in Beijing’s bohemian East Village, Zhang gained attention for his political, poetic, often physically challenging performances. For 12 Square Meters, in 1994, he covered himself with honey and fish oil and sat for hours in a squalid public lavatory as flies covered his body, a protest against the inhuman conditions under which so many people must live.

He also creates paintings and sculptures in which incense ash and dismembered Buddhist deities become soul-searching references to family, spirituality, and politics. The full scope of his output will be on view this fall, when the Asia Society in New York stages a major retrospective.

Zhang’s extraordinary journey from penniless rebel to wealthy international artist echoes the trajectory of his country. The prices of his works at auction have topped $400,000, and he now employs close to 100 assistants in Shanghai. "When Jeff Koons comes to my studio," Zhang has joked, "he will be jealous."