Arts + Culture

A Gilles Bensimon Photo Exhibit at the Sofitel

Kate Winslet photo by Gilles Bensimon
Photo © Gilles Bensimon

Sofitel New York continues to amp up its artsy presence with yet another on-site photography exhibition, this one following last fall’s Brigitte Bardot­–themed display. The newest offering, on display in the lobby through April, is a partnership with renowned fashion and celebrity shutterbug (and former international creative director of Elle magazine) Gilles Bensimon.

Titled “Elles,” the photo showcase features some of Bensimon’s most iconic pictorials, with 25 of the world’s most celebrated women from art and entertainment, including Charlize Theron, Cindy Crawford and Audrey Hepburn. “It was difficult to pick only 25,” Bensimon explains. “But I tried to choose a series of women that reflected a range of personality, age, style and attitude. I think that visitors to the hotel will respond to the photographs and will understand the unique beauty of each of my subjects.”

The works in the show, which have never been exhibited in the United States, continues its run after Manhattan, making stops at Sofitel satellites across the country, including Washington, D.C. (May through June), Chicago (July through September) and Los Angeles (October through the end of the year). 45 W. 44th St.; 212-354-8844;

Phoenix Rises at Mass MoCA

Mass MoCA Phoenix exhibit
Photo by Hideo Sakata

Two monumental flying phoenixes, created entirely of construction debris by prize-winning Chinese artist Xu Bing, are wintering at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, before migrating back to Beijing. Suspended from the ceiling of the museum’s cavernous Building 5, Feng and Huang (he and she, respectively) are each nearly 100 feet long and weigh 12 tons. Visitors are free to wander underneath the mesmerizing mythical birds symbolically born from the ashes of their ancestors—or, in this case, the castoffs of urbanization.

The models are embedded with thousands of tiny lights, which look like constellations at night, and the packing crates used to ship them from China form a compelling grand entrance to the show. (A wonderful film in the next room shows how the creatures were welded together.)

Part of a larger showing of Bing’s work—a reception on April 27 coordinates with the installation of a second phase of the exhibit—Phoenix joins another piece by the artist: his so-called Tobacco Project. The huge faux tiger-skin rug is made of more than half a million cigarettes arranged (filter up or filter down) to create a pattern. The installation includes cigarette cartons and can be interpreted as another conceptual statement about consumption—and the phenomenon of ashes to ashes. 87 Marshall St., North Adams, MA; 413-662-2111;

The Return of Vienna’s Kunstkammer

The Return of Vienna’s Kunstkammer
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

After remaining closed for nearly a decade, the Kunstkammer at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum—a wing of the building that holds the oldest selection of treasures and artworks collected and commissioned by the royal Habsburg family—re-opened on March 1. Spread across 20 new galleries, the 2,200 pieces include everything from bronze statuettes to spellbinding automatons to intricately designed game boards to scientific tools.

Overall, the wing boasts an impressive range that exposes the remarkable reach and resources of the storied imperial clan. Lesser-known, never-before-seen items reside in the Exotica gallery, which displays ceramics, ivory and mother-of-pearl creations. But the star object of the Kunstkammer (or “art room” in English) is Benvenuto Cellini’s Saliera—a 10-foot-by-13-foot sculpture from the 16th century. It is the only surviving work by the Italian goldsmith and had been stolen from the museum in 2003, when the wing was undergoing construction. It was eventually found in 2006, buried in a forest about 60 miles north of Vienna. Burgring 5; 43-1/525-240;

Pianist Lola Astanova Makes Her Mark

Lola Astanova
Photo © 2013 by Gregory Partanio

Lola Astanova began playing the piano at the age of six. Her mother, a piano teacher, hesitated at first, but her father insisted. The 28-year-old, who was born in Uzbekistan and moved to Houston, Texas, when she was 17, is now considered one of the most exciting pianists in music.

Astanova, who normally practices three hours a day, is as comfortable playing a pop hit as she is a classical masterpiece. (Watch the YouTube clip of her tackling a version of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”) She appeared with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s in January at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall to play Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Wearing a gray dress by Catherine Malandrino and dangerously lofty high heels that somehow failed to slow her feet on the pedals, she riveted the crowd with her signature full-body style and sprinting fingers.

Her upcoming schedule is punctuated by private performances, arts support (she wants to inspire children to be musical) and work on her HD digital series La Musique et L’Ardeur. She will perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Palm Beach Symphony on March 28 in Palm Beach. A summer European tour is on the books followed by Australia in the fall. We caught up with Astanova to talk music, fashion and future plans.

Q: Some would describe your artistic style as unconventional.

A: I never really thought about it, but since people try to describe it as that I actually take it as a compliment. This is simply the way I happen to feel this music—I think it’s very dramatic, very passionate and sometimes can be very physical. I don’t think about being theatrical. I would have to actually think about not playing the way I do!

Q: Which of your performances have been particularly memorable?

A: Carnegie Hall [where she played last year for the first time] was a very special night for me. The energy was just amazing. I played a tribute to [Vladimir] Horowitz.

Q: Do you remember what you wore?

A: I do remember. I was wearing two gowns. One was by Roberto Cavalli and the other was by Marc Bouwer. I do love fashion. I experiment with it. I think that fashion goes really well with music; Rachmaninoff goes perfectly with Chanel.

Q: You stayed out of competitions throughout your career. Why?

A: I happen to think that there is more than one way of playing. For me it’s more important to be able to express yourself freely and play the way you feel and not be judged by an artificial set of rules that is irrelevant today. It’s not about academia. It’s not about playing the right notes or following the score exactly. You have to obviously know what’s in the score and the rules, but, if you need to, you also need to be able to break the rules.

Q: What do you strive for when you play?

A: I want to make sure that every concert becomes special for the audience and that I put the ultimate effort into it. I don’t want everything to become mechanical. I don’t want to just do it as a job.

Two London Gallery Shows Surprise

Mekas London Gallery
Photo courtesy of Jonas Mekas

“Memories?” asks Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born, 90-year-old filmmaker from off screen in the opening of Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man. “They say my images are memories. No, no, no. It is all real, what you see.” Called the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” Mekas premiered Outtakes earlier this month at London’s Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens; 44-20/7402-6075; for his eponymous and long overdue retrospective (on view through January 27, 2013).

Outtakes will unspool alongside six other films and walls of photographs, poems and installations culled from 64 years of work—from the hundreds of binders and boxes that line the walls and windowsills of his New York studio to his thousands of hours of film. “If It Moved, Jonas Mekas Shot It,” read a headline in The Times when the retrospective opened. And he did: John Lennon’s birthday parties, Salvador Dalí’s happenings, friends at dinner, a baptism, a cat.

Over the title card of As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, he reflects, “I have never been able, really, to figure out where my life begins and where it ends.” A light flashes on and dims in a window. He confesses that he wanted, at first, to make meaning by giving order to the moments he caught, these seemingly random glimpses of lives led. But then, “I gave up. And I began splicing them together by chance, the way I found them on the street.”

Colourscapes at Michael Hoppen Gallery
Photo: Colourscapes, 1993 © Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

A more traditional form of collection is on view at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (3 Jubilee Pl.; 44-20/7352-3649; in “Finders Keepers” (through January 31, 2013), which features three floors of 130 photographs from the private collection of director Hoppen. It is the largest public exhibition the gallery has put on to date. “I found these images in markets, other dealers, auctions, meeting families of photographers and, of course, pure chance,” he explains. They are hung with notes that describe the incidents surrounding their creation (“A large stag hangs outside an ice-cream parlor somewhere in the Midwest”) and the encounters that led Hoppen to find them (“When I took over the lease at 3 Jubilee Place in Chelsea in 1984, I was clearing out an old cupboard there and came across a group of pictures”).

“I am always looking for interesting things to look at,” says Hoppen. “Pictures that change my point of view or inform a particular attitude. For the show I wanted to select mostly unknown pictures.” Some moments in these images are caught at random—a powerful mobster or an image of nude legs in the sun by Jacques Henri Lartigue—but most are artful, staged scenes, like the anonymous portraits of boxers or chimney sweeps and Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants.

There is something delectable about seeing it, the same naughty delight one would get from riffling through the file cabinets of a museum. The show neither fears the grotesque nor disdains beauty, but it delights in surprise: Garry Winogrand’s Park Avenue, New York involves a convertible, a fashionable couple and a monkey.

As Mekas puts it in Outtakes, “I like what I recorded with my camera… Why else would I show it, share it with you? I like these images. This reality of images.”

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas Opens for Tours

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas Opens for Tours
Image courtesy of The Neon Museum, Inc. Copyright held by The Neon Museum, Inc.

In a city like Las Vegas, where escapism and showiness rule, subtlety is not the name of the game. “The Las Vegas skyline is a neon one,” says Danielle Kelly, executive director of the town’s Neon Museum, “and we work to preserve this vibrant visual legacy.”

The museum opens officially for tours on October 27, with a new visitors’ center tucked into the lobby of the historic La Concha Motel and a re-imagined, two-acre boneyard. Specially designed lighting illuminates the collection of more than 150 donated or salvaged signs (most of which are no longer electrified) to great effect. And though it might seem unlikely that a pile of potential scrap metal is an essential storyteller, Kelly sees it plain as day.

“By celebrating the innovations of a relatively unsung art form from a city known more for entertainment than culture, the Neon Museum allows for a completely fresh perspective on Las Vegas,” she says. “These innovations have been influential in both the fields of architecture and design, and the museum creates an opportunity for the serious consideration of the significance of commercial architecture.”

Signs include examples from famous casinos, including the Stardust (closed in 2006) and the Aladdin (now the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino), and other local institutions, like the shuttered Green Shack restaurant. Locals and visitors alike will appreciate the craftsmanship. And though Kelly concedes that preservation can be at odds with the philosophies of a young city focused on reinvention, documenting its blindingly bright past is an eye-opener. “Some artifacts are only several years old,” she explains. “And yet they all tell not only the story of neon but also that of the social and cultural histories of Las Vegas.” 770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.; 702-387-6366;

V&A’s “Hollywood Costume” Exhibit

V&A’s “Hollywood Costume” Exhibit

Who would Indiana Jones have been without his wide-brimmed fedora, Scarlett O’Hara without her green velvet curtain dress or Dorothy without her ruby red slippers? Probably much different characters, and “Hollywood Costume,” the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) latest exhibit (opening October 20), explores the significance of these items and others via a roundup of more than 100 iconic film costumes.

“Costume has played an essential role in filmmaking since the beginning of cinema,” says assistant curator Keith Lodwick. “The costumes don’t happen by accident—the actor doesn’t wear his or her own clothes. Everything the audience sees on the screen has been researched and designed.”

To explain costume’s role in cinema storytelling, the exhibition (sponsored by Harry Winston) is divided into three sections. “Act One: Deconstruction” explores the link between clothing and character identity in films like Fight Club (1999) and The Virgin Queen (1955). “Act Two: Dialogue” examines collaborations among filmmakers, actors and costume designers—like the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head in The Birds (1963) or Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell in Gangs of New York (2002). The third section, “Act Three: Finale,” gives a nod to Hollywood heroes and femme fatales, including Batman and his high-tech suit from The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Marilyn Monroe with her white chiffon dress from Some Like It Hot (1959). “Costume designers have helped to define and create characters that are firmly embedded in world popular culture,” Lodwick says. “And this is what will be celebrated.” October 20 through January 27, 2013; Cromwell Rd.; 44-20/7942-2000;

Dolce & Gabbana’s Fellini Film Restoration

Photo Courtesy of Dolce & Gabbana

Fellini Satyricon, a film co-written and directed by Federico Fellini in 1969, has a friend in fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who helped facilitate its recent restoration and world premiere on October 13 at the New York Film Festival. The duo fell into the project via a phone call. Edoardo Ponti, a director and son of Sophia Loren, rang to let them know that the Cineteca Nazionale needed some support for the film’s refurbishment, which was curated by noted cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, director of photography at the organization.

“We are longtime admirers of Fellini, and his films have been a constant source of inspiration for us in our collections,” say Dolce and Gabbana. “By enabling the restoration of the film, we are able to protect a piece of history that is so important to the culture of Italy.”

Based on a story by first-century Roman Petronius Arbiter, Fellini Satyricon stars Martin Potter and Hiram Keller, and was nominated for an Oscar for best director in 1971. Though no immediate plans are in the works for another cinematic rescue mission, the designers are thrilled to help ensure that future generations will have the chance to savor—and be inspirited by—Italian movie magic. “If the right opportunity occurs we are always open to consider,” the designers explain. “Especially if it’s about preserving the culture and the beauty of our country.” October 13, 8:30 P.M.; Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St.;

André Leon Talley's Little Black Dress Exhibit at SCAD

André Leon Talley’s Little Black Dress Exhibit at SCAD
Courtesy of Tom Ford

In 1926, Vogue published an illustration of a simple, long-sleeved black sheath designed by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. That single garment grew into the ubiquitous little black dress, and decades later every designer has his or her own variation.

This fall the fashion phenomenon and woman’s best friend makes its way to a museum in “Little Black Dress,” opening September 28 at the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art. André Leon Talley, Vogue contributing editor and a SCAD trustee, curates the exhibit. “It’s a simplistic little thing, but it demands respect on its own,” he says. “The black dress can liberate one. It can set a new style standard or adhere to old standards. It can be rebellious, reckless, elegant or establishment.”

The exhibition includes about 80 dresses, ranging from a silk crêpe de chine number by Madame Grès from 1977 to a black silk faille dress that Carolina Herrera designed for herself this year. Other notable designers featured include Norma Kamali, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs, many of whom are Talley’s friends and acquaintances. “Every single dress means something to me,” he says. “But it’s by no means an academic rendering. It’s an emotional narrative of my life through my friends—and the beauty of black dresses that I’ve seen.”

Talley, who took nearly a year to put together the collection, hopes guests will walk away realizing the democratic power the seemingly simple piece of clothing has. “It’s no longer a uniform or a restricted club,” he explains. “It used to be that you wore a single strand of pearls and you were in good taste. Now the interpretation is left to the designer and/or the wearer.” September 28 through January 27, 2013; 601 Turner Blvd.; 912-525-7191;

Charleston’s Museum Mile Weekend

Charleston’s Museum Mile Weekend
Sandy Kisamore

With a renewed interest in its artisan goods, traditional foods and down-home history, the South is having a moment. Providing an opportunity to get a taste of it—Charleston, South Carolina–style—is the Museum Mile Weekend (September 21 through 23), a presentation of 13 culturally significant sites along a city swath that stretches just over a mile.

Packed with history and the arts—including six museums, five historic houses, four scenic parks and The Powder Magazine (the oldest public building in the state)—the event offers a simple way to see and understand how Charleston got to where it is today. Highlights include the Old Slave Mart Museum (pictured above), built on a site that hosted hundreds of slave auctions between 1856 and 1863; the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, where Revolutionary War patriots were imprisoned and the U.S. Constitution was ratified by South Carolina; and the South Carolina Historical Society, housed in the historic Robert Mills Fireproof Building, and its current digital exhibit, “Eliza Lucas Pinckney: A Renaissance Woman in Colonial America,” which sheds light on influential colonial women. The Edmondston-Alston House was where General P.T. Beauregard watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861, which kicked off the Civil War.

Take full advantage of the mile’s lineup, and experience even more of Charleston with a stay at charming Planters Inn (112 N. Market St.; 843-722-2345;, located near a surfeit of boutiques, restaurants and antiques shops. Wander a few additional blocks to Waterfront Park and the Old City’s famed antebellum mansions and consider a well-rounded survey of the city complete. September 21 to 23; 843-722-2996, ext. 235;

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