Cultural Gluttony: BB King, The Armory Show and more

This week I’ve binged on culture and this post covers my wanderings.

I saw BB King and Robert Cray live, went to the 100 year retrospective on the Armory Show at the NY Historical Society, and saw blues artist Joe Nemeth for his one night NYC performance.

I've got a golden ticket!

I’ve got a golden ticket!

Read on for details!

BB King and Robert Cray – live at the State Theater

BB King is now 88 years old, and I’d never seen him play live, so it was a treat to see him this week.

His eight piece back-up band, consisting of 4 horns, a keyboardist, drummer, base player and guitarist were great, and from their ages I’d say they’ve been playing with BB a long, long time.

BB with the band - 8 pieces!

BB with the band – 8 pieces!

The State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ is an intimate setting, and for my $100 (USD) ticket I got a seat in the “front balcony” of the theater, above the main hall and overlooking the stage. I could see what was happening on stage clearly, but I wasn’t close enough to get good cell phone photos. Still, you can see some of the stage set-up… :-}

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Lovely view of the State Theater stage before the show

Robert Cray and his band opened the show with a one hour performance of some of his classic popular blues hits like Strong Persuader, but I’m sorry to say he never played Smoking Gun, probably his biggest hit. Still, Cray’s voice and guitar playing are top notch.

The Robert Cray Band

The Robert Cray Band

It occured to me, during Cray’s set, there’s a reason why he made it as a professional. His stage presence is strong but easy going; he’s so obviously a talented and capable musician.

After Cray’s band finished, the re-set up process created about a 45 minute intermission before BB King’s band came on.

Once BB’s band came on, they played two numbers without him as a warm-up, and then he joined his band and played perhaps five or six songs total to finish the evening.

BB likes to patter with the audience and joke around, which fans know if you’ve seen videos of his performances or listened to his live albums. This performance was no exception, and BB delighted in leading the audience in a sing-a-long of “You Are My Sunshine” and then kidded around with some of the folks down in front near the stage.

It was extremely charming that as his band was playing When the Saints Come Marching In to end the show, BB didn’t really want to leave the stage. People rushed to the front of the auditorium to shake his hand, take his photo and get his autograph… while they still can.

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

BB King is rushed by adoring fans at the end of the show!

I can’t blame them – BB King is a living Blues legend.

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The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution – new show at the NY Historical Society Museum

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

Original 1913 Armory Show set up

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Cutout of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

Cutout of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase in front of the NY Historical Society

I’d been greatly anticipating seeing this show at the NY Historical Society and finally got the chance to go yesterday. The show will be up until early 2014, so there’s plenty of time to see it.

Duchamp - Nude Descending a Staircase

Duchamp – Nude Descending a Staircase

Travel Tip: Since it’s only the second weekend since the show opened, I’m happy to report it was crowded. Still, tickets are readily available at the museum, you may not need to reserve them online. (I called the museum to check on ticket availability and was told to come in.)

Matisse - Blue Nude - 1907

Matisse – Blue Nude – 1907

This retrospective show is very small compared to the original Armory show, which had hundreds of artworks. In fact, the entire NY Historical Society coverage consisted of two galleries, while a third gallery covered pieces shown “soon after” the Armory show but not from the show itself.

Still, the curators of this show have gone to lengths to explain the original placement of the artworks and the cultural context for the showing of these works. One thing that fascinated me was the curator’s emphasis on how the artists were found for the show. Half of the works at the original show were American, the other half European. There is a lot of good reading material in the show too, and if you’re interested, there is a catalogue for sale.

What surprised me most about the show was that many of the works shown were not only “not shocking” they were traditional landscapes and portraits. It turns out that the organizers of the original Armory show were trying to show viewers an art trajectory, from the classical European, to the American point of view, and then the big divergence with Cubism and Fauvism and so the traditional works were a purposeful lead in, to help the viewer acclimate to what they saw in the final gallery.

Van Gogh - Mountains at St. Remy - 1889

Van Gogh – Mountains at St. Remy – 1889

This final gallery was the only section of the original Armory show which showcased the “new” works, and the public was shocked by them due to their bold colors, multi-varied perspectives, non-traditional forms and in some cases content.

One of my favorite “put-down’s” of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase was that it looked like a “splinter salad.” The reaction was clear: critics of this art were severely challenged to understand the new forms.

Although today’s viewers will likely not be shocked by the Matisse, Duchamp, Gauguin and other paintings and sculptures they see, it’s good to be reminded how new art forms CAN shake viewers up, and CAN challenge them to think about art in new ways.

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Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues, Thurs, Oct 17th

What can you say about Terra Blues on Bleeker Street in NYC except that it’s a Blues Institution. This venue attracts top talent from all over the world to come and play blues, and yes, sometimes the acts are only in town one night – as was the case with Joe Nemeth, a blues harmonica player and five time Grammy nominated musician.

Joe Nemeth - Blues harmonica and lead singer

Joe Nemeth – Blues harmonica and lead singer

Nemeth and his band played a funky blues first set, and then… the electrical power went out for the amps in the back of the stage.

Nemeth was undaunted by the set-back, and sent his band offstage to take a break, while he decided to sing solo, just a boy and his harmonica, and he brought down the house.

Joe Nemeth at Terra Blues in NYC (bad lighting!)

Joe Nemeth and his base player too at Terra Blues (bad lighting!)

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However, after his one solo song, the power had not come back on, and so he too took a break. Unfortunately, many in the audience didn’t wait for the electrical repair and got up and left. Since it was only Thursday night, and I knew I had a busy few days ahead (to see BB King the next night, and then off to the Armory show too) I also decided to call it a night.

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

Young drummer for the Joe Nemeth band

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The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

The very talented lead guitarist for the Joe Nemeth band

Does it look like I was sitting right next to the stage? Because I was at the very first table next to the stage. I could have almost reached out and touched the lead guitarist’s cowboy boot!

Enjoy!

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Important Show Coming: The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution

I’ve been talking a lot very recently about art being shown in context, and there is a very important upcoming show that takes this idea and expresses it –  so I want to make sure anyone in the NYC metro area is aware of The New York Historical Society’s “The Armory Show at 100” coming to the NY Historical Society Museum beginning October 11, 2013.

Unlike many shows that take significant effort like this to curate, the NY Historical Society has already decided this show WILL NOT TRAVEL. The show is ABOUT a landmark New York City event, and the show will take place IN New York City and nowhere else.

If you are lucky enough to live in the NYC metro area, I encourage you to order your tickets now. (And I get no kickbacks from the museum!)

TIP: The NY Historical Society offers free admission (with a pay-as-you-wish donation policy) from 6-8pm on Friday evenings.

Here is what the NY Historical Society says about the show:

The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, revisits the famous 1913 New York Armory Show on its 100th anniversary. In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York. Organized by a small group of American artists and presented at the Lexington Avenue Armory (and thus nicknamed the Armory Show), it introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. This exhibition is an exploration of how the Armory Show inspired seismic shifts in American culture, politics, and society.

The New-York Historical Society’s exhibition reassesses the Armory Show with a carefully chosen group of approximately seventy-five works. The exhibition includes American and European paintings and sculpture that will represent the scandalous avant-garde and the range of early twentieth-century American art. It will also include historical works (dating through the nineteenth century) that the original organizers gathered in an effort to show the progression of modern art leading up to the controversial abstract works that have become the Armory Show’s hallmark.

The 2013 exhibition revisits the Armory Show from an art-historical point of view, shedding new light on the artists represented and how New Yorkers responded. It will also place this now-legendary event within the context of its historical moment in the United States and the milieu of New York City in ca. 1911–1913. To that end, music, literature and early film will be considered, as well as the political and economic climate.

The exhibition will not travel. It will be accompanied by a substantial catalogue with thirty-one essays by prominent scholars from a variety of fields to re-examine the 1913 exhibition and its historical and cultural context.

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I will definitely be going to this one!

Pondering Museum Visits – and Guernica

In a previous posting, I mentioned how moved I was by the tremendous trove of art at the Prado in Madrid. And indeed, the Prado is a location of global art treasure, just like the Metropolitan in NYC, The National Gallery in the UK, and the Hermitage in Russia, among other seriously notable museums.

However, as a tourist with limited time to see museums it’s important to spend time wisely when choosing which museums to visit when you land in your destination of choice.

And it’s not just about time, either. It’s about the human eye and brain getting overloaded with images. I’ve visited enough museums to recognize there is such a thing as over-stimulation and museum fatigue. After about 2-3 hours, I usually need a break, or possibly need to stop wandering through galleries to “process and absorb” the things I’ve seen.

With this in mind, I want to mention the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which houses Guernica. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

Guernica is housed deep within this relatively small museum of contemporary art, in a bunker-like gallery designed to display only this towering painting. And although the room is reasonably large, it still somehow isn’t large enough to contain the painting. I can’t describe it adequately, and unfortunately in keeping with the museum’s policy, photography is not allowed in this particular gallery.

And once you’ve seen Guernica, for your $8 euro ticket price, you can essentially leave the museum. I know I’m being harsh in my commentary, and it’s not that I don’t like seeing cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque, or seeing the many Miro on display in Spanish museums, but I must call the Museo Reina Sofia out on this – there is NOTHING in that museum that can come close to the experience of seeing Guernica. There is not even one other piece on display that had an impact that could even touch what it’s like to see Guernica in person. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZCTrM3yfug)

Don’t get me wrong – I walked the entire museum. I saw the permanent Richard Serra installation on the first floor. I looked at the giant Calder sculpture in the courtyard. I walked by many Picasso, Braque, DuBuffet, Miro and other works on display. But… I’m sorry to say this because I sound like a total art brat and snob to make such a comment (apologies in advance) but I have seen these works before many times.

This brings me to the core of what I’m getting at with the museums we choose to visit and why.

At the Prado, I can see totally unique works by Bosch, Goya and many others that I cannot see anywhere else in the world. I got a bit of an “art high” walking around the Prado – an experience I remember having when first viewing The Temple of Dendur at the Met so many years ago. It’s just a brain-freezing, arresting, overwhelming moment when you see something that is a towering human achievement.

And Guernica delivers this experience, no doubt. I had seen reproductions of Guernica over the years, but nothing could compare to seeing it in person.

But, I’m sorry to say, if I want to see those brown and black cubist paintings that Picasso and Braques did side-by-side for a few years and that look very similar to one another… there are a lot of them, and I see them everywhere. After a while, I don’t even really bother looking at them because my mind “knows” the image.

And once you have seen two dozen paintings by Miro, which I have in a variety of museums, I’m sorry, but I “get it” and I know the style and I can even enjoy the image but it’s something similar happening over and over.

Perhaps this is one reason Guernica has such impact. It’s a combination of cubist style and figuration – plus the historic content which is essential in understanding that scene of war horror.

But I digress.

Museums often have a “mission” to display art history, and present some chronological view of art through the ages. And in that world tour, Cubism is in there, and so yes, you will be shown those brown and black Picassos because he created that new style and it was an important moment in Art History. Yes, I agree.

Unfortunately, since many/most museums have this same mission, you wind up seeing many of the same painters over and over, and you see paintings of the same style, and in the Museo Reine Sofia I just found that I’d “seen it before” when it came to anything other than Guernica.

Am I saying don’t go to the museum? NO. I am saying if you have the chance to see Guernica, just the experience of seeing that one work is completely worth it – in my opinion. It is like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado, a one of a kind and not replicated in any other painting globally. The painting – unto itself is a piece of Art History.

But consider what I’ve said when it comes to visiting museums. What is it you hope to “experience” at these institutions, and then make your choices accordingly.

Serious Spanish Art Loot – The Prado

I only wish I could show you some images of art at the Prado Museum, in Madrid, Spain but they do not permit photography of any kind, and it’s no wonder.

I spent hours wandering around the museum today with my mouth hanging open, gawking at the serious loot of centuries of Spanish colonial rule. There must be, and I do not think I’m exaggerating here, billions of dollars of art in that museum. It is beyond a national treasure for Spain.

Since I’m from New York City and I cannot help but try and compare museums to my “home town” museums, I have to tell you that the particular collections located in the Prado are not replicated – or anywhere NEAR closely available – in NYC. Believe me, that’s saying a lot.

Let’s start with Goya, since there are so many incredible Goya images housed at the Prado. In particular, the “Black Paintings” (including Goya’s Dog, or The Drowning Dog as it’s sometimes known) are in one gallery together. The other famous image from that collection is Saturn Devouring His Child, probably one of the earliest expressionistic paintings known.

But Goya isn’t even the beginning.

I have never had the pleasure of seeing Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in person. It is… beyond words. I visited that painting three times within the hours I was in the museum, and still I could have stayed staring at it for hours more if I had had more time. There was another piece called The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, also by Bosch that was magnificent.

Beyond that, the self-portrait of Albrect Durer really enchanted me. A young Durer with gorgeous long, curly blonde-red hair, in a jaunty black and white striped cap, with the upper part of his chest exposed told me a lot about him. I have a little art crush on Durer now. Clearly I was born in the wrong century. 🙂 The other pieces by Durer that left a lasting impression were his portraits of Adam and Eve.

Rubens, Velasquez, El Greco and many other gigantic canvases line the walls of galleries, towering over the spectators. In gallery after gallery, I had to stand back six, eight or ten feet just to view the image being shown. But then I wanted to get as close as possible to the Carravagio painting of David with the severed head of Goliath. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_GUJjvCBWY)

There are too many museums to see in Madrid in just four days. I have already seen the private Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum with its fantastic Kandinsky’s, Picasso’s, Braque’s and other examples of cubism (I will post in the future, with images, since they allow photography.) I want to see the contemporary art museum too, on a different day (I need to be rested from the visual overload.)

But if I could only see ONE museum in Madrid, it would have to be the Prado.

Thank goodness I don’t have to make that choice!

P.S. The Prado allows visitors to visit free during a 2 hour window ‘later’ in the day. If you’re coming to town, check at the museum to see when you can come for free. Otherwise, admission is 14 euros and totally worth it.

SMAK Contemporary Art Museum – Gent Belgium

As a New Yorker it’s difficult not to compare other museums with our world class museums, and in this case, SMAK Contemporary Art Museum in Gent holds its own as an innovative space showcasing European contemporary talent.

At the entrance to the museum you will find SMAK publications called “The Artist in Their Own Words,” which are magazine style printings of interviews with artists who have had shows at SMAK.

Below are some photographs I took of the works on view now, but if you are in Gent and interested in contemporary art, SMAK is a must-see destination.

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KOEN THEYS – Home Made Victories

I was particularly excited about the ground floor galleries dedicated to the work of Belgian artist Koen Theys. The exhibition, “Home Made Victories” is the first major retrospective for the artist and includes extensive use of compelling video and photography and will be on view until mid-August 2013.

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Still Life with Apples

Still Life with Apples

Above: Koen Theys photograph, Still Life with Apples II, 2010

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Series, Still Life with Apples - Koen Theys, 2010

Series, Still Life with Apples – Koen Theys, 2010

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This photograph I took is a small detail portion of a larger "collage" framed photograph by Koen Theys

This photograph I took is a small detail portion of a larger “collage” framed photograph by Koen Theys

The image above is kind of hard to explain, but I’ll try. Koen Theys creates large tableaux photographs where he carefully assembles thousands of objects like clocks, skulls, books, candles, old computer equipment and various other items he uses in these works.

The photograph I took, is a tiny portion of one of these tableaux photographs because unless I took a small part of the image and blew it up there would be no way to see the detail.

Another thing I cannot show, but which I thought was extremely interesting, he set up a video camera on a trolly and slowly rolled the camera through the tableaux, and then showed this video in another room adjacent to where the large-scale photographs were displayed.

This extremely innovative use of technology, photography and found objects made for an extraordinarily compelling viewing experience.

It's not really possible to see the details of this Koen Theys collage but this is the entire image

It’s not really possible to see the details of this Koen Theys collage but this is the entire image

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The upper floor exhibitions had a variety of sculpture, painting and photography too, some more thought provoking to me than others, but all worth seeing.

A sample of other items on view at SMAK…

Sculpture: three grotesques holding a pencil, a paint brush and a screwdriver

Sculpture: three grotesques holding a pencil, a paint brush and a screwdriver

This sculpture of three artists features grotesque heads, and the artist’s arms are bound one to the other so they cannot move, or ever see one another. The description of the sculpture suggests their poses are like samurai warriors with their pencil, paint brush and screwdriver stuck into their belts like swords.

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Framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures

Framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures

These framed photographs of grotesque head sculptures was also a part of this exhibit. Text describing these items suggested that some of the heads were modeled loosely on some European politicians.

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Horse hide sculpture - a provocative display of what looks like two decapitated horses

Horse hide sculpture – a provocative display of what looks like two decapitated horses

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Mark Manders - MomentenMachine

Mark Manders – MomentenMachine

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This installation features classic art hanging on the walls with grocery shelves of old sacks of flour and other staples blocking the view

This installation features classic art hanging on the walls with grocery shelves of old sacks of flour and other staples blocking the view

This detail view of the installation shows the classic art seen through the shelving and its contents

This detail view of the installation shows the classic art seen through the shelving and its contents