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March 2009 Archives

March 7, 2009

Exploring the Côte D'azur with Henri Matisse and Friends

Since June 2008 when she was in Paris, the Dresser has had the profound good fortune to see many exquisite collections of French and French-held art. Her stay in the City of Light included a full day at the Louvre and shorter visits to Musée de l'Orangerie des Tuileries, Musée d'Orsay, Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin, Musée du Luxembourg, and Centre Georges Pompidou.


Recently, the Dresser saw "Henri Matisse and Modern Art on the French Rivera" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibition, curated by Michael Taylor and running through November 1, 2009, brings together the Museum's Matisse collection from his Nice period--said to be the largest group of his works from this period outside of France--and work from Matisse's contemporaries who were all attracted to the breath-taking coastline bounded by Marseilles across to Menton.

Raoul Dufy (French, 1877 - 1953), Window on the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, 1938. Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 15 1/16 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1967

Of the 40 paintings and sculptures drawn from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and two private collections, the Dresser was particularly impressed to see Matisse's brightly depicted odalisques in the company of works by familiar and not so known artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marie Laurencin, André Derain, William H. Johnson, Raoul Dufy, Pierre Bonnard, Max Weber, Alexander Archipenko, Chaim Soutine, and others.


Besides her usual interest in the artists that surrounded Gertrude Stein, the Dresser was particularly set up for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Matisse and Modern Art on the French Riviera exhibition by seeing at the Luxembourg Museum a short-term exhibition of intensely colorful paintings revealing the underbelly of society by Fauvist Maurice de Vlaminck. Fauvism was a brief flash on the painterly landscape that evolved between 1900 to 1910 from Impressionism and Pointillism, particularly influenced by the work of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, and Georges-Pierre Seurat. Besides the emphasis on extreme color, Fauvism was characteristically two dimensional, primitive, and often influenced by African sculpture and masks. The leaders of Fauvism were Henri Matisse and André Derain. From 1905 to 1907, there were three exhibitions of Fauvist works. Other Fauvist painters of note (Les Fauves--what the painters of Fauvism were called--means The Wild Beasts) included Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, Georges Rouault, and Georges Braque.

Derain.jpgAndré Derain (French, 1880 - 1954), Portrait of Henri Matisse, c. 1905. Oil on canvas, 13 x 16 1/8 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1952

After Fauvism, came Cubism (formative years were 1907-1911) that evolved from the dimensional experimentation of Picasso and Bracque. One other artistic grouping of note around this period was Expressionism, which might be characterized by the artist's tendency to distort reality and result in a profound emotional reaction. Because the reach of Expressionism seems to have no clear boundaries in historical time (some scholars say El Greco and Edvard Munk are forerunners) and was not defined as a movement like Fauvism or Cubism, Expressionism is far harder to pin down in simple terms. The reason the Dresser brings up Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism is that all of three of these artistic categories arise in "Matisse and Modern Art on the French Rivera" exhibition.

While curator Michael Taylor threaded the exhibit based on geography, that is, the French Riviera, the juxtaposition of the individual works of art create a dialectic about artistic approaches and social issues that start perhaps with the decorative female figures by Matisse--the Moroccan-inspired odalisques--but evolve to Cubism (seen in this exhibition with works by Bracque, Weber, and Louis Marcoussis) and then move on to Expressionism (seen in the work of Chaim Soutine and William H. Johnson). As to social issues, what brought an end to the artistic life on the French Riviera was World War II. What's an interesting surprise is the discussion about anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution that crops up in the presentation of the portrait of Moise Kisling by Soutine. Another point of surprise was seeing Pierre Bonnard's "Homage to Maillol" which is a still life that includes Aristide Maillol's sculpture "Bather with Chignon" and on the gallery floor stands the actual Maillol sculpture.


The Dresser enjoyed seeing the work by Matisse, including the "Still Life (Histoire Juive)", but her two golden nuggets were "Leda and the Swan" by Marie Laurencin and "Cagnes-sur-Mer" by William H. Johnson. Although the Dresser (also known as the Steiny Road Poet) had included Marie Laurencin in her opera Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, she had never focused on Laurencin's paintings until she saw five of them up close at the Orangerie in June where they hang together in their own little gallery. Laurencin, who was the girl friend of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and one of Picasso's inner circle of friends, remains little known and to find her painting in Philadelphia of the lushily pink-lipped Leda in a transparent gown with a blue feather in hair petting a swan with both hands was a rare pleasure.

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March 31, 2009

In the Realm of Silent Film and Dreams--Snark Ensemble, Terry Riley

New classical music concerts, the forum where edge really cuts, are often hard to find. Universities with a mandate for teaching composition and the money to back up that imperative are where these concerts erupt with flair. The Dresser uses the word erupt meaning, "to emerge violently from restraint or limits," because not everyone, including regular concertgoers, supports the untamed refusing-to-be-put-in-a-box programming. Recently the Dresser heard two such concerts, one at Catholic University with spankingly new compositions set to silent films and another at the University of Maryland with an eye to the history of Minimalism.


What the Dresser loves about the programs that are presented at Catholic University is that professors like Andrew Simpson take wild and whacky chances with newly conceived work. On March 11, 2009, the Dresser attended "Silent Explosions, Invisible Jumps: Music, Dance, and Film Create a Ruckus--A Multimedia Performance Event Inspired by Early Silent Films of Georges Méliès." This program, one of many during CUA's President's Festival of the Arts March 9 through March 22, explored silent film and live dance through an exercise of new musical composition. In fact, Simpson, a composer himself, instigated the commissioning of seven new scores that were to take inspiration from seven short films by Georges Méliès (1861-1938), a French filmmaker known for his early innovations in filmmaking. One of those seven, "The Luny Musician" is Simpson's composition--here's a professor who leads by example.

The set up for this exercise and ensuing program was fairly complex despite the inspiration being based on silent films ranging in duration from slightly over a minute to slightly over four minutes. The composers' assignment was to view the film and then create music that "supports the on-screen action of the film" (Simpson's description from the "Program Notes"). The music was then handed over to three choreographers to create dance from the music alone. The choreographers and dancers were not allowed to see the films until the evening of the performance. Because the films each had some element of dance, the idea was to see how much commonality blossomed between dance and film as translated by the music, but more so to see how the process of creation unfolds.

SnarkEnsembleSmall.jpgOne additional layer was the music was played twice (once with the film and once with the dancers) by the talented Snark Ensemble, an instrumental chamber group dedicated to the creation and performance of new original scores for silent film. Two of the three Snark Ensemble members--Andrew Simpson (keyboards) and Maurice Saylor (woodwinds)--made up two of the seven commissioned composers. Perhaps, you, Dear Reader, are now shaking your head and wagging a finger at what seems to be an incestuous opportunity for CUA faculty (and there was a third commissioned faculty member Steven Strunk). Mais, au contraire, the Dresser counters. Given that all the composers only had four to six weeks to write the music and that the senior composers were willing to share the stage with the newbies as well as play all of the compositions, the Dresser sees the project as a freeing and joyful experiment in collaboration.

Of the seven musical compositions, the Dresser liked Steven Strunk's "Silly Music" the best. "Silly Music," an edgy and busy piece for the clarinet, was inspired by Méliès' 1901 film "L'antre des esprits" ("The Magician's Cavern"). The two-minute-55-second film shows the antics of a magician who animates such objects as a skeleton, which not only moves but dances. Dancer Elton Pittman and choreographer Shannan Quinn interpreted Strunk's music as a man bedeviled by some kind of flying thing that manifests in an active hand that zigzags around the dancer's head and pretty soon has him diving into break dance gyrations on the floor.

The Dresser was also impressed with the choreography of Shawn Short and associated dancers for John Maggi's composition "The Ballet Master's Dream" danced by Nicolette Jenkins and Dedrick Makle and for Simpson's "The Luny Musician" danced by Tisa D. Herbert and Prentice Whitlow. The Dresser felt the choreographer had a charming sense of the absurd and made good use of the limited time to show the prowess of his dancers.

While the Dresser did not hear any profound outpouring of the soul in the seven musical compositions, she believes that the sum effect, particularly with the added elements of the Snark musicianship and the live dance, will continue to ripple out in the universe to positive creative effect. Simpson's teaching methods in the field of new classical music deserve hearty recognition.


What drew the Dresser on March 29, 2009, to the University of Maryland's Bang on a Can Marathon that included percussionist Glenn Kotche with two of five pieces inspired by Steve Reich was an appearance and performance by Terry Riley, creator of "In C" (1964) and, with that composition, the composer at the foundation of the Minimalist movement in music. He takes credit for influencing Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Adams. While the Dresser remarked to her seatmate composer Janet Peachey that what they were hearing Riley perform (selections from his Autodreamographical Tales) reminded her of work The Kronos Quartet would present, the Dresser had failed to link together that she heard Kronos perform Riley's The Cusp of Magic last year and that she had recorded that Riley has had a long-standing relationship with David Harrington, the founding member of The Kronos Quartet, a group that first piqued the Dresser's interest in new music with their rendition of songs like Jimi Hendrix "Purple Haze." Of course seeing Riley perform, versus seeing another legendary group perform his music, creates an indelible impression.Terry Riley_credit Stuart Brinin-preview.jpg

Photo by Stuart Brinin

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About March 2009

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in March 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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