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Australian Aboriginal Art, 2

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Waarlla, Billy Thomas, 1998, Natural pigments on canvas

A month ago, Gail and I attended the opening of Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art from the Kaplan & Levi Collection at the Seattle Art Museum. I wrote about the exhibition at the time, quoting from the website:

With more than 100 works created from 1970 through 2009, the exhibition showcases what has been called the artistic renaissance of the world’s oldest living culture.

And:

Welcome to visions of the long haul and big picture of our existence on Earth. Finally, after over 50,000 years of making art, we are able to see what the oldest continuous culture on the planet has in mind. Isn’t it about time? This art takes us into immense deserts and shimmering billabongs, into night skies and underground.

It is an aesthetic pleasure unlike any other. Utilizing contemporary mediums, these artists adapt visual languages that evolved over centuries. What may look abstract is full of symbols and stories that take on common human dilemmas—greed, desire, the search for nourishment, and punishment of deceit. Most often, this art offers veneration of the lands that are in their care and the founding ancestors who continue to provide direction.

I wrote that “we didn’t go through the galleries in any systematic way or read the signs. We simply got an overview, examining a few pieces that we especially liked, and happily anticipated an extended return visit.” When offered the opportunity to join curator Pam McClusky for a tour, we accepted.

Yes, this is the same Pam McClusky whose tour of the Central Asian ikat exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum we went on just a week earlier. She’s been busy, serving as co-curator of the Gauguin show at SAM a few months ago, the ikat show at SAAM, and the aboriginal show, each overlapping with one of the others. We’ve been dutiful followers, hearing her speak at all three openings, visiting the Gauguin show before regular opening hours as she led a high school group through the space, and most recently taking these tours with her.

At the outset of the aboriginal tour, I followed Pam’s narrative closely, as we spent 35 minutes in just the first three rooms. She provided valuable background on aboriginal art, specific artists, their paintings, and what the paintings represented. I realized, as somehow I had failed to on opening night, that many of the paintings were dream representations. This is hardly news. It’s prominently highlighted on the exhibition website:

The Dreaming encompasses the cosmologies and belief systems of Aboriginal societies, and it also provides the great themes of their art.

Regarding the painting at the top of the post, we learn from the exhibition website that

Billy Thomas paints a warning sign filled with impasto circles about Waarlla. He calls it a very significant sacred place where rockholes are abundant and serve as burial or Dreaming sites. It is set apart from the country which he says is “flat like an airport” and when big rains come, they fill the rockholes with fresh water. If you are traveling in this area, however, he warns that you should go “right around” this convergence of rockholes.

And then there’s this example,

Wati Kutjarra (Two Brothers Dreaming), Tjumpo Tjapanangka, 2004, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas

[Susan Cole]

about which the website tells us:

Two brothers created land forms and models of behavior that appear in many narratives of the Western Desert. In this painting, they have created a vast salt-encrusted lake known as Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay). Tjumpo Tjapanangka reminds us of their presence by gently inserting two vertical lines at the top and bottom to indicate where the brothers camped. Across the middle is a white line where they built a protective windbreak. His formal symmetry reflects the ordered nature of ancestral creation. Known for walking vast distances himself, the artist’s work is committed to his custodianship of these epics and the sites that he grew up in.

Pam didn’t actually discuss these two paintings. I include them because they are available on the website, and because they give a sense of what we learned. What they don’t do is represent the work of aboriginal women, on which Pam focused in the first rooms.

As striking as the art is and as wonderful as Pam is, about halfway through I began to lose my focus. I don’t know what my problem was. The format? By which I mean, here are twenty or twenty-five of us (the numbers would continually shift, with uninvited interlopers joining for a room or two) walking from room to room, and time and again I was forced to squeeze past tour members who first entered a room and planted themselves just past the doorway because that’s where Pam stopped, ending up at the back as a result, only to find myself in front of the next painting on Pam’s itinerary, requiring a circling maneuver to get out of the way. Standing and more standing and more standing, staring at those who grabbed a free bench and wondering whether to join them. Glancing at the painting at hand while Pam talked about the one twenty feet away, wondering whether to go off and see more of the exhibition without guidance.

Before I knew it, my mind was elsewhere. At one point I was thinking through a revision to a book I’m working on, looking forward to getting to the office to carry it out, taking a peek ahead to see how many more rooms there were, estimating how long we might spend in each.

Maybe a half hour overview from Pam would have been sufficient, followed by touring on our own. An extended return visit is still in order.

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Categories: Art, Museums

Prologue

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Liège

[From the Tour website Prologue page]

The Tour has begun. Which means you know what I’ll be doing on waking up for the next three weeks. There’s life without the Tour, and there’s Tour Life. I like both, but Tour Life is better. For one thing, I get to be reunited with my Tour buddies, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. They’re such good company.

Watching the Tour is mesmerizing, as Phil and Paul chat non-stop about the goings-on while the race cameras move this way and that: race leaders, breakaways, the peloton, cities, villages, countryside, odd displays made of hay or tractors. Not to be missed, as well, are the concluding race festivities. The honoring of the stage winner. Podium girls. Cycling great Bernard Hinault directing the ceremony. (Check Bernard’s facial expression as he greets the winner. What does he really think of the guy?) Helicopter shots of the finishing town. The river. Back to the podium. Awarding the appropriate-colored shirt to the leader overall or points leader or climbing leader or youth leader. Podium girls. Bernard again. A rotating view of the town’s main cathedral. Another jersey recipient. Podium girls. Bernard. A cliffside fortress above the river. An overview of tomorrow’s stage, in plan and elevation views. Closing credits played across highlights of the day’s stage.

Emptiness.

The long wait for another day.

The Tour typically opens with a short stage called the Prologue, often held in a neighboring country rather than France. Today the Tour visited the Belgian city of Liège for a short time trial, a mere 6.4 km long. In a time trial, the riders are sent off one at a time, competing against the clock rather than each other. The start order for later time trials is determined by the overall classification, with the best riders going at the end in reverse order of their standings. For an opening time trial, the defending champion gets pride of place. So it was that Aussie Cadel Evans went off last. The penultimate starter was the great Swiss time trialist Fabian Cancellara, winner of four previous Tour prologues. He didn’t disappoint, winning today’s by 7 seconds over overall race co-favorite Bradley Wiggins and Sylvain Chavanel, with race co-favorite Evans another 10 seconds back in 13th. Small time differences in terms of the overall picture.

Tomorrow we stay in Belgium for a long ride, heading out from Liège into the Ardennes on a route featuring several small climbs, then back to Seraing, just outside Liège for a closing uphill finish. It’s not an ideal day for the sprinters. Perhaps a breakaway can succeed. Monday may be the first day for the sprinters to show their form.

Speaking of sprinters, I am, of course, a huge fan of Manxman Mark Cavendish. And then there’s our local (Washington State) star, Tyler Farrar, perhaps Cavendish’s strongest rival. Alas, many riders this year are looking past the Tour to the Olympics, so we may not see them at their best. Cavendish has said as much. Nonetheless, I’ll be watching.

Categories: Cycling

Conservation Photography

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards exhibit had its members opening last night at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Regarding the awards themselves, the ICPA website explains:

Known for his passionate advocacy of the environment, nature photographer Art Wolfe created a conservation-themed photo contest in 1997 as “an event for the advancement of photography as a unique medium capable of bringing awareness and preservation to our environment through art.”

The 2012 International Conservation Photography Awards is a continuation of Art Wolfe’s vision and has become a biennial (every two years) international event.

Gail and I arrived early, walked through the exhibit, then joined our friend Kai at the Flair Taco food truck — parked outside the museum by special arrangement for the convenience of attendees — where we obtained an excellent light dinner. We finished eating in time to return to the lobby for the special program, with remarks by museum director Julie Stein and ICP director Chris Gorley. Some 20 award recipients were on hand for the evening and introduced themselves. Many were local; some were from a little farther away, such as British Columbia, Calfornia, Calgary; one came from Kenya.

I wouldn’t be a good judge. All the photographs looked great to me, from the two distinguished award winners to the honorable mentions. Show me a close-up of an animal, eyes aglow, and I’ll be happy. Such as the arctic loon with enormous head that was first place in my book, though it was in fact just honorably mentioned. (It’s in this slideshow.) Or the snowy owl shot by great bird photographer Paul Bannick, which in fact did win one of the two overall show awards. (You can see it here along with the other distinguished award winner, Stefano Pesarelli’s flamingos.)

By all means enjoy the on-line slideshows for the different award categories But better yet, if you’re in the area, head to the Burke and see the stunning prints. You have until November 25.

Categories: Museums

Who Knew?

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

[Pool photo by Saul Loeb*]

Scanning the NYT website this evening, I saw the following headline:

Aging Court Raises Stakes of Presidential Vote

And the sub-headline: “A rush of decisions by a court with four justices in their 70s is likely to make the panel a significant campaign issue.”

Well I’ll be!

*NYT caption: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79, is the oldest member of a Supreme Court that includes four justices in their 70s. But it is impossible to predict when the court’s next vacancy will occur.”

Categories: Journalism, Politics

Central Asian Ikats, 2

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

In March, I wrote about the exhibition Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, whose opening we had just attended at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. (SAAM, housed in the original art deco home of the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, is now one of three SAM sites.) I quoted from Curator Pam McClusky’s description of the show:

Exuberant clothes were a common sight in the Oasis cities of Central Asia. During the 19th century, patrons wore rich colors and mysterious designs on a daily basis. Their encouragement led to a flourishing use of ikat, a labor intensive process that requires many stages and layers of experience to complete. Positioned as a trading center where goods and people flowed in from India, China, Iran and Russia, Central Asia fostered an aesthetic that made the most of overlapping influences.

This exhibition will recreate a sense of walking into a crowd of cosmopolitan clients who wear robes of distinctive boldness. As an English visitor (William Eleroy Curtis) wrote in 1911: “Everybody wears a coat like a rainbow… No matter how humble or hungry a man may be, and even if he has but a single garment, it is made of the most brilliantly colored material he can find.” Over 40 robes will provide a vision of the Oasis crowd. Some feature sharp graphic designs of rigorous abstraction, but others favor delicate harmonies with flowing floral motifs. Scorpions and Arabic script, paisleys and European florals, jeweled tassels and cypress trees swirl together in a design pool that reflects Oasis life.

The exhibition was one impetus for my new-found interest in things Central Asian. Soon I was reading Colin Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road and dreaming of a Central Asia trip sponsored by the Met that includes stops in Samarkand and Bukhara.

We may not make it there, but last Thursday we did get back to SAAM, for a walk-through of the exhibition with Pam McClusky. It was a quiet morning. There were about 18 of us in the group, and only the occasional additional viewer passing through the galleries. Pam started us with a map showing Central Asia, focusing on Samarkand and Bukhara. She also explained her idea of interspersing amongst the ikats a series of color photographs taken around 1900 by a pioneer photographer whose name I don’t remember. He created the color images by taking each shot with three filters and combining the results. One sees men walking the streets in ikats not unlike the ones exhibited, plus the region’s grand architecture, albeit in a decayed state.

We learned about the functional role of ikats (good for wearing while riding horses), the evolution of design (degenerating with the arrival of machine methods), the silk- and dye-making processes (and the disastrous arrival of cotton). At the end of a sequence of small rooms, we arrived in a large hall, with perhaps twenty ikats in a central display that one can circumscribe. Pam explained that it is designed to represent the colorful scene one might come upon at a Central Asian market, men standing in twos and threes in their colorful robes, no two alike. On the walls are more robes and photographs, including dramatic, large-scale photos of modern-day Samarkand and Bukhara. In a final room, two short films by a young Kazakh filmmaker play in alternation. We half-watched one while Pam explained what we were seeing and took questions. Then we were off.

The exhibition originated at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., the pieces all drawn from their Megalli Collection, which consists of nearly 200 nineteenth-century ikats that Murad Megalli collected and donated. The Textile Museum’s website for the exhibition has a few photos, a video (the one at the top), and some additional information. See also Rebeka Schiller’s blog post about the exhibit, at the least so you can click on the slideshow that beautifully renders five of the ikats.

Catalog

By chance, I happened to see a one-paragraph fashion note in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal about designer Joseph Altuzarra’s latest collection, featuring a Rasta belt inspired by Bob Marley and an ikat linen dress. This led me to Altuzarra’s website, which currently displays his resort collection (I’m hoping this is a permalink) with ikat-themed dresses and an amazing pair of ikat-slacks, below. Everything shows up better in the website slideshow.

I wouldn’t mind a jacket with that design.

Categories: Art, Museums

Birthday Dinner

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Last night I wrote about our anniversary dinner from a few days ago. Equally deserving of attention is last night’s dinner, not at a restaurant but at home. We are fortunate that Joel is back for a few days. Yesterday was his birthday, in honor of which Gail made a feast.

Joel had proposed two options. Gail made both. Pesto pasta with pine nuts and chicken milanese. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos, but the picture above is a faithful representation of the chicken. In appearance. I don’t know how to represent its flavor, which I am enjoying as I type. Even cold the next morning, with a bit of arugula, it’s wonderful. And the pasta dish? It’s my favorite.

Accompanying them was our final bottle of Stryker Sonoma’s E1K, a Cabernet-based blend that we have enjoyed drinking since our October 2008 visit to the winery. Alas, it is no longer available, so that’s the end of that.

For dessert, Joel requested donuts, and that’s what he got. Gail drove over to Mighty-O for a dozen. The beverage accompaniment for them was — what else? — strawberry milkshakes.

One thing I learned: If you eat a giant chicken cutlet with arugula, two helpings of pesto pasta, a few slices of bread with butter, and a donut, along with wine and water, you will struggle to finish an extra-large milkshake. Even a fabulously delicious milkshake with fresh strawberries and top-quality vanilla ice cream.

Another thing: I’m sure glad Joel came home for his birthday.

Categories: Family, Food

Anniversary Dinner

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Gail and I celebrated our anniversary on Saturday. Twenty-seven years earlier, we were married in the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. We therefore make it a habit to return to the Olympic for our anniversary dinner. Not every year, but many, including this one. We eat in their Georgian Room, one of the most beautiful dining spaces in the city, and with excellent food too.

We’ve always enjoyed chatting with the Georgian’s sommelier, an Austrian man who has a way with stories. While we were looking over the menu, we discussed our plans with him and ordered glasses of prosecco to start, with a half bottle of the 2008 Domaine Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape for later. Gail started with the Dungeness Crab Bisque, served with two mini crab cakes in the middle and crab pieces above, over which the soup was poured. I had a salad that I don’t see on the current on-line menu: warm spinach, lardon, and a tiny fried egg. And something called Guinness melba, which was a long, thin, curled piece of bread, made with Guinness, that was buttered and baked. Beautiful presentation; excellent flavor.

For our main dishes, I was leaning toward the rack of lamb, but when Gail ordered it, I went for the T-bone steak. Hers was listed on the menu with four accompaniments. Each was prepared in a block about one-and-a-half inch square and maybe three-fourths of an inch high, the four squares laid out in the center of the plate to form a three-inch square with the lamb on top. It looked beautiful. One of the squares was a mashed pea concoction with tomato jam on top. I ate some of it at the end. It was sublime. Another was spinach, another lamb shank, and I don’t remember the fourth. Gail chose well.

The distinctive feature of my steak was its presentation with three sauces: béarnaise, peppercorn, and cabernet jus. Each was in a square dish, the three lined up in a row along one side of the long rectangular plate. The steak occupied a good part of the rest of the plate, along with three fingerling potatoes, three mini onion rings, and three asparagus tips. Everything was superb, but it didn’t have the overall balance of Gail’s. I might have liked more asparagus. I would have loved her pea mash.

For dessert, the Georgian always offers two soufflé options. On the current menu, there’s a black and white and a soufflé of the day, which on Saturday was coconut-blackberry. Gail ordered the first, me the second. We did so when we ordered our main dishes, so we were surprised at the 25-minute gap between our plate removal and soufflé arrival. Something went wrong between the waiter and the kitchen. No matter. We weren’t in a rush, and when the soufflés did come, they were perfect.

Oh, I forgot the amuse-bouche. What was it? Some kind of cherry concoction. I can’t quite remember. Gail loved it. I thought it was low on flavor, but Gail called it subtle. At the other end of the meal, after dessert, we were served two little truffle cakes, maybe an inch in diameter, each with a cut in the middle into which a dropper was placed with raspberry syrup to be squeezed into the cut. Part way up the dropper was a thin sliver of chocolate to be slid off and eaten. And, since it was our anniversary, we had a special presentation. “Happy anniversary” was written on the plate in chocolate, with two lit candles standing on the plate. The truffles were surprisingly dry, once the syrup was swallowed. By design, I suppose, but we found it puzzling.

How did they know it was our anniversary? Well, I told them, when I called two days earlier to request a particular table. And, I had flowers waiting from Topper’s, the florist conveniently located on the basement level of the hotel.

After we paid, we carried the flowers out and went up half a floor to the mezzanine level, which forms a balcony ringing the lobby. At the far end of the balcony on the left is the Kensington Room, where we were married. We always peek in, though when nothing is going on there, it’s difficult to see anything, what with the lights out and the curtains drawn. After failing to see, we wandered into the main ballroom to have a look, then went down to get our car.

A lovely evening. Happy Anniversary, Gail.

Categories: Family, Restaurants