Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The artistic investor

By Georgette Gouveia

When Roy R. Neuberger died at his Manhattan home on Christmas Eve, the loss could be felt from Wall Street to museums around the country. For Neuberger, who lived to the grand old age of 107, didn’t merely have a footing in both the financial and artistic worlds. He inextricably linked them, using the wealth that he amassed first as a stockbroker and then as co-founder of the investment firm Neuberger Berman to create a collection that ultimately became the basis for Purchase College’s Neuberger Museum of Art and also nurtured 70 institutions around the United States.

In a sense, Neuberger inherited both his business acumen and his artistic passion. He was born on July 21, 1903 in Bridgeport, Conn. to Louis Neuberger, a businessman with an interest in the stock market, and his wife, the former Bertha Rothschild, who played the piano. Orphaned at age 12, Neuberger was raised by an older sister, Ruth, whom he would later fondly recall as a real mother to him.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in Manhattan, where the family had moved, and attending New York University briefly, Neuberger took a job as an upholstery fabrics buyer at the now-defunct B. Altman & Co., honing his eye for shape, line and color. Neuberger’s next move would transform his life. He took a comfortable inheritance and set sail in the spring of 1924 for Paris, then the center of the art world. In the City of Lights, he once told this reporter, he refined his tennis game and his connoisseurship of women. He also read Floret Fels’ biography of Vincent Van Gogh, whose impoverished neglect so moved him that he decided to become a collector of living artists.

To do this, however, he would have to make real money. He headed to Wall Street in the spring of 1929, becoming first a runner and ultimately a broker for the firm Halle & Stieglitz. Almost immediately, he demonstrated the intuitive skills that would define his career as an investment specialist, selling short shares of RCA as a hedge against the fall he sensed was coming. Ten years later, he and Robert Berman founded Neuberger Berman, where Neuberger worked until he was 99. (The firm was sold to Lehman Brothers in 2003 for roughly $2.63 billion in cash and securities. Five years later, it was resold to its own management as part of Lehman’s liquidation.)

The same year Neuberger started his investment company, he began collecting painters and sculptors who today make up a Who’s Who of American Art – Alexander Calder; Nyack native Edward Hopper; Jacob Lawrence; Georgia O’Keeffe; David Smith, a onetime sculpture teacher at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers; and especially Milton Avery, whose use of flat, colorful shapes led him to be dubbed “the American Matisse.”

In 1969, Neuberger donated a significant portion of his collection, more than 900 works, to found the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, spurred by his good friend Nelson A. Rockefeller, then governor of New York. Today the Neuberger has more than 7,000 modern, contemporary and African works.

The man who gave his name to both an investment firm and a museum was always wry and spry, as evinced by the title of his autobiography, written at age 94, “So Far, So Good” (John Wiley & Sons). Speaking of his pal Rocky’s ancestral home in Pocantico Hills, Neuberger once observed, “Kykuit is what God would’ve built had he had the money.” (His own woodsy weekend retreat in northern Westchester, with its views of undulating verdure, wasn’t too shabby, either.)

Neuberger also possessed a courtly appreciation of women that is all but lost in our vulgar age. Whenever you’d interview him, he’d speak with profound respect of his late wife, the former Marie Salant, who shared his foothold in both the investment and museum worlds for almost 65 years. (Neuberger is survived by their three children – Ann Neuberger Aceves, Roy S. Neuberger and James A. Neuberger, as well as eight grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.)

Later Neuberger formed an attachment with another vibrant brunette, the late singer and arts advocate Kitty Carlisle Hart. He liked to tell the story of how they met cute at a Metropolitan Museum of Art board of trustees meeting, where he switched the place-cards so that he could sit next to her.

That was vintage Neuberger, a man who believed in making his own luck.

How fortunate we are that he chose to share it with others.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for the Westchester County Business Journal. Follow the Journal online at


To The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which was the only institution in our area to receive the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Service.
The medal, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize, is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries that make extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental and social contributions.
Said IMLS acting director Marsha L. Semmel: “This year’s national medal winners are serving their communities with innovative and creative approaches to lifelong learning, commitment to addressing diverse community needs, plain old hard work, and a lot of heart.”
The Botanical Garden is known not only for its specialty gardens and virgin forest but its medical research facilities and its seasonal exhibits that combine nature with art and botanical illustration (not to mention one of the best cafeterias and gift shops around). In sum, it is like a mini-vacation.
(With art in WestABC art 1206: Caption: The New York Botanical Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show offers up botanical versions of some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks, including the garden’s own Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

All his son

Of all deaths, suicide most begs the question, “Why?” Since Mark Madoff died, pundits and bloggers alike have looked to the Bible and the ancient Greek dramatists for answers. Perhaps the best analogies, however, are to two 20th-century works about the dark side of the American dream. In Arthur Miller’s play “All My Sons,” Larry Keller, a bomber pilot in World War II, deliberately crashes his plane after realizing that his father – a bastion of respectability -- sold faulty airplane parts to the government, causing the deaths of 21 pilots.

In Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly,” the deluded geisha Cio Cio San -- finally realizing that race as much as her love for the faithless Pinkerton has doomed her hopes of being a modern American wife -- commits hara-kiri while her blindfolded son plays nearby. (You'll recall that Madoff hanged himself as his 2-year-old slept in the next room.)

That someone would kill himself within the proximity of his child is what most disturbs some people. Perhaps the suicide's pain is so great that it blocks out everything -- and everyone -- else.

Or perhaps we simply can't reconcile that death and life, monstrosity and normalcy can coexist.

W.H. Auden addressed this seeming incompatibility in the opening lines of his poem "Musee des Beaux Arts":

"About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along...."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Requiescat in Peace

British-born painter Sylvia Sleigh – who donated one of her most ambitious works to the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers – died at her home in Manhattan on Oct. 24 at age 94. The cause was complications from a stroke.

Sylvia Sleigh at a presentation of her
“Invitation to a Voyage” at the Hudson River Museum.
In July 2006, Sleigh gave the panoramic “Invitation to a Voyage: the Hudson River at Fishkill, 1979-1999” to the museum. The 70-foot work, made up of 14 panels, depicts the artist, her husband, the influential critic Lawrence Alloway, and several friends on a jaunt near Bannerman’s Castle on Pollepel Island. (It was on a train trip to Albany that Sleigh first saw Bannerman’s Castle, whose ruined beauty inspired the work.)
But the site wasn’t Sleigh’s only muse. The placement of the figures along the river’s banks – that’s Alloway helping Sleigh to her feet in one panel, just as he helped her in her career – suggests Watteau’s fête galante painting “L’embarkment pour Cythère,” in which a group of revelers sets sail for the birthplace of Venus. With its Arcadian lushness and fluidity, “The Embarkation for Cythera” is an allegory on the brevity of romantic love.

Three panels of Sleigh’s evocation of Watteau are now on view at the Hudson River Museum.
Despite the significance of “Invitation to a Voyage,” Sleigh was not known primarily as a landscape painter. Rather she was most famous for her male nudes, which cast her subjects as the male equivalents of Venuses and odalisques. These works, painted during the feminist movement of the 1970s, were seen as a controversial, delightfully cheeky response to men viewing women as objects of desire. The New York Times’ obituary quotes her as saying: “I don’t mind the ‘desire’ part, it’s the ‘object’ that’s not very nice.”

Indeed, so thoroughly is the female entrenched as the primary sex object in our culture that it always comes as a bit of a shock when people learn that for most of art history – up till about the middle of the 19th century – men were the primary sex symbols as the heroes of the genre known as history painting, which included religious and allegorical works. It wasn’t until the rise of the bourgeoisie and the shift in painting to interior scenes of everyday life that women came to the fore as culture’s primary sex symbol – a role that for good or for ill they still own today.

Nonetheless, Sleigh has her heiresses. Look at Sam Taylor-Wood’s 2001 photograph of Robert Downey Jr. – the only nude in her haunting “Crying Men” series – in which she casts the actor as a modern-day Endymion and her camera as the caressing moon.

Viewing Taylor-Wood’s and Sleigh’s work brings you back to a question that will always tantalize: Do women look at men the way men look at women?

Perhaps not. Most female nudes are first and foremost about the body.
Whereas women can’t seem to help themselves. They cannot separate the body from the soul.
Hudson River Museum hours are noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Admission is $5; $3 for senior citizens age 62 and up and children ages 5-16. The museum is at 511 Warburton Ave. 914-963-4550,

Read Georgette Gouveia’s cultural musings at the, a collaboration with

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cue James Bond?

The 2010 fall benefit gala for Purchase College’s Performing Arts Center on Oct. 23 is “From Russia With Love,” minus Bond, James Bond.

Valery Gergiev, conductor and artistic director of the Maryinsky Orchestra (formerly the Kirov Orchestra), will lead that group in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 – the only evening performance of what may be Mahler’s best-known symphony during the orchestra’s New York tour. (Certainly, it is one of his most-often performed works. This reporter will never forget the New York Philharmonic’s titanic reading of the piece, under the baton of Erich Leinsdorf, during the 1975 Mahler Festival at Carnegie Hall.)

Valery Gergiev leads the Maryinsky
Orchestra in Mahler’s Fifth at the
Oct. 23 gala for Purchase College’s
Performing Arts Center.
The Performing Arts Center concert opens with Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” Both works have inspired artists in other disciplines. Debussy’s prelude is the sensual undertow in Nijnsky’s controversial ballet as well as a modern one by Jerome Robbins that is a meditation on love and art. Mahler’s martial, transcendent symphony colors Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film “Death in Venice.”

Maestro Gergiev – who has led the Maryinsky since 1988 and is also artistic director of the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg -- will be the guest of honor at a pre-concert cocktail reception and dinner by Corner Stone Caterers of Rye. The evening, which also features a silent auction, will conclude with a post-concert reception and – what else? – a dessert and vodka bar.

The festivities get underway at ?  Tickets are $1,500 (platinum), $1,000 (gold) and $500 (silver). Platinum tickets get you a backstage pass to a VIP reception with Gergiev.

Proceeds will benefit the Performing Arts Center’s plan to expand its 2011-12 season and its Arts-in-Education program, serving 7,500 students in 31 schools.

The center’s 33rd season is made possible in part by the Basic Program Support Grant of ArtsWestchester, with funds from Westchester County. Major sponsorship for the 2010-11 season is provided by Vivian Milstein through the SVM Foundation.

The college is on Anderson Hill Road between Purchase and King streets. For gala information and tickets, call Anthony Busti in the Development Office, 914-251-6213.

Read Georgette Gouveia’s cultural musings at the, a collaboration with

Piano Man

Music lovers in the mood for an intimate concert experience might want to check out George Winston’s eclectic piano stylings – a little bit of New Orleans, a little bit of “Peanuts,” a little bit of The Doors – at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck on Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. 

You can enjoy yourself there while helping others: The Emelin has asked that concertgoers bring a donation of canned food to the concert to support a local food bank. (There will be collection baskets at the theater’s entrance.)

Tickets for the Winston gig are $40. The Emelin is on Library Lane. 914-698-0098,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Last call...

To see the “Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden,” at ArtsWestchester’s Arts Exchange building in White Plains through Oct. 23. 

These sweet figures are among
the proposed sculptures for a
project honoring enslaved Africans
in Westchester, now on view at
ArtsWestchester in White Plains.
The exhibit is actually a taste of a public-art project proposed for Yonkers by Vinnie Bagwell, a sculptor based there. 

The sculpture garden honors the enslaved Africans who lived and toiled at Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers, six of whom were among the first to be manumitted by law in the United States, 76 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. The exhibit – which includes five maquettes (one-third scale models) of the proposed sculptures and architectural drawings of a corresponding park -- also explores the history of slavery in Westchester.

Hours are noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. The Arts Exchange is at 31 Mamaroneck Ave. 914-428-4220,

Read Georgette Gouveia’s cultural musings at the, a collaboration with

A Human Comedy

The Purchase Repertory Theatre presents Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” Oct. 15 through 23 at Purchase College’s Performing Arts Center.

Chekhov’s existential drama examines the lives of the Prozorov family, who always seem to be making the wrong choices. But if the results are sometimes tragic, director A. Dean Irby also finds humor in the sorrow.
“Chekhov considered his plays to be comedies on life,” says Irby, a member of the Purchase faculty who has acted and directed on Broadway and off. “This production aims to pull out and explore the playwright’s comedic sensibilities as they relate to the characters’ sense of loss at a way of life….”

Director A. Dean Irby is at the helm
of the Purchase Rep’s “The Three Sisters.”
The Purchase Rep is made up of students from the School of the Arts, Conservatory of Theatre Arts. Stage design, lighting, costumes and technical support will be provided by the Conservatory’s Design/Technology program.

Tickets are $20. For more information, call 914-251-6200 or log on to
Speaking of the Design/Technology program – yes, we were -- it has two distinguished visiting artists this year, scenic designers Karl Eigsti and Santo Loquasto.

Eigsti, who taught at Purchase in the early 1980s, did the sets for the original productions of “Grease,” “Yentl” and “Eubie.” Loquasto’s work is well known to balletomanes (American Ballet Theatre, the Paul Taylor Dance Company) and film buffs (Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” and “Bullets Over Broadway”) alike. Lucky Design and Tech students.

Read Georgette Gouveia’s cultural musings at the, a collaboration with

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


How many of us yearn to leave the workaday world behind and pursue our passions?

OK, now how many of us actually do?

One who did is Emily Tabin, a former lawyer-turned-alto-saxophonist and founding executive director of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. I interviewed Emily for the Aug. 30th edition of the Westchester County Business Journal and was impressed not only by her commitment to jazz but her ability to take risks -- not something everyone can do.

Anyway, Emily wants to get the word out that WJO is back for a new season at the Irvington Town Hall Theater beginning Sept. 25 with a tribute to sax stylist Michael Brecker, featuring bro Randy, a trumpeter. There are also salutes to Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie (Dec. 4), Herbie Hancock (Jan 29) and Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan (April 2).

Tickets: and after Labor Day, 914-591-6602. Information: 914-861-9100.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for Westfair Communications Inc., which publishes the Westchester County Business Journal, the Fairfield County Business Journal and HV Biz. Read her stories at

Friday, August 13, 2010

American colossus

Kudos, too, to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, which has just
acquired one of only two casts of Gaston Lachaise's "Man Walking (Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein)".

The bronze sculpture is on view in the rotunda of the museum.

Lachaise, a Franco-American sculptor of the early-20th century, was better known for his hourglass female nudes, inspired apparently by Mme. Lachaise. But he also created heroic men to go along with his voluptuous women as seen at Kykuit, the historic Rockefeller family estate in Pocantico Hills.

Certainly, this image of Kirstein -- the arts impressario who founded the New York City Ballet with George Balanchine -- is no exception.

For more on the Bruce, log on to or call (203) 869-0376.

Image courtesy of the Bruce Museum.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for Westfair Communications, which publishes the Westchester County and Fairfield County Business Journals and HV Biz.

Scribes' corner

Kudos to Sarah Bracey White, Greenburgh cultural goddess, South Salem writer and curator Pamela Hart and Hastings-on-Hudson fiction writer Christine Lehner, the first fellows of the new Purchase College Writers Center, opening this fall.

The three will be given small stipends, offices in the college's library and access to its data base. All of you writers (and artists of any stripe) out there know how important it is to have "a room of one's own," as Virginia Woolf put it, in which to create. So we can enjoy their opportunity vicariously.

I've known Sarah for years in her other guise, as tireless exhibit and poetry-series organizer for the town of Greenburgh. Christine I interviewed when she published her wry story collection "What to Wear to Meet the Pope."

Pamela Hart is a new name to me. But she has a foot in the world of the visual arts as well as the literary world, and I often find that writers make the best curators, as in the case of the Jewish Museum's marvelous "Kafka" show of a few seasons back and the Neuberger Museum of Art's "British Subjects" exhibit by Purchase College humanities head Louise Yelin, who'll direct the new Writers Center.

Sarah thinks it's a writer's storytelling ability that makes for curatorial expertise. I think, too, writers paint and sculpt -- just with words -- so they bring a different perspective to the visual.

You can read my story on Sarah in Monday's edition of the Westchester County Business Journal.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for Westfair Communications, which publishes the Westchester County and Fairfield County business journals and HV Biz.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Have you ever encountered an artist who seemed like an instant soul-mate?

That's how I feel about British photographer Sam Taylor-Wood. Her "Crying Men" series -- images of male movie stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law weeping -- was an obsession until I found the rare portfolio in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston bookstore. It was like acquiring the Holy Grail.

Now "Ghosts" -- her 2008 series inspired by one of my favorite books, Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" -- is slated to come to the Brooklyn Museum Oct. 30-Aug. 14. (The show will be held in the Herstory Gallery of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which contains Judy Chicago's installation "The Dinner Party," in which Emily and sister Charlotte are honored.)

Discovering "Ghosts," I feel like the eccentric sister of the Hugh Grant character in "Notting Hill," who gushes to Julia Roberts' put-upon movie star, "I just know we could be great friends."

What is it about "Heights" that haunts? I think it is in part that it's a wholly original work of art -- as unfashionable as that idea is in our age of "appropriation" (otherwise known as plagiarism).

Think about it: As great as Charlotte's "Jane Eyre" is, there are lots of men like her Rochester, who make bad marriages and pay and pay for it. And lots of women like Jane, mousy good girls who secretly yearn to be loved by their bad boys for their sedate but sterling selves.

But there is no one -- no one -- like Emily's Cathy and Heathcliff. And indeed if there were, you'd run screaming in the other direction. The brutality with which Emily Bronte portrays their all-consuming relationship -- which crushes everything and everyone in its brambled path -- is like nothing else in literature. (The only film version ever to capture this is the idiosyncratic one starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.)

In "Sexual Personae," outre cultural critic Camille Paglia theorizes that Heathcliff represents Emily mixed with Byron, a truly androgynous persona. Others have wondered if Emily was in love with God. "Heath cliff" -- a name that signifies the earth -- represents her union with God in death.

Me? I've always wondered if Heathcliff were the singularly self-possessed Emily -- writing her novel, stories and poems in obscurity while tending to the family at Haworth Parsonage -- and the betraying Cathy were the more conventional Charlotte, torn between literary (worldly) success and the sisters' closed society on the Yorkshire moors that Taylor-Wood has captured with such spare resonance.

That a book can conjure so many interpretations demonstrates just how haunting it remains.

Images of Sam Taylor-Wood's "Ghosts VI" (above) and "Ghosts II" (right) courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum. For more on the show, log on to or call 718-638-5000.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for Westfair Communications Inc., which publishes the Westchester County Business Journal, the Fairfield County Business Journal and HV Biz. You can read her stories at

Beating the "Dutch"

As I reported in an Aug. 2 piece for the Westchester County Business Journal, the Hudson Valley Center For Contemporary Art in Peekskill is planning a fall show that should do for Eastern Europe what "Double Dutch" did for The Netherlands.

"After the Fall" (Sept. 19-July 24) considers 18 emerging artists from East and Central Europe,
people like Romanian painter Leonardo Silaghi -- represented here by his "Untitled" -- who were born under Communism but came of age post-Gorby.

To what extent did Communism -- a monstrously idealistic philosophy that was doomed to failure -- shape these artists? In Silaghi's case, his "Untitled" seems to have captured the gray, workaday image of the proletariat. Remember the marvelous commercial that satirized Commie fashion with the same potato-sack outfit for swimwear, day wear and evening wear (the last accessorized by an industrial flashlight)? Silaghi's painting has something of that pointed drabness.

In any event, it's always intriguing to consider the effect that a time and a place have on an artist. It should be another provocative HVCCA show.

The notion of "After the Fall" reminds me of a concert I covered years ago when Philharmonia Virtuosi, led by the late, lamented Richard Kapp, was one of the house "bands" at Purchase College (then SUNY Purchase). Among the concerts' treats were Kapp's witty, erudite asides to the audience about music and life -- like the cartoon he saw riffing on The Mostly Mozart Festival that contained three banners -- "Mostly Mozart, Basically Bach and Practically All the Telemann You Can Stand."

Anyway, this was the 1980s, the end of the Cold War, and Kapp once remarked that there was no need to defeat the Soviet Union militarily.

"We'll conquer them with our culture," he said.

Today, everyone in Russia looks like they stepped out of an episode of "Law & Order."

How prescient that remark turned out to be.

Photo courtesy of HVCCA. For more on the show, log on to or call 914-788-0100.

Georgette Gouveia is a reporter for Westfair Communications Inc., which publishes the Westchester County Business Journal, the Fairfield County Business Journal and HV Biz. You can read her stories at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gateway of empires

I'm sick unto death of every article and blog response on our futility in Afghanistan referring to that nation as "the graveyard of empires." Even the estimable Maureen Dowd has not been immune when it comes to falling for that canard.

While it is true that fierce, forbidding Afghanistan proved to be the undoing of the British and the Soviets in the modern era, it is equally true that Afghanistan was the gateway of empires in earlier days. The Persians, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan -- pick your autocrat and your period, they all conquered Afghanistan with varying degrees of difficulty.

Alexander, for example, waged a long, bitter guerilla-style war there. (For an account of this, see Frank Holt's critical "Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan." Those who like their history fictionalized might prefer "The Afghan Campaign" by Steven Pressfield, the man who wrote "The Legend of Bagger Vance" as well as a more general Alexander novel, "The Virtues of War.")

In the end, though, Alexander conquered Afghanistan, as he did the whole of the Persian Empire. To say it was his undoing merely because it was hard would be like saying the Yankees lost to the Red Sox simply because they won 8-7 instead of 8-0.

Yet such is the complete lack of classical education, historical knowledge and thus context in our country that people believe anything they read and repeat it wholesale without questioning it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: History is not the past. It's the story of the past. Without a knowledge of that story, you cannot project yourself into the future.

Far more useful for us in Afghanistan than who conquered whom -- the country's conquerers remained tethered to that region, something we have no intention of doing -- is what other lessons can be gleaned from various campaigns. In the case of Alexander, he was very eye-on-the-prize. For all his romance and questing spirit, he pursued his enemies with a laser-like focus that was truly daunting, as when he tracked down Bessus, who betrayed the Persian king Darius III and thus posed a threat to his successor, Alexander himself.

It's that kind of single-minded determination that could've served us well in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

It could serve us well still.

Read Georgette Gouveia's pieces for Westfair Business Publications at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The lion in winter

As a longtime Yankee fan whose family were season ticket-holders, I have many memories of George Steinbrenner, whom I first encountered when I was a teenager and he was the team's new owner, a lion in his prime.

I can still see him sitting at a front table at the Stadium Club at Shea Stadium (during the years in exile, 1974-'75), loudly berating his players. I remember then thinking he was an overbearing father figure. Later, I came to view him as a person of tragic, almost Shakespearean conflicts -- a vulnerable human being whose terror at that vulnerability drove him to despise it in other brilliant, damaged men, namely Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.

My last memory of Steinbrenner has some bearing on an arts blog as it took place a few years ago at what was for me an artistic event. I was waiting to interview Ralph Fiennes about his film "The Constant Gardener" during a press junket at Manhattan's Regency Hotel when Steinbrenner -- who stayed at the hotel during the baseball season -- strode through the lobby.

As I subsequently wrote, the crowd of tourists, young people and hotel employees parted as if he were Lorenzo de' Medici holding court in Renaissance Florence.

"How ya doin', Boss?" people said. "We're going to win tonight, Boss." And especially, "Thanks, Boss."

Even Fiennes and company were intrigued. Fiennes stood there watching the proceedings and chatting amiably with his colleagues, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his cream-colored pants, his pale-pink shirt untucked. He struck me as someone waiting for the jitney to the Hamptons -- a latter-day Gatsby still in search of his Daisy.

There was something elegiac about that warm summer evening. Or perhaps the mind merely ascribes to the past the emotions of the present.

"Who is that?" Fiennes' party wondered.

"That's George Steinbrenner," I whispered, "owner of the New York Yankees, the most successful team in American history."

No acknowledgment, so I tried again: "The team has some sort of partnership with Manchester United."

Smiles of recognition. Fame is both great and limited.

For his part, Steinbrenner took little notice of the sleek movie star, the other film people milling about, the teenagers giggling on the couch, the exhausted tourists and their hungry children, even the eager well-wishers.

Like a character out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, he got into the waiting limousine and sped off into the night.

Mooning over Miami

For the July 19th edition of the Westchester County Business Journal, I reported on Thom Collins leaving his post as director of Purchase College's Neuberger Museum of Art to become the new executive director of the Miami Art Museum. I've shared many pleasurable business lunches with Thom over the years and have always savored his wit and his far-ranging, quicksilver intelligence. I shall miss him terribly. But at the same time, I know this is a wonderful opportunity for him that comes at a time when that city is in the midst of building a $220-million Museum Park.

I have to say, though, that what struck me most about his departure was that it coincided with the LeBron James imbroglio. (The coincidence plays a role in the article and in Thom's pointed comments.)

There are some -- OK, very few -- similarities here. Both are going to Miami. And both worked in Ohio, Thom as chief curator of the Contemporary Arts Center there.

Reaction to their leave-takings has been very different. Everyone is sad to see Thom go but wishes him well. Whereas you would think James' first name was Jesse (as in the outlaw and Sandra Bullock's cheatin' ex-hubby.)

Why? In truth, the similarities are more extensive than they might appear to be. Both men are very talented. Both used their talents in service of their profession for a number of years in a particular locale. And both have decided after doing all that they could in their current assignments to seek professional challenges and fulfillment elsewhere.

Yet why is one a villain? The easy answer is that no one cares about art, which is, comparatively speaking, not the big money that sport is. Many of the infantile comments about James seem to suggest that because he has been paid so exorbitantly by the Cleveland Cavaliers he must remain chained there forever.

I wonder if these same bloggers would turn down a lucrative, creative job in an exciting market that would reunite them with old friends. By their reasoning, we should all remain precisely where we are, even, I guess, when the boss no longer wants us. (You can bet if the Cavs wanted to dump James, the word "loyalty" wouldn't enter the picture.)

The hard, complex truth is that all choice is about affirmation and rejection. In choosing for something or someone, you're choosing against something or someone else -- hence the words in the marriage vows "and forsaking all others".

James made a decision that CEOs, opera directors, conductors, museum executives and other high-profile, ambitious people make all the time: He chose to move on. It has nothing to do with how nice he is or isn't, how much money he makes or whether other cities desired his abilities. It has only to do with his own view of career fulfillment. He may not be the intellectual Thom is. But surely, he understands that his decision is mainly about business.

As for loyalty -- well, he hasn't abandoned his mother or sold secrets to the Russians, has he? Loyalty is a commitment to family and country. Often it's a one-way ticket that requires the sacrifice of the self.

Loyalty in business, however, is a two-way street. And considering how many workers in this economy have given their hearts to a job only to have it handed back crushed, it's looking more and more like a boulevard of broken dreams.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The limits of the will

Did you read the review of David Shenk's new book in The New York Times this past Sunday with the same sense of infuriated interest that I did?

Shenk's "The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ Is Wrong" (Doubleday) is part of the mind-over-matter school that holds if we just try hard enough, we'll be able to achieve our wildest dreams. This, of course, appeals to America's Horatio Alger sense of itself as well as to our underlying mediocrity. It is reinforced by mediocre people who have succeeded.

Sandra Bullock looks like the girl next door, she seems nice and she won an Oscar. Ergo, I, too, could do that, people reason. Never mind that Bullock — who is neither a great actress nor a great beauty — came along at precisely that moment in the mid-90s when Julia Roberts went into a funk and decided to become a character actress. (We Julia aficionados refer to this as her "Mary Reilly" phase, a movie I actually like a great deal.) Bullock filled the America's Sweetheart niche temporarily vacated by Julia. By the time Roberts returned, Bullock was well-positioned to bide her time for the role that would play to her particular qualities. So forget discipline and talent. It could be said that successful people owe just as much to luck as anything else.

But according to the review of Shenk's book, he holds that discipline not talent is what drives greatness and has the scientific research to back it up. I'm not going to go there since I don't have access to his studies. Still, I always worry when science tries to explain art. And I wonder about research that can be preempted by anecdotal evidence.

I went to school with a girl who was built like a fullback but longed to be a pianist. She played with a facility I have rarely encountered, her fingers flying across the keyboard. She practiced diligently, which only increased her speed and agility. Put it this way: She could play the "Minute Waltz" in 50 seconds flat.

But she could not make music out of it or any other piece. She didn't have a shred of musicality or talent. There was no sense of phrasing, that music was a kind of conversation. No matter how many times teachers diplomatically suggested this, she just didn't get it. What she was was a very gifted typist. The other girls all snickered about this behind her back. I remember well the day we all auditioned for the music department of this particular school and the horrified look on the teachers' faces. It was as if they had encountered a freak of nature they didn't wish to deal with.

I tell this story not because I want to be cruel. Notice I haven't named her though I well remember her name. I tell it rather because I think of her every time someone debunks talent in favor of practice, practice, practice. Listen: The torch songs of the world are littered with stories of people who had great gifts and threw them away or at least, misapplied them. (I do think that if Johnny Weir had Evan Lysacek's discipline, he and not Lysacek would've won the gold medal in men's figure skating at the recent Olympics.)

But this implies a level playing field. Lysacek is very talented, and when you combine that with discipline, you have a delightful combination. Doesn't mean you're going to be a worldly success though. That takes opportunity, and opportunity takes luck. Nevertheless, you can be a success in yourself.

But when you discredit the role of talent in favor of discipline, it's as bad as thinking you can skate through life on talent alone. Those who intimate that all you need is focus and intensity do a disservice to the public. And they follow a dangerous precedent: Remember that the Nazis thought that you can will anything to happen. How'd that work out?

The truth is that life is limited. It's only when you acknowledge life's limits that you can take the first step in transcending them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First love

When you look back on your life, you realize that most of the significant paths you've taken were the result of a seemingly accidental series of events. And yet, most of us can probably pinpoint the moment that led us to a decisive transformation.

I don't remember when I decided to become an arts writer but I can certainly recall what made me fall in love with art. It was the "Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry," an illuminated Book of Hours filled with private prayers and calendar pages for Jean de France, duc de Berry (1340-1416), one of the most important patrons of the late Middle Ages.

Now The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan is preparing a facsimile edition of the "Riches Heures'" sister Book of Hours, the "Belles Heures," which is part of its collection. The need to unbind the book for reproduction has given The Met an extraordinary opportunity to display all of its 172 illuminations. It is an opportunity that viewers should not miss.

What drew me to the "Riches Heures" and by association, the "Belles Heures," also created by the Limbourg Brothers -- Herman, Paul and Jean? At first, I think it was the palette -- lapis-lazuli blue, pink and gold, with accents of red and green. It reels you in and then envelops you.

There's something sheltering, too, about the medieval world the "Belles Heures" depicts, even though its subjects may be the lives of Jesus and saints from ancient times. The castles, turrets, slithering roads and lack of perspective cloister the viewer, reminding him of an age when war, plague and everyday hardships were the norms. Sometimes it's good to be indoors, or at least, tucked into your little corner of the world.

But what's most striking about the "Belles Heures" is its tremendous humanity. The story of St. Catherine of Alexandria -- which is told so that it mirrors the Passion of Christ -- is filled with pathos. Just the way that her hair falls over her blindfolded eyes, exposing her downy neck as she waits prayerfully to be beheaded, well, those tresses are just like a cascade of tears. (That same humanity is evident in the accompanying show, "The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy," through May 23.)

FYI: The duc de Berry was the son, brother and uncle of three successive kings of France. The throne was not his destiny. Yet today, he is the one we know and remember.

It pays to patronize the arts.

"The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry" is on view through June 13. 212-535-7710,

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Late-winter warmth

First off, apologies to readers for the dearth of posts recently. The Feb. 25-26 storm temporarily took out some wires in my neighborhood and thus, my e-mail. Technology: Ain't it grand?

Civilization may be man's heroic, Promethean response to nature, but it has been my general experience that in the end, natural always reclaims its own.

Anyhoo, now I'm back with a vengeance, or at least some thoughts on a show that offers late-winter comfort. It's "Patterns," an exhibit of quilts at the Arts Exchange in White Plains, home of my partner, ArtsWestchester.

These works by members of the Village Square Quilters Guild bring a contemporary sensibility to a traditional folk art. The intricate designs, arresting colors and cottony textures envelope you in warmth. Plus, the boutique in the vault of the Arts Exchange's Grand Banking Room Gallery features vibrant tote bags and other handy gift items. I bought two totes, one of which is for me, because you have to treat yourself every now and then.

"Patterns" is on view through March 20. 914-428-4220,

Friday, February 19, 2010


So much to do this weekend, so little time to do it all.

At 8 p.m. tomorrow, singer/songwriters Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky team at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill. 914-739-2333,

Sunday it's Mardi Gras time with Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at New Rochelle Public Library at 3 p.m. 914-632-7878,

Finally, both tomorrow and Sunday you can see M & M Productions' "The Lincoln Continental," about a girl, her dad and the car that binds them through the years. It's at Irvington Public Library at 2 p.m. 914-591-7840,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Men at work

Been trying to watch the men's long program on NBC while reading The New York Times' live blogging on the same, and thought I'd try a little live blogging of my own.

As an arts writer, I'm amused (in an irate way, of course) by the number of comments — presumably from young men — are on how figure skating should be eliminated from the Olympics because it's just a lot of dancing. Listen: I've been a Yankee fan most of my life and an attendee of the New York City Ballet for almost as long, and I agree with the great Lou Gehrig, who said that dancers make the best athletes.

I've covered dance for all of my professional life — indeed my first published piece as an adult was a review of a modern-dance troupe performing at Harrison High School — and I've got to say that I've never seen an athlete who had the combination of power, grace, stamina, technique, charisma and beauty that you will find in a top-flight male dancer. Remember that dancers don't "play" once a week or once a day during a particular season. They take morning technique class, rehearse and then perform in the evening, often twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays because of matinees. Their off-season involves free-lancing. And they often have to act as well as dance. Few athletes approach that standard. (Few athletes could stand looking good while maintaining that pace.)

But a few come close. I covered the balletic ice skater John Curry, who formed his own skating company after he won gold at the 1976 Olympics. I recall the trouble The Metropolitan Opera House had converting its stage into an ice rink for his performances. But I also remember Curry's noble effort to transcend his sport by truly merging it with dance.

That said the greatest ice skater I ever saw was Robin Cousins, another Englishman, who succeeded Curry in winning gold four years later. I once saw Cousins simulate a soft-shoe routine on ice to Gershwin that defied logic. It was dynamite.

So yes, skating is a lot like dancing — when it's at its best.

I'm also struck by all the skittishness bordering on homophobia in the snarky comments about the men's costumes. Granted, sometimes they get in the way of a performance, but I could say the same about plenty of women's get-ups. Judging from the male respondents, I must conclude that men are uncomfortable with being viewed as sex objects by women as well as other men. Yet throughout much of art history — until the rise of the middle-class in the Victorian era, when women were either put on pedestals or lusted over in back-rooms — men were the primary sex symbols in the all-important categories of history painting, allegorical works and even religious art.

My advice to male Olympic watchers is Relax and enjoy the form-fitting costumes and triple-toe loops.

P.S.: Evan Lysacek just took the gold. I picked him from the beginning, not only for his steady temperament and superb work ethic but because he is the most complete male skater, combining athleticism and art.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gallery Getaway: At the Neu

In a recent post, I wrote that the appointment of Patrice Giasson as curator of Latin-American art at Purchase College's Neuberger Museum of Art reflected the rise of Latino culture in Westchester County.

Now that appointment has born tangy fruit in the form of the new show "Contemporary Latin American Art From the Luis Calzadilla Collection." The show features 27 of the 35 works bequeathed to the museum by the estate of the late Miami-based architect. I wish I could write about each one of them, they are that interesting. Suffice it to say that singly and together, they manage to be distinctly Latin-American while evoking the great art of Western Europe.

"Hombres (Men)" (1992), an oil and charcoal diptych by Çosta Rica's Miguel Hernández Bastos, suggests the tortured torsos of the late great Cuban artist Felix González-Torres and the bloody palette of Spanish painting. Venezuelan Henry Bermúdez's "Parjaro con Pinta de Tigre (A Bird With A Tiger's Appearance)," a 1991 oil seen here, conjures one of Henri Rousseau's jungles, while Nelson Díaz's "Study for Primates (Estudio para Primates)," a 1988 work, gives us a variation on Francis Bacon's grotesque, howling figures.

Meanwhile, the crumbling tile in Cuba depicting a headless horseman and the color photograph of that subject, which together make up Carlos Garaicoa's "En Busca del Santo Grial (Seeking the Holy Grail)" (1993) speak to the foolishness of obsession, religious or otherwise.

There is, however, nothing foolish about the fascination felt here. This is a wonderful introduction to these artists and the collection of cultures they represent. 914-251-6100,

Photo courtesy of the Neuberger.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Art and sport

Those of you who are enjoying the Olympics this week were no doubt put out by Christopher Hitchens' invective against the Olympics in particular and sports in general in the current Newsweek magazine.

In his essay, "Fool's Gold," Hitchens theorizes that bad sportsmanship is sportsmanship, that sports breed violence, cheating and other immoral behavior. Say what you what about the iconoclastic Hitchens, who has taken on no less than God and Mother Teresa. (So from that perspective, newly anointed bronze medalist and reforming bad boy Bode Miller would not be that much of a challenge.) But no one does acidic contempt quite so elegantly as he does. (Hitchens, that is.)

Here's a sample of his vituperation:

"I can't count the number of times that I have picked up the newspaper at a time of crisis and found whole swaths of the front page given over either to the already known result of some other dull game or to the moral or criminal depredations of some overpaid steroid swallower."

Hey, when the Yankees win the World Series — a term that Hitchens deems a bloated misnomer — I want whole swaths of the front page trumpeting the news, particularly if the paper is from Boston.

In his Stewie-like hissyfit, Hitchens misses the biathlonic mark: Like art, with which it has much in common, sport is about metaphor. The athlete who plays through her pain or who completes the race in memory of his beloved sister may or may not be the best exemplar of humanity. But he or she offers an example of the very human ability and determination to endure the agon (a Greek word meaning contest). If that example gives me comfort or you courage or someone else a momentary escape from the grind of daily life, well, isn't that something to savor?

Still, I sympathize with Hitchens, who writes with the disenchantment of a nerdy high-school yearbook editor bemoaning the attention paid to the star quarterback and the head cheerleader. When I hear Olympic officials decrying the lack of money for American luge, I say, Where is the money for the arts? When's the last time the "Today" show — which is all over the event like a blanket of fresh snow on Whistler Mountain — interviewed a ballet dancer? How about the American women's hockey player who said there's not much to do at the team's Minnesota training camp except play hockey. Really? Ever heard of picking up a book? What about listening to Mozart? Better yet, what about playing Mozart?

And speaking of Mozart, would it be too much to ask for the figure-skating commentators to announce the piece of classical music the skater is using? (Adam Rippon did a beautiful long program at the U.S. Nationals championship to the Barber Violin Concerto but you wouldn't know it.) More to the point, wouldn't it be better if the jumps were integrated into the choreography the way tours en l'air are in ballet dancing?

Hitchens does have an argument: Too much attention is paid to sports at the expense of subjects that are more serious or at least more important to others.

I wish would could embrace the true spirit of the ancient games, in which the Greeks reveled in art as much as in sport.

And, uh, go Yankees.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Faces of eternity

The sedately beautiful, almost too painful new exhibit on Lincoln and the Civil War at the Bruce Museum is about many things. It's about leadership in crisis — something all too rare in our world today. It's about the inescapable touchstone that this period in our history has become. It's about the insidious cancer that is slavery.

But it's also about a subject that has long fascinated me and that is how leaders use the media of their time to express both the universality of leadership and the particularity of personhood. In the modern era, for instance, we are familiar with how President John F. Kennedy used TV and photography to present himself not only as a vigorous, youthful statesman but a playful father and an adoring spouse of an iconic wife.

Lincoln, too, used the then-newfangled medium of photography to further his political ambitions, record events and present himself as an empathetic wartime leader, says Rye resident Harold Holzer, who as both a Lincoln scholar and a Metropolitan Museum executive is well-qualified to speak on Lincoln and the visual arts.

Indeed, Lincoln — who was well-aware that some people thought his striking but unconventional face was ugly and employed his self-deprecating wit as a defense mechanism — was vain enough to take a young admirer's advice that he grow whiskers to give his thin mug some sophistication. As he became shrewder photographic subject, the tousled auburn hair got smoother, the suits darker and crisper.

But Honest Abe wouldn't brook any chicanery. He wouldn't, for example, allow folks to think that the book he and youngest son Tad were looking at in one of his most famous photographs was the Bible when it was really an album of photos. (In other words, unlike some of our present-day politicians, he wouldn't exploit religion for personal gain. Isn't that refreshing.) And I think that's why when you look at Lincoln's haunted, haunting face — in the exhibit but especially in the companion book "Lincoln, Life Size" (Alfred A. Knopf) — you see not only the president but the man.

It wasn't only that way. In ancient times, leaders went for idealization over reality. Ramesses the Great, who was a past master at propaganda, liked to lop off the heads of the sculptures of previous pharaohs and substitute his own. At places like Abu Simpel, he gave us the face of eternity — perfectly symmetrical and exquisitely chiseled, with almond-shaped eyes, a straight nose that flares slightly at the nostrils and a bow-shaped mouth.

Did Ramesses actually look like that? Judging from the hook-nosed mummy in the Cairo Museum, he did not. But then, a corpse may not be the best clue to what someone looked like in life.

By the time you get to the Greeks and Alexander the Great, you begin to see the coalescence of romance and reality. Alexander was another great propagandist, so much so that he tried to ensure that only three people — the painter Apelles, the sculpture Lysippos and the gem-carver Pyrgoteles — were allowed to fashion his image. But the upward tilt of the head, the liquescent eyes and the leonine hair were apparently all Alexander. And if they happened to dovetail with his image of himself as the new Achilles fulfilling the Homeric ideal of excellence in his conquest of the Persian Empire, well, so much the better.

In Alexander, the man, the media and the message merged beautifully. Leaders have been trying to replicate that recipe ever since, with mixed results.

Not everyone is pleased that they make the effort at all. That superb iconoclast Percy Bysshe Shelley mocked the once-powerful Ramesses' shattered stone remains in his well-anthologized sonnet "Ozymandias." But Shelley — himself immortalized by a sensual neoclassical sculpture at Oxford University — misses the point.

It's not that Ramesses has been reduced to fragments, Alexander to a coin or Lincoln to a calling card. It's that these survive at all, and through them the leaders they represent.

Long after we're gone, those leaders and their images will still be here.

"Lincoln, Life Size" — based on the collections of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation at Purchase College, is on view today through June 6. 203-869-0376, The Meserve-Kunhardt collections are open to the public by appointment. For more information, call 914-251-4474 or log on to

And if you're interested in the subject of leadership imagery, you might want to take a look at the chapter on "Art and Power" in Nigel Spivey's "How Art Made the World" (Basic Books) and Andrew Stewart's "Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics" (University of California Press).

The Lincoln images are courtesy of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

American Arcadia

If you happened to catch the recent piece in The New York Times on Montgomery Place, or my article in the Westchester Eye, you know that Historic Hudson Valley in Tarrytown has been reconsidering how to manage this its largest property and the only one outside Westchester County. (It's in Dutchess.)

Spokesman Rob Schweitzer had told me that HHV decided to reinterpret the site — once the home of prominent Revolutionary War widow Janet Livingston Montgomery — as an American Arcadia, much as it reinvented Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow to focus on the contributions of the African slaves who actually ran that 18th-century mill and farm. Beginning this spring, new text panels at Montgomery Place, a 380-acre complex in Annandale-on-Hudson, will explore the natural and artistic landscape.

Now Schweitzer tells The Arts Muse that several Hudson Valley preservationists have pledged $675,000 over a five-year period to enhance programming and access at Montgomery Place. This will be the springboard for a campaign to increase visitation, volunteerism and other financial support.

What does this mean for you and me? Well, effective immediately, the grounds will open to everyone except pets (sorry, Fausto, my sister Gina's Chihuahua) daily from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The main house will be open for tours May 15-Oct. 31, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays.

It's appropriate that Montgomery Place is coming back so strongly in the spring, the season of hope and renewed vigor.

In the winter of our financial discontent, this is heartening news. 914-631-8200,

Photos of Montgomery Place courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Where to begin in discussing Cuban installation/performance artist Tania Bruguera, whose new show, "On the Political Imaginary" is at Purchase College's Neuberger Museum of Art through April 11?

Bruguera is one of those in-your-face artists who uses images that are controversial, blatantly sexual and often downright disgusting — rotting sugarcane, nude performers burdened by raw meat and animal carcasses, gun-wielding actors, costumes made of earth and rusty nails to mimic African icons — as a way of provoking a response from the audience, which then becomes part of her art. At her best in this show, she approaches the brilliance of Douglas Gordon's "30 seconds text," whose exploration of life-in-dying is one of the most chilling and mesmerizing works I've ever seen.

"Untitled (Kassel, 2002)" has something of that work's spellbinding frisson. You enter through the darkened maze that was once the museum's cavernous Theater Gallery. Under the glare of a bank of lights in one of the constructed rooms, you notice a woman in a dark suit patrolling a mezzanine with a pistol. It's a toy gun, of course, you wonder. (You hope.) Then you think, Is she going to point it at me? That clicking sound you hear when the lights go off is the gun being loading and reloaded. (The work was originally performed in Kassel, Germany, site of a munitions factory in World War II.) Actually, I wasn't aware of the clicking sound. I was too busy concentrating on getting out of the gallery as soon as the lights came back on.

And that's what Bruguera wants: Coming as she does from a country that has been under a dictatorship for decades, she wants you to experience the paralytic power of imprisonment, physical and psychological, as well as the visceral thrill of vicarious bondage.

Bruguera is nothing if not a multi-layered artist. In the 1998-99 video "Displacement," above, she donned an earthen costume (also on display) to conjure the African deity Nkisi Nkonde, whom Afro-Cubans petition with requests by puncturing the figure with rusted nails. This also evokes the image of Jesus nailed to the cross and makes you wonder why one would torture a god to whom one prays.

Like a lot of clever artists, however, Bruguera sometimes overplays her hand. She doesn't trust the audience to get her work. The layers are piled on thick. In "Poetic Justice" (2002-03), right, based on her four-week residency in India, textured brown walls made of used teabags couch small video screens in which a hand is treated with a salve, for instance. The accompanying handout describes it thus: "The luminous scenes combine the dematerialized spectacle of technological modernity with the earthliness and immediacy of more traditional Indian products." Huh? This makes no verbal sense and obfuscates the visual metaphor of the teabag — a source of national pride in India and a symbol of colonial oppression.

Then there is Bruguera's troubling use of the body, particularly the female body. In "Studio Study" (1996), performed in the South Gallery 1:30-2:10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, a nude actress encased in metal rings and tufts of cotton leans forward on a small pedestal, cupping a piece of raw meat. (Needless to say, this is not a show for kids.) It's is a loaded work that suggests everything from the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna, divesting herself as she descends to the underworld, where she hangs on a hook, to the HIV-positive performance artist Tim Miller, who got into such trouble in the Reagan era by cutting himself onstage and sending blood-laced pieces of paper out into the audience.

But "Studio Study," along with other works in the show, also makes you wonder why Bruguera feels the need to explore the debasement of the body, particularly the female body.

The actress Geneviève White, who performs the role four times a week, sees it differently.

"There's an element of restriction but also an element of freedom," she told me as she was leaving the museum after today's performance. "In a way, it's like putting me in a cage. But it's also keeping me from falling off a pedestal. It's harsh as metal and soft as cotton. It's empowering and diminishing."

I reminded her that some have used these same words to describe prostitution, stripping and porn.

Is "On the Political Imaginary" great art? Probably not. But it does make you think. And that alone is worth the price of admission.

The show is accompanied by "Contemporary Latin American Art from the Luis Calzadilla Collection," a wonderful introduction to this specialty. More about this exhibit in an upcoming post. 914-251-6100,

Photos courtesy of the Neuberger Museum.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shall we dance?

Attention, amateur toe-tappers!

Purchase College's Performing Arts Center is not to be outdone by the current crop of singing-dancing reality shows. The center has commissioned choreographer Larry Keigwin of New York City's Keigwin + Company to reprise his "Bolero" project, in which everyday folks get together for a community dance event.

The center has announced an open casting call for participants (all ages and skills) for high noon Saturday at its locale on the college campus, off Anderson Hill Road between Purchase and King streets.

Wiley Hausam, who now heads the PAC, commissioned Keigwin to do his first "Bolero," called "Bolero NYC," in 2007 when he was at NYU. Already, Keigwin has worked with fourth- and fifth-graders at the King Street School on some dances for "Bolero Suburbia," which will be presented May 6 and 8.

As Hausam told The Arts Muse: "'Bolero Suburbia' will be a celebration of life in Westchester and Fairfield Counties."

So get out those dancing shoes! For more information, check out

Friday, January 29, 2010


With the Westchester Jazz Orchestra offering "From Bossa To Tango: Sounds of South America" tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Irvington Town Hall Theater, it's time to consider the rise of Latin-American culture in our community.

Things have been heating up for some time now. Several years ago, the Caramoor International Music Festival in Katonah launched its popular "Sonidos Latinos" series. Last year, Purchase College's Neuberger Museum of Art hired Latin-American specialist Patrice Giasson as a curator.

Next month, my partner, ArtsWestchester, will begins its "Taste of Latino Culture" series, focusing on Colombia (Feb. 27), Bolivia (March 13), Peru (April 17) and Central America (May 1). On April 17 and 18, the Westchester Philharmonic performs dances of the Americas under the baton of Mexico's Alondra de la Parra.

So why is Latin culture hot, hot, hot here? In part this is Westchester's acknowledgment of the contributions that Hispanics — the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population — have made to this country.

But also Latino arts have a distinct variety and vibrance. I remember attending a performance of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" at the New York City Ballet one warm Saturday night and being drawn to the salsa dancing on Lincoln Center Plaza. I am clumsy enough that I stay way back from the artwork in museums — which given recent events at The Metropolitan Museum of Art may not be a bad idea. So I didn't join in the salsa dancing. But I was tempted.

That's Latin culture for you. Simply irresistible.

For tickets to tomorrow's Westchester Jazz Orchestra concert, call 914-861-9100, or log on to

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The politics of rejection

Though it may be a little off-topic since this is a local arts blog, I can't resist weighing in on the continuing Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien/David Letterman controversy. I feel it's within my purview, since Leno grew up in New Rochelle while Letterman lives in Westchester, and anyhow, whether you live locally or in China, the scandal has a lot to say about how human beings cope (or don't) with something many of us have faced in the workplace — rejection.

The simple fact is that if Conan O'Brien had brought in the ratings NBC required, he wouldn't have been forced to give up "The Tonight Show," and we none of us would be talking about this right now. But O'Brien failed to execute, in part because he failed to hold on to the older viewers who are "The Tonight Show's" core audience, while also failing to deliver a younger crowd, which is made up of fickle consumers at best. (Where were all those young people protesting O'Brien's departure outside NBC's headquarters when O'Brien was foundering? Why advertisers are always courting younger viewers — who unlike their grandparents, have no discretionary income or sense of brand loyalty — is beyond me.)

Letterman — who was once passed over for "The Tonight Show" hosting gig by the Peacock Network in favor of Leno — has been having a field day (and night) with this, skewering NBC and his onetime friend and eternal rival. But how is it really Leno's fault? He, too, was rejected by the network, told in 2004 he would have to give up "The Tonight Show" in 2009 to pave the way for Conan. (Another example of New Coke replacing Classic Coke. And we know how well that turned out.)

Leno only got the 10 p.m. weekday time slot, because NBC was afraid he'd develop a late-night show at ABC. (Not to mix metaphors here, but in this NBC has acted like the husband who no longer wants the first wife but doesn't want her to marry someone else so he offers to buy her an antique shop to keep her busy.)

Yes, NBC has behaved badly. And certainly, honcho Jeff Zucker is hardly an example of Alexandrian leadership. But you know what? The world is full of bad bosses. All that matters, all that you can control, is your own performance.

And what of Letterman's? He is a skilled comedian who can speak feelingly of things that matter (9/11; his heart surgery and his father's early death from heart disease). But years after leaving NBC, he is still bitter about being passed over for Leno, and he was passed over for the very prickliness he exhibits nightly, which doesn't play well in Peoria. (Leno is actually a lot more cutting. But he gets away with it, because he's nicer. Note that the most devastating, memorable line to come out of the whole debacle was his stiletto quip that the way to get Letterman to ignore you is to marry him.)

Nonetheless, with his nightly performance, Letterman enters what I like to call the literature of rejection. Like Medea, Achilles, Lucifer and Heathcliff, he can't let go. He can't walk away. Fortunately for us, he's a comedian rather than a tragedian, so the stage isn't littered with bodies.

History, however, is peopled with assassins, terrorists, dictators and other all-too-real murderers who also had a disproportionate rage at rejection, who never understood that, in the words of the movie "The Phantom Menace," "there's always a bigger fish."

The line between a Letterman and a Lee Harvey Oswald is the razor's edge.

Forever young

J.D. Salinger has died, and while I would agree with the grandmothers of the world that it is impolite to speak ill of the dead, I see no reason to extend that courtesy to his work.

Am I alone in thinking that "The Catcher in the Rye" is one of the most overrated works in the so-called American canon? I put it right up there with Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" and Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" — novels often touted by folks who have read little else.

"The Catcher in the Rye" is narrated by Holden Caulfield, a kid who despises phonies but is the biggest phony in the book. He talks tough in the vernacular of the early '50s that seems so quaint and dated today (and that recalls the observation made in the play "The History Boys" that there's nothing deader than the recent past.)

But like most cynics who think they have the inside dope on everyone, Holden is really a sentimentalist unable to face life, which is why he runs away from his prep school and why he is admirably suited to the institution in which he finds himself in the story. (The most attractive character in the book, and the only one with real guts, is Holden's long-suffering younger sister, Phoebe, who can see things as they are and yet go on loving.)

Whereas Holden lacks a certain self-knowledge, perhaps like his creator, who courted fame and then turned his back on it, not unlike those Hollywood actors who take their clothes off in movies and then complain that the press never writes about their minds. Not everyone has the temperament to be famous. But you need to figure that out beforehand as it can be hard to turn off.

There are two reasons why "The Catcher in the Rye" remains part of American culture — one of them simple and one of them painful. Both are related. First, it has a captive audience as it is still taught in the American school system. And two, it is a book about an adolescent, which makes it perfect for a society that has never grown up, because it is afraid of growing old and dying.

I predicted a continuing love affair with the boy who is forever young.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Orientalist

Among the many lovely pieces in the new "Exotic Encounters" show — which the Bruce Museum in Greenwich has ingeniously culled from its own collection — is a hand-colored lithograph by David Roberts, "View of the Hall of Columns, Karnac, Thebes."

Roberts was a 19th-century Scottish painter whose honeyed, sand-swept scenes of Egypt and the Holy Land were part of the Orientalist movement, in which the West reinterpreted the Middle East. From the moment I became acquainted with it, I've been addicted to his work. There's something particularly satisfying about the creamy palette he used to conjure the fallen columns of Egyptian temples and the still-proud statues of Ramesses the Great. It's as if this lost world were once again kissed by the sun.

There is also a beguiling solitude about his paintings, prints and drawings, in which people often appear only to give the viewer a sense of scale. This enables us to inhabit the space instead, if only in our imaginations.

"Art, Travel, and Modernity in the Collection of the Bruce Museum" runs through April 25. 203-869-0376,

Friday, January 22, 2010

More WTDTW-22

Don't forget the Artist Talk 3 p.m. Sunday with the Netherlands' Wineke Gartz, whose sound-and-light show "Morgana Plains, from silver to gold" is generating buzz at the Arts Exchange, home of my partner, ArtsWestchester in White Plains. For more, go to

Later on that day, pour yourself a cup of Lady Grey and sit back to savor "Emma," a three-part adaptation of the Jane Austen favorite, which airs on PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" on three consecutive Sundays at 9 p.m. Romola Garai — the gifted beauty straitjacketed by her role in "Atonement," an overrated film of a misguided book — fares much better here as everyone's favorite mis-matchmaker, who leaves a trail of romantic debris in the Regency village that is her world. Jonny Lee Miller is her Mr. Knightley — the neighbor and in-law who could make his romantic intentions toward her plain if she would just stop meddling and listen to her own heart.

This being a "Masterpiece" adaptation, it is darker in tone and fuller in plot than the several film versions. We finally understand, for example, the convoluted history between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. Still, for all the merits of this production — and they are many in terms of acting, architecture, cinematography, writing — I can't help but prefer the sun-dappled 1996 film with a radiant Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role and featuring Rachel Portman's sprightly Oscar-winning score.


I can think of few better places to while away the winter hours than at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its glorious "The Drawings of Bronzino" show (through April 18). There you'll encounter — no doubt for the very first time — an artist who was in many ways the equal of Michelangelo in talent if not in fame today.

Angolo di Cosimo Toro, known as Bronzino, was born to a butcher near Florence in 1503 and apprenticed to the elegant painter Jacopo Pontormo. Bronzino grew up to become a distinguished poet as well as court painter to Duke Cosimo I de' Medici and his first wife, Eleonora di Toledo — the latter being immortalized in all her brocaded splendor, along with her young son Giovanni I, in one of the artist's best-known canvases.

Bronzino combined the delicacy of his master's gifts with the sculptural genius of Michelangelo. But as this first-ever Bronzino show demonstrates — there will be an exhibit of his paintings in Florence this fall — the Mannerist artist also possessed a balletic grace that was all his own. This is encapsulated by the sublime "Joseph With Jacob and His Brothers," a fragment of the modello, or demonstration piece, for the tapestry "Joseph Recounting His Dream of the Sun, Moon and Stars" (circa 1546-48), on loan from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The central figure is, of course, Joseph, the beautiful dreamer of the Bible, whose pride, privilege, talent and obliviousness inspire his brothers to jealous treachery. Here Bronzino gives Joseph a treatment worthy of the lust that inflamed the heart of Potiphar's wife. His knotted tunic is as ornamental as his twisting tresses, his profile is exquisitely elongated and his heavenward gesture accentuates his sinewy tenderness.

He is indeed the sun around which revolve the elderly, doting patriarch Jacob, who hangs on his son's every word; baby bro Benjamin, portrayed as a yearning youth; and their older siblings, whose faces are coarsened by murderous hate.

Bronzino has arranged the composition in such a way that the figures are not only thrown into sculptural relief. They become dancers in a ballet that is a complex family drama. It's as if Bronzino has transcended the preparatory stage of draftsmanship and even tapestry itself — the drawing here and elsewhere is superior to the finished product in any event — to foreshadow ballet choreography or opera direction.

You'll find Bronzino's divinely dynamic gifts also expressed in the modello for "The Resurrection" (circa 1548-52), which presents us with a Jesus who is at once gentle and heroic; and the modello for the Frescoed Vault of the Chapel of Eleonora di Toledo (circa 1540), which gives us a rippling, sensuous St. Michael. These and other works are wonderfully reproduced on heavy, cream-colored paper in the accompanying catalog, edited by the estimable Carmen C. Bambach, who curated the show with Janet Cox-Rearick and George R. Goldner.

Sometimes Bronzino's rarefied skill goes too far, though, as in the reproduction of his fresco "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" (1565-69). St. Lawrence was martyred on a grill. Here, however, he looks like nothing so much as a splendidly unruffled young man about to stretch out on a tanning bed. 212-535-7710,

Friday, January 15, 2010


I have no idea if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a lover of the arts. (Given his gift for oratory, he must have had a strong aesthetic streak.) Still, there's no question the arts have loved him as he has inspired any number of works.

And institutions. This Monday, which marks the celebration of his birth, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich will pay tribute to the slain civil rights leader with a special day of programming from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Events will include workshops in which students will make "I have a dream..." buttons and have a chance to add their self-portraits to the museum's Circle of Friends mural.

A highlight will be two performances, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m,. of "The Story of a Tree" by the husband-and-wife team of Malik and Vassie Welbeck-Browne (pictured here). The production deals with issues of self-esteem and multiculturalism.

All of the events are included in museum admission — $7; $6 for senior citizens and students; free for children under age 5. The museum is at 1 Museum Drive, off Steamboat Road. 203-869-0376,

Photo courtesy of the Bruce Museum.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Negative rewards

Big whoop-de-doo in the Letters to the Editor section of The New York Times today re: Judith H. Dobrzynski's recent Op-Ed piece about museums' deaccessioning (selling) parts of their collections as a way to raise money.

I didn't read her piece, but here's the thing about deaccessioning collections or selling jewelry or property as a way to make money: It's basically what I call "negative revenue," and negative revenue creates a false sense of income.

The day always comes when buyers cease to be buyers and sellers cease to have items to sell. No one wants your personal gold jewelry forever and even if they do, you're going to run out of gold jewelry after a while. Then what?

The only way to make money is to make, do, buy or sell something that people will continuously want. And that's very hard to figure out and then constantly fulfill.

In other words, you have to make money the old-fashioned way, as the SmithBarney commercial use to say: You have to earn it.

What to Do This Weekend returns next Friday!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

12th Day of Xmas

Well, we made it! Here we are at the 12th day of Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany when the Christ Child manifested himself to the Magi and thus the Gentiles.

Frankly, I didn't think I'd cross the finish line, in part because this is such a quiet time in the arts. But things are heating up again, beginning at 5:30 tonight with a two-hour workshop on solar energy for teachers, teaching assistants and education students at the Arts Exchange building in White Plains, home of my partner, ArtsWestchester.

And couldn't we all use a jolt of Mr. Sun at this time of the year? 914-428-4220,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

11th Day of Christmas

My former colleague — and eternal friend — Barbara Nachman e-mailed me yesterday to say she's been watching the PBS rebroadcast of "Cranford" and pronounces it "perfection."

Well, Babs, the 11th Day of Christmas is just for you and other "Cranford" buffs. Herewith The Arts Muse offers a brief review of "Return to Cranford," airing at 9 p.m. this Sunday and next on PBS' "MASTERPIECE Classic" (THIRTEEN locally).

Judi Dench heads a superlative cast, reprising her role as kindly Matty Jenkyns, the compassionate core of an Arcadian town in 1844 England that's on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. (It's a measure of Dench's range that while she is known for playing powerful women, like M, James Bond's no-nonsense boss, she makes Matty utterly convincing.)

Of course, Matty is powerful in her own right: She has the power of love. Love for fusty friends Olivia Pole (Imelda Staunton), Mrs. Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Mrs. Jamieson (Barbara Flynn) and Augusta Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay). Love for the town's Romeo and Juliet — rich, striving William Buxton (Tom Hiddleston) and poor but sterling Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker). Even love for the railroad that threatens to tear the town of Cranford apart as it brings progress.

Progress is kind to some, unlucky for others. "Return to Cranford," like its predecessor, is very much about the way we seize shifting fortunes — or don't. And while there are plenty of men in Cranford and "Cranford" — including Capt. Brown (Jim Carter), in charge of bringing the railroad through the town; Peter Jenykins (Nicholas Le Prevost), Miss Matty's peripatetic brother; the aforementioned, delicious William Buxton; and his old-fashioned father (Jonathan Pryce) — this is really the story of women as what Anna Quindlen once called "the fabric of society".

That fabric, too, undergoes changes. The women of Cranford feel the stirrings of feminism and even set their caps for careers. At one point, Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon), a friend of Miss Matty's, opines about the solitary difficulties of being a woman and a writer. (Amen to that, sister.)

Mostly, though, the women of Cranford tend the cows and gardens, run the shops, refurbish the assembly halls, and mend the broken hearts. These are the kinds of people who won't be found in history books. But we are all the richer for their having lived.