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.

Monday, January 4, 2010

10th Day of Xmas

On the 10th Day of Christmas — the first Monday of the new year — we look to the future, the very near future, with the New Rochelle Council on the Arts.

The arts council has just closed its call for entries for its spring show. "Utopiapix: Visions of the Future, Then and Now," featuring works by artists from the tri-state area, will be on view at New Rochelle Public Library's Lumen Winter Gallery March 1-31. Pop artist Charles Fazzino, artist and Westchester Philharmonic musician David Tobey and Castle Gallery director Katrina Rhein are the judges for this exhibit, which has a $500 top prize and a second prize of $250.

The theme of "Utopiapix" inspires the inevitable question: If you could design a future, what would it be?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

9th Day of Christmas

Longing to stretch out the Christmas holidays just a wee bit more? On the Ninth Day of Christmas, The Arts Muse offers two of her fav yuletide stops.

The first is The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval wing in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. There you'll find "Christmastide at The Cloisters" from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. today and Tuesday.

In The Middle Ages, Christmas was not the big deal it is today. (The sights and sounds of the season we know and love were basically 19th-century customs, many of which were brought to England by Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Consort, Albert, who was of German descent.)

Instead, the medieval Christmas was as spare and lovely as a sparkling winter day, with fruited garlands, shafts of wheat and serene chants to deck the Romanesque and Gothic halls, as it were. Experience it for yourself. 212-923-3700,

Those on the go might prefer boarding the "Holiday Train Show" at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (through Jan. 10). The city, past and present, is imaginatively recreated in twigs, branches and leaves that cast an amber glow over the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. My favorites are the Chrysler Building and Yankee Stadium, which is not the original Yankee Stadium or New Yankee Stadium but what we might call Yankee Stadium II.

Someday archaeologists may study the various strata of Yankee Stadium the way they do ancient Troy. 212-817-8700,

Saturday, January 2, 2010

8th Day of Xmas

If you're like me — perhaps you don't want to commit to that thought just yet — you're no good at New Year's resolutions. I tend to break mine even as I'm writing them down. That's because I usually select the refinement of qualities that are hardwired into my character, rather than say, lose 10 pounds. (It took me years to figure out that qualities — impatience, anger, selfishness — are just that, qualities, and that context drives our perception of them as good or bad.)

Anyway as a cultural writer, I'm going to make just one resolution on this Eighth Day of Christmas — to experience more in the new year and to think and write about it more profoundly.

What are your artistic resolutions?

Friday, January 1, 2010

7th Day of Xmas

The Seventh Day of Christmas falls on the day of the week that The Arts Muse features a What To Do This Weekend post. So why break with tradition? Normally, the first weekend of the new year is a quiet one artistically, a time for contemplation. There are few better ways to commune with oneself — and with nature — than with the "First Sunday" Bird Walk at Greenwich Point in Greenwich.

The two-hour walk is held in collaboration with two nature organizations, Wild Things and Audubon Greenwich, and begins at 9 a.m. at the Point's southern concession stand. BYOB, which in this case means bring your own binoculars. For more information, call 203-413-6756.