ART THAT (MOSTLY) DARES NOT SPEAK ITS NAME, Exhibition review of L’ART EN GUERRE (ART IN WAR), France 1938-47 at Le Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

matisse-jazz

-from Matisse’s “Jazz”

No European nation escaped the devastation of the Second World War, and yet the damage was particular to France, which suffered neither the infernal rain of the fire-bombings of Dresden nor the pluvial death afflicted on London during the Blitz— a city particularly used to downpours one might add. Of course, one must inevitably acknowledge the shellings of coastal Brittany and Normandy, the first sixth months of the war before France’s humiliating defeat &c., but France emerged from the war like a bourgeois family from a Maupassant story, its façade intact and its soul absent. This is the France that turned its coat on its capitulation from Germany and scampered over to the side of the victors, and through the maneuverings of de Gaulle joined the allied forces in occupying a quarter of Germany, Austria, and their respective capitals. This is the France that officially denied its complicity in the Shoa until 1995 when Chirac acknowledged “collective responsibility”— an avowal of guilt that was not universally welcomed in 1995. None of this is news, but this moral eye, not so much blind as glass, provides useful context.

It is not surprising, then, that much of the gallery space in a show devoted to French art “in war” from just before its outbreak to just after its close, gives one the pleasant sensation you receive after leaving the bitterness of winter to enter a room where a softly chuckling fire is lit; the room stands not so much in relation to the cold as in its refusal, or in this case denial. So while it would be churlish of me to deny the power and beauty of many of the works presented, the relationship of much of the art presented to war is one of complete negation, and it is something of a quixotic notion to try to present them as in agitation to the war, or more damagingly as noble acts of resistance. And yet, among these works there are those that truly confront the stained Nazi boot. The major current, however, is of a warming Gulf Stream soothing France from its chilly longitudinal altitude.

Continue reading…

BRUTAL ART IN THE QUITE GENTEEL SEVENTH: Art Review of The Museum of Everything hosted by La Chalet Society

Tags

, , , , , ,

Shaker Tree of Life

Shaker Artist Hannah Cohoon’s “The Tree of Life,” painted 1854.
NB: This isn’t included in the show and I didn’t want to tempt to 1,000 Euro fine for taking photos. It does, however, serve as a good frame of reference.

Dear Readers, I have never kept a diary, but I am told that neglecting entries often leads the diarist to attempt to make up for his past negligence by filling in the wide holes with a short précis absent of lived experience until the volume born to guard thoughts and still glistening impressions becomes nothing more than a grocery list notation of life— December first, first time I ate a pomegranate; October second, first time I fell in love; November fourth, had a marvelous time out dancing; September twenty-second, broken ankle; January fourth, nothing to report. I too have neglected not a diary, but a journal. I will not make the mistake of reducing my time here to a series of telegrams. Just le me say I have felt very lucky to have lived in Paris for as long as I have and that my silence is now broken.

v

Recently, a friend of mine, a charming Parisian who reminds me of what Madeline might be like if she grew up and left me behind the “old house in Paris that was covered with vines” to study art history, showed me around the museum where she just started working, though ‘museum’ is perhaps not quite the right word. La Chalet Society (founded by the former director of Le Palais de Tokyo, Marc-Olivier Wahler) along with the London based Museum of Everything teamed up to present an exhibition of Outsider and Folk Art whose run has been extended until February 24th. It would be perhaps unwise to credit the space on Boulevard Raspail as a museum— despite the English partner’s somewhat bombastic moniker— as La Chalet Society describes itself as, “…a new cultural project, which aims to reflect upon the contemporary art institution.  As a mobile structure, its programming operates on different types of platforms and formats, a bit like an open-source software able to run on any hardware.” I’m not sure that’s really any better than a ‘museum of everything,’ but despite my misgivings on these choice words, some of the work presented is phenomenal.

Continue reading…

IN WHICH I REVEAL MY TRUE IDENITY, CAST LIGHT ON MY AVATAR, & ANNOUNCE A BAPTISM: Une lettre à mes cheres lecteurs

It cannot surprise any of my treasured readers to know that the writer of this rather catty stab at insight into the New York art scene (particularly on stage) is not a fin de siècle Jewish dandy who inspired Proust’s Charles Swann in À la recherche du temps perdu. I am, as I hinted in my old bio, a rather affected student living in New York. Soon I will travel to the land where all the snobs with airs and stabs at erudition eventually find themselves: Paris. I’ll be there for nine months, during which time I hope to cover the Parisian cultural milieu, with particular attention to events, exhibitions, performances and happenings for those not fluent in the lingua franca of the 19th Century. I will also document my time in the alleys and boulevards of the City of Lights along with my travels on the continent outside the aloof embrace of those twenty almost too chic arrondissements. Expect particular attention paid to those parts of France you can chew, swallow or both.

As I have dropped the veil of anonymity in the guise of a long interred Frenchman, it seems only fair that I reveal my given name, and if I reveal my given name it seems only a little preposterous to continue calling this enterprise ‘Le Journal de Charles Haas’ (if only because even with an aspirated h, Haas tends to produce giggles not genuflection or even respect) but if only out of my love for Proust I cannot not entirely discard this ridiculous sobriquet, so welcome dear readers to ‘Le Journal de Charles Swann.’

-Christopher Alexander Gellert

P.S. Upon my return I will resume my chronicle of New York City’s vast, varied, sublime, and subterranean cultural milieu. Until we meet again ma chère!

P.P.S. The blog’s new name has a shiny new address to go with it. While lejournaldecharleshaas.com remains active, the primary domain is now charlesswann.com. A little less cumbersome.

THIS TIME IT’S NOT PERFUME THOSE GALLIC LOVEBIRD ARE HAWKING, IT’S THE REAL THING: Film Review of ‘Beloved’ (‘Les bien-aimés)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, mother and daughter onscreen and off.

The French have always had a difficult relationship with musicals, or as they call them, les comédies musicales. The form is one of America’s principal cultural ties to its erstwhile colonizer. Of course, the dialogue is not limited to Gilbert & Sullivan and Sondheim, but extends across genres with shows in perpetual rotation between the West End and Broadway; a show is only to close in New York to be transferred to London to close in London to be revived in New York. If British and American politicians could achieve the same level of spirited collaboration in the “special relationship” as the West End and Broadway, it could have enormous geopolitical benefits. Though, Anglo-American diplomatic intercourse, perversely cordial or otherwise, is not our concern here. This brief aside was only meant to demonstrate the theatrical intimacy between the UK and the US and their adoption of many of the same forms and conventions. As a general rule, for all of the cross-pollination between French artists and their Anglo-Saxon peers, la tradition française has stood in contrast to their Norman descendants, especially when it comes to musicals.

For all that, musicals owe their existence to a Frenchman. Hevré established the light comic operas, or opérettes, which were popularized by the German born French composer Offenbach. The opérettes leapt across the channel where they lost their courtisane stars and became respectably English. Perhaps it is this association with middle-class virtue that has attracted such derision on the continent. Christophe Honoré’s new musical film Les bien-aimés (Beloved) may break with the traditional Gallic snub for English probity, but it is not without precedent. Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) was an unexpected succès fou in France. And yet it would be unwise to too closely associate the two. Demy’s film was a Technicolor tribute to Hollywood; M. Honoré’s film is in dialogue with its Tinseltown counterparts, not in fealty.

Continue reading…

YOUR HUSBAND HELD HOSTAGE TO TERRORISTS & YOUR LOVE TO REALPOLITIK: Theatre Review of ‘Two Rooms’

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The divided couple: Bree Michael Wells and Curran Connor.

Before Diverse City Theater Company’s revival of Lee Blessing’s 1990 play Two Rooms even begins we are presented with a stark image. The bleached frame of a room is suspended from the ceiling well above the actors’ heads; a small oriental carpet is the only furnishing on stage. Maruti Evans designed the skillfully attuned lights that match his quietly effective set. The play, too, is no drama burnt by hot air and basted in vitriol fabricating conflict, but the quiet containment of suffering. Its refusal to shout benefits from sensitive direction by Jamie Richards.

Continue reading…

THE BULLET JAMMED & THE PLAY MISFIRED: Theatre Review of ‘Bullet for Adolf’

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Everyone’s there but the kindly Nazi paterfamilias.

In a recent interview the actor turned playwright and director, who still stuns onscreen, and stage Woody Harrelson, said that the only target off-limits in the new play he co-wrote with his friend Frankie Hyman was what we now refer to as the developmentally disabled. This is hardly surprising. The play is so shoddily constructed I would have guessed that Mr. Harrelson and Mr. Hyman were not in full possession of their faculties when they wrote it. That said, the varied stereotypes enacted are not so much satirized (satire requiring a measure of thought) as they are paraded out for equal opportunity ridicule and lampooning. Mr. Harrelson is a marvelous actor who is equally comfortable as the jester or the heavy, but he and Mr. Hyman are still amateur wordsmiths.

Continue reading…

IF YOUR NAGGING MOTHER BECAME BIG BROTHER: Theatre Review of ‘The Last Smoker in America’

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Farah Alvin as the illicit inhaler.

The Last Smoker in America seems like a particularly New York nightmare. It’s not our guns and religion that they’ll pry from our cold dead hands, it’s our smokes! There has been much resentment by the community of gradual immolation and halting recovering through hors de prix nausea, or as I like to call them the carcinogenophiles, after Bloomberg banned lighting up in restaurants and bars, and then public parks. After the mayor’s threatened interdiction of fizz (by the fuzz?), the soda industry has been rallying its troops of the morbidly obese and reflexively sedentary to take to the streets and storm city hall. Perhaps instead of a typical march, the folks at Coca & Pepsi Cola can hire a fleet of reinforced golf carts to ferry its legions of animate lipids down Broadway— though this might cause panic among New Yorkers that there’s been an alien invasion…from the Midwest! The Last Smoker in America posits a future where cigarettes have been outlawed and possession can lead to heavy fines.  At the beginning of the play, an animatronic smoke detector announces that possession of one cigarette is punishable by one year in prison, and later proclaims that persons caught inhaling will be sentenced to twenty years hard labor in Poughkeepsie. Poughkeepsie!

Continue reading…