Peeling Back the Paint to Discover Bruegel’s Secrets

New technology allows researchers to look beneath the layers of the Dutch master’s works, revealing some macabre details.
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Bill Cosby, Once a Model of Fatherhood, Is Sent to Prison for Sexual Assault

Mr. Cosby was sentenced to serve three to 10 years for drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand. He has said he will appeal the conviction.
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Patti Smith Rocks the Getty Honoring Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith gently rocked the Getty Center Saturday, April 30, performing two acoustic shows in honor of her “life-long friend” Robert Mapplethorpe, whose poignant artworks and photographs are on exhibit there and at LACMA through July 31.

Using poetry, song, reminiscence and readings from her National Book Award-winning Just Kids, Smith took those lucky enough to have acquired tickets to this event on a journey through her and Mapplethorpe’s life together from the time they met in 1969 – penniless, guileless and both strikingly handsome – to Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989.

Warning that “memory is like cubism,” she spun their entwined tale and revealed how the duo had a remarkable penchant for letting fate guide them to the right place at the right time and for getting out of their own way in service of their creativity and their work.

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credit: Andrea R. Vaucher

Wearing an ear-to-ear smile and her uniform of black combat boots and jacket (at one time she wore only Ann Demeulemeester), Smith began by reading a poem that she wrote for Mapplethorpe’s memorial booklet. As photographs of and by Mapplethorpe were projected on the wall at the back of the stage, Smith described their journey.

Against the backdrop of a photograph of the “kids” in Coney Island on Sept. 1, 1969 — Smith in rolled up white pants and a black bandana around her forehead and Mapplethorpe, dapper in a black hat and a white bandana around his neck – she set off on a trip through their starving young artist days, during which she cooked them lettuce soup – basically just lettuce and bouillon cubes – while they listened to Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin.

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credit: Andrea R. Vaucher

“We had a great way to weather all kinds of personal storms,” she explained, adding that though their romance was physical, too, it was essentially “work-based,” its foundation being their “common belief in one another” and the key to their long friendship. Smith revealed that her friend was funny, mischievous and liked to laugh and that he was “smitten” with photography, long before it became a respected art “like painting and sculpture.”

Her readings from the book and her other memories were punctuated with song – she sang some of her most well-known numbers like Dancing Barefoot and Because the Night, her one hit song (written with Springsteen.) She sang the very moving Paths that Cross, which she wrote for Mapplethorpe after his lover, mentor and benefactor, Sam Wagstaff, died of AIDS in 1987. Smith was accompanied on guitar or piano by her long time collaborator Tony Shanahan.


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credit: Andrea R. Vaucher

When Rani Singh of the Getty Research Institute introduced Smith at the 4PM show, she enumerated her many creative attributes – poet, author, singer – and even created a new one calling her a “songer,” which she quickly corrected to songwriter but which foreshadowed the singer’s own talent for making up words. I found it especially fascinating that Smith kept referring to Mapplethorpe’s early pen and ink, complicated yet delicate drawings, as “drawlings,” definitely adding an “l” to the word. Was this intentional, a reference to Mapplethorpe’s own “drawl?” Smith used this word to describe how, towards the end of his life, Mapplethorpe had sardonically drawled “where’s the dance song?” when she and her husband, musician Fred “Sonic” Smith visited him in New York and she sang him Wild Leaves, which she had written for him.

“He always wanted me to have a hit,” she fondly remembered.

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Is Britney Spears Ready to Stand on Her Own?

For years, the life of one of the world’s most successful pop stars has been controlled by a court-approved conservatorship, designed for people who cannot take care of themselves.
NYT > Arts

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What It’s Like to Be Black in China

Being black in China is not easy, but it’s not as bad as many would have you think, according to our two guests this week who are both black immigrants currently living in Beijing. Sure, people stare a lot and there are often some inappropriate questions about hair and skin color, but more often than not says Black Lives in China creator Nicole Bonnah, those awkward questions come from a good place — curiosity.

Nicole, originally from the United Kingdom, is a Beijing-based journalist who is embarking on an ambitious documentary film project about daily life for black immigrants living across China. One of the people Nicole interviewed for the film was Tiffany Johnson, an African-American educator also based in Beijing.

Tiffany, like Nicole, said China’s largely homogeneous culture and inexperience in dealing with diversity does lead to some awkward encounters, but she adds that it would be incorrect to label this “racism.” Compared to the United States, where race is a filter for almost everything in society, the Chinese are largely ignorant about issues of race. So when Chinese people say things that would otherwise be off-limits in Africa or the West, Tiffany and Nicole argue that because the intent isn’t the same as it would be if those same words were said in New York, London or Johannesburg, the impact is also different.

Nicole and Tiffany join Eric & Cobus — in the podcast above — to talk about what it’s like to be a black in China.

Earlier on WorldPost:

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Interview With Glenn Brown

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Glenn Brown. Foto: Elena Cué

British artist Glenn Brown (1966) himself acknowledges and admits the influence that French Post-Structuralist philosophy has had on both his thought and his works. Too much knowledge when contemplating a work of art can prevent the viewer from seeing and experiencing the emotional content of it, but this is counterbalanced by the great stimulus it poses for the mind. At a time when it is claimed that painting is dead, artists like Glenn Brown prove that it is very much alive. He uses a technique that bestows movement to the essence of the subject portrayed. It is as if, by breaking free from classical linear form, he opens the floodgates of its essence, stripping it from its static state and transforming it into an evolving entity. He takes over iconic works of other artists and transforms them. He disassembles his images and presents them in a new way. The interconnection and dialogue with artists of the past help develop his own style and render his own interpretation. Opposites, humor, kitsch, even the pleasure of destruction and the fascination for the decomposition of the human form are also characteristic features of this artist.

We begin our conversation surrounded by his paintings in his London studio, where sculptures inspired in the intensity of Van Gogh’s palette will travel to his upcoming exhibition in Arles.

Elena Cue: Is the interconnection and dialogue with artists from the past a condition to building your own style and offering your own interpretación?

Glenn Brown: Obviously, it’s only a one-wat reaction. I can only take from them; I can’t give back to them as would happen with artists when they come into the studio. So obviously, artists from the past can’t comment on my work, I can only comment on theirs. But yes, just in the same way that my work is a combination of myself and all of my friends and the people who have helped me make the work, it’s also the case that it is a combination of all the artists that I’ve seen and learned from. And to that extent, you go back to Gilles Deleuze in terms of any individual being made up of the parts of the society that has constructed them. We are part of a rhizome, a structure of society that develops the language with which we think, as if we’re made of language. We can’t exist outside of it.

Where identities are lost and one is with many other…

I’m just trying to make it very clear that all artists borrow from the past and we cannot be wholly original, because to step outside of originality is to step outside of language. To be wholly original would be to be nonsensical. I think the idea of the avant-garde has made people believe that an artist is supposed to return to some childish level of communication, where the inner-self can be expressed directly onto a canvas and the raw emotion that is beyond language and beyond society will come out in some way. Expressionist painting was supposed to be that. Hence why artists like Picasso and de Kooning to some extent were making these thick, grotesque gestural paintings mimicking the work of children, as if they had the real understanding of what it was to be human. I borrow some of their work, as if to say, well yes, you’re partially right that the work of children is raw and interesting and describes something fundamental, but really what you’re doing is a pretence – it’s a game, because you’re being a very sophisticated artist using sophisticated color combinations and nobody really believes that it’s the work of a child. You’re just pretending, like an actor pretending to be somebody. I’m sort of contradicting the idea of the avant-garde, or trying to, which I think is still very prevalent in our understanding of what art is. It’s too dominant in society. Too much importance is given to the understanding of the real, and not enough importance to the idea that there is a shared understanding of society and that we are social beings more than anything else.

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Glenn Brown. Led Zeppelin, 2005. Oil on panel. 122 x 86 cm. Copyright Glenn Brown

Do you think then that style is produced by the forces from which thought springs?

To some extent, through my borrowing of artists as diverse as Gray or de Kooning or Rembrandt or Van Dyck, you could say I don’t know who I am myself, or that I have no particular style because I borrow so much from other people. I am partially saying that I don’t have an identity, I just choose.

Yet your work has its own distinct caracter that can immediately be attributed to you…

Precisely, because it is important as an artist, I think, to have an identity. Otherwise, nobody pays any attention. And although I’m saying it’s impossible to be original, I also believe that you have to try and be as original as possible and make objects that have never really existed before. So I am trying to make a painting that, although it’s based on somebody else’s work, you would never think was from the eighteenth or nineteenth century; it feels very twenty-first century and postmodern. I have particular styles of working, I mean the very flatness of the paintings and my obsession with the brush mark and the way that’s led into an obsession with the line and the movement that I try to create on the surface of the image, to make your eye slide around the image and continually feel that nothing is quite solid and everything is vaporous; sliding and moving and animated.

You said that you are not original and of course we are a combination of our pasts, but there is a tension between that and something in your thought process that can only ever be original.

That is the wonderful contradiction of making anything. You really want to present something and people like seeing new things; human beings are hardwired in their brains to want to see something new that they haven’t seen before. Something that is surprising and they can tell all their friends is different, and they now understand the world as being different to the way it was before. We love the idea of progression; that the human race is heading towards some nirvana where it becomes better all the time. I don’t believe that the world becomes better; I don’t believe that we become more intelligent. I just think things change – certainly in art. I can’t look at art from the Northern Renaissance – I’m thinking particularly of Dutch or German or Italian artists from the Renaissance. But I particularly like Northern European fifteenth and sixteenth century art. I really can’t think that art is better than it was four hundred years ago. I have Hendrick Goltzius’s etching over there of the Pietá, and I just can’t really conceive that art has ever got better than that, in depicting the idea of death and mortality and emotion and flesh and relationships and the way that the sky becomes electric with emotion. It almost predicts the idea of radiation in the work, or the idea that we are made up of atoms. There is something very atomized about that image.

You use a singular technique. With the movement that you imprint over the essence of the human being in your portraits, in order to break the linear way, do you intend for us to change our previous conception of understanding ourselves and the world?

The idea of the movement is that we are never fixed as individuals. Gilles Deleuze talks about the idea of the horse and the rider, and the rider, in understanding the horse, behaves like the horse. The horse behaves slightly like the human being because they both have to understand each other, in order for the rider to be able to ride the horse properly. They predict what each other are going to do, and are therefore joined together. There is a fluidity between the horse and the rider; between human beings and animals, just as there is when we have a conversation and we try to predict what the other person is going to say. Or we empathize with somebody else and that means there is a fluidity between one person and another. Brains almost literally become connected. That is why in a lot of the work, the linear form is trying to describe a literal fluidity – a melting, reforming or maybe rotting. The image decomposes, hence why I like painting flowers, because when they’re just at the point of being absolutely beautiful, they are about to die – cut flowers particularly, are already dead. They’re at the point in which they are at their most beautiful and we want to display them, but in order to display them, we have killed them. I love that contradiction of having to kill something in order to enjoy it. The important point is that the people and flowers and animals that I paint are maybe all appearing to be decomposing, but they are just transforming from one thing to another. The person rots away and then transforms into the soil, whose atoms then become part of the tree. Then an animal comes and eats the tree, and the tree becomes part of them. We all transform from one thing to another, we are all made of stars; the atoms that we’re made up of are billions of years old and once formed parts of stars. So it’s that idea that we are all eternal, to some extent. It doesn’t matter what form we take. We never truly die, we just transform continuously. I think that is also the essence of what it feels like to be human. I don’t feel as if I am absolutely aware of my skin the entire time, I’m not fully aware that I’m an isolated individual in the world. I feel like I’m part of the world, because I know what the street outside looks like and therefore part of my brain is out there in the street. I feel that I know what Russia is like, although I’ve never been there – so part of my brain is in Russia. I think to be human is to be fluid. It’s not to feel closed in. I’m trying to get at that idea of the inside and the outside, that the skin of the human being is translucent and things flow inside and outside. It’s as if the individual’s skin and flesh is turned inside out and we see the inner organs on the outside of somebody, or the musculature and the inner workings of the face all turned inside out, so that you start to see the structures that happen within the skin… I’m obsessed with that… the translucency of the flesh and the transmogrification of something turning from one thing into another. Andy Goldsworthy does that extremely well – the breaking down of one thing into another is done very beautifully, the way the line creates fluidity from one shape to another and then connects to each other. It is nothing original that I’m trying to do; artists have tried to do it for centuries.

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Glenn Brown. Reproduction, 2014. Oil on panel. 135 x 101 cm. Copyright Glenn Brown

When you appropriate the paintings of other artists, what is your intent? To destruct and rebuild, or deconstruct and transform?

You do destroy, because it’s an act of homage to take somebody else’s work. People often ask whether I like the images that I work from, and I generally do, but not absolutely all the time. Sometimes they’re just paintings where the most important thing is what I can do to them, therefore I will see aspects of them without fundamentally necessarily needing to like the painting.

How do you choose?

It is something that I think I can transform. I see gaps in the work. It is a very disrespectful thing to do to another artist, to take their work and transform it, so it’s partially an act of homage and partially an act of destruction that I think I do. I’ve used a lot of the work of Frank Auerbach, and I like his work extremely, but I don’t think I could do what I do to his paintings if I wasn’t willing to say, well, I think maybe they don’t go far enough, I think maybe I can improve them… they don’t describe the world in the way I want it to be described, so it’s partially an act of criticism and partially an act of homage. I think it is like the relationship between the father and the son, or mother and daughter, where the two criticize each other immensely but they love each other. Families quarrel. Children want to rebel against their parents and tell their parents that they don’t know anything, that they misunderstand the world and that they know better. And all of those things are healthy, because fundamentally, we are our parents – they’re the biggest influence in our lives. So even though we rebel against them and hate them sometimes, they are us. It’s that same relationship of the parent and the offspring that I think I have with artists and art history. I love them and hate them in equal measure. To that end, when my father sees my work, he gets it immediately. He understands my work immediately. He’s my harshest critic, because he will sometimes see a painting of mine and say, you’re not trying hard enough with that one; you’re just trying to get away with it… you think you’ve done something that is good enough, but you can do better. He will point out bits that he doesn’t think works in them, and he is generally right as well. He knows the way my mind works. He is very helpful. It can be quite difficult sometimes, because he’s harsh… but good!

Opposites are very present in your work: figures between life and death, ugliness and beauty, opposite meanings of the paintings and their titles… Do opposites provide greater meaning?

They animate the painting. It is those strong emotions, when you see a film or you read a book and it takes you from a point of absolute elation to absolute disaster, and then back again to being elated. As human beings, we love to be told stories that make our heart beat faster and then calm us down. I don’t know fully why human beings like that; it gives us a sense of adventure, I suppose. I think as hunter-gatherers, we are hardwired to be interested in opposites because extremes can be very dangerous and we know we need to avoid them, very often. It all goes back to dreaming, as well. The reason we dream is to analyze all of the events that have happened in the previous day; to categorize them, to decide which are important and which we need to discard because it’s information we don’t need. It’s a sort of protection that goes back to hunter gathering. We want to know how the animal might behave, therefore we think, I need to think like an animal if I’m going to catch it. Again, going back to that fluidity of one thing flowing into another and the dream world being part of the actual world, and what differences there are between the two. You can’t really have a hierarchy; you can’t have the dream world without the real world.

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Glenn Brown. Dark Star, 2003. Oil on panel. 100 x 75cm. Copyright Glenn Brown

The titles of your paintings are opposite to the meaning of the painting. What role does humor play in your work, so obviously present in the recycling of titles?

I like black humor… humor that is quite cruel. It appears to be nonsensical, but it’s about atomization basically, and it’s about the electricity between the couples. It is meant to be playing the game of having nothing to do with it, because there’s the idea of the human scale and the idea of the nuclear scale – which we perceive as either being very big or very small – with the human being in the middle. So there are opposites in scale within the idea of nuclear reaction. But it’s the electricity or the dynamism between the couples relating to the way they fight and argue with each other, yet love each other. And the way the marks are flying off, it’s as if the atoms are starting to break down and the radiation is destroying them. The idea of the destructive but creative power of radiation is in the work as well, because you don’t know whether the lines are flying off and breaking the figures apart, or whether everything is coalescing and forming back into itself again. There is a painting based on Zurbaran’s ram called Spearmint Rhino – it’s very big. Spearmint Rhino is a series of strip clubs, where women take their clothes off. And so you look at the picture of this ram, which appears to be decaying and smelling rather badly, wondering what this has to do with a lot of American strip clubs. And the ram is about entertainment. We have tied up the ram and killed it; it’s been sacrificed and killed for our entertainment. The reason we sacrifice things is illogical.

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Glenn Brown. Spearmint Rhino, 2009. Oil on panel. 194 x 260.5 cm. Copyright Glenn Brown

What meaning do you give color?

I do generally take color from other artists. I will look at books by Kees van Dongen or Van Gogh or Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. But certain artists – especially those around the turn of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century – where they just tried their damndest to be as extreme as possible with color and really question what was possible, in terms of representing the world. And what happens if I make a painting where the sky is red, the trees are blue, the sea is purple and everything appears to be the exact opposite of what you’d expect it to be? But somehow by being the opposite, it doesn’t become unreal, it just becomes heightened reality, as if he is describing what is really there and we just haven’t seen it yet. I am just learning and stealing color from other artists, in order to try and heighten the theatricality of the real world. And not all of my paintings have very heightened color in them; for the last few years, I’ve been really concentrating on drawing, which has no color in it at all. Some of my paintings are black and white, where I’ll do the exact opposite, I’ll take all of the color out – or as much color as I possibly can – because even when you make a black and white painting, it’s never purely black and white. You get warm areas and cool areas. But I do like the way color describes emotion.

As a primarily figurative painter, how do you feel about the destruction of form, such as can be seen in your Auerbach-inspired paintings?

In a lot of the paintings, the original has become turned upside down, distorted and made abstract, in essence. You can’t recognize what I’ve painted anymore, though I have destroyed the original form and it’s been broken down into a surreal blob. There are a whole group of paintings that I call my blobby paintings, because they are not one thing. They appear to be renditions of a form, a blob, it’s at the point at which it could change into any one thing. You can’t really decide whether it is figurative or abstract, for instance, in a painting . But there are heads and figures you can see within it, so it’s at once both very figurative and very abstract as it transforms from one thing to the other. It has that fluidity of line, as though it is melting, or like chewing gum.

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Glenn Brown. New Dawn Fades, 2000. Oil on panel. 71.5 x 62 cm. Copyright Glenn Brown

What stimulates you more, knowing the world or helping others think through your art?

I like that question. It brings to mind the idea of which is more interesting: experiencing something or reading about it, for instance. Like a lot of people, I would probably say that I like the experience of reading about something. I like the second-hand enjoyment. For instance, I like looking at paintings and portraits, because I like traveling the world through art, in many ways. Especially in the way that painting allows you to travel through time. You can go to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through paintings, in such a fantastic way. Not just because they’re literal renditions of what it was like to live in those centuries, but also how people felt in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is different to how they feel now. Their ideas of beauty, their ideas of pain and what death meant to them was incredibly different. People were surrounded by death and therefore I probably find the enjoyment of somebody else’s description of something slightly more interesting than actually being there. To travel to China and to go to the Great Wall of China is nice, but to read about it is much more interesting. I can only really appreciate the world through the stories told about it.

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Glenn Brown. Foto:Elena Cué

Spanish version: Entrevista con Glenn Brown

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Help Us Track Down The Owners Of These Mysterious Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words… but, sometimes, you need a few more than that.

Writer and photographer Pearl Gabel stumbled across a series of photographs with no home and posted an assortment of them on her Instagram.

“I found them years ago and only recently re-found them as I was moving,” Gabel told The Huffington Post in an email.

The gorgeous photos range in era, with some dated in the 1940s and 1960s while others appear to be from as early as the 1910s. Most of the photos are of unknown individuals, but some offer small clues to their origins scrawled on the back.

Gabel said she discovered the photos “coming out of a garbage bag on or near Lenox Ave.” in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. She doesn’t remember the cross streets. 

The only names and identities that could be garnered from the photos are from the looped handwriting on the back. There’s “Lucy Murdock with daughter Louisa,” “Henriette Murdock,” and “Annie Bailey, 1944.”

We would love to find out the real story behind these photos so please share this post! Also, if you or someone you know can tell us where these originated, please contact me here: jenna.amatulli@huffingtonpost.com.

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‘Hamilton’ Aside, Where the Real Tony Competition Lies

A New York Times theater critic, the theater reporter and the theater editor discuss how the awards derby shapes up from here.
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‘Hamilton’ Makes History With 16 Tony Nominations

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical sets the record for the most Tony nominations.
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“New Faces” Replacing Ever-Present Traumas of the Past

The parameters are simple; 30-minute sessions between photographers, Satoki Nagata, and subject take place in one gallery in downtown Chicago. The concurrent theme that ties each subject together is “child abuse prevention”.

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This project has been a challenging form of documentary photography for a few reasons; all the subjects are captured within a consistent setting, meaning the subjects are depicted outside of their own context. The practice of portrait photography, as a subsection of documentary photography, primarily takes advantage of obvious circumstances, and is not with cliché or digestible ideas.

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Satoki had to consider how to capture the distinct, lying under the everyday. What he had to do was extract submerged content from the face of each subject. This project was a process of capturing what was beyond the cliché and “face value”.

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The prompts were self-generated through a show and tell process. Satoki asked them to bring something related with the theme, and the first question that would inherently follow would be, “Why did you bring this object?” If the circumstance allows, we ask, “Why did you not bring anything or what would you bring if you could?” The results varied.

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The theme that brought all his subjects together is “child abuse prevention”. Yet, they soon discovered how each subject’s connection to trauma of this nature was less than implicit. Some of our subjects were completely unaware of the theme, showing up at the request of a trusted friend. These subtle and elusive social connections manifest the repression of certain subjects.

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What we are involved in is excavating repressed memories and decontextualizing the trauma of the past.

All images © Satoki Nagata

Text by RWD

Satoki Nagata’s other posts

Satoki Nagata is Japanese photographer and film maker based on Chicago.

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Artist Who Drew Donald Trump With Small Penis Claims She Was Assaulted By Trump Fan

A Los Angeles-based artist claims she was punched in the face over the weekend because her drawing of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump shows him with a small penis.

Illma Gore, whose pastel “Make American Great Again” has been widely shared on social media, said a man attacked her Saturday near her LA home. The man drove up, got out of his black Honda Civic, hit her and yelled, “Trump 2016!” she wrote in an Instagram post with a photo showing her with a black eye. She said she wasn’t seriously hurt.

Gore reported the assault to police, and shared the police report with the New York Daily News. LA police couldn’t immediately comment on the investigation. Gore asked anyone with information about the attack to contact authorities.

Gore’s nude portrait of Trump shows him with the wrinkles and folds befitting a 69-year-old man — and a very small male sex organ. She said she debuted the drawing in February, before Trump defended his penis size at the March 3 Republican debate. 

Gore, 24, insists the portrait wasn’t necessarily calling out Trump on the size of his genitalia.

The work “was created to evoke a reaction from its audience, good or bad, about the significance we place on our physical selves,” Gore wrote on her website. “One should not feel emasculated by their penis size or vagina, as it does not define who you are. Your genitals do not define your gender, your power, or your status.

“Simply put, you can be a massive prick, despite what is in your pants.”

HuffPost’s efforts to reach Gore have been unsuccessful.

WARNING: The painting can be seen below, but it leaves little to the imagination.

The print has been a popular attraction at London’s Maddox Gallery since it went on display April 8.

The work has also aroused Trump supporters, who Gore claims have sent her death threats, according to he Independent. She also said someone claiming to be from Trump’s team threatened her with a lawsuit if she sold it.

Gore said proceeds from the eventual sale of “Make America Great Again” will benefit Safe Place for Youth, a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, according to the Daily Dot.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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Filming Turns the Boston Marathon Finish Line Into a Set

Crew members filmed Mark Wahlberg in “Patriots Day,” the forthcoming movie about the 2013 marathon bombing, at the race’s finish line on Monday.
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Virtual Reality Movies Add Dimension to Tribeca Festival

With a helmet, anything is possible, and the Tribeca Film Festival offers a taste of the ways virtual reality can enhance the cinematic arts.
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Review: A Dizzying and Dense ‘Portrait’ From Nora Chipaumire

Her dance-theater work, “Portrait of Myself as My Father,” had its premiere as part of Peak Performances at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
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‘Game of Thrones’: Seven Kingdoms, Two Narratives

As the HBO series starts its sixth season it enters unexplored territory, moving past the source material of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels.
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Art Review: Atop the Met, a Haunting House

Cornelia Parker’s installation in the Metropolitan Museum of Art roof garden evokes the spooky mansion in “Psycho,” as well as an earlier America.
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Bringing Poetry to Rikers Island, Where ‘They Can’t Cage Your Mind’

Miles Hodges, a spoken-word performer at the jail, is an ambassador of the New York Public Library, which hired him to help attract millennials.



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ArtsBeat: ‘Star Wars’ Dominates Box Office But ‘Daddy’ Shows Strength, Too

“Joy” came in third place over the Christmas weekend, and “The Hateful Eight” and “The Revenant” opened in limited release.



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The Common Thread That Connects Cartoonists At The New Yorker

While the cartoonists at The New Yorker have had a variety of different trajectories, there is a (rather odd) commonality that connects nearly all of them.

In addition to having fathers who were more than skeptical about their dream career paths, almost all of the artists had tense relationships with their moms when they were kids, filmmaker Leah Wolchok told HuffPost Live’s Josh Zepps on Monday.

“Everyone talked about their mothers,” she laughed. “Aside from Liana Fink, who seems to have a very healthy, thriving relationship with her mom and was inspired by her as an artist, I would say a lot of the cartoonists talk about the conflict they have with their mom growing up.”

Wolchok, who chronicled some of the publication’s illustrators for her HBO documentary, “Very Semi-Serious,” said the cartoonists also described a sense of loneliness and alienation at school, and quite a few remembered being “the smallest one who wasn’t getting chosen for the baseball team.”

But cartoonist Mort Gerberg assured that being passed over for the team in grade school had no bearing on his prospects for athletic success in the long run.

“The wonderful irony of that is for the past 10, 12, 15 years, I’ve been pitching for the softball team of The New Yorker. That’s my thing!” he said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation with the cartoonists.

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The Bessie’s: The Dance Community Awards Excellence Among Its Members

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Camille A. Brown performing at the Bessie’s. Photo credit: Yi-Chun Wu.


Rarely are dancers celebrated for their work. They almost never break free from an attentive gaze that comes with constant critique and comparison. In the studio, teachers correct every articulation, striving for perfection in the human body. On the stage, critics dissect performers’ motions, searching for error. As unrealistic as Black Swan might have been, the film captured one thing beautifully: dance is a stressful art form, not just tutus and tiaras.

So it’s especially lovely when the dance community can gather together and applaud each other’s efforts. Such is the environment at the Bessie’s, dance’s version of the Academy Awards or the Tony’s. This year, the 31st-annual ceremony took place at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, with its iconic neon-red sign. Bright, plush, velvety décor set the mood, chandeliers cascading to make prisms on the walls. A DJ played music more reminiscent of a club than a cultural event, and the room felt warm, inviting — more than cordial.

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Hosts Carmelita Tropicana and Jock Soto. Photo credit: Yi-Chun Wu.

Performance artist Carmelita Tropicana and former New York City Ballet principal Jock Soto made an unlikely pair as hosts. She proved eccentric, a serpentine bodysuit hugging her curves as she told too many sex jokes to count. He harbored all of the professional, stoic rigidity of a male ballet dancer whose discipline and concentration led to a 24-year career with George Balanchine’s ensemble. Still, they managed to get along, informal and improvised.

The presenters were all big names in the industry, from dancers to choreographers to programmers. Kyle Abraham took the podium, as did one of the women who launched him, Ella Baff. Ivy Baldwin delivered especially poignant eulogies for her deceased collaborator, Lawrence Cassella, and Marcelo Gomes stunned in a gorgeous silver suit.

As for the winners, most were respectful, earnest, and timid. Amar Ramasar, who was awarded Outstanding Performer, thanked Peter Martins for believing in a kid from the Bronx in an especially memorable speech. And in David Neumann’s acceptance for Outstanding Production in I Understand Everything Better, he admitted something with which any dancer could empathize: he was humbled, amazed, and… tired.

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Amar Ramasar accepts his award for Outstanding Performer. Photo credit: Yi-Chun Wu.

For me, the only surprise was that Robert Fairchild did not win Outstanding Performer for An American in Paris. I admit, I’m biased, and always will be biased — ballet is what I most enjoy, and I can grasp it much better than some of the alternative works downtown (though I like those, too, for the challenge). But Fairchild blew me away as Jerry, especially in his final dance scene. His charisma, his finesse, it was all magnificent… a triumph for ballet. The fact that it went unrecognized by the Bessie’s — not only Fairchild’s extraordinary dedication to his part, but also Christopher Wheeldon’s engaging choreography — baffled me.

Another notable absence was any nominee from American Ballet Theatre. This did not shock me; I’ve been following the company since I was a child, when Gomes was the new kid on the block, and I know the company is in a period of transition right now. But the hope is that Kevin McKenzie will nurture a new vanguard of artists and technicians, like Martins has at NYCB in recent years.

The evening’s apex: Steve Paxton called in from Paris to accept the 2015 NY Dance and Performance Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Dance. In a video beforehand, he seemed a little peeved to receive a “lifetime achievement” award; after all, he’s still kicking, still innovating, still creating. But on Skype, he was congenial, offering some off-the-cuff advice: everyone should choreograph something at least once in their life. And if you think about it, we choreograph every day. How we move along the street, how we navigate situations — it’s all choreography, whether physical or psychological.

Like most award shows, the Bessie’s sprinkled in a few performances to rupture the seriousness of the situation. After all, it would be a shame to take up the Apollo stage and not use it. Storyboard P, who won the 2015 Emerging Choreographer Award, liquefied his bones in what seemed a tribute to Michael Jackson. Lisa Nelson improvised a sweet solo with a ribbon at its center. But really the only moment that left an impression was when Camille A. Brown emerged in her white gloves. She’s intoxicating, truly, with the star quality that makes her worth watching. These days, you can’t always believe the hype surrounding a choreographer. Believe the hype about Camille A. Brown.

By 9:30, the show was over. Most people headed to an after-party to dance the night away, sans pirouettes and with alcohol and pizza. Everyone seemed to know everyone else — there were no outsiders, except perhaps me, but I was fine with being an outsider looking in. It was nice to look, to see the friendship and appreciation. I don’t envy artists for their vulnerability to the public, but at the Bessie’s, they mingled among others who understood. Speakers emphasized how hard it is to dance in NYC in the 21st century. But they do it because they love it.

That’s what you could feel at the Apollo: all the love.

For a full list of 2015 nominees and winners, click here.

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Will Diversity on Broadway Attract New Audiences?

Broadway, the colossal $ 1.37 billion theatrical industry, is booming and bigger than ever. According to the Broadway League, Broadway attendance for the 2014-2015 season reached 13.1 million ticket buyers – 80% of whom were Caucasian. However, with the addition of culturally varied productions, we can look forward to audiences becoming more diverse.

Creators of new musicals are incorporating diverse casting choices and musical styles. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new Broadway blockbuster musical Hamilton uses a diverse cast and hip-hop music influence to celebrate American culture today by telling a story of America’s past. Audiences are resonating with this new change in Broadway musicals as first-time theatergoers discover a new genre of theatrical storytelling. As Hamilton‘s hip-hop infused cast recording ranks higher in the billboard charts, rap enthusiasts will discover a musical that speaks their language all the while attracting an array of nontraditional theatergoers as well as widening the horizons of that 80%.

Broadway historically has shown a lack of Hispanic representation on stage and that could correlate as to why they are also the smallest group of ticket buyers. However, the 2015-2016 Broadway season has enough Latin flavor that the rhythm will get you. This month, international superstars Gloria & Emilio Estefan raised the curtain to their autobiographical musical On Your Feet!. The Queen of Latin Pop brings her sound to the Great White Way and is confident su gente will show up to celebrate. According to weekly data released by the Broadway League, audiences brought in a respectable $ 970,013 for its first seven-preview performance week. On its second week, On Your Feet! brought in $ 903,937 holding its own on the boards along side some of Broadway’s favorites. Word on the street is Ana Villafañe gives a star turning Broadway debut as Gloria Estefan and makes the perfect grand marshal for the Latin party-anthem titled musical.

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This season alone brings one of the most diverse Broadway seasons in recent years. Here are 7 more shows to prove it:

Allegiance – Now playing at the Longacre Theatre: World-renowned singer Lea Salonga returns to Broadway alongside George Takei in a musical about Japanese-American internment camps.

The Gin Game and Hughie: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, and Forest Whitaker are portraying characters that are usually played by white actors breaking casting stereotypes (Jones & Tyson in The Gin Game, Whitaker in Hughie opening this spring).

The Color Purple: This anticipated revival of The Color Purple (Produced by Oprah Winfrey) will celebrate Oscar & Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson, West End star Cynthia Erivo, and Orange Is The New Black star Danielle Brooks.

Shuffle Along: This spring, six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will headline Shuffle Along with Tony Award winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), Brian Stokes Mitchell, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry.

Eclipsed: Following rave reviews at The Public Theater Off-Broadway, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o will make her Broadway debut in Eclipsed by Danai Gurira (the only African-American female playwright represented this season) this spring.

Spring Awakening – Now playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre: This critically acclaimed Broadway revival, featuring a cast of both hearing and deaf actors, has become the must-see Broadway production this fall. Directed by Michael Arden, Deaf West Theatre’s reinvention is more thrilling than ever before.

Diversity on stage will give people of different backgrounds a reason to explore forms of entertainment new to them. Audiences want to relate to characters that look and sound like them. Often, I have found myself to be the only Hispanic (or of any ethnicity) at a Broadway play. This new trend will bring new ticket buyers to Broadway. And with shows like On Your Feet!, I always will be around mi gente.

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“Jeux:” New York City Ballet Plays the Game of Love

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Sara Mearns and Company in Kim Brandstrup’s Jeux. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Black, white and grey. An imposing opaqueness consumes the David H. Koch Theater, like in an old-fashioned film. Every twist of the palm seems shrouded in darkness and contrast, a silhouetted semblance of reality. The lone gold light adds warmth to the scene, a splash of color in the void. Romance masks emotion so that nothing feels so intimidatingly honest. Like when Audrey Hepburn appeared onscreen, the stage is a mirage, a nostalgic, glamorous, gorgeous rendering of what the world will never be: simply lovely.

And yet it is this simplicity that feels too safe in Kim Brandstrup’s premiere for New York City Ballet. Jeux reminds you of Kurt Vonnegut’s iconic line: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” But sometimes you crave that ache, that immediacy. Sometimes you want to feel something — sweet, cruel, fresh, haunting, anything — just to know that you’re alive. Brandstrup won’t offer that kind of narrative; as a former film student at the University of Copenhagen, he’s more invested in a story’s intrigue than its subtext.

On its own, Jeux sparkles, entrenched in a ’50s imagination reminiscent of Gigi and An American in Paris. But on a program beside the season’s other commissions by Myles Thatcher, Robert Binet, Troy Schumacher and Justin Peck, the action seems drained, almost exhausted. There’s none of the novelty of Thatcher’s gender obfuscation, or Binet’s use of space, or Schumacher’s intricate patterning or Peck’s avant-garde vitality. Brandstrup’s piece is a ballet, amidst other ballets, bland in its generality. You can glue your eyes to it for twenty minutes and claim its pleasure. But it probably won’t make you smile from enthusiasm or whimsy.

The curtain opens to a promising image: Sara Mearns standing in a spotlight, a heap of bodies hiding behind her. Amar Ramasar ties a blindfold around her temples, and the game begins. Unlike Vaslav Nijinsky’s original Jeux from 1913, nobody’s really playing tennis; this is a love sport. Mearns is infatuated with Ramasar, who in turn falls mutually for Sterling Hyltin. Adrian Danchig-Waring likes Mearns, who doesn’t notice his affection because she’s obsessed with Ramasar. If anyone hurts, scorned by a partner, it doesn’t feel so urgent. Claude Debussy’s score swells too often and too richly for pain to matter, and you know you’re in a universe where the plot will sort itself out neatly in the end. If Brandstrup intended for Jeux to have any dab of authenticity, he should have chosen a less majestic, dreamy composer.

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Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Kim Brandstrup’s Jeux.Photo credit: Paul Kolnik.

The work isn’t insignificant — every moment is articulate and stunning, and a few gel so nicely that you can’t distinguish motion from music. When Mearns cascades backwards into awaiting arms, faint, weak, her body hinged at the hips as she’s rotated 360 degrees. When Hyltin seamlessly wanders into a triple piqué turn, her arms plopped in a sassy “V.” When the corps waltzes across the floor and under the moon, popping into lifts in passé, their reflections dancing like phantoms on a scrim. In fact, these shadows are the most interesting part… man-made projections crafted by the human body, distorted and elongated.

Still, when Mearns removes the blindfold from her face and throws it onto Danchig-Waring — the next victim of blinding lust — the symbolism feels empty. Were you supposed to sympathize with Mearns? Was Jeux anything more than a game? What were you — was I — meant to feel? Mearns tumbles into Danchig-Waring, pressed above, slowly melting to lie over him on the ground. She has snatched him as prey, like Ramasar did to her, like your lover did to you and like you’ve probably done to an innocent someone.

… And so what?

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Inmates Get Years In Solitary Confinement For Making A Music Video

Seven inmates in a South Carolina prison were punished with a combined total of nearly 20 years of solitary confinement — for making a rap music video and posting it on WorldStar.

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Salome: From Femme Fatale to Political Heroine

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In hindsight, there were actually some advantages in growing up in the Bible Belt.
One of them was Sunday School where I gained an appreciation of the Good Book’s most notorious women: Bathsheba, Jezebel, and perhaps the precursor of all femme fatales, Salome, or the nameless stepdaughter of a powerful ruler who gets John the Baptist’s head on a platter, after performing a strip tease for the lascivious Herod.
Her story has always perplexed me, thanks to the famous Strauss opera and the Oscar Wilde play on which it was based.
But her story was never really her story.
She has always been an invention of sorts, a myth created by men, perhaps more interested in her sexual allure and titillating dance than her humanity.
I had the pleasure of seeing a new take on “Salome” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company here in Washington, a fitting start to their Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
Director Yael Farber has adapted the Wilde play into a first person narrative, finally giving Salome her own voice.
“Wilde tells us it had to do with sex, that Salome desired to kiss John the Baptist’s mouth. The scriptures tell us it was vengeance, which her mother Herodias sought against Herod, ” Farber explains.
“Women are still playing the vengeful harpy, in Hollywood, in everyday life. I could not be less interested in telling that story.”
The first voice we hear is of an aging Salome looking back on that famous night, when John the Baptist died, setting off a political firestorm, as revolutionaries, as John was, were of more use to the establishment in prison.
Salome is taken prisoner and interrogated about her role in John’s death, but we see her resolute, brazen, even as her captors taunt and abuse her.
In flashbacks, Salome becomes fascinated with John, not so much as an object of desire, but as a fellow prisoner of Herod. One is left with the impression that the two identify with each other, both courageous, but falling weak under Herod’s oppression.
She resists her stepfather’s sexual overtures, rather than manipulate them, in contrast to previous interpretations.
“I want to create the possibility that this woman, living under an occupying regime, came to a deep understanding of her selfhood, one that allowed her to drive forward a political agenda.”
We do see Salome naked, in a sensual scene is which her body is washed and clothed in slow motion by handmaidens, but the story’s innate sensuality was never a problem for Farber.
“I don’t want to shy away from the great danger of the feminine, from the notion of powerful sensuality attendant in this story. Women are dangerous. That’s the beautiful thing about us.”

“Salome” runs through November 8.

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PBS’ ‘Finding Your Roots’ Returns After Ben Affleck Controversy

NEW YORK (AP) — PBS’ popular “Finding Your Roots” series, temporarily shelved after an episode omitted references to the slaveholding past of Ben Affleck’s ancestor at the actor’s request, will return to public television for its third season in January.

The show has hired a new fact-checker and two new genealogists as part of its reforms, said the network’s Beth Hoppe on Monday. PBS had suspended the series after determining that the show’s producers violated standards by allowing Affleck undue influence on its content and failing to inform the network of his request.

“It has become a more transparent process and a more rigorous process,” Hoppe said, “but essentially at its core these are personal stories about people who are finding out about their histories. That hasn’t changed.”

“Finding Your Roots,” which is hosted and written by Henry Louis Gates Jr., returns on Jan. 5. Julianne Moore, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Sen. John McCain and television producers Norman Lear and Shonda Rhimes are among the 28 new celebrities whose backgrounds are traced.

Given the sensitivity of the Affleck case, the series makes certain to mention if its experts find slaveholding backgrounds for any of the celebrities featured this season, even if that isn’t a central part of the story being told, Hoppe said. That’s the case with several people in the new season, but PBS would not reveal which ones.

Hoppe said Gates has done everything PBS has asked to ensure the show has no further problems.

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The Rectangle Is Still Golden

Despite recent claims, the golden ratio is more interesting than ever.

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The Parthenon often is said to follow the proportions known as the “golden ratio.” Left: Mlenny Photography/Getty Images; Right: Gyorgy Doczi, The Power of Limits: Proportional Harmonies in Nature, Art & Architecture.

“It’s bullshit.”

That’s how Fast Company summed up the golden ratio in April. According to writer John Brownlee, that mainstay of art appreciation classes and junior-high geometry is “total nonsense,” “an urban legend, a myth, a design unicorn.”

Interest goes back to ancient Greece or even earlier. In 300 BC, Euclid explained that the “golden ratio,” or Phi, occurs when a line can be divided into two segments so that the ratio of the overall line to the longer segment matches the ratio of the longer to the shorter. Subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on. Astronomer Johannes Kepler called Phi geometry’s “precious jewel,” and Renaissance artists considered it the “divine proportion.” The golden rectangle appears — or is said to appear — in works of art and architecture throughout history.

“Many designers don’t use it,” complains Brownlee, “and if they do, they vastly discount its importance.” After acknowledging that “greats like Le Corbusier” used the golden ratio in their work, he devotes nearly a third of his article to quoting architects and designers who don’t: “It’s important as a tool, but not a rule” (Yves Béhar). What “rule” does he mean? As an architect with 25 years of experience, I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting that the golden rectangle should be considered aesthetic law or even a common technique. Generally architects associate it with a few historical structures, such as the Parthenon, whose façade approximates the ratio. That was 2,500 years ago.

Nevertheless, Brownlee’s chief concern with the golden rectangle is that “there’s no science to really back it up.” The Stanford mathematics professor Keith Devlin tells him, “Strictly speaking, it’s impossible for anything in the real-world to fall into the golden ratio, because it’s an irrational number,” one that cannot be represented as terminating or repeating decimals. Phi is rounded off as 1.618, but its true value is 1.618033988749894848204586834… (ad infinitum). It’s like Pi, writes Brownlee: “Just as it’s impossible to find a perfect circle in the real world, the golden ratio cannot strictly be applied to any real world object. It’s always going to be a little off.”

Reading this, you might think that satisfying circles don’t exist “in the real world.” What do you think of the rose window at Notre Dame, or the oculus of the Pantheon? Their arithmetic imperfection drives you crazy, right?

“Those who believe the golden ratio is the hidden math behind beauty,” Brownlee declares, “are falling for a 150-year-old scam.” He doesn’t fully explain the “scam” or exactly who is falling for it, but regardless he blames two people — the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli and the 19th-Century psychologist Adolf Zeising. Yet, they were less interested in the “real world” than they were in what Zeising called “the spiritual ideal of beauty” and Pacioli, a Franciscan friar, referred to as “heavenly virtue”: “We expect in this most useful discourse God himself to come.” Phi’s irrationality doesn’t refute their interest–it explains it. The golden ratio intrigued them because it hints at infinity, invoking a Platonic order that transcends earthly experience.

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In the 1870s, Gustav Fechner asked 350 people to choose which rectangles they liked most. 76 percent preferred the three closest to the golden ratio, and half those chose the one closest to Phi. Illustration by the author.

Brownlee doesn’t mention Gustav Fechner, the German physicist and psychologist who in the 1870s was the first to attempt an empirical study of whether people have an aesthetic preference for the golden rectangle. When he showed ten rectangles of various proportions to a few hundred people, 76 percent preferred the three most similar to the golden ratio, while half that group preferred the closest approximation of Phi (1.62). Mario Livio, whom Brownlee names as “the guy who literally wrote the book on the golden ratio,” writes that experiments attempting to repeat Fechner’s results have been inconclusive, but he points to a 1980 study demonstrating “moderately good evidence for the phenomenon which Fechner championed.” A widely cited 1995 paper shows that much of the criticism of Fechner’s experiment is clouded by “erroneous beliefs” about his procedures and concludes that “there seems to be, in fact, real psychological effects associated with the golden section.” In 2007, neuroscientists at the University of Parma found that images very close to the golden ratio stimulated more activity in parts of the brain associated with emotion.

If that’s true, what accounts for it? Why would we prefer certain proportions over others? In the 1960s, a group of American psychologists offered an intriguing explanation — that the golden ratio relates to the shape of the human visual field. We prefer the image, so the theory goes, because it most matches the frame around our picture of the world. This came to be known as the “perimetric hypothesis.”

In 2009, Duke engineering professor Adrian Bejan offered proof. According to his calculations, the human eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle. Why is this important? As with many cultural and aesthetic preferences, there’s an evolutionary explanation: The more quickly early humans could process their surroundings, the safer they were. “The shape of the image matters to how the image is perceived, understood and recorded,” explains Bejan, who found that for a given area the proportions most quickly processed are closest to the golden rectangle. They aid the flow of information “from the plane to the brain.”

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In 2009, a Duke Professor proved that ratios close to Phi can be processed by the eye and brain more quickly. After Adrian Bejan, et al.

But, insists Brownlee, images in the “real world” are not precise golden rectangles: “The iPad’s 3:2 display, or the 16:9 display on your HDTV all ‘float around it’… It’s always going to be a little off.'” According to Bejan, “a little off” is precisely the point. Because proportions similar to the golden ratio occur in very large numbers, he explains, they are a natural phenomena, so they obey the laws of nature — the laws physics — not necessarily the laws of mathematics: “The physics phenomenon is not Phi itself. No one has found and measured Phi on an object in nature… The physics phenomenon is the emergence of shapes that resemble Phi.” Figures that appeal to us need not match a mathematically perfect image, since we naturally seek out shapes that come close.

Yet, Brownlee claims there is no scientific evidence to support “the notion that the golden ratio had any bearing on why we find certain objects like the Parthenon or the Mona Lisa aesthetically pleasing.” If he did his homework, no doubt he came across Bejan’s work. “The physics basis for the human preference for rectangular frames that ‘resemble’ the golden ratio is easy to find on Google,” Bejan tells me. “So he must have skipped it on purpose, to fit his narrative.”

Should the golden ratio be applied as a “rule” to govern all design? No, but behind such techniques is a growing wealth of research that can help designers understand better why people treasure some things and not others. As one example, the golden ratio shows how the mechanics of attraction can help us create images, objects and places that resonate with more people and create greater lasting value.

Architect Lance Hosey’s latest book is The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology and Design (2012).

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Somewhere In The Bulgarian Mountains, A Woman Recreates Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ In Total Silence

If someone flawlessly executes a Beyoncé number in the middle of the remote Rhodope Mountains with nobody there to see it, did it really happen?

Luckily for Gery Georgieva, the video of her triumphant achievement is gaining serious traction online. Georgieva, a British-Bulgarian artist known for blending pop and folk cultures, attempts the only YouTube re-staging of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” choreography you haven’t seen, donning traditional garb and jingling quietly against the snowy landscape. It’s bizarre and oh-so beautiful. 

I see pop and folk culture as parallel,” Georgieva explained in an interview with Broadly, “in that they’re the lowest common denominator way of belonging that can move such a big amount of people. That power — to have the ability to encourage thousands of people to learn a Beyoncé dance — that’s something quite special and weird.”

Some other Georgieva moments worth exploring include this Caviar Face Tutorial, which is exactly what it sounds like, and this disco-themed reimagining of Monet’s “Water Lilies.“ Compare the artist’s skills to the original Bey below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Conversations With Artists From the Past. Edvard Munch

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The galleries of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum have recently opened an exhibition by artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), successfully curated by Paloma Alarcó, that enables us to “listen to the dead with our eyes.” Paintings and writings come together in the museum’s galleries, divided into emotional Archetypes to communicate this artist’s obsessions from throughout his intense life.

People think that you can have a few friends, forgetting that the best, most authentic and above all, most numerous, are the dead. I intend to engage in a series of conversations with the afterlife. As the tormented spirit of the Norwegian artist has circumstantially settled in Madrid, I enthusiastically headed there to learn more.

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Elena Cué: Let’s start with your childhood.

Edvard Munch: I always felt like I was treated unfairly during my childhood. I inherited two of the worst enemies of mankind: tuberculosis and mental illness. Disease, insanity and death were black angels beside my crib. A mother who died early, planting me with the seed of tuberculosis. A hyper-nervous, pietistic father, religious to the point of being crazy, from an ancient lineage, planting me with the seeds of insanity.

When you think about those years, how did you feel?

The angels of fear, pain and death were beside me right from birth, going out to play with me, following me under the spring sun, in the splendor of summer. They were with me at night when I closed my eyes, threatening me with death, hell and eternal punishment. And I often woke at night and looked around the room with panicked eyes thinking “Am I in hell?”

The fear of death tormented me, and this fear harassed me through all of my youth.

Heaven and hell, how do you envisage eternity?

Flowers will emerge from my rotting body, and I will be part of them. That is eternity.

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And where is God?

With fanatic faith in any religion, such as Christianity, came atheism, came fanatic faith in the existence of no God. And with this non-faith in God there was content, becoming a faith itself in the end. It is generally foolish to assert anything about what comes after death.

But what is it that gives strength to the Christian faith. There are many who have difficulty in believing it. Although one cannot believe that God is a man with a big beard, that Christ is the Son of God who became a man, or in the Holy Spirit formed by a dove, there is much truth in this idea. A God as the power that must be at the origin of all, a God that governs everything. We can say that he directs the light waves, the movement of the tides, the center of energy itself. The Son, the part of this energy that is in man, the immense energy that filled Christ. Divine energy, genius energy and the Holy Spirit. The most sublime thoughts sent by the sources of divine energy to the human radio stations. In the very depths of beings. That which is provided to every human being.

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But what do you think death is?

Dying is as if the eyes have been switched off and cannot see anything else. Perhaps it’s like being locked in a basement. You are abandoned by all, they closed the door and left. You see nothing and only notice the humid smell of putrefaction.

And what about life?

I have been given a unique role to play on this earth that has given me a life of illness and also my profession as an artist. It is a life that does not contain anything resembling happiness, or even the desire for happiness.

Not even love?

Human destinies are like planets. Like a star that appears in the dark and meets another star, glistening in a moment, to then return, fading into obscurity. So as well, a man and a woman meet, they slide towards each other, shining in love, blazing, and then disappear, each one for himself. Only a few end up in a great blaze in which both can fully join.

The ancient were right when they said that love was a flame, as the flame leaves behind only a pile of ashes. Love can turn to hate, compassion to cruelty.

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Jealously is closely linked with love, how would you describe it?

Jealous people have a mysterious look, many reflections focus in those two sharp eyes, like in a crystal. The look is exploratory, interested, full of love and hate, an essence of what we all have in common.

Jealousy says to its rival: go away, defective; you’re going to heat up in the fire that I have lit; you’ll breathe my breath in your mouth; you’ll soak up my blood and you will be my servant because my spirit will govern you through this woman who has become your heart.

Now let’s talk about art… where does it come from?

Art generally comes from the need of one human being to communicate with another. I do not believe that art has not been inflicted by the need for a person to open his heart. All art, literature as well as music, has to be generated with the deepest feelings. The deepest feelings are art.

What is the purpose of your art?

I have tried to explain life and the meaning of life through my art. I have also tried to help others clarify life. Art is the heart of blood.

We must no longer paint people reading or women knitting. In the future we must paint people who breathe, feel, suffer or love. As Leonardo da Vinci dissected corpses and studied the internal organs of the human body, I try to dissect the soul.

Conclusion.

My art is based on one single thought: why am I not like the others?

How do you think the audience should approach art?

The audience must become aware that the painting is sacred, so that it unfolds before them like in church.

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One of your iconic paintings is The Scream, could you explain the origin of such a radical emotional expression?

I was walking along the road with two friends, the sun was setting. Suddenly the sky turned a bloody red. I stood, leaned on the fence feeling deathly tired. Over the blue-black fjord and city hung blood and tongues of fire. My friends walked on and I remained behind, shivering with anxiety. And I felt the immense infinite Scream in Nature.

Your love of photography is known, what do you think of photography as another mode of artistic expression?

The camera cannot compete with the brush and palette as long as it cannot be used in heaven and hell.

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Where is the beauty in your art?

The emphasis on harmony and beauty in art is a waiver to be honest. It would be false to only look on the bright side of life.

Your writing has a strong aphoristic style. We’ll finish there…

Thought kills emotion and reinforces sensitivity. Wine kills sensitivity and reinforces emotion.

Spanish version: Conversaciones con artistas del pasado. Edvard Munch

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Terror With A Twist

The Ancient Greeks had a winning formula. During performances of their tragedies, acts of excessive violence and gore had to take place offstage and out of the audience’s sight. Later, the actors would describe events too horrible to imagine.

How does one describe a gruesome cyclops or monsters devouring helpless sailors? One might start with the words “Oh horror, horror, horror!” After all, when push comes to shove it’s all about telling a story, spinning a yarn, capturing an audience’s attention and keeping them hooked on a narrative.

As new technologies have helped filmmakers concoct ever more ingenious special effects, audiences have progressed way beyond the kludgy kind of stop-motion animation used in 1925’s The Lost World, 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and 1955’s It Came From Beneath The Sea.

No more can filmmakers rely on the man-in-a-rubber-suit device (1954’s Godzilla and Creature from the Black Lagoon). Steady advances in CGI technology allow today’s filmmakers to go for increasingly ridiculous scripts. Two classic examples of such wretched excess are 2009’s Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and 2014’s version of Godzilla.

At some point, however, an audience is going to want more than just cheap visual gags. They’re going to want suspense, terror, and masterful storytelling. In 2006, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho delivered all three, giving audiences the thrills they had craved with The Host.

How does one tell a contemporary horror story if one’s audience can’t see the monster? What if the audience is gathered in a 50-seat theatre with no possibility of elaborate scenic effects? How does a playwright scare the shit out of them?

* * * * * * * * * *

A recent headline that grabbed the attention of Bay area readers stated that the Military Once Used SF Fog For Simulated Germ-Warfare Attack, Exposing 800,000 To Harmful Bacteria. In his book, Clouds of Secrecy, Leonard A. Cole (Director of the Terror Medicine and Security Program at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School) described the trials as using “harmless bacteria” while admitting that it was one of the largest human experiments ever conducted.

According to reports, during the 1950s the United States Armed Forces used San Francisco’s coastal fog belt as “a means of masking the spread of a biological agent in simulated germ-warfare attacks. Nearly all of San Francisco received 500 particle minutes per liter. In other words, nearly every one of the 800,000 people in San Francisco exposed to the cloud at normal breathing rate (10 liters per minute) inhaled 5,000 or more particles per minute during the several hours that they remained airborne.”

One’s awareness of these tests adds an extra wallop of verisimilitude to a provocative new play, I Saw It, which was recently staged by Wily West Productions at the EXIT Studio. With Jennifer Lynne Roberts acting as head writer, most of the hard-hitting monologues/soliloquies in this 75-minute drama were written by Laylah Muran de Assereto. Tensely directed by Ariel Craft, I Saw It featured a Greek chorus of frantic Bay area Twitterati posting hysterical tweets that include pleas for help and such panicky messages as “#End of Days”

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Samantha Behr is Isla in I Saw It (Photo by: Colin Hussey)

  • Isla (Samantha Behr) is the woman who claims to have first seen and reported “it.” In a moment of visceral panic mixed with a surprising amount of lucidity, Isla bravely thrust her hand inside “it.” Her action transferred “its” strength to herself while draining the [supposed] monster of its fearsome potential.
  • Van Clarkson (Richard Wenzel) is Isla’s estranged father, a harried man who works as a local television reporter. With old-fashioned “on the spot reporting” having been reduced to reading selective messages off of a Twitter feed, there really is no way for Van to check his sources or verify the information he is receiving.

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Colleen Egan is Nola in I Saw It (Photo by: Colin Hussey)

  • Nola (Colleen Egan) is an extremely unhappy woman with a limp who hates her biological parents, loathes her stepfather, and is very protective of her kid brother, Bobby (Kyle McReddie). In a perverse way, the bitter Nola thrives on the fear and terror felt by others who have encountered “it” while magically seeming to draw strength from “its” presence and “their” misery.
  • Josephine (Susannah Wood) is a member of the local Twitterati who knows the location where @mal_ware usually checks in on a daily basis.

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Kyle McReddie is David in I Saw It (Photo by:Colin Hussey)

  • David (Kyle McReddie) is a gay man in his 30s who moved to San Francisco three years ago in the hope of making a killing in the tech industry. Although he rides a Google bus to work, knows his way to Dolores Park, and buys groceries at Bi-Rite, he has no real friends, no furniture in his apartment, and no connections to the community in which he lives. With new mobile apps constantly coming online that cater to his needs, David can use his smartphone to place orders for laundry services, pizza deliveries, and sexual partners he contacts while cruising gay online hookup platforms on social media.
  • Diana (Genevieve Perdue) is one of David’s neighbors in his apartment building. As the executive assistant to a scientist working on a biochemical subterfuge experiment named Project 46, she has already used its amazing powers to transform her husband from an enthusiastic meat eater into a vegan like herself. Smiling, laughing, and more than willing to accept that collateral damage is often the unanticipated cost of scientific experimentation, Perdue’s Diana brings to mind the evil twin of Donna McKechnie’s needy Cassie Ferguson from the original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line.

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Genevieve Perdue is Diana in I Saw It (Photo by: Colin Hussey)

I Saw It deftly demonstrates what can happen when the “monster attacking a city” bears no resemblance to a prehistoric dinosaur or a radioactive mutant creature, but results from the dissemination of a carefully engineered hallucinogen which can alter a person’s preferences and behaviors in the way a hacker might attack a software program’s source code. On a good day, the lab-engineered biochemical can trigger a person’s innermost fears, lack of self-esteem, or bravado. On a bad day….. oh, well, you know how some people act under stress!

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Katrina Kroetch and Richard Wenzel are two of the
Bay Area’s Twitterati in I Saw It (Photo by: Colin Hussey)

I was especially impressed by Genevieve Perdue’s portrayal of the amoral Diana, Colleen Egan’s resentful Nola, and Samantha Behr’s “take-no-prisoners” characterization of Isla. Other members of the Twitterati included Katrina Kroetch, Jason Jeremy, Kyle McReddie, and Richard Wenzel.

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

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California Launches Effort Promoting Art and Culture Districts

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 189 , a measure empowering the California Arts Council to designate areas as Cultural Districts in a competitive application process.

Craig Watson, Director of the California Arts Council said, “The signing of AB 189, is great news for communities of all sizes, all across our state … (we will) play a central role in strengthening local communities through economic growth, increased tourism, and community cohesion. The resources we expect to bring together on a statewide level will strengthen existing districts and foster the development of new cultural hubs.”

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Governor Brown, Craig Watson, and of course, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) who introduced AB 189, all undoubtedly see the connections between the arts and creativity and, in turn, between creativity and innovation and want California to continue to lead the nation in the development of theatrical films, television, cable and Internet programs, video games, high tech hardware and software goods and services which are the heart and soul of the new economy.

AB 189 charges the Council to formulate a plan to foster Art Districts throughout the state, thereby enhancing creativity, and in the process,reinventing the landscape of cities throughout the state. The Council, always looking at ways to enhance creativity in the schools and almost everywhere art is displayed, has now joined the movement to change communities too. They will, according to the legislation, “provide technical and promotional support to the districts, as well as collaborate with public agencies and private entities to maximize the benefits to the local and state economy.”

To date, 15 states have taken on a formalized State role in the creation of art and cultural districts. Together, they are leading the effort to transform America for the rapidly evolving creative economy.

According to the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, such “districts are special areas designated or certified by state governments, that utilize cultural resources to encourage economic development and foster synergies between the arts and other businesses. State cultural districts have evolved into focal points that feature many types of businesses, foster a high quality of life for residents, attract tourism and engender civic pride.”

Arts districts, usually found on the periphery of a city center, are intended to create a critical mass of art galleries, dance clubs, theaters, art cinemas, music venues, and public squares for performances. Often, such places also attract cafes, restaurants and retail shops.

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More and more however, cities are thinking about such districts as a way to insure the city attracts, nurtures and retains the creative workforce it needs to succeed in the new economy, an economy vitally dependent on creativity and innovation. As important as reinventing our systems of education, communities where people young and old spend more than half their day living and working, aspiring art and culture districts are essential to establishing vibrant and productive communities. Indeed, these places are the incubators of creativity.

Art and Culture Districts, says Theresa Cameron, formerly Local Arts Agency Services Program Manager of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), “have the potential — with their critical mass of art galleries, cinemas, music venues, public squares for performances, restaurants, cafes and retail shops — of attracting, and nurturing the creative workforce our cities need to succeed in the new economy.” Recently AFTA has created a website devoted to the “who, what and why” these districts are so important.

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As the geographical landscape of a city morphs into a larger metropolitan region–partly because of population growth, mostly out of economic necessity — what we call downtown becomes even more critical to the wealth and well-being of the people living in those communities. Few efforts to insure America’s success and survival in the new economy could be more important.

Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky and Massachusetts are the most recent state agencies to establish such an initiative. Eight other states recognized such districts as tax free enterprises and have adopted similar efforts. The appointees to Art Councils, usually loyal friends of the elected Governor, don’t often take on issues of local economic development. But this seems to be changing, as many appointees are visionary leaders, action oriented, and making their voices heard.

States use a variety of tax incentives to encourage business development within local cultural districts. Examples of state incentives include sales, income, or property tax credits or exemptions for goods produced or sold within the district; or preservation tax credits for historic property renovations and rehabilitation. Maybe a state will offer an amusement or admission tax waiver for events within the district. All the plans vary and the funding is uniquely packaged to insure sustainability.

The “State Cultural District” designation from the Art Council seems to be enough for cities to apply, but you have to wonder what cities could do and whether smaller cities might apply if a little financial help were forthcoming. You have to wonder too, what might be possible if more organizations, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies and high tech companies in a region joined forces to help in the reinvention effort.

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Welcome To The World’s Only ’90s Nostalgia Retreat Complex

Are you tired of the world we currently live in? Wanna get back to a simpler time, when things made sense? Maybe … the ’90s?!

Introducing the new ’90s Nostalgia Retreat!

From the trends to the celebs to the day Kurt Cobain died, at the ’90s Nostalgia Retreat, you can experience everything that made the 1990s the best decade that has ever existed.*

*Except for swing dancing. That was terrible. We all know it. Someone was asleep at the wheel for that one.

 

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The Iceland Airwaves CMJ Showcase

So you want to dive face first in the tangled, eccentric, all-around fantastic world of Icelandic music? You’re in luck, because there’s really only one place to start–the Iceland Airwaves music festival, in Reykjavik Nov 4-8, 2015.

“Iceland in November?” you squeak.

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Heck yeah.

In true Icelandic fashion, Airwaves is set during some of Iceland’s harshest weather–and longest nights–to celebrate the best of the local talent. It’s designed as a showcase, and not just of the music. Airwaves separates the fans from the phonies.

Music Christmas

But every single one of the three Icelandic groups that I met with at CMJ’s first ever Icelandic Showcase (Mammut, Fufanu, and DJ Flugvél og Geimskip) agree that the music is well worth a little chill.

“It’s like music Christmas,” explained Mammut vocalist, Katrína Mogensen. And she’s not alone.

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Each of the artists chimed in about the merry feeling and excitement they get from playing and attending the sprawling, eclectic festival. When asked how bands in the tight-knit, some would say “small” Icelandic music scene react to watching bands they routinely share stage space with, Fufanu front man, Kaktus Einarsson, seemed surprised by the question.

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“We’re just so into each other.”

And he means it. Literally. “Our guitarist connects us to the hardcore scene,” he continues, “and our drummer plays in a reggae band.”

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Steinunn Harðardóttir, the pixie wizard behind the turntables and drum samples of Dj Flugvel og Geimskip–translated as “Airplanes & Spaceships”–is another multi-band performer, appearing at Airwaves with three different bands. Probably the biggest departure from her ethereal DJ persona obsessed with space and evil cats is the rock three-piece, Skelkur í bringuhttps://www.facebook.com/skelkuribringu, which translates to “Terror.”

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Blurred Lines

That contrast is what makes Airwaves so great. It’s a festival where bands and genres from all over the world collide in the long dark of the Icelandic winter. And the results are sometimes frantic, but always interesting.

Katrina from Mammut claims, “One Airwaves we played eight shows in a single day,” an all too common feat during their 10-year Airwaves run. Steinunn played eleven shows at last year’s festival, and she’s scheduled for nine performances this November.

But prolific runs like that don’t just happen. Festival manager and talent booker since 2010, Glimur Atlason would know.

According to Atlason, Airwaves’ prolific performances stems from their simple three-point mission:

1. To put on a fantastic festival
2. To export Icelandic music
3. To promote tourism in the off-season

Amidst all the music, it’s easy to forget that the Airwaves festival originally launched in an IcelandAir hangar in 1999 (get it, “Air” waves) as a way to capitalize on the (then) end of the tourist season in September. But even then, one of the four bands that played was Icelandic legends, The Sugarcubes (sometimes known to the uninitiated as “the band Bjork used to be in”).

And yes, before you ask, Bjork is headlining this year.

The festival gets pushed farther back every year, and to many Airwaves has become the unofficial tourist season finale, which has seen a surge in recent years due to affordable flights, summer festivals like Secret Solstice and ATP, and the 2008 economic crisis dropping the ISK to reasonable levels for backpackers.

But despite its corporate origins, Airwaves has grown into the premiere Icelandic music festival while magically maintaining its grass roots feel.

“Airwaves is a showcase,” explains Mammut guitarist, Arnar Pétursson. “It’s a place for new Icelandic bands to get discovered and for established bands to play new songs–songs no one has ever heard.”

Katrina added, “Some of the best shows we’ve ever done have been at the off-venues at Airwaves.”

The “off venues” she’s referring to are part of the sprawling carnival feel of Airwaves decentralized layout. This year, thirteen venues across Reykjavik will play host to over 240 musical acts. Atlason claims this unique set up is what makes the festival such a success. It’s the “evolution of the modern venue.”

“No one wants to be outside,” Kaktus explains, “and that’s part of the magic. You’re trapped inside a crowded venue, so you listen.”

Maybe that simple element–the fact that no one wants to go outside during the crappy weather–is what makes Icelandic music so haunting and exuberant. Or maybe, I’m nuts.

Discover firsthand what Icelandic music (and winter) are all about at the 16th annual Iceland Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, this November 4-8.

One final piece of advice from DJ Flugvél og Geimskip:

“If you wait outside in lines, you’ll get sick.”

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Read This And Die!: An Interview With R.L. Stine

In a two-story house in suburban Ohio, something was lurking.

Was it a strange presence in the attic, whipping around corners and rattling the floorboards, that lent the house an air of eeriness? Or was it a shadowy figure sitting stone-still in a dark basement, patiently awaiting the next underground visitor?

More likely, neither of these mystical beings were present in the childhood home of horror writer R.L. Stine. It was the absence, rather than the presence, of such scary creatures that allowed him to dream them up over the course of his storied career.

And what a storied career. Stine has written hundreds and sold millions of books over the past few decades, most of them belonging to his beloved Goosebumps and Fear Street series, made popular by TV and movie adaptations. He’s still writing Fear Street books and scary adult stories — in his most recent, The Lost Girl, a yearbook from decades earlier clues a clan of kids into a classmate’s spooky identity. 

Stine’s life as a writer of the weird and wicked will be celebrated in a kid’s movie starring Jack Black, highlighting the nostalgic monsters from Goosebumps books.

“He’s a good R.L. Stine. He’s a lot more sinister than I am, Jack. He’s a lot more evil,” Stine said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

He’s right: Stine might’ve shown up to meet me wearing all black, but nothing else about his appearance alluded a witchy interior life. The creator of stories that haunted so many ’90s kids’ childhoods was mostly kind, if matter-of-fact. “Kids are always disappointed when I visit schools and come out,” he said. “They expect me to be evil or maybe wear a black cape or have fangs or something, and then this old guy walks out and they say, ‘Oh, no.’”

For our full interview with R.L. Stine, listen to the audio clip.

Though capeless, Stine offered me anecdotes from his childhood, and insights into the decidedly practical writing process that would lead to such whimsical tales of horror and intrigue as Night of the Living Dummies and Say Cheese and Die. In the latter book — a philosophical story as far as Goosebumps goes — a mythical camera has the power to cast its subjects forever into the afterlife, or at least give those who pose for it minor injuries. Like many of Stine’s books, there are cultural references embedded within it. In fact, Stine got the idea for the book from a similar episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “A Most Unusual Camera.”

“A lot of the Goosebumps titles are from these ’50s horror movies my brother and I saw every week,” Stine said. “‘It Came from Beneath the Sea’ became a Goosebumps book called It Came from Beneath the Sink. That kind of thing.”

Aside from the horror movies he saw on Sundays with his brother — which, it’s worth noting, Stine found more funny than scary — his childhood was typical. Beyond being bullied as a kid, there wasn’t much for him to be afraid of, at least within the walls of his own home, where Stine would stake out for hours, typing feverishly on his aunt’s typewriter.

“I was like nine years old, and I’d be in my room, typing, typing up joke magazines and funny little comics,” Stine said. “I never planned to be scary, I always just wanted to be funny. And I’d be typing up these funny stories, but I don’t know why. And my mother would be outside my door, and she’d say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Go outside and play!’ And I’d say, ‘It’s boring out there!’ Someone asked me what’s the worst advice anyone ever gave you, and I had to say, it’s my mother saying, ‘Stop typing and go outside and play.’”

Stine had been writing humor magazines for decades, developing his voice while contributing to Ohio State University’s satirical paper The Sundial in the mid-’60s, before he fell slantwise into writing scary books. Under the pen name of “Jovial Bob,” he wrote 101 School Cafeteria Jokes, The Cool Kid’s Guide to Summer Camp, and, yes, 101 Silly Monster Jokes, and many others until he wrote his first horror story in 1986. Even with his Goosebumps and Fear Street series, Stine insists that it’s never his aim to write straightforwardly scary books; his stories are, in his opinion, a combination of humor and fear.

“It’s the same kind of guttural reaction,” Stine said, adding, “I’m kind of odd because scary stuff doesn’t scare me. Horror always makes me laugh. I’m always the one in the movie theatre and the shark comes up, and it chews the girl up — I’m always the one laughing. I don’t know why.”

Perhaps its his ability to view scary situations as an objective outsider rather than a participant. When Stine describes how he began writing Goosebumps books, or where he gets his ideas for his scariest scenes, he’s notably hard-nosed. He has no illusions about divine inspiration or the uniqueness of his ideas. Instead, it’s clear that Stine views writing as a job, and his celebrated series as his successful business.

“I was so pleased with myself,” Stine said about the day he conceived of his first horror series. “I had individual titles of teen horror, I was just starting out. The first one was called Blind Date. The next was called Twisted. And the publisher wanted one a year, and I thought, gee, one a year? There must be a way to do a series. And then we started thinking about location and that kind of thing, and I thought, if I can think of a good name for the series, I’ll be off to a good start.”

The name popped into his head, a punchy-sounding packaging: “Fear Street.” From those words, he came up with a concept: rather than a recurring cast of characters, which would be impractical for a genre that concerns itself with killing off protagonists, the events would all center on a cursed residential street — one that could exist in any suburban town.

“Of course, I always wonder why they don’t move to Happy Street,” Stine joked, adding that it was essential to him that the setting be Midwestern. Although he promptly moved to New York City after college, and still lives there with his wife and son Matthew, Stine won’t set a horror book there on principle.

“It’s a superstition,” Stine said. “I’ve never done it. A lot of kids don’t know New York. They know a nice suburban backyard, but they don’t know New York City. It’s kind of elite in some ways, I think. I think it would make the stories more obscure for kids.”

So, guided by his principles about relatable storytelling, Stine was sure to set each Goosebumps and Fear Street book in a nondescript, middle-class kitchen or basement. This virtue-driven approach echoes throughout his entire approach to writing: Stine praises the merits of a detailed outline, and of writing the titles and the endings to his scary stories first, “so I know how to fool the reader and keep them from getting to the end [before me].”

“I work backwards from most authors,” Stine said. “Most authors have an idea for a book, they write, they’re writing, later on they think of a title. I have to start with a title. It leads me to the story. Kids always ask — everyone asks — ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I wanna say, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ Because we all get ideas. Mine actually come from thinking of the title first. The first of the new Fear Street books — Party Games — I had that title, and I thought, it lead me to the story. There’s a party. Maybe it’s a birthday party. Maybe they’re playing some kind of games and the games get out of hand.”

Next, Stine painstakingly drafts a 15-20 page outline that includes plot and dialogue before he sets out to fill in the holes. The biggest point of deliberation that he dwells on is making sure the scares in his works are suitable for the age group he’s writing for.

“I’m very careful in Goosebumps,” Stine said. “I have to make the kids know that what’s happening in the book couldn’t really happen. That it’s just a fantasy. And then when I write a Fear Street book or an adult book, I have to make people think it could happen. It’s kind of the opposite.”

Still, he insists that most fears are universal, existing from when we’re young and gullible, through the travails of adulthood.

“I think we all have the same kind of fears. And it’s the one thing that doesn’t change. Fear of the dark, fear there’s something in the closet, fear there’s someone under your bed waiting to grab your ankle when you sit up,” Stine said. “People always say, ‘How’ve kids changed? Over all the time you’ve been writing these books, how have they changed?’ And I always say, well, the technology has changed but the fears don’t change.”

Stine, the master of crafting scary scenarios, counts himself exempt from these universal fears. When I asked him what he was scared of, he said, “Not a thing.”

Laughing, he added, “Normal adult things. All these years and I don’t have a good answer for that question. That’s terrible, isn’t it?”

 

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Jon Swihart’s Instagram “Selfies” of Greg Escalante Are Hilarious

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Selfie at the Hindenburg Disaster

Two years ago, as part of his preparation for painting an oil portrait of art dealer Greg Escalante, artist Jon Swihart took some photos of his subject: LOTS of them. “The session went on for two hours,” Escalante recalls, “and near the end I started goofing off.” Swihart came away from the shoot with dozens of digital images of Escalante including some in which Escalante mocked his own vanity by taking selfies. “Greg loves to laugh,” Swihart recounts, “and the whole thing was really just a lot of fun.” When it was all over, Escalante didn’t give the photos a second thought: “I just forgot about them.” he states.

The painted portrait that came out of experience was everything that Escalante expected and more. Escalante, who feels strongly that Swihart is one of today’s greatest painters, knew that Swihart had a reputation for producing flawless, mesmerizing portraits, and that is exactly what he got.

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Portrait of Greg Escalante, 2014 Oil on panel, 12″ x 8.5,” Collection of Greg Escalante

But even before the oil painting was finished, Escalante got a “bonus” portrait that he hadn’t bargained for. He opened his e-mail one day to find that Swihart had photoshopped him into the indelibly memorable black and white news photo in which Lee Harvey Oswald is shot by Jack Ruby. Escalante appears on the left edge of the frame, gleefully taking a selfie while a tragedy unfolds behind him. As a parody of the extreme narcissism and self-absorption of self-selfie takers it works…

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Selfie at the Oswald Shooting

Although the image was meant as a joke between friends, Escalante put the image on Instagram, and the reactions came quickly: it was really funny. Of course, some also took the image seriously — as art even — and the image ended up on display in an Arizona museum as part of an exhibition about guns in art.

Since the appearance of that first “selfie” Swihart has created well over 150 more images, placing Escalante in iconic photos, in the presence of celebrities and disasters, and has also inserted him into famous works of art. After an intense day in the painting studio, Swihart says that photoshopping the selfies are a way of “unwinding.” Escalante agrees: “For Jon, making one of these is like smoking a cigarette.”

Many of the images have the flavor of time travel, including one that Escalante particularly savors: “The one with Dali and Frida Kahlo is my favorite,” he explains, “I wish that had happened.”

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With Dali and Kahlo

The “selfies” series given Greg Escalante and his friends a lot of laughs: it’s a gag-gift that keeps on giving. In one offshoot of all this Escalante even has a new family that includes a baby boy — Mofo — born into the world with an Escalante hat and glasses. In subsequent images, Escalante’s new “family” even includes a possum and a coyote.

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With Baby Mofo

For Jon Swihart, the whole project has been a lark, and also a reputation changer. When he attends art openings and people say “I’m a big fan of your work” it is often the Instagram selfies that they are talking about, not his paintings. At the Gregorio Escalante Gallery in Chinatown, where 40 of the selfies are now on display along with a selection of Swihart’s oils something remarkable is happening: viewers are breaking into uncontrolled laughter.

Greg Escalante, who hears the laughter in his upstairs office reflects that “There are very few shows that make people just laugh out loud. People are laughing like they are at a carnival, from one end of the show to the other.” Escalante is a very good sport — he doesn’t mind being the center of all these jokes — and in the process he has become the “Zelig” of Instagram, with time travel as his reward.

Instagram Selfies and Other (In)Famous Oil Portraits by Jon Swihart
Curated by Wendy Sherman
GREGORIO ESCALANTE GALLERY
978 Chung King Road
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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First Nighter: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson Play “The Gin Game”; Oren Safdie’s Unseemly “Unseamly”

If you think you’re about to hear anything critical of the two old pros James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in director Leonard Foglia’s revival of D. L. Coburn’s 1977 comedy, The Gin Game, at the Golden Theatre, you better think again. As two lonely residents at a home for the aged who find comfort playing cards with each other in a rundown backyard, they’re well nigh perfect–which is what you already knew they would be.

It may be overstating it to say the characters they play both find comfort in the gin game. Tyson’s Fonsia Dorsey is very happy with the cards she dealt, because she’s the one declaring “Gin” just about every time, whereas Jones’s Weller Martin, the supposed expert at the game, never appears to have a fighting chance against her.

His card-playing prowess, only worsening as the two acts march on, is, of course what Fonsia and Weller discuss repeatedly, but they get around to other subjects as well. One topic is their families, who are either literal or figurative distances from them. The goings-on at the home is another ready topic, and when one of the dances underway inside moves them, they even dance. Needless to say, that’s a big audience-delighting development.

Weller, who can be loud and prone to anger when losing, has a habit of swearing. It’s a character trait Fonsia dislikes. So Coburn goes for laughs by eventually having her lose control of her tongue. Putting four-letter obscenities into the mouths of octogenarians–okay, nonagenarian in Tyson’s case–is a cheap trick but it works.

This is the third time the crowd-pleaser has adorned Broadway–Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin, Julie Harris and Charles Durning preceded the current stars–and the play is no worse for wear. Whether it was ever a flawless piece of writing is less certain. It does have a second-act problem, which is that Coburn knows what to do with Fonsia and Weller up to a point and then doesn’t reckon how to take them further. By the time the second act ends, it’s become too much a repetition of the first.

In addition to Jones and Tyson, who do have the advantage of sitting for much of their on-stage time, there’s another truly standout production feature. It’s Riccardo Hernandez’s set. Along with a handy card table and a couple of chairs for the card players to occupy, he’s piled any number of discarded wheelchairs and walkers against the upstage wall.

Those are a constant reminder that though they were once used, their owners are no longer around. Somehow keeping death as a constant adds vitality to the energetic Jones and Tyson. Fonsia and Weller may not have that much longer to enjoy their gin game, but as played by Jones and Tyson, the pair is far from adding any discarded device to Hernandez’s stack.
******************
Sexual harassment has been a topic of conversation for some time, but whether Oren Safdie’s Unseamly, at Urban Stages, adds anything to the welter of current examinations is questionable.

In a play that slowly disintegrates into hysteria, Malina (Gizel Jimenez) has come to lawyer Adam (Tommy Schrider) in hopes he will convince his firm to take on her harassment case against Standard apparel company CEO Ira (Jonathan Silver), whose sometimes thoughtful and sometimes careless treatment of employees is well known. (Does Safdie have former American Apparel head honcho Dov Charney in mind as a model for Ira? Most likely.)

Initially, Adam listens to the lithe and sensual Malina objectively, attempting while he takes notes to have her describe incidents that would hold up in court as undeniable instances of harassment. As she tells her tales of being involved with Ira over an eight-month period, Adam hears nothing he finds solid evidence and initially dismisses her. But as Malina recounts her first interview with Ira, the shameless womanizer materializes, and while Adam continues taking notes on the sides of Brian Dudkiewicz’s clean-walled set, Ira and Malina reenact their past.

As they do, Unseamly slowly changes from a play about sexual harassment into a soft porn charade with sexual harassment as its handy peg. The more Malina, in time changing into a black lace outfit, shakes her booty even as Ira shakes his–there’s even a Malina-Ira dance break that Jimenez choreographed–the more lawyer Adam loses his objectivity and begins to get drawn into behavior less reflective of a professional keeping his law firm uppermost in his mind. Eventually, he shows signs of being as sexually compulsive as Ira, even down to talking at Ira’s breakneck speed.

As the audience discovers nothing in Malina’s saga that shows her as being anything but complicit in her interactions with Ira, Unseamly takes on the appearance of an overwrought screed about all men being helplessly licentious where women, no matter how agreeable they may or may not be, are concerned. The unpleasant irony is that Unseamly ends up exploiting exactly what it pretends to be exposing.

One thing definitely true of Unseamly is that the non-stop hyperactivity demands three actors speaking and moving indefatigably. As directed by Sarah C Carlsen, Jimenez, Schrider and Silver are up for every bit of that.

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22 Halloween Costumes For Grownups Who Are Big Kids At Heart

Hey, just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to grow up! 

Seriously, let’s face it – though many of us are attempting to adult, we all know that we’re really just big kids at heart. So why not show off your fun and kooky side this Halloween with some costumes inspired by kids’ shows, movies and books?

From “The Powerpuff Girls,” to Darla from “Finding Nemo,” these getups will make you feel like a kid all over again – without the pain of braces or awkward school pictures. 

Check out the costumes below! 

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Watch This 92-Year-Old’s Beautiful Reflection On Aging

Wanda B. Goines is an Internet sensation. The 92-year-old Portland, Oregon, woman wrote a poem about aging, “The Gift Wrap & The Jewel,” that reminds us all about what’s really important: not the packaging we come in, but what’s inside. 

Goines recites the poem on a video taped by her caregiver, Kathryn Clausnitzer Wilson, who loved it so much that she uploaded to Facebook, where it has been viewed over 4.5 million times. Wilson could not be reached for comment, but described Goines on her Facebook post as “the precious lady I am honored to care for.” 

Wanda Goines, mother to eight children, grandmother to 15 and great-grandmother of four, lives in the Cave Junction, Oregon house that her father built. Her eldest son is internationally known artist David Lance Goines, who told The Huffington Post that his mother was an accomplished artist and calligrapher who at age 87 wrote and illustrated her first published book, Bunnyfluff Wants To Fly. David Lance Goines’ posters are collected by museums worldwide, and he credits his mother with being the only art teacher he ever had.

The poem going viral has been a source of comfort and joy to the Goines family, David said. “She is not long for this earth, and it delights her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, as well as all those who know her and love her, that she is able to make a contribution to the world, even as she is leaving it,” he told HuffPost. 

Here is the poem that catapulted Wanda to Internet darling status, but be sure and watch the video to see what happens at the end — and get the tissues ready.

 


“I looked in the mirror and what did I see, but a little old lady peering back at me

With bags and sags and wrinkles and wispy white hair, and I asked my reflection,

How did you get there?”
You once were straight and vigorous and now you’re stooped and weak, when I tried so hard to keep you from becoming an antique
My reflection’s eyes twinkled as she solemnly replied, you’re looking at the gift wrap and not the jewel inside
A living gem and precious, of unimagined worth
Unique and true, the real you, the only you on earth
The years that spoil your gift-wrap with other things more cruel, should purify and strengthen, and polish up that jewel
So focus your attention on the inside, not the out
On being kinder, wiser, more content and more devout
Then, when your gift-wrap’s stripped away your jewel will be set free, to radiate God’s glory throughout eternity

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Now You Can Buy Your Own Trump Blow-Up Sex Doll (For A Good Cause)

Syrian artist Saint Hoax claims not to pay much attention to the vitriol that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. But last week, the presidential hopeful made some comments on Europe’s refugee crisis that he couldn’t ignore: If elected, Trump said that he would send all Syrian refugees in the U.S. back to their war-torn country. Because the refugees could, Trump opined, be ”a Trojan horse” for ISIS. 

Saint Hoax is responding with a satirical project involving blow-up sex dolls made to look like Donald Trump. For $ 39, you can own a Trump of your very own, to do with as you see fit. Proceeds from the sale of the dolls, all made in China (obviously), will go to the UN Refugee Agency to provide blankets, water, dry clothes and food to Syrian refugees. 

“I’m hoping to raise enough money to show people how a blow-up Donald is actually more useful than the actual Trump,” the artist told The Huffington Post in an email from Lebanon. In addition to dissing the candidate, Saint Hoax sees the dolls as a metaphor. 

“People can fill him up with air and deflate him at any minute,” he wrote. “It’s a symbolic representation of how a political leader is made. Each box includes a Trump doll and a needle for you to pop him whenever you feel like it.”  

Find them on Saint Hoax’s website

 

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11 Creep-tastic Images From Halloween Around The World

Whether you’re traveling abroad or staying domestic this Halloween, you may think you can escape the spookiness of the holiday.

But as it turns out, you can run, but you definitely cannot hide.

HuffPost teamed up with the photographer community at EyeEm to ask for images of Halloween festivities around the world. The results — from zombie revelers in California to skeletons in Germany – are frightening evidence that no matter where you spend it, Halloween is just plain spooky.

BOO!

If you need a little inspiration on where to travel this Halloween, might want to check out Kansas City’s mind-blowingly massive haunted house


 
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Colm Tóibín: On Giacometti

Watch as the award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín shares his thoughts on Giacometti’s iconic ‘Homme qui marche’. A timeless and inspirational sculpture, which has been interpreted as a wish to come to terms with the Second World War.

“It works in a number of ways, constantly ambiguously.” There’s no answer to where the figure is going, as Giacometti was not interested in the figure in society or in the political figure: “It is in a way the figure stripped of all those concerns, down to the very thingness of a self.” The figure then represents man in the larger and universal sense, which was also what the contemporary playwright Samuel Beckett was occupied with. In continuation of this, Tóibín argues that the space surrounding the sculpture is equally important and suggestive.

The sculpture series ‘Homme qui marche’ was made in the beginning of the 1960s, which meant that Giacometti and his contemporaries – including Beckett – were “living in the shadow of the Second World War” and trying to come to “philosophical terms” with that. The figure, Tóibín claims, is symptomatic of this as it’s both realistic and not realistic, epitomizing a character but also nullifying it: “You’re playing a game – but it’s a serious game – between the idea of the spirit, of the inner self, and the idea that the self is only the physical self. And you’re working between those things.”

Colm Tóibín (b. 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet. Among his novels are ‘The Heather Blazing’ (1992), ‘The Story of the Night’ (1996), ‘The Blackwater Lightship’ (1999), ‘The Master’ (2004), ‘Mothers and Sons’ (2006), ‘Brooklyn’ (2009), ‘The Empty Family’ (2010) and ‘Nora Webster’ (2014). He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the 2004 Lambda Literary Award (for ‘The Master’), the 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (for ‘The Master), 2009 Costa Novel Award (for ‘Brooklyn’) and the 2011 Irish PEN Award for contribution to Irish literature. Tóibín has also been shortlisted for the Booker Prize several times. He works as a professor at the Humanities at Columbia University in the U.S.

Colm Tóibín was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg in connection to the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark in August 2015. The sculpture discussed in the interview is ‘Homme qui marche’ (Walking Man) (1960) by Italian Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) from the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s collection.

Camera: Mathias Nyholm
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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Planes, Trains and Musicals

As time marches on from decade to decade, one of the surest signs of change can be found in travelogues and documentaries that capture how new designs and technology alter the transportation industry. More than half a century after they were made (and in a style that might seem quite corny), these films demonstrate the changing demographics of those who have embraced new options in mass transit.

A recent article entitled The First Boeing 727 Prepares For Its Last Flight (published on AirlineReporter.com) described how a pioneering airliner was being prepared for its final journey to an aviation museum near Seattle. Two short films offer a remarkable contrast between the giddy optimism which provided the foundation for a 1952 TWA promo and the precise technology used in the landing process for an Airbus A380 aircraft on the final leg of a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco.

Although it’s not always feasible to get a plane onstage, there are ways to evoke the mystique of aviation in a musical comedy format. Consider the following scenes from 1970’s Company, 1987’s Nixon in China, and 2011’s Catch Me If You Can.

* * * * * * * * * *

For many years, buses and trains were the default vehicles for mass transit. One day, while poking around on YouTube, I came across two fascinating short films documenting the Third Avenue elevated rail line which used to run through Manhattan and The Bronx. The first film is about the last days of the “El” while the second film (to my shock and amazement) uses Wanda Landowska’s recording of Haydn’s Concerto No. 11 in D Major for harpsichord as its soundtrack.

At the same time that the Third Avenue El was nearing its end, luxury train travel was hitting a new peak.

Not surprisingly, trains have maintained a steady presence in Broadway musicals.

  • For 1946’s Annie Get Your Gun, the great songwriter Irving Berlin wrote two numbers for a scene that takes place on board a train (“They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Moonshine Lullaby”).
  • In 1957, Meredith Willson’s opening number for The Music Man (“Rock Island”) was a stroke of theatrical genius.
  • In 1964, the big production number in Act I of Hello, Dolly! (“Put On Your Sunday Clothes”) concluded with a train crossing the stage.

In 1971, when Cy Coleman composed the score for On the 20th Century, he captured the pulsing energy of a train in motion. When the musical was revived in 2015 by the Roundabout Theatre Company, the quartet of tap-dancing railroad porters appeared in a filmed promo for the show.

In 1984, Andrew Lloyd Weber took an anthropomorphic approach to trains with a new rock musical entitled Starlight Express (in which a child dreams that his toy trains have come alive). Although the show only lasted for 761 performances on Broadway, it ran for 7,406 performances in London and was extremely popular in Germany. The show’s big gimmick? Each member of the cast represents a specific locomotive from the child’s train set and performs the entire show on roller skates.

* * * * * * * * * *

While the United States struggles with the concept of building high speed rail networks that can offer a practical alternative to air travel, I took advantage of the August doldrums to watch a fascinating documentary that had been featured in the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival. What sets The Iron Ministry apart from most films about trains is that it captures different socioeconomic levels of China’s vast population during that society’s transition from the old-fashioned “green skin” trains to the new high speed bullet trains that Chinese officials are putting into service with a keen eye to the future.

Ironically, the three years spent filming The Iron Ministry coincided with the downfall of China’s Ministry of Railways (largely due to corruption scandals), which was dissolved and replaced by a merger of the State-owned China CNR Corporation Limited and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited, to be called the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation.

Shot by J.P. Sniadecki as he rode the rails (and was frequently asked by railroad employees to stop filming), The Iron Ministry captures the sights and sounds of train travel by someone who is obviously in love with the phenomenon. As Sniadecki explains:

To capture as many different encounters as possible, I took trains throughout China, striving to be thorough without a need to be exhaustive, compelled more by the desire for movement and encounter than by any documentary notion of coverage. I hopped on trains in many different corners of China, as well as through the major arteries of the railway system. Some rides were 40+ hours, others were 20 minutes. I never had a clear goal for each journey.

Ernst [Karel] is an amazing sound artist. I have informal training in music as well, so we approached the film’s sound design as a sonic composition. Attention to attack, release, resonant frequencies, atmosphere, dynamic range, and tonality all played a part in the design. We were open to and excited about the musicality of the train itself, whether by including songs actually played and recorded on the train, or by using the train sounds themselves to compose something akin to musique concrete.

Because it was not filmed as marketing tool for China’s new high-speed rail network, The Iron Ministry captures multiple levels of society as people move around a huge nation. Some scenes show farmers boarding the trains with loads of fresh produce while others show a peasant seen butchering and selling meat while seated on the floor outside the main cabin of a railroad car.

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Some scenes involve young women discussing whether they want to find another factory job in a big city or look for some kind of work that does not require them to be stuck on a production line for 12 or more hours per day. Businessmen are seen traveling from one city to another as idealistic students in another compartment debate whether they should remain in China or attempt to emigrate to North America, where they might have better options and more freedom to pursue their dreams.

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Passenger attendants pose on China’s new high-speed
trains on a new rail line from Beijing to Zhengzhou

If you think Amtrak’s service is terrible, you’ll enjoy watching a mischievous little boy aboard one of the older trains lecture the people around him from his perch on an upper bunk with the following words of wisdom:

All passengers, your attention please. The 3838-438 train from the United States to Afghanistan is about to depart. We ask that those who are not aboard please take someone else’s luggage, take someone else’s wife, and hurry aboard. Those who have explosives, bombs, and other inflammable materials with them please hurry aboard and ignite them where there are crowds to contribute to our nation’s population control policy. The train is moving fast, so please extend your hands and head out of the window as far as possible, making it easier to lose them all at once.

This is a civilized train, so please feel free to piss, shit, and throw trash all over the aisle. Other passengers may spit on your face and you may spit in the mouths of others, which is good for the thorough absorption of protein. As a disposable train, this one has been operating safely for 30 years. If you discover your head over your feet, you’ve arrived at the last stop: Heaven.

While some people are seen playing cards, ordering snacks, and chatting with fellow passengers (there’s a fascinating scene with two young Muslims), the majority of passengers try to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

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As the filmmaker explains:

The montage of The Iron Ministry constructs a singular train, as only through cinema can the old collectivist era ‘green skin’ trains be directly coupled to not only the later air-conditioned ‘red skin’ trains but also the newest high-speed bullet trains of today. As this cinema-train traverses the vast interiors of China, the camera also traverses a visual history of Chinese railway technology and infrastructure. Despite the process of steadily phasing out older ‘green skin’ trains (the train from Zizhong to Chengdu with the meat sellers and the peasants loaded with produce has already been eliminated), the coexistence and varied use of technologies belonging to different eras comes in and out of focus throughout the journey.

My hope was actually to depict a cross-section of the different trains operating within the Ministry of Railways, and the different carriage spaces of each class on the train. These vast disparities in class and culture, which we all know are a dimension of Chinese society, are nonetheless made more vivid and apparent within the space of the cinema-train. One of the ironies of the film, perhaps, is that against this backdrop China is making huge investments in social infrastructure…while I can hardly get a train to anywhere in much of my own country.

If you’re the kind of person who hates being crammed together on subway trains with people who are poor, smelly, and unkempt, the segments of the The Iron Ministry that were shot on China’s old “green-skin” trains will reinforce your worst prejudices against train travel. However, if you’ve reached your tipping point dealing with the petty aggravations of the airline industry, you’ll find China’s new high-speed rail a tempting vision of the future. Finally, if you are someone who loves the romance and history of train travel, you’ll find The Iron Ministry utterly fascinating. Here’s the trailer:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

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Now You Can Pay $19.99 For A Big Handful Of Dead Leaves

BOSTON (Reuters) – People who want to see New England’s colorful fall foliage no longer need to travel for the experience. A Boston-area man is offering to ship bundles of the dried up, multi-colored vegetation straight to your door for $ 19.99.

Kyle Waring, of Somerville, Massachusetts, set up the website shipfoliage.com earlier this year and began sending his first packages of hand-picked leaves to U.S. customers this week.

“I’ve hit over 200 sales so far,” he said.

Waring came up with the idea while contemplating “seasonal monetization opportunities” with his wife. They settled on leaves, he said, because “fall in New England is especially gorgeous and really strikes an emotional chord.”

It is not Waring’s first foray into seasonal offerings. Last winter, he shipped snow from Boston’s record snowfall for $ 89, using the website ShipSnowYo.com. He said he received requests for 718 pounds (326 kg) of snow from around the United States.

According to shipfoliage.com, Kyle offers bundles of three leaves of red, yellow and green, ranging from 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm) in size. The leaves are preserved in a mixture of glycerin and water and shipped.

New England states bring in an estimated $ 3 million in tourism revenue during the autumn foliage season, which typically lasts for a couple of weeks in October.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Will Dunham and Sandra Maler)

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‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ Author On The Struggle To Publish Gay Books

As we reflect on milestones made within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community during October’s LGBT history month, HuffPost Live spoke with Lesléa Newman, the author of the groundbreaking 1989 children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies.

As the first lesbian-themed children’s book published, getting it to readers was a challenge. Newman explained to host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani earlier this week that getting the book published was an entirely grassroots effort because nobody was willing to endorse it. She said the reception to its publishing was mixed — some “thrilled,” some “horrified.”

“Libraries were reporting that the book was either stolen or returned with its pages glued shut,” Newman recalled. “There was one library that found the book in the bathroom defecated upon. There were politicians who used the book for their own personal agenda. So all kinds of interesting things were happening during that time.” 

Finding publishers interested in picture books with a gay agenda is “still a struggle,” Newman said. But in 2008, she was finally approached to write a baby book featuring gay parents. 

“I was really pleased that the publishing world was coming to me after I had struggled so hard to put Heather out there,” Newman said. “But obviously, you know, a lot has happened especially in the marriage equality movement that’s made the world a better place, I think, for all of us and all our families.”

Watch the full segment on Lesbian history: from Sappho to Ellen here. 

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13 Times Celebrities Got Real About Mental Health

If you need proof that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, look no further than Hollywood.

Approximately one in four people globally will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, and that includes celebrities in the spotlight. The good news? Many stars are using their status for advocacy, sharing the message that mental health issues can affect anyone. And when it comes to mental illness, realizing you’re not alone makes dealing with it just a little bit easier.

In honor of World Mental Health Day, we rounded up some of the most encouraging and honest things public figures have ever said about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. They’re a powerful reminder that there’s certainly strength in seeking support — no matter who you are.

 

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Who’s Your Daddy? Reflections of a Humbled Son on Thelonious Monk’s 98th Birthday

My life began with one perplexing question: Who is daddy?

Let me explain. From my earliest recollections, adults, when first meeting me, would invariably ask the question, “Do you know who your father is?” The query came from musicians and fans alike. I didn’t really understand the question at first, because the answer seemed so obvious. My father was my daddy. Of course, they would follow up with statements like, “You know he’s a genius,” which really meant nothing to a five- or ten-year-old. They would add proclamations like, “He changed the music,” and/or “His music will be here for the next 300 years.” That also meant absolutely nothing to me. However, though I couldn’t imagine 300 years, I could imagine one. So when told he would be a bigger name in 50 years, that did seem like a long, long time from then, so I chalked it up to nonsense, in my own toddling way. It seemed to me that in fifty years, I would be an old man — and surely dad would’ve been forgotten by then.

In my early teen years, having by then seen a lot of major artists come and disappear into obscurity, I was convinced these proclamations from ardent fans were pure hyperbole. But at fifteen, I began my love affair with drums. My understanding and views of music changed, and I clearly realized dad was a true badass. But so were his buddies Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and, of course, Max Roach (my teacher), and many others. I was clear on the huge influence of artists like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, and the impact they made on western music. I figured dad was definitely in the crowd, but I also noticed that even those greatest of artisans pretty much said the same things about my dad.

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The author’s father, mother (Nellie Monk) and sister (Boo Boo). (Photo published in Time Magazine, Feb. 1964)

Now you must understand that to me, Thelonious Sphere Monk was just daddy. He took me and my sister, Boo Boo [nickname], everywhere, and taught me how to treat girls, spin tops and change my sister’s diapers, among many other things — he did all of that Mr. Mom stuff. I can’t recall even one time in my life when I ever called him Thelonious, or Monk, or pop, or anything other than daddy. I was far more focused on getting a chance to play with him, than who he was to the world.

My first real clue about how admired my father was as a musical innovator came on the occasion of my mother’s birthday. My dad decided the family should go see Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the Rainbow Grill in the Waldorf Astoria. When we entered the packed supper club, the band was wailing. With the colorful lighting, it all looked magical. And a magical moment it was. Without hesitation, Duke Ellington stopped his orchestra abruptly, went to the microphone and said “Ladies and gentlemen, the baddest left-hand in the history of our music (obviously alluding to Thelonious’ harmonic innovations) just came in — Thelonious Monk.” There was a huge roar, and I knew this was special stuff. This was Duke Ellington talking, the Duke — the greatest jazzman I knew.

Soon after that, in the summer of my nineteenth year on earth, it happened. It was 1969, the year of my enlightenment. I was still living with my parents, and practicing my drums seven or eight hours a day. I was dedicated, focused and broke.

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Thelonious Monk performing with Art Blakey (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty)

When my dad was home from touring, he would lay his head on his headboard resting against a wall that was, maybe, eight inches thick, with me practicing right on the other side. From the day I started practicing, until I was twenty years old, he never said a word about my playing, but that’s another whole story.

I was in my own world. There were no listening restrictions in the Monk household, so I was listening to dad, Duke, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Supremes, and Frank Sinatra — everything, no limits. Then along came the music industry’s move from Hi-Fi to stereo. I wanted a stereo, and decided to build one myself. I went to Lafayette Electronics in downtown Manhattan and purchased parts to build a speaker, though I was not fully familiar with the needs of a stereo system, I purchased parts for only one speaker — a profoundly knuckle-headed move. However, on that hot summer day, I chose to build that one speaker, despite my technical mistake. Once it was completed, I needed to test it, but had a dilemma. It was big, 15 inches, plus a huge wooden cabinet. I wanted to go big. I was afraid to play a loud pop record, like my new Sly and the Family Stone album or something from a Motown group, but I wanted something I could turn up so I could hear this new speaker but not blow it up. So I decided on a quiet, smaller sounding group — a trio record by my father. I can clearly remember lying down with my ear to the speaker and pressing the button for the automatic changer to drop the record. It was a recording that featured Art Blakey on drums and the great bassist, Oscar Pettiford, filling out the trio. They were playing my father’s composition, “Work.” I had never heard it before. It is one of his most difficult improvisational vehicles. I could easily hear it, but it was so difficult and different that I was amazed. I was savvy enough to tell it was special, extremely special.

It was so special, I couldn’t stop playing the melody over and over for the next hour, and the melody was only about a minute long. I was stunned at the genius of his rhythm, his harmonics and his precision. It all came together for me that hot summer afternoon. Right then, I realized that the guy resting in the room next to me, and listening to my practicing, was, in fact, a timeless genius named Thelonious Monk, the man that changed the music — the man everyone had been talking about all my life. My dad was Thelonious Monk. And that was my name too. And it was humbling.

thelonious monk

My life changed just like the music. He’d done it to me too. That fifty-year thing was clearly conservative, since I’m now 65, and I see the 300-year thing is truly possible, if Beethoven and Mozart are any indicators. I got scared, but I got proud, and have been so ever since.

I could have been born on a hilltop in another country with nothing, but instead, I was born to Thelonious and Nellie, and given a wonderful heritage. How lucky was I. God bless you daddy. I know exactly who you are, and I will always love you! Happy Birthday!

Thelonious Sphere Monk, III (T.S. Monk) is an internationally acclaimed jazz drummer, bandleader, vocalist and arts educator. The son and musical heir to his father, the legendary jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk. He is the co-founder and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and he also heads the Thelonious Monk Estate. Contact him at Thelonious.s.monk@aol.com.

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‘Fool for Love’: Falling Short

A tumultuous relationship sits before us in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. From the outset, you don’t know what’s in store for May (Nina Arianda) and Eddie (Sam Rockwell), who seem to love each other at times, but want to wring each other’s necks at other times. In many plays, this kind of tension and uncertainty can lead to a strong resolution. But this go-around, there’s explosiveness without the substance to justify it or reconsider at a greater length.

The lead actors do their parts, and director Daniel Aukin jams as much as he can into the 75-minute play. The script is the main problem — so many ups and downs, backs and forths, without a path forward.

Inside a sleazy motel room in the Mojave Desert, the stage is set with the heat turned way up. Intrigue and curiosity sits beside them on the stage, in the form of an old man, played by Gordon Joseph Weiss. He has several asides with the two lead characters. As more information and background details become available, the narrative is intended to lead to opinions changing and the focus moving. However, by the time these developments emerge, the audience will feel so restless they might no longer possess the capacity to change their feelings. A certain numbness sets in midway through the show once you accept that we’ll never see the outside of this cramped hotel room.

Some of the themes of the play stand out as striking and controversial. However, at that point, unfortunately, you can’t go back.

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First Nighter: Robert O’Hara’s “Barbecue” Sizzles a Bit, Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” is Catnip for Actors

The first act of Robert (Bootycandy) O’Hara’s Barbecue consists of four scenes, two each in alternation, depicting a lower-class white family and a lower-class black family on what looks like a picnic in a shady Middle America forest preserve.

Curiously, the five members of both families, on vivid display at the Public, share the same names–James T. (Mark Damon Johnson, Paul Niebanck), Lillie Anne (Becky Ann Baker, Kim Wayans), Marie (Arden Myrin, Heather Alicia Simms), Adlean (Constance Shulman, Benja Kay Thomas) and Barbara (Tamberla Perry, Samantha Soule).

As the act progresses and no actual barbecuing happens, it’s revealed that in each family unit James T., Lillie Anne, Marie and Adlean aren’t present simply to scream and shout at each other over long-brewing resentments. They’ve planned this outing as an intervention. Prone to drinking and drugging as they are–Lillie Anne more or less excepted–they’re worried about sibling Barbara, whose substance abuse apparently outdoes theirs by a country mile.

Since the actions of both groups virtually mirror each others’ and the term “bad behavior” only begins to describe how they engage intramurally (though more verbally than physically), the point playwright O’Hara’s looks to be establishing is that white trash and black trash are equally trashy.

And while some of the tactics they use to bait each other are occasionally amusing, there’s a whiff of superiority about his intentions. There’s the sense that O’Hara is sending a middle-class audience the snootily comforting “aren’t the less privileged just awful?” message. Not too accepting of him, is it? The poor(er) may always be with us, but that’s no excuse to denigrate them as relentlessly as O’Hara does almost to the act’s end when the two Barbaras, the supposed interventions, finally arrive.

But then the cunning dramatist pulls a fast one. Having led the patrons through four scenes that have more than started to try patience, he shifts gears in as radical a manner as any sleight-of-hand playwright has in recent, and even not so recent, memory.

As a result and because of the Barbecue structure, just about any further description of the action–and that means the entire second act–would turn into a monumental spoiler. Perhaps it’s acceptable to indulge a quasi-spoiler and report that for much of the comedy’s remainder the two Barbaras, who heretofore have said just about zilch, take focus. One of them begins to resemble an actual celebrity along the lines of Whitney Houston and one of them, a memoirist, feels partially derived from James Frey’s notorious account of his life as an addict.

In other words, O’Hara’s seeming satire of a stratum of American society morphs into a satire of a completely different stripe. He’s sending up commercial cynicism as manifested in contemporary America life. Okay, maybe it’s also fair to say he makes an implied larger point by focusing narrowly on publishing and Hollywood. In his wily way, he even gets around to an Oscar race.

While he’s at it, he’s created 10 juicy parts for his cast to play under Kent Gash’s colorful direction and in Paul Tazewell’s often hilarious costumes that take into account the attraction women often have to leopard spots. Perry’s Barbara is at first super-confident, as the script has it, but begins to crumble, where Soule’s Barbara, who’s initially slightly intimidated by those second-act circumstances, gains her footing with aplomb. The others grab hold of their exuberant roles as if they were caged lions thrown thick steaks.

Whether the elongated nature of the first act is compensated for by the second act–which surely depends on falling for the second-act development–is up in the air. But O’Hara can be thanked for taking the risk as well as for much of the furious humor he unleashes.
******************
Since Sam Shepard’s 1983 Fool for Love didn’t appeal to me then and not in subsequent productions I’ve seen, I wondered whether this latest one, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman, would finally change my mind. Though when the lights went up on it, I was impressed by Dane Leffrey’s claustrophobic representation of a motel room on the edge of the Mohave Desert, nothing that ensued changed my ho-hum attitude towards the script.

Anyone who knows Shepard’s plays knows he’s impelled to assess the barren quality of American culture through depictions of the spiritually depleted American West. Fool for Love is no exception. (Mohave Desert = emotionally arid–get it?)

Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and May (Nina Arianda) are battling out their unspecified relationship alone, although sitting immobile in a chair just aside from the sterile motel accommodation is The Old Man (Gordon David Weiss.) The assumption is that the two are lovers, perhaps attempting to overcome an estrangement–or perhaps not.

For the longest time in the 75-minute one-act, The Old Man says nothing. Eventually, he addresses either Eddie or May, while whoever else is in the room hears nothing of what’s exchanged. Eventually roped into the fray is sincere gentleman caller Martin (Tom Pelphrey), who doesn’t quite know how to play the quivering vibes.

As those 75 minutes tick by, the connections between Eddie, May and The Old Man become clear. That’s to say they become clearer, although many patrons may well be left figuratively trudging through the Mohave sand, trying to catch up with what’s transpiring–and that includes an explosive before-fade-out occurrence that lighting designer Justin Townsend executes well. Sound designer Ryan Rumery also has a few ear-catching turns.

For patrons the effort put into making sense of events may not be worth it. What does go a fair stretch towards rendering the expended efforts rewarding are the performances. At first glimpsed sitting at the edge of the bed bent over with her hair hiding her face, tuft-like, Arianda plays the labile May as if she’s a tornado gathering force. Rockwell sees the cowboy-hatted Eddie as a not-yet-ignited stick of dynamite. He’s all contained menace. Weiss grabs attention for much of the time by doing nothing to grab attention and so is that much more attention-grabbing when he goes for it. Pelfrey does befuddled nice guy exactly right.

It may be that the lure for actors of such pungent roles explains the frequent Fool for Love sightings. Indeed, it may be that Shepard’s demanding work-out is more entertaining for the performers who get to take on Eddie and May than it is for anyone who gets to watch them.

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Eleven Bass Players Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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We serve the singer, the song, the soloist, and ultimately the listener. Though we do not possess the harmonic nor sonic range of a guitar, keyboards, voice, horns, wind instruments, nor the dynamics of drums and percussion-the bass player determines how a musical chord actually sounds – which, in essence -often determines whether or not you’ll like the track. Do the math!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees have been announced and I congratulate all the artists: The Cars, Chic, Chicago, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, The J.B.’s, Chaka Khan, Los Lobos, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A., The Smiths, The Spinners, and Yes.

Since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation began in 1983 there has been much controversy over who belongs and who does not. It’s no different than sports Halls of Fame. Controversy, dispute, and rock ‘n’ roll are siblings, and I accept that. However I must stand up for my woefully neglected bass brethren, some of whom no longer lay down the groove on this mortal coil.

As such, history reveals that when iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Famers fired their signature bass players, their commercial and artistic fortunes waned considerably: Elton John, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen – who recovered when he re-hired the E Street Band, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, and Alice Cooper – who dumped his entire original band; among others, were never the same sans their formative four string bandmates.

Obviously there are more than eleven bass players who deserve recognition in the Hall. Based on conversations with my fellow players, musicians, engineers, producers, writers, and vinyl loving devotees, herein are eleven from the classic rock era who must be cited, especially given the fact that they appear on several Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists’ most important recordings.

This list, in the tradition of Spinal Tap, goes to 11!

Dee Murray: To atone for producer Gus Dudgeon’s curious refusal to utilize his extraordinary road band in the studio until 1972, Elton John released 11-17-70 which is among the essential live albums of any era in rock. Bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson, who, along with guitarist Davey Johnstone, also created the vocal harmonies to Elton’s early classics, distinguished themselves as an elite rhythm section. The original Elton John Band’s absence from the Hall of Fame is inexcusable.

Carl Radle: From the late 1960s until his untimely passing in 1980, bassist Carl Radle’s jaw-dropping resume includes enduring releases by Hall of Famers Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Buddy Guy, Art Garfunkel, Donovan, and Bob Dylan. Carl’s work on Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is irreplaceable: every bassist in Slowhand’s subsequent ensembles renders Radle’s lines from that album nearly note-for-note – that’s how extraordinary Carl was!

Kenny Aaronson: Cited as Bassist of the Year in 1988 by Rolling Stone, Kenny is among rock’s most versatile and resourceful players. His career spans scores of seminal sides and concert performances, including Hall of Famers Ronnie Spector, Bob Dylan, Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and one artist whose omission from the Hall is sacrilege: Rick Derringer.

Harvey Brooks: Session bassist and producer Harvey Brooks was the go-to player on the New York studio scene in the 1960s. As the electric bass was essentially in its infancy, Brooks brought his deep understanding of blues, pop, soul, folk, and jazz to the instrument, appearing on such influential albums by Hall of Famers Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited) Miles Davis (Bitches Brew -with Dave Holland), the Doors (Soft Parade), and Al Kooper’s Super Sessions with Mike Bloomfield, to name a few.

John Dalton and Jim Rodford: Behold the missing Kinks! Of the bassists who served Muswell Hill’s favorite sons following the departure of founding member Peter Quaife, John Dalton is likely the one player whom American rock fans heard the most on FM radio by way of “Lola,” “Victoria,” “20th Century Man,” “Celluloid Heroes,” and “Jukebox Music,” among many others from 1969 to 1976. Jim Rodford was a founding member of the progressive pop powerhouse Argent (1969-76) and the longest tenured (1978-96) and most musically adept bassist The Kinks ever employed.

Klaus Voorman: In addition to his brilliant performances on the Beatles’ extensive solo canon, Klaus was a first- call studio bassist for Hall of Famers B.B. King, Donovan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, Randy Newman, and Dion, among others. Voorman’s intro to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” a hit song about another Hall of Famer, is among the most recognizable motifs in the history of pop music.

Herbie Flowers: “Being a bass-player is like being a truck driver…you’re paid to arrive on time and safely at your destination!” His repetitive, major 10th interval glissando created rock’s greatest bassline for Hall of Famer Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” With a blue 1960 Fender Jazz which he purchased from Manny’s in New York City for $ 79.00, Herbie Flowers emerged as the quintessential session player in his native UK. His drop-tuning bass on David Essex’s “Rock On,” and riveting counterpoint beneath David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” remain watershed.

Lee Sklar: A session giant with album credits in the thousands, Lee was the foundation for “The Section” – a musical assemblage of Los Angeles based virtuosos who were the catalyst on scores of iconic album and singles sessions. Among the Hall of Famers Lee enhanced include: James Taylor, Ray Charles, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Donna Summer, Jackson Browne, Diana Ross, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Michael Jackson, among others.

Doug Yule: For all the hipster hosannas heaped upon the Velvet Underground – and deservedly so, one essential member is oft overlooked – bassist Doug Yule, who joined the band upon John Cale’s dismissal in 1968. Unlike Cale, who was indifferent to the instrument, Yule was a fine bass player and singer who complimented Lou’s gravitation from the avant-garde towards the then burgeoning singer-songwriter movement. Though The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) and White Light/White Heat (1968) were influential, groundbreaking efforts; to my ears Velvet Underground (1969) and Loaded (1970) both with Yule, are the VU’s most enduring works.

Will Lee: Assuming the mantle created by Doc Severinsen’s legendary NBC Orchestra as heard on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – bandleader Paul Shaffer and bassist Will Lee’s groundbreaking tenure in the World’s Most Dangerous Band for David Letterman’s Late Night and Late Show brought the language of rock, blues, soul, folk, country, jazz fusion, and funk to the Great American Songbook.

Photo of Tom Semioli by Kathena Bryant

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You Can Help Pick This Year’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just announced this year’s nominees for induction into its ranks. The 15 nominees — including Janet Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths and Chaka Khan — span many genres, styles and time periods, though to qualify, they have to have released their first album or single at least 25 years ago. 

Here’s the full list of nominees, in alphabetical order:

  • Chicago
  • Cheap Trick
  • Deep Purple
  • The Cars
  • Chaka Khan
  • Chic
  • The J.B.’s
  • Janet Jackson
  • Los Lobos
  • Steve Miller
  • N.W.A.
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • The Smiths
  • The Spinners
  • Yes

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — located in Cleveland, Ohio — doesn’t have a set number of slots open for induction each year, though a representative said that they usually aim to admit five performers, plus several more in other categories. 

The final list of inductees will be determined by votes from more than 800 musical artists, professionals and historians from around the world; each will be able to select up to five of the nominees. 

In addition, fans everywhere will be able to vote for inductees online — including right here:

The five artists that get the most votes from online fans will be added to a “fans ballot” that will be tallied along with the ballots from the Hall of Fame’s panel.

The names of the inductees will be revealed in December, and the actual induction will take place April 2016 in New York City. 

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Causing Rukus With Buscabulla: An Interview With Puerto Rican Band Buscabulla

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I found Buscabulla’s music while studying abroad after searching for music from my island that I could show my English friends. Buscabulla — which is slang for “troublemaker”– is an experimental pop, Brooklyn-based band formed by Puerto Rican couple Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo Del Valle. Their sound is different from anything in the Latino indie scene, as it contains elements of funk, soul and electric music in it. Their lyrics are all in Spanish, paying homage to their roots, as both Raquel and Luis grew up in the island.

Besides standing out within Latin music for their sound, they also released a beautiful music video for Métele, which gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of trans women in the island. This is a side of Puerto Rican culture that not many have seen, yet is absolutely important.

I had the opportunity to chat with Raquel Berrios and learn about her musical influences, the story behind the band, and her involvement with Antonio Santini’s documentary Mala Mala.

This interview was translated from Spanish to English.

Your music style is very different from other genres that predominate the island’s musical culture, such as salsa and reggaeton. What inspired your interest in playing music that falls more into the category of electropop and soul?

I grew up in Puerto Rico and studied at UPR (Universidad de Puerto Rico) but left the island in 2005 to do my master’s degree in Rhode Island at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) to study textiles. I grew up in a very musical household. My dad was a musician. He didn’t play in bands while I was growing up, but he played in a brass band when I was a child. He plays guitar, knows a lot about music and has an excellent record collection. My mother was also very into music. I’ve always had a nice mix of influences that are both Puerto Rican and Latin, while also some that are not. I think being exposed to music highly influenced my life, as I was a DJ at first and collected records. Many of those records were of Latin music, including salsa, because I thought those records were worth collecting.

I became fascinated with adding records to my collection that were Brazilian, Latin American, and Caribbean. Some weren’t in Spanish but were somehow connected to my Caribbean roots, such as Jamaican records. When I began experimenting with my own music, I decided to sing in Spanish. I thought it was a refreshing take on the music I wanted to make. I had seen other bands in Puerto Rico create music in Spanish and I thought that it would help me stand out, as many popular bands sing in English. From the beginning, I wanted to have a good combination of things that have influenced me at the moment, from old funk records to Drake, Beyoncé and salsa. I think my music has a varied mix of elements but singing in Spanish allowed me to combine my island roots with other types of music that aren’t typically played in Spanish.

Your lyrics in Métele are reminiscent to those used in reggaeton yet the context is different and it sort of seems like a feminist take on sexist lyrics. What message were you trying to create with that?

Before Luisfre and I joined together to create Buscabulla, my friends and I in New York had a band called N’Tetas (N’Tits). It was a punk/folk group and we wrote songs that were meant to poke fun at stuff. At that time, we were all single, so we would curse and sing about sex and drugs. We added themes from our lives and reality, but we also meant for the songs to be humorous takes on these aspects. Métele was a song that I wrote while I was in that group and met Luisfre. The song contains the lyrics “Métele bellaco” (which translates to “Give it to me hard” in a sexual context), which can be considered to be sexual, but can also mean to give it your all in your work and in life, so that’s the story behind the song.

How did you and Luis form Buscabulla?

During the time that I was in N’Tetas, we wanted to create our own rehearsal space because we wanted to play instruments in the band. When I went to buy the drum kit, I sort of knew Luis already and I asked him if he would help me pick a drum kit. Coincidentally, he had been a drummer in Puerto Rico before moving to New York. I bought one part of the drum kit and he already had the other part I needed. We asked him if he would like to be the drummer for N’Tetas and he became involved with our band. I started showing him my own work and experiments during its beginning stages, which then became more serious. Eventually, I told him I wanted to form Buscabulla and he helped me out with the recording of my music and development of my songs, until we officially formed the project.

The music video for the song is absolutely stunning and very important, as it presents the life of trans people and drag queens in the island. How did you end up exploring this theme in the music video?

My friend Antonio Santini, who is also Puerto Rican, graduated from NYU and was making a documentary with his friend, Dan Sickles, which is called “Mala Mala.” That documentary came out a year ago and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. He told me about the documentary and he had us involved in the soundtrack. He wanted us to to have a song in the opening credits, so we used Métele. After our involvement in the soundtrack, he told me that he was going to film some additional footage in the island and asked me if I wanted to make a music video for the song. It was a nice exchange. Toñi set up excellent footage and we used the editor from the film, whom is excellent as well.

The way that Toñi (Antonio) filmed that documentary was incredible because he had to gain the trust of the people in the drag and trans community in Puerto Rico. When he started filming, a lot of people did not want to be filmed, because they were questioning his intentions. After filming for two years, he managed to gain the trust and love from the community, which welcomed him and allowed him to see a very personal side of their lives. For us, it was an incredible experience because it allowed us to get involved in that subject in the way that Toñi and Dan Sickles did. We benefitted from it because it’s a super underground side of Puerto Rico that not many people know about. I think there’s something beautiful about revealing that side of the island that is both dark and fascinating.


Do you think you’ll continue to explore themes of social issues in a way that is similar to your collaboration with Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles?

I’ve been thinking about the next round of songs I want to put out and I am brave enough to say that I am the one who writes all the lyrics and I do not take the literal approach when it comes to discussing topics about social issues in songs. However, I definitely do think that my music tries to break stereotypes. We are always trying to combine things that maybe don’t go together and find a way of breaking preconceived notions. I think Mala Mala and our music video for Métele is trying to break the stereotypes and show that these people are not outcasts, but rather an important part of our society. There is nothing wrong with being a trans person. I think that Mala Mala shares the characteristic of breaking stereotypes with our music.

While the music scene in Puerto Rico is changing, it seems like it’s still very patriarchal and women are often cast in the sidelines. Do you think that will ever change?

I am definitely noticing that there are more women involved in the music scene of the island. I’m not sure if they’re involved in a way that is revolutionary, since women have always been involved in the music scene in Puerto Rico. What happens is that they fall more into genres that are a bit more traditional, rather than being iconoclasts. I think there’s still a lot to be done in order to change this, same as there should be a change in Latin music in general. There have definitely been more talented women in the indie music scene in Europe and the US for years. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re all feminists, but they do show some different angles of what it is like to be a woman in society and the way women’s roles are changing. I am different from other female singers that you may have seen.

For me, the idea is to change that and I think it’s not necessarily feminist, but it’s a discourse that discusses being able to sing how I want, do what I want, look however I want, discuss whichever topic I want in my music without thinking “that’ll be a hit.” Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I may look pretty. Yes, I choose to appear in my videos. While there is plenty left to do to change the portrayal of women in the music industry, I think there are some young women in Puerto Rico exploring punk music and other forms of expressing themselves that have nothing to do with the typical singer/songwriter or sexualized women, especially within the stereotype of Latina artists.

There are two or three notable female performers who are starting out in the music scene in Puerto Rico and showing lots of promise. I think that in other Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Mexico, there are more notable women in music. Maybe there will be some women from Puerto Rico who can become popular and make a stronger statement internationally in the future.

Who are some female Puerto Rican artists who people outside of the island should know of?

I’ve always considered Yarimir Cabán (Mima) to be one of my biggest inspirations. Within the genre in which she belongs, she has always differentiated herself in, not only the way she presents herself, but rather her personality and the music she plays. She’s taking that genre that is mostly dominated by men and she’s starting to create her own music. It’s exciting to know that she’s making some great changes in music as an artist.

There’s also another girl named Pequeña Vera, who used to be part of a band called Dada Berlín. She’s incredible as a performer and she’s like a gothic/punk Iris Chacón. She can be sensual and humorous in a moment, yet strong and rough in the next. I think she’s in her early 20s. I see young women like her and it’s exciting because I think it’s great that she’s so young and has such strong ideas. I like seeing young women with more confidence within themselves in their projects and art. Other notable women in the indie Puerto Rican music scene are Rebecca Kill and Laira Díaz from Los Manglers.

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Artists Need to Make Peace With the Academic Life

It is said that when the Italian Renaissance artist Verrocchio saw the work of his student, Leonardo da Vinci, he decided to quit painting since he knew that his work had certainly been surpassed. The story is probably apocryphal — it is also told of Ghirlandaio when he first saw the work of Michelangelo, of the father of Pablo Picasso and of a few other pairings of artists — but the idea of a teacher selflessly stepping aside for the superior work of a pupil makes one’s jaw drop.

More likely, many artists who teach today would tend to agree with Henri Matisse who complained during his teaching years (1907-09), “When I had 60 students there were one or two that one could push and hold out hope for. From Monday to Saturday I would set about trying to change these lambs into lions. The following Monday one had to begin all over again, which meant I had to put a lot of energy into it. So I asked myself: Should I be a teacher or a painter? And I closed the studio.”

Many, if not most, of the world’s greatest artists have also been teachers. However, between the years that Verrocchio and Matisse were both working and teaching, the concept of what a teaching artist is and does changed radically. Verrocchio was a highly touted fifteenth century painter and sculptor, backed up with commissions, who needed “pupils” to be trained in order to help him complete his work. Lorenzo di Credi, Perugino and Leonardo all worked directly on his paintings as the final lessons of their education. It would never have occurred to Matisse to let his students touch his canvases. In the more modern style, Matisse taught basic figure drawing rather than how to work in the same style as himself.

Teaching now obliges an artist to instruct others in techniques and styles that, at times, may be wholly opposed to his or her own work. Even when the teaching and creating are related in method and style, instruction requires that activity be labeled with words, whereas the artist tries to work outside of fixed descriptions — that’s the difference between teaching, which is an externalized activity, and creating, which is inherently private and personal.

“The experience of teaching can be very detrimental to some artists,” said Leonard Baskin, the sculptor and graphic artist who taught at Smith College in Massachusetts between 1953 and 1974. “The overwhelming phenomenon is that these people quit being artists and only teach, but that’s the overwhelming phenomenon anyway. Most artists quit sooner or later for something else. You have to make peace with being an artist in a larger society.”

Artists make peace with teaching in a variety of ways. Baskin noted that teaching had no real negative effect on his art — it “didn’t impinge on my work. It didn’t affect it or relate to it. It merely existed coincidentally” — and did provide a few positive benefits. “You have to rearticulate what you’ve long taken for granted,” he said, “and you stay young being around people who are always questioning things.”

A number of artists note that teaching helps clarify their own ideas simply by forcing them to put feelings into words. Some who began to feel a sense of teaching burn-out have chosen to leave the academy altogether in order to pursue their own work while others bunch up their classes on two full days so as to free up the remainder of the week. Still others have developed strategies for not letting their classroom work take over their lives.

Painter Alex Katz, for instance, who taught at Yale in the early 1960s and at New York University in the mid-1980s, noted that he tried not to think about his teaching when he was out of the class – “out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

Others found their teaching had so little to do with the kind of work they did that forgetting the classroom was easy. Painter Philip Pearlstein, who has taught at both Pratt Institute and Brooklyn College, stated that his secret was to keep a distance from his students.

“I never wanted to be someone’s guru,” he said. “I never wanted to have any psychological or spiritual involvement with my students, getting all tangled up in a student’s personality or helping anyone launch a career. I call that using teaching as therapy and, when you get into that, you’re in trouble.”

However, Pearlstein claimed that “having a job has led to an intensification of my work. I had to use the little time I had to paint, and it made me work all that much harder. Something had to give, so I cut down on my social life. I decided it was more important to stay home and paint.”

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Beware Intelligent Men Bearing Caustic Wits

While some people continue to think of Ronald Reagan as the man who could do no wrong, those who remember his administration’s participation in arms trading and union busting have a less favorable image of the 40th President of the United States. Few, however, will deny that under Reagan’s watch, Americans began to experience a steady and calculated dumbing down of the educational system which resulted in surging waves of anti-intellectualism. While it may not be fair to equate brains with beauty, the sorry results speak for themselves.

Those of us who read Jonathan Swift’s legendary 1726 satire entitled Gulliver’s Travels may recall a tribe of creatures named the Yahoos. According to Wikipedia:

Swift describes them as being filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of protagonist Lemuel Gulliver… The Yahoos are primitive creatures obsessed with ‘pretty stones’ they find by digging in mud, thus representing the distasteful materialism and ignorant elitism Swift encountered in Britain. Hence the term ‘yahoo’ has come to mean ‘a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person.’

Joanne B. Freeman recently published an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times entitled The Long History of Political Idiocy. In a post entitled Willfully Ignorant Howler Monkeys on Daily Kos, diarist Sninkypoo wrote:

There’s no political will on the right to act with intellectual honesty and take immediate, urgent, war effort-style action on climate change. All the vast majority of politicians (left and right) want to do is get along to go along, appeal to their base, take Big Daddy Oil’s money, and get reelected.

Today’s American politics are crippled by a combination of media-induced fear, appalling ignorance, self-hating anti-intellectualism and a strategy of aiming to please an audience that represents the lowest common denominator. As a result, our society thrives on idiotic campaign stunts like these pathetic attempts to create a viral video.

A curious by-product of these “shit-for-brains” shenanigans is that when genuinely smart people who possess fierce and formidable intellects (Barney Frank, Bill Nye, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama) speak rationally, some listeners can’t help but feel intimidated, insecure, irate, and impotent. Why? Because when a person with a large and precise vocabulary can explain complex issues in reasonably simple terms, the ease and grace with which they do so makes the knuckle draggers quake in their designer shoes. It also tends to let the hot air out of pompous buffoons like Chris “the national teachers union deserves a punch in the face” Christie, Rick “Oops” Perry, and Rick (“the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex”) Santorum.

John Scalzi’s stunning article, Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is, offers a brilliant and beautifully written perspective on a problem currently plaguing American society. Just listen to what everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, had to say during a recent appearance in Sydney, Australia as he discussed racism and scientific illiteracy!

With Republican debates filling the stage with stooges who equate their preening narcissism with wisdom, it seems as if intelligent discourse has become an endangered phenomenon. Thankfully, two new documentaries do a smashing job of reminding viewers what it’s like when fearless, impassioned intellectuals not only have the courage of their convictions, but don’t hesitate to speak their minds.

* * * * * * * * * *

Larry Kramer has been called many things (abrasive, loudmouthed, fear-mongering, obnoxious, divisive, hysterical, and dangerous) over the course of his long and prolific career as a writer and activist, but no one has ever dared to call him dull or stupid. Born on June 25, 1935 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 2015 has been a banner year for one of the LGBT community’s most lauded elders.

  • On April 7, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux published his 800-page book entitled The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel.
  • In June (timed to LGBT Pride celebrations around the country), HBO aired Jean Carlomusto’s poignant documentary entitled Larry Kramer in Love & Anger.
  • And, on June 25, Kramer celebrated his 80th birthday.

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Larry Kramer at his 80th birthday celebration

Considering his long history of health problems (an AIDS diagnosis, a liver transplant), turning 80 was a milestone Kramer couldn’t always be confident that he would reach. There has never been any doubt, however, about his achievements as a writer and public scold.

  • Kramer received an Academy Award nomination for his work on the screenplay for 1969’s Women in Love.
  • In 1978, his outrageously and deeply controversial novel, Faggots, was published by Random House. A satire on gay promiscuity in the 1970s, it featured a description of a notorious gay sex club named The Toilet Bowl which, among its themed rooms, included a bar known as The Lusitania Lounge (“all fitted out most smartly with the gleanings from a sunken Cunard liner” that had “a porthole-backed crush bar”); the Jackie O (a room that had “50 urinals standing up along with all those men in front of them” and its sister suite, the Radziwill Annex (“where there were 50 urinals lying down, along with all those men in front of them”).

  • Kramer’s political activism took a serious turn in January 1982, when he became a co-founder of New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis (which later expelled him from its leadership).
  • First published in New York Native in March 1983, Kramer’s 5,000-word call to action entitled 1,112 and Counting shocked and angered many in New York’s gay community.
  • In April 1985, The Public Theatre presented the world premiere of Kramer’s acclaimed play, The Normal Heart, which portrayed his experiences at GMHC.
  • In March 1987, Kramer became one of the founders of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
  • In October 1992, a sequel to The Normal Heart entitled The Destiny of Me opened off Broadway and received that season’s Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play.
  • On April 19, 2011 (a little more than 25 years after its world premiere), The Normal Heart finally made its Broadway debut with a powerhouse cast. Subsequent productions engaged audiences at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
  • With Ryan Murphy producing, a film adaptation of The Normal Heart premiered on HBO on May 25, 2014.

  • In 2001, Kramer’s brother (Arthur Kramer) gave Yale University a gift of $ 1 million to establish The Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
  • In June 2013, Kramer received the Isabelle Stevenson Award from the American Theatre Wing for his “substantial contribution on behalf of humanitarian, social service [and] charitable organizations.”
  • On July 24, 2013, a noticeably frail Kramer married architectural designer David Webster (his partner of 22 years) in the intensive care unit at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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David Webster and Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer: In Love & Anger opens with its protagonist’s famous “Plague” speech. From there on, its powerful sweep offers a crash course in how Kramer’s response to the AIDS crisis helped to change the way new medical treatments were made available to the public by the National Institutes of Health. It also shows how ACT-UP’s infamous “die-ins” (including a protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral) succeeded in drawing media attention to a spurned segment of the population who, as they faced death, had nothing left to lose.

While the documentary shows Kramer in robust health and, later in life, as a frail senior citizen, it teaches viewers what can happen when one fiercely intelligent man (who is not willing to take “no” for an answer) speaks truth to power. Here’s the trailer:

* * * * * * * * * *

If one ventures into the political wars that now dominate cable television, it often seems as if the level of discourse has sunk to that of a professional wrestling match. People (especially when the screen is divided up among various pundits) are so busy talking over each other’s voices that they can’t be bothered to listen to what’s actually being said.

From the morally reprehensible Mike Huckabee to the perverse insanity of Ann Coulter; from the preening narcissism of Donald Trump to the clumsy cluelessness of Jeb! Bush, today’s political news scene has deteriorated into a toxic sideshow in which the most reliable truth tellers have been comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, and John Fugelsang.

A fascinating new documentary by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville looks back at how the personal and political rancor shared by two intellectuals snobs helped to develop the antagonistic formats that have become so familiar to today’s television viewers.

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Poster art for Best of Enemies

Back in 1968, when there were only three major networks (no cable), ABC’s ratings were in the toilet. Faced with the challenges of covering that year’s Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (which was ruled with an iron fist by Mayor Richard J. Daley), ABC’s corporate executives hit on a novel idea. Why not get two political commentators to debate each other on air during the conventions? Their final choice was bound to be an incendiary pairing.

William F. Buckley, Jr. initially grabbed the public’s attention in 1951 with the publication of his first book (God and Man at Yale) when he was only 25 years old. Having founded National Review magazine in 1955, Buckley would eventually write more than 50 books (including several espionage novels). A conservative Christian with a monstrous ego, his sneering condescension was impossible to ignore.

In 1948, Gore Vidal’s depiction of a homosexual relationship between characters in his third novel (The City and the Pillar) shocked many readers. His love of history and politics led to the creation of such plays as The Best Man (1960), Romulus (1962), and An Evening With Richard Nixon and…. (1972). His historical novels (including Julian, Burr, 1876, The Golden Age, and Lincoln) stand in sharp contrast to his wildly imaginative 1968 satire, Myra Breckenridge.

As filmmaker Robert Gordon notes:

I was a kid during their 1968 tête-à-tête offensives. Bill Buckley’s Firing Line was broadcast on Sunday mornings, what we watched when there were no cartoons and only preachers.

A master of the medium, he engaged children with his mannerisms and adults with his ideas. Vidal was a man of the left, his historical novels lining all modern home libraries; apart from the movement but also a part of it, he was the nation’s historian, and also its augur.

Decades later, in 2010, my friend Tom Graves obtained a bootlegged copy of their 1968 debates and he screened them at a museum. The audience stayed long after the last image, parsing the performances and the issues.

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Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. get made up for a
television appearance in a scene from The Best of Enemies

No one today speaks like these men, but their confrontations ring so contemporary. In the focused light of the 1968 national television camera, the seeds are planted for our present media landscape, when the spectacle trumps the content of argument.

Each side today, like these two men, sees the other as malignant, promulgating views catastrophic for America; strident partisanship is virile patriotism and compromise is castration. These Vidal-Buckley debates forecast the present state of civic discourse, when heated and abbreviated by camera lights and corporate sponsors.

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William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal
in a scene from The Best of Enemies

I was intimidated to enter the world of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. A great part of this film’s initial attraction was the depth and breadth of these two huge characters, and of their luxurious language.

Their sense of theater makes their knowledge entertaining, and their enmity sizzles like a fireworks fuse. Their East Coast WASP confidence, their easy command of the classics, the masterful rhetoric — it makes a southern boy feel so unschooled.

No matter what a viewer’s age may be, watching Best of Enemies offers a fascinating display of two tart-tongued elitists debating each other with fangs bared and no love lost between them. Think of it as a cage match in which each contestant must rely on his cultural literacy, searing wit, and huge vocabulary in order to win.

By an odd coincidence, this documentary about the Buckley-Gore debates was released at the same time as Jen Lancaster’s fourth novel (The Best of Enemies). Only one of them has a trailer:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

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‘Serial,’ The Podcast Obsession Of 2014, To Become A TV Show

When the “Serial” craze first got going last fall, one of the things you would hear from  listeners trying to get you on board was that the podcast was as compelling as a TV show. And it was true: once you started listening, the thirst for new installments rivaled the thirst for new episodes of great shows like “The Good Wife” and “Game of Thrones.”

Looks like Hollywood (being Hollywood) isn’t willing to cede such compulsiveness to public radio. Deadline reported today that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — the writing-and-directing duo behind comedic hits like “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street” — are adapting “Serial” into a scripted TV series. Several of the podcast’s producers, including Season 1 host Sarah Koenig, “This American Life” host Ira Glass and “Serial” co-producer Julie Snyder, will be executive producers on the show. 

“Chris and Phil take an unexpected approach to telling stories and that is so appealing to us at ‘Serial,'” Snyder said in a statement. “Developing a show with them is exciting because we feel like we speak the same language, only they’re smarter than us.”

There were rumors, for a while, that producers might adapt the content of “Serial” Season 1 – the murder of teenager Hae-Min Lee and the subsequent dubious conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed — into a movie. But Lord and Miller’s show will take a different tack. It will focus, instead, on the making of the podcast. And it apparently won’t be about the original podcast’s first season. It’s not yet clear whether it will be based on some upcoming season – such as the upcoming one, reportedly on ex-POW Bowe Bergdahl – or a fictional season of their own devising.

A show about a group of podcast producers doesn’t sound all that exciting on the face of it. But Lord and Miller specialize in adapting unpromising material — schlocky ’80s TV shows, plotless children’s books, blocks — into thrilling narratives. So if anyone can do it, it’s them.

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The Magic of Serendipity

2015-09-29-1443540557-4250116-Concertgebouw__Amsterdam.jpgMy wife and I were recently in Amsterdam revisiting the major art museums and enjoying that wonderful freedom which makes this city so extraordinary. The weather had been really hot, which I don’t associate with Holland at all, and on this particular day the heat had joined forces with a great tumult of humidity. Storm clouds rolled in, just as we started our lunch at a typically Dutch restaurant very close to the Concertgebouw. Assessing the downpour, we made lunch a leisurely affair but even after at least two espressos, the rain continued and we needed to get back to our apartment. The restaurant was helpful and rang for a taxi, which then took simply ages to appear — probably understandable in the circumstances. But the rain was incessant.

2015-09-29-1443540607-9458228-Amsterdaminrain.jpgFinally the taxi arrived across the street — just as the worst of the storm erupted. We ran to the car and threw ourselves into the back seat, very wet from the deluge. We gave our driver the apartment address near the Vongel Park and set off, steam lightly rising from our soaking clothes. But despite our discomfort we very quickly noticed that there was some very interesting music playing on the taxi’s sound system. In silence we listened trying to identify the work. It was the beginning of the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Opus 109, one of the composer’s strangest and most beautiful creations and written just seven years before his death in 1827. I looked at the driver, who was very Dutch, large in frame and in his 60s. His eyes were quite intense and he had a very no nonsense air about him. I surmised that he must have turned on the radio and that this music was therefore a random choice. How wrong I was!

As we listened we became aware that this was no ordinary performance. Something really amazing was happening. The close, boxy, intimate sound revealed that it was an old recording from another era, but the performance was totally and completely compelling. It captured your imagination and presented the most exquisite storytelling. But who was the pianist?

2015-09-29-1443540668-5944199-Beethovenrecording.jpg“This is Opus 109 but can you tell me who is playing please?” My question seemed an act of futility, given my instant and uncomplimentary assessment of the driver. So I didn’t expect the response I received. It was like a Federer forehand to the base of the court hit with enormous ferocity.

Arthur Schnabel recorded in 1934. He was the first to record all the sonatas of Beethoven.” The reply zinged past my feeble backhand attempt at trying to be knowledgeable. And then there was no more talking and our silence was filled only by the music.

2015-09-29-1443540708-7797149-Schnabel.jpgSchnabel was indeed the preeminent Beethoven pianist of the first half of the 20th century. He worked with the greatest conductors and orchestras across the globe including Furtwangler and Walter and with renowned instrumentalists such as Piatigorsky and Casals. His performances and recordings are legendary but perhaps little known to a wider audience these days.

2015-09-29-1443542430-411659-Beethovenop109usethis.jpgThe Sonata continued its journey and we arrived at our apartment where the driver turned off the engine and the meter and we sat with him in the taxi silently listening to the last movement where the music take us through extraordinary variations, from Chopin-like lyricism, to rough contrapuntal utterances, and then to that final rolling, thunderous dissonance with its chains of trills that leads inexorably back to that so simple melody which was the genesis of the whole 14 or so minutes of this movement.

Time at this point no longer existed. It was just the sound of this music filling the whole universe. The world felt strong, resolved, consonant and utterly beautiful. Without speaking I handed the fare to the driver who nodded. I then opened the door of the cab and we walked in the rain, which also now seemed a kind of benediction, to the front door of the apartment.

For a brief time everything seemed possible and life was limitless.

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Artist Shot Dead While Working On Oakland Anti-Violence Mural

SAN FRANCISCO — An artist was shot to death Tuesday while working on a public mural in Oakland, California, sponsored by a group trying to reduce violence in the troubled and changing neighborhood. 

An argument broke out between the artist and shooter beneath a highway overpass around 10:30 a.m. as the artist worked on a painting called “Self as Superhero,” authorities said. The work had been designed as a collaboration between West Oakland middle school students and area muralists. Students were scheduled to work with artists at the site on Wednesday.

The gunman fled after the shooting and remained at large. The victim’s name wasn’t released, but police described him in a statement as an adult man. Police didn’t release a description of the shooter. 

“All they were doing was painting, trying to beautify a neighborhood that has seen its challenges,” Oakland police Lt. Roland Holmgren told the Oakland Tribune.  

The shooting took place in West Oakland, beneath Interstate 580 on West Street. Violent crime in the area historically has been above average. Recently, the neighborhood has experienced rapid changes from gentrification. 

Oakland has had 71 homicides in 2015, compared with 56 at this point in in 2014. 

Plans called for a 4,000-square foot mural. Portions that are in progress show children on an a tree-lined street of homes. according to the Oakland Tribune. It’s supposed to be the third in a series of six murals by the Attitudinal Healing Connection.

“The murals serve as a constant reminder of the importance of dreaming big,” says a description on a fundraising site. “Its long-term impact on our youth and community is something Oakland can celebrate.”

 The online fundraising campaign underway before the shooting sought to raise $ 10,000 for supplies and some compensation for the artists working with the middle schoolers. 

 

 

 

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Art Therapy Is More Than Just Making Nice Pictures

Anyone who has ever put pen to paper, crayon to coloring book, or hand to wet clay knows the healing powers embedded in such creative endeavors. More than just a pastime, art can be an escape, a stimulus, a war cry or a tranquil reprieve.

Art therapy, defined as “a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication,” revolves around this principal of art’s immense power. Open to children and adults of any background and experience, the still-evolving field explores modes of expression, understanding and healing that occur when paint touches canvas. While too many schools today run under the assumption that art is extraneous, a diversion from traditional academic subjects, art therapists know better. They know that art has the potential to change lives, and, even to save them.

Tally Tripp is the art therapy clinic director of George Washington University, specializing in individuals who have experienced trauma. Entering the field in its nascent phase, in the 1970s, Tripp was elemental in shaping the field as we know it today. 

Continuing The Huffington Post’s coverage of the often misunderstood field that is art therapy, and the pioneers who continue to sculpt it, we reached out to Tripp to discuss the details of her career’s past and present.  

How did you become interested in art therapy? How did you learn about the field? 

When I first learned about art therapy it was definitely a field in its infancy. Personally, I have always loved art making and combined that with an interest in working with people. In high school I spent summers in New York working for the Children’s Aid Society with disadvantaged children in a camp program. It was there, as a counselor in the arts and crafts program, I came across one of the original art therapy journals: the Bulletin of Art Therapy (edited by Elinor Ulman and produced between 1961-1970).

For many years, that journal was the only art therapy publication available. At the same time, in 1971, Elinor Ulman and her colleague, psychologist Bernard Levy started an art therapy program at the George Washington University. Pretty quickly my goal became to study art therapy in the master’s program at GW, which I did between 1978 and 1981. Now, full circle, I am a full time professor in the art therapy program at GW and the director of the GW Art Therapy Clinic.

How did art therapy look when you first immersed yourself in it? 

In the late 1970s, art therapy was still an emerging profession. It was definitely an exciting time for the field as we students were taught by some of the early pioneers: Elinor Ulman, Edith Kramer and Hanna Kwiatkowska — innovative thinkers developing clinical approaches that were based largely on intuition coupled with psychoanalytic thinking that was popular at the time. Also in those days there were few texts or research studies on art therapy to guide us, so we learned primarily by our experiences and our clinical work. As art therapy was a relatively unknown profession, we all put time and effort into spreading the word and educating others about its value.

The field is more established now, and more often than not, people have heard of art therapy and have some understanding of how it works. Art therapists now have licenses in some states as well as levels of professional credentialing and board certification. Beyond that, we have a lot of art therapy literature at our fingertips including research studies supporting the efficacy of art therapy and describing how it is utilized across many settings and populations. Art therapists can now be found in various settings — from medical and psychiatric hospitals, to schools, geriatric facilities, community and studio settings, and in private practice.

What are your areas of interest in the field? 

I have maintained a private practice in art therapy for over 30 years. My specialization is working with individuals who have experienced trauma. I find these clients are excellent candidates for art therapy precisely because the art can provide a means for expressing the inexpressible feelings that are often shut down or pushed away from consciousness in response to traumatic events. It has been exciting in the last 25 years to see that neuroscience research has validated the kind of work we do. Through brain imagery, we now know that the cognitive and executive functioning of the brain is for the most part “off line” when people are recalling their traumas, rendering them essentially “speechless.” This helps explain why traditional verbal therapy is often not enough when working with trauma, and why art (imagery) and other experiential therapies are so effective.

I reached out to you in part because of Suicide Awareness Month. In your private practice do you work with many patients grappling with suicidal thoughts? What are some of the methods you practice in such circumstances? 

Any therapist in private practice will have to deal with patients who are struggling with suicidal thoughts from time to time. Negative beliefs and hopelessness can render the individual helpless to combat the urge for self-harm. To work with suicidal thoughts, a clinician must first assess how developed the plan is, and, if the patient is truly in imminent danger of self-harm, hospitalization may be required. But hospitalization has its limits and is only one step.

Beyond the immediate safety needs, I work on resourcing my patients to help them develop other coping strategies so that they can better manage their feelings and find alternate responses. Some interventions might include creating a safety plan with a hierarchy of actions to take, or to come up with a list of resources that can be quickly accessed when the suicidal impulse arises, or helping with a variety of cognitive and behavioral restructuring techniques, or perhaps increasing the frequency of therapy sessions, etc. Sometimes I will recommend a soothing art activity for “homework” such as working in an art coloring book or journal, that can assist with a person feeling grounded and safe. Art can soothe anxiety and help with re-focusing attention to something more positive and less destructive than a suicidal plan.

Are most of the patients you encounter already involved in art? Are they ever skeptical?  

It is true that most people think of going to an art therapist because they enjoy making art and are already involved in it somehow. But that is not the only kind of person who will benefit from art therapy.

For example, one man I worked with was also being seen in marriage therapy and was referred to me because it was determined that he needed to access more emotional depth. This man had no apparent interest in art, but agreed to see me as an experiment because art therapy had been recommended. I invited him to work on a picture of simply lines and shapes and just “see what happens.” His first picture, a simple downward sloping line was created in a matter of seconds. But when we held the “picture” up and explored it from a distance, he became struck by the downward motion and then exclaimed: “This is exactly what I have been trying to describe. It looks like my mother’s lap. Empty. She was never able to really hold me!” The image and description of not being held as a child became a fundamental theme in our work together. And within a few months, this patient enrolled in a painting class and began a new appreciation for art.

Can you explain what you hope to achieve with a suicidal patient through art therapy? What changes are you looking to make?

Often the artwork will convey a suicidal feeling of hopelessness or despair long before words are consciously available. The image can provide a means for discussing feelings that are either unclear or difficult to verbalize. Art works tend to be self-referential so we work actively with the images and themes that are produced.

For example, an image of a desolate landscape might signal an empty feeling and suicidal state in the artist. While I do not interpret the image, the patient and I will work together to explore the metaphor and any personal meaning or feelings that are attached. Because the picture is something we can look at together, it gives both artist and therapist an opportunity to “do” something with it. Art therapy can empower the individual to find a solution or create a “preferable ending” in the art. It is interesting to note that creating artwork that challenges the initial feelings of hopelessness will actually affect the neural firing in the brain. The more practice a person has exploring “preferable endings” for example, the more this will result in the brain finding alternatives to self-destructive behavior. So making art can be a good practice for seeking solutions and reducing negative thoughts.

Is there a certain type of patient you think is more suited to art therapy as opposed to other therapy methods? 

Anyone who is willing to explore feelings through the process of making art can benefit from art therapy. Some people will naturally be drawn to this kind of therapy — children in particular where their natural language is through art and play.

Adolescents are also good candidates for art therapy because they may be resistant to traditional talk therapies and usually will enjoy working with art materials. I work with adults, however, and maintain that they are still children inside, as it is often an adult embodying that child state coming in to my office. The art helps bypass the defense and intellectualization inherent in verbal language. When a new (adult) patient is referred to me, I often start by asking, “Why do you think art therapy will help?” Right there, I am getting an alliance with the patient by suggesting that I believe that the experiential and creative nature of making art, in the company of an attuned art therapist, will make a difference.

What makes art therapy so powerful?

Art therapy is more than just making nice pictures. In fact, art therapy is more often a process of making ugly or messy pictures that depict a feeling state, not a final product that is all neat and tied together. Art therapy is about that creative process where the client, in the company of an art therapist, is working and re working problems via a range of fluid and variable art materials.

In private practice, I find the spontaneously created art pieces are the most meaningful and often help a person find resolution for specific traumatic experiences. The benefit occurs when the art made facilitates a sense of mastery over the problem. For example, a patient who has experienced years of abuse or neglect in childhood may be able to finally express feelings that had been avoided or pushed out of conscious awareness because they were overwhelming at the time. The images often speak more loudly than words. With the encouragement of the art therapist, difficult feelings can be expressed through making art.

The process varies widely so there is no one way to describe what happens in a session. When a person first faces a blank piece of paper, there might be some resistance or hesitancy to explore feelings so the resultant images may appear tight and controlled as in a line drawing or pencil sketch. But after some trust is established in the therapeutic relationship, the art process can move towards more expressive activity, which would suggest the patient is accessing stronger emotion. Often the patient will begin experimenting with more evocative materials at that point, for example using paint or clay to express feelings like anger, shame or fear. The art therapist is knowledgeable about psychological problems and the use of various art media; the process is flexible and individually focused to support the patient to find materials and techniques that connect with the issues at hand. And as a patient becomes more open to the process and discovers more creative resources within, the art product will also change. In art therapy, there is always that creative edge that keeps the process dynamic and contributes to the process of healing.

 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

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Oneika Russell Engages the Tropical Body and Caribbean Identity in Her Work

There was the outline of a face and a body with no distinguishable features, but for the eyes. Behind this figure was a city/landscape and the figure seemed to be infused with bright colorful Caribbean foliage/flowers. I was immediately intrigued by the series in which female characters were at times engorged by or hidden behind the common flowers of the Caribbean.

The work in question is part of artist Oneika Russell’s “A Natural History” body of work. This is a series the Jamaican-born artist created mostly while living in Kyoto, Japan, and in the work she sought to represent the experience of being an outsider in a culture that at first seemed very alien to her. Said the artist, “I was trying to understand how to make an image which conveyed what the tropical body and a tropical identity might be or look like.” This fusion of the black body and Caribbean foliage would eventually become an artist’s book printed in 2015. “A Natural History,” thus far, is Oneika Russell’s most well-known work.

Oneika Russell was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, and graduated from Knox College High School. She attended sixth form at Ardenne High School in Kingston. It was while she was in sixth form that her doodling would give way to an identifiable interest in the visual arts. Eventually, she would attend the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts on the island, as a Painting major, though she did take a few courses in photography. At Edna Manley, Russell started doing research for an Aunt Jemima-like character she called Cookie, who would become the basis of her thesis work. Cookie was a commentary on the tourist industry and a critique of race, color and class issues in Jamaica. It is a particularly engaging body of work.

From Edna Manley College, Russell would go on to do her master’s degree at Goldsmiths College, where there was a strong focus on theory and where she started working in animation. Her thesis show for Goldsmiths was something she reports not having replicated since then. “I called the work I produced then interruptive painting, and I wanted to create something that was a hybrid art form. In this work I combined several genres around the character of a little girl. For many people this was new media work, but for me, it was still a painting.”

Following her time at Goldsmiths Russell returned to Jamaica and continued her practice, and was working on the island when the Japanese Embassy started offering scholarships to study in Japan. She applied to go and study the visual arts.

Naturally she wanted to know what it would be like for a Jamaican girl to study and live in Japan. “Actually,” Russell conceded, “I loved particularly the art culture in Japan, where there is not so much of an hierarchy among the various art forms. That, for me, was quite liberating. What I struggled with in Japan though was feeling very much like an outsider. I did not speak the language very well, and I lived in Kyoto, which is one of the most traditional places in Japan, even as there is a lot of focus on the environment in Kyoto. I guess in Japan I felt really alienated.”

This feeling of alienation would lead to Russell creating the “A Natural History” body of work. Consequently, Russell explained, if “A Natural History” reads at times like ethnographic works, this is no surprise to the artist who freely admits that in the works — in which she is photographing, videoing and drawing herself in nature — she was “using the language of Anthropology.” The artist continued, “What I sought to do in this work was use Caribbean flowers as a way to identify myself as Caribbean, even as I was using the female body and the flowers to talk about what I think of as my aesthetics and my identity. In short, I found myself in Japan seeking to develop a visual vocabulary and language to express my identity.”

In talking to Russell I was struck by the fact that she referenced language, vocabulary and speaking a lot in her work, particularly the work she did in Japan, and I tried to tease the reasons for this out of her in our discussion. “The fact is,” Russell explained to me, “it seemed to me after a while that I was studying language more than anything else when I was doing my doctoral studies in Japan. In Jamaica I knew myself to be someone quite articulate, but not at all so in Japan, where I was literally struggling to learn the language. I guess this is why language has come to take on so much importance in my work.”

But her time in Japan would see her starting, as well, a new body of work — in gold — that is ongoing. “When I was in Japan I used Facebook a lot to keep in touch with people. For a long time, during the years I was in Japan, Facebook in fact was my only connection to Jamaica. I started making portraits in gold from Facebook photographs of my friends. This ‘Selfie Drawing Project’ would accompany me when I moved back home to the island. For a long time I thought I would just preserve these selfies in gold and move on, particularly once I was back on the island.”

But, of course, this is not what happened.

The selfies started to take on a life of their own and the project keeps growing. In working with gold Russell found that she started thinking about preservations and our human relationships, particularly to gold. “Traditionally gold is a classy, almost universal indication of something precious and more valuable. I became intrigued with that idea and now the paintings in gold are getting larger and larger. I find, too, that they are changing values and I really started to challenge myself to see how many times I can make something different out of using the same basic materials.”

If the artist thought that, upon returning home to the island, the theme of alienation would disappear from her investigations, this is not what would happen, for this theme has remained and could be seen quite strongly in the work she showed in the 2015 Jamaica Biennial. “For me, the work in the Biennial site at Devon House was all about alienation. In this work I wrote a letter to myself and individual lines from the letter were placed on postcards in a child’s bedroom. What I was hoping to do with this work is to use these individual lines from the letter to connect different people.”

Given her continued focus on the theme of alienation, I wondered about her sense of the artistic community on the island.

For Russell the local art scene seems to be collapsing, due to lack of resources and funding. “There are few commercial gallery spaces on the island and a certain generation of art collectors are not collecting contemporary art as before,” she noted. When asked why this might be so, Russell said she imagines that “since the media used in a lot of contemporary art is shifting and changing, collectors might be a bit more shy about engaging with this new media.” She thought about it for a while before continuing. “The Jamaican art-buying public seems to be more educated about painting and drawing, less so about new media, so they may be more reticent in that regard.”

However, the artist remains hopeful.

“While many of the official venues for artists on the island are gone, more and more underground projects are starting up. There is The New Local Space — an artist-run contemporary visual art initiative in Kingston — that has generated a lot of interest on the island, and the National Gallery of Jamaica now seems to focus more on contemporary art production, which is always good for someone like myself who, for a long time thought of herself as a painter; but I was also making videos.”

The artist paused, before continuing. “The term ‘video artist’, for me, boxed me in, but I was clearly engaging new media and technology in my work. I find that I am making more and more work that is interdisciplinary in nature, and maybe these days I should just settle on calling myself not so much a painter anymore but simply a visual artist. I have found that particularly women artists on the island are engaging more interdisciplinary works, which of course calls into question our relationship to the art market since we are not making work that is specifically a commodity.

“In a sense and despite the difficulties, women artists like myself on the island still manage to do our work and the good thing is that curators do not treat us any differently, as far as I can see, from the male artists on the island. I feel I am treated seriously as an artist and whenever that happens it always gives you the confidence to keep doing your work. “

Until next time.

Images copyrighted to Oneika Russell and used with permission.

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Las Vegas Reunites Rat Pack with Sammy Davis, Jr. Street Naming

For both his children and millions of his fans, the dedication of Sammy Davis Jr. Drive in Las Vegas on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 is a fitting commemoration of the legacy of the legendary entertainer and a living reminder of the lasting contributions he made to the city he loved. The intersection of the newly named avenue (formerly known as Industrial Road) with Frank Sinatra Drive and Dean Martin Drive also pays symbolic tribute to the historic “Rat Pack” that did so much to build Las Vegas into a thriving destination.

Known as “Mr. Show Business,” Sammy had a storied career beginning in vaudeville at age 3. His major credits include the hit songs Candy Man and What Kind of Fool Am I, Broadway plays Golden Boy and Mr. Wonderful and the Rat Pack film Oceans 11.

“My father was the true American dream,” explains Manny Davis, Sammy’s son and administrator of his estate. “He had little education and had enormous adversity to overcome. He put himself through the fire because he had something to prove to himself and to society that nothing could keep him down. Some people were not as courageous to stand up to the oppression of his time. But Sammy did, and he gained the respect of all of his peers, white and black, men and women.”

“The dedication means a lot to our family because Vegas wasn’t always town that was tolerant of African Americans. Dad had to go through the back doors and got substandard treatment at all times. Frank Sinatra saw the dehumanization, and the Rat Pack all took a stand. Thanks to their courage, Sammy helped integrate the city, and the impact on the Civil Rights Movement reverberated throughout the country.”

Manny also sees his father as a trailblazer not only in civil rights but also as an artist and a style maker. “The glamorous lifestyle that is so familiar in the lives of entertainers and movie stars of today was all but forbidden and uncool for African American artists before my father’s time. It started with Sammy Davis, Jr., and I love the fact that he did it. He showed that an African American superstar could work with anyone. The sky was the limit. His music is timeless and will always speak to me and millions of others because he came from a time when the words to the music actually meant something. Every time I listen to a song of his, I feel the truth in the words, and it makes me cry. It seems like it applies directly to my life.”

Manny believes the timing of the Las Vegas ceremony twenty-five years after Sammy’s death coincides with a new surge to bring his life’s work to new audiences. A feature film, a Broadway musical, documentaries and a new biography are on the drawing board. “We get offers but not all deals are good deals, so we have to be selective. There’s always talk of a movie based on his life. I think it would be a tremendous challenge for an actor because Sammy was so talented at so many things, singing, dancing, acting, comedy and more. I’m glad that no one expects me to be like Sammy Davis, Jr. because it’s damn near impossible. Anyone who is going to play his role is going to have to do his homework. He’ll have to be really good.”

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There is Nothing Dead in This Grandiose Former Funeral Establishment of the City of Paris.

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Art Galore.

The 104, as it is called, spelled out in French as Le Centquatre-Paris, is a multimedia art center partly funded by the city of Paris. Located in a vast compound of gigantic halls and structures, it houses dance floors, exhibit halls, stores, libraries, workshop classes and stages. Calling itself an artistic and cultural factory, the place is geared towards public service — Art as a public service is definitely a great concept!

On any given day a buzz of artists, dancers, yogis, actors, painters, sculptors, fill the cavernous space with laughter and life. Visitors pop up at the arts library, shoppers stroll through the Emmaus thrifstore. It’s at the same time neighborhoods hang-out for young skaters, and an elite art space for openings and happenings.

Its success is real and tangible. You can witness art in various forms glow right under your eyes, and see how art really is a street expression in its best form. Over 60 percent of the performing artists at the 104 are not French.

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The fall schedule of exhibition is heavy with many new shows coming up: dance performances, visual arts, circus acts, theater and music fests. Solo acts or ensemble pieces, no matter what month you are able to go, several art forms will be on display or happening, including a ball in April open to all. About 50 artists in residence are planned to offer their creations for the 2015-2016 season.

An official opening was held Sept. 26 to present the 25,000 square feet of available galleries and open spaces to the public for the new season. On Oct. 3, a Nuit Blanche (White Night) is planned, when the space will stay open all night. The calendar is so full of events that it would be impossible to see and hear everything offered to each senses.

Les Pompes-Funèbres : From Death to Life.

Located on the site of a former municipal undertaker, the name comes from the original entrance’s address, at 104 rue d’Aubervilliers. This was not the mom and pop funeral home where one would visit one deceased family member in a flower-filled room and weep. This was where hundreds of horse-drawn hearses used to park and be maintained. Now an artistic factory, it churns out events and gatherings at a vertiginous speed.

The buildings were erected in 1873 by the diocese, ruled by religious staff; later on, with the separation of state and church, the city created in 1905 the Service municipal des pompes funèbres (Municipal Service of Funeral Process), considered at the times as a liberal progress, as it meant that from then on, regardless of religion or condition, everyone was due a proper funeral.

Before that, divorced women, suicide victims, atheists, all were to be buried at night without any dignified ceremony or family members present. The municipal monopole was taking care of everything, from coffins to hearses, from porters to cemeteries. One of the important rituals after a death was to wrap the front door of the building where the deceased laid with massive black curtains on each side of the front door – those were called the pompes.

This black veil was used until the 1980s. The Municipal Monopole was still in practice until the middle of 1997. Since then, the ceremonial is now left to family and private companies.

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At the Pompes Funèbres, 27,000 hearses were in use, with a staff of 1,400, only forty of which were women. Carpenters, wood workers, steel workers, mechanics, auto body specialists, seamstresses, cooks for the on-site workers’ cafeteria. Civil servants, horse caterers and other employees were lodged on the premises. There was even a football team, musicians, and firefighters dedicated to the ensemble of constructions. The funeral parlor did not handle corpses – that was done in private parlors. Except in times of war, when the bodies of soldiers were given back to their families.

Creativity at its Best.

So the place was truly always alive (pun intended) in a way, but for some 15 years when it was closed down, before the re-birth as an art center in 2008. When I last visited at the beginning of September, I saw several artists using the multi-levels center floor as a dance stage and yoga space, kids running around huge sculptures, workers having a sandwich on beach chairs, the feel of community involvement was very tangible.

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At each end of the space giant art pieces jetted to the open sky – this is a place that could easily accommodate one of Louise Bourgeois giant spider sculptures. Not every art space can. An enormous funky piece made of hundreds of bicycles wheels and frames in a sculpture by Chinese Al Weiwei named “Stacked” was taking one end of the forum – representing the transportation mode of his native country, while a metal snake of rust-color boxes was being installed for the upcoming vernissage.

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Concerts for all ages and all style are planned for the fall schedule. Several art shows will also open at the various venues encompassed in the buildings. It’s a real artistic community all housed under one roof. A glass roof that is.

The architecture is reminiscent of the former market halles (market halls) that were once famously popular in the center of the capital. Why waste beautiful edifices? The eco friendly turn-around of the classic buildings is a testament of the creativity of its new users, all artists.

Side Shows.

A food truck selling pizzas is permanently parked inside the Centquatre. The Emmaus store resales clothes and furniture pieces at very low prices, and involves members of the community to work there. Canvas beach chairs invite people to lounge at will. Several corners are meant to be used as sitting areas, or even picnic settings.

The café’s menu is full of childhood favorites, such as toasts, soft eggs, fries and milk-shakes. It is named the Café Caché (the Hidden Café). Another resting place for food is the Grand Central restaurant, the loft-like space offering traditional French dishes at a medium range price – think sausage and lentils, beef cheeks, mussels and fries, rabbit with granny smith apples, steak with Béarnaise sauce, etc..

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The CentQuatre had a challenge — to fill the enormous spaces spread on several city blocks, and despite its sheer size, the place works — it is both a community haven and a convivial space for all. Despite being located in an untrendy area of Paris, that has not stopped Parisians of every corner to make the trip for the sake of art. Over half a million visitors/spectators came by last year. Bravo!

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If you go:
Le CentQuatre is at 5 rue Curial, Paris 75019.
Open Tuesday-Friday noon-7 p.m. Weekends 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Monday.
Métro stop: Riquet.
Bus 54 or 60.
http://www.104.fr/english/

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Is The Broad a Great Public Collection or “The Largest Vanity Project of Our Lifetime”?

The Broad museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Iwan Baan.


Eli and Edye’s Gift to Los Angeles: The Broad Museum

“I have always worked on a public collection,” said Joanne Heyler, Chief Curator of The Broad Art Foundation and Founding Director of The Broad, to an assembly of international, national, and local media gathered in front of the much-anticipated new contemporary art museum and permanent home of the art collection of Eli and Edythe Broad a few days before its opening. Heyler has been with the Broads since almost the beginning, working with them for over 20 years to develop the collection and their philanthropic projects, culminating with the establishment of the impressive Broad museum. Heyler’s emphasis of the word “public,” however, might seem curious, considering that the collection belongs to just two people. But, as Heyler explained, the idea of “the public” is crucial to the museum’s mission of reaching the widest possible audience for its collection of contemporary art, and to that end, The Broad, situated in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, offers free admission. “This is Eli and Edye’s gift to Los Angeles,” Heyler stated proudly.

The Broad’s “cool storage” room showing a work by Paul Pfeiffer. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Iwan Baan.

The practical matters of opening the collection to the widest possible audience, however, extend beyond the borders of Los Angeles. The Broad Art Foundation, which was founded in 1984, was established as a lending program, making the collection’s works available to museums and galleries worldwide. Over 8,000 loans have gone out to more than 500 museums and galleries over that period of 30 years. Now that the Broads’ collection has coalesced under the roof of the new museum, this dedication to lending will continue as a primary function of the museum, and has even been built into the building’s design.

The Broad museum’s lobby with interior veil. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Iwan Baan.

The building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is predicated on the concept of “the veil and the vault”: the vault being The Broad’s large storage area for the collection, taking up most of the museum’s second floor; the veil, a porous exterior structure forming a diaphanous cover over the interior vault, allows a diffuse natural light to penetrate the 50,000 square feet of exhibition spaces, located on the first and third floors. Approaching the museum from the street, the visitor is essentially invited under the veil, into a cavernous space with the grey mass of the vault hovering overhead. A pod-like elevator, stairway, and long ascending escalator pierce the vault’s interior, allowing the visitor to pass through it, and, from windows in the stairwell, offering an unprecedented glimpse into the inner workings of the museum. As lead architect Elizabeth Diller pointed out, the design “turned a liability into an asset,” transforming the usually hidden storage area into a main attraction.

Installation of works by Christopher Wool and Jeff Koons in The Broad’s third-floor galleries. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Bruce Damonte.

In the expansive space of the third floor galleries, the viewer is initially greeted by a large open space, full of diffuse filtered natural light, surrounded by massive works by Jeff Koons, Christopher Wool, Mark Bradford, Marlene Dumas, Julie Mehretu, and El Anatsui. For The Broad’s first hang, Heyler took a “straightforward, wide-lens, chronological approach,” beginning with a room devoted to Warhol, whose Pop-Art presence is felt throughout the collection. Standouts of the inaugural exhibition include an eye-popping enclave of Ellsworth Kelly works; Anselm Kiefer‘s historic epic Deutschlands Geisteshelden (1973), whose evocations of receding woodgrain are echoed in a Mike Kelley piece (Infinite Expansion, 1983) on the opposite end of the museum; and alternately, life-like and imposing human figures by John Ahearn and Charles Ray. Areas of darker subject matter contrast with the Pop influences–animal bones in glass cases and a dead sheep suspended in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst share a room with a photograph of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange by Andreas Gursky, evoking themes of death and despair, interrupted by the obligatory inclusion of one of Hirst’s spot paintings. Works by certain artists, particularly John Baldessari, Cy Twombly, and Jeff Koons, recur to a great extent throughout the museum.

Installation of works by Neo Rauch, Robert Longo and Mark Bradford in The Broad’s first-floor galleries. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Bruce Damonte.

What emerges from the Broad collection is largely a paean to painting and sculpture, a majority, unavoidably it seems, devoted to male artists. This tendency is somewhat disrupted by the inclusion of some major installations on the first floor: a wool tapestry by Polish artist Goshka Macuga, complemented by two performers clad in the artist’s digital-printed Lycra designs; a powerful and elegiac musical video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson (The Visitors, 2012); Takashi Murakami‘s epic mural-sized painting In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow (2014); and the experiential and existential Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013), which purports to plunge the viewer to an endless space of reflection among a quiet riot of blinking LED lights.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013. © Yayoi Kusama, Courtesy of David Zwirner, N.Y..

Waiting for my minute alone with the infinity of Kusama’s installation, I overheard an outspoken journalist denouncing The Broad as “the largest vanity project of our lifetime,” a sentiment that, given the rise of private museums and foundations established by prominent art collectors in recent memory, is not an unusual one to hold. While the Broad’s collection is by no means a complete, unbiased view of the developments of contemporary art (and who can rightfully claim that, regardless of their private or public affiliations?), this sanctimonious attitude willfully ignores The Broad’s potential outreach to the widest possible public, and the benefits that can be derived from it. The Broad’s location, as a new jewel in a downtown revitalization project that Eli Broad has helped orchestrate, is not entirely without self-serving attributes, but it also makes the museum accessible to a much larger proportion of Los Angeles residents, particularly those from lower income, inner city areas. The other notable free admission museums in Los Angeles–the Getty and the Hammer Museum–are located a metaphorical stone’s throw from each other in the exclusive neighborhoods of Westwood and Brentwood on the west side of Los Angeles. The Broad, on the other hand, is right in the heart of the city, easily accessed by public transportation coming in from all across the Southern California region.

Installation of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Ahearn and Robert Therrien in The Broad’s third-floor galleries. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Bruce Damonte.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also addressed the crowd at the press preview that morning, boldly proclaiming “Los Angeles the contemporary art capital of the world.” Nodding to the mayor, Diller acknowledged that The Broad’s construction in Downtown Los Angeles is part of a “larger urban effort,” and heralds the increasing concentration of cultural attractions in the city center. If one were looking for a popular mandate for the new museum and for Downtown’s greater art presence, The Broad has certainly proved it, booking over 85,000 free tickets in advance of its opening. But if it truly wants to fulfill its mission to serve the public, as one of the most accessible free-entry institutions in Los Angeles, it should recognize this as a unique opportunity to introduce the wide lens of contemporary art, in all its facets, to a public that may not have the opportunity to experience it elsewhere. One can hope that through special exhibitions and new acquisitions (it estimates that it averages one new acquisition a week), The Broad will discover, and embrace, its obligation to the public to truly represent the art of our time.

Aerial photo of The Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Photo: Jeff Duran / Warren Air.

–Natalie Hegert

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Leah Remini Tells All In New Memoir About Scientology

Actress Leah Remini announced this week that she will soon release a memoir about her 30 years as a member of the Church of Scientology. The book will be “bold, brash, and bravely confessional,” according to publisher Ballantine Books. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology is set to arrive on Nov. 3.

Remini, who is best known her starring role on the long-running sitcom “King of Queens,” became a Scientologist as a child, but publicly left the Church in 2013 because she didn’t want her 9-year-old daughter, Sofia, to become indoctrinated in its precepts.

She revealed her plan to write a tell-all about her time in the Church soon after her departure, but details were scarce until this week. Now, thanks to Remini’s Twitter account, we even have a cover:

A number of books released in recent years — most notably Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, which was adapted into an Emmy-winning HBO documentary — have thrown open the doors of the famously secretive Church of Scientology. One of the central figures in “Going Clear” was “Million Dollar Baby” screenwriter Paul Haggis, and the book describes the lengths to which the Church will go to keep its most famous members — especially Tom Cruise — in the fold. But Troublemaker will be the first book to reveal the perspective of one of Scientology’s many celebrity members in their own words. 

There’s no telling what she’ll say, though there’s certainly a good chance that much of it will paint the Church in a negative light. Remini has been a rather outspoken critic of Scientology over the past two years. At one point, she even filed a missing persons report for Shelly Miscavige, wife of David Miscavige, the head of the Church of Scientology, which the LAPD called “unfounded.”

The Church, for its part, sent The Huffington Post a statement slamming Remini’s book and behavior over the past couple years as a “pathetic quest to get publicity and seem relevant.”

“Ms. Remini needs to move on with life and stop obsessively blaming others for her problems, be it her former religion or those she has worked with professionally,” Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw said. 

 The Church has a history of responding aggressively to criticism of its practices. Just this week, two movie theaters near the Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, canceled plans to show the film”Going Clear,” allegedly as a result of pressure mounted against them by the Church. 

 

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Watch Syria’s Piano Man Sing Along His Harrowing Journey To Europe

Four years of brutal civil war in Syria could not keep Ayham Ahmad from singing. Neither could his harrowing voyage to Europe.

The 27-year-old musician fled Syria and took a rubber dinghy from Turkey to Greece last week. As soon as he arrived on the shores of Europe, he sat down in front of the waves and began to sing of his home — the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk near Damascus.

“Europe is a land of freedom. Now that I’m in Europe I can continue to keep singing about life in Yarmouk and the people who live there,” he told The WorldPost after he arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos.

As he trekked across the Balkans, trying to find a safe route to enter Austria, he reprised the ballads to Yarmouk that he once sang on the camp’s war-shattered streets.

On Monday, Ahmad made it to Austria, the country of Mozart and Schubert. The same day, he came across a piano made by historic Austrian instrument-maker Bösendorfer in Vienna and sat down to play a song about Yarmouk.

“Yarmouk is in my heart, and it will remain in my thoughts and in my music,” he wrote on Facebook that day. “We will keep on singing.”

Ahmad arrived in Germany on Tuesday, where he hopes to find a better life and provide for his wife, two young children and elderly parents back in Syria.

On his first day in Munich, he got a German volunteer at the refugee reception center to join him on guitar as he sang stories of Yarmouk to the other refugees. He posted another video of him playing the piano in Munich on Thursday, wishing everyone well for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

For years, Ahmad has posted videos of his recitals amid the ruins of Yarmouk to draw attention to the plight of the camp’s besieged residents. Earlier this year, Ahmad’s piano was burned by Islamist militants as he tried to move it out of the camp.

As he finally fled the country, Ahmad has meticulously documented his voyage on Facebook, and provided further materials to The WorldPost for a diary of his voyage.

“To speak the language of music is better than speaking English, Arabic, German, Dutch, Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian,” Ahmad wrote on Facebook from Munich on Wednesday.​ “This is what I felt through the interaction with foreigners on my journey to Germany.”

Mehreen Kasana contributed to this report.

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The Broad Surprises

For the many visitors who’ve flooded The Broad Museum at its official opening this past weekend, the experience was full of surprises. Built by prominent architectural firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the museum building grabs ones’ attention from the get-go. Its striking façade is covered with a porous, honeycomb-like veil with a single eye-like window, which stares across the street at its older cousin, MOCA.

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An even bigger surprise greets visitors upon entering the museum lobby, whose warping, dancing walls, with their sinuous lines, give the impression that visitors just entered into a dark, mysterious cave. I had the privilege of visiting The Broad several times during its construction, and every time the romantic architecture of its lobby made me think of an operatic overture, taking place before the curtain goes up. Just think for a minute about the impersonal, bank-like lobby of the Museum of Modern Art in New York… Here in LA, the entrance to our newest museum puts one into a particularly adventurous mood.

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The last few days, I’ve been snapping pictures of The Broad both day and night. It definitely commands attention. With almost 50 years of art collecting, LA philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad have amassed an impressive collection of 2,000 contemporary artworks, which is housed in their new museum on its three floors. But only 250 works were chosen for the inaugural display in the galleries on the first and third floors. The rest of the collection is stored in a specially designed storage facility occupying the museum’s second floor.

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Knowing the Broads’ particular affection for the art of Jeff Koons, it was somewhat expected that his numerous sculptures would dominate a few rooms. Of course, it’s impossible not to be impressed by his gigantic shining blue Balloon Dog. But wisely, Koons’ rather boring, inept paintings were left to rest in storage.

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There are interesting and unexpected juxtapositions of various artworks, as is the case of larger than life sculpture by Charles Ray of a formally dressed businesswoman, with an unintentional and surprising resemblance to Carly Fiorina. Next to it, there is a monumental lightbox transparency by Jeff Wall, with a staged scene of battle with dead soldiers coming back to life. Don’t ask… You just have to see it.

Every time I encounter Robert Therrien’s huge sculpture — a seemingly banal furniture set consisting of a dining table and chairs — I find myself in awe. And I bet that you, my friends, will feel the same when you find yourselves dwarfed by the gigantic scale of this sculpture — one of my favorites here.

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The inaugural exhibition demonstrates not only the width of the Broads’ collection, but also shows its sustaining focus on the art of several artists particularly appealing to them. Any major museum would be lucky to have such in-depth collections of Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat as those assembled by the Broads.

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During my first visit to the museum, I spent almost three hours slowly walking through the numerous galleries, snapping photos and chatting with fellow art aficionados. Some were rather critical of what they deemed rather unadventurous and predictable choices. I told them to take a look at the huge catalog of the Broad collection, and see how many more surprises they find. I dare anyone to go to the room with a curving wall showing the provocative black paper cutouts by Kara Walker and call it unadventurous. And when I stepped into the dark gallery awash with music and holding 9 large screens projecting bizarre, fascinating videos by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, I felt as if the mysterious, operatic promise of the museum’s cavernous lobby had been fully fulfilled.

To learn about Edward’s Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website. You can also read The New York Times article about his classes here, or an Artillery Magazine article about Edward and his classes here.

___________

Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward’s charming Russian accent, click here.

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What This CEO Did Proves That Introverts Make Great Leaders

 

In this video, Susan describes one quiet leader you may not have heard of — a former CEO whose shyness and introversion guided, rather than inhibited, his leadership style.

The results were nothing short of remarkable: during his tenure, his company’s employee engagement, which had been among the lowest in the Fortune 500, rose to among the highest-ranked.

Have a question for our Chief Revolutionary? Email us via the Contact Susan page. You can also ask via Twitter with the hashtag #AskSusanCain.

 

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This article originally appeared on QuietRev.com.

You can find more insights from Quiet Revolution on work, life, and parenting as an introvert at QuietRev.com.

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Reunited Punks L7’s Message To Millennials: ‘Get It Together, Step Up’

Everywhere a music fan turns these days, it feels like a band at their height in the ‘90s is reuniting — and the quality of the ensuing musical output has varied widely from inspired to “why?!”

But there have been few reunions met with as much exuberance of critics and fans alike than that of L7, the explosive all-female Los Angeles grunge-punk outfit fronted by the effervescent Donita Sparks and known for their trashing, high-energy songs like “Shitlist” and “Shove.”

it all started a couple of years back when Sparks began curating the band’s Facebook page, posting photos, fliers and other band ephemera she was in the process of digitizing. In that process, Sparks also came across many hours of videos the band had shot during their original run. She showed them to filmmaker Sarah Price and the group decided to pursue the creation of a documentary using the newly discovered footage, launching a successful $ 130,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund it. 

The fan response to the Kickstarter and Facebook posts was so deafening the band, whose original lineup had last performed together in 1996, decided to give live shows another go, playing their first show in almost two decades together in LA in May. They followed that show up with a run of 11 shows in Europe and are in the midst of a mini-tour of 15 U.S. cities, playing Riot Fest in Chicago earlier this month.

The response to L7’s resurrection, especially from fans so young they weren’t alive when the band’s most recent album was released in 1999, came as a surprise to Sparks, she admitted shortly before taking the stage in Chicago’s Douglas Park. Her band is a good place, she said.

“A lot of people are like, ‘L7? Who are they? Who cares?’ And other people are like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s fucking L7!’” Sparks said. “We’re kind of in this cool, weird spot that we dig. We don’t have to be known by the masses, we just want to be known by the cool people anyway. We don’t have to convince the squares that we are a decent band.”

Decent doesn’t even come close to doing the band justice. Sparks and her bandmates — Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra “Dee” Plakas — ripped through 13 songs from their catalog over the course of a taut hourlong set that felt like one of the packed weekend’s loudest and most-anticipated. One would have never guessed they were watching a band that “peaked” some 20 years earlier.

Closing with the thrilling “Fast and Frightening,” the band delivered on a request they made of the stage’s sound tent earlier in the set: to “melt off their balls and titties, in a nice way.” 

As much as the shows have represented a family reunion of sorts for L7, the Riot Fest set was also a literal homecoming for half the band’s lineup, as both Plakas and Sparks were born in Chicago.

Growing up in the Chicago area, Sparks said she turned to bands like the Ramones, Blondie and the B-52s, all of whom represented a level of eccentricity and unapologetic weirdness that provided solace from her “square” suburban surroundings.

After high school, she spent a year working in downtown Chicago as a foot messenger for a photo lab to save up money to move to Los Angeles, where she launched L7 with Gardner in 1985. The hotel the band was staying at while in Chicago actually overlooked the office building where Sparks delivered artwork on foot to advertising agencies. 

In Los Angeles, the band worked to develop their signature sound, a fiery blend of punk, metal and grunge elements, and were signed by Sub Pop, the label known for breaking artists like Nirvana and helping create Seattle-style grunge.

L7 didn’t quite breakthrough to the mainstream until their third album, 1992’s “Bricks Are Heavy.” They were even featured in a John Waters film, playing the part of a band called “Camel Lips” alongside Kathleen Turner in 1994’s “Serial Mom.”

They went on to influence a whole generation of women-fronted bands associated with the riot grrrl movement not only because of their music but also because of their politics. The band founded Rock for Choice, a decade-long series of feminist, pro-choice women’s rights benefit shows.

Sparks has stated in other interviews that she can see the need to revive the Rock for Choice series. Still, she admitted that she is disappointed in what she perceives as a lack of younger artists today who are embracing political activism at a time when many of the same pressing questions that prompted benefits like Rock for Choice remain unanswered today.

She is particularly concerned about environmental issues and though she said she was thrilled by the Supreme Court’s decision this year on marriage equality, she quipped, “If we’re all underwater, who cares if you’re gay [and] getting married.”

“I scratch my head and wonder why aren’t these younger bands doing benefits, I mean, are they? Are any of them organizing?” Sparks said. “We fucking built [Rock for Choice] from scratch. The Beastie Boys built the Free Tibet series from scratch. Are any young bands stepping up because I don’t know, they should be. I don’t get it. It’s needed now more than ever. Basically we’re the fucking Titanic sinking on every issue that we can think of. Millennials, get it together. Step up!” 

While Sparks is happy to see more popular artists embracing the term “feminist” she added that she would like to see more action in that arena as well.

“They probably are feminists but I don’t know how much that is speaking to teenage women, I really don’t. I mean, rock and roll women,” Sparks said. “If I were a teenager I’d be looking for ways to get my aggression and frustration out. I’d really just want to scream and yell at a concert because there’s a lot of stuff to be pissed off about.”

As for L7’s future past a string of shows on the west coast in November, Sparks said there are currently “no plans” for the band to create new music and that they have been exclusively focused on the live shows and the forthcoming documentary. Beyond that, she added, “you never know.” 

“We’re not being salespeople to get people to like our new album,” Sparks said. “We don’t care. We’re playing shit that’s 20 years old that people really like and they want to hear. It’s been a love fest.”

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Seattle Shakespeare Company’s The Comedy of Errors; A Fun Filled, Slapstick Vision That Entertains From Start to Finish

Seattle Shakespeare Company recently premiered The Comedy of Errors at the Leo K Theatre, and the show kept the audience in stitches from beginning to end. I am not much of a Shakespeare fan, and I usually study the plot beforehand just so I can follow what’s going on.
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I do enjoy the poetry of the verse, but without doing any pre-play study, I generally find the plots confusing. Not so with this production of The Comedy of Errors. It was brilliantly done in a way even I could understand what was happening without any knowledge beforehand.

And I now have some sense of what my father must have seen when he was a young boy and had the opportunity to watch the Marx Brothers trying out their movies in live theater before they were actually filmed. This version of The Comedy of Errors was like a Marx Brothers show, filled with physical comedy and so much slapstick that I almost expected someone to get a pie in the face. That didn’t happen, but characters were constantly barging in and out doors, running around every inch of the stage and bouncing off each other like ping pong balls.

All of this was occurring while the actors articulated every word of the play with eloquence and bravado. The only issue (for diehard Shakespeare fans) was that the audience’s laughing often went on for so long that it drowned out parts of the actors’ dialogue.

All in all, this production of The Comedy of Errors is a truly entertaining adaptation well worth seeing at least once. The Comedy of Errors continues through October 11 at the Leo K. Theatre at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

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10 Moments For Women At The 2015 Emmys That Had Us Cheering

Despite the fact that professional awards show hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey should host every award ceremony forever, the 2015 Emmys managed to deliver some greatness. Badass women took home awards (oh hey there, Viola Davis, Jill Soloway, Amy Schumer, Uzo Aduba and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, to name a few), and those women used their platform to draw attention to people whose voices are often not heard.

Here are 10 of our favorite lady love moments:

1. Andy Samberg called out Hollywood sexism within the first 10 minutes of the show. ”The wage gap between men and women hired in Hollywood is still an issue,” Samberg said in his opening monologue. “Wait, sorry, I misread that. The age gap between men and women hired in Hollywood is still an issue. Wait, I’m sorry I misread again. It’s both, still both.”

2. Julia Louis-Dreyfus celebrated “funny, powerful women.” “I love funny women. I love funny, powerful women,” the “Veep” actress said when accepting her Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy. All we have to say is Hell. Yes. 

3. We were all reminded that funny women are just — gasp! — funny people. “Amy Schumer is really, really funny. You know, for a person,” said Andy Samberg. 

4. Jill Soloway used the Emmys stage to bring attention to the discrimination trans people face on a daily basis. “We don’t have a trans tipping point yet. We have a trans civil rights problem,” she said. 

5. Taraji P. Henson and Regina King shared a moment of sisterly love. After thanking her mother for teaching her the “power and blessing of being a woman,” King got a “Yaaassssss!” and a huge hug from the “Empire” actress following  her Supporting Actress win. 


6. Amy P. and Amy S. teamed up to take over the world — and call out the bullshit female comedians face. #AmyAmy2016 “What an exciting two to four hours for women in comedy,” Poehler said. “Let’s not forget what tonight is about: celebrating hilarious women and letting the Internet weigh in on who looks the worst,” Schumer chimed in. Too real.

 7. Amy Poehler was a badass, even if she didn’t win the Best Actress In A Comedy Series award. She did not give a f**k. And we loved it. 

8. Richard Jenkins accepted his award for his role in “Olive Kitteridge” by thanking the “incredible women” who made it happen. “There were about a hundred thousand of them,” Jenkins added, before naming just a few, some of whom – Jane Anderson, Lisa Cholodenko, and Frances McDormand — also won awards for their work on the show. 

9. Amy Schumer beat out a billion dudes for Best Variety Sketch series. “This show fights for what we believe in,” Schumer said. 

10. Viola Davis’s acceptance speech for Best Lead Actress In A Drama Series was moving — and important. She reminded us why awards shows can be great sometimes. “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for a role that isn’t there.” Amen. Give all the things to Viola.  

 

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All’s Not Fair in Love and War

When people try to put human faces on the those affected by World War II, they often focus on Nazi rallies, the Holocaust, the Luftwaffe’s bombing of London, and the Japanese who survived the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In its dual capacities of documentary and narrative films, cinema has captured many historical moments (as well as producing some fine dramas set during World War II). Whether composing music for the 1952-1953 television series entitled Victory at Sea or the Broadway stage (South Pacific, The Sound of Music), Richard Rodgers made indelible contributions to how the effects of war were framed in people’s minds. His musical theme entitled “Beneath the Southern Cross” reappeared in Me and Juliet (which opened on Broadway on May 28, 1953 and ran for 358 performances). The show’s hit song, “No Other Love,” uses the same music.

Now that 70 years have passed since the end of World War II, it’s interesting to look at it from new perspectives. Although I doubt there was any collaboration between the two San Francisco summer festivals that did so, the results were fascinating.

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One of the documentaries featured in the 35th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival focused on the cinematic propaganda machine created by the United States Office of War Information. The agency’s efforts aimed at domestic audiences were obviously intended to support the war effort.

Newsreels and short films created for foreign markets (especially after the war’s end) were crafted to give the war’s battered survivors a more favorable impression of Americans and counter any prevailing negative stereotypes.

What most people don’t know is that the OWI’s newsreels were produced under the leadership of screenwriter Robert Riskin (who won an Oscar in 1935 for It Happened One Night) and was a frequent collaborator with director Frank Capra. Riskin was also married to Fay Wray (the star of 1933’s King Kong). Among the many talents that worked for the OWI were Aaron Copland, Alan Cranston, Lee Falk, Archibald MacLeish, Gordon Parks, James Reston, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert Sherwood, and Josef von Sternberg, Without a doubt, the favorite OWI film shown around the world was 1943’s The Autobiography of a Jeep.

In retrospect, some of the OWI’s films may seem a bit campy to today’s audiences. Many, however, were translated into 20 languages and screened around the world. Narrated by John Lithgow, Peter Miller’s documentary, Projections of America, pays tribute to the work of Riskin and the OWI’s secret film unit.

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Poster art for Projections of America

Because of the film’s dual narrative (covering Riskin’s marriage as well as the demands of his work for the government), Projections of America is a oddly compelling documentary which packs a lot of history into 52 minutes. Here’s the trailer:

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Stock footage from World War II (such as the material included in the following clip) plays a major role in the design and dramatic exposition of Two Women, a new opera by Marco Tutino (with lyrics by Tutino and Fabio Ceresa) which received its world premiere from the San Francisco Opera in June. Directed by Francesca Zambello (whose integration of film into the San Francisco Opera’s recent production of Der Ring des Nibelungen was a major factor in its dramatic strength), Two Women’s use of archival film — combined with S. Katy Tucker’s projections — created a stunning solution to shaping a story about the brutalities of war and the misery of those who suffer through them.

A co-production with the Teatro Regio in Turin, the new opera is an adaptation of Vittoria De Sica’s 1960 film starring Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Eleonora Brown, and Raf Vallone. Because the Music Critics Association of North America was in town for the world premiere, a great deal of copy was generated debating whether Tutino’s score should be called neo-Verismo, faux-Puccini, or mildly derivative.

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Cesira (Anna Caterina Antonacci) and her daughter, Rosetta
(Sarah Shafer) help wounded American soldier John Buckley
(Eddie Nelson) in Two Women (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

Fuck that shit. Having attended far too many operatic premieres (which were not just musical duds, but crashing bores as well), I was thrilled to be fully engaged with a new piece of opera/musical theatre whose score positively yearns to be sung. Tutino’s orchestral interludes have a near-cinematic sweep. Even with a full orchestra, I never had the feeling that his writing overwhelmed (or ignored) the singers — an extremely rare achievement for a contemporary composer. This is passionate, theatrical, and highly accessible music free from the curse of academia.

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Sarah Shafer (Rosetta), Dimitri Pittas (Michele),
and Christian van Horn (Fedor Von Bock) in a scene
from Two Women (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

In his conductor’s note (as told to Marina Romani), San Francisco Opera’s musical director, Nicola Luisotti, states:

“I am enthusiastic about composer Marco Tutino’s creation. This opera was born out of a conversation we had years ago, one evening in my house in Tuscany. I asked Marco, ‘You know which opera is missing today? La Ciociara (Two Women)!” Operatic elements were present already both in the novel and film. And why? Because of the presence of a heroine, Cesira, that comes from the people. Famous characters don’t need to have their stories told — history tells their stories. A popolana, a woman from the people, doesn’t have the same privilege. Cesira’s story is incredibly touching, but it would not have ended up on the front pages of the newspapers because it was nothing compared to the bombed cities and concentration camps of World War II. Yet, on stage, with the right music, the humblest stories become eternal. Cesira’s story becomes about us, about deeply understanding the personal suffering experienced during the war.”

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Rosetta (Sarah Shafer) and her mother, Cesira
(Anna Caterina Antonacci), are in a state of shock
after being raped in Two Women
(Photo by: Cory Weaver)

“It is important in our time to write stories and music to which everybody can feel connected. I consider this to be an invitation to all artists: ‘Write the present while looking at the past to navigate the future,’ as Verdi said. For example, Marco’s music is rhythmically and harmonically complex, but at the same time, it is connected to bel canto. In his score, there are harmonic explosions in which you recognize yourself and say, ‘This is the music that belongs to me and speaks to what I am feeling!’ When Cesira sings a lullaby to her daughter after they are raped, she sings a song of how profoundly she feels the tragedy of their situation, and how much her daughter needs to sleep, and to forget — even just for half an hour.”

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Traumatized by her rape, Cesira (Anna Caterina
Antonacci) cries before the villagers in Two Women
(Photo by: Cory Weaver)

From a musical standpoint, the evening was a triumph for the singers as well as for the musicians in the pit. As Cesira, Anna Caterina Antonacci delivered a heartbreaking performance as the mother who leaves Rome, hoping to find a safer life for her child back in her home town, only to end up getting raped alongside her 16-year-old daughter. Sarah Shafer’s Rosetta was tenderly sung when her character was sane as well as subsequently, when she appeared to be mentally defeated and sexually starved following her rape.

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Dimitri Pittas as Michele in Two Women (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

Dimitri Pittas made a smashing debut as Michele, the schoolteacher and tender-hearted intellectual whose concern for Cesira and Rosetta was a far cry from the brutish behavior of Giovanni. With a powerful tenor voice (which one hopes to hear more of in future seasons), Pittas commanded the audience’s attention whenever he was onstage. As Giovanni, Mark Delavan pretty much recycled his portrayal of Scarpia (the loathsome and similarly amoral villain from Puccini’s Tosca).

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Mark Delavan portrays the two-faced, villainous
Giovanni in Two Women (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

Making solid contributions in smaller roles were Eddie Nelson as John Buckley (a wounded American soldier); Joel Sorensen as the frightened Italian lawyer, Pasquale Sciortino; Buffy Baggott as his mother, Maria; Christian van Horn as the Nazi villain, Fedor von Bock; and Zanda Svede as Lena.

Peter Davison’s sets worked well as a framework for the stage action as well as the filmed projections with Jess Goldstein’s costumes adding plenty of local color. At the risk of spouting heresy, I have to admit that I was much more drawn to Tutino’s passionate writing for Two Women than I was to Hector Berlioz’s mammoth score for The Trojans. Here are some highlights from Tutino’s new opera:

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape

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Inside The School Where Children With HIV Find Refuge From Discrimination In China

Kun Kun, a young boy living with HIV, was banished from his village in China last year by residents who described him as a “ticking time bomb.” The case drew international attention to the severe discrimination faced by children with HIV in China.

Kun Kun has since found a new home, at the Green Harbor Red-Ribbon School in Linfen, China. The boarding school is a rare refuge for HIV-positive children in China, where infection rates are relatively low, but social stigma is high.

The school is the subject of an ambitious documentary project called “Children of the Harbor,” which is following the students’ passage through the boarding school until the first class graduates in 2017.

The project was conceived by Bryan Anker, a 27-year-old medical student originally from Los Angeles, who lived at the Green Harbor school in 2012 during an internship at the affiliated hospital.  

“It broke my heart to learn that these children had been shunned by society all of their lives,” Anker told The WorldPost by email. ”The level of awareness these children possess is mind-boggling. They fully comprehend their current situation and are well aware of how society perceives them.”

Anker and his small team of filmmakers, including Myanmar-based photographer, journalist and cinematographer Ann Wang, started to document the students’ lives in December and plan to follow their stories through graduation. “We want to film up to this point and see what road the students take after graduation. Will they go to university? Will they return home? Will they find a job?” Anker said.

“These children are smart and resilient, and some of them have thought up intricate plans for escaping the HIV stigma in China,” he told The WorldPost. 

The school was set up in 2006, and is home to around 30 children and teenagers with HIV, ranging in age from 6 years old to 19.  The students have “very complicated feelings … about themselves, about the school and about the disease they’ve been carrying since birth,” Wang told The WorldPost by email.

Many of them are the children of patients being treated for HIV/AIDS at the affiliated Linfen Infectious Disease Hospital; others have been orphaned by AIDS or thrown out of their schools and local communities due to stigma.

This is a pervasive problem for children with HIV in China. “If their HIV status has been disclosed, it’s very common that parents of other children complain to the school and force the school to separate their children from HIV positive children,” Xu Wenqing, an HIV/AIDS specialist at UNICEF China, told The WorldPost by email. 

Nearly 10,000 children in China live with HIV/AIDS, among some 500,000 reported cases in the country. (Experts estimate the total number of cases, including those undiagnosed, may be around 800,000.) This is relatively low compared to countries like the U.S., which has a population a quarter of the size of China’s, and an estimated 1.2 million HIV/AIDS cases among people 13 or older. 

Yet discrimination is widespread, and affects old and young alike in China. Advocates say people known to be HIV-positive are often barred from attending collge or refused public and private-sector jobs. The main problem is a lack of information about HIV/AIDS, including how it is transmitted and treated. Experts point to China’s poor sexual health education and the ongoing repetition of myths about HIV by public officials. 

China’s leaders have made a high-profile effort to combat this prejudice in recent years, as well as stepping up free treatment for AIDS patients and measures to prevent mothers from passing on HIV to their newborn children. In 2006, a new law banned discrimination against people living with HIV, although it has been difficult to enforce. On World AIDS Day last year, China’s first lady Peng Liyuan released a music video with the students of Green Harbor-Red Ribbon School, urging an end to the stigma they face.

Anker hopes that telling the stories of the children at Green Harbor can convince more people to leave their prejudices behind.

“I believe the children’s stories are so poignant, and their personalities so radiant, that our viewers won’t have any choice but to empathize with their situation,” he said. 

To learn more about the media project and support the documentary, go to the Children of the Harbor website.

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Weekend Roundup: Connecting Minds Across Cultures

“Forty years of crisscrossing the planet has led me to suspect that the world isn’t growing smaller,” the inveterate traveler and literary journalist Pico Iyer laments. “If anything, the differences, the distances between us, are growing greater than they’ve ever been. In the Age of Information, many of us know less about other perspectives and other cultures than ever before.”

This week, the Berggruen Institute announced the launch of a philosophy and culture center that responds to this rift by connecting minds across borders through an exchange of scholars from East and West that will be hosted at prestigious universities from Cambridge and Harvard to Stanford and Tsinghua in Beijing. In order to promote foundational concepts for the future, the center will co-sponsor an ideas contest with the Aspen Institute as well as establish an annual $ 1 million Nobel-like prize for philosophy.

Behind this unique endeavor is the notion that what is least material most endures. Power wanes, buildings crumble and people die. But ideas, paradigms, worldviews and narratives live on. They shape the world by cultivating the soul, organizing the intellect and animating the will.

In our exponential technology series this week, neuroengineer Miguel Nicolelis tells us that “the brain is not a mechanism” but “an organism” that evolves. He worries that “if we keep relying so much on computers, we will begin to resemble our machines.” In our “Following Francis” series, Sébastien Maillard recounts from Rome how the pope went to a local shop himself to buy — and pay for — new lenses for his old glasses.

The saga of refugees trying to reach safe harbor in Europe continues. Rami, a 17-year-old refugee from Damascus, recounts his “escape to Germany” and the hurdles he faced along the way in Macedonia and Serbia. Mary D’Ambrosio humanizes the refugee influx with profiles of four individuals. Jonathan Portes says immigration can be good for economic growth in Europe if people are meaningfully integrated. From Munich, Sebastian Christ scores the new German policy this week of border controls as “voodoo politics” aimed at shoring up right-wing constituencies. Writing from Berlin, Alex Gorlach — a child of Turkish immigrants to Germany half a century ago — hopes the mistakes of integrating that Muslim population will not be repeated. Writing from Paris, Rokhaya Diallo calls on French leaders to live up to their rhetoric of universal human rights. Daniel Wordsworth, president and CEO of the American Refugee Committee, reminds us there are still 7.6 million refugees within Syria. In an interview, Oxford’s Alexander Betts spells out what we can learn from previous refugee crises in history.

World Reporter Nick Robins-Early reminds us of the brutal violence in Syria that is causing so many to flee their homeland, debunks the 5 major myths of Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis and describes a unique startup by three Columbia University graduates that connects Arabic learners with Syrian refugees.

In a series of photo essays, we look at the images Christopher Furlong has taken of what is left behind as refugees move on with their journey; World Reporter Charlotte Alfred presents unsettling images of the Hungarian border emptied of refugees and, in another report, we show satellite views of the impact of Hungary’s border crackdown. Christoph Asche of HuffPost Germany reports on the mounting crisis on the Serbia-Croatia border where refugees have now moved. Margarita Mavromichalis shows the “human face of refugees” on the streets of Athens.

Willa Frej stakes out the positions of the U.S. presidential candidates on the refugee crisis. Writing from Moscow, Georgy Bovt asks whether Vladimir Putin is seeking to exchange Syria for the Donbass region of Ukraine as his new international focus.

In an interview, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou worries that the large inflow of refugees combined with austerity policies will bolster the political fortunes of xenophobic parties like the Golden Dawn in this weekend’s election. European parliamentarian Gianni Pittella expresses the same worries. In another interview, To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis says he hopes to be “the third pole” that can balance Greek politics. Writing from Istanbul, Behlul Ozkan sees a similar peril in Turkey as President Erdogan plays the Kurdish card to win nationalist votes in the upcoming election.

Writing from Tehran, Reyhaneh Tabatabaie describes the hopeful mood of the middle class in anticipation of the removal of economic sanctions. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former top Iranian official, calls on Republicans in the U.S. Congress to finally abandon militarism for diplomacy. Faysal Itani sees worrying signs of Iranian influence in Syria.

Sonia Maria Dias examines the vulnerable lives of women waste pickers in the developing world. Environmental scientist Johan Rockstrom describes how “Arctic tipping points” as a result of climate change will have ripple effects around the world. Bianca Jagger tells President Obama that he can’t both preserve the Arctic while allowing Shell to drill for oil there. Lydia O’Connor reports on a key summit of Chinese and U.S. mayors, governors and provincial leaders who met in Los Angeles to “tackle climate change from the bottom up.”

WorldPost China Correspondent Matt Sheehan reports on what 300,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S. are reading — the digital “College Daily” that combines hard news and lifestyle advice.

In this week’s “Forgotten Fact” we examine why the recent coup in Burkina Faso is a disaster for Africa.

Fusion this week look at the 10 cities in the U.S. where it’s especially difficult to scrape by on minimum wage. Finally, in our Singularity series, we look at the open source upside of “biohackers” and DIY amateur sciences.

WHO WE ARE

EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Senior Advisor to the Berggruen Institute on Governance and the long-time editor of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Senior Editor of the WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is the National Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s editorial coverage. Eline Gordts is HuffPost’s Senior World Editor. Charlotte Alfred and Nick Robins-Early are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul; Matt Sheehan in Beijing.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).

VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS: Dawn Nakagawa.

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as the Advisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Eric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, Wu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail, and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.

MISSION STATEMENT

The WorldPost is a global media bridge that seeks to connect the world and connect the dots. Gathering together top editors and first person contributors from all corners of the planet, we aspire to be the one publication where the whole world meets.

We not only deliver breaking news from the best sources with original reportage on the ground and user-generated content; we bring the best minds and most authoritative as well as fresh and new voices together to make sense of events from a global perspective looking around, not a national perspective looking out.

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Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

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“Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends,” currently showing at the Met, is a virtual vade mecum of l9th European culture, as seen from the perspective of the great and often quirky transatlantic portraitist. There is Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889) and a sketch of Yeats (1908). The impressionist style of “Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood”(1885) shows Sargent’s mirror neurons at work. Henry James, whose novels provided a similar, albeit fictionalized portrait of European cultural life, is pictured with his thumb in his coat. Edmund Booth (1890) is the subject of a characteristically “dramatic” portrait. Rodin, who he painted, called him “the Vandyke of our times.” The curators point to the fact that his portrait of Madame X (the expatriate Madame Pierre Gautreau), shown bare shouldered in a sensual black gown with silver straps, was deemed scandalous and resulted in Sargent’s departure for England. “Dr. Pozzi at Home” (1881) evinces a similar swagger in its use of an ecclesiastical red to capture the estheticism of a renowned gynecologist. But it’s the poses that really distinguish these portraits. The current exhibit underscores the connection to Frans Hals’ “The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard,” (1616) in Sargent’s painting of the artists Francois Flameng and Paul Helleu, with Flameng staring straight out and Helleu in profile. Sargent takes a similar tact in the painting of the children of the playwright Edouard Pailleron with Marie-Louise facing out with a look of self-possession that verges on possession and her brother Edouard staring away in distraction. In a “A Dinner Table at Night” (1884) his subject Edith Vickers commands our attention while her husband Alfred’s profile is cut short, drifting into oblivion at the edge of the frame. James and Sargent may have admired each other greatly, but looking at the current exhibit one begins to ask who was the novelist and who the painter? They both had similar themes but James painted with words and Sargent wrote novels in oil.

Madame X by John Singer Sargent

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy’s blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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First Nighter: Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s “Sex of the Baby,” Phil Blechman’s “The Black Book”

Although Matthew-Lee Erlbach appears to have written myriad plays and tele-whatevers, I’ve only seen his one-man Handbook for an American Revolutionary. That was enough for me to be eager to see the next available work from him, which turns out to be Sex of the Baby, at Access, a Dragon-Man with a Suitcase production.

The first scene–in which sculptor Daniel (Devin Norik), one half of a mixed-race gay couple, interviews surrogate-mother candidate Bekah (Clea Alsip)–was so amusing as well as intriguing in terms of the issues potentially at play that I felt assured Erlbach had the goods.

Further assurance came with the second of the play’s 90-minute intermissionless scenes, all of which take place in the Access loft space, the playing area of which Joseph S. Blaha has turned into an enticing lower Manhattan loft apartment.

In this one Daniel and movie-mogul partner Michael (Korey Jackson), who’s skedded to be the sperm donor–“Who’s milk is going to be in the shake?” Bekah has already asked–are hosting best pals and another mixed-race couple, Erick (Erlbach) and T’Kia (Marinda Anderson), who are already expecting. Erlbach has impressively caught the tenor of young Manhattanites gabbing about their lives, and Erlbach as actor and the other three play the sequence with such natural polish that I was even more certain I was in sure hands.

Then came scenes three, four and five (the scenes are titled “Fertilization,” “Implantation,” “Gestation,” “Hormonal Changes” and “Birth Defects”), and along with them came Erlbach’s big letdown. Erlbach decides it’s high time to be dramatic–or, more to the point, melodramatic–and starts filling his work with twists that strain credulity mightily.

Suddenly, Daniel, who from the get-go seemed gay as a pink hat, falls for Bekah, and though he announced to her earlier that his low motility precluded him from pouring milk into the Bekah shake, he impregnates her. In subsequent revelations erupting during the three final scenes, Erlbach has it that Daniel must do some fancy manipulation to keep Michael from learning what’s transpired between him and Bekah and that the seemingly happy Erick and T’Kia are barely hanging on to their union and that Erick’s real crush is–.

But why go on about something with such a vague purpose–unless it’s meant to be a screed on contemporary selfishness among millennial privileged millennials? Adroit as the actors are, Erlbach certainly among them–and Michelle Bossy’s direction is adroit, for the most part–playwright Erlbach’s introducing bits of sitcom and then high histrionics and then a wild-eyed neighbor (Ali Sohaili) in what becomes an annoying mishmash is irreversibly off-putting. It’s the kind of off-putting that has a reviewer thinking twice when the next Erlbach work comes along.
******************
The Black Book, at ATA after a 2012 Araca Group run, takes place on a large chessboard realized by Ann Beyersdorfer. Seen from the moment audience members enter the small auditorium, it immediately suggests that dramatist Phil Blechman, who also directs, is about to make a point of life’s being a game of chess.

Yes, the old, dreary saw. And if that’s not enough to sink a theater lover’s heart even before the action kicks in, out comes a character listed in the program as C. C. (billed in one place as Anto Pereira, as Antonieta Pereira in another). She’s garbed in a straitjacket, the long sleeves of which hang loose. It instantly becomes clear she has the use of her arms in order to carry about, and often lovingly embrace, the available outsized pawns. She does so intermittently throughout the play.

In a program note, we’re informed that Blechman began The Black Book when a Syracuse undergraduate in response to a classmate’s suicide, which goes a long way to explaining why his play takes place on a fictional campus and exclusively involves students and teachers, with the exception of the institutionalized C. C.

It doesn’t explain why what occurs is so utterly pretentious, with C. C. shuffling around po-faced and a suicidal poet and C. C.’s brother Colin Archer (David Siciliano) not only menacing teachers and other students–including blonde Nicole (Haley Dean) for whom he has eyes–but also haranguing the audience, the members perhaps intended to be sitting in for other campus denizens.

At one point, stentorian Archer, who’s been bounding up and down the raked auditorium steps and causing a whole lotta shakin’, steps to the edge of the stage and declares, “I could say anything right now, and you’d listen to it.” Yes, we would but not without thinking, “I’m only listening because I can’t see any graceful way to leave.” He does this in addition to reading aloud a (not good) poem he’s written that’s been inserted in the programs for ticket buyers to have as their own.

As sound designer Christopher Marc repeats ominous stings throughout, it’s difficult for onlookers to determine what’s going on with English teacher Arthur Chase (Gabe Templin), his pal (and possible criminal) Axel Cooper (Sean Borderes), psychology teacher Riley Andrews (Catie Humphreys), Nicole’s boyfriend (Joe Reece) and school psychologist Julie Edwards (Margy Love).

As The Book Black–haranguer Colin keeps a black book before he gives it, I think, to Nicole–heads towards an end and an actual chess game is played, a puzzled patron begins getting the idea that a metaphorical chess game has been carried out by the figures, a game in which one of them is caught at having done something dire in the past that affected sweet little Nicole. But who can say for sure? I can’t. Nor have I any interest in trying.

From time to time sound supplier Marc also pipes in a male voice sing-songing the phrase “I am slowly going crazy.” Watching The Black Book, I, too, was going crazy–and not so slowly.

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Michael Moore’s ‘Where To Invade Next’ Deserves The Nonpartisan Audience It Won’t Find

Michael Moore is the 21st century’s most famous documentarian, but not for the same reasons that Ken Burns and Werner Herzog and Errol Morris defined the genre in the previous century. Moore is hyper-aware of the platform he’s carved out for himself. It’s the same platform that got him booed at the Oscars and landed him on Time’s 2005 list of the globe’s most influential people. He galvanizes his core audience — liberals who criticize gun laws and long for universal healthcare — and alienates the non-choir folk who might actually have something to glean from his films. 

That was blindingly transparent at Thursday’s opening-night Toronto Film Festival screening of Moore’s new documentary, “Where to Invade Next.” A packed house at the expansive Princess of Wales Theatre not only laughed at the movie’s many witty moments, but gleeful cheers and applause broke out at regular intervals as the film’s interview subjects pointed out the copious examples that prove America, however great, is culturally, politically and sociologically inferior t0 other countries. Sitting among the crowd, and agreeing with the bulk of their endorsements, I wondered whether what should be seen as a relatively nonpartisan doc would register anywhere outside of the admitted echo chamber that exists within the mainstream entertainment media. Will anyone who doesn’t already question America’s military industrial complex see this film? Aren’t proponents of women’s rights already aligned with the points Moore raises? Doesn’t anyone with half a brain think the country’s lack of paid-vacation laws is chintzy?

The answers to these questions, in all likelihood, are resounding affirmatives. That’s not to say that “Where to Invade Next” isn’t good. Its execution, in fact, is quite effective. It’s built on the guise of Moore assuming the Pentagon’s duties by “invading” — aka visiting — other countries to poach ideas that would make America a fairer, more hospitable place. Along the way, he learns that Italy provides citizens with eight weeks (!!!) of paid vacation. In France, school-cafeteria lunches are five-star affairs. Slovenia offers free college education. Portugal has decriminalized all drug use and seen its usage rates plummet. Women’s health clinics in Tunisia are government-funded.

Wouldn’t it be great if America emulated such policies? “Obviously,” the TIFF viewers shouted by way of periodic applause in response to the film’s talking heads, who blanch at the notion that the United States doesn’t offer the same advantages. The fact that “Where to Invade Next” is built with practical alternatives to America’s systemic flaws makes it a stirring work of political theater, and with only a gentle presence from Moore throughout, progressive audiences will continue to howl, just as they did at Thursday’s screening. But watching the movie with such a devout congregation was a living reminder that a Moore documentary serves constituents rather than the overall populace. With peachier projects like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11,” that was inevitable. With “Where to Invade Next,” which ends on a hopeful note and should be seen as Moore’s least parochial outing yet (there’s only one George W. Bush crack!), it’s just a shame. This isn’t a quote-unquote liberal movie — it’s a look at the decency that exists across the globe but is often undervalued on our home turf.

For continuous updates from the Toronto Film Festival, follow Matthew Jacobs and Erin Whitney on Twitter.

 

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Why You Should Start Over With Linda Lavin at 54 Below

There is a line in Matilda where Mr. Wormwood sings: “All I know I learned from telly.” It’s meant to be a negative, and I get why, but I am not ashamed to admit that I learned a lot from television. Two shows I watched many times growing up were Alice and Knots Landing, mostly in reruns. So needless to say I was extremely happy when The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife was announced. This was before I covered theater for a living, back when I was a mere fan, and I knew I had to go. Lucky for me, not only did I see Linda Lavin and Michele Lee in that, but I’ve 2015-09-11-1442007389-4141635-LindaLavin.jpgseen them both since, Lavin more frequently than Lee. While the latter is currently donning a tremendous amount of stage makeup and multiple wigs for Wicked, the former is gracing a more intimate stage, that of 54 Below. You should go tonight or tomorrow.

This isn’t Lavin’s first visit to 54 Below, though it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy it. Lavin’s Starting Over is so named because she says “that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.” She doesn’t delve very deeply into any Lazarus-like experiences she may have had, but it doesn’t matter. Lavin, age 77, is as charismatic as she has ever been. She delivers a line and a song with a tone that is immediately identifiable and still unique. About a quarter through the piece, she discusses briefly her performance off-Broadway in the mid-1960s revue The Mad Show, with music by Mary Rodgers, and makes light of the fact that the song she is about to sing, “The Boy From…,” features lyrics by Esteban Ria Nido (aka Stephen Sondheim). Lavin’s delivery of that song, with a faux Spanish accent and an eye roll, shows her at her best.

I’ve always known that Lavin started out onstage in musicals. She notes in the show that as a child she wanted to be a dancer, but at the age of ten turned to singing, and after that, sang always, including “when a fridge opened and the light turned on.” I knew she starred in It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman on Broadway. (For those of you who — like me — missed that performance originally, you’ll get to relive it a little bit at 54 Below, as this many years later she delivers a version of “You’ve Got Possibilities” perfect to samba to if there was a dance floor. In fact, she dances a little bit onstage with a life that belies her age.) Most people however don’t know she is a singer. She’s now best known for television and plays. So it was no surprise to me when someone at a neighboring table snuck a picture with a whisper to his companion: “She is actually good.”

Lavin is clearly someone who loves the stage. One of the (many) reasons I don’t generally like cabaret is that the “spontaneous” patter never feels that way. Lavin has clearly been doing this act for years and the reactions and dialogue are certainly more actress than person at this point. However I never felt cheated because of that. It is Lavin’s joy of being up there that carries the night. A recurring theme of the night — not surprisingly for a show that is called Starting Over — is that when one door closes, another opens. At one point, after pianist Billy Stritch delivers a touching rendition of “Cottage for Sale” and the mood has turned melancholy , Lavin reiterates the “door” statement and then exclaims: “But it’s hell in the hallway!” I knew this was not a sudden declaration, thought of in the moment; I still laughed. She sells it. That wry persona you might know from the small screen is accompanied with enough warmth that you want to follow her lead.

You have two more performances to catch her this go-round — tonight and tomorrow. There are tickets still available. Buy them. Eat some food. Enjoy someone who is really a treasure. Oh, and then also buy tickets to see her in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Our Mother’s Brief Affair starting in January. We all know she is genius in straight plays, as evidenced by her Tony win and handful of additional nominations. Oh, and while you’re supporting Lavin, consider seeing Lee as well. Although her 54 Below dates are behind her, not only is she in Wicked, she’s performing her solo show, Nobody Does It Like Me, The Music of Cy Coleman, at the Kennedy Center in November.

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Why You Should Start Over With Linda Lavin at 54 Below

There is a line in Matilda where Mr. Wormwood sings: “All I know I learned from telly.” It’s meant to be a negative, and I get why, but I am not ashamed to admit that I learned a lot from television. Two shows I watched many times growing up were Alice and Knots Landing, mostly in reruns. So needless to say I was extremely happy when The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife was announced. This was before I covered theater for a living, back when I was a mere fan, and I knew I had to go. Lucky for me, not only did I see Linda Lavin and Michele Lee in that, but I’ve 2015-09-11-1442007389-4141635-LindaLavin.jpgseen them both since, Lavin more frequently than Lee. While the latter is currently donning a tremendous amount of stage makeup and multiple wigs for Wicked, the former is gracing a more intimate stage, that of 54 Below. You should go tonight or tomorrow.

This isn’t Lavin’s first visit to 54 Below, though it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy it. Lavin’s Starting Over is so named because she says “that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.” She doesn’t delve very deeply into any Lazarus-like experiences she may have had, but it doesn’t matter. Lavin, age 77, is as charismatic as she has ever been. She delivers a line and a song with a tone that is immediately identifiable and still unique. About a quarter through the piece, she discusses briefly her performance off-Broadway in the mid-1960s revue The Mad Show, with music by Mary Rodgers, and makes light of the fact that the song she is about to sing, “The Boy From…,” features lyrics by Esteban Ria Nido (aka Stephen Sondheim). Lavin’s delivery of that song, with a faux Spanish accent and an eye roll, shows her at her best.

I’ve always known that Lavin started out onstage in musicals. She notes in the show that as a child she wanted to be a dancer, but at the age of ten turned to singing, and after that, sang always, including “when a fridge opened and the light turned on.” I knew she starred in It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman on Broadway. (For those of you who — like me — missed that performance originally, you’ll get to relive it a little bit at 54 Below, as this many years later she delivers a version of “You’ve Got Possibilities” perfect to samba to if there was a dance floor. In fact, she dances a little bit onstage with a life that belies her age.) Most people however don’t know she is a singer. She’s now best known for television and plays. So it was no surprise to me when someone at a neighboring table snuck a picture with a whisper to his companion: “She is actually good.”

Lavin is clearly someone who loves the stage. One of the (many) reasons I don’t generally like cabaret is that the “spontaneous” patter never feels that way. Lavin has clearly been doing this act for years and the reactions and dialogue are certainly more actress than person at this point. However I never felt cheated because of that. It is Lavin’s joy of being up there that carries the night. A recurring theme of the night — not surprisingly for a show that is called Starting Over — is that when one door closes, another opens. At one point, after pianist Billy Stritch delivers a touching rendition of “Cottage for Sale” and the mood has turned melancholy , Lavin reiterates the “door” statement and then exclaims: “But it’s hell in the hallway!” I knew this was not a sudden declaration, thought of in the moment; I still laughed. She sells it. That wry persona you might know from the small screen is accompanied with enough warmth that you want to follow her lead.

You have two more performances to catch her this go-round — tonight and tomorrow. There are tickets still available. Buy them. Eat some food. Enjoy someone who is really a treasure. Oh, and then also buy tickets to see her in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Our Mother’s Brief Affair starting in January. We all know she is genius in straight plays, as evidenced by her Tony win and handful of additional nominations. Oh, and while you’re supporting Lavin, consider seeing Lee as well. Although her 54 Below dates are behind her, not only is she in Wicked, she’s performing her solo show, Nobody Does It Like Me, The Music of Cy Coleman, at the Kennedy Center in November.

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Why Pour Cereal From The Box When You Can Do It With A Crane?

Mornings are hard. You don’t want to get out of bed, but you have to pee. You don’t want to put on clothes, but you can’t go to work naked. You don’t want to pick up the box, but you have to eat your cereal.

Turns out that last one can be avoided if you have a cereal-serving crane head device to scoop your breakfast for you. 

This keppie crane, built by designer and artist Dominic Wilcox, transfers dry cereal from box to bowl with a couple of joysticks. It looks cool, for sure, and the idea of getting to use it might actually propel you out of bed. It even pours the milk for you, so your gentle, freshly woken hands don’t have to be burdened. 

Wilcox was commissioned by Kellogg’s to manufacture the design along with six other silly “Brek Tech” ideas including a “soggy-o-meter” cereal sogginess timer, a robot spoon, and a device that amplifies the sounds of cereal’s snaps, crackles, and pops. While the breakfast crane isn’t heading for mass production, we sure wish it were. Watch it in action the full video below. 

 

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Trillions of Digital Photos Stored in “Clouds” But “Inkdot” Brings Them Back to Stunning Life on New Mediums

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Photos, photos everywhere…and, not one to hold. Inkdot’s changing that!

With the NFL season kicking off this week (September 10), it means summer is evolving into colorful Autumn, and people will be snapping photos of sports events, favorite concerts, fall weddings, first day of school for the kiddos, cute pets and breathtaking travel scenes, while taking the ubiquitous selfie. We just can’t seem to get enough of taking photos. Yet, the oldest known photograph with a person was only taken in 1838, depicting a man in Paris getting his shoes shined.

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Boulevard du Temple – by Louis Daguerre in Paris 1838

Now it’s estimated there’ll be one trillion photos taken this year, and the total number of photos stored may reach 4.9 trillion in 2017. Hello, that’s a lot of terabytes! Indeed, the recent World Photo Day (August 19) underscored our growing fascination with snapping everything and everybody.

And although eccentric British photographer David Bailey once suggested that it “takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer,” quality photography has indeed come to us masses.

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John & Nate Larkin bring memorable digital images to life in dramatic mediums

Chicago-based John Larkin, co-founder with his brother Nate of cutting edge and specialized online print company “Inkdot,” says that the invention of camera phones, especially the iPhone, has changed the whole game.

Every day there’s an incredible photo that comes through that was taken on an iPhone. Now everyone is able to capture quality shots, with a professional look about them. They don’t have to carry around a big camera, so it’s super convenient, they’re grabbing these spontaneous, quality moments and the images deserve to come to life again, in a tactile, creative and fun way — instead of only being shared on Facebook or Instagram.

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Sunrise captured on 24×36 Wood Print

The Larkin brothers were introduced to me by an associate of mine and a marketing expert Jonathan Stuart, whom I’ve worked with on several high profile athlete blogs for international platforms. Jonathan, whose Greay Area consultancy service helps clients cut through the noise, says the key to Inkdot’s success is its focus on creating distinctive and premium products, as opposed to churning out sub-par prints like many online photo-printing-sites.

So I checked out some of Inkdot’s unique products and discovered that by uploading one of your cool digital images from Instagram, Facebook or your computer to their website, you can pick hip “material” options for sporting your great image, including: immortalize your favorite event (like a sports score celebration or outstanding concert) by getting the shot printed on cool coasters or on a square print; create a memorable piece of art out of your stored wedding pix or recent vacation photos printed directly into natural wood; you can embed your back-to-school kids’ images off your phone into aluminum, giving it a long-lasting vibrancy; better still, do yourself a solid, grab a cute pet photo, and impress your lady by splashing her pooch’s mug on a throw pillow or tote bag; or to really rock out, use Stiick, a special magnetic frame to show off your special photos.

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Wedding bliss and shenanigans on Coasters!

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Holding a vacation memory on a Square Paper Print

Nate Larkin offers:

People take photos and the only feedback is from sharing on social media platforms and getting likes. But with Inkdot, people can see their photos printed in a tactile, tangible way, something you can hold in your hand, and easily put up in your house, something you can experience every day. The nice thing about the Wood Print is that it comes ready to hang, you don’t need to put it in a frame and pay extra. And, our distinctive printed products return you to that memory, and help bring the stories behind the photos back to life again.

The Larkins, who have a wide-format printing background working in their father’s business, feel they’ve caught the right wave with their business, brought on by the affordability and progress of printer technology and the growth of high quality photos.

John explains, “We didn’t want to focus on printing every photo but wanted to print those unique images — while also thinking, let’s pair it with some really cool, high-end materials.” Nate smoothly continues, “We were really testing the assumption that you can only print on certain materials, like paper. By using different grades of wood, we were creating our own medium to print on.”

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On the wall, Golden Gate Bridge captured on 24×36 Wood Print

In their ongoing goal to create new mediums and a new sort of art, the brothers also feature select artists and designers whose related products are available to customers in Inkdot’s “marketplace.” John explains, “By hosting different digital artists, we’re promoting their designs to work in combination with what our clients want.”

But the Larkins have also glommed onto another change, as Nate suggests:

There’s been a lull in printing, with people storing all those digital photos. But now it’s coming back to people remembering those photo albums they used to go through at their parents’ house, and now wanting to experience that again. We see this push back to printing physical photos. And the response we’re getting, especially with material like our Wood Prints and Metal Prints, people are blown away by the quality. We’re not here to print every photo that’s taken on an iPhone. We’re here to print those special photos that mean a lot, and need to be shared with loved ones, friends and family.

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Sharing special and fun photos on 12×12 Wood Prints

Speaking of family, the Larkin brothers pride themselves on being a family business with John adding:

We’re constantly making sure our products are the best and really take satisfaction in what we do. It’s a family business and we’re going to be around for awhile. We want to grow an awareness about what’s possible. People often leave their photos in the ‘App’ and they don’t actually have the original image stored anywhere. Or, they still aren’t sure that they can print their photos from Instagram. Or that iPhone quality is now good enough to blow up to 24 x 36 size print. So bring us your wedding, memorable event, travel, cute kid or pet images, and we’ll creatively bring your stories and memories back to life.

Follow Inkdot on Instagram and Facebook.

Ashley Jude Collie is a big fan of Inkdot’s artistic creations.

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The Unseen Work of Preparing an Exhibit: An Artist’s Perspective

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Fibonacci’s Workshop, watercolor 32″ x 40″

Two exhibits of my work, Oil and Water and Re/Viewing the American Landscape are currently on view at Blue Water Fine Arts in Port Clyde, Maine. I’ve been spending summers painting in Maine for close to forty years and exhibiting there for over thirty. Last summer Down East Magazine selected me, along with artists Alex Katz and William Wegman as cover artists for their 60th Anniversary issue. I continue to be amazed at the work which goes into putting together an exhibit.

As many of the works are watercolors, much thought goes into how to mat the artwork and how best it should be framed — what type/color of frame, type of mat (I am very fortunate to have an excellent craftsperson who makes my mats, and am in close proximity to a Frame Shop, owned by a delightful and knowledgeable Englishman whose family has a frame shop in England). I personally like to place the mat on the painting and secure it because, for me, even the smallest centimeter changes the entire intended design of the painting. One might think a gold frame is a gold frame but there are different types of gold frames — red gold, yellow gold, antique, water gilded- and one gold might not support the painting as well as another. When I hang an exhibit such as my current Reviewing the American Landscape I think of the exhibit as a whole and the framing more as a backdrop so as not to distract from the art.

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Sanctum, watercolor 32″ x 40″

I learned from working with National Gallery of Art Curator Sarah Cash who curated my Paris Exhibit Barbara Ernst Prey: An American View at the Mona Bismarck Foundation in Paris the importance of a good installation and thoughtful dialogue of the artwork. Before the exhibit goes up I work with the curator and think about which paintings compliment each other. In this current exhibit the gallery is the former Village Inn once owned by Architectural Digest Editor Paige Rense and artist Kenneth Noland. It’s charm is in the connection to the authenticity of the area and a reflection of what I have been documenting for many years.
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An American View: Barbara Ernst Prey on exhibit at the Mona Bismarck Foundation, Paris

As I am a native New Yorker (my mother was the Head of the Design Department at Pratt Art Institute and a great artist herself) people often ask me who comes to this exhibit. People come from all over the country to see the exhibit and it has become a sort of destination. Just this year the Chairman of the Board of a major museum flew in private for two hours, purchased some of the new paintings and then left. Another well known collector came up on their yacht and spent the night in the harbor. Some well known American Curators as well as Directors and collectors have walked though the exhibit.

My paintings are in the collections of The White House, the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum but also the Farnsworth Museum, which has an early painting of mine, here in Maine. My paintings from Maine are in collections worldwide, one currently on view at the U.S. Embassy Residence in Hong Kong. In between exhibition installation, I was able to accompany the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (I was appointed by the President of the United States to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory Board to The National Endowment for the Arts) on a part of her visit to Maine and then returned to finish the installation.

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Quadricentennial Nocturne, watercolor 32″ x 40″

Something new for this year is an exhibit of a series of never before seen oil paintings. I’ve been secretly painting the area in oils and for the first time have exhibited them. I haven’t painted in oils since I was 17 and Governor Hugh Carey of New York purchased my first oil painting so it is a return with a more intimate series. This, of course, poses a whole new conundrum of how to hang an exhibit.

Hope you’ll stop in if you’re in Maine at Blue Water Fine Arts in Port Clyde, Maine.
www.bluewaterfinearts.com www.barbaraprey.com
Facebook Barbara Ernst Prey
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Blue Water Fine Arts Gallery

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Art Consultants Help Advance Artists’ Careers

Some artists are great at promoting themselves, finding buyers and generating attention to their careers. Hats off to them. For many other artists, however, having a middleman speak on behalf of their work is vital to their careers.

That middleman can be an agent or dealer (or gallery). That person might also be an art consultant. At times, art consultants are gallery owners and even museum curators who advise individuals and companies in the area of decorating or building a collection on the side. Those who are free agents, only serving the interests of their clients, generally don’t have galleries and or represent particular artworks or artists; rather, they tend to work from their offices or homes, maintaining information (bios, slides, press clippings) on a variety of different artists whose work may be of interest to particular clients. Most focus exclusively on contemporary art — works created by living artists — while others will hunt through all styles and periods, depending upon the interests and budgets of their clients. “Our criteria for selection revolves around our clients’ tastes,” said Josetta Sbeglia, an art consultant in St. Louis, Missouri. “We hope we like it, too.”
These clients are a mix of private collectors, corporations, law firms and health care facilities. “The healthcare industry is growing, and hospitals see the value of art and creating spaces that are more pleasant,” said Talley Fischer, a sculptor in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, who has been commissioned to create large installations for a variety of health care facilities through art consultants hired by these institutions, who usually are brought in to help these institutions find artworks when in the process of building new or renovating existing spaces. Fischer noted that she promotes herself directly to art consultants.

Many companies prefer using outside consultants — finding expertise through people who are members of the Association of Professional Art Advisors (www.artadvisors.org), for instance, although quite a few advisors who are not APAA members or work as gallery owners also offer their assistance to private and corporate clients – to hiring their own in-house curators as a cost-savings move. These companies look to acquire artwork, because “art in offices enriches the lives of the people who work there,” said Laura Solomon, an art advisor in New York City, who not only helps her clients purchase artwork, but will take charge of framing or installing pieces in the offices, rotating existing artworks around the offices from the collection and even putting together special exhibitions from it.

Consultants learn of artists in a variety of ways: They attend exhibitions at galleries, as well as at art fairs and juried competitions; they receive recommendations from other artists; they go to open studio events; and they are contacted directly by the artists, through the postal service, telephone or e-mail. Some consultants encourage artists sending them material, while others do not — it makes sense to inquire by telephone or letter what, if anything, a particular consultant is interested in seeing before mailing a portfolio. Lorinda Ash, a New York City art dealer and consultant, said that “I get phone calls, FAXes and emails from artists all the time, but that’s not how I ever become interested in an artist. I find artists through going to galleries.”

On the other hand, Jennifer Wood-Patrick, an art consultant at the firm of Art Advisory Boston in Massachusetts, welcomes receiving material from artists but noted that “we have a limited amount of time for telephone conversations and sorting through packages sent by artists.” She prefers emails from artists that describe who they are and include images.

“Tom is very busy, so I try not to bother him with things he won’t be interested in.” The Tom in question is Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, an investment and wealth management company, and he and his wife Mary select all of the artwork – 2,400 pieces and growing – that adorn the one million square feet of office space at its St. Petersburg, Florida headquarters. The person trying not to bother him too much is Emily Kapes, curator of the art collection, who identifies the type of artwork (80 percent two-dimensional and the rest sculptural works in bronze, glass and stone) that often represent images of the American West and wildlife. She receives telephone calls, postal mail and email from artists and galleries around the country, all offering their artwork for purchase. “I can filter out the artists that usually wouldn’t be collected,” she said, “and, otherwise, pass things along to Tom. Tom is known for supporting living artists.”

Emily Nixon, a Chicago-based art advisor, too, receives numerous communications from artists, but she tends to rely less on submissions from people she has never heard of (“I find that artists may not know what corporations want, and many are unfamiliar with contracts and pricing,” she said) and more through visiting art gallery exhibitions, art fairs, auctions and receiving recommendations from people (artists, dealers, auctioneers) with whom she has had a long-time association. The artists who are of greatest interest to her “should be in a gallery and have had numerous sales.” It doesn’t hurt if these artists have sold work in the past to other corporations, although that is less significant than the fact that they are represented in a gallery.

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Mud Blue Sky at Aurora: High-Flying Comedy, Delivered With Compassion

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All they need is a bucket of ice: From left, Jamie Jones, Rebecca Dines, Devin O’Brien and Laura Jane Bailey

Photos by David Allen

Generalizing from isolated anecdotes is risky, even when the anecdotes are particularly compelling. I found that especially true after seeing Aurora Theatre’s knockout production of Mud Blue Sky, a hilarious yet compassionate comedy that revolves around the travails and frustrations of three current and former flight attendants.

Coming away from the show, which opened the Berkeley company’s 24th season, I concurred with viewers who have said that the play amounted to a bleak portrait of an occupation that once brimmed with glamour. The play’s anecdotes, adeptly drawn by Chicago playwright Marisa Wegryzn and dispatched by strong performances, made me wonder why anyone would consider working in the not-so-friendly skies these days.

If anything is enviable about the lives of the play’s three women, all middle-aged veterans of airline life, it escaped me. They’re engrossing and very funny, but I had to wonder whether they really represent the folks who dispense peanuts and Cokes in jets that have only grown more crowded and spartan over the decades.

So I turned to Google, entered a search for “flight attendants,” and came up with a few hits that made the premise seem questionable.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of a site called PayScale.com, but its respondents seemed as if they were not about to quit flying, even if they could find a parachute. A query about job satisfaction brought a rating of five stars out of a possible five; pay scales varied hugely among airlines but weren’t bad for a job that demands only a high school education; and benefits — not counting free flights to faraway places — were probably comparable to most other fields.

What’s that mean where Mud Blue Sky is concerned? Not a thing. It’s a terrific play, not a treatise on airline labor.

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She’s mature, he’s young and both face puzzles about the future: Jones as Beth, O’Brien as Jonathan

As entertainment and as an examination of character, it deserves at least four stars out of that possible five. Wegryzn understands people and she understands theatrical dynamics, and crafted those understandings into a 95-minute delight.

The action takes place in and near a travelers’ hotel at the edge of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Entering first is Beth (Jamie Jones), who stretches her aching back and struggles out of her high-heeled shoes before even turning on the lights.

She’s joined a bit later by Sam (Rebecca Dines), an effervescent sort who’s primed to rush out in pursuit of booze and whatever other diversions she can corral before duty calls once more, before sunrise.

Completing the threesome is Angie (Laura Jane Bailey), whose flying days ended when her hipline expanded.

They’re not alone, however. Beth connects with unlikely friend, a male high school senior whom she met on an earlier flight, and brings him to the room for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. His name is Jonathan and he sells pot, which the three eagerly buy even though they have to struggle to pay for it. The role is played with cheerfully hapless awkwardness by Devin O’Brien.

Although the women have undoubtedly logged hundreds of thousands of miles, they are going nowhere, and they know it. Beth and Sam worry about teen-aged sons at home; Angie passes her time caring for elderly parents. None can look ahead to a secure or fulfilling future.

And Jonathan struggles with a teen’s woes: a hot date who has ditched him on prom night, uncertainty about college, turmoil at home.

The undercurrents may be dark but the presentation is for the most part wildly funny, with just one sustained exception. That comes in a long monologue by Angie, recounting an agonizing experience with a passenger who paid her handsomely for a short spell of emotional support. On opening night, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop as the story unfolded.

Aurora’s artistic director, Tom Ross, provided the expert direction and Kate Boyd designed the set, which transformed smoothly between the hotel and a nearby parking lot, with jets screaming overhead (sound by Chris Houston).

Mud Blue Sky runs through Sept. 27 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $ 32-$ 50 from 510-843-4822 or auroratheatre.org

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Getty Is Quietly Charging Bloggers For ‘Socially Awkward Penguin’ Meme

Around the spring of 2009, some nerds began adding macro text to a photo of a penguin on the Internet. According to Know Your Meme, this became what’s now known as the Socially Awkward Penguin meme — a format for sharing two-line stories on cringeworthy social encounters

You’ve probably seen it on Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Imgur, Tumblr, BuzzFeed or some other Internet culture-obsessed place. And Getty Images — which owns the rights to the original penguin photo — is apparently none too happy about that. If you run a blog, you might want to be careful about posting SAP.

In a written statement, Getty confirmed to HuffPost that it has “pursued and settled certain uses” of the photo “in instances where it has been used without a license.” (Disclosure: The Huffington Post is a Getty subscriber.) One affected blog, however, wants to get the word out.

GetDigital editors explained in a post on the site this week how Getty had contacted them about a three-year-old post featuring the SAP meme. After a few written exchanges, the image service requested €785.40 (around $ 875) in license fees — about twice what the blog says it would regularly cost for a publication its size to use the image for three years. They paid the hefty sum out of court and deleted the offending images, but Getty had one more request. GetDigital said the company forbade them from talking to others about the copyright issue or else risk official legal action.

“Apparently this method is very successful,” the editors wrote, “but of course it will not work on us.” In addition to sharing their experience, the editors created a new SAP meme for anyone to use. 

Getty clarified in another written statement that, in copyright situations, it usually requests specific details of the settlement to be kept confidential. The company referred HuffPost to image licensing information available freely on its website.

With the right Google search, the original image is easy to find. “An Adelie penguin struts its stuff” reads the caption for the photo, taken by now-80-year-old George F. Mobley for National Geographic. A handy “calculate price” button sits next to it — GetDigital used this to estimate its dues — with editorial fees ranging from a few hundred U.S. dollars to thousands. 

Internet memes, though, can pose sticky copyright questions. To whom does an image that’s been recontextualized and rewritten a billion times, privately and publicly, really belong? Reuters does not seem to have pursued legal action against any of the many, many sites that posted the “McKayla Is Not Impressed” meme during the Summer 2012 Olympics. The production company behind the 2004 film “Downfall” filed a copyright claim in 2010 against all the YouTube videos repurposing a scene showing Hitler’s rage. (Many of the videos remain online.) But later, the owners of two hugely famous memes — Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat — won a lawsuit against Warner Brothers in 2013, which used their images in a video game called Scribblenauts. (The meme creators were eventually paid.)

Getty represents more than 200,000 artists who, it points out in the statement, “are entitled to be paid” just as the owner of Keyboard Cat (RIP). And, as always, we can probably blame 4chan — the cesspool of filth and depravity that created many early Internet memes, likely including SAP — for starting this whole mess. But the reality of creative copyright is often hazy — just ask Pharrell — and it stands to reason that any and all conversation around the subject should be welcomed.

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Meet ‘Beirut’s Banksy,’ The Artist Who’s Transforming The City One Wall At A Time

Artist Yazan Halwani peels political banners and posters off Beirut’s walls to make room for his murals. Born in the Lebanese capital, Halwani, 22, grew up against the backdrop of political logos stenciled on city walls and faded posters of politicians plastered on street corners, some left over from the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.

In Lebanon, “people usually identify with sectarian or political symbols,” Halwani said. Frustrated with the political fragmentation and sectarian strife on and off the walls of Beirut, he decided to draw the public’s attention to cultural figures that “reunite Lebanese, and Arab citizens, without any divisions.” On walls and buildings in East and West Beirut (which were separated during the civil war), he paints large-scale portraits of Arab poets, musicians and actors, encircled by intricate Arabic calligraphy.

Born a couple of years after the war, Halwani is part of a generation of Lebanese youth pushing, in various ways, for greater unity in Lebanon. With his artwork, he strives to offset decades of political polarization that has resulted in cultural divisions and “a weakening of national identity.”

Referred to as “Beirut’s Banksy” by Arab media outlet Al-Arabiya, Halwani has also produced artwork for international street art events, and his work has appeared in Germany, Singapore and Paris. By taking his calligraphy outside the Arab region, Halwani says, he wants to instigate “cross-cultural conversations” and to inspire a “positive view of the Arab world.”

But it’s his work in Beirut that’s garnering the world’s attention.

Political paralysis is nothing new in Lebanon’s government, which is tenuously balanced according to the country’s religious factions. But it has reached new heights: The country’s parliament has failed to pick a president for more than one year, and its inaction and corruption leaves much of the country without regular access to services like electricity and water. This summer, more than 20,000 tons of garbage has accumulated on Beirut’s streets after a major landfill closed and the government failed to agree on an alternative dump or a new contract for its garbage collection company.

Residents began to protest, resulting in the YouStink campaign decrying their officials. Public frustration peaked last month, with the recent wave of protests in the capital being described as “the biggest show of civil disobedience” in a decade. 

Halwani marched in a mass YouStink rally in downtown Beirut on Aug. 22. 

“I think the current problem and the main motivation behind my artwork stem from the same reason,” says Halwani. “Sectarian political forces that are working in their own self-interest.”

Halwani won’t write political slogans on Beirut’s walls, though. By painting much less polarizing figures, he subversively proposes an alternative cultural and political narrative: one of unity and harmony.

“I think that what needs to be done on a political level cannot be summed up with a wall tag,” he says.  

Along the side of a building in the vibrant district of Hamra, Lebanese singer-actress Sabah peers out onto the street, smiling disarmingly, surrounded by a halo of interwoven Arabic letters that look like snowflakes from afar. Across an orange wall in the lively residential district of Gemmayzeh, Halwani painted beloved musical icon Fairouz, in black, white and grey.

“I want to replace corrupt politics with more positive cultural elements that show the real face of the country,” he says.

Halwani’s street art hasn’t always been propelled by such lofty ambitions. At the age of 14, he was drawn to French hip-hop songs and gangster films. “Everyone wanted to grow up to be a soldier or an actor, but I wanted to be a gangster like these taggers in New York,” he says. He started tagging his name on Beirut’s walls, in bright colors and big letters. Later, however, he experienced what he calls a “critical response” toward his own work. “I realized that what I was doing did not have a shred of identity. It had no relationship to Beirut. That’s why people ignored or destroyed it.”

Around the same time, Halwani borrowed a calligraphy book from his uncle. He quickly discovered that there was a discrepancy between the essence of calligraphy and that of tagging; the former was less about the artist and more about the words (often Quranic verses or folkloric proverbs.). “I was no longer interested in writing my name,” he says.

In fact, he was no longer interested in writing anything at all. The Arabic letters he places around his portraits often don’t make up legible words; they’re more like ornate crossword puzzles. “What I try to do is I try to evoke meaning without having to use the actual word … I use calligraphy to create an Arabic visual language which can be understood by Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike,” he noted.

Often, he seeks to paint murals that start conversations. On one of the walls in Concord Street is a portrait of a gray-haired man, his eyelids on the verge of caving in, his gaze despondent. His creased forehead is crowned with tufts of white and grey hair. The portrait is of Ali Abdullah, a homeless man who for years had set up residence in the nearby Bliss Street. In January 2013, Beirut’s harsh weather reportedly led to his death. The incident mobilized hundreds of Lebanese youth to launch initiatives to help the homeless.

“After two weeks, everybody forgot about him,” says Halwani. “I decided to repaint him, just to tell people that you do not need to help the homeless only when you hear a tragic story on the news.”

As Halwani was standing in a shopping cart, with blotches of black paint on his shorts and T-shirt, a worn out taxi pulled up by the curb. A teary-eyed driver called Halwani over, and said, “When I saw what you’re doing, I was really touched. I used to see this homeless man on the street.”

Three years later, Halwani is still touched by what happened next: Desperate to give something, anything, back to the artist, the driver offered him a ride. “All I have is this car. If you need to go anywhere, I’m ready to take you,” the driver told him.

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Paul McCartney, Fergie, Other Stars Record ‘Love Song To The Earth’

Music superstars have come together to stress the importance of protecting our environment. 

A group of artists, including Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi and Sheryl Crow recorded “Love Song to the Earth” — a new song dedicated to rallying people to climate action and supporting the U.N.’s efforts to get nations to agree on a universal climate agreement. 

The song was released on iTunes and Apple Music on September 4, but will have a wide release a week later, according to a press release. Apple, as well as artists, producers and directors involved in the song plan to donate their proceeds to environmental organization Friends of the Earth U.S. and the United Nations Foundation. 

Toby Gad, who helped write the star-studded track — which comes out months before December’s climate conference COP21 in Paris — says he hopes the song will open people up to the importance of fighting climate change.  

“When the U.N. asked me to write a song about climate change I felt honored and inspired. So, my friends and I wrote ‘Love Song to The Earth’, focusing on a positive message about how precious our only planet is,” Gad said in a statement. “I hope this song will broaden the audience for this urgent message and give the politicians emotional support for meaningful climate agreement in Paris 2015.”

Other stars who were featured in the song include Fergie, Colbie Caillat, Natasha Bedingfield, Leona Lewis, Sean Paul, Johnny Rzeznik, Krewella, Angelique Kidjo, Kelsea Ballerini, Nicole Scherzinger, Christina Grimmie, Victoria Justice and Q’Orianka Kilcher. A video is set to be released on September 11, and will include celebrities, scientists and others holding up messages of support for our environment. 

While the artists want to convey a sense of urgency in fighting climate change, Bedingfield, who also helped write the song along with Gad, John Shanks and Sean Paul, says the song is ultimately meant to uplift others in regards to the subject. 

“We wanted to write a song that is about how when you love something, you look after it,” Bedingfield said in a statement. “While we know about the environmental issues, we’re unsure if there is any hope. With this song we wanted to talk about the environment in a way that would help people feel empowered to do something rather than be paralyzed by fear.”

To learn more about Friends of the Earth, visit its website here. To learn more about the United Nations Foundation, click here

 

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Wayne Dyer, Motivational Guru And Bestselling Author, Dies At 75

Wayne Dyer, the motivational guru and bestselling author of dozens of self-help books, died Saturday night at the age of 75.

His family shared the news with Dyer’s 2.4 million Facebook fans on Sunday. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Dyer, who was known to fans as the “father of motivation,” first gained worldwide fame in 1976 after the publication of his first book “Your Erroneous Zones.” Although he was said to have sold copies “out of the back of his station wagon,” the tome became an international bestseller with an estimated 35 million copies sold.

Dyer would later write more than 40 books, almost half of which made The New York Times bestseller list, and appeared on many TV shows, including several PBS specials. 

Last year, Mind Body Spirit magazine ranked Dyer as the eighth most spiritually influential person in the world. 

Born in Detroit in 1940, Dyer spent part of his childhood in orphanages and foster homes before going on to serve in the U.S. Navy in the late 1950s. He earned a doctorate in educational counseling from Wayne State University and taught at St. John’s University in New York until he found success as an author. 

Dyer, who counted celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey as some of his fans, espoused the power of positive thinking in his teachings.

“Take the last five minutes of your day,” Dyer told CBS Sunday Morning in 2014, “and put your attention on everything that you would like to attract into your life: ‘I am well. I am healed. I am in perfect health. I am abundant. I am happy.’ Say those things to yourself. Then you’ll marinate for eight hours, and you’ll awaken and you’ll begin to attract the things that are in your subconscious mind.”

Dyer was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, NBC News reported, and claimed to have treated the disease with “positive thinking, daily exercise and ‘psychic surgery’” performed by a Brazilian medium.

Dyer was also a proponent of the idea that death is but an “illusion.” In 2012, he told Winfrey: “Who we are is the part of us that is infinite, the part of us that never stops.”

Dyer’s career was not free from controversy.

PBS ombudsman Michael Getlar wrote in 2006 that viewers had complained about Dyer’s “overtly religious” teachings. Several years later, Getlar said that “it is my sense that … Dyer’s presentations violate PBS’s Editorial Standards and Policies.”

In 2010, author Stephen Mitchell filed suit, alleging Dyer had plagiarized chunks of two of his books. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Many fans and friends of Dyer’s, including Degeneres, Winfrey and the motivational speaker Tony Robbins, mourned the self-help author’s death on social media.

Dyer, who lived in Maui, was separated from his third wife and had eight children. 

 

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Cautiously Pessimistic

Well, Mabel and mom got back into their flat, and were given an extra set of keys. But then, mom fell (on a very flat and debris free sidewalk), so now she has a big bump on her lip and a red bruise, which looks like a glob of lipstick. Sigh. I was not there. No one tripped her or anything, it was just a random fall. I’m trying not to wake up with dread each day, but, thinking that bad things come in three, we’ve used up our quota for a bit and we should be o.k. from here on out.

My mom and I went to a workshop on Emotional Health, at Fringe Central. I thought they would speak to our own emotional health, but it mainly focused on how to listen to other people. What? Humph. Bait and switch. I did learn a lot. . . albeit unwillingly. Apparently, silences are good, try not to offer advice, people usually don’t want you to solve their problem, they just want you to listen. There were nice people in the room, and it was a relaxed atmosphere with the Samaritans, the organization who sponsored and taught the class. The Samaritans man phone lines here in the UK, and the phone volunteers are trained by the Samaritans to listen to people. Like a crisis phone line, but better. The Samaritans are there for anyone struggling to make sense of life.

One of the other workshop attendees was a very nice Italian man, (nicknamed Zed) who gave us a flyer for his show. It looked interesting, so we took a chance and headed over to the Greenspace venue 236, a few blocks from where we’re staying. It’s a converted infirmary and the theatre space was really nice. Next to the Moon, a two-hander written and directed by Tiziano Gamba was very playful and funny, and since the writer of the piece is also a psychologist, there was a depth to the ideas in the play, that I enjoyed.

We stayed after the play finished, to say hello to the two actors and found out that one of the actors, Giulia Cammarota, didn’t speak much English, so she learned her dialogue phonetically. They both did very well, but occasionally it was hard to understand what was being said. It would be fun to read the script in English, because there was a lot of wordplay.

Supper was Italian. It was pretty good, but spendy. Supper for 4 instead of 2, and since we haven’t been flyering, our audience numbers are way down.

Mabel and I went up to the Space on the Mile and saw The Rules: Sex, Lies and Serial Killers, produced by Sprocket Theatre. It was really well acted and a fun, tight script. Casual evil. There are quite a few serial killer plays this year. It’s a genre I guess. Serial killers. This next sentence is for Mabel. Too bad there’s not a play about someone who murders people by putting poison in their breakfast . . . .you know, a cereal killer.

Tonight we saw the play which hopefully will be the answer to “What’s the worst play you saw while you were there?” Every element was unfortunate. The script, the acting, the blocking, the script, the costumes, the script and the props. Scatological humor, actors talking too quietly, bad sound cues, racist humor, crude humor, lots of swearing and actors who spoke to the audience instead of each other. But other than that we liked it. From now on it will be known as the play that must not be named.

We flyered after that (unnamed) play, since neither of us could fathom seeing another show after watching such a misguided production. The temperature was around 55 degrees tonight, but with the wind chill, it was probably 45 or so. Having lived in Fargo-Moorhead, I know wind chills. I wore my bridal gown and veil, with two pairs of pants underneath, but even then I was literally a frigid bride tonight, with actual cold feet. The Little Match Girl with a brides dress on, and no matches. Mabel was a trouper and she wore my short wedding dress, with small veil, over her yoga clothes. A couple from Uruguay took our photo and promised to email it to us. Today I’ve spoken with people from Taiwan, Italy, Australia and Germany.

There’s two shows remaining for Macaroni on a Hotdog, and I have such mixed feelings about this adventure coming to a close. The sidewalks aren’t as crowded now, and the prizes for writing and acting and whatnot have all been awarded. There must have been a clerical mistake. Perhaps they will bestow my prize posthumously. Pity. I would have appreciated it so much more today, while I breathe and walk this earth, instead of being lauded when I’m just dust, blowing around on the Royal Mile.

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These Photos Capture The Spirit Of New Orleans, 10 Years After Katrina

It’s been a slow recovery since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans 10 years ago, but residents are hopeful that the city is returning to its roots.

New Orleanians are repopulating their city, reestablishing festive traditions, repairing historic landmarks, rebuilding churches and reinvigorating the educational system.

Things like “Who dat Saints” and Mardi Gras have always been staples in its rich history — but it is the people who have undeniably made New Orleans the cultural hub it is today. 

President Obama described the city as a place where “the jazz makes you cry and the funerals make you dance,” during his speech in New Orleans on Thursday.

Here are 35 uplifting photos that show resilient New Orleanians and capture the spirt of the city, one decade after Katrina: 

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Katrina Coombs Discusses Her Fetish for Creating Fine-Art Fiber Works, Thread by Thread

It was the first thing you saw as you came through an arch at the National Gallery of Jamaica for the 2014 Jamaica Biennial: Katrina Coombs’s blood red work entitled “Absence.” I remember looking at the work for quite a while, its startling color. The longer I looked at the work the more I found myself wondering what other pieces by this artist might look like and, finally walking away, I made a mental note to look for more fiber-based works from Jamaican artists in general, and Katrina Coombs in particular.

Katrina Coombs was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and was formally introduced to the arts in third form at Meadowbrook High School. “What happened is that there was an art teacher at the school, David Ho-Sang, who introduced us to macramé. That was when my interest in fibers started and soon that interest would grow into a profound love,” she shared. From macramé she would branch out to batiks and other arts techniques, but the love of fibers remained constant. “I guess you could say I have a fetish for fibers,” she confessed. “I love being able to create from threads. I love the idea of taking something from a small strand into something large and elegant. I love the involved process of working with pins and needles.”

From high school Coombs would go on to attend the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, which she describes as an eye-opening and very challenging experience. “When I was a student at the Edna Manley College, textile as fine arts was still a relatively new concept. The textiles department had to bring in lecturers from other departments to look at and critique my work. I was getting more and more interested in weaving, which isn’t a traditional Jamaican art form, unless you look at basketry, so I guess there was some confusion in trying to locate and situate my work as a fine artist working with cloth.”

Maybe, she mused, the lack of understanding for fiber and textile as a fine-art art form that she was sensing all around her on the island had to do in part with the demise of a booming textile industry in Jamaica — lost through free trade agreements. “There was just a whole industry of people who made cloth and designed and decorated cloth that went through the window because of free trade agreements,” she said. “A similar thing happened to much of our traditional so-called “craft” industry where much of the local crafts forms today are actually being made in China.”

But the loss of the textile industry, she was quick to point out to me, only partly explains the resistance she faced as a fine-art fiber artist. “While my immediate family members were always supportive of me as a fiber artist, there were a lot of people around me who were confused by what I was doing. They saw me sewing things and would ask aloud about not only what was I going to do with the things I was making, but if indeed I planned on becoming a dressmaker, as if being a dressmaker was the worst thing in the world that someone could be! But that confusion, to an extent, mirrors a larger societal confusion as to what art is. For too many people art is still and will only be drawing, sculpture and painting. There is oftentimes no immediate understanding of textile art as a viable art form.”

Yet her thesis exhibition at the Edna Manley College, “Dancer’s Dream” — a work in which she examined the various elements of fabric movement and how this could be in conversation with the movements of a dancer — was well received. “I guess the reason why my thesis received the warm reception that it did is that so many people were taken with the ‘new’ ways in which I was working with cloth. There was a healthy discussion, for example, as to whether my work was a sculpture or a painting — and there was a new awareness of fiber as fine art,” she said.

Coombs would go on to do her master’s degree at Transart Institute in Berlin and New York, which, she admits, radically altered how she saw her work. She credits Transart with engendering in her a more expansive definition of being an artist. “In a sense, going to Transart freed me. What I mean by this is that, here in Jamaica you are often defined by the medium that you work in. For a long time I considered myself, for example, a textile artist. It was at Transart that I came to understand that I was an artist first and foremost and fiber was the medium that I created in,” she told me.

At Transart her work became increasingly autobiographical, culminating in a thesis exhibition that explored various notions of the “other”. This work — a compilation of thirteen characters — sought to answer several questions, namely: Who is the other, and why do they impact us as much? What form does the other take? How can an artist use fibers to signify the other that she is in pursuit of?

It is a complex and engaging body of work.

Given that Katrina Coombs works almost exclusively in fibers, I engaged her in a discussion on the gender dimensions of artists on the island who work specifically with textiles and fibers. Specifically, I wanted to know why there seemingly were no male textile and fiber artists on the island.

“It is not that there are no male textile artists on the island or that men are not interested in textiles and fibers,” Coombs pointed out to me. “It is the mode by which men approach the work that they do in textiles and fibers. You will find, for example, that you have a large group of tailors. There are also very sharp and pointed distinctions made between fine and applied arts on the island. Once you are working with textiles, you are often relegated to crafts. Maybe why there aren’t more male fine artists who work in textiles on the island is that they are trying to obviate being relegated to the crafts.”

She paused for a moment before continuing.

“In addition to which, in general fiber art is a very complex medium to deal in. The medium requires a lot of focus, a lot of technical skills, the tying of knots, and working with all those threads. There is a lot of monotony in working in fibers, which, for me, is a commentary on female labor and the fact that women are constantly repeating things. The home space, which to a large extent is still the female space, is one of endless repetition with specifically female tasks. Furthermore, at this time on the island, I am not sure if there is an infrastructure in place to safeguard and protect fibers and textiles as art forms. Handling and restoration are a particular challenge. My thinking is that more male artists might be making the calculus to choose art forms that are more financially lucrative and less repetitive and less problematic than is required for working in textiles and fibers.”

But the very reasons why fiber art forms might be off-putting for some is in large part why Katrina Coombs enjoys so much working within this medium. Textiles, Coombs noted, are a constant throughout the many moments and journeys of our lives. Shortly after we are born we are enveloped in cloth, and for most of our lives we have the most intimate relationship to clothes. When we die, once again, we are wrapped in cloth. In some ways it is the most obvious and accessible of all the art forms.

Katrina Coombs’s work will be on view at the Young Talent 2015 exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston, which opens on August 30th. “I am very excited to be part of this exhibition,” Coombs shared. “For many years, as a curatorial assistant, I promoted the work of other artists. Right now I am taking some time to pay more attention to my own work. My goal now is to keep pushing myself as an artist, and to get more of an audience for my work.”

Until next time.

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How to Break the Internet With a Vagina and a Ball of Wool

WARNING: This post contains nudity

I’m a woman.
I’m a feminist.
I’m an artist.

It’s these three things that drew me to controversial performance-artist and craftivist, Casey Jenkins.

You see, Casey knits with her vagina. Say what? You heard correctly, she knits with her vagina.

In the space of a fortnight, over 3.5 million people watched a YouTube clip titled Vaginal Knitting, shot by SBS2. The clip offers an overview of Jenkins’ work, documenting her 28-day performance piece Casting off My Womb, where Jenkins’ uses skeins of wool, lodged in her vagina to knit a long passage, marking one full menstrual cycle. Obviously this kind of art pulls people one of two ways — you either hate it or you love it. For me it was the latter.

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Vanessa de Largie:
Casey. Thank you for allowing me to interview you about your performance piece Casting off My Womb. It’s a very powerful piece triggering hate, disgust and love amongst your audience. How did this project evolve?

Casey Jenkins:
In my work and my life I’ve always been intrigued by how identities are formed in relation to broader communities. I’m interested in outsiders, people who go against the grain, and to what extent it’s possible to forge an autonomous sense of self if it runs counter to established powerful group-think attitudes enforced by shaming.

Casting Off My Womb was an exploration of the expectations society has of appropriate behavior for a person with a body like mine, particularly in regards to bearing children, creating art and voicing opinions, and how closely those expectations align with or skew what I choose to do with my body and my life.

I’ve done a lot of work in the past with craftivism (craft activism) which honors and subverts so-called “feminine” crafts and uses society’s dismissive attitude towards making techniques such as knitting and embroidery to pull the wool over their eyes, so to speak. A political slogan stitched on a fence, for example, is much more likely to be read with a smile than one scrawled with a spray-can. I’ve also explored how words describing body parts associated with women are considered the most offensive in our language and the way those body parts are used as focal points for the expression of misogynistic shaming. Casting Off My Womb was a natural progression of all of these things.

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Vanessa de Largie:
Knitting with your vagina was one thing but choosing to be authentic and knit whilst menstrual, caused reaction from around the globe. Did you expect there to be such negativity?

Casey Jenkins:
I performed Casting Off My Womb in a small gallery over 28 days. While I wasn’t painting bland water-colour landscapes, (and very little referencing menstruation or bodies associated with women will be viewed as benign), in the context of performance art within a gallery space the work was not particularly bombastic and I expected it to be received with circumspection and consideration, which it initially was.

When SBS TV asked to report on the work I knew it would ruffle some feathers — in a medium in which blue liquid is used to advertise tampons, how could it not? It was when they posted their report to youtube with the title “Vaginal Knitting” that the mass of negative responses poured in. I knew menstruation was a taboo, but the scale and vitriol of the internet response did surprise me.

Vanessa de Largie:
Personally, I found it sad that so many females deemed your performance piece as disgusting. What do you think this says about society and menstrual stigma?

Casey Jenkins:
Shame is an incredibly powerful force for maintaining and enforcing prevalent attitudes. It’s fascinating because those targeted by it often seem to be engaged most actively in its perpetration; perhaps as a way of trying to personally avoid the most hurtful direct impact of the shaming they align themselves with the status quo. Menstruation is the target of a lot of misogynistic attitudes. The fact that those who might be hurt by misogyny are taking part in the shaming is an indication of how deeply entrenched it is in the world today.

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Vanessa de Largie:
I have to ask you this. As a woman, period-time can be tough — menstrual cramps, fatigue, crankiness and discomfort. Did you rehearse the work in the months prior to allow your body to adjust or was it done raw? And when you finally did perform that part of the female cycle, was it f**king liberating?

Casey Jenkins:
As a little side-note but I feel it’s important to say, I don’t personally associate menstruation with womanhood — not all women menstruate and some trans men and genderqueer people do.

I do menstruate currently, obviously, and there was honestly little to no physical discomfort in performing that aspect of the work. Spending the days rhythmically knitting and being open about the rhythms of my body was a soothing, calming and, yes, liberating experience — much more comfortable than hiding my period away and pretending my body was functioning ‘normally’, as I would usually do. I did make prototypes prior to the performance but they were more to test the absorbency of the wool rather than my body’s tenacity. It was not a great physical feat.

Vanessa de Largie:
What’s next for you and your art?

Casey Jenkins:
I’m developing a work in collaboration with a neuroscientist and a computer-scientist exploring visual perception, intimacy and how our experiences shape our prejudices, world views and ability to empathise with others.

I’ve also been screen-shotting and compiling all of the internet responses to Casting Off My Womb (there are thousands and thousands of comments posted, mainly expressing sentiments like “WTF”, “gross”, “disgusting” and “she’s crazy”). I’ve been collecting and storing wool soaked in menstrual blood and am hacking a digital knitting machine to reproduce the most common of those comments using that wool.

The initial part of this follow up work will be shown as part of the upcoming “f generation” exhibit George Paton Gallery in Melbourne and will be shown in full next year.

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Vanessa de Largie is a multi-award-winning actress and author based in Australia. You can view more of her work on her website
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Misty Copeland Makes Her Broadway Debut

Just one week after becoming the first African-American principal dancer in American Ballet Theatre history, Misty Copeland announced another career milestone — she would make her Broadway debut in the revival of “On The Town” on August 25th.

The 32-year-old dancer may be one of the top ballerinas on the planet, but she’s never publicly sang in her life. With only two weeks of prep and one “put-in” rehearsal, she was scared.

“Stepping into this theater for the first time — I felt nervous and it’s been a long time since I’ve really felt nervous about performing,” Copeland said. “Having one ‘put-in’ rehearsal with the full cast did not feel like enough before making my debut.”

Watch the video above to see Copeland’s journey through rehearsals until her opening night.

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TOPLESS WOMEN CONTROVERSY: A Message to Parents visiting Times Square

If you are looking for Disneyland, then you are in the wrong state. This is New York. Times Square is a PUBLIC SPACE. And in New York City (and New York State) being topless in public is LEGAL. If businesses are upset that the law is hurting their bank accounts, then they should get the politicians to make Times Square private (which is what I presume they are trying to do). In the meantime, let’s all stop pretending that the painted women in Times Square is a violation of anything real. It is only an offense to people who come to New York City (many with kids) and want it to be an escape from reality. Well, New York City is reality, and we respect civil liberties here.

Not only is it legal to be topless in New York City, but for the sake of art, full nudity is legal in public for both men and women. I have proven this MANY times including many times in Times Square. I recently returned to New York after producing the first Amsterdam Bodypainting Day. Following a successful NYC Bodypainting Day in July (100 fully nude models in the public streets), I thought it was a good time to take the message of artistic freedom to Europe.

I was only gone for a couple of weeks and look what happened. People started freaking out about topless women! So upon my return to New York, I went back to Times Square and began painting to reaffirm that full nudity is still legal for the sake of art.

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If the city has issue with aggressive pan handling in Times Square, then they should restrict it. But they should but restrict all of it. It’s a shame that it was only when female breasts were involved that it was decided there needed to be a change (this is prime example of gender inequality-the Naked Cowboy has been topless for decades).

Some people say that the art on the “desnudas” is not good art or not art at all or that they’re just trying to make money. Please! How many times have you seen art at a gallery or a museum, and you don’t even know what it is? If it’s a painting, it’s art. And as far as making money, that’s what everyone is trying to do. In fact, it is only because some of the richest people are in danger of making less money that we are discussing this in the first place.

Andy Golub
Artist/Bodypainter/Founder Bodypainting Day
www.andygolub.com
www.bodypaintingday.org

12 REASONS TO LOVE NUDITY AND CELEBRATE NYC BODYPAINTING DAY

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bodypainting day 2

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New Artist Reviews: Kiravell

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Traveling can evoke innovations and creations unlike any other muse. The inundation of new interactions, challenges, textures, tastes, sights, smells and sounds awaken the spirit. Singer, songwriter, and healer, Meniyka Kiravell, has dipped the quill of her mind into the bottomless inkwell of travel. With her quill dripping in inspiration, she created the album Vaudevellia!

Growing up just outside of Detroit, Michigan, she immersed herself in fantasy books and tall tales which bore a love of storytelling and theater. It was not until her time spent at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, however, that she discovered her love and talent for music. Playing in a number of indie bands as well as DJing on her college radio station, she found a passion for many genres of music, constantly exploring new sonic landscapes. “I was into everything I could get my hands on,” says Kiravell. “I’d rock Alice Coltrane one minute and Tchaikovsky the next.”

With the seed of music already planted in her mind, she left her Midwestern home to see the world. Over the course of a decade, she visited over 40 countries, surfing azure seas, broadening her musical influences, and discovering healing techniques from various cultures. She began using her newfound knowledge of healing on herself and experienced successful results. Kiravell eventually settled and found a home in Australia and planned to establish a residency there when her mother fell ill with crippling migraines. When she returned to the U.S., Kiravell employed the healing techniques she had learned on her travels, including Bowen Bodywork, and cured her mother’s ailment.

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Re-connecting with her family through healing became a great inspiration for Kiravell, infusing her spirit with a fresh perspective. Her healing capabilities paired with the sonic discoveries of travel, nourished the musical seed in her mind which soon flourished into Vaudevellia! Translating her experiences into sound, the largely jazz-based Vaudevellia! takes the listener on a journey through Kiravell’s personal life story.

Now established in San Diego, Kiravell’s debut release is also infused with many elements of the world music she experienced on her travels. Her poetic and poignant lyrics describe the cosmic perspective in which she sees the world around her. It is apparent in this album that Kiravell approaches her music with appreciation, humility and an open heart. Playing piano, keys and strings, the opening track “Pache Mama” is a song of reverence for the South American goddess of earth and time, Pachamama. Using worldly percussion and rhythm, the mind is transported to the lush valleys and verdant rainforests of the South American landscape.

Releasing all the songs on the album separately, Kiravell included unique album art and a written vignette about her intentions and motivations behind each track. Vaudevellia! is a well-crafted musical experience that is both humble and extraordinary. Her tales do not preach or teach, and yet somehow we learn from listening. Kiravell expresses her love for all things creative and hopes that this album will be received in the same way.

Website: www.kiravellmusic.com
Bandcamp: https://kiravell.bandcamp.com/
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/kiravell
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/kiravell
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kiravell

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In Venice, Politics vs. Photos

Mystery and intrigue may be synonymous with the city of Venice, but the latest imbroglio between politicians and preservationists there seems a little more ham-handed.

Why have you banned this photo exhibit,” tweeted Venetophile and publisher JoAnn Locktov to Luigi Brugnaro, mayor of Venice, on August 14. “Are you so scared of the truth?

Yes, it is true, we are afraid of how you know how to mystify reality,” shot back the mayor in Italian.

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Photograph by Gianni Berengo Gardin, Venice

At issue is an exhibition, postponed by the mayor, of photographs depicting cruise ships that grotesquely dwarf the architecture of St. Mark’s Square and other Venetian landmarks. More than 500 ships dock there annually, flooding the city’s streets and canals with tourists. And there’s talk of dredging the city’s canals to accommodate even more.

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Photograph by Gianni Berengo Gardin, Venice

“On some days, there are seven to 10 cruises that can easily mean more than 20,000 visitors in a day for seven to eight months,” says Venice-based photographer Marco Secchi. “Venice has a major issue with mass tourism — last year there were 27 millions visitors.”

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Photograph by Gianni Berengo Gardin, Venice

The new mayor, elected in June on a platform to keep the port in Venice, canceled the photo exhibition at a gallery in the venerated Doge’s Palace. It was to feature works by Gianni Berengo Gardin, who’s been hailed by the U.K.’s Telegraph as Italy’s greatest photographer. Brugnaro evidently intends to display them later, together with an exhibit of his own plans for dredging the city’s lagoon and canals. It’s caused quite the outcry.

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Marco Secchi, Photographer, Venice

If the photos do not represent your reality, let the people decide,” tweeted the San Francisco-based Locktov.

You aren’t the people,” replied the mayor. “You see only yourself and your friends.”

“Friends” seems a near-Freudian slip in wording. The city’s port comes under control of the Venice Port Authority (VPA), with former Mayor of Venice Costa Paolo its president. In 1997, the VPA set up the Venezia Terminal Passeggeri, a commercial enterprise dedicated to managing cruise ship traffic in the port. VPA, Marco Polo Airport and the local chamber of commerce all have shares in the initiative.

Preservationists and lovers of the city’s mystique would like to see the ships dock elsewhere. “The ‘No Big Ship Committee’ is asking not to ban the cruises, but to stop them at the Lido, creating a new tourism port,” Secchi says.

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Marco Secchi, Photographer, Venice

The institutions responsible for finding alternative routes or strategies for cruise ships are many, while the decision-making pathways are tangled and muddled, adds Jane Da Mosto, author of The Science of Saving Venice. “What’s clear are the strong economic pressures of the cruise lobby,” she adds.

And “the last thing they (VPA) want is for ships to dock somewhere else, because of money,” says Anna Somers Cocks, CEO of The Art Newspaper in London and former head of the ‘Venice in Peril’ fund, which has raised 10 million pounds for the preservation of the city.

Fears of another Costa Concordia disaster in the lagoon surrounding Venice run high. But there’s more: dredging the canals to accommodate more and larger ships runs the risk of stirring up detritus from a 1960s petrochemical operation. “Ships would come into the petrochemical trench, then turn into a deeper trench into the port — they want to dig it 10 meters deep from six, and 100 meters wide from 50,” Cocks says.

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Marco Secchi, Photographer, Venice

Heavy metal waste from the petrochemical industry lies at the bottom of the lagoon — it’s highly toxic, but resting quietly for the moment. “There are particles of extremely poisonous chemicals” she says. “As soon as you start digging around, you release them into the lagoon.”

The photography exhibition might have served as a catalyst for change — but the mayor’s delay unveils a different scenario. “It all has to do with what’s going to happen to the port,” she says. “People are lobbying for the protection of the city, and then there are those who say ‘You’re living in cuckoo-land — let’s make as much money as we can.'”

Which may result in some unintended consequences for a city that’s increasingly dependent economically on tourists, rather than its dwindling tax base of shops and residents.

As Locktov tweeted the mayor, it’s “not a good idea to insult the people who fill your coffers with euro.”

Not to mention unleashing deadly toxins into your lagoon.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He is also the author of “Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand,” from Routledge Press.

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Teachers’ ‘Les Mis’ Flash Mob Parody Would Make Even Javert Smile

Going back to school after summer can be misérable. But not if you’re a student in West Des Moines, Iowa.

At a welcome-back meeting for the school district’s staff, the superintendent’s speech was cut short by a flash-mob of teachers performing a parody of “One Day More” from Les Misérables.

Including lyrics like “Do we known the common core?” and “Will my lesson be a bore?” the delightful — and extremely well-rehearsed — rendition of the Broadway classic perfectly captures the qualms and trepidations about returning to the classroom after summer vacation.

While these lyrics are on point, so are the performers. Seriously, they’re so good, and according to the video’s YouTube description, only 12 of these raw talents are music teachers.

The video was posted on YouTube on August 23 and has since racked up over 1 million views, as of Thursday.

Students in West Des Moines better be stoked to return to school after seeing this. With these fantastic educators by their side during the school year, they certainly won’t be on their own. 

 

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Haunting Photos Show The Real New Orleans, Through Hope And Despair

David Spielman’s New Orleans is solemn and still, a place where cat’s claw vines creep up walls and consume entire houses. A staircase leads to an empty lot where a building once stood; a piano sits outside on a sunny day, unplayed and sharing space with a pile of tires. The photographer captures scenes from around the city, and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation are everywhere.   

“I wanted to create a sense of what it was like and how it impacted everybody,” said Spielman, whose photographs are collected in the book The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered Citywhich was released this summer. Some of the images are currently on display in an accompanying exhibition at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Spielman set out to capture the overlooked areas of the city.

“One of the things that I think is very, very important, is, sadly, the media has kind of construed Katrina’s primary damage to the Lower 9th Ward,” he told The Huffington Post. “They fail to fully capture the fact that over 80 percent of the city of New Orleans was flooded.”

“Hopefully,” he added, “people will start to realize that Katrina was an equal and ecumenical destruction.” 

The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina won’t mark the end of Spielman’s efforts to depict a long and wide-ranging view of a changing New Orleans. He has been photographing his city for four decades and says he plans to continue “until the day before I die.” 

“The event was the hurricane. The story was the aftermath,” Spielman said.

A few of Spielman’s photographs depict people, but his focus is mostly on the city’s architecture and “the battle between nature and the destruction.”

“Although there are no people in the pictures, you know when you look at those houses covered in vines, that was somebody’s home,” he said. “So when you think about these houses that have been around for well over 100 years, you think of the generations of people.”

The collection of black and white images (shot on film, with a Leica camera) is ambiguous, evading easy description. That’s partially intentional for Spielman, who contrasts his quiet scenes with some of the more dramatic portrayals of New Orleans after the storm hit.

In his book, Spielman quotes the photographer Robert Frank, one of his major influences. He recited the quote from memory in our phone interview: “Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”

Through the rich and numerous shades of gray in his photographs, Spielman captures a blend of that hope and despair: The storm has passed, but left an indelible mark on New Orleans.

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A Dozen Reasons Art Lovers Should Be in Scandinavia Right Now

Gerhard Munthe, Suitors, 1892. Collection of the National Museum, Norway. Photo: Norjan kansallismuseo, Øystein Nerdrum.

The Magic North: Summer Biennials, Festivals and Exhibitions in Scandinavia 2015

With temperatures neither blistering nor blustery, summer in Scandinavia reveals the magic of the northern landscape, from the spectacular fjords of Norway, to the forests of Finland. This year in particular, there is quite a convergence of festivals, biennials and notable exhibitions occurring in late August in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. From the historical to the contemporary, from city centers to the far-flung reaches of the Arctic Circle, there is an abundance of events and exhibitions drawing art lovers to the northernmost reaches of Europe.

Theodor Kittelsen, The River Sprite, illustration for Troldskab, 1887. Collection of the National Museum, Norway. Photo: The National Museum, Norway, Jacques Lathio.

A mystical atmosphere suffuses many of the paintings in “The Magic North,” currently at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki (June 18 – September 27, in cooperation with the Norwegian National Museum, where it was shown earlier this year), an exhibition of Norwegian and Finnish fin-de-siècle and early 20th century works, from artists such as Edvard Munch, Gerhard Munthe, Hugo Simberg and Theodor Kittelsen. In these works, the artists mixed the heady influence of European symbolism with the folkloric traditions of their home countries, producing such unforgettable images as Kittelsen’s iconic wide-mouthed trolls and vacant eyed river sprites. In such company, even the more straightforward and naturalistic landscapes and portraits seem to evince a kind of strange, animistic energy.

Hannah Ryggen, Fear, 1936. Creative Commons License BY.

Under the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the turn of the century, artists of that time revived certain folk arts and traditional crafts, in search of a national style of expression. Norway’s rich history and tradition of tapestry weaving inspired artists of the period, such as Gerhard Munthe, who, to his chagrin, became quite famous for his achievements in this “minor art.” Yet Scandinavia’s most distinctive voice in tapestry weaving was yet to emerge: in the 1930s, Swedish-Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen became known for her idiosyncratic, expressive and wholly modern tapestries, weaving together political and personal themes. An exceptional collection of her works spanning three decades is currently on view in the exhibition “Hannah Ryggen: Weaving the World” at the National Gallery in Oslo (June 12 – October 4).

Artists like Ryggen, however, were working against the grain of the 20th century, as modernism and formalism took hold in Western art. Denmark’s Ordrupgaard Museum is taking a look at a hitherto overlooked aspect of a group of works made by one of modernism’s masters, produced in his later years. “Matisse and the Eskimos” (August 21 – November 29) presents works from Matisse’s paper cut outs, focusing on a group of works inspired by a collection of Inuit masks belonging to his son-in-law and the books of the Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen.

Maria Friberg, From the Series “Still Lives” (4), 2005. Courtesy of the Gothenburg Art Museum.

At the Göteborg Museum of Art, in Sweden, “The Romantic Postmodernism” (May 30 – September 13) explores links to the art historical past in a selection of works of Nordic art from the 1980s to the present. These contemporary works evince connections — aesthetic or otherwise — to the Romantic landscape, including early photographs by Olafur Eliasson, abstract paintings by Rolf Hanson and photographs by Maria Friberg.

Installation view, After Babel / Poetry will be made by all! / 89plus, Moderna Museet, 2015. Photo: Åsa Lundén, Moderna Museet.

While “The Romantic Postmodernism” looks to contemporary art made in Scandinavia, an exhibition at the Moderne Museet Stockholm takes a more international outlook, exploring the pluralism of the present in an exhibition titled “After Babel” (June 13 – August 30), curated by Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring. As one would expect, language takes center stage in “After Babel,” with works by Yael Bartana, Etel Adnan, Haegue Yang, Rivane Neuenschwander and others. Also occupying center stage is an actual tower — a concept by Simon Denny in collaboration with architect Alessandro Bava — that gradually and evocatively winds its way through the history of the intermingling of art and industry. And while at the Moderne Museet, don’t miss Adrián Villar Rojas’s major solo exhibition, “Fantasma,” on until October 25.

Sophie Dupont, A Slow Walk, Body And Room Encountering in Mirrors, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Copenhagen Art Week. Photo: Hans H. Bærholm.

In Copenhagen, five contemporary art centers are joining together to present an exhibition entitled “TRUST” (August 29 – October 25), curated by Sonia Dermience, featuring more than forty artists, with parties, performances, films, an online radio station and more. This is just one of many eruptions of art going on in Copenhagen, timed to coincide with Copenhagen Art Week (August 21 – August 30), which kicked off with the international art fair CHART at Kunsthal Charlottenborg last weekend. Sixty galleries, museums, project spaces, fairs and art centers across the city are participating in this weeklong art bacchanal, and the art continues to spread throughout the city, beyond institutional walls and into the subways and the streets.

Martin Whatson, mural on the Scandic Stavanger City, 2014. Photo: Ian Cox, Nuart.

For fans of street art, next week the Nuart Festival (September 3 – October 11) will open for its 9th edition in Stavanger, Norway. Year by year, this picturesque Norwegian port town is adding to its collection of public murals painted by renowned international street artists. This year’s invited artists include Iranian duo Icy & Sot, Italian artist Pixelpancho and New York legend Futura, among others. Nuart Festival also features a discursive component in Nuart Plus, a symposium program exploring issues relevant to street art and its development. 

Erkka Nissinen, Video for the Turku Biennial, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and 7th Turku Biennial, 2015.

Lastly, the biennials: there are four biennial art exhibitions occurring right now in Scandinavia, each with its own distinct character and setting. And a fifth is set to open in the next week: the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (September 12 – November 22), curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, which features an exciting roster of artists, such as Kader Attia, Kerry James Marshall and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, under the theme “A Story Within A Story.”

The 7th Turku Biennial (June 10 – August 30) takes place at Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova in Turku, Finland, with this year’s theme, “The Unexpected Guest,” driving the curatorial process. Half of the artists were chosen by the curators of the Turku Biennial, while the other half were invited by those artists. There are many surprising moments in the Turku Biennial, but highlights include the absurdist videos of Erkka Nissinen, the unsettling sculptures of the Finnish art collective Anna Breu and photographs by Aino Kannisto and Satu Haavisto.

Ai Weiwei, Think Different (How to Hang Workers’ Uniforms), 2015. Courtesy OpenART 2015. Photo: Sandra Subraian Ekholm.

The city of Örebro in Sweden is host to the largest public art biennial in Scandinavia, now in its fifth year. OpenART 2015 (June 14 – September 6) showcases 130 artworks by 72 artists from 19 countries within Örebro’s city center. This year features a special initiative, curated by Feng Boyi, to bring 13 contemporary Chinese artists to the Swedish biennial including artists Ai Weiwei, Xu Bing and Cheng Dapeng, and raising the biennial’s international profile. Works range from playful sculptures situated in the river Svartån, an oversized park bench and a model of the city entirely made of sweets and pastries.

Daniel Steegmann Mangranè, Phantom (kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name), 2013-2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Momentum 8 (June 13 – September 27), in Moss, Norway, inundates the viewer with various levels of sensory deprivation and sensorial enhancement, from a virtual reality environment enabled by an oculus rift device by Daniel Steegmann Mangranè, a participatory work involving both multi-sensory illusions and sensory deprivation by artist duo Lundahl & Seitl, to the colorful, immersive fur-filled installation by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir a.k.a Shoplifter. The theme here is “Tunnel Vision,” accompanied by a thought-provoking reader addressing the shifting social priorities between the Internet and the public sphere, as well as the concept of “Nordic seclusion.” It’s a fascinating show with far-reaching intellectual, theoretical, and curatorial ideas.

Landscape image from Lofoten. Courtesy of Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF). Photo: Kyell Ove Storvik.

For the ultimate experience of the remote northern lands, however, one should travel up to Norway’s Lofoten Islands — where the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF, August 28 – September 27) takes place. Located on the northwest coast, just above the Arctic Circle, the landscape is dramatic, rugged, and staggeringly beautiful. Lest the landscape upstage the art on display, LIAF 2015, entitled “Disappearing Acts,” relents to its environmental context by gathering a collection of ephemeral, performance-based works, sculptures submerged into the sea, and an exhibition of works staged in a soon-to-be-demolished building. It begs the question — would Scandinavia still be such an extraordinary and beautiful place, if we weren’t around to appreciate it?

Steinar Haga Kristensen, The Loneliness of the Index Finger (Part II): The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Conceptual State into Stabilized Theatrical Sensibility (Consensus Image), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF).

–Natalie Hegert

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This Is The Kind Of Bullsh*t You Face As A Woman In The Music Industry

With the help of women on Twitter, a music critic has shed light on an uglier aspect of the industry she works in.

Jessica Hopper, music and culture critic and senior editor at Pitchfork, sparked a conversation on Twitter when she asked women and “other marginalized folks” among her almost 28,000 followers when they first felt like they “didn’t ‘count'” in the music industry. 

What came after was a disturbing look at what women face in the industry as Twitter users shared their experiences of sexism and misogyny. Many who are musicians, journalists, photographers and crew members explained that they were often not taken seriously and frequently mistaken for groupies or girlfriends.

Others highlighted the crude comments and casual sexism they experienced on a daily basis.

The most unsettling examples of misogyny came from Twitter users who bravely spoke up about being sexually assaulted, and the troubling reactions they received afterwards. 

Though the majority of the responses highlighted sexism in the music and journalism industries, Hopper’s tweet also motivated others to share their experience with sexism in other fields and with racial stereotypes. Since receiving so much feedback, Hopper has shifted the conversation and asked women about their accomplishments in the music industry and other fields using the hashtag #WomenInMusic.

Considering the obstacles they overcame for these accomplishments, these women deserve a round of applause.

H/T Newsweek

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First Nighter: Sherie René Scott’s “Whorl Inside a Loop,” Ken Regan’s “Sense of an Ending,” Anna Ziegler’s “A Delicate Ship”

Not too long ago and for reasons not entirely altruistic, Broadway and off-Broadway veteran Sherie René Scott (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Everyday Rapture) taught a 12-week prison course named–not by her–“Theatricalizing the Personal Narrative.”

For someone who likes putting her life on stage (for instance, the above-mentioned Everyday Rapture, co-written with Dick Scanlan), the assignment gives the impression of being ideal for yet again theatricalizing her own personal narrative. While she doesn’t appear to have had that in mind when she began working with this inmate group, she nevertheless has done so touchingly and enlighteningly with Whorl Inside a Loop, again co-authoring with Scanlan, in a Second Stage production.

Directed by Michael Mayer and Scanlan in a manner alternating between gritty and grinning, Scott and Scanlan have adapted her story and included her interplay with prisoners — all of these found guilty of murder, one of them innocent of the crime. The playwrights also devote time to Scott’s dealings with members of the prison staff and exchanges with family, friends (notably a doubting husband called Noah) and a potential producer.

While there are times when it feels as if Scott and Scanlan may have tweaked what really happened — not necessarily to protect, say, the guilty — most of the 100 intermissionless minutes have the clarion ring of verisimilitude. In particular, a spectator might expect that among the convicted killers with whom Scott comes into contact over the 12 visits, at least one would pose some degree of menace. When that never happens, it initially seems as if Scott has to be glossing over the truth of her experience.

Okay, when one of the men — all of them African-American — reenacts his murder, there is a tense moment, but it’s quickly defused. Still, in the long run the lack of anything disturbing comes across as hewing closer to the truth than inserting volatility simply because it’s expected might be. Incidentally, as benign as the men are within the walls — which for this purpose have been stripped by designers Christine Jones and Brett Banakis to Second Stage architect Rem Koolhaas’s bared look — there is one, remaining identified, who, the men agree, must never be allowed out.

That over time Scott becomes friendlier and more at ease with the six men in the class as they deliver the narratives they’ve prepared appears to be quite natural. She’s both surprised and gratified that the men are so forthcoming and articulate when describing either incidents that put them where they are or when detailing other chapters in their lives.

There is one narrative that at its finish earned applause during the press preview I attended. Jeffrey (Chris Meyers), who didn’t commit the crime for which he took the fall, talks about himself with such pathos that only the hardest heart would stay unmoved. His — confession is the wrong word — his explanation is so irrefutably convincing that Scott asks the obvious question: If everyone knows he shouldn’t be behind bars, why is he? She gets her answer, and it’s not a consoling one.

The other prisoners, who boast names like Sunnyside, Flex, Bey, Source and Rick are played with great vigor by, respectively, Derrick Baskin, Daniel J. Watts, Donald Webber Jr., Ryan Quinn and Nicholas Christopher. They all double as prison staffers — one is the man assigned to check Scott for any metal she might be carrying. She is: the wire in her bra, and it causes him consternation.

In addition to Noah, among those impersonated are Scott’s producer Tammy and her gay hairdresser. One of his clients is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who one day has an appointment immediately following Scott’s — an appointment leading to developments potentially meaningful for the inmates. (There’s no speculation here whether the current Presidential candidate’s chances will rise or fall on her agreeing to attend a performance the inmates give in the prison gym, but she does want to drop by with the intent of considering prison reform.)

In case anyone deciding whether to see Whirl Inside a Loop (the title refers to fingerprints, of course) is wondering about Scott’s exploiting the prisoners’ histories, the issue is raised and has apparently been resolved satisfactorily. The program credits “additional material” to, alphabetically, Andre Kelley, Marvin Lewis, Felix Machado, Richard Norat and Jeffrey Rivera. Farther back in the program, the title of each man’s narrative is listed.

During Scott’s three-month course, one of the men has applied a fourth time for parole. As the Whorl Inside a Loop ending approaches, he receives his letter. What it discloses won’t be, er, disclosed here, but it’s a beauty of a blackout.

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It’s March 31, 1999 in Ken Urban’s Sense of an Ending, and Charles (Joshua David Robinson), a New York Times reporter in trouble for plagiarism, is hoping to clear his name by getting to the bottom of a breaking Rwandan story. Sister Justina (Heather Alicia Simms) and Sister Alice (Dana Marie Ingraham) have been charged with contributing to a Tutsi massacre in a local cathedral and are about to be transported to Berlin for trial.

Charles is being looked after by soldier Paul (Hubert Pont-Du Jour), whose motives regarding the nuns’ innocence or guilt is unclear. Nevertheless, Charles persists at getting Sister Justina and Sister Alice to tell their histories and by the interviews, even when the nuns are cagey around each other, reiterate their innocence. That’s the report Charles knows his NYT editor, Kendra, wants and expects. He’s also hoping to interview Dusabi (Danyon Davis), a Tutsi who, with his now deceased wife Elizabeth, survived the slaying and is the only witness to the murder and burning of the several hundred men, women and children who’d sought shelter in the church.

Sense of an Ending, compactly directed by Adam Fitzgerald and compellingly acted, at 59E59, is a look back at fading headlines concerning the Hutus revenge on the Tutsis once the long repressed Hutus were in the position to dominate their former suppressers. It’s a potent view of man’s and woman’s inhumanity to man and woman.

In the small space where Sense of an Ending is unfolding the dominant piece set designer David L. Arsenault provides is the cathedral’s large double door, each door featuring a relatively small cut-out of a cross. Behind the doors is supposedly what remains of the carnage. The door opens only at the denouement. What’s revealed is stunning, but, needless to say, will not be described here.
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Sarah (Miriam Silverman) and Sam (Matt Dellapina) — newly in love and smooching when not mooting the benefits of suffering as a prescription for self-understanding — are interrupted by an insistent knock on the door to the comfortable Manhattan living room Reid Thompson has designed for her to call home.

Not expecting more company, Sarah reluctantly goes to see who’s there. In bursts Nate (Nick Westrate), Sarah’s best friend from when they grew up in the same building. His arrival is a Big Uh-oh, and occurs only after the three characters have had a few fourth-wall-breaking words with the audience. Their addressing the patrons continues throughout A Delicate Ship, Anna Ziegler’s long-at-80-minutes play, directed by Margot Bordelon for The Playwrights Realm, at Playwright’s Horizons.

The difficulty with the piece is that — as played and directed but maybe not as written — Nate’s high-energy, even menacing, presence signals just about everything that will dismayingly affect the incipient Sarah-Sam romance. No surprise mitigates the predictable plotting as Nate begins assailing Sam and increasingly declares himself the man who’s loved Sarah from second grade, just as, he maintains, she loves him.

Anyone aware of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or maybe even 1965’s on-screen Darling knows that introducing a party game is trouble, and that’s just what Nate does here. It also doesn’t help that Ziegler has indulged herself in much questionable poetic writing. “Our lives are love songs to our parents,” Sarah proclaims at one point, and if the line strikes you as delectable, then maybe A Delicate Ship is for you.

Actors Silverman and Dellapina, who plays guitar and sings nicely along the way, perform well together, and Westrate has some effective stretches. If on arrival he were to play Nate as less immediately psychotic, Ziegler’s script might have a more insinuating dramatic arc.

So there you have it: another play where an intruder hangs around longer than anyone would be allowed to linger in real life.

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