Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pithy Philosophy #34

Seth Saith:

Spending your money on wonderful experiences and lasting memories can only make you richer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Ours Go to 11: Volume 25, My Favorite Alfred Hitchcock Movies (on his birthday)

I haven't seen every movie the great director made, but most of the major ones.

Some of these were last seen far more recently (or more often) than others, but here's what I remember most fondly:

1. Rear Window
2. Psycho
3. Rebecca
4. Vertigo
5. Strangers on a Train
6. Notorious
7. North by Northwest
8. To Catch a Thief
9. Rope
10. Dial M for Murder
11. The Birds

And a few more

Shadow of a Doubt
The 39 Steps
Foreign Correspondent


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ours Go to 11: Volume 24, Unforgettable Travel Sights Seen

1. Eiffel Tower, Paris

2. Petra, Jordan

3. Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx, Cairo

4. Leaning Tower of Pisa

5. Sydney Opera House
6. Colosseum, Rome

7. Piazza San Marco, Venice

8. Big Ben, London
9. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

10. Dome on the Rock, Jerusalem

11. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg
A few more:

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA

Teotihuacan, near Mexico City

The Alamo, San Antonio

All photos by Seth Arkin. Please do not repost without permission and attribution.

Additional photos can be seen in an online version of Touristry, a travel portfolio I published in 2014.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Presenting Bill Graham: Impressive Exhibit Chronicles Rock Impresario, Holocaust Survivor -- Museum Exhibition Review

Exhibit Review

Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Skokie, IL
Thru November 12

Though not for lack of trying, I am not the marketing director for the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, nor ever employed there in any capacity. (I once interviewed for the role and was told I would continue to, but it didn't happen.)

So questions about the propriety of showcasing rock 'n roll memorabilia within a museum devoted to chronicling the genocide of 6 million Jews and millions of other victims in hopes of preventing such horrors from happening again aren't really mine to answer.

I live 5 minutes from the Skokie museum and have viewed its permanent collection multiple times, and in availing myself of Bank of America's generous Museums on Us program to cover the $12 general admission fee I was able to dedicate a visit strictly to Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, a special exhibit costing $5.

As I will detail, the exhibition was superb, as it reflects on the late rock promoter fleeing Nazi Germany--unlike less fortunate members of his Jewish family--while also exhibiting an impressive array of artifacts tied to his career and the rock legends he booked into his San Francisco and New York City venues.

I'm not sure that I could have mentally digested the exhibition--in which the premature deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman, Jerry Garcia and Graham himself unavoidably factor in--right after experiencing the harrowing permanent exhibit.

And as a thorough viewing of the Graham exhibit can take up to 2 hours, seeing it first may well create museum fatigue not allowing for proper intake of the main collection.

So although it's not really my concern, I'd advise those drawn to Skokie by the rock show yet required to pay $17 for a one-day-only visit arrive as the museum opens around 10:00am, view Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, head to the nearby Old Orchard Mall (or Portillo's, Culver's, etc.) for some lunch, and then return to give the Holocaust exposition proper attention. (I've been told it's permissible to leave & come back within the same day.)

With an extravagant butterfly costume Bill Graham wore to one of the Grateful Dead New Year's Eve shows he promoted displayed just outside the actual exhibit, the well-curated show--organized and circulated by the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, in association with the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation--occupies the entirety the museum's downstairs exhibition hall.

The first several panels--though I would have welcomed even a few more--chronicle Graham's early life, beset by considerable trauma and tragedy.

He was born Wolfgang Grajonca in Berlin in January 1931, and his father died that same year. After members of the Hitler Youth Movement came looking to recruit him, his mom first put Bill--not yet his name--in a home for Jewish children, which the Nazis shut down. She then put him on a transport to France, and with other refugee children--including this man I wrote about in 2015--he eventually sailed to America on the Serpo Pinto.

Graham's mom Frieda died on a train headed to Auschwitz, and one of his sisters perished there at just 13. Four other sisters survived the Holocaust, either within concentration camps or by escaping the Nazis.

The early part of the exhibit features a trio of compelling video accounts by Graham's childhood friend, Ralph Moratz, with whom he escaped and later met up with in New York.

There are few video clips of Graham himself, who died in a helicopter crash in 1991 at the age of 60, but several of the placards accompanying photos and memorabilia feature quotes from him.

I was struck by this one, pertaining to his early experiences in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany:

After noting that the name "Bill Graham" was picked out of a Bronx phone book, the focus of the exhibit rather abruptly--and quite predominantly--shifts to his career as a rock concert promoter, initially in San Francisco in the mid-1960s.

After having gotten into the entertainment world as the manager of a mime troupe, for whom he organized a benefit upon a member's arrest, Graham first promoted concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, a Frisco venue that already existed by that name--and still does.

Displayed in the exhibition is a basket of apples that greeted patrons at the auditorium's entrance. (One presumes the apples aren't originals;)

By 1968, Graham was more heavily utilizing a different space in the city, which he dubbed the Fillmore West. He also famously ran the Fillmore East in New York, and the larger Winterland in Frisco, all of which have long since closed.

But they hosted some phenomenally gifted and influential artists, and along with several beautiful psychedelic posters promoting Fillmore shows, the exhibition showcases some prime artifacts, including:

- A guitar belonging to Carlos Santana, whom Graham had seen at a jam session and encouraged to form a band
- A cowbell Graham played with Santana at Woodstock
- A microphone and tambourine Janis Joplin played at the Fillmore West
- A guitar belonging to The Who's Pete Townshend
- An amplifier belonging to the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia
- A Les Paul guitar Duane Allman played at the Fillmore East in 1971, as recorded for the famed Allman Brothers' live album.
- An outfit worn onstage by Jimi Hendrix
- An outfit worn by Peter Frampton at Winterland, which is depicted on the Frampton Comes Alive album cover
- A wizard costume worn by Graham at another New Year's Eve party/concert by the Grateful Dead
- Boots worn by Keith Richards

See below for photos of most of these objects. (The exhibition allows and encourages photography.)

Although the exhibit only briefly mentions Graham's notoriously fiery temper, it conveys how his personal tempestuousness belied not only the horrors he had lived through, but a rather charitable man who organized many benefit concerts.

Bill Graham coordinated the slate of Live Aid acts who performed in Philadelphia--on hand is a guitar plate signed by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and a microphone autographed by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don't recall the latter performing at Live Aid--and put together shows for numerous causes, including raising money for San Francisco after-school programs. 

Notably, as a Holocaust survivor, Graham took out an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1985 to address an open letter to President Ronald Reagan, asking him not to visit the Bitburg concentration camp. 

To no avail.

Shortly thereafter, the San Francisco offices of what had become "Bill Graham Presents" were firebombed.

Charred remnants of the Chronicle ad and office equipment are also on display.

Sadly, after attending a concert by Huey Lewis & the News on October 25, 1991, Bill Graham, his girlfriend and the pilot were killed when their helicopter crashed into a high voltage tower.

As the exhibition had begun with a collection of photos showing Graham with family & friends prior to the Holocaust, it ends with a nice wall of pictures depicting him interacting with his kids and other loved ones.

And while the musical instruments played by rock immortals made for the biggest "oohs" and "ahs" and likely the best photos, the exhibit's merits are amplified for the way it depicts how a Holocaust survivor not only came to thrive, but to quite frequently give back.

As noted above, you'll do well to figure out how Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution best meshes with a more holistic visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum, but on a variety of levels it is very much worth your time and attention.


Saturday, August 05, 2017

Mediums, Well: Art Institute's Gauguin Exhibit Aptly Illustrates the Diverse Explorations of an Ever-Restless Artist -- Art Review

Art Exhibition Review

Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist
Art Institute of Chicago
Thru September 10

How does one fairly assess an art exhibit?

Without pretending I have the wherewithal to offer a scholarly critique, my reviews of museum exhibitions--as with almost any other type of show, including live performances--aim to address whether attending is worth one's time, money and effort...and to what degree.

Regarding the Art Institute of Chicago's latest survey of a famous artist, the answer for me personally is a definitive, "Yes, very much so."

In fact, after feeling a bit rushed the first time I saw the exhibit, I decided to Gauguin.

That translates to "Go again" for those who lack punderstanding or aren't aware that the 19th century French painter--but not only, as the exhibit well-showcases--Paul Gauguin's surname is pronounced roughly "Go-gan."

But such an answer may be much easier and more decisive on an individual level than a universal one.

Paul Gauguin, Interior of the Painter's House, rue Carcel, 1881
I live an hourlong transit commute from the Art Institute, am happy to get there a good handful of times each year, will almost always see--and typically enjoy--their large-scale exhibitions about artists I know in idioms I like, am pretty familiar with the museum's outstanding permanent collection and freely attend each visit as part of a yearly membership. (Standard admission is up to $25, with an additional $7 for the Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist exhibit for non-members.)

Having visited over 150 major art museums worldwide, often as a focal point of my travels and occasionally up to four in a day, I'm well aware that the merits of seeing a special exhibit can vary by contexts.

In terms of the Gauguin exhibit--which features a relatively limited number of "Oh, wow!" paintings as it depicts the artist's fertile creative reach across sculpture, ceramics, wood carving, printmaking, etc.--this would be my advice for various potential audiences:

Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, Earthly Paradise, 1888
- If you are an Art Institute member,  Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist is by all means well-worth getting to.

- If you knowingly like Gauguin's painting style and/or appreciate artistic processes in an academic sense, the exhibit justifies the extra $7, a special trip to the museum or up to 2 hours of a longer Art Institute visit. (For ways to avoid General Admission, see the Free Admission Opportunities section on this page, as well as Bank of America's Museums on Us promotion.)

- If you visit the Art Institute as a tourist--particularly one with limited time to allot--unless the above applies to you I think you'd be better off focusing on the permanent collection, which still includes some Gauguin paintings as good as many in the exhibit.

- Unless you're a Gauguinologist, the exhibit in itself likely doesn't merit plane travel.

The exhibit is excellent in terms of being a well-curated, thoroughly-researched, scholarly exploration of a well-known post-Impressionist most famed for painting subjects in Tahiti, but who worked impressively many in mediums and venues. (It was interesting to note that when Gauguin went to Tahiti in the later years of his career, he was vexed to find it so colonialized and frequently painted people to look far more "native" than he actually encountered them.)

Even in a relatively casual walk through the numerous galleries, one should appreciate how Gauguin incorporated recurring subjects and themes across different idioms, locales and/or eras, such as seated women (as shown nearby), a motif he initially portrayed during his time in the Brittany region of France..

Simply at face value, much of Gauguin's non-painting work is quite beautiful, such as the Earthly Paradise cabinet shown above, which he carved and painted in conjunction with his contemporary Emile Bernard.

I'll include more pictures of various types of pieces below to provide a better sense of what you'll see in Artist as Alchemist, which per its introduction, "delves deeply into the artist's radical experiments in the applied arts."

I relished the illumination provided--twice--but in keeping with my general affinities, most embraced and best recall the large, colorful paintings, of which there are about 15. (Simply in this regard, there are nice insights about how Gauguin deviated from many of the Impressionists, even those who influenced him.)

If your abiding interest in art, as essentially is mine, is simply to see "pretty pictures," you'll certainly get that in this exhibit, but not really predominantly. Nor to the extent of mind-blowing wonder the Art Institute's astonishing Impressionism collection provides, along with fantastic holdings in many realms.

I don't think anyone who opts to view Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist--especially if understanding the multidisciplinary focus--should come away disappointed, but whether it's "worth seeing" can largely depend on one's own tastes, time, priorities and budget.