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Monday, October 8, 2018

Pollock's 'Mural' ending its Washington debut

At the National Gallery of Art is Jackson Pollock's Mural which has three dates: 1943, 1944, and 1947. (The National Gallery says 1943.) Mural was donated to to the University of Peggy Guggenheim which loaned it to the National Gallery of Art.  Pollock was born in Iowa, his parents' home /Photo by Patricia Leslie

One of the greatest paintings of the 20th century having its debut in Washington will come down this month after almost a year in residency at the National Gallery of Art.

The work is Mural and the artist is Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) who was commissioned by his benefactress, Peggy Guggenheim, to make it for her New York City townhouse.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Mural, the University of Iowa/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Since Ms. Guggenhein provided no direction for the work other than the size, Pollock had free subject rein but suffered "artist's block." His wife said he had to rush to finish it in a single day although the National Gallery says recent analysis supports the artist's statement, that he worked on it the summer of 1943.

Before Pollock met Guggenheim in the mid-1940s, he worked in maintenance for a New York museum which became the forerunner for one established by her uncle, Solomon Guggenheim. Pollock, desperate for cash, had followed his brother, Charles, also an artist, from California to New York where they both attended art school and studied under Thomas Hart Benton. Ms. Guggenheim invited Pollock to show his work in her New York gallery, a contract critical to his initial success.
Jackson Pollock (1912- 1956), a close-up of Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950, National Gallery of Art also on view/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Pollock lived an alcoholic and died an alcoholic at age 44 in a single-car crash in East Hampton, killing one of his passengers, but the other, his mistress, survived. He was married at the time to the artist, Lee Krasner (1908-1984), also an abstract expressionist and one of only four women who has enjoyed retrospective shows at the Museum of Modern Art.  

Krasner was critical to her husband's success and rescued him and his art more than once. One art dealer noted:  "There would never have been a Jackson Pollock without Lee Pollock."  (Note to National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Gallery of Art:  Please consider a showing of Krasner's works. I counted 21 in NGA's collection; none on view. Thank you.) 

Mural is Pollock's largest canvas, almost 20 feet long and clearly one of his best. After seeing it, critic Clement Greenburg wrote, "I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced." 

It is one of Pollock's "drip paintings" (leading to his nickname by Time, "Jack the Dripper") which he made before his peak  years, 1947-1950. Not long afterwards, he abandoned "drips" and entered his "black" period, unpopular with collectors until Krasner helped steer him back to colors and figures.

In 2016 Mural's value was placed around $140 million. I think Worth a look!

What: Jackson Pollock's Mural and more.

When: The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday. The exhibition closes Sunday, October 28, 2018.

Where: East Building, Upper Level, Bridge, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission charge: It's always free at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:
Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

An apple orchard grows in Yekaterinburg

An apple orchard hundreds of years old grows in the heart of Yekaterinburg with a kind resemblance to Monet's garden/Photo by Patricia Leslie

In the heart of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, grows an apple orchard hundreds of years old.

This unique place (unknown in any large American city) has different names: "Museum of the Middle Urals Fruit Gardening,"   "Fruit Gardens Museum of Central Ural Mountains," or what the label on the side of the house in the orchard, says:  "The Museum of the History of Fruit Horticulture in the Middle Urals."

You get the picture: It's got fruit...and beauty, besides!
An apple orchard in the heart of Yekaterinburg. My guide and the curator/Photo by Patricia Leslie

This is the identification on the outside of the Kazantsev Manor house which I believe says the owner, Mr. Kazantsev (1875-1942) lived here from 1913-1942/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Whatever the name, it's an oasis in the middle of a bustling, industrial city (not far from the new Boris Yeltsin Center), and there are plans to uproot the very old trees, plants and farmhouse.

It seems that the owner, the government, plans to sell the property for more lucrative use (shades of the western world!).  It's a controversial topic which the curator (pictured) has been fighting probably the whole nine years he's been curator. He was a energetic fellow who talked non-stop to my guide (and I may have been lucky that I do not understand Russian).
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Inside the Kazantsev Manor house. Note the record player!  I bought a marvelous CD here which I'll photograph the cover and upload.  True Russian music!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Some of the delicacies offered tourists at the History of Fruit Horticulture, Yekaterinburg/Photo by Patricia Leslie

Being a preservationist, I do hope the government leaves the property alone for entering the grounds takes you on a trip to another world, an earlier century where the greens and soothing environment can calm down almost anyone.  It reminded me of Monet's garden which I've never visited, but I've seen his work, and perhaps Monet came to Yekaterinburg to paint.  

I had wondered (and so did my guide) why my tour company would take me to an apple orchard, but when my expectations are low, I have learned, they are always exceeded, and they were!  

This is another world not to miss in modern-day Russia.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

'On the Waterfront' soars with live orchestra

They don't make 'em like they used to. One of the On the Waterfront posters/Wikipedia

It was a gift for the senses to see and hear the fabulous score by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) played by the National Philharmonic Orchestra for the screening of the eighth best American movie ever made.*

The audience at the Music Center at Strathmore swooned to the maestro's only movie score and the 1954 crime drama On the Waterfront, starring the young and fit Marlon Brando (1924-2004) who went on to win the Oscar® for Best Actor for his portrayal of "Terry," a longshoreman beset by the extremes of good and evil.

It was the Philharmonic's film show debut which will certainly not be its last.

The National Philharmonic under the direction of Piotr Gajewski/Photo by Joshua Cogan

Who am I to disagree that a single French horn begins the score when I heard drums and cymbals? I just write what I heard which, in this case, was loud percussion to open the movie.

At the beginning, the drums probably were a little too domineering for the script, but their magnitude soon settled in to the sounds of the docks to match the shipyard visuals in black and white, and scenes in the warehouse inhabited by conniving union bosses who commandeered crews to handle their heavy lifting.

Soon enough the searing initial musical notes were disrupted by the script and tone which summoned light strings and a welcome shift from hostility and tension to romance.
Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront/Wikipedia

Playing opposite Brando was a new ingénue, Eva Marie Saint starring in a breakout role. (And, at age 94, she is still wooing them.) 

On the Waterfront tells the true story of longshoremen, a working class which in those times got short shift when it came to movie subjects, said a film lecturer in a SRO pre-concert program.

Linda DeLibero, senior lecturer in the Film and Media Studies program at Johns Hopkins University, and David Sterritt, Editor-in-Chief of Quarterly Review of Film and Video, talked to an overflow crowd about the making of the film which "stands on its own," Ms. DeLibero said, calling On the Waterfront, "the pinnacle" of Brando's career. 

(He was nominated seven times for Best Actor and won twice, also for The Godfather in 1972.)
Another On the Waterfront poster/Wikipedia

It "really transcends that time.  I really think it's that important," and it carried some improvised scenes.  Ms. DeLibero drew the attention of the audience to the "glove scene" which she indicated was improvised.  It's a sexy interaction where Brando, early in the romantic relationship, tries on the dropped glove of Eva Marie Saint, and while engaged in conversation, neither mentions the act.

The movie must transcend the time because Mr. Sterritt used the phrase, too, in his remarks:  "The movie transcends the moment." 

Waterfront was made after the "trauma of [World]war [II]," DeLibero said which was still " fresh in people's minds."

It received 12 Academy Award nominations and won eight excluding Best Supporting Actor (three in the film were nominated: Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger) and Best Music, but it's Bernstein's score which endures, wrote  film music historian, Jon Burlingame, in the program notes.

The performance was another of the many celebrations of Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday celebration.

The story was based on real events in New Jersey which won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in 1949 for the  New York Sun. The director's second choice for writer, Budd Schulberg wrote an original script (and won the Oscar®).  He spent countless hours interviewing the reporter for the Sun and at sessions of the Waterfront Crime Commission, portrayed in the film.  

Originally, Elia Kazan who directed (and won the Oscar® for Waterfront) pursued Arthur Miller as writer, but Miller turned down the proposal, disillusioned by Kazan's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where Kazan identified eight "suspicious" persons.  

Upon learning he did not get the role, DeLibero said Frank Sinatra, a New Jersey native, tore up his hotel suite. Kazan wanted Brando.

While the film was being made, Brando was near a nervous breakdown and had to take off every day at 3 p.m. to see his psychiatrist.

On the Waterfront on the big screen with live music was a lasting experience.   

Conducting was Piotr Gajewski who studied with Bernstein and had a Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship at Tanglewood Music Center.  

Throughout the film, the music effectively signaled increasing tension.  Playing significant roles were the strings, triangle, xylophone, percussion, cymbals, and hornsThe piano sometimes echoed in a plaintive soliloquy. Dainty notes by the harpist could frequently be singled out before the movie's content enveloped the audience.

Familiar chords from Bernstein's West Side Story which came three years later on Broadway were easily recognized.

In recognition of his service to classical music and to Strathmore, Eliot Star Pfanstiehl, CEO Emeritus and founder of Strathmore Hall Foundation Inc., and chef temporaire par excellence was given the opportunity to direct the orchestra when it played the Star-Spangled Banner to start the show on stage.

The orchestra played under the screen with blue lights at the stands to illuminate the score. To ensure that everyone heard the dialogue, subtitles were used. 

Had it been made in color, that would have weakened the message which black and white underscored.

*according to the American Film Institute. 

Coming up, the National Philharmonic performs:

What: "Lenny's Playlist"with Mozart's Overture to the Magic Flute, Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14, and Shostaskovich's Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 

When:  8 p.m., Saturday, October 13, 2018 and 3 p.m., Sunday, October 14, 2018

Where:  The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, N. Bethesda, MD  20852

Tickets: Buy online or call 301.841.8595

Free parking at the Metro Grosvernor-Strathmore station next door