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Grounds for Sculpture

August 20th, 2012

On one of the rare nowadays intraday weekend excursions, we went for the first time to New Jersey’s Grounds for Sculpture, in Hamilton Township, about 45 minutes drive away from our house. It is a sizable park that contains open-air exhibition of several hundred post-modern works of art (plus a couple of indoor galleries, a restaurant, and facilities for formal events). A pleasant way to spend a few hours outdoors in good weather.

Here are a few examples of the artwork.
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 
 

Grounds for Sculpture, New Jersey

 

Art & Culture, Photography

Perrault who?

December 27th, 2011

After a family viewing of one of Becky’s favorite childhood flicks, worldly person that she is, she made a whimsical reference to her high-school friends about being fond of a Russian dub of a Japanese take on a French fairly tale. When the name of the story came up, Puss in Boots, most of her friends reacted with, “You mean, the one from Shrek?” Nobody had ever heard of Charles Perrault.

After so many years of living in America, I still cringe when a fellow émigré would ridicule an average American’s view of world culture as being encompassed entirely by the American pop culture. Yet time and again I come across relatively unremarkable nuggets of proof that such ridicule is largely deserved. Being familiar with an iconic literary character solely on the basis of its latter-day appearance in a Hollywood movie speaks volumes about these kids’ – and, unfortunately, their parents’ – awareness of the world, culture and history beyond the American borders. Upsetting.

Art & Culture

A visit to the MMA

April 19th, 2010

I wonder how many Parisians visit Louvre more than once in their adult lives, if ever. Or Londoners National Gallery. Or Madrileños Prado. Outside of a small group of art students and fanatical art lovers, I doubt that the majority of local population ever finds time in their busy daily routines to come in and admire the magnificent collections in their top museums.

I’ve lived in or around New York City for nearly two decades (with the obvious notable interruption of three recent years). During the first months of immigration, I visited Metropolitan Museum of Art at least half a dozen times. And yet, the last time I’ve set foot there was probably sometime in 1992.

On Sunday, having left the children in the care of willing grandparents, Natasha and I went for a day in the City. The main aim of the outing was to get together with our cousins who reside in Manhattan and whom we see much too infrequently. But when we were contemplating our specific plans for the day, Natasha had a brilliant idea: Why not spend a couple of hours at the Metropolitan before proceeding to our usual combo of food, drinks and catching up.

I don’t offer any resistance when a trip to an art museum becomes a possibility. And I’ve long felt a tinge of embarrassment that I had visited many of the Old World’s foremost art collections in the last 7-8 years, but neglected the one in my own backyard for so long. It was high time to rectify that.

We started with the respectable Impressionist collection, headlined by several wonderful Monets and Renoirs, but also including works by Van Gogh, Signac, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, Seurat, Cézanne. We then proceeded to earlier centuries, to Caravaggio and Rembrandt, Titian and Goya, Rubens and Ruisdael, van Dyck and Lorraine, Vermeer and Tintoretto, and scores of others. There is only one Canaletto in the collection, but several Guardis, which do just as nicely.

We also visited the Musical Instruments rooms and walked through the Greek Sculpture section and the Middle East art section.

I do not feel knowledgeable enough to lend an opinion on whether the Metropolitan can fully compete with Louvre or Hermitage on the strength of its art collection, but there is little doubt that said collection belongs to the top tier in the Western World. We probably covered less than 5% of what is on display at the museum. We were very much impressed by what we saw, having forgotten how good the Met’s collection was after all those years.

The Metropolitan is one of two museums in New York City that work on “suggested” admission-fee basis, i.e. you can enter it virtually for free even though there is a posted “recommended” adult admission price of $20. And here is what I find weird. In London, many major museums have free admissions and they are truly “free” – you walk in and simply proceed to the exhibits that interest you (except for “special” exhibitions, which carry a separate admission price). Each exit at such museums is adorned with a large donations box, and after a pleasant visit, you can’t help it but feel compelled to put some money in.

The Metropolitan works differently. You have to get a ticket. You come to the ticket desk, tell the person who sits behind it how many of you are there, and hear her respond with the total, “Eighty dollars”. You feel that you are entitled to pay less, and yet are confronted with the embarrassment of having to actually transact with someone who will know that you paid less. I am no psychologist, but I am pretty sure that most people would view themselves as not donating under these circumstances but rather as falling prey to extortion. I suspect that a fair share of people feel sufficiently embarrassed and pressured in this situation to fork over the full suggested amount (to say nothing of people who possess neither enough English skills nor the advance knowledge of the museum to realize what “recommended” admission price means), even though they are completely within their rights to pay next to nothing for entry. Quite possibly, this helps to at least partially cover for all of those visitors who pay no heed to the unspoken shaming and give the person at the ticket desk just a dollar or two. She will still welcome them to the museum and give them the bright lapel pins that perform the function of tickets…

Anyway. After having fed our inner art lovers for a couple of hours, we moved to another part of Manhattan, for a nice repast at an Italian bistro in SoHo. A couple of years ago in London, such trips combining a museum visit and a great meal out were a staple of our weekend routine. It was nice to recapture the feeling a little bit in New York City.

I wonder if I will have the same positive impression of the Hermitage when I finally decide to visit St Petersburg. The last time I visited was in 1990…

Art & Culture, New York City & Environs

City outing without the kids

March 8th, 2008
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Bathing of the Red Horse by Kuzma Petrov-VodkinToday, we went to an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts called “From Russia”. It presented over a hundred paintings from the collections of four leading Russian art galleries, of French and Russian painters, such as Monet, Renoir, Repin, Petrov-Vodkin, Chagall, Malevich, etc. Too much space for cubists, abstractionists and the like, for my taste, but a good exposition nonetheless, although probably not as fascinating as the erstwhile Russian Masters collection at the Guggenheim in New York.

We went with our friends. The kids expressed their reluctance to go look at paintings, and we decided not to insist. It illustrates how we reached a whole new stage in our cultural life, where we no longer feel that we should be forcing the girls to participate in our activities. Thankfully, we no longer fret much about leaving our children home by themselves for a few hours. They had their own cultural program: TV and computers…

On the positive side, we were free to enjoy the adults-only company, and topped off the gallery visit with a lengthy repast at a nearby pub. As always, nice conversation on a vast variety of topics left all parties pleased with the event.

We also popped in for a quick look into the nearby Fortnum & Mason, which is about plenty more than just tea: A multi-level department store that sells pretty much everything. And pretty much on the high end…

Art & Culture, Chronicles, London & Environs

Christmas Carols at Royal Albert Hall

December 23rd, 2007
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Today we entertained ourselves with a visit to the Royal Albert Hall for the Carols by Candlelight concert.

I am a Jew by birth and an atheist by conviction, but as an admirer of classical music I am not afraid to admit that there are many masterpieces produced by the western civilization that I can listen to, even when they have clear Christian religious underpinnings. And when said masterpieces are performed with gusto and at a venue as grand as the Royal Albert Hall, it matters none what they themed after; I enjoy and applaud.

My kids enjoy singing more than they enjoy listening. And through their chamber choir participation – and various concerts and plays that British schools engage in at this time of year – they actually know many hymns and carols. (Kimmy recently asked with a touch of incomprehension, What is so important about this baby Jesus that people sing so many songs about him? I certainly lent her some perspective.)

The concert, it turned out, was somewhat participatory. About a dozen numbers were well-known carols (e.g., Good King Wenceslas or Once in Royal David’s City, which you can occasionally hear even on non-religious radiostations in the States) for which the audience was invited to sing along. In the section that we were sitting, the three of us must have been the only people who did not have the lyrics sheets; and I must have been the only person not joining in, as my girls knew enough words to sing along anyway (and someone have given Kimmy an extra sheet at some point). I must say that an opportunity to sing along has been a very positive aspect in Kimmy’s enjoyment of the proceedings. Becky is old enough to be able to appreciate fine art on its own merits, but she did not mind singing as well.

In any case, a performance at the Royal Albert is always a treat.

I know some of my Jewish friends could be appalled by such “forays” into Christianity. Believe me, as soon as I got back home, I fired up Adam Sandler’s Chanukah Song as an antidote. Thanks for the link, Dad!

Chanukah ended a couple of weeks ago, but you can still enjoy.

Art & Culture, Chronicles

Classical music and football support

August 30th, 2007
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There is nothing quite like a classical music concert to take your mind off mundane happenstance, even if the first piece of the program is somewhat disturbing Also sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss (which has been immortalized by Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, but is more likely to be associated with Что? Где? Когда? for most of my readers). It was followed by very enjoyable Sibelius’s Second Symphony, and then, for encore, two short energetic pieces that I have no recognition of.

There is certainly nothing like the Royal Albert Hall, an immense spherical auditorium with unmistakably royal accoutrements and incomparably great acoustics. Our tickets were in a loggia box, right above stalls, to the centre-right of the stage. Great view (although I did have a small issue of trying to fit my legs into the couple of inches of space between my chair and the front partition). There were three more tiers of boxes above us, plus standing room on the very highest level. All fully occupied.

Furthermore, as the stalls seats are positioned in a circle, a lá circus, there is a large open space in the middle of the floor. That space was packed with standing-room-only patrons, whose only chance to sit down – on the floor – was during the intermission and only while half of them cleared some space up by leaving the auditorium for drinks and such. Those are the cheapest tickets in the house – at £5 a pop – and can only be obtained by queuing at the ticket office prior to the performance. I can’t say that I’d go for that, but it’s a pretty cool concept. Say, you are in the area, doing museums and some touristy stuff; then, at a minimal cost, you can finish your day listening to a great music at a great venue, all without prior reservation albeit with a little perseverance.

Otherwise, you certainly need to buy tickets in advance, especially if you want to get to a specific performance. These Proms run throughout August into early September every year, with a different concert by a different orchestra every day, and while you can buy tickets to some performances just a couple of weeks in advance, not all of them have the same availability.

I think we’ll certainly plan for a family visit next year.

There is not much else of note to write about, so I’ll take a moment to put some scare into Liverpool football club supporters.

I watched their side’s impressive performance in Champions League qualifying match against Toulouse the other day, and it had a similar effect on me to that of the Arsenal’s game at the beginning of the year, that made me proclaim my allegiance to the Gunners. Even the score was the same, 4-zip to the better team. This Liverpool squad was aggressive, imaginative, skilful and cohesive. The opponents looked amateurish at times, but it only slightly negates the positive impression left by the winners.

So, I am thinking: Maybe it’s time for me to try supporting Liverpool. It’s not like I have developed a strong attachment to Arsenal, yet…

Recalling that Tottenham, which I sort of supported at the end of last year, did not start playing well until I revoked my “support”, and that about immediately after I had declared for Arsenal its season took a serious turn for the worse, I can probably blackmail Liverpool supporters into paying me off to stay away. Or, conversely, pander to Liverpool-haters so that they pay me to work my jinx on the Merseyside club…

I have entirely too much spare time on my hands at the moment, as you could guess. Monday cannot come too soon…

Art & Culture, London & Environs, Sports

Spring, impressionists and the map of Europe

April 22nd, 2007

In our many years in New Jersey, we cannot recall ever having a breakfast outside. Barbecues, parties – yes, but never a breakfast. There were several excuses for that, such as absence of a deck and complicated logistics of carrying stuff down wooden steps to the patio, but the fact remains. During our Tuscan sojourn, of course, we had breakfast in the gazebo every morning…

So now, with the spring weather in full swing, we are taking advantage of our great deck and garden. Today was the very first time that we served ourselves breakfast outside, but that will surely become common practice during the summer. Sitting in the warm morning sun prompted Natasha to remark that she would not mind spending the whole day that way. Alas, it is getting rather hot by mid-day (unless you move into the shade); the grass already started developing brown patches.

A number of people have remarked to us that this type of weather is normally reserved for May, not April. There has not been a drop of rain for probably three weeks now. As I find myself occasionally saying these days, Al Gore must be on to something.

My pragmatic wife is using the global warming to the benefit of the household. I made cursory remarks in the past that appliances in our rented house leave a lot to be desired, primarily along the lines of being small and ineffective. The drier is possibly the worst of all: You put a pair of socks in it, and in 75 minutes they come out only slightly less wet than they were right after washing. So Natasha stopped using the drier altogether, relying instead on hanging the clothes all over the house. Now, we stringed a couple of ropes across the deck, and the linen and clothes are happily flapping in the sun…

In case I never stated it that way before, London is a great place for museum- and gallery-aficionados, with many an interesting exhibition taking place at any given time. On Saturday, we took advantage of the couple of them, and came away very impressed.

The Royal Academy of Arts hosted and exhibition of pastels and drawings called Unknown Monet. There were a few less-known paintings sprinkled in (including a couple of versions of Water lilies and the magnetizing Rue de la Bavole, Honfleur), but most of the exhibits aimed at tracing Monet’s evolution as a painter as well as illustrating his methodical approach and preparation. Infinitely fascinating.

The National Gallery, in the meantime, currently holds two exhibitions centered on impressionists. The first one, From Manet to Picasso, brings together selected works of every celebrated master, such as Signac’s Cap Canaille, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

The other exposition is devoted to Renoir’s landscapes, with 64 beautiful works by the painter. The entry to this last one was not cheap at £12 a pop, but worth every penny. I am a self-professed landscape admirer in general, but the use of color and light by Renoir in paintings such as The Skiff, Oarsmen at Chatou or The View of Argenteuil is absolutely breathtaking. Renoir was always at the top of my list of favorite painters and his position in my personal pantheon is now unassailable.

We bought a big political map of Europe and used pins to mark the places that we have already travelled to. There are still more pins in the former Soviet Union territories than otherwise, especially since the map is detailed enough to list towns such as Azov or Pushkin, and we feel compelled to stick a pin into any location that we remember setting a foot in, eve if we do not remember anything about the place (for instance, when I was 9 or 10, my dad and I took a car trip from Rostov to Moldova across Ukraine with his friend; we stayed overnight in Kherson, of which I have no recollection whatsoever beyond the fact itself; I am still pinning Kherson a “place visited”).

We came up with a few rules along the way (such as, an unmarked city that we purposefully visited – say, Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, – merits a separate pin in the appropriate location, whereas a driving trip that includes many small towns and villages merits a single pin either for the major marked town or just in the area). We ended up with 101 pins at the moment (53 in former USSR, 48 in Western Europe). Our progress will be duly reported in this space.

The look at our map is quite intriguing. It not only emphasizes the areas that we have not approached yet (Baltics and Nordics, Greece and Turkey, among others), but also makes clear that there are tons of places in countries that we covered quite well (Spain and France, especially) that we at best only drove through.

I am closing today on a very light note. Kimmy’s first experience with bidet in Tuscany has left an indelible impression on her. She has commented several times in the past few days how convenient that was, the word butt popping up every time…

Art & Culture, Chronicles, London & Environs, Travel

Canaletto plus sushi and kharcho

February 24th, 2007

I forgot to check with the groundhog this year. Did it see its shadow or not? To be honest, it would not make any difference. The winter never really came to England. Late fall lingered… and gradually morphed into early spring…

I will be first to admit that for a well-educated person, I am not all that well-rounded when it comes to fine arts. I am not talking about skills (it is no secret, of course, that I can’t draw, have barely finished one year of musical education, and do not play musical instruments – unless someone is charitable enough to call my recent attempts with guitar “playing”). I am talking about art appreciation. Yes, I am a self-professed admirer of architectural triumphs, but a dilettante nonetheless. Yes, I hold classical music in high regard, have favorite composers and compositions and never resist attending a concert, but lack of formal education in the subject is a handicap. The Nutcracker last week was my very first live experience with the ballet. I have been known to doze off at an opera performance…

When it comes to painting, though, I am not averse to spending time in a gallery admiring works of masters old and new. Furthermore, I rarely bypass a visit to an important art museum in any city that I travel to. Even though I do not have any formal training in this discipline either, I – quite surprisingly to myself – have a reasonable skill in recognizing a painter or a school by the style.

But I cannot say that all styles and forms of painting appeal to me. For instance, I am not overly fond of Rembrandt – I appreciate his skill of portraying the human face, but the end result is just too bleak for me. In truth, I am rather indifferent to portraits as a whole, which makes someone like Van Dyck go underappreciated by me. (I am sure he is not turning in his grave because of that.) Biblical thematic is of little appeal, so widely accepted giants such as Leonardo and Titian have little to none to offer me.

On the other hand, I adore the impressionists. But by far and large, I simply appreciate landscapes the most. And for the many years now, one of my favorite landscapists has been Canaletto. So when I came across an announcement of a Canaletto exhibition in London, we had to go.

This temporary exhibition is held until mid-April in a small gallery in Southeast London (only a few miles away from us, but you have heard me speak about London traffic – it took us almost an hour to drive there). The gallery has a nice little permanent exhibition itself, including works by Lorraine, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Teniers, Van Ruisdael and others. There is one Venetian Canaletto that the gallery owns, too.

But the special exhibition is simply magnificent. Over fifty of Canaletto’s English paintings (he moved to England for nine years in 1746, after the Venetian market got oversaturated with his works), including many views of London and surrounding countryside and several capriccios. Canaletto’s landscapes are almost always panoramic but precise to the last brick and flag-stone. Their vividity lends easily to imagining yourself observing the scene as it unfolds in front of you.

Natasha and I had thought the exposition excellent. Becky acquiesced, while Kimmy got involved in discovering little details that make Canaletto’s paintings so appealing.

Having satisfied our desire for fine art, we drove to Bluewater mall, to satisfy our cravings for sushi. The cravings were Becky’s, primarily, but I happily participated. Natasha has been to this mall before and saw the restaurant, which attracts people with its conveyor of various sushi plates that sneaks around every table and booth. I’ve been to one of these in New York City, and know well enough that you end up spending much more than necessary this way, by giving in to the temptation provided by the endless parade of platters. However, kids required some diversion. Plus, going to the mall always affords time away from confines of one’s home even when it is raining outside. When we were leaving the gallery, it started to rain again. So we went to the mall.

Regrettably, the sushi itself left a lot to be desired, but Becky took full advantage of unlimited miso soup by having four cups. Kimmy excitedly moved plates on, off and around the conveyor, Natasha found herself something to eat, we paid a crazy amount in the end – complete success, in other words.

Friday night, we went to another exotic place – a Georgian restaurant in London. As in Republic of Georgia. Called Mimino, no less. Our new friends invited us for a birthday celebration. It was not a Russian-American-style banquet, but rather a nice long dinner. Four couples, only one person out of eight not a Russian speaker (guess who ended up sitting across the table from him and spending most of the dinner conversing in English – yep, yours truly :( ).

The restaurant is nice, including authentic music. The food is not superb, just good. Traditional Georgian dishes abound (khachapuri, lobio, chakhokhbili, odjakhuri), but somehow on the whole they do not raise to the level of our recollections of youth. Kharcho was fantastic, though. There is a huge selection of Georgian wines, for those who still find them appealing (I did not want to offend the rest of the company and drank Khvanchkara and Kindzmarauli, but I had long graduated to finer things in wine appreciation).

The service was a bit amateurish, but overall, it has been a very pleasant outing. Our young ladies, as you may have guessed, stayed home and even asked us not to call them too often, so that their TV-watching could go uninterrupted…

It is not truly related, but our kids are being well-prepared for self-sufficiency. For instance, for the last week, Kimmy’s education at school revolved around pirates. She came home one day and explained to us which things the pirates liked to steal and why. She went on a school trip on Friday to some ship where her class was given a presentation on how the thieves were punished (cutting off hands and such). Who wouldn’t want this kind of knowledge when they were six years old? I shudder at the thought of what next topic they might be exploring.

Art & Culture, Chronicles, London & Environs

Out and about with a mute

February 18th, 2007

Next on the list – learning sign language.

Natasha is definitely feeling better overall, but her regular malady befell her. She lost her voice, and even whispering hurts her vocal cords. She communicates primarily by gestures instead, which are not always easy to decipher. Conversations inevitably turn into drawn-out charades, and we collectively get to the meaning, and even manage to laugh about it. Sign language would come handy at a time like this, especially since it happens a few times a year and lasts for several days every time.

We were out and about on Saturday, and must have been fascinating to look at every time Natasha tried to explain something to us or simply point something out. Her favorite trick is to loudly clap her hands, forcing everyone to look at her, and start gesticulating when she has our attention. Clapping in a public place – that draws some attention, for sure…

Anyway, ever since our first trip to the British Museum, Kimmy was asking when we can go back to a museum where they have backpacks. Her interest was further sharpened by several Brussels museums that we visited, which she labelled not real museums and which did not offer any activities of the types she like. Since Becky missed our first excursion to this museum, we figured we’d make a return there.

Saturday weather was crisp and pleasant, so we enjoyed a bit of time outside. Since this was still half-term break in school, the inside of the museum was teeming with schoolchildren, in addition to tourists. We picked an ancient greek activity backpack, and proceeded for close to two hours with whatever the instructions directed us to do, from learning architectural components of a temple to matching modern sports with their ancient precursors.

One of the activities consisted of learning to play knucklebones, with four of those readily supplied. The rules of the game are eerily close to how we used to play Stones (Камешки ) in my childhood, and I still possess enough skill in that to thoroughly impress my offspring. That was possibly quite the highlight of the trip.

At some point, the crowds started to annoy us – ok, me, primarily, – and we made a leisurely trip home.

That same night, we had another event planned. Well, planned is not exactly how it should be described, as Natasha stuck a printed ad in front of me in the morning and contorted her face into quizzical expression, which I interpreted as Do you want to go? The ad was for a ballet performance of the Nutcracker by the Moscow City Ballet troupe, held on Saturday night not in the city, but rather at a theater in Bromley. I responded with Why not, called the ticket office, learned that there were still some tickets available, and we were on.

Bromley town center is easily reachable from where we live by a direct bus route, #126, the same one that I take weekly when not going to the Canary Wharf offices. We decided not to bother with driving and parking, especially since we already had daily travelcards covering zone 4, within which both Mottingham and Bromley lie. This particular bus route does not run very often, which is a bit of inconvenience, but it never gets too crowded either. Kimmy and Becky got choice seats in front and held a sophisticated discourse about something, while Natasha was doing her best to gesticulate up a conversation with me.

The theater was neither big nor small, but agreeable, right in the middle of Bromley’s pedestrian area. We came a bit early (Natasha even put some strain on her cords to whisper a quip about me always planning for too much reserve time and coming in 45 minutes earlier than necessary), so we explored around a bit.

The performance was excellent. To tell the truth, I understand ballet on par with understanding sign language, and while all the movements, jumps and pirouettes looked good to me, I cannot attest to the quality of the dancers’ skill. But I do appreciate great music, and the show appeared well choreographed. We were all impressed.

Natasha submitted that she liked ballet better than the opera, and Kimmy summed up the day as It was so great! First, museum with backpacks, then ballet…

Art & Culture, Chronicles, London & Environs