Posts Tagged ‘avant garde’

Photo: Crispian Chan.
Margaret Leng Tan performing Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep on a toy piano. 

There is just no end to the variety of jobs people work at — or create for themselves — and no end to the variety of tools they use. Today’s story is about a toy-piano virtuoso called Margaret Leng Tan and the unusual career she built.

Sian Cain writes at the Guardian, “At her last count, Margaret Leng Tan owned 18 toy pianos – but these days she just settles for ‘lots and lots.’ The 76-year-old musician, once labelled ‘the world’s first toy piano virtuoso’ by the New York Times and ‘the formidable doyenne of the avant-garde’ by the Washington Post, finds her pianos everywhere from garage sales to garbage cans. ‘I picked up a beautiful one from the garbage – the legs were missing but it was vintage and had a beautiful sound,’ she says. Last year, a complete stranger even left a red one for her on her Brooklyn doorstep:

‘I have become a foundling hospital for orphan pianos.’

“Her personal favorite in her collection is a vintage Schoenhut, which she deems ‘the Steinway of the toy piano world.’

” ‘That one has been everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Beethoven’s house in Bonn. I played Beethoven in Beethoven’s house! Can you imagine? Eat that, Schroeder!’ she laughs. …

“Tan exudes a light playfulness that complements her chosen instrument: ‘I’ve always had aspirations to be a sit-down comic – not a stand-up one!’ she says. ‘The toy piano gives me that golden opportunity.’ She is not limited to the piano either: in one arrangement titled Old MacDonald’s Yellow Submarine, written for her by the composer Erik Griswold, she simultaneously plays toy piano, bicycle horn, bicycle bell and train whistle. ‘It was incredibly difficult,’ she says.

“In her latest show, Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep, she plays a simpler version involving a toy piano, a Fisher Price plastic phone and a toy mobile. …

“Have her audiences always understood what she’s doing? ‘They’ve come along for the ride. They’ve often been very enthusiastic and willing to go with me down that rabbit hole. I mean, the toy piano. [But] because I take it seriously, they take it seriously. And the toy piano is so seductive. How can you resist a toy piano? It is a marvelous way to introduce avant-garde music to audiences, who would never go to such a concert – they’ll go to a toy piano concert out of curiosity.’

Dragon Ladies is a step away from her usual concerts: it is a one-woman biographical theatre show in which Tan tells the story of her life through significant moments. ‘It started because I intended to sit down and write my memoir but I never could find the uninterrupted time to do that,’ she says. ‘I thought it’d be easier to make a sonic memoir than a written one. And I had the title – I read somewhere that if you have a good title, you must deliver.’

“A significant part of the show explores Tan’s lifelong struggle to manage her obsessive compulsive disorder. … Music and rhythm became outlets for her impulse to count everything. ‘Music is all about counting. OCD is all about counting. It is a marriage made in heaven,’ she says. “But I wouldn’t wish OCD on my worst enemy. It’s not fun.’ …

“Tan began playing piano when she was six. Her father was a famed lawyer and politician in Singapore, and her mother was a piano teacher – ‘though she had the good sense never to try to teach me,’ Tan says. When she was 16, Tan left Singapore to study at Juilliard; she became the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from the prestigious New York school. …

“At first, she was strictly a classical pianist. … ‘It was only after I met John Cage that I knew what I wanted to do,’ she says.

“Cage was arguably the world’s most influential avant-garde composer; his 1952 piece 4’33 is famously performed by musicians doing nothing, embodying his belief that any auditory experience, including silence, could be music. …

“Cage was her close friend and mentor until his death in 1992. ‘He believed, and I agree with him, that you can make music with essentially anything. Whether it is a tin can or a bucket, that is music,’ Tan says. ‘He was a genius. There won’t be anyone else like him for a very long time, if ever.’ “

More at the Guardian, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum
In Soviet times, avant-garde art such as Ilya Mashkov‘s Landscape (1911) were hidden in the provinces for fear of censorship and persecution. Recently the authenticity of a cache uncovered in a small history museum was verified.

I can never resist a story about antiquities that have just been unearthed or long-lost art that has been found. Rediscoveries give me hope that other losses may be retrieved. Even intangibles such as, say, nationwide respect for science, concern for the marginalized, friendly collaboration, kindness.

Today I want to tell you about exceptional art once labeled “degenerate” that was recently authenticated. Surprisingly, in the first five years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the works were considered OK and were part of a traveling show. It was only later that they fell out of favor.

Sophia Kishkovsky reports at the Art Newspaper, “A leading Russian avant-garde expert says he has identified dozens of works by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova languishing in an obscure history museum in the Kirov region, [500 miles] from Moscow.

“Andrey Sarabyanov says he was ‘astounded’ at what he found in the basement store of the Yaransk Museum of Local Lore, in a town of fewer than 16,000 people. Discoveries included three watercolours by Kandinsky, a gouache by Stepanova and a ‘completely unknown’ work by Rodchenko from 1915 — a painting on cardboard that is now being restored.

“Sarabyanov, the editor of a Russian avant-garde encyclopaedia that will be published in English in 2022, believes the works were abruptly abandoned after featuring in an early Soviet travelling exhibition in 1921. …

“Sarabyanov learned of Yaransk’s hidden treasures from a local cultural official, Anna Shakina, during a 2017 visit to the regional capital, Kirov, where the Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum holds a rich avant-garde collection. Shakina’s 2008 dissertation research had unearthed the catalogue of the 1921 exhibition, for which the early Bolshevik government transported more than 350 works by 20th-century artists around the region by horse-drawn cart.

“According to records, 85 of the works remained in Yaransk. Around half were transferred to Kirov in the 1960s for restoration and hidden in storage due to censorship from the Soviet authorities, which had long since banned avant-garde art. They are now openly displayed as part of the Vasnetsov Brothers Art Museum’s collection. Sarabyanov knew those pieces from visits in the late Soviet era and in 2015, when he was preparing a Moscow exhibition of forgotten avant-garde art from provincial museums.

“Together with Shakina — now the Kirov museum’s director — and Natalia Murray, a lecturer at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, Sarabyanov plans to reconstruct the 1921 exhibition at the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg, reuniting the works divided between Kirov and Yaransk. The show is currently scheduled to open in September. The whereabouts of the 250-plus other works are still unknown but alternative pieces will be lent by the Slobodskoy Museum and Exhibition Center.” More here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Married Soviet avant-garde artists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova are pictured here in the 1920s.


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Here’s an unusual approach to art. Christopher Bollen at Interview magazine has the story.

“Since 2005, the 41-year-old [Marie] Lorenz has been navigating New York Harbor in her handmade plywood-and-fiberglass boat, taking friends, artists, and willing participants on nautical odysseys of the city’s rivers and islands.

“The project, Tide and Current Taxi … has its roots in multiple artistic practices — from traditional Romantic seascape and marine painting to more radical iterations of performance art …

“It helps that the Brooklyn-based artist, who could command a boat by the age of 6, is an adventurer at heart — the kind of avant-garde pioneer more often found on Manhattan’s dry land than in its surrounding waters. Lorenz has extensive knowledge of the city’s waterways. ‘When I got to New York, I realized that the tides were significant,’ she says. …

“Lorenz uses the tides like a motor to propel her boat, as well as the time-trusted manual labor of paddling. She usually sits at the stern, with passengers facing forward at the bow and in the middle.  …

“The boat trips themselves are often captured on video by a waterproof digital camera fixed to a metal pole jutting up from the stern. The camera’s eye is in the position of fellow traveler or a Charon-like ferryman through the derelict metropolis. Perhaps what is most arresting about her work is the way it destabilizes our usual perception of the city itself — specifically the hypnotic rocking of the Manhattan skyline.

” ‘You usually see the city on solid ground,’ Lorenz says. ‘I think when you’re floating, you see differently, your vision expands. You get to see the city from an in-between zone.’ ”

More here.

Sebastian Kim

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I love reading about and sometimes seeing offbeat and experimental theater. You may recall a couple recent posts on Iranian productions, for example — one play performed in a taxi, and another featuring a script the actors aren’t allowed to see until it’s time to go on stage.

So I was intrigued by a story in the Guardian about an experiment with one-on-one productions. Lyn Gardner writes, “Earlier this year I was lucky enough to take part in Whispers, a project created by the Exeter-based Kaleider, that takes the form of a co-operative gifting chain of performance, as a story and a metal tablet pass from person to person who each take responsibility for passing it on.

“At the Brighton fringe something similar is taking place with Host, a project created by the Nightingale Theatre that takes place in one of two bathing huts. Taking the form of a short text written by Tim Crouch … it works like this: You enter the bathing hut and somebody performs the text to you, and then you perform the text – reading from the script – to the next person.

“All participants subsequently get sent a copy of the script via email. This means that they can set off their own chains of reading and receiving, which creates in effect a tree that then has branches going off from it but which are all traceable back to that first performance by Tim Crouch in Brighton. It’s like a baton being passed.” More here.

This week, I’m having dinner with three other women who have at various times been active in the Concord Players. We meet up a couple times a year to indulge in theater talk as most of our other friends are not into that. I’ll be sure to pass along some of these experiments. The Concord Players isn’t a place that indulges in avant garde, but we all like hearing about what’s going on in the wider world.

“Host,” a one-on-one play at the Brighton Fringe Festival in England, is performed in this bathing hut.

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John’s son has a friend at the beach, a three-year-old musician whose dad is the contemporary composer Kenneth Kirschner.

5against4 has a word on Kirschner’s work, here: “Ken Kirschner’s second longest release to date is a hypnotic exploration of what we might call ‘mobile stasis’. The complex texture, comprising vibes, electronic tones & strings intermingle in ever-changing permutations. Certainly one of Kirschner’s most ambitious texture works &, for those open to its unique type of language, an immersive, rewarding listening experience.” They link to a free download.

Last.fm has more, here: “Composer Kenneth Kirschner was born in 1970 and lives in New York City. He is known for his open source approach to music, his experiments with software-based indeterminate composition, and his interest in adapting the insights and aesthetics of 20th century composers such as Morton Feldman and John Cage to the context of contemporary digital music.

“His work has been released on CDs from record labels such as 12k, Sub Rosa, Sirr, and/OAR and Leerraum, as well as online through a wide variety of netlabels and other sources. A large selection of Kirschner’s music is freely available for download from his website.” See http://www.kennethkirschner.com.

You can also find remixes of Kirschner’s work at Soundcloud.com, but it doesn’t look like he puts his compositions there himself.

Photo: Last.fm. Uploaded by uf_on.

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Today it’s a bit hard to imagine Cezanne, Matisse, Duchamp, and Van Gogh shocking anyone, but at the Armory art show in New York City 100 years ago, they did. Tom Vitale at National Public Radio has the story.

“On Feb. 17, 1913, an art exhibition opened in New York City that shocked the country, changed our perception of beauty and had a profound effect on artists and collectors.

“The International Exhibition of Modern Art — which came to be known, simply, as the Armory Show — marked the dawn of Modernism in America. It was the first time the phrase ‘avant-garde’ was used to describe painting and sculpture. …

“It was the Europeans — Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp — that caused a sensation.

“American audiences were used to seeing Rembrandts and Titians in their galleries — ‘a very realistic type of art,’ says Marilyn Kushner, the co-curator of an exhibition called ‘The Armory Show at 100’ that opens in October at the New York Historical Society. …

“The most talked-about painting in the 1913 Armory Show deconstructed a human figure in abstract brown panels in overlapping motion. Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory.’

“In 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the Armory Show, Duchamp was interviewed by CBS reporter Charles Collingwood. The audio is now at the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art.

“When Collingwood asked Duchamp if he had realized that the piece would create ‘such a “furor,” ‘ the artist responded: “Not the slightest.” …

“Duchamp went on in the 1963 interview to say that, at the time, artists had lost the ability to surprise the public.

” ‘There’s a public to receive it today that did not exist then. Cubism was sort of forced upon the public to reject it. You know what I mean?’ Duchamp said. ‘Instead, today, any new movement is almost accepted before it started. See, there’s no more element of shock anymore.’ ” More.

Photograph: Marcel Duchamp’s Cubist-inspired Nude Descending a Staircase was famously described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory.” (Copyright succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 2013)

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Have you read any of the articles in the NY Times about the Russian art collector who saved Uzbek folk art and modern Russian art from destruction by collecting thousands of pieces for his museum? The museum was long unknown to most of the world, located as it was in a remote desert area of Uzbekistan (near the dried up Aral Sea), a region called the Republic of Karakalpakstan.

The first Times story, published in January 1998, is posted here. It stunned the art world. Igor Savitsky, who died in 1984, had seen the beauty of the modern art that was considered “degenerate” by Stalin and the post-Stalin Soviet Union. He tracked down artists and artists’ relatives and squirreled the works away in the desert museum.

Savitsky was sly and often got government functionaries to pay for an acquisition without their realizing what it was exactly. Many thought his museum housed only the ancient artifacts uncovered in state-sponsored Central Asia archeological digs. The collector even got government money for devastating works by a woman who had been sent to the Gulag. He didn’t tell the authorities that the pictures detailed the horrors of the Gulag but said they were of Nazi concentration camps.

We watched “Desert of Forbidden Art” Saturday and highly recommend it. Read about the documentary in the NY Times.

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