Saturday, January 16, 2016

EXHIBITION: from Prague to Tel Aviv to West Palm Beach to Brooklyn, striking photos of daily life in Israel and the West Bank

Opening night at Tel Aviv Museum of Art
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"Only such a spectrum of perspectives could really do justice to the
complexities and to the fact that Israel is totally un-understandable."
                                                                      ...  Sam Cate-Gumpert, Harper's Magazine

Beyond the images of strife and violence which have come to dominate media coverage of the land of Israel, this is a nation where -- despite its all-too-real schisms and paradoxes  -- the great majority of people go about their daily business quite normally: shopping at colorful outdoor markets, sharing meals with their neighbors, practicing their respective religions in peace, hanging out in cafés, living a rich cultural life and savoring the quiet beauty of their ancient landscape. This Place: Israel and the West Bank through Photography's Lens (at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, FL through January 17; moving to the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 12) is a striking exhibition of both the surprising normalcy, as well as the quirky diversity, of Israel. 

Above: The Aslan Levi Family, 2010
Photo by project initiator Frédéric  Brenner
© Frédéric Brenner, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery

Weinfeld Family 2009
© Frédéric Brenner

For the This Place project, French photographer Frederic Brenner invited twelve noted and politically disparate international photographers to contribute their singular visions of contemporary Israel and the West Bank, producing a "diverse and fragmented portrait of this important and much contested space." The completed endeavor consists of a large-scale traveling exhibition, a companion catalog, and a program of live events including films, lectures and food and wine tastings.

“When what is at stake is sharing the origin, it seems to me necessary to gather a large spectrum of individuals whose origins, passions and paradoxical and contradictory perspectives could help us grasp the unbearable complexity of this place and its voices.”
                                                                              ... Frédéric Brenner

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The five images below are the work of MacArthur Award winning American photographer and teacher Wendy Ewald. For this project, she collaborated with young students and their families in fourteen communities (including Nazareth, Haifa, Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, Julis, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv) to create a collective vision of life in Israel and the West Bank. She admits that the idea of working in Israel initially "left me cold", but says after spending time in the country, and seeing for herself its vibrant multiculturalism, her attitude began to thaw.

Untitled meal at Village of Julis Comprehensive School
Julis is an Arabic-speaking Druze village in the north of Israel. When it was captured by the IDF in 1948, villagers were allowed to remain in their homes. As of 2000, the average income in the village is higher than the national average, and its high school graduation rate exceeds that of Tel Aviv. Travel writer Michael Dempster has referred to Julis as "basically the coolest place I've ever been to."

NITSAN Pomegranate on education Road
Kfar Giladi Kibbutz, Upper Galilee

MALEK | Traditional costume, Bir El Amir School, Nazareth

Above: Abstract
© Wendy Ewald

All of the photos in Ewald's  part of the project are postcard sized, and are
grouped  by the names of the locales in which they were shot.

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Below: from Fazal Sheikh's "Desert Bloom" series
(Two of 48 aerial photos of the Negev Desert)
These are areas being prepared for the planting of new forests by
the Jewish National Fund.

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Below: Family at Tekoa Gimmel Outpost
© Nick Waplinger

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from Them, Ghanaian pilgrims, 2011
© Rosalind Solomon

In 2010-11 Solomon spent five months in Israel and the West Bank,
where she photographed Jewish teenagers at Purim,
Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
and Ghanaian pilgrims at the Mount of Olives.

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St. Sabas Monastery, Judean Desert, 2009
© Stephen Shore

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This posting represents a tiny sampling of the photographs on display in This Place ...
Please check here for more info about the exhibition,
and lengthy interviews with the photographers.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

EXHIBITION UPDATE: Glamourous Phryne Fisher Fest begins January 10 in Adelaide!

If you missed her in Victoria, you can catch her in Adelaide ... 

everyone's favorite flapper detective ...
Miss Phryne (Fry-nee) Fisher!

The blockbuster exhibition of glamorous costumes from the 
Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries series,   
previously shown at the Rippon Lea House  & Gardens in Victoria, Australia,
has moved to the high Victorian Ayers House Museum in Adelaide
through Valentine's Day. A Summer Festival of Phryne begins on 10 January.

Essie Davis as Miss Fisher
Ignore her at your own peril

"Stylish, opulent and a feast for the eyes, the costumes have been excellently crafted.  Intermingled with props and furniture from the period, Ayres House has been holding an exhibit of these wondrous creations since November.  Within the confines of its stately walls, the exhibition comes alive as each new costume is seen."
... Patrick Moore, for

Phryne and the ever-fathful, although non-commital,
 Inspector Jack Robinson

The Summer Festival of Phryne includes a screening of all eight episodes
from the latest series of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, held at Adelaide's
Palace Nova Cinemas; Summer Sundays at Beaumont House 
(1920s-style garden parties with live jazz);

and an exclusive evening with actor Nathan Page (Jack)
and composer Greg J. Walker, who together will demonstrate
how music is used to create character and drama on the show.
Above: Actor Nathan Page

Above: a slide from a Fashion in Motion presentation,
to be made by Miss Fisher costume designer Marion Boyce on 29 January.

Link here for specifics about dates and times.

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Please use "comments" section to give me advice
about how I can get a free plane ticket to Australia! :-)

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

EXHIBITION: "Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism"

The astonishing and highly recommended exhibition
Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism 
will be on view through Jan. 2016 
at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC
                             Muriel Coleman desk set                       Album covers by Alex Steinweiss,
                                                                                                 "the father of album cover design"

                    Paul Frankl "Skyscraper" cabinet               Kitchen of Eichler X-100 House  

"Much of New York's character derives from its dynamic Jewish population.
Here, where they live out of the shadow of their historic crisis, they have
changed a city, and in turn are being changed."
... "The Jewish Elan, Fortune magazine, Feb. 1960

A smorgasbord of midcentury design created by American and émigré Jewish artists is currently on display at the airy Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. 

The exhibition highlights not only the designwork itself, but the relationship between the designers' cultural heritage and their integral position at the forefront of 20th century Modernism, a style that has proven to be enduringly popular, despite occasional fallow periods.

Visitors first encounter a constantly shifting video map that traces the routes of émigré artists who came to the United States from Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as those designers who were born in America. Nearly all were drawn to six central gathering points: New York, Chicago, Minneapolis (The Walker Arts Center), North Carolina (the Black Mountain Arts College in Asheville), Los Angeles, and California’s Bay Area. 

This map gives lively visual form to the concept of networking, which was vitally important 
to Jewish artists, many of whom were strangers in a strange land.

The exhibit begs the question of why so many Jews were and are 
so prominent in the field of design. My own take on this is twofold.

First, the decorative arts have historically loomed large in Jewish tradition, which promotes 
the ethic of Hiddur Mitzvah (the beautification of a divine commandment.) Even in ancient times, the artistic presentation of ritual objects -- menorahs, Torah covers, wine goblets, spice boxes -- held an esteemed position in Jewish practice, both in public places and within the intimacy of the home. Ceremonial objects rendered in metal, textiles, carved wood and earthenware date back as far as the First Temple in Jerusalem (built in the 1st century BC.)

Second, and perhaps more relevant to this exhibition, were the rise of America and Israel as the hubs of world Jewry after the Holocaust. The field of modern design -- which put a premium on talent, utility, commitment, and a forward-thinking spirit above religious or national affiliation -- offered Jews unprecedented opportunities to excel. In 1961, architect Percival Goodman wrote that "Avant garde belongs to neither Gentile nor Jew, but is the plight of everybody who must rebel in order to breathe again, and in that number there are numerous Jews."

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And now ... on with the show!

Two views of platform #1 -
with furniture by Muriel Coleman, George Nelson, Paul Frankl,
Marcel Breuer, and Alvin Lustig

     Prolific designer George Nelson's slightly zany Marshmallow Sofa, considered 
     the "most iconic of all modernist sofas" is prominently displayed. Overhead
     is his luminous Bubble Lamp. Nelson was the grandson of Russian immigrants.

     George Nelson Associates'  famous Ball Clock has been wildly popular 
since  it became available in 1949.

If you were a teenaged girl in the 1960s, you 
probably had (or coveted) one of these -- 
Henry Dreyfuss' Princess phone. "It's little ...
it's lovely ... it lights."
Dreyfuss also designed the classic "Big Ben" alarm clock (1939),
the NY Central's streamlined Mercury train (1936)
and the Polaroid SX-70 land camera (1972)

Above: a small selection of whimsical album covers by
Alex Steinweiss, acknowledged to be the inventor of the modern 
album cover. His designs were in high demand for jazz, classical and
folk music recordings, from the late 1930s to the mid 1960s.
To read more about him, see my blog posting of August 1, 2014

The "Steinweiss scrawl", invented by you-know-who

Below: A favorite of mine (both musically and visually)
Beethoven's 5th symphony, performed by the
NY Philharmonic

Above: Posters by iconic graphic artist Saul Bass
A favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Billy Wilder,
 he designed not only film posters but also opening title sequences and logos.

“My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning 
the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have 
an emotional resonance with it..” — Saul Bass

Below: A wall of corporate logos created by Jewish designers
The prolific Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum) designed logos for
UPS, IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, and Apple computers;
Saul Bass for AT&T, Girl Scouts of America and Kleenex, among others.

Above: Alvin and  Elaine Lustig at their home studio 
Alvin Lustig designed books and book jackets, magazines, 
furniture, and textiles; Elaine was a respected graphic artist. 
They were at the vanguard of a group of midcentury designers who 
believed in the "curative power of good design, when applied 
to all aspects of American life". 

Classic High Back Lustig chair (1949)

Muriel Coleman's deceptively simple looking desk set 
combines four different materials: wood, metal, glass and leather

This midcentury piece by textile design pioneer Ruth Adler Schnee,
entited "Construction", shows the influence of her first art teacher, 
painter Paul Klee. Schnee, whose mother had studied art at the 
Bauhaus School, fled Germany with her family right after 
Kristallnacht. Now 91, she is still creating her boldly colorful and 
futuristic designs.

"Rock Candy" (2007) by Ruth Adler Schnee
To read more about Schnee, and her recent Kresge Award, link here

And to finish up ... there's no place like (an Eichler) home!

I was intrigued by photos of houses designed and built by California real estate developer Joseph Eichler. He was a visionary who brought his social justice values into his plans for modern housing for middle-class Americans. Combining the midcentury esthetics of  airiness, use of glass and steel as construction materials,  and a seamless integration of indoor-outdoor space, his homes captured the imagination of thousands of young families who were looking for affordable yet stylish housing during the post-war boom. Eventually 11,000 "Eichlers" were built in numerous California communities.

Exterior view of Eichler's X-100 house, 1956

The X-100, named intentionally to sound ultra-space age, was described by Eichler as "an exciting exploration into future living." An article in the Wall Street Journal asserted that "the thousands of Californians who crowded into a demo model of this 'home of tomorrow' gaped at such innovations as a revolving fireplace, one entire wall of glass, a plastic skylight like a bomber bubble, two indoor gardens, electrically operated sliding doors that replace all windows, and steel-frame construction to eliminate the need for load bearing walls."

Above: Futuristic kitchen from the X-100 house
I love the burners set between the two halves of the tabletop -- 
utilitarian and attractive.

I was moved by the last line of this curatorial note:
"Eichler established a non-discrimination policy for his planned communities, 
and in 1958 he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders because
they refused to join him in making their homes available to people of any race or religion."

To read more about Eichler homes, please visit 
How "Eichlers" Brought Design to Suburbia, 
linked here.

Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism
will be on view through Jan. 2016 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC


Originally posted May 11, 2015