Month: March, 2013

Films about Art II: Sister Wendy’s Complete Collection

Seventh-century icon of Santa Maria Nova, Rome

Seventh-century icon of Santa Maria Nova, Rome

Certain things beg repeating. Take a quick glance at your itunes library and you might be surprised at the number of times a particular song found its way into your earbuds. Books are read and then reread again until the evidence of your affections can be seen on their tired covers. Today on the occasion of my 100th blog post I decided to spend some time with an old friend. I’ve never met this person but feel as though we’ve grown close over the years. I visit with her at least once a year, sometimes only for a brief moment and on other occasions I can spend the entire day spellbound and enraptured by her stories; I’m referring to Sister Wendy Beckett.

p0166003Tapped by the BBC in 1991 to give a personalized tour of London’s National Gallery; Sister Wendy became one of the most unlikely television stars to find their way into our living rooms. When the original show was pitched by an enthusiastic admirer of her writing; the idea fell on deaf ears. At first, at least on paper, it was a hard sell. The BBC executives figured no one wanted to tune in to listen to a nun talk about art.  A screen test was reluctantly agreed upon and when the lights were finally switched on; everyone was in awe. The camera loved her and she took to it like a fish to water.

Paul Klee Fish Magic 1925

Paul Klee    Fish Magic    1925

Sister Wendy (who turned 83 this year) has lived a solitary life of meditation and prayer. Before the BBC came calling, she lived in a one room caravan (she has since upgraded to a two room trailer) surrounded by very few possessions with the exception of a collection of art books.  She spent countless hours becoming acquainted with the artists and works within the pages of her volumes. It wasn’t until she was in front of the camera that she got the opportunity to finally see these works she was so intimate with in the flesh.

Peter Paul Rubens Venus Frigida 1614

Peter Paul Rubens     Venus Frigida      1614

One of the most disarming things that came to light was Sister Wendy’s fearless approach to the subject of sex. Art history is awash with tales of carnal knowledge and artists have been representing the nude and the naked since the  first days of the garden. Sister Wendy never breaks a blush. What she does better than anyone is to shed light on the stories and myths that act as the artistic inspiration for countless museum pieces.

El Greco an allegory with a boy lighting a candle in the company of an ape and a fool 1589

El Greco An Allegory with a boy lighting a candle in the company of an ape and a fool     1589

Sister Wendy has a wonderful way of telling a story. Her observations and insights are always spot on as well as her choice of works she chooses to talk about. The artworks range from the very familiar to hidden gems. Her Story of Painting traces the evolution of painting from the caves of Lascaux to Warhol’s Marilyns. She next travels to the major art capitols of Europe  in her Grand Tour. These two programs along with a few others can be found on Sister Wendy’s Complete Collection. She is the ultimate tour guide and well worth a look. I couldn’t think of another person I’d rather spend my 100th post with.

Lovin’ the Haters

hotel blueNothing can set off a firestorm of debate and ire like a good old televised picture show. Who knew the lives of a bunch of twenty something girls living in Brooklyn could be so polarizing or the supposed messing with a classic could milk so much venom.  It is just TV; it’s not like we’re talking about Shakespeare after all. …..But we could be.


God’s bodkins, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and the audience doth protest too much, methinks. (OK I’ll stop that) Here’s a thought; perhaps Girls‘ Hannah is channeling Hamlet: she is in a state of arrested development, paralyzed by a job to do, ostracizing her friends and family and slowly descending into madness. I don’t necessarily think she needs to kill her uncle, but who knows where Season 3 will take us. Cue the pitchforks and the flaming torches. How could you compare Lena Dunham to William Shakespeare? Umm.. well I didn’t, I compared the character of Hannah to the character of Hamlet. I think this is where TV watching has completely gone off the rails. Judging by the sheer amount of words on the internet and in print  devoted to picking apart, over analyzing and criticizing our so called entertainment, we as an audience need to take a collective deep breath.

a_560x0 (1)HBO’s Girls just ended its second season to another wave of critical bile from all corners of the internet. It seems that people really take this show personally. People are watching the show or in a lot of the cases not watching the show and then comparing it directly to their own lives. The criticisms range from hailing from a different part of the country/world -so this world seems too alien to me or the characters are too flawed. Ahh and that’s the rub, (I’m sorry I can’t help myself)  the characters are deeply flawed, but that’s what makes them interesting. One minute you like them and the next minute you hate them, kinda like real people. This is why we still study Shakespeare today; his characters aren’t pancake. Do we like Hamlet? If he was a real person would we friend him on Facebook? Probably not, but we would most definitely follow him on Twitter- his tweets would be fantastic. When dealing with three dimensional characters you can’t argue in absolutes. It feels like this is how a large portion of people are taking their television. “I hate Adam” or “I’m absolutely not going to watch this show again” are common sentiments. These are  completely legitimate opinions and actions but why has this turned into such a personal affront. It is one person’s vision and that’s all. Sure, Girls got a little dark ..so what if it doesn’t always want to be your lap dog? It will also make you laugh, cringe and thank god you are no longer in your twenties.

blue signOn A&E’s Bates Motel a young Norman Bates hasn’t even reached his twenties yet. The show is a re-imagining of a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s PsychoCue the pitchforks and the flaming torches,(slightly hyperbolic – the reviews are in and most people are kinda cool with it)- how can you mess with a classic? I’m afraid that ship has sailed: Psycho 4 anyone? The original Hitchcock film is an undisputed masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time. Having said that; I’m not offended but rather curious to see how they will handle the subject matter. After viewing the pilot I was left with two impressions: great aesthetic but very thin on the suspense. I don’t mind that they set it in modern times but kept the look of the original. It seems although some  Psycho purists don’t appreciate the tinkering.

Fuseli_1790_Titania+Bottom_GGW-396Directors have been messing with the classics for eons. Shakespeare has been re-framed and reinterpreted more times than a James Brown sample. Oberon becomes the king of the hippies, the historical background of Macbeth starts to resemble the Russian Revolution and so on and on. Oberon may have changed jobs but Bottom will always remain an ass. Did Jar Jar Binks ruin Star WarsNo; Luke still blew up the Death-Star and we all cheered but Mr. Binks did make The Phantom Menace a less enjoyable watching experience. Although they are in the same universe, your opinion of one shouldn’t affect your appreciation of the other. So Bates Motel shouldn’t automatically be hated because you loved the original. Obviously, it has extremely large shoes to fill and will inevitably fail to do so. ( At this very moment,  the director Sam Raimi is in the curious position of being on both sides of this coin. He had the unenviable task of tackling one of the most beloved films of all time as well as someone else is reinterpreting his beloved horror classic.)

I don’t believe Bates Motel will become a horror classic but it might have a few surprises up its sleeve. I’ll give it a few more episodes before I make my verdict. When it comes to television shows: watch them or don’t watch them, like them or don’t like them, but please just don’t use them to feel self important and spew hate. Just change the channel.

Drawing with Light

affectionately yours  2010

affectionately yours      2010

Patti Smith and Michael Snow at the AGO

432101234 Michael Snow  1969

432101234 Michael Snow 1969

I had an hour or so to kill before I was to meet up with some friends so I decided to nip into the Art Gallery of Ontario to catch the new Patti Smith:Camera Solo show along with Michael Snow’s Objects of Vision. Both shows deal with the act of seeing: one from the point of view of an admirer and the other from a steely veteran who is adept at what he does.

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe

I started with Patti Smith : Camera Solo. Better known for her music career and position as punk rock pioneer; Smith is as always the consummate artist. Her approach to photography feels both detached and autobiographical at the same time. Her Polaroids  read like a mix-tape of her muses and influences documenting the objects of her heroes. The photographs become still-lifes of things which have been transformed and elevated just by who their owner’s were. We see the bed in which Frida Kahlo spent her final months, Virginia Wolf’s cane and Herman Hesse’s typewriter among others.

Herman Hesse Typewriter

Herman Hesse Typewriter

The photographs themselves are straightforward closeups of the objects. The telling nature of the artist was engaging but sometimes the pictures themselves appear blurry with very little contrast.  In the end, the best photograph in the bunch belonged to Robert Mapplethorpe. I applaud Smith for constantly redefining who she is: first by her writing and now with her photography but sometimes you want to see someone who is a master at their craft.

Abitibi 1969

Abitibi 1969

Michael Snow’s Objects of Vision is a collection of sculptures executed from the 60’s through the 80’s that reflect an artist who is in complete control of his materials and in turn his audience. This one room installation is endlessly inventive. Everything works both in isolation and in unison. All the objects challenge the viewer in how they perceive and look at  them as well as draw attention to the act of seeing itself. The center piece of the show is a suspended tree branch that transforms from a rough natural texture to a smooth polished needle-like point. It commands your attention and directs your vision in a delightful yet menacing manner. Blind from 1968 does a wonderful job of filtering space through layers of physical ‘cross-hatched’ fencing. The piece Abitibi lets us witness the act of creation frozen in time. Two pieces of wood compressed and bolted together force a layer of resin to ooze then harden from it seams.

Transformer 1982   Blind 1968 Michael Snow

Transformer 1982            Blind 1968        Michael Snow

Michael Snow makes it look easy, but don’t be fooled that it is. This is a show about perception after all, so we should probably take another look.

Patti Smith: Camera Solo -February 9th – May 19th, 2013

Michael Snow: Objects of Vision- July 18, 2012 – March 17th, 2013