September 24, 2020

Agora: South Grant Park Rust-Colored Statues

I was in the south Loop of Chicago and found myself drawn to another viewing of Polish sculptress Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work, “Agora,” in the south portion of Grant Park bordered by Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road.

The 106 headless and armless rust-colored statues evoke varied reactions. Some people have termed the installation, first installed by the Chicago District in 2006, as “ugly” and “depressing.” Abakanowicz grew up in Poland during WWII and had this to say about the figures in her large scale public installation: “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command.”

Agora is the Greek word for a public meeting place. As I walked through the figures and viewed them from different distances, I was struck that some statues face each other, while others are turned away. No matter what your reaction to the art work, it brings up ideas of democracy, community and differences of opinion.

Now that we are encouraged to limit our public gatherings, “Agora,” on permanent loan from the Polish Ministry of Culture, has new resonance. Small wonder since Chicago has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw.

Although public land was used for “Agora,” the sculptures were financed by private donors which included late actor Robin Williams. Fourteen years later, the statues seem right at home in Chicago’s Grant Park.

More Reality Shows of Note on Netflix

How is Netflix getting me to consider programs I would not normally watch? When I open the app, a show trailer starts playing above the list of selections. The clips are engaging, upbeat and often pique my curiosity. How else to explain my current viewing selections: “Love On the Spectrum,” “Restaurants on the Edge” and “Sugar High.”

I have been a fan of “Sugar Rush,” a cooking competition using sweet ingredients. When I exhausted those episodes, Netflix automatically cued up a related show from the same producers, “Sugar High.” Stone-cold professionals compete to make sugar creations that delight the tastebuds and the eyes. Much like sculptors and glassblowers, the chefs skillfully fashion shapes using ingredients like sugar, isomalt and paper wafers. I would not have the heart to destroy these artistic creations by eating them, however.

“Restaurants on the Edge” is a bit sleepy in its pacing, but features scenic restaurants in different countries that need help with their menus, decor and promotion.

Three restaurant gurus arrive in the area and find local beverages, food stuffs and decorating ideas to refresh the dining establishment in question. The show tries to defy the adage that the better the view, the worse the food.

“Love on the Spectrum,” an Australian documentary series, introduced me to young people who are autistic and in search of what we all want: love and romance. Cian O’Clery, the series’ creator and director, films men and women as they openly discuss being “on the spectrum.” We watch them go on first dates and interact with their families. The show accomplishes something rare as we feel genuine empathy for young couples who have found love and for those still searching for romance. “Love On the Spectrum” finds the balance between documentary and reality show which impels you to keep watching. At just five episodes, the series leaves you wanting progress reports on all of these endearing people.

During these stressful times, Netflix has carried many serious scripted shows, but I am keeping my streaming subscription because they are offering fun, reasonably intelligent programs that emphasize food, fashion, art, travel and love.

Great Big Story on CNN and as a downloadable app

When all of the negative and scary news starts to get you down, consider visiting the Great Big Story initially launched by CNN.

Short documentaries on various POSITIVE topics might just keep you from slipping over the edge. I especially like to have these clips playing when I exercise, cook or clean.

The link I included will send you to a Great Big Story on Hungarian piano-maker David Klavins who is veering away from Steinway, Fazioli and Bosendorfer in a big way.

https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/piano-maker/?xrs=CNNHP

The Great Big Story site hosts short films on a myriad of topics that will amaze and uplift you. For kicks, type “Paris,” “London,” “China” or “Italy” in the subject line which will bring up short films for those of us who would prefer to be traveling the world right now.

Politics, illness, floods and bad economic news will become background noise, at least for a few minutes.

You can download Great Big Story from your app store or go to the GBS link:

https://www.greatbigstory.com

Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.

Riviera TV Series on Sundance Now

When the mood is somber in your home and abroad, what better way to disperse the blues than to watch some escapist soap opera fare? Riviera, set in, you guessed it, southern France and Monaco is definitely eye candy.

The show has quite a pedigree. Neil Jordan, the director of such notable films as Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, has created and co-written Riviera with high brow British author, John Banville. Jordan has since disavowed any connection to the series with the addition of sex scenes and writing changes that he did not sanction. That somehow ups the trash factor allure.

The cast features Julia Stiles as recent widow, Georgina Clios whose husband, billionaire and art collector Constantine Clios is mysteriously blown up on a yacht in episode one. Anthony LaPaglia plays the shady mogul in flash backs, with Lena Olin dramatically entering the scene as his first wife. The most surprising cast member is Will Arnett in a semi-serious role as Georgina’s uncle.

The plot is littered with screwed up children, rich and dangerous friends, racehorses, scary strong men, corporate skullduggery and art fraud.

I can see why Jordan has divorced himself from this project. Murder, mental illness, kidnapping, and surprise parentage are soap opera staples thrown into this improbable potpourri. Still, the cinematography, the homes, the clothing and the very bad behavior is strangely compelling. Just what the doctor ordered when stuck at home without a Monet on the wall or a bottle of Dom Perignon in the wine cave.

I watch Sundance Now as an added channel on my Amazon Prime Video account.

El Greco: Ambition and Defiance exhibit at the AIC – Museum now closed

I was deeply disappointed when it became impossible to catch the exhibit, El Greco: Ambition and Defiance at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show opened on March 7, but the museum closed shortly thereafter due to the corona virus outbreak.

The AIC has listed the exhibit up until June 21, 2020 so let us hope that we may yet get to see several El Greco masterworks at our beloved museum.

El Greco, which means “the Greek,” was born in 1541 on Crete which was part of the Venetian empire. He lived in Venice and Rome, before making his ultimate home in Toledo, Spain.

Here is a two minute overview of the AIC’s show,
El Greco – Ambition and Defiance:

If you are so inclined, you may want to seek out other images of his artistic output on Google Arts & Culture.

El Greco paintings at Google Arts &n Culture