November 24, 2017

Dior Exhibit in Paris

If you are interested in fashion and happen to be in Paris before January 7, 2018, run, do not walk to the Dior exhibit at the Louvre’s side museum, Les Arts Décoratifs.

If you don’t buy a ticket in advance, bring an umbrella and a friend or a book because you will most likely wait up to an hour outdoors for admittance. Le tout Paris and female tourists of all ages are flocking to this fantastic homage to the fashion house of Dior.

Not only are the gowns and accessories breath-taking, but the presentation of the fashions is innovative. One large glass panel has a pointillist photo that disappears when the lights are raised to expose the elegant dresses inside the vitrine. Another gigantic glass showcase features a profusion of single-color items such as hats, miniature dresses, jewelry, shoes and other accessories. One follows groupings of red, pink, yellow, green, blue, silver and white items that absolutely delight the eye.

Another stunning display has a ceiling of white leaves that drape above the stunning Dior dresses.

There was another room across the lobby which I did not get to see. Flut alors! The guards are quite firm about leaving the museum at closing time.

Sorry to say that very few men can be seen attending this exhibit. Their loss because the ingenuity of Christian Dior and the subsequent house designers along with the breathtaking museum displays make this a uni-sex crowd-pleaser.

Designs by Raf Simons, John Galliano, Christian Dior and Marc Bohan in a chromatic display in the Dior exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs.

For more information and ticket purchase:

Terra Cotta Warriors and Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

I usually don’t write about exhibits that have just left Chicago, but I decided to write about two showings that are moving on to other cities.

It has long been my dream to see the famed Terra Cotta Warriors in their original excavation site in Xi’an, China. The Field Museum exhibit which ran from March 4, 2016 to January 8, 2017 seemed to be the next best thing.
My thumbnail review: admission and parking were expensive and the exhibit itself was rather small with very few artifacts that weren’t reproductions. If you never plan to visit China, you may want to make a spring visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors in Seattle, but I myself am holding out hope to see the real thing in Xi’an.

Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibit
Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA
April 8 to Sept 3, 2017

A much more satisfying exhibit was Moholy-Nagy: Future Present which ran from Oct. 2, 2016 to January 3, 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was a painter, photographer, film-maker, sculptor, advertising man, product designer and theater set designer. Happily, the exhibit gave us glimpses of every phase of his work. Room after room featured samples of his work from his lucite and metal chandeliers to his photos, films, paintings and graphic designs.

Moholy-Nagy holds a place of honor in Chicago history having been instrumental in creating the New Bauhaus here which morphed into the Institute of Design on the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) campus.

The Moholy-Nagy exhibit was previously at the Guggenheim Museum in New York city and now moves to Los Angeles. West coasters who admire early 20th century art and design are strongly urged to attend this fine show.

Moholy-Nagy Future Present
Feb. 12 to June 18, 2017
Los Angeles County Museum

Google Arts and Culture site

google-arts-and-culture-logoWhen traveling, I love visiting museums, gardens and venues of visual beauty. Unfortunately, my wish list of places to visit continues to grow, while my time to travel remains relatively small.

Google Arts and Culture comes to the rescue with a comprehensive web site that allows the viewer to virtually visit a host of cultural and natural sites all across the world. biodivwand_c_carola-radke-mfnBio Diversity Wall at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

Some of the web site headings include Your Daily Digest, Stories of the Day, Zoom in and Explore by time and color. A seemingly endless number of virtual tours are available including Ford’s Theater in Washington,  10 Downing Street in London and the Taj Mahal in India. One can do searches by art movements, artists, historical events or places along with a host of other topics. Every visit to Google Culture and Art home page could be a different, enlightening experience.

I see from the internet address that Google Arts and Culture is still in beta-testing mode, but the site looks quite polished and professional in its current state.
On my next Google Arts and Culture experience, I plan to make virtual visits to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to the Great Barrier Reef. Excuse me while I pack my virtual suitcase.

The First Monday in May doc on Netflix

My hairdresser recommended The First Monday In May,  a wonderful documentary by Andrew Rossi on Netflix that mixes art, fashion and a bit of world politics.

Film footage shows astoundingly beautiful clothing in inventive gallery settings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but we also get to see the backstage mechanics of creating this annual fashion fantasy.

Design powerhouse, Anna Wintour is shown in action as she determines what is tasteful. Interviews with clothing designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano are sprinkled throughout the film.

The real star of the costume exhibit is the Met’s Costume Curator, Andrew Bolton, a shy Brit who quietly works his magic behind the scenes.

The doc builds to the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass, the Met’s costume exhibit of 2014. Chinese government entities, Film director Wong Kar Wai and the Met staff reach a middle ground showing older Chinese fashions as well as current designs by Asian and Western clothing designers.

Those not mad about fashion might be titillated by the kick-off dinner’s celebrity red carpet arrivals including George and Amal Clooney and Rihanna, garbed in a most dramatic brilliant yellow gown with the longest train of recent memory.

Attending this annual summer-long costume exhibit at Metropolitan Museum of Art now goes on my “to do in life” list.  Anybody for a trip to New York next May?

Painting and Photography Exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago

America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s  and Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem at the Art Institute of Chicago

One of the joys of having a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago is the ability to visit briefly and often, especially when there are intriguing current exhibits.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s is a small, but powerful exhibit of work done in the U. S. after the Great Crash of 1929. The fifty canvases include Grant Wood paintings including his iconic American Gothic, along with works by Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Philip Evergood, Ben Shahn, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and Charles Sheeler. Some of my favorite paintings are by African-American artists such as Joe Jones, Reginal Marsh, William H. Johnson, and Aaron Douglas.  The collection offers thought-provoking art from many different schools such as that of Regionalism, Social Realism and Abstraction.

It is interesting to note that the main funder of the exhibit is the Terra Foundation for American Art, a name many Chicagoans will recognize.

The exhibit runs at AIC until September 18, 2016.
It goes next to the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and to London’s Royal Academy.

Just across the lobby is a photo/prose exhibit entitled Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem. Author Ellison and photographer/filmmaker Parks collaborated on two projects: Harlem is Nowhere in 1948 and A Man Becomes Invisible in 1952 featuring images that matched Ellison’s iconic book Invisible Man.

The AIC’s one room exhibit contains images from the 1952 collaboration as well as printed and hand-written selections from Ellison’s landmark book. The photos taken in Harlem are not only art, but emotionally gripping depictions of racially-divided life in the Harlem of post World War II America. My favorite image is that of an African-American man raising a manhole cover as he looks out from his subterranean den.  Seen from the perspective of today’s headlines, the photos and quotes are particularly inpactful.

The Invisible Man exhibit is showing through August 28, 2016.

Here’s a small tip for AIC visitors:  avoid the milling crowds at the Michigan Avenue entrance, and opt for entry on Monroe Street. You will be closer to the recommended exhibits and with a member pass, you will breeze right into the museum.

Dressing Downton: Driehaus Museum

If you are a fan of the PBS series Downton Abbey, the current exhibit, Dressing Downton at the lovely Driehaus Museum is definitely your cup of tea.

For $25, you get to peruse costumes from the show sprinkled throughout the ornate home, along with selected photos from the popular program. In my opinion, it was worth every penny.

You get to see the fashion transition from the Edwardian age of corsets and long skirts to the flapper era of bobbed hair, shorter skirts and unrestrictive undergarments. Michelle Dockery who plays Mary must be absolutely tiny based on her dresses.

Admission includes free coat check as well as audio and printed exhibition guides.

And if this exhibit is truly your cup of tea, you might want to make a reservation for the high tea service in the adjacent building. It’s a bit pricey at $55 but the ladies and gentlemen relishing scones looked like they were having a grand time.

Dressing Downton runs through May 8, 2016.

The White House and Arlington Cemetery

Being an American History buff, I got to check off two biggies from my personal wish list last week.

Arlington Cemetery

A family member was interred in Arlington Cemetery so I got to see a full military funeral replete with a marching band, a caisson pulled by majestic black horses, a 21-gun salute and cadets with crisp uniforms and precise movements. A bugler playing “Taps” and a folded flag presented to my aunt were the emotional cappers.

The history geek in me was fascinated by the origins of Arlington Cemetery. The property had belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was married to the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Lee’s home is still on a hill overlooking the cemetery, but the bulk of the property has been used for military burials since the Civil War.

I also had the great privilege to tour the White House.

White House Entrance

It was smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to see the East Room, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Green Room and the lovely paintings and antiques that adorn the public rooms. The view from the windows wasn’t bad either!

Since 9/11, getting to tour the White House has become a complicated proposition. Visitors need to contact their congress person weeks before their D. C. trip and submit their social security numbers to facilitate background checks.

In planning your visit, plan to arrive with your I. D. (drivers’s license, military IDs, green cards or passports), cell phone and billfold only. Note that purses and bags are not allowed in The White House and there is no place to check personal items. Visitors are only allowed to enter with cell phones and billfolds.

The tours are self-guided but Secret Service Officers are there to answer any historical questions. And these people know their stuff!

White House view of the Washington Monument

White House piano with gilded eagle legs

Chicago Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake Michigan

West of Michigan Avenue

I finally made it down to the Chicago Riverwalk which is undergoing a transformation that should impress natives along with visitors to our city. From LaSalle to Lake Michigan on the south side of the Chicago River, marvel at the additions of concrete, wood, metal and landscaping that make this a most inviting promenade.

Sportive types can rent kayaks, electric bikes, surrey bikes that seat 2 to 6 people, recumbent bikes or motor boats for $150 an hour. Chicago Architectural boat tours are featured east of Michigan Avenue. Besides all of these floating and wheeled options, I saw people on motorized scooters, Segways and blue Divvy bikes so walking seems quite quaint.

There are several food and beverage concerns on the south side of the river such as City Winery, O’Brien’s and Flander’s Belgian Beers & Fries, but I prefer the foliage east of Michigan Avenue which lends great charm to Cyrano’s Cafe and Wine Bar and the Tiki Bar which features periodic booze cruises.

More established restaurants on the north side of the river include Smith & Wollensky, Dick’s Last Resort, Lizzie McNeill’s, Fulton’s On the River and Lagniappe Cajun-Creole Joynt.

The Riverwalk connects to the lake front by a viaduct that contains wonderful ceramic mural art. There is also a dark undeveloped corridor into Lake Shore East which you can pass through to get to Millennium Park. Navy Pier is also accessible from the Riverwalk but the narrow path across the North Lake Shore Drive bridge is a danger zone where bikes and pedestrians dodge one another.

I have written previously about the water taxis on the north side of the river which remain an excellent way to view the city from the water level. The Wendella sight-seeing tours also embark from the north side of the river although that side of the river has not been part of this latest development project.

Next visit, I plan to investigate the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum which promotes events that involve bridges and the Chicago River. A link below contains the fall bridge lift schedule.

You may want to visit the Riverwalk in the next few weeks to avail yourself of the outdoor dining. Pray for an Indian summer!

McCormick Bridgehouse events:

Cyrano’s Cafe on the River:

Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tours:



Burlington, Iowa: charming Mississippi River town

A performing engagement took me to this Iowa town with church spires and graceful architecture nestled on the hills overlooking the Mississippi River. Some of the most impressive homes are situated on the bluffs over-looking downtown and the river valley.

The Bart Howard Foundation was the entity that hired me to perform a program which included the song “Fly Me To the Moon” and other songs connected to the Burlington native-son Howard. Fans of cabaret may want to make a stop to see the Bart Howard Room in the Des Moines County Historical Society. Photos and memorabilia of Bart and friends dot this jewel-box room. A grand piano and cafe tables are put to good use when the occasional performer is brought in to present a cabaret class or program.

Martini’s fine dining restaurant provided excellent steaks and seafood with a million dollar view of the sunset washing over downtown Burlington and the river.  Big Muddy’s was literally river-side with excellent casual food such as burgers, a nice salad bar and a dinner buffet. For entertainment, The Washington nightclub downtown books a wide variety of music including jazz and blues in a cozy setting with bar and table seating.

I was pleasantly surprised at my lovely hotel room in the Catfish Bend Casino and Pzazz Hotel. The venue name conjured up images of rustic digs that were a far cry from the plush bed, spa bathroom, fleecy bathrobe and flat screen TV that I encountered. A daily generous breakfast buffet was included in the room rate. Staff members were friendly and helpful. I would visit this hotel again in a snap.

Hosts Bob McCannon and Sandy Miller from the Foundation made sure that I got the cook’s tour of the area with visits to the West Jefferson Street Historic District, a glimpse of the vertiginous Snake Alley and a stop to see wonderful water color paintings in the Arts For Living Center. We even made it to Mosquito Park to view a panoramic vista of the town and river. As opposed to my Iowa expectations, I saw not one corn field.

Des Moines County Historical Museum and Bart Howard Room

Martini’s Grille

The Washington Nightclub!__home-page

Pzazz Inn and Spa

Las Vegas: Neon Museum, Ethel M’s Factory and Cactus Garden, Pawn Stars shop, and the Natural History Museum

Visitors to Las Vegas frequently stay on the Strip and never venture into other parts of the city. If the ding-ding-ding of slot machines starts to grate, take some time out to visit some off-Strip Las Vegas touristic spots.
The Neon Museum is where old Vegas signage is put to pasture. Admission is pricey, but the tour guides give you a good thumbnail history of Sin City
Ethel M’s Factory and Cactus Garden are off the beaten track, but who can resist seeing where M&Ms got their start plus a charming walkway through desert greenery. The gift shop features free chocolate samples, a host of edible gift ideas and killer Mexican hot chocolate.

If you’ve ever watched Pawn Stars on the History Channel, you may want to visit the pawn shop that spawned the series. People are queued up outside the unprepossessing building day and night to see if they have treasures worthy of the TV show. Inside you will find an underwhelming display of jewelry, art and memorabilia, but hey, a pawn shop is part of the Vegas experience.
If you have children, they will adore the Natural History Museum, a bite-size cultural collection of dinosaurs, mummies, fish and other kid-enticing displays.

Previous blog posts on other Las Vegas attractions: