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Minneapolis collector's $41.6 million African art sale sets NY record

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 14, 2014 - 8:32 PM
 

Myron Kunin, art collector and Regis Corp, founder

The African art collection of the late Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin sold for a record $41.6 million at Sotheby's in New York on Tuesday.

An extremely rare Senufo Female Statue (pictured at right) shattered the previous world record when it went for $12,037,000. Carved by an artist known as the Master of Sikasso, the Ivory Coast sculpture is one of only five Senufo figures of that type known.

Calling it the Kunin Senufo Female Statue, Sotheby's described it as a "quintessential masterpiece of African abstraction." It has been widely exhibited,  published in numerous important books on the subject, and was included in the Museum of Modern Art's pivotal 1984 exhibition "Primitivism in Modern Art."

Three additional sculptures from Kunin's collection fetched record prices: a Ngbaka Statue of the Mythical Ancestor Setu which went for $4,085,000, a Fang-Betsi Reluquary Head, which sold for $3,637,000 and a Kongo-Yombe Maternity Group which fetched $3,525,000.

The Kunin sale brought in more than $10 million above the high estimate that Sotheby's had set before the sale. The auction house described the results as a "historic total" that was the highest ever for African art. The sale results totaled $41,617,500.

Of the 164 pieces in Kunin's African art collection, all but 40 sold Tuesday morning.

A Minneapolis-based businessman, Kunin (1928-2013) bought out a hair-care business founded by his father and parlayed it into a $2.7 billion enterprise, Regis Corporation, with more than 9,700 salons and stores owned or franchised in the United States, England and France.

Passionate, independent-minded and discerning about art, he amassed world-class collections in several fields, most notably American art from 1900 to 1950. His holdings in that area -- including pieces by Georgia O'Keeffe, Philip Guston, Morris Kantor, Marsden Hartley and Guy Pene Du Bois -- are considered by some to be even more important than the African collection.

More than 75 of Kunin's American paintings were shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2005 in a show called "Villa America." The museum owns very few American paintings from the first half of the 20th century and officials there obviously hoped that Kunin would give or bequeath some key works to the museum where he was a longtime trustee.

Gregarious but publicity shy, Kunin and his wife Anita generously supported many cultural institutions in the Twin Cities. Those gifts were and are typically given in the name of Regis Corporation including the lead gift for the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota, the Regis Master series of exhibitions at the Northern Clay Center and the Regis Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.

Often Kunin bought art in areas that were overlooked, unfashionable or neglected by museums as well as other collectors. As a result he sometimes was ahead of the herd and able to acquire unusual works for comparatively modest prices. At the same time he was quite willing to pay top dollar for prime pieces and he knew very well what they were. Unlike many business moguls who dabble in art, he did not rely on the advice of hired curators but on his own highly educated eye and mind.

"People know I'm psychotic about art and they submit a lot of things to me, but I can't buy everything because it depends on the cash flow of the moment," he told the Star Tribune in a 2005 interview. "So I'm sometimes forced to sell some things to buy something else."

In 1992, for example, he made headlines when he sold a painting by the 19th century British eccentric Richard Dadd at just shy of $3 million, then an auction record for a Victorian-era picture. It was snapped up by English musical producer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Minneapolis curator to head Palm Springs Art Museum

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 14, 2014 - 6:58 PM

Elizabeth Armstrong, Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator. Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison

Elizabeth Armstrong, founding curator of the contemporary art department at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), will become executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum in January 2015.

A dynamic personality who brought a casual style and keen intellect to her job, Armstrong joined the Minneapolis museum in August  2008 to head a new department of contemporary art and to serve as the museum's assistant director for exhibitions and programs, then a new post. The museum had previously collected contemporary art, but in a haphazard way that left huge gaps in its holdings along with masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly and others.

Armstrong focused the acquisition program on contemporary works that extended or interacted in unexpected ways with  the museum's holdings of traditional art. Key purchases included a photo by Yinke Shonibare, a British-Nigerian photographer whose staged pictures pose provocative questions about colonialism among other issues.

At the MIA Armstrong also founded the Center for Alternative Museum Practice (CAMP), a department that experiments with fresh ways to mix contemporary and traditional art and to engage the public in its appreciation and understanding. She raised $4 million for new acquisitions and curated a number of key exhibitions including "Global Remix I," " What is Sacred?," "More Real: Art in the Age of Truthiness," and "Until Now: Collecting the New (1960-2010)."

In Palm Springs she will oversee a museum that operates from three sites. The main facility is the Palm Springs Art Museum, a 150,000 sq ft. building in the city's center. That entity has a satelite of the same name in Palm Desert and an Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion which just opened just opened on Sunday, Nov. 9.

Armstrong succeeds Dr. Steven Nash who oversaw the Palm Springs museum's growth starting in 2007. He is responsible for adding the two satellite locations.

Prior to her tenure at the MIA, Armstrong was Acting Director and Chief Curator at the Orange County Museum of Art (2001-2008) and Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (1996-2001). She spent 14 years at Walker Art Center as an associate curator (1982-1996), and before that worked in various capacities doing research and curatorial assistance at museums in Berkeley and San Francisco, California and as a grants administrator at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D. C. She earned a B. A. in American Studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and a M.A. in art history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Among Armstrong's award winning publications are the books Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury, and American Moderns: Villa America, 1900-1950 which showcased highlights from the collection of the late Myron Kunin, a Minneapolis-based arts patron and influential mentor to Armstrong and others.

Karen Armstrong: Study faith, stress Golden Rule

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:23 PM

After decades spent studying, researching and writing books about the history of world religions, British author Karen Armstrong (pictured) appears to have arrived at a stunningly simple resolution: follow the Golden Rule.

Armstrong spoke Tuesday night at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul as part of Talking Volumes, a series co-presented by Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, in collaboratiion with The Loft.

In her new book, "Fields of Blood," Armstrong zeros in on myths and reality surrounding the role of religion in the history of warfare and violence.

With ISIS in the news, interviewer Kerri Miller of MPR asked Armstrong about the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the perception in the West that the violent leaders of ISIS are motivated mainly by their Muslim faith.

"First off, it is a mistake to think that all ISIS fighters are devout jihadists," Armstrong said. "Many are secular" militia, including troops left over from Saddam Hussein's armed guard. She said there had been a story about one ISIS leader who had ordered the book "Islam for Dummies" from amazon.com.

The resurgence of radical Islam in parts of the Mideast today, Armstrong said, is in part a response to the violence used to repress religion and impose a secular state in places like Iran and Egypt in the mid-20th-century.

Another factor, she said, "is a perception in many parts of the Middle East that the West is indifferent to human suffering."

While some have labeled Armstrong an apologist for Islam, she said she abhors the ISIS-sponsored aggression and says that it actually defies Islamic law that forbids violence against civilians and prohibits attacking any country where Muslims are allowed to practice their faith freely.

Armstrong has been a leader in the Charter for Compassion, a global effort to involving elected leaders, clergy and laypeople to sign on to this simple notion: "Do not impose on others what you yourself would not desire." She read an elaboration of that Golden Rule, which is available here.

Armstrong, who turns 70 on Nov. 14, lived in a convent, leaving it after six years, when she was 24. Since then, she remained unmarried and without children. She lives alone and spends much time in study, research, reflection and writing, so that her life today "remains very nun-like," she said.

But Armstrong is no stay-at-home. She travels globally to speak and promote her books. She has given TED talks and is a regular TV commentator. She has made numerous trips to Pakistan, where she has helped promote a chain of progressive schools.

While her topic is a serious one, Armstrong frequently displayed flashes of wit and self-deprecating humor. She acknowledged Britain's once-mighty status as a colonial power, but said "we now view ourselves as the poodle of the United States."

Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce recently interviewed Armstrong, here.

Armstrong's full talk is scheduled to be rebroadcast at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, on Minnesota Public Radio.

Steve Paxton makes contact at Walker Art Center

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 11, 2014 - 2:02 PM

POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, Special to the Star Tribune

Dancer Jurij Konjar. Photo by Nada Zgank.

Steve Paxton (pictured below) is a world-famous dancer and choreographer with a career spanning some five decades but he lives under the radar.

The José Limón and Merce Cunningham company member during the 1960’s, key instigator within the transformative Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union postmodern movement groups, inventor of contact improvisation in 1972 and much sought-after teacher doesn’t have a manager or booking agent. Now 75 and a self-described “old guy,” Paxton lives at Mad Brook Farm in northeastern Vermont, a place he calls home with artists, artisans and other folks seeking alternative communities. But for the next two weeks he is the central figure of the Walker Art Center’s mini-festival “Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton.”

“I started dancing professionally in the 1960s, and over 50-odd years you develop your instrument, your body and your mind,” Paxton said from Vermont during a recent phone conversation. And while aging has exacted a toll, he said that “the feeling is still in my nerves and muscle memory continues even as the muscles stop functioning.” He noted that Cunningham choreographed into his nineties.

According to Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Paxton “is under-recognized and deserves a much broader public understanding of his influence.” William Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jérôme Bel, to name a few major artists presented by the Walker have all drawn inspiration from Paxton and his innovative peers (including Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer).

Yet while Paxton may be relatively unknown to a broader audience he is very much a “guru” within the dance world, said Bither, and “people from all over the country are coming for the classes.”

Kristin Van Loon, co-founder of local choreographic duo HIJACK with Arwen Wilder, cleared her schedule for Paxton’s visit. She has attended four of his two-week intensives, likening the experience to a “martial arts dojo” in which the participants dance, eat and even take naps together while learning to delve deeper into their movement potential. Paxton also lectures and recounts stories from Cunningham tours. “It’s exactly how I want to study dance,” she said. Van Loon will be performing Paxton’s 1967 work “Smiling” with his longtime collaborator Lisa Nelson on Thursday, November 13 during the Walker’s “Talking Dance” program (7 p.m.).

Aside from teaching and lecturing Paxton will also take the stage while in Minneapolis, a rare treat. He and Nelson will dance their 2004 duet “Night Stand” on November 21-22 at 8 p.m., which also features lighting design from Carol Mullins. “We have been performing together since the 1970s,” Paxton said of Nelson, referring to their ongoing partnership as a “dance adventure.” The residency also includes a performance of Paxton’s 1982 solo “Bound,” performed by Slovenian dancer Jurij Konjar on November 14 at 8 p.m. “He is a really incredible technician with great physical energy,” said Paxton.

“Night Stand” and “Bound” are unique choices in that they are not contact improvisation works, although they are built on elements of improvisation intertwined with specific set events. The Walker’s intent is to show different facets of Paxton’s artistry – from improvisation to choreography – during “Composing Forward.” But contact improvisation is still a big part of the conversation. “It is a global phenomenon,” said Bither. “It opened up the idea of movement as a form of participation.”

Contact improvisation transformed the act of partnering. Dancers support one another, exchanging weight, melting into the curves of bodies. Paxton explained that he drew upon research by Dr. Daniel Stern at Columbia University during the early 1970’s that focused on the movement interactions between mothers and babies built upon intimacy, emotional nourishment and reliance on intuition. This movement foundation draws upon innate and common human experiences, which may explain why contact improvisation concepts are so readily embraced by dancers from different cultures.

An egalitarian form, contact improvisation is available to movers of any ability, and adherents hail from a variety of backgrounds, including ballet (local dancer Sally Rousse has been known to do it while wearing a toe shoes and tutu). Asked whether he anticipated contact improvisation’s popularity, Paxton, who witnessed other the blossoming of other  movements like Pop Art, said, “I did have a sort of inkling that it was probably going to grow. It grew very quickly by word of mouth. I’ve always conducted my career by word of mouth.”

Paxton, however, is not possessive of his creation. “As long as I’m alive I maintain a position that lets contact just be in the hands of the people doing it. I’m not overseeing it. I feel like that’s a moral position. If you are interested find it and explore it.”

Contact improvisation can be either virtuosic or contemplative but it is always individualistic. According to Paxton, “We’re trained to see dance validated as dance and to see physical exploits. We demand precision and in performance we want to see something spectacular. We want to see the training potential of the body exposed.”

But ironically, he added, this desire can limit movement opportunity. What contact improvisation does is provide an outlet for interaction that can range from the exquisite to the mundane – but is still altogether different from the norm. “We behave in certain ways in public with people,” he said. “We don’t roll around, we aren’t upside down, we aren’t supporting each other[‘s bodies] while we’re having a cocktail or a chat over coffee.”

For a full schedule of Paxton-related events visit www.walkerart.org.

Share your adoption stories for a new play

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: October 29, 2014 - 4:26 PM

Wonderlust cofounder Leah Cooper, right, recently received a $35,000 Arts Challenge award from the Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl, at left. That money will be used to stage a play about the State Capitol. The theater company is also in the early stages of crafting a play about adoption in Minnesota and invites the public to share their stories.

Launched last year by the husband-and-wife creative team of Alan Berks and Leah Cooper, Wonderlust Productions creates and stages live theater that adds non-professional community members into the mix. Their first play, put on last fall at Fort Snelling, was themed around the experiences of military veterans, with a cast including both actual vets and actors. Written by a playwright, the show was based on soldiers' anecdotes and memories of war and its aftermath. 

This time around, Wonderlust is soliciting the stories of people affected by adoption, including adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents and siblings. Several story circles are being hosted at various locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul over the next month to gather and weave these the recollections into a cohesive fictional play. The next one is 2-4 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 8 at Nautilus Music-Theater Studio, 308 Prince St. in Lowertown St. Paul. See wonderlustproductions.org for the schedule and more information.

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