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Life of design curator Mildred "Mickey" Friedman celebrated in NYC

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 19, 2014 - 5:32 PM

Star Tribune file photos of Mildred "Mickey" Friedman

Mildred "Mickey" Friedman, the influential Walker Art Center design curator who died in September at 85, was remembered this week in New York City for her samba, her style, her curiosity, and her quiet grace. About 100 A-list artists (Chuck Close, Claes Oldenburg, Christo, Judith Shea), architects (Hugh Hardy, Billie Tsien, Frank Gehry), museum directors (Sam Sachs, Frick emeritus; Adam Weinberg, Whitney; Olga Viso, Walker) and past and present Walker friends gathered at the Century Association on a rainy Monday evening.

Former Walker curator Dean Swanson recalled dancing the samba with her on a "glamorous dance floor in Rio" in 1963 when they were helping Friedman's husband Martin, then the Walker's director, prepare a show of American art that took grand prize at that year's Sao Paulo biennial. With a nod to the Friedmans' long marriage (she died on their 65th birthday), Tsien compared "smart, tough, rational" Mickey to the character Rosalind Russell played opposite mischievous, fast-talking Cary Grant (Martin) in the classic 1940 film "His Girl Friday."

Recalling the "quiet grace and gentle beauty of a loving friend," Gehry took a jib at a Manhattan institution when he credited her with always "searching for uncharted water, unlike MOMA." Lise Friedman, eldest of the couple's three daughters, observed that one of their mom's "most important lessons was always to make an extra place at the table when someone unexpectedly comes."

After Hardy led toasts to the Friedmans, the crowd munched hors d'oeuvres, including a high-style version of  that old Midwestern standard, "pigs-in-a-blanket" (puff pastry, no cheese, Dijon mustard).

Soap Factory in Minneapolis to celebrate 25th anniversary

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:22 PM

Alexa Horochowski's 2014 installation at The Soap Factory. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney

A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Soap Factory art complex started life as No Name Exhibitions.The popoular outpost for Halloween fun and experimental art is celebrating its quarter century anniversary with a benefit  party from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 15 in its cavernous, brick-and-timber warehouse, a former soap factory,  at 514 S.E. Second St., Minneapolis.

The Factory's presence there has been a spur to development in what is now a fast-gentrifying neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Back in 1989, what is now a rough-hew home to avant garde art was still a functioning factory.

"There have been a lot of changes in this building," said Ben Heywood, executive director of The Soap Factory. "Back then they were literally melting down animals and turning them into fat and then throwing lye into it and turning it into soap."

Back then a group of local artists banded together and started No Name Exhibitions in another quasi derelict building known as the Skunk House. On the opposite side of the Mississippi and just west of Hennepin Av., the Skunk House was subsequently acquired by the Federal Reserve bank to house its air conditioning plant, Heywood said. No Name then moved into the bottling house of the former Grain Belt Brewery and from there to the Soap Factory in 1995.

"Our exhibition space went from 600 square feet to 50,000 square feet when we moved here, so that's a big change," Heywood said.

The Factory building is still pretty raw, but it too has changed over the years. Now, for example, it has bathrooms. And in January it will add heating and air conditioning for the basement and first floor. Previously the place closed in winter months when there was no heat.

Other improvements include the addition of a permanent staff, rather than volunteers who ran the place until 2002. With staff came a year-round exhibition and performance program. And the ever-popular Haunted Basement Halloween shindig. And now the 25th anniversary party. 

Billed as a "day of citywide fun," the anniversary committee may have overpromised a bit. There won't be hot air balloons or marching bands on Nicollet Mall, much as Heywood would love such stuff. By "city-wide" they mean art impressario and cultural gadabout Andy Sturdevant leading a Soap Factory History tour starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a vintage bus that will roll past previous Factory locales.

"Andy is a city-wide celebration in himself," Heywood explained. Indeed.

The Factory invited 9,000 people to the shindig and expects a good turn out.

"We can hold 700 people on the first floor and we should have a full house," Heywood said.

Party goers can expect Beatrix* JAR and Solid Gold to kick off the event with DJs Diarrhea (Jackie Beckey) and Christopher Saint Christopher (Christopher Allen) commanding the dance floor and emcee Ian Rans running the show.

There will be complimentary cocktails by Bittercube, gourmet nibbles from Fabulous Catering and Common Roots catering, small plates from Tilia, Heyday, Haute Dish, Third Bird, and the University of MN College of Design. Plus art by Aaron Dysart and Andy DuCett. Performances by artist Jaime Carrera and theater company Live Action Set. Plus an auction, of course.

(Party 6 p.m. to midnight, Nov, 15, tickets $50 to $2,000. The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. S.E., Mpls. For tickets: www.soapfactory.org)


 

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.

Sotheby's to sell African art of Minneapolis collector Myron Kunin

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 6, 2014 - 8:35 PM

Myron Kunin, Star Tribune file photo

Sotheby's will auction 164 pieces from the African art collection of Minneapolis hair-salon magnate Myron Kunin at 10 a.m. November 11 in New York City.

In a video "In Pursuit of Beauty: The Myron Kunin Collection of African Art," prepared by Sotheby's and Alexandre Gallery, art dealers from Paris, New York and elsewhere describe Kunin's African collection as among the world's best. Objects to be auctioned range from a Baule bronze turtle from the Ivory Coast that's estimated to sell for between $2,000 and $3,000 (Lot. # 38) to a Senufo Female Statue (Lot #48) for which the estimated price is available "upon request."  Based on the prices of other top lots, the latter estimate is most likely auction-code for more than $2 million.

Other high-end pieces include a Kongo-Yombe carving of a maternity group (Lot #95) estimated at $1.5 to $2 million; a Ngbaka statue (Lot # 119) estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million; and a Songye Janus-head sculpture (Lot #141) estimated to sell for between $1 million and $1.5 million.

In the Twin Cities, where Kunin was a long time supporter of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, he is best known for his collection of early 20th century American art, portions of which have often been loaned to the museum. He also provided money for the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota and funded a lecture and exhibition program at the Northern Clay Center.

Kunin's fortune derived from the Regis Corporation, a hair salon business started by his father in the 1920s which Myron subsequently bought and built into a $2.7 billion business with 9,763 salons in the United States, England and France. Or, as the Sotheby's video describes it, "the world's first billion dollar hair care business."

A life-long and passionate art collector, Kunin (1928 - 2013) was a modest guy with an exceedingly shrewd and highly educated eye for art. He never paid the least bit of attention to what was fashionable or flashy, but instead followed his instinct and heart. Often that led him to acquire art that was currently out of vogue and therefore less pricey. But he was equally willing to pay top dollar when a rare and splendid piece was available. One of the dealers recalled that you never needed to sign a contract when you did a deal with Myron Kunin; he was very much a handshake kind of guy. 

The Sotheby's experts describe Kunin's African collection as his second most important after his holdings of early 20th century American art which range from paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe to Guy Pene Du Bois and Gerald Murphy. He also occasionally dipped into Old Masters and 19th century  British paintings.
 

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