Art Review: "High Trash," Fleming Museum of Art

Tom Deininger, courtesy of the Fleming Museum  "Wave"French artist Marcel Duchamp was the first to present a humble object and claim it was “high art.” Signed “R. Mutt” and titled “Fountain,” the urinal Duchamp submitted to a 1917 exhibition as a legitimate work incited outrage. It was dismissed as rubbish and cut from the exhibition. Now, scholars refer to “Fountain” — the most notorious in a series of Duchamp’s “readymades” — as a major landmark in 20th-century art, and replicas of his porcelain throne grace important museums around the world.

“High Trash,” a current exhibit at the Fleming Museum of Art, shares some elements with Duchamp’s readymades, requiring the viewer to look beyond the materials to see the art. One difference: Seeing the beauty in Duchamp’s work requires thumbing one’s nose at established ideas about art, whereas the artists in “High Trash” have deliberately manipulated junk to make it beautiful.

Artist Rob Hitzig's Wood Works Turn Sculpture Into Paintings

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," courtesy Rob HitzigHanging against the white walls of the SEABA Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington, Robert Hitzig’s geometric wooden sculptures glow with a subtle sheen. Up close, the layers of tinted shellac magnify the natural grain of the wood. Viewers may have an urge to run a hand across their surfaces, just to see if the pale color hides any imperfections. But, tempting as it may be, don’t ask Hitzig what his floor-laying schedule is. These days, his oeuvre is form, not function.

“I get plenty of requests about doing floors for people when they see my work — and I always have to say no,” Hitzig says with a slight grin. “I like to take wood into the fine-art realm and make it look like art, rather than furniture or something functional.”

That hasn’t always been the case. Working first as an agroforester for the Peace Corps and then for 10 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, Hitzig spent years thinking about forests and timber in a practical way. He indulged in a furniture-making hobby for a while. And then, in 2007, he got tired of function.

Persian Visions: Contemporary Photography from Iran (Art New England)

The Fleming Museum, University of Vermont • Burlington, VT • • Through May 20, 2012

Ahmad Nateghi, Untitled, 1998

By turns abstract, edgy, and haunting, the photographs in Persian Visions: Contemporary Photographs from Iran fully transcend the geographic boundaries imposed by the exhibition title. These are not the images that have flashed across American television screens for the past ten years; they’re far subtler than that, muting everyday violence with digital multimedia, blurred focus, and the ever-present veil motif.

Subject matter simmers just beneath the surface, at times brought to a rolling boil by Fleming curator Aimee Marcereau DeGalan’s decision to juxtapose the contemporary prints of the traveling exhibition (toured by International Art & Artists, Washington, D.C.) with nineteenth-century photographs of the Middle East in a complementary show.

Nemesis Brings a 1930s Adventure Story to Stage, and Sludge Monsters to Earth (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days on Jan. 18, 2012.

Theater audiences can’t help but shift to the edge of their seats when they hear these four sounds: Thump … thump … thump … creeeeeeeeeeeeeak. The combination conjures up images of castles, Igor and ominous wooden doors with deadbolts, doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what Foley, or sound-effects, artist Buzz Moran will be counting on in an upcoming performance of The Intergalactic Nemesis at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Originally a live radio play in Austin, Tex., and now a touring stage show, Nemesis is billed as a live-action graphic novel. The sci-fi story, set in 1933, features a reporter and her assistant, a mysterious librarian, and sludge monsters from the planet Zygon that are, of course, threatening planet Earth. Hence the “intergalactic nemesis.”

The show is performed with three stationary actors, one keyboard player and one Foley artist. The stage backdrop features more than 1000 hand-drawn comic-book images projected in high def.

Issues of Shame and Guilt in 'Race'

By Lindsay J. Warner

From John Grisham’s A Time to Kill to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, racially charged courtroom dramas have captivated American audiences with tense in-court debates. Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird though, the climax of David Mamet’s Race takes place outside the courtroom, as two lawyers — one black and one white — and their young African- American assistant debate a case in their offices, becoming prosecutors and jury both in their discourse.

Race, driven by the frequently tense relationship between Jack (Jordan Lage) and Henry (Ray Anthony Thomas), speaks in clipped, lawyerly tones that waylay the viewer into believing it is a play about right and wrong, guilty or not guilty. As their young assistant Susan (Nicole Harris) begins to enter the conversation, however, it’s clear that Mamet has little interest in the verdict of the court case, and cares only to expose the inherent feeling of guilt and shame that emerge when talking about race.

The Serious Business of Being Funny

Most kids want to run away to join the circus at some stage in their lives. Lorenzo Pisoni ran away from the circus —  in footie pajamas.

The  mental picture of a young Lorenzo shuffling down the highway in PJs is humorous, but the scenario is representative of the serious themes behind the schtick: the father-son relationship on view in Philadelphia Theatre Company's one-man show Humor Abuse. Directed by Pisoni's college friend Erica Schmidt, Humor Abuse is a mostly true account of Pisoni's childhood growing up the son of two circus performers. Throughout the production, Pisoni performs pratfalls and physical gags, falls off of ladders, springs out of trunks, wears flippers, does back flips and employs an entire repertoire of physical humor — all of it handed down from his father, the professional clown Larry Pisoni.

The physical timing is first-rate, and Pisoni's 20 years of circus training and performance serves him well in this production. It's entirely possible to treat Humor Abuse as a behind-the-scenes tour of your very own circus, but the show also places a father-son relationship literally in the spotlight, showing the ragged edges hidden behind even the most sequined performers.

Summertime And The Music Is Easy

    Summer orchestra programs seem generally be selected using one criterion: Will the program survive the beer and blanket test? As in, will the music stand up to the distractions of the summer season at the Mann, where themed picnics and fireworks tend to leave a longer-lasting impression than the music itself?

    Under the direction of Grant Llewellyn on Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Orchestra opened a two-week run of the expected popular favorites and crowd-pleasers, while also plugging the lesser-known work of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a shining star in a program that luxuriated in easy-listening favorites.

    Easing into the program with Strauss' “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” Llewellyn cruised at a relaxed pace that pleasantly contrasted the oom-pah-pahing that too often characterizes this piece. The languid tempo, though the perfect accompaniment for picnics and summer crowds, took its toll close to the end, however, as the final few bars came to their rather abrupt crescendo, taking the low strings seemingly by surprise at the work's close.

'Grease' Used To Be The One That I Want

     Although spaced a decade apart and both hopelessly outdated, 1978's movie version of "Grease" and 1987's "Dirty Dancing" still exert an irresistible pull. It's hard to pinpoint the source of the attraction — certainly, Patrick Swayze and John Travolta were cute, but the films really succeeded on the strength of their characters: While behaving badly and acting like punk teenagers, they still exuded a powerful charisma that made thousands of teens want to get up and dance.
   That vital blend of attitude and charm was sadly lacking in last week's performance of Grease at the Academy of Music. The cast may have felt compromised by the substitution of its Danny Zuko for understudy Mark Raumaker, but the entire performance felt both coarsely performed and outdated.
    While the actors onstage played their guts out on the energy level, nailing that hand jive and cheesy dance moves, the main characters felt like carbon-copies of the 1978 film, but with a much less finely tuned realization of what makes Danny and his gang "cool" or Rizzo and her girls strut. As a result, the beloved tunes and familiar choreography felt as out-of-date as Danny's ex-girlfriends.

Centuries Later, Still 'Spring Awakening'

    Dressed in neon lights and with jagged, contemporary choreography transporting its characters across the stage, Spring Awakening's shock value is wrapped in hipness and shrouded with casual cool. In 1891 when author Frank Wedekind's novel first appeared though, the story was banned by adults who feared it would taint their children's innocent young minds. The irony was evident even then, but more than a century later, Spring Awakening is even more of a poignant — and important — reminder that those whom we wish to protect with ignorance are usually the ones who are most in need of education.

Actresses Without A Stage, On Stage In 'Grey Gardens'

The real-life character of Edith Bouvier Beale is too often faulted for the disgrace of the Beale family estate, and of her own daughter, Edie. 
    “You have become that most pitiable of creatures: an actress without a stage,” says Major Bouvier to Edith, castigating his daughter for their dysfunctional family dynamics. Yet one can argue that the blatant disregard shown by Edith’s father and by Edith’s absent husband toward her talent and character is the true cause for blame in the musical Grey Gardens, on stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre through June 28.
    The infamous story of the Beales, originally immortalized in the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, is told here with an expanded ticket of songs performed by two of the most tragic divas to have ever graced the high-society circles of New York.
    The true story of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, aunt and cousin to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and keepers of the immense mansion Grey Gardens, is recited in whispers: Two formerly wealthy Kennedy relatives end up the sole occupants of a dilapidated, filthy mansion unfit for habitation, carrying on in a manner that suggests mental instability and possible insanity. The newspapers were relentless when the Board of Health discovered them in 1973, house-bound and living amid a sea of feral cats, opossums, raccoons and cans of cat food piled 5 feet high.