January 26, 2008

Le Cinéma Français

The ongoing writers' strike and the cold of winter make this the perfect time to explore what's available on DVD in the warmth and comfort of your own home!

I recently went on a French film binge by renting three relatively recent movies that, despite the best of intentions, I did not catch in the theater but were perfectly suited to the small screen. Each was charming and well worth seeing and made me a little nostalgic to go back to Paris!

First up "Avenue Montaigne ", or, as it is called in French, "Fauteuils d'orchestre [Orchestra Seats]". It tells the story of a pretty young woman (Cécile de France) who leaves her small town and goes to Paris to experience the big city and the luxurious world that her grandmother has told her about since childhood. Jessica finds a job in a small café on the Avenue Montaigne (a very smart street in Paris between the Champs Elysée and the Seine River) that caters to the local theater, concert hall and auction house. As it happens, all three are holding major events at the same time, and our heroine comes in contact with a famous actress, concert pianist, and great art collector who all patronize the café. The story is honest and touching as each is at a crossroads and is confronting fears and longings that expose their humanity beneath the public persona. Our young waitress discovers that the worlds of fame and luxury have their own pitfalls and the greatest lesson in life is to be true to oneself.

For a whirlwind cinematic tour of Paris, check out "Paris, je t'aime", a marvelous collaborative effort comprising 18 short films, by 21 directors, each looking at a different district of the city. From "Tour Eiffel" where a young boy tells how his parents, both mimes (Paul Putner and Yolande Moreau) met in prison and fell in love, to "Place des Victoires" where a mother (Juliette Binoche) grieving over the death of her young son is comforted by a fantasy cowboy (Willem Dafoe), the stories are both realistic and magical. Consider the poignancy of "Bastille" where a husband (Sergio Castellitto) is preparing to leave his wife (Miranda Richardson) for a much younger woman, when she announces that she is dying and he falls back in love with her. Or, the humor of "Parc Monceau" where an older man (Nick Nolte) and a younger woman (Ludivine Sagnier) meet for an arrangement that a third person ("Gaspard") will not approve of. It turns out that the young woman is his daughter and he will be babysitting his young grandson, Gaspard! Each film had its own message and charm, but my favorite was the last one, entitled "14e Arrondissement". It tells the story of an American tourist (Margo Martindale), a postal worker from Colorado, who is visiting Paris for the first time and recounts her tale in a very primitive French. She is lonely and scared and not enjoying herself, but she keeps going. All of a sudden she understands that chasing a dream doesn't always work, sometimes you have to let the dream come to you, and while sitting on a park bench having a sandwich she realizes that she does indeed love Paris, and she believes Paris loves her too!

Finally, we go back to the early 20th Century and a very moving biography of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose". Called "La Môme" in France after Piaf's nickname "The Kid", this film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and Marion Cotillard won the Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of this iconic singer.

The story of Edith Piaf's rise to fame is certainly film-worthy, as was her subsequent decline and untimely death. Born into abject poverty in 1918, she was raised by her paternal grandmother in a bordello in Normandy until she was taken on the circus circuit with her father, a contortionist. By the age of 14 she was performing on the streets of the Pigalle until 1935 when was discovered by Louis Leplée who owned the nightclub "Gerny's". Under his guidance Piaf's natural talent was molded into an accomplished singer and performer and her career took off. The film chronicles her love affair with the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, her 1951 car crash that left her addicted to morphine, her American singing tours, her struggles with alcohol and drugs and her sad demise and death of cancer in 1963. All punctuated with her amazing performances and those unforgettable songs.

So don't let the bad weather get you down! Open up a nice Bordeaux and import a little bit of France, right on to your television screen, without getting up off the couch!

P.S. Click on each film's title for a short preview!

January 19, 2008

54th Annual Winter Antiques Show

Aficionados of antiques and fine art rejoice! It's time again for the always spectacular Winter Antiques Show at the newly renovated Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue in New York. Now in its 54th year, this event continues to be the premier venue for fine art and antiques in America, and the opening benefit for East Side House Settlement is de rigeur for a certain social set in the City!

I found this year's presentation even better than last year's with a little less emphasis on Folk Art and Americana and a more diverse selection of international dealers and specialties. Of course, a few of the stands are always fabulous like Elle Shushan's exquisite collection of miniature portraits in a jewel box setting, A La Vieille Russie's magnificent Fabergé objects and jewelry and Peter Finer's imposing medieval arms and armor, and all lived up to expectations this year.

It's fun to dream about what one would buy with unlimited resources of funds and space, just for the sheer pleasure of owning. My top three list for this year's fair would be, in no particular order (1) A magnificent 18th Century Venetian chinoiserie and floral decorated secretary/bookcase on the stand of Philip Colleck, Ltd, normally known for their fine English antiques, (2) A pair of almost photo realistic oil paintings by Henri Harrison depicting "Telescopic Picture of the Moon", 1878, and "Solar Eclipse", 1880, on the stand of Alexander Gallery, and (3) A wallpaper panel designed by Thomas Couture and manufactured by Desfossé in Paris in 1855 and entitled "Les Prodigues, ou, Le Souper de Pierrot" at Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz a specialist in antique papiers-peintes in Paris and New York.

This year's special loan exhibition "An Eye Toward Perfection" presented by The Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham, NY, was also superb. A concise and excellent selection of furniture, baskets, textiles and ephemera emphasized the Shakers' proficiency in design and craftsmanship. Especially interesting was a chair with metal "tilters" on the back legs, and 2 very rare and very sculptural babies' high chairs.

The Winter Antiques Show runs until January 27 and is the perfect way to beat the winter doldrums by getting out of the house and surrounding yourself with beautiful things!

January 12, 2008

A Winter Walk on Museum Mile

Early January is usually not the greatest time for museum exhibitions - most of the special shows are targeted at holiday crowds and many end with the season. But a recent walk up "Museum Mile" on Fifth Avenue in New York showed that there are still some really great exhibitions on view, and the best part is, they're not crowded anymore!

Starting at 86th Street, the always fabulous Neue Galerie is now showing "Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections". You will remember the 2006 drama of the restituted Klimt painting "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" which drew international attention and was reported in my blog ("Crazy for Klimt "). In summary, the Bloch-Bauer heirs successfully challenged the Austrian government's claim to this and several other paintings and subsequently sold it to Mr. Lauder for $135 million. This magnificent work now hangs permanently in the Neue Galerie, and, until June 30, 2008, is surrounded by 7 other paintings and 120 drawings also by Gustav Klimt.

Mr. Lauder and Mr. Sabarsky were pioneers in their appreciation of the work of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and his contribution to Secessionism, Symbolism and ultimately Modern Art. Between them they amassed a very important collection of this major artist's œuvre and together they created the Neue Galerie as an homage to fin de siècle Vienna and its artistic luminaries.

For this limited time visitors to the museum have an opportunity to view not only these rarely seen works but also a re-creation of Klimt's second studio based on photographs and floor plans and decorated with the original Josef Hoffman Wiener Werkstätte furniture. Another fascinating object seldom available to the public, is Klimt's actual painting smock (see the 1912 photograph at right). Rather extraordinary in its size, the smock was made by the Schwestern Flöge (Flöge Sisters) Reformkleider in Vienna, and is the costume in which Klimt created some of his most memorable works.

No visit to the Neue Galerie is complete without a short stop at the Café Sabarsky for lunch or at least a Viennese coffee and torte! It is the perfect place to reflect on the beauty of the collection and to get ready for the walk up Fifth Avenue to our next stop...

The Jewish Museum at 92nd Street is currently presenting a lovely show dedicated to the only artist to show his work in all 8 official Impressionist exhibitions (1874-1886) and the only member of the movement who was Jewish. I'm talking about Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and this exhibit "Camille Pissarro: Impressions of City and Country" is a small but well curated selection of 50 paintings, prints and drawings, from each of his major periods, and all lent by American collectors and institutions. From his early, classically styled Caribbean landscapes, through his Impressionist farm scenes ("Landscape at Osny, View of the Farm" 1883), to his late, more Pointillist urban views ("Place du Théatre Français, from the Avenue de l'Opéra, Hazy Weather", 1898), this is a very fine, concise overview of this important artist's work. It is on display until February 3.

So don't let the winter blues get you down - take advantage of this mild weather to walk up Fifth Avenue and enjoy the shows!

January 05, 2008

"Listening to Our Ancestors"

One of the lesser known but truly fabulous cultural institutions in New York City is the National Museum of the American Indian. Located at the Southern tip of Manhattan in the former U.S. Custom House, this is the New York branch of the Smithsonian Institution's 3 museums dedicated to our native heritage. On view through July 20, 2008, is a wonderful exhibition dedicated to the art of native life along the North West Coast of Canada and the United States.

"Listening to Our Ancestors" celebrates the artistic and cultural traditions of 11 Pacific coast nations. From Alaska through British Columbia to Washington State, the history of this region and the tribal relationships to nature and to fellow man is explained in a sensitive and beautiful collaboration between old and new, native and Anglo. Using examples from the Smithsonian's outstanding collection of North West Coast artifacts, the curators, working with the leaders of each Native nation, have successfully given an overview of the region's history, modern life and special ceremonies while giving each nation a unique identity within the whole.

The sculptural beauty of a Tlingit wooden brown bear bowl, the magnificence of a Gitxsan shaman's bear hide robe and crown of grizzly bear claws, the craftsmanship of a Heiltsuk button blanket and the magic of a Kwakwaka'wakw Transformation mask, are all presented to the visitor in an informative and fascinating installation. One leaves the exhibition with a new appreciation for the culture, both past and present, developed and preserved by these people of the North.

The Museum of the American Indian is open everyday and admission is free.

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year 2008!

With the new Waterford Crystal Times Square New Years Eve Ball
in the foreground, Times Square looking North

About a million people gathered in New York's Times Square last night to witness the famous ball drop that signifies the beginning of a new year. Under mild and clear skies, the magnificent Waterford crystal ball glittered in different colors as it made its 59 second descent and ushered in 2008. This was the 100th anniversary of the first ball drop and while the city, and indeed the world, has changed, the excitement and anticipation that a new year and a fresh start brings remains the same.

"Preservation Celebration" sponsored by Rain Bird International
was the winner of the Sweepstakes trophy for the most beautiful entry.

Across the country, another annual tradition was repeated - the Tournament of Roses Parade rolled, marched and trotted down Colorado Boulevard in beautiful Pasadena for the 119th time. Again, over a million people spent the early morning hours lining the 5 mile route to get a good viewing spot for this very special event.

21 Outstanding marching bands from around this country, Switzerland and El Salvador entertained with music and military precision. The always impressive equestrian entries honor the history of the West with Cowboys (and girls), Indians and Caballeros riding over 300 Palominos, Arabians and Miniature Horses bedecked in sterling silver saddles or pulling historic stagecoaches and wagons. Of course it is the flower covered floats that draw the most attention and this year's 46 fabulous creations were as gorgeous and imaginative as ever.

As I begin my third year of writing this blog, I'd like to thank my loyal readers and wish all of you a very Happy and Healthy 2008! I hope you will join me for another year of art and travel adventures with a few surprises thrown in!