Light Touch

light painting hibbertIn the finding-wonderful-art-in-unexpected-places department, I ran across the work of a French photographer, Christopher Hibbert, as a backdrop image from Google Open Gallery on my streaming device one evening. It sparked my curiosity enough to search for more of his pieces, two of which are shown here. A spectral blend of soft whimsy and technical prowess, the “light paintings” as they’re called, harbor a lingering quality, bringing a dash of the preternatural to settings that would ordinarily be typical, if lovely, landscapes. A process in which exposures are created, usually at night, by manipulating light sources or by the movement of the camera, the end result transcends technique; or, as the artist says, “Light is life.”
light painting hibbert
Photos: ©2016 Christopher Hibbert

‘String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis’

art string theory
WITH WIMBLEDON, that most venerated of competitions now in full swing at London’s All-England Club, those with a love for literature as well as tennis can feast on a compilation that combines some of the most magnificent writing on the subject from one of the greatest writers of his generation. String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis by David Foster Wallace is important enough that the Library of America recently published it as a special edition, which in physical form looks and feels like a classic textbook – appropriate, as there’s so much to learn within its pages.

David Foster Wallace (who left us far too early, at the age of 46 in 2008) was best known for his novel, Infinite Jest, which sparked an uproar when it failed to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1996. It was a tour-de-force opus (1,100 pages long) that cemented his reputation as a fresh and consummately creative voice in the literary stratosphere.

Infinite Jest, not surprisingly, involved tennis amongst its several themes. Since his days as a junior player in the heart of the Midwest, Wallace’s relationship with the sport was deep and all-involving, and led to some of the most insightful essays ever produced on the topic, with the New York Times ultimately calling him “The greatest tennis writer ever.”

For Wallace, tennis was somewhat akin to a trigonometric puzzle that he spent his whole life trying to figure out. “I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding,” he writes. Both the physics and geometry of what takes place within the 78’x27’ confines of a tennis court long consumed his astonishingly analytical eye. Consider the following, from “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” describing his early years in the junior leagues:

“We were doing butterfly drills – my crosscourt forehand is transferred back down the line to [his] backhand, he crosscourts it to my backhand, I send it down the line to his forehand, four 45° angles, though the intersection of just his crosscourts make an X, which is four 90°s and also a crucifix rotated the same quarter-turn that a swastika (which involves eight 90° angles) is rotated on Hitlerian bunting. This was the sort of stuff that went through my head when I drilled.”

Whew. Definitely not the “sort of stuff” that would cross the mind of the average weekend player. In an excellent foreword, writer John Jeremiah Sullivan notes that tennis “draws the obsessive and brooding. It is perhaps the most isolating of games…[and] the perfect game for Wallace.” That obsessive quality is very much on display here, and Wallace’s dissections of what would be considered minutiae by a casual observer are turned into stream-of-consciousness discourses of razor-sharp perception. Brilliant throwaway lines like “he rushes the net like it owes him money” are peppered throughout. (This extends, also, to the book’s voluminous footnotes, a technique that Wallace was known for ubiquitously employing in his fiction as well; I found it best to read those after finishing with the main text.)

book cover string theoryWallace’s exalted views about the essence of the sport – “There is about world-class athletes carving out exemptions from physical laws a transcendent beauty that makes manifest God in man” – were sometimes challenged, and his disappointment is nowhere more keenly expressed than in “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart.” In the piece written about the tennis prodigy’s autobiography released in 1992, Austin, who won the U.S. Open at the tender age of 16, and whom Wallace had placed on a pedestal, came quickly back down to earth as he realized that, “Great athletes usually turn out to be stunningly inarticulate about just those qualities and experiences that constitute their fascination.”

In wickedly incisive form, he writes that “This is for me, the real mystery – whether such a person is an idiot or a mystic or both and/or neither. The only certainty seems to be that such a person does not produce a very good prose memoir.” Elsewhere, he describes the brash and grungy Andres Agassi — “whom I loathe with a passion” – as “amazingly devoid of finesse, with movements that look more like a Heavy Metal musician’s than an athlete’s.” Ouch!

But there was a certain icon about whom Wallace harbored no qualms. In an essay that has since reached near mythic proportions and was originally published as “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” in the New York Times in 2006, Wallace’s sublime observations reached a zenith of perfection. Reprinted here as “Federer Both Flesh and Not,” it’s a must-read for even those with just a passing interest in tennis, a heady amalgamation of both intellectual pyrotechnics and plain fan-boy praise from a clearly besotted Wallace:

“Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.”

Even more to the point is Wallace’s uncanny analysis of what constituted the maestro’s greatness:

There’s also his intelligence, his occult anticipation, his court sense, his ability to read and manipulate opponents, to mix spins and speeds, to misdirect and disguise, to use tactical foresight and peripheral vision and kinesthetic range instead of just rote pace — all this has exposed the limits, and possibilities, of men’s tennis as it’s now played.

Could he have imagined that here we would be, a decade later, with Federer playing at his 17th Wimbledon, after already winning seven titles there? One is struck by a simple phrase that Wallace used to describe his idol, but which can be just as much said about his chronicler: “Genius is not replicable.”

[First published as Book Review: ‘String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis’ by David Foster Wallace at Blogcritics.org]

Christo Connections

christo floating piers
“The Floating Piers” (2016)

Way back in 1983 (when I was just a toddler of course), the excitement was palpable in the summery Florida air when the wildly creative conceptual artist, Christo, unveiled his and wife Jeanne-Claude’s now-iconic “Surrounded Islands.” Eleven small oases skirted in glistening pink polypropylene along Miami’s Biscayne Bay, they gave the impression of a “trail of giant flowers on the water’s surface,” as the New York Times then described it, and the event put the city, just beginning its own flowering into a cultural mecca, very much in the arts spotlight.

I remember venturing out with my dad in our tiny speedboat to see the “installations” up close, feeling it was all a bit of history, which it was. But the spectacle wasn’t designed to be viewed at eye level; the scope of the project could only be appreciated, of course, from the sky.

surrounded islands christo
“Surrounded Islands” (1983)

And there was so much more to follow from Christo in the coming years, including the “Wrapped Reichstag,” Berlin’s parliament building enveloped in aluminum and described at the time (1995) as a “symbol of the new Germany”; as well as “The Gates” in New York City (all 7,500 of them) along the walkways of Central Park, which four years after 9/11 “reminded the world that our city’s artistic spirit was alive and well,” in the words of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Fast forward now to 2016, and this weekend specifically, when the legendary artist, now 81, debuts his latest adventure — again aquatically themed — “The Floating Piers” in the northern lake region of Italy. This time (sans collaborator Jeanne-Claude, who passed away in 2009), he picked the tranquil waters of Lake Iseo for his 23rd large-scale installation.  It will connect the town of Sulzano to the small island of Monte Isola via a two-mile oscillating runway, created with nearly a quarter of a million floating cubes covered in sunshine yellow fabric, whose hue will adjust depending on the time of day.

Numerous volunteers, including lifeguards, have been engaged to ensure safety for the 16 days the installation is in place. Coinciding with the conclusion of Art Basel (a couple of hundred miles away), the event is expected to draw about half a million visitors. “They will feel the movement of the water under foot,” Christo told the Times last year. “It will be very sexy, a bit like walking on a water bed.”

It also “creates an incredible urgency,” Christo said, “because it will never take place again.”

In a tradition begun with Jeanne-Claude early in his career, he also plans to provide visitors with mementoes of sorts, even possibly actual pieces of fabric from the installation. “Normally it’s a postcard you bring home,” said Germano Celant, project director for “Floating Piers.” “A bit of fabric becomes a part of history.”

Oh for a little piece of pink from one of those islands so many years ago…

Photos: Wolfgang Volz

 

Cindy’s (Ageless) Allure

cindy sherman 2016
Untitled (2016)

One of the most celebrated stars in the photography firmament, Cindy Sherman is back with her first series of images in five years – and she’s playing a few old-time Hollywood “stars” herself.

In an exhibit of 16 life-sized color portraits that opened May 5 at the Metro Pictures gallery in New York City, Sherman (who, as her followers know, utilizes her own lights and cameras, as well as costumes and make-up), conjures the ghosts of such cinematic legends as Swanson and Garbo in later years. “I relate so much to these women,” she told the New York Times in April. “They look like they’ve been through a lot, and they’re survivors. And you can see some of the pain in there, but they’re looking forward and moving on.”

cindy sherman untitled film stills
Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)

Sherman, whose works have commanded as much as $6 million at auction, shot to fame in the early 1980s with her now legendary Untitled Film Stills, a set of 69 black-and-white photographs, one of which is shown left, depicting herself as an imaginary actress in a series of cliché moments that symbolized notions of homogenized femininity. Iconoclastic and trailblazing, the Film Stills launched a career that in a way comes full circle with the Stills now on view in New York.

In other words, the fresh-faced ingénue has morphed into middle-age amidst a culture obsessed with youth. Sherman, now 62, also told the Times that, “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman.” She says that the new photos are “the most sincere things that I’ve done — that aren’t full of irony, or caricature, or cartooniness — since the Film Stills.”

Next month, the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles will launch its first special exhibition with a lifetime retrospective of Sherman’s work, which the artist has perfectly titled Imitation of Life. The name comes from a 1959 Technicolor melodrama by director Douglas Sirk, whom Sherman has cited as an influence. It’s said that the wardrobe for the movie’s star, another Hollywood glam queen, Lana Turner, cost in the neighborhood of a million dollars at the time.

Something any one of Sherman’s memorable leading ladies would definitely appreciate.

Kiss from a Rose

manet lilacs and roses
Édouard Manet, “Vase of White Lilacs and Roses,” 1883

Only a masterpiece will do for a one-of-a-kind Mom…
Happy Mother’s Day!

Feel the Barn!

sanders art vermontRural art with an eye on politics, taken in Kirby, Vermont 3/15/16.

Photo: Herb Swanson/ EPA

Max Richter: ‘Sleep Remixes’

max richter sleepMy first thought when I heard about British composer Max Richter’s eight-hour opus, Sleep, was of Andy Warhol’s avant-garde film of the same name, made in 1963, and depicting a man in various phases of slumber over a six-hour period. It was met with boos back then, but its conceptual quirkiness is now seen as yet another aspect of the Warhol genius.

Richter is considered a bit of a genius himself in contemporary classical music circles. I first became familiar with him via his masterful reworking of Vivaldi’s baroque chestnut, The Four Seasons, released on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 2012. In a piece for Blogcritics which appeared that year, this reviewer wrote that “His [Richter’s] magnificent melding of past and present shows again that great works of art are organic things, which, in respectful hands, can be reshaped into something fresh and wondrous and altogether new.”

Read the full review at Blogcritics.org