Michael Fabiano

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Arts in the News: Mysterious Mona Lisa, Union Station’s Free Piano and more.

November 20th, 2017

Another Clue about the Mysterious Mona Lisa

Experts at the Louvre have been closely examining a 16th-century drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, suspecting it may have provided the inspiration for his considerably more famous “Mona Lisa.” The drawing–a charcoal rendition of a nude woman–is known as “Monna Vanna” and has been kept in the collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum north of Paris for the last 150 years. Originally attributed to da Vinci, many suspect the sketch was in fact completed by one of the artist’s students or assistants in his style. The Monna Vanna recently underwent scientific analysis; 12 experts concluded that the rendering was created at least in part by da Vinci himself. Furthermore, they believe the drawing to be a preparatory study for the iconic Mona Lisa itself. If true, the sketch would likely be of Lisa Gherardini, long thought to be the “Lisa” of the Mona Lisa. Mathieu Deldicque, the deputy curator at the Conde Museum, explained that the sketch “is not a pale copy. We are looking at something that was worked on in parallel with the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the end of Leonardo’s life.” Among the evidence, experts cite the fact that the drawing and painting are exactly the same size, and the hands and body are in the same position and at the same angle. The Monna Vanna certainly provides an intriguing clue to the ongoing mystery of the Mona Lisa!

Union Station’s Free Piano Put to Good Use

Nearly every day, Matthew Shaver plays the Los Angeles Union Station free public piano for twenty straight minutes, often drawing a small crowd of commuters and tourists. Twenty minutes is the maximum play time allowed, according to posted rules, and for that time Shaver fills the hall with jazz, pop, and blues improvisations. Once in a while a passerby may join him for an impromptu duet. Drawn in by his music, listeners may be puzzled by his ragged appearance: indeed, Shaver, 30, is homeless–or “home-free,” as he describes it. He has been playing the piano from the age of 4, introduced by his two older sisters who taught him the basics. Shaver describes the piano as “the most positive influence in my life.” To him, playing is “a meditation. Like, you pray about something and then you meditate on it. The piano is my meditation.” A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Shaver has had struggles with depression and drug use. While his rap sheet makes him a pariah in many places, the piano isn’t one of them: “Doing drugs doesn’t make a person bad. Just like going to church doesn’t make you a good person. [But at the piano], I have respect,” he explains. He says he appreciates the presence of a piano he can play, no questions asked–when he stops by churches to request to play for a couple minutes, he is often refused. What a testament to the power of access to musical instruments–hopefully the Union Station piano and others like it continue to help individuals make music who otherwise would not have access to instruments.

Several from the Arts World Named MacArthur Geniuses

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the latest recipients of its annual MacArthur Fellowship–frequently referred to as the “Genius Grant.” Each “genius” receives a $625,000 check and an accolade previously awarded to icons like Susan Sontag and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The grants have been awarded annually since 1981 in order to identify and extol high-achieving individuals across a wide range of disciplines. There are currently no restrictions governing what recipients do with the money. This year’s geniuses include several from the arts world: Jesmyn Ward, a fiction writer who puts black, marginalized communities at the center of her stories; Tyshawn Sorey, a composer and musician whose singular practice collapses boundaries by including Western classical, American, and Ethiopian creative expressions; Yuval Sharon, an opera director and producer known for unorthodox performances that are immersive and itinerant; Trevor Paglen, a conceptual artist and geographer who uses public records and declassified documents as artistic materials; Viet Thanh Nguyen, a fiction writer and cultural critic who uses fiction to provide a “voice to the voiceless”; Taylor Mac, a theater artist who breaks down highbrow and lowbrow art to toy with assumptions about gender, performance, and identity; Rhiannon Giddens, a singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter trained as an opera singer and with a mastery of the fiddle and banjo who illuminates the overlooked influence of African-American artists to folk and country genres; Dawoud Bey, a photographer and educator who creates portraits of individuals from overlooked communities and reimagines how cultural institutions can better serve the communities in which they are based; Annie Baker, a playwright known for upending expectations of the kinds of people, language, and situatinos worthy of theatrical interpretation; and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a figurative painter whose work aims to visualize the hybrid reality of the immigrant experience. To learn more about these incredible individuals, read on <HERE>.

Last Da Vinci Painting in Private Hands to be Sold at Auction

Believed to be the last piece by Leonardo da Vinci in private hands, the “Salvator Mundi” is set to sell at a Christie’s auction in November for roughly $100 million. Made around 1500 and presumed lost until early this century, the painting is a portrait of Jesus Christ, and is about 500 years older than anything that typically appears in the auction. The work has been at the center of a variety of legal complaints and international art-dealer disagreements. Ultimately, it ended up in Milan earlier this year, shown at the Museo del Novecento from March through May. The auction house unveiled the work in a flashy press conference at Christie’s New York headquarters at Rockefeller Center, press members jostled to capture a picture on their phones–Christie’s said it had never staged such an unveiling before. The painting will tour Christie’s flagships around the world before returning to New York to be sold at the postwar and contemporary art auction on November 15 of this year. It will certainly be interesting to see what it sells for!

Arts in the News: Next Marvel Superhero, about Standing Ovation and more.

November 13th, 2017

Globe Replica Brings Shakespearean Experience to Those Outside the UK
Shakespeare fans have always had one way of experiencing the famous Globe theater: making the trip to London…until recently. A Pop-Up Globe is making an appearance on the grounds of Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl in Australia. The pop-up arrived in late September and runs through mid-November, staging four Shakespearean plays and a contemporary work with a Shakespearean theme. Originally built in 1599, the Globe was destroyed by a fire in 1613 and resurrected in 1614. It was subsequently closed because of pressure from the Puritans in 1642. Centuries later, a replica Globe was erected in London in 1997 near the original site of the legendary theater. Miles Gregory, the artistic director and instigator of the Pop-Up Globe, got the idea for the project when his daughter asked, “Daddy, can we go there?” while reading a children’s book that included a depiction of the theater. Gregory himself has a collection of degrees in Shakespearean scholarship and has been fascinated by Elizabethan amphitheaters his entire life. Using sketches of the second Globe made in the 1630s, Gregory sought to base his design not on the London replica, but instead on the original design. The Pop-Up Globe has already completed two successful seasons in New Zealand and sold 40,000 tickets for its first repertory rotations in Melbourne. The pop-up houses three companies, with personnel totaling 90 and a wardrobe of 500 costumes. How delightful that the magic of Shakespearean theater and the Globe theater can be brought to more and more audiences!

‘Insecure’ Cinematographer on Lighting for Black Faces
Co-created by writer and star Issa Rae along with Larry Wilmore, HBO’s “Insecure” gives viewers a window into black life as a late twenty-/early thirty-something in Los Angeles, complete with hookups, personal issues, office politics, and friendship dynamics. Despite the show’s many dark club scenes, dark-skinned protagonists like Yvonne Orji’s character Molly continue to “pop” on-screen. This isn’t by accident–Ava Berkofsky, the show’s director of photography, has become a master on properly lighting black faces on screen. “When I was in film school, no one ever talked about lighting nonwhite people,” explained Berkofsky in an interview. The basic lighting rules are not enough to effectively show black actors and actresses on screen; Berkofsky explains the adjustments she makes to conventional settings in an interview with Mic. Berkofsky’s lighting techniques also give the show a distinctly cinematic look, which involves keeping the light off the walls and exposing faces, specifically. She says the look of “Insecure” was also inspired by Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-winning “Selma.” Berkofsky specifically uses a special whiteboard and a small amount of shiny makeup to make black actors’ and actresses’ faces “pop.” To learn more about the fascinating techniques Berkofsky has designed to make sure that the lighting showcases–rather than detracts from–actors’ and actresses’ performances, read on <HERE>.

Nigerian Girls Inspire Next Marvel Superhero
A new Marvel story, “Blessing in Disguise,” will be the first Marvel story to be set in a real-life African country and is set to feature a Nigerian superhero. Even cooler? That Nigerian superhero, Ngozi, was inspired by Nigeria’s kidnapped Chibok girls–a teenage superheroine, she fights evil in Lagos. Nnedi Okorafor, the award-winning Nigeria-American author who developed the character and wrote the story, explains: “It was an important decision for me to base Ngozi on one of the Chibok girls.” In 2014, 220 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok by the militant group Boko Haram. Okorafor hopes the superheroine will resonate with girls across Nigeria: she explains that the abducted girls “were normal girls who suddenly had to deal with a huge change in their lives…and their story of perseverance is so powerful. Like many Nigerian girls, Ngozi comes in a small package but is strong-willed and determined.” Okorafor is a huge fan of Wonder Woman and felt inspired by the recent box office success of the feature film, but yearned to see more diversity in the superhero universe. Hopefully, her character can inspire and empower many young girls like Ngozi!

One Writer’s Defense of the Standing Ovation
The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman recently wrote a piece in defense of the standing ovation. In the wake of popular articles like Linda Buchwald‘s “Taking a Stand Against Standing Ovations” which point to the standing ovation as a now-empty, mechanical process, Schulman attempts to defend the long-standing (if you’ll pardon the pun) tradition. He admits that standing ovations have become “de rigueuer”– once the exception, they are now the rule–a trend he sees as being linked to the soaring price of tickets and expectations of theater-goers. To the critics of the practice who question how patrons can express their praise of a truly spectacular performance when even mediocre ones receive standing ovations, Schulman points to the palpable variations in cheers, applause volume, and “sheer electricity.” He also notes the clarity for patrons when there is a “clear default setting”–otherwise, those who sit are labeled “grinches” and those who stand “groupies.” Ultimately, he argues: “And if the choice falls between withholding gratitude or giving it, why not err ont he side of generosity without feeling ashamed? Standing puts actors and audience on equal footing, less waiters, and patrons than partners in a shared endeavor.” Many are bound to disagree, resenting the now-rote post-show tradition. No doubt the discussion around the standing ovation will continue to divide theatergoers across the globe for some time!

Arts in the News: Deserving Programs of Study in Kentucky, Mozart’s Avian Muse and more…

November 6th, 2017

The Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kentucky Governor Sparks Debate about Deserving Programs of Study
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently sparked debate by saying public universities should consider cutting programs that don’t graduate students who can fill high-paying and in-demand jobs. Bevin reportedly envisions a Kentucky that functions as a center of engineering and manufacturing for the rest of the country; he spoke to postsecondary education trustees, advising them to cut programs, degrees, and buildings that “shouldn’t be there because you’re maintaining something that’s not an asset of any value, that’s not helping to produce the 21st-century educated workforce.” He continued, saying, “If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in American looking for people with that as a skill set.” Early in 2016, Bevin made news when he said taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize the study of French literature. Kentucky has cut state funding for higher education by more than $200 million since 2008. Faculty and students in higher education have voiced criticism of Bevin’s recent remarks; Lee Blonder, a professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky and a university trustee, argues: “I think [his comments] show a lack of understanding of how innovation, creativity, and productivity are nurtured by faculty in an institute of higher education.” In a world of limited resources, often arts programs and courses are the first to suffer. Hopefully, students of the arts in Kentucky can continue to get the funding they need to pursue their passions and exercise their creativity!

What Does it Take to Be Director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
Ever wonder what it takes to be the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The Met’s recent search for a new director has helped to publicize the incredible breadth and time commitment of the job. A publicized job description outlines the leader’s responsibilities, which include overseeing 31 departments, including 17 curatorial offices, 5 conservation teams, and research, education, digital media, publications, and design divisions. The director is responsible for managing the collection, including a number of endowed acquisition funds that generate roughly $26 million annually, as well as gifts from patrons. The new director will also help shape and support the new Southwest wing of the museum, a $600 million extension to the building set to house modern and contemporary art. Unfortunately, plans for the new wing were put on hold in January, and no doubt the new director will help to get them back in motion. Museum trustee Candace Beineke, co-chair of the search committee, said they expect to begin interviews soon, but there is no particular rush. Know anyone qualified for the job? Members of the public are free to send comments and suggestions to the Met email address!

Mozart’s Avian Muse
The legend of Mozart’s pet starling lives on largely because of notes scribbled on a single page of the composer’s pocket notebook: directly under an entry recording the amount he paid for the bird, Mozart scribbed two lines of music: the first, a theme from his Concerto in G major; the second, a near variation of the first. It was the second theme that composer reportedly heard the bird singing in the shop when he decided to purchase it. In Mozart’s Starling, ecophilosopher and naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt investigates the legend of the composer’s bird. The type of bird has long puzzled historians and musicians alike–the starling is regarded as common–a “uniquitous, non-native, invasive species.” Mozart kept his Starling until his death, but no one knows for sure whether the starling served as his muse for the Concerto in G major or any other pieces. In order to immerse herself in Mozart’s experience, Haupt herself adopted a starling to research her book. Ultimately, she does not attempt to solve the long-running mystery. Interesting in hearing more about Mozart’s avian muse? Check out Haupt’s book, or The Spectator’s piece about it <HERE>.

Artistic Preparations for the Funeral of Thailand’s Monarch
In preparation for the funeral of Bhumidol Adulyadej, known as Rama IX, Thailand’s beloved monarch of 70 years, twenty architects from the Thai government’s Fine Arts department are working long hours to prepare the massive, ornate funeral pyre. The monarch will be cremated in an elaborate ceremony in late October of this year. In designing and constructing the funeral pyre, details are everything. One of the architects, Charinee Artachinda, explains that the process is one that works at evolutions within, not revolutions overshadowing, the tradition. No architects in Thailand are taught in design school how to prepare the King’s funeral pyre–it is considered bad luck. Instead, architects of the pyre are expected to review historical images and rely on word of mouth among funeral rite practitioners. Because of Rama IX’s long reign, however, few architects or artists still alive today have first-hand experience of the process. The long reign has left other gaps in knowledge: the Thai government has announced that it will publish 10,000 copies of a royal glossary so that those in attendance at the funeral will be able to follow along with the ritual, performed in the Pali-Sanskrit royal tongue. The estimated budget for the pyre itself 1 billion baht (30 million USD); most of the creation will, of course, dissolve by the end of the cremation ceremony, though standalone sections will be saved for museums and temples across Thailand. The completed pyre will most certainly be a sight to behold!

Arts in the News: How Houston Museums Prepped for Harvey, MoviePass Membership, and more…

October 30th, 2017

How Houston Museums Prepped for Harvey
In preparation for Tropical Storm Harvey, Houston museums faced a daunting task: protecting artworks and exhibits from a Category 4 hurricane and the devastating flooding it would bring. Museums prepared in a variety of ways: The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) used water barriers and sandbags; staff also de-installed all exhibits on the ground floor. The Museum of Fine Arts underwent similar protocol, also using emergency water pumps, floodgate activation, and a 24/7 emergency team on site to monitor the building throughout the course of the storm. The Galveston Arts Center (GAC), housed in a building originally designed as a bank in 1886, is using its three bank vaults for storage. Many of the Houston museums have faced flooding before: in 2008, Hurricane Ike brought 13 feet of rain to the streets and destroyed the GAC’s bottom floor (and the exhibition it was housing). In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison left three feet of water in the CAMH’s lower level. Luckily, many of the museums have reported low or minimal damage in Harvey’s wake. Curious how other museums prepared for the storm? Read more <HERE>.

MoviePass Membership Prices Spark Excitement & Frustration

Moviegoers have reason to celebrate: MoviePass, which offers access to unlimited movie tickets for a set subscription price, dropped its fee to just $9.95 per month. Members can now see as many movies as they’d like, 365 days a year, for just ten dollars every month. But who’s not celebrating? AMC Theaters, the U.S.’s largest cinema chain. AMC is reportedly looking for ways to block MoviePass subscribers from using the app to buy tickets at its theaters. In a statement, the cinema chain called MoviePass “a small fringe player” whose service is “not welcome here.” After MoviePass dropped its prices in mid-August, more than 150,000 new users signed up in just two days (in some cities, the monthly price dropped as much as $40). AMC reported that the average nationwide price for a movie ticket at one of its theaters was $9.33 in the most recent quarter. If a MoviePass customer saw a movie each day, they would be paying just 32 cents per film. It’s easy to see why movie fans everywhere are pretty excited about the new pricing!

Artists Bypassing Dealers and Connecting with Sellers

Many artists are not dodging dealers and taking their works straight to buyers and collectors. In 2008, Damien Hirst took a complete exhibition of his work straight to Sotheby’s in an unprecendented sale that brought in about $200 million. Though Hirst was able to make a successful sale due to his previous commercial success, now lesser-known, emerging artists are following in his footsteps, bypassing dealers in hopes of a greater share of earnings and quicker turnaround. Many artists, like British sculptor Andy Holden, find that selling direct-to-consumer can help when money is tight and resources limited. Self-organized sales can become like its own performance art, as artists like Holden put up displays on sidewalks and other public places. Artists Brad Troemel and Joshua Citarella explained that they wanted to avoid the investment of creating a work before they’ve found a buyer. Other artists turn to websites like Etsy in hopes of reaching buyers. Many dealers are re-examining their own positioning within the art world: London-based art dealer Marine Tanguy broke from the gallery model after she found herself looking at art “like a used-car salesman, a sure sign she needed to try a new approach.” She explains: “I think more artists need to diversity their revenue stream nowadays if we want a more responsive model that reflects market realities.” It will be interesting to see how the art world evolves as artists continue to change the ways they reach buyers and collectors!

Art Forger Ordered to Pay Only £1

Richard Pearson, a con artist who made more than £30,000 selling artworks he claimed were by “pitman painter” Norman Cornish, has been ordered to repay merely £1. Pearson, 56, was jailed at the beginning of 2017 for selling 14 faked drawings and pictures to a gallery in Northumberland; he had admitted to fraud and forgery charges, being sentenced to three years and seven months. Pearson was initially caught when a restorer noticed that one of the canvases of one of the supposedly-Norman-Cornish paintings was too new. Pearson was ultimately ordered to pay such a low sum because, after investigation, prosecutors discovered he had virtually no assets (any future assets he comes into will be confiscated). Painter Norman Cornish was a former miner who died in August 2014, known for his paintings of industrial life in the northeast of Britain. Cornish’s son-in-law read a statement at Pearson’s trial saying that his sentence should serve as a warner to other fraudsters. Northumbria and Newcastle universities are developing a profile of all materials Cornish used in order to allow for authenticity tests in the future. Thankfully Pearson was caught; hopefully profiles like those being developed for Cornish will help to ensure forgeries cannot circulate in the art world and work to ensure confidence in the art market!


Interview: Michael Fabiano on Faust

Limelight Magazine's Editor, Clive Paget, heads backstage to meet American tenor Michael Fabiano ahead of his appearance in David McVicar's production of Gounod's Faust, for Opera Australia.

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