November 27th, 2017
The Ballet World’s Bullying Problem
The forthcoming memoir of ballet phenom David Hallberg has helped to put the bullying problem in the ballet world back at center stage. In “A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back,” the American Ballet Theatre
principal dancer describes the double-edged sword of ballet: his joy at discovering it and the misery of being bullied for it. Called names and bullied relentlessly by boys at school, Hallberg eventually found refuge at a performing arts high school, where his love of dance was normal. The statistics on boys, ballet, and bullying are staggering: dance sociologist Doug Risner found that 93 percent of boys in ballet reported being teased and name-called, 68 percent reported verbal and physical harassment, and 11 percent were the victims of physical harm–all because they were simply boys who did ballet. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Risner explained that the numbers in the ballet world dwarf those in the general population: “If this were not the arts, it would be considered a child health crisis.” Filmmaker Scott Gormley was inspired by watching his own son suffer such bullying, and subsequently created a full-length documentary film, “Danseur,” to highlight the experiences of bullying in the ballet world. Many point to internalized homophobia and a commitment to rigid gender norms in the ballet world–despite the fact that approximately half of men in ballet identify as gay or bisexual. For more on this troubling epidemic and the different ways experts recommend students, teachers, and others in the ballet world can help, read on <HERE>.
A Look at One of the World’s Longest Pianos
Most piano students learn to play on a keyboard, an upright, or a standard piano. But the piano world includes instruments of a much greater size–including the 5.7 meters long piano (one of the world’s longest) that recently found a home in the deep south of New Zealand. Built by Adriann Mann when he was a high school student, the “Alexander piano
” had to be moved by the fire brigade to its new home. Mann, now 28 and working as a full-time piano builder, reports that the instrument sounds very different from normal pianos, with a deeper bass and depth resulting from its extraordinary length: “It was a gigantic experiment. If you think of a typical concert piano, of course, they sound amazing. But with this piano, there is an extra level of depth and resonance again because the piano wires are more than 20 feet long,” he explains. The piano has been played by some of New Zealand’s best concert pianists and was once even installed in the Otago Museum foyer in the hope Elton John would play it when he gave a concert in Dunedin. Mann reports that visiting pianists are often surprised at the piano’s capacity to handle subtler passages and softer notes. The Alexander piano will now remain permanently in Mann’s workshop, where he hopes curious pianists from around the world will visit and play it. If you’re ever in New Zealand, consider dropping by– Mann reports: “I haven’t had a negative reaction yet.”
Pianist Dies Doing What He Loves
Celebrated Russian-Jewish pianist Mikhail Klein
recently collapsed and died on stage while performing his own composition in his hometown of Irkutsk. Klein, who was 72 at the time, reportedly died of heart failure at the food of a grand piano of the Irkutsk Philharmonic Orchestra before a crowd of hundreds. He was playing “This is all Russia,” a jazz composition he wrote that features fragments from several famous Russian songs. In 1987, Klein was awarded the prestigious title of “Honored Artist of Russia” and was known for his reditions and interpretations of works by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Brahms, among other great composers. He was also a prolific jazz composer and enthusiast. He had been a member of the Irkutsk Philharmonic for 45 years and had what his obituary called a “fanatic devotion to the arts.” The man certainly died doing what he loved!
Looted Antiquity to Return to Lebanon
A 2,300-year-old marble sculpture of a bull’s head is set to be returned to the Republic of Lebanon following the dropping of a federal lawsuit. In the lawsuit, collectors Lynda and William Beierwaltes argued they bought the artifact in good faith for more than $1 million in 1996. The couple’s lawyer reported: “After having been presented with incontrovertible evidence that the bull’s head was stolen from Lebanon, the Beierwaltes believed it was in everyone’s best interest to withdraw their claim to the bull’s head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon.” Prosecutors are reportedly also not pursuing the return to Lebanon of a second work, a marble toso of a calf bearer, also owned by the Beierwalteses
. In a recent statement, the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. argued: “The art world must acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world.” The investigation into the bull’s head and calf bearer pieces continue, though no criminal charges are being filed. Hopeful, y galleries, auction houses, museums, and collectors continue to diligently investigate the origins of artwork and ensure that pieces like these end up where they belong.
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!