The Getty Villa

J. Paul Getty started collecting antiquities (Greek, Roman and Etruscan art) in the late 1930’s, deciding to bring the ancient Mediterranean culture to life by creating a museum on his property in Malibu.  He never saw his vision completed, but oversaw the construction of a remarkable replica of the Villa dei Papiri, a luxurious Roman residence in Herculaneum, Italy that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The architects at the Getty Villa referenced plans from other ancient Roman sites excavated in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae to ensure the integrity of design, including flowering plants and trees from the Mediterranean. Walking through the gardens is an olfactory delight; the variety of floral perfumes enhanced the atmosphere and tickled my imagination.

The Villa is a mirror of its prototype, built around the reflecting pool and main garden courtyard, open to cooling breezes. The scale and symmetry of the architecture is sumptuously elegant, but the real artistry lies in the details.

GrecoRoman culture was humanistic – focused on our ideal expression of beauty, culture and contemplation. The art was figurative, with sculptures and pottery featuring men, women and children or deities made in our image. This was certainly in stark contrast to the Aboriginal exhibit I just saw at the Blanton, but also different from modern depictions in many ways. I only include a few examples below, but the expressions on the faces of the figures were much more complex and nuanced than the smiling selfies we see today. The art and the gardens were immersive, seducing my body/mind to imagine a younger humanity – connected to nature, exploring the world, creating culture and philosophy – aesthetically oriented.

“Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins with wonder.” — Plato, (Theaetetus, 155d)

The Greek philosopher Plato is one of the founding figures of Western civilization. His legacy encompasses ethics, politics, theology, and poetics. In this exhibition, some of today’s most celebrated artists consider Plato’s impact on the contemporary world. Through sculptures, paintings, drawings, and large-scale installations, they respond to his contribution to philosophy—from defining the ideal to understanding the human condition—while fostering the ultimate Platonic experience: contemplation.

From the exhibit of contemporary art submitted for Plato in LA

Intellect to Opinion, 2017, Joseph Kosuth

“As being is to becoming, so is pure intellect to opinion. And as intellect is to opinion, so is science to belief and understanding to the perception of shadows. But let us defer the further correlation and subdivision of the subjects of opinion and intellect, for it will be a long enquiry, many times longer than this has been.”

– Plato, (born 428/427 BCE, Athens, Greece—died 348/347, Athens), ancient Greek philosopher, student of Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE), teacher of Aristotle (384–322 BCE), and founder of the Academy, best known as the author of philosophical works of unparalleled influence.

Ancestral Modern: Australian Aboriginal Art at the Blanton

Walking into the Blanton, walls alive with Australian Aboriginal art,  one enters into a multidimensional conscious, dreaming and ancestral energy landscape. The images compel the body to enter into the dreamtime.  It’s one of the most vibrant collections I’ve seen, showing through September 9th.  If you go to one art exhibit this year, see this one!

From the Blanton

“The word landscape, derived from the Dutch landschap (region or tract of land) and first recorded in 1598, describes a way of depicting the natural world developed by European artists. Australian Aboriginal artists offer an entirely different vision, in which they forgo Western conventions of horizon lines and figure-ground distinctions. Instead, they give form to their mental maps of sites. The new version of landscape painting was most famously practiced by artists in Papunya, a government settle for displaced Aboriginal groups. In 1971, artists there began painting walls boards, and canvases to educate outsiders about their land and the obligation of “caring for country.” This defiance of government policies that forced people into artificial communities and taught children to ignore their ancestors sent shock waves through Australia.

Papunya artists painted swiftly and retained a commitment to secrets embedded in their system of learning. Their innovation helped spawn a modern art movement in Austraila. The resulting paintings “represent” the desert in ways that maintain the artists’ control over what is seen and what can never be revealed. While many of the sacred symbols and stories in the paintings may be explained to audiences outside the community, some remain accessible only to the individual, kinship groups, or peoples who share a particular Dreaming, an ancestral realm comprising spiritual beings, governing laws, and their narratives.”

Immersed – Global to Local Art Sensations

I’ve been eager to see the Immersed exhibit at the McNay in San Antonio. When I discovered they waive the admission fee on Thursdays between 4 – 9,  I sauntered down to take a look. Yoyoi Kusama’s Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is a light and mirror installation that invites the viewer to step through a door into an enclosed room pulsing with mirrored light that flows into seemingly endless vanishing points in all directions. The impression of being suspended in a universe of twinkling stars is brief but uplifting. No more than two people at a time share the space.

Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters was one of the most entertaining, interactive exhibits – fun for kids of all ages.

San Antonio artist Chris Sauter’s Pleasure Principle was created for the exhibit, a peek a boo living room full of holes that let the outside in.

My favorite video installation was Jennifer Steinkamp’s mesmerizing Orbit 8, part of the standing collection.

The McNay is a great day trip from Austin, with restaurants, galleries and museums galore. Immersed runs through September 2nd and reservations are required, even on Thursdays when the $20 fee is waived but the $10 exhibit entry is not.

SOBRO – keeping it real in South Austin The Barn and Sam’s Town Point

SOBRO (South Brodie) is sprouting some legit “old Austin” venues. For those who have seen the decades transform our fair town, I take pleasure in reporting  two of these  Austintatious spots. Evangeline’s deserves a shout out as well, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve been watching The Barn develop into an intriguing music and food trailer haven. Last Sunday they offered a Bluegrass Scramble and Garage Sale with some tantalizing new food trucks.

Soul of a Hick, serving fresh fried chicken and fish accompanied by flavorful side dishes, has been garnering rave reviews for a year. The latest additions, Parisian Crepes and Chico Jr.  BBQ are right at home among the rustic picnic tables. I was torn between the sweet and savory crepes, made with wholesome, fresh ingredients. I opted for the Pesty Chicken, which was scrumptious and satisfying.  Our chefs, Sigi and Roger tempted me with dessert, another time.

With several outdoor seating areas, a bar, barn and food trucks, it’s a South Austin must see and taste.

Sam’s Town Point is another recommended sound and taste experience. I’ve enjoyed the music and the classic dive bar ambiance and am looking forward to sampling the retro supper club menu, courtesy of Cucina Serafina. The food is not offered every day, so check their FB page. Sam’s bookings are diverse and parking is good. The trip down Riddle Road alone is a tribute to keeping it weird in South Austin. Here are two favorites from my recent visits. Snaps for the Charlie Christians who got Bruce and Tanya from Colorado dancing. I asked them how they found out about the band and they said they just asked people on the street where a good place to dance was and here they were.

Speedy Sparks and the Koolerators play weekly, featuring the venerable Speedy Sparks, Larry Lange, Steve Wheeless, Grady Pinkerton and guest artist Eve Monsees in this Bo Diddley tribute.

SOBRO, it’s Austintatious.

June 2018 Johnson City Art Walk

Off to Johnson City again for an art walk saunter.  My friend and I stopped in at the 290 Vinery and were introduced to a lively sampling of their 2017 varietals, including Caught Red Handed, Little White Lies and Seriously Red. Like many inviting outdoor patio and garden spaces in town, the gorgeous oaks that frame their simple, elegant winery will provide a great Autumn tasting experience. Alison Lanik (our host and  manager) works with her mom, Susan Kirchman, who co-founded the Taste Gallery with her husband, Warren Vilmaire, which evolved into the 290 Vinery. Definitely a family with style.

TeXCeTerA Gallery was our next stop. Featured artists Cindy Cherrington and Deb Wight in the Nature of Glass show team up at other hill country events and have some beautiful pieces at prices you won’t find in Austin.  Art lovers can’t go wrong with this easy drive and the promise of something for everyone. Echo, the non-art art gallery is more than an art or curio shop, it’s a collector’s field of dreams. I included a few pieces in the gallery below, which cannot adequately represent the overwhelming array of objects d’art. Janet Haynes, a long time Johnson City resident, was featured in the small gallery in the back of this sprawling store.

After revisiting the A.Smith Gallery and Texas Arthouse, we went to Studio Massaro and had a great talk with Catherine, the artist and gallery owner. Like many of the artists and gallery owners I’ve met in Johnson City, she is well-traveled and accomplished.  They are happy with their growing community and welcome art lovers and foodies alike.  I’ve been impressed in both my visits, finding kindred souls who are thriving and living their passion.

Vaudeville @ the Harry Ransom Center

Vaudeville: novelty, naughtiness, noir at the HRC

Vaudeville broke sexual, gender, racial and cultural taboos and continues its evolution today in performances by Colbert, on Saturday Night Live and in many live venues worldwide. I was also struck by it as an early prototype of the internet – browsing  an oddball collection of incidental entertainment.

Comedian George Gordon Fuller created the Vaudeville Managers Association, or White Rats Union, originally open only to white impresarios.  As the demand grew and the shows evolved, women and black entertainers started circuits and shows of their own. Both white and black actors used black face and minstrel formats, some black artists ironically.  You can see some of the musicians and stars who progressed into the movie and TV era with much more power than their Vaudeville predecessors.

Drag shows are nothing new. Few performers had careers that were as vaunted and long lasting as drag sensation Vander Clyde/Dora Kallmus from Austria, known internationally as Barbette.

Sex, music, magic, comedy and drama still exert their fascination.  The exhibit is up until July 15th. Go see the show!

Johnson City – crossroads of Art & Science

After a tip from the Austin Monthly about the growing art scene in Johnson City I sauntered over to see for myself. Despite construction along parts of 290 (and whatever Dripping Springs is morphing into) I felt more like a friend than a stranger driving through the scenic hill country. I skipped Lyndon’s boyhood home (which is actually cool) stopped for a quick view of the Pedernales River and headed into town.

My first stop was the A.Smith Gallery. Amanda Smith and Kevin Tully are the  gallery directors and artists in residence. The current exhibit of juried (by  Kate Breakey) photographs and sculpture is tastefully curated in an inviting gallery and salon space.  Amanda and Kevin offer workshops and events to keep things lively in between last Saturday art walks, which I’m looking forward to.

Mark L. Smith , one of the founding members of Flatbed Press and owner of the Texas Arthouse Gallery, has a storied history in Austin as both a University of Texas professor and dean and as a fine art consultant for museums and collectors. He is a self-described Raushenbergian, who remains a strong influence on his style. My conversations with Amanda Smith and with Mark Smith at the Texas Arthouse were lively and inspiring, which didn’t leave me time to visit other galleries. I’ll remedy that when I attend the art walk on June 30th. Both galleries are open by appointment and on the weekends, don’t miss them.

I stopped at the Science Mill briefly, which was abuzz with children of all ages. Mark Smith at the Arthouse Gallery said the cultural scene in Johnson City was focused more on fine art and its intersection with science, rather than the typical hodgepodge of antiques and collectibles. Don’t despair, Johnson City still has a few shops for flea market fans. For families considering a day trip to the hill country, the exhibits at the Science Mill offer a nice variety of kid friendly options  between gallery and restaurant strolls. Their Summer Camps are also getting rave reviews and increasing a broad array of sponsorships.

By the time I checked in at Bryan’s on 290 for lunch, I was hot and hungry.  The lightly dusted shrimp with cajun grits and roasted brussel sprouts were delectable and the conversation engaging. News of Anthony Bourdain’s passing that day shook the food community and we toasted to his life over a glass of Vino Bianco, a special selection from “The Piedmont Guy“. Servers and management were friendly and knowledgable and I insisted on taking a picture of the kitchen crew as a tribute to Bourdain’s friendship and support of cooks everywhere. I highly recommend Bryan’s, but there are many other enticing options in and around town.

I visited Johnson City in April of 2012 but it has since grown into a vital arts community with something for everyone.  It will be interesting to go back for the Last Saturday Art Walk on June 30th to visit some of the galleries and restaurants I missed this time.  Enthusiastic two thumbs up for a day trip!

An Earth Day blessing

Sometime when I’m walking
the breeze shifts, blowing from
the mouth of the universe
Whispered waves of indigo
and bluebonnet perfume
seeping into every pore
Lifting my heart into bliss and
flowing back to the sea of flowers
in a waterfall of love