August 30, 2010

Plus Nadja (read: a vampire movie that’s actually good), the latest Frank Gehry exhibit, Barcelona’s Fiesta de la Merce, and more cultural must-sees this week

Boardwalk Empire, premieres September 19
Set in Atlantic City with the Prohibition era as backdrop, HBO’s newest series, Boardwalk Empire, takes a visceral look into the life of the city’s undisputed (real-life) gangster-in-chief, Enoch “€œNucky”€ Thompson, played by the brilliant Steve Buscemi. The show takes a good look at the time and place in US history when being an influential politician and part-time criminal was an attainable reality—and just before the days when full-time violent criminals were commonplace. With direction from Martin Scorsese and writing from The Soprano’s Terrence Winter; along with a cast of terrific actors—including The Wire’s Michael K. Williams—the show has the makings of a top series. If not for the unrelenting tumult and drama of Prohibition’s early days, the show is worth watching for the pure visual feast: the period details include perfectly tailored three-piece suits, on down.


Der RingDer Ring des Nibelungen

Der Ring des Nibelungen, The Met Opera, New York, September 27 – April 2
Richard Wagner’s 1876 opera usually evokes visions of Otto Schenk’s panoramas, imposing castles, and glowing crags. This, however, is all about to change—with the Metropolitan Opera’s newest production of Wagner’s opus. Maestro James Levine and director Robert Lepage have created a production that promises to bring this four-part opera into the twenty-first century. The production makes use of projection technology, which captures the actors every movement as well as the musical crescendos, while projecting evocative patterns of light and color onto a screen. Meanwhile, singers emote on a stage that is constantly moving and adapting to the music’s fiery orchestral score. Wagner was thought to be ahead of his time when he outfitted his theatre with a hidden orchestra pit and gaslights. What a comfort to see that today’s opera directors are seeking innovation just like their famous predecessor did in the past.

Fish Forms: Lamps by Frank Gehry, The Jewish Museum, New York, through October 31
This exhibit reunites eight of roughly thirty fish-inspired lamps that architect Frank Gehry created during the early 80s. It’s no secret that many of Gehry’s architectural feats are inspired by the loose and fluid forms of aquatic life—especially those reflective scales in his most ambitious works. The idea for these lamps came when he was asked by the Formica Corporation to create some forms with a new laminate material they had developed named Color Core. After a mishap in which the material shattered, inspiration struck, and Gehry created these spectacular light sources. Why the Jewish Museum? Gehry was actually born Frank Goldberg in Toronto in 1929.

The Traveler’s Collection
While everyone relishes those hard to find objects stumbled upon accidentally while on an exotic vacation, in truth most people simply don”€™t have the time to go on worldly adventures. Now you can get the souvenirs without having to go the distance. This unique website offers some of the world’s finest artisanal goods, minus the treacherous ten-mile hike or five-hour ride on a hand-crafted boat. The site works because people lucky enough to take these trips call in the items they find abroad. Products range from jewelry and apparel to music and home furnishings. The Traveler’s Collection spans the globe, and you can just as easily pick up a bracelet from Laos as a cowhide from Brazil. This is quite possibly a shopaholic’s dream. The only hitch? the prices aren”€™t exactly dirt cheap. Then again think of what you save on travel costs.

Marshall Street Leisure Center, London
After a thirteen-year renovation, costing roughly £11 million, the Marshall Street Leisure Center is finally reopening its doors to the public.  The site was a bath house during the 1850s; though its present structure wasn”€™t completed until 1931, when it served the local community with public swimming facilities. The main draw is still its 30-meter swimming pool, lined with luscious Swiss and Sicilian marble. The pool is housed beneath a barrel-vaulted ceiling sleek enough to transport one to the days when Britain was known for its notions of comportment, class, and empire. Sadly this new West End “€œleisure center”€ is likely to attract the sort of crowd that makes the England of yesteryear seem as long gone as it actually is.

Not Biodegradable, White Space Gallery, Atlanta, through September 14
In a rare gesture, the Whitespace Gallery has opened its doors to not one, but six, Los Angeles-based artists. The Atlanta art scene has a long—and largely successful—reputation for only featuring artists based in Georgia, but in this case opening their doors to outsiders was a smart move. Not Biodegradable is focused on plastic and petroleum-based products, which the artists used to create odd shapes and molds that are at once bulbous and precise. The idea behind such weird art? That these products come as close to lasting forever as anything else in the world and are too often discarded as waste. Eco-friendly and fun.

TechnoCRAFT, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, through October 3
Across the country, this exhibit also explores a new design trend—the so-called “open platform,” in which designers place objects in states that are never static, but rather in a constant state of change as a result of user input. To wit: an Eames chair that was “€œhacked”€ to create a baby’s high chair, and an “€œincomplete”€ box of metal into which the viewer smashes a sledge hammer, thereby creating a chair. Industrial designer Yves Béhar and the center’s executive designer Kenneth Foster combined their visions to create an exhibit specifically focused on how mass consumerism and design need not be enemies—a theme which feels particularly significant at a time when conversations about “open” versus “closed” technological platforms are too wildly debated.  

Nadja, BAM, New York, August 31 only
Now that a certain ubiquitous crop of vampire novels, television shows, and movies have shaped an unfortunate generational view of vampires, it’s nice to be reminded that an actually clever film about said demons can also exist. Nadja, directed by Michael Almereyda and produced by David Lynch, is a remake of the 1936 Dracula’s Daughter; the titular character is dispatched to unite an old clan of vampires to fulfill her father’s dying wish. The remake takes place in the beautiful shadows of New York City, offering a film that is at once outrageously styled and self-referential in its absurdity (Peter Fonda plays the aging Van Helsing). It’s a walk down Gen-X’s memory lane, with a soundtrack that includes My Bloody Valentine and Portishead. A Q&A with the director after the screening promises to be especially intriguing.

Fiesta de la Merce, Barcelona, September 23 – 26
Easily Barcelona’s biggest festival of the year, La Fiesta de Merce celebrates the Roman Catholic feast of Our Lady of Mercy. While the festival has long been known for its firework displays (complemented by music conducted at the base of Montujic mountain), its paper mache giants known as gegantes i capgrossos, and perhaps, most famously, its human tower contest—in which men combine to create colossal towers that a child must climb, and takes place in the beautiful Placa de Jaume. This year’s festival promises to be the most passionate ever—thanks to the recent outlawing of bullfighting in Catalonia, thus signaling the strong sense of nationalism that oftentimes compels the region to part ways from the Spanish culture that many think was imposed on them. What is essentially a three-day party with activities that would be illegal in most other cities, this year’s Fiesta de la Merce will surely be one that will leave an imprint on the collective memory of Catalonia and its visitors.

Berlin Music Week, September 6 – 12
Borrowing a page from South by South West’s playbook, the first annual Berlin Music Week will open its door to more than thirty of Berlin’s most beloved clubs for six days of music—and more than likely, debauchery.  Make sure to purchase a ticket that allows you to go to a variety of venues; the music ranges from well-known pop acts like The Editors and Hot Chip, jazz acts to Brazilian funk and even the London philharmonic, who will be appearing in a show conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.  It’s rare that a music festival actually tries to encompass every genre that fits under musical week, so, if nothing else, the Berlin Music Week is off to a good start.


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