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Monday, November 18, 2013

November ICON MAGAZINE City Beat Column 2013

November City Beat columnb> 2013

We hope that the Mural Arts Project’s October 5th The Meal, an extravaganza staged to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary, becomes an annual event. Imagine eating art off the walls “and putting it into a public space in the form of a table setting?” That’s how French artist Lucy Orta referred to The Meal. “In a sense, the murals on the wall will be found on a table runner and the plates of The Meal,” Orta said. This was Philadelphia’s first free collective dining experience but the 34th for Paris-based artists Jorge and Lucy Orta, who created The Meal as an art event. Many of the 904 guests were selected by a lottery system. The vegetarian fare was created by Chef Marc Vetri. Guests got to take home a rather spectacular Orta art plate. We ate with Amy Johnson, a Media, Pennsylvania, City Council candidate, and muralist Ben Volta and his young son Milo (Milo crawled under the table at one point and pinched our knees). Jane Golden gave a speech that had the airborne pounce of an Olympic discus throw. Onlookers beyond the perimeter of the Thomas Paine Plaza at the Municipal Services Building were surprisingly sedate when spotting so many people chewing on Black Krim, Dabinett, Celtuce, Spitzenberg and lots of cubed carrots. “What I want to know is,” Amy Johnson asked, “is who cut all of these carrots into such tiny cubes?” Since vegetables, like Chinese food, leaves the stomach fast, we headed out to a fast food restaurant afterwards for something meatier to chew on.

At Drexel University’s second TedX symposium last month we led the pack with a 9 AM presentation on how technology effects human interaction. Later, we answered questions from students about the value of cursive writing, and were taken aback when one seemingly smart woman asked, “Isn’t advocating for cursive retrograde thinking?” What? We let it be known that cursive writing is a kind of poetry, a basic skill like learning the alphabet. In addition, we told her that intelligent people who can only print block letters make most observers think of the developmentally disabled. It’s much like the argument we got into last year with a woman who announced that she was starting a movement to abolish the use of the semicolon. We love the semicolon, just like we love cursive writing-- and just like we love astronauts like Paul Richards, another TedX speaker who was part of the eighth Shuttle Mission to the International Space Station. Richards told us at lunch that astronauts who travel in space are given so much to do that they often forget to look outside at the ball of earth, or at the stars within arm’s reach.

We don’t usually attend film screenings. Philly’s film world, like the Philly poetry circuit, can be an odd feudal kingdom. We ventured to the Kimmel Center anyway to see the 2012 Susan Seidelman film, Musical Chairs, about two New Yorkers and their love for ballroom dancing (even after one becomes physically disabled), as part of a benefit for the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities. The red carpet affair included “I am a camera” HighE Dillon who took posed and random shots of Mayor Nutter, Governor Ed Rendell, and Joan Bressler of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. Seidelman was also present but tracking her down at the post film reception was not easy. We wanted to ask her about her film, Desperately Seeking Susan, with the then rising star Madonna, but like Governor Rendell and the Mayor, she either skipped the reception or was being held hostage by admirers. The film had many in the Kimmel wiping their eyes. “What a tear jerker,”Dillon told us afterwards, still wiping an eye.

When you go out to lunch at a restaurant like Nineteen atop the Bellevue on Broad Street, you expect to dine in pleasant surrounding, pay your check and leave, not witness a man in his sixties get up from a neighboring table when his wife goes to the ladies room, walk over to a window and jump out onto Broad Street. That’s what a friend of ours saw weeks ago as he dined there with a friend. “I haven’t been able to sleep for 3 days,” he told us, fairly distraught. “The man just walked over to the window and jumped out, after which one of the waitresses fainted.” After the tragedy, management closed the restaurant and escorted diners out. “But there was nothing on the news,” our friend added. “A man jumps out onto Broad Street at lunch time and it goes unreported!” We researched the incident but getting the facts wasn’t easy. Nineteen had no comment while Bellevue management confirmed that someone had indeed died out on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, adding, “You’ll have to call the police for the rest of the story.” The police were “sort of” forthcoming. They took our information with a promise to call back but it took a reminder call from us two days later to get them to tell us that we had to call the City Medical Examiner’s Office. When we did that we were told to call another number and then wait for a return call. We finally received the confirmation we were looking for 5 days after the original request: a 66 year old man from Ventor, New Jersey, had indeed committed suicide from Nineteen on that fateful September afternoon.

Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist Tony Auth was on hand at the Philadelphia History Museum for a retrospective of some of his best work from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Auth was everything to political progressives during the Ronald Reagan era. An engaging, almost elfin looking man in a perfectly contoured John Steinbeck beard, Auth greeted well wishers and chatted with PHM Executive Director Charles Croce about his career and the glory days of The Inquirer. We learned, among other things, that when he lacked inspiration, he’d head to the movies for ideas and that during his tenure at the paper he only had one cartoon rejected by Inquirer bosses. While The Inquirer gave Auth complete artistic freedom, it also reminded him that it held editorial veto power. During the Q and A with Croce Auth made several inferences that the once great Philadelphia Inquirer has indeed fallen from grace. At the reception he elaborated further when he told us that a young Tony Auth looking for a newspaper venue in 2013 wouldn’t stand a chance at his alma mater.

What’s going on with PAFA, one of our favorite institutions, and its fascination with cartoon characters? We tried to get into the mouse like blow up doll, the ‘Companion’ statue by artist Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS) last spring when PAFA plunked it down in 30th Street Station directly across from the Angel of the Resurrection sculpture. We know that times are tough and that people need laughter, but are blow up dolls the answer? KAWS has found a good “Red Grooms” style gimmick although the whole thing makes us think of a children’s circus. The new KAWS @ PAFA exhibit suggests to us that cartoons masquerading as art are propagating like bed bugs: from the single 30th Street blow up doll there are now three more KAWS blow up dolls, one a 9 ¾ foot tall sculpture entitled ‘Born to Bend’ as well as cartoon character portraits hung salon style in the venerable halls of PAFA. The KAWS phenomena makes us think of the time Thomas Eakins accepted an award from PAFA in red bicycle pants and then promptly had the award (a medal) melted down. Was Eakins seeing the birth of a cartoon art in the museum’s future? Since there’s no telling what might happen next in the world of art, how about an inflatable KAWS PAFA building--- the art museum as a pop-up, moveable rubber raft?

We talked shop with The Philadelphia Tribune’s Bobbi Booker during the Museum of Art’s press reception for Ledger: Modern Art and the Metropolis. The massive exhibition (October 2013-January 5, 2014) is in the Dorrance Galleries. Leger, who studied architecture, was, like Warhol and Jean Cocteau, an artist who engaged painting with the popular arts. The exhibit includes “The City,” one of the greatest works in PMS’s collection, at least according to Timothy Rub, PMA CEO. Check out the PMA gift shop for Leger goodies as well: there’s resin jewelry, ceramic kitchen and dinnerware, and more.

Marty Moss-Coane was born on Valentine’s Day, 1949. The host and executive producer of Radio Times With Marty Moss-Coane in Philadelphia, started as a volunteer at Philadelphia’s WHYY-FM studios in 1983. From her role as associate producer of Terry Gross’ Fresh Air, she became the host of Radio Times when Gross went national in 1987. Moss-Coane says that in the beginning of her career she was “terrified of making a mistake, of sounding like a fool, of not being as good as Terry Gross.” In another interview, she talked of her radio guests. “We’ve had lousy guests—the lousy guests are ponderous talkers. We’ve had hostile guests; we’ve had guests who were drunk or high. We had one guy who was as high as a kite. The truth is, that’s the rare guest. Most of them are pretty good and we’re pretty choosy who we have on.” Well, maybe not choosy enough if some of these high recognition “names” are snorting in the back aisles.