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Thursday, June 26, 2014

City Beat June 2014

June ICON Magazine City Beat 2014

 At the 113th PAFA Annual Student Exhibition we noticed an emphasis on “art for art’s sake.” One student had constructed a large open plot of plastic kitchen utensils, a sort of faux Midtown diner for Barbie dolls. The bizarre walk-through display reminded us that one cannot go beyond a certain degree of logic in art. We noticed a preponderance of paintings, namely facial portraits, duplicating the kind of theatrical staging common in photography. “They don’t seem to be well painted enough to be convincing,” our artist friend, Noel G. Miles, suggested. “The larger fact doesn’t change: Expression still counts. What you are trying to convey still counts.” The best student pieces focused on conceptuality, or a tight unity of theme, rather than Gehry like incongruousness.  We saw excellent black and white “draftsman” renditions (reminding us of the work of Georges Rouault), and were fascinated by student Lauren Pellerito’s sculpture of two tree roots in a light “embrace.” We spoke with students Matthew Carrieri, Santiago Galeas and former student, Chuck Schultz (who dedicated a painting in our name). The annual student exhibition attracts a diverse, mostly upscale crowd (think The Philadelphia Story and Devon Horse Show). We heard from Hieke Rass that Chase Utley (Phillies) and his wife were in the building browsing for art for their new home. When we spotted Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest (they get around) shaking hands with people as they waited to board an elevator, we couldn’t help but think how tiring it must be to be Gerry with so many people offering to shake your hand. Does Gerry even remember their names in the morning?

From PAFA we headed to Tops bar on 15th Street where the student exhibitors went to hang out after the show. In this smoking den of artistic indignity, we spotted wannabe Guillaume Apollinaire’s, aspiring Georgia O’Keeffe’s, a few posers, and even an artist named Kyle, who happened to be a dead ringer for Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Seeing so many drunken artists made us want to bump into a jock or a vacuous cheerleader type. The paneled bar somehow called to mind the legendary Tin Angel on South 2nd Street, where we wound up a week or two later (thanks to an invite by Randy Alexander of Randex Communications) to hear a live concert by Kenny Davin Fine, a super buff physician who sings best when he taps into his Kabbalah Jewish roots (and forgets Dylan). Fine talked at length about the delights of a gluten free diet and ended the evening with a song.

 In 2010 we attended groundbreaking ceremonies for architect Frank Gehry’s underground addition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gehry talked about a new museum loading dock, gallery and storage area. The audience was charmed by the always informal, quip-happy 1989 Pritzker Prize winner who seemed to be at the peak of his architectural celebrity. Yet the launching of the 81 million dollar underground utility space project had an anti climatic feel: the buried addition would never be a “seen” addition to the city’s skyline. Since 2010, appreciation for Gehry’s work has taken a nosedive. “When did Frank Gehry become a joke?” many now ask, referring to the architect’s cold, skeletal structures, especially his proposed design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, which has been compared to everything from a Nazi concentration camp to an unfinished overpass. As a friend remarked, “The best feature of the Gehry project at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is that it is virtually all underground, which means that no one outside of the building really has to see it. If only every city that is afflicted with the latest Gehry monstrosity could be so lucky as to not have to look at the results. “

In another bizarre PMA-related story, we received a series of emails from a local writer who told us to be on the lookout for two major (coming) law suits charging art critic Edward J. Sozanski (deceased) and former PMA CEO Anne D’Harnoncourt (deceased) with conspiracy. Conspiracy to do what, we asked? How does one sue dead people, unless of course the suit involves the institutions they were once associated with?  “This is no joke,” the reporter assured us, “you will read the story when it breaks.”  

We braved a crowded Route 38 bus to attend the 7th Annual Centennial Celebration in Fairmount Park’s Horticulture Center to support park conservancy. The long and winding road to the Center is far from the bus stop, so we hiked on foot to the crowded Stephen Starr-catered event. We love Fairmount Park, especially Valley Green, though we wish there was no graffiti on the rocks and trees there. Can an event ever be too large? We were guzzled up by the swirling mass of people, some of whom included the mayor and his wife, Gerard H. Sweeney, Patricia Kind, John K. Binswanger, Darrell L. Clarke, and reps from the Phillies, Peco, Bank of America, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, and countless others. At one point we felt carried along, even pushed by the crowds, like someone being lifted and passed over the heads of people at a rave. Serenity returned when we stood face-to-face with Laura Krebes (Cashman and Associates), who got us a dinner spot next to Al Spivey, Jr., Chief of Staff to the Majority Leader (City Council), with whom we discussed the politics of Frank L. Rizzo. The butler-style hors d’oeuvres reception and dinner reminded us of a Federico Fellini fashion show:  lines of synchronized marching servers, silver trays in hand, crisscrossing the maze of revelers like models on multiple runways. The highly dramatic evening ended with terrific rain and wind storm that unfurled the edges of the massive white dinner canopy, forcing us to ditch Septa and hitch a ride into Center City.              

We danced briefly with Blanka Zizka at the Wilma’s Annual Theater Lovers Fete, a fundraising party honoring Virginia and Harvey Kimmel, who have supported the theater in various ways since 1998. The multi-tiered event included a reception, a special stage show for participants, and a fundraiser-auction dinner held in the Doubletree Hotel. We were almost introduced to Harvey and Virginia Kimmel but the couple’s long receiving line prevented that from happening. Our friend Will Jordon arranged a seat for us at his center stage table when his friend—a woman named Rothschild, no less-- had to leave early. Look for The Wilma’s production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, directed by David Kennedy.

Opera Philadelphia’s Don Giovanni at the Academy got bad Inquirer reviews, but for us it made us think of the time we visited Mozart’s home in Vienna, as well as stories of how the composer would travel back and forth from his home to Saint Stephen’s cathedral, a few blocks away. (The cathedral is still riddled with bullet holes and shell cashing from WWII.) Mozart, a devout Catholic, ended Don Giovanni with a virtual catechism lesson, a fact that doesn’t seem to deter the opera’s secular popularity in 2014. The composer was much abused by his father as a child. The abuse was so great, in fact, that Father Mozart would drag little Mozart by the hair (or hand) through the streets and public markets. It’s no wonder then that Don Giovanni ends with the anti-hero being dragged to hell.       

        We visited Palmerton, Pennsylvania and noticed the town’s inactivity and the quiet. It was a Saturday morning, after all, a time when many towns are alive with activity.  We saw very few people walking about. If you are sick of inner city congestion, chronic Septa detours on weekends (thanks to marathons and street festivals), standing room only “seats” on the Frankford Market El, and unrelenting stop and go traffic (not to mention angry drivers and honking horns), this peaceful river town will soothe your spirit. The mountains certainly add a dimension of beauty along with the Lehigh River and Aquishicola Creek. The sight of the famous Blue Mountain Tunnel that cuts through the Kittatinny Ridge has a western Colorado feel. It is also takes you to the turn that goes into Palmerton. We remember the Blue Mountain tunnel from childhood, but that’s another story.

Who would not want to escape to a place like this? Of course, for any city sophisticate, the ‘John Boy Walton’ beauty of this town doesn’t erase the fact that it is also a cultural wasteland. Forget rock concerts, jazz festivals, theater, opera, art galleries, and museums. You might be able to hang out at the local Subway restaurant with its plastic orange chair Kabuki theater seating area, or hunt out a local Dunkin Donuts, or go bowling, but aside from this your only option is a pastime like rafting. Or staying at home and weeding your garden. There’s Palmerton hospital in case you break an arm, have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, or come down with food poisoning.  If your imagination is rich enough you might be able to fantasize about what goes on in the large gothic Victorian house that sits alone on a mountain top and which seems to be the town’s crowning glory.  The site of this house from a distance is impressive. It reminded us of Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, or even the house in Hitchcock’s Psycho.