kon-radsJust got back from a local screening of David Bowie is, which is a documentary offering a “live” tour of the exhibition originally organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum that utilizes material from Bowie’s extensive personal archive. Since closing at the V&A in August 2013, the show has been on the road and has now opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, its only stop in the United States. You have until January 4, 2015 to catch it.


Google Houdini Doodle

Another cute Google Doodle reminded me to remind you that time is running out to catch the Houdini exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York City.

Houdini's will poster, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, POS - MAG - .H37, no. 2 (C size)

Billed as “the first art exhibition in an American art museum,” Houdini: Art & Magic brings together archival documentation and the responses of contemporary artists to the legendary performer.

Materials have been drawn from both private and public collections, including the Library of Congress, which includes an interesting description of the dispersal of the Houdini collection in its online catalog record for this particular item.  The LC note also relates the story of Harry Houdini’s brother, Theodore Hardeen (whose presence was notably absent from the exhibition if I recall correctly — but, then again, it was pretty crowded when I visited and I’m not sure I managed to read through all the captions).

Although the show closes in New York this Saturday, you will have a chance to catch up with it again throughout the year as it tours to two venues on the West Coast, before winding up in Wisconsin (where it all began).

Kudos to the Jewish Museum for organizing some of the most consistently innovative and engaging exhibitions on performing artists over the past few years!

“A great performer feels this sharing,”  This line, written by the choreographer and theater visionary, Alwin Nikolais, describes the ideal relationship between dancer and audience.  Nikolais recorded this thought on a sheet of paper containing other observations and, wonderfully, this handwritten series of notes is one of the many extraordinary objects to be found in the current exhibition, “Alwin Nikolais’ Total Theater of Motion,” on display in the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ Vincent Astor Gallery.  The exhibition, curated by Claudia Gitelman, runs until January 15, 2011.

I have been a fan of Nikolais since seeing an utterly astounding performance of Noumenon in the late 1970s.  Although I was not well schooled in dance history and in spite of my regrettable lack of exposure to dance at that stage, I recall feeling that I was witnessing something very special and was certainly inspired.  The experience of Noumenon (along with an explosive solo piece by Murray Louis) made me want to dance.  Moreso, it made me feel as though I could dance.  Sharing, indeed.

It was, therefore, quite thrilling to encounter so much material in the NYPL exhibit that explores Nikolais’ educational endeavors, particularly his years with the Henry Street Settlement House on New York City’s Lower East Side.  Nikolais, along with Hanya Holm, directed the dance program there for many years and the exhibition celebrates this period with delightful photographs, programs, and posters.  Under the directorship of Nikolais and Holm, the profile of dance in the community was raised to fabulously high levels and great numbers of young people were engaged and turned on.  There is a particularly memorable photograph in the exhibition (from either the 1940s or 1950s) that shows a huge line of neighborhood people outside the Henry Street Playhouse, waiting to gain entry to a dance performance.  At another point in the Henry Street Settlement House section, a caption reads: “The first performing experiences of professional students at the Henry Street Playhouse were in dance dramas for neighborhood children.  Nikolais invented whimsical plots, vivid characters and outlandish costumes.”  Nikolais was bringing dance to the people in a major way.

And there is so much more. A striking photo of a beaming Alwin Nikolais with his idol and mentor, Mary Wigman, from 1958.  A series of costume sketches and television storyboards, created by Nikolais.  An LP record jacket for the Hanover Records release of the “Choreosonic Music of the New Dance Theatre of Alwin Nikolais.”  A copy of Nikolais’ Index to Puppetry, done for the WPA in 1936.  A business card dispensed by Nikolais in the earliest part of his career, advertising his position as an organist for the Fine Arts Theatre in Westport, Connecticut.  Costumes and props from such pieces as Gallery, Allegory, and Tent.  Wonderful and sometimes miraculous video and film clips of many Nikolais works, illustrating with absolute clarity the nature and extent of his “total theater of motion.”

Some date omissions are problematic.  However, the selected materials, the overall arrangement of the show, and the generally informative captions all get high marks.  The highest mark, though, goes to the simple act of creating an extensive tribute to the life and work of Alwin Nikolais.  It is a well-earned but long overdue tribute and I can say with great sincerity that it is a tribute very much appreciated.  And well worth seeing before it is taken down on January 15.

And, speaking of long overdue tributes, I just want to take another moment to praise the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) for the current gem of an exhibition celebrating the work of Denys Wortman, cartoonist for the World Telegram and Sun from 1930-1953.  I knew nothing at all of Wortman’s work prior to seeing the exhibition and now cannot fathom his absence from notoriety for all of the years following his death in 1958.  What a wonderful observer of society and socioeconomic classes, and how important to bring such marvelous and significant work to the attention of the public once again.  The exhibition, entitled “Denys Wortman Rediscovered,” will be on display at MCNY until March 20, 2011.

Happy (belated) birthday!

A few odds and ends from the world of ballet to (hopefully) brighten your day.

The first has nothing to do directly with archives, but I just felt compelled to remark that the special Doodle that was used by Google to celebrate Tchaikovsky’s 170th birthday last week was very cute:

You can watch a video about the collaboration between San Francisco Ballet and Jennifer Hom of Google in creating the birthday tribute on the SFB Website.

In other news, the Atlanta Ballet celebrated its 80th anniversary over the weekend with a special program, Sheer Exhilaration,  which also included an extensive display of archival materials at the theater.  You can read about the exhibit in this post by Howard Pousner on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s blog.  As reported in the article, both the Atlanta History Center and Emory University Libraries’ Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) hold important Atlanta Ballet materials.  Kudos to both institutions for partnering with the Atlanta Ballet to preserve its history.  I did a quick check and was reassured to find that the collections have been cataloged by their respective repositories (yay for catalogers!), but a little saddened that they did not have online finding aids.  On the whole, AHC’s catalog was a little easier to find (although I’m not sure how I feel about the name, “Terminus”), while getting to Emory’s Euclid catalog from its Web site seemed to take a few more clicks.  As always, the message is pretty clear that dance materials seldom are a priority in most large collecting institutions (well, I guess Salman Rushdie’s first flash drive is more interesting), but at least the stuff is there and somewhat accessible!

Finally, lucky New Yorkers still have a chance to catch the final performances of the invaluable New York Theatre Ballet’s well-reviewed Signatures 10 program on May 14 and 15!

Promotional poster for MCNY exhibition, "Charles Addams's New York" from MCNY Web site; original artwork copyright Charles Addams, reproduced by permission of Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

I’m not sure what this has to do with performing arts archives (although I just read the announcement on Theatermania), but the Museum of the City of New York will soon be presenting an exhibition of  original artworks by the late Charles Addams.  Timed to coincide nicely with the opening of the eagerly anticipated Broadway musical, The Addams Family, the MCNY show, Charles Addams’s New York, which will run from March 4 – May 16, 2010, is guaranteed to be a hit.  Which show will last longer though, I wonder?

Also newly opened in New York is the previously mentioned The Jazz Loft Project exhibition at NYPL’s LPA.

That should keep people off the streets for a while.

Installation view of "Lucinda Childs: Dance" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art.  Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.  From the Whitney Museum of American Art Web site.

Installation view of "Lucinda Childs: Dance" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art. Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins. From the Whitney Museum of American Art Web site.

On a recent trip back to New York, I was surprised to come upon the installation, Lucinda Childs: Dance, in the galleries of the Whitney Museum of American Art.  This small exhibition brought together (what are now) archival materials created by choreographer, Lucinda Childs, composer, Philip Glass, and artist, Sol LeWitt, in the process of collaborating on the 1979 piece,  Dance, originally commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  It was easily the most mesmerizing display in the museum at the time.

The restored work itself has been touring recently with a new company of eleven dancers under Childs’s direction and it will receive one more set of performances, from 15-17 October, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  If you are not able to make it to one of these shows, you can read a thoughtful review of the company’s appearance at New York’s Joyce Theater by Evan Namerow on the blog, Dancing Perfectly Free.  If you happen to be in New York, you can view the installation at the Whitney through the 8th November.

Album cover image for the Jefferson Starship's "Blows Against the Empire"

Album cover image for the Jefferson Starship's "Blows Against the Empire"

The Museum of Performance and Design opens a major exhibition today tracing the vibrant Bay Area rock and roll scene, circa 1969-1973.

From the MSD Web site:

Co-curators Melissa Leventon and Alec Palao evoke this rich era using a wealth of rarely seen footage, posters, images, and costume from private and other public collections and the artists themselves.  Completing the picture is rarely heard audio, some of it drawn from the archive of vintage KSAN recordings recently added to MPD’s permanent collection.

The exhibition runs from September 25, 2009-August 2010, so there should be  ample opportunity for a trip to San Francisco.  Have you seen the stars tonight?

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