At the Academy: AAM’s Love Affair with Photography

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If there was any doubt about the Academy Art Museum’s commitment to photography, the galleries of the art center in Easton this spring should put that concern to rest.

From a display of photographic additions recently added to the AAM collection to the exhibitions of John Gossage and Matthew Moore, the Academy has assembled a robust demonstration of the institution’s love affair with photography.

The Spy talked to AAM director Ben Simons and curator Anke Van Wagenberg for a small download on these three remarkable exhibits.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here

Art Review: The Academy Art Museum’s Three Exhibitions Become Four by Steve Parks

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The Academy of Art Museum transforms itself into a time machine, taking passengers as far back as 6th century B.C. all the way up to 21st century A.D., with three exhibits that are really four.

The large galleries that flank the museum lobby are devoted to “Recent Acquisitions: Photography @ AAM.” Among high-profile names in the space to the right is living artist Bruce Nauman, who says of his art, “I’ve never been able to stick to one thing.” Instead, he does it all—painting, sculpture, photography, video, neon, printmaking, neon. At AAM, he’s the subject of his own art—distorting facial features shot by Jack Fulton and printed with a textured bronze finish onto four funhouse images.

Cockeyed Lips by Bruce Nauman

Others in this collection, selected by curator Anke Van Wagenberg, include black-and-whites you’d expect from Ansel Adams’ aesthetic for natural beauty and Berenice Abbott’s documentary-style stills of urban life. But many of us, myself included, may pause longest at Ed Clark’s 1958 photo of the future president peering into his daughter’s eyes in her bassinet. 

JFK and Caroline by Ed Clark

Crossing the lobby into another gallery of “Recent Acquisitions”—all by John Gossage, among the foremost living American photo book-makers—are displayed along with a copy of the volume, republished in 2010 on the 25th anniversary of “The Pond.” The 47 images capture the counter-beauty of a neglected wooded area hidden in suburbia. Gossage’s project has been described as “a foil to Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden Pond.’ ” Hardly idyllic except for its unattended isolation. If you’re into that.

Upstairs, “Matthew Moore: Post-Socialist Landscapes” recall the Cold War era some of us glimpsed on black-and-white TV. But these scenes derive from Moore’s 2014 artists-in-residence at Lithuania’s Nida Art Academy. His haunting frames reveal urban and rural spaces in countries once occupied by the Soviet Union. Among these are “Discarded Icons: Memento Park, Hungary” with busts of Stalin and Lenin glowering in prison-like storage. Another “Discarded Icon” in Estonia finds a severed sculpture-head of Lenin sprouting from the ground in weeded obscurity. Other images reveal platforms in former Russian-dominated republics from which Stalin and Lenin statuary once commanded the view. Ominous superpower threats are amplified by shots of abandoned missile sites and forgotten nuclear bunkers.

Discarded Icon by Matthew Moore

Combat is hand-to-hand in the small first floor galleries where “Dressed to Kill in Love and War: Splendor in the Ancient World” resides on loan from New York’s Fortuna Fine Arts. Objects from centuries on either side of the birth of Christ feature Roman Empire warrior helmets, Greek and Hellenistic jewelry and decorative objects, plus photos of reliefs inspired by battle heroism and mythology. The exhibit’s romantic aspect is reflected in precious-metal jewelry rewarded to love interests of men on the winning side. If you really could go that far back in time, decline and stay safe at this under-glass peek. No cells, no indoor plumbing, no artillery to clear a path for your warhorse.

“Dressed to Kill in Love and War: Splendor in the Ancient World” Through March 31.“Recent Acquisitions: Photography @ AAM” and “Matthew Moore: Post-Socialist Landscapes” Through April 7, all at Academy Art Museum, 106 South St. Easton, academyartmuseum.org, 410-822-2787

Steve Park is a former art and theatre critic for Newsday on Long Island. He now lives on the Mid-Shore of Maryland. 

 

   

When Diebenkorn Became Diebenkorn: An AAM Preview with Ben Simons and Anke Van Wagenberg

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It’s not every day that the Eastern Shore is the host of a special exhibition of the esteemed artist Richard Diebenkorn. In fact, it might be safe to say this artist’s work as never been shown on the Delmarva Peninsula. All of which makes the fact that the Academy Art Museum will be hosting an exclusive retrospective of early Diebenkorn work is such a great thing.

Focusing on Diebenkorn’s early work as he deliberately seeks his own style in the 1940s and 1950s is the foundation of this particular exhibit that has been organized by the Diebenkorn Foundation. The AAM will be the exclusive East Coast venue for this stunning story of a young artist finding his way.

The Spy sat down with Academy Art Museum director Ben Simons and curator Anke Van Wagenberg foe sneak preview of this remarkable show and the exciting lecture program that coincides with it.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about ‘Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942–1955″ please go here.

Art Review: John Gossage and Matthew Moore at the AAM by Mary McCoy

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There’s some very intriguing photography on view in three of the Academy Art Museum’s four galleries through April 7. A roomful of newly acquired works by such prominent photographers as Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, William Eggleston, Lisette Model, and Bruce Nauman gives a brief taste of the startling breadth of photography’s range over the past century, but it’s the two other galleries, one with John Gossage’s work and the other with Matthew Moore’s, that will really leave you thinking.

Gossage is a well-known photographer living in Washington who taught at the University of Maryland College Park and who exhibits internationally. On view is “The Pond,” his 1985 series of black-and-white images shot in the vicinity of an unremarkable pond at the edge of a city. Unremarkable is the operative word, because Gossage focuses on its humdrum situation surrounded by ragtag trees, dusty paths and tangled vines bordering on a human landscape of suburban houses and their attendant chain link fences and power wires. A distinctly prosaic tableau is revealed that we know all too well is repeated thousands of times across the country wherever neighborhoods meet natural landscape. There’s nothing of the iconic richness and beauty found in Ansel Adams’s elegant “Cedar Tree and Maple Leaves” just across the hallway. Gossage presents these peripheral landscapes exactly as he finds them, brambled, scraggly, strewn with trash, and mostly overlooked.

John Gossage, image from “The Pond,” vintage gelatin silver print

But as you peruse these 47 photos (also published as a book), they get under your skin. However unremarkable their setting, they are photographed so skillfully, with such clarity of detail and evenness of tone, that their blandness seems almost exquisite. Every leaf, twig and blade of grass is clearly visible and acknowledged in Gossage’s photographs so that, perversely, they embody both the human longing for nature and our blatant disinterest in its existence. In titling his series “The Pond,” Gossage slyly built in an oblique but nagging reference to Walden Pond and Thoreau’s insatiable curiosity and Transcendentalist awe in exploring its every detail. In Gossage’s landscapes, the human presence is instead one of indifference, conspicuously devoid of any sense of wonder.

Upstairs, Easton photographer Matthew Moore’s “Post-Socialist Landscapes” bear some notable similarities to Gossage’s in that his photographs also draw their impact not from being beautiful, but from the deadpan, black-and-white austerity of their compositions and their crisp and intricate detail. An Associate Professor and Visual Arts Department Chair at Anne Arundel Community College, Moore shares Gossage’s fascination with the human presence in the landscape, but with a focus on how societies use landscape, particularly urban spaces, to manipulate our views of history. This series, shot during a 2014 residency at the Vilnius Academy of Arts’ Nida Art Colony in Lithuania, records the aftermath of Soviet occupation in photographs that fall into three categories.


Matthew Moore, “Stalin, Prague, Czech Republic, 2014,” pigment print

One explores the crumbling military structures that were used to maintain power. There are former bunkers and machine gun nests being slowly overrun by graffiti and grass. The disused blast berms on Estonia’s Turisalu Missile Base are now so blanketed with small trees and wildflowers that they resemble Bronze Age barrows, transformed into just another bit of history buried in the ground.

A second group records public spaces where statues of Lenin, Stalin or both once stood. In some, the only remaining evidence is a cluster of ornamental bushes or an odd stretch of vacant pavement, while in “Lenin, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2014,” a visible scar still remains in the form of a bare spot smack dab in the center of a plaza. In a shot of Letna Hill in Prague, the huge pedestal that once held a 51-foot-tall statue of Stalin overlooking the city below has been repurposed to support an enormous metronome whose ticking provides a constant reminder of Czech struggles under Soviet communist rule.

In the third category, Moore documents the temporary resting places of these statues. The effect is sometimes comic, as when he discovered a discarded sculpted head of Lenin in a backyard in Estonia between some rubble and a flowering shrub. Others, such as busts of both Lenin and Stalin stored on stacks of wooden pallets, feel far more ominous. Like Prague’s ticking pendulum, they hold a warning that without vigilance, the political pendulum might easily swing back again.

Moore’s work and Gossage’s create a curious dialogue. While Moore explores how we consciously use landscape to promote agendas, Gossage documents what may be an even darker side of human nature—how little we notice or care about how we affect the land. Although both artists can legitimately be termed landscape photographers, their works expose far more about human proclivities than about the landscape we inhabit.

BookPlate Presents Local Author Peter Heck

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Peter Heck’s “Mark Twain mysteries” — photo courtesy of The BookPlate

Friday, March 8, the BookPlate presents local author Peter J. Heck reading from and discussing his Mark Twain mysteries. The event begins at 6 p.m., and admission is free. The BookPlate, owned and managed by Tom Martin, is located at 112 S. Cross St. between Play It Again Sam’s Coffee Shop and Janes Church. This is one of a long-running series of presentations by poets, novelists, and non-fiction authors at the store.

The series of six mysteries, featuring one of America’s best-loved writers as a detective, is set in the 1890s, and follows Twain as he travels around the United States and to England and Italy, solving murders. Peter says that Twain’s world-traveling career made him an attractive protagonist for a series of books because it allowed him to set the stories in so many different places. Also, he says, Twain’s biting wit and ability to see through pretensions of all kinds made him irresistible to write about.

A Chestertown native, Peter grew up as a voracious reader who benefited from a complete set of Twain’s writings that had belonged to his grandfather, Theodore Jewell. Other youthful influences were Edgar Allen Poe, A. Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” mysteries, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ popular novels. After graduating from Chestertown High School, he studied English at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Indiana University. He taught for several years at Temple University in Philadelphia. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he edited newsletters promoting mysteries and science fiction for the Waldenbooks company. He also worked as an editor at Ace Books and freelanced at Baen and Del Rey books, where his writers included Spider Robinson, Robert Sawyer and Harry Turtledove. Peter has been a regular book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Asimov’s Science Fiction for many years.

Peter Heck

Peter began writing the Twain mysteries in 1995, eventually publishing six books, the titles of which are plays on the titles of Twain’s own books. In order of publication, they are Death on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court, The Prince and the Prosecutor, The Guilty Abroad, The Mysterious Strangler, and Tom’s Lawyer. Twain’s adventures are narrated by Wentworth Cabot, Twain’s fictional secretary and the “Watson” of the series. There are minor roles for various historical characters, among them Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, and jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.

Peter also co-wrote four books in a science fiction series, “Phule’s Company,” with the late Robert Asprin. Peter returned to Chestertown in the late ‘90s, where he continued writing his novels. He also worked for 10 years as a reporter and photographer for the Kent County News. Beginning in 2017, he and his wife Jane Jewell have been co-editors of the Chestertown Spy. In addition to his career as a writer, Peter is also an accomplished guitarist — formerly with the local quartet, Col. Leonard’s Irregulars — and a founding member of the Chestertown Chess Club.

Copies of Peter’s books will be available for purchase during the event, and the author will be pleased to sign copies. We hope to see you Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. at the BookPlate.

Spy Minute: RiverArts March Show

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“I think of drawing as a dance and a dance is a drawing in space.”
Romanian artist, Geta Bratescu

The term drawing is applied to works that vary greatly in technique. It has been understood in different ways at different times and is difficult to define. During the Renaissance the term ‘disegno’ implied drawing both as a technique to be distinguished from coloring and also as the creative idea made visible in the preliminary sketch.

To accompany this exhibit, RiverArts will host a Creative Lives talk on Thursday, March 7, by A. T. Moffett, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Washington College. This event will include a brief dance performance by her students. A limited number of RiverArts member artists will be allowed to sketch at student rehearsals in the months prior to the event.

Open Reception/First Friday: March 1, 2019
Creative Lives Talk & Dance Presentation: Thursday, March 7, @ 6:00
Curator’s/Artists’ Talk: Thursday, March 14, @ 5:30

Video produced by David Hegland

Guy Davis Brings Blues and Songster Ramblings to Sumner Hall, March 1

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Guy Davis — photo by Joseph A. Rosen

Anyone who loves traditional blues should be looking forward to March 1, when Guy Davis, “The Ambassador of the Blues,” plays at Sumner Hall. Davis’s show, “On the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings,” is part of Sumner Hall’s concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

African American Legacy & Heritage – Jazz, Blues, and Gospel — Sumner Hall concert series

Davis and McHugh go back a long way. They first met when McHugh was teaching a course in African American music at Vassar College and asked Davis to demonstrate slide guitar to his class. Since McHugh’s move to Kent County, Davis has performed here a number of times, including the first Riverside Blues Festival, several appearances at the Mainstay, and a memorable duo concert with guitarist Reggie Harris at Sumner Hall.

Davis, the son of the late actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, is self-taught on guitar. He picked up tips for listening to and watching other musicians, including a nine-fingered guitarist who taught him finger-picking during a long train ride. He also plays 5-string banjo, which he learned at a music summer camp, and harmonica. Not surprisingly, he has also followed his parents into acting, including a role as legendary Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson in an off-Broadway production.

But as the concert title suggests, Davis’s reach extends beyond the blues, including ragtime tunes, New Orleans jazz sounds, fife-and-drum pieces, folk music – and always something to “make you want to dance.” Don’t be surprised if he includes a tune or two from the repertoire of Pete Seeger, one of his mentors and a strong influence. You can hear Davis’s music on over a dozen albums, most recently “Sonny & Terry’s Last Train,” a tribute to the late blues masters Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Davis credits Terry as his main influence on harmonica.

The Sumner Hall performance begins at 7 p.m. Due to limited space, reservations are strongly recommended. Tickets are available on EventBrite, by email to info@sumnerhall.org or by calling 443-282-0023. Admission is $20.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a Stunning Production — Review by Peter Heck

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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” cast: on sofa – Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick, standing Brad Chaires as George, & Jen Friedman as Martha  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Edward Albee’s groundbreaking play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, currently playing at the Garfield Center in Chestertown, brings some of the strongest performances in recent years to the local stage. Directed by Gil Rambach, the play – as Rambach noted before the opening night performance – is challenging, even uncomfortable for audiences. But nobody who enjoys the theater should miss this production. Simply put, it’s electrifying.

Albee’s play had its Broadway debut in 1962, and it won both the Tony Award and the Drama Critics’ Award as best play. It was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award’s drama jury, but the award’s advisory board reportedly overruled the selection because of the play’s use of profanity and its sexual themes, both unusual at the time. No Pulitzer was given for drama that year.

The original cast included Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Melinda Dillon, and George Grizzard, with Allen Schneider as director. The production at Billy Rose Theatre in New York ran for 664 performances, after which it opened in London. It has been revived numerous times – with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara in 1976, and with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in a 1980 production in New London. A 1994 London production starred David Suchet and Diana Rigg — that’s one I would love to have seen.

George (Brad Chaires) confronts his wife Martha (Jen Friedman) with Nick (Lyle Pinder) in the background in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jane Jewell

However, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is probably best known from the 1966 film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, with George Segal and Sandy Dennis as the younger couple. Directed by Mike Nichols, it was nominated for 13 Academy Awards – every category for which it was eligible – one of only two films ever to do so. It ended up winning five, including Taylor as best actress and Dennis as supporting actress. And, in a sign of the changing times, the script retained much of the provocative language of the stage version. The days of film censorship were over.  This is definitely adult fare – so keep the kiddies at home, except perhaps for very mature teenagers.   But definitely go yourself.  It’s a drama, not a comedy, though there are some ironic chuckles and laugh lines.  Be prepared for an intense evening of drama at its best.

The play explores the complex and embattled relationship of a middle-aged married couple, George and Martha. After a faculty party at the small New England college where George teaches, Martha invites a younger faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to their home. George instantly takes umbrage at her having issued the invitation without consulting him, and the ensuing argument carries on throughout the night and into the next morning, drawing in the younger couple who stay in spite of the raging emotions. In the course of it, much is revealed about the lives and relationships of both couples, though the real explosions take place between George and Martha.

Put that baldly, it sounds as if the play is about nothing much, and in a sense it is. But in another sense, it’s about everything: ambition and failure, love and hate, reality and illusions, innocence and experience – life itself. Albee packs these themes into the interaction of four characters in one tense evening, fueled by way too much to drink and unrestrained libido. A significant portion of the dialogue is delivered at the top of the actors’ voices – it must require incredible vocal stamina for them to keep from burning out after the first act. In a show that runs close to three hours, that’s a lot to ask – but on opening night, the actors delivered.

Director Rambach, who has a long directing career in New Jersey before moving to the Shore, is also a playwright. He said after the performance we saw that he has directed Virginia Woolf once before in the mid-’90s, but his accumulated experience since then has given him a fresh perspective on the play. For this production, he has put together an outstanding cast.

Jen Friedman as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

In the Garfield production of the play, Jen Friedman takes the role of Martha – the Elizabeth Taylor role. Well regarded for her strong comic roles – most recently as Gorgeous Tettlebaum in The Sisters Rosenzsweig at Church Hill – in this play she delivers a powerful, over-the-top performance as a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, lashing out at everything and everyone around her yet sometimes her own vulnerability shows and the audience feels sympathy – and perhaps even identification–with her. Friedman’s character covers an incredible range of emotions, and she makes them all believable. Regular theater-goers have had plenty of opportunities to see her versatility, but this role may be her most impressive yet.

Garfield regular Bradley Chaires plays George, and his energy in the role is a match for Friedman’s. He makes good use of his physical bulk to dominate the stage, even looming over and shoving around the 6’1” actor who plays Nick. He also conveys the character’s mean streak even when he’s not the main focus of a scene, as when he sits and reads a book while Martha makes passes at the younger professor. A strong performance by an actor who has become a valuable featured player at the Garfield.

Brianna Johnson as Honey and Lyle Pinder as Nick in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson, who has worked both onstage and behind the scenes at the Garfield and Church Hill Theatre, is quietly brilliant as Honey. The mousy young faculty wife is in one sense a secondary character, far less flamboyant that George or Martha or even her husband. But every time I looked at her, her expression and posture delivered an unmistakable message about how the character felt and responded to what was going on around her. Only 21 years old, Johnson shows uncanny stage presence in this role; let’s hope we see a lot more of her on local stages.

Nick is played by Chestertown native Lyle Pinder, making his Garfield debut after garnering numerous theater and TV and film credits in New York. His experience is easy to see, as he gives the character a combination of arrogance and unexpected vulnerability. An excellent job.

The set, representing George and Martha’s living room, is nicely done, with lots of books on view and ‘60s-looking furniture. And the costumes are right for the period, thanks to Connie Fallon, who also did the set decoration.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is playing through Feb. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20 general admission; $15 for seniors or military personnel; and $10 for students.   Reservations can be made on the Garfield website, or by calling the theater at 410-810-2060.

Brad Chaires

  Jen Friedman

Brianna Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyle Pinder

Director and Crew for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” –

Brad Chaires as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — Photo by Jeff Weber

Brad Chaires and Jen Friedman as George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — Photo by Jeff Weber

 

It’s drinks for everyone in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” – Photo by Jeff Weber

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Mid-Shore Arts: Elvis is in the Building with TAP and Four Weddings and an Elvis

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For TAP director John Norton, Four Weddings and an Elvis had so many things going for it to make it the kick off of the 2019 Tred Avon Players season.

The first, of course, was Elvis. The second was that it was funny, and finally, despite great reviews, rarely been performed since Nancy Frick wrote it in 2010. All of which made it a perfect production for TAP and its loyal audience.

But that is only part of the reason that director Norton is excited about the TAP Elvis production. In his short Spy interview, John has added a special twist to each performance with a raffle of a lifesize Elvis to take home with the lucky winner.

The Spy caught up with John at Bullit House last week to talk about the play and the fun that comes when Elvis is in the building.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information and tickets please go here

 

 

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