Dear self: Snap out of it!

My niece and nephew were in town for the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. The two of them are quite gifted. They show an intelligence and a creativity beyond their years. My father-in-law was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and he asked my nephew for a four-letter word for karate school. He correctly answered “dojo.” He also identified a passage through time and space as a wormhole. He’s 7-years old. My niece sketched a pear on a table while the other kids sat blank-faced in front of a TV watching Toy Story. She showed the proper light source and correct shading to give it a globular appearance. She’s 9.

I was thinking about all this as I was driving home and then it hit me right between the eyes. The most destructive of all human emotions.

Envy.

Envy, despite the fact that I have two healthy, happy, attractive little girls who I wouldn’t trade for anyone. Envy that my daughters are only well-adjusted and well-behaved, but not academically exceptional.

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Enjoys dancing to Mariachi music with a flower in her teeth, 

What the hell’s wrong with me? I’m no better than the creepy parents on the Upper East Side of Manhattan who dress their yuppie larvae in Brooks Brothers finery and jockey to get them into expensive private preschools in the hopes that 18 years from now it’ll be a leg-up when applying to an Ivy League institution, all of which has more to do with the parent’s public image than the welfare of their child.

I’m trying not to be too terribly hard on myself. I’m a firm believer in the old adage that the first step is admitting you have a problem, so thank God I’ve turned that corner. A friend of mine blasted me for being irrational and said I should count my blessings. He cautioned that gifted children can sometimes wind up feeling isolated or be social misfits. Perhaps these silly feelings of mine are nothing more than the small stones that every parent must chew and swallow.

* * *

Everyone at work has a nameplate outside their office. Check out this guy’s name:

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Gesundheit!

Get it?

Frightening the Kiddies: Tim Burton/Thanksgiving Edition

burtonIf you’re in the U.S., don’t forget to tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this Thursday morning. It’s nothing more than a three-hour commercial, but I’ve been watching it ever since I was a little kid and wouldn’t miss it. I even attended once! Much like a trip to the Statue of Liberty and spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square, once is enough. I froze my ass off. A pal of mine liberated about a dozen tiny bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream from a British Airways flight and brought them in a paper bag. Drinking amongst all those happy families and little children felt kind of creepy, but drink we did.

I have no idea how THIS got approved but this first pic is one of the new balloons. It was designed by Tim Burton! Seeing “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” and “Tim Burton” appear in the same paragraph is something I never could have predicted. The character is B. Boy. According to Mr. Burton:

B. was created, Frankenstein’s monster-style, from the leftover balloons used in children’s parties at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Forbidden from playing with other children because of his jagged teeth and crazy-quilt stitching, B. retreated to a basement lair, where he obsesses over Albert Lamorisse’s film “The Red Balloon” and dreams that he, too, will be able to fly someday.

Fantastic. This may portend a general turn to weirdness, as last years’ parade debuted Kaikai and Kiki, balloons created by Takashi Murakami.

kikiSurprisingly, NONE of these new balloons exist to promote a product. I guess you can classify them solely as artistic endeavors. It’s enough to give you hope. Here’s how Mr. Murakami dressed last year to march alongside Kaikai and Kiki. I’m hoping that Mr. Burton dons an appropriate outfit to march alongside B. Boy.

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Tiny Demons

We send The Daughter to CCD. For the uninitiated, CCD is the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It is. It’s where you send your kids if you’re Catholic but don’t attend a parochial school. It’s religion class. I attended when I was a kid and I turned out okay. (Didn’t I?)

I think it’s good that Mrs. Wife takes them to church and gives them a spiritual foundation. Later on, when they get older, they can make up their own minds as to whether they want to continue to embrace church teachings or do as I did and reject Catholicism. I predict that they will become, what I refer to as, Chinese menu Catholics. About 90% of Catholics are Chinese menu Catholics. My mom was one. You pick and choose which aspects of church doctrine you are comfortable with, but reject the silly stuff. Most Catholics don’t feel that birth control is a sin. Divorcees stand in line for communion. For many years, you weren’t supposed to eat meat on Friday, but so many people ignored that one that *presto!* it’s no longer a sin. I believe that most Catholics would love to see women enter the priesthood. I would.

I was surprised to discover that The Daughter’s CCD class was taught by a student from the local Catholic high school. I was always taught by either nuns or parents. I think my mom even taught classes for a while. It seemed to me that leaving some poor high school girl to the tender mercies of a room full of 9-year olds was unfair but, apparently, she’s a whiz with kids and it works.

You know what happens when there’s a substitute teacher, right? Bedlam! Except that this evening, it wasn’t the students who rioted. Their usual beloved teacher was out sick so she was replaced by two mean girls from the Catholic high school. They proceeded to tear the class apart. They made fun of one kid’s name and told some poor girl she was a nerd. They immediately spotted the class hellion, a kindred spirit, and bonded with him. He performed a profanity-laced rap song which the girls recorded on their phones. It’s probably up on YouTube right now. It’s the first time The Daughter heard the word “fuck” so now THAT cat’s out of the bag. After his rapping, he told my daughter’s friend that he was going to “…put my foot up your ass.” Nine years old! It was about as far away from the teachings of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John as you can get.

The next morning, Mrs. Wife wrote a fantastic, scathing letter to the director of the church and CCD program. Apparently, they were deluged with similar letters. As Daughter was relaying this, I got angrier and angrier. I mean, scary angry. Don’t make me elaborate. This sort of thing is going to happen with increasing frequency as she gets older. I’m worried about my self control. Or lack thereof. I’m not a tough guy. I’m liable to get my ass kicked pretty good.

:15 second reviews

I can’t put these off any longer. I’ll try be as succinct as possible but you know how I can get.

* * *
seminar
I’ve seen a few of Theresa Rebeck’s plays and her new comedy, Seminar, is clearly her best work. There is no thinness to the characters (which was an problem with Mauritius). Rock solid performances from everyone. That damn Alan Rickman knows how to chew up a stage. In the good way. He plays a writer of faded glory who gives private lessons to aspiring authors. He’s not a gentle instructor. Here’s his teaching philosophy in a nutshell on a poster outside the theater:

sem1Isn’t that a great line? The play is loaded with them.

As my pal CB said afterwards, Rickman could read the phone directory in a compelling manner. There are no weak links in the supporting cast. Lily Rabe, who I saw go toe-to-toe with Al Pacino last season in Merchant of Venice, stands her ground in front of another seasoned veteran. Great direction and pacing. Can’t wait for the reviews. I’m CERTAIN the critics will agree with me [this time].

* * *

hjWhat the hell was I doing at this show? I’m not a fan of Big! Broadway! Musicals! They’re too damn cheery. I am NOT the target audience for this sort of thing. Hugh Jackman Back on Broadway is a one-man singing and dancing extravaganza. (Well…one man with a full 18-piece orchestra and six hot, hot back-up singers who have angelic voices and look to have been poured into their little black dresses.

The pre-opening hype has been fierce. The understanding around town is that the run is completely sold out and is, therefore, critic-proof. A sweet spot to be in! I was walking past the Times Square half-price ticket booth on my way home from work and, astonishingly, discount tickets were available. I got caught up in the groundswell of hype and decided to go. The lady in the ticket booth told me Jackman insisted that blocks of tickets be made available at a discount to make it affordable to a wider audience. Nice guy!

It’s as good as they say it is. I’m sure the critics are going to fall all over themselves with praise. But I probably would have enjoyed it more if I were a fan of musicals. Did I need to hear Oh, What a Beautiful Morning or songs from Carousel and The Music Man? Not so much. He played clips from his movies and made very funny self-effacing comments about them. He juxtaposed still photos of big, tough, Wolverine with big, gay, Peter Allen, who he played on Broadway a few years ago. A helluva good dancer. He worked his ass off to please the crowd and isn’t that where the rubber meets the road?

* * *

relatively

How’s this for a pedigree: Three one-acts written by Ethan Cohen, Woody Alan and Elaine May. A large cast of seasoned professionals including Julie Kavner, Marlo Thomas and Steven Guttenberg. How can it go wrong?

When it opened a few weeks ago, it received lukewarm reviews. Once again, the critics got it wrong. Lukewarm is being kind. It was one of the worst things I’ve seen in quite some time. If it were one play, I would have walked out at intermission but because it was three separate pieces, I hung in there hoping the next one would be better. The Woody Alan piece was so filled with negative Jewish stereotypes that if a Gentile had written it, Mossad would assassinate them. The Cohen play unraveled at the end and not only was Elaine May’s contribution NOT funny, it actually made me angry. She was the biggest offender. The three of them owe me a refund.

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LLL

The Public Theater down in the East Village is NYC’s epicenter for Shakespearean productions. It’s been around for a long, long time. Currently on the main stage, there’s a production of King Lear starring Sam Waterson that got a bunch of mediocre reviews. The production is 3:30 long and it’s not cheap! I won’t be going to that. But I DID see a spectacular production of Love’s Labor’s Lost in the tiny, upstairs theater.

Not many props. Sparse costume budget. But there was electricity in the air, which just goes to show you that venue and marquee names count for very little. It’s all in the acting, kid. It’s one of those productions tucked into a corner that I discovered and want to share with everyone. The tickets were a measly $15 bucks! I’ve paid more and have gotten a lot less in return (see above). I think Love’s Labor’s Lost is considered one of Shakespeare’s early lightweight plays but I thought parts of it had real gravitas. [Note to Daisyfae: the Princess of France, the lead female role, was played by Renee Elise Goldsberry, who played the upscale wife in Good People. Now, THAT’S range!]

* * *

Poor Hugh Dancy.

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Imagine turning out an exhausting, effective performance, but having to share the stage with a firecracker just out of acting school. Such is poor Hugh’s plight. In Venus in Fur, he plays a director trying to cast a role. He shares the stage with Nina Arianda, who just recently graduated from the NYU acting program. Graduate from school and go to Broadway! That’s like a newly minted lawyer arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court.

It’s a two-hander so there’s no place for the actors to hide. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. That she’s a Goddess dressed in black leather and lace underthings who exudes sexuality throughout much of the show certainly does not help poor Hugh. I think her seductions were directed at me specifically, even though I was in the back of the balcony. I wonder how she was able to sense my presence from so far away? Acting!

Part 2: Bad Art for Sale

[Edit]: I misidentified the Tomato man sculpture below. It’s called Tomato Head (green) by Paul McCarthy. The estimate was $1,000,000-1,500,000. It sold last night for $4,562,500. My feelings about the piece have not changed. I’ve added the prices realized. Prices include buyer’s premium.

Last week’s Impressionist auction at Christie’s met with limited success. Degas’ Little Dancer failed to sell. The experts feel the $25 million estimate was too aggressive. Many of the lots didn’t sell. It’s the economy, stupid!

So we move from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Contemporary Art auctions will be held this week. There are a few interesting lots but I have chosen to focus on the pieces that I simply don’t understand. They strike me as preposterous and the estimates make me dizzy.

It’s the old kitchen sink argument I can do that myself. It’s a silly thing to say. One can retort well, then, why don’t you? But logic has never been welcome on this blog and I’m not about to start now. So take a walk with me. This is the kind of self-indulgent junk that makes people dismiss art and shun museums.
This is Driftwood by Richard Long. It’s 48 pieces of driftwood laid out just so on the floor. That’s it. Chunks of wood on the floor. If I brought 5-Year Old Daughter to this, she’d immediately start picking them up and stacking them, thereby ruining the aesthetic of the piece. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Did not sell.
sticksI’m probably going to catch some hell for this. This is Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat who I cannot stand. This is a terrible piece. It’s infantile scribbling. Basquiat helped legitimize graffiti as an art form. The people who deemed graffiti “art” lived uptown and didn’t have to look at it every day while walking to the corner bodega for a quart of milk. It got old. Take my word for it. And stupidly throwing your successful life/career away on a heroin overdose is inexcusable. Estimate: $900,000-1,200,000. Sold for $2,546,500.
squat

This is 6765 by Mario Merz. 85 stacks of aging newspapers with glass plates and neon tubes. Actually, I saw something just like this last weekend at the town recycling center. Estimate: $750,000-950,000. Sold for $1,426,500.

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Flowers, Mary’s Table by de Kooning. I don’t like ANYTHING de Kooning did. It’s noise. This piece gave me a headache just by walking past it. Ready for this? Estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000. Totally worth it. Did not sell.

dek

Another head-scratcher. One and Three Coats by Joseph Kosuth is a photograph of a leather coat, the leather coat and the definition of coat. Again, I ask, where is the artistic merit in this? And where would you proudly display it? Estimate: $140,000-180,000. Sold for $146,500.

coat

I LIKE THIS ONE
Finally, a Jeff Koons I can appreciate. Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J. Silver Series, Wilson Aggressor). Two basketballs suspended in sodium chloride reagent and distilled water. You’d have to see this in person to really appreciate it. It’s bright and clean with sharp edges and it’s funny. I love it. But not for $2,000,000-3,000,000. Sold for $4,226,500.
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