Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Sheer Joy Of Squandering Millions: Thoughts on the Contemporary Art Scene

Painting by local favorite Adam Swanson
This weekend I was looking at an February 1989 Art & Antiques mag I'd saved, probably because it had a John Updike feature on Diebenkorn. The inside back story, however, is the one that caught my attention. Madness, Madness the title exclaimed, the subtitle expounding, "The sheer joy of squandering millions."

The author Hugh Kenner set about to shine a light on the then-current art auction scene with it's spiraling rise in valuations that left minds reeling. He found it unbelievable that a Jasper Johns would fetch $17 million. The current (1989) record was a Van Gogh that garnered $53.9 million.

What he was was billionaire entering the art market with ample cash to bid up everything they liked. There are problems with this, however. As paintings become more valuable it becomes increasingly necessary to protect them from thievery. Instead of owning art for your home you (if you are rich) purchase a painting and place it in a vault, much like jewelry that s kept in a safe instead of a drawer.

There's another feature I'd never thought of as this process of exploding prices occurs. Suppose you bought a signed Warhol print in 1975 for ten thousand. (Just guessing here.) But after a while it is worth a million, and then later five million. What does this do to your insurance costs? And do you really want a five million dollar painting in your dining room?

"Innocence" by Ennyman 
Doctors could afford pieces that they can now longer afford to insure. The end result is that they get taken to auction... and when that piece sells for even higher it raises the valuations of everything else, which then makes more pieces too expensive to own.

The movers and shakers in this game are the billionaires, hence Mr. Kenner goes out of his way to describe how large one billion dollars is as a number. If dollar bills stack one hundred to an inch, a billion bills would be ten million inches or 158 miles. By this measure Van Gogh's Irises was acquired for a tower of cash 8.5 miles high. Small potatoes to a billionaire.

Since this article was written in 1989 art prices have risen dramatically. In May a single art auction event at Christie's resulted in somewhere around $750 dollars exchanging hands. And every other week there seems to be news of a new record being set for works be various artists. There's a lot of money floating around out there evidently. Some billionaires own football teams, others collect art.

Check out the Top 20 most expensive paintings in the world today.

For another good read, check out Ann Klefstad's fable about a painting.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. And this Saturday if you re able get out to see some local artisans' work and buy local. There's an aesthetic lift in owning a few pieces you love.

Monday, November 24, 2014

She Belongs To Me Is Classic Dylan

Haight-Ashbury Mural, 2008
As everyone following the current edition of the Never Ending Tour is aware, the playlist is pretty much set in stone, beginning with "Things Have Changed." Most of the songs in the two-part show are of more recent vintage, many from his last studio album Tempest. The second song of the set, "She Belongs To Me," is not. With the exception of his eternal classic "Blowing in the Wind" which has become the kickoff to his encore, it's the only one from the Sixties, with Bob at center stage and Donnie on pedal steel.

"She Belongs To Me" is a song Dylan has now performed 362 times as of Saturday night, and in some ways it seemed a curious selection considering all the scintillating songs of that period. But then, there may be good reasons for its inclusion.

First off, maybe it gives him a chance to play his harp early in the show, though a hundred songs could have given him that chance. So maybe the answer lies elsewhere.

It's a truly intriguing song. When you inhale the lyrics you find it contains a variety of flavors difficult to identify. Perhaps when released on Bringing It All Back Home it got lost between the kicker "Subterranean Homesick Blues" which opens the album and "Maggie's Farm" which produced a deep resonance with a portion of that generation, my generation, when it appeared. In fact, that whole album is so loaded with treasures it's easy to see how a subtler, nuanced song might get lost.

The song's structure is traditional blues where the first line is repeated twice followed by a payoff. The Delta blues classic "Rolling and Tumbling" is an example of such a structure, recorded by a host of performers from Muddy Waters and Cream to Jeff Beck and Fleetwood Mac. (Dylan himself created a whole new set of lyrics for his Modern Times CD, only retaining the first lines, tune and structure.)

"She Belongs To Me" carries this same format, but what a marvelous piece of lyrical craftsmanship. John Hinchey, whose book Like A Complete Unknown analyzes the poetry of Dylan's Sixties music, writes this about the song:

"She Belongs to Me" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" are the other two songs that magnificently manage to escape the limitations of the simplistic myth that informs side one. [of Bringing It All Back Home] In both songs Dylan invokes his muse -- perhaps for no better reason than to flaunt her before the bourgeoisie -- but having invoked her, he finds himself in the presence of someone beyond his reach. Her very inaccessibility seems to activate Dylan's deepest artistic impulses, forcing him to acknowledge -- and provoking him to attempt to overleap -- the limits of his imagination.

"She Belongs To Me" demolishes bohemian sentimentalities from the inside, with a surprising portrait of the muse as unapproachable yet imperious dominatrix.

The song's complexity is part of what makes it compelling. And if you've ever been there, you understand.


She’s got everything she needs
She’s an artist, she don’t look back
She’s got everything she needs
She’s an artist, she don’t look back
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black

You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees
But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees

She never stumbles
She’s got no place to fall
She never stumbles
She’s got no place to fall
She’s nobody’s child
The Law can’t touch her at all

She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks
She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks
She’s a hypnotist collector
You are a walking antique

Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

Here's how the song sounded when he performed it live at the Manchester Free Trade Hall during Dylan's world tour in 1966, the famous "Judas" Concert which preceded his retreat from touring, ultimately resulting in The Basement Tapes.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tweevenings at the Tweed: Karin Kraemer To Discuss Majolica

"God said to the clay 'Be ware' and it was." 
~ George Ohr

Karin Kraemer has been a fixture of the Twin Ports arts scene since I first arrived on these shores in 1986. A long time friend of the Duluth Arts Institute (DAI), she is also a lover of music and has played in a number of area jugbands along the way. She has a great sense of humor as indicated by the title of her business: Duluth Pottery, Superior Division. Her studio is in historic Trade and Commerce Marketplace Building adjacent to the Red Mug Coffeehouse.

This coming Tuesday Karin will be the presenter for this month's Tweevenings talk, Tuesday, December 2 at the Tweed. Her presentation will be about Majolica, a handpainted tin-glaze technique. Her piece Bee Mandala is currently on view at Tweed, as part of the exhibition Resurfaced and Reformed: Evolution in Studio Ceramics.

Every other month, on the first Tuesday, the Tweed holds informal viewing and discussion of selected works from their collection. Faculty, students and community members are invited to choose work to be discussed, and it's always free. I myself enjoy the Tweevening events as an excuse to see what's going on that is new. There is nearly always a student show on display in the corner gallery space on the main floor. And the major shows are always worth your time. If you miss this one, the next event will be the first Tuesday in February.

Read more about Karin Kraemer in this 2011 interview.

To learn more about the Tweed Museum, www.d.umn.edu/tma/

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Items of Note Regarding the Historic Duluth Armory

The life of Dylan is one of legends. The man himself has become something of a mythological figure during the course of his lifetime. One of the signature stories in that legendary life is his trip to Duluth to hear Buddy Holly at the Duluth National Guard Armory the last evening of January 1959. Three days later Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were dead, killed in a plane crash.

The Armory encounter made an impression on the young Bobby Zimmerman, who referred to it later in interviews as well as in his autobiography. No doubt that tragedy that occurred in an Iowa cornfield three days later made an equally powerful impression. (Read the story here.)

I mention all this because a friend who serves on the Armory board posted on my Facebook wall a link to Zenith City Online noting that this day in 1915 was the official opening of the historic Duluth Armory.

From very early on the Duluth Armory had a stories existence. World War I was in effect, though the U.S. had not fully engaged. Nevertheless the Armory served as home for a full-scale regiment, comprised of the 34th (Red Bull) Division and the 125th Field Artillery.

It didn't take long for the Armory to get put to use and in 1918 our boys joined the Doughboys to engage in a war many people still don't understand. 317 Duluth soldiers lost their lives in Europe as a result.

But the worst was yet to come.

That autumn the Spanish Flu epidemic reached Duluth. The flu was so deadly that on October 8 the city commissioners put the entire city on lockdown. People were forbidden from shopping, going to church or congregating of any kind. It was a city-wide quarantine.

Four days after this edict, the Cloquet Fire hit. When I first visited Hermantown, just over the hill from the rim of Duluth, in the late 1970's I couldn't help but notice that there were no really tall trees. I learned then about the Cloquet Fire. The reality is that the fire burned all the was north around the entire outskirts of Duluth. Innumerable homes were lost, and more than 600 died. People who had gone to work that morning were unable to return home that night, many wondering whether their loved ones escaped or were consumed.

Where did all these people? Most were housed at the Armory and a few other structures where people could be attended to. Unfortunately, the Spanish influenza was in full force, and all these people in one place only contributed to its spread. Over 300 lives were taken by the flu.

As George Harrison once penned, all things must pass, and certainly these dark clouds of 1918 ultimately lifted for a season.

For more information:
My 2013 Armory Update

Historic Armory Post Card is from the informative Historic Duluth website Zenith City Online. Thank you, Tony, for your invaluable caretaking of Duluth's history.

Information about our tragedies of 1918 came from a presentation y Dan Hartman at the recent Libations at the Library event here in Duluth.

Cirque Du Soleil Coming To Duluth: Interview with Aerial Performer Tarek Rammo of Dralion

Tarek Rammo is a featured performer in the travelling Cirque Du Soleil show Dralion, specializing in an Aerial Silk duet as well as his solo Aerial Straps and other acrobatics. Rammo, who was born in Beirut, moved to Holland with his family at age one. At nine years old he took an interest in gymnastics. After eight years of competing he saw his first Cirque du Soleil show which generated a spark, and produced an interest in performing. He has now performed all over the world with companies such as “The 7 Fingers”, “DanceWorks Rotterdam/Andre Gingras” and “The Ulrike Quade Company”.

EN: Did you have an interest in the Olympics while young and competing?

Tarek Rammo: I was doing competitive gymnastics for about ten years. I was on the national junior team of Holland and I did have a dream of going to world championships and the Olympics but the urge to pursue the performing arts was a lot stronger. When I was about 17 I decided to switch careers?

EN: How many Cirque performers come out of a background in the Olympics.

TR: Not sure of the number but there’s quite a few who have competed at a very high level, including some who have won medals in the Olympics, that find a new career at the Cirque du Soleil after they finish competing.

EN: Do performers who become part of the Cirque choose the show they want to be part of? How does that work?

TR: Basically what happens is you do an audition, which is a general audition if you’re a gymnast for example. If you can make it through a rigorous day of auditioning you end up in a database, a big file where all the potential artists for Cirque du Soleil end up. Once they have an opening in a show, they look specifically in the database for someone who will fit that part. Then they may or may not contact you. It may be a month or a year or three years before you get a spot on the show. It depends on your skills and availability.

EN: What makes Dralion so exciting.

TR: It’s an interesting show. As the title suggests, East meets West, Dragon and Lion… drawing the most supreme acts from all over the world. All this combined with lights and a live band makes it a spectacular show.

EN: What are the challenges?

TR: In terms of personal challenges…. As artists we’re living out of our suitcases. We’re moving every week. So you really have to adapt your life, knowing that you have to be portable.

It’s also, of course, being away from home. Away from your family. Away from your friends. And though we choose this because we love it, it’s not an easy part.

EN: Do you have a wife and kids?

TR: I have a wife. And funny enough, she just arrived here this week because my old partner who I was doing the aerial duet with unfortunately had an injury. My wife is also an acrobat and she was also in the database for the Cirque du Soleil. Because we’d worked together, they just brought her in to replace my old partner for the upcoming weeks, so I am actually the luckiest guy right now in the Cirque.

EN: It must be demanding.

TR: We’re doing about 7-8 shows a week. It’s all very physical, and with the travelling combined it’s quite an effort because in every city we have to do rehearsals and make sure everything is all right in terms of height. Everything is different everywhere, but we have a very good technical team that makes sure everything is exactly the same in every city we go to. We have to do the checks; we have to do the rehearsals, because it’s all high risk.

EN: Do you have any favorite acts in this particular show?

TR: I really enjoy doing my own act, but some of my favorite acts in the show… I would say the hoop diving number by the Chinese troop. It’s a number where they stack circular rings on top of each other and they do all kinds of crazy jumps through them, landing on the stage. It’s a very high stakes number and very energizing.

We have a very good juggler, too. He’s a great dancer as well, in perfect harmony with the music. Very energetic and engaging.

EN: How do performers maintain high energy levels for these shows and not get jaded so that it’s routine?

TR: That really depends on the person. Some people need a lot of sleep, for example. They go to bed quite late after the show but spend most of the day in bed. Others will wake up early – I’m an early riser. I need to go outside for a bit, get some fresh air, do my personal work, relax a bit.

Some people are really focused on their diet, their eating habits, to maintain their energy level. Others are more casual with that, so I would say it’s really different for everyone. Some people work out every day before a show because that’s what they feel they need.

EN: What was the first Cirque show that you saw?

TR: I saw Alegria when it was in Amsterdam in the Big Top. I’ve seen about three or four others after that.

EN: Costumes for this show originate from Africa, India and China. Are the performers also from Africa, India and China?

TR: They’re from all over the world. We have a very large troop from China. One of the main characters is from Africa, she’s an African dancer. The Water Element has an Indian background, though she was raised in the U.S. her heritage is Indian. I’m from Holland with a Lebanese background, and there’s Russian, Ukrainian, people from Argentina… a total of 18 nationalities on this tour.

EN: You go to different cities for a week at a time…

TR: We usually travel on a Sunday. After our show or shows, we board a bus and travel through the night. We’ll have Mondays and Tuesdays off. Wednesday is usually the busiest day because we have to do all the checks. That’s really the start of our work week.

* * * *
Dralion will be performed this coming week on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the AMSOIL Arena. Check Ticketmaster for details.

The photos here are publicity stills provided by Cirque Du Soleil. My full story on Dralion is featured in this week's Reader.

* * * *

Friday, November 21, 2014

Veikko and Jason: How Bad Coffee Brought Them Together to Form Wood Blind

On this day in history Rene Magritte, another of my favorite artists was born in 1898.

* * * *

The other day, while having another great soup for lunch at Beaners Central, I overheard Veikko Lepisto and Jason Wussow discussing a press release regarding their show next Friday night and their new record, a 7" split vinyl which the cut, both in conjunction with Teague Alexy of the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. Those who follow the scene know that Jason is the founder and owner of Beaners, which has established itself as an important music venue here in the heart of Spirit Valley/West Duluth.

Beaners is one of those places that seems like it has always been there. What was Duluth before Beaners? One of Jason's life passions is music, hence it's only natural that music would be central to the venue Beaners has become, including a recording studio downstairs among other things. I think it's his gentle good-hearted cheer that brings people in the door, though.

Veikko is a former L.A. musician with a strong pedigree whose parents home is in Morgan Park. With every visit to his parent’s home in Morgan Park from Los Angeles, Veikko would end up across the counter from Jason at Beaner’s Central. “My mom makes terrible coffee. Just terrible.” This is another reason Beaners' regulars weave there way in to Jason's java joint. Good coffee.

Invariably, the two would start talking about music while Jason steamed his tall latte. Veikko, the stand-up bass player for eight years with The Royal Crown Review, instantly connected with Jason’s tenacity for life and passion for music. But, year after year, Veikko would return to LA, lose track of Beaner’s and Jason would lose track of him.

If you followed what he was doing, it's easy to see why Veikko might forget Duluth for a season now and then. In addition to his years with The Royal Crown Review, he did studio work with the likes of Bette Midler, Mike Ness of Social Distortion, and the producer Ted Templeman.

For those unaware, Jason himself has quite a background in music beyond the home turf, touring the country with his band Flux Skapacitor, and opening for The Skatalites.

After over twenty years in L.A., Veikko finally made his move to the Duluth area in last year. Naturally Jason and Veikko wanted to make music together. Their first practice was thrown together on the spot behind Beaner’s (it must have been summer) and within a week they had written two originals and worked out two covers and soon became Wood Blind, an acoustic Ska duo.

There is balance between them. Veikko is the detail orientated planner and Jason brings the energy and his perpetually positive attitude. “He’s the happy little bird and I’m the hawk,” explains Veikko. Jason describes Wood Blind as “a simmered reduction of all my favorite things, the energy of my young bands and the maturity of the later ones.” They have a shared vision to do as much as they can with the time they’re allowed. “We strive to master the style, but first we strive to have a good time,” says Veikko. Derived from the Ska style is what the two call “Ska Box” – or Toasting, the Jamaican version of beat-boxing, rhythmic sound effects to enhance the already big sound of Veikko’s bass and Jason’s acoustic guitar.


The two have recently connected with Teague Alexy of Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank to collaborate on a 7” split vinyl. Coffee was the catalyst between Jason and Teague as well when they met at Beaner’s 13 years ago. The three recorded and Wood Blind produced two tracks this fall in the Beaner’s studio. The release is set for November 28th at 7:00 p.m. at Beaner’s Central where they will share the stage with local favorite Jack Campbell.

Beaner’s Central
Friday November 28th
7pm   $5
Wood Blind * Teague Alexy * Jack Campbell
Single Release and Vinyl preorder party

Tuesday January 6th Official Vinyl Release Date

Saturday January 24th Minneapolis Release Harriet Brewery

If you want more details than this, stop in a see Jason. In the meantime... listen to the music.