If we wanted to extract some sense of the positive from this insidious pandemic, it’s that quarantining has perhaps forced many of us to slow down and reacquaint ourselves with the little things we generally take for granted. Books, for one: the unread novel, that epochal autobiography…and all those beautiful art books decorating our shelves that we’ve yet to crack. And considering that our great cultural institutions have been, like everything else, forced to close for the time being, the latter have taken a more exigent position in our lives right now.
Several new ones, specifically published as companions to now interrupted but exceedingly high-profile exhibitions, very much promise a unique perspective on the work of some of the most exalted artists of the last century. From Lucian Freud and Basquiat in Boston, Donald Judd in New York, and Picasso, Hockney and Cecil Beaton in London, each offers both a visceral and aesthetic escape into the minds of these incomparable geniuses, at a time when we most need to feel connected to the essential human creative spirit.
Despite painting some very famous people (Kate Moss, notably), Lucian Freud—grandson of Sigmund—was actually a well-documented recluse. Having passed away in 2011, he’s since been rapturously honored with retrospectives in London, Dublin and Vienna. This MFA Boston exhibition, Lucian Freud, The Self Portraits (March 1 – May 25), captures his most visceral essence, as his self-portraits were amongst the most emotionally piercing ever painted. The more than 40 works span nearly 70 years of his life, a visual autobiography, if you will.
A revolution unto himself, Jean-Michel Basquiat exploded into the art world at a time when another revolution was in full-swing; and he enthusiastically embraced hip-hop aesthetics and politics as influences (and likely influenced it back). The MFA Boston exhibition Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation (April 5 – August 20) juxtaposes his work with those who were defining the first wave of hip-hop/graffiti culture—Fab Five Freddy, Rammellzee, Kool Koor, Lady Pink—reminding of the exhilaration and tension of a time when the race line was being decisively crossed in a predominantly elitist art world. And, well, the paintings themselves are nothing less than poetry.
Despite Donald Judd having built a significant cult that seems to span generation after generation, his current show simply titled Judd (March 1 – July 11), at New York’s MOMA, is the first U.S. exhibition of his sculptures in more than thirty years. His minimalist forms and surprising use of materials still challenge our perceptions of what indeed might be considered contemporary sculpture. He probably even influenced IKEA.
While his ability to re-envision people, places and objects was arguably without peer, equally laudable was Picasso’s ostensibly effortless ability to work across a wide swath of mediums and materials. The exhibition Picasso and Paper (January 25 – April 13) fascinatingly enlightens how he manipulated paper as both a tool and a medium, with drawings becoming sculptures, sketchbooks revealing the seeds of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and studies for his monumental anti-war masterpiece Guernica packing a visceral wallop.
Still one of our greatest living artists, Hockney led the British division of Pop Art back in the ’60s, and despite weaving in and out of the zeitgeist, has not lost a step creatively since. The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition David Hockey, Drawing From Life is a stunning overview of his drawings from the late 1950s to the present day. A series of colored pencil portraits from his time in Paris in the early ’70s are featured, as well as self-portraits from a particularly prolific and profound period during the 1980s.
At a time when we are all forced to stay inside, viewing these Cecil Beaton photographs of the fabulous and rebellious of 1920s and ’30s Britain can make for glorious escapism. The “Bright Young Things,” as a flamboyant group of artists, writers and socialites came to be known (and who were bitingly satirized in Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies), are shown here in all their decadence, boundless creativity and utter fashionability. The glamorous images are accompanied by letters, drawings, book jackets and other ephemera.
While all physical resources obviously must be directed at life-saving and emergency efforts related to the coronavirus outbreak right now, it’s also important to continue to stoke the philosophical and ideological flames that have brought such get progress to our contemporary reality. And as another instance of Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri’s commitment to the socio-cultural causes of women, Dior has launched #DiorTalks, an ongoing podcast series examining art’s evolving relationship with feminism.
The fourth installment has just been released, and features the unrelentingly provocative Tracey Emin, who exploded into the public consciousness in the early ’90s as part of the Young British Artists. Chiuri has actually specifically pointed to her as an inspiration, and even made a visit to Emin’s London studio when she took the reins at Dior in 2017.
In the episode, Emin recounts her journey from a troubled childhood in Margate, to the explosive young creativity coming out of Camden squats at the onset of the ’80s, on to her 1999 Turner Prize, a 2013 CBE, and her appointment as a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Throughout, she has been a fierce, uncompromising voice of feminist exigency, in what remains still a male dominated art world.
She recollects, “Twenty years ago, people were saying, ‘Oh, there she goes again, bloody Tracey Emin, complaining about abortion or rape.’ I wasn’t complaining about it, I was making a strong point about it.”
1991’s criminally under-appreciated Impromptu, and Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning Gosford Park surely hinted at it. But 2018’s The Favourite—which nabbed ten Oscar noms and one win—decisively proved that comedy and poncey period costumes could be strange but ultimately riotous bedfellows.
Now follows the original Hulu period-comedy series The Great, in which Elle Fanning stars as the most exalted Russian ruler ever, Catherine the Great (thus, the title), with what promises to be a deliciously dry sense of humor. Nicholas Hoult plays her bumbling, feeble-minded husband Peter III, one of Russia’s most well-documented imperial embarrassments. He reigned for just six months, before Catherine staged a coup, and was then free to take the throne, and storm the pages of history.
Curiously, it follows quickly on the heels of HBO’s also pithily titled Catherine The Great, in which Helen Mirren played the empress later in life, and with a much more pronounced sense of gravitas (as well as a more caustic wit). But in the first trailer for Hulu’s latest entry in the historical romp sweeps, Hoult’s Peter is seen Trumpishly claiming, “I am the most beloved ruler in all of Russian history…don’t worry about the bodies.”
Fanning’s Catherine rightly counters, “I’m a prisoner here, married to an idiot.” Sound familiar?
Episode 1 of The Great is scheduled to debut May 15 on Hulu.
When AWOLNATION debuted the single “The Best” in autumn of 2019, it seemed as if it could easily serve duel purpose as an inspiration for reaching for greatness, and an accidental parody of an American president who has little idea of what such greatness actually requires.
Now the exalted LA band have just released a new version featuring the fierce young British-Canadian songstress Alice Merton (whose 2017 single “No Roots” has racked up an astonishing 219 million views on YouTube). But in the context of this harrowing current coronavirus outbreak, the lyrics to the track have seemingly taken on an entirely new meaning. Indeed, as Merton and AWOLNATION frontman Aaron Bruno together intone, “Me I wanna walk a little bit taller, oh / Me I wanna feel a little bit stronger, oh / Me I wanna think a little bit smarter,” it sounds like a veritable survival mantra.
Perhaps more importantly, it also reminds us of the power of music to reach across crisis and unite us when we need it most. And in truth never have we needed it more.
“I’m very excited to have Alice join me on this song,” Bruno enthuses. “I’m glad that we were able to connect to create this new version, even though we are in different parts of the world as we all stay home right now.”
Both Merton and AWOLNATION have upcoming live dates that may face rescheduling due to the global pandemic. Stay tuned.
We live in a worsening culture of oversharing and “just be your authentic self-ness” that is enough to make the committed relativist reach for the nearest time machine.
Into this irksome reality comes the enigmatic French trio Carré (incidentally, the French word for “square”), armed with enough postmodern signifiers and puzzles to keep you busy for hours. First off, their debut single (which BlackBook premieres here) bears the amusingly self-aware title “This is not a band”…from their upcoming debut EP CARRÉ, out in May. And for all we can tell, they’re probably not a band. Maybe we’d even prefer to think of them as an “occurrence”?
And over a thundering electro soundscape—think Nitzer Ebb, Meat Beat Manifesto, Cold Cave—they (Julien Boyé, Jules de Gasperis, Keveen Baudouin) collectively shout, “This is not happening!” Perhaps it isn’t then.
In the accompanying video, they are seen wearing hyper-flashing “video boxes” on their heads, and the psychedelic dayglo backdrop only adds to the dizzying overall sensory effect.
“There’s something about not getting attached to the form,” Carré tell us, “when you step back and disengage yourself from the form, you become in touch with something more pure and spiritual, while remaining in the square.”
When relegated to trips outside being only about fetching groceries and toothpaste, our irrepressible love of fashion is certainly given a distinct recontextualization. Though as a kind of empowerment therapy, we highly recommend dressing up a few times a week, even when just running out to pick up a box of cereal or stock up on wine.
But we also suggest shutting off the news and virtually spending some time with your favorite fashion brands, skimming their Instagram pages to plan for those post-corona outfit ideas—as an attitude of hopefulness can make quarantining significantly more bearable. Our friends at Ferragamo have actually just taken a proactive/creative approach to giving us a fashion fix, launching their new TRIVIA project via their very popular social media channels, Facebook and Instagram specifically.
Via quizzes and anecdotes, and with strikingly realized graphics, the game takes you through the history of the storied Florence fashion house, with a focus on legendary founder Salvatore Ferragamo. It was nearly a century ago that he returned to Firenze from America—1927 to be precise—and began making the shoes that would ultimately and decisively earn him a prestigious place in the international footwear pantheon.
For our part, we’ve already starting planning an autumn trip to Tuscany, which would absolutely include another visit to the Ferragamo Museum—as thinking about returning to travel is a sort of therapy unto itself. But for now, we’ll absolutely be tuning in to #FerragamoTrivia every Sunday and Wednesday—we’ll see you there.
There’s little question that the current coast to coast sheltering-in-place orders in America are what is needed to maintain the health and safety of the citizenry. Curiously though, despite more than 2500 diagnosed cases, Sweden has chosen to not go into full lockdown…which naturally leaves us wishing we were sitting in some stylish hotel bar in Stockholm right now, knocking back a few artfully created Swedish Mules.
But in truth, as close as we’ll get to feeling like we’re actually in the Swedish capital will be a 36-hour Peter, Bjorn & John live stream that will be kicking off this Friday, March 27, 9am EST, in their fabled Ingrid Studio. The prolific indie trio had been scheduled to kick off a U.S. tour this Saturday in Seattle, so this will offer disappointed fans quite the worthy consolation.
Titled 36h INGRID, it taps the considerable talent pool of the INGRID collective, the band’s venerable label. There will be live performances from Shout Out Louds, Freja The Dragon, Tussilago, Esther, Johnossi and OLSSON, along with DJ sets from Studio Barnhus’s Axel Boman and Kornél Kovács.
“Stuck at home with a postponed U.S. tour,” says singer Peter Morén, “we were planning on doing a streamed show from the Ingrid Studio, just playing songs from our new album and having fun. But since there are a lot of other artists, bands and DJs around in Stockholm too, we invited some of them to join us. So we got us a little mini festival going on for 36 hours.”
PB&J plan to relaunch their delayed tour this September 23 at Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, which will take them to 15 U.S. cities, including a stop at Rough Trade in Brooklyn October 7.
If there’s one thing you can count on during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s that human ingenuity will rise to the occasion—evidenced, for one, by the proliferation of makeshift masks.
No industry needs such ingenuity more than hospitality, a business that relies on strangers wanting or needing to spend time around other strangers. And cleverly answering that, Swiss hotelier Le Bijou Hotel & Resort Management AG has come up with the pithily named Covid-19 Service package, for those who are reasonably flush with cash and need to get out from under the stir-craziness of home quarantine.
With luxury apartment-style rooms available in Zurich, Lucerne, Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zug, they have teamed up with a private health care provider to offer on-site coronavirus testing and daily nurse visits, while all meals are delivered straight to your door (no contact with staff is necessary). The rooms themselves are equipped with every home comfort…though you’ll have to pack your own dog-eared copies of Orwell and Camus; decor is typically Swiss, sleek but restrained, and elegantly contemporary.
No surprise, it doesn’t come cheap—figure on about 800 Swiss Francs (the equivalent of roughly $824). But, well, if you’re going to ride out a pandemic, there are certainly worse places to do it than Zurich or Lucerne, right?
We’ve spent untold hours over the last eight+ years at some or other zeitgeisty happening at the Dream Downtown hotel—so it was perhaps appropriate that the last thing we did before the NYC coronavirus lockdown was to pop over to check out the hotel’s exciting new collab with Saatchi Art.
Looking back, when the Dream Downtown opened to much fanfare in summer of 2011, it quickly established itself as a hotel that could step in and pick up the slack for the fading Chelsea nightclub scene all around it. It had a rooftop bar, poolside lounge, the Electric Room by Nur Khan, and a lobby that seemed to be perpetually humming with the comings and goings of the international mediarati.
It also made a commitment to cultivating a relationship with the contemporary art world, well before pretty much everyone else came along and attempted the same thing. And nearly nine years after its debut, the new partnership with Saatchi Art merely cements that commitment—which was actually launched with sister hotel Dream Midtown—and the result now adorns the gallery area between the lobby and elevator banks.
Perhaps sensing the upcoming scaling back of non-essential travel, we actually decided to also actually check in to the Dream Downtown for the first time. And we hope in reading this, you will be inspired to take the hopeful step of planning future stays at the hotel, while we wait out the eventual ebbing of the coronavirus.
(Note, for the new Dream Downtown cancellation policy, just click here.)
Dream Downtown Art Collection
Prior to the partnership with Saatchi Art, the Dream Downtown already owned several notable works, most especially Shadow Secrets by Anish Kapoor, a fascinating detour from the massive sculptures that made him famous. But Serge Becker and Patrick Marando’s Beer Can Wall was hung epically within the lobby an proved particularly poignant, an assemblage of Mexican beer cans making up an American flag…what could be more relevant? But now appearing startlingly prophetic, AV One’s 2015 canvas comprised images of NYC landmarks spelling the words It Was All a Dream—and it’s hard to imagine any phrase striking a more visceral chord in the midst of this utterly surreal pandemic.
Dream Downtown + Saatchi
The partnership with Saatchi Art proves the Dream Hotels are able attract the a-list collabs, and the resultant Dream Midtown collection includes works by Jessy Cho, Camile O’Briant, Xan Padron, and Thomas Hammer. At Dream Downtown, having a dedicated gallery, rather than just scattering the art randomly about (we’ve even seen some hotels sticking it in the bathroom—oh dear), distinctly marks the hotel out as taking its program impressively seriously.
The inaugural Downtown exhibit is a bit more concise than Midtown, but no less destination-worthy. Madrid born and now New York Based, photographer Alejandro Áboli, with his “The RedLine” series, constructs fantastical realities, in which juxtapositions are intended to contort our imaginations, and provoke new perspectives. Both Los Angeles and Gotham are surreally represented.
And perhaps equally perception-altering, Brooklyn artist Neil Powell uses discarded/recycled book covers to create almost Spirographic/kaleidoscopic works that cross from collage to character study and stopping almost everywhere in between. They’re so shot full of fortuitous detail, you could ponder them for hours and not completely grasp everything going on.
“The pieces selected are by international artists who all now live in New York,” explains Rebecca Wilson, Chief Curator and Vice President, Art Advisory Saatchi Art. “The artwork offers varying perspectives of this vibrant city, and in different formats including photography, paintings, and collages.”
We have come to expect something of the current generation of design hotels: extravagantly adorned public spaces, trendy bars and restaurants…but with sort of dull rooms. The Dream Downtown, however, has some of the most originally designed chambers in New York, with large porthole windows…in our case, affording a view across the Chelsea rooftops all the way to the Empire State Building. Our Silver King room was actually smartly postmodern, with a sexy, fuzzy ottoman, Turkish style rug, shining silver headboard (the pattern of which reminded us of champagne effervescence), a brown leather, low-slung version of a director’s chair, stylish, clear globe hanging lamps, and a prodigious glass bathroom, with distinctly luxurious tiling. The low rise platform beds are actually kind of sexy, as one can make a particularly wild flop down onto them.
Winter Rose Garden
We all know the devastating current situation with bars and restaurants. Yet we don’t see the point in ceasing to talk about them, especially as they will need our support more than ever once they reopen. The Dream’s Winter Rose Garden will actually be changed over on April 30, seeing as how it will be spring—but its sheer extravagance is proof of their commitment to making this conspicuous corner of the lobby a destination unto itself. We sipped martinis and margaritas amidst 15,000 crimson red roses, going out with a glorious bit extravagance before then being confined to our apartments.
First brought over from London in 2014 by a team including nightlife honcho Serge Becker (he has since departed), the darkly lit, sensually opulent Bodega Negra, situated just off the lobby, remains one of the hippest Mexican hotspots in NYC (now run by Tao Group). While overnighting at the Dream Downtown, we hit up happy hour, with excellent $6 sangria, $8 El Diablo specialty cocktails, plus specially priced queso fundido and quesadilla rustica. It’s precisely the sort of experience we’re looking to return to once this is all over: sexy, decadent, but also easy on the wallet.