Saturday, July 30, 2016


Madison, Wisconsin is linked with a sisterhood of cities :Austin, Texas, Portland, Oregon and San Francisco among them, cities with a personality outside the conventional. Many might say they all possess a unique oddball personality. These are places marching to their own drum and proud of it. When any of them hold a festival you can count on it having a flavor, a twist you won't see anywhere else. Where else can you find a place like Madison where the plastic flamingo has been formally written into the city's books as its official city bird. Madison is also known for such outlandish rituals as the nude bike ride and the Willy Street Fair where the city's hippies come out in full regalia to relive the sixties in all its many splendored colors.
One ritual that happens every spring is the Fools Flotilla, a boat ride that traverses the Yahara River connecting lakes Monona and Mendota. Hundreds of daring souls man their kayaks, paddleboards, and anything else they think will float them down the river in an outrageous display of tomfoolery. It's a neighborhood-generated event ending at Marquette's neighborhood party, the Marquette Waterfront Festival.
The flotilla starts at the lochs just beyond Lake Mendota and then proceeds down the Yahara traveling under nine bridges that cross the river and then ending where the river dumps into Lake Monona.
It was Thing One and Thing Two that led the flotilla in their mossy green canoe.
Tethered to the back of their canoe was some sort of fish that I had a hard time figuring out. At one minute I thought it seemed shark-like and then the next I felt it was a little Pinocchio and the whale.
After this the only real boat came carrying one of the most eclectic mess of musicians drunk enough to play tune after tune in spite of the sway of the current and the drag of the rest of the armada.
From there it was a sea of the truly ridiculous.
A canoe filled with Vikings one of them having discovered the cellphone. Only a Viking would try to pull off the historical impossibility in Packerland.
There were so many mixed messages like the canoe led by Scooby-Doo with a band of total misfits.
A bunch of escapees from the zoo somehow managed to take flight in a set of canoes tied together and powered by a polar bear and two tigers
The tropics appeared in a boat festooned with a plastic palm tree the only ones that could grow and live through a Wisconsin winter manned by a pair of real chimps
Who could resist a pirate on a paddle-board armed with a bubble gun
Another group of Wisconsinites mashed their boats together using a rubber Holstein as their mascot
Love appeared to be in the air or more accurately in a rubber dingy.
A college slumber party seemed only appropriate as one of the last to paddle on by. It was a lazy run down the Yahara and these students seemed justifiably stunned and dazed since finals had just ended
I'd never seen the Fools Flotilla before but who could not enjoy watching all these floating devices making their lazy way down the Yahara accompanied by a band of misfit musicians.
The event is billed as a celebration of water art and music and like all the events in Madison it has its own unique spin.
Zissou, Rouzat, 1911
Jacques Henri Lartigue, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYCs

Thursday, July 21, 2016


It's taken years for the Costume Institute at the Met to find its footing, becoming one of the most anticipated and talked about temporary exhibits on the museum's calendar. Theses exhibits now draw more visitors than almost any other category scheduled at the Met. Retrospectives of the world's greatest artists, assemblies of antiquities, exhibits devoted to cataloguing the art of specific parts of our world all are beginning to fall short of the record number of visitors coming to the costume shows.
This has all been helped by the red carpet gala event associated with the opening of these exhibits where celebrities and dignitaries plunk down $25,000 each to walk the red carpet and the event garners major coverage from a worldwide media. This year's exhibit, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, didn't disappoint.
I, in my pee-sized brain, didn't get the title at first. I thought it was going to have something to do with futuristic design, the type seen in all those sci-fi adventure films a genre that doesn't hold a lot of appeal for me. Even the name sounded a bit Mad Max to me. Here's where it pays to know you're Latin: Manus meaning hand and Machina meaning machine.
The exhibit is more an essay on haute couture that is made by hand as opposed to avant-garde ready-to-wear that is made by machine and where they intersect. The pieces shown were collected from the early 20th century to the present and include pieces made by both hand and machine with materials from traditional fabrics to 3D constructed plastic.
The show was moved from the Anna Wintour Gallery to the more prominent Robert Lehman galleries at the back of the first floor of the museum. From there the exhibit was segmented into categories like embroidery, beading, and feathers.
A prime example and the star of the show was a haute couture bridal gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Channel. The gown was made from scuba knit with a twenty-foot train that was first hand-painted with gold metallic paint, then machine printed with rhinestones and finally hand-sewn with pearls and gemstones.
It was a show-stopping example of integrating the handmade with machine-made. The big question from the woman standing next to me was, "Who wore this and how pregnant was she?"
The exhibit was another step in moving fashion away from being a trade and into being accepted as a true art form. I can't show every piece but here are some of the pieces that stopped me in my tracks.
The first section we went into behind the Channel wedding gown was devoted to feathers
I'm going to start with an evening dress from the House of Balenciaga's autumn/winter 1965-66 haute couture collection. This dress is a perfect place to start looking at how the machine work and hand-work have been used in one garment. The pink silk net was first sewn on a machine and then hand finished after which it was trimmed with hand-glued ostrich feathers.
This feathered evening dress by the House of Givenchy was presented the following year using a similar technique
Who knew rooster feathers could look so luxurious. You usually think of the exotic when you think about the use of feathers in fashion but here the lowly chicken has been taken to haute couture by Saint Laurent.
Embellishment was all over the place but nowhere so beautifully done as this machine-sewn white silk organdy dress by Prada with hand-embroidered opalescent plastic paillettes and clear beads
I went to the show along with my friend, Alice Hope, an amazing artist in her own right. Alice's works transform the mundane into the spectacular. This dress was reflective of her work done in a medium Alice has used before. Iris van Herpen, a Dutch artist, constructed this by hand-sculpting iron fillings using magnets to hold the filings in place until they could be coated in polyurethane resin to permanently freeze them into this amazing dress
Following the use of unconventional materials this dress by Alexander McQueen using a machine-sewn shell with an overlay of hand-embroidered red-orange glass beads, freshwater pearls, pieces of coral, and dyed shells.
Keeping with the maritime theme these dresses all have their inspiration taken from the sea. So much of design is taken from nature and the sea is a big source of inspiration; fish scales, shells, coral are visible
This was one of my favorite pieces, a dress created by 3-D printing out of epoxy. It was like an exquisite piece of coral turned into a dress that became a piece of art
I have no idea of how or if one's movement would be constrained by this cage like skirt also constructed by a 3-D printer. The ensemble by Christopher Kane was labeled as pret-a-porter from his 2013 collection.
I know "machina" means machine but the dress in the center actually has a "mechanical" devise that allows the skirt to both expand and contract. It all pointed to my confusion from the start with the labeling for this show: futuristic styling vs. production by machine
No show on fashion would be complete without the iconic Channel suit. The only thing is these suits all used 3-D constructed pieces as a part of their assemblage.
The way I started out was by going back in history to that point where the sewing machine came into the fashion construction process. In the applique section of the show Paul Poiret's winter coat from 1919 was shown with this very intricate hand-appliqued white kidskin cutwork and a fur neck wrap.
Flou is another term I learned from going to the show. It refers to a type of apparel know as soft meaning less structured, flowing and these dresses exemplify that concept.
This pret-a-porter suit by Thierry Mugler was probably a disappointment to anyone without a camera. When you looked at the suit with your naked eye it looked only like a suit made of black silk velvet with a massive amount of seaming but once you saw it through a photograph the seams became fluorescent stripes of the most extraordinary neon green
Pleating was another category and this dress by Israeli Noa Raviv took the technique and literally transformed it to art
The last section before hitting the gift store was leather and this jacket of hand-cut white leather boggles the mind by its extraordinary craftsmanship, a perfect match of manus x machina.

Dovima with Elephants, 1955
Richard Avedon, photographer
Represented by Gagosian Gallery, NYC

Friday, July 8, 2016


We had spent several hours that morning debating if we should take a little time off and if we did were would we go. On a perfect spring day in Wisconsin day trips are extremely hard to resist. A large part of Wisconsin's economy is tourist based. It's a state filled with small town and northern woods charm. For as long as we've been here we've barely touched  all the dots on our to-do list of regions, towns, and artist colonies we'd like to see. Granted we do have our favorites, those places we've been to more than once and will continue to visit but this time we decided to go to a destination we hadn't been to before. We set our GPS for the southwestern portion of Wisconsin, piled into the car, and hit the gas. There were two routes to Prairie du Chien that popped up: a northern track and a southern track both with some added towns along the way. We flipped a coin making our choice a choice of fate taking the northern route with the option of taking the southern route back.
The northern route was scenic but we weren't swayed into stopping anywhere along the route. Instead we drove straight to Prairie du Chien, the Mississippi River and the reason for going to Prairie du Chien - Villa Louis. We arrived just in time to see a flock of mischievous third graders all gathering around for the next tour of the estate. Trying to accompany thirty some screaming children on a one hour plus tour was more than we were willing to deal with.
The next tour was canceled because of a staffing shortage which meant we were better than two hours away from seeing what had been billed as the finest example of British Arts and Crafts interiors in a rural setting in the United States.
All the more reason to contemplate a return possibly in September when the town decks itself out in period attire and horse drawn carriages roam the grounds as the area recreates the Artesian Stock farm days of yore in their annual Villa Louis Carriage Classic event.
Giving up on the Villa we switched course and headed into town hoping to find a bustling tourist trade of shops and restaurants.
Prairie du Chien may not have been the best choice. The main street was quaint and serene, serene being the most aptly descriptive modifier. There was barely a shop to go into, the sidewalks gave you plenty of room since they were devoid of pedestrians
and the only place we felt comfortable going into for lunch was Pete's Hamburgers because it was the only place we could find that wasn't smoke filled, actually it had no inside seating at all. I do have to say that there's a good reason Pete's been open since 1909 and it's the hamburgers prepared on a sizzling grill and smothered in fried onions. As the menu demands you purchase them in quantities along with your drinks. We had at it and order a heaping order. You then get a choice of ketchup and/or two types of mustard and that's it. After wiping the grease from our chins we decided on heading across the Mississippi into Iowa to see if the scenery there was any better
The first Iowa town across the river is Marquette. It's a spit of a town that almost slips into the Mississippi while nestled into the sandstone cliffs on the western side of Ol' Man River. A great Victorian church that has long since lost its congregation sits on a rise leading to the top of the cliff. A cluster of antique stores makes up its downtown but most of them were still closed waiting for the tourist season to kick in.
The only thing hopping or more likely limping on was the Lucky Lady paddleboat casino permanently docked on Marquette's banks. Not being gamblers or at least not with our money we decided to gamble on one more town. It would be a one-mile journey south to McGregor.
McGregor made up for the shortcomings of Prairie du Chien and Marquette. It reestablished our belief in having pointed our car west. We knew we'd find a better Americana somewhere on this day trip. The first thing of note is a set of reproduction clapboard buildings on a brick street in front of a tiny triangular park.
The buildings claim an origin dating to 1857 but the real story probably puts them closer to a decade or two ago. Non-the-less, I can stomach a bit of recreated architectural history. It happens all over the world.
Even Italy has its Pienza, a Tuscan town built for Pope Pius II to represent an ideal Renaissance town well after the Renaissance had passed
On the other side of the park was a rare and used bookstore that we could have spent hours in. The prices indicated his sales were more likely from an Internet clientele than a local one.
One oddity that we hadn't seen outside the cliff dwellers of New Mexico was McGregor's similar solution to housing. The town doesn't have much room to expand onto. The cliffs that run along the Mississippi only left a thin strip of land for the town to build on before the fifty to sixty foot cliffs cut off further development. Some early settlers decided the way to go was to chisel their homes right into the cliff, or so we assumed. There were staircases leading to doors that appeared to be dwellings. This may also have been one way to avoid the flood waters that assult these riverside communities on a fairly frequent basis.
For some reason while the shops of Prairie du Chien and Marquette seemed to be fighting for survival the commerce in McGregor seemed to be doing fine.
Had we started here on our little day trip I think we would have spent a lot more time in McGregor exploring the antique shops, a passion and a curse for us, and the specialty shops lining the vaster main street.

By the time we reached the three-quarter point the open signs were being flipped to closed and we needed to start heading back to Madison. We now have the last quarter of Main Street to use as an excuse for returning.

Goldshlack Caddie, 1973
Will Brown, photographer
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery