Dec ’10 Spotlight

Fall festivals are over. Many special guests have come and gone. Now it’s time to replenish our shelves before the winter snows begin.

Art Books

At Navy Pier, I heard Christa C. Mayer Thurman of the Art Institute of Chicago give a lecture hosted by the 17th annual SOFA Fair (Sculpture, Objects & Functional Art): “Advocates for the Arts: Polish and Czech Fiber Artists from the Anne and Jacques Baruch Collection.” Then I saw priceless samples from the Baruch Collection displayed on the main floor. This exhibit may be history, but you can buy the catalogue with mini-biographies of all the artists (plus full color illustrations), and Thurman’s loving essay about Anne and Jacques Baruch (complete with photos of their famous Michigan Avenue gallery). To order, visit: www.browngrotta.com.

At Harold Washington Library Center, I heard Judy Chicago lecture on her new book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face. Chicago described how she and collaborator Frances Borzello engaged each other in active dialogue, providing counterpoint from the work of other women artists. For example, they paired Kahlo’s 1945 oil painting Magnolias with Imogen Cunningham’s 1925 photo Magnolia Blossoms. “Could both the Mexican artist and the American photographer have chosen to represent these particular flowers as a metaphor for their own artistic staying power?” Chicago asks. Their shared goal, said Chicago, was to “break the historical silence of women about their own experience.”

More Books

Frances Parker High School hosted Doug Peck for The Music of Sondheim’s Follies in their newly upgraded auditorium. After hearing all the great Chicago voices personally assembled by Peck for this one-time only event (E. Faye Butler, Rebecca Finnegan, Kevin Gudahl, Iris Lieberman, Holly Resnick, Peggy Roeder, Barbara Robertson, and more!), recommending the Original Broadway Cast Album feels like a betrayal, so I suggest following up instead with Ted Chapin’s 2003 book Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies. Since Follies is rarely performed anywhere these days, this Chicago Humanities Festival extravaganza was a special treat!

Back at Harold Washington Library Center, Rebecca Goldstein analyzed the famous philosophical conundrum called “The Mind-Body Problem.” During the Q&A, Goldstein quoted William James (From Pragmatism: “The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments.”), then concluded that, for her, the solution to The Mind-Body Problem rests on “our attitude towards mystery.” You’ll find lots of mystery in Goldstein’s latest novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (a work of fiction).

Tzivi’s CD Collection

Then back to Frances Parker High School, where University of Chicago ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman stunned our Chicago Humanities Festival audience with his poignant meditation on “the body in confinement.” Accompanied on piano by his wife Christine, he presented poems and concert pieces written in Theresienstadt, highlighting work created by Viktor Ullmann just before he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944.

As artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, Bohlman personally added three of Ullmann’s transcendent songs to Jewish Cabaret in Exile. This CD also includes the showstopper “I’m an Irrepressible Optimist,” sung with a dazzling combination of death-defying exuberance and world-weary irony by baritone Stewart Figa (Cantor of Temple Har Zion in River Forest).

Tzivi’s DVD Collection

A Film Unfinished, to which I gave a half-hearted review back in October, is emerging now as a candidate for a 2011 Oscar in the Best Documentary category, so I watched it again, only to find my concerns increase. A Film Unfinished claims to tell us things we didn’t know before, but the major “revelation” (that the Nazis were staging scenes inside the Warsaw Ghetto even as they completed work on Treblinka) is old news. John Hersey described these camera crews in his 1950 novel The Wall (based on the Emmanuel Ringelblum archives found buried under Warsaw in 1948), and Millard Lampell clearly showed these camera crews in his 1982 television adaption too.

In DVD form, The Wall succeeds in visually depicting the essence of a very complex story: designated neighborhoods are walled off; crowds of men, women, and children, trapped inside, are systematically siphoned into trains; shriveled leaves dance along empty streets once flooded with people. Compressed into a two-hour runtime, the method in the madness is fully revealed. Brilliant in design and execution, the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto is a horror we will never fully understand, but we must never stop trying.

*****

Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is an award-winning Chicago critic/columnist. Visit Jan’s new blog, www.SecondCityTzivi.com, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns plus additional interviews and reviews. Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to .Tzivi@msn.com.

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