Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wonder of Woodkid at Luglio Suona Bene

Woodkid on stage in Rome
When I read back in April this year that French multi-disciplinary artist (or entertainer as he prefers to be called) Yoann Lemoine alias Woodkid had played at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, and that I had somehow managed to miss the event, I was exasperated with myself, especially when I tracked down the inevitable YouTube footage and realised that I'd missed a very special evening. Luckily, for Rome concert-goers we didn't have to wait too long before the wonderful Woodkid returned to the Eternal City, this time performing his extraordinary show in the open air Cavea as part of the Luglio Suona Bene festival yesterday evening, to a small, yet enthusiastic audience.

Before releasing his first album The Golden Age earlier this year, Lemoine was already well-known as a music video director for stars such as Lana del Rey, Katy Perry, and Rihanna. His alter ego Woodkid's project is not surprisingly, therefore, far more than just a showcase for his music, and is instead an expertly choreographed theatrical production combining strobe lights and dramatic cinematic projections, as befitting the operatic scale of many of the songs. Slated for a 9.00 pm start, it was half an hour later before the concert got underway – as dusk finally turned to dark, the lights dimmed and the foghorn-like blasts of the brass section of Woodkid's excellent band brought an awed hush to the Cavea, signalling the beginning of the concert. After the instrumental prologue, the first song, Baltimore's Fireflies, an exquisitely lovely track from his 2011 EP Iron, sung with a voice that held me enthralled for the rest of the evening - a rich velvety baritone, with a touch of gritty vibrato, like Nick Cave with a dash of Antony Hegarty - gently eased us into Woodkid's world, as the background screens took us into huge cathedral-like spaces. After the intensity of this opening track it was a delight to see Woodkid break into a huge smile at the deafening cheers of approval at the end, and the easy rapport this charismatic performer instantly created with the audience.

 On one of the hottest evenings of the year, most of the Rome audience stayed sitting for the first half of the show – even during Conquest Of Spaces which had me dancing in my seat - until the euphoric climax of the performance, when, at Woodkid's command “Rome wake up! Are you ready to jump?!” suddenly every single person in the Cavea was on their feet, clapping and cheering, as the epic Iron and The Great Escape brought the evening to a close. Saving the single Run Boy Run for a deliriously ecstatic encore, this mesmerising production ended all too soon with The Other Side, the final track on The Golden Age, but with a tantalising promise from Woodkid that we'd see again him soon...hopefully with a full orchestra!

Utterly amazing – miss him at your peril!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Louise Nevelson at the Fondazione Roma Museo, Palazzo Sciarra

The Golden Pearl, 1962
Courtesy of Fondazione Marconi, Milano
© Louise Nevelson by SIAE 2013
Continuing the trend it began in 2009 with the stunning Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition, and again in 2011 with its Georgia O’Keeffe show, the Fondazione Roma Museo recently put the spotlight on another major twentieth century woman artist with a major monographic exhibition of the work of American sculptor Louise Nevelson. Born in 1899 in Perislav, Ukraine in what was then part of the Russian Empire, Nevelson emigrated with her family to the United States when she was just three years old, and died in her adopted homeland in New York, her favourite city, in 1988. Curated by Bruno CorĂ , the retrospective took a comprehensive look at the artist’s entire oeuvre over what was a long, and productive working life, showcasing 70 key works, which included early drawings and terracotta works from the 1930s, with a stunning collection of assemblages and collages from the 1950s and 1960s, right through to mature works from the 1980s. Whilst her late monumental site-specific pieces in COR-TEN steel could not be exhibited, of course, there was a highly enjoyable documentary film about her studio process in creating these massive sculptures, and true to the highest standards we've come to expect from this excellent gallery space, there were also enormous photographic panels illustrating these works.

Over the past few years the Fondazione Roma Museo has become one of my favourite galleries in the city, with each show thoughtfully curated and somewhat theatrically designed with props and exhibition spaces designed to aid the viewer in understanding an artist's work. By contrast, the Nevelson show was presented more simply, but this worked beautifully given the complexity of her art; each assemblage was hung at just the right height and with absolutely perfect lighting,  accentuating every shadow, and transforming her painted monochromatic wooden assemblages into multi-panelled polyptych altarpieces. Whilst the influence of Cubism and Dadaism, and even Abstract Expressionism in the scale of her later works, and comparisons with artists such as Duchamp, Picasso and Schwitters, who recycled everyday objects into their art, easily came to mind, when confronted with Nevelson's work face to face, one quickly appreciated the uniqueness of Nevelson's own visual language, and the sheer scale and drama she brought to cast-off wood scraps, when sprayed with black, white, and occasionally, gold paint.

Homage to the Universe, 1968
Courtesy of Fondazione Marconi, Milano © Louise Nevelson by SIAE 2013
Homage to the Universe (1968), a hugely ambitious, room-filling assemblage, painted monochrome black and displayed in its own gold painted space, exemplified the endlessly engrossing complexities and changing rhythms in her work. Benches were installed along the opposite wall and sitting down to gaze a while at this monumental piece provided a contemplative pause mid-exhibition.

Robert Mapplethorpe captured her larger than life personality in a wonderful late portrait photograph - an elderly woman, eyelids smudged with mascara from her trademark false eyelashes, yet utterly formidable, she gazed out at us in one of the smallest rooms at the end of the exhibition. A darkened room, with the air of a sacristy containing ancient art treasures, three gold assemblages sat side by side - The Golden Gate (1961-70), Royal Winds (1960), and the exquisite The Golden Pearl (24 elements) (1962). It was a fitting end to a marvellous exhibition.

Louise Nevelson was organized by the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei with Arthemisia Group and supported by the American Embassy in association with the Nevelson Foundation of Philadelphia and the Fondazione Marconi of Milan, and ran from 16 April – 21 July 2013 at the Fondazione Roma Museo, Palazzo Sciarra, Rome.

Copyright on all images in this post as indicated (web-resolution, fair use rationale).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Magical performance by Antony and the Johnsons at Luglio Suona Bene

She's So Blue

It was back in 2005 when I first saw Antony Hegarty in concert in Rome. I remember the brief, intense evening very well, during which Antony performed in semi-darkness, his face mostly hidden under a shapeless hat, a seemingly pathologically shy performer, who nevertheless held the audience spellbound by the power of his angelic voice. I've since seen him sing some half a dozen times over the last few years – with various incarnations of The Johnsons, with orchestras, and in the performance art piece Turning with Charles Atlas – and at every show he has revealed another facet of his on-stage persona. The Antony I saw performing on Monday evening in the Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica as part of the Luglio Suona Bene open air concert programme, however, brought something entirely new to the mix: an apparent delight at being on stage.

It was a staggeringly good performance. His voice sounded deeper and richer than ever before, as he pushed it to previously unexplored ranges, during a fascinating, sophisticated, and always surprising setlist of songs by other composers, which opened with a sublime For All We Know (a Billie Holiday cover) and closed with Lou Reed's Candy Says in the encore, and revisited Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive on the way. It would be difficult to choose a favourite moment – how does one pick highlights in the presence of perfection? - but certainly his version of Jimmy Scott's Motherless Child, which he dedicated to gay children growing up under oppressive regimes all over the world, was enthralling, as was the chillingly hypnotic murder ballad The Cruel Mother (recorded by English folk singer Shirley Collins). Antony's own songs – Cripple and the Starfish, and You are my Sister brought spontaneous whoops and cheers, but it was Cut the World that would have blown the roof off the venue if there had been one, and provoked an amused chuckle and “Ah! So you liked that one,” from Antony.

Under the musical direction of Steven Bernstein, Antony's voice was never merely accompanied by the seven astoundingly good jazz musicians on stage – it became the eighth element in the musical arrangements. Indeed, after he had introduced the band members, he knelt before them during the long audience applause. Leaving the Cavea to a standing ovation, and rapturous cheers, he waved goodnight with the words “Till we meet again”. I plan to be there. Antony just gets better and better.

  • Antony - voice, piano
  • Steven Bernstein - musical director, trombone, soprano trombone, flugelhorn
  • Julian Joseph - piano, electric organ
  • Douglas Wieselman - clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone sax
  • Renaud Gabriel Pion - bass clarinet, bass flute, baritone sax, English horn
  • Leo Abrahams - guitar
  • Bradley Jones – bass
  • Kenny Wollesen - drums, percussion, vibraphone

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