Thursday, October 7, 2010

Picasso and the God of Carnage

What an amazing day Tuesday was! First we went to the Seattle Art Museum for a press preview for the new Picasso show, “Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris” — and then we visited our dear friends filmmaker Liz Latham and her partner, Marlee Walker, editor of Blues To Do magazine, and finally we went to see “ God of Carnage” at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Press passes, comp tickets courtesy of our son the stagehand and good friends in the arts all add up to enriched life experiences.

Here’s the scoop on the Picasso show. The Musée National Picasso in Paris is closed for renovations and their huge collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso is going on a world tour —first U.S. stop, Seattle Art Museum.

A huge crowd poured into the museum for the press preview. Breakfast pastries and coffee was served , and then the curator introduced dignitaries from the Musée National and from sponsor organizations such as Chase Bank and Microsoft, and I got very fidgety waiting for the main event, actually seeing the art. The speechifying went on and on, and I with my impaired hearing could make out only a few words from the Parisians who spoke English with a heavy accent.  And it wasn’t just my hearing problem, because our son who went with us said he had a hard time hearing them too.

There were so many people there from the media that they had to break the tour of the show into three groups. I was in the last group. Luckily for me, our group was lead by the curator (can’t remember his name) who was very knowledgeable.  My fellow reporters were apparently not as knowledgeable, at least not about art. None of them had penetrating or intriguing questions or comments.  One asked about the Picasso quotes on the wall and another asked about Picasso’s mistresses, but none of them asked anything about art. I made a comment about one of the paintings looking a lot like a Matisse, and the curator responded by talking about the love-hate relationship between Matisse and Picasso,  and he referred back to my comment over and over during the course of the tour.

The show features 150 works of art including approximately 75 paintings and drawings complemented by a large collection of sculptures and a lot of photographs of Picasso — most of which were taken in his studio with the artist hamming it up for the camera (he was a showman, very much aware of his reputation as the greatest artist of the 20th century, and he played it to the hilt). The works in the collection were chosen by Picasso himself before he died in 1973. They constitute his personal favorites, and they span more than half a century, from the so-called rose and blue periods, to analytic and synthetic cubism and beyond. (After cubism, and to a lesser extent even before, there was no linear development to his work. He worked in many styles — lyrically naturalistic, harshly or decoratively abstract, realistic, cubistic, surrealistic — and freely incorporated elements of various periods and styles in all of his work.

There are political statements, mostly anti-war and anti-fascist, some very subtle and some heavy-handed in the style of “Guernica,” which is not included, but including a disturbing take on Goya’s “Third of May.”  (Art historical references and styles lifted from other artists abound. There are works that pay homage to Matisse, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Greek statuary and African masks.) Most prevalent are his paintings and sculptures of his many wives and mistresses. Many of these paintings of women are highly eroticized. In their time, perhaps, that was not so recognizable because of his extreme distortion of the body, but there is a palpable and in many instances uncomfortable emphasis on the sexuality of his female subjects. His early paintings of Olga, his first wife, were particularly sexy. She looks to be nothing but a collection of voluptuous curves. Picasso was quite a chauvinist, and he prided himself on his virility.

Most astounding to me were a group of sculptures of elephantine female figures with massive breasts and hands and huge noses growing out of heavy foreheads. I’ve seen many reproductions of these but never the originals, which are much larger than I thought, and which are beautifully and theatrically displayed in this show in front of paintings of women done in a similar style.

The tour was far too short. We’ll have to go back some day. Outside there was a line of museum members waiting to get in to the members-only preview. As we were leaving one of the first people in line asked how it was and how did we manage to get in before them. Ah, the privilege of the press. It almost makes our low pay worth it.

I was lucky that they allowed me to bring guests. I brought my wife, Gabi, and our son, Noel, who lives and works in Seattle. Afterwards we went with Noel to Athena, a nice Greek restaurant in Queen Anne, two blocks from the Rep, where he works. He then had to go to work. He gave us a key to his nearby condo, and even though the theatre is only two blocks away we dropped him off at the stage door and then drove to his place, where we rested a bit and took our lunch meds. We’re old. We take lots of meds. I recently had eye surgery and have to put a bunch of drops in my eye four times a day. I lean back and open my eyes wide, and Gabi puts the drops in. So, my drops in and her lunch meds and insulin taken, we called Liz and got directions to her new house in West Seattle. What an amazing view they have!

Liz and Marlee showed us a wonderful animated and live action film called "A Jazzman's Jazzman: The Gerry Carruthers Story" by Ben Harris and Paul Maupoux. Here's the description from the back of the box: "He was ...a jazzman.  An innovative and hilarious blend of live action interviews and stop-motion animation, cro-magnon pictures' feature mockumentary follows pianist Gerry Carruthers as he struggles against his own personal demons to achieve fame and recognition at the sacramento jazz club 'The Silver Nugget'." It was hilarious. It should win an Academy Award for best film in the category, but there is no category for fake documentary live action and animation.

Liz also entertained us with bits of her lounge act. She plays piano and sings every Saturday night at That’s Amore, an Italian bistro in Belltown. She is a multi-talented woman.

From Liz’s house we headed back to Queen Anne to meet Noel again for lunch, this time at Rascha on Mercer Street. With a little more time to kill after dinner we browsed a nearby bookstore and then headed back to our car for more eye drops and insulin, and finally to the theater.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the Rep, and I’d forgotten just how big it is. Accustomed to the intimate space of community theaters in Tacoma and Olympia, the sheer size of the space was overwhelming — the high ceilings and big auditorium. That took some adjusting in the early parts of the play, because it’s not as easy to see facial expressions and gestures in such a large space, and I did have some problems hearing at first, partly but not wholly due to the raucous laughter from the audience.

“God of Carnage” is a comedy by Yasmina Reza, winner of the 2009 Tony Award from Best Picture and the  Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

What first struck me was the beauty of the set, a modern apartment decorated in all white with a modular glass and metal coffee table, white furnishings, white walls and a high spiral staircase; and suspended on wires, a huge blow-up of a dental x-ray. (Noel’s job, by the way, is swing technician. On this day his duties include flying the big x-ray and turning on and off a hairdryer, which is used extensively throughout the play — sound effect, the actual dryer seen onstage is not plugged into a working outlet.)

In the play two couples meet to discuss their 11-year-old boys who have been involved in a scuffle at school. At first they are carefully polite, but tensions mount and they turn on one another viciously, not just one couple against the other as the situation might call for but also husbands teaming up against the wives. And then wives against wives and husbands against husbands.  What starts as a sophisticated modern comedy becomes a hilarious farce.

 It is directed by Wilson Milam and stars Hans Altwies as Michael, Amy Thone as Veronica, Denis Amdt as Alan and Bhama Roget as Annette, the latter of whom projectile vomits in a fountain worthy of the best efforts of “Saturday Night Live” or Monty Python.  You have to see it. Ooops! Was that a spoiler?

After the play we talked to the stagehands about how they rigged up the spewing vomit (a mixture made of split pea soup and other stuff) and watched and listened in as they fixed a problem with a telephone that failed to ring at one point. They not only fixed it, but they created a backup just in case.

One of the stagehands pointed out something that should have been obvious to me but hadn’t been, that there was no evidence in the set that kids lived in the apartment.  And that got me to thinking about something else: Veronica collects coffee table art books, there were a lot of them in the living room; yet there were no paintings on the walls. Seems contradictory, but I understand. The blank white walls work better visually than walls with pictures would have. Aesthetically the set was outstanding, but logically there should have been some pictures on the walls and something belonging to the kids — although Michael and Veronica are such and uptight, appearance-conscious couple that maybe they wouldn’t allow their kids or their kids’ things in their pristine living room.

Overall it was a wonderfully entertaining show. The whole day was great, and there was the added bonus of free entry to the shows  plus I get paid for the article —almost enough to cover the cost of two meals and gas to take us from Olympia to Seattle and back.


jim said...

Can you tell me how they rigged the spewing vomit in God of Carnage. I intend to direct the play and have wondered about how best to make that scene work

Alec Clayton said...

Jim, I spoke to a stagehand after the play and asked how they did the spewing vomit. It was pretty complicated. I'd suggest you go to the Seattle Rep website and find someone there to ask.