Friday, July 19, 2013

Andy Warhol: American Icon

"It wasn't so much that he painted Campbell's soup cans as he had the idea to paint Campbell's soup cans." Ivan Karp, Art Dealer

Nestled into Shore Road just around the corner from Perkins Cove is the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.  For many who have been visiting Ogunquit for years (like me) it's a hidden gem that's never been seen.

With a stunning view of the Atlantic on a beautiful spot and celebrating 60 years pioneering the work of the famed art colony, we were lucky enough to have a preview and tour with Director Ron Crusan recently as he prepared for their Summer exhibit "Andy Warhol: American Icon." As one who has read every biography and seen every documentary on the famed Pop artist I was intrigued by the choice of word "icon." Warhol was, indeed, an icon and perhaps the greatest iconographer of the people who shaped the New York scene of his era.  The exhibit, which runs through September 1st and features never-before-seen photographs by Warhol protege and assistant Pack Hackett presents the artist and his never-ending fascination and quest for fame and celebrity.

"He was brilliant," Crusan says.  As a marketing genius, I'd agree.  As an artist, I'm not so sure.  There's no question that Warhol led the way in consciously creating the artist as a brand, a route which all others would then be compelled to follow.  He loved fame and celebrity.  As a very successful commercial artist he eventually turned to portraits and paintings before branching out into films and books and the founding of "Interview" magazine, which he began as a vehicle to get invites to star-filled celebrity galas and events.  He ran his art production as a business, headquartered in a place he called "The Factory", which became legendary, a place where a visit to New York was not complete until one stopped by to see what crazy new ideas the master was pursuing, a magnet for the young and avant garde.

Hackett's black and white photos are being lined up on the wall for exhibit.  As Crusan explains, she began by just photographing all the celebrities at events Warhol was attending.  Warhol, who was never boisterous or loud, had to eventually explain to her that she wasn't getting the photograph unless he was in it.  Warhol with Liza Minnelli.  Warhol with Ted Kennedy.  Warhol with Dolly Parton ... Sylvester Stallone ... Mick Jagger.  You get the picture.  I have always said that I believed Warhol might have been a much better historian than an artist, having chronicled the times and culture of the 1970s-1980s, helping to make each person and icon themselves.

The Marilyn Portraits.  Wherever one falls on the spectrum on one's view of Warhol as an artist, the exhibit unabashedly presents him as both icon and inconographer.  Many of the biographies I have read have mentioned that Warhol, growing up as sickly child often bedridden with a sketch pad, was fascinated by the icons that lined the Byzantine Catholic Church he visited weekly with his family in Pittsburgh.  The repetition of images and nature of his portraits both seem to lend credence to this. The individuality and uniqueness of the man made him a Pop Art star.

Joan Crawford and Andy Warhol.  Photo by Pat Hackett.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Robots To Silk At MIT

On a visit to the MIT Media Lab a few months back for a food event we were drawn to what we thought was a sculpture installation in the lobby.  Upon closer inspection we discovered that the dome structure was actually alive.  Yes ,it was teeming with life.

Built by a robotic arm and overseen by the Mediated Matter Group, the structure was under construction by live silkworms spinning their web live before our very eyes.

The Silk Pavillion

At our first visit,the structure had only begun.  Today it is much thicker and full. The display is in the lobby and open to the public.  Check it out and maybe take the kids to get their own, little minds spinning.  Or, impress that first date  with something truly memorable!

MIT Media Lab
Building E14
75 Amherst Street
Cambridge, MA  02139
Telephone: 617.253.5960
Kendall Square T Stop on the Red Line

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Strolling Through Belmont: A Mini Memoir

I recently had the chance to take a stroll through my boyhood hometown, Belmont and it brought back so many happy memories that I thought I'd share the photos.  Anyone who grew up in Belmont, or visited friends or relatives there, will certainly recognize all of these landmarks.  It was amazing how so much of this sleepy, little suburban town has not changed at all over the years.  Above is the Underwood Pool.  It was the very first public swimming pool in the country, built on the grounds donated to the town by the Underwoods, one of Belmont's wealthiest philanthropist families.  The pool was featured heavily in the book by Belmont author Thomas Perrotta, "LITTLE CHILDREN" later made into an Academy Award winning film.  As we had a summer house in Maine where we spent most warm weather weekends and all summer, I did not swim here very often but I do remember on steaming hot school days we'd run down the hill after school, change into our bathing suits and jump into the cool water.

I'm sure this is a holdover from the old days, or maybe some legal requirement, but this sign made me laugh.

I was happy to see that the hockey nets are still standing in the small rink next to the pool that we called the Underwood Rink.  This is where we used to play hockey outdoors, after school and on Saturdays.  We were just a bunch of kids who loved to skate and play hockey and we organized the games ourselves, usually without any adult supervision.  I'm convinced that the lack of adults is why we all got along so well.

Guarino's was a regular Saturday morning stop for haircuts and was always busy.  I was shocked at how gossipy men could actually be.  They'd rip everyone apart as my friends and I tried to sneak a glimpse at the pile of "naughty" magazines.

 I spent many hours at the Library after school and it is exactly the way I remembered it, except for all the new computer banks and rows of DVDs, which seem to be more popular than the books today, especially with the seniors, who mobbed the place picking out movies on the Friday morning I visited.

Remember this?  It's a display case showing exactly where daylight is falling on the earth.  I can't believe it's still there!

The Wellington Station was moved to this Common Street location after I attended school but we used to walk up Common Street, about a mile, to school every day.  (Do I sound like Grandpa yet?)  One day my friend David Diamond and I saw a dead squirrel on the sidewalk.  The next morning he brought along a gift box and deposited the rotting animal into it with a stick.  He had a plan.  I wanted no part of it.  At school we presented the "gift" (as reluctant as I was to participate) to our fifth grade teacher at St. Joseph's, Sister Virginia Mary.  The class roared with laughter and disgust.  It was a fleeting moment of mirth, however.  We spent the next four months in a probably well-deserved season of Hell giving me a singular reason to vow I would never send my kids to Catholic school.   I am sure that our names were whispered in the dark, mysterious halls of that convent.  I have often wondered how they disposed of the carcass and it may have had something to do with the fact that the school permanently closed the next year.  Maybe we were trailblazers, or not.

In this little brook off Claflin Street, a tributary to Winn's Brook, we spent spring days fishing for minnows.  What we did with the minnows I can't recall.

Belmont had it's very own, glamorous department store.  Filene's opened in Belmont Center in 1941 and was a thriving success.  Now all those suburban ladies didn't have to travel all the way into Boston to get the latest fashions and cosmetics.  When Filene's closed it was converted to a Macy's and other than their flagship New York City store it was the sole free-standing Macy's department store in the United States.  Sadly, it is closing for good any day now after 70 years in business.

Our center entrance colonial style house on Cross Street is still as beautiful as it ever was. The room off to the side was the one we called "the sunroom", where we fought over what TV shows to watch and who got the best seat to view them.  In the backyard we had a small hill that we would sled down in the winter.

And what visit to Belmont could be complete without a visit to Gregory's?  I almost can't believe that they are still there.  It was a popular spot with all of the teens and a place where kids skipping school could be easily found.

Of all the memories the one thing that really struck me was how quiet the town is.  I probably never realized it as a kid.  Being in the Boston so much I had totally forgotten how almost silent a small town like this can be.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Blanc Gallery

We recently traveled the side streets over in Central Square, stopping in at Blanc Gallery to visit with founder Patrick Dagle.  It's a very young, vibrant, smallish gallery showcasing artists on a more intimate level, the kind of people that are not removed from the community and the kind of place you can hang out with other creative people and broaden one's horizons.

"Blanc is a community. By providing local and national artists with an exhibit and event space we hope to cultivate the relationships and transformations necessary to energize the Central Square and greater Boston arts scene." That's the mission.

Blanc will be hosting a reception for it's new exhibit, "The Written Word" this Saturday with a viewing followed by a party.  "Through “The Written Word”, we offer you an exploration of the many ways in which language and text can be woven into visual art in order to offer an alternative perspective of an already multifaceted viewing experience." Seems interesting enough for us to be there.  Hope you'll join us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Buchanan On Bullying

We recently caught up with Boston Canons professional lacrosse star Kevin Buchanan who, believe it or not, was bullied when he was in middle school.  What was appealing about his story was finding out  that no one is really immune to being picked on.

We met at Fresh City in Newton, where he was appearing to promote the Canons, Fresh City's healthy menu and meet with local students and lacrosse fans.  Buchanan has joined a number of other professional sports players to be featured at the Boston Sports Museum initiative against bullying: Boston Vs. Bullies.

Buchanan, a key attacker for the Canons, was overweight as a young student and wore a set of glasses with thick lenses to correct a vision problems.  He also suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But it was the weight that made kids call him "Pudge."  He admits that it was not an easy time and he often suffered from bouts of depression.

To deal with the hurt, Buchanan simply went along with it, and painfully, “laughed it off as good-spirited’’ teasing. Parent and teacher awareness, overall sensitivity to the subject of bullying, was minimal then. There were no DVDs, no facilitator’s guides. The two-step coping mechanism was: 1. grin; 2. bear it.

“That’s not what I’d tell a kid today,’’ says Buchanan. “What it comes down to, really, is that you have to stand up for yourself. Not physically, because that usually doesn’t end well. But you have to tell kids to back off, or ask an adult — maybe a teacher or parent — to help you make that case.’

Congratulations to a sports star who is not only willing to stand up for what is right but also has experienced the problem first hand and can speak to kids directly about it.

Here is part of Buchanan's message and advice on what to do when being bullied.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Writing, Bullying and Social Media

Today I spent a great afternoon at Immaculate Conception in Revere speaking with the students about my novel FILLED WITH NOTHING, creative writing, food, bullying and social media.  And, oh yes, One Direction!  The students were extremely polite, offered some surprising insight and asked a lot of great questions.  My special thanks to Mr. Frank Scrima, Principal Kelly, Mr. Staples, Mr. Allan, Miss Jones and Miss Eacmen.  I wish I could speak with students like you every day!

                                Grades five and six, Mr. Staples and Mr. Allan, teachers.

                               Grades seven and eight, Miss Jones and Miss Eacmen, teachers.

    Congratulations to everyone for having the initiative for a free and open discussion on bullying!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Kennedy Family On Addiction

I recently had the opportunity to stop in at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge for a discussion hosted by Harvard Book Store.  Featured speakers included Christopher Kennedy Lawford and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.  The subject was addiction, something that has plagued the two cousins for years.  Lawford is the son of Peter Lawford, well-known actor, member of the Rat Pack and a notorious alcoholic.  I remember reading years ago that Peter Lawford was once told by his physician that if he did not stop drinking immediately he was in danger of dying.  He continued to drink heavily.

Patrick Kennedy introduced his cousin Christopher, author of the new book RECOVER TO LIVE.  He spoke eloquently about the 22 million people in this country with a chemical dependency, reducing the stigma and shame of addiction and moving toward a health care system that includes ongoing treatment for addiction and the often-underlying mental health issues (70% of the time).  He called for a mental health parity along the lines for treatment of such afflictions as diabetes and asthma, something that currently does not take place.  He raised questions like:  "Do we really need oxycodone?" Knowing full well how highly addictive it is, he called for alternative treatments.

Lawford has been in recovery for 26 years.  "So much of addiction is running away from something," he said.  We are all running away from something, we're just wearing different sneakers.  In my case, I was like Imelda Marcos," he joked as a way of saying that he tried many substances to escape.  "Drugs and alcohol become a way to cope  and we need healthy ways to cope and have a sense of identity, the arts, music, sports, rather than to go and light up every time we have a disappointment."

The book also deals with a variety of toxic compulsions, which he said he really had to fight for with the publishers.  Whether the addiction is to a substance or a process, it is the same.  Thus, addictions such as gambling and hoarding are covered, as well.  Over 100 experts were consulted in researching the book.

It was very refreshing to see two members of such a prominent American family speak so open and honestly about their personal struggles with addiction, freeing up the possibility of reducing the shame.    "I had to leave Congress to achieve my recovery," Kennedy joked.  There are many issues involved.  "So many people who are addicted do not want to come into treatment," Lawford said.  It's part of the stigma.  "The disease presents horribly," he admitted.  That's another part of the problem, where the addiction is thought by many to be just a character flaw.

One of the most interesting questions asked by the audience was about the very cause of addictions.  Why can't a gene be identified?  Couldn't there be an inoculation or medication for those with the identified gene?  But there is no gold standard for addiction.  It is the result of heredity, biological, psychological and social pressures.  "There is also a spiritual element," Lawford said.  It affects each person differently.  Great food for thought in the light of all the recent focus on violence and mental illness.  It is also important to know that most crimes are committed by those under the influence of some substance.  I applaud them for bringing this subject out in the open.  As Kennedy said:  "We are standing on the threshold of grappling with this issue and really making substantial improvements but it will only happen with political activism, people calling for a change."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homeless in Harvard Square

There is a new installation in Harvard Square that is hard to miss and drawing attention to the plight of the young and homeless in Massachusetts.  Part of the Invisible Faces Project by photographer Anthony Pira, it shows the real faces of those without a place to call home and presents the public with the reasons why.

These are the reasons why many young people choose to flee home, a safety haven that most of us take for granted.  Young adults, age 18-24 are no longer part of the foster care system.  Often, they leave due to abusive situations or they have been kicked out due to their sexual orientation. Sometimes, they cannot find jobs and their families can no longer financially support them.

It affects thousands.  Many will take to the streets, without any income, doing whatever they can to survive and often turning to drugs and alcohol for temporary comfort.  If you travel through Harvard Square you are likely to see some of them as they gather near the T Station in an area that they call "the pit." 

The faces of homeless teens are often not what one would expect.  Some look just like the suburban teens on shopping excursions or meeting friends at restaurants.  This does not make their problems any less real.

The project is spreading out across the country and encompasses ten major cities from here to Chicago and Los Angeles, where these young people search for any place that can offer them safety, sleep, food and basic human needs.

One such place is Youth On Fire, in Harvard Square, which helps these young people find the help that they need when no one, not even their families, seem to care.

The installation is intended to both bring the situation to light and begin a dialogue.  It also hopes to garner donations and volunteers.  I can't help but look at the faces and see the potential or think how ill-equipped I would have been at their age to survive on my own.  I'd encourage you to stop and take it in if you are in the area.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

As one of the first food bloggers in Boston, part of a small group who were quietly invited to restaurants, meet new Chefs, consult and discuss the food, I feel it's now become overrun with blogs of lesser quality and attention to detail.  I want to lead lead the way, again, to new places and ideas. There are now hundreds of food bloggers, obsequious and all over the world, thousands, millions. They scramble around each other for new Chefs and worship at tables, cameras ready to photograph the plates so beautiful. I did it, too. All the gossip, all the news, all the nights out then running home to chronicle it all.  I tried to capture every story. As Jason Santos said: "It's just food."

Now, I'm ready to not only still showcase the food of Boston but also to feature the arts, ideas, culture, and lifestyles of people who are not trying to be celebrities or famous, those who have no personal agenda, those who are just real.  And to bring those stories out in more meaningful ways.