A love affair with Mexico

Our love affair with Mexico began long ago as we grew up in the Southern California high desert. Finally we both had the opportunity to travel for the first time to Mexico in 1992. Looking back on that now it doesn’t seem so long ago, but much has changed in the 23 years of traveling to the same places.

The wild first trip had us landing in Mexico City, taking the train to Guanajuato, then to Morelia, Patzquaro, and spending some time in Mexico City again before we headed south on the train to Oaxaca.  The craziest thing about this was it was done over a two-week period and we were traveling with our two youngest sons, who were 5 and 9 years old.

Jerus and Caleb in Oaxaca
Caleb & Jerus Oaxaca, 1992

So many trips later, it feels like coming home when we arrive back in Mexico. Although we now travel alone since our children have long left home, we decided to change things around a bit for our upcoming trip to Mexico City.

Whenever we have been through Mexico City we have stayed at Hotel Sevilla, a small no-frills hotel next to Sullivan Park. The good thing about this consistent choice was that we knew how to give directions to our taxi driver from any point we returned from, and knew when we were going in the right direction “towards home.” This time when we made hotel accommodations, Hotel Sevilla had no vacancies. We considered booking another place in the immediate area since we were familiar with the local espresso shop and the great breakfast place that made homemade tortillas, but then we thought about Airbnb and the idea of staying within a local neighborhood instead of a tourist hotel. The more we considered this idea, the more enthusiastic we became and booked a single room with private bath in a home in the Coyoacan district. Although the inexpensive hotel we had planned to stay in would have been $433 for one week, the Airbnb place was $156. Saving over $270 was great since we rarely hang out in the hotel and were excited about staying in a neighborhood.

Art and life and the holidays  

The holidays bring out the best and worst of all human characteristics. Art plays a big part of the memories we hold in our minds as we make our way through the season, and movies in particular have played a big part of our collective memory. Although the movie industry is one of the most lucrative creative careers today, I am sure that as the directors, producers, and actors planned out these movies they were not just thinking about profit. These movies are now an important part of our popular culture. After thinking about which movies I return to year after year, I noticed they have something in common: a story based on hope and a happy ending. Here are 5 of my personal must-see movies for the holiday season:

Trading PlacestrdingplacesimagesOne of my favorites – a story of entitlement vs reality set during the Christmas holidays. Lots of very dark humor, such as when street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) meets up with the Duke brothers who own a commodities trading company. They beat him around the head with their Wall Street Journal when he approaches them for a hand-out. Dan Ackroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis add to the team that turns the tables against the Duke Brothers, representing the moneyed elite. One of my favorite scenes is Dan Ackroyd stealing from the holiday buffet of his former employer dressed as a Santa, later pulling a smoked salmon out from inside his jacket and gnawing on it (and his beard) while riding home on the bus. Happy ending on an island vacation paradise rolling in money and eating sumptuous foods.

ChristmasVera-Ellen-finale-White-ChristmasWhite Christmas: Set in the early 1950’s, this is a period piece that continues to be a classic 60 years later. The setting is Vermont after WWII, and the nostalgia for the camaraderie of the war is spiced up with Irving Berlin’s music, choreography, and spectacular dance sets. And then there is the final scene where the snow is falling and Bing Crosby sings I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and gives viewers the happy ending everyone was hoping for.

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A Christmas Story:  This take on Christmas nostalgia relates well to the baby boomer generation. The memory of the Christmas parade centered around the town’s local department stores with their fantastic Santa dioramas, and  fantasizing for a BB gun might be incomprehensible to today’s children. Even so, there are moments that are it timeless; children’s anticipation for gifts, the special dinners, are all something that kids today can relate. The movie has a happy ending with Ralphie sleeping next to his BB gun on Christmas night.

santa die hardimagesDie Hard: Perhaps a strange choice for a holiday movie, but somehow setting the story of a terrorist attack in a high rise building on Christmas Eve brings everything about the holidays together. The terrorists show up as McClane, a NY detective comes to LA to reunite with his wife at her corporate Christmas party in the high rise. Lots of scenes with good vs evil, and the cops are portrayed as the good guys. The happy ending is good guys win, McClane and wife are reunited and go home to celebrate Christmas day together with their children.

Everett-Christmas VacationNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: The quintessential American Christmas story about Clark Griswold’s hopes of creating a fairy-tale old fashioned Christmas for his entire family. Since this is a comedy, it’s no spoiler alert to say this movie goes from scene to scene with funny moments that make you laugh out loud as you are cringing. From the procurement of the tree out in the wilderness, to decorating the outside of the house with lights, all the tiny details add up to a string of disasters. Clark’s valiant attempts to create a spectacular Christmas with the holiday lights, and his intention to make the house the best on the block, takes on the symbol of Clark’s manhood and his achievement as a provider. All of the family members are parodies that we can all relate to and we smile with anticipation as each new holiday situation arrives at the Griswold home: one of the best one liners was from Ellen Griswold: “ I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” As the Christmas holiday proceeds with Christmas tree fires, squirrel attacks, and the destruction of the dining room by the cousin’s dog, Ellen wonders if it could get any worse. Clark responds “How could things get any worse? We’re at the threshold of hell!” Despite all the challenges, the Griswold family does manage to have the best old-fashioned Christmas ever. Happy ending with entire cast singing Deck the Halls.

Outsiders in the desert

Detail from Marta Becket Armagosa Opera House Mural

The stark beauty of the Mojave Desert is also a magnet for creatives that work outside the mainstream. Think of ballerina Marta Becket who stumbled upon an abandoned theater in Death Valley and took that on as her life mission.  The Amargosa Opera House saw performances by Marta every week for four decades, and in her spare time, she embellished the inside of the opera house with fantastical murals of an audience painted in naive style.

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Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum

Or consider Noah Purifoy‘s outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California. Purifoy lived for the last fifteen years of his life creating ten-acres full of large-scale sculpture on the desert floor. Constructed entirely from discarded junk, the Desert Art Museum helps visitors appreciate the landscape, and think about environment in California.

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Rosamond Rocks

As a native of the high desert north of Los Angeles, I have an eternal fascination with artists that are attracted to the stark landscape and utilize existing landscapes or built structures to create their art. On a recent walk through the Rosamond desert, just outside of a subdivision, I was thrilled to see an art installation of painted boulders, carefully arranged and painted red, white and blue.  The rocks are placed in lines that lead outward into the desert – perhaps pointing out a way out from the subdivision.

Will report back on the artist’s progress on my next visit.

Here is an article that discusses outsider art published in Frieze Magazine

Rosamond blue rocks

Ai Weiwei at Brooklyn Museum

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Current Upcoming Past Touring Exhibition Archive Gao Yuan Ai Weiwei Ai Weiwei, 2012. Photo by Gao Yuan

“A tragic reality of today is reflected in the true plight of our spiritual existence: we are spineless and cannot stand straight.”

Ai Weiwei

 

 

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The exhibit piece pictured at left is created from rebar, straightened and cut and arranged across the gallery floor in undulating waves, perhaps to match the seismic force of the 2008 earthquake.  Over 5,000 students and teachers were killed in the sub-par school construction in the Sichuan province.

The piece is entitled “Straight. ”  Just one piece of this amazing exhibit – don’t miss it if you are in Brooklyn.

Retrospectives

Are you an artist?  How will your art reflect you long after you are gone?

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This past week I had the pleasure of thinking deeply about this when I attended the retrospective of a major regional artist in the Mid-Hudson area. The walls of both exhibits were hung in salon style, because literally there would not be enough wall space to show the hundreds of paintings.  Nothing in Margaret Crenson’s world was ordinary – she painted the mundane items of a kitchen in full swing canning tomatoes to the ethereal Hudson Valley landscape with the same brilliant artist’s eye.  The work utilizes a good amount of palette knife painting, which shows off her sure placement of the paint.  This prompted my thinking about how a body of work can reflect back on the life of the artist, as well as stories from collectors, neighbors and family.

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I felt fortunate to be included among the group of those that knew Margaret Crenson as a person, which helped me makes sense of the artworks surrounding me.  She seemed to have a keen wit, and a close connection with nature and animals. All of the signals coming out from her art, from the sly placement of the unexpected animal in the picture frame, to crenson-retro3the elevation of the industrial building as an object of portraiture, makes me understand that she was an artist that lived her life to the fullest – loving the world that she was a part of and leaving a world with her artistic interpretation of all that she touched.

What could be better than that?

Lou Reed

A Sherpa in my music life – he went onward to his next destination yesterday. I am grateful for his creativity, a voice that spoke out about the American life interwoven in music.

lou-reedThank you Lou – your music wove a constant thread throughout my life.

Travels and Public Art

Recent travels took me through the Denver Airport to transfer to another flight. The first flight was delayed and feeling stressed that I would not make the connection, I was annoyed to find that I had to board a train to transfer to the next terminal. The train left and entered a tunnel where my grumpy outlook was immediately changed to delight.  Inside the tunnel were tiny shiny propellers mounted on the walls that twirled as the train moved through the tunnel.  The electric blue lighting inside the train reflected onto the propellers, adding color to a fantastic public art installation.

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Kinetic Light Curtain – photo courtesy Denver Airport

The “Kinetic Air Light Curtain” was designed by husband and wife team, Antonette Rosato and William Maxwell in 1995.  Although both artists have died in the past decade, their artwork is still fresh and continues to engage passengers. Both artists lived and worked in Denver and their design has meaning to the place:  there are 5,280 propellers in the tunnel, which signifies the altitude of Denver, known as the ‘mile high city.’

Frequently we forget to savor the moment in time when we are amazed, delighted, intrigued or mystified by art.  After I got on my connecting plane, I kept seeing those reflecting propellers around me on the runway, and thought of the power that artists have to elevate the mundane through art.