April Letters: ‘Van Gogh Up Close’...

Readers respond about 'Van Gogh Up Close,' Foss and Sylvster at L.G. Tripp Gallery, the new Barnes Museum, the percussion section, Shipwrecked, Trayvon Martin shooting, Dan Rottenberg's Titanic fantasy, "Death of a friend," William de Pasquale, ladies' restrooms, DanceBrazil, Cindy Sherman, West Side Story and Death of a Salesman.

Art Museum’s ‘Van Gogh Up Close’

     Re Robert Zaller’s review of “Van Gogh Up Close” at the Art Museum—
     The Van Gogh show should certainly be seen. However, it is freighted via the audio tour and other commentary with too much blather. The almost scientific attention to minute detail and speculations about the emotional content of the paintings detract from what a viewer needs to do: look and look and look.
     One thing to look for is any suggestion of the dandelions' distinctive leaves, which gives the lie to some of the hyperbolic commentary, including the show's title. Also listen for the end of the commentary at # 704 (I believe), which simply trails off after a bunch of highly speculative words, as if the speaker was caught out in a fit of invention.
     I realize these might be quibbles. But why can't professionals get things right?
     I liked the focus on a few years' work. But I'm not sure why a chronological hanging wouldn't improve the show. Nor am I clear why a map at the beginning wouldn't be useful. Perhaps the idea is to throw attention onto the paintings by themselves; but the idea is undercut by the claims of the room labels and the audio tour.
     As with any Van Gogh show, biographical details thrust themselves into the picture frames. The Philadelphia show resists this practice in a flabby way and gives in totally at the last picture, which is one of the best. For me, the mix of biography and painting, never straightforward, was off-putting.
     I'm happy I saw the show. There are many wonderful paintings in it. I suppose it's never bad when art provokes.
Arthur Waddington
Wynnewood, Pa.
April 19, 2012

Foss and Sylvester

     Re Anne R. Fabbri’s review of David Foss and Lisa Sylvester at L. G. Tripp Gallery—
     I have never been to the L. G. Tripp Gallery before this show's opening. In fact, I had never been to First Friday before. I was amazed by the overall work displayed throughout the streets and the supportive environment being created by the mix of artists, buyers, owners and visitors. My friend and I found much of the work creatively stimulating and very well done. But we were both captured by the work we found in the L. G. Tripp Gallery.
     While David Foss's work had a certain appeal for its conceptual ideas of framing factors of an image; it left much to be desired in the way of originality. I will say that I enjoyed one color, of particular vibrancy or contrast, in each painting; but I was disappointed that such colors were abandoned in the “skies” mentioned by Fabbri.
     I would have left the gallery then and there if my friend had not dragged me down the corridor into the back room, where I discovered the work of Lisa Sylvester. To me, the masterful typography was not “confining” but pulling. I stared at each painting, finding letter codes, complexes of shape, the masterful understanding of mediums that I don't fully understand, all in addition to the beauty that I saw in each painting.
     I was perhaps most impressed by how well the gallery fitted the work. The pieces were hung in such a way that they had the calming effect of a grove. To me these paintings brought to me the mystery of a wooded path, and the subtle reminder of something untamed— feelings that nature hasn’t instilled in me since I was a boy.
     To me, Lisa Sylvester accomplished what a real artist sets out to do: She filled me with emotion and reminded me of things I had long since forgotten. I am sorry that Anne Fabbri thought the opposite.
Andrew Caneni
Downingtown, Pa.
April 17, 2012

     Anne R. Fabbri
replies: Although we might not agree, you have offered an interesting insight into Lisa Sylvester’s paintings. If you return to view the exhibitions before they end on April 28, please take a second look at the paintings by David Foss. I believe you will be rewarded by the sensitivity of each composition.

Barnes sneak preview

     I am puzzled as to why Marilyn MacGregor thinks the new Barnes building's facade reflects Albert’s Barnes's artistic philosophy (“The new Barnes: A sneak preview"). Just how does it? There’s no unity, variety, rhythm and contrast— the foundations of Barnes’s artistic principles— in this building. Just lots of boxes and oblongs.
Victoria Skelly
Wayne, Pa.
April 11, 2012

     Doubtless by some oversight, I wasn’t invited to the peek-a-boo tour of the Barnes reported on by Marilyn MacGregor. All I have seen of the Barnes Museum, like most pedestrians on the Parkway, is the inglorious backside it presents to it, which has for me all the sensuous appeal of a Federal Reserve Bank building.
     Time will tell all things, including the fate of a soft limestone structure with prefabricated cracks. (Tsien-Williams buildings have had serious problems before).
     Albert Barnes housed his collection in a smooth-stoned French chateau-style building on a large estate with an integrated garden and arboretum, far from downtown commercial bustle. He planted trees rather than cut them down, as was the fate of the 28 London plane trees (a gift of the British government to honor the valor of American soldiers in World War I) chopped down to make way for the Parkway museum.
     Barnes also stipulated that the Merion gallery was to be the permanent home of his collection, and that should it prove impossible to maintain it that the collection be broken up rather than rehoused. This was not a quirk on his part, but as I take it integral to the collection's intended educational function, a function inseparable from its location.
     In short, Barnes anticipated just such a power grab as has occurred, in which his collection has been appropriated for commercial and touristic purposes. Whatever your viewpoint about the collection’s move, however, I find the idea that the new Barnes somehow reflects Albert Barnes's philosophy a very curious proposition.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
April 11, 2012

     Marilyn MacGregor replies: As I see it, the metaphor doesn’t relate directly to the structure or appearance of the former building but to the ideas that I see in the collection, which is for me the most important part of Barnes's legacy. He gathered a “mosaic” of art styles from a wide range of artists— some living, some long dead, some well known, some beginning to gain a reputation, some unknown. The common ground was his taste and his belief in the art itself. He brought the works of art together with an eclectic, highly personal style of presentation based on his own choices and priorities, creating an overall experience that equates (in my metaphor) to the irregular spacing of the openings and the textural and color variations in the materials of the facade.
     I celebrate the opportunity to see this amazing collection in its new home, one that includes better lighting and better conditions for the art and for its staff and visitors.

View from the percussion section

     Re “My brilliant career as a percussionist,” by Kile Smith—
     I, too was holding my breath during the "counting time" paragraph. Holding it until your slapstick part was complete.
     â€œGood job,” I whispered to you, my son.
Carol Kile Renne
Pittsgrove, N.J.
April 12, 2012

     Kile Smith replies: Sorry you had to find out this way, mom, but NASA wasn't returning my calls.
Shipwrecked at People’s Light

     Thanks for Bill Murphy’s review of Shipwrecked at People’s Light. We are going as a family this Friday to see it. Your review gives me confidence that the little kids will like it too!
Mark Wusinich
Upper Darby, Pa.
April 11, 2012

Trayvon Martin

     I was much impressed by Maria Corley's comment on the Trayvon Martin case. I consider my own remarks not as adversarial but as complementary to hers.
     We both agree that justice was not done, if even attempted. It is clear that pressure needed to be applied to Florida authorities. That has been done, and unless the state attorney general fails to do his job, there are no grounds for federal intervention.
     No doubt George Zimmerman's reactions would have been different had Trayvon Martin been white. What we need now is careful sifting of the forensic evidence and dispassionate judgment, not racial polarization and commercial exploitation.
     If race is obviously an element in this case, so is the issue of private security forces and gun availability in general. No one has talked much yet about why George Zimmerman, or anyone else not in police uniform, should be walking the streets armed and looking for trouble. As long as this nation remains addicted to guns, the next Trayvon Martin case is not a matter of if but only when.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
April 3, 2012

     Maria Corley replies: What some commentators seem to forget and/or obscure is Zimmerman’s initial 9-1-1 call. This is crucial because, in it, George Zimmerman establishes his mindset: Based on nothing other than spotting an unfamiliar young black man in his neighborhood, he assumed that person was up to no good.
     Some recent commentary attempting to justify or at least excuse Martin's shooting has centered on the choice of media photographs, suggesting that Martin was actually bigger than Zimmerman and not nearly as angelic-looking as the prevailing picture of him suggests, while clean-cut photos of Zimmerman have, similarly, been overlooked. This would tend to support the idea that a Martin-Zimmerman confrontation would favor Martin, and thus Zimmerman's self-defense claim. But the confrontation occurred only because Zimmerman decided, based on nothing other than Martin's race and apparent demeanor, to confront.
     As for the marijuana traces that got Trayvon Martin suspended from school, I grew up in a predominantly white area of Canada, and many of my supposedly clean-cut white high school friends were not only smoking marijuana, but also doing harder drugs. I don't condone it, but please— let's not make this evidence that Martin invited his own death.

     This Trayvon Martin case is tragic on both sides. Why would a man take it upon himself to act like a police officer when, if he had any suspicions, he should have just called the police to come do their job? Why was Trayvon sitting on Zimmerman, slamming his head to the ground and beating the guy to a pulp? I think both parties hold responsibility here.
     Hey, teens, if some guy is questioning you, just apologize and walk away. It's the best defense.
     Hey, gun-toting wannabes, you think someone looks suspicious? Call the police and keep your nose out of things. You're not a trained professional.
     Not all white people are haters. Not all black people are hoods.
     Too bad Zimmerman wasn't just toting a taser-zapper. This story would have ended differently.
Marlene Goodman
Wheeling, Ill.
April 8, 2012

     Maria Corley replies:
Has it been established that Martin was sitting on Zimmerman, slamming his head into the ground? Zimmerman didn't look like a pulp on the police video. Much more needs to come out before such an assessment can be accepted as fact. I'm not sure Zimmerman had the right to tase anyone, either, though I agree that the consequences would have been less severe.

Titanic fantasy

     Re “The Titanic’s last survivor,” by Dan Rottenberg (Editor’s Notebook)—
     Fantastic fantasy, Dan— to imagine some survivor found in the hull of the sunken Titanic! Even better, though, is your realization of reality.
     Good always happens now, in the real world, right where everything bad happens as well. Our ideal life must meet our real life fully in terms of the real world. We may imagine what may be, but what actually is matters most when we set out to do what we imagine might be done. Seeing that which is really good is imperative for us in order to properly perceive what to do about what really is not good.
     Good luck in going after that Nazi goon!
Craig R. Tavani
Phoenixville, Pa.
April 4, 2012

     It's not such a strange fantasy. I sometimes think about being on a train and Ben Franklin sits down next to me. I wonder which things about today's world— trains, cars, planes, TVs, computer, films, a black President, etc.— would fascinate him and which would sadden him: that there's still disease and wars and it's oh, so crowded.
     And hey, a bottle of Scotch from 100 years ago might be worth something.
Joseph Glantz
Levittown, Pa.
April 5, 2012

     I love the way your brain works!
Miriam Lewin
New York, N.Y.
April 4, 2012

     You might like to know that your undersea fantasy is the subject of a 1966 science fiction novel, The Watch Below, by the northern Irish writer James White. In White's book, a small number of people, trapped in a sunken ship, create a society that lasts for several generations. I haven't read it since it first came out, but it was a moody, well executed book, with some good details about the technological fixes the survivors developed to keep themselves supplied with food and other necessities. In the end, they become our first contact with an alien species that’s involved in an equally desperate struggle for survival. Google the title and you'll find copies for sale.
Tom Purdom
Center City/ Philadelphia
April 18, 2012

Death of a friend

     Maralyn Lois Polak’s “Death and life of a friend” is beautiful. Thank you.
Faith Paulsen
Norristown, Pa.
April 4, 2012

     Beautiful beyond words. A poem.
Rosemary Cappello
Center City/Philadelphia
April 5, 2012

     I found "What a hard dying, what an easy death," to be a gem of literature because of the simplicity of the language and the directness about death. Americans act as if life is forever and that they never die, except like the man in James Joyce's short story, "A Painful Case," they only learn when the one they take for granted dies.
     In "A Painful Case," the woman whom the man met daily threw herself under a train, and only later did her “friend” understand. Ms. Polak, in her story, shows how this all happens in such a vividly hard way and in such an easy way, or at least we think so.
Luis Lazaro Tijerina
Burlington, Vt.
April 6, 2012

William de Pasquale’s passion

     I just came across an article you wrote in 2009 regarding William de Pasquale, former co-concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra (“The ‘old’ Orchestra and the new,” by Dan Rottenberg, January 2009). While I appreciate the mostly complimentary first paragraph, I was confused by the second one:
     "On the other hand, through all those years de Pasquale rarely betrayed, either by facial expression or body language, any hint that he was moved by the music he was playing. If he was happy to be performing as opposed to, say, working in a bank, de Pasquale didn’t let on."
     The person that you wrote about above literally has nothing to do with the man that many of us were lucky enough to know and love. Music was his life, his raison d'être; it was at the core of his being. He executed everything he played with supreme mastery and love. And he was one of the most emotional men, both musically and personally, that I've ever known.
     I recall being moved, almost to tears, as he simply demonstrated a scale in a lesson. His passion was contagious.
     Mr. D, my beloved mentor and teacher, passed away Sunday after battling cancer for more than a decade. I can say with great confidence that I will never meet anyone again who is filled with a love and passion for what they do as Mr. D was. He was like a second father to me and all of his students, and he will be supremely missed by all who had the privilege to know him personally.
Jessica Nataupsky
Ann Arbor, Mich.
April 9, 2012

Ladies’ rooms

     Re “A few words about ladies’ restrooms,” by Alana Mabaso—
     I could not agree with you more. I have been saying pretty much the same thing for a while. As I have matured (gotten older), I need to use the restroom during intermission. I don't because of the deplorable conditions of the ladies' room and the long lines. Which makes for an uncomfortable second act.
     I love the arts and attend the theater as often as I can. I will say the ladies' restroom issue causes me to pause, depending on the theater.
     Thank you so much for raising this concern.
Karen Price
Mount Airy/ Philadelphia
March 29, 2012

     Even the Met in New York should be ashamed of its ladies’ facilities! Downstairs, there are long lines because there are so few stalls. Even before the show, there is a line in the parking garage for women to use the ladies' room!
Elizabeth Gutman
Center City/ Philadelphia
March 28, 2012

     When using a bathroom, men tend to get in, stand up, release a zipper, shut up and get out.
     Women take longer. Maybe because they have to change a diaper, attend to the needs of an elderly family member, prepare for direct contact with toilet surfaces (using toilet seat covers unless they hover), tug/pull/re-tuck their often complicated clothing, check if their menstrual period has started, breast feed and a host of other reasons.
     The absence of potty parity is evident whenever crowds of people need to use the bathroom at the same time, as you rightfully pointed out.
Carol Olmert
Walnut Creek, Calif.
March 30, 2012

     Editor’s note: The writer is the author of Bathrooms Make Me Nervous.

     Does anyone reading BSR remember when you had to pay to use toilets at highway rest stops? Oh, there were also pay stalls in the men's rooms back then, but nine times out of ten the men didn't need them— just the urinals, which they didn't have to pay to use. So guess who had to pay to relieve themselves most of the time? Can you say sex discrimination?
     It's my personal opinion that the lawsuit that ended pay toilets in highway rest stops was really the start of the women's liberation movement. Isn't it time to get the arts venues in Philadelphia into the 21st Century, plumbing-wise?
     While we're at it, let's get facilities in those venues for our wheelchair-bound brothers and sisters as well. Maybe some of our grant-giving organizations could spare some funds to modernize the facilities so that all could benefit from the experience of live performances.
Ann C. Davidson
Fairmount/ Philadelphia
March 31, 2012

     Alaina Mabaso replies:
I hope some of the theaters that are forcing their female patrons to make do with tiny, antiquated facilities are taking note of this discussion. And thanks to Ann Davidson for emphasizing failure of many Philadelphia theaters to welcome patrons with disabilities. This problem deserves more attention.


     Re Jonathan Stein’s review of DanceBrazil at Annenberg—
     I agree that this performance definitely did not touch the soul. In fact, as a non-involved audience member, I said to myself, "This stuff is meant to be performed with an informal audience clapping and moving to the music. It's not meant to be shown on a proscenium stage."
     My visits to Brazil substantiate this argument. Twice I witnessed this kind of work on the street or an informal venue and was very touched.
Kathryn Keeler
Center City/ Philadelphia
March 28, 2012

Cindy Sherman, yea and nay

     Re Marilyn MacGregor’s review of MOMA’s Cindy Sherman retrospective—
     For an alternative view on Cindy Sherman's art, along with astute commentary on how popular culture at first gives but then takes away, see Jed Perl's "The Irredeemably Boring Egotism of Cindy Sherman," in The New Republic.
     For me, Jed always says it best.
Victoria Skelly
Wayne, Pa.
April 1, 2012

     Marilyn MacGregor replies:
I respect Jed Perl's criticism, but I think he gives away his position when he remarks, "I did not like her photographs to begin with."

     Victoria Skelly replies: Perl, in my linked article challenges "anyone to say what might characterize the photographs she (Sherman) has done since 1980 when it comes to space, form, color— the structural principles essential for construction of a meaningful image." It’s no sin for a critic to tell his readers what he likes and doesn't like. At least Perl says why he doesn't like Sherman’s photographs.

West Side Story, Florida story

     Steve Cohen’s review of West Side Story is a marvelous exposition of a classic musical. But isn't it pathetic that the half-Hispanic George Zimmerman (with a Jewish name) has appointed himself the semi-official stalker of a "harmless" black youth returning home in the rain from a 7-Eleven?
Patrick D. Hazard
Weimar, Germany
April 1, 2012

Death of a Salesman

     Re Carol Rocamora’s review of Death of a Salesman in New York—
     Having seen this production and many of the others mentioned in your article, we are struck by Carl Rocamora’s insightful comments. They combined emotional appreciation and clear knowledge of the theater as we know it. You expressed our feelings exactly. May students continue to learn from your wisdom
Gerald Escovitz
Ardmore, Pa.
March 30, 2012