October Letters: Obama’s Nobel Prize….

Readers respond about Obama's Nobel Prize, the Barnes debate, Pina Bausch, the Barnes Foundation's design, buying art in Philadelphia, Humor Abuse, the fringe/Live Arts Festival, The Art of the Steal, Roald Dahl for adults, and Obama's basketball coolness.

Obama’s Nobel Prize

     Re Dan Rottenberg’s “Editor’s Notebook” on Obama’s Nobel Prize—
     Thank you for taking this important stand against the ravages of a democracy gone all wrong: a greedy, competitive and very human monster that has devoured all the higher values that once made our country strong.
     There is much to be learned, both locally and globally, about building consensus in a peaceful world. All the myths are gone; all the ravages are exposed when the Almighty Dollar falls.
     Surely in this age of instant communication, we must work to find a common language, and a new set of standards, as we learn how to sustain the future of this planet.
Margaret Chew Barringer
Narberth, Pa.
October 21, 2009

     Of course, the Nobel Committee could also be saying to Obama, "You now belong in the same league as Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger."
Andrew Kevorkian
West Philadelphia
October 21, 2009

     I concur completely. This prize, like most, is a wash. It simply doesn't matter one way or other.
     Of “two bold, risky and intriguing ideas” now embraced by Europeans, Rottenberg writes: “The first is a rejection of military force as an effective means of achieving national or human goals. The second is a rejection of supernatural religion as an effective means of explaining the universe.”
     And this is why Western Europe is the real long-term competitor to the U.S. Not wacky Islam. Neither is any state a reliable partner that bases itself on some religious claims/theories. The U.S. embrace of militarism plus religiosity is sinking it, even without Wall Street’s greasy helping hand.
Richard Weber
Geneva, Switzerland
October 21, 2009

     As usual, the "few words" Dan Rottenberg wrote in his column "about prizes, Obama’s Nobel and the ‘death’ of decadent old Europe" were both insightful and provocative— up to his concluding comments. The provocation came mostly in his observations about what he found "new and very exciting… taking place in Europe these days."
      I cannot let pass what he affirmatively found to be the second "bold idea": rejecting "supernatural religion as an effective means of explaining the universe."
     This idea is certainly not "barely in… infancy." It’s as old as humankind (read about it in Genesis, for example).
     Peace and reason can indeed be transformative, but it is less than reasonable to reject supernatural religion that truly can pragmatically lead humanity onto the path of peace.
     I believe the "first stirrings" being sensed in the present day will in time be revealed to have a very supernatural cause, which it would be quite foolish now to reject.
Craig Tavani
Phoenixville, Pa.
October 26, 2009

     Editor's note: To read my response, click here.

The Barnes debate is over?

     Re “The Barnes debate is over,” by Gresham Riley—
     Come now, Mr. Riley. Debate has been stifled on this issue ever since the idea was a gleam in its perpetrators' eyes. Methinks, the Barnes move's sole public defender doth protest too much!
Victoria Skelly
Wayne, Pa.
October 19, 2009

     My friend and sparring partner Gresham Riley says that opponents of the Barnes' move should realize that, in his words, "the debate is over," and save their breath. But when one sees a robbery in progress, even when the van is shutting on the loot, the proper response is still: "Stop, thief!"
     Actually, the debate is not over because there never has been one, other than the colloquy Gresham and I conducted in 2007 at Drexel University and reprised for WHYY. Derek Gillman, the Barnes Foundation’s president, has steadfastly refused my own offers, both public and private, to debate the Barnes move. No representative of the Barnes Foundation agreed to be interviewed for Don Argott's film, The Art of the Steal. The Barnes trust was unrepresented in court, as presiding Judge Stanley R. Ott openly acknowledged.
     Gresham's argument amounts to a repetition of the it's-a-done-deal argument. But that isn't true either. The new Barnes can't be built without substantial public funds-- more than $200 million, when all is said and done. Legislators can withdraw authorization to spend this money, or direct that a (far lesser) amount be spent to keep the Barnes in Merion. Taxpayers should call on them to do just that.
Robert Zaller
Bala Cynwyd
October 24, 2009

     Editor’s note:
To read a further rejoinder by Gresham Riley, click here.

Pina Bausch

     Re Merilyn Jackson’s tribute to the choreographer Pina Bausch—
This story tells us so much about Pina that we never get to hear in the States. Wonderful writing!
Theodore Bale
Cambridge, Mass.
October 20, 2009

Barnes Foundation’s new design

     Re “The Barnes unveils its design,” by Robert Zaller—
     Let's not forget the argument for dispersing cultural treasures in times of crisis. By moving the Barnes Foundation, we have given more incentive to terrorists who want to destroy our heritage. One big bomb can take out the Free Library, the Academy of Natural History, the Franklin Institute, the Rodin, the Art Museum, Moore College and the Cathedral, as well as now the Barnes.
J. B. Post
Paoli, Pa.
October 10, 2009

     There are two issues here: (1) Moving the Barnes, and (2) The new Barnes building on the Parkway.
     I was against moving the Barnes. As a St. Joe student, I had a marvelous eccentric professor named Father Lochery, who taught me not only about Yeats and Joyce but also introduced me to the Barnes. Not only did he take us there— he took the art to us.
     Yes, he was allowed to “borrow” paintings and walk them across City Line Avenue and into our class— amazing, but true. It made us look at the art in a way that’s almost impossible to do when it’s part of a vast museum, chock full of masterpieces.
     The Barnes was and is a unique place— as American as you can get— it is set up to emphasize that each piece of art is part of a whole vision and that each vision must be judged on its merits, and not the prestige of the name on the name plate next to it.
     As for the building, I have only seen the photos in the Inquirer. It seems more than just inadequate; it seems wrong. The beauty of the Parkway is due, in part, to its inviting entrances, from the vast stairs leading up to the Art Museum to the open plaza that surrounds City Hall. Big statements on a big street.
     This new Barnes seems to want to hide. Can you imagine the entrance to the Rodin on 21st Street? Or to the Free Library on 20th?
Armen Pandola
Center City/Philadelphia
October 14, 2009

The Art of the Steal

     Robert Zaller’s review of The Art of the Steal is a great summary of the complicated narrative back-story to the possible move of the Barnes Foundation collection from Merion to Center City— what many do see as a "done deal." Maybe this well written, detailed explanation of the saga in the guise of "movie review" can suffice as a tool to convince Philadelphians and our politicians where to stand on this issue— until, of course, the film itself is available for us to view here in the Barnes Foundation’s home town.
Anna H. Dudnick
Mt. Airy/Philadelphia
September 30, 2009

     Robert Zaller has pointed out some important oversights in what is basically the film's pretty good synopsis of this crass, philistine political maneuver, which the film tries so hard to chronicle. I found myself upset at the end of the film, as a few sentences about the non-inevitability of this move should have been loudly heralded.
     The thought of spending one penny of private or taxpayer money is unconscionable right now, but the arrogant silence of those behind the move continues as always. Let the architects' and builders' contracts be renegotiated and paid off; let Pew or Annenberg or Lenfest fund a shuttle bus from the Art Museum to the Real Barnes, five miles away. In fact, let them instead donate their pledges to funding free admission to the Barnes and the Art Museum for decades. All this would amount to a fraction of the cost of all the money pledged to this Disneyland tourist travesty.
     I wish these ideas had been raised. As Professor Zaller states, the move is not inevitable, and should not be implied as such.
Barbara Rosin
Chestnut Hill/Philadelphia
September 30, 2009

     As a horticulturist who worked at the Barnes Foundation as a gardener, teacher and greenhouse manager from June 2002 to March 2005, I was dismayed that Robert Zaller, like almost everyone else who addresses this issue, missed what I consider the fundamental issue in this matter:
     The Barnes Foundation is the combination of, and the relationship between, the gallery and its art and the living collection that is the arboretum and gardens that surround the gallery. They were conceived, planned and developed together as a unit.
     It is appalling to me that trustees who should have been thinking as custodians of the foundation as a whole considered for more than a nanosecond the idea of separating the contents of the gallery from the arboretum and the gallery itself.
Krista Marie Lee
Merchantville, N.J.
October 1, 2009

     Robert Zaller admirably supports his case against the Barnes move to Center City. And I thank him for that. The "Battle of the Barnes' is great blood sport. And quite perverse. Good fun, that.
     What has always troubled me— and I know Zaller knows these things better than I— is that Dr Barnes, an angry hardscrabbler, is always portrayed as anti-WASP, anti-Penn, and anti-Art Museum (as well, of course, as anti-black, anti-poor, anti-youth, and anti-anyone/thing that contradicted him). In other words, he was looking for the first off-ramp from the Main Line. Yet his archenemy was really Moses Annenberg.
     Moses? Annenberg? How WASP was that?
     Why, then, do I feel that Barnes would take an immediate dislike to me, Latino name and all? And this is a guy we want to respect, admire and to continue to honor? I don't think so.
Richard CarreÓ±o
Center City/Philadelphia
October 15, 2009

     Robert Zaller replies:
The personal disparagement of Albert Barnes that is reflected in Richard CarreÓ±o's letter is not merely part of the Barnes myth but the product of a decades-long character assassination. Albert Barnes was not an easy man to get along with, and he did not suffer fools gladly. He was also deeply loyal and generous. The record is abundant on both points.
     There is no evidence that he was "anti-poor, anti-black, anti-youth." Just the reverse is true. Albert Barnes came up from poverty. He hated only snobbery and pretension, which are good things not to like. He not only left ultimate stewardship of his Foundation, the work of his life, to an all-black institution, Lincoln University, but he was the first American collector of African art and the first to realize its significance in the history of art; the foremost white patron of the Harlem Renaissance; and, as a businessman, one of the first employers in the country to treat black and white workers equally.
     Barnes was deeply dedicated to raising blacks from poverty, but he offered scholarships to able youth without regard to race. He gave preferential access both to his collection and his educational program to working people. He lived his belief in the democratic potential of art education, and rejected only the idea of art as an ornament of wealth and power.
     I think I can assure Mr. CarreÓ±o that the man who held out his hand to a struggling young poet named Langston Hughes would have no problem with Mr. CarreÓ±o’s surname.

Buying art in Philadelphia

     Re “On buying art in Philadelphia,” by Victoria Skelly—
     Huzzah! Jesus, buying art and decorating should be fulfilling and fun, not an aesthetic chore to be turned over to so-called "experts."
     I think Skelly peeped Philly Mag's hole card when she mentioned the pages of art and decorating suppliers in the back of the book. Advertising rules!
     When I lived in San Francisco in the early ’70s, a woman friend — yes, a "hippie"— had a two-room apartment that was a pleasure to behold. I'll always remember that one of her pieces of furniture was a floor lamp with a gauzy scarf draped over the shade. It was striking and fitting. She was a true decorator.
     Keep punching, Ms. Skelly. You always know what you're talking about (unlike most city mags).
Bob Ingram
Burleigh, N.J.
October 7, 2009

     How to buy art? Your mileage may vary.
     Rule: #1: Trust your eyes.
     Rule #2: If your eyes are not good, educate them. Learn to draw, visit museums, make photographs and get a sense of what artists really have to do to make a successful work.
     Rule #3: Don't worry about the price, high or low, or whether the value will appreciate. Buy what speaks to you without all the art blather.
     Rule #4: Cultivate connections and friendships with local and upcoming artists.
     Rule #5: Have fun. Art is about life, not collections or legacies.
RA Friedman
Southwest Philadelphia
October 7, 2009

     I started buying art at the Rittenhouse Square Art Annual back when it was still called— and still was— the "clothesline art exhibit." I was a high school student when I first went, and I was a college student when I bought my first piece. For years I bought off "the skids"— the informal stacks of unframed pieces— sometimes prints but more often the lesser examples of "originals" featured for sale. I bought off the skids for years.
     30-plus years later, I realize that I bought original pieces by recognized and appreciated artists like Stuart Shils and Thomas Kohlman. Some are names known mostly for continuing to show at that venue, but that's not a bad thing. The jurying there has become more inclusive over the years. The Rittenhouse Square shows are a wonderful way to begin to fill your mind— and your walls --- with exciting art.
     (Sometimes it even matches your couch. I bought art before I could afford furniture, so for me it really did work the other way around.)
Liz Matt
Cinnaminson, N.J.
October 11, 2009

     Sorry, but for those millions of us who were not bequeathed a starter art collection from our families, we must start where we are. I thought Skelly’s article did a great job of making art-by-living-artists approachable for young urban professionals who could easily drop as much money on "decor" these days as they would on a modest creation by a local artist. I also thought it was savvy not to suggest that art had to brokered and traded through established dealers— since the city is absolutely filled with artist-run spaces, and the joy of finding an artist and an artwork one loves is an appropriate way to start collecting.
Allitia DiBernardo
October 17, 2009

     Victoria Skelly replies:
In addition to the Rittenhouse Art Show, I would add the Woodmere Museum's Members Exhibition, the Wayne Art Center's exhibitions, the Yellow Springs Art Show, the Spring Garden Street Open Studios event (four floors of open studios to browse!), and any exhibition of artwork at the local art schools as among the many great places to find quality artwork at reasonable prices in Philadelphia without paying a dealer's commission. At an event like the Open Studiios, one can strike up a conversation with the artist and perhaps request work to be executed on commission.
     One wonders why so many consumers are willing to pay thousands for window treatments, granite countertops or expensive upholstery, when great artwork in this city can be purchased sometimes for prices under $350.

     Editor's note: To read a response by Caroliine Dunlop Millett, click here.

Two books that changed my life

     Re “Two novels that changed my life,” by Bob Levin—
     Now, here is a real book review, stitching the ’60s into the now. No matter if books seem to have smaller audiences— books do matter. The information between their covers shapes the meaning of our lives.
     I envy Bob Levin and the guys who found themselves through the literature of the ’50s and ’60s. In those days, women had fashion magazines and Sylvia Plath's depressing Bell Jar, followed by Simone de Beauvoir's thick-enough-to-choke-a-horse The Second Sex. We have all come a long way, and it's good to read Levin's reminder of where that journey began.
     Stories do matter. Books are surely the shortest path to our hearts and minds.
Reed Stevens
Campbell, Calif.
October 14, 2009

     In Levin's Philadelphia, didn't the transition from "hep" to "hip" involve dropping— or at least using with dripping irony— the adjective "neat"?
Robert Liss
San Francisco, Calif.
October 15, 2009

     Editor’s comment:
Only in Chestnut Hill, I think.

     Bob Levin replies: I can recall using the word "neat" as a term of approval in my youth, though I can't be sure when. (I also remember "tough," as in, "She's really tough looking." That was in college.) In my article, though, I used "hip" reflectively, looking back at my/our younger selves with a sort-of amused, affectionate irony that may have escaped the casual reader. For one to have progressed from using "neat" to "hip" (or "hep") in one's conversation during the 1950s or the early 1960s would have required a more thorough transformation of one's self than I was capable of managing at the time, I'm afraid.

Thank You, Gregory

     It's great that the Broad Street Review chose to publish two critical perspectives of Thank You, Gregory. Interestingly, both Judy Weightman and Janet Anderson chose not to describe any one piece or dancer in close detail (the exception being Judy Weightman's of the roller skating piece). Instead, the reviews, to me, seemed like high-yield commentary on the program, and its division into “old” and “new.”
     In that vein, I was especially struck by Janet Anderson's note that "It was impossible to single out any of the outstanding performances," because it was an "ensemble" show. Instead, she chose to reduce the dancers, vaguely, to even vaguer descriptions of movement— those "who tapped and slid," and "the woman who tapped backwards."
     I wonder how this critical technique could or would work for, say, a post-modern dance performance? If dancers will now be reduced to mechanical steps, then I think the reviewers need to understand and name the movements they see.
Barbara Johnson
Center City/Philadelphia
October 14, 2009

     Editor’s comment:
This seems like a good opportunity to remind readers that Broad Street Review has no critics or reviewers per se. We function primarily as a forum for people to share their unsolicited thoughts and reactions about the arts and ideas in whatever manner they see fit.

Nathan the Wise

     Re Steve Cohen’s review of Nathan the Wise—
     I might point out that it's THE Merchant of Venice, not Merchant of Venice.
     It's nice when an insightful and accomplished critic gets the titles of plays correct, especially Shakespeare plays, which frequently get short shrifted titles.
John Neville-Andrews
Ann Arbor, Mich.
October 14, 2009

     Editor’s comment:
Blame me, not Steve Cohen— just an editor’s way of shortening a sentence to make it more readable.

Humor Abuse

     Re Dan Rottenberg’s review of Humor Abuse—
     Sorry, Dan, but I think your brief, casual dismissal of Humor Abuse is unfair.
     First, "every pratfall in the clowning handbook" does not include, as far as I know, an astounding fall off a two-story-high ladder.
     Second, you make Lorenzo Pisoni's play sound like a circus act and dismiss it as "exhausting." Humor Abuse is a compelling dramatic/comic play about father-son relationships: love, abuse, connection, co-dependence, abandonment, departing, returning, reconciliation. That this drama unfolds within the world of clowning is what makes the show non-stop entertaining and unique.
     "Exhaustion" may be a symptom of classical catharsis— not a bad experience for an audience to be fully emotionally engaged.
Richard Mandel
October 9, 2009

     I want to know why this kind of production always seems to be treated by reviewers as if the performer lacks an emotional base and seeks to find it through the audience. The same can be said of copywriters, greeting card makers, and just about anyone who creates something, including reviewers.
     This show went beyond delightful to amazing. I'm writing a reply here in the hope that someone will see my words and go see Pisoni's words and great physical actions.
     Pisoni has the timing down perfectly both for the verbal and the physical bits in the show. He doesn’t wallow in his emotions but enjoys them, remembering them for what they were and the value they had at the time and in the present. I left the theater enriched.
     The only thing I found disappointing in this show is that the pancake recipe went by way too fast for me to write it down.
     I was appalled that the house wasn't full last night, a Saturday. What’s the matter with you, Philadelphia? There are millions of you and only a couple hundred seats each night. You all should be fighting for them.
William C Thobaben
Red Hill, Pa.
October 11, 2009

Fringe festival post-mortem

     Oh boy, some real competition for all us arts writers with Julius Ferraro's “Fringe/Live Arts Festival post-mortem”— a mature and enjoyable synthesis of the Live Arts, Fringe and theater overall. He extends understanding for audiences who did/didn't get some of the headier stuff.
     Yes, Yuba City didn't "happen" for me, but I enjoyed it along with everyone else anyway. And Ubu Roi and Operetta are, uhh, like sprung from the same head— the one I'd call society's conscience.
Merilyn Jackson
South Philadelphia
October 6, 2009

Obama as hoop star

     â€œObama’s basketball coolness,” by Robert Liss, is the best piece of political commentary of the year.
     Liss uses metaphors like a short-order hash slinger; he loves the hoops-world that inspires him, and that makes him a very original writer.
P. Maxim Rutkoff
Gambier, Ohio
October 5, 2009

     Bob and weave;
     You make a good case.
     Slam dunk, Bro!
     From Air-Ball Jeff.
Jeff Lickson
Houston, Tex.
October 7, 2009

Roald Dahl’s tales for adults

     Re “Roald Dahl for grownups,” by Rick Soisson—
     My favorite Dahl story, to which I weirdly make frequent reference today, is Man from the South, which I recall having seen in my childhood as a TV drama, perhaps with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre as the principals. (I'm surer about the latter than the former.)
     And one shouldn’t forget Lamb to the Slaughter, which was adapted as one of the most famous episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," with Barbara Bel Geddes in the lead.
     Finally, anyone who enjoys these tales of Dahl's should check out John Collier, a master of the genre.
Bob Levin
Berkeley, Calif.
September 30, 2009