May 17, 2013
Fifty years ago on May 17, 1963, TIME magazine put James Baldwin on the cover with the story “Birmingham and Beyond: The Negro’s Push for Equality.” And to create his portrait, the weekly called on artist Boris Chaliapan. Baldwin’s intense eyes and pensive expression stared out from newsstands across the country.
“Chaliapan,” explains National Portrait Gallery curator Jim Barber, “tried to capture the essence of a person and their personality.” Though the magazine had contracts with a dozen or so other cover artists, Chaliapan was part of the prominent threesome dubbed the “ABC’s” with artists Boris Artzybasheff and Ernest Hamlin Baker. Known for his spot-on likenesses, Chaliapan could also be counted on for a quick turnaround. “Unlike the other cover artists that needed a week or two, Chaliapan…if pressed, he could crank out covers in two or three days,” says Barber.
Over his nearly 30 year career with TIME, Chaliapan produced more than 400 covers and earned the nickname “Mr. TIME.” He portrayed the day’s biggest stars and helped illustrate each week’s cover story with a fresh portrait.
Born in Russia, Chaliapan trained as an artist there before journeying to Paris, France to continue his education. Eventually making his way to the United States, he found work with TIME magazine and in 1942 produced his first cover for them of a WWII general. Chaliapan often worked from photographs to create his covers, made with watercolors, tempera, pencil and other materials. Other than his speed and technical skill, Chaliapan was known for his portraits of beguiling starlets like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.
From the National Portrait Gallery’s more than 300 Chaliapan covers, Barber selected 26 for a new exhibit, “Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan,” opening Friday, May 17. “I wanted to show Chaliapan’s entire career,” says Barber.
By the end of that career, painted portraits were on their way out for magazine covers. Photographs and more thematic illustrations were being used more frequently. Chaliapan’s covers capture a snapshot of the news from days gone by, but also of the news industry itself. His final cover was of President Nixon in 1970.
“Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapan” is on view at the National Portrait Gallery through January 5, 2014.
May 16, 2013
In high heels and flawless fashions, Sheila E. has been rocking the drums since she was a teenager growing up in Oakland, California. At 55, she’s still not slowing down. She’s collaborated with artists like Michael Jackson and Prince, toured the country and is currently working on a new album and autobiography, From Pain to Purpose, due out next year. In town for a show at the Howard Theater Thursday, May 16, she stopped by the African Art Museum for a performance with the Farafina Kan Youth Ensemble drummers. “I slowed down for a couple hours this morning,” she jokes about her hectic life.
It’s a pace and spirit that have become her signature no matter what genre she’s performing in. But those high energy concerts come with a cost. “It’s very demanding,” says the star who regularly ices her hands and feet after shows. “I just had a procedure done on my arm, my elbow and my wrist so it’s still painful to play,” she says. “It’s just things that happen from playing all of these years for so long but I love what I do.”
Sheila E. was born Sheila Escovedo, daughter of percussionist Peter Escovedo. Surrounded by a whole host of musical uncles and godfather Tito Puente, she picked up the drums at a young age. But, she says, “I didn’t know that music was going to be my career.” Instead, she had plans to be either the first little girl on the moon or an Olympic sprinter. Interrupting her training, she took to the stage to perform with her dad when she was 15. “And that changed my whole life.”
Her family and her hometown of Oakland provided precisely the kind of creative fertile ground she needed to experience all kinds of music. “My dad is totally the foundation of who I am,” says Escovedo. “He’s a Latin jazz musician, but he also brought different kinds of music into the house,” she says, adding that it’s this sort of artistic range that has helped her have such longevity in her career. Oakland also provided its own mix of music for the young artist. “I’ll tell you, it’s the best place to be born. I love D.C. but the Bay Area, oh my gosh.” Calling it a mecca for music with a rich variety of ethnicities, Escovedo cited the many bands that came from the area, including her uncle’s band, Azteca.
Though her father tried to persuade her at first to take up violin, he never let her think she couldn’t play the drums. “I grew up in a home where my parents never said that it was wrong to play because I was a girl,” says Escovedo. She remembers going to her friends’ houses and asking where all the percussion instruments were, thinking it was typical of all homes.
Once she got in the industry and began working with everyone from Marvin Gaye to Lionel Richie, she says she encountered some resistance as a female musician. But her parents told her, “Just do what you do, play from the heart, be on time, be early, learn your craft and when you get in there…be prepared so when you walk in you walk in with confidence.”
Anyone who’s seen her perform or watched her delight audiences during Drum Solo Week on the “Late Show with David Letterman” knows that she’s not wanting for confidence. She’s also not wanting for inspiration. The artist says she’s tried almost every genre of music, including polka, though she’s most well-known for her songs “The Glamorous Life” and “A Love Bizarre,” collaborations with Prince. With one country song under her belt, she says she’s now trying to encourage her friend Garth Brooks to record with her.
When she’s not writing books or in the studio, she likes to search YouTube for up and coming female percussionists. “There are more women percussionists, young girls playing now than ever,” says Escovedo, and that includes girls from her own Elevate Hope Foundation, which seeks to bring music and art to children who have been abused or abandoned to help them heal and communicate.
Contemplating what item she would donate to the Smithsonian if given the chance, she says it’s almost impossible to decide, despite a garage full of instruments. “The thing is, everywhere I go, if I pick something up, you know, that tube over there or this water bottle, I can play it as an instrument.” In fact, she says, “On Michael Jackson’s album, the first one that he did, “Off the Wall,” he wanted me to come in and play this sound and to emulate it the only thing that I could think of was to get two water bottles, like two Perrier water bottles. I poured water in them to tune to the actual track, ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.’” With two pieces of metal, she hit the glass. “So that’s me playing the bottles.”
After her show in D.C., Escovedo says it’s back to the studio to record a track for her album with Chaka Khan. “I say yeah, I’m going to slow down,” she says, but, “I get on stage and I get crazy. It’s in me. I’ve got to do it.”
May 10, 2013
The drinks were freer, the music brassier and the times, well, Gatsby-er. At least, that’s the picture F. Scott Fitzgerald creates with his tales of high society run wild in his 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. Now set for yet another screen adaptation, this time thanks to the energetic hands of Baz Luhrmann, the novel continues to resonate today.
Its appeal is a dark but undeniable one, enough to let you weep alongside Daisy as she marvels inside Gatsby’s closet at his exquisite shirts. The clothes, the alcohol, the music–we get it, it’s a heady and seductive mix. So go ahead and throw your Gatsby-themed party (skipping the murder and suicide–oops, spoiler alert) and let the experts at Folkways supply the playlist.
Thanks to David Horgan and Corey Blake of Smithsonian Folkways for the inspired lineup that includes three tracks referenced in the novel itself, including “Three O’clock in the Morning,” which narrator Nick Carraway calls a “neat, sad little waltz.” The novel also mentions “The Sheik of Araby” and “A Love Nest,” which, in some versions, includes the poignant lyric:
Ever comes the question old,
“Shall we build for pride? Or,
Shall brick and mortar hold
worth and love inside?”
May 9, 2013
Recognizing everything from landscape architecture to fashion, the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt Design Awards recognize the best in design. Some names, like this year’s winner for Corporate and Institutional Achievement, TED, are familiar, while others may be new to most.
Within academic circles, for example, Michael Sorkin is a well-known architecture and planning critic and professional whose texts show up on college syllabuses across the country. His 2011 All Over the Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities takes on his own New York City, including the controversial Ground Zero Memorial and proves why his is a bold and valued voice in the field. For this and other works, Sorkin is being honored with the Design Mind award.
For the other honorees, we’ll let their posters, gardens, restaurants and clothing speak for themselves:
Landscape Architecture, Margie Ruddick
When asked to create a “winter garden” for the Bank of America Tower in New York City, Ruddick created this living sculpture. She says, “we created an immersive green environment that is designed to make you feel like you have stepped into the natural world of the city.”
Communication Design, Paula Scher
Known for her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic–she’s designed posters for Elvis Costello–Paula Scher is a clear voice in communication design. Her advice to aspiring designers? “Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.”
Interior Design, Aidlin Darling Design
Aidlin Darling’s design for this ultra-hip San Francisco bar and hangout got almost as much attention as the food. Generous with the wood, the design also employed billowing glass curtains.
Architectural Design, Studio Gang Architects
Designed for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, this structure takes its inspiration from a tortoise shell. The archway was part of a larger boardwalk that transformed an urban pond into “an ecological habitat buzzing with life.”
Fashion Design, Behnaz Sarafpour
Sarafpour began her career in New York in 1989 when she attended the Parsons School of Design. Since then, her work has found its way into special lines for Target and several museums, including the Victoria and Albert in London.
Interaction Design, Local Projects
To gather the stories of a mining community for an area museum, Local Projects built a recording studio from ”a trailer clad entirely in copper…in homage to the single metal that the Southwest is famous for supplying.”
Product Design, NewDealDesign
Based in San Francisco, NewDealDesign combines graphic, interaction and industrial design to create products that also serve as solutions.
Lifetime Achievement, James Wines
Wines has long integrated green design principles into his work, such as this Las Vegas Denny’s that also includes a wedding chapel.
May 1, 2013
When you go to the museum for a show, what you see is the final product: a painting, a photograph, an installation. But now at the Sackler, you can see the process behind the product in the new exhibit “Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project.” The exhibit explores the two-year effort to complete Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing’s “Phoenix Project” and offers a look into the ways both creation and destruction can be part of the artistic process.
Now on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the final product, two giant phoenix sculptures, were originally commissioned in 2008 and intended for a building in the heart of Beijing’s central business district. But after delays for the Olympics, a global financial crisis and funding issues, the installation found different sponsors and a new home. At 12 tons and nearly 100 feet in length, the sculptures need lots of space. Mass MoCA had the room and desire to display it and the Sackler decided to offer its companion exhibit having worked with Xu in 2001 for his show “Word Play,” when it also acquired the iconic ”Monkeys Grasping For the Moon” sculpture.
The phoenixes reference the traditional Chinese motif but rendered from construction site materials, take on a new and modern meaning in the saga of China’s economic development. “My two phoenixes are quite different,” says Xu. While traditional lacquers, paintings and even hair ornaments from China (some of which are on view as part of the exhibition) draw on the mythical bird as a symbol of wealth, nobility and peace, Xu’s industrial installation is in tension with these qualities.
When Xu went to the site where his sculptures were originally going to be and saw the construction of the new building in Beijing, he says he came in contact with the conditions of the workers there. He saw before him the face of Chinese development–its soaring architectural business buildings–and the hands–the laborers who did not seem to reap the benefits of the country’s boom. “The contrast was the inspiration,” he says.
Because of the scale of his project, he had to rely on the same labor. He relied on their know-how and expertise when designing and modifying his work. He also spoke with engineers and architects to help design the massive birds.
But, in the lead up the Olympics, he, along with everyone else engaged in construction, was ordered to stop. The government wanted to ensure pristine air quality for the international games so as not to draw any criticism. It’s an irony not lost on Xu, who included official government notices in the exhibit at the Sackler. After the financial crisis, he then had to find alternative funding and ended up turning to Taiwanese-based businessman, Barry Lam, founder of Quanta Computer.
Citing the many ups and downs of the artistic process, curator Carol Huh says, “What we’ve tried to do here for the first time is really show the process.” Sketches, clay models, computer-generated renderings as well as a special documentary about the works comprise the exhibit. The title, nine deaths and two births, refers to the many challenges he faced and the two children born to his staff during the process, a symbol of the phoenix-like quality of artistic creation.
On view at Mass MoCA until November, the phoenixes will head next to New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
“Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project” is on view through September 1, 2013.