Thursday, March 30, 2006

Journal Entry on Savannah

March 25 Saturday. The Telfair Museum of Art was housed in a beautiful Regency house to which was later added a rotunda now serving as the main gallery. Sylvia Shaw Judson's "Bird Girl" took pride of place in the former drawing room. Equal parts severe and serene, the Girl, balancing one plate on each hand, harkened back to the Victorian idea of cemeteries as gardens. In the same room hung David Delong's architectural etchings, all finely observed, done during his stay in Washington D.C.. We saw the rest of the Delong exhibition and I was particularly taken by his sketches of the world of motorcycle racing. The sketches, of a group of friends unloading a bike from the back of a van, of enthusiasts examining an unloaded bike, of referees behind their stand, the American flag artfully arranged as if it were the starting flag, and of many others, were far more engaging than his oil paintings of similar subjects. Something about the subject--its grittiness, its casual machismo, its presentness--finds its expression in sketch rather than in oil which gives the subject a false monumentality. Is this a limitation of the artist or the subject?

The newly opened extension, Jepson's Center for the Arts, was a modern building with white walls curved like sails. In the Kirk Varnedoe Collection, I enjoyed Alex Katz's "Black and White Birch Tree." Its formal elegance was that of a whiplash, its tentacle-like branches snapping around and across the pitted tree. Another painting, "Night Amphibians," hung along a hall, surprised by its visual ingenuity. It gives sufficient figurative expression to locate the settting as a murky stream flowing beneath a road-bridge, yet, appropriate to its surreal title, other parts of the painting were more conceptual, barely outlined. The right side of the stream pooling into a pond and the scum creeping up the columns of the bridge were painted a gorgeous streak of oily green and yellow, thrown into greater contrast by the white shapes at the top and left of the painting.

After taking a delicious rest in a cafe called Ambrosia, where we had soft goat and rustic pepper cheeses, honey, strawberries, and grapes washed down by pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, we went to hear the New York Collegium, conducted by Andrew Parott, at the Lucas Theater for the Arts. It was the collegium's first foray down south, which gave me a false sense of affinity to it. The program was Telemann and Handel. Telemann's "Water Music" was filled with interesting musical ideas; I particularly liked the irresolute eddy at the end of the Gigue. His "Thunder Ode" was more interesting in its second part than its first. The concluding chorus, repeating the opening, reminded me of the dramatic rises and falls in the Joy Ode in Beethoven's Ninth. Handel's "Alexander's Feast" was based on Dryden's "Ode to St. Cecilia." The soprano, Tamara Matthews, was natural and expressive, exhibiting an art that hides its art. The last recitative, "Let old Timotheus yield the prize," was appropriately rousing and earned the collegium warm, if not wild, applause.

The night ended with dinner at Huey's, along the riverfront. Winston ate a crabcake sandwhich while I had a shrimp po'boy. We had beignet for dessert, dough squares deep fried and covered with fine sugar.

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