Recently by MJ Andersen

At our house (thanks to Netflix), we have just bid a wistful farewell to the latest season of "Mad Men." Reluctant to exit its high-gloss world, I recently scrolled through the online summaries of past episodes. Turns out I had forgotten a lot, especially the many affairs Don Draper indulged in before winding up Season 4 with a proposal. (Remember Sally's teacher? I didn't.)

Alas, however enjoyable they may be, synopses are about as satisfying as a box of Dots. I would direct anyone suffering from "Mad Men" withdrawal to the Maple stories of John Updike.

July 5, 2011 4:40 PM | | Comments (1)

In the Feb. 1 Wall Street Journal, Alex Joffe laments the destruction of precious art objects amidst the Egyptian crisis. Though the extent of the losses remains unclear, even a handful is surely too many. The Egyptian Museum contains some of the finest antiquities in the world, and Egypt's archaeological sites are of course about as good as it gets.

In Joffe's wide-ranging discussion of how bad authoritarian regimes are for art's preservation (very), Afghanistan and Iraq get their well-deserved lumps. But then Joffe moves on to Greece. He suggests that Egypt proves all over again that returning the Parthenon Marbles (otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles) is a bad idea. As evidence, he cites the economic riots last year in Athens.

February 4, 2011 2:00 PM | | Comments (2)

On childhood trips from South Dakota to Minneapolis, I sat in the backseat, steeling myself for my mother's announcement that there was the Foshay Tower, tallest building in the city. She said it on every trip, every time. By age 12, my sarcasm in full flower, I landed hard, as predictable in my objection as she in her cry of recognition.

Whatever was in the Foshay Tower, or what it was for, I never knew, but I was always suspicious of its Frenchified name (why not Fochet?). "Foshay" suggested a futile, embarrassing reach for refinement. Sashay on over to the Foshay! (Sure, you betcha, as soon as my Jell-O sets up.)

January 6, 2011 3:45 PM | | Comments (2)
I can't remember who said I had to read Leonard Michaels. Maybe it was just an insistent reviewer. But I herewith pass along the insistence.
November 10, 2010 12:40 PM | | Comments (1)

I am not in the camp that has it in for Oliver Stone. Still, for me, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," presented an insurmountable problem.

The opening scene features Gordon Gekko leaving prison after a stint of about eight years. Gekko of course is the antihero first brought memorably to life in Stone's 1987 film, "Wall Street." At its end, Gekko has been brought down for insider trading, and is about to do time.

So fast-forward. As Gekko leaves prison, an official hands him the items he was stripped of before entering. The usual whatnots include a mobile phone the size of a loaf pan.


Audiences in the know will remember how Gekko was constantly doing deals over that thing; he must have been yakking away until the last possible minute. Right?

October 5, 2010 9:00 AM | | Comments (2)

I feel plenty guilty about not answering John Rockwell's call to arms. Maybe that is why I was especially glad to see Wendy Lesser's note on a more doable project, summer reading. (I hope we can rescue arts journalism, you bet, but do we have to do it when it is this hot out?)

Frankly, summer terrifies me. Before the heat arrives, I find it crucial to be involved in one long (or longish) book, preferably a novel. Against the longueurs of the season I set my chosen author's alternative universe. Last year my protector was Jack Kerouac, whose "On the Road" suited my needs by feeling longer than it actually was. Here was a distinct if indeterminate world that draped itself across my vision of the country like mosquito netting. Dean Moriarty I can do without, but Galatea Dunkel, here's to you.

July 12, 2010 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)

When Hank Jones died Sunday, I figured Larry Blumenfeld had dibs on any official tribute here. Larry, or maybe Bob Christgau, still fresh from his exertions over the new Louis Armstrong bio. But for what it is worth, my NAJP fellowship year was book-ended by a pair of Hank Jones performances, and I feel compelled to say lucky me.

The first, in the fall of 2002, was at the funeral of Lionel Hampton. What a spectacle that was: first a New Orleans-style procession led by Wynton Marsalis; then a concert before a huge crowd in Riverside Church. Roy Hargrove performed, and Clark Terry. At some point in the noisy, jubilant middle of it all, Hank Jones sat down and played "Lord I Want to Be a Christian." It was quite simple. He toyed with a few chord progressions and, if I remember right, changed keys once or twice. But mostly he stuck to the subject, as any good son of a Baptist deacon would. The church went quiet.

I started to feel doors creak open. In youth I had racked up many hours staring at a hymnal. Therein was one smarmy song after another, and "Lord I Want to Be a Christian" had to be one of the smarmiest. But Jones, setting it in a jazz idiom, had squeezed out most of the smarm. What was left was pure, wistful appeal.

Listening, I sailed right over all the gnarled theology I thought I had quit, and landed in a heap where I had begun. All the old childish yearning arose and was satisfied at once. And whether I qualified, technically, as a Christian was blessedly beside the point.

After that day, I started buying Hank Jones CDs (they still had 'em). I listened in my Columbia apartment as I watched the light ebb and my little piece of the George Washington Bridge start to twinkle. This guy could find the lyrical sweet spot in just about every standard I knew and a few I didn't. In the cheap date department, it was hard to ask for more.

Toward the end of my fellowship, I went with my brother one night to hear Jones perform in person, at Iridium. He played with a mesmerizingly supple touch. I kept having to remind myself he was in his 80s. When he spoke to the audience he seemed relaxed but almost bashful. It was as though he did not know he was Hank Jones.

That spring was especially chilly, and so it was when we left the club that night. I did not see why my time in New York had to end so soon. But I stopped off at Riverside Church just before I left, and gave thanks. Hank Jones played on for another seven years.

May 21, 2010 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)

Pity the poor nominees to the Supreme Court. Not one ever fulfills our polymorphous desires. Why cannot Elena Kagan be, in addition to all that she is, a child of the Montana grasslands; an evangelical convert; half Asian; and a proud alumna of the University of Georgia -- how 'bout them dawgs.

Well, Elena, you're likable enough. Still, I confess that my heart sank when I read what your fellow law clerk, Carol Steiker, had to say about your turn away from private practice.

At some point probably in the late 1980s, Kagan had an encounter with a young associate at a mergers and acquisitions firm. According to Steiker:

"He was single and he had no family and he was earning -- the sum seemed unimaginable -- $750,000 a year as a young partner.  So she asked the guy, 'What do you do with all that money?' And he said, 'I buy art.'  I remember her telling that story and just shaking her head."

May 13, 2010 9:20 AM | | Comments (1)

The dust-up over the Pulitzer award in drama has me feeling a little like my mother, who was a reflexive changer of subjects. But I never saw "Next to Normal," and I did recently see "Red."

Wonderful acting, wonderful sets. Then why did something I hoped to like leave me feeling lukewarm?

Reviewers have mainly been generous toward this play. Yet art critic Roberta Smith, whom I was glad to see writing about it, said that as soon as its two characters began talking, she longed for an ejector seat. (For the record, I do occasionally read writers other than Roberta Smith.) This, of course, is a problem, since with drama, talking is pretty much the big idea.

April 16, 2010 11:30 AM | | Comments (3)

New Englanders are pinballing between two art events this spring: the Meléndez still life show, in Boston, and an exhibit of Pat Steir's drawings, in Providence.  The Meléndez show contains a cauliflower that is a tour de force (also a couple of killer cantaloupes). Steir is known for her "waterfall" pieces, but I preferred her horizontal "wave" drawing, which is full of circular yearning. Its frantic but pleasing marks do not steal from Cy Twombly exactly; she and Cy are more like two drivers in the same make of car, giving each other a nod on the interstate.

These two shows suggest that you could assign critics according to shape. Someone could cover only spherical things. Melons in painting; round characters in fiction; orbicular altos.

Okay; kidding. But we might at least accept the idea that most arts writers, whether aware of it or not, develop themes. (You might drop in on Dave Hickey any old time and catch him extending his meditation on art and money.) The themes may be more about the writer than about a particular art form.

So on to the question Larry Blumenfeld raised in his March 12 posting. As art forms blend and collide, who is supposed to cover what?

March 26, 2010 11:30 AM | | Comments (5)


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