Tuesday Scatter: arts world in brief

  • Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam
  • Closing the books: Powell’s layoffs, Looking Glass R.I.P.
  • Patrick Page plucks praise from “Spider-Man” carnage
  • In the room with Egypt’s fierce cultural protector
  • Alexis Rockman and good news at the Smithsonian


By Bob Hicks

Hot licks and good times with Andy Stein, Padam Padam: My old friend and neighbor Jaime Leopold dropped me a note about his friend, Andy Stein, a fiddler who can often be heard on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. “Andy has been compared to jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and he’ll be performing in a duo with Conal Fowkes, a Wynton Marsalis alum and wonderful pianist from New York,” Jaime said.

Jaime wanted me to know this because Stein will be performing Feb. 19 at Tabor Space. And as it happens, Jaime’s own band, Padam Padam, will be opening. If that sounds self-serving, I suppose it is a little bit, but mostly it’s not, because Jaime simply loves music, and when he knows good music’s coming ’round the bend, he likes to spread the word. If he says Andy Stein is worth going to see, I’m taking him at his word.

Jaime can back up his opinions with a pretty solid resume: He used to tour with Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks,* and his current lineup — Padam Padam plays an effervescent blend of sophisticated cabaret that ranges from country American to Edith Piaf French — is committed to the idea that good music can be fun, and fun music can be good. So whatcha doing on the 19th?

Closing the books: Powell’s layoffs, Looking Glass R.I.P.: If you’re reading this, you’re not reading a book. And if you’re not reading a book, chances are you’re not buying as many books as you used to. (Well, I am, but I’m a bit of a Luddite.) The information revolution that has so many of us tweeting, blogging, Daily Beasting and Kindling has been cruel to the newspaper industry and not so kind to the book publishing industry, either. That means bookstores, too. Even the big boys are teetering. The Borders chain is in deep squat. Barnes & Noble is betting a lot of its future on its e-reader. And even Portland’s treasured giant of an independent, Powell’s Books, is feeling the pinch: The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson reports here that Powell’s is laying off 31 workers — a big chop, even from a total staff of about 400. The news is worse for longtime niche shop Looking Glass Bookstore, which is throwing in the towel: The store sent an email to loyal customers on Monday saying it will close in early March. In the meantime, it’s having a 25 percent off sale Feb. 11-28. “Best store in town for poetry,” friend Dick Lewis says sadly.

Patrick Page plucks praise from “Spider-Man” carnage: The accident-prone, oft-delayed, perpetually-in-previews new Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark just got a wincingly negative review from Ben Brantley in the New York Times, and from what insiders have been saying for months, Brantley’s not exaggerating a bit. An extravaganza directed by Julie Taymor (The Lion King) with music by Bono and the Edge, this is apparently a $65 million bomb. What went wrong? I asked a friend in the business a few weeks ago. “Nobody knew how to say ‘no’ to Julie Taymor,’ ” he replied. Well, that’s the word on the inside street.

But one actor, at least, escaped the Brantley evisceration. Patrick Page, the Broadway vet who grew up in Monmouth, where his father taught theater at Western Oregon University, and who put in some good years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, plays Spidey’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, “with a gusto unshared by any other member of the cast,” Brantley writes. Brantley also credits Page with drawing the most genuine laughter of a morose evening for an ad lib to cover an awkward pause caused by a mechanical malfunction.

In the room with Egypt’s fierce cultural protector: Anyone who’s been at a gathering that included Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s legendary antiquities chief, knows at least a couple of things: Hawass was probably the smartest guy in the room, and certainly the fiercest. That’s not a putdown, it’s a simple recognition of his intense devotion to the cause of Egyptian art and artifacts, and his relentless campaign to win repatriation of Egyptian antiquities from museums and collectors elsewhere in the world — perhaps most notably, his push to regain the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum. Repatriation is a complex issue with a lot of competing claims, but nobody puts the case for it more forcefully than Hawass. I got a taste of Hawass as force of nature when he was in town for the 2006 Portland Art Museum exhibit The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt.

With the uprising in Egypt and isolated looting that has hit Cairo museums (some mummies literally lost their heads) Hawass suddenly has a massive task on his hands: how to protect and preserve his nation’s priceless cultural heritage in the face of a possible revolution. What will his role in any new government be? Can he protect the past and be part of the future, too? Lee Rosenbaum has been following matters on her Culturegrll blog at Arts Journal. I don’t know of anyone else who’s been keeping a closer and more analytical eye on what’s happening in relationship to Hawass and looting — and what effect Egypt’s unrest is having on the whole repatriation question. Keep an eye out for her updates.

Alexis Rockman and good news at the Smithsonian: Like much of the arts world, we’ve landed pretty heavily on the Smithsonian lately because of Secretary Wayne Clough’s capitulation to right-wing pressure by removing a David Wojnarowicz video from the exhibit Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery. That exhibit, without Wojnarowicz but with lasting negative implications for the Smithsonian empire and its ability to fend off political gamesmanship, closes Sunday.

So here’s an update on something good that’s happening at the Smithsonian. A major retrospective of the work of the remarkable artist Alexis Rockman continues through May 8 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the nation’s capital. A lot of Oregon art followers still remember Rockman’s 1995 exhibit Second Nature at the Portland Art Museum, an expansive and exotic array of biological wonders in paint. The scale of the paintings was reminiscent of late 19th century extravaganzas brought back to New York and elsewhere by explorer/painters such as Thomas Moran, whose 12-foot-wide Shoshone Falls on the Snake River was the focus of a recent single-painting exhibit at the Portland museum. A lot of Rockman’s lush paintings also bring to mind the startling floral fantasies of another 19th century painter associated with the Hudson River School, Martin Johnson Heade, from his forays into the Brazilian jungles.

That touring show at PAM was 15 years ago, and Rockman’s accomplished a lot since. The SAAM exhibition, Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow (see a slideshow here), includes 47 paintings and works on paper, among them the audacious 1992 large-scale painting Evolution, on loan from Portland collector George Stroemple. Settling somewhere between science-fiction fantasy and biological realism, Rockman’s art has a distinctive American exuberance that looks backward and forward at the same time. These days inside the Beltway, that must seem like an appealing balance: something to satisfy both sides of the rhetorical divide.

Alexis Rockman, "Evolution," 1992. Oil on wood. Collection of George R. Stroemple. © Alexis Rockman. Photo courtesy of the artist.


* No relation. Over the years I’ve been asked many times whether I’m related to Dan Hicks. I seriously doubt Dan Hicks has been asked the reverse even once.


Top illustration: Alexis Rockman, “Host and Vector,” 1996. Oil on wood. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Gift of the Nye Family. © Alexis Rockman. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bottom illustration: Alexis Rockman, “Evolution,” 1992. Oil on wood. Collection of George R. Stroemple. © Alexis Rockman. Photo courtesy of the artist.