Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Culture vulture 2012

Out There

Snake Ceiling (2009) by Ai Weiwei, installation view in Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, 2012. Photo: Cathy Carver
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"There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more," Morrissey famously sang on "Handsome Devil." Last week Out There told you about our year in books, and we'll finish up this week by mentioning a few cultural events in 2012 that proved there is more to life.

Art: Bay Area museum and gallery shows offered much to slake our art thirst, including impressive SFMOMA shows on Cindy Sherman , Jasper Johns, and especially Jay DeFeo, but the art exhibition we saw of most consequence was Ai Weiwei : According to What? at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum (through Feb. 24, 2013). Ai is best-known for his collaboration with architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design of the main stadium, the so-called "Bird's Nest," for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and his installation of 100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in 2010. But his big art-buzz has been harshed by relentless persecution from the Chinese government. That's because his work can be about things Beijing doesn't want discussed. Consider Snake Ceiling (2009), created from student backpacks. It's a reference to the mass casualties at a poorly built school following a recent earthquake.

Movies: Our favorite romantic film Plein Soleil (usually mistranslated as Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement in 1960) was released on DVD and Blu-ray this year in a Criterion edition. So now we can warm these cold winter nights with Alain Delon at the peak of his beauty, on the golden Amalfi coast. Based on the same Patricia Highsmith novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, as Anthony Minghella's 1999 version, but much, much better.

Susannah Biller as Daisy Buchanan in Opera Parallele's The Great Gatsby. Photo: Rapt

Music (live): San Francisco Opera offered a lot to savor this year, especially Jake Heggie's haunting Moby-Dick, which deserves a permanent place in the repertoire. But the opera of the year for us was Opera Parallele 's production of John Harbison 's The Great Gatsby at YBCA, which brought author F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece to musical life. Don't just take it from us; the show was awarded First Prize in the Professional Division of the Opera Production Competition by the National Opera Association. Out from the Valley of Ashes!

Music (recorded): It's all a matter of personal taste, of course. Here's what our ears suggested.

Tori Amos, Gold Dust (DG).

Beethoven, The Late String Quartets, Cypress String Quartet (CQ).

Busdriver, Beaus $ Eros (Fake Four).

Melody Gardot, The Absence (Verve).

Handel, Atalanta (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan).

San Francisco Symphony, American Mavericks (SFS Media).

Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum).

Stars, The North (ATO).

Curtis Stigers, Let's Go Out Tonight (Concord).

Tedeschi Trucks Band Live, Everybody's Talkin' (Sony).

M. Ward, A Wasteland Companion (Merge).

Onward, eyes wide open, into 2013!


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