Susan Stamberg

A dream of a day at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. We'd come out of a huge David Hockney exhibition, and my family and I were pooped. So granddaughters, their mother Myndy and I sat on a rim of the Stravinsky Fountain to rest a bit, while my son Josh took our picture.

The fountain makes me smile four years later, as it did the first time I saw it decades ago. It's a 1983 collaboration between sculptors Jean Tinguely (he did the black mechanical parts) and Niki de Saint Phalle (the puffy colorful figures — something/someone in a crown, serpent, heart, lips).

Powerful, no? And gorgeous. Helen Frankenthaler did it in 1973 — 20 years after making a painting that took Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionism a step further. In 1950 she was wowed by the ropes and squiggles of paint Pollock was wrestling onto unstretched canvas on the floor of his barn.

What more is there to say about Frida Kahlo?

She died in 1954 at age 47. By now she's a cottage industry. Her face (that unibrow, the red lips, the scores of self portraits) reproduced on mugs, matchbooks, pandemic masks, of course tote bags.

Fans can recite her story: The terrible accident when she was 18 — a bus/tram collision in Mexico City smashing her body, and creating a lifetime of surgeries and pain.

She was 22. One of three women in a class of 24. Her professor at the Philadelphia College of Art told her she was "taking up a good man's space" in his class. All she'd do when school was over was get pregnant and raise her child. "Meanwhile," said the professor, "a good man could have been in that space."

One hundred years ago, America's first museum of modern art opened in a private mansion in Washington, D.C. Founder Duncan Phillips was an early collector of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh. The Phillips was the first to buy a Georgia O'Keeffe. Decades ago, in this city of museums, it became my favorite one.

"Mister! Mister!" she yelled. "Take my photo!"

A demand, not a request. Mama had spotted the three cameras hanging from straps around Ruben Natal-San Miguel's neck as he walked around her Bronx neighborhood. Her demand intrigued him.

"I said 'absolutely.' "

Natal-San Miguel likes to photograph people where they live. He calls his pictures "environmental portraits." No formal poses. Just a pause, in front of his camera.

Mama stopped by a red truck and crossed her arms. He liked the reflection of a tree on the truck's side.

This is Emma Amos' moment. Her themes — gender and race — press on our minds now. For six decades Amos explored them in prints, paintings and fabrics. She died May 20, just months before a retrospective of her work, "Emma Amos: Color Odyssey," is to open at the Georgia Museum of Art, in Athens. Complications from Alzheimer's took her at age 83, but she knew the show was in the works.

That picture above is a self-portrait. Here's her photograph.

I hate snow. Which means I most especially hate this week of the year. The week winter begins. It means snow could come. Or, G*d help us, snow is already here. I know, bah humbug. Still ...

I did like it once. Laughed my way through an 8-foot snowstorm years ago in Boston. But I was young. Now ... not so much. Although every time I look at this painting, it takes me back to those happy Boston snow days.

Hanukkah Lights: 2020

Dec 10, 2020

Hanukkah is a time to share light, miracles and faith. It's been a difficult year and these stories will reflect that. They're darker than usual. But we hope the miracle of Hanukkah casts its light through these stories. We think the tales will resonate with you because of their mixture of sadness and strength.

For more years than I like to put in print, I've been sharing my late mother-in-law Marjorie Stamberg's delicious Thanksgiving side dish recipe with NPR listeners. (And more recently, readers like you, though this tradition was two decades old by the time NPR.org was born.)

It's become a tradition, a taste delight, and yes, at times, a source of groans and grimaces. Before I go into all that, here are the ingredients:

2 cups raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs horseradish (!!!)

My grandfathers (a tailor and a carpenter) came to America from Lithuania in the late 1800s. I've been thinking about their journeys lately, as immigrants from Central and South America dare to dream of futures here. These days, immigrants from Asia make up the largest share of new U.S. arrivals. And a Korean American artist in Los Angeles is capturing the experience of immigration in works that capture my attention and admiration.

Do you have a shrine? Religious, maybe, but not necessarily. A place where you are filled with awe?

I have several. One (you won't believe this) was the former Liberace Museum. Liberace, who died in 1987, was a fabulous musician with a collection of pianos, including one that once belonged to George Gershwin. (You must take a moment to watch this video of the understated, dignified Wladziu Valentino Liberace playing Gershwin on another piano in his collection.)

In 1939, anticipating the German invasion of Paris in World War II, designer Coco Chanel closed up shop. "This is no time for fashion," she said. And, to put it delicately, she shacked up at the Ritz with her lover — a Nazi intelligence officer.

In World War I, however, Chanel was selling hats, and kept selling them throughout that war.

Years back, a friend visited the Barnes Foundation, a wonderland of Cezannes, Matisses, and zaftig Renoir gals. After going through the galleries she observed, "All those naked women! What's with that?!"

In the Old Normal, you bought a new shirt, wore it to work and people noticed. "Oh, new blouse!" Or, "Mmmm, new shirt." These Now Normal pandemic days, working at home means wearing the same thing (in my case an old T-shirt and ancient huge blue shorts that are fitting better day after imprisonment day). The only thing people comment on when you go out — if you go out — is your face mask. And if the comment is positive, they can't even see you smile.

Dwight David Eisenhower was one of the towering figures of the 20th century: A five-star general, he led the D-Day invasion and helped defeat the Nazis. A two-term president, he brought stability to postwar America.

Since his death in 1969, memories of the man called Ike have faded. But this week, the dedication of an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., will bring him vividly back to mind.

This memorial is not like any other presidential monument in Washington. No sky-piercing white obelisk (George Washington), no massive, looming statue (Abraham Lincoln.)

I begged her. But Ann Hoenigswald was resolute. The National Gallery of Art's Senior Conservator of Paintings (now retired) is a dedicated museum professional. Also she knew I'd blab it to everyone. So, firmly and very sweetly, she smiled and said, "No."

A guy in his 30s, handsome behind his mask (this is pre-pandemic), carries a chisel, drills, jigsaws, sometimes explosives, and walks up to a dilapidated wall. Looks like trouble. What's going on? Is he on a march toward destruction? Yup. Sorta. About to create graffiti? Nope. Make something beautiful? Yup.

I'm a New Yorker. Trees in Manhattan grow with little metal fences around their bottoms. So I didn't learn about lying under trees until I had a backyard in Washington, D.C. That delay surely stunted my growth. But this tree, at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb., has recuperative powers for anything that ails you.

Click the video below and watch what happens when the tree moves. (Just watch. Turn off the sound. I'll tell you what the curator says after you ... just ... look.)

I'm a little uncomfortable about this essay. Texas is surging with COVID-19, and I'm transfixed by a painting at the Dallas Museum of Art. But if, like me, you crave something beautiful right now, then perhaps this will help.

It's a painting wrapped in politics, romance and mystery. The Dallas Museum of Art (closed now, but with online offerings that exhibit its treasures) is making this picture the centerpiece of a show called "Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art."

It's raining statues all across America. Artworks that have stood in public places for generations are being defaced or deposed, destroyed or relocated, as Americans confront attitudes on race and stereotyping.

Just after Sept. 11, I went to my favorite Washington, D.C., museum — The Phillips Collection — to look at still lifes. The one I remember best was a small oil by Édouard Manet, painted as he was dying. Peonies. So richly textured you could almost smell the flowers.

For Los Angeles sculptor Alison Saar, art came from both sides of the family. Her mother, Betye Saar, 93, is a well-known artist. Her father, Richard Saar, was a conservator and ceramicist. The sculptures and prints Saar makes echo themes her mother has touched for decades. Betye Saar's collages reflect the anger of the civil rights generation; her daughter builds on that history.

German sculptor Katharina Fritsch has a thing for roosters. She's responsible for the giant blue one perched atop the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., overlooking Constitution Avenue. "It brings joy, you know, to the capital," she says.

Why roosters? They intrigue her; she finds them interesting and sociable. "They have a language — they have 30 sounds for food," she explains.

Between 1871 and 1914, Paris enjoyed a long stretch without war. "It was a special moment — a particularly joyful and exuberant moment in Parisian history," says Emily Talbot. She's the curator of a new exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif., all about Paris' Belle Époque — or beautiful era.

Years ago, when artist John Sonsini began approaching Spanish-speaking day laborers in Los Angeles to ask if he could paint their portraits, he had some communication problems. "My Spanish was so poor," Sonsini admits.

First, he was introducing himself as an artista, a word that many Spanish speakers associate with a singer or dancer. But when he switched to pintor that didn't necessarily clear up the confusion — the men thought this professorial-looking, Italian-American with a salt-and-pepper beard was offering them a job painting houses.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In his last years, as he was dying of complications from syphilis, artist Édouard Manet was in agonizing pain — but you'd never know it from his art. As he neared the end (he died at just 51) Manet was painting exquisite flower bouquets and vibrant portraits — vigorous, life-affirming canvases. The J. Paul Getty Museum recently collected paintings from the end of Manet's life in their exhibition Manet and Modern Beauty.

It isn't hard to imagine yourself inside an Edward Hopper painting — having a coffee at a late-night diner, or staring out the bedroom window at the bright morning sun.

Hanukkah Lights 2019

Dec 22, 2019

Hanukkah is a time to share light, miracles and faith. We discover new insights and heartwarming tales to share with those nearest and dearest to us.

Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz read original stories from authors Dvora Zipkin, Temim Fruchter, Ellen Orleans and David Ebenbach. Listen to the full special above or hear individual stories below.


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