April 7th, 2009

Milwaukee Art Museum: Jan Lievens

On Thursday, March 19, we took time to go to the Milwaukee Art Museum
for their current main show, "Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered".
Lievens was a contemporary of Rembrandt, and, although every bit
Rembrandt's equal (if not better), in skill, inspiration, and
innovation, has lapsed into undeserved obscurity. This is the first
major travelling show of Lievens' work and does much to rectify this
historical injustice.

Lievens' career paralleled Rembrandt's for much of their lives. They
were born in the same city (Leiden), worked together at times, painted
one another (there are two paintings of Van Rijn in the exhibit, one a
portrait and one as a model in a group painting), and move around to the
same places where work for artists was being offered.

The exhibit of forty-five pieces includes portraits, religious and civic
works, drawings and wood cuts. I was very impressed with the skill of
the painting and vibrancy of both color and expression. (I wonder if the
fact that these works have been less exhibited means that they have had
less chance to accumulate dirt and grime that seems to make a number of
frequently seen Rembrandts and other Dutch Masters seem dark?) Lievens
has some very interesting stylistic themes: he was very good at, and
seemed to enjoy painting metalwork, crinkly old books, and men with
bushy beards. (I had a mental image of the artist chasing beggars and
old men down the street--"Hey! You with the beard! Want to be a model?")

Like most artists of the day, both Lievens and Rembrandt created
compositions on common religious themes, but with sometimes striking
differences. The exhibit allows a comparison of "The Raising of Lazarus"
by each artist. Rembrandt has a dynamically posed Jesus, commanding
Lazarus to arise. By contrast, in Lievens' painting, Jesus stands in the
background humbly praying, eyes raised to heaven, while a beam of light
illuminates Lazarus' pale hand emerging from his shroud at the bottom of
the painting, while the spectators look on in awe. Two very different
portrayals and we had to agree we liked Lievens' better.

The show continues through April 26, and is highly recommended for those
with an interest in classical fine art.

We also caught the last day of an exhibit, "Catesby, Audubon, and the
Discovery of a New World: Prints of the Flora and Fauna of America"
showing examples of the works of the woodcutters, engravers, and
colorists who illustrated the natural history works of Mark Catesby
(1683-1749), one of the first naturalists working in the New World, and
John James Audubon (1785-1851). It was very striking to get a close look
at the wealth of detail and accuracy that can be seen in these works
full-size (Audubon's original bird book was a huge volume with
poster-size pages allowing life-size pictures) and close up.

"Remains, Contemporary Artists and the Material Past," is a small
exhibit by three contemporary artists, with only one interesting piece,
Beth Lipman's monumental sculpture Still Life with Metal Pitcher
presents a dining table covered in some 400 hand-blown vessels, each of
which is a 'transparent rendering of a historic form'. Displayed on an
eight-foot diameter table, it is good fun to walk cautiously around and
try to pick shapes out of the crystalline clutter, which includes
dishes, fish, fruit, birds, and cheese, among other things. There is no
metal pitcher, at least, not one made out of metal. Note: the museum
security in this area is quite aggressive in enforcing a "safe" viewing
distance. Do not step on the black pad around the table! This exhibit
continues through June 7th.


After missing it at the theatres the first time around, we caught up
with this interesting fantasy film at the Budget Cinema and were glad to
have made the effort.

Based upon Cornelia Funke's novel, the movie deals with a man (action
hero Brendan Fraser) who calamitously discovers he has the power to
"read out" characters and things from novels, making them real in this
world, and to read people back IN to the book as well. In the first
manifestation of this power, Mo (Fraser) accidentally sets loose the
malevolent thug Capricorn (Andy Serkis), some of his henchmen, and the
hapless "fire juggler" Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), and looses his wife
Resa (Sienna Guillory) to the book world. Mo then spends twelve years
hiding out from Capricorn and trying to recover a copy of the rare book
he came from, "Inkheart", in order to rescue his wife.

Meanwhile, Dustfinger, who also has a wife (and children, and a home he
wants to get back to) is hunting Mo in order to get Mo to read him back
into the book. Dustfinger isn't a BAD guy, but he's willing to sell out
Mo and his daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) to the treacherous
Capricorn in order to get what he wants--.

The movie is not without its flaws, some of which stem from the novel.
It takes a man well connected with the book industry (he's a
binder/restorer of old books) twelve years to find another copy of a
recently published book? What, he's never heard of Amazon or
Bookfinders? Alibris? And why didn't anyone think of the blindingly
obvious strategy the thirteen-year-old girl eventually comes up with,
earlier? Why is Capricorn a good name for a villain from an alternate
reality, and Dustfinger a name for a fire magician (a necromancer, I
could see--)?

Given that, however, the players do very well with what they are given.
Besides the above, the movie sports a stellar cast, featuring Helen
Mirren as Meggie's reclusive and cranky great-aunt, and the
ever-reliable Jim Broadbent as Fenoglio, the "author" of "Inkheart."
Serkis is chilling as the smiling, murderous Capricorn, and bids fair to
be growing into some serious villain roles (currently appearing on PBS'
"Masterpiece" as the assassin Rigaud, in Dickens's "Little Dorrit", for

It's not a bad story at all, with lots of good humor as the supporting
characters rally round in their eccentric ways to help rescue Mo and
Meggie. A pity it doesn't quite live up to potential. For example, the
revealed origin of Capricorn's monstrous minion, "The Shadow," has the
potential to be truly horrifying, but the special effects when it
finally appears are merely OK.

We found the film very enjoyable, and thought it a pity that it
evidently didn't do well at the box office. Perhaps too "litr'ry" a
concept? After all, it's all about the power of the WRITTEN word--.

Safe and enjoyable for older children--scary violence and intense story
elements, but no blood, profanity or sex.

Oklahoma City

As some of the readers of this journal already know, my employer shipped
me off to Oklahoma City for a week of training as an outside technician.
That's right, climb the pole, hook up the phone line, run it to the
house--. Fortunately, that's not my new "real" job, but my contingency
assignment in case there is a strike. So, now I know how to splice and
install optical fiber to a premises, as well as regular copper
facilities to a house. I met some really fine people from all over the
county there for training as I was, and our instructors were very
experienced men with a great fund of knowledge and experience to share.

Travelling on short notice, and via company preferred carriers, I ended
up going down to Oklahoma City via Dallas on American Airlines. American
would not have been my first choice, but I have to say they were pretty
good in the important ways--i.e., getting there. My flight out of
Milwaukee left 40 minutes late due to Mitchell Field needing to finish
clearing the runways after Sunday morning's snow. However, they did not
spare the kerosene, and we touched down in Dallas only fifteen minutes
behind schedule, which gave me plenty of time to make my connection and
even snatch some food from a hotel restaurant. The flight to Oklahoma
City left only a couple of minutes late, and flew at maximum speed all
the way to Oklahoma City for the sake of people making other
connections. Fortunately, it was good flying weather both days I
traveled. Coming home though St. Louis was no problem. One significant
downside was that the seats in the Embraer commuter jet that is used on
a lot of American's shorter hops are really hard--. Oh, well---I got
there and back in one piece, and that's what counts.

I didn't really see much of Oklahoma City. Both the training facility
and the hotel I was staying at were near the airport, which is on the
outskirts of town, although there were some interesting things to note.
For one, go into ANY business, and someone there will greet you as soon
as you are spotted. This includes chains like McDonalds and Walgreens. I
was a bit unnerved when I went into the nearby McD's at 6:30AM and got
hailed with a hearty "Hi, there! How are you today?" from the woman at
the counter as soon as I stepped in the door.

Since I was doing hands on training days and logging in to keep up with
regular work at night, I didn't see too much else than restaurants. I
must say that while Extended Stay America is a bit on the low-end as
"suite" hotels go, it was clean as far as I could see, and their
wireless internet (access $4.95 for the extent of your stay) was easy to
hook up to and worked like a champ, as did the Compac laptop I've had
for a couple years but not used that much heretofore. Other than that, I
hadn't considered the logistics of sleeping in the same room as your
full-size refrigerator (the ESA rooms are more of a "studio" than a
suite) but figured out I could essentially turn it off at night. The
walls were thin, but thankfully most of the time other people were quiet
or out.

If you are eating in Oklahoma City, I can recommend the pork ribs at
Earl's Rib Palace (several locations), although my fries with that were
a tad underdone, baked beans spicier than I like, and peach cobbler
disappointingly bland. Excellent sushi and tempura can be had at Shiki
Japanese restaurant (right next door to my local Earl's) and they also
do tappanyaki for those who might prefer that. I also partook of a very
good and very extensive Chinese buffet at Golden Palace BBQ restaurant.

A "Sonic Drive-In" has recently opened near us, and we were bemused to
find that people had been waiting an hour in line to get in and order,
such was the interest. There was one not far from my hotel, and I tried
it, it being no busier than any of the other fast food joints
thereabouts. The food was alright--decent burger, nothing to write home
about, a decent but not amazing chocolate malt. French fries seem to be
chronically underdone in Oklahoma, and they don't tend to offer you
ketchup or salt along with them, either. Odd.

The one thing I did get to that was a bit of an attraction was the
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was easy to get to,
being right off one of the freeways, but be warned, Google Maps are not
reliable in this case--. It is a large new facility and very nice. A
great many of the exhibits are Western-themed artworks as distinguished
from historical artifacts, but there are some of those as well. I went
particularly to see the exhibition of Victorian firearms, which was
nice, though of course all-American, and a bit small. However, right
next door to that was the "Western performers" exhibit, which displayed
guns, gun leather, tack, and costumes used or owned by everyone from Tom
Mix to Tom Selleck with (of course) a special shrine to John Wayne. The
other exhibit I concentrated on was the Western Town, which is rather
like the "Streets of Old Milwaukee" we have here. There was a livery
stable, saddler, freight office, newspaper, general store, church, bank,
the obligatory Western jail, and a couple other buildings I can't
recall. Most of them you can walk into, but that means the exhibits are
a bit sparsely "dressed" (in the sense of set dressings) and there are
no mannequins, so it's pretty much of a ghost town. There are sound
recordings that liven things up a bit, but kind of add to the ghost
effect, since they come out of the air with no bodies to do the

The Museum has an extensive shop featuring Western and American Indian
artwork, jewelry, music, and books. I found a book for myself and a nice
ring as a keepsake for Georgie, at very reasonable prices. If you are in
Oklahoma City for any length of time, I would recommend the Cowboy
Museum to you.