Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E22 | FULL EPISODE

"Light, Space, Surface," Actor Chris Edwards, and more

"Light, Space, Surface" at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Actor Chris Edwards on Actors' Shakespeare Project, and more

AIRED: January 14, 2022 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> BOWEN: What am I seeing here?

>> What are you seeing-- exactly.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

we head toward the light.

Then, the pandemic and the performing arts--

we look at the state of the art.

>> There's always been a saying that this,

this is a dying art form, right?

And we always have found a way

to sort of bolster up and make it happen.

>> BOWEN: Plus, at the Museum of Fine Arts, it's a quilting sea.

>> We always had quilts,

either maybe on the couch or on the wall,

which is crazy to me,

because I never looked at them as, like, art objects.

>> BOWEN: And we head to Tampa Bay, where slam poets

literally go to the mat to honor

Muhammad Ali's penchant for punchy prose.

>> I am not a champion.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

♪ ♪

First up, part of the brilliance of artists

is how they see what most of us cannot--

including the beauty of plexiglass,

the sculptural properties of light,

and the luster of an autobody shop.

As a new exhibition

at the Addison Gallery of American Art shows us,

there was a period when a group of Southern California artists

tied it all together.

Art changed in the 1960s and '70s.

It took on a glimmer.

It rippled.

And it lured the eye and the mind

with a seductive, mystifying glow.

On its surface, art had a fresh polish

thanks to a host of repurposed materials.

>> Plastic, polyester resin,

lacquer,

some of these were new,

coming from the burgeoning aerospace industry,

and some were developed by the artists themselves.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition Light, Space, Surface

at the Addison Gallery of American Art

presents the art created in Southern California

by a group of artists mad about unconventional materials.

They were described as having a "finish fetish."

Allison Kemmerer is the Addison's director.

>> That the artists who were ascribed to that

didn't necessarily like, but it stuck,

because to them, "finish fetish" sort of implied

that the finish itself was the most important part of the work.

And, really, for these artists,

finish is a means to an end.

It's a way to explore light,

whether it's light that's reflected,

or refracted,

whether it's light that you can see through.

>> BOWEN: Or that we can't even distinguish,

something artist Robert Irwin toyed with

in his disc paintings.

So Alli, how am I seeing... what am I seeing here?

>> What are you seeing-- exactly.

So this piece by Robert Irwin is a painting.

It's an aluminum disc that's painted with acrylic,

and is attached to the wall by a metal armature

that's extending about 20 inches out.

Its convex in shape,

and simply lit

in four different directions.

The light animates this object, and completely blurs the object.

It's confounding our perception.

>> BOWEN: Light had a new dawn in the 1960s.

It's when James Turrell, son of an aeronautical engineer,

cornered the market on light

in the first of a series of sculptures and installations

that would define his career.

While Doug Wheeler, a one-time pilot, began navigating in neon.

>> So you walk into the Doug Wheeler room,

and you're not really sure what you are seeing.

You can't define, is it a form?

Is it a mist?

It comes in through various senses,

and it's a total perceptual experience.

>> BOWEN: Carol Eliel is the senior modern art curator

at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,

which curated this traveling exhibition

from its permanent collection.

Most of these works surfaced

when New York was the epicenter of the art world,

and still adhering to painting traditions.

But fitting for California, says Eliel,

the West Coast artists assumed a frontier mentality.

>> These materials were never

conceived of as art materials,

so they totally made them their own.

The works don't look like other works.

Other artists simply weren't using these materials elsewhere,

so it wasn't as if, you know, there were

templates for them to follow.

They each developed their own vocabularies.

>> BOWEN: So they became pioneers.

Peter Alexander dipped into the wonders of liquid resin

after realizing it could do more

than repair his surfboard.

Billy Al Bengston was a motorcycle racer

who took a shine to sheen.

>> He repaired a lot of motorcycles,

and was at the same time a painter.

And then he became sort of enraptured

by the metallic surfaces and spray painted acrylic,

and started making art that way.

>> BOWEN: As a way to rev up her career,

in 1964, artist Judy Chicago enrolled in an autobody course,

the only woman among 250 men.

>> She started spray painting, not on metal,

which is the traditional, of course, automotive surface,

but on sheet acrylic.

The acrylics chemically fused,

and she said it felt like skin to her.

She made a series of these tabletops

with the three half-dome,

molded, spray-painted spherical forms,

which of course one can read as breasts or as bellies.

She sort of came out of car culture,

but in this very feminist way.

>> BOWEN: The foray into finishes

has made much of the work tops,

including this fiberglass one, for being irresistible.

So much so that the Addison has added "Don't Touch" signs

to the galleries.

They could equally translate

to the greatest measure of success for these artists.

>> The viewer is having an experiential conversation

and a back and forth with those objects.

And I think that's a really important

part of those surfaces.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: The pandemic continues to wreak havoc

on the performing arts.

In our next segment, we had planned to preview

a rap-infused adaptation of Shakespeare'sComedy of Errors.

That has now been postponed.

But for a look at the state of the arts right now,

we kept our interview with Christopher Edwards,

artistic director of Actors' Shakespeare Project.

Chris Edwards, thank you so much for being with us.

>> Thanks for having me, always a pleasure.

>> BOWEN: So, of course, it's bittersweet having you here.

You were supposed to be here, as I mentioned in the intro,

to talk about theComedy of Errors.

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: Which will happen so,

to at least give people a taste

of what they're going to be able to experience

when you're able to stage the show.

>> So this show was written in the late '90s,

and was off-Broadway for a while,

and then toured internationally.

And it's a hip hop,

I want to call it a "hip hop opera"

adaptation of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.

It's four actors and a live DJ on stage,

and it's very funny, and the entire thing

is rapped with live beats underneath it.

I like to say it's likeSaturday Night Live meets a rap concert.

It's never been to Boston.

And I think it's going to be like

nothing anyone has seen in Boston.

>> BOWEN: Well, that's a good taste.

I promise we will have you back

when the show opens-- soon, hopefully.

But tell us what you're contending with.

This this time in January has,

I have felt, is like March 2020,

and people didn't know what was happening.

Is that happening all over again?

>> That is happening all over again.

The only thing that's certain

is we're uncertain, and it's organic.

Things are changing every day.

I know there were a few companies in town

who were trying to press ahead,

and most of those of all decided to either cancel or postpone.

You know, when you do a show, you produce a show, you know,

you prep it all and you put all the money into getting it up,

and it's sitting there ready, and then you have to cancel it.

It's not a only huge morale hit,

but, financially, it just can destroy.

It can destroy a company, and most of the companies in Boston

are mid-size companies.

And so they're, they're right in the middle

of not having a big enough budget

to sustain a second hit like this, and, and going under.

And then, you know, with governmental funding,

we're not sure we're going to get governmental funding

coming with this next wave of Omicron.

>> BOWEN: So why the decision to cancel?

Is it... is it, is it audience safety?

Is it actor safety?

And how are your actors feeling?

I keep thinking about that as I've seen actors on stage

without masks throughout the pandemic.

>> Yeah, I think it's a combination of things.

It's, um, it's actor safety first, artist safety first.

Our staff, because our staff is in, you know,

communication with, with the actors,

and moving in and out of the space while they're onstage,

and then audience safety.

But also, it also feels like

a bigger ethical question around who, who we are

as community members in Boston,

and what our responsibility is just for all of Boston.

>> BOWEN: Well, to go back to the financial issue

that you you raised too, what does this mean?

And I guess the ultimate question is,

how long can you sustain it?

>> I don't know, to be honest with you,

how long this can be sustained.

I think, generally speaking, part of it has to do

with how much we're able to fundraise outside of,

you know, putting on shows and making income off of tickets.

We had an end of the year fundraiser,

and we've met our goal, and since we canceled the show now,

we're pressing the fundraiser further,

to the end of January.

When it hit in 2020, we all knew, okay, well,

we can probably get through the season.

We did some furloughing, we did some online stuff.

Um, but it's really hard to monetize

the online stuff because,

you know, generally speaking,

the theater is in competition with TV and film.

But once you do the online stuff,

you're literally in competition with Netflix,

and the National Theater,

and these big organizations who can do it and do it well.

>> BOWEN: So where does that leave

at least the performing arts coming out of this pandemic,

if there is a coming out?

>> Uh, that's a great question, Jared.

Again, I wish,

I wish I could answer that question for you.

I mean, can you be more specific about when you say,

where does that leave us? >> BOWEN: I guess,

how imperiled is the art form? >> Oh, very much so.

But, you know, I hold hope.

The theater has been the art form

that since probably the first day

someone stepped on a stage, you know,

in Greece or around a campfire in Africa, or Asia,

or Mesopotamia or wherever,

there's always been a saying

that this, this is a dying art form.

Right, and we always have

found a way to sort of bolster up and make it happen.

But that bolstering, I think, is sort of like,

"Oh, we're artists and we're scrappy,

and we can create something from nothing."

Yes, yes, we can.

But is that the place where we want to be,

want to be moving from?

Because, you know, I can speak for myself, in this pandemic,

as we've, like, looked at how to keep everyone safe,

and make sure everyone is accounted for,

that has taken over our focus on being able to create the art.

Right, so,

90 percent of the time, we're worried about safety,

and the folks who are worrying about the safety are the actors,

and the stage managers,

and they're carrying all that anxiety.

But they're expected to create from that stress.

And that's not healthy.

>> BOWEN: I feel like I've asked if it's a negative in this,

I mean, obviously, it's a reflection of the times,

so let me try to end with a more positive question,

but what's kept you in this?

>> (laughs) Wow, that's a good question.

Part, I, you know, that one answer's like,

"I don't, I don't know how to do anything else,"

but that's not true, but, you know, it just...

it's one of the few jobs that I've ever had,

and that people usually don't complain about their job.

I imagine your job is like that, too.

I can tell you love what you do.

>> BOWEN: Yeah. >> But a lot of people

have jobs and they complain about it every day.

Very few people in the theater are doing that.

>> BOWEN: Well, it's not been a fun conversation,

necessarily, but I appreciate the candor,

and we will have you back when the show reopens.

>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: Chris Edwards,

it's great to see you. >> Thank you, sir.

Appreciate you.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Gospel according to Grammy-winning singer

Gregory Porter.

That, and more, in Arts This Week.

Take a stroll for SoWa Sundays.

The weekly event is a chance for visitors

to view new art and meet artists in their studios.

Tuesday is opening night for Pretty Woman: The Musical

at the Opera House.

Based on the 1990 film,

the show arrives in Boston after a Broadway run.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents

a concert by Dashon Burton, Wednesday.

The bass-baritone travels through American music

and history in a show that streams.

Thursday, Grammy Award-winning singer Gregory Porter

appears at the Emerson Colonial Theatre

on the heels of his new jazz albumAll Rise.

Take a ride to the Griffin Museum of Photography, Saturday,

for a look at one of our most majestic animals

in the exhibitionE. Caballus: The Domesticated Horse.

>> BOWEN: Now we move to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

That's where you'll find a patchwork of American stories

assembled one quilt at a time.

It's the final weekend

to wrap yourself in the museum's quilts exhibition,

so here again, a story we first brought you last fall.

Of the nation's art forms,

it's among the most deeply embedded.

Quilts.

Not that we, or even some of the most acclaimed quilters

have always recognized that.

>> Looking around the house, we always had quilts,

either maybe on the couch or on the wall,

which is crazy to me, because I never looked at them

as, like, art objects.

>> BOWEN: But after leaving a career as a college basketball

player behind and realizing another career

in photojournalism was not for him,

a year and a half ago,

artist Michael C. Thorpe began quilting,

something he'd always watched his mother Susan Richards do.

>> She got a quilting machine, and I started

playing around with it, and then started to understand

that I could use that as, like, painting.

And that's when it just exploded

because she showed me everything,

and then I just like took it from there.

>> BOWEN: And it's landed him here,

in the Museum of Fine Arts, as one of the artists featured

in the exhibition

Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories.

Thorpe's quilts are normally colorful and joyous.

But he made this piece the day after George Floyd's murder.

>> Basically, I kept coming back to like,

what do people think of, like, Black men?

And a lot of this came from putting the burden

on like the audience, you know, because everyone was talking

about like Black people are always burdened with

telling people about the situation,

living through the situation.

And I was just like

I want to relieve myself of that and give it to the audience.

>> I think if we can agree on anything,

it's the story of our nation is a complicated one,

and we're... we're living that now.

>> BOWEN: Jennifer Swope curated this show

and traces how the history of America

has been woven together in quilts spanning centuries.

>> There's always the incredible story of the

American Quilting Bee where

early suffragists came together and plotted

(laughing): to... to expand the franchise of voting

or to promote the ideas of abolitionism.

And that's deeply baked into

the idea of the American quilt.

>> BOWEN: Quilts told the story of cotton

and corduroy landscapes,

of rural family life,

and of trauma.

>> We have Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi's work

Strange Fruit II,

which is about the song that was popularized by Billie Holiday,

which is graphically gut-wrenching.

>> ♪ Southern trees ♪

♪ Bears strange fruit ♪

>> It shows lynched bodies on a tree.

It shows Ku Klux Klan figures.

And that will give people pause and rightly so.

>> BOWEN: But artist Bisa Butler's quilt is halting

for its shimmering portraits of Atlanta's Morris Brown College

baseball team from 1899.

How masterful is this piece?

It's so layered.

It's layered in theme, it's layered in practice.

>> I think layered is the perfect word to use.

What I think she really wants people to do

is to look carefully at each of these figures

and recognize their individual humanity.

And she does that

really by creating these portraits in color and cloth.

>> BOWEN: Here we also find one gallery transformed into

a virtual temple.

It features the only known surviving quilts

by Harriet Powers, side-by-side, for the first time.

>> She's an icon.

What she was able to achieve is astounding.

>> BOWEN: A former enslaved woman,

Powers is considered the mother of African American quilting.

She renders life lessons in this pictorial quilt

from the late 1890s.

But it was herBible Quilt, sewn a decade earlier,

that made Powers a sensation after it was exhibited

in an Atlanta fair visited by nearly a million people,

including then President Grover Cleveland.

>> These were the offsprings of her brain as she described them.

And they were precious to her.

And she brought such deep thinking.

Like her whole cosmology is part of those works of art.

There is nothing unplanned,

not deliberate about these two pieces.

>> BOWEN: As a strong tradition of quilting bees reminds us,

quilts are commonly communal efforts.

Gee's Bend is an Alabama community that's taken on

nearly mythical proportions

for a quilting tradition that has passed from generation

to generation since the 19th century.

>> Aesthetically,

the quilts of Gee's Bend are incredibly special.

People have described the quilts of Gee's Bend as the product of

what we might think of as a school of art in a sense

that it was a tight community.

>> BOWEN: Community prevails in these works--

even for artists like Thorpe, who work independently.

>> It takes a village to, like, make anything.

And literally every piece of fabric I get may come from

my aunt's quilt shop,

may come from just, like, a local fabric store.

But it takes all these people.

Everybody's, like, contributing to it.

It feels like there's like a community behind me.

Because I couldn't do it without my mom, without my family,

without all these people that make these amazing fabrics

that I use.

>> BOWEN: Allowing for stitches that in time

render the fabric of a nation.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Finally now, in Florida,

it's truly poetry in motion.

To honor the linguistic flair of Muhammad Ali,

slam poets are taking to the ring

for a spoken word smackdown,

where words fly like butterflies and sting like bees.

♪ ♪

>> So, tonight is a super combination

of athleticism, and also literature and poetry.

We've got four of the best poets in the city,

who are gonna be competing head-to-head.

They wanted a stage to voice their love

for Muhammad Ali,

and his principles, and things like that.

>> The way that the entire event

is going to be organized is almost like a boxing match.

(boxing bell rings)

>> Please clap it up for your first sacrificial poet,

Charles Hines!

(applause)

>> So I focused my poem on resilience

and overcoming obstacles.

And so I spin it into

just kind of fighting against depression

and those everyday things

that prevent you from being your best self,

from seeing the light.

Every word they say just stings.

Like, like, like, "Will I ever be all right?"

I am not a champion.

(voiceover): In this moment,

you may not feel like a champion,

or your best self,

but always standing up again,

and just staying in the ring

until one day you look, and you're like,

"Hey, I'm the champion."

>> How am I going to put my socks on today?

And walk a mile in everyone else's shoes

while I stay stuck in cement,

still trying to soothe, I know.

(voiceover): Someone like Muhammad Ali,

even he got tired and exhausted on days, I'm sure,

because it's all just so much sometimes.

So the poem that I wrote is just kind of saying

that, like, it's okay to have bad days,

and it's okay to have days where you focus on yourself,

and do things for yourself.

And you're still a great person.

(boxing bell rings) >> I miss the days when

we pulled out boxing gloves,

instead of handguns.

Before fists became semi-automatic pistols

and double action revolvers.

>> 2017, I started Growhouse

because I wanted to do something different.

The idea was to take the elements of slam poetry,

and the competition structure,

and use it for other forms of art.

>> Nosy shipwrecks resurface to watch dolphins ornament

black braids with gold.

She pulls Mount Everest out of her breasts,

and each nail lines up for its turn at getting even.

>> 2019 is when

I partnered up with Dennis.

He's an excellent host,

and he's a great, like, just people person.

He's a lot more outgoing than I, I would say I am,

and so we're definitely

a great partnership, in that I'm more reserved,

and he's great at just being a people person.

>> One of the most prolific and profound poets

that I personally know,

Walter "Wally B." Jennings!

>> Wally B. is kind of like this, this...

this tree trunk, right?

And he's kind of brought poetry as spoken word

down from Tallahassee.

When he brought it here to Tampa,

you know, from that just blossomed

all out of everything that you see today.

(boxing bell rings) >> This earth was not built

by brick and mortar.

What you do may make you important,

but why you do it will make you immortal.

>> The poem that I have is really about

the whole aging process,

and how it's important for us

to really recognize

the totality of our life as one cohesive experience,

rather than these fragmented parts,

where we fall in love with one and we hate the other.

And so, with Muhammad Ali,

a lot of people kind of are able

to segment his life into various sections--

when you talk about him

as a young champion, and then when you talk about

the attention that he got as an activist.

And then in his latter years, as he dealt with

Parkinson's, and a lot of medical challenges.

So most people, they experience or know him,

and they really... his life resonates with them heavily,

usually in one of those three areas.

And remind everyone that greatness

is always just over the horizon.

>> Ali is actually one of the few people that can be like,

"Oh, that is like, one of my, like, superheroes."

>> I just look at him as

someone who is so dedicated to getting what he wants.

>> Just going back and watching old footage of him,

and just seeing how he was able to

just come out on top

against some of the biggest fighters.

And then, of course, outside of the ring,

he was just an artistic person overall.

>> He was one of the first, I would say,

like one of the first, like,

well-known spoken word kind of poets.

>> Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

Ah! Rumble, young man, rumble.

Ah!

>> That's the best type of poetry, to me,

is like the authentic genuineness.

And that's, like,

all Muhammad Ali is, you know?

>> The fact that he crafted himself

as his own character and chose to be true to that,

come hell or high water,

you know, with all of the, the weight

that each one of his decision is made,

not just for himself,

but as a representative of his people

here in America.

>> He got something that he had been training for

basically his entire life.

And he decided to give it up for the good of

other people.

>> I loved him as, you know,

being a Black man who was completely confident

in who he was.

At that time, that was very not okay to do that.

>> He became the first, in my eyes,

the first athlete that was more than his sport.

(boxing bell rings) I wish I would've had

the opportunity to actually meet, see,

be in the presence of Ali,

worthy of all praises most high.

(voiceover): The poem that I wrote for this event,

I was trying to

take, like, some of his core tenants

and expound upon them, and find how I am trying to

exemplify them in my life.

Just as a small homage to Muhammad Ali.

...and conviction, spirituality,

and dedication, he was respect and giving.

>> We want Tampa to be a city

that people think of when they think of, like,

really dope spoken word poetry.

Like, "Oh, we've gotta go to Tampa

to go to Growhouse."

And we really believe in building community,

and working together with

other people in the community

who have the same goals as us.

>> Tampa as a whole, outside even just poetry,

is really blossoming in a beautiful way

in the art scene.

So, and we wanna be a part of that.

>> We're all trying to get to the same place,

we all wanna... we all want Tampa

to be known as this awesome city.

And there's a whole bunch of talent here,

and Growhouse just wants to, like,

be a platform to show that

and put Tampa on the map, basically.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: That is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we walk among the gods and goddesses

as the Museum of Fine Arts

unveils some staggering new galleries

of Greek and Roman art.

>> We are listening in on conversations of folks

that lived 3,000 years ago

who drank good wine, who had parties

in which they sang odes to the heroes,

told stories about the gods.

>> BOWEN: And the Boston Public Schools teacher

taking his lessons to the stage.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen. Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can always visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

I'm @TheJaredBowen.

♪ ♪

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