Potter Roberto Lugo, "Hurricane Diane," and more
Potter Roberto Lugo and his exhibition at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire, Hurricane Diane at the Huntington Theatre Company. Another look at artist’s Sonya Clark exhibit at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, M Ensemble Company in Miami, and images of “Billboard Hope” in John Elliot Square in Roxbury featuring images by 13 artists, including Ekua Holmes.
>> The hope is that when people see themselves
reflected in the narrative of a person of color,
they grow closer to that.
>> JARED BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,
we meet the village potter.
Then, indoor live theater is back.
>> One little piece of a living planet!
>> While the themes are really heavy
and serious and current,
it is through a hilarious lens,
which feels special and necessary
in this moment that we're living in.
>> BOWEN: And artist Sonya Clark introduces us
to the flag we should know.
>> My thought was, what would this nation be like
if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured?
>> BOWEN: Plus, rare stories
rarely seen and performed on stage.
>> Plays that people never heard of,
stories that they never heard of.
These are our stories, these are our words.
>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.
First up, we pay a visit to the village potter.
That would be Roberto Lugo,
a man who puts family, tradition, and icons
like Harriet Tubman at the center of his work,
all making him a ceramics star.
In mugs and plates and urns
at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire,
we find the porcelain DNA of artist Roberto Lugo.
>> In this exhibition, I have images of protests,
of historical figures like Angela Davis
and Black Thought, and people that have really
inspired me to, to make me who I am.
And I couldn't be that without those people.
>> BOWEN: This show, as the title explains,
is the ceramicist bringing us his joy
in a career literally shaped around culture,
his own roots in graffiti, and his love of family.
>> Here's my mother with her granddaughter
teaching her how to make pasteles,
which is a Puerto Rican dish.
And then there's an image of a family in the '60s,
which is my family, my grandma with the bouffant
and, you know, getting ready for church.
And in some ways I think this,
this table is, is like a self-portrait.
>> He's thinking about his culture, you know,
where he comes from, people that influence him.
>> BOWEN: Contemporary art curator Samantha Cataldo
says she's drawn to how Lugo takes centuries
of prized porcelain tradition from Europe and Asia,
only to upend it with his story.
>> Using this historic form of pottery--
porcelain, especially-- which traditionally
would have kings and queens
and very much within a Western and white narrative,
to put someone like Harriet Tubman,
or himself, or the rapper Missy Elliott
onto a piece of pottery
is really making a statement like,
"I belong here, my culture belongs here."
>> BOWEN: What do you make of how open he is
and how much autobiography there is in his work?
>> Yeah, Roberto's work is very vulnerable.
>> BOWEN: So was Lugo himself,
when, as a young art student of Puerto Rican descent,
he was bluntly told he didn't fit in.
>> I feel judged exhaustively, and, you know,
that's one of the things that drove me
to make the work I did, because when I was in a class
and there's a photograph of me, and someone just says,
"This looks like a Mexican gangster," you know?
And it was this, like, moment where,
you know, I'm sitting there making pottery,
I'm, like, "No matter what I make,
"this is how people are going to see me
if I'm involved in the work."
And so I started making work to counteract that.
>> BOWEN: Which has meant depicting life
the way he sees it, including teatime--
for Lugo, a very foreign concept.
>> When I took my first pottery class,
I'd never drunk tea from a teapot, you know?
And so, I see all these students around me
making teapots and making teacups.
And I'm thinking to myself, like,
"How much tea do these people drink?"
You know? And I didn't understand it.
I'm not sure if people realize that, like,
when a person of color that grows up where I did,
when I'm having tea,
there's all these things that come into my mind.
And it can't just be about tea, because of my experiences.
You know, so, like, I'll look at certain shapes
and it will remind me of other things.
Like, when I look at a spout, I also think of a gun trigger,
because the ghetto that I grew up in.
>> BOWEN: The artist's singular vision has
landed him in museum collections.
He's been awarded the prestigious Rome Prize,
and he's collaborated with celebrities
and fans like actor Seth Rogen.
But Lugo is most mindful of his roots.
He can often be found working with his
and other communities-- giving away work,
teaching kids, and working with veterans.
And he has a name for it.
>> It's sort of this idea that I'm the village potter.
>> BOWEN: Because Lugo wants to be a connector--
of people and art.
He asked the Currier Museum to place his work
atop or alongside its own historic pieces.
His urn featuring Bob Marley
rests on an 18th-century table.
>> People can see that all these things
can coincide and be beautiful.
And that's really the hope,
is that when people see themselves reflected
in the narrative of a person of color,
then they, they grow closer to that, you know?
>> BOWEN: Much the same way Lugo found himself connected
to this painting in the Currier's collection.
It's by white folk artist Grandma Moses
and reminds him of his parents' upbringing in Puerto Rico.
>> I think there's this, like, sense of displacement
I've always felt as a Puerto Rican growing up
and always hearing about my parents
and, um, you know, the farm life.
These kind of paintings, like, almost transport you there,
where you feel like you're comfortable
however you are there, you know, like, working on the farm.
And I just love that about these pieces.
>> BOWEN: It's a shared experience for the artist,
who's learned it takes a village to be the potter.
>> Doesn't it smell incredible out there?
So fragrant. >> I hate it.
>> Oh, Carol...
>> I hate how it smells, I hate how it looks.
I'm sorry, I hate it, I hate it so much.
>> You have to admit, honey,
it's not exactly the Garden of Eden.
>> I know it's a little outside the box,
but this is how permaculture is supposed to look.
>> It looks like the side of Route 95 in Secaucus.
>> BOWEN: That's a scene fromHurricane Diane,
the Obie-Award-winning play that imagines
the Greek god Dionysus reincarnated
as a lesbian landscaper in New Jersey.
Her goal is to reverse climate change
by getting housewives in the Garden State
to let their shrubbery run wild.
I recently spoke with its director, Jenny Koons,
and Huntington Theatre Company managing director
Michael Maso about the comedy,
which is the theater's first production
to open in a year and a half.
Jenny Koons, Michael Maso,
from the Huntington Theatre Company,
thank you so much for joining us.
>> Thank you for having us.
>> Great to be here.
>> BOWEN: So, Jenny, I will start with you because,
as we just saw in the little introductory clip,
it's funny, we all need a lot of laughs.
We don't need a laugh,
we all need a lot of laughs right now.
So as you tell us what this show is,
how rich is the comedy in it?
>> I mean,Hurricane Diane is really a rare treat.
It is an ensemble comedy that imagines
the Greek god Dionysus coming back to Earth
to save us from ourselves and from climate change.
And while the themes are really heavy
and serious and current, it is through a hilarious lens,
which feels special and necessary
in this moment that we're living in.
>> If, if I don't step in now, the glaciers are gonna melt
and the permafrost is gonna thaw.
And fast-forward 100 years,
and there won't be a single human left
on the planet to worship me.
And that's not gonna work for me, okay?
>> BOWEN: Can you give us a little refresher about
that particular myth and what we need to know going in?
>> Absolutely, so the god Dionysus was
the god of agriculture and wine and enjoyment
and a connection with the Earth.
And so Madeleine George imagines that god coming back
to help us think of a new relationship
to the planet we live on.
>> BOWEN: And let me get this...
Like, I read through the script, and so,
she comes in the guise of Diane, "a butch charm factory."
That's a very enticing encapsulation.
>> Yes, it's quite a character description.
It's, you know, embodying both
appreciation of the world and the Earth and the ground,
and through a figure that we might recognize
in the world we live in today.
>> BOWEN: Well, Michael, you're here with us on
the business side of things, so tell us, first of all...
We'll start with the good news,
what it's like to be reopened after
538 days of closure, which was just so horrific.
>> Yeah, it's pretty extraordinary.
I mean, even the first day, Jenny can tell you,
that first day in the rehearsal hall was very moving
for all of us who had the privilege of being there,
and certainly, you know, having this cast come together
and start the process, that is what we're about.
We're not about, you know, paying bills,
although we pay our bills.
We're about bringing people together to see works of art,
to, to have this experience, to learn,
the way this very smart and funny play does.
And so it's very moving, and people have responded
and people are really pleased to be back in the theater.
>> I know people can get weird when you
come out to them as a demi-god,
so I'm not going to ride in guns a-blazing, full Greek.
My plan is to slide in on the DL,
and hit 'em with the landscaping design angle.
And then, when I'm all the way in,
pull out the stops! (laughter)
>> BOWEN: How different is the theater experience going to be,
knowing that we're still in this pandemic,
knowing that there are the concerns about
the delta variant out there, and yet we are--
and I know we'll be doing it safely,
because we all want to see theater,
we want to experience it and have it go on
as long as possible, safely.
So how different is it from what we knew in the before times?
>> Well, what's different is simply the care
we're all taking to keep everybody safe.
So, you know, we are asking audiences to be vaccinated.
We are asking audiences to stay masked.
By the way, people have asked the question,
"Are the actors masked?"
No, they're not.
>> BOWEN: Michael, where did you and how did you
land on vaccination status?
Again, keeping in mind that in New York, Broadway,
which I think a lot of people are paying attention to,
has demanded, as well, that you show proof of vaccination
except for religious or medical exemption.
>> I think, and it's the same thing for us.
Of course, if somebody needs an exemption,
you can take a COVID test
in advance of coming to the theater and show up
with proof of a negative test.
But our, our inclination and, and our decision
comes down on the side of safety to the most extreme.
And it is what's happening in Chicago, in New York,
in Los Angeles, and here in Boston,
in a growing chorus of organizations
that have just said, "Let's just make sure
"we can be as safe as possible
and protect this art form that we love."
>> BOWEN: How do you think theater
is going to survive this?
I ask this mindful of New Repertory Theatre here
in, in the Greater Boston area, it's a major theater.
It cannot open a season this year
and it may end up closing, because it just doesn't
have the funds to be able to launch going forward,
given the losses it suffered during the pandemic.
Are we only at the beginning
of seeing more stories like that?
Or, or do you have a sense that if people
have made it through this far,
maybe they can still make it through?
>> I have more hope.
The response to the pandemic by the federal government
has resulted in the greatest, um,
coalition of support mechanisms
for the American theater and for the performing arts
since the Federal Theater Project in the '30s.
I think what it really needs is the audience to come back.
That's the, that's the missing element.
And if our audiences come back, we will be healthy,
and we will continue to produce plays
for, I think, you know, for generations.
>> Most recently, I've been living outside
of Burlington, Vermont.
I have my own landscaping business up there,
with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.
(laughter) And I've been happy.
Vermont is a (muted) paradise.
Great hiking trails, curbside compost collection...
>> BOWEN: So, Jenny, I mean, this is hilarious,
that Diane comes from Vermont to basically be
with these housewives in New Jersey
and tries to spin them on the wonders of, of actual gardening
and paying attention to the Earth.
However, I, no sooner did I finish reading,
and the recent climate change report came out.
But, but this is a great entry point into that.
I mean, how do you see this play as being
more resonant than ever?
At the heart of the play, I feel like, is
this question that Madeleine is asking
about what it will take for us to change our ways.
The climate report that you brought up feels like
we are grappling with enormous questions,
and it often can feel like,
"I don't even know how to start to think about that question."
So what I love about this play and stories like Madeleine's
is that it offers you, as you said, a way in,
through comedy, through humor,
through characters that you recognize on stage.
>> He likes me in natural prints.
>> That's a natural print?
>> It's animal. >> What animal is that, Pammy?
>> It's leopard. >> It's ice blue!
>> It's snow leopard. >> Girls...
>> I feel like laughter, especially in this moment,
is such an opportunity to open us up.
And again, to feel that, as you said, Michael,
that feeling of laughing in a crowded room--
that I miss.
Netflix can't do that for me. (Bowen chuckles)
>> BOWEN: Michael, I'll just end with you, and
this is in the smaller space that the Huntington operates,
because your big space, the Huntington Theatre itself,
is undergoing renovations-- for people who may have missed
what's been going on during the pandemic.
Where does the new, robust, glitzy,
if I might call it that, theater stand?
>> We are eight months into renovation
of the historic Huntington Theatre.
And we are going to have a restoration
of the gorgeous architecture of the original theater,
but it will be surrounded with a modern infrastructure,
with much more comfortable seating,
lighting, we will have better bathrooms,
and we're gonna be opening up
our beautifully restored theater
in the fall of 2022.
>> BOWEN: All right, well, Michael Maso and Jenny Koons,
thank you so much and congratulations
on getting us all back safely
inside of the theater, we're loving this.
>> Thank you. >> Thank you so much.
>> BOWEN: There's more theater to see
and two more museums reopen in Arts This Week.
At last, the doors to the Harvard Art Museums
Sunday, seeStates of Play to chart the artistic process
and evolution of Rembrandt, Picasso, and other printmakers.
The museum is now free on Sundays, with reservations.
Visit the McMullen Museum of Art Monday
to see an exhibition of more than 140 pieces
from Cuban Modernist painter Mariano Rodríguez.
Because of his ties to the Cuban Revolution,
many of his works have never been seen before in the U.S.
>> ♪ Wop bop a loo bop, a lop bom bom ♪
>> BOWEN: Little Richard recorded his hit song
"Tutti Frutti" 66 years ago Tuesday,
ushering in a combination of R&B, gospel,
and boogie woogie that would eventually be known
as rock and roll.
Check out Gloucester Stage Company's production
The play centers on a white book editor
who must confront her past when a Black writer
threatens to reveal a dark secret about her
after they spend a night together.
Next, we move to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.
That's where you'll find artist Sonya Clark,
winner of the museum's prestigious Rappaport Prize,
in a deep interrogation of the Confederate battle flag.
This is the last weekend to see the show,
so we take another look at the story
we first brought you in April.
Unfurled as a monumental sea of off-white
filling much of this gallery space
is a Confederate flag of truce.
Or, as the title of this exhibition explains,
The Flag We Should Know.
>> I want everyone to know what this flag is
so we can conceive of what "truce" really means.
>> BOWEN: History has largely forgotten
this simple white flag, actually a towel,
used by Confederate troops to signal a truce
during General Robert E. Lee's surrender in 1865.
The original is now housed
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
That's where artist and Amherst College professor of art
Sonya Clark discovered it during a visit in 2010.
>> And I have to tell you, I was, like,
"How come I've never seen this thing before?"
And that question is why there is the show
that you're in right now. (laughs)
>> BOWEN: Haunting this show is a flag that's not seen here--
the Confederate battle flag, that, unlike the truce flag,
survived to become a ubiquitous emblem in this country.
As Clark documents,
it adorns all manner of merchandise
from baby onesies to nipple pasties.
>> My thought was, what would this nation be like
if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured,
that something was surrendered?
But instead, we have the Confederate battle flag
in our consciousness, yeah.
>> BOWEN: Deeply so.
When Clark and a curatorial team
assembled this show in Philadelphia two years ago,
they sought out red paint to pop
in the exhibition's otherwise neutral palette.
>> Because the Confederate flag of truce has these
three minimal red stripes on it, I said, "Well,
that's the color we'll use."
>> BOWEN: The Benjamin Moore sample
they inadvertently selected? - ...was Confederate Red.
That paint chip color, Confederate Red,
lived between two other paint chip colors.
One was called Raspberry Truffle,
and the other was called Cherry Wine.
In between these two confections
is a color that is about insurrection,
about enemies of the states, about people who wanted
to keep Black and brown people enslaved.
>> BOWEN: Clark has interrogated the legacy
of the Confederate battle flag both intellectually
In her pieceReversals,
she used a dishcloth featuring the Confederate flag
to remove dust covering a section
of the Declaration of Independence preamble.
she collaborated with audience members
to literally deconstruct the flag
thread by thread--
a metaphor for the glacial pace of dismantling racism.
>> I think when people see the Confederate battle flag
being paraded through the U.S. Capitol,
Sonya's work offers some tools to process,
what does that incredibly complicated image mean for us?
>> BOWEN: The deCordova's Sam Adams
oversaw both this installation
and the companion show Heavenly Bound.
InConstellation, Clark delivers us into a night sky,
honoring the guidance it provided enslaved people
escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
>> We're thinking about people whose stories
were incredible, they're full of bravery
and they're inspiring and deeply important
to the foundation of the country.
But they're not recorded.
>> BOWEN: However, their history may live in the artist's hair.
Here, Clark offers a white sky dotted with black stars
created from her own head.
>> If you pluck a hair, in that hair
is this genetic code
for all the people who have come before you.
So your hair is both singular, like, it's the hair that I grow,
but it's also absolutely collective.
>> BOWEN: Clark is mindful of the "we" throughout her work.
She wants museum patrons to become pollinators,
taking her ideas with them as they leave--
but not before participating.
>> All the way to the other side,
just give it a nice push through.
>> BOWEN: Visitors here are invited to help make truce flags
on looms in the gallery.
>> And then you'll send it through again.
Take it out, let your foot off the lever.
Bring the beater down.
Pull it tight, back up.
And then the next pedal.
It's important that we all participate
in this collective work of healing,
of racial and social justice.
>> BOWEN: And how does weaving do that?
>> So we do that on a symbolic level by...
Every single visitor who participates
will contribute to a collective truce flag.
>> BOWEN: With some deft pedal work,
precise shuttling, and maneuvering,
the visitor weaves their own self
into the show-- imperfections and all.
Are you mindful that people will leave their interaction
with your work or leave a museum exhibition different?
>> Maybe they leave
with a question, which actually is more powerful,
I think, than an answer.
Because a question is...
Is an invitation to keep thinking.
That's actually how the artwork grows and lives beyond me.
>> BOWEN: M Ensemble is the oldest theater company in Miami,
and the longest-running African American theater company
in the state of Florida.
Their legacy brings the works of established
and new playwrights to life.
>> She gave me her recipe.
>> My name is Shirley Richardson, and I am co-founder
and executive director of M Ensemble Company.
We are the oldest,
not just African American theater company,
but the oldest theater company here in Miami-Dade County.
M Ensemble Company started in 1971.
That's a long, long story. (laughs)
Under the direction and founder, the late T.G. Cooper.
And he decided to come
to the University of Miami and pick up his master's degree.
And while he was there,
he had to do a project called Purlie Victorious,
and he needed, uh, a Black cast and a white cast.
Unfortunately, there weren't many Black students on campus
at the University of Miami during that time.
I think there were about three of us.
So he recruited the three of us.
T.G. left, but before he left,
he left some money and he left a staff in place.
And we maintained that relationship with him,
you know, till his passing.
We are here now at the Sandrell Rivers Theater,
after being bounced around from one place to another.
I can't even tell you how many places we've been.
There've been so many, you know,
trying to keep up the legacy.
>> Being in this space,
it allows the company to show the, the audience
the technical aspects.
Because in many places
that we've been in, we have not been able
to really see it like we really want to see it, you know?
When we did Kings of Harlem, we had...
All these seats were out
and they were, could form into a basketball stadium.
The space was set up, you know,
to give you that ambience, you know, being back in that time
in this old stadium where,
um, the first basketball, Black basketball team played
and the story behind all of that.
But the biggest impact is that
the presentations that we bring to the stage
is the plays, is the playwrights, you know?
The play, plays that people never heard of,
stories that they never heard of.
These are the stories, these are our stories,
these are our words, and so that's important.
>> (talking indistinctly)
>> It's a lot of work, but, you know, it's the passion
that keep us going.
And hopefully when it's time to pass that torch,
we will be able to identify those people
who has that same kind of passion,
and willing to make the sacrifices to keep it going.
You know, we're 50 years old now.
So, that is a legacy,
and we are an institution.
>> BOWEN: Finally now, we leave you
with images of billboard hope in Roxbury.
There, arts lover Dayenne Walters came up with the idea,
and her own money,
to lease a billboard in John Eliot Square.
She's featuring a full year of images by 13 artists,
including Ekua Holmes.
Again, the key there is that Dayenne Walters
took it upon herself to fill her neighborhood with art.
She is a trailblazer.
Well, that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, we tour what some are calling
the art show of the year anywhere.
A group of Titian paintings reunited for the first time
in more than 400 years at the Gardner Museum.
>> Titian was the celebrity painter of Europe.
He painted for popes.
He painted for princes.
He was the personal painter to the Holy Roman Emperor.
Everybody who was anybody wanted a Titian.
>> BOWEN: And we speak with comedian Jacqueline Novak
about her one-woman show that has many women, and men,
thinking about, well, how we relate.
>> There is a sex act at the center of my show called
Get on your Knees, which has many meanings
and doesn't, you know, necessarily imply
but could also be considered relevant to,
you know, adult listeners.
>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.
Thanks for joining us.
As always, you can visit us online
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
More Episodes (355)
“Frida Kahlo: POSE,” “Hair Stories,” and moreSeptember 24, 2021
"Titian," Comedian Jacqueline Novak, and moreSeptember 17, 2021
Potter Roberto Lugo, "Hurricane Diane," and moreSeptember 10, 2021
“In American Waters,” Mary Gauthier, and moreAugust 13, 2021
Artist Ekua Holmes, Actor and Author Gabriel Byrne, and moreJuly 30, 2021
DATMA's "Water 2021," "The Tempest," and moreJuly 16, 2021