Thursday, April 20, 2006

Best Known for...Something Else

Weekend Assignment #108: Show off (or link to) a lesser-known work from a favorite artist. Because there's more to Da Vinci than the Mona Lisa, and more to Van Gogh than Starry Night. I'm thinking of painters, but if you'd prefer to essay a lesser known book from a famous author, or song from a favorite musician, that'll work, too.

Extra Credit: When was the last time you were in an art museum?

the patient and the dogthe doctor reading Playboy.  Note the minor damage to the painting.
Yes, you've seen this before: this is our painting by Xavier Cugat (1900-1990). Although he was best known as an orchestra leader, one of the first and most important Latin bandleaders of the 20th Century, he actually made a living as a caricaturist in Hollywood before his music career took off. Later on, he sold paintings after his concerts. From what I've been reading online tonight, he painted medical subjects a lot toward the end of his life, apparently because he was afraid of doctors. And just tonight I learned, to my dismay, that our Cugat is one of at least two nearly identical paintings. Here's a link to one like ours. Like the one in our front room, the owner found it at a thrift shop. The only major difference between the two, aside from frame and condition, is that the other painting, "Ten Surgeons in Pink Transplant a Liver," has three jars at the bottom. They're labeled "new livers," "used livers," and "chopped livers." Ours has no references to livers, but they're the same ten surgeons, and the same patient, and the same dog. The doctor on the right is even reading the same issue of Playboy! I find this all very disconcerting. After enjoying the heck out of our $28 art investment for over five years, I've suddenly discovered that it's...well, not a fake or a forgery, but certainly less than unique.

Well, I'll get over it. It's still a cool thing to have, this whimsical but obscure work of art by someone who was better known for tangos and mambos than oils and acrylics.

And that's my theme for the night. More than a few artists who make their fame in one medium also have less well-known work in another field entirely, some of it quite respectable. Comedian and tv star Red Skelton was celebrated for his clown paintings. Actress Carrie Fisher writes novels. John Lennon wrote two books of irreverent wordplay, each heavily illustrated with his equally playful drawings. Iconic artist that he was, Lennon's work in any medium can get quite pricey. An old schoolbook of his, with a drawing of a walrus (illustrating Lewis Carroll's The Walrus And The Carpenter, not the Beatles' I Am The Walrus), recently sold at auction for more than £125,000 (about $226,000).

The other artist whose non-primary medium I collect is actor Scott Bakula. No, I don't mean drawings by him. I don't even know whether he can draw. But Bakula has appeared in several Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals, some of which have been released on CD over the years. He's quite a good singer, neither operatic nor of rock star quality, but professionally competent, with a voice suited for musical comedy.

Of his shows, I'm not at all fond of Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down, with its cynical outlook and strong language; but I love Romance/Romance. This was the show he did just before Quantum Leap. Promoted at the time as "Two New Musicals," R/R had two stories in it, set in two different eras but with the same actors and similar themes. The first, my favorite, is the period piece, called "The Little Comedy." It's about two rich, "reasonably handsome" people in Vienna, each bored and looking for romance, without the baggage associated with their own identities. They both go slumming, immediately meet each other, lie to each other, and fall in love. The false pretences lead to hilarious problems before all is revealed for a semi-happy ending.

I'm not as thrilled with the second story, "Summer Share," about two old friends, each married to someone else, who flirt with the idea of having an affair. Still, it's all funny and clever, the music's great, and so is the cast. And I don't just mean Scott.

After Quantum Leap, Scott appeared in a charity performance of Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle, opposite Bernadette Peters and Madeline Kahn. I have that on CD too, but it's hiding from me right now.

Cover by Jo Fox

All these years later, with the tv series Enterprise over with, Scott Bakula has just returned to Broadway, this time in a revival of the musical Shenandoah. Good for him! I look forward to ordering the CD.

Extra Credit: I forgot it at first in answering this question, but my most recent art museum experience was a visit to a textile museum in Colonial Williamsburg in 2004. My stepmother, Ruth, enjoyed the quilts and such, and I tried to appreciate it all for the historical interest. Really, I did. But I'm sorry. I failed. It was totally boring.

I did better with the Heard Museum in Phoenix around 2002. Built around a formerly private collection, the Heard concentrates mostly on folk arts, primarily Native American. The most memorable part of the museum was dedicated to the experience of Navajo children who were uprooted from their homes and forcibly sent to boarding school, the Indian School in Phoenix, in a misguided attempt at cultural genocide.

Other than that, I probably haven't been inside an art museum in thirty years. That's not John's sort of thing, and it's not really mine, either. When I was growing up, though, I got to the Louvre (for about 20 minutes in 1972), the Rijksmuseum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and, more than once, the Everson Museum.

The Everson?

The Everson is a somewhat avant garde museum in Syracuse, NY. What I remember from my few visits was mostly modern geometric paintings from the Rockefeller Collection, and that they were trying to raise money for a Stuart portrait of George Washington, and catching flack from local prudes for a nude sculpture of boys playing soccer.

But what I mostly remember about the Everson was that it hosted an exhibit in 1975 called This Is Not Here. The artist was Yoko Ono, with guest artist John Lennon. One of the big regrets of my life is that I never took the bus downtown to see it.



DesLily said...

that's really neat that you own art by Cugat! I guess I wouldn't mind one of Red Skeltons paintings.. he did some nice stuff too.

Anonymous said...

I own the other Cugat you refer to. It has the 3 jars at the bottom. To your knowledge, are these the only two?

Karen Funk Blocher said...

As a matter of fact, there's another one of these on eBay right now! It's more like mine than yours, not having the three jars, and the colors look a bit different from on mine. My guess is that he created the original design and then repainted it multiple times to meet market demand. Oh, well. It's still cool!