In Its Current Form, NBA = Not Basketball Actually

So last night I’m watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns (rising) and the Milwaukee Bucks (buckling) and thinking, what the hell has happened to professional basketball because it sure doesn’t look like the game I loved – geezer moment here – when I wandered the old Boston Garden in the Larry Bird era,

I’ll leave it to wiser heads to debate the impact of three-point-mania on the game. My beef is simpler: traveling violations are officially a thing of the past in the NBA.

The Euro-Step? More like a Eurail Pass – you can travel as far as you want at no additional cost.

Representative NBA-endorsed samples:

 

Many moons ago, when I played a lot of pickup ball around town, I found myself in a game on the outdoor courts at Brookline High with former Boston Celtic Gerald Henderson, who memorably stole the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals.

 

In our playground game, however, Henderson was not quite as adept. On a breakaway that would have won the game, he took four steps before dropping in a layup and I called out “suitcase” – the playground designation for traveling.

Henderson, of course, was incensed, but the other players backed me up. Henderson’s team wound up winning the game anyway, but I’ve always thought the greater victory was mine.

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Let Lord Stanley’s Wild Rumpus Conclude! (Pigs Crash Edition)

As you splendid readers might recall, about a week ago I hitched my hockey wagon to the Montreal Canadiens after decades of despising Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (you can review the sad surrender here).

Since then, the Canadiens have been thoroughly outplayed, outcoached, and outclassed by the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Game 1 saw the Bolts totally manhandle Les Habitants in a 5-1 runaway.

Stay calm, I thought – Montreal got mugged by the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the previous round, but then came back to win the series 4-2.

Sure enough, the Canadiens dominated Game 2 until they had a couple of brain freezes at critical times and lost 3-1.

Game 3? Don’t even ask.

As for tonight’s Game 4, let’s hope the Lightning – a team I’ve found impressive although not all that appealing – can put us out of our misery.

And let me go back to hating the Canadiens for a whole new array of reasons.

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The Nude York Times (Instagram Secret Scroll Edition)

From our Grey Lady pearl-clutching desk

The hardblushing staff has long chronicled the growing willingness of the New York Times to bare all in the name of art – or commerce – in its advertising.

Representative samples include this ulp-skirt ad from Louis Vuitton six years ago . . .

and this Gagosian Gallery ad four years ago . . .

 

and this Christie’s ad the same year . . .

and this M.S. Rau Antiques ad two years ago.

That same auction house was back in the Times last year with an ad for “this vibrant, monumental Salon painting” by Julius LeBlanc Stewart.

Yesterday’s edition of the Times indicated that the editorial side also has skin in the game. From Page One of the ThursdayStyles section:

Here’s how Guy Trebay’s piece begins.

It is the parlor game of the pandemic. Among a certain segment of the scrolling classes, art and literary division, firing up their tablets and smartphones each morning has taken on aspects of a whodunit. Rifling through Instagram feeds, they register with half yawns the sponsored posts and thirst traps, the Throwback Thursday selfies and banal memes of cats. All the while they are waiting to happen upon the latest clue from a particular account.

It is that of rg_bunny1, an enigmatic and anonymous, unabashedly niche figure who, since at least the beginning of lockdown, has released into the daily Instagram slipstream a daily torrent of quirky, particular images that, taken together, speak to an aesthetic that delights, confounds, fixates and infuriates in equal measures and that belongs to who-knows-who.

It’s a long, frothy piece that takes up all of page 6, rambling from a roll call of rg_bunny1’s A-list followers (“the painters Tracey Emin and Jack Pierson; the New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast; Luke Syson, the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England; a smattering of European nobilities with surnames like Windisch-Graetz and Schönbrunn” and etc.) to a game of WhoIsIt, complete with the extensive efforts of an art world sleuth.

The identity of rg_bunny1 remains elusive, though. Mostly because he reveals only the bare minimum about himself.

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Let Lord Stanley’s Wild Rumpus Begin! (Pigs Fly Edition)

I grew up loving the New York Rangers. For most of the 1960s, Jimmy Schnell, his cousin Andy, and I would regularly take the subway to the old Madison Square Garden, buy $2 seats in the second balcony, and settle in to watch what was usually a loss by the Broadway Blueshirts.

(The thing about the second balcony was, we could only see about three-quarters of the action because from the fourth row back, the ice directly below was blocked out. It was supposed to be open seating in the second balcony, but a bunch of regulars greased the ushers frequently enough to reserve the first three rows for them.)

At the time, of course, the National Hockey League consisted of the Original Six – Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The top four teams from the regular season got into the playoffs each year.

Most years that did not include the Rangers.

From the 1957 to 1967, the Rangers made the playoffs three times, never getting past the semifinal round. (After 1967 the NHL doubled in size and I drifted off to do seven years in Ohio, where the local ABC affiliate aired Cincinnati Reds spring training games rather than the Stanley Cup playoffs.)

During that same ten-year stretch, the Canadiens won six Stanley Cup Championships and were very likely the most arrogant athletes on the face of the earth. Under the circumstances, hating Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge was mandatory.

Now that Montreal is in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 28 years, though, I am in a quandary. I’ve watched a lot of hockey over the past month or so and the Canadiens have been by far the most appealing team.

Consider the road Les Habitants have taken to the Finals:

• First, they came back from a three games to one deficit to beat the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs

 

 

•  Then they swept the also-favored Winnipeg Jets

 

 

• Then they dispatched the stupendously unlikable Vegas Golden Knights

 

 

And now they face the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team I haven’t paid much attention to and have nothing against.

But in no small part because Montreal never should have reached the Finals, I’m #TeamCanadiens.

Fly, pigs, fly!

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My Automotive Triumph at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The Weekend Wall Street Journal featured this snippet about a new book by Jeffrey Milstein, Paris: From the Air, described by its publisher Rizzoli as “combining daring aerial photography with the restricted airspace over Paris [to provide] both breathtaking and unparalleled views.”

That image brought back the Paris Rotary Rally the Missus and I conducted years ago as we hustled to return a rental car to avoid an extra day’s financial charge.

On that particular day we started in St. Paul de Vence, got to Paris right around rush hour, and soon hit the mother of all rotaries at Place de la Concorde.

Immédiatement I decided to go Full Boston by busting into the Darwinian maze of traffic (hey – that’s why you take the collision on a rental car, right?), thereby setting off a cacophony of car horns that was très formidable.

Tout suite I was barreling up the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe (the mother-in-law of all rotaries).

Flush with collision insurance, I adopted the same approach as before, muscling my way into the automotive scrum to the audible displeasure of les habitants.

Quel dommage.

And then – miraculeusement – we were at the car rental place with five minutes to spare.

I never drove in Paris again.

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Dear Naomi Osaka, Please See Rafael Nadal Re: Mental Health

Women’s tennis alpha gal Naomi Osaka made news this week by announcing that she would not be talking to the press during the French Open.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she is not going to speak to the media during the upcoming French Open.

The world’s highest-earning female athlete wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday that she hopes the “considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.” . . .

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” wrote Osaka, who was selected as the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 2020. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

Osaka added: “I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”

Here’s one rationale, via Rafael Nadal in the New York Times.

“As sports people, we need to be ready to accept the questions and try to produce an answer, no?” Nadal said. “I understand her, but in the other hand, for me, without the press, without the people who normally are traveling, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, probably we will not be the athletes that we are today. We aren’t going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

For most of his career, Nadal has been the most emotionally honest – and vulnerable – athlete in recent memory, remarkably willing to wrestle with his insecurities in public. Here, from a 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, is a typical example.

Nadal said he would need time to regain the confidence, and the indomitable status, he had in 2010, when he became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same season. He said that even if he wins the U.S. Open, he won’t feel in perfect mental condition until next year.

“I’m going to go and practice with the right attitude,” he said. “And hopefully next January I will be there competing at a little bit higher level than this year.”

At an especially low point in 2015, after losing in the third round of the Miami Open to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, Nadal said,  “The thing is the question of being enough relaxed to play well on court. A month and a half ago I didn’t have the game. My game has improved but … I am still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments, important moments, still a little anxious on those moments.”

Several months later Nadal suffered a second-round loss to No. 102-ranked qualifier Dustin Brown at Wimbledon. A report in World Tennis noted how far Nadal had fallen and how open he had been about it.

With his ranking now set to drop well out of the top 10, the 29-year-old Nadal is mired by an extreme lack of confidence that has haunted him all season – losing at Roland Garros for only the second time in a decade and not winning a singles title on his beloved European clay. The 14-time major singles champion has been candid in press conferences about this lack of confidence, using surprisingly harsh negative language to describe the state of his game. Chris Evert remarked on ESPN prior to Nadal’s match with Brown that she had “never heard of a top player talk so much about a lack of confidence.”

Nadal has recovered enough confidence since then to win six more majors, an Olympic gold medal, and a Davis Cup title.

Naomi Osaka says she doesn’t want to subject herself to people who doubt her.

Rafael Nadal, by contrast, has shown that dealing with the press doesn’t always damage a player’s mental health. In some cases, it might even be therapeutic.

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Dead Blogging ‘T. Rex Adventure’ at the Stone Zoo

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Stoneham the other day to Explore the Roar! at Zoo New England’s Stone Zoo (through September 6, advance online ticket purchase required) and say, it was T-rrific.

Take a prehistoric journey through time and walk among the giants that once ruled the planet in Stone Zoo’s all-new T. Rex Adventure!

You’ll come face-to-face with colossal creatures from the past, from a towering 42-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex to the 20-foot long plant-eating Plateosaurus. Nestled within the trees, bushes and undergrowth awaits an array of moving and roaring animatronic dinosaurs, as well as realistic dinosaur skeletons. Get colossally curious as you explore the Zoo to make discoveries and connections between animals from the past and present!

The zoo has thoughtfully provided a virtual tour, but you really should see the dinos in person.

The Stone Zoo is always a good time (especially the Boo Zoo at Halloween), the kids being as much fun to watch as the animals. Plus, the Caribbean Flamingos are a hoot, the Chacoan Peccaries are quite handsome, and the Mexican grey wolves are having themselves a moment, complete with their own live cam.

That’s noteworthy, given that a local Mom told us, “I’ve been here a thousand times and I have never seen one of those wolves.”

We saw four of them. You can too. Well worth a trundle.

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Dead Blogging ‘Learning to Look: The Addison at 90’

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Andover the other day to wander around the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy (free, but reservations required) and say, it was swell to be back at that gem of a museum.

On the ground floor is the Addison’s 90th anniversary celebration (through December 31), complete with festive cupcakes and a complimentary copy of Treasures of the Addison Gallery of American Art, a hardcover compilation of 240 works from the museum’s collection.

Learning to Look: The Addison at 90 is similarly expansive.

Founded through the largesse of Phillips Academy alumnus Thomas Cochran (PA 1890), the Addison Gallery of American Art opened its doors in May of 1931 with a permanent collection of some 400 works. One of the first museums devoted solely to the art of the United States, the Addison was forged with a dynamic and unrelentingly adventurous spirit that has, through the support of generous donors, allowed the museum to assemble one of the world’s most significant and forward-looking collections of American art across media. The collection, which has since grown to include more than 23,000 works, allows visitors to trace the cultural, political, and social forces that have shaped and defined the American experience from the 18th century to the present day.

Filling the Addison’s first floor galleries, Learning to Look: The Addison at 90 features celebrated favorites, lesser-known gems, and new acquisitions that bring to life the Addison’s storied history and ongoing commitment to groundbreaking artists. With an installation that allows objects to speak across time and media, this exhibition includes masterworks by artists such as Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, McArthur Binion, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Among the works in the wide-ranging exhibit:

Thomas Eakins, Salutat, 1898

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Lines, 1919

Berenice Abbott, Canyon: 46th Street and Lexington Avenue Looking West, 1936

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Drive-Thru, 2002

McArthur Binion, DNA: Work, 2019

The exhibit features a Who’s Who of American artists, ranging from James McNeill Whistler to Jacob Lawrence to Arthur Dove to Jasper Johns to Franz Kline to Cindy Sherman and beyond. Totally engaging.

The Addison’s second floor houses the monumental Mel Kendrick: Seeing Things in Things (through October 3).

Presenting approximately 60 sculptures as well as a selection of table-top sculptural “sketches,” prints, and photographs spanning this adventurous artist’s decades-long career, this major traveling exhibition will explore how Kendrick exploits the essential properties of his selected medium, whether wood, rubber, or, more recently, concrete, to create sculpture that inherently lays bare the process by which it was made. By leaving visible traces of his trial-and-error process—marks, cuts, paint, oil stains—Kendrick endows his materials with a remarkable sense of immediacy and animation. Moreover, his meditations on the relationships between inside and outside, positive and negative, organic and geometric, nature and culture, sculpture and base, sculpture and sculpture, sculpture and print have led to infinite experimentation.

The dimensions – in both senses of the word – of Kendrick’s sculptures are what’s most striking. His 1983 work Nemo spiders across an entire gallery at the Addison.

Kendrick’s 1995 sculpture Black Trunk was described by the David Nolan Gallery in a 2011 exhibit as “a formidable, hollowed out tree trunk [that] has been cut apart horizontally and reassembled.”

Kendrick also “inked the cylindrical surface of ‘Black Trunk’ to create a ‘woodblock’ of the surface entitled ‘Trunk Drawing.'”

Seeing the two side-by-side is thoroughly immersive.

As are both current exhibits. The Addison, as always, is well worth a trundle.

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Dead Blogging ‘Paul Cézanne: Influence’ at Boston’s MFA

Well the Missus and I trundled over to The Fenway the other day to wander around the Museum of Fine Arts (reservations required) and say, it was swell just to be back there after a year of staying away.

Also swell was Paul Cézanne: Influence (through October 17), which aims to “explore the artist’s connections over time.”

For Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), creativity grew from a fusion of observing the world, trusting one’s own spirit, and studying the works of his predecessors. In turn, Cézanne’s creative vision—and the paintings that flowed from it—compelled other artists who followed.

Bringing together works by painters from the 18th through the 20th centuries—from Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot to Pablo Picasso, Charles Sheeler, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse—this exhibition places Cézanne’s works at the center of a dialogue that speaks to the generative power of the connection between artists across time. Featuring 21 portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, the works on view include MFA icons such as Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (about 1877) in addition to seven rarely seen loans of works by Cézanne from private collections.

“Paul Cézanne: Influence” follows “Cézanne: In and Out of Time,” an exhibition that explored the artist’s work within the context of his contemporaries.

The exhibit connected Cézanne’s portrait Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair (above) with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Woman with a Pink Shawl (about 1865-70) . . .

and Pablo Picasso’s Fernande Olivier (1905-06).

Similarly we get the trio of Cézanne’s Vue sur L’Estaque et Le Château d’If, 1883-85 . . .


with Charles Sheeler’s 1915 Landscape . . .

and William H. Johnson’s Cagnes-Sur-Mer, 1928-29.

The exhibit is small, but there’s a quiet rhythm and harmony among the paintings that’s lovely to absorb.

Far more sprawling and much less quiet is Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation (through July 25).

The post-graffiti moment in 1980s New York City marked the transition of street art from city walls and subway trains onto canvas and into the art world. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) became the galvanizing, iconic frontrunner of this transformational and insurgent movement in contemporary American art, which resulted in an unprecedented fusion of creative energies that defied longstanding racial divisions. This exhibition features his works in painting, sculpture, drawing, video, music, and fashion, alongside works by his contemporaries—and sometimes collaborators—A-One, ERO, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Keith Haring, Kool Koor, LA2, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Rammellzee, and Toxic. Throughout the 1980s, these artists fueled new directions in fine art, design, and music, driving the now-global popularity of hip-hop culture.

“Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” illuminates how this group’s subversive abstractions of both visual and verbal language—including neo-expressionism, freestyle sampling, and wildstyle lettering—rocketed their creative voices onto the main stages of international art and music. It is the first major exhibition to contextualize Basquiat’s work in relation to hip-hop and marks the first time his extensive, robust, and reflective portraiture of his Black and Latinx friends and fellow artists has been given prominence in scholarship on his oeuvre.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be the first to admit that I have exactly zERO ability to assess the work in this exhibit.

(To be sure graf goes here)

To be sure, I can see what the artists are doing and I can understand that there is artistic merit in their work. I just don’t know how to judge the good from the bad from the mediocre. I don’t possess that critical yardstick.

I know, for instance, when a Renoir is sappy, the same way I know when a Whistler is luminous. I just don’t have the vocabulary for these works. So I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anthony Clarke, 1985

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hollywood Africans, 1983

Keith Haring, Untitled (Boombox), 1984

Toxic, Ransom Note: CEE, 1984

You’ll find the kissin’ cousins to the hip-hop school in Collecting Stories: The Invention of Folk Art (through January 9).

Why do we differentiate folk art from fine art? “Collecting Stories: The Invention of Folk Art” takes on this seemingly simple question by reconsidering works on paper and sculpture from the MFA’s Karolik Collection of American Folk Art. In the 1940s, Maxim Karolik, a Russian immigrant who became an authority on American art, championed including folk art in an encyclopedic museum—shaking up established standards. MFA curators resisted the idea at first, and although they ultimately accepted the value of folk art, they remained reluctant to display it alongside the Museum’s so-called fine art. Today, the MFA commends Karolik’s visionary steps to diversify the MFA collection and to make it more inclusive.

The exhibit includes a charming 1962 WGBH interview with Maxim Karolik that you need to see in person because the video has inexplicably not been uploaded to YouTube.

Regardless, lots more to see throughout the MFA. Well worth a trundle.

(P.S. It was refreshing to be in a museum where people kept a respectful distance from others and were there to see the art, as opposed to the crowd at the Gardner who seemed mainly there to take selfies in front of empty picture frames. We have Netflix to thank for that.)

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Dead Blogging the Nasturtiums at the Gardner Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled over to The Fenway yesterday afternoon to take in the Gardner’s annual flower show (reservations required) and say, it was swell.

Cascades of flowering nasturtium vines make their brief—but dramatic—appearance above the courtyard, celebrating the arrival of spring at the Museum. (Nasturtium blooms last about three weeks.) The annual Hanging Nasturtiums display continues an annual tradition started by Isabella during the week before Easter, marking the return of color to the Fenway.

Nasturtium vines (Tropaeolum majus) are started from seed in June, planted in late summer and trained in the Museum’s greenhouses throughout the winter to prepare them for their spectacular spring debut. The vines require continuous care in the greenhouse to ensure dramatic length—up to twenty feet—and require up to ten workers to install in the Museum. The result is a stunning display that cannot be found anywhere else.

Beyond the nasturtiums, the Gardner’s courtyard offers a riotous display of other flowers that are thoroughly cheerful and lovely.

(I need to take a moment here to strike a less flowery note: People, it’s sad to say, are the worst. Exhibit Umpteen: You stand there gazing around the courtyard and two seconds later some beer-bellied bozo is breathing down your neck because he has to take a photo from that exact spot right now. Throughout our visit other people resolutely refused to keep their distance because, really, who gives a damn about us.)

Undaunted, we also swung by the exhibit Shen Wei: Painting in Motion.

Dancer, choreographer, painter, and filmmaker Shen Wei moves fluidly between disciplines and cultures to create art that expresses a common spirit animating the world around us. His theory of dance seeks to align the energies inside and outside the body, approaching the body and its environment as fundamentally interconnected. As a painter, Shen Wei uses the monumental scale of the canvas to create immersive visual environments that evoke ancient Chinese landscape paintings while enlisting the drips and gestures of twentieth-century abstraction. The size of the paintings invites the viewer on a journey along the canvas, integrating movement into the experience of static works. His films synthesize choreography, time, place, and light to craft ethereal worlds. Shen Wei’s practice transcends the boundaries between visual and performing arts, seeking spiritual meaning that unites his work across disciplines.

Fun fact to know and tell: Shen Wei created this piece by putting paint on the soles of his feet and dancing around the canvas.

Excellent!

The Shen Wei exhibit is there though June 20th. The nasturtiums are there, with any luck, through the end of April

The beer-belly guy will be there indefinitely.

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