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Who will take the noise out of sport?

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Who will take the noise out of sport?

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SPECTATOR USA, September 7, 2018

Who will take the noise out of sport?

I can’t hear myself watch

The US Open Tennis Championships concludes this week. ‘Let’s make some noise!’ Or better yet, let’s not.

Sport is losing its appeal to me: I can’t take the noise. Endless chatter obscures what we see on the courts and fields of play. A set of earplugs should not be required equipment of the game.

Like much else, the first mention of earplugs appears in The Odyssey. As Odysseus is lashed to the mast, his crew packs their own ears with beeswax to save them from the Siren’s Song. Whenever I attend an amplified event, I’m reminded that Homer was on to something about epic wax. As we do battle against the sirens of the street and the Siren Song of the culture, earplugs and other noise-cancelling devices have become a booming industry, worth half a billion dollars a year.

Good sound is essential to great sports. What is skiing without the schuss of the snow, or sailing without the snap of the wind? The martial crunch of football is underscored by the military precision of the halftime show. At its best, baseball is an organ recital — or, in humbler settings, nature’s symphony of summer — punctuated by the crack of a bat.

Contemporary sport gets lost in the noise. Good games are ruined by bad sounds. The 2010 World Cup was drowned out by the mind-numbing buzz of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas. These horns, emitting a deafening 113 decibels at a distance of six feet, were originally used to send signals between towns. Likewise the atonal timpani of indoor basketball, that acid jazz of squeaky sneakers, pealing whistles and pneumatic rubber, is increasingly lost amid the roars of the court and the brays of the announcers. Broadcasters now rely on spy-like microphones and electronic filters to isolate the true sounds of the game, but those in the stadium, and the players in particular, enjoy no such relief.

Tennis has always understood the importance of quiet play. That’s one reason for its continued appeal. Two years ago, the United States Tennis Association heard an earful when this code of silence was broken. The problem was the acoustics of the US Open’s reengineered centre court. When the Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it became the largest-capacity tennis stadium in the world.

Unfortunately, it was built on the swampy ground of a former salt-water marsh, the dump site that was the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Valley of Ashes’. The ground did not lend itself to building a fully enclosed stadium. The new stadium had no roof, and the storms of late summer had a nasty habit of disrupting play. In 2016, the USTA covered its centre court with a $150 million retractable canopy made of lightweight, translucent material. The new roof kept out the rain, but it also kept in the noise.

‘Fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium no longer need umbrellas,’ read a report in the New York Times. ‘They might, however, need earplugs.’ The new roof was projecting the noise of spectators seated in the upper decks back onto the court. The pitter-patter of rain bouncing the roof’s diaphanous shell was also sending down cascading waves of sound, drowning out important sonic information in the game’s play — the timing of a bounce, the nature of the thwack of an opponent’s racket against the ball, the ever-informative grunts of the players.

The noise flummoxed the players, as well as the US Tennis Center, which had to bring in acousticians to study the problem. The situation also raised the alarm over the role of sound both for professional players and those of us who hope to enjoy the game. ‘We use our ears when we play,’ said the player Andy Murray. ‘If we played with our ears covered or with headphones on, it would be a big advantage if your opponent wasn’t wearing them.’

This year’s US Open is having a better encore performance. The culprit was indeed noisy fans — the fans inside the stadium’s air conditioning system. Along with some buzzing cellular transmitters, this humming rooftop equipment, bouncing off the new roof, was found to be the underlying cause of much of the additional courtside sound. Still, the US Open sounds a lot louder than it once did, even on TV.

Tennis plays out in a Cartesian space set apart from the chaos of life. Wimbledon is a classical concert performed in a stadium of near total silence; a word midpoint may get you ejected from the stands. Played among some 20,000 Americans, not to mention opinionated New Yorkers just a stone’s throw from LaGuardia Airport, the US Open has never quite sounded like Wimbledon’s contrapuntal fugue, but here the crowd’s abated potential can make the points all the more thrilling. ‘There’s that tension that everybody feels,’ says Venus Williams. ‘The more important the moment, that silence says it all.’

Williams has it right. Sport is a concert, and great sport needs its silence too. The noise-making of today’s games only adds to the din of modern life. But who can still the sounds of mass entertainment? New balls, please.

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WSJ: Seeing Her Worldview in a Circle

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WSJ: Seeing Her Worldview in a Circle

 Howardena Pindell’s ‘Night Flight’ (2015-16) PHOTO: HOWARDENA PINDELL/GARTH GREENAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Howardena Pindell’s ‘Night Flight’ (2015-16) PHOTO: HOWARDENA PINDELL/GARTH GREENAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 4, 2018

Seeing Her Worldview in a Circle

Howardena Pindell’s long career defies easy categorization, but a recurring motif connects a childhood memory to much of her work. A review of "Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va. Through Nov. 25

The art of Howardena Pindell comes back around to the circle. In “What Remains to Be Seen,” her 100-work retrospective now on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there are brushed circles, sprayed circles, and circles punched out of paper. There are paper disks, thousands of them numbered by hand, and the holes from which they were cut. And there are depictions of stars and planets—in her 40s, Ms. Pindell took up the study of astronomy: Orbs of color and light cluster together in dense, spiraling constellations of collage....

-READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE-

 Howardena Pindell’s ‘Untitled #5B (Krakatoa)’ (2007) PHOTO: HOWARDENA PINDELL/GARTH GREENAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Howardena Pindell’s ‘Untitled #5B (Krakatoa)’ (2007) PHOTO: HOWARDENA PINDELL/GARTH GREENAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

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Shimmering Black History Brought to Life

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Shimmering Black History Brought to Life

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Shimmering Black History Brought to Life

A native son of Chicago, Charles White was a radical political progressive with a retrograde artistic talent. A review of ‘Charles White: A Retrospective’ on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through September 3, 2018. 

Chicago

Born on this city’s South Side, Charles White (1918-1979) was already a star of the Black Chicago Renaissance, a Midwestern version of the Harlem Renaissance, by his early 20s. At the time, the artist kept a sketchbook that is one of the first objects in his illuminating retrospective—his first major show in over 35 years—now open at the Art Institute of Chicago. That small book can be easy to miss, but it is worth close inspection.

White’s prodigious talents are already manifest in these pages. Here are studies ranging from the dancers of Degas to the statues of the Baule, a people of Ivory Coast. Here are confident drawings in charcoal, pastel, ink, graphite, pen, and watercolor. Here is a portrait of Langston Hughes that includes “his autograph,” as White annotates with an arrow. And finally here are White’s own “theories on teaching art,” where he writes: “Learn to draw the figure, to compose and express ideas clearly, dramatically. Style will come by itself as a matter of course.”

White emerged at a moment of foment in 1930s black Chicago. His challenge was finding the style that best represented the struggles of African-Americans and the working class, and pursuing it in an era increasingly estranged from the craft of illustration. With a lifelong focus on draftsmanship, which also included astonishing achievements in printmaking, White was a radical progressive with a retrograde talent.

 Charles White’s ‘Sound of Silence’ (1978) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC./

Charles White’s ‘Sound of Silence’ (1978) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC./

Curated by Sarah Kelly Oehler of the Art Institute and Esther Adler of the Museum of Modern Art, “Charles White: A Retrospective” highlights the connections among his roots, his ideas and his art. A map in the exhibition includes points of interest that stretched from his South Side home to the main branch of the Chicago Public Library, where his working mother often deposited him as a child. Here, through books such as Alain Locke’s “The New Negro,” White first engaged with the neglected storylines of black America.

This native son attracted early acclaim in Chicago. White went from a Saturday scholarship student at the Art Institute at age 13 to major commissions for murals of black history in his 20s. When the State of Illinois sponsored the “American Negro Exposition” to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 13th Amendment in 1940, White’s drawing “There Were No Crops This Year,” a swirling graphite illustration of two downcast figures holding an empty sack, received top prize.

 Charles White’s ‘Our Land’ (1951) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC.

Charles White’s ‘Our Land’ (1951) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC.

White created cycles of visual mythology out of black American history. Take, for example, his mural commissioned for Virginia’s Hampton Institute and completed in 1943 showing the “Contribution of the Negro to Democracy in America.” This packed composition inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (and shown here only in reproduction) includes numerous historical figures led by an avenging angel fighting against the anti-democratic forces of bondage. White’s studies for the work depict Denmark Vesey and Paul Robeson as luminous figures in pencil, their faces seeming to reflect light as though rendered in metallic relief. A similar study of Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington reveals White’s sensuous all-over line, seen in the wood grain above Washington’s head and in the folds of Truth’s headscarf.

 Charles White’s ‘Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man)’ (1973) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC./

Charles White’s ‘Black Pope (Sandwich Board Man)’ (1973) PHOTO: THE CHARLES WHITE ARCHIVES INC./

White’s talents brought him from the heartland to the coasts. He became immersed in the Harlem Renaissance and then the worlds of black and blacklisted Hollywood. In 1965 he took an influential teaching position at the Otis Art Institute, which he held for the remaining 14 years of his life. By traveling to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in October, and then to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in February 2019, “Charles White: A Retrospective” will follow the artist’s personal migration.

But White never changed political direction. His worldview spanned the Old Left of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s and ’70s. A journey in 1951 to the Soviet Union even included a special trip to the Republic of Georgia to visit the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. The sojourn exposed him to Socialist Realism and upended his own style, which thereafter became more rounded and naturalistic, focused less on historical figures and more on contemporary images of work and toil. A later turn to collage-like compositions, borrowing neo-Dada tropes and Surrealist symbolism, connected his final work to Afrofuturism and the Black Arts Movement.

One might wonder where White’s talents would have taken him had his interests in black experience not become enmeshed in class politics. Nevertheless, just as White gave vision to black history, so is art history rightfully rediscovering White’s vision. “I try to find and search for answers to three questions,” he said in 1971. “Who am I? What am I? Why?” Thanks to this probing exhibition, we can follow his search.

(June 27, 2018)

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