From “Vision of Peace” to “Spoonbridge and Cherry” on the Green Line in the Twin Cities

VisionofPeace2During my latest visit to Minnesota, I jumped on the Green Line, the splendid, new street car line in the Twin Cities, that ties together Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

It cost me 75 cents, a real bargain, for an almost hour-long trip from behind the splendid Saint Paul train depot to Target Field, Minneapolis baseball stadium. At both ends, as I continued my search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, I found two remarkable pieces of art, both made by Swedish immigrants, which have become iconic symbols of each city.

In Saint Paul’s City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse’s Memorial Hall stands Carl Milles’s “Vision of Peace.” Unveiled in 1936, it drew on a Native American ceremony that Milles, who was born in Sweden but spent most of his adult life in America before he returned and, in 1955, died in Sweden, had once witnessed in Oklahoma. Milles originally called it the “Indian God of Peace,” but it was renamed “Vision of Peace” at a special ceremony in 1994 involving the major Minnesota Native American tribes. It’s made of white Mexican onyx, is 36 feet tall, and weighs 60 tons. It fills the hall and is truly magnificent.Green Line

At the other end of the line, after an enjoyable, albeit a bit slow, ride past the State Capitol and along eclectic University Boulevard with auto dealers, supermarkets, the excellent Midway Used Bookstore, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, the Finn/Sisu store for cross country skis, and everything else you might want to find, the street car meanders through the University of Minnesota campus, over the Mississippi River and past the quickly rising Minnesota Vikings football stadium, into downtown Minneapolis and its “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and his Dutch born wife  Coosje van Bruggen. The sculpture is located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden next to the Walker Art Center and it is just as fun to see in winter as in summer.

SpoonandCherryOldenburg came to America as a young boy and grew up in Chicago, where his father was Sweden’s consul general. He and his wife, who died in 2009, created the “Spoonbridge and Cherry” in the mid-1980s.

Like Milles’s “Vision of Peace” in Saint Paul, it dominates the surroundings as it lies there right in the middle of the Sculpture Garden with the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. And like with Milles, Oldenburg’s work of art has become a icon in the Twin Cities and it is, of course, yet another example of Minnesota’s Scandinavian connection.

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Finnish flags and ovations greeted Osmo Vänskä and his Minnesota Orchestra

Finnish flags waving in the audience and repeated standing ovations greeted Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra on Friday night during a glorious evening.

It had been a long time since they had heard them, and they were ready– full house! And the orchestra that had been locked out for over a year in a most un-Minnesotan way played their heart out. Sibelius Concert

Afterwards, Vänskä signed and signed the 2014 Grammy winning CD with Jean Sibeliues Symphonies 1 and 4, exactly what he and his orchestra had just so splendidly performed.  Clearly, he has won not only Minnesota’s Finnish Americans’ but all Minnesotans’ hearts, and they all want him to stay. But he resigned in frustration at the end of the nasty labor conflict and although negotiations about a new contract are under way, no one knows for sure how they will end.

The 474-day lockout resulted in the longest symphony work stoppage in US history. The orchestra’s CEO was forced to resign the other day, which raised the hopes of its many fans that Vänskä, the music director since 2003, would be coming back. And today, just hours before the concert, eight Board members resigned, one more step in what everyone says is a necessary cleaning house process.

We’ll see, but Friday night was for celebration and joy, and the public seemed ready to forgive and come back…if only Osmo stays, and, frankly, I don’t see how it can end any other way.

 

And now, Detroit is officially bankrupt…

Detroit is now, officially, bankrupt, and it’s time, again, in telling the history of this once great city of Detroit — home to the automobile as well as to The Supremes — to remind of the book, “Ruins of Detroit,” by two young French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.Ruin in Detroit

Their photos tell the tragic story better than any words of how Detroit’s decline has created a city of poverty and neglect and decay — an urban tragedy.

And then, it’s time, again, to ask the question – how could America let this happen?

Detroit United Artists Theater

Claes Oldenburg – “the pop patriarch” – now at MoMa

I have to head up to New York soon to check out two exhibits opening today at MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art, with work by Claes Oldenburg, the”pop patriarch,” and a “pop master,” according to two recent articles in the New York Times.

Oldenburg, now 84 years old, has made New York his home since 1956, but he was born in Stockholm, Sweden and grew up in Chicago. Today, he is one of the most prominent living Swedish-Americans, and I love his work.

The two exhibits, ”The Street and the Store” and ”Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing,” are described under the headline, ”Window Shopping With a Pop Patriarch” and in an interview with the artist under the headline “Dark Roots of a Pop Master’s Sunshine,” Oldenburg says:

“It all sort of coalesced as the ’60s came. It was magical, when you think about it, because everything seemed to start all of a sudden.” With the election of John F. Kennedy “there was a feeling that the country was going to come to life.”

As to Oldenburg’s art and longevity, the paper writes:

“He’s not seeing America’s popular culture through the eyes of someone born deep inside it, the way Andy Warhol did as a poor kid from Pittsburgh. Rather, Mr. Oldenburg came at that culture as a bit of an outsider, with a European’s eyes, and always saw it as bigger than it was and more full of magic than such ordinary subjects had a right to be.”

It’s “Nordic Cool” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Yes, it’s big and Nordic and it kicks off tonight for a whole month with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of the Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo and with Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen performing Nordic music by Sibelius, Alfvén, Grieg, Leif and Nielsen.Nordic Cool 2013

Never before, neither in the U.S. nor in Europe, has such a broad Nordic culture initiative taken place, and in this case it was a Kennedy Center’s initiative, with support from the five Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland).

– Yes, it’s really exciting and a great opportunity for the Nordic countries to showcase what is best in Nordic culture, said Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth at a press briefing today at the Swedish Embassy, ​​House of Sweden, here in Washington, DC.

All the Nordic countries, plus Greenland and the Faroe Islands, have turned up in full force with all they have to offer in music, theater, film, food, dance, architecture, art and design. From Sweden, except for the Royal Philharmonics, there is the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s production of “Fanny and Alexander”, performances by Anne Sofie von Otter, workshops on Nordic literature, not the least detective novels, and films like Jan Troell’s newest, “The Last Sentence.”

It will be interesting to see how this major Nordic venture is received by the American audiences. In any case, it’s a great chance for them to learn a lot about what makes northern Europe tick, and to tick so successfully.

Cool.

An architectural treasure in smalltown Indiana

On our way recently by car to Chicago, through West Virginia and Kentucky, our destination was the little town of Columbus in southern Indiana, on the flat farmland between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky.

Now, I usually stay away from the word “unique.” It is overused and few things are really unique. But the town of Columbus, Indiana is unique. With only 44,000 inhabitants it has become an architectural treasure. Six of Columbus’ modernist buildings have been declared National Historic Landmarks and little Columbus ranks sixth in America after the big cities of Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC as a premier architectural destination.

It all started when the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church opened during World War II. A bank and the stunning North Christian Church by his son Eero Saarinen followed, by then thanks to local engine maker Cummins Inc. and the vision of its CEO J. Irwin Miller and his new Cummins Foundation. Miller, born and raised in Columbus, clearly valued good architecture and good art and saw its importance to the quality of life of his home town, for his Foundation offered to pay the architects’ fees, first for the schools and then for any new public building in town.

Many a leading architect heard the call: I.M. Pei, Gunnar Birkerts, Robert Venturi, Harry Weese, Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, Richard Meier, Robert Stern. Their work, office buildings, schools, fire stations, can be found all over town.

The Commons, designed in 2011 by Koetter Kim & Associates, with its gigantic climbing tree, is what must be one of the great indoor children’s playgrounds in any downtown.

The global headquarters of Cummins Inc. was designed by Kevin Roche and houses an engine museum with a stunning garden, created by landscape architect Jack Curtis. J. Irwin Miller lived until he died in in 2004 in a home designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957, with Alexander Girard’s interior design and Dan Kiley as landscape architect — all legends in American architecture.

Columbus is also the scene of great public art. Outside Pei’s library stands Henry Moore’s “Large Arch,” in front of The Commons is Bernar Venet’s red “2 Arcs de 212.5°,” in front of the splendid modern offices of the local newspaper The Republic, designed by Myron Goldsmith is “Birds of Fire” by Ted Sitting Crow Garner, and Dale Chihuly’s magnificent “Yellow Neon Chandelier and Persians” hangs in the Visitor Center.

It just goes on and on. Go there! There is nothing like it in all America.

“Detropia” — a film about a city in tragic decline

“Capitalism is a great system, I love it, but it exploits the weak”, says one of the main characters in the stunning documentary “Detropia” currently playing at the premier documentary film festival “Silverdocs” in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

The film, about the impact on an entire city and its inhabitants of the brutal side of American capitalism, is the grim tale of the decline of Detroit, from a glamorous city with nearly 2 million inhabitants and a thriving automotive industry, to a city in tragic decline that has lost over half its population and with a higher percentage of poor people than any other American city.

Made by young documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the film is currently shown in packed theaters at the festival on the premises of the American Film Institute. Their film creates the same heartbreaking impressions as the two young French photographers Yves Marchand’s and Romain Meffres’ book “The Ruins of Detroit”, which I wrote about last year.

And the conclusion is also the same: how could America let this happen?