Art beat // The right place at the right time

Elliott Erwitt retrospective at the Weinstein Gallery

EAST HARRIET — The short biography on photographer Elliott Erwitt’s personal website concludes with this line: “Elliott Erwitt likes children and dogs.”

Erwitt certainly does seem to have an affinity for canines; they star in several of the Magnum agency photographer’s best-known images, often shot at dog’s eye level. It’s a witty set-up: we get a Chihuahua’s bug-eyed, panting exuberance full-on, but only catch a glimpse of its owner’s sandaled feet and the hem of her calf-length dress.

Humor is a key element of Erwitt’s work, and he seems to come at it effortlessly. Two boys watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from an apartment window, unaware of the giant, inflatable Pink Panther lurking around the corner. Erwitt visits the Prado Museum in Madrid and finds a crowd of men admiring a Goya nude while a lone woman examines the fully clothed version of the same painting.

In a career-spanning exhibition of Erwitt’s photographs soon to close at Weinstein Gallery we see examples of the other elements that define the photographer’s work, among them his impeccable timing and great humanity.

Both qualities are exemplified in a photograph from 1950 shot on the beach in Santa Monica as the sun sets over the waves. Erwitt frames two lovers in the side-view mirror of their car, snapping his shutter just before or after a kiss.

Erwitt’s celebrity portraits capture the famous at unguarded moments. Che Guevara was in his mid-30s when Erwitt photographed him in Havana, Cuba in 1964, characteristically smoking a cigar. Guevara watches dreamily as smoke curls upward, a satisfied half-smile on his lips.

The Weinstein Gallery show also includes two touching portraits of Marilyn Monroe, both shot in New York City in 1956. Monroe, shot in intimate close-up, lounges in a white terrycloth bathrobe as she reads and chats with someone off camera. She is smiling and relaxed, her platinum curls perfectly tussled.

That all these images seem like snapshots — unforced, spontaneous, yet elegantly composed — may be Erwitt’s greatest gift of all.

An exhibition of Elliott Erwitt photographs runs through Jan. 9 at Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St. 822-1722.


Imperial porcelain

TANGLETOWN — Guests at the May 25, 1913 dinner to mark the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule over the Russian Empire sat down to a feast that began with turtle soup, made its way after several courses to wild goat saddle followed by young chicken with truffles, included fried ducks and roasted hens and, after cucumber salad and asparagus, ended with three dessert courses.

Those visiting The Museum of Russian Art this winter won’t be coming to learn what the tsars and tsarinas ate — fascinating as it may be — but what they ate it on: the richly decorated porcelain manufactured for Russian royals.

The museum is displaying dozens of pieces from imperial dinner services, and the exhibition set against the backdrop of House of Romanov’s turbulent three-century rule, a story almost as delicious as that dinner menu. As usual, the museum has done a fantastic job of providing historical context for a collection of objects, just as it did with exhibitions of traditional textiles and Russian Orthodox icons.

Come for the porcelain, stay for the story.

“Dinner with the Tsars: Russian Imperial Porcelain” runs through Aug. 7 at The Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Ave. S. 821-9045.


Playing politics

THE WEDGE — Is January, two months after historic mid-term elections, an odd time to hold a political theater festival?
Yes and no.

Sure, the folks at Box Wine Theatre would have preferred a date closer to Election Day to premier their selection of seven 10-minute, politically themed plays. But scheduling conflicts prevented that from happening, company Board Member Lesley Rice said.

Then again, with the echo of overheated election season rhetoric fading, audiences may have regained their appetite for theater with a political bent.

Rice directs “Concessions” from a script by Anil Hurkadli, in which a politician reflects on his choices after losing a re-election bid. With the outgoing incumbent’s party affiliation unclear, the script focuses on an elected representative’s duty to his constituents.

Rice said the 10-minute plays reflect a variety of political viewpoints; Box Wine Theatre requested scripts that reflect the entire political spectrum. Approaches vary, too, from a sci-fi spoof of equal employment labor laws to a serious examination of a terrorist suicide bomber’s motives.

The festival also will serve as a fundraiser for Box Wine Theatre. The nonprofit theater currently operates as a nonprofit with St. Paul’s Springboard for the Arts as fiscal agent, but aims to become an independent entity by 2012, Rice said.

“Raucous Caucus: Box Wine Theatre’s 10-Minute Political Play Festival” runs Jan. 6, 12, 13, 20 and 27 at 7 p.m. at Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St. 825-8949.