Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Songs of Innocence: U2's most generous album giveaway

Free music / U2's Song of Innocence

On the same September day that Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook, unveiled his company's iPhone 6 earlier this month in Cupertino, Calif., U2 made a surprise appearance that shook the world and left 500 million iTunes subscribers with a little some extra in their library, the supergroup's new album Songs of Innocence.

I welcomed the opportunity at downloading the latest music from Bono -- getting my hands on something free that otherwise would have cost me at least $9.99 or more. I've listened to the entire album at least half a dozen times in the three weeks since I added the album on Sept. 9, the first day of its release, to my iTunes library and iPod. And, there's lots to like on Songs of Innocence. There's plenty of Bono's confessions to go around for everyone.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bono said, "We wanted to make a very personal album. ... Let's try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys -- first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that's hard. But we went there."

However, within a few days of its release (Apple owns a five-week distribution and streaming exclusivity), which Cook marketed as "the largest album release of all time," I came to realize that my enthusiasm for U2 -- I've always really, really liked that band -- placed me in a minority. Initially, there was a backlash via social media that caused a bit of controversy.

"Who is U2 and why are they sending me their spam music files?" voiced one disgruntled recipient.

It hasn't always been easy to remember that fact that many, many people really like U2 "amid the caustic -- and often hilarious -- responses to the band's Sept. 9 release of Songs of Innocence," wrote Time magazine in a recent cover story.

According to Time, "U2's decision to team up with Apple to deliver the new album to every iTunes subscriber, unasked, raised valid questions about consumer choice and personal space in a world that routinely infringes on both. Moreover, while Apple paid U2 for the album, critics of the deal suggest this point may have been lost on iTunes customers who got it for free (including yours truly). If so, that messaging is certainly at odds with U2's intentions."

In analyzing Apple's U2 mistake for Forbes, contributor Bobby Owsinski wrote: "For U2, the motivation here appears to be all money. There's been no mention anywhere of exactly how much Apple paid the band for the album, but it was mostly likely far more than they could ever have expected had they released in conventionally.

"In fact, this album release appeared to be a last minute decision since there have been reports for some time that the band had postponed its release until 2015 and had pushed the tour schedule back to coincide. With no current tour, U2 can't capitalize on either the album or the current hype surrounding it."

The lead single on Songs of Innocence, "The Miracle (of Joe Ramone)", is currently being featured in an Apple TV commercial  that's part of a promotional campaign for the band on which Apple is spending $100 million.

"Being part of a $100 million ad campaign is always nice though, but again, to what end?" asks Owsinksi. " It's not about brand building since their brand is well-established, and they're not promoting anything at the moment, so it must have been a good chunk of change that Apple slid into the band's coffers.

"So it looked like both parties were off the mark here, although in a couple of weeks we'll all have forgotten about it and moved on to other things."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Modernism: Every picture has a story

A rare opportunity / Modernism comes to the de Young.

Imagine having a rare opportunity to to see one of the most important gifts of modern art ever made to our nation.

On a recent Friday night, my wife and I visited the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to see Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert & Jane Meyerhoff Collection. It is showing in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries through October 12.

Ellsworth Kelly / Orange Green (1966).
The de Young is the sole venue for this collection, which encompasses many of the finest works by Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella, among many -- one of the most representative collections of American painting from the postwar period. It also includes a rare display of Barnett Newman's 15-painting modern art masterpiece The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani. 

Modernism represents the first time that "a significant portion" of the Meyerhoff Collection has been shown outside of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. And, of course, it only adds to the prestige of impressive shows to come to the de Young and its sister museum, the Legion of Honor, in the past year. They include: Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966; David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition; The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 1950-1990; and Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter. Added up, these special exhibitions have helped draw more than 1 million visitors to these San Francisco museums between July 2013 and January 2014.

Walking through the exhibition galleries at the de Young to see Modernism, I was surprised to see that not only was photography allowed -- often it isn't during special exhibitions -- it seemed to be encouraged. After all, every picture has a story -- and I was only all too glad to be able to photograph many of my favorites.

Roy Lichtenstein / Painting with Statue of Liberty (1983).

According to Fine Arts magazine, "In the late 1950s, the Baltimore-based real estate developer and philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff and his wife, the late Jane Meyerhoff, began collecting art by the then-emergent Abstract Expressionists, acquiring paintings and works on paper by Grace Hartigan, Hans Hofmann, and Clyfford Still. Works by Josef Albers, Joseph Cornell and Ad Reinhardt -- artists who rose to prominence in the wake of World War II -- were also among the couple's earliest acquisitions. The Meyerhoffs then focused on the generation of artists who followed  the Abstract Expressionists -- Johns, Kelly, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, and Stella -- all of whom also became close friends of the pair." By the time of Jane's death, in 2004, the Meyerhoff's collection included more than 300 works in a variety of media by more than 50 artists.

Among the works that are featured in the de Young installation are: Perilous Night (1982) by Jasper Johns; Orange Green (1966) by Ellsworth Kelly; Painting with Statue of Liberty (1983) by Roy Lichtenstein; Picasso's Skull (1989-1990) by Brice Marden; Archive (1963) by Robert Rauschenberg, and Flin Flon IV (1969) by Frank Stella.

Observing / The Stations of the Cross.
Meanwhile, one can't help but notice the centerpiece of Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: Newman's The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani (1958-1966), which was presented within a large, dedicated room, "experienced as the artist intended, as a single work in an intimate, contemplative space."

Writing about Newman's The Stations of the Cross, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker noted: "Newman saw himself as seeking and finding an abstract pictorial code for ultimate human concerns: the polarities of light and darkness, of wholeness and transience, despair and longing for redemption, living and dying.

"Sighting back from our own grossly materialistic moment, across the watershed of minimalism, we may find it hard to take Newman's aspirations seriously, but the paintings still produce the sort of elevated feeling that people frequently say they seek in art."

Indeed, every picture has a story.

Let the conversation begin!

All photographs by Michael Dickens © 2014.