Whitney Biennial Focuses on the Art of Curation

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(Public Collectors is in the Whitney Biennial)
BY STEVEN ROSEN /CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / MAY 21, 2014
MAY 21, 2014 

The Whitney Biennial is a bellwether of new trends in the contemporary art world. Or, at least, on what is most important in the eyes of the curators charged with choosing a particular year’s participating artists — and what’s important to those artists, themselves.

And this year’s Whitney Biennial signaled, to me at least, that artists — presumably with curators’ approval — are continuing to move way beyond traditional notions of what constitutes visual art. They’re turning curation itself, along with the related field of archiving, into an art form rather than a way to document and preserve art.

As such, it mirrors what’s happening in society in general as the notion of “curating” moves beyond a specific profession and into everyday living — a way of navigating and valuing all the overwhelming choices in a global village. 

For this year’s important Biennial, which ends on Sunday, Manhattan’s Whitney Museum of American Art asked three outsiders to each curate a separate floor. They are Stuart Comer for the third floor (chief curator of media and performance art at the Whitney); Anthony Elms for the second floor (associate curator of Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art), and Michelle Grabner for the fourth floor (professor in the painting and drawing department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago).  

They selected 103 participants — individual artists as well as groups, collectives and filmmakers. They even chose as a participant the celebrated novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008. 

The kinds of work submitted by these artists vary tremendously — from sprawling installations to feature-length documentaries to photographic portraiture to Etel Adnan’s small and colorfully Modernist oil paintings, abstract and geometrical but suggestive of landscapes. (She is an 89-year-old Lebanese-American artist.)

But what struck me the most were the entries that revolved around collecting itself. The Wallace exhibit was a case in point. Grabner selected his notebooks (loaned by University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center, an archive and museum) as a statement of solidarity, I suspect — writing can be a visual art because we look at the words and letters. Also, maybe, as a way to remember and honor someone no longer with us to fight for his own reputation.

It’s touching. But as far as finding visual art in the written or printed word, Susan Howe’s “Tom Tit Tot” — on the floor curated by Elms — had a greater impact. It consisted of 22 small, paired letterpress prints made from printed sentence/word fragments cut and pasted to become new. Pristinely immaculate in their black-and-white presentation, they had an ordered formalism while being radical in idea.

Another piece that fit the “curating” or “archiving” definition, also on the second floor, was Joseph Grigely’s “The Gregory Battcock Archives.” It consisted of, to quote from the exhibit checklist, “inscribed and printed documents from Gregory Battcock’s personal archive, printed captions, seven vitrines, five framed posters and one portrait.” 

Battcock, with whom I had not been familiar, was an artist and art critic who died in 1980 — he wrote an early book about Minimalist art. According to the Dictionary of Art Historians website, he was an openly gay man whose stabbing death remains unsolved. Grigely says he discovered Battcock’s material in an abandoned storage facility in 1992 and, aware of his significance, saved and magnanimously sought to display it. 

This is exactly what a museum curator or archivist does. But in this context, it becomes art. But what kind of art is it? Found art? Conceptual or Installation art? 

In the same vein was Public Collectors’ entry in the Biennial, “Malachi Ritscher.” This installation is by a group that has its own website — publiccollectors.org — and seeks to put together shows devoted to cultural artifacts that public institutions might overlook. For “Ritscher,” the group borrowed and displayed material and published a free booklet about a compelling figure who otherwise would be little known. 

Malachi Ritscher tape-recorded free-Jazz and experimental concerts in Chicago, a center of such music, for decades and wrote about the events on a website. (Headphones are provided to listen to some of what he documented.) He was also deeply opposed to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and its calamitous aftermath — so much that he immolated himself along a crowded freeway in 2006. 

It’s odd that the three pieces I describe here — Wallace, Grigely, Public Collectors — all have about them a sense of loss. They also, in different ways, involve storytelling. Maybe the way to view them is as a new kind of narrative art. Or as a new kind of memorial, when a headstone isn’t enough to do a life justice. 

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com

 

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Soul and Inspiration

For Soultime!, Jersey legends Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes were motivated by classic R&B

BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT /MARCH 9, 2016
 MAR 9, 2016 10 AM

 

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY LYON is part of Jersey Shore’s Holy Trinity, along with Bruce Springsteen and Steve (“Little Steven”) Van Zandt.

 

Starting in the early 1970s, the three friends started playing in New Jersey-based bands, either with each other or staying in close touch. And as each has grown older and found significant international success as roots-loving Rock & Roll musicians, they haven’t slowed down.

Lyon this year is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ first album by touring behind the band’s excellent most recent one, last year’s Soultime!.

Since the mid-’70s, Lyon has recorded nearly 20 studio albums, and his discography also includes a couple dozen live and compilation releases.

Springsteen and Van Zandt, of course, have also kept busy. All are in their mid-60s and none seems to want to slow down.

“I think it’s because of the time we came up,” Lyon said in a recent phone interview from a studio where he was rehearsing in advance of the tour. “Back then, people didn’t actually think you could make a career of music without having a day job and all that stuff. The fact we still do it is because you still have that feeling inside of you that you have to prove yourself and stick it to the people who didn’t believe in you.” 

Of course, his perseverance is about far more than simply disproving early detractors.“With time and success, you really start to enjoy it,” he adds. “You can start to believe in yourself to the point you can relax and enjoy the fact you are a musician.”

There’s also a Jersey pride angle to working. When he was growing up and a young musician, New Jersey was a place people ridiculed.

“I think that gave us an extra push (too),” Lyon says. “We wanted to show people that they’re wrong.”

Wrong, indeed. Asbury Park — home of The Stone Pony club that is ground zero for the Jersey Shore music scene — has become an American pilgrimage site for Rock fans.

Though not adverse to songs featuring driving guitars and hard rockin’, Lyon is a fine Soul singer, with a voice that is by turns raspy and smooth, and reflects his love for Sam Cooke, Motown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Sam & Dave, The Isley Brothers and others. The Jukes feature swinging, hard-charging horn arrangements that have a very sophisticated big-band dimension, while Lyon sometimes rolls a blast of bluesy harmonica into the overall soundscape.

His last studio album with the Jukes, 2010’s Pills and Ammo, featured tougher-edged and, Lyon says, angrier original material. In retrospect, he sees it as more political than usual for him, likely the result of the recession.

By comparison, Soultime! was set in motion when Lyon was shopping in a Jersey grocery’s wine department and a song being played in the store caught his attention.

“I was there looking at some wine and on comes ‘Superfly,’ with that great bass and the horns,” he recalls. “Everyone was bopping. And I thought that’s what I should be doing — making music people can just listen to and enjoy, rather than a statement, which is kind of what Pills and Ammo was. It was really an epiphany.

“My job is to go out and give people something they can forgot their troubles to, not remind them,” he continues. “There are great political artists, like Bruce and Steven, who have made great statements about the state of man in America and the world. But I’m just a guy who goes out there, lets the horns play and sings, ‘Baby, baby, baby.’ ”

Working with his longtime keyboardist and songwriting/production/arranging collaborator Jeff Kazee, Lyon found Soultime! coming together quickly. At first, the idea was to include a few covers of obscure but beloved Soul gems — like Ruby Johnson’s “Weak Spot” and Jackie Moore’s “Precious, Precious” — as “signposts” for the album’s direction.

“But when we started writing, it just all came out,” Lyon says. “We wrote 11 songs and I said, ‘That’s it; that’s all I want.’ It took two weeks to write everything. We were really enjoying it. I think it was just organic. We started singing and started writing, and the styles came up. We weren’t copying; we were being influenced. This time, my Soul influences came rushing out. And once the band heard it, they got it right away.”

You can easily spot the influences, and Soultime!’s liner notes helpfully point some out.

“Looking for a Good Time” is indebted to Curtis Mayfield’s solo records of the ’70s like “Move On Up.” In the grittier and atmospheric “Reality,” Lyon — whose voice is strong and expressive throughout — gives a nod to Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street,” as well as Mayfield’s album-inspiring “Superfly.”

The urgency of Motown hits by The Four Tops and The Temptations comes through on “Don’t Waste My Time” and “All I Can Do.” And in the gently melancholy ballad “The Heart Always Knows,” Lyon reveals his love for Ben E. King.

There can be a solemn side to all this, since many of the influences on Soultime! are no longer with us. If you dwell on that — and it’s hard not to for fans of a certain age (Lyon’s age) — it gives the album a bittersweet dimension.

But Lyon rejects that.

“I think their legacy is what’s important,” he says of the musicians that influenced Soultime!. “What’s left is the great music they gave. I don’t get nostalgic about that kind of stuff. I think you get your chance, and if you make your mark, then you’ve had a great life.”

It’s a perspective that fits into Lyon’s positive attitude about performing and recording — an attitude shared by the two other members of the Jersey Shore Trinity.

“You make the most of your chance and you don’t really look back,” Lyon says. “You look forward to what you will be doing next. If you’re a musician or a singer, you just make music until you keel over. When you’re writing or playing and it really works, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Why would you want to give that up as long as you can do it?”


SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE ASBURY JUKES play Saturday at Covington’s Madison Theater. Tickets/more info: madisontheateronline.com.

Rediscovering Lost Photos From a Long-Ago West End

Under the sponsorship of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio (now the Cincinnati Historical Society), George S. Rosenthal took roughly 3,600 photographs of West End places

BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / OCT. 22, 2014

 

It’s hard to have any conversation about Cincinnati’s past without someone bemoaning the impact of I-75 construction in the 1950s.

The West End neighborhood was torn asunder, much of its architecture destroyed and many of its residents uprooted. The urban fabric of the inner city was torn in half, and for what? Trucks and travelers, many of them participants in suburban sprawl, roar through the city day and night — when they’re not stuck in traffic.

When you think about this now, you ask, “Didn’t anybody see it coming? Didn’t anybody know what would be lost?”

As it turns out, someone did: the late George S. Rosenthal. And starting with a reception Wednesday and continuing through Dec. 21, you can see his photographs of the old West End in the FotoFocus Biennial-connected Documenting Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods show at Hebrew Union College’s Skirball Museum and Jacob Rader Marcus Center.

This show features two other photographers besides Rosenthal. One, the late Daniel Ransohoff, is a Cincinnati legend — a social worker who for decades documented the city’s disadvantaged as part of rallying the community to the their needs. The other, Ben Rosen, also deceased, had a long and productive career as a photographer for American Israelite and Catholic Telegraph.

I mean them no disrespect to focus this story on Rosenthal, but his work fascinates me for his prescience. Also, it’s so little known.

A part of the printing/publishing family that owned S. Rosenthal & Co., he had training in and a deep love for photography. He even studied one summer in Chicago under László Moholy-Nagy. At his company, he briefly published an avant-garde magazine called Portfolio — copies will be in the Skirball exhibit.

From 1957 to 1959, under the sponsorship of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio (now the Cincinnati Historical Society), he took roughly 3,600 photographs of West End places, mostly those marked for removal and mostly without people present. He used a 35-mm Leica camera.

His work was turned over to the organization, which in its 1960 Bulletin noted that his eye for “iron work, unusual doorways and windows, front porches, as well as brick and wood construction, served to bring out the best of Mr. Rosenthal’s art photography.”

Rosenthal died in 1967, not yet 45. It’s unclear if his photographs from this project ever had a show. His wife, Jean Bloch, seems to remember a small one at a West End library at the time.

Bloch recalls that Rosenthal would go out early in the morning to shoot. He often would be accompanied by a friend, John Garber. As coincidence would have it, Garber, too, is starting to enjoy a rediscovery; he was an architect responsible for the strikingly modernist St. John Unitarian Church in Clifton.

The two were lifelong friends, she said, attending University School in Avondale together. That school appeared to be an early Montessori one, although a 1975 Cincinnati article said its teacher was told not to use that word because people might think it a strange indoctrination technique.

According to Skirball Museum Director Abby Schwartz, there has been no showing of Rosenthal’s work since it was turned over to the society. It’s kept at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Schwartz was told about Rosenthal’s project by Regine Ransohoff, Daniel’s sister-in-law. Both men’s archives are at the historical society. A small Skirball contingent began going through contact sheets and negatives, picking what to have scanned and then printed.

It was apparent quickly that Rosenthal’s work was a find.

“(We) were looking not only at images of buildings but also beautiful aesthetic photographs,” Schwartz says. “They began to fall into that category. Some are very focused architectural details, others are images of buildings but there might be cars in them that give us a sense of time and place, the late 1950s. There are ones taken from certain angles that give you a distorted view of buildings. So we started to group them in interesting ways.”

Reading the 1960 Bulletin publication about the historical society’s acceptance of Rosenthal’s photographs, one can see there was hopefulness that accompanied the freeway demolition of a neighborhood viewed at the time as a slum. New housing projects, the article said, would “restore the area to Cincinnati as a respectable residential district.”

But now, these photographs chronicle a loss rather than a new beginning.

The opening reception takes place 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday at the museum (3101 Clifton Ave., Clifton). The show is up through Dec. 21. For more information, visit fotofocusbiennial.org.


New Exhibit Shows Holocaust’s Impact On One Polish City

A new exhibit at Hebrew Union College’s Skirball Museum uses photographs, documents and other objects to solemnly, reverently revisit a once-vibrant Polish Jewish community almost completely wiped out by the invading Nazi Germans.

 BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / MAY 1, 2012

A new exhibit at Hebrew Union College’s Skirball Museum uses photographs, documents and other objects to solemnly, reverently revisit a once-vibrant Polish Jewish community almost completely wiped out by the invading Nazi Germans.

As such, it packs an emotional wallop: a close-up consideration of all that was lost by Jews — and civilization in general — in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. But The Jews of Czestochowa: Coexistence-Holocaust-Memory, on display through July 1, also is a testament to the insistence of Holocaust survivors that the world respect and remember their lives. (The exhibit is co-sponsored by the Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education, which is bringing Elie Wiesel to the Cintas Center at Xavier University on Sunday evening. See interview on page 24.)

On Sept. 3, 1939 — two days after World War II formally started with Germany’s attack on Poland — the residents of the Czestochowa watched as Nazi tanks came rolling through their city’s main street. It was the first Polish city invaded. The Jews had special reason to be wary — genocidal anti-Semitism was a lynchpin of Nazi philosophy and about one-third of the city’s 120,000 residents were Jewish.

The city’s Jewish presence was vibrant and could be traced back several centuries. Besides synagogues, they had their own schools and guilds, had factories and operated children’s summer camps and even a home for the aged. The Germans moved to suppress the Jews, including confinement to a city ghetto. By the time of war’s end in 1945, most had been shipped off to concentration camps and exterminated.

According to the records of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and Their Descendants, just 5,200 were left in the city on the day of liberation. Only 1,518 of them had lived there before the war. (The Germans had gathered others from surrounding areas.) Throughout Europe, the Nazis eagerly led their meticulously organized genocide. 

The president of the World Society, Sigmund A. Rolat, came to the Skirball for the show’s recent April opening, just after Holocaust Remembrance Day. Now 82, he had been born in Czestochowa and survived being a slave laborer for the Nazis at one of the city’s munitions plants. After the Holocaust ended with the Nazis’ defeat, he emigrated to the U.S., attended University of Cincinnati (and roomed at Hebrew Union College), and moved to New York for a career in business. 

He was in a wheelchair at Skirball, but able to get up to approach a specific object to point out its importance. (Some are reproductions, including dramatic blow-ups, of documents and photographs since the originals are in museum collections.) For instance, he pointed to an innocuous-looking train schedule and said it was “the most shocking document you will see here.”

It recorded in meticulous detail the time that a train packed with Jews left Czestochowa for the Treblinka death camp in Poland, and then the return of the empty train to the city. Six such trains departed Czestochowa in 1942 — the first on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, in 1942. “The Germans are very good planners,” Rolat says. “Very exact. We were lucky enough to find in the German rail records the six trains that took the Czestochowa Jews to Treblinka.”

Rolat also commented on a tile from the city’s impressive 1893 New Synagogue, built in the heart of the city and the one he attended. On Christmas Day in 1939, the Germans burned it down. A large photo in the exhibit shows the structure in ruins after the arson — others show it during its proud heydays. “The next morning, hundreds of us gathered around the synagogue and cried,” Rolat said.

The World Society has held three reunions in Czestochowa since 2004, when this exhibit was presented there. A fourth, scheduled for Oct. 2-5 of this year, promises to have special significance. According to Rolat, the city at that time will formally name its Philharmonic Hall — built on the site of the New Synagogue — for world-famous violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Czestochowa Jew born in 1882 who, among other accomplishments, founded in 1936 what eventually became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948. Although he had left Poland well before the war and had found refuge from Nazis elsewhere, he died in Switzerland in 1947. 

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com

Chubby Checker on His Place in the Classic Rock Pantheon

Twist of Fate

Chubby Checker returns to the birthplace of his biggest hit

BY STEVEN ROSEN
MARCH 17, 2014

 

Whenever Chubby Checker comes to our area to perform “The Twist” and his other early-’60s dance-craze hits, he admires the view as he approaches downtown Cincinnati.

“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” he says, talking by phone while driving into town. “I’ve pulled to the side of road so I can see my beautiful Cincinnati. Oh man, look at that. Nobody’s got that. It’s beautiful!”

But might it be more beautiful, perhaps, if there were a digital billboard at city limits — or perhaps a statue — denoting Cincinnati as “The Birthplace of The Twist”? After all, this is where, in 1958, King Records’ act Hank Ballard and the Midnighters first recorded the song, which Ballard (who died in 2003) wrote. Ballard had a string of R&B hits but never a Top 40 smash. (The song’s melody is based on The Drifters’ “What’cha Gonna Do,” which Ballard already had adapted once for a song called “Is Your Love For Real?”)

In one of those weird showbiz stories, King failed to promote Ballard’s “The Twist,” at first issuing it as a B-side on a 1959 single. But in 1960, when it finally started to make noise on a grassroots level, Philadelphia’s Cameo-Parkway record company rushed 18-year-old Checker into the studio for a cover version.

Dick Clark, whose national American Bandstand teen-dance TV show was Philly-based, had Checker perform it on his show and “The Twist” shook into the stratosphere. Just last year, Billboard magazine named it the top song of all time on its Hot 100 charts, partly because it’s the only song to ever reach No. 1 during two different chart runs — in 1960 and 1962.

That was because “The Twist” — and its accompanying dance, where couples suggestively swiveled their hips while grinding their feet — became a cultural phenomenon. It changed the way people danced forever and its success carried Checker with it. He had numerous other hits in the early 1960s, including “Let’s Twist Again,” “Pony Time,” “Limbo Rock,” “Slow Twistin’” (with Dee Dee Sharp) and more.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ “The Twist”:

 

Checker (born Ernest Evans) at first laughs at the idea of Cincinnati (and not Philly) being the world’s Twist capital.

“Well, you know, from what I know, (Ballard) wrote the song and recorded it and (the label) lost faith in it,” he says. “‘The Twist’ became a girl nobody wanted and Chubby saw her in all her swaddling clothes. She wasn’t dressed beautifully, but had a beautiful soul. Chubby came along, dressed her up, showed everybody how beautiful she was and everybody wanted her.”

Checker is loquacious in a colorfully rapid-fire way that recalls Muhammad Ali. At 72, he’s extremely positive about life and the high energy of his performances, but he does harbor a complaint about showbiz.

Checker believes racial prejudice keeps his classic song from being played on Oldies and Classic Rock radio stations as much as, say, The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” or Rod Stewart’s “Twistin’ the Night Away.”

I suggest to Checker that maybe the reason is generational or ageist — Rock music is thought to have blossomed as a Baby Boomer means of expression with The Beatles’ arrival in 1964. Maybe there’s a divide between pre- and post-1964 Rock & Roll?

Checker doesn’t buy that explanation.

“The strongest period for black singers was 1948-64, so that wiped them out,” he says. “I’m not as old as some of The Rolling Stones or Beatles. It’s just a bunch of crap. They know why they’re not playing the music and need to fix it and change it.” (Checker is a year younger than Ringo and the same age as Charlie Watts.)

“Play their songs,” Checker says of artists like the Stones, Beatles and Stewart. “But play mine, too. Don’t wipe me out. Don’t forget about me. Play my music.”

In Checker’s version of events — and Billboard archives bear him out (although there are other versions) — Clark considered playing Ballard’s version and having him on Bandstand to perform it, but another Ballard single, “Finger Poppin’ Time,” was climbing the charts just as buzz for the original “The Twist” started to grow. Clark felt Top 40 radio would be reluctant to play both songs.

“No one was going to play two songs by anybody, white or black,” Checker says. “(Ballard) had a song climbing the charts a little bit, and somebody thought (Ballard’s version of) ‘The Twist’ was going to come alive. It wasn’t going to happen.”

So Checker recorded a very similar version and performed it on Bandstand.

“From the very moment we came on stage to sing that song written by Hank Ballard, everything changed,” he says. “The dance floor changed.”

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com

Sergio Leone at the Autry Museum

Fistful

BY STEVEN ROSEN / LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS / 2005

It would be fitting if, for the duration of its “Once Upon a Time in Italy…the Westerns of Sergio Leone” exhibit, the Autry National Center called itself the Museum With No Name.

For Italian film director Leone is most famous for transforming TV actor Clint Eastwood into the enduringly mythic Man With No Name in a series of three mid-1960s “spaghetti Westerns”: “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The history and impact of those films, as well as of Leone’s artistry, are the subjects of this innovative and surprising multimedia exhibit at the Autry’s Museum of the American West in Griffith Park through Jan. 22.

Leone changed the very nature of Westerns, as well as notions of movie heroism/anti-heroism in his Eastwood movies and his subsequent epic, 1968’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Leone saved the movie Western, which had lost its audience to TV cowboy shows in the early 1960s, by making it cool and new for Boomer-era teenagers.

“We focus on his Westerns because the West is the mission of this museum,” says the Autry’s Estella Chung, the show’s co-curator. “And the work he did with Westerns is groundbreaking.”

The accomplishment of creating the Man With No Name persona is so great that it’s trumpeted by a rare 1966 poster at the entranceway to this show. It has neither the film’s name nor the star’s on it. Rather, it contains three illustrations of a rather disreputable-looking, shadowy character. One can’t tell whether it’s Eastwood or not.

With each picture is a slogan: “This short cigar belongs to a man with no name.” “This long gun belongs to a man with no name.” “This poncho belongs to a man with no name.” And then, the kicker: “He’s going to trigger a whole new style in adventure.”

Thus was movie history and pop-cultural mythos changed. But as Chung explains, Leone didn’t plan it that way. An original Italian-language script on display in the show reveals that Eastwood’s character at first was named “Ray.” But that got dropped as unnecessary exposition.

The Eastwood films were made cheaply in Spain and released in Italy between 1964 and 1966, where “Spaghetti Westerns” were such a radical new idea that Leone at first tried to pretend he was American. An early Italian film poster here lists the first film’s director as “Bob Robertson,” an alias. But the films became hits, despite the fact the casts were polyglots of various nationalities.

Yet when MGM was getting ready to release them in the U.S. in 1967, it was stymied from a marketing standpoint. Why would Americans want to see an Italian-made Western? So it decided to hype the lead character’s lack of a name. It worked. “That mystique was a marketing ploy,” Chung says.

This is not only the largest exhibit devoted to Leone, who died in 1989 of a heart attack at just age 60, but Chung says it’s also the biggest devoted to a motion-picture director, period. The show was co-curated by Sir Christopher Frayling, a Leone biographer as well as the chairman of Arts Council England.

Objects were loaned by Leone’s collaborators on his films, including Eastwood. The actor also serves on a star-studded Leone Film Arts Committee created by the Autry for this show. And there is far more than movie posters here. “We made a decision to only bring in material that had maintained its original look since used in his films,” Chung says. “And we were lucky to find so much.”

Plentiful background material, including old photos and comic books, show how Leone, the son of a director and silent-film actress, grew up in Italy fascinated by American pulp fiction. In 1946, he entered the busy Italian film industry and worked on many English-language sword-and-sandal movies being filmed at Rome’s Cinecitta studios, including “Ben-Hur.” In 1960, he directed his first movie, “The Colossus of Rhodes.”

In 1963, he saw Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s samurai-warrior film “Yojimbo” and was impressed with its loner, man-of-few-words star. “He said if you got rid of the swords and put a cowboy hat on the guy, you’d have a terrific Western,” Chung says.

This exhibit is at its best in showing how Leone was attracted to Eastwood. On a video monitor, it plays a scene from a 1961 episode of the TV series “Rawhide,” in which Eastwood played Rowdy Yates. Called “Incident of the Black Sheep,” it shows a quiet Eastwood exuding authority. “This is where he thought Clint Eastwood could be a star,” Chung says. “The myth is that he took a picture of Eastwood, drew some stubble, and put a cigarillo in his mouth to see if he made a star.”

The exhibit features original set-design illustrations and costumes worn by actors in “Once Upon a Time in the West” and a later Leone Western from the early 1970s, “Duck You Sucker.” (A gangster film that Leone made in the 1980s, “Once Upon a Time in America,” is not part of this show’s reach.)

The most famous object here is probably Eastwood’s trademark poncho (with sewn-up bullet holes). It’s in a case. “A lot of fans are curious about the origins of the poncho,” Chung says. “In the original script, he’d taken the poncho from a man taking a bath by the side of a river. But that scene was never shot. So we have the script explaining it all – in Italian.”

Another illuminating artifact is a script bearing the terms “primo piano” and “primissimo piano” as well as “P.P.” and “P.P.P.” Those mean “close-up” and “extreme close-up,” hallmarks of the groundbreaking way Leone chose to shoot gunfights to extend tension. Those brief notations represent five long minutes of actual screen time.

To recreate the proper environment for “Once Upon a Time in the West” artifacts and film clips, the museum commissioned a fiberglass life-size sculpture of the memorable opening scene, in which three gunmen waiting at a train station for “Harmonica’s” (Charles Bronson) arrival. That sequence, itself, plays on a screen with its eloquently eerie, famous soundtrack of just background noises, except for Bronson “talking” through his harmonica.

That was the idea of Leone’s musical collaborator, Ennio Morricone, whose quirky, eccentric work also is very much part of this exhibit. “Morricone had written music for that scene, but then he went to a concert of ‘incidental sounds,’ where all sound plays a part in the definition of music,” Chung says.

“In this case, it was of a man moving a ladder on stage and making a creaking sound. So he told Leone about it and they decided to do that approach in the film.”

From such disparate and unusual sources was an American cultural legacy made.

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com

The forgotten ’70s band Jade gets a new life

James Aumann was doing his usual tax-collecting work as Warren County Treasurer late last year when he received an email about a secret from his long-ago past.

It was from Darren Blase, co-owner of Northside’s Shake It Records store. He wanted to know if the county treasurer was the same James Aumann who once led an obscure and short-lived local rock group called Jade.

The band had issued one album in 1971, Faces of Jade, on a small Cincinnati label called General American Records. It appears to have been barely released.

“I called him and said, ‘Darren, this is Jim Aumann. I give up – you found me,’” Aumann recalled recently.

Blase wasn’t threatening to embarrass Aumann, a Republican who, in 2012, was elected unopposed to his third term. Instead, he was interested in reissuing the vinyl album on his Shake It record label because he liked it so much.

“I was really pretty astounded,” said Aumann, 65. “Obviously back when we did this record, we were hoping for big things. I was hoping to make a living from this. When it didn’t happen, it was seriously disappointing.”

Aumann had quit Miami University to pursue Jade at the time. When that failed, he went into banking – getting a degree in finance from American Institute of Banking and rising to become vice president of Warren County’s old Community National Bank. Fifteen years ago, he was hired to be the county’s chief deputy treasurer and he then moved up.

On Friday, Shake It will debut its vinyl reissue of Faces of Jade, with original album-cover art. It will be for sale at the store to launch Black Friday, the kick-off for the Christmas shopping season. There is a new 500-copy pressing (on green vinyl, with download code included). It will also be available via Shake It’s website, http://www.shakeitrecords.com, starting on Dec. 2.

Blase believes that Faces of Jade holds up well as an example of the way a regional American band was inspired by the sophisticated, boundary-breaking rock and pop of the Beatles. Its 10 songs are artistically ambitious. Aumann and the band used the studio to create songs with ambitiously ornate instrumental and vocal arrangements, innovative recording techniques, and substantial melodies. In short, it wasn’t just garage rock. Parts of songs like “Prelude Willow’s End” and “My Mary (More Than Ever)” fit well into the psychedelic-rock genre of the time; other passages are more folk-pop.

“It’s such an odd record for Cincinnati,” said the 46-year-old Blase. “Nothing here was ever on my radar that’s this overtly Beatles-influenced a kind of sound.

“On top of that, I found my copy of that Jade record at Mole’s (a used record on Short Vine), probably in 1985,” he said. “I would buy everything that had a Cincinnati address on it. I had no expectations of what it was – it looked kind of hippieish. It still had its 99-cents price sticker.”

Actually, the international audience for collectible rock had also discovered Jade. A bootleg CD of the album had appeared in Europe last decade, and music-oriented blogs like Robots for Ronnie and Tyme-Machine have praised the group.

In Jade, Aumann played keyboards and was a songwriter and singer who worked on arrangements. Other members were guitarist/songwriter/singer Randy Morse, bassist/singer Nick Root, drummer Timothy Nixon and business/songwriting partner and co-producer David Smith. The band was active from roughly 1970-1973.

Aumann believes he had a gift early for music composition. “I could write vocal parts in my head,” he said. “My dad and I used to do a lot of singing and harmonizing when I was growing up, and so did my brother and I.”

While at Mason High School, he and Smith played together in a band called the Villains. That ended with college, but Aumann continued writing at Miami University. Smith visited him from Ohio State in 1969, heard the song “Willows” and suggested recording it and several more. The two first cut the songs with studio musicians at Lockland’s Artists’ Recording Studio. But access there ended when the studio’s president died of a heart attack.

They realized they couldn’t afford to continue recording with expensive studio musicians, so they sought other band members. They decided to call themselves Jade. They found the other members from area bands and started recording at Mount Healthy’s Jewel Recording Studio. And they made contact with a record company.

Aumann thinks highly of the band members he and Smith chose. Morse turned out to be a substantial writer, himself, contributing “Well,” ”We (Got to Make It Thru)” and two other songs to the album.

Now 63, Morse went on to a career in the tech industry but has also played guitar regularly in Nashville, his home for the past 20 years.

“Though we’re not ‘rich and famous,’ we created music that has been appreciated beyond our wildest imagination, over 40 years later,” he said, via email. “A real artist is not in it for the money, though it validates our work.” (After sending this email, Morse had to go to a hospital with a minor stroke, Aumann said, adding that he is doing well.)

Nixon, 63, lives in Mason and is an ATM technician for Diebold Inc. Smith, 65, is semi-retired and lives in West Chester. Root, 61, of Fort Thomas, said in an email he has continued playing music off and on in this area. He joined Aumann and Morse for a reunion this year.

Aumann had never received money from Faces of Jade until Blase recently sent $145 for songwriting/publishing rights.

That’s a milestone, but Aumann says he is not yet ready to quit his prestigious day job to resume a music career. (He’s actually recorded some music at home.)

“As Darren said, if this does really well, we can probably all go out for a nice dinner,” he said.

 

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com