Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Universal Communication

You have to admire a man who's willing to destroy his own art.

The Anderson Gallery was hosting a talk by Bohyun Yoon, whose "Neighbors" exhibit is currently showing.

Born in South Korea, and now teaching at VCU, he began by apologizing for his English eloquently. "Language is just a tool, not a bright idea. Art is the universal communication."

His chosen medium is glass ("It's a fragile and dangerous material") and he began by making glass masks.

When he accidentally cut a mask in half, the remainder reminded him of a bowl, which he filled with water, placed on his head and began making music with it, much the way a wine glass rim can be rubbed to elicit sound.

Much of his art was performance-based, like the transparent business suit he created and wore through the streets while being filmed.

While in Salzburg, Austria, he did a guerrilla piece where he divided a street with signs directing tourists to go one way and citizens the other for no stated reason and then filmed two friends as they motioned to people who happened to be walking down the street.

Apparently it's not just Americans who are easily led.

The most interactive part of his talk involved glass tubes of varying lengths which had metal mesh inserts at one end.

He would torch the mesh and as the air moved up the tube, it made a melodic sound ("Water, glass, sound, they're all transparent"), changing when he shifted the position of the tube.

Taking it to the next level, he solicited a volunteer to do the torching, the better for him to move the tubes to make more elaborate music.

Clearly enjoying himself, he suddenly stopped and said, "I'm just playing, like in my studio. Thank you," thereby ending the talk and starting the question period.

When asked about destroying glass, I'm sure I wasn't the only one surprised to hear him say, "Breaking glass is beautiful."

Seems he likes it when his performance lives on only in the memory. To prove the point, he torched a tube and as sound emanated from it, used a small hammer to break part of the tube.

Damned if he wasn't right; while a very different sound, the breaking was as interesting to hear as the sound produced by the air moving.

He tried torching the stub of the tube, but it was so short now that the sound created was too low for us to hear.

Talk about a mesmerizing way to end a talk.

Looking at his "Neighbors" installation afterwards showed yet another facet of his fascination with light and glass.

150 portraits of his neighbors In Philadelphia had been silk-screened onto glass panels in vivid colors.

Hung from a framework that mimicked the shape of the room, the lone bulb hanging in the center projected the images onto the walls with one major difference.

On the walls, all the images were black and white, making for a stunning contrast with the brightly-colored plates.

Very cool.

Mind properly fed, it was time for the rest of me so I walked over to Jackson Ward's newest eatery, Max's on Broad.

After taking what felt like an eternity to renovate and build out, Tarrant's Belgian sibling had finally opened its doors.

Just from the initial impression, I'd have to say they nailed the Parisian brasserie vibe pretty well.

White tablecloths with white paper on top, huge gold-framed mirrors, vintage music, dim lighting.

It was a promising start.

There appeared to be more staff than customers but I didn't immediately go upstairs to see how many people were up there.

Owner Ted came over to say hello and when asked about the direction of the place explained, "Well, I always liked French food. And I couldn't very well do the same thing I was doing across the street."

Well, you could have, but that would have been just stupid.

And while I was alone at the bar when I sat down, it didn't take long before I had plenty of company.

One of those was a guy who sat down a stool away, ordered two tripels ("Those are high-alcohol," the barkeep warned him. "So am I," the guy answered) and the check at the same time, but eschewed a menu because, "I'm just here 'cause I like to look at fixtures."

With a buzz, apparently.

Another was local wine god Bob Talcott, no doubt curious to see what a brasserie on this side of town looked like.

He not only approved of the look, likening it to Brasserie Julien in Paris, he was downright tickled with the wine list, which had only one California wine and the rest French.

Meanwhile, I started my meal with a half endive salad with arugula, housemade pickles, tomato, onion and dried apricot and a passion fruit vinaigrette.

Once again, let me give a shout-out to restaurants who offer salads (or entrees, for that matter) in half and whole portions, a boon for those of us who don't want too much of any one taste.

I debated on what to have next, except that if the sign outside was calling this place a Belgian restaurant, what else could I get but moules frites?

They had probably a half dozen choices for broth, of which I chose the unlikeliest one for me: Hoegaarden, bacon and onion.

For while I could put bacon and onion in almost anything I eat, beer rarely finds its way into my food.

On the other hand, why the hell not?

As one of the bartenders said, those three things make everything better. My jury's still out on the beer part, but I was game.

The mussels came in a lid-covered pot with a cone of frites beside them. So far, so good.

I passed on any sauces for my fries and began eating the P.E.I. mussels, noting the yeasty finish on each bite.

After I got about six mussels in, I was offered a seafood fork but after a few more, I had a request of my own.

Here I was putting empty shells on my bread plate, as was the guy eating mussels next to me, so I asked if we weren't supposed to have a bowl for our discards.

I mean, that's pretty standard-issue for mussels, right?

Clearly it made sense to her, she acknowledged as much, and returned with bowls for all the mussel-eaters at the bar.

There! I helped a local J-Ward establishment better serve the neighborhood.

Several servers had told me to be sure to check out the upstairs, so I walked up there to see the space that overlooks the triangle on Broad, a space that will no doubt be a zoo come Friday night during the artwalk.

Back downstairs, I told one of the managers I was glad there was another restaurant in the neighborhood.

"What side of Broad do you live on?" she asked, pointing at Tarrant's and pointing at Jackson Ward.

Duh. J-Ward, I told her.

"You're ours!" she said with glee. "No more Tarrant's for you!"

My dear, I gave up on Tarrant's long ago, so that's not the issue.

As to that ownership claim, I'll reserve judgement and say what my mom used to say to us as kids when she hadn't made up her mind yet.

We'll see.

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