Monday, October 15, 2012

Montclair art museum ... and, well, finally finding Rodriguez

The Montclair Art Museum (@ 3 South Mountain Ave., and Bloomfield Ave., in Montclair, NJ; tel. 973/746-5555) is a small but extremely valuable museum of art & cultural objects located in the New Jersey suburbs (Essex County) … in the NYC Metro area.  The museum is certainly worth a quick trip from, say, Manhattan, or a visit from any locale in northern NJ.  It is, in fact, a gem of a museum with an interesting permanent collection worth a trip just for its unique Native American collection housing more than 4,000 objects, including works by such well-known Native American artists as Dan Namingha and Allan Houser – and featuring special exhibitions on a fairly regular basis.

Right now, there are two exhibits very much worth your attention:  Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land” (through January 20th, 2013); andSaya Woolfalk:  The  Empathics” (through January 6th, 2013).  The Saya Woolfolk show is, according to the museum’s web site, the first “solo museum exhibition by the acclaimed multimedia artist and the second in MAM’s New Directions series of contemporary art exhibitions.” The Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit – full of wonderful northern New Mexico color (pastels, browns, rich russets, a variety of greens, light blues), Hopi & Pueblo Kachina dolls, local landscapes, architecture drawings & paintings, and a couple of videos discussing her life & describing her homes at Ghost Ranch (near Abiquiu, in north central New Mexico) and the abandoned hacienda she purchased in 1945 in Abiquiu.

O'Keeffe - Home / Salon

This circumscribed exhibition, originated by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, reveals “the little-known breadth of Georgia O’Keeffe’s [deep] interest in northern New Mexico.” The show is positively uplifting, both intimate & very public, and spiritually probing & profound; and the works on display are at once dazzling, delicate, boldly colorful, richly textured, solid & dynamic. Even the card announcing the exhibit is extremely attractive & tastefully designed and one I will save, along with the small print of the spectacular Rust Red Hills (oil on canvas; 1930), which my wife and I purchased at the end of our visit this past Thursday night ... a special night in Montclair devoted to tours showcasing art featured at local venues, including the museum, several local galleries, churches, a hair & beauty salon (Parlor), and other small venues all displaying painting, sculpture & varied design materials.

O'Keeffe - Kachina Doll, 1934
If you are up for a brief but highly worthwhile trip to the ‘burbs, a quick 30-minute drive or train ride from Penn Station, I’d suggest that the Montclair Art Museum might just be a fine (even unique) destination for you any time, but especially now through mid-January.  Note that the museum is closed Mondays & Tuesdays and major holidays, but is open for “free first Thursday nights" each month, 5:00 – 9:00 pm. There are many restaurants of interest & culinary value in which to dine in Montclair; many not far from the museum, with most restaurants, even those upscale, in the BYO category.

O'Keeffe - Rust Red Hills
And, speaking of restaurants in Montclair, you might want to dine at Fin, a restaurant we have patronized on two occasions offering all kinds of fresh seafood: from a wide variety of oysters on the ½ shell, New England clam chowder, lobster truffle mac & cheese, PEI mussels in fresh tomato & white wine broth, lobster roll sliders, to a lobster & shrimp combo plate (“Shanghai style”), monkfish osso buco with crispy shitake mushrooms, honey-glazed pacific cod, to all kinds of fish marinated with extra virgin olive oil, lemon & fresh herbs (including whole bronzino, jumbo “u-7” shrimp, monkfish, Norwegian salmon & big eye tuna mignon) prepared in all manner of modes – from blackened to wood-grilled to baked & pan-fried – and specialty pastas such as squid ink tagliatelle with shrimp, monkfish, salmon & spicy tomato, risotto with “peekytoe” crabmeat, English peas & truffle oil, and even grilled Neiman Ranch organic pork chops served with citrus sauce & Thai shrimp fried rice!

If you end up at Fin, you will face a huge menu of starters, raw bar selections (clams & crustaceans), salads, a wood-grilled fish section, another section entitled, simply, “dinner,” “add-ons,” “table tastings” (including lobster mash potatoes & Thai shrimp fried rice), and, not-so-plainly, pasta.  My wife and I shared a beet salad (sliced red & yellow, with tomato, small chunks of  bleu cheese, sliced onions, mesclun salad greens, cucumbers & chopped walnuts in a simple olive oil & white balsamic dressing. She moved on to the huge & succulent Shanghai-style lobster & shrimp dinner plate replete with ginger curry sauce, crispy spinach & shoestring fried potatoes (@ $29; with half left to take home).  I opted for one of the specials, the exceedingly tender & nicely (carefully) blackened swordfish, served with mixed veggies & sliced Yukon gold potatoes, and surrounded by a silky, mildly spicy-sweet mayo & pepper sauce (@ $28.).  Throughout the meal we quaffed our own light, fragrant & moderately sweet Fetzer riesling (2008). And, finally, for dessert, we each ordered black coffee (@ $2.50/cup, including refills) and split the chocolate bread pudding paired with a “mini pitcher” of vanilla-raspberry cream and a solidly textured isosceles “slice” of semi-sweet chocolate mousse (@ $8.00).  Fin is situated in a bright & airy space, the service is prompt and friendly, and the management professes to be “sensitive to the environment” as it “practices [italics mine] the use of sustainable farm-raised & local fresh seafood.” Un plaisir, absolument …vous devez y aller! 

By now you’ve likely heard about Rodriguez, the Detroit-based, Detroit-born folk rocker who made a couple of albums in the late 1960s (including the now celebrated “Cold Fact”) and then dropped off the face of the earth, musically speaking … at least insofar as the USA folk- rock music enterprise was concerned.  A couple of local record producers – who were courting him and thought he was writing songs that would make him big & them rich – seem to have abandoned him after he made a solid initial album and had continued to generate idiosyncratic, absorbing, thematically intense tunes toward putting together a second album.
Sixto Rodriguez, or simply  Rodriguez, even after acquiring a BA in philosophy at Wayne State University, seems to have gone back to the daily grind (not his characterization) of construction work that he had been engaged in – and near-complete anonymity – in downtown Detroit until, that is, tapes of his album showed up some years later in South Africa (!) and were circulated and on music shop shelves all over that deeply troubled, apartheid-plagued land from about 1971 and throughout the 1980s & into the ‘90s and beyond. (The music made it to New Zealand  & Australia, as well, where he also became a star in absentia.)

According to a new, must-see documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul, Rodriguez, however unknown he actually was, metamorphosed into a larger-than-life cult figure in South Africa, an inspiration to the young & white population, a celebrity singer there, a star … a folk-rock artist allegedly bigger than Elvis or Bob Dylan. But who was Rodriquez, exactly, and where could he be found? Was he still singing?  Playing clubs?  Giving concerts?  Was this folk-rock legend still alive?  (He was rumored to have killed himself … on stage, facing away from an indifferent concert audience.)  What were his concerns, dreams, interests?  What was he actually doing … now?  Would he come to South Africa to concertize and meet his millions of fans on the other side of the world?  Indeed, all of this is the subject matter of the Bendjelloul’s documentary in which two South Africans set out to discover what happened to “their unlikely musical hero,” a super-star(?), the “mysterious 1970s rock ‘n' roller,” Rodriguez.

The film is hugely appealing, endearing, almost unbelievable, and the multi-decade saga sadly but persistently engrossing. Even if you know something of the bare bones of the Rodriguez story (told on NPR several weeks ago), you will be amazed, nevertheless, and, ultimately, heartened by this intrepid voice, self-abnegating & self-effacing personality, and singularly empathic & audience-centric performer!  The music, written and performed by Rodriguez throughout the film, is lyrical, inspiring, often message-driven, and compassionate (especially so, perhaps, in the eyes of the otherwise non-rebellious white youth who came of age during the brutal apartheid period in relatively recent South African history).  It is, truly, a must-see film …


  1. * Please note the Montclair Art Museum is open late only the FIRST Thursday of the month.

  2. Thanks for your note; I will make the appropriate change ...