George Bellows and Clifford Odets

George Bellows 3In order to “survive Seattle” I started thinking about a trip to New York last June. It has been five years since Marilynn and I visited NY and we were excited to see what’s new in the museums – renovations at MOMA and the Guggenheim, newer art at the Met, and the always edgy shows at the Whitney. And then there was Broadway; who and what was playing that we couldn’t get in Seattle?

New York is always aiming for a cutting edge experience. Who’s new? Who’s hot? What tickets can’t you get? What restaurants are booked weeks in advance? The answers were surprising this year. There was nothing we couldn’t get tickets for and because we have no tolerance for $500 dinners where waiters treat customers like the peasants in Les Miserables we de-tuned the restaurant expectations. All in all we managed to visit six museums and attend five performances in seven days, and the two that stood out were the George Bellows exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum and the Lincoln Center revival of Clifford Odet’s play Golden Boy. The surprise here is that both Bellows and Odets are artists of the early to mid-twentieth century and both are still searingly contemporary in 2012.

The competition was stiff – Book of Mormon by the writers of South Park and the new David Mamet play, The Anarchist, starring Patty Lupone and Debra Winger on stage and Matisse, Picasso, and Andy Warhol at the Met, Guggenheim, and MOMA respectively. These guys are not lightweights, but it was no contest when it came to impact. Book of Mormon was catchy, irreverent, and funny. The Anarchist was serious, current, and well acted, but the first was not a patch on Angels in America and the latter was like an argument in an Ivy League faculty lounge.

The George Bellows show is astonishing. I knew almost nothing about him except the boxing pictures, but he was a prolific painter of urban life, war scenes reminiscent of Goya, family portraits, crucifixions, and landscapes. All of them pulsate with energy and dynamism. The war scenes, painted during WWI, are horrific. This is not to say that Matisse, Picasso, and Warhol are not memorable, but George Bellows, who died at age 42, was more memorable at the Met because he surprised us so much.

Golden Boy 2Clifford Odets’ play, coincidentally, had a similar impact. Like the Bellows paintings Odets uses boxing as a device to talk about other things. I was expecting a period piece with nostalgic appeal, but Golden Boy’s themes of violence, family, boxing, art, money, and love resonate with astonishing currency. Bart Sher, the former artistic director at Intiman Theater in Seattle, directed the play and the staging, acting and set design were masterful. On Saturday night we were at the Metropolitan Opera for a performance of Don Giovanni, which in spite of the incredible music and enormous production costs was leaden, boring, and visually disappointing. It was a good lesson in tempering expectations.

All in all this has been a wonderful trip. Seattle will never be able to compete with the New York museum and gallery scene, but we have seen four plays this year that stack up against anything we saw in New York. Golden Boy was outstanding, but Superior Donuts, the Tracy Letts play we saw at the Green Lake Bathhouse Theater was every bit as good and we were in and out for $25 each. Happy Holidays.


  1. You could be writing reviews for the NYT. But damn it Jack, not a word about the corned beef sandwiches and the kosher pickles? What did you guys do – live on curbside fast food?

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