Santa Barbara, California is not the sleepy town that many outsiders assume. On the contrary, it offers a more diversified and sophisticated array of cultural events than most communities of its size. Thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures, the University of California’s outstanding presenting organization, both the scholarly and residential population benefit greatly each year from a broad spectrum of hot-topic academic lectures as well as dance, music, and theatre performances, ranging from innovative, cutting-edge companies and ensembles to high-profile, beloved traditional institutions.
If it were possible to bottle up the spirit of a place in a wine, my vote would go to…
The Musée d’Orsay contains two scale models of the Palais Garnier (1875) which must rank among the greatest of all time. Within the museum the models terminate the former railway station’s main axis, forming a kind of culmination. Along with Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851), unlikely to be mentioned in a Parisian museum, the Garnier is perhaps the definitive building of its century. The first model, implanted beneath a glass floor, shows the building in its urban context, clearly demonstrating that the great opera house precipitated for its neighborhood the Full Haussmann. The second model, built to a highly detailed scale (perhaps 1:100) for such a large building, is cut through in longitudinal section like a doll’s house, revealing the famously ornate lobby and hall as relatively minuscule inhabited planets orbited by a dark matter cloud of unnamed rooms and fly towers. Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, a fly on the wall portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet, seems the cinematic equivalent of that sectional model, but it would be more accurate to say that it is simultaneously both models. The film uses its all access backstage pass, its sore toes, sweat and heavy breathing, to achieve the purpose of the contextual model, the definition of an institution within a city.
As the supply of old master drawings on the market dwindles, so do exhibitions of them, but if the exhibitions are fewer, their quality remains almost as strong as ever. The Uffizi continued its distinguished tradition at the Morgan Library this past winter, and now the Clark offers a fascinating and very beautiful layered exhibition consisting of sheets from different periods in the formation of its own collection interleaved with one of the most original and appealing of present-day private collections, the Italian drawings of Robert Loper, whose gifts include, in addition to expertise in the nooks and byways of Italian art of the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, fine taste, and a keen sense of fun.