Def­i­ni­tion of cool

So who’s cool? uS photo ex­hibit tack­les the ques­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By ROBERT MACPHER­SON

So what is this thing called cool? A ma­jor photography ex­hi­bi­tion that re­cently opened at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Wash­ing­ton, United States dares to tackle the ques­tion.

From Elvis Presley and James Dean to Jay-Z and Johnny Depp, Amer­i­can Cool namechecks 100 ac­tors, ac­tresses, artists, mu­si­cians and writ­ers in the US whose cre­ativ­ity and style have shaped the con­cept of cool.

“Cool is Amer­ica’s great­est cul­tural ex­port,” said Aussie Kim Sa­jet, who took over last year as di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, part of the Smith­so­nian net­work of mu­se­ums.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing for me, com­ing from another coun­try, that I know all th­ese peo­ple in this ex­hi­bi­tion – they were very much cool in Aus­tralia where I grew up.”

To pull the show to­gether, jazz pro­fes­sor Joel Din­er­stein and photography scholar Frank Goodyear spent five years go­ing through a draft list of 500 names of charis­matic Amer­i­cans who might be re­garded as cool.

To make their selec­tions, the cu­ra­tors came up with four defin­ing fac­tors of cool: an orig­i­nal artis­tic vi­sion and sig­na­ture style, the em­bod­i­ment of re­bel­lion, in­stant vis­ual recog­ni­tion and “a recog­nised cul­tural legacy”.

If some­one hit at least three of those mark­ers, they made the grade.

“What we’re ex­am­in­ing are peo­ple who had an im­pact,” said Din­er­stein, who hopes Amer­i­can Cool will pro­voke “an in­ter-gen­er­a­tional de­bate” over who’s hot and who’s not.

Their fi­nal top-100 list opens with two 19th cen­tury fig­ures – hu­man­ist poet Walt Whit­man and African-Amer­i­can writer and abo­li­tion­ist Fred­er­ick Dou­glass – who the cu­ra­tors call the grand­fa­thers of cool.

Stars of the golden age of Hol­ly­wood il­lu­mi­nate the “roots of cool” sec­tion – screen le­gends like Fred As­taire, Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton and Mae West – along with writ­ers Ernest Hem­ing­way and Dorothy Parker.

“Cool has been cen­tral to Amer­i­can self-ex­pres­sion since at least the 1930s,” said Din­er­stein, a Brook­lyn na­tive who teaches a course called The His­tory Of Be­ing Cool In Amer­ica at Tu­lane Univer­sity in New or­leans.

But it was in the 1940s and 1950s that cool was truly born, with jazz le­gends like Miles Davis, Duke Elling­ton, Dizzy Gille­spie, Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Th­elo­nious Monk, Char­lie Parker and Lester Young com­ing to the fore.

Shar­ing the lime­light were James ( Rebel With­out A Cause) Dean, Jack ( On The Road) Ker­ouac, Frank Si­na­tra, John Wayne and, of course, Elvis Presley.

With the 1960s and 1970s, rock and R&B stars arose in force: Bob Dy­lan, Marvin Gaye, Blondie’s Deb­bie Harry, Lou Reed, Car­los San­tana, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, Madonna, Prince, Bruce Spring­steen and – the show’s to­ken Cana­dian – Neil Young.

Fit­tingly, the pre­dom­i­nantly black and white im­ages – many by top pho­tog­ra­phers such as Diane Ar­bus, Richard Ave­don, Robert Map­plethorpe and Ed­ward Ste­ichen – are hung on walls painted a cool shade of blue.

The cu­ra­tors view the ex­hi­bi­tion as “very small-D demo­cratic,” but to ward off po­ten­tial com­plain­ers, they whipped up an “Alt 100” list of also-rans that in­cludes Sam Cooke, Ja­nis Jo­plin and Ge­orge Clooney.

“Th­ese were the men and women who lin­gered the long­est dur­ing the se­lec­tion process,” the ex­hibit or­gan­is­ers ex­plained. Amer­i­can Cool runs through Sept 7, and the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery’s web­site is — AFP their de­signs.”

The New Olds de­sign­ers, each with the trap­pings of their own cul­ture and her­itage, ex­plored the re­la­tion­ship be­tween tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion in con­tem­po­rary de­sign.

“Tra­di­tion in de­sign is of­ten not fully ap­pre­ci­ated. Many of the de­signs sold as ‘new’ ac­tu­ally orig­i­nate from a his­tor­i­cal con­text, and are self-con­tained prod­ucts of one coun­try or cul­ture, rep­re­sent­ing a new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tra­di­tional forms,” said Volker Al­bus, the cu­ra­tor of this ex­hi­bi­tion.

Some of the ar­ti­cles on ex­hibit are Polka’s Polka Pots, vel­vet black kitchen­ware of var­i­ous shapes and even more var­i­ous types of han­dles. This piece sheds new mean­ing to tra­di­tional kitchen­ware, es­pe­cially the use of han­dles.

Al­bus went on to say that the de­sign­ers “have re­flected on their re­spec­tive cul­tures, ques­tioned their de­sign her­itage and rein­ter­preted them in a mod­ern sense”.

New Olds: De­sign Be­tween Tra­di­tion And In­no­va­tion is on till March 30 (10am till 8pm) at Ga­leri Petronas, Level 3, Suria KLCC, KL. Closed on Mon­days.

Born to be wild: a poster-sized still from the 1969 road movie easyrider looms over mu­seum-go­ers at the amer­i­canCool ex­hi­bi­tion at the na­tional Por­trait Gallery in Wash­ing­ton, dC, united States.

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