The editors and writers for Bloomberg’s Muse arts and culture section chose their favorite moments of 2012. Here they are, led off by Executive Editor Manuela Hoelterhoff:
Nothing I saw all year compared to my February visit to Caracas in the company of Deborah Borda, Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a few bodyguards.
Great crew, crazy town. In the unofficial murder capital of South America, there’s a noticeable shortage of garbage collectors, but a superabundance of kids hoisting tubas and hugging cellos. They are the products of El Sistema, a nationwide educational program devoted to music.
Dudamel, its most famous graduate, got crushed like a rock star whenever he showed up with Borda, the Phil’s president, who had the wit to discover him.
I’ll never forget the sight of the city’s big theater, the Teresa Carreno, where the capital’s obsession with concrete reaches a creepy apotheosis.
Two frighteningly steep escalators hurried us from the open-air lobby past darkly glistening jabillos and palm trees. It’s a flabbergasting experience -- like walking into one of Piranesi’s grandly scaled prisons.
Then came the concert: Dudamel, a jovial maestro who turns serious on the podium, led the combined forces of the Phil and the Simon Bolivar orchestra plus uncountable kids in a glorious rendering of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand.”
Hephzibah Anderson (London Books Critic)
Did I love it as much as its predecessor, “Wolf Hall”? Not quite, yet Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” remains my literary highlight of 2012. The second volume in her trilogy about Tudor schemer Thomas Cromwell, its streamlined plot charts the buildup to Anne Boleyn’s execution with lethal vigor. The texture of life in 16th-century England, the flavor of its politics, the inner world of that thrillingly modern manipulator, Cromwell -- all are rendered in the highest definition. Though her story is tethered to history, Mantel is re-energizing contemporary fiction with each new sentence.
Frederik Balfour (Hong Kong Arts Reporter at Large)
Gilbert & George have been using art to shock for more than 40 years, but their buttoned-up appearance belies the disreputable nature of their oeuvre. They have also perfected a Tweedledee-Tweedledum act that’s as practiced as any stage duo - - which made interviewing them at the opening show of White Cube’s Hong Kong gallery as hilarious as it was technically challenging since they kept finishing each other’s sentences.
Mark Beech (London Team Leader)
I closed my eyes during the 50th-anniversary comeback show by the Rolling Stones. Yes, it was partly to avoid having to look at the big screen’s magnification of Mick Jagger’s wrinkles -- or laughter lines, as he calls them -- or the increasingly preposterous coif of Keith Richards. It was also to appreciate the sound, as tight as any of the dozen or so times I’ve heard them before. “Midnight Rambler” featured the bluesy guitar of former group member Mick Taylor locking with the impassive Charlie Watts’s solid drumming. Amazingly, they can still cut it as the best rock band in the world.
Daniel Billy (New York Editor)
Sunlight, filtering through colored art-glass windows, filled the interior of the Gardener’s Cottage. I stayed there during an idyllic summer weekend. The simple wood-and-stucco house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1909. It’s part of the sprawling, newly restored Darwin Martin House complex, a National Historic Landmark opened to the public and located in a leafy district of Buffalo, New York. The last tourists were gone for the day. I sat alone on a patio in the garden, listening to a fountain and admiring the timeless architecture of Wright’s masterpiece.
Philip Boroff (New York Arts Reporter)
James Wallenstein’s first novel, “The Arriviste,” is a delicious read about a self-aware Wall Street operator living four decades ago in suburban New York. While it’s right on all the period details, financial and otherwise, enjoyment isn’t contingent on being able to define a long-term debenture.
Jeffrey Burke (New York Team Leader)
For a Muse lunch at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters, guitarist Dave Bromberg shared tales of his days in the Greenwich Village folk scene -- taking lessons with Reverend Gary Davis -- and his later career selling rare violins from his shop in Wilmington, Delaware. The dessert was musical and came when he unpacked his acoustic and played a Davis arrangement of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Patrick Cole (New York Philanthropy Reporter)
Nonprofit fundraisers thought it would be years before they saw the return of the nine-figure transformational mega-gift. Then in October, New York hedge-fund manager John Paulson gave $100 million to the Central Park Conservancy. Created in 1980, the Conservancy addressed a great landmark that had become an eyesore and a homicide zone and helped raise money for the park’s upkeep. Paulson also reminded his wealthy peers on Wall Street that in a weak economy, it becomes even more important to give back.
Mike Di Paola (New York Conservation, Travel)
Traveling by boat with government officials in Palau, I learned that Palauans fish constantly. I was treated to the freshest seafood possible: giant clam, served raw with lemon and taro; yellowfin tuna and Spanish mackerel sliced into sashimi bites; enormous coconut crabs, caught and cooked on uninhabited Tobi Island. I saw desert islands swarming with screaming noddies, eye-popping views of the night sky with zero light pollution, pristine coral reefs. Yet what I remember with most fondness are the tastes.
Lance Esplund (New York Art Critic)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Bernini: Sculpting in Clay” was a once-in-a-lifetime-event, comprising tabletop terracotta sculptures and related chalk drawings from the hand or workshop of the greatest 17th-century Italian sculptor. In his clay model for “Death of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni,” the recumbent figure, erotic and transcendent, grasps at her breast in ecstasy. The show’s last section is an astonishing array of 14 angels, 9 of which stand like sentries as if along Heaven’s corridor.
Greg Evans (New York Film, TV Critic)
Until the raid that we know ends the story, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is a fiercely compelling CIA thriller, condensing the decade-long U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden into the tale of one female agent’s obsessive quest. Like the masterful ending of “Bonnie and Clyde,” the raid’s violence is as jarring as the filmmaking is poetic. Bigelow’s achievement demands cheers not for jingoism or even the catharsis of justice served, but for audacious, breathtaking artistry.
As “Homeland” crumbled under its own self-regard, FX’s “American Horror Story: Asylum” became TV’s great escape. Creator Ryan Murphy’s weekly swirl of terror, black humor and cultural touchstones is cynical, over the top and the season’s most unmissable program.
Martin Gayford (London Art Critic)
It’s not often a critic meets himself, yet I experienced it twice in 2012. Lucian Freud’s portrait of me was featured in the exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery, London, which traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, Texas. I saw both shows. The person in the picture is now eight years younger than I am, giving the experience overtones of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.
Jeremy Gerard (New York Theater Critic)
David Esbjornson’s extraordinary off-Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s “The Lady From Dubuque” -- a play that had left Broadway critics and audiences mystified after its 1980 premiere -- argued compellingly that the black comedy about a woman dying of cancer ranked among the playwright’s best. Here was a masterpiece the times finally had caught up with. The show also helped inaugurate the Pershing Square Signature Center, a Frank Gehry-designed, three-theater complex, where tickets top out at $25, playgoers can mingle in a lobby cafe and bookstore, and adventurous new and old works get a thrilling showcase.
Amanda Gordon (New York Reporter, Photographer)
Walking onto the field moments after the Giants won the Super Bowl was my year’s high. Players cradling newborns and man-hugging. Maras and Tisches glowing. And above me, thousands of people sharing the victory. When I returned home, I brought along a fleeting memento: sugar cookies decorated as Eli Manning and Victor Cruz jerseys. What has stuck around longer is the sensation of treading on touchdown turf, confetti in the air. There’s a little bit of that feeling at every charity event I cover. Helping others is, after all, as American as football.
Stephanie Green (Washington, D.C., Reporter, Photographer)
When I heard the frisky canine Uggie from my favorite film of the year, “The Artist,” would be attending the White House Correspondents Dinner, I immediately put him on my stalking list. Despite the throng of celebrities, politicians and journalists, I managed to track down the Jack Russell. He graciously complied with my request to photograph him, decked out in a bow tie for the occasion.
Jason Harper (New York Auto Reviewer)
The single car that actually gave me slack-jaw this year was one I didn’t expect to like: The Tesla Model S. All-electric and with a range of as much as 300 miles, the four-door is about the same size and price as a Porsche Panamera sedan ($103,000, as tested). It’s also as quick. The drive is excellent but it’s the interior, with its mix of leather, wood and high-end technology, that knocked me out. The massive touch screen controls most operations and worked perfectly, from locking the doors to closing the panoramic roof. A glimpse into our automotive future.
Robert Heller (London Rock Critic)
There have been a lot of innovations and new music to enjoy this year from the likes of Frank Ocean. For all this, my highlight of the year shows the real masters are some of the industry’s veterans such as Paul Simon with his sunny optimism and Leonard Cohen with songs steeped in sex and religion, death and depression. Both are life-affirming. Cohen could still captivate Berlin at the age of 77 and he’s touring again in 2013. One to watch out for.
Catherine Hickley (Berlin Arts Reporter)
The powerful music of Leos Janacek’s opera “Jenufa” and its harrowing central image of a baby frozen in a river stay with me. It could be mawkish in the wrong hands. Christof Loy’s elegant, simple staging at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin was profoundly moving. Walls slid back in a stark set to reveal the seasons; a field of golden corn, a blanket of snow. The singers were utterly convincing, bringing alive the tragic interaction of Jenufa, the loser on whom she has an unfortunate crush and her overly protective stepmother. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in brushing away tears at the end. Even more saddening was the sight of many empty seats the night I went.
Rich Jaroslovsky (San Francisco Gadgets)
The Lytro camera puts revolutionary technology into a product simple enough for normal humans to enjoy. The first “light-field” camera captures all the light in a scene traveling in any direction. That means you can refocus your photo, or even change the perspective, after you’ve taken it. (So can anyone else viewing it online.) You never again have to kick yourself for accidentally focusing on the ball rather than the child. It’s easier to use than a point-and-shoot camera or even a smartphone. Imagine that: a gadget that actually makes things less complicated.
Katya Kazakina (New York Arts Reporter)
People waited for hours to don white booties and step into Doug Wheeler’s exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York. The experience began with seemingly nothing to see, only immersion in a disorienting milky void. At once minimal and magical, the installation made it impossible to judge dimensions or depth. Yet what appeared to be fog revealed the forms of other visitors while the intense light also conjured strange little shapes floating in front of my eyes. Then Wheeler shifted the light slightly from dawn to dusk, lengthening shadows as gray moved to purple. It felt like the end.
Zinta Lundborg (New York Editor)
In a city filled with great music, the Boston Symphony Orchestra conquered with a thrilling performance of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” at Carnegie Hall. Choral conductor John Oliver stepped in at the last minute to lead the orchestra as well as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and soloists Christine Brewer, Michelle DeYoung, Simon O’Neill and Eric Owens. From the opening “Kyrie Eleison” to the transcendent “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei,” the glorious sound resonated through the hall, making it clear why this oddly neglected work was Beethoven’s own favorite.
John Mariani (New York Wine Critic)
There’s a good deal of hype in the word “artisanal” when it applies to spirits, suggesting that some individual is handcrafting (another cliche) a bottle of bourbon the way a true master craftsman would a samurai sword. Yet when I visited Mexico this year and had a seminar with the curmudgeonly il presidente representing the Mezcales Tradicionales de los Pueblos de Mexico, I didn’t just sense the involvement of the individual. I found that the best offer powerful examples of how different each good, small-batch mezcal is, and why the good ones need no worm to sell them.
Elin McCoy (New York Wine Critic)
This was the year of my first-ever sip of an Armenian wine, the elegant, complex 2010 Zorah Karasi red aged in traditional clay amphora. It wowed me with its bright, mulberry-like fruit and earthy mineral notes. It’s the first vintage from a new winemaking project whose forward-thinking owner is Milan-based fashion designer Zorik Gharibian. His debut bottling, part of the Yeghegnadzor region’s nascent wine renaissance, comes from local areni grapes planted on rocky slopes at 4,600 feet above sea level. They’re only a little more than a mile from the Areni-1 cave, where archaeologists last year discovered the world’s oldest winery, dating back 6,100 years.
Laurie Muchnick (New York Books Editor)
I read a lot of great novels this year, but the one I find myself recommending to friends is a children’s book, “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio. The hero, Auggie Pullman, is a fairly normal 10-year-old except for one thing: “Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.” Born with a severe facial deformity, Auggie is starting school for the first time. This could have led to a standard good-for-you story with a message -- be nice to people who are different! -- but Palacio’s humor and unsparing insight into Auggie and everyone around him make it compelling and memorable.
Farah Nayeri (London Arts Reporter)
Joaquin Phoenix gave a memorable performance -- on- and off-screen -- at the Venice world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” He was hypnotic on film as the feral disciple of a Scientology-style cult leader. I was stunned to see him smash a porcelain toilet with his bare hands, and kept wondering how the scene was shot. At a press conference, Phoenix appeared just as uncontainable. He wriggled and squirmed and mumbled and lit a cigarette (in a no-smoking building). When I asked about the toilet scene, Phoenix smirked. Director Anderson said it could only be shot in one take, because Phoenix single-handedly demolished a period toilet in the historic San Pedro prison.
Lili Rosboch (New York Editor)
Anne Baldassari, director of the Musee Picasso in Paris, selected more than 200 works from the French museum’s collection for the grand retrospective she curated at Palazzo Reale in Milan. From paintings to drawings, sculptures to photographs, the exhibition is a journey that brilliantly revisits the Spanish artist’s entire career. The first Picasso show that took place in Milan in 1953 is evoked in the beautiful Sala delle Cariatidi, the same room that at the time hosted “Guernica” and “La Guerre et la Paix.”
James S. Russell (New York Architecture Critic)
The great legacy of London’s 2012 Olympics may be to leave behind economic vibrancy and world-class amenity in the city’s long-derelict East End. The best of the permanent sports venues (the Velodrome by Hopkins Architects and the Aquatics Center by Zaha Hadid) will anchor bands of commercial development extending into the spectacular new Queen Elizabeth Park. Contractors are completing designs by landscape architects George Hargreaves and James Corner Field Operations to replace polluted land and blighted canals with celebratory plazas, meadows, tree-lined ridges and shrub-edged waterways.
Craig Seligman (New York Film, Book Critic)
“Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” No one who’s seen “Beasts of the Southern Wild” can hear these words without a rush of happiness, even though the Bathtub is a dirt-poor swamp and Daddy is a dying drunk with a mean temper who’s turning the tiny, motherless Hushpuppy into the tough little survivor he knows she’ll need to be. Working on a small budget with amateur actors, Benh Zeitlin created a music-saturated magic-realist heartbreaker that is also a heart-lifter -- a complete original.
Catherine Smith (New York Editor)
Bartenders are the new rock stars and cocktails the new hit singles. High-end drinking culture stretches from speakeasies to molecular mixology and barrel-aged concoctions. This year brought the first-ever James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Bar Program, going to Jim Meehan of PDT in New York City. Meehan gave up medicine to shake and stir at some of the city’s hot spots. He’s also author of “The PDT Cocktail Book,” which boasts many drinks with good-quality ingredients that appeal to my taste, like the Rapscallion: Talisker scotch and Lustau Pedro Ximenez sherry served in an absinthe-rinsed glass.
Ryan Sutton (New York Restaurant Critic)
Sandy-related electrical outages forced most of lower Manhattan’s restaurants to close. Seamus Mullen’s Tertulia in Greenwich Village remained open, its facade lit by police flares and headlights. Inside, I ate heady squid-ink paella (with a perfect socarrat crust) and drank good Haitian rum (with no ice). Afterwards, I walked up 11 flights of stairs to my cold apartment, and thought about that hot meal.
James Tarmy (New York Interviews)
“We’re not going to talk about the price of my dresses,” Carolina Herrera said in her lyrical, heavily accented English, “because to tell you the truth, I don’t know myself.” Her mission was to convey the spirit of her brand. Dressed in a crisp black pencil skirt and white blouse, she sat on a silk chair, surrounded by vases packed with roses. She laughed, she flirted -- in short, she embodied the clever, feminine woman for whom her clothes are designed. That’s what made her such a pleasure to interview. She didn’t just use charm, she reveled in it, as if it were the whole point of her fashion line.
Warwick Thompson (London Theater, Opera Critic)
Nicholas Hytner’s production of “Timon of Athens” at the National Theatre took a scalpel and flayed the zeitgeist. Hytner turned an odd play, half-Shakespeare and half-philosophical tract, into a clever parable about the current banking crisis. It was a triumph for Simon Russell Beale in the title role too. Ravel’s short opera “The Child and the Sorceries” was full of mystery, laughs and choked-up emotions in Laurent Pelly’s superb staging at Glyndebourne. The piece is about inanimate objects teaching a lesson to a destructive little boy, and the living book, dancing teapot and trilling wallpaper were magical.
Richard Vines (London Restaurant Critic)
The restaurant event of the year has been the opening of Sushisamba, on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower. It’s not a culinary high, but the crowds it is attracting underline the emergence of the City, London’s financial district, as a culinary destination.
Jorg von Uthmann (Paris Correspondent)
The Louvre’s new Islamic wing impressed me not only because of its huge collection, with 3,000 items on view. I found the architecture no less fascinating. The Louvre is bursting at its seams, so the Italian architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini have transformed a Renaissance courtyard into a two-tiered exhibition space, covering it with an undulating roof --a witty wink at the museum’s famous glass pyramid.
(The opinions expressed by the writers and editors for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News, are their own.)
Muse highlights include Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies.