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New York City is having its own special Leigh Bowery moment, almost nine years after the Australia-born drag queen and diva died from AIDS in London on New Year's Eve 1994. Bowery's highest-profile manifestation is on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater, where the much-talked-about musical Taboo is currently in previews. Imported from London by TV talk show celebrity Rosie O'Donnell, the show features music by "New Romantics" pop star Boy George, who also does a turn on stage as Bowery. The 2 -hour-long show has good songs and good costumes, but no narrative of any power -- the second act features depressing scenes with Boy George as a doper and Bowery as a dying hospital patient, but doesn't manage to provide any sense of redemption. Tickets are $80 and $100.

According to the breathless tabloid reports, Taboo is undergoing considerable script-doctoring in anticipation of its scheduled Nov. 13 opening. For a needed dose of avant-garde sensibility that is sorely missing from the stage production, the producers are urged to visit the current exhibition at Team Gallery on West 26th Street, a large group show organized by Bob Nickas and titled my people were fair and had cum in their hair (but now they're content to spray stars from you boughs), Oct. 18-Nov. 15, 2003. Along with a wealth of homoerotica is Charles Atlas' five-minute-long DVD projection, Venus in Furs (1989), featuring Bowery's imaginative costumes in a performance by the Michael Clark Dance Company to the Velvet Underground's song of the same name. The mise-en-scéne is a bit reminiscent of the special effects sequences in Ken Russell's equally cultish Lair of the White Worm (1988).

Bowery also has a cameo in the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute's new production, "Braveheart: Men in Skirts," Nov. 4, 2003-Feb. 8, 2004, which includes two of his over-the-top costumes, a 1988-89 "Harlequin" dress and a 1988 "Abstract" dress. Upstairs in the mezzanine 20th-century painting galleries is Lucian Freud's disturbing Naked Man, Back View (1992), a portrait of Bowery sans any fashion but Freud's own.

Visitors to the Nov. 3 press preview for the "Men in Skirts" exhibition were greeted by a pair of anti-fur protestors out in front of the museum, dressed like cavemen -- yes, in skirts -- and carrying signs reading, "Only cave people wear fur." It turns out that the sponsor of the show, Jean Paul Gaultier, whose designs are also given premier place in it, uses fur. One gallery was closed off to the real art press while local TV interviewed the great designer and patron, asking questions like, "What's next, a show about bras?" Note to Met director Philippe di Montebello: Banish television from your press previews, the coverage is stupid, and you already get as much mass attendance as you need.

And last but not least is Atlas' The Legend of Leigh Bowery, an 83-minute documentary that premiered on the Trio cable channel on Oct. 31 and that opens at the Cinema Village movie theater in New York on Nov. 28, 2003. "Bowery was an artist first and a completely masochistic drag queen second," said critic Linda Yablonsky. "What he did with the human body -- via outrageous clothes -- was kind of terrifying, the equal to his personality. Do see the film!"

The 8th annual Americans for the Arts awards go to Kirk Varnedoe (special memorial tribute for extraordinary contributions to the arts), Heinz Endowments head Teresa Heinz (Frederick R. Weisman award for philanthropy to the arts), Richard Avedon (lifetime achievement), Christo and Jeanne-Claude (artistic leadership), Dr. Vance Coffman, Lockheed Martin (corporate citizenship in the arts) and Sofia Coppola (young artist award). The fundraiser for the arts advocacy group is scheduled for Nov. 11, 2003, at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan. Tickets start at $1,000; for more info, contact

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery has received a collection of more than 260 contemporary artworks -- 160 paintings and sculptures and over 100 works on paper, largely monochrome abstractions -- from Santa Fe collectors Natalie and Irving Forman. The retired cardiologist and his wife, who have been married for 57 years, have no ties to Buffalo -- other than a friendship with the museum's current director, Louis Grachos, who met them when he was director of SITE Santa Fe. An exhibition showcasing the collection is tentatively planned for 2005.

The studio of American regionalist painter Grant Wood (1891-1942) -- where the artist painted his emblematic American Gothic, among other works -- has been given to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The studio is located on the second floor of a 19th-century carriage house located three blocks from the museum, a space that was originally provided to Wood by long-time patrons John B. Turner and his son, David Turner, who also operated their mortuary business in the mansion on the property. The studio was donated to the museum by Cedar Memorial Funeral Home, which bought Turner Mortuary in 1978. The museum plans to restore the studio and develop the lower floor of the carriage house into a visitor center, scheduled to open in late 2004.

Photographer Tim Davis, whose latest New York exhibition at Brent Sikkema Gallery garnered positive reviews here [see "Weekend Update," Sept. 26, 2003], has received less friendly notice by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). He is one of the 261 people sued by the mass-market music monopoly for downloading music on the internet. To help with legal fees, Davis is selling "Free Timmy" t-shirts for $25 on his website, T-shirts can also be had during an open studio Davis and three of his studio-mates -- Lisa Sanditz, Emily Sartor and Zoe Sonenberg -- are having this Saturday, Nov. 8, at 45 White Street, apt. #4, 7-10 pm. Dancing is promised later in the evening, with music by Bambouche of the Vanguard Squad.

Roslyn Adele Walker has been appointed senior curator of the arts of Africa, the Pacific and the Americans and the Margaret McDermott curator of African art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Walker is former director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution; she first joined the NMAA staff in 1981, becoming senior curator in 1993 and director in '97

The Art Dealers Association of America recently elected new officers and members of its board of directors for three-year terms. President is Pace Editions president Richard Solomon; senior vice president is Mary-Anne Martin; vice-president is Galerie St. Etienne co-director Jane Kallir; secretary is Luhring Augustine co-owner Roland Augustine; and treasurer is C&M Arts director Robert Mnuchin. Newly elected board members are Rachel Adler, Kallir, Jack Kilgore, Martin and Brent Sikkema.

Seeking the mass audience, art museums have displayed motorcycles (Guggenheim), guitars (Boston MFA) and handbags by Judith Leiber (Corcoran). This fall, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, took a different tack to appeal to sports fans. The museum commissioned award-winning photographer Robert Clark to document the inaugural season of the NFL expansion franchise Houston Texans. Clark's black-and-white portraits of the players, the crowds and the game are currently presented in "First Down Houston: The Birth of an NFL Franchise," which is both a coffee-table book (224 pp., $29.95) and an exhibition organized by Anne Wilkes Tucker, on view Sept. 21, 2003-Feb. 8, 2004. It must have been a good idea -- the team only won one game last year (against their interstate rivals, the Dallas Cowboys) but have improved their record this season to 3-5.
-- Phyllis Tuchman

The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., has given the philanthropist and collector His Royal Highness the Duke of Bavaria, Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria von Wittelsbach its 2003 Duncan Phillips Award. An early champion of German artists like Sigmar Polke and Georg Baselitz, Duke Franz has a remarkable collection that includes 800 works that form the nucleus of the new Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.

A SRO audience of art-world movers and shakers gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Oct. 27 to honor the memory of Kirk Varnedoe, former director of the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. Varnedoe's life was cut short last August at the age of 57. Grieving friends and colleagues eloquently recalled times spent with the handsome, Savannah native, who graduated from Williams College, earned his advanced degrees from Stanford University and taught at Columbia University and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. It was hard for casual acquaintances not to regret not having better known this remarkable person.

Speakers included Met director Philippe de Montebello; Albert Scardino, a Pulitzer prize winner; art historian Robert Rosenblum; Agnes Gund, retired president of MoMA; artist Chuck Close; and restaurateur Ruth Rogers, who met Varnedoe in Paris in 1972 when he was researching his dissertation on Rodin. Soprano Renee Fleming movingly sang Richard Strauss' Morgen! and an aria by Antonin Dvorak. With the powers of a dynamic 19th century orator, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik described his former professor and dear friend. Varnedoe obviously will be missed.