You can catch the fabulous magician Mondre in residence at Late Night MAGIC, the after-dark magic show for adults at Alexis Park Resort Hotel in Las Vegas. MonDre has a unique style, evident in his performance and the jazz that accompanies it. He’s one of the best professional magicians working today.
Publicity: “Late Night MAGIC features a rotating cast of four unique magicians who are edgy, dark, mysterious, and sexy acts intended for mature audiences only. These magicians have been seen on stage at major Las Vegas strip hotels and The Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA, as well as on national and international TV shows like America’s Got Talent, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and Ghost Adventures. The brainchild of Michael Mayfield and Douglas Leferovich, Late Night MAGIC, is the answer to MAGIC shows too frequently focusing on being “family-friendly” when so much of MAGIC’s history and mystery is dark, edgy, and often sexy.”
Watch MonDre demonstrate his mastery here.
If you get all of your news from, well… us, you might not know that Turkey and Egypt are having somewhat of a tiff. The two countries haven’t been on speaking terms since Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power by a military coup back in 2013.
This ongoing diplomatic breakdown was quite inconvenient for Iranian-Azeri magician, Aref Ghafouri, who found himself in need of anti-venom after being bitten by an Egyptian Cobra during a rehearsal in Turkey. In hospital, he was told two things you really don’t want to hear after being bitten by a snake. First: that the venom could cause death due to respiratory failure, and second: Turkey didn’t have the right kind of anti-venom to treat the wound.
Now, it might seem obvious that Egypt would be pretty high on the list of places you might find anti-venom for the Egyptian Cobra, but this is where that aforementioned diplomatic breakdown comes in. Unfortunately, asking someone you’re not talking to for anti-venom is, like, totally awkward, so Turkey opted to ask France for help instead. Discussion between the two countries was slow, and it eventually turned out that France’s Pasteur Institute had stopped producing the antidote back in 2015. Meanwhile, Ghafouri’s hand started to swell to cartoonish proportions, as they are wont to do after being bitten by a giant goddamn snake.
Ghafouri, who was quite well known in Turkey following a successful appearance on Turkey’s Got Talent, realized that waiting for the wheels of diplomacy to start turning was likely going to be hazardous for his health and amazing for his snake’s self esteem, and chose to travel to Egypt himself. He promptly ran into an issue obtaining a visa, and had to wait in an ambulance plane at Antalya Airport for hours.
The Turkish government meanwhile was still trying to get an answer from France when it learned of the delay in processing the magician’s visa. Calls were made. The visa has since been approved. Ghafouri was flown into Cairo and began his treatment earlier today.
One of the weirder images to emerge from April’s historic, inter-Korean summit was a shot of leaders, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, reacting to a magic trick. Early reports on the summit seemed to indicate the magician was South Korean, but he’s since been identified as Gwang Cheol Kim, a North Korean and one of the current leaders of the Magicians Association of Korea. He’s also the son of the country’s most popular magician and one of the few entertainers to be noted as a “Hero of Socialist Labour,” Kim Thaek Song.
News that North Korea had a magic scene large enough to warrant its own national association – or perhaps it’s the other way around, as these things often tend to be in police states – has prompted an interesting look into the community courtesy of The Diplomat’s Tae-jun Kang.
In North Korea, a magic show is considered to be part of the circus, locally known as “Kyoye,” which is conducted by professional circus groups. According to North Korean culture critic Lim Chae-wook, North Korea provides government-level support to bolster its circus group. It is considered to be a performance art in the North, and circus players, including magicians, are given the title of “Kyoye actor,” he said. On average, one circus group can have up to 100 Kyoye actors.
Becoming a magician in North Korea appears to be somewhat more gruelling than it is elsewhere in the world, though if there’s one thing true about North Korea it’s that it’s often gruelling and lacking in gruel. Hopeful youths looking to make it in the North Korean big tops begin training as young as ten at one of the country’s specially designed training institutions. The schools offer four disciplines, one of which is magic. The training takes about nine years.
North Korea established the Magician’s Association of Korea in 2001, presumably as an attempt to promote magicians separately, rather than as part of the circuses. South Korea has invited association members to attend international events on multiple occasions, including an open invitation to this year’s FISM in Busan, but thus far nothing has come of it.
The article includes more details, and a more in depth look at Kim Thaek Song and his career. I strongly recommend it.
The use of exotic animals in performance magic is a difficult topic. While it’s true that, in most civilised countries, there are laws to protect the welfare of performing animals, and that the rise of social media has made animal abuse akin to career suicide, there is still something decidedly off about locking up non-domesticated animals and using them for entertainment. And yes, that goes for zoos too, before you start.
Indian Magician, Jadugar Anand, has come under fire for one of his acts that involves a captive elephant. “People for Animal,” an an animal rights organization, has petitioned the Indore circuit bench of Madhya Pradesh high court to confiscate the animal, alleging that Anand’s use of it violates the Wildlife Protection Act.
The group initially complained to local officials of the state forest department, asking them to seize the animal and release it into the wild, but Anand provided documents showing he obtained permission to use the elephant in his performances. Having acquired photographic evidence of what appears to be an open wound on the elephant following a performance, the group went to the high court, alleging abuse.
A spokesperson for the organization claimed the case was set to be heard on May 24th, but there’s been no news of a verdict as of yet.
Joe Modestou has spent the last two-and-a-half-years fighting an illegal gambling charge brought against him by Cyprian police. He was finally acquitted late last week, with the judge adding that the prosecution should have “done better research.”
Modestou, a corporate magician and former casino croupier, was the director and operator of Magicasino Cyprus, a company that staged “fun” gambling events, often for corporate clients.
Modestou insists that no actual gambling took place at the events – they were either for charity or stakes were provided as part of the event and could only be traded for prizes. He also notes that the only monetary compensation he received was his pre-arranged fee, and that none of his equipment was of a professional grade. That didn’t stop Cyprian police from confiscating his equipment and charging him with operating an illegal casino after somebody filed a complaint about an event he set up for British shopping outlet Debanhams back in 2015. At the event, people who visited his merchandise stand would receive five tokens. Anyone who managed to gamble their way to 150 tokens would receive a €5 voucher for use in that same shop.
Since the court case began, Modestou has had to travel across the country to appear in court nearly 15 times, with each hearing lasting less than an hour. Now he’s finally exonerated, Modestou is considering suing the government to recoup both his lost earnings and the damage down to his reputation. As he said on Facebook:
To add insult to injury, Modestou didn’t even get his equipment back. It was destroyed in a fire along with a room full of evidence back in February.
As I write this, English magician Colin Lanfear is making a 3,300 mile bike journey across England, Wales and Scotland. The 49-year-old Alvington-native is riding around the UK, performing free shows to raise £15,000 towards a support center for families and those with disabilities in Ghana.
After each performance, he’ll be taking donations to pay for his accommodation, food, and the building project. He’s also taking donations online.
What would possess a man to cycle the nation’s coasts? As Lanfear himself puts it:
I am doing it for a number of reasons, firstly, I can do it, I have the freedom to do it so I will. Life is short, if you do not attempt the something you want to do now it may never happen. I am a Magician and Family Entertainer so I will be Busking my Magic Show on the streets of the towns and cities I cycle through. This will be a challenge in itself, what I make from my busking will help fund my journey any extra will go to the project.
Lanfear has been a semi-professional magician for just four years, and only became interested in the art eight years ago, after a chance meeting with Eric Sharp, an octogenarian Punch and Judy showman and magician. Sharp sadly passed away at the age of 94, but not before passing on his secrets and tricks to Lanfear.
He doesn’t have an itinerary up, but you can follow Lanfear on Facebook to see if he’s in your area.
Leaders from North and South Korea met last week at a historic peace summit, where Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In discussed terms that would eventually lead to the reunification of the two countries. To close the ceremonies, the two enjoyed a meal accompanied by a previously unnamed magician, according to reports from the Washington Post. We have since learned that the illusionist who performed during the momentous occasion was none other than Gwang Cheol Kim, one of the current leaders of the Magician’s Association of Korea.
A tipster reached out to us via email that Gwang Cheol Kim is the second son of Thaek Song Kim, who is the current chairman of the North Korean magic society, and that Gwang is “kind of a national hero of the D.P.R.K.” They also mentioned that he is “very good [with all kinds] of magic but also good with bill and card trick [sic].”
The Magician’s Association of Korea was founded in 2001 with the goal of contributing to the development of performance magic in the country, as well as fostering relationships with international magic associations. In 2012, the organization was admitted to Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, and our source mentioned that there is a possibility for North Korean magicians to join in this year’s World Championships of Magic in Busan, and will likely appear in a joint magic show with South Korea during the gala performance.
Magic, like all great art, knows no boundaries, and it’s nice to hear that it could play a part in helping to break the ice between two countries during such a significant moment in their respective histories.
When I was writing about video games for a living, there was one question that plagued literally every publication I worked at: “Are video games art?”
The question was as pointless as it was pervasive. Discussions on the topic would go round in circles for weeks. Feelings would be hurt. Very few people in the gaming sphere had done the necessary reading to add anything but emotional hot takes to the discussion. Besides, the community wasn’t really talking about the taxonomy of creative work. That was never the the real issue. When people talked about games and art, they were talking about the social, political, and fiscal ramifications of the Art (capital A) label, or trying to signal their own position on the great scoreboard of culture by either denying or confirming the medium’s art status. Or both. Running through every answer was a vein of raw insecurity: What you thought about games as an art form said more about your relationship with art in general than it did about games. It was awful.
Magic is further along the bumpy road of artistic acceptance, partially because it’s older and exists under the protective umbrella of theater, so dismissing it as a valid form of art doesn’t grant a critic any degree of intellectual prestige. Yet, magicians and those orbiting around the magic industry are still spinning their wheels in the mud of what is essentially the same question, one-step-removed: “Is magic major art?”
Major art, in this context, is the kind of stuff that’d come up in a Google search for art: Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, theater, film, and literature (though those last two are oft-debated). Minor art refers to what you might think of as subdivisions of those disciplines: Tapestry, jewelry-making, fashion, comics, photography, etc. The terms aren’t supposed to denote quality or intellectual worth, but it’s rare that anyone invoking them actually believes that.
The question is explored in some detail in this interesting piece by French magician, Norbert Ferré. I was surprised by how many of his points, though well-researched and well-argued, I’d heard before in discussions about video games, hence the indulgent intro to this article. His eventual conclusion is elegantly put:
…we must conclude that decidedly… magic is perhaps a minor art… but it’s an art practiced by major artists.
My own position is somewhat less nuanced: I don’t really care.
My argument isn’t that Ferré is wrong, per se, but more that the concept of major and minor art is so nebulous and so overtly political that the idea of it being a meaningful objective distinction is ridiculous. Even ignoring the issues of class, gender, and race inherent in any kind of system used to classify “tiers” of art, comparing magic to other forms of art, or other mediums, is just as much of a waste of time as it is for video games, because:
There are compelling arguments that magic is one of the oldest performance arts in history. Even if you stick very strictly to the modern definition of magic, you’re still talking about at least two thousand years of sleight-of-hand and illusions. Yet, compared to other art forms, even the most dedicated magic historians have relatively little to show for and from all those collective years of deception.
There’s a few reasons for this. For one, there was like 500 years where anything more complicated than a cup and balls routine would get you burned at the stake – that likely put a bit of a dampener on the industry. The largest problem is the nature of magic and the magicians themselves. Up until fairly recently, magicians were secretive as a matter of course, even long after they’d retired from performing. That’s had a devastating effect on the longevity of their work. You could go to a theater today and see something not entirely dissimilar from what Willy Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote/stole Othello, largely because he was trying to promote his work as well as himself. He wanted his scripts out there, with his name attached of course. He wasn’t hiding them in hollowed out trees or safes buried in his basement. That need for secrecy, combined with the truly obsessive amount of practice needed to perform high-level magic and the dangers involved in doing so, is a recipe for amazing acts dying with their performers.
Even when magicians do pass on their work, that artistic lineage is obscured. Magic enthusiasts might know the origin of a trick, but conveying that to the audience in a way that doesn’t betray the nature of the trick is difficult. As Paul Harris persuasively argued, “The act of highlighting magic as an art form is done through informing the public that there’s a lineage.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed that very few of the world’s best film critics are successful directors. Through study a critic can come to understand what qualities make a film good or bad, even if they have no mastery of the form themselves. While film is deceptive in the same way all art is deceptive (spoiler: Anthony Hopkins has never actually eaten anyone), a layperson can come to understand that deception, the intent behind it, and comment on the quality of its execution or the suitability of its use.
Magic, on the other hand, is specifically designed to draw attention to the presence of that deception while hiding the methodology behind it. Paradoxically, a magician is at the very peak of his prowess when he appears to be doing nothing at all. The ultimate expression of the magic as a performance art is something no one notices. Imagine if the most highly regarded piece of literature was a blank page or the best musician was someone pretending to be a CD player. Imagine that was what every writer or composer was aiming for. How well do you think their work would be regarded outside of their own discipline? People need to be able to perhaps not grasp but at least vaguely comprehend the difficulty involved in producing art. Magicians hide that difficulty on purpose.
“Where’s our Citizen Kane,” or, “this is our Citizen Kane,” are such oft-repeated cliches in the gaming sphere that the mere mention of the movie is a now joke unto itself. What people actually mean when they refer to Citizen Kane in that manner is a piece of work so huge, so influential, so unquestionably “good,” that it instantly raises both itself and its medium to high art.
To me, that betrays a lack of understanding of what Citizen Kane actually accomplished. The movie didn’t elevate film to art, it established the criteria by which a film’s artistry could be measured on its own terms rather than as a more convenient offshoot of theater. Has there really not yet been a magician or performer so ground-breaking that they’ve become a kind of universal yardstick for the quality of a magic performance? Robert-Houdin seems the obvious choice for popularizing and standardizing the very idea of “parlour” magic, but you can make sound arguments for Houdini, Copperfield, or even more modern magicians like David Blaine.
Perhaps instead of of hoping for some kind of art meteor to fly out of the blue and change everything overnight, we’d be better served by following the example of Cahiers du Cinéma, a French film magazine that, in the mid 50’s, began reevaluating what were then considered “trashy” Hollywood movies. This reevaluation led to greater recognition for directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks, and Jean Cocteau, set the standard for modern film criticism, and was largely responsible for the creation of the “New Wave” of French Cinema. Yesterday’s trash became today’s culture.
And finally, even if we were to decide unanimously that magic is major or minor art, that status is far from secure. I present you with this quotation from an article published in the 1950’s by Paul Oskar Kristeller.
There were important periods in cultural history when the novel, instrumental music, or canvas painting did not exist or have any importance. On the other hand, the sonnet and the epic poem, stained glass and mosaic, fresco painting and book illumination, vase painting and tapestry, bas relief and pottery have all been “major” arts at various times and in a way they no longer are now. Gardening has lost its standing as a fine art since the eighteenth century. On the other hand, the moving picture is a good example of how new techniques may lead to modes of artistic expression for which the aestheticians of the eighteenth and nineteenth century had no place in their systems. The branches of the arts all have their rise and decline, and even their birth and death.
I found this quotation in an article about whether or not film is a major or minor art. Literally everybody is doing this dance.
As I said earlier, it’s a question driven by insecurity, by a desire to see one’s passion not just as something that brings joy, but as something that is culturally relevant and spiritually fulfilling. We want what we do to be important, and we look for validation in comparisons to other art forms. Yet, the importance of those art forms is not intrinsic, it’s a product of the culture that recognizes them.
And there you have my, perhaps a little bit flippant, answer to a complex question. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with considering magic’s status in the world of art, but I think the discussion is far more interesting than the answer. What do you think? Is magic a major art? Does it matter? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
Last week, you were no-doubt pleased to learn that North and South Korea are postponing World War 3. That announcement came during a chummy summit, which saw leaders, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, smiling, holding hands and enjoying magic tricks together.
One of the more striking photographs to come from the summit was a shot of the two leaders enjoying themselves during the banquet dinner marking the end of the talks. It turns out the picture was actually a shot of the two leaders reacting to a magic trick performed by an as-of-yet unnamed South Korean magician.
According to interviews with attendees (there were no journalists attending the banquet), the plucky magician started the trick by asking for some money. A South Korean official provided a 50,000 won bill (roughly $50) which the magician promptly turned into a $1 note. During the course of the routine, the magician turned that note into a $10 bill and then a $100 bill, which he then handed to the South Korean president. One South Korean official chimed in with a joke: “No more exports necessary from North Korea. You can create money just like that with a magic!”
The magician also performed a number of card tricks, including one where a “trump card” was eventually handed to former North Korean intelligence chief, Kim Yong Chol. The trump gag apparently worked in Korean, prompting laughter around the table.
At the inter-Korean summit banquet, North Korean official Kim Yong Chol – who, incidentally, is sanctioned by the U.S. for his involvement in North Korea’s nuclear program – got the "trump card" pic.twitter.com/q2psJ5dXZj
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) April 30, 2018
Personally, I’m pleased to be writing about goofy magic tricks instead of the looming spectre of nuclear war. I’m not surprised Kim Jong Un is a fan of magic, given his penchant for making people disappear.
My grandmother once told me you can’t lie to a liar. Actually, that’s not true. What she really told me can’t be printed here, but that lying to a liar thing was the gist of it.
Perhaps that’s why so many magicians, be they people of faith or otherwise, seem to embrace skepticism. Miracles seem a lot less impressive when you know how they’re done. Such is the case for veteran magicians, Op Sharma and his son, Op Sharma Jr., also known as Satayaprakash. The pair are currently touring India, performing shows meant to undermine and expose “Godmen;” self-styled gurus who use simple magic tricks to attract followers.
“Through our magic, we aim to make people aware of superstitions and pull them out of the clutches of their old-fashioned beliefs,” Satayaprakash told the local press. “Self-styled Godmen befool people with simple acts of hypnotism. I show my audience how a ring can spew ash and how a Rs 100 note can turn into Rs 500. These are all tricks and mind games and one should not fall for them blindly.”
Like many of his western peers Satyaparkash worries that the internet might be keeping audiences away from live shows, denying them a crucial aspect of the magic experience.
“There is so much information and entertainment available on the Internet that people tend to spend a lot of time online and they are left with little time to step out of the confines of their house to enjoy live shows.”
“Magic, however, is one such art which is best enjoyed when watched live,” he continued. “The element of surprise is lost when we watch videos on the Internet. We feel it more when it happens in front of our eyes. Although there are many youngsters who are interested in learning the art, the number of spectators has not been very encouraging.”
Still, Satyaprakash’s own sons are looking to follow in the footsteps of their father and grandfather.
“My sons are also keen on learning and taking up the art,” he said, “but I have told them to study first and then get involved in this. The more they study, the better magicians they will become since it all involves science and a little art.”