Chan Canasta (1920-1999) is one of my heroes in magic. In front of live audiences he took major risks that are breathtaking to behold. Sometimes a trick wouldn’t work and his entire presentation failed. Unlike a traditional magician, Chan Canasta was fine with that. Failure was an acceptable outcome. But when he succeeded, ah! The outcome was gloriously impossible. This was part of the public’s fascination toward Chan’s brand of psychological illusion – they were keenly aware that his experiments could fail, so they believed he was real. His approach elicited empathy, and audiences earnestly wanted him to succeed.
Later in life, he left the world of public performance and focused on another lifelong passion – painting. As artists evolve, they often find new outlets to express themselves. Chan put down the deck of cards and picked up a paintbrush to stimulate audiences in a fresh way. His paintings presented the world in a dreamlike fashion, challenging viewers to discern the difference between reality and illusion.
Today Chan Canasta paintings are seldom seen – most are held in private collections spread across the globe. I encountered my first Chan Canasta painting in 2004 hanging on the wall of Derren Brown’s flat in London. It made an impact on me because I knew that the canvas behind the plate glass had been personally touched by our mutual hero. Although Chan died in 1999 and I had never met him in person, I felt his presence while standing in the same room as his painting.
Years later, I chanced across an eBay auction containing twenty Chan Canasta paintings. At the time I wasn’t in the market to purchase art, but I felt a sudden inspiration to create screenshots of each painting. I saved those digital files and later posted them in a blog post on my website, dated April 13, 2010. The dealer selling these paintings was located in Brussels, Belgium, and I instructed my blog visitors to contact this dealer via eBay if they wished to purchase an original Canasta.
After a week of being listed on eBay, something magical yet disturbing happened. Not only did the auction listings end, but the Belgian art dealer himself had vanished. There was no way to track him down on eBay, since he had used an untraceable screen name that didn’t correspond to any known galleries.
I continued to host the twenty images on my blog. Five years passed.
On January 9, 2015, I received an email from a lady named Renata Kadrnka who explained that she was Chan Canasta’s widow. The day she wrote would have been Chan’s 95th birthday and she was reminiscing about life with her late husband. Renata had searched the Internet for articles about Chan, and stumbled across my blog post.
On June 2, 2013, I took the stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York City for a memorable evening of magic. The program featured a screening of my History Channel program “Lost Magic Decoded” as well as a lively question-and-answer session, and a live performance of magic. Moderating the discussion was my pal and fellow magician Dick Cavett, the legendary talk show host, and we were joined by Robert Palumbo, the director of my program.
Here’s the introduction that Eric Lange read to the sold-out audience heard before we walked on stage:
“Welcome to a magical evening at the Y!
“Tonight we’ll be “Looking for Magic with Steve Cohen,” who has delighted and mystified audiences all over the world. He’s the star of Chamber Magic, the longest-running solo magic show in New York, presented each weekend in an elegant suite in the Waldorf Towers. His audiences include a who’s who of celebrities, royalty, and other notables. A media favorite, Cohen was also the star of a sold-out solo show at Carnegie Hall and a TV special you will see excerpts from tonight, Lost Magic Decoded, that premiered on the History Channel in 2012.
“Cohen will talk about the making of the film with the film’s writer, director and co-producer Robert Palumbo, whose credits include documentaries for HBO, Showtime and National Geographic. Steve and Robert traveled the world on their magic quest, so they have a few stories to tell!
“We’re honored to welcome back famed talk show host and author Dick Cavett, who will moderate their discussion. […]
Join us for a private screening of my History Channel special, “Lost Magic Decoded,” that follows my journey across three continents in search of some of the most puzzling illusions of all time.
“Lost Magic Decoded” was praised by The New York Times (“baffling”) and USA Today (“jaw-dropping”).
The screening will be hosted by legendary talk show host Dick Cavett (click on his name to read his NY Times blog), and will include a discussion with the film’s writer/producer/director Robert Palumbo. I also plan to perform some live magic after the screening.
If you are in the New York area on June 2nd, I hope to see you there. [Click for more…]
For over one hundred twenty years, Carnegie Hall has been a world-famous venue for music, but not magic. It was an honor, then — a once-in-a-lifetime achievement — to be able to perform my full evening magic show there on January 12, 2012. The show ran two hours, and received a standing ovation from the sold-out auditorium.
I’d like to thank all of you who came to the show. I’ll always remember the electric anticipation you projected as I walked on-stage. Looking out at you, I felt anticipation too — like we were creating a historic moment together.
Throughout my career I’ve always believed that magic has the potential to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other performing arts, such as ballet, opera and orchestral music. Magic can be more, much more, than a simple diversion. The artistry required to construct and stage a theatrical magic show is on par with the training, thought and creativity required to present other traditional art forms.
My personal goal in staging a magic show at Carnegie Hall was to prove that the art of magic is capable of accepting its due respect, if only we give it the chance. It was immensely satisfying to see that the public supported this belief; the entire theater was sold-out months in advance.
Because I am used to performing for small audiences of 50 people at the Waldorf-Astoria, the nearly 300-seat Weill Recital Hall presented some challenges. I did my best to cross the footlights and reach out to the entire audience, even up to the balcony.
In this blog, I’ve composed a full report of the evening, from my perspective as performer and producer […]
My favorite comment after returning from my Philadelphia tour was an email I received from a guest. He wrote, “Your show is a thing of beauty, a magical symphony.” Wow. What a nice compliment. But I must say that Philadelphia audiences – who came out in droves to the magnificent Four Seasons hotel last week – made my job a pleasure indeed.
Whenever I launch the show in a new city, there is considerable risk on my part. Will people show up? How do I get the word out? Do I have any fans in that city who can help drum up interest?
Fortunately, Philadelphia is close enough to my home base in NYC that the word spread quickly. I even got a little advance press on a cool blog that has a large local following. The four shows sold-out swiftly, even before I arrived in town.
Another part of the risk in performing in a new city is that […]
It’s the dream of any performer to stand on-stage at Carnegie Hall, presenting what they’ve trained their entire life to perfect.
I’ll have my chance on January 12, 2012, and I’d love it if you would share this momentous evening with me.
Carnegie Hall has three performance venues – I’ll be performing in their most intimate: Weill Recital Hall. Tickets went on sale this morning at 11:00am, and the box office tells me that they had people queuing up on the phones, waiting for the sale to begin.
This is a one-night only performance of my stage show “Theater of Wonder” – which is entirely different from “Chamber Magic,” now in its eleventh year at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. If you’ve been to my smaller show and want to see more magic, “Theater of Wonder” is for you.
Tickets are available at the Carnegie Hall box office (57th Street and Seventh Avenue), through CarnegieCharge at 212-247-7800, or online […]
“For the uninitiated layman, everything Steve Cohen presents in “Chamber Magic” must seem totally impossible and could easily convert anyone to believe in the paranormal.
“Other mentalists and all magicians should watch Steve carefully. Not so much for the actual effects but for his superb patter, timing and presentation. Few other entertainers are able to create the kind of intimate and mysterious atmosphere that this evening offers and, in the best show-business tradition, he leaves them wanting even more!”
I was honored to receive this praise from David Berglas, one of the living legends in magic. David and his wife Ruth visited my show in London, and we’ve remained in touch over the years. A few years back, they visited New York City, and I organized a lavish luncheon in David’s honor at the Waldorf-Astoria. Here is the personalized menu from the Peacock Alley private dining room […]
This blog post really “takes the cake” as one of the more flattering moments in my professional career.
I was invited to perform at a gorgeous English-style country home in New Jersey yesterday (video below), to celebrate my client’s 50th birthday. After the show was over, it was time to sing “Happy Birthday.” You can imagine the look of surprise on my face when I saw my magic teapot, “Think-a-Drink” decorated in icing on his cake!
Magician Jonathan Brown saw this photo of the cake, and wrote a lovely comment on Facebook: “You know, you can win awards, make a name for yourself, get on TV etc..but when a CLIENT loves your magic enough to put YOUR trick on THEIR OWN birthday cake…well I don’t know where you go from that!”