Culture Vulture: Sunday afternoon at the Guggenheim Museum

November 4, 2019

A big rich cultural week — Faure’s Requiem sung by the Dessoff Choirs; for colored girls at the Public Theater; smart/sexy singer-songwriter Dane Terry at Joe’s Pub; “Howard’s End” on Netflix; Bong Joon-Ho’s crazy, creepy Korean Almodoviarian “Parasite” in the movie theater; John Cameron Mitchell’s amazing podcast/radio series “Anthem: Homunculus” on Luminary; Ira Sachs’s Chekhovian drama Frankie, starring Isabelle Huppert and exquisitely shot on location in Sintra, Portugal; David Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway, all good stuff — wound up at the Guggenheim Museum on NYC Marathon Sunday.

I was determined to see “Defacement: The Untold Story,” the exhibition of a rare Jean-Michel Basquiat painting and other artifacts from the time period (early 1980s), before it closes November 6. So I moseyed up the ramp, strolling through the major show in the rotunda — “Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection” — and ducking into the side gallery showing “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now.” When I got to level 4, I noticed a long line snaking down the ramp — turned out it was all people waiting to get in to the tiny gallery showing the Basquiat, and the wait time was an hour…by which time the museum would be closing. Aaargh! I took a deep breath and resolved to come back when it was likely to be less crowded.

Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time with the other two shows, which both operate on the premise of asking contemporary artists to dialogue with a body of artwork. For “Artistic License,” six artists who’ve had solo shows at the Guggenheim — Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chan, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Richard Prince, and Carrie Mae Weems — got a free pass to run through the museum’s collection and choose as many works to display as would fill one floor of the building’s famous spiral.

Meanwhile, for “Implicit Tensions,” associate curators Lauren Hinkson and Susan Thompson chose a selection of works from six other queer photographers — Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Lyle Ashton Harris, Glenn Ligon, Zanele Muholi, Catherine Opie, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya  — to create a kind of dialogue with the vast array of Mapplethorpe works that the artist’s foundation recently gifted to the museum and that were shown in part one of the exhibition earlier this year.

Along the way I encountered a treasure trove of fascinating work, much of it by artists I’d never heard of — the best possible benefit of seeing group shows like this. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Cai Guo-Quiang’s contribution to “Artistic License” came with the label “Non-Brand,” meaning that he picked work by well-known artists that didn’t look like what you expected, such as these decidedly non-Rothko-looking Mark Rothkos, “Brighton Beach” from the mid-30s and “Untitled” from 1942:

And this perverse blurry titillating untitled 1960 painting by Lucas Samaras, more known for his photography:

Jenny Holzer’s section focused on works by women, Paul Chan sorted for images related to water and bathing, and Carrie Mae Weems chose works primarily in black-and-white. Most of the work that grabbed my attention, though, came from the galleries curated by Julie Mehretu and Richard Prince.

I’d never heard of Corneille but he sounds like a character, and there are elements in this striking painting that foreshadow Basquiat:

Loved these canvases by Georges Mathieu, “Untitled” and “Black and White Abstract”:

There’s a lovely Pollack (“Number 18”) and an intriguing faux-Pollack that’s just too on-the-nose.

Here’s a name I didn’t expect to see in this show: Stuart Sutcliffe. Famous for being the Beatles’ first bass player, also an artist, who died young.

The Mapplethorpe show is engrossing, dominated by Glenn Ligon’s detailed dialogue with Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, in the form of quotes from a variety of literary figures and gay bar habitues. I always love seeing work by Zanele Muholi, but Rotimi Fani-Kayoda is a name new to me. (That he died in London in 1989 at the age of 34 says a lot to me.)

Hungarian Simon Hantaï also new to me.

This textile piece by Alan Shields was beautiful and also has a hilarious name.

Mary Bauermeister is apparently still alive, but who knows if she’s still making this kind of wacky beautiful quirky objects.

Hello, Joseph Beuys!

Hello, Giacometti! (This piece is called “Le Nez (The Nose”).)

I did go back the next morning when the museum opened and was able to tour the Basquiat exhibit with only a few people around.

It’s a beautiful sobering show, a reminder of how long this violent abuse of black men has been embedded in our culture.

Basquiat’s “The Death of Michael Stewart” (originally painted on a wall in Keith Haring’s loft, eventually cut out of the wall and placed by Keith in a gilded frame) bounces off a David Wojnarowicz drawing for a political flyer.

But Haring’s own tribute, “Michael Stewart — USA for Africa” in the adjacent room, is overpowering.

Great to see Basquiat’s “Self-Portrait”

Also “Tuxedo,” both huge and monumental.

I rode my bicycle home down Fifth Avenue listening to the Spotify playlist created by Jon Baptiste to accompany the Basquiat show — a mix of early hip-hop and the classic jazz so frequently referenced in Basquiat’s paintings.

 

 


Quote of the Day: LONELINESS

October 28, 2019

LONELINESS

The economic and cultural ascendancy of video games has collided with a social crisis that we are only beginning to understand: the isolation, emotional stagnation and profound loneliness of American men. Recent surveys indicate that loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions among Americans. According to a 2018 Cigna survey, more than 40 percent of Americans feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are generally isolated from others; 20 percent rarely or never feel close to anyone. Young adults between 18 and 22 score higher on scales of loneliness than any other group.

There’s good reason to think that single men are uniquely vulnerable to social isolation and its repercussions. Studies suggest that men rely primarily on a partner for emotional intimacy, whereas women are more likely to have additional support from close friends; men in their late 30s lose friends at a faster rate than women; and men are more likely to kill themselves because of prolonged emotional or social detachment. In three decades of research, Niobe Way, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University, has observed a striking pattern of behavior among American boys: in early adolescence, they are openly affectionate with one another, speaking freely of love and lifelong bonds; by late adolescence, as they become cultured to project an image of masculinity, heterosexuality and stoicism, they start to distance themselves from their same-sex friends. One 17-year-old told Way that “it might be nice to be a girl, because then you wouldn’t have to be emotionless.”

–Ferris Jabr, New York Times Magazine


Quote of the day: EDGELORDS

October 20, 2019

EDGELORDS

Edgelords — people who post offensive things online for attention — had always existed on message boards like 4chan. But YouTube brought them out of the shadows and turned provocation into a viable career path. On YouTube, there were few rules and no lawyers looking over creators’ shoulders — which is precisely why millions of young people went there, to find the kind of stuff they couldn’t get on TV. The platform’s algorithms promoted engaging videos, with little regard for what made them engaging, and showered ad revenue on the most successful channels. And as all kinds of boundary-pushers raced to fill this void, it became harder to tell who had an actual ideology and who was just feeding the machines what they wanted.

–Kevin Roose writing about Pewdiepie in the New York Times Magazine


Culture Vulture: PLAY YOURSELF benefit reading

October 9, 2019

Fresh on the heels of its latest Broadway transfer (Jeremy O Harris’s edgy Slave Play), New York Theatre Workshop launched its 40th anniversary season Monday night October 7 with a benefit reading of Harry Kondoleon’s Play Yourself. In a program note and at the reception afterwards, the company’s quiet powerhouse of an artistic director, Jim Nicola, acknowledged that “Harry Kondoleon has been at the heart of New York Theatre Workshop longer than I have.” Indeed, Kondoleon’s 1983 Christmas on Mars was NYTW’s first production (in partnership with Playwrights Horizons), and Nicola produced the New York premiere of Play Yourself in 2002 in a beautiful staging by Craig Lucas starring the late great Marian Seldes and the phenomenal Elizabeth Marvel.

For this reading, Lee Sunday Evans (who directed one of last season’s most remarkable shows, Clare Barron’s Dance Nation) assembled a fascinating cast. Off-Broadway veteran Leslie Ayvazian played the role of Jean, an aged former Hollywood B-movie starlet who’s now long retired, half-blind, living in happy obscurity with Yvonne, her former East Village club-kid daughter, now a depressed stay-at-home. Yvonne was played by Rachel Brosnahan, who last appeared at NYTW as Desdemona opposite David Oyewolo’s Othello and Daniel Craig’s Iago, but of course is better known as the star of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. They were joined by the adorable comic character actor and former rocker Annie Golden playing Selma, an ardent fan who tracks Jean down, bringing along with her Brother Harmon, the charismatic founder of a “home for the hopeless,” played by Arian Moayed, who appeared on Broadway in The Humans and is currently on the TV show Succession. Having only had three hours’ rehearsal, the actors did an amazing job of conjuring the play to life.

Play Yourself has all the ingredients that make Harry Kondoleon’s plays distinctive — the vibrant voice, the laugh-out-loud one-liners, the off-handed poetic diction (death is referred to as “oblivion’s lily pad”), the magical transformations, the delicate evolution from familiar living-room comedy to something deeper, stranger, philosophical. At the benefit reading it sounded as fresh and funny as it was when it was written in 1986, and possibly even more pertinent now in the #MeToo/Time’sUp era with its knowing depiction of Hollywood’s callous treatment of women. I attended the reading with the Harry Kondoleon posse — his family (represented by his nephew Lucas Wittmann and his wife Victoire), his William Morris agent Jonathan Lomma, and his best friend and literary executor Stephen Soba.

Afterwards Stephen and I had a fun, spirited conversation with Ayvazian, who knocked us out playing Jean. It turns out Ayvazian knew Harry and a lot of his work. “He wrote great parts for women,” she declared. “He gave them teeth! And cunts!”

At the reception around the corner at Nai Tapas, I chatted up the delightful Ari Moayed, who reminded me that he’d been in the reading of Harry’s Zero Positive at the Public Theater a few years ago. And I had an extended passionate, intimate conversation with Annie Golden about the intense years of the AIDS crisis in NYC and the loved ones we lost to the plague (including her brother and our Harry). Big gratitude to Jim Nicola, Linda Chapman, and all the folks at New York Theatre Workshop for making this one of those fun, crazy nights that make life in New York so special.


Quote of the day: INSTAGRAM

September 18, 2019

INSTAGRAM

With Instagram, self-defining and self-worth-measuring spilled over into the rest of the day, eventually becoming my default mode. If I received conflicting views of my worth or, looking at other people’s accounts, disparate ideas about how to live, the influx of information could lead to a kind of panic spiral. I would keep scrolling as though the cure for how I felt was at the bottom of my feed. I’d feel like I was crawling out of my skin, heartbeat first, for minutes and hours. Finally, I’d see something that made me feel bad enough to put my phone away.

I think I am a writer and an actor and an artist. But I haven’t believed the purity of my own intentions ever since I became my own salesperson, too.

For all my years growing up online, I am still unable to both rapidly and accurately manage so many realities at once: to account for hundreds of people’s feedback in a matter of minutes; to know what to give weight to and what to let go of, what to take at face value and what to read into, what strikes a chord because of a real insecurity I have and what strikes a chord because of a silly insecurity I’ve learned to have, what of other people is authentic or performance or both or neither, and how to catch my brain when it goes to this place. This cycle of judging and being judged is a black hole in which time disappears, in which I and the people I encounter are all frozen in our profiles. It is where I nourish my insecurities over the millions of past versions of me that float around like old yearbook photos and where I still judge people I don’t know for reasons I can’t even remember. Together, we have helped Instagram become its own multibillion-dollar economy: the influencer industry, where people become brands and where brands reach people through other people, fueled by our attempts to solve the great mystery of how one looks in the eyes of another.

Tavi Gevinson in New York Magazine


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