Quote of the Day: SOMNAMBULISM

November 29, 2019

SOMNAMBULISM

All children are good hypnotic subjects – so good that four out of five of them can be talked into somnambulism. In adults the proportion is reversed. Four out of five of them can never be talked into somnambulism. Out of any hundred children, which are the twenty who will grow up to be suggestible to the pitch of somnambulism? … We can spot them, and it’s very important that they should be spotted…Politically speaking, the twenty percent that can be hypnotized easily and to the limit is the most dangerous element in your societies. Because these people are the propagandist’s predestined victims. In an old-fashioned, prescientific democracy, any spellbinder with a good organization behind him can turn that twenty percent of potential somnambulists into an army of regimented fanatics dedicated to the greater glory and power of their hypnotist. And under a dictatorship these same potential somnambulists can be talked into implicit faith and mobilized as the hard core of the omnipotent party. So you see it’s very important for any society that values liberty to be able to spot the future somnambulists while they’re young.

–Aldous Huxley, Island


Culture Vulture: Soho Rep, AKHNATEN, BLACK EXHIBITION, the new MOMA, and MARRIAGE STORY

November 19, 2019

Another Culture Vulture marathon! (click photos to enlarge)

Thursday night at Soho Rep with for all the women who thought they were   Mad by Zawe Ashton, the British actress and author currently on Broadway in Betrayal. The idea of the play was worthy: a young businesswoman juggling numbers and motherhood struggles to find her way up the corporate ladder while haunted by the voices of the women from her village life back in Africa. The protagonist (ironically named Joy and played by Bisserat Tseggai, below photographed by Julieta Cervantes) occupies a glass-walled cubicle that spins midstage, while her sister-relatives sit, sing, chant, and sprawl around her. I admired the costumes (by Andrew Jean) and the many amazing faces among the female cast (Gibson Frazier has the unenviable task of playing all the smug white men in Joy’s life) directed by Whitney White, but the play’s dry, pretentious language left me out.

Friday night: the Metropolitan Opera’s ravishing production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, staged by Phelim McDermott with production design by Tom Pye, costumes by Kevin Pollard, and knockout performances by Anthony Ross Costanzo in the title role of 14th century BCE Egyptian pharaoh and J’Nai Bridges as his wife Nefertiti, conducted by Karen Kamensek. I agreed with Anthony Tommasini’s New York Times review in viewing the opera as ritualistic and mystical; I also agreed with Justin Davidson’s Vulture review referring to the show as the essence of capital-C camp. (To get a sense of what I mean, you only have to read the program’s synopsis of Act I, preferably aloud in the portentous, shouting-to-the-fifth-balcony voice of Zachary James playing the quasi-narrator.)

Unlike both reviewers, I never got tired of watching the team of jugglers (led by choreographer Sean Gandini) whose ball-tossing struck me as a witty and fun visual corollary to Glass’s looping repetitive score.

After a visually trippy-murky first scene of his predecessor being eviscerated and his heart being weighed in relation to a feather, Costanzo as Akhnaten makes his entrance stark naked (with a gold stripe on his forehead) and takes six minutes to descend 12 steps to the stage floor. He prostrates himself, and a troupe of courtiers picks up his rigid body and airlifts it into a pair of pantaloons before snapping him into a giant skirt-cage over which they arrange the most fluffy-gilt Bo Peep costume you can imagine (above, photo by Karen Almond). It’s another several minutes before you hear Costanzo’s amazing countertenor voice break into song (a lot of “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!”).

His love duet with Nefertiti (above) and his “Hymn to the Sun” in Act II are gorgeous, slow, shimmering, staged against large bright symbolic geometric sets. In the course of the opera, Akhnaten’s gender seems to morph. He and Nefertiti both wear gauzy garments over smocks with drawn-on breasts and female genitals; I found myself thinking about punk artist Genesis P-Orridge and his mate Lady Jaye, who underwent a series of cosmetic surgeries in order to resemble one another. But when their six daughters appeared wearing indigo weaves, facelift bandages, and goth-girl makeup looking like refugees from a John Waters movie (see below), I couldn’t help audibly snickering.

I’m glad I saw it, though. Who knows what the regular Met audience made of it. The woman to my right gamely compared-and-contrasted it with Doctor Atomic, John Adams and Peter Sellars’ opera about J. Robert Oppenheimer. The man to my left turned to me afterwards and said, “Give me a one-liner.” I said, “I’m not good at one-liners.” He said, “Give me a two-liner then. I’m puzzled.”

Saturday afternoon: Black Exhibition at the Bushwick Starr, aka “for colored faggots who considered suicide/when feeling invisible in gay paradise.” Five queer black men representing five literary figures (Kathy Acker, Samuel Delaney, Yukio Mishima, Gary Fisher, and Tiger Mandingo – the last not a writer but the guy convicted of having sex without disclosing his HIV+ status) haunt the mind of @GaryXXXFisher (the non-secret pseudonym for Jeremy O. Harris, currently represented on Broadway with his edgy Slave Play) hanging out in Fire Island Pines. “I came here to write and all I did was look…all I did was fuck and cry…all I did was read.” Very incantatory, referencing Suzan-Lori Parks specifically and Ntozake Shange implicitly. Aggressively sexual, even hostile, extremely explicit. In three parts, the third of which takes place in Berlin, where he attends the Laboratory and likens playwriting to being face-down ass-up in a dark room waiting to see if anyone takes an interest.

In this last section Harris lolls about onstage in a jockstrap talking about how tight his hole is, at considerable length. Lots of repetitions of a favorite tweet: “Ooops! Fleet water too hot. I almost made chitlins.” The last literary figure to arrive is Mishima (Miles Greenberg), who seems ready to enact a bondage/flogging scene with Harris/Fisher (above, photo by Sara Krulwich) but suddenly says, “You’re too skinny, I want to see you eat!” Et voila, two tables arrive onstage with gigantic trays of take-out food, and the four other performers chow down – until Harris dashes offstage to the bathroom to purge. It’s a phenomenally raw and honest outpouring.  I appreciated that, except for Frank J. Oliva’s set design (a haunted house version of Pines boardwalks) and Christopher Darbassie’s deep-dub sound design, almost the entire crew are women of color, which is what happens when you have a smart, savvy woman of color director, Machel Ross.

Sunday: first walk through “the new MOMA.”

It was the end of the day, so I only had time to stroll through “Surrounds: 11 Installations” on the top floor, pausing to inspect Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller’s The Killing Machine (above) and Hito Steyerl’s Liquidity Inc. (below).

Among the galleries devoted to new juxtapositions from the permanent collection, I admired Morris Hirshfield’s Inseparable Friends (1941).

David Siqueiros’s trippy textured Collective Suicide (1936) never fails to catch my eye and drag me ten feet.

Then there’s member: pope L., the generous retrospective of this tireless eccentric artist’s multimedia tricksterism.

Along with paintings, drawings, and objects, much of what’s shown documents his ephemeral performances, often nearly naked in public places, as artist-sannyasin. The walls and art works frequently have holes drilled into them, a witty placeholder for what’s holy and what’s missing/unknown/unknowable.

Sunday night: Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. A rare peek into the exotic mating rituals of white cisgender heterosexuals. Excellent performances throughout, none more so than the amazing Adam Driver whose finest moment is such a surprise I don’t want to spoil it for you. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda surpass themselves (a tribute to fine writing and directing) playing contrasting flavors of warrior divorce lawyers. The supporting cast brims with wonderful New York stage actors (Matt Maher! Merrit Wever! Becca Blackwell! Jasmine Cephas Jones! Julie Hagerty! Wally Shawn, perfectly capturing the veteran ensemble actor always boring other company members with his name-dropping tales of long-distant triumphs!). Lovely score by Randy Newman. It’ll be on Netflix any day now, but I was perfectly happy to watch it at the Paris Cinema, the last single-screen theater in Manhattan.


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


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