In this week’s New Yorker

May 20, 2017

I’m always grateful when the New Yorker turns me on to people and phenomena that I’m not actively seeking out. For instance, I’ve been hearing about Cécile McLorin Salvant for a couple of years, I’d checked her music out a little bit and pretty quickly dismissed her as just another singer, nothing extraordinary. But Fred Kaplan’s profile of her demanded that I listen closer, and indeed further study has exponentially increased my respect for her and her chief collaborator, pianist Aaron Diehl.

Meanwhile, I’d never heard of Gerhard Steidl, but I love books, especially exquisitely produced art books, and apparently this guy is top of the line. How he works makes for a fascinating piece by Rebecca Mead.

Ian Parker tells the disheartening story of a brutal custody battle between two lesbians over an adopted son (“Are You My Mother?”).

Emily Nussbaum writes a compelling piece about Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the new TV version of it.

Then there’s this full-page cartoon by the nutty young cartoonist Edward Steed.

Not to mention another brilliant Barry Blitt cover, titled “Ejected.”

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: “Expanded Visions” at Leslie Lohman

May 20, 2017

(click photos to enlarge)

I wanted to get together and check in with my friend Jeff Weinstein so we agreed to meet at the Leslie Lohman Museum in Soho. Weirdly, I’d never been to the museum since the collection moved in 2006 from a basement on Prince Street (in the building where Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman lived) to its spiffy new location at 26 Wooster Street, cater-corner to the Performing Garage, in a space that held a beloved downtown record store (Soho Music Gallery) when I first moved to New York. And we arrived just in time for me to get a look at “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting” a couple of days before this terrific show closed. I was excited to take in the whole gamut: painting, photography, and multimedia pieces from famous names (Duane Michals, David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe, Catherine Opie) to plenty of undersung artists coming from a wide spectrum beyond white gay men, like these pieces by AndréTavet, Ayakamay, and Hunter Reynolds.

There was a time when the Leslie Lohman Art Foundation (as it was once called) was looked down on as cheesy because it tended to equate “gay art” pretty exclusively with “dick pics.” There’s still a fair amount of kitsch in the collection because, hey, there is a lot of gay art that focuses on naked bodies, and a big audience for it. But over time the couple’s art-buying morphed into a seriously curated collection, and the selection for this show is pretty stellar. And I’m not just talking about Stanley, one of my favorite photographers, himself a master at eye-catching male nudes.

I recognized several artists whose work Jeff and I had seen last summer when we walked through the “AIDS Art America” show at the Bronx Museum, including Joey Terrill and Patrick Webb.

A striking untitled piece by Nicole Eisenman.

And then all this intriguing stuff new to me (as mesmerized by swinging dicks as anyone else).

And then this headboard, which I would happily have in my bedroom.

By the way, the museum has a robust online presence, including a searchable database of images from Leslie Lohman’s vast holdings. Check it out here.



Culture Vulture: THE ANTIPODES and HELLO, DOLLY!

May 8, 2017

New York theater in a nutshell: spent the weekend seeing the new play by Annie Baker, The Antipodes at Signature Theater, a characteristically intriguing piece by a terrific writer, beautifully staged and acted, and Hello, Dolly!, one of Broadway’s biggest hit musicals of all time and one of the most idiotic. One ticket cost $30, the other $189.

The Antipodes in some ways resembles Circle Mirror Transformation, the play that put Annie Baker on the map, in that it focuses on the manners and rituals of an emerging creative community — only this time we are not in a small-town Vermont drama class but in the writers’ room in the early stage of dreaming up a new series. The grizzled, enigmatic legendary show runner Sandy (the return to the New York stage of Will Patton) likes to start by getting his team to reveal themselves by poring through their personal histories for every last trace of what constitutes a story. Old-timers like Dave (Josh Charles) and Danny (Danny Mastrogiorgio) go straight for the most satisfyingly humiliating tales they can dredge up; new additions (Philip James Brannon, Josh Hamilton, Emily Cass McDonnell, all wonderful) wade more slowly into the self-revelations. Along the way they postulate the origins of storytelling. Time and space go flippy, even though we’re never looking at anything other than a bunch of people around a conference table and a giant stack of LeCroix soft drinks. Lila Neugebauer does a fine job of keeping up completely rooted in the unpredictable unfolding moment. Nicole Rodenburg pretty much steals the show playing what you’re sure is just a walk-on functionary.

Jerry Zaks’s splendid-looking production of Hello, Dolly! (sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto) is efficiently built to give the audience maximum opportunity to worship the presence of Bette Midler in a Broadway musical. It’s amazing how many minutes of stage time are devoted to nothing else. Although loosely based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, the book is a piffle of thin heterosexist romantic pairings that make little sense. Nevertheless, the actors give their all. Kate Baldwin has an especially lustrous voice as Mrs. Molloy singing “Ribbons Down My Back.” Michael McCormick stepped in as Horace Vangelder, the role usually played by David Hyde Pierce — they couldn’t be more different actors but McCormick (a trouper whom I recall fondly from Kiss Me, Kate!) played it as if he does it every day. And Ms. Midler — well, she took this strange little piffle and squeezed out every last drop of silly business and funny faces in her best Lucille Ball clownishness, and the audience ate it up. Some classic Broadway musicals are just dumb fun, and some are just plain dumb. We enjoyed researching the original production via Wikipedia. The show was originally entitled Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman and Call on Dolly but Merrick changed the title immediately upon hearing Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly!” The show became one of the most iconic Broadway shows of its era, the latter half of the 1960s, running for 2,844 performances, and was for a time the longest running musical in Broadway history.


Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: The Whitney Biennial

May 2, 2017

(click photos twice to enlarge)

To be honest, the 2017 Whitney Biennial tried my patience. I had the experience of wading through acres of mediocre painting, ugly sculptures, and twee conceptual art to find a handful of works that pleased me aesthetically and intellectually. The show, curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks, features a lot of painting on canvas, almost always multiple pieces by the same artist, which gave me an opportunity to get to know several intriguing artists new to me.

I found Tala Madani’s work edgy and amusing, especially Shitty Disco.

I very much liked Celeste Dupuy-Spector’s stuff, and not only because I loved this DJ’s playlist.

Of the three-dimensional work, my favorites were the black-magic melon piece out on one of the roofdecks – a wonderful bit of political dada by a Middle Eastern artist collective known as GCC – and Jon Kessler’s constructions, Exodus and (below) Evolution.

Also fun: Raul DeNieves’s rococo figures, which dance entertainingly between shamanism and kitsch.

On the down side: Samara Golden’s elaborate multi-level piece is undeniably impressive but emotionally opaque.

I found the amount of effort that went into Porpentine Charity Heartscape’s computer word games mystifying to the point of exasperating (and pretentious as the artist’s name); doubly true of Jordan Wolfson’s brutal virtual-reality audience abuser, Real Violence (below).

I walked out most impressed with two artists. Dana Schutz, whose controversial Open Casket has a devastating impact when you actually witness it in person (alongside the artist’s statement).

And Francis Stark, who created a roomful of paintings reproducing a provocative essay about censorship by post-punk essayist Ian F. Svenonious.


Quote of the Day: FLORIDA

May 1, 2017


I just got back from the Florida Panhandle, near Pensacola, and to me it was something like poetry. On the one hand, the reality of the Arby’s and the parking lots and the tattoo parlors and the clam shacks. One hundred feet away, on the other hand, was the beach, the impossible sugar-white sand, and the turquoise, crystal-clear ocean. It was spring break and I know that, a block away, a sophomore named Nancy from Tallahassee was vomiting under a Ferris wheel, and some other kid named Todd was jumping off the balcony of his third-floor room into the hotel swimming pool, and the ambulance was already on its way, and the blue blue ocean was minding its own eternal business. That catches the coexistence of the sacred and profane, which makes the world and makes poetry too. That juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, of the precious and the appalling, is really important to my poetry. It’s a description of the world, and, to me, also a description of human nature, of psychological reality.

–Tony Hoagland

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