Culture vulture: January 2011

February 1, 2011

ART

I get wildly overstimulated at museums, so I can only tolerate being there for about an hour. I’ve been overdue for a visit to “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” at MOMA, so I went for a spin this morning when the crowds were thin – only a few clumps of adolescent students clutching study guides and making notes. I usually head straight up the stairs to the second floor but a video caught my eye at the foot of the escalators. It turned out to be Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar (above), a hilarious, luscious, and colorful seven-minute video of someone (the artist, I assume) licking caviar off a glass plate – all lips and tongue and lipstick and food and saliva. On my way to the “On Line” show, I got sidetracked elsewhere on the sixth floor by “Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures,” a beautiful gallery mounting of the famous Warhol portraits of Factory denizens (Dennis Hopper laughing and singing to himself, Lou Reed looking grave and still, Jane Holzer brushing her teeth – stay away, Michael Mele! – Nico from many angles, Edie Sedgwick looking preternaturally bright-eyed). Warhol often gives me that “hey! I can do that!” inspiration – I’ve taken similar portraits of my sisters and would like to do more action portraits of beloved friends and acquaintances. Also showing in the adjacent gallery are the famous long slow movies Empire (eight hours of the Empire State Building), Sleep (John Giorno sleeping), Kiss (couples kissing at length), and Blow Job (just the face of the recipient for 42 minutes). I can’t watch a blowjob very long without wanting to join in, so I didn’t stay long in that gallery.

“On Line” is a huge, ambitious, very interesting survey of how 20th century artists took the line from two dimensions into space and time. I was especially delighted by the inclusion of a number of dance films: loved watching William Forsyth’s “Solo” and Anna Teresa de Keersmaker in a witty film by Thierry de Mey called “Top Shot,” with ATDK doing one of her classic minimalist dances (with lots of loose arms and swishing skirt) drawing a perfect circle in the dirt. A simple Picasso paper guitar and a related collage drew me in – so simple and yet so riveting. (MOMA is opening a whole show of Picasso guitars February 9.) I encountered other intriguing works by artists I’d never heard of before: Gego (aka Gertrude Goldschmidt), a Venezuelan artist who made lovely strange wire “drawings without paper,” and Atsuko Tanaka, a Japanese performance artist whose drawings of her “Electric Dress” piece made me want to see that garment live and in person.

On my way out, I spun through the Abstract Expressionist show to revisit some favorites – the Mark Rothko room, Lee Krasner’s dense “Untitled,” and Philip Guston’s fun, ominous, self-implicating “Edge of Town” (above).

BOOKS

The best Christmas present I got this year was Justin Spring’s Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade. As a young man, Steward befriended Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, who encouraged his writing and introduced him to their charmed circle. I knew that much, and also knew that he wrote pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros. The biography reveals Steward’s long and important association with Alfred Kinsey. After the first Kinsey Report came out in 1949, Steward contacted Kinsey because he himself had always kept detailed notes of his sexual encounters in his Stud File (one of the first was a hotel room blowjob that he gave Rudolph Valentino, who gifted him with a lock of his pubic hair, which Steward kept as a sacred relic all his life). Steward became a close and trusted collaborator with Kinsey on his sex research, cluing the good doctor into the many and varied subcultures of man-on-man sex. He was fond of throwing sex parties in his apartment and taking pictures of cocksucking daisy chains, and he arranged on numerous occasions for Kinsey and his intrepid team to film these orgies, once even submitting to being flogged and fucked by a rough sadistic top. Steward was a lifelong sexual masochist as well as an extremely erudite English professor who tired of academia and took up the art of tattooing, the better to spend his waking hours touching and attending to hypermasculine men. He was also way ahead of his time in being openly gay and militating for public acceptance of homosexuals and the representation of gay life in literature. For instance, he was an early and ardent admirer of Genet and collected his work even when it was considered too obscene to be imported to the U.S. Spring had access to almost all Steward’s papers and doesn’t stint on either the sexual details or the social connections in a long and poignant existence.

January 18 I attended the book launch for Pamela Madsen’s Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure…and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner. The book is a brave, funny, and articulate memoir about how the author, a suburban wife and mom pushing 40, experienced a mid-life sexual awakening by working with a series of gay male sacred intimates. It’s both an entertaining read and a friendly guidebook for women who want to follow in her footsteps. (I read the manuscript in bits and pieces while she was writing it and so receive a warm acknowledgement.) Considering the robust and sex-positive content of the book, it made perfect sense for the book party to take place at Babeland in Soho, surrounded by all manner of sex toys and pleasure objects. Pamela read an excerpt from the book to a crowd that included friends, strangers, her mother Roz, and her husband Kai (below).

THEATER

The night of the first big blizzard of the season, the Sunday after Christmas, Adam Bock invited me to a preview of his new play A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons. The theater knew it would be a smallish audience because of the weather, so the cast and crew got busy papering the house with their friends. (It was the first time I’ve ever received a printed ticket that listed the price as “paper”!) Just watching people stagger into the lobby of the theater from West 42nd Street, where the howling wind was blowing snow horizontally, was a show in itself. Adam introduced me to his director Trip Cullman, whose work I have admired for years. And I got to meet the super-handsome actor Romain Frugé in person, although he politely declined to shake my hand because he was nursing a cold.

Michelle Pawk and Reed Birney in "A Small Fire" (photo by Sara Krulwich)

I met Bock when we were both at Yaddo on artists’ residencies. He was recently out of Brown and writing what would become his first produced play, Swimming with the Sharks (which Cullman directed). His work is crazy, funny, highly original, heartful, and beautifully written. A Small Fire may be his tamest play so far, almost a TV Movie of the Week about a woman with a mysterious health ailment. Its saving grace and a hallmark of Bock’s plays is that you never know where the play is going to go next. From a construction site to a doctor’s office to a wedding to…middle-aged people naked in bed fucking – and blackout, end of play! Excellent performances by all four actors: Reed Birney, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Victor Williams, and especially the phenomenal Michele Pawk. The play got deservedly warm reviews from the New York Times and the New Yorker.

Early January became an insane vortex of downtown theater festivals, scheduled to coincide with APAP, the annual conferences of Arts Producers and Presenters, who book dance, theater, and music performances for the next year or two based on what they see in this 7-to-10-day period. I was preparing for and teaching a workshop at this exact time so I hardly got to see anything. But Keith Hennessy was staying with me so of course I went to see the return of his Bessie Award-winning Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world could not heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal or trauma…). It opened American Realness, a crunchy series of encore performances curated by smart young producer Ben Pryor at the Abrons Arts Center at the Henry Street Settlement. The piece fit more awkwardly into the Abrons than it did at Dance Theater Workshop, where Keith created an almost seamless continuum between audience space and stage space. But it was still clever and beguiling the way it merged the two – starting in the lobby, bringing the audience onstage to inspect the props (while a masked Keith flogged a suspended teddy bear), engaging them all along during the mid-section of the show and then bringing them back onstage for the finale. People have often applied the word “shaman” to Keith as a performer; he disdains the word for the same reason that I do – it’s overused and too often misused. But at the end of Crotch (see below), when Keith was sitting naked in a chair, lard packed into his groin, red thread sewn through his skin and then through the garments of three audience members sitting in front of him, with big gross fake rotten teeth in his mouth, and he sprinkled himself with glitter from a jar and looked intently into the faces around him….I’ve known this man for 20 years and yet when I looked into that face I didn’t recognize the vulnerable, transported, transpersonal creature looking back at me.

I take a small bit of pride in contributing to the performance because Keith uses a mix CD I gave him as the soundtrack. He makes especially brilliant use of Teddy Thompson’s “Shine So Bright” and “Wake Up in New York,” sung by Evan Dando on Craig Armstrong’s album As If to Nothing. This was Andy’s first chance to see a real piece by Keith – and as a newcomer to performance art, with no file whatsoever on Joseph Beuys, he found the show almost completely incomprehensible. So there’s always that possible response….

MOVIES

Over the Christmas holidays I caught up on a bunch of movies. I like having friends who get screeners, so we can watch the big movies at home on DVD. For the record: I liked The Social Network very much. I thought The King’s Speech was well-done but very very predictable. I liked The Kids Are Alright, especially Mark Ruffalo’s performance. I’ll even admit that my heart sank as I realized how much Annette Bening’s character reminded me of myself. Yikes. Andy and I actually went to the movie theater to see The Tempest – I loved Helen Mirren and all the magical effects, and I found everything having to do with the conspirators and the comic relief quite tedious: the fault of Shakespeare, I think, not so much Julie Taymor. Don’t ask me about Black Swan, I haven’t seen it yet. I thought I’d avoid it entirely, because I suspect that I won’t care for it (one distinguished movie critic I know called it “a bunch of misogynistic bullshit”), but I do plan to see it soon, just to have my own opinion.

Andy and I caught up with Moon, the sci-fi movie starring Sam Rockwell as an astronaut who turns out to be a clone. Very fascinating movie. Only afterwards did I learn that the director, Duncan Jones, is the son of David Bowie – yes, he’s the kid whom his parents named Zowie Bowie! No wonder the movie was produced by Trudi Styler, aka Mrs. Sting. Thanks to Tom Dennison, our monthly video salon caught up with Kickass, which totally surprised me by being a fun and smart little sleeper of a teen comedy movie that even managed to make me like Nicolas Cage, and that’s saying a lot.

MUSIC

I am woefully uneducated when it comes to classical music. I honestly don’t know how to appreciate symphonic music. Andy got me a ticket for the January 31 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor at Carnegie Hall, because he sang with the Dessoff Symphonic Choir behind the Beethoven for the Indus Valley Orchestra, conducted by George Mathew. I wish I could say something knowledgeable about Beethoven, but all I can say is that I liked the slow movement best. The “Ode to Joy” sounded like a particularly stiff German drinking song. And even though I was sitting in the third to the last row in the uppermost balcony, I could hear all the musicians perfectly, which is never the case at amplified pop concerts at Carnegie Hall. I was able to disguise what a classical nincompoop I am over drinks and late supper with a bunch of the singers at Red 58, my favorite after-show lounge in upper midtown. But really, this is what I listen to when my iPod is on shuffle:

“You’re All I See,” the Four Freshmen
“Fantasy Man,” the Swell Season
“Anyone Who Had a Heart,” Barbara Dickson
“I’m Hers and She’s Mine,” Peter Salett
“Fish in the Sea,” Karen Alexander
“Pocket Calculator,” Kraftwerk
“Finishing the Hat,” Tom Wopat (Sondheim on Sondheim OCR)
“Comes Love,” Helen Merrill
“Flamingos,” Bit Crushers
“Rock Star,” Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson OCR
“Fix You,” Straight No Chaser
“Cheerleader,” Grizzly Bear
“You’ll Be Coming Down,” Bruce Springsteen
“El Grito,” Alberto Iglesias (Talk to her OST)
“Original Oddstep,” Vert
“Today You’re Mine,” Janis Ian
“I Thought About You,” Daryl Sherman
“Un Canto a Mi Terra,” Quantic and His Combo Barbaro
“The Anchor Song,” Bjork
“Stornelli Amorisi,” Claudio Villa (Big Night OST)
“Turbulent Indigo,” Joni Mitchell
“Beat Dat Beat,” DJ Pauly D (Jersey Shore OST)
“So Many People,” Norm Lewis (Sondheim on Sondheim OCR)
“Alcinha,” Liza Minnelli
“Brown Eyes,” Lady GaGa
“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” U2
“The Future of the Future,” Everything but the Girl
“A Love That Will Never Grown Old,” Emmylou Harris (Brokeback Mountain OST)
“Shampoo Suicide,” Broken Social Scene
“Grapes of Roth,” Sean Hayes (Promises Promises OCR)
“Damned Ladies,” Audra McDonald
“In the Deep Shade,” the Frames
“Freedom (Fila Brazillia Remix),” DJ Food
“Great Desolations,” David Byrne
“Difficult by Design,” Kylie Minogue
“Look Away,” Van Dyke Parks
“Blush (Only You),” Plumb
“Shark’s Tooth,” Archie Benson Outfit
“Like a Star,” Corinne Bailey Rae
“Hold Still,” Grizzly Bear
“Kiss My Name,” Antony & the Johnsons
“Hotel Fire,” Hem
“You’re My Thrill,” Joni Mitchell
“Blue Eyes,” Cary Brothers
“How It Feels,” Duncan Sheik
“Mongrel Heart,” Broken Bells
“That’s Just What You Are,” Aimee Mann
“J’avance,” Rollercone
“Gung Ho,” the Roches
“I Remember, I Believe,” Lizz Wright
“All for Myself,” Sufjan Stevens
“Honey and the Moon,” Phil Roy
“Glittering Clouds,” Imogen Heap
“Pop,” ‘NSYNC
“Tea Leaf Prophecy,” Joni Mitchell

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