Culture Vulture: Jackson Pollack, Kiki and Herb, A Fish Called Wanda, and more

May 2, 2016

My unusually culture-crammed weekend started Saturday afternoon with a spin through MOMA. I walked through the Degas show and the Marcel Broodthaers retrospective, which didn’t interest me, on my way down to the Jackson Pollack show finishing its run. I was surprised at how small the show was but I got a lot out of it. Never having seen early pre-drip work, I was fascinated to bear witness to Pollack’s very particular version of exploring the overlap of abstraction and representation. Some paintings and drawings clearly look back at Picasso; others intriguingly look like precursors of Basquiat, both in the scribbly drawing (see “Untitled (Animals and Figures)” below, and below that a detail from Basquiat’s “Glenn”) and in the sense of large-scale performance across the canvas.

4-30 pollack untitled
4-30 untitled animals and figures
4-30 glenn detail 2

I’m similarly mesmerized and bowled over by Pollack’s masterpiece “Number 1A” (detail below top) and the Basquiat masterpiece “Glenn” (below bottom) which has been hanging on the second floor of MOMA for a while (I never get tired of seeing it).

4-30 number 1A detail
4-30 most of glenn

It’s so strange how not every Pollack canvas leaps out at me, but certain ones do – in this show, “Full Fathom Five” knocked me out with its depth and texture.

4-30 full fathom five

I also checked out Rachel Harrison’s show Perth Amboy, a strange installation with a lot of cardboard and enigmatic tableaux, including this one featuring a Becky Friend of Barbie doll:

4-30 becky friend of barbie.JPG

I spent the late afternoon revisiting A Fish Called Wanda, a movie I saw at a screening when it came out in 1988. Andy has watched it so many times that he has certain speeches memorized, most notably when Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes off on Otto (Kevin Kline):

“To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs.” Seeing it again was fun. Kline absolutely earned his Academy Award for this audaciously gigantic comic performance as a handsome, sexy scoundrel. Curtis is hardly the world’s greatest actress but she’s good and game and never looked more beautiful than she does in this movie, which was directed (Andy reminded me, mining IMDB for all the trivia he could find, since the DVD came without a commentary track) by Charles Crichton, famous for British comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob.

kiki and herb poster

Saturday night we headed to Joe’s Pub for the long-awaited reunion of Kiki and Herb, tickets for which Andy had snapped up last September in the half-hour they were on sale before they sold out. Their show, Seeking Asylum!, was a blast from the get-go, when the offstage announcer introduced them by saying, “Please be aware that these performers are in their eighties, and they’re doing their best, considering…” In the years since Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman took a break from their legendary gig, Bond has embraced a transgender identity and really stepped into the role of artist-as-activist, which has only upped her game as Kiki DuRane. Behind the mask of superannuated chanteuse and clown, she delivers depth-charge commentary on everything that must be said today from a sharp, queer point of view. Kiki narrates her travels since the day of President Obama’s inauguration, which took her from one turbulent political hotspot to another where she delivers her own brand of savage love. “What the world needs is less othering, more mothering!”

kiki and herb cropped

As usual, the setlist constantly surprises with savvy semi-obscure singer-songwriter selections (Suzanne Vega’s “The World Before Columbus,” Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine”) and crazy hilarious medley-mashups (“Make Yourself Comfortable/When Doves Cry,” “Seasons of Love/The Rainbow Connection/Edelweiss/Tomorrow Belongs to Me”). The indisputable highlight of the generously long show kicked Kiki into shamanic mode, channeling the fury and frustration of Nina Simone on “Mississippi Goddam,” no longer a relic of bygone civil-rights movements: “Everybody knows about Carolina/Everybody knows about Alabama/Everybody knows about Tennessee/Everybody knows about Mississippi/Goddam!” We laughed, we cried, we peed in the Public Theater’s trans-friendly bathroom.

gender neutral bathroom

Sunday afternoon we found ourselves clicking around HBO and landed on Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s documentary The Out List. Along with what might be considered the usual suspects (Neil Patrick Harris, Cynthia Nixon, Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Larry Kramer), I dug encountering a few LGBT heroes not previously on my radar, including Janet Mock (below, center), Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez, Wade Davis (below, left), and Twiggy Pucci Garçon (below, right).

out-list-614x460

Then I ran off to the second rehearsal in three days with Gamelan Kusuma Laras gearing up for our gig at Asia Society May 14 and 15 performing a wayang kulit (shadow-puppet play) with renowned Javanese dhalang (storyteller) Ki Midiyanto. Afterwards I met Andy and several friends at Mystery Room NY, one of several venues operating in a genre popularized by Escape the Room that combines immersive theater with group puzzle-solving. We were locked into a laboratory for 60 minutes charged with the task of solving the mysterious disappearance of a veterinarian engaged in high-level research involving dogs. Besides being fiercely competitive, Andy turns out to be ferocious when it comes to puzzle-solving – he went into total “Doctor Who” mode leading our team through a series of fun discoveries, although we didn’t manage to free ourselves before the hour was up. (The cheerful Kiwi gal who checked us in and fed us cues throughout the hour informed us that only 15% manage to solve all the puzzles in the given time.) It’s a fun party activity for people who have had their fill of karaoke.

escape the room

Andy went off to watch Game of Thrones with a bunch of fanboys while I hunkered down with a bowl of popcorn and Andre Téchiné’s Unforgivable, an absorbing novelistic pansexual romantic drama set among the crumbling villas of Venice with a good cast that included Carole Bouquet as a bisexual French real estate agent, André Dussollier as her much older, highly impulsive, somewhat paranoid novelist husband, Adriana Asti as her ex-girlfriend who’s now an alcoholic semi-retired private investigator, and handsome Andrea Pergolesi as a cash-poor aristocrat turned drug dealer.

breadwinecover

Also this weekend I read Samuel R. Delany’s graphic memoir Bread & Wine, a collaboration with artist Mia Wolff, which tells the remarkable story of how the great pioneering gay black sci-fi/fantasy writer met his partner Dennis Rickert when the latter was homeless, selling books on a blanket at Broadway and 72nd Street and sleeping in a doorway on the Upper East Side. His pungent description of the first night they spent at the Skyline Hotel – the smell that emerged when Dennis took off his shoes, the color of the water after the two baths he took, the powerful sex they enjoyed – charts new territories of erotic intimacy measured in poetic language and evocative black-and-white drawings.

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