Archive for May, 2016

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.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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!”

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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).

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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.

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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.

Quote of the day: ECLIPSE

May 2, 2016

ECLIPSE

I have said that I heard screams. (I have since read that screaming, with hysteria, is a common reaction even to expected total eclipses.) People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this, I believe, which made us scream.

The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves 1,800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed – 1,800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight – you saw only the edge. It rolled at you across the land at 1,800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like plague behind it. Seeing it, and knowing it was coming straight for you, was like feeling a slug of anesthetic shoot up your arm. If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.

This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorized speeds. How could anything moving so fast not crash, not veer from its orbit amok like a car out of control on a turn?

Less than two minutes later, when the sun emerged, the trailing edge of the shadow cone sped away. It coursed down our hill and raced eastward over the plain, faster than the eye could believe; it swept over the plain and dropped over the planet’s rim in a twinkling It had clobbered us, and now it roared away. We blinked in the light It was as though an enormous, loping god in the sky had reached down and slapped the earth’s face.

–Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

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In last week’s New Yorker

May 1, 2016

This week’s issue of The New Yorker, the one with the instant-turnaround purple rain cover, has two pieces I highly recommend in categories the magazine is best-known for. Ian Frazier writes deep-dive articles in a folksy voice in the department called “Our Local Correspondents,” and this week he covers an issue near and dear to my heart: “The Bag Bill,” focusing on activist Jennie Romer and her campaign to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags we use because they do substantial environmental damages. Meanwhile, Eyal Press contributes “Madness,” a wrenching expose of how mentally ill inmates in Florida are routinely tortured.

erykah badu

Last week’s “Entertainment Issue” had a few good pieces, notably Adam Gopnik on Paul McCartney, Kelefa Sanneh on Erykah Badu  (above, photographed by Amanda Demme), and Emily Nussbaum on Kenya Barris, the creator of the TV show “black-ish.” I’ve never watched the show, but Barris is smart and funny, and Nussbaum is a terrific writer — she deserves the Pulitzer Prize for criticism she just won. Here’s the way that article ends:

In April, Barris’s family went on a vacation that could be taken only by people at the pinnacle of success. During a visit to New York, they saw “Hamilton” not once but twice. They also flew to Washington for the White House Easter Egg Roll, and were part of a V.I.P. group who met the President and the First Lady. “That’s our family,” President Obama told Barris, about “black-ish.”

Not everything went smoothly. After four hours at the White House, Barris, tired, insisted that they leave. Once they were outside, Kaleigh got a text from Anthony Anderson’s son: they’d just missed Beyoncé and Jay Z. Barris’s daughters were furious at their dad; tears formed in Leyah’s eyes. When he saw those tears, Barris lost it: “You just met the President!” They apologized. Barris stayed mad. But he was also inspired. “I texted Groff and said, ‘We have to use this next season.’ ”

But the week before that was an especially good issue. Aside from Hilton Als’s piece about Maggie Nelson (which inspired me to go out and buy her book The Argonauts) and Ariel Levy on the delightful eccentric artist Niki de Saint Phalle, the issue contains one of the most important political news stories I’ve read all year. Ben Taub’s “The Assad Files” is a long, strong reporting piece about the Commission for International justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012 by American lawyer Chris Engels which has been collecting hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents tracing the mass torture and killings directly to Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. The first-hand accounts are horrifying and upsetting to encounter. The situation in Syria is so bad and so hopeless, who knows when and how it will ever be resolved. If there’s any good news in this story, it’s that whenever the moment comes to prosecute Assad in the International Criminal Court, there will be no lack of evidence for his responsibility.

 

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