Posts Tagged ‘guggenheim museum’

Culture Vulture: Deana Lawson and Wu Tsang at the Guggenheim

August 4, 2021

Sunday afternoon expedition to the Guggenheim to check out both the Deana Lawson show (Jenna Wortham’s profile in the New York Times Magazine had whetted my appetite) and the Wu Tsang film installation Anthem, featuring the ethereally gorgeous music and visage of Beverly Glenn-Copeland. The latter dominates the rotunda as soon as you walk in and accompanies you throughout your visit.

The Deana Lawson show on the top floor displays her winning submissions to the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize.

Lawson’s best-known work centers on intimate portraits of black people in deceptively casual environments which, upon closer examination, are scrupulously staged to evoke richness and simplicity, personality and mystery. This show has a different conceptual agenda, which the museum website describes this way: “The aesthetics and intergenerational connectivity of the Black diaspora guide Lawson’s choice of subject matter. Each of her works takes its place in an overarching project, cohering into what she terms ‘an ever-expanding mythological extended family.’ Close examination of her compositions reveals the presence of portals, adornments, and devotional objects that evoke the proximity of an unseen realm.” What that means practically is that her images — some of which are photographs taken by her, others are found images that she has altered in various ways — will often juxtapose a large image with a smaller inset, which can be as mundane as a 4×6 printed snapshot stuck into the side of the frame or as sophisticated as a hologram embedded in the … it’s funny, I keep wanting to call them canvases, even though none of them are paintings.

In addition to the snapshot — a picture of a woman at home, contrasted with the image of a galaxy — note the mirrored frame, which not only reflects the viewer but bounces a rectangle of light onto the floor, literally reaching out to enclose the spectator. And when you pull back, you notice in the corner a crystal working its quiet invisible magic on this corner of the room. A different kind of portal.

The coolest piece is a free-standing hologram called Torus, which shifts shape and color depending where you’re standing.

Satisfied art hounds repaired to a Fifth Avenue bench to compare notes.

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.



Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future” at the Guggenheim Museum

January 13, 2019

Culture Vulture: CRYSTAL FAIRY, THE ACT OF KILLING, James Turrell, MONKEY, and more

July 24, 2013


Crystal Fairy – Sebastian Silva’s feature debut stars Michael Cera (the adorable male ingénue from Juno and Superbad, though TV fans probably know him from Arrested Development) as Jamie, an American in Chile who has read Aldous Huxley’s essay on psychedelics, The Doors of Perception, and is intent on acquiring some San Pedro cactus, the native source of mescaline. He enlists his friend Champa in organizing a road trip with his two brothers (these three guys are played by the director’s actual brothers – Juan Andrés, José Miguel, and Agustin), and at a party the night before, loaded on too much booze and blow, he impulsively invites a wacky American girl who calls herself, yes, Crystal Fairy to join them. She is played by Gaby Hoffman, daughter of Warhol superstar Viva (of whom I’ve always been a big fan).

crystal fairy
The synopsis makes it sound like a charming and funny journey toward enlightenment, but it’s not that at all. The Michael Cera character could not be more disagreeable – in his single-minded quest for the holy grail, he is rude, obnoxious, and abusive to everyone in his path. Fascinating as drama, and big props to Cera for making the paradoxical casting really work, but quite unpleasant to sit through. Hoffman is pretty great, too, while playing a character who vacillates wildly from clueless exhibitionism to new-age wackadoodleness to quiet maturity

The Look of Love – Michael Winterbottom’s latest also sounds like a fun romp, a flashy cinematic biopic about Paul Raymond, whose earnings from strip clubs, girlie shows and lad mags, wisely invested in real estate, made him the richest man in London. It is a lot more fun-fun than Crystal Fairy, but at heart it’s a serious, nearly tragic depiction of Raymond’s relationship with his daughter, Debbie, whom he grooms as his business partner and presumed successor (neglecting several other children to do so) only to watch her spiral into drug addiction and an early death.

Although I don’t see everything and he’s very prolific, I’m pretty crazy about Winterbottom as a filmmaker. I love how he picks canny off-the-beaten-path subject matter, how he cycles restlessly through genres, and that he casts terrific actors (often Brits I’ve never heard of) and coaxes wonderful performances out of them. Steve Coogan is his go-to leading man, and he does a great job as Raymond, but the movie is full of yummy turns. I was most dazzled by Tamsin Egerton (below, with Winterbottom) as one of Raymond’s wives.

tamsin egerton michael winterbottom
The Act of Killing
– Joshua Oppenheimer’s mind-frying documentary concerns a gruesome chapter in living history. After the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, a genocide took place in which more than a million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, union members, and intellectuals were exterminated in less than a year, killed by street gangs suddenly empowered to operate as death squads. Unlike Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia or Bosnia, Indonesia has never been called to confront or account for these events as war crimes, so the perpetrators remain in power. Oppenheimer somehow befriended a pocket of these killers in northern Sumatra and convinced them to take part in this film. The central figure, a reasonably well-spoken and seemingly dignified guy named Anwar Congo, repeatedly espouses the belief that “gangster” means “free man,” and he is perfectly happy to demonstrate the cheap and efficient manner he developed of strangling his victims with a length of wire attached to a post. You can’t believe the outrageous things Congo and his comrades allow the director to capture on film – and then the director plays the footage back to them and records their commentary. Sometimes the consequences of what they’ve done sink in and some flicker of remorse emerges, but not always. They not only reminisce boastfully about how ruthlessly and efficiently they slaughtered their victims, they also enthusiastically stage elaborate reenactments of key scenes, dramatizing them in the style of their favorite Hollywood movies – westerns, Bollywood musicals, and gangster films. (Congo’s hyper-aggressive sidekick, Herman Koto, seems to be a big John Waters fan – he never hesitates to appear in scary drag — see below.)

7-21 congo koto
Half the time you can’t believe the crazy things they’re saying and doing. It’s a harrowing and upsetting and extremely powerful film, really worth seeing and talking about. One of the most unnerving things about it is that when the credits roll, you notice that most of the production crew, for their own safety, are listed as “Anonymous,” including one of the co-producers. The website for the film provides some very interesting background information.

7-21 anonymous credits


Last Friday morning Andy and I and Keith Hennessy’s boyfriend Adam Kuby (visiting from Portland for the day) made a pilgrimage to one of the blockbuster art shows of the moment, the James Turrell exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. There was a long line to get in but it moved pretty quickly – we were in the door within 20 minutes, and shortly after that we were lying on our backs on the floor of the rotunda witnessing the main event of the show, a piece called Aten Reign. Turrell, a conceptual artist whose chief medium is light, has converted the Guggy’s famous spiral into a multi-tiered cone emanating concentric circles of gorgeous light continuously shifting color and intensity. Like everyone else, we had our smartphones out immediately to take pictures.

7-19 turrell blog1 7-19 turrell blog3 7-19 turrell blog2
It’s savvy marketing for the Guggenheim to encourage picture-taking AND it’s a cosmic joke for several reasons. Turrell’s beautifully chosen lighting discombobulates your camera’s color-recognition capabilities. What you’re seeing never matches what your camera can capture. And even though you can get some gorgeous photos this way (check out my photodiary shots), it’s almost impossible to tell what you’re looking at because Turrell’s work toys so masterfully with dimension and flatness. It is, in a certain way, his one trick – making light simply projected onto flat surfaces look three-dimensional, or lighting depths in such a way as to make them look flat. (Is that two tricks or one?) The single example of the latter phenomenon on view at the Guggenheim, a piece called “Illtar,” is very very subtle and takes time to really perceive – and unfortunately it’s installed in a less than optimal  manner. Although the room is small and the number of viewers limited, I could never get a purchase on it (after waiting on yet another line for half an hour to see it). Nevertheless, the Guggenheim show is a great opportunity to tap into an artist who’s sustained a deep original vision for a very long time. For a good overview, check out the New York Times Magazine’s recent profile of him.

turrell times mag cover


That evening, Adam and Andy and I had the pleasure of encountering another artist with a highly individualized vision cultivated over the course of several decades. When Karlheinz Stockhausen died in 2007, he had completed a magnum opus called Licht, a cycle in seven parts that takes 29 hours to perform in full. It is an elaborate, quirky mythopoeic “opera” with no singers in which each day of the week has its own color – just to mention a few of its eccentricities. The Lincoln Center Festival wisely bit off just a chunk of this giant work, a one-hour selection from Act II of Donnerstag aus Licht (“Thursday”) called Michaels Reise um die Erde (Michael’s Journey Around the Earth). It was originally staged at Vienna’s Taschenoper by Carlus Padrissa, a member of the wildly adventurous Catalonian performance company La Fura dels Baus, featuring the Cologne-based Ensemble musikFabrik. Stockhausen’s score is characteristically modern, which is to say not especially melodic. Heavy on horns, it reminded me at times of some of Frank Zappa’s whimsical/lyrical classic compositions, and it was exquisitely played by the ensemble.

Just by itself, it might have been a little dry to sit through, but Padrissa came up with an elaborate visual production with striking and witty projections, colorful costumes, and an amazing contraption for the trumpeter who plays the Archangel Michael – a kind of cage he’s strapped into that revolves him through space so at times he’s playing upside down. In the piece, Michael flies around the world making stops in Cologne, New York, Japan, Bali, India, Central Africa, and Jerusalem. The program notes mention the musical motifs that Stockhausen used to refer to these locations but they’re laughably glancing. There’s a lot to make fun of about Stockhausen – in his vision, Thursday is associated with the color blue, so the audience at Avery Fisher Hall was encouraged to wear bright blue clothing (they stopped short of issuing uniform smocks the way Park Avenue Armory did for the staging of Oktaphonie earlier this year) – but I admire his mind and his effort. Adam and I enjoyed the concert more than Andy, who chafed at the lack of melody to follow. Departing the theater the audience was serenaded by five musicians playing a farewell piece from the balconies of Avery Fisher Hall (below) – a final lovely, quirky treat. The program notes, generous and informative, can be read online here.

7-19 post show trumpets


Lincoln Center Festival pitched Monkey: Journey to the West as a big deal, scheduling a whole month of performances. An adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, the show was directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, a youngish hotshot favorite of the festival, as a kind of rock and roll opera circus with music by Damon Albarn of the rock band Blur and visual design by Gorillaz (the virtual band Albarn co-created with Jamie Hewlett) and skills acts performed by the Jiangsu Yancheng Acrobatic Company. The still photos make it look amazing, but the show was unbelievably bad. Truly, one of the worst things I’ve seen in years. A smidgen of cool animation buried by lame staging, shallow spectacle, pathetically anemic acrobatics, underwhelming music — ugh. Festival kitsch.


%d bloggers like this: