Posts Tagged ‘laurie anderson’

Culture Vulture/Photo diary: the Whitney with Bob and Phil, GO FORTH with Keith Hennessy, Laurie Anderson’s Midnight Moment

January 27, 2016

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1.2.16 Andy and I started the new year by having brunch with our friends Bob and Phil at Blenheim in the West Village then moseying over to the Whitney Museum. Bob and Phil had not experienced the new building before, so we walked through the Frank Stella show (eh), donations from the Thea and Ethan Wagner collection, and the Archibald Motley show before settling down to watch Rachel Rose’s mesmerizing 12-minute video “Everything and More.”

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1.7.16 Keith Hennessy made his annual visit to New York to participate in the American Realness festival, performing a duet with Jassem Hindi (future friend/ships) and directing his former colleague and mentor Sara Shelton Mann in a valedictory performance called Sara the Smuggler. On his off night, we checked out a show in P.S. 122’s COIL Festival, Go Forth, the directorial debut of Kaneza Schaal, the extraordinary actress who performs with Elevator Repair Service and the Wooster Group. It was an ambitious, dramaturgically complicated piece based on Egyptian funerary texts that didn’t entirely land with me. But I very much admired the photographic installation (by Christopher Myers) that hung along the hallway leading to Westbeth’s intriguingly raw, crypt-like performance space. And who doesn’t enjoy having a free beer handed to you in the midst of a show?

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1.12.16 After dinner at La Carafe on Ninth Avenue, Andy and I and David Zinn swung by Times Square to sip hot cider and witness Laurie Anderson’s Midnight Moment. For the month of January, 54 of the 10 zillion LED screens in the heart of the theater district flashed three minutes of Laurie’s film Heart of a Dog at 11:57, thanks to Sherry Ridion Dobbin and Times Square Arts.

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In last week’s New Yorker

October 22, 2015

recognition nyorker coverI haven’t done this in a while, and I’m still working my way through this week’s, but last week’s issue of the New Yorker was unusually stuffed with exceptional pieces worth catching up on:

  • “Thresholds of Violence,” Malcolm Gladwell’s riveting and disheartening report about how many school shootings specifically intend to replicate the massacre at Columbine. The piece leads and ends with a hair-raising account of a rampage that was aborted and concludes: “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”
  • “Road Warrior,” Jane Kramer’s in-depth up-close-and-personal profile of Gloria Steinem, which increased my already high regard for the feminist icon exponentially.
  • “Drawing Blood,” in which reporter Adam Shatz introduced me to French-Arab cartoonist Riad Sattouf, whose book The Arab of the Future I can’t wait to read.
  • “Cold Little Bird,” Ben Marcus’s short story about a father struggling to adjust to the reality of his ten-year-old’s son personality change.
  • critical essays by Alex Ross and Hilton Als on two artists near and dear to my heart, Laurie Anderson and Sam Shepard (Hilton was kind enough to reference my Shepard biography in his review of the Broadway production of Fool for Love).

    Not to mention Adrian Tomine’s cover image (above), which will induce groans of recognition from many writers who live in NYC.

Culture Vulture: Laurie Anderson’s HABEAS CORPUS at Park Avenue Armory and John Singer Sargent at the Met Museum

October 6, 2015

(click photos to enlarge)

10.3.15 — The size and scale of the Park Avenue Armory makes it unlike any other venue in New York City, and artistic director Alex Poots has mounted one fascinating unconventional production after another there. He commissioned Laurie Anderson to make a piece this season, and the result – Habeas Corpus, which ran October 2-4 – was unlike anything Anderson’s ever done before. There was a performance each evening, at which she told stories and sang songs and introduced guest musicians Merrill Garbus (aka tUnEyArDs), Stewart Hurwood (Lou Reed’s tech guy, who marshals a fleet of guitars feeding back through amps), and Syrian pop singer Omar Souleyman.

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But the performance was a minor part of the event. The centerpiece of Habeas Corpus was Anderson’s collaboration with Mohammed El Gharani, a 28-year-old Chadian who was kidnapped from a mosque in Pakistan after 9/11, tortured and interrogated, then flown to Guantanamo where he remained captive for six years until he was finally freed and sent back to Africa. Anderson has been working for many years on multimedia art works about prisons and prisoners, specifically the idea of broadcasting live video of incarcerated prisoners  onto oversized plaster casts of their bodies in museum settings. She hasn’t managed to do this in the United States for political reasons, but through the human rights organization Reprieve she made contact with Mohammed el Gharani and devised this remarkable art installation.

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In the vast Drill Hall of the Armory stands a huge white chair statue (almost the size of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and constructed by some of the same artisans who worked with Kara Walker on her giant sculpture A Subtlety at the Domino Sugar Factory last year), onto which is projected live video of el Gharani sitting in a studio in West Africa. He sits silently, although when he takes breaks, prerecorded video is shown of him telling stories about his experiences in Guantanamo.

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Anderson has activated the space through lighting (the room is completely dark, lit only by the artwork and a giant disco ball slowly revolving) and sound (an eerie immersive sound piece by her late husband Lou Reed sends droning guitar feedback throughout the space, mixed together with a soundscape of surveillance audio, and a handful of musicians wander through serenading audience members with violin and cello improvisations).

It’s a spectacular and haunting meditation on solitary confinement, literal and figurative. In a smaller room at the Armory interviews of el Gharani talking about his experience played all day. As usual, the Armory created a large-format elaborate program with extensive notes on the piece, and Anderson wrote a long essay about making it that was published on The New Yorker’s website. I encourage you to check them out. Habeas Corpus is an eloquent and maddening argument for holding President Obama to his promise to shut down Guantanamo and repatriate detainees who’ve never been charged with any crimes.

10.4.15 – Word of mouth insisted that the show of John Singer Sargent’s portraits of artists and friends at the Metropolitan Museum was a must-see, but I dilly-dallied about checking it out until the very last day. So glad I didn’t miss it! I don’t have a huge file on Sargent, but this show was a powerhouse introduction that included some of his most famous works, including Madame X, a full-length portrait of a beautiful American expatriate socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau in a low-cut gown with bare shoulders that so scandalized Paris when it appeared that Sargent had to move to London afterwards. The exhibition also showcases the painter’s many portraits of now-famous artists, many of whom were his close friends, including Henry James (like Sargent a discreet homosexual).

I was intrigued by this gender-queer writer of whom I’d never heard before:

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I also loved that Sargent got to see a gamelan performance, which inspired this painting of a Javanese dancer:

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His portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth is justly considered one of his masterpieces, thrilling to see in person:

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I love his drawing of the young handsome William Butler Years and also his fascinating, strangely off-centered cartoon-like portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and his exotically dressed wife:

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Speaking of queer, Sargent did quite a lot of homoerotic artwork, much of which the Met Museum owns, but very little of it showed up in this show, an exception being this watercolor:

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Sargent was very handsome himself (he and many of his distinguished artist friends would fit right in with the bearded gentlemen of Williamsburg/Brooklyn these days), as you can see in this, my favorite of his three self-portraits:

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Performance diary: Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet at BAM

September 28, 2014

Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM’s month-long tribute to Nonesuch Records continued with Landfall, another legendary collaboration, this time between Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet. It was a bit of a high-wire act – more speaking than you would get from a Kronos concert, more instrumental music than you would get at a Laurie Anderson concert, a theme (having to do with decay, erosion, corruption, extinction, glitches in verbal communication, technology, environmental integrity, cosmic meaning…) but not exactly a narrative, a visual element (generated by a program called Erst) of language streaming up and down and across the back wall, often too fast or cryptically to read or comprehend. The score fell into numerous discrete pieces, none of them songs exactly, not quite movements — in a program note, Laurie refers to them as “stories with tempos.” The first and last spoken pieces refer to Hurricane Sandy, but otherwise the stories stray to lists (extinct species, galaxies) and dreams (or rather, “Don’t you hate it when people tell you their dreams?”). There is no mention of the reality that during the time the work was created, Laurie’s husband Lou Reed was sick and dying, but there is a melancholy undertow to the surging, keening strings. The last words spoken, describing a basement full of water in which are floating all the things you’ve spent your life saving, are “beautiful, magical, catastrophic.” The piece kept me guessing every minute as to where it was going and how all the pieces fit together. The New York Times review was reprehensibly stingy – the music was challenging, varied, beautiful, adventurous, and well-played.

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Performance Diary: “THE POWER OF THE HEART: a celebration of Lou Reed”

December 19, 2013

lou reed card 212.16.13 – The invitation-only tribute to Lou Reed at the Apollo Theater was a beautiful event – a classy, intimate, surprising blend of musical performances, spoken testimonials, film and audio clips, and multi-faith spiritual expression. Welcoming music came in the form of a guitar jam between Marc Ribot and Doug Wieselman. The program officially began with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman performing the funeral prayer “El Maleh Rachamim.” Laurie Anderson opened and closed the three-hour ceremony with very personal recollections of her life with Lou. She talked movingly about his final days, his last words, his last breath, his last gesture. They had immersed themselves in Buddhist meditation, so she and her community  observed the 49-day period of practices after someone dies, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The memorial at the Apollo took place on Day 50, which is dedicated to the liberation of the soul of the departed. And she said they’re very clear and strict about “no tears,” weeping seen to be confusing to the soul passing through the bardo.
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Accordingly, this was an evening of much celebration and laughter, emotion and sentiment but no tears. There were lively reminiscences by Lou’s sister Meryl (aka Bunny), producer Hal Wilner, Julian Schnabel, Ingrid Sischy, the Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker (reading a message from John Cale), and the surgeon who performed Lou’s liver transplant, Charlie Miller, who was hilarious and touching and apparently stitched up his famous patient to the beat of “Walk on the Wild Side.” Early on, Patti Smith sang “Perfect Day” accompanied on guitar by Lenny Kaye, and she took the lead for the all-hands-on-deck finale, “Sister Ray.” Emily Haines of the band Metric sang “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Debbie Harry did “White Light White Heat,” Jenni Muldaur sang “Jesus,” and the Persuasions (who opened for Lou’s first European tour) came out to croon a gorgeous a cappella rendition of “Turning Time Around.” John Zorn’s sax solo represented Lou at his most abrasive and improvisational. Philip Glass sat down at the piano and played while the rabbi sang and Hal Wilner translated the Kaddish. For me, the musical high point was Antony performing “Candy Says” to Marc Ribot’s simple acoustic guitar accompaniment – fitting for Lou’s song about transgender Warhol diva Candy Darling to be sung by a gender-queer performer who clearly understands its existential self-disgust from the inside (“Candy says I’ve come to hate my body/And all that it requires in this world”). It seemed curious to me that only the Persuasions sang a song written after 1973 — Lou made a lot of albums and wrote some good songs after Berlin, but I suppose it’s a recognition of how solid those early Velvet Underground songs were and still are.

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I would guess Hal Wilner had a hand in amassing the various amazing film clips that conjured Lou’s presence, starting with an excerpt of “Waiting for the Man” (live in concert during his dyed-blond days) and including several chunks of a very funny interview in which he talked about why he lives in New York, what he hates about Long Island, what scares him about Sweden, designing his own eyeglasses, etc. I’d forgotten that Lou was in Paul Simon’s movie One Trick Pony, but we watched the whole clip, in which Lou plays a record producer imposing egregiously bad arrangements on Simon’s character’s album. Then Simon himself came out to sing “Pale Blue Eyes.” Two radically different audio clips were also highlights of the evening – Lou as a kid singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and then the unedited original studio demo of Lou strumming guitar and singing “Heroin,” still an astonishing song. Laurie remarked that Lou wrote his lyrics very fast, sometimes in the middle of the night, and never changed them, believing in “First thought, best thought.” Which, she admitted, she found infuriating, as someone who labored and worried over every single line.

As if the images of Lou Reed — Mr. Rock and Roll Animal, Mr. Street Hassle, Mr. Metal Machine Music — wearing a kippah at the Wailing Wall and practicing Tibetan Buddhism weren’t spiritually eclectic enough, we witnessed testimonials and demonstrations of t’ai chi from his teacher Ren GuangYi, his student, and his community. (It was fascinating to see how easily the 21 form t’ai chi moves could be adapted to the tune of “Sister Ray.”)
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A rich full occasion. I was delighted to share it with my friend Judy Mam.

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