Posts Tagged ‘russell t. davies’

Culture Vulture: Jean Genet, Shirin Neshat, IT’S A SIN, and NOMADLAND

February 21, 2021

I have a theory that we will look back on this winter as the hardest time of the pandemic, second only to March and April of last year when it first came crashing down. Starting in November, when the weather started to turn cold, and lasting through whenever spring starts to thaw us out, we’ve been confined to quarters, enduring horrible news, ongoing dreadful death rates, excruciating isolation, mind-numbing boredom, and pretty universal depression. In New York City, Andy and I have been combating that somewhat with weekend art excursions.

We started our Saturday afternoon art adventure by watching the first explicitly erotic gay film – Jean Genet’s Un chant d’amour (1950), a silent film about prisoners and the sadistic guard who spies on them masturbating (an astringent sound score by Simon Fisher Turner was added later) – and ended the evening watching the latest gay erotic show, It’s a Sin, the latest HBO series by Queer As Folk creator Russell T. Davies.

In between we trekked to the Chelsea art district to see Shirin Neshat’s show “Land of Dreams” at the Gladstone Gallery. I’ve been a huge fan of Neshat’s work since I first saw her images combining veiled Muslim women holding weapons and Persian calligraphy. Neshat’s Iranian parents sent her to Los Angeles to attend high school, and she was enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley when the Iranian revolution occurred. She has not been back to Iran since 1996 and currently lives in New York.

For her latest show, she travelled around New Mexico meeting people, taking their photographic portraits, and asking them to tell her their latest dream. At the gallery 111 of these portraits hang, each of them with calligraphic additions – their names, their birthdates, sometimes the text of their dreams, sometimes images from their dreams.

In an adjacent gallery, Neshat shows a two-channel video installation that is a fictionalized version of her travels through New Mexico, juxtaposed with scenes from a sinister sort of factory employing dozens of lab-coated “dream scientists.”

Shortly after we walked into the gallery, a woman asked Andy to snap a picture of her and a male friend of hers. It turned out to be Neshat, who showed up to rendezvous with her friend and collaborator Youssef Nabil, an Egyptian photographer (above). So we got to meet the artist and chat with her a little bit, which excited the fanboy in me. I can’t remember if she told us this or if we heard her say it in one of the several YouTube videos we watched later, but she doesn’t actually think of herself as a photographer. She said she doesn’t own a camera, and indeed in videos she’s seen directing a cameraman who actually takes the photos. She has made a number of films, most of them – like the one playing in the gallery – pristinely shot in black and white, juxtaposing weathered unusual faces with wide-open stark landscapes. The two-channel video can be viewed on the gallery’s website at certain hours of the week, along with a 25-minute documentary about the making of the show.

While we were in Chelsea, we poked our noses into a couple of other galleries. The Jack Shainman Gallery is hosting “Half and the Whole,” a show by photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks of images from 1942-1970 that document the civil rights movement, including some beautiful candid shots of Malcolm X. I was struck by this curious, anomalous image from 1962 called “Invisible Man Retreat, Harlem, New York.”

Some dazzling and trippy geometric prints caught our eye at the Dobrinka Salzman Gallery. They turned out to be early works by an Italian artist named Riccardo Vecchio.

Once you’re in the art trance, even trash on the street starts looking like readymades.

We had two more predetermined destinations. One was the new Daniel Moynihan Train Hall, with its gleaming interiors (currently sparsely populated of course, but envisioned to be teeming with commuters sometime), spectacular skylights, and all kinds of artwork including this colorful three-part stained-glass piece by Kehinde Wiley called “Go” on the ceiling of the 35th Street entrance.

After that spectacle, a walk up Ninth Avenue brought us into the armpit of Times Square, the stunningly ugly backside of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

In the grimy underpass across the street, one of several vacant storefronts in the neighborhood featured artwork sponsored by Chashama, the public art project enterprising curator Anita Durst operates using disused corners of her family’s vast real estate empire.

Our final art destination was the storefront for Playwrights Horizons, one of NYC’s great Off-Broadway theaters. It’s been shuttered since last March, like all theaters in the city, but incoming artistic director Adam Greenfield enlisted our friend David Zinn, the Tony Award-winning set and costume designer, and Avram Finkelstein, one of the founders of the AIDS-era art collective Gran Fury, to curate a lively public art project keeping the block activated.

The first artist they commissioned was Jilly Ballistic, who created a gigantic mural in the form of a dollar bill regularly updated with a reference to the number of Americans who have died of covid-19.

Being on Theater Row at dinnertime led us to one of our favorite local restaurants, Mémé Mediterranean on 10th Avenue at 44th Street. They were being scrupulous about allowing indoor dining with a limited capacity; there were only two other tables dining when we sat down for a delicious tagine and a shawarma royale.

It was a very satisfying expedition. We spent the after-dinner hours with It’s a Sin (just the first episode) and Shirin Neshat interviews on YouTube. Sunday afternoon we watched Chloe Zhao’s new film Nomadland on Hulu, an extraordinarily beautiful and moving collaboration between the director (I recently saw and loved her Songs My Brother Taught Me) and actress/co-producer Frances McDormand, who gives yet another spectacular, vanity-free performance as a miner’s widow living in her van barely scraping by as a day laborer on a series of hard low-paying jobs. Long wordless scenes of her rolling through Nevada, Arizona, Nebraska, and South Dakota eerily echo the wide-open spaces we saw in Shirin Neshat’s film the day before.

And then, as we generally do, we repaired to our separate abodes to cook food for the week. Andy set about making a big pot of jambalaya, and I applied myself to following Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe from last week’s New York Times Magazine for Russian salad, which is refrigerating overnight and gave me a chance to sample a new taste treat I discovered at the farmer’s market yesterday – pickled hard-boiled eggs.

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