Posts Tagged ‘zanele muholi’

Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:


  1. A View from the Bridge – Ivo van Hove’s intense Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s, staged within Jan Verseweyveld’s evocative stark set and lighting, an excellent cast headed by Mark Strong, Michael Gould, and Nicola Walker
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy – I’m thankful that Second Stage brought back the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’s deep, dark well-deserved Pulitzer recipient, full of amazing performances (Stephen McKinley Henderson and Liza Colon-Zayas – pictured below — with Ron Cephas Jones and Victor Almanzar) directed by Austin Pendleton.


  1. An Octoroon – the kind of big, messy, important, risk-taking production that keeps me engaged with theater. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had key collaborators in director Sarah Benson, eight brave actors, smart producers (Theatre for a New Audience extended the life of the show that began at Soho Rep), and a design team at the top of their game (especially Mimi Lien, who certainly deserves the MacArthur Foundation fellowship she won this year).
  2. John (Signature Theatre) – Annie Baker’s long astonishing play staged by Sam Gold on Mimi Lien’s hyperrealistic set with four terrific performances: Georgia Engel, Lois Smith, Christopher Abbott, and Hong Chau.

    GhostQuartet3(Ryan Jensen)

  3. Ghost Quartet – a sweet and haunting chamber piece from Dave Malloy (above, plaid shirt), composer of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, performed in the cozy setting of the bar at the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. And That’s How The Rent Gets Paid – Jeff Weiss (below) and Ricardo Martinez’s East Village epic revived at the Kitchen featuring a cast of veteran and emerging downtown stars under director Brooke O’Harra’s fine-tuned cat-herding.
    7-14 jeff weiss
  5. iOW@ (Playwrights Horizons) — playwright Jenny Schwartz gave herself an amazing amount of freedom with this piece, one of the most aggressively odd-shaped plays I’ve ever seen in how information is delivered, how characters are introduced, how the story advances, the use of music (gorgeous and scrupulously unpredictable score by Todd Almond), etc. Kudos to director Ken Rus Schmoll and a super-game cast.
  6. Composition…Master-Pieces…Identity (Target Margin Theater) – I don’t know how he does it but David Greenspan again inhabited Gertrude Stein’s prose with effortless genius.
  7. Gloria (Vineyard Theatre) – another fine example of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ gift for merging social commentary, shrewd humor, and extraordinary performance opportunities; Evan Cabnet directed the fantastic six-member cast, among whom Jennifer Kim and Ryan Spahn stood out for me.
  8. Hamilton (Public Theatre) – I had my reservations about the most acclaimed musical of the year (the hiphop score is monotonous, the staging is theatrically square, and author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance struck me as charmless) but there’s no denying that this retelling of early American history by black and Latino performers is smart, conceptually ambitious, and fiendishly well-written.
  9. Steve (New Group) – Mark Gerrard’s smart, hilarious gay comedy about sad stuff, impeccably directed by Cynthia Nixon with a fine cast and a seriously great performance by Matt McGrath.

Honorable Mentions:

Eclipsed (Public Theatre)– Danai Gurira’s original play about the experience of women during Liberia’s civil war with an exceptional all-female ensemble directed by Liesl Tommy

Ada/Ava (3Legged Dog) – unusual, inventive, emotionally absorbing shadow puppet play created by the Chicago-based Manual Cinema

Spring Awakening – DeafWest Theatre’s revelatory revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play with a cast full of impressive Broadway newcomers directed by Michael Arden, noteworthy set by Dane Laffrey.

Grounded (Public Theater) – Julie Taymor brought her theatrical magic to this small honest play starring Anne Hathaway (below) as a disillusioned and war-damaged drone pilot


Preludes (LCT3) – another exceptional eccentric musical event from the team of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin starring Gabriel Ebert (below, with flowers) on another dazzling Mimi Lien set.


Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar’s play superbly directed on Broadway by Kimberly Senior.

Living Here (Foundry Theatre) — Gideon Irving’s one-man musical performed in living rooms all over NYC (including mine)

Raul Esparza in Cymbeline in Central Park

1-8 keith abronsKeith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN in the Abrons Arts Center’s American Realness Festival

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes and Robert Fairchild’s performance in An American in Paris

Daniel Oreskes, Cameron Scoggins, and Tom Phelan in Taylor Mac’s Hir at Playwrights Horizons with a set by David Zinn that screamed “toxic America”

Other Culture Vulture High Points:

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s Partita in the White Light Festival

The new Whitney Museum

Habeas Corpus, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed el Gharani at the Park Avenue Armory

Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s harrowing, arty, moving, thrilling biopic of Brian Wilson with an incredible performance by Paul Dano – my favorite film of the year

CULTURE VULTURE, part 3: Zanele Muholi and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum

August 17, 2015

8.16.15 I never knew how hungry I was for images of African lesbians until I walked into South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum and stood riveted for half an hour watching the digital slideshow of the 250+ portraits in her series Faces and Phases. Eighty-seven of the photos are framed and displayed along one wall of the gallery in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (next-door to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party), along with one wall of testimonials by the subjects and another wall with a timeline of the violence (beatings, murders, and “corrective” rapes) committed against lesbians and trans persons in South Africa. But nothing beats the power of standing in front of the digital slideshow and drinking in these striking larger-than-life black-and-white projections of one unsmiling face after another, each of them making deep calm direct eye contact with…the camera, the artist, and the viewer.

muholi sisipho ndzuzo VUYELWA-MAKUBETSE-facebook Zanele-Muholi-selfie
Shot simply against often textured backgrounds, they nod with respect toward the late Malian photographer Seydou Keita’s famous and beautiful portraits of African men and women. But I was knocked out and grateful to Muholi (above) for undertaking the project of documenting her LGBTI community in South Africa, a project that is not only ambitious and politically valuable but dangerous. Three years ago, her apartment was burglarized. She lost her laptop and over 20 primary and back-up external hard drives containing five years’ worth of photos and video, including records of the funerals of three Black South African lesbians murdered in hate crimes. Nothing else was stolen. The Brooklyn Museum show is up until November 1. I encourage you not to miss it.

I made my pilgrimage specifically to see the Muholi show but I was also mildly curious to see Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks. I’m a huge fan of Basquiat; his work excites me more than almost any other artist of the last half century. Hearing that this show basically consisted of eight Marble Composition Books taken apart and displayed page by page, I assumed this would be a minor little show of marginal dribs and drabs. Not at all.
8-16 crocodile as pirateIt spotlights the prolific fertile young artist’s use of language – both words as a key element in his paintings (especially lists) but also the poetry that flowed from his deep immersion in literature and music. The individual pages from notebooks leap out as ideas for paintings or art projects but sometimes just as great images complete in themselves (above).
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I also wasn’t expecting that the show would include so many big Basquiat works, including a bunch of dazzling stuff I hadn’t seen before – a beautiful little wooden cube painted on every side (above), a couple of free-standing double-sided wooden pieces that look like advertisements for restaurants or stores (below).
8-16 basquiat famous front 8-16 famous back 8-16 all beef
A major piece calls “Untitled 1982-83” pastes together 28 separate notebook pages into one giant canvas; every panel is its own intriguing abstract poem – my favorite is the list that includes: FAITH HEALER, ROASTING BOAR, TURKISH TWELVE, and PRAGMATIC SANCTION.

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