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Thursday, December 18, 2014

EGON SCHIELE: PORTRAITS 12/18/14



Walking into the Egon Schiele (1890-1918) exhibition at the Neue Galerie, curated by Dr. Alessandra Comini brought me back to the past, when I was an art student drawing all day from the figure, carrying a really tattered Schiele book somewhere on my person - a source of inspiration.  I was intense, learning to see anew and drawing was the key to self awareness and into an odyssey of immutable possibilities that I knew instinctively would transport me into a future, embracing beauty, theoretical concepts, and struggle. I could do this for the rest of my life.

That feeling returned as soon as I stepped off the Neue Galerie’s elevator, but now, many years later, I saw the range of Egon Schiele’s oeuvre - a range that was revelatory - that I did not know existed. To speak of early Schiele’s, mid-career Schiele’s and late Schiele’s is compacting a young man’s passage of time; a young man who died from influenza when he was only 28 years old - but his art, from the early delicately realistic studies which penetrated the psyche of his subjects with a maturity that belied a 16 year old to the late works which were more stylized and experimental - color and forms break up, spidery lines invading the face, shapes splitting apart, finished and unfinished fields of paint abutting one another. 

The horror of being unjustly incarcerated - a traumatic incident  in 1912 - had a momentous impact on Egon Schiele. In 1963, Dr. Comini visited and took photographs of the prison where he was locked up for 24 days - a crucially essential component in understanding his prospective artwork. We access a small room - the area of confinement, where we are privy to documents such as arrest records, photographs of his cell, and Schiele’s beautifully descriptive drawings of the space - drawing becomes a cloak of sanity vital in order to endure this harrowing experience.

The exhibition is divided into other rooms that focus on periods of his life i.e. Family and Academy; Fellow Artists; Sitters and Patrons; Lovers; Eros; Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits. In all of them HANDS become a vehicle of expression. I noticed a large photograph of Egon Schiele on the Museum’s stairway - his long, thin, delicate fingers splayed apart a gesture of exquisite communication both fervent and impassioned. In many of his portraits we see elongated hands as if Schiele had grafted an indispensable part of his own limb onto his subjects, literally melding into them.

The Eros room displays drawings, some delineated with gouache, pencil and watercolor - the dominant color red blaring as opposed to many of the later, darker mysterious paintings where the palette is denser and more subdued - light is inhibited from penetrating.  Vaginas peek out unrestrained like butterflies inviting your gaze. They are vibrant and so are the women in the drawings - women in embrace, other’s on their knees; in-your-face seductive portraits -  a counterpoint to Schiele’s “masturbation” drawings which convey pain, pleasure and guilt - arms without the ever present hands cut off - severed….

This exhibition is relentlessly contemporary, as well as being a reflection of Viennese society in the beginning of the 20th century. Portraits are both fragile and obdurate; often images are outlined in black - the body imprisoned - the encasing shell hard against the pliable intimacy of the visceral self. Heads with elongated arms and hair wildly breaking up space; diagonals creating a stretching tension; unpainted areas - the white of the canvas/paper background encroaching on the figure but never overwhelming it. A synthesis of the contradictory Apollonian and Dionysian balance and disproportion, Egon Schiele’s “presence” is always present.

“Egon Schiele: Portraits” runs through Jan. 19 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street; 212-628-6200, neuegalerie.org.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HENRI MATISSE AND ROBERT GOBER AT MOMA 12/9/14


 I decided to go to MOMA to see the Matisse show and then wandered over to what I consider one of the most beautiful and poetic exhibitions of the year - not Matisse - but Robert Gober's gut wrenching paintings, objects and installations entitled THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR. His works transported me to tears, as I contemplated the tensile fragility of an artist who juxtaposes everyday objects into worlds of extreme delicacy and frailty – chronicling personal history tied to memory and a narrative of pain and injustice, so lovingly crafted that I could feel his touch on everything that I saw. Distance is bridged and we are confronted with an acute sensitivity, evident in the caress of his brushwork in an early painting that we first encounter upon entering the exhibition, when he was still a young man. Robert Gober is an artist whose work reveals his innermost self; his being is nakedly divulged and that rare authenticity is what so moves us.

Matisse made me smile; I really enjoyed watching a short film of the great man cutting shapes out of paper - a certain vocabulary of forms kept repeating over and over - with VERY large scissors. For ten years I did cutouts - totally different of course, with none of Henri Matisse's lightness of being but using small scissors and razor blades, so I was fascinated watching the “master” at work.  He constructs a world in his apartment that is sunny and bright  - colorful contours floating on the walls, doors, cutout remnants piled up on the floor; having been pared down to their essence – flat and simplified with the external beauty of gorgeous design and dare I say celebrating the "bourgeois" spirit. I also giggled to myself watching his assistant, a lovely young woman with bright red lipstick dressed in a gown, in high heels helping the elderly artist cut and snip away - delicately holding the paper for him - her fingers long and thin a replica of the slivers of paper curling onto the floor. Many of the pieces seen in the movie were on the walls of the Museum – a rich trove of Matisse’s work – including models for major commissions, studies, etc. I was also intrigued that some of his commissions were from collectors living in California often arranged by his son Pierre – a valuable ally.


I felt fortunate to see two artists – Matisse who died in 1954, and Robert Gober who was born that same year - exhibiting together at the Museum of Modern Art; one disbursing the cloudless luminosity of daylight, and the other the tender mysteries of the night complete with stars and the infinite range of human experience.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

ARTIST IN THE WORLD - NEVER ENDING TRIP 12/7/14

In Brooklyn on a rainy night, my feet sloshing along the sidewalks, a newly bought hat with a large brim acting as a visor so that I could see through my fogged up glasses, walking in a city unused to quiet and quite beautiful with the reflecting lights breaking the silence - I visited Soapbox Gallery to see a “pop-up” exhibition of ARTIST IN THE WORLD - NEVER ENDING ART TRIP.  Andre Smits the itinerant, international artist who photographs artists in their studios ONLY from the back - so that the working space becomes  the key focus. Yet we all know that you can turn artists on their sides, upside down, even inside out - and the places they work will reflect something about who they are and their particular and often eccentric choices and tastes. 

I am a voyeur (of sorts) - I love blinking/spying on other people’s worlds, finding individuals surprisingly intriguing - once I get past my own personal prejudices  - which either dissolve or are modified - once I get to know more about a person through any channel - and viewing their work site is one of them. I feel many other people share this curiosity and that is what makes Andre Smits photographs seductively irresistible. He is photographing the “laboratory” where experimentation, dreams, disappointments, intense struggle and passionate creation occurs.

Andre Smits also “maps” a visual diary of his sojourns - in this case 2014 NYC and its environs, but he has traveled to China, Germany, Belgium, Russia, etc. leaving his home base in the Netherlands to restlessly explore outside his own country. Large black and white wall drawings, “home tattoos” taken from sources derived from doodles on snippets of papers which he always  carries with him - ball point pen in hand - making the connections between artists that he has visited each day of the year. The form the wall paintings take vary - sometimes he depicts  images of some of the works he has encountered, but they are always contained within the staccato outline of the tubular networks meandering like cellular technology snaking along the wall with the names of the artists illustrated  - those that he photographed during this particular period - forming patterns that are visually oscillating. We sense the passing of time in the wall pieces beginning with the administrative aspect to Smits’ process - phone calls, setting up meetings, traveling to and from the sites giving us a sense of time made palpable.


In the exhibition at Soapbox Gallery, Andre Smits invited Elise Tak  to collaborate with him; Elise who included her startlingly graphic and diverse portraits of “fictional actors” who have undeniable presence. She creates her own universe of fabricated imaginary actors, complete with screenplays, plots and posters “…visionary film stills and posters present the audience with chimerical scenes from non-existing films…”  The juxtaposition of her “constructed,” imaginary figures  floating among the outlined names of “actual artists” made me think about the ephemeral nature of art and how our ties to one another through the future and the past have a delicate beauty that is fragile and transient. 

http://www.artistintheworld.com/
http://www.elisetak.com/

Monday, December 1, 2014

NATIONAL GALLERY 12/1/14


Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary NATIONAL GALLERY runs three hours; three hours of dissecting and analyzing the workings of one of the world’s great Museums - the National Gallery in London England. Probing paintings’ meaning and content; structure and design; the decisions involved in the way venerated and treasured  works of art are preserved, restored, cleaned, lit and hung.  We also are privy to the voices of the docents, curators, and staff talking about specific artworks connecting their audiences to the aesthetics, beauty, history, and science of conservation; the various pathways a painting takes from its original creation; its entry into various collections, and finally to its safe-keeping for posterity in the National Gallery Museum. We even listen to Nicholas Penny, the rumpled-haired Museum Director in a lecture taking a stab at Poussin - admitting that he is not sure if he likes the work, but is always intrigued by it. 

Questions of elitism and exclusivity vs.accessibility and egalitarianism in light of budgetary considerations are discussed at meetings; there are lots of meetings. The film might have edited out some of the discussions - but I felt that the prosaic, the boring, the everyday-ness was worth observing. The running of a museum is not always glamourous. The decisions that establishments have to make in order to grip the public’s interest - what lengths do they go to attract visitors, and at what price to their institution? 

Wiseman just lets his camera roll; he never uses “voice overs”. His working method and vitality at age 84 is unchanged - not intrusive - the filmmaker is always invisible - interviews are conducted by others. Frederick Wiseman lets us be the proverbial “fly on the wall” in a space that ordinarily would be bug-proof.

I loved watching one of the restorers discussing the cleaning  of Velasquez’ Christ in The House of Martha and Mary and passionately ponder the dilemma -  do we over-strip the varnish used 100’s of years ago and thereby brighten and change the artists’ original intent? Ethical problems and compromises come into question. An in-house construction of a triptychs’ impressive frame delicately carved by the crafts-men and women associated with the Museum, and the lighting of the finished piece held me spellbound, as did the issue of a cast shadow obscuring the top 1/4 of the painting once the work was installed. We also pay heed to restorers scraping away tiny slivers of paint with scalpels, Q-tips, eye-droppers, etc. and then put the minuscule paint shavings on a slide tray to be placed under a microscope to be scrutinized - to be thoroughly examined yielding a plethora of information; new scientific techniques today make this kind of investigation possible. We mark the fragility of time’s passing on art realizing that there are effects that you have to live with, and guard against, but ultimately methodical and deductive technical intervention will be called upon to “save” the work from aging and deterioration.

The camera also takes us outside the Museum with aerial views of Trafalgar Square lit by the  grays of daylight to the shimmering of the early darkness -focusing on the diverse community waiting patiently in the cold to to see the Da Vinci exhibition "Painter at the Court of Milan” (2012.) We are never far away from the human response to art - the intensity of the onlooker’s gaze, the curiosity, confusion, delight, horror and interior peace that art can inculcate.


 Other blockbusters such as “Turner Inspired by the light of Claude” and "Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” are exhibitions that we are fortunate to attend and hear curators/docents of varying sizes, ages and accents advocating for art’s fascination and magnetism;  confronting us  with their disparate styles - some humorous, others psychoanalytical - all informative.  Each artwork has a presence with an individual history and personal narrative imprinted on its essence - like life itself this movie is thrilling, enigmatic, complex and a singular jewel.

Monday, November 24, 2014

INTERSTELLAR 11/24/14



The new film, INTERSTELLAR by Director Christopher Nolan is making me think about… gulp! …topics such as  gravity, space and time. I left the theater after almost 3 hours -  bored, exhausted, annoyed by the striving overreaching, but intellectually stimulated - a strange duality.  Ambitious, often visually stunning cinema that attempts to be 10 movies in one, dealing with “large” topics such as GRAVITY, TIME, BLACK HOLES and SINGULARITY. Those words uttered over and over again - a vocabulary that became sounds without meaning - like a concert of senselessness. I assume that most of the audience, like myself, do not know, nor understand the theories advanced by Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and the physicist Kip Thorne who served as an advisor and executive producer on INTERSTELLAR. But those who are curious in this age of instant superficial knowledge, can check things out the easy way on Wikipedia - ie: looking up the definition of Gravitational Singularity:

I basically felt an aversion to this slick epic space movie -  though on reflection I can see how it tried to shoehorn a bunch of ideas into a box of Hollywood entertainment stratagems. Even the handsome Matthew McConaughey got on my nerves as Coop -  the never aging, slowly dripping southern molasses drawl  of a pilot/engineer who has been chosen to save mankind by exploring other galaxies in order to find viable life for the human race to survive. A big responsibility!  Our planet Earth has destroyed its valuable resources - we have ruined our nest.  Time is running out.

The plot was full of contrivances which felt stilted and often predictable. Events spring up like deus ex machina devices primarily to bring gratuitous action and "excitement" to the movie propelling the action in uneven ricocheting directions - not essential to the essence of the plot which is a simple story of a man's love for his children - particularly his strong-willed daughter Murph - a feisty performance by Mackenzie Foy as the ten year old child who is devastated by Coop’s leaving, (Jessica Chastain plays the adult Murph who eventually matures into a brilliant scientist) and his struggle to "come home" to them after his expedition into other galaxies and the “fifth dimension”. Tension over the aging process and keeping “time at bay” in outer space becomes an important element in the film metaphorically and as pure science. Time on planet Earth vs. Time in space where one hour can equal 7 years. 


The first 1/2 hour showing the dust bowl dryness of the barren earth and how it no longer can sustain civilization was promising, but once Daddy Matthew flew off into space - we got hooked into lots of flashing machines, and oft-seen space maneuvers. References to “supernatural” or quasi-relgious phenomenon - objects moving ghost like and falling off shelves felt like a  “cop-out”; perhaps the director Nolan is hedging all his bets and with INTERSTELLAR is trying to have it all - to plunge into deep theoretical ideas and to keep one foot in heaven.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

FURY AND STONES IN THE SUN 11/22/14


Yesterday I did something I have not done for years - I saw two feature films in one day with a one hour break for a quick gulp of food. My movie partner gave me the privilege of choosing what to see. We began the evening with Director David Ayer’s horrific war drama, FURY - starring Brad Pitt as the lead honcho, a tough father figure of a Sherman Tank crew of 5 men, including a virginal, brilliant blue-eyed  “rookie” as the gunner (Logan Lerman), a  boy/man whose unshaven cheeks are as supple as his belief in the “goodness” of his  fellow human beings, even in the most grisly of circumstances. His transformation into steeled “manhood” is a painful reality to observe. 

Like the Battle of Thermopylae the odds are stacked against this team of hardened, profane, American warriors fighting the Nazis on German soil in April 1945 - a last ditch violent effort by the Axis to prevail, realizing that defeat was fast approaching. The cinematography with its deep, muddy browns and fiery oranges casts a blazing light which  permeates into the conscience and hearts of the characters. War is not exonerated or laundered; it is bloody and dirty - one’s moral compass is abandoned in the effort to survive slaughter and death, be it by one’s own hands or at the hands of others. It is hard to imagine going through this experience and not returning home shell-shocked and psychically wounded.

In the platoon is a soldier who puts his belief in God’s will and protection, nicknamed  “Bible” (Shia La Beouf,) an actor who has never been able to seduce me….until now. In FURY  I finally understood La Beouf’s appeal, with those dark penetrating eyes and a smile that conveys the Divinity’s rapture; he is a symbol of underlying goodness prevailing over his own destructive power and the carnage of the “enemy.”

We then saw STONES IN THE SUN directed by Haitian filmmaker Patricia Benoit focusing on the struggling lives of Haitian immigrants in Brooklyn, NY who had fled the torture and repressive reigns of Papa Doc Duvalier  and Baby Doc Duvalier, his generals  and the Tontons Macoutes/death squads in the 1980’s. 

“Duvalier authorized the Tontons Macoutes to commit systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress political opposition. They were responsible for unknown numbers of murders and rapes in Haiti. He included among his opponents those who proposed progressive social systems. Political opponents often disappeared overnight, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. Tontons Macoutes stoned and burned people alive. Many times they put the corpses of their victims on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see and take as warnings against opposition…” (Wikipedia.) 

STONES IN THE SUN  makes clear that we can leave our land but the land remains steadfast in our hearts; memories are seared into the ex-patriates’ consciousness; the scars and beauty of the homeland weaves them to their past forever.

 Benoit concentrates on 3 families to give a fuller dimension to the diaspora. I was particularly moved by a married couple, achingly played by Patricia Rhinvil as the wife Vita and her husband Ronald (James Noel,) a cabdriver who was forced to flee for demonstrating in Haiti, leaving his wife behind at the mercy of men in the dark who commit bestiality upon women’s flesh. The history of sexual brutality is wreaked upon Vita’s slight frame. She arrives at the Airport, shyly observing her husband with sideways looks - fear, love and apprehension flicker across her face; beautifully acted;  words are superfluous. Glimpses of a more care-free time are cut into the frames - what might have been - and what was, and what is.

How each character deals with the past AND the future in both FURY and STONES IN THE SUN, is both poignant and eloquent. The impact of ruthlessness and savagery on society and the individual; whether it be in the 1940’s, 1980’s or the present are devastatingly traumatic and  transformative.  


Haitian proverb: “Stones in the water don’t know the suffering of stones in the sun.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

PICASSO AND THE CAMERA AT GAGOSIAN GALLERY, NYC 10/31/14



I never thought that we could get into the PICASSO AND THE CAMERA exhibition organized by John Richardson at Gagosian Gallery (522 W. 21st Street) without having to wait on a long line and snake through a packed room of people, heads locked together preventing us from examining the work. We were WRONG. It was spacious - not that many people in a dimly lit room with guards stationed  every 10 feet making sure you do not cross a tastefully placed barely perceptible gray strip on a gray floor - giving them something to do since nobody noticed the line. I told them that they either have to paint it a neon color or electrify the barrier because  there ain’t no way you can even see it. Then we engaged in a "serious" discussion as to what constituted a violation of the space ie: if an individual's feet were behind the line, but the stomach protruded into the space? Strangely enough this repartee seemed fitting in this environment and underscored the “lightness of being” of Picasso’s work.

Mixing photos (225 of them) that were taken as early as1909, continuing up to the later years, with paintings, sculptures and drawings was revelatory. I should have known that Picasso’s curiosity would embrace new technology and that he would make use of it in his work. AND he did - for documentation, source material for art, and capturing the psychological and personal relationships in his life - my favorite shots. I ran around looking for images of his wives and lovers and compared them to the inventions that he created.


Picasso was a man built like a brick shit house not pear shaped but rather like a cube which makes sense. His physique was multi-faceted; solid but also fleshy, prancing around in home movies that were projected on 4 walls in an enclosed space; the films all running at once, forcing me to spin around to see fragments of each one giving me glimpses of a life well-lived. One particular grainy movie by Man Ray in colors which reeked of memory and redolent of time, gave me the opportunity to see why Picasso loved this atmosphere and the beautiful woman that he cavorted with. I could sense the sexual intensity of this large dark-eyed man, his delight in the childlike, and the deep concentration and focus that is necessary when an artist is constructing a work- be it a painting or a sculpture, stepping back every few minutes to assess one’s choices. I was flooded with recollections  of process - the intimate familiarity with the distinctions and decisions that artists constantly make on the road to discovery. This exhibition brought Picasso back to earth for me.


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/arts/design/picasso-the-camera-john-richardsons-latest-show.html?_r=0