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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

PASSING 1/5/22



 Just watched director and writer Rebecca Hall's outwardly hushed film, PASSING on Netflix; a movie that proceeds at a seemingly slow pace, appropriately filmed in shades of black and white punctuated by moments of piercing clarity. There is a lot to contemplate - layers of constricted definitions that burst open when penetrated by the light of self-awareness, and at the same time often remain sequestered by fear and the comfort of routine. This is a beautifully complex film with boundaries that shatter who we think we are.


Beautifully acted by Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield- a black woman who lives a comfortable social life in a brownstone with her Doctor husband (Andre Holland) and two young boys in NYC's Harlem of the 1920s. There is often a feeling of aloofness and desolation whenever the camera focuses on her face indicating uneasiness about her life. She is kind and a loving mother but also wants the outside world to not penetrate her cocoon of illusions. Irene also has a maid named Zu (Ashley Ware) who she treats with uncaring remoteness - behaving similarly to the way matriarchs had behaved to their ancestral servants.

One day Irene is shopping and seeks refuge from the glaring NYC heat in a Hotel and sees a childhood friend who is momentarily unrecognizable at a nearby table talking with a man who turns out to be her husband, (Alexander Skarsgard.) This sensual, blonde woman is the vivacious Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) who is passing as "white", having "erased" her former identity.

PASSING has no easy answers to questions of race and identity. Tessa becomes enlightened observing Clare returning to and embracing the beauty and strength of black culture. The movie has a mysterious longing; jazz and a trumpeter's music is woven through the film creating a pattern of pathos that makes it even more commanding.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

ISA GENZKEN REFLECTIONS ON HER MOMA EXHIDBITION 2014



                                    Isa Genzken in studio - 1982


http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/1345

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2008/may/isa-genzkens-proposals-for-ground-zero


The Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts. Founded by Walter Gropius with the idea of creating a "total" work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together, it operated from 1919 to 1933 when the Nazis shut it down.


Isa Genzken’s stunningly moving retrospective both utilizes and repudiates Bauhaus legacy, brashly demonstrated by a seminal work entitled "Fuck The Bauhaus". Her retrospective surprised me with its range of experimental approaches, giving voice to a uniquely personal view of life – from the frottage oil paintings that looked like aerial views of bombed-out/flattened terrains to the glitzy pedestal sculptures.


When I entered the Isa Genzken show at MOMA I was floored by the beauty of an installation depicting large formally pristine kayak-like shapes lying on the ground (“ellipsoids” and “hyperbolos”) – having no contact with one another, but hovering alongside each other with a do-not-touch-beauty that is rarified. Then I turn around and the aesthetic has shifted. I chuckle to see cement blocks anthropomorphized with T.V. antenna’s shooting out of their heads – inanimate becoming animate, making a point about materials – industrial materials in particular which often seem remote and inaccessible – but now like a magnet I approach what was once unapproachable.


                                      Red-Yellow-Black Double Ellipsoid "52IN", 1982


The whole show is one of contradictions in the service of Isa Genzken’s singular humanity. She tosses off previous restraints, and I imagine her saying “fuck it – I NEED to do this!” And she does. Experimenting with materials – all kinds of detritus from the mechanical/manufactured culture to the throwaways of the consumer-merchandising sphere.


Scale dominates the show not only the physical but the psychological reaches of hierarchy and structure, often woven together - most evident in a group of building columns transmuting into intimate portraits of good friends – each subtly individualized. We are tossed around by architectural scale reduced to accessible mortal proportions.


                                        Fuck the Bauhaus #4, 2000


American capitalistic scope and power are explored; the underbelly of shame and greed, the global reach of violence and mayhem are presented in assemblages utilizing whatever objects (toy cars, dolls, fast-food wrappers, etc.) and materials that are necessary to vent her anger at man’s inhumanity to man. These assemblages employ scale to great emotional effect ie: a building structure becomes larger because a small plastic tree is placed in the tableaux, delicate and fragile; a dreamlike ornament floats next to blood and terror. Installations are ripped from the headlines - the assault on a young schoolgirl being witnessed by her classmates’ cell phone pictures – a room reeking of horror and voyeurism. 


Isa Genzken was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and there is a room devoted to her apocalyptic architectural proposals for Ground Zero that includes a Church, Disco, Hospital, and Memorial Tower. Monuments that do not memorialize but instead bear witness to the act of destruction itself. In Car Park miniature cars are upended in a cage-like structure that is devoid of any possible movement or passage. The journey has ended. 


Isa Genzken’s exhibition can be unabashedly gaudy wrapping the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition with the rubble and sediment of everyday objects. The result is painful and piercingly tender. The sadness enraptures.

Friday, November 19, 2021

BELFAST


 

BELFAST - a film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh is a love ballad to the city of his birth. Most of the actors were also born in Belfast except for Judi Dench (who gives her best performance in years.) Filmed almost entirely in black and white - noir turned on its head - with vivid color blasting into the picture frame when the characters are at the local movie theater or referencing life outside the realm of the small late 1960’s Belfast neighborhood at the beginning of the period of strife in Northern Ireland that is known as “the troubles”.

This is also a domestic story as seen through the eyes of an observant nine-year-old boy “Buddy” who is becoming more aware of the growing strife that will eventually befall Northern Ireland. Belfast is seen as a community that embraces both Catholics and Protestants - everyone knows everyone else and looks out for them regardless of their religious beliefs. There is a collective feeling of shared encumbrance and tender loyalty to place.
BELFAST begins with violence - portending the future, though the film does not mire itself in blood and guts. Rather it concentrates on Buddy, his brother, grandparents, and parents - seeing the whole picture from the view of one frame which encompasses an entirety. His father “Pa” (Jamie Dornan) is away working in England coming home every two weeks. His mother, the beautiful Irish actress “Ma” (Caitriona Balfe) rules the roost while her husband is gone and is fiercely devoted to her family-a tigress protecting her young-racing down the street to protect them or in a scene dancing with her husband both breathtaking in their elegant moments of visual light in the midst of the gray darkness.


The extended family includes the wonderfully wise grandfather, “Pop” Ciaran Hinds who his grandson Buddy adores, and his wife “Granny” played by Judi Dench - not glamorized but a realistically looking grandmother with an edge that comes with living a life of both coquettish love and furrowing fatigue.


As the fighting escalates between Catholics and Protestants the decision whether to leave or stay in Belfast - a city that has enveloped and insulated them since birth is a difficult one and the crux of BELFAST. There is poignancy, warmth, and kindness portrayed in this film and I shed some tears - for me always a sign of sentiment - not sentimentality.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

THE FRENCH DISPATCH 11/6/21



I finally went to the movies after almost 1 3/4 years AND  gleefully bought a bag of "movie" popcorn which had its own smell perhaps coming from the rancid oil which might contribute to its wonderful taste. THE FRENCH DISPATCH directed by Wes Anderson who I feel is one of the most original filmmakers working today is a love letter and a burlesque of THE NEW YORKER magazine from the 1960s including its typography.  The film's structure also references the Sunday NY Times with its different sections -  a partitioning of tales -ie: Arts and Leisure, Design, etc. This is a sophisticated movie which I really believe will leave most audiences totally baffled.


Bill Murray is the Editor-in-Chief who supports his writers, giving them a lot of freedom to communicate in their own styles -  allowing lengthy stories on what is au courant and at the same time is fastidious about punctuation. Many of the New Yorker writers of that period are mentioned - not by name but by reputation.  Unbeknownst to my friend who accompanied me her father who wrote for the New Yorker for over 30 years is referred to and in the closing credits, his name appears along with A.J. Liebling, William Shawn, Harold Ross,  Mavis Gallant, etc. That was a poignant surprise for me - and I am sure for her as well. Regretfully that was my only emotional moment. I laughed a bit; felt nostalgic revisiting the history of my youth and loved seeing Anderson's gorgeous visuals of a fictional French city, and the animation which he throws into stories giving them added spice and beauty.


THE FRENCH DISPATCH  begins with Owen Wilson riding around a fictional town alluding to The New Yorkers' TALK OF THE TOWN - a delightful prelude to the stories to come, though the stories themselves were often silly despite hitting the "commercial" mark like an arrow that arrives at its target bent in the process. The very first narration mocked Abstract Expressionist art depicting artists as lunatics  - yes can be hilarious for some, but hit this artist like a sledgehammer - too hard and too obvious and almost Trumpian in its pedestrian sarcastic viewpoint.


There were also enough famous actors cameos to be a complete distraction trying to figure out "now who is that person????" Despite it all, I am glad I went. The theater was almost empty - maybe 6 people watching, it was great to leave the world of lights for one of darkness with my eyes glued to a screen larger than 21 inches.


May be an illustration of text

Saturday, May 8, 2021

ALICE NEEL RETROSPECTIVE AT MET MUSEUM, NYC 5/8/21




 I met Alice Neel in 1979 when I showed large nudes in Soho and she walked into the Gallery and shrieked "look at that c-nt upon viewing a foreshortened naked woman! At the time Neel was doing a print with a friend who was exhibiting in the next room so she loyally came to see her work. 


Alice was a real character -  who could be both generous and difficult,  passionately connected to the people who inhabited her world(s) be they political, familial or, the neighborhood denizens. I have always felt a real affinity to her choice of subjects since I too paint the "world in which I walk".


The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is a MAJOR retrospective... exhausting in the number of pieces that are hung to the point where I felt some more editing could have been done. BUT "old friends - familiar paintings" were there and looked as fresh as ever. I LOVE seeing her still lives and cityscapes. The color is radiant and Alice's sense of structure is evident - white becomes a color that allows air to enter and surround the painting space so we can breathe more easily. Some paintings are satirical, others are so true to the character of the person that they are often deemed as cruel; others hone in so sensitively to the fragility of being human, that I weep for the model's future navigating life's often harsh demands. 


Her heart is visually open to view; sex is not taboo - many of the men she cohabited with are depicted before and after fucking, revolutionary at any time. Motherhood including the tragedies that she endured are presented, as well as hospitalization brought on by the burdens of grief and anguish after the loss of her baby daughter to Diptheria at 1 year old.


Alice Neel looked like a country lass - rotund and apple-cheeked hanging out with the Bohemians and revolutionaries/anarchists of her time. Her journey included living in Cuba, Greenwich Village,  among other places, and since the mid-1960s on the Upper West Side in a large apartment where her paintings were stored and she set up a studio section to paint. 


This exhibition is worth seeing. I believe that Alice's painting style was uniquely her own often portraying hands and feet as if they were afterthoughts  - appendages that exist -  but are not crucial to a painting - yet when they were NEEDED she knew how to emphasize them. I am in awe of  Alice Neel's spirit - a word I rarely use. She was brave, original, taking risks, and indulged her curious nature -  the highest compliment I bestow on another artist.
























Tuesday, March 9, 2021

THE INVESTIGATION - HBO MAX 3/9/21

 



Anyone who subscribes to HBO Max should try to see THE INVESTIGATION - a Danish six-episode series based on a true story about the investigation into the brutal death of Swedish journalist Kim Wall in 2017 who finally gets a long-sought interview with a Danish inventor (whose name is never mentioned} on his self-built submarine - scheduled for a 2-hour ride which turns out to be eternal.  The story is beautifully conceived - we never meet the perpetrator or the victim. Rather, we get immersed in the tediously fascinating efforts of gathering clues, documentation, and relevant data crucial in order to convict the offender in a court-of-law. The heroes and heroines are those who give up their time and personal lives examining facts. searching for the "what happened?" to find the moment of “truth" to build their case. Often that inquiry involves emotional and painful discoveries that most people would be unable to bear witnessing.






What makes THE INVESTIGATION  so powerful is its silence. The long pauses, the flashes of understanding between the team of detectives, prosecutor, forensic pathologist, and most importantly the deep sea divers whose work is critical in unearthing necessary evidence. During the restrained waiting, the loudest sounds we hear are from the sea - the water and waves rippling along the currents as the divers jump into the black unknown in order to find objects that one would think could never be found in this vast expanse of nature whose horizon is limitless. I was most intrigued by the precise minutia - the people who study the science and plot the mathematics, of finding a “needle in a haystack” alongside the mundane - the extra-ordinary - “cadaver dogs” who can smell the release of body gasses that rise from the bottom of the sea and can pinpoint exactly where the divers should splash into the water and explore.






       


Director Tobias Lindholm’s approach is non-sensational. The actors are perfectly cast - Soren Mailing as Chief of Detectives does not say much but his seemingly impassive face reveals more than reams of dialogue. His concern, kindness, and appreciation are revealed by a modest touch on the shoulder - a gesture of thanks. The murdered journalist’s parents were beautifully cast - Rolf Lassgard and Pernilla August appeared so natural that I never felt they were acting - they existed in a world of grief and unyielding strength which was both agonizing and noble in their endurance.



The quiet of secrecy, the anticipation of discovery, the beauty of courage and resilience is sorrowfully disclosed in THE INVESTIGATION.




Tuesday, November 17, 2020

MY MISTER on Netflix 11/17/20

 



MY MISTER is a Korean 16 part series on Netflix that is deeply human, filled with diverse characters that I cannot get out of my heart or mind’s eye. I truly miss them now that I have finished the series which has lightened me with delight amidst piercing sadness. Despite confusing corporate-culture rankings, despite some overbearing shouting, despite constant drinking, while philosophizing about where lives have gone or are going, there is a kindness and a genuine caring about friends and family that is simply expressed - a sensitivity to others that is rarely seen because it is so silent - facial expressions reveal more than words can.  Throughout the series - there is a lingering feeling of sadness and loss conveyed between the two main characters speechlessly, which I found mournfully eloquent with its unpredictability adding to the mystery of communication and the conflicts that we must endure to just move along.


Class hierarchies and societal norms are fascinating to witness - “saving face” is evident at the highest levels of business to the delicate interactions during mealtimes; eating and socializing express one’s fragile connections. From the highest CEO to the lowest paid worker, each individual’s compassion is revealed even if fleetingly.


A man in his 40’s working as a Structural Engineer, aware of slowly dying from desultory despair. despite being considered a success in the eyes of his family and peers, is caught in a maelstrom of intrigue with a poverty stricken, street smart 21-year old waif who finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy that over 16 episodes alters both their lives and those around them.


There is the “romantic” but not “romance.” There is loyalty born out of love  and need and nurtured by inner strength, and there are beautiful, poetic views of a neighborhood in Seoul which is close knit and protective of their inhabitants. There is also meanness and violence in the shady underbelly of every community but sometimes there is honor among the most ignominious thieves.