Updates, Live

Monday, June 30, 2008

Martin Puryear Exhibition at the National Gallery in DC

Ad Astra, 2007

You see the works of Martin Puryear, you think at Brâncusi. Not only because of the wood: also the same feeling of primary countryside world, of the essential, the basics. A wheel, a cart, a crate, a basket, that's it. Simplicity, purity, the primary universe, in the same time an astonishing subtlety.

However, the two artists are very different. Brâncusi created a new geometry and recreated the world. Puryear is amazed while carving in the world of wood and plays with wizardry.

Maroon, 1987-1988
wire mesh, pine, yellow poplar, tar

Malediction, completed in 2007
thin sheets of red cedar, its knifelike edges protruding from the wall

C.F.A.O. 2006/2007
painted and unpainted pine and found wheelborrow

Timber's Turn, 1987
Honduras mahogany, red cedar, and Douglas fir

(Contemporary Art)
(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

The Five Most Important Movies for Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro made El Laberinto del Fauno, which stands as a crazy masterpiece. I would put it on my top ten list.

Okay, that's my choice: let's see also del Torro's own list as he gave it to Newsweek:

  1. Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel's film is a searing indictment of urban conditions—but also a dark fable): a group of juvenile delinquents live a violent and crime-filled life in the festering slums of Mexico City, and the morals of young Pedro are gradually corrupted and destroyed by the others (Michael Brooke)
  2. The Bride of Frankenstein (moving graveyard poetry; its esthetic legacy can be traced through Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and every neo-Goth in town): Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, reveals to Percy Shelley and Lord Byron that Henry Frankenstein and his Monster did not die; both lived, and went on to even stranger misadventures than before; as the new story begins, Henry wants nothing more than to settle into a peaceful life with his new bride; but his old professor, the sinister Dr. Pretorius, now disgraced, appears unexpectedly; eventually, he and the Monster blackmail him into continuing his work; the Monster wants his creator to build him a friend; and Pretorius wants to see dead tissue become a living woman.;Henry is forced to give his creature a bride (J. Spurlin)
  3. Greed (a brutal 1924 fable about the rotten state of modern man's soul): John McTeague was a simple slow man who became a dentist after working at the Big Dipper Gold Mine; he is now being hunted in Death Valley by his ex-best friend Marcus and the law; his lot was cast the day that he meet his future wife Trina in his office; she was with Marcus and she bought a lottery ticket; well, Mac fell for her and Marcus stepped aside; when Mac and Trina married, she won the Lottery for $5000 and became obsessive about the money in gold; Marcus is steamed as he stepped aside and now she is rich so he has the law shut down Mac as he has no official schooling for his dentistry; Trina fearful that they will take her gold away sells everything and takes all Mac earns when he is working; she adds to her stash of gold as they both live as paupers; when Mac has no job and no money, he leaves and Trina moves; driven to desperation at being poor and hungry he finds Trina and demands the gold (Tony Fontana)
  4. The Gold Rush (has at least a third of Charlie Chaplin's iconic moments): a lone prospector ventures into Alaska looking for gold; he gets mixed up with some burly characters and falls in love with the beautiful Georgia; he tries to win her heart with his singular charm (John J. Magee)
  5. La Chienne (Renoir's film about passion and murder urges us to accept that morality is a burden): cashier Maurice Legrand is married to Adele, a terror; by chance, he meets Lucienne (Lulu), and make her his mistress; he thinks he finally met love, but Lulu is nothing but a streetwalker, in love with Dede, her pimp; she only accepts Legrand to satisfy Dede's needs of money (Yepok)
Old stuff, yes, possibly giving us the key to the universe of del Toro's own movies. The dimensions of El Laberinto del Fauno are to be retrieved there, in the world of Buñuel, of Stroheim, mixed with the grace of Charlot, with the noir poetry of Renoir... only I think that the masterpiece of del Toro added its own dimensions; he started with worlds he was obsessed with, with worlds where he was finding his own questions, answers he was expecting; he constructed his own world, actually his pair of worlds, the one of the daughter, the one of the grown-ups.

I would be curios to know what del Toro thinks about Knife in the Water of Polanski, or about the movies of Kim Ki-Duk: the same idea of two universes flowing in parallel, unaware one of the other.


Manet - A King Charles Spaniel

Édouard Manet - A King Charles Spaniel, c. 1866

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)



Photo of the Day - June 30, 2008

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

Should be Kathleen Sebelius the Running Mate?

Should be Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius the running mate for Senator Obama? It looks like she could take the 3AM calls very well.

Zoon Politikon)

The Seven Lights of Paul Chan

Objects of any kind are floating up to the sky , in a surreal ballet, while humans are falling precipitously from the sky.

Objects are rising graciously, decomposing themselves without any haste: cellular phones and I-Pods, bicycles, SUVs, railroad cars, glasses, TVs and computers, and their components are continuing their delicate way towards celestial realms. Human descending starts by resembling dead leaves, but soon it becomes something like a stone rain.

1st Light, the 16 minutes circular movie by Paul Chan, explores a crazy world on the edge of disintegration; the opposition between upwards and downwards as a surreal calm wrapping a cataclysm; grace and nightmare.

The movie is actually a computer animation, projected on the floor by a device hanged somewhere by the ceiling. I watched it at Hirshhorn: it is part of Realisms, an exhibition of short movies dedicated to the relation between reality and illusion.

It is a fascinating exhibition. You are passing from one room to another, each movie is in an endless loop and the whole exhibition seems to be an endless loop: with each movie you are deeper and deeper in a world of sands, the end appears to be nowhere.

Some of these movies are decomposed in successive parts that run simultaneously on three or four screens. The 1st Light of Chan is the only one projected on the floor.

Paul Chan authored seven such movies: the 7 Lights. Each one is a computer animation projected on the floor (one of them is projected on a wall and the floor), triangular or trapezoidal in shape: a cycle of day and night, sunrise to sunset, dialogs between light and shadow, inside and outside, slow and fast, order and chaos, edenic utopia and dystopic apocalypse. You can watch them all at this web site, as they were presented in an exhibition at New Museum, the shocking new art tower on Bowery Street in New York.

- New Museum on Bowery Street -

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Manet - Oysters

Édouard Manet - Oysters, 1862

Oysters call in mind refinement and also something free and wild. Léon-Paul Fargue famously wrote, j'adore les huîtres: on a l'impression d'embrasser la mer sur la bouche. Everybody knows this quote, seemingly nobody knows which of his books it comes from.

Here is another quote from Léon-Paul Fargue, en art, il faut que la mathématique se mette aux ordres des fantômes.

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)



Judith Shea - Approaching the Figurative with a Sense of Humor

Judith Shea - Post Balzac, 1991
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Judith Shea (born 1948) started as a fashion designer, then she became a Minimalist sculptor. After stages in Italy and Mexico her art evolved towards questioning what should be today the meaning of Figurative, and not only: questioning the whole history of sculpture.

You'd be surprised, but I think there is some resemblance with the universe of de Chirico.

Storage, 1999-1999, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, MO

Without Words, 1988, Minneapolis Walker Art Center
bronze, marble, limestone

Crawl, 1983, MoMA

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Photo of the Day - June 28, 2008

(Washington, District of Columbia)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Land Art: Waterfalls of New York

At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side.

Waterfalls of New York. There are four of them, and they will stay on East River for three months and a half. This is what contemporary dictionaries call Land Art. Minimalism evolved into Conceptual Art, more and more artists considered their works in relation with the ambient, and time came when the mere room in an exhibition, or a sculpture garden became no more sufficient for defining an ambient: the artwork had to confront the natural environment.

Now, I should say that once the ambient became the natural environment the art started to go back toward Minimalism: to speak about Conceptual Art makes full sense when the artwork is considered within an exhibition room, it becomes arguable when the ambient is sea shore or desert.

Land Art started by the sixties in the deserts of Nevada, and Utah, and Arizona: Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, James Turrell, Michael Heizer. What was this confrontation with the natural environment? Says Walter de Maria, creating situations where the landscape and nature, light and weather would become an intense, physical and psychic experience.

Then came the urban environments: Christo and Jeanne-Claude with their Gates, in Manhattan's Central Park.

The new Land Artwork, the Cascades on the East River, has Olafur Eliasson as main author: a Danish-Icelandic artist in his forties, known for the Weather Project, installed at 2003/2004 at Tate Modern: weather as the basis for exploring ideas about experience, mediation and representation.

I think I won't be able to make it this summer, to visit New York, so I'll miss the Cascades. Or, who knows? Maybe some time in July or August, just for a weekend?

If I look at the photos published by NY Times, probably the best view would be from Brooklyn Heights: it is a gorgeous view anyway from there, with or without Waterfalls.

I think I was on the Brooklyn Heights twice. The first time I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and I continued up to the Promenade on the Heights.

And I was happy; I had seen the Brooklyn Heights before in a movie and my sister had driven me on the expressway under the terrace. Now I was on the Heights, enjoying the great panorama.

I came back there the second time with my friends Nadia and Vladi. Vladi was driving the car, and there was also a Romanian friend of them, the author Horia Arama.

There is a place near Brooklyn Heights where newly married come to make photos: that time when we were there, Nadia, Vladi, Horia, and me, there were three or four couples of just married Koreans.

I met again Horia in Bucharest. I was in a short vacation and we met by chance at a Book Fare. We remembered Brooklyn Heights and also our first encounter, in a small restaurant on the Prince Street, the Milady's. But this is another story which deserves a post on its own.

Vlady told me after many other months that Horia had died. A man whom I met three times only, but each time was meaningful.

Okay, let's come back to the Waterfalls of New York City. Here is a review by Roberta Smith from today's NY Times:

When Walt Whitman crossed the East River on the Brooklyn Ferry, the sheer ecstasy of the trip made him see the future. It was us, the coming generations of urban dwellers who would draw the same energy he did from his wonderful town and its waterways.

Whitman imagined an essence of city life that is still palpable — and intoxicating — no matter how many changes we lament. But I doubt he could have conjured one thing that we can see for the next three and a half months: the waterfalls in our midst.

Four of them, to be exact. Together they form a mammoth work of shoreline land art called The New York City Waterfalls . It is the brainchild of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson working with the tireless Public Art Fund and a host of public and private organizations and donors. Between 90 and a 120 feet high and up to 80 feet across, they cascade into Whitman’s beloved East River from four dense, plumbed scaffolding structures on or just off the coasts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governors Island, making some of New York’s most thrilling waterside vistas more so.

Sometimes Mr. Eliasson’s falls are almost miragelike, especially after dark, when unobtrusive lighting makes them shimmer white against the muffled cityscape. It is at night that you have the greatest chance of hearing them from a distance, otherwise the rush of water is drowned out by the city. But their quiet heightens their strangeness, day or night. It is as if they were in their own movie, a silent one. And in a way they are. They could almost fool King Kong into thinking he is back home. They are the remnants of a primordial Eden, beautiful, uncanny signs of a natural nonurban past that the city never had.

Sometimes when the wind is brisk, and the steel scaffolding is especially visible, the falls inspire more nuts-and-bolts associations. They can send the mind to the Cyclone of Coney Island and those towers from which daredevil riders and their hapless steeds used to jump, or to old Times Square with its ambitious billboards. If you get really close to them, you’ll see that the water is carried upward by what are essentially common New York apartment-building plumbing risers (18 inches in diameter, and occurring every 10 feet across).

The waterfalls run every day, from morning until 10 at night. Which is to say that they can be turned off, unlike the city that never sleeps. (They do turn off automatically if the wind is too strong.) Unlike real waterfalls, they continuously recirculate river water, meaning that they are, technically speaking, fountains. In the same vein the work’s very title is an oxymoron. After all, it was the relative dearth of real waterfalls that fostered New York’s nearly instant success and glamour as a port city.

But The New York City Waterfalls is also one of the largest works of art, public or otherwise, of our modern era. (Let’s not get in a shouting match with ancient civilizations, where autocratic rule made all sorts of things possible.) The piece is an heir to the monumental site-specific artworks whose most spectacular examples were made (and in some cases still are being made) in the distant reaches of the Nevada and Utah deserts starting in the late 1960s and the ’70s by earth artists like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, James Turrell and Michael Heizer. Ever since, younger, less isolationist artists have figured out ways to do something similar in the urban environment, within reach of a large public. In this they have followed the example of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose 2005 Gates ostentatiously swathed Central Park in orange.

The waterfalls are an astounding feat of engineering, municipal coordination and fund-raising (given their $15 million price tag). But they are also actually relatively unobtrusive and brilliantly insidious. They go against the grain of the often spectacular nature of quite a bit of the best-known public art, including some made by Mr. Eliasson himself.

Mr. Eliasson likes to think big about ways to enhance the experience of light, space, scale, nature and community. His best known work is the 2003 Weather Project, an immense installation of the jaw-dropping kind. Using bright yellow fluorescent lights behind a scrim and a mirrored ceiling, it created an immense glowing sun on the end wall of Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall, while also mechanically adding bits of mist and fog to the view.

For months Londoners basked in the work’s artificial glow, often while stretched out on the ground gazing up at their tiny reflections. Sometimes they collaborated on performance pieces visible to everyone, arranging their prone bodies in words of greeting or protest or in abstract designs. Some people hated the work, seeing it as a dwarfing spectacle with fascist overtones; others complained that it turned the museum into a giant playpen.

Here Mr. Eliasson takes a more subtle tack. The falls don’t bowl you over or dwarf you until you get close to them, and even then not always. Mostly they accumulate in a way art purists may welcome with buzzwords like de-centering and discursive. Despite its size, the work has to be assembled and reassembled by individual viewers who will see its parts from hundreds of different vantage points along the river.

Even when you go to one of the places where all four waterfalls are visible at once, the spectacular character of the piece builds slowly. From the top level of the Pier 17 building in the South Street Seaport, for example, the widest fall, spouting from beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and veiling the Brooklyn-side pylon in sheets of white water, is easy enough to spot. The others , smaller and more distant, must be picked out one by one. To the right, the second Brooklyn falls, on the Brooklyn Piers, can almost get lost in the jumble of buildings. Up river a bit the Manhattan falls stand out on the short Pier 35 yet seem a little dwarfed, like a water slide without its slide. To the far right, the falls on Governors Island are especially beautiful. Rising above the relatively low-lying profile like a tropical vision, they seem to waiting for the jungle to grow up around them.

The experience of Mr. Eliasson’s artful addition to the urban landscape depends on everything around it — the city’s changing pace, light and (real) weather. And on you. The falls can be looked at from near or far, alone or in groups, on foot or bike, from boats and bridges, in snatched glimpses on the move or staying-in-place contemplation. They fake natural history with basic plumbing, making little rips in the urban fabric through which you glimpse hints of lost paradise and get a sharpened sense of Whitman’s, the one you already inhabit.

(Contemporary Art)

(New York, New York)

Here is Elsewhere - Robert Gober

Robert Gober - Untitled, 1991
wax, fabric, leather, human hair, wood

Robert Gober is a uniquely American artist. His images evolve from our everyday domestic lives and are transformed into haunting objects that live in the twilight separating the actual from the dreamed. In his sculptures, the ordinary becomes slightly strange, and a subtle dose of unease is injected into the mundane.

(Contemporary Art)


Bab'Aziz - a movie by Nacer Khemir (2005)

A blind dervish (Bab'Aziz) took his granddaughter (Ishtar) on a journey through the desert for a great gathering of dervishes that happens once in thirty years. The place of the gathering is unknown and the sand storms change each day the position of dunes. The only guide is the faith of the old.

To entertain the little Ishtar, Grandpa tells her a story about a prince who contemplated his soul in the mirror of a small pool... till he forgot the visible world and became a dervish.

There are sudden encounters in their journey through desert: one guy is in search of the killer of his brother, another one is in search of his love... And each of them has a story to tell, just to entertain little Ishtar.

Sometimes they encounter other dervishes, going to the same gathering: only each of them follows a different direction. It seems that the gathering would be in spirit rather than in some geographical place.

Images are of a haunting beauty: the immensity of the desert, the rare trees, birds, rocks trying to make their life there, the sudden oasis with houses made of clay, the paradox of ghost houses surrounded by myriads of people, the mosque, unexpected and weird, like the church from Tarkovski's Stalker.

The music is great, and makes the movie a ballad: it is like the songs make the statement and images and dialog just emphasize. Of course songs are not translated, but give you the mood.

It is not easy at all to follow the story: it comes from a very different culture, with its own rhythms, its own poetry, its own logical connections. For us it is like floating in plain paradox.

For those who haven't seen it yet, think at the movies of Parajanov. It is not an easy movie, but if you overcome the difficulties, you'll get the incomparable beauty of the story.

There are moments that do not come often to us - we should be prepared for them. Encounter with love, with death. Death as the way to enter the great realm that we lost at birth.

And the granddaughter, learning this lesson of life on the way, along with us, who are watching the movie and follow her journey.

Great movie!


(Iranian Film and Poetry)


Trying to Film a Young Deer

Trying to film a young deer in the wood near Vienna Metro Station in Northern Virginia.

(Around Fairfax Circle)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Notebooks of Camus

I read l'Etranger and also La Peste during my military service: as any college graduate of my youth times I had to be a private for six months. I was in my early twenties, enthusiast and eager to read all good stuff.

I found firstly A Farewell to Arms of Hemingway and I discovered my sense of humor: to dream at taking your farewell to arms when you have just entered the military. To be honest I did not appreciate Hemingway much by that time; it would take years to realize the greatness of his novels.

It was Malraux's La Condition Humaine that I greatly appreciated (and I would later appreciate it much more, after having the French version); and it was also Kafka's Der Prozeß; Malraux and Kafka seemed to me the two poles of my universe.

I found then Camus and his books became my companions, as I realized that he was the synthesis of the opposite visions of Malraux and Kafka.

His understanding of the realities of our subconscious, of the mechanics of our impulses, his engagement for human solidarity, his refusal of any intolerance... was he an atheist? In his Notebooks he would say, I do not believe in God and I am not an atheist. Well, he was actually an atheist refusing nihilism and looking for a sense.

I would say that he was looking for something to make sense the day after we establish that all illusions are dead: what remains beyond all illusions, beyond all systems and beliefs? What is the absolute, that remains valid regardless of our beliefs and engagements? His answer was: human solidarity and human tolerance.

I would find another answer after many years: Paul Tillich explaining that what we perceive as the death of God is actually the death of a culture; that we find God only after we become fully aware that anything is lost but God; anything, including the projection of God in our cultural universe.

Let's put it in other way. What is to be done in the Day One after the day our universe died? The answer of Camus: we remain to face it together. The answer of Tillich: after our universe dies what remains is the Universe; what dies is our conception about universe.

Well, there is now a question: what if Tillich is wrong? What if we find nothing after we lost everything? Will it remain solidarity and tolerance? Or only the bet of Pascal, with a very funny YOU LOST stamped on it as answer?

Any of us has her or his own response. Camus says SOLIDARITY; Tillich says HOPE. I believe now rather in the philosophy of Tillich, because it is positive (or because I'm now old); but I will admire the nobility of Camus's approach for ever. And I will be totally on Camus's side in his refusal to take sides.

The English translation of the third volume of Camus's Notebooks was just published and Richard Eder makes the review in today's NY Times. Here it is:
Albert Camus was one of the two pillars of postwar French literature. The other was Jean-Paul Sartre, his comrade in letters if not quite in arms (during the Resistance, Camus dangerously put out a clandestine newspaper, while Sartre stayed safely studying and writing). Then in the early 1950s, they bitterly split.Camus’s pillar stood in Paris, but in a sense it belonged elsewhere: perhaps among the Corinthian columns in North Africa’s Hellenistic ruins. He was a French Algerian, of course, but the point isn’t his provenance but his temperament. He was Mediterranean, a creature of sun and water, fierceness and the senses.

In Paris, with its cool symmetries, he was, to adapt a French saying, uncomfortable in his skin — the constricting ideological precision that
Sartre and his fellow intellectuals fitted on him. They treated him as a marvel, and then when he rebelled against their leftist rigor, they condemned him.

This odd unsuitability, both of emotions and the mind, comes to life in the third and last volume of
Camus’s Notebooks, appearing in an English translation (by Ryan Bloom) 19 years after they came out in French.

The split took place when
Camus took issue with the absolutism of revolutions. Seeking to realize their ideals, he argued, they end up using violence and tyranny. It was an attack on Soviet Communism at a time when Sartre and his followers were becoming its increasingly rigid supporters.

They insisted that overt repression, however repellent, was the only way to fight the insidious structural tyranny of colonialist capitalism. One must choose, painfully. No we mustn’t,
Camus rejoined: neither be killers nor victims.

In his
Notebooks Camus excoriates the newly achieved revolutionary spirit, nouveau riche, and Pharisees of justice. He names Sartre and his followers, who seem to make the taste for servitude a sort of ingredient of virtue.

He mocks their conformism: cowardly, besides, he implies, citing the story of a child who announced her plan to join
the cruelest party. Because: If my party is in power, I’ll have nothing to fear, and if it is the other, I’ll suffer less since the party which will persecute me will be the less cruel one.Camus writes more generally: Excess in love, indeed the only desirable, belongs to saints. Societies, they exude excess only in hatred. This is why one must preach to them an intransigent moderation.

A convenient refusal to take sides, as
Sartre and his circle insisted? There was nothing convenient in Camus. He was closer to Milovan Djilas, once a hard-line Communist, then jailed by Tito, and in the end proclaiming his battle-won political credo: the unperfect society.

The most interesting aspect of the
Notebooks is not politics but its personal substratum. Beneath Camus’s ideological quarrels is a deeper unhappiness with the critical bent of the Paris intelligentsia. Curious milieu, he writes of La Nouvelle Revue Française, whose function it is to create writers, and where, however, they lose the joy of writing and creating.

It is, in part, the Southerner’s discomfort with the North, with the centralization dating back to the Capet dynasties that drew France’s energies up to Paris. On a trip to Italy Camus writes:
Already the Italians on the train, and soon those of the hotel as well, have warmed my heart. People whom I have always liked and who make me feel my exile in the French people’s perpetual bad mood.

There is an exultant feel of liberation — and some of his most beautiful writing — as he evokes Italy’s cities and landscapes, and recites the place names of Greece as if they were incantations. Of Mycenae at sunset:
The space is immense, the silence so absolute that the foot regrets having caused a stone to roll. A train chuffs in the distance, on the plain a donkey brays, and the sound rises up to us, the herds’ bells rush down the slopes like a whisper of water.

He writes of his mix of happiness and depression after winning the Nobel Prize —
frightened by what happens to me, what I have not asked for — and the angry attacks it provoked from the Paris left. He writes of his wife’s depression and his lovers (many). I don’t seduce, I surrender. Later he varies this to fit Don Juan, who, not surprisingly, fascinates him: I don’t seduce, I adapt.

He travels to his birthplace.
Honeysuckle — for me, its scent is tied to Algiers. It floated in the streets that led toward the high gardens where the girls awaited us. Vines, youth. It was a memory that fought against politics. Camus could not put aside the reality of the French settlers. The vicious war between French forces and the F.L.N. — the Algerian nationalists — was his own civil war.

He writes to an Algerian friend, an
F.L.N. supporter: You should not ignore the shooting, nor justify that they shoot at the French-Algerians in general, and thus entangled, shoot at my family, who have always been poor and without hatred ... No cause, even if it had remained innocent and just, will ever tear me from my mother, who is the greatest cause that I know in the world.

(Le Parnasse des Lettres)


Mark di Suvero: Aurora

A walk through the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery in DC, focused to capture the essence of Aurora: is Mark di Suvero an Abstract Expressionist, as he is known, or rather a Constructivist, willing to start the reconstruction of the world from some basic geometrical shapes?

The video shows also some other artworks from the garden, by Joel Shapiro, Ellsworth Kelly, and Scott Burton.

I tried also to take some photos of the sculpture from various angles. Here you go:

(Washington DC National Gallery of Art)

(Contemporary Art)

Architecture in the Post-Global World

Beijing, Olympic Stadium
Engagement is the best way of moving in the right direction
(Jacques Herzog, architect of the Olympic Stadium)

(Contemporary Art)


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Julian Rosefeldt - Lonely Planet, 2006

Julian Rosefeldt in a scene of his movie, Lonely Planet

I watched last Sunday Lonely Planet, at Hirshhorn. It is a pure gem. I watched it three or four times in a row, so stunning it was. A circular movie of 16 minutes. Each scene is fabulous and the way one scene evolves from the other is natural to perfection.

Firstly, a bit of info of what Lonely Planet means: it's a publishing company specialized in tourist guides for travel on the cheap; targets hippies of all kind who dream at distant exotic countries and long journeys on a shoestring, taking local buses, eating at street stalls, sleeping at villagers.

Our hero is such a guy, traversing India with a Che-adorned backpack, a T-Shirt with the image of some Hindu goddess, bandana, bored face behind dark glasses, flip-flops.

We see him advancing in a desert that suddenly becomes the wide shore of a large river. A small boat is there, he pushes the boat into the water and jumps. The boat starts toward the other side of the river: the panorama of a big city. Our hero is not alone on the boat, now you see a couple of guys who operate the thing. And everything, river, boat, city panorama, are watched by a huge crowd, gathered in an enormous movie theater: all action is taking place on a huge screen. So, a movie within a movie.

Our hero approaches now the city and starts to climb wide steps, advancing into a crowd of guys who seem enthusiastic in a bizarre way - either mocking him or actually realizing that they are filmed.

The guy makes somehow his way and walks for a little while on a large street with busy traffic, not realizing that he is on the wrong side, against the sense of cars.

He enters a railroad station with trains in all directions to find himself quickly in a very modern computing center, with hundreds of programmers and operators, with supervisors gliding from one desk to the other.

But the movie is within the other movie, so the attendance in the huge theater is watching the ballet of the supervisor among computers and programmers, when suddenly our hero leaves the screen and enters the movie theater, advancing up the steps, as the attendance is manifesting the same bizarre enthusiasm, either mocking him or realizing that they are part of a movie themselves.

Again our guy makes his way against the crowd, gets out on the street, advances through a poor neighborhood towards one of the run-down houses, enters inside and finds himself in a Bollywood studio.
Here everything is surrounded and penetrated by wooden scaffolding, and our hero is stopped by two girls to prepare him with the make-up. As they finish, the guy is caught in the middle of a frenetic Oriental-Pop dance performed by everybody there.

So he passes them and gets to an empty street with empty houses: a ghost town.
A huge installation with a movie camera is following him. Do they film him or the mosque that is in the front? Or is it a set, like all that we have seen? Difficult to answer, as the guy is passing by the mosque and continuing his way in a desert that suddenly becomes the wide shore of a large river.

One would consider this movie as a search for the meaning of real versus imaginary: the question that has troubled all modern artists - the relationship between objects and their images, between object and symbol, between life and its image.

Also here is a another search, for understanding the opposition between two cultures, European versus Indian, the way Europeans perceive Indian image, and vice versa, the way Indians see European image. Indian reality versus Indian image in our eyes, European reality versus European image in their eyes. In an endless loop, as the movie is circular: the way we perceive the way they perceive us, and so on, further and further.

Well, I think the movie is much more. There are subtle references to great authors: the panorama of the city at the border of Ganges is a powerful reference to Aparajito of Satyajit Ray. The whole movie references Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, and it is an interesting reference because it's kind of mocking Vertov.

I think some other references are somehow converted by Rosefeldt in their Indian version: how would look Cinema Paradiso transplanted in an enormous Indian movie hall? Or the Odessa steps from Potemkin? Or An American in Paris danced in Bollywod? Or how would look Bergman played in a deserted cowboy town recreated as a Hindi ghost town?

And all these references make sense, because it is the Movie of all Movies, challenged by Reality; and it is the Indian Reality as it is perceived by an European, because it is the Reality of all Realities, challenged as an Illusion.

It is amazing.


I will add to this post a presentation of stills from the movies of Julian Rosefeldt. Just enjoy.

(German and Nordic Cinema)

(Hirshhorn Museum)

Conceptual Art: Dan Graham

This Minimalist ensemble by Dan Graham is right in the middle of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Two way mirror, steel, wood: perhaps the term of Installation would fit better than sculpture.

I said Minimalist: actually it is a bit more, and Graham made the journey from Minimalism to Conceptualism. Trying to understand what Conceptual Art means is challenging (not that Minimalism would be much easier). If we stick to Sol LeWitt's definition (in Conceptual Art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art) we will not advance too far.

Looking at the artwork of Dan Graham will give us at least some insights:
  • Conceptualism evolved from Minimalism
  • Conceptualism takes more interest in the relationship between artwork and ambient
  • Using the term Installation instead of any traditional term (like sculpture) makes sense: a Conceptual artwork is installed in an ambient and the dialog with the ambient is crucial
  • Anyway, all traditional categories of art are no more applicable and any ready-made object can become an artwork in its own right
  • The definition given by Tony Godfrey (Conceptual Art is an Art which questions the very nature of what is understood as Art) makes sense: we know at least what Conceptual Art is not

(Hirshhorn Museum)

(Contemporary Art)


Monday, June 23, 2008

Journey to the West

First it was the book, Journey to the West: I had read the novel long time ago, in a Romanian translation (Calatorie spre Soare Apune). It's a classic of the Chinese literature: the legend of a Buddhist monk (Tripitaka) who journeyed from China to India (so to the West) to get the correct version of the Scriptures.

A stone monkey was part of his team - a witty guy always ready for a foolishness or two while also capable of saving his master from tight spots of all sorts.

Then there was the movie of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Puppetmaster, and I learned that puppet theaters are the most popular performances in Taiwan (and that Li Tian-Lu is their greatest puppetmaster). And then it was another movie, by Zhang Yi-Mou, To Live, and I understood that puppet performances are the most popular all over China.

So I went to watch the performance of the troupe of Liao Wen-Ho, having in memory the great Chinese classical and the works of two great masters of contemporary cinematography. And I was captivated by the pace of the performance, by the imagination and the wit: so I realized why they made such a passion for puppets. It was fine.

Then there was another play, The Brave Boy.

The story is of course very entertaining: a princess was kidnapped by some perverts and it takes a village to rescue her. There is a Master Kung-Fu who fights for the good cause, only he smokes too much which explains why he lost his fighting abilities. Eventually Brave Boy (kind'o Charming Prince) solves the matter and frees the princess. They lived happily ever after.

(A Life in Books)

Gândindu-l pe Shakespeare: Eminesciene

Shakespeare, adesea te gândesc cu jale,
Prieten bun al sufletului meu,
Ecoul viu al versurilor tale
Îmi sare-n gând, şi le repet mereu.

De-aş fi trăit când tu trăiai pe lume,
Te-aş fi iubit atât cât te iubesc?
Caci tot ce simt - tot ție-ți multumesc,
Tu mi-ai deschis a ochilor lumină,
M-ai invățat ca lumea s-o citesc.



Labels: ,

Chinghiz Aitmatov

Chinghiz Aitmatov (1928 - 2008)

Если ты и вправду слышишь, о боже, мою молитву, которую я повторяю вслед за праотцами из заученных книг, то услышь и меня.

Oh God, if Thou really hear my prayer, by which I'm following my forefathers, from old books of wisdom, then Thou will listen to me.

Вот мы стоим здесь, на обрыве Малакумдычап, в безлюдном и диком месте, потому что не удалось похоронить нам его на завещанном кладбище. А коршун в небе смотрит на нас, как стоим мы с раскрытыми ладонями и прощаемся с Казангапом. Ты, великий, если ты есть, прости нас и прими захоронение раба твоего Казангапа с милостью, и если он того заслуживает, определи его душу на вечный покой.

Here we stand, on the break of Malakumdychar, in an uninhabited and wild place, because it was not possible for us to bury him in our sacred place of burial. But the hawk in the sky looks on us, as we are standing with the opened hands and say goodbye to him. Thou, great God, if Thou exist, forgive us and accept the burial of Thy slave, accept it with Thy kindness, and if it is that what he deserves, lay its soul to the eternal rest.

Все, что от нас зависело, мы постарались сделать. Остальное за тобой!

As of which depended on us, we tried to do everything. Thou should do what we couldn't.

И дольше века длится день (The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years)

(Жизнь в Kнигах)

Coastal Drives


Comedian George Carlin Passed Away

Comedian George Carlin, a true counterculture genius and hero, has passed away (AP).


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Contemporary Architecture

It's the ultimate wildlife-viewing platform: rising from a rocky outcropping and overlooking a tree-lined creek, this Sonoran Desert home features a sculptural window wall and a cantilevered concrete patio that expand the house toward the water (Dream Houses).

The author is the architect Will Bruder.

(Contemporary Art)


Friday, June 20, 2008

I ♥ Paris

Photo by Ghada Amer, 1991

Relax guys: it's not what you think. Read her page published by Gagosian, then watch this video:

(Paris - A Gift for Jean)

Hopper - People in the Sun, 1960

Almost each work of Hopper is intriguing. There is a tension, you feel that there is some hidden story behind.

Here, in the canvas from the American Art Museum, I can feel an ironic approach. Sure, you see here the main theme of Hopper, the solitude; in this case the solitude in the middle of the crowd. However, it's not only that. Each guy here is concerned strictly to get her or his portion of sun, period. Totally unaware of the others, unhaunted by any hidden story from the past, any old corpse in the closet, any forgotten ghost in the dreams (reason: they are not dreaming), not waiting for any sudden story in the future. No tension here. They simply don't care.

(American Art and Portraiture)



Weegee's Manhattan

Weegee on the fire escape in front of his studio on Centre Market Place, ab. 1939
(Photographer unidentified)

Crime was Weegee's Oyster: so starts an article on today's NY Times about Weegee, one of the most famous photographers that rendered us the Manhattan as a naked city. The article is authored by John Strausbaugh. I used also the photos associated with it to give you a glimpse of what it means a naked Manhattan.

Here you go:

On the north side of Broome Street, between the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, you can stand where a dead guy once lay. Of course in New York City you can stand on lots of spots where dead people once lay. There are, after all, eight million stories in the naked city, as the narrator of The Naked City, the 1948 film noir classic, intoned. But as Andrew Izzo sprawled on this sidewalk on the Lower East Side in 1942, Arthur Fellig, one of the city’s most famous photographers, took his picture.

Late on the night of Feb. 2, 1942, Izzo and accomplices tried to hold up the Spring Arrow Social & Athletic Club, near the Bowery. Shot by an off-duty cop, Izzo staggered toward Elizabeth Street and fell dead on his face, his gun skittering across the sidewalk.

The first photographer on the scene was Fellig, better known as Weegee. He was almost always the first photographer on the scene.

Born Usher Fellig in 1899, in an eastern province of Austria, he came with his family through Ellis Island (where his name was Americanized to Arthur) to the Lower East Side in 1910. He left home as a teenager and began working as an assistant to a street photographer who shot tintypes of children on a pony. Through the 1920s he worked as a darkroom assistant at The New York Times and Acme Newspictures, which was later absorbed by U.P.I. Photos.

Weegee’s peak period as a freelance crime and street photographer was a whirl of perpetual motion running from the mid-1930s into the postwar years. Ceaselessly prowling the streets during the graveyard shift, he took thousands of photographs that defined Manhattan as a film noir nightscape of hoodlums and gangsters, Bowery bums and slumming swells, tenement dwellers and victims of domestic brawls, fires and car crashes. He gave it its enduring nickname, the Naked City.

Weegee captured night in New York back when it was lonely and desolate and scary, said Tim McLoughlin, editor of the Brooklyn Noir anthology series, the third volume of which has just been published by Akashic Books. He once said he wanted to show that in New York 10 ½ million people lived together in a state of total loneliness.

Manhattan has changed a lot since Weegee’s heyday. Now the Naked City is probably best preserved in the archives of the International Center of Photography, which houses some 20,000 of Weegee’s photographs, along with hundreds of his filmstrips, the newspapers and magazines where his work originally appeared, and two of his hats.

Christopher George, an archivist at the center, has created online maps of many Manhattan sites associated with Weegee. He led me to Centre Market Place, between Broome and Grand Streets. It’s now a quiet row of renovated town houses in the shadow of the former Police Headquarters building, itself converted to luxury apartments.

But when Weegee lived in a single room at 5 Centre Market Place from the mid-1930s to 1947, the street was a drab block of tenements inhabited by reporters and photographers who worked the crime beat. No. 4, known as the shack, was their main hangout. Frank Lava’s gunsmith shop, with its wooden revolver sign, was at No. 6. Weegee lived over the John Jovino Gun Shop at 5. (It has since moved, with its own revolver sign, around the corner to Grand Street.) You can still see over the door at No. 7 the gold-lettered sign for Sile Inc., purveyor of Humane Police Equipment.

Every morning the narrow block was crowded with paddy wagons (Weegee called them pie wagons), bringing in the night’s arrests from various precincts for booking and processing. The newshounds crowded the sidewalk for the morning perp walk, when cops paraded their handcuffed catch.

The perp walk is a combination of courtesy and hubris on the part of the police department, said Mr. McLoughlin, a former court officer who bought his first service revolver at Jovino’s shop in 1983. The press wants the photos, and the police want the credit. So the perp walk could be rather elaborately planned.

Weegee sometimes bribed the police to bring a perp in a different entrance, so he’d be the only guy standing there with his camera, while everybody else was waiting around the corner, Mr. McLoughlin said. One of his most striking perp-walk shots was of Norma Parker, a pretty young woman who in 1936 held up a number of restaurants on lower Broadway using a cap pistol, for which The Daily Mirror nicknamed her the Broadway Gun Girl.

Crime was my oyster, Weegee wrote in his 1961 memoir, Weegee by Weegee. I was friend and confidant to them all. The bookies, madams, gamblers, call girls, pimps, con men, burglars and jewel fencers. For his behind-bars portraits of famous gangsters like Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Waxey Gordon and Mad Dog Coll, colleagues called him the official photographer for Murder, Inc.

An enthusiastic promoter of his own legend (he billed himself as Weegee the Famous and the World’s Greatest Photographer), Weegee claimed that his elbow itched when news was about to happen. Somehow, the word spread that I was psychic because I always managed to have my pictures in the hands of the paper before any news of the event was generally known, he wrote in Weegee by Weegee. Co-workers gave him his nickname after the rage of the time, the Ouija board, and he phoneticized it as Weegee.

His prescience was aided by the police and fire department short-wave radios he installed near his bed (though he had no telephone, claiming he was allergic to it) and in his ’38 Chevy. In the car’s trunk he carried photo equipment, a typewriter for photo captions, clothes, salamis and cigars.

From Centre Market Place, Weegee often strolled over to the Bowery for both work and relaxation. Walking the Bowery today, you encounter striking juxtapositions, like homeless men from the Bowery Residents’ Committee shelter cadging smokes outside the former CBGB next door, now a John Varvatos store selling $500 sweaters. In Weegee’s day similar culture clashes happened at Sammy’s Bowery Follies (267 Bowery, between East Houston and Stanton Streets), which from 1934 to 1970 attracted what The New York Times once described as a mixed crowd of drunks and swells, drifters and celebrities, the rich and the forgotten.

Weegee (who disparaged The Times as a paper for the well-off Manhattan establishment) called Sammy’s the poor man’s Stork Club and wrote in the newspaper PM in 1944: There’s no cigaret girl — a vending machine puts out cigarets for a penny apiece. There’s no hatcheck girl — patrons prefer to dance with their hats and coats on. But there is a lulu of a floor show.

Among the regulars, he wrote in his 1945 book, Naked City, was a woman they called Pruneface and a midget who walked the streets dressed as a penguin to promote cigarettes. When the midget got drunk, Weegee wrote, he offered to fight any man his size in the house.

Weegee held two book parties there. At the photography center Mr. George showed me silent-film footage taken in 1946 at the party for Weegee’s second book, Weegee’s People. Pretty uptown blondes and dowagers in pearls mingle with toothless crones and panhandlers, as models parade in their foundation garments, and a man with a flea circus puts his tiny performers through their paces.

Next door in front of No. 269 (now the Bowery & Vine liquor store), Weegee performed one of his psychic feats. Late on Christmas Eve 1942, he snapped a shot of a local inebriate collapsed on the sidewalk. As Weegee continued on he heard a commotion behind him. The man had stumbled into the street and been struck down by a taxi. Weegee labeled his photographs of the incident Before and After.

Around the corner, the proprietor of a cafe at 10 Prince Street, where a coffee shop is today, was smoking a cigarette outside on the evening of Nov. 16, 1939, when an unknown gunman shot him dead. When Weegee arrived moments later, the body was still lying in the doorway, and the fire escapes of all the tenements on the block, which remain largely unchanged today, were crowded with gawkers. He captioned the photograph Balcony Seats at a Murder.

Sixty years later history sadly repeated itself at this address when robbers shot and killed the owner and the manager of the Connecticut Muffin Company.

By the end of the war, Weegee was in fact Weegee the Famous. Short and pug-ugly, with a boxy Speed Graphic camera always in hand and a cigar permanently in his teeth, he was recognized throughout the city and, increasingly, the country.

His book inspired The Naked City, a film in which Weegee makes a fleeting, Hitchcock-like appearance. That prompted a move to Hollywood, where Weegee hobnobbed with stars and got tiny acting parts in a few more films. But he never really fit into what he called the Land of the Zombies and moved back to Manhattan in 1951.

His crime photography days were over. Until his death in 1968 he experimented with film and trick photography and toured the United States and Europe, giving lectures and enjoying his fame. In his travels he met Peter Sellers on the Dr. Strangelove movie set; an excerpt from an audiotaped conversation is on YouTube.

In 1968 the theater and film director Syeus Mottel, who was experimenting with still photography, was walking in Washington Square Park with a girlfriend. I see Weegee sitting on a bench looking very forlorn, with an old camera, really a piece of junk, hanging from his neck, Mr. Mottel recently recalled. When I asked if he had any advice for a young photographer, he said, Yeah, sharp elbows. While the young woman charmed Weegee, Mr. Mottel took photographs. When it came time for dinner, Weegee suggested Bernstein-on-Essex, a kosher Chinese restaurant.

In 1957, suffering from diabetes, Weegee took a small apartment at 451 West 47th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, a town house owned by his friend Wilma Wilcox, an amateur photographer. When he died he left the place crowded with equipment and stacks and stacks of thousands of photos and negatives strewn about, Mr. George said. His philosophy of archiving was to keep everything in a barrel, so if anyone wanted anything, they’d come over and fish. Much of that material came in the early 1990s to the International Center of Photography, which has mounted several exhibitions.

Along with everything else there was a cardboard box labeled ‘Weegee,’ Mr. George said. It was opened several months after it arrived. Weegee was really in there. It was his cremated remains. Apparently some staffers got the heebie-jeebies from having the ashes around, he said, so I.C.P. arranged to have them dispersed at sea.

Here is a video authored by 24THINK: a tribute to Weegee. Enjoy!

(New York, New York)