Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Bargain at Half the Price (or Less)

You may be aware that I am an ardent fan of The Strand Bookstore (see earlier posts from spring and summer.) Yesterday, I finished Eileen Myles' The Importance of Being Iceland, and since my local branch of the New York Public Library is closed on weekends, I was faced with a potential book withdrawal situation. I had dutifully read all the formerly non-read books on my shelf, all the magazines in the laundry room in my building, and the free weekly newspapers that appear in my lobby. What was left?

I had no choice but to fortify myself with some Thai food and head over to The Strand to behold the bargains that surely awaited. Fortunately, I did not have to advance beyond the $1 carts that form a protective shield outside the store, luring in stray passers-by in the very best of ways. For the low, low price of $2.52, I purchased the following: Out of Africa, Snow, and Say Everything. Inside each of these books - and this is just one of the reasons I like buying used ones - I found clues to the previous owners.

Out of Africa (Karen Blixen, pen name Isak Dinesen) - tucked into the back of an unusual Penguin copy of this book ($.48), I found a Mastercard receipt (complete with full number) dated September 21, 2003. [What I was doing then? I believe I was in India with some friends from the Embassy and we were getting ready to embark on a camping and whitewater rafting trip to Rishikesh.] The receipt indicated that the book was bought at the Heathrow airport, Terminal Four, for £4.04. It is hard to tell from the signature whether the buyer was a man or a woman - I wonder if he or she read the book? As for me, I have only seen the film, and this will undoubtedly influence my experience. For example, only one chapter in, many pages are devoted to the sights, sounds, and smells of the beautiful African landscape - something which Sydney Pollack was almost able to capture in a single panning shot. I think to experience Africa the way Karen Blixen did, you had to have been there yourself. If not, reading her words is a lovely alternative.

Snow (Orphan Pamuk) - nestled within the pages of this Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author's book, I discovered a wallet-size photograph of an infant. Was it the child of the book reader? I gently placed the photo on top of the Strand cart and added the book to my pile. I am one chapter into this story of an exiled poet who returns to Kars,Turkey, to report on a rash of female suicides. There is also a love component to the story, whose narrator resembles the person next to you on a train who can't help but let you in on a secret. Very interesting so far. The New York Times Book Review voted Snow Best Book of the Year in 2004.

Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters (Scott Rosenberg) - I purchased this uncorrected proof, not-for-sale, copy for $1. There are no page numbers in the index and some typos already in the first chapter. Inserted in the front of the book was a letter from Crown Publishing which lays out the campaign to promote the author's book. Rosenberg was a cofounder of, and here, he describes the history of blogging and offers explanations as to why people feel compelled to share their lives with the Internet and why that is both good and bad. My favorite line so far (I'm also one chapter into this book) has to do with whether all the hyperactivity of a particular blogger represented fecundity or incontinence.

It is my greatest wish that my blogging efforts fall into the former category and not the latter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

U2 at The Meadowlands - the 360° Tour

U2's 360° tour, complete with "The Claw" (pictured left), descended on The Meadowlands last night for the first of two shows in the New York area. Launched in June in Barcelona, the tour supports the band's No Line on the Horizon, and will continue through 2010 in Europe and North America. It was a massive, otherworldly spectacle to behold. Everyone, even fans in the cheap seats, could see and hear everything, thanks to the giant screen suspended below "the Claw" like the belly of an enormous spider. 

Impossible to contain indoors, the decibel level, kaleidoscopic lights, and images exploded into the sky above Giants Stadium. 80,000 voices singing in unison propelled the entire experience into space for over two hours. I like to think that it has not entirely dissipated, that someone in New Guinea might be enjoying it right now. 

Imagine the joy of having a 33-year repertoire to dip into! U2's "birthday" is tomorrow, September 25th. Here's a bit of what happened last night: Mysterious Ways; I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For; a Bruce Springsteen birthday tribute which combined She's the One with Desire; Elevation; Your Blue Room (complete with a message from an astronaut and one about climate change); Beautiful Day; a nod to Quincy Jones (who was in the audience) with the refrain from Michael Jackson's Don't Stop; New Year's Day; Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Unforgettable Fire; a bit of Sly and the Family Stone's Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) to introduce I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy; Sunday Bloody Sunday (images of Iran on the jumbo screen); a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi with Walk On; MLK; Desmond Tutu with a delightful introduction to One - a song that U2 is obliged to play at every concert this point, lest it risk serious consequences; one verse of Amazing Grace; Where the Streets Have No Name; an eerie electronic voice reading W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" (familiar as the moving "Stop all the clocks" poem); Ultraviolet (Light My Way); With or Without You; and Moment of Surrender. Alas, Bad, Love is Blindness, and the ferocious Wire (three of my favorites) were missing from the set list. I'm not complaining, just noting for the record. 

Before I reluctantly leave U2, I wish to give proper respect to the back-up band, Muse, a trio of excellent musicians from Devon, England. Lead vocalist, guitar virtuoso, and pianist Matthew Bellamy is extraordinary. Bono assured us that Muse will be all the rage here soon. It might be happening now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In-I (Binoche at BAM, continued)

The life cycle of a romantic relationship is comprised of elements that range from the quotidian to the profound. This range is explored in the span of one hour in In-I, at BAM Harvey Theater through September 26th. Performed and co-directed by French actress Juliette Binoche in conjunction with acclaimed British choreographer Akram Khan, In-I showcases the talents of " actor [who] dances and a dancer [who] acts." Passages of dialogue and song are interspersed with sequences in which Khan infuses Kathak Indian classical dance with a bit of Twyla Tharp. In-I is an intense examination of the friction that occurs between genders, races, and religions.

With deft lighting changes and against a color-shifting backdrop designed by sculptor Anish Kapoor (famous for works such as Cloud Gate, aka the "Bean," in Chicago's Millennium Park), the stage is transformed from a theater to a bedroom with a bathroom, and from the world outside to the one inside the performers' psyches. Original music composed by Philip Sheppard intensified the experience of watching Binoche and Khan as they undulated around each other, pushed and pulled each other, loving and hating each other. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Can We Dance When Our Earth is Turning?

Christopher, the choreographer for the “dancers” who formed the Human Countdown yesterday in Central Park, promoted us from the corps de ballet to soloists after we did nearly ten practice runs in Wollman Rink. Accompanied by Kofi Annan’s “tick, tick, tick” in the background as well as a rendition of Beds are Burning by the Australian group, Midnight Oil, over 1,000 participants formed an hourglass with the planet inside. Wearing either green or blue (to symbolize earth and water) T-shirts and baseball caps, we ran from the top of the hourglass through to the bottom and formed the letters “tck, tck, tck,” signifying that time is running out for the planet. My friend and I were a part of South Africa. Watch for the finished video on and elsewhere.

In conjunction with Oxfam, the event kicked off Climate Week NYC, seventy days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark beginning December 7, 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Island Festival and This World & Nearer Ones on Governors Island

You have one day left to experience a Dutch open-air festival on Governors IslandToday is also the last day of Creative Time's Plot/09: This World and Nearer Ones, curated by Mark Beasley, who invited 19 artist and collectives from around the world to make use of the island's natural and man-made features.

Governors Island has been developed quite a lot since June 2008, when I volunteered at the Emergence Art Fair. One year ago, just a few of the stately structures (including the Admiral's House where in 1988, Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev) had been renovated. Many more are now considered safe, except for the building in which Number Four and Number Seven, two moody short films by Dutch artist Guido van der Werve, were screened. To see them, you have to sign a waiver that exempts pretty much everyone in the event that a piece of the building falls on your head as you watch. My favorite is Number Four, in which a barge chugs slowly down a river with a choir aboard singing Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem. But there is a jarring finish to this deceptively bucolic film. 

My friend and I also liked the New Island Festival, which included artists from two important Dutch festivals - Oerol and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Especially intriguing was a Dutch pianist playing what looked like a piano-tractor assemblage. Nearby were actors, dancers, musicians, and cooks recreating a colony from 400 years ago.

Located just 800 yards (a five-minute ferry ride) from the southern tip of Manhattan and 400 yards from Brooklyn, Governors Island has grown as an attraction for tourists and natives alike. It is a restful getaway from the city and a destination for art and music lovers.   

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recession Art Fair

A telling sign of the times was last night's Recession Art Sale, at 697 3rd Avenue, on view through October 9th. The show's motto is "sell art, buy back your life," and was hosted by Elanit Kayne, in association with Chashama. According to the website, the organization "...was founded by Anita Durst in 1995 with the central purpose of keeping artists in New York by giving them the space to create. Durst realized that the lack of affordable space was the greatest threat to sustaining a diverse, dynamic, and provocative cultural environment in New York City. Her strategy to address this was to find a way to connect artists with vacant real estate, redistributing the untapped resources available in New York’s urban landscape by partnering with private and corporate property owners. Chashama has converted more than 40 locations, giving 7,500 artists access to subsidized space, which supported approximately 10,000 public presentations for over 500,000 viewers."

In advance of the show, a call went out to individuals who were out of work due to a variety of reasons, e.g. because of the recession or because their non-profit had lost money, inviting them to become sellers of the works in the show. Each seller was assigned specific works of art to sell for the duration of the show and would receive a set commission on all of their sales. The pieces ranged from $1,000 - $10,000. 24 artists participated in the show.

The unlikely gallery space a block from Grand Central may very well attract many office workers in the area during the day; however, it remains to be seen whether or not it has the sufficient draw of Chelsea or the Lower East Side at night or on the weekends.

Last night, the gallery was very warm and inviting, with a distinct energy, according to one of the artists, Robin Ross, who said that she liked seeing her work (one piece is pictured above) here more than anywhere. Guests moved easily among the freely-hanging works, contributing to the three-dimensionality of the exhibition.

As much as I liked the concept of a recession art sale, I hope that there will not be another one next year, for obvious reasons.

Sophie Delaporte at Sous Les Etoiles

Fashion Week in New York has stimulated art galleries and other cultural entities to jump on the sartorial and celebrity bandwagon.

Look for Sous Les Etoiles, the SoHo photography gallery which is featuring photographs from Sophie Delaporte’s Early Fashion Work series now until October 30th.

According to the gallery’s press release, Sophie Delaporte was born in Paris in 1971 and studied photography and film at the art school Louis Lumière in Paris. After graduating, she moved to London and started to work for the English press. During the 90’s, her first publications appeared in I-D magazine. She achieved an accomplished style, a photographic language where sweetness balances innocence and determination outweighs diversion. The depth of color, staging, gestures and simple fun of her imagery evoke the world of storytelling. The photographer likes to imagine situations that do not exist, creating unusual combinations between the image and the purpose it serves.

Delaporte “…likes images that are not obvious and leave room for interpretation, those that offer several levels of reading.”

I liked that Delaporte used redheaded models - both male and female. The mystique of the redhead was an obsession of the Pre-Raphaelite artists - the rare is beautiful. Delaporte's models are elegant and removed, yet viscerally present.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tim Davis’s “The New Antiquity” at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery

Photographer Tim Davis, who studied under Gregory Crewdson and Tod Papageorge, had the excellent idea to open his show yesterday at Greenberg Van Doren with a Saturday morning brunch, a highly preferable alternative to the cheap wine- and scene-seeking crowds that tend to populate the usual evening gallery openings. With the artist in attendance, the atmosphere in the gallery was pleasant and convivial. The New Antiquity is on view until October 24th.

Associate Director of Sales Elizabeth Raizes Sadeghi told me that Rome Prize Fellowship winner Davis found inspiration on the fringes of suburbia and beauty in seemingly ancient “ruins.” For his current show, he set out to document areas of cities that were not easily identifiable, e.g. Outside the Ring Road, a portrait of two women taken on the outskirts of Rome, which could have been captured anywhere in the world.

Davis took photographs over a five-year period in Italy (Rome) and China (Shanghai). Notable among the 21 pieces that appear in the show are Sole Shop (2008), Fresco (2009), Immigrant Snapshot Album (2009), Sphinx (2009), Auto Part Labels (2009), Statue of Pants (2009), Seranflex (2009), and Aqueduct Golf (2009). All the images challenge the viewer to integrate their notion of the present with seeming relics of the past, resulting in what Davis calls a “creative non-fiction.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Binoche at BAM

September is Juliette Binoche month at BAM, which will feature a retrospective of the acclaimed actress's films, in addition to a dance performance she collaborated on with British choreographer Akram Khan from September 15 - 26. La Binoche has been the face of Lancôme, is a painter (see her paintings at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy on 5th Avenue) and writer, a political activist, and is involved in numerous charities. She also happens to be an earthy, funny (petite!) woman with a raucous laugh, as she demonstrated last night after the screening of her film, Paris, directed by Cédric Klapisch, who also directed 2001's l'Auberge Espagnole.

I first "met" Binoche 20 years ago when I saw her in the exquisite The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on the Milan Kundera novel of the same name. After that, I made it a point to see her in nearly every film she has done since then. Among my favorites are Krzystof Kieszlowski's Trois Couleurs, notably Bleu, in which Binoche starred. However, I also loved Damage, The English Patient (for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), the delightful Chocolat, Caché, and this year's Summer Hours. Whenever she appears on screen, she commands attention in the finest, most subtle way. I don't believe I've ever seen her give a bad performance, likely because she has the intelligence to choose challenging roles and make them come to life with her innate sense of emotional subtlety and nuance.

The film Paris was described by its director last night as one in an ongoing series of French films in recent years that may mark the end of the traditional Nouvelle Vague. Paris is now seen as what it really is - a modern, messy city, full of life, happiness, beauty, and disappointments, just like any other place, albeit with the Eiffel Tower and sundry royal gardens as backdrops. Klapisch said that he wanted to portray the city as it is now - "cooler, not as racist," with a melange of cultures from every corner of the globe, a city in which modern-day denizens tote baguettes and eat couscous, and maybe wear berets while listening to rap derived from North African rhythms. There is also a story which effectively highlights the non-antagonistic merging of classes; four lovely models decide to "slum it" in Paris' meat-market area, perhaps a sly nod to the Sex and the City girls frolicking in the Meatpacking district?
The soundtrack to the film fittingly contains songs as diverse as Wilson Pickett's Land of 1,000 Dances, the delightful Rosemary Clooney's Sway, alongside Erik Satie's deeply melancholy Gnossiennes: No. 1, which occurs throughout the film in its original form as well as in modern versions, underscoring the inner turmoil of the film's main protagonist, Pierre, played by the excellent Romain Duris, who appeared in the silly but entertaining Le Divorce, as well as in l'Auberge Espagnole. Binoche plays Pierre's sister, Élise.

You will meet other familiar French actors in this film - François Cluzet, who also starred in the unnerving Tell No One; Maurice Bénichou, tragic in Caché - in Paris, he plays a psychiatrist who counsels Fabrice Luchini, whose character, Roland, undergoes a transformation that parallels that of Paris. Roland is dismayed by his depressing future as a stodgy history professor role and is persuaded to become a TV host, guiding viewers through modern-day Paris. He stalks one of his students, texting her in the guise of a fellow student. Fear not - this seemingly sordid situation is resolved rather poignantly - or not - depending on your viewpoint. Roland's brother, Phillipe (Cluzet) also feels the encroachment of modernity on his city. In one bizarre dream sequence, Phillipe sees himself as a character in an Xbox game.

Director Klapisch said last night that "...where nothing appears to be happening, life is happening." He also said that Paris, while seemingly about death, is really about life, which happens around us all the time - we just have to watch for it. The most interesting story is not the train that derails, but the train that stays on the tracks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Importance of Being Iceland; Maya Lin at Pace; Kara Walker & Mark Bradford

Located on the former site of Dia Center for the Arts in Chelsea, ARTBOOK at X hosted the renowned poet and essayist Eileen Myles, author of The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art. I purchased the book and was looking forward to hearing Myles discuss her work, but when I arrived at the bookstore at 7pm (the time at which the event was scheduled to begin), I was told that Myles wouldn’t speak until 8:30. I elected not to stay and will have to content myself with getting acquainted with the author directly through her book. I look forward to reading it just as soon as I finish Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. I’m on Part Five now - only 261 pages left to go.

I was lured across West 22nd Street by the bright lights and crowds milling around Pace Wildenstein’s Maya Lin exhibition entitled Three Ways of Looking at the Earth, which opened last night and runs through October 24th. I did not see Lin herself, who was reportedly in attendance. I especially liked the pyramid-like piece at the front of the gallery, which reminded me of the simultaneous vastness and intricacy of Korean artist Do-Ho Suh's work.

Further down on West 22nd, I stopped into Sikkema, Jenkins & Co to see the Mark Bradford & Kara Walker show, which also opened last night and runs until October 17th. While the two artists are different, they share some similarities – both work on paper and both artists have been shown at the Whitney Museum. Bradford's work is shown above left.

Matthew Rose’s "A Book About Death" at The Emily Harvey Foundation

Inspired by Conceptual artist Ray Johnson, Paris-based Matthew Rose asked hundreds of artists (both personally and via an open call using social media) to submit 500 copies of an original work in postcard form for his current endeavor entitled A Book About Death: An Unbound Book on the Subject of Death. The only requirement was that the postcards contain the words “A Book About Death.” On view until September 22nd at the Emily Harvey Foundation in SoHo, the show is unique in that each visitor may take away all the postcards and assemble them – or not – in whatever form they choose. Boxes filled with postcards line the floor of the gallery in neat rows (see above left) in what the artist described to me yesterday as rather tomb-like, in keeping with the theme of the show. Artists such as Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneeman, and Eric Andersen, among many others, contributed their work to the exhibition.

A Book About Death synthesizes the traditions of the Fluxus movement with the ephemeral nature of our time on earth. Ray Johnson’s death in 1995, Emily Harvey’s death in 2004, and Matthew Rose’s mother’s recent passing, combines with the commemoration today of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 as a poignant reminder that both nothing and everything last forever.

New Amsterdam: The Island at the Center of the World at South Street Seaport Museum

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic journey to what is now known as New York City, the South Street Seaport Museum has organized the outstanding exhibition, New Amsterdam: The Island at the Center of the World. Opening on September 13th, it runs through January 3, 2010, and features more than 60 rare documents amassed from libraries such as the Medici Archives in Florence. With the cooperation of the Dutch National Archive, the show was curated by the Rijksmuseum’s Martine Gosselink, who wrote the companion book, New York - New Amsterdam: The Dutch Origins of Manhattan. Ms. Gosselink was also pleased to be involved in the Rijksmuseum’s loan of Dutch master Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, now on view at The Met.

The preview through the exhibition was led by Ms. Gosselink and Russell Shorto, New York Times Magazine contributor and author of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America. The show comprises three stories: the 17th century world and the role of the Dutch trade in Asia, South America, and North America; the island of Manhattan; and early inhabitants of the island, which included Native Americans, Europeans, and a substantial number of Africans.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the 1626 document written by Pieter Schagen in 1626 and is the first written reference to the Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Lenape Indians for 60 guilders, the equivalent of $24. The amount was a token alliance between the Lenape and the Dutch with the mutual agreement of protection.

Other documents include meticulously detailed maps of individual plots of land throughout Manhattan and the outer boroughs. A hand drawn parchment map of New Netherlands in 1614 is the earliest known rendition of the area. Another map – the Castello Plan of 1660 – is the “only remaining street plan of lower Manhattan from the Dutch period.” Also on view are the document which appointed military officer Peter Stuyvesant to the position of Director-General of New Amsterdam, Henry Hudson’s 1608 contract with the Dutch East India company, the 1667 peace treaty between the English and the Dutch, as well as the document signed by King James II, Duke of York, granting Petrus Stuyvesant safe passage to return to and trade in New York City (so-named after the territory was ceded to the British in 1664, after being called to Holland. Stuyvesant returned to his house and farm, the Great Bouwerie, where he died peacefully in 1672.

Although immersed in the 17th century, visitors are brought in contact with the 21st century by way of light box audio displays throughout the exhibition. Juxtaposing drawings of early Dutch immigrants and their exact residences in New Amsterdam with photos of much more recent immigrants pictured in the same locations, visitors can appreciate the ongoing allure of New York City, no matter what its name.