I highly recommend seeing the following seven events before they close. They are a movie, a play, and five art exhibitions. The first four that I list below won’t even last through this month of June. I also make note of the closing date (if available) for each event.
Dirty Wars, the movie
|Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Jeremy Scahill talking after the viewing of Dirty Wars, June 7, 2013|
It is based on Jeremy Scahill’s second book, published in April, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. Jeremy is the national security reporter for The Nation magazine. His first book, Blackwater (2008) already put Scahill into every political news program in the country, and his previous work as a reporter has prompted several Congressional investigations. This movie (Dirty Wars) exposes our global war on terror, which its director, Richard Rowley, calls “the most important story of our generation.”
It is a war, Rowley notes, that is “being fought in our name that we know nothing about, and over which there’s no effective oversight….[a war fought] without our knowledge or permission.”
If the movie’s subject matter is chilling, its presentation is beautifully compelling and evocative. Its victims, people who could so easily be treated as alien to us, geographically, culturally, and socially, are instead made personal and intimate. One has the sense that they could be neighbors. We leave the theater sensitized and acutely aware–possibly for the first time–that we all are citizens of the same world, that we share the same desires and fears, and that we all deserve the same level of recognition and must be accorded the same set of privileges, whether as middle-class Americans or as Yemeni tribesmen. This may be a documentary, but it also is storytelling at the highest level of art.
Here is a trailer for Dirty Wars, but go see the real thing. I have no idea how long it will stay in our theaters, but don’t miss this movie. Every citizen needs to see it and know its story.
Urban Automobile: Paintings by Robert Seyffert
|William Holman Gallery, Lower East Side, 65 Ludlow Street, opening night, June 5, 2013|
|Robert Seyffert (2nd from left), opening night, William Holman Gallery, Pontiac ’50 on Tenth Street… (far left), June 5, 2013|
|R. Seyffert, White Chevrolet Sedan, Harlem, 1995, oil/linen|
The Seagull–Chekhov in Central Park
|Stephen Burdman (Director), addressing the audience for The Seagull, Central Park, The Pool (north edge), June 1, 2013|
Summertime is the season to enjoy outdoor theater, and no one does this with more verve and imagination than the New York Classical Theater. It begins its outdoor season in Central Park with Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and ends it in July-August down at Battery Park with Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
The audience is peripatetic; it picks up and moves along with the changing scenes and acts. Amazingly, all this works quite smoothly, and the stretching of ones legs every 20 minutes almost makes the play move more quickly.
|The Audience for The Seagull, Central Park, The Pool (south edge), June 1, 2013|
|Arkadina (Tamara Scott), New York Classical Theater production of The Seagull, Central Park, June 1, 2013|
I wholly agree with the reviewer’s comments. And then, at the end of the play, my wife and I had an equally pleasant walk back through the Park to the East Side. The balmy summer evening provided a perfect setting both for Chekhov and for our leisurely return home.The final performance of The Seagull in Central Park will be on Sunday, June 23. The plays are free, but they do start on time, 7:00 pm Thursdays-Sundays. Gather at Central Park West and 103rd Street, where you will be directed to find a seat in the grass, facing the Pool for Act I. You also can catch later performances (June 25-30) in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Call 212-252-4531 for more information.
Labrouste at MoMA
|Henri Labrouste, Capital & Column Base, Portico of Pantheon (Rome), 1825-30|
|Henri Labrouste, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1854-75, interior, Reading Room|
El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum of Art
|El Anatsui, Gli Wall, 2010, Brooklyn Museum of Art, detail|
But as spectacular as his individual pieces are, seeing them in the top floor galleries of the Brooklyn Museum, where they have room to breathe and expand to their fullest, is a moving experience.
|El Anatsui, Gli Wall, 2010, Brooklyn Museum of Art|
|El Anatsui, Conspirators, wood, 1997|
|El Anatsui, Drifting Continents, 2009, detail|
|El Anatsui, Red Block, 2010, detail|
You have a bit more than a month to schedule a trip to Brooklyn to see Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui. The show closes on August 4, 2013.
But if you want to see an outdoor piece by him in Manhattan, he did that wall of mirrors and pressed, corroded tin ceiling panels on the High Line between West 21st and 22nd Streets. Here is a shot of that work.
|El Anatsui, Broken Bridge II, 2012, The High Line, Chelsea, NYC|
Red, Yellow & Blue–Outdoor Art at Madison Square Park
For approximately ten years, the Madison Square Park Conservancy has commissioned art installations in the park. Among its previous contributors are such recognized artists as Mark di Suvero, Antony Gormley, Sol LeWitt, Roxy Paine, Alison Saar, Ursula von Rydingsvard and William Wegman.
The newest installation, which you will have until September 8 of this year to visit, is by the Brooklyn sculptor Orly Genger, who often makes colossal sculptures through a process of knitting, knotting and crocheting.
|Orly Genger, Red, Yellow & Blue, Madison Square Park, New York City, May 2-Sept. 8, 2013|
|Orly Genger, Red, Yellow & Blue, Madison Square Park, New York City, May 2-Sept. 8, 2013|
The rope is what is known as “ground line,” which fishermen use to string together multiple traps at the bottom of the ocean. This ground line, no longer viable for purposes of fishing, is usually burned or dumped overboard. Thus, Genger’s re-use of it as her artistic medium promotes a healthier ecosystem while also bringing visual excitement to Madison Square.
The Madison Square website on Red, Yellow and Blue suggests a connection to Barnett Newman’s series from the 1960s, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? But Genger’s installation, as it curves and undulates through the Park, and its blue section, which seems to dissolve right into the grass lawn, owes less to those large, flat, color-field paintings of Newman and more to Christo’s Running Fence, which undulated through Sonoma and Marin Counties in California, finally to disappear–in this case–into the Pacific Ocean.
|Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Running Fence, Sonoma/Marin Counties, CA, 1976|
Against the Grain–Contemporary Artists Work in Wood
The Museum of Arts and Design, located at 2 Columbus Circle, consistently mounts some of the most interesting shows of art and design in this city of great museums and major art exhibits. This show, Against the Grain, presents a wide range of objects created since 2000 that use wood as the main material.
One or two photographs can’t possibly convey the range of this show. For this reason, I refer you to the Museum’s web page for an overview of the show and concentrate on a couple of pieces that I found primarily intriguing for conceptual reasons.
|Matthias Pliessnig, Thonet #18, 2007, NYC, Museum of Art & Design|
By this conversion, Pliessnig masks the sensual curves of the original Thonet chair and turns the chair into an apparently functionless and seething tangle of wooden strips. Can we even be sure (without turning it over) that a real Thonet chair hides under this tangle? Some may state that the chair has lost its function and the resulting form is no very pretty, so it isn’t really even art.But, indeed, this is art, and a deeply conceptual work of art at that. One can grasp its rich genealogy just by considering its sources in the art of the previous century. Think of this process as analogous to peeling back of the layers of an onion.
First, there is Christo and Jeanne-Claude again, but this time with their wrappings, as in their wrapping the century-old German Reichstag in over 1 million square feet of aluminum-colored fabric. This bold work offers many interpretations, among which is to see the fabric operating as softening the edges and corners of a building symbolic of the Prussian State that built it: unyielding, obdurate, and war-like. It offers Berlin a chrysalis from which the newly-unified Germany (that will embrace a larger and peaceable Europe) is to emerge.
|Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1995|
Then, there is Robert Rauschenberg who, in 1953 asked Willem de Kooning for a drawing, which the young Rauschenberg laboriously erased. He, along with Jasper Johns, then matted, framed and labeled the work with these words: Erased de Kooning Drawing Robert Rauschenberg 1953. One might argue that this was blasphemy, an act of philistinism, iconoclasm without even any countervailing principles of belief.At least we could free the Thonet chair if we wanted; its “erasure” is reversible. The de Kooning drawing is lost forever. But what is gained is a new work by Rauschenberg, and so the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art purchased it for its permanent collection in 1998.
|Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953, San Francisco, MoMA|
|Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913, (1951), New York, MoMA|
So, one can argue that, exactly a century ago, Marcel Duchamp gave the world of art the most radical ideas about how art might be defined and practiced. Neither Rauschenberg, Christo nor Pliessnig peeled all the way down to the core of Duchamp’s “onion.” As I sometimes told my classes ‘back in the day,’ you can trace the roots of every art movement and artist of the later 20th century (and even now, the 21st century) to the work and ideas of three artists from the first decade: Picasso, Matisse, and Duchamp.I hope that all my onion-peeling hasn’t brought you to tears.
|Yuya Ushida, SOFA_XXXX, 2010, NYC, Museum of Art & Design|
The Japanese-born industrial designer, Yuya Ushida, studied mechanical engineering until realizing that he really preferred to make practical things that contributed to people’s happiness and daily lives, more than designing machine parts.
His SOFA_XXXX certainly introduces an unexpected level of play into one’s living room, even as it imparts a totally new meaning on the idea of convertible sofas. Rather than converting into a bed, this sofa converts into an easy chair. Watch this fascinating video which shows how one can simply pull it apart or squeeze it together, like an accordion, to make the transformation.
I am sure that Ushida’s training in mechanical engineering contributed to his design assembly of SOFA_XXXX. As he admits, simple geometries and repetitive forms fascinate him, and those are most certainly concepts that inform all great engineering designs. The sofa gets its name (and its ability to expand) from the “X-joints” of its structure. In this case, his entire assembly is made up of four different lengths of recycled bamboo chopsticks joined together by stainless steel rings.
I often wonder how many chopsticks we use once and then discard. Apparently, China throws out 90 billion each year. For one sofa, Ushida uses some 8,000 bamboo chopsticks. Watch this video to see the assembly process for Ushida’s sofa.
|Maria Elena Gonzalez, Skowhegan Birch #1 Roll Display, 2012, NYC, Museum of Art & Design|
I think this statement underplays the role of the musician who worked with Gonzalez to refine those striations in the birch bark, but the idea of a logic and a musical base inherent in nature goes back as far as Ancient Greece. The romantic composer Sibelius captured the sounds of nature in his writing. The musician, Jim Nollman, claims that with close listening he has discovered that sometimes nature uses “the same scales, rhythms, and harmonies as humans do.” And, not unlike what Gonzalez has done with her birch bark, some university researchers have transformed three years of supernova explosions into “haunting, beautiful music.”
But, I’ll leave any further development of this last topic to my musical daughter, Carla, and wait for her response once she reads this post. Meanwhile, I hope that you find time to take in some of these events and exhibitions before they close.