Posts written by Mayukh Sen
The recent release of Tate Taylor’s The Help (2011) has allowed a heated, ongoing debate plaguing American cinema to resurface. From Mississippi Burning (1988) to The Blind Side (2009), mainstream cinema has shown a tendency to make historical narratives rather soigné and palatable. Revisionist impulses are cloaked under the veneer of inspirational vehicles that skirt more nuanced views of our country’s racial politics. Among other misdemeanors, these movies often cast a self-congratulatory light on the enlightened, rich white liberal, who is assumed to be instrumental in the “liberation” of the minority.
Before the tragedies of September 11 were endlessly analyzed and theorized, artists responded to the event in ways that were by turns fearful, optimistic, impassioned, unresolved, and complex. As the decennial of 9/11 approaches, these intuitive, virginal artistic responses begin to resurface across the city’s galleries and museums. Late artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner’s Falling Leaves: An Anonymous Memorial is merely one of many elegiac pieces the tragedy’s aftermath engendered. In conjunction with a Bruce Conner retrospective at the American University Museum, Chelsea’s Paula Cooper Gallery showcases Conner’s drawings through September 24. They are juxtaposed with HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW (2006), one of Conner’s later short films. Together, the works provide an introspective look at how the American conscience weathers loss.
George Kuchar is unrestrained and unapologetic. His films teem with camp and melodrama. They are outrageous. They are loud. They are crudely stylized. They have inspired the likes of David Lynch and John Waters. Kuchar, a legend in the underground film movement, has made a name for himself by crafting these lurid, experimental films for nearly five decades now.
Henry Simonds has devised a taxonomical system for every strain of the Super Ball®. Those crafted to look like pool balls are called Hypersphaerae billiardus; ones made with marble compositions and primary colors are dubbed Hypersphaera primomarmoreus. They’re all arranged in tidy, neat frames like butterflies in museums. It’s an absurd methodology, and the underlying meaninglessness of the practice is precisely what Simonds explores. The Pittsburgh-based filmmaker’s Requiem for the Super Ball®, a mixed-media exhibition, runs at Charles Bank Gallery through September 11.
Joe Glassman, a self-ruinous psychiatrist played by Rip Torn, is a corrupt sex machine. Sex deadens him. He finds it thrilling in the moment, but it’s horribly numbing afterward. There’s a sordid, comic irony to his situation – this shrink is just as loony and screwed up as the patients who come to him with their problems. The subject of Milton Moses Ginsberg’s Coming Apart (1969), Joe’s the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the free sex movement, filled with a self-loathing brought upon by a pursuit of purely physical pleasures. Received tepidly upon initial release, Ginsberg’s film has gained a significant cult in the decades after its release, and today is regarded as one of the more important pieces of American independent cinema. BAM screens this film on August 23 during a brief retrospective of Ginsberg’s short directorial career, one screening featuring a Q&A session with Mr. Ginsberg himself.
Whether it’s Oprah or Working Girl, we’ve all been told that we can be success stories. Greed, determination, and an insatiable need to rise to the top have been made to look romantic and saintly by popular media. Gazing down pathetically at his iPhone, Chad Person’s inflatable Underdog is the anthesis of saintliness. The conceptual artist has taken this symbol of comic book heroism and made him to look tired and worn. He sits in a pool of the vitamin pills that supply him with his power. His ruse has been uncovered; he’s been rendered helpless. Chad Person’s first solo exhibition in New York, A Hero Never Fails, unflinchingly satirizes the of fallacy American heroism.
The subjects of Laura Levine’s iconic rock photographs were in constant search of expression. To her, musicians were not airbrushed spectacles, but vulnerable, energetic, highly personable creatures worthy of our gaze. She captured such culturally salient figures as Boy George, Grace Jones, and Joe Strummer in a state of rawness and urgency – before, say, Madonna really knew she was Madonna. For a time, Levine was one of post-punk and New Wave’s most avid chroniclers, the eye of a certain place, time, and way of existing.
Littered with old checks, used condom wrappers, and magazine cut-outs, the images from Richard Prince’s newest exhibition are like polished trash. Paying homage to Jackson Pollock, the famed appropriation artist has selected photographs of the painter at work and desecrated them. Prince replaces Pollock’s head with the likes of Kate Moss and Sid Vicious, obliterating the artist’s identity along with typical notions of authorship. Though tese themes are familiar ones for the artist, this latest exhibition also reflects a more introspective turn for the artist.
Cynthia is an ungainly sight. She wears hemorrhoid pillow dresses. There’s a constant look of displeasure on her face. Her voice is pained and slightly monotonous. To numb her boredom, she surrounds herself with the stuff of infomercials – new age kitsch and painted sand. She is the alter ego of video and performance artist Shana Moulton, one of ten New York-based artists being profiled in Art21’s “New York Close-Up” Series. The protagonist of Moulton’s long-running Whispering Pines (2002 – ) series, Cynthia is the digital age’s American dreamer.
Carnal, sensuous, and filled with hurt, Monika is one of Ingmar Bergman’s most distinctive female characters. The mysterious and brash center of Summer with Monika (1953), she is played by Harriet Andersson, a Bergman regular and the director’s lover at the time. Here, the actress is at her most vibrant and spontaneous, both unaffected and affecting. The film made her an overnight icon of free, unapologetic sexuality. As part of its Hot and Humid: Summer Films from the Archives series, the Museum of Modern Art reaches into its summer repertory to screen this early Bergman on two occasions during August.
In The Sea Gull, Sidney Lumet’s 1968 adaptation of the celebrated Chekhov play, characters’ charms become their tragedies. No one is judged. To the camera, desires are not foolish, but sincere and complex; the ambiguities of human behavior are recorded with a sense of melancholy. Careful dissolves bridge each act, signifying passions that drift from allegiance to allegiance before they ultimately fade. Tepidly received upon initial release, the film has all but disappeared from cultural memory. As part of its Prince of the City: Remembering Sidney Lumet retrospective, the Film Society of Lincoln Center resurrects this forgotten film, perhaps the late director’s most misunderstood, for one screening on Saturday, July 23.
Lisa Rovner is young and idealistic. She idolizes Godard. She has a fetish for images. She longs for the sixties, a time she’s only heard stories of, when revolution and political commitment were common. She thinks our world has dissolved into a muddy pool of consumerism. Rovner, a French-American artist and writer, seeks to utilize mass media and turn it into its own politicized space.