Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chelsea—Big Bouncy Boots and Ghosts

Nancy Davidson kicks up her heels at Cuningham Gallery
Nancy Davidson, at Betty Cuningham Gallery, Dustup (through Oct 6), has created sculptures, either inflatable or just pneumatic-looking, with cowboy-themed details. They look like Thanksgiving Day parade floats made by a mad Texas scientist—eye-catching colors, big round shapes, cowgirl boots, and tassels. Needless to say, they're a great deal of fun, and their scale, while large, is contained enough to be relatable. And if there's one thing that's emblematic of the USA, it's cowgirl boots. Am I right?

Diana Al-Hadid, Divided Line, 2012

It's rare to come across a completely unfamiliar artistic technique, but Diana Al-Hadid's exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery, The Vanishing Point (through Oct 20), is such a discovery. The subject matter of her sculptures and installations can refer to historical moments and architectural monuments such as Brueghel's Tower of Babel and the minotaur's maze. But despite such potentially powerful allegories, it's the visceral effect of what stands before you in the gallery that haunts. In some works, it looks like buckets of paint spilled, dripped down, and dried, and the box or wall underneath was removed. In Antonym, the shell of a torso, like the skin of a snake, sits atop such a negated form. Human are so much more transient than architecture, which endures.

Divided Line occupies one wall. A skeletal external web sandwiches emptiness; if you back up a little and let your eyes wander, a tableau of figures comes into fuzzy focus. (I actually didn't see this while I was in the gallery; it's visible in the installation shots here).  It feels a bit like stalagmites in a cave. Al-Hadid states that she is exploring two-dimensional perspective through a 3D expression, although this didn't read clearly to me. But what resonates is the perceived and actual tension of the absent core and present shell.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Faustin Linyekula's Le Cargo

Faustin Linyekula in Le Cargo. Photo: Agathe Poupeney
Le Cargo, Faustin Linyekula's solo performance at Florence Gould Hall, part of FIAF's thought-provoking Crossing the Line festival, began last Tuesday night during a deluge that required wading ankle-deep through white caps on Madison Avenue. The audience, soggy to a soul, commiserated with one another for having to endure the inclemency. Then Linyekula took the stage, clutching books and a little anthropomorphic stool, and began telling stories (despite declaring that he had come not to tell stories, just to dance).

"War, crisis, war, crisis..., " he repeated numerous times of his homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By now, our collective self-pity had abated, attention diverted appropriately to the stage and his stories, or non-stories. He spoke of the incredible effort of taking the train from the city to Obilo, his hometown 82 miles away. Apparently it runs infrequently enough so that the foliage grows over the tracks; people with machetes have to hack a clearing for the train, making for glacial progress. So Linyekula wound up riding a motorbike with his father ("father, father, my dad-dee," as he repeated regularly in his entrancing sing-song voice), needing only a few hours. 

He began explaining why he dances and wiggling his fingers. Contrary to an expected politically correct explanation along the lines of preserving and passing along his heritage, he simply explained that he gets paid, and he supports his extended family by doing so. He makes a living taking his storytelling and dance all over the world. It is a frankness that we're not used to hearing, or if we do, it's usually to plead poverty.

In due time, Linyekula did start to dance with his whole body. It's a peculiar style, the movement seemingly generated from his gut outward, shuffling his feet or kicking them sideways, upper body fairly contained and tight, arms extending on occasion. The performance was in sharp contrast to last year's spectacularly showy more, more, more... at the Kitchen, when composer/musician Flamme Kapaya's rock band performed (he also composed music for Le Cargo), and Linyekula and a couple of other dancers wore ruffled costumes resembling car wash brushes. 

Le Cargo did underscore the divide between sources such as dance circles, in which individual expression is framed within a communal context, and a somewhat sterile stage in Manhattan, where Linyekula was surrounded onstage by spotlights instead of other dancers. He has carved out an intriguing niche with his blend of there and here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

See superb dancers for a pittance

Clifton Brown in Collective Body's Sunglasses
No secret that New York boasts some of the finest large dance companies in the world, such as Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theater, and New York City Ballet. But there's a phenomenon happening that seems to be more and more common—dancers with such major companies perform freelance with, or depart to, younger troupes that perform in smaller spaces. For the most part, tickets to these shows are far less expensive than those companies where these dancers found fame, and can be an interesting option to see new work on a budget.

Michele Wiles of Ballet Next. Photo: Paul B. Goode
In the coming weeks alone, you can see Clifton Brown (for years, a star at Ailey), dance with Brian Carey Chung's Collective Body Dance Lab at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center on Sep 21 & 22; Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard (ex-principals with ABT and NYCB), founders of Ballet Next, dancing in their own company's week at the Joyce (Oct 23-28) alongside dancers from several major ballet companies in dances by five choreographers including Mauro Bigonzetti and Brian Reeder; and Satellite Ballet at Lynch Theater (John Jay College) on Nov 2, put together by NYCB corps member Troy Schumacher, who has corralled such on-the-rise NYCB hotshots as Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, David Prottas, and Taylor Stanley in work choreographed by Schumacher but that strives to emphasize the collaborative process.

Satellite Ballet's Epistasis
Chung, who danced with LINES and Karole Armitage, will present two works on a bill shared with Danszloop (from Chicago, with Paula Frasz as artistic director). Chung's Let's Pretend We're All Wearing Sunglasses combines verbal commentary on male guardianship and materialism with bursts of athletic movement that shows off the preternaturally leggy company of nine. Brown has a lengthy closing solo that demonstrates why he's considered among the finest of his generation—his serene, commanding presence, endless wingspan, and supple power are all apparent in Chung's often witty phrasing that emphasizes line and stage composition. Tickets start at $20 (and $10 for the other two shows), a bargain to see some of the finest dancers around doing what they love. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Regarding Warhol, Being Regarded

Nine Jackies. Blur your eyes and think of Rothko...
1964, acrylic & silkscreen on canvas, 65"x53". Met Museum, Gift of Halston.
(c) 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS, NY
Is the Met Museum’s exhibition Regarding Warhol, which traces his influence on other artists, so obvious that it need not have been put together? Or is it simply a burning topic that once and for all needed to be made manifest? My mind kept flicking between the two poles while strolling through the large exhibition (Sep 18—Dec 31), curated by Mark Rosenthal with Marla Prather, Ian Alteveer, and Rebecca Lowery.

Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat. A less-seen Warhol!
1984, acrylic & silkscreen on canvas, 90" x 70".
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Founding Collection
Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

(c) 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS, NY
The case for just how influential and versatile Warhol truly was is made quite convincingly. His body of work comprises multitudinous series that changed dramatically and frequently: content-wise, from his ubiquitous (and profitable) celebrity portraits, to his flashbulb nightlife snapshots, to macabre sensationalist or quotidien newspaper-divined imagery. And formally—from his essential cameo portrait, to the matrix format, to giant versions of consumer products, to photo-to-silkscreen paintings, to neon-hued bold compositions.

Within these categories, it’s simple and fun to link nearly every peer of Warhol’s, or younger artists, back to his oeuvre. It’s almost like a parlor game for the high (low?) minded. Cindy Sherman’s ever-shifting play with identity, Sigmar Polke’s impressionistic or object-based paintings, Hans Haacke’s subversive merchandising, Jeff Koons’ sculptural sanctification of pop stardom, sundry Robert Gober works. The canon of artists is a compendium of the last half-century; subtract Warhol and you have a perfectly serviceable survey of the major trends in contemporary art.

Most of the 60 Warhols in the show are from the first half of his career; many are the more elegant or dramatic icons of his work, such as Jackie, Elvis, and the disaster images, plus some films (Empire, screen tests of Lou Reed and Nico). Much of it is so familiar (if not household names, household imagery) such as Marilyn and Flowers, that it’s a bit of a shock to see them again in the flesh, in this relatively haughty context. They’re so ubiquitous that they have ceased to have any artistic impact, a trick of multiple subversion that Andy no doubt would’ve found amusing.

To exit the show, you must walk through the modern galleries, and this is what finally provided an epiphany. Past Pollocks, Rothkos, Stills, and De Koonings, old friends that all sung out fresh notes in the wake of a brisk round of art association. I thought, Oxidations, Dollar Signs/Jackies, Triple Elvis, unflattering honcho portrait. (Now that I’m writing about it, the connections seem more distant, but they felt very strong immediately.)

Ai Weiwei, Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo, 2010
Paint on Neolithic vase.
Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, NY
Then through the Greek/Roman hallway, past the marble torsos which looked identical to some of Warhol's Torso works, and some of the archetypal urns and vases referenced by Ai Weiwei's Neolithic Vase with Coca Cola Logo that I'd just seen. (A real Neolithic vase. On which he painted a Coke logo—the act upstaging the object. Warhol may have deified the common household artifact, or signed his name to any old thing, but not a Neolithic vase, to my knowledge.)

It begs the question, did Andy come to the Met and tour the galleries as part of his leisure or work, or on second thought, how often? Did he bring his Polaroid, or simply make mental notes? In the end, he emerges as a pack rat of ideas and influences, a time capsule of sociological trends and popular people. Yet instead of just storing those ideas away, he interpreted them and gave them (or sold them) back to us. The world's greatest cipher and salesman, haunting us yet.