Steve McQueen's movie can seem sold-out, but maybe that's what its subject demanded.
This still from Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" captures what I noticed most about it: That it had most of the trappings of a standard Hollywood costume drama, in the fundamentals of wardrobe, decor, cinematography, lighting, dialogue, plotting, cutting and music (which was especially manipulative and full of cliche). Only its tremendously important and compelling subject makes "Slave" stand out.
That's a disappointment to me, since I had the huge pleasure of seeing the full survey of McQueen's earlier work as a video and film artist in Basel's Schaulager art center last year. In those pieces, he kept his viewers off-kilter with innovative, complex works that happen to present moving images, and sometimes tell a scrap of story, but which begin where Hollywood leaves off. The first thought that came to mind with "Slave" was that McQueen had simply sold out, or caved to Hollywood's blinkered vision of what film can do. Then my artist wife suggested another possibility: That McQueen had the absolutely overriding goal of telling the harrowing, shameful story of Solomon Northup's enslavement to as many people as he possibly could, given that such stories have stayed almost entirely untold in mass-market movies. Only by embracing Hollywood cliches could he attract the widest possible audience, which is now addicted to them.
But there's one other possibility: That if what McQueen cares about is the content, rather than the form, of his work, then he has to aim for a kind of transparency that only cliches can offer, since they are by definition unmarked and content-free. Artists have tended to think that taking a "straightforward", unadorned documentary approach to an image is the way to avoid style and transmit a subject at its most pure. McQueen may have realized that that, too, yields a kind of artiness that distracts. Only by giving viewers precisely what they know already, in terms of form, can you give them new content that they'll take in for itself.
Silicon Valley is often thought of as a mythical place of dreams and innovation. In a new exhibit, photographer Alec Soth goes beyond this view to show real life in the tech capital.
For most of America, Silicon Valley is the center of modern innovation, the place that gave the world computers, the iPhone, Google, and Facebook. For part of a new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art off-site exhibition, Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley, photographer Alec Soth set about capturing life in the mythical region. For a couple of weeks last spring, Soth shot not only the campuses of tech giants Hewlett-Packard, Google, and Facebook, but also the every-day parts of the area that don’t get much attention—its restaurants, computer repair shops, and parks.
“The ideas are moving faster than the physical place, and as a photographer because I have to deal with surfaces and looking at the world out there, it’s a tricky thing to try to document,” said Soth. “As much as anything I try to photograph this feeling of the cloud, or of ideas, trying to contain ideas. I was trying to photograph that as much as I was trying to photograph actual, physical things.”
Capturing the feeling of a place is nothing new for Soth, who has photographed the oil boom in North Dakota, the results of Detroit’s economic misfortunes, and life around the Mississippi River. “Going from these economic conditions to Silicon Valley being so unique in that it’s this boom town where the product is invisible, is so different,” said Soth.
As the festival wraps, Ragnar Kjartansson's boatload of musicians play its closing notes.
The Venice Biennale ends Sunday, and this is my final shoutout to it – an image of the mariner musicians hired by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson to perform for the duration of the event, in a piece called S.S. Hangover. Back and forth they’ve been sailing, day in and day out, repeating the same elegiac fragment of music for brass as they cross a small pool at the far end of the Biennale grounds. My photo was taken in early June, on opening weekend, but a video uploaded this autumn shows that not much has changed. Kjartansson’s piece provided a lovely, wistful coda to any day’s visit to the exhibition. Now, however, as the grand festival closes for good, the musicians and their audience will have still more to feel poignant about.
A new, ballet-like performance at Paris’s eminent fashion museum explores the meticulous process of creating a beautiful garment, using actress Tilda Swinton as mannequin.
Fashion today is true mélange: it’s mass-market collaborations at Target, it’s Madison avenue window-shopping, it’s Project Runway challenges, it’s impulsive e-commerce, it’s Fashion Week frenzy, it’s small-business Brooklyn, it’s foreign production in struggling countries. These are not equal circumstances, but what’s shared at the heart of them all is the act of making a garment. That common denominator gets lost in the muddle, sometimes, when we talk about fashion. But a performance in Paris is spotlighting just that meticulous and elegant act with Eternity Dress (running through Sunday November 24th as part of the annual French Festival d’Automne).
Olivier Saillard (director of Paris’s eminent fashion museum, Palais Galliera) and Tilda Swinton (the beguiling Scottish-born actress) perform the entire process of making a single dress— from the measuring and patterning to the cutting and sewing—directly on Swinton’s body. Eternity Dress follows a 1950s methodology, with the dress ultimately representing the history of fashion and the architecture of the craft. It’s a striking conceptual counterpoint to the profusion of fashion collections.
Saillard and Swinton collaborated for the same festival last year on a piece entitled The Impossible Wardrobe, revolving around a selection of exquisite and delicate historical garments from the Galliera’s private archives. “It was evident Tilda should be our incarnation. She, for me, is a pedestal for all the costumes we selected,” Saillard said of their collaboration last year.
There could be no better place to honor the art of dressmaking than the most prestigious art school: the Beaux Arts de Paris. Amid marbled columns, decorative wall paintings, and the grand glass cupola of the Salon d’honneur, the small U-shaped auditorium housed a rapt audience of all ages.
At Performa, Shana Lutker revisits a wild Dada play that featured a nose and some lips.
This is a study for props and costumes in "The Nose, The Cane, The Broken Left Arm", a piece by Shana Lutker that I saw staged last night in New York as part of this year's Performa festival, and that is playing again tonight. Lutker's piece revisits the events of July 6, 1923, when Andre Breton, future leader of the Surrealist movement, came to blows in a Paris theater with some adherents of the rival Dada group, led by Tristan Tzara, who that night was premiering his new play called "The Gas Heart". Lutker's directing and script both need lots (and lots) more work, but the historical material she unearthed is fantastic, as are the costumes for the characters in "The Gas Heart", the play within Lutker's play, whom Tzara named Mouth, Eyebrow, Ear, Neck, Eye and Nose. Apparently last night's outfits were "inspired" by the originals of Sonia Delaunay, but I've got a feeling that Lutker used some wonderful poetic license in giving us a few of these body parts.
Made for women, the newly launched Adult magazine explores sexually explicit literature and photography—and asks, is it possible for porn to be fashionable and artistic?
What differentiates erotica from porn?
Sarah Nicole Prickett, the founder and editor-in-chief of the "new erotics" magazine Adult, quotes seventies porn star Gloria Leonard: "The difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting."
Adult is a magazine not meant to be displayed, she explains. Rather, it should be "[kept] next to your bed, or under it." Given the content, that may be rightfully so. There's an excerpt on discovering sex with a painter from American novelist Dodie Bellamy's new book C*nt Norton; New York Food Magazine White Zinfandel provides an aphrodisiac breakfast recipe—an oyster omelet—because "you can't spell 'breakfast' without 'breast'"; author and former Voguette Stephanie LaCava chronicles the inner-workings of the Doc Johnson Adult Toy Factory just outside Hollywood; and Katherine Bernard explores Erica Jong's notion of the "zipless fuck" through literature.
It's The New Yorker meets Hustler meets Interview combined to fulfill one ultimate goal: satisfying one's "sexual narcissism." Yet how can a magazine that treads the line of explicit pornography remain tasteful and artistic, rather than objectifying, and possibly offending, women?
At the Venice Biennale, Sharon Hayes gets young women to ponder sex.
This image shows a moment from a video by Sharon Hayes that's up at this year's Venice Biennale. (The show closes in five days, and therefore seems to warrant a parting Pic or two from me.) Hayes's video involved putting straight-ahead questions about sexuality to 36 students at an elite all-women's college in New England. (Click here to see some clips, along with comments by Hayes.) This Biennale included a fair dose of art with spiritual aspirations, so Hayes's encounter with the real was a brave and useful counterweight. That may have been what won it a Golden Lion prize.
Iconic 5Pointz building whitewashed.
You win some, you lose some.
In October, New York buzzed as the graffiti artist, Banksy, painted a different work of street art almost every day for his Better Out Than In project. But apparently the graffiti fever passed by some New Yorkers. On Tuesday, commuters and residents of Long Island City, Queens, woke up to find one of the Big Apple’s most iconic graffiti buildings, 5 Pointz, completely whitewashed.
Named for New York's five boroughs, 5 Pointz has been a canvas for street artists since the 1990s. While the private owners, Jerry and David Wolkoff, have never interfered with the artwork, they now plan to redevelop the property into high-end condos, requiring them to demolish the building and erase over two decades of art.
After it was announced earlier this month that the building would soon be destroyed, artists and activists pulled together and filed a lawsuit to protect the buildings under the Visual Artists Rights Act. VARA, after meeting certain requirements, protects the artist’s work regardless of who “owns" it.
The famed fashion photographer strays from his typical celebrity subject matter to shoot the brilliant colors, patterns, and fabrics worn by locals from his native Peru.
“Alta Moda is quite different from the portraits I am perhaps best known for,” famed fashion photographer Mario Testino said of his latest exhibit.
Taking a bold approach in his newest venture, Testino has strayed away from his typical subjects—celebrities and fashion models—and traded them in for natives of his home country, Peru. Alta Moda—which translates from Spanish as “high fashion”—examines traditional Peruvian dress from the Cusco region of the country.
“I usually try to capture the moment,” Testino said. “But with this series, I wanted to do something very different—not just with my own work, but also with the practice of photography. I tried to fit as much time and history into each frame as possible—from the traditional and festive clothing to the Chambi backdrops to the Peruvian people in them.”
Gerard ter Borch made headlines, while his rival in Delft was painting maids with earrings.
Here we are again, on our regular Monday visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This picture was painted in around 1658 by Gerard ter Borch, and is now on display in the Met's newly rehung Old Masters galleries. It is by Vermeer’s much more famous and successful contemporary, and lacks much of what we moderns love in Vermeer: His proto-photographic light, his cryptic, event-free subjects, his wide-angle deep space. That “lack” may be precisely why pre-modern Dutchmen so preferred ter Borch. As I’ve argued before, we may want to put ourselves in their eyes, and redress the balance between the two artists.
Selfies may be all the rage, but there’s still nothing like a framed portrait. From famous faces to twins, a look at the spontaneous collection of winners at London's Portrait Gallery.
In the age of selfies, Instagram, and Snapchat, it’s almost impossible to peruse the sixty new portraits selected for this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in London’s National Portrait Gallery without considering the difference between an image framed on a wall and one that has a brief life on your smartphone. The question is: does the installation of an image in the hallowed halls of a venerable institution hamper a feeling of familiarity? Is an image on a cell phone—up-close and personal—always a friendlier face?
The first image that you see when you enter the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition space swiftly stomps out any such assumption: Rosie Hallam’s Lily Cole greets gallery-goers with a warm and welcoming smile. Model-cum-actress-cum-art-historian (with a degree from the University of Cambridge no less), Cole effortlessly straddles the realms of social media and the arts. Here, she’s caught on camera in an informal portrait, fresh-faced, free of make-up, with loose hair, and wearing a floral dress and cosy knit cardigan.
The sixty portraits on show have been whittled down from the 5,410 submissions entered by 2,435 contemporary photographers around the world. Works by young students hang alongside those of established professionals; portraits printed in brilliant color are juxtaposed with ones in black and white; formal commissions of famous faces accompany spontaneous snapshots of family and friends. The question on everyone’s lips: “Which is your favorite?” The answer, more often than not: “It’s too hard to choose!”
The curation of such a merry (and complex) company was surely no easy feat. Yet somehow, despite the divergent approaches and subjects, the captured characters converse with ease.
In the Hirshhorn's "Damage Control", a woman has a different take on breaking things.
Watch a clip from Dara Friedman's "Total", a 1997 film which I recently saw in the show called "Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950" at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. (I previewed it in the New York Times.) Friedman's conceit is simple: She filmed herself tearing a room to shreds then projects it in reverse, so we see the decor reassemble itself. The piece drove home something I noticed throughout the Hirshhorn show: that the few women who've made art about destruction have had a quite different take than the boys' (and I do mean "boys"). Yoko Ono offers herself up to the scissors of strangers; Mona Hatoum makes hand grenades of delicate glass; Laurel Nakadate mourns 9/11 (or at least plays at it). And Friedman presents herself as undoing any destruction she's caused. It's not hard to think of her piece as a response to Jeff Wall's seminal (pun intended) "Destroyed Room", from 1978, a huge photo for which he carefully staged the utter destruction of an unnamed woman's room. He constructs, but plays at destruction; Friedman destroys but presents it as tidying up.
Not all art is easily placed in a museum; some pieces are intrinsically linked to the location in which they were created. A new book collects the best of these works in the Americas.
Site-specific art is some of the most exciting art on the planet. It’s not the art that’s generally in museums and galleries. More often you’ll find it in open fields, in libraries, in opera houses, in caves, on highways, in plazas, in sculpture parks, in state capitols, on the street, in the desert, in office buildings and even in hydroelectric plants. “Site-specific art.” It doesn’t sound good does it? It sounds formal and restricted, but at its best, it is immersive, moving, and very often overwhelming.
Five years in the making, Art & Place (published this month by Phaidon) includes some of the most outstanding examples of site-specific art in the Americas: from the markings of hunter-gatherers who stencilled the shape of their own hands onto cave walls some 9,000 years ago in a canyon in Patagonia, Argentina, to Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate that reflects the constantly changing city and sky in Chicago’s Millennium Square. The book’s geographical structure allows for an exciting sequence of works that vary in time, medium, and approach. Here, Neolithic monuments are juxtaposed with land art, jungle carvings with downtown murals, and public works with personal projects, such as the sculptures—and folly—of the wealthy eccentric Edward James, in the tropical rain forest a ten-hour drive from Mexico City.
There are sites that are familiar to everyone, like Easter Island with its enormous Moai figures standing over eight feet tall, but also far lesser known works, such as the totem poles of the Haida people on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Some are the creations of renowned artists, like Mark Rothko’s murals in the chapel commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil in Houston, or Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels that lie in the desert forty miles from the nearest town in Utah. Others express the genius of unknown artisans, such as the grisaille murals of the Monastery of San Nicolas de Tolentino in San Luis Potosí in Mexico, or of whole communities, like the caves painted in bright colors by the Chumash of California in a quest to communicate with the spiritual world.
What binds these works together is an overriding sense of place: the subject or meaning of all these works is closely intertwined with the location in which they are situated. And it is this that makes them some of the most adventurous, bold, and exciting to experience.