Friday, February 29, 2008

Gustave Courbet at The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

ART: New York

Gustave Courbet
February 27, 2008–May 18, 2008
Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

by Melissa Passman

Inescapably plastered across the cover of the exhibition catalogue, posters, and signs leading me to the exhibition, Gustave Courbet’s visibly tortured and fraught visage stares out, confronting me at all angles, capturing the public’s attention. With a well-documented affinity for self-promotion, it is no surprise that Courbet represents himself as the public face of the exhibition. Having already seen the previous incarnation of this exhibition in Paris’ Grand Palais, I entered the Met’s galleries with great curiosity to discover what alterations had been made to the intricate arrangement of the paintings, and with greater anticipation, what pieces had been allowed to travel across the Atlantic. It was a pleasant surprise then to find that greeting me once again was a room of Courbet’s provocatively indulgent self-portraits, one of the greatest rewards of this retrospective, the first in over 30 years. The curator’s inclination to declare Courbet’s modernity is immediate – these self-portraits beg to be compared to Cindy Sherman’s gallery of personalities.

Following this dramatic entrance, the thematically divided rooms cover a broad range of subjects, from his equally sensational nudes to thriving landscapes, Courbet’s meandering oeuvre leaves no category untried.

Baudelaire’s essay “The Painter of Modern Life” aptly characterizes Courbet’s agenda, namely to substitute the grand themes of history painting for the more immediate realities of France. Walking from room to room, the intensity of paint viscerally confronts the viewer with a force that had not been present before this moment. Most compellingly, the numerous connections to the burgeoning history of photography, an active presence in France since its invention in 1839, draws the lineage for multimedia influence and the enormous effect that this new form of capturing reality had on the once-dominant form of preserving historical moments.

Despite all of these compelling intersections of forms, unsurprisingly the crowds swelled as I entered the room containing art history’s best known work of pornography, "L’Origine du Monde." A blunt portrayal of gender, this small painting signifies both the potential of life and inevitable death in terse terms. Owned by Jacques Lacan prior to entering the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, this commissioned work is ensconced on a small wall facing the photographs that served as his sources, along with a peep show apparatus set up to replicate the furtive actions of the audience for them.

It is perhaps these paintings, most prominently “Sleep” which features two women, one still in stockings, more than even the self-portraits that present the strongest argument for Courbet’s grip on contemporary painting most notably, with John Currin’s most recent work. The ongoing fascination with paint, flesh, and above all, fresh engagements with the physical immediacy of paint as a tool for representation, confirm Courbet’s status as the progenitor of a highly adaptable form of painting whose repercussions continue to fascinate today.

Independent Cinema at the Berlinale

The International Herald Tribune has an interesting video on what is being shown at the Berlinale, including the amazing Isabella Rossellini as a spider

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peggy Guggenheim Collection Internship, Venice

by Jason Marquis

in which our New York correspondent gives insight on what to expect from an internship at the Venetian museum

As they say, sometimes you get more than you bargain for. My internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice was just such an occasion. This internship was, at times, worse than the “I- only-make-photocopies” kind we all dread. To work at the Guggenheim is to volunteer for hours of mindless guarding. That’s right: guarding. Somewhere along the line, someone capitalized on what a real money-saver the internship program could be. It was rare during my stay to get the opportunity to work in the director’s office or even with the registrar. The lucky few who did, had contacts at Sotheby’s or a trustee in their family; the art-world is far from fair in that regard. No doubt my situation was made all the more grim be the fact that I couldn’t speak Italian for weeks.

My only stimulation and gratification came from the tours I organized at the palazzo-turned-museum. I was given free reign to lecture on Modernism, museology and the Guggenheim family. My favorite stories (and the audience’s as well) were about Peggy’s open sex life. For example, a young woman once attempted to embarrass her at a Venetian masquerade by quipping from across the diner table, “So how many husbands have you had?” The quick-witted heiress responded, “Sorry dear, did you mean mine, or Others’?”

For as much as the Guggenheim abuses its internship program, the coincidental opportunities it provided went well beyond my expectations. The real reward for my work there laid outside what the museum could offer. I lived in Venice! I rode a boat to work every morning up the Grand Canal. I had a café where they knew me by name. I had libraries full of art historical texts at my fingertips: catalogs bursting with ideas. My apartment was a step from the American Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale, so I walked right over, asked for a job, and they gave it to me sight unseen. I met Ellsworth Kelly, Anish Kapoor, Zada Hadid, Matthew Barney and was humbled by my idols’ humanity.

Above all, I enjoyed the people; the only redeeming characteristic to the internship at the Peggy Guggenheim is its cosmopolitanism. Australians, Austrians, Americans, Britons, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Canadians, French, Latvians and Norwegians (just to name a few of the nationalities) composed the greatest amalgamation of art-minded individuals I have ever known. We stood on our feet all day looking at art, barking at visitors with curious fingers, and would afterward go for drinks to do the incredible: talk art. I’m not ashamed to admit I learned more about my field in those months abroad than I have in all my undergraduate schooling.

I drank spritz with Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s family and young collectors from California and England; toasted Thomas Krens, Director of the Guggenheim Foundation, below a Tiepolo ceiling in a 17th century Palazzo; I went to the beach on Lido every afternoon and met artists and editors I now work with.Sure enough, working at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was Hell, but sometimes a bargain with the Devil has its rewards.

Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon

by Val Bitici

A rush of excitement hits me as I walk the red carpet past paparazzi into the Ziegfeld Theatre for the premier of Julian Schnabel’s film Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon. When I enter the theater, I am not at all surprised to see it filled with the top names of fashion, art and film. On one side of the room Zac Posen is shaking hands with Matt Dillon, while three rows in front of him Mario Testino is sitting in an aisle seat engrossed in deep conversation with a well-dressed friend. I locate my assigned seat and am switching off my cell phone as a woman sits in the empty seat next to me. Turning to face her, I smile and say a neighborly “hello” before realizing that it is Chloë Sevigny, award winning actress and style icon. I suppress a gasp of incredulity and try to act normal. After Mr. Schnabel makes a speech describing the inspiration he gleaned from his relationship with his father to make the film, the lights dim and Chloë and I settle into our seats.

Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon is a moving account of human suffering and curtailed existence. Actor Mathieu Amalric captivates us as Jean-Dominique Bauby, the French Elle editor-in-chief whose sparkling life is unexpectedly brought to a standstill by a paralyzing stroke. Suffering from “locked-in” syndrome, Bauby is left with physical control over only his left eye and his mind. Schnabel’s adaptation of the book, written by the almost completely impaired Bauby after his stroke, is a chronicle of life, past and present, almost entirely through the patient’s perspective. Bauby communicated his story with the help of a transcriber who said the letters of the alphabet and waited for him to blink at hearing each letter he wanted to use. Thus slowly and painstakingly he authored the tremendous accomplishment Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon.

Schnabel’s vision of this unique record comes together as he makes the right choices with cinematography, lighting, and even language. Originally written in English by Ron Harwood, the script was translated into French per Schnabel’s adamant request to remain true to Bauby’s story. The effect is one of complete entrapment in the body and mind of the former magazine editor. From the first moment we meet the main character as he catches a glimpse of his pale, horrific appearance in a mirror, we see all that he sees and feel all that he feels. Trapped in his thoughts, Bauby constantly travels through memory and reality as he relives his past and examines his present circumstances. As he straddles the line between these worlds, Bauby takes the viewers along for an intense roller-coaster ride of emotions. Otherwise known as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel’s film captures poignantly the main character’s simultaneous sense of bodily entrapment and freedom of imagination. While imprisoned as if in a diving bell by his stroke, Bauby is also set free like a butterfly through his own thoughts. I do not think it possible for Schnabel, or anyone else, to pay a more beautiful homage to Bauby and his literary masterpiece. As everyone else in the Ziegfeld that evening, Chloë and I found ourselves teary eyed with both sorrow and hope as the Oscar-nominated film came to an end.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Bluegrass Tavern - Lexington, Kentucky

The Bluegrass Tavern
115 Cheapside
Lexington, KY 40507

by Shayla Lawson

I can give you good reasons why a woman drinks bourbon. But you need only one. It is the kind of drink you have a relationship with—you get a taste of it, you break up, you get back together all in one glass. Although not the most widely known, it is arguably one of the most well-respected of the five major types of whiskey and the only spirit native to the United States. Kentucky distills 95% of the world’s bourbon. Whiskey does not have to come from the great Bluegrass State to acquire the name bourbon, contrary to what a hometown girl like myself might tell you, but if you find bourbon distilled anywhere else I would not recommend drinking it.

“Bourbon is like candy,” says Nathan Barker, bar tender at the Bluegrass Tavern. Opened in January 2007, the independent bar owned by Larry Redmond celebrates bourbon’s Kentucky heritage. I visit the bar an hour before its Saturday night opening and ask Nathan for tasting tips. If you want to drink bourbon in the social environs most closely akin to how Kentuckians do, this is the place to come. The bar is warm and well lit. It has a faint oak scent complimented by the dark cherry stain of the bar counter and a clean seating arrangement fashioned from bar stools and reclaimed bourbon barrels. Bourbon is not flamboyant liquor. It has never really had its day as the go-to drink of the hipster crowd. Kentuckians typically share bourbon after dinner with friends or by leaving a bottle beside the Coca-Cola at family gatherings for the older folks (and the adventurous bad cousins). Like the Bluegrass Tavern it is quiet, internal, and enjoyable.

Nathan pulls out two shot glasses. He pours Basil Hayden’s 80 proof Straight Bourbon Whiskey and the Thomas H. Handy 134 proof Straight Rye Whiskey in each for comparison. Bourbon must come from a mash of at least 51% corn and contain an alcohol percentage of at least 80 proof. It has a nose and a mouth, like wine. I put my nose over the Basil Hayden’s as instructed. It is tan in color and sweet with a hint of licorice. It has a taste reminiscent of Sambuca but decidedly more visceral. Even at its mildest, bourbon has a complexity not kind to those who trust their front palette. The taste that hits the tongue is smooth but momentarily painful. Its heat settles in the stomach much lower than other liquors. The 134 proof Thomas H. Handy Sazerac felt like drinking a really fantastic western. It had the translucent color of dried magnolia petals in the glass. On the way down it tasted like smoke.

“Older men will come in here and they won’t even talk,” says Nathan describing the Tavern’s clientele of bourbon aficionados. A mature bourbon drinker usually prefers it neat (straight) from a snifter and will spend 45 minutes to an hour on one glass. But the Bluegrass Tavern does not discriminate. In addition to a selection of 162 bourbon varieties, and counting, it also has a full-service bar. As I prepare to leave, Nathan serves an already inebriated couple a bottle of Bud light and a pint Stella Artois on tap.

Drink Suggestions

A Manhattan—The Bourbon Cocktail
Bourbon with a touch of sweet vermouth, shaken, with a three cherry garnish in a martini glass lined with grenadine.

Mint Julep—The Horse Racing Mojito
Bourbon poured over crushed ice mixed with mint leaves and granulated or cane sugar.

Bourbon Barrel Beers
Beers brewed from the charred-oak barrels of finished bourbon batches. Incredible. I am a long time fan of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale for its sweet, elegant texture, but the The Bluegrass Tavern introduced me to the Bluegrass Brewing Company’s Jefferson Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout. It has a rich coffee bean flavor that catapulted Guinness and Young’s Double Stout out of position as my favorite dark beers.

Sources/ Additional information:
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association website
“Straight, or with a Splash of History.”
“The Best Bourbons"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pina Bausch at Sadler's Wells, London

Pina Bausch
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue
London EC1R 4TN

by Ana Vukadin

I had been looking forward to seeing Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells since November, when I first booked the ticket for her Café Muller (1978) and The Rite of Spring (1975). So overjoyed was I, that I decided to buy the £4 programme and didn’t even notice the little white note, so cheekily inserted inside the booklet. Once seated comfortably in my first circle seat, I opened the programme and the note flew out: ‘due to an indisposition, Pina Bausch will not be performing tonight. She will be replaced by Helena Pikon’. “What?! No Pina!! But I came here to see Pina!!” I though indignantly.

Moments later, the lights went out and Café Muller began. Every disappointment evaporated and I found myself lost in what I can only describe as one of the most moving performances I have ever seen in my life. An empty café filled with wooden chairs and tables is the set for the entrancing movements of three men and three women, to music by Henry Purcell. Two women and a man appear to be sleepwalking, as they dance with closed eyes, while the other three attempt in vain to protect them by rushing about chaotically, overturning the chairs and tables in their way. The sudden spurts of dancing, alternating between slow and fast, small and large movements, are abruptly ended by collapsing on the floor or slumping against walls. They feel like intense moments of a desire to feel, to live, to love, which then spiral into emptiness. The frequent repetition only emphasizes this sensation. One of the most poignant sequences is between two lovers, who are passionately and desperately drawn to one another, while another tries to keep them apart, knowing that their love is ultimately destructive. The two are finally locked in a tragic dance of intense embraces, and painful flinging of each other against the wall, alluding perfectly to the complexities, anxieties and impossibilities of love.

While Café Muller is a deeply personal performance, in a surreal and dreamlike setting, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is more traditional – if such a word can be used on Tanztheater Wuppertal productions – in the sense that Pina Bausch clearly follows the story Stravinsky narrates with his music: a pagan ritual between two tribes of men and women ending with the rapture of a virgin destined to dance till exhaustion until she is sacrificed. However, the way the story is treated, from the stage being covered in fresh earth, to the individual expressiveness of each dancer is pure Pina. The dancers, sixteen women and sixteen men, are all entranced in a manic, erotic and gripping pagan dance, which perfectly mirrors the feral intensity of the music, and entirely draws you in.

The amazing thing about Pina Bausch’s choreography is that you are moved to tears, smiles, alarm, fear – any number of emotions – without really being able to say why. Perhaps the reason it penetrates us so is because fractions of the pieces stir up some memory in our subconscious, and as we are about to grasp it, some other graceful movement has brought up some other memory. And so it goes...Hers is a performance which is not meant to be interpreted. As Pina herself puts it so accurately, “when the dancer gives his or her response, the response concerns everyone”.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


by Jason Marquis

I take issue with the disturbing fact that, despite the advance of Postmodernism, there are elements of our culture steeped in 18th century Enlightenment. We continue to speak and write of our thoughts and the things and spaces about us in dualist oppositions: good vs. bad, mind vs. matter, institution vs. the public. The masses are at odds with the institution in this paradigm. They are pupils to be instructed in culture by a master and schooled in the meaning of their shared history, making communication a one-way, fascist affair.

Derivative of enlightened rationalism, the museum is an institution that seeks out constants: steady principals that buttress the posthumous histories of past civilizations (histories that validate the position of our own). Therefore, criticism in the museum context, taking the form of exhibitions and permanent displays, is often an attempt to discover the universal values that inform artistic practice; something philosophers have raked out time and again in circular discussions of aesthetic theory.

But the modern man, as described by Baudelaire and contextualized by Foucault, does not seek outside himself for truth and discovery; rather he “invents” himself; or perhaps in this postmodern period he ‘re-invents’ himself. “This modernity does not ‘Liberate man in his own being’; it compels him to face the task of producing himself.” (Rabinow, 46). Due to this critical ontological shift (which took place three decades ago!), ought museums critique history less (that is, in the search for universal truths: building generalities from specifics), and refocus on the reasons why humans say, think and achieve what they do in the field of art? It’s time we reevaluate the way we use history in public art spaces to bring them in line with modern theories of critique.