A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Tuesday, November 28

Chelsea Gallery Shows

I spent more than three hours last Saturday hopping Chelsea galleries, mostly from 26th Street to 20th. Here's a few of the exhibitions I liked most. As always, click on any image to enlarge.

Yayoi Kusama

One of the great rewards of gallery-going is discovering someone whose work instantly speaks to you... and for me, on this day, that someone was Yayoi Kusama. Yes, I know now that she's been internationally renowned since the 1960s, but she was new to me on Saturday, and I loved everything I saw. The two mirror boxes were fun and engaging and made me wish I had been to some of her mirror rooms I found pictures of later online. Her neon pieces were great, too, especially Ladder to Heaven. But what I REALLY loved was her Infinity Net paintings and drawings: beautiful, obsessive works that apparently stem from her childhood hallucinations of nets and dots and flowers covering her entire world.

At the Robert Miller Gallery, 524 W26th Street. Ended November 25.

Michael Alexis

These six big collage-y looking paintings are, according to the gallery's press release, "inscribed, carved through gesso-soaked paper on canvas." I'm not really sure what that means—I guess he lays down a color on canvas, puts paper over that, cuts through the paper, then paints over everything—but I do know that I liked the palette, the composition and the playful feeling of Alexis's works.

At the Stephen Haller Gallery, 542 W26th St. Thr
ough December 12.

Laurel Nakadate

This is pretty intense stuff. Laurel Nakadate has made a career of exploring the sexual effect she, and women in general, have on men, and vice versa. Her installation at Danzinger Projects, A Message to Pretty, centers on two continuous projections: one shows us Nakadate's erotic but ultimately numbing reenactments, in various settings and stages of undress, of the fake-orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally; the other features middle-age, unattractive men who, though only asked by Nakadate to "address the camera as if it were a woman they once loved", effortlessly, almost subconciously, spew out the worst forms of misogyny and desires for violent revenge. For the first video, you're invited to watch while sitting at an old wooden school desk; for the second, one of those coin-operated riding horses.

A side note: about four years ago I posted something stupid on Craigslist about how I had a plum here that was totally ripe and did anyone want it? I got many more responses than I imagined I would, but by far the most appealing and flirtatious of them was from—you guessed it—Laurel Nakadate.

At Danzinger Projects, 521 W26th St. Ended November 25.

David Maisel

For this series of eerie, almost abstract photographs of Los Angeles in 2004, David Maisel took to the air, used black-and-white film, and then printed the images in negative. The results have a distinctly post-apocalypse feel (the show is called Oblivion, after all), but at the same time are also strangely, undeniably beautiful.

At the Von Lintel Gallery, 555 W25th St, through December 23.

Tal R

Five energetic, bright, splashy paintings, two of which I liked quite a bit, and all which reminded me in some way of Basquiat. The show is called "Le peintre n'est pas la," which, since I don't understand French, I'm guessing refers to the artist's self-imposed palette limit of seven colors: pink, yellow, green, red, brown, black, white.

At the Zach Feuer Gallery, 530 W24th St, through January 6.

Nigel Cooke

I wasn't a huge fan of these large, anarchic, twisted, cartoony landscapes, but I did spend a while looking at them, so on some level I must have found them compelling, and I know Bo and Co would have liked them.

At the Andrea Rosen Gallery, 525 W24th St., through December 9.

Greg Smith

I love when I walk into a gallery with no idea what's behind the (often frosted glass) door, and stumble upon something like Greg Smith's very pink, very chaotic, definitely slightly insane installation, complete with an unusually engaging video inside that cardboard box structure. I have no idea what it all means (themes include animal husbandry, Nebraska, surveillance, moving images, space vs. constriction, among others), but I was smiling my whole time there. Again, this sort of interactive, puzzling, thoroughly contempory art is one of the things that what makes my kids enjoy gallery hopping as much as I do.

At the Susan Inglett Gallery, 534 W22nd St. Ended November 25.

Allan McCollum

This was perhaps the most visually stunning, most purely entertaining piece I saw all day. First, some backstory: Allan McCollum has apparently come up with a system whereby he can create (and keep track of) a wholly unique shape for every person on the planet. The project, though technically and artistically possible, is too massive for him to ever hope to complete in a lifetime, so for now he has set aside 214,000,000 of these shapes for creative use and experimentation. One such use: the 7,066 individually framed examples (sold in lots of 144, if you're interested), meticulously arranged on possibly a hundred or so ascending ledges. Even setting aside the enormously cool idea behind the project, this was fantastic just to look at, purely as a piece of art. Your visual perspective of the work totally changes as you move through the gallery space, or whether you see it as a whole, or focus on the individual frames. Not to mention that it makes for an excellent photo-op backdrop.

At the Friedrich Petzel Gallery, 533 W22nd St., through December 23.

Nathan Carter

My final satisfying discovery of the day was Nathan Carter's thoughtful, visually engaging stand-up and wall-mounted sculptures, collages, and typographic treatments. Using only blues, reds and blacks, his pieces somehow manage to be both whimsical and slightly menacing. I thought his subway map series (of London, shown above, as well as Paris and New York) was particularly clever.

At the Casey Kaplan Gallery, 525 W21st, through December 22.

One last note: I also really liked and totally recommend the massive Andy Warhol show (including, among many other iconic works, several self-portraits, a few Maos, a few cows, The Last Supper, and the great Hammer and Sickle pieces), at both Chelsea Gagosian galleries, on 24th and 21st Sts., through December 22; as well as Ellsworth Kelly's mostly black-and-white exhibition at the Matthew Marks galleries (I especially liked the drawings), on 24th St.

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Monday, November 27

Pinkberry vs. Crazy Bananas

I eat a bowl of ice cream pretty much every day, and Bo and Co are more than happy to join me when they're here. But frozen yogurt? Yeah, not so much. However, after Canstruction last week I realized that I was right near the new Pinkberry (on 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues), which arrived from Los Angeles about a month ago in a blizzard of fro-yo hype. Then on my way across town I saw that Crazy Bananas (32nd St. between Madison and 5th Aves.) had also just opened. Dueling desserts seemed the only prudent course of action.

I must say, I really wanted Crazy Bananas to win. I liked their name, I liked the silly hats on my VERY smiley servers, I liked the fact that—and this, I'm pretty confident, is unique as compared to all other frozen-treat establishments in New York City—the store prominently, proudly features a display case of happy wooden phalluses. But although I was repeatedly told that this was "real" yogurt (as an inducement? a warning?), it tasted pretty much like every other such thing I've dared try over the years... which is to say, it tasted like cold chemicals. And the toppings I had—strawberry, pineapple and chocolate—were totally freezer... not -burned, but -blanded. Sorry, Crazy Bananas.

And now the truly stunning news: Pinkberry is absolutely delicious. Really, I couldn't get over how tasty it was, how different from any other non-ice-cream frozen treat I've ever had. It was tangy and a little sour and refreshing and clean and absolutely addicting—one of those things you practically shovel into your mouth because you just can't wait to get the next bite in there. You have two choices: plain or green tea, and there are lots of the usual and some unusual toppings (Cap'n Crunch, anyone?). I went with plain, with pineapple and chocolate chips, and I couldn't have been happier. If I still worked in that neighborhood, I would definitely go a couple times a week. Plus, the store itself is nicely designed. No wooden phalluses, true, but plenty of Philippe Starck chairs and lots of dots and those Le Klint hanging lamps. Coming soon: Pinkberries on the Upper East Side, in Nolita, and in Chelsea.

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Sunday, November 26

Woyzeck at St. Ann's Warehouse

First, a little Woyzeck backstory. The author of this relentlessly bleak play, the Prussian Georg Büchner, died in 1837, age 23, of typhoid fever. And in fact, he never even finished what has become one of the most influential, most frequently performed plays in all of German theatre: Woyzeck was only discovered after Büchner's death, in draft form, with its scenes separately bundled, and unnumbered, so no one really knows how it's "supposed" to go. And it was the first piece of German literature in which the working class—in this case, common soldiers—were the main characters. AND it was based on a true story, about a man named Woyzeck who had his head chopped off for murdering his mistress.

OK, cut to last Friday night, Dumbo's cavernous St. Ann's Warehouse, a packed house, me in row H, seat 111, not really sure why I'm there (other than I like to try new things), never knew any of the above, no idea what to expect. Because I'm such an amateur "experimental theatre"-goer, I'll just give a few overall impressions...

I thought the production's design was beautiful: the sets, the lighting, the propping, all of it... especially the way the enormously deep stage was transformed into a (somewhat creepy) forest. And Woyzeck's tricycle—both innocent and pathetic—was very effective. And that swinging window. And the jukebox, too.

I appreciated the blasting of loud music numerous times throughout the story (vintage Elvis Preseley was the big star... not usually my thing, but it worked well here), both as an audience jolt and because it nicely punctuated the narrative.

I thought the deliberately overwrought acting style was tedious, terribly distracting and totally uneccessary.

I thought Edward Hogg as Woyzeck did a tremendous job of evoking the horrible, consuming agony of betrayal and heartbreak and jealousy and rage.

I thought the book itself was alternately compelling—ruminations on class ("virtue is a luxury the poor can't afford"), and the taming of man's "animal" instincts, and Woyzeck's uncertainty about his sanity—and ridiculously mopey, with our hero prone to say things like "Look at the thick gray sky. Makes you want to stick a nail in it. And hang yourself."

I thought the play's ending, though inevitable, was unbelievably depressing.

I thought St. Ann's Warehouse was a very cool venue, and will definitely keep an eye out for other new things to try there. Woyzeck is running through December 3.

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Friday, November 24

Top Five Fall Movies

What were my five favorite films I saw post-Labor Day, pre-Thanksgiving?

1. The Departed
2. The Prestige
3. Volver
4. The Last Kiss
5. Flags of Our Fathers

In serious contention for that fifth spot:
5a. 49 Up
5b. Casino Royale
5c. Stranger Than Fiction
5d. The Queen
5e. Infamous

OK, call it the Top Ten Fall Movies.

Am I wrong? Did I miss anything? Just let me know in the comments!


Fall Movies: Part 5

It's Thanksgiving weekend, so fall is officially over. (Yes, I just made that up.) But before we move on to the "Holiday Movie Season", here's a look at what I saw last week...

Keep your expectations appropriate—it is a James Bond movie, after all—and you're sure to have a great time at Casino Royale, by far the best installment in the series in a decade or more. Much has been made, and rightly so, of Daniel Craig's tortured turn as 007, and it is definitely satisfying to have a Bond that's more loose cannon than suave playboy... though Craig, of course, does look totally hot in a tux (not to mention naked), and he still does get the woman. But the whole movie also just feels smarter (the solid script helps), more contemporary, more relevant than its recent predecessors. Just using parkour* in the big opening stunt added immediate credibility in my mind. And that ending... talk about turning your back on Bond clichés!

I took Bo and Co to Stranger Than Fiction last weekend and it was a huge hit with all three of us. We were cracking up many times in the movie's first half, as Will Farrell beautifully underplays an IRS agent who suddenly—and alarmingly—tunes into a voice in his head narrating his every move. The funniest scene may have been with Dustin Hoffman, again nicely (and, for him, surprisingly) underplaying his role as a literature "expert" who tries to help Farrell figure out whether he's been somehow thrust into a comedy, or a tragedy. And then there's the very sweet romance between Farrell and the always adorable Maggie Gyllennhaal, which totally made me cry and, if you have any heart, will send you straight to iTunes when you get home to download that (for me) long-forgotten Wreckless Eric ditty "Whole Wide World". This was definitely the best movie I saw with my kids this fall.

The plot of Fast Food Nation is thin, to say the least, and most of the dialogue functions not so much to build characters, or drive a narrative, but more as a vehicle to indict the meatpacking industry (both for the appalling, unsanitary conditions of its plants and its predatory hiring practices of illegal immigrants), as well as the fast-food marketing machines, lazy consumers, and the strip-malling and chain-storing of America. I'm tempted to suggest skipping the flick and reading Eric Schlosser's excellent book by the same name (which you should do no matter what), but even at its nearly 2.5 hours running time, I found Richard Linklater's film actively engaging throughout, no doubt helped by a superb cast led by Catalina Sandino Moreno, Greg Kinnear and an uncredited Bruce Willis.

An admirable failure is perhaps the best way to describe Bobby, Emilio Estevez's Altman-wannabe portrait of the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated, right after winning the California primary, at L.A.'s grand old Ambassador Hotel. The movie tries to show the awful effect of the killing from a dozen or more points of view—two Bobby volunteers who drop acid; an alcoholic lounge singer and her heartbroken husband; a young couple getting married just to keep the boy from going to Vietnam; the hotel's manager, caught having an affair with a switchboard operator; the Mexican and Negro kitchen staff; and on and on—but the inane, patronizing script hamstrings Estevez's ambition at every turn. And because the huge all-star cast is given nothing to work with, the whole thing ultimately feels more like a 2006 celebrity get-together than a bittersweet slice of 1968.

Last, and definitely least, there's the Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Denzel Washington time-traveling mess of a thriller Deja Vu, which is actually more entertaining than it has any right to be, but unless you've run out of options, certainly skippable.

* Sometimes called "free running." For more, here's Wikipedia, and one of thousands of videos on YouTube.


Thursday, November 23

Brice Marden at the MoMA

It was almost like love at first sight, Brice Marden and me: a tiny image of one of his looping paintings in some "Fall Preview: Arts" article this year was all it took to know that we would click. Finally, I made it to his magnificent show at the MoMA a couple of Saturdays ago—our first date, if you will—and the afternoon surpassed even my inflated expectations.

I thought it was beautiful: the compositions, the energy, the emotion, the colors, the light.

I loved his monochromatic works, these large, sensual pools of incredible, rich colors. Sometimes a color stands alone, and staring at these I almost felt like I could fall right in, if only I could concentrate hard enough. Other times Marden places two or three colors side by side, creating what amounts to the biggest, most delicious Pantone chips ever on display. Often he leaves the bottom inch or so of these canvases unfinished, allowing drips and wayward brush strokes to remain as they fall, cleverly grounding the awesome, luminous paintings with a human touch.

There are plenty of his signature squiggly works here, too, spectacular creations so filled with movement and life and after-images that your eye can't stand still, and so patterns and shapes and figures continuously emerge and disappear in your peripheral vision. These are extremely active pieces of art. And the colors! One was so sunny and bright it was fairly pulsating, as if the boundaries of the canvas couldn't quite contain the energy within. All are exquisite in their palette, and remarkably emotionally evocative. And the two works which I believe were created especially for the show—six panel versions of something called "The Propitious Garden of Plane Image"—are like some super creative, supremely tasteful ROYGBIV studies.

The paintings are on the MoMA's sixth floor, and there are also Marden drawings on the third floor, which are definitely worth seeing, especially the "Muses Drawing" series, quietly brilliant loopings of blacks, whites and grays. Both exhibits will up through January 15.

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Tuesday, November 21


The great Canstruction ends tomorrow, so if there's any way you can get to 32nd and Lexington (200 Lex, to be precise, which houses the New York Design Center) before then... well, please do so. Now in its 14th year, Canstruction is a "design/build" competition for which architecture, design and/or engineering firms conceive of and construct huge sculptures made almost entirely of cans of food (sometimes other food packaging is used for details). At the end of the exhibit, all the cans go to City Harvest, to be distributed to food banks, shelters, soup kitchens, senior homes, etc., all over the city. The price of admission to see these incredibly creative, whimsical, technically challenging, exceedingly clever works of art? One can of food. The amazing creations are scattered throughout the showrooms on nearly all 15 floors of the Design Center, adding treasure-hunt appeal to the experience. Scheduling and logistics have so far prevented Bo and Co from going this year (though I'm hoping I can get them there tomorrow), but I went solo yesterday afternoon and had a blast. Here's a look at a few of my favorites. Click on any image to enlarge.

This giant hand was pretty incredible. Another thing that makes this exhibit so much fun is the setting. You walk into these high-end design showrooms, and Canstruction's brightly-colored, sometimes silly, and quite massive sculptures are just sitting amidst the "fancy" furnishing on display.

This piano was one of the most "life-like" looking pieces.

Monster-sized Connect Four!

A view of Earth from the moon. I loved the way the did "outer space," and used a Manwhich can for the astronaut.

Tough to capture in a photograph, but this two-man bobsled was technically cool in the way it was slanted, going around the "curve." Liked the water bottles for ice, too.

One of several dragons/sea serpents, this got my award for best use of small details. Like...

...Pixie Stix for whiskers (dragons have whiskers? I guess so... it looked so much more "realistic" with them included), cinnamon Ice Breakers for eyes, and those high-end tea bags for fangs....

....and a damsel in distress amid the crennelations!

This running faucet must have been nerve-wracking to construct. Wonder how many times it fell before they nailed it?

The Mobius Strip won first prize, but unfortunately had collapsed before my visit yesterday.

Cans of tuna are by FAR the most common building material used, here creating a cute alligator with a Kit-Kat tongue and caviar eyes.

One of two sushi sculptures. I liked the shrimp on this one, and the wasabi, and the fact that upside-down rice containers form the platter.

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