15 December 2014

Art Roundup

"Woman Viewed from Behind" Edgar Degas (ca. 1879-1885)

This fall has been filled with loads of art from exhibits to performances to screenings. As much as I tried, I fell behind in trying to write reviews of everything so before the season is officially over, here’s a short wrap-up of some of the things I saw.

In the summer of 1937, an art exhibit was held in Munich comprised of 650 pieces of art deemed degenerate by the Nazi Party because it “insulted German feeling” among other things. At the same time another show, “The Great German Art Exhibition,” showcased Nazi-approved art. You can guess which one had the highest attendance: more than 1 million people saw the degenerate show in its first six weeks. In September, I caught the last day of a fascinating exhibit at the Neue Galerie, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” which compared 80 works from both exhibits. Seen side by side, there’s no argument that the “degenerate” art was far superior; including works by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, it was a collection of some of the masters of modern art. Perhaps most striking of all in the exhibit was a room with empty frames symbolizing the art that was lost, most likely destroyed by the Nazis. The exhibition catalogue can be found here.

The Conformist (1970)

Film Forum showed a restored, director-approved version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece The Conformist (1970). Based on Alberto Moravia’s novel, the story takes place in 1930s France and Italy where Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) joins the Italian Fascist party and finds himself tasked with the assassination of one of his old college professors. The film cuts between the present and the past, showing how an attempted sexual assault and presumed murder during Marcello's isolated childhood caused him to grow up craving a normal life. There are numerous great scenes including the climatic encounter in the woods, which would later influence The Godfather, beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro who incorporated Art Deco design and Fascist-era architecture with stunning effect. Available here.
For the 75th anniversary of the book about the little girl who lived in "an old house in Paris that was covered with vines,” the New York Historical Society celebrated with “Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans,” which showcased the Madeline books and their creator, Ludwig Bemelmans, whose own story seems invented. Abandoned by his father as a child, Bemelmans grew up in Germany and Austria, and worked at his uncle’s hotel before an incident involving a shooting led to his being sent to America. It was here in New York that he began to write the tale of Madeline. The exhibit was wonderful, filled with drawings from the Madeline books as well as ones from the Ritz Hotel (where he once worked) and panels from the Paris restaurant he owned. A selection of books and nearby sofa where one was encouraged to sit and read was an added bonus. The exhibit can currently be seen at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts through February 22, 2015. For more info, visit here.

Anna May Wong's Certificate of Identity, August 18, 1924, National Archives at San Francisco.

Another, more serious exhibit I saw at the Historical Society was “Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion,” which looks at the history of trade between the US and China, and the plight of Chinese immigrants who, thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act, were not legally allowed to immigrate to the US until 1943. From the beginning of the tea trade in the 18th century to the building of the railroads in the 19th to their successful fight to become citizens in the 20th, Chinese Americans have had an impact on this country. The exhibit includes items from the gold rush (a large reason for Chinese immigration in the 19th century), multiple oral histories, and a recreation of barracks at Angel Island near San Francisco where Chinese immigrants were held while their immigration status was confirmed or denied. Also included is screen star Anna May Wong’s Certificate of Identity, a card that all Chinese, no matter how famous, were required to carry at all times. The exhibit runs through April 19, 2015. For more info, visit here.

I will do almost anything to see a performance by the M
ark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) and so I made sure to attend the opening night of the Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center where Morris debuted a new work, Words, set to the music of Mendelssohn and specially commissioned for the event. One of four groups performing that evening, the MMDG was the last and best. With all 16 dancers dressed in simple outfits by Maile Okamura, their movements, as with so many of Morris’ work, led you down one path only to surprise you with a sudden twist or turn. A plain cloth carried by two dancers acted as a screen behind which dancers could enter and exit. It was in short, a complete joy to watch. For more about the MMDG, visit their site here.

Rossy de la Palma and Rossy de la Palma in Traveling Lady

Journalist Nellie Bly set out in 1889 to beat the around the world in 80 days record of Jules Verne’s novel; she came in at 72 and was a worldwide news sensation. Jessica Mitrani’s new multimedia piece, Traveling Lady, which premiered at the FIAF Fall Festival, is inspired by Bly and looks at feminine stereotypes via music, film, and well, dancing dresses. At the center of the piece is Pedro Almodovar muse Rossy de la Palma whose larger-than-life presence on stage and in some of the film clips made the show worth seeing.

Powerhouse, a play by Josh Luxenberg and the Sinking Ship Ensemble, tells the story of the eccentric composer Raymond Scott who in the 1930s attempted to reinvent Swing music with his band the Raymond Scott Quintette and who spent his life inventing countless electronic musical gadgets. Scott would likely be forgotten today if it were not for his music catalogue that he sold to Warner Brothers who in turn used many of the pieces for their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons including the highly recognized “Powerhouse,” which is often used for assembly line scenes. The play, which includes musical performances, dance, and puppetry (some of the funniest scenes in the show), is more than just your run-of-the-mill story of a famous person's life—it shows the madness that is at the heart of creativity. 

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