Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Breaking Upwards

Sunday evening brought three Brooklynites and one Astorian together in Manhattan's IFC for a viewing of a film within our favorite genre: New York indie relationship stories that FREAK US OUT. Why do we watch these things?

We know they are going to be depressing, we know they are going to be too snarky, or too saccharine, or too close to home. But there is something about watching a twenty-something couple on screen walking their bikes through the West Village that makes us tilt out of our chairs with interest. Maybe it's the cautionary part of it, or maybe its the narcissists in all of us. But very few things can get us out of Brooklyn on a Sunday, and this movie did just that. (Sure wish it was playing at BAM! Stupid C train...)

Breaking Upwards is the story of a breakup. And doesn't that bit of knowledge kind of make you hate the title? It's the story of an over educated Manhattan couple who love each other but have grown bored of their relationship and the monotony of Idol on Tuesdays and things like that. We all know the story-- they met right after college, got comfortable, and never really left. They don't feel the need to talk about marriage like their Midwestern counterparts because in New York you don't have to talk about things like that for a while. And yet, the relationship eventually becomes stagnant and stale but without reason. Ho hum.

The film opens with a mutual need for 'days off' of their relationship. 'Lets try spending some time apart! Dating other people! It might be good for us! Perhaps even bring us closer!' Well, obviously it isn't good for anyone, and it ends in heartbreak. Clearly. (The word 'clearly' was for Anna, who confessed to me last night that I overuse it that and she sometimes uses it to imitate me in conversation.)

What drew us to this film, however, is that the two main characters, Daryl and Zoe, were played by THEMSELVES. They wrote it, they acted in it, and they are a couple in real life! In New York! In the Village! Their real life names are Daryl and Zoe too! See, you would go to Manhattan for it too.

Ali, Katie, Nick, and I timidly discussed the movie over curry (so spicy that it gave me upper lip sweat) on Bleecker afterwards, all hesitating on our opinions. We were clearly interested in it (there it is again!) but no one would really fess up to actually liking the movie. We all liked Daryl, and came to a mutual conclusion that he is the good guy that none of us will ever date. We liked Zoe's shiny lipstick, and we liked that Margie's cousin Olivia had a small role. (Hi Margie, if you're out there!)

The thing is, even if the film making is choppy and cliche and falling very short of brilliant, we will never grow tired of these Woody Allenesque films about people whom we secretly aim to be. We embrace the New York tragedy of it all, and will suffer through as many talking heads as young film school grads will throw our way. We loved Annie Hall and we LOVED The Way We Were (not Woody Allen but you get my point) and are continually left chasing the idea that eventually a film like this will give us some answers.

Yes, in the end Daryl and Zoe broke up. We knew it was coming and instead of making us hurt, it made us feel relieved and a bit lighter. Which, come to think of it, is a nice little film trick that they totally pulled off. They flipped the genre a bit. And what we learned in the 90 minute viewing is that good things happen after relationships end-- really good things. Good things like lazy Sunday afternoons in the Village watching indie films at the IFC, then eating spicy green curry and laughing so hard you cry with your best friends who haven't figured any of it out either.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

House Beautiful

I found wisdom last week in the least likely of sources-- in House Beautiful, a decorating magazine I was given while pretending to be interested in buying Farrow & Ball paint. (I was secretly poaching Farrow & Ball paint colors to be mixed by the good people at Benjamin Moore--half the price!) And not to worry, dear reader, my gained wisdom is outside the realm of decorating, just bear with me.

While House Beautiful isn't my standard periodical of choice, it was there in front of me, and I'll take reading over shop small talk any day. I gladly jumped right into a world that describes bathtub faucets as 'voluptuous' and has entire articles devoted to things like 'different ways to stain reclaimed wood'.

Truth be told, I actually enjoy the decorating game (whenever I hear the word 'decorator' I think of Breakfast at Tiffany's. "He's already got a decorator. I'm the agent." It's such a dark film, isn't it? People forget that because of the pastry scene, but it's based on a Truman Capote novel! ANYWAY...) I am interested in people who fall in love with everyday things, and the world of interior design falls neatly into a category of passionate people who pour love into their craft--people whose eyes light up when describing a color of gray paint or a method of silk upholstery.

In an article titled 'The New Look of Wood is Tinted,' Susan Ferrier was asked about the domed birdcage centerpieces that she chose for a (stunning!) lake house's dining room table. Was there a story behind it? Her answer:

"Not really. [Finding the centerpieces was] purely visceral. I found them in Paris and just had to have them. Then I thought, 'These will really work in the house'-- even though I wasn't sure how. First you fall in love, then you rationalize. Isn't that always the case? Certainly with anything that lasts."

I read that last sentence, there in Farrow & Ball on Mercer Street, five times over with a dropped jaw before blinking back into fake-designer mode. Susan Ferrier, whoever she is, just said a mouthful and had absolutely no idea. First you fall in love, then you rationalize.

She is speaking of a centerpiece, for Pete's sake, of bits of wood and glass recreated to look like miniature trees or robins' eggs or something. But her offhand musings about Parisian antiques reached right out of House Beautiful and into my heart. Her simple words completely dissected and reassembled my current state of affairs. (So to speak.) We rationalize not because we believe ourselves to be right but because we cannot do otherwise. Because we've already gone past the point of okay.

I moved to a new apartment this weekend, did I tell you that? I haven't been here at the ol' blog much lately, but not for lack of content. I've seen plays and eaten dinners and read books with time that I, quite frankly, didn't have to spare.

Packing was packed in between seeing American Idiot and walking a million miles for MS research. Painting happened between a Florence and the Machine concert and dinner uptown with my best friend Meghan one gorgeous Thursday evening. Moving physically took place during work hours, as my time ran out on the weekends. I didn't stop my life for this move, but I did, in some ways, redirect my mind.

You see, the second part of Ferrier's verse (verse!) is the most important. Annie and I spoke of this very concept on my bare mattress the night before I moved away from 50 Downing Street. I made her sit there with me like school girls well into the night, in part mourning for the loss of this time and in part needing some perspective.

We talked about what it means in the context of relationships-- why do we continue to rationalize? Why not just quit? Because just like that studio apartment, those trees, that temptress of solitude... we fall first and rationalize later. It's why we say yes to that lease, it's why we hurt people, and it's why we get hurt as well. Isn't that always the case? Certainly with things that last.

I'm back though. I'm back here, in this space, and in a new space of my own. I'm tucked on a little street between the East River and a park, just past the BQE, and overlooking a willow tree. I'm there between my books and my art and the purple soap dish that once belonged to my Grandmother.

My white duvet is there beneath my Felix Gonzalez-Torres light bulb photographs, next to my Rock and the water cups that collect on my nightstand as the week wears on. I have a fire escape that faces a garden and a pot of mint tea on the stove, if you're interested. Come over for a visit. We'll watch Breakfast at Tiffany's and talk about anything that lasts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fiona Rae

While trying to write the post about an artist who I've actually seen within the past two days, I kept finding myself distracted by the work of another artist-- the fresh, darling Fiona Rae. Rae is showing at Pace on 57th Street right now (also showing at Pace spaces around the city-- Kiki Smith and Joel Shapiro, mustgosoon!) and has some of the most enjoyable paintings I've come across in a while.

While 'enjoyable' isn't my usual hook for admiring an artist, it is a nice send off from a busy Friday to a happy weekend. That's all. Enjoy your Saturdays :)

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Thursday afternoon brought a rare outing for the girls of AiA's ad team-- a trip to see art together without an added business motive. We go to galleries all of the time, and look at art all the livelong day, but this the first time the four of us have taken an afternoon to view art on our own accord. We went because we found this exhibition in particular to be significant.

In case you haven't already heard (impossible!) Marina Abramovic is holding fort at on the atrium at MoMA, staring down museum visitors. She sits sturdy as a tree truck on a wooden chair in a long red (first time I went it was blue) polyester dress across a table from audience volunteers who absolutely cower in her presence. (You can watch live here.)

Each woman that I witnessed participating was breathing heavily, gripping the chair, and starring the artist down with active and twitching eyes. Perhaps this was a fluke, as hundreds of MoMA goers have sat in that chair thus far, and surely some of them played it more cool. But I suppose that is the point, now isn't it?-- It's an installation that changes, shifts,and alters with each new participant. And my experience proved that Marina isn't just sitting, staring, not talking. She has achieved a certain removal from active life.

When I expected to her engage with those who came to stare, I left understanding that she is actually purposefully disengaged. Her self awareness is shot, her eyes unfocused, her mind off. By sitting for twelve(ish) hours a day and not speaking even when she goes home at night, Marina has cleansed herself of this world, not even available when staring at her dead in the eyes.

The installation continues upstairs with works on video, in photographs, and reenactments. The most talked about being the two (naked!) people in a doorway, one a new Marina, the other a new Ulay (I'll get to him). They are facing each other with inches between, and gallery viewers are invited to pass through. Is it shocking? No. Is it embarrassing? Not really.

It's a somewhat solemn commentary on human connection. And yes, I know how that sounds. It sounds pretentious and overreaching, and like a big giant platitude, but I FELT IT. Marina and Ulay-- two people that we know to have shared a DEEP connection-- stand naked, exposed, vulnerable, and allow a third person to physically engage between the intensity of their presence.

Do you see? Do you understand why this work is important and what can be gained from performance art in all off its oddities? Instead of viewing a painting of the crusifixion by Giotto or Caravaggio, or Titian, we walk into a room with a (naked) woman high up on the wall, her arms spread in the sign of the cross. It's nothing but a painting cracked open. It asks us to consider what paintings are, what nudity is, and how can we get just a little bit closer.

Now Ulay, the gentlemen whom I've referred to three times without explanation, is Marina's past lover and artistic collaborator. They spoke frequently of being a 'two headed body', as if their minds and emotions had converged into one. As they defined this phantom identity, their individual identities became less accessible. Therefore, this love was also their art.

In one piece, Ulay is aiming a real bow and arrow inches from Marina's heart (an exercise in trust!), in another, they breathe into the others mouths in a lip lock until they have exhausted the available oxygen and they both fall to the floor unconscious. And of course, that standing-nude-in-a-doorway spectacle.

Throughout this time of collaboration, Marina and Ulay formed an idea of what they wanted their marriage to be. They wanted to walk towards each other from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, then meet in the middle and, voila, get hitched. However, during the seven years of planning the journey, the relationship took a different turn. In the end, they did walk from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, but when they reached each other in the middle they did not marry, but separated. It became their own public goodbye.

Vivien told me this story the morning that we saw the show together, and it just so happened that we reached the video installation (which is days and days long of two people walking on a split screen) right at the point of their meeting. We saw Marina's emotion emerge for the first time, as she embraced Ulay with complete respect and love and admiration. They had happy tears and smiles and giddy excitement before saying their quiet goodbyes.

You see, instead of hashing out their differences and hurting each other in order to break up as the rest of us do, Marina and Ulay took separate journeys of individual thought, reached the other, said goodbye, and that was that. They ended their relationship with the respect that they also took in sustaining it for so long. Crazy? Well, yeah. But also beautiful.

A recent article in the New York Times was published with tagline 'Few MoMA Visitors Seem Upset by Marina's Show'. It's true! Most visitors found the video of Marina screaming out in a deep howl for hours to be the most disturbing part of the exhibition. Not the nudity, not the skeletons or even those peasant women exposing their genitals to the rain. We didn't like to see the artist screaming-- isn't that a fascinating observation of the human spirit? Even the children were more upset by the howls than by the vaginas. I love that New York reacted the way it did and I love that New Yorkers can handle this show with grace.

The Artist is Present is significant, we all agreed. The same four women who mock bad art for fun all day agreed that we were lucky to have witnessed this show in our lifetimes. The Grandmother of Performance Art is there-- right now!-- on the Atrium of MoMA making some art school student twitch with the absence in her eyes. Go see her, New York.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Florence and the Machine

Reason #101110000 why New York is great: If you like a band, chances are they will be playing a show in the city within a few months of your interest.

And sure enough, Florence and the Machine (Like Jem and the Holograms and Barbie and the Rockers, right?) played at Terminal 5 on Friday to crowd of giddy Brooklynites who knew all the words. I started listening to her about a month ago when Al and Laura talked me into buying a $25 ticket to see this unknown band with arguments such as 'you'll like her, she has red hair!' and 'had she been around ten years ago, she would have played at Lilith!' Okay!

Well, sure enough, I quickly empathized with that red hair and those strong female vocals and one month later was standing at Terminal 5 with my girls (and their boys) waiting for MY NEW FAVORITE BAND to walk onstage at Terminal 5.

My pals and I weren't all that enthusiastic for the venue, as some of us have seen bands flop at there. The acoustics are bad, the location is TERRIBLE, and you can only buy one drink at a time, so drinking becomes a relay race through swarms of pushy outoftowners. But Florence, dressed in seaweed and feathers (fancy!), not only charmed us into forgetting about all of our First World Problems but also got us to dance-- To jump in unison and to dance like teenagers.

She's mix of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, but dresses like Lady Gaga, and curiously sites her influences as Fairuza Balk (from The Craft!) and Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Girl, you had me at mermaid.

Next up? Stars and New Pornographers-- get ready, summer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Serious Man

"Let's have a good talk."

This film made me laugh. In fact, just thinking about it now makes me laugh, and looking at the photo above makes me laugh. A Serious Man succeeds in that very subtle and pointed humor that attacks the art of observation and absolutely delights this audience of one.

It's also the type of film that benefits from rewinding, and rewinding I did. I have been sitting in front of my tiny television for the past two nights and three mornings gawking at the brilliance in the details-- the written telephone messages ('Let's have a good talk'), the exasperation (he doesn't look busy!), the deliberate retro phrasing (Whoopsie doopsie, The Jolly Roger, Columbian Record Club, 'wash my hair')-- the Coen Brothers nailed it, my friends.

I read a review somewhere that likened Michael Stuhlbarg to Eugene Levy. I disagree wholeheartedly. While Levy's characters tend towards 'aloof', Stuhlbarg's Larry Gopnick was sincere, grounded, and the only character in the entire film rooted in reality. He is Michael Bluth in a room full of--- Bluths. (ha.) He is Odysseus charting a path through a sea of fools in search of a generous and unseen understanding.

It's this grasping for answers without a single voice of reason that carries the momentum of this seemingly endless race. Larry continues to seek help, but receives only useless--albeit comical-- answers. Yet the brilliance of the Coen Brother's lens is that the nonsensical advice is delivered with such direct articulation that we are satisfied instead of squirming. The lack of direction works.

I am still completely mystified by the I Think We Should Start Talking About A Divorce conversation and its swift delivery. Both supporting characters-- Judith Gopnick and Sy Abelman-- work to overwhelm Larry with authority and reason. They ease Larry out of his own home using nothing but soothing platitudes and sharp execution. It's brilliant.

These sirens, monsters, and shepherds (hot neighbor; Sy Abelman; lady with crutches in the park) work together in guiding Larry back to a place of simple being. And we, as an audience, eventually land there too. For if we stop seeking answers, we eventually won't need them (But helping others... couldn't hurt.)

That said, I was confused by the ending. The film stops short upon two major additions to the story-- the first is what we assume to be cancer, and the second is a massive black tornado headed directly into a school yard. It wasn't until hearing Fred Melamed's take that the ending it not only made sense but also carried a profound resonance. Melamed said in a fantastic interview that the ending sends you back into the movie. That by leaving the film in this fashion, we take the characters with us. It stays in some part of our brains as we reenter our own serious lives.

I initially had no real intention of seeing A Serious Man, despite my extreme excitement for its filming location (Um Ya Ya!). But upon hearing the phrases 'the best film of 2009', 'my favorite film of 2009' and 'second favorite Coen film of all time' repeated as often as that damn Jefferson Airplane song (Don't you want somebody to loooove) I gave it a go. And NOW I have to rethink my entire years worth of movie watching, as A Serious Man just might have to kick Up in the Air from the top of my favorite list. Can I do that to dear Clooney and his slick roller suitcase!? Gahhh, I might have to. Nailing it down: so important.

(***Note: AMANDA, you have to see this film, if only to recount our days of 8am Human Bio with Alan Ernst in the old Science Center lecture hall. 'Sarah, how do you think I'm doing as a professor? Do you think I'm good at this?' Swoon.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Galapagos Art Space and Tami Stronach Dance Troupe

"Sarah, I thought we were going to see Modern dance. What the hell is this."

Last night marked another epic Sarah and Alison night-o-fun. We originally planned on attending a book reading by dear friend Molly at Chelsea Market, but being as we have done that before, we instead took up Laura on her offer of two tickets to the Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO to see the Tami Stronach Dance troupe.

The Galapagos Art Space is something to see. If you haven't been, go, and if you have been, we should talk. I was a bit distracted by the whole thing, as I've heard rumors of its massive planning errors. The space was clearly planned by artists for artists, which doesn't always work out that well, despite its obvious coolness factor. It's a large space with extremely limited seating, and instead of standing room, moats. Like, water moats, I kid you not.

Thus, this super-cool-space-without-very-much-seating business plan turns into inflated ticket prices which turns away super-cool-Brooklynites-who-would-attend-random-Modern-dance-performances-on-a-Tuesday, which in turn jacks up drink prices to make up for the lacking attendance. Which makes the attendance lack even more. BLAH, it frustrates me. (What did not frustrate me was the $6 Syrah and $12 antipasti plate that Al and I shared at Superfine beforehand. Now, that's a bargain! Going back for live Bluegrass at brunch soon.) ANYWAY...

The dance troupe was also something to see. And by something to see, I mean, just your everyday leopard thong wearing, rose petal blendering, diaper toting dance event. This was not Martha Graham, my dears. In fact, lets just cut out that word Modern all together and swap in Contemporary and enjoy the show. I was somewhat prepared for the oddities, and I kind of delight the craziness of these little performance pieces, but that didn't stop me from joining in Alison's giggles and uncomfortable squeals as a topless woman began pulling dental floss out of her hoo-ha and using it as a jump rope. Good times.

The performance consisted of several short dance numbers, linked in theme and concept. As stated in the program, they separately 'considered the private body, the public body, the disgusting body and the sensuous body.' More than anything, though, the dancers seemed to be having an absolute riot up there, and I am pleased to say that the same can be said for two of its giggling audience members.

Yes, despite the uncomfortable squeals and $12 vanilla infused vodka concoctions, Al and I had a fantastic Tuesday night. It was graced by a perfect April evening, the stunning Manhattan skyline via DUMBO, and absolute howls of laughter. Not bad at all.

***Note: When googling a picture of this dance troupe, the majority of photos that came up in my search were of the Childlike Empress from The Neverending Story. Turns out-- TAMI STRONACH WAS THE CHILDLIKE EMPRESS IN THE NEVERENDING STORY! Man, that movie freaked me out as a kid. Tami was the one saving grace that distracted me from Falcor, that horrifying flying dog thing. Shivers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Io Sono L'Amore

SWINTON is back! Clearly I will be seeing this film. John already has-- he saw it in Cannes or Sundance or whatever other amazing place he goes to see films that isn't the IFC like everyone else. This was before he MET Swinton and changed both of our lives forever.

Anyway... from NY Mag's Vulture:
There's a new trailer for I Am Love, in which Tilda Swinton plays a woman living in Milan who — well, the trailer for the thriller foregoes the usual exposition and just shows us frame after frame of stuff happening to Swinton in Italy (sex, betrayal, secrets, food, possibly international politics) along with critic quotes like, "See it by any means possible," which, by the time it appeared on the screen, was a completely unnecessary command. We have no idea what's going on here — and we can't remember the last time we could say that in this age of trailers that explain the entire movie. With all the food and scenery, this looks like the smart man's (or woman's) Eat, Pray, Love. We're there.

Lo Hoffman actually sent me this clip this morning with this tag: "One of your favorite things (Swinton!) and one of my favorite things (people being snarky about Eat Pray Love!)."

Thanks, Lo! And so true! Should we see this during our 36 hours of greatness in June?! Sometime between chocolate croissants and silent reading time? You think about that.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Meditations in an Emergency

How gorgeous was this weekend, New York? It's ideal weather for stoop sitting, which is exactly how I ended my Sunday-- on a stoop with Sarah and Christine. That's us up there, on my stoop, which I will call home for only a few more weeks. But then I'll have a fire escape facing a weeping willow, and that's not bad either.

I love this time of year (I love every time of year, don't I? I think I said the same thing about February AND about October, but I mean it, each and every time!) when the weather draws us city folk out-of-doors for things as humble as a stoop. Frank O'Hara said it best in his Meditations in an Emergency:

"I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing?"

Happy Easter, my lovelies. And thanks, Mitchell, for the photo.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Alex DaCorte

I'm Like So Happy To See You, 2008
Just Give Me a Fucking Chance, 2007
After Party, Installation at Fleisher Ollman Gallery, Philadelphia, 2007
Loved Despite Great Faults, 2007

...And if you like Ugo Rondinone, try younger, hipper text-as-installation artist Alex DaCorte. Good, right?

***Note: I want that wall color in the second photo. Don't even try to talk me out of it.

Ugo Rondinone

Speaking of Florence again... I just learned that Florence of Florence and the Machine based the song 'The Dog Days are Over' on Ugo Rondinone's installation on London's South Bank. LOVE THAT.

She apparently used to bike by this piece during art school and decided to write a song about 'that feeling of being free'. Also, the drumming sound in that song was made by her banging her hands against the wall, as recorded in her studio apartment. HOW COOL IS SHE!? (You know Ugo from his installation at the New Museum just-a-hop-skip from my offices here in Soho. Hell, yes!)

And, if you are curious, I also just learned that the phrase 'dog days of summer' refers to Sirius, the Dog Star that hits in late summer. The 'dog days' are the hottest days of summer, a time when all creatures become languid. Good stuff.