Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fred Tomaselli at the Brooklyn Museum

There will be a great opening at the Brooklyn Museum on October 8th for an artist whom I find important and lasting. Fred Tomaselli is hanging a mid-career survey exhibition that will surely draw a big crowd of well known art people and worthy viewers. I won't be there, I'll be out of town that day, but you should go. I'll go see it later in the month when the museum is empty and I can stand in front of his birds and trees and eyeballs with something radical playing on my new pink nano. I can't wait.

You can't tell from the images above, but Tomaselli's works are actually collaged cut-outs from fashion magazines, medical texts and ornithological guides. They are layered with plants, pills and paint. They are a testament to gallery shows and museums and a real reason to see art up close, in person, with your own eyeballs scanning the shapes. It's old school, and, as I said, important. Go, and let me know how it is.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Standard Hotel, Miami

There is a pivotal moment in Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' where Joey observes Jenna's reliance on wealth and finally understands its toll. The pair are deep in South Africa-- Patagonia, I believe-- on a horse farm, riding the best horses in the world, in the best conditions, with the best equipment, instructors, and weather. He looks at her atop her perfect horse and sees that she is finally happy, smiling, and illuminated after several chapters of sour discontent and boredom. He realizes that while she is the most beautiful women he has ever known, it would take mountains of wealth to keep her that way. It is then that he turns his head forever, and goes back to his wife in St. Paul who humbly loves him.

The Standard Hotel and Lido Spa in Miami Beach was named by Conde Nast Travler in 2009 as the Best Spa In The World. The best spa in the WORLD.

And I stayed there recently, alone, for three days with full access to the ocean side infinity pool, meditative Hamam, Aroma Steam Room, Cedar Sauna, Sound Pool, Roman Waterfall Hot Tub, and Mud Lounge. I ordered vegan room service and drank water cooled with cucumber and wore nothing but a bathing suit and a plush white robe within its confines. The pool was filled with salt water and the white linens were 1000 thread count. Children under the age of 18 were not admitted and I've never seen so many beautiful people within one lens.

I now understand Luxury Travel. I GET IT, okay?

But we must be careful, given these Freedoms, Franzen subtly pushes. Jenna stands as a brilliant warning to impressionable girls like me. That said-- when I think about my time there, with a private fire pit under those crazy stars where I could hear nothing but the constant ocean-- I'd go back there in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Romantics

John and I disagreed wholeheartedly about this film. We actually couldn't talk for a few minutes upon leaving the theater.

John: Did you like it?
Me: Yes, I loved it, but I know you didn't so let's just not talk about it.
John: That was a terrible film.
Me: I'm going to walk five steps ahead of you now and not talk, okay?

We eventually were able to discuss The Romantics like normal, functioning human beings, over fancy cocktails at Coffee Shop. But I was reminded of why I prefer to go to movies alone, in the morning, with all the old people. They allow my bad taste to go unnoticed.

So, as a fair warning, if you like 'good cinema', as John calls it, maybe don't read my thoughts on this one. If you're kind of a sap with slightly lowbrow taste who doesn't really know what she's talking about, welcome to my post.

The Romantics is a WASPy little tale of tangled friendships and about coming home. It's The Big Chill lite, and a decade earlier. It centers around a wedding and what we suddenly become when we stop paying attention. I remember Zach Braff saying that he wrote Garden State about a time of life that very few films touch on-- the awkward late 20s. It's suddenly acceptable to be married, or successful professionally, and its not unheard of to own a home. Your life has started to take shape, and its terrifying if you haven't progressed with your peers.

Katie Holmes was pitch perfect in this role, and I mean it. She played the odd girl out of a group of friends who all married each other. She was tall, and unhappy, and tired, but she stood up for herself at the end there, breaking the mold a bit. We expect her to hold her tongue and to suffer silently as she watches the love of her life marry her best friend. SHE'S the enemy, I suppose, having slept with him the night before his wedding, but its always more complicated than that with infidelity, now isn't it? I felt her pain, down to my spleen. It hurt so very badly.

Like one of my other favorite films, The Philadelphia Story, The Romantics takes place in a 48 hour period, most of which its characters are intoxicated. WASPy, indeed. We sat nervously through terrible rehearsal dinner toasts and awkward silences and that very specific sound of beer bottles clinking past midnight when there aren't any other sounds to dull them. It was shot on a hand held camera, and even John couldn't argue its stellar impact on capturing slurs and stumbles and too-loud laughter.

I've always fallen for movies that capture a world, and this film does it well. J.Crew did the costuming, I mean, COME ON. It's gorgeous, you have to give it that! And the pretentious unhappy drunkenness is an exaggerated observation of a certain set, not a portrait. No one talks that way, I KNOW. But they let me into a world where one might get to go sailing, and it was lovely. Don't tell John, but sometimes that's all I need.


Hey, who lives in Seattle?! I lived there for a brief moment, did you know that? I worked at the Henry Art Gallery and drank amazing coffee and read all of Kurt Cobain's personal diaries and had no idea how lucky I was to be there.

Lo lives in Seattle and is taking part in The Nervous Breakdown Literary Experience tomorrow night, reading new work from her forthcoming essay collection, When You____ I Feel_____ Because____. If you live in Seattle, you should go. She's good.

Her latest essay, published by TNB, is called Alex and you should read it immediately. (Wow, I'm bossy today, but I feel very strongly about this.) It's one of my favorite things she's written, other than a note she once wrote for me on a laminated post-it that she then mailed to me with instructions to keep it in my wallet at all times. It says 'YOU'RE A TOTAL CATCH!'* and when I see it I believe her. She's that convincing.

Reading: Thursday, September 23, 7 pm at the Jewelbox Theater in the Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Avenue in the north part of Belltown.

*It doesn't really say 'TOTAL', she actually used a different word there.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


"The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane." -David Orr

I finally finished Freedom tonight after a long day of roaming the streets of Manhattan with John. We strolled from movie theater to movie theater trying to determine exactly what film deserved our attention on such a lovelylovelylovely Saturday afternoon. (Never Let Me Go won, and despite my near blackout due to the film's content, it was the right choice. I've never done well with medical procedures on screen and wow, that Kira Knightly scene at the end was GRUESOME!)


Freedom. I know I'm not the first of my friends to finish this brick of a novel-- John is reading it, and so is Katie and so is Alison. Lo finished it weeks ago and has moved onto something even more relevant, like her own prose, soon to be revealed at a big night in Seattle. I lent my copy to Megan. I also understand that I'm proceeded by the majority of New York's literati who read it as a sense duty if nothing else.

The Franzen release is long overdue and much anticipated, blah blah, and I've yet to read a review of this novel that dared to crush it. Most reviewers were able to pluck out a few errors and filed their necessary complaints, yet in the end we were in agreement that this novel is nothing less than brilliant, and ENJOYABLE to boot. And all of this despite a reputation to uphold, published nine years after one of the most well received books of this decade. No, I haven't read The Corrections, but in my defense, I was applying to colleges upon its release, and reading Dickens and Cather and Fitzgerald with Mrs. Bauman as an overachieving high school senior.

I read Siddhartha and Damian and Giants of the Earth that year. I read Homer and To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare until my eyes bled. I played Helena in my high school production of Midsummer Nights Dream and drove to Colorado with my best friend to see Jewel at Red Rocks. Judge if you will--I was busy. I was young and impressionable and so very eager to form a canon of my own. The Corrections wasn't part of it, but it will be soon, I assure you. We can talk about that next week if you wish.

Freedom is everything you want it to be, is it not? It's deep and rich and leaves not a stone unturned. It's about Minnesota and Brooklyn--two places I know very well-- and is about people that I swear I've met. Walter and Patty Berglund are, upon their onset, caricatures of the Modern Nuclear Family. They are the Midwestern liberal set often overlooked by established New Yorkers. They are the pioneers of a new America, and are therefore inevitably miserable in their telling.

As I told a friend of mine on Thursday, I hated the characters. I did! They were desperately sad and were too quick to relax into their own self inflicted miseries. They were headaches, every one of them. Walter with his cowardly silences; Patty with her chardonnay; Richard and his insufferable lack of joy. Even poor Connie got dark there for a while. She let Joey determine her life's direction, something I was shocked to see followed to fruition as Joey's little wifey, but indeed she got there.

The story circles the lifespan of a family--Father, Mother, Daughter, Son, while overreaching at points into Walter's Scandinavian ancestry, and Patty's high school date rape, among other normalcies. We got stuck within a few years, the most poignant of which spanned Walter's frantic political outpouring of 'population control' hidden within an oil billionaires trust for a songbird conversation project. This is where Walter hit his stride, and this reader's nose sunk deeper and fiercer into the text.

I took a class during my Junior year at Olaf called Campus Ecology. (It was somewhat radical at the time, although 6 years later seems tired and obvious.) We read David Orr and Mary Oliver and Scott Russell Sander and Paul Gruchow. We preached Environmentalism to our peers and introduced initiatives on water, paper, gasoline, and wind energy. We were cheerleaders for Sustainability and advocates for Local Foods. We were idealists to the highest degree, tracking our carbon footprints with an energy reserved for young minds who don't know any better. (Think: Lalitha.)

We grew vegetables and restored the grasslands and didn't flush after each use, and most importantly, we BELIEVED in our cries. We took Orr and Gruchow as the solid truth. We invited Orr to class one day, actually, and asked him our pressing questions on the specifics of how we could Save The Earth too. How St. Olaf could in fact impact the world for the better. And then. THEN. Later that semester, Gruchow killed himself.

Paul Gruchow, author of Grass Roots, a sacred text to most of us, committed suicide that year. It was crushing, as you can imagine. I remember a real sense of mourning for a man and a way of life that I held so very high. We all spun into a state of confusion and shock and concern for our own sustainable lives that we couldn't wait to start living upon graduation. Paul Gruchow gave his life to causes just like Walter Berglund did. Gruchow screamed 'local', while Berglund cried 'population' but they are one and the same in their cry. It's the idealism that killed Gruchow, I have no doubt about it. Because ideals will never be met. I know this now.

This doesn't mean that we should ever stop reaching (says Walter, as he so genuinely asks his neighbors to keep their cats inside.) but it does mean that we have to find a balance with worldly distractions in order to breathe. Music helps. So do novels. So does theater, and art, and philosophy. Yet Walter rejects all of this in favor of his drowning sorrows. In a brilliantly illustrated scene, he escaped a near riot at the Mountaintop Removal site with Lalitha by returning to his car only to frantically list in his head off the bad mistakes this country is making in its over populated state of new construction. Its funny-- just a little funny-- and Franzen knew it.

You see, Franzen's telling of Walter Berglund seems, at points, to be in jest. It seems that he is pointedly mocking the crazed conservationist trying to save songbirds. Yet we know Franzen to be on Walters side. He wrote an article in the New Yorker this summer about the illegal hunting of songbirds in the Mediterranean. I read the entire article (on the beach!) with a smile, not because I didn't take him seriously, but because I absolutely loved his passion. It was real! It was angry! It was desperate and frantic and so incredibly personal. I like people like that, I gravitate towards them. That article was one of the main reasons I picked up Freedom, again, having no real connection to his past work. (Also, listen to the Radiolab episode 'Oops' for the ethical side of warbler conservancy. Incredibly well done.)

Like Dickens and Tolstoy, Bellow and Austen, Franzen attended to the quiet drama of the interior life before streaming into the modern world. It's complete storytelling, is what it is. No stone left unturned, no detail too small for the telling. He drifts into society, of course he does, name dropping politicians and referencing real rock bands, but inevitably shrinks back into Joey's mind before daring to voice a liberal bias from the third person.

There is so much more to say. I was shocked by the happy ending, SHOCKED. (I haven't read The Corrections, remember, is Franzen known for such grace? I also just watched Never Let Me Go this afternoon, and a crushing final scene seemed so much more plausible.) I was also left shaking my head quickly in confusion over the lack of explanation in the Joey/Patty high school fallout. I would have liked to hear more from Jessica. Why did Lalitha have to die, and did we really need THREE love triangles? But even Franzen needed an editing point, and I suppose the Berglunds were meant to exist off the page and into the world as well. It only makes them more real.

You see, they aren't caricatures, in the end. They are fully formed human beings, fragile and wrecked and loving at the core. It's as if Franzen decided to gut them all before making them habitable, like that big Victorian house in Ramsey Hill where we met Patty and Walter to begin with. It's the initial panic that then allows us to ache with relief when Walter crawls into bed with Patty to warm her after that stint in the freezing Minnesotan air upon the novel's conclusion. I loved that scene. The gutting made him free. Do you get it!?, Franzen seems to be asking. None of the drudgery matters in the end. The Single Human Voice will trump all other noise. And that Voice remains Franzen's masterpiece.

NOTE: I keep reading these bizarre claims on this novel, that its somehow old-timey literary fiction, in its dense telling of a family drama. Are people really not reading anymore? Is Sam Anderson of NY Mag claiming that people have really become too devoured by technology to sit down and read a character driven book? I have a crazy-hard time believing this, and hope beyond all belief that books and writers and fiction won't ever go away. Maybe I just surround myself with book readers, but everyone I know is reading something, aren't they? Books won't disappear, right? SAYITISNTSO.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pace/MacGill: Looking Forward, Looking Back

It's back. Gallery season. And with it, two very enthusiastic party goers who braved the weather last night in favor of an evening celebrating Pace Gallery's 50th year yet didn't manage to actually see any art at all. This happens sometimes.

However, I hear that the anniversary show is quite something, and I intend to stop by the gallery this weekend in hopes of redemption. Its rare for a gallery open its wall space to pieces borrowed from museums and collectors. There is something, I don't know, worthy about it. Shows like this bring a bit of integrity to a world so corrupt at its core. Gagosian set a fine example of how well this can be done with the Monet show this past summer, as did Pace/MacGill with a gorgeous Richard Avedon exhibition during the fall of '08. Did any of you attend that show? There was a Paul Simon portrait that I wanted to drink, it was so perfect.

Looking Forward, Looking Back is a selection of seminal photographs by Robert Frank, Paul Graham, Irving Penn, and Edward Weston, among others. "Spiritual America" up there by Alfred Stieglitz (it just occurred to me that perhaps Richard Prince was referencing this work in his series of the same title? No?) is on view, alongside other similarly modest photographs from the early 1920s so deserving of our attention. The walls have been painted a warm sepia tone, a pleasant departure from the whitewhitewhite so favored in contemporary spaces. My college painting professor told us to always hang art on white, no matter what(!) but the sepia seems appropriate in this case. It soothes the palate or something.

I'm pleased that Pace favored tradition in place of splash with this exhibit. We'll have enough splash this fall, in little white boxes stacked six stories between 22nd and 29th streets, and all the way to the water. Judy Pfaff is showing at Ameringer through October, and I think the LaChapelle show is still up at Kasmin. Have your candy elsewhere, Pace seems to be saying. We're serving up the main course.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Am I just overtired, or is this little film the best thing you've ever seen? Simple, ordinary, and smart-as-all-get-out.

Happy Monday, party people.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Brooklyn Bridge Park: Greenway Bike Path

The Greenway Bike (and running) Path has finally opened at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The path starts at Pier One, by the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, winds down on the waterfront, and ends up at Pier 6, which happens to be just steps from my apartment.

Yesterday during an afternoon jog I witnessed biking, picnics, yoga, napping, reading, running and kayaking. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that this is all right in my very own backyard. (Name that movie.) Get down there, New York, and take advantage of the good things this city is sprouting for you.

Fire Island: Part 4

I didn't want to haul the ol' Nikon out this weekend with fear of Hurricane Earl thunderstorms, so I was left with my dinky phone camera. My phone camera, stunning weather, apricot pancakes, a fantastic book, and a sunburn, holla!.

The hurricane never arrived, just a little drizzly rain that made for perfect cooking weather and Titanic on cable. Yes, TITANIC on cable. Can't be beat.