Category archives: Visual Arts

  • The eponymous heroine of Xavier Giannoli’s film Marguerite is a tough sell on paper: a wealthy French socialite who fancies herself a great operatic singer, but who is in fact utterly tone-deaf. Yet, as played (with great sensitivity) by Catherine Frot in this French tragicomedy set in the early 1920s, Marguerite Dumont — at least when she’s not singing — is a warm, sympathetic presence with a true appreciation for music. We’re appalled by the sounds that come out of her mouth, but we can’t help but feel for this woman whose vulnerability and unhappiness is palpable. The character is based on American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who has already inspired several plays as well as a forthcoming Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep. Where Jenkins was merely bad, Mme. Dumont is truly awful; her wild screeching performances are some of the most stunning (literally) moments in the film. This could have been fodder for an out-and-out farce, but though Giannoli’s unconventional movie has many humorous moments, it is also dark, poignant, and visually sumptuous. The film begins with various people arriving at a benefit recital given in Marguerite’s opulent home. There’s young soprano Hazel (Christa Théret), arch young music critic Lucien (Sylvain Dieuaide) and his friend Kyril, an avant-garde artist (Aubrey Fenoy); we’re also introduced to Marguerite’s husband Georges (André Marcon), who pretends that his car broke down so he can avoid the concert. Several opening acts [...]
  • Documentaries have traditionally fallen into two categories: straightforward accounts that tell their story using photo/video/audio snippets plus interviews (think Ken Burns), and those that use re-enactments and other creative devices. Recently, there have been some very innovative examples of the latter category (Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the narrative/doc hybrid A Woman Like Me). Now we have Andrew Shapter’s The Teller and the Truth, a haunting and evocative film about the 1974 disappearance of Francis Wetherbee, a young Texas bank teller whose car was found submerged in a nearby river, but whose body was never found. Though it looks and feels like a real-life chronicle, The Teller and the Truth is something else entirely. The film starts off like a typical documentary, becomes a sort of true-crime whodunit, and ultimately ends up a highly romantic speculation on what might have happened to the lovely Wetherbee. It’s as intriguing for its unorthodox handling of truth-versus-fantasy as it is for its subject matter. Apparently Shapter first came upon the long-forgotten story of Wetherbee several years ago when he saw a striking black and white print of a sad-eyed young woman taken by his photographer uncle and mentor. The photo had been shot a week after its subject was briefly taken hostage by a masked bank robber -- she was unhurt but reportedly traumatized -- and two weeks before she mysteriously disappeared. Shapter, who had previously made the documentarie[...]
  • There was once a professor who consistently lamented people not spending time with a work of art. She felt that consuming art became speedy, mediums were not fully appreciated in their details, and therefore a lot of great artwork may never get proper recognition. It's safe to say this is true for many people, and even those like myself who studied art have definitely overlooked pieces due to the extreme saturation of available art to see, especially in a metropolis like New York City (though it is something I greatly try to avoid while in a space.) I was stuck in front of Scott Williams' painting 50th Street Maspeth this past weekend, due to the intimate space at Art101 being packed with people, but I'm glad I was. His work first appears like an impressionistic modern landscape - a view of the street, cars parked, sunny day, fence to the side - but the more I stared at it the more odd I found it. I noticed his use of perspective is based on traditional one-point perspective yet it is shifted off to the side thereby disrupting the everyday banality of this type of setting. Furthermore, his use of oil paint appears both deliberate, in regards to shadowing and color, and accidental in regards to the application of paint itself. This imbues the scene with a sense of randomness and further complicates it. He writes of his "chance" paintings - "For on site, 'plein air painting', a map of Queens and Brooklyn was marked with gridded coordinates. Throwing numbered and lettered coi[...]
  • Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s masterful new film, A War, is an exceptionally intelligent and sensitive depiction of the War in Afghanistan, both the complicated moral issues faced by occupying troops and the toll on their families back home. That’s not to say that this Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film isn’t gripping or that its action sequences lack punch – one battle sequence is particularly pulse-pounding and stomach-churning. Shot in a straightforward style, the movie is never spectacular or overblown; Lindholm largely lets the situation's drama speak for itself. A War follows CO Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk, who previously starred in Lindholm’s A Hijacking) and his unit – who are trying to weed the Taliban out of an Afghan province while protecting civilians – as well as Pedersen’s family in Denmark. The tense vibe of the film is set early on when Claus’s unit is out on patrol. Sure enough, a young gunner is suddenly caught in a mine explosion, a horrific scene that brings home the unpredictability of the unit’s every mission as well as its close camaraderie. The CO – a tough but decent sort – is sympathetic to one soldier (Dulfi Al-Jabouri) who is badly shaken up by the incident, putting him on camp duty for a few weeks. Claus himself will replace both men on patrols, though it is not his usual role. Meanwhile in Denmark, his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) is dealing with their three young children, one of whom is having disruptive behavioral issu[...]
  • I came across Katy Grannan's photographs at Salon 94 after visiting the New Museum next door. While individually they remain striking portraits, albeit not vastly unique in the photographic spectrum, what makes her work important lies in her documentary approach to the sleepiness, strangeness, and pathos of Modesto, California. Also the setting of her upcoming documentary, The Nine, the pieces ranged from large-scale individual portraits, to landscapes, and video clips. The portraits are blazing in their preciseness and their size allows for the individuals to tower over the viewers, commanding the most space and attention in the room they are in. The men are shirtless, and the women sport outfits that look like they're from the 80's. A look of disillusionment permeates through their faces, however, and in the case of the women, it betrays the vibrancy of their clothing. What's really at the heart of Grannan's work is a commentary on the American class system - ripe in the media these days thanks to shows like Making a Murderer - and "the other side of the American Dream." Modesto was the location in The Grapes of Wrath and Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother, both gripping portrayals of The Great Depression's physical and emotional effects on the psyche and physicality. And essentially, Grannan's work from Modesto serves as the setting of our contemporary depression. And the photographs speak for themselves in this regard - the subjects are present but not f[...]
  •   Romania's official 2016 Academy Awards entry for Best Foreign Language Film, Aferim! is an unconventional and beautifully shot black-and-white movie that is both reminiscent of an American Western and exotic in its depiction of a bygone (and perhaps not so bygone) foreign culture. The episodic tale, which takes place in 1835 Wallachia (a region in Romania), follows a lawman and his son as they traverse a desolate landscape in search of an escaped gypsy slave. Directed by Radu Jude and co-written by novelist Florin Lazarescu, Aferim! (which means “Bravo!”) is based on actual accounts of gypsy slavery. Though often comedic (the dialogue is full of crudely funny banter), it serves as a semi-historical commentary on Romania’s anti-Roma sentiment, which is still very much in evidence today. It also starkly depicts the ridiculous prejudices that people of one nationality or religion have for others, in addition to other forms of bigotry. Constable Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his teenage son Ionitā (Mihai Comānoiu) first come upon an abbey on their travels, where they cross themselves and light candles like good Catholics, though Costandin has already cruelly berated an old woman and threatened a bunch of local gypsies. He’s a scrappy, equal-opportunity offender, who hurls insults at almost everyone he comes across – especially poor “crows” (gypsies) – or denigrates them behind their backs. In contrast, Ionitā is more reserved and thoughtful. The two carry a ma[...]
  • Based on the novel by Bonnie Nadzam, Lamb is an unsettling drama about the relationship between an unmoored middle-aged man and a precocious young girl. The movie, starring and directed by Ross Partridge, consists mainly of a road trip, fraught with the self-centered needs of its protagonist and set against the beautiful backdrop of the duo’s natural surroundings (Wyoming and Colorado). When we first meet David Lamb (Partridge), he’s denying the fact that his wife has left him to his ailing, alcoholic father, who knows better; David also lies about his wife’s desertion to co-worker Linny (Jess Weixler), with whom he is having an affair. Despite his good looks and laid-back outward demeanor, David is obviously a guy with issues. Some time later, he is smoking in a parking lot after his father’s funeral, when 11-year-old Tommie (a terrific Oona Laurence) saunters up and asks for a cigarette, a dare set up by her friends. David’s reaction – he not only gives her one, but lights it – is the just the first of many disturbing moments in this film and in their relationship. He pretends to kidnap Tommie to scare her friends, but actually drives her home, and lectures her about approaching him: “I’m not a bad guy, but I could have been.” (He introduces himself as “Gary,” one of many lies he tells to various people he knows or encounters.) This sets the tone for the rest of the film, showing both David’s concern for Tommie and his disconcertingly inappropriate behavior[...]
  • “If it doesn’t inspire you in some way, I failed as a filmmaker,” says Richard “R.G.” Miller, the subject of Justin Johnson’s new documentary Double Digits: The Story of a Neighborhood Movie Star. Of course the same can be said of Johnson’s homage to Miller, a prolific, super low-budget auteur who makes movies for the sheer love of it. Against many odds, Miller has succeeded in not only pursuing his passion, but getting many other people enthused and involved in the process. Double Digits celebrates the fact that while some may may aim for mega fame and fortune, those with extremely modest means and realistic ambitions should not be discounted as artists, and in fact, may be truer to their art. We’re introduced to 52-year-old Miller at his Wichita, Kansas apartment  -- which doubles as his studio -- and learn that his one-man production company RG Internet Art Films has released several half-hour to hour-long features on Miller’s Youtube channel. "Thank God for the Internet,” he chuckles, not attempting to create a viral sensation with his compelling, delightfully lo-fi movies. “If I get double digits [more than nine "likes"], I’m successful.” Double Digits, which was shot over the course of three years, shows the making of Miller's newest effort, The Mask Man, shot in his apartment and on his side lot, as are all of his films. His painstaking DIY efforts include miniature stand-ins (dolls), homemade costumes and masks, and various household items that have been[...]
  • Hot Sugar’s Cold World, Adam Bhala Lough’s engaging new documentary, begins with the title musician/producer recording the sound of Pop Rocks candy dissolving in a young woman’s mouth. It’s as good an introduction to the iconoclastic Hot Sugar (Nick Koenig) as any: this New York-based musical alchemist creates highly atmospheric compositions out of myriad everyday sounds. His moody, multi-layered electronic music has become the main soundtrack for Comedy Central’s Broad City and has graced tracks by rappers Antwon and Heems, in addition to many other Koenig collaborators. (One of his first high-profile production credits was for the song “Sleep” from The Roots’ 2011 concept album undun.) The movie invites us to watch -- and ultimately marvel at -- Koenig's unorthodox, intensely personal process. Something of a wunderkind, Koenig found his MO years ago as a young hip hop fan, when he realized that “everyone winds up using the same sounds,” so he decided to make his own. Hot Sugar's Cold World  follows Koenig over several months as he creates his music in a variety of environments and cities; collaborates and hangs out with assorted luminaries including Jim Jarmusch, actor Martin Starr and Heems (Himanshu Kumar Suri); queries astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the nature of sound; and talks about his process and his life. At one point in the film, he breaks up with his girlfriend, Internet-famous rapper Kitty, seemingly due to conflicting touring schedules and the [...]
  • I once read that people who see faces in inanimate, non-portrait objects, are neurotic, and the article did not mean that endearingly. If that's true, then children who make animal and human shapes out of clouds (so many) are neurotic. And truthfully, most artists are too. So with that, I will use this post to talk about an artists who plays with this idea in a rather beautiful way, and to tip my hat to those individuals who choose to and are able to view the world in a more fascinating way. Jane Lafarge Hamill's paintings combine traditional portraiture with modern abstraction. Her works first appear as a slather of saturated, vibrant colors, enhanced by her thick application of paint. However, though appearing haphazard, the way she has manipulated the paint allows for a vague, albeit familiar, image of a human's face to come through. Depending on how she has arranged the lines sometimes the face is in profile, sometimes face front. What really allows for the portraits to be visualized is not in the revelation of facial features, as they are pretty blurry, but in the way the lines make up the shape of the head - the forehead, jawline, and neck specifically. While this alone makes her painting style unique, what makes her work beautiful is her use of color. Her pieces are not exceptionally large, rather they are on the smaller side, yet they instantly pop out due to the layers of applied color and the vibrancy of the palette. What is especially contemporary [...]
  • NYC Arts Non Profit Heads West in Support of Local Arts Programs Convergence: Saturday, November 14th, Studio Maesto, Santa Monica, CA. On Saturday, November 14th New York City based non-profit Art for Progress (AFP) will host a fundraiser in support of Studio Maesto’s Arts Collective Program in Santa Monica, California.  The event will take place at Studio Maesto’s dance and photography studio at 1547 6th Street, Santa Monica, and will feature visual art from three Los Angeles based artists who have exhibited with AFP in the past- Sona Mirzaei, Lichiban and Pablo Damas. The night will also showcase live performances from Barry Komitor (NYC based band Bad Faces), DJ sets from NYC’s Gatto, LA based DJ/Producer Elliot DeHoyos and a myriad of local performance artists. Net proceeds from ticket sales and a percentage of art sales will go to support the studios arts collective program (details below). Tickets ($15) will be available at the door. Tickets include a drink and light fare. Additional beverages will be available for purchase. Studio Maesto, 1547 6th Street, Santa Monica, CA - Hours: 7:30pm – 11:00pm Over the last 12 years, Art for Progress has produced over 50 major events in NYC, Miami, San Francisco and Washington DC. With a focus on multimedia productions, AFP has garnered valuable press coverage for artists in world renowned publications such as The New York Times, Women’s Wear Daily and The Village Voice.  While supporting and promoting artists through these[...]
  • As its title implies, Alice Rohrwacher’s captivating new film The Wonders is infused with a sense of discovery and marvel. Set in the Tuscan countryside, this atmospheric, closely observed narrative centers around the hardscrabble life of a bee-keeping family, as experienced mainly through oldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu). On the brink of adolescence, the girl is torn between the insular existence of her hard-headed father and the pull of the outside world. The latter appears in the form of a seductive reality show called Countryside Wonders and the arrival of a silent, troubled boy who is taken in by the family. While the film isn’t autobiographical, Rohrwacher grew up in this part of Italy, worked in honey production, and is of Italian-German descent, like her onscreen family. Her familiarity with this milieu is obvious, especially in realistic scenes of bee handling – which include alarmingly dense swarms around real hives -- and honey-making. The apiary details of The Wonders are fascinating enough, but then there’s the roughly beautiful Tuscan countryside and the family itself: Idealistic, bad-tempered Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) and exasperated, affectionate Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, Alice’s sister) are the parents; sensitive, determined Gelsomina, comical but vulnerable Marinella (Agnese Graziani), and two uninhibited little girls who frolic half-naked like gleeful colts, are the kids. There’s also their longtime lodger Coco (Sabine Timoteo), a scra[...]