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September 28, 2015
Walter Swennen, who is now a very successful painter, is a great family friend of mine. In an era of young beatniks in Brussels in the 1960s, my grandmother and Swennen spent their days in a crowd of poor young artists driven by their need to create. They lived off of very little and were each other’s sources of inspiration. They would introduce each other to foreign art pieces from the United States, and would discuss within themselves late at night over a drink while brewing up new ideas. My grandmother wrote poetry and, being that she was much younger than the rest, around the age of 16, learned and grew from this group of artists who had adopted her into their circles. Various members of this social scene adopted alcoholism and other issues that stemmed from the fundamentals of this very social and experimental community, and therefore did not make it very far in their careers, but left behind great shared memories and inspiration for the others.
Swennen was much more fortunate and has continued to paint since. He has recently come into the public eye after a couple of successful exhibits in Belgium. He is now showing at the Gladstone Gallery in New York City – a very well known gallery. His work utilizes visual aspects inspired by Pop Art and abstract expressionism; some pieces more so one than others. Swennen might not agree to these sources of inspiration, but either way these are the art movements his work is reminiscent of. He also often incorporates poetic writing into his work. To this day, his work portrays the essence of the young group of artists that created and struggled together.
Another large theme throughout his work is an evocation of childhood. Figures seemingly appropriated from cartoons or comic books have been an undying subject of his throughout his career. Belgium is a country overwhelmingly full of comic books, about two comic book stores per block, therefore this imagery, that has been most definitely drilled into Swennen’s head, is unsurprising. Yet it is very effective in evoking recognition and a sense of shared nostalgia for most of his audience.
Swennen works in a way not uncommon to his generation of artists. One could summarize it by saying he lets the ideas come to him, and he does not seek them out. By this point in his career as a painter he knows what interests him and what does not. Some of the things that do interest him, which is evident when looking over his work, are cartoons, poetry, labels and philosophy. Some of these subjects are also commonly found in Pop Art, which is why his work is so reminiscent of this art movement. However, some of his subject matter will not fall into any specific category because he will literally let it come to him naturally. For example, he once based his subject matter off of a drawing made at school by his daughter when she was very young. Swennen is not much interested in the meaning behind his pieces, but is instead very preoccupied with the aesthetics, the process and the stories behind how his subject matter came to be. It is interesting to look at his work and attempt to guess the sources of inspiration for a specific subject in a piece.
September 27, 2015
Entering the gallery space on the 6th floor of the Gagosian building on Madison Avenue, you are immediately met by a series of drawings that cover the three main walls. At first glimpse they seem to have no real distinguishing qualities between them, just monochromatic marks on paper: each piece framed and hung next to the other with marks that vary in density and thickness. Then you step closer and see that the central wall contains many more small scale drawings, arranged in a grid-like configuration, and the outer walls balance this perfectly with larger more complex drawn works, this is a collection of Richard Serra’s most recent creative expression, Ramble Drawings. Serra is an artist that constantly needs to engage with form, tracing various architectural, sculptural and natural forms in a never-ending attempt to understand the way we move through space. Usually we find Serra engaged in the creation of large-scale sculptural forms that use heavy duty industrial materials to shape and form the viewer/ participant’s notion of space. But here we see him move to the 2-dimensional plane, as he puts Litho crayon, black pastel and powder to paper.
In this series of drawings Serra creates a curtain before the viewer, as he attempts to once again search out the dense forms that proliferate his sculptural work. Marks from the various monochromatic media he uses accumulate until a density appears that takes the shape of undulating form, seeming to grasp at the textural surfaces of his usual industrial sculptural materials. One is unnerved and disoriented looking back and forth between the drawings where the curved, undulations pulse, either shallow and light or dark and deep. Unlike his sculptures or even the site sketches that he uses as sculptural blueprints to plan his monumental works, these give the viewer no space for reflection but demand attention.
September 26, 2015
With the right kind of motivation and a well-planned layout, one can hop across Brooklyn from one gallery opening to the next, and get the full and rich depth that this exciting fall 2015 season has to offer in the Brooklyn art world. Start off on the top of the map, use for your absolute guide and bible Brooklyn’s very own Wagmag, a comprehensive guide to the ever increasing gallery spread in Brooklyn, and get ready for the Greenpoint exhibition spaces. In particular I would recommend checking Heliopolis gallery, Yes Gallery, Java Studios and all the way up on Green Street you can work your way into the intimate space of the 106 Greene gallery.
Specifically at the 106 Greene space they’re exhibiting a solo exhibition from Brooklyn based artist Phoebe Berglund, Waiting in Line, where the artist uses assorted materials including dirt, concrete, bananas and stilettos all pieces from which she cantilevers her deconstructed, heavily painted frames. This work provokes the viewer to consider urban decay and the nature of our built environment, always subject to time and erosion. Commodity culture and technological innovation are foiled by man’s impotence to reconcile with his own temporal limits his finite nature and ultimate mortality. But this will only be your starting point, the beginning of a journey that leads on through all the diverse creative approaches and unique spaces Brooklyn’s art scene has on offer this season.
Next on the list, travel down to the very epicenter, where Brooklyn’s gallery spaces just keep emerging with work that attracts and provokes. This is the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and here there are galleries ranging from obscure and small, like the City Reliquary or The Boiler, to larger older and more established exhibition spaces like the WAH Center or Brooklyn Art Library. On display in one smaller but worthwhile gallery, Moiety Gallery, a body of work from the French multi-media artist Thomas Mailaender, this exhibition is a series Mailaender has titled 1998. This title brings along with it a functional signification as it directs the viewer to the fact that Mailaender has decided to bypass the use of newer materials and technological processes to develop his distinct photographic collages.
Instead what Mailaender has done here is carry the imagery from his youth, a compilation of found internet images that pre-date the ability to instantly call up images by the thousands via search engine, forward re-examining bizarre images from the early days of computer development. Endured to the process of photomontage Mailaender uses this analog process by taking his images from their digital base and collaging hard copies, then recapturing the images now as collisions between disjointed imagery. In the final prints we see a mixture that combines the grotesque, the tabloid bizarre and the uncanny, a wonderful dizzying popular culture hybrid. Images range from the a carnival extra with bloated stomach drawn on with circular designs to a Neanderthal man and his 20th century wife who has just given birth to an alien child, these call up the late 90’s trash tabloid culture that exists and becomes even more distorted as nostalgic references to a recent past when computer technology was just emerging and remained rough and unrefined in its early stages.
Next stop along the seemingly endless gallery spree that exists within Brooklyn’s ever growing, ever thriving fine art scene, the Bushwick area offers some truly exceptional galleries and exhibition spaces, what I have found is that Bushwick specifically holds some of the greatest performance art spaces. Tucked under the j-train overpass, along the Broadway strip, there are galleries like The Living Gallery, Wayfarers, Good Work Gallery and my personal favorite, Grace Exhibition Space. Here, in these spaces, a cultivated atmosphere has arisen for multi-media and performance works, even large scale installations, to co-exist and spark endless discussion and debate. At the Grace Exhibition Space, during the entire fall art season into the December, there will be a collection of Performances curated by Whitney V. Hunter, the current David C. Driskell PhD Fellow at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. This series of Performances titled The Sphinx Returns, seeks to promote the idea and discussion of performance art as the center for myth and ritual in our contemporary lives, injection a sense of the mysterious and the fantastic; but also taking on tough issues like race, gender and sexuality, marginalization and art criticism. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening for the first performance series and what a complete and spectacular adventure, pieces by international artists Hector Canonge and Lion Ayodele, took the body as a site for past traumas and allowed the viewer to contemplate modern identity in relation to art history and world history.
So get out and explore the expanding art world around you, if you are working and/or living in NYC from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan to Harlem there is art all around you. I have laid out for you some great spots to visit on the Brooklyn art scene, but all over the city the exhibition season has started and shows will be continuously opening, from the smallest gallery to the largest museum exhibition. Get out and see what is on offer this season in NYC, and if you are in the borough of Brooklyn then you know what to do, take that winding art trail throughout the urban environs and seek out something culturally uplifting.
September 25, 2015
When looking at Chris Burkard’s Instagram feed, two things will cross your mind:
1. Amazing, and
2. I want this to be my life.
Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer who went from sleeping in his car just to be closer to his internships to stacking up 1 million Instagram followers and a steady studio spot out in Grover Beach, California. He’s made a name for himself in the surf and outdoor industries, working with top brands such as Apple, The North Face, Patagonia, and many many more.
I actually don’t remember how I came upon Burkard’s account – I’m an amateur photographer myself so I’m always looking through the various hashtags connected to outdoor photography for inspiration; even though I don’t remember, I’m sure glad I did follow him because I’m given a dose of daily awestruck.
His Instagram feed mainly covers his landscape and adventure shots, but it’s nothing to snuff at. It seems that every picture he takes is perfect: from the lighting to the framing, every moment is captured at exactly the right time. While I can sense that this is dedication at its finest, I can’t help but wonder at how he could possibly take these photos.
The colors and images are insanely crisp, and his stills look totally unreal. Whenever I see a new photo, I can’t help but be jealous – Burkard’s whole life is surrounded by this immense beauty and his job is to capture that. One look at his website shows his passion for his work, specifically within this quote, taken from his thoughts on being a photographer and having photography as a career, “Remember the camera is just a tool. What is more important is how you look at the world. Curiosity and a desire to explore, as well as passion is huge necessity when it comes to photography.”
In regards to this dedication, Burkard held a TED Talk this past March regarding one of his main (and craziest) past-times: surfing in ice-cold waters. I can’t even fathom jumping into freezing water just to get the right shot, but that’s an entire level above that Burkard is on. You can see what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera in the making of these incredible photos, and seeing the conditions that he sometimes works in makes you shiver like you’re out in -10 degree weather right along side him.
Chris Burkard started as a 19-year-old who found he had a talent with a camera and turned into a recognized photographer among many communities. I can’t get enough of his images and look forward to seeing the next each day. The most memorable posts have been from the past few months on his trip to Iceland, which has been a huge throwback for me; I got to take a trip there during the summer of 2013, but just missed the Northern Lights by a week. Sure enough, Burkard posts this rad and almost haunting image of these spectacular green lights and I turned green with jealousy myself.
Make sure to follow Burkard on his Instagram, check out his website to see more of his work, and keep an eye on his Facebook – if you’re interested in photography and live near his studio (or in my case, willing to move to work with him…) he updates his site on internships, though they’re booked out far in advance. He also has workshops and prints available for sale, and recently gave out thousands of free prints (10,000 to be exact) for getting 1 million followers on Instagram. Talented and giving, what more could you ask for?
Adventure is out there and Chris Burkard is running right along side of it. Find your muse or your next travel destination through his work, and I promise you won’t be sorry.
September 25, 2015
Already follow the Whitney, Artforum and Hyperallergic? Looking for some new art world instagram accounts to add to your following list? Check out these five instagram accounts you may not know about:
1. Brett Gorvy (@brettgorvy)
As the Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, Gorvy’s instagram is something to drool over… and will make you turn slightly green with envy. His life, and the art he interacts with on a daily basis, is extraordinary. However, Gorvy’s instagram demeanor is down-to-earth. His passion for art leads to long narratives for captions that feature tidbits of information only an insider like Gorvy could know. Beyond giving his followers a first look at some of the most incredible Post-Modern and Contemporary Art locked behind the doors of the world’s richest collectors, Gorvy often shares glimpses of his personal life, such as his fantastic summer home on Tuxedo Lake only 45 minutes from the city.
2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo Studio (@metphotostudio)
Honestly, this account is way better than the Met’s regular @metmuseum instagram. Followers get to see artworks from the Met’s archive that aren’t on view in the galleries, as well as behind-the-scenes photos of the collections, special exhibitions, and how it all comes together.
3. Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz)
This may be the most familiar name on the list, seeing as how Saltz has seemingly dominated the art world and beyond with his in-your-face attitude and sarcastic take on just about everything. When he isn’t making fun of the Far Right, Donald Trump or the art world itself (his posts during Art Basel tagged #BaselSaltz insulted every major person attending the fair and entertained us to no end), Saltz gives his followers small insights into his life as an art critic, always accompanied by a dose of sarcasm. Note—if you are easily offended, you may want to stay away, as Saltz has a habit of posting some NSFW content (think Medieval pornographic works on paper…)
4. Andrea Rosen (@andrearosengal)
The dealer, ever-recognizable with her long bleach white curls, posts a lot from her personal life, which is interesting enough in itself. However, our favorites are her #style posts, in which Rosen snaps (stalker style) pics of unaware pedestrians dressed in crazy get-ups… and this is New York so you know they have to be really pushing the limits here. Sometimes, they aren’t really dressed in anything at all. Rosen even blessed her followers during art fair season this past spring with an #artfairstyle hashtag edition. It was a winner, that’s for sure.
5. Scott Indrisek (@uniandchloe)
Executive Editor for Louise Blouin Media, Indrisek’s name is all over Blouin’s many publications such as ArtInfo and Modern Painters. While you would think his instagram would be art and more art, Indrisek entertains followers with his on-going #mattressesofnewyork series, lots of cat photos and dry sense of humor. He also doesn’t hesitate to throw in a selfie every now and then. Oh, and some art.
September 23, 2015
When you ask Americans what’s the first association that pops into their heads when they think about Austria, the “Sound of Music”, with its singing nuns and melancholic captains, probably comes up first. At least every American I ever talked to got pretty excited by the sheer thought of Maria and the children and the bikes and the curtains. The movie was shot on location in Salzburg, Austria, and ever since then, casts it’s shadow over the romantic little town. Buses loaded with hundreds of tourists are guided around the city each day to visit the original shooting locations – Sing Alongs included. Well, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to dance in the gazebo like Liesl and Kurt or ride a bike through the gardens of Schloss Mirabell?
Salzburg’s tourism, however, has profited immensely from the popularity of the movie. But the picturesque, and sometimes – with its clean roads and neatly renovated houses – even fake looking little town, has more to offer. Especially in the summer. Once you’ve seen and heard enough of Mozart and the “hills, that are alive”, you can experience top-notch quality – if you’ve got the “small change”.
The Salzburg Festival, one of the biggest festivals for classical music, opera and theatre in the world, takes place July and August every year. It gives the culture vultures out there the chance to experience the highest form of culture (and the highest ticket prices) – whereas I got the chance to work there this year. It was an overall exciting time, meeting great artists, actors, directors and a whole crazy bunch of energetic culture freaks. What does one get to see there? Opera (lot’s of it), classical concerts (just as much) and theatre productions. This year, 14 locations around the city were used to stage 188 performances for 262.893 visitors from around the world. But that’s enough with the numbers. What you actually get to experience are plays directed by the most renowned directors of our time like Deborah Warner or Peter Stein, opera stars such as Anna Netrebko or Placido Domingo and musical highlights with solo concerts by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma. Quite impressive stuff. But, as you might imagine reading those big names, the festival is clearly not for everybody. The tickets cost on average 130€, the highest prices ranging around 430€ per ticket. These prices mirror the audience that pays them.
Each night, but especially on premiere nights, luxurious limousines drive up in front of the festival hall and sometimes ravishingly, sometimes not so ravishingly dressed people make their way to the entrance gate. Pictures are being taken and hands shaken. These people are usually quite wealthy and make sure everybody sees that. Whereas many locals have never even attended the festival, also because they can’t afford to. Just as most Austrians haven’t seen “The Sound of Music”, by the way (sorry to disappoint you).
Getting the chance to catch an overall glimpse by working in the production drama office, the summerly happenings in Salzburg reminded me of a circus of the rich and beautiful. But this, nevertheless, should not distract from the fine artistic quality and the cultural delights that are being offered. This year, it was for example Mozart’s opera “Le nozze di Figaro”, Shakespeare’s “Comedy of errors” or Wolfgang Rhim’s modern opera “Die Eroberung von Mexiko” – which was a hit with the critics as well as the audience.
Another great highlight is the annual performance of “Jedermann”, an everyman-play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who, together with director Max Reinhardt and composer Richard Strauss, founded the festival in 1920. Since then, the play was performed every year (with a few exceptions, i.g. between 1938-45) on the Dome square, an open-air stage of its own kind. The atmosphere, when the sun begins to sink and dawn sets in, is magical. That’s what theatre is there for, those special moments.
Every day on my way to work, I could hear opera singers practicing behind open windows, trying to reach the highest note possible, saw actors all dressed up for “Mackie Messer”, an experimental version of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”, linger around in the sun during their rehearsal breaks, and listened to theatre talk in every restaurant I ate in (especially the Triangel, the place to be for celebrity-sightings). All of this makes this festival truly special and one gets the feeling, that Salzburg, the provincial town in the Alps with its narrow streets, large squares, abbeys and churches, becomes the cultural centre of Europe, or maybe even the world, for those six weeks.
And as cliché as it might sound, the hills then really seem to be alive with the sound of music…
September 22, 2015
As far as art goes, Eli and Edythe Broad rule LA (by the way, Broad is pronounced BROH-de like ‘yo bro’). The billionaire-philanthropist couple has been buying up important works of modern and contemporary art since the 1970s, and ever since then they have been generous in lending out those pieces to museums and exhibitions. However, the opening of this museum marks a special occasion as they have decided to showcase their personal collection to the public.
The Broad, located in Downtown Los Angeles, opened its doors to the public on September 20th, 2015. And I, as your resident ride-or-die art enthusiast, was able to score the insider’s look and do the busy work so that you could have the best visit ever. Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about this new museum.
Oh boy. So, ticketing to this museum is free (thanks Eli and Edythe!) and can be reserved in advance here. However, all online tickets have been reserved through mid-October. BUT! Worry not, because that is not the only way to get into the museum.
If you are ready to work a little bit, you can get to the museum door early in order to pick up a standby ticket (limited numbers available). I did this at 7:45AM on a Sunday morning because
suburbia has dulled me and I jumped at the chance to feel alive again I care about you, dear reader, and wanted to make absolute sure that I got a ticket on opening day so that I can tell you all about it.
The tickets are grouped into half-hour time slots. Mine was for the 10:30AM entrance and I would highly suggest you to go no later than 11AM if you want to make the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in good time.
I felt very happy amongst these galleries. Many works were familiar to me since the Broads have a habit of lending them out to other museums. The lighting was exquisite and the space vast. There were quite a few well-known pieces:
The most popular work at the Broad is, of course, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room. In fact, this is usually the most popular work at any exhibition. This room, back in 2013, inspired a mob outside of David Zwirner on its last day and people waited in the New York cold for up to five hours just to catch a 45-second glimpse of it. Thankfully, the Broad came up with a better management system than a physical queue. You make your reservation to the room with your cellphone number, and within 10 minutes of your reservation, the system texts you. My wait time was about an hour, which gave me the perfect amount of time to roam the two floors of art.
This is my second time seeing the Infinity Room, and I must say that the pictures are often more beautiful than the experience itself. 45 seconds is not nearly enough time to enjoy it, and typically you will spend all of it taking photos. I wish that I could’ve spent a few minutes in there.
September 21, 2015
Driven by my art-inspired soul, find below a list of things, I personally think are essential when looking at art. Apart from stating some undoubtable art-historical principles, I have mixed in a few personal favorites.
- When, What, Who, How. First things first – read the label. This most banal thing most of us overlook and just don’t read it. These details are the most important, as they situate a work of art into a specific time period, already creating a sense of what it might relate to, look similar to, explain or even criticize. When – DATE, What – TITLE, Who – ARTIST, How – MEDIUM.
- Subject Matter. What is the work of art about? Is it a portrait? A battle scene? An abstract piece? An icon?
- Composition. How do parts of the piece relate to each other? Is there a perspective?
- Color. One of the most important way to feel the work of art. What artist felt, what the traditions were, what paint was available, what compliments one color and another. Is there chiaroscuro?*
- Shapes. Are the shapes rounded, triangular, squared, rectangular etc? Symmetric or asymmetric? Regular or irregular? Fat or thin? Concave (turned in) or convex (turned out)?
- Lines. Are the lines horizontal, vertical or tilted? Short or long? Straight or curved? Smooth or sharp?
- Size. What is the size of the work of art? Is it small or large? Though not always a fact, small objects could have been created for private use, private houses, whereas large ones, for public entertainment.
- Texture. Is it smooth or uneven? Is it a painting, sculpture, performance piece?
- Personal response. What do you THINK about it? What ATTRACTS you to the piece? What does it make you FEEL? Does it REMIND you of anything? (A place, person, memory, story or another work of art?)
- Talk. It is essential to speak about your thoughts and ideas with whoever is with you at a gallery, park, museum or theater. Getting cultured in your own company? Talk to people around you! Not only will you help them understand art better, but will also compare your impressions.
These are just a little of much more to consider while looking at art. Professionals in the field say that one should spend at least 15-20 minutes looking at one single work of art in order to get a truthful first impression of it. Even if you don’t have that time on your hands (and let’s be real, not many of us do), try singling out just a few works of art that catch your eye instantaneously and go look at them. Trust me, it is worth it. After all, you may always use this knowledge later on.
*Chiaroscuro – (from Italian “chiaro” – light, “scuro” – dark) an art historical term, meaning the strong contrast between light and dark, usually affecting the whole composition.
September 18, 2015
Alright, here’s the thing. No matter what you think about art, you should have some idea about it. Why could be a relevant question. If it didn’t pop up in your mind, then, you possibly don’t need to read this. But then, you probably still should.
A known misconception is: those who study art history cannot really do anything else, anything more valuable by society. *Gong* You’re wrong! I am not trying to advertise a new faith to you, but rather help you show off your cultural side when a situation arises. And it will.
Now imagine you got invited to a gala ball. The owner of the place decided to show off his art collection (and it is a rather realistic situation). He asks for your opinion. And….
- Be always curious. At least seem this way. Speaking from a personal experience here, if I go to a museum with my friend, or a theater, I want to share my thoughts and ideas, my feelings about the piece. So no matter whether you get it or not, show your interest in what the other person is thinking and saying. Best first line: “What do YOU think (feel) about it (art piece, performance, film etc)?” will save you from answering first and you can always form your opinion based on other person’s response.
- Don’t say that you could draw better. Or your kid could draw better. Or the work reminds you of kids doodles. Seriously, don’t. This is the most common reaction we get towards contemporary art (or mostly any abstraction) and, boy, it is also the most frustrating one! A person hearing that, let’s pretend he likes art, could get offended and reserved. Not that many people would have the character to start explaining the opposite, and, to tell you the truth, insulting the art usually never works. So even if this thought flashes in your mind the next time you see something overwhelming in the art piece, calm yourself down, and ask people for help. “Do you understand this piece? I get an emotional vibe from it, as it is deeply psychological,” — hey, that might work magic!
- Don’t say something is boring. Art and culture aren’t for everyone, right? False! If you find yourself in an opera house and fall asleep (it’s happened to the best of us), don’t complain about how boring and awful the production was. People around you might, first, think you’re way out of their social environment and even start an argument. You can, nonetheless, say: “The melody and the singing of performers reminded me of Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor! Such long and calming sounds, I even closed my eyes for a minute!”
- Speak the truth, but verbalize it in the right way. Don’t try to look smarter than you are. You might disagree, but it usually never ends up well. You don’t want to just learn names of a few artists and drop them in all conversations here and there to appear all knowledgable and such. Wake up. People love sincerity. Tell them: “I didn’t understand that part, did you?” You will not seem stupid, you will seem interested and eager to learn. (Refer to the point 1 of this list.)
- Show off what you know while discussing an unknown subject. Connected to previous points, we all are products of our societies, however, there are a few figures everyone knows about. Let’s take Jennifer Lawrence as an example (or any other well-know figure). You know she acted in the Hunger Games, won an Oscar and, well, is a wild one. Now, you go to a museum and see a painting by Barnett Newman – Vir Heroicus Sublimis, 1950-1951. Red dominates the composition. You think: “Red is force, red is rebellion, red is red carpet, red is vulgar, red is sexy, red is…anything.” I am not assuming all that is true, the point is, you can use personal experiences, memories, unrelated knowledge to talk about art. It is that simple! Just say: “This color reminds me of … , because … .” And you’ll show how sharp-minded and witty you are.
This is it! Professional or not, whether you know it or not, these simple ideas are indeed important. Perhaps, all you need to do is approach the question of understanding and appreciating art from a different perspective.
September 18, 2015
Walk down a side street off of Bedford Ave, S 3rd street to be exact, and you will stumble across a door along an otherwise plain and fairly common strip, no restaurants or bars just some apartments maybe a laundromat. But behind this door, conspicuously carrying the label of “spectacle,” and covered over in stickers and graphic posters lies the absolute pinnacle of bizarre, sophisticated, subversive and endlessly sub-cultural, independent-art-house-film experience. Their films always range from the absolutely socio-culturally significant to the bizarre and fascinating, one can see on any given day a wild Kung-Fu movie marathon or stunningly poignant, experimental short films from director Ngozi Onwurah. Spectacle is an absolute diamond in the rough, it consists of one theater, a small intimate space where one walks in to directly confront the singular ticket salesperson, who is also, always, an expert and authority on the films that you are about to watch. One then peels back a curtain and is placed directly in the seating area facing the screen. A complete experience, watching a film at Spectacle effectively breaks you away from the routine malaise and isolation, which larger corporate theaters and films create.
Here at Spectacle, I had the privilege of viewing a distinctively rare and thought provoking collection of animated shorts titled Head Space, what the theater has rightfully dubbed an “animated showcase.” The stylistic range and even the various mediums used by the artists created a depth and breadth that left one dizzy with a curious combination of mirth and introspection. Versatile animators like Leah Shore, used the a full media range within her animated short Meat Waffle, this was a meta-narrative that divided segment through the use of clay-mation, stop-animation, black and white ink drawings and full color animation. This was certainly a powerful piece, the central character through which the other various narratives were launched was an elderly flesh pile surrounded by his tight living room confines.
In a strange voyeuristic play that hints at the possible joys of sinking into a vision filled dementia, the character could call upon surfaces, TV tables, books, the arm of his chair, to spontaneously produce narrative scenes that would jump to life, as if every surface had the potential to become a digital screen. These were all intimate scenes that reflected on our vanities, insecurities and the paranoia that accompanies an interaction with others, always wondering: how do they view and what are their impressions of me? In an interesting twist at each scenes end, we return to our voyeur to find that the vision has affected him corporeally, as he takes the vanities and insecurities onto his person. Further, there is a truly impressive list of artists here, others include Wend Congzhao, Amy Lockheart, Lisa Crafts and an old classic from the late 70’s: Sally Cruikshank’s Make Me Psychic, 1978.
Congzhao with her animated feature Rocks in My Pockets, presents an extremely bare, simplistic dream space, a white washed world where forms are delineated through minimalist contour lines. The figures move in strange repeating motions as if manifestations of psychic trauma, torment and anxiety, accompanied by a soundtrack that captures burbling dripping percussive rhythms: a jarring, destabilizing and genius execution. In combination with the entire list of amazing artists featured, over 10 different artists with their own unique perspectives and approach to the art of animation, this work leaves deep impression on the viewer. Also worth noting, this is a fairly comprehensive list of innovative women animators that all contribute immensely to their chosen artistic discipline and form a direct challenge to the boys club of established animation crews, such as Disney’s Pixar animations crew.
Go out and support Spectacle and see this fantastic collection, Head Space will only be on view for so long but the theater continues to show the greatest independent film selection around at a far lesser price than established art-houses like IFC.