"The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within that prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our nothingness." Andre Malraux

26 December, 2010

Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline

I have some resistance to posting artists whose work I've only encountered online, probably because the experience of seeing it in person is frequently so different. With the amount of time I spend trolling galleries & artists' sites online, though, I suppose I need to relax that approach. (Also being snowed in during the storm of the century right now has me thinking about how to do things remotely.)

To wit, I ran across Toronto-based [oops! Winnipeg -- see comments] artist Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline's work online recently, & was completely captivated. He's got a borderline surrealist bent, but I see more in common with Francis Bacon than anybody else (if comparisons must be made). He also straddles the line between representation & abstraction, which is an approach I generally respond to. Scroll down for a few random samples, but check out more of his paintings at the link above & also here. If I ever go to Toronto, provided either it or my own city ever thaws, hopefully I can see some of these pieces in person.

Also, if you're in the NYC area, run, don't walk, to the Park Avenue Armory to check out Peter Greenaway's installation Leonardo's Last Supper. It's difficult to describe, but he find a way to use multi-media & new technology to breathe (really) new life into Da Vinci's The Last Supper & Veronese's Wedding at Cana. I'm a big fan of Greenaway's films & don't imagine I would have found my way to this exhibit otherwise, but even if you've never heard of him, just trust me: GO! (But hurry, it closes Jan. 6th.)

11 December, 2010


What to say about Burlesque, the almost-musical starring Christina Aguilera & Cher's Immobile Face that hasn't already been covered in the past few weeks? I've heard it called campy, so-bad-it's-good, the new Showgirls, etc....but I've also heard that it's not that bad, it's entertaining, & "it's not great, it's not awful." Well last night I & a certain someone decided to go see for ourselves, & I'm glad we did. Somehow it manages to be both laughably awful & a pretty good flick at the same time.

For starters, the pace is brisk. (There are few things more maddening in a bad movie than a glacial pace to make you sit & contemplate exactly how tragic it is.) By the end of the opening credits, Christina has decided she's had enough of her well-lit bar/restaurant in "Iowa" (she mentions this later, but you have to take in on faith, since it looks a lot more like Texas or Oklahoma) & has arrived in L.A. by bus, presumably never speaking to the parrot at the window seat during her 2-day journey. Before you can say "Craigslist" she's exhausted all the singer/dancer auditions in her large-print newspaper's Classifieds section & finds herself entranced by a glowing neon word in the flattering dusk light, "BURLESQUE."

Yes, somehow this naive girl from the faraway land of I-oh-way has never heard of the lost-&-re-found art of burlesque, yet she is somehow street savvy enough to bully her way into employment under the neon sign in no time at all. She descends the stairs & finds herself no longer in the City of Angels but in a Berlin Cabaret by way of Chicago. If you miss the subtlety of the stylistic references to those shows/movies, well here's Alan Cumming at the box office to hammer it home. Christina pays her $20 admission just in time to catch Cher's Immobile Face onstage singing a catchy little ditty welcoming naive girls from the Heartland to their first visit to a burlesque theater. We also meet our leading man, Squinty O'Zellweger, & so begins one of the weirdest & longest flirtations in movie-dom. She asks him who she has flirt with to get a job there, & his heart is lost forever, & he becomes her life coach, boss, therapist, agent &, soon enough, landlord before she can do her first hair flip.

Cher's Immobile Face, alas, is less accommodating, but do I detect a hint of maternal instinct & self-identification behind that veneer? Maybe her brow moved just a little bit to suggest it, but I couldn't say for sure. Anyway, long story short, Christina of course ends up working as a bar wench because of the love spell she's woven over Squinty, & we're treated to a couple entertaining numbers onstage. About every 5 seconds, we also get a shot of Christina looking longingly up at the stage in the soft light of the bar. Does she want to be one of those girls onstage? If only we had some clue. She never looks particularly longingly toward Squinty O'Zellweger & his bulging biceps, so it's sort of unexpected when she shows up at his door when her fleabag motel room is burgled. Presumably they had a conversation at some point in which he gave her his address & said "stop by anytime," or maybe she just stuck a pin in the voodoo effigy she kept in her purse, but either way, it must have happened off camera.

No matter, this is The Movies, so of course he re-arranges his entire life to accommodate her, even after she admits she thought he was gay, & he reveals he has a fiance, you know, Somewhere Else. I mean, she's willing to stand in the rain, he's got 2% body fat & can walk AND talk at the same time, so it's clearly meant to be. She continues to weave her spell of seduction over the course of the movie by dating someone else, taking advantage of his financial situation to make him sleep on the couch while she takes the bed, & by generally showing no interest in him whatsoever (even when he's standing in front of her wearing nothing but a box of cookies). He's clearly smitten as a kitten.

Needless to say, Cher's Immobile Face is similarly won over, with a little help from Stanley "I'm incapable of giving a less than amazing performance" Tucci, & his Gay Old Queen wisdom from the sidelines, so Christina is onstage stealing the spotlight in no time at all. There's another dancer who is somehow immune to Christina's charms, & she expresses this by glaring at her from the soft, flattering backstage light. She hatches a plan to humiliate the new star, & -- wouldn't you know it -- ends up catapulting Christina to a whole new level of stardom. If only I had a dollar for every time I'd heard that old story.

There's also something about the club running out of money & a rich, handsome charmer evil developer chomping at the bit to buy it. Could it be for his own nefarious purposes, despite his assurances that he's on the up & up? Cher's Immobile Face vaguely registers concern -- perhaps -- so the situation must be dire. Could the crowds being drawn in by Christina's showstoppers raise enough to ward off this looming threat? Turns out...no. I won't ruin the actually quite clever denouement, but let's just say deux ex machina is alive & well in Berlin Chicago L.A.'s burlesque scene.

The list of Things That Don't Make Sense in Burlesque is a lengthy one that I won't delve into, but here's a representative tidbit: Tess, the character played by Cher's Immobile Face, is leaving the bar. It's late, she's tired (presumably), but wait! That guy who runs the lights is still at the club wondering about the rehearsal she'd requested. Tess shrugs & agrees to take a few minutes to rehearse. He asks if she wants a spotlight, & she says -- I'm certain of this -- "yes." So why is the only lighting as she belts out her song a soft blue light coming from behind? Careless editing, you would think dismissively, but then why cut back to him for reaction shots half a dozen times -- always standing there shining his non-existent spotlight? The longer it goes on, the more laughably ridiculous it becomes, until you're not even listening to the song, just watching the bizarre lighting mishap.

And yet...somehow, despite these guffaws & gaffes, I found myself genuinely enjoying the movie. It exists in its own little world with its own rules, but on the most basic level, it succeeds on its own terms; it entertains. I cared about what happened to the characters & enjoyed their antics. Don't hold your chapter's next Mensa meeting at a screening of this film, but have a couple drinks & go have fun. My dos centavos.

07 December, 2010

Yuken Teruya

I've run across Yuken Teruya's work in a couple of places, but the one that stands out is the Museum of Arts & Design (which I think I will personally keep referring to as the catchier American Craft Museum until I'm dead). He fashions intricate, stunning little worlds out of everyday objects like shopping bags & toilet paper rolls. As impressed as I am by the devotion to craft, I think he must also be half mad &, by now, half blind. Check out some of his mind-boggling work:

10 November, 2010

Tilda Swinton 'n' Ryan McGinley

Thanks to the Sweet Prince of Darkness for bringing this one to my attention. Tilda can do no wrong in my book, & Ryan McGinley's images are stunning:

07 November, 2010

Peter Campus & Ana Mendieta

My Saturday travels in Chelsea brought a couple video/performance artists to my attention. One has been working for decades, the other dead for a quarter of a century, but I was unfamiliar with both.

Peter Campus' exhibition of new work at Cristin Tierney (also here) held me rapt for quite a while. The gallery is full of large digital screens, each showing what are at first glance subtly impressionist landscapes. And so they are, but closer inspection reveals that they are moving. My first thought was, "This must be what Impressionism looks like at Hogwarts." Almost all are the sort of seascapes familiar to anyone who's visited Cape Cod, but with movement and sound, they are given new life. Not surprisingly, I can't find these images online, but here is some work by Campus in a very similar vein.

Also, here are 3 much earlier video performances of his that are pretty darned cool:

Ana Mendieta has a fascinating retrospective at Galerie Lelong. It's not easy to present the work of someone whose oeuvre contained so many live performances, but perhaps they took some cues from MoMA's recent Marina Abramovic exhibit, because this one works amazingly well. Her sudden and mysterious death 25 years ago at age 36 seems to have overshadowed her legacy, which is quite unfortunate; the work itself made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, which is a rare gift in art.

I couldn't tear myself away from one of her early projects: hidden camera footage of passersby in 1960s Iowa as they walked past a bloody mess on a public sidewalk. Reactions ranged from aghast to oblivious, with most barely glancing at it & maybe raising an eyebrow as they stepped out of the way. If you showed that footage of today's New Yorkers doing the same, they'd all be decried as soulless automatons, but human nature is human nature, even in The Heartland decades past.

I adore this quote, which expresses something I've been thinking a lot about lately: "The turning point in my art was in 1972 when I realized my paintings were not real enough for what I wanted the image to convey — and by real I mean I wanted my images to have power, to be magic. I decided that for the images to have magic qualities, I had to work directly with nature. I had to go to the source of life, to mother earth."

Here's some of her work, starting with the exquisitely named "Soul Silhouette on Fire (Alma Silueta en Fuego)":

27 October, 2010

Madge Gill

A planned tour of the Chelsea galleries on Sunday was waylaid by the annoying fact of their all being closed. Now that I think of it, I guess they're always closed on Sundays, but that fact refuses to stick in my mind -- maybe because it makes absolutely no sense. I only walked down one street & up another to confirm that, yes, they were all closed, & I must have passed 2 dozen people easily, also peeking in windows & looking about themselves in confusion. Why would businesses be closed on one of the 2 main days people are able to go visit them? Surely it must be for religious reasons.

Anyhoo, me & my friendly neighborhood librarian ended up taking a detour up to 53rd Street to check out the American Folk Art Museum. It's a destination I've been meaning to check out for years, so I couldn't stay too mad at the galleries for being closed (on a prime visiting day, it bears repeating) or myself for forgetting this idiotic factoid. Saw a lot of stuff worth checking out, but the one person who really piqued my interest was Madge Gill.

Gill (1882-1961), like many artists in the museum's collection, is an "outsider artist". In its modern usage, outsider art isn't my favorite schtick, but I think it's debatable whether Madge really qualified, being neither clinically insane nor completely outside the art establishment (she had gallery shows within her lifetime). She has a pretty sad biography, though, & basically all of her drawings were created within a trance-like state, with a degree of prolificacy that sounds downright disturbing, until she eventually drank herself to death.

But you can't argue with results, I always say. I find her work incredibly rich & compelling. Her focus is entirely in 2 dimensions -- sometimes solitary figures on a blank page, but more often the entire surface is filled with shapes and marks, creating an almost accidental dynamic composition. Check out some of her images while I go get "galleries closed Sundays" tattooed on my forearm.

06 October, 2010

Meow Meow

I've been called a party pooper & worse by pretty much everyone I know for my insistence on not going out during the week (honestly, who has the energy?), but this week I was compelled by a certain someone to go on a (sigh) Tuesday night to see a mystery person, place or thing called Meow Meow at Joe's Pub. I pictured some Japanese girl band, which would have been fine, I'm sure, but I was even more pleasantly surprised by what was actually on stage.

Meow Meow probably has to be seen to be fully understood, so hopefully the clips below will help. Part lounge chanteuse, part stand-up comic, part performance artist, definitely informed by burlesque, yet somehow none of the above...I can't remember the last time someone stood out so fully & exquisitely from what's come before. A quote from Time Out New York on her website says she "drags cabaret kicking and screaming into the 21st century." Yeah, pretty much. I laughed a lot at her big, bawdy broad schtick, but she also leaves plenty of room for delicate, even sad, moments of spine-tingling beauty.

New York Press actually has a (frustratingly brief) interview with her on today's blog, which is worth checking out. Now check her out in action:

And here's a short film she's in, if you have another minute:

26 September, 2010

Bryn Terfel

I won't pretend to follow opera with anything resembling regularity, but I do enjoy it in an casual, uninformed, can't-afford-to-go sort of way. I've always wanted to see Wagner's Ring Cycle, though, so I've been watching the story of the Metropolitan Opera's new production with some interest. The lead, Bryn Terfel, is internationally acclaimed, but I'd never heard of him before. I've been listening to him all day -- amazing voice. While I wait to hit them winnin' lotto numbers so's I can go, here's Bryn doing some non-Ring ditty to tide us over....

19 September, 2010

Mel Leipzig and Pipilotti Rist

My favorite 2 exhibits from a visit to the Chelsea galleries yesterday:

Mel Leipzig is one of those brilliant artists, always thrilling to find, who have been hiding in plain sight. He's 75 & lives in NJ, so I have no excuse for never having heard of him before, but it wasn't until seeing his exhibit yesterday at Gallery Henoch (he's a living figurative artist, so where else?) that I'd ever come across his paintings. He works in acrylics, limits himself to 4 colors (red, blue, yellow, white) & doesn't work from photographs -- I may have a new personal hero. "The Cast of Hedda Gabler" (2009), below, is monumental in every sense of the word; it's 5' x 6' (& unlike most large paintings, works on that scale), has a thrilling composition & is on my (very) short list for best new painting I've seen this year.

I also loved Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist's transformation of Luhrung Augustine's space. It's always a wonder to me that more artists don't take full advantage of the possibilities of really making over the small white box of the gallery -- the spaces are designed to be fluid, after all. Here, Rist uses wallpaper, light, sound, projection and sculpture to turn Luhring's interior into something otherworldly. She's not the first artist to hang rows of scrims & project images through them (I saw personal fave Bill Viola do this back when I was in college), but she uses it to great effect.

This is one of those you really just have to go experience if you can, but the video on this page will give you some notion of what it's like. Don't miss the underpants chandelier in the back.

Lastly, there is some very strong work at the SVA MFA group show at Perry Rubenstein Gallery. I especially liked 2 works on paper of fantastical creatures by Sean Dustin-Halliday. Alas, I can't find any links to his work, but I hope to run across more of his stuff someday.

Thanks for droppin' by....

06 September, 2010

And like a Phoenix rising from the ashes...

Yes, it's been rolling around in the back of my head for a while, but it's time to re-launch this thing. Summer of 2010 is, alas, behind us, and it's as good a time as any to bring the blog back to benconrad.com. (I've also re-designed the site, for what it's worth.)

So unlike my last rather unfocused attempt at a blog, this one will serve basically one purpose: to introduce artists whom I have recently discovered. They may have been your favorite painter/singer/author/whatever for decades, but if they're new to me, they're fair game. I'll also sometimes write mini-reviews of shows I've seen or relevant news about myself, but I'll try to keep the focus tight on the newbies.

To wit, one photographer and one movie/filmmaker who have recently caught my attention:

Valérie Belin: I caught this French photographer's show at Sikkema Jenkins before they closed for the summer. She has a series of creepy portraits of live human beings who are made to look eerily manequin-like. Interestingly, she chose to juxtapose these portraits with lush color photographs of still lives (mostly fruit) that pulsed with life, taking life from the living and bestowing it to the non-living.

Ink, written & directed by Jamin Wayans: I stumbled across the preview for this movie (see below) on some random DVD & thought it looked interesting. I enjoyed it so much that now I've become obsessed by the fact that nobody has heard of it. It doesn't even have enough reviews on rottentomatoes to warrant a rating, but one of the few there calls it "absolutely one of the best movies of 2009." I couldn't agree more. You owe it to yourself to check this one out. (It's available to watch instantly on Netflix, btw.)

Winans also wrote the haunting score & did most of the special effects himself. Clearly he's one towatch.

See, short & sweet. I'm a blogger who cares about my readers' busy, busy schedules. Thanks for droppin' by....