Culture: July 2003 Archives

Steve Cosson has a mini-profile in today's NYTimes.

He was drawn not only to theater as a child but also to directing, getting his parents to act out bedtime stories. He and a playmate in elementary school wrote a play about Persephone's fall into the underworld. He wrote a play for his second-grade class. By third grade, he had won a playwriting competition sponsored by Children's Radio Theater in Washington, not far from his childhood home in Potomac, Md.

"It was agitprop," he said. "It was about an albino eagle whose parents die from DDT poisoning. But they wrote music for it and it was broadcast. It was the coolest thing that happened to me by the age of 8."

He plunged into the usual world of high school theater, although he acknowledges he is a mediocre actor. He perished on stage as Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet."

"I acted my heart out," he said. "Unfortunately, there was no way that scene was not going to evoke gales of laughter among my high school classmates."

He was in three productions of "The Music Man." But by college, convinced that life in the theater was a hobby, not a passion, he was studying to be a biologist. Unfortunately, he said, he went to Dartmouth, a place where he felt on the margins of campus life.

"I did not know there were people my age that actually supported Ronald Reagan," he said. "It was the height of the culture wars. I had no idea what this New England prep school thing was about. I was confronted with a narrow elitism that drove me back into the theater. By sophomore year, I was a theater major."

Steve remains as thoroughly committed politically as he is committed to theatre - but not as an actor, even if he's as much a delight to look at as he is to listen to. If you don't have the print edition, you'll miss out on the photograph which accompanies the article.

Steve's a beautiful and amazing phenomenon, but the Times piece hardly begins to describe the incredible theatre company which now gives expression to his energy and creativity. How many people would pick the shockingly-radical failed social and political phenomenon of the 1871 Paris Commune as a subject for a musical and still be able to retain the integrity and good conscience of the history?

"Paris Commune"

The Civilians performed the delightfully gentle and eccentric play alluded to in the closing lines of today's article, "Canard, Canard, Goose."

In the fall of 2001, The Civilians leave New York City to pursue a story about a Hollywood movie and a lost flock of carelessly imprinted geese resulting in an eclectic show about disorientation, misplaced empathy and coming home.
An audio clip is available here.

"Canard, Canard, Goose"

Barry and I are crazy about these people and this company, and we both shun traditional "musicals" like the plague. This is more than a recommendation; this is unconditional love.

"Gone Missing" opens October 9 at the Belt Theater in New York.

They're back! Trisha Brown's magnificent "Winterreise" is being reprised in three performances next week. You won't need cold and snow to fall in love with the entire company. This creation is highly, highly recommended.

Full details.

Orly Cogan "Michael" embroidery, paint on printed cotton fabric 18"x18"

Orly Cogan "Exposed" embroidery, paint on printed cotton fabric 18"x18"

Now I know why the crowd was not quite as intimidating as I had expected at the fabulous Reverend Jen's Troll Museum opening at Printed Matter last night!

It wasn't because of an interruption in L train service this time. ACRIA was holding a benefit and juried exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Gallery a few blocks away at the same time, and it wasn't just the free sparkling stuff in real glasses that had attracted the huge crowd.

They were almost giving away ($150, duh!) hot works by hot young artists picked by hot older artists - and for the benefit of a wonderful institution! Everyone wins.

We had forgotten the time-sensitive nature of the event, so we arrived after just about everything had been sold. Otherwise the two extraordinary Orly Cogan works reproduced above, which were scooped up in the first few minutes, might now be ours. Orly's third image, not reproduced here, was titled, "Puppy Love."

The art will remain on the walls of the gallery until August 2.

colored pencil on paper (2002) [not in the current show]

I've been neglectful.

Almost didn't mention the wonderful review which Paul P.'s show at Daniel Reich received this past week from Holland Cotter in the NYTimes.

So I'll print the entire text to make up for the delay.

Paul P.
Daniel Reich
308 West 21st Street, 2A, Chelsea
Through Aug. 2

Paul P., who is based in Toronto, makes an attractive New York solo debut with this show of 20 colored-pencil portraits of young men. Seductive, reflective or goofy, the pictures look informal enough to have been taken from life, though each face comes from gay pornography of the 1970's and early 80's.

Paul P. has done much to aestheticize his subjects. The obvious model is Whistler, with his wispy touch and a Symbolist sensibility, though most of the Whistlerian effects are relegated to background elements: patterned wallpaper, flowers or shimmery curtains in bleached pink, sooty lavender and jaundice yellow. By contrast, the faces are rendered carefully and deliberately, with each beautiful feature and gauche flaw carefully observed, like those of Caravaggio's punk-angels.

Given the identity of Paul P.'s subjects — sexually active men at the beginning of the AIDS era — the drawings can't help seeming like memorial portraits. At the same time the work is different in tone from most art produced during the AIDS crisis. These aren't heroicizing or mournful portraits: however historically aware, they're secondhand, distanced, dandified and oddly unsensual, as if their homoeroticism was taken for granted, or beside the point, or part of some larger, still-developing content or style.

What the developments will be, I'm not sure. But place Paul P.'s work with that of other young artists like Christian Holstad, Assume Vivid Astro Focus (a k a Eli Sudbrack), Scott Hug, Asianpunkboy, Phiiliip, and Hiroshi Sunairi, to name just a few, and it seems clear that some new, multifarious version of "gay art" is in formation, just in time for this post-criminal, premarital, passively resistant gay moment.

Wispy Whistler and Caravaggio's punk-angels! Yea!

The 47-story 7 World Trade Center greatly reduced

Is Larry Silverstein a greedy man interested in power and fame? Or is he just trying to do his sad little thing again?

Monday’s front page NYTimes article tells us that Larry Silverstein now has control over what happens at the site of the World Trade Center. Later in its text we are told that Silverstein annoys a lot of important people because he has a tin ear for political discourse. But his affliction is much more serious. He has a tin soul. He certainly has a tin aesthetic.

I read a lot about what’s happening in New York, but I have an additional connection with Mr. Silverstein. I worked in an office high in 7 World Trade Center for about a dozen years. That building, which collapsed the afternoon of September 11, was Silverstein’s personal flagship before he acquired the lease to the Twin Towers 6 weeks earlier.

7 World Trade, which was across the street from the two Trade Center towers themselves, fell most likely as a consequence of the combustion of fuel stored for emergency generators designed as a backup for his friend Mayor Giuliani’s suspiciously ill-conceived high-tech 23rd-floor [sic] emergency command bunker. But no one talks about the fact that Silverstein, in his anxiety to attract Solomon Brothers as his prime tenant, had the entire 43rd floor removed after the building was completed in order that a trading floor could be constructed as part of their occupancy, with unknown consequences for the integrity of the building when put under severe stress. But what do I know?

What I do think I know is that Silverstein should be perhaps a building superintendent or possibly the owner of a chain of dry cleaning establishments. He should not be the arbiter of taste or design for what is arguably the most important site and the most important building project of our time.

Like his family’s nemesis, Donald Trump, Silverstein is not a self-made man. He started not at the bottom, but somewhere near the upper middle, and managed to advance only to the upper reaches of the upper middle, at least until just before the disaster which destroyed all of his showy real estate.

7 World Trade was a machine, an ugly monstrosity. The building had not even opened when its lobby was chosen as stand-in for the fictional inhuman Wall Street high-rise office building in Oliver Stones’ film “Wall Street.” If you know anything about the film, you know this was a very appropriate location choice.

Everything about the environment of 7 World Trade was repellant, but somewhere along the line a curator must have persuaded Silverstein to decorate his repellant lobbies with painting and sculpture from significant, even great, contemporary American artists. Then Larry destroyed this worthy impulse by installing a number of kitschy, junky, iron-man, submissive-woman and Amerindian-racist sculptures in the same areas. I can confirm it was Silverstein’s doing, and that it was work by a friend of his, someone he was said to admire. I made inquiries at the time they appeared in the lobbies, I was so amazed that they were there – that they could even exist in public in New York City at the end of the 20th century. These uglies were finally removed several years before September 11. The Held, Lichtenstein, Nevelson and others were destroyed along with the building.

Silverstein has been tolerated in or advanced to the importance he occupies in the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site only because for various reasons he appears to be in a position to get things started in time to satisfy the agenda of those who need something started right now. Bloomberg, Pataki, the national Republican Party and any number of commercial and political interests in New York and elsewhere are concerned not with the social, moral or aesthetic values of whatever takes shape west of lower Church Street, but with the political and financial opportunities early construction will offer them.

Silverstein is paying $120 million in rent to the Port Authority each year, but he receives no income from the 16-acre site. Silverstein wants to build – now. That’s all he’s concerned about. There is not one word in the Times article that suggests he has any other interest.

His motive is not patriotism or altruism, and I don’t think the man is looking for power, fame or even more fortune. He and his financial backers have an investment, and they want it to pay off. That's his job. It's business - as usual. All right, Silverstein is 72, and I’m sure he’d be in a hurry for that reason alone, even if he didn’t believe lots of huge, new, dreary office buildings would suitably crown a quite ordinary career. There is no time or room for beauty, vision, or greatness of any kind in this kind of deal.

If Larry Silverstein retains control of "ground zero," New York and the entire world is a loser.

If you missed the birth of Abstract Expressionism, Op Art, Pop Art, Minimalism, the rise of Conceptual and Process Art, The New Realism, even Grafitti Art, all because you weren't born yet (or maybe because your parents weren't born yet!) or just because you were elsewhere engaged, don't miss this one. Stop by John Connelly Presents tomorrow evening and be a part of your time.

It doesn't have a name yet, and that's probably a very good thing, but in the NYTimes on Friday Roberta Smith tried to describe the current unfolding arts phenomenon. She did alright.

Group shows are proliferating all over town, especially in Chelsea, with more opening this week and next. But the energy of this year's explosion transcends format. New York seems to be having a Summer of Art not unlike the 1967 Summer of Love in its liberating effects. Mark my words, or those of an astute junior observer who simply termed it "our June 2003 moment." Whatever, it's still going strong this weekend with an array of artworks, curatorial ideas and aesthetic developments that reveal the quickening, centrifugal vitality of contemporary art, a result of several combustible collisions or collusions.

One way to put it is that the "Return of the Real," as the critic Hal Foster noted in the late 1980's, is being met head on by the "Return of the Formal," most visibly in the prominence of saturated color that runs through these shows like a radiant thread (as it does through this year's Venice Biennale).

From another angle, the counterculture and avant-garde tendencies of the late 60's and early 70's continue their fruitful interaction. That is, the handicrafts, scavenging, sexual openness, psychedelic palette, body decorations and druggy spirituality of the hippie era are being given backbone by the reductivist tendencies, material eccentricities and political consciousness of Conceptual Art and Process Art.

Design and architecture are part of the mix, as are continuing variations on Grafitti Art. There is a fuller embrace of the Pleasure Principle, which is perhaps the most important legacy of popular culture. Artists want to have fun, but not just fun. Call it responsible hedonism. Op Art's revenge.

Implicit is a free-flowing equality of media, mixed or unmixed. Video has assumed the very position into which it forced painting in the late 1980's: it is now one among many means of expression. Artists are developing so many distinctive and individual ways of working with it that often you barely see it anymore. Finally, in all mediums, collage, sampling, appropriation, bricolage, recycling — call it what you will — continues to mutate and expand as an artistic strategy, an ecological statement and a metaphor for inclusiveness.

John Connelly opens a very special group show tonight at 6 o'clock, called "Today's Man." You won't be able to get into the gallery space itself if you're shy about human contact, but the huge hot and happy crowd will hold down the hall as well, so you won't be lonely.

From John's press release:

"Today's Man" is an exhibition of mostly small works on paper and canvas (paintings, collages, drawings etc. but no photography) and consists solely of representations of men by male artists. The relatively small scale of the works (almost all are less than 18 x 18 inches) is a purposeful inversion of what one might normally associate with the stereotype of the patriarchal grand canvas.
So maybe it's ok if it's just about guys this time.

And in love.

Barry and I were totally inside the little screen yesterday afternoon, a part of the film "Burnt Money (Plata Quamada)." It was far more than either of us had expected, and all of the mainstream reviews we had seen earlier seem to have missed the point. It was sexy, hot, beautiful, political, redemptive, claustrophobic, reckless, sweaty, crudely violent, yet barely and rarely innocent and sweet, and very, very elegant.

There is a heartbreaking scene lasting only a few seconds, more than half-way into the film, where the "twins" are filmed from below a balcony in a carnival dance hall. Colorful stips of lights run across the ceiling above the two graceful figures in their suits, caught dancing a slow, elegant tango worthy of the dance's working-class male origins.*

Another very different moment earlier in the story, when Nene calmly removes a bullet from the shoulder of the recumbent Angel, who has refused to take a narcotic (he tells his partner he wants to feel everything) is unbelievably erotic. I know, it sounds awful. You have to be there.

Jason Anderson writes in Eye Weekly:

Based on the real-life exploits of a gang of Argentinian robbers in late 1965, Burnt Money offers a stylish, pulpy combination of sweaty hunks and blazing guns. It's the sort of film that leaves its characters soaked in blood, perspiration, spunk or -- ideally -- all three at once.

. . . .

[The film's director, Marcelo] Piñeyro explains that, in the underworld of Buenos Aires, "homosexuality wasn't -- and isn't -- a cause of rejection, as it was, and probably still is, in the middle classes. Homosexuality wasn't associated with weakness. Besides, homosexuality was part of the life in jail. Nobody in the underworld had prejudices about it."

But the characters' sexual identities are at once open and closeted in the film. One of the most exciting things about Burnt Money is how it inverts the standard pattern of gay relationships on film. The Twins' relationship is transformed from one that is open and sensual into one in which their desires are frustrated and repressed -- with suitably apocalyptic repercussions.

Anderson concludes his review bluntly, after quoting Piñeyro describing his cinematic influences, "his fevered Burnt Money is a real sweatbox of a movie."

The sweat is dry, but I still feel I'm inside that box.

[thanks to Pagina12 for the images]


The dance was created by men, and men first danced together to sharpen their style, and only then [most?] went out and danced with women.

Artnet has some good images from the Venice Biennale. The photograph above, of artists in the gardini, helps to explain the seductive appeal of this event. Obviously it's not just the venue.

Well, we did hear that the temperature was 108 on the opening days.

Barry and I were among the teeming cultured masses in and outside of D'Amelio Terras tonight for the opening of the amazing show, "Now Playing: Daniel Reich Gallery, John Connelly Presents, K48," which the gallery describes as a group of "three emerging artistic programs."

In the pictures below I was behind the camera, out of its range, so everything you will see is beautiful, although what was supposed to have attracted the crowd, the art, remained inside, where I was much too busy so my camera never saw it. For 10 images of the installation, see the gallery site as a tease, but make sure you get to 22nd Street. It's a great show. You'll want to tell somebody's grandchildren about it. Oh, and lots of stuff is "affordable" as we like to hear it described, beginning with artist-constructed CDs in their exotic cases, starting at $15 or so.

In the second picture, that's Conyers Thompson on the right (he's surprisingly single!), apparently shocking the Barry, and in the third, Scott Treleaven, Joe Wolin and Glenn Ligon are taking in the air - and the art fans.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from July 2003.

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