Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Ave. at 89th St.
Friday - Wednesday through January 7, $18-$22 (pay-what-you-wish Saturday 5:45-7:45)
The Guggenheim completes its third revelatory group show in a row with “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s,” coming hot on the heels of “Gutai: Splendid Playground” and “Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe.” Founded in 1957 by German artists Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, Zero brought together European artists who sought a fresh, optimistic start following the devastation of WWII. “From the beginning we looked upon the term [ZERO] not as an expression of nihilism — or as a dada-like gag, but as a word indicating a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning as at the countdown when rockets take off — zero is the incommensurable zone in which the old state turns into the new.” Joined by Günther Uecker in 1961, the collective created monochromatic paintings, kinetic sculptures, and action works that explored light, nature, and space, often removing the hand of the artist. Subtle, complex brushstrokes of multiple colors were not on the agenda; instead, Lucio Fontana slashed his canvases, Uecker hammered in nails, and Piene, Yves Klein, Bernard Auberlin, Piero Manzoni, and Henk Peeters used fire and soot. Numerous pieces, including Gianni Colombo’s “Pulsating Structure,” Klein’s “Space Excavator,” Daniel Spoerri’s “Auto-Theater,” Piene’s “Light Ballet,” and Jean Tinguely’s “Butterfly (Two Points of Stability),” contain mechanically powered elements that move, and in the Guggenheim show they are active only at timed intervals, adding an expectant quality to the viewer’s experience, which echoes the group’s hopefulness for the future. Meanwhile, Mack’s “Silver Dynamo,” Almir Mavignier’s “Convex-Concave II,” and Jesús Rafael Soto’s vibration works play with viewers’ perception in engaging ways.
During the early 1960s, Group Zero’s influence spread to Japan, the Americas, and other parts of Europe; the exhibition features more than 180 works by some forty artists from Belgium (Walter Leblanc, Paul Van Hoeydonck), Romania (Spoerri), Brazil (Almir Mavignie), the Netherlands (herman de vries, Jan Schoonhoven), Japan (Yayoi Kusama), America (Robert Breer, George Rickey), Switzerland (Dieter Roth), and other nations. Curator Valerie Hillings bookends “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s” with two wonderful rooms, beginning in the High Gallery with an examination of the seminal 1959 Antwerp exhibition “Vision in Motion — Motion in Vision,” which serves as a kind of primer for what visitors can expect as they make their way up the Guggenheim’s Rotunda to the very last room, which contains a re-creation of the 1964 Documenta 3 installation “Light Room: Homage to Fontana,” as light-based kinetic works by Mack, Piene, Ueker, and Fontana turn on and off seemingly randomly, casting shadows on the walls and lighting up the darkness. The exhibition closes on January 7 with the panel discussion “ZEROgraphy: Mapping the ZERO Network, 1957–67” ($12, 6:30), with Antoon Melissen, Johan Pas, and Francesca Pola, moderated by Hillings and followed by a reception and a final viewing.
SAGRADA: THE MYSTERY OF CREATION (Stefan Haupt, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
December 19 – January 1
Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most spectacular long-running architectural work-in-progress in the world, and arguably the most beautiful and inspiring. Construction began on the cathedral, which sits in the center of the cosmopolitan city, in March 1882, under diocesan architect Francisco del Paula del Villar, but a young man named Antoni Gaudí took over at the end of 1883 and spent the next forty-three years designing and building the expiatory church, incorporating a unique mix of styles as well as a whole new architectural philosophy. Swiss filmmaker Stefan Haupt (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Facing Death, The Circle) takes viewers behind the scenes of this ongoing project in the dry but elegant documentary Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation. Haupt delves into the history of the grand building and looks into its future as he speaks with chief architect Jordi Bonet, sculptors Etsuro Sotoo and Josep Subirachs, stained-glass artist Joan Vila-Grau, priest Lluís Bonet, religious studies professor Raimon Panikkar, and others about the house of worship, most of them singing the praises of the proud Catalan Gaudí, who also built such dazzling structures in his home region as Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and La Pedrera. “We owe it to him to finish this temple and show the world his genius,” foreman Jaume Torreguitart says. The film features extended sections in which cinematographer Patrick Lindenmaier lovingly shoots the inside and outside of the basilica, lingering over the intricate beauty of the myriad details, from the Nativity and Passion Facades to the spires, nave, apse, transept vaults, and Gaudí’s own crypt. La Sagrada occasionally feels like a clever way to raise money to continue work on the project, as it was made with the full support of the Sagrada Família Foundation, which needs funds to finally finish the ornate structure, and the narration (spoken by Hanspeter Müller-Drossaart) lacks the poetry of the visuals. But even as beautiful as the visuals are, it’s still difficult to capture, in words and pictures, the captivating essence of La Sagrada Familia, which overwhelmed me when I visited it a few years ago. The Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation from December 19 to January 1; as a bonus, they are also showing Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1984 documentary, Antoni Gaudí, December 19-25.
Who: Judy Gold
What: A Jewdy Gold Christmas
Where: Carolines on Broadway, 1626 Broadway, 212-757-4100
When: Wednesday, December 24, and Thursday, December 25, $31.25, 7:30
Why: Star of The Judy Show — My Life as a Sitcom and 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother spends Christmas in New York City telling jokes about being a tall, gay Jewish comedian
BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB vs. GRAVITY (Catherine Gund, 2014)
Symphony Space, Leonard Nimoy Thalia
2537 Broadway at 95th St.
Sunday, December 21 & 28 and January 4, $14, 4:30
Over the last several years, New Yorkers have gotten the chance to see Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company perform such dazzling works as Ascension at Gansevoort Plaza, Kiss the Air! at the Park Avenue Armory, and Human Fountain at World Financial Center Plaza as her team of gymnast-dancer-acrobats risk their physical well-being in daring feats of strength, stamina, durability, and grace. In addition, Streb herself walked down the outside wall of the Whitney as part of a tribute to one of her mentors, Trisha Brown. Now Catherine Gund takes viewers behind the scenes in the exhilarating documentary Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, going deep into the mind of the endlessly inventive and adventurous extreme action architect and the courage and fearlessness of her company. Gund follows Streb as she discusses her childhood, her dance studies, the formation of STREB in 1985, and her carefully thought out views on space, line, and movement as her work stretches the limits of what the human body can do. “I think my original belief and desire is to see a human being fly,” Streb says near the beginning of the film, which includes archival footage of early performances, family photos, and a warm scene in which the Rochester-born Streb and her partner, Laura Flanders, host a dinner party in their apartment, cooking for Bill T. Jones, Bjorn Amelan, Anne Bogart, Catharine Stimpson, and A. M. Homes.
Gund also speaks with current and past members of the talented, ever-enthusiastic company — associate artistic director Fabio Tavares, Sarah Callan, Jackie Carlson, Leonardo Giron, Felix Hess, Samantha Jakus, Cassandre Joseph, John Kasten, and Daniel Rysak — who talk about their dedication to Streb’s vision while using such words as “challenge,” “velocity,” “endurance,” “magic,” “invincibility,” and “risk” to describe what they do and how they feel about it. Gund focuses on the latter, as virtually every one of Streb’s pieces is fraught with the possibility of serious injury, as evidenced by their titles alone: Fly, Impact, Rebound, Breakthru, and Ricochet, not to mention the use of such materials as spinning I-beams, plastic barricades, dangling harnesses, and a rotating metal ladder. “I have to be able to ask someone to do that and be okay about it. Those aren’t easy requests,” Streb explains. “Knowing where you are is how you survive the work,” adds former STREB dancer Hope Clark. Gund goes with Streb to her doctor, where the choreographer describes what happened to her gnarled feet, and also meets with former dancer DeeAnn Nelson Burton, who had to retire after breaking her back. The film concludes with an inside look at STREB’s spectacular “One Extraordinary Day,” a series of hair-raising site-specific events staged for the 2012 London Olympics at such locations as the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, and the sphere-shaped city hall, photographed by documentary legend Albert Maysles. In her Kickstarter campaign, Gund (Motherland Afghanistan, A Touch of Greatness) said, “Action architect Elizabeth Streb has reinvented the language of movement. [Born to Fly] will rewrite the language of documentary.” That’s a bold declaration, but the film does have a lot of the same spirit that Streb displays in her awe-inspiring work. Born to Fly is screening December 21 & 28 and January 4 at 4:30 as part of Symphony Space’s ongoing Thalia Docs series.
Who: David Broza and friends
What: Nineteenth annual Not Exactly Christmas Eve Concert
Where: 92nd St. Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1395 Lexington Ave. at 92nd St., 212-415-5500
When: Wednesday, December 24, $59-$92, 7:30
Why: Israeli superstar troubadour David Broza performs on Christmas Eve in New York City with guitarists Julio Fernandez and Yonatan Levi, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, bassist Uri Kleinman, and drummers Yoni Halevi and Yuval Lion in support of his latest album, East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem (S-Curve, January 14, 2014) and the forthcoming documentary about the making of the record
BEAT THE DEVIL (John Huston, 1953)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Saturday, December 20, 4:00, Thursday, December 25, 10:15, and Friday, December 26, 4:45
Festival runs December 19 - January 11
Oscar-winning director John Huston pokes fun at some of his previous films in the sly, dry crime noir parody Beat the Devil. Written by Huston and Truman Capote, who furiously typed out pages every day on set, the 1953 black-and-white film teams Huston with Humphrey Bogart for the sixth and final time, following such successes as The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen, elements from all of which can be found in this jumbled tale of a gang of crooked men looking to score big in the uranium mines of Kenya. Bogart stars as Billy Dannreuther, a cool customer married to Italian firebomb Maria (Gina Lollobrigida). They are stranded in an Italian port town while waiting for a ship to take them and his associates — Peterson (Robert Morley), O’Hara (Peter Lorre), Ravello (Marco Tulli), and Major Jack Ross (Ivor Barnard) — across the Mediterranean to Africa. Also along for the ride is the prim and proper Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown) and his hotsy-totsy wife, Gwendolen (Jennifer Jones), who quickly falls for the smooth, confident Billy. Throw in a murder, a drunk captain (Saro Urzi), and some neat twists and turns and you have yourself an amusing little exercise, even if it does have its share of plot holes, story jumps, and inconsistencies.
Morley (subbing for the late Sydney Greenstreet), Lorre, and Tulli are like the Three Stooges of film noir, while Bogart riffs on himself as a leading man and Jones has a ball chewing the scenery as a blonde beauty. It’s a confusing film, randomly mixing humor with pathos, but even if it’s the least successful of the Huston-Bogart canon, it’s still more than just an interesting trifle. Beat the Devil is screening December 20, 25, and 26 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series Let There Be Light: The Films of John Huston, which runs December 19 to January 11 and consists of forty films directed by the master, from The Maltese Falcon and The Night of the Iguana to Key Largo and Moby Dick, from Prizzi’s Honor and Sinful Davey to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The List of Adrian Messenger, in addition to a handful of other works he either appeared in (Tentacles!) or that demonstrate his lasting influence (There Will Be Blood.)
Who: Composers Laine Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, and N. Cameron Britt and software developer Daniel Iglesia
What: Make Music Winter festival
Where: The High Line, Gansevoort & Washington Sts. to West 30th St.
When: Sunday, December 21, free, 5:00 – 6:30 pm
Why: Free downloadable app turns walk along the High Line into an unusual soundscape; portable speakers encouraged (first one hundred participants can borrow a wearable speaker for free); among the other free Make Music Winter events on December 21 are Tom Peyton’s “Bell by Bell,” the Nick Horner Family’s “Flat Foot Flatbush,” J. C. King’s “Kalimbascope,” Hiroya Miura’s “Lightmotif,” Malcolm J. Merriweather’s “Pilgrimage,” James Holt’s “Prelude,” Daniel Goode’s “Soho Gamelan Walk,” and Nissim Schaul’s “Wheels”