200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, July 6, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates the 243rd birthday of the United States of America in the July edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Brooklyn Maqam musicians, Dj InO, Tunde Olaniran, Snips, and Cumbia River Band; a curator tour of “Garry Winogrand: Color” led by Drew Sawyer; a hands-on workshop in which participants can design wearable art inspired by “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”; a book club discussion with Adreinne Waheed, author of the photo book Black Joy and Resistance, with artist Zun Lee and moderator Delphine Adama Fawundu; teen pop-up gallery talks in honor of the fortieth anniversary of The Dinner Party and creator Judy Chicago’s eightieth birthday; a screening of Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable (Sasha Waters Freyer, 2018), followed by a talkback with Sawyer and Susan Kismaric; Cave Canem poetry readings with JP Howard, Raven Jackson, and Trace DePass responding to “Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha”; and a community talk about the Lesbian Herstory Archives with Flavia Rando, Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, Ashley-Luisa Santangelo, and Elvis Bakaitis. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha,” “One: Egúngún,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Infinite Blue,” “Rembrandt to Picasso: Five Centuries of European Works on Paper,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.
TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2019)
Film Forum, 209 West Houston St., 212-727-8110
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater, 144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves., 212-875-5050
Opens Friday, June 21
At the beginning of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, artist Mickalene Thomas’s hands are seen putting together a collage of different images of author Toni Morrison, like a jigsaw puzzle, one on top of the other, to the sounds of Kathryn Bostic’s score. It’s a beautiful start to a beautiful film that takes viewers deep inside Morrison’s life and career, from daughter and student to teacher, wife, mother, editor, and award-winning novelist. “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order,” Morrison writes in Beloved. In the film, Greenfield-Sanders, Morrison’s longtime friend and primary photographer of nearly forty years, and editor and researcher Johanna Giebelhaus gather the pieces that help paint a portrait of the extraordinary person that is Toni Morrison.
They incorporate old interviews with Charlie Rose, Dick Cavett, and Bill Moyers, personal photographs, archival footage, and new interviews with Morrison and thirteen of her colleagues — among them Columbia University professor Farah Griffin, activist Angela Davis, New Yorker critic Hilton Als, Random House editor Robert Gottlieb, composer Richard Danielpour, media magnate Oprah Winfrey, and fellow authors Paula Giddings, Russell Banks, Fran Lebowitz, and Walter Mosley — who have nothing but laudatory things to say about her, as both a writer and a human being. The film also includes excerpts from several of Morrison’s books, read by Kim Cattrall, Joel Grey, S. Epatha Merkerson, Whoopi Goldberg, and others, in addition to works by such black artists as Kara Walker, Martin Puryear, Titus Kaphar, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, David Hammons, Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, and Hank Willis Thomas that subtly complement her words.
The main focus, however, is on Morrison’s status as a black woman writer and her white audience. Early in her career, she was criticized for writing only about blacks and the black experience. “The assumption is the reader is a white person, and that troubled me. They were never talking to me,” Morrison says. “I didn’t want to speak for black people; I wanted to speak to, and to be among . . . us. So the first thing I had to do was to eliminate the white gaze.” One white gaze she has not eliminated is that of Greenfield-Sanders, who is Caucasian; in fact, Morrison is the one who inspired him to make such films as The Black List, The Latino List, The Women’s List, and The Trans List, which document people from diverse communities. (Morrison contributed an introduction to The Women’s List.)
Greenfield-Sanders focuses on such Morrison novels as Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, and Beloved as well as the nonfiction compendium The Black Book. Cinematographer Graham Willoughby purposely shoots Morrison, who turned eighty-eight in February, straight on, with her looking directly into the camera, while the other subjects are photographed from the side, over the shoulder, adding further prestige and prominence to the grand dame, who is also shot on lovely mornings, working at her riverfront home.
Perhaps the best thing about this two-hour American Masters production is that after watching and listening to this remarkable woman talk about her approach to writing and the world at large, you’ll want to rush to reread her books, or pick them up for the first time. “Words have power,” she explains. Indeed they do. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am opens June 21 at Film Forum and Lincoln Center; Greenfield-Sanders will participate in Q&As following the 7:20 show on June 21, the 12:20 show on June 22 (with Brigid Hughes), and the 2:40 show on June 23 at Film Forum and after the 3:30 and 6:20 shows on June 22 and the 1:00 show on June 23 at Lincoln Center.
Who: David W. Dunlap, Fred R. Conrad, Chester Higgins Jr., Marilynn K. Yee
What: Book launch, talk, and signing, Only in New York: 500 Photos • 500 Moments (Rizzoli, May 2019, $39.95)
Where: Rizzoli Bookstore, 1133 Broadway at 26th St., 212-759-2424
When: Monday, June 17, free, 6:00
Why: “Only in New York highlights the threads that hold this city of contrasts together,” former New York Times Metro reporter and “Building Blocks” columnist David W. Dunlap writes in the introduction to Only in New York: 500 Photos • 500 Moments, the new book put together by the Newspaper of Record’s photography staff, consisting of five hundred color and black-and-white snapshots taken in the Big Apple, arranged in diptychs, going back more than a century. He continues, “Wordlessly, the pairings began telling stories of their own. They spoke across time. They described a city that exists on many planes simultaneously: energetic and brutal, compassionate and cruel, creative and desperate, eccentric and conformist, impatient and steady, exuberant and serene, tragic and funny, elegant and shabby, cosmopolitan and insular, crowded and lonely.”
On June 17, Dunlap will be joined by photographers Fred R. Conrad, Chester Higgins Jr., and Marilynn K. Yee at the Rizzoli Bookstore to celebrate the release of the book, which features such inspired photographic pairings as the cast of Cats opposite a dog walker, the light of traffic around the Flatiron Building opposite fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge, Martin Scorsese opposite Frank Sinatra (both adjusting their coats), birdwatchers opposite a Civil Defense air raid drill (both involving binoculars), the 7 train opposite Mickey Mantle wearing his number 7 Yankees jersey, and the Queen Mary 2 in New York Harbor opposite a space shuttle fly-by in Midtown. Among the photographers whose work is featured are Damon Winter, Neal Boenzi, Ruth Fremson, Vincent Laforet, Michelle Agins, Todd Heisler, Chang W. Lee, Barton Silverman, Sara Krulwich, Michelle Agins, and Tyler Hicks. The book also includes touching and humorous anecdotes, such as this gem: “R. Chester Redhead is waiting for the No. 1 bus on 86th Street and Madison Avenue. When it finally arrives, the woman in front of Mr. Redhead hands the driver a transfer. ‘Lady,’ he says, ‘this transfer is from yesterday.’ ‘That tells you how long I’ve been waiting for this bus,’ she replies.”
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Jay Sharp Building
230 Lafayette Ave.
June 6-8, $30-$60, 7:30
I was prepared to be blown away by Bryce Dessner’s Triptych (Eyes of One on Another). I’m a big fan of his artsy rock group, the National; I love (who doesn’t?) Patti Smith, whose text figures prominently in the piece; and I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the Guggenheim’s “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” exhibit, which includes several images that appear in Dessner’s seventy-minute multimedia work. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Inspired by the 1990 obscenity case against Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” exhibit, which took place in Dessner’s hometown of Cincinnati when he was a teenager, Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) explores demons and desire, objectification and beauty, specifically in Mapplethorpe’s XYZ portfolios, which focus on sadomasochism, flowers, and African American male nudes. Accompanying the large-scale projections (by Simon Harding), which appear on a front scrim and/or the back wall, is text from the trial and writings by Smith and poet and activist Essex Hemphill, the latter a critic of Mapplethorpe’s. Dessner’s haunting, ethereal score is performed live by Roomful of Teeth (Cameron Beauchamp, Martha Cluver, Eric Dudley, Estelí Gomez, Abigail Lennox, Thomas McCargar, Thann Scoggin, and Caroline Shaw), joined by soprano Alicia Hall Moran and tenor Isaiah Robinson, the women in silvery white, the men (except for Robinson) in black. (The set and costumes are by Carlos Soto.) Brad Wells conducts, with Jessica McJunkins on violin, Tia Allen on viola, Byron Hogan on cello, Kyra Sims on French horn, Ian Tyson on clarinet and bass clarinet, Laura Barger on piano and harmonium, Donnie Johns and Victor Pablo on percussion, and James Moore on guitar.
Korde Arrington Tuttle’s libretto boasts numerous phrases that stick in the mind as they are sung and projected on walls and screens: “The devil in us all / darkness as beauty”; “Aesthetics can justify desire”; “unsavory things”; “The Artist machetes a clearance.” However, there are also quotes from the trial, which feel trivial and pedantic, especially when juxtaposed with Robinson and Roomful of Teeth’s extensive later repetition of “In america, / I place my ring / on your cock / where it belongs,” from Hemphill’s American Wedding. Among the photographs are “Dominick and Elliot,” depicting a shirtless white man holding the nether regions of a naked white man tied upside down; Mapplethorpe’s famous 1988 portrait of himself gripping a cane with a skull on it; “Jack Walls,” of a black man pointing a gun above his exposed penis; and “Cedric, N.Y.C.,” in which a black man bows his head, the light and shadows making it look like his right side is black and his left side white.
Director Kaneza Schaal is unable to bring the piece together; the words, music, and imagery feel like separate entities. Through it all, a black man wanders across the stage and into the audience, looking up at the projections, a spectator commenting on the images of black bodies by saying nothing. When the audience enters the Howard Gilman Opera House, he is sitting at the front of the stage, watching the people wander in, implicating us all. But I’m not sure in what.
Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
June 3-9, $40-$95
German composer and artist Heiner Goebbels constructs, deconstructs, and reconstructs the last hundred years of European history in Everything that happened and would happen, making its American premiere at Park Ave. Armory through June 9. Reconfigured for the armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall — it was originally staged in a former railway depot in Manchester — the multimedia, polyphonic spectacle starts as soon as the doors open, so be sure to get there early. The audience sits in rising rafters on the west side of the hall, watching a team of dancers in black (Juan Felipe Amaya Gonzalez, Sandhya Daemgen, Antoine Effroy, Ismeni Espejel, Montserrat Gardó Castillo, Freddy Houndekindo, Tuan Ly, Thanh Nguyễn Duy, John Rowley, Annegret Schalke, Ildikó Tóth, Tyra Wigg) carry seemingly random objects onstage — long tubes, metallic seashells, a gold sun, large cloths that they hang from above — position them carefully, then remove them.
Various people read passages from Patrik Ouředník’s 2001 Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, a tragicomic, stream-of-consciousness look at the twentieth century, exploring war, racism, colonialism, collective memory, liberal democracy, the Holocaust, Barbie dolls, and more. Sentences are occasionally projected on hanging sheets designed with trees, maps, and architectural structures, in addition to unedited footage from Euronews’s No Comment, with no narration or context; the night we attended featured very recent live, often violent images from Syria, Colombia, and other nations. (The video design is by Rene Liebert.) In one corner smoke oozes out of a cave, creating a face. Rocks storm down in an avalanche. The dancers roll column-like plinths across the stage, pedestals without busts; later, one performer climbs on top of one and reads from Ouředník’s book.
The dissonant score, from John Cage’s Europeras 1&2, is played by Camille Émaille on percussion, Gianni Gebbia on saxophone, Cécile Lartigau on ondes Martenot, Nicolas Perrin on guitar and electronics, and Léo Maurel on several specially built, unusual instruments. (The props are from Goebbels’s 2012 production of Europeras 1&2.) Willi Bopp’s stunning sound design has music and words emerging from numerous speakers throughout the hall, as if a choreographed sonic dance. Goebbels is a master of deception; while you’re watching one element, others will sneak up on you, offering surprises galore, evoking life itself — and war, specifically, but without the immediate threat. A long, narrow beam becomes a mobile trench. Black monoliths creep up out of the darkness. At one point I felt as if Birnam Wood was stealthily approaching; another reminded me of George Washington crossing the Delaware (even if it’s not from the last century). The dancers and musicians improvise, furthering the anything-can-happen atmosphere.
Perhaps what’s most invigorating about the 135-minute-plus intermissionless show — Goebbels’s third project at the armory, following Stifter’s Dinge in 2009 and De Materie in 2016 — is that despite the serious topics that are broached, abstract and not, Goebbels leaves it up to us to interpret what we are experiencing; he gives us the building blocks from which we can form our own narrative. “Everything that happened and would happen doesn’t participate in all the attempts to have yet another opinion as to the meaning of what has happened; quite the opposite. Guided by a deep mistrust in the transmission of a one-directional message, I don’t even try,” Goebbels explains in his director’s note. “Everything that happened and would happen seeks to open up a space of images, words, and sounds generous enough to avoid the impression that somebody on stage is trying to tell you what to think. It is a space for imagination and reflection, in which the construction of sense is left for everyone to assemble.”
It can be slow going, and several members of the audience did not make it to the end, which is too bad, because Everything that happened and would happen proves to be a provocative durational exploration of the past, present, and future fusing together, a multimedia barrage on the eyes and ears that demands our attention even as the mind wanders. Even when not much appears to be going on, something is, of course, mimicking life and the choices we make as we go about our day; Goebbels metaphorically hands us the controls and we watch and listen to what we want to, self-curating the presentation. Ouředník writes, “Historians said that historical memory was not part of history and memory was shifted from the historical to the psychological sphere, and this instituted a new mode of memory whereby it was no longer a question of memory of events but memory of memory.” On opening night, at the close of the show, Goebbels himself was helping the ushers steer the audience to the exits on the far side of the stage, forcing everyone to march along a battered landscape and take stock of where we are at this very moment in time, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It’s a fitting finale to an adventurous evening of intoxicating, memorable theater.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, June 1, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Gay Pride and the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots in the June edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, Linda LaBeija, Amber Valentine, and Madame Gandhi as well as teen staff members presenting an intersextions variety show inspired by “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” and artists Morgan Bassichis, TM Davy, DonChristian Jones, Michi Osato, Una Osato, and special guests celebrating the updated edition of The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions; a book club talk with Jodie Patterson discussing her latest, The Bold World, with Elaine Welteroth; a curator tour of “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” led by Lindsay C. Harris and Carmen Hermo; a hands-on workshop in which participants can design buttons based on LJ Roberts’s The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Boswyck, Breukelen, and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era; a community talk on radical queer histories with Audre Lorde Project; and an “Archives as Raw History” tour focusing on the museum’s LGBTQ+ histories. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha,” “One: Egúngún,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.
Who: Colin Davey
What: Author talk and book launch
Where: Shakespeare & Co., 2020 Broadway at 70th St., 212-738-0001
When: Monday, May 20, free with advance registration, 7:00
Why: Scientist, martial artist, and software engineer Colin Davey celebrates the 150th anniversary of the American Museum of Natural History with the extensively researched, fully illustrated new book The American Museum of Natural History and How It Got That Way (Fordham University Press/Empire State Editions, $34.95, May 2019), written with Thomas A. Lesser. Davey (Learn Boogie Woogie Piano) will be at Shakespeare & Co. on May 20 to launch the book, which details the history of the museum in such chapters as “The Jesup Years (1881–1908) and the Seventy-Seventh Street Facade,” “The Akeley African Hall: From the Elephant in the Room to the Seven-Hundred-Pound Gorilla,” “The Golden Age of Spaceflight and the Hayden Planetarium,” “The Evolution of the Dinosaur Exhibits,” and “Robert Moses and the Norman Bel Geddes Report.” In the foreword, Kermit Roosevelt III, the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose statue resides in front of the institution, writes, “What the museum has done, in different ways, through the different stages of its life, is to feed the human sense of wonder at the universe.” Among the figures who appear in the tome are “Boss” Tweed, Clyde Fisher, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Morris K. Jesup, Carl Akeley, Robert Moses, and many others as Davey, a regular visitor to the museum since he was a child, shares fascinating historical details about the museum from its beginnings on Manhattan Square through the Hayden Planetarium, the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and the future Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.