Who: Barbara Pollack
What: Conversation, gallery talk, book signing in conjunction with publication of Brand New Art from China: A Generation on the Rise (Tauris, $25, September 2018)
Where: James Cohan Gallery, 291 Grand St., and Pace Gallery, 537 West Twenty-Fourth St.
When: Thursday, September 20, 6:00, and Tuesday, September 25, 6:00
Why: In 2010, when twi-ny interviewed art critic, curator, teacher, and writer Barbara Pollack about her book The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China, she said, “In New York, I am just another person trying to make a living by writing about art. But in China, I get treated like a star critic with a certain degree of power.” Pollack’s well-deserved prominence is evident in her follow-up, Brand New Art from China: A Generation on the Rise, which features a quote on the front from Ai Weiwei, who says, “Frank, honest, and full of passion. . . . a rare and precise insight.” A good friend of twi-ny’s, Pollack herself is certainly frank, honest, and full of passion. (Full disclosure: Pollack’s literary agent is also twi-ny’s business manager.) Pollack is indeed a superstar in China, where artists clamor for her to write about their work. The new book explores such Chinese artists as Cao Fei, Chen Tianzhuo, Chen Zhou, Gao Ling, Guan Xiao, Jin Shan, Li Liao, Liu Wei, Qiu Xiafoei, Zhang Xiaogang, and Xu Zhen, in such chapters as “The Last Chinese Artists,” “The Me Generation,” and “Post-Truth.” Here’s a brief excerpt about Xu:
There are many occasions when Xu Zhen has eschewed references to Chinese culture entirely or mixed up symbols so seamlessly that the only reaction could be total confusion. At one of MadeIn’s first exhibitions, the company produced an entire survey of “art from the Middle East,” combining aesthetic strategies from conceptual art practices with just enough stereotypes of the war-torn, Islamic-dominated region to evoke a Middle Eastern identity. There were mosques made of Styrofoam and Charlie Hebdo political cartoons woven into tapestries. There were sculptures made of barbed wire and a field of broken bricks set on an invisible waterbed, so the ground seemed to move like a silent earthquake. When these works were shown at James Cohan Gallery in New York in 2009—with the title “Lonely Miracle: Art from the Middle East”—most visitors had no choice but to assume these were products of a collective of Arab artists, which was exactly the point. In this globally driven art world, it is easy to fake ethnicity. All it takes is a bit of irony and just enough cultural references to add locality to the mix.
Pollack will be at James Cohan Gallery on September 20 at 6:00, in conversation with Xiaoyu Weng, the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation associate curator of Chinese art at the Guggenheim, followed by a book signing. On September 25 at 6:00, she will lead the gallery talk “Zhang Xiaogang & the Future of Chinese Art” at Pace in Chelsea, where “Zhang Xiaogang: Recent Works” is on view through October 20. To get a taste of Pollack’s thoughts on Zhang’s earlier work, here’s another excerpt from the book:
So, Zhang Xiaogang’s emphasis on a Chinese identity is not the result of isolation and ignorance of Western art practices but a reaction to his initial embrace of those trends. In Europe, he faced his crisis head-on by seeing the masterpieces of Western art history and feeling as if there was nothing more he could add to that legacy. Back in China, however, he was surrounded by a new cultural experience that could not be captured through Western iconography and symbols. His rejection of the West was not total. Instead, he embraced an approach that allowed for innovation in both Western and Chinese traditions for art.
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Tuesday – Sunday through September 23, $13-$20 (free Fridays 7:00 to 9:00)
You might be surprised to find out that from 2005 to 2015, Wayne Thiebaud was sixth on the list of top-selling living American artists at auction, totaling more than $163 million in aggregated sales (trailing Jeff Koons, Christopher Wool, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, and Jasper Johns and ahead of Robert Ryman, Frank Stella, Robert Indiana, and Cindy Sherman). Or maybe that’s not surprising at all, given how his oeuvre is so viscerally pleasing while also technically adroit, as revealed in the lovely exhibition “Wayne Thiebaud, Draftsman,” continuing at the Morgan through September 23. Now ninety-seven and still working, the Arizona-born, California-raised artist is best known for his luscious paintings of pies, jelly apples, ice-cream cones, and other tasty treats, but the show reveals him to be an expert draftsman through drawings and sketches not only of desserts but of cityscapes and landscapes. His influences range from Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Giorgio Morandi, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Paul Prudh’hon to Krazy Kat cartoonist George Herriman and time spent in trade school and the military and as a commercial artist, window dresser, and graphic designer for Rexall Drugs and Universal Studios. “One day [printer] Kathan [Brown] brought down lunch, which was a cheese sandwich, a couple of olives, and a beer, and I said, ‘Before we eat this, I think I’ll draw it,’” Thiebaud is quoted as saying in the exhibition catalog.
The show, the first extensive museum survey of Thiebaud’s works on paper, is a panoply of delights, from the 1964 watercolor and graphite “Nine Jelly Apples,” in which the sweet jelly seems to be dripping down the wall, to the 1983 charcoal “Three Roads,” an imaginative rendering of San Francisco streets, from a circa-1970 graphite self-portrait of Thiebaud looking serious to the 1960s-1970s “Page of Sketches with Ties,” four rectangular depictions of numerous ties, from the 1964 brush and ink “Hamburgers,” three rows of the all-American food, to the fantastical 1967-68 “Ridge with Clouds.” Thiebaud is not making any grand statements about consumption or hunger; the self-effacing artist and teacher is merely using his impressive skill to explore various subjects and styles. He also seems to have a penchant for drawing items in multiples of three, although he claims that is not on purpose and has no secret meaning. “Learning to draw is just learning to see more clearly and more organized,” he told curator Isabelle Dervaux in an illustrated talk at the Morgan. “That’s another side benefit of learning to draw. You’re going to learn to see a lot better and a lot deeper.”
Thiebaud’s works have a way of getting inside your head, offering up sweet memories. Walking through the exhibit, I was like, well, a kid in a candy store. I thought of the first hamburger I had at Wetson’s, of the candy store down the street from my elementary school, of how rarely I saw my father wearing a tie, of a cake my aunt used to make for my birthday, the first time I licked an ice-cream cone and the ice cream dripped onto my hand, of a childhood friend’s dog, and of getting lost while wandering through parts of San Francisco and New York City. Dervaux has done a marvelous job laying out the show, dividing it into such themes as “Foodstuff,” “Tradition,” “Early Drawings,” and “Cityscapes and Landscapes,” creating compelling juxtapositions that tell us yet more about Thiebaud and his methods. It’s a joy to experience these works, many of which have never before been shown publicly. “Most of these are private drawings — to find out something, to make notations, or just to experiment,” Thiebaud has said. “You want to feel that these are things that will never be seen.”
Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Ave. & Fulton St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 30, $90-$115
The inestimable Kathryn Hunter is extraordinary as eleven characters subservient to Haile Selassie in the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, which opened tonight at Theatre for a New Audience, where it continues through September 30. The seventy-minute play was adapted by Colin Teevan from Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s 1978 book, which detailed the fall of the Ethiopian emperor as witnessed by those around him. The hoarse-throated Hunter portrays such figures as L.M., the emperor’s valet de chamber; F., the wiper of the emperor’s lapdog’s urine; Y.M., the keeper of the emperor’s private zoo; G.S.-D., the emperor’s pillow bearer; and Z.S.-K., the emperor’s minister of information. For each character, Hunter takes a different position onstage, uses a different voice and movement style, and makes small costume and prop changes, adding a hat, a cane, or epaulettes. Onstage with her is Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, who plays the krar, a multi-stringed bowl-shaped lyre, as well as taking a few parts himself: a rebel general and two students, one the son of G.S.-D. “Only memories / That is all that remains,” L.M. says. The subjects, who were all interviewed by Kapuściński, discuss how Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, slept, met with spies, fed the animals in his zoo, dealt with men he considered traitors, and prayed: “Lord save me from those who crawling on their knees, / Hide the knife that they would stick into my back.” T.K.B., the emperor’s chauffeur, recalls how he would drive Selassie in a Rolls, Lincoln, or Mercedes to the palace gate, where poor people would be seeking help, along with “dignitaries and officials, / Each burning with one desire; / To be noticed.”
Together the brief monologues form a telling look at what life under the “King of Kings” and “Elect of God” was like for the general populace, his cabinet, and his numerous subordinates, who handled even his most bizarre and absurd proclivities with respect in order to protect their job — and their life. Ministry of the Pen recording clerk T.L. explains, “Everyone waited to see / What the Emperor would do next, / Everyone was ashamed of letting / This conspiracy occur. Everyone was fearful of His Majesty’s wrath.” Kapuściński found similarities between Selassie and the corruption occurring in his native Poland; forty years later, comparisons can be made to so many other autocrats and despots — including President Trump, who has shown a fondness for several dictators. After describing how Selassie was able to turn perception around following a peasant revolt, Z.S.-K. declares, “That is the art of governing!” But Selassie started losing control after Jonathan Dimbleby’s documentary, Ethiopia: The Unknown Famine, was seen around the world, revealing how the emperor was really taking care of his people, even as Z.S.-K. defended his boss.
A joint presentation of Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, The Emperor is directed by Walter Meierjohann, who previously collaborated with Hunter and Teevan on Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey. The play works well when Hunter is moving about Ti Green’s spare stage (Green also designed the costumes), expertly lit by Mike Gunning, and Zeleke sits in the corner, playing and singing. But when he gets up and interacts with Hunter, the pacing grows awkward; perhaps part of the problem is that we are so focused on Hunter (Fragments, The Valley of Astonishment) that we don’t want her dazzling performance to be interrupted for any reason, whether she’s just talking, doing calisthenics, or diving across the floor with a royal pillow. It’s even a treat to watch the way she runs offstage at the end of the show. But the message about power, corruption, and dictatorships still comes across loud and clear, especially at a time in America when an administration appears to be at war with itself and many citizens believe the emperor has no clothes.
OFFSIDE (Jafar Panahi, 2006)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Tuesday, September 18, 7:00, and Sunday, September 30, 2:30, $12
Series runs September 16-30
For nearly thirty years, Iranian cinema has been an integral part of the international film world, with stellar works by such directors as Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Bahman Farmanara, Jafar Panahi, and others. One thing many of these films have in common is cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari, who has shot some of the preeminent Iranian films, offering a new vision of the politically troubled country. MoMA is honoring the former photojournalist’s career, which includes more than five dozen feature films, with “The Eye of Iran: Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari,” a series consisting of twelve of his major works, running September 16-30. On September 18 and 20, MoMA will be screening Panahi’s Offside, a brilliant look at gender disparity in modern-day Iran, filmed on location in and around Tehran’s Azadi Stadium with a talented cast of nonprofessional actors. Although it is illegal for girls to go to soccer games in Iran — because, among other reasons, the government does not think it’s appropriate for females to be in the company of screaming men who might be cursing and saying other nasty things — many try to get in, facing arrest if they get caught. Offside is set during an actual match between Iran and Bahrain; a win will put Iran in the 2006 World Cup. High up in the stadium, a small group of girls, dressed in various types of disguises, have been captured and are cordoned off, guarded closely by some soldiers who would rather be watching the match themselves or back home tending to their sheep. The girls, who can hear the crowd noise, beg for one of the men to narrate the game for them. Meanwhile, an old man is desperately trying to find his daughter to save her from some very real punishment that her brothers would dish out to her for shaming them by attempting to get into the stadium.
Despite its timely and poignant subject matter, Offside is a very funny film, with fine performances by Sima Mobarak Shahi, Shayesteh Irani, Ida Sadeghi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, and Nazanin Sedighzadeh as the girls and M. Kheymeh Kabood as one of the soldiers. The film was selected for the 2006 New York Film Festival, but Panahi, who was supposed to attend the opening, experienced visa problems when trying to come to America and was later arrested by the Iranian government for his support of the opposition Green movement; he was sentenced to six years in prison and given a twenty-year ban on making new films, something he comments on ingeniously in 2012’s This Is Not a Film. “The Eye of Iran: Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalari” continues with such other Iranian films as Farhadi’s Oscar-winning A Separation, Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh, and Kalari’s Cloud and the Rising Sun, his debut as a writer-director.
The New School, Tishman Auditorium
63 Fifth Ave. between 13th & 14th Sts.
Monday, September 17, $10, 6:30
Exhibition continues in City Hall Park through December 7
kitchen trees slideshow
California-born, New York-based artist B. Wurtz will be at the New School on September 17 to give a talk about his latest project, the Public Art Fund installation “Kitchen Trees,” in City Hall Park through December 7. The whimsical site-specific show surrounding the fountain features five arboreal found-object sculptures made of colanders, each totemlike work a different color of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue — topped with plastic fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, pears, plums, peppers) hanging from upside-down pots and pans. Curated by Daniel S. Palmer, it’s a vibrant celebration of the mundane and the everyday, and it might very well make you hungry for a home-cooked meal. “With my work, I’m just looking at the world and exactly what it is, not wishing it were something else but trying to make something hopefully positive using ordinary things,” Wurtz says in a Public Art Fund video.
“He will look at something in a way that’s very different from just simply its function,” Palmer adds. Palmer will moderate the talk, which will explore Wurtz’s fifty-year career. The artist, who studied with John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger, has created assemblages with plastic bags, dish towels, socks, buttons, and other household materials to investigate his central themes of food, clothing, and shelter, but this is his first installation of monumental works. In conjunction with “Kitchen Trees,” “Domestic Space,” part of his Photo/Object series, continues at Metro Pictures in Chelsea through October 20. Don’t search for grand statements in any of Wurtz’s work. “I don’t have to tack on meaning later. It’s already built in,” he explains in the short video, which also uses his music for the soundtrack.
A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR
Theatre at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th St. between Ninth & Tenth Aves.
Wednesday - Sunday through October 21, $55-$85 (use code LOVELYRED for discount)
In a 2007 interview with The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, actress Charlotte Moore recounts the chaotic beginnings of Williams’s 1978 play, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, a companion piece with his 1970 one-act, The Demolition Downtown. She describes director Keith Hack fighting with Williams over rewrites, Williams talking distractingly in the audience during performances, and a cast change on opening night. “The opening night was nothing like the closing night at Spoleto. By the time it was over, it was pretty good!” she remembers. “Tennessee loved Creve Coeur. ‘It’s a bijou,’ he would say, ‘a bijou.’ A small jewel.” The rarely revived play, about four women trying to get by in Depression-era St. Louis, was one of six major works Williams wrote in the last four years of his life; it is now being brought back by La Femme Theatre Productions, running at the Theatre at St. Clement’s through October 21. (Opening night, which should be less hectic than the one at the Spoleto Festival nearly forty years ago, is September 23.) The impressive cast — the original featured Moore, Shirley Knight, and Jane Alexander — consists of Kristine Nielsen, Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, and Polly McKie, with the ubiquitous Austin Pendleton directing. “I think that A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of the gentlest, funniest, loveliest, and most moving of Tennessee’s later plays, actually of all his plays,” Pendleton said in a statement. “And they could not be better served than by our brilliant cast. These women know all about acting, about Tennessee, about life, and the idea of all four of them together makes me tingle.”
TICKET GIVEAWAY: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur runs through October 21 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite Tennessee Williams play to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, September 21, at 3:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
Louisiana-born, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Ramaa Mosley follows up her debut, the 2013 comedy The Brass Teapot, with the intense gothic thriller Lost Child. After serving two tours in the army, Fern Shreaves (Leven Rambin), upon the death of her father, returns to the dilapidated Ozarks home where she was raised. Suffering from PTSD — she insists she will never pick up a gun again — she has come back primarily to reconnect with her troubled, missing brother, Billy (Taylor John Smith). But instead she finds and takes in a mysterious young boy, Cecil (Landon Edwards), who appears to be living in the vast forest by her house. The polite ragamuffin child doesn’t say much about where he’s from, but when strange things start happening to Fern, Dr. Gill (Mark Ingalsbe) and dangerous forest-dwelling nut job Fig Karl (Kip Collins) warn her that Cecil is a tatterdemalion, a demonic figure literally sucking the life out of her. Fern becomes friendly with Mike Rivers (Jim Parrack), a sweet-natured bartender and child services worker who pooh-poohs the local folklore and thinks it best if Cecil continues to stay with her to avoid placement in foster care. But Fern is not used to making the right choices, either for herself or others, as events reach a fever pitch.
Mosley cowrote and produced the film with her Brass Teapot partner, Tim Macy, whose father lives in West Plains, Missouri, where Lost Child — originally titled Tatterdemalion — was shot, primarily with nonprofessional actors on an extremely low budget of $15,000. The film is beautifully photographed by Darin Moran, turning the forest into a character unto itself. Rambin, who played Glimmer in The Hunger Games and Athena Bezzerides on True Detective, gets deep into her role as Fern, who is desperately searching for some kind of family to hold on to, her eyes in almost constant motion. Arkansas native Edwards is exceptional as Cecil, reminiscent of Lucas Black in American Gothic, keeping viewers on edge as he harbors dark secrets. Named Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Kansas City Film Festival, Lost Child — the title could describe several figures in the movie — evokes such works as Robert Mulligan’s The Other, Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed, Jodie Foster’s Nell, and François Truffaut’s The Wild Child while feeling wholly original. Mosley maintains a creepy, tense atmosphere every step of the way, investigating ideas of family and responsibility, enhanced by David Baron and Chris Maxwell’s subtle, revealing score and southern country-folk songs by Arkansas native Ashley McBryde. (The final song over the closing credits is sung by Rambin.) A twist on a familiar trope, Lost Child is fresh and contemporary while solidly connecting to our ancient human fears of the forest — and weird children.