BEUYS (Andres Veiel, 2017)
209 West Houston St.
Opens Wednesday, January 17
About ten years ago, I was visiting Chelsea galleries on a sunny afternoon when a car pulled up on the corner of Eleventh Ave. and Twenty-second St. A father and a young boy of about five or six got out, and the man led the child to one of the stone sculptures that make up Joseph Beuys’s “7000 Oaks.” The boy relieved himself on the stone; the pair then returned to the car and the family drove off. I always thought that the German avant-garde artist would have gotten a kick out of that scene; after watching Andres Veiel’s new documentary, Beuys, I’m sure of it. If you’re going to make a documentary about Beuys (pronounced boys), one of the most influential artists of the postwar generation, it had better not be a straightforward, talking-heads film but something that pushes the boundaries and challenges the viewer, much like his art. Award-winning director Veiel (Balagan, Black Box Germany) does just that with the film, which concentrates primarily on rarely shown and never-before-seen archival footage of Beuys, including radio and television interviews, art openings, panel discussions, live performances, photographs, and home movies, mostly in black-and-white. Veiel conducted approximately twenty new interviews and met with more than five dozen people who knew Beuys, but he only uses spare clips from art historian Rhea Thönges-Stringaris, publisher Klaus Staeck, collector Franz Joseph van der Grinten, and critic, curator, and writer Caroline Tisdall, who wrote seven books about Beuys and worked with him on several major exhibitions and lecture tours. “The anonymous viewer is back there, yeah?” Beuys says early on, looking straight into the camera, and it’s a critical moment, as the documentary emphasizes how important it was to him that his work be seen. “I want to inform people about the true culprits in our system. I want to inform and educate people,” he says. Beuys, who also taught at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, is eminently quotable, his speech filled with manifesto-like declarations. “Forget the conventional idea of art. Anyone can be an artist. Anything can be art, especially anything that conserves energy,” he explains. “I’m not an artist at all. Except if we say that everyone is an artist,” he opines. “The concept of what art is has expanded to such a degree that, for me, there’s nothing left of it,” he offers.
Veiel, cinematographer Jörg Jeshel, and editors Olaf Voigtländer and Stephan Krumbiegel begin many scenes by scanning a contact sheet of photos of Beuys and zeroing in on one, which suddenly comes to life. Among Beuys’s projects they focus on are 1969’s “The Pack” (das Rudel), sleds tied to the back of a VW bus; the 1974-75 installation “Show Your Wound,” which might have been inspired by the injuries he suffered as a pilot in WWII; the 1965 performance piece “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”; “Boxing Match: Joseph Beuys & Abraham David Christian”; “Honey Pump in the Workplace,” an example of what Beuys called “social sculpture”; and the expansive “7000 Oaks,” in which he paired stone sculptures with tree plantings. Usually smoking a cigarette, baring his big, white teeth, and wearing his vest and trademark hat — perhaps to cover up war injuries — Beuys is always aware he is being watched, on exhibit himself, and it’s something he toys with, tongue often in cheek as he expounds on concepts about life and art and plays around with interlocutors. The film touches on his childhood, his war experience, his association with the Green Party, and his descent into a deep, dark depression, but it evades various controversies, from possible Nazi ties to shamanism to his oft-told tale of a plane crash in which he was supposedly saved by Tartars. Veiel also doesn’t delve into Beuys’s personal relationships or the illness that led to his death in 1986 at the age of sixty-four. Instead, he gives us a Beuys who is ever-present, an iconoclastic, often inscrutable, and wildly intelligent artist and innovative provocateur who constructed his own mythology that continues to tantalize us today — even when his work is used as a public toilet. Beuys is making its U.S. theatrical premiere January 17 at Film Forum; Veiel will participate in a Q&A with MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach following the 7:00 show on January 19.
Asia Society Museum
725 Park Ave. at 70th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 21, $7-$12 (free Friday nights from 6:00 to 9:00)
There is nothing subtle about “After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History,” an intense exhibition continuing through January 21 at Asia Society. The seven artists and one collective in the show — who hail from Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, three nations that have undergone major sociopolitical transformations since WWII — are angry, and they want everyone to know it. “The featured artists have worked within challenging environments, which have included periods of violence and uncertainty, to create artworks that represent their most ardent aspirations for their home countries,” Asia Society president and CEO Josette Sheeran writes in her foreword to the expansive catalog. In “Destruction,” Indonesian artist FX Harsono turns himself into Ravana, the Demon King from the epic Indian poem Ramayana, and uses a chainsaw to cut up chairs to protest voter fraud, while in “Burned Victims” he sets fire to nine wooden torsos to raise awareness about nine innocent people who died in a mall fire during a riot; the charred remains are lined up along the floor of the gallery. Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê evokes Chinese handscrolls in “WTC from Four Perspectives,” four long, stretched images of the fall of the Twin Towers, now turned into abstract colors and shapes. In “Relevancy of Restricted Things,” Myanmar’s Nge Lay wears a mask and dresses up as her father, who died when she was a teenager, and takes photographs of other families who have lost the patriarch, with Lay taking his place. She also stages her own death in “Observing of Self Being Dead.” Vietnamese artist Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai asked refugees in Cambodia and Vietnam to choose a stock background of an idyllic location, then had a traveling photographer take a picture of them as if they were there; the photos were then arranged on the walls of a hut made from coconut and eucalyptus leaves.
The Propeller Group, founded by Matt Lucero, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Phunam Thuc Ha, uses time-delay video to watch a motorcycle being stripped down by thieves in The Dream, while in the two-channel video The Guerrillas of Cu Chi, tourists pay a dollar to shoot M-16s and AK-47s from the Vietnam War where underground tunnels were used by the Viet Cong to kill American troops; across the way, a propaganda film promotes the Cu Chi Guerrillas. In Chinese Indonesian Tintin Wulia’s Everything’s OK, her camera moves across a Styrofoam city where money rains down and overcrowding takes over, while opportunity knocks in Ketok and fangs emerge from imported fruit in Violence Against Fruits, about the treatment of minority groups. Indonesian photographer Angki Purbandono spoofs fashion shoots in “Beyond Versace.” And Htein Lin gets his own room for “A Show of Hands,” multiple shelves of plaster of Paris casts of hands of political prisoners in Myanmar, creating an almost blindingly white effect, each hand tagged with a label detailing the person’s name and time spent in which jail. In addition, Harsono’s Writing in the Rain video, in which the artist continues writing his name in black ink on a window as water comes down and washes his identity away, is this month’s “Midnight Moment” selection, being projected on electronic billboards in Times Square throughout January from 11:57 pm to midnight. The exhibition is a kind-of follow-up to 1996’s “Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions,” which was held simultaneously at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, the Queens Museum, and Asia Society and introduced artists from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. But “After Darkness” takes it to the next level, focusing on artists’ reactions to dramatic changes in three nations. In his downstairs lobby installation, FX Harsono’s “Blank Spot on My TV” consists of twenty digital prints of news conferences in which the artist has placed a white circle on a politician’s face, primarily covering the speaker’s mouth, as if what is coming out is meaningless. Meanwhile, “After Darkness” celebrates artists who are not about to be silenced.
Who: Ronny Chieng, Nancy Yao Maasbach
What: “Mission Possible” conversation with comedian Ronny Chieng and MOCA president Nancy Yao Maasbach
Where: Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St., 855-955-MOCA
When: Wednesday, January 17, $30 (includes museum admission and one drink), 6:00
Why: The Daily Show correspondent Ronny Chieng was born in Malaysia, raised in New Hampshire and Singapore, graduated from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and now is based in New York City. On Trevor Noah’s show, in his stand-up routines, and on his own series, Ronny Chieng: International Student, Chieng takes on stereotypes with straight-ahead humor and a touch of silliness, but always with a serious point. On January 17, the Chinese comedian will be at the Museum of Chinese in America to sit down with MOCA president Nancy Yao Maasbach to talk about comedy, his childhood, and Asian Americans in the arts. There will be an open mic with special guests at 6:00, followed by the discussion at 8:00. Tickets are $30 and include museum admission (and one drink), so get there early to check out the exhibitions “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America” and “FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures.” The program is part of MOCAFest 2018, a wide-ranging series of events welcoming in the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dog. “Mission Possible” continues January 24 with Gish Jen and January 31 with Betty Wong Ortiz.
January 14 - March 24
America came of age in the 1960s, from the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, and Malcolm X to Vietnam and the Summer of Love. Carnegie Hall is paying tribute to the turbulent decade with the two-month series “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America,” inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert A. Caro. The native New Yorker, who turned eighty-two this past October, is the author of such books as The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York and the four-part The Years of Lyndon Johnson, with a fifth tome on the way. “Luther King gave people ‘the feeling that they could be bigger and stronger and more courageous than they thought they could be,’ Bayard Rustin said — in part because of the powerful new weapon, non-violent resistance, that had been forged on the Montgomery battlefield,’” Caro wrote in Master of the Senate, a quote obviously apt for MLK Day. Running January 14 through March 24 all across the city, the festival features concerts, panel discussions, film screenings, dance, art exhibitions, and more. Below are only some of the many highlights; keep watching this space for more additions.
Sunday, January 14
Saturday, March 24
“Max’s Kansas City,” photos and writings, Mark Borghi Gallery, free
Friday, January 19
“You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the Sixties,” Library After Hours opening night program with experimental films, album-cover workshop, games and puzzles, curator tour led by Isaac Gewirtz, dance party with Felix Hernandez, and more, exhibit continues through September 1, the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, free, 7:00
Kronos Quartet, works by Stacy Garrop (world premiere inspired by “I Have a Dream” speech), Zachary J. Watkins (world premiere inspired by Studs Terkel), Terry Riley, John Cage, and Janis Joplin, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, $62-$72, 9:00
Tuesday, January 23
Friday, May 18
“The Global Interconnections of 1968,” Kempner Exhibition Gallery, Butler Library (sixth floor), Columbia University, free
Thursday, January 25
Snarky Puppy with David Crosby and Friends, including Chris Thile and Laura Mvula, Stern/Perelman at Carnegie Hall, $26-$100, 8:00
Friday, January 26
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Classic Film Series: Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978), Justice in Film presentation introduced by Susan Lacy, New-York Historical Society, free with pay-what-you-wish museum admission, 7:00
Tuesday, February 6
Sunday, February 11
March, duet from Lessons inspired by civil rights movement, part of winter season program by Ronald K. Brown / Evidence, a Dance Company, the Joyce Theater, $26-$46
Friday, February 16
“Philip Glass Ensemble: Music with Changing Parts,” Stern/Perelman at Carnegie Hall, $14.50 - $95, 8:00
Wednesday, February 21
“The Summer of Law and Disorder: Harlem Riot of 1964,” panel discussion, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, free with advance registration beginning February 7, 6:30
Tuesday, March 13
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series: “The ’60s from Both Sides Now: An Evening with Judy Collins,” in conversation with historian Harold Holzer, New-York Historical Society, $38, 6:30
Saturday, March 24
“The Vietnam War: At Home and Abroad,” multimedia presentation with Friction Quartet performing George Crumb’s “Black Angels” and more groups to be announced, narrated by John Monsky, Zankel at Carnegie Hall, $35-$45, 2:00
MY ART (Laurie Simmons, 2016)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, January 12
Visual artist Laurie Simmons makes her feature-film debut as writer, director, and star of the self-indulgent, pretentious romance My Art, which opens at the Quad on January 12. Part of the Pictures Generation, Simmons, who was born in Queens in 1949, has been creating intriguing photographic series since the mid-1970s, often focusing on such inanimate objects as mannequins and dolls, offering a feminist viewpoint of domesticity. In My Art, she plays Ellie Shine, a sixty-five-year-old teacher and artist who decides to house-sit for an upstate friend in order to take advantage of her large studio and to work on a new project, bringing along her ailing dog, Bing, who is suffering from degenerative myelopathy (and is sometimes played by her real dog, Dean, who had the same illness). Although she is seeking privacy and seclusion, she is soon interacting with three men, local gardeners Frank (Robert Clohessy), a widower, and Tom (Josh Safdie), who is married to Angie (Parker Posey), and an oft-divorced lawyer, John (John Rothman). Instead of using dolls and mannequins, she and the three men dress up to re-create scenes from some of Ellie’s favorite films, including John Huston’s The Misfits, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, and François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, which involve issues of sex, femininity, age, and gender. Inspired by the work of Cindy Sherman and Gulley Jimson, the painter portrayed by Alec Guinness in Ronald Neame’s The Horse’s Mouth, Ellie reimagines herself as Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Malcolm McDowell, Marlene Dietrich, and other characters as the scenes help drive the narrative of her evolving relationships with the three men as well as the upstate community as a whole. She did not come to the house looking for romance, instead wanting to concentrate on her art, but she can’t help but be beguiled by the three men, particularly Frank, while rediscovering her sexuality.
My Art is too cutesy for its own good, more of a Lifetime movie or gallery installation than a theatrical release for the general public. It’s often cloying, and clumsily edited, with a score that might rot your teeth. Simmons is a terrific visual artist — you can see some of her real work in the opening scene, when Ellie is walking through the 2015 Whitney exhibition “As Far as the Eye Can See” (the colorful painting she stops at is “Large Bather [quicksand],” by her husband, Carroll Dunham) — but perhaps feature films are just not her forte. Dunham and Simmons’s daughter, Lena Dunham, makes an early cameo as a student of Ellie’s; it’s not difficult to understand where Lena gets some of her artistic and political views from. There are also cameos by Simmons’s other daughter, writer and activist Grace Dunham, in addition to Marilyn Minter, Blair Brown, and Barbara Sukowa. Simmons, who appeared in Lena’s Tiny Furniture with Grace and in Girls and made the 2006 short The Music of Regrets, is a much better photographer than actress; while it’s refreshing to see a sixtysomething woman protagonist rediscovering life’s many pleasures, Simmons can’t carry the lead. In fact, the only actor who excels in the film is the amiable Clohessy, who is impeccable as Frank, riffing on his real life as a former boxer, son of a police officer, and actor who has primarily played cops in his career, including recurring roles on NYPD Blue, Oz, and Blue Bloods. Simmons will participate in several special events at the Quad: There will be Q&As with Simmons, Rothman, Clohessy, producer Andrew Fierberg, and Lena Dunham (via Skype) on January 12 and 13 at the 7:00 shows; the 4:50 screening on January 14 is dedicated to women artists, while the 7:00 screening the same day is a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood and will be followed by a Q&A with Simmons, moderated by Lynn Tillman.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, January 6, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum looks to 2018 with its January First Saturday program, “New Year, New Futures.” There will be live music by Sinkane, BEARCAT, Zaven of Resonator Collective (an in-gallery soundscape for the terrific exhibition “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo”), and New Kingston; a curator tour of “Rodin at the Brooklyn Museum: The Body in Bronze” with Lisa Small; a hands-on art workshop in which participants can make zines inspired by “Proof”; a community talk with Murad Awawdeh, the vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition; a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2017), followed by a discussion with activists Jessica Green and Aisha Karefa-Smart (Baldwin’s niece); a Feminist Book Club event focusing on the 1970 book Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan, hosted by Glory Edim of Well-Read Black Girl based on selections by Judy Chicago; pop-up gallery talks on “Roots of ‘The Dinner Party’: History in the Making”; a Brooklyn Dance Festival movement workshop and live performances; pop-up poetry with DéLana R. A. Dameron (Weary Kingdom) and Rickey Laurentiis (Boy with Thorn), followed by a signing; and a NYLaughs comedy showcase with Negin Farsad, Nimesh Patel, and Jordan Carlos, hosted by Ophira Eisenberg and followed by a discussion on humor, activism, and crisis. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Roots of ‘The Dinner Party’: History in the Making,” “Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt,” “Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo,” “Arts of Asia and the Middle East,” “Infinite Blue,” “Ahmed Mater: Mecca Journeys,” “Rodin at the Brooklyn Museum: The Body in Bronze,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.