Who: Zohra Saed, LaTasha Diggs, Paolo Javier
What: Live online film screening and panel discussion
Where: Poets House Twitter feed
When: Friday, April 24, free with RSVP, 4:00
Why: As part of its series “Made in Harlem: Remembering the Renaissance,” Maysles Documentary Center is teaming up with Poets House to present a live online screening of Looking for Langston, Isaac Julien’s forty-five-minute 1989 docudrama about Hughes, the twentieth-century poet, playwright, and novelist who chronicled black and gay life and culture in America in such books as The Weary Blues and Not without Laughter. The London-born Julien is a multimedia installation artist who has made such other films as Western Union: Small Boats and Ten Thousand Waves. The 4:00 screening, free with RSVP, will be followed by a panel discussion on Hughes’s literary legacy, Julien’s cinematic style, and the hundredth anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance with Brooklyn-based Afghan American poet Zohra Saed and Harlem-based writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, moderated by Poets House program director and former Queens poet laureate Paolo Javier.
In 2013, a new hero burst onto the art scene, despite being dead for nearly seventy years. First came “Hilma af Klint — A Pioneer of Abstraction,” by all accounts an eye-opening show that toured Europe, followed five years later by the smash Guggenheim exhibit “Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future,” which propelled the extraordinary work of the Swedish abstractionist into the mainstream. I fondly remember making my way through the show, mouth agape at the many wonders I was seeing. German director Halina Dyrschka continues the celebration of this previously little-known painter in the documentary Beyond the Visible — Hilma af Klint, which will be available for streaming April 17 through Kino Marquee in association with BAM in Brooklyn and Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles. Dyrschka and Guggenheim assistant curator David Max Horowitz will participate in a Zoom Q&A with BAM on April 18 at 3:00.
In her debut full-length film, Dyrschka digs deep into who af Klint was, what inspired her unique achievements, and why she had been overlooked until the 2010s. “Now we have a real scandal,” German art critic and af Klint biographer Julia Voss says. “Suddenly, more than fifty years after history was written, completely out of the blue, at least for the general public, we discover this woman who painted abstract works before Kandinsky, creating this huge oeuvre, fully independently, and by a kind of miracle it’s all stayed together. It’s like finding a time capsule in Sweden. And now we have to ask: How should we integrate it?”
Born in Stockholm in 1862, af Klint incorporated physics, mathematics, the natural world, and spiritualism into her paintings, abstract canvases that predated Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian, who both, like af Klint, died in 1944. She didn’t exhibit any of her work until 1906, and after that only sparingly. Upon her death, her estate was not permitted to show anything for twenty years; her first posthumous exhibition was held in LA in 1986.
“We are not here forever,” Dyrschka narrates early in the film. “So it is not at all astonishing that someone once wondered about what it means to be in the world and how everything fits together — and came up with a huge answer. The strange thing is I only found out about it more than one hundred years later. Art history has to be rewritten.” Among the others lobbying for af Klint’s ascension into the art canon are artists Josiah McEhleny and Monika von Rosen, novelist Anna Laestadius Larsson, art historians Ernst Peter Fischer and Anna Maria Bernitz, Eva-Lena Bengtsson of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, collector Valeria Napoleone, and gallerist Ceri Hand, offering different perspectives of the value and legacy of her her work. Lending more personal insight are Ulla af Klint, the widow of Hilma’s nephew Erik (from a 2001 interview); Johan af Klint, Ulla’s son, who ran the Hilma af Klint Foundation, which oversees the artist’s 1,500 paintings and 26,000 pages in notebooks; and Marie Cassel and Brigitta Giertta, descendants of two of Hilma’s closest friends. Together they paint a compelling portrait of the iconoclastic af Klint, who filled her work with cutting-edge and fringe philosophy and science. But you don’t have to agree with her offbeat world view to fall in love with her gorgeous canvases, many of which are displayed in the film.
Curator Iris Müller-Westermann explains, “Never in her lifetime did she put any of her abstract work on show. Hilma af Klint’s project was something much grander than what we today call ‘art.’ It was all about seeing the world we live in in a larger context, to understand who we really are in a cosmic perspective.”
Cinematographers Alicja Pahl and Luana Knipfer often let the camera linger on peaceful shots of water, flowers, the sky, and other natural elements that morph into Klint’s paintings and reenactments of af Klint working on a large-scale painting on the floor of her studio. Petra van der Voort reads excerpts from af Klint’s writings in voice-over, narrating from books that we can follow along with, zooming in on her penmanship, while Damian Scholl supplies a wide-ranging, eclectic score.
“She was well educated, she had a mind of her own, and she painted like nobody else,” Johan af Klint says. McElheny points out, “In order to tell the history of abstraction now, you have to rewrite it.” Beyond the Visible confirms that it’s time for a new history.
As part of Focus Features’ free Movie Mondays livestreaming series, director Wes Anderson will participate in a Q&A on April 13 following a 5:00 watch party for his 2012 gem, Moonrise Kingdom. In such unique films as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, black-comedy master Anderson has created a bizarre collection of characters who seem to live in their own alternate realities. In Moonrise Kingdom, he has once again assembled an oddball assortment of men, women, and children in a terrifically clever and entertaining fairy tale all its own. Tired of being abused by his fellow Khaki Scouts and dismissed by his foster parents, twelve-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) runs away from Camp Ivanhoe on the island of New Penzance, much to the chagrin of dedicated scout master Randy Ward (Edward Norton). Meanwhile, twelve-year-old loner Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is fed up with her life as well, which she mostly spends listening to Benjamin Britten, reading fairy tales (fictitious stories made up by Anderson), watching the world through a pair of ever-present binoculars, and despising her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
Afraid of what might have happened to the children, the local police officer, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), gets involved, as does a stern woman from social services (Tilda Swinton) and, eventually, a very different kind of scout, Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman). The proceedings are overseen by a narrator (Bob Balaban) who ends up being more than just an omniscient presence. Moonrise Kingdom is an absolute gem of a film, an exciting, original tale about growing up, told in a fabulously funny, deadpan manner that combines slapstick humor with wildly ironic elements, filled with the endless wonders of childhood, although it is most definitely not for children. Newcomers Gilman and Hayward appear wise beyond their years in the lead roles, with outstanding support from an all-star cast, most prominently Norton as the by-the-book scout master on a mission. Written by Anderson with Roman Coppola and featuring a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best films of 2012, by a director whose imagination never ceases to amaze. Focus Movie Mondays continues April 20 with Kevin Smith’s Mallrats and April 27 with Paweł Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love.
Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.
With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.
That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.
You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.
We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse at 165th St.
Through March 8, free
In 1985, the MTA began its Arts for Transit and Urban Design program (now known as MTA Arts & Design), connecting art with public transportation. But before that, art and transit went together like oil and water; hence the name of a fab exhibit that continues at the Bronx Museum through March 8, “Henry Chalfant: Art vs. Transit, 1977–1987,” the title of which was also inspired by the late graffiti artist SHY147. After arriving in New York City from Pittsburgh in 1973 and beginning as a sculptor, Chalfant was quickly enamored with street art, train graffiti, and hip-hop culture and started documenting it. Since train graffiti was impermanent — in addition to the MTA relentlessly trying to clean trains, other taggers and writers would spray paint right over existing tags — his photographs often became the only evidence of the work, so much so that soon graffiti artists would call him up to ask him to take pictures of trains and buildings they’d tagged. Chalfant would go to aboveground stations such as Intervale Avenue and East Tremont on the 2 and 5 lines and take multiple photos with his 35mm camera as trains whizzed by; he would then develop the photos and splice them together to create panoramic shots of full trains.
This first US museum retrospective, which was curated by Spanish graffiti artist SUSO33 for the Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente in Madrid, includes dozens of Chalfant’s long, rectangular photographs, hung on the walls one above another, from floor to ceiling, exploding in a glorious blaze of colors and shapes, with wild lettering and cartoonish characters. Among the artists whose work he preserved on film are Dondi, Futura, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, Blade, Crash, DAZE, Dez, Kel, Mare, SEEN, Skeme, and T-Kid, some of whom are interviewed for a short film made by multimedia, multidisciplinary artist, producer, and chronicler Sacha Jenkins. I was fortunate enough to watch the film, which is screened continuously within a re-creation of Chalfant’s SoHo studio, alongside a graffiti artist who added biting commentary about some of the figures in the film and pointed out one of his pieces as it passed by.
In the back room, a series of wooden structures are covered with full-length cloth murals to replicate spray-painted subway cars at actual size, while dozens of Chalfant’s photos are projected at the top of a wall at one end of the room, roaring into the station, then pulling out, complete with sound effects. Also on view are some of Chalfant’s notebooks and more than a hundred photographs of the burgeoning street hip-hop culture as well as newspaper and magazine articles and other ephemera. “The story of the neglected children of NYC, victims of poverty, racism, poor schools lacking art and music instruction who overcame their circumstances with creative expression, is a powerful and inspiring one,” Chalfant says in the beautiful bilingual catalog. “There are plenty of examples in the various cultures that emerged from the mean streets of New York that have been a powerful inspiration to youth everywhere. I’m happy and proud to be bringing it home.” The catalog also features essays by Jenkins, Sharp, SUSO33, and Carlos Mare.
Chalfant, a Stanford grad whose 1984 collaboration with Martha Cooper, Subway Art, is the bible of the genre and who coproduced with director Tony Silver the seminal 1983 documentary Style Wars, did the world a great service by capturing these works of art, which turned drab silver train cars into canvases of free expression, where men and women on the margins could scream out for all to experience. Be on the lookout for such photos as “Dondi,” “EYE JAMMIE by AOne,” “Mad (by Seen),” “Style Wars by Noc 167,” and “Stop the Bomb.”
On March 6, the Bronx Museum will host a free screening of Chalfant’s award-winning 2006 documentary, From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale; advance registration is recommended here. Also at the museum is the eye-opening “José Parlá: It’s Yours,” a major solo show by the Miami-born, longtime Bronx resident and former street artist known as “Ease”; his dazzling paintings and collages require up-close viewing to fully experience his exploration of gentrification and systemic racism while also celebrating street art and the Bronx.
“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading,” Maurice Sendak is quoted as saying in D. W. Young’s wonderfully literate documentary The Booksellers, which opens at the Quad March 6. I have to admit to being a little biased, as I work in the children’s book industry in another part of my life, and I serve as the managing editor on Sendak’s old and newly discovered works. The film follows the exploits of a group of dedicated bibliophiles who treasure books as unique works of art, buying, selling, and collecting them not merely for the money but for the thrill of it. “The relationship of the individual to the book is very much like a love affair,” Americana collector Michael Zinman explains.
In the film, which features narration by executive producer Parker Posey, Young visits the Antiquarian Book Fair at Park Avenue Armory and speaks with a wide range of intellectual characters, including author and cultural commentator Fran Lebowitz, who relates her experiences in rare-book stores; bestselling writer Susan Orlean, who discusses her archives; leather-bound connoisseur Bibi Mohamed of Imperial Fine Books, who talks about going to her first estate sale; late-twentieth-century specialist Arthur Fournier; Nicholas D. Lowry and Stephen Massey of Antiques Roadshow, the latter of whom was the auctioneer for the most expensive book ever sold, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Hammer codex; sci-fi expert and author Henry Wessells; Justin Schiller, who worked with Sendak and other children’s book authors; Rebecca Romney of Pawn Stars; Jim Cummins, who owns some four hundred thousand books; Erik DuRon and Jess Kuronen of Left Bank Books; Nancy Bass Wyden of the Strand; and Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample, and Judith Lowry, the three sisters who own the Argosy Book Store, continuing the family legacy.
But times have changed, for both good and bad. Dealer Dave Bergman complains, “The internet has killed the hunt,” comparing the excitement of live auctions and the detective-like chase for a title to the boredom of automated online searches and bidding. However, diversity is on the rise, as explored with Kevin Young of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Caroline Schimmel, a leading collector of books by women; and hip-hop archivist and curator Syreeta Gates. “I think the death of the book is highly overrated,” Heather O’Donnell of Honey and Wax Booksellers declares. From her mouth. . . . The Booksellers, which is worth seeing solely for Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Swann Auction Galleries president Nicholas D. Lowry’s fab mustache, is screening in conjunction with the sixtieth anniversary of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, taking place March 5-8 at Park Avenue Armory. The Quad is hosting a series of Q&As opening weekend, with Young and such guests as Posey, Wyden, Romney, O’Donnell, and Nicholas D. Lowry, moderated by Eugene Hernandez and Adam Schartoff.
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall, Tinker Auditorium
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
March 6-7, $7-$14 per event, $45 full weekend pass
FIAF is paying homage to the life and career of filmmaker Chantal Akerman with five special programs this weekend. Friday night at 7:00, FIAF will screen Akerman’s 2011 film, Almayer’s Folly, which was based on Joseph Conrad’s first novel, followed by a conversation with actor Stanislas Merhar and French journalist Laure Adler. On Saturday at 1:00, Akerman’s 2002 film, From the Other Side, about Mexican immigration in California, will be shown. The tribute continues at 3:15 with the unique documentary Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, made for French-German television in 1997. At 4:30, the panel discussion “Chantal Akerman’s Legacy” brings together cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton (Akerman’s former partner), screenwriter Leora Barish (Desperately Seeking Susan, Basic Instinct 2), writer-director Henry Bean (Noise, Basic Instinct 2), actor, director, writer, and Akerman student Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, Support the Girls), and moderator Adler, with a toast at 6:00. The celebration of Akerman, who died in 2015 at the age of sixty-five, concludes Saturday night at 7:00 with “Chantal?,” a live performance by Wieder-Atherton, with works by Bartók, Janáček, and Prokofiev and originals set to Akerman’s written words and her 1968 short Blow Up My City, followed by a Q&A with Wieder-Atherton, Merhar (La Captive, Almayer’s Folly), and Adler. “I wanted to play along with her, her every move, her silences, her dancing at once burlesque and deadly serious, her anxiety as she is humming little tunes,” Wieder-Atherton explained in a statement.