There’s an intrinsic challenge about making a documentary about a photographer: How to portray the artist’s work, silent, still pictures of a moment in time, in a medium based on sound and movement. In Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, producer, director, and editor Sasha Waters Freyer attacks that issue by delving deep into many of Winogrand’s photographs, lingering on them as friends, relatives, and colleagues rave about his glorious images. “Well, what is a photograph? I’ll tell you what a photograph is. It’s the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time in space,” Winogrand said in a 1975 lecture at the University of Texas Austin, later adding, “All it is is light on surface.” Of course, in Winogrand’s case, it is much more than that; the black-and-white pictures he took with his trusted Leica M4 inhale and exhale at the exciting pace of real life. “It’s this observation of human behavior, of human activity, human gesture, the relationships between people, whether they know each other or not, how we behave in the world,” curator Susan Kismaric says. Writer Geoff Dyer calls Winogrand’s work a “psychogestural ballet,” while photographer Matt Stuart looks at photo after photo, pointing out “the dance” in each one. “When things move, I get interested. I know that much,” Winogrand, who passed away in 1984 at the age of fifty-six, says in his gruff voice. “He had no ambition for fame or celebrity. He was totally obsessed and possessed by photography,” his good friend, photographer Tod Papageorge, says. “It was work work work work work.”
Freyer traces the life of “a city hick from the Bronx,” from his boyhood, when he had polio, through three marriages and three children, from his fear of nuclear war to his love of the female form, from the streets of New York City to California and Texas. She weaves in audio and video from lectures and interviews, filmed and taped conversations with photographer Jay Maisel, and photos and home movies of Winogrand and his family. Freyer speaks with photographers Thomas Roma, Jeffrey Henson Scales, Leo Rubinfien, Laurie Simmons, and Michael Ernest Sweet, curator Erin O’Toole, gallery owner Jeffrey Fraenkel (who compares Winogrand to Norman Mailer), Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, historian and critic Shelley Rice, and two of Winogrand’s ex-wives, Adrienne Lubeau and Judy Teller. There are also extensive quotes from legendary MoMA photography curator John Szarkowski. The film explores several turning points in his career, both good and bad, including the “New Documents” show with Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus; his seminal work in 1964; “The Animals,” a series shot at the Central Park Zoo, where he would go with his kids; his color work; Public Relations, in which he examined the role and effect of the mass media; and his controversial Women Are Beautiful book, which was labeled as sexist and misogynistic.
Influenced by such photographers as Robert Frank, Walker Evans, and Dan Weiner, Winogrand could not stop taking pictures. He took so many — the thought of his working in the digital age is both thrilling and frightening — that he didn’t even develop thousands of rolls, leaving behind a treasure trove of material that Roma explains was misinterpreted by critics. “I would like not to exist,” Winogrand said. It’s a good thing for the rest of us that he did, sharing his unique view of the world, incorporating the chaos of his personal life into his remarkable pictures. Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, which features original music by Winogrand’s son, Ethan, and animation by Kelly Gallagher, opens September 19 at Film Forum, with Freyer participating in Q&As following the 7:00 shows on September 19 and 21. In her director’s statement, the Brooklyn-born Freyer writes, “In looking at Winogrand in all his multidimensional human complexity, I take aim at the ‘bad dad’ and ‘bad husband’ tropes in artist biography, seeking to undermine these as sources of triumph or artistic necessity. Winogrand was an artist whose rise and fall — from the 1950s to the mid-1980s — in acclaim mirrors not only that of American power and credibility in the second half of the twentieth century but also a vision of American masculinity whose limitations, toxicity, and inheritance we still struggle, culturally, to comprehend. The film ultimately invites a deeper consideration of Winogrand not only as a ‘man of his time,’ in the words of MoMA photography curator Susan Kismaric, but also as a man struggling to define himself simultaneously as an artist and a parent (as so many of us do).”
STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED (Manfred Kirchheimer, 1981)
209 West Houston St.
Thursday, September 20, 8:50
Series runs through October 20
In October 2014, thirty-three years after screening at the New York Film Festival, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations of the Elevated finally got its official U.S. theatrical release, in a gorgeous restoration that was shown at BAMcinématek and will be presented this week at Film Forum. In 1977, Manfred Kirchheimer, whose family escaped Nazi Germany in 1936, went to the Bronx and filmed graffiti-covered subway cars at the train depot and rushing across the elevated tracks, kids playing in a burned-out housing project, and giant billboards advertising hamburgers, cigarettes, alcohol, and suntan lotion. Shot on 16mm reversal stock, Stations of the Elevated is more than just a captivating document of a bygone era; it is a deeply poetic socioeconomic journey into class, race, art, and freedom of expression, told without a single word of narration or onscreen text. Instead, producer, director, editor, and photographer Kirchheimer (Colossus on the River, Bridge High with Walter Hess) shifts from the natural sound of the environment to a superb jazz score by Charles Mingus while cutting between shots of trains covered in tags and illustrations (and such phrases as “Heaven Is Life,” “Invasion of the Earth,” “Never Die,” and “Earth Is Hell”) by such seminal figures as Blade, Daze, Lee, Pusher, Shadow, and Slave and views of colorful billboards filmed peeking through the geometric architecture of the elevated railways and set against bright blue skies. Most often, the camera focuses on the painted eyes in the ads, looking right back at the viewer as they dominate the scene, evoking the optician’s ad in that famous novel of American class, The Great Gatsby. (The concentration on the eyes also predicts how Madison Ave. was watching the graffiti movement, eventually coopting the imagery into mainstream advertising.) Through this dichotomy of meaning and execution, Kirchheimer reveals similarities in artistic styles and how the elements influenced each other; a particularly telling moment occurs when a man is shown hand painting a billboard who could have just as well been spray painting a subway car.
Kirchheimer remains outside during the course of the forty-five-minute documentary, never venturing into the tunnels, capturing the elevated train lines as if they’re just another part of New York City architecture, which of course they are. And it’s especially powerful because it was made at a time when the city was in the midst of a severe economic crisis and rampant crime epidemic, as Mayor Koch sought to eliminate the scourge of graffiti, while Kirchheimer celebrates its beauty (and New York-ness) in this glorious little film. Stations of the Elevated, which elevates the station of subway graffiti artistry with an entrancing calmness, is screening September 20 at 8:50 in the Film Forum series “Hip Hop on Film 1979-1986” and will be followed by a Q&A with Kirchheimer and a live graffiti presentation by David “CHINO” Villorente. The series continues through October 20 with such other hip hop gems as Beat Street, featuring DJ Jazzy Jay, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, and Rae Dawn Chong, and the genre classic Wild Style, with director Charlie Ahearn participating in a Q&A after the 8:15 show on September 27.
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.
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.
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, September 11 & 18, and Tuesdays in October, $14 (free on September 11), 4:00 & 7:30
Les Historiennes October 13, 30-$60, 7:00
FIAF pays tribute to French stage and screen star Jeanne Balibar with a two-month retrospective consisting of ten of her films, from 1997’s Mange ta soupe and 1998’s Only God Sees Me to a sneak preview of Barbara, her third collaboration with Mathieu Amalric. Despite the subtitle of the CinéSalon series, “Brilliant Quirky: Jeanne Balibar on Film,” the César Award-winning actress will actually be at FIAF as well, for Q&As following screenings of Jacques Rivette’s Tomorrow’s Another Day on October 2 at 7:30 and Barbara on October 9 at 7:30 — in addition to performing live in the one-woman show Les Historiennes in Florence Gould Hall on October 13, featuring Balibar reading essays by Anne-Emmanuelle Demartini, Charlotte de Castelnau, and Emmanuelle Loyer and discussing the profound impact the works have had on her life and career; the three historians will join Balibar in this Crossing the Line world premiere. The film series, which runs September 11 to October 30, also includes Pierre Léon’s L’Idiot and Raúl Ruiz’s Comedy of Innocence, with all screenings followed by a wine and beer reception. Don’t miss this opportunity to see one of the world’s most exquisite actresses in this exciting FIAF presentation.
I remember the buzz in the room back in July 2012 at the press preview for the “Yayoi Kusama” retrospective at the old Whitney. Even among all the jaded art critics, there was palpable excitement at the rumor that Kusama herself might be attending the event. Alas, it was not to be. But now everyone can feel like they’re in the same room as the iconoclastic Japanese artist when watching Heather Lenz’s infinitely entertaining documentary, Kusama: Infinity, opening September 7 at Film Forum. Over the course of her seven-decade career, Kusama has explored the concepts of infinity and eternity through painting, sculpture, performance art, film, and installation, highlighted by an obsession with endless circles and mirrored reflections. “I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe. And that energy along with love flies into the sky,” she explains. Traumatic childhood experiences deeply influenced her life and art; she began painting when she was eight years old in rural Matsumoto City, where her unhappy parents ran a wholesale seed business (and her mother would tear up her drawings). Now eighty-nine, she still works every day, going from the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she has lived voluntarily since 1977, to her studio, which is filled with her captivating works-in-progress. Lenz zooms in for extreme close-ups of the artist surrounded by canvases, as if she is the biggest dot (or seed?) in her universe. “So much of Kusama’s art seeks to re-create that [childhood] experience in one form or another,” notes Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim. “It is literally an experience of being lost into her physical environment, of losing her selfhood in this space that is moving rapidly, and expanding rapidly.”
Kusama was determined to be successful and to stand out from the crowd, as shown in dozens of color and black-and-white photographs of her in various kimono, dot-covered outfits, revealing apparel, and great hats, always sporting that unique bang hairstyle. “I promised myself that I would conquer New York and make my name in the world with my passion for the arts and my creative energy,” she explains. She was not about to let anything stop her, least of all her gender and her heritage. She was angry when it appeared that such artists as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Lucas Samaras copied specific aspects of her work and gained greater notice for it. She sought advice from Georgia O’Keeffe. She got involved in an odd relationship with reclusive artist Joseph Cornell. She was shunned in her home country because of her penchant for nudity. She occasionally gets teary looking back at her life. The film features sensational archival video and photographs from some of Kusama’s seminal happenings and exhibitions, from “Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show” to “Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective” at CICA, from her “Narcissus Garden” intervention at the 1966 Venice Biennale, where she was selling individual mirror balls she had arranged on a lawn, to 1969’s “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead,” in which the fiercely antiwar artist read “Thoughts on the Mausoleum of Modern Art” as eight participants ran around naked in MoMA’s sculpture garden. (This summer, Kusama brought “Narcissus Garden” to New York for MoMA PS1’s biannual Rockaway! show.) There are also clips from the revolutionary 1967 psychedelic art film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration, made by Jud Yalkut and Kusama.
Lenz, who will participate in a Q&A at Film Forum on September 7 after the 7:45 screening, talks to a wide range of people who provide intriguing perspectives on the artist and her work, including Kusama dancer Jeanette Hart Coriddi, former Matsumoto City mayor Tadashi Aruga, David Zwirner director Hanna Schouwink, psychoanalyst and art collector Judith E. Vida, MD, longtime best friend Akira Iinuma, artists Carolee Schneemann, Ed Clark, and Frank Stella, curators Marie Laurberg and Lynn Zelevansky, Joshua Light Show founder Joshua White, and Yayoi Kusama Museum director Akira Tatehata. CUNY Kingsborough art history professor Midori Yamamura says, “Her diagnosis is of obsessive-compulsive neuroses. Once something enters into her mind, she cannot get rid of it.” Former art dealer Beatrice Perry of the Gres Gallery adds of Kusama’s Infinity Net series, “I’d never seen anything like it. They had some kind of magic. You couldn’t stop looking at them, and you didn’t know where they were going. They were hypnotic.” And gallery owner Richard Castellane remembers, “She was taking away your ability to focus, breaking all boundaries of space. . . . This was the great breaking point in art. No longer are you the viewer the master; she’s the master.” Kusama’s mastery is still evident today, as prices paid for her artwork continue to skyrocket — she’s recognized as the top-selling woman artist in the world — and fans wait on long lines for hours and hours to spend thirty seconds inside one of her Infinity Mirrored Rooms. In addition, Lenz has done a masterful job giving us a Kusama we have never seen before. Despite her difficult, challenging life, the extraordinary Kusama declares, “I want to live forever.” And in the very personal, intimate, and infinite world she has created and Lenz has masterfully revealed, who’s to say she won’t?