New Museum of Contemporary Art / Anton Kern Gallery
235 Bowery at Prince St. / 532 West 20th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through Sunday, June 26, $16 / through Saturday, June 25, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
212-219-1222 / 212-367-9663
In her foreword to the catalog for Nicole Eisenman’s first New York museum survey, New Museum director Lisa Phillips writes, “Nicole Eisenman is one of the most important painters of her generation and a vanguard voice in defining what figurative painting is today.” Bold words indeed, but “Nicole Eisenmann: Al-ugh-ories,” running at the New Museum through June 26, and “Nicole Eisenman: Magnificent Delusion,” continuing at Anton Kern Gallery in Chelsea through June 25, go a long way toward supporting that claim. The Scarsdale-raised, Brooklyn-based painter, sculptor, and installation artist has been part of the New York City scene since the 1990s; in fact, in 1994 she was included in the New Museum’s “Bad Girls” show, along with Matt Groening, Guerrilla Girls, Carrie Mae Weems, Lynda Barry, and others. Eisenman’s canvases mix art history and autobiography to tell intriguing stories that demand extended viewing not only to revel in her remarkable skill with color and a brush but to let the allegorical narratives unfold before you. At the New Museum show, pieces reference Philip Guston and Paul Gauguin, Giorgio di Chirico and Edvard Munch, Edouard Manet and Pieter Bruegel, Hans Holbein and Pablo Picasso and others, in a style that evokes classic paintings as well as German Expressionism and underground comics and zines.
In “From Success to Obscurity,” a character based on the Thing from the Fantastic Four is reading a letter that is addressed, “Dear Obscurity.” In “Commerce Feeds Creativity,” a shirtless man in a bowler hat holds out a spoon to a drooling, wounded woman tied up with wire so her bare breasts are squeezed into painful positions, the background unfinished, as if Eisenman is being forced to complete her work at the behest of a patriarchal capitalist market. In “Biergarten at Night,” a motley crew of men and women, many coupled, are drinking and smoking in the midst of a dark forest; near the center, a skeleton and a genderless person embrace like the man and woman in Munch’s “The Kiss,” while an oddly placed wire with halo-inducing lightbulbs droops across the middle of the canvas. Eisenman depicts herself at work in “Progress: Real and Imagined,” her studio adrift at sea, the artist hunched over in the center, drawing with a quill pen, an engaging counterpart to her sculptural installation of a table in her studio, in which the artist’s foot is hanging upside down from a crosslike object, most of her body in a bronze container.
Eisenman also imbues her work with sociopolitical statements both overt and subtle. In “The Triumph of Poverty,” a group of downtrodden, zombielike people are gathered in and around a car with no doors or windows, fire peeking out of a chimney in the background, all looking off to the left, not exactly expecting that prosperity awaits. Among them are a man in a tuxedo whose pants have fallen down, revealing that his buttocks are where his genitals should be, making him an ass-backward leader; a child holding out a bowl, as if Oliver asking for more food in Oliver Twist; and a small black child with an extended belly, being led by an ominous white hand. In “Tea Party,” a bedraggled and defeated Uncle Sam slumps in a chair in an underground bunker stocked with gold bars, water, and canned food; meanwhile, a barefoot, longhaired man sleeps quietly, clutching his beloved rifle, while two other men are building an explosive device. The pièce de résistance is 2008’s “Coping,” in which a strange cast of characters wade through a thick river of feces in a European town in which Eisenman brings together the past and the present with a bevy of wonderful details, from a street-vendor coffee cup to lush green hills, from an overturned car to a waitress serving trays of beer, from clouds of shit to a green parrot sitting atop a cat’s head, from a woman clutching her dog to a mummy walking away. (The parrot and mummy show up in other works as well.) In the middle of it all, a naked woman, perhaps the artist herself, is wondering what comes next. It’s a glorious tour de force that shows much of what Eisenman has been working on the past few decades.
In a catalog interview with New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni and assistant curator Helga Christofferson, Eisenman notes, “I like the idea of documenting, of saving something for a future time. It’s a hopeful act. I also love this fucked-up city.” You can get a glimpse of what comes next, of the future, in her thrilling show at Anton Kern, featuring a small collection of spectacular paintings from 2015-16, many of which deal with communication in the modern world; a wall of playful drawings and watercolors from 1995 to the present; and another studio-based sculpture. In “Subway 2,” a G train is approaching as a man in the foreground looks down at his cell phone, a woman’s foot extends ever-so-slightly onto the yellow line at the edge of the platform, and straphangers in the background turn ghostly the farther away they are; Eisenman globs thicker, abstract splotches of paint on the closer tracks while making gorgeous use of color, from the blue on the man’s coat to the green stanchions to the yellow safety line and rainbow stairs in the distance. In “Weeks on the Train,” Eisenman depicts her friend, writer and performer Laurie Weeks, on a commuter train, working on her laptop, a cat in a carrier next to her, a German Expressionist man asleep in the row in front of her, next to a Guston-like big-eyed character peering out the window.
In “TM and Lee,” a pair of women relax in a landscape simultaneously referencing a beach and fertile croplands; one woman holds her knee, artlessly revealing her crotch, listening to a larger woman play a guitar. In “Long Distance,” another relaxed couple chat over the internet, their bodies in unusual positions that are at first hard to decipher. In “Morning Studio,” two lovers are on a futon, one of them looking possessively at the viewer; in the foreground is a can of tuna being used as an ashtray, while in the background is a projection of the generic Apple desktop galaxy next to a window revealing the blue sky, contrasting technology and reality. The show is also very much about the act of seeing, with eyes being a central repeated image. In “Droid,” an android’s left eye resembles an egg. In “Subway 2” and “Weeks on the Train,” oversized eyes demand attention. And in “Shooter 1” and “Shooter 2,” guns are aimed right at the viewer, the barrel of the gun serving as the shooters’ right eyes, powerful statements in lieu of the intense fight over gun control in the United States. Meanwhile, in the watercolor and graphite drawing “Cap’n ’Merica,” the sad superhero has given up, hitting the road like a penniless drifter. Indeed, the shows at the New Museum and Anton Kern firmly establish that Eisenman is one of the most important, and finest, painters of her generation.
WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY! (家族はつらいよ) (Yoji Yamada, 2016)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, June 26, 12 noon
Festival runs June 22 - July 9
For her birthday this year, Tomiko Hirata (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) wants something simple from her stubborn, not-very-thoughtful husband of fifty years, Shuzo (Isao Hashizume): a divorce. That shocking wish sends the entire Hirata clan into a frenzy in Yoji Yamada’s charmingly bittersweet What a Wonderful Family! The retired Shuzo doesn’t know what he’ll do without Tomiko, but he is not the kind of man to share his feelings; instead, he prefers to go to a local watering hole and flirt with the cute bartender, play golf, or take the dog, Toto, to the park. Their daughter, Shigeko (Tomoko Nakajima), is mad at her husband, Taizo Kanai (Shozo Hayashiya), for stretching the truth about one of his hobbies. Eldest son Konosuke (Masahiko Nishimura) tends not to get involved, even as his wife, Fumie (Yui Natsukawa), essentially runs the household and their children, Kenichi (Takanosuke Nakamura) and Nobusuke (Ayumu Maruyama), just run around. And youngest son Shota (Satoshi Tsumabuki) has a promising future that just might include his new girlfriend, Noriko Mamiya (Yu Aoi), although all of the divorce talk suddenly has him thinking twice.
Yamada (the long-running Tora-san series, Twilight Samurai), who is now eighty-five years old, cowrote the playfully goofy script with Emiko Hiramatsu, not letting things get too serious or depressing. Except for a few sappy moments, Studio Ghibli veteran Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack is effective in maintaining the generally lighthearted mood, and cinematographer Masashi Chikamori maintains a sharp, bright look to the film. What a Wonderful Family! evokes the legacy of legendary Japanese auteur Yasujirō Ozu; in fact, at one point Shuzo is watching Ozu’s Tokyo Story on television. In another scene, a writing teacher, Takamura (Katsumi Kiba), describes revered Japanese author Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro as “a beautiful recounting of sweet, sad, and regretful youthful memories”; you wouldn’t be too far off base saying the same thing about What a Wonderful Family!, which is screening June 26 at 12 noon at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the New York Asian Film Festival, which runs through July 9 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the SVA Theatre and includes more than fifty diverse works from Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
THE KING OF COMEDY (Martin Scorsese, 1982)
209 West Houston St.
Jerry Lewis is back in the news right now with the surprise online appearance of clips from his notorious unreleased 1972 film The Day the Clown Cried, a Holocaust picture believed to be so disastrous that he has vowed it will never see the light of day. But from June 24 to 30 at Film Forum, you can revisit one of the former MDA telethon host’s best performances, in Martin Scorsese’s vastly underrated and underappreciated 1982 masterpiece, The King of Comedy. Lewis stars as Jerry Langford, the host of a massively popular late-night television show. (The part was initially offered to Johnny Carson, who turned it down.) Lewis is one cool, calm customer as the smooth, elegant Langford, a far cry from his familiar caricatures in such films as The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Nutty Professor. The most fascinating role in the film, however, is his stalker, wannabe-comedian Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who is desperate to get on Jerry’s show and become part of his inner circle, as well as Masha (Sandra Bernhard), who is in love with Jerry and thinks they are destined to be together. When not hanging around Jerry’s office, harassing Langford’s right-hand associate, Cathy Long (Shelley Hack), and the receptionist (Margo Winkler), Pupkin is in the basement of his home, pretending to be a guest on the show, yakking it up with cardboard cutouts of Langford and Liza Minnelli while his mother (voiced by Scorsese’s real mom, Catherine) yells at him to do something with his life. Pupkin is also trying to impress a former high school classmate, Rita (Diahnne Abbott, who was married to De Niro at the time), a bartender who barely remembers him. When things don’t go quite as planned, Rupert and Masha try to pull off a crazy scheme to get what they feel is their destiny.
Written by film critic, activist, and author Paul D. Zimmerman, The King of Comedy has held up remarkably well over the years, displaying a thrilling prescience about the state of celebrity obsession and the need to be on television well before the internet and reality shows changed the dynamic between star and fan. De Niro fully embodies the creepy, awkward, splendidly dressed Pupkin, who is essentially the illegitimate love child of Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta as seen through the lens of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. And Bernhard, in her first major film role, is a revelation as Masha, exhibiting an expert physicality worthy of the best cinematic comedians, with just the right amount of dark madness. Just as Pupkin goes back and forth between fantasy and reality, Scorsese keeps viewers on edge, not always differentiating between fiction and nonfiction; he has numerous familiar faces play versions of themselves, including radio and television announcer Ed Herlihy and bandleader Les Brown, Tony Randall as a guest host, longtime Carson producer Fred de Cordova as Bert Thomas, producer of The Jerry Langford Show, Dr. Joyce Brothers as one of Randall’s guests, and Emmy-winning producer Edgar Scherick as a network executive. Cinematographer Fred Schuler beautifully captures the hustle of early 1980s New York City, echoing what’s going on inside Pupkin’s deranged mind, while music adviser Robbie Robertson, a friend of Scorsese’s who was in the great Band documentary The Last Waltz, puts together a fab soundtrack that ranges from Ray Charles’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” to Robertson’s own “Between Trains” and Van Morrison’s gorgeous closing credits song, “Wonderful Remark.” Scorsese fills the film with plenty of little treats and sweet touches. Look for the Clash’s Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon as the street punks, along with Ellen Foley, Don Letts, Kosmo Vinyl, and Pearl Harbour. In the scene in which Pupkin takes Rita to dinner, a man in the back of the restaurant is curiously mimicking Pupkin’s gesticulations. And Scorsese makes an inside-joke cameo when Randall, preparing to host The Jerry Langford Show, questions something, shrugs, and says to Scorsese, “You’re the director.” The 2013 digital restoration of The King of Comedy is playing at Film Forum June 24-30; the 7:30 show on June 24 will be introduced by Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre, on June 25 by Aparna Nancherla, and on June 29 by Mario Cantone.
Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari’s debut feature documentary, T-Rex, is an exciting, dare we say hard-hitting look at a teenager attempting to literally fight her way out of depressed and troubled Flint, Michigan. When she was eleven years old, Claressa Shields walked into FWC Berston Gym and immediately showed the kind of skill, desire, and drive that made former professional boxer Jason Crutchfield take her under his wing as coach and mentor, thinking she had enormous potential. “A coach always wants a champion,” he says in the film. “Believe me. That’s why we coach. I just never thought it was going to be a girl.” Claressa trains every day, her sights set on becoming the first woman — actually, she’ll be a mere seventeen years old — to win a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, which has added the sport of women’s boxing to its wide-ranging roster of competitive sports. It’s not only a personal quest but a way to help get her poor, undereducated, broken family out of Flint. Her parents are divorced and each has a new partner, her father spent seven years in prison, and her tough-talking younger sister dreams of having ten babies. Allowing Cooper and Canepari full access, Claressa shows herself to be an exceptional boxer as well as a smart, intelligent person with a strong grasp of reality. She also has the confidence and swagger of Muhammad Ali; in fact, the relationship between the Greatest and his daughter, former world champion Laila Ali, serves as a major inspiration to her in her gritty, determined quest.
Claressa doesn’t just want to win; she wants to dominate. As the film opens, Claressa is sad and downtrodden at the Olympic trials, surrounded by a handful of media. It turns out that she had just won her bout, but she was disappointed that she hadn’t won by more. Cooper and Canepari wisely let Claressa, her family, and her coach tell her story, dispensing with the usual talking heads providing social or sports-related commentary on her compelling journey from Flint to China to London and, perhaps, beyond. It’s especially poignant when Crutchfield and Claressa start looking into possible endorsement deals, but corporations are not exactly seeking out a poor black teenage girl boxer from Flint to be their next spokesperson. A festival favorite, T-Rex is opening June 24 at Brooklyn’s Made in NY Media Center by IFP. The film ends shortly after the 2012 Olympics, with Claressa deciding whether to continue with boxing; you can find out where she is today by watching the recent ESPN E60 profile of her here.
RIOULT Dance NY kicked off its Joyce season on June 21 with a trio of works focusing on mythological women, as New York City–based French choreographer Pascal Rioult channels his mentor, Martha Graham. The evening began with 2013’s Iphigenia, based on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. Iphigenia (Catherine Cooch) is in love with Achilles (Jere Hunt), but her father, King Agamemnon (Brian Flynn), is considering sacrificing her to appease a goddess who has prevented the winds from carrying the Greek ships to do battle against Troy. Meanwhile, Iphigenia’s mother, Queen Clytemnestra (Charis Haines), wants to protect her daughter. Michael Torke’s score ranges from noirish jazz to elegant Baroque-style music as the characters, dressed in white (all the men are bare-chested except for Flynn, and their pants are loosely wrapped spirals of fabric; the costumes are by Karen Young), remain within a large white circle in front of a haphazard log structure. (The set is by Harry Feiner, with lighting by Jim French that turns the circle from white to blue to purple to red.) Cooch gives a highly expressive performance as the title character, from a balletic solo to pas de deux with each of her parents to an emotional quartet with Hunt, Haines, and Flynn. The story is narrated by Oscar-nominated actress Kathleen Turner, barefoot and wearing black, her legendary husky voice adding context to the lovely dances.
Following intermission, Haines is back, this time as Helen of Troy in On Distant Shores . . . a redemption fantasy, dancing among four Trojan War heroes (Flynn, Hunt, Michael Spencer Phillips, and Sabatino A. Verlezza) who at first appear to be dead until she raises them one at a time, she in a flowing white dress, the men in tight black shorts. (The costumes are by Pilar Limosner.) As projections on the back wall shift from heavenly clouds to ominous darkness, Haines moves swiftly in between and around the men to Aaron Jay Kernis’s cinematic score. At one point she kneels on the floor in desperation, as if resigned to her fate, but her warriors stand by her, determined to fight for her.
The splendid night of antiwar statements concludes with the world premiere of Cassandra’s Curse, inspired by Euripides’ The Trojan Women. Sara Elizabeth Seger is Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess who has been cursed so that no one will believe her prophecies. She is trying to warn everyone that the Greek army is hiding within a large Trojan horse, but they are not listening. “If she had used a thousand words, no one would have believed her,” Turner narrates. Feiner’s set features a series of movable screens that entrap Seger in a cage as Brian Clifford Beasley’s projections of the horse and Turks unspool behind her. Richard Danielpour’s dramatic score is performed live by the Uptown Philharmonic, conducted by Kyle Ritenauer and consisting of four violinists, two violists, and a cellist. The three pieces work together extremely well, a kind of clarion call, through movement, music, and text, for peace in these difficult times. Rioult is also presenting a second program that includes the New York City premiere of 2015’s Polymorphous, 2014’s Dream Suite, 2002’s Bolero, and a selection of duets from various other repertory works. (The June 23 show will be followed by a Curtain Chat with members of the company.)
Who: Matthew Aughenbaugh, Michael Ruby, Graham Fawcett
What: Immersive theater piece
Where: The Old Stone House, Washington Park & JJ Byrne Playground, between Fourth & Fifth Aves. and Third & Fourth Sts., Park Slope, 718-768-3195
When: Friday, June 24, $15-$20, 8:00
Why: On June 24, Matthew Aughenbaugh will perform his one-man show, Song of Myself: The Words of Walt Whitman, at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, in the borough where the mighty poet was raised. “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me! / On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose, / And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose,” Whitman wrote in 1856’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Aughenbaugh, a Shakespearean actor who has also done musical theater, noted in a statement, “I was inspired to create a theater piece using only original text as a way to share my passion for our greatest American poet.” The immersive show, presented by London’s Upper Wimpole Street Literary Salon, will be followed by a Q&A with Aughenbaugh and Brooklyn poet Michael Ruby, moderated by British broadcaster, teacher, and translator Graham Fawcett. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door and come with wine and refreshments.
Fifth Ave. and 25th St., Brooklyn
Thursday - Sunday through June 26, $75, 7:00
In The Great American Casket Company, BREAD Arts Collective (Rise & Fall) takes full advantage of the opportunity to stage the first-ever site-specific multiperformance theatrical production in historic Green-Wood Cemetery. Every Thursday through Sunday in June, up to seventy-five “clients” come to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn to hear the extensive, immersive sales pitch from “employees” of the Great American Casket Co. The evening kicks off with heavenly standards by Coriander Suede and the Tombstones (Owen Weaver, Lizzie Hagstedt, Eric Powell Holm, and composer and musical director Andrew Lynch), including “My Blue Heaven” and “Pennies from Heaven.” (Feel free to dance if you’d like.) The audience is introduced to seven characters identified only by number (in ascending order from one to seven: Mélissa Smith, Kelly Klein, Gregory G. Schott, Kate Gunther, Andy Talen, Ashley Winkfield, and Ben Lewis) who are awaiting the arrival of the President (Toni Ann Denoble), a heavily made-up steampunk leader pushing the company’s exclusive afterlife technology.
As the sun sets over the spectacular grounds, the clients are guided through various parts of the cemetery, encountering puppets (courtesy of puppeteers Matthew A. Leabo, Winkfield, and Rachael Shane, who is also an aerialist), jugglers, ghostly guitarists, and other entertainments. The show drags significantly in the middle when a subplot regarding one Agnes Butterfield (Lyndsey Anderson) begins, but it takes off again toward a sparkling and otherworldly conclusion. Written by Anderson and Lewis, charmingly directed by Katie Melby, and featuring costumes by Elizabeth May that range from skeletal to clownish to devilish to angelic, The Great American Casket Company is, above all else, a great way to experience Green-Wood Cemetery, which is the resting place of such “famous residents” as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Horace Greeley, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles Ebbets, and Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Not all of the knots are tied at the end, and several elements will leave you scratching your head, but if you “buy the plot,” as the opening number says with clever double meaning, you’ll have a grand old time. The show concludes with a reception with members of the cast and crew, hosted by Brooklyn-based alternative event planners Modern Rebel, with free popcorn, s’mores, and Pixy Stix, wine and beer (with suggested donation), and a photo booth.