This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

LAURA POITRAS: ASTRO NOISE

(photo by Ronald Amstutz)

Laura Poitras examines the War on Terror from various intriguing angles in immersive Whitney exhibition (photo by Ronald Amstutz)

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Through May 1, $18-$22
212-570-3600
whitney.org

Award-winning documentarian, journalist, and former chef Laura Poitras has opened a lot of eyes around the world with such films as Citizenfour, The Oath, and My Country, My Country and her investigative reporting for such outlets as the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the website she started with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Cahill, the Intercept. The New School graduate is now sharing highly sensitive information about surveillance, drones, Guantánamo Bay Prison, the NSA, and more in a fascinating new way in “Astro Noise,” a five-room immersive installation on view at the Whitney. Poitras, whose Oscar-winning Citizenfour featured whistleblower Edward Snowden, invites viewers into a frightening world that is all too real. In the catalog, Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living under Total Surveillance, curator Jay Sanders notes that the title “echoes with associations. Discovered accidentally by astronomers in 1964 and initially thought to be a technical error, astro noise refers to the faint background disturbance of thermal radiation left over after the big bang. . . . More pointedly, Astro Noise is the name Edward Snowden gave to an encrypted file containing evidence of NSA mass surveillance that he shared with Poitras in 2012.” The exhibition begins with selections from her “Anarchist” series, consisting of full-color, large-scale prints of images Poitras created based on documents Snowden gave her of descrambled signals from the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, including “Israeli Drone Feed (Intercepted February 24, 2009)” and “Power Spectrum Display of Doppler Tracks from a Satellite (Intercepted May 27, 2009).” In the middle of the second room is a thick two-sided screen on which two different films are projected on opposite sides; for O’Say Can You See, Poitras filmed people coming to Ground Zero and looking at the destruction wrought by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while on the other side is U.S. military footage of 9/11-related interrogations of Said Boujaaida and Salim Hamdan, who both ended up at Guantánamo. In the third room, “Bed Down Location” visitors can lie down on a carpeted raised platform and gaze up at a screen on the ceiling that shows night skies in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, where drone attacks have taken place, as well as the sky at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where drones are tested and flown.

Laura Poitras (b. 1964), ANARCHIST: Israeli Drone Feed (Intercepted February 24, 2009), 2016. Pigmented inkjet print mounted on aluminum, 45 × 64 3/4 in. (114.3 × 164.5 cm). Courtesy the artist

Laura Poitras, “ANARCHIST: Israeli Drone Feed (Intercepted February 24, 2009), pigmented inkjet print mounted on aluminum, 2016 (courtesy of the artist)

For “Disposition Matrix,” Poitras situates narrow, rectangular viewing peepholes at different heights in six walls; inside are official documents, video interviews, cell-phone footage, screenshots from intercepted drone feeds, and diagrams that deal with various aspects of the War on Terror, including Abu Ghraib prison, definitions of such phrases as “clandestine collection” and “covert action,” and home video of a town in Yemen on two successive days in August 2012, one depicting a wedding, the second the aftermath of a U.S. drone strike. Because of the way the peepholes are arranged, it is difficult to get the full picture of what is inside each slot, evoking how hard it is to get the full story from the government. In the fifth room, Poitras, who participated in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, makes herself the subject, something she specifically avoids in her documentaries, detailing how the U.S. government put her on a secret watchlist, continues to track her, keeps detaining and interrogating her at airports, and considers legal action to arrest her under the Espionage Act. (Meanwhile, she has sued the government.) Poitras adds a little surprise at the end, revealing how any one of us could be next. In a catalog interview with Sanders, Poitras states, “I very much like the idea of creating a space that challenges the viewer as to whether to venture in or not. . . . We live life not knowing what will happen next. What do people do when they’re confronted with choices and risks?” Poitras’s debut art installation does just that, confronting visitors with ideas and information that, unfortunately, might no longer be shocking but still come with alarming choices and risks.

OPEN PLAN: CECIL TAYLOR

Jazz great Cecil Taylor rehearses at the Whitney in November 2015

Jazz great Cecil Taylor rehearses at the Whitney in November 2015

Whitney Museum of American Art
Neil Bluhm Family Galleries, fifth floor
99 Gansevoort St.
April 14-24, free with museum admission unless otherwise noted
212-570-3600
whitney.org

The fourth stage of the Whitney’s “Open Plan” series, which previously saw Andrea Fraser, Lucy Dodd, and Michael Heizer take over the large fifth-floor space in the new downtown building, hands the reins over to free jazz legend, poet, and New York City native Cecil Taylor. The eighty-seven-year-old pianist will be celebrated in a series of programs beginning April 14 at 8:00 ($50), when Taylor will make a rare public appearance, collaborating with British drummer Tony Oxley and Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka. On April 15 at 7:00, cellist Tristan Honsinger will perform a solo set, while writer Thulani Davis, dancer and professor Cheryl Banks-Smith, and bassist Henry Grimes join forces for a unique presentation. On April 16 at 2:00, Banks-Smith will moderate “Cecil Taylor and Dance,” a panel discussion with Dianne McIntyre, Heather Watts, and Tanaka. That evening at 7:00, trumpter Enrico Rava, double bassist William Parker, and drummer Andrew Cyrille will perform as a trio, in addition to a solo set by Cyrille. On April 20 at 3:00, a Poetry and Music gathering brings together poets A. B. Spellman and Anne Waldman and saxophonist Devin Brahja Waldman, Anne’s nephew. On April 21 at 3:00, Poetry and Music features Steve Dalachinsky, Clark Coolidge with Michael Bisio, and Nathaniel Mackey with Grimes. That night at 9:00 ($10), Hilton Als directs a restaging of Adrienne Kennedy’s one-act play A Rat’s Mass, starring Helga Davis; Taylor wrote and directed the music for the show. And on April 22 at 6:00, Chris Funkhouser, Tracie Morris and Susie Ibarra, Fred Moten and William Parker, and Jemeel Moondoc/Ensemble Muntu (featuring Parker, Mark Hennen, and Charles Downs) will present an evening of poetry and music. Throughout this part of “Open Plan,” there will also be listening sessions hosted by Davis, Archie Rand, André Martinez, Gary Giddins, Moten and Funkhouser, Ben Young, and Nahum Chandler in addition to screenings in the Kaufman Gallery of such films as Sheldon Rochlin’s Cecil Taylor: Burning Poles, Chris Felver’s Cecil Taylor: All the Notes, Billy Woodberry’s And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead, and the world premiere of Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s The Silent Eye about Taylor and Tanaka (and followed by Q&As with the director, who sat on Taylor’s stoop until the pianist would finally talk to him). There will also be documents, videos, audio, scores, photographs, poetry, and ephemera from throughout Taylor’s life and career on view.

PICASSO SCULPTURE / FRANK STELLA: A RETROSPECTIVE

(© 2015 by Frank Stella / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Wide range of Frank Stella’s paintings are on view at the Whitney through February 7 (© 2015 by Frank Stella / photo by twi-ny/mdr)

FRANK STELLA: A RETROSPECTIVE
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Through February 7, $18-$22
212-570-3600
whitney.org

This is the last weekend to see two major exhibitions, retrospectives of artists who bucked trends and did things their way, two seminal figures in the history of twentieth-century art, one of whom is still at it. “Frank Stella: A Retrospective” continues at the Whitney through February 7, while “Picasso Sculpture” ends the same day at MoMA. “In 1970, when Mr. Stella was thirty-four, the Modern celebrated his haloed progress with an eleven-year survey,” Roberta Smith pointed out in her October 29 article about the Stella show. “In 1987, when the sheen was fading, the museum devoted a second survey of the intervening seventeen years of work. He was beginning to seem like the Modern’s fledgling Picasso replacement.” So it is rather appropriate that the two shows are running concurrently. The Whitney closed its uptown location last October with a controversial Jeff Koons retrospective that had critics wetting their lips waiting to tear it apart. The Whitney has now followed its downtown inaugural “America Is Hard to See” show, which highlighted works from the museum’s collection, with a survey of another artist whom many critics have tired of. A Massachusetts native and longtime New Yorker, Stella has dedicated his six-decade career to abstract painting on multiple surfaces and using a wide range of colors, in an endless array of series. He was very involved in the Whitney retrospective, which is essentially chronological until it’s not. Approximately one hundred works are on view, from such series as “Black Paintings” (“Die Fahne hoch!”), “Irregular Polygons” (“Empress of India,” “Harran II”), “Exotic Birds” (“Eskimo Curlew”), and “Moby-Dick” (“Gobba, zoppa e collotorto”), as well as such one-offs as the massive forty-foot acrylic on canvas mural “Das Erdbeben in Chili [N#3].” Even as Stella’s work grew more sculptural and three-dimensional, with metal constructions that jut out from walls, he still considered them paintings. “Most people would call this a sculpture, but in many respects, this is still painting for Frank,” exhibition organizer and Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg says on the audio guide to “Raft of the Medusa (Part I).” “This is really about using three‑dimensional form for almost two‑dimensional purpose. He’s very interested in the surfaces, the light, and reflection, and the idea that these elements though then spring forward, and yet stay clinging to the raft of the grid.” Stella once famously said, “What you see is what you see.” If you look hard enough, you might even see the seventy-nine-year-old Stella himself, who has been known to drop by the exhibition to see how much people are enjoying it, even if the reviews have been decidedly mixed.

(© 2015 the Museum of Modern Art / photo by Pablo Enriquez)

Six Cannes “Bathers” are among the many highlights of MoMA sculptural survey of Pablo Picasso (© 2015 the Museum of Modern Art / photo by Pablo Enriquez)

PICASSO SCULPTURE
Museum of Modern Art
Floor 4, Painting and Sculpture II Galleries
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through February 7, $14-$25
212-708-9400
www.moma.org

You’re not going to see Pablo Picasso at MoMA’s stunning survey of his sculptures, which has deservedly received rapturous reviews. But you are going to experience some 141 works arranged chronologically in 11 galleries, beginning in 1902 and concluding in 1964, set up like a lovely forest you can wander through at your own pace, filled with marvelous creatures, many of which have never been in the United States before and were rarely, if ever, displayed publicly during the artist’s lifetime. “An emphasis on the sculptures’ absence has eclipsed a rich body of evidence underscoring the vitality of their presence,” organizers Ann Temkin and Anne Umland write in the exhibition catalog. “One might say that Picasso’s sculpture stands apart from the paintings and works on paper in the remarkable efficiency with which it accomplished its many reinventions and redefinitions. But in its ongoing dance between the private and the public, the intimate and the monumental, the experimental and the definitive, the sculpture reveals itself as a quintessential rather than exceptional aspect of Picasso the artist.” Each gallery contains masterful treasures, from 1909’s “Head of a Woman” to 1913’s “Still Life with Guitar,” from 1929-30’s “Woman in the Garden” to 1943’s “Man with Lamb,” from 1951-52’s “Crane” to 1950-54’s “Woman with a Baby Carriage.” One of the most charming displays is the six-piece “Bathers” series, a half dozen abstract wooden figures made in Cannes in 1956 and arranged amid white rocks as if on the beach in the French Riviera. Picasso is one of those geniuses whose work lives up to all the hype, and this exhibit is no exception. Get your timed tickets now and don’t miss it.

MOBY-DICK: A MARATHON READING

Frank Stella, “The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-1, 2X),” paint on aluminum, 1987 (© 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Steven Sloman)

Frank Stella, “The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-1, 2X),” paint on aluminum, 1987 (© 2015 Frank Stella/Artists Rights Society; photograph by Steven Sloman)

Whitney Museum of American Art
Neil Bluhm Family Galleries, fifth floor
99 Gansevoort St.
Friday, November 13, 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Saturday, November 14, 11:00 am - finish
Free with museum admission of $18-$22
212-570-3600
whitney.org

Last November’s second biennial Moby-Dick Marathon took place over the course of three days at the Ace Hotel, the South Street Seaport Museum, and the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. This year a bonus marathon is being held November 13-14 on the fifth floor of the new Whitney, where more than 150 artists, writers, curators, editors, and others will celebrate the 164th anniversary of Herman Melville’s thousand-page 1851 epic with a two-day marathon reading in conjunction with Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick series, part of a major retrospective of the work of the Massachusetts-born, New York-based artist that continues through February 7. Stella created the works for a special 150th anniversary publication of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, containing reproductions of sculptures, reliefs, prints, and a mural inspired by the tale of Captain Ahab’s desperate hunt for the title mammal. Among the myriad scheduled readers of the massive tome are Ben Greenman, Brian Floca, Trisha Baga, Alan Light, Morgan Parker, AK Burns, Lucky DeBellevue, Monica de la Torre, Salman Rushdie, Melissa Febos, Paul Rome, Rebecca Dinerstein, Kurt Andersen, Ben Fama, Angela Flournoy, and Rowan Ricardo-Phillips, with more to be announced.

ANYWHERE IN TIME: A CONLON NANCARROW FESTIVAL

(photo courtesy Charles Amirkhanian)

The life and career of one-of-a-kind composer Conlon Nancarrow will be celebrated at twelve-day fest at the new Whitney (photo courtesy Charles Amirkhanian)

Whitney Museum of American Art
Susan and John Hess Family Theater, third floor
99 Gansevoort St.
June 17-28, $22 (includes admission to galleries)
212-570-3600
whitney.org

In a 1981 letter to Charles Amirkhanian, György Ligeti wrote, “This music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives . . . something great and important for all music history! His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional . . . for me it’s the best of any composer living today.” Ligeti was referring to the little-known Conlon Nancarrow, an American-born composer who had become a Mexican citizen and had done extraordinary work with the player piano. The recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, Nancarrow, who passed away in 1997 at the age of eighty-four, will be celebrated at the new Whitney Museum of American Art with “Anywhere in Time: A Conlon Nancarrow Festival,” twelve days of special live performances, talks, and films paying tribute to Nancarrow’s influential career. Among those taking the stage in the Susan and John Hess Family Theater will be Steve Coleman and Five Elements, dancers from the Merce Cunningham Trust Fellowship Program performing Crises (1960) (reconstructed and staged by Jennifer Goggans), percussionist Chris Froh, Alarm Will Sound, and Henry Kaiser and Lukas Ligeti with Charles Amirkhanian. Cocurated by Dominic Murcott and Jay Sanders, “Anywhere in Time” also features screenings of James Greeson’s 2012 documentary Conlon Nancarrow: Virtuoso of the Player Piano, the panel discussion “Nancarrow Deconstructed” with Froh and Murcott, and a 1921 Marshall and Wendell Ampico upright player piano on view on the veranda with Nancarrow’s “Study #36” piano roll, which will occasionally play. “Conlon Nancarrow had perhaps the most single-minded career of any great American composer, devoting his life to exploring the rhythmic possibilities of juxtaposing multiple simultaneous tempos,” notes Alarm Will Sound conductor and artistic director Alan Pierson. “The combination of Nancarrow’s catchy materials and the complex way he deals with them puts his work in a sweet spot of immediacy and complexity occupied by much of the music we love. And the challenge of performing music not meant to be played by human beings is a stimulating one.” The festival comes to a close on June 28 with the eight-hour “Complete Studies for Player Piano: A Marathon Concert Event,” presented in numerical order from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm and including appearances by Nancarrow’s wife, Yoko, and their son, Mako. Most of the events require ticketing, and it’s best if you get them in advance; the cost is the same as museum admission, and the ticket gets you into all the galleries.

WHITNEY BLOCK PARTY

The Meatpacking District welcomes the Whitney to the neighborhood at all-day block party on May 2 (photo © Nic Lehoux)

The Meatpacking District welcomes the Whitney to the neighborhood at all-day block party on May 2 (photo © Nic Lehoux)

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Saturday, May 2, free, 11:00 – 8:00
212-570-3600
whitney.org

The Whitney is celebrating the opening of its new home on Gansevoort St. with a block party on May 2, featuring live performances, interactive installations, workshops, and free admission to the museum, where you can check out the inaugural exhibitions “America Is Hard to See” and, on the roof, “Mary Heilman: Sunset.” At the block party, you can take the mic in Trisha Baga’s “Whitney Idol Karaoke,” catch K8 Hardy and Ryan McNamara’s pop-up, site-specific The Poseurs, a Dance, trade your own smile recipes for canned smiles in Nari Ward’s “Sugar Hill Smiles,” get your groove on at My Barbarian’s “Classical Music Dance Party,” make forts, monsters, and other cool things at Friends of the High Line’s “High Line Builders,” learn about the history of the Meatpacking District from local purveyors Jobbagy Meats, help Lize Mogel construct a scale model of New York in “Crowd-Sourced City,” and hang out at Ei Arakawa and Shimon Minamikawa’s “Cyber Café.” Live performances include Gobby in Bed-Stuy Love Affair’s “Gate,” spoken-word DJ Mark Beasley, the Ethyl Eichelberger cover band the Eichelburglers, Jacolby Satterwhite’s “Ein Plein Air: Diamond Princess” with Camp & Street, Tracie Morris with Mr. Jerome Harris and Jemman, and a Tribe Called Red.

JEFF KOONS: A RETROSPECTIVE

Jeff Koons, “Moon (Light Pink),” mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, 1995-2000, and “Play-Doh,” polychromed aluminum, 1994-2014 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Jeff Koons, “Moon (Light Pink),” mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, 1995-2000, and “Play-Doh,” polychromed aluminum, 1994-2014 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave. at 75th St.
Through Sunday, October 19, $16-$20 (pay-what-you-wish Fridays, 6:00 - 9:00)
212-570-3600
www.whitney.org

Perhaps no other living contemporary artist elicits such a vast range of emotions and responses at the mere mention of his name than Jeff Koons. For three dozen years, Koons has been giving the people what they want while confounding and angering his many, many critics. “From the beginning, Jeff Koons provoked superlatives. Mere adjectives seemed insufficient to describe the jolt of his art — and soon him,” curator Scott Rothkopf writes in his essay “No Limits” in the catalog for the museumwide exhibition “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective,” which runs through October 19 at the Whitney. “As far as art and artists are concerned, shock, fame, expense, controversy, subversiveness, and ambition are certainly not accepted unanimously as virtues. Finally, it must be said that not one of these claims . . . could be verified as true.” From a purely aesthetic point of view, Koons’s vast oeuvre, primarily works in series that often involve the readymade, is colorful and engaging, inviting and personable, even as it induces even the least jaded individual to wonder, “But is it art?” Accepting it as art without question, I found myself, as I walked through the retrospective, transported back to my childhood, happily besieged by recollections popping into my head that I hadn’t thought about for years. “Unlike many artists, for whom a conventional American hometown was a place to escape, Koons continues to draw on his boyhood home of York, Pennsylvania, as a primary source of inspiration,” writes Jeffrey Deitch in his catalog essay, “York to New York,” adding, “The city has remained central to his life as an artist, and he returns there almost every weekend. Koons retains an extraordinary ability to access his early childhood memories and build on them in creating his art. He can recall childhood visions and the emotions that accompanied them as if they are happening in the present. He claims even to remember being in his crib. Koons is able to experience these images not just as fleeting memories but as deep aesthetic structures that can be channeled into artistic form.”

Jeff Koons’s Hoover installations are part of “The New” series from the 1980s (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Jeff Koons’s Hoover installations are part of “The New” series from the 1980s (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

For me, winding my way through the nearly 150 paintings, sculptures, and installations was an immensely pleasurable journey into my own past. Koons’s vacuum-cleaner pieces, such as “New Hoover Convertibles Green, Blue, New Hoover Convertibles Green, Blue Doubledecker,” from his 1980s series “The New,” had me back in the den, trying to hear my favorite Saturday-morning cartoons as my mother vacuumed the house, while the lithograph-on-cotton billboard “New Rooomy Toyota Family Camry” reminded me of when my father came home with a new Dodge Charger. Koons’s “One Ball,” “Two Ball,” “Three Ball” works featuring basketballs suspended in water tanks, from the “Equilibrium” series, reminded me of when we realized that my father had put up our backyard basketball hoop too high, at more than ten feet. The “Luxury and Degradation” series of oils consists of reproductions of booze ads, along with a stainless-steel ice bucket and “Travel Bar,” that sent me back to memories of my friends and I raiding my parents’ liquor cabinet when they were away. Polychromed wood and porcelain figures from the “Banality” series — Koons’s series titles are another important part of his own self-evaluation, intentions, and art-historical references — had me thinking of the tchotchkes my mother collected and displayed in the living room. And “Made in Heaven,” comprising revealing paintings and sculptures of Koons having sex with Hungarian-born Italian porn star and politician Illona Staller — shortly thereafter they were married, had a son, and then divorced — sent me back to the day I found my father’s hidden stash of Playboy magazines and Swedish blue movies.

Jeff Koons’s “Banality” series offers different views of domesticity and life as kitsch (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Jeff Koons’s “Banality” series offers different views of domesticity and life as kitsch (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Of course, Koons’s recurring use of animals and toys, including stainless-steel balloon dogs, a bronze Hulk, an inflatable bunny, a granite gorilla and Popeye, an oil painting of a slice of birthday cake, and an adorable (if crucifixion-like) polyethylene cat on a clothesline, evoke more universal childhood memories. In addition, many of his works involve mirrors and mirror-polished stainless steel, from the enormous balloon dogs to crystal-glass depictions of the heads of a giraffe, a kangaroo, a walrus, and other animals, as well as the lovely “Hanging Heart (Violet/Gold)”; children and adults flock to see their reflections in these pieces and take pictures of themselves in them, as if they are part of the exhibition, at least for a moment, creating new (digital) memories. However, despite their seemingly overt simplicity, much of Koons’s output took years to fabricate, as new machination procedures had to be developed in order for them to come into existence. Wall text highlights fascinating details about Koons’s construction techniques, adding a level of depth to works that are often ridiculed as simplistic and, well, banal. The centerpiece of the show, and perhaps the single piece that is most representative of Koons’s mind-set, is “Play-Doh” (1994-2014), a large-scale polychromed-aluminum rendition of multiple blobs of different-colored Play-Doh reaching ten feet high and nine feet wide. “‘Play-Doh’ is a deceptively simple sculpture,” Rothkopf explains on the audio guide. “I say ‘deceptive’ because it’s one of the most technically challenging objects in the entire exhibition and one that Koons has been working on for twenty years and completed, in fact, just in June. The idea for this work originally came about out of a mound of Play-Doh that his son, Ludwig, made. Koons talks about his interest in this object being the freedom that the child had to express himself.” That essentially sums up where Koons is coming from, a place inside himself, and each of us, that we all can relate to, the freedom that childhood offers. Eventually, we grow up and move on to other things, saying goodbye to childhood, which is a shame, as this retrospective — which in its own way is helping us all say farewell to Marcel Breuer’s familiar building (the Koons show is the last in the Upper East Side space, as the Whitney moves next year to a new home in the Meatpacking District, designed by Renzo Piano) — is a love letter to the glories of being a kid and retaining at least some of that innocence. The Whitney will celebrate the end of the exhibit and the closing of the building with a marathon viewing for the final weekend, remaining open from 11:00 am on Saturday, October 18, through 11:00 pm on Sunday, October 19. Koons will be at the museum on Saturday night at 9:00 to sign copies of the exhibition catalog, while Rothkopf will participate in a Q&A Saturday at midnight.