Who: Brinda Kumar, Corinna Belz
What: Livestreamed prerecorded discussion
Where: MetMuseum Facebook and YouTube
When: Tuesday, June 23, free, 6:00
Why: In conjunction with the expansive Met Breuer exhibition “Gerhard Richter: Painting After All,” which opened March 4 for a brief run before the pandemic lockdown and hopefully will continue once the crisis is over, the Met’s “Insider Insights” series will examine Corinna Belz’s 2011 documentary, Gerhard Richter Painting. [Ed. note: It was announced on June 22 that the Met Breuer will be closing for good, so the exhibition will not be coming back.] On June 23 at 6:00, writer-director Belz will be joined by Met Modern and Contemporary Art assistant curator Brinda Kumar for a prerecorded interview discussing the making of the film, which can be streamed for free through July 31 here.
There’s nothing abstract about the title of Belz’s documentary on the German artist, no missing words or punctuation marks. Gerhard Richter Painting is primarily just that: Ninety-seven minutes of Gerhard Richter painting as he prepares for several exhibitions, including a 2009 show at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City. In 2007, Belz got a rare chance to capture Richter on camera, making a short film focusing on the stained-glass window he designed for the Cologne Cathedral. Two years later, the shy, reserved Richter, who prefers to have his art speak for itself, invited Belz into his studio, giving her remarkable access inside his creative process, which revealingly relies so much on chance and accident. Belz films Richter as he works on two large-scale canvases on which he first slathers yellow paint, adds other colors, then takes a large squeegee and drags it across the surface, changing everything. It’s fascinating to watch Richter study the pieces, never quite knowing when they are done, unsure of whether they are any good. It’s also painful to see him take what looks like an extraordinary painting and then run the squeegee over it yet again, destroying what he had in order to see if he can make it still better. “They do what they want,” he says of the paintings. “I planned something totally different.”
About halfway through the film, a deeply concerned Richter starts regretting his decision to allow the camera into his studio. “It won’t work,” he says. “At the moment it seems hopeless. I don’t think I can do this, painting under observation. That’s the worst thing there is.” But continue he does, for Belz’s and our benefit. Belz (Life After Microsoft, Peter Handke: In the Woods, Might Be Late) even gets Richter to talk a little about his family while looking at some old photos, offering intriguing tidbits about his early life and his escape to Düsseldorf just before the Berlin Wall went up. Belz also includes clips from 1966 and 1976 interviews with Richter, and she attends a meeting he has with Goodman about his upcoming show, lending yet more insight into the rather eclectic artist. “To talk about painting is not only difficult but perhaps pointless, too,” Richter, who turned eighty-eight in February, says in the 1966 clip. However, watching Gerhard Richter Painting is far from pointless; Belz has made a compelling documentary about one of the great, most elusive artists of our time. “Man, this is fun,” Richter says at one point, and indeed it is; watching the masterful artist at work is, well, a whole lot more fun than watching paint dry.
Who: Sanford Biggers, RoseLee Goldberg
What: Talk and screening surrounding The Somethin’ Suite
Where: Performa Instagram Live and Performa website
When: Talk: Friday, June 19, free, noon; screening: June 18 & 19, free, 7:00
Why: In honor of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the end of the Civil War and slavery, Performa chief curator RoseLee Goldberg will discuss art, politics, systemic racism, and more with New York City-based multidisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers. The talk will take place on Instagram Live at noon, in conjunction with screenings on June 18 and 19 of Biggers’s 2007 Performa commission, The Somethin’ Suite, what he called “a post minstrel cycle” and “a darke xperiment.” The twenty-five-minute performance, held at the Box, featured Martin Luther, Saul Williams, Esthero, Shae Fiol, Imani Uzuri, DJ Dahi Sundance, CX KidTRONiK, and Freedome Bradley as a wide range of characters staging a minstrel show, using spoken word, song, music, dance, and film to bring to stark light historical aspects of racism.
In a 2007 interview, Biggers, who was raised in Los Angeles, told Goldberg, “The whole institution of our popular cultural media, which started with minstrel shows and has now become the hip hop music industry — one of the most lucrative entertainment industries worldwide — originated with making a mockery of blacks. So I’m interested in how much and how little has changed in these last 150 years. We’re at a crucial moment in race relations in America right now, with a lot of old wounds being reopened and reexamined. With the ‘PC’ ethos of the ’90s having passed, and a black man being seriously considered for the US presidency, we cannot afford to not develop a more sophisticated understanding of ‘race’ and ‘otherness.’ So I thought it was a perfect time to really look at the history of how we’ve been imagining ourselves, as African Americans, how white people have projected their stereotypes onto us, and how we’ve reflected their obsession by projecting some of those stereotypes back, because neither party is solely guilty — there’s a complicity.” Given what is happening right now in America, from George Floyd to Aunt Jemima, this program could not be any more timely.
Who: Eight arts institutions along upper Fifth Ave..
What: Virtual Museum Mile Festival
Where: Individual websites, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook
When: Tuesday, June 9, free 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Why: For forty-one years, New Yorkers have crowded onto Fifth Ave. between 82nd and 105th Sts. for the annual Museum Mile Festival, in which eight popular arts institutions open their doors for free, providing access to exhibitions and hosting live performances, workshops, panel discussions, and more between 6:00 and 9:00. With the pandemic lockdown still in place for museums, the festival goes virtual for 2020, taking place all day instead of just three hours, offering exhibition tours, curator and artist talks, family-friendly activities, and other special programs that people can experience from the comfort of their home. The live and prerecorded events are scheduled for 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook; follow #VirtualMuseumMile for specific info. Below are some of the highlights.
The Africa Center
“African/American: Making the Nation’s Table,” prerecorded videos with Ezra Wube, livestreamed conversation at 5:00 between culinary historian and exhibition’s curator Jessica B. Harris and exhibit advisor and Teranga executive chef and co-owner Pierre Thiam
Museum of the City of New York
“Curators from the Couch: Who We Are,” with chief curator and deputy director Sarah Henry, information designer Giorgia Lupi, and artist and computer scientist Brian Foo; MCNY Live, with cartoonist Roz Chast and novelist and Hugo Award winner N. K. Jemisin
El Museo del Barrio
Prerecorded interviews with artists, including iliana emilia garcia and Hiram Maristany; Collection-ary, with curators Rodrigo Moura and Susanna Temkin and artists Elia Alba and Scherezade García, 6:00; “¡Muevete!” with Nina Sky, free with advance RSVP, 8:00
The Jewish Museum
At-home art projects for families; audio tours with Isaac Mizrahi, Kehinde Wiley, Alex and Maira Kalman, Ross Bleckner and Deborah Kass, and others; “Movies That Matter: Teens Confront Segregation in America,” with artist and filmmaker Gillian Laub; interview with artist Rachel Feinstein about the exhibition “Rachel Feinstein: Maiden, Mother, Crone”; discussion with artists Rachel Feinstein and Lisa Yuskavage, filmmaker Tamara Jenkins, and curator Kelly Taxter; performance for families from the Paper Bag Players at Home
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Virtual tour of the exhibition “Contemporary Muslim Fashions”; video art-making lessons, including potato stamp pattern making inspired by Eva Zeisel; design talk “Exploring A.I.: Data Portraits,” with curator Ellen Lupton and artists R. Luke DuBois, Jessica Helfand, and Zachary Lieberman
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Virtual Stroller tour/talk for young children, 3:00; Guggenheim at Large, with curators talking about the collection; “Sketch with Jeff,” a hands-on activity for families with teaching artist Jeff Hopkins; a self-directed audio/visual experience via the Guggenheim Digital Audio Guide
Neue Galerie New York
Virtual tour of “Madame d’Or” with exhibition curator Dr. Monika Faber; a hands-on arts and crafts activity “Making Hats: Use What You Have,” with Deborah Rapoport; “Baking Linzer Cookies: A Recipe from Café Sabarsky”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube
Virtual tours of “Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara” and “Gerhard Richter: Painting After All”; prerecorded interview with artist Wangechi Mutu; design your own puppet and banjo using recycled materials; flower crown making; streaming of 2019 MetLiveArts dance performance by Silas Farley filmed in museum galleries
I have spent many an hour experiencing the unique work of sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard, walking around her dazzling large-scale wood sculptures at Galerie Lelong and art fairs, outside the Barclays Center, and in Madison Square Park. But it wasn’t until watching Daniel Traub’s hourlong documentary, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — which opens virtually May 29 on Film Forum’s website — that I have come to understand and appreciate her work that much more.
“She is using her own experiences to think about how abstract forms can be evocative and representative of what the human condition is,” arts writer Patricia C. Phillips says in the film. “It’s indisputable that there’s something about Ursula’s process that makes the work incredibly distinctive. And just continuing to pursue that with more and more depth and persistence over the years, it reveals some answers but always this feeling that there is also something being withheld.”
Von Rydingsvard was born in Germany in 1942 to a Polish mother and a severely abusive Ukrainian father; the large family lived in a displaced persons camp after the war, mired in poverty, struggling to survive in makeshift homes where everything was made from wood. “It was just the board between me and the outside world, and I recall my body being right next to the wall, and I could smell, I could feel,” von Rydingsvard remembers about the camp. “And there was a huge difference between what happened within this wooden structure and what happened outside of it, so that there was a kind of safety the wood gave me.”
The family immigrated to a blue-collar town in Connecticut in 1951, where she learned little about art and suffered severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her father. She married, moved to California, and had a daughter, Ursie, but left her abusive husband with help from her brother Staś Karoliszyn and moved to SoHo in 1975, determined to become an artist. “Going to New York City woke me up in a way that was jarring and marvelous,” she says. She eventually adopted a labor-intensive process of marking, cutting, and stacking cedar two-by-fours into masterful sculptures with a dedicated team of holders, runners, cutters, and fabricators, forming their own family; they even eat lunch together every day. Traub, who directed, produced, and photographed the film, speaks with such studio personnel as Ted Springer, Vivian Chiu, Morgan Daly, and Sean Weeks-Earp while showing the detailed, grueling yet clearly satisfying work they perform.
“Her process is almost medieval,” says Mary Sabbatino, owner of Galerie Lelong, von Rydingsvard’s longtime New York gallery. Traub traces von Rydingsvard’s career from St. Martin’s Dream in Battery Park and Song of a Saint (St. Eulalia) in Buffalo, both from 1980, through a recent Princeton University outdoor commission for which she would be using copper for the first time. She had seen Traub’s short film Xu Bing: Phoenix and so invited Traub to document her 2015 Venice Bienale installation, Giardino Della Marinaressa. That became a short film, and they then decided to collaborate again, documenting the making of the Princeton commission, which led to Into Her Own.
Such friends and colleagues as artists Elka Krajewska, Sarah Sze, and Judy Pfaff, patrons Agnes Gund and Lore Harp McGovern, and Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg dig deep into von Rydingsvard’s almost proprietary use of materials, her distinction as a rare woman artist creating monumental sculpture, and the concept of time in her oeuvre. Touch is also key, from the many assistants who handle the wood, bronze, and copper in the construction of the work to the people who approach and feel the final product, something she encourages. There’s a wonderful scene in which von Rydingsvard speaks with her beloved second husband, Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard, discussing nature, beauty, and her Polish heritage. Her daughter tells stories of growing up surrounded by her mother’s process and art, and Von Rydingsvard and Karoliszyn share intimate, frightening details of their father’s abuse as she explains how she was able to turn that pain around to figure out who she was and what she wanted out of life. “I knew I needed to do my work to live,” she says.
I can’t wait until I get outside and see von Rydingsvard’s work again, in person, with this newfound knowledge and understanding of an extraordinary artist. In the meantime, I’ve already watched the documentary twice, inspired by her continuing story.
Traub, a New York-based photographer who codirected the 2014 film The Barefoot Artist (about his mother, artist, activist, and teacher Lily Yeh), and von Rydingsvard will take part in a free, live Q&A with moderator Molly Donovan of the National Gallery of Art on May 31 at 5:00, hosted by Film Forum.
Who: Mikki Shepard, DJ YB, Mamma Normadien, Baba N’goma Woolbright, Charmaine Warren, Abdel R. Salaam, Karen Thornton Daniels, Sabine LaFortune, Coco Killingsworth, Farai Malianga, more
What: BAM’s DanceAfrica
Where: BAM online
When: Through May 29 (and beyond), free (some film screenings require small payment)
Why: One of our favorite ways of ushering in the summer season is by going to BAM’s annual DanceAfrica festival, a weekend of dance, films, a street bazaar, and more celebrating African culture. The forty-second annual event is taking place online, with livestreamed performances, film screenings, archival videos, interviews, classes, and a virtual bazaar. “The spirit of DanceAfrica has no boundaries, and will always find its way to the people,” Baba Abdel R. Salaam said in a statement. Below is the full schedule. And be prepared to shout “Ago!” “Amée!!” from the comfort of wherever you are sheltering in place.
Through May 27
FilmAfrica: Aya of Yop City (Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie, 2012), Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu, 2012), Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018), Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Chai Vasarhelyi, 2008), pay-what-you-wish to $4.99
Through May 29
“DanceAfrica Visual Art: Omar Victor Diop”
Through June 14
DanceAfrica Virtual Bazaar, with clothing, jewelry, home goods, food, and accessories
Monday, May 25
“DanceAfrica: The Early Years,” with Mikki Shepard, 11:00 am
DanceAfrica Dance Party, with DJ YB, 7:00
Tuesday, May 26
“DanceAfrica: Behind the Scenes,” with Abdel R. Salaam, Charmaine Warren, and Council of Elder members Mamma Normadien and Baba N’goma Woolbright, 6:00
Wednesday, May 27
“DanceAfrica: The Council of Elders,” with Stefanie Hughley and Council of Elder leaders Mamma Lynette White-Mathews and Baba Bill (William) Mathews, 6:00
Thursday, May 28
“Education and DanceAfrica,” with Karen Thornton Daniels, Sabine LaFortune, Coco Killingsworth, and Abdel R. Salaam, 6:00
Opens Thursday, May 28
FilmAfrica: A Screaming Man (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2010), Chez Jolie Coiffure (Rosine Mbakam, 2018), I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017), National Diploma (Dieudo Hamadi, 2014), prices TBD
“DanceAfrica: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” with Coco Killingsworth, Charmaine Warren, and Abdel R. Salaam, 6:00
Who: Charles Busch, Phoebe Legere, Penny Arcade, Austin Pendleton, David Amram, F. Murray Abraham, William Electric Black, more
What: Live concert and summit (and many other events)
Where: Theater for the New City
When: Saturday, May 23, free, 8:00 (festival runs May 22-24)
Why: Since 1996, Theater for the New City’s annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts has been a harbinger of summer, three days of multidisciplinary performances taking place in and around the organization’s East First St. home. But the twenty-fifth anniversary of the popular weekend event goes virtual because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s slowed down in the least. From May 22 to 24, the festival, whose theme is “Renaissance: Arts Alive 25,” will feature 250 participants providing music, dance, theater, discussion, and more, all for free. The centerpiece occurs on May 23 at 8:00 with “The Mt. Olympus of LES Love!,” a concert with an amazing lineup consisting of Charles Busch, Phoebe Legere, Penny Arcade, Austin Pendleton, David Amram, F. Murray Abraham, and William Electric Black, followed by a summit that attempts to answer the question “Where do we go from here?”
The three-day celebration will feature such speakers as Nii Gaani Aki, Michael Musto, Brad Hoylman, Carlina Rivera, and Candice Burridge; theater excerpts with Barbara Kahn, Anne Lucas, Eve Packer, Greg Mullavey, the Drilling Company, Folksbiene National Yiddish Theater, Nuyorican Poets Café, and others; comedy from Reno, Stan Baker, Trav S.D., Wise Guise, Izzy Church, Epstein and Hassan, and Ana-Maria Bandean with Gemma Forbes; dance with Ashley Liang Dance Company, Constellation Moving Co., Dixon Place, H.T. Chen & Dancers, Wendy Osserman Dance Company, Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, and Zullo/RawMovement; music by Donald Arrington, Allesandra Belloni, Michael David Gordon and the Pocket Band, Art Lillard, and Yip Harburg Rainbow Troupe; cabaret with KT Sullivan, Marissa Mulder, Eric Yves Garcia, Aziza, and Peter Zachari; and poetry readings by Coni Koepfinger, Tsaurah Litzky, Lola Rodriguez, Bob Rosenthal, Lissa Moira, and Brianna Bartenieff; along with puppetry, film screenings, children’s events, and visual art, all for free, although donations are gladly accepted.
Who: Lee Ranaldo
What: Online film screening and introduction
Where: Holt/Smithson Foundation Vimeo and Instagram Live
When: Friday, May 22, free, 2:00 (streams for twenty-four hours)
Why: The Holt/Smithson Foundation, which continues and expands the legacies of husband-and-wife artists Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, have been livestreaming rare films by and about the couple on Friday afternoons at 2:00, leaving them up on Vimeo and IGTV for twenty-four hours. On May 22, the foundation will present Holt’s The Making of Amarillo Ramp, a documentary that goes behind the scenes of the creation of Smithson’s last earthwork, 1973’s Amarillo Ramp, consisting of rocks and dirt that was meant to emerge from an artificial lake in Amarillo but is now eroding in a dry basin. Holt shot the film in 1973, but it wasn’t edited and completed until 2013; Smithson died at the age of thirty-five in a plane crash while surveying the work, which was finished by Holt, Tony Shafrazi, and Richard Serra, while Holt passed away in 2014 at the age of seventy-five. The thirty-two-minute 16mm film will be introduced by musician, composer, visual artist, writer, producer, and Sonic Youth cofounder Lee Ranaldo, who in 1998 released the experimental album Amarillo Ramp (for Robert Smithson), which features the title track in addition to “Non-Site #3,” “Notebook,” “Here,” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation,” which fits in all too well with the current pandemic; Smithson was a land artist working outside, amid large expanses of deserted areas, and Ranaldo has just released a new video for “Isolation,” with footage taken during the coronavirus crisis.