Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tower of London

On Wednesday we visited the Tower of London. This impressive, ancient, awe-inspiring structure was very cool to be in and walk around. However, it was also a bit of a tourist trap. Very crowded. The biggest disappointment was the crowned jewels. The lines were incredibly long, and when you get in there isn't much to see. Plus, you're hurried through and don't have time to take much in.

Gaity is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union

 At the Saatchi Gallery I explored a fascinating exhibition of art from the Soviet Union, titled Gaity is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union. Many of the works were grim and difficult. I was particularly struck by a series of photographs depicting people on window ledges. The perspective of these large scale images gave me vertigo, and the scenes were desolate and disturbing. Most disturbing of all were a vast series of portraits by Boris Mikhailov which focused on sad subjects, many with physical deformities that I found very upsetting. In fact, I couldn't look at all these works.

The bright, colorful palette of Dasha Shishkin's drawings drew me in to the also somewhat disturbing content featuring grotesque figures, depicting greed, excess, and decrepitude. I really liked them!

There were many other intriguing and unsettling works, and all in all I thought this was a very provocative and important exhibition.

Collection at the Tate Modern

I visited the Tate Modern on Thursday, taking in a lot of the permanent collection. Honestly I found the art kind of underwhelming, although few pieces stood out. I didn't think it had anything on MoMA. However, the building itself is incredibly impressive. Massive and virile and industrial. And there are stunning views of the Thames. An enjoyable afternoon.

Gala Flamenca at Sadler's Wells

On Wednesday we saw Gala Flamenca at the Flamenco festival at Sadler's Wells. This company was wonderful. Contemporary and dramatic takes on traditional Flamenco. The singing was haunting and the dancing superb. One piece that really stood out for me was a long solo number performed by a woman on toe shoes. Flamenco en pointe! Who'da thunk? I thought it was really pretty incredible.

Choral Music at Wigmore Hall

On Tuesday night we went to Wigmore Hall, a beautiful venue where we enjoyed lovely choral music. At times it was monotonous, but the tones were so pure and beautiful. It was very relaxing.

Victoria and Albert Museum

My first day in London we went to the V&A Museum of Design. This sprawling museum is the largest of its kind, holding a vast collection of all forms of design. I particularly enjoyed the furniture galleries and the glass galleries.

I have to say, I prefer the smaller, somewhat chicer and much more manageable museum of design here in NY near Columbus Circle.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vanity Fair

Last night I watched Vanity Fair on Netflix, Watch Instantly. I had seen it about ten years ago and really liked it then. I was curious to watch it again, as I recently got a little over halfway through the sprawling novel.

The novel is satirical and goofy and makes fun of all the characters. The film too mocks a number of people, but largely it is presented as a drama, and I think this was a good choice.

The story has a lot of dramatic elements, following the social climbing on Becky Sharp, who largely relies on her charm and wit (get it? "Sharp"?). I thought Reese Witherspoon was wonderful in this role, feigning sweetness and sincerity while scheming and keeping her eye on the prize. The interrelated story lines all captivated my attention, and I found the movie satisfying.

There is one thing I'm curious about. In an online description I read of the novel, they mention something happening at the end that didn't happen in the movie. I don't want to say what it was, because it was an intense plot point. This makes me want to revisit the book, just to get to this possible ending.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kathe Kollwitz

After the El Anatsui exhibit I checked out Kathe Kollwitz: Prints from the War and Death Portfolios, on another floor at The Brooklyn Museum.

I love Kollwitz's work, and these prints had devastating and dark beauty. I just wish there had been more of them.

El Anatsui

 Today I went to Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works of El Anatsui at The Brooklyn Museum.

The incredibly beautiful installations took my breath away. Truly stunning works made with found metal objects, glistening with rustic majesty.

I no little of this artist who lives and works in Nigeria, but I was very moved by the vast and dramatic pieces.

One unfortunate thing, I think I missed part of the exhibit, as there are a number of works pictured on the website that I didn't see. I just might have to go back.

Pictured are "Wall" and "Drainpipe" from the museum website, which were two of my favorites.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Contender

The Contender features Joan Allen as a woman nominated to fill the Vice President's position. The movie focuses on process of confirming her. Explicit material surfaces early on about her having had a lurid college encounter with several boys at a frat party. The Contender is about politics, and the ruthless divisiveness of the system. Joan Allen's character remains steely and calm, refusing to address the allegations, which is at times very tense and frustrating to watch.

The Contender is taut and riveting, with complexities and plot twists, and very, very good acting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fear of Flying

The best things I can say about Erica Jong's Fear of Flying is that gradually the narrator's somewhat shrill and very pretentious voice grew on me. This was disappointing. I had totally loved the novel when I was in high school. It had me cracking up, laughing out loud, and very immersed in the story and the writing. I think I was impressed by all the psychoanalysis and literature in the upper class world of New York intellectuals.

Jong was included in a segment on Makers, the documentary I watched on the women's movement, and this inspired me to re-read Fear of Flying, which is considered a feminist classic by some. I guess the fact that she makes a literary allusion on every single page while simultaneously using the word "cunt" was considered radical back in the 70s. But the effect on me as a reader in 2013 was that she was trying too hard to place her work in the genre of "literary fiction" rather than "popular fiction" - aka, trash. Her sexual frankness neither bothered me nor impressed me, and the plot seemed incredibly indulgent, raising cliche existential and feminist questions in a shrill, whining fashion that really turned me off. Again, I suppose this was innovative and refreshing when it was first published.

All that said, I actually began to enjoy my familiarity with Jong's alter ego, and it is worth noting that Fear of Flying is one of the few novels I've been able to complete in months. So, I did somehow find it readable.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Funeral of the Cow

Last night at Wow I saw The Funeral of the Cow, this "postmodern drama about the drama of the postmodern" featured four actors reflecting, discussing, arguing, and creating issues about representation and reality, culture and identity, art and audience. The play was witty, engaging, and thought-provoking. The final scene included a beautiful surprise.

The Funeral of the Cow was written and directed by Susana Cook, who also performs. Other performers included Felice Shays, Mistah (denise) Coles, Jasmine Presson, and Moira Cutler, who played the earnest Tacito with comic grace.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rachelle Garniez

Last night I had a real treat: Rachelle Garniez at Barbes. She was such a versatile and charming performer. Beautiful voice and range, jazzy and funny. She played several instruments and sang insightful, humorous songs with graceful and professional panache. I really loved the evening.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Interrupters

Yesterday I watched The Interrupters, a documentary about "Violence Interrupters" working for CeaseFire, a program in Chicago intended to reduce inner city shootings and violence.

The Interrupters contains many powerful scenes, jumping from several story lines, as if follows several interrupters' activity during the course of a year. We see the impact of shootings on families and communities, and cannot help but feel admiration for the intentions of the interrupters.

However, the documentary didn't frame Chicago's violence within any kind of socio-historic context, and I found this to be a serious flaw. Although it posits violence as a "disease" (the founder of the project is a doctor, an epidemiologist, I think), it doesn't fully explore the implications of this theory in terms of social problems.

Also, at just under two hours, it was a little too long, and could have been edited down a good 20-30 minutes without having lost that much.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Turn of the Screw

Last night I saw New York City Opera's production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of Screw at BAM. Written in 1954, it represents both the first 20th Century opera I've seen, and the first sung in English.

I was very aware of how different the music was from other operas I've seen, and I enjoyed it very much musically. The singing was wonderful and I found the score intriguing and engaging. However, I found it odd listening to opera sung in English; I prefer the romantic mystery of it sung in another language, particularly Italian.

Most unenjoyable to me, however, was the story. I had read the Henry James novella in my twenties and was perplexed and nonplussed by it. I just didn't get it. The story has a level of abstraction to it that I might be too dense for. In any case, I thought the plot was a poor choice for an opera, and I felt put off by it. Also, the production staged it as taking place in the 1950s, losing the more romantic and gothic quality of the isolated Victorian setting.

I'm really glad I saw The Turn of the Screw, though. The lighting was beautiful and I'm glad to have been exposed to 20th Century classical music.