Monday, June 30, 2014

After I Was Dead

I was entranced by all the poems in Laura Mullen's collection, After I Was Dead. Haunting, yearning, reflecting, searching and absconding, fragmenting and coalescing -- the poetic language here is written in a uniquely intimate voice. The poems have an abstract and surreal quality grounded in human emotion. The seeking and reaching toward some sort of closure, the opening and beholding the vast interstices of experiences. These poems left me in awe.

I had many favorites, including the "White Painting" series. Many I can't reproduce here because of the magical way she uses the spacing on the page (this blog would fuck it up). Here is one poem I particularly liked that I think will format well on the blog:


Where it should have been there were only memories.
They liked it anyhow and lived there. For them
The moment it fell down was the moment it lifted up:
Livable-in at last.
A pantry full of regrets; a garden
Planned out in the shape of a plan, lush
With what-might-have-been and O-if-only;
A folly where... on fine afternoons...
And the parties they threw there then, or rather,
Imagined themselves throwing, who had never been
Much for parties, but "Better late than..." -- and the rest
Of the phrase lost in laughter. Love bloomed
In the nonexistent parlor: the piano
That never was was closed, suddenly,
By the woman who looked at her hands so as not to see
The face of the young man who knelt at her side,
Enrapt. Impossible ever to know
If it was the sunlight which had faded those curtains
So slowly that no one had seen, or whether
They had been wrong about the color from the start.

And a phrase from another poem, "Structures" leaps out at me:

Always the sky, that obscene

Patti Smith at Fort Tilden, Rockaway

Patti Smith and James Franco read poetry and performed at Fort Tilden as part of MoMA PS1's celebration of Rockaway. I only caught the end of Franco reading his poems. But I was blown away by Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye's performance. They did five songs, including "Wing" (my favorite), "Redondo Beach", "Pissing in a River" and a rousing and marvelous "People Have the Power." It was a great set, a great mini concert, and, as always, I felt grateful and privileged to be in Patti's audience.

MoMA PS1: Rockaway! Patti Smith Installation

MoMA PS1 is celebrating Rockaway with wonderful installation pieces by several artists at Fort Tilden. The event takes place in the part of the city most devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

I was most impressed and moved by Patti Smith's "The Resilience of the Dreamer" set in a decaying warehouse type structure. The centerpiece is a golden bed draped in white fabric, hanging in the middle of the vast and decrepit space. It is quite dramatic and moving. I also loved the part of the installation in nearby room, where a large stone vessel containing many white stones sat amidst graffiti in the dilapidated space. The effect of these pieces was truly beautiful and evocative.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Luciano at Celebrate Brooklyn was awesome last night! He had such terrific energy singing these wild and soulful reggae songs! He danced all over the stage and even came down into the audience. He clearly loved sharing his music, which was rousing and spiritual and just a whole lot of fun!

Opening for him was Sandra St. Victor, who had a fabulous voice and a great command of the stage.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diary of Young Girl

I just finished Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. It is crushing. Devastating.

She writes of her family's two years in hiding with an other family and an another man, 8 people altogether. During that time she and her writing matures, and she reflects on many serious subjects, such as character (internal and external identity), love, politics, human nature, loneliness, and youth. Throughout the diary are many descriptions of the bickering and difficult dynamics between those in the "Secret Annex". I found these passages deeply moving -- not only was mundane life going on, but you know that underneath the squabbles and tensions was a profound fear. They were all terrified.

Anne Frank's writing is clear as a bell, and she was clearly a talented and precocious teenager.

The diary ends abruptly, as the Annex was raided and all 8 of them were taken to concentration camps. Only Anne's father, Otto, survived. In spite of "knowing the ending", I was shocked and grief-stricken.

Also very intense was the tremendous care the Frank's and Van Daam's received from their helpers. These Dutch citizens were truly heroes.

The Killer

Last night I saw Ionesco's The Killer starring Michael Shannon at Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn.

This existential play centers on Berenger who discovers a beautiful radiant city, designed by a municipal architect. There he experiences a bittersweet joy. He is nostalgic for pure joy, but the present feeling is plagued by doubts as to the certainty of anything.

At the end of the first act it is revealed that the city is traumatized by a killer who mesmerizes people with a photo and then pushes them in a lagoon to drown. Berenger is devastated by this and seeks to find the killer and bring him to the authorities.

The play is very verbal, and the dialogue and Berenger's monologues are brilliant. It seems like a play I would enjoy reading.

The middle act takes place in his apartment with a friend, Edward, whose briefcase contains all the physical elements of the killer's murders. This scene is funny and dynamic. Also creepy. The final act is more chaotic, with a disturbing and amusing fascist politician (Ma Piper), aggressive police, and finally a drawn out confrontation with the killer. This should have been the most tense and important scene, but I felt it was too long and unfortunately I got restless towards the end.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

American Cool at the National Portrait Gallery

I forgot, I also saw the exhibition "American Cool" at The National Portrait Gallery. A collection of photographs of iconic figures in American popular culture, it featured wonderful images of people like Jimi Hendrix, Debby Harry, Patti Smith, and Lou Reed. It was very enjoyable.

The Gallery press writes: "Cool is a supreme compliment that evokes people who exude rebellious self-expression, charisma, edge, and mystery. It is an original American sensibility and remains a global obsession. In the early 1940s, legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young brought this central African American concept into the modern vernacular, and it became a password in bohemian life connoting a balanced state of mind, a laid-back artistic mode of performance, a certain stylish stoicism. Cool has been embodied in such  jazz musicians as Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Dizzy Gillespie; in such actors as Louise Brooks, Robert Mitchum, and Steve McQueen; in such rock and rollers as Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Patti Smith; and in many others from the worlds of literature, art, comedy, sports, and political activism. American Cool refers to those who have contributed an original artistic vision to American culture symbolic of a given historical moment."

Lost in La Mancha

Lost in La Mancha is a documentary about director Terry Gilliam's attempts to make a movie based on Don Quixote. It follows in detail the preproduction and production phases, as one thing after another goes wrong, including a torrential hail storm that destroyed the location. It is a great look into movie-making. The film really seemed cursed. Ironically, Gilliam was making a movie about an iconic character who lived in his imagination as opposed to reality. Part of the film highlights Gilliam's difficulty seeing that the project wouldn't get finished when everyone around him was aware of the mess. Eventually production halted when one of the essential elements, the actor to play Quixote, got sick. The insurance company owns the script and I think everything built for the production.

Friday, June 20, 2014

National Museum of Women in the Arts

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is a beautiful place. I spent a leisurely morning taking in their permanent collection. I discovered a Mexican artist I had never heard of, Remedios Varo, whose works are mystical and strange.

I loved the large rubber wall sculpture by Chakaia Booker, ("Acid Rain"), whose work I had seen and loved at Storm King about a year ago. I also loved the hanging wax sculpture of a tutu type dress, by Petah Coyne, "Untitled #781".

There was a small exhibition of the work of Meret Oppenheim, which was just okay, although I loved this sewn gloves and cut book piece, titled "The Gloves"

United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

I spent three hours exploring the permanent exhibition at The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum. I started to cry the moment I entered. The exhibition is presented in chronological order, starting with the Nazi's rise to power and concluding with the end of the war and the establishment of Israel. It is filled with artifacts, footage, and photographs detailing many aspects of the war and the genocide. Immersing myself, I felt overwhelmed by grief and confusion. At the end I spent time in the Hall of Remembrance, tearing up with emotion and awe at the devastation. I felt that this museum is truly an important memorial. The exhibition was packed all day, and I am glad so many visitors to DC take the time to experience this.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

My afternoon at the American Art Museum was wonderful and relaxing. I took my time going through the galleries, and actually didn't see as much of it as I would have liked. The collection is kind of a hodgepodge. Interestingly, there are many works by relatively minor artists -- or at least many whom I've never heard of. In addition to Ben Shahn and Georgia O'Keefe, etc., I discovered a dramatic and haunting sculpture by Harold Tovish, "In Memorium", a fun and funny painting by Philip Evergood, "Dowager in a Wheelchair", and a beautiful fiery red forest painting with difficult to see figures departing. this was by Bernard Perlin, titled "The Farewell".

These works I saw are all from
Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment is a somewhat informative, albeit heavy-handed and sensationalist, look at the history of the criminal justice system. It covers medieval punishment practices, outlaws of the wild west, crimes of the great depression with an emphasis on Capone and organized crime, serial killers, financial scams including Madoff's Ponzi scheme, presidential assassinations, computer crimes, famous cold cases such as JonBenet Ramsey, as well as presentations on the procedures of justice and forms of punishment including incarceration and the death penalty.

It did not look at the history of racism in the justice system, the role of power, police and prosecutorial corruption, the social and financial costs of mass incarceration, or wrongful convictions.

At The National Gallery of Art

In addition to the Wyeth exhibition, and the Degas/Cassatt, I strolled though parts of the permanent collection at The National Gallery of Art and it was very cool to see many famous paintings that I am so familiar with just from being alive in the culture. I had never seen the grand portrait of Napoleon, and am not sure if I'd seen The White Girl before (I actually think I may have seen the latter at some point in my life). It was lovely spending time in this museum.

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In

 I found the National Gallery of Art exhibition Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In to be haunting and breathtaking. These paintings focused on windows, with "The Wind from the Sea" as its centerpiece, depict bleak and austere interiors and landscapes. The paintings are so precise, and delicate, and the images convey such a sense of isolation. In spite of the lovely light throughout these works, there is an emotional darkness.

For some reason I had dismissed Wyeth in my youth. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I thought he was dry, irrelevant, and dated. I'm not sure. But these paintings, particularly taken as a whole, are beautifully powerful.

Degas/Cassatt at The National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art has a beautiful exhibition of the works of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, whose works share an affinity. These paintings were a delight to view. Degas was a favorite of mine as a child, and I loved looking at some of his lesser known pieces.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

I enjoyed my afternoon on Tuesday at the Hirshhorn Museum. The sculptures were wonderful and on view was a photography exhibition. I wasn't crazy about it, but was riveted by Laurel Nakadate's dark and haunting works depicting people in the center of a deep forest background. My favorite of these was the one that had a baby in a bassinet.

Perhaps my favorite was the sculpture on the grounds by Juan Munoz, "Last Conversation Piece". I also very much liked Lucio Fontana's orbs along the grounds, "Spatial Concept: Nature"

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Actual Innocence

Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right, by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer, is a disturbing read. Telling the stories of numerous men who were wrongfully convicted, it breaks down the nightmarish phenomenon into a handful of significant problems in our criminal justice system. The book gets its heart from the personal cases which highlight the Kafkaesque horror endured by each innocent man. But the strength of Actual Innocence is in the analysis of these cases and the way the writers explain the problematic nature of eyewitness testimony, jailhouse informants, false confessions, poor defense lawyering, prosecutorial and police misconduct, weak science, and fraudulent experts.

Two of the writers are founders of the Innocence Project which uses DNA testing to exonerate people (when appropriate evidence is available). The emergence of this technology has exposed the injustices in the system and has made it clear how broken it can be. Writing in 2003: "Since the first edition of this book went to press at the end of 1999, DNA tests have freed one innocent person from prison or death row every eighteen days -- at this writing, twenty people in the last year. That rate could easily have been one or two people going free every day if biological evidence had not been lost or destroyed in thousands of cases or if more prisoners enjoyed access to DNA testing."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Parks and Recreation (first 5 seasons)

During the last few weeks I've been binge-watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix, and last night I finished all the episodes available (the first five seasons).

This show is so fun and funny. It has great spirit. The first six episodes were more in the line of the humor of discomfort and awkwardness, but it progressively developed into a very funny, lol, comedy that has a lot of heart.

It centers around Leslie Knope, the Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation. She is an optimistic, idealistic, and endlessly energetic bureaucrat who believes in the capacity of government to improve the lives of citizens. At work she is surrounded by apathetic slackers and a libertarian boss. But what is really sweet is that everyone around her, in spite of their cynicism, is really rooting for Leslie and wants her to succeed. The humor is simultaneously clever and goofy, with shades of darkness, but ultimately this is a cheerful, feel-good comedy.


Friday, June 6, 2014


I liked Maleficent. It was better than I expected. Starring Angelina Jolie it tells the back story of the evil fairy queen in Sleeping Beauty. I remember enjoying that fairy tale a lot, but in retrospect, it does seem strange that the woman was that full of rage simply because she wasn't invited to a party.

The atmosphere and the effects and visuals were all solid. Angelina Jolie was okay. Very beautiful to look at, but her acting was a bit restrained and I wanted a bit more emotion or dimension. For me the best part of the movie was the surprise ending. It really plays on the idea of villainy, which I've been thinking about since reading I Wear the Black Hat. Adding nuance and complex (or at least a bit more complex) motives to the stock bad guy character is something I always enjoy. As I did in the very different (and superior) Megamind.

With Maleficent, I'm curious how children will respond to this version of the fairy tale. You really are meant to sympathize with three dimensional Maleficent, and the Aurora character is a bit simplistic and even dopey. (I love Elle Fanning, but she was kind of lame in this). So the princess is the least compelling character, and the real bad guy in this story seems to be her father...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a slow, creepy, brooding, and fascinating movie. It is about a young woman who leaves a cult and is staying with her estranged sister. She is deeply damaged by the experience on the compound or farm or whatever it was, and she acts traumatized and exhibits bizarre behavior. The experience she had is told in flashbacks, while the present concerns her inability to adjust to her sister and brother-in-law's lifestyle.

Every scene in Martha Marcy May Marlene is captivating. The acting is very good and there is a disturbing tension throughout the movie. However, I felt something was missing: I wanted to understand how and why she had joined the cult in the first place. This was only alluded to and more information would have made the movie more satisfying for me.