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Wang Bing at the Pompidou

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Wang Bing at the Pompidou
Wang Bing at the Pompidou

From April 14th to May 26th, Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou held an exhibit on Chinese director Wang Bing, showcasing both his photography and documentary and feature work. At the same time, the center screened several features by Spanish experimental filmmaker Jaime Rosales, extending the “conversation” both artists began with the Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona’s “Correspondence(s)” series. However, these features were shown in traditional cinema spaces, while the exhibit area itself included Wang’s portraits and installations alongside Rosales’s entries into the “Correspondence(s).” If there was a dialogue, then, it wasn’t so much between the Chinese director and his Spanish colleague, but rather between the former’s photography and his own filmmaking.

Wang had originally intended to study architecture, but entry requirements schooling were so steep in the early 1990s, that when it came time to pick a college major, despite spending years preparing for architecture school, he finally chose photography at the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts. But he would find his real vocation in cinema, and after graduating from Lu Xun, he continued his studies at the Beijing Film Academy. As he admitted in an interview for New Left Review: “Personally, I was not particularly attracted by the seizing of a given moment; for me, the moving image was far more interesting.” Nevertheless, he never stopped “seizing given moments,” though he owes his international reputation to his “moving images,” especially his nine-hour documentary epic West of the Tracks from 2003.

Film Histories Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

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Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema
Film Histories: Caroline Martel on Industry/Cinema

As you walk up the stairway at the Museum of the Moving Image, you’re greeted with a screen. On the left side is a black-and-white, silent, documentary image of young women dancing outdoors; on the right side is a tinted, silent, documentary image of a woman alone, twirling her dress. Perhaps curious, you approach, sit on a bench, and put on a pair of available headphones. The film on the right, Thomas A. Edison’s Annabelle Serpentine Dance, from 1894, you might recognize by face, if not by name. But playing on the left is a lesser-known work that holds equal entertainment and documentary value: the Bell Telephone Company of Canada’s 1920 film How Business Girls Keep Well.

Film canons and best-of lists are consistently built on a fiction, which is that the people building them have actually seen every movie ever made and can select the best accordingly. But a quick look at a list like the British magazine Sight & Sound’s recently released poll among more than 800 critics for the top 50 films of all time, which consists almost entirely of feature-length fiction works from the United States, Japan, Russia, and a few Western European countries, suggests this isn’t the case. The States alone have produced more than 500,000 “ephemeral films” (a term coined by American archivist Rick Prelinger, who also gave the statistic), short works created to advertise, promote, educate, and even entertain, and made both by corporations and by private individuals.

Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises

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Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises
Cindy Sherman and Her Many Guises

Critical reactions to the current MoMA retrospective of Cindy Sherman have ranged from wildly enthusiastic to guardedly skeptical. Whatever your personal take may be, there’s no denying the artist’s prolific playfulness. Anyone who enjoyed dressing up as a child, or for Halloween costume parties, can relate to the thrill of being someone or something else, if just for a few hours. The initial appeal of Sherman’s work is this immediate identification.

On the surface, at least, for it doesn’t take long to note that as instantly appealing as her works are, with the exception of the grotesques and the more sexually explicit pictures, there’d a lot more going on in them than a childlike glee at all the makeup, costumes, and playacting.

Many of the works, most notably the Untitled Film Stills, reference the movie industry, and by extension popular culture. Publicity stills, as the show’s curator Eva Respini has pointed out, are snapshots rather than high art, discarded after they serve their function. Revitalizing this humble medium, Sherman captures female movie types, portraying ingénues, vixens, and vamps. A common reading of these stills is that Sherman is taking a critical stance on Hollywood female stereotypes. This is partly true, but a bit simplistic since many of the stills are genuinely haunting, and assert the power of the image even more than deconstruct it.

Impressions from Frieze New York 2012

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Impressions from Frieze New York 2012
Impressions from Frieze New York 2012

By the time I got back home last night from the final day of Frieze Art New York, the fair staff tweeted: “That’s it, I’m done. Gonna put on my jammies and take a long nap. See you @friezenewyork 2013.” But let’s rewind 2012: I had showed up at the South entrance, but the press attendant was on lunch break, so I walked along the tent north. The wind picked up and the skies looked glum. The outside of a giant white tent, constructed specifically for the exhibition, didn’t inspire visions of grandeur, but the walk allowed me to hear the Susan Philipsz outdoor sound installation We’ll All Go Together. There was Joshua Callaghan’s sculpture Two Dollar Umbrella, a heart-warming sight for any New Yorker who recalls into what bizarre disfigurement a cheap umbrella may be forced by gusts. By Rathin Barman’s intriguing Untitled, a wall of brick and wire with a single sunflower planted on the inside, the friendly guard warned me that I had gotten too close; a tiny red flag in the grass was meant to keep me off. The brisk walk got me thinking about the fair’s calculated spontaneity—the tent arising as if out of nowhere, in a precarious environment. The most visible manifestation of this was a large pit of muddy water fenced off, as if it too were art, by the north entrance.

The Spectacular Confrontations of "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty"

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The Spectacular Confrontations of “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”
The Spectacular Confrontations of “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”

It’s a violent business, tailoring. Cutting, ripping, pinning, yanking, pressing, stretching, stitching; we put the raw materials of our clothes through quite a lot before putting them on our bodies. Typically, these exertions result in the merely presentable, occasionally the fetching, rarely the beautiful, and perhaps once in a generation, the transcendent. Throughout his career, beginning in the 1990s and lasting right up to his suicide in February 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen constantly laid bare the brutal qualities of his craft. In doing so, he upended our notions of bodily contours, movement through space, and beauty itself.

Entering its final week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” has established itself as one of the defining events of Summer 2011. The New York Times, in its print edition and Arts Beat blog, has devoted no fewer than seven posts and articles to it. The $45 hardbound catalogue is selling by the tens of thousands. People dress up in elaborate outfits to see the exhibit. And, when it’s all over, “Savage Beauty” will probably rank among the top 20 most-visited Met exhibitions since the museum began taking attendance. The Met has extended the show from July 31 to August 7, extended viewing hours during regular opening days, and has also offered $50 viewing tickets on Mondays, when the museum is normally closed. On the final two days of the show, the museum will remain open until midnight. News of these measures has only added to the buzz surrounding the show, and the crush of visitors continues to pack the exhibition rooms and queues for hours on end to see it.

Grasping the Infinite Through Order Ryoji Ikeda’s the transfinite

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Grasping the Infinite Through Order: Ryoji Ikeda’s the transfinite
Grasping the Infinite Through Order: Ryoji Ikeda’s the transfinite

There is, of course, no one set of criteria to determine whether something is a truly great work of art; different people will have their own conceptions of what makes something truly great, and what makes something great to one might not make it so to another. To my mind, though, one thing art indubitably has the ability to do is alter our view of the everyday in some tangible or intangible way—whether that means giving us a different perspective on something, or simply reawakening our awareness of things we notice everyday without really reflecting on it.

Upon experiencing, for the first time, the transfinite, the new installation from multimedia artist Ryoji Ikeda that’s currently standing at the Park Avenue Armory, I found myself impressed by it, but in a rather detached way, inspiring little more than mostly intellectual contemplation. But then, after walking around in its darkly lit, strobe-light-flashy, numbers-heavy grip for an extended period of time, I then stepped into the “real” world outside and found myself unable to easily shake off the experience. Instead of buildings, I would see numbers pulsing through its surfaces; instead of coherent thoughts, I would see barcode-like line patterns flitting through my mind. The revelations of the transfinite, it seems, don’t make themselves truly apparent until you’ve stepped away from its imposing structures—but afterward, the cumulative effect is like seeing the world around you in a wholly different way than you did going in.