One paragraph reviews on art, movies, books, and pop culture by a know-nothing who knows it all

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Good and The Bad

Yes, we all agree that John Cassavetes, the director, was innovative and pumped real life into film and that his work still inspires legions of fans. But John Cassavetes, the actor? Heaven help us. In his own films as an actor (I'm thinking of "Husbands" and "Opening Night"), Cassavetes was tolerable. But in movies in which he was not at the helm, he drives me to distraction. His forced intensity, wild gestures, and shouting stage voice.... Arrrgggghh. Perhaps the reason his performances are so scattered is because other directors were afraid to say, "Down, boy," or perhaps J.C. was trying to let them know who was in charge and was simply untameable. I recently rented Elaine May's interminable "Mikey and Nicky." Torture. (Peter Falk, who's so comfortable on screen, gave me a reason to keep watching.) I wonder: are there any John Cassavetes, the actor, fans out there? (Image via

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Early Utopians

I never realized that early American artists had such a utopian vision of America until I saw Sarah Peters' exhibit, called "Being American," at Winkleman gallery. Peters' ink drawings and terracotta sculptures riff on that era's themes and works. It's hard to tell whether Peters is embracing or poking fun at those first artists, however. Although her drawings depict a world of earthly delights and promise, they look like they could have been drawn by Edward Gorey or R. Crumb. A self-portrait sculpture of Peters pays homage to a hilarious, over-the-top sculpture originally made by William Rush in which his head grows out of a log. (I've posted an image of the Rush sculpture below.) (Images via Winkleman gallery and


Friday, July 27, 2007

Appetite for Controlled Destruction

Banks Violette's show at Gladstone gallery is a controlled chaos, just like the death metal music that inspires this artist. White lights, black metal plates, shiny aluminum, and smashed mirrors are the source materials for a number of Violette's sculptures. In one assemblage, javelin fluorescent lights are collapsed on the floor among a tangle of black cords. On a series of shattered mirrors, condensation drips down the glass. On another work, dry-ice smoke issues out from underneath a tin wall, just like a rock concert. Despite the bent toward destruction, there's nothing edgy or threatening about these pieces. However, that's not to say, your eye won't dig following all the lines and contours of these works. (Images via Gladstone gallery)


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Serge's Child

My summer album is Charlotte Gainsbourg's "5:55." I've listened to it repeatedly for the past few months, sometimes three times in a row in one day. With music by Air, Gainsbourg sings in a breathy, talky voice. Perhaps the disc's beguiling quality comes from Air's hypnotic groove, or perhaps it is Gainsbourg's French aura and pedigree that ensnare me. I wonder if Charlotte, who must be one of the best known French actresses in America, felt compelled to make a record as a nod to her father. Serge Gainsbourg also "sang" in the same talky manner. In any case, this is an album that gets under your skin. (Image via

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Maya's Children

Calling Maya Deren. Your legacy lives on. Jesper Just's short film, "A Vicious Undertow," which is being screened at Perry Rubenstein gallery, feels like something the surrealist Deren could have created. Shot in black and white, this 10-minute mood poem is about the past, the present, regret, and hope. With no dialogue, the three characters (two women and a man) communicate through whistling, gazing, and dancing. There's a seduction going on with an undercurrent of danger. Is the older woman communing with a younger version of herself? Or is it her daughter? Is the man a rival or her husband? Like any great poem, it's up to you to decide, and there is no wrong answer. (Images via Perry Rubenstein gallery)


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Menu Cringe

Swimming to Cambodia DVD menuThe DVD menu for Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia" made me cringe. In a crude animation, Gray, who committed suicide in 2004 by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry and drowning, bobs and sinks between waves. The viewer can opt to play the movie or choose selected scenes while S.G. almost drowns. Even thinking about it now makes me wince. Granted, the DVD for this 1986 film was probably issued long before his death but still couldn't it be recalled or something. Thankfully, I quickly forgot that initial off-putting introduction. Gray's monologue on his adventures in SwimmingCambodia while filming "The Killing Fields" had me laughing out loud. (Rare if you're watching something alone.) As with "My Dinner with Andre," I never realized how much fun listening can be.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Making Contact

"First Contact: A Photographer's Sketchbook" at Silverstein Photography gives group shows a good name. In fact, I would still rate this an excellent exhibit even if it weren't the summer and Chelsea galleries have basically gone on holiday. By displaying the contact sheets of some iconic photographers (Robert Frank, Robert Capa, Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, and Diane Arbus), this show reveals that some photogs did capture the decisive moment, while others had to worked it. I was intrigued with a Robert Frank contact sheet from "The Americans" series. "Funeral--St. Helena, South Carolina" is of a man at a funeral with his hand on his chin. He looks dignified and pensive, and his hand on his face indicates that he's holding back emotion. The contact sheet for this photo reveals that in the two photos leading up to this image, the man is looking at his nails. I thought: is he actually just biting his nails? I had projected so much onto this photo, and perhaps all he was doing was fixing a cuticle. (Images via Silverstein Photography and

ROBERT CAPA Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot
ARNOLD NEWMAN Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beach Read

He wins lots of book awards and receives ecstatic press notices, but I have yet to find a person who considers himself a fan of Ian McEwen. Yes, people devour every book he issues out and praise his writing, but there's always some plot point or story twist that really irks them. Perhaps they feel he could be a "great" writer if he didn't resort to extreme moments to tell his story. I don't have this problem with this British writer. Yes, a few storylines may raise questioning eyebrows, but I'm so taken McEwen's masterly writing that I sail on. That's why I recommend McEwen's recent "On Chesil Beach." It's a slim volume (I finished it in two days, and I'm a slow reader) that illustrates McEwen's economy in distilling a whole personality or situation with one or two sentences. (Image via


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Who's Zoomin' Who?

Last April, Tyler Green requested bloggers to post on works of art that "rhyme," meaning, two pieces that share visual cues. Only recently has one image triggered another for me. The latest Chanel lipstick ad seems to be a blatant ripoff of Marilyn Minter's 2004 "Jawbreaker." (Madison Avenue admen aren't exactly artists--but on second thought, perhaps they are....) In the Chanel ad, a woman's perfectly lipsticked mouth nibbles on a single pearl necklace, while in Minter's image, a woman's perfectly lipsticked mouth clamps down on a strand of pearls. Only the beads of sweat on the Minter's woman's lips indicate that something a little subversive is going on. Otherwise, is there really any difference? (Image via and Chanel)

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Monday, July 16, 2007

No Doubt About It

Irritated and bored. That was my experience every time I read a chapter from "Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him." Written by real-life art collector and super-rich Danielle Ganek (her hubby is a hedge fund manager), I read this horribly titled book about the behind-the-scenes world of Chelsea art galleries. Ganek goes slumming with this first-person narrative, told by a gallery's receptionist. Insider dirt? Eye-opening? Smarmy? No, no, and no. Like reality TV, this book lowers your IQ with every page you turn. Describing it as "chick lit" would be a high compliment. Overall, a total waste of time. (Image via


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Too Much Fun

I'm slacking. My vacation-induced laziness has affected my blogging. I'll start posting regularly again...starting Monday. Promise. (Image via