A still from Women Without Men, by Shirin Neshat. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)
This Wednesday, March 24th, the New Directors/New Films festival, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, kicks off in New York City with two weeks worth of screenings, featuring 27 films by a coterie of international directors. We managed to get ourselves invited to a few press screenings, but because I know even less about film than I know about art, I’ve pulled in reinforcements, namely the irrepressible Yvonne Connasse — who in her martini-addled head carries more cinematic lore than the entire basement archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It will be Yvonne who’ll be doing much of the reviewing, though I’ll jump in to give my two cents about artist Shirin Neshat‘s latest (sometime next week).
In the meantime, we want to kindly explain our complex ratings system, devised by a team of brainiacs at MIT. Naturally, it involves Julian Schnabel’s head. Here’s how it works:
No Schnabel Heads: This movie sucks. If you’re even thinking about watching it, make sure someone is paying you. One Schnabel: More tedious than a teacup painting. As in, the explosions might look good on the big screen, but if this is a rental, forget it. Two Schnabels: Not good, but has at least one redeeming moment. Think: Every Quentin Tarantino film known to man (in the cumulative). Three Schnabels: These pleasing pics may not be worth burning a path to the theatre, but they’re the sort of thing you’ll want to add to the Netflix queue. Four Schnabels: A very good movie, in the theatre, as a rental, in Second Life, or any which way you kids like to watch your movies these days. Five Schnabels: This shit is hotter than Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem in a man sandwich in the tropics. We’re talking possible classic. SEE IT!!!!
Extra olives with a light dusting of acetone, please: Gabriel Orozco’s pizza crust, part of Working Tables, 2000-2005. See the piece in context here. (Photo courtesy of MoMA.)
If there is something that absolutely inspires the art nerd in me, it’s the totally whacked out materials used by some artists. Blood. PeaRoeFoam. A stuffed angora goat. Which is why I was quite excited to find a pizza crust in the Gabriel Orozco retrospective when I visited MoMA last week. The above crust, part of the piece Working Tables, resides in the museum’s stately permanent collection. (It is very important crust.) Which got me wondering: what exactly does a museum do with crust? Is it Orozco’s original crust? Or is it replaced regularly with fresh crust? And what about crust munchers like roaches and mice?
For answers to these burning questions, we turned to MoMA’s associate sculpture conservator Roger Griffith, who has worked in the museum’s conservation lab for more than a decade. Griffith, it turns out, has some experience dealing with art objects made of food. Among them, Janine Antoni’s Gnaw , an installation that consists of 600 lbs. each of chocolate and lard that has been gnawed by the artist. (No doubt a joy to maintain). He was also the man in charge of caring for a small block of artist-made cheese fabricated from human breast milk at a temporary MoMA exhibit several years ago. (“My job was to make sure it didn’t mold,” says Griffith. “I would just take it out of the fridge, pat it down, salt it and put it back.”) He was kind enough to give us the lowdown on pizza à la Orozco:
The Crust is O.G.: This is Orozco’s original crust which has been with the museum since MoMA acquired it in 2005 from the Marian Goodman Gallery.
It’s Part Plastic: Part of the reason this crust (which is at least five years old) still looks good — and hasn’t been attacked by critters — is because it was treated by the museum’s staff upon arrival. When MoMA acquired Working Tables, the crust was a normal, everyday crust. But once it entered the museum’s conservation lab, it was bathed in acetone (“to remove the fatty acids, the parts that cause degradation,” explains Griffith) and then soaked in a solution of acrylic known as B-72. The acetone dissolves the fat; the acrylic replaces it. To keep it looking natural (acrylic has a tendency to shine), the conservation department spritzed it with an acetone mist to eliminate unnatural sheen. Voilà! Plasticized pizza dough that looks totally real, yet barely ages. (Like some Upper East Side ladies I know…)
It’s Stored in Highly Secure Packaging: When the crust isn’t on display, it’s put away in marva-seal, which according to this website, is the same packaging that the U.S. military uses to wrap its MREs (or Meals Ready to Eat). Which strikes me as incredibly handy, because if all hells break loose, we can always drop Orozco’s crust somewhere over Afghanistan — solving all manner of foreign policy woes.
Objects of a lifetime, all carefully arranged in MoMA’s mezzanine. Waste Not by Song Dong. (All photos by C-M.)
Last year, after my father died, my mother, my sister and I were faced with that mind-numbing post-death ritual of cleaning up. The house was littered with his things. Some items were eminently disposable: crumpled Kleenex, old magazines, empty bottles of pills. Others, clearly keepsakes. There was his wedding band, the mother-of-pearl crucifix he’d toted around for decades, the self-portrait with showgirl. And, of course, there were all the pieces in between – puzzling little bits that seemed like they could be valuable because they had at one point been important to my father: scribbled notes and rusty knick knacks from places we could hardly recall.
Of course, the bulk of his things were of no use to us. There were old engineering texts and boxes with slide rules and typewriter ribbons for typewriters we hadn’t had in decades. There was no doubt we’d get rid them. Despite their uselessness, these things nonetheless held a charge, a memory of my father – one that made them just a little bit difficult to throw away. I felt the same charge at Song Dong’s incredibly moving exhibit, Waste Not, at NYC’s MoMA. A sprawling installation of the entire contents of his mother’s house, it is a record – in stuff – of his mother’s life and, more significantly, his father’s death. Each object, however trivial, set aside, put away, secured – because, at one moment in time, it had been important.
Could someone please pass me a socket wrench? Film still from Raw Footage, 2006 by Aernout Mik. (Images courtesy of MoMA.)
Highly addictednews junkies looking for a different kind of high should take a gander at the Aernout Mik videos currently scattered around the Museum of Modern Art. Just be prepared to be confused. Mik’s fictional scenarios, such as Scapegoats, at left, have no narrative, no sound, no beginning and no end. In them, various combinations of civilians, soldiers, students and politicians (or at least that’s who I think they are) amble about chaotically. At times they are aimless; at others, destructive. It’s like watching a reel produced by a highly cinematic security camera: it’s rather incomprehensible, yet you get the feeling that you’re seeing something very important.
None of it made much sense to me until I trudged down to MoMA’s dimly-lit basement to see Mik’s 2006 piece Raw Footage, which consists of two monitors showing snippets of raw news footage filmed by Reuters and ITN during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. People dash along streets as gunfire crackles in the distance. A tank tries to force its way through a grove of trees. A stray dog pesters a group of soldiers. Unlike Mik’s other pieces, this video contains sound. Not that it will help you figure out what the heck is going on, since you’ll hear little more than explosions. Without the omniscient voice of a BBC newscaster, providing death tolls and other important battle statistics, raw footage is rather meaningless.
But not entirely. What you do see — in Raw Footage, as well as in Mik’s fictional pieces — are situations in which the prevailing social order has been turned on its head. In so many cases, people look around desperately, as if to ask, “Who is in charge?” Mik has created his own raw footage. And it can be as grippingly voyeuristic as the real stuff on the BBC.
The End, 1991, by Edward Ruscha at MoMA. (Photos by C-M.)
You know a show has to be good when it opens up with a video of a Rube Goldberg machine. And that is exactly what kicks off Vik Muniz‘s “Artist’s Choice” show at MoMA, one of the more deft and entertaining exhibits I’ve seen in a while. Avoiding complicated wall texts and impenetrable catalogue essays, Muniz simply and cleverly tells a story by using the images at his disposal — works from MoMA’s permanent collection — linking one to the next through visual or thematic similarity. Bubble shapes lead to other bubble shapes lead to spheres lead to rocks lead to scissors. It’s as if he’s turned the gallery into one giant Rube Goldberg machine and the viewer is the little metal pinball that gets prodded from one piece to the next.
In one stretch of gallery, for example, a vintage New York City subway map is followed by a photo of a man on a subway by Philip-Lorca diCorcia. The yellow in the photo’s subway seats is then echoed in a yellow canvas by Ellsworth Kelly, which is followed by a sculpture of an egg yolk by Kiki Smith, which is linked to an egg timer by a ’60s industrial designer from Italy… The show, titled Rebus (a visual riddle), manages to ultimately (and seamlessly) connect a stack of Post-It notes to a felt suit by Joseph Beuys. It is totally Wallace & Gromit, in the best of ways.
I snapped a few photos of the exhibit and have arranged them here to create my own rebus. I call it The Artist’s Last Thoughts.
The show is up through February 23rd. Do not miss.
Click on images to supersize. More after the jump.