Archive: November, 2009
Remember when BH told you about Ted Leo and friends' Halloween Misfits cover show? Under the name TV Casualty ' including Leo, Atom Goren (Armalite, Atom and his Package), Brian Sokel (AM/FM, Franklin), Andy Nelson (Paint it Black) and Chris Wilson (the Philly-based drummer for Ted Leo's Pharmacists) ' the boys rocked out for the People's Emergency Center. Pitchfork has the whole show up, but take some time out of your busy schedule to watch the first part here:
Gene Kelly once said that if Fred Astaire was the Cary Grant of dance, then he was the Marlon Brando. It's an accurate comparison ' with Astaire as the elegant twinkle toes and Kelly as the working man in T-shirt in jeans. So in honor of tonight's Kelly/Astaire double feature of Singing in the Rain and Top Hat at Ibrahim Theater at International House, there's only possible way to handle the situation ' CAGE MATCH.
At the screening tonight, Dexel prof. Paula Marantz Cohen will argue for the side of Astaire, while the Bryn Mawr Film Institute's Andrew J. Douglas will argue for Kelly. But one topic that probably won't be discussed: Who would win in a fight? So, in a to-the-death battle, which one would take the top prize?
- Looks excellent in formal wea
- Seduced Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, despite being way older and way less attractive
- Humble; often said he is so revered as a dance icon because Ginger Rogers made him look good.
- Best Astaire Top Hat number (one of Astaire's best solo performances):
Don't forget "No Strings" or "Cheek to Cheek," which are also awesome.
- Super skinny, doesn't bode well for Astaire in the ring.
- Sometimes a dancer can be too light on his feet:
- Incredibly athletic
- Accomplished director: Singin' in the Rain, It's Always Fair Weather, etc.
- Has one of the all time greatest asses in show business
- Best Kelly Singin' in the Rain number:
Donald O'Connor is a fantastic dancer, but see at how Kelly just owns him in the this scene. If you look closely, Kelly is both more controlled and expressive. The title number and "Good Morning" ain't too shabby either.
- Likes it a little too rough: Legendary dancer Cyd Charisse's husband once said he always knew when she spent the day dancing with Kelly because she would come home bruised and battered.
- Prone to choreographing ridiculously long dance sequences that have little or nothing to do with the plot (see Singin' in the Rain's "Broadway Melody," An American in Paris' 17-minute dance sequence)
- Xanadu ' oh, who am I kidding? That's totally a pro.
- Prone to hallucinatory fits:
It's a tough one but I'm going Kelly on this. The power behind his dancing and his feel for framing dance sequences gives him the cinematic edge. Even if we are going solely on the to-the-death-cage-match parameters, Kelly's physical prowess only demonstrates that he could snap Astaire like a twig. Now it's your turn:
Top Hat and Singin' in the Rain double feature, 7 p.m., $5-$8, Ibrahim Theater at International House, 3701 Chestnut St., 215-387-5125.
Last summer, City Paper contributor Andrew Thompson wrote a piece about Charles Hayes, a 62-year-old ex-addict whose life turned around after he began painting at the Ridge Avenue Shelter. Unsurprising to anyone familiar with art therapy, gallery owners didn't take a liking to his work. But that didn't stop him. He loaded all of his cosmic, theological paintings into a cart and pushed them around North Philly, selling them for $20 to $50 apiece. And he seemed OK with that:
"Things come to mind that I wouldn't normally think of if I didn't have a brush in my hand," he says. "If I never get in a gallery, I'm gonna always figure out things to get across to people."
Well, how's this for a feel-good story? Hayes finally got his gallery show. Since last month, his paintings have been displayed at Pageant : Soloveev (607 Bainbridge St., 215-925-1535) in the group show "Aforteore." Swing by to take a look soon ' the show closes on Nov. 22.
|Courtesy of Evangelicals|
Don't know what to do tonight? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
' Why do some bands ' like Evangelicals ' give themselves names that make it nearly impossible for them to be searched online? (Girls is the ultimate abuser of this.) Contrary to what the image to the right suggests, Evangelicals makes hazy, upbeat pop with a lot of ever-building climaxes (evangelicals climaxing, hardy har!) It also strikes me as good coat weather music. They're at Kung Fu Necktie (1250 N. Front St., 215-291-4919) at 8 p.m. for $8.
' And then you've got a few other options, depending on where your allegiances lie: There's the Erotic Literary Salon at L'Etage (Sixth and Bainbridge streets, 215-592-0656) at 8:30 p.m. for $8-$10 if you're hot under the collar; a touching reading by Say You're One of Them author Uwem Akpan at the Free Library Central Branch (1901 Vine St., 215-686-5322) at 7:30 p.m. for free; and something about Fishtown jazz at 700 (Second and Fairmount streets, 215-413-3181) for free at 9 p.m. Align with who you will.
Not satisfied? Check out today's listings for more and more and more events.
THE CURATOR: Bill Cosby art, breast painting, drunk Making Time photos, irreverent comics, Design Philadelphia lecture
Every Tuesday, Critical Mass sifts through the art blog world so you don't have to.
' McJAWN gives us a peek of one of the pieces in "The Cosby Show," a bad sweater-inspired exhibit up at Caf' Mocha (263 S. 10th St., 215-592-4303). Is it just me, or does the Temple grad look kinda smug in the illustration?
' Breast painting is an artistic endeavor pursuable only by those endowed enough to put bosom to canvas without smearing too much paint. PW Style finds out more from local breast artiste and Craigslist find, Ashley, in this odd yet stimulating interview. Can't wait till the prick painter comes out of the woodwork.
' Phrequency offers a look at this past Friday's Making Time, featuring The XX and the Phenomenal Handclap Band at Voyeur. Without being able to hear the music, it's not at all like being there. But with the help of the photos, you can easily channel your inner awkwardly observational drunk. My favorites: Nos. 19, 34, 54, and 73.
' Ahh, Phooey posts Dilbert-esque irreverent comics on an infrequent but pleasurable basis. Not all are all that funny, but this one is.
' Weeks after its blowout annual event, Design Philadelphia is hosting a free lecture by designer Tord Boontje, who works with lace. His exhibit 'Lace in Transition' at the Design Center puts all doilies to shame. Prepare to have your mind Boontjed.
Is no one else creeped out by how Jeff Bridges looks like the perfect combination of Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson? Here, he plays Bad Blake, a once famous country singer who has fallen from grace and is trying to claw his way back up to relevancy. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a young reporter who falls for our hero, despite the fact that he is freakishly older than she is. Robert Duvall gets a small trailer mention as Blake's dear ol' dad. But what's crazy here is that Colin Farrell is slated to play the hot young thang country singer but he doesn't get any type of billing here, not even trailer face time. What does that mean? Has he fallen from grace to the point where even his chiseled visage won't attract theater goers? Or is his part simply so small that giving him a mention would be superfluous? Mos Def got tons of pimpage in the Next Day Air trailer and, while he was the best part of the movie, he's in it for about ten minutes cumulatively.
What do you think the deal is?
I love movies about country music. Nashville, Tender Mercies, Sweet Dreams and my ultimate favorite: Coal Miner's Daughter, about Loretta Lynn, played expertly by Sissy Spacek. I don't know if it's the music, the oft-alcohol soaked stories or the genre's penchant for melodrama but I eat them up.
Crazy Heart is scheduled for a December 16, 2009 release.
This is our second set, like Phish.
Sunday night shows are always a tough sell, but the four-band bill including U.S. Girls (who we'll be up front and cop to not getting to the club in time to see) was as can't-miss a show for indie rockers of a certain age as you'll find. A healthy crowd of 40 or so (in their 40s or so?) crammed into tiny Kung Fu Necktie and watched as New Zealand ex-pat/Clean vet Hamish Kilgour and Lisa Siegel led The Mad Scene through a set of murky Kiwi-style noise rockers rife with alternating strumming and distorted jabs. That's the thing about New Zealand: even their poppier indie pop is prone, at any second, to spiral into fits of SY-style noise fests. Kilgour, who apparently had lost his guitar strap, spent the first few numbers seated on the floor at the side of the stage ' largely invisible to all but the front row ' with a microphone stand angled down toward him, creating a scenario where the vocals seemed to be emanating from nowhere. Siegel eventually lent the singer her bass strap and Kilgour finsihed the set standing erect.' Stu Kowowski of the legendary Axemen (who'd take the stage next), sat in on drums for the set and was joined by Adam Elliott, drummer for headliners Times New Viking, for a set-closing number where both drummers pounded on the kit.
Then came The Axemen, a New Zealand noise/punk outfit on their first tour of the U.S. despite first slithering from of the antipodean ooze in 1981 in protest of the South African rugby team's tour of the islands. Led by an apparently intoxicated Steve McCabe, the four-piece chugged through a set of classics, including a few choice numbers from Scary! Pt. III (a 1989 cassette that's been recently re-released on vinyl by Philly's Siltbreeze). The band, rounded out by guitarist/singer Bob Brannigan and in this incarnation bassist Dragan Stojanovic (the band's lineup aside from the three core members has been in constant flux), turned in a rough-around-the-edges set (thanks mostly to McCabe's inspired/drunken flailing) that alternated between all-out chaos and more crafted blues-rock tigned numbers that created as many questions as it answered. What must it have been like to watch this unit over the years, and what were these grizzled vets like in their younger, angrier days? A newer song that might be titled "Do You Wanna Be My Slave," suggests the band's as ascerbic as ever.
|Photo | Brian Howard|
|McCabe (left) and Brannigan of The Axemen.|
Though The Axemen were indeed the rare treat that made this lineup a can't-miss, Times New Viking was the main course. The Columbus-based trio have, since bursting on the scene with 2005's Dig Yourself (which got the long-dormant Siltbreeze back in business) have honed a style that's equal parts hooks cacophony, a slicing wail crossed with mistimed engine on overdrive. Keyboardist Beth Murphy's vocals remain shouted and defiantly off key. Jared Phillips' guitar parts are piercing and devastating. Elliott's drumming and singing are wound tight and delivered fast. They eschewed the typical set-encore structure for a two-set program that may have somehow crammed 30 songs into their hour on stage.' It was exhilirating, ear-spitting, and so life-affirming.
|Perigee Trade, $19.95.|
Don't know what to do tonight? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
' Everyone I know who runs regularly raaaaaves about its benefits (and yeah, I've tried it a few times, it's pretty cool), so it's great that the local nonprofit Back on My Feet gets the homeless doing it. Drink to raise money for the org at Brews for Philly, taking place at Triumph Brewing Co. (117-121 Chestnut St., 215-625-0855) at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but the more you drink, the more money you contribute to the good cause.
' Speaking of good causes: DJ Reenie Kane, a regular on the lez nightlife scene, suffered from a heart attack at last month's LGBTQ Indigo Ball. The fundraiser tonight at 8 p.m. at the Voyuer Club (1221 St. James St., 215-735-5772) goes toward Kane's medical bills, and costs $10. Who needs the public option when you have friends? (Very much JK.)
' Meal Ticket, Critical Mass' sister blog, has been telling readers about The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer's launch party since last week. Since there's a book involved (A&E territory!), as well as beer and women who love such beer, we thought we'd remind you. It happens at 6:30 p.m. at Fork (308 Market St., 215-625-9425) for $55.
Not satisfied? Check out today's listings for more and more and more events.
A concert a day keeps the doctor away.
Monday: Three girls from Japan singing (sometimes in English, sometimes in Japanese) about barbecues and glorious cities made of sweet, sweet ice cream? Yes, I think Shonen Knife is how every week should start. The super happy pop is borderline juvenile, but you can hear some real rock 'n' roll in there, too. 9 p.m., $12, with Jeff the Brotherhood (who you can read about in this week's Kaleidoscope), Johnny Brenda's, 1201 Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684. Tuesday: The original members of the Cranberries will be at the Electric Factory as part of their first tour in seven years. Remember Y100? Remember hearing "Zombie" and "Linger" on there all the time? Yeah, those were the days. Opener Griffin House seems way excited to be playing with them at the Electric Factory. 8 p.m., $35, 421 N. 7th St., 215-627-1332. Wednesday: Jesus Lizard singer David Yow's voice will give you chills, and probably nightmares for weeks. Known for their impressive live performances and their ability to be terrifying in the best possible way. 8 p.m., $20, with Noveller, Starlight Ballroom, 460 N. 9th St., 215-769-1530. Thursday: Sweet, but almost whiny, We All Have Hooks For Hands resists the emo train to nowhere and lets their sound keep a wispy, twangy edge. They're not the most original, but they're just catchy enough to keep you reeled in. With 15 Keys, Old Man Cactus, Kickin' Bear & Astronaut Jones at The Fire, 412 W. Girard Ave., 267-671-9298, 9 p.m., $7. Friday: Even if you haven't yet heard the Philly-based The Swimmers, you've probably at least heard their name around since it's been gathering decent local band buzz. There's something about their cute poppy sound that's alluring. The first few times you listen to one of their songs you start to notice little nuances you may have missed. With Goldspot & The Black Fortys, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., 9 p.m., $5-$9, 215-222-1400. Saturday: The Kinks singer Ray Davies has put out various eccentric albums in 2009 alone. Two of them were insert-into-appropriate-movie-scene-Hollywood-esque instrumental albums, another was Davies attempt at Latin music, and the latest was choral versions of Kinks favorites. While I found the choral Kinks best-of the most intriguing (call me boring, that's fine) I have to wonder what his performance at the Tower Theater will be like. A Latin chorus of Kinks songs used in movies? 8 p.m., $39.50-$49.50, Tower Theatre, 69th and Ludlow Sts., Upper Darby, 610-352-2887. Sunday: As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. Actually, even though you could end your week with more music from Japan, Melt Banana couldn't be further from Monday's Shonen Knife. The racing noise rock will make your brain ooze out of your ears. Sweat will pour and pulses will pound. Leave your epileptic friends at home for this one. Catch 'em with Satanized at the First Unitarian Church, 7:30 p.m., $12, 2125 Chestnut St., 267-295-2710.
City Paper welcomes Jonathan Wallis, assistant professor of art history at Moore College of Art and Design, to our Critical Mass team. His column, 'Perspective,' will run monthly in this space, bringing a critical eye to a visual art scene that continues to thrive in Philadelphia. Questions? E-mail Wallis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Water of the Flowery Mill, by Arshile Gorky, oil on canvas, 1944.|
To Be or Not to Be '
A retrospective exhibition should be more than just the collection and display of work from the lifetime of an artist. It should also be necessary in some way, whether due to changes in critical approaches to art history, new scholarship on the artist's life and work, hitherto unknown or unseen works that revise the existing inventory of the artist, or a new curatorial approach. "Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective," at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is an august example of a proper retrospective ' almost 30 years has elapsed since the last large gathering of Gorky's work, and it is clearly time for another look.
Michael R. Taylor, the curator of the exhibition, never chooses his exhibitions lightly ' he is a curator and an art historian when he tackles his projects (this one was five years in the making). For Taylor, it's not just about looking at art; it's about asking questions that a retrospective can hopefully answer. With three new biographies about Gorky, as well as revisions to the study and understanding of the development of modern American abstraction and surrealism in recent decades, Taylor recognized that it was time to revisit the artist's life and work, and the show delivers grandly. It is a visual spectacle ' a feast for the eyes, and also a provocative reconsideration of one of the most talented and self-driven painters in American modern art.
It's hard to go wrong with an artist like Gorky. His long periods of self-imposed apprenticeships with artists such as C'zanne and Picasso clearly paid off; his ability to absorb the modern languages of pictorial structure and the handling of paint and color stands out among his contemporaries. It's not that he is better ' he is different. I don't know of any other modern artist who enacted apprenticeships with recent and current 'masters' and stayed closely dedicated to them for such long and intensive periods of study. Gorky works like an academic within a modern vocabulary, and Taylor's curatorial decisions expose his artistic process during the course of the exhibition. The drawings and paintings in the "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia" series from 1931-34, for example, guide viewers from an inspirational source by Giorgio de Chirico to a final painted solution unleashed almost entirely from where the artist began (observing this creative track should push aside any accusations by his detractors of a lack of individuality or originality in Gorky's 'apprenticeships'). It's obvious that Gorky's craft is a labor of love at all times. His work invites viewers to relish in the details ' the way he turns and molds colors together, builds edges, and gracefully drags a liner brush across the canvas with linear elegance. Gorky knows how to paint, and as a disciplined 'student' his time was well spent.
|Organization, by Arshile Gorky, oil on canvas, 1933-36.|
Add to this formal expertise a tale of personal struggle and contradictions ' the tragic death of his mother in his arms as a young boy in Armenia on a forced march during the Turkish genocide, the fabrication of an artistic pedigree that included a stint with Kandinsky in Paris, a changing of identity (his birth name was Vosdanig Adoian and he 'became' Russian when he arrived in New York in 1924), and then a series of calamitous events involving betrayal, abandonment, personal injury and eventual suicide ' and there is a dramatic show in the making. But Taylor does not rest on Gorky's artistic and biographical laurels. Instead he brings forth new and challenging ideas about the artist, gleaned from research into archival materials and personal interviews with Gorky's relatives and friends. The catalog, a collection of essays by several authors, covers new scholarly ground ' exploring the artist's political leanings, the possibility that his masqueraded identity served as a coping mechanism for trauma and immigrant cultural adjustment, while also presenting new insights into his murals for the Newark airport in 1936-37 and his methods of reaching a finalized painterly composition.
The most significant contribution of the exhibition is Taylor's revisionist examination of Gorky's legacy within modern art. In short, he suggests that the posthumous writings emphasizing Gorky's importance to American abstract art overshadowed his continuing dedication to European surrealism. Publications that celebrated the artist's position as an 'early master' of Abstract Expressionism, writings by American critics that attacked surrealism, the return of many of his surrealist friends to Europe, as well as later falsified letters by Gorky's nephew in which the 'artist' disparaged surrealism and replaced its importance with a celebration of Armenian art, all contributed to Gorky being written into history without sufficient acknowledgement of his interest in and dedication to Breton's surrealism in the 1940s.
|Central Park at Dusk, by Arshile Gorky,
oil on canvas, 1936-42
Taylor's view does not deny Gorky's important influence on the next generation of American painters. What it illustrates is that part of his artistic approach was unseen by artists and critics (namely his preparatory studies and drawings), and therefore what seemed like spontaneous acts of painting were in actuality more aligned with surrealist practices of automatism and even earlier academic art, where the final composition was transferred to the canvas only after the majority of formal issues were resolved. This artistic approach and his continued friendships with Breton and other surrealists during the 1940s conflicts with the promotion of the artist as a proto-Abstract Expressionist by curators, critics and art historians in the decades immediately following his death. Taylor's critique of how Gorky has been written into American modern art history is polemical but convincing, and the evidence presented in the catalog is persuasive.
The visual evidence for Taylor's claims is displayed in the largest room at the far back of the exhibition hall. The influence of Gorky's surrealist artist-friend Roberto Matta, who guided him into automatism and demonstrated how to thin paints to create spatial washes and expressive effects, combines with an immersion in nature that opens a wellspring in Gorky's art during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The focus on artistic inspiration through nature in the room reveals a psychic nostalgia via surrealism that carried Gorky back to the pre-tragic years of his childhood on his father's farm in Armenia. A series of drawings made in 1943 at his mother-in-law's rural home in Lincoln, Va., teem with energetic color and line and contain imagery that hovers somewhere between visible and intuitive perception. The decision to place this period of work, Gorky's best, in the farthest interior space makes curatorial sense, since the viewer then 'turns back' into a second long series of rooms that lead through the work from the last years of the artist's life. Surrealism becomes the 'pivot' in the exhibition, and the room containing the major works of the early 1940s elicits a world of colliding dualities: color and line, abstraction and visible subject matter, beauty in nature and destruction in war, and joy and despair in Gorky's personal life. Surrealism thrives on convulsive forces such as these, if an artist is able to reconcile them into a greater whole ' Gorky can, and did.
|The Artist and His Mother, by Arshile Gorky,
oil on canvas, 1926-36
At his public lecture, Taylor described a successful retrospective exhibition as one that unfolds like a drama through a series of acts. Could there be another artist more fitting for a Shakespearean tragedy than Arshile Gorky? Innocence, love, loss, struggle, betrayal, brief moments of elation ' it is all there. The PMA retrospective takes audiences on a curatorial journey in five acts: tragic beginnings in Armenia, pseudo-fathering through C'zanne, mentorship with Picasso, self-realization through Nature and Surrealism, and a tragic downfall that ends, as Shakespeare's works so often do, in the untimely death of the protagonist. Gorky's The Artist and His Mother is the great soliloquy in this tragedy, relegated (fittingly) to a tangential room in the early section of the exhibition. We exit the chronological narrative briefly and stand suspended in time in a chapel-like space, gaining privileged access to the private life and inner thoughts of an artist otherwise veiled by his fabricated public persona and abstract visual language. It seems impossible to imagine the power this image, based on a photograph taken seven years before the tragic loss of his mother, held for the artist. One drawing in particular, from the Art Institute of Chicago, employs subtle shifts in value with touches of thin but strong lines to evoke the return of his mother, and you sense that she is almost within reach. Gorky never stopped working on the images of his mother, as if doing so would somehow cause her to become a permanent part of his past. And while the elegant abstractions of the 1940s are for many historians unrivaled in modern art, observing the tender care and love imbued into these personal portraits is perhaps the most moving aspect of the entire exhibition.
Like the famous soliloquy in Hamlet so crucial to the outcome of the tragic narrative, the face of the young boy holding a flower with his seated mother next to him remain vivid as one moves through the rest of the exhibition ' and the later works seem to make more sense for it. The Artist and his Mother is a fulcrum for the abstract work in the show, allowing access behind the formal walls of self-imposed 'apprenticeships' and the veil of surrealist abstraction. It reveals much about the artist: complicated biographically, a private sufferer, strangely distant and inaccessible yet powerfully expressive through formal painting.
The exhibition 'curtain' closes with an uplifting testament to the artist's creative reach: a painting titled The Limit (1947). Although Gorky's last painting (found in progress on his easel when he took his own life in 1948) is seen nearby, this curatorial decision changes the tenor of the retrospective from a biographical journey to an artistic quest for continued innovation through disciplined painterly practice, even in the face of extreme personal hardship and physical anguish. A mysteriously liminal abstraction, The Limit suggests a doorway between the worlds of surrealist automatism and the growing abstract tendencies in the late 1940s in New York City. When Gorky discussed the painting with his dealer Julian Levy, he remarked that this was as far as he was going to push it. Without question, the PMA retrospective reveals that Gorky always pushed with great force, and even within a short career his contribution to modern art reached the edge of the possible.
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