3.30.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW
This expansive exhibition is a bit tough to swallow in one day as the Guggenheim has brought together a wealth of modern artists who have been influenced by Asian art (a fairly generic concept). It is the artists that you wouldn’t expect to see that bring about the most interesting revelations. Looking at some drawings by Mary Cassatt next to Japanese woodblock printing the similarities are striking. The same occurs with landscapes of Georgia O’Keefe and Whistler who turns a London vista into a near copy of a bridge in Kyoto. The exhibition even takes on performance and music including a large grouping of work by composer John Cage, whose scores upon viewing make about as much sense as listening to them. But I was most fascinated by a created environment called “Dream House,” which apparently was the birthplace of the minimalist classical movement. Removing your shoes, you step into a whitewashed dark environment; purple and pink lights illuminate hanging shapes as loud droning noises come from huge speakers. At first you want to cover your ears, until slowly the resonating sounds begin to make sense. It reminded me of the first time I listened to a piano composition by Philip Glass, a very happy moment to recall.
2. FOOD Hill Country
BBQ doesn’t get much more country or delicious than this place, step inside and you might as well be in Austin, TX, where this restaurant draws its inspiration. You are given a card, which you take up to a big meat counter where you choose between beef and pork dishes served to you price per pound. Then you walk over with your massive tray of meat (wrapped in brown butcher paper) and you choose from a delectable selection of sides, portioned in three different sizes. Take it back to your table where some fine BBQ sauce awaits you, a mason jar full of ice water and whole roll of paper towels too, because yes, it gets messy. The beef ribs, the boneless prime rib and pork ribs were all delectable, juicy and falling off the bone. But it’s the sides that won my heart, the gooey Longhorn cheddar mac and cheese, bursting with flavor campfire baked beans, sweet skillet cornbread with ancho honey butter and tasty white shoepeg corn pudding. I would especially recommend going on a Monday night when it’s all-you-can-eat for $25. [Thanks to Blakey Blake for this one]
3. ALBUM Poseidon and the Bitter Bug Indigo Girls
I was going to write up this new album they released, but it’s actually the all-acoustic second disc that’s truly worth listening to. Throw on “I’ll Change” and you’ll think you’re listening to a classic Indigo Girls album, the strumming guitar mixed in with deceptively simple melodies, Amy and Emily’s voices harmonizing in that familiar sound that just sort of washes over you. Listening to “Love of Our Lives,” you are definitely reminded more of their recent work on Despite Our Differences and All That We Let In, with the more pop oriented songs that really don’t work on the produced album, but when heard acoustically have quite a bit to offer. Overall the album is a bit on the morose side, talking about lost loves and ghosts. And, as always, the music is steeped in nostalgia, most clearly and superbly heard in “Digging for Your Dream” documenting a woman’s attempt to leave her life behind, a life of alcoholism and abuse. Not the cheeriest of subjects, but handled with the usual beauty and grace of this excellent band.
4. MUSEUM The Noguchi Museum
It’s amazing how a little excursion into the boroughs can drop you off into surreal other lands. This time it was Queens to see a museum dedicated to the sculptural works of Isamu Noguchi. The stone monoliths, smooth and rough, concave and convex all at the same time are beyond pleasing to the eye in indescribable ways. These are works that force you to stare at them, to walk around and explore the intricacies of the natural stone and the unnatural processes that have been added. To be ridiculous but apropos, it’s all very Zen. The building itself is gorgeous, loft-like with large metal sliding doors, uneven wood floors and beautiful frosted glass windows. I would especially recommend heading out there now to see a special exhibition of Akari, which are paper lanterns that you would find at Pearl River or Pier 1, except these are true art, Noguchi doing amazing things to transform the classical art form into a modern comment on space, light and existence.
5. PARK Socrates Sculpture Park
Nestled in Long Island City along the East River, there’s this little area devoted to modern art. An incredible two paned billboard by Robin Rhodes welcomes you into a grassy nook that is mostly used by dogs and their owners. A spray painted car sits along one side, a man with no front or back stands before the water’s edge high on a pedestal. There’s a large broken pane of golden glass that is seemingly both reflective and transparent, not possible, yet visually it works. But my favorite has to be the automatic sliding doors in the middle of the park. You look at it, you know what it is, but you just can’t believe it’s actually there. And then you wonder, does it actually operate. And sure enough, as you creep closer and closer, the doors suddenly fly open. It’s absurdist and surreal, making it quite perfect. I fully endorse hoppin’ on the N or W train and making your way out there (and you can stop by the beautiful Bel Aire diner for some greasy eats at very non-NYC prices).
6. MOVIE Aliens Vs Monster in 3D (2009)
This movie is decently funny, although it does make you realize how good Pixar is at making these types of movies (‘cause this was no Pixar film). The true heart and soul comes from a female lead, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, who is suddenly turned into a gigantic woman when a meteor falls on her right before her wedding forcing her to realize that she is better/stronger/worthier than just marrying a man and helping set up his life, providing a wonderfully positive and surprisingly hip message. Throw in the delightfully hilarious comic voice of Seth Rogen as the brainless B.O.B. and Stephen Colbert as the equally brainless President, shooting off timely one-liners. Add it all up and you basically have a B-movie about monsters and aliens. I must admit that the references to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and other Sci-Fi works and pretty much every stupid move the American government has made, provides a nice afternoon away, especially when viewed in color-rich tru-3D. But it all just makes me wonder how much goes over the kids’ heads?
7. ALBUM Mercy Rocco DeLuca & The Burden
The title track opens the CD with quiet dissonant piano chords quickly joined by pulsing strings, DeLuca’s distinctive voice slowly enters in falsetto before dropping into a lower register and then finally breaking into that signature soul rattling howl. The rest of the album pretty much takes the same cue, moving between subdued reflective tracks and more visceral rocking anthems. “The Painting” is an interesting ambient track, with Native American percussion over harsh organ chords, the combination is a fascinating amalgam as it breaks open into full out raga territory with the Dobro turning out sitar sounding chords. Exploring equally odd territory, you have a song like “Lilja” which just expands outward, repeated chords, soft percussion and DeLuca’s voice slowly rolling over all of it, definitely inflecting the music with bits of Middle Eastern flare. But I think DeLuca really hits his stride in songs like “Save Yourself,” where you can hear the raw energy he’s throwing into his music, capturing that visceral vibe he does so well when performing live, giving that whole impression that he must have sold his soul to the devil to be this talented.
8. MOVIE Duplicity (2009)
This new effort from Tony Gilroy (of Michael Clayton fame) has produced a wonderful throwback to the biting thrillers of the ‘30s and ‘40s when men and women could throw barbs at each other as a sign of foreplay. It doesn’t hurt to have Clive Owen and Julia Roberts in your leading roles, where they both sizzle with the star quality that stars should have. Telling the story in flashback provides enough intrigue to keep the audience going without completely losing them in temporal confusion. Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson do wonders with not much to work with as the dueling CEOs. And I’m always happy to see Denis O’Hare, as Duke, playing his usual nutty onscreen presence. At the end of the day, it’s nice to see a decently intelligent script written about romance, where both sides are willing to get a little dirty in their chatter, be quick witted and speak in ways only movie stars can.
9. PHOTOGRAPHS Underwater Fairytale
The work of Elena Kalis is full of mystical beauty, especially in this series of children, dressed up in classic fairy tale garb, shot underwater in the Bahamas. The colors are as rich as imagination allows. The reference to witches, princes, tumbles through looking glasses and rabbit holes are all clearly there. But the addition of the purity and joy coming from the children subjects provide a wonderful contrast, capturing what we wish fairy tales were actually about. That they aren’t moral tales, or dark warnings of what the real world has to offer. Instead, Kalis has stripped everything down to the pure innocence with which we offer up these tales. I also love how she’s submerged her subjects in water, but rather than pretend like they’re suspended in a void (as much of this type of photography does) she plays with the water textures, the supreme reflections created in the rippling ceiling and the luminous bubbles that emanate from the kids. It’s a wonderfully playful series that thankfully has so much more depth than a baby put into a watering bucket… thank you Anne Geddes, but we’ve had enough.
10. TV Taking the Stage
Following the lives of five juniors and seniors at a performing arts high school, this show is an attempt at bringing us the “real kids” of Fame. Sadly, MTV has adopted The Hills format of lengthy gazes into the camera, scripted interchanges between the kids and a camera style that makes you feel like you’re watching a ‘90s late night soap. Thankfully the kids themselves shine. Jasmine has all the grace of the ballet dancer she will become (except in her personal life), Mia is destined to become a singer/songwriter of some sort (just not as famous as she probably thinks she’ll be). So for anyone that enjoyed Center Stage, Step Up, How She Move, Fame and countless other movies about kids pushing through boundaries to perform, this show is for you. And I’d be hard pressed to find anyone that wasn’t captivated by the cafeteria dance-off in the first episode, even if it was totally staged for the cameras.