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6.29.09 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW

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1. ART Robert Taplin: Everything Real is Imagined (After Dante)
These nine vignettes or dioramas interpreting Dante’s visions of hell as modern day parables are beyond provocative, stunning and gorgeously executed. Each diorama incorporates strikingly surrealistic resin figures set into these artfully crafted scenes with the most perfect lighting. In one, a living room is depicted, lit by a single lamp casting the most glorious golden light. In another you pear down into a ravaged hideaway, hauntingly lit at the entrance of the cave, resin faces staring at you in horror. Taking it as a whole, I seriously have never seen anything like it and wish I could have spent more time taking it all in.

2. GADGET The Roku
You might ask yourself, “Do I really need another little box to sit atop my DVD player, cable box, Tivo, etc.?” But if that additional box is a Roku, then the answer is a definitive yes. This little box wirelessly connects to your Netflix queue and allows you to watch any movie or TV show that is available on line (over 12,000 titles). So for all those times your Netflix envelopes have stared you in the face because you’re really not interested in watching that Bergman film you put on your queue two years ago or that new indie that was all the rage at Sundance, now you have a cure! Just turn on your Roku and pick whatever you’d like for instant viewing pleasure. This, my friends, is a must for any household.

3. ART Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective

Three floors of Mass MoCA have been taken over by this exhibition for the next quarter century and I was mighty skeptical of this decision as I have long felt LeWitt’s work is a bit of a sham as he doesn’t actually touch his creations (rather giving drones the plans from which to execute his designs). However, seeing all three floors of his master works of wall drawings, it all becomes quite clear how incredibly innovative this man was. He is confronting the notion of art through his medium, through the mixed media he uses, the audacious colors, and especially with the fact that he doesn’t have to touch the art in order to create it. Taking this all in, you truly understand how he constantly defied notions of modern art and turned the idea of creation on its head.

4. VIDEO INSTALLATIONS Guy Ben-Ner: Thursday the 12th
Much of this work reminded me of my youthful days of playing around with my parents’ video camera. All the little tricks and fun things you try to do to create a new world are here in Ben-Ner’s work. His interpretation of Moby Dick is at once hilarious and insightful, poking fun and exploring the origins of cinemas, the techniques that created our modern film language. In his later work, he humorously tackles stealing with a short film using IKEA as the sets (he actually shot a movie in the store, using the living room and kitchen setups as if they were his own home, as shoppers meandered by). While his work often has the look of low quality filmmaking, it is filled with some of the most intelligent commentary on storytelling and modern narrative I’ve seen.

5. GAME Cuban Dominos
I’m not going to go into detail on the rules of this game, but I will say that once they are learned, this will become an instant classic. Based on a whole lot on luck, it still actively challenges the brain as to how your dominos will play out so you can be the first to play your entire hand. Watch as other people unknowingly screw you over. Watch as your friends start railing on each other because the perfect move has now been blocked. Watch as winning a round doesn’t guarantee an overall victory in the game. Make yourself a pitcher of mojitos, dump out all the 91 dominos and let the fun truly begin.

6. VIDEO INSTALLATION Chris Doyle: Apocalypse Management
I stood mesmerized in front of this massive digital screen watching haunting Bosche-esque images swirl in front of me. A destroyed street is depicted in graphic novel quality, as seven or eight figures demonstrate the ghastly atrocities happening in the aftermath of an unknown disaster. A man hangs impaled on a large decapitated telephone pull. A woman continually jumps at the bottom of the screen, trying to grasp a hook hanging just above her head. These Sisyphus like figures keep moving, no blood, no gore, just the abject horror of watching people struggle. Add on top of this an overwhelming soundtrack in which screams become operatic notes that hang in the air, unmoving, contrasted with the shocking transparency of the animation in front of you.

7. EXHIBITION This Is Killing Me
This mish-mash of an exhibition for the most part bored me, but the work of Sean Landers stood out as a gleaming exception. Creating flow charts of mental thoughts, Landers finds humor in how our minds can bounce around starting at one point and finding itself at quite the opposite point in the end. A large canvas has little bits of information, a whole heap of arrows directing you from one to the next. You find your own brain trying to make the connections and multiple phrases work for multiple other phrases. (Sounds confusing? It beautifully is). Landers also created framed letters on which he circles bits of information and draws arrows off to further explain the details of the point . It’s an amazing approach to understanding how layered our own simple expressions of self can be. A simple email to someone that knows us well can encompass a huge number of stories without our ever realizing how much implied in each word.

8. MOVIE Working (1982)
This PBS created piece wonderfully captured the 1970s Broadway musical Working, based on the book of the same name by Studs Terkel. It’s a very odd concept for a show, but actually works quite nicely as the camera takes us into various all-American workplaces to hear the real stories and dreams of real people. Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror, Spin City) is heartbreaking as an educated steel mill worker. The late great Thigpen plays a receptionist. Barbara Hershey plays a call girl. James Taylor illuminates the long nightlife of a trucker. Patti LaBelle belts a song as a cleaning woman. But the one who steals the show is Eileen Brennan demonstrating the monotony of molding rubber. I can’t imagine how this would have worked on stage, but with this all-star cast and intelligent, if dated direction, the piece is a strong and effective look at the workforce that kept America going.

9. MOVIE Superbad (2007)
I’m a little shocked at how long it took me to get to this movie, and now that I have, I can be very behind with all my McLovin jokes. While not exactly the best movie to come out of the Apatow genre, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Better than anything, it gives a very frank portrayal of how teenagers have very finite things on their mind, booze and sex. It’s a hilarious journey to find both of them, filled with an excellent cameo cast that lends credence to the serviceably good performances from Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. Also, this one came thanks to my Roku… I wasn’t in the mood for my heavier Netflix fare, so I went in search of something that would make me laugh. This quite satisfied that requirement.

10. EVENT Watching the Pride fireworks from my roof…
I heard the loud bangs and I ran up the fire escape to steal a glance in the cool night air (it may be June, but it’s still pretty cool). It felt all very New York to be standing on the tar beach roof watching massive fireworks fly over the Hudson in an array of colors all in honor of Pride. And in my usual fashion, I left town to avoid the throngs of people in my hood, but I’m happy that I got to share at least a little of the celebration, and on top of that it nicely coincided with my actual birthday, so I got to pretend that New York created a fire works display all for me and I got to choose the music to go along with it thanks to my iPod. Gotta love the ability to customize events to work just for you in New York…

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