Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Susan Boyle

Monday, April 20th, 2009
Photo: ITV via nymag.com

Photo: ITV via nymag.com

I don’t know what this has to do with anything, but there’s something I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past week. You’ve already heard about her, probably, as she’s the viral video of the moment (some 50 million Youtube viewings as of this writing). If not, check out the video here.

A lot of people writing about her bring up the discrepancy between her looks and her voice; to me, that isn’t the issue at all. The issue is the fact that such a voice exists at all; it is “the most beautiful, pitch-perfect, goosebump-making voice,” as India Knight wrote in her beautiful piece for New York Magazine, called “Life Worth Living: Why Susan Boyle is the First Big Star of the Global Recession. ”

She sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables by Andrew Lloyd Weber:

“I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die”

And it really can’t be described much better than the way India Knight wrote it: “Everything terrible about these shows—everything ghastly and cheap and cruel, everything that harks back to Victorian freak shows—fell away. And the thing that’s supposed to happen but never really does—the blossoming of a person, and of their audience, through the transformative power of beauty and, yes, art, even if it’s a sappy show tune—did.”

Really, Susan Boyle is just a pure artistic talent. No packaging, no pretense, no ego, no theory. Just a beautiful voice with an indescribable depth of emotion and musical sophistication behind it.

It reminds me of the last scene in the movie Basquiat (dir. Julian Schnabel, 1996), where Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) tells the story of a sound that is so beautiful that it made everybody who heard the sound lift their hands to the air and weep with joy. It’s one of the clumsier scenes in an otherwise pitch-perfect movie (the clip is above), but it was one of many vignettes and metaphors about the power of beauty and art in that movie, and it’s one of the only ways I can think of to describe Susan Boyle’s beautiful sound. The first measure of “I Dreamed a Dream,” as sung by Susan Boyle, is as close to a perfect sound as I have heard.

The Gugger

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

guggenheim_2046_491025There is a show right now at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City that is sort of related to my current Film Architecture theme, The Future is Asian. It is called “The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia,” and the exhibitions’ webpage is here.

guggenheim

The quality of the Guggenheim’s gallery spaces notwithstanding, it’s appropriate that the exhibition is being mounted in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, for FLW himself was heavily influenced by Asian artists. He was an avid collector of Japanese painting and prints (at one point supporting his architectural practice by dealing in Japanese prints), and some of his works show a very distinct Asian influence. Below is his Imperial Hotel near Nagoya, Japan.

flw_imperialhotel

Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, however, wasn’t explicity featured in the “Third Mind” exhibition (you could argue that the museum itself was a sort of third presence in the exhibition). In fact, I think the one impression I was left with during and after the show was the impossibilty of the curatorial mission. Imagine you are to select 100 pieces of artwork that are supposed to demonstrate the influence of Asia (already a dubious concept) on America (another dubious concept). Who do you select? Who do you leave out? What constitues an “Asian influence?” A specfic sort of minimalism? Or a brand of expressionism? Or a strain of geometric patterning? It just leaves me wondering, What is Asian? What is American? And boy, the Guggenheim NY sucks for displaying art.

franz_kline_cardinal

However, this isn’t to say the exhibition wasn’t worthwhile. Museums are always fun (at least to me, minus the fact that you have to trek all the way up to the Upper East Side). Though there certainly were some headscratching works,  there were a handful of transcendent works from Agnes Martin and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as always, but whose works don’t duplicate well (you have to stand in front of them). Nothing Asian or American about it. Simply transcendent.

agnes_martin

Memories of Murder

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

memories2

Memories of Murder
2003, 130 minutes
directed by:  Bong Joon-ho

A friend and I recently had a conversation about the contemporary artist John Currin. He has had feature articles written about him for several years now, including one in the New Yorker, which is no small feat for an American painter alive and working today. He’s a graduate of Yale’s MFA program (Mafia of Art) and a critical darling. In short, he’s received no small amount of critical and professional success.

john-currin

However, there’s something palpably underwhelming about his work. It sometimes feels like what he’s doing is the art world equivalent of a PhD thesis. It’s intelligent and it represents diligent, hard work, but there’s no energy or fire. There’s no brashness. There’s no urgency. There’s nothing in them that really represents a real risk of failure. I don’t mean to single out John Currin for this, for I certainly like and respect his work. I think what is unsettling is the issue of risk. I think the Spanish have a word for it: cojones.

koolhaas_jussieu

In a way, the architects we reference the most were almost unpalatably punk in their youth—the competition-rule-breaking entries of early Rem Koolhaas, the suburban house by Frank Gehry, the distressed drawings of Thom Mayne, the paintings of Zaha Hadid, or the art and dance installations of Diller & Scofidio. They gained attention because they were desperately searching for a way around the established methods to get towards something more honest and expressive. That in the end is what creativity is, and that is why we know them today.

photo

Several years ago, when Jackie Chan made his first American production movie, several interviewers asked Jackie what the difference was between making a movie in America versus making a movie in Hong Kong. Well, Jackie said, the difference was that in America, the movie-makers actually think about things like safety, preparation, planning, and insurance. There is a whole industry that revolves around making sure people don’t get hurt. Apparently, in contrast, back in Hong Kong, somebody would dream up a stunt, no matter how insane, and whoever had the balls would just get up and try to do it on film. If that person got hurt, they would just get another guy. If, after a few maimed guys, they decided the stunt was probably impossible, they would just think of another stunt. And so a movie got made. In short, that was the path to success for Jackie Chan, who literally started his career as a stuntman, and apparently was the guy who survived all the stunts.

jackie_chan2

It seems there is no shortage of Asian people willing to do stupid things at a moment’s notice—which is precisely why it’s so exciting. Asia is producing so much: not only in terms of products, but most importantly, in terms of ideas. As I’ve written before, this is why Asia warrants attention; not only because new stuff is being done in Asia, but also because new ways of interpreting and expressing that stuff are being formulated. Asia is just so punk.

memories

The director Bong Joon-ho became famous most recently for his film, The Host, the highest grossing film of all time in South Korea, which the New York Times called a “feverishly imaginative genre hybrid.” This film, Memories of Murder, is arguably a better, more inventive and surprising film. That’s why, comparatively, the artist John Currin just feels like reading a good academic paper. He just went through all the established, formulaic steps to become a good considerate, professional artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

American IV

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

933037_20080320_screen017

I’ve written before about the emerging importance of video games as a medium, but I recently came across a great article in Time magazine about one specific game, Grand Theft Auto.

There isn’t much that I can really add to that article, but I remember walking around New York last summer when the GTA IV ads were all over the city and thinking about how wonderful it was that such a brilliant and ambitious work of art such as GTA IV was able to advertise itself with such prominence (see below). Because of the thematic nature of GTA, these things didn’t feel like advertisements: they felt like a narrative layering on top of the cultural atmosphere of New York. They insinuated themselves into the culture-scape of the city. There was something so uncanny, surreal (and dare I say meta) about it: a video game whose subject was the American Dream, based in a fictionalized New York City, being advertised in the “real” New York City.

From Nicknoromal via Flickr

From Nicknormal via Flickr

Imagine William Faulkner being advertised and celebrated on a scale like this in Mississippi, or Peter Zumthor in Switzerland. . .

zumthor1

Artists and architects have been trying to develop new ways to understand the city since the dawn of, well, history. The Situationists in the 50′s and 60′s used new media techniques (collage, montage, and psychotropics) to attempt to better represent and understand the city, and some of their documents are equal parts beautiful and challenging.

debord

There have been a number of articles that have talked about the way Grand Theft Auto represents the city. It’s more than I want to get into at this point, but I think it may be helpful to point out that not too long ago another medium was struggling for artistic relevance, dealing with issues that seemed outside of propriety and taste, and was starting to develop novel techniques to address those issues. That’s right, I’m talking about film; and I think the Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver is a good analog to compare Grand Theft Auto. It helps that both Taxi Driver and Grand Theft Auto share certain thematic ideas about the American city in general and New York City in particular.

taxidriver

It struck me that this may be a golden period for video games, much like the one enjoyed by movies in the 70′s  (a period where directors were working under a studio system that was flush with cash and willing to gamble on unproven talent): it is clear that video games are worth commercial investment, yet because the field is so young there isn’t an established authority to dictate the way that the medium will progress. In essence, video game creators are working with nearly unlimited means and almost no authority. No ivy towers, no establishment, no metaphorical patriarchs. One of the game’s creators says in the article that, “It’s not academicized; there’s no orthodoxy on how things are done, so we can do whatever we want. We make it up as we go along! As soon as we get told, ‘Yes, games are high art. They’re almost as high as painting and slightly less than dance,’ it’s over. Freedom is dead at that point. Then the argument just becomes about people’s egos.”

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I love Grand Theft Auto and can’t say enough about the game itself and the ambitions it represents.

More is less?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009


Villareal “Multiverse” National Gallery of Art, Washington DC from Walter Patrick Smith on Vimeo.

I don’t know about you, but doesn’t this feel a little pre-2009?

Nathan Rich

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009
Architectural history is loaded with architects who were originally trained as painters or who painted extensively as part of their work. Le Corbusier, James Stirling, John Hejduk, Lebbeus Woods, Frank Stella, Massimo Scolari, and Michelangelo are a few that come to the top of my head. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m constantly looking for ideas that artists are playing with for architectural inspiration. These next images and text comes from one of my friends, Nathan Rich, who was a classmate of mine at Yale and shared with me a background studying painting.


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My painting process is one of precision and control.  I attempt hyper-real effects through a slow, careful manipulation of the paint.  There’s a sort of meditation in this slowness – an extended focus on a single subject.

I choose impermanent subjects, such as water, and try to draw energy from the effort to harness the uncontrollable; then I funnel that energy into my architectural work, where I still seek to wield control but real-world compromises are inevitable.  So, both fields are ways in which I try to control the uncontrollable.  But painting is a contained, personal world in which I can actually succeed in this effort.   Architecture, on the other hand, lives in the sprawling, messy world “out there” where such control isn’t possible.


kites2


The painting studio thus gives me a critical distance from the parallel daily practice of architecture.  There, I can practice giving up control and letting the struggle, the journey, be fulfilling in its own right.

-nathan rich

www.nathanrich.org