Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Piano Titan Vijay Iyer Scores a Harrowing Multimedia Performance

Last night at National Sawdust, pianist Vijay Iyer joined with bassist Linda May Han Oh and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan to create a somber, stunned, broodingly opaque and occasionally picturesque backdrop for Teju Cole‘s  allusively harrowing spoken word narrative, Blind Spot. Informed by history, portraiture, archaeology and Greek myth, Cole’s vignettes traced decades of humans being inhuman to each other, and how conveniently we forget.

Cole didn’t waste any time making his point. One of the first of the photo projections in his series of vignettes was a snapshot of a simple piece of poster graffiti in a Berlin neighborhood which once housed a gestapo torture complex. The message was simple. In black-and-white English, it said, “Sign here.” Cole related that when he returned a week later, the poster had been replaced by a billboard. “Darkness is lack of information,” he mused later during the performance. Is it ever.

Cole nonchalantly offered that his way of seeing had been radically changed by a blindness scare and then an apparently successful eye operation. The unseen seems to be as central to his work as the visible. An elegaic sensibility wove through his quietly provocative, interconnected narrative. Death – by torture, drowning, car accident, Klansmen and genocide – was a constant and pervasive presence.

The music matched the words and visuals. Iyer set the stage with a simple binary chord, a distant star against an obsidian sky. From time to time, the group improvisation became more programmatic – rushing water imagery and a sudden gust off a Swiss lake, for example. The most harrowing moment was when Cole related visiting the site of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and referenced both McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison’s roles in John Coltrane’s classic elegy for the victims, Alabama. Iyer and then Oh both quoted Coltrane’s pianist and bassist briefly – Oh’s sudden, frantic downward cascade might have been the night’s most stunning moment.

There were many others. Iyer began by working uneasy harmonies against a central tone, raga style, eventually building a Satie-esque menace while Brennan bowed her bells. As the night went on, Oh became more present, whether with an unexpected, circling series of harmonics that evoked Stephan Crump, or spare, emphatic accents moving with a slow but immutable defiance away from the center.

Brennan took the lead when Iyer went into Lynchian soundtrack mode, adding shivery chromatic phrases over macabre piano allusions that Iyer quickly embellished so as to keep the suspense from ever reaching any kind of resolution. The three finally reached toward closure with a concluding requiem, but even there the gloom didn’t lift. Earlier, Cole recalled a medieval painting that depicts Agamemnon offering his daughter as a sacrifice to the gods so that he could start a war with Troy: the anguished tyrant has his back to the viewer, unable to face what he’s just done. These days it looks more and more like the House of Atreus is us.

Iyer plays Tanglewood on July 13 with violinist Jennifer Koh. The next jazz event at National Sawdust – always a pleasure to visit and revel in the exquisite sonics  there – is on August 30 at 7 PM with perennially unpredictable guitar luminary Mary Halvorson; advance tix are $25.

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July 9, 2017 Posted by | Art, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, photography, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philip Grossman Risks His Life to Document the Second Worst Disaster in Human History

Over the past several years, photographer/filmmaker Philip Grossman made several trips to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Pripyat, Ukraine. Notwithstanding the Soviet Union’s bungling attempts to downplay the disaster and evacuate the area during the crucial first few hours of the April 26, 1986 meltdown at Reactor #4 there, considerable documentation of the disaster’s aftermath exists. Filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko took a camera into the disaster site in the days afterward: he was dead within the year. One hopes that Grossman either used an unmanned drone (as film footage he’s taken there seems to indicate), or that he at least had sufficient protective gear, if such a thing even exists. To say that the matter-of-factly haunting and foreboding full-color images he’s assembled are a heroic achievement is an understatement. Many of them, as well as a film of the area as it looked in the spring of 2011, are currently on display at the Wald and Kim Gallery, 417 Lafayette Street, 4th Floor through June 28. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 AM to 6 PM; ring the fourth-floor buzzer.

Grossman’s photos both underscore a familiar narrative and open frightening new ones. The army of half a million “liquidators” enlisted by the Soviets to secure the area and clean up the worst of the toxic wreckage may have actually amplified the disaster’s effects many times over by stripping metal from abandoned buildings and vehicles and selling it for scrap, effectively poisoning an unknown and probably significant amount of the Soviet steel and aluminum supply. Grossman’s shots, particularly of the interior of homes and municipal buildings in the area, reconfirm this deadly harvest. The same applies to the random bundles of metal beams and building materials lying around, seemingly for the taking (let’s hope that a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand years from now, when all this material is practically still as deadly as it is today, that people will know to leave it where it is).

But that’s been documented elsewhere. What Grossman has to offer that’s new is the disaster site as it exists today. The concrete “sarcophagus” built to contain the most toxic part of the reactor complex looks like a crack house, as if a good snowstorm would be enough to cave it in. Grossman’s shots of the skeleton structure for a fifth reactor, abandoned in the wake of the meltdown, are chillingly ironic. Even more chilling is a look at what’s left of the control room for Reactor #4, juxtaposed against another control room at the site that wasn’t consumed in the initial blaze. Cheapness and a cynical disregard for maintenance leap from the dust and fading plastic: how many other reactors like this are there in the world, and why haven’t they been shut down yet?

Grossman’s photos of the surrounding area show a ghost town. There are a couple of low-rent memorials; homes where the only things left are old shoes and beer bottles; a preschool full of decaying, murderously radioactive stuffed toys; an abandoned hospital, a recreation center and sleepaway camp for children. The implications are extreme: perish the thought that this could have happened in the summer and subjected even more children to the consequences. The official Soviet report of the health effects of the disaster mirrors the coverup of the early days: we’ll probably never know the full amount of casualties. The World Health Organization estimates that cancers caused by radioactive poisons released at Chernobyl killed a million people worldwide, a shocking number tempered by the WHO’s notoriously alarmist predictions. And yet, for the reliably pro-industry WHO to come up with such a staggering estimate could well indicate that the death toll so far may be even higher.

And will be in the decades and centuries to come. There are two “sons of Chernobyl,” as they’re called in Russia, on the way. The contaminants in the water table inching toward the Black Sea are expected to reach there in thirty years or so. There’s also the threat of forest fires in the area. Over the past decades, fire crews have routinely been sent into the forest there to hose down the soil to help prevent the kind of conflagration that could literally rekindle the catastrophe. Almost thirty years after Chernobyl, more than half of all wild mushrooms in Germany, thousands of miles away, remain too contaminated with nuclear toxins for human consumption. At least the Germans had the sense to make it illegal to harvest those mushrooms, or, for that matter, to sell wild game meat.

Meanwhile, the United States and other nations continue to allow the importation of vehicles and products from Japan. What’s even more troubling, of course, is that the Fukushima disaster released more lethal radioactive contaminants than every previous nuclear meltdown – Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, LP-1 in Idaho and Oak Ridge in Tennesee – plus the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombs, plus every atom bomb test and nuclear leak in history, COMBINED. In simpler terms, the world became more than twice as deadly on March 11, 2011. Levels of nuclear contamination in Tokyo, a hundred miles from the Fukushima disaster site, are so high that if that the city was in the United States, it would be off limits not only to human habitation but also to human traffic: the danger of spreading those toxins via car and truck tires is considered too high to risk in this country.

The Japanese response to Fukushima in many ways was the same as the Soviets’ was to Chernobyl. According to an official Japanese government website that was abruptly taken down about a week after the Fukushima calamity, only forty people were killed by the meltdowns there. But while high levels of toxins as deadly as those released at Chernobyl continue to drain into the Pacific – whether the result of leakage, deliberate dumping, or both – the carnage left in the wake of Chernobyl may only be a small fraction of the toll Fukushima may ultimately claim. Can anybody say “global extinction event?”

June 11, 2014 Posted by | Art, Film, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lourdes Delgado’s Photos Reveal an Intimate Side of the NYC Jazz World

This is how the other half lives. Lourdes Delgado’s photographs currently on display at the Instituto Cervantes document numerous New York jazz luminaries in their own homes from 2002 to 2008. From a New York perspective, it’s vicarious to the extreme, considering that space is the most sought-after status commodity in the five boroughs: “”Oooh, Kenny Barron’s got a house!” – in Brooklyn, of course. In addition to their historical value, Delgado’s black-and-white shots often vividly illustrate their subjects’ personalities, intentionally or not (she allowed those photographed to choose their spots, and what they wore). Paradigm-shifter Matana Roberts, always the free spirit, cheery in her vinyl clutter; the late Dewey Redman, regal in his African costume beneath framed posters from innumerable obscure European festivals; legendary drummer Chico Hamilton on his couch with his plants, warm and welcoming; conduction maestro Butch Morris exuding a stern zen calm, notwithstanding the wine stains on the couch; guitarists Mike and Leni Stern relaxed in their hippie pad with their Abyssinian cat, keyb guys Craig Taborn wary in his impeccable, OCD-neat space and Robert Glasper sleepy in his messy crash pad with just a futon and headphones. Pianist Joanne Brackeen has wall-to-wall mirrors and a big stuffed giraffe; rising star vocalist Gretchen Parlato sleeps on her couch with her furry friends. Sax titan Benny Golson has Ikea furniture; trumpeter Jack Walrath and first-call drummer Kenny Washington each surround themselves with a museum’s worth of vinyl records.

Ironies abound here, as does a resolute joie de vivre and ability to get the most out of spaces that non-urban dwellers would find ridiculously small. First place for resourcefulness goes to drummer Sylvia Cuenca, who hides a full kit beneath her loft bed, her Rhodes piano just inches away. Tuba player Marcus Rojas manages to fit two kids (one wearing a Shostakovich t-shirt), his tubas and bass, among other things, into a cramped Manhattan apartment. One of the most offhandedly striking shots depicts a young Marcus and EJ Strickland, saxophonist and drummer looking tough in their dreads in what looks like mom’s crib circa 2002. As expected, the promoters have more space than the musicians, notably George Wein, looking small and distant in the back of his rather palatial digs past the piano and the Persian rugs. Other small details, such as the instruments and albums favored by the artists, appear everywhere, often very surprisingly. Many musicians are so accustomed to being photographed that they typically put on a “photo face;” that Delgado captures so many of them here so candidly is no small achievement. The exhibit runs through July 29, free and open to the public, at the Instituto Cervantes, 211 E 49th St. Hours are 1-9 PM Mon-Fri, Sat 10:30 AM – 3 PM, closed Sundays.

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, jazz, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quality Overcomes Schlock at This Year’s NYC Fountain Art Fair

The good stuff at this year’s Fountain Art Fair made the trip all the way over to the Chelsea Piers worthwhile many times over. Outdoors, the contrast between the captivating and the boring was much the same as it was inside. Past the gangway to the Frying Pan lightship, mimes stood motionless and a couple of women knitted a sinister seine while a masked trio writhed on the ground and banged on a toy piano. Beyond the performers, a raft to the fore of the ship carried a Pompeii-esque series of uncredited lifesize, silver-painted, featureless sculptures: quadrupeds – dogs? bears? – and a sad, defeated creature – an alien? knight in armor? mummy? – its head lowered dejectedly, half its helmet carved out and concave, leaving a black hole.

Inside, a straw poll of many of the artists on display delivered the unanimous verdict that Greg Haberny was the star of this one, hands down. He’s hilarious, fearlessly profane, insightful and historically aware. A trio of mixed-media pieces matched scrawled bathroom graffiti-style captions to iconic imagery. In Haberny’s eyes, via a twisted take on FBI most-wanted posters, Santa breaks into your house and leaves all kind of shit nobody wants; the Easter Bunny delivers pot; and Jesus turns water into Colt .45 malt liquor, among other feats. Jesus appears again in a can of Rust-Oleum and an Ex-Lax box. From a New Yorker’s perspective, the funniest of them all might have been a parody of the Warhol soup can that sits in a box on the wall of the Gershwin Hotel with a letter of authenticity: Haberny’s version was stolen from Christie’s and is available for a song. When he’s not mocking religious nuts or the cluelessness of the art world, Haberny’s paintings, billboards and mixed media raise a defiant middle finger to the fearmongering that the ruling classes have been dishing out via the corporate media since long before 9/11 (Vietnam references, for example, recur again and again). There was also a letter from a Cash4gold spokesman to Haberny, seemingly oblivious to the stunt factor in Haberny sending them a box of gold-painted rocks along with a request for the late Ed McMahon (their pitchman at the end of his life) to host his birthday party. Even the obvious stuff resonated: the BP logo with a sawed-off shotgun; the Supreme Court as the Seven Dwarves, and a 1968 prisoner of war depicted not as an American soldier, but a hippie wearing a gas mask. Haberny’s composition is meticulous. The heavily weathered “found look”of his larger works is actually achieved via an intricate process of layering, sanding and controlled damage. Haberny had a whole corner of the ship to himself and he deserved it: best to investigate this subversive guy yourself.

Downstairs the fun continued. Sergio Coyote is totally punk, just as fearless and funny. Some of his items on display included a trio of blurry, enlarged face shots of Elvis at his last-ever gig, puffy, wasted and sweating hard, along with an oil painting setting a little latin guy in silhouette, face to an enormous wave. Coyote also has fun with album covers: a series of bloodspattered Christian albums, a Kraftwerk record with Hitler moustaches and a concert album by Korean orphans in Austin, Texas that was so surreal that it really didn’t need alteration. And Rob Servo – a musician who also leads expansive, sprawling jam band Homespun Vector – brought along an irresistibly witty series of surrealist oils, including a brownstone building turned into a wobbly spider and a cleverly layered thought piece inspired by a trip to Pompeii.

Back upstairs, there was plenty of amateurish Bushwick garbage – pseudo-porn, day-glo and kitsch galore. But there was plenty of food for thought as well. Mark Demos (not to be confused with the New Jersey landscape watercolorist Mark DeMos) was represented by several meticulously layered tableaux a la early Arthur Robins, textured acrylic on glass creating a nocturnal volcanic effect, some of it extremely gripping. Jonathan Levitt’s color photo studies in decomposition – a dog carcass, a pig that might or might not have been dead, a freshly bloody deerskin – were stomach-turning but impossible to turn away from. There were a handful of Ray Sell antique-magazine collages playfully mocking kitschy retro iconography, the best of these a stuffed bear coming off the wall to swat at a group of oblivious hunters gathered around a country club table. Andrew Rigby had several playful yet wary studies in geometrics and olive drab; “pop surrealist” Mab Graves’ stylized Addams Family-meets-Emily the Strange style portraits stood out as well.

Someone who calls him/herself Radical! displayed a series of stylized 60s psychedelic illustrations: everything with a head that’s someone or something else’s; dogs armed with syringes chasing a cat, and chicken-headed girls in bikinis (yup – had to smile at that one). On the way out, a wall held a menagerie of Dickchicken cartoon characters with penises coming out of their heads, or where their noses should be. If you used to draw that kind of thing in middle school, be advised that there’s a market for it – or at least a desire to show it. And why not – in its own predictably twisted way, it fit in.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guitar Fetish Photos at the Morrison Hotel Gallery

Photographer Jonathan Singer’s current exhibit at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CBs Gallery space at 313 Bowery positions the guitar as lurid fetish object. It’s hardly a new concept, but he takes it to the next level. At the celebrity-packed opening last week, Duke Levine’s twangy noir instrumentals played in the background as the crowd ogled the dark-shadowed, Rembrandt-esque portraits – that’s how much dignity Singer accords these instruments. Most of them owned by famous rockers at one time or another, they’re worth literally millions of dollars: viewing this show is sort of the equivalent of a stroll through the most choice goodies at a specialty dealer like Retrofret. Taken out of context, the guitars themselves show their age, whether the worn-down frets on a late 50s Telecaster, the cracked veneer on the oldest mandolins and acoustics or the faded patina of a 1930s National Steel model.

As expected, most of the show comprises early models of iconic models: Telecasters, Strats, Gibsons and Gretsches, one of the most stunningly beautiful being Chet Atkins’ personal Gretsch with Bigsby tremolo bar and matching amp. But the most mouth-watering shots, unsurprisingly, depict the rarest models. A handful of National electric mandolins, a circle of vintage 1950s Kays, a Kustom, a trio of Elkos with their tone buttons shimmering in the low light, and a posse of Fender Jaguars all lend their dangerous curves to an atmosphere dripping with desire. There are also three acoustics hand-painted by Annie Haslam, whose lushly shapeshifting aquamarine landscapes make perfect sense in light of her decades-long career leading anthemic art-rockers Renaissance. The photo exhibit is destined for the Smithsonian, but signed, limited edition prints are available from the gallery. It’s currently showing in two locations, the gallery’s Bowery branch and 116 Prince St. location in SoHo, through mid-March.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

J. Henry Fair’s Environmentalist Photography: A Pre-Apocalyptic Exhibit?

Photographer J. Henry Fair’s new exhibit, Landscapes of Extraction: The Collateral Damage of the Fossil Fuels Industries at the second floor gallery at Cooper Union is as important as it is surreal. And is it ever surreal. Esthetically, Fair goes for vividly colorful landscape shots of future Superfund sites: that is, if there is any Superfund left to clean up the decapitated mountaintops, lakesize cesspools of lethal sludge, and seemingly innocuous construction sites he shoots from a distance. Fair’s photos are accompanied by a series of multimedia stations and a grimly informative running text detailing the processes he documents: deep sea drilling, mountaintop clearcutting, messy metal refining and chemical manufacturing. And those matter-of-factly calm if predictably messy construction sites are actually hydrofracked natural gas wells.

“Fracking,” in the gas business is slang for “fracture,” a necessity when drilling through shale deposits to unleash the lucrative gas beneath. Hydrofracking began in the 70s, originally a process where high-pressure water was used to break up the rock. These days, courtesy of what’s commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole,” pushed through by the Bush regime in 2005, natural gas companies are allowed to use whatever liquid they want, no matter how caustic or lethal it might be. Furthermore, the law exempts the drilling companies from having to reveal the contents of their lethal concoctions on the grounds that they’re “trade secrets.” As Fair documents, what’s no secret is that highly toxic amounts of radium have turned up in groundwater running into the water table from these sites recently (ostensibly, there’s supposed to be a buffer zone around each well, although a particularly eerie aerial photo shows a portion of Garfield County, Colorado with wells side by side – from above, the effect is that of a graveyard). And while radium is silently lethal, there’s no ignoring the water in your kitchen sink catching fire, vividly described in Josh Fox’s documentary film Gasland. Gas leases are lucrative: it’s not hard to imagine the residents of a neighborhood or town hit hard by the depression signing up for them en masse, only to discover their property polluted to the point of being unhabitable, never mind unsaleable. Is the current process of hydrofracking the teens equivalent of what munitions manufacturing became in the 90s, a convenient way to dispose of nuclear waste? Fair’s investigation doesn’t carry that far.

He also takes a sobering look at mountaintop clearcutting (a cause famously taken up by activist/gospel bandleader Reverend Billy), where coal companies like Massey Energy basically blast the top off mountains in Appalachia, raining down all sorts of debris, some more toxic than others, on the community below. Ultimately, Fair emphasizes, what’s happened since the invention of the steam engine is that millions of years worth of carbon have been re-released into the environment in the last 250 years, a blink of an eye and the equivalent of an explosion in evolutionary terms. The potentially apocalyptic environmental crises we face today, from global warming, to oil spills, to the highly contested effects of hydrofracking, are the blowback from that explosion. The exhibit is a must-see; it’s up through February 26 at Cooper Union (enter through the back entrance at the main building on the triangle between Bowery and Fourth Avenue at Seventh Street). Hours are Monday-Friday, 12-7 PM, Saturday 12-5 PM.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Art, photography, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lilian Caruana Captures the Vulnerable Side of the Punk Esthetic

What is most stunning about Lilian Caruana’s photographs of punk rock kids in New York from 1984 to 1987, now on display through January 7, 2011 at the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute, is how much space they have. As anyone who lived in New York, or who came here at the time can attest, it was a vastly more spacious place, offering freedom to pretty much anyone who sought it. Caruana, an Italian immigrant, draws on the populism of legendary Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith in an engaging series of black-and-white portraits offering a compassionate view of life as an outsider.

Caruana’s intent was to capture her subjects’ individuality, and it was fortuitous that she took these pictures when she did, when individuality of expression among young New York immigrants was not only not forbidden but actually pretty much de rigeur. Even then, the punk scene was not necessarily a nonconformists’s club: there were Nazi and racist elements, especially among the hardcore kids. But many of the people who came here did so not necessarily because they wanted to, but because there was nowhere else to go, and because they had the option of being pretty much by themselves if they felt like it. And because they could afford it. How times have changed. These East Village shots could be from another universe. There’s not a single $500 bedhead haircut, posse of overdressed, tiara-wearing suburban girls or their Humvee stretch limo, or for that matter, anyone, anywhere, except the subjects of the photos themselves.

Several capture squatters in their lowlit afternoon hovels: a scruffy but seemingly cheerful couple reclining by the window on a mattress; a young guy with a Simply Red haircut enjoying a smoke while playing with a trio of kittens who seemingly could have run off into the adjacent hole in the apartment wall if they felt like it; a girl on her bed, leaning on a Bellevue Hospital pillow and watching a war movie on an old portable tv at 4:35 in the morning, her wall decor limited to the label off a Budweiser torpedo bottle (those were the days before the forty-ounce) and what might be a bloody handprint. The multi-racialism and inclusiveness of the era is evident in the diversity of Caruana’s subjects, especially in her portraits of mixed-race couples. One of them playfully does the bump in front of a gated storefront, the guy holding one of those big Bud bottles – young people drinking on the street in broad daylight were not typically subjected to police persecution in those days. Another pose on their rooftop, the street below them empty save for a battered Chevy Monte Carlo and a shiny new Mazda coupe passing by. As is the case with an Iron Cross-wearing, heavily tattooed guy – his face out of the frame – down the block from an independently owned diner long since vanished from the neighborhood. The shot most likely to be destined for iconic mall-store t-shirt status depicts a father and toddler son with identical mohawks – again, this was from an era fifteen years before the hairstyle became popular with members of the military and the police force. The tattoos are homemade; expressions of peace, freedom and nonviolence predominate among the t-shirts and graffiti; and perhaps most obviously, none of these people seem the least bit threatening.

The John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute is located at 25 W 43rd St. (5th/6th Ave.), on the 17th floor. Gallery hours aren’t listed at their site: you may wish to call before visiting, (212) 642-2094.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Culture, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mick Rock Puts His Diversity On Display at Morrison Hotel Gallery

Legendary photographer Mick Rock has a new book out, Mick Rock Exposed: The Faces of Rock n Roll and accompanying exhibit up at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery space just south of Bowery and Bleecker. It’s a must-see: the book is out just in time for the holidays and ought to do just as well if not better than his previous Bowie and glam-themed collections. As he explained before the show’s celebrity-packed opening Tuesday night, this is an eclectic book: he’s never been swayed by popular trends. Although Rock will forever be associated with iconic images like the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer and the Stooges’ Raw Power, his portraiture over the last forty-plus years is extraordinarily diverse, ranging from Japanese kabuki theatre stars, to a somewhat notorious, self-referencing show featuring Kate Moss in all kinds of provocative poses, to bands as dissimilar as German proto-punks Can, current-day blues belter Shemekia Copeland and gypsy punk stars Gogol Bordello.

As much as Rock has an eye for drama, he often goes for understatement. The best of the most recent images here are an absolutely hilarious Snoop Dogg, looking old yet ganjifically defiant in a George Clinton kind of way (Rock and Snoop seem to have a great mutual appreciation), and a considerably clever spin on an otherwise cliched PR shot of Lady Gag “passed out” in a dirty, trashed bathtub. That shirtless guy standing over her, face out of view? That’s Jack White.

Fans of Rock’s legendary glam-era photography won’t come away disappointed. A Ziggy-era David Bowie is captured in black-and white, pensive and shirtless in an empty room; on the train to Aberdeen with guitarist Mick Ronson; onstage performing “guitar fellatio” as Ronson solos, and in an absolutely brilliant if worrisome 1972 shot where he joins Lou Reed (hiding behind his shades) to support a completely trashed Iggy Pop, who has a pack of Lucky Strikes stuffed in his mouth.

Iggy and the Stooges also figure prominently. A black-and-white shot from 1972 captures the band looking particularly young and vulnerable, a skinny Ron Asheton taking a stab at trying to appear menacing behind his innocuous wireframe glasses (this was before he discovered aviators). The most wrenching of all the photos here is a color headshot of Iggy onstage in 1977, dripping with angst and longing: it’s the visual equivalent of Gimme Danger. There are also a couple of vividly sad Syd Barrett black-and-whites, one where he strikes a karate-like pose in an empty room – he alone knows what it means, if anything – and another with him reclined haggardly on the hood of a battered old Buick convertible (look closely – it’s parked in front of a sparkling new MGB-GT coupe) somewhere in England. By contrast, Rock had the presence of mind to capture Madonna in black-and-white in 1980 (wearing a 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Champions tee, licking her shoulder lasciviously – she already knows she’s a star). Everything here that isn’t sold out already is on sale at depression-era prices (a limited edition Transformer print signed jointly by Rock and Reed is three grand). The Morrison Hotel Gallery is open Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 7 PM: shows here turn over fast, go now if you’re thinking about it.

October 28, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photo Review: David Lynch at Morrison Hotel Gallery, NYC

“I’ve got to learn more about this guy!” the college-age girl in the expensive dress exclaimed from behind her bangs.

“You know, if I was seeing this exhibit and I didn’t know who the photographer was, I would say that he was ripping off David Lynch,” the guy with the backpack to her right grinned. “I wasn’t aware that he also did photography.”

The girl looked at him quizzically.

“A lot of these look like movie stills, don’t you think?” the guy asked.

The girl looked confused. “I’ve never heard of him,” she explained.

The guy leaned in gently: maybe there was some confusion. “Blue Velvet? Did you ever see that? Wild at Heart?” He reached for an obscure one: “The Straight Story?”

No reaction.

“Eraserhead?”

The girl shook her head. “I really like his stuff, though.”

Which in a way perfectly crystallizes everything that’s wrong with the art scene in New York, 2010. The one college sophomore in town with zero awareness of who David Lynch might be, and she’s one of the few who actually had the fortune to get into last night’s invite-only opening of his photo show at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery Space at Bowery and Bleecker. Ten thousand film students from throughout the five boroughs would have enthusiastically paid good money to take her place.

The exhibit collects fifty characteristically stylized, noir photos – both color and black-and-white – that Lynch contributed to the new album Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, a.k.a. Sparklehorse. In a way, it makes sense that Lynch would find himself at home with Linkous’ sad, bucolic, Big Star-inflected Americana rock songs: behind the violence and the menace, Lynch’s characters long for a safe haven amid comfortable surroundings. There are plenty of both on display here. While the show is an absolute must-see for dedicated Lynch fans, it also doesn’t break any new ground: Lynch the filmmaker and Lynch the photographer are one and the same.

All the shots come in sets of three or four. The black-and-whites have an expectedly grainy Eraserhead feel. Aside from a couple of predictable down-and-out portraits, the best of these seems to be an overhead shot of a homeless woman’s shopping cart, her shadow juxtaposed with a lurid poster of a woman’s face staring to the side atop it.

The most indelibly Lynchian of these is a set of four that could have been Wild at Heart stills. Its centerpiece depicts a quartet of uniformed policemen ineptly trying to hose down a man whose lower extremities are dripping some ominous blue-green substance. A couple of neighborhood middleschool kids look on, puzzled, in the background. A close-up of the two kids adds detail, as does an absolutely classic shot of a girl flipping the bird from the backseat of a two-toned, half primer-painted 1972 Nova sedan.

Lynch indulges his lightning-in-the-eyes fixation in another foursome: headshots of a screaming man, shaking and blurry, with the last in the series being a shot of railroad cars passing in the night. His iconic child/demon creature makes an appearance, in the form of what looks like a cross between a patched-together Mayan sculpture and a twistedly cartoonish, reassembled pinata. Meanwhile, a child plays in the dirt behind it, oblivious.

Another series of four features a smiling man in what looks to be a trance amidst a shower of Christmas ornaments and then shards of glass; almost predictably, there’s also a frame of an emergency services Econoline van speeding beneath a billboard of the guy suspended in midair, blissed out as everywhere else.

Which perfectly captures the show’s appeal. The master noir filmmaker of this era (and the one before that, for that matter), Lynch’s images provoke, intrigue and induce the occasional gruesome smile. Most of these also have all the subtlety of that Econoline van – or the flying man – hitting a grimy brick wall. After dark, of course, under flickering neon light. The gallery has advertised limited edition prints of all of the photos on display here, which at their typically surprisingly affordable prices have most likely been snapped up already. But you can still look. Hours at the Bowery gallery are noon to 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Curt Gunther’s Rare Beatles Photos Are a Hit

In 1964, German photographer Curt Gunther was Beatles press officer Derek Taylor’s lucky choice as official lensman for the band’s first American tour. On public view for the first time at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the late Gunther’s black-and-white shots capture the Fab Four as just another hardworking band, albeit one with a rabid following. It’s a predictably revealing look at the group right as their popularity was exploding, but before they had iconic status thrust on them. George looks anxious and pissed most of the time; John bears a remarkable resemblance to a young David Crosby, twenty pounds heavier than he was by the time Rubber Soul came out; Paul is something of a goof, and Ringo tunes it all out. From a musician’s perspective, the most fascinating shot offers a side view of Ringo behind his kit, high on his riser, during what appears to be a rehearsal somewhere. He faces a wall covered with graffiti: squeezed into the barely eighteen-inch space below between the wall and riser are John and George. Are they even able to see their bandmate?

Another photo captures John, Paul and George walking down a tunnel, guitars in hand, possible in the bowels of a stadium. A sixtysomething security guard glances at them as they pass, warily, but obviously without a clue as to the historical significance of the moment. Several sweet outdoor shots show the band onstage, Paul sharing a mic either with George or John: take away the moptops, and the conservatively suited quartet could have been Buddy Holly and the Crickets at just another Texas football field. In the back of a limo, Paul goofs off while Ringo zones out, John hides behind his shades and George can’t wait for the end of the ride. The most playful of all of these shows Paul hiding his right eye behind the neck of his bass, George walking ahead of him with impatient unease.

There’s also a shot of the group on horseback (Central Park?); a group pose at a slot machine (nobody is playing); John in bed (still in his shades), smoking; several variously fatigued backstage scenes, a typically surreal 1960s pose with mirrors, and a few photos of fans. Only two of these really strike a nerve: one captures a cop trying to restrain a girl of about eleven who’s trying to sprint past his barricade, and there’s another of a middleaged female fan striking a “Home Alone” pose, hands upside her cheap drugstore eyeglasses and discount beehive hairdo, that wouldn’t be out of place in the Diane Arbus catalog. A must-see for all Beatles fans; prints are on sale at the gallery, and if there’s any justice in the world there will eventually be a coffee table book. The exhibit runs through July 15 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery’s SoHo space at 116 Prince St. between Wooster and Greene.; viewing hours are not listed on the gallery’s website, although they’re typically open during the day Monday through Saturday.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Art, Music, music, concert, photography, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments