Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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?”

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

Substantial, Compelling Paintings by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina

by Rimas Uzgiris

The two-woman show by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina at the Argentine Consulate presents two contemporary Argentine painters whose work is deeply rooted in Argentina’s urban culture, albeit in entirely different ways.

Andrea Cukier, now a resident of New York City but raised and trained as an artist in Buenos Aires, is a painter of suggestive atmospheres. She paints light through mist, humid air, harbors and dilapidated shorelines. She takes inspiration from the painters of La Escuela de La Boca, a group of mostly Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires who often depicted sections of their working-class neighborhoods, including the nearby waterfront. Cukier’s “Broken Passage” is a masterful portrayal of a shattered, chaotic shoreline. The sense of mist and moisture pervades both sky and water so thoroughly that it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. All things seem to be dissolving into the elements of earth, air and water. The painting is almost wholly abstract. And even though, on the one hand, entropy seems to dominate, on the other hand, there is a tremendous sensitivity to light, which suffuses the clouds and mist and water with a glow that feels almost redemptive, albeit earthy. Other works, notably “Late Storm” and “Evening Light”, may be more representational, but are equally intriguing, depicting the play of clouds, smoke and light in canvasses dominated by sky. Human civilization is suggested with no more than the rooftops of city buildings, barbed wire, and churning black smoke. There is always a threat looming in these subtly dramatic paintings, but there is hope as well—whether in the form of light, or in a fleck of black paint like a bird fleeing the looming darkness. One cannot look at her paintings without being entranced by the complex interplay of grays, whites and blacks. One might say that in her work we have the late Turner in 21st century New York City by way of an urban sensitivity cultivated in La Boca.

On the opposite side of this warm, wood-paneled room hangs the work of Florencia Fraschina, a painter based in Buenos Aires. Fraschina draws her inspiration from entirely different sources. If Cukier reminds us of Turner by way of La Boca, Fraschina’s work brings us the spirit of Hopper by way of Kahlo. Her paintings are a symphony of saturated colors, populated by voluptuous women, often in various states of undress. Like so many paintings by Hopper, they suggest stories. The depicted characters express complex emotional states, and their situations are often enigmatic, sometimes even sordid. The exceptional “El Descanso” depicts a man and a woman in a tub. The woman is enormous, and the man thin and frail. He nestles inside of her legs and breasts, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the ceiling. Is he satisfied, or a bit intimidated—even a bit scared? Is her expression motherly? Or is there the hint of a smirk? Fraschina does not give us easy answers about her characters’ inner lives. Their charm is in their mystery. The paintings shimmer with color—extraordinary blues, bright pink, serene green. One especially harmonious piece is “La Costurera”: a woman, also large, but fully clothed, sews. Her expression is calm and focused, a bit sad as well. The painting is a symphony of blue, yellow, and red, and it is peaceful in its domestic melancholy. Similarly domestic, and quite poignant, is “Almorzando con Mirta”, named after a popular Argentine TV program. An old woman, dressed in black (a nun?) sits at a table, eating (soup? gruel?) from a bowl. She faces a television whose screen shows a young woman with golden hair. In the otherwise drab apartment, the only other color highlight comes from the halo in the painting above the mantle—thereby uniting the old, kitschy painting with the modern television program in a provocative way. Other details also draw us in to this woman, her story, her emotional life: a pair of elephant figurines, a wedding couple statuette. Fraschina makes us yearn for the human, for the true connection to the other, even as she problematizes our ways of relating to self and other through her depiction of pop culture and religious symbols. It is rare to see such social commentary come through a painting so subtly, and with so much feeling for the simple and solitary human life.

This show is a reminder that profound and emotionally gripping art is still being made in an age of shallow postmodernism, and it is being made with talent, craft, subtle intelligence, and a connection to history that is both revealing and progressive.

Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina: Paintings are on display at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, 12 W 56th St. (5th/6th Aves.) through April 10.

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisztmania Finally Starts to Make Sense

“All hands can play Liszt,” emcee David Dubal asserted in front of what appeared to be a full house Wednesday night at WMP Concert Hall, introducing this season’s debut of pianist/impresario Alexandra Joan’s Kaleidoscope Series.

“Yeah, right,” a fellow pianist in the crowd murmured to his friend. That opinion is widely held, often fueled by frustration at being unable to master the composer’s work, but also by the perception that Liszt’s notoriously challenging compositions are ostentatiously shallow. This year being the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, the Liszt tributes and retrospectives have been endless, and underwhelming. Which made this particular program such an eye-opener. Pianist Eric Clark also deserves credit for offering a revealing look at a different side of the composer a couple months ago; Joan’s take on Liszt was even more enlightening, especially since she played a handful of obscure pieces associated with the composer. Dubal may have had something to do with this, having been her teacher at Juilliard.

And he offered fresh insight into the program, providing a broader historical context as well as the history of the pieces themselves: Dubal is a big-picture guy, and a fearlessly unreconstructed Lisztian. The Valse-Impromptu that Joan opened with, he said, was a prototype for parlor music of its era. And it sounded like that, generically lively: it hasn’t aged well. But Joan has an ear for depth and a flair for the unconventional, so the choice of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Fruhlingslaube was characteristically striking, a slowly expansive, meticulously paced pastorale. The Funerailles from Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses, which followed, was a quiet, mournful knockout. Dubal reminded that this was a requiem for the freedom fighters who unsuccessfully fought in the Hungarian uprising of 1849. Restrained almost to the point of minimalism in places, fueled by a stark series of low lefthand riffs, it’s Chopinesque to a fault, rarely played, and Joan let it linger, powerfully: quiet as it is, it was the high point of the night. By contrast, she hit the Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor – which she segued into artfully – with a hard-hitting scamper.

Dubal nailed it when he said that Schubert’s Der Doppelganger was “literally schizophrenic” – Joan played up its spacious, mysterious aspects. And she gave Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor a precision that managed to be biting without losing sight of its warm cantabile resonance, another quality that doesn’t exactly spring to mind when thinking of Liszt. The Valse-Caprice No. 2 after Schubert’s Soirees de Vienne was warm and bright, if not much more than simply a testament to Liszt’s loyalty as an advocate of Schubert at a time when that wasn’t exactly cool.

The final composition was the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, “one of those crazy pieces,” as Joan alluded afterward, where any hope for any kind of interpretive insight bit the dust. Liszt’s arrangement is so elaborately showy that the opportunity to imbue it with soul, or poignancy – Joan’s signature traits – falls by the wayside. To simply get through it and get the notes all right is an achievement in itself. And that she did, an athletic feat made all the more impressive considering that the heavy action of the Bosendorfer she was playing probably would have given Art Tatum a workout. The result, predictably, was a series of standing ovations, ironic to the extreme considering the earlier part of the program was a far more noteworthy achievement. Should every pianist have some Liszt in his or her fingers, as Dubal suggested? A bit of the lesser-known Liszt, that Joan showcased so admirably here, couldn’t hurt.

And not only is Dubal a savvy historian, he’s also a painter, a very eclectic one. Adorning the walls here were a striking, El Greco-ish blue-green cathedral; a series of playful, glittery, Kandinsky-esque abstracts; an invitingly nebulous, colorful city tableau that could have been Paris’ Right Bank from the Pont Neuf; a couple of bucolic outdoors scenes with pre-medieval Asian tinges; an aggressively striking black-and-white work that could be a homage to Jackson Pollock; and even a handful of playful, simple drawings with a coy Keith Haring sensibility. Clearly, Dubal has watched as broadly and as deeply as he’s listened.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Art Shows for Our Era

There are two art shows in Chelsea at this moment that everyone should see. Stylistically, they couldn’t be more dissimilar; thematically, they share a dark vision; technically, each artist has viscerally stunning command of his own individual style. The more sacrilegious of the two is Aaron Johnson’s exhibit at the Stefan Stux Gallery. With a brightly colorful, in-your-face approach that draws equally on 60s psychedelic illustration and classical Chinese iconography, his minutely layered multimedia acrylic-on-oil collages take gleeful pleasure in pillorying the axis of evil between Christian extremists and the right wing.

A soldier dog defecates in a prostrate Jesus’ mouth as the two ride the barrel of an army tank; Babe the Blue Ox is about to get even with a twisted Paul Bunyan; Michelle Bachman devours a barbecued Obama as she enjoys dinner with grotesquely cartoonish Clintons, Newt Gingrich and others, with Sarah Palin the harpy buzzing overhead. Elsewhere, the Statue of Liberty gives Jesus a blowjob, hamburgers and hot dogs attack those who’d devour them, and Jesus (or is it St. Peter) is crucified upside down, a nail through his penis. These are just several of the literally thousands of details in Johnson’s works, apropos now but with equal historical value for the future, that is, if art like this is still legal after the 2012 election.

At the Marlborough Galley in Chelsea, Vincent Desiderio’s latest exhibit goes for a more global appeal, but one that’s equally cynical, pessimistic, and symbolically charged – and also great fun if you pay attention. His large, imposing, intense oils unassumingly demonstrate a magisterial old-masters technique, yet both his brush and trowel serve to make a point or simply evince the most impactful shades of light and shadow rather than being an ostentatious display of chops. The largest and most cruelly ironic is the burial of a woman in the woods, in later winter or early spring, in frontier America – the title references “fecundity.” Blurred, diabolical expressions occupy the faces of the mentally retarded men walking past a medieval marble garden (it’s a parody – first person to identify the original wins a prize). Another equally twisted and entertaining spoof turns a well-known John Singer Sargent image into a casually oversexed mongoloid. More retards stare zombie-faced from one imposing oil, wrestle half-naked in another.

A woman’s corpse lies in a coffin doing double duty as a sink, a la the Shining, in a tremendously vivid, green-tinted photorealistic tableau. Another corpse, this one decayed and wrapped head-to-toe in grey body tape, uses a digital camera to take a photo of a Renaissance-era child with mongoloid features. Paint peels from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel roof as disembodied, toothsome mouths roar from the side walls. The artist himself looks up somewhat triumphantly from the bottom of a surreal stairwell, “after Orozco.” The most utterly chilling, least subtle of all of these is a skewed side view of a pirate ship titled Horizon, a black-caped skeleton shaded in the murk of the ship’s sails. And that uncharacteristically blithe woman in the wedding dress? That’s a self-portrait – Desiderio’s Mona Lisa! Until each of these artists gets his MOMA retrospective, these are shows to remember for years.

Johnson’s show is up through at the Stefan Stux Gallery, 530 W 25th St. through October 22. Hours are Tues-Sat 11-6 and by appointment . Desiderio’s, at the Marlborough Gallery, 545 W 25th St., runs through October 15. Gallery hours are Tues-Sat, 10-5:30.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Art Review: Shaun El C. Leonardo and Alexis Duque in Chelsea

Dominican-Guatemalan-American illustrator Shaun El C. Leonardo draws on his multicultural background, his early education at a Jesuit high school and college football career in a powerfully provocative display, titled Death of a King, that asks a lot of important questions rather than trying to answer any of them. That is left up to the viewer.

As you come up the stairs, the lifesize silhouette of a muscled man falls backwards in relief against the white of the wall behind him: a World Trade Center allusion? The questions begin before you get in the door of the gallery. Inside, a series of more silhouettes – self-portraits, it seems – appear against a shadowy, earthtone-splashed backdrop of bombed-out, smoldering urban scenes – an Iraq war reference, maybe? And are the hulking, brooding strongmen planning on saving the day…or savoring the bitter taste of defeat? The most stunning of all the images is a the upper body of a black man reaching high, either strung up with chains…or decisively grasping a boltcutter, to sever them triumphantly?

Leonardo’s pencil drawings are similarly provocative and enigmatic. One shows a man in armor with what looks like the pop-up tab of a beer can where his nose should be, Obama portraits adorning his shoulder and knee guards. A rightwinger making fun of the President, daring others to hit him? Nope. “I just wanted to be a warrior for Obama,” explained Leonardo to the crowd at last night’s viewing, who all seemed to want to join him. Other drawings match stylized medieval and Aztec warrior images to contemporary brands ranging from the Nike swooshtika, to Spiderman, to the coat of arms from Leonardo’s high school.

And in the back, there’s a painting that deserves to be in the MoMA collection. Alexis Duque’s Slums series includes this surreal brick-and-white-toned architectural view of an empty, war-riddled building turned inside out. It’s part Escher, part Aztec pueblo. Imagining what happened to all the people amid the shrapnel wounds, the headless statue, the hints of random furniture and household goods, satellite dishes, the abandoned guitar on the balcony and numerous bullseyes, none of which have been hit dead center, sends a potent message. A must see after passing through Leonardo’s compelling exhibit, which runs through November 27 at Praxis International Art, 541 W 25th St., open Tues-Sat 10 AM to 6 PM.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Having Conquered Los Angeles, Polish Artists Invade Brooklyn

Thursday night, while the Komeda Project provided murkily beautiful ambience, the art show at the Polish/Slavic Center at 177 Kent St. in Greenpoint was similarly intense and intelligent – and covered a vastly wider emotional spectrum. Two Los Angeles-based groups, Krak Art and the Emotionalists joined in the exhibit – it wasn’t clear who was who, but pretty much everyone on display made an impact. Janusz Skowron, who seemed to be the ringleader, explained how their initial LA show “proved the critics wrong” – it was a smashing success. As this one ought to be as well. He brought his own oils, including both intricately textured, allusive portraiture and lushly layered geometric work, one a study in horizontality and the other the opposite.

Anna Zatorska’s haunting, intense housefront tableaux followed specific color themes: pensively autumnal red, hypnotic nightmare scarlet, wistful blue/grey with a clothesline in the background. Arthur Skowron evoked Arthur Robins with ominous, fire-licked, stormy waterfall and whirlpool scenes, while Kinga Czerska’s abstract, fun work playfully juxtaposed casually colorful curves against linear astringency. That playfulness took on added irony with Artur Popek’s genial overhead views of a strangely industrial resort in the offseason, as well as a main-street scene offering an understatedly pointed contrast between the bustle of technology and older, less worldly comforts.

The textural star of the show was a vividly composed, intensely layered acrylic work by Kasia Czerpak-Weglinski making striking use of both enamel and tile accents. Zbigniew Nowosadzki’s paintings also made use of rich background layers, most notably in a hazy view of birds above a ship. And the most evocative work of all was by Piotr Betlej, whose portraits’ finely drawn, minutely nuanced expressions emerged, worn and weary, out of an ominous, chaotic morass. Some, possibly many of these artists will be famous well beyond their own Polish-American community: get to know them before that happens and your life will be enriched.

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

Art Review: An Excellent Short Summer Group Show at Black and White Gallery, NYC

Black and White Gallery’s current exhibit is characteristically relevant, cutting-edge and well worth a jaunt over to the western fringes of Chelsea. Michael Van den Besselaar provocatively addresses denial and in so doing takes a casual slap at pop art shallowness. Softly photorealistic portraits of vintage television sets from the 70s – two of Asian manufacture, one European – project images of terrorist activity (a hijacked airliner, a helicopter and a trio of Mercedes 240 series sedans) from their grainy black-and-white screens. Eerier still is a set of six Weegee-esque dead womens’ faces. Bonnie Parker, Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, Evita Peron and Rosa Parks are smaller in death than life; the Anna Nicole Smith portrait pans down on her, puffy and lifeless in the purest sense of the word.

Most striking of all is Van den Besselaar’s Lethal Chamber Series. Whether or not these are actual depictions of the rooms where American executioners paralyze and then inject convicts with caustic de-icing chemicals, they’re impossible to turn away from, the curtained white rooms with their gurneys and straps radiating a brutally sarcastic soft-focus light.

Also on display: all-white, lifesize gas masks by Konstantinos Stamatiou; starkly strange cross-stitch-on-canvas figures by Alicia Ross; hip-hop inspired black-and-white collages by Elia Alba and a characteristically devious trio of pitch black “fur geese” sculptures by the irrepressible Jason Clay Lewis (the guy responsible for a recent series of sculptures made out of D-Con rat poison), which might be characterized as the most disturbing items in the entire exhibit

On opening night, the gallery also featured live black-and-white art. Pesu methodically painted a stylized Asian-tinged portrait of a dragon with what appeared to be smiley faces on its back. Those turned out to be scales. To his right, Fernando Mora created a raw, striking, possibly gunsight-view tableau that started out convex and then as he embellished it became just the opposite. Getting your perspective turned inside out after mass quantities of wine is great mind-melting fun – and serves as a vivid reminder of the arduous physical labor that is so often part and parcel of creating first-class art. More galleries should be doing things like this. The current exhibit runs through August 8. Black and White Gallery is at 636 W 28th St., ground floor, hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 6 PM and by appointment.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art Review: Leona Christie at Redflagg Gallery, NYC

We need more art like Leona Christie’s playful, trippy, surreal, utterly original ink-and-gouache drawings and etchings. 1960s psychedelic graphic art and album art seem to be a big influence, but Christie’s work is far less stylized. Bulbous, disembodied sepia-toned forms float in space (or seemingly in a microscopic, possibly biological environment: the digestive system on acid?), constantly morphing into one thing or another. They draw you in, make you smile, make you laugh and make you wonder what other influences, wink wink, are at play here. Here are some possible titles in lieu of Christie’s actually far more serious designations: Pedicure in Space; Pixies in the Intestine; Amoeba Space Fighter; Mollusk Tongue; The Baseball Plant Is Sprouting.

A tube emits a gentle bubble as the fetus above looks on with a bemused expression. Two women relax in a misty, spa-like environment – or is one of them on the toilet? A lava lamp blows bubbles, a big bath towel flows from a woman’s face, a lightbulb grows from the stem of a mushroom. Are you smiling yet? The prices are shockingly affordable for art of this caliber of technical mastery and out-of-the-box imagination. The exhibit is up through September 12 at Redflagg Gallery, 638 West 28th Street, between 11th & 12th Avenues, ground floor. Summer hours are Thursday & Friday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment