Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back East: The Snark Hits the Asia Society

As an art critic, we are confronted, every time we see contemporary art, with a burning question.  “Where the heck is the restroom?” we ask ourselves.  Then, once we have dispensed with that matter, we can concentrate on having profound reactions to the contemporary art.  “Huh,” are our exact words.  And we sincerely mean them.

Because … okay.  Pssst.  Over here.  We’re going to level with you.  Now, don’t tell anybody, but, critic though we are, we frankly just don’t quite “get” contemporary art. It’s kind of like the way we just don’t quite “get” golf, except for the cool kind where you get to putt through dragons and stuff and at the end you might win a free game. 

Come to think of it, Nobody’s Fool - the current exhibit at the Asia Society on Park Avenue and 77th Street, featuring the work of Yoshitomo Nara - is not too far from mini-golf art, if you will.  Take these dogs (I rather like these dogs).  Can’t you imagine thwacking a ball between them to win that free game? I can:

The Asia Society describes Nara as “one of the leading artists of Japan’s influential Neo Pop art,” which – follow us closely here – is pop art that is neo.  (This is the sort of thing you know when you are an art critic.)  Here is a quote from their website: “Nara’s cute, though often menacing, children and animals are so readily associated with popular culture, particularly manga comics and animation, that viewers may neglect to contemplate his evocative imagery in depth. His popular appeal masks the serious social and personal dimensions of his work—feelings of helplessness and rage, and a sense of isolation in a hyper-networked society."

Well.  All righty then.  Now allow us to editorialize for a moment.


Whoops.  Let us get back into our plural Critic Voice.  What we mean to say is: God forbid we should ever interpret art on our own.  Here is our theory: all such copy, at museums worldwide, is written by the superhero Captain Obvious.  Those of you who were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie (we ourselves were once a 13-year-old theatre weenie) who memorized every episode of Whose Line is it Anyway will recall that Captain Obvious was a superhero played by (our hero) Colin Mochrie, who began the sketch by standing in the middle of the stage and remarking, quote, "I'm standing."  This same Captain Obvious is clearly the individual responsible for all art commentary in museums everywhere, as evidenced by the following caption to Nara's painting "White Riot."

Here is the painting:

Now you’d think this baby speaks for itself, right? "Hello.  I am a kind of ... cat dog ... Pokémon thingy, or whatever, and I am REALLY pissed off": that is clearly the Deeper Meaning here.  Right?

Well, no offense, but: WROOOOOONG, loser-face.  Clearly YOU have never been an art person.  Here is Captain Obvious, speaking on behalf of the Asia Society, to refine your mind.  We quote:

Characters that are ½ child and ½ animal recur frequently in Nara’s work … He is much indebted to children’s book illustrations, which capture the most significant narrative moments in succinct and selective compositions, in contrast to the multitude of sequential images in comic books.  Here, this creature’s expression suggests a decisive moment of confrontation.” 

Actually, we personally were thinking constipation before Captain Obvious set us straight.  But enough about us.

On the other hand, some of Nara's work is graciously allowed to speak for itself.  For example, the painting “Remember Me” features the enormous head of a little girl staring at you with bulging, sparkly eyes so hideous you could not forget her if you had a lobotomy for that express purpose.



But this is not the most memorable item in the exhibition.  No, that honor goes to the framed pieces of notebook paper with Nara's scribbles on them.  That's right.  Nara made notes - just like you do every day, only you don’t get an exhibit – which have framed on the wall for your delectation.  The Asia Society has labeled these items as – remember, we are quoting here – “ballpoint pen on notebook paper.”  Just in case your layman's eye couldn't pick out the artist's media. We can only be thankful in such cases that the industrious curators neglect to include, say, an artist's finest nose-blowings ("Snot on Kleenex, 2005")
Another highlight was the “Doors” exhibit consisting of a group of interconnected playhouse-style fixtures. There was a TV on inside one of the houses, featuring images of Nara's work to music.  We noticed a young woman happily watching the TV ; she looked to have been camped out there for some time.  What's more, she looked very peaceful, very happy.  Our theory, as a critic – not to get too lofty here, but we feel we must share it – is that she had found the secret remote control to change the channel to porn.

Our final port of call was the gift shop, which we mention not because of anything related to art, but because of something far, far deeper: we found this oeuvre.

My First Book of Sushi is a strangely poetic little composition which features the following meditation:
"Why, why, why, my little shu mai, why do I love you so?"*
Call me a sentimentalist if you will, but I believe those are words we all - critics and noncritics alike - can stand to remember in these troubled times.  Anyway, should you happen to be in the city any time soon, you owe it to yourself to stop by the Asia Society and take in Nobody's Fool.  We highly recommend this exhibit.  We especially highly recommend the secret remote control.

Meanwhile, till next time; we hope you have enjoyed this column, written in #2 "The Princeton Review" pencil on "Hewlett Packard" printer paper.  We cordially invite the Asia Society to offer us a lavish exhibit.  (We trust they will be forward-thinking enough to overlook the, you know, Caucasian thing.)

* Another good one, which we also quote verbatim: "Ikura, squishy salmon roe / Like dabby dots of jelly, / Salty on my lips / And yummy in my belly.” (©460 B.C., Herodotus)

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    Story Hour: A Critic's Take

    THEATER REVIEW: Story Hour (11:30-12:30), Barnes & Noble at 86th St. and Lexington Ave., with special guest John Tartaglia.  Reviewed September 19.

    As a critic of the arts in New York, we have come to take for granted the sort of cultural experiences that allow us to enrich our artistic appreciation, to build upon our creative understanding, to deftly refer to ourselves in the plural.  This particular performance was no exception; indeed, it is always the most “New Wave” theatre that illuminates the art form anew for us by throwing convention to the wind.  We are then confronted, as critics and as plural humans, by the question: what exactly does it mean to be “confronted” by a question? Wouldn’t you think it was weird if a question bumped up against you in the road and went “HEY! YOU!”  What if a question walked in on you while you were in the bathroom? What then?

    But we digress.  We are here to talk about the performance, which as we have mentioned simply embodied the avant-garde.  For one thing, it took place at 11 a.m., which served the dual purposes of (a) placing it firmly on the “cutting edge” of new theatre and (b) steering clear of the spectators’ naptimes, although tragically, in at least one case they did not clear Potty Time.  (We do not wish to toot our own horn, but we should note that among the spectators, we personally held the distinction of being pretty much the only one who did not, at some point, spit up or cry.)  The spectators were accompanied almost universally by sippy cups, as well as by large haggard escorts who looked as though they would really have been just as happy to go home and collapse into bed. 

    Compounding the occasion’s avant-garde ambience, many spectators chose to seat themselves on the floor.  They also demonstrated a totally revolutionary new mode of audience appreciation that consists basically of squirming around on the floor and pretty much ignoring the performance.  At such junctures, Mommy and Daddy would try to redirect the spectators’ attention, although we thought them frankly ineffectual.

    Fortunately for the performer, renowned puppeteer John Tartaglia, there was a core group of about eight or ten delighted wiggly patrons who wiggled right up there onstage with him and his puppet and stayed there, rapt.  You just don’t get this sort of atmosphere at Lincoln Center, where when you wiggle up onstage nobody takes it as a compliment.  (Should you become known as a repeat wiggler, Lincoln Center will resort to severe measures, namely, naming a building after you.)*

    While Mr. Tartaglia was the supposed star of the show, it is our opinion that he was quite frankly upstaged by his hand puppet co-star, a young up-and-coming fish named “Dorsal”** who did not give his last name.  (As a person who is theatrically In the Know, we can only assume this is the result of an attempt on the part of his management to “brand” him for mass appeal, the way they did with “Lady Gaga” and “Galileo.”)  He was also accompanied by page-turner Julio, whom we felt turned pages with great élan.

    The book Mr. Tartaglia read was I’m The Biggest Thing in the Ocean, which tells the story of individualistic young architect Howard Roark, who refuses to compromise his artistic vision even when the world threatens to destroy him.  No, wait, that’s Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Actually, The Biggest Thing in the Ocean is the story of a happy blue squid who is the biggest thing in the ocean – bigger than the shrimp, the octopus, SpongeBob SquarePants, etc. – when suddenly (and we personally did NOT see this coming) he is swallowed by a whale, whereupon he remarks, ever cheery, “I’m the biggest thing in this whale.”  Personally, we felt that what this plot lacked in substance, it made up in promoting the theme of remaining annoying in death.  

    Mr. Tartaglia, however, had a different take on this oeuvre (French for “squid”) when we spoke with him after the show.

    “I feel bad,” he said.  “I didn’t realize a character, um, DIES at the end.”

    Hadn’t he read the material before arriving? He explained sheepishly that he had literally just gotten off his plane.  As a Frequent Flyer ourselves, we’re inclined to give him a break.  Planes are NOT conducive to reading, which is the only possible explanation for SkyMall, the magazine that can actually convince your pathetic plane-addled brain that you desperately need, say, a rectal alarm clock.

    At any rate, we left the performance happy and fulfilled, and we look forward to its talented stars’ next venture, whatever that may be.  Not that anyone asked us, but if Mr. Tartaglia’s management will be pleased to accept our suggestion, we would like to put in our vote for a stage Fountainhead, starring “Dorsal” as Howard Roark.

    * This is no joke.  Lincoln Center is obsessed with this practice.  You New York theatregoers know what I'm talking about.  They’ll take any excuse.  Everything there is named after somebody, as in, “The Norbert V. and Edna M. Thrombosis Automatic Paper Towel Dispenser (Wave Hands in Front of Flashing Light).”  Seriously now, these people can’t all be somebody.  

    ** Appearing through the courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

    ©2010, Nicola McEldowney

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Brevity is the soul of twit

    I have a Twitter.  Can't say I'm totally 100% sure why, but, what the heck.  Call it instinct.*  If nothing else, it allows me to voice my feelings on today's Hot-Button Issues, such as Dylan's Candy Bar.

    So, yes.  Suivez-moi! (Follow me!)

    *You know, the universal human instinct to make purple sparkly webpages with strawberry icons.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Vive l'histoire!

    Lately, I’ve been negligent about blogging.  This is all college’s fault.  It’s very hard, although I should clarify that this is not what people usually mean when they say college is hard.  What they mean is this.  (Excuse me while I get into character.  Preparation is crucial to an actor.)


    Whereas what I think is hard is not having the time to write stuff that actually matters to you, defined as “stuff that does not have the words ‘neo-teological bifurcated gender dichotomy’ in the title.”  Because what college really is, if you ask me, is basically just a big fat old time-sucker, with the only pay-offs being (a) eventual social status (so I’m told) and (b) occasionally the vending machines give you two bags of animal crackers instead of one (this will appear on your next bill). 

    So it’s time to multitask.  Today, I’m going to allow academia to seep into blogging (as in, “Ewww! This blogging has academia all over it!”), which means today, we’re going to review for midterms.  Thus, without further ado, I give you:


    40,000 B.C. – Cro-Magnon.

    30,000 B.C. – Sno-Magnon.  (These were Magnons who sold sno-cones on street corners.  Recently, fossils were found at the corner of 79th and Broadway.)

    12,000 B.C. – Rise of the Gauls, whom historical artifacts suggest to have been a comical race of tiny little yellow-bearded men with big fat sidekicks.

    55 B.C. – Beginning of the colonisation of Gaul by the Romans.  Having conquered it, they commence building FNACs.  Of course, nobody knows what the “F” stands for.

    45 B.C. – Gérard Depardieu stars in first film.

    50 B.C. – The Romans slap their foreheads as they realize B.C. numbers actually go backward.  While the Romans are preoccupied slapping their foreheads, barbarians invade.

    500 A.D. – Barbarians slap their foreheads, realizing their invasion actually wasn’t supposed to occur till now.

    500 A.D., later in the afternoon – Barbarians get bored and flee, leaving their trash behind.  Everyone else is left picking up White Castle wrappers for days.

    800 A.D. – Charlemagne becomes emperor in a special ceremony at Charles de Gaulle airport. 

    987 A.D. – Domination of the feudal lords by the monarchy, who merge to become Feudal Lords-The Monarchy Amalgmated Enterprises, LLC, now Time Warner Cable. 

    987 A.D. – 14th and 15th centuries – Nothing happens during this time.  Everybody gets frankly pretty bored sitting around waiting for the 14th and 15th centuries.  “Where the heck are the 14th and 15th centuries?” are their exact words.  They are confounded, and with good reason: they did not know they spoke English.

    14th and 15th centuries: Finally we get back to business with the toe-tapping Guerre de cent ans contre les Anglais (literally, “the Time Warner Cable Guerre de cent ans contre les Anglais”).  The English respond by putting them in English hotels.  France surrenders instantly.  No one blames them.  Also during this time, the exploits of Jeanne d’Arc, played by Gérard Depardieu.

    The Middle Ages, Absolutism, and the Enlightenment – These all happened in the same day (“vendredi”), which as you can imagine meant schlepping all over creation.

    15th-16th centuries: Introduction of the Renaissance in France, a beautiful and enriching era of endless discovery and creation, during which the finest artistic figures in the history of Western civilization – Shakespeare, da Vinci, Lady Gaga, Pikachu, etc. – all go bowling.

    16th century, a little later on that evening – The French decide to appropriate the word “bowling” and pronounce it comically, as in, “Elle fait du bouh-linggg.”  Americans, who do not exist yet, snicker secretly.

    1515 – King Francis I takes the throne.  Cards featuring beloved comic character Bécassine are sent out for the occasion.

    1562-1589 Wars of religion between the Catholics and the Protestants.  In a stunning upset, they are both defeated by the Knicks.

    1589 Henri IV crowned king of France, followed soon by his sequel, Henri V Strikes Back.

    1804-15: The First Empire, so called because it is – pay close attention here – the first empire.  People decide that if THIS kind of thinking is the end product of the so-called “Enlightenment,” they want their money back.  Customer Service is invented for the express purpose of denying this request, in a historic ceremony featuring Broadway songs.

    1848: The Second Republic, so called because there weren’t any republics before it.

    1870: The Third Republic, which causes people everywhere to mumble, “What, another one?” in French.  (“Quoi, another un?”)

    1936-8: Le Front Populaire of Léon Blum, followed by the Side Unpopulaire of Léon Blum, then finally the Back, which is so unpopular it goes straight to DVD.

    1946-58: The Fourth Republic happens, but by this time no one is even paying attention.
    Independence of many of the French colonies, which show their discontent by burning their bras.

    1981 – Francois Mitterrand “cohabitates” with Jacques Chirac, which raises eyebrows, especially when they get matching towel sets.

    1991 – Election of the first female prime minister, Edith Cresson, played by Gérard Depardieu.

    1992-present – France continues to pronounce “bowling” funny.

    Thanks for helping me study.  You guys are great.  You’ll let me know if there are mistakes, right? 

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    The latest from the Super Duper Store

    Mes chers,

    With apologies for my scarceness this month, I direct your attention to the page I've created for Aisle Six.  The next production is in the works! In the meantime, here's this, for those of who've wanted to know more about it.

    And for those who haven't wanted to know more about it, your mother is ugly.

    A-heh ... I mean ... "to each his own." "To each his own," that is what I meant.  It came out wrong.  That happens.

    The Snark