Rediscovering Francis Picabia @ MoMA [part 1]

Rediscovering the French avant-garde artist whose body of work is so extensive, undergoing so many style changes, the average spectator would have a hard time in identifying the source had there not been for his signature or the accompanying tags.

No style or label could hold Picabia for long: skillfully shifting from Impressionism to Pointillism to Cubism and Dadaism, briefly touching upon Surrealism before succeeding to rid himself of labels and become the intriguing artist we know today.

With all this versatility throughout his entire career curating a retrospective for Picabia is no mean feat. But then, MoMA is no mean institution either: for their exhibition that ran from November 2016 through March 2017 – the first of its kind in the United States – no less than 200 works of art were brought under one roof: paintings, periodicals and printed matter, illustrated letters and a film. Aptly named ”Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction”, it was comprehensive, enlightening and entertaining, all at once.

Untitled (Portrait of Mistinguett) c. 1909 – Oil on canvas
Physical Culture (Culture physique) 1913 – Oil on canvas
Comic Wedlock (Mariage comique) 1914 – Oil on canvas
Ad libitum – Your Choice; At Will (Ad libitum – au choix; à la volonté) c. 1914 – Watercolour, pencil and charcoal on paper mounted on board
Sad Figure (Figure triste) 1912 – Oil on canvas
I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie (Je revois en souvenir ma chère Udnie) 1914 – Oil on canvas

[Note from the accompanying tag: Picabia associated ”Udnie” – a name of his own invention – with memories of watching the dancer Stacia Napierkowska, whose suggestive performances subsequently provoked her arrest, rehearse onboard during his transatlantic journey to New York in 1913. ”Udnie” is also an anagram of the last name of Jean d’Udine, whose theory of synesthesia (published in 1910) linked painting with music and dance through the concept of rhythm. In this painting, rhythm is intimated via a series of repeated, interpenetrating pistons and quasi-visceral orifices, fusing the mechanical with the biological.]

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The film shown was ‘‘Entr’Acte”, René Clair’s Dadaist Masterpiece (1924), originally designed to be screened between two acts of Francis Picabia’s 1924 opera Relâche. You can read all about it – and watch it – on Open Culture (film is on YouTube).

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From a retrospective exhibition at MoMA.

January 30th, 2017

New Yorker Festival

Our initiation to The New Yorker Festival, an annual event with performances, screenings and talks bringing together personalities from the worlds of art, culture, literature, politics and, to quote the organisers, everything in-between.

A modest but very interesting start with just two of the events.

Louis C.K. talks with Emily Nussbaum came first. I remember the shock in seeing the dreaded ”sold out” mark next to the ”buy tickets” button. Ever the optimist, after scrolling down for more talks, I thought I’d give it another try. And, lo and behold, two tickets available – must have been the very last ones.

Hot topics like the then upcoming elections and Presidential candidate Trump were covered, but also those more personal like family and work. And money spending, when it came to Mr. C.K.’s latest work Horace and Pete, a production entirely self-funded and web-streamed on his website, yet still managing to loose money even without involvement of middle-men.

We were even treated to a news flash, when Mr. C.K. announced that it would soon become available on Hulu. Two months later the news became official. I had watched Horace and Pete with mixed feelings of disbelief and admiration upto the final moments of grief; for I just couldn’t stand the last episode, torturous from beginning to Horace’s tragic knife-stabbing end. The untimely appearance of his his long-lost son didn’t help either.

The following evening was the turn of a gentleman whose class, charisma, acting mastery and a certain British charm can be summed up in two words: Jeremy Irons.

In ”Jeremy Irons talks with Rebecca Mead” the discussion flowed freely like between two friends having a good time. A journey that started in the Isle of Wight, touched upon Mr. Irons’ childhood years and went on about education, racism, economy. ”Unregulated capitalism is like unregulated water: It will drown you” said Mr. Irons, a phrase that stuck with me since.

His motorbike, Broadway stints and other important steps in his career (Brideshead Revisited – yes, of course) were also mentioned, as was his newest film ”The Man who knew Infinity” which I have yet to watch.

A lively conversation, spoken in Mr. Irons’ distinctive voice, excellent diction and that very charming British humour, enhanced by his expressive gestures – and when these were not enough to contain him in his seat – his walking about the stage in a kind of improvised performance.

Dressed in a steampunkish outfit, matching scarf and biker boots Mr. Irons was the personification of an English gentleman with a touch of ”frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” flare, audiences around the world find so irresistible.

The series is held in different venues in New York City, in October.

October 7th & 8th, 2016

Manifesto

I went in expecting to see an interesting video art installation. I came out a better person, conscious that I have witnessed a brilliant work of art. Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto bridges admirably the boundaries between filmmaking, theatrical artistic expression and technical dexterity. Mounted on 13 screens, positioned all over the monumental Wade Thompson Drill Hall in deceptive randomness, Manifesto brings to life excerpts of over 50 manifestos and statements by artists, filmmakers, choreographers and architects, going back as early as 1913 (Appolinaire’s The Futurist Antitradition) and as recently as 2002 (Jim Jarmusch’s Golden Rules of Filmmaking).

And then, there is Cate Blanchett. In case you still had a doubt about Ms. Blanchett’s brilliance as a performer this is your moment of truth. Passing effortlessly from the role of a homeless man, to a diva choreographer, a TV anchorwoman, a factory worker, a school teacher, a scientist, or my two favourites – a puppeteer and a conservative mother, Ms Blanchett interprets, dramatizes and recites excerpts, merging different manifestos and statements in every story seamlessly, skillfully proving yet again what a powerful performer she really is.

Manifesto is on at the Park Avenue Armory until January 8th, 2017. An unmissable treat, if your way brings you to New York City until then.

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Photography is not permitted inside the hall, and rightfully so for once, as camera and cell phone lights would have been all but rude intruders destroying the immersive, audio-visual experience.

As a compensation, cameras are welcome in all the beautifully restored reception rooms on the first floor.

December 10th, 2016