Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New York Journal 1.

A blast of fun Monday night. Met up with Filmbrain and Aaron for dinner at a French place in their Brooklyn neighborhood. I was curious about how our easy on-line social dynamics would translate to (gasp) actual face-to-face meeting, but the moment I shook hands, the question evaporated from my mind. We fell in like a band of thieves, and moved our non-stop movie-talk to a late-night watering hole before walking back through the empty stillness of Brooklyn several hours later.

Tuesday morning, I showed up in Greenwich Village to rendezvous with yet another highly companionable cinema savant, Zach. People milled about; we had to call and describe ourselves and specify our exact locations; we spotted each other and made contact. Then to Thiru’s, a South Indian food stand that Zach has raved about on his blog and mine. I can see why. The masala dosa was among the yummiest I’ve ever had. Our chat was great fun but too brief since Zach was on his lunch hour. We’ll be trying for a more leisurely meeting later in the week over a movie and a drink.

From there, uptown to the Met to catch the Robert Rauschenberg exhibit. I’ve been intrigued by him since I read Calvin Tomkins’ The Bride And The Bachelors: Five Masters Of The Avant-Garde, the first art book in which I remember underlining and scribbling all over. (It’s both highly accessible and rich with ideas—also a great book to gift, I’ve discovered.)

In the 1950’s, Rauschenberg invented the idea of the “combine”, a combination of painting, sculpture and collage. What a great big difference it is to only look at art in books, and to stand a foot away from it. Take for example “Monogram”(1959), which is made up of a horizontal flat board, collaged and painted, with a stuffed angora goat sitting on it, a tire around its middle. Or “Bed” (1955), which consists simply of Rauschenberg’s unmade bed, mounted standing up on the wall—pillows, sheets and comforter—and half-caked with paint.

These works were made fifty years ago, and have passed into textbooks. But what on earth does this art possibly mean? I’m not exactly sure, but to me it starts to acquire meaning when we see it for its place in the flow of art history. The 50’s were the decade of the abstract expressionists like Pollock and De Kooning who rejected the “recognizable world” and made art that was about itself. They were in part reacting to the old Renaissance view of art as a “window” on to a world: we could peer into that world (which was not exactly the same as our world—it was more “ideal” than ours) and recognize objects and shapes and things from our world in it. In Pollock’s paintings, you don’t recognize anything from our “real world” except paint and canvas.

But Rauschenberg rejected these exclusively formalistic notions of the abstract expressionists, and reintroduced the real, recognizable world into art. But this world wasn’t meant to be idealized in the Renaissance manner—it was meant to be ordinary (a bed), though not documentary (a goat with a tire around its middle?). Take away this “narrative context” provided by art history and his art—a lot of art, not just his—might look just plain bizarre.

A few more thoughts:

  • Rauschenberg didn’t invent the collage (Picasso did, in 1912) but by fusing it with painting and sculpture, he erased boundaries between media, which was prophetic—think of the explosion in multi-media art in the last fifty years.

  • In prints and in textbooks, his art appears random and haphazard. Up close, it’s anything but. I realized for the first time that he uses grids, though they’re disordered—they float, slide, hang askew. Check out “Bed” above: the top half is chaotic, the bottom half is quite ordered and grid-like.

  • So many of his works are human-sized and vertical, which means we see them almost as if they were mirrors, reflecting in human scale. Perhaps they invite the viewer to step into them, rather than just peer into them like we would through a window (a Renaissance window into another, more refined world)?

  • I noticed that the curator’s notes on “Monogram” allegorized the goat to be a satyr, a phallic symbol. But frankly, Rauschenberg himself might be a little horrified at the easy literal-ness of that interpretation. He intended his work to not have symbolic value. (If something symbolic caught his eye while he was painting, he took it out.)

  • There are odd and surreal juxtapositions in his work but they never feel like variables in a calculus of cause and effect. The objects in his art have been put there simply because they are from the real world, and of it. “I don’t want to change the world,” he once said about his art, [italics mine] “I just want to live in it.

26 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

Two more additions to our Abel Ferrara Blog-A-Thon:
Rich Juzwiak, and Charles Bronson vs. God.

March 15, 2006 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

True story . . .

The other night I sat down to watch New Rose Hotel. After fifteen minutes, I hit pause, walked upstairs, and poured myself a double shot of bourbon.

I really liked the film.

My flight from Knoxville to NYC landed three hours ago -- without me on it. Keep the updates coming, Girish. This week I'm living vicariously through your blog.

March 15, 2006 12:11 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'd love to see that exhibit Girish. Rauschenberg's combines have so much available texture that its impossible to capture the aesthetic with photos. And the prominent tactile qualities reinforce the idea you mentioned about being able to 'step' into the works rather than just 'peering', even more so with the use of the everyday and easily recognizable objects.

March 15, 2006 4:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, the only thing that would have completed this trip for me is if you'd been able to fly in. We should definitely do that some year.
Yeah, New Rose Hotel is one of my favorites by Ferrara. And I bet the bourbon really helped when the last half-hour kicked in. :-)
An article by Zach on the film.

Brian, you nailed it on the head: I had no idea how significant texture was in Rauschenberg's art until I was standing in front of it.
I realize that one could say that about all art but I think it's especially true for the 1950's Ab-Ex artists like Pollock, De Kooning, Rothko, Newman, et al., and the post-Ab-Ex/pre-Pop guys like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns because--and here's a paradox--on the one hand they emphasize the flatness of a work of art, violently rejecting any attempt at "illusionism", and yet their work isn't quite flat: it's seething with thick painterly "gestures" and impasto dabs and chunks and is raised (three-dimensionally) on the 2-D picture plane.
The "combines" are in that vein: they sort of jut into the viewer's space, and are (pleasantly) disconcerting because of that. And every single surface has that unusual and often rough-hewn texture and tactility that you spoke of...

March 15, 2006 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, I just noticed this film in the Tribeca lineup and thought of you:

Tell Me Do You Miss Me, directed by Matthew Buzzell (USA) - World Premiere. For over a decade, New York darlings Luna played lullabies for the indie set, but in 2004 they hung up their guitars for good. This documentary charts their bittersweet final tour as they travel around the world, down memory lane, and into the uncertain future.

March 15, 2006 6:58 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Once you're back, don't miss this for some fairly large art images.

March 15, 2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Thanks for reporting in, Girish!! Glad to hear you're having a good time with your online buds. Unfortunately, I'm not able to join this blogathon but will still read aptly. Am diving into our International Asian-American Film Festival and there's just not enough time....

March 15, 2006 9:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren and Tuwa, thanks for the links.
Had no idea about the Luna doc! Very excited for it. The title is a lyric fragment from one of their songs. I miss them already.

Michael/Maya, I look forward to your fest coverage. And I'm sure there will be other blog-a-thons coming our way...
Others: do check out Michael's blog; he's been amazingly prolific.
A recent post begins, "Brian Darr is a great gumshoe..." (an understatement).

March 16, 2006 7:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Posting a couple of links I discovered in the last few minutes. (To read at leisure when I get back).

Mark Asch: A Johnny To Consumer Guide.

March 16, 2006 8:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The Siren on Dodsworth, which I've never seen, but had on my Netflix queue forever.

March 16, 2006 8:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The third installment of Harry Tuttle's detailed analysis of The Wayward Cloud.
(Harry--I'm curious: how many times have you seen it? And since I know you don't watch videos/DVD's, it must've been on the big screen every time, right?)

March 16, 2006 8:07 AM  
Blogger girish said...

That Little Round-Headed Boy on the new Donald Fagen record, which I can't wait to hear.

March 16, 2006 8:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great post at Moistworks, with mp3's, on songs that helped define the Led Zeppelin sound.

March 16, 2006 8:11 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Amazing! All screenings for Vers la Sud are already sold out for Rendez-vous with French Cinema (the evening slots normally do sell out, but even the Friday, 1:00 pm screening is). The Sunday 1:00 screening of Housewarming is also close to selling out. I definitely plan on camping out early to stake out good seats. :)

March 16, 2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for the warning, Acquarello. I shall join you in your early camp-out on Sunday.

March 16, 2006 4:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug on The Future Of Food.

March 17, 2006 9:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Nicholas Rombes: "We are all data-entry citizens, cataloguing our own head-long rush to nowhere."

March 17, 2006 9:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Yesterday at MoMA, thanks to Aaron, I met Ed Gonzalez of Slant, and he's going to be joining us for the Ferrara-thon with The Addiction.

March 17, 2006 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm still not sure which Ferrera film to cover. I was thinking of Cat Chaser although the final cut was taken from Ferrera. Also considering Fear City and Driller Killer.

March 17, 2006 5:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, I'm still mulling over my options, and haven't decided yet either.

This morning, to the Strand Bookstore and the Whitney Biennial.

March 18, 2006 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Way to take advantage of your time here, G! I wanted to mention your Girish Gone Wild NYC adventure on my site, then realized my time was limited before hitting another ND/NF press screening. Therefore, you only got a terse but quite prominent shout-out. Hope to meet up with you again this weekend...

Oh, and Peter: Not that you couldn't also write it up, but I'm definitely doing Fear City (thanks to Filmbrain's illicit black-market dealings to procure the out-of-print, uncut European DVD for me). Ferrara-Fest, here we come!

March 18, 2006 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm looking forward to reading about the uncut Fear City. I'll do Cat Chaser from the vantage point of someone who is also a fan of Elmore Leonard and a resident of Miami Beach.

March 18, 2006 12:21 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Just twice, Girish (not that I would mind seeing it more if my film schedule wasn't so busy...), but reading a dozen articles feels like a repeat viewing (mentally) when it's well written.
I wish more people had seen it in order to feed a discussion, maybe after it is released on DVD in the USA...
I hope you enjoy your trip to french cinema ;)
Your guided visit with your "band of thieves" is great !

btw, I heard the MoMA was showing a retrospective of all french films awarded of the Prix Jean Vigo. And William Klein's Polly Maggoo is quite a treat (for the photography and costume design).

March 18, 2006 4:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Aaron. Thanks for the shout-out. I'm a fan of your mash-ups even when I don't get them right. I know the middle one this time and I'm racking my brain over the other two. (Filmbrain & I were discussing them on the train yesterday.)

Peter, I haven't heard of anyone doing Cat Chaser yet. I think Mubarak mentioned that it was missing a few minutes in the US release (some kind of scene with Kelly McGillis and a gun between her legs had been snipped.)

Harry--For just having seen it twice, that is an amazingly detailed analysis. Seriously.

March 18, 2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Looks like I'm going to have to miss the Ferrara-a-Thon. I got caught up in a bunch of stuff this past week, including two major pieces I'm trying to iron out for this coming week, and I just don't think I'm going to be able to swing it. And truth be told, I thought Ferrara was scheduled for April! Oh, well! Flickhead and I have something cooking for an April Blog-a-Thon instead, and he'll be making an official announcement soon! Again, sorry I can't make Ferrara, but I promise to being reading and commenting aplenty!

March 18, 2006 11:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for letting us know, Dennis. And I just linked to Flickhead's (and your) announcement in the comments to my new post.

March 19, 2006 10:17 AM  

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