All the muses are summoned in the massive Bruce Nauman retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. There is poetry both epic and lyric, and dance, too, as well as ribald and high comedy. But the muse most persistent is definitely Clio, the muse of history, whose spirit is woven through the better part of Nauman’s vast body of work.
“Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts” is billed as the first comprehensive overview of Nauman’s work in a quarter-century, with 165 works. It fills the full sixth floor of the museum’s main gallery space in Manhattan (which is always crowded), as well as the entirety of MoMA PS 1, the grittier and edgier affiliated gallery space in Queens (where visitors can have whole rooms to themselves). It follows his work from early films and drawings made in the mid-1960s to work featured in the Venice Beinnale of 2009, where he represented the United States on the international stage, and recent pieces, including a touching reprise of ideas he explored in the early days of his career now remade in 3-D video.
Any artist who works as long as Nauman has been working will leave audiences thinking about history, and Nauman’s career, which began in the volatile years of the Vietnam War era, is now well into its sixth decade. But history isn’t present in his work in any obvious, political sense. There are occasional references to the larger themes of American life, its banality, its hypocritical public discourse, its predilection for war and violence, its toll on the natural world. But, more essentially, the history that courses through Nauman’s career is the history of art and the history of his own body, which come together in certain works explicitly, and throughout the show in a more general sense: that Nauman’s project on Earth hasn’t been just to make art, but to live as an artist, digesting the insights and ideas of his forbears, and making those elements manifest in new ways.
The exhibition’s curator, Kathy Halbreich, has chosen the idea of absence or disappearance as an overarching theme for the show. That works well enough in many cases, especially in early Nauman projects, in which he casts the space under a chair in concrete, or creates neon “templates” of his body, which mapped in glowing light the voids left by cross-sections of his left flank “taken at ten-inch intervals.” It is a recurring theme throughout his work, in the haunting video feed of the 1972-1974 “Audio-Video Underground Chamber,” which shows in real time the coffin-like inside of a buried concrete chamber, or the multi-screen video 2001 installation “Mapping the Studio II,” which documents the emptiness of his cluttered workspace over almost six-hours.
But disappearance is a broad concept, and although it can be made to apply to other works, it isn’t always worth the effort. Nauman has been profligate with ideas, and any individual work is more interesting on its own terms than it is when subsumed under a general curatorial theme. There is definitely a sense of absence in some of the corridor works he has made, including the 1970 installation of narrowly spaced wallboards that invites you to walk through a tall, tight passageway, invading an empty, claustrophobic space, and sensing the pressure of containment on your solitary body. But disappearance or absence seem inadequate to the haunting effect of these physically challenging works, which somehow mimic the mental process of making sense of Nauman’s work, the way in which it always seems to lead to a mental dead end, in a good way, making one aware of how thinking is also frustrating, full of mischance and rarely any sense of conclusion.
Nauman makes this almost explicit in a 1968 work, “Get Out of My Mind, Get Out of This Room,” which consists of an empty room and an audio file repeating the title in various ways. The persistence of the voice speaking these haunting words suggests an analogue for the obsessive habits of a mind deep in thought, pursuing a way out of the dead ends of an idea, pushing forward again and again in hopes of revelation, often repeating the idea in the same words, as if somehow repetition will make the idea more tangible. There are times throughout this exhibition when one admires Nauman’s mental tenacity, the way he has preserved the messy, red-hot vigor of an adolescent mind grappling with a big thought long past the age when more sane people set aside such things, with the conclusion that there are some things that can never be unraveled.
This would all be tediously narcissistic if it were not for the persistence of history in the best of Nauman’s oeuvre. Early in his career, he made drawings and an iron sculpture that referenced the work of the much older and greatly esteemed artist Henry Moore. In “Henry Moore Bound to Fail” and “Seated Storage Capsule (For Henry Moore)” Nauman struggles to contain or constrain the power of the modernist sculptor, whose work was deemed old-fashioned by many artists of Nauman’s generation. But there is an important distinction between art that is critical of the past and art that is contemptuous of it, and Nauman almost always practices the former. These references to earlier artists also serve to contain and constrain Nauman’s own work, giving it humility, and depth, and making even his most outlandish ideas more coherent.
In the classic 1966 photograph “Self-Portrait as a Fountain,” a bare-chested Nauman spews a thin stream of water from his mouth, referencing not just the history of fountains, or Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain” sculpture, which consisted of a urinal turned on its back, but also the young artist’s larger intention to instantiate visual ideas with his own body. One emerges from this generous and expansive exhibition with a laundry list of references, to other artists and other artistic traditions, such as the way the grainy, colored screens of his empty studio video recall Andy Warhol’s silk-screen paintings, and the persistence of his interest in “contrapposto,” the asymmetry of the body beloved by classical sculptors who sought to breathe life into the static human form.
The most recent work on view, the 2017 “Contrapposto Split,” is a playful and melancholy return to that theme, first explored in the 1968 “Walk With Contrapposto,” in which the young artist sashayed through one of his narrow corridors with an exaggerated movement of his hips, mimicking the stance of classic male figures such as Michelangelo’s David. The 2017 reprise uses 3-D video, and a split screen, to suggest the way in which time has fractured the artist’s sense of his own body, the way in which, with age, none of our pieces ever quite fit together with the same snug perfection of youth. Now that we are certain that Nauman’s body has always been a metaphor for his mind, we understand that the pieces of his mind have never quite fit together perfectly, either, always straining for coherence and often moving slightly out of sync.
If you go, leave this work for last. The sadness is more palpable, which is the sadness of life in general, the pervasive, ineluctable sadness that is built into the history of every human body, known with gathering force as we move through the years and spend down our time.
Get Ready! A ‘New York Undercover’ Reboot Could Be Coming To ABC
Good news 90s TV fans! Dick Wolf’s groundbreaking drama, New York Undercover could actually be returning to TV in the near future.
According to Deadline, ABC, which is currently in the process of reviving Steven Bochco’s critically acclaimed series NYPD Blue, may be looking to add the hip police procedural to its lineup as well.
Recently, Rick Rosen, Wolf’s agent, hinted that his client “is reviving one of his shows from years ago,” which many assume is New York Undercover. Rosen said several networks are bidding on the project, and Deadline writer Nellie Andreeva predicts ABC will be the winner.
New York Undercover premiered on FOX in 1994 and ran for four seasons before airing its final episode in 1999.
The show debuted to praise from both critics and fans alike, thanks to its super diverse cast, which featured two people of color — Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo — as leads.
While both men have has gone on to have a long career full of interesting roles, Yoba said New York Undercover holds a special place in his heart.
“I’ve been a serious lead in thirteen series, and New York Undercover is the most enduring of all of it,” he told ESSENCE back in August. “So that just — you know — speaks to the importance of what type of programming it was.”
Yoba also believes the trailblazing series has even more stories to tell.
“You gotta have the things that people are dealing with and resonating with right now that inspire,” he said, suggesting the reboot could tackle today’s fraught political climate and the tense relationship between communities of color and the police.
While the future of a New York Undercover revival isn’t certain just yet, this is definitely one show we’d like to see on TV again.
WATCH THE NEW CAPTAIN MARVEL TRAILER NOW
“Would you like to know what you really are?” That’s a query posed to Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) in the just-released second trailer for next year’s Captain Marvel. And it’s a variation on a question Marvel fans have been asking themselves for the last year or so: Just who is this big-screen Captain Marvel—and what role will she play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it readies to enter Phase 4?
Judging by the the new trailer, we at least know that Larson’s character will stay true to her comic-book roots. Her Danvers is an ace military pilot who gets caught up in an intergalactic battle between two species, the Krees and the Skrulls, resulting in her being gifted with extraordinary super-powers. (She also has an extraordinarily cool mohawk-like ‘do, which makes a few quick cameos in the trailer). Captain Marvel takes place in the nineties, as Danvers is back on Earth, trying to make sense of how she got there. “I keep having these memories,” she tells Nick Fury (played by a digitally de-aged, two-eyed Samuel L. Jackson). “Something in my past is the key to all of this.”
We see quite a few glimpses of that past, including her rescue by the Krees—”a race of noble warrior-heroes,” she explains—who find her near-dead and devoid of memory. One of their leaders, played by Annette Bening, explains that Danvers was rebirthed as a Kree, so that she could live “longer, stronger, superior.” That explains why Captain Marvel can shoot bright blue bolts of energy from her hands: It’s Krees’ lightning!
Just how great those powers are, however, is a key question: Captain Marvel finds our hero facing down a new threat led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a pointy-eared Skrull—a guy that can’t get no love from Brie, so a showdown is inevitable. We also see her taking to the subways to beat up an old woman suspected of a Skrull-in-disguise, and taking guidance from Kree mentor, played by Jude Law. But will Captain Marvel posses the kind of near-atomic powers she maintains in the comics—the kind of abilities that could, say, propel her forward in time and take on Thanos? For the Marvel fans who watched many of their favorite heroes vanquished last years by the Snap in Avengers: Infinity War, that’s one of the big head-scratchers of Captain Marvel: Once she finds out who she really is, but will be it enough to save the day?
We’ll know soon enough. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the filmmakers behind such revered indie dramas as Half Nelson and Sugar, the supercharged Captain Marvel arrives March 8. That’s less than two months before the long-awaited Avengers: Infinity War follow-up—hopefully titled Avengers: Snap 2 It!—that will also feature Larson flying in for what promises to be more than just a cameo. Hopefully, the big screen ready for two meme-friendly superheroes named Carol.
Sprucing up NYC: Rockefeller Center lights Christmas tree
A massive Norway spruce has been lit up in a tradition that ushers in Christmastime in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio flipped the switch Wednesday night to light the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree following a televised extravaganza that featured performances by Diana Ross and Tony Bennett.
The 72-foot-tall tree is decorated with 5 miles (8 kilometers) of multicolored LED lights and a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star. Rockefeller Center has hosted the ceremony since 1931.
Police officers were plentiful, and spectators were funneled through security.
The 75-year-old tree was donated by a couple in Wallkill, 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the city.
It will remain on display until Jan. 7. Then it will be given to Habitat for Humanity to help build homes.
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