Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, 2012
Directed by Ice T
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan, the hip-hop aficionado he is, assigned me to review last year’s documentary The Art of Rap for our film review this week. He has been bugging me for quite some time to watch it for him, ever since he learned of its release from a subway ad tucked away in Brooklyn’s Morgan Avenue station last summer.
The Art of Rap is a strong, but incomplete history of rap and hip-hop’s roots and traditions. The film’s goal, as director and narrator Ice T states from the start, is to give insight into the technical processes behind the global cultural movement that is rap music. Towards this end, he takes the audience on a loose and winding historical tour through the Bronx, the movement’s birthplace, south through New York City, then across the country to Los Angeles. Along the way, Ice T stops to meet with some of hip-hop’s greatest emcees to chat about their processes, approaches, techniques, experiences, and influences. What comes out of this odyssey is a remarkable amount of insight into the art form and what it takes to be the best in one of the world’s most popular musical genres. We also get treated to a wide range of entertaining freestyles and anecdotes from some legendary figures, including Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg (pre Snoop Lion reincarnation), Eminem, Yasiin Bey (The Artist Formerly Known as Mos Def), Kanye West, and others.
Ice T, as our tour guide, is able to show us the inside story from the perspective of a true insider. He is perhaps the most logical fit for a project of this scope and ambition, considering his own position as a founding father of the hip-hop movement in LA and his consistent career as an actor. The perspective he is able to offer is fascinating and what he achieves is a film that truly celebrates the craft of hip-hop, without damaging itself by taking a self-congratulatory tone.
What Ice T doesn’t quite achieve, however, is the full picture. There is an over reliance in the narrative on the dichotomy between hip-hop’s New York origins and its second life in Los Angeles. The only thing in between is a brief stop in Detroit to pay homage to Eminem. This leaves some glaring omissions, most notably from the South; such figures as Ludacris, TI, Lil Wayne, and Andre 3000 and Big Boi from Outkast are left unrecognized. Perhaps this doesn’t concern the film and it is simply content to present the huge sample that it does. From my point of view, though, that sample would have been better if fully representative of hip-hop’s stylistic diversity.
Mr. Struggan sends his Regards.
The Art of Scent: 1889-2012
The Museum of Arts and Design, New York
Nov 20, 2012 - Mar 3, 2013
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan has, for several years, maintained a boycott against the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. A member of their staff, who shall remain nameless, displayed a great amount of rudeness the last time Mr. Struggan was in touch with their institution, and their typically uninteresting exhibition program hasn’t motivated him to return since. Hearing about their current exhibition, The Art of Scent, held Mr. Struggan’s curiosity enough, however, to send me there this past Thursday to review the show.
After wading through some truly strange exhibitions on the lower floors, I reached the 4th floor, where the assigned exhibition is installed. What met me in the gallery was stranger still, consistant with Mr. Struggan’s expectations. Embedded into the walls were several large indentations, with projected wall texts next to each. Accompanying these indentations, which served as smelling stations for the content of the show, was an introductory text to the exhibition projected from the ceiling onto the middle of the gallery floor. The text explained the exhibition’s aim to give historical context to the craft of scent design, starting from the dawn of the industrial revolution, which began a modern era for scent makers with the development of synthetic chemical production on a large scale, through the 20th century and up to the state of perfumery today.
The exhibition, according to the supporting text, aims to situate the “olfactory arts” within a larger historical context alongside the history of visual arts and design. The exhibition is interesting from this historical standpoint, but the show accomplishes little else. Twelve seminal fragrances from the field of scent design are exhibited, each available to experience at one of the indented stations along the wall. Though the wall texts provided some stimulating information about the history of the perfume industry, they failed to provide a full and adequate context to the show for me to leave with a clear understanding of what I had learned. It was the kind of information that could have been just as easily been read in a book. Actually, i take that back; a book would have been far easier, not just as easy. And far more convenient, comfortable, and informative to boot.
Beyond these shortcomings, the experience of the show uncomfortable. If the exhibition designers didn’t think it would be an awkward experience for visitors to thrust their heads into holes blatantly shaped like vaginas to have perfume vaporized at their nostrils, then they were very wrong.The show was wrought with other inconveniences as well, besides the disconcerting wall vagina vaporizers. The wall texts, for instance, were projected on the wall and faded in and out on a loop. When approaching a new station, the texts would just as often than not fade out of view before you had a chance to finish reading. This made the experience not only awkward, but also needlessly frustrating.
The exhibition also featured a side gallery with liquid samples of a range of perfumes to try, as well as a totally unexplained projection of a “live feed” of descriptions of the scents. In all likelihood a poorly conceived social media plugin to garner viewer participation.
In short, the show lacks adequate contexts, both in its physical design and in its content. Every aspect of the exhibition was approached with all style, and little substance. Mr. Struggan, after hearing my thoughts about the show, is fairly sure he won’t be sending me back to MAD anytime soon.
Mr. Struggan sends his Low Regards.
Warm Bodies, 2013
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan has a hefty dose of disdain for the type of rom-coms that roll out every year to capitalize on the emotional ups and downs of the Valentine’s Day ritual. It is for this reason that his interest was piqued by Warm Bodies, which seemed to him a very atypical early February release. He sent me to see it this week for a review ahead of the 14th to let you all know his thoughts.
Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer lead the film as R and Julie, the latter a young woman and member of the human resistance against a zombie apocalypse that has overrun the planet, the former a young zombie who falls in love with Julie during a feeding frenzy in which he eats her boyfriend. Vowing to protect her from his undead cohorts, R and Julie begin to discover a bond between them despite their differences, and ultimately unlock the key to the zombie cure (spoiler alert: the cure is love).
The story, adapted from a novel by Issac Marion, largely follows the story arc of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; two young people (or one young person and one young zombie) from two warring factions, thrust into an improbable love despite their differences. Added to this is a clever take on the typical zombie story, giving us a humanized protagonist in the midst of an existential crisis surrounding his droll routine as a zombie and his self-contempt at his need to satisfy his hunger for human flesh. The end result is a unique genre bender that, despite an oddball premise, delivers a fun and funny film with an authentic message about love and the human experience.
The film is not without its shortcomings, however. Hoult and Palmer carry the film with two very strong performances, but the rest of the cast is very one dimensional. This is somewhat the fault of bad pacing, where parts of the film could have used more breathing room to further develop the characters and their motivations. The film is still a very entertaining watch, especially for fans of the zombie genre, and provides breath of fresh air to the standard February fare.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
Darren Almond: Hemispheres and Continents
Nayland Blake: What Wont Wreng
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City
Feb 2 - Apr 20, 2013
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan sent me to Chelsea last night for a a special double assignment. Matthew Marks Gallery opened two shows last night in their galleries in Chelsea, Darren Almond: Hemispheres and Continents at 522 W22nd, and Nayland Blake: What Wont Wreng at 502 W22nd.
Darren Almond’s exhibition features 17 large format landscape photographs taken at night under the light of a full moon. Shot across all seven continents between 2002 and 2012, these long exposures are the result of a specific process, where Almond vets locations for his photos ahead of time and then returns at night to execute his planned shots. In addition to the photographs, the show features another piece, a glass sculpture designed to function as a radiometer whose moving parts rotate when exposed to light.
The work on view was magnificent. The long moonlight exposures convey night’s quiet stillness, but the quality of the light also creates an alien setting, one we are familiar yet also unfamiliar with. The gallery’s press release notes Almond’s forgoing of technical control by working in the darkness as an important aspect of the work. Though he is unable to control the camera, Almond’s photography is by no means haphazard or accidental. On their large scale, the work has a transportive effect.
Down the street, I was similarly pleased with Nayland Blake’s exhibition of 6 installation pieces. Blake incorporates both found objects and his own fabrications into his work, including such media as fabric, metal, paper and vinyl prints, plexiglass, denim, stuffed animals, furniture, mirrors, and more.
Using found objects in art is often helpful when aiming for a rough or worn aesthetic. Blake doesn’t allow for this type of quality to come through in his work. Much like Almond’s photographs, Blake achieves a refined quality in these installations. His pieces are clean-cut, and where they incorporate found objects, these recycled elements attain a sense of rehabilitation. I especially liked the two floor installations, Eleventh and Buddy, Buddy, Buddy. Each of their four sides is almost its own separate installation. The 3 wall mounted pieces were also strong, but were not quite as versatile.
Mr. Struggan sends his Highest Regards.
Les Misérables, 2012
Directed by Tom Hooper
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan had to call an audible this week with his film review assignment. He was going to have me go see the new film Movie 43, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, considering the nearly unanimous bad reviews it’s received) it was not playing at the theater near me. Instead, he asked me to pick an Oscar contender that I hadn’t seen yet, so I caught a showing of Les Misérables.
I feel it is important to note, given the popularity of Les Mis, that I have never seen it before, neither on film nor on stage. I didn’t even know much about the story going into it. My suspicion is that this fact directly affected my inability to like Tom Hooper’s film, which seemed, in its marketing campaign and the actual viewing of it, like it wanted to position itself as a bold remake of a beloved story targeted at its fans. To me, the uninitiated, I could not buy in.
Listening to music is an emotional experience above all, and the musical genre succeeds best when it is able to tap into this emotive potential and elevate the action of a story. Hooper’s Les Mis attempts to tap into this aspect of the genre by paying particular care to the music, but rather than having the intended elevating effect, it instead distracted. The film tries to ride a line between musical and realist drama which shouldn’t, maybe even can’t, be riden; musicals demand a suspension of disbelief, mostly because people don’t actually burst into spontaneous moments of choreographed song and dance when expressing their feelings in real life. Hooper’s attempt to inject a bold, in-your-face grittiness to his production is, therefore, ultimately ill conceived.
Hugh Jackman, as the most competent member of the cast, managed to keep me with the program with his performance as Jean Valjean. Similarly, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, kept me entertained as the comic relief. The rest of the cast had too little screen time to impress me, or enough to bore me.
From a technical standpoint, the film had some great moments; the grand visuals and set pieces were truly awesome, and Hooper deserves a lot of credit for his ambitious vision alone. Ambition without execution, though, left me feeling nothing about the film. Given the hype, that only left me disappointed.
Mr. Struggan sends his Low Regards.
Zarina: Paper Like Skin
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
January 25 - April 21, 2013
Wilson here. After a very exciting night on Friday at Postcards From the Edge (my piece sold!), Mr. Struggan sent me out Saturday night to the Guggenheim to cover their new exhibition, Zarina: Paper Like Skin. I was supposed to attend the opening Friday night, had I not had business in Chelsea, and Mr. Struggan was kind enough to let me reschedule the assignment. The long, cold line for the Guggenheim’s pay-what-you-want hours was well worth the visit for the new retrospective exhibition of the work of this Indian-born master printmaker.
The exhibition charts Zarina’s practice through several decades of her career. Her work draws on traditions of religion and spirituality, poetry and calligraphy, and western minimalist aesthetics, all to a beautiful and delicate effect. The work on view, a wide range of prints and sculptures, is nothing short of gorgeous.
Zarina’s work could best be described as schematic. Sometimes this is manifested quite literally in pieces that map cities or the layout of a room. More often though, her pieces reveal inner structures, such as in a series of ink prints made using found scraps of wood, or even in the material presence of the handmade paper in some of her more sculptural pieces. The results are, for the most part, powerful and evocative.
I found the show’s curation was awkward at at times. This is mainly due to the fact that I find the Guggenheim’s annex galleries to be somewhat awkward spaces. The work on view deserved a bit more breathing room, and generally I found many of the curatorial choices, especially the texts, to be a bit stuffy. I’d be curious what the differences are between the Guggenheim’s installation and the installation at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where the show originated. Regardless, Zarina’s work speaks clearly for itself as masterful and elegant.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.