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Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE

Ukrainian-born artist Ilya Kabakov’s 2008 multi-site Moscow retrospective is the departure point of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: ENTER HERE, itself a look back at the husband-and-wife team whose surreal, mimetic installations reinvented the landscape of Soviet and post-Soviet art.

Director Amei Wallach re-teamed with editor-cinematographer Ken Kobland (the pair’s last collaboration was Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine, 2008) to follow the Kabakovs, who fled the Soviet Union in 1987, back to Russia.

The couple has lived in the United States for the last 25 years, though Ilya appears most comfortable speaking German — anything, it seems, but Russian. Kabakov, now 80, plans, paints, and oversees the reconstruction of his 1992 installation The Toilet — a domestic interior within the façade of a public restroom — pausing to describe his “mechanical kind of life” in a post-Stalin USSR.

“He was silent for 55 years of his life,” Emilia says. Wallach de-emphasizes Emilia’s contribution; credited as “the Collaborator,” her role appears more practical than creative. No longer silent but still the lesser talker between them, Ilya is marvelously fluent in spatial forms: The climax of ENTER HERE finds an old Moscow garage transformed into a maze-like reckoning space, history and art made inextricable.

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LUSTY LADIES

On Bob Dylan’s 1976 Desire album cover, we see him decked out in a fedora, fur-collared coat, and scarf tie, gazing off into the distance—but what is he looking at? This alluring image, taken by Ruth Bernal, serves as the curatorial inspiration to 
Desire, a group show of more than 20 
female artists. Check out compelling and provocative work like Yoko Ono’s Touch Me cut-up canvas, Vivienne Griffin’s 
peephole op-art ink drawing, and Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin’s watercolor paintings, one of which features a red 
penis and is titled A Million Ways to Cum. Want more? Don’t wait, this show closes soon.

Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m. Starts: Aug. 19. Continues through Aug. 23, 2013

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TRANSFORMER

Somewhere between 1918 and 1925, surrealist artists started a game called “Exquisite Corpses” on a lark that quickly turned into an artistic movement throughout the 20th century and resonates to the present day. The concept of the game, highlighted in the exhibition Exquisite Corpses: Drawing and Disfiguration, begins with a collection of words or images collectively assembled; each collaborator then adds to the composition in sequence. Artists such as André Masson, Joan Miró, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Gober, Mark Manders, and Nicola Tyson have all taken part, subjecting the human body to distortions and juxtaposition and transforming it into bizarre figures, such as Steve Gianakos’s “She Could Hardly Wai” (1996), a portrait of a woman whose head doubles as a clothing pin. Exquisite, indeed!

Thu., March 15, 10 a.m., 2012

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Brigitte Cornand’s The Red Birds Riffs on Art, Life, Womanhood

Some visual artists are blessed with the ability to speak compellingly about their life and work, their insight serving as a forceful adjunct to their art. Others, when given the opportunity, indulge in a bloated stream of prattle that’s either too academic, too abstract, or too precious to communicate many concrete ideas to a receptive listener. It’s the latter tendency that predominates in Brigitte Cornand’s Red Birds, a short video project in which the filmmaker sets off brief conversations with Louise Bourgeois, Carolee Schneemann, and a dozen other female artists with homemade footage of 14 varieties of bird, each species serving as a thematically apposite onscreen avatar for one of the film’s subjects. No comprehensive consideration of the creative process, Cornand’s video unfolds as a series of modest riffs on the intersections of art, life, and womanhood, as the subjects reflect on their upbringing, the difficulty of forming a personal identity, and what it means to be a female artist. But for every lucid recollection of having to overcome parental resistance and forge one’s own path, there are whole reams of stale talk about the “spirituality” of nature, a catalog of stilted phraseology, and Kiki Smith’s gaseous discussions of her gender-flipping, chronology-shuffling readings of the Bible.

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La Rivière Gentille

The most recent of three documentaries screening in anticipation of the career retrospective of French artist Louise Bourgeois, which comes to the Guggenheim this fall, La Rivière Gentille finds the 96-year-old sculptor and painter more devoted to her work than many of her much younger, much hungrier counterparts. Equally devoted to Bourgeois is director Brigitte Cornand, whose latest installment in her extended portrait (which includes Chère Louise: A Portrait of Bourgeois and The Whisper of the Whistling Water, both playing at Anthology as part of its “Louise Bourgeois on Film” series) offers something of a video scrapbook: The camera settles on decades’ worth of datebooks, some pages filled with the worried ledger of an artist’s budget; shabbily impressionistic shots linger lovingly over Bourgeois at her worktable; and the artist occasionally lapses into family reminiscences, touching on the origins of her lifelong habits and passions. In one scene, Cornand plays for Bourgeois a tape of the artist’s own singsongy ramblings, recorded as she was painting at an earlier time, and we simply watch Bourgeois listening for several minutes, her face rippling with pleasure and then some other, more complicated memory. Whether you find these sequences revelatory in their Zen persistence or frustratingly remote is likely a matter of interest; the film’s meandering quality is clearly (often too clearly) dependent on the former response, suggesting it as required viewing for superfans only. And if Cornand’s rapt efforts are any indication of the fealty that her subject inspires, such followers will hang on every frame.

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Marion Cajori: Art About Art

Seated at her claustrophobic, makeshift editing suite inside a triangle-shaped building on Eighth Avenue and 13th Street, Marion Cajori spooled through her footage of sculptor Louise Bourgeois, mallet-wielding diva and irascible feminist art icon.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Cajori laughed, as the images tripped across the screen of her pre-digital Steenbeck.

The year was 1993. Cajori’s Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Abstract Painter had recently opened; the director had a vague plan for a film about painter Alice Neal. But it was the Bourgeois project that was going to occupy her mind for the next decade—along with money, her children, and the cancer she’d been diagnosed with several years before.

This week, Film Forum opens Cajori and co-director Amei Wallach’s Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine. On June 27, the Guggenheim launches its career retrospective, “Louise Bourgeois.” And on Christmas, Bourgeois turns 97, having outlived surrealism, abstract expressionism, post-minimalism—and her director: Cajori died in 2006 at age 56, finally succumbing to the disease that had shadowed her since the late ’80s.

The title connects Bourgeois to her most famous sculptures (the spider), the governess who slept with her father (the mistress), and her father’s coldness (the tangerine). “Louise had this very difficult childhood,” says Isabel Cajori Jay, Marion’s daughter and now a psychology- lab manager at Columbia University. (As a child, Isabel and her brother Florian lived in various Manhattan spaces, where their mother also worked. “I’d wake up in the morning hearing Louise’s voice,” Isabel recalls of the long shoot.)

“In fact,” she says, “the film was originally called Louise Bourgeois: The Art of Sanity. I think about that in terms of my mother: Just as Louise has had the past with her all the time, my mother had cancer following her around, no health insurance, two kids—and I think, in a way, for both of them, art was a source of sanity. I think, for many years, making the film kept my mother alive.”

“I think she was in a kind of state of denial,” says Wallach, who was an art critic for Newsday and a commentator on The MacNeil/Lehrer Report when she first met Cajori. “She was going to finish the film despite what was happening to her.”

“Dying without finishing it was her worst nightmare,” agrees Isabel.

It was a nightmare realized. Cajori managed, with the help of cinematographer Ken Kobland, to cut Chuck Close, her portrait of the portraitist, weeks before dying in the summer of ’06. But Bourgeois—which had always been problematic financially—was completed only after her death, by Wallach and Kobland.

“At the time, she had no collectors,” Wallach says of Bourgeois—meaning, of course, people who’d be interested in funding a work about an artist in whom they had a monetary stake. “After Marion died, I did go to some people—who will remain nameless—and say, ‘Do you want this film or not?’ ” They did, and the money, which had been so elusive to Cajori throughout her career, came through.

In 1993, however, Bourgeois had yet to attain her current iconic status, even though she was the U.S. representative at that year’s Vienna Biennale. It was there that Wallach and Cajori began photographing the artist’s work—shooting all night, in what Wallach describes as a painstaking process of lighting, moving, shooting, lighting. It is Cajori’s visual representation of her subjects’ art that so distinguishes her films—precisely lit, uncritically observant, journalistic. “The camera is always moving,” Wallach says. “It leads the eye.” The result is a treatment which, arguably, improves on the experience the viewer might have in person.

Cajori, the child of two artists, received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 1974 and proceeded to make films both abstract and narrative (1981’s White Lies featured the unknown Willem Dafoe). She was married to Paul Jay, a member of a venerable New England family, but Isabel says her father wasn’t in a financial position to fund his estranged wife’s projects. Besides, “she refused to ask for help. She was a stubborn person”—and not a businesswoman, her daughter adds. Isabel wishes she’d had more conversations about the process of her mother’s art, about the way Marion mirrored an artist’s work in her own, and about the film with which she essentially grew up. “We would discuss it a little bit,” she says. “Mostly, I would look and give her feedback. When you work on a film for so many years, you have to keep asking the question: ‘Is it any good?’ “

Film Forum thinks so. Karen Cooper, the theater’s director and a longtime friend of the filmmaker’s, has shown all three Cajori films; her husband, animator George Griffin, also served as executive producer on Bourgeois.

Given all the footage they had to work with, taken over so many years, one must credit Wallach and Kobland with the puckish inclusion of one particular Bourgeois quote: “Artists should not be supported by the government; they should be grateful to be artists,” Bourgeois says to the camera. “The artist has the privilege to be attached to his or her unconscious. And this is really a gift. It is the definition of sanity. It is the definition of self-realization.”

It is also the definition of art delayed, art frustrated—of too much time wasted in the craven pursuit of money. Of course, the sequence is insightful re Bourgeois’s worldview. But it seems the height of irony that she should say it in a film being made by a dying woman, one who had to sidestep spiders and juggle figurative tangerines to make art—art which, in Cajori’s case, was far less about privilege than it was headlong pursuit.

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Louise Bourgeois: Tangled Biography

Perhaps a benefit of its epic gestation—much of the original footage dates back to ’93—Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach’s documentary biography of nonagenarian sculptor Louise Bourgeois nicely distinguishes itself from a current theatrical epidemic of stultifyingly admiring life-of-the-artist docs. Bourgeois, born in France but expatriated to the U.S. before World War II, has tangled with surrealism, feminism, postmodernism, and most any other -ism you could think of in the course of her creative life. The filmmakers seem to have developed an unusual intimacy with their subject, and part of this film’s pleasure is in the intergenerational frictions that come up in Bourgeois and Wallach’s conversations, with the interviewer trying to coax her subject into mouthing explicitly feminist cant, and Bourgeois cannily demurring. When Wallach calls a Brancusi sculpture “phallic,” Bourgeois scoffs; while many activists read Bourgeois’s oeuvre as a rebellion against the patriarchy of her girlhood (the Guerrilla Girls: “She’s our icon, whether she likes it or not”), Bourgeois insists that she’s been reacting to one specific patriarch: her philandering father. The artist’s festering recollections of her girlhood mesh with guided first-person tours of her sculptures, creating a privileged look into a psyche rendered solid.

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Drawings, Photos, and Films Way off Museum Mile

By mid-July, after you’ve trooped up the Guggenheim’s crowded ramp to see the massive retrospective for Louise Bourgeois, shouldered through the elegant Neue Galerie to peer at 20th-century German and Austrian work, and inspected the Met’s porcelain with your aunt (again!), you might be ready for something far from the familiar Museum Mile. Happily, the city’s quieter venues—whose eclecticism generally discourages the tourists—are offering up the summer’s freshest art.

Philip Guston: Works on Paper
Through August 31

The Morgan Library takes off its starched shirt, stashes the medieval Bibles, and throws a party for that lovable eccentric Philip Guston. Devoted to the artist’s work with pen and pencil, the traveling exhibit reveals how Guston, ever restless, used the spontaneity of drawing to experiment with forms that he would use in his paintings. He tests out abstractions both friendly and frenetic, flirts with a Zen-like minimalism, and finally explores cartoony depictions of everyday objects. (Those perplexed Klansmen also appear.) Deeply hurt in the early ’70s by critics who reviled his late work, Guston gets a fitting recompense here. & The Morgan Library, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, 212-685-0008.

Drawing on Film
May 29–July 24

They’re some of the most charming, frightening, and bizarre movies ever made, but you’ve probably seen few of the experiments in this exhibit surveying 70 years of a covert practice: drawing and painting on individual frames of film. Two dozen works by13 artists run the gamut from Disneyesque cartoons to acid trips. Norman McLaren’s five-minute 1955 masterpiece, Blinkity Blank, is like one of Miro’s paintings come to life: Geometric birds skitter, spin, and explode to synchronized chamber music. Alchemist Jennifer West stains 16mm film with cherry juice, perfume, and various lotions to create sensual psychedelia. The renowned Stan Brakhage, in Glaze of Cathexis and other works, sends you on thrill rides through dense abstraction. & Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, 212-219-2166.

Summer Reading
June 5–August 9

Tadzio, that nubile kid from Death in Venice, appears ina Polaroid montage by John O’Reilly, a longtime wizardof the form. Painter Andrea Higgins evokes the trousers worn by Dorian Gray, the tormented hedonist of Oscar Wilde’s novel. And Julie Chang borrows imagery from Chinese gimcracks to interpret Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. Cliffs Notes not included for this inventive group show of work inspired by books. Hosfelt Gallery, 531 West 36th Street, 212-563-5454.

Contemporary Ruins
June 12–July 18

Give your ice cream a topping of tristesse with photographs by the French duo of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, who capture stunning visions of decay and destruction in abandoned urban areas. Richly textured, these formal compositions conjure near-death dream states: The view of a crumbling room in Detroit’s once-elegant Lee Plaza Hotel, with its overturned piano and ghostly dust, might be a postcard from the end of time. The apocalypse has never looked so good. Point of View Gallery, 638 West 28th Street, 212-967-3936.

2008 Altoids Award
June 25–October 12

The mint makers have handed out their first biennial prize to four practitioners of rough-edged aesthetics. Lauren Kelley hilariously lampoons racial stereotypes with jittery stop-motion animation that provides a pageant of clay figures, plastic dolls, and cheesy props. Michael Stickrod investigates his Midwestern relatives in raw slice-of-life videos, employing blunt and discomforting camera work à la filmmaker Ross McElwee. Michael Patterson-Carver draws colorful folk-art agit-prop that he once sold on the streets, while New Yorker Ei Arakawa—inspired by the rapid assembly of Super Bowl halftime shows—stages loosely structured “Happenings” that combine construction, dance, and coy theatrics. It’s all curiously engaging stuff. New Museum, 235 Bowery, 212-219-1222.

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Body Work

Just what was happening around 1970 to make Louise Bourgeois and Linda Benglis reach for a similar visual vocabulary? These two pioneering and influential artists (both still working) had long shared not just a pair of initials and a gallery, but a preoccupation with matter and the body’s messy, uncontrolled impulses. Their gender-bending explorations have come to seem feminist; whether they were explicitly so at the time for either of these highly intuitive artists remains an open question. This elegant show of work from the late ’60s and early ’70s reveals them overlapping in formal concerns, while diverging in processes and provocations.

Chief among the latter is the notoriously “cocky” ad Benglis placed in Artforum
to publicize her 1974 exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, showing the 33-year-old artist naked, sporting sunglasses and a dildo. (“Proper” feminists protested.) It’s displayed here near a bronze cast she made of a similar sex toy, a doubled-headed phallus; its title, Smile, describes both its curving form, and what we do when we see it. For Bourgeois, on the other hand, phalluses were not exactly laughing matters, but forms endowed with an archaic, primitive power. Standing in the foyer of her Chelsea townhouse, wearing a long, latex-and-rubber vest covered with protuberances (in a 1980 photograph by Duane Michaels, also on display), the 79-year-old seems to dare us to approach her.

Five phallic shapes that she cast in jagged bronze rise from a shelf in the gallery as if from some unspecified lower depths, searching blindly into the light. Their multiple, proliferating forms subvert the phallus’s traditional singularity and intentionality. Another Bourgeois sculpture, a double-headed, dropping bronze member (Janus Fleuri, 1968) hangs from the ceiling, splitting open to reveal its seemingly molten inner core.

Its gooey insides find an echo in works Benglis made by pouring liquefied substances, like lead and latex, around her studio. Serra, at the time, was propping up lead in his atelier; Smithson was pouring it down mountainsides. Works by Benglis like Quartered Meteor (1969)—an oozy, gloopy mass piled up in a corner—relate to such experiments in process, domesticating untamed matter—but just barely.

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A Cross Between Courtney Love and Peter Pan

There is a certain creepy, meticulous, lurid quality to the Spider art of Louise Bourgeois. Like, when you go to the cavernous Dia:Beacon and see “Spider,” all enclosed and adorned, you feel the hairy arachnid creeping inside you. You get that same feeling from SOUL CALIBUR III, probably the best fighting game ever made. After you play it, it lives inside you. Now, what distinguishes the SOUL CALIBUR series is its artful attention to story and its careful consideration of the most minute detail. There are some games, just a few of them, that can be called art—not just tech art like some Ipod-like gizmo from Wired, not just popular art like a cartoon from Spain Rodriquez. In SOUL CALIBUR III, the art is so rich on alls levels from gameplay to graphics, it could be displayed in the Gug.

In the latest version, the character rendering is more lurid than in past iterations. Even the darkest characters seem brighter. The newest, the pixie-ish Tira with her circular fighting sword and vivid green outfit, is a cross between the delicacy of Peter Pan combined with the hard-edged spirit of Courtney Love.

And (oh, joy) you have to be a reader to really sponge up the story in SCIII. Take time to read the odd grammar within the text that appears on the screen when each character fights through the single player mode. Here, the character’s personality unfolds. Whether it’s the sad immortality of Zasalamel, which recalls the most passionate yearning of Anne Rice’s vampires, or the almost religious purity of Sophitia, you get to know the compelling, complex nature as though they were real people.

Buy this and you’ll find it’s like a drug and literature rolled into one. As you sleep, you’ll dream about SCIII. During the day, you’ll analyze it, deconstruct it, even wonder about influence of myth upon the creators. And you’ll kick some real A when you play.


The Complete New Yorker puts 8,220 jpeg thumbnails of covers in a file on your computer. It took such a long time to install its “New Yorker Viewer” files on my new Toshiba, that I wondered if every word of every issue were going onto my hard drive, or if my Pentium IV chip had reverted to an old Intel 386. When it finished taking my laptop on a one hundred yard dash, the first thing I looked up, of course, was video games.

The New Yorker is the closest thing to literature in magazines: that’s not news. But would the writers over the years treat video games as they treat any other popular art? Though the search engine took some getting used to, I finally found Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on “Ultima Online” from 2001. It was beautifully and meticulously written, but it just did not seem to take any joy in the beauty of the game or the gaming experience itself. Is this a pattern? In December, I will continue this search through The New Yorker archives for words about video games—to let you know if they’re written with condescension or with the same adulation and appreciation that you get from a New Yorker writer, when, say, you’re reading a pop music piece about Keren Ann.

  • Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

  • Shadow of the Colossus
    Publisher: Sony
    Developer: SCEI

    Forget the Tom Wolfe crap about Masters of the Universe. They weren’t walking here in Manhattan. In fact, forget the old toys and the old TV show. SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS reveals the real MOTUs. They’re big; they’re ugly, and one even looks like Dick Cheney if he were made of stone (his heart actually may be). You’re the puny braveheart trying to get the gods to revive your young maiden friend. You ride a stallion through some of the most beautiful environs ever to be seen on the PS2 and you beat up on 16 monolithic behemoths with a sword, a bow . . . and a prayer. Everything here is tastefully and carefully rendered, and there’s not a lot of bad writing to bog down the story (which is told well by the graphics alone). Overall, SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS is sheer panorama; it’s adventure; it’s exotic music; it’s the zen of gaming mixed with the art of war.


    Spartan Total Warrior
    Publisher: Sega
    Developer: Creative Assembly

    While Colossus is cinematic in a Days of Heaven meets Kurosawa, SPARTAN TOTAL WARRIOR is the “Lord of the Rings” battle scenes meets HBO’s “Rome” (without, unfortunately, the rampant sex). As the ultimate Spartan, you war against everything from the Hydra to the Minotaur as you move from hero to legend. (And haven’t you always wanted to be a legend? Me, I’m happy to be a hermit.) What’s really staggering here are the battles. You’ll see 160 fighters onscreen at once, which is as awesome as games get these days. Still, there are problems, the primary one being the targeting of enemies. It’s too often not exact enough. However, if you’re waiting for that crosstown bus that comes 45 minutes late, don’t take it out the driver, the 311 operator or even with a note Bloomberg (who won’t answer you). Take it out on the gladiators and barbarians. It’s very satisfying.


    Blitz: The League
    Publisher: Midway
    Developer: Midway

    Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday is milquetoast compared to BLITZ: THE LEAGUE, and so is Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer’s brutal “Instant Replay.” The thing that those two offerings have that BLITZ doesn’t, sadly, is a compelling, decently-written story. While the game play in the satirical BLITZ is humorous, it’s complex enough. In fact, with repetitive cutscenes during gameplay, it can be banal. Now, here’s a game that thrives on the idea of titillation: Cheerleaders as whores and violence on the field as the golden rule. While the violence often works as good satire, the cheerleaders as ho’s thing falls apart just like the story. When THE HELL are we going to get great writing AS A STANDARD in video games?


    Metroid Prime Pinball
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Developer: Fuse Games

    The girl’s gonna have a ball: that’s what’s great about METROID PRIME PINBALL, the pinball game for the DS that stars sci-fi icon Samus Aran, who’s morphed into a ball and into our hearts for decades. Here’s a synapse-splitting game with lots of different playfields, the right ball physics and appearances by Samus (battling bosses galore between levels.) If you crave pinball in a world that just doesn’t have enough pinball machines in bars anymore, then you’ll love this one.


    Mile-High Pinball
    Publisher: Nokia
    Developer: Bonus.com

    And yet, it’s not as amazing as MILE-HIGH PINBALL for the Nokia N-Gage. With 83 playfields that play up and up and up into the heavens (hence, the title), it’s perfect for a cell phone screen. It feels like Pachinko on steroids with its choose-a-ball system which has everything from pinballs that fly to pinballs that bomb. You can also create your own pinball playfield. It’s a very surprising dark horse for the N-Gage, whose games keep getting better and better.