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‘Freedom’: Yoko Ono almost takes her bra off, while John Lennon makes electronic noises
07.19.2013
01:37 pm

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Freedom
 
Yoko Ono’s films tend to deal with themes of sexuality, intimacy, and the navigation of public life. 1969’s Rape is arguably her most famous work, a disturbing first-person perspective from the eyes of the film crew, who chase, harass, and assault a German woman as she flees through the streets of London. No doubt the film is a commentary on the sudden media onslaught she experienced in the initial stages of her relationship with John Lennon. It’s an incredibly compelling piece.

It’s also 77 damn minutes long, and since I know you’re all reading this at work, I’ll hook you up with one of Ono’s briefer film experiments.

In Freedom, we see a shot of Ono’s chest in a silky purple bra. Faceless, she attempts to unhook the front claps in slow motion to the sound of modulating, electronic drone, (provided by John Lennon, of course). While it’s not unheard of to see a close-up of breasts on celluloid, the speed and sounds of the shot transform a mundane ritual of taking off a bra into a sort of post-modern dirge. The bra is never removed on camera, and the audience is left in a state of anticipation, as the clinical, hypnotic feel of the film belies all the general comfort we associate with breasts, whether maternal or sexual.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Transgender women of Paris in the Fifties and Sixties
07.18.2013
04:10 pm

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Art
Queer
Sex

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These beautiful photographs of transgender women in Paris from the late 1950s and early 1960s were taken by Swedish photographer Christer Strömholm, who traveled to the city in the late-fifties in the hope of creating a new kind of night-life street photography. Strömholm lived in the Red Light district around Place Blanche and Pigalle where he made friends with many of the young transgender women who worked the streets and hotels to earn a living.

In 1983, Strömholm collected many of these photographs together for his book Les Amies de Place Blanche, for which he wrote an introduction explaining his interest in photographing these women:

“This is a book about the quest for self-identity, about the right to live, about the right to own and control one’s body.

...These are images of people whose lives I shared and whom I think I understood.

The whole collection can be seen here.
 
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More photographs, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rammellzee & Jean-Michel Basquiat’s little-known 1983 underground hip-hop collaboration
07.18.2013
01:28 pm

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Art
Hip-hop
Music

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Basquait and Rammellzee
Rammellzee and Basquait
 
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s contributions to the world solidify his reputation as one of the great artistic polymaths of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. As his visual art moved from graffiti to painting, he became known for telling beautiful, hard-edged truths, especially regarding class and race politics. In many ways, his paintings overshadow his other artistic endeavors, particularly his immersion in the early years of hip-hop.

Below you can see New York hip-hop institution and artist, Rammellzee (or RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ if you please) performing a song they collaborated on. Ramellzee, who died in 2010, was an amazing artist/rapper/intellectual in his own right, and was frequently suspicious of his friend’s acceptance by the art world’s elite. From a 1999 interview:

Jean-Michel wanted to do a rap song because rap was coming into power at the time and that was one of the things besides writing on the trains that he didn’t know how to do. He didn’t know how to do wild style or a true burner like some of these things in here [points around room]. And I was brung into the city by Fab 5 Freddy to interrogate this guy.

What he knew about art. Why was he in the power play position? And to tell him: you need to leave this shit alone and let the real troopers who did do something on the trains get past you and Keith Haring and let these fools know there’s an ikonoklastic war about to happen…

During the process of interrogation I had made a bet with him: I can do what you can do, you can’t do what I can do. He had brought three canvases, set ’em up and got me the paint in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery, which was his first gallery [exhibition in] like 1982. And in the basement he decided to let me paint these canvases, and Annina Nosei sold all three at his price. My prices where nowhere near his because he was going off and selling well.

She came into the gallery and she told him, “I sold three of your best artworks.” I said, “Give me my money!” [laughs] “Now you gotta do what I do!” He never did what I could do.

Refusing to be intimidated, Rammellzee was quick to shoot down lyrical suggestions he felt unworthy of his flow, saying, “[Basquiat] had a whole pamphlet of this stuff written about girls. And I said, “I’m not rhyming to this!” I put it down. He picked it up and gave it to me, so I crushed it and put it down!”

This 1983 video shot in Los Angeles isn’t the greatest quality, but it is what it is at this point: “history,” so enjoy it that way. Brief splices of Basquiat’s electronic graphics show his thumbprint, and whatever lyrics he may have contributed sound perfectly natural coming from Rammellzee.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Painters Painting’: The definitive documentary on the New York Art Scene 1940-70
07.17.2013
07:29 pm

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Art
History
Movies

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Jasper Johns’ ‘Three Flags,’ 1958
 
Painters Painting is a definitive documentary history of the New York Art Scene 1940-1970. Directed by Emile de Antonio, the film focuses on American art movements from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. De Antonio was a Marxist film-maker who was once described as “…the most important political filmmaker in the United States during the Cold War.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, De Antonio established his reputation with a series of political documentaries including Point of Order (1964) on the Senate Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954; Rush to Judgment 91967) investigating the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971) which followed Richard Nixon’s political career; and as co-director, Underground (1976) on the Weathermen.

De Antonio claimed he was able to make Painters Painting (1972) as he knew all of the artists involved:

“I was probably the only filmmaker in the world who could [have made Painters Painting] because I knew all those people, from the time that they were poor, and unsuccessful and had no money. I knew Warhol and Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and Stella before they ever sold a painting, and so it was interesting to [make this film].”

His close relationship with these artists allowed some incredibly candid interviews from the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Jules Olitski, Philip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Motherwell, and Kenneth Noland. Though, as ever, Andy Warhol deflected questions, claiming Brigid Berlin painted his pictures—though he had previously claimed everything he knew about painting he had learned from “De.”
 

 
With thanks to Christopher Mooney!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
30 Ways to Stop Smoking
07.16.2013
05:14 pm

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Photographer Alfred Gescheidt’s (aka “the Charlie Chaplin of the camera”) 1964 series 30 Ways to Stop Smoking takes a humorous look at how to quit the dirty habit.

The solo exhibition is currently at:

HIGHER PICTURES
980 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10075

June 13 - July 19, 2013

See more of the series here.
 

 

 

 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
The Indefinable Leigh Bowery: Vintage documentary presented by Hugh Laurie
07.16.2013
04:57 pm

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Art
Design
Fashion
Heroes
Queer

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“Fashion is a bit of a problem with me, because you have to appeal to too many people, and I like appealing to maybe one-or-two. Then, I like them to be interested in me, but never dare copy me.”

Leigh Bowery admitted he couldn’t tell the difference between a stage and a street. They were both platforms on which to present himself. But if asked he was asked to explain himself, that presented problem that Leigh thought best solved by being thankful he existed.

Well, of course, as Leigh gave much to be thankful for.

Though Leigh Bowery defied facile definition, he is best remembered as a fantastical character whose talent, energy and discipline gave others the chance to be themselves, and thus to be free.

In this episode of the London-centric TV show South of Watford, Hugh Laurie (yes, him off House) trails around with Leigh, and takes a close-up look at all of his different creations: from fashion and dance, to clubs and films. It includes interviews with dancer Michael Clark, director John Maybury and gender illusionist Alana Pellay.
 

 
The rest of Hugh Laurie in search of Leigh Bowery, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Scream Against the Sky: Yayoi Kusama’s Self-Obliteration, avant garde weirdness, 1967
07.15.2013
07:05 pm

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Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has called her iconic polka dots a kind of “virus,” spreading over everything in their vicinity. The dots express her artistic philosophy of representing human beings and all of the cosmos as but single particles among billions of them.

Back in the late 60s/early 70s, Kusama’s performance art “happenings” (often performed nude, with, you guessed it, polka dot body paint) saw her get as much attention from the press as say, Andy Warhol or Peter Max did. She famously wrote a letter to Richard Nixon offering to fuck him if he would stop the Vietnam war. She staged “The Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA” in 1969 and officiated gay marriages as early as 1968 at her “Homosexual Wedding at the Church of Self-obliteration” event. Kusama lived in New York City for several years (1957-1973), before returning to Japan and a life voluntarily spent in a psychiatric hospital since 1975.

“If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago” she once said.

Yayoi Kusama suffers from an extremely extreme case of OCD. Although she is an productive artist, and indeed, fully recognized the world over as one of Japan’s greatest artists, the 83 year old’s incredible gifts come with a steep price. Speaking about her 1954 painting “Flower (D.S.P.S)” she described her inner life:

“One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.

I’ve been obsessed by Yayoi Kusama’s work since I first encountered it in the “Scream Against The Sky” show of postwar Japanese art at the Guggenheim Soho in 1994. I actually went to see that show several times and I’d stand there sticking my face inside of her 1991 “Mirror Room - Pumpkin” installation for as long as I could without crowding out others from enjoying it. When they were done, I’d take my place again.

It’s difficult to describe “Mirror Room - Pumpkin,” but picture a large crate, smaller than a small bathroom and a cube. Almost big enough to stand up in, but not quite. There’s a step and a small square space cut out to put your head almost inside of it. Inside are large mirror tiles, a grid of four on the floor, top and on all four sides. Laying at the bottom were several pumpkins painted yellow with black dots. The infinite reflections were the closest I have ever come to experiencing when Dorothy is surrounded by all of the opium poppies in The Wizard of Oz. Like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside, it’s just that unreal, a visionary masterpiece. I was so obsessed with the work that I drew up plans to construct one myself only to realize that even if I could have had it fabricated at a reasonable price (my estimate came to only $800), I’d still never be able to get it in and out of my NYC apartment’s third-floor walk-up front door and so my dream was abandoned.

Also a part of the Guggenheim’s exhibit was the remarkable short avant garde film, “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration” directed by Fluxus-associated video artist Jud Yalkut in 1967. This was another thing that I simply could not get enough of. The film was projected on a loop in a small room with two benches and the music, improvised by Citizens for Interplanetary Activity (aka C.I.A. Change)—which at certain times puts me in mind of early Tangerine Dream, Red Krayola, or even The Residents’ demented Third Reich and Roll album—is as tripped out as the visuals. I probably watched it at least a half dozen times. A few years ago, I found a high quality copy on an art house torrent tracker and was delighted by my good fortune. Now it’s on YouTube.

If you enjoy the films of Kenneth Anger or Ira Cohen’s “The Invasion of The Thunderbolt Pagoda,” you’ll find that “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration” is very much in that same mind-blowing audio-visual territory.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Unusual form of political protest found on bathroom doors in Turkish bar
07.14.2013
09:40 am

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Art
Class War
Politics

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WC art
 
A bar in Eskişehir, a Turkish college town heavily involved in the recent protests, has decided to update the “men” and “women” signs on their bathroom doors. On the left is the famous “Woman in a red dress,” who was pepper-sprayed by riot cops, saturated really, yet refused to move an inch.

On the right, dancer Erdem Gündüz, known more famously as “standing man.” Similarly stoic Gündüz stood for eight hours in Taksim Square, silent and immobile. The theme of resilience is the strength of the iconography, and it’s certainly something to boost the morale after a few drinks, when our maudlin tendencies to despair are at their most insidious.

The artist has requested anonymity, so the art remains a discreet proclamation of solidarity, and a reminder that wry dissent is still alive and well in Turkey. Below, you can see the original photographs.
 
Red dress woman
 
Erdem Gündüz
 
Via Feminist Philosophers

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Frames From The Edge’: Fascinating documentary about Helmut Newton
07.12.2013
03:57 pm

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Art
Pop Culture

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Helmut Newton’s photographs of statuesque beauties in and out of bondage is like Irving Klaw in Imax. Instead of Bettie Page in a maid’s uniform, you have Sigourney Weaver in black vinyl straddling a mountain of celluloid or a naked Charlotte Rampling lounging on a decadent bed of animal skins. What Klaw had started in threadbare studios in New York, Newton took to another level in Hollywood and Europe, creating images of power, domination and submission in a landscape of futuristic cool. The essential dynamics of old school bondage mags had been given a heavy shot of vitamin B12 and slathered in radioactive lacquer. The subjects became the rich and the famous of the art and entertainment worlds.

Newton’s women were often Amazons towering over their surroundings with statuesque grace, glacial ferocity and impenetrable mystery. These were the goddesses of myth and beneath the steely surfaces, there was a sense of menace and the uneasy feeling, for men, that these women did not need the male sex at all.

In his portraits of men, Newton often parodied machismo and subverted concepts of masculine power. Often in recline, men were beautiful blunt objects radiating glimmerings of delicateness.

1989’s Frames From The Edge was directed by Pink Floyd documentarian Adrian Maben and he does an admirable job of capturing Newton’s creative process as well as shedding light on him as a person through insightful interviews with Weaver, Rampling, Bob Evans, Catherine Deneuve, Karl Lagerfield and more.

Newton’s influence on the visuals of advertising, rock ‘n’ roll and fashion are undeniable. And while his art is associated with cool facades, with noirish undertones of murder and mayhem, and the dark seductive tug of sexual power, there is a tremendous amount of tenderness in much of his work.

It is this tenderness that is bursting through the restraints that his subjects are often bound by, both literally and figuratively. The gloves are always about to come off in his photographs.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The Art of Punk: Great new short documentary on Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys
07.11.2013
12:25 pm

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Art
Pop Culture
Punk

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The third and final installment of “The Art of Punk,” MOCA-TV‘s great web series that looks at the increasingly historically important graphic design of the punk era. This time around, Jello Biafra and Winston Smith talk about the “look” of Dead Kennedys’ posters, handbills and record covers and explain how the logo came about.

There’s a wonderful moment here when Biafra—generously giving credit where it’s historically due—explains his “aha!” moment, when he realized that collaborating creatively with Smith would allow him to present foldouts, posters and booklets ala Crass, but funny.

I thought that was really interesting. Another fun fact: The cover for In God We Trust, Inc. came before the EP did.

Previous installments of Bryan Ray Turcotte and Bo Bushnell’s production have concentrated on Raymond Pettibon’s distinctive pen and ink work on behalf of Black Flag and Dave King’s logo and Gee Vaucher’s militant collages that defined Crass visually. Three fun short docs totally worth your time. As a viewer, I really appreciated that they went out of their way to tell stories that you haven’t already heard ten million times before…
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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