Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Diabolical Small Talk"

Saw Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" last weekend. The promo budget for this film must have been tremendous, there was a ton of hype and Tarantino seemed to be everywhere doing interviews. Either he felt he needed a big hit, or he knew it was going to be a hit and wanted to make sure it was seen.

I heard him explain how he came up with the idea - simple and interesting. He was thinking that it's been awhile since they did a "group of guys" war movie ala "Kelly's Heroes" and the "Dirty Dozen." The next step, was how to put a twist on it. He thought about what if they were all Jewish? But instead of being POWs or in a concentration camp, they were on the offensive? and violently killing Nazis? and so on, in his signature style.
Indeed, "Inglorious Basterds" has all the Tarantino trademarks. There are titled chapters. Separate stories slowly merging together. Pop culture references. A unique soundtrack. Some recurring actors. Oh, and violence - very graphic violence. I don't know how much of that is because he watched so many horror/gore films from the 70s, or if he's saying, "Oh you like action flicks? You like violence? Well, THIS is what violence really looks like - do you still dig it? Is it still fun?!?"

Either you like Tarantino or you don't. I have yet to hear many people be lukewarm about his work. But one thing cannot be denied - he is quite the wordsmith. And he uses dialogue, and the pacing of that dialogue masterfully in this film, particularly through the character of Col. Hans Landa played by Christopher Waltz. There is surely a Best Supporting Actor nomination in store for Mr. Waltz. His cat and mouse verbal slow torture is gut-wrenching, you can feel the tension building inside you as he toys with his "victims." In thinking about this post, I came up with what I (not too humbly) think is the perfect description of this aspect of Quentin Tarantino's writing:
So many of his films' characters have done this seemingly innocuous chit-chat, and yet there is the underlying tension, building like an old Edgar Kennedy slow burn, wondering at what point things are going to combust. Like when Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are in the room with those college kids and Jackson is rambling on about burgers and the metric system.
I recommend you see this film. The violent parts are pretty nasty, but it's obvious when they're about to happen so you can always close your eyes for a sec or look away, and then get on with the good parts of this movie - like the Diabolical Small Talk!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art review: The Female Gaze

Cheim & Read Gallery (547 W 25th St, NYC) is hosting "The Female Gaze - Women Look at Women" through September 19, 2009.
A multi-media show of nearly three dozen female artists, the work is diverse and engaging for the most part. Whether it actually does reclaim the traditional domination (still so?) of the "male gaze" can be debated at length, and the press release is fertile ground for this. Quoting Laura Mulvery's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and Wendy Steiner's "Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in 20th Century Art", it's worth getting a copy of the release as a starting point to explore their essays and this show - but for this post, I'll stick to the visuals and not the theory.
So much solid work, alas I only have these three shots. Vanessa Beecroft's "Blond Figure Lying" 2008 is slightly larger than life, 77" long, a nude yellow figure of water resin coated in beeswax with long blonde hair. A cadaver? Lady Godiva? a sleeping woman? or a modern fetish fertility figure more Maxim girl than Venus of Willendorff?

This oil portrait by Chantal Joffe, "Anna," 2009, is one of the most unassuming pieces in the show, but I was captivated by its simple directness and the likeness. You feel as if you know or have met this average looking woman, and even with its simple broad brushwork, the viewer gets a sense of this woman's intelligence and confidence. Mission accomplished in terms of portraiture.

The last shot is Lisa Yuskavage's "Heart 96-97" done in her signature soft pastel fuzzy style featuring a female with large upturned breasts, this painting measures 84x72". Her Playboy cartoon-like females always create some discussion and/or controversy, mostly centered around if she is having a laugh at our expense or is there more here than meets the eye? The press release states that the "exhibition attempts to debunk the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which the artist and subject do not relate as 'voyeur' and 'object,' but as woman and woman." So does Yuskavage's portrait of a woman on her knees masturbating satisfy this claim? As I said earlier, this show is fertile ground for discussion...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yumiko Kayukawa at Joshua Liner

Yumiko Kayukawa shows frequently on the west coast, so it was a treat to see her large show at Joshua Liner Gallery. I've been a fan of her work for years and bought a painting by her about 4-5 years ago. I wish I bought more, now her work goes for 2k to over 7k (much more than what I paid) but still reasonably priced for her success and the quality of the work.
Kayukawa was born in Hokkaido, a northern Japanese island. Influences are pretty clear in her work: Japanese and American pop culture, young girls, graphic design and all critters great and small. Although there's a legitimate temptation to call her work cartoony, don't confuse it with anime. Her work does have a comic book feel to it, being delineated in black, but it's more sophisticated and layered. At times the pieces are a bit too precious and cutesy (as in Cookie Time), but "cute" is such a huge part of Japanese visual language and culture, it's hard to fault her for it.

The Japanese also have a preoccupation with very young girls, teetering on the edge of creepiness at times. Yumiko's girls have a sensual air about them, that heavy metal sexy schoolgirl posed vibe, or images where they are in on the joke, or images where they are more mature and simply in youth's full bloom. In an interview on she said, "Girls posing in sexy ways is just kind of charming and amusing to me."

Her compositions usually involve a girl or girls, animals, and Japanese lettering. Her palette is bright and pop influenced (Suzuchan and Marichan) yet she can tone it down a notch to create an altogether different feel (Lotus and Iris).

Yes, Yumiko's paintings are eye candy. Yes, they titillate. Yes, they're cute, funky, punk, elegant, colorful, fun, surreal, graphic, and well-executed...add all that up and you have some great work here.
The piece below with the candles is "Fate" and the other is "Kamen (masks)". She works with acrylic and ink on canvas and sometimes illustration board. Unfortunately the show comes down before you read this, but you can see most of the work online.

29 year old Vancouver artist Ben Tour has the second room for his "Crash and Burn" show. An illustrator that straddles the fine art world as well (a common occurrence in Pop Surrealism), Tour's show here has some striking images, but overall is uneven.

The work here consists mostly of portraits of women done in his signature style of loose, washy rendering with sometimes design-y and sometimes violent splatters and explosions of color. Some, like Cold 1, are visually arresting and hold up after the initial eye-pop is over. Therein lies the problem with some other pieces, particularly the Orphan Dreams series and Grief Girl. They're not fully realized, and when painting waif/model/thin young women, it's a thin line between relevance and cheesiness. These pieces seem incomplete and rushed, like first drafts, unlike Blood 1 which has a fullness and is simply rendered much better. (Blood 2 is pictured here as well as Cold 1). It'll be curious to see how Mr. Tour's work evolves from here because there certainly is some raw talent and youthful energy to his art.