Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mo Yan, Ai Weiwei, the Pushcart prize, MoMA & more … part 2

Moving from the Hirshhorn Museum & the Ai Weiwei exhibitions back to New York & a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, I’d like to  mention, and briefly discuss,  a couple of the current MoMA shows we recently visited … “Alina Szapocznikow:  Sculpture Undone, 1955–1972” (through January 28th, 2013) & “Tokyo 1955–1970:  A New Avant-Garde“ (through February 25th). 

Upon entering the museum, we made a proverbial “bee-line” for the Szapocznikow show, revealing an extensive (over 100 pieces) and varied output – in terms of sculptural forms, size, subject matter, thematic content, media). Before entering the exhibition space, and before wending our way through four (plus) rooms of her free-standing & wall-mounted work, we watched a fairly comprehensive introductory video concentrating on some of her larger, more well-known & stellar pieces, her human forms, work displaying her technique(s) and the development of her oeuvre.  Her work comes in many sizes and shapes and, largely, but not exclusively focuses on the human body from all sorts of angles and on a variety of sexually based (predominantly female) body parts that look solid & heavy (as if chiseled out of marble or stone) but are actually, in many instances, put together from very portable, light-weight materials (e.g., “tinted polyester casts,” “poured polyurethane forms”). 

According to the background material posted by MoMA curators on its web site, Szapocznikowleft behind a legacy of provocative objects that evoke Surrealism, Nouveau Réalisme, and Pop art.  Her tinted polyester casts of body parts, often transformed into everyday objects like lamps or ashtrays; her poured polyurethane forms; and her elaborately constructed sculptures, which at times incorporated photographs, clothing, or car parts, all remain as wonderfully idiosyncratic and culturally resonant today as when they were first made.”  

Femme illuminee, 1966-67
Indeed, the Szapocznikow show, “Sculpture Undone,” offers the viewer nearly two decades of her work that is, according to MoMA, “at once fragmented and transformative, sensual and reflective, playfully realized and politically charged.”  Plagued by her fight against breast cancer for years (she died prematurely of the disease in 1973 at the age of 47), the female body was, apparently, much on her mind and shows up in a considerable number of pieces both large & table-top small; some of these pieces are boldly sensual, some eerily (or even quizzically) abstract, many tender; some of the human figures recall, just a bit (& much to my own liking), the tall, thin figures reflective of the work of Giacometti. In all, this mid-20thcentury sculpture show now on view at MoMA is unique, personal, idiosyncratic, full of emotion-laden & sensually packed pieces … it is a show you won’t want to miss! 

We next ventured to an equally large, multifarious (though somewhat less compelling) exhibition – MoMA’s “Tokyo 1955–1970” – featuring post-war avant-garde paintings, photos, mixed media, video & documentary film, graphic design objects, drawings, posters, collage & sculpture.  While the show purports to introduce us to “the myriad avant-garde experiments that emerged as artists drew on the energy of this rapidly growing and changing metropolis,” and while the show is energetic and electric in various sections, the overall size and diversity of the objects tends, in my view, to lessen its overall impact. 

Painting - Tokyo exhibit, MoMA
Naturally, I would encourage all of you to see the show and make your own determination; but, here, I found that, while there are some truly unique, intriguing & impressive pictures, “items” & artifacts on view, less by way of expansiveness and more specificity of form(s) would have made the show that much more impactful for the non-specialist visitor. Again, have a look at some of the more interesting pieces on display in this show and scan the notes on their background “stories” … and, then, decide for yourself … before you head over to wait on line for a peek at Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (through April) or trundle down to visit MoMA’s Meta-MonumentalGarage Sale.”      

The Bar Room @ The Modern
By the way, following your visit to the two major exhibitions I’ve shared (just above), you might well have built up an appetite & long for a bite to eat. I would simply recommend remaining within the confines of the museum and heading for a table at “The Bar Room” at The Modern (reservations: 212 333-1220), which offers French-American (Alsatian) cuisine, casual dining at tables within a sizable bar area.  You can chose between & among items from their menu of small, medium, and large plates, expertly prepared, carefully plated & attentively served.  While the wines are, for the most part, priced a bit on the high side you can find something (something, that is, if you are sharing) that is both satisfying & reasonable … to complement your various menu choices.  Desserts, of course, vary in taste and consistency but are also well prepared and presented. Have a look at their menu; I feel certain you will be well fed, and, most importantly, you will have thoroughly enjoyed, and probably lingered over, a meal of great diversity.  One great choice in a large plate was the roasted poussin with enoki mushrooms, almonds, caramelized endive & Rodenbach jus @ $23; another solid (medium-size) plate proved to be the Atlantic grouper “en Matelote” with champignon mushrooms & applewood-smoked bacon @ $20. 

The French press coffee is strong & robust … and two signal desserts to partake in (among several others), with your coffee & a glass of port, might just be the dark chocolate tarte, with chocolate ice cream & the pistachio dacqoise, with caramelia passion fruit ganache & milk chocolate chantilly (each priced @ $12). The service & competency of the wait staff are truly outstanding as they ought to be in a James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant!  (MoMA points out that there is a separate street-level entrance, on West 53rd St., which enables museum visitors to patronize the restaurant and “The Bar Room” area after the museum has closed.)

Yes, Bill Henderson has done it again (along with his astute group of contributing editors and the writers, themselves):  Let it be known that the 2013 edition of the Pushcart Prize (XXXVII) has just been published and a “launch” party/reading event was recently held at Le Poisson Rouge (Sunday, December 2nd) featuring prize-winning poets (Patricia Smith, Timothy Liu) & short story writers (Joshua Cohen, Jess Row) whose work appears in the new edition (and/or has appeared in the recent past).

As a front cover blurb from The New York Times has stated, this Pushcart Prize volume is “a big, colorful, cheerful, gratifying ‘samplecase’ [sic] of small press fiction, essays and poetry.”  I very much agree and, further, suggest that there is a work of literature gathered here in the latest edition of the Prize volume for just about every taste & every reader’s interest – from an essay by the late Harry Crews, entitled  “We Are All of Us Passing Through” (from The Georgia Review) to a brief lyrical poem, called “A Shadow Beehive,” by, yep, a fourth grader, Rasheda White (published originally in Ecotone).  Have a look for yourself;  you’ll find a great deal to read, to enjoy & to remember; you’ll find material that is surprising, material that is refreshing as well as valuable, even, dare I say it, much that you will find contains (and reflects) a fair amount of emotional truth that will resonate with you long after putting the volume down. I can’t wait to plunge in even further!

Finally, by way of returning to Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, and their conversation session with Jonathan Safran Foer which we attended at The Strand a few weeks ago (noted in the introductory paragraph of part 1 of this blog post), I’d just like to note once more the interview with Mr. Ottolenghi & Mr. Tamimi, focusing on their backgrounds, experiences, current cooking interests, and their newest cookbook, Jerusalem, based on & emanating from, fundamentally, their memories of the cooking they grew up with in Jerusalem (from both Israeli & Palestinian culinary & cultural perspectives). Numerous great Middle Eastern recipes to try out reflective of many food categories & all varieties (fish, meat, vegetarian, salad, soups, appetizers, etc.). 

Yotam Ottolenghi @ The Strand
Indeed. Mr. Ottolenghi (along with his new London restaurant, NOPI) has been receiving lots of attention lately in the media, including Jane Kramer’s lengthy profile on him – “The Philosopher Chef in the December 3rd issue of The New Yorker and subtitled “Yotam Ottolenghi’s ideas are changing the way London eats.” According, to Mr. Ottolenghi & his partner, Mr. Tamimi, the philosophy behind their small London-based restaurant “empire” (with restos & delis in several locations in London & immediate environs) “requires that everything is hand-crafted with extreme care and attention, from basic raw ingredients.”  Sounds fine to me … and so, while he signed my newly purchased copy of his book, I asked him if he planned on opening a branch of one of his restos in New York any time soon; he just smiled, albeit philosophically, and invited me to visit NOPI … in London.






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