Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Begins in Art (1 of 2 articles)

Just over a week into the new year and Catherine and I have already seen one video installation, three performances in the Under the Radar festival and we're seeing another two tonight. I would love to report that it's been an auspicious beginning, heralding great things to come in 2011; sadly, I can't quite say that. But if the worst of what we saw is the worst of what we'll see, I'll consider the year a resounding success.

We began the year with Leonardo's Last Supper: a Vision by Peter Greenaway, a remarkable installation at the Park Avenue Armory.
The InstallationThe 'Last Supper' VideoThe title is slightly misleading: while the centerpiece of the event is Da Vinci's famous mural, Ultima Cena, it actually begins with a spectacular video collage of Italian cities and ends with an extensive examination of Veronese's The Wedding at Cana. Throughout the 45 minute production, filmmaker and artist, Peter Greenaway, literally immerses the audience in thousands of projected videos and images—both long shots and extreme close-ups that offer details that are obviously impossible at the actual location. Structurally, it's an uneven piece: while the Da Vinci section is the central and longest of the event, the Wedding at Cana almost overshadows it—in part, because it's the only section that contains narration. Greenaway refers to the Italian cities videos as the "Prologue" and the Veronese as the "Epilogue," but that was also misleading because the visual narratives are only very subtly linked; they felt, to me, more akin to movements in a symphonic work. These are, ultimately, minor quibbles: the environment that Greenaway has created—especially in his installation and recreation of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie's dining hall for Da Vinci's masterpiece—and the way in which his videos highlights all of the remarkable details in the artworks are absolutely beautiful and inspiring (I've never wanted to go to Milan so much in my life!).

Our first Under the Radar production was Phobophilia at HERE. The audience is led from the box office down to the basement in small groups and briefly blindfolded as they're taken into the performance space; I know the intention here is to give a sensation of being taken prisoner but the captors are so polite and so reassuring to everyone that it's more of an intellectual experience than a visceral one. Once inside, we discover a hooded character (an overt reference to the infamous Abu Ghraib photo), in the midst of being interrogated, who then "escapes" into a dreamlike world of video images projected onto various surfaces and tiny sets hidden like a pop-up book inside a trunk. The performance is an intriguing combination of soundscape, video and object theater. The style of the filmmaking is a cross between German Expressionism and French surrealism, with minimal elements and yet visually striking. The artists,, have created a unique, if rather thin, theatrical experience—the ending is rather unsatisfying, considering how creatively they've manipulated the imagery up to that point—but it is, nevertheless, a visually engaging and cleverly constructed work.

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