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Art This Week: Lasers And Dust, Queer Art Auction, Bodies Reimagined

Particulates
Opening Tuesday, October 17 at Dia:Chelsea. On view through June 2.

The space at Dia:Chelsea is big and expansive, as it used to belong to the Alamo Marble Company. This makes it a particularly good fit for Rita McBride’s Particulates, a light sculpture installation consisting of sixteen lasers, water molecules, “surfactant compounds,” and appropriately, some marble dust. The result of this interesting collection of materials is a recreation of what seems to be the vast expanse of outer space mixed with a neon sci-fi world of the future, which should be good news to the people who have always wanted to feel enveloped in the galactic void but do not have the means to actually get up there. For those who cannot make it to the exhibit in-person, there is also a livestream of it. Keep Reading »

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Mudbound Director Dee Rees on What We Can Learn From her Jim Crow-Era Epic

(Photo: Natalia Winkelman)

Mudbound burst onto the film scene during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered to near universal acclaim for its nuanced depiction of race relations and familial bonds in post-World War II Mississippi. Its Sundance premiere fell on January 21, the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The timeliness was difficult to ignore.

Brooklyn-bred director Dee Rees touched on the disturbing resonance of the film’s themes during a New York Film Festival press conference on Thursday. “I hope that people take away the fact that we can’t begin to tackle our collective history until we interrogate our own personal histories,” she said. “It’s not just about race––it’s about what ideas we’ve inherited, what attitudes we’ve inherited, and what we’re unconsciously passing on.”

The idea of inheritance is central to Mudbound, which hinges on the dynamics of two families––one black, one white––living on a farm in the American south. The film achieves a rare intimacy with each character in its starry ensemble cast, delving into the psyche and sensibility of each through private moments and voiceover of inner thoughts. Rees deftly delineates parallels between various members of the families, including the two solicitous mothers (played by Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige) and the two shellshocked sons coming home from war abroad (Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund).

“This could’ve been a movie just about two soldiers returning from war, or this could’ve been a movie just about this family trying to better themselves,” Rees said. Instead, “the multiplicity of voices and different points of view” was what drew her to the labyrinthine epic. By according each character his or her own voice and story, the film operates as an enormous empathy machine, compelling the audience to penetrate the minds and moods of an array of diversely flawed characters. The technique feels especially powerful when set against a period of palpable racial animosity.

There is also a notably classical style to the filmmaking, engendered by gorgeous imagery and an epic narrative breadth. The bleak, muddy landscape becomes a motif that unites the characters in a common feeling of futility and isolation. When asked if she would categorize the film in a tradition of melodrama, Rees responded: “I just saw it as good American cinema. I wanted this to be an old-fashioned film. I wanted this to be a film like they don’t make anymore.” Addressing the film’s 134-minute runtime, Rees added, “I wanted to break out of the 90 minute artificial construct and just really let the voices ring out, let the story live.”

Rees’s debut film Pariah, which premiered to acclaim and a Cinematography award at Sundance in 2011, is an autobiographical rendering of Rees’s own experience growing up as a gay black teen in Brooklyn. Though Mudbound unfolds 70 years earlier and on a much larger scale than Pariah, both films demonstrate a profound perspicacity in dealing with splintering relationships and personal struggle.

Taking the empathy of Mudbound as a guide, the best way to move forward, Rees says, is by examining and confronting our own personal histories. “Each of our lives is a single thread, and we’re all weaving the same thing,” Rees said, speaking to the tattered racial tapestry that Mudbound illuminates. “We’re all connected to what happened before. We’re not separate from our past. We’re all actors in the present––we are not passively watching it. We’re all actors in what we’re creating.”

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Tallest Essex Crossing Building Tops Out at 26 Stories

(Photo: QuallsBenson)

Days after announcing that the International Center of Photography would move to Essex Crossing, developers of the Lower East Side urban renewal area have announced that their tallest building has been topped off. The building at 115 Delancey Street, right across from ICP’s future home, is the last in Phase I to reach its full height of 26 stories, Delancey Street Associates said. 

Spanning an entire city block bounded by Norfolk, Delancey, Broome and Essex streets, the building is the 6-acre project’s largest structure and will house some of its most talked-about amenities, including a new home for the Essex Street Market and a 14-screen Regal Cinemas.

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Why Venezuelan Immigrants Approve of Trump’s Latest Travel Ban

A protester in Venezuela this year. (Photo: Efecto Eco)

New York’s Attorney General is demanding a temporary restraining order against the Trump administration’s third travel ban, it was announced today. But while A.G. Eric T. Schneiderman claims Trump’s new limitations on travel from North Korea and Venezuela are “a Muslim Ban by another name,” some in the Venezuelan community are just fine with it. Unlike the restrictions on seven other countries, the restrictions on Venezuela target select government officials rather than citizens in general. Some emigres see this as justice served.

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In Joan Didion Doc, Griffin Dunne Shows His ‘Funny, Fierce’ Aunt Isn’t Just a ‘Mistress of Gloom’

Griffin Dunne and Joan Didion (Photo: Marion Curtis / StarPix for Netflix)

“I pictured this, I really did,” Griffin Dunne told the crowd at Alice Tully Hall last night, his voice quivering with emotion as he introduced his new documentary about his aunt, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold. “It was more of a fantasy. Six years ago, before I even shot a foot of film, I had this sort of Rupert Pupkin fever dream that this film would be shown at the most suitable festival for it. And it was Alice Tully Hall, and Joan would be here surrounded by friends and family in the city she loves.”

Didion, now 84, did indeed show up for last night’s premiere at the New York Film Festival, as did the likes of Liev Schriber, Kevin Bacon, and Kyra Sedgwick. The presence of the legendary novelist, journalist, and screenwriter made for a very New York moment indeed. At one point during the documentary, Didion is shown watching the theatrical adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking, her devastating memoir about the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. Sensing Didion’s presence in one of the boxes above me (she and Dunne would later get a standing ovation), I realized we were all watching Didion watch Didion watch Didion.

Griffin Dunne. (Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Didion’s self-referential work made her a perfect subject for a documentary, Dunne later told the crowd. “Fortunately, Joan wrote so much of what she was going through personally,” he said of her 60-year career. “And then what she was going through personally would be reflected in what was going on in the country historically.”

The film, coming to Netflix and to Metrograph on Oct. 27, recounts Didion’s life chronologically, weaving in her own readings from a body of work that touches on the Summer of Love, the Manson Family, the Salvadoran Civil War, the Iraq War, and the Central Park jogger case. (During a clip of Donald Trump calling for the conviction of the Central Park Five, many in the audience began hissing in a way that recalled Didion’s fixation on snakes.)

A trove of archival photos tells the story of Didion’s early years of writing personal essays at Vogue; her move from New York after she realized “it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair”; her move to a “senseless-killing neighborhood” in Hollywood, where she partied with Janis Joplin and admired “bad boy” Jim Morrison; her idyllic family life in Malibu, where Spielberg and Scorsese would drop in; and her move back to New York, where she faced the tragic loss of her husband and child. There are also talking heads, including Harrison Ford, who served as the family’s carpenter in Malibu, and members of Didion’s inner circle. Her editor, Shelley Wanger, shares Didion’s cure for writer’s block: putting a manuscript on ice (as in, actually putting it in a Ziploc bag and placing it into the freezer). Hilton Als, David Hare, Vanessa Redgrave, Susanna Moore, Anna Wintour and Calvin Trillin also make appearances.

Quintana Roo Dunne, John Gregory Dunne, and Joan Didion. (Photo: John Bryson)

At the center of The Center Will Not Hold are Dunne’s interviews with Didion herself. A New York magazine profile once noted that “critics may charge Didion with a lack of feeling for her subjects,” and she doesn’t do much to dispel that reputation when she describes the time she encountered a five-year-old on LSD while writing her breakthrough piece, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.”

“Let me tell you, it was gold,” the journalist says.

Didion at The Whisky a Gogo. (Photo: Julian Wasser)

In her conversations with Dunne, Didion is far more reserved than she is in her writing. You can see why she has described herself as “shy,” and once said in an interview that “sometimes I think I can’t think at all unless I’m behind my typewriter.” Still, she’s clearly at ease with her nephew (Griffin is the son of John Gregory Dunne’s brother, the late Dominick Dunne), and his presence makes for some degree of intimacy. At one point during the film, he thanks Aunt Joan for being the only family member who didn’t laugh at him when, as a child, he suffered a humiliating (but also kind of hilarious) wardrobe malfunction. Though she didn’t laugh then, she does have a sense of humor, Dunne told the crowd at Alice Tully. “I can’t express enough how much she laughed, how funny Joan was.”

Clearly, Dunne’s film is an adoring one, but it doesn’t present Didion’s marriage as a fairy tail. She confesses that falling in love is not in her vocabulary, and acknowledges her husband’s bad temper (though apparently he had a good sense of humor about Warren Beatty’s crush on Didion). Still, even during their rough patches, “John and Joan,” as they were called by friends, were extremely close as collaborators and as a couple. John even edited The White Album, with its memorable confession that he and Didion had adjourned to an “island in the middle of the Pacific in lieu of filing for divorce.”

“They did the whole completing each other’s sentences [thing] and John did most of the talking, but she did most of the laughing,” Dunne said of the couple’s relationship.

Didion at home in Hollywood. (Photo: Julian Wasser)

Indeed, one of Dunne’s primary goals was to make a film that “belies the perception she has of being the Mistress of Gloom,” he said. Instead, he wanted to show “the Joan I know: the funny, fierce, bravely fierce, strong woman that I know,” he said as he introduced the film, his voice quivering with emotion.

Dunne came up with the idea in 2011, while he and Didion were filming a promotional video for Blue Nights, her gut-wrenching memoir about the death of her adopted daughter Quintana, whose best friend is interviewed in the film. “I decided to push my luck and said, ‘Would you let me do a documentary about your life?’ And she said yes, and I went, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”

To do his subject justice, Dunne raised money on Kickstarter and conscripted his cousin (and Didion’s grandniece) Annabelle Dunne, who was also a producer of the Nora Ephron documentary Everything Is Copy. The end result, Dunne said, pleased Didion greatly. “I think it was pretty emotional, pretty powerful for her,” Dunne said of her first viewing. Every time she has seen the film, Dunne said, “She just has this big-ass smile.”

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Mashonda Tifrere’s New Group Show Tells Women: ‘You Can Be a King’

Mashonda with a work by SWOON.

Mashonda Tifrere walks in Pen + Brush’s gallery just as a tall poster of a black lobster with 24-karat gold bands around its claws is hung from the gallery ceiling. It’s too low, she says to the two men by the 10-foot ladder. It needs to be just a couple inches higher and perfect for the exhibit’s opening. Works from various artists are placed around the room, waiting to be put in place before Thursday evening. There’s a topless portrait of model Ericka Hart bearing her double mastectomy scars with pride, along with a topless portrait of Tifrere, which she posed for atop a castle in Long Island.

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What Can the Night Mayor Do? The DIY Scene Discusses

Great turnout to support small cultural spaces in New York City !

A post shared by MARKET HOTEL – 1140 Myrtle Ave (@market.hotel) on

There’s a new (Night) Mayor in town, or at least there will be soon. On August 24, City Council member Rafael Espinal’s bill to establish an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board was passed by the council, then signed into law on September 19, in a ceremony that included even Marky Ramone. In light of this, some wondered about what this “night mayor” would actually do. Last night, the soon-to-reopen venue Market Hotel was flooded with artists, partiers, community members, and politicians for a town hall on what the people want from the Office of Nightlife.

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Performance Picks: Chocolate, Non-Toxic Masculinity, Comedy for PR Relief

WEDNESDAY

(image via Chocolate Dances / Facebook)

Chocolate Dances’ Costume Party Tasting Performance
Wednesday, October 11 and Saturday, October 14 at Triskelion Arts, 8 pm: $30 advance, $35 doors

Sometimes, chocolate is paired with wine. Sometimes, ice cream. Sometimes, milk. Sometimes chocolate is eaten in groups, sometimes alone in a bedroom in large quantities in the dark of night. Less so is chocolate associated with dancing, but this show will almost certainly change that. Chocolate Dances is a company run by Megan Sipe, who is both a choreographer and a literal chocolatier. She has wisely combined these two things into a night that pairs dance performance with handmade chocolates, from decadent infused truffles to smatterings of cacao nibs. Plus, there will be colorful and fun costumes, and even some for the audience to try on, which might be a good idea in case you get chocolate on yourself, which is likely. I’ve seen Megan and her cohorts perform several times before, and tried her chocolates, and I must say you will be in for a treat. Literally and figuratively. Keep Reading »

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On a Bus with Ai Weiwei, Or So I Thought

Bus stop in Harlem. (Photo: Matthew Silver)

Is there going to be food on this thing? That’s my first thought when I board a tour bus with about 20 other journalists, before heading on a trip to see installations from Ai Weiwei’s new citywide exhibition, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. To my delight/surprise, there’s a black tote bag sitting on every seat with some snacks.

Maybe it’s too close to Halloween and I’m paranoid about hidden needles, but I don’t want to eat some random apple or the cheddar-flavored Skinny Pop. Instead, I’ve brought along a breakfast burrito from a local bodega. I can sense my seatmate, a German named Andreas who works for German Public Radio, is a bit jealous.

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Kool Thing: New Museum Taps Rem Koolhaas For New Building

(Photo: Dean Kaufman)

The Bowery might be losing the International Center of Photography, but it’s gaining a starchitect. New Museum announced today that it’s tapping Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Japanese architect Shohei Shigematsu for its expansion into an adjacent space. Their firm, OMA, will design the new building at 231 Bowery, scheduled to break ground in 2019.

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