Archive for August, 2017

museums: Fahrelnissa Zeid

27 August 2017

Tapestry, carpet, stained glass window, mosaic, kaleidoscope are some of the metaphors that come to mind in viewing the work of the Ottoman-born artist Fahrelnissa Zeid. Her dominant tones were modulations of primary colors – tomato red, denim blue, Girl Scout green. A lover of great cities, especially Paris, she preferred a big, crowded canvas, with some geometric and tonal regularity. She varied the way she wrote her name, on her work and off, through her career: Fahrünissa, Fahr-El-Nissa, Fahrelnissa Z, FZ. Most of her work lives in private collections, including those of her family, and in the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art.

Works to spend time with include Third Class Passengers, which seems to layer dancers, subway straphangers, prostrate prayergivers, and families lounging on their rugs; Loch Lomond, where revelers and boats form a net of 45 and 60-degree triangles that melt into abstraction at the top; the rippling, Escheresque panorama of My Hell and the beaded city map of The Octopus of Triton. Abstract Parrot is the culmination of her stained-glass type. The three open page spreads from her sketchbooks tantalized with a bright watercolor-and-ink mountain landscape, writing (“pourquoi la mort m’appelait …”), and a stunning self-portrait. Her portraits of others, displayed in the last room, were deliberately naive, if not actually bad.

There were a few callouts to England. London (“The Firework”) is a blurred futuristic cityscape filtered through yellow-red light and then through a network of orthogonal brushstrokes that recall latticed window screens. Someone from the Past is a self portrait with, Zeid wrote, Persian hand attitudes, Byzantine dress, Cretan face and “Oriental” eyes. What it also resembles is formal portraits of Elizabeth I, if she had posed crownless wearing kohl and earrings.

This Tate Modern retrospective, supported by Deutsche Bank, moves to Berlin after 8 October. Zeid lived there in the mid-1930s while her husband was the Iraqi ambassador, and even took tea with Hitler. Fifty years later she asked Donald Trump if she could paint his portrait, and did so from a photograph, according to the exhibition catalog. The result is not to be seen here.

RIP the village voice

22 August 2017

That one time I took a Sylvia Plachy picture.

I read the Village Voice every week of the seven years I lived in New York. Every single week. If I was out of town, I bought it at the nearest big newsstand, for it was distributed nationally. It cost $1 an issue when I moved there, and it always had a page of free or cheap things to do each day, some of which I did. During the years I lived in a 7 x 11 foot room in a single-room occupancy hotel, ten percent of the usable floor (ca $50 a month in rent) was devoted to stacks of the Voice [1]. It was an excellent use of space.

Because of the Voice, I regularly read long essays by black and Latinx writers on race and ethnicity, as well as reported articles on communities I would otherwise not have seen.

Because of the Voice (and Katha Pollitt of The Nation), I kept up with feminism through the dark years of “I’m not a feminist, but …”

I remember Paul Cowen’s first-person piece on dying of leukemia, which he was thought to have contracted covering Three Mile Island.

I remember a long article on drag balls, even before Paris Is Burning if I’m not mistaken.

I remember another long article on backup singers, decades before Twenty Feet from Stardom. I loved that article so much I probably still have it here in my file boxes.

I remember not understanding a damn word Robert Christgau wrote, or rather I understood all of the words but none of the statements.

I remember not getting a single reference in Michael Musto’s gossip column (“La Dolce Musto”), even in the non-blind items, and not caring because it was so much fun.

I remember going to see films from Brazil and Iceland and a performance art festival featuring Penny Arcade because the Voice wrote about them.

I remember reading about the AIDS epidemic in some depth, before And the Band Played On was published and certainly before it was available in paperback.

I remember a review of rapper Schoolly D that was written in hiphop, more or less. This must have been about 1988.

I remember Murray Kempton and somebody else, Jack Newfield or Wayne Barrett or LynNell Hancock, alternating an inside-baseball column on city politics. I remember that the Voice covered low income housing and homelessness like the tenants and non-tenants were human, when nobody else seemed to. I remember the very nerdy quarterly book review supplement. I remember being impressed that the Voice writers were organized by the United Auto Workers when hardly any journalists were union members any more. I remember reading the listings in the back every week and feeling like I could become an air courier or move to Brooklyn or actually go on one of those Wildman Steve Brill tours to forage food in Central Park and it would all be all right.

That’s a great newspaper. I can’t believe it’s gone.

[0] Also, the Voice had the best comics. Not just Jules Feiffer and his annual “A Dance to Spring”, which I already knew about because my parents did. It was the golden age of Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons Life in Hell, Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (“All Dialogue Guaranteed Overheard”). (This is a standalone endnote.)

[1] And its shorter-lived uptown sibling, 7 Days. 7 Days was decried as fluff at the time, but compared with today’s promotion press it was the Whole Earth Review of middle-class Manhattan. Laurie Colwin wrote her cooking column there. Peter Schjeldahl covered art (is “Up the Damn Ramp” a great title for a piece about the Guggenheim or what?). It was Joan Acocella’s first big stage for her dance writing. For a while, New York actually had three strong alternapress weeklies, for there was New York Press as well, which was more of a self-conscious hipster editor-publisher production but did have great front-page essays.

[2] Yes, I know, it continues as a website. That’s like a well-served train line continuing as a “rail replacement” bus. (This too is a standalone endnote.)

Worldcon 75

13 August 2017