Jonathan Parker’s (untitled) is billed as a comedy, yet stays so close to the mark that laughter can be uncertain. But sniggering is easy, and pretty continuous. If you’ve ever become impatient with the emperor-is-really-stark-naked aspect of some contemporary art, this is your movie, and you should see it. The high-end art market is easy to satirize, and (untitled) does it perfectly, with characters existing in a parallel downtown universe of galleries, their owners, patrons, artists, and hangers-on.
The young cast is pitch-perfect, and seems to be having a very good time. My personal favorites: Marley Shelton (a stick-thin, black-clad gallerista); Zak Orth (a plump electronics wizard who makes millions in cutting-edge circuitry, but can’t quite figure out his cellphone); Vinnie Jones (a dead ringer for Damien Hirst), who shrewdly transmutes taxidermy into art-market gold; Ptolemy Slocum (brilliant as an artist who makes somethings out of nothings); and especially Adam Goldberg–whose eternal scowl and ghastly “new” music reminded me of my classmates at Columbia, when atonality ruled.
(untitled) is life among the rich buying art as investment, seduced by the rush of the newest new, and spending a fortune (while entirely suspending their judgment) to do it. There are great set pieces—the creation of some really bad art (and lots of it!), unendurable music, and gallery openings filled with acquisitors on the prowl. And always, the really cool and crispy camerawork of Svetlana Cvetko. This is downtown as it wants to be. Go walk through Soho on an opening night with fresh eyes, then see the movie (and art imitating art).
Meet the sensational Catalina Saavedra—a perpetually glum 40-year-old virgin suffering from headaches and worse, whose entire life is devoted to taking care of the family she’s tended for 23 years. This is a character piece with terrific actors, and a really quirky heroine. She’s a terror to the “helpers” her kind boss hires to assist her, and a threat to domestic pets and delivery men. Is there any hope for her? Director Sebastián Silva, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in the World Cinema (dramatic) category for his work; he and Saavedra have received other plaudits before and since. It’s Silva’s second film, and definitely not his last.
When More is More at the Met
and Less is More at MoMA
On my way from the lovely early Michaelangelo sculpture to the North Italian Drawings (1410-1559) at the Metropolitan Museum, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a table ablaze with an 18th-century dessert service that had belonged to the Archduchess Maria Theresa and her husband, Archduke Francis Stephan of Lorraine. It was actually an exhibition, aptly titled Imperial Privilege.
Yes, Maria and Francis were the parents of Marie Antoinette and her brother, the Emperor Joseph II. All thoughts of being sensible were abandoned; the fragile plates of luscious figs, chocolates, and fiendishly complex morsels were balanced by sugar pastry temples bursting with fruits and flowers, lit by porcelain candlesticks, each surrounding a miniature porcelain musician. This is the legacy of the famous 18th-century Viennese ceramist, Claudius du Pacquier, whose elegant forms and Baroque decorations won commissions in high places. I succumbed.
After touring the drawings, which offer insights into masterpieces of Renaissance high art, I paused once more to marvel at the desserts on the way out. Perhaps Marie Antoinette was simply misunderstood; when she said “Let them eat cake,” she was just speaking from personal experience, and only wishing her subjects the best.
You have six months to see the treats and remember the Ghosts of Versailles.
Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity
The problem of how to celebrate yet another anniversary of a design icon has been brilliantly solved by MoMA: their long-awaited American version of the German show marking the Bauhaus’ 90th has arrived in New York, a perfect complement to the Met’s Viennese overkill.
What could be further from the Baroque splendor of the 18th-century Austro-Hungarian court than the 20th century Bauhaus? Or, to reduce complex ideas to images: compare the Met’s sweetmeats dish with Josef Albers’ sublime three-legged fruit bowl. I may have lusted after the pastries, but in the long run I’d much rather have the Albers—with or without the fruit. Nothing could be simpler, and nothing more beautiful.
MoMA has done us all a favor by returning to Bauhaus basics. It was, after all, a school, and not a style bending under the weight of decades of critical exegesis, or the insurgency of post-Modernism. So seeing an uncluttered overview of what the school produced is the best introduction to the Bauhaus’ purpose and identity. You will recognize many of the designs, and marvel anew at their power, inventiveness, and often their wit.
But MoMA has another opportunity up its sleeve: in addition to exhibiting carefully chosen (and artfully restored) examples of the Bauhaus’ art and objects, the museum is offering a series of hands-on workshops to give museum-goers an idea of what it was like to actually be at the Bauhaus—to be part of its stormy evolution—from early folkish, decorative designs and anarchic experiments, to the ultimate iconic geometry that put it, and will keep it, permanently on the map.
Bauhaus 1919-1933 will be on view until January 25. For a detailed listing of the workshops and related events, go to their Web site.