Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: Marina Abramovic @ MoMA

Went to go see Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present at MoMA today. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this might be the show of the year. The whole art world (by which I mean everyone in the 5 boroughs) is atwitter. And, since the reviews have been rather mixed, I feel like I need to add to the chatter. And because you probably won't learn much from them that you don't already know if you know anything about Abramovic or her art. That is, of course, that Holland Cotter doesn't exactly like some of the work (really useful information) and that someone, either Jerry Saltz or his editors, thinks it's ok to write a three paragraph review about the first major retrospective by one of the most fundamentally important artists of the past 50 years. Seriously? Only Arthur Danto got it somewhat right, but, in his usual Arthur Danto way, he offers a plethora (Forgive me, El Guapo) of amazing ruminations without much of a sense of whether or not the exhibition is going to be satisfying or not.

I'm going to do a lot of the same, mainly because you'd be an idiot to think that the exhibition wouldn't be satisfying. What I'm not going to do is offer much information on Abramovic or her work. Go read a book. Or, God forbid, take an art history class. That's where that happens. This is criticism. I'm here to criticize. I mean critique.

So, let's start with the obvious. I have personal space issues. This makes for an exceedingly rewarding experience in a Marina Abramovic retrospective on its last day, on Memorial Day. MoMA deserves kudos for being open on Memorial Day. We don't all like parades. But, for those of you keeping score, going to MoMA on Memorial Day is really stupid. Really stupid.

But, within the context of this show, it was almost ideal. My wife told me to keep an eye on the crowds, so she deserves the credit for this, but there is much truth to my saying that Abramovic's work is best experienced with too many of your closest friends, bashing bodies with strangers and being constantly forced to jostle for space in and around the crowds. It wasn't simply that Impoderabilia was one of the centerpieces of the show. For all of you who don't know, this was a 1977 work in which Abramovic, with her then art-making partner Ulay, stood, as they say, butt-ass nekkid, in one of the doorways of the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Bologna. It was recreated, as were a handful of other works, by Abramovic-trained performers at MoMA.

And, yes, I squoze (not a proper conjunction, but an in-joke with my parents) myself through two naked bodies. I faced the woman, mostly because all the other people in line in front of me did and I thought they must be onto something. To be honest, it was an amazing experience. Firstly, the tangible smooshing of three bodies together is unbelievably tectonic. And, no, juveniles, it wasn't sexual. But it was one of the most tangible bodily experiences I've ever had. The performers were standing really close together and even my skinny ass had some trouble getting through. I felt everything. The closest comparison I can imagine would be blindness, and the way that blind people report having a heightened sense of touch because of their lack of vision. All of a sudden my torso, arms, legs, everything became hypersensitive and aware of every smashing, rolling, pushing that it took to get through two naked bodies. It was perhaps the most fantastic reminder that all art, even the optical Greenbergian stuff, is supposed to hit you everywhere. Art, dear friends, is a visceral experience. All of this Cartesian bullshit that we've been forced to believe for centuries is exactly that. Bullshit.

Op. Cit. Susan Sontag. Art, dear friends, is best when it is erotic, not hermeneutical. Look it up. It's the titular essay in Against Interpretation. If you haven't read it, you haven't lived.

Those of you that know me know I have this thing about being too close to people I don't want to be too close to. Watch my students corner me after class and watch me back up until I'm melting into the wall. This was totally different. The anticipation was, to quote a cliche, palpable. The only thing I can compare it to is the rush of adrenaline one gets before performing on stage, an apropos sensation. But I have to say that the rush kept going for quite some time after. Shaky legs, dilated pupils. I'm anything but an adrenaline junkie, but it was pretty cool.

Angular narrative turn here.

One of the best things about this exhibition was its way of navigating the impossibility of showing performative works, a dilemma that Abramovic herself attacked head on at the Guggenheim in 2005. I'm not interested in the ideologies of recreating performance pieces, or debating the necessity of ephemerality for the credibility of performative art. That's for the artist to decide, the critic to pontificate upon, and noone to decide.

But, MoMA really got it right today. They placed the script (that's what I'm going to call it) next to a single still from the performance. Then, next to it, there was one of those fancy digital picture frames that rotated through a series of still images from the original performance. It was actually a pretty successful way to give a sense of the works that weren't recorded to video. Those, to my great enjoyment, were on huge screens at grotesque volumes, just the kind of multi-sensory assault that made sense for the work.

And, of course, I must offer this caveat. Whoever decided to put the performers in the free-standing boxes might have dropped the ball. It was simply too detached from the communal space of the viewers' bodies, our bodies, all of which are implicated in any of Abramovic's works. Her body becomes ours, her fragility and mortality ours. Separating the performers in these oddly Turrellian spaces didn't make any sense. It was too pictorial, which doesn't make any sense to me for an exhibition focused on performative art.

Before I go, I need to make a point of something remarkably obvious.

Marina Abramovic is beautiful. She has been stunningly beautiful her whole career and is even moreso today, as I saw her, seated in the atrium of the museum, draped in heavy gown that framed her face against the space, the crowd, and her entire career.

This shouldn't be such a big deal, except that we, as an art culture, have been deeply and overly ashamed of beauty for far too long, at least since Caravaggio or Goya or Courbet or something so obvious I'm forgetting it. Perhaps, pace Laura Mulvey, this is because we've all been party to centuries of patriarchy and the exploitation of the bodies of infinite women for the purely genital pleasure of mostly white, upper-class, heterosexual males. That is, looking at beautiful women has been a guilty pleasure for centuries, laden with the baggage of misogyny, intentional or otherwise. Abramovic herself made this unbeliveably apparent and complex in her 1975 work "Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful."

And it got even moreso today. There is something particularly spellbinding about Abramovic's beauty, perhaps because we all know such a beautiful body was subjected to such dangers and damage. Perhaps because we all know that her beauty is not ephemeral, as we have all been convinced that beauty must be. Perhaps because we all know that this beauty hides the fact that she is the strongest among us, both in body and will.

I'm not sure that I can put my finger on it exactly, but I am sure that I have seen no more compelling argument for the necessity and value of beauty than I did today.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Adrian Diet

I'm a skinny little bastard. Have been since I was born. In fact, if it wasn't for my Herculean athleticism and natural balletic grace, you might get away with calling me scrawny. This is mostly a gift. See, I was born about six weeks early and have a lightning-fast metabolism. You combine being undercooked and overly excited and the math just sort of works out.

Of course, this hasn't prevented nearly everyone I know from remarking about what a skinny little bastard I am. But, as I'm sure Kate Moss and Lindsay Lohan can tell you, there are other ways to stay skinny than skiing the snowy mountains. And, since one of my cousins raised this highly interesting question on the FaceSpace earlier this week (I'll give you a cut if this makes me rich), and since, as a certified professorial-type, I think that every opinion of mine is both worth saying out loud and the solution to all of your problems, I thought I would contribute to our national dietary hysteria and introduce The Adrian Diet, the virtually-all-natural way to get in touch with your inner skinny little bastard.

But, before I change your lives (Can you believe how arrogant you need to be to be a self-help guru? What a bunch of smug bastards...)...let me congratulate Dario Franchitti (known to most of the world as Mr. Ashley Judd) on winning his second Indy 500 in three years. And, on a similar pitch, let's all give thanks that both Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay walked away from that horrible crash. In the immortal words of Reggie Noble: "the bricks the bricks the bricks."

Prelude: This ain't about being fat. People in America need to reevaluate their attitudes toward fat. I'm not going to get all soapboxy about this, but let's just say that if we substituted all the fat jokes for African-American jokes or gay jokes or Asian jokes we'd all have the ACLU's foot where the sun don't shine. Next time you make a fat joke, substitute a racial slur for the word fat and get back to me on the results. So, all you fatists can go fat yourselves.

This is about eating good stuff and not being unhealthy.

Anyway, here's how you do it:

Rule #1: Don't listen to me. I am not a dietician. Therefore you shouldn't listen to me. You should listen to your body. I read a great book a few weekends ago at my sister-in-law's house. It should be on everyone's bookshelf, next to Everybody Poops, mainly because it's about poo. Before you all get grossed out, why don't you go write a review of the latest Saw movie and get back to me when you toughen up. See, I have a yoga friend (who does yoga--I stay away from the stuff) that says "Your only as healthy as your spine." And, my Mom's a nurse, so I know that you can get most of your health info from your excretions.

You make the yellow pee? You need more water. You got funky ear wax? Probably the same. You sneezing a lot? Probably getting sick or allergic to something.

Alls I'm saying is that you got to listen to your body. If eating something gives you heartburn, cut it out. If it makes you tired and worn out, cut it out. I read an article in the Nueva York Times a while ago that said that most Americans get sick at work because some idiot decided that work was so important that they couldn't lay at home in bed and get rid of their cold. I'm just saying. That we're stupid about our bodies. You got to listen. Pretend your body is Oprah if you have to, but keep your ears open.

Rule #2: Apples. You know that old saying about keeping the doctor away. Well, they're not bullsnapping you. Apples rule. Natural sugars are good for a quick, natural, totally legal high. The fiber is amazing for your digestive health. The vitamins and minerals in an apple are good for you. And the crunchy noise is so satisfying. Keep them in the fridge for extra crunch. Imagine, when you hear the crunch, that you're biting Sean Hannity's head off, Ozzy-style. Or whoever bugs you. Pretend you're a Sarah Palin dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 35 years ago and chomp those buggers till there gone. I prefer Cameos and Galas, mainly because I like R&B parties, but you do what you want. Just eat a bunch of them. One a day minimum, national holidays and all.

Rule #3: H two motherskunking O. You all remember Chemistry, right? How many electrons does Oxygen have? If you said eight, you're right. This means that it makes one hell of a bond (word is...) with a pair of Hydrogen atoms. That gives us water. Did you know that each one of us is mostly water?

I know, I know. The French are all "Ma, non, je suis totalment French." And the Germans are all "Was the hell ist das? Ich bin total aus bier gemacht." Whatever, my dear Maginot-straddling friends, you, like beer, are mostly water. You gots to drink it all. They say you should drink 8 8 ounce glasses a day. That's 64 ounces, not a stutter. That's a little more than 3 pints. English people, this should be easy for you. Drink a pint of water between each pre-dinner beer and you'll be good. I say that you should drink enough water to have to pee every hour. You'll know that you've got it right when you pee clear, like water. Eeeeew. That's gross. Yeah, so it what the Titans paid LenDale White to get fat on tequila, so I don't want to hear it. You want gross? Go read The 120 Days of Sodom. Otherwise, fuggeddaboutit.

Rule #4: Pot of Beans. I eat one of these a week. Fo sho. A pot of beans is the cheapest, easiest way to get a whole load of nutrition. I do it like this, and you needs to be patient, or the beans won't work out. And beans that don't work out are inevitably trouble.

Go to the store. Find the Goya aisle. Buy some damn beans. Dry ones. No canned premade anything. That shit will kill you. If it comes in a box and it is premade, that shit will kill you. That's why they call it shit. It's about as good for you as what you'd normally flush down the loo. I prefer red beans. I also like black beans and pinto beans, but you know, you've got to have a favorite.

This is important. Don't mix beans. If your bag o' beans is ending, continue with the exact same beans. I mixed brands once and I had half a pot of cooked beans, half a pot of gravel. No go. I think the best way to do this is to start before you go out on Friday night. Soak the beans in a vat of cold water. I use about half a pound of beans a go. Soak them until they bloat with water, like a dead guy fished out of the New Jersey swamps. Overnight and the whole next day usually does it. Then, here is the best part.

Get a bunch of vegetables. I have friends that don't eat vegetables. They think they're gross. Well, so is dying from malnutrition. You got to eat your veggies. I go for onions (red and white, for ethnic harmony purposes), celery, carrots, peppers (of whatever colors, see onions). If you're totally renegade, use other things. Now, you only need one pot for this recipe (shout out to my grad school roommate who swore by one-pot cooking). Put some olive oil in it (no butter. minimizing butter is key to The Adrian Diet). Chop the veggies and sautee them until you get them to where you want them to be. Sautee is French for cook over low heat. It'll make you sound like you've read a cookbook if you use the big words every now and then. Works with art history as well, but don't tell anyone I told you that.

Once the veggies are just so, pour the beans in. Drain them first. Then, take as many cans of diced tomatoes (one of the few times canned food is ok for The Adrian Diet) as needed to fill the whole concoction with liquid. Cook slow over low heat. This is the hard part, Americans. You need to be patient. When I say slow, I mean you need to cook this for about 8 to 10 hours. Sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. Like the plot of the nominees for Best Foreign Film. We all know what happens if you don't shower for a few days, right? You start to stink exponentially, cause the filth creates more filth, which makes for profound stinky. Same theory, just reverse. The longer you cook this, the deeper and richer the taste will become. If you don't belive me, ask someone's Italian grandmother how long she cooks her sauce. Then ask her why. The nice thing is that you can do other stuff. Just get up and stir it every half-hour or so. This is why I think starting Friday night is best. You can cook the beans all day Sunday, while you're reading the paper or watching the game or doing whatever you do. Oh, yeah, add spices. I do salt, black pepper, cayenne, hot sauce, and without doubt a few squirts of high quality barbecue sauce. And not that KC Masterpiece sluice. Something made below the Mason-Dixon line that has a secret recipe. It's the right touch of sweet and sour and happy. Trust me.

Now, if you do it on an industrial scale, you'll get enough beans for multiple meals, and the veggies and beans will stew themselves into a delicious zinger of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You can add meat if you want. Chorizo is the best, cause it's the most flavorful, but I've used chicken, beef, and turkey, all of which are perfectly fine.

Pot of beans: the whole food pyramid at once, except for milk, which comes later.

Rule #5: Drink Mexican Soda. I mean, you're not supposed to drink soda on The Adrian Diet, except for one small glass a day. I do it with lunch, so I can break the day up with a nice jolt of sugartasticism. But, as you all know, that partially hydrogenated horseshit that they put in all of our beloved sodas is terrible for you. Mexican soda has real cane sugar in it. The reason that they call it cane sugar is because it's as addictive as crack cocaine, which is sort of what regular Coke is like. Crack. Because of the freebase corn syrup. Avoid that by drinking Mexican soda. Jaritos are really awesome. And fancy flavored. Flavoured if you're European. Frankly, your best bet (that's "you're" for all of you internet-educated spelling deficients) is to stop shopping at the white people supermarkets all together. Now, before you call me a reverse racist, let me remind you that I'm half white. And, truth be told, the non-white people markets have more interesting food that, generally, is less industrially-produced than the white people food. Industrial production is the enemy of food. You can take that to the bank. Avoiding industrially produced food is pretty key to The Adrian Diet, barring certain exceptions, which, in a Scientology-derived scheme, I will not reveal to new initiates. But you're better off avoiding them anyway.

Rule #6: Exerciso ergo shrinko. Get off your ass and move around. Take the damn stairs. Walk to work. Jump up and down on the bed. Whatever. Just keep moving. You can't intake calories without having a way to burn them. And, exercising makes you feel good. It's good for your spine (see above) and might actually have you looking all grown and sexy before too long. And don't try to act like you don't want a six pack. We all do. It's just that sometimes it can't be a sixer of PBR. You gots to moderate. That's another critical law of The Adrian Diet. Moderation. Everything in moderation. Including moderation. I'm not above eating a whole tube of Thin Mints. But I do it once a year, not whenever I get the spirit, or I had a shitty day. You having a shitty day, puddin? Get a punching bag. Beat the hell out of it. See Rule #6.

Rule #7: Beer and Ice Cream. I'm not kidding. There is a reason that we're not all monks and nuns. It's cause most of us can't handle that degree of asceticism. Same with dieting. You need to be realistic. If it took you 30 years to build up that beer belly, it ain't going away by swimsuit season. Seriously. It doesn't take a time-space genius to know that a lifetime of excess and indulgence is going to go away RIGHT Fing NOW. Americans, this is on us all. Patience is not a virtue we have maintained over the years. You need to nurture a slow patience. You know how long it took to build the Duomo in Milan? Damn near 600 years. So, taking a few months to get all grown and sexy isn't asking much. Truth be told, grown and sexy is like keeping the car running or the house intact. It's a constant effort.

My point, however, is that you need to drink beer and eat ice cream now and again. If you aren't used to The Adrian Diet, it will take some acclimatizing, like deep sea diving. You can't be expected to jump right in and, even once you're in, you need to be realistic. We are all humans. Humans like fun. Humans like to self-indulge. So, do it. Just don't be an idiot. And remember that every self-indulgence might set you back a moment or two, so you might have to double-up on the exercise tomorrow. But, trust me, it's worth getting a little fatter if you get to enjoy yourself.

Rule #8: Reset foods. Everybody has them, you just got to figure them out. Everyone get to feeling bloated or lazy or unhealthy. This is where reset foods come into play. Mine are cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese (I used to be a Kraft Klassicist, but have recently learned that Whole Foods 365 brand is actually quite good. That Annie's stuff tastes like reconstituted cardboard to me, but you can figure that out for yourself). If I get to feeling like hell, I go eat a cheeseburger. A good one. Not some rubberized cow-butt meat from MacDonalds. Avoiding fast food is rule number one for The Adrian Diet. Go to a farmer's market and get some good grass-fed, beer-rubbed, free-range, laughing cow cow meat. That'll set you straight, oooooh yeah. Figure out what your reset food is. If your belly is gurgly, eat it. Sushi also works really good. You vegetarians are sort of on your own, but bless your heart for keeping the animals in mind. I'm not that kind of dude.

Rule #9: This is sort of a personal one, but I swear by four small meals a day, not three ginormous ones. And you, there, the one skipping breakfast or lunch or both and then going apeshit at dinner. That isn't smart. Metabolism needs a constant burn to work at all. Think about leaving the heat off in the winter. When you get home, it's gonna be cold as hell and you're going to have to crank it up, which isn't good for heating or your sanity. Same principle. I do breakfast at 8, lunch at 1, snacky snack at 6, real dinner at about 8.

Anyway, that's how it all begins. Frankly, I don't know why any of you should listen to me, but I feel like I have a few secrets in here worth sharing. More than that Atkins craziness. My wife tried that once and said that all the protein made her so energetic she had to take up kickboxing just to burn off all the energy. I'm a believer in balanced mediumness.

If this works, please let me know. Maybe then we can all get together and make an infomercial, like that Tae-Bo guy. You know that you all want to see me in sleeveless shirts and a wireless microphone anyway.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creepiest Ads Ever?

I'm certainly not an ad executive, but I do know a fright when I have one.

These ads for the Dorchester Collection of hotels are horrifying, with a capital HORROR.

They were featured in an article in the Media and Advertising section of the New York Times about a year and change ago, but, given that print media is dying and I don't read magazines unless they involve the word "sports" or "guitar" or "art" in the title, you'll have to forgive me.

You see, if you follow the logic of the Times review, there is some genius in these.

First, dead people can't hassle you about logistics or fees, and they certainly can't show up late, with mysterious white powder on their shoes and proceed to vomit all over your faux Louix XIV divan.

Secondly, and you'll have to excuse me while I wish death upon myself here, there is apparently something magical and post-historical-post-modern-post-photography in this that makes all the nostalgia lovers-celebrity worshippers go "schwing!"

Anybody who is about to try to tell me that this is glamorous or exciting needs to go find a date in Disney's Hall of Presidents.

While I'm sure some greybeard of an ad exec is at home, sitting on his endangered species-skin faux Louis XIV divan, stroking his Clio Award like it's a bald cat, I can't help but think this violates two of the cardinal rules of advertising, at least as I would have brought them down from the mountain.

Rule #1: Photoshop is not to be abused. Look close at all of the, ahem, people in these ads. They look like they just got rolled out of the coroner. Maybe this is some post-humor joke. They are dead, after all. But why, dear God, do they look so plasticine? If I was Thandie Newton, I'd be coming right back from the dead to curse the hell out of all of those mouse-weilding yahoos that CS4-ed me into Robert Smith. I spend most of my days surrounded by students who can Photoshop better than this with their eyes closed, hands tied, and a piranha nibbling on their sensitive bits. Seriously, Warhol's the only one that looks half normal, and that's because he tried his whole life to disguise the way he actually looked. The rest of them look like they've spent the night drinking embalming fluid and lacing themselves into medieval torture corsets.

Rule #2: Don't scare the bejesus out of people you want on your side. Ask anyone who can't stand clowns. Why, you ask, don't you like clowns? They're funny and make kids laugh. Yeah, when they're not busy scaring the shiznit out of them. Scared once, scarred for life.

Honestly. People wonder why print ads are going the way of the dodo.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review (sort of): The Blind Side

Well, it seems to be the case that I've been out of touch, so I'm about to try to get back in the saddle. To be honest, the past month of my life--and that of any academic--has been a total blur. I can't for the life of me remember what was involved, but there were dozens of hours of critique, grading, and at least one lecture that I can remember. But, again, I can't hardly remember.

I don't know how the rest of you cope with insanity, but I use Netflix. I'm a total junkie. To the point that I tend to fall asleep in front of it. A few weeks ago I nodded off and spilled a whole mug of tea on the couch. Luckily it wasn't that hot. Then, last week, I fell asleep in front of it again and woke up to the birds chirping at 5 am. Pretty sweet. I used to think it was funny when my Dad fell asleep in front of the TV. Now I think it's a bit heroic.

Anyway, one of my forays into the Netflickery involved The Blind Side. This makes me exactly the last person in America to see it. But, since there are very few opportunities to flex my expertise in football and Memphis simultaneously, how am I supposed to resist?

Let me begin thusly. I don't care about how good the movie made you feel. In fact, I actively oppose feel good movies. They make me feel like I've been suckered. It's a bunch of Hallmarky pandering to people who seem to want to dive headfirst into every God-forsaken Hollywood cliche.

But,'s a true story.

I don't care. And that's not my point. And neither is Sandra Bullock's acting, which, much to my absolute confusion, was actually good. Normally, she makes me want to jump off of the nearest bridge. And, I have local informants that tell me she nailed Mme. Tuohy right on the button. Tim McGraw, by the way, doesn't look at all like Sean Tuohy, who, as the color commentator for the Memphis Grizzlies has one of the jobs I most desperately covet.

My interest in The Blind Side is based in ancestry and tradition. The part of this movie that was the most authentic, the most fundamentally heartwarming was when Michael Oher was being interrogated by that horrid woman from the NCAA. Remember? She kept asking him about how he'd been cajoled into choosing Ole Miss. That's the University of Mississippi, in case you're keeping score at home.

What did he say? Do you remember?

He said that he wanted to go there because his family had been going there for generations.

He was adopted, remember?

How does that make sense, you ask?

This, dear friends, is the strength of the tradition of college football. Trust me, I went to Notre Dame. And, if you don't believe me, go to the downstairs bathroom in my dentist's house, where you can simultaneously relieve yourself and gaze upon prints of the Ole Miss campus.

For all of you that missed that part, let me assure you that it was the moment at which the entire movie demonstrated its veracity.

Second was every moment when the Tuohy family actively hated on the University of Tennessee, every one of which was totally hilarious. I mean, seriously, what is the problem with that orange color. And, before some RealTree-wearing fanatic decides to set up a deer blind near my house, we really need to talk about Albert Haynesworth's work ethic and Peyton Manning's latest interception.

Having studied amidst America's greatest college football tradition, I cannot explain the depth and resonance of such moments. If you need proof, ask someone from the University of Michigan about dotting the i. Or someone from Notre Dame about the University of Michigan.

You see, that's why The Blind Side was such a good movie. It was able to boil the entire history of college football into a single sentence. The ways in which our colleges and universities are able to create cultures around their sports is one of the most uniquely American experiences we've got. And the ways in which these sports create allegiances and commonalities amongst enormously disparate populations is essential to weaving this odd national fabric of ours.

And the way in which these allegiances can change the course of a single life--of an individual, of a family, of a viewing nation--is quite extraordinary.

Michael Oher, bless his Flacco-protecting soul, is simply the most tangible example of this we've had in a long while. Presumably, there are innumerable others. Their success simply hasn't had the benefit of the Walt Disney Corporation, the 24-hour news cycle, and Roger Goodell's marketing aggression.

For this he should certainly be celebrated, most because he represents all of the unnamed student-athletes who damn near kill themselves for the fleeting and ephemeral opportunities afforded by sports. They are, like the rest of us, looking for that small window of opportunity through which to jump.

Onward to victory.