It's hard to know what's what these days.
From Photoshopped images of models to quotes taken out of context, finding something real and true to hold onto can be a full-time pursuit.
At least the Walker Art Center is being honest about its latest exhibition, Lifelike, which presents the viewer with a series of glorious fakes.
Crouching Boy in Mirror, 1999/2002 by Ron Mueck
An old cardboard box turns out to be canvass on wood, treated and manipulated until it finally looks exactly like an old cardboard box. An oversized rubber eraser that appears smudged from use is actually made from balsa wood and acrylic paint.
Everywhere you turn, ordinary objects and mundane pictures reveal themselves to be something wholly different from what they appear to be.
The reality-craving pragmatist in me says "that's cool... but what's the point?"
Curator Siri Engberg says for many artists, it's about testing the limits of their ability with the tools of their trade. If they manage to fool the eye of a viewer, they've achieved a level of skill and artistic accomplishment.
But beyond that, Engberg says, the act of making this kind of art in today's modern age is tantamount to a form of protest:
We have so many images coming at us with such speed, the fact that someone would take the time to slow down and make something mundane with such precision, is really a radical undertaking. There is a real conscious decision on the part of the artists - to move slowly, to go back to process in order to persuade the viewer.
"Nothing good happens after midnight/everything good happens after midnight" by Ruben Nusz
acrylic, oil, tea, walnut ink on wax and resin (with incense and cremation ashes)
Courtesy Weinstein Gallery, Minneapolis
Two of the 55 artists in this show are Minnesotans - David Lefkowitz and Ruben Nusz. Nusz created an ashtray, complete with used cigarettes. For him, the process of creating the work became almost a spiritual act, connecting him to a chain-smoking grandfather he never met.
Why create something that is an exact replica of something it isn't? For me the materials supply the answer: acrylic, oil, tea, walnut ink and resin with incense and cremation ashes. The materials indicate a process and a ritual. The exercise of copying something, mimesis, has been the crux of much artistic practice since earlier than the paintings of the Chauvet cave. It's a way of understanding our reality. Yet, this type of work can also undermine our reality which directs us to the notion that our reality itself is malleable, even fictitious. If an artist can fool the eye with a fake ashtray who knows what advertisers can do, or government propagandists.
Selections from Fixtures
oil on wood panels
As for David Lefkowitz, he's sprinkled the exhibition with small paintings that look deceptively like electrical outlets and other utilitarian panels. But they aren't. Lefkowitz says he likes how they "feign utility."
Ideally, viewers will first pass right by, oblivious to the fixtures' status as paintings, then maybe notice one, then start looking around more carefully for more, then confusing actual wall sockets or security monitors for paintings, until they become attentive to their surroundings in a way they hadn't been when they walked into the space. I could post a "START SEEING INFRASTRUCTURE" bumpersticker on the wall, but I decided to take a stealthier, more nuanced approach.
For Lefkowitz, like Nusz, realism is all about paradox - both in art, and in our lives.
One of the things I like best about Lifelike is its full of artworks that do that double duty, work that says "Please pay attention to the man behind the curtain." They pose questions about the nature of what we believe, about how an image or object is invested with the power of legitimacy, trust, authenticity- qualities we claim to desire in all aspects of life- in life partners, political leaders, foodstuffs- yet are frequently satisfied with ersatz versions of.
Lifelike opens tomorrow and will be up through May 27. Perhaps after seeing the show, people will start looking at the "real world" with a more skeptical eye.
Posted at 7:00 AM on February 24, 2012
by David Cazares
Filed under: Film
The classic bolero "Sabor a mi" was written by Mexican composer Alvaro Carrillo, but it is the perfect song to begin an Afro-Cuban love story.
Part of the Afro-Cuban musical repertoire during the Golden Age of Cuban music, the song would have been a natural for a young songstress in Havana whose purity of voice and words of enduring love quickly win our young pianist.
The song is among those expertly employed by Spanish Director Fernando Trueba in his latest film, "Chico y Rita," an ode to jazz and the heady days of Cuba in the 1940s and 50s. It was a time of musical discovery on the island, when North American jazz artists frequently visited, opening a door to inventive collaborations in New York.
An Oscar nominee for best animated feature, "Chico and Rita" is a film for adults. It recounts the stormy relationship of the two lovers and of those around them while also telling the story behind some of the most innovative jazz of the era. Sexy and provocative, the Spanish-language film opens a fresh and inventive window to musical history and Cuban culture. It opens today in an exclusive showing at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.
Employing film footage of Havana street scenes and actors whose moves helped guide the movements of the animated characters, animator Javier Mariscal presents an authentic portrait of the Cuba of 60 years ago when the island was a playground for North American whites. It subtly explores the racism prevalent in Cuba and the United States.
Mariscal also presents scenes from present-day Cuba, where young people listen to rap music on Old Havana Streets, a stone's throw from the hotels where big bands once entertained the elite.
The 94-minute film, which alternates between then and now, opens with an elderly Chico Valdes thinking wistfully of the days when he met - and lost - Rita.
It is inspired by the life of pianist Bebo Valdes, 94, an elderly statesman of Afro-Cuban music. Valdes built his reputation in the 1940s and 50s as musical director of Cuba's famed Tropicana nightclub. He is also the father of pianist Jesus "Chucho" Valdes, founder of the Afro-Cuban group Irakere and one of the island's most renown musicians.
After the island's 1959 revolution, Bebo Valdes left Cuba and settled in Sweden, where he played in bar lounges and was largely forgotten. He was rediscovered in 1994, when at age 76 he had a hit with the album Bebo Rides Again.
Trueba, a devotee of Latin jazz, has used jazz artists to score his various films. The director included many of his favorite Latin jazz artists in the 2001 documentary "Calle 54," which featured interviews and performances in New York City. Among them were Bebo and Chucho Valdes, saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and the late Tito Puente.
The documentary and recording also included Cuban greats Chico O'Farrill and Orlando "Cachao" Lopez and New York-based Fort Apache Band, led by Nuyorican trumpeter and conguero Jerry Gonzalez.
He followed with "Old Man Bebo" in 2007, a film that explored the evolution of Cuban music by exploring one of its key contributors.
"Chico and Rita" isn't about the life of Bebo Valdes, who performs half of the music used in the film. But it evokes the era that produced him and led jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie to work with Cubans, giving birth to a new kind of jazz.
Trueba uses elements of the period to move the story, among them an appearance by famed Afro-Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, who composed the classic tune Manteca with Gillespie, and met an untimely and violent end.
He also uses recordings of people playing in the style of the era, among them singer Freddy Cole. In Chico and Rita, he sings for his brother, Nat King Cole, who performed in Cuba, in Spanish.
The film also subtly addresses the racism that blacks experienced in Cuba, and the United States, where Rita briefly becomes a film star and Chico makes his living as a jazz pianist, in painful separation. It includes scenes of desire, hope and betrayal.
Masterful music from jazz composers - from saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk, saxophonist Ben Webster and others -- helps carry the story and moves it from scene to scene. It's a character in Cuba, New York City and Las Vegas, where a lonely Rita laments the plight of a black artist who has to "sleep in a hotel out of town."
Torn apart, the lovers may never see each other again. Chico returns to the island after the 1959 revolution, only to be told by a fellow musician that "they don't like this music anymore. Jazz is considered imperialist music, music of the enemy." For decades, that was the prevailing official view in contemporary Cuba.
Like so many real life Cuban musical greats, Chico fades into obscurity.
But like the lyrics of the opening song, he knows he'll always carry the essence of his love with him.
Each week MPR movie buffs Stephanie Curtis and Euan Kerr give their take on the latest movie releases in a radio segment called "Cube Critics" (named so because they sit near each other in the newsroom's cube farm).
This week the duo have put together a special two-parter in anticipation of the Oscars this weekend, and they invited two other noted movie critics to chime in.
Star Tribune movie critic Colin Covert (center) visits the Cube Critics
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel
Yesterday, the Star Tribune's Colin Covert weighed in with his thoughts on who will - and who should - win in the category of Best Actor.
Covert says he doesn't imagine the Oscars for the actors will vary in any way from the Screen Actors Guild awards.
Stephanie Curtis threw in her vote for Albert Brooks in "Drive"
Euan Kerr cast his vote for Tilda Swinton in "We need to talk about Kevin"
Tonight, the Pioneer Press' Chris Hewitt will give his nominations for Best Film.
So who do you think will win the Oscars this weekend? And who should win, but won't?
This just in from the Guthrie Theater:
Donald Schoenbaum, Managing Director of the Guthrie Theater from 1969 to 1986, has died at the age of 86 in Sarasota, Florida. A native New Yorker, Schoenbaum's tenure saw the Guthrie grow from a five-play seasonal operation to a year-round theater.
"Don Schoenbaum was one of the true heroes of the Guthrie," says Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling, "managing it through good times and bad--but always conscious of the artistic and institutional priorities. He has a special place in our history and will be long remembered here."
Schoenbaum began his professional career as an actor in Hollywood, then founded the professional touring company The Repertory Players in Omaha. He came to the Guthrie in 1966 after a period as Managing Director of Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1985, he received the nationally recognized Arts Management Award as Arts Executive of the Year. He remained active in theater and film production after his employment at the Guthrie.
"Don was deeply respected by everyone who worked at the theater in all departments, and he trained the next generation of theater administrators," says Guthrie Director of Artistic Relations Sheila Livingston. "He loved theater and the artists who created it. I will miss him greatly as a lifelong friend."
Kornblum only recently stepped down from his leadership position at the press, which is one of the most successful independent literary presses in the country. He is still on staff in the position of senior editor.
Kornblum will be presented with the Kay Sexton Award, named after a book buyer who worked for many years at Dayton's and B. Dalton Bookstores in the Twin Cities. Previous recipients include Emilie Buchwald, the founder of Milkweed Editions, and former Governor Elmer L. Andersen.
In a release from the Minnesota Book Awards, colleague Fiona McCrae, Director and Publisher of Graywolf Press, said "Allan has come to represent, both to those within publishing and those outside it, the spirit of independence and the single-minded pursuit of artistic integrity."
Anyone who has spent any amount of time with Kornblum knows him to be a consummate lover of every aspect of books, from the paper they're printed on to the writers who create them. It's a devotion that has served both his press and the literary community well