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      All Over the Place in New York

      August 6, 2013
      From the column 'A Few Impressions'

      I’ve seen a few things lately. They’re all mixed up in my mind. So I figured I should just try to get them all down on paper and share them with you:

      Up until last weekend, Paul McCarthy and his son Damon had a show about Snow White called WS on display at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. It was only a portion of the McCarthys’ hostile takeover of the New York art world. Their recent oeuvre has also included a huge Koons-style dog balloon at Frieze, two shows at Hauser & Wirth—one with gorgeous sculptures continuing to mine the story of Snow White—and their portion of the Rebel show we did in 2011 at MOCA in LA in which Paul played a version of Nicholas Ray, and I played a version of James Dean (and then Paul got the porn star James Deen to play me playing James Dean, which I didn’t know about until later when I finally met James Deen at a party for the show and he told me three times that it was an honor playing my dick double… but more about him later).

      While the WS at the Armory closed on Sunday, the McCarthys are never done with their work and have decided to take the massive project back to their Los Angeles studio and continue to work on it. If you didn’t get to see it, you lost out. It’s a wonderful immersion into a fantasy world of Snow White of our collective imagination, but twisted so that all the sexual and formative experiences of youth and familial upbringings are brought to the forefront with the type of grotesqueness indicative of Paul McCarthy’s work, in which Paul plays a composite character based on Walt Disney and his own father, and Snow White becomes a version of the Disney character mixed with McCarthy’s mother. The characters have parties with appropriations of the dwarves (dressed in UCLA and Yale sweatshirts), get drunk, frolic, and do strange sexual things to each other. At the center of the exhibition is the immense forest the cast performed in that is now presented as a sculpture.

      The James Turrell show at the Guggenheim is a very different of exhibition but not wholly unrelated to the McCarthy’s brand of immersive experience. Turrell, along with his former teacher Bob Irwin, is one of the great sculptors of light, and he has transformed the rotunda of the museum into huge, shifting crevasse of color. This show along with the companion show at LACMA are presented in order to raise awareness about the Rodin Crater project, outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, that Turrell has been working on for decades—one of the last, unfinished works of the great land-art movement of the 60s and 70s. I went there not long ago. Like the Guggenheim and LACMA shows, it uses light and our relationship to space as a way to sculpt perception via natural light, with the sky itself becoming the piece.

      There is a great one-man show at the Barrow Street Theater called Buyer and Cellar, a fictional take on the strange mall that Barbra Streisand has beneath her house in Malibu. This thing is right up my alley: Michael Urie from Ugly Betty plays both an out-of-work actor who mans the empty mall, as well as a strange version of Streisand who comes down to the mall in order to bargain with her new employee over her items in her store. The relationship (both sides played by Urie) develops into one where Babs feels her imaginary life is respected by her employee, so she can indulge her fantasies with him: they dress up, rehearse for a possible movie adaptation of Gypsy, and talk about their secret feelings—well, at least about Bab’s secret feelings. Finally, things start to fall apart when the out-of-work actor’s boyfriend (also played by Urie) deconstructs Streisand’s fantasy world in a brilliant exegesis of her films and career. Of course this has more to do with fame, fantasy, entertainment, and persona than it does with the actual Streisand, and that’s what elevates it above a witty take on the idea of the public persona.

      All of the aforementioned pieces engage the audience in very direct ways. In a way, they’re all like the Mark Raommaneck video of Jay-Z rapping in a gallery to one person at a time. They are designed to pull the spectator into a private space with the work. The fourth wall is torn down, or at least blurred, the exception being that all the people in the Jay-Z video were established creative types. The McCarthy, Turrell, and the play are all designed to connect with any audience.

      I also recently saw a few films. The new Woody Allen movie, his take on A Streetcar Named Desire, is off-the-charts awesome. Everyone is great, but, holy fuck Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Conavalle as different sides of Stanley Kowalski types were visions. Conavalle is the sensitive version of Stanley, actually crying when his girlfriend might leave him for a new life with her sister, and Dice Clay's playing the lug trying to make good is perfection.

      I took in Frances Ha and The Canyons as a double feature—two takes on creative types trying to make it. The Baumbach film was charming and well made. It made me love New York like old Woody Allen films make you love New York. The Canyons was probably made for the same amount of money, and it made me hate LA like reality shows make me hate LA. Schrader is one of my favorite commentators on film, his book The Transcendental Style is beyond great. And as a filmmaker he is always trying to push the envelope, but The Canyons... hmmm, what to say? Not much. I guess if you’re going to cast Jean-Claude Van Damme in a film, you want him to do some martial arts. Otherwise, why cast him? And if you’re going to cast a porn star, then show us a little porn. It’s a sad film, sad on a meta level, meaning, I’m sad for the people behind the film, but I guess it wants to be sad. Still, I think Schrader comes out on top because at least he’s trying to be innovative in an age when everything is changing. 

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