THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT

SisterhoodMaryReview of The Sisterhood of the Night by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Caryn Waechter’s witch-hunt drama ventures outside of Salem and into a modern American high school. The bizarre film, based on Steven Millhauser’s short story Sisterhood, follows goth-like “Mary Warren” (Georgie Henley) as she unplugs from social media and discretely takes her posse take to the deep, dark woods of Kingston, NY. (BKP: 3/5)

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When self-confident Mary feuds with her earnest, blogger nemesis “Emily” (Kara Hayward), she creates her own “media blackout.” Mary deletes her Facebook and every other social media platform. When you search her name, no results are found – and that’s the way she wants it. Instead of updating her status, Mary writes in her journal for the first time in ages and conjures up a crazy idea – she and her two friends, “Lavinia” (Olivia DeJonge) and “Catherine,” (Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman) make their own “secret sisterhood.” As a commencement ceremony, the girls run into the woods to sing, chant, and dance to the beat of their own drums.

But soon enough, the fun ends and the three girls take a vow of silence as chaos in their high school, their families, and their hometown swirls around them. What are they doing in the woods? Is it a cult? Are they witches? The film switches back and forth between different points of view as it progresses, an element both jarring and confusing. By using the omniscient viewpoint, the film shows its dark world through multiple characters. Although devoting time to each character gives them a shred more depth, the film loses its center. Sure, you can piece elements together after its conclusion, but because the majority of the answers come in the film’s final act, certain intrigue and interest is lost. Other characters, such as high school guidance counselor “Gordy,” (Kal Penn) are introduced but have little to add to the fumbling plot.

The film could be viewed in two ways: literally or figuratively. If looked at literally, the script could be seen as very peculiar and touching on delicate subject matters like sexual assault, suicide, and even witchcraft. But if seen through a figuratively wider lens, profound messages shine through a sea of strange plotlines. The film tackles the issue of the modern, tech-saturated high school landscape. It takes the newly-coined term “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) and escalates the concept to a new level through the character of Emily, a girl so desperately wanting to join the sisterhood.

The Sisterhood of the Night accurately depicts the juxtaposition of people’s yearning to fit in and stand out at the same time. Using extremely gloomy and disturbing undertones, it shows teenagers’ relationships with their parents, teachers, and so-called “friends.” Each actress perfectly embodies their role and gives the film its disconcerting feel, particularly Georgie Henley (whose character is a far cry from her Narnia alter-ego Lucy Pevensie). Nonetheless, the lack of focus and misplaced plot-twists ultimately make the story feel as if it were better left on the page.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/8/15)

Top Photo: Georgie Henley as group leader “Mary” and Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman as friend “Catherine Huang”

Bottom Photo: Georgie Henley as group leader “Mary” with friends Olivia DeJonge as “Lavinia Hall” and Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman as “Catherine Huang”

Q: Does The Sisterhood of the Night pass the Bechdel Test?RedA

Yes!

The entire film is based on the relationships (mainly) on four high school girls. They each deal with their own personal issues and only a small number of their conversations revolve around their respective love interests.

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Subscribe, Comment and Like: Documenting the real-girls of YouTube

BethanyMotaBy Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Aside from crime-fighting heroines in dystopian worlds or century-old Disney princesses –  strong, relatable girl characters are almost nonexistent in the multiplex. Young girls are looking elsewhere for relatable entertainment: their phones, their tablets, and their laptops.

YouTube has more than one billion users. Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded. Mobile revenue is up over 100% every year. More than one million channels earn revenue, thousands of which make six figures per year.

Without financial assistance from a studio or permission from an executive, women are making an impact on Generation X and Y by creating their own documentaries, of sorts, and broadcasting within minutes to the internet. By “vlogging” (video blogging) and sharing their lives, their thoughts, their humor, and their talents, these unique female personalities are catching the eyes of millions around the world – particularly young girls.

Whether Grace Helbig and Jenna Mourey are GraceHelbigmaking them laugh or Hilah Johnson is teaching them how to cook; whether Bethany Mota is whipping up a healthy snack or Colette Butler and Sadie Robertson are instilling self-confidence, there is something for everyone. Somehow, these women have a way with connecting to their audiences. Primarily, by being real. They are seen as heroines, role models and super-women without carrying guns, having magical powers, or showing off their size-zero waistlines. They read and convey their thoughts on books (Christine Riccio; /polandbananasBOOKS), they relay the humor and hardship of raising children (Brittany Null; /thenivenulls), and they inspire hope for healthier lifestyles (Olivia Ward & Hannah Young; /myfitspiration). Women of all ages are turning on their cameras, uploading their stories, and becoming the go-to entertainment for this generation.

The young female demographic would rather log in to YouTube and get their entertainment and inspiration without a dollar sign attached. If film studios and production companies want to get more people back in the seats of the multiplex, they can look YouTube for inspiration. They can research YouTube analytics and realize that these women are gaining followers for a reason and that this popular platform will not be going away anytime soon.

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© Brigid K. Presecky (4/6/15)

Top Photo: Bethany Mota (youtube.com/bethanymota)

Middle Photo: Grace Helbig (youtube.com/gracehelbig)

Bottom Photo: Colette Butler (youtube.com/katilette) and Brittany Null (youtube.com/thenivenulls)

Q: Does this argument sound familiar?

13GoingOn30“Who are these women? Does anyone know? I don’t recognize any of them. I want to see my best friend’s big sister, the girls from the soccer team, my next door neighbor, real women who are smart and pretty and happy to be who they are. These are the women to look up to. Let’s put life back into the magazine. And fun and laughter and silliness. I think we all – I think all of us – want to feel something that we’ve forgotten or turned our backs on because maybe we didn’t realize how much we were leaving behind. We need to remember what used to be good. If we don’t, we won’t recognize it even if it hits us between the eyes.” (Jennifer Garner as “Jenna Rink” in 13 Going on 30)

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EFFIE GRAY (JLH)

oTTo

Weighing in across the generations: Our respect for Oscar-winning screenwriter & beloved actress Emma Thompson is so great that we have written two review of her new film Effie Gray. Spoiler Alert: WE BOTH LOVE IT! 

Click HERE for Brigid’s review. Jan’s review (with a “Real-to-Reel” bonus section) is below.

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Lovingly-crafted new BioPic stars Dakota Fanning as yet another “notorious” 19th Century woman heretofore robbed by history of her own POV.

Credit the sumptuous visuals to director Richard Laxton, but the essence of Effie Gray is in the screenplay by Emma Thompson, who also cast herself in the critical role of mentor. (JLH 4/5)

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On April 10, 1848, a man named John Ruskin married a woman named Euphemia Gray [aka Effie] at her family’s home in Perth, Scotland. He had just turned 29 years old, and she was about to turn 20. She was the daughter of family friends and they had known each other for years. At the time there was nothing unusual about this arrangement, in fact, all lovers of Jane Austen’s Emma will think life is imitating art. And that may well be what Effie thought too.

But skip ahead a few years and something extremely unusual has happened: in 1854, the marriage of John Ruskin and  Effie Gray was annulled on the grounds of “non-consummation.”

This event became one of the great scandals of Victorian England. Gossip was at fever pitch and much ink was spilled analyzing the motivations of the principle players. Even today, over a century later, no one is quite sure what it all meant. Was John Ruskin an aesthete repulsed by his wife’s body? Was John Ruskin a pedophile no longer attracted to a woman already in her 20s? Was John Ruskin a mama’s boy? Was John Ruskin a homosexual? Was John Ruskin impotent for some organic reason?

To her great credit, beloved actress and Oscar-winning screenwriter Emma Thompson doesn’t really care about any of these questions. In her new Effie Gray screenplay, Thompson keeps her eyes fixed on Effie. A young woman who knows very little about her own body and almost nothing about sexual intimacy is faced with a dilemma she never anticipated. How will she cope? Will the weight of it crush her? EmmaFB

The risk here is obvious. Almost everyone likely to see this film will already know the name “John Ruskin.” He was a major presence in last year’s art house darling Mr. Turner, and his current Wikipedia page is twenty pages long (and likely to get even longer once this film is released).

Meanwhile, Effie Gray has become just another historical footnote, and I can already hear my colleagues complaining (as so many of them did when Jane Campion chose to move the Bright Star spotlight from John Keats to his muse Fanny Brawne). Why make a film about Fanny Brawne when you can make a film about John Keats? Why make a film about Effie Gray when you can make a film about John Ruskin? Who cares about these women anyway???

Well obviously I do… and thankfully so does Jane Campion, and so Emma Thompson! (Note that I also cared a lot about Ellen “Nelly” Ternan and I assume screenwriter Abi Morgan did too, but by the time director Ralph Fiennes released his version of The Invisible Woman last year, it had ceased to be Nelly’s story and had become a story about Charles Dickens… as played by–you guessed it–Ralph Fiennes.)

Dakota Fanning does a wonderful job as Effie and watching her mature from high-spirited girl to self-possessed woman on screen is a joy. This is the fourth film I have seen starring Dakota Fanning in the past twelve months alone, and she has been terrific–and astonishingly different–in every one of them. After a highly-successful career as a child star, Dakota Fanning has taken on a series of courageous parts–in films often written &/or directed by women filmmakers–which is rare and much welcomed.

And unlike Ralph Fiennes, Emma Thompson has written a supporting role for herself (not a lead), which allows her to play the critical role of mentor without overpowering the young actress she is nurturing. Without giving too much away, Effie is able to free herself from a failed marriage because she tells her story to an intelligent, sympathetic, and powerful older woman who helps her take practical steps that no one else would ever dare to think of let alone to suggest.

So enjoy Effie Gray for the sumptuous visuals–locations, sets, costumes, all as good as they should be–but then spend a little time back on Wikipedia learning about Elizabeth Eastlake–the character Thompson plays–who turns out to be even more accomplished in real life than even Thompson is able to fully convey on screen!

BRAVA, Emma Thompson: You’ve done it again :-)

RuskinFamily

Top Photo: Dakota Fanning as “Effie Gray.”

Middle Photo: Emma Thompson as “Elizabeth Eastlake” with James Fox as her husband “Sir Charles Eastlake.”

Bottom Photo: Greg Wise (middle) as “John Ruskin” with his formidable parents (played by David Suchet & Julie Walters).

Final Photo (below): Tom Sturridge as “John Everett Millais.”

Photo Credits: David Levinthal © 2015 (Adopt Films)

Q: Does Effie Gray pass the Bechdel Test? RedA

Yes!

Please do not dismiss the intensely personal conversations Effie and Elizabeth Eastlake have as “conversations about a man.” They are conversations about Effie’s predicament and how Effie is to extricate herself from a doomed marriage.

RealToReelPenny

Back to the subject of Wikipedia. Given that Wikipedia has a long-acknowledged “woman problem” (there are a disproportionately small number of entries about women on Wikipedia, the entries about women on Wikipedia tend to be much smaller than the entries about men, and a disproportionately low number of people who post on Wikipedia are female), I suppose I should be happy that Effie Gray even has a Wikipedia page… but I’m not.

Readers of Effie Gray’s Wikipedia page (at least as of today = 4/3/15) will be lead to believe that the most important feature of  her life was a “Love Triangle,” which Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a romantic relationship involving three people.”

The undisputed facts are these: Effie Gray married John Ruskin in 1848; the Gray/Ruskin marriage was annulled in 1854; Effie Gray–still a virgin at age 27–married John Everett Millais in 1855.

Unlike the Gray/Ruskin marriage, the Gray/Millais marriage was enormously fruitful, and little Millaises multiplied until there were eight. In 1885,  Millais (thought to be most commercially successful painter of his time) became the first artist to be honored with a Hereditary Title (making him Sir John Everett Millais and making Effie Lady Millais). In 1896, Millais was elected President of the Royal Academy (which is the position Sir Charles Eastlake held when his wife Elizabeth Eastlake first took Effie Ruskin under her wing). Sir John Everett Millais died in 1886. Lady Euphemia Millais died in 1887. He was buried with the elite at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. She lies buried with her family in Perth (the site anticipated in Millais’s 1859 painting The Vale of Rest).

John Ruskin, on the other hand, continued to live an exemplary professional life, but never remarried and never had any children (either within or outside marriage).

From my point of view, the Gray/Millais relationship would only be part of a “love triangle,” if John Ruskin had intimate feelings for his wife Effie at the time she became involved with Millais. But the undisputed facts of their marital history make this doubtful, and Emma Thompson’s screenplay makes the situation crystal clear. Whatever the cause of his impotence, Ruskin had long tired of  Effie’s presence by the time she met Millais. Ruskin barely interacted with her, and he certainly did not “love” her in any romantic way (sexual or otherwise). Millais

Tom Sturridge (who plays Millais) is a warm, sensuous, and charismatic presence on screen, and I for one was delighted by the thought that Effie might find happiness with him when he finally appeared in Act Three. But he certainly didn’t take anything away from Ruskin, in fact the historical evidence suggests that Ruskin deliberately threw them together in hopes that they would fall into a scandalous relationship that would enable him to divorce her.

However Effie and Millais–good Victorians both–were trapped by their circumstances, and it took the brilliant Elizabeth Eastlake to find the solution which lead to their future happiness (not to mention those eight children).

Right now (4/3/15), Elizabeth Eastlake isn’t even mentioned on Effie Gray’s Wikipedia page, but by the time you read this, I hope to have amended the record. And as I do, I will be thanking Emma Thompson for turning this “old scandal” into a Feminist Success Story.

ScandalousCoverFor an excellent overview of the facts of the matter, read Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s 2009 post on her blog Scandalous Women. Alas, Effie Gray is not included in Mahon’s 2011 book Scandalous Women, but aspiring screenwriters are urged to take a look at all the fascinating women who are included… And hopefully Mahon herself is already at work on volumes two, three, and beyond.

Despite Wikipedia’s current flaws, I have faith in all the women who will no doubt tell more Herstory–on page, stage and screen–in the future!

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THE FORECASTER

Forecaster_PlakatReview of The Forecaster by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The one-sided documentary takes a close-up look at Martin Armstrong, the financial advisor who used pi to “forecast” America’s economic turning points and ended up in prison. The film’s grouchy protagonist takes viewers through his journey of market manipulation, his sentence to jail, and his current prediction of a sovereign debt crisis. (BKP: 2.5/5)

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The documentary’s story begins in New Jersey, with Martin Armstrong as the former chairman of trillion-dollar company, Princeton Economics. Through mathematical equations and the use of pi, Armstrong begins advising his company’s financial strategies based on his own economical predictions. People soon begin to learn of his top-secret model when Armstrong correctly calculates the rise and fall of the United States stock market from 1987 to 1989. Not wanting to partake in illegal activities or surrender his secrets, he turns down invitations from multiple New York bankers and refuses to manipulate the market.

When the FBI takes notice of his special “gift,” life as Martin Armstrong knows it is over. With interviews and first-person narration, Armstrong tells his story of how the FBI stormed his offices in 1999 and forced him to release his secret model. When he failed to relinquish his formula, he was sentenced to prison for seven years for contempt of court without trial and was accused of orchestrating a three-billion dollar Ponzi scheme.

Filmmakers Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger spend almost the entirety of the documentary interviewing Armstrong and the people closest to him – including his mother – as they recount their own versions of events that occurred during the past decade. The entire film is plagued with skepticism, without any outside voices counteracting Armstrong’s point of view. The newly-released prisoner simply relates his side of the story with a bitter demeanor, vague arguments, and technical jargon.

If a viewer of this film feels a strong tie to the stock market or has a deep interest in economics, The Forecaster may be an interesting watch (Armstrong predicts that a sovereign debt crisis will start to globally unfold after October 1, 2015). However, for the average audience member, there will be little to nothing here that holds their interests. Vetter and Steinberger’s documentary has a slow tempo and unfortunately focuses on a subject that cannot quite sustain your attention for 90 minutes.

MartinArmstrong

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/6/15)

Photo: Martin Armstrong takes viewers through his journey of market manipulation, his sentence to jail, and his current prediction of a sovereign debt crisis.

Q: Does The Forecaster pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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THE HAND THAT FEEDS

THTF_still5-credit_Jed_BrandtReview of The Hand That Feeds by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

The inspiring documentary by Rachel Lears takes us inside a world that many people interact with on a daily basis and hardly ever stop to notice. The Hand That Feeds tells the story of New York City sandwich-maker Mahoma Lopez as he unites his fellow, undocumented co-workers on the path to fair wages and better working conditions, with liberty and justice for all. (BKP: 3.5/5)

The opening scene in the film exemplifies the financial struggle of undocumented, Mexican-American workers who survive and try to support their families on less than minimum wage. Working seven days a week without a break, these works constantly fear premature termination. If they are sick, they are threatened with being fired and have to come into work anyway.

The film centers on one NYC bakery and café in particular – the Hot & Crusty – where workers serve coffee and bagels around the clock under the rule of an abusive manager. Tired of his unjust situation, Mahoma Lopez gathers his co-workers to fight back and earn a better living. With the help of young protestors, Lopez and his group form an independent union and face the hardships, criticisms and betrayals that come along with risking everything. The workers face a two-month lockout from the Hot and Crusty and fear losing everything they have fought so tirelessly to earn.

Lears tackles politics head-on by personifying hot-button issues ranging from undocumented citizens to economic inequality. The politically one-sided film, however, accomplishes its goal by the end of the film. If you are not completely sympathetic to these peoples’ living conditions, The Hand That Feeds ultimately makes you question the issues as they pertain to you. Instead of using the points of view of seedy politicians, the film gives you a first-person look at how undocumented citizens in this country are living. They do the work that nobody else wants to do. They make the sandwiches, they clean dishes, and they toast the bagels that customers nonchalantly grab without thinking twice – not only at NYC’s Hot & Crusty. It focuses more on the people involved and the affect it has on their lives, rather than focusing on the government.

Politics aside, the film is an underdog story. Robin Blotnick, the film’s co-director and producer, edits the film in a way that makes Mahoma Lopez’s journey engaging and inspiring from start to finish. It is captivating in a way that makes you question your work ethic, your appreciation for a dollar, and your attitude towards others. If a film makes an audience think twice about people and places they otherwise wouldn’t think twice about, it is a worthwhile project to witness.

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Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/2/15)

Photos: Co-workers from Hot & Crusty gather in NYC

Q: Does The Hand That Feeds pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

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3/29: At the Quad

Info coming soon…

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52 TUESDAYS

Review coming soon…

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Crawlin’ in Chelsea

BarboogHKHuge thanks to Nicole Casamento for organizing a second annual “gallery crawl” in honor of International SWAN Day.

Last year (2014), we hit three galleries on the Upper East Side.

This year (2015), we hit three galleries in Chelsea (on Manhattan’s West Side).

We started at the Jack Shainman Gallery (on West 20th Street), where we saw a wonderful new exhibit of work by Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman.

Then we went to the David Zwirner Gallery (on West 19th Street), where we saw an excellent retrospective of work by Alice Neel.

Finally, we finished up at the P.P.O.W. Gallery (on West 22nd Street), where we met artist Ann Agee in person while we were marveling at her slyly provocative installations.

Huge thanks once again to Nicole Casamento & all who participated :-)

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With artist Ann Agee (3rd from right) at the PPOW Gallery. (Photo Credit: Jan Lisa Huttner)

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CGC: Hayv Kahraman

BarboogHKOur first stop on the Chelsea Gallery Crawl was the Jack Shainman Gallery where we saw an astonishing new exhibit called “How Iraqi Are You?” by Hayv Kahraman!

HAYV KAHRAMAN – HOW IRAQI ARE YOU?, February 27 – April 4, 2015 (from the Jack Shainman Gallery website):

Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to announce Hayv Kahraman’s second solo exhibition at our 20th Street space, How Iraqi Are You? The exhibition includes large-scale paintings on linen based aesthetically on 12th century Iraqi manuscripts illustrating personal memories from Kahraman’s childhood in Baghdad and as a refugee in Sweden. The following is an excerpt from a text written by curator Octavio Zaya on the occasion of this exhibition:

How Iraqi Are You? addresses the fragmented memory that never manages or succeeds in recovering or recreating that continuous and fluid past time that haunts any exile or foreigner. Expatriation and exile fracture forever any sense of belonging and any hope of ever being complete. And yet, Kahraman painstakingly aims to repeat, once and again, a history—her history—one that she feels she is forgetting; a collection of narratives that not only recover a past that she feels is made up now of tattered and fleeting memories, but that can also reflect a “new sense of coping with forcefully leaving one’s home and tirelessly integrating into a new culture.”

Kahraman modeled her new series after 12th century Arabic illuminated manuscripts—in particular, Maqamat al Hariri, an important canonical book, where the everyday life of Iraqis was portrayed with detail and care in images and text. The manuscript is, indeed, considered a major example of the Baghdad school of miniature painting that flourished in the 12th century and that was cut short by the Mongol invasion, which destroyed countless historical documents and books, and hence never developed further. It is, then, another instance of a larger loss that seems to be one of the major recurring themes in Kahraman’s oeuvre.

Kahraman’s paintings use the illuminated manuscripts to recreate a forgotten history from the perspective of an immigrant. Kahraman uses this illuminated format to recall personal memories of her upbringing in Iraq and to learn to write Arabic again.

All the figures in the paintings are extensions of the artist’s body: she photographed herself and used the images for the productions of the figures. All of these figures are women, all are painted white, and all of them are formally rendered as those we find in some Renaissance paintings, Japanese illustrations and books or Persian miniature paintings. All seem to be engaged with themselves in all sorts of social, recreational, or personal matters, either learning Swedish in a class or recalling rhymes they learned in school.

But it is the writing that Kahraman carefully arranges over her canvases that reveals and unfolds the details behind these remarkable “vignettes” from the diaspora. Indeed, through these writings and notes, most of these figures tell us of experiences Kahraman and her family went through as refugees, and of some incidents that recall words and sayings she remembers from her childhood back in Iraq. Here, again, is that sense of loss and displacement. And that is precisely the reason why Kahraman decided to render all of her characters in white, without background or specific context, amid a flux of meanings and words, neither here nor there. As if, in the diaspora, these figures would have reached a moment where they viewed themselves as non-different, as the passersby who do not stand out, who only retain from the past the little, unassuming, perfectly safe secrets and mysteries of the mother tongue, its games and pleasures.

Instead, these new paintings attest to something quite different. Kahraman is facing “the other self,” the one that she rejected once, bleaching her skin and erasing herself by perfecting the accent of her new tongue, while she is losing her boundaries in a field without any other references or context than the one of the language she has forgotten and she is re-learning again to pass it on to her descendants. Between the signs of the works, the imagination of the artist, and her material reality, in their disparate functions, Kahraman has found a way to allow for the return of the repressed—that strangeness—to accept it and to enjoy it, as we enjoy that part of us that can finally articulate the difficulties we have in relating ourselves to the other, and as we still continue our way in that identification and dissolution process that is the very possibility for emancipation.

Thus, as Derrida would put it, decentering knowledge, Kahraman helps her otherness to breathe, and enables the excluded and the erased to come back to life within a world of growing systemic interdependencies. It is not an option anymore; it is a necessity.

Hayv Kahraman, born in Baghdad, Iraq, currently lives and works in San Francisco. She has participated in worldwide exhibitions including Piece by Piece: Building a Collection, Selections from the Christy & Bill Gautreaux Collection, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; Echoes: Islamic Art and Contemporary Artists, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; The Jameel Prize 2011 – Shortlist Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London which traveled to venues including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Cantor Center, Stanford University; and Fertile Crescent, Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, Princeton. Her work is included in several public collections like the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; the Pizzuti Collection, Columbus; American Embassy, Baghdad; The Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah; MATHAF Museum of Modern Art, Doha; and The Rubell Family Collection, Miami.

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CGC: Alice Neel

HobanCoverOur second stop on the Chelsea Gallery Crawl was the David Zwirner Gallery where we saw a restrospective of work by American painter Alice Neel (1/28/00 – 10/13/84).

From Phoebe Hoban’s biography Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty (2010)

Alice Neel liked to say that she was the century and in many ways she was. She was born into a proper Victorian family, and came of age during suffrage. The quintessential Bohemian, she spent more than half a century, from her early days as a WPA artist living in the heart of the Village, through her Whitney retrospective in 1974, until her death ten years later, painting, often in near-obscurity, an extraordinarily diverse population—from young black sisters in Harlem to the elderly Jewish twin artists, Raphael and Moses Soyer, to Meyer Schapiro and Linus Pauling, to the American Communist Party chairman Gus Hall—creating an indelible portrait of 20th century America.

Neel’s hundreds of portraits portray a universe of powerful personalities and document an age. Neel painted through the Depression, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution of the 60’s, feminism, and the feverish eighties. Fiercely democratic in her subjects, she portrayed her lovers, her children, her neighbors in Spanish Harlem, pregnant nudes, crazy people, and famous figures in the art world, all in a searing, psychological style uniquely her own. From Village legend Joe Gould with multiple penises to Frank O’Hara as a lyrical young poet, from porn star Annie Sprinkle gussied up in leather, to her own anxious, nude pregnant daughter-in-law, Neel’s portraits are as arrestingly executed as they are relentlessly honest.

In this first full-length biography of Neel, best-selling author Phoebe Hoban recounts the remarkable story of Neel’s life and career, as full of Sturm and Drang as the century she powerfully captured in paint. Neel managed to transcend her often tragic circumstances, surviving the death from diphtheria of her infant daughter Santillana, her first child by the renowned Cuban painter Carlos Enriquez, with whom she lived in Havana for a year before returning to America; the break-up of her marriage; a nervous breakdown at thirty resulting in several suicide attempts for which she was institutionalized; and the terrible separation from her second child, Isabetta, whom Carlos took back to Havana.

In every aspect of her life, Neel dictated her own terms—from defiantly painting figurative pieces at the height of Abstract Expressionism, convincing her subjects to disrobe (which many of them did, including, surprisingly, Andy Warhol) to becoming a single mother to the two sons she bore to dramatically different partners. No wonder she became the de facto artist of the Feminist movement. (When Time magazine put Kate Millet on its cover in 1970, she was asked to paint the portrait.) Very much in touch with her time, Neel was also always ahead of it. Although she herself would probably have rejected such label, she was America’s first feminist, multicultural artist, a populist painter for the ages.

Phoebe Hoban’s Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty tells the unforgettable story of a woman who forged a permanent place in the pantheon by courageously flaunting convention, both in her life and her work.

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Click HERE for a summary of Alice Neel’s life & work on Wikipedia.

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JPGs cropped from the David Zwirner Gallery website.

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