TIO NYC: Asawa & Thomas At The Whitney; Dianne Wiest On Stage!

And the beat goes on… While there have been a few misses, for the most part NYC continues to deliver the goods.

For more about TIO in NYC, go here.

Image, courtesy The Whitney Musseum.

The Whitney Museum: “Ruth Asawa Through Line,” through January 15, 2024

Image, The Whitney.

Black Mountain College was a grand experiment that ended too soon, after just 24 years.

Conceived by an idealistic, progressive faculty, with an advisory board that included John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Walter Gropius, and Carl Jung, the college opened in rural North Carolina in 1933, serving as refuge for a number of artists who fled Nazi Germany and war in Europe.

The goal of the avant-garde school was to create a progressive environment where democratic principles governed how the day-to-day was structured. Its ideals put the practice of the arts dead center of the curriculum and made students responsible for their own education.

Ruth Asawa arrived on the scene in 1946, just a few years after her Japanese family was released from their war-time internment. At Black Mountain the promising young artist internalized lessons of economy and ecology from Albers and Fuller. She also learned to see art as an ongoing process of exploration and experimentation, and art education as an integral part of life.

“Teachers there were practicing artists, there was no separation between studying, performing the daily chores, and relating to many art forms. I spent three years there and encountered great teachers who gave me enough stimulation to last me for the rest of my life — Josef Albers, painter, Buckminster Fuller, inventor, Max Dehn, the mathematician, and many others. Through them I came to understand the total commitment required if one must be an artist,” wrote Asawa about Black Mountain.

Renowned as an eminent 20th-century artist, Asawa is best known for her airy, ethereal, fanciful looped-wire sculptures. Less commonly exhibited are her drawings, watercolors, and origami.

“Ruth Asawa Through Line” corrects that oversight big time.

Image, courtesy The New York Times.

Divided into into eight sections, each eliciting an intake of breath at the depth and breadth of Asawa’s talent and the quiet beauty of her art, the show on the museum’s eighth floor illuminates the artist’s lesser-known processes and materials, such as her use of stamping tools made out of potatoes, leaves, and fish, and her dimensional folded-paper works.

Taken as a whole, the influence of Mother Nature on Asawa becomes clear. We see it in her repetitive linearity and organic, imperfect forms. Turns out Asawa’s 3D crocheted wire pieces are extensions of the artist’s passion for drawing, triggered when she was a girl who took calligraphy lessons every day.

“Ruth Asawa Through Line, the Whitney’s simultaneously soothing and exhilarating survey of her work in New York, reveals the marvels she perceived in what most of us mistake for the ordinary. A dead fish, a watermelon, the approaching headlights of a car in the dark — all appear in her work as figments of acute beauty…, “ wrote The Financial Times.

Check out this full review in The Guardian and don’t miss the show. (Or the spectacular views of the City off the eighth-floor deck.)

Image, courtesy The Whitney.

Henry Taylor: “B Side,” through January 28

Image, courtesy the Whitney.

New York’s art scene has been in the midst of a correction. About a year ago or so we recall being encouraged to take a second look at the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The plaque outside the exhibition offered a flat-out apology about the American” bit, which had long overlooked women and artists of color. In fact the museum confessed to buying, then warehousing work of those origins. Which underlines the fact that only over the last few years — accelerated by the Black Lives Matter movement — has the art world begun to recognize the importance of diversifying audiences, acquisitions, exhibitions, boards and staffs.

In a world, in our country, at war with itself over gender, race and religious preferences such corrections are baby steps in the right direction, with blockbuster shows such as Barcley L. Hendricks “Portraits at the Frick” and “Henry Taylor: B Side” at the Whitney taking us down a road less traveled to help set the record straight – though the two men approached depictions of Black lives that matter very differently.

Hendricks often said his pictures were of and about the people he knew. Period. They depict friends, family, former students, lovers, all of whom exude self-confidence and a highly developed, very keen, confident sense of style. The work is neither polemical nor political. (Go here for more about Hendricks.)

Like Hendricks, Taylor is a scholar of art history, including the Old Masters. He is also prolific and virtuosic. But while people figure prominently in his work too, he rejects the label “portraitist.” According to his gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Taylor’s chosen subjects are pieces of a larger cultural puzzle meant to reveal the forces at play, individualistic and socio-cultural, that weighed heavily on their lives.

Image, the Whitney.

And unlike Hendricks, who engaged with abstraction, minimalism, and color theory to produce his squeaky clean monumental oils, Taylor paints rapidly and loosely to capture the mood of his subjects, often outcasts, with gestures and passages of flat, saturated acrylic color offset by areas of rich, intricate detail. And his brushwork? Very energetic, very kinetic to better contain and explain a feeling  or mood before it takes off at a run.

Yes, it is who you think it is., Image, courtesy The Whitney.

What’s more, again in contrast to Hendricks, Taylor’s work is unapologetically political, with violence, a leitmotif. That violence and its sidekick racism, loom large directly or as a subtext in almost all of the artist’s work. One entire room at the Whitney is dedicated to Thomas’s images of police violence; violence in the form of three white men looming in the distance in a memorable, if chilling portrait of MLK with his kids at play.

Admiration for Taylor’s work spills off the pen of critic Roberta Smith, who wrote this great review for The New York Times.

Vineyard Theatre: Dianne Wiest in “Scene Partners,” through December 17

Is it a coincidence? A joke on himself? Or a positive choice to make a point? Award-winning John J. Caswell Jr, named the protagonist of his play, “Scene Partners,” (in previews at the Vineyard Theatre through November 15), Meryl Kowalski. As in Stanley, the brutish husband of Stella and brother of the long-suffering nymph Blanche DuBois, from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Meryl, played by two-time Academy Award-winning actress Dianne Wiest, is a 75-year-old woman who has grown tired of her lousy lot in life, which includes caring for her drug-addicted daughter. Her husband – yes Stanley Kowalski -like his namesake a big, bad brute of a guy, has just kicked the bucket. Amen and good riddance. Now Meryl can reinvent herself, live her dream, by leaving her ice-cold Milwaukee home and moving to red-hot LA to become – wait for it – a movie star.

Will the lady make it BIG in Hollywood?

Before we endeavor to answer that question, let’s address “Streetcar v. “Scene Partners.”

In “Streetcar” the struggle between the romantic Blanche and the pragmatic Stanley comes down to a battle royal between fantasy and reality.

Same goes for Meryl, a dreamer like Blanche – though Meryl appears to be made of more solid stuff. Further, though dead, her Stanley continues to haunt her life, throwing curve balls at her game plan whenever he can.

Our group leaned into thinking that all the bad stuff Meryl unwraps about her life is real; anything that sparkles, surreal, a fantasy built on a foundation of abuse and its coefficient, desperation.

Tony Award-winning Rachel Chavkin (best known for her “Hadestown”) directs this multi-media production with an eye towards the minimal, but essential. Wiest is, well, Wiest, a highly respected New York stage veteran and a highly esteemed, beloved character actress. Of Wiest, a friend and actor once told me: “I would watch her (Wiest) reading a telephone book.”

Joining Wiest is a terrific supporting cast including Eric Berryman, Johanna Day, Josh Hamilton, Carmen M. Herlihy, and Kristen Sieh,

So was the playwright riffing on themes in “Streetcar” or was the name Kowalski a red herring? Is “Scene Partners’ really about Meryl’s rebirth and renewal? Or – “A wildly theatrical, hilarious and genre-twisting gallop through the experience of a woman reborn,” as billed by the Vineyard Theatre?

Go and decide for yourself.

For us, the jury is still out.

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