Drawing a Line
One exhibition I missed before London was shuttered was a Tate Britain show dedicated to the work of the late-Victorian illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. A great fix is offered by Scandal & Beauty, a BBC Four program superbly fronted by the actor Mark Gatiss (with a guest appearance by fellow Beardsley enthusiast Stephen Fry).
Beardsley died in 1898, aged just 25, of tuberculosis, a respiratory disease that he was diagnosed when he was seven, and that comes across as the driving force of his artistic ambitions. His talent is undeniable—both his sheer ability and the way he channeled his influences, such as Japanese art, so well. The simple lines of The Climax (1893), made to accompany Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé, are, to me, perfection.
Gatiss, sporting a geek-chic wool waistcoat throughout, is the perfect English gent to champion Beardsley’s mix of observational elegance and taboo-breaking smut. The historian Stephen Calloway is also a delight and will feature in Tate Britain’s online tour of its show, which launched on 13 April (tate.org.uk). M.G.
Get Up to Speed
Our relationship to the past has a habit of changing, almost overnight, at times of crisis and systemic shock. Things will never to return to the way they were. But to me this is not a loss; it is a chance to see the familiar anew. Proust knew this pleasure well when he wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” (and, really, what could be more appropriate than quoting from The Prisoner, the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time, in isolation?)
As the virus transformed New York, I re-watched the film that first connected me to the city in an emotional way: Bennett Miller’s 1998 documentary The Cruise. It is a love letter to the metropolis seen through the eyes of Timothy “Speed” Levitch, an incomparable autodidact and tour guide whose intense feelings for the city are laid bare like an open wound. His incessant biological metaphors for the chaos and complexity of urban life, his tours of death in Greenwich Village, and his revelry for life’s fleeting moments take on darker and richer overtones now. Nobody makes things feel as urgent or as full of life as Speed; a major museum should hire him to completely overhaul its docent program. M.T.
Travel the Globe with Nowness
Nowness, a digital channel of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, hosts short films featuring well-known cultural figures, from artist David Hockney to model Bella Hadid. But there is more to see than celebrity. The latest installment in the series “Portrait of a Place” focuses on Wuhan, China, during the coronavirus crisis. The video is composed of drone- shots of streets empty save for an ambulance speeding by, sweeping large-scale cityscapes devoid of life and, eventually, scenes of people returning to normality—all overlaid with haunting audio recordings of Wuhan residents describing their reactions to the crisis. J.V.
From the windows of our home-for-now in the leafy suburbs of New Jersey, an abundance of wildlife comes in and out of view every day. The two large evergreen trees at the top of the yard are home to a multitude of robins—the suburban version of the New York pigeon—as well as blue jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, starlings, sparrows and, occasionally, a circling hawk.
There are bunnies, foxes and cats, as well as a groundhog couple we’ve taken to calling Mr and Mrs Wilbur. I’ve found myself becoming a birder, researching North American backyard species on Audubon.org. It reminds me of the Audubon Mural Project (2014-ongoing) in my neighborhood of Hamilton Heights in Harlem—which was home to the renowned ornithologist and watercolorist John James Audubon when there were still acres of trees and wildlife there.
This public art initiative, by the National Audubon Society in partnership with the Harlem-based Gitler & gallery, was created to bring attention to the 314 species of North American birds that are endangered by climate change. So now, colorful contemporary murals of Audubon’s beloved birds brighten up corners and bodegas, weaving Harlem’s history into the fabric of its current community. M.S.
Take Inspiration from Frida
Frida Kahlo was largely confined to her home in the last decades of her life as she struggled with her health, during which time she channeled her creative energy into her diary. The Museo Dolores Olmedo in Mexico City has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to digitize a selection of pages from the intimate journal she kept from 1944 until 1954. For those of us who don’t read Spanish, the museum has provided some insightful text in English. J.V.
Since we can’t go out to dine there’s no better time to bring the restaurant into the comfort of our own homes. I’ve become enthralled by cooking tutorials—from New York Times columnist Alison Roman’s tasty viral dishes to Massimo Bottura’s daily postings of Michelin-starred masterpieces.
But one unlikely cook I’ve recently been introduced to, thanks to Seth Kelly, a partner at Petzel gallery, is Jorge Pardo. The sculptor—who is known for creating work that imbues the familiar with multiple meanings using vibrant colors and patterns—is also an extremely gifted cook. In this video Pardo and his daughter Penelope cook a rendition of tongue with polenta and zucchini squash at his home in Mérida, Mexico. While not necessarily a recipe I’m running to make, it was enjoyable to see this glimpse into an artist’s private, domestic world. J.W.
Let the Music Play
Being cooped up at home with free reign over the office playlist has been a silver lining of sheltering-in-place, but the indefinite postponement of concerts is painful for all of us who love live music. Fortunately, musicians around the world have been staging live performances online, from intimate, solo kitchen-table songs to live collaborations between multiple artists.
Museums and institutions are taking similar steps to bring the concert and performance experience into our homes. Art Channel, the new platform of the Henie Onstad museum near Oslo, is releasing exclusive and previously unpublished footage from its archives every week, including recordings, performances and concerts. Coming up later this month is a 1990 performance by Yoko Ono at Høvikodden (from 21-28 May).
Meanwhile, closer to home, the Met Opera is offering free nightly streams of operas, granting unprecedented access to these exceptional performances. C.P.
Take Time to be Precise
In 2017-18, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented a landmark exhibition entitled “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” which featured 133 of the artist’s drawings along with three sculptures, a wooden architectural model and some of his earliest paintings. In preparation for the show, the Met tasked Marjorie Shelley (the Sherman Fairchild conservator in charge of works on paper at the Met) with restoring a drawing on loan from Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford. It was Shelley’s first time working on a piece by Michelangelo “after looking at thousands of drawings over the course of years”, she says in this wonderful video on YouTube. Shelley walks us through her meticulous process of evaluating the damage to the drawing, which had several tears and multiple creases, and the delicate methods she used to restore it. J.V.
Unable to see much art in person, I have turned my hand to making art: a needlepoint of Chinese guardian lions, known as “foo dogs”, to be more precise. This surprisingly therapeutic distraction from the daily news comes via Lycette Designs of Palm Beach, founded by my friend Jessica Chaney, who has built the brand on modern and playful, but elegant, designs. For my next project, and in honor of spring, I’m looking to make a piece involving flowers. Lately, I’ve been admiring David Hockney’s paintings of sunflowers in vases, and hope to use his works as a source of inspiration. J.W.
As time begins to smear, I have slipped in and out of Alain Resnais’s 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad (of which there is a Criterion Edition). This meditation on memory is haunting and romantic, wrapped in the warm fog and time-bending disorientation of a fever dream. Suddenly all-too-familiar now are the wandering from room to room, the couples aimlessly strolling at a distance from one another, the slow and endless tracking shots, and the languid repetition of the voiceover: “Once again I walk, once again, along these corridors, through these salons and galleries, the edifice of a bygone era…” Marienbad was also Vito Acconci’s favorite film, and now we can train the lens of social distancing on Following Piece (1969) too—Vito never followed anyone into movie theaters or other confined spaces either.
Another Acconci work that I can’t shake is Remote Control (1971): Vito and Kathy Dillon, his partner and frequent collaborator, sit in separate wooden boxes, speaking through video cameras and monitors. Isolation, communication breakdown, lo-fi video—they unwittingly captured the strange social experience of Zoom. The full work, along with at least 18 of Acconci’s other video works, and so many thousands of other works and pieces of ephemera from the luminaries of the avant-garde can be found on Kenneth Goldsmith’s resolutely anti-institutional anti-archive UbuWeb. It has, or seems to have, everything, and focuses on more esoteric content: Richard Serra’s media-critique video Television Delivers People (1973),Chris Burden’s “Television Commercials” (1973-77), Dan Graham’s poetry, Joseph Beuys’s pop music. You will while away countless hours learning about things you might never have known existed—but now can’t possibly live without. M.T.