08 January 2017

What's up for three more hours: three big museum shows you already knew about if you're nearby

I hadn’t seen Philly’s Mexican Modernism show til last Sunday.. It has five Kahlos, all of which I’ve never seen in person, including ‘My Dress Hangs There" (below) owned by a gallery in SF.  The show’s title “Paint the Revolution,” unfortunately borrows from Mexico’s plutocratic deception using the word “revolutionary” for “the perfect dictatorship,” whose current "institutional revolutionary" presidente is today the subject of national protests four and a half years after Obama congratulated him for his victory while the opposition and much of the public still disputed the outcome.  The American Revolution, highlighted elsewhere in town, preceded such corrupt partisanship to the point that political parties were not mentioned in the constitution.  The show's only internal critique of this (a critique which became pronounced throughout Latin America) is Leopoldo Méndez’ cartoon satirizing Rivera, Siquieros, and Dr. Atl being close to the government (right), part of a number of print sets given to the museum by various donors, to go with Paul Strand photos which were recently given.  The selection was bland but with some highlights, including denizens Gerzso and Paalen but not Carrington and Varo.

Also ending today is the Jerusalem show at the Met which I saw for the first time on Thursday.. fortuitously not giving me time to ponder its political subtext.  Would have liked to have seen that several times.. there are 12C capitals from Nazereth that look like those of the time from the South of France, only with Grover from Sesame Street (right) flanking one of several demons.  Time machines...

I assume you knew about these shows. I mentioned the various Ragnar Kjartansson shows, including the one at the Hirshhorn ending today.  I am grateful to Kjartansson for getting me in to Halldor Laxness, whom I’ve never read - prompted to dive in to World Light in Pavlovian fashion like I'm taking the course.  I also attempted, at both the Bushwick and National Mall locations, to see as much of the World Light film he made as possible.  Doing so I understand the impulse - there are various Brechtian influences - to include the bloopers in the four screen presentation, but I found that at times draining to someone who was trying to follow the story.  On the whole, the film did what it set out to do - suggest the novel and its immensity without producing its own self-contained, altered adaptation as filmmakers often do.

World Light’s most delightfully befuddling aspect is how the protagonist relates to the narrator and Laxness. The protagonist, Olafour Karason, is supposed to be based on “the life of one Magnus Hjaltason Magnusson, an Icelandic folk poet (1873-1916), including Magnusson’s abandonment by his mother, his long childhood illness as well as the extreme deprivations he endured, his tormented marriage to a grasping, manipulative epileptic woman, and his prison sentence for the sexual violation of a fourteen-year-old girl” (Sven Birkerts’ intro).  Karason’s quest is to mirror the beauty of nature, and in the course of doing so is immersed in the oligarchy of an island’s Regeneration Company, which comes to co-opt the town’s Psychic Research Society but not the labor organizers with whom Karason is friendly but philosophically at odds with, as he announces to them (in one scene in the film, at a workers meeting) “a poet.. loves the world more than all the others do.. it is much more difficult to be a poet.. than it is to be a man and live out in the world.”  The novel was first copyrighted in 1937 after he had confronted workers' movements in the US.. Laxness was at this time influenced by Taoism. 

“I read it for the first time when I was writing the script,” he told Calvin Tompkins; his father, much taken by it, had staged it also. Kjartansson gets an earnest looking chap (in the blue garb above) to play Karason and casts himself as a chorus wearing his white evening jacket.  His turn as chorus stabilizes the narrator more than the novel does, and it’s clear that Kjartansson relates to Karason, which Laxness intends to some unfixed degree.  It seems that part of Laxness’ game is to isolate the pure artistic impulse in Romanticism and set it into the world below, which Magnusson’s subject matter, life story, and absence of irony befit.  There is certainly no novel quite like it, addressing the scope of 20th Century concerns (amplified in the 30s) with both directness and mystification.

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