HuffPost Arts' Haiku Reviews is a monthly feature where invited critics review exhibitions and performances in short form. Some will be in the traditional Haiku form of 5x7x5 syllables, others might be a sonnet and others might be more free-form. This month, George Heymont, Laurence Vittes and Peter Frank give their quick takes on performing and visual arts.

Is there an exhibition or performance that you think people should know about? Write your own "haiku" with a link and shine a light on something you think is noteworthy in the comments section below.

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  • While its filmmakers describe <em>Samsara</em> as "a guided meditation on the concept of life, death, and rebirth," director Ron Fricke readily admits that “half of this type of filmmaking is the music. It’s 50/50. The music embellishes the experience with feeling -- it’s the dialogue, but it’s in a feeling form.” <em>Samsara</em> takes audiences from the exotic fancy of Cambodian dancers to the wonders of Hawaii's erupting Kilauea volcano; from a Chinese prison (where exercise routines resemble rehearsals for a giant music video) to the intimacy of a child's baptism. From aerial shots of daylight breaking over Sarahan sand dunes and footage of sandstone caverns in Nevada to the Palm Islands (an artificial archipelago in Dubai) and the creative output of Tibetan monks painting intricate sand mandalas, <em>Samsara</em> contrasts nature's freestyling art with man's quest for symmetry. From swarms of pilgrims visiting Mecca's famous Grand Mosque that encircles the Kaaba (Islam's holiest place) to the tranquility of a lush Thai countryside dotted with magnificent temples, <em>Samsara</em> can easily overwhelm viewers with its wealth of images. Don’t miss it! – by George Heymont

  • Josh Dorman and David Bailin both work sensitively on paper and display a ready humor, but their sensibilities and interests are otherwise diametrically opposed – which made for stimulating contrast when shown back to back. Dorman has been best known for his reconstituted and elaborated fantasy maps, but in his newest work his cartographic impulses have given way to other, equally obsessive and discursive tendencies. Dorman’s is still a graphic space, but now opened up with aspects of landscape – stylized to be sure, its myriad components, collaged and rendered, shifting rapidly in scale and context and maintaining simultaneously a conceptual intricacy and a visual naivete, rather like late-Gothic manuscript illumination. Indeed, some of the images seem to recount or at least incorporate Biblical fables; others go off on loopy picaresque journeys as if a six-year-old were scripting masterfully assembled cartoons. Bailin, on the other hand, tells very specific stories, or, more to the point, presents incidents that mark a transition in ordinary lives – the ordinary lives of what seem to be minor captains of industry or their mid-level subordinates – to something outside the ordinary. Drawn in charcoal (and coffee!) on large sheets of paper, Bailin’s rough-hewn but beautifully detailed pictures present us with men in crisis – that is, men who seem to have grasped that their crises have overcome them and require resistance or escape. Bailin captures these Organization Men at their Howard Beale moment, proclaiming “I won’t take it anymore” by climbing on or crawling under their desks, turning their offices upside down, or just ducking out of consciousness in the middle of the workday. (Koplin Del Rio, 6031 Washington Blvd., Culver City CA; closed. <a href="http://www.koplindelrio.com">www.koplindelrio.com</a>) – Peter Frank DAVID BAILIN, Fly, 2012, Charcoal and coffee on prepared paper, 52 x 54 inches

  • The Face By Donald Crockett and David St. John Daniel Norman (the poet). Thomas Meglioranza (the devil), Janna Baty (the film maker), Jane Sheldon (the muse). Gil Rose conducting Firebird Ensemble Japan-America Theatre, downtown L.A. Local hero Donald Crockett's new opera made its world premiere to an enthusiastic audience at a newly vibrant Japan America Theatre. The Venice Beach locale in which the action takes place----during the filming of a documentary on a middle-aged poet's life, including the death of his wife and the intervention of a Faustian devil--is felt mostly through the kind of obsessive introspective reflection that is Venice's truest calling card and only tangentially through its sandy shores. The music, played by an accomplished pit band of great tonal beauty and precision, is a treasure chest of sounds, intimate effects and bursts of lyrical beauty which sometimes provide background and often participate in the musical dialogue; the book delivers poetry that travels along synapses of the English language directly into private recesses of the heart. The production has a great sense of physical proportion and uses its simple set of materials even on a sparse stage to very great effect. The device of integrating a huge video screen, essentially one entire wall of the living room type space in which the one-act opera takes place, serves as an ongoing trigger for setting the poet, and the audience, off into flights of fancy. The four singers formed an admirable ensemble cast, but their default movement was too often across the stage, rather than coming towards and trying to more deeply engage the audience. The production was also hampered by fuzzy supertitles; their position on stage, however, as if they were part of the action, brought an exciting laser focus to the opera's magic. - Laurence Vittes

  • The challenges of trying to accurately translate a person's thoughts from one language to another are magnificently captured in <em>Chinglish</em>, a new play by David Henry Hwang seen in a co-production by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and South Coast Repertory that will travel to the Hong Kong Arts Festival in March of 2013. Beautifully directed by Leigh Silverman (and enhanced by titles and projections designed by Jeff Sugg and Shawn Duan), Hwang's linguistic farce demonstrates how easily people from different cultures can misinterpret each other's speech while deftly demonstrating how less-than-qualified translators can screw things up because of poor language skills, inadequate manners, wounded egos, or something as simple as misguidedly translating a single word based on a random guess. Business practices that may seem commonplace in the West (a website that makes a one-man business seem like a mighty corporation) are shocking in the East. The difference between American and Chinese concepts of marriage, love, and fidelity prove to be a constant source of confusion and comedy. What I love about Hwang's script is how deftly it shows audiences that language is an art form, not a science. Kudos to Alex Moggridge and Michelle Krusiec for their skill in shifting from adversaries to sex partners, business enablers, and long-time family friends with such grace and ease. Brian Ishii delivers a fascinating portrayal of a pompous professional failure who proves that he's really not worth much of anything. – by George Heymont

  • American art’s relationship to its European counterparts has been largely well documented, but there’s long been something of a blind spot with regard to its Germanic connections. “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle” contributed significantly to righting this imbalance by demonstrating the exchange of influence between Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen and their close friend, the Austrian photographer Kuehn. In fact, the show repositioned Kuehn at the center of the fin-de-siècle pictorialist movement, not incidentally giving prominent exposure to a visually astute, technically adept, and (thus) tremendously engaging camera artist. Kuehn’s vision was rather more conventional overall than his American friends’, concentrated as it was on portraiture, still life, the figure, and a kind of post-Barbizon approach to landscape; likewise, little of the artistic turmoil of late-empire Vienna recurs in his luminous, luxurious imagery (although inklings of erotic charge animate certain of his nudes). But Kuehn’s ability to describe atmosphere and volume is breathtaking, imbuing his scenes, no matter how obviously set up, with a dreamy nostalgia – not a nostalgic gloss, but a deeply penetrating sense of a moment recalled rather than captured. While his American – and various of his Austrian and German – peers used the burr of pictorialist technique to evoke or parallel the qualities of painting, Kuehn used it to achieve an optical immediacy entirely defined by photographic conditions. The vividness Stieglitz, Steichen, et. al. realized as they evolved out of the pictorialist style Kuehn mastered entirely within it. (Neue Galerie, 1048 5th Ave., NY; closed. <a href="http://www.neuegalerie.org">www.neuegalerie.org</a>) – Peter Frank HEINRICH KUEHN, Still-Life with Fruit Bowl, c. 1908, Multiple oil transfer print, 11½ x 15 3/8 inches, Private collection, Innsbruck

  • Most people wouldn't expect a film about a suicidal Iranian musician to be exotic, magical, and often hilarious. However, <em>Chicken With Plums</em> is a near-perfect film, easily one of the most enjoyable I've seen all year. When I first watched Marjane Satrapi’s delightful movie at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I noted that the final note of its musical score had not only been perfectly chosen, but placed at exactly the right moment. An intoxicating mixture of romantic fiction, fantasy, animation, and epic storytelling, <em>Chicken With Plums</em> is even better the second time around. Mathieu Amalric stars as Nasser-Ali, a world-famous violinist whose frustrated wife has just trashed his instrument. After his brother, Abdi (Eric Caravaca), refers him to the mysterious Houchang (Jamel Debbouze) -- a somewhat bizarre violin salesman who thinks nothing of sedating Nasser-Ali's annoyingly inquisitive son Cyrus (Mathis Bour) by lacing the child's milk with opium -- the audience is taken on the kind of grand Middle Eastern storytelling adventure that only lacks a magic carpet and a genie. Amalric gives a wonderfully layered performance as Nasser-Ali, the romantic fool who eventually starves himself to death. The rest of the film contains so much charm, magic, and romantic fantasy that you'll find yourself wanting to watch <em>Chicken With Plums</em> again minutes after the film ends (Olivier Bernet's original score is sheer magic). – by George Heymont

  • TTozoi is the name under which a Naples-based duo, Stefano Forgione and Pino Rossi, practices its unusual method of painting: the two artists apply molds along with pigment to canvas, cultivating the growth of the molds to a certain point and then arresting it. As you can imagine, however careful their calibrations and controls, the TTozoi two must accept a fairly large degree of chance in the formulation of their brewed painting. In a way, then, they recapitulate not just the automatist processes of the surrealists, but, in particular, the automatism-driven results of postwar abstract painting – abstract expressionism and art informel – influenced by the surrealists’ experiments. With their mineralic blooms, their fields of staining and spotting, and their pockets of deep color, TTozoi’s canvases look as if they could have been fashioned in Paris or Milan in 1954 – with one important distinction: both color and form vibrate with an unearthly, or unusually earthy, granularity, a richly sensual sensation of crumbly instability that, rather than lying on the surface, radiates from the canvas itself. Importantly, TTozoi’s compositions seem neither pre-determined nor accidental, but suspended somewhere between – not as if the men set the fungi growing on a restricted course, but as if they let them run wild and then killed them at exactly the right time – to taste, as it were. (LA Artcore at the Brewery Annex, 650A South Ave. 21, LA, and Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 1023 Hilgard Ave., LA; closed. <a href="http://www.laartcore.org and">www.laartcore.org</a> and <a href="www.iiclosangeles.esteri.it">www.iiclosangeles.esteri.it</a>) – Peter Frank TTOZOI, TT_B 5355, 2012, Fungus and pigment on canvas, 35½ x 35½ inches

  • Walnut Creek’s Center Rep recently staged <em> Lucky Stiff,</em> the first musical by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Based on Mike Butterworth's 1983 novel, <em>The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo, Lucky Stiff</em> is designed to be a musical farce complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, and romantic missteps. Directed and choreographed by Robert Barry Fleming on a handsome unit set designed by Kelly Tighe, Center Rep's production is a reasonably entertaining show that benefits immensely from the performance of Dani Marcus as Annabel Glick. Wearing delightfully outrageous costumes designed by Christine Crook, Lynda DiVito shines as Rita La Porta with strong support from Taylor Jones and nonstop mugging from the hilarious, loose-limbed Tielle Baker. Benjamin Pither appears as Rita's optometrist brother, Vincent DiRuzzio, with Evan Boomer, Marcus Klinger, and Colin Thomson in supporting roles. While Ahrens has written some very clever lyrics for songs like "Rita's Confession," "Phone Call," and "Dogs Versus You," my favorite number from the show is Annabel's plaintive "Times Like This," which the lyricist sings in the following video clip. – by George Heymont

  • Marlene Tseng Yu evokes the turbulence of both cosmos and earthbound nature through the processes of pure painting – and has done so for at least four decades. This abbreviated survey moves from Tseng Yu’s earlier, patterned and (literally) superficial acrylics of the early 1970s to her much more compositionally and thematically ambitious and complex work of the last twenty – and especially ten – years. As delicious as the early work might be with its patterns of purlescent blotches, it’s in the more recent work that Tseng Yu breaks out of formula and plunges gracefully and dramatically into an ocean of color and movement. These are not pat pictorial depictions of waves and eruptions and heavenly bodies; giving herself plenty of room to paint with abandon – certain of the works in this show reach a length of 18-20 feet – Tseng Yu inarguably produces paintings about paint and painting. In this respect she is as an American a color-fielder as any mid-century Greenberg acolyte. But her training in traditional Chinese methods encourages the articulation of contour and the evocation of specific natural dynamics, even specific natural forces. Tseng Yu thus allows her burgeoning wave of saturated color to suggest the ocean, to look like the ocean as much as it embodies oceanic power, and thus to find an existential condition somewhere between the abstract and the real. (ACA, 529 W 20th St., NY; thru Oct. 6. <a href="http://www.acagalleries.com">www.acagalleries.com</a>) – Peter Frank MARLENE TSENG YU, Sunken Treasure Ruby II #11, 1993, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

  • Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War By Christian McWhirter University of North Carolina Press, hardcover, 336 pages, $39.95 Power of music, indeed! This gripping tale begins with a concert for Union Soldiers in December, 1862, performed by a theatrical troupe in Fairfax, Virginia, that changed the course of the Civil War. It demonstrated the connection that music had with popular opinion that enabled it stand up to the political establishment in in the North and eventually reach the ears of Lincoln in the White House. It is much more than a treat for lovers of good history writing and a fresh look at well-trodden fields, it is also a painful reminder of just how divided a nation we were at birth, and how those divisions live with us still. In capturing the documents of the time in their detail, and retelling them with sweeping, Technicolor splendor, Christian McWhirter has written a compelling, inspirational and very sobering novel in the form of a Civil War history trade publication. From the concert in Fairfax to the appearance of the King a century later in Memphis and the ongoing revival of its legacy, Battle Hymns tells an unending tale of heroism, gallantry and woe during those five terrible years when "Americans used music effectively and often." McWhirter covers national anthems (the North had five different candidates competing at one time while the South had to completely create new ones), and music on the home fronts and in the armies; in a chapter titled "The Choked Voice of a Race," he explores how African Americans "gradually abandoned the coded language in their songs to express themselves more directly." The writer is an assistant editor for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. - Laurence Vittes

  • Conceived by (and starring) Gabriel Grilli, <em>Stalking Christopher Walken</em> asked audiences to imagine what might be going on in Christopher Walken's mind during a troubled night's sleep. What started out in 2002 as a much simpler piece was expanded in light of recent revelations about the night that Natalie Wood died. The sad result was that a piece which began on a high note (as a team of backup dancers guided Walken through his early history) ended up tumbling into a dramatic sinkhole the likes of which I've never seen in half a century of theatregoing. Although Grilli does an amusing job of mimicking Walken's voice and mannerisms, his attempt to delve into the mystery of Natalie Wood's death (in song and dance) proved to be severely misguided. I did, however, enjoy Alexander M. Lydon's comedic portrayal of Wood's husband (actor Robert "RJ" Wagner) and Jonathan Suguitan's antics in a variety of supporting roles. Katie Tandy appeared as Natalie Wood with Shay Wisniewski as Georgianne Walken and Gabrielle Batista as the captain of Wagner's yacht, the Splendour. – by George Heymont

  • The Story of Naxos: The Extraordinary Story of the Independent Label That Changed Classical Recording Forever By Nicolas Soames Piatkus Press, 450 pages, ill., hardcover When Klaus Heymann arrives in Los Angeles to begin the celebration of the dream he called Naxos, the maverick innovator will be preceded by a comprehensive history of his brilliant empire. The writer is the noted producer Nicolas Soames and Naxos insider whose access to the smallest details in the growth of the many national and regional branches, interwoven with layers and threads of personal reminiscence, not to mention technological evolution, make this bewildering book hard at first to really get the flow of. As remarkable as the success of Heymann's business model is, which has rarely deviated from guiding principles based on a belief in the pent-up consumer desire for classical music, the entrepreneurial model he has created should give all non-Establishment players the inspiration and guidelines they need. Soames examines the building blocks Heymann assembled in minute detail, including the musicians, producers, writers, distributors, and the artists and repertoire brain trust, all of whom Heymann seems to have interacted with knowledgeably on every detail. As to the next 25 years, Heymann's current vision for Naxos is as "a service provider for classical recording." His "wider purpose," which almost sounds like a social media thing, "is to enable recordings to happen, whether on Naxos or the artist's own label." In other words, in addition to practicing, young musicians hoping to become professionals should take the time to find their entrepreneurial guru. - Laurence Vittes

  • <em>Legacy of the Tiger Mother</em> is an intriguing one-act musical by Angela Chan and Michael Manley that isn't afraid to grab a tiger mother by the tail and whirl her around in the air. Directed by Lysander Abadia, the show runs the gamut from the Suzuki method of piano exercises to the <em>Moonlight Sonata</em>. Although <em>Legacy of the Tiger Mother</em> doesn't hold back on depictions of maternal guilt tripping (or the failure to tell a child she is loved), it doesn't shy away from Asian-specific cultural nuances while cross-referencing the confusion engendered in an older generation's attempts to cope with a severe clash of cultures. As performed by Satomi Hofmann and Lynn Craig with Angela Chan at the piano, <em>L<a href="http://www.tigermotherthemusical.com/">egacy of the Tiger Mother</a></em> proved to be a genuine crowd pleaser at the 2012 San Francisco Fringe Festival. – by George Heymont

  • Deanna Sirlin may be a non-objective painter with a bent towards the cosmic and the installational, while Nicolette Reim concentrates on intimate representational imagery; but in this exhibition, at least, their artwork co-resonated. They share a preference for strong but agitated kinetic line and vibrant but earthy and verdant palette, painting largely on paper – except for Sirlin’s expanse of rhythmic swirls and obdurate blocks covering the gallery’s street window. Reim paints her bouquets and flower arrangements as isolated presences, accompanied only by scrawled words whose self-conscious awkwardness mirrors the anxious but dogged line with which she describes her still life subjects. Far more fluid-seeming at first, Sirlin’s dense fields of swirls and ovals – many sprouting what seem to be eyes at and from their nuclei – finally evince the same brittle intensity, even despite the leavening of interstellar breadth (the ring forms suggest planets, solar systems, galaxies) and broad hints of Cobra-like animism. However much space they embrace, Sirlin’s macrocosms ultimately do not seem that much more distant or airy than Reim’s florals. (M55 Art, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City; closed. <a href="http://www.m55art.org">www.m55art.org</a>) – Peter Frank DEANNA SIRLIN installation at M55 art

  • Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 André Watts, Pacific Symphony conducted by Carl St. Clair Segerstrom Hall, Costa Mesa Classical Connections Sunday afternoon Sept. 23 Brahms' Second Piano Concerto is never a piece to be taken lightly, either by the performers or the audience. The soloists, André Watts, said as much, and said it several times, during the pre-concert chat with Carl St. Clair that is the feature of the Pacific Symphony's Sunday afternoon Classical Connections series. The music is, in fact, much more difficult for the pianist than for the orchestra, and at 66, Watts is no longer the young athlete who grabbed the top rung when he appeared with Leonard Bernstein on TV at the age of 16. He is no longer out for the glory of vanquishing this awesome piece; instead, every performance must be of tremendous consequence to Watts personally in terms of revisiting and reinvesting all that he has been, felt, and observed. It felt like he trusted the audience to be on its own while he drew forth the music from the score. The Pacific Symphony played like angels, every woodwind note a jewel, the strings in perfect unison and layered as if the music were in 3-D. St. Clair managed things efficiently and had the soloist's back while he adjusted speed and dynamic levels and persuaded the musicians to find their way into the vast first movement. The brief sunlight in the middle of the second movement was ephemeral keyboard poetry of the most memorable kind. The slow movement, with heavenly playing by the solo cellist (Timothy Landauer) and oboist (Jessica Pearlman), was something special, laid out with such disregard for the physics of time and space that it seemed as if Watts would never let it end. He loosened his grip for the last movement which he played with effortless virtuosity and grace. As for the audience, they were enraptured throughout; they applauded shyly after each movement, as many of the best audiences do. - Laurence Vittes

  • How often does one get the opportunity to watch someone belt out show tunes while accompanying herself on a hula hoop? Mary Knoll’s one-woman show entitled <em>To Be Merry</em> maintains a firm grip on Auntie Mame's philosophy that "life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." Whether describing how her father taught her how to project her voice, or how her gay brother dealt with his AIDS diagnosis, Knoll presents herself as the singing, dancing, and hooping version of the Energizer Bunny. Not only is her enthusiasm infectious, it makes no difference if her pitch wavers while singing. She's determined to keep her audience entertained for better for worse, in tales of sickness as of health. Here's a sample of her work: – by George Heymont

  • Ernst Wilhelm Nay, a leading light in German abstract painting of the 1950s, seems an odd figure to resuscitate at this point – until you look at his actual work, as featured in these three shows, and realize how much his paintings and drawings prefigure so much current abstraction. Nay preoccupied himself with a distinctive vocabulary of forms that straddled the organic and the formalistic. The constant presence of vaguely floral and vaguely animalesque – especially facial – shapes, and his ability to fuse these into rhythmically recurring semi-patterns, made Nay’s work easy to identify back when, and also placed it somewhere between CoBrA-esque abstract expressionism and color-field painting, especially as he passed from the ‘50s into the ‘60s and his canvases got larger. Nay (who died in 1968) never stopped painting with oils, however, so his colors, however saturated, never flatten – and his motifs never lose their mysterious, almost surrealist multi-identities, even as they lock more and more assuredly into his overall structures. It’s fascinating to compare Nay’s drawings, many of which seem at once decorative and ruminative, like obsessive but interrupted doodles, with his later paintings, with their assured and surprisingly unpredictable occupation of planar space. His oeuvre evinces a desire to produce paintings that are at once readily seen and not readily known, that is, grasped completely by the eye long before they are analyzed by the brain. To achieve this, Nay flowed forms, seemingly effortlessly, into one another, obscuring but not obliterating associations; and it’s that pictorial fluidity of identity – not to mention offbeat beauty – that you find in so much of today’s painting. In spirit and in appearance, Nay’s work barely shows its age. (Michael Werner, 4 East 77th St.; thru Oct. 27, and Mary Boone, 541 West 24th St. and 745 5th Ave., NY; thru Oct. 6. <a href="http://www.michaelwerner.com">www.michaelwerner.com</a> and<a href="http://www.maryboonegallery.com"> www.maryboonegallery.com</a>) – Peter Frank ERNST WILHELM NAY, Verschlossene Gedanken, 1965, Oil on canvas, 63¾ x 59 inches

  • Bach Matthew's Passion Saint Thomas Church Choir Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig Georg Christoph Biller Accentus Music on Blu-ray Whatever is gained in having the Bach passions staged by imaginative directors like Peter Sellars is eclipsed by this live performance of Matthew's Passion in its traditional devotional setting, where the visuals come all through the mind and the emotion comes from deep inside, bringing us just the consolation Bach intended to offer his congregation, and I think in a real sense himself, on behalf of his God. The St Thomas Boys’ Choir is, of course, one of the highlights of the experience; widely acknowledged as one of the finest boys’ choirs in the world, in 2012 they celebrated their 800th anniversary and centuries old traditions such as the inclusion of the elder boys in the education of the younger ones. As an indication of how deeply Bach is woven into the German cultural fabric, the concert was streamed live on on Good Friday and re-broadcast on television at midnight. - Laurence Vittes

  • What makes <em>BibleNOT: Stories For Grown Ups</em> so much fun is that the playwright is also a clergyman. Well versed in the Bible, Charley Lerrigo has been able to find comic gold hidden in scripture and new interpretations of Biblical stories most of us have heard repeated since we were toddlers. As directed by Ben Brotzman, <em>BibleNOT: Stories For Grown Ups</em> begins with Adam (Louel Senores) and Eve (Karen Biscopink) trying to figure out their next steps in the Garden of Eden. Eve is tired of being called "Hey, you!" Adam would really prefer to be named "Hot Stuff." Fascinated by the collection of shoes that has magically appeared at the side of the stage, Eve informs Adam that he can be in charge of fashion (whatever that is). In the final scene, Pastor Bob (Charlie Shoemaker), finds himself unprepared for and unable to accept the second coming of Jesus (Tristan Cunningham) at his Christian social services agency in modern day San Francisco. Why? Homeless and hungry, Jesus has been reborn as a woman of color. The deftness with which Lerrigo has turned the assumptions and expectations of contemporary Christians upside down and inside out is a joy to behold, not only for his theatrical craft but for his brilliant use of character development. The final scene, in which Pastor Bob tries to distance himself from Jesus is a lesson in true compassion that should be seen by those who are so ready and eager to denounce "the other" in the name of their lord. – by George Heymont Karen Biscopink as as Eve and Louel Senores as Adam in <em>BibleNOT: Stories For Grown Ups</em>

  • It’s hard to unpack even the simplest of curatorial themes in a small storefront space, so with a show like “Beyond the Frame: Spatial Composition after Lucio Fontana” you simply have to accept a guiding premise – Fontana’s piercing of the picture plane allowed the collapse of painting into sculpture and vice versa – and admire the work of the three young artists (and one composer) for itself rather than as illustration for the idea. As the work is strong, there’s (at worst) no harm done. Toym Imao produces paintings whose surfaces have been littered – and thus enhanced – with material shredded by small explosions. Micheal Cor fashions simple, mostly wall-hung forms out of found and otherwise gritty industrial material. Ali Miller assembles, and then paints on, so many small-to-tiny fragments fashioned out of everything from clay to wire to fabric to adhesive, scattering the myriad pieces on the wall in compact, self-contained but still rather unruly archipelagos. Miller’s work seems the closest to Fontana’s in substance as well as spirit, engaging directly in de-defining the nature of painting; but you can see how all three artists have inherited from Fontana a fascination with the relation between art object and wall. They also preoccupy themselves with issues – the occupation of three dimensions, the use of diverse materials – Fontana himself addressed not in his painting practice but in his more radical, room-filling environments. The charming musique-concrète-cum-soundtrack decompositions of co-curator Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis mostly build on biographical and associative information connected to Fontana himself. (Contemporary Wing, 1412 14th St. NW, Washington DC; thru Oct. 7. <a href="http://www.contemporarywing.com">www.contemporarywing.com</a>) – Peter Frank ALI MILLER, Spare Room, 2012, Oil, clay, quartz and string on panel, 6 x 12 inches (installation panel variable)

  • Benjamin Britten Conducts Mozart (Symphony No. 40), Britten (Nocturne, Op. 60), Mendelssohn Peter Pears, tenor. The English Chamber Orchestra ICA Classics DVD Britten was not only a great composer but a magical communicator who would have been perfect for a Tolkien tale if a classical music wizard had been required. The music he made with the greatest of musicians always came down to the fact that he knew the music so well, and identified so personally with everything he chose to play (unlike today's superstar conductors, who must record everything asap) that the results were authentic in the most moving possible way. As he must have heard, the layers and energy of Mozart's G Minor Symphony rolled out in such a free-range way that it seemed like Mozart appropriately without end. Britten's own haunting Nocturne, a taste that, once acquired, preserves a safe space for its intense emotions, is a signature experience when the composer is conducting and his longtime partner Peter Pears is the tenor. The color film of two movements from Mendelssohn's Third Symphony captures the special light of The Maltings, Snape where Britten held his famous festival. Paul Kildea complements his masterful films with an insightful, absorbing liner note that brings the composer alive. - Laurence Vittes

  • Directed by Mark Kenward with a rip-roaring sense of fantasy that captures and enhances the biting satire in David Caggiano's first solo play, <em>Jurassic Ark</em> is a breathtaking joyride through the delusional world of fundamentalist Christianity and the cynical illusions created by Hollywood filmmakers. A well-meaning preacher who struggled to save souls in San Francisco, Brother Dallas succumbed to the lascivious charms of a transsexual hooker who showed him what true rapture can really feel like. After receiving some money, he decided to pursue his bliss: creating a 3D film about Noah's Flood and what the earth was like back when men walked with dinosaurs. Caggiano is an exceedingly likable performer whose writing skewers Creationism and Hollywood with equal glee. <em>Jurassic Ark</em> is blessed with a great movie-style soundtrack by John Mazzei which makes Caggiano's imaginary dinosaurs and pterodactyls seem every bit as memorable (in the most bizarre sense of the word) as some of Stephen Spielberg's creations. – by George Heymont David Caggiano in <em>Jurassic Ark</em>

  • The East Village phenomenon of the 1980s was derided in its day as a “La Bohème acted out by kids in skinny ties;” but, self-conscious as it may have been, the “movement” was heartfelt expression of creative community, and the art that came out of it was at worst credible and at best exciting and vital. “Crossing Houston” assembles some of that work into a sweetly nostalgia-tinged evocation of a bygone era and an enduring spirit – the funky, rule-breaking crudity of ludic youth, full of good ideas, bad behavior, and mutual support. The exhibition features vintage work from culture heroes such as Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz as well as living legends like John Ahearn, Jane Dickson, and Duncan Hannah, but also sends out whatever-happened-to shout-outs to the likes of Mike Bidlo, McDermott & McGough, Jim Radakovich, Rick Prol, Barry Bridgwood, and Rodney Alan Greenblat. A spirit of play, appropriately enough, pervades the exhibition, even where the work’s messages (as in Wojnarowicz or Prol) get grim and gritty. The East Village ethos supported message art but didn’t expect it; accurately enough, “Crossing Houston” emphasizes irreverent fun, treating the art objects as goofy icons produced at once as parody of and homage to “real” art. A quarter century on, this stuff may be recognized as “real” art but still resists the appellation with its modesty and informality. (Smart Clothes, 154 Stanton St., NY; thru Oct. 11. www.154smartclothes.com) – Peter Frank RICK PROL works at Smart Clothes

  • Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne production on Opus Arte Blu-ray Orch of the Age of Enlightenment Conductor: Ottavio Dantone Director Robert Carsen Skin-tight rubber and lacrosse sticks bring contemporary chic to this timeless fantasy of warriors and witches in Robert Carsen's transformation of Handel's first London triumph, and the first Italian opera specifically created for the British stage. Conducting from the keyboard as Handel did, Ottavio Dantone leads a youthful cast including Sonia Prina, Anett Fritsch and Brenda Rae. Putting Ottavio Dantone, Music Director of the acclaimed Italian period ensemble Accademia Bizantina, in charge of the musical proceedings proves once again how daringly brilliant a musician he is, and how scandalous remains his absence from the American scene. "Listen wholeheartedly; watch with caution,” said The Times (of London). - Laurence Vittes

  • It's rare for me to become totally disenchanted with a performer who has put a tremendous amount of creativity into a one-woman show. But as I sat watching R. Sky Palkowitz (who bills herself as The Delusional Diva) perform <em>Calling America: Don't Hang Up!</em> and feeling very much like a captive audience, I found myself wishing for the old days of <em>The Gong Show</em> when a stage manager could stop a performer's severely misguided act before she had a chance to run out the clock. <em>Calling America: Don't Hang Up!</em> lasts 90 minutes (by which time Palkowitz has not only stripped naked and tried to shove a toy gun into her crotch but still has plenty more she wants to "share"). Between trying on too many costumes, impersonating too many characters, and then insisting on conducting post-show chitchat with an audience that had already gotten much more than they'd ever bargained for, Palkowitz delivered a master class in the rule that "less is more." This is an artist who is either petulantly unwilling or intellectually incapable of editing her work. – by George Heymont

  • Louise Fishman may be an abstract expressionist painter, but she is not an abstract expressionist artist. She’s more of an abstract impressionist, and at the same time a post-minimalist, savoring the stroke and the pigment for their own sake. You see this even in her early “feminist” abstractions, on view in her uptown mini-survey, where the rawness of the paint handling gives oomph to verbal declarations and essentialist compositions alike. Since that work of the mid-1970s Fishman has allowed the hand and the brush to take over, finding not only a more graceful expression in pure painting but a whole new painting condition, one in which shape and gesture subsume into rather than determine pictorial presence. Whether roughly describing grids or dragging paint across expanses of canvas – and of other paint – Fishman finds an almost sculptural substance in wall-mounted pigment, a cruddy sensuality that valorizes the aesthetic profundity of an asphalt surface or a water stain. Michael Goldberg was capable of painting with this kind of oomph, almost “becoming” the paint; but he was invested in the gesture, at least as a calligraphic presence and often as a personal trace, while Fishman concentrates on the unity of each painting project, the overall object that comprises a painting. If Goldberg’s canvases are places, Fishman’s insist on being things, resisting any sort of pictographic – or, for that matter, hieroglyphic – read. She has determined a kind of painting-degree-zero without giving up anything about painting except its theater: Fishman’s canvases exist in space, not time, and real space, not head space. (Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th St.; thru Oct. 27, and Jack Tilton, 8 East 76th St., NY; thru Oct. 13. www.cheimread.com and www.jacktiltongallery.com) – Peter Frank LOUISE FISHMAN, Zero at the Bone, 2010, Oil on linen, 70 x 60 inches

  • Telemann: Suites Quixotte & La Changeante Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi I have a feeling that this could be a Telemann century. As more and more of his music finds its way onto disc, the variety and impact of his music is turning out to be startlingly good. Here, in a recording of two familiar orchestral suites, the one and only Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante crew do for Telemann what Chuck Berry did for rock and roll. In fact, in his day Telemann was a modern musician in the full sense of the term, as this program demonstrates, writing music that incorporated styles from Spain, Italy and France, heightened by a taste for the picturesque, and yet with a solid, satisfying German core (like Bach). Good fellow, magnificent stuff! - Laurence Vittes

  • Naked Empire Bouffon has been developing a theatrical style that builds on a solid foundation of lewd, crude, and rude shenanigans reaching as far back in time as the <em>Commedia dell'arte</em>. Their dramatic goal is to combine social activism with physically grotesque satire. Their world premiere of <em>You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play</em> rests on the dramatic premise that nothing -- neither death nor <em>Hamlet</em> -- is sacred. As one enters the theatre, an emaciated fool named Shreds (Ross Travis) and a 350-pound monstrosity named Patches (Nathaniel Justiniano) stand by the door, greeting theatregoers with the snarky warmth of Halloween trick-and-treaters. Once the show gets under way, they drag Hamlet's dead body (a stuffed dummy) onto the stage and proceed to kick and beat the shit out of it in an attempt to help their audience let go of its fear of death. It soon becomes apparent that Shreds and Patches may very well be the bastard love children of Beavis and Butt-head and Patsy and Edina (from <em>Absolutely Fabulous</em>). Whether sitting on Hamlet's face or waving their grotesque cloth phalluses at the audience, nothing is too rude or scatological for these two "anti-clowns." <em>You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play</em> is the kind of theatrical event which good friends tell each other "You just had to be there.” – by George Heymont

  • Four younger artists, two American and two Dutch, work in shiny but substantive manners to produce the effects animating “Bright Lights After Armageddon” – effects so superficial and yet so eerie that they do indeed seem to presage an altered consciousness, indeed, even seem to spur one. Anne de Vries and Travess Smalley concoct glistery reflective surfaces whose intricacies and fugitive colors suggest at the least a druggy state of mind. (In fact, Smalley calls his works “acid graphics.”) De Vries’ photos of what seem to be crinkled Mylar do not feature the elusive depth of Smalley’s impossibly dense prints on Plexiglas, but command an even greater play of light, confounding the eye’s determination to source that light in the viewer’s physical space. No such illusion drives the tapes of Michael Bell-Smith, who downloads standard universal-use video images of city skylines and marks them with elegantly insouciant linear forms; by doing this to these images – by “branding” them, as it were – Bell-Smith makes faint pretense at identifying the cities, but renders them that much more anonymous in the effort. Rafael Rozendaal has filled the basement space with informal architectural elaborations and projects colors onto them that assume similar geometric forms and hard edges. The basement, hard enough to negotiate when empty, has become a maze of conflicting information, all of it equally alluring and, thus, disorienting. On one level Rozendaal’s installation is a very painterly fun house; on another, it’s an enclosure whose very shape is tentative. (Pablo’s Birthday, 25 Cleveland Pl., NY; thru Oct. 14. www.pablosbirthday.com) – Peter Frank RAFAEL ROZENDAAL, Into Time, Flash website installation

  • Drew Shiflett fabricates things that comfortably occupy what should be a very uncomfortable rubric. Are they drawings? Collages? Sculptures? Paintings, even? Without truly hybridizing between any of these practices, Shiflett’s wall-hung paper pieces display the DNA of them all. Hers is a truly new breed, perhaps most closely related to handmade-paperwork – which it is, but of a nature rather far removed from the cast heavy-fiber paper that defines that particular category. Despite the artist’s clearly work-intensive methods of assembly, the physical result of these methods is light and delicate and seemingly effortless, almost as if these objects had flaked off the crust of bread loaves during baking. (Their white-brown tonality abets this almost synesthetically gustatory metaphor.) Shiflett’s works also challenge notions of abjection: their contours may be irregular, even ragged, but betray just enough formal premeditation to secure those contours an irrefutable logic. Such logic grows out of the tight but not lockstep gridding Shiflett weaves as much upon as into the surface of her sheets, and as well out of the pervading baked coloration. The more radically Shiflett contours her work, in fact, the more deliberate they seem, often resembling the patched-together leaves of crumbled ancient writing under restoration; certain of her works beg to be read under a magnifying glass, although they yield no text. The gridding that dominates Shiflett’s pieces does suggest notation sooner than it does contemporary grid-based art (although, not surprisingly, Shiflett admits to taking inspiration from Agnes Martin). Most of all, though, with their gently raised surfaces and stuttering but indomitable rows of vertical scorings, Shiflett’s objects want to be objects, albeit dressed up as – or in – drawing. (Lesley Heller, 54 Orchard St., NY; thru Oct. 14.<a href="http://www.lesleyheller.com"> www.lesleyheller.com</a>) – Peter Frank DREW SHIFLETT, Untitled #59, 2011, Watercolor, cheesecloth, handmade paper, 44¾ x 52¾ x 2¼ inches

  • For centuries, Japanese fisherman have looked to the ocean for their sustenance. Whereas sushi and sashimi have traditionally been viewed as a delicacy by the Japanese, their recent growth as an international fast food has been cause for deep concern. From Texas to Poland, from San Francisco to Brazil, sushi has reached increasing heights of popularity for its visual appeal as well as its taste. Meanwhile, the world's oceans are being overfished, with some species forced to the brink of extinction. Who knew that a peculiar piece of aviation history created a crisis for the blue fin tuna? Mark Hall's film crew takes viewers inside Tokyo's monstrous Tsukiji fish market to witness daily tuna auctions and interview people who sell fish to international restaurant clients. He also seeks out experts like Casson Trenor (the author of <em>Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving The Oceans One Bite at a Time</em>) and Hagen Stehr (a wealthy aquaculture entrepreneur who owns a tuna laboratory off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia where, in addition to maintaining underwater tuna ranches, he has been working on a new technology that might allow some of the fish used for sushi to be raised in land-based water tanks for future harvesting). Whether you are a devoted sushi fan, someone who admires the art of sushi, or simply concerned about the future of the ocean's fish stocks, you'll find <em><a href="http://www.sushitheglobalcatch.com/">Sushi: The Global Catch</a></em> to be a fascinating and highly educational documentary. – by George Heymont

  • Ralph Humphrey was a masterly painter at a time when painting was being summarily dismissed or challenged to do things it hadn’t yet done. Respectful of painting’s history but confident in paint’s flexibility, Humphrey rose to the challenge, but was too smart – and too dedicated to painting – simply to take the bait. He could think about paintings as objects, but he knew their objecthood finally depended on their paint-hood, not the other way around. As this survey of work from the ‘70s and early ‘80s attests, Humphrey valued paint not for what it is but for what it can do, as a way of securing color, building texture, and describing images – although, interestingly, many of the “images” described in these very curious painting-objects are fashioned in low relief out of modeling paste. And the paint Humphrey employed wasn’t oil or acrylic, but casein – an ancient medium relegated since the introduction of oil medium to “minor” status. In one fell swoop (a swoop coursing well beyond the ‘70s, but coming to its apogee in the work here) Humphrey resuscitated an old painting method, shaped the picture plane and thus put it at the service of the picture (rather than the other way around), and obscured the boundary between pure and referential form by collapsing abstraction and image into a quasi-Pop stylization (notably in the window series of 1981-83). Interestingly, though, the show begins and ends with its most austere, frontal, and iconic works, painted – or “built,” as all Humphrey’s works were in part – on canvases with rounded corners (a cellphone icon avant la lettre). Struggling to affirm the act of making paintings in the wake of minimalism, Humphrey’s art, slyly taunting the obdurate grimness of his elders, brims with gimmickry; but few artists have conjured and then harnessed and integrated such quirks and jokes with greater visual and intellectual assuredness. (Gary Snyder, 529 West 20th St., NY; thru Oct. 20. <a href="http://www.garysnyderart.com">www.garysnyderart.com</a>) – Peter Frank RALPH HUMPHREY, Christmas Story, 1979-80, Casein and modeling paste on wood, 42 x 84 x 7 inches

  • t's not often that one encounters an 80-year-old monologist at a Fringe festival. I tip my hat to Gene Gore, whose <em>Cheesecake and Demerol</em> gave her audience keen insights into the challenges faced by women half a century ago when they tried to stand up for their rights. Having grown up in Washington, D.C. with a mother who was an alcoholic and a father who was a physician, Gene quickly discovered that she was not interested in becoming a Stepford wife. Whether describing what it was like to have her physician husband refuse to give his consent to her request for a tubal ligation, or be given $300 and sent to New York on her own to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy, she uses her personal history to remind people what life was like back in the days when words like "cancer" and "abortion" were simply not spoken in polite company. Gore's life story took her through a divorce from an uncaring husband to a fulfilling second life which included working with AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital. Carefully paced, her 90-minute one-woman show (nicely directed by Wayne Harris) scored its dramatic points cleanly and effectively with the wisdom and sense of irony that can only come from being a survivor. – by George Heymont Retired nurse Gene Gore performing <em>Cheesecake and Demerol</em>

  • Emilie Clark would seem to have bitten off more than she could chew. But she’s not serving herself, she’s serving us lessons about ecology, about composting, about recycling as nature’s entropic state, and, most important here, about turning all this thinking and doing into visual art. It would perhaps have sufficed had Clark simply presented her tables and shelves laden with edible discards rescued from her own kitchen over the course of a year, as she does at the center of this exhibition. But (at least until pressed into performative service) that strategy would only have built, rather weakly, on decades of post-hippie earth art. Instead, Clark has amplified her installation crucially, festooning the walls with small, energy-packed drawings and larger, magnificent paintings whose formal language clearly derives from the tendrilous, decaying things she has been wrestling with. Also delightfully augmenting Clark’s funky laboratory is her documentary text, The Art of Right Living, interjected as audio recitation and limited-edition chapbook. The writing, at least as literary as it is diaristic, accounts for the method to Clark’s gentle madness. But it’s in the most traditional elements of this exhibition, its paintings and drawings, that that madness comes rushing fully to the fore. The drawings seem to be growing their own plant life even as they observe plant life a-growing; they seem to begin as clinical descriptions of smaller botanical forms and then get infected by natural process, burgeoning organically into fantastical vines and entrails. The tumultuous forms and colors that have taken over Clarks’ canvases seem even more unleashed, swelling and proliferating less like plants than like the clouds of a gathering storm. These paintings, gravid with energy and irrepressible drive, manifest a kind of Kantian sublime: they allow us to observe from afar a force of nature that would surely engulf us were we near enough. (Morgan Lehman, 535 West 22nd St., NY; thru Oct. 20. www.morganlehmangallery.com) – Peter Frank EMILIE CLARK installation, Photo: Anna Beeke

  • One of the most joyous presentations seen at this year's San Francisco Fringe Festival was given by the delightful PI Physical Comedy Troupe with their production of <em>The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid</em>. A supremely gifted group of clowns, the PI comics know how to keep audiences involved and entertained. Whether using hobby horses to re-enact a cowboy brawl in slow motion or showing off their formidable acrobatic and juggling skills, this is a tight-knit ensemble that aims to please. In the following video clip, you can watch the members of the PI Physical Comedy Troupe rehearsing their stunts and shtick. Next time you have a chance to see them in action, you'll want to purchase tickets as soon as they go on sale. <em> </em> is an hour of pure silliness and inspired joy! – by George Heymont

  • Maria Martinez-Cañas has followed a trajectory of ever-expanding breadth and complexity over her quarter-century career. Always engaged with a montage aesthetic, this Cuba-born, Miami-based meta-photographer has addressed themes of cultural memory and displacement with increasing size and density. This latest series is called “photo paintings,” reasonably enough; the works involve image transfer and paint on wood veneer, and measure either three by four feet or eight feet square. They clearly acknowledge Rauschenberg in their dimensions and their layering of information. But where Rauschenberg cultivated a free-wheeling, abstract expressionist impulsiveness, Martinez-Cañas is demonstrably more deliberate – beginning with her component images. Painterly though they have become, they still bespeak the eye of a photographer, their compositional lucidity verging on the taxonomic, their tonalities lustrous even though embedded in notably gestural visual fields. Even more than Rauschenberg, Martinez-Cañas has always identified with prewar modernism and the erasure of boundaries between painting, collage, and photography sought by Dadaists, surrealists, and constructivists alike. These photo-paintings march deliberately into that erasure, or at least the no-man’s-land it has effected; they remain poised and even a little bit calculated, offsetting the artist’s new-found texture and tumult just so – much as did Ernst, Höch, Moholy-Nagy, Schwitters, and even Rauschenberg himself early on. Over the course of her career Martinez-Cañas has lacked less for ambition than for permission; now she’s reaching a new level of sophistication by manifesting a new level of confidence. (Julie Saul, 535 West 22nd St., NY; thru Oct. 20. <a href="http://www.saulgallery.com">www.saulgallery.com</a>) – Peter Frank MARIA MARTINEZ-CAÑAS, Untitled 006 [LF], 2012, Mixed media on wood veneer, 36 x 48 inches

  • A self-proclaimed "porn nerd" and "intellectual homosexual," Lucas Brooks recently brought his monologue entitled <em><a href="http://www.toptobottomnyc.com/">VGL 5'4" TOP </a></em> to the San Francisco Fringe Festival. Brooks doesn’t pull any punches as he describes his sexual evolution from a horny (if somewhat naive) Midwestern gay boy into a sophisticated kinkster trying to navigate the intricate contradictions of New York's gay community. Finding himself continually challenged by rudeness masquerading as attitude, internalized homophobia attempting to pass itself off as superiority, and vapidity eclipsing vitality, Lucas struggles to find how and where he fits into gay life. Nowhere are his adventures more frustrating than the highly-addictive landscape of on-line gay male social networks such as Adam4Adam, Manhunt, Gay.com, and Craigslist. As someone who is not easily stereotyped (he's too smart to be a twink, too smooth to be a bear, too short to impress people as a top, and too protective of his asshole to be a power bottom), Lucas is hardly the first gay man to suffer from on-line overobjectification. Confronted by a website’s questionnaire which asks "If you could dress up your asshole, what would it wear?" he offers a simple response: duct tape. Clad only in a pair of briefs, Brooks manages to keep the audience's attention above his crotch with his strong storytelling skills, laser-sharp wit, and appealing personality. – by George Heymont

  • Betsabée Romero, like many of her Latin American compeers, implicitly champions the working class and indigenous peoples of her country and region (she is a native and resident of Mexico City) by adopting and adapting the vernacular arts and crafts to the conceptual and performative rigors of contemporary art practice. Unlike most, Romero celebrates and builds on the decorative facets of these vernacular expressions, incorporating official as well as unofficial aspects of current urban and rural life – traffic signs, for instance – in an examination of graphic as well as iconographic expression. This exhibition, at least, spanning the last decade, centers on Mexico’s car culture, which (in contrast to its northern neighbor’s) focuses on the machine, abject as it might be, as opposed to the image. All parts of the auto body, even its tires, come under Romero’s scrutiny and ultimately her transformative wit. She converts tire tracks into traditional design motifs, imprintable on stretches of sand; she turns fenders into a colorful pinwheel; she conjures a toy VW bug festooned with floral and skeletal images. She also re-imagines street signs as icons, religious and otherwise, and the retablo form of folk religious painting as biographical accounts and ecological tales of caution. This is all fun, to be sure, but in its own genial way champions the inventiveness and also the consistency of popularly sourced artistic production. In the very back room Romero has created an installation of her most recent work, woven paper sheets hung from the ceiling. As weavings, these entirely imageless works still conjure indigenous craft by emulating its process, its durability and its delicacy. (ADC/Building Bridges International, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave. #F2, Santa Monica CA; thru Oct. 23. <a href="http://www.adccontemporaryartgallery.com">www.adccontemporaryartgallery.com</a>) – Peter Frank BETSABÉE ROMERO, Signs for a Dead-End Street, 2003, Serigraph and stencil on metal, 39 1/3 x 39 1/3 inches

  • <em>BESA: The Promise</em> gets off to a slow start, which might mislead audiences into expecting little if any emotional payoff. But this film's tense climax and spiritually-uplifting resolution will leave the most cynical viewer with a new respect for the inherent decency of men. There aren't too many stories about Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. However, in 1939, King Zog announced that all Jews residing in Albania could obtain citizenship. After fascist troops invaded his nation and sent him into exile, many Albanian Muslims gave a sacred oath (the ancient besa) to help protect the Jewish refugees. When the Abadjens left their beloved prayer books with Rifat Hoxha (who had sheltered the family of Bulgarian Jews for 14 months), he promised to return their sacred Hebrew texts when the World War II finally ended. In her poignant documentary, Rachel Goslins accompanies Norman Gershman as the photographer helps 66-year-old Rexhep Hoxha travel to Israel to return the prayer books to their rightful owners. Considering that the oldest surviving member of the Abadjen family has absolutely no interest in discussing what happened to his family during the war, their journey is fraught with uncertainty. With a score by Philip Glass, <em><a href="http://besathepromise.com/">BESA: The Promise</a></em> has a story like no other – an amazing tale of how religious integrity mixed with the milk of human kindness. – by George Heymont

  • William Christenberry may be one of the American South’s great contemporary photo-documenters; but photography is only one arrow among many in his quiver – and he maintains a consistent poetry, highly affective but pretty much nostalgia-free, in every medium or format he employs. Alabama native Christenberry is sensitive in particular to the texture of his birthplace, to its soil, its architecture, its flora, its artifacture, everything that can be seen and touched (except humans themselves). He admits to human foible among his folks – KKK buttons are strewn in with the other charms and shards that comprise his tableful of red dirt and souvenirs – but he passes no judgment nor records any social interaction. Especially as he concentrates on rural spaces, Christenberry, it should be emphasized, bears little relationship to William Eggleston (who focuses on the suburban), except, perhaps, to share a sensitivity to the general possibilities of rich pictorial discord in vernacular life. That connection does betray the fact that both men began as painters. And, although this micro-survey features sculptures, found objects, and even a hologram, its most surprising and welcome items are paintings and drawings on paper. One dates from 1959, when Christenberry was in graduate school studying under an abstract expressionist; the rest date from the last decade – and damn if they don’t take up where that half-century-old work, still rocking with restless energy, leaves off. The recent paintings and drawings are all titled “Trees,” and they are all arboreal branches and rising sap, expressed in a few economically rendered lines, more late surrealist (think Wolfgang Paalen or Wifredo Lam) than late ab-ex. (Hemphill, 1515 14th St. NW, Washington DC; thru Oct. 27. <a href="http://www.hemphillfinearts.com">www.hemphillfinearts.com</a>) – Peter Frank WILLIAM CHRISTENBERRY, Tree, 2004 (April 15), 2004, German ink on Spanish aquaru paper, 12½ x 9¾ inches

  • The Gutai group, or movement, or both, emerged in Japan in the mid-1950s, and, in so many words, beat the Western avant garde to the punch. Responding to abstract expressionism and art informel, Gutai remained fervently, even feverishly committed to gestural abstract painting throughout its historical arc; but as part of that gestural aesthetic, various members of the group realized live actions and the production of materially transformed objects – in much the same spirit as, but with no prior awareness of, their contemporaries in New York, Paris, London, and elsewhere. Not infrequently, Gutai artists didn’t just parallel, but anticipated, what their Western counterparts were doing. For this reason, the movement has become the subject of intense, almost fetishistic rediscovery, over here no less than in Japan. But does Gutai art – especially the painting at its heart – stand up to scrutiny the way its history does? To judge from this necessarily small but acutely selected survey, it does. The majority of Gutai practitioners were able early on to evolve distinctive personal styles and to practice those styles fruitfully for years afterward. They were able to keep the sense of painterly gesture at the core of their practice, some of them exploiting extravagant pigmental efflux, others adopting a reductivist, Zen-like focus, still others developing fantastically repetitive patterns and schemata. In almost all cases, certainly those represented in this vital sketch for a major survey, the work – some of the earliest “process art” in the contemporary canon – maintains a sense of performance: the thing in front of you is at once the result of something having happened and the implicit spur to more such things happening. Most of the items included date from the later 1950s or ‘60s, but even those from the ‘90s or this year have that visceral impact, that sense of moment. The artists letting the Gutai roll here include Jiro Yoshihara, Atsuko Tanaka, Shozo Shimamoto, Akira Kanayama, Saburo Murakami, Kazuo Shiraga, Sadamasa Motonaga, Tsunuko Yamazaki, Yasuo Summi, Takesada Matsutani, Shuji Mukai, and Norio Imai. (Hauser & Wirth, 32 East 69th St., NY; thru Oct. 27. <a href="http://www.hauserwirth.com">www.hauserwirth.com</a>) – Peter Frank GUTAI installation view with works by Shozo Shimamoto and Kazuo Shiraga

  • Written and directed by Sameh Zoabi, <em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Man-Without-a-Cell-Phone/193877200644854">Man Without A Cell Phone<</a>/em> is a classic case of a curmudgeon who demands to be heard -- especially when he feels that others are encroaching upon his territory. Just like Rodney Dangerfield, Salem (Basem Loulou) resents the fact that he "can't get no respect." A cranky old farmer living in an Arab village near Nazareth, Salem resents the way Palestinian-Israelis are treated as second class citizens by the Israeli government. When an Israeli telecom company erects a cell phone tower in his village, he tries to organize a grassroots protest with the slogan "Yes to Olives. No to Radiation!" His initial attempt to destroy the cell phone tower provokes a surprising reaction. Not only is the tower repaired, soon there are armed guards stationed in front of it. While the guards have been trained to stand their ground against any and all threats, they're not prepared to fight an angry old farmer who knows how to use his water sprinklers as a weapon. – by George Heymont

  • Leon Dabo, one of America’s leading artists at the turn of the last century, had faded into obscurity by the Second World War, in great part because he represented a genteel modernism whose models had been the Barbizon painters, the impressionists, and pictorialists such as Whistler. Abstraction for Dabo did not mean distortion, it meant the merest non-naturalistic stylization. A century past his heyday, however, we can appreciate Dabo’s gentle way with landscapes and still lifes, and in fact find certain radical things going on in them. A master of pastel equal to Degas or Redon, Dabo brought flower arrangements to startling life not by rendering them in trompe-l’oeil, but by describing them as stark, vivid presences in indistinct spaces, at once dramatically flattened and lovingly contoured and substantiated. Dabo captured nothing metaphysical in these flowers, but instead found in them a staggering spectrum of physicality, a tensile strength that supports rather than belies their delicacy, a coloristic variety that the eye grasps surprisingly slowly, a texture that can seem – feel – at once glossy and feathery. Such flower pictures comprise the bulk of this pastel show, but several of Dabo’s landscapes – which, like Monet’s late works, do verge on what we would consider abstraction – enhance the selection. (Sullivan Goss, 7 East Anapamu St., Santa Barbara CA; thru Oct. 28. <a href="http://www.sullivangoss.com">www.sullivangoss.com</a>) – Peter Frank LEON DABO, Abstraction avec un zinnia, c. 1915, Pastel on paper, 18 x 12 inches

  • Written and directed by Leo Khasin, <em><a href="http://www.xn--kaddischfreinenfreund-derfilm-tbd.de/">Kaddish For a Friend</a></em> is the kind of film that can really tear at a viewer's heart. Set in the Kreuzberg section of Berlin, it focuses on the strange story of Alexander (Ryszard Ronczewski), an old Russian Jew who survived World War II, and Ali Messalem (Neil Belakhdar), a 14-year-old Arab whose family recently arrived from Lebanon in an effort to escape the ongoing violence between Arabs and Israelis. With his imposing physique, Alexander knows how to intimidate a scrawny young kid like Ali. But soon they find a way to communicate with each other. When Ali shows the old man a drawing he has made that reproduces the scene in one of the old photos he damaged while ransacking his upstairs neighbor’s apartment, Alexander realizes that the boy has artistic talent. Blessed by Ronczewski's stellar performance, <em>Kaddish For a Friend</em>, packs a deep emotional punch. Khasin's tenderly-crafted drama offers audiences an unexpected and deeply moving tale of friendship, forgiveness, and redemption. Neil Belakhdar delivers an impressive performance as Ali, with touching cameos by Heinz W. Krukeberg as Alexander's closest friend and Anna Bottcher as his social worker. – by George Heymont

  • John Cage had a pervasive as well as profound impact on American visual art, to the point where his visual-artist friends and colleagues prevailed upon him to make his own visual work. Cage produced a number of artworks, most if not all significant, in the last two decades of his life, but even before that his compositional and performance methods reflected an artistic sensibility – perhaps more than a musical one – to the point where the realization of his works in the 1950s and ‘60s could take on an almost ritualistic bent. Even Cage’s relations with his collaborators were intricate conceptual and practical contretemps, as the ephemera on display in this odd and delightful show document. Those ephemera include letters exchanged with his performers and publisher as well as graphically notated scores from the postwar era. As intriguing is the other major component of the show, providing the exhibition its title of “Steps” – what is in effect Cage’s “posthumous” works. Working with the Mountain Lake Workshop in Virginia and Merce Cunningham’s group, Cage had devised a way of “composing” the creation of a painting. He provided those producing the painting – dancers, painters, technicians – with guidelines for activity, which they undertook upon 30-foot-long lengths of rag paper. They finally did so a decade and a half after Cage’s demise. Performing thus may be de rigueur in music or theater or even dance, but the very concept of making a painting – a permanent object – according to a score – an infinitely interpretable chart – can seem radical to the point of revolutionary, and yet logical in a high-modernist way. In between the ephemera and these “performed paintings” are several of Cage’s own hand-rendered watercolors and prints, some more engaging than others but all suffused with a (typically) Zen attentiveness to essence. (Katzen American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC; thru Oct. 21. <a href="http://www.american.edu/cas/museum">www.american.edu/cas/museum</a>) – Peter Frank JOHN CAGE/MERCE CUNNINGHAM and group with the Mountain Lake Workshop, Dancers I, 2008, Water media on rag paper, 141 x 260 inches, Courtesy of Ray Kass

  • The monologue performed by Canada's Glen Callender at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, <em><a href="http://www.can-fap.net/trwnbc.shtml">The Revolution Will Not Be Circumcised</a></em>, offers the kind of sex education that is never encountered where it is most needed: in school. Wearing little more than a T-shirt stating “I ♥My Foreskin,” this exuberant actor/model/activist doesn't hesitate to take matters (his own penis and foreskin) in hand to give his audience a sorely-needed lesson in human anatomy. An ecstatic exhibitionist, the outspoken Vancouver-based founder of the Canadian Foreskin Awareness Project (CAN-FAP) claims that "I feel like I won the stupidest lottery in the history of the universe by escaping the early 1970s with my foreskin when most boys at that time were cut." No matter how squeamish one feels while watching some of Callender's video clips, the sight of a terrified, screaming infant with a glass of Mogen David wine standing next to his head and a Mogen clamp on his foreskin offers audiences plenty of food for thought. – by George Heymont

  • Control freaks have a difficult time with dementia. The more competitive and tightly wound they are, the more prone they may be to outbursts of aggressive behavior and paranoid ideation. Audiences who enjoy the kind of psychological mysteries that get solved by pulling back one layer at a time will find plenty of clues to track in Sharr White's heart-rending drama, <em><a href="https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?m=3ea16b054ee9376e2c00b973c19d67e8&t=tix&gaOpen=UA-29684527-1&gaDone=UA-29684527-1">The Other Place</a></em>. As the playwright and director guide the audience through a sea of red herrings toward the terrifying moment when Juliana "bottoms out" and starts to grasp the severity of her problem, the multiple meanings of the play's title start to come into focus. Those who have dealt with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia in their private lives will probably be able to anticipate what lies ahead. Henny Russell and David Sage Mackay give searing portrayals of two brilliant scientists rendered helpless by the ravages of mental illness. Carrie Paff gets to shine in a variety of supporting roles as "The Woman." Patrick Russell lends equally sturdy dramatic support as "The Man."Director Loretta Greco's dramatic acuity allows her actors to breathe life (with all its imperfections) into their roles without ever overwhelming the script. Performances of <em>The Other Place</em> continue at the Magic Theatre through October 7. – by George Heymont Henny Russell in <em>The Other Place</em> (Photo by: Jennifer Reiley)

  • Michelle Stuart seems to have worked in as many media as there are media. But she has maintained a consistent sensibility throughout, concentrating at once on the seductive surfaces of things and on their deeper social and spiritual resonance – revealing a paradoxical but not dissonant relationship between pleasure and meaning. These “palimpsests” find Stuart working with original and appropriated photographic material, intermingled so that no distinction remains between what she shot and what she found – and, indeed, between what is contemporary and what is historical, what is “real” and what is posed, and what is captured from a movie, say, and what is captured from real life. Arranged in rows and grids of equal-sized images, the “palimpsests” at first seem to level all content to their lowest visual common denominator; in order to comprehend any whole, the eye and brain have to suppress interest in the parts and turn them into mega-pixels of a sort. Rapidly, however, particularly peculiar or inviting or personally charged images advance, and your eye begins taking apart at least a few of the image-grids so as to release some of the component elements – and perhaps identify a rebus-like logic to Stuart’s sequencing. If one is there, however, it resists decoding, even in those pieces where elements repeat syntactically. Stuart tantalizes us with the pleasures of the text, but the poetry is ultimately less in the phrasing than in the vocabulary. (Leslie Tonkonow, 535 West 22nd St., NY; thru Oct. 27.<a href="http://www.tonkonow.com"> www.tonkonow.com</a>) – Peter Frank MICHELLE STUART, Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story, 2011, Unique archival inkjet prints, 36½ x 67½ inches overall

  • The national tour of the Tony Award-winning production of <em><a href="https://tickets.act-sf.org/online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=8FABF5F5-F747-4018-9368-F20062D0928D">The Normal Heart</a></em> recently arrived at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Larry Kramer's controversial 1985 drama is a riveting evening of theatre which, 27 years after its premiere, can be applauded for its solid writing as well as its political conscience. It's astonishing to realize how smoothly and tightly Kramer wove so much exposition into Act I, especially considering how intensely he needed to educate his audience about facts which had been brutally ignored by the mass media. George C. Wolfe has directed with a remarkably sustained level of anger and sense of accelerating doom. Seeing <em>The Normal Heart</em> is a particularly important experience for young gay men who came out after anti-retrovirals were introduced as a treatment protocol, allowing people to "live with AIDS" (as opposed to living with a clinical death sentence). Balancing Patrick Breen's vitriolic tour-de-force as Ned Weeks are two beautifully written and rendered performances by Sean Dugan, as hospital administrator Tommy Boatwright ("I'm also a Southern bitch!"), and Matt McGrath as Felix Turner, the fashion writer for The New York Times who falls in love with Ned Weeks. Performances continue through October 7. – by George Heymont Patrick Breen and Matt McGrath in <em>The Normal Heart</em> (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

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