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Diego Rivera- A Man with a Message He Wasn’t Paid to Send

Posted by Anna Kozlova on 28th November 2011

Looking at the images by Diego Rivera in MoMA made it obvious why he was hired to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center. His paintings teem with life and feeling, and the humanity that shines through them. Even more haunting works, such as “Frozen Assets” portray human emotion in a single image. As the wealthy put away their assets, the poor are “put away” under the exponential growth of the city.  In a center meant to reflect the movement, cluster, and life of the city, such art would fit in beautifully and reflect its spirit. It would seem as if nothing could go wrong for Rockefeller’s vision, except for one distinct fact.

Diego Rivera had an agenda on his mind.

While the main essence of Rockefeller center is the hustle and bustle of capitalism, Rivera was a staunch communist, disgusted by what he saw as depravity in the city.  When asked to paint he accepted, and gave in a sketch that was approved. However, he deviated from the original, intending to send his own message to New York. His viewpoint can be clearly seen in images and recreations of the original. On one half of the painting, there is war and strife, with images of venereal disease, and the prohibitionist Rockefeller enjoying a drink. On the other, Lenin sits and brings together a peaceful crowd of people. Despite warnings and threats, Rivera refused to change the offending details, and the mural was destroyed.

Was it correct to destroy a work of art as beautiful, though agitating, as Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads?” While it is a shame to have a masterpiece destroyed, the decision was sound. Rivera was commissioned to paint a specific vision, and even provided a sketch that passed scrutiny. He gave in a “faulty product,” which did not match what his customer requested. He brought the destruction of the mural upon himself. What could Rivera have hoped to accomplish? Action along these lines would have inevitably been taken. It seems that his ultimate goal was the news and discussion once the conflict came to light.

I believe that the fuss surrounding Rivera’s “Man at the Crossroads” created more interest and intrigue than could ever have been generated by a more politically correct painting. I have heard of Rivera prior to reading Delirious New York and visiting MoMA because of this very reason. I’ve never previously heard of the artist whose mural ultimately filled the void. If any lesson can be taken from the whole ordeal, it is that while art is lasting, the stories behind it bring it to light.  For this reason, it is greatly beneficial to know the history behind the art and construction of sites such as the Rockefeller Center. It brings a human and tangible feel to an otherwise imposing building mass. Rockefeller and Rivera were human, and their human desires and ambitions are what led to Rockefeller Center’s present incarnation. Neglecting its history would be akin to missing the bigger picture.

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Don Giovanni- What Not to do if You Don’t Enjoy Fire and Brimstone

Posted by Anna Kozlova on 28th November 2011

I was not sure what to expect walking into the Met to see “Don Giovanni.” Reading the libretto gave a good sense of the plot of the story, although I did not know what direction the show would go in. After all, the example shown to us in school involved a Don Giovanni injecting himself with drugs and stripping down to his underwear in the middle of a party. I was very pleasantly surprised to see a show that stayed pretty accurate to the libretto, and a plot that despite taking place centuries in the past, stayed relevant to modern sensibilities.

The story of Don Giovanni is that of a “bad boy” who jumps from girl to girl at a speed that can make one’s head spin. The whole opera is a testament to Giovanni’s decadence; his mission is romance and carnal enjoyment. In a comedic statement, he claims that he does a disservice to the women of the world by staying with just one individual; a statement that does a good job at defining his whole view of life.

I had a much better time watching the opera than I did simply reading and listening to the libretto. Characters really come to life with actions, bringing emotion and humanity to the beautiful singing. The comedic aspect comes out much more distinctively with the opera; I was shocked by just how funny “Don Giovanni” was. In particular, Leporello’s exaggerated gestures as he tries to woo Donna Elvira according to Don Giovanni’s instructions had me cracking up.  While in class, it was hard to determine whether this opera is a drama, a comedy, or a “dramedy.” Now, I have no doubt that this is a comedic work.

While the premise of the show is a man having as many affairs as he can physically manage, it didn’t come off as too shocking. It may have seemed startling in more conservative times, where the Dionysiac aspect probably contracts with day-to-day life. Now, with the advent of modern television and the internet, nothing can really shock me anymore. I am still not sure whether that is bad or good, but it certainly dulls the “shock factor” that was probably a part of the performance years ago.

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Will I Survive?- A Review of “I Don’t Believe in Outer Space”

Posted by Anna Kozlova on 27th November 2011

After watching “I Don’t Believe in Outer Space,” it took me a while to register what I had just seen. I did know that there were duct tape balls all over the floor, that dancers moved around haphazardly across the stage, and that the “music” jumped at the quietest moments, nearly scaring me out of my seat. What I still don’t know is whether there is any real theme to this “ballet” show. I’ll do my best to analyze what happened throughout the performance, although I’m sure that’s not the point of the production.

While dancers in “I Don’t Believe in Outer Space” don’t use graceful, flowing, or technically difficult techniques, movement is the key motif of the show. There are no leaping, twirling figures, or feats of athletic strength. Rather, a series of stereotypical characters is acted out in very exaggerated form, giving distinct moments of clarity in an otherwise confusing show. I specifically remember the main female dancer switching between two very definite personas: the angular, praying mantis-like neighbor with a voice horror movie villains would be proud to have, and the prim, uptight, hand-wringing suburban wife.

In one of the pieces that particularly stood out, a female voice describes how movements come together, “suddenly, as if by chance.” Throughout her narration, many dancers move, writhe, clash together and vibrate apart, weaving between the many balls of duct tape strewn across the stage.

Throughout such strange sequences, random characters speak the lyrics of “I Will Survive,” occasionally eliciting awkward laughter from the audience.

The end is surprisingly poignant, as an older woman examines the form of a younger dancer, bemoaning physical movements that can no longer be done. If there was anything that I got from this strange performance, it was that movement tells a story, if a very convoluted one. Most of the time, I just tried to figure out what the heck was going on onstage.


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Fluxus- Rebellion in a Glass Viewing Case

Posted by Anna Kozlova on 27th November 2011

A stunning work of symmetry and clean, crisp color.

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the Fluxus exhibit, I thought of urinals. The most prominent image in my mind was a porcelain mass displayed in front of a group if intrigued individuals, pondering its connection to the meaning of life.

In the rooms and halls of the Fluxus exhibit, I did not those symbols of creative extremes, although the works had very similar messages; “We do not subscribe to the standard view of art.” Everything had an element of the absurd, or an aspect that went against the whole purpose of the object itself. There was “Giant Cutting Blades Door from Flux Combat with New York State Attorney (and Police)” by George Maciunas; a door with giant razor blades running vertically along it; meant to represent the artist’s seclusion form the public and avoidance of the police. The symbol of entry and transition became a possible killing machine with a few well placed blades and pieces of wood.

Looking at such pieces standing around the rooms made me wonder why certain pieces were chosen over others, and led to the central question that had been on my mind; “What is art, and what is its purpose?” My closest definition would have to be something that someone can enjoy being in the presence of. I cannot say that I loved all the works of “art” that I saw that day, but one did stand out to me in particular.  “Sky Laundry” by Geoffrey Hendricks was a sheet on a clothesline painted with what I thought was a near-perfect representation of the summer sky. The concept that a piece of art can transport you to another time or place was very prominent in this piece, and it stuck with me throughout the whole exhibit.

A great majority of the works were unusual tchotchke-type pieces one would not expect to see as high art. In fact, the whole theme of Fluxus is accessibility; art that one can do at home, art that can be played with and shared with others.  Little boxes filled with cards of patterns and shapes, trinkets, and small figurines made up the majority of what I saw.  These pieces, in theory, are supposed to be actively handled and toyed with. Ironically we could not touch a single one as they were all sealed into glass cases that we were told to be careful not to disturb as we walked through the gallery. Through this limitation much of what made these works unique was dimmed. We have to be told that the “Flux Box Containing God” is sealed shut; we are not free to discover this on our own and derive our own conclusions.

This revelation that what desperately tries to be accessible has turned into institutionalized work was sealed when we were given a description of a Flux tour: artist Larry Miller guides individuals around the facility showing off the form of the pipes, the smoothness of the floor, and the placements of air vents. He is avoids all that is labeled as art, including those same pieces that tried to challenge that classification.

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