Friday, December 10, 2021

Critique of a Critic’s Critic: Harold Rosenberg Looms Large

Harold Rosenberg: A Critic‘s Life by Debra Bricker Balken was published by University of Chicago Press in October.

“At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act, rather than a space in which to reproduce or express an object. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” – Harold Rosenberg

Oh, how I wish that this splendid new biography of one of my favourite art critics had been subtitled A Critical Life, if only to emphasize that he was both a critical thinker on the arts but also of critical importance to our shared contemporary culture in all its facets. It’s still splendid anyway, and I hope more people begin to appreciate how important he was to the modernist art discourse and also how prophetic he was in the formation of what people now ironically refer to as the postmodernist discourse. Hint: modernism has not gone away, nor has it been eclipsed. Rather, as Rosenberg’s superb prose indicated so clearly, its chief tenet, that of deconstructing the historical purpose and social meaning of art and embracing aesthetics only in the actual language that it uses to dismantle its own history, is merely in its late and mature phase. In other words, postmodernism, as Rosenberg surveyed it so vividly from his lofty perch as The New Yorker magazine’s art critic from 1967 until his passing, is simply finally doing what modernism was always designed to do: render utter subjectivity as the sole arbiter of any expressive visual language. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Kathleen Rea: A Life in Motion

Kathleen Rea in Five Angels on the Steps. (Photo: David Hou)

Toronto indie dancer Kathleen Rea has put her life – the good bits and the not-so-good – in a dance created for her by friend and choreographer Newton Moraes. He’s credited as the choreographer. But Five Angels on the Steps, as this visceral and enigmatic solo is named, is so rooted in the performer’s own autobiography that it might be fair to label it more of a collaborative effort. It’s one woman’s personal journey rendered as a dance.

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Visitor: Bland Stand

Ahmad Maksoud, David Hyde Pierce and ensemble in The Visitor. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Tom McCarthy’s 2007 film The Visitor is focused on Walter, a middle-aged economics professor (played memorably by Richard Jenkins), who has withdrawn dramatically since the death of his wife. He teaches material by rote to students whose lack of engagement doesn’t concern him, and his rare personal interactions with them are cold and unsympathetic. (He’s so unengaged in the one course he’s currently teaching that, in mid-semester, he still hasn’t distributed a syllabus.) He secured a course reduction so he can work on a book but the truth is that he’s not writing either. When the chair of his department requires him to deliver a paper at a conference in New York, where he and his wife had a pied-à-terre that he hasn’t used since her passing, he discovers that a seedy agent has rented the space to a young couple, a Syrian drummer named Tarek and a Senegalese craft artist named Zainab. Unexpectedly stirred by their situation and reluctant to send them into the streets, he invites them to stay. Tarek befriends him and teaches him how to play the djembe. When the young man is picked up in the subway on a bogus charge, he’s identified as undocumented and sent to a facility where only Walter can visit him. (Zainab is also an illegal immigrant so her freedom would be endangered if she tried to see him.)