Books, Music May 23, 2011 By Eugene Rabkin

Moby-Destroyed, 2009-2010

Moby-Destroyed, 2009-2010

Moby Title Moby Destroyed
Moby has been a stalwart of electronic music for two decades, and there is no sign of him slowing down. This month he released a new record, Destroyed, accompanied by an eponymous book of photographs he has taken on tour. The book serves as a sort of a diary but also a way to turn a mirror on the world, which could be quite cathartic for any celebrity. Some of the photos are excellent, especially the one that made the cover. That was taken inside the La Guardia airport and is the last word in the cautionary sign, “All unattended luggage will be destroyed.”
     In the introductory passage to the book Moby says that touring is decidedly unglamorous, that it is weird and isolating. Indeed many photos give off a sense of alienation and loneliness. They are taken at the airports, in hotel rooms, and at concerts. They are thoughtful and meditative and give off a certain sense of quietness. The pictures that depict concert audiences seem as if Moby pressed a pause button in the middle of the concert in order to reflect on his surroundings.

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Art, Events, Fashion May 3, 2011 By Eugene Rabkin

All Images Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click for slideshow

All Images Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

am title2 Alexander McQueen
It is hard to talk of a genius to whose work you have always been attracted, and for a writer it is not easy to admit that for once, images speak louder than words. But when one comes in contact with the work of Alexander McQueen, whose untimely end last year devastated the fashion world, one has no choice but to put down the pen and just look.
     The new exhibition of McQueen’s work opens tomorrow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Curated by Andrew Bolton of the Costume Institute, this show is a comprehensive overview of McQueen’s oeuvre. It is safe to say that this time the Met has outdone itself in its ambition to give a creator his due. The show is awe-inspiring in its tremendous scope and execution. Where it truly succeeds is in its ability to show how multifaceted McQueen’s talent was. His work combined historical and social commentary, cultural criticism, and romantic fantasy. The mind-blowing complexity of the garments speaks not only of McQueen’s skills, but also of his uncompromising nature. And while I am often hesitant to say that fashion is art, in McQueen’s case this seems like an apt comparison.

Click for slideshow

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Books, Design April 27, 2011 By Eugene Rabkin

© Flammarion Publishing

© Flammarion Publishing

av title1 Axel Vervoordt   wabi
I once saw a photo of Yves Saint-Laurent’s living room, and its cluttered opulence looked positively oppressing. Years later I discovered the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, and I found its regard for simplicity, sparseness, and the natural cycle of life refreshing. Wabi-sabi is lived-in beauty found in imperfection, the decay of all things, and the transience of all being, natural and unnatural. It prizes cracks in old vases, uneven texture of the ancient walls, and the withering of trees. It acknowledges the slow but intractable march of time, and in accepting it finds tranquility. Breathe in. Breathe out.

     Like other things Eastern, and therefore exotic, wabi-sabi has often been bastardized by interior designers and their wealthy clientele. Axel Vervoordt, a Belgian art and antiques collector, could surely qualify as an impostor, but in his new book Wabi Inspirations ($65, Flammarion), he is careful to point out the sincerity of his interest in the unadorned and unassuming beauty of wabi-sabi (or simply wabi). The effort does indeed seem genuine and the gorgeous book is an important photographic document, since, despite wabi-sabi’s popularity, there is a dearth of its visual representation. The 255-page volume is a tour of properties redesigned by Vervoordt in the wabi spirit, often with the help of the Japanese-Belgian architect Tatsuro Miki. With their soft light and sparse interiors these spaces become sanctuaries. But it is the vividness of textures that really makes you want to run your hand over the photographs. Or just live in them.

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Art, Books April 7, 2011 By Eugene Rabkin

copyright  Rizzoli New York

copyright Rizzoli New York

am title Ari Marcopoulos
Ari Marcopoulos, the Amsterdam born, New York based photographer, has made a career out of documenting street culture around the world. His new book, Ari Marcopoulos: Directory (Rizzoli New York, $65) travels the familiar terrain of skinny adolescent bodies, skateboards, and graffiti. Speaking of which, there are so many graffiti shots in the phonebook-sized tome, that it makes even me, a seasoned New Yorker comfortable with street culture, wish we had a better sanitation department.
     The book is a limited run of 2,000 copies. Each copy comes with a print (as in from a computer printer), but each is hand-signed by the photographer. The tome includes 1,200 of Marcopoulos’ recent photographs, some of which are fantastic – especially those that show the unadorned intimacy of teenagehood. Still, half way in you may get bogged down and wish for a better editing job. I don’t know what the magic number of pages is, but I don’t like it when a book becomes an exercise in page-turning.
     The unexpected treat of the book is Neville Wakefield’s writing that provides commentary on some photos. He has a keen eye and a way with words. To wit, from a paragraph about an admittedly arresting photo of a wave breaking against the Hokkaido seafront, “Only the railing holds us back from its seething, roiling energy, from the suicidal beauty that is the urge to submit to such pounding violence.” I’ll drink to that.

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Features December 29, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Photo: Jose Haro

Photo: Jose Haro (Click to enlarge)

title212 Alejandro González Iñárritu
Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican film director working in Hollywood, is a man whose search for meaning is relentless. In all of his films, from the first hit, “Amores Perros”, to the latest, “Biutiful”, the protagonists search for meaning in an often meaningless and cruel world. But unlike directors like Darren Aronofsky, Lars von Trier, or Gaspar Noe, whose films sometimes veer toward grizzly hopelessness, Iñárritu always provides redemption in his otherwise quite heavy films. There is always an element of hope in them that feels neither indie film heavy-handed nor Hollywood-cheesy.
      In Iñárritu’s new film, which opens in limited release tomorrow, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a hustler on the streets of Barcelona. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he spends the remainder of his life taking care of his two small children, dealing with his estranged, bi-polar wife, and acting as a liaison between the corrupt police and the African and Chinese illegal immigrants who make a living in the counterfeits business. His tragedy is that of a basically decent man who has to do indecent things in order to survive.
      I recently caught up with Iñárritu on his short visit to New York in order to discuss his work. Sitting in the lobby of the Mercer hotel, his dark eyes gleaming with vigor, he talked about existentialism and his life experiences, which have influenced his work.

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Books, Fashion November 30, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

In Between by Guy Bourdin published by Steidl Dangin

In Between by Guy Bourdin Published by Steidl Dangin (Click to enlarge)

title19 Guy Bourdin
Guy Bourdin, the original bad boy of fashion photography, came to fame in 1955 when on the pages of the French Vogue he juxtaposed the prim haute couture dresses against butchered cow heads. At the time this was far more audacious than the current vapid soft porn of Terry Richardson and Olivier Zahm. Bourdin went on to become one of the most celebrated fashion photographers in the world. The new book, In Between (Steidl, $58), offers an engaging retrospective of his work.
     The 272 page tome offers 400 carefully selected photographs that span Bourdin’s oeuvre from 1955 to 1989. The theme of the book is centered on the photographer’s signature achievement – the use of the magazine spread that allowed him to create large, striking images. There are quite a few impressive photos in the book, mostly those of his late work. Curiously enough, the book is not organized in chronological order, which would allow the viewer to see how Bourdin’s work became more daring with time. The most remarkable images are those that bear the photographer’s trademark fascination with red color used in makeup. The red of the lipstick and the nail polish is wooingly deep and the starkness of the photographs is arresting.
Bourdin was most successful where his images were utterly artificial and staged. The more idyllic photos that use nature or children fade in comparison with the gloss and pomp of his obviously theatrical work. Fashion, after all, is theater and Bourdin had a talent for providing the stage.

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Books, Music October 26, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Photography by Kevin Cummins, courtesy of Kevin Cummings,  Joy Division, Rizzoli, 2010. (Click images to enlarge)

photography by Kevin Cummins, courtesy of Kevin Cummings, Joy Division, Rizzoli, 2010. (Click images to enlarge)

joydvision title Joy Division
I came to Joy Division through Nine Inch Nails, after hearing their brilliant cover of “Dead Souls” on The Crow soundtrack. I was immediately attracted by the emotional energy that bubbled up under Curtis’s somber, meditative voice. His introspection was way more attractive than the screams of the Sex Pistols. This lack of ostentation was what put the “post“ in “post-punk” for me.
    Much has been said about Curtis’s suicide thirty years ago. Sometimes it seemed inevitable — his lyrics were permeated with existential crisis. I am writing this as drums cascade on “Heart and Soul”, and Curtis sings, “Existence, well, what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can”. But to write another eulogy seems pointless. Sometimes images do more by allowing us to simply absorb, without interpreting and analyzing.
    Joy Division never made it big during its short life, and so the band was rarely photographed. A new book, Joy Division (Rizzoli, $45), by the band’s photographer, Kevin Cummins, aims to fill this void. For the truly obsessive, the book begins with shots of various Joy Division paraphernalia, including the original instruments and Curtis’s notebooks. But the book really unravels in the following photo session that depicts the band walking through dreary Manchester, including the famous shot of the band standing on a snowy overpass. Other photo sessions (they function like small stories) depict the band rehearsing and performing. The black and white images look raw and vivid, harking back to the pre-digital photography world, and they make the band come alive again.

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Art, Books October 19, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Photography courtesy of Rizzoli USA

assume vivid astro focus by Cay Sophie Rabinotwitz, courtesy of Rizzoli, 2010.

avsf title Assume Vivid Astro Focus
In today’s instamatic culture where attention spans are steadily decreasing and whoever shouts loudest wins, it seems creative minds have only two ways to go — you either embrace the cultural noise or retreat from it. Assume vivid astro focus, the growing, multi-striped art collective, seems to wholly embrace the speed-of-light changes with its collages and installations. The group’s chosen aesthetic method is sensory overload — an explosion of colors and sounds. The work itself is mostly collages and installations, the copy-and-paste, low-brow material that ranges from carnivals to gay porn. This just might be the logical end of postmodernism.
    Avaf, as it is also known, became recognized in 2004 with its outrageous, cacophonous installations. The collective’s artists have done many since and their work has been exhibited in major museums in the US and abroad. The new, eponymous book (Rizzoli, $60) documents the collective’s work in a gorgeous visual tome with 270 illustrations. The volume also includes an avaf-designed, a surprisingly understated (by avaf standards) poster, and a mask with 3-D glasses — just in case your brain does not explode from seeing their vibrant pastiches with the unassisted eye.
    The text that opens the book is an engaging essay by Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, director of Art Basel. As with any loud, campy art, the natural question arises — are these guys serious? Is this a critique of contemporary culture or its indulgence? Rabinowitz offers no answer. I guess you will have to decide for yourself.

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Art, Books, Music October 14, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

Images courtesy of Abram's Publishing

Images courtesy of Abram's Publishing

antony title2 Antony and the Johnsons
With much of the music shared online today, and the recording industry in crisis, artists increasingly turn to new means of distributing their work. Antony Hegarty, the transgender singer, whose ironically (or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view) named band, the Johnsons, is no exception. For his new album, Swanlights, Antony produced a book by the same title, (Abrams Image, $35), which includes the CD.
    Antony is a famously tender and sensitive artist who aches in our rough world. His self-declared creed is seeing the world from a feminine perspective (presumably, it’s the males who are solely responsible for messing everything up, because they are too aggressive). In the short essay accompanying the book, Antony calls out, “Circles of mothers, please usher in an era of profoundly feminine governance.” But what if one of those mothers is Margaret Thatcher?
    Swanlights is reflective of Antony’s soft longing for escape from our male-induced filth, whether by dieing or by ushering in matriarchy. The music on the CD is gentle and full of feeling, especially the piano that is by turn forlorn and passionate. But it is Antony’s voice, powerful and yearning, that leaves the most lasting impression on the listener.
    The art in the book is another matter. Its content is mostly made up of collages or old newspaper cutouts drawn over with haphazard pencil lines (Antony calls them “unconscious lines or spirit lines”).

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Fashion, Shop October 8, 2010 By Eugene Rabkin

driescover Dries van Noten, Mendriestitle Dries van Noten, Men
Belgian fashion is no longer a secret of the fashion cognoscenti. Having treated us to some of the most exciting fashion in the past two decades, the Antwerp Six and their heirs are now in the Pantheon. If there is one thing that had been understated about them it’s their influence on menswear. For example, few people know that Dries van Noten, known for his mastery of women’s clothing, started out as a menswear designer. His first five shows in Paris were men’s shows, and his family was in the garment business and owned a men’s-suits store in Antwerp.
    Today, van Noten is acknowledging his roots by opening his first freestanding menswear store in the left bank of Paris. And we mean bank here — the boutique is located on Quai Malaquais, its windows facing the Seine. It is only a few doors down from van Noten’s women’s shop, which ensures that your significant other does not get bored while you pick out that perfect dress shirt for the casual dandy wardrobe that van Noten has become so good at.
    The space is a former gallery of Primitive Art, and van Noten was very careful to preserve its original décor of rufous lacquered wood that dates back to 1975. And just so you know that you’ve made it, you can contemplate a genuine Van Dijck from van Noten’s own art collection while matching your tie and your cufflinks.

Dries van Noten, Men, 9 Quai Malaquais, Paris.