Volume 75, Number 32 | Dec. 28 - Jan. 3, 2005

What the New Year will bring

Villager arts writers look back at 2005’s most interesting issues and trends —
and predict their future in 2006

Photo by Hanne Lise Thomsen

Public art lights up
 This year, the New Year’s Eve Ball drop will signal the ascent of a different kind of eye candy: projections displayed on city surfaces that will catch the eyes of passersby in increasingly important ways.

Already, the Canal Street area has provided building-side canvases for two unrelated projections in 2005. One, part of a global public arts series called TRANSITIO, introduced Shanghai street life to anyone who happened to be at the intersection of Canal and Centre Streets after dark in late October. Another, Danish artist Hanne Lise Thomsen’s billboard-sized portraits of New York’s homeless, appeared on the corner of Howard and Broadway last Tuesday. And at Times Square, a new projection called “Countdowns” is currently running on a giant Astrovision screen. In this 2004 work by New York-based artist Aïda Ruilova, numerals pulse and jolt in natural and industrial landscapes. (The number “6,” for example, is etched into a tree.) On view for 60 seconds of each hour through March 6, Ruilova’s installation is part of “The 59th Minute,” an ongoing project sponsored by Creative Time. Farther uptown, Eugene Giscombe, president of a real estate management and brokerage firm, commissioned a permanent, site-specific projection now on display in Harlem. From dusk until dawn, Grimanesa Amorós’s Frente Feroz (Ferocious Front) casts shadows of wild animals in 12 second-floor windows of the Lee Building at 125th Street and Park Avenue, within eyeshot of Metro North commuters. Says the Peruvian-born American artist, “The installation has the capacity to evoke responses that are as varied as the population.”

Securing such direct access to the public is exactly why artists will continue using the sides of buildings for their art. Explains Thomsen, “Working in public space gives you the possibility to get in contact with many people who wouldn’t go to galleries.”

—Laura Silver

Warner Brothers More Muddled Movies
Call it the “Magnolia” effect: In 2005, Hollywood pushed its material into murkier, more muddled waters than ever before, and dared its audiences to keep pace.

In that 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece, which in itself was a close relative to Robert Altman’s 1975 “Nashville,” we follow a dozen characters as they hit rock bottom in the course of a single night. This year witnessed a dramatic resurgence of similar formulas, but this time applied the chaos to the political thriller (“The Constant Gardener”), the political lecture (“Syriana”) and the political quagmire (“Munich”), as a wide array of characters and plot lines were juxtaposed in a series of head-spinning mazes.

Though it worked in some cases — the observant “Crash” comes to mind — it also hurt films that tried to be too much too often. Then again, it also made viewing films a more laborious effort, some so overblown and overextended that only after multiple viewings did they start to make sense. Now granted, for an industry struggling with slumping box office sales, perhaps this reflects the last, desperate attempt of studio heads to fill seats as audiences return to discern just what the hell “Syriana” is about.

Whatever the reason — artistic or economic— one thing’s for sure: Hollywood loves mimicry (I’m looking your way “Cheaper By The Dozen 2”) and in both 2006 and beyond, as studios look to base new projects on this year’s triumphs, there’s a risk this overbearing approach will become a cliché in its own right. More is not necessarily better, yet as a new year dawns, it’s quite possible that movies will turn to density over depth, and these complex stories will start to be handled — or more likely mishandled — by weaker directors who find they have bitten off more than they can chew.

—Steven Snyder

Photo Courtesy Emily DeCola

Puppets take Manhattan
In 2004, a band of potty-mouthed puppets snatched the Best Musical Tony from the Wicked Witch of the West and marionette superheroes fought terrorism on the big screen. In 2005, puppets, often considered the medium of kindergarten teachers and kiddie shows, continued to impress in decidedly grown up performances. Basil Twist’s underwater puppet extravaganza “Symphonie Fantastique” had a run at Dodger Stages, “Animal Farm, the Puppet Musical” departed for its first national tour, Performa 05 highlighted puppets in a variety of performance art commissions, and the Lincoln Center Festival presented a three-act puppet opera.

Puppet designer Emily DeCola explains that while the Henson tradition is America’s biggest contribution to puppetry, the rest of the world views it as a very mature form of entertainment. “There’s a long history of puppetry for adults, and even as a particularly biting brand of political satire.”

DeCola thinks puppets will continue to gain respect in 2006. “I think it’s true nationwide,” she says. “New York is the forerunner of the trend, of course.”

Indeed, right after the new year, HERE Arts Center will introduce 16 new works that blur the boundaries between dance, theatre, music, new media, visual art and, of course, puppetry. The series, called Culturemart 2006, is designed to “uphold the idea that it is no longer possible for one single art form to reflect the flurry of images and sound bytes experienced on a daily basis.” Perhaps not, but in 2006, puppeteers will give it one hell of a try.

— Rachel Fershleiser

The Rise of Graphic Chick Lit
Just a few days before Christmas, a cartoonist named Ivy “Supersonic” Silberstein chartered a plane to fly a 100-foot-long banner of her naked bosom over the 20th Century Fox headquarters in Los Angeles — for eight straight hours. The flyover was an expression of Supersonic’s rage at the studio, which supposedly ripped off her half squirrel, half rat cartoon character, Sqrat, in the movie “Ice Age.” (“Fox wants the shirt off my back so badly I decided to give it to them,” she told reporters.) However crass the publicity stunt, it points to a larger problem among female cartoonists and comic artists: a glaring lack of recognition.

Take the current “Masters of American Comics” exhibit, co-curated by Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of California’s Hammer Museum. When it opened this past November, it became the first exhibit in an American art museum to establish a canon of comic artists. That was great news for everyone in the world of graphic art — except women. Of the 15 masters featured, from Charles Schulz to R. Crumb, none were of the female persuasion. Fortunately, 2006 will help rectify this imbalance. In May, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in Soho will mount an exhibit titled “She Draws Comics,” which will include the legendary Dale Messick, creator of Brenda Starr, along with contemporary comic artists like Jessica Abel, who will publish her first full-length graphic novel in April. Let’s hope the New Year will bring more displays of work by female cartoon and graphic artists, and not just those who take guerrilla measures.

—Nicole Davis

Photo by Terrence McCarthy

Oh, give City Opera a Home
Will New York City Opera find a home downtown in 2006? Or ever? The answer could determine the future of opera in New York, but it depends more on real estate than on art.

New York has been America’s biggest, baddest opera town since before the Metropolitan Opera opened its doors in 1883. But the Met’s high-toned conservatism is being trumped lately by adventurous companies in Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco, which hosted the world premiere of the John Adams-Peter Sellars collaboration “Doctor Atomic” (above) — the most important and challenging new opera in decades.

For more innovative programming, younger casts and lower ticket prices, New Yorkers turn to New York City Opera, the “people’s opera company” that was the darling of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. But despite recent box office and critical successes, City Opera has struggled at Lincoln Center in the shadow of the Met.

A dedicated house in lower Manhattan could further energize New York City Opera as well as the neighborhood, and many of the company’s fans rejoiced when it appeared that a move to Ground Zero was likely. But compounding the tragedy of 9/11 with self-serving politics, the gruesome debate over redevelopment of the former World Trade Center site is turning away cultural institutions like City Opera that would honor the memories of those who died by upholding the role of the arts in a free society.

Originally one of more than 100 cultural groups that submitted proposals to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, City Opera quickly became the odds-on favorite to serve as performing arts anchor for the site. Then, just as quickly, it was uninvited to participate — reportedly over fears that the 16-acre site could not accommodate so large an auditorium (approximately 2 thousand seats, half the size of the Met).

There is little doubt that City Opera will move from its current digs at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, a hall designed for ballet and notoriously inhospitable to opera. It would surely be welcome in lower Manhattan, a laboratory for progressive art. But with rejection by LMDC, its best prospects for relocation are two tower sites, on Amsterdam Avenue in the upper 60s and on West 42nd Street.

The bottom line? We need intervention by a real estate mogul who loves opera and lives downtown. In the meantime, for worthwhile opera in the neighborhood, stick to companies like The Amato Opera and The Chelsea Opera in 2006.

—Michael Clive
Magnolia Pictures

It’s a DVD World
The film has been made, the posters are already up all over town, and the stage is set for a test that will forever alter the film industry, one way or another.

Its title is ironic: “Bubble.” On January 27, Steven Soderbergh’s latest movie hits area theater screens. And television screens. And DVD shelves. Yep, on the same day, Soderbergh will release his latest film in three forms— celluloid, DVD and pay-per-view cable — and what happens next will be one of the most important and closely-watched tests of the modern movie industry.

In the last few years, many trends have pointed to the extinction of the conventional theater system. Attendance at the box office is down. The use of online DVD rental systems, from Blockbuster to Netflix, is skyrocketing. And while the costs of luxury televisions and professional sound systems decrease, just as the local movie theater becomes increasingly expensive, Soderbergh’s experiment may succeed in proving there are now multiple markets of movie fans, some of whom have little interest in the theater experience at all.

“Bubble” is only one in a series of six films that Soderbergh plans to release in this way, and if they indeed are embraced simultaneously, then the modern movie business will be radically changed.

— S.S.

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