A few weeks ago I had a few hours to myself in New York and, after much consternation over both the Studio Museum and the Brooklyn Museum being closed on Tuesdays, I decided to check out the New Museum’s Triennial exhibition. Titled Surround Audience, the show is the third in the museum’s “triennial” program: group exhibitions which endeavor to spotlight important artists early in their careers, predicting the future of contemporary art. The result is a museum-wide showcase packed with awesome, diverse, young artists (so young, ugh) and I liked pretty much all of it! The size and scope of the show as a whole is daunting, and I could never write about everything I saw, so instead I’ve picked out the top five artists who stuck out to me.
I have always been interested in clothing, in how an individual’s fashion choices mark them as a certain type of personality and lead to assumptions about their character. Or the opposite: how our coded preconceptions about clothing make us view a person a certain way, because they want us to, but in fact their outfit hides a truth about them, such as tattoos, or scars, or inner desires and thoughts. A conceit within film that I find myself increasingly more attracted to is the idea of characters using clothes as a personal uniform, finding that one outfit that encompasses how they would like to present themselves to the world.
Sometimes a movie can intrigue based solely on descriptors used when people talk about it. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is summed up as “the first Iranian vampire western;” it is made by a woman, and it is also shot in black and white, and it is also a sexy romance. Also also rock and roll. So, naturally, I eagerly awaited its release, and finally finally caught a showing at Coolidge Corner, in their ultra-tiny screening room that seats 14 people, and lo, it was good. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, the film follows the goings-on of a small, sad town called Bad City, whose denizens are lost and lonely, whose streets harbor a silent killer, a vampire who stalks repugnant men.
With large-scale paintings that seemingly ooze innards and self-portraits brushed with racial signifiers, Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão does not hold anything back. Her works offer a pointed commentary on contemporary race relations by referencing colorism, colonialism, co-mingled cultures, and cannibalism. The latter is the unifying theme of the artist’s first US solo exhibition, curated by Anna Stothart, though she and Varejão prefer the term “anthropophagy”- coined by Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade to describe the assimilation (“devouring”) of European culture by native Brazilians as a means of surviving during the colonial period.
It isn’t referenced much in any well-informed critical “film” discussions. It isn’t typically put forth as a shining example of 80s cinema, or women-directed cinema, or Madonna-starring cinema. It probably isn’t used in many film classes. It isn’t especially well-remembered today, except as a kind of style footnote within the singer’s long and storied career. And yet, I would easily count Desperately Seeking Susan among my favorite films. And I consider it Important.