‘Art’ Posts

Theater Review: Modotti by Wendy Beckett

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The Italian photographer Tina Modotti (1896-1942)—artist, agitator, femme fatale—led a fascinating life at the intersection of art, politics, and idealism. A silent-movie actress, a comrade-in-arms of Diego Rivera in Mexico, a documentarian of and participant in the Communist movement, she deserves to be better known—and for her story to be much better told than this very bad play tells it. Modotti—by Wendy Beckett, author of the flawed but far better Anaïs Nin: One of Her Lives—is the worst thing I've ever seen Off Broadway.

Episodes in Modotti's life play out disconnectedly. Tina (Alysia Reiner) moves from political crisis to crisis and from lover to lover. Her unfortunate, idealistic husband is played by Andy Paris as a vain dandy one would think utterly unappealing to the deep-thinking and emotionally demanding Tina. The photographer Edward Weston, who becomes her mentor and lover, gets a wooden, mumbling, Shatner-esque portrayal by an utterly lost Jack Gwaltney. Suffering like the rest from a lack of direction, Marco Greco's Diego Rivera blusters through scene after interminable scene like a John Belushi character searching for a funny line. Only the young Cuban revolutionary whom Tina takes up with later on (played, again, by Paris) evinces the slightest bit of chemistry with our heroine, making their brief Act II bedroom scene one of the very few bright moments in a long, dull evening.

I wasn't sure whom I felt sorrier for, myself or the actors forced to deliver the painfully stilted dialogue through which the playwright insists on telling, not showing, this inherently interesting story. And with all that, we don't even get a good history lesson, as the script fails to provide enough of the context that a historical piece like this needs. The large projections of Modotti's bluntly beautiful photographs and Rivera's famous agitprop murals give a sense of what was at stake artistically and how socialist idealism fed the art of these passionate, creative minds. But the stills, alas, have a good deal more vibrancy to them than most of what happens on stage.  

Though Ms. Reiner starts off well, smoldering through the first scene, that bit of life is all too quickly extinguished amid the dry, amateurish exposition that follows. No Italian accent, no charismatic sexiness, no acting skills could be enough to give her a chance of salvaging this poorly conceived and poorly executed play.

Modotti runs at the Acorn at Theatre Row through July 3.


Originally published as “Theater Review (NYC): Modotti by Wendy Beckett” on Blogcritics.

Tim Burton at the Museum of Modern Art

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Art museum tie-ins to popular culture can come off strained or contrived. But Tim Burton is not Star Wars, he's an individual artist with a unique and fascinating aesthetic whose work happens to also be popular. And the Museum of Modern Art has a long history of presenting cinematic art, from D. W. Griffith to Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Harryhausen to Pixar.

It's a good combination.

With Tim Burton, the Museum has unearthed an embarrassment of riches, and the curators have taken pains to place Burton's films in the context of his large body of work rather than vice versa. The show works because of Burton's artistic talent and encompassing imagination.

From materials ranging from childhood notebooks (apparently his mother kept everything) and a winning poster design for a sanitation campaign in Burton's home town of Burbank, CA, to props from movies (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice) and new sculptures created for this exhibit, the MoMA curators have assembled a vast, almost overwhelming selection of items. While a few (e.g. cowls from Batman) merely represent a design aesthetic, and others (like drawing exercises) are included only to fill in a gap or demonstrate a point (e.g. that Burton was a trained artist), the majority of the items merit classification as artworks.

These include hundreds of sketches and drawings, a number of accomplished paintings and sculptures, and of course film and video selections.

Through several rooms one can trace Burton's evolution: imaginative kid, fledgling filmmaker, unhappy Disney animator and concept artist, Polaroid snapshot artist, cartoon provocateur, lover of the eccentric and macabre, and of course, ever since PeeWee's Big Adventure (1985), auteur of note. The exhibit itself doesn't provide much context for Burton's artistic vision as a filmmaker, aside from depicting his own development as a visual artist (and sometimes writer). I didn't feel this lack, however, until I'd had a day or so to digest what I'd seen; the sprawling exhibit is a satisfying multi-couse meal for even the casual fan of the films. And, fortunately, Curatorial Assistant Jenny He has also put together a screening series of seminal works that influenced Burton. (There are also showings of all fourteen of Burton's feature films.) MoMA's commitment to film as an art form is clearly as strong as ever, but this exhibit is not just for cinephiles.

Photos: Tim Burton at MoMA; entryway; Blue Girl with Wine;
Untitled (Last of Its Kind); Untitled (Trick or Treat)

The exhibition continues through April 26, 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art.

Untitled (Last of Its Kind); Untitled (Trick or Treat)

The exhibition continues through April 26, 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art.