Nares : Moves

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Nares : Moves” a special exhibit presented at the Milwaukee Art Museum from June 14 through October 6, 2019. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline October 6, 2019.

 Nares : Moves was the featured exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum from June 14 through October 6, 2019 in the Baker/Rowland galleries. Unlike traditional retrospectives that follow an artist’s career chronologically, to best display Jamie Nares work, the MAM arranged it in related media or content or styles. Every piece here displays a fascination with motion. And he is quoted in the accompanying brochure: “Things in motion, motion in things”. Some work better than others. And Nares is a student of this era and also representative of a number of movements from her half of the 20th Century.

James Nares, It’s Raining in Naples, 2003. Private collection. Image courtesy of Kasmin Gallery and copied from the Milwaukee Art Museum website.

There are any number of videos throughout the exhibit and they all examine motion in one form or another. But there aren’t people in them. They focus on concrete balls that are free range filmed rolling down ramps or suspended from steel cables to act as a pendulum. The people who happen to appear are unintentional or are acting to make the movie or moving the objects. Incidentals.

Or appendages…as they appear…waving ribbons…snapping fingers…waving in repeated motions…so the motions and shadows are captured on film. And often time and motion are distorted or manipulated by playing with the film speed…Nares loves slo-motion in its own right.

There is one major exception to the no people as actors…it’s a longer film taken as continuous street scenes…where the people don’t know they are actors…and the camera is simply a voyeur…and again slo-motion exaggerates and distorts the sense of motion. This film is also manipulated a bit as it seems that Nares focused on the street people and cut out portions that were intersections or building-scapes.

The entire thing brought to mind early videos of Andy Warhol who often pointed cameras at buildings and let them run on for hours. Or some of his screen tests where his friends or stable babbled or did mundane things without any real context or dialogue. In both Warhol and Nares we seen change and motion…but to the modern sensibility nothing is happening. Nares utilizes sound but it isn’t what you would consider a soundtrack…and it varies…but it helps establish a sense related to the visuals. The footfalls chasing the concrete ball with the camera as it rolls away from him is compelling.

One film in the pendulum room showed Nares signature concrete ball being used as a pendulum. This went on for quite some time and was shown from a number of angles and lighting effects (all natural light). The film is so grainy that if it hadn’t been depicting the motion of the pendulum and been simply a screen shot or stop action photo, it could easily have been one of Georges Seurat’s black crayon drawings.

Nares also did a number of photographs that depict the human figure in motion using time lapse photograph. Any number of Polaroids and Cibachrome photos where we see the figure moving through space, overlapping its own features, and trapped in amber so to speak. The figures are anonymized as the faces are never shown. A rather unique and perhaps modern take on Eadweard Muybridge’s own stop action motion studies, but all in one rather than in series. With the time lapse overlays, Nares has made his more interesting and they feel far more sculptural.

I spent some time in the room labelled Portraits. As I observed the portraits, a lot of people just walked right though the room. But you had to observe these portraits, not just look at them. The theme here is ‘moves’. And if you stand and observe the portraits, you realize that they aren’t photographs of head shots. They again are slo-motion videos and if you stand and observe you will notice a face shift from somber to smiling or eyes blink closed and open or hands clasp and unclasp. The result is far more a portrait than a typical portrait photograph.

I am not sure I appreciate Nares as a painter. Her high-speed paintings seem more gimmick than art. Large pieces of paper are taped around a cylinder and then rotated. As they rotate Nares applies paint to the paper until she is satisfied with the result. And the final painting is a long horizontal painting with horizontal lines in the selected variety of color, thickness, or waviness that didn’t tell me anything. More an experience to do than to see.

And her large waves of color paintings have all of the pop and flare and color and craftsmanship of pop art of the period. Pretty. Unobtrusive. Not memorable. Maybe a little bit cold. I didn’t enjoy them.

And the spotted leopard skin paintings? What?

To close, let me share these quotes from the brochure by contemporaries describing their paintings:

Frank Stella: “What you see is what you see”.

James Nares: “What you see, is what was there”.

More info on the show with video and audio items on MAM site here!

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented in their Stiemke Studio during the 2019 – 2020 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline February 1, 2020.

“You Kant Always Get What You Want” is the punchline to a joke in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. You will understand when you see this musical. And this is a musical unlike most others…it relies on punk rock and glam rock in a rock club or cabaret setting to present the story. For Milwaukeeans of a certain age, think the old Teddy’s or Humpin’ Hannah’s or Zaks. The genre isn’t as shocking as it probably was when it was first introduced but it still makes an impact. And if you are lucky enough to get cabaret table seating down front, you will be part of the show.  And the roadies will keep offering you ear plugs…because this is after all a rock concert…but unless you have sensitive ears…you probably don’t need them and you don’t want to miss Hedwig’s direct monologues to the audience.

And of course in the past twenty years, society’s relationship and understanding of the varieties and expressions of sex and gender have matured, but this musical remains as culturally and socially relevant as ever because we still have a long way to grow. You just may view it a bit differently that the younger you would have. And Hedwig’s story is compelling and moving and is ably told through song and her interactions with the audience…and a few asides and distractions that pull us along. “Tommy can you hear me?

Matt Rodin as Hedwig is phenomenal. The character is totally believable and you accept her immediately. And Matt carries the songs both vocally and theatrically. I love him in this role. You will be jealous of his voice and his legs and his boots (yes you will).

And then there’s Yitzhak, played by Bethany Thomas. My goodness can she just push a song to its ultimate limit and beyond. Both her support vocals and solos are astounding. You may remember her from the Stackner Cabaret presentation of Songs for Nobodies. I don’t think there’s anything she can’t sing and make you feel it.

So besides the acting and music…there’s a real story here. Some history around the division of Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall and how that affected real people. Culture shock of moving from that culture to America. And the questions that we all share at some level or another, around sex and gender and love and support and who am I and why do I love/hate you and why do I need to be here?

So yes, see this. You will feel. And you will leave satisfied.

Text by John Cameron Mitchell, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask

Directed by Mark Clements

January 28 – March 8, 2020

Stiemke Studio

Chasin’ Dem Blues: Untold Story of Paramount Records

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Chasin’ Dem Blues” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented in their Stackner Cabaret during the 2019 – 2020 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline January 23, 2020.

Ever leave the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret thinking you’d like to hear another song or two? Well, with Chasin’ Dem Blues that isn’t likely going to be the problem. You will hear all or part of 34 blues songs during the show. So you are going to hear rousing renditions of your favorite blues standards and a few you probably don’t know! And you will whoop and hoot and clap along and join in with the sing along in the second act. Trust me on this.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There are four actors in Chasin’ Dem Blues. And the standout is Maiesha McQueen! Her presence and voice just fill the room from lights up to lights out! And Brandin Jay ain’t no slouch either! He will keep you mesmerized as well. And then there is Eric Noden…guitarist extraordinaire plus banjo and blues harp and James Scheider on piano and vocals (and he can dance!). None of them get a rest…for 34 blues songs!

And the side gift here is a brief history of the Grafton Chair Company, the parent company of Paramount Records, who made race records in Grafton Wisconsin. If you weren’t a scholar of the blues who knew what and where, well you will!!

One quibble: this is the blues and it needs a bottom. A bass guitar would be handy (but I may be biased having played bass in blues bands in college). But really, just mike that acoustic piano. Mr. Scheider is rolling the barrelhouse, walking the 12 bar blues, and rocking the boogie woogie but his left hand just gets lost in the mix.

Chasin’ Dem Blues: Untold Story of Paramount Records

Written and Directed by Kevin Ramsey

January 17 – March 22, 2020

Stackner Cabaret