A Monumental Woman: New Doc ‘Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own’ Tells the Story of One of Our Greatest Contemporary Sculptors

 

 

 

Nine weeks of mindless binging on quotidian television offerings could hardly come under judgment, considering the horrors taking place all around us. But perhaps the most important step we could take in directing our lives back to some sense of normalcy is to re-engage with matters more intangible and ethereal—and to lose ourselves in inspiration of a higher order.

And so the timing of the release of Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own could not be more exigent. A visceral new documentary by venerable New York photographer-director Daniel Traub, it tells the inarguably heroic story of the woman of the title, who has been one of the most exalted, if also sometimes misunderstood sculptors of the last half-century.

 

Ona, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013.

 

But the fascination extends well beyond her monumental work, to her remarkable backstory, which is poignantly explored in the film. Indeed, Ursula von Rydingsvard was born into the horrors of WWII in 1942, to a Polish mother and Ukrainian father. Without a home to call their own following the war, they moved between five different refugee camps for displaced Poles—until, via the assistance of Catholic agencies, they boarded a ship to the US, and settled there in Connecticut.

Eventually earning an MFA from Columbia in 1975, von Rydingsvard answered an inner urgency and, as a single mother, began sculpting in a very male dominated field. Now 77 and based in Brooklyn, her works are currently held by such esteemed institutions as New York’s Metropolitan, Whitney and MOMA, The National Gallery in D.C., and Boston’s MFA.

The already award-winning film (which is available for streaming as of Friday, June 5, via theaters across the country) tells her story via interviews with Ursula herself, as well as family members, curators and fellow artists, including Sarah Sze. But we caught up with the director himself, to discuss why it was so imperative for him to make.

 

 

What led you to choose Ursula von Rydingsvard as a documentary subject?

I was commissioned by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the UK to make a short film documenting the moving and installation of Ursula’s work from their grounds to a small park in Venice for the 2015 Biennale. This was my first real exposure to her work, and I met her for the first time. Making the short film gave me a sense that there might be a bigger story to be told.

Which you quickly undertook.

Fortuitously at that time Ursula was working on a commission which she herself described as the most complex and challenging of her career to date: a monumental sculpture commissioned by Princeton University. She was also eager to have the process documented, so that was the starting point. I began to film her in her studio in Bushwick, and later in the workspace of the metals fabricator Richard Webber, her main collaborator on the project.

Ursula’s sculptures tend towards the abstract, where your photography is more representative—was there nevertheless some sort of kinship you felt with her?

Something that impressed me was Ursula’s process—specifically, how she makes decisions and finds a direction forward. I was drawn to the probing quality of her search and the confidence with which she follows her intuition. While my photographs are very different in form, as mentioned, I feel some kinship with her instinctive approach.

Do you share a similar sense of compulsion about making art?

I don’t think I’m driven in quite the same way as Ursula…few are. But making work, whether films or photographs, certainly addresses fundamental needs for me as well.

 

Von Rydingsvard in her Spring Street loft in New York City, 1977.

 

Ursula’s work is indeed very process oriented. Did you want the film to shed some light on the discipline of process?

For me, as mentioned, I found Ursula’s process to be extraordinary…the unfolding of the work in the moment, the collaboration of her many assistants and the intensity of the physical labor involved. It wasn’t necessarily my intention to feature the process as heavily as I did, but it felt natural to include it in the film because it added so much to the understanding of the completed works.

Her story is extremely compelling, even poignant. Did you come to understand how that story informs her work?

I think there’s no question that Ursula’s work grows out of the deepest parts of who she is—her history, her upbringing, her struggles and pain. I think her work, as she says, fulfills basic emotional and psychological needs for her, but it also—and I think this is why it is important—transcends her individual story and reaches towards something more universal and timeless.

What did you learn about her and her work, and what do you hope people will take away from seeing the film?

For me, what was most moving about Ursula’s story is simply her courage. Her courage to follow her own instincts and desires, her courage to believe in herself despite tremendous obstacles. I hope the audience will feel similarly moved.

Von Rydingsvard walking beside her work Saint Martin’s Dream in Battery Park, New York, 1980.

 

Von Rydingsvard in her Williamsburg studio on South 5th Street, surrounded by the cedar cast of katul katul, 2002.

Virgin Hotels Employs Fashionable Mannequins to Illustrate Social Distancing Guidelines

 

 

 

Despite being an international hub, Dallas has experienced just a fraction of the coronavirus cases as has New York (about 9200 vs. 200,000)—so it’s no surprise that gyms, bars, restaurants and shops have already begun opening back up there. And, no surprise, veritably every action being taken has been swept up into the escalating socio-cultural war surrounding the crisis.

Hotels represent unique situations, of course—with guests coming from all over the world to congregate under one roof…all with possibly different ideas of what it means to be taking precautions. So rigorous measures are naturally being undertaken to ensure everyone’s safety.

But what hasn’t been talked about much, are those more ethereal aspects of our contemporary urban lives that have lain dormant these last ten weeks or so, replaced by vintage TV binging and too much bread baking. Fashion, especially, took a bow and left the stage, acknowledging that flouncing around flamboyantly and/or expensively was probably not the best look for the time. But calling upon our dormant desire for nattiness seems to be a reasonable strategy for finding our way back to some sense of normalcy. And Virgin Hotels‘ Dallas outpost is leading the stylistic charge, with a new installation titled Together Again: Reconnecting Through Fashion and Art.

 

 

 

Organized by Kristen Cole of Forty Five Ten (she a style arbiter, it an exalted local boutique), the display is spread throughout the hotel and comprises a dozen chicly adorned mannequins, done up in particularly bold, challenging—and colorful—pieces by designers like Christopher John Rogers (a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner), CFDA Swarovski nominee and milliner Gigi Burris, and 2019 CFDA womenswear designer of the year nominee Rosie Assoulin. Contributions also came by way of Archive Vintage, and some well-chosen contemporary art pieces are woven into the narrative.

But the installation also has a more serious purpose. Indeed, it is meant to make guests aware of social distancing guidelines, without the usually ominous visuals that go along with such a purpose.

“With the hotel located in the Dallas Design District, we wanted to do something artistic, bold and characteristically Virgin to promote social distancing in the hotel,” says Teddy Mayer, Vice President of Design at Virgin Hotels. “Instead of removing furniture or roping off areas, we thought bringing in mannequins to supplement limited capacity requirements would be more upbeat and lively. Kristen Cole brought it far beyond my expectations.”

Cole remarks of the unprecedented assignment, “I selected joyful and bright fashion and art pieces that celebrate life and coming together.”

Seems like precisely what we need right now.

 

Sotheby’s Is Staging a Monumental ‘World of Picasso’ Virtual Auction

 

Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline au chapeau à fleurs 

 

 

Without the buzz of physical events, the art world is has been valiantly hard at work attempting to replicate that buzz online. No surprise, leaders like Gagosian and Deitch have decisively risen to the occasion.

And now Sotheby’s has just announced The World of Picasso, a comprehensive yet surprisingly accessible virtual auction, with bidding taking place from June 8 – 18. However, with London in the beginning stages of re-opening, the auction will also be opened to the public (by prior appointment) from the 15th through the 18th.

Notably, pieces from the personal collection of Pablo’s granddaughter Marina make up the offerings—and the 60-plus works span his exceedingly mercurial career. Amongst them will be paintings, drawings, ceramics, photographs, and even paint palettes (intriguing, certainly). Most importantly, the prices are very much of the approachable sort, ranging from £400 to £400,000.

 

Pablo Picasso, Autour des arènes, circa 1900, pastel on cardboard

 

Remarkably, considering the considerable vagaries of the art world, Picasso—like Warhol—continues to inspire the enthusiasm of the market, despite occasional challenges from some of his more exalted contemporaries…Modigliani, for instance.

“Over the past few years we have seen an incredibly strong demand [for him],” observes Holly Braine, Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Specialist, “as collectors across the world seek to acquire works of all media and periods by the most globally recognized artist of our time. This sale allows the viewer to explore the full gamut of his production, and invites them to pick their favorite from decades of experimentation—with subjects ranging from the swashbuckling matador and mythological minotaur to the myriad muses that made their mark.”

Muses who, of course, are still imprinting their influence on our contemporary cultural life.

 

Pablo Picasso, Profil de Jacqueline au Foulard, linocut, 1955

BlackBook Interview: Rose McGowan on Living on the Fringe, Finding Freedom & Traveling to ‘Planet 9’

 

 

 

When former Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on March 11, it represented not only justice in the specific cases brought against him, but also some measure of closure for all of the women he’d ever victimized.

For Rose McGowan, it marked the beginning of the end of a nightmare in which Weinstein was said to have had her followed by spies, and was rumored to have conspired with journalists to viciously defame her—in the process shutting down her once skyrocketing acting career, and even convincing the public she was suffering from some form of “insanity”…for lack of a better word.

The actress had become an it-girl extraordinaire in the late ’90s via the hit series Charmed and several high-profile film roles. Her well-documented relationship with Marilyn Manson (and that 1998 “naked” dress) only served to fuel the tabloid frenzy around her.

 

 

But her career began to spiral after an alleged sexual assault incident with Weinstein at Sundance in 1997—with the actress eventually claiming he harassed her for more than two decades after. It all led to her sort of incidentally becoming “the face” of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, which then led to Weinstein’s arrest and recent conviction. Her 2018 book Brave was her necessary catharsis, allowing her to begin to emotionally put her life back together.

And to be sure, she is a changed person, responding to the verdict not with a public show of “I told you so,” but by releasing her striking debut album Planet 9, which paints a picture of a woman seeking to re-engage the world with a sense of optimism and hope.

It’s actually a surprisingly accomplished work for the musical novice, with its aesthetic flag planted firmly in the heart of the 1980s. Indeed, the ethereal, new-agey synth-pop alternately recalls the likes of Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Depeche Mode, and, with its lush soundscapes, even Brian Eno, if you can imagine.

We caught up with her while quarantined at a secret Central American location, to talk about where she’s going, and what she hopes to leave behind.

 

 

 

With all that you’ve been through, your message on this album seems to be about positivity and possibilities.

That’s what I’m about. Brave was a tough book at times, but the last lines in it are ‘I know you can, I know you have it in you.’ Now Planet 9 is my hope for humanity.

With what’s going on now, do you think we’re even capable of making this a better planet?

I think right now we have a unique opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to ourselves and the world. Like the 2.0 version of ourselves. If you want to live on a different planet, just act like that on this one.

There’s a very Enoesque quality to some of the music. On “Lonely House” and “Rise,” the sounds seem almost not of this Earth.

Oh, I love that. It’s what I was really going for. I was like, What can take me emotionally where I need to go?

What were you influenced by while writing and recording this album?

I listened to the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Legendary Pink Dots, and some hip-hop. I also made the album at the same time I wrote the book. It’s really [about] healing.

 

 

 

One of the lyrics goes, “Are you lonely on our planet / Are you lonely on the fringe?” Have you often felt that you were out there with no one to join you on the fringe?

Oh yeah, I’ve always been on the fringe. I was raised in this commune that my father was the leader of, and I would watch him wire people’s minds in this really unique way. The kids were raised with these utopian ideals; the parents, because they were from the system, could never really be free of it, they adhered to the same power structure. We were raised for the first ten years without mirrors, and there was no race or gender. I didn’t know how to become a woman…I had no idea.

Someone recently said to me, “I think Rose McGowan ruins her message by the way she presents it.”

What message?

Well, you’re associated with the #MeToo movement now…

They associated it with me. The media don’t like what I say, and it’s inherent to their survival that they continue to portray women, and anybody that’s angry, as crazy. Harvey paid off journalists for 22 years to slander me.
The media called it the #MeToo “movement,” they built that up so that it seemed like there were thousands of women coming after men with pitchforks.

Ronan Farrow continues to defend you, arguing that you were written off as crazy because you didn’t fit any sort of feminist “victim” ideal.

I have a gift for making people uncomfortable. Even when I was a kid, adults wanted to get away from me, because I just told the truth. I had to shave my head as a declaration of war, so to speak. The side-effect was that men and women could finally hear the words coming out of my mouth for the first time – and I had been saying the same things for years.

Did you feel a sense of vindication? People were very divided on the verdict.

I actually thought he was going to get off. They could have chosen cases that were a lot more cut and dried. [But the] women who have been victimized by him…we feel like we have a 350 pound foot off our backs.

 

Rose McGowan in The Sound, 2017

 

 

The stories were pretty insane.

I thought about hiring a hit man, I really thought about it. But it’s not good to involve other people. Plus, I’m a really good shot, I’d do it myself. But I was really stressed, and I thought, “What if I just take one for the team?”

It doesn’t bring justice though.

I’m just not a killer. It’s a very common thing with people who have been raped, they really want to kill their abuser. Because that would mean they get to live again.

Do you feel like any of what’s happened in the last couple of years has actually moved us in a positive direction?

Yes. It was hard, but it was a ‘take your medicine’ time. We have a really damaged society; but one of the greatest things for women was to be like, “Oh, this isn’t normal actually.” Because it was so normalized. This is Hollywood, this is how it is, these are the rules, play by them. That message gets filtered down to everyone else.
The humanity is really what they take from us so young. They take your creativity, they take your soul…here’s your straightjacket, enjoy.

There’s a song on the album titled “We Are Free”—what do you want to think of as freedom right now, and what can we hope that it will be?

I think freedom is internal, and then it gets manifested by our actions. Sticking up for others, being kinder to people, understanding that everybody has trauma. We’re born free, it just got stolen from us; so we just have to find our way back to that core self.

What would you like to say in the wake of everything you’ve gone through? Do you feel like it’s finally behind you?

I have a RICO case right now against [Weinstein] and three of his conspirators. So I have probably have three to five years ahead of me. But I feel safe right now. Even in the darkest hour, if you know you’re telling the truth, and you’re speaking for others, you will in some way prevail. You can be free of the system, even if you have to work within the system.

 

 

Do you want to clear up any misconceptions about Rose McGowan?

It’s not really my problem, to tell you the truth. People ask if I feel vindicated, I don’t really give a fuck. Because I knew the truth. It’s not really my business what people think of me.

Ah, I think Gandhi said the same thing.

But it is vindication for all the people who have never been believed. I was always okay either way. It’s not fun being hated, but I can handle it. I’ll just keep making art and being weird.

You seem to be saying just that on “Green Gold”: “Only here to paint colors on the sun / Only here to see the fire run.”

We’re all meant to live a big emotional life. On top of the pain is freedom. The book was like giving birth to this dead thing inside of me. Planet 9 was the respite, like trauma therapy for me.

 

BlackBook Virtual Travel: Digitally Touring the Châteaux of France’s Loire Valley

 

 

As various corners of Europe begin to cautiously open up, a note from a colleague in Switzerland who was ambling through virtually empty museums there, reminds us that this is all going to be a very slow, cautious process. Americans, especially, will not be jetting to The Continent in any great numbers in the coming months.

So we thought it a good time point out the virtual touring opportunities for one of our favorite European summer destinations, France’s glorious Loire Valley. Just about a hour southwest of Paris by TGV, it is a land of time-transporting châteaux, lavish cathedrals, ethereal landscapes, and vineyards as far as the eye can see—those which grow the grapes for the Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines that fulfill so many of our most Francophilic epicurean desires.

As one might expect, digitally moving through those opulent châteaux alone would make for a long afternoon or evening of riveting escapism. First up is the Château de Chambord, with its striking mix of Renaissance and French medieval architecture (love those turrets), and 426 rooms full of 16th Century aristocratic living; it is surely the most spectacular hunting lodge ever built. To possibly tap into a bit of genius inspiration, the Château du Clos Lucé was where Leonardo Da Vinci lived out his last days, in service to King Francis I.

 

 

With its sculpture-filled gardens, Château du Rivau is for cultured sorts, especially considering its provocative mix of classical and contemporary art pieces. But surely the most breathtaking of them all is the Château de Chenonceau, with its magnificent collection of 16th and 17th Century tapestries, and its stunning position above the River Cher.

For those whose cultural purview is more focused on the last fifty years or so, it’s very much worth taking a digital roam through The Contemporary Art Center (CCCOD) in the city of Tours—where the holdings include works by the likes of Daniel Buren, Alain Bublex and Per Barclay.

Of course, the Loire is ultimately about le cuisine et vin. So we strenuously recommend popping the corks on a couple of those aforementioned wines, and whipping up a spread of tarte flambée, confit de canard, and poached eggs au Chinon—so that your virtual touring comes with a savory side of the actual.

For more information on the Loire Valley, visit the France Tourism site.

 

Gagosian Artist Spotlight: New Dan Colen Work Elucidates the Exigency of the ‘Sky High Farm’ Project

Photo: Eric Piasecki. Courtesy Gagosian

 

 

After successful online viewing room experiences for Art Basel Hong Kong and Frieze NY, Gagosian have carried on with a weekly Artist Spotlight program, that has put the focus each time on a solitary work by one of their rather impressively high-profile talents. It has arguably helped to maintain a sense of energy in an art world that has been obviously stifled by the current pandemic.

We were particularly intrigued for the inclusion of a new Dan Colen work, from his environmentally poignant HELP exhibition, interrupted in March by the coronavirus crisis. The NJ-born, RISD educated painter has long explored the intersection of medium and message, ever questioning the motivations behind the works—trying to help us to understand why, exactly, artists create art. But here he expounds on a more egalitarian inspiration, offering a visual representation of his Upstate New York Sky High Farm project, which provides nutritious produce and protein for underserved communities in the region.

“My work with the farm influences my creative practice more and more,” he explains, coming back to his artistic raison d’être. “In my most recent paintings the idea of ‘help’ is at their focus: ‘help’ drifts through the ocean, allowing us to consider our relationship to it from all angles. For me it’s something which demands attention and intention, asking for help, being of help.”

 

Image courtesy of Gagosian.com

 

He admits his own difficulties with the very notions giving and receiving, claiming he mostly has to be provoked into that state. But he also notes that such openness is essential to his current creative process. Especially at such an urgent moment for the health of both humanity and the planet—as well as that of our economic order.

“The emergence of COVID-19 has exposed the true magnitude of socioeconomic inequity inherent in our social systems,” he points out, “and the fragility and limitations of the very programs designed to address it. Even before the current global health crisis, food insecurity throughout New York State was deepening. Although New York’s agricultural industry represents nearly $5 billion in sales with production across 23% of the state’s geographic land area, more than 2.4 million New Yorkers continue to suffer from food insecurity, including more than 900,000 children.”

The new work will be available for viewing at Gagosian.com as of this Friday, May 22, at 6am.

Sky High Farm 

World Goth Day: ‘Dark Nouveau’ is the Compilation to Soundtrack Your Dark, Sinister Quarantine

She Past Away

 

 

While some are lamenting lost Memorial Day getaways, we’ll be deep in the throes of World Goth Day “celebrations”—having stocked up our quarantine quarters with cheap Slovenian red wine and possibly deadly versions of absinthe.

Last spring, just as we were packing up our goth party accoutrements, a rather monumental compilation popped into our in-box from Metropolis Records, fittingly titled Dark Nouveau—which we’ve chosen as our ominous soundtrack for the evening. The stunningly realized and remarkably cohesive digital-only release is actually dedicated to the recently deceased Scott Walker, who so decisively influenced the more caliginous end of the pop spectrum throughout his breathtaking, six-decades-long career.

The collection is also a fittingly international affair, with the estimable Naples trio Ash Code contributing “Posthuman,” Argentina’s Balvanera offering up “Compression (The Absent),” and Norway’s Antipole giving us the ethereal “Deco Blue.” We’re particularly thrilled for the the inclusion of exalted Turkish duo She Past Away with their enigmatic track “Asimlaisyon,” as well as New York’s own NOIR and their 2018 single “A Pleasure to Burn.”

 

 

“The title seems emblematic, evoking the freshness of the return of this movement,” offers Ash Code‘s Alessandro Belluccio. “The bands included are all bulwarks of a scene that lives and pulses from Europe to the States.”

What they all have in common, of course, is their ability to mine for inspiration the more tenebrous fringes of our collective existence, those which continuously fuel the aesthetic and lyrical ideology of their work. Metropolis, surely, have been particularly adept at cultivating that ideology.

 

Paradox Obscur

“The dark music scene is no longer just a subculture,” insists Kriistal Ann of Paradox Obscur, “but it has the power to inspire a wider audience, to define the trends of fashion and to create a new philosophy of things – where the qualities are more internal, more varied and more accurate in modern reality. The Dark Nouveau compilation is an example of all the above.”

Or as Balvanera‘s Agustina so pithily opines, “It maps a broad selection of dark sounds around the globe and in that way it calibrates the similarities and differences of what’s going on in the epicenter and elsewhere.”

Dark Nouveau is available via Metropolis Records.

Balvanera

BlackBook Premiere: New Rangleklods Single + Video ‘Never Lie’ is a Fascinating Meditation on Identity

 

 

 

We’re not exactly sure of the translation of the name Rangleklods (except that it might have something to do with the word “rattle). But we can say that the mysterious musical “solo project” of Danish electronic whiz Esben Nørskov Andersen (who’s also a member of Blondage the whole time) has been silent these last four years—so the release today of the new single and video “Never Lie” (via Copenhagen Records) comes as a particular thrill, especially during these days of pandemic monotony.

The track itself is an infectious slice of calypso-funk-pop, with slinky guitar riffing, irresistible grooves, and Anderson’s wistful but confident vocal performance. It’s replete with nostalgic references, but also feels distinctly era-less. Lyrically, it’s an earnest meditation on self-awareness.

So it makes sense, then, that the video—of course made under isolated, quarantine conditions—cleverly plays around with the concept of identity. In fact, it’s actually an homage to some of Esben’s favorite flicks and TV shows, from Freaks and Geeks to Dazed and Confused to Rushmore. So the characters refer back to the archetypes of, for instance, James Franco’s stoner, and Jason Schwartzman’s nerd.

 

 

“I wanted to make a video that gave a sense of joyous naivety and optimism,” he explains. “All these characters I see in myself. I’ve never been completely settled in my identity, and at one time or another I’ve been a jock, a nerd, a stoner, somewhat of a goth…or a boring, normcore Scandi guy.”

For full retro effect, it was actually shot on borrowed camcorders, with “tacky photo backgrounds” providing the only scenery.

Anderson concludes, “Playing with character is something I very much do in my music, as well. I go to the studio and one day I feel like a nerd and make a techno type beat; the next I’m a stoner making a drowsy trip of a beat; and the next I’m a jock making a dance floor anthem. I’ve stopped trying to limit myself to one particular vibe or way of thinking—that’s just not how my brain works.”

For our part, we’re glad to hear he’s taking this time to get to know himself better.

 

 

Elle Fanning is Russian Empress Catherine in Hulu’s Biting Satire ‘The Great’

 

 

1991’s criminally under-appreciated Impromptu, and Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning Gosford Park surely hinted at it. But 2018’s The Favourite—which nabbed ten Oscar noms and one win—decisively proved that comedy and poncey period costumes could be strange but ultimately riotous bedfellows.

Now follows the original Hulu period-comedy series The Great, in which Elle Fanning stars as the most exalted Russian ruler ever, Catherine the Great (thus, the title), with what promises to be a deliciously dry sense of humor. Nicholas Hoult plays her bumbling, feeble-minded husband Peter III, one of Russia’s most well-documented imperial embarrassments. He reigned for just six months, before Catherine staged a coup, and was then free to take the throne, and storm the pages of history.

 

 

Curiously, it follows quickly on the heels of HBO’s also pithily titled Catherine The Great, in which Helen Mirren played the empress later in life, and with a much more pronounced sense of gravitas (as well as a more caustic wit). But in the first trailer for Hulu’s latest entry in the historical romp sweeps, Hoult’s Peter is seen Trumpishly claiming, “I am the most beloved ruler in all of Russian history…don’t worry about the bodies.”

Fanning’s Catherine rightly counters, “I’m a prisoner here, married to an idiot.” Sound familiar?

Episode 1 of The Great is scheduled to debut May 15 on Hulu.