War of ideologies
Man and the Machine
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Rollins College, Winter Park
When the masculine symbolism and nationalist pride of rare American and Soviet Union posters, resurrected from the permanent Cornell collection, are thrust in our face, we neither rejoice nor recoil. In post-Cold War America, we can now choose to admire the works as individual artistic expressions or, as suggested when exhibited together, view some disquieting implications about patriotism and propaganda in the two countries.
The side-by-side curation of the American and Russian posters inspires electrifying questions of how vintage political art can be interpreted in the new millennium. In retrospect, the American-created posters appear conflicted, as if the country were caught with outmoded symbols and were desperately inventing new ones, yet America's clear victory in World War I belies the inner turmoil. By contrast, the Joseph Stalin—era posters suggest a developing paradise led by a visionary, instead of the starving farmers, command-economy disasters and mass murders attributed to Communism.
The American World War I posters on exhibit are paradoxically heavy on the insanity and chaos of war, girding one to give Uncle Sam "that extra shovelful," as F. Sindelar's poster exhorts. Other pieces, such as "Remember Belgium" (Ellsworth Young), "Halt the Hun!" and "Blood or Bread" (both by Henry Raleigh), allude to the urgencies and horrors of the time.
Also rather haunting in the American imagery are stereotypes. Henry Reuterdahl's "All Together! Enlist in the Navy," for example, depicts manly seamen from around the world, though the foreign swabbies are so negatively caricatured as to be embarrassing. Across the board, American men are uniformly tall and heroic, riding huge torpedoes and stoking furnaces. American women are either mother figures, as in A.E. Foringer's Red Cross metaphor, "The Greatest Mother in the World," or innocent young things — nurses, soldier wannabes or victims.
By contrast, the Soviet posters proudly shout out the promised future: Women and men alike shine hard with the sweat of great industry. Heroic machinery and the specter of modernism all beautifully coalesce under the eye of Stalin. Eduard Kochergin, Valentina Kulagina and Victor Koretsky are among the Russian artists who were inspired by the Revolution and reflect their unabashed joy at the great industrialization of Russia in loving portraits of tractors, dams, airplanes and looms. The still-living Vasiliy Mayazin's "With the Banner of Lenin/Along Lenin's Path" has Stalin's hand on small cinematic scenes of factories and is a marvelous storytelling poster of great acts of the worker-heroes.
While the American artists shown in Man and the Machine tend to work in chiaroscuro and expressionism, the Soviet artists use primary colors and photomontage to forceful effect. But when it comes to the documentation of history, both sets of promotional material mask rather than illustrate the political truth of the times.
— Richard Reep
Out of the Shadow
Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Rollins College, Winter Park
The idea of women studying art may not be controversial today, but less than 200 years ago, only men could be admitted to fine art institutions. Women were left to labor as artisans or apprentices to male artists in order to learn the craft, but that started to change in America in 1837, when the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts lifted the taboo. In the Out of the Shadow exhibit, we see a small sample of the incredible talent of women from the 19th century on loan from a private collection. Painting practices then followed rigorous standards: Landscapes, portraits and still life studies were the fine artists' language.
Susan Catherine Moore Waters' 1844 portrait of a woman (the subject was a fellow art student) depicts a severe, unsmiling young woman in startling clarity and light. It suggests a later art movement, social realism, in its frank objectivity, and because a woman painting another woman was then such a rarity, this is a significant work. Also attracting the viewer is "The White Shawl," an 1883 portrait by Mary Virginia Phillips; the earth-toned subject, a girl, has attitude, her over-the-shoulder glance strong and defiant, the purity of her shawl a demure contrast.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt was an iconoclast at PAFA before moving into the Paris salons, finally joining the Impressionists. Her style by the time she painted "Les Canards" ("Feeding the Ducks") in 1888, on view in the gallery, was quite well-known. This drypoint etching with flat regions of color shows two women and a girl in a blue boat, feeding ducks. Instead of a rigorous perspective rendering, the piece has a loose, minimalist quality; the women are clearly in charge of the ducks, viewed slightly from above but from other angles as well, hinting at Cubism, then just around the corner. This is a fascinating piece for its simplicity yet its depth, and it proves Cassatt's reputation as a powerful Impressionist.
The chosen paintings visually chronicle the evolution of a great period of art from the traditional formulas to the brink of modernism; there is a poignancy and ironic edge to many of the pieces that elicits an appreciation of women's conquest of a previously closed aspect of a men's world.
— Richard Reep
Meet the NYC entourage
How to Make It in America
Premiere 10 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14
The new HBO series How to Make It in America opens with a soulful, streetwise theme song that repeats the lyrics "I need a dollar, dollar, dollar/That's what I need." So there's your story — you wanna make it in America, you need money.
As for characters, we have two equally lovable Brooklyn 20-somethings: Bryan Greenberg as Ben and the irresistibly charming Victor Rasuk as Cam. We find out that Ben dropped out of the Fashion Institute of Technology and works at Barneys while trying to design his own line of jeans, and Cam hustles merchandise (mostly hot goods) on the streets and hopes to cash in on Ben's success. The duo's assorted friends, ex-girlfriends and relatives are all trying to grab a slice of the pie. And they're working in a New York City that crackles with the energy generated by dreams and schemes.
This isn't Carrie Bradshaw's vision of Manhattan splendor, the one filled with glamorous shoes and fabulous restaurants and sex. This is a grittier NYC, with bodegas, hot-dog vendors and people cramming the streets. Brooklyn is the kind of neighborhood where a couple of guys can borrow three grand from a loan-shark cousin (with $300 interest payments due every Friday), use the money to buy a bolt of stolen denim, scam a meeting with a famous fashion designer and scrounge more dough to hire a pattern-maker to cut a sample. And that, in fact, is what happens over the first four shows in its eight-episode first season. That, and a lot of searching for even more cash.
How to Make It in America is billed as a comedy, but other than the occasional funny moments, it's really not. It's the story of two guys trying to win in a cutthroat market that can be exceedingly cruel to those with no money. TV has always loved hustlers, whether it was Ralph Kramden with his get-rich-quick schemes, Max Klinger and his horse-trading or Turtle from Entourage scamming his way through Hollywood.
Fittingly, first-time writer Ian Edelman has collaborated with Emmy-nominated scriptwriter Rob Weiss and other Entourage talent, and the dynamic of the NYC friends feels familiar to the East Coast crew.
— Marc D. Allan
Teen suspension of reality
Through Feb. 28
Orlando Repertory Theatre
1001 E. Princeton St.
The Giver's protagonist is a 12-year-old boy named Jonas, whose task is to become the repository of cultural memory for his futuristic "Community" of enforced sameness and limited ability to love. And yet Jonas has been chosen for this task precisely because his natural curiosity and courage has distinguished him from his fellows — which throws the supposed notion of required conformity into disarray. Add to this conundrum the fact that, to all appearances, Jonas' stage family appears completely loving and supportive. In addition, we are told, for instance, that there are no hills left because land was needed to grow food, yet the sun is gone; and that even though there is no memory of warfare, when Jonas tries to escape, he is hunted down by planes and guns.
Since seeing the production, I have read portions of Lois Lowry's 1994 Newbery Medal—winning novel, The Giver, which has sold more than five million copies and become a staple of middle-school English classes. Here is the kernel of my critique: Lowry's novel itself lacks a coherent inner logic; what she states as reality is belied by what she reveals to us, and playwright Eric Coble has not been able to successfully solve many of the counterintuitive through lines. Compounding the dissonance is director Gary Cadwallader's discordant staging. For example, during scene transitions all the characters walk in straight lines in order to show compliance, yet within scenes they display no such characteristics.
For admirers of Lowry's novel, the Orlando Rep production will likely translate as coherent and agreeable. My only true enjoyment came from young Mark Koenig's admirable portrayal of Jonas. His forthright and non-fussy performance is The Giver's highlight and, to me, the only thing that made any sense.
— Al Krulickarts@orlandoweekly.com