“Apparitions: Frottage and Rubbings from 1860 to Now” @ Hammer Museum (UCLA)


Dominick Di Meo-- "Untitled (numbers creatures)"
Dominick Di Meo– “Untitled (numbers creatures)”

This  pioneering exhibit—the first to focus on frottage as an art technique– currently ongoing until May 31, is a scintillating, deceptively simple display of approximately 100 artworks by fifty artists using the technique known as frottage (French: “to rub”).   Rubbing a textured surface with a pastel, charcoal pencil, crayon, or printer’s ink over paper or canvas on top of a textured surface, the artist creates a relief image. Associated with the surrealist movement, particularly Max Ernst (1891-1976) , these rubbed images add texture and imagery often as one layer of many in a composition. It is believed that Ernst was inspired by an old wooden floor where the grain of the planks was raised. In “Apparitions” several contemporary artists pay homage to Ernst’s wooden planks. Giuseppe Penone states: “I feel the forest breathing.”

Giuseppe Penone, " His Being Until the 49th Year"
Giuseppe Penone, 
“His Being Until the 49th Year”

Eileen Agar creates two different planks, suggesting the intertwining trees after death of the two lovers in a Greek myth.

Eileen Agar--"Philemon and Bancis"
Eileen Agar–“Philemon and Bancis”

“Apparitions” evokes the transient and dream-like images of frottage in a stunning exhibit ranging from medieval church rubbings and gravestones to the sophisticated and unexpected contemporary (post-1960) compositions that play with the cognitive blind spot in which people think about an object conventionally, and not as shapes (e.g. bolts and screws become body parts). Like photography, the technique borrows from the real world but infuses the rubbing with the imagination of the artist and the viewer. Highly influenced by Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, frottage was a darling among Surrealists who considered it a semi-automatic process tapping into the subconscious. Frottage continues to be a popular and experimental practice today.

The Hammer Museum is the first museum to explore the contemporary impact of this technique. Key examples of the technique by artists from various periods and regions are wildly diverse, including provocative examples by  Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst and Jack Whitten.

Sari Dienes--"Composition in Black, Red and Green"
Sari Dienes–“Composition in Black, Red and Green”

Try to see “Apparitions” before it moves on to the Menil Collection in Houston from September 11, 2015, to January 3, 2016.

“Salamander”—Hiding Under a Rock

"Salamander" the movie
“Salamander” the movie


This Belgian drama twelve-part  TV miniseries, released through Netflix and BBC in 2014, is a crime thriller in the same league as the edge-of-the-seat series Wallander, Bridge, and The Killing.

A small private bank in Brussels, is robbed of 66 safe deposit boxes belonging to some of the most prominent statesmen in Belgium. A scandal is brewing since all are members of a secret society, code-named Salamander, dating back to the Second World War. A highly scrupulous police inspector Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) begins the investigation, unaware of the implications for himself and for national security. Suicides and murders are only part of the consequence of his detective work. The conspiracy has to be coaxed from under its rock of secrecy and the darkness of its immorality. “Salamander” is the story of one man against the establishment of corruption and wealth, carefully plotting his hunt for the perpetrators in a series of episodes with methodical revelations of clues. Gerardi’s life devolves into a nightmare for him and for his family.

“Salamander” is set for an English-language remake by Oscar-winning filmmaker and director Paul Haggis (of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” fame). A second series is also being written by the Belgian film maker.

This TV series is both addicting and electrifying. “Salamander” is meticulous craftsmanship that should be retrieved from under its rock.

“Still Alice”—Unforgettable

Still AliceAdapted from neuroscientist Lisa Genova’s novel, “Still Alice” takes a straightforward look at the sad, terrifying and difficult-to-bear illness of Alzheimer’s. But bear it we must.

The story of Alice Howland (the remarkable Julianne Moore), a fifty-something linguistics professor happily married to a fellow intellectual (Alec Baldwin) and the mother of three adult children (the youngest superbly played by Kristen Stewart) could be a story about any of us. After receiving a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, Alice attempts to deal with the challenges of the disease as intelligently and courageously as possible. The results are frightening, heartbreaking, and all too humbling as we see a woman who has relied on language for her professional career and personal identity, begin to lose her grasp on what is important and who she is. Growing increasingly distant, Alice may still be Alice in body, but the Alice her family, friends, and colleagues know is slipping away, a lost soul.

Julianne Moore (who has been nominated for the fifth time for an Academy Award], manages the role of Professor Alice Howland with grace and dignity. “Still Alice” is a restrained portrait of a highly successful woman struggling to retain some sense of self, while her family copes with the gradual disappearance of the wife and mother they’d always known and loved. The family is in a vortex of ambiguous loss: a state of knowing and not knowing the extent of loss from the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Films about terminal illness can be difficult to make. The inevitability of death from disease can either be banal or melodramatic, wallowing in misery or cheap emotional manipulation. This movie is neither.

“Still Alice” is a must-see, an unforgettable film even after Alice forgets.

“Foxcatcher”—Let This One Go

'Foxcatcher" the movie
‘Foxcatcher” the movie

“Foxcatcher” is director Bennett Miller’s explorations into the dark side of sports. Based on true events, “Foxcatcher” retells the dark and tragic story of the megalomaniac multimillionaire, John E. (“Eagle”) du Pont (played by the unrecognizable Steve Carrell). A failed wrestler himself, du Pont lavishes a fraction of his fortune onto the Schultz brothers whom he hopes will win the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Most of the scenes are shot near du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate in rural Pennsylvania.

Flattered by du Pont’s attention and financial support, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) gradually views his benefactor as a father figure, becoming increasingly dependent on du Pont for approval and for his own sense of self-worth. We do not quite know Mark’s intellectual capabilities, an omission that prevents our understanding of his character. Tatum occasionally acts as if his character as a below-average IQ who is not only an emotionally vulnerable young athlete but unable to grasp the threatening situation he is in.

Stephen Carrell and Channing Tatum
Stephen Carrell and Channing Tatum

Some things money can’t buy. Only the older brother, Dave Schultz (a superbly underplayed performance by Mark Ruffalo) realizes the critical balance between competition and personal values and yet he too succumbs to the duPont mystique, partly for the sake of supporting his younger brother. DuPont himself, however, is not simply a philanthropist interested in patriotism and the gold-medal He was also a damaged, unlikeable and unstable person. Hints are revealed that du Pont’s relationship with his mother (a subdued performance by Vanessa Redgrave) is toxic, and that his every action is a reaction to her. From his own dysfunctional family experience, du Pont is bewildered by and incapable of understanding Dave’s devotion to his family and independence from du Pont’s financial control.

While the narrative is a tale of fury and tragedy, Carrell imbues DuPont with a personality so distant, emotionally remote, and obsessive-compulsive that we do not intuit his backstory in depth, at least not sufficiently to understand his need to compensate for a lack of love (blame it on the mother!) The camera slowly pans over acreage demonstrating great wealth and focusing on weapons and trophies, but the silent storm of du Pont’s psyche is not revealed in a dramatic enough way to justify the slow pace and the gaps in the psychological landscape. “Foxcatcher” could have been a high-quality film but let this one go.