Review of reviews: Art & Film
Exhibit of the week
Louise Lawler: Why Pictures Now
Museum of Modern Art, New York City, through July 30
If you’re a lover of art, Louise Lawler can really hurt your feelings, said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. Like other members of the 1970s-80s Pictures Generation, the Ivy League–educated New York artist creates work that calls into question the process by which a select few artists ascend to notoriety and wealth. But where the tactics of her peers often seemed to me “lamely obvious: bullets whizzing past my head,” Lawler’s work “got me square in the heart.” Her photographs of individual paintings by Andy Warhol, Joan Miró, and other 20th-century giants show each canvas in a real-life context: waiting in storage, perhaps, or displayed in a collector’s bedroom. And the photos delight the eye even as they force the viewer to see that such paintings are commodities. What makes Lawler different—in fact, “the most arresting artist of her kind”—is that she clearly feels art’s beauty deeply enough that the reality pains her as much as anyone.
At 70, Lawler remains “one of art’s better kept secrets,” and she has wanted it that way, said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. Though she frequently collaborates with well-known peers, she rarely gives interviews and keeps most personal details private, all while producing works that deflate the cult of genius. She’s not too concerned with the sanctity of images, either. She has shrunk her photographs of blue-chip artworks until they fit on paperweights, and she has also blown them up until they sprawl across museum walls. Pollyanna (adjusted to fit, distorted for the times) bears the dates 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2017—suggesting how often Lawler has altered the mural-size photograph, which juxtaposes Warhol silkscreens with a Takashi Murakami inflatable, then bends the pairing into a fun-house-mirror image. For her “tracings,” Lawler began with photographs of art in situ, then turned them into towering black-on-white contour drawings that thwart a viewer’s effort to distinguish the art from its surroundings.
Lawler must be feeling awfully conflicted these days, said Richard Woodward in The Wall Street Journal. The poster for her retrospective at MoMA recycles an image she created in 1990, featuring a photo of the young Meryl Streep and the words “Recognition Maybe, May Not Be Useful.” But Lawler has gained enough recognition that she routinely sells her photographic prints for $150,000 or more, meaning she’s become a member of the art elite she set out to undermine. It’s an amusing dynamic: If you buy one of her prints, you’re signaling that “you’re not just another rich chump.” Your buy-in “means you’re aware that the art world is a bit of a con game” and you’re OK with it: “You’ve invested in the folly.”
Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones (Not rated)
A warring couple finds therapy in music.
“A fight about nothing can also, toxically, be a fight about everything,” said Sara Stewart in the New York Post. This quirky dramedy understands that truth, distilling it “hilariously” into a tale about a married couple who can’t stop bickering until one day they decide to blow off steam by dusting off their electric guitars and screaming out hate songs in the garage. The complaint-rock clicks, and soon they’re playing gigs backed by a weird neighbor (Fred Armisen) who plays drums. Band Aid is, admittedly, “a bit clumsy out of the gate,” said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. Adam Pally’s stayat- home slob and Zoe Lister- Jones’ uptight nag are initially such stereotypes that “it’s hard to take them seriously.” But the dynamic between the pair is “so lived-in and authentic” that we come to know them as a believably singular match, and the story settles into a warm, witty groove—punctuated by a climactic fight that’s “as raw and real as it gets.” In the end, though, Band Aid “feels more like an outtake from Portlandia than a feature film,” said J.R. Kinnard in PopMatters.com. Though it’s a “pleasant enough” trifle, “you won’t be demanding an encore.”
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Directed by David Soren (PG)
Two pals make their principal look silly.
Really, the title of this animated movie is “all you need to know,” said Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times. Based on a popular series of children’s books, Captain Underpants is virtually 89 minutes of toilet humor and other silliness. A pair of fourth-grade class clowns, voiced by Thomas Middleditch and Kevin Hart, are about to be separated at school when they turn the tables by hypnotizing their no-nonsense principal, Mr. Krupp, into thinking he’s the tighty-whities–clad superhero that the boys dreamed up for a comic book. The is just as childish and goofy, but also—on a basic level—“one of the funniest movies of the year,” said Rick Bentley in the Chicago Tribune. The villain, an evil science teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), wants to end all laughter, and he enlists giant robotic toilets to enact his scheme. Surprisingly, the movie throws in some sage wisdom about friendship and art’s special capacity to speak truth to power, said Katie Walsh in the Los Angeles Times. “Turns out that sometimes the crayon can be mightier than the sword.”