Review of reviews: Art & Film
Exhibit of the week
Carmen Herrera: Lines of Sight
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, through Jan. 2
You can be forgiven for never having heard of Carmen Herrera, said Deborah Solomon in WNYC.org. The 101-year-old, Cuban-born New York painter didn’t sell her first canvas until she was nearly 90—but not because she was a late bloomer. Herrera was a pioneer of hard-edged abstract painting in the 1940s, and was producing groundbreaking work when she settled in New York in 1954. Yet dealers and critics largely ignored her; “she was female and Latina, and so doubly suspect in an era enamored of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and macho abstract expressionism theatrics.” Herrera’s current solo show at the Whitney thus represents “a triumph of revisionist art history.” Fifty-plus of her radiantly colored geometric abstractions are on display, and the work looks “handsome to dazzling,” suggesting, via its array of dynamically offkilter shapes, that “life is a puzzle in which none of the pieces quite fit.”
The exhibition zeroes in on the pivotal years from 1948 to 1978, when Herrera’s “incisive, razor-sharp style” came into focus, said Susan Delson in The Wall Street Journal. After studying architecture at the University of Havana and painting at the Art Students League in New York, she moved to Paris in 1948 and fell in with a group of abstract artists that included Jean Arp and Josef Albers. Her style progressed from “lyrical, curving shapes and a lush palette” to straight-edged, two-color forms—as in a stunning black-and-white series, started in 1952, that anticipated 1960s minimalism. After returning to New York, Herrera advanced that visual language with the 1959–71 “Blanco y Verde” series, in which green shards pierce white canvases and white triangles pierce green canvases. Nine of the 15 paintings in the series hang in their own gallery at the Whitney, radiating “a concentrated, almost electric energy.” She has deepened and refined her style in the years since.
Which is why it’s disappointing the curators have limited the show to such a narrow slice of Herrera’s work, said Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times. We see her interest in architecture re-emerge forcefully in the 1960s and ’70s, especially in her “Estructuras” series, which often featured brightly painted and slightly skewed L-shaped blocks resting against each other (“picture two Tetris pieces that don’t quite fit together”). The show comes to a halt there, even though Herrera kept evolving and remains a creative force today—one deserving a full retrospective. Still, the Whitney’s exhibition shines long-overdue light on “a key player in any history of postwar art”; that is cause for celebration.
Directed by Peter Berg (PG-13)
Corporate greed sinks an oil rig.
Mark Wahlberg’s new disaster flick “delivers exactly what it promises,” said Scott Mendelson in Forbes.com. A “no-nonsense” dramatization of the events leading to a 2010 oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and caused the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history, it’s “a gripping retelling of a recent national tragedy” that’s “mostly engaging and just slightly melodramatic.” Wahlberg is the everyman hero with the worried family back home, while John Malkovich plays one of the slimy BP execs whose insistence on putting profits above safety triggers the accident. Kate Hudson and Kurt Russell also provide “able” support. When the rig explodes, “the visuals are harrowing, a fire-strewn hellscape of burning metal slowly closing in on the 115 survivors,” said Bryan Bishop in TheVerge.com. But because no attempt is made to connect the disaster to a bigger story, watching the action becomes “the cinematic equivalent of slowing down on the freeway to check out a car crash”: Adrenaline courses through your veins, but “you may feel awfully empty afterward.” Deepwater Horizon “gets the explosions just right,” said Brian Tallerico in RogerEbert.com. “But it’s everything around them—the people, the aftermath, the tragedy—that it misses.”
Queen of Katwe
Directed by Mira Nair (PG)
A Ugandan girl becomes a chess champion.
If there’s a moviegoer out there who fails to be moved by this true-life story of an underdog’s triumph, “I don’t think I want to meet that person,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Newcomer Madina Nalwanga stars as real-life chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, a child of a Ugandan slum, and the naturally charismatic actress makes young Phiona’s growing awareness of her intellectual gift “thrilling to watch”—especially with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Golden Globe winner David Oyelowo supporting her in key secondary roles. Director Mira Nair “has a proven ability to find beauty in the most desperate of circumstances,” and she’s found it again on the trash-strewn but colorful streets of Kampala, said Katie Rife in AVClub.com. As Phiona begins competing internationally, and her travels open her eyes to new possibilities, the moments of triumph and defeat she experiences “occur exactly when—and how—you’d expect them to.” But the talented cast makes even the most clichéd lines and simplest gestures speak volumes, said Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice. “It’s amazing how much Nyong’o can suggest with a simple glance.”