Review of reviews: Art & Music
Exhibit of the week
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through Jan. 1
For the past half-century, Anthony Hernandez has trained his lens on a side of Los Angeles “that doesn’t make it onto the picture postcards,” said Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times. Rather than palm trees and cinematic sunsets, his photographs contain freeway-side homeless encampments and desolate municipal spaces. This is the L.A. “of the aged, of the working class, of the destitute.” It is a Los Angeles that Hernandez, who grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood just north of downtown, knows well. His bleak snapshots of urban sprawl first captured the art world’s attention in the 1970s. They showed new possibilities for street photography, which for much of the 20th century was associated with the dense cities of the East Coast and Europe. Yet while Hernandez, 69, has long been celebrated by fellow photographers, his “staggering array of work” is little known by the general public. His first-ever museum retrospective, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, should help change that.
Hernandez’s intimate knowledge of Los Angeles can be seen in the earliest of the 160 photos on display, said Arthur Lubow in The New York Times. The black-andwhite images chronicle downtown life in the ’70s: Men work on broken-down cars, people too poor to afford cars wait for buses, and families fish for fun (and food) in an artificial lake. But those austere images, which Hernandez created using a 7-pound camera, are his least compelling, said Sura Wood in the Bay Area Reporter. He switched to color in the 1980s, and at the first gallery devoted to that period, “the artist and the show take flight.” For his “Shooting Sites” series (1986–88), Hernandez photographed the debris at improvised gun ranges in the Angeles National Forest. Shell casings and mannequin body parts litter the ground, as if there had been a battle. In “Landscapes for the Homeless” (1988–91), the cardboard boxes, dirty mattresses, and rotting food gathered in individual homeless encampments become “still lifes of a sort Cézanne would never have conceived.” Hernandez revisited the subject of homelessness in “Forever” (2007–12). One image, of an underground storm drain covered in chalk scratches, could be an Anselm Kiefer collage.
The Angelenos who appear in the early photos are “mostly defined by their gaze—strained, averted, hooded, hidden,” said Charles Desmarais in the San Francisco Chronicle. By the end of the 1980s, people have mostly vanished from the work, though an unmistakable human imprint remains. Forever #51, taken near a homeless camp, depicts nothing but a clump of concrete tied to a bright orange string and hanging against a gray cinderblock wall. We know there is probably a sad story behind the image, but the photo resists comprehension and refuses to give up its secrets. It is, in other words, “the quintessential Anthony Hernandez picture.”
You Want It Darker
Listening to Leonard Cohen’s elegiac new album “induces a kind of solemn awe,” said Spencer Kornhaber in TheAtlantic.com. The 82-year-old songwriter, who recently told The New Yorker he’s ready to die, makes every line here sound like a pronouncement. “When it comes to the weightiest issues of human existence, he’s past the point of questioning,” and when he addresses God—as he often does—he refuses to endorse the Almighty’s cruel designs even as he accepts them. Cohen’s oaky baritone is “way out in front” on most tracks, and it’s “as grainy and sepulchral as ever,” said Ben Rayner in the Toronto Star. But “don’t get so caught up in the lyric sheet that you miss what a lovely work of music this record is.” Violins, a male choir, and mournful organ supply flickers of gospel, country, and even Cohen’s Montreal synagogue. “This is the sound of a man at peace with whatever may come. We should all aspire to go out on such a graceful note.”
Chrissie Hynde “hasn’t lost her sassy strut,” said Hal Horowitz in AmericanSongwriter.com. The 65-year-old new wave icon is “in fine, typically swaggering form” on the first Pretenders album since 2008, even with none of her 1980s bandmates backing her and with a set that favors flinty ballads over up-tempo rockers. Alone was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and though the partnership hasn’t delivered the “Black Keys meets Iggy Pop” explosiveness some fans probably hoped for, the best songs here have an edge of their own and they “glow and grow on you.” The record’s first four tracks “alternate between rugged guitar blues and groovier, more soulful fare,” said Ryan Bray in ConsequenceOfSound .net. Alone’s mood changes as it progresses, though, as Hynde shifts from proud loner to a loner yearning for meaningful connection. “The result is a record that sounds like the Pretenders, though also unlike anything the group’s done previously.”
Lady Gaga’s first solo album in three years “goes on a fishing expedition for inspiration,” said Jon Caramanica in The New York Times. Embracing the clichés of chart-friendly rock and country, the record is loaded with guest spots that don’t add much and songs that “feel like concepts in search of a home.” Gaga, who made her name as an arty dance-pop diva, is attempting to reposition herself as an arena-filling troubadour, but when she tries to sing with emotion, the effect sounds “more like a simulacrum of feeling than the real thing.” Still, Joanne “wants to be—and frequently is” a clever post–Shania Twain amalgam of “country grit, dance-pop gloss, and folk balladry,” said Craig Jenkins in NYMag.com. Yes, the high-gloss back-tobasics album is “a case study in incongruities.” But Gaga gives every line her all, and her grasp at crossover glory proves so much fun at times that “we should all get over ourselves and let it happen.”