The Neue Gallery (1048 Fifth Avenue) in the City has an ongoing exhibit on Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944) running until June 13, 2016, that is a must-see for fans of disturbing modern art. Munch’s famous “Scream”—once so ubiquitous on dorm-room walls is thought to have captured the essence of existential Angst, that delicious, Nordic, free-floating anxiety that seemed all too prevalent in the 20th century, but which has now grown to cataclysmic proportions in the 21st.
Norwegian born Munch suffered the premature losses of first his mother, then siblings and close friends throughout his tragic life, but was determined to pursue a new and revolutionary style of art. Besides the “Scream,” Munch’s “Madonna” and his creepy studies on puberty will unsettle you if that’s what you’re looking for. Munch’s work is one of the premier examples of Expressionistic art. His wood-cuts, lithographs and paintings are on display at this fine arts gallery which features Germanic artworks of several other famous artists such as Klimt, whose art is far more serene that that of Munch, but is noteworthy as another dormitory poster favorite.
While we’re in the process of appropriating Nordic culture, we also need to report on “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” the bizarre, silent centerpiece of a German film festival designating itself KINO 2016—held during the second week of April in downtown Manhattan. Filmed in 1920 this twisted tale of madness and horror provided the quintessential example of cinematic German Expressionism, and as such made a fine companion piece to the Munch exhibit.
Lop-sided, angular sets and jagged scenery highlight the delusional and hallucinatory tale of a creepy and undernourished somnambulist (sleep-walker) doing the bidding of an evil, authoritarian master who keeps him stored in a coffin-like cabinet. The plot undergoes a twist in a final scene that leaves the viewer in a state of shock and awe as we are dropped into a terrifying world of mad reality. Exceptionally appropriate, updated musical accompaniment provided by live DJ Raphael Marionneau enhanced the experience immeasurably.
Maynard James Keenan’s reincarnation as Puscifer made a tour of the NJ area (Englewood, Red Bank, Atlantic City) in mid-April, stupefying audiences with intense and voluminous, yet thoroughly mesmerizing music and a mind-boggling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes hypnotic stage show. Maynard’s fierce voice was frequently paired with others, especially that of gorgeous guitarist Carina Round whose rich soprano vocals perfectly complemented his.
A loony dance troupe called Luchafer provided additional entertainment, having set up a wrestling ring on stage. Dressed as masked and garishly costumed Mexican wrestlers they performed acts of incredible acrobatics, simulated wresting matches and wild gyrations both separately and in connection with the music. A giant screen served as a backdrop to the entire event and displayed weird and disorienting graphics of the absurdist and unpredictable type characteristic of Keenan’s peculiar and dumbfounding esthetic. Irrational juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated sights, sounds and subjects are Keenan’s stock-in-trade, making him the latter day commercial master of modern Dada-ism.
Although there are echoes of Kennan’s earlier projects—Tool and A Perfect Circle—Puscifer stands on its own, featuring ultra-deep and ultra-loud bass, stop-and-go rhythms and an unusually bombastic soundscape of eclectic instrumental sounds. The underlying themes are irreverent, iconoclastic and enigmatic to say the least. Having started out in 2008, this performance-art/band needs to be followed closely before Keenan switches his attention again and moves on to yet another project.
Electro-industrial duo Hocico made an early-evening appearance at QXT’s, their second engagement at NJ’s premier goth/industrial dance club, promoting their latest album, Ofensor. Hailing from Mexico, Hocico (Spanish derogatory term for “snout”) consists of a vocalist Erk Aicrag who sings in English and in Spanish; and his cousin, programmer Racso Agroyam, on keyboards. Erk appeared with the right half of his face made-up, wearing a vinyl jacket with wing-like epaulets and sleeves and leaping about frenetically as he sung his harsh, hoarse vocals. Racso, whose face only half-emerges from a high-riding collar that extends off his leather body armor, operated the keys and the board.
True to their late ’80s, early ’90s roots and the obvious influence of aggro-tech giants of the era, their performance was characterized by heavy, pounding beats, often syncopated (think of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”), and complex electronic instrumental accompaniment. Their 90 minutes on stage failed to exhaust this dedicated pair nor was there a letup in the berserk, rhythmic strutting by hardcore industrial die-hards on the dance floor, even during the second set of encores.
Young, urban hipsters, whole families on a weekend outing and tattooed Goths in all-black were to be seen during a quick stop we made to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Those who have been there will recall with either delight or horror the sobering effect of viewing Mütter’s collection of human skeletons, including giants, dwarves and various pathologies, plus jars of preserved anatomical abnormalities, conjoined twins, two-headed infants and the bony remains of a child born with a single head overseeing two distinct and complete bodies. Drawers upon drawers are filled with countless everyday objects—buttons, lockets, pins and clips of all sorts—that doctors retrieved from various orifices of patients. There’s much to be learned and much to challenge the casual as well as the scholarly visitor to this venerable institution during an hour spent browsing the exhibitions.
Einstein’s brain (at least most of it) is on exhibit at the Mütter where the display informs viewers that the genius who conceived of Relativity had in fact a peculiar structural brain abnormality. Absence of the natural division between the temporal lobe and the parietal lobe (called the Sylvian fissure) is a rare and unique feature of Einstein’s brain. Could this absence of a dividing boundary between two lobes of the brain have enabled him to come up with the complex concepts of Relativity when the rest of us can’t even have it explained in terms we can understand?
Saturday, April 30, fell on Walpurgis Night, the northern European festival of witches, and it is coincidentally half way to Halloween. More pertinent—from a contemporaneous point of view—it was the celebration of the 9th Anniversary of the monthly Red Party, a dark wave dance party featuring top NYC DJs pre-eminently Sean Templar, Erik Angel, Jarek Zelazny and Peter Holik. As was the case the past few months, it was held at the Mercury Lounge on the border where Soho meets the East Village. The performance space was decked out with Jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween lighting to acknowledge the calendar significance. Deathrock trio the Brickbats, in zombie-like make-up, took the stage at midnight, entertaining the audience with harsh, upbeat, punkish rock’n’roll. The medium, sized auditorium was full and the outer bar completely packed with some of the area’s most elaborately costumed goths, punks and industrial freaks. One chap came in wearing the world’s largest (I’m only guessing) mohawk which actually had to be held aloft with studded black leather, harnessed to his face.
Meanwhile six blocks uptown, the DJ Stalagmike-hosted Defcon at the Pyramid suffered decreased attendance due to the competition from the Red Party, but nevertheless played the same consistently fine mix of industrial dance music for which the night is famous, but to a lesser crowd. Celebrity personality and DJ Joanna Constantine was noted to have made appearances at both events.