January 5, 2014

On film and painting: Repetitive stress



Guest contributor Jonathan Stevenson / Wall Street hustler Jordan Belfort and sculptor Camille Claudel had little in common, and the recent movies about the lives of each are ostensibly very different. Yet Martin Scorsese and Bruno Dumont share a narrative approach – others have applied it less successfully – that centers on repetition only occasionally punctuated by plot movement. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese uses three outrageous hours to survey the cheerful depravity of Belfort and his minions, earning our harsh judgment of Wall Street predators by assaulting us with episode after episode of their solipsistic hedonism. In Camille Claudel 1915, Dumont simulates the cruel monotony of the sculptress’s vindictive thirty-year confinement in a Gothic mental institution by way of an insidiously dull movie, employing one of the world’s least boring actresses – Juliette Binoche – to drive home his point. The repetitive technique put me in mind of the tendency of an older generation of painters to present, in a given show, variations on a single visual theme.

[Image at top: Joan Witek, Untitled (P-156), 2011, oil stick on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Outlet Fine Art, Brooklyn.]

The difference, of course, is that an art show imparts to the viewer the experience of the artist herself rather than that of some third-party biographical subject; no intermediary in the form of director or writer is required. What a painter and a director (or screenwriter) share, I think, is the aim of inducing the viewer to feel the strain of enforced rumination – the moviegoer by sitting attentively and inquisitively through the film, the gallery-crawler by trying to discern the paintings’ minutely distinguishing features. Certainly that is what Joan Witek’s oblongs (image posted at top) and Sean Scully’s blocks, Robert Ryman’s whites and Ad Reinhardt's blacks, challenge me to do. As Witek suggested during her opening at Outlet in Ridgewood on Friday: Sameness makes you look harder. I emerge from such shows as I did from The Wolf of Wall Street and Camille Claudel 1915: exhausted but edified.

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street.
"Recent work by Joan Witek," Outlet, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. ThroughFebruary 2, 2014.
"Sean Scully: Day and Night," Cheim & Read, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through Juanuary 11, 2014.
"Robert Ryman: Recent Paintings," Pace, New York, NY. Through October 26, 2013.
"Ad Reinhardt," Zwirner, New York, NY. Through December 18, 2013.

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