Counsel for the month ahead.
November 2017

Sergei Eisenstein. October: Ten Days That Shook the World.. 1928. Feature film, 2 hr., 22 min.

Eisenstein
Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence
Opens November 7

 
The house lights dim, the projector flashes, and there on the silver screen is a woman with bobbed hair, young, beautiful, reclining on a worn divan. Then the image changes, and you see a man in a suit with his lips pursed, gazing straight forward. Not a word has been spoken, but instantly you know what this means: the man wants her. But how do you know? In the space between the shots, you crafted the drama for yourself — and for Sergei Eisenstein, the deftest director and editor of the early cinema, such montage had as much power as a Putilov field gun. He and his Russian colleagues did not invent editing (over in Hollywood, D.W. Griffith was already chopping together sequences to get a story from point A to point B), but Eisenstein and his colleagues edited differently, stringing together discordant shots for maximum emotional impact. Their discovery of montage was a cinematic revolution — and another kind of revolution was going on just outside the studio.

Eisenstein was an architecture student in Saint Petersburg during the two revolts of 1917, which first brought down the czar and then established a Soviet Russia led by the Bolsheviks. He joined the Red Army, where he designed theater productions on the front lines of the civil war. Later in Moscow he befriended the great playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose hard-hitting journal LEF first published Eisenstein’s theories of editing and psychology. He put those theories to work first in Strike (1925), which crosscuts machine-gunned Russian workers and butchered cattle, and then in Battleship Potemkin (1925), with its exceptional sequence of a baby carriage tumbling down an Odessa staircase. Then came October (1928), his epic treatment of the revolution, pictured through frenetic intercutting of Lenin and the workers, telephone lines, and railway stations. “Montage,” Eisenstein wrote, “has been established by the Soviet film as the nerve of cinema,” and that made it unique worldwide. Hollywood editing aimed to hide its tracks, but Eisenstein, like a good Marxist, foregrounded his cuts — synthesizing opposing elements in a manner not so different from cubist collage or modernist poetry. (If you ever wondered why the most theory-besotted art journal of our time is called October, this is why.)

Eventually American legibility won out over Soviet sparkiness, and these days you are more likely to see Eisenstein’s influence in the video art at your local museum than in the superhero stories at the multiplex. His impact runs as far as the tourist-swamped Uffizi, which seldom turns its gaze to the 20th century, and which is planning to examine Eisenstein’s films alongside the sketches and storyboards he made, indebted equally to the Renaissance and Russian Constructivism. On this hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution — which happened in November, by our calendar — museums from Tate Modern to the Art Institute of Chicago are pulling out the posters and paintings of those explosive first Soviet days. We will be in Florence, though, to rediscover an artist whose work on paper could be tender and personal, but whose cinema was revolutionary in every sense.

Michelangelo Buonarroti. Studies for the Three Labors of Hercules. c. 1530. Red chalk. 10¾ × 16½ in. Royal Collection, London.

Laura Owens
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Opens November 10

Who is the greatest painter in America? We wish Jasper Johns continued good health, but it may be this Los Angeles virtuoso, whose layering of abstraction with silkscreening, computer imagery, and goofy doodles has produced a thousand art school imitators. The curator Scott Rothkopf knows how to show an artist to her best advantage; expect a crystalline presentation, and a chance to judge for yourself.

 
John Baldessari
Museo Jumex, Mexico City
Opens November 11

Tall, mischievous, and sworn never to “make any more boring art,” the Los Angeles artist and educator flits between paintings with wry texts and photographs obliterated by colored price stickers. This largest ever show in Mexico looks at his entire 50-year career, and pays particular attention to how Baldessari uses language to turn the everyday into something strange.

 
Hannah Ryggen
Modern Art Oxford
Opens November 11

One of the great revelations of the 2012 edition of Documenta was this Norwegian tapestry artist, whose carpets of blue and pink depict war and eternity with medieval motifs as well as modernist patterns. This first British retrospective will feature more than a dozen of Ryggen’s tapestries, including her 1958 masterpiece We Are Living on a Star — badly damaged in the 2011 Oslo terrorist attack, though now repaired.

 
Michelangelo
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Opens November 13

This once-in-a-lifetime show is not about the fireworks — you saw those already on your first trip to Italy — but rather the revelations of a genius at work. Drawings detail how “the divine one” pulled off his virtuosic projects (such as that full-scale draft of his last fresco at the Apostolic Palace), and also how he spent his rare private moments making errant doodles and sketches of friends. Loans from 53 collections will show his first known painting, three sculptures, and hundreds of drawings: the largest group ever on public display.

 

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The Marionette Maker. 2014. Mixed media installation including caravan, marionettes, robotics, audio, and lighting. Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York.

The Other Transatlantic
Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw
Opens November 17

What does Warsaw have to do with Buenos Aires? Budapest with Caracas? Zagreb with Rio de Janeiro? In the years after World War II, Eastern Europe and Latin America shared an aesthetic vision unlike, and against, the prevailing movements of informel painting and abstract expressionism in their western and northern counterparts. These “other Transatlantic” artists continued to advocate for art’s utopian possibilities through kinetic and op art; on view are 30 geographically disparate artists and groups whose ideals united at a brief but significant juncture in art history.

 
Prospect.4
17 venues around New Orleans
Opens November 18

The curator Trevor Schoonmaker is at the reins of this edition of Louisiana’s triennial, which was established after Hurricane Katrina and is one of the rare big art events plugged directly into local communities. This year it coincides with the 300th birthday of La Nouvelle-Orléans, and artists taking up its themes of creolization and ecology include Kara Walker, Yoko Ono, Mark Dion, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

 
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
21C Museum, Kanazawa, Japan
Opens November 25

The Canadian husband and wife duo, who have collaborated for the last 20 years on installations, show their first Asian institutional solo at one of Japan's most beautiful museums, designed by the Pritzker laureates SANAA. Cardiff and Miller’s dozen works, including their eerie diorama The Marionette Maker and several new ones, are especially apt for the circular museum’s fluid and independent gallery spaces where proportion, height, and light are all variable.