Rhonda Lieberman

  • Steven Klein and Madonna, Kidney, 2003, color photograph, 70 x 86".

    Weighty Madonna

    MADONNA GOES THROUGH INCARNATIONS the way the rest of us go through tubes of toothpaste. When last season’s soigné, spiritual Madonna appeared on Larry King Live in October, one marveled at how she constantly evolves: from her breakthrough MTV “Like a Virgin” moment, writhing on the floor in a wedding gown in 1984, to her more recent, mature work, writhing on the floor sporting a cabala tattoo in the “Die Another Day” video. Her latest avatar is now enshrined at Deitch Projects: I saw it as an allegory of forces within the buff megastar, where Darkness and Light battle 24/7, and she literally

  • Todd Haynes, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, 1987, still from a color film in 16 mm and Super-8, 43 minutes.

    1987: Todd Haynes’s Superstar

    TODD HAYNES MAY HAVE GRADUATED to the Oscars, but he earned hipster tenure with the 1987 bootleg classic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, his docudrama about the plight of the anorexic pop star, as “dramatized” by Barbies.

    If the ’80s were the decade of irony, Superstar takes inauthenticity as merely its starting point and evokes real emotion as we feel the pain of a plastic icon. “I just want it to be perfect!” Karen Carpenter (Barbie) declares, stressing out in a lilliputian recording studio. Don’t we all? While the all-Barbie cast could seem flippant, or trivializing, instead of being

  • Paul Nadar, Comtesse Greffulhe, 1904, black-and-white photograph.

    The World of Proust

    KNOWN TO POSTERITY as the supersensitive freak who withdrew to his stuffy, cork-lined room to spin gossip, reverie, and insomnia into the greatest novel of the twentieth century, after throwing a good-bye dinner at the Ritz (partly to show he still had his marbles), Proust only seemed to retire from society. In fact, he invited tout le monde into his bedroom to recast them in realer roles—in his personal psychic puppet theater that would outlive them all. Subsisting on little more than caffeine and asthma meds, the electively bedridden night owl sated his appetite for intrigue through a lively

  • Jacques Le Narcissiste

    WE CULTURE-ISTAS KNOW Derrida is the Madonna of thought. He’s antiphallogocentric and a total diva. Undeniably powerful, he’s either revered or deplored as the author of cultural relativism, rampant textuality, and undecidability. The notoriously close reader is still dashing at seventy-two, with a dark but surprisingly soft gaze, eagle-ish features, and a mildly poufy white coif: a silver fox. Spinning his web (yes, folks, that’s three animal metaphors!) of defamiliarization that readers find seductive or annoying, or both, his discourse is riddled with paradox: He fights to improvise “but

  • Todd Solondz, Storytelling (“Non-Fiction”), 2001, still from a color film in 35 mm, 87 minutes. Scooby (Mark Webber), Toby (Paul Giamatti), and Mike (Mike Schank).

    Rhonda Lieberman on Todd Solondz

    WALTER BENJAMIN SAID it’s the winners whose histories are told, but Todd Solondz’s latest film proves it’s the losers. In two parts (“Fiction” and “Non-Fiction”), Storytelling—which premiered at Cannes last May and just opened in New York and Los Angeles—shows people ruined by the very stories they hope will redeem them.

    Like The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm’s classic study of the self-interested swap meet implicit in all narrative exchanges, Storytelling explores how we tell our story to console or vindicate ourselves—only to see it used for entirely different purposes. Easy to


    AT THE HARVARD DESIGN SCHOOL, HI-LO © ARCHITECT and interdisciplinary smarty-pants Rem Koolhaas has a fiefdom where he and his Harvard © research elves crank out obese tomes mingling pedagogy and snazzy graphics. In a series studying “new, unknown, undertheorized, yet pervasive effects of modernization on the contemporary city,” the Harvard Design School Project on the City has just brought out two new volumes, The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping and Great Leap Forward.

    The Guide to Shopping addresses the great stealth campaign of our day—no, not bioterrorism! but the makeover of

  • Pablo Picasso, Painter with a Model Knitting, 1927,etching, 7 9/16 x 10 7/8". From a 1927 edition of Le Chef d’oeuvre inconnu, by Honoré de Balzac.


    FOR ANYONE INTO THE CREATIVE and/or obsessive process, The Unknown Masterpiece remains the ultimate nightmare. In Balzac’s 1831 allegory, newly translated by Richard Howard, the painter Frenhofer inhabits the gray area where inspiration and neurosis become indistinguishable. The traumatically unforgettable artiste is the demon of perfectionism who undoes the Work as quickly as it is inspired—and who haunts anyone afraid to start (or stop) working on something. Even Cézanne and Picasso (who illustrated a centenary edition of the novel and purchased the studio that is one of the story’s settings)

  • Andy Warhol Photography

    Andy Warhol is to photography as Shakespeare is to words, Freud to cigars, and Lagerfeld, fans. How impressive then that one not-too-huge exhibition has taken on such a whopper so adequately. The ICP show, which originated in 1999 at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, includes photos of Warhol shot by himself and by others (Avedon, Mapplethorpe, etc.), sources for his paintings, his insider-paparazzo snaps, and photos qua photos. A blowup of the pallid Pop prince dwarfs entering viewers: Nosferatu-ish yet modern, Warhol warily clutches rosary beads, eyeing Cecil Beaton, the dapper shutterbug reflected in

  • Tom Wolfe

    COMMANDING EASY BRAND RECOGNITION in his high-maintenance southern gentleman drag (white suit, patent pumps, and spats) and now pushing seventy, “America's maestro reporter/novelist” is still at it, tracking the zeitgeist in his retro getup. Marrying giddiness with cynicism, Tom Wolfe deploys the mannered showmanship of a circus ringmaster or a Robin Leach—and way too many ellipses . . .italics. . . and exclamation points! A photo of the man in full graces . . . the back of the book! As he jauntily steps forward (into the twenty-first century, we presume?) his smirk exudes defiant entitlement

  • Fashion Week in New York

    You can never have enough hats, gloves, shoes and bags.

    Patsy Stone ( “39”), Marie Claire Ab Fab Mag, December 1994

    AS YOU STYLISH PEOPLE may have heard, the first week of April brought all the major style mavens to New York to view the fall collections. Fashion Week is like a conference for fashion people, with runway shows all day, and runway is like an education in fantasy: you study up on the fantasies that run our sartorial reality, because experts have proven we’re all unconscious anyway. The world is enchanted darlings, only properly charged with libido when we look at things awry, that

  • the Further Adventures of Jewish Barbie

    Retrieved by UnErase©, a special retrieval system for information deleted from our one reality system, here from the Jewish Barbie files are the final highlights of the life lead in a parallel universe by Jewish Barbie, who exists, but is repressed, by the defensive layer of the ego, by society, and most cruelly of all, by Barbie herself.

    WHEN WE LEFT JEWISH BARBIE, she was spiritually adrift on a college campus in New England. Having flouted her plastic roots by cramming her apartment with Central American textiles and effigies of the Virgin, Jewish Barbie had become a bit of a mess. Betrayed

  • the Other American Princess

    IN THE CENTURY of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Dinah Shore, need we ask who but a Jew is best at packaging unwhiny blonde fantasy figures? I don’t know about you darlings, but ever since I found out that Kathie Lee Gifford was née Epstein, I don’t assume anything. Why be surprised then that Barbie, the ultimate shiksa goddess, was invented by a nice Jewish lady, Ruth Handler (with her husband, Elliot, cofounder of Mattel)? Indeed the famous snub-nosed plastic ideal with the slim hips of a drag queen is in fact named after a real Jewish princess from L.A., Handler’s daughter Barbara (who must