Travis Jeppesen

  • film February 27, 2012

    Past Lives

    THE BERLINALE’S final week jerked to a close, with most of the Saturday afternoon screenings half-empty due to a citywide transit strike, only to be madly replenished on Sunday’s Audience Day, whose ticketing system favors the general public rather than festival badges. Half-felt tips, bets, and assertions were traded among friends and industry insiders, but no single endorsement resounded. Consensus affirmed that, while not terrible, this year’s festival featured a less-than-spectacular program. There was a discernible lack of gut-punching “Mmph!” moments, a fact that gradually gave even the

  • film February 16, 2012

    Relationship Aesthetics

    IN RETROSPECT, 2011 was a great year for cinema. That year’s Berlinale memorably served as a barometer for bold statements, which ranged from Béla Tarr’s stark essay on finitude, The Turin Horse, to the sweeping AIDS documentary We Were Here. The prospects for 2012 are rather more humble, if the current edition of the Berlinale (or at least what I’d seen by its halfway mark) is any indication.

    One of the more pervasive trends is a shift away from the macro (large, worldly issues) and toward the micro (personal, domestic crises). Is this to be the year of the Relationship Movie? Two films that

  • film January 11, 2012

    Burroughs Deep

    BY THE TIME of his death in 1997, William S. Burroughs had achieved something that very few figures ever manage: He had become supra-human, a living, livid symbol. Only Burroughs’s own name can unite such disparate activities, output, and stances: writer, murderer, painter, junkie, public commentator, cultural critic, concept engineer. In addition to changing the face of literature, exploding the craft’s lexicon of possibilities with his early work, he redefined the role of the public intellectual, becoming his own creation, an “antillectual” who rebuffed even those countercultural movements

  • film November 07, 2011

    Real Change

    OUT OF BASIC PRACTICALITY, most festivals are content to build their programs on a “best of” format based on works submitted. This year’s DocLisboa, however, took a more ambitious curatorial approach: Any path one took through the hundred-plus films on offer guaranteed the opportunity to graduate with a new thesis on both the history and the current state of documentary film. While this will undoubtedly cement the festival’s reputation as an affair designed for fetishists of the genre, beyond merely filmic concerns, its framing by retrospectives of Harun Farocki and Jean Rouch—representing

  • film October 24, 2011

    School’s Out

    DECADES. They’re so much fun to look at from the outside, so miserable to inhabit. Nostalgia—commonly frowned on by intellectuals and forward-thinking folk—actually allows us to be in and out simultaneously, which might account for the enduring popularity of the nostalgia flick.

    Rewatching a film like Dazed and Confused eighteen years after its release means being lucky enough to have scored two tabs of nostalgia stuck together. For Richard Linklater’s second feature is just as much about the 1990s as it is about the ’70s—a fact that might have been lost on us at the time it hit theaters in 1993,

  • picks October 06, 2011

    Sergej Jensen

    Two thousand eleven has proved to be a volatile year for painting, with the deaths of some of the greatest brush wielders since Picasso (Lucian Freud and Cy Twombly), a return to abstraction, and continuing talk about the dematerialization and despecification of the medium. Sergej Jensen is a not-so-hidden referent here, if only because he continues to work within the framework of painting—extending his fabrics canvaslike on stretchers and hanging them up on the wall—while only occasionally using paint itself, preferring chance and accident in rendering what nonetheless end up looking like

  • film October 03, 2011

    Action Painting

    FILMING AN ARTIST AT WORK is not merely a challenge for the filmmaker but a potential trauma for the subject. Indeed, the dual process of scrutinizing and recording an act that is meant to be private amplifies the artist’s self-consciousness—and the effects can be detrimental. Legendarily, it drove Jackson Pollock to alcoholic relapse, eventually killing him. The key to a satisfying encounter between filmmaker and artist could be the trust that emerges out of a mutual understanding of the creative process; it is no coincidence that one of the few successful experiments in this regard happens to

  • diary September 15, 2011

    Alphabet City

    BERLIN IS MOSTLY RELAXING IN SEPTEMBER. As you walk through the graffiti-splattered streets, everything somehow looks beautiful when it begins to die—the leaves on the trees, the summer that never seemed to arrive this year—and then, suddenly, the Kunst Herbst arrives like a caffeinated jolt from an unexpectedly strong coffee. Of course, there’s no Art Forum fair this year to welcome the art-lusting masses back to town, but to be honest, it is not sorely missed. “Berlin is not an art fair town” was the refrain I heard repeatedly throughout the week from dealers and artists alike. And so Art

  • film September 15, 2011

    Real Deal

    I IMAGINE THOSE WHO had written off Cam Archer as yet another Gus Van Sant acolyte after seeing his debut, Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006), will be in for a shock when confronted with his latest film, Shit Year (2011), a mature work with a distinct, idiosyncratic approach to difficult questions.

    The film is ostensibly about Colleen West (Ellen Barkin), a middle-aged actress retiring from the industry and settling into a life of intensive self-isolation in a forest cabin. This deceptively simple premise serves as a convincing departure point for a prolonged meditation on solitude: Shit Year shows

  • picks September 13, 2011

    Max Beckmann

    For Max Beckmann, self-portraiture was a vehicle, a search for truth through physical representation. The present exhibition has gathered a handful of Beckmann’s several hundred graphic works, most of which are self-portraits, unveiling the narrative of one artist’s life—the autobiography of a face—through the brutalities of the first half of the twentieth century.

    In the earliest portrait, dating from 1904, the twenty-year-old artist is depicted with an earnestness and directness; to call it “innocent” would perhaps be going too far, but a certain glow in his eyes reveals a precarious wisdom.

  • picks August 22, 2011

    “Fly Through the Troposphere”

    With a focus on a representative handful of emerging Chinese painters, “Fly Through the Troposphere” is a thoughtful illustration of a pivotal transitional moment in the country’s history, and it indicates the sheer breadth, stylistic variety, and future possibilities of painting among China’s youngest generation of artists. For example, Qin Qi works in very large scales, often with an impasto so thick that it might very well come across in reproduction; his Fairy Palace, 2011, is a chaotic landscape of indefinable junk crowned at the top with a traditional gazebo and a crowing duck, its proud

  • picks July 15, 2011

    “Big Picture”

    “Big Picture” brings together a dozen artists (most of whom belong to video art’s equivalent of Hollywood’s A-list) whose installations in one way or another probe the mindless escapism offered by the traditional summer blockbuster. Mark Lewis’s Forte!, 2010, offers a slow-moving aerial tour of the majestic Alps that culminates in a view of a castle courtyard; from above, the tourists swarming about its grounds resemble crazed ants. A more unsettling piece is Shirin Neshat’s The Shadow Under the Web, 1997, a four-sided installation featuring the artist donning a flowing burqa and running hurriedly

  • picks July 07, 2011

    David Dawson and Lucian Freud

    The relationship between artist and assistant is one of those intimate yet elusive bonds. It’s not something that spectators are meant to be aware of—work is intended to stand on an artist’s name alone—but those in the know surely realize that most artists are rarely, if ever, working solo in their studios.

    Often, the assistant is also an artist, and what begins as a sort of apprenticeship can endure through the acolyte’s own process of maturation. Such is the case for David Dawson, who assisted the late Lucian Freud for twenty years, and has emerged as a painter and photographer in his own right,

  • picks July 06, 2011

    Joel Shapiro

    Since 2001, the curators of the Museum Ludwig have invited artists to produce unique works for one of the building’s most challenging architectural spaces. The room is extremely high-ceilinged and relatively narrow, and is divided into two levels. One can enter the space from the ground level below or the second level above, and a staircase bisects the space.

    Considering the room’s weird dimensions, Joel Shapiro seems like an obvious solution-finder. Shapiro, who once characterized his work as “the projection of thought into the world,” has long been something of a contrarian in the world of

  • diary May 26, 2011

    Prague Rock

    “YOU KNOW THIS IS WHERE the sugar cube was invented, right?” So my companion helpfully informed me last Thursday as we taxied it out to the veritable no-man’s-land known as Modřany, an area of Prague I had neither seen nor even heard of, despite having spent half of the aughts in the city. “No one’s going to find it,” artist Ondrej Brody predicted the night before at his opening at STYX Project Space in Berlin.

    Yet the obscurity of the locale ultimately served the minoritarian aesthetic that has always been fostered by the Prague Biennale, an event that has been entrenched in local controversy

  • picks April 13, 2011

    Dieter Roth

    An “everything” artist in the truest sense of the term, Dieter Roth produced his work in excess and eroded the distinctions between his life and art, with the latter becoming much more than a mere extension of the former. He allowed every type of material, organic and synthetic, into his universe, and fittingly, much of the work is now undergoing the kinds of processes the human body endures once life has vacated it. This seems appropriate to the formlessness underpinning the massive oeuvre forged by Roth, who is certainly by one of the twentieth century’s most prolific, unusual, and restless

  • picks March 07, 2011

    Bob Mizer

    Photography, porn, criminality—Bob Mizer’s work incorporated all three in the mid-twentieth century, an era when mere suggestive poses of the male figure were enough to land a photographer in jail. This exhibition, curated by Billy Miller (editor of the infamous true sex zine Straight to Hell) and artist Christian Siekmeier, is the first to make the case that, beyond the notoriety and glitz, Mizer was also an artist.

    Mizer was a workaholic who produced more than a million photographs under the guise of his company, the Athletic Model Guild, which he founded in 1945 and managed until his death in

  • diary February 24, 2011

    Looking at the Stars

    IT WAS SUPPOSED to be the best of times. A-list actor and Academy Awards co-host James Franco had chosen Berlin’s two branches of Peres Projects to launch his continental art career, and you could feel the anticipation in the air upon arriving the Saturday before last at the Kreuzberg location, where a small gathering of film fans and art sluts joined listless paparazzi and camera crews on dinner break from the Berlinale in loitering about the gallery, which was filled with burnt-out children’s play houses, a few video installations, and a scatter-art piece in the corner. With the exception of

  • film February 24, 2011

    Mourning and Militancy

    AT THE TIME of Harvey Milk’s murder in 1978, the virus that would come to be known as HIV was already present in San Francisco, with an estimated 10 percent of the city’s gay population unknowingly infected. By 1981, that number had risen to 50 percent. The 1980s would encapsulate the largest tragedy in the city’s history, but the decade was also—as We Were Here, a new documentary, suggests—a moment of great heroism and feats of compassion for both the living and the dying.

    While such a vast topic would seem to necessitate a chaotic cast of thousands, director David Weissman instead focuses on

  • picks February 24, 2011

    “When the Neighbor Came to Make a Phone Call”

    A quiet resentment has been evident in relations between Czechs and Germans for much of the past century. Among other events, the expulsion by force of more than three million ethnic Germans residing in the Czech Sudetenland following World War II has left an unhealed scar that forms the symbolic border dividing the two nations. A new short film work by Mark Ther, Pflaumen (Plums), 2011, poignantly examines this affair through the simple story of a young Sudeten German boy and his mother. Alongside a new work by Ondrej Brody and Kristofer Paetau, it is one of the highlights in this group