08/21/17
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The Art of Intimacy: The Sultanette Does Dallas

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The Kiss, Brancusi, c1908, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

Can The Sultanette be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader when she grows up? Wearing barely more than white boots and a smile as big as Texas they’re worth the price of admission to AT&T Stadium. (BTW there’s a football game there, too.) But news flash!

Next time you’re in Dallas, before you join that 100,000-plus crowd to watch those buxom babes on the biggest Jumbotron in the NFL, you might take a detour to the Nasher Sculpture Center. As The Sultanette learned on a recent trip, this temple of tranquility containing one of the finest collections of twentieth century sculpture in the world, offers food for the heart, soul and libido.

Do the names Picasso, Giacometti, Matisse, Henry Moore and Miro ring a bell? To this permanent collection, the Nasher adds featured shows. I was treated to an exhibition of works in glass by Roni Horn of Iceland and New York City – pastel pods weighing 10,000 pounds a piece that look like giant sorbet molds glowing from within.

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Glass forms, Roni Horn, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

Horn ascribes offbeat quotes rather than titles to the fluid forms to give the viewer room for individual interpretation. “I don’t like titles that – if you don’t read them, you don’t get the piece,” she says. “I want a title that can be an entrance to something but never an explanation.”

Gazing into one of the pods as if it were a crystal ball, I considered our obsession for full disclosure in the pursuit of intimacy. Might our authentic (to use the tired term) selves be more fully revealed through exploration rather than explanation? If so, you might look at editing those Match profiles.

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Large Seated Nude, Matisse, 1952, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

While we’re on the subject of full disclosure, Matisse’s bronze “Large Seated Nude,” was next on my Nasher tour. All sensuality in bronze, she conveys both gravitas and insouciance. The visitor learns here that Matisse read poetry every morning for inspiration. It was oxygen for his art, he said, “just as when you leap out of bed [and] you fill your lungs with fresh air.”

Thoroughly oxygenated now, I leapt to Anish Kapoor’s “In Search of the Mountain 1” a jewel-toned funnel, richly saturated in sapphire-blue pigment. Kapoor‘s work is informed by his approach to myth. “What is important is not looking at and reading myths as an observer,” he says, “but living them.”

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In Search of the Mountain 1, Anish Kapoor, 1984, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

I peered down the center of the funnel. What mythical magical mountain would be revealed at the other end? Even better, the sight line narrows to a distant, pinprick of light beckoning possibility.

Intimacy, tranquility, possibility. As I strolled among the galleries, bathed in the delicate light created by Renzo Piano’s glass walls and vaulted glass ceiling, I wondered if this might be the Nasher’s most precious offering. The impulse to slow down, reflect, have a conversation with these still, silent forms.

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Hostess, de Kooning, 1973, Nasher Sculpture Center

Can the impressive Dallas Museum of Art down the street or the dozen other major American art museums offer this? When we join the throngs at blockbuster exhibitions do we lose the awareness that our relationship with a work of art is singular and intimate? Might we better reserve our crowd time for football stadiums?

The secret to Nasher’s magic is surely in its founders. Raymond and Patsy Nasher were not interested in collecting trophies to demonstrate their wealth. They explored the medium, engaged with the artists, embraced a vision to share art with the pubic.

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Squares With Two Circles, 1963, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

That passion reflected their partnership. A film at the museum sums up Raymond’s enduring love for his wife after she died. Taking the podium at an outside museum event, he begins by telling the assembled that he had put Patsy in charge of the weather for that day. Then looking up he adds, “And as you notice, there is not a cloud in the sky.”

Perfect segue to the sculpture garden designed by landscape architect Peter Walker. There, perched at the edge of a pool dotted with fountains, I came upon Barbara Hepworth’s dual bronze blocks titled “Squares with Two Circles.” Each circle presented two discreet portraits of the garden behind it. One was earthbound, framing a bed of flowers below weeping willow fronds. The other soared with leafy trees and sky.

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Glass form, Roni Horn, Nasher Sculpture Ctr.

I walked from left to right and around to the other side. Wherever I stopped, I was treated to a fresh perspective of the world behind the circles – reminded with each new set of portraits that the way I look at the world depends upon the place I choose to stand. Then I looked up, beyond the bronze slabs to the blue above. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Eventually you have to abandon the Nasher for the crowded world outside. But is it entirely the one you left behind? And isn’t that why we escape to art? To leave our square lives and play in someone else’s circle for awhile … the painter, poet, sculptor, curator who gives us another way to look at the world besides our own? Makes you want to put on a pair of white boots and a smile.

01/24/17

Intimacy With Strangers

Beijing Chaoyang Park, 2008, drnan tu.

Open on woman alone in cozy living room. A sudden shattering of glass breaks the stillness as a man bursts through French doors behind her. He is hooded, all in black. He throws her to the ground. She thrashes back. Vases crash. He takes her violently and disappears.

I almost left Elle after Isabelle Huppert’s first rape scene, already skittish at the thought of returning to my New York apartment, alone with the image. Yes, I did say “first rape scene” and yes, I’m glad I stayed. Because after its brutal introduction the film, this year’s Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, takes an even more kinky but intriguing turn.

Crime of Passion, Yumi Kimura.

To tiptoe around full disclosure (if you have a low spoiler threshold, continue at own risk) the woman Michele, played with icy reserve by Isabelle Huppert (Golden Globe Best Actress in a Drama) has a compromised past which keeps her from reporting the incident. When the attacker returns, she rips off his hood. She knows him. Previous casual encounters have been sexually charged. And now the games begin. Rather than repulsion, violence fuels their attraction.

CAVEAT: The Sultanette does not endorse the above. Though I’m all for sampling the next course on the sexual tasting menu, violence is not my cup of tea. But the film suggests (without presenting solutions, as the French have mastered over centuries) a more nuanced story.

The Fisherman & the Siren, Frederic Leighton, c.1857.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven of Basic Instinct, Elle is a sly exploration of the implicit understanding between two beings. It toys with who we sense behind the masks (and if we need to rip them off). And shocks us into contemplating the psychological forces that trigger sexuality between two bodies.

As previously stated on this blog (to the disappointment of the horndogs among you) The Male Harem is not about sex. But intimacy? Call me an intimacy whore. An intimacy nympho. I can’t get enough of it. Not the tell-all brand of intimacy pushed by the couple’s counseling industry. In the harem, we are strangers of a sort. We don’t share to-do lists. We aren’t responsible for each other’s lives. We share precious time together but not vows to stay together for all time.

Nude Boy & Girl on Beach, c.1913, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

What fills our time is the present. It might include good food, adult beverages, a movie, music, or play. It will not include conversation concerning the price of condos, celebrity scandals, Facebook, or Monday Night Football. (A girl just gets tired of talking about balls.)

If sex happens to be a component it’s not fuck-buddy sex. As anyone in holy wedlock knows, good sex doesn’t happen on a schedule. It rises from desire that’s not required. And the good kind satisfies the libido which curbs the need to settle for the boring kind. It’s like having “I don’t need to fuck you money” in the bank.

Amor & Psyche, William-Adolphe Bouguereau,1890.

Before The Male Harem I paid my dues: two committed couplings steeped in monogamy that added up to one-third of my life. I have no complaint with mutual bonding. I believe in loyalty, trust, and having somebody’s back. What confounds me is how proficient we are at inhabiting the same four walls and ignoring each other’s essence.

We’re wired to negotiate relationships by the jobs we have, the stuff we accumulate, the offspring we perpetrate. And while these are worthy tasks necessary for survival of the species, they’re hardly conducive to exploring the rich, sometimes contradictory, endlessly surprising subtleties of another human being.

Enter Under Your Own Risk

Self-indulgent? Impractical? Fantastical? Easy, really. You don’t have to borrow on the credit card, give up gluten, or spend an hour on the elliptical everyday. All that’s required is that you mute the mobile, dismantle preconceptions, douse expectations, and get your mitts off of shaping someone into your Fred or Ginger or Tonto or Trigger.

Online matchmaking has its merits. But it’s doped us into paying more attention to algorithms than instincts. What if all those carefully curated facts distract from the untidy mystery lurking behind them? In that sense, Isabelle Huppert and her masked intruder might be onto something.