February 29, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last October’s opening of Pacific Standard Time, the Getty Center-organized mega-show of Los Angeles art from 1945-1980, was greeted with much fanfare in the national and international press, though from different perspectives. While California publications viewed the linked exhibitions at 130 museums and galleries as a long-delayed retrospective of the area’s painting, sculpture, design and photography, those outside California seemed to regard PST as revelatory, as if Southern California and its enormously varied trove of artwork had just been discovered.
Nowhere was the reaction to PST more confused than in the New York Times. A review by Adam Nagourney–http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/13/arts/design/southern-california-claims-its-place-on-the-art-world-map.html
–lauded the exhibition while noting:
No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital; it is not lost on people here that the executive directors of three of the four biggest museums in Los Angeles are from New York.
Here Nagourney has it backwards: Michael Govan and Jeffrey Deitch are here because Los Angeles represents the art world’s present and future, not because they’ve taken up missionary work. Nor for that matter has Larry Gagosian, whose first gallery opened here in 1979 and whose Beverly Hills gallery opened in 1995. Ironically, Nagourney’s comment that New York still contains the greatest concentration of galleries, museums and buyers is exactly the same argument that Parisians made after World War II, when all signs pointed to New York.
The pertinent question is whether the art world centers on those who make art or those who consume it. If it’s the latter, New York still reigns. But if it’s the former–as it was in New York from approximately 1945-2000–the center of the art world moved west some time ago.
The reasons for this aren’t hard to fathom. New York has become increasingly inhospitable to young artists due to its exorbitant cost of living, which puts studio space out of reach for all but the wealthiest and most established artists. In the last thirty years, young artists have gone from Soho to Chelsea to Brooklyn to Queens in search of studio space, gentrifying each before being forced out by rising rents. The last stop seems to be the South Bronx, where studios reportedly are still within reach. When that area becomes gentrified, artists will be shut out of New York City entirely, leaving it to the one per centers. Unfortunately for them, a city can’t be an art capital without artists, however many hedge fund managers decide to take up collecting.
In fact, New York stopped being an essential destination for young artists years ago. Bypassing the city altogether, they found other, more welcoming places to live and work: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland and–most of all–Los Angeles. Those who came to study at Art Center, UCLA and Cal Arts simply stayed; others made Los Angeles their destination of choice. While rents here are hardly cheap, it’s still possible for young artists to find studio space, as well as a community of like-minded artists, a lively gallery scene, and more museums than they can reasonably visit in a year.
Beyond the art world, Los Angeles has a creative atmosphere unmatched by that of New York or anywhere else. That the film and music industries are centered here provides still greater ferment, allowing writers, animators, painters, sculptors, musicians and other creative artists to inspire each other’s work.
I’ve long felt that Los Angeles is the most creative city in the United States, if not the planet, and PST has gone a long way toward promoting that idea. But it was a recent radio interview with Werner Herzog that made me realize others feel the same way. Much to my surprise, I discovered Herzog has been living in Los Angeles for the better part of two decades, making a film a year and running the semi-secret Rogue Film School. When he stated that Los Angeles was most culturally important place in the world, the interviewer asked what about New York? Herzog replied that New York was “more on the receiving end of culture,” whereas the actual creative work was happening here.
In light of this, Adam Nagourney’s assertions that “the sheer sprawl of the city” and “the difficulty of encouraging people to walk inside for anything but a movie in a city that has glorious weather so many months of the year” work against Los Angeles as an art capital seem nothing more than desperate cliches. And the latter comment, made despite ample evidence of crowds at LACMA, the Getty and MOCA, is a New Yorker’s fantasy of life in LA, not the art-filled reality.
September 15, 2010 § 5 Comments
Most American movie critics have knowledge of a foreign language–perhaps French, Spanish or German. Regardless of the critics’ degree of fluency, however, the languages in question are almost always European languages. Few to none have any knowledge of an Asian language, yet from time to time all will review Chinese, Japanese or Korean films, relying on subtitles to make judgements about the characters, dialogue and story.
These days, subtitles are usually quite accurate, at least in the literal sense. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen a film in which the subtitles didn’t match the dialogue–as I recall, it was a Cantonese film called “Stage Door,” which in places had subtitles rendered so inaccurately (and, to me, hilariously) that they seemed to belong to an entirely different movie. Since then, I’ve found most subtitles to be slavishly literal, which is almost as problematic.
An excellent example of a literal translation gone wrong can be found in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film, “Nobody Knows.” Based on a true story of four children who secretly live alone after being abandoned by their pathologically neglectful mother, the film begins before her departure. In a key scene, she tells her eldest child about her latest boyfriend by saying, “I’ve fallen in love with someone.” Unfortunately, the remark is subtitled, “Your mother is in love with someone now.” This prompted the reviewer, Ella Taylor, to write, “…their primary parent, who chillingly refers to herself in the third person as ‘your mother,’ is frequently away….”
It’s not chilling in the least. In Japanese, people commonly refer to themselves in the third person, particularly in family situations, a linguistic characteristic that has nothing to do with megalomania and everything to do with the importance of family roles. In Japanese homes, people are called–and call themselves–mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother and sister; the English equivalent would be “you” or “I.” In “Nobody Knows,” the mother–however emotionally stunted and criminally negligent–is simply speaking standard Japanese.
Taylor’s mistaken assumption bothered me so much that I wrote the LA Weekly to explain the problem; to my surprise, my letter was printed under the heading “We Stand Corrected.” Re-reading the review, I should have said something about Taylor’s other glaring mistake:
The mother, who’s played by a Japanese television personality named You, for whom the part seems not much of a stretch….
You, a singer and actress who won a Japanese Academy Award for her performance in “Nobody Knows,” is hardly deserving of this slam. (And despite its resemblance to the English pronoun, her name is short for Yukiko [Snow], a common Japanese girl’s name.)
Last year, the language in a more recent Kore-eda film raised the hackles of New York Times critic Manohla Dargis. In “Still Walking,” the adult children of an elderly couple return home to mark the 15th anniversary of their brother’s death. Writes Dargis, “When Ryota arrives with his wife and stepson at his parents’ home, his father simply grunts, ‘Oh, you’re here.'”
Yes, he does–but that’s a standard man-to-man greeting in a society where emotions are deeply felt but infrequently verbalized. The gruff father, a man of few words, is an archetype in Japan, a country where garrulous types are labeled chatterboxes and fluid speakers are often dismissed as insincere. In singling out this innocuous line of dialogue, Dargis colors the father’s character in a way the Japanese original doesn’t.
Obviously, the nuances of the Japanese language can scarcely be understood by American critics who don’t speak it. But it’s not too much to ask that they run their reviews by people who speak Japanese and know the culture. Until that happens, it’s up to those of us who do to keep correcting them.