By KURT MCVEY, FEB. 2016
The company you keep while touring a particular museum exhibit can often make or break the overall experience. Art world laypeople who “just don’t get it” or the people who insist on offering the oft overheard “my kid could do that” can sully an otherwise enjoyable experience, even if they’re absolutely right. The same can be said for jaded art-world know-it-alls and seemingly well-meaning curators, who during press previews especially are often in the habit of strangling the playfulness from their own creations in an effort to sell haggard, under-caffeinated and yet somehow equally overzealous art-writers on a show’s press appeal.
This past Sunday at The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens was one of those rare, magical occasions; a perfect storm pairing of a delightfully rich, multifaceted exhibit, in this case, curator Robin M. Rubin’s Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact-which combines rare and authentic movie memorabilia with film-centric contemporary art works-and a small but lovely group of enthusiastic young men from Manhattan’s Lower East Side who effortlessly elevated the proceedings. These were the twins Govinda and Narayana (23), Mukunda (21), and Eddie (17), four of the charming, talented, and surprisingly articulate Angulo brothers, only a tight-knit portion of the socially quarantined brood featured in Crystal Moselle’s 2015 Grand Jury Prize winning Sundance darling, The Wolfpack. The film was screening downstairs as part of the “Hollywood Classics Behind Walkers” series while the brothers, as well as Govinda’s lovely La Nouvelle Vague girlfriend (who he met on Facebook), joined me in a delightful walking tour of the exhibit.
On first impression, which was made during our introduction in the Museum’s lobby, each brother exhibited his own sense of style, a pleasing departure from the non-descript black suits, ala the ironically “colorful” characters in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which happens to be the Angulos’ favorite film and was set to play as a duel feature later that night, with a small introduction, Q&A, and performance by the brothers beforehand. Govinda, with his tweed sport jacket, gives off a easy, mature, professorial vibe, while his twin brother Narayana (who does a mean Steve Buscemi) has adopted a sort of Nam-era counter-culture journalist motif with his drinking hat and strategically placed Private-Joker buttons populating his open-faced, corduroy long sleeve. The lithe, platinum blonde Eddie’s black leather jacket and vest pays homage to the recently deceased Lemmy of Motörhead, his main music idol, as well as his general love of Punk Rock and Heavy Metal. Mukunda, who admittedly was in a somewhat familiar black hit-man suit, seems to have made it his own, but not without a bit of Travolta’s Vincent Vega ponytail and slightly hunched, swaggerific gait thrown in for good measure.
Several feet into Walkers, one quickly begins to marvel at the collective Angulo brothers’ encyclopedic knowledge of all things film, which unfurls throughout the tour in fun organic ways. For those who haven’t seen Moselle’s movie, the brothers were locked inside a cramped four-bedroom in the projects for most of their lives by their paranoid, over-protective father and had nothing but an endless stream of movies to keep them entertained. They would even go as far to create their own makeshift, “sweded” versions of The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Dark Knight and others films to keep things interesting and presumably to stay sane. It’s this Meta aspect of the Angulo brothers’ connection to the world of cinema that makes their earnest appreciation of an extremely Meta-heavy, film-focused exhibit all the more interesting to witness. There even happens to be a portion or “take” of the exhibit labeled, “Dial M for Meta” which deconstructs Alfred Hitchcock’s penchant for being self-referential long before Tarantino showed up on the scene and reinforces the notion that contemporary artists have been chewing on the Psycho director’s cinematic fodder for years now. In this manner, each piece of artwork or artifact (already in dialogue with one another) would send one of the boys on a glorious tangent, monologue, or anecdote that would surprise not only the most seasoned film buffs, but quite possibly the exhibit’s own curators as well.
For instance, after taking in famed photographer Mary Ellen Mark’s set photography from Apocalypse Now in the “Heart of Darkness” wing of the exhibit, Narayana seamlessly slips into character as Dennis Hopper’s stoned journalist and delivers a pitch perfect, word for word rant from the film’s harrowing third act, while his brother, Eddie, ruminates on the recent loss of Bowie, another hero, and of course Lemmy, while appreciating a set prop-a tanned skull adorned with tribal feathers-also from Coppola’s Vietnam epic. Moments later, after commenting on the unique color palette in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, which is reinterpreted in the exhibit as a VHS “video hack” by artist Manuel Saiz, Govinda draws parallels to Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy, his favorite color palette (lime green) utilized in any film. When probed as to what underlying color would best represent his singular life on film, he replied, ”rust,” illustrating an honest, romantic, and highly self-aware take on his own familial setting (urban decay) and previously sedentary lifestyle. In a blissful dose of unexpected levity, while walking past a large photographic work by Japanese appropriation artist Yasumasa Morimura, in which the artist depicts himself as the French actress and Roman Polanski muse, Catherine Deneueve, Mukunda whispers in the most deadpan and yet (intentionally?) ambiguous manner, “I love Catherine Deneueve.”
The “Walkers” portion of the exhibition title is an open allusion to the zombies in the popular TV show, The Walking Dead, while also referencing the “rich afterlives” of iconic Hollywood imagery and its persistent influence, not only on the forty-six contemporary artists featured in the exhibit, but on the most unlikely group of young people, in this case, the Angulo boys, who without film, both classic and contemporary, by all estimation, would most likely come across as drooling, brain hungry extras from Night of the Living Dead and not the incredibly pleasant, super cool young men they are today. Lastly, Rubin and the museum’s Executive Director, Carl Goodman deserve a great deal of credit for allowing the works of celebrated artists, such as Richard Prince, to mingle next to the original, annotated shooting script of Sunset Boulevard (1950), for instance, creating a tasteful hybrid exhibition that can serve as a portal into what are still considered two mutually exclusive worlds. WM