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Austria, Japan, India via New York City
Emily Gertz, 9 Apr 05

kawaiielephant.jpgToday I got to take in the best of three continents while living on a fourth. It was a day that reminded me what makes the hassles of New York City worth enduring: because for the price of a subway ride and a little bit more, I can immerse myself in (or at least get a real, not-over-the-Internet look at) the best of global culture.

I started the afternoon at Neue Gallery, to see "Portraits of an Age: Photography in Germany and Austria, 1900-1930." The exhibit traces the dual evolution of photography as an art form in both countries and the changing social order, in which formal portraits of the middle class inspired by 19th century conventions gave way to the rise of modernity: close-ups, expressive poses, experiments with light and technique, people from all walks of life, and more attention to documenting the individuality of the person in the picture.

Then, a long stroll towards mid-town (walking off the Viennese desserts we ate at the gallery's Austro-authentic cafe) brought us past the entrance to Central Park at 59th and 5th, and Chinatsu Ban's newly installed sculpture "V W X Yellow Elephant Underwear/H I J Kiddy Elephant Underwear," timed to appear with a larger show at the Japan Society, "LITTLE BOY: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture," curated by Takashi Murakami. The elephant mother and child are works of "kawaii," the Japanese pop culture of cute, and Murakami's own "Superflat" practice of merging high and low art. But as the kids in my photo show, they're also just plain fun to be with.

From there I made my way to Lincoln Center, to see a screening of "Zanjeer (1973)," part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Amitabh Bachchan Festival. The "chain" of the title is a charm bracelet worn by the man who kills the parents of adorable Vijay, who grows into a smoldering, anti-authoritarian, idealistic young police inspector--as played by Bachchan, a new kind of Indian film hero. This "angry young man" archetype became his signature character for years to come, its popularity fueled by the public's desire for clear-cut, powerful saviors during a period of civil disillusionment and turmoil (or so I have read). Will Vijay's nightmares and need for revenge consume him before he can find happiness in the arms of beautiful Mala? A great action flick, replete with 70s leisure suit stylings, betrayals and redemptions, car chases, street fights, and the requisite dance numbers, set largely in antiseptic modern cityscapes and interiors that practically scream alienation.

I've been more a fan of Euro and Chinese films when it comes to world cinema; this festival should be a great introduction to Bollywood. (Thanks for the recommendations, Rohit, Dina and Zaid).

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