Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Houdini: Art and Magic

Over the weekend I saw this exhibit about Harry Houdini at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. It's a diffuse show that mixes period artifacts with contemporary art. Next to a video of the real Houdini escaping from a straight jacket are clips of Tony Curtis in a Hollywood biopic & Norman Mailer in Matthew Barney's CREMASTER 2. I did not expect to see Raymond Pettibon's nightmarish drawings, though I liked their visceral impact. In another modern piece, conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg "disappears" a book about Houdini from the Los Angeles Public Library by borrowing it & not returning it.

Documentary items include old photos, advertisements, silent movie clips & replicas of famous props. I never caught on to how the galleries were organized, & a time line for Houdini appears randomly half-way through the exhibit. I felt closest to the man when examining 2 of his travel journals, one of them opened to a remembrance of his father's death. The entry touchingly quotes his mother's Yiddish speech. I also enjoyed the spontaneous expression on Houdini's face in a 1910 photo with escape artist Ira Davenport.

Gaining entry to the CJM is like going through airport security, only you don't have to take off your shoes & belt.

§ Houdini: Art and Magic
October 2, 2011 – January 16, 2012
Contemporary Jewish Museum

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