How The Rock led me to the Whitney Museum

Like all good Americans, I follow Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Twitter. This should come as no surprise to regular blog readers, since my blind affection for The Rock has been well documented. I’ll watch anything that he’s in, which unfortunately has led to some very questionable movie choices over the years. But The Rock is such an affable guy that even when I have to sit through some dreadful films, I generally don’t hold a grudge. I think he’s most likely capable of more than the type of roles that he’s typically given, but he’s carved a nice little niche out for himself and has a legitimate film career, so he probably knows what he’s doing.

The Rock is a good Twitter follow since he tends to share a lot of pictures and genuinely seems to appreciate all the support that he gets from fans. He is also the rare celebrity that is able to promote their projects without going overboard about it; I’ve contemplated unfollowing some people recently since they seem to retweet just about every positive thing that others have said about them and it blows up my Twitter feed. Plus The Rock has a pretty strong hashtag game and has a good sense of humor; I usually smile to myself at least once a day from his tweets as I’m scrolling through my feed.

It’s hard to say why this particular tweet caught my attention:

 

My best guess was that it was the #nyc hashtag, since I’m always interested in new things to check out when I’m traveling and I’d never heard of a Popeye statute. For some reason, I am drawn to random pop culture statutes in cities; I spent way too much time trying to find the Fonzie statue the last time that I was in Milwaukee, but that search may have been inhibited by all the brewery tours that I had participated in earlier in the day. For whatever reason, I decided to investigate this Popeye statue and where I could find it. A Google search for “Popeye statue NYC” led me to a special exhibition at the Whitney Museum of the works of artist Jeff Koons. I didn’t know Koons by name, but I realized that I was familiar with some of his artwork. His stuff was right up my alley, as he tended to incorporate a lot of pop culture into his pieces, including his statue of Popeye that appeared to be the same piece from The Rock’s photo. I was going to be in NYC anyway for An Evening with Kevin Smith, so I decided to build some time into my itinerary for that trip to swing by the Whitney and check the exhibit out.

I’d never been to the Whitney Museum before; I don’t have a ton of reasons to be wandering around the Upper East Side on my adventures. As I walked to the museum, I passed a lot of designer stores that I have no business going into; typically I know that if there is a guard at the door of a store, that’s not a place I should be shopping. I wouldn’t have popped my head into Prada or Dolce & Gabbana on a good day, but considering I had spilled Shake Shack on myself during lunch I most definitely was not going to be browsing. When I arrived at the Whitney, the first thing I noticed was how big the building was and how it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the surrounding architecture.

The second thing that I noticed was the line.

It appeared that I was not the only person inspired to visit Jeff Koons exhibition as the line wrapped around the block. If I have one complaint about NYC, it’s that there is a line for pretty much everything. That’s not unexpected, of course, given the number of people that reside in in the five boroughs, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. I hadn’t built a possible 45 minute wait into my schedule, but I went to the end of the line and hoped for the best. At least I have the cupcake that I had recently procured from the cupcake ATM to smack on while I waited (and yes – that’s exactly what it sounds like).

The gods favored me that day, however, since while I was standing in line – making a mess since the graham cracker crust of my s’mores cupcake was crumbling – when some random man walked up to me and handed me a ticket to the exhibition and told me that I could go to the front of the line. I was naturally suspicious of this – I am, after all, a New Yorker – and wondered if this was a trick. But the man was well dressed and looking at the length of the line, I didn’t have much to lose, so I walked around to the entrance of the Whitney, expecting to discover that this was a fraudulent ticket and that I would be sent back to the end of the line. But miracle of miracles, the ticket was in fact legit and within moments I was strolling into the exhibition having just saved close to an hour of my time AND the price of admission. So thank you, random stranger – I have no idea why you picked me out of the line, but I’m glad you did. I also inadvertently snuck my umbrella in – I later saw a big sign saying that they were not permitted in the galleries – so I was really taking all sorts of chances that day :-)

At first, I was pretty glad that someone else had footed the bill for this adventure since I would have been a little annoyed if I had paid to see a bunch of vacuum cleaners and inflatable toys. I consider myself a smart person, but I sometimes struggle with modern art and what exactly I’m supposed to be taking away from it or what it’s supposed to mean. To me, sometimes an object is just an object; reading the descriptions helped put things into context, but the first floor of Koons’ early works just wasn’t speaking to me.

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The further into the exhibition, however, the more I got into what Koons was doing. If nothing else, the stuff he did was interesting and unexpected; a lot of his work involved recreating objects in different materials and the themes of his work became clearer to me. He also began to incorporate more and more pop culture imagery into his art as he progressed; on display was Michael Jackson and Bubbles, one of Koons’ more famous pieces that placed the singer and his chimp in similar positions as the Madonna and Child in early artwork.

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I kind of wish that I’d thought ahead enough to jump on the line for the audio tour for this exhibition, since I’m sure that the stories behind a lot of these pieces would have been quite interesting.

There were a ton of things to look at – the career retrospective spanned almost the entire museum – but here were some of my favorite pieces:

A train filled with Jim Beam

A train filled with Jim Beam

 

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Trix are for kids!

 

This piece looked like he mashed up Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears

This piece looked like he mashed up Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears

 

Hulk Smash!

Hulk Smash!

 

Bob Hope

Bob Hope

 

All sorts of pop culture references in this one.

All sorts of pop culture references in this one.

 

Pile of Play-doh - a new sculpture that took 20 years to make

Pile of Play-doh – a new sculpture that took 20 years to make

 

Balloon Animal - this came to life in the movie Night at the Museum

Balloon Animal – this came to life in the movie Night at the Museum

 

Cat on a Clothesline - totes adorbs

Cat on a Clothesline – totes adorbs

 

My all-time favorite piece was a giant purple metallic heart; it’s so simple, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Purple is my favorite color, so it’s not unexpected that I was drawn to this particular piece. I wouldn’t mind having a small recreation of this for my desk at work. I have no idea what the deep inner meaning was behind it – it was part of a phase of his career called celebration – but I know what I like and I liked this piece a lot:

Hanging Heart

Hanging Heart

 

It appears that I am not alone; a similar piece (different color heart) sold for $23.6 million in 2007. I am in the wrong business.

And of course, I had to find the Popeye statue, which was the whole reason that I was at this exhibition to begin with. They had him tucked away in a courtyard away from the rest of the collection. I had to smile at all the little kids who were waiting to show their muscles next to Popeye; there were actually a surprising number of children at this exhibition overall, which I am always happy to see. The irony is I don’t even think that this is the same statue that the Rock visited – the flowers and backdrop are different and his hashtags in this tweet seem to indicated something to do with William Morris Enterprises; perhaps they have a similar statue in their NYC offices.

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I just hope that their parents heeded the warnings about the Made in Heaven series, which featured a lot of nudity and compromising positions. For the most part, though, the exhibition was pretty child friendly and accessible for little ones since they recognized a lot of what was featured in the artwork. I overheard a group of kids that were really fascinated with the Michael Jackson statue as their mother explained it to them. It’s always nice to see kids exposed to some culture.

I spent more time than I anticipated wandering around the exhibition and taking it all in and I was very glad that I found out about it and made a point to go. I knew that the Jeff Koons exhibition was closing in October, but I didn’t realize that the Whitney Museum itself was also closing. The museum is moving locations after 48 years and the Koons exhibition was its last hurrah. The museum will re-open in the Spring of 2015 in the meat-packing district; the former home of the Whitney will become home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s contemporary collection. So not only did I get to check out a cool exhibition, I also got to visit a New York institution before it relocated.

So thanks to The Rock, for unwittingly serving as my tour guide and cultural attache for the day. This might be a great project to undertake – using Twitter to make my travel decision. There’s no way that could go wrong, right?

Though the Koons exhibition and The Whitney have closed, the website for the collection is still live.

Happy Birthday Weird Al

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“Weird” Al Yankovic was as central to my musical experience growing up as the performers that he parodied. His career and that of Michael Jackson’s will forever be linked in my mind since they rose in prominence around the same time – Jackson will the release of his musical masterpiece, Thriller, and Weird Al with his breakthrough parody of “Beat It.” As a kid of the 80s, I looked forward to two things – the release of new popular music and then Weird Al’s inevitable parody of the big hits of the day. In a way, I was able to enjoy the same song twice, since Weird Al’s take on a song was often reliant on you being familiar with the song that he was borrowing from. So when he released a song like “Like A Surgeon,” you couldn’t help but want to listen to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” again. In a lot of ways, Weird Al actually helped the artists that he was parodying. I may have been tired of a song, but hearing Weird Al’s take on it breathed new life into it and made it tolerable again.

Weird Al also served as one of my primary instructors on what parody was and the comedic possibilities that it opened up. At the tender age of eight, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to parody before Weird Al came along with “Eat It,” but I immediately found it funny and appreciated that type of comedy. Once I understood what parody was exactly, my options for comedy became exponentially wider. Parody became one of my favorite types of comedy; Weird Al served as a gateway to Saturday Night Live, Mad Magazine, Spaceballs, the Naked Gun movies and eventually to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. For someone like me who consumes an inordinate amount of pop culture, parody takes advantage of the wealth of references that I have rattling around in my brain. I would have discovered parody regardless, but Weird Al’s popularity when I was relatively young gave me a head start on enjoying a subset of comedy. When I taught Civil Liberties to college students, we did an entire section on parody and its protection under the First Amendment – and Weird Al was probably the reason for that.

Today’s is Weird Al’s 54th birthday and though my affinity for his work has ebbed and flowed over the years, I’ve always had a soft spot for him even when it wasn’t necessarily cool to like him. So in honor of him and today’s special occasion, here are my five favorite Weird Al music videos.

  1. The Saga Begins

 

This song made the list even though I don’t really like Star Wars; I did, however listen to a lot of Don McLean’s “American Pie” when I was a kid, which probably accounts for my appreciation of this song. Plus it does help me know some Star Wars references to drop so that I don’t lose my pop culture street cred; not digging Star Wars is unheard of in most of my social circles.

 

  1. Word Crimes

 

This is off Weird Al’s most recent album, but it has two things going for it that help it crack my top five – I am a person who totally judges people by their grammar and it is a parody of “Blurred Lines,” a song that I still find ridiculously catchy despite the fact that it was way overplayed last summer and Robin Thicke is a douche.

  1. Bedrock Anthem

 

This one mashes up multiple Red Hot Chili Pepper songs in a tribute to The Flintstones – what’s not to like about that? He nailed the visual aesthetic of the original Peppers’ video

 

  1. White & Nerdy

 

Weird Al and rap on paper don’t seem like the most logical combination, but with “White & Nerdy” he was able to stay true to the original song while at the same time making it something that was completely his own. And please note that’s Key and Peele in the beginning of the video.

 

 

  1. Smells Like Nirvana

 

This is a great parody not only because I really loved Nirvana back in the day – I still remember exactly where I was when I heard that Kurt Cobain had died – but because this was a song that I never actually expected Weird Al to successfully be able to pull off. When you think about it, doing a song about how it’s impossible to understand what Cobain is singing is pretty brilliant, but I don’t know that it was an obvious joke to make. Even Nirvana assumed that the song was going to have something to do with food, since that had played such a large part of Weird Al’s previous hits. Weird Al just did a really solid job on this one; his eye for detail and the musicality of all of his songs always impresses me. This song came something after a lull in Weird Al’s career and helped make him relevant again.

Now it’s your turn – have a favorite Weird Al song? Sound off in the comments below.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Cut to the Chase Edition

This week, let’s skip the preamble and get right down to business. We’re all busy people and I don’t have any ideas for witty banter, so we’ll dive right in to the pop culture goodness.

  • Fallon and Bradley Cooper cannot hold it together during their interview:

 

  • Top Ten with the Foo Fighters:

 

2014 ELLE Women In Hollywood Awards - Arrivals

  • Here’s Seth Rogen and Bel Biv Devoe performing “Poison”

 

  • Also coming to Game of Thrones this season – flashbacks. Coincidence?
  • Gwen Stefani dropped her first new single in a while:

 

Trailer Time

  • Call of Duty: Advance Warfare:

 

  • A first look at the 5th season of Downton Abbey:

 

  • Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback:

 

  • Chris Rock in Top Five:

 

  • A mini Goonies reunion:

 

 

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts

  • The Simpsons channeled some other cartoon characters in this year’s Treehouse of Horror:

 

  • Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reprise their Shaun of the Dead roles on Phineas and Ferb:

 

  • A supercut of drivers and passengers in cinema:

 

  • Here’s an orchestra performing Rage Against the Machine:

 

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  • This supercut proves that Fallon says “fun” a lot:

 

  • Dawson’s Creek – with dogs:

 

  • The Hobbit told in 72 seconds and in LEGO. I could have saved myself a lot of time:

 

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  • The Ohio State marching band continues to kill it with their halftime shows. This week’s theme – Classic Rock:

 

  • And finally, Breaking Bad meets….American Doll?