Lulu-mania Sweeps New York City

Lulu, it seems, is everywhere.

Frank Wedekind's legendary femme fatale, who's beguiling behavior inspired nearly as many artists as Helen of Troy's beauty launched ships, can be found all over New York City.

Alban Berg's modernist opera, Lulu, which was based on Wedekind's two "Lulu" plays, Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904), has just opened a month-long run at the Metropolitan Opera. This new production stars the soprano Marlis Petersen and is directed by the South African artist William Kentridge, who's dynamic art for the staging of the opera proves as seductive and active as Lulu herself. The Met's new production of Lulu runs through December 3.

Meanwhile, across town, the Marion Goodman Gallery is showing "William Kentridge: Drawings for Lulu." This exhibit presents the original 67 Kentridge drawings used in the opera. Anyone who sees Lulu, who appreciates Kentridge's art, or who is inclined toward German Expressionism will want to see and study this must-not-miss show. (Bravo to the Marion Goodman Gallery website which so brilliantly displays this brilliant work.) "William Kentridge: Drawings for Lulu" is on display through December 19th.

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Kentridge's Lulu at Marion Goodman Gallery
PHOTO: Marion Goodman Gallery

Also on display at the Marion Goodman Gallery is a suite of four related linocut prints by Kentridge, as well as a new fine press edition of the Lulu plays which utilizes Kentridge's art. The book is from the San Francisco-based Arion Press, which has just released its edition of Wedekind's The Lulu Plays featuring the 67 Kentridge drawings (printed by four-color offset lithography) bound into the book.

The Arion Press edition of The Lulu Plays is a fine achievement. Four-hundred copies of this limited edition artist's book were printed by letterpress on luxurious creamy paper utilizing period type in fittingly black and red inks. The book, which is hand bound and comes in a slipcase, can be seen and no-doubt fondled at the Arion Press booth at the IFPDA Print Fair at the Park Avenue Armory through November 8.

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Louise Brooks as Lulu in the 1929 film Pandora's Box.
PHOTO: Louise Brooks Society

It is on November 8 that a free screening of the 1929 silent film, Pandora's Box, starring Louise Brooks -- the greatest Lulu of them all, will take place at Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The sensational G.W. Pabst directed film was drawn from the Wedekind play, and in turn contributed to Berg's realization of his opera (composed from 1929-1935, premiered incomplete in 1937) just a few years later.

If you are looking for a little background on Kentridge's art and its use in the new production of Berg's opera, as well as the Arion Press edition of The Lulu Plays, check out this video of a recent onstage conversation between Kentridge and Arion publisher Andrew Hoyem which took place last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Those in upstate New York who can't make it to NYC can look forward to seeing some of this work in the future. The newly renamed George Eastman Museum in Rochester recently announced that Kentridge has given the definitive collection of his archive and art -- including films, videos and digital works, as well as his work for Lulu -- to the museum. Founded in the 1940s, the museum has one of the world's largest and oldest photography and film collections. It was also the longtime home of Louise Brooks.

Lulu, who in Wedekind's play dies in London at the hands of Jack the Ripper, is very much alive these days in New York.

Thomas Gladysz is an arts and entertainment writer. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, an online archive and international fan club which went online 20 years ago this Fall. Most recently, he contributed the audio commentary to the just released Kino Lorber DVD / Blu-ray of 1929 G.W. Pabst / Louise Brooks film Diary of a Lost Girl. The "Louise Brooks edition" of The Diary of a Lost Girl, edited by Gladysz, is available at the Neue Galerie in NYC.