07 October 2014

Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse: My Barbarian at Gallery 400

Motherhood and the anxieties associated with it are the core themes of Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse at Gallery 400. The exhibition highlights the work of My Barbarian, a collective comprised of Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alex Segade. The works in the show were accompanied by two live performances of an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, The Mother, in which a radicalized depiction of motherhood is explored.

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From the moment I entered the industrial space of Gallery 400, I was confronted by the sharp triangular stage – a wooden construction jutting a sharp pointed angle directly at the entrance. This introduction to the show is arresting, the downward pointing triangular shape of the stage recalling the symbol of femininity and womanhood. This object is central to a show intent on understanding motherhood and redefining gender roles in the modern era.

Though the exhibition doesn’t have many works in it, it feels complete. Flanking the stage are works that directly relate to the performance. On the left are drawings made of oil stick on brown paper crudely depicting masks, set designs, and violent statements like “YOUR SON HAS BEEN SHOT.” Each drawing is clearly handmade. There is nothing mechanical about the art, though some of the drawings depict factories and laborers – giving humanity to the labor movement, a theme that is later called out in the performance of The Mother.

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The opposing wall holds thirteen papier mâché masks used in My Barbarian’s performances. The masks are sculptural, evoking classical Greek theatre, each depicting a character performed by members of My Barbarian. Upon closer viewing, the papers used to plaster the masks are reproductions of 1930’s Russian newspapers, a reference to the era in which Brecht composed The Mother, a play framed by the Bolshevik Revolution.

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In two smaller galleries are video installations, one of which plays My Barbarian’s performance of The Mother in a continuous loop. This video acts as a proxy for the actors throughout the show’s run, although two performances occurred mid-September. The performances rounded out the exhibition in its ability to activate the objects in the space and personified the themes of motherhood, revolution, labor, and artistic practice that each iteration of My Barbarian’s work explores.

The Mother takes place in 1917 Russia, and portrays a mother, Mrs. Vlassova, in relationship to her rebel son Pavel. The action of the play occurs on the triangular stage and the masks become physical aids in storytelling. Gaines, Gordon, and Segado wear neutral off-white work clothes including coveralls, caps, and work boots. Though they appear to match, each of their costumes is distinct - their individuality is highlighted. The story takes place in a series of locations including the kitchen of Mrs. Vlassova, the factory where Pavel works, a prison, a teacher’s home, and sites of protest outside of the factory. The drawings are activated during the performance, projected onto the wall behind the stage to set the scene for each location.

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The performance was punctuated by songs from the original play set to musical arrangements by Gaines. Employing theatrical tactics, My Barbarian exploits musical styles, dance, and inflections in the actors’ voices and bodies to tell the story of Mrs. Vlassova’s place in the revolution. Tied solely to the domestic space of her home, she is introduced to the revolution through her son Pavel who works in a factory. Pavel’s desire to fight for better wages involves his mother giving both her emotional and physical support. She aids the revolution through her words and her actions, eventually leaving her home to complete covert operations for the revolutionary effort, visit her son in prison, and even join in the violent protest marches.

The success of the performance lies in the liberties My Barbarian took with their interpretation of the original. The performers play multiple characters in the story. Each takes a turn at playing the mother. Even the audience has a chance to perform the mother through call and response at the end of the performance. In this way My Barbarian suggests that all people have a “maternal instinct” and the place a mother may have in stirring revolution. Revolutions don’t emerge from thin air – they are birthed, weaned, and grown. Through neutralizing costumes, the use of masks, and simplistic use of set design, My Barbarian is able to tell the story of revolution while simultaneously remarking upon the importance of the mother in nurturing social justice.

03 October 2014

Gallery Girl

Howdy y'all! It's hard to believe that I am in week six of grad school! Not to mention I've been working my little tail off at Gallery 400 and they've asked if I'd be interested in continuing my glamorous curatorial internship (my words, not theirs). In short, I said yes! Which means all of you Chicago friends should come visit me at work, as in please attend all of our wonderful programming. I'm talking lectures, events, openings, film screenings, performances. You name it, we are probably doing it in some capacity.

In working at the gallery the last few weeks I've learned an immeasurable amount of "stuff." I know, stuff isn't the most descriptive or flowery of words, but there are so many different roles and tasks within the space that my duties change any given day. My first full day of work was the opening for Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse - an exhibition of the work from My Barbarian collective.

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These are the labels I was tasked with installing
When I arrived at work the morning of the opening there was a flurry of activity. Masks needed to be hung, wall labels needed to be trimmed and affixed to the wall, video files needed to be compressed and installed on media players, and lights needed to be installed. My first daunting task was hanging labels, and the amount of precision it took was a lesson in futility. I am now a whiz with a leveler.

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The night of the opening was a smashing success, though there was a moment of panic when our bartender arrived an hour late! An opening without wine, can you feel me sweating as I type this? Malik Gaines of My Barbarian performed a medley of songs from the group's adaptation of The Mother, filling the entire room with music. It was such a wonderful experience working an art opening in which I was a gallery employee and not just a critical visitor!! There was a moment when I looked around the room mid-performance and saw the general sense of happiness everyone felt listening to Gaines sing.

Pinch me.

Some other projects I've been working on include:

  • Completing a final proof of the didactic material for our current show
  • Turning the equipment on and off to open and close the gallery (getting turnt if you will)
  • Making sure the projectors are straight (lordy lord this is also an exercise in patience)
  • Researching artists for our upcoming show (stay tuned!!)
  • Researching and writing wall text (!!!) for the Visibility Machines exhibition coming in January
  • Finding contact information for the artists we are interested in working with
  • Requesting submissions of work from the the MFA/BFA students for our Lobby Competition
All in all, working here has been such a hands on experience. I'm learning an insane amount whether it's through the hands on nitty gritty, or the research I'm doing on diverse contemporary artists. Plus the amount of exhibitions we put on annually means I'll be able to see some of my projects through over the course of the next year. In fact... we have an opening on October 31 for a show I am helping to put together, and you should consider coming!! Also, I'll be facilitating a screening of Art21 on November 5, which you should also put on your calendar. 

To steal a line from Almost Famous, it's all happening. 

29 September 2014

A Room With a View: Peering Into the Universe of Henry Darger

Taking a note of inspiration from Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence and subsequent written work The Small Museum published in the New York Times magazine earlier this year, I visited the Henry Darger Room Collection at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Below is the piece that I composed in response to the experience.


The red brick exterior of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is unassuming – but contained within its walls is a peek into the universe of the artist Henry Darger. Stepping into the front of the museum is like stepping into someone’s home, there were no ticket-taking kiosks or guards. This welcome is a fitting introduction for a museum that holds the only evocation of Darger’s home, a one-room apartment of creative intrigue.


As I made my way to The Henry Darger Room Collection, I acclimated myself to the style and aesthetic of outsider art. On view were naïve paintings of celebrities like Elvis, Steve Buschemi, and James Van Der Beek – which showed how spectacular the art of an untrained hand could be. Subject matter and artistic materials varied, but it was clear that the work in this museum celebrates the creative potential all people possess. Toward the back corner of the rear gallery laid Darger’s Room. Entering the room is an experiential feast for the eyes. Though the space was cluttered, it felt sacred – a sanctuary tucked away from the hustle of the city streets.
 
There were piles of National Geographic magazines and stacks of mismatched boxes each hand labeled to reveal the contents within. To my right was a tattered wicker laundry basket full to the brim with rolled balls of twine. Magazine cutouts, religious ephemera, images of little girls, and photographs of plumes of smoke were framed and hung in a rhythmic pattern on the chocolate brown walls. I felt inspired while immersed in this space, the walls a collage of imagery and a large assortment of art supplies well within my grasp.

The ground that wasn’t covered in art supplies revealed hardwood floors. There was a wrought iron fireplace and oak mantel peppered with religious figurines and flanked by framed drawings of the Vivian Girls – images Darger used as source material throughout his sixty-year career. To my left was a table covered in coloring books, crayons, tubes of acrylic paint, and neat piles of magazines and newspaper tied with twine.

But what grabbed me was the desk where he worked. Beneath a dimly lit chandelier sat a circular wooden table. It was covered with faded magazines, repurposed cigar boxes filled with crayons, acrylics, and watercolors, and a single cartoon of a little girl. Above the table hung an array of framed images, my favorite written in Darger’s familiar scrawl NO SMOKING UNDER NO CONDITIONS??! – a humorous message made for and seen only by Darger. It was at this desk that he put pen to paper, painstakingly transferring images of little girls and men on horseback into his fanciful landscapes of a fantasy world that made sense to him alone. The chair mirrored the desk in its clutter, there was nowhere to sit, there was nowhere to rest.

It wasn’t until I read the single didactic panel that it hit me – there wasn’t a bed in the room. Darger’s work, a combination of drawings and writings some of which were twelve feet in length, were so large he couldn’t fully open them in his one room apartment. So devoted to his work, he ultimately chose to store his art supplies on his bed sleeping at the table and chair in which he worked, hence the omission of a bed in this display.

The limited didactic material in the room led me to examine in detail the desk, the framed images, and the various containers. I mentally reached out to open the boxes and thumbed through stacks of magazines. I imagined what it would be like to live in solitude existing in a creative fortress carefully built for one. For what was left untold by the curators was also left untold by Darger himself. What little is known of him has left space for questions and mystery. By experiencing Darger through his collection, we can only begin to form a picture of him using one of his greatest tools: the imagination.

18 September 2014

This Weekend

This weekend is the premiere art-going gallery-hopping weekend in Chicago. Between tonight and Sunday evening, I'm hoping to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, Kavi Gupta, the Sullivan Galleries, Antena, EXPO Chicago, Gallery 400, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Take a deep breath with me, there doesn't that feel better?

Here's a rundown of what I will be doing, seeing, snapping photos of, oggling at, and potentially reviewing:

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 
The Art Institute of Chicago // June 24 - Oct. 16, 2014

Clairvoyance (La Clairvoyance), (1936) via Art History News Report
The final days of the major Magritte retrospective are upon us, and with that I am visiting the Art Institute for one final viewing of his work. Surrealism has a tendency to be off-putting, with the jarring imagery that seems to stand outside of time or place. Using the techniques laid out by Renaissance artists like trompe l'oeil, Magritte employs his talent for painting "the real" and turning it on its head. As a viewer, standing before his work is arresting. It's difficult to comprehend, breathtaking, satisfying and unsatisfying all at once. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in his paintings, sculptures, and works on paper one final time.

Kavi Gupta Gallery // Sept. 19 - Nov. 15, 2014 

Image via Kavi Gupta Gallery
"I was born to do great things are the quoted words of Sandra Bush, Mickalene Thomas's late mother, a statement that speaks for both the dynamic life that she lived as well as her influence and inspiration on Thomas's artistic practice as her longtime muse. Bush has been prominent as a subject in Thomas's works over the past 14 years, inspiring her examinations of identity and style through her magnetic personality and undeniable presence. This presentation of new work explores the personal story of the woman behind the inspiration. This is a story in celebration of womanhood, motherhood, and the power of art as a totem for personal memory, a story in celebration of Sandra." - Kavi Gupta Gallery

Earlier this year, Mickalene Thomas released a documentary about her mother as her artistic muse. It looks incredibly moving, with heartfelt conversations relating Thomas' work to her close relationship with her mother, Sandra.


A Proximity of Social Consciousness: Art and Social Action
SAIC Sullivan Galleries // Sept. 20 - Dec. 20, 2014

Morgan Shoal: Lake Bottom Land Use by Dan Peterman image
via A Lived Practice
"At the core of Chicago’s intellectual and creative life stand these influential artists for whom this city itself was a springboard for a new way of thinking about art at the intersection of society. Their work has influenced generations, having made social practice a worldwide phenomenon. Now this exhibition brings their ideas alive through 10 newly commissioned projects. Exhibiting artists: Jim Duignan, Pablo Helguera (BFA 1993), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (MFA 1985), Dan Peterman, Pocket Guide to Hell, J. Morgan Puett (BFA 1981), Michael Rakowitz, Tamms Year Ten, Temporary Services, and Rirkrit Tiravanija (MFA 1986)."
 - The Sullivan Galleries

A Home coming: videos by Cara Megan Lewis and Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera
Antena // Sept. 19 - Oct. 11, 2014

Photographic still from Antena

"The comfort of “home” is exploited in the three video works featured in the exhibition A Home coming. Each video is situated in a liminal, transitory space that complicates otherwise familiar places and implicates the role of the voyeur, blurring the distinction between reality and fiction. The exhibition will feature a collaborative artwork, and one individual work by each of the artists. 

For their individual works, both Cara and Alejandro appropriated existing “home videos.” For Cara’s video installation Let’s Do It, edited footage from a 1990 home music video - originally made in collaboration with her father - raises questions of early sexual awareness and depicts the fine line between confidence and self consciousness. Alejandro’s video on the other hand abstracts an overtly sexual video clip from a homemade porn he found online, offering a humorous perspective on that which is usually confined to the private realm. 

The setting of their collaborative video installation Cul-de-Sac is a subdivision of more than 100 houses all in the same state of construction. The timeless music box melody accompaniment implies a history and offers a counterpoint to the otherwise cultural void depicted in the footage of the construction site. The hypnotic video exposes the skeleton of a yet-to-be populated, already-scripted homogenous society that prizes superficial appearance over true quality." 
- Antena

EXPO Chicago
Navy Pier // Sept. 19 - Sept. 21, 2014

View of EXPO Chicago, 2012 via Navy Pier
If you can't make it to every single gallery, but want a slice (albeit, massive) of what is happing in the art world right now, buy a ticket to EXPO and run wild. 140 galleries representing 17 countries in 43 cities will be showing hundreds of works of art. It's a feast for the eyes as well as the senses, a massive space to immerse yourself in the art world.

My Barbarian Collective Performs "The Mother"
Gallery 400 // Sept. 19 (7 pm) and Sept 20. (3 pm)

A moment from "The Mother" via The Visualist
"My Barbarian performs a live staging of their adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s 1932 play, "The Mother." Telling the story of a working-class mother who becomes increasingly radicalized on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, the play centers on the power of the affective maternal relationship to foster social change. My Barbarian is a collective consisting of artists Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade. Founded in Los Angeles in 2000, My Barbarian combines elements of theater and visual art to create interdisciplinary works in video, music, performance, drawing, and sculpture."
- Gallery 400

MCA Talk: Curating Bowie
The Museum of Contemporary Art // Sept. 21, 2014 (1-2 pm)

Photograph via The MCA
"David Bowie Is* curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, present an overview of the exhibition and discuss Bowie’s life and work" 
- The MCA

09 September 2014

Grad School (The Miniest Reflection)

Hi there blog, I'm popping up for air to literally say "Hi there blog" and let you know that grad school is wonderful, full of people who are interested in exploring the world of museums with me, and bubbling over with homework and activity. I have already felt my brain muscle getting stronger from the last two weeks of readings, discussion, reflection, art openings, research, lectures, etc. and did I mention that it's only week two? WEEK TWO! Here are photos of some of things I managed to capture in the midst of running around like a chicken with my head cut off (albeit a black-dress wearin' gallery lovin' chicken).

If you're interested in what I'm taking right now, here's my course load:

  • Museum Genres, Practice, and Institutions
  • Writing for Exhibitions
  • Cultural Collections

If you are intrigued by these courses, or want to know what I am reading, I would be glad to post a reading list!!

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First day of school fashion, youth style.
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Blueberry chess pies, fresh from the oven at the Jane Addams Hull House
Museum as part of the summer Porch Project programming. YUM.
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Homework in the digital age, y'all.
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Immersing myself in the work and theory of Olafur Eliasson for my first presentation. Love you O.
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Hung wall labels for the first time at the My Barbarian show at Gallery 400, where I am an intern.
Sorry for the single smudge, I promise I will be better in time.
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One final shot of the installation and stage at Gallery 400.

21 August 2014

UIC Free Art School with Kevin Coval

As some of you may recall from a previous post, the school where I will be attending my grad program received a modest grant from the National Endowments for the Arts, and what they chose to do with the money amazed me. The grant afforded a unique experiment, the UIC Free Art School. The school was  free and open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis, and covered a wide range of sessions that included performance art, sculpture, painting, drawing, graffiti, and art history taught by leaders in the Chicago art world.  While most of the courses filled up in the blink of an eye, I managed to snag a spot on the Kevin Coval hosted Graffiti Walking Tour, and I will forever be grateful for the experience.

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We met in a UIC parking lot, made our introductions and hellos, then hopped into a 16 person van and set off on a bumpy funny ride to the Crawford Steel Company in Brighton Park. The street facing walls contain sanctioned murals, masterpieces done by working graffiti artists from the Chicagoland area. The walls have been given by Crawford Steel to the artists, and the walls are worked and reworked on an ongoing basis. Around the corner, we encountered the Crawford Mural house rules, which deal with respect, boundaries, and a hope that this space better fosters the graffiti community.

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Behind the factory and under a set of working train tracks are what Coval referred to as practice walls. While these aren't technically the same caliber as masterpieces behind them, they serve to act as a space for artists to work over ideas, images, colors, styles, words, and tags they are playing with. The evolution of these spaces is absolutely breathtaking, and it's merely by happenstance.

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The ground was a mix of persistent foliage and remnants of art supplies
We spent a few minutes quietly pondering the sanctity of the space, and it had never occurred to me that for something as ubiquitous as graffiti, that the community remains completely underground because the art they create is illegal. Issues of space, the definition of art and beauty, neighborhood politics, and anonymity came to the forefront of our discussion, as we trekked along the train tracks to a hidden spot where some of the real magic took place.

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Kevin Coval, our on-site lecturer and van driver for the day
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Behind the steel factory is this amazing hidden spot. Coval told us that this is a practice space, as well as a space where graffiti artists BBQ, hang out, and enjoy one anothers company. I pretty much swooned as soon as we walked out of the dense foliage on the right. Besides the occasional mosquito, this hidden site is perfect, breathtaking, and full of color.

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A character commonly found in the work of the artist Shel
As we walked along the side of the building, Coval pointed out names, shapes, and characters, sharing with us some of the stories behind the imagery. The artist Shel happened upon some books detailing the visual history of Aztec and Mayan cultures, and the influence he found in those studies began to enter his work on the street. This is one of the characters he developed, which bears a resemblance to the tribal masks and relief sculptures of the Mesoamerican cultures.

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Following our visit to Crawford Steel we made a quick trip to a space along the side of the expressway, which had a completely different vibe. This didn't feel so much like a community, many of the tags were rushed, some less-developed than what we viewed at the first site. This space contained gang graffiti as well, something we saw very little of over at Crawford Steel. The site itself was interesting though, I've driven by this September 11th Memorial countless times and had no idea that there was an entire wall of graffiti beneath it.

Upon reflection, this walking/driving tour of some of Chicago's graffiti hangouts was incredibly eye opening. I learned a bit about why artists write the way they do, learned a thing or two about anonymity and breaking the law, as well as the basic but monumental difference between gang graffiti and art. I think creating sanctioned spaces for artists to work like the Crawford Steel site shows a change in the mentality surrounding graffiti, and slowly over time graffiti might finally earn its spot in the hallowed halls of the art and museum world. Banksy and Shepard Fairey are just the beginning, but after what I saw and how I felt looking at these works has me thinking graffiti is just as relevant and talentful as much of what's happening in the contemporary art world. 

16 July 2014

Sweet, Sweet Feminism

I feel like the Internet has been one of the best places for open discourse on feminism, it's various waves, and where we stand today. Between the circulation of feminist art pieces, women speaking up and openly about their bodies, discussions of beauty and photoshopping, the endless podcasts and vlogs I keep running across, it's hard not to come to this place (The Internet) and find a community in the masses. I don't keep a pinterest, but I might be "pinning" some things that have been inspiring me as of late. Hopefully this will turn into a series, but for now, let's do this.

Deborah de Robertis and Courbet's "Origin of the World" Performance

Animated .gif via Hyperallergic
The French performance artist, Deborah de Robertis, recently staged a performance in which, adorning a shimmering golden dress (not unlike the guilded frames in the gallery), she posed in front of Gustave Courbet's "Origin of the World". This isn't the first work of feminist art related to Courbet's anatomically incorrect, and at the time controversial painting of the vagina (he forgot the outer labia and the clitoris, naturally...), but it is one of the most talked about.

I think what de Robertis did here was draw attention to the objectification of the female body, which has been happening for centuries in visual art by drawing a direct comparison to herself as a living breathing person, not just a vagina on a wall. Also, the female genitalia is demystified through her performance, juxtaposing the two dimensional painting with the three dimensional person, proving that there are more parts, literally and physically to being a woman. She's entering a space, the museum as well as the canon of accepted and condoned artists - a mainly male institution upheld and funded by a male cohort. And for her to walk in, make herself present, and point out the true origin of the world, her vagina, I say brava!

Vagina selfie for 3D printers lands Japanese artist in trouble

Image via the Guardian
The Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, aka Rokudenashiko, was arrested in Japan for emailing the data from her work that involved using a 3D printer to photograph and make an image of her vagina. While she used the imagery from the project to make a kayak in the shape of her vagina, she was actually arrested for breaking some of Japan's obescenity laws - which strikes me as odd for a country that has an entire sector focused around the pleasure industry.

In a statement following the raiding of her studio and confiscation of 20 of her works, Rokudenashiko said "Japan is still a society where those who try to express women's sexuality are suppressed, while men's sexuality is overly tolerated." Her work has been stated to demystify the female genitalia, which should not be so shocking since she's working and living in a country that has a festival dedicated entirely to glorifying the penis. Well done lady, you're fighting the good fight.

Nathan Rabin Apoligizes for Coining the Term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl"

Image via Salon.com
And in completely unrelated news, the culture writer Nathan Rabin has officially apologized for coining the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and is calling for an end of its usage. The entire article is well written, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize.” 

"As is often the case in conversations about gender, or race, or class, or sexuality, things get cloudy and murky really quickly. I coined the phrase to call out cultural sexism and to make it harder for male writers to posit reductive, condescending male fantasies of ideal women as realistic characters." 

“Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness. But in the meantime, Manic Pixies, it’s time to put you to rest.”

As someone who might fall into this weirdly vague and truly sexist trope (I'm slightly waifish, somewhat spontaneous, and a bit cutesy/quirky), I'm glad he recognized that this term has snowballed into something misogynistic and so off the mark. It's ballsy to coin a term, but even ballsier to put an end to it entirely. Way to go Nathan, apology accepted.
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