Saturday, March 20, 2010

"The Artist is Present": a New York week

Susan came down from Boston and we met at the Manhattan Club (timeshare graciously ceded by my brother and sister-in-law) for a week in New York. I had arrived on a bumpy flight, but at least my airplane, unlike others that night, landed where it was supposed to. After a quick bus into the city, I couldn't resist walking from the Port Authority Bus Terminal up to West 56th. Saturday night in Times Square with a howling rainstorm!

From our cozy suite, we could see Carnegie Hall and Central Park.

On Sunday we had brunch with Jack Snyder at Caffe Cielo, then went to the Museum of Modern Art, packed with refugees from the rain. During the week we also walked through Central Park, still mostly leafless, to see:
  • the Whitney Biennial and the greatest-hits show "Collecting";
  • the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum -- where, like most of the visitors, I spent too much time trying to figure out how to make the iPod Touch tour-guides work instead of looking at the exhibits;
  • the Guggenheim -- the main (corkscrew) building closed for installation of a new show but in the new wing I discovered a gorgeous painting by an artist I'd not been aware of: FrantiĊĦek Kupka, Planes by Colors, Large Nude, 1909–10;
  • the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and more.
Plus a bit of St. Patrick's Day parade, the Apple store, art galleries in Chelsea, and some great food.
One night Susan and I saw "Fela!" with amazing dancing (thank you Bill T. Jones and dancers) and music by Fela Kuti, originator of Afro-Beat music; the musical is set it his club in Nigeria, "The Shrine." On another night (2 blocks walk to front-row seats in a small theater!) we saw "Equivocation" by Bill Cain, riffing on the Gunpowder Plot, Shakespeare and his acting troupe, and the efforts of the powerful to torture truth into the shape of a story that will keep them in power. My idiotic choice from the TKTS  booth for my last night was a farce; I missed my chance to see Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko in previews of "Red." I'll be wincing for years that I didn't go. But I did see this (Rothko "No. 10") ---

and this (Clyfford Still). 
My last day in New York (weather had turned to spring by then), I stumbled onto the 6th floor of MOMA looking for something else. Passing by warnings of nudity and disturbing images, I entered the retrospective, with recreations, of works by performance artist Marina Abramovic. The show is called "The Artist is Present," and Marina is indeed present for the whole run of the exhibition, almost 700 hours from March 12 to May 31. Trust, stamina, being "100 percent present."
I found the show unexpectedly moving. Early originals from her work starting in the 1960s were projected in B&W, later ones shown by color film. Some pieces were recreated by performers in the galleries. The show made me think (and feel) about trust, and the artist's bravery in trusting her audiences. In "Luminosity," a young woman stood on a perch halfway up a wall, spotlit; while I stood in this gallery, a young man nearby was gazing at her, and she was gazing down at him with a beautiful expression of stillness. Slowly, slowly, her arms raised: so slowly the motion almost imperceptible. It seemed to me that she was spreading her wings; it felt like a blessing.

Live streaming video is here.  Photos of people who come to sit across the table from Marina are here. I am not alone in wishing I could hear the thoughts of the performers who recreated her works: the June 2 symposium with the performers is already sold out.

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