Note from New York
Mary Ann Caws
Summer has been here for 3 days as what passes for spring these days. Despite the slight panic over swine flu here – radio programs full of it, street chatter also – the art scene flourishes.
Yesterday I felt enormously privileged to see Tacita Dean’s 2007 film on Michael Hamburger, one of my alltime favorite translators and poets. You see him mostly in his apple orchard, looking at the trees, and then bending over his wooden table with all the apples – many with quite extraordinary detailed names, not just Russets and Pippins but prefaced by many adjectives, and so on. He chooses at one point the very darkest apple and lauds it. Then he sits at his desk, and at one point reads a poem he wrote upon the death of Ted Hughes, the poet who had given him two apples from which Hamburger’s apple trees grew. I loved that especially.
So many shows, among which the Gagosian Gallery’s 21st street site, with John Richardson’s installation of the very very last Picasso paintings: the “late great Picasso” as Richardson so aptly calls the period’s works. You have only to stand in the center of any room in the gallery and the incredible burst of colorful power thrusts at you from all sides. “The Kiss” in a few transmogrifications picks up an early theme and does it a sensual, over the top honor, with the two faces squished together – the way it happens, right? Says Richardson. The show is called “Mosqueteros,” the Spanish term for musketeers, of course, but also for the men at the rear of the theatre, humble sorts. What an amazing outpouring of energy it is at its most sensual and, somehow, joyous. The faces of the viewers leaving the gallery were nothing short of happy: very unusual for New York faces.
At the Neue Gallerie on 86th street, the heavy-colored works of Die Brucke spread themselves out over the main gallery – bridging the up and downtown shows.
The Guggenheim museum offered a splendid show about the influence of Asian art on American art and literature: the “Third Mind” – quite wonderful, in its massive all=inclusiveness. Much in the outset about Martha Graham and Noguchi, about Ezra Pound and Fenellosa, and as you wound your way up the spiral ramp, exhibits of large-scale thinking paintings such as Arakawa’s enormous pieces from Mechanism of Meaning, including one about a Lemon: “Presentation of ambiguous zones” – many very diverse ways of considering this small oval yellow object. The mind races, the spirit feels enlivened. Arakawa and Gins are now involved in Reversible Destiny, buildings that take so much effort to live in, given the undulating concrete floors and the rest, that it delays the effort of dying. They had a front page of the New York Times living section a while ago, and a long article in the Wall Street Journal very recently (having been caught in the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff, which took up all the news a week or so ago.)
Actually, the entire Guggenheim exhibition seemed very grand to me, including the nineteenth century part on a different level, with some great Whistlers: two nocturnes in particular stood out, with the bright golden dots marking the lights in the distance, over the dark waters in the first, and an almost totally dim canvas in the second – until you gazed long enough.
The late Bonnard interiors still give a yellow glow to the downstairs gallery at the Met Museum, where the show of drawings upstairs attracts hordes of visitors. The new show called the Picture Generation is bright and garish and delightful, matched by Roxy Paine’s new construction on the roof, an even larger metal tree than the one he brandished in Central Park a few years ago.
At the Met opera, the last Shenck production of the Ring is taking place. One Brunnhilde after another Brunnhilde has been replaced, the great James Levine took sick one night, but has returned to thunderous ovations – worth going just for the Levine ovations, even if Wagner isn’t your piece of cake mit Schlag.
And, if you can believe it, yet another Tartuffe and yet another Waiting for Godot are inspiring yet another generation of Molière and Beckett aficionados. Some things wax eternal. Not kings, evidently: Ionesco’s early play Exit the King is about just that, death and the exit of actors and, by contagion I suppose, the audience.