LETTER from NEW YORK
Paris in March:
Very Strange: the exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay called The Angel of the Bizarre (The Angel of the Odd: Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst)…the beginning with Goya and Fussli and their monstrously wonderful darkness was so overcoming that – later --- it went flat. From the point of view of those interested in surrealism and its presentation to the public, the relative mildness of Paul Klee who began the final part of surrealist oddness, appeared in the middle, and also closed it, was lamentably floppy. The large Masson blue painting was superb, as were a few others, but the general overall interest was limited. The point of it was , of course, that the works of Marquis de Sade had just been discovered --- as the organizer, the brilliant Annie Le Brun, is the world’s specialist on Sade, this push toward the dark erotic and the Gothic novel makes every bit of sense. What was delightful above all, was the spread of details: the forests beloved by Caspar David Friedrich, Max Ernst and on and on, the Dracula legend and its ramifications, the raft of the Medusa (think Gericault), the myths spread about by Moreau, Munch, Redon, and the rest. Vampires! Witches! Ghosts!
The joys of Paris in the early spring included, this time, an enormous exhibit about Dali, and here the early self-portraits stood out as superb, together with the numerous splashy videos of the artist himself, sometimes accompanied by Gala, whose biography I read in order to prepare myself and where I found, what a joy, an anecdote elucidating (in Dali’s own way of elucidating, of course) the comically delightful painting of Gala with two lamp chops on her shoulder, which I am delighted to be using in my forthcoming Modern Art Cookbook (Reaktion Books, Fall, 2013.) Here it is: Dali says to the journalist discussing with him this painting: “Easy. I like lamb chops and I like my wife, so why not paint them together?” And then the journalist: “why grilled lamp chops?” And Dali shouts: “Not grilled! Raw! The lamb chops are raw and Gala is raw! Raw!” Hoe not to love it?
New York in March-April
The absolutely most entertaining opera splashed into the Met. Handel’s “Giulio Cesare,” superbly funny and touching, with Cleopatra doing her Natalie Dessay thing, and the very great counter-tenor David Daniels doing Caesar in his high tones. The rhythm of the presentation (four hours and then some) was at once elegant and sprightly, its dancers and soloists and setting with the sea sparkling in the distance, the various ships sitting upon it, is totally irresistible, to such a point that, having seen it 2 nights ago, I am going again to see it on the screen.
The play that has arrived with the most bravura word of mouth fame is ColmToibin’s Testament of Mary, with the insuperable Fiona Shaw and a large black bird showing us an Irish take on the legend and a monologue about it. The book captured many of us, first by word of mouth, rather the way The Hare with Amber Eyes got to us – in France it is translated as Mémoire retrouvée, which makes sense when you think how the Ephrussi family was entwined with Proust himself, think of Charles Ephrussi purchasing the bunch of Manet’s asparagus, to which then the artist added another -- and now this enactment.
The height of the present showings has to be Piero della Francesca’s , stands there at the Frick, that Virgin surrounded by the four angels, whose wings are barely visible and each of whom looks in a different direction. The feet of the Virgin just extend a bit over the interior frame, her child reaches for the rose, symbolizing the terrible sacrifice he is not aware he will be making. This arrival is worth making a few pilgrimages toward the Frick to simply look.