Tuesday, September 28, 2010

what a spring!

“Play me, I’m Yours,” a two-week project this last June,  placed pianos in 60 parks and public spaces, inviting anyone to decorate them and play them: it kicked off with 1000 free performances throughout New York City. Nice.

The late spring was full of peculiar adventures musical and other. Principal among these was Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre, based on the play by the more than peculiar Belgian, Michel de Ghelderode. Everything of his always struck me as over the top, creepy beyond belief, very twentieth-century baroque. But this took the cookie: impossible to describe and of course about death and noise and costuming and plays within plays and all of that. Avery Fisher Hall – big, big – was entirely filled each of the three nights it was presented, and we found seats at the very top, delightedly, and were on the edge of them for the evening. Subsequently, I can’t remember anything about it except that it was exciting. That kind of thing.

More excitement: the Met brought out ALL its Picassos, a celebration in itself. The 1903 painting of Arlequin au cafĂ©,  with its background taken straight from a Van Gogh also owned by the Met, the Actor, the painting into which a visitor had fallen last January, now repaired, and a few others, were xrayed and the repaintings and retouchings shown in their various layers of retouchings. Among the thousands of visitors, groups tended to gather in front of his painting of Gertrude Stein (the one he said she would come to resemble, as indeed she did), which was the first Picasso given to the museum. The century’s greatest artist, she said, and the century’s greatest writer: how not? So she sits there, and rarely alone.

After the conversation/situation/performance of Tino Seghal’s This Progress at the Guggenheim (which has just purchased it, as we interpreters who had been part of it were notified, and of which there is deliberately no trace), it felt passing strange to have the next exhibition, about photography, called Ghostliness. Things with no trace, indeed. Except memories, like those of Marina Abramovic’s sitting for all those hours and days at MOMA with so many people lining up to sit across from her. All of which makes us wonder about traces and what we actually remember.

Probably exhibitions like the contrasting ones that took place at the two Gagosian galleries in Chelsea, one on 21st street, and one on 24th street: you could scarcely imagine a more unlike pair than the late paintings of Monet (the water lilies and the Japanese bridge) on one hand and fifty still lifes of Roy Lichtenstein on the other. How brilliant those are, with the steam coming out of a coffee cup painted on one side, and sculpted on the other, with Cape Cod scenes of a lobster and a wave and a sailboat, and with a few lemons sitting happily on a saucer… Visitors to these works of bright generally walked around smiling – not the most usual expression on faces in the bustle of New York galleries or streets.

But Lichtenstein tends to awaken some kind of unexpectedness in the mind. I am thinking of Frederic Tuten’s short stories to appear in this November with Norton: Self-Portraits: Fictions,  with a Lichtenstein on the cover, and a story dedicated to him. Just as quirky, brilliant, and radiant with irony as the Lichtensteins themselves. It’s a kind of New York spirit, not unaware of the multiple tragedies all around – good grief (what an odd expression, how is grief good?) --but very much alive. Like the city itself. 

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