Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hare with Amber Eyes

Noughth Week, Trinity Term, 2011
Oxford Magazine

How is it that everyone seems to be reading and seeing the same thing at the same time in such an immense city? Just as everyone around me, and in every single situation turns out to be reading Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, everyone seems to be seeing or has seen, the film Certified Copy. So that one can discuss the twists and meanders of plots, as happens with the Korean film Poetry, beginning and ending with a watery suicide – saved only by a poetic journal kept by a grandmother whose grandson, and others, were at fault. We came out of that one not exactly enlightened about the poetic impulse, but ready indeed for the twilit streets of New York.

Art is buzzing madly around this city. The annual Art Fair in the Armory is always fun even if, or especially because, we won’t be buying anything. It had exhibitions from glaring to subtle, among the latter being the Jill Newhouse gallery’s small Bonnard called The Dock at Arcachon of 1930 and, across the aisle, a whole row of Joseph Cornell boxes with their small treasures both displayed and hidden away. Russia of yesteryear was there in force, with some delicious Popovas and a Malevich, who is now also appearing in a show called Malevich and American Art, at, of course (it seems to happen all the time) the Gagosian Gallery. I loved looking at the whole conglomeration of H.D. (as in Robert Duncan’s H.D. book), and Jess’s “paste-ups” and “erotic collages” and “assemblies” assembled–that is really the word here – in Jess: To and From the Printed Page, with a smart-as-hell essay by Ingrid Schaffner, and some always resonating words by John Ashbery. Enough to make you not want to wander further. But I did. Some beautiful Diebenkorn prints were around, with eager purchasers smiling largely. Along with the Bonnard, my very favorite was an Emil Nolde watercolour: Sea with smoking steamer of 1946, with its shades of orange and blue radiating into the space around it. A strangely laid-back bunch of visitors, not all buying, but most smiling.

The wayout artist Terence Koh is circling, on his knees, a cone of salt eight hours a day in the Mary Boone Gallery, unless he is lying flat on his stomach to rest. Offering himself as a kind of sacrifice for peace (as the New York Times article about this piece, called “Crawling for Peace in Not-Quite Salt Mine” puts it, it was more comfortable in bed with John and Yoko...). Perhaps a step up from the exhibition a while ago in which he covered his turds with gold leaf...Can’t get much more dramatic, I guess.

And at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, right in the Arnie and Tony James Gallery in the building where I enjoy holding my seminars – the gallery provides a great space of flexibility, run by the Center for the Humanities–there is an extraordinary show called The Making of Americans, with a quite astonishingly faithful reproduction of Gertrude Stein’s salon on the rue Fleurus, and an entire exhibition about just that. This quite amazing thing was prepared by Aiobheann Sweeney and Catherine Karl. American Art abroad and at home emphatically do not feature in the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. This is a truly amazing exhibition of accurate-sized facsimiles of the traveling exhibition New American Painting (1958-9) organized by Dorothy Miller, feeling like Museum of Modern Art in a smaller space and unconstrained nevertheless. Documents from the Armory show, Steiglitz’s 291 Gallery, and the Société Anonyme, originally created by Duchamp and Katherine Dreier, line the walls and the glass cases, and from Documenta II, in which Americans were included for the first time. Salons are held here every week for the length of this exhibition, with two women featured each time, such as Katherine Dreier and Hilla Rebay, Joan Mitchell and Barbara Guest, Margaret Miller and Elizabeth Bishop, or Berenice Abbott and Muriel Ruykeyser, and many panels on art connected with these shows, featuring all sorts of speakers, an array of enthusiasts. All these paintings and drawings, constructed by an anonymous group of artists, belong to the collections of the Museum of American Art, Berlin, and the Salon de Fleurus, New York.

At MOMA itself, Picasso’s guitars occupy an entire exhibition space, completely quiet to themselves, except for an occasional demonstration, and the squeak of a few rubber-soled shoes or the click of far fewer high heels. I practiced my glare at the proprietors of the said shoes, to not much avail.

Opera buffs have been worried about James Levine – how often will he conduct? Having given up his Boston connection, he has just us, and will apparently
conduct Wagner’s Die Valkyrie and also Wozzeck but not Das Rheingold. We all follow each detail of his back operation and so on. The new production of Rossini’s Le Conte Ory is about to arrive, with the fantastic Juan Diego Flores in the main role...We await.

At the redesigned and reconstructed Alice Tully Hall, with its spaciousness and airiness emphasized by the glass walls and tables rather further apart than often in New York, the Chamber Music Society continues to demonstrate a kind of youthful conviction. Whether they do something baroque or more modern, the enthusiasm of the musicians is matched by that of the listeners: the latter seems unfailing.

An amazing fling just took place at the Park Avenue Armory. In its immense space was a show organized by the Folk Art Museum, called Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts. The entire and massive Armory was filled with 631 quilts from the extensive collection of Joanna Semel Rose, all hung from specially imported hanging circular bars, carefully arranged in the cavernous opening, which had suddenly become joyful and colourful. There were circles of quilts in the middle of which you could stand, and in the very center of the exhibition was a quiet circle of chairs, each with a quilt draped over it, like a quilting bee, traditional in memory and full of future potentiality – both, actually. It felt collective, like a shared occupation, opened to those of us who know nothing about quilting or even craft. It was a celebration of red and white all over.

The entrance to the Armory, rather pricey during the frequent art shows, and very pricey indeed during the recent Peter Greenaway spectacular of Leonardo’s Last Supper, was free for the five days of the exhibition, and a steady stream of visitors, many of whom had never entered the Armory before, poured into the welcoming bright space. The variety of visitors was just as infinite as the quilts. It felt like a truly mixed bunch for a truly joyous occasion.

Mary Ann Caws

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