New York as summer begins always feels expectant. As a column in the New York Times put it in a headline on June 3, some of us feel like “Women on the Verge of Everything.” That was actually about the New Museum, way down in Lower Manhattan, having to do with a double show of Swedish Nathalie Fjurberg, and of British Phillida Barlow (who had once taught Tacita Dean, and that was the origin of it all) for a show including a New York-based painter, Ellen Altfest.
But it is not about gender, says the director of exhibitions at the New Museum, Massimiliano Gioni, and I firmly believe that, but am all the same delighted to rush down to the exhibition. Most particularly, since Tacita Dean (whose amazing filming of the great translator Michael Hamburger with his apples from his orchard just knocked me for a loop several years ago) has done films and photographs of Merce Cunningham, Claes Oldenburg, Leo Steinberg, and Cy Twombly. And Nathalie Djurberg’s sculptures about birds “always trying to get the upper hand” are supposed to address hidden emotions: very appropriate for those of us thinking about the way birds keep coming up here and there, not just on expeditions and in parks all over, but in works like Antonin Artaud’s writings about Paolo Uccello, and his birds, named and not. Uccello, of course, but on and on.
Now there is a brand new East Harlem bookstore, called La Casa Azul, in homage to Frida Kahlo’s house so named in Mexico (which I loved visiting.) The owner, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, is making a brave move, since – as we all, alas, know -- and the Times points out, “It seems to make little business sense. Not when Amazon’s dominance continues to threaten brick-and-mortar storefronts. And not when the economy has already claimed many small businesses. None of that, however, has deterred Aurora Anaya-Cerda from pursuing her dream.” The idea seems providential, in any case, as the formation of a community visiting place, like Shakespeare and Company in Paris so long ago. Hooray for bookstores!
As usual, much at the Met. First, the Islam-Byzantium exhibition, extraordinary, with its manuscripts on parchment dyed purple with gold lettering, its textiles emblazoned with messages, its mosaics, and so much about Syriac Christianity we, my daughter and I as we visited, had known nothing about. Nor did we know ab
Then, the impossible conversations between Schiaparelli and Prada: you can breeze through those, and head up to the roof sculpture by Tomas Saraceno, called Cloud City .… You couldn’t go up into it or up to the roof at all, unless you had left (as everyone had to) all your take-with-you belongings on the fourth floor in a locker, and climbed the steps to the roof to see this many-sided reflecting construction, into and around which you walked, climbed, and peered out at the skyline of New York. Well worth the double climb(s). Even if I hadn’t chosen to live in New York as a non-driver and a rabid see-everything-er, I would have chosen it for the Met Museum.
We just say the overcomingly audacious, that is the word, Clybourne Park , a farce about racism (what, a farce about racism, yes, with jokes and such) in its real estate manifestation, about which the really smart journalist Frank Rich wrote in New York Magazine, the reprint of which is distributed with the program. You could say: oh, it is obvious, so much has not changed since the time of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun of 1959 and the time of this play, in 2009, the first act dealing with the first and the second, with the more contemporary… But how amazingly staged, with the same house in the first defaced in the second act, with the tragedy of the first household brought to life (and death) in the second, and ad infinitum. But powerful it is, and sold out for good reason.
The big tragedy here, besides the imminent New York Public Library redoing and, from some of our points of view, undoing, is the loss of the sometimes very great New York City Opera, which is now without a home, itinerant and bravely continuing, but what a loss. It had been set up, with the very grand Beverley Sills as the enduring icon, as the people’s opera, far less expensive than the Metropolitan Opera. But now, under the new auspices of the Met Opera, the family circle seats (where I sit) are at the most $25, and there are possibilities of orchestra seats at that price, to say nothing of the HD performances all over everywhere, at that same price. So opera has spread out to “the people,” however you take that term. The New York City Opera was famous for its Handel productions – I remember an astonishing Semele, and a Platée, hysterical and delightful. Now, as the former editor of the Opera News said to me, Handel is produced far more widely, but there was a time when the New York City Opera was the instigator for much of that ongoing Handel enthusiasm.
It is easy to mourn things, but I have to say that Shakespeare in the Park is starting up again, with As you Like It, and those free seats and that cornucopia of richness is so very New York that it brings tears to my eyes, so I will stop right here.