Sunday, November 18, 2012

Of tempests and garage sales....

Crescent moon over New York, 11/17/12

Yesterday I saw the final performance of The Tempest, a new opera by British composer Thomas Adès at the Met. The synchronicity was not lost on me that last year Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, about Gandhi and peaceful protest, coincided with the height of Occupy Wall Street, while this, about a hurricane, came in the wake of Sandy. I suggest we look carefully at what the Met has scheduled for next year.

Before heading Uptown, over lunch I read Randy Kennedy’s article in the Times about Martha Rosler’s upcoming Garage Sale in the MoMA atrium, which will be just that—a garage sale. It’s my rule never to conjecture (at least in public) about something I haven’t seen, but just this once I’m compelled to ask: “What can I expect to get from this experience that will make it worth my while?”  
Because the reason I go see art or music, or the occasional sports event for that matter, is not to be entertained (I’m enough entertainment for myself on my own), but to experience human endeavor at its peak. I often find that in comparison with other fields—any other fields—the art world accepts too much that’s half-realized, half-executed or both. It’s not that I’m opposed to conceptual art (hey, one of my best friends is a conceptual artist!) or, after experiencing the tour de force that was Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present, even “relational aesthetics.”  But a garage sale in that MoMA space? I wonder how many people could be inveigled into buying tickets for a pickup basketball game at Madison Square Garden?
Not that The Tempest is the best opera ever written—far from it. The abbreviated libretto—what’s left after you eviscerate the wit, drama, and rich language from the original—is like Shakespeare on cue cards. The only funny line comes when the shipwrecked nobles first see Caliban and cry, “A monster! A local!” The music is similarly ho-hum, with no emotional peaks and valleys or urgency; Prospero, as a character, isn’t developed enough to rate even an anguished aria. Yet, OMG, there’s so much wondrous stuff to see: people struggling against the sea, appearing and disappearing through slits in rippling fabric onto which a roiling ocean is projected; a lithe, bejeweled Ariel who makes sounds in an impossibly high register while gamboling in the treetops with the moves of a gymnast; sinewy dancers, opulent costumes, exquisite lighting and sets that never once make you question why a room with baroque balconies should happen to be on a desert island. Not to speak of Isabel Leonard as the innocently voluptuous Miranda, who steals the stage just by being on it.

So back to.…oh, yeah, a garage sale at MoMA. I guess now that I’ve written about it, it’s essential that I see it. But after this could we please have a moratorium on art that depends on accumulations of detritus? I’m so over it. 

Note: As pointed out in the comments, the timing of this exhibition, when so many have lost so much, is extremely unfortunate. I recommend that the whole be donated to Sandy victims and the empty atrium space be seen as a hurricane memorial. If art were truly conceptual, it would be flexible in this way.


Oriane Stender said...

I like garage sales. I mean I like just coming upon them on a walk down the block. And I would be more interested in this one if it were Martha Rosler's garage sale at Martha Rosler's studio. And if it didn't cost $20 to get in. It just seems so contrived. Also, there's something odd about piles of clothes and stuff being brought to MOMA for this conceptual ... um... event while there are people who still need clothes and everyday stuff after the hurricane.

Carol Diehl said...

I LOVE garage sales. Real garage sales. of themselves studies in stuff and character. But as you point out, this one is very unfortunate in its timing. In response to your comment I'm adding to my post. THANKS Oriane.

joan said...

What could any of them have been thinking? Or not thinking. It would seem only silly if it hadn't been so politically incorrect.

lxv said...

I'm not really a fan of Adès either, but Powder Her Face is one heck of a show, about the infamous Duchess of Argyll. I saw it in Boston several years ago and the fellatio scene was a tour de force by a very talented soprano. Good light entertainment.