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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dumber and dumber

Today I read in The Guardian that Gerald Crabtree, a geneticist at Stanford University thinks mankind could be getting dumber:

In two articles published in the journal Trends in Genetics, the scientist lays out what might be called a speculative theory of human intelligence. It is, he admits, an idea that needs testing, and one that he would happily see proved wrong.
 At the heart of Crabtree's thinking is a simple idea. In the past, when our ancestors (and those who failed to become our ancestors) faced the harsh realities of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the punishment for stupidity was more often than not death. And so, Crabtree argues, enormous evolutionary pressure bore down on early humans, selecting out the dimwits, and raising the intellect of the survivors' descendants. But not so today.

To which I add, “No kidding!” The first example of this would be scientists, like the above, who only believe in empirical data—i.e. test results—when, if they’d just open their eyes, they’d see the evidence all around them. Now I’m not just talking about Donna, the North Dakota resident now infamous on Facebook, who called in to a radio station to suggest that deer-crossing signs be moved to less trafficked areasalthough  I’m willing to bet that Donna is employed and has an actual job somewhere, no doubt in customer service.
Instead, show me a test group bigger than the 58,899,127 million people who voted in the Presidential election for a candidate who demonstrated on national television that he didn’t know where Iraq was. Forget reproductive rights, economics, gun control, missing tax returns, and Paul Ryan’s suits—this is a man who could not geographically locate one of the most diplomatically important countries in the world. What were those voters thinking? Were they just going on trust that there would be someone on his staff who did know where Iraq was?

And now the big news following the election is that the head of the CIA has stepped down because an illicit affair has come to light—yes, folks, you heard it right—the head of the CIA could not keep his own affair secret! Is that not proof enough?

However, while it’s not fashionable to bash him at the moment, it’s obvious that all of our ills—the economy, two major wars, George Bush, everything—stems from Bill Clinton’s un-smart decision not to keep his pants zipped while an intern was in the room. You can bet that if, a couple thousand years ago, he was the chief of a tribe somewhere and saw a rhino coming at him, he’d have the sense to run away.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Jim Kempner Fine Art, corner 23rd Street and Tenth Avenue, 11/9/12.

I never want to post unless I have something to say – and now what I have to say is that I have nothing to say. The posts I prepared the week before and the week before last—before the hurricane and the election—now seem irrelevant, like documents of another era. I mean, do we really care anymore if Wade Guyton’s work can be considered “painting” or not? (Actually I never did care.) The New York art world, its galleries and artists hard hit by Sandy, is unmoored, floating in a sea of garbage with no certain future.  Much as I railed against its excesses, smugness and stupidities, without Chelsea up and running, I feel unplugged.
            Jake, a former art student and Chelsea art handler turned Berkshire butcher said, “Maybe this is the shakeup the art world needed.” And it’s true, whenever the art world gets a shake, something new appears.
            Friday in Chelsea I found only one gallery open—Von Lintel, which was untouched by the storm. When I asked Von Lintel what this meant for the future of Chelsea as an art center, he said it was over long before the storm, with landlords asking $60,000 a month for 5,000 s.f. of ground floor space. He said art dealers, including himself, are considering moving to the Lower East Side, but Hudson of Feature, Inc. tells me there isn’t that much available real estate left there, and that the spaces are small. Now that people have finally figured out that it’s only two subway stops away, my guess is that Long Island City is next.
            You know how, when you’ve been on a long-distance train, you can wake in the night and feel as if you’re still on it? That’s how I feel about the election; I’m still caught up in it, even though it’s over. What did I do before? I can’t even remember, but I know I wasn’t combing the Internet every five minutes. And then there’s the disconnect of being in SoHo elbow-to-elbow with manic shoppers (where do they all come from?), while not that far away, people are struggling just to stay warm and alive in the wake of the storm.
            I think I’m traumatized by numbers: those $60,000-a-month rents, or that a person would have $70 million dollars laying around to contribute to a political campaign—and that it’s legal. But what really boggles my mind (this is old news, but I’m still getting over it) is that someone would fork over $120,000 million for a piece of cardboard, one of several versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I know, that sounds heretical; I’m supposed to believe in the power of art, but there’s a limit.

* * *

Two terrific articles on The Scream by Jerry Saltz and Blake Gopnik, and Jon Stewart on Karl Rove and Fox News’s meltdown, in case you can’t get enough.

And this painting by Jules de Balincourt at Salon 94, just because I like it:

  • Jules de Balincourt, Illuminated, 2012
  • Oil, oil stick, spray paint, and acrylic on canvas
  • 96 × 96 inches (244 × 244 cm)