Saturday, May 1, 2010

Week of the Arts in NYC

You would think that after passing my Oral Exam in art history I might want to avoid art-related things this week, but as it turns out, I've had a great week for doing artsy things that one can only experience in NYC.

Last Friday, for instance, I went with JHC to see the Marina Abramovic retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. I'm not into performance art all that much (requires patience!) and I really don't like video art (I get migraines!), but I decided to go because we wanted to see the naked people. Yes, in this retrospective, the Yugoslavian-born Abramovic has men and women--clothed and unclothed--reenacting her performance pieces from the 1970s to the present, including one in which a nude man and woman face one another and visitors are invited to walk between them (and not touch them as they have become works of art, but a few people can't resist copping a feel). As you can tell from what I've already written, I loved the exhibition. It was so much more interesting because it was arranged in one exhibition space. Most performance pieces are individual works in isolation; to see them in one group like this as an unfolding of a life's artistic career with archival film footage and live demonstrations made it more thought-provoking. Abramovic successfully uses the fourth dimension of time/temporality to make sculpture (i.e. the body) come to life. Her current live performance in The Artist Is Present, in which visitors are invited to sit across a table from her and gaze at one another in silence, seemed at first dry and boring, but the more you watched them the more you found yourself feeling the discomfort and tranquility of non-verbal communication. My favorite performance piece was Nude with a Skeleton, in which a naked man lies on a table with a human skeleton on top of him. As he breathes, the skeleton rises and falls along with his chest. It makes for a fascinating presentation of the memento mori, juxtaposing issues of life and death, and by framing it with a sexy nude Abramovic encourages us to challenge our ideas about what is sexual, erotic, and fetishistic.

On Wednesday evening, I invited RL to join me at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for a special talk given by the Director, Thomas P. Campbell: "Discovering History: The Met and the Ancient World." The presentation was about the Met's long history and interest in participating in archaeological digs, preserving artifacts, and educating people through publications and exhibitions on ancient cultures such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia. In part the talk served to offer an alternative perspective from the current trend of blaming museums of illegal acquisitions of ancient works. The talk was very interesting from a historical point of view, as Campbell used numerous historical photographs and a film showcasing this early part of the museum's history. The talk also was related to the exhibition Tutankhamun's Funeral that recently opened. (This, of course, has nothing to do with the highly-touted traveling exhibition of the treasures of King Tut from Cairo. Critics have been panning the blockbuster exhibition for focusing more on the spectacle of the pharaoh rather than presenting an accurate, scholarly exhibition to educate people, even though National Geographic is apparently a major sponsor of the show. Opening near Times Square with tickets selling for $28.50 each, I have no doubt that the exhibition is going to rake in a small fortune.)

Then on Thursday night I went with DC to the opening for the Hungarian Modernism show at the Shepherd & Derom Gallery on the Upper East Side. There weren't too many works on display that I liked all that much, but it was fascinating to see how early 20th-century movements like Cubism and Der Blaue Reiter influenced artists who may not have been in Paris or Munich at that time.

Last but not least, for my birthday PR & AM got me a ticket to go see with them the revival of La Cage aux Folles. We went last night. This new version opened a few weeks ago and stars Kelsey Grammer as Georges and Douglas Hodge as Albin. When it began, I felt like it was a bit campy (okay, aside from the obvious fact that it was about a drag queen night club), with lots of overacting and heightened melodrama. It also seemed outdated somehow, as if we'd heard all this before. But as the show continued, it got better and better. The music became more engaging, the acting improved, and the dance numbers with the "Cagelles" (see the image above) were fabulous. In fact, one of the great strengths of the musical was that the chorus of drag queens were all very muscular male dancers whose ability to do flips and twirls in heels and corsets made the whole performance even more amazing. Grammer was fine as Georges (sometimes his singing was off-key), but Hodge absolutely stole the show as his partner Albin (aka Zaza!). It's amazing to think this is Hodge's Broadway premiere. By the time the first act ended and he sang in full drag the song "I Am What I Am" you want to cry because of the intolerance that we know still exists in our world today. In that sense the show turned out to be more relevant today than ever before. To top it off, Georges and Albin share a big smooch at the end that makes you stand up and applaud for them. All in all, it was a fabulous way to end a week of great art-related events. What can I say: it's great to live in NYC.

UPDATE 5/2/10, 7:45am: As I was writing this post last evening, in particular about having been in Times Square to see a Broadway musical, someone was parking an SUV loaded with a bomb on the corner of 7th Avenue and 45th Street. NYC was saved from another potential terrorist attack because of the vigilance of a t-shirt vendor who noticed smoke coming from the car and smelled gunpowder. The entire area was evacuated last night. This morning, things are slowly getting back to normal. NYC is still an incredible place to live, especially for its arts scene, but it is worth remembering that 9/11 was only 8 & 1/2 years ago and we need to be aware.

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