New York City makes my minute-ly, hourly, daily, relentless search for great art a breeze and provides a windfall. Although I must admit that I have only compassion, sympathy, and impatience for second rate, we all know that there is no shortage of the first rate, the extraordinary, and the superb all around us. One challenge is how to find the greatest - - or not miss the best- - amid the dazzling array of artistic endeavors which enrich the life of our tiny island and the world.
Over the weekend, I was nosing around at the Kentridge exhibition at MOMA, as a follow up to attending the dress rehearsal of the lively new production of the 22 year-old Shostakovich, The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera. Lo and behold, I found a woman sitting under the glare of four huge lights, staring at a woman seated before her. Performance Art, the sign said.
Performance? I wondered - -and still do. Was and is the word being redefined, if you’ll pardon the poor pun, under my nose? With the sounds of a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime, memorable concert at the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York on Tuesday evening still ringing in my inner ears, I was simply confounded by the term. How could virtuosos Robert Langevin, Principal Flute of the New York Philharmonic, Liang Wang, Principal Oboe, and John Novacek, pianist be compared to the absolute lack of activity, content, and movement?
What was this vacuous glowering? The Emperor’s new clothes rushed to mind. The fact that the artist is paid to sit and say nothing disturbed me, when I thought of those who work so hard and struggle for a living. But a brilliant young Harvard College and Law School grad tried to pry open my quickly-closing-mind. Perhaps the silent stare of the ‘performance artist’ who sits there all day provokes the thought of the individuals who chose to sit across from her? Perhaps growing up in Eastern Europe under a Communist regime taught her to keep quiet?
Time did not permit exploring more of her work on an upper floor, where one would be exposed to nudity, a small sign discretely explained. Nudity? Now we all know that that sells - - and better than classical music, one might add. But when I returned home and was listening to news of the havoc being wreaked by the hurricane-like storm, I was surprised to hear a report on nudity at MOMA. Right up there with hundreds of thousands losing power, trees destroying houses, and human suffering, there was an entire segment describing how one must walk past two nudes to enter that very exhibition upstairs I had missed - - or didn’t miss.
Nudity not only sells, I concluded, but also pays!
John Cage’s book, Silence, was one of his many attempts to provoke thought. As was his piece for piano, 4:51 Seconds, during which the audience waits, the pianist does nothing, and everyone becomes quite uncomfortable. I heard him tell a group of students in a seminar at Yale that he was trying to make people question what music and art are. But he did not equate those works with a Beethoven symphony, a Mozart opera, or a work of art.
Cole Porter nailed it: Anything Goes. Our simplistic, anything-goes-culture rewards the latest thing, making little or no effort to evaluate relevance, importance, or, heaven-forbid, substance.
The memory of the Lyric concert loomed larger, and I thought about how music lovers might have learned about the Lyric concert, which brought some audience members to tears, because of its quality? (Excerpts can be heard on its website www.lyricny.org/videos.html.) Obviously, some of New York’s ‘best kept secrets’ are the small organizations which lack the advertising budgets, marketing and prestigious clout of some of our deservedly-legendary institutions.
The Secret of Kells rushed to mind, a marvelous, imaginative, hand-drawn, profound, inspired new animation, which is up against Avatar. Don’t miss it! See it, find it immediately, if not sooner. How? Last week it was playing in one movie house in New York City, mind you, while hundreds of millions of dollars have been changing hands for James Cameron’s new work.
A beautiful concert over lunch at the Harmonie Club added fuel to my fire. Hidden from the public, but as great as any concert in any hall, Tatiana Goncharova, piano, Jesus Reina, Violin, and Andrew Janss, Cello gave a magnificent performance of Mendelssohn’s great D Minor Piano Trio. The event was part of a series run for years with dedication by Dorothy Indenbaum, who always insists on including music by a woman composer. Lera Auerbach’s Piano Trio Op.28 and Piazolla’s The Seasons rounded out the program. I felt lucky to be invited.
Bottom line: I cannot stand or sit idly by. I am impelled to help to get the word out there, to put a spotlight on what can be easily overlooked in a city that is a veritable treasure chest of artistic endeavors. Beware, or be on the lookout, because I plan to unearth some of New York’s ‘best kept secrets’ from time to time in a world that rewards novelty, nudity, and nothingness. Performance art vs. performances and art will be subject to my microscope and open mind.
Footnote: I googled Gustav Wind recently and found many entries relating to a hurricane with the same name as mine. Please don’t be confused. Your windy critic may roar like a lion, but of all the accusations hurled against me, you can be sure that I bear no relation to the weather and am not destructive.