We had two very different art experiences yesterday and both left me baffled, unmoved and uninspired. The New Museum in the Lower East Side (stunning modern building) had an exhibition of young artists’ work – Younger Than Jesus it was called, ie younger than Jesus at his crucifixion, 33. Maybe it’s because I’m much older than Jesus that I found it difficult to engage, or maybe my feet were tired with walking for miles. You never know what shapes your responses and feet, age and how much wine you had at lunch may be factors. After 4 floors of art, that I didn’t bother to struggle with, we arrived at the 5th floor and sat on a very comfortable sofa to watch a 30 minute film with footage on the seminal moments (political, artistic, musical, social) of the last 33 years. I found this fascinating – so, considering the sofa, maybe my feet had influenced my reactions when I was walking around the gallery.
Feet semi-recovered we walked a lot further: into Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge and to BAM - the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We had booked for a performance of modern dance. This isn’t an art form we know much about but we have seen some striking modern dance in New York in the past and pride ourselves on our open minds. As we were early for our show we went into the huge café for refreshments. What a space: lots of red and aluminium, huge arches and white plaster cast bodies hanging from the very high ceiling - an un-childlike mobile. Surprisingly the auditorium was quite traditional, like a West End theatre. The dance show consisted of 4 pieces created by Trisha Brown: one from the 60s, one designed by Robert Rauschenberg, a 2004 piece and the premier of a new opera and dance. I enjoyed it all in a soporific way. (I noticed lots of people were yawning in the interval so maybe I wasn’t alone).Considering that Steve and myself are both uneducated in modern dance I didn’t expect to be able to give an informed critique but we were rather underwhelmed by the experience. At the end Trisha Brown came onstage and got a standing ovation, huge bouquet and lots of woops and cheers. I understood what it means to be illiterate.
The marvellous subway whisked us from BAM, right up to our door in the Upper West Side in 25 minutes. Obama’s first 100 days were being discussed on TV. The audiences were asked to phone in to give him grades for his achievements in several areas including his response to swine flu. Poor man; swine flu only arrived in America about 2 days ago and all I’ve heard him say is put your hand over your mouth if you cough.
My Grades for Today’s Activities:
Lunch at Freemans – loved its grey walls, purple flowers, stuffed birds – so A for environment, B+ for food.
New Museum – Building A, Art D, film B
Brooklyn Bridge – AAA – fantastic
BAM – Building A, dance C+
Subway home – A
Television coverage of Obama’s 100 days – off the scale; I’m not sure which end.
The debate over what is good art, or what is art, and who decides, has been bubbling for many years. The plastic arts seem to invoke the most ire but not entirely. An elderly relative used to say, “I think a play should have a beginning, a middle and an end.” – usually to express her wrath at Pinter or Beckett.
To engage with the art conundrum come to hear Richard Fox at Ways With Words on Saturday 11 July at 5pm in Dartington Hall’s Barn Theatre.