Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I Saw Whistler’s Mother

I Saw Whistler’s Mother

She was at the Clark Art Institute, in the Lunder Center up the hill from the main buildings. I drove there early one Thursday morning and found myself virtually alone with the painting. Aside from a related print tucked away off to the side, the painting of Whistler’s mother hung in the center of a room, by itself. Having never seen it in person, the silence of this unexpectedly large painting was unpredictably powerful. Its muted colors richly engaging. Often, because of over exposure through reproductions and the media, iconic imagery such as this doesn’t hold up to in-person analysis, this one did. And as with all great art its power was inexplicable. The painting didn’t need explanatory text or supplemental works; it was visually self-sufficient, a comprehensive exhibition unto itself. However the Clark did add a room of his prints, plus an additional space that connected the painting to reductive modernism and the grid. The latter room contained a quote from the grid apologist and sequential thinker, Alfred Barr. He believed Whistler’s painting was a modernist forbearer, complete with an underlying grid. A wall placard with text, images and an analytical diagram explained this. 

“This guy sees the grid everywhere” was my first thought.

 And then I turned around to see this:
And my thought changed to: “I guess it is”.

Thomas Schutte’s Crystal

I decided to hike further up the hill to see Thomas Schutte’s minimalist geode. At the end of a trail, perched on a hilltop high, with a view of the Clark, Crystal pays tribute to minimalism while adding touches of architectural function. Shape-wise it is similar to Tony Smith’s Tau, albeit with overlapping cladding.

And by adding a door to one side and an opening with a view of the landscape to the other, Schutte alludes to the fact that Tau is a hollow form. And in Crystal he literally mined the void within a minimalist sculpture to create a hybrid sculpture/shed.


A built-in bench allowed me a respite and moments of quiet contemplation after the somewhat steep climb to the site.
That was until the crowd from the Clark’s Van Gogh exhibition found its way up the hill. The Clark, having recently expanded for a third and perhaps final time, is now a blockbuster venue.

I fondly remember the Clark’s original neoclassical-style marble building as a smallish temple for art containing intimate spaces for Impressionist works and assorted antiquities. A 1970’s addition grafted a darkish granite volume to its southern side, creating a new entrance, parking, a library and more exhibition space.
Recently Tadao Ando was called upon to create the final architectural additions to the Clark Campus. Along with Reed Hilderbrand’s new reflecting pool and landscape design it truly is a campus now. There is acreage. Pastoral hills, trails, trees and pastures. The original building can’t be seen as one walks toward the new entrance. A long wall, leading to Ando’s new 42,600 square foot Clark Center, hides it from view. Given that, like Tanglewood, the Clark has historically always had an older clientele, it is a long walk from the lot to the entrance. Thankfully there is a restroom and water fountain halfway along the wall to relieve one’s bladder and refresh oneself.

The wall, acting as a blinder, forces visitors to focus on the new and downplays the old. I was there to see the Van Gogh show and because the museum had not yet opened visitors were allowed to wait by the reflecting pool and comfortably admire the landscape on a sunny, summer morning. However from this vantage point the rear of the original building was noticeable. Which, in and of itself, wasn’t a problem but that dark granite addition could also be seen, and it simply looked sad. One couldn’t help thinking, “Is that staying there”?
It’s clear that Ando did not want visitors to see the other buildings while approaching his Clark Center. He controlled the view with the wall. However once inside the campus there exists a discomfort between the buildings. Perhaps that’s why his Lunder Center was placed in the woods, up the hill, high away from the other buildings. The surrounding trees isolate it and screen out any view of the conflicting architectural battle below.

The Cultural Corridor.

With a few more cultural additions to North Adams and Williamstown, by mid-century one might be able to enter through the front door of MassMoca, continue through a series of contiguous museums, and exit through the rear door of the Clark.
MassMoca; the proposed Museum of Extreme Model Railroading and Contemporary Architecture; the proposed Contemporary Museum at the North Adams airport; the Williams College Art Museum and the Clark in Williamstown, have all either expanded, are expanding, considering expansion, or exist on the drawing board looking for financing.
Earlier this century I wrote about the Cultural Corridor between Beacon, NY and Bennington, VT. That Corridor slowly evolved over several decades starting in the late fifties and early sixties. The migration of artists between the New York City region and southern Vermont area triggered the growth of cultural institutions along this north-south Corridor. Now a mini east-west Corridor will link the former mill town of North Adams and the venerable college town of Williamstown, with the aforementioned museums spearheading this process of acculturation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Does Art Have to be Interesting? or My Dinner with Andre and O.J.

Does Art Have to be Interesting?
My Dinner with Andre and O.J.

Does art have to be interesting? It seems we all agree that most contemporary art isn’t. And galleries reinforce this by consistently filling their spaces with mostly uninteresting and therefore disappointing work. Going to exhibitions would certainly be more fun if we didn’t care about being disappointed.
I recently went to several uninteresting exhibits in Chelsea. It didn’t take much to find them. At one (the Andrew Kreps Gallery) they had a bunch of lightly colored paintings covered with gridded patterns of some sort; they weren’t very interesting to look at. Thinking they must have a back-story, I checked the press release. Turns out that in making the paintings the artist utilized a “random walk algorithm, a formalization of Brownian motion that is used in financial instruments to model market behavior”, or so it said.
OK… but that didn’t make the paintings especially interesting to look at, or even think about, and although the use of an algorithm gave the show an au courant vibe the back-story simply felt like just another art school strategy (which here means uninteresting). Is it old school to think that paintings should be visually interesting? The Forever Now show at MOMA wasn’t very interesting but it was clear that most of the works were at least trying to be interesting, most of them anyway. But maybe that was the problem.
Back in the day even Conceptual art (especially Sol Lewitt’s drawings and sculptures) was often visually engaging, same thing with minimalist painting and sculpture. But I guess that’s truly old school by now.

The Carl Andre Retrospective at Dia Beacon.
Yes, he’s been called the O.J. of the art world. Yes, there were the attendant protests and polemics that invariably accompanied his retrospective at Dia[1]. And yes, it was a great show[2].
Glad it wasn’t in NYC because visiting Dia Beacon, a destination art[3] venue if there ever was one, is always unique[4]. It’s never crowded, the light is fantastic and it has space, space and more space! Even on weekends one can casually be alone with the Sandbacks and the Heizers, take a nap on the couch with the Weiners[5], or nonchalantly spend too much money in the bookstore. No problem.
On the final weekend of the Andre exhibit there were more visitors in the building than I had ever seen, yet (agoraphobia alert!) there were rarely more than 4 people wandering about in spaces that were 6, 000 - 10,000 square feet each. 

Dia installation view
Andre spread out his space-occupying objects in the most casual yet arresting manner, resourcefully managing repetition without being repetitive. To perceive oneself in the process of perception was the mindset of the day. What was seen was more than what was there. The combination of taut arrangements of cast concrete, stacked wooden timbers and random and varied metal bits turned the vast corridors of Dia Beacon into traversable space fields. It was thrilling to once again see how so little can add up to so much.
In addition to the more familiar sculptures there were rarely seen art works: loose coils of metal, a line of found bent metal shafts and from the early days: surrealist inflected objects, mail art and massive amounts of concrete poetry[6].
His classic checkerboard arrangements of metal plates were the least interesting; fortunately there were only a couple present, token nods to an overplayed and reoccurring series. Maybe art does have to be interesting.

The Zero exhibition at the Guggy.
Now that was a visually and conceptually rich exhibit. And you got it just by looking at the work. No back-story needed. While responding to and reacting against post war trends in art, mostly in painting, these artists made some very good paintings. It was the thing-ness, the facticity of the pieces that stunned. Simple and straightforward uses of materials held ones gaze. 

Jan Schoonhoven, R91-3, 1991
Later at the Zwirner multi-story concrete bunker gallery, Jan Schoonhoven who was also in the Zero show, had a large selection of his paintings and drawings. This guy rocks the planet. Simplicity, whiteness, low relief paintings, and drawings made of repetitive ink strokes on white paper filled the second floor. It was all too much, too good to disappoint.

[1] It is curious to compare the reputations of William Burroughs and Carl Andre. Burroughs shot and killed his wife, and was convicted of it. Yet he became an important figure for younger artists, including women, and today remains a cultural icon. Andre on the other hand allegedly killed his wife by tossing her out of their apartment window, he was found not guilty, yet he remains persona non grata to many artists and protests accompany his exhibits. He is the O.J. of the art world.
[2] Saw it twice. It was even better the second time around.
[3] Definition: an art space at a remove. One must leave NYC.
[4] It is a distinctively personal experience. One reason is because Robert Irwin designed the main entrance so that one walks in by oneself, as an individual (as opposed to being herded in with the hoards at the MOMA Mall).
[5] There’s never anyone in the Weiner room.
[6] OK, maybe the writing section was a tad repetitive.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Coming Soon: The 24-Hour Museum?

On the heals of the Tate’s Matisse “all-nighter”, the Whitney will be keeping it’s doors open for the last 36 hours of the Jeff Koons exhibit.

Recently the Rubin Museum has offered a sleepover amidst “the compassionate gaze of one hundred buddhas” and BAM announced a 24-hour movie marathon.
Is it time for all cultural institutions to be open at least one day a month for 24 hour viewing? Midnight visits to MOMA? Rooftop Met at 3 in the morning? The Guggenheim at dawn? Is the 24-hour museum about to conquer the city that never sleeps?
Viewers for Christian Marclay’s The Clock proved that culture vultures would stand in line 24/7 and back when there were galleries in the East Village, Pompeii Gallery held an opening at 3 in the morning. It was packed.

Nighthawks and insomniacs unite.

It’s like when ATM machines were first introduced. ATMs made 24/7 banking possible. However they also made people realize that they didn’t actually have time to bank between 9-3.
Expanded hours and services are the mandate for pharmacies, hardware stores, bookstores, lumberyards and museums!
Museums are way too crowded. Why should a Matisse exhibition put fear into your heart?


Two More Weeks!

Susan Hartung : Following a Line
Curated by Peter Dudek

On view at 
The Teaching Gallery, Hudson Valley Community College
through October 25
Gallery hours: Tues, Th, Fr 10-4; Weds 1-7; Sat 12-4

Read Amy Griffin's review in the Times Union http://www.timesunion.com/entertainment/article/Chronicle-of-a-creative-life-5809530.php

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Susan Hartung: Painter, Poet, Artist

Susan Hartung
Painter, Poet, Artist

A 50 Year Survey Exhibition at Hudson Valley Community College opens on September 18.

I’d like to introduce you to Susan Hartung.
Her engagement with art began at Northwestern University where she attended painting classes while majoring in English. Upon graduation she heard NYC calling. It was 1962. The art world was small, the lofts were big, and Susan Hartung moved there.
While finding her way as a visual artist Susan explored the ever-changing cultural mix that defined the downtown New York art world of the 1960s. She worked for Something Else Press (founded by Fluxus provocateur Dick Higgins)[1] and developed an interest in the alternative music and dance worlds. She heard the music of Moondog[2] and John Cage, visited the sound spaces of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, attended the performances of Allan Kaprow, and the dances of Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown[3]. While immersed in all that she discovered kindred spirits in drawing and painting.
The reductive lines of Ellsworth Kelly, the repetitive markings of Agnes Martin, the brushed stokes of David Smith that embrace chance as they unfurl across the page, all share Susan’s pursuit of a delicate immediacy, a sense of touch, and drawing as an act of discovery. For Susan, drawing is not so much about describing as it is about exploring. It comes from a place of not knowing. For her, the not known is a working space devoid of any need for resolution.

                                             Are you a man or woman?
                                             Is the Moon waxing or waning?
                                             Are we coming or going?

Its immediacy, its deftness, came to occupy a central role in Susan’s art. And like others in her generation the grid became a foundation to build upon. In the grid (structure, regularity) Susan injects gesture and chance. Lines freely moving, not strict or exact lines, but expressive and loose, conveying thought or feeling. We see this throughout her major works: the Beauforts, the Runes, the Notations and the Line Fields.

Susan approaches painting and drawing in a like-minded manner, they are of one piece. Their making is intuitive and probing, open to possibilities. If there is a difference it is how in the paintings color can be more pronounced, but most often the paintings are conceptually analogous to the drawings. Their function, their approach, their vocabulary is mutually shared and equally beneficial. The paintings and drawings cannot be separated. Their identities are interchangeable.
Are they drawings or paintings? Yes.

It’s a personal thing. Much of what Susan has made is measured in inches, not feet. Everything is within an arm’s reach. In her paintings, as in her drawings, size reinforces an intimacy. Through calibrating size, she maintains the ability for her hand to move across the entire surface with pencil or brush without a dramatic shift in body posture. Here we experience post-painterly abstraction at work.

Included in the brochure and the exhibition are snippets of Susan’s poems. Painting and drawing fuel her creative drive. Poetry rounds it out.

The exhibit
This is a survey exhibition of Susan’s life as an artist. Meant to introduce, as thorough as possible, her creative evolution, it is divided into three sections on two floors.
On the ground floor is The Introductory Space (a mixture of recent bodies of work) that illuminate her practice.
On the second floor are two spaces: the Discovery Hall (small works and ephemera that, in some way, made the other works possible); and the Dialog Room (a variety of works from throughout the years) where they all meet.

The Introductory Space
This room contains a broad selection from several series: the Notations, the Runes, the Beauforts and the Unmapped.
The Notations gather billowy tendrils and loose ends that tremble and flutter towards the bottom of the paper or canvas. They are simultaneously abstract and evocative of the natural world, while also maintaining a personal touch and presence.

Restless Inquiry, 22"x30", 2003

Grove, 28"x29", 1992

 The Runes evoke Nordic lettering from the runic alphabets[5]. These curled, suggestive and rudimentary inscriptions capture a certain awkwardness that exists in any initial attempt at communication.
Rune (6x6), 7"x8", 2010

Untitled, 9"x11", 2011

The Beauforts[6] accumulate windy rivulets of graphite and color. “Organized” into mostly horizontal and interlacing patterns, they continue and expand Susan’s utilization of directional mark making.

Untitled, 22"x29", 1997

Untitled, 22"x29", 2004

The Unmapped are prints and photo related works that came into being alongside the other series, but don’t fit into those categories. Important to include and singular in their presence they widen our view of Susan’s practice.

The Discovery Hall
This space was created to hold an assortment of odds and ends. Misfits, false starts, discoveries. This collection of things, (scraps of paper, poetry, rough drafts, swatches of paint) functions like an open notebook. Modest of size they permit an intimate look at Susan’s explorations and ideas (casual, imprecise and profound). Here photography also comes into play. For Susan, photography is often a way of sketching or seeing. A simplifying, a restructuring and working out of what’s been seen. Through her working process she amends images (footprints in the snow, fishing nets, vines) into something less familiar, something not yet fully comprehended, not yet able to be named.
Untitled, 9"x11", 1975

Happy Is As, 6"x10", 1974

The Dialog Room
The works in this room are from the past 50 years, and are being presented together for the first time. Included are pieces that predate the work on the ground floor and encapsulate a vision. Collectively this gathering suggests a path, meandering perhaps, with connecting threads. Susan’s creative life has been a long, circuitous and picturesque one. This room embraces that journey.

Untitled, 19"x15", 1962

Maryland Ave, 28"x42", 1983

                 I’m feeling no I’m not leaving yet and how strange that is. Thursday,
                 I don’t remember Thursday. Friday I painted the studio floor,
                 buttercup yellow. Saturday watched Wings of Desire with Stefan.
                 I too have felt touched by angels, have weighed
                 the possibilities of observing against plunging right into the thick
                 of messy thumping life.[7]

The Exhibition: Susan Hartung, Following the Line, a fifty year survey of the work of Susan Hartung curated by Peter Dudek, opens on September 18.
Location: The Teaching Gallery at Hudson Valley Community College, Troy NY.
Exhibition Dates: September 18 - October 25.
Opening Reception: Thursday Sept 18, (4-6pm).
Curator Talk and Discussion: Thursday Sept 18, (3-4 pm).

[1] Something Else Press was an early publisher of Concrete Poetry and works by Fluxus artists.
[2] Moondog was an influential American composer who, dressed in Viking garb, often performed on the streets of NYC. “Moondog made more of an impression visually than musically. Nobody looked like that in Milwaukee” (Susan).
[3] Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer participated in the Judson Dance Theater. The company (a loosely based collective of dancers, poets, artists) was initially formed at Judson Church in Greenwich Village, which was a hub for avant-garde performance, dance and music.
[4] Susan Hartung, Inclusion, An Elephant Tree House Book, 2011. p. 13.
[5] Which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.
[6] The Beaufort Wind Scale measures wind velocity (important during her years on the boat),
[7] Hartung, p.50.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Jeff Koons and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

And then Koons entered the building.

Culture, it can land like a dark hard meteorite.
That must have been what it was like when in 1966 Marcel Breuer’s design for the Whitney hit the ground. That brutal geo-cluster imbedded itself into Madison Avenue obliterating the southeast corner of 75th Street. Its bulging ocular windows promptly stared down its architectural neighbors and a deep, waterless moat separated it from the street. The only access from the sidewalk was a footbridge that stopped just short of touching the building, further distancing itself from pedestrian matters. On its southern and eastern sides concrete walls, physically part of the building, abutted the diminutive townhouses that shared the block. Not common walls, but rather blinders or partitions, they additionally drew a line, declaring ‘this is culture, that is not’. It was more than a simple hi-low dichotomy, it was an unconditional pronouncement: ‘this is art, that is not’. Nothing could be more simple or direct.

And then Koons entered the building.
The Whitney has had a troubled past with exhibitions[1]. I remember a Jasper Johns exhibit that made him look like an artist who long ago managed to run out of ideas. A MOMA retrospective latter corrected that. But the Whitney often misrepresents even the best of artists. Part of the problem has been curatorial, part of it was the physical inability to spread things out and tell a story like the Modern can. The Breuer is a great building, but stubborn. Flexibility is not really a part of its program. It can intimidate and confuse curators. Perhaps even artists. It took Richard Tuttle two retrospectives to get it right.

In ‘Koons World’ the twain shall meet.
At a talk at Hunter College a couple of years ago Koons recounted a fond childhood memory. He was sitting on the floor, watching his father smoking cigarettes. There was an ashtray with a small naked female figurine sitting at its edge and when the heat from his father’s cigarette got near her, her legs would spread open. This fascinated the young Koons to no end. One could label such experiences lowbrow, kitsch, goofy, trivial, meaningless. But for Koons his experience could not, and he insisted should not, be diminished by any such labeling. For Koons the world is full of such wonders and should be embraced as such. They are what we live for. He also spoke of his fondness for Kierkegaard.

Unfortunately the Whitney is abandoning ship. Over the years it has tried to expand around and on top of the Breuer building, but failed to do so. The kitsch pastiche proposed by Michael Graves thankfully tanked and plans for expansion never seemed to recover from that misstep. So it’s constructing a new building at the end of the High Line.
Did someone say kitsch pastiche? Not Koons. Never. All the world is open to him (and his 129 assistants)[2]. Of course Andy Warhol is the guiding spirit of this ‘Koons factory’. But where Warhol was always elusive and clever, Koons can come off as self-satisfied and smarmy[3]. His talks are like a 12 Steps to Loving Jeff Koons Workshop[4]. Thus the hate mail[5], it’s not just a reaction to the work (cause it has its moments, doesn’t it?) it’s a reaction to the whole Koons phenomena (the outsized studio, the outrageous prices, and the fact that he’s just too happy).

His early work often had a psychological pull. The bronze life raft and aqualung (life saving equipment that would drown you if used), the equilibrium tanks (relationship dynamics). The New Series was also an attempt at that; virginal vacuum cleaners sealed in Plexiglas[6]. Strong work, but not breakaway. It was when his work truly embraced popular culture (including porn) in a way that his peers did not that he pulled away from the pack[7].
Everyone makes bad work[8], Koons has made his share, but there is no question he has produced some signature pieces that captured a moment, a zeitgeist perhaps. Specifically some of the shinny metal works, the artisanal polychrome carvings or ceramics and the flower dog.
And the paintings? Can they be seen as something more than an attempt to refresh the ideas of James Rosenquist? Maybe, but successfully?[9] It’s all technique. Shinny happy paintings. The work is too content with itself. There’s no other there, they’re just there[10].

Big and Shinny

Just Big

A fair amount of simplistic eye candy is sprinkled throughout the Whitney (lots of shinny stuff and big bold paintings everywhere)[11]. Funny thing is after seeing the giant pile of Freudian Play-Doh poop[12] and the over-sized poodle balloons, Koons’s signature Bunny sculpture looked diminutive, tiny even and its surface comparatively dull. It’s still a classic piece but wasn’t given the space it needed.
Is this the infamous Ashtray?

I went on a Friday, three hours before ‘the pay as you wish’ thinking the museum would be relatively empty. No such luck. As I arrived the line out the door forecast bumper-to-bumper traffic. Once inside it was obvious that the crowd was digging it. Selfies and group portraits were being taken everywhere (I’m probably in the background of a thousand Instagram posts). Obviously it was part of Koons’s plan to not prohibit people from photographing his work, or themselves with the work. The mantra here is: Have fun; you paid to get in, enjoy.

Happy Shinny People
I’ve probably never seen so many happy young adults enjoying themselves at a contemporary art exhibit[13], and it was child friendly as well. No attempt to shock, even in the porn section. It was soft porn really, no cum shots, no anal penetration (actually I don’t remember any penetration, or erections[14]), just Koons and his wife to be, naked and frolicking about. When this body of work was first exhibited I recall it having some shock value. But that was in the late 80s and early 90s. In today’s world of Internet porn and celebrity sex tapes Koons’s images of the artist rolling in the hay with a porn star have become something the whole family can enjoy.


On the ground floor is a small room of recent work. With these Gazing Ball sculptures Koons has discovered that plaster is indeed the material of the future. Anyone who has seen Rodin’s plaster version of the Gates of Hell at the Musee D’Orsay knows that it is superior to the bronze versions. Koons works this material to perfection (loved that mailbox/engine/compound bucket fusion).

Plaster makes perfect

But back to the paintings, the later ones have been executed in a paint by number manner that want to impress but they’re too technical to exploit the joyfully dumb ‘anyone can do it’ approach to painting and still be fun. And maybe that’s a problem. Koons’s work has become all about making large complicated perfections of simple things. He couldn’t make a small copy of a multicolored clump of Play-Doh that his son made and leave it at that. He had to turn it into a grander gesture.
Where’s Richard Tuttle when you need him?

It used to be the norm that creative people became artists because they found doing anything else intolerable, or simply impossible. Not so with Koons, his success on Wall Street has been well publicized. But perhaps the most remarkable Koons trait is the absolute absence of the ‘artist as alienated individual’. The modernist posture of alienation, difficulty and resistance is entirely absent in Koons World, replaced by art works beckoning to be embraced, wanting to be loved. Certainly there’s nothing unsettling or disorienting in an exhibit that has the atmosphere of a colorful and over-sized gift shop. Except for it to be in this building.
The populist stance of Koons World underscores the discriminating toughness of Breuer’s museum. It’s an incongruous fit. If this show had opened in the soon-to-be Whitney of Renzo Piano it would have been a different experience[15].

[1] I’m not simply talking about the biennial, which I somehow forgot to see this year.
[2] Not that that 129 assistants is a problem, just saying.
[3] Check out the one-hour interview with Charlie Rose. The only other visual artist Charlie devoted a full hour to has been Richard Serra. Next time Serra will demand two hours.
[4] At the talks I’ve been at, part of the audience is converted and adores him. And part of audience mumbles “What the fuck“? With Koons it’s not a love/hate thing. It’s a love or hate thing.
[5] Well it could also be the fact that financially his sales put him in the overpaid athlete category.
[6] However the plexi gave the work a period feel of the late sixties and early seventies (not new) a period when a lot of artists were using plexi. I saw them when they were first shown and I thought they were antiques, not new. And who can tell if a vacuum cleaner is actually new (virginal) anyway, or used (a ho)?
[7] Many of his peers were also foraging pop culture (shopping and appropriation as art making, ala Prince, Vaisman, Steinbach, etc) but Koons has clearly pulled away from that pack.
[8] I used to tell my students that 90% of all art is bad. And it made them happy. They felt like they had a chance if they only had to compete against 10% of all the work out there. But more recently they have rebelled, claiming that 99% of all art sucks and they resent the fact that they have to look at it!
[9] Refreshing is ok, if successful. Jessica Stockholder did a good job with the ideas of Robert Rauschenberg.
[10] At this point in the writing I haven’t seen the retrospective.
[11] Now I have.
[12] Talk about plop art!
[13] The Jonathan Borofsky retrospective at the Whitney was hard to beat for sheer fun. There, people there were engaged, active and took over the space in an unpredictable manner. Here in Koons World they were more passive and just plain happy.
[14] Maybe I didn’t look close enough.
[15] Sorry for all the footnotes.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

At the Hammerstein Ballroom Nicole Atkins opened and set the stage for the Sturm und Drang of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Her vocals plus the workings of her minimal band (just a drummer and guitarist) powerfully filled the theater. It was a performance that reminded me of those female led California rock bands from the 60s and 70s. Atkins possessed the bust it out tempo of Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, the lung power of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the songstress acumen of Barbara Mauritz and Lamb. She was great.

However if misfortune and extreme emotions are what you want, go no further than a Nick Cave concert. Banging darkness, driven orchestration and opera like tragedy were ever-present. His rendition of Stagger Lee alone was all that and beyond, way beyond. I’ve been to Nick Cave concerts before but here Nick nailed it, no doubt. Theatricality, song choice, lighting and the tight workings of the Bad Seeds were all consuming.[1]
Cave’s movements on stage were a fusion of Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. But largely Jim Morrison, especially in the way he held a hypnotic presence over the audience. Apparently when Morrison got arrested for exposing himself on stage the band claimed that he had performed in a manner that made his fans believe such things had happened, but didn’t. Morrison’s performance put the crowd in a suggestive state of mind they said. He made them think he showed them his dick. They were spellbound, mesmerized. In actuality the trouser snake stayed in his pants, never to emerge from its leather housing.
Cave moved about in a Lizard King fashion. Engaging the audience up front in an undulating open crotch stance, he touched them, they touched him. He clearly had them in his spell.
As I left the building I thought I overheard one fan say, “I saw it”, and her friend respond, “I touched it”.

[1] I later wondered if someone was able to document this supreme event (other than with those ubiquitous iPhones). But what filmmaker could possibly possess the requisite skills to record such melodrama? If Douglas Sirk were still around he would be a candidate. But in reality this evening was truly Abel Ferrara territory.