Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Weekend in New York

I spent a rushed weekend in Manhattan, sampling some of the overwhelming amount of culture they are so lucky to have. Friday night I was at the South Street Pier to see Olafur Eliasson's New York Waterfalls. South Street Pier is a tourist trap on par with our Fisherman's Wharf, but I was there, & it was getting late, & the boat tour was sold out, so I had dinner & viewed the waterfalls from the pier. The Brooklyn Bridge one looked best, I thought, especially lit up. The water looks like it's cascading from the bridge itself. The Governor's Island waterfall was turned off. It was a beautiful night, & looking off in the distance, I saw fireworks behind the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge & a steady stream of dots of light coming from airplanes leaving JFK.

Saturday morning I made a brief visit to the Center for Book Arts to see an exhibit of DIY books. This looks like a great place to take classes. I then headed to the Whitney Museum to check out the Buckminster Fuller exhibit. I had no idea Fuller was such a wacko & a genius. They had a prototype for the Dymaxion car that looks more modern then any car today, & it's incredible to think that it was designed in 1933. Fuller was thinking outside the box in a big way.

Also at the Whitney is a room full of Paul McCarthy's punishing mechanical & video installations, where I experienced getting shut inside his Bang Bang Room.

From there I went to the elegant Fin de Siècle Neue Galerie. This museum may be modest in size, but it is full of distinctive items. I felt indulgent just to be standing before the decadent beauty of Klimt's famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, with its pair of accompanying sculptures. I discovered Max Beckmann's foreboding Self-Portrait with Horn & Schiele's emaciated Portrait of the Painter Karl Zakovsek. This place exemplifies to me New York's cultural resources. It may not be big, but what it has is first-rate.

That evening I attended a dance performance called Requiem, by Lemi Ponifasio and MAU Dance Company. I picked this performance just because it was part of the Lincoln Center Festival & happened to be playing on this particular weekend. I've had good luck with the Lincoln Center Festival in the past, but I thought this show was terrible. Everything takes place on a darkened stage. In the manner of performance art, we get something happening slowly or over & over again until we're tired of it, then another thing, until we're tired of that one, & so on for 90 minutes. It opens with a dancer's naked back twitching & ends with a little boy stacking up mats. A man walks while leaning back at an extreme angle, 3 men with white shirts shuffle around & move their arms in unison, a wild-eyed bird-like woman crosses the stage & shrieks, an old man strikes a suspended fuel cannister repeatedly, a row of men wash their hands, a boy becomes spotted with red drops of blood. Even with the help of the program notes, I couldn't figure out what it was about. The auditorium was perhaps half full, & the audience was very quiet & seemingly attentive, which really surprised me, since the show made me restless & annoyed. I took a chance on this one, & you win some, you lose some.

On Sunday I went out to the Noguchi Museum in Queens. It's famous for its sculpture garden, but of course I got there to find out that this is currently closed for major renovations. However, the pieces on display in the galleries are more than satisfactory, all very tasteful & refined. I also stayed to hear a recital of new music by ACME. This was quite good. The musicians are all very young & very proficient. I liked the sound & the bite of violist Nadia Sirota's playing. This recital also gave me my 1st hearing of the music of Nico Muhly, who I seem to keep reading about in The New Yorker magazine. His piece was in the minimalist style, though with more challenging harmonies. I was even able to discern some of the overall structure. I'm pretty sure I saw him hanging around the back the gallery after the recital. He fit right in with the musicians. They all look like college students.

That night I took the A train way uptown & took in Gorilla Rep's Hamlet on the lawn at the Cloisters. I was greeted by an enthusiastic member of the company who turned out to be Hamlet himself. He explained the concept, which is that the action unfolds continuously around the lawn, so we are encouraged, in fact required, to move around as well in order to keep up with the play. They do the whole text without a break, with the expectation that audience members come & go. The whole thing takes nearly 3 hours, even at the break-neck speed of this production. It felt refreshingly free of directorial concept. Hamlet was as much stand-up comedian as prince. The excellent Player King made me pay attention to his speeches more closely than I ever had before. Their good-looking & athletic Laertes had me thinking that perhaps he was nobler than Hamlet.

It had rained earlier that day, so the grass was really wet, & I was ill-prepared for the outdoor conditions, but I happily made it through the entire show. The Gorilla Rep actors & the audience together made up a pretty scrappy bunch. There were only 16 of us to watch the show & perhaps an equal number of performers & crew. It made me feel well-disposed toward the actors. I wanted things to go well for them. At the end of the evening I found myself on the subway platform next to Claudius, his costume in a garment bag slung over his shoulder. I told him I enjoyed the show, & he in turn expressed his relief that we didn't get rained on. Polonius & the Player King joined him moments later on the same train.

On Monday morning a big storm passed over New York. While I was packing I saw lightning & hail, but surprisingly my plane left the ground only 70 minutes behind schedule.

All that in 60 hours! No wonder I was sick from exhaustion by the time I got home.

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