Saturday, March 3, 2012

cities regained

My life probably would not have turned out any differently had I been able to see Bjork finish her set at the Capitol Ballroom in DC when I was 16. Fourteen years after the fact though, I still curse the fact that Elaine was in trouble with her parents and had a curfew that she had to be home by. Over the course of the last year, I have been trying to make up for this, have seen Bjork perform three times on two continents. That original concert in 1998 was such an incredible experience for me for reasons that could probably never be replicated. Not only is Bjork a very different performer now with a much more austere catalog of songs, but even more of a factor are the changes that have occurred in my own self, mainly that of being dulled to the sensation of live music by having seen it so many times now. That the thrill of being sixteen and seeing one of your first concerts, driving to a sketchy part of DC when you weren't supposed to drive into the city, and seeing this musician that you were obsessed with with an intensity that seems unique to those teenage years of music listening - that despite your attempts to recreate the thrill, to finish the experience that was abbreviated a decade and a half ago, that moment is gone forever and the attempts will invariably fail.

I saw her Tuesday night at Roseland Ballroom and the show was nearly identical to both her Manchester and Queens shows that I saw. I was disappointed to see that it was the same setup of theater in the round. I had bought tickets to this show because I thought it would be a bit more raucous, more club-like, more like an experience left unfinished from 1998. The stage was set up on the middle of the floor at Roseland and unless you had the more expensive tickets that were seated right in front of the stage, you had a pretty shit view. The sightlines were terrible for the masses with standing room tickets. The only place where Jacob and I could get close to the stage was behind a huge organ that blocked off a large section of the standing area from being able to see the stage. We eventually went all the way to the back of the space by the bar to be able to try to see a bit of the stage, even if from far away and on tippy toes. I drank whiskeys on the rocks and tried to get into the experience even though the sound wasn't nearly loud enough to envelop you, wasn't loud enough to drown out all the chatter going on around me from people at the bar. The setlist was pretty similar to the past shows, though there were a few variations that did have me very excited. She played "Where is the Line With You?", as well as a really fantastic version of "Possibly Maybe" during her encore that used the big booming sounds of the on-stage Tesla coil to great effect.

After the show, Jacob and I walked down to 32nd Street and explored K-Town. We had a great boozy meal at Kunjip, a bit confused by all the items they placed on our table. It was a new feeling, the thing I had been hoping for with all this money spent on Bjork tickets, but found here in a 24 hour Korean restaurant on 32nd Street, with small plates of snacks brought out before our meal that I didn't know what to do with, that I wanted to learn about, that brought about that sense of wonder and curiousity I had been trying to recreate earlier in the evening. From there, we went to Chorus Karaoke a few doors down and few floors up. We sang some songs and drank some Hites and I had a really fun night that reaffirmed why I love New York, that despite living here for nearly a decade now, there are still so many new experiences to be had.

New York has been offering quite a few experience this week, or more accurately I have been taking New York up on more of its offers this week. These things are always on offer, but it is easy to stay in and watch something on Netflix and get high and eat burritos, which I have still been doing a fair amount of this week, but I have also been doing other things, taking this city up on some of its offers to do this or that. I saw the Cindy Sherman and Sanja Ivekovic shows that are up at MoMA right now. The exhibits are overlapping only for a short time and it's too bad because they pair together excellently, showing these two artists who both say very eloquent things very differently about the representation of women. The Ivekovic show definitely packs more of a punch. There are 10 prints on a far wall that I found myself paused in front of for a very long time, really taken with the piece, "The Right One. Pearls of Revolution".

The pieces in the Cindy Sherman show, which I really like when shown in small groupings, lose a lot of their punch by the time one makes it to the end of the exhibition. Sherman's work about identity and the artifice of it becomes quite repetitive toward the end of the show, becomes a shtick of sorts. They are all great pieces but I find it so weird that visual artists develop a visual identity, a particular theme, and rework that their whole career, their work essentially becoming a brand. I think the same thing about Pollack and Rothko. The "Untitled Film Stills" are my favorite part of the show, probably also because they are in the beginning of the exhibition, in the beginning of Sherman's career, before the dressing up and photographing one's self becomes shtick, before it become's her body of work, when there is still the possibility that she might explore other things in her career. Her clowns, in this respect, are my other favorite series in the show, that these photographs, intentionally or not, speak to the confining nature of this body of work, that like a clown who is continually expected to perform for us, to be in character, that we don't want to see them out of their clown face, Sherman too is boxed in by these expectations of the art market and audiences, that she will always be expected to put on the metaphorical red nose and wig.

And taking this city up on more of its invitations to leave the house, to get dressed in front of my long mirror, trying on different outfits before heading out, before deciding on a look, I went to the Whitney Biennial last evening after work. I didn't get to see the work on the fourth floor (where I wanted to see a piece Dennis Cooper worked on) because it was closed off for a performance, but did see the rest of the exhibition. By far, the best part of this exhibition, which I thought was supposed to focus of the best of current American art, is a room devoted to the work of Forrest Bess, a painter dead for 35 years now, which was curated by Robert Gober. The paintings are very beautiful as is their history and Bess', which is told on wall text and magazine articles. The paintings are the only work in the show that have zing, that speak for themselves. Pretty much all the other work in the show speaks in reference to earlier artists or has to have wall text speak for the work to explicate what the materials mean, how they were scavenged from the ruins of Detroit, or how they were hand-crafted to resemble actual artifacts. Bess' paintings are the only works from the parts of the exhibit that I was able to see that actual spoke loudly, that were fueled by vision.

Werner Herzog's contribution is a tribute to the work of Hercules Segers. It is very beautiful but much like the Gober homage to Bess and the Nick Mauss installation of curated works from the Whitney, it focuses on the work of other artists. It looks backwards. The show is very neat and orderly, too so. That the best parts of the show are the paintings of a man dead for 35 years and a video homage to an artist dead for nearly 400 years does not speak too well of the current state of American art, and that is a shame. The curators didn't include the great stuff that I know I have seen in galleries and on Tumblrs, the Go-Go Juice toddler and her pageant mom, or the UFO paintings I have seen for sale in subway stations. The curators's taste is very evident throughout the show - muted, neat, and appreciating works that show concerns with either process or curating. It's a taste that it very different from mine and so I found the most of the show quite boring.

Afterwards, I ate dinner at Frankie's 570, drank a lot of cheap merlot, which was delicious, stumbled out on to wet streets in the West Village, and purchased a lotto ticket. I did not win, but the good news is that the clouds of the past few days are breaking, the sun is poking through. And the even better news is that the clouds of the last long while are breaking and New York is again a place that I kind of have a crush on.

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