Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chaos, Couture and Impressionism

A visit to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in NY is akin to going to Ikea for me in some ways. Granted, the items on view are beyond comparison, but the effect both have on me is very similar.... 1/ I wanted to be there,  2/ I'm completely overwhelmed, 3/ I can't easily identify the way out of the maze. Instant panicky fatigue sets in.

Last week I had my most positive experience so far at the Met. All the familiar anxiety symptoms were present but it was well worth suffering for. In a very under marketed (in my opinion) way there was a superb juxtaposition of 2 exhibitions, the first one being Chaos to Couture, a fashion exhibit which brilliantly showed how the punk street fashion of the '70s ended up influencing the major fashion houses like Givenchy, Prada etc. Beautiful clothing, room after room of it, ...... the things that you and I were wearing back then, or at least observing, and examples of the way it has since been adopted and re-marketed as high fashion. It was FABULOUS, if you like that sort of thing. A magnificent shrine to the evolution of the People's politically and socially stimulated creativity, factoring in our lack of money which made the black plastic garbage bags, the safety pins and torn, embellished t shirts so attractive as a fashion statement,  to the glamorous high end fashion industry's cashing in on it over the subsequent decades.
Why don't I have photos? Because sadly the Met won't allow it and I don't have an iphone to be discreetly rebellious with.

Walking 40 blocks up 5th Avenue the next day it occurred to me to test the theory by looking in all the designer windows. Not a punk inspired garment in sight, not one! I got very excited when Bergdorf Goodman had some definitely '70s derivative stuff in it, but sadly it transpired that they were a sponsor of the exhibition so that didn't count. I do buy into the premise though, the exhibits definitely bear that out. I don't believe that New Yorkers have ever worn that stuff to the extent that Londoners did, and still do.

Window gazing in the sunshine

Didn't I used to know you?

The next door exhibit was entitled Impressionism:  Fashion to Modernity.
I was very enthusiastic to see it, mainly because I really appreciated the implied link between the two and also, though on one hand I feel like I've seen too much Impressionism to be very impressed anymore, respect is definitely due.

Apparently it occurred to the Impressionists to paint people in the garments they were wearing at the time, pictures of stylish men and women reflecting the spirit of the age.  This caused a considerable outrage in the Art community. Their pictures were banned from major exhibitions and ridiculed for lack of classicism.  Who would think it would be so controversial?
Each room of the exhibition was devoted to a theme.... black dresses, white dresses, daydresses, accessories, menswear, umbrellas, corsets....  There were actual garments, as depicted in the paintings, preserved behind glass. It was by far the most endearing glimpse into the lives of the Impressionists I have ever had. They revealed themselves as not only brave, ground breaking artists, but real men and women leading real lives who posed their long suffering family members again and again in different outfits in order to complete a painting and bucked convention as surely as the punks of the 1970s.

My favorite painting in the exhibition, from the Musee D'Orsay, Paris,.... just stunning, the composition and the beautiful light....  In The Conservatory (Madame Bartholome) painted by her husband, an artist I didn't know at all, circa 1881. She died a few years later but he still had her lovely outfit and here it is today in New York.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Brian Eno, New York

Eno then.....

......Eno now

David's birthday last week and we were going to be in NY so I scouted around for something that would interest him. Turned out that there was the perfect event..... an audiovisual installation by Brian Eno and then a related lecture by him at the Great Hall at Cooper Union a few days later.

Problem was, I was late to the party and the lecture was already sold out. So for the first time ever I succumbed and responded to an online ad for tickets at outrageously inflated rates. They arrived overnight in a plain wrapper with no accompanying paperwork, looking as suspicious as can be, but turned out to be legit. (Thank goodness, or it would have been embarrassing at the door)  Albeit 5x original price, it was worth every penny. The installation was very interesting but it added a lot to the experience to hear him explain it all.

77 Million Paintings

296 original projected light works,  patterns and colors overlaid randomly within a grid, several at a time, very slowly fading in and out in different combinations. Eno's gentle Ambient music is also arbitrarily generated so you never see and hear the same image.

We entered a large, dark warehouse space. There were a few velvet sofas to sit on, a giant projection on the wall and some cones on the floor. It had a rather somber, church like atmosphere.

You can just see the silhouette of 2 people sitting on a sofa several feet from the wall, to get the scale of the projection

It's so gradual I didn't notice the image was changing at first and I thought it was all too minimalist for my jumpy brain to tolerate for long, but gradually I relaxed and began to really enjoy it. We sat down and stayed half an hour or so and as we left I noticed a guy on the sofa behind us was fast asleep and snoring. Eno said over the years he's observed this behavior many times, people will come in and scope it out, maybe with some skepticism, then get interested enough to sit down, then fall fast asleep. (This being a good thing!)

In Hove, UK, a new private hospital has built a permanent small relaxation room showing the installation for patients undergoing cancer treatment to "think, take stock and relax", the thought being that it helps lower anxiety levels, blood pressure and so on. A surgeon commissioned it after noticing his very hyper mother calm down when seeing 77 Million Paintings at a festival. Eno also mentioned that over the years many women have told him they chose his music to give birth to.

We were lucky with the lecture. He said people always want to hear about the past but he prefers to talk about the present and the future. However, he was making an exception in this case and putting this work into the larger context. So we were treated to a very entertaining couple of hours with a slideshow of his life starting right back at childhood, showing many of his early influences (I took note of Mondrian and Terry Riley's IN C as I could see both of those in this work) and the musical and artistic collaborations he's been involved in over the years. A lot of candid, behind the scenes shots of him working with Roxy Music, Fripp, David Byrne, Bowie, U2 etc. And artwork going back to his first prize winning drawing as a child in Woodbridge, Suffolk, through art school in the '70s, to today.

He explained in some detail his creative thought processes and showed slides of how, practically, he sets about putting things into action. As an endorsement of what he espoused..... the idea that you can hold 2 opposing thoughts in your head at once about art,  A/ "that's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life" and B/ "I could do that!"....... we both came away very inspired to get on with life and just DO things instead of sitting around endlessly thinking about it.

photos...., David's illicit Cooper Union shot, a few of the many, many we took in midtown, show handout.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Billy Bragg at the Birchmere

For a self proclaimed journal blogger, I let a lot go under the bridge undocumented. This week was particularly memorable however as we saw Billy Bragg at the Birchmere: a shared table, dinner club type of venue just outside Washington DC. We've seen many favorites there over the last 25 years.... Steeleye, Fairport, String Band, Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn, Livingston Taylor.... you get the picture.

Vegas....  are we having fun yet? 

David had been in Las Vegas a few days at the annual company/customer shindig. I include this photo in case anyone wonders why I don't go with him. He assures me they were handed these props purely for the shoot.

Anyway.... I picked him up at the airport, he recovered a little and then we hit the rush hour beltway traffic. It wasn't ideal timing but it was worth the effort. Quite a considerable cultural contrast, straight from the extraordinary glitziness of Vegas to the down to earthness of a Billy Bragg concert.... part overt Socialist political rally as we sing about Power of the Unions backed by the "anti Fascist rhythm section", part stand up comedy act as he is very funny, part tear jerker as he still throws in the occasional poignant love song just to throw you off guard. He didn't seem to have changed much since the "80s when we last saw him in Leeds.  A bit older, (he mentioned his full beard "hiding a multitude of chins")

You'd think the audience for a Billy Bragg concert would be pretty self selecting but it turned out the young couple we were sitting with were both Republicans. "I just don't agree with that" said the mild mannered, beautiful Stephanie, a Capitol Hill lobbyist from Alabama, when he talked about the British National Health System and the inability of the rest of the world to understand America's reluctance to provide universal health care for its citizens.
Proof, possibly, of the incendiary effect of such an unusually (for here) left wing tone to the evening was a little skirmish at a table near us of the "F... you" "No, F.... YOU" variety. That sort of thing just never happens normally.

This concert was one of those times I feel as if a neurosurgeon has stuck a probe into my brain and touched a little area that stimulates my Britishness as if to remind me it's my "real self". The rest of the time I feel like an American with a British accent.

After the show we joined the line for the meet and greet. We told Billy Bragg the first time we left our  daughter with a babysitter was to see him in concert. She's 30 now. You can see that we were a lot more excited than he was, but he couldn't have been nicer.

The patient smile of a seasoned after show hand shaker.

On the way home David accidentally crossed a bridge into the city. It's easily done, especially when you're jet lagged..... one false move and there's no way out of the situation, you've just got to add another 15 minutes onto your ETA back home. I snapped this picture of the Lincoln Memorial out of the car window to take my mind off it, in the interest of maintaining marital harmony.