Compared to the dark of night that now starts early at 4:21p.m., the florescent lights inside the lobby of the Jewish Museum are blinding. But last Tuesday there was something else even brighter in the lobby up on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street: white hair. In fact, I’d say the majority of the heads in the room on this particular night were of the glow-in-the-dark variety. Yes, for our evening as VIP members there to see the new Chagall exhibit “Love, War and, Exile” after-hours, my friend Rebecca and I were definitely among the youngest in attendance by at least 40 years.
For once, I felt more embarrassed for having worn a leather top with an exposed zipper than I was for not covering up the grey streak I have jutting from the roots of my otherwise brown tresses.
And to think I wore said trendy outfit with the hopes of meeting a handsome Jewish culture-vulture that might appreciate the trend of an exposed zipper as much as expressionist French art. Sadly, only his bubbe got the invite.
Oddly enough, this was now the second funny brush with art I’d had in a matter of days.
The first came a few days prior when I went to see the opening of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama‘s “I Who Have Arrived in Heaven” exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. Upon arriving, I joined the first of many lines that evening without knowing what for. (Call it the Cronut Influence: One sees line, one waits on line—no questions asked.) I waited about 45 minutes to get 45 seconds inside a mirrored infinity room filled with sperm-shaped objects featuring kooky Kusama’s trademark dots.
It was pretty darn cool—but not actually the funny brush with art that happened that evening.
After my designated 45 seconds, which I shared with about 6 other people, I watched a video of the artist singing in Japanese on a big screen. There were also mirrors in this room, which gave the illusion of hundreds of screens.
What’s that big rectangular box covering her face, you ask? I wondered the same thing. It seemed like a glitch—like perhaps there was something wrong with the projector. On it, it said, “This computer has been scheduled to go to sleep automatically in 30 seconds.”
But instead of inquiring about its presence, everyone just stood there staring at the screen, not at all looking fazed. Were they really not thinking what I was thinking, which was: “Is that meant to be there? Is that ‘part of the art’? Is wondering if it’s meant to be there part of the art?” Oh for god sakes. All of the above was just ridiculous! And yet, the only reason why I know it wasn’t meant to be there is because days later I saw a photo of it on Instagram…without the big box on her face.
Yet, this was still not my brushstroke with hilarity for the evening…
Next, I moseyed through the rest of the exhibit, which was filled with giant canvases, many of which looked more like they’d been painted by a 10-year-old rather than an 84-year-old. That’s not to say I didn’t like them—I did. Kusama clearly thinks about composition and her use of color is magnificent.
As I made my way, I came upon what seemed like another door to a special installation. Just as I thought I hit the jackpot for discovering a secret entryway, I was told the line was all the way over there. Like, waaaaaaaay over there. And so over there I went to wait.
What can I say? Patience and I were getting along that night.
About 30 minutes in, a crowd of people shuffled into the center of the space creating a buzz. Kusama herself was here. Eventually, she wheeled right past me.
After that, the line seemed to shorten a bit and before I knew it, I was back in the spot I started at just 40 minutes earlier. Finally, it was my turn. I’d have just 30 seconds this time—but I had them all to myself in a room smaller than the last. I stood on a short, wide plank surrounded by water. Mirrors covered the walls, and dazzling twinkle lights hung from the ceiling. I felt like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, sans the spacesuit.
What an evening! I thought to myself. I had only been out a little over two hours and seen so much.
But as I exited the gallery and crossed the street, something else caught my eye. There, inside a space called The Kitchen, was an audience sitting on what looked like bleachers. Before them on the floor were six people that I assumed were the actors/artists/dancers/singers/comedians about to perform in this show I knew nothing about and yet suddenly so badly wanted to see. It was about to start any minute, so I quickly inquired about tickets, and managed to score one of the last remaining seats in the front row (!).
Not believing my luck, but feeling exuberant from happening upon the unknown in the nick of time, I hustled inside just before they closed the doors. The audience came to a hush, and we waited for the show to start.
And continued to wait.
Until I realized the show had started. The performance, it seemed, involved those six people shifting positions for 90 minutes. A bend of the knee here. A tap of a finger there. A few eye blinks or two, followed by a hip sway.
There was no music. There was no dialogue. Just six performance artists, each in their own head-to-toe monochrome ensemble, moving ever-so-slightly.
It bordered on torture and slight fascination, skewing more so to the former. Due to my close proximity to the performers, I occasionally locked eyes with them throughout the show, which I felt bad about since I had been participating in some shifting of my own—that of the eyelid-drooping, head-bobbing variety. There may have even been a touch of drool at some point.
The show was called Premiere by artist Maria Hassabi and when I Googled it afterwards to figure out what the heck was going on, this is what I found:
A premiere, a highly anticipated event, represents the first meeting with the public: the audience, as viewer and critic. Essentially this moment is what validates the existence of any creation as a ‘work of art.’ Hassabi’s PREMIERE takes its time and explores this first public encounter.
Sure did take its time! Oh how badly I wanted for it to be something epic and awesome, rounding out the night of unexpected delight. Instead, it was something epic and awful. Nonetheless, a NYC experience I won’t soon forget.
Just like a few nights later when Rebecca and I found ourselves strolling through a more traditional gallery filled with post-war paintings and senior citizens.
Before we entered the Chagall exhibit, we went to the “reception” where I had hoped to meet Prince Charming, but instead got up close and personal with free Shiraz. We sat there for a bit, catching up until a woman knocked over a cup of milk with her walker, causing Rebecca to burst into laughter.
“Why am I laughing?! I feel horrible,” she said, through guffaws. I was too busy holding in my own to answer her.
The number of stink eyes we got for giggling was almost as bad as the actual stink in the elevator on the way down. (No joke. Someone dealt it big time.)
OK, so the after-hours reception itself ended up being more wrinkle than mingle, but we enjoyed learning more about Chagall in this context. We also happened upon a smaller exhibit on the same floor by the design trio threeASFOUR, whose haute couture clothing is based on the architecture of synagogues. Even cooler, though, was this cube-like prism filled with mirrors, Katsuma-style.
On the high-heels of seeing fashion as art at the Jewish Museum, I rounded out my week of art by going to the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. As a whole, this collection was my favorite and certainly the most elaborate. Spanning several rooms and nearly an entire floor, the display included an array of costumes from the decade-spanning career of this outlandish French fashion designer. In mainstream pop culture, he’s probably most known for having designed the cone bra for Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, which I sat fifth row for back in 1990. (Perhaps much to the embarrassment of my mother and her best friend Joann who were both with us as we watched Madonna grind a bed post during “Like a Virgin.” Awk-ward.)
This exhibit had its fair share of oddities too, including the mannequins who…talked. That’s right, several of the plastic mannequins had eyes that blinked and lips that spoke thanks to video projections on their faces.
It was both creepy and clever and reminded me of one of the best movies ever made staring a pre-Samantha Kim Cattrall as “Emmy” alongside my boy Andrew McCarthy. Only these plastic size-4’s didn’t get up and dance to Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.
In a matter of a week, I saw four very different exhibits at four very different NYC venues. Each had their own merits (or lack thereof), but they all shared a few commonalities, too: imagination beyond measure, creativity beyond control, and the ability to make one feel completely out of place. Which, you know, is sometimes how I like it.