Leonard Quart: Culturally, a city that never sleeps


NEW YORK >> As always, there is no dearth of cultural offerings in New York City.

Some major events are of brief duration, including the Art Show at the 67th St. Park Avenue Armory, which ran from March 2-6. The show is held in the 1880 red brick Armory's soaring, immense 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, one of the largest unobstructed spaces of its kind in the country. In addition, some of the handsome reception rooms off the Hall that were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White are used to serve light meals.

My wife and I have attended the show for years. In this its 28th year it featured 72 presentations — solo exhibits, group shows, and new works — by members of the Art Dealers Association of America, including New York galleries like Matthew Marks, Hirschl & Adler, and Gallerie St. Etienne. The works of art exhibited range from older modernists like Avery, Kelly, and Frankenthaler, to new works by living artists like Ron Gorchov and Herman Bas.

There are always sufficient works on exhibit that stir the imagination and provide aesthetic pleasure. We also received an unexpected bonus, since we attended the first afternoon of the show when crowds of wealthy collectors, artists, and just ordinary viewers were sparse. It allowed us the chance to talk to the gallery owners about some of the artists' lives and works they were exhibiting, like the richly colored paintings of the rarely seen Bob Thompson who died much too soon at 28 in 1966.

On another day we attended Berkshire photographer Gregory Crewdson's exhibit "Cathedral of the Pines" at the Gagosian in Chelsea — the show closed on March 12. Most of his elaborate, cinematic-style still productions are set in and around Becket. They are beautifully composed, and a few have the look of an Edward Hopper painting.

For example, one of the photos, "Woman at the Sink," has light streaming through a window as a woman stands near a kitchen sink, gazing out at a darkening, serene snowscape. In another of his photos, "Pickup Truck," Crewdson portrays a nude couple in the flatbed of a truck in a dense forest — the woman seated, the man turned away in repose.

Many of his photos capture disconnected, often affectless people in rooms. The narratives are mysterious and enigmatic, and the dominant mood is a haunting one. Crewdson has said, "I am fundamentally interested in the uncanny" and he evokes it by exploring the familiar, but giving the everyday a strange, sometimes melancholy perspective.

We excitedly attend the Met Breuer on its first weekend. Located in the former Whitney Museum building on 75th and Madison, we spend a great of time looking at its main exhibit "Unfinished," which addresses the question of when a work of art can be considered finished. The Met has restored the building, which it's leasing for eight years, and it will now provide additional space for the public to explore contemporary art.

The Met has come much later than other New York museums, like MOMA and the Guggenheim, to the collecting and exhibiting of contemporary art, but it now is trying to make up for lost time. In fact, while the Met is opening the Breuer it's going to do a gut renovation of its Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, which houses its Modern and contemporary art collection.

We also plan to see "Munch and Expressionism," at the Neue Galerie. He's the Norwegian painter whose intensely evocative depictions of emotional and physical pain ("The Scream") have always stirred me. But since the exhibit is running until June 13, we are waiting for the crowds to thin out.

A play I would like to recommend is Kenneth Lonergan's "Hold On To Me Darling" at the Atlantic Theater Company. Lonergan is a fine playwright ("This is Our Youth") and screenwriter (the award-winning "You Can Count on Me," and the brilliant and flawed "Margaret"), whose work has always been distinguished by memorable, exhilarating dialogue and intricately, layered characters.

His new play is in the same league as the best of his past work. It centers on a totally narcissistic but appealing country and western superstar, Strings McCrane (performed with panache, and psychological complexity by Timothy Oliphant). Strings' mother has just died, and he begins to feel his life is utterly empty.

A lesser writer could have turned this merely into a satire of celebrity culture, a play about a star who is looking to escape the world of meaningless hype and luxury for authenticity and a simple life. However, though that may be Lonergan's narrative outline, and though his satire of the American obsession with celebrity can be pointed, the play is infinitely richer than that. Lonergan shifts effortlessly from the uproariously comic to the genuinely pathetic in many scenes, and the other characters who surround Strings convey emotional depths that surprise us.

I want to also mention the opening on the Lower East Side of the Metrograph (7 Ludlow Street), which is composed of two new art theaters — a 50-seat room for rough cuts and screenings, and a 175-seat room for bigger features. The 5,400 square-foot converted warehouse is located in a part of the rapidly gentrifying street that still preserves some grit. The Metrograph will be showing classic repertory, restorations, and new art films. This is no tenplex dedicated to new commercial releases, but-happily- a theater that should attract young and old cinephiles.

Leonard Quart can be reached at cinwrit@aol.com.


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