Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

November 30, 2007
I have a confession to make to Philip Glass: I’ve been taking him for granted. Never mind that some of my most thrilling musical moments have been at live Glass performances, I simply have not kept up and never think of playing his music while I’m working. That changed when I suddenly decided to more thoroughly investigate the contents of my iTunes by going through it alphabetically, which meant that I was just as likely to be listening to a College Art Association lecture or French poetry as Gorillaz. One of things that surfaced in my experiment was the piano opening of Glassworks (1982) and I was surprised at how beautiful it was after not hearing it all these years. That rediscovery coincided with an article by Alex Ross in the November 5th issue of The New Yorker on new works by Glass. Ross points out that the hullabaloo over Steve Reich’s 70th birthday was substantially greater than that over Glass’s, and notes that much of the problem with Glass’s credibility among intellectuals is that he writes faster than most of us can listen (“I just got sick of him,” my friend Maria said when I told her what I was writing about). Well on Ross’s advice I bought (from Amazon, it’s not down-loadable) Glass’s Eighth Symphony (2005), and have found it very listenable and not at all predictable and repetitious as I expected (“It’s a dirty job,” a rock musician friend once said when I played him Music with Changing Parts, “but somebody has to do it”). Much of the Eighth Symphony sounds like a Wagner/Glass mash-up or Wagner if he wasn’t always portending something, and had listened to a lot of Philip Glass. Glass also portends, but it’s a slow build and more about the journey than the payoff. In alphabetical order on my iTunes what comes after the Eighth Symphony is Passages (1990), Glass’s collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and rediscovering that as well has been delightful--parts that remind me of the other-worldly trill of the wood thrush, along with sections that are surprisingly Paul Winter-ish. However if I’m going to continue to play Glass I have to be careful to make a separate playlist for him because if I stay on the alphabetical track what comes after Philip is the Pixies, and that’s a tough transition.

Then there was the week my iPod got a mind of its own and refused to play anything but Oasis …but that’s another story.
November 12, 2007
Today, going to the city, I finally listened to music again after not wanting to disturb the memory of the casual, slightly unplugged Yo La Tengo concert at Mass MoCA Saturday night. Yo La Tengo, who I first heard at Maxwell’s in Hoboken around the time of their inception in 1984, may have the best career of any band—steady and long-lasting—while the music, which runs the gamut from mellow to hard rock, is changing and experimental. They were among the first of the cool indie bands—it’s possible they invented the genre—and are still as cool and indie as ever, with a whole new audience of teenage fans. The opener, however, a Vermont folkie who goes by the name of Dredd Foole, was dread-full (he set himself up for that). His off-key yowling sent me fleeing to the lobby for tea and a very satisfying chocolate mousse. I’ve heard some of the worst openers ever at Mass MoCA, which is sad when you think about how many excellent musicians there are in the area. I also wish they’d give more thought to the music they blast to indicate, along with the house lights, that the show is over—it can be a shock to the system when you’re in a Yo La Tengo haze.

Then today was the last day of the Asian Art Fair. Son Matt has just returned from accompanying his friend, British DJ Adam Freeland, on a tour of China, and reports that Shanghai is the cultural capital of the universe, with architecture that looks like Blade Runner times ten and the most stylishly dressed women anywhere. The Asian Art Fair, a particularly manageable pier show, convinced me that the vogue for Asian, especially Chinese, art is more than a fad. A deft merging of old images and ideas with new sensibilities and media, much of the work was light and—gasp!—aesthetic, compared with Western art, which seems destined to drown in a dreary sea of academic conceptualism.
November 11, 2007
I’m throwing out old magazines, and just couldn’t let this go unmentioned before consigning it to recycling—the Sex issue of Time Out/New York (Oct. 5-12), which, if you missed it (and you’re lucky if you did) is like a Mad Magazine spoof of a listings magazine as edited by Larry Flynt. It has suggestions on where to go and what to do if you want all your orifices filled at once or fantasize about being raped, and the magazine paid for a staffer to go to a legal brothel in Reno and report on his experience. And I just wanted to know what time the Whitney opened! Really, sex hasn’t seemed this disgusting since I was ten. The editor later said, “If you do a sex issue and no one cancels, you’re probably not doing your job,” the idea being that if you’re not into porn you’re a prude, and he’s just as happy to have all prudes cancel. What I want to know is, where is feminism now that we need it?

I’ve been able to find additional reasons to cancel my subscription, however, one being that it comes a week too late, and another is the stupidest review of anything I ever read (in the Oct. 18-24 issue, which I’m also tossing)—Mike Wolf’s review of Radiohead’s In Rainbows where he devotes the first two thirds to a rehash of the band’s decision to release the album on their own (totally old news by then) and when he finally gets down to the music says, “Admittedly, I’m not a big Radiohead fan, though the group’s ongoing ability to make cryptically sweet alternative rock is admirable” and “it’s safe to say that Radiohead fans, an unwavering lot, will be satisfied with both the music and the near-certainty that they each paid a fair amount for the artist’s work.” If he dislikes the music and wants to subject it to a critique, fair’s fair. But this is akin to an editor assigning a writer who doesn’t like raw fish to review a Japanese restaurant…“Those who like sushi would probably enjoy the iku-tama but I’m not into that sort of thing, so I’ll give it one star”—or how about a book review that reads, “I’m completely bored by murder mysteries, but if I weren’t I’m guessing Robert Ludlam’s new thriller would be a page-turner…”

On the other hand perhaps I should be glad, because it opens up whole new possibilities for art writing such as, “Personally I dislike overwrought gestural paintings by Saatchi-promoted British artists, but those who don’t will relish Marlene Dumas’s upcoming retrospective at MoMA”…I think I’ll try it.
October 1, 2007
New Yorker music critic Edward Winkleman poses the question: “Is there too much art?” (If you asked that about music, the answer would have to be “Yes, so much good music I can’t get to it all.”) The problem, however, isn’t a surfeit of art per se, but of inconsequential art marketed as great art. Is there too much art in Venice?