She stands on stage. No, not stands. She towers, she thrums, she exudes, she stretches. She does not simply stand. Her red hair is a mane around her shoulders and her fingers are like fireflies in the air, pulling out energy and coaxing out melody and drawing you in all at once. Her motions are sporadic and violent and goddess-like. She is undergoing an exorcism or bursting into existence or announcing life with a tear and a bang and all eyes on you in the light and the heat Now.
And it is all ethereal.
Up there – raised and yet more connected to every body in the room than one could possibly hope for – she is the definition of reckless abandonment. She is so herself that all you can do is love her. She is so open and trusting and warm that when she says “if you like them or if you love them or if you just met them, RAISE THEM UP”, it gets a crowd to raise their neighbors onto their shoulders, and then the whole crowd is dancing together.
She is so connected that when she tells a story of writing a song hungover, needing to be absolved, and asks the crowd: “Would you be that [my] choir of hungover angels?”, everyone falls into the role easily.
And now everyone is a part of this spiritual inertia that has swept through the stadium. Now we are all swaying and jumping and reaching and screaming and singing. Feeling. Everyone is there. Together. Feeling. We are all feeling love. She says she can sense it. She says that she has experienced the kind of love that makes you fall in love with someone and then everyone and then the whole world and she asks us to take our love out into that same big world and spread it. Because everyone could use a little more of that in their lives.
And then we are back to movement. Hands reaching and pulling energy down from the ceiling, where it collects and condenses into little invisible clouds, charged with the heat and the love and the noise of all of the hearts in that space. And over us all, her hands are conducting. She throws ribbons of sound into the smoke and fog and joy filled air and up to the invisible clouds they go.
Behind her, the glittering of the reflective background looks like applause.
Florence + The Machine: How Beautiful Tour (visit: http://florenceandthemachine.net/)
Anish Kapoor’s current exhibition in the Gladstone Gallery’s 24th street Chelsea location (May 4 – June 11, 2016) provoked me in a way that art never before has.
This show departed from Kapoor’s past work of shiny sculptures and reflective forms. Instead he created more bodily pieces, though they maintain his usual scale. The huge silicone sculptures threaten to consume you as you step into the gallery space. They are reminiscent of mangled, massacred flesh, though also somehow seem womb-like. Surrounded, you are faced with violence, and your body is suddenly inside another. It is disgusting and intriguing all at once.
The sculptures maintain a certain tension in their relationship to viewers. They at once invite you to explore their materiality in more detail, and loom threateningly – daring you to step up and examine their solid yet squishy forms.
When I first walked in to the gallery space I was overwhelmed. My instinct was wrap myself up, to shield my own intact torso with my arms. I was in a butcher shop or I was a fetus or I was a witness and inside and outside all bled together in a space that felt smaller because I hesitated to close the distance between myself and the art. I was caught off guard. I was unsure. I was engaged.
And I continued to be engaged even as I stepped outside to the gallery after seeing the entire show, when I had to shake out my arms and hands to absorb and recover from the experience of the art. The art stayed with me.
So while I can’t say that it was my favorite of Kapoor’s work, I will say without hesitation that the show was absolutely a success.
What is “good art”?
The experience of art is a subjective one. Aesthetics range from one individual to the next, despite an overarching cultural conditioning. That’s why people have different favorite colors or patterns and why some people are bored by classical portraits or intrigued by impressionism or confused by contemporary installations.
Yet despite personal and cultural preferences there exists a canon of art which is the established pinnacle. The best.
But what makes it that way? Is it flawless brushwork, excellent color choices, elegant form, critical subject matter? Is it the execution of one of these things or the perfect recipe of some combination?
Perhaps. Though maybe good art is also defined by the experience of the work. Perhaps it is notable for the way it transports you to a foggy world, or dwarfs your fragile human frame. Perhaps it enrages you or leaves you thinking about it after it is no longer in your immediate presence.
If art is about experience though, then how do you separate good art from successful art? Is there even a difference at all?
If a piece makes you react – whether in awe or disgust, then the artist has successfully engaged you. But does that merit the label of “good” or simply “provoking”?
For me, good art is always provoking, though not all provoking art is good. I may react strongly – viscerally – to a piece, and thus it is successful. But it still may not grip me. Whereas any piece that I love will make me react: it will inspire and engage and inform me of something. I will hear what it tells me. I think good art relies on that element of conversation. And because of that even some art that is widely accepted as good is not for everyone. Just as in normal conversation, some pieces are easier to talk to than others. Pieces of art have personalities, and some gel and some clash – this is the individuality of aesthetics, and why the discussion and debate over the definition acceptance of good art will continue to take place. People will always develop new and different ideas that challenge art, and art will in turn evolve and challenge us right back. That conversation will go on infinitely, and in that way art as a concept will always remain “good”, even if ever elusive (though perhaps that’s part of the fun anyway).
Our default setting seems to be casual. Humans – as social creatures – crave acceptance, and once we feel accepted we tend to settle into a state of passive agreeability. Most of the time that works for us – we can exist just fine under that condition.
But sometimes that just isn’t right.
There are times when the casual phrase “it’s okay” doesn’t work. It acts as a brush-off. It’s an acknowledgement without threat of consequence. By its very nature it is passive: It’s okay. Not great. Not bad. But okay.
The phrase is tossed around often. Running a few minutes late? It’s okay. Spill something? It’s okay.
Other times those two little words aren’t the proper fit for the job. Perhaps the situation is too big to sum up so cleanly. Maybe it really isn’t okay. Maybe it just isn’t the right time or place or person.
So what do you say instead? What can you say instead?
In that moment where speech breaks, what is there to fill the void between acknowledging what is going on and not rupturing it? “It’s okay” isn’t enough. But what is: a touch? A glance? Another phrase?
Or maybe just silence.
I love the show Mad Men. I love the drama of it. I love the way the characters are so real and so complex that you find yourself rooting for the good guy who may also be not such a good guy. I love the art of the advertisements and the complexities of that world. I love the way New York assumes its own character within the story line of the show. (I don’t love the subjugation and objectification of women, but that’s another story.)
Madison Avenue is quintessentially Mad Men. Even on a part of the street that I know not to be the right district, I still cannot help but feel a little bit bad ass at the thought of it. At the power of it.
Yura on Madison – a tiny bakery turned cafe – sits on Madison, bustling with life in the morning. It is full of school girls getting their almost-adult coffee drinks while still wearing their uniforms. It’s full of business people popping in and out on their way to and from real life. Full of tourists planning out the order in which they will tackle Museum Mile. Full of life and full of moments.
It is a tiny microcosm within the city, but a very representative sample. Within its little universe there exist people coming and going, with only the experience of the coffee shop to link their lives. It is busy. It isn’t too loud, but it definitely isn’t quiet. It has delicious baked goods and larger plates for those interested in staying a while; and of course there is good coffee which keeps everyone running.
In a city filled with coffee shops, it’s another a little pit stop along a fast and crowded track on which everyone runs. But regardless of if it’s just a short stop or a place to sit and people watch for a while, it’s a sweet little taste of the city.