by Bernie Langs
On a much too hot and humid Thursday in early October, I was determined to see as many top notch art shows in Manhattan as I could and succeeded beyond my expectations. I began the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, “Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years” (through December 31, 2012—suggested donation $25), which is billed as a forum to explore the wide-ranging influence of the pop artist Andy Warhol. I’ve always enjoyed Warhol’s art and am taken by the unexpected seriousness and depth to his work, despite his own life-long presentation of himself as almost lacking in substance and, let us say, having a banal philosophy of “show for the sake of show.” At the Met, one is treated to Warhol’s use of color in his Marilyn Monroe series, his introspection, as in his 1967 Self Portrait, and social commentary in his works on civil rights and his silk screens of the electric chair.
I didn’t have high hopes of enjoying the artists influenced by Warhol on exhibit, given that many reviews in the newspapers were negative and many of his peers are not artists I respect. I am pleased to report that, although there are several forgettable artists in the show, the bulk of them are represented with a variety of interesting pieces. Luckily, several major pieces by the German Gerhard Richter are on display (see below for more on this artist). There are works, I have dismissed in newspapers or magazines that come alive in person, in particular the over-the-top porcelain statue, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons. Sigmar Polke and Cindy Sherman are also nicely represented. As I happily strolled through the galleries, I recalled a fond memory of being at a small concert venue in the late 1970s and seeing Warhol sitting at a table and enjoying the music.
My next stop was down the street to NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World to see Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan (through January 16, 2013–admission is free). I had read that the works on view were sculptures from a cave temple dating back to the sixth century and expected to find an exhibit of a couple dozen worn statues from the period. Instead, I was surprised to be greeted in the gallery by just a handful of finely crafted, monumental, limestone Buddhist images that were detailed, and well-preserved. Three full-length Buddhist-canon figures in particular merit the trip. There was also a virtual video cave that the curators put together, using impressive technology on three screens to bring the viewer in.
Staying with the Asian theme, I bounded over to Japan Society to view Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) (through January 16, 2013–$15, free Fridays 6-9 p. m.), the first American retrospective of this interesting artist. The show consisted of various scrolls, painted fans, lacquers, wood-block prints, and exquisitely painted screens that can only be described as sublime. The artist’s wonderfully crafted, silver-tinted screen Waves, is exhibited next to the almost mystical Rough Waves by the earlier influential artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716). This pairing alone is worth the admission. I also enjoyed the sparse landscape work of Sakai Hōitsu, such as the screen Maples and Cherry Tree, which conjured up past readings of Zen philosophy. The artist’s most important pupil, Suzuki Kiitsu, is also nicely represented in the exhibition.
My personal list of the world’s great living artists includes Gerhard Richter, who was on view with new abstract works at the Marion Goodman Gallery (unfortunately the exhibit has closed). These pieces are a mixture of painting and digital tricks and are best shown by the photo above, which doesn’t do them justice. I don’t think I’ve ever reacted to an exhibit the way I did when seeing these new pieces. It was a mixture of joy, confusion, and visual excitation coupled with visual irritation. Strips plays with your mind in many different ways, unfolding away from you then emerging from the surface on different planes. It vibrates and bubbles and at one point caused my heart to rhythmically pulsate. Richter is a master of ambiguity, yet he brings viewers to a meditative place. Meditating on one work, I thought it became an electric beach, carrying me out to a distant body of blue water on the horizon.
From the Goodman Gallery, I met a friend at Carnegie Hall to take in a masterful concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra featuring maestro Riccardo Muti. I was wondering how I’d react to hearing Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, having just read an article in The New Yorker about the continued debate on whether the composer’s work should be performed in Israel given the history of anti-Semitism associated with him. Fearful of being distracted, I was glad to have been taken captive by the grand sounds of the Overture and thought more on ideas of mythology, the European countryside, and the grand symphonic tradition brought on by Beethoven. There’s nothing like a full orchestra energetically bringing to a crescendo a nineteenth century European composer’s vision.
Also on the program was a new work by Mason Bates that was having its New York premiere. Alternative Energy ebbed and flowed like many modern compositions and then stunned when the traditional orchestra was joined by the blare of modern techno-beats from several speakers placed around the stage. Despite that—or perhaps because of it—the piece gathered thunderous applause at its conclusion and the composer came out from the wings to thank the audience and orchestra. The concert concluded with Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, which was played fabulously with many nuances by the Chicago troupe. I enjoyed the piece with my eyes closed so I could bring a spatial dimension in placing the various musical colors and concurrent themes in a wider universe of thought and perception.
I left Carnegie Hall to head home and discovered at Penn Station that there was limited train service. My train however, arrived on time. It had been that kind of lucky day.