“Piano & A Microphone”- Prince’s Final Performance

As the speculation surrounding Prince’s death continues, whatever it’s tragic cause turns out to be, I prefer to focus on what he created and left us.

14 days ago, as I write this, Prince gave what turned out to be his final performance, alone on the Fox Theater, Atlanta stage with only a piano and a microphone. “You have to try new things. With the piano, it is more naked, more pure,” he said announcing his “Piano & A Microphone Tour.” Unlike 2002’s “One Nite Alone…” 64 date World Wide Tour, during which he was accompanied by a small band that included bass, drums, keyboards and 2 horns, this one was really Prince, Alone…solo. It began with a  Tour Preview show at Paisley Park on January 21, before moving clear across the world for 6 dates in Australia (review and great picture here) and New Zealand, with 2 shows on each date. Leg 2 began with shows in Oakland, CA on February 28 & March 4, After that, the tour was scheduled to continue with shows in Montreal and Toronto. But, before heading to Canada, he stopped in NYC on March 19th to announce that he had signed with Random House to publish his Autobiography to be titled, “The Beautiful Ones,” scheduled for release in the fall of 2017. He then did a surprise 30 minute set at “Avenue” in Chelsea on 10th Avenue and 17th Street, which included “All The Critics Love You In New York,” and “When Doves Cry,” a personal favorite. It would be his last NYC appearance. I didn’t hear about it until after it happened. It wouldn’t have mattered, though. Admission was by invite only.

DSC_0451PNH

That Bird Has Flown. Avenue, NYC, April 30, 2016. Yes, the bird, not a Dove, was really there. I couldn't tell if he/she was crying.

That Bird Has Flown. Avenue, NYC, April 30, 2016. Yes, the bird, not a Dove, was really there. I couldn’t tell if he/she was crying.

From here, it was back to the tour, as I said, to Montreal, on March 21, and finally Toronto, on March 25, before moving on to the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA, for what, tragically, turned out to be the last concert he would ever give. (Here’s the poster for the show. Here is a shot of tickets.) As with the earlier shows, there was an early and a late show on April 14, rescheduled from the original date of April 7. Though I hope Paisley Park professionally recorded it1, someone in the audience recorded it and made it available on Soundcloud. It has since been pulled, but not before I got a chance to hear it. I cycled it a few times, and thought I’d share my notes on what I heard here. Someone also posted a phone video on Instagram of what he says is the late show “Purple Rain,” which would be the last song he ever performed. I saw that, as well, before it, too, was pulled.

When I heard he was planning a “Piano & A Microphone” Tour, I was hoping to get a chance to hear him here in New York, as, for me, the idea of Prince performing sol is a natural. He’s a consummate performer, and it would have been a rare chance to experience more of his incredible talents beyond his brilliant guitar playing. He even had Yamaha make him a Grand Piano in a custom specified shade of purple, which was recently delivered to him, and that he never got to use on tour. Sadly, that chance won’t be coming, so I was even more curious to hear this raw recording from his last show. Here’s the set list for the last show, with the notes I made listening to it, and expanded since, including my attempts to transcribe what he said between songs-

Intro- Atmospheric synth pad background which is hard to hear over the screaming as Prince enters. Title unknown.

“When Will We Be Paid”-(a Staples Singers Cover) – An Amazing performance. Prince’s voice sounds as strong and as dynamic as ever, which is much more noticeable with only a piano backing it. A fascinating choice to open the show! This song is nothing less than a History of African Americans up through 1970, when it was written. It includes the lyrics-

“We have given our sweat, and all our tears
We stumbled through this life for more than 300 years
We’ve been separated from the language we knew,
Stripped of our culture, people you know it’s true. Tell me now…
When will we be paid for the work we’ve done?”

How unexpected. How bold. Talk about a shot over the bow. This is Prince, the teacher, singing wisdom, and he wears it so very well, with a powerful edge in his voice.

Ends with rhythmic clapping. Somewhere, The Staples are very proud.

Prince apologizes for the cancellation and the show being pushed back one week.

“The Max”- Definitely not a song I’d expected to hear performed solo. It appears on the Symbol album by the New Power Generation in 1992. It segues into-

“Black Sweat”- From “3121,” Prince’s 31st studio album, 2006, Prince vamps on it, dropping the piano out once in a while as it becomes a clap along, and then he actually solos on the piano before it abruptly ends.

:Girl”- A B-side(!) from about 1982, and one that appears on his The Hits/B-Sides compilation. Another unexpected choice, as the whole set is thus far, almost 15 minutes in! A really beautiful and unique song. It contains the now haunting lyric-

“Girl, I guess I finally realized
Keepin’ you close to me it would keep me alive”

“I Would Die 4 U”- A Hit! The “Purple Rain” classic opens with a beautiful balladic piano intro. Prince asks the audience to sing the chorus. right away. Its has a nicely slightly laid back energy. Segues into-

“Baby I’m A Star”- He teases it on the piano, then abruptly stops. The crowd goes nuts. He continues in a similar tempo to the record, alternating lines with the audience. “Take My Picture. No. Don’t take my picture.” Towards the end, Prince shows off his piano chops. Nice. Then he breaks into a rapped discussion I couldn’t make out. He vamps over a nice groove as the audience claps along, and ends it by saying what sounds like “Cha Cha Cha.” ?

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”- From 1987’s “Sign O’ The Times.” At first, it’s a stripped down vocal feature, before melting into a solo piano vehicle.

Prince says “Relationships. No matter what we try to do. Sometimes they fall apart, you know?” Then goes right into-

“Dark”- from 1994’s “Come.” An interesting choice. A nice song, easily overlook among so many diamonds. It contains-

“Like an innocent man that’s on death row
I don’t understand what made you go
And want to leave me baby
Leave me in the dark”

Big applause.

“Indifference”- Unreleased, and seemingly recent, perhaps dating from 2014. Another unusual choice. It seems that this setlist is about pleasing only Prince, and die-hard fans who love “deep cuts.” “You and me alone, in a quiet place,” sound like it’s closing lyrics.

“Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U Anymore”- From “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic,” 1999. See “Indifference.” Another unexpected song, and another one, about a failed relationship. Crowd members were screaming “I Love You” before this song started. Prince didn’t reply.

“Ok. I think I got it out of my system. Maybe Not.”

“Little Red Corvette” Segues into- “Dirty Mind.” Very interesting to hear with just a piano. This segues, somewhat unbelievably into The Theme From Peanuts(!), “Linus & Lucy,” during his piano solo, before going back to “Little Red Corvette,” which is another song about a failed relationship.

“Nothing Compares 2 U”- HUGE Screams when it begins. I, too, am so happy he did this! Yup, another song about….you know. Is it possible that some people still don’t know that Prince, and not Sinead O’Connor, wrote it? This performance has a nice gospel feel to it, and he actually solos, before bringing the vocal back.It ends with him leading the audience in singing it. “Are you having a good time? Me too.” God, I wish I’d been there.

“Thank you, Atlanta. Good night.”

Encore 1

“I was just checking. I want to see how serious you are. What I want to do right now is we’ve got to have a conversation with ourselves. Every once in a while you’ve got to have a conversation with yourself.” Right into-

“Cream”- From “Diamonds And Pearls,” contains the lyric-

“You’re so good
Baby there ain’t nobody better (Ain’t nobody better)
So you should
Never, ever go by the letter (Never ever)
You’re so cool (Cool)
Everything you do is success
Make the rules (Rules)
Then break them all ’cause you are the best”

Sounds about right.

He changes it to “Look up in the air, it’s your piano.” then solos. Back and forth with the crowd, with Prince wailing in excellent gospel vocal form. Again, you can’t hear any “flu like symptoms,” even on this audience recording.

“You are serious about this I see. Have a seat, we’re going to have a family meeting. Let me talk to my sister right quick.”

“Black Muse”- from what turns out to be his final studio album, the terrific, to my ears, “Hitnrun Phase Two,” released in December. Another song about Black History, but this time, looking forward. It’s his “answer” to “When Will We Be Paid, that opens the show, and contains this lyric-

“Long ago 2 men held one of us down
Another took a whip and made a terrible sound
Baby watched her father falling down to the ground
That was you and me.
Black Muse can eye share with you
Just came this morning and it’s mighty good news
They tipped the hour glass
Now everything is passed
It’s true.
They gave the world back to you and me
The faces on the mountains and a dirty sea
A trillion dollar bill and no currency
Still we believe
Black Muse we gonna make it thru
Surly people that created rhythm and blues
Rock and roll and jazz
So you know we’re built to last
It’s cool.. it’s cool.. it’s cool..
(Black Muse)
A new day is dawning
Black Muse
A new day is dawning
Black Muse”

Wow.

“How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”- The B-Side to the single, “1999.” Amazing how many people in the audience know it and sing along! “I hear you singing, but you got to tell me why,” he says. An overlooked classic. And yes, another failed relationship song. Ends with the audience singing the title, and Prince responding, “I know why I don’t call, what about you?” And, “I don’t call cause that deep voice brother be answering the phone. You know, the one with the big shoes under the bed. I aint going to try to fight up in here. Little brothers like to run. And go get somebody. Then come back. That fella with the big shoes under the bed.” It continues back and forth until he says, “How we gonna get out of this groove?” Ha!

Rhythmic chants of “Prince…Prince….Prince….” Almost 4 minutes later…

Encore 2

He says, “Relationships. There’s so much instability (or incivility?) on the planet now. I don’t believe in it anymore. I believe people can get along. Even if it’s something we need to study. (inaudible) I believe we can get along.”

Vamp intro with Prince singing, beautifully, lyrics I can’t make out, before going into a ballad version of “Waiting in Vain”, a Bob Marley Cover, then he segues into “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” again, as a gospel ballad, with a beautiful downward chord progression underpinning. It goes back and forth with a line from Bob Marley, then a good piece of “If I Were…” He’s absolutely wailing on it (sorry), reaching into Ray Charles territory. Stunning. Then, he stops and says-

“Did anybody see that movie “The Way We Were?” (loud cheers) The one where Robert Redford broke up with Streisand? Well, she went home and called him on the phone, cause that’s the only friend she had. He was the one that hurt her. The only one she could talk to was him.”

He continues singing…”I don’t want to wait in vain for your love…” Prince doesn’t get more intimate and powerful than this, even though he’s singing and playing in a virtual whisper.

“Thank you, Atlanta. Good night.”

Another 3 minutes of ceaseless screaming go by…

Encore 3

“Sometimes It Snows in April”- From “Parade.” Sung quietly, gorgeously over a beautiful piano arrangement. A show stopper, even without the irony it has now. How poignant in retrospect. It was hard to listen to this after the fact with dry eyes. Amazingly, the audience listens and resists singing along. The lyrics-

“Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war,
Just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before,
A whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend
Those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again,
But sometimes sometimes life ain’t always the way

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

Springtime was always my favorite time of year,
A time for lovers holding hands in the rain
Now springtime only reminds me of Tracy’s tears
Always cry for love, never cry for pain
He used to say so strong unafraid to die
Unafraid of the death that left me hypnotized
No, staring at his picture I realized
No one could cry the way my Tracy cried

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes, sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
And all good things, they say, never last

I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there
I know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day I’ll see my Tracy again

Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

All good things, they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past2.”

“Thank you.” Right into-

“Purple Rain”- Starts it quietly, but the crowd knows right away, and they’re into it, torn between listening to him perform it for them, and joining in. After one verse/chorus, it segues into- “The Beautiful Ones”, which is hard to hear him sing due to the non-stop screams. It gets two verses and choruses, before a beautiful segue back to “Purple Rain” as a slow beautiful ballad, which he gives a big, slow ending, reapeating the last line, “I only want to see you laughing in the Purple Rain,” 4 times. Then, he goes right into-

“Diamonds and Pearls”, which he asks the audience to sing. After one chorus, he modulates back into a very gospel “Purple Rain”- “Let love guide you to the Purple Rain,” is the last line he sings before the wordless falsetto ending.

The tape fades out. It’s over.

Just amazing.

From listening to only this (the late) set, his song choices are very striking, often very surprising. They speak to the comfort level he has in this solo environment to try things. It’s certainly not how he’d program a setlist with a band at all. I guess I’ll always wonder about how many of the songs in this set relate to relationships, failed ones at that, as much as I’ll appreciate his social conscience. Then again, we learned early on about Prince and duality, right?

According to setlist.fm, this was the setlist for the early show. It included  Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”, which coincidentally, I had chosen as the Soundtrack to my Jackson Pollock Post on April 11! He also performed David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and the Peanuts Theme, again. I haven’t heard the early show, but it’s tempting to take both shows as one big one. Taken as a whole, It’s kinda hard to think that they weren’t designed for an album or video release (hopefully both). Their minimal overlap, with rarities in each seem designed to also please hard core fans who were lucky enough to attend both shows, the cheapest tickets for which were $100.00 each, face value. Who knows? Maybe as with “One Night Alone…” he was planning a tour best of album. Regardless, it shows that Prince certainly had a deep understanding of his catalog, a continually open ear to what others were doing3, and finding great songs, that were great choices to cover as a result. It reminded me of how much he surprised people during the Super Bowl when he covered Foo Fighters. I love that about him- that continually open mind to a good song.

Earlier shows on the tour contained about 2 covers per set. “Linus And Lucy,” and “Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley seemed to be staples, “Heroes” and “A Case of You” appeared a few times, and “Use Me” by Bill Withers appears. He also performed songs he wrote for Vanity 6, The Time, and Madhouse, but didn’t record himself. In Oakland on March 4, and in February in Australia, he performed “Over the Rainbow,”” Stand!” By Sly & The Family Stone, Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart” and Martika’s “Love.Thy Will Be Done.” Looking over the setlists for all of these shows, there is a surprising amount of variety among them. Absent from the list of covers he performed (admittedly, the tour was cut short, so who knows what else would have been played) are anything by Michael Jackson (I’m not surprised), Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, or Miles Davis (all of which would have been great). I saw a report that he was rehearsing George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which Miles did record on his “Porgy & Bess” album. That would have counted in my book.

If you’re wondering, I didn’t hear any signs of illness or decay in this set. Not even a cough. No long pauses between songs, except the encores. Yes, sitting at a piano may be a bit less strenuous than jumping around for 2 hours, like he did with his bands, but he is the only one singing (and playing) and his voice is clear & strong throughout, even at whatever distance whoever recorded this on non-professional equipment. It seems to even get better during the encores. Though this was part of a tour, and Prince was nothing but obsessed with every detail of his shows, this show has something of a one-off feel to it. It feels much, much more casual than I’d ever heard Prince before. Thought it no doubt wasn’t, it feels unrehearsed. It feels like anything could happen. But, it also feels like he was in control, every single second. Like always.

I read a report that Prince said Atlanta was the best show of the tour. No other recordings of other shows have turned up yet, as far as I know. Years ago Elvis Costello toured with only pianist Steve Nieve and a subsequent CD set of all the shows was released. Looking at these setlists makes me hope something similar happens for them. Let’s hope we get professional recordings of these very special performances that would have been “historic” even if he had gone on living for many years, one of these days. So we can all wonder- “Why all the songs about, and the mentions of failed relationships?”

Afterall, Prince’s music lives on, and will continue to do so. So, it would make a great addition to his canon, and legacy.

Lyrics quoted in this Post- “When Will We Be Paid” as performed by the Staple Singers, appears on their album, ‘The Very Best Of The Staple Singers” on Stax Records. Authors and Publishers unknown. “Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley, from “Exodus,” is published by Blue Mountain Music, Ltd.
All other lyrics are by Prince Rogers Nelson and published by  Universal Music Group.

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  1. which it appears they did given one track has now been released to Tidal subscribers
  2. I’ve heard some say it should read “passed,” as in passing love around.
  3.  Like Lady Gaga’s piano segments in her concerts, perhaps?

Nasreen Mohamedi’s “Simple” Perfection

Stop the Presses.

If you are an Author, or Publisher, of a book on the History of Art in the 20th Century? I’m sorry to say- you left out a unique, important, and great Artist.

Her name was Nasreen Mohamedi.

It’s ok. Until this past month, I, too, would have asked- “Who?”

She’s an Indian Artist who died in 1990 at the age of 53, without having sold a work, and who has had only 4 shows in New York (3 at the Talwar Gallery, the other at the Drawing Center).

Until now.

The Naked Face of Immortality?

Out of the shadows. Her Time Has Come.

It’s rare to spot a moment in time and say, “that was the moment when things changed.” Like a light coming on and what was hidden in the dark is made visible. What’s once seen may be very hard to forget. In the case of the Art of Nasreen Mohamedi that moment for those of us her work had remained unseen by happened on March 18 when when the lights came on and the doors opened on the 2nd floor of the new Met Breuer (TMB) for her Retrospective. It’s the “other” big show going on there (“Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” is on the 3rd & 4th Floor), together inaugurating the Met’s new outpost, 9 minutes away as the feet fly from their 1000 Fifth Avenue Mothership. While she is recognized, and her work eagerly sought after in Europe and Asia, (for up to $250,000., a piece), here, she has remained virtually completely unknown1. The “light” came on for me shortly after I walked through the doors to TMB’s 2nd floor on the eve of April 14.

Unbeknownst to me, at that very moment, Prince was giving what would, tragically, turn out to be his final performance in Atlanta.

By the time I was half way through the 8 galleries (containing about 130 works) that evening, I was completely & unalterably under her spell. After, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I wanted to see more, and nothing else. Who was she? Where did this come from? 7 subsequent visits later, and counting, I am now borderline obsessed (there is a Part Two to this Post, the first time I’ve done it- link at the bottom). If I were about to have a daughter? I’d want to name her “Nasreen.” Such has been the impact of discovering the person, and her Art.

Mark my words. Well, mark one word, actually. “Nasreen.” I see her work only gaining in importance and influence as she becomes a world figure in Art. Her name will become part of the Art vocabulary. Luckily, it’s a beautiful name, of someone, who by all accounts, was an equally beautiful person. And, a name that’s as easy to remember as her Art is. Now, that word will be spread here, like it already is elsewhere, as more people experience it.

Experience what, exactly?

Her’s is very hard Art to write about, or talk about. The effect it has is, also, hard to describe. I’ve decided not to post pictures of it at the moment because it really needs to be seen in person. So, go and see it for yourself, if you can, and have that experience I love of seeing something new for the first time with fresh eyes, and I hope it is as rewarding for you as it has been for me. My feelings about it center on finding it beautiful- miraculously composed & gorgeously executed, spiritual in the sense that her works are meditation objects, not unlike a tree or a scholar’s rock. They reach for the inexpressible, yet somehow, inside, they resonate as being “true.” There’s a feeling to them of a foreign world that is somehow, strangely, not “alien.” Perhaps that is because there is no chaos in Nasreen’s work, only the most perfect order. There are no crooked lines, no jagged edges, no line out of place, in spite of the fact that she suffered from Huntington’s Disease from her 20’s on, which progressively robbed her of her motor skills, and then, took her life, as it had her siblings before her. Is it any wonder, then, that her work, and her efforts to pursue and develop it, are so intensely focused?

In that sense her Art is like Bach, perhaps, the ultimate genius of order and man-made perfection. In the “Fugue” of Nasreen’s work, the theme continues from piece to piece. As in a fugue, this time the dialogue between voices are only with her own. I found myself settling on Bach’s “Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin,” as performed by Nathan Milstein, as the Soundtrack to my visits. (I should also note that TM commissioned pianist/composer Vijay Iyer to compose a piece for this show, which ECM Records has released on the album, “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke,” which is the title of the piece dedicated to Nasreen. It features one of her drawings on the cover.) These are conversations she’s having with herself, as we see in her riveting, endlessly fascinating Diaries- works of Art unto themselves, which are generously stationed throughout the brilliantly designed show, that continue on in her paintings, and then in her photography, and finally in her drawings.

These are intensely private, personal works, but in a completely different sense than the work on view upstairs in “Unfinished.” (This show could have been titled “An Unfinished Life.”) Maybe they were therapeutic, physically and psychically for Nasreen. Maybe they were meant to prove to herself how “in tact” she still was as time, and illness, progressed. In any event, that they have come to speak to people in so many countries around the world, and for her to be given the high honor of not only a large show, that occupies an entire floor, by The Metropolitan Museum, but to be selected to be the FIRST Artist given a show, and a Retrospective at that, as part of their new Modern & Contemporary Art initiative at TMB says louder than just about anything else that she has arrived.

She certainly doesn’t seem to have been expecting “Art immortality.” In fact, she’s hasn’t made it all that easy on posterity, and that makes me wonder about how she viewed her own work. Curators don’t even know which way the works should be hung (only 4 works in the show are signed, one tell tale way of knowing which way to hang a work)…

DSC_0756PNEFP

they don’t know the names of the work (every single piece here has the same title- “Untitled.”)…they can only approximate when a work was created (you’ll see “circa” on all but three pieces that she signed and dated)…there is also some mystery to how she achieved some of the incredible effects she got in her work. She seems to have largely kept her work to herself, showing it to guests, but only publicly a couple of times before she passed. Instead of selling it, she gave some of her work as gifts to friends. What A Gift! 2

Nasreen’s (I Love saying her name) work seems basic. In fact, it’s hard to think of any Art that is more basic in concept than her work from 1970 on. She seems to have spent a good deal of her Artistic career continually simplifying, seeking the essence, the heart, the core of her vision. Whereas many Artists begin by drawing, then move to painting, Nasreen did the opposite. Having begun with painting, and collage, in color, most of her post 1970 work is pen with black ink and graphite on white paper. 3

I bet that 75% of all human beings have, at one point of their lives, put pencil or ink to paper and drawn something.

And? Most of hers is lines. Just lines. Or later, lines with circles or semi-circles- the most basic elements there are.

The rest of it is space (or “negative space” as Artists call it). Blank, white paper.

Been there. Seen it.

Ho hum.

Yawn.

 

Guess

Again.

 

Be prepared. Her work is among the most subtle you’ll ever see. “God Is In The Details,” van der Rohe famously said. If God is truly in the details, than Nasreen Mohamedi is the “Goddess of Line,” in my opinion (which I will expound on in the next part). In her hands, the “simple” line approaches the sacred. It transcends. It becomes “more,” “something else.” Look closer. Follow it’s course. Look a lot closer, spend some time with it. Live in the layers, the intersections, the distances- near and further. Come back and see it again.

It’s not going anywhere. I promise.

You’ll see something else.

I’ve spent much of the past few weeks looking for it but I have yet to find anyone who’s done what she did. I see a piece here or there that is kinda close (a Paul Klee, a Mondrian, a Ralston Crawford, a Malevich, and another, and yet another Malevich, an admitted influence, among them), but it’s isolated. Different.

Here is a consistent body of work4 that creates entirely new worlds that all speak the same language.

It’s the language of Zen.

of Poetry.

of Music.

of Structures hanging in space. (Don’t stars hang in space?)

It’s the channeling of superhuman perseverance into creating gorgeous works of visionary draughtsmanship in the face of terminal loss of motor skills, untold discomfort and pain.

it’s the language of essence, of purity, of unique beauty seen through the eyes of one uniquely beautiful person.

It’s the language of Art.

Even Timeless Art.

Whatever that is- I think this is it.

But, you can only see it at the new Met Breuer until June 5, then time’s up.

Given the scattered distribution of Nasreen’s approximately 200 surviving works- (as I said, she never sold a work, she gave some to friends), and the high prices being paid for one of her drawings, it may make it very hard for any museum to acquire a collection of them. In fact, in my past 14 years of Met attendance, I can’t recall one show where there wasn’t a single work that was not from The Met’s collection, before this one! It may, therefore, be unlikely a show of this size & comprehensiveness is seen here for a very long time. And that will make this a show that will be spoken about in legendary terms. You’ve been warned.

A tip of the hat, then, is very much in order to Chairwoman of The Met’s Modern & Contemporary Department, Sheena Wagstaff 5, her associate, Brinda Kumar & the powers that be at The Met for making THE perfect choice to begin their highly anticipated new Modern & Contemporary Art initiative at The Met Breuer. I’m in awe. I can’t begin to imagine how hard a choice this must have been- “Who to show first?” Can you say AUDACIOUS? AUSPICIOUS? I should be used to this, after all it’s The Met we’re talking about, but I’m not. And, oh? By the way? As I’ve said, the show upstairs ain’t bad either.

This is Part One of my Post on Nasreen. Part Two is here. I promise to take a deep breath soon.

The Soundtrack for this Post is J.S. Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin as performed by Nathan Milstein on Deutsche Grammophon. (I look forward to hearing Vijay Iyer’s  “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke,” with Wadada Leo Smith soon.)

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com
Click the box on the upper right if you’d care to subscribe. Thanks.
This Post was created by and originally Posted on www.nighthawknyc.com.

  1. At the moment, there is only one monograph on Nasreen Mohamedi in print- the superb catalog for this show, which was co-organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain in collaboration with the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi.
  2.  That night, 746 miles south, Prince was singing- “If I gave you diamonds and pearls, Would you be a happy boy or a girl, If I could I would give you the world, All I can do is just offer you my love” From “Diamonds & Pearls”, from the album of the same name, and published by Universal Music Publishing Group.
  3. Her photographs were black and white as well.
  4. I’m referring to the drawings, which are dated here from “circa 1970” until her death in 1990
  5. If you look at the app on the iPad pictured above in the show’s reading room, it includes a picture of Nasreen Mohamedi’s unmarked grave, 18 miles south of Mumbai, taken by Ms. Wagstaff. A sign of the level of her personal dedication to this Artist.

The Artist Known As Prince

“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time”*

He was the most talented musician of his generation.

He grew up on equal parts of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. Now, he’s a legend right up there with them. He never stopped growing, evolving and exploring, and I hope that while people will play his classic hits, they’ll also check out the great albums they may have missed. He recorded 46 studio albums by my count 1 They are all worth your time, right up to the last two- “Hit n Run Phase One” and “Hit n Run Phase Two,” released last fall and winter.

One thing I especially admire about Prince was his enduring commitment to using real bands, including horns, with everyone actually performing their parts. He was something of a last holdout for doing things that way, something he learned all about from James Brown & The J.B.’s, who’s tightness is legendary, and Duke Ellington’s Big Band, who’s musicianship was, too. Prince knew that there is nothing like the sound of real musicians, playing real instruments, really well, and the respect he had for it never left him. Yes, he used synths, but you can still hear real instruments on almost every album he made, sounds the real thing brings that can’t be duplicated by machines. It sounds so strange to say it, but in these times of auto-tune, digital synths and samplers that can mimic almost any sound you can make, it’s actually become a lost art. Prince was a throw back to “the original old school” way of doing things, and so, was the continuation of the whole legacy of live performance that extends back past Little Richard to the birth of jazz.

And? Oh by the way, did I mention he was one of the best performers ever? Especially among those who actually play an instrument. It’s hard enough to play great (there aren’t many guitarists since Hendrix who played better, maybe only John McLaughlin), let alone play great, sing great, dance, put on a show, and oh by the way, lead a band at the same time. How many are there who could do all of that really really well?

His concerts were electrifying. They were true shows, the way James Brown & The J.B.’s was a show. Prince’s show kept changing, from the very early “Dirty Mind” days, to the “Purple Rain” peak, to the end of the Revolution and bigger and bigger bands, like those I saw at Radio City (with the New Power Generation in March, 1993) and Madison Square Garden in October, 1988. The opening at the Garden was unforgettable. The arena was dark. The band was on a circular stage, that seemed 20 or so feet off the floor.  The round stage had the band in 4 sections, like the first two cuts of a pizza, that allowed a cross walkway between. Check out Prince’s entrance. While the band played, a white Thunderbird drove in from the side of the hall. It circled the stage. You couldn’t see in. All you could see was a white opaque light where the windows were, and it’s two white headlights lit the way as it circled around. Finally, the car started to rise up on this X frame, eventually reaching the height of the stage.

All of s sudden, it’s door opened and Prince hit the stage, in a full run, his guitar wailing. Yes, Prince came running out of the car (don’t ask me how), and ran across the stage, which was 20 or more feet off the ground. All of a sudden he lunges forward, landing on his knees, leaning back, guitar wailing, SLIDING across the stage! Somehow, in the dark, he stopped- right at the edge of the stage.

Oh my god!.

He was looking up at the ceiling as he slid! He just had a sense of where that edge was.

THAT’S the level of perfection Prince got from James Brown. The rest of the show was great, but after that entrance?…WHAT could top that?

One trip to Florida, I hung out at his club “Glam Slam” on Miami Beach. What a place! A state of the art Dance Club & Theater. It had his bike from “Purple Rain” in the lobby.

And then…there was that time at the Limelight here in Manhattan. Sunday night, I think, and the club was packed. Earlier that evening, I had been walking on 6th Avenue and was standing on the corner right in front of the club when a fancy car came and made a turn in front of me. I glanced at the driver’s window, and it was Prince! Ok, there are tons of celebrities in NYC, but Prince? We glanced at each other as he slowed to turn. A moment frozen in time. I just happened to go to the club that night. And there he was. Nothing announced. He was just hanging out, sitting in the roped off Mezzanine by himself, where the organ had been, opposite where the altar had been in this former church, as hundreds and hundreds danced under him on the main floor, leaning back in a throne like chair, with his legs crossed. He didn’t perform. He was just a “presence.”

Still? That night? It sure felt like it was his world, and we were all just living in it.

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Glam Slam, Miami T, and a 1993 Act 1 Tour T

It’s funny what things come to your mind at times like this, that have happened far too often already this year{2. Pierre Boulez, George Marin, Phife Dawg, Zaha Hadid and David Bowie…]. I’m sure it’ll go on for a very long time, such is what Prince gave us. For instance, his last album, “Hit n Run Phase Two” features the powerful anthem of the moment, “Baltimore,”

“Absence of war, you and me
Maybe we can finally say
Enough is enough, it’s time for love
It’s time to hear
It’s time to hear the guitar play, guitar play”^

which strangely reminded me of “Machine Gun” on Jimi Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsys,” the last album released during his lifetime. A strange, but telling, coincidence about both of their social consciences.

As great as his records are, there is the live Prince, the consummate showman. It helps to “bring him back.” I’ve always loved his concert film “Sign O The Times,” but check this out if you want a reminder- The ultimate “Purple Rain?”

Right now, I’m thinking that he is now up there with the greats- James, Jimi, John Lennon, Duke Ellington, David Bowie, you name them. They have one heck of a band up there. Imagine the fun they have jamming together. It might be something like this performance of a song they probably play often up there, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” at a concert in 2004 to honor George Harrison, who’s up there, too, at the Rock Hall of Fame, a place I don’t believe in. Nonetheless, in a one-off band with Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, George’s son, Dhani (who may not have yet recovered), and others, Prince suddenly appears on the side of the stage, then proceeds to steal the show in one of the most famous “guitar” songs of all time.

Tonight, that guitar isn’t the only thing that’s weeping…still.

“But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night…”

*-Soundtracks for this Post are “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince Rogers Nelson, from his defining album “Purple Rain” and published by Warner Chappell Music, Inc, and “Baltimore” from “Hit n Run Phase 2” written by Price Rogers Nelson and published by Peermusic Publishing.

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  1. under his name, that is. That doesn’t count all the side artists he worked with. The Time, Morris Day, Madhouse, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Shiela E, etc.

Table For One – Patti Smith’s “18 Stations”

One of the small pleasures of going to The Strand Bookstore are the quirky, usually ironically humorous yellow signs one of the staff places in random books. This one was sticking out of a just released book one day last October- Patti Smith’s “M Train,” featuring it’s author looking incognito sitting at a corner table by herself lost in thought…

The Strand, October 30, 2015.

October 30, 2015. I bought one.

Patti Smith, who many years ago briefly worked one floor down in The Strand’s basement, is a living legend now, but, she’s not stopping there.

From here to... The Strand's basement. Patti worked here, briefly.

v From here to… The Strand’s basement. Not one of the 18 Stations. The “Patti Smith section” is now down here.

Beyond her groundbreaking music career, she’s had a second career as an award winning writer of prose, which seems to grow in stature all the time. “M Train,” which she calls “a roadmap to my life,” is both similar, and different, to her previous book, the instant classic “Just Kids.” While also a memoir, like “Just Kids” was centered on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, this time, it’s about her life before, during and after her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, guitarist of the MC5. It differs, too, as her Polaroid photography is a central part of this book. While, she’s been doing photography for years, and books of them have been published, she seems liberated here by not having a brilliant photographer as the co-subject, one she felt a responsibility to, and who’s pictures of her are now classics. Her photos enhance the story and go hand in hand with her imaginative telling of it, which almost feels improvised (she mentions listening to John Coltrane’s 1964 album “Live at Birdland” at one point and that is how her writing here feels to me). The book serves to pique interest in this aspect of her creativity. Now, many of those photos, and others, are on view in her show, “18 Stations,” at Robert Miller Gallery on West 26th Street, through April 16.

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3 of the 18 Stations at Robert Miller.

3 of the “18 Stations.”

While rock stardom is rare, something few can relate to, along the way, she’s also become something many more can relate to- single, and on her own. The show arranges images from her seemingly never-ending travels from, and returns to her NYC homes, and her beloved Cafe ‘Ino, at 21 Bedford Street in the Village, (spoiler alert), which closes for good near the end of the book. At the figurative and literal “heart” of the show, half way back in the Gallery, in the first “Station,” is an installation of her real table and chair from Cafe ‘Ino (“My portal to where.”) flanked by a bulletin board containing what appears to be the genesis of this show on one wall, and pencilled notes hand written right on the adjacent wall, making me wonder if the show originated during her time there.

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Table For One. The wall on the right is covered with her writing in pencil.

The iconic first picture in M Train in a unique version with Patti's pencil inscription in her beautiful script.

“It occurred to me I could preserve the history of ‘Ino…like an engraver etching the 23rd Psalm on the head of a pin.” The iconic first picture in M Train in a unique version with Patti’s pencil inscription in her caligraphic script.

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“We seek to stay present, even as the ghosts attempt to draw us away.”

It’s as if the thoughts she was having while sitting there are now real before us, though she is absent.  The other 17 “Stations” tell the story of her journeys, partially with her late husband, “M Train” dedicatee, Fred “Sonic” Smith, but mostly alone.

2 more.

2 more.

Reading the book, one discovers quite a bit about the “real” Patti Smith- her unquenchable thirst for (good) coffee, her obsession with detective TV shows….which, of course, reminds me of a song. You know…”She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake…”

…her amazing connectedness to her influences to the point of traveling to their homes, gravesites or other memorable places in their lives- like visiting the chess table Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972 in Iceland (she then had a late night meeting with Mr. Fishcher, and subsequently visited his grave after he passed the following year). She remembers so many of her dreams! I don’t. She also has a love of birthdates and anniversaries. Along the way, we meet Tolsty’s Bear, Herman Hesse’s typewriter, Frida Kahlo’s medicine bottles and Schiller’s portal. I mean oval table.

Schiller's Table. This inscribed version is labelled "Schiller's Portal"

Schiller’s Table. This inscribed version is labelled “Schiller’s Portal”

If you’re curious about how she works, or how she goes about her daily life, this is the book for you. For the rest of us, it’s a book about honing in on what really matters to you, about persevering and continuing to do you work and hone your craft. We’re lucky to have it. I found myself wishing we had something similar by Da Vinci, to go along with his Notebooks, or Michelangelo, who left us about 500 letters and possibly ghost wrote a biography of himself, that is frustrating for many reasons, where Patti’s paints a vivid picture. The amount of detail she recalls is staggering (and perhaps a bit too much). Well? I can’t have it both ways, so I’ll opt for too much rather than not enough. It’s interesting to contrast this intense detailing in the prose with her photographs. Some are a bit blurry, some off center or kilter (see below) providing (purposely) less detail than you may want.

“Speak to me, speak to me heart
I feel a needing to bridge the clouds, softly go
A way I wish to know, to know
A way I wish to know, to know”*

While most of these Polaroids are silver gelatin limited edition prints of 10, a few of these remarkable and beautiful images are graced with her equally beautiful handwritten inscriptions creating one of a kind works, They all, consciously, have an old feel to them, belying the fact that some were taken barely 3 years ago, which gives them a dream-like, seen in a vision quality, which Ms. Smith says she likes about early photography. The effect strikes me as not unlike that achieved by the great graphic artists, like Rembrandt, Goya and Whistler.

Herman Hesse's Typewriter. I would have guessed it was William Burrough's.

“Herman Hesse’s Typewriter.” I would have guessed it was William Burrough’s.

It’s also interesting to ponder what isn’t- here, or in “M Train.” There is no Robert Mapplethorpe. There are no shots of the Hotel Chelsea, West 23rd Street or Chelsea. No CBGB’s (How many of you remember that Patti Smith was also the last Artist to perform there?). There are only a couple (as far as I can tell) of Manhattan. The two shots of Cafe Imo, of course, a shot of the West 4th St Subway Station, a shot of her house, among them. In that sense, for someone who, (for me and perhaps quite a few others) is associated so strongly with New York City, this is a show (like the book) that is largely about the world “outside” of it. ‘Ino being the “portal” to it. Memories of people and places outside of Manhattan (even in the case of Ginsberg and Burroughs who spent so much time here).

“Speak to me, speak to me shadow
I spin from the wheel, nothing at all
Save the need, the need to weave
A silk of souls, that whisper, whisper
A silk of souls, that whispers to me”*

Among my dozen visits was one on April Fool’s when a few hundred of us were blessed to have our paths cross with hers at a reading here that served to highlight for me, at least, the conversational nature of both her recent books, then hearing her tell stories about them, and her life, in ways no “audio guide” ever could. I’ve heard a lot of Artists, and Musicians for that matter, speak about their work. Rarely have I felt like they were speaking of their children the way these stories felt. The memories behind each shot is so personally present, it lies as close to her skin as the image lies on the surface of the paper. Quite a few of the stories are told in the books, and hearing her read them changed the way I will re-read them. (I have not heard the audio books she’s done of them.). I didn’t expect to hear her read from “Just Kids,” expecting this to be about “M Train,” but she did. I don’t know Patti, and didn’t know Robert Mapplethorpe, but I know well know the area much of the book inhabits, as well as some of the venues it takes place in, so the book lives in me, as few I’ve read do. Hearing her read it brought it alive, pulling it from the realm of “living history,” to something that, yes…really did happen. I pass by some of those places a few times a week.

Every single time I do I think about what happened there.

April 15. A fan's tribute left leaning against the wall.

A fan’s tribute left leaning against the wall. April 15.

This is one of the most personal shows I’ve seen, certainly recently. I found myself returning to it over and over, like she did to Cafe ‘Imo. It’s like being able to walk around in someone’s memories, rather to get on a train and stop at each Station along her journey. Along the way, we encounter influences, living, passed and once living among you and now passed, objects that speak to a large meaning or significance, memories, hardship, distant places went to, seen and conquered. We see life being lived and places where it famously was lived. We see that life goes on, all the time, around us- everywhere, while weather happens, dirt gathers on graves, dandelions grow and stuffed bears eternally await calling cards.

“M-Train” sweeps the dirt that accumulates on the many graves it visits, without need for tenders in traditional wear and using a literary broom to do so- the kind those buried within would possibly prefer. It’s a Testament to Life- surviving on your own, through deaths, Holidays without others, long trips, your birthday, sudden illness, blackouts, meeting legends, unexpected connections that prove life changing, and most of all, change. In the end, you can’t even go home any more.

___

Postscript, April 16-

Each of the dozen times I went to this show, I especially looked forward to seeing her table and chair from Cafe ‘Ino, which I show in the 6th photo above, and below.

Walking over there today for the last time, I asked myself – Why? Why do they “mean” so much to me?

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I was never even in Cafe ‘Ino. I had to look it up on Apple Maps to even see where it was. I’d never met Patti Smith. I didn’t follow her music career very closely. I wasn’t aware of the extent of her work in photography.

?

I don’t get it.

I read “Just Kids” and loved it for many reasons, including those I mention above. One of those was the sense of the Manhattan that is now gone- both people and places lost, it so beautifully captures. Patti stands for that lost Manhattan for me for that reason and also because her music was a vital part of it. When I started reading “M Train,” all I knew about it was that it was about writing alone in a cafe. I could relate. I spent 10 years drawing alone in bars. Inside the book, the very first picture is of her table & chair in situ at Cafe ‘Ino. We’ve all lost a lot in our lives- it’s an inevitable part of living. Patti is no different. Neither am I. Neither are you.

When I reached the Gallery today, I walked down the hall and rounded the corner to visit their installation. When I looked in, I was stopped in my tracks completely in shock. The table and chair were taken.

Patti Smith was sitting there, alone, signing books.

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Did I really see this? I’m still not sure.

At that moment, it hit me. What they say to me is that they speak for what’s been lost in her life. They, in ways even her pictures aren’t, are physical representatives of what’s been lost. They are still here. They are continuing with their “lives.” Like we all must- like Patti is.

For me? I feel so very lucky…so blessed. Getting to see her sitting in her chair at her table…NOTHING could have been a more fitting culmination to her show.

Patti walks down memory lane one last time before her show ends. April 16.

Patti walks down memory lane one last time before her show ends. April 16.

“Speak to me heart
All things renew
Hearts will mend
‘Round the bend

Paths that cross
Cross again
Paths that cross
Will cross again”*

It is the ultimate “P.S.” to it.

As if the universe was saying to me- “P.S.- Life goes on.”

Hopefully.

*Soundtrack for this Post is “Paths That Cross” by Patti Smith, from her ablum, “Land (1975-2002)”, written by Patricia Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith, published by Druse Music. All other quotes in the text are from “M Train” by Patti Smith and published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com

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How Jackson Became “POLLOCK” 

Jackson Pollock’s most famous works are so well known that many people think he painted using what’s (inaccurately) known as his “drip technique” his whole career. It seems there is always one of these radical, unprecedented works he created between 1947 through 1952 on display in about every large American Museum, works that garner as strong a reaction today as they did in the 1950’s. More recently, many probably came to him from the 2000 film, “POLLOCK”(all CAPS in red) with Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden, a personal labor of love for Mr. Harris that is quite well done, though it won’t give you a real sense of the road Jackson Pollock’s work traversed on the way to becoming “POLLOCK,” the one-name Icon the film takes for granted you know going in is JACKSON Pollock. The film’s poster (an homage to Hans Nemuth’s and Martha Holmes’ classic photos of the real Jackson Pollock at work in those later years) so memorably depicts the Artist hard at work, revolutionarily, on the floor and not at an easel, possibly in the act of creating one of those famous later works, that I often hear referred to as “Pollocks.” If you think that “Pollock” was “Jack The Dripper,” as Life Magazine called him, like most labels applied to Artists, it doesn’t tell the whole story about even those works, let alone what came before, and after.

A Postcard from the film's release. From my collection.

A Postcard from the film’s release shows it’s poster. From my collection.

To see beyond the Icon, at Moma’s “Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey, 1934-54,” up through May 1, one is able to follow the outline, if not the detail, of his development in the space of only 3 galleries1, and see illuminating works before he achieved worldwide fame when Life Magazine famously asked- “Jackson Pollock: Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” on August 8, 1949.

He began out west, hanging around with and taking classes with another late 20th Century American Master, Philip Guston2. After Pollock’s brother, Charles, also an aspiring Artist (and later an accomplished Artist in his own right), came to NYC and was studying at the New York Art Student’s League, still on West 57th Street, with no less than Thomas Hart Benton, he told Jackson about it which led to his moving here and joining him with Benton3 at the ripe age of 18.

Untitled (Western Scene), 1930-33. It almost could be by Benton.

Untitled (Western Scene), 1930-33. It almost could be by Benton.

Breaking out. "Untitled," 1938-41. Still don't think he could draw?

Breaking out. “Untitled,” 1938-41. Still don’t think he could draw?

Benton went from being a fairly well known artist during his life to being eclipsed for most of the past 40 years or so (as was realism in Art in the age of Abstraction and Pop, thanks, in part, to his former student). Recently, Benton seems to be enjoying increased attention, helped by the return to view of his New School Murals after their donation to The Met, where they are now beautifully on display.

Yes, It's 18 year old Jackson Pollock posing for his teacher, Thomas Hart Benton's mural, "America Today," now at The Met.

Yes, it’s 18 year old Jackson Pollock posing for his teacher, Thomas Hart Benton’s mural, “America Today,” in 1930, now at The Met.

Benton was a resolutely figurative painter (I have seen one or two “abstractions” he did that may have been studies, and there are definitely elements of his “stretching” forms the way El Greco did that border on the fantastic if not the abstract. Some of these elements can be seen in the early Pollocks on display here). Pollock became, perhaps, the furthest thing from a Realist, Abstraction being the polar opposite of Realism4. Yet, early on, you can see fascinating traces of Benton’s influence in the developing student as he experiments with both mainstream and  “fantastic” elements of Benton’s work. The two share an interest in the West (JP was born in Cody, Wyoming) and Midwest, themes which occupy many of the early work seen here in the first room. Contrary, also, to the “Pollock myth,” Jackson Pollock was not always a New York City Proto-Beat (if he ever was one) dreamer/visionary. Gradually, the “known world” disintegrates and the figure soon follows. By the time of “The She Wolf,” from 1943, the last piece in the first room, “representational” Art is on the run to point that very close looking is required to see her.

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“The She Wolf,” 1943.

What’s apparent to me, even early on, is that Pollock had the most amazing, even with Picasso notwithstanding, unprecedented freedom in his approach, and this skill(?), vision(?) became the center of all his future developments. As he broke free from the influence of Benton, he learned to trust his gut more and more, and this extended to virtually reinventing the technique of painting, sometimes from work to work, as he needed to, culminating in the sublime works from 1947-52, where he dripped paint from the can along with a wide range of other techniques- whatever it took to get his desired end.

“Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid”*

Having made so many trips to the New Whitney Museum, I’ve been face to face with the incalculably large debt Art lovers owe to, at least, two women there- founder (and overlooked Sculptor) Mrs. Gertrude V. Whitney, of course, and to Josephine Hopper, Edward’s spouse and widow, who facilitated her husband’s wish that his archives go to the Whitney (she also included hers of her own work). Here, at Moma, I’m struck, again, by a similar feeling- look closely at the tags and you’ll see that many of the works here are “The Gift of,” or from the “Bequest of” another woman, spouse and widow- Lee Krasner.

Her day better be coming.

Thank you, Lee Krasner. Your day better be coming.

All 3 women were artists in their own right. Jo Hopper and to a large extent, Lee Krasner put their own creative lives on hold for their husband’s. Oddly, a wonderful Krasner is on view UPSTAIRS on 5. It’s from 1949, right in the time period of  many of these works.

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Lee Krasner, “Untitled,” 1949. NOT in this show! It’s on view on the 5th Floor. I’m putting it where it belongs.

So? Why isn’t it in this show? Possibly because of space, but they might have mentioned it being on view. At least it hasn’t suffered the fate of (possibly) all of Josephine Hopper’s work that she gave to the Whitney, with Edward’s estate- It was discarded BY THE WHITNEY as being subpar!5 A search for her on the Whitney’s website turns up none of her Art. That’s an incalculably stupid move! Gone is the chance to gain the insights into their relationship they may hold, let alone any ongoing appreciation of her own accomplishment! That’s gratitude for you. Coincidentally, there is a biography of Krasner by Hopper’s biographer, Gail Levin.

I bring this all up because I feel that Lee Krasner is the hidden star of the show. In addition to all the work that’s here largely because of her, it’s tempting to see the effect of Jackson Pollock’s having met her (in 1942) in his work. Turning the corner into Room 2 of the show you see something surprising, even shocking, yet apparent, at least to me- joy, light, happiness, even, even though Pollock’s work has become fully abstract. It’s Pollock’s “Shimmering Substance” from 1946-

 

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“I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
“Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”*

After they married in 1945 the two moved to Springs, near East Hampton, Long Island, to get away from the City. Having visited Pollock’s house and studio (an indelible experience) while walking the grounds, I was taken by something I’ve never heard mentioned regarding 1947-1952 Pollock, the so-called “drip” years. When you walk down along the water there and look at the sand, you’ll see the seaweed that’s been washed up on the shore form these black lines. Against the yellow/golden sand, they look uncannily like the “black poles” you see in many of these pieces. And when you walk through the tall grasses in the area, all sorts of seeds, bugs, dust, and who knows what gets disturbed and becomes airborne. To this day, I can’t look at these classic Pollocks and not see something very similar- all those dots and spots in the works so remind me of that experience and what it really looked like.

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Being in that studio, about 50 year later, was an experience I can only characterize as spiritual. Oh! And there’s a Lee Krasner sighting! (At the show’s entrance)

What does that remind you of? It's Pollock's Studio Floor, as it appeared when I was there in 1999. They provided these bootoes, but there was no way I was going to walk on it- it's sacred.

What does this remind you of? It’s Pollock’s Studio Floor, as it appeared when I was there in 1999. They provided these plastic booties, but there was no way I was going to walk on it- it’s a work of Art unto itself. Even in this picture (from a postcard I bought there), I think you can feel the aura of the place.

The King In HIs Domain. From a Moma Postcard I got at the big Pollock Show at Moma in 1998.

Jackson Pollock, looking Iconic, in his Studio by Arnold Newman, 1949. From a Postcard I got at the big Pollock Retrospective at Moma in 1998, the excellent website for  which is still up..

“I remember that time you told me you said
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet”*

So, for me at least, these Jackson Pollock classics have more of a sense of “realism” than they may for some.

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“One: Number 31, 1950”

“Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”*

Unfortunately, the happiness and tranquility of their new life together wasn’t destined to last. Whatever the demons were (and they will probably be argued about for as long as Van Gogh’s have been), they manifested in his life, and in his work. Selden Rodman is quoted in the Pollock Anthology, “Such Desperate Joy,” talking about this period and the Artist’s struggles- “He had been trying to freshen up or diversify his style by reintroducing figures, or at least figurative patterns, in the maze of paint.6.” Though represented here with only a few pieces, it seems to me that Pollock “lost his fastball” after 1952. While the most common reaction to his classic period was famously “My 5 year old can do that,” (Really? Try it. It’s not THAT easy), after 1952, even Jackson Pollock seemed not to be able to do them any more. Or? He wanted to move on…but to what?

"Easter And The Totem," 1953

“Easter And The Totem,” 1953. Yes, this is also by Jackson Pollock.

Yes, his life ended tragically and far too early. I’m not interested in a tell-all about his demons, or scandals or the nights drinking at the Cedar Tavern, where I’ve spent a few myself. I’m interested in that incredible freedom you can see in almost all of his work. How was he able to make a composition hold together while continually creating new styles and using new techniques? Where did that come from?

“Oh but you are in my blood
You’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet”*

In the end, Jackson Pollock strikes me as one of the “most” American of painters in the 20th Century, if not ever. I’m not speaking of patriotism or anything nationalistic. I’m speaking about organically American. His work was born in the freedom of the wide open spaces of the west and midwest, but most importantly speaks to the freedom each of us has…

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if we choose not to repress it, but to acknowledge it, nurture it, develop it and use it.

Interesting timing for such a show.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell, (who is also an Artist- FOR 69 YEARS, according to her website!), from her timeless album, “Blue,” 1971. Published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com

  1. Moma owns many more Pollocks not on view here.
  2. Their adventures are chronicled in Guston’s daughter’s, the Breast Cancer Activist, Musa Meyer’s book, “Night Studio.”
  3. For more on Charles & Jackson’s relationship and to see some of Charles’ work, check out “American Letters: 1927-47” a collections of letters among the Pollock family. It’s a revealing document of trying to survive as an Artist in the Depression and on.
  4. Which reminds me that I heard Richard Estes say at MAD that “in abstract art there are no mistakes”
  5. “They arranged for some of her paintings to be given away; they simply discarded the rest.” “Edward Hopper; An Intimate Biography” by Gail Levin p. xvi
  6. p. 49

The Greatest German Reality Show Star, circa 1700

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Portrait of Matthias Buchinger, 1705

“I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way”*

Whatever way you were born, the odds are you were more naturally capable right out of the box than Matthias Buchinger, who’s birth left him without hands or feet, and who stood a total of 29 inches (74cm) high. Yet, none of that stopped him from rising to the level of being called “The Greatest Living German” in 1726. Pretty darn lofty, for anyone. A Special Exhibition, “Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay,” currently at The Met shows that, astoundingly, he nonetheless proves the equal of just about any other Artist in the entire Metropolitan Museum when it comes to technical proficiency. It will, also, give you pause for thought the next time you feel “incapable.”

When you do? Consider this-

Many of the works he created, which are now rare, but astutely collected by Master Magician, Ricky Jay over the past 30 years, are tiny to begin with. Add to this that Matthias Buchinger (MB) was so adept at holding his pen between his “stumps” he was able to write forwards, backwards, upside down or in the most minute sizes possible to the extent that he created drawings out of minuscule words, an Art called Micrography. A close up look at one small portrait of him reveals that his hair is made up of nothing but very tiny words- a couple Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer.  The entire show probably takes up 400 square feet- not even big for a gallery show. Yet rarely will you find so much packed into each square inch.

An index-finger sized rendering of the 10 Commandments by Mr. Buchinger is so small I couldn't read it with the magnifier.

Super Human. A miraculously rendered index-finger sized 10 Commandments by Mr. Buchinger is so small I couldn’t read it with the magnifier.

“My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars”*

While his Art is being honored in this show, as amazing as it is, it barely scratches the surface of what MB was capable of. He made his living touring Europe demonstrating the full range of his talents to the high & mighty as well as the common folk, in magic, calligraphy, making miniatures in bottles(!), threading a needle, loading a gun, shaving himself, playing music (he created some of his own instruments), playing games, among other things. Oh, and he was married 4 times and fathered 14 children!1

Buchinger surrounded by depictions of some of his skills.

Buchinger surrounded by depictions of some of the skills I listed.

“There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are
She said, ’cause He made you perfect, babe
So hold your head up,
girl and you’ll go far”*

I know what you’re thinking- today’s so-called “reailty” show stars wouldn’t even be good enough to apprentice on MB’s show!

Was he the greatest disabled Artist of all time? I have no idea. I’ve been blown away by the work of Chuck Close (brilliant before his brain aneurysm, continually evolving in ever new ways since), and Hendrik Goltzius, a Graphic Artist possibly on par with Durer despite having a severely deformed drawing hand, among others, and they are all beacons of what the human spirit is capable of, in the Arts as in so many other aspects of life. Yet, I can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like that of the Art of the “Little Man of Nuremberg,”

"The Greatest German Living," a poem to Buchinger, 1726

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. “The Greatest German Living,” a poem to Buchinger, 1726

“Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way, born this way”*

MB was, however, forced to turn to being a carnival side show act to gain appreciation for his abilities as an Artist as well as his many other skills, and to survive. The show includes a few works by other Artists of the same era who were also born without hands or feet, who made their living in the same manner. A “broadside” poster announcing the appearance of one is on view. MB would demonstrate his writing talents for show attendees for a fee and some of these souvenirs are on view here. (The Portrait of him surrounded by depictions of his skills bears his hand written inscriptions on the bottom margin.) Invariably, he always proceeds his signature with “Born without hands or feet…”

A portrait of Thomas Inglefield, also born without hands or feet, shows how Mr. Buchinger may have worked his magic.

A portrait of Thomas Inglefield, also born without hands or feet, reveals how Mr. Buchinger may have worked his magic.

Seeing all of this, and a smidgen of what life may have been like for these Artists in the 18th Century, it’s hard not think about the bigger picture. Thankfully, for the disabled, to my mind THE most overlooked group in our society, things seem to have gotten a little better. But, what do I know. I asked Magdalena Truchan, Fashion Guru, Designer, Artist and Blogger Extraordinaire over at her must read Blog, prettycripple.com, that very question- “Have things gotten better for disabled Artists?” She told me-

“I think lots of things have gotten better for disabled artists. They can make a living online as well and the world gets to see what they offer. There are so many groups out there that I come across who help disabled people. I read these things and smile. They have a better networking system today and while discrimination still exists people in the US don’t treat disabled people as lepers. Same in Europe. Life must have been hell for disabled people until the 70s in this country. Also, because of the the “bullying” problem for all people, now people are standing up to them and outing them on social media. So now it is un-PC to bully people. We have a long way to go but at least people have another avenue to voice themselves. You also see more disabled models and actors now. Although some disabled people on TV are not legit cripples. They are able bodied and stuck in chairs which sucks, but at least they are portraying disabled people.”

While it’s good to hear that, so much remains to be done for the disabled. I can’t help but wonder if part of the root of the cause of this slow progress might be that able-bodied people are secretly terrified of becoming disabled.? Even in this very show, the work is hung too high for wheelchair visitors to see, and though magnifying glasses are thankfully on hand, unless you are a bit over 6 feet tall, the higher works will still remain unavailable for close study, as you can see below. It must be a very frustrating experience for the disabled to come to this show. On the one hand they’ll be as impressed as anyone else by the work, but (unnecessarily) frustrated by the experience. What kind of message does this send?

It seems hung for the average size, or taller, standing adult.,

It’s hung for the average size, or taller, standing adult.

That being said, this show is, also, a fascinating insight into the wondrous collection of Ricky Jay, renowned as the greatest living Sleight-of-Hand Artist and historian of it’s related arts, and who says that MB is “my flat-out favorite. I’ve been collecting materials on him for 30 years.2” Mr. Jay is someone who has spent his entire life mastering his craft, that way a great Painter or Musician does, all the while thoroughly exploring it’s history, researching it’s forgotten Masters, collecting rare books, artifacts and works of Art they created. This show is, therefore, is something of a byproduct of how he became who he is today. From what is on view here, the man has superb taste and a most discerning eye.

Be careful, Mr. Bond, or Ricky will turn your gun into a rabbit! Yes, that's the inimitable Ricky Jay in "Tomorrow Never Dies."

Be careful, Mr. Bond, or Ricky will turn your gun into a rabbit! Yes, that’s the inimitable Ricky Jay in “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

It leaves me eager to see more of his collection, so I hope it marks the beginning of a relationship between TM and the inimitable Mr. Jay. For more on him, check out the two excellent documentaries, “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” which airs as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series, and, “Hustlers, Hoaxters, Pranksters And Ricky Jay,” here on youtube.

Isle of View. "Untitled" by Rachel Harrison from her "Perth Amboy" Show at Moma. Does Art Have to be this hard to see?

Isle of View. Does seeing Art have to be this hard for the disabled? “Untitled” by Rachel Harrison from her “Perth Amboy” Show at Moma.

While “Wordplay” is a shining example of attention being paid to an extraordinary and overlooked Artist- disabled, or not, in a show that will inspire all, it’s one thing to honor this Artist, it’s another to make it largely inaccessible to disabled visitors. I’m not sure that helps inspire other disabled Artists, or disabled people, and that’s a shame. (Luckily, however, the excellent catalog for the show, by Mr. Jay, features beautiful, clear and full size reproductions of many of the works on display, along with Mr. Jay’s one-0f-a-kind insights. I found I could see the works better in the book than by actually looking at the real thing). It’s says to me that The Met’s interest here lies in the Art itself, and while I understand that, I think they missed a chance to include more of the Art going public, namely the group that includes these wonderful Artists, themselves.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is”Born This Way,” by Lady Gaga, written by NYC’s own Stefani Germanotta, Jeppe Laursen, Fernando Garibay and Paul Blair, from the album of the same title and published by Sony ATV Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music Inc. and Universal Music Publishing.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com

  1. Ok..ok…I’ll insert the famous Groucho Marx joke- “I like my cigar, too, but I take it out once in a while.” Sorry.
  2. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/ricky-jay-collection/3649/

Zaha Hadid, And The “Rule Of One”

“I was taught to go
Where the wind would blow
And it blows away – away
Well, my eyes are full of stars
But I just can’t reach ’em… oh, how high they are”*

Once again this year, I’m very saddened to learn of the very premature passing of a visionary Artist, in this case, the great Architect, Zaha Hadid, who passed on Thursday. Rare are architects who marry vision with a unique syle in this world and create Art in the process. Rarer still when they are female. I happened to date one in the 90’s, who found it very hard to get work as an Architect because she was a woman and had to rely on work she got as an Engineer to suvive. Sometimes they had her do work which was really Architecture in the guise of Engineering because they couldn’t use the name of a woman as the Architect, and because, she said, they could pay her less. I’ll never forget going with her to a nightclub she designed near Dusseldorf, Germany that had a dance floor that could be raised and lowered using a system of locks, yes, with water, (like those used on the Panama Canal in miniature). The floor was clear so you could actually watch the water coming and going as you danced. As the water flowed in, the slowly floor rose until you were a few feet in the air. Amazing. She even designed the furniture in the place. As for Zaha Hadid, to this point, in New York, I have only been able to experience the terrific 30 year Retrospective of her work at the Guggenheim in 2006. It was a rare chance (along with the Frank Gehry Show there in 2000) to see the work of one great Architect inside that of another, Frank Lloyd Wright, of course.

While their work is very different, I have a feeling Wright wouldn’t have been too hard on Ms. Hadid. There is a futuristic organic-ness to her work that surprises at first glance, then seems to, somehow magically, fit her sites surprisingly & uniquely well. Plus, I think he would have gotten a kick out of the paintings she did for her design proposals. I know I did, having never seen them prior. I bought a set of two of them on refrigerator magnets to add to my extensive collection, and for inspiration!

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The white painting on the left echoes Wright’s Guggenheim Ramp’s Spiral!

Now, sadly, however, upon hearing the news of her passing, I was struck by a feeling I don’t like at all- It seems to me that this is another instance of what I hate to call, “The Rule of One.”

Meaning, it sure seems like great Architects only get to build one building, each, in NYC.

Witness-

Louis Sullivan, the “inventor” of the skyscraper, only built one in NYC, the beautiful Bayard Building in 1899 at 65 Bleecker Street.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Sullivan’s great student, and, perhaps, the greatest Architect ever (per Frank Lloyd Wright, himself), has only the Guggenheim Museum (I’m not counting the Mercedz Benz Showroom on Park Avenue he designed because it’s a showroom, not a whole building, nor the pre-fab house he designed that was built on Staten Island). He lived to be 91, and it took that long to get a project approved, and past Robert Moses, who succeeded in blocking all the rest of his amazing NYC projects, like these. Eerily similar to Ms. Hadid’s contribution (see below), he didn’t live to see it completed, passing 6 months before it opened.

Wright, in my favorite picture of him, on the balcony of the Guggenheim, under construction, that he would not live to see open. Guggenheim postcard from my collection.

“If I can make it here…” Wright, in my favorite picture of him, on the balcony of the Guggenheim, under construction, 1959. Guggenheim postcard from my collection.

Daniel Liebeskind- Won the competition for the World Trade Center master plan, but so far, he hasn’t had anything of his own actually constructed. (I have no idea where things stand with his “Green Tower” for 1 Madison Avenue, proposed in 2008. Looks pretty wild to me!)

Santiago Calatrava- The infamous World Trade Center Transit Hub. (Like Liebeskind’s Tower, I have no idea what happened to Calatrava’s, too.)

Frank Gehry has, thankfully, outlived the Rule of One, with his gleaming tower downtown at 8 Spruce (nee Beekman) Street, (a work that includes Public Elementary School 397 that I don’t believe he designed), joining his beautiful IAC Headquarters Building at 555 West 18th Street.

Gehry's IAC Building- like sails on the adjacent Hudson River. Seen from the HighLine.

Gehry’s IAC Building- like sails on the adjacent Hudson River. Seen from the HighLine.

Though, like Wright, all of his most visionary works for NYC were never built. Mr Gerhy is still creating, and I hope he will still grace us with more projects, soon.

And now, Zaha Hadid, who’s only NYC building, she didn’t live to see completed. Well, here it is, 520 West 28th Street, about 10 blocks north of Frank Gehry’s gorgeous IAC Building, above, and right smack dab on the High Line.

It's scheduled to open in the Fall.

Rendering. It’s scheduled to open in the Fall.

From the rendering, above, it looks like a beautiful, surprisingly almost conventional design, yet one that will leave us appreciative of what it adds to our lives (even just walking past it), and of her amazing talents.

April 1, 2016. No work taking place today out of respect for Ms. Hadid's passing. A compilation from the HighLine.

April 1, 2016. No work taking place today out of respect for Ms. Hadid’s passing. From the HighLine.

“All I believe in is a dream
I haunt the Earth though I am fully seen
In all my years I’ve never felt more sure than now”*

Yet, everytime I see it, as it’s completed, and after it’s finished, I’ll be left with this overriding thought-

WHY is it that so many mediocre Architects get to build project after project here (I’m not naming names but just look around. They’re easy to spot.) and the best get ONE…IF THEY’RE LUCKY!, AND have to move figurative heaven and earth to get it? They’d much rather be moving real earth.1

While I’ll be eternally grateful we have it, as I am the others I just listed, in this City where we have the second most tall buildings (over 150 meters) in the world (236 to Hong Kong’s 380. Chicago has 118, the only other US City in the worldwide top 20), nowhere is the need for great architecture more desperate.

It does, also, make a real point for any struggling Artist in this City, if not beyond- It’s not easy to get your work done, seen, heard, or built here. Even being a world famous Master of the Art is not an Ezy Pass to opportunity here.

It also points out that our loss is all the more in that we don’t know what might have been, and therefore, what we might have lost.

I’ll say it, again…before it’s, god forbid, too late- let’s get Frank Gehry to give us the masterpiece the City needs to define it for the 21st Century. PLEASE?2

*Soundtrack for this post is “Rise To The Sun” by Alabama Shakes, from their album “Boys & Girls,” written by Steven William Johnson, Zachary Riley Cockrell, Brittany Amber Howard, Heath Allen Fogg, and published by Alabama Shakes Publishing.

Comments are off, but that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them, thoughts, feedback or propositions. Please send them to denizen@nighthawknyc.com

 

 

  1. I mentioned this here, not all that long ago.
  2. Yes, I notice that his 8 Spruce Street Tower is being used more and more in skyline shots behind the Brooklyn Bridge as seen from the Brooklyn East River shore, and that’s nice, but that darn Freedom Tower thing is in the background. The need remains!