04 November 2010
Cité screening/Basquiat Show
A low-grade fear grips me today—awaiting the screening tonight of four of my older videodances at the Cité auditorium. Like the days of opening night performances, when I would stupidly rest my head within the jaws of fate, knowing it was sealed in the raising of the curtain, the duration marked by steps I would only by some miracle manage to remember. Was there ever a time I took it in stride, said what the fuck and rode the currents without the dread of drowning in my own dark story? My partner john sits beside me deep in his book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I reminded him our little apartment sits perched almost exactly midway between Notre Dame and Victor Hugo’s house in the Place des Vosges.
So I do not actually have to perform tonight. Instead, I am on screen and at the mercy of video technology. Will the damn DVD machine work? The projector fire up and retain the proper formatting? These things drive me absolutely crazy. Best to back off, to accept that there are certain things I have no control over, to greet the guests with a smile and the confidence all will go off without a hitch. And if there is a hitch, so be it. I did everything I could…. Ah, but no mercy in the world of the theater. Either it works, or it doesn’t.
I’m pleased to report nothing went too amiss ay my screening, other than the formatting of the projector from the afternoon’s test-run screening shifting such that some of the outer details were cut from my original framing. The sound system I paid Cité 50 Euros to plug into also worked. (I am amazed that Cité cannot support its own residents for the technical needs of the Tuesday evening productions in its auditorium. It says quite a bit about its “bare-bones” approach to providing for its artists. Is it because of lack of funding support or subsidy, or is it the “French system”?)
I had a full house, and the attendance of most of my old and new friends from outside Cité made for an impressive showing and appreciative audience. I screened four of my older works: Babel, Photoformance 1: Long Lie Down, Quartet for One and The Death of Saint Narcissus. The directeur general of Cité, a former dance company administrator, did not show up. (I had been told he would attend.) But that’s what is so wonderful about this residency. I am not being held accountable by my superiors for producing or showing work. This was for friends and fellow residents. I am grateful for what I’ve been granted and will not complain! If, at some point, however, I am asked my opinions re. how Cité might improve its artist relations, communications and/or support, I will freely give them. I have spent 40 years on all sides of the playing field, and it is strange to feel that I’m being treated like a college student in a graduate student residency… one in which I have to constantly play the apologetic fool and grateful beggar to get what I need. Ah, the arts!
Moving on. John and I attended the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective at Musée d’Art Moderne. After getting over the astounding number of works the artist produced over his tragically brief lifetime--and the idea of its 30-year trajectory from tenement New York City to its ultimate enshrinement/apotheosis, with all the pompous glory that only the Parisians can produce a la haute couture fashion week, Printemps/Galeries Lafayette Christmas windows, and blockbuster art fairs-- we began our slow walk through the galleries. It felt to me like following the “stations” of the artist’s cross, his “holy city” a 70s-80s lower Manhattan with its graffiti artists, club scene, drugs, and later, celebrities, jet-setters, gallery owners, and his cross a talent and ambition weighed down by poverty, then international fame, and always a deep sensitivity (and rage/resentment) to his minority status as a black man in a very white world, and a fiercely figurative artist in an art market dominated by Conceptual and Minimalist art. The works in the last gallery echoed in slow motion aftereffect his grotesque swan dive into a void of drugs, exhaustion and sudden death by overdose. But getting there, he/we went for quite a ride!
The smell of speed and hyper energy is everywhere in the work: a kind of 20th century Van Gogh, an obsessive-compulsive epileptic fit or altered state of heightened sensitivity to light, energy fields, and the power of line, what fills in that line, what pushes it out, what creates force fields around, under and over it. His fluid, expressive and outrageously personal line places him among the greater Modernists and calligraphers. His discovery of color and its relationship to detritus, ruin, and the surfaces of urban decay moves from an amplification of line drawings: cartoonish outline, diagram, X-ray vision portraits of skulls and sprawling figures looking like they just put their finger in an electric socket; to color as monotone wash or cyclorama submerging or backing a panorama of simultaneous “events”. These events consist of a collection of personal icons, mappings, labels, diagrams, or quotes that babble and jitter fitfully into various degrees of resolution. It’s as if Basquiat were searching, like the Australian aboriginal painters, to find his own song lines and map onto his ramshackle canvases a guide to a world history he was struggling to record and remember but finding increasingly distorted by hypocrisy and vandalism. He also celebrated his own: black jazz musicians and athletes who both survived a white world and became its martyrs, scapegoats and token images of assimilation.
At the end of this exhilarating ride through Basquiat's stations, there is an exhausted poverty of
spirit that drains the work of life. Even so, the paintings remain powerful in their
essential, distilled balance of form and color.
Coming tomorrow: A superb performance Handel's Orlando at Théatre de Champs-Elysées under the baton of the dynamo Emmanuelle Haim.