In New York: Trump-TV land, Rauschenberg’s big heart, Bolshoi beauty, and trying rugby
by Rob Tiller
We just got back from a long weekend in New York, where we celebrated Jocelyn’s birthday, went to art museums and galleries, stopped in at a double Dutch jump rope festival, saw the Bolshoi Ballet, and watched a rugby game.
Of course we talked about the latest Trump oddities and outrages. Though Jocelyn may have been the first to say it, it’s getting to be a commonplace that the current presidency resembles a reality television show, with ginned up drama that seems to have no point except drawing continued attention. Indeed, Emily Nussbaum had an interesting piece in The New Yorker this week about Trump’s reality TV career. Trump apparently liked the job, and may well think of the presidency as mainly about being surrounded by people who make him feel like a big shot.
He may have no other objective, but I wonder whether there could be a long game. It’s possible that somebody (maybe Bannon) has a plan that’s well served by stripping all dignity from the presidency and substituting crass vulgarity. As we come to think of the president as an idiotic clown, we also may view the executive branch as basically ridiculous and unworthy of any respect. This could make us more open to a solution along the lines of Russia’s Putinism or fascism. But maybe we’ll be smarter than that.
In New York I went to the Robert Rauschenberg show at the MoMA with low expectations. From prior encounters, I’d thought of his painting and sculpture as facile and kind of messy. This show changed my mind in a big way and gave me some new ways of thinking about and looking at art. Rauschenberg’s art emits swirling emotions and ideas, which are always subject to change, even as we try to comprehend a single painting over time. He expects the viewer not just to look at the work but to bring feeling and intelligence to it, to become part of it. Engaging with the art this way is exhilarating.
Rauchenberg’s approach to art was open-hearted and continuously experimental, trying new materials, new sources, new subjects. There was such a range of feeling and humor, and engagement with the world. His art was highly collaborative and connected to friendship and love. These works are particularly resistant to photography, because of their rich textures and sculptural depth. There’s no good substitute for standing in front of them and seeing what they do.
We also did some gallery hopping in Chelsea. We noted a lot of new construction in the area, which made me wonder if the galleries will eventually be priced out. For the moment, the scene is still lively, and we saw works in many different styles. Some people are still mining the 60s pop vein, just as some are continuing expressionism and other established styles, while some were creating objects that haven’t and may never be part of a movement. I particularly liked the photo collages of a young Chinese artist named Ji Zhou at the Klein Sun Gallery and Sally loved a show of Japanese Nihonga painting.
On Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Center we watched kids of all ages showing their skills at double Dutch jump roping. There were some impressive feats of speed and agility, as well as creative athleticism. I briefly considered giving it a try, but couldn’t quite get in the right mental gear while wearing black loafers.
After that, Sally, Jocelyn, and I saw the matinee show of the Bolshoi Ballet, which performed a new ballet version of the Taming of the Shrew. We loved it! The dancing was of the highest caliber, with athletic energy balanced by delicacy and natural-seeming ease. The acting was strong throughout. The leading ballerinas in this performance (Kristina Kretova and Anastasia Stashkevich) were beautiful and charismatic, and fully inhabited their roles. Together with their male partners (Denis Savin and Artem Ovcharenko), they brought great romance to this sometimes disturbing drama.
That evening, we went to Pier 40 on the Hudson and watched a rugby game between the New York Knights, Kyle’s team, and Boston. Kyle was injured and unable to play, but was able to give us a tutorial on the rudiments of the sport and first lessons on tactics and strategy. It was fun! Happily, the Knights won, completing an unbeaten regular season.