BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Jay Sharp Building
230 Lafayette Ave.
June 6-8, $30-$60, 7:30
I was prepared to be blown away by Bryce Dessner’s Triptych (Eyes of One on Another). I’m a big fan of his artsy rock group, the National; I love (who doesn’t?) Patti Smith, whose text figures prominently in the piece; and I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the Guggenheim’s “Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now” exhibit, which includes several images that appear in Dessner’s seventy-minute multimedia work. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Inspired by the 1990 obscenity case against Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” exhibit, which took place in Dessner’s hometown of Cincinnati when he was a teenager, Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) explores demons and desire, objectification and beauty, specifically in Mapplethorpe’s XYZ portfolios, which focus on sadomasochism, flowers, and African American male nudes. Accompanying the large-scale projections (by Simon Harding), which appear on a front scrim and/or the back wall, is text from the trial and writings by Smith and poet and activist Essex Hemphill, the latter a critic of Mapplethorpe’s. Dessner’s haunting, ethereal score is performed live by Roomful of Teeth (Cameron Beauchamp, Martha Cluver, Eric Dudley, Estelí Gomez, Abigail Lennox, Thomas McCargar, Thann Scoggin, and Caroline Shaw), joined by soprano Alicia Hall Moran and tenor Isaiah Robinson, the women in silvery white, the men (except for Robinson) in black. (The set and costumes are by Carlos Soto.) Brad Wells conducts, with Jessica McJunkins on violin, Tia Allen on viola, Byron Hogan on cello, Kyra Sims on French horn, Ian Tyson on clarinet and bass clarinet, Laura Barger on piano and harmonium, Donnie Johns and Victor Pablo on percussion, and James Moore on guitar.
Korde Arrington Tuttle’s libretto boasts numerous phrases that stick in the mind as they are sung and projected on walls and screens: “The devil in us all / darkness as beauty”; “Aesthetics can justify desire”; “unsavory things”; “The Artist machetes a clearance.” However, there are also quotes from the trial, which feel trivial and pedantic, especially when juxtaposed with Robinson and Roomful of Teeth’s extensive later repetition of “In america, / I place my ring / on your cock / where it belongs,” from Hemphill’s American Wedding. Among the photographs are “Dominick and Elliot,” depicting a shirtless white man holding the nether regions of a naked white man tied upside down; Mapplethorpe’s famous 1988 portrait of himself gripping a cane with a skull on it; “Jack Walls,” of a black man pointing a gun above his exposed penis; and “Cedric, N.Y.C.,” in which a black man bows his head, the light and shadows making it look like his right side is black and his left side white.
Director Kaneza Schaal is unable to bring the piece together; the words, music, and imagery feel like separate entities. Through it all, a black man wanders across the stage and into the audience, looking up at the projections, a spectator commenting on the images of black bodies by saying nothing. When the audience enters the Howard Gilman Opera House, he is sitting at the front of the stage, watching the people wander in, implicating us all. But I’m not sure in what.
Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
June 3-9, $40-$95
German composer and artist Heiner Goebbels constructs, deconstructs, and reconstructs the last hundred years of European history in Everything that happened and would happen, making its American premiere at Park Ave. Armory through June 9. Reconfigured for the armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall — it was originally staged in a former railway depot in Manchester — the multimedia, polyphonic spectacle starts as soon as the doors open, so be sure to get there early. The audience sits in rising rafters on the west side of the hall, watching a team of dancers in black (Juan Felipe Amaya Gonzalez, Sandhya Daemgen, Antoine Effroy, Ismeni Espejel, Montserrat Gardó Castillo, Freddy Houndekindo, Tuan Ly, Thanh Nguyễn Duy, John Rowley, Annegret Schalke, Ildikó Tóth, Tyra Wigg) carry seemingly random objects onstage — long tubes, metallic seashells, a gold sun, large cloths that they hang from above — position them carefully, then remove them.
Various people read passages from Patrik Ouředník’s 2001 Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, a tragicomic, stream-of-consciousness look at the twentieth century, exploring war, racism, colonialism, collective memory, liberal democracy, the Holocaust, Barbie dolls, and more. Sentences are occasionally projected on hanging sheets designed with trees, maps, and architectural structures, in addition to unedited footage from Euronews’s No Comment, with no narration or context; the night we attended featured very recent live, often violent images from Syria, Colombia, and other nations. (The video design is by Rene Liebert.) In one corner smoke oozes out of a cave, creating a face. Rocks storm down in an avalanche. The dancers roll column-like plinths across the stage, pedestals without busts; later, one performer climbs on top of one and reads from Ouředník’s book.
The dissonant score, from John Cage’s Europeras 1&2, is played by Camille Émaille on percussion, Gianni Gebbia on saxophone, Cécile Lartigau on ondes Martenot, Nicolas Perrin on guitar and electronics, and Léo Maurel on several specially built, unusual instruments. (The props are from Goebbels’s 2012 production of Europeras 1&2.) Willi Bopp’s stunning sound design has music and words emerging from numerous speakers throughout the hall, as if a choreographed sonic dance. Goebbels is a master of deception; while you’re watching one element, others will sneak up on you, offering surprises galore, evoking life itself — and war, specifically, but without the immediate threat. A long, narrow beam becomes a mobile trench. Black monoliths creep up out of the darkness. At one point I felt as if Birnam Wood was stealthily approaching; another reminded me of George Washington crossing the Delaware (even if it’s not from the last century). The dancers and musicians improvise, furthering the anything-can-happen atmosphere.
Perhaps what’s most invigorating about the 135-minute-plus intermissionless show — Goebbels’s third project at the armory, following Stifter’s Dinge in 2009 and De Materie in 2016 — is that despite the serious topics that are broached, abstract and not, Goebbels leaves it up to us to interpret what we are experiencing; he gives us the building blocks from which we can form our own narrative. “Everything that happened and would happen doesn’t participate in all the attempts to have yet another opinion as to the meaning of what has happened; quite the opposite. Guided by a deep mistrust in the transmission of a one-directional message, I don’t even try,” Goebbels explains in his director’s note. “Everything that happened and would happen seeks to open up a space of images, words, and sounds generous enough to avoid the impression that somebody on stage is trying to tell you what to think. It is a space for imagination and reflection, in which the construction of sense is left for everyone to assemble.”
It can be slow going, and several members of the audience did not make it to the end, which is too bad, because Everything that happened and would happen proves to be a provocative durational exploration of the past, present, and future fusing together, a multimedia barrage on the eyes and ears that demands our attention even as the mind wanders. Even when not much appears to be going on, something is, of course, mimicking life and the choices we make as we go about our day; Goebbels metaphorically hands us the controls and we watch and listen to what we want to, self-curating the presentation. Ouředník writes, “Historians said that historical memory was not part of history and memory was shifted from the historical to the psychological sphere, and this instituted a new mode of memory whereby it was no longer a question of memory of events but memory of memory.” On opening night, at the close of the show, Goebbels himself was helping the ushers steer the audience to the exits on the far side of the stage, forcing everyone to march along a battered landscape and take stock of where we are at this very moment in time, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It’s a fitting finale to an adventurous evening of intoxicating, memorable theater.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, June 1, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Gay Pride and the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots in the June edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, Linda LaBeija, Amber Valentine, and Madame Gandhi as well as teen staff members presenting an intersextions variety show inspired by “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” and artists Morgan Bassichis, TM Davy, DonChristian Jones, Michi Osato, Una Osato, and special guests celebrating the updated edition of The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions; a book club talk with Jodie Patterson discussing her latest, The Bold World, with Elaine Welteroth; a curator tour of “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” led by Lindsay C. Harris and Carmen Hermo; a hands-on workshop in which participants can design buttons based on LJ Roberts’s The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Boswyck, Breukelen, and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era; a community talk on radical queer histories with Audre Lorde Project; and an “Archives as Raw History” tour focusing on the museum’s LGBTQ+ histories. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha,” “One: Egúngún,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.
Who: Colin Davey
What: Author talk and book launch
Where: Shakespeare & Co., 2020 Broadway at 70th St., 212-738-0001
When: Monday, May 20, free with advance registration, 7:00
Why: Scientist, martial artist, and software engineer Colin Davey celebrates the 150th anniversary of the American Museum of Natural History with the extensively researched, fully illustrated new book The American Museum of Natural History and How It Got That Way (Fordham University Press/Empire State Editions, $34.95, May 2019), written with Thomas A. Lesser. Davey (Learn Boogie Woogie Piano) will be at Shakespeare & Co. on May 20 to launch the book, which details the history of the museum in such chapters as “The Jesup Years (1881–1908) and the Seventy-Seventh Street Facade,” “The Akeley African Hall: From the Elephant in the Room to the Seven-Hundred-Pound Gorilla,” “The Golden Age of Spaceflight and the Hayden Planetarium,” “The Evolution of the Dinosaur Exhibits,” and “Robert Moses and the Norman Bel Geddes Report.” In the foreword, Kermit Roosevelt III, the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose statue resides in front of the institution, writes, “What the museum has done, in different ways, through the different stages of its life, is to feed the human sense of wonder at the universe.” Among the figures who appear in the tome are “Boss” Tweed, Clyde Fisher, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Morris K. Jesup, Carl Akeley, Robert Moses, and many others as Davey, a regular visitor to the museum since he was a child, shares fascinating historical details about the museum from its beginnings on Manhattan Square through the Hayden Planetarium, the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and the future Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.
Who: Arundhati Roy, Siddhartha Deb
What: The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, PEN America World Voices Festival
Where: Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th St.
When: Sunday, May 12, $30-$65, 6:00
Why: The fifteenth annual PEN World Voices Festival comes to a close in New York City on May 12 with Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy delivering the prestigious Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, the keynote event of the weeklong celebration of the written word, which seeks to “broaden channels of dialogue between the United States and the world.” The Indian screenwriter, essayist, novelist, and activist is the author of The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness; her collection of essays, My Seditious Heart, is coming out in June. She will be speaking about “the defense of the collective, of the individual, and of the land, in the face of the destructive logic of financial, social, religious, military, and governmental elites”; the talk will be followed by a Q&A with Indian writer and professor Siddhartha Deb. Among the other events this weekend are “Secrets and Lives” with Boris Kachka, Dani Shapiro, and Bridgett M. Davis, “The Art of Violence” with Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Tommy Orange, and Mohammed Hanif, “Women Uninterrupted” with Jennifer Egan, Inês Pedrosa, and Elif Shafak, and the free debate “A Question of Justice” at the Center for Social Innovation.
Who: Lawrence Weiner and Glenn Fuhrman
What: Artist talk in conjunction with publication of The FLAG Art Foundation: 2008-2018
Where: Gagosian Shop, 976 Madison Ave. at 75th St., 212-796-1224
When: Tuesday, April 16, free with RSVP, 6:00
Why: In celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Chelsea-based FLAG Art Foundation has published The FLAG Art Foundation: 2008-2018, a fully illustrated catalog that looks back at its first fifty exhibitions, which has featured such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Mark Bradford, Maurizio Cattelan, Robert Gober, Félix González-Torres, Jim Hodges, Ellsworth Kelly, Charles Ray, Gerhard Richter, and Cindy Sherman. On April 16, gallery founder Glenn Fuhrman and seventy-seven-year-old Bronx-born conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner will be at the Gagosian Shop on the Upper East Side to discuss the history of FLAG as well as its current exhibition “On Board the Ships at Sea Are We,” consisting of works by Weiner, Rachel Whiteread, and Robert Therrien examining scale, materiality, and absence. The catalog includes a foreword by Fuhrman, preface by founding director Stephanie Roach, and original contributions from Ashley Bickerton, Delia Brown, Patricia Cronin, Cynthia Daignault, Lisa Dennison, Sarah Douglas, Elmgreen & Dragset, Eric Fischl, James Frey, Louis Grachos, Stamatina Gregory, Jane Hammond, Hilary Harkness, Jim Hodges, Philae Knight, Josephine Meckseper, Richard Patterson, Jack Shear, Carolyn Twersky, Lesley Vance, Rebecca Ward, and Heidi Zuckerman. Admission is free with advance RSVP.
Carnegie Hall’s wide-ranging, multidisciplinary Migrations: The Making of America festival comes to the Langston Hughes Auditorium at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on April 16 for “In Perpetual Flight: The Migration of the Black Body.” Through dance, music, and theater, the program traces the journey toward liberation of the black body across time in the US, from the slave trade and the Great Migration to the Civil War and the Back to Africa movement, exploring its impact on contemporary American culture. The evening, held in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre and its current NBT Beyond Walls initiative, features four live performances and presentations by Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer Hope Boykin, screenwriter, playwright, and director Keith Josef Adkins, Obie-winning actress and singer Kenita R. Miller, composer and sound designer Justin Hicks, NBT CEO Sade Lythcott, and NBT artistic director Jonathan McCrory, utilizing works from the Schomburg Center archives from such seminal figures as James Baldwin, Harriet Powers, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, and Jacob Lawrence. “This event is allowing us to acknowledge the consistent flight, movement, and navigation black people have been engaged in within this country ever since the black body was ripped from the shores of Africa — human bodies stripped from home and forced into slavery,” McCrory said in a statement. “That perpetual flight has produced four hundred years of migration that have generated moments of agitation, acceleration, acclimation, and aspiration.” Admission is free; advance registration is strongly recommended.