This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

A BIGGER SPLASH

David Hockney

David Hockney works on his masterpiece in Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash

A BIGGER SPLASH (Jack Hazan, 1974)
Metrograph
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, June 21
212-660-0312
metrograph.com

Just in time to coincide with Pride celebrations throughout New York City in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Metrograph is premiering a 4K restoration of Jack Hazan’s pivotal 1974 A Bigger Splash, a fiction-nonfiction hybrid that was a breakthrough work for its depiction of gay culture as well as its inside look at the fashionable and chic Los Angeles art scene of the early 1970s. This past November, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at auction for $90.3 million, the most ever paid for a work by a living artist. A Bigger Splash, named after another of Hockney’s paintings — both are part of a series of canvases set around pools in ritzy Los Angeles — takes place over three years, as the British artist, based in California at the time, hangs out with friends, checks out a fashion show, prepares for a gallery exhibition, and works on Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in the wake of a painful breakup with his boyfriend, model, and muse, Peter Schlesinger, who is a key figure in the painting.

It’s often hard to know which scenes are pure documentary and which are staged for the camera as Hazan and his then-parter, David Mingay, who served as director of photography, tag along with Hockney, who rides around in his small, dirty BMW, meeting up with textile designer Celia Birtwell, fashion designer Ossie Clark, curator Henry Geldzahler, gallerist John Kasmin, artist Patrick Procktor, and others, who are identified only at the beginning, in black-and-white sketches during the opening credits. The film features copious amounts of male nudity, including a long sex scene between two men, a group of beautiful boys diving into a pool in a fantasy sequence, and Hockney disrobing and taking a shower. Hockney’s assistant, Mo McDermott, contributes occasional voice-overs; he also poses as the man standing on the deck in Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), only to be replaced by Schlesinger later. There are several surreal moments involving Hockney’s work: He cuts up one painting; Geldzahler gazes long and hard at himself in the double portrait of him and Christopher Scott; and Hockney tries to light the cigarette Procktor is holding in a painting as Procktor watches, cigarette in hand, mimicking his pose on canvas. At one point Hockney is photographing Schlesinger in Kensington Gardens, reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which questions the very nature of capturing reality on film.

Hockney was so upset when he first saw A Bigger Splash, which Hazan made for about twenty thousand dollars, that he offered to buy it back from Hazan in order to destroy it; Hazan refused, and Hockney went into a deep depression. His friends ultimately convinced him that it was a worthwhile movie and he eventually accepted it. It’s a one-of-a-kind film, a wild journey that goes far beyond the creative process as an artist makes his masterpiece. Hockney, who will turn eighty-two next month, has been on quite a roll of late. He was the subject of a 2016 documentary by Randall Wright, was widely hailed for his 2018 Met retrospective, saw one of his paintings set an auction record, and is scheduled to have a major drawing show at the National Portrait Gallery next year. In addition, Catherine Cusset’s novel, Life of David Hockney, was just published in English, a fictionalized tale that conceptionally recalls A Bigger Splash, which opens June 21 at Metrograph, with various Q&As and introductions by Hazan, Richard Haines and Alexander Olch, Nick McCarthy, Ryan McNamara, Matt Wolf, and Cusset from June 21 to 30. And if you can’t get enough of Hockney, Anita Rogers is showing “Films by James Scott, Etchings by David Hockney” through July 27, consisting of Hockney’s 1966 series “Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy” and Scott’s 1966 documentary short about the series, Love’s Presentation.

NYC PRIDE 2019

Femme Fatale party is one of the highlights of NYC Pride festivities

Femme Fatale party is one of the highlights of NYC Pride festivities

Multiple locations
June 17-30, free - $300 and more
www.nycpride.org

This year’s pride festivities honor the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall, which set the Gay Pride movement in motion in full force. There are some new events, while the March itself has changed its route, so pay close attention to the locations listed below. As always, the ticketed events and VIP treatment are selling out fast, so you better act quickly if you want to shake it up at some pretty wild gatherings. Also be on the lookout for the World Mural Project in all five boroughs and the Quilt Initiative, which displays portions of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in numerous places.

Monday, June 17
NewFest OutCinema, screening of Adam (Rhys Ernst, 2019), followed by a a Q&A with Ernst and members of the cast and a party, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., $30-$100, 7:00

Tuesday, June 18
NewFest OutCinema, screening of Invisible Women: The Story of Two Forgotten Revolutionaries (Alice Smith, 2019) and Deep in Vogue (Amy Watson & Dennis Keighron-Foster, 2019), followed by a a Q&A with the filmmakers, moderated by Twiggy Pucci Garçon, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., $30-$100, 7:00

Wednesday, June 19
NewFest OutCinema, screening of Wig (Chris Moukarbel, 2019), followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers, Lady Bunny, and others, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., $30-$100, 7:00

Friday, June 21
Family Movie Night, screening of Coco (Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina, 2017), with field games and live entertainment, hosted by Miss Richfield 1981, Pier 45, Hudson River Park, free ($50 for VIP blanket seating), 6:30

PrideMarch will celebrate fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall

PrideMarch will celebrate fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall this year

Saturday, June 22
CosPlay & Pride, sunset cruise with Aja and others, hosted by Petra Fried, Pier 40, Hudson River Park, 353 West St., $45, 6:00

Sunday, June 23
Pride Luminaries Brunch, Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge, 485 7th Ave., $85, 11:00 am

Monday, June 24
and
Tuesday, June 25

Human Rights Conference, with Raquel Willis, Janet Mock, and Tracey “Africa” Norman, New York Law School, 185 West Broadway, $30-$50, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Tuesday, June 25
GameChangers, panel discussion, Q&A, and reception with George Takei, Trace Lysette, Leyna Bloom, and others, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., $15-$35, 6:00

Wednesday, June 26
WorldPride Opening Ceremony, benefiting Ali Forney Center, Immigration Equality, and SAGE, with Cyndi Lauper, Billy Porter, Chaka Khan, Ciara, Daya, Todrick Hall, and others, Barclays Center, $45-$226, 7:00

Friday, June 28
Savor Pride, food-driven fundraiser, with dishes by chefs Renee Blackman, Julia Turshen, Alex Koones, Manuel González Charles, Lazarus Lynch, and more, God’s Love We Deliver, 166 Sixth Ave. at Spring St., $80-$125, 5:30

Rally: Stonewall 50 Commemoration, performers and speakers to be announced, Christopher St. & Waverly Pl., free, 6:00

PrideFest street fair immediately follows the March

Twenty-sixth annual PrideFest street fair takes place on June 30 on Fourth Ave.

Saturday, June 29
Youth Pride, for LGBTQIA+ and ally teens, with Ava Max, DJ Nhandi, Deetranada, Angelica Ross and Hailie Sahar from Pose, and more, SummerStage, Central Park, free, noon - 6:00 pm

VIP Rooftop Party, with DJs GRIND, Toy Armada, Ben Baker, and Kitty Glitter and more, the Park, 118 10th Ave., $100-$150, 2:00 - 10:00 pm

Teaze, with bklyn boihood, TRUUU, Set It Off, Rose Gold, Yellow Jackets Collective, and more, the DL, 95 Delancey St., $40-$80, 5:00 – midnight

Saturday, June 29
and
Sunday, June 30

Pride Island, with Grace Jones, Teyana Taylor, Pabllo Vittar, and more, Pier 97, Hudson River Park at Fifty-Ninth St. & West Side Highway, 2:00 - 10:00

Sunday, June 30
PrideFest, twenty-sixth annual street fair with music, food, merchandise, and more, featuring live performances by Lauren Jauregui, the Veronicas, Melanie C & Sink the Pink, and others, hosted by E. J. Johnson, Fourth Ave. between Union Square and Astor Pl., free, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm

The March, with grand marshals Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Monica Helms, the Trevor Project, Gay Liberation Front, and members of the cast of Pose, Lavender Line from Twenty-Sixth St. & Fifth Ave., downtown to Washington Square Park and Stonewall National Monument, and back up to Twenty-Third St. & Seventh Ave., free, 12 noon

Femme Fatale, women’s party with DJs Kittens, Mary Mac, Bonnie Beats, Nikki Lions, and Lena, the Park, 118 10th Ave., $40-$65, 4:00 - midnight

Siren, with Mindy Jones, DJ Whitney Day, DJ Tatiana-Denver, and DJ MO-NYC, hosted by Crissa Ace and Kiyomi Valentine, Watermark, Pier 15, 78 South St., $45 – $275, 9:00 pm - 4:00 am

WorldPride Closing Ceremony, with live performances by Melissa Etheridge, Jake Shears, MNEK, The Prom, Deborah Cox, and more, hosted by Margaret Cho, Times Square, free, 7:00

RIVER TO RIVER FESTIVAL 2019

(photo by Nisa Ojalvo)

Ernesto Pujol’s The Listeners invites attendees to speak for as long as they want to an artist at Federal Hall (photo by Nisa Ojalvo)

R2R
Multiple downtown locations
June 18-29, free
lmcc.net

The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s eighteenth annual River to River Festival comprises a host of exciting downtown events, from dance and immersive art to film and interactive performance. Running June 18-29, the festival is free, but many events require advance RSVP. “Our contemporary reality is rushed, and nowhere is this more apparent than in New York—the city that keeps moving,” curator and LMCC executive director of artistic programs Lili Chopra said in a statement. “There is always somewhere to go, something to see and more to achieve, creating a frenetic energy that makes this city fabulous and exhausting in equal parts. Increasingly, external stimulation seems to be stifling internal introspection as we anxiously charge forward blinkered to our surroundings and, in this digital age, hardened towards the very people that make up our physical community. In response to this, the River to River Festival addresses the experience of the individual within the urban setting by making space for balance.”

Among the artists participating in this year’s iteration are Yoko Ono, Sarah Michelson, Ernesto Pujol, Pam Tanowitz, Kamau Ware, Jennifer Monson, Carol Becker & Mark Epstein, and NIC Kay, at such locations as the Oculus, Federal Hall, Rockefeller Park, the Seaport District, the African Burial Ground National Monument, and the East River Esplanade. You can take a walking tour through the black experience, reveal your innermost desires to a stranger, meet with emerging artists in a studio setting, and add your thoughts to a refugee boat.

Tuesday, June 18
through
Saturday, June 29

Yoko Ono: Add Color (Refugee Boat) (1960/2019), interactive installation, 203 Front St., Seaport District, noon –8:00

Yoko Ono: The Reflection Project, instructional text works by Yoko Ono at such locations as 28 Liberty, the Fulton Transit Center, the Oculus at the WTC Transportation Hub, and the Seaport District

Elia Alba: The Supper Club, NYC DOT Art Display Cases on Water St. and Maiden Ln. and Gouverneur Ln. between Water & Front Sts.

Ezra Wube: Fulton Flow, Fulton Transit Center

Tuesday, June 18
Pam Tanowitz: Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures, with live music by composer and vocalist Ted Hearne, guitarist Taylor Levine, and Rachel Drehmann, Daniel Salera, Kate Sheeran, and Colin Weyman on French horns, costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, and sound design by Garth MacAleavey, performed by Sara Mearns, Taylor Stanley, Reid Bartelme, Jason Collins, Zachary Gonder, Victor Lozano and Melissa Toogood, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City, 7:45

Wednesday, June 19
Pam Tanowitz: Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures, with live music by composer and vocalist Ted Hearne, guitarist Taylor Levine, and Rachel Drehmann, Daniel Salera, Kate Sheeran, and Colin Weyman on French horns, costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, and sound design by Garth MacAleavey, performed by Sara Mearns, Taylor Stanley, Reid Bartelme, Jason Collins, Zachary Gonder, Victor Lozano and Melissa Toogood, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City, 7:45

(photo by Sarah-ji Rhee)

NIC Kay’s pushit!! is a site-responsive meditation walk through Lower Manhattan (photo by Sarah-ji Rhee)

Thursday, June 20
Tribeca Art + Culture Night, with AIM—Bronx Museum of the Arts, Anita Rogers Gallery, apexart, Barney Savage Gallery, BM Franklin, Cheryl Hazan, Church Street School for Music and Art, Double Knot, Leslie-Lohman Museum, New York Academy of Art, Pearl River Mart, Postmasters Gallery, R & Company, SAPAR Contemporary, Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Soho Photo Gallery, the Drawing Center, the Untitled Space, Twenty First Gallery / White Space, White Street Studio, and Y2K group, 6:00 – 9:00

NIC Kay: pushit!!, site-responsive moving performance from Albert Capsouto Park at Varick & Laight Sts. to the African Burial Ground National Monument, 7:00

Friday, June 21
Workspace Artists-in-Residence: Open Studios, with Golnar Adili, Jennifer Bartlett, Eliza Bent, Keisha Bush, André Daughtry, Jonathan González, Zac Hacmon, Terrance James Jr., NIC Kay, Ying Liu, Asif Mian, Kenneth Pietrobono, Orlando Tirado, and Zhiyuan Yang, LMCC’s Workspace Studios, 101 Greenwich St., fifteenth floor, 6:00 – 9:00

Saturday, June 22
Workspace Artists-in-Residence: Open Studios, with Golnar Adili, Jennifer Bartlett, Eliza Bent, Keisha Bush, André Daughtry, Jonathan González, Zac Hacmon, Terrance James Jr., NIC Kay, Ying Liu, Asif Mian, Kenneth Pietrobono, Orlando Tirado, and Zhiyuan Yang, LMCC’s Workspace Studios, 101 Greenwich St., fifteenth floor, 1:00 – 8:00

Sunday, June 23
Jennifer Monson: ditch, with music and sound by Jeff Kolar, costumes by Susan Becker, and dancers Evie Allison, Madeline Mellinger, and Kaitlin Fox, Pier 35, East River Esplanade by Rutgers Slip, sunrise

iLANDing: Researching Urban Ecologies with Movement Based Scores, workshop with Jennifer Monson, Pier 35, East River Esplanade by Rutgers Slip, 11:00

Monday, June 24
Ernesto Pujol: The Listening School, Anderson Contemporary in the Atrium at 180 Maiden Ln. and the Plaza at 88 Pine St., 11:30 am – 2:30 pm

Sarah Michelson: june2019:/\, location revealed with RSVP, 1:30, 4:00, 7:00

Tuesday, June 25
Ernesto Pujol: The Listening School, Liberty Park, 155 Cedar St., and South Oculus Plaza, Church & Greenwich Sts. at Dey St., 11:30 am – 2:30 pm

Night at the Museums, free admission to the African Burial Ground National Monument, China Institute, Federal Hall National Memorial, Fraunces Tavern Museum, Lower Manhattan Tours, Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, National Archives at New York City, National Museum of the American Indian—Smithsonian Institution, National September 11 Memorial Museum, NYC Municipal Archives Visitor Center, 9/11 Tribute Museum, Poets House, the Skyscraper Museum, and the South Street Seaport Museum, 4:00 – 8:00

Black Gotham Experience: Sarah’s Fire, walking tour and story about black rebellion of 1712, 192 Front St., 4:00, 5:00, 6:00

Black Gotham Experience: Talk with BGX Creator and Artist Kamau Ware, 192 Front St., 8:00

Yoko Ono, Add Color (Refugee Boat) 1960/2016. Installation view: Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2016

Yoko Ono, Add Color (Refugee Boat), 1960/2016, installation view: Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2016

Wednesday, June 26
Ernesto Pujol: The Listening School, 28 Liberty: Fosun Plaza, 11:30 am – 2:30 pm

Sarah Michelson: june2019:/\, location revealed with RSVP, 1:30, 4:00

Jennifer Monson: ditch, with music and sound by Jeff Kolar, costumes by Susan Becker, and dancers Evie Allison, Madeline Mellinger, and Kaitlin Fox, Melville Gallery, South Street Seaport Museum, 7:00

Thursday, June 27
The Agitated Now: A Lecture Performance by Mark Epstein + Carol Becker, Federal Hall, 26 Wall St., 7:00

Ernesto Pujol: The Listeners, Federal Hall, 26 Wall St., 9:00

Friday, June 28
Jennifer Monson: ditch, with music and sound by Jeff Kolar, costumes by Susan Becker, and dancers Evie Allison, Madeline Mellinger, and Kaitlin Fox, Melville Gallery, South Street Seaport Museum, 7:00

Rooftop Films: The Sound of Silence (Michael Tyburski, 2019), preceded by live music and followed by a Q&A, New Design High School, 350 Grand St., 8:00

Saturday, June 29
WorldPride NYC: Drag Queen Story Hour, for families and kids, Seward Park Library, 192 East Broadway, 11:00 am & 3:30 pm

WorldPride NYC: Workshop on the Street, with Amy, Jennifer, & Noah Khoshbin, for families and kids, Oculus Plaza, 1:30

ONLY IN NEW YORK: 500 PHOTOS • 500 MOMENTS

Matt Cruz,  Lower East Side, 2016 (photo by Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times) / Breezy Point Surf Club, Queens, 2000 (photo by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Matt Cruz, Lower East Side, 2016 (photo by Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times) / Breezy Point Surf Club, Queens, 2000 (photo by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Who: David W. Dunlap, Fred R. Conrad, Chester Higgins Jr., Marilynn K. Yee
What: Book launch, talk, and signing, Only in New York: 500 Photos • 500 Moments (Rizzoli, May 2019, $39.95)
Where: Rizzoli Bookstore, 1133 Broadway at 26th St., 212-759-2424
When: Monday, June 17, free, 6:00
Why:Only in New York highlights the threads that hold this city of contrasts together,” former New York Times Metro reporter and “Building Blocks” columnist David W. Dunlap writes in the introduction to Only in New York: 500 Photos • 500 Moments, the new book put together by the Newspaper of Record’s photography staff, consisting of five hundred color and black-and-white snapshots taken in the Big Apple, arranged in diptychs, going back more than a century. He continues, “Wordlessly, the pairings began telling stories of their own. They spoke across time. They described a city that exists on many planes simultaneously: energetic and brutal, compassionate and cruel, creative and desperate, eccentric and conformist, impatient and steady, exuberant and serene, tragic and funny, elegant and shabby, cosmopolitan and insular, crowded and lonely.”

only in new york

On June 17, Dunlap will be joined by photographers Fred R. Conrad, Chester Higgins Jr., and Marilynn K. Yee at the Rizzoli Bookstore to celebrate the release of the book, which features such inspired photographic pairings as the cast of Cats opposite a dog walker, the light of traffic around the Flatiron Building opposite fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge, Martin Scorsese opposite Frank Sinatra (both adjusting their coats), birdwatchers opposite a Civil Defense air raid drill (both involving binoculars), the 7 train opposite Mickey Mantle wearing his number 7 Yankees jersey, and the Queen Mary 2 in New York Harbor opposite a space shuttle fly-by in Midtown. Among the photographers whose work is featured are Damon Winter, Neal Boenzi, Ruth Fremson, Vincent Laforet, Michelle Agins, Todd Heisler, Chang W. Lee, Barton Silverman, Sara Krulwich, Michelle Agins, and Tyler Hicks. The book also includes touching and humorous anecdotes, such as this gem: “R. Chester Redhead is waiting for the No. 1 bus on 86th Street and Madison Avenue. When it finally arrives, the woman in front of Mr. Redhead hands the driver a transfer. ‘Lady,’ he says, ‘this transfer is from yesterday.’ ‘That tells you how long I’ve been waiting for this bus,’ she replies.”

ASSEMBLY

(image courtesy Kevin Beasley)

Kevin Beasley’s Assembly takes attendees across three floors of the Kitchen (image courtesy Kevin Beasley)

The Kitchen
512 West 19th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
June 15-16, 22-23, 29-30, $10 (advance reservations recommended)
Installation on view June 21 & 28, free, 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
212-255-5793
thekitchen.org

Hot on the heels of his widely hailed audiovisual Whitney exhibition, “A View of a Landscape,” which included several live performances using manipulated sounds emanating from a cotton gin motor, Yale MFA candidate Kevin Beasley is stripping down the Kitchen for the installation / performance series Assembly, taking place in newly empty rooms on three floors of the Chelsea arts institution. Beasley, in conjunction with Lumi Tan, Tim Griffin, and Nicole Kaack from the Kitchen, has created custom sound and video systems that will be activated on Saturday, June 15, 22, and 29, at 6:30, and Sunday, June 16, 23, and 30, at 4:00, in dialogue with the building itself and its position in a changing art world, specifically involving access and collectivity. The mix of musicians, dancers, performance artists, and DJs features Suzi Analogue and Pamela Z on June 15, King Britt presents Moksha Black and Richard Kennedy on June 16, Mhysa, David Thomson, and whoisskitzo on June 22, HPrizm, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, and stud1nt on June 23, Lafawndah, NAR, and Angie Pittman on June 29, and Jason Moran, Logan Takahashi, and Wetware on June 30. In a statement, choreographer Thomson called his piece, Body of work, “a palimpsest. A meditation on memory, identities, and boundaries. A marking of time on the body of a transitional space.” Admission is $10, and attendees are encouraged to walk throughout the Kitchen; advance purchase is recommended. In addition, the installation will be open to the public for free on June 21 and 28 from 11:00 to 6:00.

MUSEUM MILE FESTIVAL 2019

Crowds will line Fifth Avenue for Museum Mile Festival on Tuesday night

Crowds will line Fifth Avenue for Museum Mile Festival on Tuesday night

Multiple locations on Fifth Ave. between 82nd & 105th Sts.
Tuesday, June 11, free, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
www.museummilefestival.org

The forty-first annual Museum Mile Festival will take place on Tuesday, June 11, as eight arts institutions along Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 105th Sts. open their doors for free between 6:00 and 9:00. There will be live indoor or outdoor performances by Fogo Azul, Steven Bernstein’s Sexmob, Aurora Flores and Zon del Barrio, Palladium Mambo All Stars, and DJ Bembona in addition to face painting, art workshops, a birthday photo booth, and more. The participating museums (with at least one of their current shows listed here) are El Museo del Barrio (“Culture and the People: El Museo del Barrio, 1969 – 2019”), the Museum of the City of New York (“New York at Its Core,” “Pride: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond by Fred W. McDarrah”), the Jewish Museum (“Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything”), the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (“Nature — The Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial”), the Guggenheim (“Implicit Tensions: Mapplethorpe Now,” “Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection”), the Neue Galerie (“The Self-Portrait, from Schiele to Beckmann”), the Africa Center (“Sudan Uprising”), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock&Roll,” “The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated”), along with presentations by the New York Academy of Medicine, the Church of the Heavenly Rest, and Asia Society. Don’t try to do too much, because it can get rather crowded; just pick one or two exhibitions in one or two museums and enjoy.

TRIPTYCH (EYES OF ONE ON ANOTHER)

(photo by Richard Termine)

Bryce Dessner’s Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) runs at BAM June 6-8 (photo by Richard Termine)

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Jay Sharp Building
230 Lafayette Ave.
June 6-8, $30-$60, 7:30
718-636-4100
www.bam.org

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.

(photo by Richard Termine)

A man cannot look up at Robert Mapplethorpe images in Triptych (Eyes of One on Another) (photo by Richard Termine)

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.