Heaven and Hell in New York

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It was a hell of a trip, at least the beginning of it: my morning flight to New York was delayed for three hours because of the storm there, and then...the flight was simply cancelled. Great. The only choice was to fly the next day or wait for another nine hours for a very slim chance at flying standby on the red-eye. Though there was not more than a five percent chance of getting a seat, I took my chance, and after hibernating for almost twelve hours at LAX - Hallelujah - made it onto the plane.

at100323a.jpgArriving bleary-eyed in Manhattan early in the morning, I kept myself awake by first dashing to the Frick Collection to see the exhibition of masterpieces from the famous Dulwich Gallery in London. And there she was, The Girl at a Window, one of the most beloved paintings by Rembrandt, in which the three and a half centuries separating us from her simply vanish. Wearing a white blouse, she emerges gently from a dark shadow...pure Heaven. After that, the only logical choice was to plunge into Hell, and sure enough, the exhibition of German artist Otto Dix at the nearby Neue Galerie provided ample opportunity. Traumatized by his experience during World War I, the artist created brutal, unforgettable, brilliant images of its victims and victimizers.

The next day I rushed to the Metropolitan Museum - for my money, the best smorgasbord of art in the world. At the top of my agenda was the chance to see a rare, in-depth exhibition of drawings by the 16th century Italian artist Bronzino. To say that he was a virtuoso draftsman does not even begin to describe the pleasure of encountering his exquisite small drawings.

at100323b.jpgGoing to the Metropolitan Opera to see the new production of one of Verdi's early operas, Atti'la – or as purists insist, A'ttila – was a rare chance not only to experience the orchestra and singers at their best, but also to be taken by the innovative and extravagant set design by Herzog & de Meuron, one of today's most famous contemporary architectural teams. Only a month ago, in Madrid, I saw their stunning vertical garden, which I later raved about in my Art Talk. And here again, sitting in the theater, I was struck by the similarities between their vertical garden in Spain and its operatic recreation bursting from the Met's stage.

at100323c.jpgAnother unforgettable evening at the Met was the new production of a Shostakovich opera, The Nose, written in 1928 when he was only 22 years old, and when the great tradition of the Russian avant-garde was still alive and well. In an unusual double-header, celebrated South African artist William Kentridge not only mesmerizes Met audiences with his set design for this opera, but he also deservingly draws daily crowds to his sprawling retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

at100323d.jpgThe mighty competition to Kentridge's retrospective at MoMA is another high-profile exhibition there, that of legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic. Born in Belgrade, she has been making - for the last forty years - a brutal spectacle of herself and her collaborators, orchestrating unforgiving performances which often last for hours or even days at a time, requiring extraordinary endurance from the artist and lots of patience from the audience.

at100323e.jpgTrust me. You will be more than awakened by this exhibition, with its heaping dollop of violence, nudity, and the grotesque.


Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery
On view at the Frick Collection through May 30

Otto Dix
On view at the Neue Galerie through August 30

The drawings of Bronzino
On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through April 18

At the Metropolitan Opera through March 27

William Kentridge's premiere production of Shostakovich's The Nose
At the Metropolitan Opera through March 25

William Kentridge: Five Themes
On view at MOMA through May 17, 2010

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
On view at MOMA through May 31, 2010

Banner image of composite of works by Agnolo Bronzino:
(L) Head of Dante in Profile Facing Right and Wearing a Cap, 1532; Black chalk, accidental traces of red chalk; sheet: 11 7/16 x 8 9/16 in; Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich
(C) Study of a Left Leg and Drapery, ca. 1550; Black chalk; 15 3/8 x 10 in; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of David M. Tobey, and Purchase, The Chairman's Council Gifts and the Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 2006 (2006.449)
(R) Head of a Smiling Young Woman in Three-Quarter View, ca. 1542–43; Charcoal and black chalk, with stumping, highlighted with white chalk; outlines partly incised for transfer; sheet: 11 5/16 x 8 1/2 in; Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, Paris