Saturday, January 21, 2023

NYC NYE 2023 (part three)

"Room In New York"
Edward Hopper (1932)
The plan was to hit the TKTS booth and just see what they had to offer. But not all they had to offer, my wife has not been to the Whitney since they relocated, so we wanted an evening show, not a matinee, and on a Sunday those are few.

Times Square is absurd on the best of days, New Year’s Day most of all. I expected that, like the first of the year everywhere else, the streets would be empty and quiet. In fact, elsewhere in Manhattan, it was. But not Times Square, of course. It was crowded and messy. She got in line and I got coffee for us at the adjacent Starbucks. We both had a long wait.

None of the shows we had considered were having evening performances, but The Collaboration was. Written by Anthony McCarten, this new play about the brief and some might say contrived mid-80s artistic partnership between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol had only recently opened to mixed reviews. But hey – Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope, live on stage? Why not?

Tickets purchased, we headed downtown, and to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Toni had friends who worked for the museum when it was on the Upper East Side, but she hadn’t visited the new site, down by the High Line. I had, with our eldest, when they were visiting New York schools.

Blue skies over the Whitney
First thing we did was head to the Studio Bar on the eighth floor. My wife loves museum cafes, and we have spent much happy time in them from London to Cleveland. It was a clear afternoon and we ventured onto the terrace to witness the downtown skyline. We appraised the design of the new World Trade Center and decided it was good.

The main exhibit was Edward Hopper’s New York. I didn’t know much about Hopper. I know Nighthawks, we all know Nighthawks. It’s as iconic (and parodied) as American Gothic or La Grande Jatte. The gist of Hopper’s work, as I understood it prior to this experience, was that of alienation, that his work was existentialist. Experiencing so much of not only his paintings, but also his sketches and his commercial work, I don’t believe that’s correct.

My favorite piece from the exhibit was Room In New York (see above). A couple are in the sitting room of an apartment building. He is reading a paper, she sits apart at a piano. But she’s not playing the piano, she’s sitting sideways, idling plinking keys. The fact that these two are not in commune with each other might suggest detachment.

"A Theater Entrance"
(or "Man Explains Play
to a Female")
Edward Hopper (1906)
But! The image is defined – literally defined – by the window frame at the left and bottom of the image. This is not their moment, but ours, because we are viewing them through a window. We are capturing a moment which is not ours, one second in the city, a passing glimpse into someone else’s apartment. Hopper makes us complicit voyeurs, and he did this again and again with each painting we experienced.

And I thought, wow. He really loves cities! I really love cities! And now I really love Edward Hopper.

We spent so much time taking in his work, it’s really the only exhibit we saw there, and that was fine with us. Light was fading, and we walked up to the High Line to experience it at night, which was a little awkward. Nice, but very crowded. I suggested we take the last stairs down before we made it to Hudson Yards, but she wanted to see where it ended. She later agreed that was a big mistake.

We tried to get to the street by cutting through “The Shops” at Hudson Yards, which is a late-stage Capitalism hellscape. I won’t get into it. Don’t go there.

Jeremy Pope & Paul Bettany
"The Collaboration"
(Manhattan Theatre Club, 2022)
And so, onto the Manhattan Theatre Club and The Collaboration. I do like plays about artists, and the artistic impulse. But I am tired of “biopic” plays, plays that read like a Wikipedia page. Did you know Andy Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas? Some do, some don’t. The challenge for a playwright is how to share this information with people who do not (it’s relevant) without putting expositional dialogue into the mouth of the man who was not only the victim of this violence but also deeply, deeply traumatized by it, and yet make it seem effortless.

I have enjoyed John Logan’s play Red, about the painter Mark Rothko, in spite of its somewhat clunky structure. Rothko is at a difficult juncture in his career and has as his sounding board a fictional assistant. In The Collaboration two artists, one a hot property, the other coasting on decades of iconic success, at least they are both based on real people and over the course of the evening, joust with their ideas of what art means, what it’s for, why it matters, if it even matters.

Warhol elevated corporate iconography, Basquiat marked it and claimed it. They were both keenly aware of public perception of the art itself, even as they had differing ideas of whether or not they cared what people had to say about their work. Or maybe they were more alike than they knew.

Washington Heights
apartment lobby tree
Anyway, we had second row seats. Thank you, TKTS booth. It was delightful to watch the performances, Bettany’s Warhol had this tightly-wound disaffection, Pope’s Basquiat a manufactured confidence which masked an immense underlying anxiety.

Pro Tip: Both Broadway houses we happened to attend that weekend offered the European tradition of ordering “interval” drinks before the show, and we were literally the only people who did this. Folks stood irritated in long lines at the bar during intermission while all we had to do was sweep in and pick up our two lonely sippy cups waiting for us on the drink rail and enjoy the break.

After the show we sought a neighborhood trattoria. The basic joy of sitting with my love, next to a window looking out over Ninth Avenue, consuming house red and a simple chicken parm.

The next morning we met an old friend over some seriously mediocre brunch, and left for home. See you next year!

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