Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Regarding discussion of culture and the history of the avant-garde, and anti-historical snobbery: this made me smile. Alastair Macaulay's language is a bit over the top but that's a minor quibble.
The Fine Arts section of the Times has been shrinking over the past decade and the Entertainment section has doubled. A little empiricism goes a long way, and Cunningham was a great fan of Astaire.
VAIL, Colo. — On Sunday evening, after a perfect August day in the Rockies, hummingbirds hovered above the stream that runs beside the path to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater here. The performance was, after Saturday’s, the second of two International Evenings of Dance organized and introduced by Damian Woetzel, the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival. The dancers (some of them European and Asian) had come from all over North and South America.

These evenings (most, not all, of the music was taped) covered a wide span of dance: Brazilian capoeira; Argentine tango; American modern dance from a span of eight decades; and ballet from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Almost anybody would have learned something about dance’s range from watching. Each proved it was not just international caliber — worthy of performance in any of the leading dance capitals — but it also has international significance, with new partnerships and debuts that would please the hearts of fans thousands of miles away. If you watched both evenings, you often saw the same dancers tackling completely different repertory: tonight the Black Swan, tomorrow “Who Cares?”

My particular interest was to see Gabriel Missé, the Argentine tango dancer who so electrified me when he appeared in a single performance in November at Symphony Space in New York. He alone was worth the trip to Vail; his dancing makes me want to apply for the job of dance critic at The Buenos Aires Gazette. A reader advised me last year that Buenos Aires possesses other dancers as remarkable as Mr. Missé; if so, I’m hungry to see them all.

As was the case last year, Mr. Missé partnered the chinny but smoldering and intensely glamorous Natalia Hills; it’s good to see that she is now wearing eyelashes far less colossal, and on Sunday her one-shoulder glittering purple dress, slit to the hip, was a sensation in itself. She and he combine gorgeously. No acrobatic lifts (no lifts at all, if I remember rightly), no high kicks; just two bodies scarcely sundered while dancing in unbroken streams of changing ideas to the music. To watch Ms. Hills twisting rapidly in Mr. Missé’s arms or slowly extending a leg to slide it down the outside of his leg is to feel, again and again, the sensuous and sensual delight of the tango at its truest. ...
Reading or at least reading through Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses. It amazes me that a cultural historian can write from her own tastes without any awareness that that's what they are. Would anyone who wrote a paper describing political machinations and the role of ideology in the world of classical music be taken seriously if s/he claimed that preference for Bach over Vivaldi had no basis in the work itself? Would mockery of that article imply a belief that politics and ideology are nonexistent?

Greenberg had a good eye, and empirically, for a brief period of time, a good sense of what was most compelling in the fine arts. As to the underlying reasons he was wrong from the start. He sensed what and thought he knew why. Caroline Jones has a sense and an argument about the why, in the sense that ideology plays a role, but she follows her preferences regarding art itself as if they didn't matter. She argues that the move towards abstraction in painting was not inevitable, which is absurd. How could figurative hand crafting compete with popular and mechanical media, not only in popularity but in moral authority and force? Is Chaplin no rival to Matisse? She views things in terms of personal ideology rather than impersonal forces but that means as well that she can't imagine Mondrian's appreciation of Pollock as anything but politics. Does that apply to Mondrian's love of Disney's animation as well?

To understand Greenberg you have to understood what he got right as well as what he got wrong. He may have attacked O'Keeffe for her fixation on "hygiene and scatology" but he barely dealt with Duchamp. Why not attack him in the same way? Jones defends O'Keeffe as ideology not as art and in doing so is unable to describe either. O'Keeffe's work is poeticized and flabby. She's not taken very seriously beyond her cult, and she doesn't deserve to be. But to make things more complex, and more interesting, the 'source'  of Duchamp's Fountain may have been a woman. [later refuted]

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