“New York School Painters & Poets” reviewed in the Guardian

Fairfield Porter paints John Ashbery's portrait.

Fairfield Porter paints John Ashbery’s portrait

In the Guardian today, Olivia Laing reviews New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in Daylight, the amazing new book by Jenni Quilter (which I’ve posted about before).  Laing provides a helpful introduction to the New York School, stressing its collaborative milieu and the dialogue between painting and poetry at its heart.  She writes: “it’s canny of Jenni Quilter to make collaboration the focus of her magnificently lavish, colourful and beautifully designed compendium, which captures the essential spirit of the New York School: its valuing of what people make together as well as what they produce alone.”

Laing talks at some length about Frank O’Hara, who “is undoubtedly the linchpin here, his distinctive grin, hooked nose and widow’s peak surfacing repeatedly from photographs, sculptures and paintings.”

And Laing has some interesting reflections on a number of the artworks the book contains, such as Fairfield Porter’s double portrait of John Ashbery and James Schuyler:

Fairfield Porter, Jimmy and John (1957-58)

 “Even the weightier works maintain an atmosphere of zero gravity. One of the masterpieces is Porter’s extraordinary 1957-58 portrait of the poets Ashbery and Schuyler, perched on a floral sofa against an indeterminate creamy background. Porter, that strange, abrupt, observant man, had a knack for keeping the objects in his paintings separate. Schuyler and Ashbery maintain a courteous, unsettled distance from one another. Though they’re both unequivocally present in the light-filled room, they aren’t in anything like the sweaty contact of normality. Schuyler appears to be floating an inch or two above the cushions, his legs sticking into the air like those of a blow-up doll, a world away from the man whose tense and unhappy form is superimposed over his left foot.

This radical disjunction between things, this art of objects and the spaces between them, is key to the New York School aesthetic. It’s there in [Jasper] John’s assemblages and [Larry] Rivers’s insistently inchoate paintings, with their marshy palettes. Disjunction is at the heart of O’Hara and Ashbery’s surreal wordplay, their shearing away of the humble zips and buttons of language. It’s central, likewise, to [Alex] Katz’s hyper-real, dissociated portraits, his flat slabs of pastel colour brushed with light, and to [Joe] Brainard’s joyful collages and cutups.”

You can read the rest of Laing’s review here.  And if you haven’t had a chance to check out Quilter’s New York School Painters & Poets yet, I cannot recommend this treasure trove of a book highly enough.

Posted in Alex Katz, Book Review, Fairfield Porter, Frank O'Hara, Jasper Johns, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, Larry Rivers, Visual Art

Jane Freilicher (1924-2014) and the Poets of the New York School

This week brought the very sad news that the artist Jane Freilicher has passed away at the age of 90.  Freilicher was, of course, a major, founding figure at the heart of the New York School, who was central to the movement and community from its very beginnings in the early 1950s right down to the present.

Some fine obituaries and appreciations have already appeared — in the New York Times and in ARTNews, among others – and I’m sure more are to come.

Jane Freilicher, In Broad Daylight (1979)

Freilicher’s importance to the poets and aesthetics of the New York School is too great and extensive to encapsulate in a blog post.  But I do want to note how often the word “muse” comes up in discussions of Freilicher and New York School poetry.  As David Lehman puts it in The Last Avant-Garde, “Freilicher was the poets’ muse of adoration … In a home movie that the librettist John Latouche made in 1952, Freilicher was given the power to walk on water — which pretty much sums up the regard in which the poets held her.”  In a piece last year in the New York Times about the exhibit “Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets,” Gina Bellafante discussed Freilicher’s “exalted status among the poets of the New York School … to whom she was muse, confidante, beloved brain.”

In a very useful recent essay on Freilicher, Jenni Quilter discusses the painter’s

remarkable presence in the circles of friendship and acquaintance that have been given the entirely too-formal name of the New York School. In the distinct coterie that formed around the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in the early 
fifties — which drew in artists like Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Alfred Leslie, Robert Goodnough, Nell Blaine, and Fairfield Porter, along with the poets Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, and Barbara Guest, in addition to Ashbery and Koch — Freilicher occupied a singular position, inspiring an unparalleled devotion among her friends, particularly the poets….Her letters were frequently passed around; as Ashbery noted, they were considered “required reading in my set.”

As Quilter points out, falling for Jane and her dry wit was something of a litmus test in their circle: “An appreciation of her tone even became a marker of taste: James Schuyler, Koch later recalled, ‘passed one test for being a poet of the New York School by almost instantly going crazy for Jane Freilicher and all her works.”

Jane Freilicher, Early New York Evening (1954)

Freilicher’s reputation as muse took shape in the early 1950s, when Frank O’Hara began writing a series of poems to and about her.  These works have helped “Jane” take on an almost legendary glow for O’Hara aficianados.  He wrote over a dozen such “Jane” poems — including “Jane Awake,” “Chez Jane,” “Interior (With Jane),” “A Sonnet for Jane Freilicher,” and “Jane Bathing.”  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m particularly fond of “A Terrestrial Cuckoo,” which depicts Frank and Jane on an exciting, campy journey into the tropical wonderland of avant-garde art and friendship. (“What a hot day it is! For / Jane and me above the scorch / of sun on jungle waters”).

Another favorite — though one that is not often thought of as a “Jane” poem — is the piece O’Hara recited at a party given to celebrate Freilicher’s marriage to Joe Hazan in 1957, “Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s.” In the poem, we see O’Hara working through a complicated set of mixed emotions about the impending nuptials of one of his closest friends.  (If anyone’s interested, an extended discussion of this poem can be found in my book, Beautiful Enemies, here). Here’s a passage from it:

This poem goes on too long because our friendship has been long, long
for this life and these times, long as art is long and un-
interruptable,

and I would make it as long as I hope our friendship lasts if I could
make poems that long

I hope there will be more
more drives to Bear Mountain and searches for hamburgers, more evenings
avoiding the latest Japanese movie …
more sunburns and more half-mile swims in which Joe beats me as Jane watches,
lotion-covered and sleepy, more arguments over
Faulkner’s inferiority to Tolstoy while sand gets into my
bathing trunks
let’s advance and change everything, but leave these little oases in
case the heart gets thirsty en route
and I should probably propose myself as a godfather if you have any
children, since I will probably earn more money some day
accidentally, and could teach him or her how to swim *

O’Hara wasn’t alone in writing extensively about or to Jane.  Ashbery has written repeatedly and beautifully over the years about Freilicher and her paintings, including in a 2005 piece, “Leave It to Jane,” which recently appeared in Poetry (“Her pictures always have an air of just coming into being, of tentativeness that is the lifeblood of art”).

The Painter’s Table (1954)

James Schuyler, too, was immediately taken with Jane as a person, a painter, and as a subject for his own work.  As Quilter notes, “Schuyler wrote a short play about her, Presenting  Jane, which John LaTouche filmed in the summer of 1952, when they all rented a cottage in East Hampton on Long Island.   The footage is now lost, but it apparently featured Freilicher walking on (or in) very shallow water.”  (Apparently, a copy of this film — which also features O’Hara and Ashbery alongside Freilicher — has recently been re-discovered and will be screened tomorrow night at a memorial tribute to Freilicher at the Poetry Project at St. Marks).

Freilicher also inspired Schuyler to write this lovely poem:

Looking Forward to See Jane Real Soon

May drew in its breath and smelled June’s roses
when Jane put roses on the sill.  The sky,
in blue for elms, planted its lightest kiss,
the kind called a butterfly, on bricks fresh
from their kiln as the roses from their bush.
Summer went by in green, then two new leaves
stood on the avocado stem.  The sky
darkened the color of Jane’s eyes and snow
wrote her name in white.  Such wet snow, that stuck
to the underside of curled iron and stone.
Jane, among fresh lilacs in her room, watched
December, in brown with furs, turn on lights
until the city trembled like a tree
in which wind moves.  And it was all for her.

Just as her poet friends often wrote about her, Freilicher, in turn, frequently painted them:

Portrait of John Ashbery, c.1968

Portrait of Jimmy Schuyler, 1965

Portrait of Kenneth Koch, c.1966

Portrait of Kenneth Koch, c.1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned above, tomorrow night (December 12, at 8), the Poetry Project at St. Marks in New York will be hosting an event titled “Presenting Jane: A Celebration.”  Originally scheduled to celebrate Freilicher’s 90th birthday, the event will go on as planned but now “as a celebration of her life and her extraordinary career as a painter and a ‘painter among poets.’

The event will feature quite a list of Freilicher’s friends and admirers:

Readings and tributes by John Ashbery, Adam Fitzgerald, Maxine Groffsky, Tom Healy, Alex Katz, Vincent Katz, Amy Klein, Jenni Quilter, Karin Roffman, Charles Simic, Emily Skillings, Richard Thomas and Anne Waldman will be followed by the screening of a short recently rediscovered film “Presenting Jane” (co-directed by Harrison Starr, screenplay by James Schuyler, starring Jane Freilicher, Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery) along with Rudy Burckhardt’s “Mounting Tension.”

It’s hard to lose yet another founding member of this amazing and influential collective of poets and artists.  As O’Hara asks in “Terrestrial Cuckoo”: “Oh, Jane, is there no more frontier?”

 

* As usual, I cannot get WordPress to allow me to render the poem’s spacing correctly, so this is not an accurate version of the poem’s layout.

Posted in Alex Katz, Anne Waldman, Barbara Guest, Charles Simic, Event, Fairfield Porter, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, Joan Mitchell, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Rudy Burkhardt, Visual Art

A. O. Scott on Kissing, the Movies, and Frank O’Hara

In his article “A Brief History of Kissing in Movies” in this upcoming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, the film critic A. O. Scott argues that “movies have always been about sex and have always provided, under cover of harmless amusement, the tools of sexual initiation. This is an open secret. The industry, the audience and the critics conspire to pretend that something other than erotic fulfillment is the reason for the art form’s existence.”

In order to demonstrate this point, he turns to Frank O’Hara’s great movie poem, “Ave Maria,” which portrays the movies as a site of sexual initiation and liberation:

In his poem “Ave Maria,” Frank O’Hara exhorts the “Mothers of America” to “let your kids go to the movies!” The first reason is to give Mom a chance to pursue her own adult interests: “get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to.” But they will also have the chance to get up to some mischief themselves (“they may even be grateful to you/for their first sexual experience”), to cultivate “the darker joys” that blossom in the dark of the movie theater and that include the possibility of “leaving the movie before it’s over/with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg/near the Williamsburg Bridge.” On the other hand, if the mothers don’t listen to the poem’s advice, “the family breaks up/and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set/seeing/movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young.”

“Ave Maria” is a perfect refutation of the puritanical idea of the guilty pleasure. The guilt in O’Hara’s poem comes from the denial and delay of pleasure. The kids will see the movies anyway, and also find what pleasures they can — how do you suppose they went blind? — but the thrill will be gone, and the happy domestic arrangement that made it all possible will have collapsed. Without free access to perversity — to “candy bars” and “gratuitous bags of popcorn” — the children will never be normal.

It’s not the first time Scott has referred to O’Hara, or to this poem — for example, in a 2007 New York Times piece about movie-going and children he wrote:

“Mothers of America, let your kids go to the movies!” Always good advice, but the exhortation has dated a bit since 1960, when Frank O’Hara made it the first line of his poem “Ave Maria.” “Going to the movies” has a quaint ring in the age of the plasma-screen home entertainment system, the iPod and video-on-demand.

… And the phenomenon of family viewing — the mothers and fathers of America taking their children to the movies — has become a central cultural activity consistent with the highly participatory style of parenthood currently in vogue.

I would not wish it otherwise, but I also worry that the dominance of the family film has had a limiting, constraining effect on the imaginations of children. The point of Mr. O’Hara’s poem is that the movies represent a zone of mystery and cultural initiation: “it’s true that fresh air is good for the body,” he writes, “but what about the soul/that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images”?

Never mind that he also reminds his mothers that their offspring “may even be grateful to you for their first sexual experience, which only cost you a quarter and didn’t upset the peaceful home.” How are they going to grow, if the images they see are carefully vetted for safety and appropriateness by the film industry?

In other words: Parents of America, take your children to the movies you want to see!

Clearly “Ave Maria” serves as a kind of touchstone for Scott’s thinking about movies, and with good reason: O’Hara’s poem is both hilarious and complex in its meditation on the cultural meanings of movie-going and the experience of film.  I’ve written myself about O’Hara and the movies, and “Ave Maria,” on several occasions before — for example, here and here.

Posted in Film, Frank O'Hara

Wynn Chamberlain (1927-2014), Painter of “Poets Dressed and Undressed”

The painter Wynn Chamberlain recently passed away at the age of 87, the New York Times reported on Sunday.  Friendly with Frank O’Hara and other poets of the New York School, a fixture in the Andy Warhol orbit, Chamberlain achieved notoriety in the mid-1960s for his series of hyper-realist paintings of nude poets.

One of the most famous and amusing of these paintings was “Poets Dressed and Undressed” (1964) — a double portrait of Frank O’Hara, Joe LeSueur, Joe Brainard, and Frank Lima — which caused quite a scandal at the time.

 

“Poets Dressed and Undressed” (1964). Joe Brainard, Frank O’Hara, Joe LeSueur and Frank Lima (standing).

 

Here’s how Brad Gooch describes it in his O’Hara biography, City Poet:

“Working from photographs taken at his studio, Chamberlain had painted nude photo-realist cavnases of personalities from the world of art and poetry, including Ruth Kligman [Jackson Pollock’s lover], John Giorno, Bill Berkson, Tony Towle, and Allen Ginsberg.  O’Hara appeared in the middle of two group shots — one clothed, one nude — with Brainard, LeSueur, and Lima.  The show’s flyer, featuring nudes of Kligman, Giorno, and Chamberlain striding forward, was banned by the postal authorities … Allen Ginsberg wrote an introduction, meditating on his feelings on seeing his own naked body.  With the press getting wind of the scandal, the gallery was forced to post a security guard at the door to keep out minors.”

In the book In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art, Russell Ferguson writes:

“Wynn Chamberlain’s audacious double portrait of 1964 first shows O’Hara, LeSueur, the artist Joe Brainard, and the poet Frank Lima dressed in bourgeois office attire.  They stare somberly at the viewer.  In the second version they are completely naked, and all four sport cheery grins.  Chamberlain overtly invokes the playful quality that some gay men of the period could bring to the masking and unmasking that was an unavoidable part of their lives.”

In the show’s catalog Ginsberg wrote:

“Why am I interested in seeing myself naked? Because for years I thought I was ugly. I still do, but I no longer look at myself through my own eyes, I look out – my eyes look outward at my Desire, and I reach out to touch the bodies I love without fear that I’ll be rejected because I’m ugly. Because I don’t feel ugly now, I feel me – more than that, I feel desirous, longing, lost; mad with impatience like fantastic old bearded Whitman to clasp my body to the bodies I adore. So I’m interested in nakedness, I love my old loves’ nakedness. I love anyone’s nakedness that expresses their acceptance of being born in this body, in this flesh, on this planet that will die … So Chamberlain has painted every body naked – modern Joves, Ganymedes, Aphrodities, etc., if you want a tradition – modern friends as they really are to themselves with their naked babies lifted in triumph on bacchic friends’ shoulders stepping forth from the picture toward society; happy, victorious, still alive, photographic, fleshy, truthful to their own birth without clothes.”

The Times obituary for Chamberlain opens with a description of an event that suggests the exciting confluence of different media and art and literary movements in the mid-1960s — a huge gathering that Chamberlain hosted in 1965, at which William S. Burroughs read from his work.  On April 22, Chamberlain’s studio loft

“became the center of hip, artsy New York when Mr. Chamberlain, who was best known at the time for painting poets in the nude, hosted a literary gathering that featured a reading by William S. Burroughs, the author of Naked Lunch.

The crowd of 130 people — including the pop artist Andy Warhol, the painters Larry Rivers and Barnett Newman, the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, the poet and art curator Frank O’Hara, and the photographers Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon — was appreciative as Mr. Burroughs read, with his characteristic eccentric delivery, a futuristic short story. As The New York Times described it, he ‘livened up his one-syllable-at-a-time reading with sudden bursts of dramatic activity, eventually ripping down a white-sheet backdrop and uncovering a painting of horrifying tarantulas.’

Mr. Chamberlain, who was a pal of the poet Allen Ginsberg and the avant-garde composer John Cage as well as a member of the Warhol cohort, was clearly at home in a gathering of eclectic artists, perhaps because his own career in the arts was pretty eclectic.”

Chamberlain was close enough with O’Hara that he visited the poet as O’Hara lay dying in the hospital after being struck by a dune buggy on Fire Island in 1966.  Gooch relates that just as Willem de Kooning (who absolutely adored O’Hara) emerged from visiting the gravely injured poet in his hospital room “he was faced with Wynn and Sally Chamberlain holding flowers.  ‘Bill de Kooning came out crying,’ recalls Wynn Chamberlain.  ‘I’ve never seen him like that, just weeping.  When we went in we realized Frank wasn’t going to live. He looked like a Francis Bacon.'”

Chamberlain had wide-ranging interests — as the Times notes, “in addition to painting, he produced an early play by the satirist playwright Charles Ludlam; he made a movie, ‘Brand X,’ that some consider an underground classic; and he wrote novels set in locations like Morocco and India, where he spent a great deal of his later life.”

Chamberlain’s experimental film “Brand X,” vanished from sight for many years and was only recently rediscovered; in 2011, it was screened at the New Museum in New York for the first time in 40 years.  The New York Times had an interesting piece at the time on the origins and fate of the movie:

“We thought we were making an art film,” Mr. Chamberlain, now 83 and based in Morocco, said in an interview recently. But eventually “we realized that it was a populist film.” A satirical take on television, with fake programs and commercials, “Brand X” anticipated TV and movie comedies of the next decade like “Saturday Night Live,” “SCTV” and “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” though in a more absurdist vein and with a more political view.

The film, which featured Abbie Hoffman, Sam Shepard, Sally Kirkland and the Warhol superstars Ultra Violet, Candy Darling and Taylor Mead, was released in 1970 in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. Vincent Canby endorsed it in The New York Times as “a tacky, vulgar, dirty, sometimes dull, often hilarious movie” with the tone of “a liberated college humor magazine.”

… [Chamberlain] wrote a script, cast Mr. Mead as his lead and cobbled together $10,000 from supporters. Much of the rest of the cast came together “sort of by osmosis,” Mr. Mead, now 86, said in a telephone interview. “There were just 100 of us downtown hanging out at Max’s Kansas City,” he said, “and we melded.”

Sadly, Taylor Mead passed away in 2013, just a year before Chamberlain himself.  Today, the kind of inter-artistic “melding” that went on at places like Max’s Kansas City seems a long way off.  You can find out more about “Brand X” here.

 

 

Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Beats, Bill Berkson, Frank Lima, Joe Brainard, Joe LeSueur, Taylor Mead, Tony Towle, Visual Art, Willem de Kooning, William S. Burroughs, Wynn Chamberlain

“A Thrashing, Generous Intelligence”: Eileen Myles’s Inferno chosen for Slate/Whiting Second Novel List

Eileen Myles

The poet Eileen Myles is, of course, also an accomplished writer of fiction, and her recent novel Inferno has just been named one of the five books on the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List.  In a glowing review of the book on Slate, Sasha Weiss hails Myles’s coming-of-age novel for capturing something essential about the experience of being a young and hungry writer in a New York that no longer exists:

Many New Yorkers suffer from a suspicion that they arrived here too late. Once, not so long ago, artists clustered in the Village, living in tiny, cheap apartments that squeezed them out onto the pavement, into theaters and music clubs. There was a fluidity between making work and hanging out; the art of New York painters and poets and novelists—the conversational wit, the spontaneity, the melding of high and low, pristine and dirty, from the ’50s up until the early ’80s, reflects this flow. Though you might yearn to, you can never hang out in that ragged, glittery New York—but you can hang out in Eileen Myles’s funny, wild, open-hearted version of it, in her second novel, Inferno. It will teach you that yearning has always been the primary emotion of New York’s artists.

Inferno—the second of the five books we judges are naming to the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List—is about a young woman, Eileen Myles, who is newly arrived in New York. She’s plunged into the downtown scene of the ’70s, ferociously determined to write, desiring other women, stomping around town. The book feels like it was put down in gusts of inspiration, between drinking and sex and poetry readings. It can be read that way, too: between meals, on the toilet, or standing under an awning waiting for a break in the rain. Or you can sit with it for a while, in the wintry light of an apartment cased in steam heat, looking out the back window. But the streets are its true territory; its weather is the storm of language.

Weiss acknowledges that the story of a young bohemian artist navigating the gritty city streets in search of experience is a familiar one, but she stresses what is so distinctive and new about Myles’s contribution to this lineage:

Her vantage point is also fresh. I’ve read plenty of kunstlerromans about brave and suffering young men; I hadn’t, until now, read one by a lesbian poet from a working-class family in Boston, with a thrashing, generous intelligence. She explicitly models her book on Dante’s (it’s broken into three, with its own hell, purgatory, and heaven, aligning roughly with different phases in Myles’s sexual and poetic career). In doing so Myles asserts her ambition to imprint her particular set of experiences on the canon.

And here’s a fun trailer for the book:

Posted in Book Review, Eileen Myles, Fiction, New York

A Holiday Postcard by Alice Notley

The New York Times just posted a little piece by Alexandria Symonds about a new exhibit at Poets House in New York, curated by Kevin Young and Lisa Chinn.

Those in need of a little inspiration for their holiday correspondence this year would do well to head to Poets House, the nearly 30-year-old poetry hub in Battery Park City, where the poet Kevin Young and the doctoral candidate Lisa Chinn have curated a new exhibition, “Winter Wedding: Holiday Cards by Poets.” The show, which draws mainly from the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University, features holiday cards, valentines, rare editions and more from poets including Langston Hughes, Robert Creeley, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath (and Miss Flannery O’Connor’s calling card, to boot, printed in an appropriately Gothic font).

It sounds like a neat show.  The Times piece offers up a few tantalizing images of works from the show, including the above collage by Alice Notley:

“we’re especially fond of Alice Notley’s peculiar collage postcard, which combines a bashful flamingo, a cactus postage stamp and a reminder: ‘It is never too late to start a new way of thinking.'”

The exhibit will be on view at Poets House, 10 River Terrace, through March 21, 2015.

Posted in Alice Notley, Art Exhibit, Visual Art

The Center of All Beauty! Ragnar Kjartansson Reads Frank O’Hara

Ragnar Kjartansson

Last week, the New Museum in New York held a “Next Generation” dinner in honor of two younger artists, Camille Henrot and Ragnar Kjartansson.  In a write-up of the posh event in Vogue, Alessandra Codinha notes that the Icelandic artist Kjartansson, known for his experimentation with video works that require extreme endurance, recited Frank O’Hara’s charming early poem “Autobiographia Literaria” to the assembled crowd of bold-faced names drawn from the world of art and high fashion, apparently moving some of them to tears:

“Kjartansson, whose work is known for both its repetition and its marathon-length endurance trials—a recent work had the band The National playing the same composition for six hours straight—kept his speech mercifully brief, addressing the fete from a small podium and quoting Frank O’Hara’s poem (and celebration of the self-selected loneliness of the artistic life) ‘Autobiographia Literaria’ at length, ending midway through the final stanza at ‘And here I am, the / center of all beauty!’ as some partygoers openly wiped tears from their eyes.

The collaboration which the piece mentions was a video installation Kjartansson created with the indie rock band The National entitled “A Lot of Sorrow.”  It features a clip of the band playing their three-minute song “Sorrow” before an audience in May 2013, which is then repeated over and over, hour after hour.

In a rave review that appeared in September in The New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote

Ragnar Kjartansson and the indie rock band the National have made a wonderful thing in “A Lot of Sorrow,” their six-hour video at Luhring Augustine Bushwick. It is Minimalist in structure: the same song over and over again, yet unimaginably expansive…. [You] may find yourself staying much longer than expected, immersed in the melody and its emotions, the different personalities of the musicians and their mood changes, as well as the theme-and-variation structure of the music and performance — always the same and yet always different… The delicate cooperation of the National’s members with one another to fill the space with sounds that gratify both themselves and the audience is perhaps both the subject and content of the piece. Another subject, of course, is time, the way music changes and measures it, as well as the trancelike state the repetitions can induce.

O’Hara was an ardent fan of the music of Erik Satie, Morton Feldman, and John Cage and their avant-garde explorations of repetition and endurance, so it is not hard to imagine that he would have found this piece as enchanting as Roberta Smith.  So it’s neat to learn that Kjartansson chose to read one of O’Hara’s poems at this celebration honoring his own work.

Posted in Frank O'Hara, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Music, Visual Art