Friday, October 10, 2014

Danh Vo show at The Kitchen Gallery

I'm starting a new blog today about my adventures seeing art with Sofia and Lucia in the big city. Sofia is 4 and Lucia is 2 and thus the thrill of the challenge.

Today I decided to take them to Chelsea to see the Danh Vo show at Kitchen gallery in Chelsea, which I read about in The New Yorker. Danh Vo is a Vietnamese artist living in Mexico City who has brought 2 Thai gold hammerers to NYC to pound gold while the indie band Xiu Xiu plays accompaniment. Here's the write up in the New Yorker:
Danh Vo’s “Metal” is art with a heartbeat: the very loud, steady sound of nuggets of gold being pounded into gold leaf. Five days a week, at the Kitchen, Nantapol and Pruan Panicharam, a Thai father and son, work for three hours straight, accompanied by the experimental musicians Jamie Stewart, Ches Smith, and Shayna Dunkelman, of the band Xiu Xiu. To the beat of rosewood-and-brass hammers, Xiu Xiu play a makeshift gamelan of metal instruments, including cymbals, bells, triangles, vibraphones, and the occasional whistle. The band’s daily repertoire—thirty-six compositions of five minutes each—variously suggests John Cage, Philip Glass, and, when the musicians shoot candy at gongs with slingshots, a post-punk Willy Wonka. By incorporating intervals of non-musical action (sweeping up shattered candy, for instance), the band attunes itself to the task-based work of the father and son. At one point, Xiu Xiu “takes five” and does nothing; the hammerers continue to hammer. The band’s performance is riveting; the relentlessness of the craftsmen verges on the ecstatic. The Kitchen’s executive director, Tim Griffin, told me that he sees Vo “building on the legacy of minimalism, when something tedious becomes something gorgeous, when repetition opens into something else and time starts to operate differently.”

In bringing two men across the world to complete an avant-garde art project, Vo evokes his own story. He was born in South Vietnam in 1975, the year of the fall of Saigon. Four years later, his family escaped in a boat—handmade by his father, who also helped build the structure on which the gold is being pounded—and were rescued by a freighter that brought them to Copenhagen, where Vo grew up. He now lives in Mexico City and speaks English with a German accent, acquired during time spent in Frankfurt and Berlin. He is often pigeonholed as making art about identity politics, but which identity? When Vo won the Guggenheim’s Hugo Boss Prize, in 2012, in lieu of exhibiting his own work he showed a collection owned by the late American artist Martin Wong and Wong’s mother. Vo’s insistence on collaboration dissolves the idea of the singular artist. For all his conceptual strategies, at the Kitchen Vo strikes a visceral chord—this is art that you can feel, and not just because it rings in your ears.

I got the girls on the 7 train heading into Manhattan from Sunnyside Queens. On the way I asked the girls if they knew what gold was. Sofia said, "It's a much prettier version of yellow."

"Yes, and it is a metal, a precious metal," I say.

 "Which means it is very very special" says Sofia.

"Yes," I say, "in some ways."

I tell her that when gold heats up it gets soft and then it has to be hammered into shape. We were going to go watch two men hammer gold leaf. Hammering gold created a rhythm, like a drum rhythm. What we were going to do was see a musical art performance, a concert. Both girls liked this idea and promised to be still for the concert.

We got off the 7 to get on the 1 at 49th street. A 1 train came, but it was so full that by the time it emptied out, the door immediately shut which meant several of us did not get on even though the train was nearly empty. But, of course, this is the best part about getting stuck in the city...finding ways to enjoy the delays. In this case there was a man playing the accordion on the platform. I pushed the girls right in front of him. As soon as I did I regretted not having any change to give the man in exchange for his music.

He was fantastic and I'm so glad we had an extra few minutes to listen to him. I heard him switch through three melodies seamlessly, like a good turntable DJ. I became aware that he was picking up on the vibe of the station, hustling tips with his variations on his rhythms.

Suddenly the next 1 train was coming down the pike and the man frantically picked up the pace of his accordion playing. It was so great. He was providing a soundtrack, as if we were all part of a great film scene.

After we got on the train in Chelsea Sofia said she needed to pee. So I look for the nearest outlet, which was a Starbucks as it turned out. I bought a coffee for the kindness in return.

That is one of the fun challenging things about taking the girls to the city by myself. I have to find them restrooms when they need them. This is part of the game. It's almost like a video game. How well can you play? What level can you reach. 

   A wall in Chelsea full of MJ love

After the restrooms we stopped in a local florist and bought a little red pepper plant for Gen's office. They had some amazing vegetable plants that were both decorative and beautiful. It was a tough choice between the big bush of kale and the peppers, but the peppers were so bright and festive that they won the decision.

Then off to the beautiful and busy High Line for lunch. 

   Sofia eating lunch w/pepper plant deco

After lunch, we went to meet Genevieve (who walked over from her office in Hell's Kitchen) for the Vo show. It was almost as if it were private show as there were so few of us there. Only eight other people were there. I had an amazing time. Xiu Xiu's playfulness, i.e. slingshotting candy at gongs, batting around little cymbals with large ones, etc, was like the perfect intersection between play and music. The pounding of the gold provided the steady mesmerising back beat, not to mention the metaphorical weight. 

    And on the walls of gallery was this 
    kind of thing

Genevieve didn't like that the girls were being taught to throw things around and slingshot candy at gongs. Thus the parenting balance. I thought it was one of the greatest learning experiences I could imagine for the girls. And full exuberance for me. It reminded me of one of my favorite of Mimeko Grimmer's performances where:

The exhibition, titled The Dialogue, is comprised of two recent kinetic sculptures that reference notions of passing time and Zen Buddhist philosophy. Each piece is constructed of sturdy redwood set in a platformed grid that sits inside a shallow pool of water. Suspended above the 5’ tall structures is an inverted pyramid consisting coral pebbles suspended in ice. As the ice melts the pebbles fall and create random sounds as they percuss the resonant natural materials of each piece. Bamboo, wood, and guitar strings produce Grimmer’s random organic and earthy music. These dynamic ‘performance’ installations directly reflect Grimmer’s lifelong interest in the natural world, aleatory music, and pay homage to artist/ composer John Cage. 

We said goodbye to Genevieve and went back to the High Line after the show. We played and enjoyed the park, feeling the texture of cat-tails, exploring nooks, hanging out in the "theater" hovering over 10th avenue and just generally enjoying the day. At one point we were sitting at some metal tables and the girls gathered rocks and threw them down on the tables, which made a loud ringing sound. I was happy to see that they were mimicking the antics of Xiu Xiu at the Vo show!

   Over 10th ave eating "banana unswirls"

   Posing in front of the Alex Katz mural

At one point I found myself explaining to the girls the "golden rule", because they both have a mean penchant of kicking each other in the double stroller. I said, "Gold is the theme of the day, and I want to hammer this golden rule into you: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That's it, that's the golden rule. Do you like it when your sister kicks you?" Both girls say no. "Then don't kick your sister. It's that simple, that's the golden rule." 

Then off to the nearest playground for some more fun, because that's the way I want to be treated. 

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