On the Met’s new Charles James retrospective: “The Met seems to be telling us—showing us—that we should view [dress and fashion] as high art. This is not a new argument, of course, but in spite of past scholarly and curatorial efforts, it has never decisively taken hold … James would seem the perfect antidote, and in many ways he is: a great designer who was never a celebrity (few outside the field of fashion have ever heard of him), an inveterate craftsman who was also a genuinely imaginative artist—a sculptor of satin and silk willing to sacrifice everything including profits for the perfect seam…”
I liked this review of the Met’s Charles James retrospective, and I agree with the reviewer that the “so-called civilizing arts” (what a dumb label) — dress, dance, food, conversation — are somewhat fragile; they “are ephemeral and depend more directly on the present moment.” What I’m not sure I agree with is that the more traditional arts, like painting, theater, film, architecture, and music, are NOT fragile and don’t depend on the present moment. I think I am especially interested in arts like fashion because those disciplines are culturally less susceptible to the myth that any piece of art can do without “undergirding and cultural surround-sound, a context in history.” The pieces’ felt qualities as ephemeral pieces of aesthetica are more readily apparent, because there are less myths about their capacity to exist as platonic masterworks transcending space, time, and daily life. They are almost more incarnate in that way.
Studio 53, Broadway, August Wilson, Neil Simon, Gershwin, Circle in the Square, Winter Garden, Ambassador, Eugene O’Neill, Walter Kerr, Longacre, Cort, Samuel J. Friedman, Barrymore, Brooks Atkinson, Palace, Lunt-Fontanne, Richard Rodgers, Marquis, Imperial, Music Box, Lyceum, Al Hirschfeld, John Golden, Bernard B. Jacobs, Schoenfeld, Booth, Minskoff, Majestic, Broadhurst, Shubert, Belasco, St. James, Helen Hayes, American Airlines, Lyric, New Amsterdam, Nederlander, Stephen Sondheim
Berber and Droste recognize that the unexpurgated expression of modern desire, by necessity, must include the dynamic of commodification. The point is not to arrive at some naked purity that has washed away the taint of the commodity; but rather, to assert the fundamental impurity of the human body. Repeatedly in the volume, they insist on both the horror and the ecstasy at once, a complex, multifarious trajectory utterly at odds with the blunt singularity of Nazi—or more generally speaking, patriotic—purpose. Desire in Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy is crucially contaminated, compromised, intense, human.
"It is hardly an original thought that I harbor in regarding the circus in this way. Ingmar Berman, the Swedish moviemaker, has often disclosed his theological fascination with the circus. Rouault had his ‘circus’ period in painting and is said to have regarded his portraitures of clowns as images of Christ. The American poet, Anthony Towne, after having been much preoccupied by death, writes recently about the resurrection by using circus figures. Fellini, the Italian producer, has entertained similar themes, notably in La Strada. It was he who said, while in the city, that ‘New York is a cross between a cemetery and a circus.’ His characterization seems quite precise, and I only grieved when I heard him make it that he had not been a candidate for Mayor."
William Stringfellow, “The Idea of Society as a Circus”
"In short, I am out of my depth when I think of New York. I wrestle with the morning fruit juices, the national Scotch and soda and its relationship to romance, the girls in taxis and their secret, fleeting acts of love, the excessive luxury and bad taste reflected even in the stupefying neckties, the anti-Semitism and the love of animals– this last extending from the gorillas in the Bronx Zoo to the protozoa in the Museum of Natural History–the funeral parlors where death and the dead are made up at top speed (“Die, and leave the rest to us”), the barber shops where you can get a shave at three in the morning, the temperature that swings from hot to cold in two hours, the subway that reminds you of Sing Sing prison, ads filled with clouds of smiles proclaiming from every wall that life is not tragic, cemeteries in flower beneath the gasworks, the beauty of the girls and the ugliness of the old men; the tens of thousands of musical-comedy generals and admirals stationed at the apartment entrances, some to whistle for green, red, and yellow taxis that look like beetles, others to open the door for you, and finally the ones who go up and down all over town like multicolored Cartesian drivers in elevators fifty stories high …
… but yes, of course, I loved the mornings and the evenings of New York. I loved New York, with that powerful love that sometimes leaves you full of uncertainties and hatred: sometimes one needs exile. And then the very smell of New York rain tracks you down in the heart of the most harmonious and familiar towns, to remind you there is at least one place of deliverance in the world, where you, together with a whole people and for as long as you want, can finally lose yourself forever."