Welcome to ArtsGazing

The COVID-19 Edition

For our column this week, we were going to discuss two exhibits at opposite ends of any spectrum you care to name: indecent vs. modest, crazy vs. restrained, id vs. ego. We’re still going to do that but first let’s talk about the latest news in the art scene here in New York. As you’ve probably heard by now, because of the spread of the virus COVID-19, just about all our museums, most of our galleries, and all our entertainment venues have been closed to the public for the rest of March 2020, and some may stay closed until mid-April. As sorry as we are to write that, we would be even more upset if people were exposed to this illness just because they wanted to see some art. Health and safety must come first and we’re glad that our arts institutions are taking the initiative to reduce the risk of infection among the general public. In the meantime, we recommend looking at our 31 Days of Art section for ideas to enjoy art without the crowds; we’ll also be researching new ideas and posting on Twitter. And when the museums open again, look for us at the head of the line to get back to the art we love.

And now back to our regularly scheduled commentary…

Rose Hartman (American, born 1937). Bethann Hardison, Daniela Morera, and Stephen Burrows at Studio 54, 1978. Black and white photograph. Courtesy of the artist. © Rose Hartman

Picture it: Night-time, streetlights glowing overhead, a long line of hopeful people dressed to impress, and two large men in front of a door that leads to the hottest nightclub in New York City, maybe the world. A place where everything happens: gorgeous men and women dancing, drinking, getting high, getting it on with each other, while the music pounds through their bodies, urging them to take chances, take risks, just be free. Who wouldn’t want to feel that just once?

The problem is it’s never just once. You want to do it again and again, feel the ecstasy, forget the problems. But you have to keep going higher and higher, looking for the new thrill to equal the first thrill. Eventually you just burn out or away. And that’s what Studio 54 was: the thrill the famous, infamous, and anonymous were looking for in a time when the world was gone, hollow, too painful to be in for too long. You can’t compare it to anything but that mood you get in a place where everything is wrecked and destroyed but people still have a craving to touch life/feel alive. At the Brooklyn Museum’s new show Studio 54: Night Magic, there are photographs, interviews, and video from those who knew it best and appreciated it for what it was.

Dian Pelangi (b. 1991, Indonesia); Ensemble (maxi dress, turtleneck, inner headscarf, and scarves); Co-Identity Collection, Jakarta Fashion Week, 2016; Cotton drill and crepe with fringe appliqué, spandex knit with beading, Thai silk, wax-resist dyed (batik) Thai silk; Photograph by Sebastian Kim COPYRIGHT:Sebastian Kim

Used to be if you wanted to see Muslim artistic expression you had a handful of choices here in NYC: Mughal India, manuscripts, metalwork, pottery, textiles. Historical items for the most part, and given a general context within a time and place. Nothing contemporary and certainly very little that was relatable. Flash forward to the present and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s exhibit Contemporary Muslim Fashions, with over 45 garments that demonstrate the parameters of modest dress, a concept gaining traction in the world of fashion, regardless of a woman’s values. The show explains the various intentions of modest clothing from following a moral or religious belief to refusing to engage through an outfit in a hyper-sexualized environment. By the end of the presentation, visitors will forget the reasons for the clothes and just see them as the beautiful and covetable garments that they are.