City of Narcissists and Art

I. I’m Breaking Up with New York

New York is suffering an epidemic of narcissism. Maybe I’m just old and naïve and don’t recognize a new wave when I see one. Perhaps what I consider to be socially abhorrent behavior is, in reality, the new normal. I’ve always has a jolly laugh at the sight of geezers wrestling with new technologies. The way they fumble with mobile phones or botch their DVR programming. Who’s laughing now?

A few weeks ago, there was a disruption at the evening performance of Hand to God on Broadway. After taking his orchestra seat, just before the show began, a stupid boy noticed his mobile phone battery was about to die. He saw an outlet on the set, (a PRETEND outlet) jumped up on stage and plugged his phone in. He was immediately descended upon by the ushers. He later explained, “I saw the outlet and ran for it. That was the only outlet I saw, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ Girls were calling all day. What would you do?”

Shortly after that, at an evening performance of Shows for Days at Lincoln Center starring Patti LuPone, a young girl sitting near the front was texting throughout Act One. She was so disengaged from the performance that she shared her texts with her date sitting next to her. While walking off stage at the conclusion of Act One, LuPone walked over and grabbed the phone out of her hand mid-text and walked off stage with it. It was returned after the show.

Later, in a statement, LuPone said, “I am so defeated by this issue.”

But if you really want to take the pulse of the self-absorbed narcissists in this town, look no further than the Style section of The New York Times. Last weekend, they featured an article about women (wealthy, of course, because, apparently, money makes you insane) who are so worried about their appearance in their Instagram/Facebook photo taken immediately following childbirth, they hire hairstylists and makeup artists to come to their hospital room for a postpartum grooming. These services cost upwards of $700.

This is the photo that accompanied the article. She’s a lawyer who lives in the Financial District. (That figures.) The unintentionally hilarious aspect is that you CAN’T SEE THE BABY. She might just as well be cradling a loaf of pumpernickel or a bag of cash.

hospital selfie1Those are surgical instruments on the right and tools of the beauty trade on the left.hospital selfie2I’ve had it with these New York idiots who are incapable of living outside their own heads. To paraphrase, I don’t want to be a part of it, New York, New York. I’ll go back to Cleveland. The people out there are real.

II. I Love New York

Currently at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea is an exhibit by DeWain Valentine. I grabbed a cab on my lunch hour and ran down to see it. Valentine was part of the Light and Space movement in the 60’s and 70’s. The work focuses on using light, transparency, reflection and texture.

These four magnificent disks are made of polyester resin. They’re about 6′ tall. Crossing the threshold into the bright, airy gallery provided a genuine thrill.

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Valentine3I was lucky enough to have the galleries all to myself. People are okay to drink and hang out with, but I don’t want anyone around when I’m enjoying the art.

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The urge to reach out and touch them was overpowering, but since each piece was free standing, a monitor was on hand in each gallery to discourage close encounters. I like when you can see the room’s architecture through the piece.

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They’re several inches thick at the bottom but taper towards the top.

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This translucent wall reminded me of Richard Serra’s iron oxidized sculptures. I stood in this room for a long time, not realizing until afterwards that I’d completely forgotten what was bothering me that day. Art can take you someplace else.

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The gallery monitors weren’t Zwirner employees. They were employed by the artist to answer questions and provide insight into his process. They were knowledgeable and lacked pretense. They also instinctively knew when I wanted to be alone with the art and faded into the background.

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These more modest, but still fetching, pieces were in a side gallery.

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An even more spectacular example of the Light and Space movement (and one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen) was two years ago when James Turrell turned the rotunda of the Guggenheim into a hallucinatory spectrum of light.


Being able to enjoy this sort of frivolity on my lunch hour is a privilege. It’s a lucky break I fell into—none of this happened by design. Who am I trying to kid? You guys or myself? I can’t leave New York! I guess I’m stuck here. I just wish people would learn to disengage. They’d see some interesting things if they’d stop spending so much time gazing lovingly into the mirror.