Friday, November 02, 2007

A NYTimes review of the Guggenheim staged reading I worked


the review below, that is. I, personally had a blast. My unofficial mentor to becoming a buyer/shopper / set dresser called me with a four day job that her & her new company partner had booked - high profile names would be in the show and audience (see below - I only saw Cate Blanchett who, I'm sad to say, was not as Cate-Blanchett lovely in person, Elaine Stritch who is lovely (ok, not really) and Anita Ekberg who, a google image search reveals, was freakin' wow-lovely in her day)
My job, along with my PA friend Hudson, was to go to prop houses and stores and rent or buy all the stuff we'd need for the show.. mostly, 8 chairs and the below mentioned lips couch. yes, a lips couch. it was the director's idea and judging from the review, it was the least of his problems... without further aideau, I'll let you read about the car crash, below....

PERFORMA 07 Cate Blanchett, seated, in a Pirandello play reading staged by Francesco Vezzoli.

Published: November 1, 2007

SLUMPED in a rolling chair behind the information desk at the Guggenheim Museum, clutching about him a vast fringed leather coat from Prada, André Leon Talley, the Vogue editor at large, emitted a theatrical moan. “Where, where, where is Cate Blanchett?” said Mr. Talley, elongating the actress’s name, not altogether sotto voce, until it became a trans-European bleat, a cry of pain.

LINES VS. LONE Cate Blanchett at the Guggenheim.

Ms. Blanchett, as it happened, was off in the wings, wherever they are, of the great museum, being kitted out in a John Galliano couture dress and trench coat for a star turn that, when it actually occurred, registered as a blur for many of the 800 people who’d already endured several hours of waiting.

By the time Ms. Blanchett appeared, her head swathed in tulle veils, amid flashes of theatrical lightning, not a few people were desperate to follow Mr. Talley, who rose at line three of her monologue and bolted for the door.

This all took place near midnight Saturday, as elsewhere in Manhattan Halloween revelers from foreign lands (well, New Jersey) gaily and drunkenly disported themselves while dressed as prostitutes and clowns. In the museum’s rotunda, a group of eminent actors began an earnest reading of Luigi Pirandello’s “Right You Are (If You Think You Are),” the play, in this case, not exactly utilized as such but as a prop text in a performance piece orchestrated and staged by Francesco Vezzoli, the artist and social gadfly and “bad boy” of Italian art, a person New York magazine recently said “exists at the center of the art-celebrity-fashion nexus that is, controversially, defining the art world today,” whatever that means.

Ostensibly a commentary on the nature of celebrity, the evening featured some of the celebrities Mr. Vezzoli collects, and whom he has cast in performance works like the 2005 “Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s ‘Caligula’” (Helen Mirren, Benicio Del Toro, Courtney Love), and this year’s “Democrazy” (Bernard-Henri Lévy and Sharon Stone as a presidential candidate and her spouse).

Saturday was the inaugural event of Performa 07, a performance-art biennial organized by the art historian RoseLee Goldberg. At a dinner held before the event at the Upper East Side town house belonging to the art dealer and socialite Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Ms. Goldberg said that her personal litmus test for successful performance art is that it makes people weep. “That’s my measure,” she said. “If you cry.”

By that standard “Right You Are (If You Think You Are)” was a galloping success, since people had shed tears to get in, and also battled with flacks and politicked with gallery owners and bartered with friends and pleaded, of course. There were waiting lists for waiting lists. This is because the evening was to feature movie folks like Ms. Blanchett, and Ellen Burstyn and Natalie Portman (in a Prada suit and a glue-on mustache) and Peter Sarsgaard (in a real mustache) and Dianne Wiest and also, let us not forget, the 76-year-old Anita Ekberg, whose “special appearance” amounted to her perching on the pillowy lips of Salvador Dalí’s Mae West sofa, looking as remote (her nickname in 1950s Hollywood was “The Iceberg”) and disgruntled as a Pekingese.

Did the audience feel Ms. Ekberg’s evident unease? It did. Discomfort was built into the evening, as central to it as the Pirandello script, written in 1917, and which, as one critic noted, toys with how “the social role built up by one character for himself is continually destroyed by another, devaluated into a sick sham existence that outsiders accept as real only out of pity.” Put less dramatically, the play and the performance piece both concern a group of provincials speculating interminably about whether a Mrs. Ponza does or does not exist.

Anticipation and duration is always a recipe for a serious reception in New York; add a pinch of punishment and you’re made. The sentence, in this case, took the form of the 90-minute wait in the chill air to get into the museum, a common enough sight at blockbuster shows, yet one that infrequently includes socialites, celebrities and multimillionaires.

Rarely, that is, does one spot the philanthropist Anne Bass or the actress Lucy Liu on the wrong side of a velvet rope. And it is a tribute either to the women’s fortitude or Mr. Vezzoli’s currency that they hung around. Plenty of people defected, stomping off in their Louboutins and Manolos after obediently lining up in the dark for an hour.

Was this part of the grander plan? “I don’t know, I’m not sure, but it’s possible this was part of the intention,” said Miuccia Prada, a supporter of Mr. Vezzoli, who stuck it out for the show and a second-row seat alongside Uma Thurman and near Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Mary-Kate Olsen, the art dealer Marian Goodman and Ms. Liu.

Mr. Vezzoli, for his part, insisted otherwise. “We were late because of the hair extensions for Anita Ekberg,” he said. In the aged star’s silent presence, he added enigmatically, could be found the key to the work. “For me, putting Anita Ekberg on a Surrealist pedestal was my way of signing the work. I’m sorry that people had to wait, but it’s so rare to make people angry with art that that’s a form of achievement in itself, I suppose.”

At any rate, as Ms. Portman, in her role as the character Laudisi, inquired: “What can we ever know about others, who they are, why they are, how they behave? Who can finally say what is true?” Not much, to reply, very little, almost nothing, a bit and we’ll get back to you. Still, if there’s anything about celebrity culture all can agree on, it is that it’s no place to go looking for sincerity.

A stampede away from the museum followed the performance, a select group of guests trailing Ms. Prada to a party she held for Mr. Vezzoli at the Bemelmans Bar of the Hotel Carlyle. There — as white-coated waiters passed drinks; and Salman Rushdie buttonholed the hostess; and the artist Terence Koh (a k a Asianpunkboy) held court beneath the deceptively bucolic Bemelmans mural, in which an armed rabbit stalks its innocent brethren; and Mr. Sarsgaard circulated with his girlfriend, Maggie Gyllenhaal; and Mr. Vezzoli sat in a corner looking dazed and febrile after three sleepless days — one forgot the wait, the longueurs, the pretensions of the evening, in part because the Champagne was flowing and also because Mrs. Ponza, or Cate Blanchett, had finally showed up, dressed like a ghost from a Boldini portrait, in a two-minute coup de théâtre that took place just as the evening threatened to slump to an “Inside the Actors Studio” end.

Elegant, substantial, starlike, Ms. Blanchett, as Mrs. Ponza, descended the museum ramps amid an entourage of cameras, light crews and assistants flashing strobes.

“I am whoever you believe me to be,” she said in a sonorous, cinematic Elizabethan accent. “Are you happy now?”

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