There were a number of 9/11-related cultural events taking place in the city this weekend but I decided to go to The Met for a lecture by artist Faith Ringold and to hear a concert by the Wordless Music Orchestra at the Temple of Dendur.
Ringold is one of my childhood heros: I saw her Tar Beach quilt at a young age, frequently read her children’s book of the same name, and an enormous poster of the quilt (signed by Ringold for my mother) has hung in my parent’s house since I can remember. So seeing Ringold in the flesh and hearing her talk about the 9/11 Peace Story Quilts she created with New York school children was something of a dream come true.
The talk was fine. But Ringlod turned out to be human rather than the all-knowing creative visionary I had imagined since youth. I struggled with my reaction to some of the works she created after the 9/11 attacks and their sense of anger. The flags didn’t square with my mental image of the flying girl.
What I really wanted on Sunday was some kind of catharsis– a moment when my experience of art would lift me beyond feelings of injustice and mourning. So as we exited the auditorium and I headed over to the Temple of Dendur, my hopes were resting on the Wordless Music Orchestra. I envisioned sitting on a stone paver in front of the marred temple and meditating on life and loss and memory while stringed instruments intoned a lamentation.
But the path to the temple room from the theater was roped off and gallery guards were turning people away. They told me to try the entrance from the American Wing. So I walked briskly back through the lobby and European Decorative Arts, though Arms and Armor to the Western entrance to the temple room where I was told that they couldn’t let me in because they were waiting to let people in from a lecture that had just ended. I said “I was at that lecture” so the guard told me to go back to the other entrance. So I walked back through Armor, Decorative Arts, and the lobby to the Egyptian wing where a huge crowd had formed, annoyed that they couldn’t get into the concert. I squeezed my way up to a guard and said that I had been at the lecture and understood that lecture attendees were being let into the concert. He looked like he didn’t believe me but at least made a show of walking over to someone else to ask about it.
By this time, an obviously senior member of the museum staff was shouting that the concert was full and telling people to go away. I have never seen museum visitors so upset. There was yelling. Swearing. Name calling. It wasn’t really the type of atmosphere I was looking for but I hung around a bit just to watch the drama unfold– mostly just hot tempers and bitter disappointment. Hundreds of people were turned away.
I made my way again to the American Wing and stood for a while in a crowd of people outside the West entrance to the temple room, trying to listen to the concert from the hall. Eventually, I walked back to the Engelhard Court for an overpriced cup of museum coffee and an attempt to watch the concert’s livestream on my iPhone. Gave up after 15 minutes.
Museum transcendence on 9/11: fail.
But such is life, right?
The Met might want to look into having an overflow space for such events– perhaps playing the concert’s livestream in their auditorium or setting up speakers in the Engelhard Court. I’m sure that the hundreds of museum goers turned away from the concert would have appreciated such an opportunity.
And now I can listen to the concert online from the comfort of my blog cave. Belated but still beautiful.