[Marxism] In a Playground for the 1 Percent, an Arts Center for the Rest of Us

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 7 14:42:12 MDT 2019

NY Times, April 7, 2019
In a Playground for the 1 Percent, an Arts Center for the Rest of Us
By Gina Bellafante

By now you know that Hudson Yards probably isn’t your jam.

The reviews have come in and they have been categorically negative. You 
have determined that the next time you want a $10 million apartment or a 
Tank watch from Cartier or a pile of lentils topped with superfoods at 
Sweetgreen, you will go to the other locations in Manhattan that supply 
these things and don’t require the use of the 7 train.

You have, however, admittedly, always felt a subversive thrill engaging 
the utterly generic experience in New York City — sitting at the bar of 
a chain hotel, going to the mall. But now there are plenty of malls in 
New York and you have been to them — to the Time Warner Center, the 
Oculus, Brookfield Place, to City Point. You know what it is like to 
bear the enormous expense of living alongside the global ruling class 
while playacting that you are in White Plains or Paramus.

Many of the stores and restaurants in Hudson Yards opened several weeks 
ago and they are predictably filled with affluent-looking foreign 
tourists. And then there is the Shed, an ambitious 200,000-square-foot 
cultural center for the visual and performing arts that is opening this 
weekend, with much hope invested in the notion that it will serve a 
broader population.

The building means to set itself apart from the arid glass and steel 
towers in its proximity. Designed by the firm of Diller Scofidio + 
Renfro in collaboration with David Rockwell, the Shed is a low-rise 
structure encased in a quilted retractable shell that slides back and 
forth on enormous wheels, allowing for the expansion of theatrical space 
as well as the provision of metaphor — a rare sense of mobility and 
accommodation in an expansive development otherwise defined by the 
stagnancy and self-isolation of elites.

Observing the Shed from the High Line, you see that it emerges from the 
orifice of a soaring building, filled with offices and condominiums. Two 
different readings are available to us. From one perspective, the larger 
building is virtually giving birth to the smaller, coaxing us toward the 
suggestion that you cannot nurse creativity without capital, that money 
is the mother of any serious artistic effort. But when the exterior 
casing of the Shed is pulled back and the structures look like rail 
cars, another narrative is easily entertained — a train pushing its way 
into a terminal, an invasion.

Unlike so much of Hudson Yards, the Shed indeed extends itself to those 
beyond the payrolls of private equity professions. Tickets to events are 
well-priced, some as low as $10. A restaurant from Danny Meyer called 
Cedric’s is soon to appear in the lobby with nothing on the menu costing 
more than $18, including tip. The lobby, for that matter, has an 
earnestness and utility that other analogous spaces in the city tend to 
forfeit for grandeur. When you walk through the doors of the 
Metropolitan Opera, you imagine seeing people familiar to you from 
stippled drawings of The Wall Street Journal; at the Shed you foresee 
standing in line behind Scandinavian academics.

In its conception and programming, the Shed is ultimately an act of 
repentance for the sins that surround it — an attempt at making amends 
for all the greed and ostentation embodied in the $23 billion playpen in 
which it has been sunk. To this end, an aesthetics of resistance has 
been cultivated.

One night next month, for example, the McCourt, a major theatrical space 
in the multilevel facility, will feature a presentation titled “Art and 
Civil Disobedience with Boots Riley.’’ Boots Riley is the activist 
rapper and filmmaker who was very involved in the Occupy movement in 
Oakland, California, someone who joined the Progressive Labor Party at 
the age of 15. His recent comedy, “Sorry to Bother You,” follows a young 
black telemarketer struggling to pay the rent who is courted by the 
temptations of selling out.

Not long after that event comes “Powerplay,’’ described in press 
material for the Shed as “a woman-centered celebration of radical art 
and healing created by multimedia artist Latasha.” Both presentations 
are offered in conjunction with DIS OBEY, the Shed’s program for New 
York City high school students from underserved communities, which 
focuses on social protest through the use of poetry. An exhibit by the 
conceptual artist Tony Cokes will explore gentrification.

What are we to make of these contradictions, of warrior spirits enabled 
by the enemy force? One theater at the Shed is named for its benefactor 
Ken Griffin, the hedge-fund manager who recently bought a penthouse on 
Central Park South for $238 million, the greatest sum of money ever paid 
for a home in this country. The construction of a billionaires’ 
principality in one of the most economically segregated cities on earth 
is of course the problem worth the angry iambic pentameter. The Shed, in 
the end, feels like the very generous birthday present you receive from 
the rich man who stole your wife.

On the way in or out of the Shed, you will be able to stop at an outpost 
of the McNally Jackson book store in the lobby, where you will not find 
the kind of books read by the kind of people occupying the offices in 
Hudson Yards. This is not the world of “Grit: The Power of Passion and 
Perseverance”; it is the world of small-press social critique and 
renegade voices.

When I visited on Wednesday, the books were cordoned off. But I 
immediately noticed a copy of “Vile Days,” a collection of columns by 
Gary Indiana written for The Village Voice in the 1980s chronicling the 
end of the avant-garde art scene in New York, the triumphs of vulgarity, 
consumerism and bad taste. Here, was the elegy as oracle.

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