Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Culture Is As Culture Does

Like most metropolitan areas that don't have the advantage of being located on one of the coasts, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis & St. Paul is pretty desperate to be considered a cultural mecca. Even Chicago has a bit of this inferiority complex, though surely the presence of the Art Institute, the Chicago Bulls, and the active blues scene has long since put that city on the map.

The longing is particularly acute the further north you go on the continent, and on some level Minneapolis & St. Paul is the northern-most city that has any chance at all of earning this level of regard. We have major league baseball, hockey and basketball (both men's and womens); the Minneapolis Institute of Art has a smallish but very respectable collection of classic art, particularly in the Asian fashion; thanks to Prince and music producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam Harris, there is a viable modern music scene; we have perhaps six theaters of very high quality, including the Guthrie, a world-class venue for dramatic theater. Cuisine is a little on the soft side, but we're trying, thanks in part to a recent influx of talented immigrants who have finally given us a bit of ethnic diversity.

For all of that, though, Minneapolis remains a place with a pronounced inferiority complex. For awhile, we tried to market ourselves as the "Mini-Apple," somehow imagining that sophisticates from New York City would come to respect us.

Our wannabee sentiments become most evident in our willingness to wildly celebrate anything that passes for the avant guarde. In our years of attendance at dance performances, for example, my wife and I have seen Minneapolis audiences leap to their feet and give wild standing ovations for performances that are utterly ridiculous. At Northrop Auditorium, we once saw a performance that involved three people pushing around television sets on rolling carts for 20 minutes. The performers themselves looked stunned and slightly embarrassed when 3,000 people leaped to their feet with an ovation that lasted for 8 minutes.

We are desperate to appear cultured here in Minneapolis, and thus will act as though anything that proclaims itself art is worthy of the adoration you might give to the fresco on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel.

On Saturday, my wife and I went down to the Walker Art Center, to see a widely acclaimed collection of performance art pieces by the Trisha Brown Dance company.

The first piece saw 1,000 Minneapolitans gather around the west brick wall of the art center, for a piece called "Man walking down a wall."

Suspended from ropes and pulleys, a man walked down the side of the museum, using a rig somewhat similar to what we used to use while rappelling down the cliff faces of bluffs when we were teenagers. There was no dancing, though; the fellow just walked down the wall. The performance took all of 30 seconds. Loud applause ensued.

In the second piece, which was mildly entertaining, five female dancers dressed in simple white monk clothes moved in a kind of conga-line dance for two minutes.

We then moved across the street to Loring Park, where the first piece involved the same female dancers descending the trunks of trees with harnesses attached to ropes rigged in spiral fashion around the trunks of trees. One of the women simply fell, but nobody held it against her. The others did manage to hold their perpendicular positions and walked spiral fashion down the trees to the ground.

Finally, four dancers were towed on floating rafts to the center of the park's pond, where they lie on their back and waved their hands in the air until the wind pushed their rafts to shore.

An eight-year old child sitting next to us certainly spoke for my wife and me, when he turned to his mother and said,

"Big Fucking Deal."

The next day, the Minneapolis Tribune celebrated this world-class avante-guarde event with a full page of self-congratulatory coverage. The writer did not once use the adjective "silly."

We're hoping that the next modern dance carries a title like "Dance Troupe Falls 80 Feet Into a Bloody Heap."


Michelle O'Neil said...

That little boy reminds me of The Emperor Has No Clothes!

Proud to report my kids don't know that word.


Jerri said...

Performance Art mystifies me. Very little "performance" and almost no "art."

I'm a pretty low-brow girl, I guess. Maybe you and your wife and I can sit together while others stand.