12.10.2013

Cloisters and Cardiff

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Janet Cardiff's 40 part Motet closed this past weekend at the Cloisters. The installation was crowded but the piece still effective. The vocal work at its center is called Spem in Alium or “Hope in any Other” by Thomas Tallis, composed c 1570 for eight choirs of 5 voices. It was written as a progression of voices— sometimes singing in unison, sometimes in call and response. Cardiff's piece, as you may know, consisted of 40 freestanding speakers, each approximately six feet tall, set up around the Cloisters’ Fuentiduena chapel. Each speaker projects an individual voice, (the 40 were recorded separately) so that as you move around the space you experience each voice intimately. You are at the center as the music is projected back and forth across the space.

The Cloisters itself— a faux medieval abbey which houses much of the Metropolitan Museum's medieval collection—can strike one as characteristically American. If you think too long on its conception it can color your visit, or at least it did mine: rich diletante (George Grey Bernard) collects bits and pieces of medieval architectural details from around Europe and imports them here; a medieval pastiche financed by another rich American (John D Rockefeller) is constructed to house them; land both immediately surrounding the complex as well as across the river along the New Jersey palisades is bought up to preserve the view. A testament to American wealth and cultural boldness— buying up history wholesale and bringing it home. Thus the Fuentiduena chapel is actually an apse from one location, statuary from another, and a fresco from yet another, inserted into a "chapel" built in 1938. Throughout the building there are door frames from France housed with pillars from Spain flanking rooms made from Netherlandish accoutrements. Still, I dont really mean to criticize. Its a lovely haven in Manhattan and the gardens with researched, period-appropriate plantings are wonderful in and of themselves.

3 comments:

male said...

Ang, I went there first in 1974 on a freezing winter's day and I loved it. That's after the shock of how long the train ride was . . . does Manhattan ever end! I have sent friends there since and they all love the journey and the respite there. Lovely post also.

Angela Voulangas said...

Jeez Washington Heights (or Inwood actually is where I think the Cloisters is) in those days must have been scary!! In fact all of New York was pretty scary...

Avian Garn said...

Hello, I happened to visit the cloisters on the last day as well. After a garlic infused bolstering Dominican buffet, we ascended to the might castle on the hill. My memories of the cloisters were vague but in spite of the crowds it felt empty and solemn. The Cardiff piece was very beautiful and meditative, but I had trouble keeping my eyes closed and kept focusing on everyone else's blissful expressions. Your picture f the foggy window well captures the mood and sense of floating above the grey river

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