Friday, March 23, 2012

City of Dreams

by Gregg Chadwick

In response to Spring for Music's query:

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. 
Is it still? If not, where?
 Lyrics by Angela Hunte and Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic

Vermeer in New York
Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

 Like Florence in the 15th century, Amsterdam in the 17th century and Paris in the 19th century - post World War II  New York City seemed to embody the dreams and cultural aspirations of the age. Does New York still claim that distinction? And does it matter?

J.F. Kennedy Jr. would often say that New York City was a verb - not a noun. In that sense the city remains a global source of action and inspiration rather than a place to physically aspire to. In our floating 21st century world, communication via Skype, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr connects us almost instantaneously.  Translations via Google allow us to speak across borders. And in an age of Wikileaks, international secrets are revealed to an audience of millions with the flick of a key. Family, pilgrimage and career sends many on journeys crisscrossing the globe. 

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel
photo courtesy Opera Chic, Milano 

For me, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel perfectly embodies our new reality. By serving as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel's passionate music and teaching impacts three continents simultaneously. 

Dudamel's artistic path seems to make the question, "Is New York the cultural capital of America?" superfluous while at the same time pointing out the inherent flaw in the question itself. Of course America refers not just to the United States but to the connected countries of North, Central and and South America. 

Gregg Chadwick
Brecht's Song
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011

There is no one cultural center in the Americas. But there is the city of dreams that drew Federico Garcia Lorca to study and write Poet in New York at Columbia, Diego Rivera to paint Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Center, Patti Smith to write and sing and fall in love and life with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel. This city of dreams is not the clean and tidy Giuliani/Bloomberg New York that suggests a Big Apple theme park but instead the New York City of cultural myth and memory.

Students and Pollock
Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Like Smith and Mapplethorpe, I jumpstarted my life with the inspiration of New York City. For many years, like a talisman, planted flag, or a beacon, a massive painting from my graduate exhibition at NYU hung in the front window of a brownstone on Washington Square. Over the years, each time I visited the Village, I would return to see if my painting still hung on the square. If it did, I knew a physical part of me remained in New York and that my dream still lived. 

Metropolitan Museum, New York
photo by Gregg Chadwick

In the past few years like Gustavo Dudamel, I've carried my cultural capital with me as I traveled, studied, created and exhibited in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and the Netherlands.
In this transient, changing, yet ever connected world, I came face to face with humanity's fragility and celebrated its tensile strength.

The pulse, blur and vibrancy of our human experience reveals vital traces of who we are in a time that is simultaneously past and present, here and there, personal and global. Through our shared cultural exploits we learn that perhaps the relevant question is not where is the capital, but instead how do I create my own?

Clouds Over Manhattan
photo by Gregg Chadwick

No comments: