Cattelan’s body of work, in mid air
It’s not the way she starts every day, but Mints takes me to her local heart-attack vendor for breakfast. It’s got the red leather seats in booths that could’ve popped out of any breakfast diner in a thousand different American films. I’ve definitely been looking forward to an opportunity to have pancakes, and am not disappointed. And bacon and maple syrup - what could be better? We talk phobias and their relative silliness - mine being needles and hers being lighting - then subway it to our respective destinations.
I am off to the Guggenheim this morning to take in whatever they have running at the moment. The spiral hall is taken up with pretty much the life’s work of Cattelan, most of his famous sculptures hanging by white rope from a huge disc of scaffolding at the top of the atrium. I didn’t know him by name but I’d seen enough of his work in the past to be able to recognise a few of his more mischievous pieces. Amongst my favourites from this exhibition are the “trophy wife” (a bust of a supermodel wife of a famous art dealer made to look like a stuffed-animal wall decoration), a naughty half-size Hitler and the image of the Hollywood sign from behind that shows a barren wasteland beneath. There’s also a very disturbing female figure secured in a box that was inspired by seeing a crucifix figure being transported that is really disturbing. I also pop my head into the notable Kandinsky collection they have here, but find it singularly underwhelming. I’m glad that I’ve learned a lot more about Bauhaus from their information about him (he was a lecturer at the school), and also that I’ve had my opinion that I really don’t like his work reaffirmed. There’s a modern work called Swimmers In The Econo Mist by James Rosenquist that appeals to me more than it should because I can see the techniques he used to prepare his source material in the way that he’s created the final painting. And, thanks to this Museum’s lovely design, I get to see all the Cattelan again on the way to the exit, significantly enriched by stopping at the top to read a few chunks of the exhibition catalogue first.
Lunch is a salad back at Dan’s. He’s taken a couple of days off to be able to look after Charlotte while she’s incapacitated. I pick up an orchid on the way back to cheer her up a little, as when I get back to theirs she’s definitely still under the cloud of the anaesthetic and the lingering pain. On the upside, it appears they had a very good experience yesterday at the hospital and got to experience American healthcare at its expensive and indulgent finest.
I’m beginning to get rather excited now, as the afternoon holds an insanely fantastic treat. Through Dan’s contacts, we’ve got VIP tickets to see The Daily Show get recorded I’m a huge fan of the show, so this is a lot like christmas. And thanks to the McCrums being Manhattanites, the recording studio is only a few blocks away. Our timing is poor so we do end up resorting to a taxi, though.
The queues are a little confused when we get there as it appears that some people are already being turned away and some people are already being sent in. We clutch our VIP tickets and wave them authoritatively and get separated into a separate group of people. The security in their jumpers and chinos are efficient and humourless but do get us stood in what is clearly the area closest to the studio doors. Thanks probably mostly to my enthusiasm we are pretty much the first people in the holding pen. It transpires that the nature of a VIP tickets is that one is guaranteed entry so we could’ve gone for a coffee once we’d registered with security, but this was not made immediately obvious when we first got there, so ended up standing in an anonymous office room for a little longer than we should’ve.
The crowd slowly builds, filling with an eclectic mix of people. There’s a real melting pot, from a gaggle of girls to a city banker in a sharp suit (with appropriate gold-bedecked trophy girlfriend) to a guy in a cool-looking electric wheelchair. Conversation is muted but a little buzzy once we get wind of the guest. Apparently security is much higher than usual, and there are some secret-service type guys wandering around the building. The word is it’s someone a cut above your average - Bill Clinton! This is one hell of an excitement. The rumour is made more credible when I get to see one of these secret service guys wander through our crowd. I’ve seen well built humans in my time, but I have never beheld a machine quite like this guy. In possibly the finest cut grey suit and most perfectly sculpted hair, he can only be 5’ 9”, but it is clear that he is the most dangerous man for miles around. He’s stacked but in an efficient and useful rather than decorative way, and I have no doubt that despite his friendly demeanour and cheery disposition whilst shaking hands with the security, he could easily kill everyone in this room with one hand tied behind his back. He has an aura that makes crowds part. I’m very impressed simply because I’ve never seen anyone in the bodyguarding line of work in the flesh ever before and he’s clearly one of the best, working for an ex-president.
The production manager comes through to make some routine announcements - no photos, we have Q&A time but don’t ask Jon Stewart any questions that are silly at all, please enter and exit swiftly, please have a really good time, and that yes, we have Bill Clinton so don’t break any rules. We then file in and take our seats. Dan’s tickets get us pretty much the best seats in the house, one layer up, right in the centre of the main block of seats. It would be impossible to wish for better. We’re kept sitting for a while, then the warm-up guy comes out. A friendly and personable comedian, he has a great time talking to the crowd, and improvises wonderfully around an old Jewish gent who’s here with his family. It’s clear that he’s being fed second-by-second information about how things are going backstage so he never really launches into any long routines, but nonetheless ramps the energy high so when Jon Stewart does come out to answer questions from the audience before the show, he is very well received.
I’ve never been in the presence of someone who’s been a head of state, so seeing Clinton in such a small and intimate space is truly amazing. I get why he was so admired by Americans - he can connect with an audience in a way I’ve never seen before in my life. I realise that he can’t possibly, but as he talks to the audience it feels like he is talking directly to me. He seems to be looking directly at me for at least three quarters of the interview. His answers are considered and illuminating, and the scant handful of minutes of the interview whoosh by in an instant. He has a book out, and I suspect that it’ll be quite a good read. The lights go down and we are thanked. They keep talking up on stage - I simply wish they’d left the microphones up as I can’t imagine many conversations I’d rather listen to than Stewart and Clinton. We file out appreciably enlightened and wend our slightly awestruck way back to the flat for a pasta cook-up to round off the day.