It’s ten minutes past the hour, and the performance still hasn’t started. The performer/creators, James and Jerome, stand on the floor-level stage, bare except for their microphones, instruments, and samplers, and make small talk. It’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere: they don’t seem to be concerned about the time, so I’m not particularly worried either. Suddenly a young woman walks down the aisle and takes a seat— James greets her and replies an audible “don’t worry, you’re so fine” to what I assume is her apology. They were holding the house for his partner on their opening night, keeping the casual space open until she arrived, already-forgiven.
James and Jerome are musical storytellers. In Museum: Lecture, they tell a story in five parts, roughly in response to works of art on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art— or at least on its website. The focus, delivered in five essays, is artworks that are the media for a secondary mode of expression: calligraphy, musical instruments, and the color and genesis of ink itself. Each essay engages with a delightful and studied level of detail, and slowly zooms outward to the human stories and relationships surrounding the artworks. Slowly, slyly, these stories of the personal stories behind these ancient artworks comes to include James and Jerome themselves as well. If calligraphy is an artwork that contains an artwork— “ink is a garment for a word, like a word is a garment for meaning”, James says— perhaps these two men, with their speech and their music, can be said to be a medium for each other as well. By the end of the work, through its many Radiolab-like moments of delight and insight, I feel that James and Jerome have been trying to train me to reconsider the word, not just these particular works of art. In their world, I might seek out and take joy in the smallest detail, I might see the humanity behind the built world that surrounds me, I might see that I am brought into existence by the attention of my friends, and vice versa. I might, unperturbed, hold the house for someone I love.
Photo: Theo Cote