Curator Joan Cummins speaks to NYC-ARTS about some of the works on display in the Arts of Japan gallery at Brooklyn Museum. Followed by a profile of Claire Chase, an award-winning flutist and a champion of contemporary classical music. And a look at the art of Faith Ringgold, on view as part of the MTA’s “Arts for Transit” Program.

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♪♪

Coming up on 'NYC-Arts,' a visit to the Brooklyn Museum for a look at its newly renovated Arts of Japan gallery.

One of the great highlights in the new gallery is a pair of folding screens that date from about 1610.

These were made for the interior of a castle, and they have largely gold backgrounds, which would have helped to reflect light in the dark interior of the castle and made the room sort of more warm and glowing.

And a profile of flutist Claire Chase, who has had a remarkable career in the world of contemporary classical music.

Density 2036 is the farthest thing from your grandmother's flute recital that I hope you can imagine.

♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction galleries.

We have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

We'll begin our program tonight with a trip to the Brooklyn Museum to visit its newly renovated Arts of Japan gallery.

The objects on view trace over 2,000 years of innovation in Japanese art, including Buddhist temple sculptures, paintings, textiles, and woodblock prints.

Also on view are ceramics that reveal Japan's 10,000 year history of craftsmanship in this medium.

Here's a look now at some of the highlights of this exhibition.

♪♪

We've been closed for about six years, and we are so excited to finally bring out these galleries with all of our beautiful treasures and to tell new and interesting stories that we've never told with the collection before.

The Brooklyn Museum is quite unusual in its large holdings of material from the Ainu culture of Northern Japan.

We are very fortunate to have roughly 1,000 artifacts in the collection from the Ainu people, and that ranges from carved wood objects to personal ornaments to costumes, what they actually wore usually in a ceremonial setting.

And we have a number of robes from the Ainu people that were probably special occasion attire.

Most of the robes made by the Ainu costume makers were made of an indigenous fabric called attush, which was made of bark cloth.

And it has a texture kind of like burlap.

The robe that we're showing right now is unusual because it's made entirely of cotton.

And cotton was something that they had to trade for because they couldn't grow cotton up in the northern climes of Hokkaido Island.

So cotton as a trade good would have been a luxury item.

The robes that were made entirely of cotton were very much status objects.

This wonderful oversized green head of a Buddhist guardian figure dates from the 1200s, from the Kamakura period, which is a moment when sculpture in Japan became much livelier, much more expressive.

The head is much larger than life-size and would have stood atop a figure about 12 feet high.

And it would have been one of four figures marking the four corners of a platform around an even larger seated Buddha at the center.

And they would have been really dramatic figures in the dark, sort of dim light of the temple.

You would have looked way up toward the ceiling and seen the figures' glinting eyes and white teeth, and they would have been quite intimidating and quite dramatic.

The eyes are, in fact, made out of rock crystal that's been painted on the reverse and then inserted into the wood head.

So a fierce figure like this to a Western audience often can be mistaken for a demonic or evil presence.

But in fact, in this Buddhist tradition, these were good guys.

They're fierce, but they're on our side.

They are fighting for the right things.

One of the great highlights in the new gallery is a pair of folding screens that date from about 1610.

These were made for the interior of a castle, and they have largely gold backgrounds which would have helped to reflect light in the dark interior of the castle and made the room sort of more warm and glowing.

The theme of these two folding screens is drying fishnets, which is not something that we in the modern world see a lot of.

But back in the days when fish nets were made of natural materials, there was concern that they would get moldy.

And of course, if you're a fisherman, you'd need to throw them.

So you need your fishing net to be lighter, not so wet.

So it was a common sight in fishing villages throughout the world to see nets hanging out to dry.

And that was considered extremely scenic, picturesque by artists and poets in East Asia.

And so they became a famous kind of romantic trope that you see over and over again in East-Asian art.

The fishing nets are, on the surface, the subject matter of the screen.

But as you look carefully at the screen, we see that it also represents the four seasons.

So we're going to read it from right to left, which is how Japanese is read.

So if you start at the far right end, you see that there are grasses growing around the fishing nets, and they're relatively short.

Then as you move to the left, you have taller grasses.

So you've gone from spring to summer.

The next screen, the grasses are a little bit brown around the edges, and they've gone to seed.

That's fall.

And then in the far left, we have grasses that are completely desiccated and dusted with a light dusting of snow.

And that's winter.

The Brooklyn Museum houses a wonderful collection of Japanese prints, many of which have not been out on view in decades.

Now, this is from the same series as 'The Great Wave,' the image by the great Japanese print designer Hokusai.

And it's a series that focuses on Mount Fuji.

The mountain is so large that you can have sunny blue skies on one side of the mountain and thunderstorms on the other side.

And that is, in fact, what we're seeing here -- lightning and dark clouds on the front, while there are blue skies off in the distance.

The Brooklyn Museum's Arts of Japan gallery is a space that we will be changing many times over the course of the next several years in order to show more and more of our treasures.

And we encourage people to come in and make discoveries of their own.

♪♪

Claire Chase became enchanted with the flute at the age of 3.

Her love of the instrument inspired a remarkable career in contemporary classical music.

A founding member of the International Contemporary Ensemble, she has been a champion of new music around the world.

She's also in great demand as a soloist.

Chase was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012 and awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in 2017.

She is currently in the middle of a 23-year commissioning and performance cycle called Density 2036.

Begun in 2013, the project's goal is to create an entirely new repertoire for the flute, one that pushes both audiences' perceptions and the limits of the instrument itself.

Each year brings an ambitious new batch of music to the Kitchen, a contemporary and experimental art space in Chelsea.

The cycle will conclude in 2036 with a 24-hour marathon of all of the previous commissions.

'NYC-Arts' spoke with Chase about four of 2019's new compositions.

♪♪

Density 2036 was an idea that I had in 2012, inspired by Edgar Varèse's seminal 1936 flute solo called 'Density 21.5.'

And my personal story with this piece is that my teacher, when I was 12 or 13 years old, a wonderful, wonderful man named John Fonville came into my flute lesson.

And he put these two pages of music on the music stand.

And I said, 'This is weird.

What is this?'

And he said, 'Don't judge.

Do you want to hear it?'

And I said, 'Of course I want to hear it.'

So he said, 'Okay, kiddo, stand back.'

I was like, 'I've never heard that before a flute performance before.'

And he proceeded over the next 4 1/2 minutes to completely blow my mind.

I had never experienced music and had never experienced the flute and never experienced resonance that way.

Like whatever music that is, I don't know what we call that music.

But I want to do that music.

And I want to learn to transmit that kind of experience that John transmitted for me.

And the piece itself, I like to think of it as an anthem.

It is brash at times.

There are screeching, wailing sounds.

It's incredibly intimate and poetic and tender.

♪♪ ♪♪ That was written in '36.

What are we going to be doing in 2036?

What will that piece be or what will that collection of pieces be that will take the flute from its previous identity and hurl it into the future?

♪♪ What if I just decided to create an entirely new program of music every year between 2013 and 2036 with the idea that we would have one and one only one rule, and that is that each year the cycle needs to be a complete departure from the last?

I've never imposed a theme.

It's very important to me that we're giving platforms to people from many different career stages, who come from many different musical backgrounds, who identify differently, and most importantly, who are pushing the art form forward.

It's a big team of people that work collaboratively on this.

We really care for every sound and every action that we hope will give the audience an immersive experience that is the farthest thing from your grandmother's flute recital that I hope you can imagine.

♪♪ The show opener, it's called 'Magic Flu-idity' by Olga Neuwirth, an Austrian composer.

♪♪ My duo partner is Nathan Davis, who is an extraordinary percussionist, also a composer and sound artist.

Yes.

So, the piece is reduced from a flute concerto that Olga wrote for me last year based on Bach's 4th Brandenburg Concerto.

And so people who are familiar with the Brandenburg 4th will probably hear little nods and winks to the original Bach.

♪♪ And so if you can imagine an orchestral force winnowing down to just one little desktop.

So Nathan has quite a complex job.

♪♪ It's devilishly difficult, but playing with Nathan is just a joy.

♪♪ One more time.

♪♪ ♪♪ So, Pamela Z is an absolutely phenomenal performer, electronic pioneer, composer, just hydra-headed woman of so many trades.

I was nervous when I asked her, but I was so delighted that she accepted.

I visited her over the summer in her studio in San Francisco.

We improvised a little bit.

I made some sounds.

She had me record some things.

And then she said, 'I want to put you in my little recording booth and just interview you.'

And I thought, 'Okay, maybe she's going to use this for a podcast or something like that.'

Then I got the piece, and the entire taped part is my voice.

But she constructed little melodies with fragments of my voice, and the flute part musicalizes those naturally musical elements.

I've also coached with this wonderful theater artist, Saori Tsukada, who has helped me with the placement of the different stations.

You see the different flutes on stage.

Big Bertha, the contrabass flute, has her own bed.

So Saori has worked with me on telling this non-narrative story.

I mean, there are stories that I'm telling myself in my head, but the audience isn't supposed to, you know, follow things from A to B and B to C.

[ ] ♪♪ It's more like little vignettes that I think of as dialogs with your previous selves.

And some of it's humorous, and some of it is kind of demonic and dark.

[ ] ♪♪ Phyllis Chen is another composer, performer, electronic musician, instrument inventor.

♪♪ And so she wrote this piece based on my heartbeat.

She strapped a stethoscope to my chest and used that sound to construct the electronic part.

[ ] ♪♪ ♪♪ And then that part drops out about halfway through the piece.

A person comes up on stage and fixes a stethoscope to my live heartbeat.

And I play the remainder of the piece with whatever hummingbird heart is coming through.

[ ] ♪♪ To hear it pumped through a sound system and on subwoofers, it's quite a humbling experience.

♪♪ ♪♪ Sara Hennies is another absolutely incredible artist who works at the intersection of lots of different disciplines.

She's a beautiful percussionist in her own right and sound artist and composer.

And, so, this piece that she's written is part of a series that she's working on called the Reservoir Series that deals with the idea of our unconscious as a kind of reservoir of feelings, many of which are unwanted and some of which are traumatic memories.

♪♪ ♪♪ The piece for us, it's called 'Reservoir 2: Intrusion,' involves the flutist in the middle of the space and five or more voices that move in and around.

And I'm so privileged to be working with this phenomenal young group, Constellation Chor.

They are a group of philosophers, poets, movement artists, vocalists, theater artists.

♪♪ We are interconnected, whether we're conscious of it or not, so the more conscious we are of how connected we are, especially in a situation of heightened awareness, which our performance is, the more interesting things get.

It's dangerous to be that open, for the performer and for the listener.

And it's especially risky with so-called contemporary music, because we've never heard it before.

I love that high-wire act.

I totally live for it.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

So I said, 'Oh, boy.

I want to do 125th Street.

Yeah, I'm going to do it because 125th Street is where all, you know, the people are.'

That's the center.

And I went in there and got it.

[ Laughs ] That worked for me.

♪♪ These are people who I associate with my life growing up in Harlem -- the musicians, the artists, the politicians, all of these truly great people who influenced my life and made me know that I could do anything I wanted because they're doing it.

♪♪ 125th Street was just the center of culture in those days.

And I saw them all, and we all lived together.

You know, like, W.E.B. Du Bois lived right up the street from me and Thurgood Marshall.

Oh, my goodness.

We'd see those people all the time.

I mean, those people were -- You know, they just were neighborhood people.

We used to wait until 3:00 in the morning, and then we would go up to 155th street and catch Duke Ellington coming out of the 155th Street subway.

And he would stop into a little diner right there on the corner.

And we'd be in there waiting for him, and he would come in and he would order a pint of ice cream to go.

And we would just sit there and just drool over him.

But you couldn't run up to these people and start yelling about, you know, 'We need an autograph.'

No. They don't do that.

Just, you know, be cool, and we did, but we also got to see him.

[ Laughs ] He was so wonderful.

There's no law saying you can't get rid of perspective.

There's no law saying you can't get rid of chiaroscuro.

If you want things to be flat -- And I do.

I want to use the colors and I want them seen.

I don't want the light and the shade.

I levitate all of them.

Well, it's a certain kind of freedom, which I think is just the most important thing in the world.

It's also an interesting way to use the space.

You know, inject the people in the space, have them moving through it.

I had myself flying sometimes somewhere, you know?

Please, I don't leave myself out of anything.

[ Laughs ] That's an idea.

I should have done that.

I should have put myself over there with the artists.

Didn't give it a thought.

Next week on 'NYC-Arts,' we follow American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside.

So I was 9 years old when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap, acrobatics at a local school in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And I got into dancing because I had tried everything else -- you know, football, baseball, soccer.

And my mom one day threw me a phone book and said, you know, 'You have to pick something.

You're driving me crazy, you hyperactive monster.'

♪♪ And so I found an ad for a dance studio in the phone book, and it was of a man holding a woman over his head with one hand, and it just looked awesome, and I said, 'I want to try that.'

And a look at the underground career of electric cellist Iain Forrest.

I'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello.

And then I can loop that segment over and over again.

I'm playing 9 or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

♪♪

And a visit to the American Folk Art Museum.

The center of the quilt is emblazoned with a large letter 'L.'

Also included is a musical staff and notes.

When Clara and her family made the journey by covered wagon, included was her piano.

Thanks for joining us this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios in Lincoln Center.

Good night.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by Members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority -- the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree -- be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction galleries.

We have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.