Two weeks ago, I went to an evening in New York in honour of the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham…There was a form to all of it, but in the moment of performance it was ungraspable. Things were in constant motion, like overlapping ripples on a rainy pond. It was mesmerising – and hard to know where to look and who to follow…I meant to stay an hour, and remained for almost four. Sometimes I’d find myself taking respite beside a stage void of dancers, a visual equivalent to Cage’s silent work, finding myself looking at the clear patch of floor as if it might tell me something. I bumped into a few friends, but we mostly kept our distance, not wanting to break one another’s mood. As well as watching, there was space and time to reflect. The best art always returns you to yourself.

A part of me wanted to keep this experience to myself and not write about it. When it was over, I walked into the evening with a kind of aimless purpose – almost tearful, though it’s hard to say exactly why. The experience was complicated, a relationship between setting and dance, music and acoustics, the occasion itself and everyday life beyond…

The art world is in crisis. First there was too much money; now there isn’t enough. Newspapers and print media are in crisis. Theory is in crisis (does anyone have time to do more than look at the pictures in magazines nowadays?). Curating is in crisis. The professional critic is in crisis (they are dropping like flies in north America). Artists – well, they’re always in crisis, drama queens that they are.

But crisis is good. Crisis is sexy. Crisis shakes you up. And if it changes our habits when it comes to looking at art, reading about it, or even making it, then that’s probably good, too. Artists, if they’re any good, are engaged in a war against habit, complacency and indifference.


Adrian Searle