Don’t know what it is, but I know what I like

What is it about art that makes us hate art lovers so very much? It’s
easy enough to love artists themselves, particularly artists who can
convey emotion beautifully on the canvas but who struggle to express
simple thoughts in conversation. I like that over-abstracting flavor of
awkwardness in a person. What I don’t like is the sorts of people who
speak fluidly and easily and steadily at art openings, stuffing green
grapes and Brie into their faces while deciding which painting will go
best in their guest bathroom. Do I hate their big, dusty piles of cash
that much? Or do I hate this urge to own something that came from such a
pure place, to frame it and show it off and use it to service their own
egos? But aren’t we all ego-driven louts?

That quote is from Heather Havrilesky’s column in Salon this week, reviewing Bravo’s new reality show, “Work of Art.” But it could well be a monologue from Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play “Art,” currently in a sharp, smart, entertaining production at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

“Art” at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Pictured (l to r) Harry Bouvy, Rob Breckenridge and Darren Eliker. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater.

I don’t hate art lovers — some of my best friends are art lovers — but I do dislike the rarefied, condescending air that I feel hovering around a museum or gallery. Then again, is it the art lovers that are looking down at me, or is it me looking up at them, who have taken the time to understand the history and vocabulary of the art world? And what is art (or Art) anyway? Is it what I like, or what I understand the influences and framework of, or what I know cost a lot of money?

Reza’s play is a bit about these questions, and a bit about friendship. What value does one get from being a friend? How do you measure the ROI of friendship?

Yet as heavy and ponderous as all these questions are, the play itself is a hoot. At the Public, it’s fast-paced (literally, as it’s just 75 minutes long) and snappy. Harry Bouvy as Yvan delivers an extended monologue that brings down the house, but all three actors shine. It’s a perfect show to attend with close friends — whether they love art or not.

“Art” plays at the Public through June 27. Find details and buy tickets at the PPT website.

Pittsburgh Public Theater provided me with complimentary tickets for this production.

2 replies on “Don’t know what it is, but I know what I like”

  1. I read “Art” in a drama literature class a couple years ago, and saw Reza’s “Life x 3” not long after. I didn’t know much about the play before I saw it, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I think the American in me thought it was going to be more amusing than it was. Did you see it?

  2. Andrea, do you mean have I seen “Life x 3”? I haven’t. From reviews I get the sense that it’s the kind of play that I like, wherein the plot replays multiple trajectories and we see characters from different angles (I’m a fan of “Rosencranz & Guildenstern Are Dead” for example, and the film “Sliding Doors”) — but I haven’t read or seen “Life x 3”. I suspect that whether you enjoy that play or not depends very heavily on the cast and director.

    But I can wholly recommend Art. I’ve seen it before, and liked it then, but the show at the Public exceeded my expectations.

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