Wednesday night, at a party thrown by MoMA PS1 that kicked off the week of art fairs beginning tomorrow in New York with the opening of Frieze, Martha Wainwright burst through a side door of the museum’s so-called performance dome, the white bulbous half-sphere that rests in the building’s courtyard, holding an acoustic guitar and wearing a jacket that sparkled when the light caught it. She was accompanied by PS1’s director, Klaus Biesenbach. She climbed on stage and told a very chatty audience Mr. Biesenbach requested that she sing Edith Piaf songs.
“This song is called ‘Adieu mon coeur,'” she said. “Goodbye my heart.” The audience, sipping on some of the free booze from the bar outside the performance dome, was still talking above her. “Shhhh,” she said. “Pretend it’s an art show.”
That request didn’t really work. She played the song–and she sang her ass off, by the way–but when it was over she was shushing the crowd again.
“Where is everyone coming from?” she said (there were a lot foreign dialects in the room, probably European art collectors, or just people who crossed the Atlantic for a decent party). “You’ve come a long way. If we could just stay focused and be in this room. Shhh. It will be more enjoyable for you–and for me–if you just…shut up.”
At this point, a scary looking man with a goatee and a fedora shouted from the audience in a thick French accent: “Everyone! Please! Be! Quiet!”
She continued singing, hunching over into her microphone and flailing her arms as she did. She was either squeezing her eyes shut because she was passionate about the songs, or because she was trying to pretend the audience wasn’t there, talking. Maybe it was a little of both.
“Sing Frère Jacques!” shouted one particularly crude audience member who had a decent amount of hair gel clinging to his scalp.
Ms. Wainwright sang another song and when she was finished she said gravely, “Klaus would like to speak to his pupils for a moment.” It felt like the room took a collective gulp.
She knelt down and handed her microphone to Mr. Biesenbach, who was standing at the edge of the stage.
“I think we should be silent and listen,” he said, his German accent adding not a small amount of sternness to his pep talk. “Or we should go out and have a drink and talk. Go out to the bar under the tent. It’s on the house. Only stay for the art–for Martha–if you really listen.”
(It’s probably worth mentioning that the floors of the performance dome were, at least on this night, conspicuously sticky–like a particularly grimy rock club where people have spilled beer and liquor and whatever else on the ground.)
Strangely enough, people kind of shut the hell up after Mr. Biesenbach reprimanded them. The hair gel guy looked a little embarrassed.
At this point, Ms. Wainwright picked up her acoustic guitar and said, “I’m gonna do a few songs of my own if that’s O.K.”
“Motherfucker!” someone in the audience shouted, most likely referring to the Martha Wainwright song, “Bloody Mother Fucking Ass Hole.”
“Me?” she said. “That’s not really the way to call out that song to me.” She paused and added, “I can’t say no.”
She started strumming the song, but at this point people started talking again. A few members of the audience were trying to shush everyone else. “You bloody motherfucking assholes,” Ms. Wainwright sang, the lyrics seeming extra appropriate for this gig. “You bloody motherfucking ass holes.” She added an impromptu lyric: “You heard what Klaus said.”