On Sunday, December 19, MoMA visitors were treated to a “walk-in performance” by artist and musician Patti Smith, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of prominent and challenging French writer and political activist Jean Genet. The performance, in MoMA’s Marron Atrium, could not have been better. I picked Patti up in a car at 11:30 a.m., and Michael Stipe had joined her, so we all drove to MoMA with the guitars, and at noon sharp, Michael opened for Patti with a heartbreakingly beautiful song by David Bowie about Jean Genet, “The Jean Genie.”
After Michael’s opening, Patti improvised Jean Genet’s biography from his mother’s pregnancy to his deathbed, and she got standing ovations. She carried the Marron Atrium so naturally, it was stunning. I would say several hundred visitors gathered around her and on the bridges on all floors. Among the audience that gathered were artists such as Laurel Nakadate, Laurie Anderson, Marina Abramović, and many colleagues.
Everybody was fascinated by the ease with which she could just do a performance like this—walk in, walk out. The crowd was incredibly caring and receptive, and we hope that we will have more surprise visits like this!