Watching Dante in 3-D in a cathedral, and other New York transgressions

These days, the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mott Street in Nolita is only busy for weddings and funerals: the demographics of the neighborhood have shifted from old school Catholic to agnostic hipster so the soaring cathedral is vastly greater in size than the parish it now serves.  But last night — on one of those electric, balmy spring nights in New York that feel hard-won after the long winter — the sacred and the profane conspired to draw the new Nolita into the old cathedral.  A large video screen was set up in front of the altar showing a bizarre, looping, 3-D projection of artist Marco Brambilla’s “Civilization,” which was an interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy as might be imagined by, say, David LaChapelle.  Strange, phantasmagoric depictions of Heaven and Hell replaced each other, one after the other, for hours and hours on end.

The showing was part of a neighborhood-wide ‘festival of ideas‘ sponsored by the nearby New Museum on the Bowery that tied in — in some ill-defined but promising way — to the European tradition of the Nuit Blanche in which museums stay open all night and license is given to any number of transgressions ordinarily forbidden within a museum space.  The New Museum itself became an enormous video screen, for which its facade of misaligned steel mesh cubes (in a celebrated design by the Japanese architecture firm SANAA) was perfectly suited.

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