Patti Smith performed a mini-concert at the Brooklyn Museum on Tuesday to honor photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and add her voice to a series of pop-up events that represent New York City’s first baby steps toward the return of live indoor performances.
Smith performed six songs as well as read poetry and excerpts from her book “Just Kids” in the Beaux-Arts Court at the museum, her voice bouncing off the skylight 60 feet above. It was a concert to also honor museum workers and drew just under 50 people, all socially distanced in widely spaced chairs.
“I’m not nervous, but it’s been so long,” she told the crowd. An hour later, just before donning her mask and walking off after a standing ovation, she added: “Hope to see you soon.”
Dressed in black from her boots to her shirt with her gray hair flowing, Smith and an accompanist, Tony Shanahan, performed “Wing,” “My Blakean Year,” “Grateful” and “Dancing Barefoot,” as well as Tim Hardin’s “How Can We Hang On to a Dream?” and Neil Young’s “Helpless.” She ended the set with her biggest hit, “Because the Night,” written with Bruce Springsteen. It was one of many city-wide cultural events that are part of NY PopsUp, a new festival running until Labor Day that is overseen by producers Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal.
The programming is lead by interdisciplinary artist and director Zack Winokur, who said he wants events that are “intimate, provocative, gorgeous, stop us in our tracks and remind us what it is to connect with other people through live performance.” Winokur noted that NY PopsUp is curated by a council of artists, including jazz musician Jon Batiste, set designer Mimi Lien and playwright Jeremy O. Harris. It hopes to get the arts — a giant motor of the city’s economy and culture — moving again.
“We have to take baby steps in order to make sure that it’s incredibly safe,” he said. “Those constraints afford a kind of intimacy and opportunity that is really getting us back to the basics of what it is to connect with people and to connect with art again.” The shows are being held in performance spaces — including The Apollo in Harlem, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn and Broadway’s Music Box theater — that are able to be adapted for social distancing guidelines.
Other artists expected to participate include Hugh Jackman, Chris Rock, Alec Baldwin, Amy Schumer, Many Patinkin, Q-Tip, Sutton Foster, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Renée Fleming, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.
The Smith concert came on the same day in 1989 that Mapplethorpe died at age 42. It also marked the one-year anniversary of when Smith last performed live, at The Fillmore in San Francisco. She weaved stories about Mapplethorpe and her husband, Fred Smith, with her daughter, Jesse, in attendance. She spoke of the day in 1976 in Detroit that she first locked eyes with her future husband.
Smith, known as the Godmother of Punk, came out of New York in the early 1970s to create a blend of cerebral, raggedly emotional music. On Monday, she read from a selection from “Just Kids” about her life with Mapplethorpe in the borough of Brooklyn, describing a couple with not much money but a killer record collection.