Infiltrating an avant-garde requires, if not courage, then a great deal of courtesy. Our party (the opposition, though open-minded) is greeted at the front door of one such stronghold—The Kitchen on West 19th Street—with a scene reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz: a voice box nervously asks the purpose of our visit and, not less than a few minutes later, the door is buzzed open. It turns out that we have arrived a bit too early and so are instructed to take the elevator to the upstairs lobby where we will wait until the show begins. Upstairs, a table has been laid out with brochures for upcoming events at this and other “postmodern” outposts. A large painting of the Brandenburg Gate hangs on the left wall; to the right, a photograph of Nietzsche with a caption: “I find it difficult to imagine being an artist and not being insane.”

The guests are directed back down to the main floor and into...


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