Trip to NYC, March 2009

 My buddy Mike and I took a quick trip to NYC: 3 nights at the Grand Hyatt, next to Grand Central Station–the shiny black box this side of the Chrysler building in the picture on the left. (Note: the picture was taken standing on 42nd Street.) I spent most of the time in museums and galleries and foraging for cheap food. It went too quickly but man did I get a lot done.

First off was the Brooklyn Museum, which had just opened an exhibit of Gustave Caillebotte from the Impressionist era. Like some more famous painters, he liked painting water. He shared the Impressionist interest in common people, even in paintings that departed from the Impressionist style, like The Floor Scrapers, 1876. He differed from the many of the famous Impressionists in that he was wealthy. Even though the human figures in the The  Floor Scrapers aren't quite as well drawn as the floor, it's so touching it will probably stay with me longest.

I also explored the Egyptian galleries at the BM (nice initials, guys)–so remarkable they convinced me to check out the Egyptian holdings at the Metropolitan the next day.

Even spending most of a day at the Metropolitan it's hard to cover more than a fraction of the place. I focused first on the Egyptian collection and took an excellent tour, including whole tombs carried over here from there that you could actually enter.The air inside was so spare it felt as though it had been breathed by mummies.

Next were late paintings and drawings of Pierre Bonnard, with soft focus, rich colors, and a sad stillness. His drawings, including studies for the paintings, interested me more, showing a more spontaneous vision without interference from the "finish" supplied by the coloration.

Next up, 500 years of drawings by masters from Raphael to Renoir. Knowing something about their painting, I again felt the drawings helped reveal their sensibility in a new way, without the distraction of complex subjects or coloration. Check out this Van Gogh, for example. Amazing, don't you think?

After paying obligatory respect to the large Impressionist and small but striking modern collections, I ended at an exhibit of African textiles–the most beautiful I've ever seen, and that includes Africa. Stretching the category is a striking "tapestry" of metal labels from necks of liquor bottles by El Anatsui, a Ghanaian, a version of which also showed at the de Young in San Francisco.

I actually ended the visit at the bookstore, where I wound up with a book on reading hieroglyphics. You'll know I've read the book when I post an entry in hieroglyphics.

The next day I headed on Metro North up to the Dia:Beacon to see what turned out to be the finest collection of contemporary art I'd ever seen. The superlative is intended to include favorites like Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, and Dan Flavin, but surprisingly it extends even to characters I rarely take a second look at, like Andy Warhol and John Chamberlain.

The Dia's Beacon collection is housed in an old Nabisco factory, a vast space with incredible natural light. They must have added the light, since I doubt that the factory needed it for the cookies. Beacon is just an hour north by train, but while it was spring in NYC it was winter in Beacon.That's me freezing below.

 

The exhibition space lends itself to imposing displays. Even Fred Sandback's lengths of yarn extending from ceiling to floor were breathtaking!

Each exhibit came with a full page of description and explanation–really illuminating, aside from artspeak excesses like this commentary on Judd:

 While it eschews metaphor and association, it nonetheless garners meaning and affect from its engagement with space, time, and existence.

Come again? Is there anything in the world to which that statement could not apply in principle? One sees why artists choose to paint and construct rather than write. Though it is mentioned that Judd was once an art critic. I don't know whether to look for his writings or not.

Actually, the page-long cheat sheets on the artists include many striking quotes:

  • Donald Judd, describing his work: "acknowledging the contingencies in looking."
  • Agnes Martin: "I used to paint mountains here in New Mexico and I thought they looked like anthills / I saw the plains driving out of New Mexico and I thought / the plain had it / just the plane."
  • Louise Bourgeois: "Space does not exist. It is just a metaphor for the structure of our existence." (I'm still thinking about that one, trying not to occupy too much physical space while pondering.)

Whether space is real or not, something that felt like empty space occasionally opened up in my tummy, leading to searches for food at all hours of day and night, something it's easy, fun, and cheap to do in New York–the later the hour, the cheaper.

My neighbor Jon Hammond recommended the diner on the left, at 42nd Street and 11th Avenue. It was fabulous. I had a splendid if faux moussaka (with spaghetti sauce), and Mike ordered a Reuben and got an open-faced pile of cheese and pastrami on bread (I don't recall any sauerkraut).

On First Avenue below 14th Street very late one night we found a pizza joint that had the best NY pizza either of us had ever had: fresh mozzarella and all manner of vegetables (e.g broccoli) on heavenly crust (an up-to-date translation for manna?). The onions had been pre-grilled, one of several gourmet touches at what otherwise would have passed for a greasy spoon.

My Lexicon co-worker Heather, a New York foodie, recommended places to fit all budgets, and unsurprisingly we wound up at the lowest-budget one, the Shake Shack, on the left. It's in an unassuming building (the term

shack is well chosen) right in Madison Square Park, across from the Flatiron building, to the right. (The ethereal white specks in the picture are rain, not flying saucers.) Despite the rain and cold (maybe 40 degrees), people not only queued up in great numbers but (there being no dining space inside) sat at picnic tables in the park to ingest their burgers, fries, and shakes. We opted to take ours back to the hotel, inciting some disapproval-or-was-it-envy on the bus trip back with the fragrant carry-outs.

I won't even mention the food concessions at Grand Central. You won't believe me, so why should I even bother to tell you?

 

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