Friday, October 7, 2016

August travels - part 1A (NYC)

I only had a day and a half in New York.  I stayed at some pod-like hotel, though this one had individual showers at least.  I thought the robot arm they used to store and retrieve checked luggage was pretty cool.  I'd probably stay there again.

I decided to focus on the Met and the Whitney on Friday, and then to hit the Guggenheim Sat. morning before heading out.  This is one of the first times I've skipped MoMA, though we did spend most of a day there back in the spring.

I actually got up fairly early and decided to head to the Cloisters first.  I do not routinely go there.  In fact, I probably haven't been back in 10 years or so.  The museum is fairly timeless, though they had shifted some of the carvings from the basement up to the main floor, but that was about the only change I could recognize.

I tried to be somewhat meditative on the walk through the grounds, and I also stopped and read a bit (Hill's The Book of Negroes).

On the way back, I took a slightly different path and found a huge tunnel I had never seen before, as well as the back of a lodge.  I suppose it is true that, if you keep your eyes open, there is always something new, and in this case a bit magical, to uncover in Manhattan.

There wasn't a particular exhibit I wanted to see at the Met, but basically I go on every trip to New York.  Many years ago, I used to have a set number of sites I always visited -- the Islamic room with its small fountain, the Chinese courtyard (also name-checked in Lethem's Chronic City), the Frank Lloyd Wright house (in the American Wing) and the Temple of Dundar.  In recent visits, I usually skipped one or more of these, either due to time constraints or because they were closed for reconstruction.  This time, however, I was able to get to all of them, as well as look at the 20th Century art wing, the Impressionists on the 2nd floor, and I made a quick pass through the American wing as well.  It was probably the most thorough visit in years, though there was plenty I skipped of course.  I even went up to the rooftop garden and saw this odd piece, which was a barn which had been reconfigured a bit to look like a house from a Hopper painting.

But it was really just the equivalent of a movie prop.

I was quite disappointed that the Beckmann triptych Beginning was not on view, though I did see it back in March.  On the other hand, I was a bit surprised that the room with the Thomas Hart Benton murals was still up, but after reading a bit more about the transfer, it sounds like this might become a fairly permanent part of the Modern Wing.  It is a bit hard to indicate the scale without seeing it in person.

As always it is a total embarrassment of riches at the Met, and it is hard to even decide what really caught my eye this time around -- the Chagalls, the Cezannes, the Vermeers, etc., though I was particularly drawn to this Cezanne.

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893-94

As I mentioned, I spent a bit more time exploring the Asian galleries and the American Wing than I have on the past several trips.  So that was a bit of a corrective.  I will say I was fairly exhausted by this point, however, and had to convince myself a few times to keep pushing on.

Samuel Halpert, The Flatiron Building, 1919

I decided to skip the Met Breuer (at the site of the former Whitney Museum) and just head down to the new Whitney.  This would give me a bit more time to explore the High Line before it got dark.  Since I said previously that I would break off the discussion of the Stuart Davis exhibit into its own post, I'll also talk about the High Line at that point.  I will say that I thought it was a pretty interesting space, but one that was only marginally useful for pedestrian movements.  In most cases, you would be faster just sticking to walking on the street grid below.

I did see some fairly amusing sculptures inside the 14th Avenue subway station (en route to the High Line).  This is an installation called Life Underground by Matt Otterness.  I'd seen parts of it before, but I took a bit more time on this visit.

The next morning I work up fairly early and walked over to Times Square.  I had wanted to see the Vikings exhibit at Discovery Times Square on the last trip, but no one was up for it.  For quite a while I was the only tourist in the building, and there was only one other family that came to the Viking exhibit, which was in its final weeks.  The costumes of Star Wars was doing slightly better business, but it was still too early for most tourists.  Anyway, the Vikings exhibit is supposed to correct a number of misconceptions about Vikings, including that they wore horned helmets.  That didn't stop them from selling plenty of horned helmets in the gift shop!

I have to be honest that most of the more interesting pieces were just reconstructions, and that really dampened my enthusiasm for the exhibit.  There were still some interesting gold trinkets and lots of swords (again somewhat undercutting the general theme of the exhibit that the Norsemen were generally peaceable farmers...).

In contrast, the Guggenheim was quite packed, even though it wasn't the free day.  I was there primarily for the László Moholy-Nagy exhibit, which has since moved to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Moholy-Nagy, Nuclear I, CH, 1945

Moholy-Nagy, Space Modulator CH for R1, 1942

There were several other interesting things on view in the other parts of the Guggenheim, and I found this sculpture/cityscape made from couscous by Kader Attia to be particularly droll.

I may have seen these two (from the permanent collection) previously, but they registered more on this visit.

Gino Severini, Red Cross Train Passing a Village, 1915

Albert Gleizes, Chal Post, 1915

All in all, it was a lot of art squeezed into a day and a half.  While I certainly saw several museums in Chicago, the pace wasn't nearly as frenetic.  I had basically planned on taking a cab to LaGuardia for the flight to Chicago, but since I was done with the visit to the Guggenheim almost an hour earlier than I had scheduled for, I decided to take transit out there.  I will say that they have made improvements on the express bus to LaGuardia (once you get into Queens), as it used to be a local bus that made all kinds of stops.  Unfortunately, that was about the only transit improvement that I experienced, since in general the subway felt very unreliable with poor headways.  It's actually at the point (to me) where it feels like the city is just no longer functioning well at all, and I am no longer particularly interested in living there any longer.  I suppose this is also a function of how so many of the quirky stores I liked have been lost due to rent increases and a general homogenization of Manhattan (despite the occasional magic moments I referenced above).  This falling out of love with NYC would certainly come as a major surprise to my 20-year-old self...

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