Tuesday, February 01, 2005
I took my almost 16-year old niece, Morgan, to Manhattan last week for her first visit to the Big Apple. I love the city, and love sharing it with friends and family. We ran ourselves ragged, mostly seeing art and braving the cold. The highs were only in the 20’s and the wind was relentless, but we’re both originally from Alaska and won’t let a little thing like cold stop us. Morgan attends an alternative high school in Boulder, The Watershed School, which is based on experiential learning and expeditions to different environments. Her dean of students created a project assignment for Morgan centering on art, New York as a melting pot and as a destination for artists. And we managed to find time to do some shopping, too!
Thursday morning we went to The Whitney to see a retrospective of 50 years of works on paper by the artist Cy Twombly. I’m always interested in an artist’s work over time, especially recurring motifs. Twombly’s work has used a consistent visual vocabulary of text or writing or representations of writing. His large chalkboard paintings of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s are the most explicit “writing” but many of his works contain words. His work has also been inspired by Greek and Roman mythology for a long time. I loved this show. The Whitney’s collection also includes some wonderful 20th century art.
I wanted to go to the Whitney before going to the Metroplitan Museum of Art, since I know that I can spend entire days there. The Met has so much to see; but I find myself returning to their Impressionist and 20th century galleries, which is where my real interests lie. It was great to see Morgan seeing Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, etc etc etc. She noted how from far away the Monet haystacks look soft and smooth, but when you stand right next to the canvas it’s messy and thickly painted. We went to the Costume Institute show of Wild: Fashion Untamed, which shows different uses of animal motifs in fashion. It was both beautiful and repulsive to see all the fur and feathers on display. Much easier to enjoy the Temple of Dendur.
We went back to our hotel for a quick change and then to dinner at Picholine, which is perfectly located for Lincoln Center events. Wonderful flash seared white tuna appetizer for me and warm lobster salad for Morgan. Rich food. We went to an all-Balanchine performance of the New York City Ballet. Agon and Apollo, the first and last pieces of the program, were wonderful, with the outrageous extension and rapid footwork that typifies Balanchine’s choreography. The middle piece, Orpheus, was a story ballet with costumes by Noguchi; and it was too strange for both of us. Morgan’s assessment was that several of the costumes looked like they had puppy tails sewn on them. Neither of us liked this piece. Morgan noted that virtually every member of the audience was old and was Caucasian, which I fear signals the future demise of ballet. But it’s certainly alive and beautiful and being danced right now.
Friday morning we went to the new MoMA. As we walked from our hotel on Lexington toward the MoMA I could see a long line already formed in the cold. I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to wait to get in; but the tickets I had purchased in advance from their website allowed us to immediately enter the museum without any wait at all. Praise to the internet!
The new building feels to me much like the old building, with large white-walled galleries and several dead ends that force you to walk back through the art you’ve already looked at. I’m not sure how much museums should be about architecture versus being about places to see art; so I think the new building works well as an enormous glorified gallery. The audio tour which I reserved for Morgan was full of the usual pretentious art critic language. Why can’t they just tell you about Malevich’s life and work and historical context in plain English? By the time we were going through the upper floors the museum started to get crowded, but our timely entry gave us a leisurely art viewing and discussing experience. It’s great to have the MoMA opened again.
We spent Friday afternoon with a childhood friend of mine from Alaska who is now a successful visual artist in New York. Theresa Chong, who is represented by Danese Gallery, grew up in Fairbanks and played cello in school orchestra and youth symphony and the Fairbanks Symphony with me. We reconnected last spring after drifting apart after our college years. It’s a special experience to go gallery hopping with an artist. We hit many of the Chelsea galleries: Gagosian, Matthew Marks, Cheim and Read, and about 15 others. Morgan was a really good sport to keep looking at art and listen to Theresa and I talk about it. We went back to Theresa’s studio to look at her current work, and then went to dinner at Meet Restaurant on Gansevort Street, which is possibly the loudest restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s interesting to see formerly marginal neighborhoods get swallowed up by the gentrification/gallerification of downtown. After dinner Theresa and her husband, Brian, gave us a ride through Times Square so Morgan could see the lights.
Saturday we wandered through SoHo and did some shopping at stores that don’t exist in Colorado, and then came home. It’s great to spend time there, and remember why we moved away from the big city (Boston) to live in a place where our golden retrievers run free and we can’t see another house from our house and the pace is livable. But New York is one of my very favorite places to visit – and I look forward to my next trip with Morgan.