Thursday, October 23, 2014


It was raining when we awoke In NYC this morning.  It was raining when I went out for coffee next door.  The rain continued steadily throughout the day.  By late evening, it was a downpour.  For us Californians, it was a treat to feel the moisture in the air; to feel the skin absorb it.  We only wished we could have brought it home with us.

A lazy morning and a late start from our hotel room...

Still dry, before leaving...
Armed with a comfortably-sized umbrella, we walked the ten blocks or so from our hotel on Lexington to the Pierpoint Morgan Library and Museum further south on Madison.  Our intention was to spend a short while there and move on to other things, but the Morgan proved too beguiling for us to follow our plan.  We stayed there for the rest of the day.

Our original intention had been to see the Barbizon landscape show.  We had somehow overlooked the simultaneous exhibition of Cy Twombly's"Treatise on the Veil (second version)" but, on arrival, made that our first stop.

Nearly thirty-three length and of substantial height, this monster is a gasp-inducing vision as you step into the gallery.  Inspired by a piece of musique concrète, it features a series of scribbled "musical" notations following the length of the huge painting, left to right, against a textured grey background, marking intervals of time without apparent beginning or end.  We started with the twelve collaged and sketchily notated drawings Twombly made as he prepared for the first, six-panel version of this monumental work, finding in each of them the fascinating spectacle of the artist's mind at work.  (The musical inspiration, by the way, featured the prolonged sound of a piece of material, the "veil," being ripped apart.  Don't ask.  It's way too complicated to explore the detail here!)

No photos. by the way, in the exhibition spaces at the Morgan.  One wonders why.  They allow photos (without flash) in the library.  Is it because, as one reader suggests in yesterday's comments, they want to sell catalogues?  The images I use were pirated from books and postcards and frankly, in a couple of instances, snapped before the guard stepped in to inform us that, in this gallery, no pictures were allowed.  My readership is small enough for me not to feel guilty about this.  Here's a mostly legal partial image of the Twombly from outside the gallery...

Across from the Twombly installation, a gallery was offering the exhibition of the "Crusader Bible: A Gothic Manuscript..."

... and we thought to step in quickly to get a sense of it.  Silly us!  One manuscript page and we were captivated by these incredible paintings in small scale, filled with color and action, biblical stories of power and gore, love and friendship, royal pageantry and costume, ancient warfare interpreted with medieval weaponry and armor.  Unbelievable how the artist(s) crammed in so much action, so many battling figures, men and horses into so small a space.  How they framed the epic narratives in such compelling visual terms...

Contemporary visual novelists might well study these with envy for their sheer length and complexity.

We were entranced.  It was lunch time before we were able to tear ourselves away, and we found a table in Morgan's great, light-filled atrium designed by Renzo Piano...

... currently enhanced by an amazing installation of films of color and mobile glass panels designed by the American artist Spencer Finch...

... and inspired by the Medieval "Book of Hours"--the kind of colorful manuscript illustration in which we had just now been immersed.

Artsy selfie, in Morgan Atrium, b.g. model of the Libraropi
A very pleasant lunch, then, in this open space... and on into the dark splendor of J. P. Morgan's opulent personal study, where the corporate titan presumably oversaw the inner workings of his business and entertained the occasional privileged guest, surrounded by priceless works of art from ages past...

Talk about the 1 percent!  The wealth of this one man is unimaginable, the breadth and depth of his collections vast beyond comprehension.  Leaving his private study, we went on into the library and were stunned (once again, because we had been here before) by the books and manuscripts...

... the ancient relics and inscriptions, jewelry and art objects of all kinds.

Dizzying.  In one case, Ellie was thrilled to find a signed letter from FDR to an Arthur Spingarn...

her grandfather, great grandfather, grand uncle...? who was at one time president of the NAACP.

Then, finally, mid-afternoon, we found the exhibit we had originally come to see, "The Untamed Landscape: Théodore Rousseau and the Path to Barbizon."

It's a wonderful display of drawings and small paintings by an artist who clearly bridged the gap between Romantic landscape and the later Impressionists.  A refreshing look at the work of a man who was so much in tune with nature that he claimed to hear "the voices of the trees," and was possessed of such meticulous skill in rendering both the detail of their physical presence, their natural beauty, and the sense of awe that they inspire.  We have lost so much of our contact with the natural environment these days, it is inspiring to be reminded of its importance in our human lives.

A stop at the Morgan's gift shop, where we were parted from a bit of our cash reserves, and a walk back through the rain to our hotel, where we managed a half-hour's rest.  Then out into the rain again for a walk across town to the theater district and dinner at a small, crowded French restaurant I had found online.  Country French, not haute cuisine French. But very pleasant.  Totally edible...

We had booked tickets for our show from Los Angeles a couple of months ago, and we were glad we had.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" had just come across to Broadway from London's West End, where it had received rave reviews.  I discovered it by accident online and, knowing nothing about it, bought tickets.  It turned out to be perhaps the most extraordinary piece of theater I have ever seen.  It takes you literally inside the mind of a high-functioning autistic 15-year old boy who struggles to understand the people and the disturbing, fast-paced world around him; and at the same time explores the peculiar agony of those who know and love him.  The stage setting is amazing--a simple cube on a time/space axis defined by lines of nigh tech lights whose color and intensity is varied to infinite effect.  Imagine the thunderous sounds, the bewilderment of lights and motion in a London tube station brought to life inside the head, and you'll get close to the overpowering visual effects this show achieves.  This is not a review, or I'd have time and space to elaborate.  I don't.  Enough to say that the superlatives very soon run out in attempting to do justice to this mind-bending piece of theater.  Funny and tragic, both, it produces frequent sympathetic belly-laughs... and brings you close to tears.  If you get to New York, this is one that should not be missed.

The rain was bucketing down when we left the theater, but even so we ventured the walk back from Broadway across the Avenue of the Americas, Fifth Avenue, Madison and Park to Lexington--and arrived pretty much sodden at our hotel.  Another New York day...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


... in the morning, right next to the hotel.  A cup of tea for Ellie, coffee for me, and two oatmeals with nuts and raisins.  I brought them back to our hotel room, where we enjoyed a quiet breakfast before showering and heading out for the day.  An unsuccessful search, to start with, for an ATT store, to calm my nerves about roaming charges (we resolved these later in the day); then a brisk walk up to 53rd Street and west across Park, Madison, and Fifth Avenue to the Museum of Modern Art.  What a pleasure to be in New York City, where even the crowded sidewalks are filled with an irresistible energy.  Let alone the art...

Ellie at MoMA
We started out at MoMA with the currently-installed Robert Gober exhibition.  Having seen a smaller exhibit of this artist's work in Los Angeles a few years ago, we were nonetheless amazed by the breath and depth of Gober's vision.  There's a surrealist quality in the hairy body parts that project from the walls, and the white, fabricated sinks whose missing faucet holes look like vacant eyes.  Particularly vivid were two of these half-buried in a grass plot beyond a large window pane, upright like tombstones staring back at you as if from "beyond the grave."  And these but the introduction to gallery-scale installations, wall-papered floor-to-ceiling with (in one instance) images of male and female genitalia in chalk white against a black background.  One such installation, devoted to images and memories of the World Trade Center attacks, was especially poignant.

All good art, of course, can be seen from many different points of view.  What I came away with from the Robert Gober show was a profound sense of the pain and confusion that we humans carry around inside, and the compassion to make it bearable.

Lunch at the bustling MoMA cafeteria.  Long lines, thankfully fast-moving.  And an excellent menu.  Ellie had a variety of bruschetta, I a cauliflower quiche, and we shared a bowl of butternut squash soup.  Quite nice...

Then up the series of connecting escalators to the Matisse cut-out show on the seventh floor...

No pictures allow inside... Sorry!
I know, you're thinking colorful flowery extravaganzas and elegantly posed blue female nudes.  Me too,  And they were plentifully there.  A sense of irrepressible, exuberant joy in color and shape, as well as in the human form.  What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer quantity of these works, made for the most part in the last few years of the artist's life.  I last wrote about them, I recall, in the early 1990s, at the time of another Matisse show at the modern.  We had just received a call from my sister in England, to say that my father, who had been ill for some time, was now near death.  Having booked the first available flight back to the UK, we still had time for a stop at MoMA, and I was profoundly moved by the overflowing creative energy of this old man's work, recalling ruefully that my father's advancing age and disability had forced him to abandon his own creative work in his wood shop several years before.  It was a poignant moment, reflecting on both the potential, and the debilities of old age.  And I'm now twenty years older than I was back then!

This time, Ellie and I both found ourselves attracted by the more abstract of the cut-outs, small, simple, elegant works that seemed to foreshadow the geometric work of many of Matisse's artistic heirs in the 20th century--not to mention Ellie's own paintings in her Laguna Beach studio!

Leaving MoMA, we took a long, delicious walk up Fifth Avenue and into Central Park, heading up the east side of the park towards the Met.  To our surprise--we had been expecting rain and cold--the weather was quite wonderful, sunny, with drifting white clouds...

A well-deserved rest!
... and warm enough to walk without a jacket.  The park was at its most beautiful, the leaves only just beginning to turn from their summer green to the browns, reds and oranges of autumn.  Lots of wildlife...

We took the path that cuts through the zoo, and paused to watch a pool filled with seal lions at play.  They seemed to be channeling their inner porpoise, leaping joyfully out of the water as they swam, one of them even hoisting itself out of the water at the edge of the pool, as though posing for the cameras of a family standing by to watch.  A lovely scene.  Then on, past numerous grandparents with their grandchildren--we're specially attentive to these right now, and thought often of our little Luka...

After our unhurried walk, we arrived only late afternoon at the Met, where we were panning to see the current exhibition of Cubist works from the Lauder collection.

With only an hour left before closing time, we decided on a quick preliminary visit, to be followed up later in the week.  Though I recognize its historical importance and admire the work of Picasso and Braque, I have never felt that attuned to Cubist painting, and was surprised to hear Ellie say the same.  Their innovative compositional intricacies are endlessly fascinating, but they lack, for me, the kind of simplicity and there-ness I have come to love in works of art.  Their busy-ness has far greater appeal for the eye than for the heart.  No matter, the Lauder collection is an amazing revelation, a wealth of art history that commands respect.  Tired though the eyes were by this time, and still swamped by the colors of Matisse, I did find a lot to look at in our brief time there.  We will go back.

A walk across to Madison Avenue and a turn to the south, heading back towards our hotel.  Though it was still early evening, we were ready for food, and found it at a restaurant called, simply, EAT.  Shared a salad and a chicken dish.  Okay food, indifferent, offhand service.  But good artwork by Ellie...

Ellie Blankfort, 2014, Untitled, gravy on white plate, cutlery
Then, walking south again, we stopped at the still-open new Gagosian Gallery extension, to see a show of new work by Richard Prince--hugely enlarged "selfie" images with Twitter comments by the image's creators and responses by the artist.  Nothing could be more different from Matisse, Braque and Picasso.  Ellie was not enthusiastic, but I found the work quite fascinating, sometimes erotic, often quite funny with its multiple social cross-references.

We were left, then, with the long walk down Madison Avenue--from the mid-70s to our hotel at the corner of 47th and Lexington.  Plenty to look at in the storefront windows, ranging from uptown extravagance (Cartier, Ralph Lauren) to the more modest shops in the midtown area.  And of course the tall buildings and the city lights...

Very tired on our return to the hotel, and myself not a little irritable, trying to locate these images on the computer...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Waking in New York City to the ceaseless, oceanic roar of traffic, the aggressive and impatient blare of horns, the rumble and throb of heavy vehicles, the familiar energy of the city...  and working, with the breath, in meditation, to reconcile it with my own, much quieter energy.  The small self feels much smaller here, in the massive scale of the buildings, each with its own restless cargo of human beings, the scurrying, elbow-to-elbow stream of human bodies on the sidewalks, the crowded museums, theaters, restaurants, department stores.  

I always find New York to be at once humbling and exhilarating.  This morning, with Ellie still sleeping, I find myself infected with the impatience of the city, ready to get up, take the elevator down (we're on the ninth floor, which in itself feels strange to us flat city dwellers!) and step out of the hotel to join the throng, and find a Starbucks and a New York Times.  There's much we want to do today...

Friday, October 17, 2014


Coyote frets: the Muse
has been bringing him
no poems of late.
At which the Muse,
indignant, chides,
I brought you one
just the other night;
my gift went, shamefully,
neglected.  Constrained
to recognize the truth
of what she says, Coyote
remembers that he found
the scrap end of a poem
somewhere in the corner
of his mind and never
got to unraveling it.
I guess, he must admit,
my mind was busy
elsewhere.  I was not
paying attention.  Which,
tartly says the Muse,
is just exactly what
I'm always telling you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Amelia Earhart buffs might be surprised to learn that the remains of her aircraft, widely reported to have gone down off Howland Island in the South Pacific, made it all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Monica Bay, where it was only recently rediscovered and successfully raised from the ocean floor by the artist Dan Van Clapp.  His evidence is currently on improbable display at Future Studio Gallery in Highland Park.

All images courtesy Future Studio Gallery
Seriously, you'll be astonished by the verisimilitude of the artist's recreation, not only of the cockpit and a large part of the fuselage of the Lockheed Electra 10 E that Earhart was flying on the final, fateful leg of her global circumnavigation attempt, but also various severed pieces of the plane and other memorabilia--headset, helmet...

... a sodden logbook, and so on.  It's a tour de force of deceptive ingenuity and legerdemain.  You'd swear the tire is made of actual decomposing rubber...

... the fuselage and the visible remaining engine parts of metal.  No.  It's all illusion, crafted with enough skill to fool both eye and mind.  You go up really, really close and you still can't tell that this torn metal fragment is actually a piece of paper.

Von Clapp's installation intrigues the viewer at a variety of levels.  The artist teases us optically, of course, but also challenges the obsession with mystery and celebrity that drives the unending search for Earhart's plane.  He plays with questions of historical truth and our perception of reality, the way we view, and reconstruct our history, and bestow mythic stature on our heroes.  In the absurdist tradition, he seamlessly blends tragedy and sly humor; we can't help but smile at his trickery. His meticulous reconstruction is also an act of love, an homage to the woman whose feisty and indomitable courage is a reminder that the spirit of adventure and the embrace of danger are not the exclusive territory of men.

It's a remarkable achievement, and one that merits the trek to a less-than-familiar part of town.  We art folk tend to travel familiar paths, and too often miss what calls out to be seen.  We tend to look for the familiar names, and tend to pass over the ones that are less familiar or unknown to us.  Too bad.  We're the losers for it.

Meantime, kudos to Dan Van Clapp for a show that shouldn't be missed.  I'm only surprised that he didn't create the famous aviator's earthly remains.  But perhaps that's something best left to the imagination.