While Cardozo was busy raising the issue of tattoos yesterday from the West Coast, Ellie and I spent the day in New York City. The energy here is famously incredible. You feel it the moment you arrive--and it simply never stops. Even at night, you feel the beat of it, the constant flow. And the depth of cultural strata! We felt it first with a simple walk to the local market to buy breakfast makings: at the cheese counter, there must have been at least three hundred different varieties. You'd put on ten pounds just looking at them--if you didn't know you'd be spending the rest of the day on your feet, elbowing your way through the endless crowds of people.
Breakfast at home, then, in the perfectly comfortable little apartment we discovered (thanks, Bobbie) down in Chelsea, saving ourselves a good $1500 in hotel bills over the long weekend. Then an easy subway ride up to Columbus Circle and a stroll from there back down to 57th Street and the midtown galleries--passing Carnegie Hall and thinking, really, what a thrill to be back in this hub of every cultural activity.
Of the midtown galleries, if you're headed toward NYC or live here, I'd say don't miss the show at Marion Goodman--a group show celebrating her 30th anniversary with some of the outstanding artists she has shown over the years, artists of the caliber of Marcel Broodthaers and Kiki Smith, Richard Artschwager and Juan Munoz. A stunning show, from which I'll mention only the marvelous installation by the South African artist William Kentridge (follow the "Artists" tab on the bottom of the page), "Preparing the Flute," which I took to be the maquette for a stage production of Mozart's "Die Zaubertfloete." Working with the music from this (literally!) enchanting opera, Kentridge built the model of a stage and played his images against a screen at the rear--a wonderful moving collage of black and white drawings, flashing lines and bursting fireworks, the artist's trademark birds with opening wings, and the artist hmself, his hand creating this unending series of eye-seizing images, magical and dark at once, as is the opera.
Stopping at a couple of the upscale galleries in this area, and pausing for a light lunch at a French restaurant on Madison Avenue, we made our way up to the Whitney, where there was a small show of very large paintings by the Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford in the project room (follow this link to see Bradford discussing his work on YouTube):
--and an absolute knock-out of an exhibition upstairs, a huge, comprehensive retrospective of the work of the African-American artist Kara Walker.
Walker takes on issues of racism and sexism in America with uncompromising, directly confrontational candor, using her extraordinary drawing skills and her familiar cut-out, silhouette images to demand that we take a hard look not only at the history of the "peculiar institution" of slavery but also its unhealed wound in the contemporary world. Images of oppression are countered with exuberant, finger-in-your-eye acts of personal liberation as texts and filmed puppetry, drawings and objects clash together in Walker's angry, outraged, defiant, and wildly human imagination. Very happy not to have missed the opportunity to see the full range of this artist, whose work has engaged me for quite a number of years.
A respite from art as we walked down Fifth Avenue, in light rain, from 77th Street to 53rd, rather than take a taxi to the Museum of Modern Art. Once we got there, we were astounded to find a line that stretched--well, it must have been at least a half mile, snaking through endless rows of barriers in an adjacent parking lot as though for an E-ride at Disneyland. It was, we discovered, Free Friday, and it seemed that half of New York had turned out for the occasion. The line moved fast, though, and we were soon inside the museum, concealing our carry-bag under our coats in order to avoid the lines at the cloakroom counters. Wonderful, really, to see people turn out in such crowds for art...
The Seurat drawing show... amazing!
I'm running out of superlatives, and I know that the exclamation marks are beginning to pile up. Forgive me. There were hundreds of drawings in this show, all of them made in a few short years (Seurat died at the age of 31,) and many of them studies for the great paintings, like the Grande Jatte, that earned him posthumous fame. Imagine, though, drawings without lines--or lines used not to define the images so much as to texture the ground on which they are created. Made in Conte crayon on a highly-textured, hand-made paper, these drawings are masterworks of evocation. No faces, please. The figures and landscapes seem to emerge from some dark inner necessity of the artist's, some inner compulsion to find their essence rather than their individuality, and to find it through the physical action of rehearsing it in drawing. The sheer numbers of what I thought of as Seurat's "essays" brought to mind my own fascination with the idea of practice, the idea that if you keep at it long enough and with enough attention you will eventually get it right. My sitting practice, over the past ten years, has brought me to a deeper understanding of the physical practice of paying attention that informs the best of art--as well as the best of writing. (Oh, Carnegie Hall again: "Practice, practice, practice...")
There was more at MoMA, the magnificent Martin Puryear show. (I find it somehow heartening to find so much New York museum space, once almost the exclusive province of white guys--and I mean guys!--now occupied by African-American artists: Walker, Bradford, and now Puryear.)
Puryear's strange, monumental objects seem constantly to evoke figural referents, but never quite become anything other than themselves. Constructed for the most part, in beautifully crafted wood, they use simple, even primitive forms to speak to the archetypal memory. I find that these objects of extraordinary elegance and serenity have the effect of elevating the spirit: the viewer feels somehow ennobled by their presence and proximity, embued with a kind of inner joy. It's an odd effect, but a very pleasant one. You just keep wanting to smile, and be with them. Little children, I noticed, seem driven to interact with them--contrary to the ubiquitously posted museum rules--as though they were some unusually exotic playground structures.
A great art day, then. Early evening, we found our way around the block from MoMA to the penthouse apartment of our friends Michael and Kim McCarty--she a wonderful artist whose work we had seen earlier at a group show in a gallery off Madison, he the proprietor of the celebrated Michael's restaurants in Santa Monica and New York. We admired their Fred Fisher designed remodel and were regaled with a fine champagne and tasty smoked salmon canapes before being escorted down for dinner in the restaurant that attracts the elite of the literary and media worlds, where we delighted in the distinctive Michael's cuisine.
A spectacular treat. (Thanks Kim, thanks Michael!)
Well, listen, I'm out of time and I risk boring everyone with the sheer length of this entry, so I'll pause now, even though I have not yet reached the end of this super-rich day. More tomorrow! And pictures! Come back and visit this one again!