Friday, March 8, 2013


(Taken this morning, Friday, from our apartment window)

Well, it did come, finally, the white stuff, as predicted.  We found ourselves walking at times yesterday through a chilly mixture of snow, rain and sleet--but it was not nearly as bad as forecasters had been warning.  It was uncomfortable, at most, walking into the wind, but we survived the day without having to curtail any of the contingency plans--including a theater date--we had made after the decision not to fly off at an early hour on a stormy trip to Texas.  And while the storm was clearly not what had been predicted and I had occasional attacks of remorse in the course of the day, that I was not now en route to fulfill the commitment I had made, I still felt the decision was a right one.  And (see above) it did snow a lot more last night, and continues this morning.)

The taxi, then, did not arrive at seven thirty to drive us to the airport.  But I was woken at six by the now familiar cacophony of heating pipes and hauled myself out of bed for a thirty-minute meditation.  I heard, I swear, an owl at the beginning of my sit...  Time for a leisurely session at the blog and, when Ellie woke, a cup of tea before preparing for the rigors of the storm and venturing out into the streets.  Our first stop, late morning, was for breakfast up the street on Amsterdam at Barney Greengrass--a treat we had promising ourselves at some point during our New York stay: a deli breakfast at what we remembered to be one of our great destinations in the past.  Alas, it was not as we remembered.  We get a better onion bagel at Shirley's  in Laguna Beach!   And, unless we mis-remember, the atmosphere is not what it once was--now rather desultory and run-down.  The highlight was a cheerful conversation struck up between tables as we ate, about New York as it once was and--in some respects at least--no longer is; about the homogenization of the great cities of the world.

In view of the "storm," we treated ourselves to a taxicab ride across the park, got out at Fifth Avenue just north of the Met, and walked the remaining few blocks up to the Guggenheim--and were appalled to find it closed.  On a Thursday!  An odd day for a museum to be closed.  Ah well.  We walked on to Madison and turned south, pausing to buy a gift for little Luka at a notions shop and again at an old favorite of ours, a shop that specializes in the American art pottery we once collected--but can now no longer afford because the prices have absurdly escalated.  Then on down Madison to the Whitney, this one mercifully open.

We enjoyed our old friend Barbara Haskell's exhibition, American Legends: From Calder to O'Keeffe, featuring a handful of key artists who opened up the path for a true American identity in the history of modern art--such originals as Stuart Davis, Joseph Stella, Elie Nadelman, Joseph Cornell, Jacob Lawrenece, Edward Hopper...  A great opportunity for a more extended look at their work, which is often buried in the vaults or at best represented by a single painting here or there.  Highlights, for me, was the Jacob Lawrence series of war paintings from the WWII era and, particularly, the a small room devoted entirely to the work of Oscar Bluemner which I had known only by reputation before.

On another floor, we were thrilled to find an exhibit of the remarkable Bay Area artists, Jay DeFeo, with, at its centerpiece, her celebrated masterpiece, "The Rose"...

(My own iPhone snapshot)
The show was a comprehensive study of DeFeo's oeuvre, including many works that led up to "The Rose" and did much to help understand this massively encrusted oil painting whose lava-like surfaces reach depths of up to 11 inches of paint.  The sunburst effect at the center works as the source of awesome energy and light in one of the most overpowering art works of the post-war period.  Though the exhibition makes a good case for subsequent work, it seems to me that the artist reached the core of her creative energy with this work, and that what came after never managed to replicate its urgency and raw power.

Down another floor we found Blues for Smoke, an exhibition of artists influenced by the American musical tradition of the blues, but had too little time to do more than walk through it quickly to get a sense of the extent of that influence on visual art--and on the culture at large.  Again, some wonderful surprises along the way including, for me, some knockout paintings by Beauford Delaney--another artist too rarely celebrated.

Leaving the Whitney, we walked on down Madison through increasingly wet and miserable weather, with a pit stop for coffee and a biscotto along the way, arriving finally at another of our detinations for the day, a Philip Guston show at McKee Gallery on Fifth Avenue.  Marvelous great paintings from the artist's late, cartoony-figurative period, with the inclusion, as instructive contrast, of a single large-scale example of his earlier abstract work.  What a great, daring switch to have made, and at what risk to an already well-established reputation!  He needed, I suppose, to say something urgent about American social values and American culture and found that he could not say it through abstraction.  A difficult choice, and one that was made boldly, without looking back.

More snow.  No prospect of a taxi at this time and in this weather, so we steeled ourselves for the walk to the theater district and headed on south on Fifth Avenue, cut through the Rockefeller Center and jostled our way through the always crowded, always bustling intersection of Seventh Avenue and Broadway at Time Square, by now brilliant with the garish lights of theater marquees and multi-story high advertisements, all glistening in reflection on wet sidewalks and gathering puddles in the gutters.  Picked up our tickets for Old Jews Telling Jokes at the theater box office and took the solitary ticket seller's recommendation for a walk around the block to the West Bank Cafe, where we enjoyed a good dinner and a glass of wine to refortify the body after the ravages of the storm.

Old Jews was hilarious, start to finish.  Five actors, five voices, five back-stories, and a thousand jokes. Great body language, great story-telling skills.  And a tiny theater, with a great feeling of community.  Aside from the having to dodge the very large head in front of me, this one goy enjoyed the gale of laughter--that great, universal healer of everything that ails the human race.

After the performance, we found a cab with remarkable ease and returned to our apartment quite a bit exhausted but much pleased with out day.  Tomorrow--this morning, as I write--is our last in New York before heading back to the West Coast.

No comments: