Wednesday, October 22, 2014

STARBUCKS...

... 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 NYC

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

NO POEMS OF LATE


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

A MYSTERY SOLVED? Art Review

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WOUNDED LEADERS: Book Review



First, don’t assume from this book’s subtitle that is irrelevant to us here in America, or to our leadership.  It is of vital relevance, no matter the specificity of his target.  Nick Duffell’s title will have resonance for anyone who has lived through the past couple of decades in America and watched our own wounded leaders in action--or, more correctly, inaction.  That said--and we'll come back to this--his central argument is that the boarding-school educated governing elite in Britain are themselves unconsciously governed by the lasting wounds incurred by the experience of being sent away from the family at an early age, and placed in a militaristic environment in which they learn to protect themselves from a hostile outer world.  

I can speak to this.  I am what Duffell aptly refers to as a Boarding School Survivor.  As a practicing psychotherapist, he has a long-standing practice designed to bring such people back from their emotional disorientation and isolation.  I could have used his services, long ago, but had to discover my own path through this maze.  I was sent away to school at the age of seven, and by the time I escaped to freedom at the age of eighteen, I had received a remarkable head-oriented education but remained what I often describe as an emotional cripple.  I had learned the costly and dangerous art of evasion and emotional invulnerability.  As a seven- or eight-year old, I could not afford to do anything but suppress the feelings that would open me up to attack from my fellow-boarders: fear, anger, sadness, grief, the terrible pain of being separated from parents who assured me that they loved me—even though it was hard to understand the paradox of being loved and yet exiled from the family, the locus of that love.

The result of my excellent education was that I never grew up.  Rather, it took me another three decades before I realized there was something wrong with living like a turtle in a shell.  Boarding School Survivors, as Duffell describes them, are stunted individuals so caught up in their heads that they remain disconnected from their hearts.  I simplify his profoundly well-informed and subtle arguments, whose bottom line is that Britain’s ruling elite, boarding-school and Oxbridge-educated, are supremely unqualified to lead in our twenty-first century world because they get so intently focused on their distorted, rational vision of national and global issues that they remain impervious (invulnerable) to the bigger picture of human needs.  They are unable to listen, to empathize with others than themselves and their own kind.  They are guided by the certainty of their own sense of rectitude.  To doubt, to question, to have a change of heart is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is the last thing in the world they can allow themselves.  (Duffell’s final chapter, on doubt, is particularly eloquent and on-target.)

I am admittedly unqualified to evaluate the more technical aspects of Duffell’s argument.  To this reader, he seems impressively knowledgeable and up-to-date with the latest discoveries of neuroscience and academic psychology.  He draws on a broad understanding of the philosophical development of rationalism and its critics, the countervailing social movements of repression and rebellion, and contextualizes his argument in that historical perspective.  In our contemporary times, his exemplars are primarily the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, England’s current Prime Minister David Cameron, and London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose attitudes and actions are profoundly—and in Duffell’s view—mistakenly reactionary.  As he sees it, they bully and bluster their way past opposition into futile military actions and social programs that enrich the already privileged and wealthy and contribute to the continuing impoverishment of the needy.  No wonder the England he describes is an angry country.

Late in the book, Duffell expands his vision of an entitled elite to include brief reference to American leaders—in particular, of course, George W. Bush, whose blind and reckless pursuit of a delusory obsession rushed us headlong into the war with Iraq.  The disastrous results are with us today, in the form of a Middle East in unending turmoil.  Looking at America today—a nation of people surely as angry as the British—I’d argue that what Duffell calls the Entitlement Illusion is by no means limited to British elitism.  Our leaders must also be counted amongst the wounded.  Our leadership is dominated by the squabbling of little boys who have never grown beyond the need to protect themselves and their own territory from those who do not agree with them.  Our political problems are the same as those Duffell describes in his country: militarism, misguided and prejudicial rationalism, a lack of empathy for the poor and underprivileged, an assumption of rectitude that rejects other views without a hearing, an angry rejection of doubt or reappraisal of previously held views.

Entitlement, I’d argue, is not the exclusive property of the British elite.  I myself believe it’s also, more broadly, a factor of historical male privilege, the patriarchal tradition.  There is a persistent myth in our culture that sees men as rational beings, in control of events, capable, practical, while women are (still, in the eyes of too many of us men) perceived as irrational, guided by emotion rather than reason, and therefore less competent in leadership positions.  Duffell argues passionately for a middle path, one that minimizes neither reason nor emotion, but balances the intelligence quotient with the emotional quotient, the head with the heart, reason with compassion and empathy.  I agree with him, that unless we as a species can find that balance, we are in for dangerous times ahead.  His book is a timely and important reminder of the need to “change our minds” in a fundamental way, and open ourselves to the powerful--and practical--wisdom of the heart.  I sincerely hope that the book will find readers beyond the native country of which he writes.  Its insights are profoundly needed everywhere, throughout the globe.