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CALL ME A PHILISTINE, but I have trouble seeing banged-up gym lockers and plaster utility sinks mounted on a wall as art, much less masterpieces. That’s what one of the Whitney Museum’s curators called Robert Gober’s Ascending Sink, below, at a press preview late last month to launch a 550-work gift to the Whitney by collectors Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner. (The exhibition of new works runs through March 6, 2016.)
I’ve heard of Cindy Sherman, the photographer who made a fetish of selfies long before the rest of us, and Jeff Koons, my least favorite artist of all time, and a few others, but most of the names were new to me, and most of the art, said to address such issues as advertising, technology, identity, celebrity and capitalism, inscrutable.
The Whitney’s mission is to collect, present and interpret the art of our time, and this is the art of our time, so who am I to say? I’m glad the Hoppers and Calder’s wire circus are still there in the permanent collection, though the latter has lost the prominent lobby placement it had in the uptown building.
And I was glad to move on to the Frank Stella retrospective, up through February 7, 2016, where I enjoyed the graphic works of his 1960s Pop phase, below, though he lost me with the busier compositions and Day-Glo colors of more recent times.
Mainly, I had come to see the museum’s new home, by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The building didn’t impress me, or seem much less brutal than the museum’s previous location in Marcel Breuer’s reviled Madison Avenue building, but I love the easy access to outdoor terraces and the views in all directions, notably over the river and the mile-and-a-half-long High Line, top.
The trip brought me to the Meatpacking District for the first time in a while. I miss Florent, the bar/diner that for many years was the only late-night place to go on Gansevoort Street, though not the metal cans full of cowhide and bloody animal parts.
I lament the fact that, because hole-in-the-wall Paradou was closed at lunchtime and Pastis being renovated and the Chelsea Market claustrophobic, I ended up having lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, the suddenly ubiquitous chain about which the best I can say is that it’s handy when you need a kale salad.
Not being a tourist, or, I suppose, a young person, I felt unhappy with the changes I saw in the neighborhood where once I was young (I lived in the far West Village in the early ’70s), particularly the blocks full of fashion emporia I have no use for. Why must it be all about shopping?
There’s no charm to the new Meatpacking District, no soul, none of that New York grit.
Walking back along 14th Street toward the subway restored my mood somewhat. The city hasn’t all turned into shiny metal and glass. Graffiti lives.
IT’S BEEN CALLED the ‘crown jewel’ of New York City’s public gardens: see why. The plantings at the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street — different every year — are exuberant. Their unrestrained color combos feel like the tropics; the attention to textural variation makes nearly every spot an arresting visual. High summer is the time to go, though this garden — made up largely of annual plantings, with a backbone of hedges and perennials playing a supporting role — will be fabulous through frost. Combine with a visit to the Folk City and Paul Rand exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York across the street for an ideal midsummer outing.
THE TWO POLES OF MY EXISTENCE are the immensity of nature that is the East End of Long Island and the intensity of humanity that is New York City. Which do I prefer? There’s no contest; it’s the former.
But with a couple of hours to kill in Midtown recently, while waiting to join a friend for Skylight on Broadway, I found much in the West 30s and 40s to command my attention.
Emerging into Times Square after the performance, the visual stimulation was an assault. There’s something undeniably exciting about it, I admit, but… get me back to the country ASAP.
EVERY NOW AND THEN, I need a photo workshop to help me look at things afresh. In Europe last month, I was so busy chronicling all I saw as straight-up reportage that I rarely took time to be creative with my camera — or iPhone, in my case (I’ve given up carrying anything heavier).
This morning, at the Municipal Arts Society offices in Midtown Manhattan, I took a two-hour class called “Getting the Shot” taught by Timothy Schenck, a photographer specializing in art, architecture and construction. Tim ran through an astonishing amount of information in an hour. His reminders about basic mindfulness (“focus on the task”) were not lost on me, and I loved being given permission to experiment (“tap into your individual vision,” “try the unconventional”), along with composition (eliminate visual clutter, use negative space, remember the rule of thirds) and technical tips.
I asked how to take photos of a building besides just standing in front of it and holding the camera up, something I often find myself doing. Among Tim’s suggestions: try a very low angle to take in, say, the cobblestones on a street; use ‘leading lines,’ like a row of houses diagonally pointing toward the subject building; look for a convenient bell tower for a high vantage point; take close-ups of a weathered door or interesting knob; tell a story about the building in a series of images.
All very helpful, so when our group of about 25 — most with SLR cameras, some with point-and-shoots, a few with cellphones — marched the 10 blocks south to Grand Central Terminal to put Tim’s tips into practice, I was feeling inspired. The image, top, taken on 42nd Street just in front of the station, may be my favorite of the day.
It was crowded inside the station, with more tourists than commuters. I interpreted the part of the lesson about weeding out visual clutter to mean people — people en masse, at any rate. I gravitated toward quiet corners and was surprised there were some, even inside Grand Central on a Saturday afternoon. And when there weren’t, I found that if I waited, a wave of humanity would pass and for a few seconds the coast would be clear to grab a shot of the station’s grand Beaux Arts architecture.
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
– T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
APRIL HAS BEEN CRUEL, an abrupt withdrawal from the stimulation and excitement of my monthlong trip to Europe in March. Though I was there but four weeks — and they flew — the trip had been in the planning all winter, so my head had been in Europe far longer. Now both mind and body are back in Brooklyn and I’m in recovery, chafing against the fact that I’m no longer hearing mellifluous Romance languages, hopping on and off trains with a sense of purpose, feeling intrepid and self-sufficient, exploring new streets and seeing new vistas, steeping myself in art and culture, walking a pair of sturdy boots into oblivion.
I came home to bills and taxes and issues I’d been happy to put out of my head completely for the duration of my trip. I’ve been feeling dull and grouchy, if only to myself, pissed off about being back in New York, but unwilling to kvetch out loud, for who would sympathize with someone who’d had those four weeks of freedom and delight? I couldn’t even write a blog post; what could I possibly say or show that would hold a candle to Verona or Naples? I went out to eat with friends at restaurants new to me, including Eugene and Company in Bed-Stuy and Chavella’s in Crown Heights, and though I liked them both and look forward to return visits, couldn’t even be bothered to lift my iPhone to take a photo of my food.
“Mixing memory and desire,” T.S. Eliot wrote — that’s what April has done for me, mixing the memory of being in Europe with the desire to return. Be here now? Ha. I’ve been wanting to be there. I drove out to my house in Springs to check on things and found both house and garden in perfect order, just as I left them last November, but didn’t feel the usual uplift.
It was only yesterday that I finally felt “dull roots stirring.” I met a friend for lunch in Bryant Park during a brief spell of perfect weather, and it happened as I emerged from the subway, caught a glimpse of the Park’s newly seeded lawn (thankfully rid of the skating rink and market stalls of winter) and the stately back of the Public Library, and the fountains, and the daffodils, and the carousel, and the happy people released from their offices basking in the novelty of an alfresco lunch, and even the green and blue glass skyscrapers which somehow on this day didn’t offend but wowed me with their shiny brilliance. I was a bit early, so I went inside the Library and wandered through their current, excellent exhibitions: one of vintage photographs and another of World War I graphics.
Coupled with my first visit of the season, this morning, to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, below, where the cherry orchard is late to bloom but the magnolias are going crazy, I’ve at last begun to think, hmmm… maybe New York can hold a candle, after all.