We just returned from a flat-out wonderful week in New York City, my favorite city in the world, my hometown. OK, technically I was born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, and only lived in Manhattan when I went to Columbia. Nonetheless, I consider NYC to be “home.”
I did four museums, saw three shows, hung out with my two best friends from high school, and attended one large family wedding. And that’s just a partial list.
It was a great week: I stayed away from media as much as I could and hardly heard anything about Stormy Daniels, Scott Pruitt’s rent, Roseanne’s ratings, the shake-up at the VA, and Laura Ingraham’s apology.
Maybe the only escape is the escape into Art.
Some highlights in a week filled with highlights:
LIFE LIKE: SCULPTURE, COLOR, AND THE BODY at the Met Breuer
LIFE LIKE was one of the most purely enjoyable museum exhibitions I’ve seen in a long time. Featuring more than 120 eye-opening works, this show examines how artists from 1300 A.D. to the present have attempted to actually replicate the human body in art. Drawing on the Met’s rich collection along with loans from other major museums, the show is a blizzard of brilliance and sheer fun, including works by old masters from Donatello, Rodin, and Degas and contemporary artists such as Duane Hanson, Charles Ray, and Jeff Koons.
The ingenuity, resourcefulness, imagination, and technical ability of the artists in the show put me in a state of joy and wonder that the best art creates in the viewer. This non-chronological show is filled with surprises and provocative contrasts, encouraging interesting dialogues and jokes across the ages: a medieval San Sebastian stands next to a stripped Palestinian prisoner, Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles sit next to an elaborate Meissen centerpiece, etc. The materials used by the artists besides the traditional marble, clay, wood, plaster, etc., include real hair, real teeth, bones, wax, clothing – almost anything. Many of the images were unsettling; others forced my laughter.
The show takes up two floors of the Met Breuer and was filled with more works than I could possibly assimilate at once. If I lived in the City, I might go back. As it was, I bought the catalog the minute I got home.
It’s the kind of show that anyone, even a non-museum-lover, can love: all you have to have is a body. Anybody in the New York area should run to see this show. There will be long lines for this blockbuster.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: NO REFUGE BUT WRITING at the MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM
I love the Morgan Library and spent many long lunch hours there when I worked at a nearby book publisher. It is a genuine midtown treasure, sometimes lost in a city of Major Attractions.
The Library--once the home of J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), a titan of capitalism and one of his era’s World’s Richest Man—is built around a magnificent Classical Revival mansion designed by Charles F. McKim of McKim, Mead & White in 1903 to house Morgan’s vast collection of rare books and manuscripts. In 2006, the building was renovated and expanded by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, creating lots of new space to exhibit more of the Morgan’s treasures. Morgan was the first American to seriously collect rare books and manuscripts, and the Library continued to acquire after his death in 1913. Now it houses everything from three Gutenberg Bibles to Bob Dylan’s notes for “Blowing In the Wind.”
This trip, I lucked into a wonderful show dedicated to one of my favorite writers Tennessee Williams. I don’t like everything he wrote, but his greatest works – THE GLASS MENAGERIE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE – are among the crown jewels of American literature…and a personal artistic dare. I know I can never be as emotionally honest and naked as Williams is—few writers are--but I can try.
This show was a thrill for any lover of his work. There were original drafts, handwritten notes, diary entries, photographs, tape recordings, rehearsal notes, telegrams, diary entries, paintings – even his typewriter! I lingered over everything about Laurette Taylor’s performance as Amanda Wingfield, perhaps the most legendary performance in the history of the American theatre. (And Brando, too. I didn’t know that Brando hitchhiked to Provincetown to audition for STREETCAR.)
And I made sure to see my “old friends” at the Morgan – the hidden staircase in the remarkable East Room, the Rotunda, and Morgan’s intensely red Study.
ZURBARAN’S JACOB AND HIS TWELVE SONS: PAINTINGS FROM AUCKLAND CASTLE at the FRICK COLLECTION
It seems like I’ve been going to the Frick my whole life. I’ve blogged before about my love for this place despite the actions of its founder, Henry C. Frick (the union-buster behind the Homestead Strike, “the most hated man in America,” Meet you in hell-Henry Clay Frick), and I seldom miss a chance to go there when I’m in New York.
This trip, they had a special exhibit of paintings by one of the great masters of the classical Spanish school, Francisco de Zurbaran. On loan from Auckland Castle in Durham for the first time in almost three hundred years, Zurbaran’s “Jacob and His Twelve Sons” is a series of twelve enormous paintings depicting the Old Testament father and his progeny, the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Zurbaran is often called “the Spanish Carravaggio” for his mastery of chiaroscuro, the use of light-and-dark for maximum dramatic effect.
These massive canvases—the figures were more than life-sized—were overwhelming in their power and severity. Even though the figures were costumed in exotic garb, their faces were as contemporary as today. Zurbaran is a deeply serious painter: not as well-known as Velasquez and Goya, but he’s right up there with them. The paintings were so huge and high off the floor that I wish I had had a ladder to climb up for a closer examination. Instead, Jacob and his sons loomed over us all, as we milled about at their feet, in awe of these stunning, somber images.
Then we went and saw the rest of the Frick, our old favorites: Vermeer and Titian … Bellini and Goya … Turner and Gainsborough … Ingres and Boucher … El Greco and Holbein. The Frick is a collection, not a museum. And Frick had impeccable, if conservative taste.
As if the greatest art in the world was not enough, after the death of Frick’s widow Adelaide in 1931, the inner motor court was transformed into the Garden Court, the best indoor space in New York, bar none.
I also walked several times in Central Park, one of my favorite things to do in my favorite city. I appreciate the Park all the more since I’ve been reading heavily about the great Frederick Law Olmsted. In my will, I’ve suggested that some of my ashes be scattered there. A piece of my heart is there already.
And we had a wonderful dinner with three of our four remarkable nieces (and two of their boyfriends.) It was a Mad-Lib of happiness: reasonably priced French food in a Greenwich Village restaurant with lots of privacy and low noise.
I even went to Brooklyn, borough of my birth; now, the hippest place on Earth. Go figure!
I’ve said it a million times: New York City is “Disneyland for adults.” If I could, I’d go back next week to see Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf in THREE TALL WOMEN, Billie Piper in YERMA, the ANGELS IN AMERICA revival, and Placido Domingo, Sonya Yoncheva, and Piotr Beczala in LUISA MILLER at the Met.
And yet as good a time as I had, I couldn’t wait to get back home to resume making this round of “final” changes on this draft of WHEN I GOT OUT before I send it back to my publisher.
Maybe the only escape is the escape into Art.