Sorry for missing a week of blogging, but I was in New York City for a while to attend the memorial service for an old family friend of ours. A very nice woman who had a fine life and died at 93. I'll settle for 93 right now. (More on that later.)
I went a couple of days early as I thought that I was going to help the Tiny Goddess help the family, but that was not to be. So I wound up with some extra time in NYC to kill. Not a hard proposition at all. So how did I kill my time in the City?
I went to the new Whitney Museum
The Whitney Museum of American Art never really took root on the Upper East Side. The Marcel Breuer building, built in the mid-60s, jutting out into Madison Avenue, never seemed to belong in the Silk Stocking District. The Whitney simply could never compete with the vast holdings of the Met, the Guggenheim's iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building, the treasures of MOMA, or even the jewel-like perfection of the Frick Collection. It seemed like a great idea to move downtown where it could be the Big Thing and try it all over again.
Well, as I had heard, the Whitney's move downtown is a big success. The new Renzo Piano building on Gansevoort Street (in the Meatpacking District, at the edge of the West Village) at the south end of the Highline, the popular new "promenade plantee" on the West Side, will become the literal destination for thousands – no, millions of tourists.
The best thing about the new Whitney, in fact, is the location and how the planners took advantage of it. Every floor of the new building has a deck – or two – projecting from the main building, creating viewpoints in all directions. The fund-raising parties on those decks will generate zillions of high-society, social-climbing dollars for all kinds of charities.
The opening show at the new Whitney is a "greatest hits" of their collection, under the rubric "America Is Hard To See." Comprising more than 600 works displayed over the four floors of well-lit exhibition space, the show is a comprehesive history of American art from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present – as comprehensive as any single show could be.
It's one-each of all the American masters – Hopper, Rothko, Pollock, Calder, Rauschenberg, Johns, O'Keeffe, etc. – plus a lot of painters and sculptors I've never heard of. No matter how many times I visit a museum – and if I add up all the museum visits I've made in my lifetime, it probably runs up into the hundreds (not to mention of the dozens of art books and the subscriptions to art magazines) – I always see something absolutely fantastic by an artist that I've never even heard of.
From now on, the new Whitney is a "must-see" NYC site, a new Destination. It will be a huge magnet for pulling people downtown.
See their site to get a good shot of the building.
(I also walked some of the Highline, too, on the way to the Whitney. Next time, I'll do the full expanse, starting at 34th Street.
I also ate some food at Chelsea Markets. It's great to see Chelsea so vital and alive.)
I saw the hottest play in town
I took in a matinee of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, the new British play by Simon Stephens, based on the bestselling novel by Marc Haddon, which recently won both the Olivier and Tony Awards for Best Play. It's the story of a teenager with behavioral problems (it's unsaid whether it's high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome or savant syndrome, but the kid has difficulties with normal human interactions), played out as if within the mind of the teenager. It's quite a production: lots of assaultive lighting and sound. Lots of movement. Many switches of character and mood, so you get to feel what life is like for the boy. Superb, shocking first tableau: a dead dog with a pitchfork stuck in its gut. (Or, as the Brits call it, a "garden fork.")
Also lots of shouting and simulated danger and violence: everything including a happy ending – the math-whiz teen passes his vaunted "A-levels!!" with an A*. And he gets a new puppy. And not just any puppy: a Golden Retriever puppy. The cutest puppy of all!
It's directed within an inch of its life by Marianne Elliott with huge assists from her lighting and sound designers, her choreographers, her video designer, and a team of skilled theatre professionals. It's one of those plays where you come out "humming the lighting." I wonder how much play is under all the onstage "busy-ness." It might be a case of more icing than cake, more sizzle than steak here.
No question, the play was definitely worth seeing, and I was very happy to be there. I haven't read the book, but it's now on my list to get -- at least a "Kindle sample" -- to gain a sense of how they transferred the novel's first-person narration into this very effective piece of theatre.
And, perhaps most importantly, it gave me some good ideas for the play I'm working on.
A "trailer" for the play
A featurette on the young man who plays the teenager
I criss-crossed Central Park twice
I never tire of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's visionary masterpiece of landscape architecture and urban design. My Big Brother lives on the Upper East Side, but some of the things I went to were on the West Side (the play in the Theatre District, a dinner with family and friends near Lincoln Center). I could have taken a crosstown bus, or hooked onto the subway, but Manhattan is all about walking. It just made sense to "cut across the Park."
I wound up strolling by some of my favorite sites: the Conservancy Water, the Alice and Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen statues, the Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields, the Mall, the Carousel (where Holden Caulfield took Phoebe), the Sheep Meadow, the ballfields: all places where I plan to take my grandson Calder. I read a good many of the brass plaque dedications on the benches: those are great. I especially love the one: "Our place in the country."
Central Park's joys and mysteries are virtually endless. I've been dipping into my growing shelf of books about Central Park: did you know that Calvert Vaux originally designed thirty-nine bridges and arches for the Park – and no two of them are alike?
I ate some great food
Superb soft-shell crabs at Lusardi's ... killer tacos (one pollo, one carne) at the Chelsea Markets ... a grilled chicken sandwich from Agata on the East Side, a very special food store ... and my Sister-in-Law's pasta with broccoli.
I experienced humidity
I say what I say to everybody I meet when this southern Californian is in NYC during a "muggy" period: "Take me back to the desert where I can cool off!!"
I went to the Frick and the Met
OK, sue me: I always go to these two places when I'm in NYC, but they are right near my Big Brother's apartment, and it would be crazy NOT to go there. They are two of my favorite places in the world. So I did a quick dash through the Frick – and saw the free Sunday drawing classes they hold in the Garden Court. How cool! Maybe next time.
I had a longer time at the Met on the last morning, seeing a wonderful new John Singer Sargent "portraits" show. It was too heavy to carry the book back – I was near my limit on luggage weight – but I'm going to order it on the Met website.
I also saw some old favorites – the Gubbio Studiolo, the arms and armor, the Vermeers – and a new installation on the restoration of Lucas Cranach's "St. Maurice." I wish I had caught the Maurice Prendergast show; I loved the Prendergasts I saw at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and want to see more. Oh well, you can't see everything.
A link to the Sargent "Portraits of Artists and Friends" show – Give your eyeballs a vacation.
I felt some "gastdruck."
That's German for "guest pressure" – the exhausting effort of being a good houseguest.
And finally ...
The memorial service was held at the Church of the Ascension on the Upper West Side. It was a pleasant (considering that a Loved One had just died), low-key affair, built around a Mass. There was music, with an especially lovely soprano ... there were Bible passages read ... there was a moving eulogy from one of her daughters ... there was a sermon. The crowd wasn't large, but it wasn't small either. Just family, friends, old acquaintances, and a few new people in her life. It was tasteful and heartfelt. I think she would have liked it.
She lived until the age of ninety-three, staying in her own apartment until about five weeks' before her passing. No super-long hospitalizations, no time in any facility of any kind: she lived her life the way she wanted to, in her magnificent apartment on 57th Street, right across from Carnegie Hall.
What can you say? No one gets out alive.