As I was saying, when I'm in New York City, I like to do new things. But some things keep dragging me back. When I stay in the city, I stay at my Big Brother's apartment on the Upper East Side, and that means I'm near three of my favorite places in the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and Central Park. And I must go. Why not? These places make me happy.
The Met is famously inexhaustible. It is the largest art museum in the United States, with more than two million items in its permanent collection. I always try to see the new exhibitions ... but I always go back to my old favorites. The Gubbio Studiolo, the breathtaking masterpiece of Italian Renaissance intarsia (or wood inlay) ... the "View Of Toledo" by El Greco ... Velasquez' Portrait of Juan de Pareja ... the New American Wing and the Frank Lloyd Wright room ... the arms and armor (I can't wait to take my grandson there!) ... everything by Louis Comfort Tiffany ... Sargeant's Madame X ... and any and all Vermeers.
But to paraphrase Booker T. and the M.G.s, "Time was tight," and we had to cut the Met session short. There was a lot we missed, including the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. But we made up for that later in the vacation.
My Big Brother's Wife's Cousins from Pittsburgh were in town at the same time that we were – very nice people! – but they had never been to the Frick Collection. That gave me the perfect excuse – as if I needed one – to go back to the Frick Collection, the wonderful mansion-turned-small museum at Fifth Avenue and 70th Street, just down from the Met.
I really can't count the number of times I've been to the Frick. I spent a lot of time in the Garden Court of the Frick when I was a lonely freshman at Columbia, the time I wasn't watching movies at MOMA. And the Tiny Goddess loves it, too. I mean: who doesn't??? The Frick is heaven on Earth – or even better: heaven on Fifth Avenue, with Central Park just across the street.
The story of Henry Clay Frick's life isn't pretty – he was called "the most hated man in America" after the carnage he ordered at the Homestead Strike in 1892 -- but the museum he left behind is very pretty. It's as if he wanted to atone for his greed and crimes. Even at the end of his life, he wouldn't consent to a last meeting with his old partner/rival Andrew Carnegie. His message back to Carnegie was absolutely chilling: "Meet you in hell."
Of course, a few hours wandering and stumbling around the Frick is Pure Heaven. It's not a museum; it's a collection, and Frick had impeccable, if conservative taste. Mostly portraits and landscapes. By the greatest artists of all time. Titians and Turners, El Grecos and Vermeers. Ingres and Piero della Francesca. The Cousins from Pittsburgh were properly blown away by the experience and promised to bring their sons there. The Frick is something you want to share with loved ones.
Somewhere between the Met and the Frick, I found some time to walk in Central Park, the living masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Not enough time, but some. I took some pictures and imagined that in a few years, I'll be walking there with my grandson Calder – to have him pose for one on the Alice in Wonderland statue. And we'll rent a boat at the Model Boat Pond (actual name: the Conservatory Water) and play Stuart Little. When I was young, we were too poor to rent a boat. I'll make up for that, for Calder.
But I did do something new on this trip. Really!!
I spent a wonderful afternoon was gallery-hopping in Chelsea with an old friend of mine from high school who became a sculptor. My Sculptor Friend is a wonderfully talented, prize-winning, grant-getting artist (whose amazing art graces my back yard) and who knows a ton about the modern art scene. We had a lovely lunch outside and then she took my Big Brother and me on a tour of galleries on 25th and 26th Street. Some galleries were closed to prepare for Thursday openings, but there was plenty to see.
I love looking at visual art. It is such the opposite of what I do: my art is revealed gradually, rolled out in sentences, over Time. Visual art is everything-all-at-once: bam! Its effect is instantaneous and immediate. Of course, visual works do reveal more about themselves over time, with examination, but there is that instant of total impact that no other art form enjoys.
I saw lots of art in Chelsea that didn't move me, and some art that did. The most stunning work I saw was by JANINE ANTONI. Her show at the Luhring Augustine Gallery just stopped me in my tracks. Her "bone baskets" are fantastic objects. The "bones on a pillow" – even better. No wonder that she's a MacArthur winner and a RISD/Sarah Lawrence alum.
One of the other interesting shows I saw was a solo exhibition by HANK WILLIS THOMAS. It was called "UNBRANDED: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015," and continued a technique that this artist has used in the past, to quite fascinating results. Thomas removes the type from vintage advertisements – "unbrands" them – and what visuals remain make for some interesting viewing. When the explicit advertising message is deleted, the visual message can be confounding, amusing, mysterious, or humorous, or all those things at once. Thomas makes interesting art out of social commentary, and vice versa.
I also enjoyed the small paintings by ANNE CANFIELD at the Nancy Margolis Gallery and the career-spanning show by JOAN SEMMEL at Alexander Gray Associates.
The TG and I still didn't make it to the High Line, the extremely popular new linear park (Promenade plantee) that was built on the skeleton of the old elevated New York Central train tracks in Chelsea, even though we had resolved to. Maybe, next time.
And we were there a week before the new Whitney Museum opened – to enormous acclaim – downtown.
There is simply too much to see in New York – it is truly "DISNEYLAND FOR ADULTS!!!!"
(To be continued.)