On a beautiful November morning the Dunn’s and the Hogan’s set out for a day trip to New York City to visit the Guggenheim Museum and then the Museum of Modern Art. I have invited my travel companions to participate in this post by sharing their observations of the day and they are set forth below amongst my ruminations on the journey.
I discovered that Jeff Hogan and I missed our calling as Olympic speed walkers. My penchant for walking ahead of my wife, oblivious to her whereabouts, is legendary (or infamous—depends who you ask). That bad habit is apparently a trait shared by Jeff. As we dodged through the crowds with pointless, but ruthless efficiency showing our wives the quickest way through each mob, they seemed not to appreciate our efforts and lagged behind with inexplicably perturbed expressions.
I was worried that Jeff might serve as one of my wife’s “specimens” of a good husband. That will not be the case.
This brings me to Jen Hogan. She listened politely during the ride to NYC as I stated my well-known aversion to the social diarrhea service Facebook. I have an account, but it is perhaps one of the most sterile Facebook pages in existence. All that remains are a few vestigial “likes” that I was begged to post, and removing them is simply not worth the effort. Jeff uses his tenuous Facebook friendship with me to tweak me with messages, tags, and invitations to events that become irrelevant due to the infrequency with which I check my Facebook page. You see I only check it to respond to friends who are reaching out to me via Facebook and assure them that they have a special place in my heart, but will never find their way onto my list of Facebook friends. In fact, I actually pared my list of “friends” and would slash it further if not for my fear that such an act would be misconstrued by some delicate soul who relies on Facebook for his/her social identity.
That blabber brings me to a funny interchange I had with Jen outside the Museum of Modern Art as we all snapped some photos of each other. I asked everyone to wait as I applied a filter to two photos I was posting on Instagram. I also sent one out on Twitter. The look of disbelief on Jen’s face and her comment resulted in a ripple of chuckles. “Wait! You are on Instagram and Twitter, but you hate Facebook?” The calm yet mocking tone with which she exposed my irrational relationship to social media stung. As a result of that comment I have reconsidered how I use Facebook. I changed my profile photo.
Instagram is indeed new to me and caused me to recall my photography efforts of the late 1970s with my Polaroid camera. Each photo I took was uniquely bad and I spent the next thirty plus years improving my equipment and skill such that my current photos are very pleasing—to me. As I played with the filters on Instagram I discovered “Toaster.” It literally turned a nice color photo into 1970s Polaroid cheese. My first reaction to seeing this was to mutter to myself “Whoa, this is so damn cool.” Yeah, the 70s are back in a big bad way baby.
Oh, that’s right, we visited two of the finest art museums in the world. The Guggenheim put together a truly unique collection of Pablo Picasso works and entitled the show “Picasso Black and White.”
Pablo Picasso was a recognized genius in his own day—out of the chute. This does not always happen to artists who sometimes only see their works vigorously collected upon their death—never to enjoy the fame and fortune of their efforts. Most people only casually familiar with Picasso think of his cubist representations and they most certainly dominated his career, but he started as a child prodigy who was able to paint exceedingly realistic paintings. His technical skill was beyond compare. Personally, I was unaware that he painted so extensively in black and white and the shades of gray in between.
The entire exhibit was in the circular ramp that winds to the roof of the museum and the curator of the exhibit attempted to keep the works in chronological order. I will attribute my lack of appreciation for much of his works as ignorance on my part, but I’m working on that. Lest I ignore my promise above, here is Jeff’s contribution to this post:
A Saturday trip to New York City seemed the perfect remedy for a stress filled week. Arriving early in Manhattan we treated ourselves to an unhealthy breakfast at the Stage Deli complete with homemade corned beef hash, eggs and very potent coffee. What an awesome treat. I enjoyed having a spirited political discussion with our Turkish immigrant waiter. We debriefed on the Presidential election. City dwellers are active participants in the madness of the city. Most are not bashful.
New York is a special city. Depending upon where you arrive from; the contrasts are always intense and deep. Coming from the provinciality and relative homogeneity of Farmington, CT, I always marvel at the sites and pounding intensity of NYC. New York is weird, diverse, alarming and, in many ways extraordinary for the fact that this small geography somehow manages such incredible activity consistently. I love the passion of the city. Not much is held back or in.
I came to NY with some reservations knowing that thousands in the surrounding boroughs were still suffering from Hurricane Sandy’s devastating results. Mayor Bloomberg made it clear, however, that the city was open for business and needed people to visit more than ever. We felt some solace in the belief that we could contribute to the economy by coming in. We were participating in the city. The city doesn’t shut down.
The first thing that I noticed was piles of trash. This was the only discernible evidence that things were still not right. Many city resources were re-directed to help with clean up outside of the city. Other than that, things looked pretty normal.
After breakfast we treated ourselves to the viewing of Picasso’s incredible black and whites on exhibit at the Guggenheim. This is an awesome museum and offers visitors an interesting perspective and view of artwork as they spiral up ramps to the top of the facility. The perspective as you come back down the ramps is completely different than the perspective that you get going up the ramps. I’m a huge Picasso fan and I was particularly struck by the boldness of this stark exhibit devoid of color. Picasso highlights the classical structure of his subject matter and the effect is dramatic. Having majored in intellectual history during college I was particularly moved by the precursor pieces to Picasso’s famous Guernica which chronicled the horrors of war and the tragedy of the human experience. I fully understood Picasso’s influence on twentieth century intellectual history after viewing this exhibit.
Next, we taxied cross-town to the Museum of Modern Art to see Edvard Munch’s The Scream. While Munch painted this piece in 1893, many suggest that this amorphous figure resembles a mummy and evokes terror. Curiously, when I contrast Picasso’s epic Guernica with Munch’s piece; I feel similar emotions and sense the artist’s despair. Picasso used colorlessness and stark classical lines and angles while Munch uses bold color and vague figures to create effect. I was struck by how small the Munch painting was particularly in relation to Picasso’s larger works.
After the museums we enjoyed a pint of Guinness and dinner at an Irish Pub before walking back through the throngs and bustle of Times Square and a ride back to lovely Farmington. NYC is a great place. The intensity of the place is cleansing and inspiring. The contrasts between here and there are substantial, but I love both and I wouldn’t trade for either.
One interesting fact about Picasso is that he never entitled any of his works. The result is rather vague descriptions that necessitate reference to the year each work was painted as many of his pieces address the same subject matter (his then wife/mistress/sub-mistress).
One of the first works we encountered was Woman Ironing, 1904. Picasso painted this one shortly after arriving in Paris where he initially enjoyed abject poverty and this painting is reputed to be of a laundry woman who was using every last bit of strength in her skeletal arms to iron something while her soul was yearning to be a thousand miles away but all she could muster was an ever-so-slight wistful expression hinting that she was almost somewhere else.
I particularly liked Bust of a Woman, Arms Raised, 1923. This black and white oil on canvas appeared to be a photograph from a distance but as one drew near the purposefully individual brush strokes came into focus. I also enjoyed Boat and Figures, 1938. This large pencil on plywood was cubic, but only mildly so.
I am a gift shop junkie and since photography was not allowed in any of the exhibit areas (I think I’m the only one to observe this rule) I bought several postcards depicting Picasso’s works, photographed them and appended them to this post. One in particular, Le Moulin de la Galette 1900, was exceptionally engaging and impressionistic. Look at the sea of red lips on the women and in this work the men are mere accessories. I only wish that Picasso enjoyed painting in this manner as much as I enjoy viewing it. One other, Fernande with a Black Mantilla, 1905-06, is spectacular and was a commissioned portrait (he had bills to pay). It at once appears to be unfinished, yet as one’s gaze moves from the periphery towards her face the finish and focus becomes sharp and the handsome yet forlorn woman rivets the viewer. This is not what one might consider a “typical” portrait and I wonder how she liked it. I hope very much because it is just so good.
After we exhausted the Picasso exhibit we dived into the other galleries on our way back down the ramp. The Guggenheim has a Van Gogh, Mountains at St Remy, 1889. The painting is spectacular and the visual appearance is that the mountain is flowing downhill. Van Gogh’s stylistic and exaggerated brush strokes are readily recognizable but this work is reminiscent of a famous Japanese painting of a tsunami wave. Look it up on Google Images and tell me if you agree.
When we arrived at MoMA we made our way to Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Security was incredible and the painting was behind Plexiglas. I think Jeff’s observations of this work are right on so I won’t try to repeat them. I was surprised to see that just a few feet away they had a lithograph of The Scream that Munch created and I must observe that I actually liked it better than its exceedingly more famous and colorful predecessor. I have said before that there is something about the black and white experience in photography and art that conveys emotions so much more purely than color. Color can be a distraction and hide a message, and The Scream is a message like no other.
One last tidbit: Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World was on display at MoMA, and it is one of my favorites. Is it one of yours? Tell us why in the comments.
On a recent Saturday I spent the day in NYC. It's a rarity for this small-town loving girl! It was a day well spent, enjoying good food, a bit of culture, beautiful weather and great company. For me especially enjoyable because I was not in charge of planning!
We were promptly picked up at 7am by our official guide and planner Phil, and his lovely wife, Kim. After our trouble free ride into the city we enjoyed a delicious albeit not so healthy breakfast at Stage Deli. Our immigrant waiter delighted Jeff and Phil with his spot on election analysis.
Following a short taxi ride we arrived at the Guggenheim museum to join the early morning crowd for the Picasso exhibit. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Picasso, but I am glad to have seen his art, though I did not partake in the audio tour, choosing to go at my own speedier pace.
Next it was on to the Museum of Modern Art or MoMA for those in the know! This was the speed tour, and I managed to get lost at least twice in the maze of rooms and floors. I really enjoyed the remainder of the day, strolling through the streets taking in the sights and sounds, sitting in Bryant Park, people watching, chatting and strolling thought the shops there. Foley's Irish Pub for a beer followed by Stouts Irish Bar for dinner rounded out the day!
All in all a day well spent, getting outside my "box" for a bit, seeing some new sights and getting to know the Dunn's a bit better, really the highlight for me!
Thank you Jen and Jeff!
If you are able, get yourself to New York and follow the blueprint set forth above. You will have one of the most rewarding days of art you might have the chance to experience for quite some time.