Sunday, January 30, 2011

Making Stone

I've been seeing a lot of art and theatre, but I haven't been inspired to write about it. Mostly because I haven't been connecting on a deeper emotional level. Am I learning more about the human condition? I suppose. Am I experiencing beauty? Sometimes. Am I being exposed to new idea? Sure. So, what's the problem? It feels passive. And while I can't expect to have a transcendent experience every time I see a work of art, I wish the feeling was coming a little more often.

I've decided to take action. I'm looking for new experiences--ones that make me feel like an active participant or collaborator. I feel like a cheeseball saying this, but I'm trying to create a sense of intellectual excitement, emotional vitality, and--dare I say it--well being. In the last couple of weeks, I went to my first yoga class since college; I polled friends for good non-fiction books and started reading; I redecorated part of the living room; I helped make a stone wall for a theatrical set; I explored an unfamiliar part of the City; and I made a new friend. I feel like I'm slowly shaking off the winter-time stupor. It will be interesting to see if this continued regimen will bear fruit. I think it might.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Museum of the City of New York

Kate and I visited the Museum of the City of New York today. She had never been. I had only visited once before. We were both surprised to discover most of the museum was closed for renovation. I guess we should have read the website before we showed up.

In any event, we strolled through both of the special exhibitions and the period room hall. The clothes in Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style were pretty fun. But then again, costumes always are. I was a little put off by the labels. If I were taking a shot every time I read the word doyenne, I wouldn't have made it out standing up. Still, I did learn such interesting tidbits as English-born actress Angela Lansbury presided over the centennial celebrations for the Statue of Liberty (she wore a red Glinda-the-Good-Witch-get-up) and Rosamond Bernier is still alive.

I actually enjoyed the period rooms a great deal. I got to run through my mental Winterthur checklist. It's been a long time since I had looked at any dec. arts and I was delighted to discover I hadn't forgotten everything I was taught. I was a little surprised at the French stained-glass window amidst all the period rooms. I should have read a label to see why it was there.

After going through the museum, Kate and I walked through the Central Park Conservatory Garden. It was lovely. A wedding party was gathered around the fountain and they couldn't have asked for a prettier, sunnier day. Kate told me I should come back in the late spring when it's awash in roses if I wanted to be really impressed by the walkways and vistas. I better go ahead and put it on the calendar.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Blessing of the Animals

All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful:
the Lord God made them all.

Across the street from my apartment is a beautiful Catholic church. I'm delighted every morning when I wake up to the sun rising above it's eaves, especially in the winter when the "rosy-fingered dawn" turns the snow a pale pink. In the evening, the setting sun bathes its rose window in glorious light. In the summer, I'm often treated to hymns when they throw their doors open to let in a breeze and the lovely music floats up to my office windows. On the weekends, I watch as wedding party's parade in and out the front doors. The church's beauty is a cherished part of my life in Park Slope, and yet I've never been to a service, nor been through its doors.

This morning, the church celebrated St. Francis of Assisi and welcomed all to bring their animals to be blessed. Annette and I were returning from the gym and decided to join the throng of people and dogs on the church steps. While the dogs sniffed each other and twined their leashes around their owners' legs, the priest read a selection of passages from the Old Testament. I'm not Catholic (or religious), but I was moved by the beauty of the readings, the celebration of our animal friends, and the gentle admonitions to love all creatures. It felt right to participate in such a joyous moment and recognize that kindness transcends religion and creed.

As I write this, Charlie is cuddled up next to me and I'm looking out my window onto the church lit up by its historic street lamps. Charlie's presence is made even sweeter by my morning diversion and the warm lights below are more dear for the welcome I felt as I joined the small gathering on the steps. Now, let's just hope I can hold onto these warm feelings when Charlie is waking me up at 5am for crunchies.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Men Akimbo

There's more to NYC than the fine and performing arts. My next few posts are going to look at the life in NYC generally. For my first new-style post, I'm taking the NYT complaint box as a model.

Men on the subway: you take up more than your fair share of space. Close your legs. You don't need three feet between your knees. Particularly when it means you're taking up the better part of 2 other seats.

My personal space is important too. I like having a distinct area that is mine. Your leg is not welcome. Why don't you put your legs together when someone sits next to you? I make room when you sit down next to me. In fact, like most women I politely and embarrassedly compact myself.

Perhaps men's wide legs are a birthright. Leg-spreading certainly starts young. One day I spotted an empty seat between a 50 year old woman and an 11 year old boy listening to his ipod. His legs were spread and clearly in the seat bubble next to his, but I figured he's young enough that he thinks I'm a real grown-up that deserves respect. So, I sat down. Like much older members of his gender, the kid did not move his leg. I sighed and settled in for the discomfort.

So, guys, please while we're all stuck on the train together, close your legs. It's a small, crowded island we live on. Don't make it feel even tinier and denser than it already is with your far apart legs. There's nothing wrong with crossing your legs. You don't look silly. In fact, you look respectful and aware that you're sharing the subway with others. Thanks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Glamour Travel

My first business trip ever was to Gainesville, Florida followed by a jaunt to Des Moines, Iowa to see the site of a sculpture park under construction. Interesting? Absolutely. Glamorous? Not very. Last week, I got sent to Venice to wrangle media at one of the national pavilions. Interesting? Absolutely. Glamorous? Yes very (if you ignore the mosquito-bite welts I got from sitting outside the Pavilion all day).

I have a strict personal rule that I won't write about clients. And I won't break it now. However, I do want to share the experience of visiting Venice for the first time. It's a beautiful place and a puzzling one—geographically and culturally.

One of the charming (and frustrating things about Venice) is that, for the casual visitor, it's seems impossible to navigate. The narrow streets twist and turn. Alleys dump out into plazas with 5 different exits and minimal signs about which to choose. Granted you see lots of gracious old buildings and elegant bridges that way, but if you’re trying to get to work on time it’s anxiety producing. Asking for directions doesn’t really help either, even if they’re given in your own native tongue.

Amazingly, everyone can give you directions in English. Venice is an island for tourists. I learned that if I said my few Italian phrases with enough sweet vigor and my thick American accent, the stranger/waiter/shopkeeper I was speaking with would take pity on me and speak in English. In fact, I'm almost a little disappointed that I only had one language mishap. I was in a cafe waiting for a meeting to start and I heard the waiter deliver to the table behind me, "una Coca Cola." Fantastic, I thought to myself: I don't have to order water or coffee (the only things I knew the Italian words for). So the waiter comes over and I give him a big smile and say, "Prego, una Sprite [please, a Sprite]." He looks slightly befuddled and returns a few minutes later with a luridly orange drink with an orange slice and an olive floating in it. I'm so hot and thirsty that I shrug, say "grazie," and take a huge swig. It was so bitter that I nearly spit it out. When I told the ladies at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection this story later they howled with laughter. I had unwittingly ordered Venice's famed "spritz"--a soda and campari cocktail.

What I found thought provoking about the city was its sense of self. I felt like I was walking through a very large movie set. My American sensibility searched for dynamism, a sense that the past, present, and future all had a place on the sinking isles. Rather, it’s identity as a tourist destination has caused it to be frozen in time. Preserved for the very tourists who stop in for a few days hungry for experience and then who move on to the next experience.

The US, so young in comparison, seems so much more enchanted with its own past and celebrating it. We have markers everywhere talking about significant people or events. We have statues in most of our public parks and markers to our wars. That's largely missing in Venice--not that I could have read them if they existed. Still, I wanted to leave with that sense of history and veneration for the past.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Terrified at the Arsenale

I have been moved, puzzled, bewildered, and awed by works of art. Until last week, I had never been terrified by a work of art. Imagine a pitch black gallery, light from the gallery leading into it illuminates the eight large columns that run down the center in pairs. Jumping, switching, writhing electric wires snap and crackle between them. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying. Those are live wires. How can you have live wires in an art installation?

At the end of the gallery was a tiny, backlit doorway. There were more galleries to see, but I couldn’t tell how much I actually wanted to see them if it meant walking next to the wires. So, I simply stood and looked some more, forcing my rising panic down. Upon closer examination, the light I thought was coming from the wires was coming from strobe lights mounted on top of the columns. I slowly started to edge my way along the gallery wall and as I did my feet squelched. The floor was damp. Where on earth did this water come from? The wires weren’t wires at all. They were hoses. The snapping and crackling sounds I heard were water hitting the rubber floor. The strobe lights reflecting off the water created the electric effect.

I was relieved and chastened and I hated the piece. I felt manipulated and silly. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it over the next few days and when people asked me about impressions of the Arsenale, I always returned to that piece and shared my chagrin about being duped. I’ve actually come to appreciate the piece and admire its cleverness and ability to play on my expectations. Only after reading reviews of the Venice Architecture Biennale did I realize the piece was titled Split Second House and it was created by Olafur Eliasson. If I had known the artist I might not have been so shaken when first viewing the work, Eliasson’s obsession with water is well known. But then, I might not have had such a pure reaction.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

An Art Road Trip Upstate

Last weekend, Patty, Katie, Rebecca, Nate and I piled into Rebecca's car to go upstate to see some art. Rebecca was desperate to see the exhibition Carolee Schneeman: Within and Beyond the Premises at the Dorksy Museum on the campus of SUNY New Paltz. Katie wanted to see the Serra sculptures at Dia: Beacon. Patty and I are always interested in seeing art, but mostly we just wanted to escape the city for the day.

We had a fun drive to New Paltz and discovered a really good used bookstore. By really good, I actually mean that the sales rack felt familiar. A lot of the books for sale were ones already on my own bookshelf or ones I had already read and enjoyed. I had the impression that any book I walked out of the store with, I'd probably like. Unfortunately or not (probably better for my wallet), I got hustled out before I could make my decision.

After lunch at a diner on New Paltz's main streeet, we made our way over to the Dorsky to see some contemporary feminist art. I had never heard of Carolee Schneeman before the weekend and if Rebecca, a curatorial assistant in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, hadn't been with me I would hope to never hear of her again. There was no wall text and minimal tombstones, so, I simply had to look at the art. Transcendental it was not. Schneeman's work was perhaps the most profane and solipsistic I had ever seen. Feather dusters held in her anus. Scrolls pulled out of her vagina. Close-ups of her nipples and clitoris. I wrestled with the intellectual openness born of my liberal education and the middle-class sensibilities ingrained by my rearing. I discovered (perhaps to my chagrin) that my sensibilities were stronger. Then Rebecca started talking about the art work and the historical gestalt in which Schneeman was creating these pieces. Things made a lot more sense when I realized she came of age during the first wave of the feminist movement and was a student at an art school that told her as a women she could not do abstract or edgy or provocative art. I still don't like the art, but now I can appreciate it--which sometimes is more important than liking.

After the Dorsky, we headed off to Dia: Beacon. I hadn't had the best experience last time. But almost a year later going in with the idea that I would probably feel disgruntled and alienated I had a great time. I didn't try to meet Dia: Beacon at their level; I met them at mine (which is to say I didn't take anything too seriously). We went specifically to see the Serra sculptures and I can honestly say I experienced something close to awe. I felt the soaring-inside-my-chest feeling, like when I walk inside a really tall, vaulted cathedral. The sculptures were incredible--tall, steel plates that curved with only a person-wide opening to walk through. One sculpture had another sculpture inside it and you walked through the exterior wall and then walked around the interior wall until you found the opening. The feeling it evoked is what I expect you're supposed to feel when you walk around a mandela. This wonderful sense of peace, discovery, and wonder. I even laid down inside this one and just looked up. While I might have only seen a warehouse ceiling, my mind's eye saw blue sky. I had the narrowed appreciation that comes with forced tunnel vision.

All in all it was a great trip.