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.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Greenwood Cemetery (or, my new favorite place)

There's a park in Brooklyn where no one goes. There are verdant vistas, untrammeled grass, and empty paths--in short, paradise in an overcrowded city. Of course, the reason it may be so empty is because it's a cemetery. For some reason people tend to be creeped out about hanging out around the dead. It's their loss--Greenwood Cemetery is awesome (and strangely life-affirming).

A group of us put together a self-guided tour of the Cemetery today. We were each responsible for finding a min
ute or two of things to say about a grave or landmark from a
pre-compiled list. We all took it seriously too, sussing out interesting tidbits to share with the group. I spoke about the amateur Egyptologist Albert Ross Parson's mausoleum, which is a miniature pyramid decorated with a fascinating mix of Christian and Egyptian iconography. The juxtaposition of motifs make a lot of sense when you consider that he wrote a book called, "New Light from the Great Pyramid" that explored how ancient Egyptian culture and religious beliefs could elucidate different teachings from the Bible.

Katie spoke about the quaker parrots that have taken up residence in Greenwood's gates. Ornothologists believe they somehow escaped from a crate being unloaded from a plane at JFK in the 60s. The bright green, loud birds spread all over the city, apparently, but the Parks Service routed them out of Central Park unmercifully because they were afraid they'd force out the native species. The folks at the Cemetery let the birds be and were actually rewarded for their salutary neglect. The parrots did displace the pigeons who roosted in the gate and whose corrosive droppings were eating away at the stone (apparently, quaker parrot poo doesn't harm stone).

Kate gave us a rousing talk about the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place on the Cemetery's highest hill. That battle is credited as being the point at which Washington could have lost it all. The British were trouncing the Americans. Washington needed to retreat and regroup. He left 400 men on the hill to hold the Brits off as he got the rest of the troops to safer ground. All but 9 of those men died defending the hill. But their effort was not for naught--Washington and his troops escaped, evading the Brits, and continuing our nation's fight for independence. Kate also introduced us to a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, who stands in direct line with the Statue of Liberty. Minerva eternally raises her hand in salute to Lady Liberty.

Everyone in the group gave great talks (and Allison did a great job leading us around) and we realized that there's still way more of the cemetery to see and enjoy. We're definitely planning on going again en masse. in the meantime, I might just need to go visit on my own. It's such a beautiful, calm place.