Welcome to New York

The coffee is not very good

I had the opportunity to spend a little over a week in New York City where I experienced a lot of art and the platonic ideal of bagels.

There’s a small bagel shop a few blocks away from the Natural History Museum which displays their printed kosher credentials on the wall. I had a bagel with lox and cream cheese with a big paper cup of lousy coffee. Biting into the bagel I forgot the time, the date, my name and for a moment could only gesture with one hand, the other hand firmly clutching the my bagel.

Sipping the lousy coffee brought me back to earth and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the shitty coffee keeps you grounded.

In Portland, bagels are fake. Just bread donuts. The very best Portland bagels are a photocopy of a photocopy of this bagel I had just west of Central Park.

At the Museum of Modern Art I got to pay a visit to my very favorite painting, Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror

I knew this painting from history books long before I stumbled across it on my first trip to New York, a week-long art tour hosted by one of my very best professors.

The painting is large and heavy with paint. The brushstrokes stand in relief off the surface of the canvas and catch light from above. It’s almost a sculpture.

The following day we dropped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is too big to ever see. We breezed through most of the bottom floor, getting lost several times. Oh, we’re back at the Fabergé eggs again. Oh look, there’s Perseus with Medusa’s head. (Medusa gets a bad rap). We bumbled into a small exhibition of Dutch master paintings and got to see a number of Rembrandt’s self portraits and a minor work by Vermeer. Rembrandt’s paintings look like a fog coalescing into light and form, while Vermeer’s work makes me suspect that he was a robot from the future. The precision is uncanny.

One of my favorite things to visit at the Met is The Temple of Dendur - a small Egyptian temple rescued from the Nile, flooded after construction of a hydro-electric dam in the 1960s. The temple was gifted to the American government, who gifted it to the Met. I was disassembled, hauled across the Atlantic, and reassembled in one wing of the museum. In times before COVID, you could actually walk inside and read hand carved graffiti in many languages.

My other favorite thing to do at the Met is find the hidden elevator up to the rooftop sculpture garden. From there you can see out across Central Park and view the New York City skyline from the inside.

If you’re trying to find it, head in the direction of the modern collection on the first floor. You’ll find an elevator there with a cranky attendant. He will pile up to four people into an elevator, stand where indicated on the floor please, and send you directly to the 4th floor. Enjoy the view and the breeze.

Next we visited Pace Gallery, down in the Chelsea neighborhood, where we did find some truly excellent espresso for a change. Pace has a secondary location underneath the famous High Line park where they were holding a group exhibition.

This piece by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola stood out to me - it’s an assemblage of durags stretched and mounted on panels. It’s large, 8’ x 12’, and it shimmers and almost breathes under the gentle draft of the air conditioning.

Pace’s primary location, a half a block or so west of the High Line, is a 7 story mini-museum where the art is for sale.

I came here to see a show of Robert Rauschenberg’s late works from the 1980s into the mid-2000s. By this time the techniques Rauschenberg invented in the sixties have cooled and crystalized. They’ve lost their frenetic energy and sloppiness and become elegant.

Rauschenberg’s work was a big influence on my in school. I love that he painted with images, not just painting images. If the images are found-photos from newspapers and magazines, the paintings end up feeling ripped from the headlines, a time-capsule of that moment in time. When the photos are personal snapshots, the paintings feel more like a journal entry or a memory made physical.

I loved seeing that many of the works used ink-jet transfers where you create a large image on an inkjet printer, then use water or chemicals to extract the image from the paper and embed it into another service. The image breaks down in interesting ways, losing some intensity, taking on a ghostlike character.

I was doing experiments with this process around the same time, in parallel, and in ignorance. It was validating to discover.

Our final big museum visit was to the Guggenheim. We found truly excellent falafel gyros at a cart on the sidewalk. We sat on the low wall in front of the museum and ate. Just beyond that wall there is a sort of moat made of ivy. The walkway into the museum forms a sort of drawbridge. Among the ivy are small hemispherical skylights - little bubbles which allow light into the lower, off-limits floor of the museum.

I recalled on my first visit to this museum, my first visit to New York, I sat on the same wall and looked down through the skylight to see a Mondrian painting leaning against a wall. All that art is just in there somewhere.

The big show at the Guggenheim was a retrospective of Kandinsky paintings which I largely ignored because I discovered Etel Adnan.

Etel Adnan is a journalist, poet, and a painter. Her paintings are small, lusciously painted abstractions which hover just out of reach of landscape painting. They all look familiar, like seeing a friend from far away, down the street. Paint is thickly applied and opaque, like frosting.

She also creates the art books - really a long painting folded over on itself which “reads” from beginning to end. Unfortunately these were displayed half-accordion folded under glass. I had to bend over to get a good look. These were clearly meant to be held, and not walked around. I wish the museum had printed some fakes to allow you to flip through the work as intended.

The Guggenheim is such a strange building. It’s beautiful to look at, but it makes me dizzy to walk up the entire spiral.

The circular motif is repeated everywhere and starts to feel obsessive and ominous. The best part of the building is turning a (square) corner and seeing it emerge on the street in all its round-ness, contrasting everything nearby. It’s like giant snail shell up-ended and fitted with doors and windows.

The next day we left. We got up too early to meet our taxi. I checked my phone the day before. It looked like our trip to Newark Liberty would take around 40 minutes. Our taxi driver bent space and time and dropped us off at our terminal in under 25. We found food and drinks and waited for our flight. After boarding we discovered that the plane was broken. After a bit of shuffling gates and finding a snack, we stole a plane bound for Houston leaving those poor souls to hope our plane would be fixed in time for their departure.