I woke up shortly after midnight yesterday in Mondoville, because I had a flight to catch in Charlotte at 6 a.m., which meant I had to reach the airport at what my daughter would describe as “Stupid o’clock”. And since it’s a two-hour drive to Charlotte, well, there you go.
I showered, packed a few last things, and got on the road a half-hour or so ahead of schedule. Remember, I’m one of those people who shows up early for dental visits, too — although the nitrous oxide may be a factor there. The shortest route to Charlotte involves (among other things) a drive through a National Forest and various other sparsely populated sections of our largely rural state. This meant that I spent a fair amount of the drive worrying about hitting (or being hit by) a deer — a fairly frequent occurrence in those parts, tough on cars and drivers, even tougher on the deer.
I did in fact see one deer standing just off the shoulder of the road, but it disappeared into the woods as I passed. All the same, I tried to project “PREDATOR” thoughts as I continued my drive. I guess it worked, as I made it to Charlotte unscathed.
I did make a wrong turn just as I was reaching the airport, turning one street sooner than I should have. I corrected that soon enough, but then made another mistake as I was trying to find the appropriate parking lot. Fortunately, I saw a police car in the parking lot of a 7-11. He gave me directions, and I turned the car around in the parking lot. At which point I noticed the seven other police cars gathered there. Sorry, guys — I didn’t mean to intrude.
Despite the unexpected side trips, I made it to the airport at about a quarter ’til stupid, finished checking in, and boarded the plane at the appropriate time. I flew on an airline known for extremely low fares, so I was able to treat myself to a better seat than usual, one in which I could sit like a human being. However, I can say that some of my flightmates were interesting. The guy behind me smelled strongly of blunts, and the fellow next to me was wearing pajama pants. Had I looked farther behind me, I suspect I may have seen someone plucking a banjo and talking to a goose (Thank you, Jonathan Winters.) Of course, Pajama-pants guy was wearing a shirt rather like my own, so perhaps I shouldn’t put on airs.
In any case, we made it to Newark on schedule, and my shuttle showed up at the appropriate time. We made it into Manhattan in about an hour, and we got to cross the Pulaski Skyway as part of the trip. As we headed onto it, I thought, “Wow. This is an old bridge.” I was right. Still, I though it was pretty neat looking.
I was dropped off at my hotel around ten. I checked my bags and went prowling for something for breakfast. I found a market, where I got a couple of plain bagels with cream cheese. In retrospect, I likely would have been fine with just one, but you live an you learn. I came back to the hotel, and scarfed them down in the foyer that serves as a lobby.
Since I didn’t want to lose any time and since my room wouldn’t be ready for several more hours, I walked a couple of blocks and caught the M train uptown to 53rd and 5th, from which I walked another few blocks to MoMA. I had wanted to visit the museum when I had been here a couple of years ago, but since I spent an entire day at the Met, I had to pass. This time, however…
I started out in the 40s-70s collection, seeing works from Warhol (Soup cans! Marilyn! Sleep!), Claes Oldenburg, and South Carolina homeboy Jasper Johns, among others. There were several Jackson Pollock paintings as well, and while I never thought of myself as a fan of his work (I always think of his teacher Thomas Hart Benton’s comment that “Jack painted like that because he never learned how to draw.”), I think I finally understand what the fuss was about. The reduced images in books just don’t convey the scale and texture of what goes on in those works. So I got a little wiser. I also saw Picasso’s Charnel House in a gallery dedicated to reactions to the Second World War.
From there, I went to the earlier part of the collection, the 1880s-1930s section. It starts with Brancusi sculptures, but I wandered through out of order, and found myself suddenly confronting Dali’s Persistence of Memory. It’s famous, of course, and I’ve grown up knowing about it — Dad had a book of Dali’s works, and I spent a lot of my childhood looking at it — but again, it’s another thing to see it in person. The funny thing, though, is that almost everyone just walked right by it on the way to other things. It’s a small work, but I wouldn’t have thought it so easy to pass by.
Another gallery focused on Picasso, specifically Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and other works influenced by it. In particular, there was a large painting by Faith Ringgold that dealt with American turmoil in the 60s. I was unimpressed by Ringgold’s painting, and I think it was mainly because the work was pretty much devoid of ambiguity, and felt to me less like art than like propaganda. Putting it in the same gallery as Picasso’s work mainly showed me why most know about Picasso and few about Ringgold.
Then I found the earlier works, including Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy and of course, Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The latter seemed to be the “destination” artwork for the museum; the crowd was thick around it, brandishing their cell phones to gather their digital souvenirs. I was told later that Japanese tourists in particular flock to the work, as it is apparently on some sort of authoritative list of “Things to see in NY.” The crowd I saw was mixed, but apparently the painting was on everyone’s list. I actually enjoyed the nearby Rousseau a bit more — perhaps because it wasn’t crowded at all.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, by another painting that has fascinated me since childhood, Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White. I don’t know why I like it so much, but I fell in love with it the first time I saw it in an art history textbook. I had forgotten it was at MoMA, but it became a highlight of my trip.
I had a sandwich at the museum cafe, and met a very nice couple from Virginia who turned out to be fans of crime fiction. (Later that evening, they sent me an e-mail — apparently our chat led them to look me up at the college website. Thus are new friends made.)
I finally caught the M train once again, back to the hotel. After a nap, I got some Chinese carry-out, watched the Kentucky game on ESPN, and called it a night. Now, housekeeping is tapping on my door, so I’d best close. Today, Katz’s, the Strand, and the event at the Mysterious! Hope to see you there at 6:30, but if not, I’ll be back tonight or tomorrow!