When I left the house, it was to deposit some checks at the bank, and it wasn’t until I got to the bank that I decided to head over to Crawford Doyle, in hopes of picking up copies of Lila and the new Wonder Woman book by Jill Lepore. It wasn’t until I was approaching Madison on 83rd Street that I decided also to stop in at William Greenberg for some chocolate-chip cookies, but not long thereafter I knew that I’d have lunch somewhere at the Museum. Waiting for the guard to look through my tote bag (which by now contained Lila but not Lepore, as it had not yet reached the shop), I wondered if I should be denied admission because of the cookies, but I was waved through absently. There was a solid knot of people waiting for tables at the Petrie Court, so I went downstairs to the cafeteria. I was starving.
After lunch, I went to find the Cubism show, the collection of pictures that Leonard Lauder has given (or promised to give) to the Museum. It is a very handsome collection, whatever the merits of the individual pictures. The Braques are quite likeable, the Picassos mystifyingly but typically colorless and misogynistic. (The more I think about Woman in a Chemise in an Armchair, a repulsive and even, to resort to a contemporary shibboleth, inappropriate image, the more it seems only a matter of time before the bottom suddenly drops out from under Picasso’s reputation.) The pictures by Juan Gris and Fernand Léger flirt amusingly with commercial illustration. Overall, I’d categorize all but one or two of the early Braques as exemplars of Design, not Art. There is far too much thought in these works — too much telling and not enough inviting.
One sidelight of the show seems to me to corroborate this view. The first thing you see when you enter the gallery is a blown-up photograph of an arrangement of nine or so of the pieces, hung rather tightly on a paneled wall, above a comfortable modern sofa flanked by small but precious eighteenth-century French tables. I presume that this shows how Mr Lauder displayed the pictures at home (I didn’t bother to read the card). The grouping has an immense visual impact that (I believe) would be a good deal less harmonious if a true masterpiece or two were forced into the ensemble.
To me, the cubists’ frugality with paint is a visual correlative of chalk squeaking on a blackboard. It reminds me of skidmarks.
A friend has written to ask me to describe the new apartment. Beyond mentioning the north and south exposures, and the pleasant treetop views, I’m reluctant to go into detail, because, so long as the apartment is empty, its existence is speculative. Only when I fill it — or, even better, don’t fill it — with our belongings will it pop into life. I know what I’d like to do, and I hope that the space will accommodate my plans, but there’s no way to tell in advance. Kathleen suggested cutting out scaled bits of cardboard to represent the furniture, but I’m pretty sure that this would lead to confusion. How a room fits together is a matter of looks, not inches.
I will say that I’m in seventh heaven about the dining ell. I have never been happy about devoting nearly half of the living room to a dining table and its chairs, and now those things will have a corner of their own, and the living room, I hope, will be much more spacious than the one we have now. The two chambers are a tad smaller in the new apartment, but spaciousness in private rooms is not so important. I have no hopes of creating an underfurnished atmosphere in the new living room, but I’m aiming in that direction.
If I’m sanguine about the furniture, I’m phlegmatic-to-bilious about the pictures. There are few stretches of unbroken wall space. We won’t be able to hang the large painting of a Houston yard in summer opposite our bed, which will be a loss no matter where the picture winds up. The long entrance hallway would seem to provide ample space for small framed works, but I’ve learned that cramming the walls of corridors can have a profoundly trivializing effect. The ideal would be to rotate all but a few things, but this is not really practicable in an ordinary New York apartment: where do you put pictures when they’re not on the walls?
The new kitchen is quite a bit larger — longer — and, in addition to its wonderful window, it has two entrances, one from the foyer and one from the dining ell. All of this (except for the window) means that it will be easy for someone to help me in the kitchen, something that is all but impossible where we are now. Whether anyone will help me remains to be seen. That’s to say that it will take me a while to relax my longstanding one-man-band culinary tyranny. People can’t help you if you don’t know what to ask them to do. (If they’re smart, that is, and know better than to volunteer in someone else’s kitchen.) For starters, though, it will be nice just to let someone stand in a corner and talk.
Yesterday, I found myself with an hour to kill. Now, this was extraordinary; the phrase “hour to kill” never comes up for me. Sometimes I’ll get dressed to go out a little ahead of time, and read quietly until I’ve got to leave, but I never think of this as killing time. There was no mistaking it yesterday, though. I had tidied up my desk, rendering my mind entirely unfit for any serious work, and there was an hour to go before Ray Soleil and our new friends from the UN would show up. So I sat down with a couple of shoeboxes of photographs.
(The “shoeboxes” came from a now-defunct outfit called Exposures. It trafficked in all the paraphernalia of print photography — albums, cases for slides, even shelving. Who knew that this business would dry up like the Colorado River, leaving countless boomers stranded with swollen collections of photographs that no one else in the world would ever want to see?)
The first box that I opened contained old Polaroid pictures, taken at two different periods. There were pictures from the Eighties, and pictures from ten years earlier, before law school. I set the later photographs aside and culled the earlier ones. I culled mercilessly. Dozens of pictures would have required mortifying dissertations to explain. I myself figured in entirely too many photographs in the character of the Life of the Party, my face a little blurred from drink. That might also explain why I no longer had names for many of the faces. It was exhilarating to toss Polaroid after Polaroid into the plastic Fairway bag that, when I was done, I tied up and tossed down the chute.
The second box contained — contains; I’m still working on it (Ray showed up early) — an astonishing number of photographs of Honolulu and environs, taken by Kathleen during a holiday of sorts that she spent with our good friend who teaches at the law school there. It was a working holiday, in the event; Kathleen was in the middle of a deal between players in London, New York, and Jakarta, and she had to rent a professional fax machine just to stay in touch. Where she found time to take nine million pictures of Diamond Head, I’ve no idea. Nor do I know what to do with the pictures, most of which, perhaps not surprisingly, are not up to Kathleen’s excellent standard. Now watch: Kathleen will tell me that these pictures weren’t taken on that trip. But will I be left holding the prints?
Bon weekend à tous!