Archive for the ‘Museum’ Category

Gotham Diary:
24 February 2012

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Last night, we went to a preview of the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (hereinafter “the Museum” — but you knew that), “The Steins Collect.” There are many points at which this show might engage my interest and attention, but they all fail. I don’t like the collection, I don’t like the Steins, and I don’t much like the show. The whole affair is a sealed tomb. I mention it not to complain, and certainly not to say bad things about the art and its collectors, but only to regret that such things happen.

There are one or two or three very nice paintings. There’s a Matisse from 1904 or so (I neglected to carry a notebook) of a wrought-silver chocolate pot that flirts, frankly beautifully, with Chardin. There’s a voluptuous still life by Hans Purrmann, Matisse’s student for a while, that I took at first to be the master’s, largely because of its handling of a textile. There’s a very sweet little view of The Bay of Nice, again by Matisse, that seems to quiver and tremble as if a chick is about to peck its way out — a chick by the name of David Hockney. There is a very curious Lady With a Fan, an early Picasso that’s apparently at the National Gallery in Washington, but neither Kathleen nor I could recall seeing it before; with the hand not holding the fan, the calmly stern woman, shown in profile, makes a Buddhist gesture of peace. This comports uneasily with her downtown manner; she really seems to be saying “Come back some other time, if you must.”

Lady With a Fan is not a particularly pretty picture, but it’s an interesting one.  There are quite a lot of pretty pictures that aren’t terribly interesting, all of them drily painted landscape sketches by Matisse. There are numerous images of Gertrude Stein, all of which made me wonder, “Who was this woman?” Overall, though, “The Steins Collect” mounts the largest array of dim and dull paintings that I have ever seen. I can’t imagine actually living with them all.


We’re still too close to modernism — of which Gertrude Stein was certainly a significant exponent in at least two ways, as a writer and as a critic — to judge it. There is a gash of internal hostility within the movement itself, pitting authoritarian simplifiers against playful futurologists. Seen in another light, this was a battle between totalitarians and anarchists. Neither totalitarians nor anarchists take much interest in the individual differences that sustain a rich society; on the contrary, the one thing that totalitarians and anarchists agreed about was a disapproval of individual differences, which they glibly dismissed as “narcissism.”

Gertrude Stein lived an anarchist’s life — easy to do if you’ve got plenty of money, but impossible without it unless you have a taste for explosives — yet her writing anneals the hermetic with the folksy, a combination that reminds me of Joseph Stalin. I tend to feel that Gertrude Stein ought to be interesting, but isn’t. This can be cxplained, perhaps, by the fact that Edith Sitwell got to me first.

Gertrude Stein assembled her collection in a ten-year period that came to an end on the eve of the Great War. It was during this time that Picasso underwent the full round of modernist convulsions. After the war, he emerged, in an intriguing parallel with his contemporary, Igor Stravinsky, as a neo-classicist. Modern art became a thing of the past, an achievement awaiting the world’s universal appreciation. I see Gertrude Stein, in her apartment at 27, Rue de Fleurus (near the Luxembourg Gardens), as a kind of hen, sitting on her brood of masterpieces, most of which turned out not to be. I have only one question: what would color photographs of her apartment have told us? The images of the flat that we do have suggest an unhygeinic griminess that well-brought-up Americans can’t have been comfortable with, unless of course they were making a point of it. The pictures on the walls of the Museum’s Tisch Galleries tell us that, Matisse aside, color was mistrusted by these artists and their patrons.


“The Steins Collect” is of course not just about Gertrude. Her brothers, Leo and Michael, collected as well — it was Michael and his wife Sarah who were partial to Matisse. I can imagine studying this show with a focus on who owned what. But first you’d have to care about something, either the Steins or these paintings, but I simply don’t care about enough of them.

In the giftshop, there were copies of  Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, bits of which I read in The New Yorker. I want to read the book entire (it’s not long) while the Steins show is up; maybe I’ll learn to see something new. I’ll always be happy to see Matisse’s Still Life with Chocolate Pot again, even if, painted in 1900, it falls outside the modernist overhaul. It’s a souvenir of a way of life that was about to crushed in every dimension, but also a beacon that guides us to the possibility of recreating civil life, as well as a herald of the bourgeois regularity that Gertrude Stein never forswore.

Gotham Diary:
20 January 2012

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Metropolitan Museum of Art

What astonished me most, on my first trip through the newly installed galleries of American painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, was the power of Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 icon, Washington Crossing the Delaware. I’d been thinking about this painting ever since the Museum’s Fall 2011 Bulletin announced (to those of us who hadn’t heard the news otherwise) that this very large painting was going to occupy the pride of place in the new configuration.

It would hang alone, at the end of a long room, cased in a replica of the very imposing frame in which it was originally presented. I was very disturbed to learn all of this. I believed that the Museum ought quietly to get rid of the picture, pure kitsch in my eyes. At the very least, it ought to be mounted as far as possible from the Sargents and the Homers and the Cassatts and the Kensitts that form the backbone of a very great collection of American paintings. Instead of which, it stands in the middle of them.

But when, at the end of our tour, I finally stepped into the room, I had to stifle a sob. I was wrong. I was wrong about something. Maybe the Leutze isn’t kitsch — but I don’t think that that’s what I had wrong. More likely it’s the fact that this painting has been revered by generations of American, pored over with all the attentiveness that the Mona Lisa has ever received. The Museum has chosen to honor that interest, and remind the rest of us that pictures can be very powerful in ways that have nothing to do with art, truth, beauty, or anything else that John Keats wrote about.

The Bulletin photographs did not show the other pictures that would hang in the room; presumably, they hadn’t been put up yet. Here, too, the Museum has made an arresting decision. The other pictures are all landscapes, and landscapes, from what I gathered with a sweep of my eye, of the Far West. Mountains, mostly. (Maybe mountains exclusively.) Busts of Washington and Lincoln flank the Leutze, with other noble sculptures standing here and there between the frames. The space is almost ceremonial, as though the room were itself the recreation of an historic chamber. Everything transcendant about the American Dream is represented: the awesome spaciousness of the territory, and the boundless determination to cross it. As in a Gothic cathedral, you do not need to partake in the local orthodoxy to be abashed by its visionary power.

The photograph that I’ve lifted from the Museum’s Web site could not be more misleading in at least one way: in person, Washington Crossing the Delaware looks that small and distant only from the far end of two galleries away. If you are standing anywhere in the room with the painting, it looms immensely, overpoweringly. You walk back to what seems to be a suitable distance for appraising the picture, turn round, and find that you have miscalculated; you’re still too close to take it all in. The grandly deep frame has the air of a strange machine that might begin to whir and grind any moment — perhaps to help Washington’s men break the ice, perhaps something to more apocalyptic end. I had to ask myself, on the spot, to explain how Leutze’s large-form history painting was inferior to, say, The Raft of the Medusa; it is certainly superior to the picture that hangs opposite that work at the Louvre, also by Delacroix: the Death of Sardanaplus. (I may like to think that I’m a sophisticate, cosmopolitan member of the Transatlantic tribe, but I’m not that Continental!) The question remains open.

I look forward to revisiting the galleries many, many times. Many old friends have reappeared there, and I’ll probably make a few new ones. But I hope I never forget the shock of being so improbably awed by Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, November 19th, 2009


¶ Matins: Driving while intoxicated, and with a child in the car, will be made a felony, according to a law that has passed the New York State Assembly. Interlock devices, which block ignition when the driver’s breath carries faint amounts of alcohol, will be required for drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Lucy Lu recently celebrated the first anniversary of Met Everyday, her online report of visits to the Museum. Her list of ten things that you must see (or wings that you must visit) is personable but not surprising — with the exception of the modern-art item.

¶ Prime: Tom Bajarin’s discussion, at PCMag Mobile, of the impact of Vooks on publishing suggests to us that the author of a plain old book could do as well as a Vook developer, delivering a formatted text as an “app,” and collecting 70% of the price. (via The Tomorrow Museum)

¶ Tierce: We’ve heard of the Ithaca Hours, an alternative local currency, but we can’t imagine how anything like it would work in Manhattan. But who cares: it would be gorgeous, if these bills designed by students at the School for Visual Arts were in circulation. (via The Best Part)

¶ Sext: Will Sam Sifton be the next editor of the New York Times? It’s a very interesting rumor, considering that the gent has just been assigned to reviewing restaurants for the newspaper. We’ll say this: he has certainly dusted off the genre.

¶ Nones: For a quick and snappy resume of Palestinian politics at the moment, you probably can’t beat the Beeb’s summary. (BBC News)

¶ Vespers: V L Hartmann bumps into Joan Didion in the street — almost — and observes that in her carriage as in her prose, the author of The Year of Magical Thinking is not like “the old ladies you see up here on the East Side that are all stooped over.” (The Morning News)

¶ Compline: Conserving Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, an earthwork at the edge, and sometimes beneath the surface, of The Great Salt Lake. (NYT)

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 17th, 2009


¶ Matins: Is there such a thing as good luck? Ayn Rand’s fans are certain that there is not: hard work is everything. Jonathan Chait assesses the Rand legacy in light of this conviction, at The New Republic. (via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: Our latest discovery: MetEveryday. (Thanks, Ms NOLA!)

¶ Prime: David Leonhardt profiles Robert Shiller — in the Yale Alumni Magazine, naturally. (via Marginal Revolution)

¶ Tierce: A violin repair shop in Morningside Hides has been told to cease and desist from violating antiquated zoning restrictions. No, noise is not the issue.

¶ Sext: Links to an assortment of Lost Symbol reviews, at Speakeasy.

¶ Nones: True-life ghost fleet — container ships and other freighters parked off of Singapore. (via  The Infrastructurist)

¶ Vespers: John Curran, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, lists then top ten titles in her ouevre. How many have you read? (Film adaptations don’t count!) (via Campaign for the American Reader)

¶ Compline: Jason Kottke asks (in a footnote, no less):

You’ve got to wonder when Apple is going to change the name of the iPhone. The phone part of the device increasingly seems like an afterthought, not the main attraction. The main benefit of the device is that it does everything. How do you choose a name for the device that has everything? Hell if I know.


Dear Diary: Out

Friday, July 10th, 2009


Ms NOLA and I got together again this afternoon. I saw Whatever Works at eleven, at the Angelika — and, once again, there was sound trouble. (At least the sound never cut out entirely silent, as it did for Elegy, in the same auditorium.) But nothing could diminish the splashing summer fun of Patricia Clarkson’s astonishing performance — the most astonishing aspect of which was that an astonishing actress could astonish. (Come to think of it, Ms Clarkson appeared in Elegy as well. Maybe the sound gremlin is her doing.) After the movie, I walked over to Spring Street, between Crosby and Lafayette, to visit a shop that was written up in the Times the other day. What a ha-ha Kathleen had at my expense when I announced that I’d discovered it: she has been going to an uptown branch of Pylones for four years at least (sez she). I bought a bunch of stuff, but this was the pièce de résistance. At least Kathleen was kind enough to pronounce it cool.

Then I hopped on the train and rode up to 28th Street. Ms NOLA and I had a lunch date at La Petite Auberge, an ancient-looking French restaurant on Lex with an ancient-looking menu. There is nothing ancient-tasting about the food, however. Although it’s conservative, it is not preserved.

There was much to discuss. It was all utterly confidential and très hush-hush. Ms NOLA actually surveyed the restaurant at one point, to make sure that we were “alone.” By the time we left, there was no need to survey the restaurant, because everyone else had left.

After a little errand at a nearby print shop, we headed up to Yorkville and the Upper East Side, where we eventually found ourselves at the Museum’s Roof Garden. This year’s artist, Roxy Paine, has “planted” the terrace with what looks like a wildly out-of-control potato vine and an ice-bedecked bramble.


It was glorious, up on the roof. There was a fine breeze that moderated the beat of the sun. I had a couple of glasses of Prosecco. Ms NOLA soaked up the greenery of the clipped yews that border the garden (not to mention the grand carpet of treetops that separated us from Midtown). Life was good.

We went downstairs and sailed quickly through the Francis Bacon show.  I make a point of visiting the big painting or drawing shows whenever I’m at the Museum, even if it’s only for a few minutes’ visit. That is the luxury of living nearby: there is always time for a quick run-through — and for a few stop-and-stares along the way. I have begun to recognize the face of George Dyer even after his lover has rearranged it.


Stopping in at Crawford Doyle minutes before it closed, and loading up on great books that I may not live to read, we returned to the apartment and drank tea on the balcony. Eventually, we persuaded Kathleen to come home. Actually, she met us at the New Panorama Café, where she dared to dine on her usual dish, penne al pomodoro. A consultation with the internist lifted the prisoner-of-war diet. Kathleen is to avoid whole milk, butter, and cream for a week, but she can eat hard cheese, which of course  mean reggiano parmegiano. Last time I checked, she was sleeping comfortably. Ms NOLA hopped on a bus afterward, and I have been here at my desk ever since. It hardly feels like three hours!

Dear Diary: At the Museum

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009


What shall I say about David Garrard Lowe’s Henry James lecture at the Museum this morning? I’ll say that it was entertaining. The audience — mostly ladies of a certain age, not that I’m in any position to talk — responded with attentive laughter to Mr Lowe’s many little jokes, and when he encapsulated Turgenev’s affecting story about the serf who has to drown his little pooch, Grace Rainey Rogers was carpeted in a collective sigh of heartfelt pity. I did learn that James’s Paris address was in the Rue Cambon (right above Chanel!). Did Mr Lowe really say that The Ambassadors was worked in that flat on the deuxième étage? I’m even keener, now, to hear what he has to say about Edith Wharton next Wednesday.

After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, I looked around for the Pictures Generation show, but it found me first. The whole interest of this show for me is the chance to see actual Cindy Sherman prints, but I have bought the catalogue and was actually reading it this afternoon, one of the reasons for my being totally behind schedule, so I hope to be able to take other interests in The Cutting Edge Melody of 1977. Eventually.

Pictures Generation shares the exhibition space that I call “the big Tisch” with The Model as Muse, and it’s a neat juxtaposition. Pictures is all about young people being rebarbative. Model as Muse is all about young people being alluring and desirable. Young women, I should say. I liked the first part best, the part in which the young women — Dovima, Dorian Leigh, and Lisa Fonssagrives — didn’t look young at all. They didn’t look old, certainly. But they radiated a maturity that attested to their having all the right equipment, fully loaded. The minute Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy came on the scene, all I could think of was neoteny. I can’t imagine Dorian Leigh in high school, but I’ve never pictured Cindy Crawford anywhere else.

For dinner, I printed out a menu from the neat new site run by Kathleen’s cousin’s husband, Kurt Holm. I’ll be writing about NoTakeOut next week, in the Daily Office. For now, I’ll just say that Kurt’s lentil and smoked turkey salad, with a side of asparagus, was not only one of the easiest dishes that I have ever prepared but also delicious, all the moreso for being quite unlike the Francophile fare that one usually gets in this joint. Kathleen ate every bite, despite protests that there was too much on her plate.

I’d tell you what we’re doing tomorrow night, but you know how it is: plans announced at The Daily Blague never pan out. What I can tell you is that Ms NOLA had extremely good news today. You might say that she crossed the Equator.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


¶ Matins: The nightmare of peak oil is back, at least according to an analysis of global production by Raymond James, reported  at both WSJ Blogs and Infrastructurist. You haven’t forgotten what “peak oil” means, I trust.

¶ Lauds: “A book about beauty naturally must deal with its opposite, kitsch.” Really! I thought that ugliness was the opposite of beauty, not some uneducated person’s idea of beauty. Robert Fulford writes about Roger Scruton’s new book, Beauty.

¶ Prime: Michael Klein, who has certainly put in the hours at the track (and just around the livestock), waxes eloquent about Calvin Borel’s Derby win.

He’s won the race two years in a row (and in the same way, basically, finding an opening to shimmy his charge along the inside rail to the finish line)…

¶ Tierce: Mirth in court — not shared by everyone. As more prosecution witnesses testified to the wit and charm of Brooke Astor — and noted that it faded in the early years of this decade — jurors couldn’t help noticing that her son, Anthony Marshall, wasn’t smiling. Michael Daly reports.

¶ Sext: Does life really imitate art? Donald Trump will find out, if and when his plans for a golf resort ever materialize on the North Sea coast of Scotland. Anyone remember Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero, with Burt Lancaster in the the Donald role?

¶ Nones: Celebrate “Serf Liberation Day.” Okay, don’t. But be sure to read Stephen Asma’s extremely lucid account of recent-ish Tibetan history — and ask yourself how it would have worked out if the Cold War hadn’t been simmering. (via  The Morning News)

¶ Vespers: At Survival of the Book, Brian writes provocatively about Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor and “the YA trend.”

¶ Compline: Is anyone out there still seriously attempting to “multitask”? If so, John Tierney and Winifred Gallagher can explain why you find it so hard to concentrate.  


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009


¶ Matins: Eric Holder has been confirmed by the Senate. It was grand to weigh and consider Republican opposition to his nomination, which seemed to stem from his participation in the pardon of Marc Rich, one of those dead-of-night doings at the fin de Billsiècle. Not really comparable to the shenanigans of Alberto the Goon.

¶ Lauds: What they ought to have done: close the university and keep the museum open. The dollars and sense point in that direction. The Brandeis trustees who approved the liquidation of the Rose Art Museum ought to be tarred and feathered — and then blinded.

¶ Prime: Joanne McNeil writes about Internet 2.0, at Tomorrow Museum, as if she had always lived there.  

If I were to log into Friendster today I would see a perfectly preserved document of my life in 2003. The people I was friends with then (most of them, sadly, I’m no longer in touch with) and the inside jokes we shared, not to mention the photos of me at that age. It makes me really want to not log in or log in and destroy it all. That’s almost too many memories worth keeping and for someone who prefers to think about life in the present rather than relive past experiences in my mind, it’s just baggage.

¶ Tierce: A good idea was proposed at Davos, of all places: pay the regulators! The source of the proposition is not surprising:

Tony Tan Keng Yam, deputy chairman and executive director of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, suggested that one reason American regulators fell down on the job was that they were paid too little.

Adam Ross Sorkin reports.

¶ Sext: I was going to link to John McPhee’s rather priceless account of his dealings with the formidable fact-checkers at The New Yorker, but access is limited to subscribers. (Don’t miss it; if nothing else, it will teach you the meaning of the important caveat, “on author.”) Instead, this year’s alternative Tilleys.

¶ Nones: Edward Wong files a chilling look at how the Chinese government abuses legal processes to silence dissidents: the [latest] Case of Huang Qi.

¶ Vespers: Delinquent as usual, I haven’t yet got round to writing up Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which I found to be a very important re-think. Now comes Isaac Chotiner, with a tendentious and skewed misreading of the book, full of snark and sneering (in The New Republic, natch). Nothing could be more wearying than rebutting the piece, and this is not the place to have any kind of thoroughgoing go at it, but one paragraph is all I need for the moment.

¶ Compline: Harry Markopolos, the investor’s advocate who blew enough whistles about Bernard Madoff to simulate Beethoven’s Ninth (except nobody listened), is no longer out sick. But he claims that he was afraid for his life.

He and his colleagues avoided taking their allegations to the industry self-regulatory agency, now called Finra, he said in the statement, because he believed Mr. Madoff and his brother, Peter B. Madoff, wielded too much power with that organization. Peter Madoff worked in his brother’s firm but has not been implicated in the apparent fraud.

“We were concerned that we would have tipped off the target too directly and exposed ourselves to great harm,” he wrote.


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008


¶ Matins: Ms NOLA was kind enough to slip me a link to Leon Wieseltier’s magisterial call to brawn, yet another mandarin voice urging liberals to sock it to ’em. If only we knew how! — even as we digest Mr Wieseltier’s fine talk (and it is fine!) of “the teleological suspension of the ethical.” Who knew that the thickest plank in the Republican Party platform had such a fancy name?

“You remember the teleological suspension of the ethical,” Mr Wieseltier writes with absurd optimism. Happily, he does not count upon the strength of our recollections.

¶ Lauds: Although I’m not sure that I’d like to sit through The Fly — now it’s an opera, with music by Howard Shore (Silence of the Lambs) and book by David Henry Hwang (M Butterfly) — I’d sure like to hear it.

¶ Tierce: While Americans struggle to deal with a resurgent but definitely post-Soviet Russia, separatists within Russia take heart from the formal recognition of new breakaway states in the Caucasus. The interesting thing about Ellen Barry’s story is the refrain of “20 years from now.” Nobody’s talking about anything’s happening tomorrow. Instead, the talk is of death warrants and planted seeds. 

“In the long term, they could have signed their own death warrant,” said Lawrence Scott Sheets, the Caucasus program director for the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to prevent and resolve global conflicts. “It’s an abstraction now, but 20 years down the road, it won’t be such an abstraction.”

Mr Sheets is speaking of Russia.

¶ Nones: If JMW Turner’s watercolor of Merton College, Oxford goes missing, I will insist that I know nothing about it. Having just paid my nth visit to the Turner show at the Museum — easily the sixth, I think — I’m beginning to fall in love with a few paintings just as they’re about to wrenched away, but I fell for the Merton watercolor the moment I saw it. Why?

¶ Compline: Thomas P Campbell, a 46 year-old curator of tapestries, will become the ninth director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the start of the New Year. As a card-carrying Old Fart, I’m happier with Mr Campbell than I would have been with Gary Tinterow, the strong and clever curator of — you have to love this tripartition — 19th Century, modern, and contemporary art.


Museum Note: Photo Shoot

Thursday, August 28th, 2008


For the first time since the late Sixties, I went up to the Cloisters by myself this afternoon. Now that I’m in my early sixties, I guess I’m old enough.

I went on a mission. Monday is Labor Day, and summer hours end tomorrow. The prospect of reverting to Matins, Lauds, &c when posting everyday links in the Daily Office made me think that some monastic imagery might be appropriate — and what could be a better source of such imagery than the Cloisters?

I’d have gone tomorrow afternoon, had I been able to find someone willing to spend the final allotment of summer hours in my priceless company. But I wasn’t. And the weather promised to be rather nicer today; it’s supposed to warm up tomorrow. In any case, I was dying to get out of the house. So I decided to see this week’s Friday movie a day ahead of time, and to proceed from the theatre up to Fort Tryon Park.

No big deal. The movie, Elegy, was showing at the Angelika. When it was over, I hopped right back to the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker Street station and took the first uptown IND train. One stop away, at West 4th, I ascended an escalator and stood at the platform marked “A.” I didn’t have to wait long. Within half an hour, I was ascending an elevator, from the depths of Manhattan to the heights of Fort Washington Avenue.

(“Wow, I can do this! Go directly from Broadway and Houston to Upstate Manhattan!” You can tell that I grew up in the suburbs.)

At the Cloisters, I felt like a booster, because I’d been reading John Colapinto’s New Yorker article about shoplifters on the train (the piece is not online, sadly). I clipped through the galleries on my way to the Brie Cloister as though I were making a beeline for booty. As indeed I was: time for lunch! (It’s the “Trie” Cloister, of course, but now that they have a food stall that sells baguette sandwiches and wraps, fruit, snacks and drinks, I get confused.)  

Then I took a lot of pictures, in about fifteen minutes. I tried but failed to escape the gift shop without making any purchases (who knew that John Freely — the father, presumably, of Orhan Pamuk’s translator, Maureen Freely — wrote a book about Istanbul? Shelved right next to Orhan Pamuk’s book of the same name. Çok güzel!).

Passing by the New Leaf Café on my walk back to the subway, I made a note of their hours. I’m going to try to have lunch up there in a few weeks, as soon as I dream up another mission.