Sunday, November 2, 2014

Diary: East Coast 2

The crowd at MoMA's Matisse exhibit.
I spent a weekend in Manhattan in mid-October, making the rounds of museums that - when I visited in early September - were universally between exhibits. My starting point was the Met, to which I went with an economist I met at breakfast on Saturday. We walked across Central Park and then saw the "Assyria to Iberia" exhibit and a smattering of the 19th- and 20th-century French. In between, we visited the roof garden, which I'd never seen. 

A bit of skyline visible from the Met's roof garden.
From there, we went to the Guggenheim. The big exhibit, Zero, documents an art movement of the same name active in France, Germany, and Holland in the first half the 1960s. I didn't remember it, nor did I find the work compelling. In my experience, the Guggenheim is hit or miss. Its permanent collections - early Kandinsky and Impressionist-to-modern European paintings - are always good. 

I went on alone to the Neue to see an exhibit of Schiele portraits. The Neue does a good job of conveying the biography and context, but the show is a mix - some exceptionally good things and the rest. This may be the fate of an artist who dies unexpectedly and relatively young - everything is kept, there's no possibility of the artist looking back. Perhaps to the detriment of both, there's a second Schiele exhibit in London, I read.

On Sunday, I went to MoMA to see the late Matisse show, mobbed, but as a member, I went through twice. The surprise at MoMA was a small exhibit of Dubuffet, an artist my mother liked. I was always skeptical, but these drawings have a lot of power and reveal a side of him I hadn't seen before. 

Dubuffet drawing at MoMA.
Next up was the Frick, to see again a collection that I really like. A sign asking patrons to limit their photography to the garden court brought this issue to mind. Both the Met and MoMA are permissive about photos - you can snap away as long as you're not using a flash, although some exhibits are out of bounds. At the end of my visit to the Frick, I took a photo of the garden outside the entry foyer and was reprimanded by a guard. Why the garden is out of bounds for photography is a mystery.

The Frick garden photo that earned me a reprimand.
Then back to the Met, where I learned on arrival that, as a member, I could preview the remarkable Cubism show, a bequest from Leonard Lauder that moves the Met solidly into MoMA territory. I can't say enough good things about this show, which includes work by Braque, Gris, Leger, and Picasso. It's especially good at showing how Braque and Picasso traded ideas and riffed on  their respective work. Gris was also a revelation. If you're in Manhattan this fall, be sure to see it. Because the work has had much less exposure, it had more impact on me than the late Matisse.

A pair of Greek or Roman eyes, from the Met.

I ended up in the Greek and Roman hall, which probably rivals the Frick these days as my favorite slice of art in New York City. Every walk through, I notice work I'd missed or something new about something seen before. The eyes above feel like the antecedent of a vitrine full of surreal objects seen at MoMA. 

Although I did a lot in two days, I always feel how much more there is. Two artist friends spent a year in Manhattan recently. I'm not sure I'd spend a year, but a longer visit would be desirable, to experience the city in a fuller sense.

Waiting for the downtown 1 at the W. 79th Street Station.

Part of what makes the city desirable is the way everything is connected. I habituate the same hotel - the wonderful Lucerne at W. 79th & Amsterdam - not least because the M79 and the 1 are close by. Armed with a Metrocard (when will there be transit pass that works globally?) it's pretty much a snap, although Sunday was cold enough that I cabbed to the Met from the Frick. (I hate cold weather, and Manhattan has the cab thing down. Uber, to which I'm addicted in SF, feels redundant there.)