Friday, March 8, 2013

U.S. Tour '13, Part 2: Brooklyn and Art

Yes, it's a real nice hotel. Not cheap. And, while it's easily accessible to Manhattan by subway and water taxi (more on that in a moment), it's not easily accessible to the rest of Brooklyn, where the alleged action (and the Brooklyn Museum) is. Plus, this has been an action-packed couple of days here: edit and record Fresh Air scripts, lunch with my agent to talk about this huge book project I've spent the last year writing just the proposal for, and wanting to squeeze in a little culture as horrible weather descended. I'm writing this now with three inches of snow out the window, hoping I can get to JFK in time for my flight to Austin. I can, but it's not going to be fun.

But still: this is the view from the terrace to my room:

At night the Woolworth Building and the U.N. light up real nice, too.

I'm also real near the pier where the New York Waterways' water taxi stops. It's a slam-bang cowboy ride across the East River, and they take off the second the last passenger gets on. Here's the view from the pier. Not shown: a number of cats who seem to live among the concrete slabs.

I've mostly liked it here. The mixture of Poles and hipsters is workable, although I fear gentrification is on its way, and when it comes to eating, it's the former who rule. I went to a restaurant called Anella which is very highly rated, not as expensive as you'd suspect, and so French in execution vis a vis ingredients and seasonality that I was put off -- I can do that at home! But it's worth your time. More attuned to the terroir of the street is Krolewskie Jadlo, where an ex-employee of hot New York restaurant Nobu is doing excellent traditional Polish food. I started with bacon wrapped around prunes, and moved on to stunning venison meatballs in a rich mushroom gravy, studded with pine nuts (I think) and surrounded by slices of potato dumpling with flecks of spinach. The meal starts with an amuse-bouche of cracking fresh cucumber pickles and a little dish of some kind of pâté and slices of immaculate white bread, obviously from one of the bakeries lining Manhattan Avenue. There's also a terriffic, um, I hate to use the word "gourmet shop," but I don't know what else to call it in the neighborhood called Eastern District, with a great beer selection, as well as cheese and charcuterie. They even stock Moxie, America's most undrinkable soft drink! They're challenged in the charcuterie department by the many Polish meat markets (and mini-markets with meat counters) lining Manhattan Avenue, and passing them on a cold rainy day when a customer sweeps out of the store trailing a garclicky smell of fresh sausages is a swoon-worthy experience.

* * * 

I had lunch Tuesday with an old friend, and at meal's end, he did some prestidigitation with his iPhone and determined that every single art museum and gallery I wanted to visit was closed. Who closes on Tuesday, for cryin' out loud? New York, apparently. So I swept up to the Whitney on Wednesday, and was overwhelmed: five floors, four shows, the permanent collection (which isn't that permanent, since they keep changing out the artists), and pretty much all of it great. 

I went to see the Jay de Feo show, which is the big buzz, and deservedly so. I of course went to see "The Rose," the gigantic work on which she toiled for eight years and then, evicted from her apartment, donated to the San Francisco Art Institute, which then built a wall in front of it so it remained unseen for twenty years, until it was rescued by the Whitney and restored. No biggie: she kept going, and your response to this show will likely be mine: how could such a major talent paint so many great paintings and be pretty much totally unknown? Part of the answer is that San Francisco's art scene is about as philistine as it gets: I once interviewed a very famous artist there who told me that as soon as the paint was dry he'd crate up his painting and send it to his dealer in New York, because nobody in San Francisco would touch him. He liked living there, but he couldn't make a living there. De Feo eventually did, and as you wander through the galleries getting your mind blown, you see her story come to a satisfying end. 

Then, on another floor, we have Sinister Pop, a really audacious look at a movement you thought you knew well. I actually followed a lot of this carefully as a teenager and saw a lot of it in galleries and group shows, so I wasn't as surprised as I might have been, but the curation, the way these pieces are brought together and hung, is right on the money. You don't have to see Warhol's huge quartet of electric chair paintings to realize that Pop, in its critique of consumer society and the Vietnam War and the oppression of women and minorities -- and yes, it did all of that -- had a side that wasn't all soup cans and Great American Nudes. Here it is: great stuff. 

The only show I wasn't totally wild about was Blues For Smoke, on tour from the L.A. Contemporary, a kind of, um, well it's hard to say. Examination of the theme of the blues in contemporary art? Curatorial concept gone pear-shaped? Overthought, theory-laden mess? Doesn't really matter: I loved individual pieces, like Kerry James Marshall's Souvenir IV, a tapestry showing a black angel on a couch as the spirits of blues and jazz musicians hover above her, or Martin Wong's La Vida, a huge painting of a couple of tenements with the denizens at the windows (click the Images link on the exhibition's page to check these out). On the ground floor is an odd video piece called Hors Champs (off-screen) by Stan Douglas, interesting mostly because it's a documentation of Albert Ayler with a very small band playing "Spirits Rejoice," which is worth your 13 minutes or so.

The current selection from the permanent collection, American Legends: From Calder to O'Keeffe, is of course worth your while, loaded as it is with masterpieces. This whole thing was so amazing that it made up for all the other downsides of this trip, and just revisiting it for this post makes me happy. I've only been to the Whitney once before, ages ago, and I can't remember what I saw, ecept one piece does stick out: a tiny village made out of clay hidden behind a window on the staircase, one of several that a local artist was bombing the city with in the '80s. It's still there: Dwellings, by Charles Simonds. Check it out. 

Time for me to shut the computer down and check out and hope that I get out of here on time. More news as it happens!

1 comment:

  1. Blogger seems to have contacted Parkinson's. The entire right-hand column on your blog, after the Followers block, jiggles. Don't know any other way to describe it. Very odd. But enjoy the food and art.


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