It’s been MONTHS since I’ve visited a museum. Or at least it feels like months, but it could very well be I went to MoMA last month. I don’t remember.
Anyway, this past Friday I took advantage of the pay-as-you-please admission option and raped the museum by a dollar. The disadvantage of visiting museums this way is standing in line outside for half an hour freezing your ass off and dodging old people and brokeass artists colliding in all directions. I tried not to let this get the best of me as I slowly made my way thru the entire museum, which always surprises me in its stunted size and cozy windowless appeal.
I started with Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time, a group exhibition consisting of mostly paintings from the first few decades of the 20th century reflecting the excitement and influence industrialization, modernization, and the urban social life brought to artists at this time. A preoccupation with architectural geometries, the buzz of nightlife and upper-class soirees, and the energy and romanticism of living in a bustling city were reflected in a subdued and isolated form in Hopper’s paintings and I was reminded of its calm and mesmerizing stillness in this show.
The works were mainly culled from the museum’s permanent collection, owing up to 2,500 works by Hopper. I would’ve loved to see more, perhaps a show exclusive to this artist as there were mere sprinklings and just wasn’t enough for me to gather in depth, to be absorbed by the emotional simplicity and isolation his figures express alongside his sharp space-cutting light and shadow effects. The bold and minimal paths of color separating sky from table, from floor to figure create a powerful leeway to observing reality in a perfunctory style. The blatant solitude of his zombie figures with black holes filled in as eyes and glares of unctuous daydreams are mesmerizing. I can be swallowed whole in a Hopper painting, get lost in its swath of color and admire his subdued yet powerfully dramatic light effects.
Here, I fell in love with Charles Demuth all over again. The crisp perfectionism of lines, interrupting and cutting through the picture plane are so gratifyingly majestic and futuristic. I remember seeing Figure 5 in Gold for the first time at the MET during a school trip and nearly fainting over its color, listening intently as the teacher presides the story about a fire truck that inspired it.
From there I went upstairs to the works of Charles Ledray, the show aptly titled Workworkworkworkwork. It’s a giveaway of what must have been the artist’s meticulous obsession with production, repetition, detail, and compulsion. His mastered craftiness allowed to replicate clothing and everyday objects as he observed it to a doll sized scale. A bit disturbing was his use of human bone, carved with pristine perfection to form miniaturized furniture, feathers, and cages. My favorite of all is a series of sculptures where he stylized 2000 individual ceramic vessels the size of my thumb. There are various versions in white, black, and colorfully patterned. I can look at these all day, consume them, be consumed by them.
Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted, a fine finale to a show by an artist obsessed with death, detritus, and ephemera in general. Folks have been buzzing about this Paul Thek show for the last couple months and was the intention of my visit to Whitney. I read excerpts from various artists and the like talking about the artist in a recent ArtForum issue, leaving me with a baggage of idealized expectations of what this show would be. Death was a prevailing theme in his work from the meat pieces to newspaper paintings, to landscapes later on in his career before AIDS took his life away. I was ultimately disappointed with the works themselves. I expected the Meat Pieces to be bigger and more powerful, wishing its glass case weren’t such a distraction, wishing they weren’t as simple as they were. There was something kitsch and trivial about them, especially the horrifically colorfully painted hand and mouth paintings installed close to the ground. The newspaper and landscape paintings seem careless and quick, thoughtless and subconscious, juvenile and child-like. The installations are consuming and messy, the use of everyday objects a bit jaded in my eyes (not considering not many folks were using such objects at that time).
Reflecting back on it and briefly chatting about it with a friend who found the show to be profound I wanted so bad to be positively inspired and affected by Paul Thek. I’m seeing now that his oeuvre were more about process, or the experience of expressing death and ephemera through execution, rather than representing that thru the work itself. There are expressive undertones to the paintings, and their quickness gave them an aura of faint ghost-like existence, where it stayed in your vision for a brief moment and quickly forgotten when passing through others.
The gist of his work is pretty obvious and much appreciated. But I think it insubstantial, its driving force also its killer, for me.
Once I was done at the museum, I decided to walk to the lower east side in the freezing cold. I was ill prepared in clothing but was excited with the prospect of exploring the city and walking for hours the way I used to. It was a journey indeed. In the upper east side I encountered at least 3 elderly women with failed or outdated plastic surgery. They were grotesque with mouths heavily hanging as if filled with water balloons, their eyes stretched to either side, their gaze slovenly and zombified, their noses thin and sharp with barely a layer of skin keeping it intact. They were gross. The streets of Madison Ave were pretty dead by 8pm but the storefronts were fun to pass by, what with the Gucci and Lanvin and all. By the time midtown made its way thru I was faced with all sorts of various ethnic restaurants, especially down Lexington Ave and started getting pretty hungry. I was an inch away from being rammed by a speeding cab driver and I cursed him for life, fantasizing about flattening all four tires with a laser eye glare. Nightlife was bustling once East Village came around and I reminded myself not to walk into my favorite tattoo/piercing parlour for another gauged hole. At one moment I was numb with cold and contemplation, furious at moments with how sucky my life is, grateful at other moments with how fortuitous my life is. I wish I remember what my epiphany was, but I did experience an epiphany, probably involving productivity in some form.
I reached Angel’s house frozen to the core. I watched a portion of Inglorious Bastards, waiting for him to get ready for dinner. That movie is gorey and disturbing but charming too. We walked over to Gentleman Farmer for a late night dinner and I’ll share my meal in a bit. It was an eventful evening and I’m determined to do more Friday Night Strolls from hereon.