I’ve now just about shaken off the lingering effects of jet-lag after returning from New York last Wednesday. It’s surprising how badly a mere five-hour time difference can mess with your body clock.
It sort of goes without saying that it was a fabulous trip – it was New York, for goodness sake – but this is no place for a full holiday-journal-type account (audible sighs of relief all round). However, I must mention the following, artistically relevant, highlights:
Museum of Modern Art.
It was my first visit to this Aladdin’s cave of culture and I was completely knocked out. This has to be the most thrilling collection of 20th-century masterpieces anywhere in the world. Every significant movement from the period is covered, with most of the leading players represented. Not that we got anywhere close to a full tour; our visit was largely restricted to the 4th & 5th floors where one is confronted by room after room of iconic images. It’s almost impossible to pick favourites but even in such exalted company, certain pieces still manage to shine through and remind the viewer of their greatness. Van Gogh, for instance – if you’ve ever admired reproductions of his Starry Night painting, the original will stop you dead in your tracks, as will most of his other pieces here. The brushwork has an extraordinary controlled energy.
Anyone who considers Monet a little chocolate-boxy should check out the two enormous water-lily canvases that face each other across their own side-gallery. They’re clearly rooted in observation but sit right on the cusp of abstraction and seem to contain the seeds of much ‘modern’ art that followed. The immersive quality of these pieces had the almost physical effect of slowing the visitor down and lent a distinctly contemplative mood to the room.
Top attraction for me though was Picasso. Not a single less-than-riveting painting or sculpture by Señor Pablo in the whole collection (or quite possibly anywhere), none more so than the canvas that turned out to be my absolute favourite painting in the building, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’. I’d not seen the original before so hadn’t appreciated its size and sheer physical presence. I’m generally very sneery about the sort of gallery-goer who poses for photos with works of art, but I was prepared to compromise my scruples on this occasion.
I also couldn’t help reflecting while at MoMA that a lot of the Pop-Art I used to love as a teenager – the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rosenquist – now seems relatively shallow and insubstantial. It could be argued that this was one of the very points of Pop but I found myself passing through these rooms with barely a pause. I think my taste must have matured even if nothing else has.
Did I mention Diego Rivera? No? Well I should have.
Metropolitan Art Museum.
You could spend a week here and still only get to see a fraction of the collection; it’s gigantic. We headed initially for European Paintings but the ridiculous wealth of material we had to pass through meant we were constantly sidetracked by the likes of ‘Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine’, a temporary show every bit as interesting as the title suggests. The upshot was that after well over three hours, as kicking-out time arrived, we’d barely scratched the surface of the treasures on offer. Favourite among the bits we did get to spend some time with would have to be the fantastic collection of Degas’ work. The way his work flowers as he embarks on his ballet pieces is a joy and the little bronze statuettes cast from his rough clay life-studies are exquisite.
It was also great to see Mike and António again, my agents at American Artists who have now moved to Larchmont, about a 30-minute train journey upstate. They’re battling the current negative economic forces like everyone else but seem to be bearing up remarkably well. They managed to stretch to a rather agreeable Japanese meal while we were there, anyway.
We visited them on Sunday, the only evening they could both make it, which unfortunately meant that I had to forego the delights of our planned outing to Dr Sketchy’s on the Bowery, which was on the same night. I suppose that’s one report I don’t have to file now!