Greg is going through an artistic phase (who knows? perhaps it’s permanent), so it came as little surprise to me when he expressed a desire to visit not one but two art museums while in New York, the Met and the Guggenheim. Contrary to what some IgoUgo guides have inferred (yeah, I’m talking ‘bout you, Becks), I do not drag the poor kid by the ear through every art gallery we happen upon. No. Quite the reverse.
In fact, it’s me who is being dragged, as both my son and husband have heaps of stamina when it comes to art museums, whereas for me, well, 40 minutes is about my limit. I like to choose a target, zero in, then get the hell out. No regrets about not having seen all there is to see or not having gotten my money’s worth. (In the case of the Met, it’s a not inconsiderable $15 entry fee.)
At the information booth, we meet up with a friend we haven’t seen since Greg was a baby. Marianne is one of my very favorite people, but I haven’t seen much of her since years ago when we lived in England. She’s been living in New York since last fall, renting an apartment and enjoying what seems to me to be the best of retirements. Now she’s about to leave for a summer in Colorado Rockies, but generously has offered to be tour guide for the day while we’re in the city.
She’s got a few suggestions up her sleeve for the Met, too. The first stop is the rooftop garden, with views out over the city and Central Park. I hadn’t even known about this the last time I was at the Met and make a mental note to come back one evening when the martini bar is set up. Meantime, we look out over the Manhattan skyline, as well as taking in a rooftop exhibit of sculpture by Sol LeWitt entitled, "Splotches, Whirls, and Twirls." It’s tempting to stay up on the roof and simply chat with Marianne, catching up on news, but the guys are champing at the bit. Off we go to look at modern art.
Last time I’d been at the Met, I’d seen only Asian and Ancient Near Eastern art, but this time I’m in for a heavy dose of 20th-century painting. I’m surprised to find that the museum allows non-flash photography, and Jack and Greg set to work photographing one favorite painting after another with their newest toy – a digital SLR Nikon. We pass through room after room of paintings that seem familiar, though we’ve never seen them in anything but reproductions: Picassos, Pollacks, Matisses, Lichtensteins, Wharhols, Miros, Klees… virtually every artist of importance in the past 100 or so years is represented. One particular painting by van Gogh, a gently humorous work featuring peasants, draws chuckles from Jack. There’s a retrospective on Max Ernst, which pleases Greg, and some landscapes by Georgia O’Keeffe, which get my vote of approval.
Marianne and I are deep in conversation and at first don’t notice that Jack and Greg have slipped away. We find them sometime later, and it turns out they’ve been in a gallery upstairs. "You’ve got to see this, Mom!" Greg says, momentarily allowing a bit of enthusiasm through his veneer of teenage nonchalance. We head for the stairs, but before we ascend, I hear boomings and moanings emanating from the gallery above.
The room above is filled with one enormous image, a suspended blob of fire – or is it a face? – caught in a swirling maelstrom of projected reds, oranges, and yellows. Whatever it is, it’s talking, a stream-of-consciousness rambling dialogue that periodically escalates into roars of primal angst. This is Tony Oursler’s "Climaxed," representing (as best I can tell) an explosion.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! screams the fire/face, its eyes widening in horror and mouth writhing, a projection of a misshapen head that seems part humanoid, part high-energy being from another planet. I’m not entirely sure what the point of this is, but it’s almost humorously macabre. We watch the pulsating blob and listen to it rant for a good 5 minutes:
"I'm killing you -- slowly -- I'm killing you by wasting your time. I'm killing you...".
The next room contains one of those "it makes sense if you know what it refers to" pieces of art, also by Oursler. It’s entitled, "Studio: Seven Months of My Aesthetic Education (Plus Some)," and also features video projections. I later read that this entire installation references Courbet’s "The Artist’s Studio: A real allegory of a seven year phase in my artistic and moral life" but that Oursler has placed his objects in a three-dimensional studio, each of which corresponds to something in Courbet’s painting. In place of Courbet the artist, however, Oursler portrays himself as a green Nickelodeon-esque blob with a dozen or so eyes set at haphazard angles. Watching the eye blob is almost mesmerizing, but closer inspection pays off as the mind strains to relate it to the other objects in the room. I later learn they are images of people who have visited Oursler’s studio, his wife, his son, and pop icons as diverse as David Bowie and Leonard Nimoy.
Tony Oursler's Studio: Seven Months of My Aesthetic Education (Plus Some)
Let’s just say it’s a little different, shall we? All your Courbet fans out there can have a field day comparing the original and Oursler’s version. As for me, I’m getting hungry. With some difficulty, Marianne and I pry the Nikon-wielding art boys from the museum by dint of extravagant promises. Who’s up for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge after sampling "the best pizza in all of New York?"