Leaving the Empire State Building we once again headed underground to catch a subway to Brooklyn. I had never been there and was curious to see what life was like in the New York City’s most populous borough. We surfaced near Bedford Avenue and 7th Street in what appeared to be a simple neighborhood of apartments above shops and restaurants. We walked several blocks, and though the sidewalks were far less crowded than those in Manhattan, we did find a group of young hipsters engaged in a photoshoot for who-knows-what. It seemed entirely appropriate given the environment. Miriam visited the Built by Wendy shop, but only browsed a few minutes before we strolled back to take the subway back to Grand Central and the Metro North to White Plains where we watched roller derby at the WFTDA Regionals. More about that later.
Our full schedule had prevented us from seeing a couple things in Manhattan that I was eager to see, so on Saturday, while Miriam watched roller derby in White Plains, I took the train into the city and explored a bit.
My first stop was, of course, Grand Central Terminal, where, once again, I enjoyed a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery. This one was cinnamon with a delicious swirl of icing. We had been at Grand Central each day of our trip, but I hadn’t really bothered to walk outside the building, since we usually caught the subway from there. That Saturday, on my own, I decided I should see what was around the old building. I walked out the doors onto Pershing Square, walked a little way down the block and took a photo.
The scale of Grand Central Terminal is massive; the ornate details are astonishing. In marble over one door appear the words:
TO ALL THOSE WHO WITH HEAD HEART AND MIND TOILED IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF THIS MONUMENT TO THE PUBLIC SERVICE THIS IS INSCRIBED
Inside, enormous chandeliers light great rooms with high ceilings. It’s a wonder to behold, and a fitting introduction to the city to anyone who arrives there.
From there I meant to visit the Museum of Modern Art, but I struggled to find the most practical subway route. I knew the best place to get off, but when I exited the car at that station I was confronted with a sign informing me that the station was closed that weekend. I had to get back on the subway and exit at a less proximate station and walk. In the end, I would have done just as well walking the eleven blocks from Grand Central. In any event, I still made it to MoMA and saw neat stuff along the way, including St. Thomas Church on 5th Avenue and 53rd Street.
The Museum of Modern Art is in a rather unimpressive building. Indeed, so nondescript is it that I didn’t even feel compelled to take a photograph of the exterior. Inside, however, it is suitably modern, with a great atrium open to several floors. I paid for my admission (nothing in New York City is free) and began exploring the art. The first pieces I saw were not impressive. Indeed, among the first I saw was one that was simply insulting. The Mythic Being Village Voice Series by Adrian Piper consisted of framed pages from a newspaper. The title plaque next to the “art” indicated that eleven different individuals or institutions contributed funds for its purchase. For fifty cents and the price of a few picture frames I could have made the exact same thing. Anyone could have. It’s precisely this sort of fraud that leads the public to believe all modern art is a scam. It isn’t, of course, but it’s easy to feel that way sometimes. And when you see what hangs on the wall just a few rooms away, Piper’s piece rightfully appears weak.
I walked from gallery to gallery enjoying the genuine masterpieces on display in every room. I passed Van Goghs on the way to Picassos, Matisses, Braques, Kahlos, Monets, Mondrians, and more Picassos. There was wonderful sculpture, including mobiles by Calder. The biggest disappointment was Dalí’s Persistence of Memory. I’ve never thought much of Dalí in the first place, and I hadn’t even cared that this famous picture was at MoMA, but when I happened to pass a painting surrounded by a small crowd I decided I ought to look. It was no bigger than a sheet of notebook paper. Indeed, I think I may have said out loud, “you’ve got to be kidding me” as I walked past. I think everyone else was underwhelmed also.
I found several things at MoMA that I loved. Christina’s World has been a favorite since I was a child, and that was just hanging on a wall by an escalator. The exhibit on modern design was fascinating, and really heightened my awareness of the banality of most of the everyday objects that surround us. Take a look at any chair or table in the room you currently occupy. Are any of them works of art in their own right? What about the objects sitting on the table? A ribbon fan on display was a perfect example of how designers used to create ordinary things both functional and beautiful.
Far and away my favorite work of art at MoMA was their magnificent Klimt. I love all Gustav Klimt’s pictures, and had seen Mäda Primavesi two days before, but Hope is among his best, and what I was most looking forward to seeing at MoMA. I stared at it for ages, as did many other people standing near me. When I go back to Vienna I intend to visit the Belvedere and the Secession Building.
Leaving MoMA I made a last minute decision to walk up to Lincoln Center. Along the way I stopped by Steinway Hall just to say I had. It’s almost directly across the street from Carnegie Hall, and all the great pianists who give recitals there select their instruments at Steinway and Sons and have them delivered to Isaac Stern Auditorium. As far as pianos go, Steinway is as good as it gets, and they still make them in New York City (and Hamburg). You can see the process of making a Steinway piano in a film called Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037. And don’t miss “How Does a Piano Get to Carnegie Hall”.
I passed some wonderful architecture near Columbus Circle, and there at Broadway and 58th Street stands the building that houses the Museum of Arts and Design. No. 2 Columbus Circle, has an amazing history, and for a building that nobody outside of New York City knows or cares about, the Wikipedia entry for it is remarkably thorough. In a nutshell, the building was designed by Edward Durell Stone and completed in 1964. The “Lollipop Building”, as it was called, had few fans, since it was, by almost all standards, remarkably ugly. It had almost no windows, but that was functional, since it housed an art collection. In 2005 the building was ripped down to its skeleton, and the facade we see today is far worse than what came before it. Even those who criticized the Lollipop Building find No. 2 Columbus Circle uglier than ever, and entirely lacking in architectural merit. I agree. Here is a site with many wonderful photos of the building as it once appeared.
Lincoln Center occupies several square blocks, which makes sense, since it’s the home of Avery Fisher Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House, among others. The Met season was beginning only days after our visit, opening with a new production of Das Rheingold that was the talk of the town. Posters were everywhere. I went inside the Met Opera Shop, where they had hundred and hundreds of opera recordings as you might expect. I was quite tempted to buy, but I am glad I saved my money, because the place I went next was unlike anything else I have ever seen.