• Travelogue
  • Travelogue: NYC Art Binge

    Day 3: Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective

    May 20-August 16, 2009

    detail, Francis Bacon, Head IV, 1949

    detail, Francis Bacon, Head IV, 1949

    I met Jake at the Met late the next morning.  We had both grabbed something to eat on our own with plans for dinner later.   He was a little “under-the-weather” from the night before but was still up for the last exhibits we would see.   I had wanted to see the Francis Bacon exhibit because it was billed as a centennial celebration based on his birth in 1909 and there were purportedly over 130 works on view.  According to the Met’s website, “The first major exhibition in New York in twenty years ….features some 130 works – sixty-five paintings and as many archival items from private and public collections…, etc”.  It was a very large exhibit and there were a lot of people there to see it.  To say that Bacon’s work is not “easy viewing” is an understatement.   It can be extremely grotesque and horrific but this can at times verge on the sublime.  There were examples of his work from all periods of his life. He was born in Dublin of an Irish-born English mother and an Australian-born English father and raised in both countries.  He knocked around Berlin, Paris and London as a youth.  The themes and influences that were revisited in his works until his death in 1992 remained related to crucifixion, homo-eroticism and images from Eisenstein’s films, specifically The Battleship Potemkin, the photos of Eadweard Muybridge, and portraits (usually heads) of friends and others such as his series, Heads, based on the paintings of Pope Innocent X done by Valesquez.  I found myself drawn to these most because I found them to be horrifically beautiful.  They seemed to display most of his characteristic signatures.  The accompanying photo, Head IV, shows the box structure seen over and over in his works; the gaping mouth so dominating the face that at times the upper part of the head trails off – disappearing altogether into the background of the painting.  I read that Bacon had serious sinus problems all his life and had undergone painful surgeries to the upper palette of his mouth.  He later became obsessed with medical books on mouth surgery and also with the image of the screaming nurse in Eisenstein’s Potemkin. We later saw this very image in a room devoted to archival items from Bacon’s painting studio.  There was an entire wall in the room that displayed a mural sized photo taken of Bacon’s very, very chaotic studio.  I overheard one patron saying, “Looking at that mural is making me nauseous.”‘  Jake and I looked at each and silently concurred.  It was a an exhausting experience to see all these works at one time but there was one more thing I wanted to do before leaving the Met.  We headed for the first floor and the gallery with the Greek and Roman Art.  We looked for the bronze, Artemis and the Stag.  It was beautiful – and beautifully situated in the gallery.

    After we got outside, we sat on the steps of the Met for about fifteen minutes just to decompress.  It was very warm and sunny and it seemed that everyone in upper Manhattan was outside that day.   After our short respite, we headed to the Neue Galerie just up the street at 86th to see the last exhibit on our list.

    Neue Galerie

    Brücke: The Birth of Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin, 1905-1913

    February 26-June 29, 2009

    detail, Erich Heckel, Landscape in Dresden,1910

    detail, Erich Heckel, Landscape in Dresden,1910

    I didn’t mention to Jake that my interest in seeing the exhibit of the Brücke group actually had a different twist to it.  There was a connection here to the last exhibit I curated before I retired as an arts center director.  One of the artists in that exhibit had shown a series of paintings he did which were interpretations of works destroyed by the Nazis.  He had interpreted and reproduced these works from small black and white photographs which the Nazis took of the paintings before they destroyed them.  These tiny photos were all that remained of some major works by established German artists of the time.  It was a very efficient “document and destroy” mission.  (See the interview with Richard Huntington.)  That exhibit had compelled me to re-read Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse-Five.   The line “If accidents will” from that book kept clobbering me over the head because of the underlying Dresden connections between these two exhibits and the book.  So, I felt that I had to see this exhibit out of respect for these artists and the mindless, ruthless destruction of their works.  As much as Bacon’s works were demanding and disturbing, these works were easy and calming.  The pieces were so full of life.  There were landscapes, cityscapes and portraits all done in Expressionistic style in characteristically vibrant colors.  This reminded me that the colors in the paintings destroyed by the Nazis have been lost forever. The works in this exhibit helped fill in some blanks for me; giving a glimpse about what those colors may actually have been like.  I was particularly interested in seeing works by Pechstein and Heckel who had some of their works destroyed and were among the artists whose works had been resurrected and reinterpreted in the aforementioned exhibit.  The photo depicted above of Heckel’s, Landscape in Dresden, is a great example of the lively color in his works and in most of the pieces in this exhibit.  This piece also tied-in directly with the thoughts I was having about Dresden and Vonnegut’s book.  It was reassuring to see this painting of an idealized time, in then, the unspoiled city that would later be obliterated during WWII.   

    After we had seen all the works, we both agreed it was time for a sugar-pick-me-up.  So, we headed downtown to Jacques Torres Chocolate on Hudson Street for ice cream.  This storefront is more than just a great place to go for the best chocolate – you can actually watch them make their trademark confections through windows into the production kitchens.  Once we finished gawking at the workers, we went inside.  What a great smell.  Chocolate everywhere.  There is a long counter for the wide selection of chocolate pieces; a bar for drinks – coffees, and of course, hot chocolate, and a small ice cream stand.

    Some treats from Jacques Torres Chocolate

    The remains from Jacques Torres Chocolate

    We both went for ice cream because this is the newest addition to their offerings.  Their sugar waffle cones are fantastic – sweet, light and flaky.  My cone was filled with vanilla rum caramel and Jake’s with chocolate raspberry.  Both were excellent choices.  We then made some selections from the chocolate cases for a treat later.  High on chocolate fumes, we walked up through the West Village to the NYU area and took a break in Washington Square Park.  This area is now a PG sort of place filled with students, families and pet dogs.  We both remembered how rough this place was in the ’80′s – lots of drugs.  Though we’re glad things are safer now but we also have mixed feelings about the general homogenation of Manhattan that has taken place over the past thirty years.  There has been so much neighborhood character lost in the wake of gentrification and urban development.  We are both big fans of Anthony Bourdain’s, No Reservations and were grateful for the show he did called, Disappearing Manhattan.  After this break, we headed over to the East Village for some Mexican food at Mercadito.   This little place serves really fresh Mexican fare with a good selection of Tequilla for their variety of Margaritas. To start, we ordered the guacamole with freshly made tortilla chips – all great.  They make many versions of fresh guacamole.  You could make a meal from the variety alone.  For entrees, I got the flautas and Jake got tacos pollo epazote. All the food was excellent but what we both liked the most were the fried plantains which were soft, rich and sweet.   We were both too tired for drinks after dinner so we said our goodbyes as I was would be leaving in the morning.  “No beer tonight?”, I said.  “I think I went over my limit last night.  In fact, I was wondering if I was going to lose it  looking at that mural of Bacon’s studio at the Met.”  We both laughed and talked about the possibility of meeting in Toronto for a similar foray.  He said, “You look into galleries and I’ll look into the beer.”  On that note, we went off in different directions.

    Museums / Galleries

    Whitney Museum of American Art, www.whitney.org

    PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, ps1.org

    Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org

    Neue Galerie New York, www.neuegalerie.org

    Restaurants / Bars

    Veniero’s, 342 East 11th St., venierospastry.com

    Blind Tiger Ale House, 281 Bleecker, blindtigeralehouse.com

    Keste Pizza & Vino, 271 Bleecker, www.kestepizzeria.com

    Ginger, 109 1st Ave betweeen 6th & 7th

    d.b.a., 41 1st Ave, www.drinkgoodstuff.com

    Mercadito, 179 Ave B at 12th, www.mercaditony.com

    Jacques Torres Chocolate, 350 Hudson at King, www.mrchocolate.com

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