Sunday, February 28, 2010

2-28-10 New York City: A Study

I realize this is a bit off the subject of White Mountain natural history but I thought it would be fun to include this story in the blog. As noted in the last entry I have been stealing away from my studying and instead of heading for the Hills I've traveled to New York City on two occasions in the past month or so to pursue art and Indian food. I drive 90 minutes to New Haven, CT, board a train and I'm in the city in a little over an hour from there (2.5 hours total).

The Connecticut Metro Line is impressive. It has high speed track beds, part of the Northeast Corridor used by Amtrak between New York and Boston, and supports diesel and cross-over electric engines. This photo is in Stanford, CT., and the train, an express, was traveling at about 70 mph. For the past year I've wondered if the current administration in Washington would advocate for high speed rail service in the US including transcontinental service as a way of creating lots of jobs as well as building a state of the art, energy efficient transportation system to carry us far into the current century.

It's such a pleasure to travel by train. When I was a kid in North Conway, NH. there was train service throughout the White Mountains via the Boston and Maine and Maine Central railroads. Skiers used to come up in droves on special "Snow Trains" that ran on Friday and Sunday nights. Several years ago I was doing publicity work for Amtrak and had the privilege of riding almost every mile of existing passenger rail lines in service at the time. In the west the rail beds were in great shape, particularly the Northern Pacific and Santa Fe lines. The rail beds east of the Mississippi were in rough shape so the trains had to run at low speeds and those beds may not be much better today, but a better investment of a trillion dollars might be to build at least one trans-continental, dual track, high speed, all electric line from New York, or Washington, to a city on the West Coast. A high speed "bullet" train like those in Europe and Japan can travel across the continent in less than 24 hours on good rail beds. Think of the vast number of jobs it would create particularly if everything, all the rolling stock, the engines and cars, and the track, were designed and manufactured in the US.

Heading through Harlem towards Grand Central Station. I like the view from the train just because you get to see things you don't see from the highway. You go through peoples' back yards, vast industrial areas, beside rivers and swamps. You get to see the hinterland.

Grand Central Station is certainly grand. It's beautiful! It's one of my favorite buildings in the world. It's enormous scale always takes my breath away. This couple were arguing about what they were going to do for the day.

On my first trip to NYC in January I wanted to see this Bruce Davidson exhibit that I first saw at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970. The new show was at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on East 59th Street that has a new photography exhibit every month of one of the photographers that they represent in the art world. It's an extensive list of photographers.

Davidson's book, "100 East Street", has been reprinted because it's all but impossible to find the first edition for under a $1000, but also because it was an enormous accomplishment when it first appeared. It created a revolution. Davidson became part of the East 100th Street neighborhood while he was photographing it. The photographs are from the 1950s in Spanish Harlem and vividly intimate. He was able to get close to his subjects in their homes and neighborhood niches and he photographed in places where the lighting was challenging. One of my favorite photos is of an older woman, a grandmother, sitting in her kitchen table. Sunlight is shafting through through a window in a dark room behind her forming a long rectangle on the floor but the light on the woman is from a bare, overhead incandescent bulb. It's a beautiful photograph.

The main interest of my second trip was to see another exhibit of black and white photos featuring photographer Homer Page who is not well known but did some interesting work in New York and around the US in the 1930s and 1940s. In the enormous, and enormously important, photography exhibit and book by the same name, "Family of Man, that was designed by Edward Steichen and first hung at the NYC Museum of Modern Art in 1955, nine of Homer's photographs were included.

Homer Page was a good friend of Dorothea Lange who was one of the most successful and well known documentary photographers of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Her work for Roy Stryker of the Farm Security Administration in the 30s and early 40s when she worked with photographers like Walker Evans, Russell Lee, and Arthur Rothstein, is legend.

The comparison between Bruce Davidson's and Homer Page's is striking. Where Davidson's are so intimate, meaning the distance between the lens and the subject in Davidson's work is short and he's very close to his subjects, Homer's subjects are distant, aloof, and don't know he's there. Davidson, as a photographer, nearly becomes one with his subjects because they allow him to join them and be part of them. Not many photographers are able to do that. It takes a lot of work and patience to earn that trust. As a social worker and a photographer I look at Davidson's photos with awe because I know the hard work he did in order to achieve that level of trust.

After leaving the gallery I headed over to Fifth Avenue and the Guggenheim Museum and encountered a few of the tribal people of New York. These two smokers greeted me with cautious smiles.

A hunting party.

Retired hunters who've moved into town from the forest.

The Forest (Central Park).

The Guggenheim.

It's an exciting space. My reason for checking out the Guggenheim was to see the exhibit by the young German artist Tino Sehgal that was written up the week before in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The exhibit is unusual because it consists of a series of interactions with real people within the context of space and art

What happens is that as you walk up the long spiraling ramp to look at paintings and sculptures housed in the museum and are greeted by "actors" employed in the "piece of art" by Sehgal and these actors (Sehgal describes them as "interpreters) then open up a conversation with you. The first actors/actresses are young people who greet you at the bottom of the ramp and first ask the visitor, "Can I ask you a question?" If you answer yes, the question they ask next is "What is progress?"

If you agreed to have the conversation the actor then walked up the ramp with you conversing as you ascended. At each level the actor you'd been talking to would evaporate, seemingly, and a new actor would be at your side and would introduce themselves and the conversation would continue albeit a bit disjointed because the newest actor would have missed a good deal of the conversation. Each actor in the progression was chronologically older than the one before.

The view from the top of the ramp down to the main floor and the oval shaped pool. I demurred at my first invitation by one of the actors to take part and spent almost an hour slowly ascending the ramp and watching others interact with the actors until I felt I understood how it worked.

I saw individuals and groups like this one who were not taking part in the exhibit and that helped me relax a little as I'm shy and didn't like feeling that I "had to" take part.

I saw groups like the one engaging with an actor who had just introduced herself and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

This duo (the actress is on the left) looked like they were having a great time and invited me to join them. I was too shy and turned down the invitation.

I saw this pair who were deep in conversation and as I looked at them I began to feel a little more confident. I went back down to the main floor and began ascending the ramp again and was met by a girl of about 8 or 9 who introduced herself as Emily and she asked if she could ask me a question. I said "yes" and she motioned me to step aside from other museum visitors and asked me: "What do you think progress is?"

I told her as far as I was concerned "progress is a myth, that there might not be any such thing" and Emily almost barked with surprise at my answer as if to say 'how could there not be progress?'

Whole families were taking part in the exhibit.

Emily explored my response with a gravity I found amazing. We were just at the crux of our conversation and the concept that perhaps progress is another word for hope; the hope that things will get better, and she had just explained that she's seen and experienced a lot of progress but mainly through technology and just in her short life time. In fact most of the interpreters said or implied that they thought "progress was technological innovation".

as did this group of students.

The actor who replaced Emily decided to agree with me and promote his own ideas of why progress why probably just a myth that we cling to because there has to be some reason behind
our being here and that it's an empty word to fill an even larger "void". The last interpreter that walked with me to the top of the ramp was 72 years old and fought the idea of progress being a myth by saying that he felt cell phones were a sure sign of progress because he doesn't have to email anymore, he can simply pick up his cell phone and call friends without having to sit down at a computer and write something. At one point he said, "I know there's progress because slavery not longer exists." "Are you sure," I asked him?

In addition to Sehgal's living exhibit there's always traditional art at the Guggenheim including this rather alarming iron sculpture that begs the question of how the artist was able to construct this huge piece in the very tight space where it sits? If I tried to build that I can only imagine the temper tantrums I would end up having. The piece was titled "Memory".

In a large room off the ramp on the second floor there was an exhibit featuring a portion of the Guggenheim's painting collection which included three Picasso paintings that were all playful and wonderful. There was also a large, sunny landscape by Pissaro.

I descended and tried to listen to actor-accompanied groups that passed on their way up. My first observation about the experience was that it was a complete and pleasant distraction. I began a conversation with one person and then another and another and I was suddenly at the top of the ramp. It made the time and effort of walking evaporate.The conversation was interesting and engaging. Connecting and engaging with other people, strangers, intellectually was a little different than what we normally experience in a public place like a museum and within the arena of art. There's always kind of a reverent "hush" in art museums I've visited. It certainly heightened my experience of being at the Guggenheim and made it more memorable.

I imagine that other people who took part also found it enjoyable. I asked one person what his experience was and he said he felt a "genuineness" in the conversations and he particularly liked the neutrality of the question and the conversation itself. I agreed. I thought the question was brilliant. It could go anywhere.

I asked an interpreter what his experience was and he said, "I have been having a lot of fun. The people are great. It's been really enjoyable."

As I left the museum more people were arriving. It was only 5 o'clock on a Saturday night in New York City so I imagined the place would be filled for several more hours. There was a long line at the door.

It was dark when I got outside. I was hungry.

I headed to the subway for a ride to the lower East Side to hunt for some Indian food.

After dinner it was back to the subway and Grand Central Station and

the race through the station to the train.

and the long trip home. I debarked in New Haven just before 10 pm as people raced through the station to catch buses so they wouldn't have to wait in the cold for the next one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

噴泉的高度,不會超過它的源頭。一個人的事業也是如此,它的成就絕不會超過自己的信念。 ....................................................