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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Steig, Jacquette and Burckhardt, and Snowdrops

Today I more than made up for yesterday's wimpiness. I had a beautiful art-filled day in New York.

I don't often think of going in on weekends; our train service runs only on weekdays; on Saturday and Sunday you have to take the bus. For years the bus was the ONLY option, but now that we have the direct train to Penn Station, which is quite a bit more comfortable, the bus starts to look like a poor alternative.

But there were two specific museum shows that I was anxious to see, and time was running short for one of them. So - the bus it was!

First stop: The Jewish Museum.

Specifically, the William Steig exhibit, which will be closing soon. I've been a Steig fan for years, so in a way this was more about paying homage than seeing something new. Because his work was always meant for reproduction (New Yorker covers, book illustrations, cartoons) there is nothing really surprising to see in the originals. Still, it was all so well put together, more or less chronologically, but also by subject (childrens' books, battle of the sexes, psychology, memoir...). And there were some surprises. For example:

1. Steig attended Yale for five days. (He had to support his family after the 1929 crash; I assumed that might have had something to do with it?).

2. He was a friend and disciple of William Reich and used an orgone box faithfully.

3. He dabbled in sculpture in the thirties, and had a small exhibit in NY. Nelson Rockefeller bought nearly all the pieces, at a negotiated price of $10 each. (A few pieces are shown here.)

One of the best things was a "reading room" - an actual room designed to look like a Steig drawing - perhaps the living room of Sylvester's (and the Magic Pebble) family. There were big round pillows on the floor to lounge on, and a pile of Steig books to read on a table in the corner. Whole families were cuddling in there, reading aloud, chuckling... Steig would have loved to see it! I was itching to take photographs, but they were verboten. The museum has a nice on-line version which I highly recommend. I'm feeling link-lazy, but it's easy to find.

Update: The NYT has just published a wonderfully descriptive review, with lots of pictures (on-line version). Definitely worth a look.

Since I had never been to the Jewish Museum, I also took a quick spin through the permanent collection, which emphasizes Jewish history and culture. I could have spent much more time on that, and will certainly return. Most likely soon, when they install what sounds like a great show on abstract expressionism.

From there it was a quick stroll up Fifth Avenue to the Museum of the City of New York.

I had read in the NY Times about this show of paintings and photographs by husband/wife team Yvonne Jacquette and Rudy Burkhardt, and I knew I had to see it.

Jacquette is a painter and her husband (now deceased) was a photographer and filmmaker. Both focus, in this show, on images of New York. Jacquette's paintings are referred to as "urban nocturnes". They are all aerial views - from planes, helicopters, tall buildings - showing the lights of the city at night. Her method is, in general, to start with a pastel painting (many of these on view here, the largest about 18" x 24") and then graduate to a much larger (roughly 6' x 6' or so) oil painting. They are all just mind-blowingly beautiful.

Burkhardt's photographs, all black and white, are equally worth seeing. Reminiscent of Walker Evans and Berenice Abbot, but with a quirky charm of their own. Besides the still photos, there was an ongoing video of some of his 16mm black and white movies. Two that won me over in particular were "What Mozart saw on Mulberry St.", made in collaboration with Joseph Cornell (Burkhardt was always part of the larger NY art scene, knew everyone) and "Under the Brooklyn Bridge".

The first one shows fifties street life, including children, cats, traffic.. one child who is practicing ARCHERY in the middle of a busy sidewalk scene keeps reappearing...!). The other includes an unbelievable scene of a group of young boys skinny-dipping in the East River with the Bridge looming above, and the lower Manhattan skyline beyond, with occasional appearances by fast-moving trains and boats.

When I finally tore myself away from this spectacular show I revisited some of my other favorites there, such as the Stettheimer doll house, the toy collection, and the beautiful period rooms. There was also a fascinating small exhibit of Broadway set design from the 30's and 40's by Donald Oenslager, some nice but very small etchings by John Sloan (Ashcan again!), and a group of color photos of more contemporary (70's and 80's) NY street life, as nice counterpoint to Burkhardt.

When the museum closed at five it was still light (hooray - and Daylight Savings Time will soon be here to boot!), so I took time to stroll across the street to visit a favorite oasis - the Conservatory Garden. It's another one of those well-designed gardens with such good structure and "bones" that it can be enjoyed in any season. But look! Snowdrops are in bloom!


Blogger sukipoet said...

A lovely post and sounds like a lovely day for you. I haven't been to either of these museums, in fact didnt know about them. The Steig room sounds just wonderful. Among many other wonderful exhibits. And this garden too. Thanks

7:33 PM  

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