Cold Feet

photo 5My socks were wet by 2 pm, and somehow my sleeve was wet by 4, a rivulet must have rushed up there, maybe from my umbrella being held together by a rubber band where it was held together.  It had rained and rained and rained and rained, the puddles in every gutter were gullies and the train floor a slick.

I waited in the longest line in the history of the world to check my bag and coat.  By the time I was at the front I had to be unusually nice to the girl because I was so pissed I had been planning how I could stomp out and be home quickly, forget this whole thing, why was I even there, but it was so much trouble, even more trouble than waiting in line.  If I wasn’t extra nice to her to show myself I knew she was a person like me, I would have asked her why the fuck it took so long just to check coats.

It was so wet my Melville got wet, even inside my bag, his pages are wrinkled now, the out of print book, my baby.  When I bought my Sunday paper it, too, got wet.  Paper is so delicate when it is wet, more delicate than skin.  I tried to cuddle it, it blistered and broke.

I told myself it is best I don’t read the front section.  All for the best.

I had been to ballet.  I was patient with myself back at the barre, told myself not to try to raise my leg so high, when you try to go further than you can, and it just looks and is absurd and wrong.  The right muscles, I knew, were the ones that now raised their eyebrows.  My teachers think I am not doing as much as I can, but that is how high my leg goes, actually, that is all.

We got down on mats to stretch.  I saw everyone else stretching like wet rope and I was a toy soldier and I heard my own mind chatter how I would never be flexible at all or strong to be beautiful as the other girls were.

I was so sad noticing how I talked to myself I cried a little in the shower, which felt good.  Crying sifts everything out and down it falls more like snow than rain.

We end ballet with everyone running up and bowing to the class and all of us clapping for everyone, the good dancers who are never trying, and the lady next to me today who fell from her toe-pointed-to-knee, very hard for me, also, my knee does not get that high.  This is how strangers are to me, saying take a bow, near strangers are this way, and the way I mutter to myself, so dismissive.

“What’s next?” lady in class said to me.

“The advanced class!  I gotta get out of here right away!”

“Me, too,” she said, and smiled.

I did not kill anyone at the museum.  After I finally got to hand over my stuff to coat check, and wait in the second line to buy an admission ticket, instead of going straight up to the art, I bought and drank half a cup of coffee and ate a peanut butter cookie in the cafe.  Next to me, a mom sat down with a tiny child who was chewing on a pocket-sized kleenex packet.

photo 2 (1)

photo 4

Then I went upstairs.  The paintings were mosaic Byzantine ceilings crossed with African baskets, and then a room of paintings painted so dark blue and black and black green that you had to move to see what they were.

The dark paintings were hung  in a darkened room, reminding me of special rooms made for meditative paintings, the Rothkos in DC, in their special room at the Phillips Collection.  People sit there and are safe and quiet, much as they sit in the bodhisattva room at the Nelson, back home.  What was the point of a painting, anyway, to be looked at, if it took so much work, to be with, so it could work on you (Kandinsky, who is referenced in the explanation in the hall though I generally don’t read those), to make you get quieter so you could hear better?

One of them was of wild men during Carnival. It is Carnival season, though I do not celebrate it here, I know.  We have Carnival in our ugliest time.

I liked the sculptures, which is unusual for me.  I am usually partial to two dimensions.  One crucifixion like, one a woman full of nails, stretching around with stabbing implements herself.

The artist can hardly make anything without nipples or sex organs.  It didn’t much take away from what he had to say, and sometimes added to it.

At the top of the building is a room to look at the city.  It is not always open, but it was.  I’ve only been up there when it’s rainy and foggy.  Which is fine.  I love the city then.  The new World Trade Center south, the Williamsburg Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, east.  Williamsburg is no one’s friend, I walked over it once after a night spent on someone’s floor.  Manhattan even lesser known, despite its blue jaunty towers.  There was a video piece teaching us how to do the Harlem shake, and I joined two other museumgoers in halfheartedly playing along with it.

I had decided not to wear galoshes to feel lovelier.  I feel responsible to the museum to add aesthetic quality.  And galoshes, they don’t bend, so I sometimes trip, a little, over a broken sidewalk, or up a stair, I walk like the Tin Man.  I had worn grey boots that, even though heavy, soaked through by 2 pm, after across 14th Street, up to 18th, down to 14th, over 14th again, past Manhattan’s only Dairy Queen, wet feet.

photo 2

Chris Ofili at the New Museum

The Rothko room

Here and Elsewhere at New Museum


Once I was actually at the museum, with a guy who looked Muslim on one side of me and a guy who wore a yarmulkah on the other, I remembered ninth grade geography.  My ninth grade geography teacher always did the middle east first.  Get it over with, he said.  Too depressing.   For me, it was all those years of Tea Cake dying and them hanging John Proctor, over and over.  At least those were sexy deaths.

The show at the New Museum is “from and about the Arab world.” You end up sort of looking at a Time magazine cover with Anwar Sadat on it.  You see photos of people who live in a rough place and look rather rough, kids and people posing with guns, things people have left behind because of wars.  That is, much of it was cut so long or was so on-the-nose that I wasn’t drawn in.  There are flyers, there is amateur work, and there are pieces by artists whose thoughtfulness shows.

Here’s what was great.

IMG_1675IMG_1674IMG_1673 IMG_1672Family trees of middle eastern royal families, titled “Probleme” and various numbers.  In our country, where your family tree is rarely discussed, and if then, only as a novelty, it reminds that many places, for many people, this charting of who came from whom was critical.  Great color, and careful balance of using but not exhausting the idea.  Are they molecules?  Spreading diseases?  Periodic tables?  I wished there were more of the pieces that used the shapes of Arabic letters, which I have always loved.

IMG_1688The New Museum seems to have a thing for miniature cities.  I loved their last miniature city, by Christopher Burden, and they have another miniature city, this one by Wafa Hourani, called Qalandia 2087, and it “envisions different futures of the Qalandai refugee camp [which was] established in 1959 on land leased from Jordan…though it was originally built to accommodate about three thousand people—Palestinian refugees from nearby villages—its population has nearly quadrupled in the fifty years since” and the tag on the wall goes on to tell you more about the refugee camp and it is, I assure you, depressing.

IMG_1687The city isn’t depressing, though, it’s great.  Walt Disney had a thing for miniatures.  I didn’t think I did.  In Kansas City, there is a museum with an extensive collection of miniatures, some are toys and some are, I don’t know, collector pieces?  Art pieces?  I know you can go there and see cool train sets, great doll houses, and recreations of not the world’s smallest, but a pretty damn small violin.  They have miniatures of candy shops and hotels and bars.  In some of them, there is a hidden mouse to find.  You know, for kids.

At Disney World, you can see the miniature of Progress City, USA, Walt Disney’s idea for how things should be.  It has a ferris wheel.  Tiny lights.  Places for work and play!  Hourani has a similarly whimsical attitude, with his city containing a goldfish pond and music playing, silly, cheerful music.  (Those goldfish might be rather dangerous considering the size of the humans in the city, who are about the size of three of these capital Xs.)  Someday, that camp will be a place people water potted plants and sit on their rooftops and there will still and always be all those antennae– he seems to have made them out of sparkly pipe cleaners.  The sand, dusky brown gravel, has glitter in it, too.IMG_1683IMG_1684


IMG_1679A Moroccan guy makes drawings and collages inside matchbooks.  Everyone loves these.  Is that significant?  I don’t know.  It gives you that old, I should makes something feeling, which is always good.  That appreciation for people making things to please themselves.

IMG_1681There were a lot of pieces that used photography and drawing together.  The only one that interested me was one well balanced by Anna Boghiguian.  It said something about the inside and outside world, and how they work with each other.

IMG_1691I have sworn off two things: reading in galleries, watching movies in galleries.  (On this note, the posts on the walls about the work are infuriatingly difficult to match with the work, I don’t care how cool the gallery looks, and two long paragraphs to explain who an artist is and what the work is about is too much when you have 30 artists in a show.  Even for people who like to read.  Edit, edit.)  Exception: maybe your movie is very short, and/or very static.  “Twenty Eight Nights: ENDNOTE” is static enough.  Akram Zaatari’s film shows two men looking at a laptop screen that faces away from you.  They are watching, not reacting much, just the blank faces of people watching moving pictures.  Dancey music plays, like right behind them is a woo-hoo party.  I laughed.  At a certain point, party lights come on in the next room, some flashing pink and blue and stuff.  Funny.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what is was about.  I’m still thinking about it.  Video here.

What did this tell us about the middle east, thought?  I knew before I went in that IMG_1676many people, just now, would rather talk about money than the middle east.  As I was going down and around their narrow white staircase, I thought about the people going down the stairs of the towers, some got far enough, some didn’t.  Someone lifted up his kid to see what looked to me like an alphabet of Arabic letters, in great colors, an orange, olives, a braid, a bullet, a grenade.  “Those are letters,” he said.

Top image by Muhamad Arabi.

The Neighbors

The collaborative floor at the New Museum struck me as proof that most people, most of the time, are boring.  I’m not proud of that.  I wasn’t happy about it.  You give people an empty room, and they write the most annoyingly obvious things about corporations or money or they paint Mickey Mouse or the McDonald’s logo or they write about peace and love and community, and I am so bored.

photo (9) photo (8)

When I am bored I assume it is a personal failing of mine, though.  I was happy to see lab coats and then the ladders and all the paint.  Obviously this was interactive, one of my favorite kinds of art, and there seemed to be no nevermind to it.  A sign had warned us that the whole thing was being taped to be shown with time-lapse, and this was an even more boring idea, suggesting to me that someone was sleeping with someone at the museum.

This is a risk of being over thirty: getting bored with stuff. I am six months in New York, and apparently even I can be bored by art here, art that cost a lot of money.

This is what was interesting: I felt bad covering over other people’s work, unless, as I determined, what they had made was unbearably boring.  I covered some boring words.  I saw there were pastels out on a table, and I crouched down there and got to work.

It was nice to draw in a museum, help to clear out your head before you moved on to the next thing to see.

photo (15)One part of being an artist is balancing your input and output, your eating and shitting, except hopefully your work isn’t shit.

A nice lady in a much-painted lab coat told me I could either take my picture with me or put it up.  I thanked her very much.  I photographed it and left it where it was.

I wandered around looking, and when I returned to my round table, someone had defaced my picture by adding an apple.  The place was not crowded, and still I had no idea who the perpetrator might be.  It was Friday afternoon, and although this museum trip jump-started my transition from teacher to artist, my brain was still pretty fuzzy from work.

photo (10)

You make things, people ruin them.

I went to the paints and covered over some things I thought were too boring.

Two other exhibits: Pawel Althamer’s “The Neighbors.”  He likes to make representations of people, which reminded me of my little sister, who makes many Halloween scarecrows of sorts, and made many inmates for our Marquis de Sade dungeon last Mardi Gras.

Who is my neighbor, right?  I didn’t think about it then.  I’m kind of slow.

Some of these people are made out of animal intestines, which is just as creepy as it sounds.  Two self-portraits.  Then one of his daughter, holding a fishing pole with a feather on the end, and it is uber-creepy, trust me.

photo (12)Himself in a suitcase I liked.  I am definitely in a suitcase right now, some sort of purgatory, half-world.

photo (13)He made a representation of a well-known bum in a town in Poland, a sculpture that bounces the way the guy did.  Althamer is interested in preserving people as they are, where they are, and making them significant.

I don’t think I have the right medium to do that.  Writing about real people is fraught.  I am afraid, even when I write affectionately about people, that they will find something in it embarrassing or some odd pea under the mattress to disturb our relationship.  And I don’t want to steal people’s souls.

No, I do, but I don’t want to get caught.

There was a stop-motion animation and then the set was around the corner.  There it was.  What was real about any of that?  With the motion, the human figures were rather real, and that city, those sets, were doll-sized and right there, not somewhere far away– in eastern Europe, I assumed, as everything at the museum seemed to be eastern European this trip.

Althamer had another floor, this one of robot/zombie people who had the faces of real people in Venice, all their eyes closed for the making of their masks, all grey, grey.  Their insides were hollow, their limbs were either straggling or construction beams.  In each corner was a video playing.  The artist was being hypnotized in one corner, in another, he was getting high, and in a third, he was having anesthesia administered.

photo (14)

I took a photo of the grey people, and a guard kindly asked me not to use a flash.  I appreciated her soft touch, and proceeded to open the wrong door to the stairs, setting off the fire alarm.

She was also nice about this.  “I am ruining everything here,” I said.  She smiled.

What did it mean that they existed there, at least their faces, at least eyes closed, in New York, there, and not in Venice.  Is Venice even a real place?  I have my doubts.

He didn’t know who he was,or he was trying to un-learn, which I appreciated, because I don’t know who I am, either.

Pawel Althamer exhibit


This is the dollar bill I painted because I am rich now, and I felt like breaking the law.

photo (7)The other is someone being an ass, but I like that.

photo (11)


imageThe first time I visited the New Museum, there was a human figure writhing on the floor, and I never was sure if it was a living human or a very well-made automaton.  And I ate an excellent red velvet cupcake.  So I was sold.

This time, Chris Burden’s show offered a line to wait in, binoculars to look through, and movies of him doing things that are obviously nuts.  No disappointment.

In the documentation of his early work, he explains, over poor-quality video, why he was inspired to lie down naked, have his assistants set long glass shelves on each shoulder, pour gasoline down them, and light two matches.  That was “Icarus.”  Why?  I’m mistaken.  He didn’t explain why.

I figure for performance artists, the reason is just, “Because it would be awesome.”  A fine reason.  I only watched part of the piece where he seemed to be deliberately getting hit by a car.  And then there was one where he watched TV in a gallery, and then set a pair of pants on fire.  Pants on fire!  I think people don’t laugh looking at art because they think everything must be So Serious, but I find a whole lot of modern art funny.

Some people are upset by this and it not being anything, certainly not art, but I go to see art for the same reason I go to church and watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: to get jarred out of my own head, to see beautiful things, to wonder at what is out there.  The Icarus piece was strange and a little wonderful, the others just reminded me that with all the really wacky people in the world, there is definitely room for me to be my rather mildly weird self.

There was a  perfectly nice truck holding up a perfectly one-ton block of iron in its crane for no reason at all.

imageThere were two miniature cities at war, warring by way of robot and doing it all on a sand base.  Castles, blankets, tents, the gamut of war toys.  That was where you could get the binoculars, to be able to see that world up close.  A little girl looked as excited as I did.  No humans, but robots and tiny houses and bullets set up as barricades, bullets big enough to protect something, at that small scale.

L.A. policemen’s uniforms, twelve or so, made oversized and hung, uninhabited, on the walls.

Lots of brown-tan, shiny submarines hung on that delicious invisible fishing line, making a sea.  One for every submarine the U.S. has ever launched.  Being the daughter of a submarine aficionado, I liked those.  Through the thick curtain of all of them, someone near me noted that one was vibrating.  “That happens.  I’ve been noticing it all day,” a guard said.  “I don’t know if it’s the vibrations of the building or what, but different ones vibrate.”

And I got to wait in a line.  I saw people queued up, although there was no sign.  Any line in an art museum is exciting (well, not the ticket line), and I saw that people were going up some stairs and coming back, so I figured, as long as they’re not shooting people in the head up there, I’ll give it a try.

You were not permitted to take anything but yourself up those stairs.  I surrendered my bags to a guard, who stuffed them into a locker and gave me the key.  There was another guard at the top, and behind him, a grate was pulled and locked.  This staircase is very narrow, only one person wide, and white, white like a modern art museum usually is.  At the top of those stairs, to my left was The Thing: a beehive-shaped stack of gold bars, yes, real gold, and matchsticks formed into little men with spears.  The matchstick men were either protecting the gold, or about to attack it.  The gold bars looked like Willy Wonka chocolate to me.  Real gold, that much of it, looked just as fake as the crown jewels in the Tower of London.  In our visually dazzling world, the old stuff doesn’t cut it.

A Porsche balanced against a piece of rock from outer space.

imageA motorcycle and a wheel.  The motorcycle is run in place, and the wheel goes for two-point-five hours.  I missed the going, though.

The pieces I understood least were the bridges.  Burden built them out of erector sets and slightly larger, more industrial versions of such things.  They connected nothing and nothing, but were still, I guess, bridges.  Why do you want to make miniatures?  What does size really mean?

I have built the Lego versions of various big buildings, and enjoyed mostly the following of directions, the being able to make something correctly in a form like that.  I am messy and impatient, and Lego building is something I can still be successful at.  I .guess it pleases me that the things look like real buildings… sort of.  I don’t want to build the Sears Tower because I think it’s ugly, and I don’t want to build the tallest building in the world for the same reason.

The compulsion to make small things, to recreate the world, only smaller?  I am interested in making it more opaque, I think, or bigger, or backwards, or something.  I have trouble thinking about making anything smaller.  I don’t have good fine motor skills.

Burden’s work is a lot about power, and how defensive measures affect us, or don’t.  A lot about heaviness, what makes things heavy, and putting yourself up against things that could crush you.