I just had an excellent four day vacation in NYC with my mom and Miriam Kelen. I am lifting some of the copy from my mom’s writing. Hopefully she won’t mind! 😉
Thursday March 27th
After landing at various airports at various times, we all met up at the Benjamin Hotel. This was my second stay at the Benjamin. The service is excellent, the rooms are large, and bedbug free! After quickly getting unpacked, we headed out for dinner.
Dinner for the evening was hosted by The New York Arts & Sciences Salon at the Spain Restaurant. Follow the link above for more pictures from the event.
My work for the past two years has been rooted in the narratives, allegory, and illustrations of Fairy Tale and Folk literature. With my current work, I am investigating the landscapes, mythical creatures, curses, love, and magic that have persisted through centuries of storytelling.
It was a great evening. We made it back to the Benjamin by midnight.
We started with breakfast at the The National. Mom and Miriam had oatmeal. I had the croque madam. Then we went up to the Guggenheim to see two exhibits:
- Italian Futurism 1909-1944 Reconstructing the Universe
- Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video
The exhibits were an interesting juxtaposition. From what I saw, it wasn’t a far stretch from the the extreme and absolute thinking of the futurist to many of the tragedies of 20th Century Europe including Fascism and the Holocaust. Weems was an excellent contrast. Her work is concerned with the those who have been subjugated because of their race, gender or class.
After seeing the exhibits we stopped for a small lunch at the Wright restaurant.
before heading over to the Neue Galerie
As describe by the Neue:
The term "degenerate" was adopted by the National Socialist regime as part of its campaign against modern art. Many works branded as such by the Nazis were seized from museums and private collections. Following the showing on these works in a three-year traveling exhibition that criss-crossed Germany and Austria, most were sold, lost, or presumed destroyed. In this light, the recent discovery in Munich of the Gurlitt trove of such artwork has attracted considerable attention.
Degenerate Art was yet another excellent exhibit. When the Nazis labeled certain art as degenerate, they also labeled some art exemplary. The Neue Gallery showed some of the “approved” Nazi art. To my eye, It was technically adept but lifeless and uninteresting. On the other hand the so-called “degenerate” was weird and mysterious. It drew me in. It had power. Some artists I remember and liked were Paul Klee and Lasar Segall. Miriam was a fan of Max Beckmann’s triptych Departure. The exhibit was “framed” exceedingly well. The walls where the art hung were printed with images of Jews trying to emigrate out of Europe, town book burnings and rail cars at concentration camps. It was an important reminder of the larger events going on in Nazi controlled society at that time.
After the Neue Gallery, we walked down Madison Avenue to Bemelman’s Bar at 76th for some well deserved refreshments. I was wearing the tag from the museum centered on the collar of my black shirt, so we started calling me “Father Kehle”. At the bar, the well-known Earl Rose was at the piano. He was improvising on Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 . We had some refreshing non-alcoholic drinks (looking like a priest made this easy!), enjoyed resting our feet and looking at the murals.
Ludwig Bemelman, author of the Madeline children’s books, hand painted all the murals in the 1940’s. He did this in exchange for a room at the hotel.
After our brief respite, it was back on our feet to walk down to Columbus Circle for dinner at “Robert @ MAD Museum” . It’s a little hard to do *THAT* particular event justice because so much was going on. For well over 20 years my close friend and ex-boyfriend Scot (aka Big Scot, aka Scox) has wanted to meet my mom. The meeting was finally going to happen. This was also Scot’s husband Patrick’s birthday dinner. Patrick has had a rather difficult year with multiple life threatening health challenges which he has thankfully beat. Nothing quite says “Happy Birthday” like remission. And then there is the restaurant itself. Originally I had planned to take Scot and Patrick to their favorite rib place. However a good friend of ours, the lovely Dr. Brian Saltzman, suggested we celebrate as his restaurant, Robert, which overlooks Columbus Circle. Instead of dining coach, we were going first class…
Oh – I had also warned my mom that Scot, like many artists I know, is very emotional. I told her that he would probably cry upon meeting her. What I forgot to mention is that he is a 6 foot 6 inches tall and frequently mistaken for “The Undertaker”, a world famous professional wrestler. When we walked up to the MAD building, Scot and Patrick were sitting by the door. Scot got up and gave me a big hug. My mom and Miriam stopped in a dead shock. They thought that someone was mugging me!
Once we made it past the introductions, we went up to Robert, checked-in and sat in the cocktail lounge. After our first cocktail, Brian came over and introduced the chef. It was her birthday too!
A drink later, our table was ready. Our waiter escorted us to a private, all glass room!
It was a marvelous dinner.
We drank, ate and chatted the night away.
Mom and Scot got acquainted.
I think Miriam had a great time too!
The ever generous Brian gifted the table with the entire dessert selection which we promptly ate. Patrick said it was the best birthday he has every had. It was truly a magical evening.
Saturday proved to be another great day except for the weather. It rained off and on making available taxis rare and valuable. The day started with a good meal with friends. Where can you have brunch for six easily in NYC on the weekend? The Smith Midtown.
My friend’s Dennis Swaim and Susan Sloves met us for an early brunch. Ann Friedman, a friend of Miriam’s, happened to be visiting from Florida and was fortunately able to join us as well. I think my mom hadn’t seen Dennis since the mid-80s. I caught up with Susan, my mom caught up with Dennis and Miriam caught up with Ann. My memories of the food are: good bacon and good french fries. The main course has slipped my mind but a good french fry is hard to find. I would go again, especially with a larger party.
Fortified for the day, we walked over to the Gauguin ‘Metamorphoses’ exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit featured lesser well-known aspects of Gauguin’s work across multiple techniques including wood carving, ceramics, lithography, woodcut printing, monotype, and oil transfer drawing. Honestly, I didn’t love the exhibit. That probably had more to do with my state than the quality of the exhibit. When we arrived I was feeling a little off. Almost dizzy. Miriam and my mom also felt off. Fortunately Miriam produced a small tin of multi-colored, fruit flavored hard candy as a pick-me-up. The exhibition was more edifying than satisfying to me. I must have been a little off since it totally slipped my mind to visit van Gogh’s The Starry Night while we were there. Anthony said it was like visiting the Louvre and forgetting to see the Mona Lisa. Oops. All was made better at the end of the exhibit by having a real Coke with sugar and caffeine.
After MOMA, we caught a cab to see the The Frick Collection housed in “One of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions.” I love the building; especially the Garden Court. Miriam was especially fond a self portrait of Rembrandt. It is quite a magnificent piece. I enjoyed being surrounded by so much good art including Goya’s The Forge, Jean-Baptist Greuze’s The Wool Winder, and Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid.
When we asked one of the docents, an elderly gentleman from India, how many people originally lived in the house, he informed us that there were three – Mr. and Mrs. Frick and their daughter, plus 27 servants – nine apiece. “Why today an American household can only afford one servant!” he exclaimed.
While looking at the few final paintings Miriam and my mom had an understandable giggle over the codpiece worn by Lodovico Capponi in Agnolo Bronzino’s portrait. Miriam and mom made some comment like “Oh great. This is the last piece we got to see before leaving” so I just had to include it in my notes.
After we left the warm, dry building, catching a cab was a bit of an adventure. I finally got one by sprinting a block down Fifth avenue. The driver kindly waited for Mom and Miriam and off we went to the Morgan Library and Museum.
The Morgan was an unassuming little gem. The exterior looked like a beta version of an Apple store. The inside was something different entirely.
Our first stop was The Little Prince: A New York Story.
Since its publication seventy years ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince has captivated millions of readers throughout the world. It may come as a surprise that this French tale of an interstellar traveler who comes to Earth in search of friendship and understanding was written and first published in New York City, during the two years the author spent here at the height of the Second World War.
The show exhibited many sketches used in the development of The Little Prince along with notes and correspondence by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The collection gave better insight into how the story and its characters came to be. It was also a great reminder to re-read the book!
After the exhibit we had maybe an hour and a half before dinner so we went to see the original library. Now that was a surprise!
The library was constructed from 1902-1907. The architect created a structure in the style of a villa of the Italian Renaissance. It was gorgeous! The library has three rooms built off a marble rotunda. Each room is opulently furnished. The library is a treasury of rare books and manuscripts including three Gutenberg Bibles.
Before we knew it, and much too soon, it was time to head south for dinner at Morandi.
Morandi was a suggestion of Miriam’s friend Robert Goff. Robert has great taste. The staff at Morandi was warm, welcoming, and happy. It felt good just to sit in the restaurant and soak up the energy of the staff. The food was perfection but the fun of the meal was enjoying everyone’s company. It was a great New York experience where everyone is connecting.
After the meal we went to see the play “Hand To God” The Lucille Lortel Theatre. Robert had made several restaurant suggestions. I picked Morandi because it was a six minute walk from the theater. If it’s raining, six minutes is a long way to walk. 🙁
What to say about the play? (This will contain some plot spoilers). “Hand To God” takes place ‘Somewhere in Texas where the country meets the city’. More specifically the bulk of the place takes place in a Sunday School where a young window is teaching puppetry to her adolescent son and two other teenagers. For me, the first act felt a little abrupt – like you were dropped into a situation too suddenly for the characters behavior to be believable. However the second act was much stronger and contained some powerful moments. At one point a character questions a culture that is failing her. She questions Southern (probably) Baptist bible belt living. I’ve also recently seen this theme briefly explored by Julianne Moore’s character in A Single Man and less recently in the film Avalon. I have to confess that I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. In most cultures there is no space to question or to criticize. I love it when theater explores the truth behind the story. Returning to “Hand to God” the second act also had (of course) rated-X puppet sex. What’s not to like?
After the show we were briefly tempted to walk over to Marie’s Crisis, a piano bar in the West Village but Mom’s and my energy was flagging and the appearance of a taxi (it was raining hard) was just too tempting.
In what seemed to me like thirty minutes later we were back at the hotel and in bed.
Sunday morning we went back for another round of breakfast at the National and discussed what to do during the morning. Miriam had to catch a 2:30 flight so we didn’t have a lot of time. Miriam suggested we go to a gallery on 58th street that represented Henry Darger. I almost fell over in my chair! One snowy winter about ten years ago I saw “In The Realms of the Unreal” with my friend Eric Sakas. It’s about Henry Darger; a janitor whose fantastical art and writing were discovered after his death. The movie starts out with quotes from people that don’t know how to say Henry Darger’s name. Ever since seeing the movie, Eric and I had been calling each other different variations of “Darger” (e.g. ‘Archibald Darger’ or ‘Dargerium’) – any funny sounding phrase that came into our minds. It was such long running inside joke that it was jarring to be reminded that other people knew about Darger and his work. We decided that catching a glimpse of the Vivian Girls (One of Darger’s subjects) would be a great idea and off we went.
It was about a 20 minute walk. Fortunately Sunday was not rainy but it was a little chilly. Still it felt good to walk. When we made it to the gallery, we discovered that galleries are closed on Sunday. The Vivian Girls will have to wait. We settled for walking up 7th ave to 59th and walking back to 5th. On 59th there was a “gallery” that was open. We stopped in, mostly to get warm. The artwork, to my eye, was dreadful. There’s a certain style of art that I often see in touristy places that looks gaudy to me. It usually involves images of harlequins, teddy bears or celebrities; overpriced kitsch. But what do I know? Maybe some of it will wind up in MoMA someday. 20 minutes later we were back at the hotel. Miriam got off without incident and we headed to JFK a little later.
A week or two later, my mom asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. I thought of the sumptuous homes and beautiful art we had seen, the exceptional meals eaten and the play we watched. I answered that the best part of the trip was spending time talking with my Mom and Miriam. Mom agreed and asked “Do you realize how much we laughed?” To which I say:
on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
(The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.)