Christina’s World

Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948

“Christina’s World” is artist’s Andrew Wyeth most famous painting. It shows a woman looking away from the viewer and looking towards a distant farmhouse, while lying in a tawny grass field. Christina, a real person, was actually crawling through the field, because she could no longer walk, because she suffered from a degenerative nerve disease. She was Wyeth’s long time Maine neighbor and was in her late fifties when she was painted and lived for another twenty years afterwards. Years after her death, upon his death, Wyeth was buried at the foot of the pictured hill, fulfilling his request “to be near Christina.”

It is painted in the style known as magic realism, where everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery. In the painting, Christina appears to be younger than she was. She also appears isolated, where even her home, the distant farmhouse looks far away. Initially, the picture paints a bleak and lonely picture, but learning Christina’s background recasts this artwork into one of human struggle and determination. MoMA has always owned this painting, but chooses to display it in a busy hallway and not a gallery. One’s viewing is distracted, with all of the passing people. Its location does not to the work justice.

Turning from Christina and Wyeth’s world of magical realism to Anne’s real world, finds her ever busy with her third graders. Highlights from this week include a visit by a delegation of Indianapolis teachers and a field trip to Powell and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra played a sports themed concert for the hall full of kids. Highlights included the Blues hockey team’s mascot conducting the symphony in a recital of the Saint Louis Blues March, a reading of Casey at the Bat and the playing of various baseball standards. 

The Starry Night

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

“The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh has always been one of my favorite paintings. Throughout college my dorm room was adorned with a poster of this art work. It was an unexpected joy to find it on display at MoMA last week. Mounted by itself on a divider wall in the middle of the gallery, it was mobbed. Dozens of people crowded in front of it. Many were taking pictures. A lone security guards stood beside it. Big and burly, his presences generally held the throng at bay. That and the occasional word remonstrated any overeager art patron. As art police gigs go, this one was a tough one to hold. My viewing was hardly the quiet and contemplative experience that one would hope for, but I was able to jostle myself close enough, with camera held high, and get the pic.

“Starry Night” captured the view from Van Gogh’s east facing asylum bedroom window.  This morning, from our own bedroom window, Anne pointed out to me an astronomical conjunction involving Venus and the Moon, all backlit by the first light of the rising sun, our own little starry night. Since my return from New York, I have been rising before dawn with her and giving her a ride to school. The reason for this is that the battery died on her car the night that I returned. She had to walk home that night, like she has been doing ever since. I took MetroLink from the airport and Anne later picked me up in the Prius. Anne’s car is 22 years old, its license is up for renewal soon and it has been under a DNR order for some time now. We jumped her car to just get it home, but it has sat in front of the house ever since and again the battery is dead.

We had planned to become a one vehicle family soon anyway. This unfortunate occurrence simply advances our schedule a couple of months. We’ll jump her car once more and this time drive it a little further and see if it can hold onto a charge this time, but come January it will become an NPR donation. We might later buy a new car, either to supplement of replace the Prius, but for now it looks like our carbon footprint will be shrinking. Anyone want a bike roof rack?

Brooklyn Bridge + Jane’s Carousel

Brooklyn Bridge

Starting early on the morning of Columbus Day I set off on foot from my motel in Brooklyn to Manhattan. It was a long walk to the East River, longer than I had anticipated anyway, but as I neared the water, I had a decision to make. Should I take the Brooklyn Bridge or the Manhattan Bridge? Earlier this year, I had walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge and it was at sunset. I knew that I couldn’t duplicate those fine photographic conditions, especially on this dreary Monday morning. So, I took the Manhattan Bridge. As you can see in the photograph above, the view was not all that it could be, what with the low hanging clouds obscuring the tops of the taller lower Manhattan skyscrapers, but I did get a useable shot. Included in that picture and the close-up below is Jane’s Carousel, a parfait in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Both bridges have pedestrian walkways. On the Brooklyn Bridge, you walk on the level above the vehicle traffic, but on the Manhattan Bridge, you walk below the vehicle lanes and more importantly on the same level as four New York Subway tracks. It was very noisy. With the morning rush there was an almost continuous din. The noise began to feel unnerving after a while. The pièce de résistance came when I had almost completed my passage. A bicycle with a siren that mimicked a police siren came up from behind me. Such was the bridge’s decibel level, I did not hear his siren until he was upon me. Anyway, I soon exited the bridge and descended into the relative quiet of lower Manhattan.

Jane’s Carousel

New Colossus

Liberty Enlightening the World

She stands alone, an island, in the harbor. She faces out to sea or as in this photo Red Hook. She stands as a welcoming beacon, holding her torch high for all to see and she stands in stark contrast to the current administration’s immigration policies. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. She was a gift from the people of France. Her pedestal was also crowd-sourced. Emma Lazarus wrote her sonnet, “New Colossus” to help defray its costs. The only inscription that appears upon her is written on the open page of the tome that she holds, JULY IV MDCCLXXVI (July 4, 1776). After her death, Lazarus’s poem was immortalized with a plaque affixed to the pedestal that it helped to fund. Her official name is Liberty Enlightening the World. But she has many affectionate nicknames: the Statue of Liberty, Lady Liberty, the Lady in the Harbor, the Mother of Exiles, and yes, some admirers simply call her Torch Girl. Conceived, built and dedicated in the 19th-century, during a period of intense immigration, she welcomed millions of Americans to their new home. I find it interesting that Lazarus, like her biblical namesake has risen to such prominence and enduring relevance. Her words epitomize an ideal, an ideal that has made our country truly great. An ideal that we will not turn our backs on now. Here are her words:

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
— Emma Lazarus

Items: Is Fashion Modern?

A plain white t-shirt, Yankee’s baseball cap, Levi’s 501s, Nike shoes and aviator sunglasses, how more iconic can fashion get? These are a few of the 111 articles of clothing that appear in the current Museum of Modern Art show, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” NYC has always been an international Mecca for fashion, but this is only MoMA’s second foray into this realm. It’s sole predecessor, “Are Clothes Modern?” — was organized in 1944. So, after 70+ years of neglect, where MoMA has been quietly wrestling with questions about the modernity of costume and more basically is it even art, I’m pleased to have caught this latest update, but what took them so long?

On Columbus Day, the show was well attended, maybe even too well. It is a big show, encompassing all of the top floor. It is rare for MoMA to dedicate so much space to an exhibit. The selection of items varied from the novel to the simply mundane. It is almost as if MoMA can’t decide whether modern fashion is art or not. If an item of apparel has become ubiquitous, does that make if fashion or simply a uniform? This leavening of the unique with the everyday dilutes the show-stopping effect of some of the more interesting pieces. I didn’t need to go to the museum to view a pair of flip-flops.

“Items” is as much anthropological as it is about aesthetics. Subcultural styles trend into the mainstream. Awareness is focused by garments and accessories that everyday people wear around the world. Haute couture is included, but almost as an outlier. In an epilogue, ecologetic concerns are addressed with a wall that describes the impact of modern manufacturing techniques, which have shifted the carbon footprint burden primarily now to garment care. These high-minded concerns aside, there is always something deeply satisfying to see something you or yours owns in a museum setting. 

The Empire State

Empire State Building in Columbus Day Colors

By the time that I took this picture, I had walked a dozen miles. This photo was shot down by the East River in Williamsburg. The Empire State Building would appear and disappear with the evening’s shifting clouds. This shot is relatively clear, with only the lower half obscured, leaving the top half of this skyscraper looking like it was floating disembodied in the fog. It is seen wearing Italian colors in honor of the holiday. Their parade down 5th Avenue disrupted traffic and I had to detour around it, but I didn’t mind much. After a one block detour, the police closures actually helped me get to MoMA faster, because it closed the streets that I was crossing to car traffic. Elsewhere, Columbus Day is poo-pooed for the Native American genocide that he proceeded, but in New York, it is all about Italian pride. I hear that on off nights, the Empire State Building entertains suggestions for the building’s nightly colored light display. I think that it is sort of a contest. I’m trying to think what kind of color scheme that I would suggest?