Friday, November 21, 2008

Autumn in New York

My son's day care was closed on Veteran's Day, so he and I had the day off together. It was the kind of brilliant Fall day, with richly colored leaves and crisp air and sharpedged sunshine, that reminds me why I live in this great, big, beautiful city. We went to Central Park, where the light really was knifelike, cutting at an Emily Dickinson slant through the trees. He ate a midmorning hot dog in front of the Met, and was a good sport for me when I wanted to go inside.

I wanted to make sure I saw the Morandi exhibition before it closes, and I figured that if at all possible, a weekday morning would be best for avoiding the crowds. Having a four year-old with you is not optimal for looking at Morandi's slow and exacting work, but it's better than missing the show entirely.

Like I said a couple months ago, I do wish they had hung the show in more spacious, better lit galleries. I remember the lower level of the Lehman Wing was one of the toughest places to stay awake when I was working as a guard there, although it's different now, trafficwise, because of the new public cafeteria down there as well.

I'd still like to go back alone and take more time with the show. It was my first time seeing the landscapes, which are dishraggy in color and tone, and not in a good way. So they were disappointing to me. (Although the landscape etchings are very fine.) But the still lifes, of which I've seen only a handful in person before, as there are not many Morandis on this side of the Atlantic, are great. The delicately muddy palette works on the intimate scale of still life, but it is only weak and dull in a landscape, where you expect the light to, well, do something. And every once in a while, there's a tone or color in a still life that rings like a bell, whether the brushwork is shaky and shimmery or tight and focussed.

Compositionally, I had never seen, even in reproduction, the odd still lifes that sit on one half of the canvas and run off the side. The more tightly composed pictures, with objects centered like family portraits in early photography, are more stately, the bottles and vessels and boxes gathered and crowded into even more intimate groups, as if you were looking into a full elevator with glass walls. It makes me think of de Kooning's quotation about all the space a painter needs, which goes something like, if you stretch your arms down along your sides, and wonder where your fingers are. Yes, I'm not sure how much sense it makes, but I will say that some days it makes more sense than others.

And the watercolors are strange and gorgeous, like shadow plays.

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