Sunday, November 9, 2014

Girl Meets Art

I was walking through The Frick Collection today.
The Frick Collection is the magnificent body of art that was (for the most part) collected by multi-millionaire Henry Clay Frick (he was an Edwardian multi-millionaire, so I feel like we ought to call him a tycoon. Tycoon sounds more stately and Edwardians. Multi-millionaires own Andy Warhols. Tycoons own Rembrandts).
Right. So, the great thing about Mr. Frick is that he knew he had a fabulous art collection, so not only did he know that he would bequeath his wealth to create a public art gallery, he even designed his house to be an optimal show room for his work. Essentially, the draw is that you see his gorgeous home, and, obviously, the art not bad as well.
So, his house is on East 70th Street and 5th Avenue. Not only is this a beautiful example of premium Central Park real estate, this is exactly smack-dab between St. Patrick's Cathedral (where I sing Sunday mornings) and my favorite bagel place. What an excellent excuse to walk home and grab a bagel (or two) at the same time!
Plus also, on Sundays the über-posh Frick Collection is pay-what-you-can.
I paid them in the free publicity that is this blog post.

I don't want to make it sound like The Frick Collection is equatable to the British National Gallery. But when I was in the El Greco room, (you know that problem when you have so many El Grecos you have to put them in a separate room? You know, that one?) the floorboards creaked and squeaked just like they did on a cold February in London. So I pretended that I was lost in a back-room of the National Gallery, and that if I just walked outside, I would find a stream of red buses rushing by, a handful of street performers, and a Bollywood musical being filmed on the steps of Trafalgar square.

But, mostly, I was just in awe of the art itself.
A friend once described to me the correct way to attend an art museum (yes, I am only friends with snobs. It's fine. We cope with our snobbery by crying into really nice glasses of cabernet sauvignon. Just kidding. We don't do that. Our salt tears would create an imbalance in the tannins.), which is that you walk into a room and then gravitate towards the painting the captures your eye.
This is dangerous. So, so dangerous.
For this reason:


Act I, Scene I 
LIGHTS RISE ON young woman walking 
through the art gallery, 
taking notes in her journal. 
She steps over the threshold into a new room. 
She scans the room briefly, her eyes 
finally light on a large canvas 
in the middle of the room.

Young Woman
(voiceover, in head)
 This one. Definitely this one. Is it a J.M.W. Turner? I think it's a J.M.W. Turner. 
God, I hope it's a J.M.W. Turner. If it's not, then that will be so embarrassing for me. 
What will it even say about my taste in anything about anything ever if it's not a J.M.W. Turner? If it's not, then I will literally be such a phony. 
I will be a pretentious, snobbish, ass--oh thank God, it is J.M.W. Turner. 
It's good, isn't it? I just love the way he plays with color, with that distinctive golden light. Oh I do love when you can just recognize a J.M.W. Turner from across a gallery. It's just so fun, isn't it? 
What must it say about me that I can recognize a J.M.W. Turner from across the room? It must say a lot. A lot of good things. About me. That I can do that.
I must be such an excellent art critic. I'm so glad a took an art history class. Everyone should take an art history class. Everyone. Everyone should major in art history if they can. If they want to. I mean, if they even care a little bit about culture, then they definitely should. But I guess. Not everyone--well, I mean. That man thinks that's a J.M.W. Turner. Oh babe. It's not. That's embarrassing. That's embarrassing for him. I wonder if he took an art history class. Probably not. Good thing I took one.
I wonder if this museum is curated correctly...
Our Hero smiles condescendingly 
at the couple next to her,
oohing and ahhing over a Hobbema.


End Scene.

As much as I love that idea; pick one painting, gravitate towards it, rinse, repeat, etc. I think it's too dangerous, particularly for someone so tempted towards cabernet sauvignon-soaked snobbery as I am. 
So I run around galleries like I'm a five-year-old, and pass over Titian's self-portraits and Constable landscapes, and then peel back around to discover that I missed them while my jaw was hitting the floor looking at the Rembrandts. I am not used to museums having famous paintings that I've seen my entire life. When I saw Holbein's famous portrait of Sir Thomas More, just sort of you know, sitting in the "family room", I think I cried. And my jaw definitely dropped when I strolled into the "Library" that contained few books, but a good number of Gainsborough portraits of ghostly, filmy women with dark eyebrows and sweetly blushing cheeks, and Constable's "Salisbury Cathedral," which looked like an ethereal cloud of sunlight in that dark and musty room.

I wandered around and wondered at Vermeer's annoyingly, tantalizingly un-descriptive titles:

"Officer and Girl."

"Mistress and Maid."

"Girl Interrupted at Her Music."
(girl's at her music again. You know how it is.)

It's like: we get it Vermeer. We see that those are who these people are. So what is happening in this dramatic moment? What are they talking about? What is the hidden quarrel behind the pearly earrings in Mistress and Maid. Why does Girl look dismayed while interrupted at her music lesson. What's happening in music lesson that we need to know about? Who interrupted the girl? Does she like being at her music?
Don't tease us, Vermeer! How cruel of you, painting all this mystery and not revealing a single word of it.

Also, I walking through a posh little antechamber after being overwhelmed by the creepy French wall-panel pastorales of cherub-like children acting out pedestrian activities of the country-folk. Too much pastel; too many ruddy cheeks.
And I walked through the more staid antechamber, which seemed unremarkable, with only a small panel of Christ carrying the cross, and turning over his shoulder to look at the small figure of a Dominican friar, kneeling in prayer.
Except that, as fate and the brushstrokes would have it, Christ looked rather peeved.
"Dear Lord, I beseech thee--"
"Okay no, could you not right now? Trying to actually literally save the world. Lord, give me strength."
So besides a remarkably grumpy-looking Christ on the Via Dolorosa, the room was rather bare.
Oh, except for the Jan van Eyck chilling right across from it.
Seriously. What sort of level of wealthy is it when you have Jan van Eyck's chilling in your ante chamber? And not even in the special dining-room-place-of-honor, just like: oh, this wall was bare and needed something, so I guess Jan van Eyck's masterful Virgin and Child will do just fine.
For now.

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