Art in New York, Part II

Rani Devi and her seven-month old son at the Anganwadi Centre which works to improve infant and maternal health in the state of Bihar.
Photograph by Sanjit Das.

“Dream no small dreams.  They have no power to stir the souls of men.” — Victor Hugo

New York. We had the good fortune to visit again recently, this time by invitation from dear friends to join them at an exhibition celebrating the U.S. release of RISE, a collection of photos and stories documenting selected social entrepreurship projects of the Dubai-based Legatum Foundation in Haiti, Mali, Ethiopia Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, India and China. The photos and stories in the RISE book are as sobering as they are compelling. The Ana Tzarev Gallery was a beautiful venue for the exhibition, although it was difficult (and maybe that’s the point) to sip champagne while grappling with the daily struggle for survival faced by so many in our world.  Each new round of photographs required a summoning of composure and courage to press on.  The quote by Victor Hugo (with which begins the book) captured the mood perfectly. So much can be done.

The RISE exhibition also marked the launch of The End Fund, an initiative that aims to treat and eradicate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) primarily in sub-saharan Africa. The photographs from these projects were particularly joyful with so many depictions of African children at play, and dutifully lining up to take their anti-worm pills.  The potential of The End Fund seems enormous because the “fix” can be quite simple — in some cases, a little pill that costs less than 50 cents (USD) provides children with their first glimpse of what it means to feel well, play, and attend school. The End Fund aims to change the lives of 60 million people by treating and prevent NTDs in Africa, and there are many opportunities to get involved.

We tried our best to take time and enjoy the city during such a gorgeous time of year, and of course catch up with good friends. After a wonderful breakfast at Sarabeth’s (recommended!), we spent the morning strolling through Central Park, which proved an inviting sanctuary with tulips and chestnut trees blooming everywhere. I love the slowness inside the park. The city is world away. Or just a short walk.

This time around, our wish list of things to do in the city included a visit to the Frick Collection. Henry Clay Frick was a turn-of-the-century industrialist who manufactured coke for steel production. His impressive private collection hangs in what was his sprawling masion, built in 1914, on the Upper East Side. I’m sorry to say I don’t have any photos to show, as taking pictures was not permitted (and we officially complied). But my favorite part was . . . (prepare to be shocked) — the dining room and the art galleries (west, oval, and east). The dining room was sumptuous with a grand fire place and long carved table where he threw weekly dinner parties for 20 guests (men, of course — this was the turn of the century after all). The galleries were built with the sole purpose of viewing the acquired art. Though paintings are hung throughout the house, Frick obviously valued the presentation of several pieces hung together and so provided a proper place to appreciate only art. His collection includes the likes of Vermeer, Velázquez, Goya, Monet, Renoir, Holbein, Rembrandt and more. 

The following day, we visited the Guggenheim Museum, just a few blocks away. The building itself is a fabulously modern work of art by Frank Lloyd Wright. Its main spiral gallery is famously composed of a single ramp that allows continuous exploration of the main collection chronologically from bottom to top. Along the way, history is told not just through the art but also historical photographs and video clips. One of the most poignant was a five minute newsreel of French villagers heeding the call to arms at the beginning of the Great War (now known of course as World War I). Crowds, including some waving American flags, cheered men on horseback pulling canons, who days before must have been pulling plows. You couldn’t help feeling pity for the men and boys who, inspired by the frenzy of the crowd, rode off as if to a carnival, unaware of the horrors of twentieth century mechanized warfare that awaited them. As for the art itself, we saw an exhibition of modern art from the main collection called The Great Upheaval, which spanned just a few years, mostly 1910-1915. As opposed to Frick, who seemed to use his fortune to acquire “one of each” of the greats, the Guggenheim family apparently focused on collecting art of their time. Some favorites? Chagal, of course, is so much fun to see, and Franz Marc and many others of Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider group) were well-represented, including a special exhibition of Kandinsky’s “Bauhaus” works in a side gallery.

Dave’s note: The Guggenheim was an eye-opener for me. I have always viewed the extreme fragmentation employed by early twentieth century cubists and other modernists as a reflection of the disintegration of European society caused by World Wars I and II. But here was a whole collection of such works, almost all of which preceded the start of World War I! After looking more closely at the subject matter, it hit me that the early years of this movement were not only inspired by the rumblings of war, but also (and maybe fundamentally) by the stress of urbanization and the rise of industrialism.  See, e.g., Train de la Croix Rouge traversant un village (Red Cross Train Passing a Village ) (1915) by Gino Severini. Like the jubilant farmers in the newsreel who unwittingly left behind the pastoral life of the nineteenth century and rode off on horseback to fight a hellish industrialized war, the traditional social fabric of the western world was being pulled apart by industrialism. And what a contrast to see that dark reflection of the industrial revolution the day after the Frick Collection, whose display of grandeur and beauty was enabled by the fortune of an American industrialist.

But before we could say goodbye to NYC, our path led us once again to the Lincoln Center for more performing art. This time, the New York City Ballet. It was a gift to see Broadway veteran Patti LuPone sing and Wendy Whelan dance in Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” (Die seiben Todsünden) which first opened in Paris in 1933 and yet was set in far-away-America. It is a provocative response to Nazi Germany without once referencing the piece’s actual inspiration. Also performed was the Concerto Barocco with music by Johann Sebastian Bach, rich and classical. Tarantella was a favorite — playful and full of energy, with music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. After intermission came three Vienese waltzes, one each by Johann Strauss II, Franz Lehár, and Richard Strauss, in three different settings.  The first was set in the Austrian wood — mystical, as if in a dream,  the ballerinas float in like fairies in pure white gowns. The second seemed to be an urban walz of students in a Vienna studio, and the grand finale was, of course, a formal affair in a chandaliered Vienniese ballroom.  By our count, there were at one point 25 couples in floor length ball gowns and formal coat tails gliding around the floor. All we could say was “bravo!”

Now, who wants to hear about the food?

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3 Responses to Art in New York, Part II

  1. rita says:

    Art in New York…what a wonderful experience! You really made the most of your time there!

  2. tio says:

    First of all, the fact that you were fortunate enough to see Wendy Whelan is INCREDIBLE. Especially with City Ballet. That’s awesome.
    Now I want to go get breakfast at Sarabeth’s, and yes, I want to hear about the food!

  3. I’d never heard of the Legatum Foundation until I read this post – thanks for the link. Your trip sounds so interesting – I’d love to visit …in fact I’d love to do your visit!

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