Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Memories are Motionless

June 2, 2016

“Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

tribeca $1900 300sqft

Earlier today, taking a break from painting, I googled studio prices in NYC to check out the going rate. The above studio is on the market in Tribeca. For 300 sq. ft. you will pay $1875.00/month!

Once upon a time, I rented a painting studio of my own. The space was larger than the the space above. For 400 sq. ft. I paid $400.00/month. Situated above a clock store in Williston Park on Long Island, a decidedly unhip but affordable and convenient location at the time,  northern light flooded my studio all day long. I was in heaven.

Excited to have a dedicated workspace I could get as dirty as I wanted, I laid down a roll of cheap linoleum, moved in my work table and supplies and got to work.

One morning as I arrived, the proprietor of the store below me was standing amidst a forest of chiming grandfather clocks, front door open. He introduced himself right away and asked me what I was up to, mentioning he always heard music playing. He then said he enjoyed (rather than objected to) the music and seemed a bit tickled to find out that someone was making art in the space above him instead of preparing tax returns or teaching traffic school.

I fondly recalled my studio days as I stepped back from the easel this afternoon to assess the progress of a new painting. My studio is the second bedroom of the two bedroom apartment we rent in Queens. I never did put down linoleum, but I guess I should have.

It’s fun to fantasize about the days when I painted full time as I spend my days off from a dreadful office job. I’m not complaining, per se, but occasionally on days like these I enjoy torturing myself by thumbing through an artist book I own called Studios by the Sea. 

To refer back to Bachelard in Poetics of Space, he writes: “…even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.”

This is so true. At heart, I’m a romantic. A big part of me loves to dream and yearn. Loves the yearning part more than the actual getting. The aroma of coffee beans in the grinder more delicious than drinking the brew. As I flipped through Studios by the Sea I wished and imagined. Sometimes walking around NYC, I will find myself gazing longingly at a 19th century townhouse on the Upper East Side — yearning to live there. And enjoying every minute of yearning.

During my recovery from a broken ankle last summer, I would pass a particular townhouse on East 63rd St. on the way to physical therapy. A painting hanging on the wall by artist Caio Fonseca was visible through the expansive front window. It held my eye each time I passed by. His work is a favorite of mine. As I stopped to gaze, I conjured an entire fantasy scenario based upon seeing his work hanging in that space. On the landing beneath the painting an elegant ebony grand piano, keyboard exposed, was poised to be played. Above hung a glittering crystal chandelier. Aware Fonseca played the piano, I was convinced it was a Steinway and that Fonseca lived in the townhouse.

But he didn’t live in the townhouse as I would come to find out. The scene – his painting, the piano, the splendor of the decor  – had been staged by a real estate agent, likely another “romantic” like myself. That agent, through his or her design, had gifted me many evenings of yearning and pleasurable wanderings.

Fantasy is better than the reality. I suppose people who invest in their “dream house” spend the rest of their lives “making it even better than they imagined” with continual remodeling because intrinsically they know that dreams are never realized. Otherwise, they would no longer be dreams.

…the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” – Bachelard


How To Break Your Ankle

April 13, 2015

FrozenPathCPGo for an early morning walk in Central Park on the first warmish morning of almost-Spring weather (low 40’s on February 21st).

Gingerly walking along a dirty frozen path (with just a hint of melt) will imbue you with the false sense of invincibility.

Life is beautiful (or soon will be).

GeesePoliceWave to the Geese Police in his van. He will wave back and hide his face (with shame). Not a good omen, crossing his path,  especially with respect to the warning on the back fender: Get the Flock Out.


Rejoice on March 21st over what will be the final snowfall of winter in Jackson Heights. Extoll the wondrous snow covered trees, their enchanting beauty. Believe with cautious optimism you will not likely witness this snow globe for at least another 6 or 7 months (and that the use of a shovel in order to move your car will be banished for same).

Celebrate by taking a drive to the east end of Long Island with your S.O. Specifically, to Watermill.

View the work of east end artists at the Parish Museum, as in the work of the wonderful Fairfield Porter, an artist with a deep understanding of color.

Ooh and aah. Love life.




Prolong the feeling of unfettered bliss that viewing art invokes. Enjoy the escape into nature so far from the city. Traverse the snow-covered grounds of the museum (where sirens;  honking horns and thumping car stereos are long out of earshot).

Regard a tree standing upright before  a deep blue sky of puffy clouds. Take a photo.


Notice the quartet of misshapen trees.

CrookedTrees(Take note of the red arrow on the left, above)

Heed the scrawny Charlie Brown tree beckoning to you (“culprit”).  Scale a low guard rail with your right foot to photograph sad little tree. Lose your footing. Skid down backwards into a ditch at a 45-degree angle. Try to brake the fall with your heel. Wrench your foot severely. Sharply descend toward the inverted point of a triangular trough, deceptively masked by snow cover.

Twist your ankle unnaturally. Succumb to immobilizing pain.

Break your ankle in not 1, but 2, places. Proceed to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead (ominously, where S.O. and I were transported by ambulance after a car accident in September 2012).

Welcome with gratitude the splint administered to foot and leg by caring staff; accept a gift of crutches and excellent pain killers. Elevate bad foot on the dashboard of car on the ride home.

Stop at Starbucks for chai latte and much needed sugar fix. Request to your S.O. for no sudden stops is duly noted.

Visit orthopedist in Manhattan on March 23. No plaster cast for you! Instead, foot is installed in heavy black foam and plastic boot (lint magnet), misnomered as “walking cast.” (Due to sharp pain when boot touches ground; legs now at unequal lengths due to heavy, thick unstable rocker sole rendering boot impossible to “walk” in).

Secure boot to leg with 5 strips of velcro threaded through their respective rectangular hardware.

You must sleep in this boot. It weighs a ton. You must elevate your leg all day. You must remove boot for intermittent icing of the ankle and foot. You must continue this regimen at daily intervals until next doctor visit.

You must continue navigating the apartment on crutches.

Das Boot


Revisit orthopedist on April 6. Continue with daily regimen. Plan on 6-8 weeks to heal.

To stave off cabin fever:

You will read cover-to-cover January, February and March back issues of The New Yorker  (N.B., in March 9th issue – powerful story by Toni Morrison).

You will read Skeletons of the Zahara a tome by Dean King (unputdownable, true story of survival that ends well for the main character).

You will continue with obsessively readable essay collection called Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio.

You will begin reading We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (set in your current environs of Woodside and Jackson Heights).

You will finish reading back issues of Poets & Writers magazine.

You will watch art films lasting over 3 hours (mostly Russian, Turkish and Scandinavian). You will watch Trip to Italy twice.

You will re-watch Swan Lake ballet DVD for the umpteenth time.

You will plan a to visit orthopedist on April 27 for a new x-ray.

Fingers crossed.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

July 4, 2013

Oscar Wilde said that. He’s right, of course.

Today I found myself staring out the window into space and wondering: Who Am I? Sometimes, I forget.

viewdownblock4th of July flags a-waving…

My recent bout of malaise I blame on the weather. Epic heat, sopping humidity and monsoon conditions these past couple of weeks — plus an overload of mind-numbing work piling up on my desk all week. As usual, he withheld from me the reason for so much work until the last minute. 

After skipping lunch 3 days in a row to get all the work finished by Wednesday afternoon, only then did I find out via e-mail that he was taking a 4-day weekend. That I’m working tomorrow, however, is of little import.

When fielding life’s curveballs, I try to take in the “big picture.” Doing so enables me to wax philosophical. To get an overview. It’s either that or allow the unrelenting dreariness of a 9-5 day job smack me in the face daily.

Or, if I have the mental energy when I get home, I post a blog!

Naturally, I cannot relay any of this information to my boss — who, FYI, makes about 30 times more an hour than I doing the same spiritless drudgery called office work. A boss who  gave me as a gift last December the following item. Others in the office got, at the very least, a semi-personal gift from their boss.

However, this ceramic vessel  arrived hand-delivered wrapped in cellophane with an unaddressed gift tag. I’m talking blank.

xmasMugsm…and all I got for Christmas was this stupid mug

Which brings to mind another quotable quote:

“There is nothing more awful, insulting, and depressing than banality.” – Anton Chekov

Needless to say, with all this slavery and nasty weatherly conditions going/not going on, I missed my customary lunch time escapes to Central Park. I missed sitting in nature. I missed walking around the city.

If I thought I could pull it off, I would heed the advice of the ancient Arabs:


Or perhaps rejoice in the music found in Keats’s famous ode (but he was addressing an urn, not a human):

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on…”

But none of this brings me closer to myself if I’m not ready to accept the message.

Better to stand in front of one of my paintings, which I did a short time ago. To gaze at myself from the outside looking in, so to speak. Only then can I remember who I am:

chrysalisChrysalis  © 2013

“Follow your inner moonlight,” said Allen Ginsberg. “Don’t hide the madness.” 


Art for Lunch

June 14, 2013

The Sick Heart_1939“The Sick Heart” (Paul Klee) 1939

I slipped out of my cubicle and fled my office building at 12:45 p.m. today and headed north up Fifth Ave., strolling between the cobblestone shoulders on the sidewalk adjacent to Central Park.

Heavily overcast with foreboding gray clouds, the sky threatened rain. But — it wasn’t raining yet. I was determined to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what.


This is my favorite kind of New York City weather. There was even a slight chill in the air.

A massive meltdown by my cubicle neighbor occurred on Thursday (involving a vituperative tirade, with supersonic droppings of the F-bomb at the very top of her voice — as in: that f–king bitch!!!)  It all took place inside her boss’s office, door open, and within earshot of just about everyone on our floor.

Curiously, this individual still has her job (she has melted down before — she’s known for it). Yet, she showed up this morning blithe and devil may care, as if she hadn’t cursed the living *** out of her victim du jour just yesterday. She sat at her desk, humming atonally, cruising the web, laughing to herself and not doing not a stitch of work the entire day. Except for when she disappeared to go shopping.

She must be giving her boss lap dances. There’s no other explanation for why she still has her job. Her boss is 72 years old. And, he didn’t show up to work today.

Yesterday’s drama must have been too much for his heart. I know it was too much for mine.

As I strolled up Fifth, the sun broke through the clouds. I suddenly remembered a review I’d read in Sunday’s paper of a Paul Klee show on 64th St. The photo in the review is the one pictured at the top of this post called “The Sick Heart.” The show was at the Moeller Gallery, between Madison and Park. I crossed over Fifth and headed east.

Plan einer Garten-architektur

“Plan for a Garden Architecture” (1920)

The theme of the show was early and late work of Klee. It was in the final year of his life that Klee painted “The Sick Heart.” He was ill with scleroderma and dying.

The paintings I’ve posted here are my favorites in the show; most are from the latter period of his life.

17_Buelen_Birne_19343“Bulgy Pear”  (1934)

Those blues. That green.

18_Blumen_auf_dem_Balkon_1935_banner0This one is called “Flowers at the Garden Wall”

I left the gallery with a head full of colors.

Art Thought of the Day

April 3, 2013


“Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal.”

– Austrian painter Egon Schiele



…the universe squeezed into a ball…” (T.S. Eliot)

November 19, 2012


(all that’s missing, above, is the easel)

*   *  *   *



What a joy having FOUR whole days off from work in a row!

Away from the office FRIDAY, SATURDAY and SUNDAY is wonderful enough, yes.

But — waking up on MONDAY, with the knowledge that all the other employees in your section of the office are reporting to work and YOU ARE NOT — is beyond wonderful.

During this particular FOUR-DAY weekend, quality time was on the agenda.



I finished the painting I’ve been working on!


(apologies for the grainy iPhone photo)


Practiced Schumann’s Remembrance on the piano  (a small piece I’ve always liked; I’m determined to learn and memorize it).


Woke up early and drove to the Jericho Cider Mill on Long Island; stocked up on all things apple: Cameo apples (my favorite), apple cider, apple sauce; apple turnovers; apple oat bran muffins…

Apple Nirvana


I found a THURSDAY parking spot (which means we won’t have to move the car until one week after Thanksgiving)!


I read the essay on T. S. Eliot by Mark Ford from the New York Review of Books that I had dog-eared a month ago and set aside for a later date.

Facts I learned from this detailed, erudite review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot (3 volumes) by Valerie Eliot (Eliot’s widow):

  • Eliot was born into a comfortable, Unitarian family in St. Louis, MO and summered with them in East Gloucester.
  • An anglophile, he moved to England and readily acquired an accent. He became more “English” than the English. He  joined the Anglican church and eventually became a citizen.
  • He was born under the sign of Libra, went to Oxford, studied philosophy and Sanskrit, taught at Harvard.
  • Eliot was a virgin when he married his first wife, Vivienne, after knowing her for just a couple of months.
  • Vivienne suffered from mood swings. She was diagnosed with a “hormonal imbalance” (parlance of the day for what resembled bipolar disorder) and endured a host of physical problems; i.e. “female problems” (another euphemism).
  • Vivienne lived on a trust fund endowed by her wealthy family, over which Eliot would later assume governance.
  • Virginia Woolf once called Vivienne “a bag of ferrets.”
  • Ezra Pound was a friend of Eliot’s and was instrumental in launching his career as a poet.
  • Bertrand Russell, also a friend, lent the newlyweds one of his flats and was rumored to have had an affair with Vivienne.
  • Poetry notwithstanding, Eliot was encouraged by his father-in-law to take a position in a bank.
  • In one of his letters, Eliot describes what it was like working in the bank:

“I hope to become less of a machine–but yet I am frightened–because I don’t know what it will do to me–and to V.–should I come alive again. I have deliberately killed my senses–I have deliberately died–in order to go on with the outward form of living–What will happen if I live again?…Have I the right to be I–But the dilemma–to kill another person by being dead, or to kill them by being alive? Is it best to make oneself a machine, and kill them by not giving nourishment, or to be alive, and kill them by wanting something that one cannot get from that person?”


  • The misery of Eliot’s bank job produced these lines:

He didn’t know if he was alive / and the girl was dead

He didn’t know if the girl was alive / and he was dead

He didn’t know if they both were alive / or both were dead


  • The opportunity in hand, the next logical step was to re-watch the film, Tom and Viv. Which I did.

I first saw the film in the mid-1990’s when it was released. With Willem DeFoe, Miranda Richardson and Rosemary Harris, it’s a gorgeous film. The character of Ezra Pound is noticeably absent (perhaps because he was an anti-semite). But the film includes Bertrand Russell (an extramarital affair, or the allusion to one, naturally being a more juicy topic).


  • To complete my experience of total T. S. Eliot immersion, I pulled from the bookshelf my marked up college edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and re-read The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

As I contemplate (dread, more like) returning to work tomorrow, these lines stand out:

“And indeed there will be time

To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’

Time to turn back and descend the stair…”


I’ve made a promise to myself that, one day, I will dare.

But in my case, my descent will take place in the elevator — and I’ll be eating that peach.

R U Blocked?

January 10, 2012

(courtesy of The New Yorker )

Wouldn’t it be convenient if a prerecorded message were made available to artists, something to guide them through the creation of a work of art, just as the viewer above is guided through the appreciation of the art?

Because there’s no greater “high” than spending a successful day painting (or writing or just being creative)… But when you’re blocked, it’s hell on earth.

When it happens to me, I rapidly descend into a foul mood. I’m touchy. Cranky. Depressed. I am so tied to my work, I  feel it defines me. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

When I lose my “connection” (i.e., when I’m “stuck” on a piece and just can’t move forward in any acceptable way), I often fear I’ve lost it — or never even “had” it to begin with.

Had what? is the question. Where does the “it” come from? Therein lies the mystery.

This past Saturday, I stood in front of the easel staring at my new painting — which was no more than an underpainting, in actuality, since  I’d worked on this piece only one time before Saturday. Then the holidays arrived.

Responsibilities and festivities, all of them good, took precedence…I’d sacrificed “the flow” that continuity bestows…and worried about what would happen when I finally got back to the easel.

I got lucky.

I’d been reading Milan Kundera’s latest book of essays, Encounter, a Christmas gift from J.C., on the train the previous Thursday.

What are these essays about?  “…a passionate defense of art in an era that, he argues, no longer values art or beauty,” says the liner notes.

From the essay titled “The Painter’s Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon,” comes this brilliant piece of insight I hope will help unblock you the way it did me:

“In his reflections on Beckett, Bacon says: ‘In painting, we always leave in too much that is habit, we never eliminate enough.’ Too much that is habit, which is to say: everything in painting that is not the painter’s own discovery, his fresh contribution, his originality; everything that is inherited, routine, filler, elaboration as technical necessity…Almost all great modern artists mean to do away with “filler,” do away with whatever comes from habit, whatever keep them from getting directly and exclusively at the essential (the essential: the thing the artist himself, and only he, is able to say).”

These wise words opened the floodgates. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I was high for the rest of the day.

The Ninth House Blog: Then and Now

September 3, 2011

This afternoon, I revisited my very first post on this blog, published on April 23, 2009 at 1:57 P.M., and erected its astrological chart. I’m somewhat chagrined, given how wrapped up I am in astrology, that it had never occurred to me to calculate the blog’s horoscope; that is, until today:

I won’t bore you with a lot of esoteric astrological humdrum. Suffice it to say that this blog’s horoscope chart is not only auspicious, but synchronous.

Guess where the Sun, the most important luminary in the chart, is posited? In The Ninth House — the “astrological house” that rules “publishing.” Hard to deny that prescience was at play when I named this blog.

This is the kind of corroboration that excites astrology geeks like me.

Way back then…

My first post back in April 2009 happened to be a meme. I thought it would be interesting to see just how much I’ve changed in these past 2 and 1/2 years (2009 in L.A.; 2011 in NYC):

1. Morning routine:

2009: Tazo Awake tea with a little rice milk; muffin or granola; fruit;  sharing the newspaper with JC.

2011: Twinings English Breakfast tea with honey; English muffin and peanut butter; fruit; Today Show on T.V.

2. Job Description:

2009: freelance writer always looking for the next job.

2011: overworked legal administrative asst.

3. Bad Trip:

2009: way back in high school, smoked some pot laced with something and hallucinated on the “late bus” during the ride home. Haven’t smoked any since – if you don’t count the night John Lennon died – which made for a doubly bad trip. I should have just said no.

2011: one morning, I waited on the subway platform for the F train to Manhattan, entered a crowded car and quickly snagged a vacant seat. Then I smelled something bad. I looked down and saw my feet sitting in a pool of vomit. No wonder no one was sitting there.

4. Good Trip:

2009: driving down the staggeringly gorgeous coast of Oregon, which beats CA’s coast by a mile.

2011: sneaking into the grounds of the shuttered Kings Park Mental Asylum on Long Island to shoot photographs:

Creepy Mattress

5. Drug of Choice:

2009: a good book (presently, it’s The Periodic Table by Primo Levi).

2011:  two good books (presently, it’s Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter [reading at home — to heavy to hold in one hand on the subway]; and Composed: a memoir by Roseanne Cash).

6. Pets:

2009: as an adult, my beloved English bulldog, Roxy, born under the sign of Cancer, who died prematurely of kidney failure; her companion, a pit bull-bulldog mixture named Flash, the Virgo that outlived her; my darling Jack Russell Terrier, Quark, another Cancerian who also died tragically. Sadness aside, dogs have never been a bad trip for me.

2011: a basil plant.

7. Controversial Stand:

2009: I’m an astrologer but I shy away from squishy New Age-y stuff.

2011: I’m an artist but I shy away from the art scene.

8. Exercise Routine:

2009: morning sessions from a yoga show called “Inhale” that I record from the OXY network. Soooo good for my office-chair induced backaches.

2011: fast walking everywhere in NYC; Masala Bhangra dancing Indian hip-hop DVD-watcher/participant.

9. Evening Routine:

2009: when not reading, I’m watching In Treatment. I’m a closet (but not after this post) American Idol junkie. I like The Office too.

2011: just re-watched all 4 seasons of Mad Men on Netflix.

10. Favorite Gadget:

2009: my garlic press. It’s a Kuhn – it’s amazing. I no longer mince – a time consuming chore I’d rather avoid.

2011: now I use the Cuisinart to mince garlic. Same chore, different gadget.

11. Obsession:

2009: astrology, for over 20 years.

2011: astrology, for over 22 years.

12. Art Collection:

2009: mostly my own stuff — my paintings –but also a couple of Haitian pieces (gifts from a good friend), a great little ink drawing of a donkey doing a handstand, which was purchased off the wall at a café in Los Feliz.

2011: my newest paintings and J.C.’s newest photos.

13. Native American Memorabilia:

2009: a traditional tomahawk we bought from a Navajo woman near the Grand Canyon. Instead of a sharpened steel blade, there’s a large flat river stone and eagle feather laced to the handle with rawhide. It’s tucked away in a corner in case of emergency — like a home invasion robbery (my deepest fear out here in L.A.).

2011: tomahawk still on the premises.

14. Favorite Vacation:

2009: the Grand Canyon in early October. I can never get enough of it.

2011: I miss the Grand Canyon.

15. Always in the fridge:

2009: apples, yogurt, Trader Joe’s chocolate covered mini-grahams or some such chocolate treat.

2011: apples, strawberries, lemons, something to heat up, Locatelli romano cheese, salsa.

16. Next big purchase:

2009: probably a computer. My Mac is dying a slow death.

2011: we’re aiming for a vacation in 2012.

17. At age 5, I wanted to be:

2009: a garbage collector. Every morning, I’d watch with fascination as the men in blue hopped on and off the moving truck emptying garbage cans. I honestly believed that after the truck left our block, their route included cities like Paris and Rome, and that their mission was to travel and collect the world’s trash.

2011: a Brooklynite forever. We moved to Long Island when I was 6, and I left all my friends behind:

893 Schenk Avenue – I’m in the middle with the wrist watch

18. Current project:

2009: reading, making notes and psyching myself up to finally begin that novel…

2011: painting, painting, painting, painting…

When is a Work of Art Finished?

June 14, 2011

I’m in between books.

I’ve just finished a string of them. Books are easy to finish. You know when you are done because you’ve run out of pages.

What I’ve been reading lately: The Ugly American (William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick — excellent, very readable, semi-satirical, startlingly relevant classic from 1958 about American foreign policy); The Ten-Year Nap (Meg Wolitzer — very enjoyable read about a group of women friends, and could qualify as “summer reading”); Reading My Father: A Memoir (Alexandra Styron — disappointing in that it is interesting when she discusses William Styron, her father; but dull, when she doesn’t); The Emperor of All Maladies (Sidhartha Murkerjee — fascinating, informative labor of love about the history of cancer); and Drop City (T.C. Boyle — I’m a Boyle fan and loved this one: the inevitable decline of a hippy commune circa late 1970s in northern CA).

At any rate, with three books on my library queue languishing in “pending” limbo, I quickly scoured my bookshelf this morning for something to read on the commute.

I will not ride the subway without burying my face in a book and hiding my eyes behind sunglasses. Why? What if something like this happens?

This occurred the other day on the train I normally take to work, at the Lexington Ave. 53rd St. stop. Thank God I wasn’t on it.

(Just so you understand why I need to divorce myself from the MTA environment I travel in, daily.)

On my bookshelf this morning, I located an old favorite: And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos by the brilliant John Berger (who also authored the astoundingly perceptive Ways of Seeing —  a staple for artists and art lovers alike.)

Half-way into Manhattan this morning, I read and re-read this long-forgotten passage by Berger.

When is a painting finished? Not when it finally corresponds to something already existing — like the second shoe of a pair — but when the foreseen ideal moment of its being looked at is filled, as the painter feels or calculates it ought to be. …Of course, the painting’s moment-of-being-looked-at cannot be entirely foreseen and thus completely filled by the painting. Nevertheless every painting is, by its very nature, addressed to such a moment.

Is it finished? is a question I asked often of my professors in school. I also asked it in writing workshops when presenting an essay or story. It has taken years of experience for me to trust my instincts and figure out the answer on my own.

Sometimes, the answer is simple: You just know. 

For profundity and perspicacity, you need not look further than John Berger.

But I suggest reading him in a quieter place than on the F train.

Last Supper, the Last Day of the Year

January 4, 2011


The day of  New Year’s Eve, to celebrate the holiday, we visited the Park Ave. Armory in Manhattan to take in filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s mind-blowing multimedia presentation of Leonardo’s “Last Supper.”

(Thank you, Barbara, for urging me to see this show before it closes on January 6th).

Part audio-visual extravaganza, part backstory, part guided meditation on how to really look at art (specifically, this work, Leonardo’s masterpiece), Greenaway  envelopes, enchants, and absorbs you into the moving images and stunning visual effects by wallpapering the surfaces inside that cavernous space (including the floor) — with projected film.

Recreated for the exhibition was the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, a replication of the actual site where the famous fresco resides in Milan. On the far wall “hung” Greenaway’s digitized, continually-morphing “Last Supper.”

A voice in the crowd remarked: “I didn’t expect the painting to be this big.”

In the late 1980s, when I stood before the real “Last Supper” in Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan (it had actually once been a convent), my initial thought was, “I thought it would be bigger.”

Additionally (and, since I did study art history, embarrassingly), I hadn’t realized the painting would be a fresco. I was expecting a canvas. And although the fresco is about 15 x 29 feet, it still felt small, dwarfed as it was by the towering, vaulted ceiling and peeling walls of the refectory.

That was twenty-two years ago. After spending one glorious week in art-soaked, beautiful Florence, I took a train to Milan, ready, but not willing, to fly back to New York the following day.

Milan was my last day in Bella Italia. Around 12:00 p.m., I checked into my hotel for an overnight stay, ordered an Insalata Caprese and glass of wine from room service and had to decide whether to visit one of two “must-sees” on my list: Teatro La Scala or DaVinci’s “Last Supper,” in the limited time that remained in the day.

I knew at 2:00 p.m. everything would close down for the customary afternoon “pausa pranzo” — an extension of the lunch break the Italians set aside for relaxation (what a country). So I made my decision and dashed out of the hotel. From a kiosk on the street, I purchased una carta geografica of Milan.

The scale of the map of Milan, I would discover, differed from the scale of maps in Florence (never assume) — a unwelcome fact that became all too clear in the middle of my long trek in uncomfortable shoes across the city toward  Santa Maria delle Grazie.

At 1:50 p.m., the rear of the church came into view. Two American tourists, man and woman, were struggling to communicate with a caretaker, in English, about the painting. He gestured wildly, speaking in rapid Italian, which they didn’t understand.

In my limited Italian — my father and relatives spoke it during my childhood, so the language wasn’t exactly foreign to me — (and prior to my trip, I’d listened to How-To-Speak-Italian cassette tapes in my car), I understood that he was telling them to go around to the front.

So I went around to the front. When I got there, the same tourists I saw in the back, plus small crowd of people, were being turned away — by the same Italian man! He must have sprinted through interior of the church. Pausa pranzo, apparently, had started 10 minutes early.

With what had to be a pained expression (my feet, by this time, were killing me), I asked in a weakened voice: “E chiuso?” (“Are you closed?) to this same Italian man.

His eyes darted from side to side (the small crowd had since dispersed) and then waved me over. He escorted me inside. (N.B.: It pays to know a little bit of the language, wherever you go. Looking like an Italian probably didn’t hurt, either).

An elderly Italian woman was sitting behind a small podium, a sort of box office where tickets were sold to view the fresco. The Italian man proceeded to tell her, in Italian, that I had walked for miles (true) on a religious pilgrimage (well, not really…). Anyway, he convinced her to let me in.

I couldn’t believe it. The woman looked me over, then smiled, and said, “Bene.” I paid the nominal fee and walked into the refectory, nice as you please.

All by myself.

I was alone with the “Last Supper.” It was dark and dank and crumbling and full of echoes and ghosts. Restoration on the fresco was underway and about 1/3 of the way through.

I just love viewing “process.” It was marvelous.

Overcome by a feeling of awe and privilege and sacredness that afternoon in Milan, I never thought I’d feel that way again, all at one time.

But standing in front of Greenaway’s creation, it happened.

What an unexpected way to end the year. A gift.