Monumental and ordinary

The everyday made monumental, the monumental made small.  That was my small day in big New York.

While the typically bloated Guggenheim show on Futurism may take you there, the Carrie Mae Weems exhibit is the real reason to go.  Known for her photographic commentaries on racism and the debilitating stereotypes of African Americans through American history, this show has several of her masterworks.


Her famous series “From Here I Saw What Happened and Cried” is a natural extension of Elizabeth Keckley’s experiences, dramatized yesterday, brought to an incisive and bitter cultural critiqilue.  I knew the series and seeing it as a whole is powerfully painful.









Its message gets summarized in this one image “Looking in the Mirror,” the first image that introduced me to Weems.



Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman playing solitaire) (from Kitchen Table Series), 1990







I had no idea the effect the “Kitchen Table” series from 1990 (above is the last image in the series) would have on me.  The Guggenheim has the entire narrative interspersed with all the images.  Each has the interrogation light and the table.  What’s on the table tells the story that mimics the written narrative’s words.

We go on a novelistic journey with the heroine, while Weems dissects a relationship–its rise, flowering, and decline–and the way community helps restore the heroine to hero status, after it’s demise.  Weems takes the ordinary, the everyday joys and pains, and monumentalizes them.  Don’t miss the chance to see this one.

When I left the exhibit, my chest literally hurt.  What better place for a healing balm than the beauty of The Frick?

In exchange for the jewel-like exhibit from The Mauritius, The Frick has responded in kind, sending its most famous works, including all three Vermeers, to Holland.  Hmmm. I thought Mr. Frick specified no loans, and The Frick was notorious for refusing to participate in the Vermeer exhibition that brought together all his other works.

Well, whatever.

If you know the collection, then you’ll enjoy seeing how the paintings are rearranged.  We now get a delicious room of Whistler’s, filled with works I had heard about but not seen.  This gallery is worth the trip alone.  Thank you, touring works!

But there’s more.

The focused show of Renaissance bronzes bring the monumental down to miniature, making them all the more impressive to my eye.  Not only can you walk all the way around the pieces, but you can get in close, study the details.

How does that rearing horse not fall over?  Hercules greatest feat may be defying gravity, in the model by Antonio Susini, who copies the original by his master Giambologna. Surely, Bernini studied these models or the fully-scaled sculptures.

Giambologna, Rape of Sabine Women, 1574-1582

Bernini, Hades and Persephone, 1621-2















Yes, I’m geeking out on you again.  Makes me want to go do some homework on Mr. Bernini!

The curators comment about Giambologna’s “vibrant syncopation of contour and form.”  Yes!  Bernini might have learned a thing or two from him.








It was time for me to go downtown.

After grabbing my favorite lemon peel pizza at Keste, I finally got to see Michael Urie in “Buyer and Cellar.”  He’s leaving the show next month to tour it, so you may want to get over to Barrow Street to see him while you can.  His over-the-top energy suits this outrageously plotted show about the coming together of a little man and the monumental Barbra Steisand.  The play is full of laughs, some at the expense of stardom, most at the absurdities of people just trying to make it through life.

In the play, Barbra doesn’t know what to do with a Sunday afternoon. I don’t have that problem.  Even without all my stops today, Washington Square Park would have been enough on this glorious, faux-spring day.  There were the men playing chess, the protesters, the hippie guitar player, the black dudes tumbling, the pianist wrapped in his coat, scarf, and hat, the blue-haired girl walking a dog, by shuffling along on her 8″ black and white, zig zag, platform-heeled boots, the pyramid of bodies getting their picture taken.

We are all monumental in our tiny universes, intersecting at unexpected moments.  It’s all there to see, in the park, as well as in the museum and the theater.

Photos of the day:

Central Park

Central Park

Park Avenue Letting Off Steam

Park Avenue
Letting Off Steam


4 thoughts on “Monumental and ordinary

  1. This is SO well written, Rena. Males me feel that I was there with you.
    I often take an imaginary trip to NYC when life needs a little jolt. You
    gave me that experience for free this morning. Thanks. We too love the
    restfulness of the Frick. Very meditative destination in the busy city. I think I will go there now also to reflect by the calm pool of water.

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