Memory (and loss)

I had a busy day in New York today with four museums, a three-mile walk, two plays, and one friend.  No partridges or pear trees, but easily 100,000 tourists.

The most memorable painting was Velazquez’s Old Woman Cooking Eggs at the Frick.  We don’t see too much Velazquez here in the U.S., so make a point to see it while it’s visiting from Scotland.  You’ll also get to see a luscious Sargent I’ve only seen in the books.  You could eat it with a spoon.  Both brought back the pleasures of study, as another gallery visitor and I talked about Foucault’s essay on Velazquez and Las Meninas.  Ah, the good ol’ days.




Piwyac, the Vernal Fall, 300 Feet, Yosemite

The theme of memory, and it’s concomitant idea–loss–started to tie my disparate day together.  At the Met, Carleton Watkins‘ remarkable 1861 and 1865 albumen prints capture a Yosemite that really only exists in memory now.  Imagine carrying huge glass plate negatives on the backs of his dozen mules to reach the vantage points he made famous.  And those silken photographs are almost other-worldly beautiful.

While Annie Liebowitz is known for her evocative photographic portraits, she too has made landscape prints, now at New York Historical.  These are basically memory pieces, of places that are significant to her.  But her printing manipulation left me cold in a way her portraits never do.  Even as she may be commenting on the tendency of memory to exaggerate, the over-saturation of color feels unnecessary and inauthentic.

My favorite image from the show; Niagara Falls, 2009

Not so the deeply touching, wrenching really, performance of xx, the mother in The Oldest Boy, a play by Sarah Ruhl in the intimate Mitzi Newhouse at Lincoln Center.  Intimacy is important, as we enter into the sweet, mystical storytelling complete with Buddhist monks, chants, and Chinese Opera dancers.  The beautiful staging opens up from a living room to Dharamsala in India, the refuge of Tibetans.
James Saito, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Jon Norman Schneider

What if your child were a reincarnated Lama?  This mother, a philosopher of religions and student of literature, suffers the loss of her teacher, as does one of the Lamas.  His teacher has been reborn as her son, passing remarkable tests of memory across lives, as a three year old.

At times, the writing is a bit pedantic.  Religion is easy until it becomes inconvenient.  We want our able-bodied mom to take care of our children, until she’s not, and then we put her in a home.  Americans  always want choice and to have it our way.  The irony of using “attachment parenting” when Buddhists believe in non-attachment.

Still witnessing the raw-emotional process of this mother, played by Celia Kennan-Bolger,  letting go of her child moved me more than any theater I’ve seen in an age.  It was tender and genuine.  Beautiful and old fashioned in a way you wouldn’t expect of Ruhl.

The poetry of the set

As are the 40 years worth of annual photographs of the four Brown sisters, taken by Nicholas Nixon, the whole series now on view at MOMA.  Hot tip!  You don’t have to stand in the horrible lines, pay the highway robbery entrance fee, or tolerate the beast of a crowd for Matisse’s cut-outs.  These gems are in the lobby–granted probably the most challenging place imaginable for a meditation, I bet even for a monk.


But do.  Meditate.  Watch these girls grow up, face life (and the camera) or not, lean for support, stand defiant…and survive.  Poignant, real, memories made tangible.  You may even feel a kind of loss as you let them go.  They are women you want in your life.

The Brown sisters, in 2014.