Friday, October 9, 2009

Journal October 9: New York Stories--Wealth, The Met, and Robert Frank

A more philosophical musing on my travels to New York..... A darker view, perhaps, which I have since reconciled, to leave me with a more realistic love for the city.....

On Saturday just before noon, we emerged from Central Park on the east side, after a photogenic stroll under low gray skies, and walked ten blocks north to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or, The Met for short).

I was reminded of a phrase I created after experiencing Times Square, (the world's biggest commercial, I think) the night before:

I was feeling ambiguous...not unusual, as I was in a process of LEARNING, about the city, how it works, and whether there was a place for someone like me in it....Here's an excerpt from my journal...and it is important to note that I penned this BEFORE our afternoon at the Museum and my encounter with the photographs of Robert Frank:

"Everything about New York is big and ostentatious--the business of New York seems to be self-promotion.  New York yells at you for attention, or begs you for it in more subtle ways.  As we walk up Park Avenue, I see never-ending rows of high-end stone apartment buildings; some are very old and stately, and are festooned with intricate carvings, gargoyles, and facades; these contrast with minimalist structures with contemporary windows.  This concentration of wealth went on and on.....One image spoke to me:  I noticed that many residents of these buildings use their window sills to display what appear to be fine artifacts.  In one window I saw a row of sculpted busts (marble, perhaps) that were situated with their backs to the street, yet the curtains were drawn over their faces, so no one had the opportunity to enjoy them as they were intended to be.  It was as if the occupant's thought was, 'I am so surrounded by art that I can afford to ignore some of it, and while no one else is allowed to enjoy it, either, yet I want the world to know that I am in possession of it.'

Later that afternoon in the Museum, after a really fun and informative examination of the Impressionist and post-Impressionist gallery (Jillian knew a lot about these artists...Mark liked the Rembrandt portraits,  especially the masterful rendering of human eyes and expression) we entered the exhibit from Robert Frank's book of black-and-white photographs taken in the late 1950's, "The Americans", with a forward by Jack Kerouac.

The book and its photos contrasted the lives of a cross section of Americans of every conceivable social stratum, and juxtaposed  the disparity between the powerful and the dispossessed, the wealthy and the broken.  The posted text next to the pictures unsettled me, and gave me pause to ponder with my earlier struggle, on Park Avenue, to understand the city are a couple brief samples of that text:

"...the dress, demeanor, and environment...a sense of insecurity and despair that results from a lack of wealth as well as the insensitivity--even arrogance--that can stem from excess...."

"The American political system drowns out the voices of average citizens...Americans worship false icons (cowboys, movie stars)...American work is restrictive and unsatisfactory...The rich are arrogant...the poor, meek....and the middle class is lulled into quiet submission by consumer culture..."

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