NYC Art Shows 2016- Sheena Wagstaff Rules The Waves

This year past, Manhattan Art was largely dominated by two themes. There was a seemingly continual string of shows by many of the bigger names in Abstract Expressionism (i.e. AbEx), one after the other, and I wrote about every one of them, beginning with Jackson Pollock @MoMA, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston (two- here and here), Richard Pousette-Dart, Joan Mitchell and Mark Rothko, along with a few excellent satellite compilation shows, each in a different venue, which, apparently is continuing into 2017 with Jackson Pollock set to open at the Guggenheim, completing the circle, for now. It was also a year of Women Artists getting important shows. Patti Smith, Nasreen Mohamedi, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter1, June Leaf, Carmen Herrera, Nan Goldin, Mary Bauermeister, Carrie Mae Weems, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Krasner and Mitchell were only some of the highlights. Still? Artists weren’t the only women making a big impact on the NYC Art Scene in 2016. In fact, for my money, the biggest impact of all was made by another woman, The Met’s Chairwoman of Modern & Contemporary (M&C) Art, Sheena Wagstaff.

As far as I’m concerned, no other single person had the impact on NYC Art, all year long, that Ms. Wagstaff and her department did.

Sheena Wagstaff was named Chairwoman of TM’s M&C Department on January 20, 2012. Four years later, her 2016 began with putting finishing touches on TM’s new “branch Museum,” The Met Breuer (TMB), the first “branch” The Met has opened since The Cloisters in 1926! No pressure there. As it was about to open, ostensibly as the showcase for The Met’s “new” M&C Art iniatative, The Times’ Roberta Smith put the situation perfectly into perspective, speaking about the task Ms. Wagstaff faced/faces-

“But the Met is huge and old, with a history of treating contemporary art as an afterthought. Getting it to change is like turning around an ocean liner.” Roberta Smith, NYT, March 3, 2016.

It sailed into it’s mid- March opening with 2 shows- “Unifnished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a veritable Museum in itself covering 2 full floors (the third and fourth), and, easy to overlook, tucked away on the second floor, “Nasreen Mohamedi,” the first American Retrospective of the Indian woman artist who passed away in 1990, aged 53. Wait…Who? Yeah. Me, too.

Met Breuer, Opening Lineup, March 8, 2016. 11 months on? The 5th Floor is now gallery space, the 1st Floor Gallery is now the Gift Shop. Those 2 shows? They live on, indelibly. Notice that for all of Art History that’s represented in “Unfinished,” the signature image chosen is by Alice Neel, a woman, of “James Hunter Black Draftee”

Vijay Iyer (piano, left) performs with his trio. Met Breuer, Member’s Opening Day, March 8, 2016.

The first members of the public get to see “Unfinished” on March 8, 2016. That tiny drawing on the far opposite wall is by Michelangelo.

After over 15 visits later, to my eyes, “Nasreen Mohamedi” was nothing less than 1) an epiphany. Here was an Artist who was a Major figure in Art in the 20th Century who’s name exists in not one Art History survey that I know of.

I now haunt these galleries, in my memory.

2) Therefore, it was easily one of the best shows of the year, and 3) the more I think about it, for many reasons, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Most Memorable Art Work of the Year. Nasreen Mohamedi “Untitled,” circa 1970. When I first saw it, I thought it was a piece of fabric. Nope. This is a DRAWING.

Detail (about 10″ x 6″). Two amazing things about this- 1- The superhuman focus & manual skill on display. 2- The disease that would kill her would take these incomparable motor skills first, and shortly.

The subtlety, uniqueness and micro/macro impact of Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings is seemingly without precedent. They speak to the “grand design” of the universe, while also giving the feeling that they are somehow familiar, though they are not.

 

Some call this work “The Seven Planes of Existence.” All her works were left untitled and undated, only 5 here were signed. Many were given to friends as gifts. She created most while dealing with an illness that would kill her family members, then rob her of her skills, and eventually kill her, as well.

Also an accomplished photographer, I find her photos every bit as wondrous as her work in other mediums. Each “Untitled,” ca. 1970

Closeup of the photo on the right. What exactly are we looking at?

I spent an hour sitting right next to Sheena Wagstaff at a “Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium,” at The Met 5th Avenue in June. After it was over, I had the chance to speak to her. All I could say to her was “Thank you,” for Nasreen Mohamedi, which gave me the chance to discover her. Then, I told her she had made “the perfect choice” to begin M&C Art at TMB.

Sheena Wagstaff, right, Met curator Brinda Kumar, center, and an Artist who’s name I didn’t get, left, at the Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium, June 3 at The Met. Ms. Wagstaff then sat down immediately to my right.

Six month later, I stand by those words.

Think about how much guts it took to make that call. How daring it was. TMB famously costs The Met 15 million dollars a year to operate. The Met, reportedly, ran a deficiet in 2016, costing jobs.  To say “a lot” was, and is, riding on the success of TMB would be an understatement. Not to mention TM’s world leading prestige. “Nasreen Mohamedi” was followed by “diane arbus: in the beginning.” Perhaps it would have been “safer” to have run Diane Arbus first. Maybe. Probably. I’m glad it was Sheena Wagstaff’s call (along with the rest of TM’s powers that be), and they chose Nasreen Mohamedi.

A page from one of her diaries. She blotted out much of what she had written. I wonder why. They left these patterns, reminiscent of her drawings.

The show was, apparently, a labor of love for Ms. Wagstaff. Hidden away in the very last gallery, in an iPad on the tables where visitors could peruse the now out of print and rare catalog, were some of the few extant photos from Ms. Mohamedi’s life. One of the last photos was a photo of Nasreen Mohamedi’s unmarked grave. I marvelled that someone had found it and photographed it. I looked for the credit to see who the photographer was. Sheena Wagstaff.

“Nasreen Mohamedi” was more than a terrific show. It was a statement. What was as easy to miss as the show itself was, as visitors made a bee line to see the copious treasures upstairs, it was more. It was the “answer” to the question about where Ms. Wagstaff was likely to steer The Met’s “new M&C initiative” going forward. As such, it was a shot over the bow of the future.

The future of M&C Art at The Met, and The Met Breuer, appears to be international, and inclusive. I expect more of the unexpected, more of the unknown and under-known. Bring it on. MoMA is running on all cylinders, putting on shows that are spectacular. It’s good for them, the Whitney, The Guggenhim, et al, to have some competition in M&C Art from The Met, and for us.

While “Nasreen Mohamedi” was blowing my mind on the 2nd floor, upstairs on 3 & 4, “Unfinished” was blowing everyone’s who saw it. Right off the elevator on 3, you make a right and in a small gallery you’re confronted by Leonardo da Vinci AND Michelangelo (all too rarely seen together in this hemisphere), AND Jan Van Eyck, and a few other works I can’t even remember because my mind was already overloaded. Oh yeah, some guy named Durer did one. This was TM “showing off,” as I read Ms. Wagstaff say in an interview. Boy, did they. The rest of the show had a roster that would make 90% of all other whole Museums in the USA jealous.

For a New York Minute, Michelangelo, left, and two Leonardos were on display in “Unfinished,” as the show opened. The triumvirate was soon broken up, no doubt due to the fragility of the works.

So? Ok. This was a “fail safe” show. Ms. Wagstaff was by no means finished.

Rembrandt & Velazquez- the two greatest Painters who ever lived, according to many, very rarely seen side by side.

After Nasreen closed, “diane arbus: in the beginning” came in on 2, with an installation unique in art & photography shows in my experience. Every piece got it’s own wall. Yup. You read that right. Over 100 pieces. Over 100 walls. Amazing. No beginning. No ending. The point being that it was all her beginning.

A rare shot of Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Arrow of Time,” on view in TMB’s first floor gallery. The only show to take place there before it became the gift shop.

After “Unfinished,” the year at TMB ended with another blockbuster success- “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” This is the kind of show that makes you wonder WHY it took so long for Mr. Marshall to be so recognized. He’s been creating at a very high level for a long time. It was only 3 years ago that he was showing at the always excellent Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea. But? Not everyone was sleeping on KJM. Walking through this show it’s a sad feeling for a New Yorker to read the tags and see great work after great work that belongs to Chicago or Los Angeles. Not even MoMA has stepped up to a large degree with Kerry James Marshall. TM FINALLY got a major work of his last year.

The beginning of “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” In many ways, this was the show of the year.

Now? It’s probably too late.

This, unfortunately, highlights one area where much work remains to be done. The Met’s collection is sorely lacking the work of M&C Masters. As I recently pointed out, as far as I know, they own no work by Ai Weiwei. no work by Nasreen Mohamedi, and only one work (albeit a very, very good one) by Kerry James Marshall (and this was only acquired in 2015), to name but 3 cases. Frankly? I find this shameful. TM recently elected three new trustees, two of which are M&C specialists, so hope springs eternal for a little more wind to be added to those sails.

New York had until January 29 to enjoy seeing a lot of KJM in one place. (My piece is coming soon.) Now? It’s going to be a long wait. Los Angeles? You get your chance beginning March 12.

So? By my scorecard, that’s 4 shows in 9 months that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time, including no less than TWO that were major breakthroughs for the Artists- Nasreen Mohamedi and Kerry James Marshall2, putting both in the pantheon of the Artists who belong in our greatest Museums.

But? Ms. Wagstaff, who struck me as having so much energy, downtown NYC could have used her during the Hurricane Sandy Blackout, still wasn’t finished. Over at 1000 Fifth Avenue…(remember The Met’s Main Building?), she and her staff have also rehung TM’s M&C Galleries there, and done an amazing job.

While at sea, mind the lighthouse! Edward Hopper’s iconic “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” 1929, receives pride of place in TM’s newly rehung M&C Galleries. Which reminds me- Sheena Wagstaff edited the Tate’s 2004 Edward Hopper Show catalog.

Works have come out of storage that haven’t been seen there in…?, and some, thankfully, have gone there in their stead. The arrangements are new, too. Themes take the place of chronological arrangements in many rooms, while the AbEx Galleries still remain largely together, but subtly ammended. We get to see, what I consider to be, a major work by Philip Guston that I never knew TM owned! Other works are given new prominence, notably Edward Hopper’s famous “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” and Richard Pousette- Dart’s “Symphony No. 1- The Transcendental,” (photo, here, further down the page.)

In this one gallery, I was shocked to discover works by Pousette-Dart (“Path of the Hero,” 1950, right) and Philip Guston (left, and below) that I didn’t even know The Met owned because they haven’t shown them!

Philip Guston, “Performers,” 1947. WHERE has this been? With one foot in his past, and one in his future, for my money, this is one of the most important periods of Guston’s career, and very few works from it exist, after he destroyed most. A major Guston.

The result is a veritable breath, no, wind of fresh air throughout. More wind for the sails of that S.S. Met Roberta Smith wrote about.

Sheena Wagstaff had a great year, in my book. Here’s to her. May the wind be at her back. That sound you heard in January was my giving a major sigh of relief at the news that we didn’t lose her when the Tate Museums chose a new Director (Ms. Wagstaff was Chief Curator at Tate Modern before she joined The Met).

P H E W…

Elsewhere, in the big City…

Other Museums and Galleries, of course, put on shows that linger in the memory, and I would be remiss in not including them. In addition to Nasreen Mohamedi’s, another Retrospective tried to make the case for it’s Artist’s place in the canon on 20th Century Art History, and wildly succeeded, in my opinion- “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” @ MoMA  Though he spent some time early in his career in NYC3, he, and his work, were rarely seen here after, and as a result, seeing this broad & in-depth look at his accomplishment over a mind-bending number of mediums was nothing less than a bombshell in it’s impact on myself, and I suspect many other New Yorkers. The depth, the staggering detail in the work (most famously in his films, but we see here it was carried over in most of his other work in other genres.), the mediums he probably invented, (like the music video), techniques he created or mastered, and on and on. This show was a capstone on a great year for shows at MoMA. “Picasso Sculpture,” “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” were must see/won’t soon forget in their own right. Bravo, MoMA. Now? About that building and the new one on the way…

Picasso, “Owl,” seen in “Picasso Sculpture.” One sure way to make this list? Include an Owl in your show. ; – )

In the galleries, what lingers with me were Ai Weiwei’s return to NYC at long last with 4 concurrent shows, “Mark Rothko: Dark Passage,” “Patti Smith: 18 Stations,“Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark,” “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” at the Whitney, and “William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest” (mostly for the chance to study his work at length, which only made me want to look again). And, I always enjoy the chance to be captivated by someone I previously didn’t know, like the amazing Sydney Cash at Heller Gallery, or the up and coming Robert Currie at Bryce Walkowitz- both of who share a fascinating ability to make you see things that aren’t really there.

Sydney Cash’s “Split Selfie,” 2016, oversees two of his other works that no photo can “capture,” at Heller Gallery. See them better here. When you watch, remember all that’s happening is the viewer moves slightly side to side.

And finally, personally, the chance to meet Patti Smith and Sheena Wagstaff, or run into Chuck Close, were things that remain rich, as much for the opportunity to speak with them as for what I learned from each encounter.

All of these experiences reminds me that in the final analysis? Art is personal. For every one of us.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Andy Warhol” by David Bowie (who we lost this year, and who is Ms. Wagstaff’s fellow countryman, and an Art collector), from his classic album “Hunky Dory.”

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. in 3 shows- 2 in Manhattan, 1 at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of their “Reimagining Feminism” Series
  2. It must be noted that “KJM: Mastry” is a show organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Met.
  3. when legend has it he was denied entrance to MoMA for the opening of a show that included one of his works.

Bob Dylan – Nobel Laureate

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You may have noticed I haven’t had anything to say about it. Well? That shouldn’t be a surprise. As I’ve said I’m against competitive awards in the Arts. No one can really say who’s a “better” Artist in any of the Arts, or what work of Art is better than another, so what’s the point?

Along with this award came all the hubbub about Bob not saying anything about it, leading to one Board member, or whatever they’re called, commenting about Dylan’s silence. Reminds me of a song…

“Hey, please crawl out your window
Oh, use your hands and legs it won’t ruin you”*

Um? It’s not like he asked for it, is it?  Anyways, one thing to come out of all this has been some terrific articles. This one by Lucian K Truscott IV in this week’s Village Voice is a must read. It tells the tale of the night Dylan met Patti Smith and a whole bevy of literary giants- in the first person!

PostScript December 14, 2016. When I Posted the above I had no idea that Patti Smith had been selected to sing at the ceremony for the Literature Nobel Laureate. She wrote this piece in the New Yorker about the experience.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” by Bob Dylan, published by Bob Dylan Music, Co, and released as a single in 1965. It was finally released on an album on “Masterpieces,” 1978 and “Biograph,” in 1985.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

They Missed Me.

It had been a typical weekend over here at NighthawkNYC.com. Friday night, I went back to see a show that is closing today that I plan on writing about. On the way home, I walked along West 23rd Street, west from 6th Avenue. I passed by what had been the home of Tekserve, our neighborhood Apple place the past 29 years, which has just gone out of business-

Immediately to the let of this shot, taken this week, of the former Tekserve, a bomb blew up last night.

Immediately to the left of this shot of the former Tekserve, a bomb went off at 8:30 last night.

Then, last night I was sitting here writing, when I was stopped by a very loud noise.

“What was THAT?”

I got up and went to the window. During those few steps, I knew something had just happened. I (instinctively) thought back to 9/11. when everything happened in 102 minutes. So, I noted the time- exactly 8:30pm.

This is a busy area. You get used to hearing a wide range of sounds. This one was DEFINITELY something way out of the norm. It sounded like a building had collapsed.

I looked out my south facing window. All I could see were my neighbors who had come out of their apartments pondering the same question looking back at me. I couldn’t see anything else.

“Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re tryna go home
Then they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone”*

Shortly, there were a lot of sirens going off and that continued, off and on, all night.

Turning on the local news, it seems there was an explosion in or near a dumpster just to the side of Tekserve, between it and the Associated Blind (a home for the visually impaired.) Without being more specific, let’s just say, very close to home. There’s a fortress like Church immediately west of Tekserve, then there’s a small brownstone, and then there’s the Associated Blind, the facade of which has been under construction, and is covered in scaffolding. Right between the Associated Blind and the brownstone is where the blast happened.

Huh?

23rd Street is an historic place. Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Arthur C. Clarke, Tom Waits, and on and on, all lived at the Hotel Chelsea, a half block away, between 7th and 8th Avenues.. Much of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” takes place there. I’ve lived a LOT of my life on 23rd Street the past 25 years. It has been my extended home base, as those who know me know.

The Hotel Chelsea, this week. So much of my life these 25 years took place on this block, I feel it's part of my home.

1/2 a block west. The Hotel Chelsea, this week. So much of my life these 25 years took place on this block. Bob Dylan wrote “Blonde on Blonde” here .

About 2 hours after the blast, it was announced that they had located a second device, on West 27th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues.

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Huh?

What’s there? Not a heck of a lot besides businesses and apartment buildings. The Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) is across 7th Avenue between 7th and 8th.

At 12:37am the NYPD sent a cell phone blast around asking residents of 27th to stay away from their windows. A few hours later I heard, and saw on social media, that they had used a robot to remove the device. They didn’t officially announce that until 2:35am, prime time for the Nighthawk.

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The mayor announced that there was “no terror connection.”

Huh?

Dude- If it’s determined that this wasn’t a force of nature, or some chemical reaction due to combustibles left at a construction site, and it was, therefore, “intentional,” as you also said…?

WHAT ELSE IS IT?

I’m sorry. Setting off an explosion in a residential district like Chelsea and 29 innocent people were hurt is an act of terrorism.

Period.

I was up late watching what was going on.

I could see that there were teams of folks in matching uniforms scouring the block- from end to end, even way at the other end from where the explosion was. They had light towers at both ends of the block, and this went on til after 6am when I went to bed. This morning, much of my neighborhood remains roped off.

Left-The bomb scene at 530am. Right- West 34th & 7th Avenue. Macy's is across the street to the upper left. Madison Square Garden is right behind to the lower right.

Left-The bomb scene at 530am. Right- West 34th & 7th Avenue. Macy’s is across the street to the upper left. Madison Square Garden is right behind to the lower right.

Somebody else sure thinks this is terrorism.

But? This is not my first rodeo.

I was right here on 9/11. I saw the North Tower on fire at 9:05am from the same window I looked through last night. The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, flew down my block, which triggered unexpected nightmares for a few months after, where, somehow, my brain combined Flight 11 with Flight 93, and the passengers fought back, and caused Flight 11 to crash early- into my apartment. (Yes, I was very lucky that that’s all that happened. Later, I watched the North Tower collapse from 5th Avenue. Both of the people I knew who worked there at the time got out.) In 2004, there was a 2 day blackout. No big deal. Some years later, a nor’easter left me without water for 4 days. Then, in Halloween week 2012, Hurricane Sandy left me without power for 5 days, and brought the Hudson River within 2 blocks of my door. The subways here have never been right since 9/11.

During the last few of these events, much of the rest of the City was unaffected. I was especially reminded of this during the Sandy blackout. Going north of 30th Street was like going into a different world. There were lights on. Restaurants and delis were open(!) People were using their phones without constantly looking at their power levels. No one carried a candle or a flashlight. Very few of them seemed to know, or care, frankly.

I felt pretty alone.

So? This is part of the price I pay to live here and be able to experience all the great Art and culture NYC has- what makes NYC the greatest City in the world to my myopic eyes.

Still, right now? Now that everyone has been released from the hospital, and no one was killed, thank god, my main thought is-

WHY?

Why did whoever did this pick these two places?

The Associated Blind??? Given the damage from this powerful blast, it’s amazing, and amazingly fortunate, they didn’t have to evacuate it. And, a side street in a pretty quiet area at that time of night???

It seems to me that whoever did this was either paying back something personal, or were sending a message to the effect that “You’re never safe. Anywhere. Anytime.”

“They’ll stone you when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone you when you are young and able
They’ll stone you when you’re tryna make a buck
They’ll stone you and then they’ll say, “Good luck””*

Whoever it is strikes me as being someone who’s not a real New Yorker. First, real New Yorkers respect each other.

Second- Living here, you take your life in your hands when you step outside your door. You could get hit by a car, bus, truck or bike, or whatever, at any moment. Yes, surviving as a pedestrian here, I’ve long believed, is an unacknowledged, and under-appreciated Art form.

So, if you’re trying to scare me, or my fellow New Yorkers?

Get real.

Better yet?

GET A LIFE!

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(For the aftermath, see my follow up Post, here.)

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan, from 23rd Street’s own “Blonde on Blonde” and published by Dwarf Music.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

Lee Krasner- Surviving Jackson Pollock, And An Oscar

Recently, the Art Show Scheduling Gods smiled, and? Voila! A rare chance to see shows of three Artists with an intriguing connection (almost) side by side. I bowed to give them thanks for concurrent shows of Jackson Pollock (at Moma), Lee Krasner (at Robert Miller Gallery) and Philip Guston (at Hauser & Wirth Gallery). The common thread being Pollock. One was married to him for 11 of the 14 years they knew each other. The other considered him his closest boyhood acquaintance. Pollock’s sudden death on August 11, 1956- 60 years ago this week as I write, left a personal and professional void in the lives of both. Then there was the “shadow” of Pollock’s legend they lived under the rest of their lives, which delayed full understanding and appreciation of their own accomplishment and importance. Delayed. Thankfully, not cancelled. Having already written about the Pollock show, this Post is about the Lee Krasner show, and a Post about the Philip Guston show follows.

Lee Krasner @ Robert Miller Gallery.

Lee Krasner @ Robert Miller Gallery. Click any photo in this Blog to see a larger image.

First, consider Lee Krasner’s Short “Curriculum vitae,” i.e.- some of what she had to overcome-

  • -Being an “Artist’s wife,” while married to Jackson Pollock from 1945-1956, a man she would remain devoted to from when they met in 1942, on.
    -Pollock’s rise from barely known to sudden fame in August, 1949. A fame he never adjusted to placing immense burden on her.
    -His death in a car crash (beside another woman, who later wrote a book about she and Pollock) while Krasner was away in Europe. She never remarried.
    -Pollock’s legend, gowing larger in death, helped in no small part by her own efforts, and it’s impact on her own career
    -Working as a Painter for 50 years- before, during and after him, in a somewhat similar realm
    -Knowing personally, and working among, many of the greatest “first generation Abstract Expressionists,” from which she was unfairly excluded.
    -Being a woman in a man’s field.

Sounds like a character in a movie. Lee Krasner had to overcome all of that, and yes…the movie. The movie being 2000’s “Pollock,” featuring Marsha Gay Harden’s Oscar winning portrayal of herself, which Krasner’s biographer, Gail Levin, summed up saying “Inaccuracy about Krasner’s life” was “endemic in the film.” 1 As I wrote about the recent Miles Davis film, and while I am al for artistic license and freedom in the Arts, not nearly enough respect gets paid to the lasting impact to historical persons in so-called “bio-dramas.” The effect of the damage these films do is real and long lasting. It makes me wonder what “good” they do. Most often, the subject is dead and can no longer do anything to defend themselves. Digging out from the wake of Jackson Pollock (who’s work she said first hit her “like an explosion”),  the man, the legend, and the shadow, has been a long, arduous and thorny road. It’s a jumble that is still being traversed, and reversed, as we speak.

"The Eye Is The First Circle," 1960, 70 x 109"

“The Eye Is The First Circle,” 1960, 70 x 109 inches.

In spite of having been an Artist before she met Pollock in 1942, and for the better part of 30 years after his passing, it must be made clear that Lee Krasner was in no small way responsible for his shadow having grown so large 2. She did more than anyone to further Jackson Pollock’s career and his Art, during and after his life, and, as a result, and with the assistance of many others holding her back, her own Art has had as hard a road to acceptance as almost any other Artist in the 20th Century. Much more so than even Pollock’s, who was considered the “ultimate outsider.”

Ever so slowly, but surely, her Art has grown in stature over time. Unfortunately, she died just months before Moma gave her a retrospective in 1984, making her (still) one of the few women to have gotten one. In 2011, Gail Levin released the first full-length biography of her mentioned above. The auction market has been increasingly responsive to her work, as well. First, the Cleveland Museum bought “Celebration,” from 1960, for 1.9 million, then in May, 2008, her “Polar Stampede” sold for 3.1 million3. Based on how much the work of the other first group of Abstract Expressionists sells for, I think her market still has a ways to go. Beyond transactions involving Museums, I care not about how much anyone else pays for Art- it’s meaningless, IMHO, since individuals buy Art for personal or investment purposes, to discussions about “Art.” In Lee Krasner’s case, I merely point it out to show another wall coming down.

"Sundial," 1972

“Sundial,” 1972

In spite of all of this, I believe that Lee Krasner is, still, under appreciated- for her impact on the world of Art, as well as for her Art, which finally can be seen on it’s own, as it is here.

So, with all this in mind, my path still freshly worn, and my shoes, apparently, retaining their muscle memory of the way from the baker’s dozen visits I had just made to Robert Miller Gallery for “Patti Smith-18 Stations,” which had ended the week before, I returned to darken the doorway of this all too familiar space yet again. I will admit- it was a strange feeling to turn that corner half way down the gallery and not see Patti Smith’s chair & table (let alone, Ms. Smith, herself!) from Cafe ‘Ino and “M Train,” and not to see the handwritten pencil notations she’d written on the eastern wall (did they paint over them? Or are they possibly now hidden but protected behind a fake outer wall, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s long lost “Battle of Anghiari” may be?).

The room where Patti Smith's Table & Chair stood 1 week before. "Equilibrium," 1950, center

The room where Patti Smith’s Table & Chair stood 1 week before. “Equilibrium,” 1950, center, with “Lava,” 1949, left and “Untitled,” 1949, which seems to anticipate Jasper Johns, right Ms. Smith’s pencil inscriptions were to the right of the left rear corner pillar.

Yet, Ms. Smith was not entirely absent from this show. Even before the Moma Retrospective, Lee Krasner’s influence had been felt by other artists, especially women artists- including Patti Smith, who wrote of her influence in the introduction to the show’s catalog-

“In 1967 I came to New York City, at twenty years old, with the knowledge of her reputation in tow. I sensed her strength of purpose and aspired to be like her one day. I also hoped, as she, to meet a fellow artist and work with him side by side. It would take, as attested by her choices, much personal strength to commit to the dual sacrifices required by art and love, yet it was my greatest wish.”

Completing the circle, a portrait of Lee Krasner by none other than Robert Mapplethorpe was also included in the catalog.

The show, simply titled, “Lee Krasner,” consists of 33 paintings, drawings and collages the Artist created over the FIFTY Years between 1931 and 1981. What struck me most was the dazzling array of styles it contained, beginning with a realistic Self Portrait, painted at about age 25 (1931-33). She seemed to be trying on painting styles the way other women try on fashion styles. Another interesting thing was that while some works were bursting with color, others were monochrome.  “Color, for me, is a very mysterious thing,” she told Barbaralee Diamonstein in 1978.

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“Lavender,” dated 1942, which is the year she met Pollock.

But what about that “shadow?” When asked about Pollock’s influence on her, here’s what she said (in two different interviews) in my transcriptions-

In one, she told Dorothy Seckler– ” Certainly a great deal happened to me when I saw the Pollocks. Now Pollock saw my work too – I couldn’t measure what effect it had on him. We didn’t talk art – we didn’t have that kind of a relationship at all. In fact, we talked art talk only in a shop sense, but never in terms of discussions about art, so to speak. For one thing, Pollock really felt about it. When he did talk it was extremely pointed and meaningful and I understood what he meant. Naturally he was seeing my work as I certainly saw his.”4

"Equilibrium," 1950. Right in the middle of her marriage to Pollock. Pretty hard to see him in this.

“Equilibrium,” 1950. Right in the middle of her marriage to Pollock. Pretty hard to see his style of the time in this.

While some of the works had elements of Pollock’s techniques, many others did not. Interestingly for me, except for “Lava” dated 1949 when they were married and living together in the Springs, Long Island, the works that had a bit of Pollock in them were from the 1960’s, well after Pollock’s passing. In fact, and most surprising, while I don’t see any works here that scream “Pollock,” there were works that were blatantly in the style of other Artists, including Mondrian, who she knew, and, perhaps most of all, Matisse, who she revered.

Mondrian? No! Krasner's "Untitled," c. 1939-40

Mondrian? No! Krasner’s “Untitled,” c. 1939-40

"Rose Red," 1958. Something of the feel of Matisse's recent Cut-outs.

“Rose Red,” 1958. Something of the feel of Matisse’s recent Cut-outs in this for me.

In the second interview, Barbaralee Diamondstein asked her directly in 1978- “What did you learn from Pollock’s work?”

“I don’t know. I just re…Let me put it this way. Other than what I’ve said before that the transition was as great…Let’s see. If we think of the Renaissance’s concept of space. …Where you are the artist up here, and whatever it is you are using perspective as your means. And you are making you, whatever you are doing with it…And if we go from that concept into cubism the thing is still there in the same sense. Nature is there. I am here as the artist. I observe the only thing is frontal now and that much has taken place. Now, in Pollock, once more there’s another transition. I can’t define it for you, sorry. It’s not my job.”

Lee Krasner's "Brown print variant," Lithograph, 1970

Lee Krasner’s “Brown print variant,” Lithograph, 1970

From what I’ve read, they worked separately. Krasner in a bedroom turned studio and Pollock out in back of the house in the amazing barn with the huge window on one side. I dont’ get the sense there was any collaboration. They would look at each other’s work, when asked to, but there was no direct “teaching” or anything like that. When asked (by Diamondsteen in the same interview)- “There are many who thought that all the while you were nurturing his career- you were not working. What were you doing during that period?” She said, again in my transcription- “I was working all the time. I doubt our relationship would have existed at all if I wasn’t working. In therms of what other people think, I can’t do anything about that. As long as I was able to work, I went about my business.”

"Bird Image," 1963

“Bird Image,” 1963

For me, at least, all of this puts this “shadow” myth to rest, once and for all. Here is an Artist that was left out of the first rank of Abstract Expressionists, many of who appeared in that infamous Life Magazine picture titled “The Irascibles,” which should have included her. She was there in the beginning, knew many of them (even introducing Pollock to de Kooning), and her work was known and respected by them, and, shown with theirs.

So, why did she change her style so often? What was she seeking?

She told Dorothy Seckler- “Well, I do find that I swing from the lyric, to the dramatic and it doesn’t – you know, I have no way of knowing which phase is going to take over.”

And-

“I think my painting is so autobiographical if anyone can take the trouble to read it.” 5.

"Self Portrait," 1931-33

“Self Portrait,” 1931-33

Hmmm…Based on the evidence at Miller, it’s very hard to read her work. Take “Rose Red,” dated 1958, 2 years after the death of her husband. It certainly doesn’t look it. It looks more like Matisse’s late cut-outs, full of life, joy, happiness and spring colors, interspersed with the titular red. Earlier and later works seems to be dialogues with other Artists- Mondrian, Matisse, as I said, maybe Paul Klee. (Untitled, 1949), but yes, there are elements of style that remind of Jackson Pollock, too. Yet, there are works that look ahead, as well. “Untitled,” 1949, as well as her “Hieroglyphic” works and “Little Paintings” of the same period now look like precursors of Jasper Johns. Her later collages, where she uses cut up, or torn pieces of figure study drawings (“Murdered,” she told Diamondstein) she had done in the 1930’s, casting them in a startling, unprecedented way, in a sort of new take on cubism, that also speaks to the amazing capabilities of her eye, first in seeing which drawings to reject, and then seeing this other possibility in them. Amazing.

Finally, there was this quote- “The one constant in life is change 6

Lee Krasner was a unique Artist, who was capable of as many styles as almost any other Artist. For me, the most amazing thing about the Miller show was that every single work, no matter it’s style, holds up as a composition, something I feel is the hardest thing to do in so-called “abstract” (a term she didn’t like) Art, or in any work of Art. Part of this may be because she destroyed the works that didn’t hold up, leaving only 499 works in her Catalog Raisonne, a very small number considering her 50 year career- 10 a year! What does this tell me? She has one HELL of a good eye, which, in the end, is what I admire most about her work, and her. Along with John Graham, and others, she was among the first to “see” Pollock, after all- something I rarely see acknowledged. Seeing this show, with it’s amazing range of styles, it’s clear that she dabbled with influences but all the while stayed on her own path, following her own star, and relentlessly digging deep inside herself. From watching and reading her interviews, it quickly becomes apparent that she had a “strong personality”7. No doubt, she also had a very strong character, which served her in good stead in the company of all the other great artists of strong personalities, like Pollock, she was surrounded with most of her life. I doubt she’d have survived and gotten to where she got in her life, and where she is now, without that inner strength.

"Past Conditional," 1976, A collage of older drawings she rejected..

“Past Conditional,” 1976, A collage of older drawings she rejected..

As I mentioned, Lee Krasner’s legacy lives on, additionally to her Art, through the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (which, since 1985, has awarded over 4,100 grants totaling over 65 million dollars to artists in 77 countries) and the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center (their former home and studio), which I visited in 1999. It was, truly, an experience I will never forget, and one every Art lover should have on their bucket list. I was surprised how being in their environment gave me a completely new understanding of the Art they created there, which, all of a sudden, didn’t seem nearly as “abstract.”

In addition to this, there is the incalculable debt the world owes her for her generosity. A visit to the Moma website revealed 49 works by Pollock alone that she gifted to them (making her the “unsung star” of their recent Pollock show, as I mentioned in my Pollock Post), a visit to The Met’s site yields about the same number, but who knows what the real total number of works of art that bear the source, “Gift of Lee Krasner Pollock” really is? Overlooked is that we are also increasingly indebted to her for giving her own work.

Taken in total, the shadow SHE now casts looms larger every day. As for the work? As she, herself, said, “I think the process of re-interpretation will continue and that many things will now be re-evaluated. I’m sharply aware of my own re-evaluation.8” This, also, applies to Philip Guston.

"Untitled" (Study for a Mural), 1941. her cubist beginnings echo.

“Untitled” (Study for a Mural), 1941. Echoes of her cubist beginnings.

On the 5th Floor of Moma, her “Untitled,” 1949, hangs on a wall adjacent to “One: Number 31, 1950,” one of her husband’s most well known (and largest) masterpieces. On the wall on the other side of the door next to it hangs Mark Rothko’s “No. 3/No. 13,” 1949, another masterpiece. Facing them is Philip Guston’s “Painting,” from 1954, a shimmering masterpiece from his early “abstract” years.

Krasner, left, and Pollock

Krasner, left, and Pollock, at Moma.

At The Met right now, another Krasner hangs right next to another early 1950’s Guston. Both works directly face another huge Pollock masterpiece, “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30),” 1950.

Lee Krasner, "Untitled," 1948, left with Philip Guston's, "Painting," 1952

Lee Krasner, “Untitled,” 1948, left with Philip Guston’s, “Painting,” 1952,  at The Met.

Detail, Lee Krasner, "Untitled"

Detail of Lee Krasner’s, “Untitled,” 1948.

For me? That is the ultimate test of any work of Art- Hang it next to some masterpieces and let’s see how it does.

To be hung within inches of masterpieces by Mark Rothko, Philip Guston and Jackson Pollock is about as hard as a test gets for American “abstract” Art of this period.

Lee Krasner has found her place.

At last.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Dream of Life,” by Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. Gail Levin, “Lee Krasner,” P.1
  2. Levin, P.269, etc
  3. Levin “Lee Krasner” P.4
  4.  Oral history interview with Lee Krasner, 1964 Nov. 2-1968 Apr. 11, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  5. Levin, “Lee Krasner” P.11 Levin continues- “A few years later, she said, “I suppose everything is autobiographical in that sense, all experience is, but that doesn’t mean it’s naturalistic reading necessarily. I am sure that all events affect one…but I don’t think it means using a camera and snapping events.”
  6. Interview, 1977
  7. Longtime associate B.H. Friedman in his “Intimate Introduction” to Robert Hobbs’ “Lee Krasner” P.25
  8. Levin, “Lee Krasner,” P12

“Patti Smith For President”

I’ve had the honor of meeting Ms. Smith, and wrote about it earlier this year, but I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing her perform live. (How is this possible??) The free concert she gave at Lincoln Center tonite, July 20th, presented a chance to rectify that at long last. It almost didn’t happen tonite either. I got there way early and got in fine. Then I went back out.

Don’t ask.

All of NYC had shown up in the meantime, so I had to wait on two ridiculously long lines to try and get back in. Luckily, I barely did but wound up about 350-400 feet away from the stage, as you can see below. Luckily, the sound system was excellent all the way to the back, so I could hear fine. Well, this is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, so that’s to be expected, right? Being that far away, though, if there is one tall person between you and the stage, you’re not getting a picture. There were 2- one on each side of me. So, I had to wait and wait and wait, finger on the shutter release, until I was finally able to get a few.

My view, without my zoom lens. Guess who I spent 90 mins dodging?

Ok. Now! Before one of them moves back.

Patti, blissfully oblivious to my travails, and her band, augmented by her daughter, Jesse, on piano early on, tore the roof off roof-less Damrosch Park, under one of the biggest full moons I’ve ever seen, in the shadow of the Metropolitan Opera’s south fascade, as much with their music as with Patti’s “state-of-the-union” rebuttle comments as the generous 90+ plus minute set progressed.

She opened with reading poignant passages from “Just Kids,” her instant classic memoir that is chock full of them. Yes, she opened by reading from a book to a sold-out house of a few thousand folks, who had just heard some mariachi band(?) futiley try to get them to dance or clap for 45 minutes. While she read, it was so quiet you could hear a safety pin fall out of an earlobe.

How many Authors read before thousands of fans?

How many Authors read before thousands of fans?

As she slowly, and beautifully, built the set from there, about half way through, she did a wonderful rendition of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” adding her own lyrics(!) towards the end. Shortly after starting it, she stopped, to let an intrusive photographer have it, and when she resumed things promptly took off to another level, and stayed there the rest of the night. Setlist, here. (Per Kitty, my go to source for all things Patti, she compiled her own and confirms it’s correct. Thanks, Kitty!).

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“When Doves Cry”

Between songs, she then spoke about the Republican Convention, the lack of media coverage about the remarks made therein calling for the execution of the other party’s nominee(!), “enemies” in politics, and where things are really at for “the people.” While she stayed away from saying who she was backing or voting for, she made it very clear how she felt about the state of the rhetoric that seems to get a pass in the media these days. She said that she doesn’t get scared easily, but she is scared now. Form then on, she spoke about what is at stake for us and our children, “the future, and the future is now,” she said.

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I found it stirring, and her call to “use your voice,” struck me, since, well? I have a voice. Though my focus is Art & Music, my cards also list “Life” as the third realm of NighthawkNYC. Along with some other things I’ve Posted under “Life” thus far, is this, during Pope Francis’ visit to NYC, questioning the prison-like installations along 5th Avenue, around the corner from Moma.

I think Patti is right. Things seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. It’s getting harder and harder to find sanctuary in the worlds of Art & Music when every single new day seems to bring some new horror to light, be it mass shootings,  or verbal violence, espousal of racism, and an increase in the “us versus them” vitriol to never before seen heights. How long will this go one before it spills over into actual physical political violence? Haven’t we been through all of this before?

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I don’t care what side of the political coin you’re on, or if you’re like me, you’re on a totally different coin, i.e.- my own. I think we can all agree that this is going too far, it’s dangerous, and, as Ms. Smith said tonite, it’s un-American.

While I wasn’t around for World War 2, it seems to me that we fought that war to fight fascism, anti-semitism and racism. Talking about barring this or that group of people sure doesn’t sound like anything I was taught this country was about. As we also see daily, there are too many guns in the wrong hands, and too many guns only the police or the military should have, for anyone to feel safe, and no matter the horror unleashed NOTHING changes. And, along with this there are, also, too many questionable deaths happening at the hands of the law (Morrissey seemed to “warn” us about this in his last NYC show).

Too many things are amiss in our society, our systems and our government. I don’t know where this is going to end, but I fear it’s going to get even worse before it gets any better.

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I’ve said that the reason to live in NYC is for the Art. One of the other great things about living here is the diversity. People from all over the world live here. I, for one, am proud of this. They enrich the City and all of our lives in countless ways, including culturally. And? People from 115 different countries died here on 9/11. Take a ride on the Subway and you see what America is supposed to be, right there in front of you- the “great melting pot.” I believe it when people here say- “Hatred is not one of our values.”

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I like to believe that most people in this country feel that way, and they will be heard. We live in a very difficult world in a very challenging time. Yet? We have a say in where this goes. One of Patti’s closing songs was “People Have The Power.”

“And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools”*

For me, and perhaps many others, Patti Smith IS New York City. She represents the best of what New York is. She came from nothing and became a star here, while remaining true to her self, and retaining and exuding cool. She’s both street smart & wise. She’s creative, multi-talented and constantly evolving, like NYC is. She takes no shit from anyone, while remembering the best of everyone. She warns us of the difficult road life is, while exalting all of us to the beauty and joy possible in life- big and small. She lives in the moment but never forgets the past. That she is also a touchstone in the guise of a Poet for so much of this City’s recent & glorious past is no small part of her mythology, and a blessing for those of us now living, and yet unborn. And? She’s Rock and Roll! She will kick your ass on stage with her band, or off it if you intrude on it. As New Yorkers like to say, she is “the real deal.” My respect for her continues to grow. As I learned tonite, she is one of those rare people that when you are in their presence, be it one on one in a room together, or 400 feet away among thousands of others, you FEEL you are in the presence of someone special, someone who has the “sacred knowledge” she’s gained  from both revered mentors, and on her own. And, someone who has the power to relate it, to transmit it to you, naturally, effortlessly, and poetically, like a zen master. As she travels the world (so I don’t have to), and meets countless people in countless other Cities, I know my City is in the best of hands. It’s like saying, “Here’s New York for you. Show me what YOU got.” I know, I know…good thing I stay home.

"When Doves Cry"

At one point, between songs, someone actually yelled out that Patti run for President! She replied “I’d rather be the janitor in any public school,” than be President.

This fall, if you’re still at a loss for a candidate? I feel your pain. It could still finally be time to make a woman President.

In spite of what she said? Write “Patti Smith” in, anyway.

There are far worse people you could vote for. What scares me most is- They are actually running.

"Because the night" is over, the crowd spills out from the left. L-R CIty Opera & Ballet, Damrosch Pk (Blue Dome), Met Opera, Lincoln Ctr Library, Geffen (Philharmonic) Hall

Because the night is over. The crowd spills out. Lincoln Center- Left to Right- City Ballet, Damrosch Pk (Blue Dome), Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Ctr Library, Geffen (Philharmonic) Hall.

*Soundtrack for this Post is “People Have The Power” by Patti Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith, published by Druse Music, Inc.

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Table For One – Patti Smith’s “18 Stations”

One of the small pleasures of going to The Strand Bookstore are the quirky, usually ironically humorous yellow signs one of the staff places in random books. This one was sticking out of a just released book one day last October- Patti Smith’s “M Train,” featuring it’s author looking incognito sitting at a corner table by herself lost in thought…

The Strand, October 30, 2015.

October 30, 2015. I bought one.

Patti Smith, who many years ago briefly worked one floor down in The Strand’s basement, is a living legend now, but, she’s not stopping there.

From here to... The Strand's basement. Patti worked here, briefly.

v From here to… The Strand’s basement. Not one of the 18 Stations. The “Patti Smith section” is now down here.

Beyond her groundbreaking music career, she’s had a second career as an award winning writer of prose, which seems to grow in stature all the time. “M Train,” which she calls “a roadmap to my life,” is both similar, and different, to her previous book, the instant classic “Just Kids.” While also a memoir, like “Just Kids” was centered on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, this time, it’s about her life before, during and after her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, guitarist of the MC5. It differs, too, as her Polaroid photography is a central part of this book. While, she’s been doing photography for years, and books of them have been published, she seems liberated here by not having a brilliant photographer as the co-subject, one she felt a responsibility to, and who’s pictures of her are now classics. Her photos enhance the story and go hand in hand with her imaginative telling of it, which almost feels improvised (she mentions listening to John Coltrane’s 1964 album “Live at Birdland” at one point and that is how her writing here feels to me). The book serves to pique interest in this aspect of her creativity. Now, many of those photos, and others, are on view in her show, “18 Stations,” at Robert Miller Gallery on West 26th Street, through April 16.

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3 of the 18 Stations at Robert Miller.

3 of the “18 Stations.”

While rock stardom is rare, something few can relate to, along the way, she’s also become something many more can relate to- single, and on her own. The show arranges images from her seemingly never-ending travels from, and returns to her NYC homes, and her beloved Cafe ‘Ino, at 21 Bedford Street in the Village, (spoiler alert), which closes for good near the end of the book. At the figurative and literal “heart” of the show, half way back in the Gallery, in the first “Station,” is an installation of her real table and chair from Cafe ‘Ino (“My portal to where.”) flanked by a bulletin board containing what appears to be the genesis of this show on one wall, and pencilled notes hand written right on the adjacent wall, making me wonder if the show originated during her time there.

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Table For One. The wall on the right is covered with her writing in pencil.

The iconic first picture in M Train in a unique version with Patti's pencil inscription in her beautiful script.

“It occurred to me I could preserve the history of ‘Ino…like an engraver etching the 23rd Psalm on the head of a pin.” The iconic first picture in M Train in a unique version with Patti’s pencil inscription in her caligraphic script.

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“We seek to stay present, even as the ghosts attempt to draw us away.”

It’s as if the thoughts she was having while sitting there are now real before us, though she is absent.  The other 17 “Stations” tell the story of her journeys, partially with her late husband, “M Train” dedicatee, Fred “Sonic” Smith, but mostly alone.

2 more.

2 more.

Reading the book, one discovers quite a bit about the “real” Patti Smith- her unquenchable thirst for (good) coffee, her obsession with detective TV shows….which, of course, reminds me of a song. You know…”She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake…”

…her amazing connectedness to her influences to the point of traveling to their homes, gravesites or other memorable places in their lives- like visiting the chess table Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972 in Iceland (she then had a late night meeting with Mr. Fishcher, and subsequently visited his grave after he passed the following year). She remembers so many of her dreams! I don’t. She also has a love of birthdates and anniversaries. Along the way, we meet Tolsty’s Bear, Herman Hesse’s typewriter, Frida Kahlo’s medicine bottles and Schiller’s portal. I mean oval table.

Schiller's Table. This inscribed version is labelled "Schiller's Portal"

Schiller’s Table. This inscribed version is labelled “Schiller’s Portal”

If you’re curious about how she works, or how she goes about her daily life, this is the book for you. For the rest of us, it’s a book about honing in on what really matters to you, about persevering and continuing to do you work and hone your craft. We’re lucky to have it. I found myself wishing we had something similar by Da Vinci, to go along with his Notebooks, or Michelangelo, who left us about 500 letters and possibly ghost wrote a biography of himself, that is frustrating for many reasons, where Patti’s paints a vivid picture. The amount of detail she recalls is staggering (and perhaps a bit too much). Well? I can’t have it both ways, so I’ll opt for too much rather than not enough. It’s interesting to contrast this intense detailing in the prose with her photographs. Some are a bit blurry, some off center or kilter (see below) providing (purposely) less detail than you may want.

“Speak to me, speak to me heart
I feel a needing to bridge the clouds, softly go
A way I wish to know, to know
A way I wish to know, to know”*

While most of these Polaroids are silver gelatin limited edition prints of 10, a few of these remarkable and beautiful images are graced with her equally beautiful handwritten inscriptions creating one of a kind works, They all, consciously, have an old feel to them, belying the fact that some were taken barely 3 years ago, which gives them a dream-like, seen in a vision quality, which Ms. Smith says she likes about early photography. The effect strikes me as not unlike that achieved by the great graphic artists, like Rembrandt, Goya and Whistler.

Herman Hesse's Typewriter. I would have guessed it was William Burrough's.

“Herman Hesse’s Typewriter.” I would have guessed it was William Burrough’s.

It’s also interesting to ponder what isn’t- here, or in “M Train.” There is no Robert Mapplethorpe. There are no shots of the Hotel Chelsea, West 23rd Street or Chelsea. No CBGB’s (How many of you remember that Patti Smith was also the last Artist to perform there?). There are only a couple (as far as I can tell) of Manhattan. The two shots of Cafe Imo, of course, a shot of the West 4th St Subway Station, a shot of her house, among them. In that sense, for someone who, (for me and perhaps quite a few others) is associated so strongly with New York City, this is a show (like the book) that is largely about the world “outside” of it. ‘Ino being the “portal” to it. Memories of people and places outside of Manhattan (even in the case of Ginsberg and Burroughs who spent so much time here).

“Speak to me, speak to me shadow
I spin from the wheel, nothing at all
Save the need, the need to weave
A silk of souls, that whisper, whisper
A silk of souls, that whispers to me”*

Among my dozen visits was one on April Fool’s when a few hundred of us were blessed to have our paths cross with hers at a reading here that served to highlight for me, at least, the conversational nature of both her recent books, then hearing her tell stories about them, and her life, in ways no “audio guide” ever could. I’ve heard a lot of Artists, and Musicians for that matter, speak about their work. Rarely have I felt like they were speaking of their children the way these stories felt. The memories behind each shot is so personally present, it lies as close to her skin as the image lies on the surface of the paper. Quite a few of the stories are told in the books, and hearing her read them changed the way I will re-read them. (I have not heard the audio books she’s done of them.). I didn’t expect to hear her read from “Just Kids,” expecting this to be about “M Train,” but she did. I don’t know Patti, and didn’t know Robert Mapplethorpe, but I know well know the area much of the book inhabits, as well as some of the venues it takes place in, so the book lives in me, as few I’ve read do. Hearing her read it brought it alive, pulling it from the realm of “living history,” to something that, yes…really did happen. I pass by some of those places a few times a week.

Every single time I do I think about what happened there.

April 15. A fan's tribute left leaning against the wall.

A fan’s tribute left leaning against the wall. April 15.

This is one of the most personal shows I’ve seen, certainly recently. I found myself returning to it over and over, like she did to Cafe ‘Imo. It’s like being able to walk around in someone’s memories, rather to get on a train and stop at each Station along her journey. Along the way, we encounter influences, living, passed and once living among you and now passed, objects that speak to a large meaning or significance, memories, hardship, distant places went to, seen and conquered. We see life being lived and places where it famously was lived. We see that life goes on, all the time, around us- everywhere, while weather happens, dirt gathers on graves, dandelions grow and stuffed bears eternally await calling cards.

“M-Train” sweeps the dirt that accumulates on the many graves it visits, without need for tenders in traditional wear and using a literary broom to do so- the kind those buried within would possibly prefer. It’s a Testament to Life- surviving on your own, through deaths, Holidays without others, long trips, your birthday, sudden illness, blackouts, meeting legends, unexpected connections that prove life changing, and most of all, change. In the end, you can’t even go home any more.

___

Postscript, April 16-

Each of the dozen times I went to this show, I especially looked forward to seeing her table and chair from Cafe ‘Ino, which I show in the 6th photo above, and below.

Walking over there today for the last time, I asked myself – Why? Why do they “mean” so much to me?

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I was never even in Cafe ‘Ino. I had to look it up on Apple Maps to even see where it was. I’d never met Patti Smith. I didn’t follow her music career very closely. I wasn’t aware of the extent of her work in photography.

?

I don’t get it.

I read “Just Kids” and loved it for many reasons, including those I mention above. One of those was the sense of the Manhattan that is now gone- both people and places lost, it so beautifully captures. Patti stands for that lost Manhattan for me for that reason and also because her music was a vital part of it. When I started reading “M Train,” all I knew about it was that it was about writing alone in a cafe. I could relate. I spent 10 years drawing alone in bars. Inside the book, the very first picture is of her table & chair in situ at Cafe ‘Ino. We’ve all lost a lot in our lives- it’s an inevitable part of living. Patti is no different. Neither am I. Neither are you.

When I reached the Gallery today, I walked down the hall and rounded the corner to visit their installation. When I looked in, I was stopped in my tracks completely in shock. The table and chair were taken.

Patti Smith was sitting there, alone, signing books.

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Did I really see this? I’m still not sure.

At that moment, it hit me. What they say to me is that they speak for what’s been lost in her life. They, in ways even her pictures aren’t, are physical representatives of what’s been lost. They are still here. They are continuing with their “lives.” Like we all must- like Patti is.

For me? I feel so very lucky…so blessed. Getting to see her sitting in her chair at her table…NOTHING could have been a more fitting culmination to her show.

Patti walks down memory lane one last time before her show ends. April 16.

Patti walks down memory lane one last time before her show ends. April 16.

“Speak to me heart
All things renew
Hearts will mend
‘Round the bend

Paths that cross
Cross again
Paths that cross
Will cross again”*

It is the ultimate “P.S.” to it.

As if the universe was saying to me- “P.S.- Life goes on.”

Hopefully.

*Soundtrack for this Post is “Paths That Cross” by Patti Smith, from her ablum, “Land (1975-2002)”, written by Patricia Smith and Fred “Sonic” Smith, published by Druse Music. All other quotes in the text are from “M Train” by Patti Smith and published by Alfred A. Knopf.

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