Our NYC weekend: travel troubles, eating, and looking
by Rob Tiller
We did a three-day trip to New York last weekend with three objectives: see Jocelyn and some old friends, see the NY City Ballet, and see some art, including the Whitney Biennial. As always, New York was challenging and invigorating.
We flew from Raleigh to Newark on United, which could have been worse. At least we weren’t physically assaulted and dragged off the plane. But really, how do we keep getting assigned the last boarding zone? Yet again, there was that unwelcome anxiety of whether there would be a spot in the overhead for the roll aboard. And why did they switch to those seats with backs as thin and hard as church pews?
Is the point to remind ordinary customers, the non-elite economy class, of how far down the pecking order they are, and make them consider paying more? In fairness, I should say, the flight attendants were really sweet, and I was grateful for their not charging for a vodka tonic.
Transportation near and in Manhattan is more challenging than ever. We consciously chose Newark airport this time, since a cab from LaGuardia to Manhattan has been taking longer than the flight from NC. The NJ Transit train to Penn Station picked us up promptly, but went out of service after one stop, and we had to wait for another train.
Stuff like that kept happening. We were determined to use the subway for longer trips, but there were long delays said to be from signal problems. And when we wanted a yellow cab, they all seemed to be occupied. In desperation, we tried Uber, but that was very slow, too.
But no matter, we always eventually got to our destination, and there’s just nothing like New York. One big thing I learned this time was how easy it is to explore art galleries. From time to time I’ve gone to gallery shows when there was something I heard about that sounded interesting, but I’d never before just poked into a bunch of galleries. I wasn’t at all sure whether they expected you to call ahead, or to show interest in actual purchasing.
But after visiting several galleries on 24th Street on Friday and 57th Street on Saturday, I can say this: they don’t mind at all if you just pop in and look around. There are neighborhoods that are full of galleries, cheek by jowl. I saw some things I liked, and some I didn’t. But my major takeaway was that art is alive. Amidst all the luxury goods on Fifth Avenue, art objects might be just another status symbol. Yet there are real artists saying meaningful things, making us see more and feel more.
On Friday, there was a torrential rain, and we got wet doing the Chelsea galleries, and then soaked getting to 14th Street for lunch with our old friend Bob Dunn at a wonderful Sichuan restaurant, Auntie Guan’s Kitchen. The rain was gentler when we finished eating and Ubered down to the Whitney to see the Biennial. This is an exhibit of young, or at least living, artists, with several works of each of the featured artists.
It’s hard to sum it up, since there were many different ideas and media. There was a strong vein of protest and political engagement, and also some fascinating uses of technology. As Sally noted, there were a few things that were repellent, but a little shock therapy can be good for you. My favorite piece was an environment involving mirrors, interiors, and exteriors by Samara Golden called The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes. It was at once disorienting and liberating. I’m sorry to say, it is unphotographable. You’ve just got to see it.
We met Jocelyn and Kyle for fancy drinks at Up and Up on MacDougal Street, and then walked to dinner at Olio e Piu. My mushroom ravioli was delicious, and the conversation was wide-ranging.
On Saturday I went to an exhibit of ancient Greek art at the Onassis Foundation at 5th Avenue and 51st. The works were mostly from 500-300 B.C. and drawn from great collections around the world. The theme was emotion in Greek art and life. This was a good lens for looking at the work. There was love, jealousy, anger, and violence — the same emotions we know.
That evening we had a fine dinner with friends at Rosa Mexicano, and then walked over to Lincoln Center to see the New York City Ballet. The program, one of the Here/Now series, included works by well established choreographers (Martins, Wheeldon, Ratmansky), and a couple of new choreographers from the company. The dancers were excellent! We particularly liked Wheeldon’s passionate pas de deux After the Rain, and Ratmansky’s brand new tango-ish piece, Odessa.