The last days in New York were overcast then rainy, but we walked the Brooklyn Bridge and I spent a bunch of time in MOMA and the Met. I didn’t make it to the Guggenheim because it was closed on Thursday when I tried.
Still, the Georgia O’Keeffes at the Met were divine, especially her Black Iris which ‘makes vision drunk’, I loved Yves Tanguy’s future cities and bodyscapes and landscapes, good old Cy Twombly whose soft canvases always make me smile, Georges Braque, the Still Life with a pair of Banderillas right next to Picasso’s Still Life with a bottle of Rum, both 1911 and both the same palette. And some new names: John Cedarquist’s clever Little Wave sculpture, a trompe l’oeuil take on marketing and the overused Japanese wave and Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, especially Untitled (pharmacy) – little glass bottles filled with sand and shells and other mementos, something I think I might do with the glass bottles we have from Doug’s mother’s estate. And Calder mobiles hanging gently in the stillness of the gallery.
MOMA had an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Helvetica, which was fantastic. Yes, I’m a typography geek. Deal with it.
And I voted at the Australian Consulate, an odd experience, these familiar cardboard voting booths in the middle of New York. But I’ve played my part now, dutifully numbered 1–68 below the line for the Senate and 1–8 in my seat for the Lower House. For those voting back home on Saturday, let’s get Lying Johnny out. And check the AEC’s site for preference flows. Let’s give the Greens the balance of power in the Upper House and make the major parties do something meaningful for the people for a change.
We went to see Beowulf 3D with Matt on our last night and it was terrific but not exactly the story of Beowulf. It was cleverly done, almost an attempt to say “this is the real story… we know the tale you’ve heard, but, you know, tales change…” This night was also the start of a bunch of mishaps for me that I won’t go into. Mishaps = grumpy Ro.
The next day was bright and sunny and perfect, so of course we had to spend it in the car getting to DC. Grumble.
By sunset, we were just in time to hit traffic and miss seeing the Lincoln Memorial against a stunning sky, but we did get out into a freezing night and see him lit up. It was sobering: this is Lincoln, and reading the Gettysburg address on the wall was humbling. But I was aware, reading on the other wall, of the language of “insurgents” that is not so far from today. I was also aware of the challenges we face trying to maintain a world of equality and freedoms when one country cannot even do so. I think this ties very strongly into my fascination with utopias and how and why they fail.
I also stood on the spot engraved “I have a dream” where Martin Luther King stood to give his address to the March on Washington. Looking out onto the reflecting pool, tears in my eyes, it’s an incredible thing to look at how far this country has come with Barack Obama running for President and how far it has yet to go with the state of the mostly black homeless people in DC and the proportions of black men in the prison system.
We’d planned to spend the next day ensconced together in the various Smithsonians – although one day would never be enough – but Doug saw the clear blue sky and decided he needed to go chase images, so I was left to wander the museums alone. I spent a little while in the Museum of the American Indian and then through the 150 objects in the Treasures of American History that are being housed in the Air and Space Museum while the American History Museum is being renovated. Finally Doug joined me for a little of the Natural History Museum – oh my, some of the crystals in there are gorgeous! – but we’ve agreed that DC is definitely a do-over place and this was just a reconnaissance mission.
This is already long enough and I want to go into more detail about the American Indian Museum and the concept of identity and language, and my various reflections of the American History treasures, but I want to say one last thing for now.
There’s a new museum opening next year in DC, to be called the Newseum. It will be a museum of the media, of the history of newspapers with interactive photography and broadcast spaces and more. On the side of the building is a six-story high wall, engraved with the first amendment of the US Constitution. If you haven’t read it recently, it makes for interesting reading.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
An interesting collection of rights. That speech and the press and protest should be intertwined. That freedom of religion should be so prominent and right now be so near to erosion. I have a dream, indeed. But I’m afraid my dreams are but tattered shreds now and reading the words of the dreamers before me brings tears to my eyes.
I have a new (or perhaps the same old) interlocutor arguing for “Anglocentric exceptionalism”. I’ve spent a bit of today in the car thinking about the various ways in which I disagree with this person but I think I’m too tired to write a full reply just now. I certainly know I disagree that believing in human rights necessarily means I reject Derrida and Foucault. Baudrillard, maybe. The other two, not so much.