A week after a perfect Cancun vacation I’m back in New York suffering the shocks that come with a return to the mecca of mass stimuli. In midtown yesterday the weather felt at one with the in-progress 7th Avenue Street Fair; the crammed stalls filled with rows of foods and useless items felt invasive, like Calcutta cast with better-dressed clientele. I had to endure the chaos enroute to my final destination, an invitational night for members at the Museum of Modern Art, and the reward more than justified midtown’s assault on my senses. It’s more than air-conditioning: the hush that descends is like no other, one that has nothing to do with sound (the hip factor was in full swing, accompanied by music and the chatter of baby socialites in high-heels). It comes from deep inside, a lovely anticipation of the possibilities lying in wait beyond the gallery walls, a chance to engage that fragile piece of our hearts with works that might enrage our inner critics, or merely awaken our senses in subtle unexpected ways.
It was my last opportunity to have Richard Serra’s towering sculptures wash over me like ocean waves. Hard to believe that such work caused an uproar in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s; maybe the sight of a steel slab upended something primal in the passers-by filing through Federal Plaza where his Tilted Arc was displayed—and reviled—but in the upper galleries of MOMA, there seems no greater pleasure than strolling alongside Serra’s curved, angled walls. Such sensuality took on a different force with the works adorning the Museum’s garden: complimented by darkness of night, his steel constructions loomed like stalking shadows, and walking alongside them I felt the heat of the day pulse from their surfaces like bodies on a midtown street, a tactile surprise considering touching was not allowed. Inside one, my partner J called my attention to a spray of white specks that glowed in the dark—bird droppings as art, a contribution that for its accidental beauty, struck me as a strangely appropriate blessing on the season to come.
Later we trudged through remnants of the street fair on our walk to the subway, but the sight of discarded paper cups and bits of trash blurred against the memory of Serra’s imagery; JoAnn Verberg’s dreamy photographs rife with water and trees; masterpieces from the permanent collection—read Klimt, Magritte, Duchamp, Matisse, etc. Through them the lulling effects of my vacation were summoned, a welcome reminder that for the price of a ticket an antidote for civilization is mine to claim, whatever the season.