Thursday, May 31, 2007

letter of advice to a Bengali painter

-- who will be going on a museum-viewiang sojourn in the USA (she departs Calcutta early tomorrow).

My maybe-main (and certainly odd) reason for posting this, involves my after-athe-fact observation (reading the screed some hours after writing it) that in its underlying, basic rhetoric, it tends to follow in the track or manner of the advice-giving patterns one finds memorably employed in Kalidasa's great Megadhuta [The Cloud-Messenger, a classical Sanskrit narrative poem -- which was (one may allow) chiseled in my brain via Berkeley professor-poet Leonard Nathan's good English translation (his rendering is called The Transport of Love) since around 30 years ago]. Which is to say: what I'd now like, prefatorily, to point out, is the Megadhuta as epistolary model aspect of the thing that follows (even despite the somewhat limited scope of how it pans out).

Even if the line of comparison admittedly doesn't appear to go terribly far in the instance -- nonetheless, it serves to put one in mind of possible literary experiments that might take such a conceit a good deal farther, in one way or another. In fact, the weight of Kalidas's model on the word-forming mind can become so great, mightn't one well (when under its spell) be inclined to follow the same notable phrase-patterns in nearly any situation of advice giving? Like -- how to walk to such-and-such store? Where to buy petrol? How do I reach Hoboken, New Jersey? First you will see . . . then you will cross . . . And you must take note of . . . and you should not miss . . . You may want to . . . -- etc. etc. -- all of the poet's accumulating, deceptively charming (and formidably powerful, as language engines and meaning microprocessors) meta-structural cues that so deeply interweave themselves into and work with the underlying method (and prove themselves essential to the core genius) of the poem.

Secondarily, I suppose this museum-info-dump (i.e., the following scribbgle) could happen to interest somebody, somewhere, in its own literal (rather than the said hyper-literary) terms.


dear E___________

it was nice to have a quick-flash glimpse of your evident energy, generousity, and other good traits! via our swift but fairly comprehsneive discussion last night. Let me turn to the topic of museums worth calling to your attention in the American cities you will be visiting soon. This is my own roster based mostly on things I've seen in NYC, DC, LA (and SF).

1) New York City

Upon arrival, if I were you I woud get myself a current issue of The New Yorker Magazine, and also try to find a copy of the weekly "alternative" newspaper called the Village Voice (it's now given away free, mainly in downtown Manhattan locations -- including, for instance, the nice Cafe Esparanto, on MacDougal Street between Bleeker Street and Third Street -- in what is called the West Village). Speaking of MacDougal Street, I must also recommend another cafe, half a block up the street, Caffe Reggio.

[Umberto Eco photographed at Caffe Reggio (1994)]

At any rate, the Museum of Modern Art is unavaoidable and I should not wish to prejudice you against it, so I won't say much. They did a big and costly expansion a couple years ago, and I have not really given it a thorough visit since then, so am not in a position anyway to form an opinion. But I do think it borderline shameful that they charge such high prices for admission to the museum -- it costs the visiator $20 (equals Rs. 800) just to set foot inside these precincts. The place has, in short, become a too-proud institution -- but it owns, and shows, some very notable 20th century art -- when I breezed thru there last autumn, there were wonderful Picassos on view -- and the place was always noted (pre-renovation, but maybe they're still prominently on view?) for a suite of very large Monet -- his waterlily landscape paintings . . .

But the real major museum in NYC is the Metropolitan, located uptown, and nicely adjacent Central Park. There's more in this museum than anybody can easily exhaust in a few hours . . . ranging from antiquity into I suppose the late 19th or early 20th century. Lovely atmosphere too, with lofty ceilings. Strong on European high art.

The Gugenheim Museum has two branches in Manhattan -- uptown and downtown -- both worth seeing. There's also the superb Whitney Museum of Modern Art. Another museum people seem to like (alas, I've never been there) is called The Cloisters -- farther uptown. Then, there is the New Museum (in Soho), which presumably deals in postmodernism and the like. Also to be noted is the Brooklyn Museum of Art, across the water. And while you're in Brooklyn, you must see if you can manage to get to the Brooklyn Academy of Music -- minimally for their film screenings perhaps, but more notably for thier often superb mulatimedia theatrical spectacles -- whether by European or American avant-gardists. And what else? Well much of the art gallery scene has moved out of Soho and into the neighborhood called Chelsea -- on the west side of Manhattan, centered around 23rd Street. Speaking of Chelsea, there is a very sweet new museum that must not be missed. It's the Rubin Museum of Art, at 150 West 17th Street -- and it is filled mainly with Tibetan Buddhist art, a superb collection wonderfully presented. You may also enjoy Indian classical music (among other things) in their theatre downstairs.

I mentioned the New Yorker Magazine -- you'll see that in its opening pages, each week it lists current exhibitions at the major museums and and many art galleries. The Village Voice will likewise have some such listings. (There are a couple of other weekly newspapers now, but I imagine the Voice remains worth a browse.)

The old-time center of art galleries in New York City had been along 57th Street, and those galleries still continue. There probably remain some good galleries in Soho, notwithstanding the mentioned shift of energy to Chelsea. There's also the Chelsea Art Museum (556 W. 22nd Street), which is apt to have strange and perhaps interesting things to see. (There are also likely some notable galleries in Brooklyn, though I've not explored that myself.)

Also to note: the Frick Collection, a charming small museum.

Those, at any rate, are the things that come to mind to mention, New York-wise. Some performance spaces can also be named:
- La Mama Experimental Theatre Club (on East 4th Street) -- a remarkable place
- The Kitchen Center for the Arts and
- Dance-Theatre Workshop (both in Chelsea)
- Performance Space 122 (E. 9th Street / 1st Ave.)
- The Culture Project (49 Bleeker Street)
- The Dancespace Project, at St. Marks Church in the Bowery (10th Street and 3rd Avenue), with wonderful weekly (at least) conatemporary dance performances, done fairly small-scale. This erstwhile church also features a poetry series (under rubric of The Poetry Project).
Also, for films, note Anthology Film Archive, the Film Society at Lincoln Center, the Millenium Film Workshop, and the Angelica Film Center (this is an incomplete list -- but the Village Voice has good film listings). There's a lot to see and enjoy in New York City.

2. Washington, DC

Overall, most important to mention is the Smithsonian Institution -- which comprises a group of more than a dozen museums -- all of them free to the public, and including some of the finest museums in the US, one could easily say. Below are noted some of them -- but you can get a full listing and could easily spend a couple days wandering from one to another. The National Museum has two branches -- their West Wing and East Wing -- the latter focuses on 20th Century art, and the former focuses on earlier epochs of American and European art. Both are lovely. For more-contemporary art, see the Hirshorn Museum.

Then, there are two adjacent, important Asian art museums -- the Sackler and Freer. There's also the linked Meyer Auditorium, with free concerts (often of Asian music). There's also a nearby African art museum.

Washington is a city of monuments, and it can be enjoyable to wander around in morning or evening, taking in those to be found along the National Mall. One of the most recent ones is a memorial to the late president Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- who enjoyed an unprecendented four terms in office, spanning much of the 2nd world war. The monument was very interestingly designed with bas-relief art and various uses of water -- designed in a way to convey a feeling of the flow of time . . . and it's beautifully lighted at night.

The Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial are also to be noted. In this season, perhaps there may remain some cherry blossoms at the reflecting pool near the Jefferson Memorial -- though the high time for these trees is in April.

Besides the above, one of the very best museums in DC is two museums in one -- they were merged into the same physical space, but somehow administer their own collections. These are the Museum of American Art, and the National Portrait Gallery. Wonderful, well worth a visit.

[The Open Window (1921) by Pierre Bonnard -- at the Phillips Collection]

A very charming, smaller museum is called The Philliips Collection. It's located in the neighborhood around DuPont Circle -- and you'll note that many of DC's art galleries are right nearby, along R Street. You could stop into Teasim for a cup of Chinese tea, and if you are in DC on the first Friday of the month, you can enjoy the monthly open studios that most of these galleries participate in. One gallery on this street is the Studio Gallery, where my friend XXX show her work. You actually can phone her if you like . . . She runs a weekly salon of painters who meet every Tuesday evening at her studio . . . along with a sequence of nude models -- a group I had participated in for a few years, till I left DC.

What else to mention vis-a-vis DC?
Well there is the American Film Institute, which has located itself a bit north in the city of Silver Spring, Maryland. There is also (performing arts-wise) the good Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In fact, for a visitor, it's worth mentioning that this center hosts daily (365 days of the year) free one-hour concerts and performances of all kinds, at their "Millenium Stage" space. There are also syimphony concerts, operas, etc. Other theatres include the Folger Shakespeare Theatre and the madcap Wolly Mamouth Theatre. Blues Alley (a jazz club) in Georgetown also springs to mind. Georgetown is interesting to wander around -- and another neighborhood worth visiting is called Adams-Morgan -- especially good at night, with lots of clubs and restaurants, including live Ethiopian music at some venues, for example. The cafe called Tryst is filled with young people huddled over laptops, and has rotating art on the walls.

3. Los Angeles

The Guggenheim Museum has an outpost here, and the Getty Museum I think has more than one location. One is up in the hills near Santa Monica, you get a shuttle bus -- very lovely place, and they have some events there. There's also the Los Angeles County Museum. But the main big museum of note is the Museum of Contemporary Art. (I've not seen it in its current form -- I just recall what they called the Temporary Contemporary. But I've a feeling this museum must be good.)

There's a charming little museum in nearby Pasadena -- the Pacific Asia Museum, where I had some of my first exposure to East Asian art. Up in the hills is nearby Occidental College, where the Ravi Shankar Music Circle might still hold their concerts. And the Vedanta Society (the US equivalent of the Ramakrishna Math) also has two lovely temples in the LA area -- one near Beverly Hills, the other up in Santa Barbara.

In terms of performing arts, the main place to mention is the amazing Los Angeles Music Center -- which includes the new building, designed by Frank Gehy -- worth a visit simply to see his building -- the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Their main venue has big concerts, but there's also a little theatre, called the Red Cat, which has both plays and film screenings -- these are curated by the notable California Institue of the Arts (itself located in the not-so-nearby city of Valencia).

Los Angeles is geographically a bit like Bombay -- very big place, you have to drive a lot to get from one part to another. The beach towns should be good places to visit this season -- and maybe even to stay there, e.g. Santa Monica, Venice Beach, or any of several other beach towns up and down the coast.

4. Other cities

I don't really have advice for you about Cleveland Ohio -- I've never been there, and you seem to know more about it than I do!

[If there are museums of note in New Jersey, I'm not aware of them. :-) (In my limited experience, New Jersey is the place where people live who want to be near to, or away from, New York.) It's more suburban and industrual & somewhat rural, far as I've seen.]

I had also mentioned that San Francisco is worth a visit. You can get there from LA in one hour, and it's a very beautiful place to see. There is a good Museum of Modern Art there, located near the fairly new Yerba Buena Center -- which also includes performing arts spaces. There is a good Asian Art Museum (aka the DeYoung Museum), located in lovely Golden Gate Park. The University Art Museum, across the water in Berkeley, might be worth a look -- and Berkeley I think remains a charming place. A curious museum in San Francisco that might prove of interest is the Exploratorium. The San Francisco Art Institute hosts a noted series of experimental films and videos, at the San Francisco Cinemateque. hmm, I just glanced at the website of the latter -- it seems they're doing screenings now at the Yerba Buena Center.

Anyway, feel free to email me from the US with questions :-) -- though I'll myself be in Thailand soon (3-10 June), perhaps online some of the time . . .

bon voyage!



Ian Keenan said...


Art museums in New Jersey:

Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers campus, New Brunswick, NJ.. The best collection of Russian art in the Western Hemisphere;

Princeton Museum, Princeton, NJ, small museum has paintings by Van Gogh, Gaughin, Manet, Kandinsky, etc etc including Italian masters and exceptional room of pre-Colombian art of the Americas;

Newark Museum, Newark NJ, large collection of Tibetan art.

Neighboring Philadelphia has its wonderful art museum with great Duchamp collection and also the Barnes Foundation, the hemisphere’s best private collection, in the suburbs. To see the Barnes Foundation, you need to get tickets from their web site ahead of time and have the use of a car.


Also check out Time Out for gallery listings, which is at every newsstand. Best expo of galleries in the world in Chelsea, ten blocks north and south of 24th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. PS1 has some interesting shows in Queens. Neue Galerie has a show of Van Gogh’s influence on the Expressionists though it is pricey.

Ian Keenan said...

Also there's a wonderful sculpture garden in Trenton, NJ - Grounds for Sculpture.

David Raphael Israel said...


good you'ved corrected the injustice I'd unwittingly done to the good State of New Jersey. And even worse was my momentary forgetfulness about the City of Brotherly Love. Thanks as always,