Let me be straight with you: I am moving up in the world.
Three weeks ago, I found this in my inbox:
PICASSO BLACK AND WHITE
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2012
9 am–12 pm (note early start time)
Light breakfast: 9–9:30 am
Remarks: 9:30 am
Exhibition viewing: 10 am–12 pm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York City
There’s nothing a cultural critic enjoys more than fresh content and free mini-croissants handed to her on a tiny paper plate. I RSVP’d immediately.
Walking to the Guggenheim on a Thursday morning in fall is a glorious thing, what with the ghosts of Jackie O. and Brooke Astor and Edith Wharton swirling about with the autumn leaves. It is a far cry from midtown (my usual Thursday morning spot), where scores of carts sell shitty bagels and throngs of people shove each other to buy them. On the Upper East Side, however (once you manage to get past the big box stores around 86th & Lex), you really can disassociate from the grind. Ambling down quiet streets with well-kept flower boxes, I passed turn-of-the-century mansions and children in pleated skirts and bow ties before arriving at Frank Lloyd Wright’s strange temple of whimsy: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Heeding my sister’s advice that I start dressing better (since I am moving up in the world and all), I had donned a capped-sleeve pencil dress that she picked out for me at H & M. Inside the museum, the vast majority of other “media types” were dressed like Lena Dunham on Girls. It was a room of quirky young gallerist types in ankle socks and booties offset by quirky old gallerist types (the tastemakers of an earlier generation), two of whom were sporting berets and one who was successfully pulling off a black demi-veil with turquoise feathers.
Also thrown into this mix were the cater-waiters, uniformed in navy jackets of the Starship Enterprise variety. I recognized the jackets immediately, not because I’m a Star Trek fan (I am not), but because I used to own one. Those jackets put everything into perspective: the last (and quite frankly only) time I’d been to the Guggenheim before was as a Restaurant Associates employee, hired to pass hors d’oeuvres at an event not unlike the one at hand. I’d found my people.
During the “remarks” portion of the event, directors and executives gave thanks for everyone’s hard work, and then the primary curator spoke at length. Unfortunately, due to her heavily accented English, I couldn’t make out much of her speech. One bit, however, was clear: It is extraordinary, she said, to have an exhibit so devoted to line and shape in a building that is so devoted to line and shape. I was instantly skeptical. What art exhibit isn’t in some way devoted to line and shape? Her comment seemed rather…generic.
Of course, it turned out that the internationally renowned art historian knew what she was talking about. The black and white Picasso collection was mesmerizing enough, but placed against the swirls and loops and arches and cutouts of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, it took on another level of meaning entirely. It was as if Wright and Picasso had returned from the dead to collaborate and create one enormous, harmonious work.
As I stood in the stark white spiraling halls of the Guggenheim, literally encircled by Picasso and Wright’s work, I got that glazy, teary-eyed feeling that comes from pure awe. On a recent trip to Colorado, my husband got the same glazy, teary-eyed feeling from the Rocky Mountains. I found the mountains beautiful (I’m not a monster), but I didn’t get that telltale ache in my gut. Last Thursday, though, I experienced my own version of my husband’s Rocky Mountain moment: utter reverence for the astonishing beauty of that which is man-made.
PICASSO BLACK AND WHITE is on exhibit at the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum through January 13th. 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street. Saturday nights are “Pay What You Wish” nights (5:45 – 7:45 PM).