the met, guggenheim, & broadway | day 20 | 5041 miles

july 20th, 2015 | 3 hours ahead

I only ate 1 new york hot dog on this trip, and it was on the same day that I visited the met, guggenheim, and broadway. I think that’s a testament to the human condition. I mean what else could embody the disorder of life through juxtoposition of something as primal as food to something so indicative of human advancement as self-expression through art?

The met was first, and it’s one of those museums that’s so big that before you’re done with the first section, your brain hurts becasue of the bombardment of information that it doesn’t quite know how to process. But in a good way. I mean, not all things are meant to be understood; some just need to be felt, but boy that takes a toll on you.

I’m going to inlclude pieces from both the met and the guggenheim that I really enjoyed, and then I’m going to attempt to rationalize why I enjoyed them, all the while trying to communicate why art is an essential human activity.

THE MET

actor and pollock

The painting on the left is a work by Picasso. Although Picasso is well-known for his cubist paintings, he also has some more conventional works that are just as spectacular. What’s amazing about the impressionists in general is their intense and intimate understanding of humanity, their ability to evoke emotion and understanding. In this particular example, an acrobat stands recognizable but not picture perfect in a dramatic pose. If you closely you’ll notice a pair of hands with some kind of text coming out of the red thing at the bottom. It’s kind of ominous, but more importantly, you can practically feel the man’s presence as the painting’s dimensions make the figure only slightly smaller than reality. You can hear the man speaking as he finds the word that accompany his exaggerated hand gestures. There is a feeling of familiarity, a feeling of relateability that humans deeply yearn for, and Picasso has captured that in one still frame.

Jackson Pollock’s painting on the right has a more impressive affect when you see the artwork in life size on the wall. He effectively finds ways to splatter paint onto the canvas in interesting ways. Which is pretty cool for this reason: it gives you a spatial understanding of the artist and the artwork. Even though the painting is on the wall, it doesn’t have to have been created there. It could have been made on the floor or on the ceiling — who knows? It’s cool to try to determine which perspective it was actually painted from. Furthermore, each of the paint blots is a clue that can help you decipher where the artists was when made that stroke and what kind of motion he made. You can interpret the artist’s attitude just from the way the paint is projected onto the canvas.


I like the painting on the left because it is like raw emotion. When I looked at this for the first time, I immediately felt something fast-paced and aggressive, like traveling through time space. The artist isn’t trying to replicate something that exists, it just abstractly evokes some kind of emotion, and that’s cool becasue it suggests a deep understanding for humanity. It’s easy to make someone feel something by representing something that we already know makes a person feel a certain way, but it takes a kind of genius to create their own emotional response.

The painting on the right is a representation of a sunflower. And in that sense is very different from the painting to its left. The power in this painting comes from representing the essence of the subject, and I feel that the artist has done just that. The first thing I noticed was the stark separation between the vibrant, alive top 2/3 part of the painting and the dead bottom 1/3. It was clear to me that the bottom section where the fallen petals and leaves of the sunflower — something relatively characteristic of a plant in general, but not something that you really identify when you think of a flower. Furthermore, the top half represents the vibrant beauty that a flower more typically represents, and in that subtle juxtaposition, illuminates the living nature of the flower. So in one fell swoop, the artist communicates life and death, beauty, and complexity.

The next painting may have been my favorite piece at the met:


It is Matisse’s studio in painting. literally. What I mean by that is that Matisse painted a painting of his studio in his studio. It has since occured to me that I took a picture of a painting of a painting, and that you are looking through your pc at a picture of a painting of a painting. Enough inception stuff. You can see this subtle nuance in the fact that the “table” holding the vase, appears to stand on both the green floor and the reddish-brown floor. This can be alternatively interpreted as the legs of the aisle holding up the painting that includes a vase on a table that happens to blend into the aisle legs. This concept communicates 3d space in a way that you wouldn’t think is possible in a 2d work. It’s a play on perspective begging the viewer to remove himself from the rigid confines of his perception. Two things I find infinitely intriguing.

We had lunch at the cafe in the met, which is a really nice place with a view of central park. Forgot to add this picture in the beginning:


After our romp at the met, I headed to the guggenheim. What better way to cure a case of utter incomprehension?

Here’s a view from high up of the piece that you see as soon as you walk into the guggenheim:

And just like that, you know that the rest is going to be great fun. Yes, that’s Pinocchio, and he’s fallen to his death from one of the upper floors of the guggenheim.

It seems that one of the most effective forms of expression is comedy. Some artists like the one above and below cater to people who enjoy what they find funny or comical, so if you can make a person laugh at your work, you win.

In this case, the artist taps into the collective experience that we all have with airplane safety booklets and mocks it subtly by taking the images out of context and emphasizing the sexual and violent undertones. The description reads, “The dishonesty of these calm, idealized images is revealed, as is their ambiguous meaning; Lowman’s arrangement emphasizes the absurdity inherent in sanitized mass mass visual culture, where real danger or stark reality is often cheerily replaced by more palatable images and stories.” I don’t know if I really agree with it, but there is something to be said about the futility of those safety manuals. Maybe if people saw more sexual innuendo, they would pay more attention.

This piece, called “Light Bulb to Simulate Moonlight,” is one half of an exhibit that represents 66 years of moonlight — the average life expectancy of a person. The other half is a single lit bulb. Apparently the artist spent a long time doing research to find the lightbulb coating that most closely resembles real moonlight, and had it specially manufactured. I think it’s a beautiful metaphor for a human life, and to see it manifest in front of me was pretty awe-inspiring.

Here’s another Picasso. I’ve seen this one before, but seeing it in person is a different experience. Somehow, through combination of tone, geometry, and subject, Picasso is able to make you feel the anguish of menial tasks. It’s almost like he touches you right in the feelies because you know exactly what it’s like to do work like that. And it’s not even an accurate representation. I mean, it’s not like when we do boring work, the world turns grey, we become super skinny, and sickly looking. But he connects directly with meaning. We feel this way.

The main exhibit was by a woman named Doris Salcedo. I cannot properly describe her exhibit, so I included the description written about her. It is absolutely worth a read because her work is pretty potent in person. Here were some of my favorite works of hers from the trip:

no, the woman is not part of the piece

Those rectangles on the wall of the first exhibit are cut outs in the wall that hold a pair of someone’s old shoes. Those inlets are covered with animal hide that’s been sewn to the wall to contain the shoes, which are visible but blurred by the animal hide. It’s pretty disturbing. Particularly because you walk into this room, and you’re surrounded by these quasi-graves. The disturbing part is the connection that your brain immediately makes between the shoes and their owner. Each of the pairs of shoes is unique and suggests that the owner has been killed — body missing. You feel it, when you’re in the room — an eerie lack of life, an abstract nothingness.

The picture on the bottom left captures another exhibit that gives you a similar feeling — being inside an elevated city of the dead — in a more explicit fashion. She literally takes the graves out of the ground and puts them onto a platform, essentially lowering you down into the cemetery ground, able to see all of the coffins.

The middle and right picture are from another of Salcedo’s exhibits. Furniture and their contents are frozen in place with concrete filling every open space. It’s a dramatic scene that can only evoke an unsettling, cold, uninvited feeling that seems oddly similar to how a cadaver might sense the world. It’s permanence haunts you as you walk through a room constructed of furniture devoid of purpose — which is a pretty intense contradiction considering that furniture is the epitome of function.

WARNING,

the next paragraph is extremely boring:

After the guggenheim, I walked back to my hotel through central park. They were filming a scene for a show or a movie or something, which was pretty cool. Because it was so hot and central park is so long, I felt the need for some fresh fruit. I passed stand after stand but each sold only hot dogs, halal, or smoothies. I wanted the real thing, so I found a grocery store and walked a few blocks to get there. I bought a pound of grapes and was more satisfied than I thought possible.

I called an Uber and ate my grapes on the sidewalk. I waited 20 mins for an uber that supposedly would take 7 mins, so I gave up and called another one. I got the same incompetent fool who failed to answer my phone call and would not pick me up. Then, I walked a few blocks and tried to call another one. I waited the estimated 5 mins, then I got a call from the driver asking where I was. I said where I was and he said, “me too.” We spend the next 5 minutes confirming that we were where we were, and the driver was completely unhelpful, so I cancelled this Uber too. Upon quick inspection, I was at the wrong location, and I felt like a royal idiot, especially since the real location was only 1 block down. I anyway called another Uber and as I watched the animated car icon on the map pass not one but several turns, I gave up and got in a taxi that happened, by chance, to pull up next to me.

I got a ride to the hotel, and picked my grandpa up for dinner at a great italian place. Then we went to my first broadway show: The Phantom of the Opera.

I had seen this play once before in San Fransisco when I was like 12. My parents took me, and after, they asked me what I thought of it. I said, “Well, I can see how older people like you would like it, but I did not enjoy it.” I had a pretty different experience with the show, this time in New York. I’m not going to exaggerate and say that it was a life-changing experience, but it was definitely awe-inspiring.

To be honest, I found the end to be dissatisfying because it was as if Leroux wrote it to avoid making anyone angry. It was kind of like an underdog story that didn’t happen. There’s like this creepy guy who falls in love with an all star opera singer (whom he helped train), and he’s super stalkerish, but she’s kind of creeped out by him yet enchanted by his mystery. Then the perfect man comes along and takes her from him. And that’s it. Of course there’s some underlying themes about love, beauty, and vanity, but it’s sort of dissatisfying that in the end, the stereotypically perfect man whisks her away from the one who built her up into who she is and loved her more than anyone else. It’s a story that perfectly represents reality, and maybe that’s why it’s so popular in a world ridden with fantasy.

Today was filled with human expression of all kinds: painting, sculpture, music, theatre, movie, food, and writing (here and now). And so, I leave you with just one question: how will you express yourself?


Originally published on from sea to shining sea by Aaron Yih on Medium.com. For more travel blog posts, go to travel section of my blog. Find more up to date info on my Instagram and video-based content on my Youtube.

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