Back to the Met

Like many of the world’s great art galleries, NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has such a massive collection that it is impossible to do it justice in a single visit. And then there are the temporary exhibitions and the fact that the public collection is spread across three locations Manhattan locations …

During our early January 2018 trip, we had the opportunity to take in “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer,” sculptures by Rodin, a David Hockney retrospective a survey entitled “Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980,” and a curation of items from The Met’s permanent collection called “Reimagining Modernism: 1900–1950.”

The Michelangelo exhibit was impressive not only for the sheer scope of the art works and periods covered, but also for the amount of technical detail on how he went about conceptualizing and creating. As was (and is, I suppose) common with other major artistic figures with a prolific output, Michelangelo (1475–1564) became most active as a draftsman and designer overseeing the work of craftsmen who made his ideas a reality. He was the CEO of a design shop and factory. I have known for a long time that this was the case, but to see the evidence up close—annotations to workers, evidence of the use of tools and drawings to create templates that could be used over and over—was fascinating.

Many of Rodin’s (1840–1917) best-known sculptures were on display—Le Penseur attracted a lot of attention in a crowded hallwaybut what was most interesting to me was the opportunity to see how he evolved as a draftsman over the course of his career. And the rough-hewn bases of his statues made me wonder whether his creations were emerging from the stone or sinking into it.

Le Penseur , Auguste Rodin

Le Penseur, Auguste Rodin

The David Hockney retrospective spanned the years between 1960 and the present day, with many works on display. It was a rich exhibit as much in quantity as in the quality of the colours of a consistent palette that Hockney has favoured throughout his career. The canvases are lush and pastel, and seem to illustrate an idealized world that is close to, but just beyond this one. Throughout, you can sense an almost sub-tropical warmth in the paintings, whether in Californian swimming pools (where you’d expect it) or in Yorkshire landscapes (where you wouldn’t!). Hockney’s persistent vision of the attractive world he inhabits artistically colours even his portrayal of his homeland.

“Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950–1980” starts with the question, “Can postwar art be understood as an exercise in calculated insanity?” The exhibit looks at irrationality in art following WWII in so many categories that is doubtful that the works of the 60+ artists would have been displayed together before now. The principal idea is that each of the artists represented responded to a modern world that seemed to them absurd and lacking in coherent meaning. “Delirious” is reactive rather than proactive—it is a response or witness to absurdity (or an accusation?) but none of the selected artists offers a prescription to a confused and hurt world. The works on display span 30 years in the previous century, but are we any better able to make sense of the world we live in today, apart from totalizing narratives of power and commercialism?

According to The Met’s write-up, the curated display of modernist works we saw “reinterprets and presents afresh the Metropolitan’s holdings of modernist paintings, sculpture, design, photography, and works on paper.” The pieces were arranged according to seven themes—Avant-Garde, Direct Expression, Abstraction, Bodies, Work and Industry, the Metropolis, and Retreat—and I found the grouping helpful in putting together an interpretive frame. The museum is proud of how much “vistas and sight lines owe to the building of new walls and the reconfiguration of existing walls, which inject new life into these spaces” and I agree with this completely. More than once, I rounded a corner only to be stopped in my tracks by the power of art works arrayed beautifully—it was a kind of visual treat. It made me think of the power that museum and gallery curators have: to show a work in a flattering or unfavourable light and to influence the viewer’s interpretation of a piece by controlling the context around it.

Constantin Brancusi,  Bird in Space , in front of Pablo Picasso’s  Nude Standing by the Sea  and Burgoyne Diller’s  Second Theme

Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, in front of Pablo Picasso’s Nude Standing by the Sea and Burgoyne Diller’s Second Theme

Of all the shows we visited in the gallery, “Reimagining Modernism” engaged me the most and I am not sure what to make of that. Perhaps I am responding to a romanticised idea of the modernist period, or perhaps it is the combination of bold, coherent ideas, beauty and function coupled with confidence in progress—a narrative that we now know can lead just as easily to advancement for humanity as it can to totalitarianism.

Coffee Service  1934, by Helen Hughes Delany (1885–1968), stainless steel and bakelite.

Coffee Service 1934, by Helen Hughes Delany (1885–1968), stainless steel and bakelite.

A week in Manhattan with the X100T

From one extreme to the other.

From the empty stretches of red PEI sand and seawater so cold it burned my legs to the hot smells and constant press of NYC's streets, a two-day drive took us to another world. And it was time to break out my new X100T again.

B&H Photo was the first port of call, where Douglas Kirkland was giving a fascinating overview of a photographic career that has spanned almost six decades. For those of us who do not live in a major centre, it's hard to pass up the chance to listen to a figure like Kirkland live when the opportunity arises. And, since no stop at that photographer's playground would be complete without touring the store and buying something, I picked up a wrist strap and lens hood for the Fuji. The wrist strap would let me keep the small X100T out of sight but close to hand and the hood would provide a measure of protection for the lens without having to fiddle around with a cap while out for the day. Which leads me to...

Three Questions for the Good People at Fujifilm: 1) Why are you still using the slip-over style of lens cap on the X100 series after all this time? It's a pain to use and too easy to lose. Please consider other options. 2) Why have you persisted with that strange arrangement for the thread on the front of the lens? It needlessly complicates changes between the lens cap, filters and lens hood. 3) And speaking of the lens hood, how do you justify US$70 MSRP for a piece of moulded plastic and a threaded ring? I suspect that most people will do what I did and buy Vello's US$20 version. Other than missing the "Fujifilm" label on the plastic, I haven't noticed that the cheaper product provides US$50 less protection.

But let's return to the camera.

So, what is it like to use the X100T in Manhattan? A dream. It is small, light, responsive and discreet. I wore it strapped to my wrist all day with no fatigue and it was ready to go at every opportunity. It was small enough that it attracted no attention from passers-by although, to be fair, there are so many tourists and cameras in New York that you start to look strange if you don't have a device in front of your face.

And I was thoroughly pleased with the pictures I made. I generally shot in RAW+JPEG Fine using the "BR" setting because I like the contrasty images it produces, particularly with blue skies. The "Classic Chrome" palate is fun to play with, but I suspect that we'll all be getting tired of seeing images rendered that way before too much longer. I've always appreciated the way Fuji has with JPEGs and I got hooked on being able to use the camera's WiFi to transfer pictures to my iPad for immediate sharing. Once home, though, I spent some time with the RAW files because of the extra latitude for adjustments.

Results from the trip? Buyer's remorse, 0. Fujifilm X100T, 1.

Alone, but never on your own

One of the great things about a big city is the range of options you can have for interacting with other people. You can be anonymous, if you'd like. Or you can seek out the company of others if you'd prefer to do that. Or, in large common spaces like a Central Park, you can move back and forth between the two, choosing now to find a quiet space to read or stroll and then joining with others to applaud a street musician. That ease of movement between different degrees of social interaction also makes it easier to try your hand at street photography: as long as you are not obnoxious, no one is the least bit surprised to see you taking pictures. Much harder to do in a smaller town.

I like NY.