Monday, July 05, 2010

I bought a sketchbook

Yesterday I took advantage of the outflux of New Yorkers from the city and snagged a free parking spot on 84th and Madison so I could go over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's been a number of years since the last time I had been there, but I remember the futility of attempting to see too many priceless objects at one time -- it's too easy to burn out your brain's aesthetic centers that way -- so I stuck to only a few of the galleries. In the Museum Store on the first floor I bought an inexpensive set of drawing pencils packaged with a pad of drawing paper so that I could have some fun sketching a few pieces from the collection.

In the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts section, this Hanging Lamp with a Griffin Head appealed to me because of its Gothic spikiness and beautiful patina. Only dimly could I imagine what this would have looked like hanging in a niche in some cathedral or palace, oil blazing away.

This sculpture of cruise line heiress Nancy Cunard by Brancusi is on the first floor Modern Art gallery. The bronze surface polished to a high luster is protected from fingerprints by a Lucite case, because it is one of those things that would be nearly irresistible for the unruly visitors to touch, causing it to tarnish I am sure. Graphite pencil is wholly inadequate to represent the quality of the material, but it was enjoyable to trace the precision of the lines of this piece. I saw many striking paintings in this gallery more or less contemporary wi th this item, but could not figure out how on earth I would get anything out of sketching them, precisely because of the arbitrariness of their proportions, in most cases.

Upstairs a little ways from the Pollocks and Matisses is Damien Hirst's popular work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living which is due to end its stay at the Met sometime this year. The interesting thing about this was how I grew to appreciate this work during the time it took to sketch it out (maybe a half hour, ensconced in a back corner of the gallery away from the families with small children thronging all around it), and to recognize that although everyone naturally focuses on the shark (the second to serve in that role since the work's completion), the massive formalin-filled tank also plays a significant role in the artistic statement, with its heavy riveted ironwork and ponderous dimensions serving to underscore the menacing thing. If it were just a shellacked shark on wires hanging from the ceiling, natural history museum-style, it would be mildly interesting but not nearly so monumental, I think. I also dug the way the water and glass refracted the contents so that I could get two views of the shark's mouth from where I stood.

After a few hours I took my artist materials and went back out to 5th Ave., where I bought a jumbo hot dog and a knish with mustard at a food cart. I did not in fact draw these, being famished, but I might have for all the perfection they too manifested.

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