It’s a Process

“I’d never understood abstract art but [my art teacher] is slowly introducing me to it and I really like my latest painting it’s freeing to not plan things out and to layer and destroy some old in order to open up new possibilities.”

I was 18, a freshman in college, when I wrote this.

I was taking a studio art class called “Art as Process.” Our assignments included creating a piece of art about a chosen song and obtaining an old book in which we were to do something to a page a day.  We weren’t learning about perspective or shadow or mixing colors. It was different from the art classes on technique that I had taken in the past. Challenging and “out there,” it was about ways of thinking in making art. I must have written this after we had made a painting and then were instructed to paint a new one on top of it.

The next year, I would take a modern art class that would really bring me over to abstract art. I wasn’t there yet but clearly was open to the possibility of changing my mind about whether a blank canvas on a wall could be more than scoffed at.

What I wrote at 18 isn’t just about art, is it?

When I go back and read my writing, I am sometimes surprised by what I thought and wrote. Over ten years later, I have something valuable to learn from my less-experienced self.

Do your past selves speak to your present self, too?

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Cock-a-doodle-doo

It’s been over a month since the start of the Lunar New Year. The year of the rooster began on January 28. For us Chinese (and several other Asian ethnicities), it’s the chance for a sense of rebirth on the heels of the Gregorian New Year, just shortly after the French stop saying “Bonne Année.” Not only that, but the celebration goes on for two weeks.

I follow the superstitions surrounding the Lunar New Year, just in case. Clean the house the day before but not the day of. Eat three good meals. Eat long noodles. Don’t get your hair cut. Wear red.

Did I mention eat well?

On New Year’s Day this year, a group of friends and I had lunch in New York Chinatown. Our ringleader was my friend who is Chinese-born. Then there was me, who is Chinese American, and seven non-Chinese Frenchies, several of whom had spent a few years in Beijing.

Perhaps you know how it goes in Chinese restaurants. Rather than ordering our own entrées, we ordered dishes to share (though this place lacked a lazy susan, which would have made second helpings easier). After a meal of fish (presented in complete form), lobster, meat, eggplant, noodles, rice, and more, we wandered out into the streets to watch the dragon dance, in which several dragons accompanied by loud drums went from door to door. Businesses put money in their mouths for good fortune. Sidewalk vendors sold long cylinders that when snapped in half, popped and shot confetti into the air. Kids threw fake firecrackers on the ground that made a loud noise upon impact.DSC00187DSC00188DSC00189DSC00190

About a week later, I came across these fierce dragons near Times Square. Though they’ve apparently been there since last fall, I hadn’t noticed them up close, and they seemed particularly appropriate to take a walk around and greet for the New Year.

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They made me smile. How could they look so ferocious and joyful at the same time? It must have been the heart and happy faces on their noses.

I am still finding confetti. Today I was sitting outside and saw a piece of shiny pink confetti on my pants. It must have fallen out of my purse. That’s how you know you celebrated New Year’s well.

The Cloisters

Earlier this summer, a friend was in New York for a business trip, and I jumped on the chance to hang out with her. She came up a day early on a sunny, hot Sunday. We agreed to meet at her hotel with another college friend.

First to arrive, I sat in the snazzy hotel lobby. A bit later, I received a text from my friend saying that she had arrived and how about we meet in ten minutes? I looked up and saw her checking in at the reception desk. Not wanting to scare her or interrupt her conversation with the receptionist, I creepily stood behind her at the distance you’d stand behind the customer at a post office counter when you’re next in line (in the U.S. I mean… in France mosey on right up behind that stranger).

We went up to put her bag in her hotel room, which to her surprise was stylishly decorated but did not feature a desk. Considering she was there for work and would need to use her laptop several hours a day, she called reception to inquire about it. They responded that she hadn’t requested one. We were baffled. Even in low-cost motel rooms, I have always seen a bed and a table.

Our friend joined us, and after a leisurely lunch and animated chat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, we took the subway up to the Cloisters, which is built from stone and materials from four French medieval abbeys. It contains art, objects, and tapestry from the Middle Ages. There was a surprising lack of signage leading to its location in Fort Tryon Park. We followed somewhat inclined paths surrounded by trees and plants before reaching the fortified structure. 101_1003

You may recognize “The Unicorn in Captivity” (1495–1505).

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You’ve probably never seen this guy, though. He is an aquamanile from Germany (ca. 1425-50), used for handwashing at the table.

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This stained glass window from the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rouen (ca. 1200-10) depicts a scene from the Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

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The gardens were lovely. 101_1009101_1010

There was an entertaining garden of plants grouped by use in medieval times: magic and ceremony, arts and crafts, brewing, medicine, vegetables and salads. Plants had funny names like wallflower, scarlet pimpernel, mandrake, common foxglove, catnip, and butcher’s broom.

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A couple of trees reminiscent of pipes or menorahs stood against a wall. 101_1050

Our visiting friend had chosen the perfect museum for her trip because she spent time looking at every object and artwork in the building. Meanwhile, our other friend and I sat in one of the peaceful gardens for a while after looking through the Cloisters until she joined us.

On our walk out of Fort Tryon Park, we took a different meandering path and found a small cave.

101_1055We topped off our day with dinner at an airy restaurant near our friend’s hotel. Old friends and the even older Cloisters, a delicious Sunday indeed.

Small Talk

The line to see Klimt’s Adele snaked around the block outside of the Neue Galerie across from Central Park. It wasn’t as much of a hassle as it seemed. The wait was only twenty minutes and brought me this nugget of conversation with the employee who manned the line as I snacked rather discreetly, I thought.

“What is that, bread?”
Mouth full, “And cheese.”
“Yeah, it looks good, you’re killing it over there.”

Ten minutes later, as he waved me through to the next section of the line, with a feigned warning look even though I had nothing in my hands:
“Put the bread away.”
“It’s all gone, in my stomach.”

I was eating just sliced wheat bread, nothing special, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see the cheese. What does killing it even mean in this context? Sometimes we just make conversation for the sake of it, I think. I’m down with that.

Mad House

Recently two friends and I visited the exhibit “Studio Job MAD HOUSE” at the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle in New York City. I’m always a bit unsure about suggesting modern or contemporary art exhibits to people who aren’t already interested in those periods or who express bafflement over why a blank canvas is in a museum. I am not a fan of all contemporary art—it is so varied—but I am open to seeing something new and if I don’t like it, all the better to discuss why afterwards.

Entrance to MAD is free on Thursday evenings, so I figured that this would be the perfect time to visit it for the first time with a college friend who enjoys art and a friend who is from France, living in New York for two months, and interested in being introduced to the city.

The exhibit is a collaboration by Belgian artist Job Smeets and Dutch artist Nynke Tynagel.

Welcome to the MAD HOUSE. 101_0940

You may have seen artist René Magritte’s late 1920s painting featuring a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). When I studied it in college, we talked about how the pipe was not an actual pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe. According to the label for the above piece at MAD, the “cast-bronze sculpture plays with the same idea, that all visual representations are inherently abstract; it is neither a table nor a pipe.” Isn’t it a table, though? Concept aside, it was aesthetically pleasing.

101_0942101_0946My friend asked me to take a picture of him in front of this eye-catching tower, made in 2013-2014. “Over twelve feel tall, this clock and lamp features a cast-bronze King Kong, covered with 120,000 Swarovski crystals, scaling a silver-leafed Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, in Dubai), which projects from a cast-bronze Petra, the ancient city in Jordan).”

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This is a replica of the Chartres cathedral turned on its side. It also functions as a closet.

As you may expect, the Chartres cathedral isn’t actually these colors. There was something sinister about seeing the black church laid on its side.

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To my delight and slight surprise, my friend who claimed to dislike modern and contemporary art loved the exhibit. We all enjoyed walking around the pieces and pointing out quirks only apparent upon further examination. The rooms of sculpture-objects that combined form and function were whimsical and weird, light and heavy, solid yet fantastical.

At the exhibit, I saw two separate people that I knew wandering around. I was pretty surprised considering that the museum wasn’t that crowded. One of them joined us later for a casual hearty dinner outside near Rockefeller Center. At one point, one of the French guys in our group looked up at the towering skyscrapers around us, smiled, and said, “This is so New York.” I could practically see the stars in his gaze. The other guy agreed enthusiastically, and they relished it for a while. I suddenly saw myself in Paris and how I must have looked to my friends when we crossed a bridge at night and I sighed, “I love bridges here.” Romance in the eyes, awe in one’s exhale. Not to say that I don’t love New York or where I’m from—I do—but I would never say something like “This is so New York” in the context we were in. I’d be more likely to say that if I accidentally bumped into a stranger on the street and they cursed me out.

What is Finished?

Recently a friend and I met up a week after my oral surgery (three wisdom teeth extracted, story for another day) to have lunch and visit the new Met Breuer Museum in Manhattan. The Breuer resides in the building that used to house the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved downtown. A new space of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Breuer is described as “Modern and contemporary art through the lens of history” on its brochure. From scanning an article online about it beforehand, I didn’t pick up on the “through the lens of history” aspect, so I was surprised when their exhibits displayed works by the likes of Michelangelo (who lived from 1475 to 1564).

The exhibit “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” was fascinating; it featured works, mostly paintings, that were unfinished. Some were studies deliberately incomplete, some were unfinished due to the artist’s poor health or death, and some we do not know why they were never done.

We are used to modern and contemporary paintings looking “unfinished” even when they are finished due to their often abstract and conceptual nature. However, perceiving roughness and a sketched quality in paintings from periods such as the Renaissance was like seeing a model without makeup. How surprising to see the inner workings of a piece that are usually covered up and invisible to the eye.

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Attributed to Gonzales Coques, possibly 1640s

 

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Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775

 

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1803-5

 

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Gustav Klimt, 1917-18

The Breuer has three floors of exhibits and a coffee bar on the fifth floor, which we stopped at for a sit before walking to Grand Central. I toted my leftovers from the Thai restaurant we had eaten lunch at earlier that day, whose ceiling was adorned by colored lamps. 101_0208

Museums, unlike the ever-changing restaurants and cafes in the city, often seem like permanent fixtures. In fact they are like other businesses in that they were once established and can change hands and move to another neighborhood altogether. How funny that years from now I can say we visited the Breuer’s first exhibit.

Wondrous Worlds

How about traveling without traveling?

The Newark Museum in New Jersey currently has an exhibit up called “Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam through Time & Place.”

I am drawn to art that combines image and word. These two blue beauties are by Hassan Massoudy, who was born in Najaf, Iraq and now lives in Paris. They feature poems from centuries ago and bright wide strokes of paint.
165.newarkmuseum.2016a“Travel, if you aspire to certain renown, it is in roaming the heavens that the crescent becomes the full moon.”
– Ibn Qalaqis, an 11th century Egyptian poet

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“Oh friend, don’t go to the flower garden. The flower garden is within you.”
– Kabir, a 15th century Indian poet

This prayer cloth from Iran has mihrab, gate, and flower motifs.

100_9965Some of the museum’s permanent collection amused me, such as this “teapot goblet” from 1989 by Richard Marquis.

100_9971This glass and metal sculpture is called “Firebringer” and was made by Jon Kuhn in the early 2000s.100_9973

And the teapots, the teapots, the teapots!

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The Ballantine House is a section of the museum that features American period rooms. This dining room had so many pieces on the table, from silverware (three forks for each setting), plates, and goblets to cherubic figures and tiny fancy salt shakers.

100_9976100_9978100_9979I have a time and space machine in driving distance from my house. The Islamic world and Victorian America can be done in an afternoon.

A Preview Imprévu

Recently I wandered into an art gallery in the shadow of the Pantheon. Actually part of the fifth arrondissement’s city hall, the gallery’s unassuming entrance on a side street contrasts with the grand columned façade of the building.

The vibrant, colorful paintings by Zareh Mutafian formed an exhibit called “Peindre après le génocide” (Painting after the genocide). This year marks 100 years since the genocide in Armenia. Mutafian was a survivor. Without knowledge of the title of the exhibit, one would not know it; the paintings’ subjects are brightly colored figures and landscapes. They’re quite beautiful.

I was surprised to see some art supplies on the table in the center of the gallery. I walked around, looking at the works. There were a couple of people conversing in the otherwise quiet space. After a few minutes, the man who was there told me, “Feel free to look around, but please don’t go upstairs since we’re not done setting up yet.” “You’re not open yet!?” I said. “When do you open?” “Tomorrow,” he replied.

I finished my tour of the ground floor, thanked him, and left. I looked more closely at the banner outside, and effectivement, the exhibit was to open the next day.

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It is not the first time that I’ve walked through a door that yielded to me, then later found out that it was not open to the public. I highly recommend it. Of course, to avoid feigning ignorance, it must be an honest mistake, so the key is to not read signs too carefully.

(The Friday Before) Last Friday Night

Recently un copain and I went to an exhibit at the Hôtel de Ville called Design & Artisanat d’Art : Berlin et Paris exposent leurs créaturs. He always finds interesting free things to do in the city, although apparently he doesn’t have a secret; he searches online. This expo featured work by contemporary designers and artisans from the two European cities.

While works on display should stand on their own, one’s experience of them is inevitably affected by their setting. The contrast between the abstract, fantastic designs and the centuries-old rooms with lofty ceilings was noticeable but not incongruent. The modern-day objects, fashion, and furniture had room to breathe in the grand space.

We looked and remarked on everything on display, from the straitjacket dress suspended from the ceiling to the instrument made for relaxation therapy to the surprisingly sturdy cardboard furniture that we tested out.

We were both enchanted by this piece by designer Marbella Paris.    100_7635We found this stack of blocks by Astropol delightful as well. It reminded me of something, a childhood memory or a warm place. Perhaps a lamp in the house my mother grew up in or a diner my family had been to. I’m not sure, but the round colorful lights made me think of the 70s. Funnily enough, my companion said it was very Star Trek. I suppose there is something throwback and futuristic about it at the same time.100_7632I thought this guy was funny.100_7629I think these chandeliers are always here. Why hang one when you can have a whole family?100_7634Afterward, we had a drink and then saw a contemporary jazz concert in a church. It was really cold in the church, but afterward we were surprised to be welcomed into a large adjacent room with complimentary hors d’oeurves and tarts. Apparently the church shelters homeless people who in return prepare those snacks for a monthly concert.

A middle-aged man with a scraggly beard approached us and joined our conversation. We learned that he worked for the parish and that he sometimes invites people who live in the street to have a meal with him in a restaurant.

He then yelled at an old lady who accidentally knocked a pile of plastic cups on the floor and had kicked them under the table instead of picking them up. She snapped back at him. He told us that he knew her because she was a parishioner. I couldn’t decide whether their acidic back-and-forth was okay because they have an existing relationship. Or how I felt about the fact that he wanted to put those cups that had fallen on the ground back on the table.

There are all kinds of people, and all kinds of art.

Chartres

Last month a friend and I took a day trip to Chartres, which is only an hour and fifteen minute train ride from Paris. It was a bit rainy and cold when we arrived in the early afternoon, but we took a walk around and ducked in some shops. We meant to stop by the tourist office for a map but never actually made it there.

We had a long leisurely lunch during which I looked out the window and noticed this amusing street sign.        100_7389Translated to English, it would mean “Perfect Christmas.” Apparently Monsieur Noël Parfait was a writer and politician born in Chartres.

The famous Chartres Cathedral was quite pretty by evening and night. We spent some time wandering around the interior, which was under renovation.100_7392100_7411We got to the Centre international du vitrail (International Center of Stained Glass) about an hour before closing time, just as a wave of people were coming out. It turns out that their departure left us as practically the only visitors, much to my delight. One hour in the small building turned out to be a sufficient amount of time.

I absolutely loved the underground temporary exhibit Les peintres et le vitrail, which featured stained glass by contemporary artists.100_7394100_7396100_7399 100_7401100_7403 The ground floor contained works from the Renaissance. This is a part of a depiction of the slaves escaping Egypt. The drama in motion is present.100_7405The Centre international du vitrail is a former barn. I am always interested in places that used to be other places.chartresWhen we left the center, the sky had cleared up, and we joined the people out and about for a stroll down the cute streets dotted with boutiques and lights.100_7424100_7413100_7417100_7421