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Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum 9/11 Memorial and Museum

22nd March 2017

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Fascinating People Watching in Upper West Side

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
    I caught the PATH train to 33rd Street, and on the uptown Q platform I was greeted by a melodious sound of barbershop singing wafting along the platform. It reminded me of my wife's long, happy episode of barbershop singing. Four African Americanguys, who looked as though they had just walked down off the streets, were creating a wonderful sound that echoed throughout the subterranean station. One chap was holding out a carrier bag into which people would drop notes and change as they passed by. Between songs there was a tremendous humorous banter between the guys, sharing out the collection as they excitably chatted.
    I reached the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, 89th Street, just opposite Central Park; the old place hadn't changed since I was last here. Solomon R. Guggenheim was born into a wealthy mining family, and founded the Yukon Gold Company in Alaska, among other business interests. He began collecting art in the 1890s, and in 1919 he retired from his business to pursue full-time art collecting.
Inside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
    Eventually, under the guidance of artist Hilla von Rebay, he was introduced to the art of Kandinsky, and started to focus on the collection of modern and contemporary art, creating an important collection by the 1930s and opening his first museum in 1939, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, at 24 East 54th Street. William Muschenheim designed the unusual gallery, decorated with pleated grey velour on the walls and thick grey carpet, and featuring recorded classical music and incense, in a former car showroom.
    By the early 1940s, the museum had accumulated such a large collection of avant-garde paintings that the need for a permanent building to house the art collection had become apparent. In 1943, Guggenheim and Rebay commissioned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a new museum building, his only New York commission. In 1948, the collection was greatly expanded through the purchase of art dealer Karl Nierendorf's estate of some 730 objects, notably German expressionist paintings. By that time, the collection included a broad spectrum of expressionist and surrealist works, including paintings by Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka and Joan Miró. Guggenheim's niece, Peggy Guggenheim, who was also an ardent collector of Surrealist and abstract art, had the philosophy of collecting a new work of art each day.
    Over the next 16 years, Wright made some 700 sketches and 6 separate sets of working drawings for the building. So intent was Wright on his spiral design that when told some walls would be too short for large works, he reportedly responded, "...cut the paintings in half." The construction was delayed until 1956 for various reasons, foremost among them the death of Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1949 and post-war inflation. The name of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting was changed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to distinguish it as a memorial to its founder,
    The museum opened to an enthusiastic public on 21st October 1959, just six months after Frank Lloyd Wright's death. The spiral design with continuous spaces flowing freely one into another dispenses with the conventional approach to museum design, and the open rotunda affords viewers the unique possibility of seeing several areas of work on different levels simultaneously.
    In 1963, Thomas M. Messer, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, acquired a large group of works from art dealer Justin K. Thannhauser's private collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and modern French masterpieces, including important works by Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, and Vincent van Gogh. The collection continues to grow, with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Today the Guggenheim is a museum in multiple locations across the globe with access to shared collections, common constituencies, and joint programming.
    Thus the story of the Guggenheim Museum is essentially the story of several very different private collections. Central among these are Solomon R. Guggenheim's collection of non-objective painting premised on a belief in the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction; his niece Peggy Guggenheim's collection of abstract and Surrealist painting and sculpture; Justin K. Thannhauser's array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern masterpieces; and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo's vast holdings of European and American Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, Environmental, and Conceptual art. These collections have been augmented over the last two decades by major gifts from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and The Bohen Foundation.
    To me, the building is stunning in itself. From the outside it vaguely resembles a snail's shell. Inside a continuous ramp wraps around a large atrium. On the outside wall of the ramp recesses act as small galleries in which only a fraction of the vast Guggenheim collection is displayed. The act of viewing was a continuous flow, just like the building itself. Marvellous concept!
    I did the logical thing and began at the top of the ramp, and slowly worked my way down. Although not all works were to my taste, I have included here a few that attracted my attention.
Untitled : Alexander Calder - 1942
"Bottles and Glasses" : Pablo Picasso - 1911-12
"Woman Ironing" : Pablo Picasso - 1904
"Woman and Child" : Pablo Picasso - 1903
"Mountains at Saint-Rémy" : Vincent van Gogh - 1889
"The Hermitage at Pontoise" : Camille Pissaro - ca. 1867
"Man with Crossed Arms" : Paul Cézanne - ca. 1899
"Portrait of Countess Albazzi" : Édouard Manet - 1880
"King of Kings", "The Sorceress", "Adam and Eve",
"The Miracle (Seal [I])" : Constantin Brancusi - 1916-38
    On the lower floors, offshoot rooms displayed more works of art, one room being devoted to Kandinsky.
Kandinsky Room      (please use scroll bar)

    An extra "novelty" in the museum was a periodic rendition of supposably the "oldest song in the world". A handful of people would at predetermined times take their places (distributed throughout the museum) and hum/sing a non-descript song. There were no words. This would last for about three minutes before ending abruptly, at which point the performers would just blend into the crowd. One of the museum attendants and me shared a smile and chuckle at how this could be the "oldest song in the world". Perhaps we were both sceptics.
    I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the museum, but needing fresh air, I took a walk across Central Park. The temperature had dropped dramatically since yesterday, and the cold coupled with an icy wind proved to be a vicious combination.
Central Park Reservoir      (please use scroll bar)

    Having emerged frost bitten and laden down with icicles at the opposite end of the park, I sought refuge in a coffee shop to slowly thaw, content to people watch for a while. A complete spectrum of New Yorkers drifted in and out. Many others seemed to have taken up residence complete with laptops, iPhones growing out of their ears, totally oblivious to the world about them. I should not have been surprised, most of the passengers on the subways and trains seemed to be permanently attached to phones or iPads. Perhaps I should get myself plugged in, but then I too would become oblivious to the world about me. Is this really the way the human race is going?
    A woman, I assume a woman but was not entirely convinced, asked if she could sit in the seat opposite me; empty seats were as rare as hen's teeth. She was very tall and skinny. After placing her Expresso coffee, glass of water, and shot of some unknown transparent liquid onto the table, she slipped off her coat and slid into her seat ending up in a reclining position, facing sideways towards the windows. She seemed to be of a nervous disposition, and I occasionally noticed a slight tremor as she picked up one of her drinks. At one point she opened up her shopping bag sized purse, took out a half pint sized cylindrical container, her mobile pill dispenser, and popped a pill. Sufficiently calmed down, she joined the club and pulled out her phone. Silent scanning gave way to frantic tapping. Was she texting or playing a game. The woman then started cursing at her phone. It sounded like cursing, but it was in some Eastern European tongue I was not familiar with.
    On the next table, a middle-aged chap noisily collapsed into a seat. He had a shock of salt and pepper hair, had not shaved for days, and his face was badly pockmarked. Out came his laptop and he was soon plugged into his little world. He was shaken out of his stupor by his phone bleeping like a New York fire tender. As with many New Yorkers, his audible output was set to "everyone must hear what I have to say" mode. "Hey, I have $400,000 with you guys - wait - and another $700,000!" he blurted out as he rapidly scanned his spreadsheet. Judging by his unkempt appearance, it can't surely have been his own money, perhaps that of a business he was involved in. His grubby fingers tapped away furiously, somehow simultaneously ripping apart a sticky bun and shovelling it into his mouth.
    A couple in their fifties entered the cafe and sauntered up to the counter to place an order. The lady was fairly attractive. An animated conversation was going on between them, and every so often she showed her amazement and awe by opening her mouth gapingly wide as if to say, "Aw!" Wow, this woman could have swallowed a whole water melon, it seemed as though she could unlock her jaw.
Pomander Walk - West 95th Street
Guitar Shop on Bleeker Street
    I left the warm oasis and explored Upper West Side for a while, stopping a while to gaze at a row of seven buildings on West 95th Street. These small brick and stucco, timbered, Tudoresque (a style that enjoyed a vogue in America in the years following World War I) townhouses were part of Pomander Walk, a charming micro-neighbourhood. The name was derived from a romantic comedy by Louis N. Parker that opened in New York in 1910, set on an imaginary byway near London. By the 1970s, the complex was rundown and at risk of being demolished. However, it was saved with a City, State, and National Historic Landmark designation in 1982. Past residents include Gloria Swanson, Rosalind Russell, and Humphrey Bogart.
    I made my way downtown to Greenwich Village. I always tended to gravitate in the evening to locations where I could easily pick up the PATH train back to Journal square. A short walk around the district brought me to a lovely guitar shop where I immersed myself for a while, hardly daring to touch some of the instruments which were in the $1000s range. A natural ending to the day after that was a jazz bar in the evening, 55bar, a prohibition era dive bar which purported to offer incredible live jazz, funk and blues nightly. The bar was packed throughout the evening, probably because the band and lady singing her own brand of scat were excellent.

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Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Last updated 14.4.2017