It’s a sunny cool day as I sit waiting for my brother to come out of the house, I have to drive him to work before I head into Manhattan today to see the new pieces of Abstract art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. The weather has been strange lately, we had a few warmer days so it’s not too bad weather wise. I’m off this week so I don’t care that I’m getting a late start, my brother finally comes out and we go to his job. The two of us joke around in the car a little on the ride there but I feel bad that he has to work and can’t join me today. I drop him off and make my way to the train station and search for a place to park, I try to park under the lights so I can feel safe we I come back at night, this isn’t a bad neighborhood but it’s better to be safe.
I board the train and am happy to find it’s an express-good deal, so I sit looking out the window and and listen to the people around me, as an artist and writer I find that this kind of voyeurism is good for my creativity. I write this poem by looking and listening…
Old places glass and steel.
Bricks with black lettering.
Pools of water on rooftops.
Shinning rails of travel, momentary blindness.
A man sleeps seeing nothing
A man sighs behind me.
Sleeping man passing gas oblivious to the
Smoke billowing black from chimneys.
A man sighs again alone.
A lone flag flies in the distance.
Is it all nothing to you?
Copyright G. Henley 2008
We are going into the tunnels now and I feel the creative energy coming back, must keep it turned on always I think as the train stops and I head out into the stuffy platform and walk upstairs to Penn Station and up to the street. I grab a taxi to the Met, I will walk later but right now I just want to get in and see the exhibit, later I will head to the Village for some Hong Kong style Octopus balls, which I will explain later.
This is a collection of 55 new works given by Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman, an astute collector of art who collected works of both the old guard of Abstract Expressionism, but also the work of younger artists that proved to be worth her attention years later. This is an exceptional show, many new pieces by some of my boys, I am happy to see a Robert Motherwell. I am lucky to own a large hand signed print by him, it’s not in great shape but at least I got one-too bad it’s so big I can’t frame it. There’s also a few by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg (god rest his soul) that I hadn’t seen before, there’s a Pollack, a Kline I especially like, a DeKooning and work by David Smith, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Anne Ryan. But it was a smallish exhibit so it doesn’t take me long to see it all and I make my way to a special exhibit of African Reliquary Art.
The word reliquary means literally container or vessel where religious relics or artifacts are stored. Some held the remains of tribal people who had died, say a finger bone or a piece of the skull which were thought to be magical andwere used with carved guardian figures on top in tribal rituals. Many reliquaries were used used in Christian ritual from the 4th century and have been venerated by Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. These carved figures are fantastic, detailed and so finely made, the most famous of these is The Pahouin or Black Venus made by a member of the Fang people, Betsi group; Gabon. Many of the most famous artists in Paris collected and studied tribal art including Pablo Picasso, Andre’ Derain, Henri Matisse, and Maurice de Vlaminck just to name a few. There are also beautiful statues made by the Punu and Kota peoples, the fascinating thing was the Gothic ones made from metals, a finely wrought hand in a magical gesture kept my attention for twenty minutes, the only time I really wanted to steal a museum piece in my life. I then watched a short film taken in the 30’s by an Anthropologist, a burial of a huge reliquary. The dead person was sewn inside a huge stuffed Golem like doll which was carried and buried in a huge grave with much crying, singing, and ceremony and the TV on which this was viewed was about 5ft away from the actual reliquary in the museum! This thing was bigger than a Volkswagen Bug standing on it’s end, I won’t forget this exhibit anytime soon…I just wish I had the money and the proper space to collect African art myself like my old friends in Paris, now we know where the influence for Cubism came from!
I leave the Met and take the subway all the way down to the East Village, I’m on a kind of pilgrimage you see, after watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he ate them in Osaka, I just have to try the Takoyaki at Otafuku. Located on 235 E. 9th St (Btwn 2nd& 3rd Ave) this place is the real deal, it’s tiny-I mean there is enough room for about three people to stand inside and place orders. The two young men that run the place are cramped in front of a tiny grill, a special device for making octopus or squid balls sits next to the take out window. But what are they? you ask puzzled. Well it’s a seasoned batter witha piece of octopus inside which is cooked in a grill that has dozens of holes the size of a golf ball, as they cook crispy they are turned crispy sideup so that more raw batter hits the hot grill until they are crispy on the outside-gooey on the inside, they even turn a switch and the grill shakes to help loosen the hot treats so they come out easier, they also make a great batter pancake with veggies and your choice of toppings. Everything is covered with sqeeze bottles of Japanese mayo, thick soy sauce and dried flaked pork or fish, they also serve yakisoba noodles and a good assortment of teas or soda.
I take my hot food and go to find someplace to eat, finding a little park at E.6th St and Cooper Square I settle down to try my food, it’s magical and delicious, crispy then chewy then gooey describes the balls, the pancake is savory and sweet and the hot tea is welcome as it’s getting colder. I see a group of people coming down the sidewalk and wonder what’s going on, but I am surprised when the group stops and the guide begins to talk about the building behind me. This is strange because I can see that everyone is not watching the guide, they are all watching me eat! Here I am, dressed in many layers of clothes looking like a bum dinning Al fresco on a bench using chopsticks no less! They move off and are replaced by a group of young goofs with thier girlfriends who come inside the park apparently to throw pennies at the Pigeons, a boom crane moves slowly nearb, sirens, traffic, the bang and boom of work being done and people walk by. I go on enjoying my meal and ignore the world for a while…It’ll still be there when I get back.
I ride home on the train enjoying a young redheads reflection in the window, she is facing me and I can see her even though a seat separates us(a miracle of refraction or reflection?) and enjoy being a voyeur, I wish I had a drawing tablet with me, she looks like the actress in “Lady In The Water” when we come topside I can’t see her anymore, the glare of the setting sun robs me of the view, so I write and remember the day and hope to do this again real soon.