28 March 2015

The Suitcase and the Sink

Sometimes I don't know where to begin the tale. Is it with the book I just finished? Is it with the MoMA exhibit I saw in January, the catalog for which is the aforementioned last book I read? Or should I start on a spring day in 1998, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut, where I first encountered Robert Gober?

I think I'll start there. I can't remember why we drove up to Ridgefield from NYC. The Aldrich isn't much of a destination, but maybe we decided to stop there on the way to visit my cousin? In any case, the Aldrich had a Robert Gober exhibit open, and it was gobsmacking and challenging and exhilarating - an exhibit that I remembered for a long time afterwards.

Gober's a sculptor, the kind of sculptor that likes to remake ordinary objects. He cast a paint can in crystal and painstakingly hand painted it ... to look like a paint can. He took a piece of styrofoam found washed up on the beach ... and cast it in bronze and painted it. He's made wax legs with real leg hair, which then get socks and shoes, and are carefully placed sticking out of the wall, at floor level, shades of the Wicked Witch of the East after someone dropped a house upon her. And the sinks - reproductions of old beat up farmhouse sinks, made of paint and plaster and chicken wire and lath. They're not going to hold any water, ever.

But the piece at the Aldrich that stayed with me was the suitcase. Sitting on the floor in a mostly empty room, from a distance it looked like an old suitcase, lid open, satin lining showing. When you got closer, you realized that set into the bottom of the suitcase was a cast iron sewer drain. Closer, and you could see down through the grate to a tide pool complete with moving water and rocks and swaying seaweed. As you leaned over to peer directly down into the suitcase, there appeared a pair of men's feet. And it wasn't until you were leaning over from the other side, looking over the lid of the suitcase, that you could see that the man was dangling a baby over the tide pool. It had a cinematic aspect to the reveal, the way the suitcase morphed from ordinary object to portal. And I never forgot it.

Last fall, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a big retrospective of Gober. Me, being disorganized, I procrastinated until the very last minute so that we saw the show on the day it closed. Happily for me, there was hardly anyone there - everyone was upstairs at the exhibit of the Matisse cutouts. Those are all well and good, and pretty to look at, but my idea of fun is not a museum show where there are eleventy hundred people between you and the wall so you can't get a good look at anything. The Gober exhibit show was everything I hoped it would be. Mind-bending and thrilling, it was chock full of interesting things to see - including, yes, the suitcase of my memories.

I bought the catalog. I read the catalog from cover to cover, delighting in bits like "Just give me that two-by-four". And you know what? It makes my heart sing that there are such dementedly creative people in this world of ours.

When we were in San Francisco in February, we went to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is, of course, a glorious ruin - and is home, right now, to an exhibit of work by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.

I was struck there by a sink. Long, rust-tinged, porcelain, unplumbed, it could well be one of Gober's sinks. How perfect to find it at Alcatraz. Art meets life meets art.

27 March 2015

On Whales and Submarines

Sometimes it's the simple things.

I was seated on the subway this morning, gazing between the standees, and what to my wondering eyes did I spy but a whale?

And the little wheels in my head turned, and I thought "it reminds me of the Peter Sis whale that I have".

And it was! Well, it's Peter Sis, not a whale, it's a submarine, but it has a familial resonance.

The MTA has this program, Arts for Transit, where they do installations in subway stations, and commission posters that get slapped up in unsold ad spaces.

I don't know about you, but I'd far rather look at art and read poetry than have to stare into Dr. Zizmor's rainbow wrapped eyes.

And Peter Sis? In the case of the whale, which debuted in 2001, I liked the art so much that I bought the poster and had it framed - long before I'd heard of him as an author and illustrator.

Sometimes it's the little things that get the day off to a good start.

04 March 2015


After a period of quiescence, the 11 year old has rediscovered her American Girl dolls. She has been hell bent on building furniture for them, and making bedding, and slavishly following instructions found on YouTube for the creation of eerily realistic doll-sized chocolate chip cookies, and chattering incessantly about wanting a fourth doll.

I, thinking three of them was already too many, said no, absolutely not, I will not buy you a fourth doll.

She, drawing on some hardwired capitalistic tendencies, I know not from where, decided that she wanted to sell two of the dolls. We talked about eBay, and about a local Facebook "garage sale", and she decided to take her chances on eBay - even after I explained about Paypal fees and postage. She took all of the necessary pictures, and wrote most of the copy. I fluffed up her copy (smoke free household!) and posted the two dolls for sale. She watched the auctions like a hawk and was thrilled with the results. I, frankly, was dumbfounded that one doll went for twice what we had paid in 2011, and the other went for about the original price. [One was a "girl of the year", the other was a now retired historical doll.]

Armed, therefore, with a chunk of money in the bank of mom, we headed into NYC the other day, with a friend of hers, to get that new doll.

First, though, we took the subway downtown and went to Economy Candy. I told her and and the friend that they could have $20 and 20 minutes; they were done in 15.

Then we walked up to Katz's Deli, where we didn't send any salamis, but we did have selzer and pastrami and an indulgent waiter who didn't mind when the girls dumped all the candy out onto the table to fondle it.

After lunch, we walked back to the subway, past the end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where there was a big sculpture made out of rubber mats. Dryly, my child remarked If I did that, no one would call it art.

Riding uptown on the subway, the two girls worked hard on staying standing without holding on. This is a life skill, people, and children from the suburbs don't get enough practice.

Finally, we got to the American Girl Doll store, where the two girls perversely decided that they weren't buying anything for themselves, it was for their "cousins". Weirdos.

Of course, on the train home, all of the purchases came out of their packages.

The moral of the story? Capitalism is good, especially when it reduces the number of dolls in your house.