Postcard from the East Coast

June 2017

Once again, I flew Virgin across the country. Unfortunately, the Alaska merger appears to have dimmed the disco lighting and indeed the whole enterprise. The airline feels less design forward and client focused (well at least for this client). It’s also harder to sleep: we were in a brand-new plane that was so long the pilots have to make a fairly hard landing to avoid smashing the tail. Or so a passenger told me after we slammed into the runway. Washington National Airport (we won’t call it you know what…) is not as beautiful as Dulles, but the trip into the District is a lot easier from there.

Made a quick dash through Washington D.C. and New York City en route to a two-month stay in London. Washington D.C. was stunned because of the shooting at the Republican baseball practice. The whole city (if not most of the country) remains in a state of suspension as everybody waits for Trump to resign or be impeached. Most inside-the-beltway folks don’t want to be associated with the administration. It isn’t going to help anybody’s career. Eventually it will lead to the implosion of the Trump brand.

How very odd it was, once I reached New York City, to see an elegant Trump-branded property in Soho. We had to avert our eyes. On the Upper West Side, most of the Trump properties developed in the 1990s had their names changed last fall. Ate at a good Turkish restaurant with my pals Brad and Brian in Dupont Circle. I can’t remember ever getting such poor service at a restaurant. Not rude, just incompetent. Seems like everybody is in a daze these days.

Took forever to get across D.C. to get out of town, but the reward was that Union Station doesn’t have all that junk in the grand hall anymore. Busy Amtrak routes like the D.C. to New York City and New York City to Boston still run on time. The ride is far more comfortable than in an airplane. This is measured largely by how much napping takes place. I often forget earplugs for the dreary conversations that waft over the seats.

I reached Penn about an hour and a half before Paul, found a restaurant that looked OK within a block, and parked myself to wait. Turns out the whole place is staffed by Irish folks. We had the most wonderful waitress who knew how to draw you out without imposing herself. She had Paul’s beer waiting and his hamburger ready within minutes. We would go back to Mustang Harry’s just for her!

Paul found a new (reasonably priced) hotel called the 50 Bowery. Modern with Chinese accents because of its location in Chinatown. Apparently they tried to open an “opium den” themed bar, which met with a lot of local resistance. Talk about appropriation. And deafness. That aside, our room was beautifully done, quiet, and comfortable. There was even a generous free breakfast on the roof. Don’t expect the good rates or free grub to continue far beyond the opening…

On Friday, our good pal Mark drove us up to the country near Hudson where he and his husband Jon bought a modest modern house on five acres. Another houseguest named it Seven Springs because the enormous pond is fed by several springs. But after a paddle in the pond on a hot summer day, I dubbed the swimming hole Bear Pond. Maybe I should have called it Bear and Otter Pond. We had one of the most restful weekends we’ve had in ages.

Ate dinner in Hudson but left exploring this rapidly changing town for a future trip. One day we stopped in Chatham and our hosts pointed out Ellsworth Kelly’s enormous studio. There are 14 paintings, the Chatham Series, that he completed soon after moving to Columbia County.

Chatham—well East Chatham/Canaan—was also the location of strange murders in the 1980s. In town, we were introduced to the author of the 1991 book Most Likely to Succeed: Multiple Murder and the Elusive Search for Justice in an American Town, which documented the multiple murders in the log cabin a few doors from our friends’ retreat. The author ended up settling in the town. Maybe we have watched too many episodes of Midsomer Murders and think the rural landscape is the most dangerous. Darling, give me Park Avenue.…

But while we were in the country, Mark and Jon drove us across the border to North Adams, Massachusetts, where we visited MASS MoCA for the first time. This enormous former textile mill houses all kinds of large installations. We had enough time to enjoy large exhibitions of James Turrell, Nick Cave, and Sol Lewitt. I hope to visit again next time I am nearby. On way back, our pal Jon received word that he won the raffle at a local church strawberry festival and took home $20! Who ever wins anything at those events?

While Jersey City may not be Park Avenue, our pals Rob and Jeff had us over to their 40-somethingth-floor aerie overlooking Manhattan. You want a great view of Manhattan, go to Jersey. One appeal of new high-rises is that they are so quiet. You can see all the frenzy of the city but be surrounded by a gentle hush. We even got to ride the ferry back to Manhattan, which is as about as romantic as a summer trip to New York City gets!

Back in Manhattan, thanks to my good pal Yosh, I finally ate at Momofuku. Now I know what the fuss was about. Tricky to keep your shirt unstained if you are a bit clumsy.  Instead of ordering the famous ramen, I went for the cold noodles. Can’t wait to return.

Most of our Manhattan days were taken up with meetings, but one day we risked the sweltering weather to venture up to MoMA. I think this institution is similar to the Catholic Church in some essential ways. In the process of providing a spiritual home, they make a lot of mistakes. The Jean Nouvel tower is just the latest one. But for those of us who follow the Church of the Queer Radicals, the Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends exhibit was nearly sacred!

The show emphasizes Rauschenberg’s collaborations with other figures, including his wife Susan Weil, his lover Jasper Johns, and pal Cy Twombly. Rauschenberg also worked on dance/performance pieces with John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Trish Brown. One wonders if, at this moment in the 1950s, when all kinds of artists were pushing the envelope, they were also exploring gender fluidity. Or at least sexual fluidity. Maybe all those definitions of straight and not straight were just so many lines from the straight world.

Rauschenberg’s restlessness is in full bloom in the show. He transformed whatever crossed his path, whether they were cardboard boxes or his own photographs. To contain Rauschenberg in one exhibit is futile, and the show falls short in capturing his radical spirit. By that I mean it is mostly a standard museum show with artworks on walls. His work kept falling off the walls. That was the point.

His performances are assigned, for the most part, to a stairway of video screens, which feels limiting when they were so central to his work. The physicality, the movement, is missing from the exhibition. Later in his career, he worked with fabrics from India and traveled widely, trying to create a connection with places where expression was more limited due to economics and politics. And in an ironic twist, the curators confined his most expansive thinking to an exit corridor. There is no confining Rauschenberg. He was our own queer but peaceful Braveheart.

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in Johns’s Pearl Street studio, c. 1954. Photograph: Rachel Rosenthal. © Rachel Rosenthal Estate







Captions (left to right)

Robert Rauschenberg. Minutiae. 1954. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich, courtesy Hauser & Wirth. © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Robert Rauschenberg. Money Thrower for Tinguely’s H.T.N.Y. 1960. © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Trisha Brown. Set and Reset. 1983. With costumes and set element, Elastic Carrier (Shiner), by Rauschenberg. Flynn Theatre for the Performing Arts, Burlington, Vermont, February 1993. Image courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company Archives, New York. Photo: Mark Hanauer

Robert Rauschenberg with Carl Adams, George Carr, Lewis Ellmore, Frank LaHaye, and Jim Wilkinson. Mud Muse. 1968–71. © 2017 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Next stop: London!

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Posted Friday, July 7th, 2017 | Postcards

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