Thursday, May 19, 2011

I went to the Guggenheim Museum

Never Done: I went to the Guggenheim Museum

And it turns out that somehow I've never even seen it from the outside! How is that possible? I've been coming to New York on a regular basis since 1993, and I've been living here since 2002. I've been to the Met. I've been to the Jewish Museum. Presumably I've walked right past the Guggenheim, and what? Didn't notice it? Again, how is that possible??

Well anyhow, thanks to Groupon, I finally went. And I think it's my favorite museum I've ever been in, with the possible exception of the smallest film museum in the world, which is in the south of Sweden, which now that I think about it, I just peered at from the outside so that doesn't count, and even if it did, it really doesn't compare to the Guggenheim anyhow.

I went in without knowing anything really, so the fact that you get to walk up a gently ascending interior spiral while viewing all of the art was a delightful surprise to me. I expected the interior of the Guggenheim to be huge -- with a bunch of rooms and separate galleries. (Only one gallery was open when I was there -- the others seemed to have work being installed in them.) I didn't expect it to be so compact (and yet spacious) and I didn't expect it to be so centralized (and yet decentralized.) I guess I just didn't expect to like it so much.

I can't actually think of a time I've enjoyed being in a museum -- any museum -- as much as I enjoyed being in the Guggenheim. Usually I get tired, or overwhelmed, or lost, or my feet get tired, or I feel like I should want to see more. But at the Guggenheim, you just keep walking. And if you want to stop and spend a lot of time with a painting, you do -- and if you want to keep walking, you just keep walking. There aren't irretrievable choices -- doors you go in that might lead you out to completely other parts of the museum. You just go up ... or down. And occasionally you go in, but then you come back out the same way you went in, and you get to go up or down again. It's brilliant. My feet didn't even get tired.

The show that's up right now is called The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918. It's full of paintings by Chagall, Kandinsky, Marc, Picasso, Delauney. I'm not even much of an art historian, and I felt like I was in the company of old friends. I particularly love Chagall, and I saw two of his paintings I'd only ever seen before in reproductions: The Soldier Drinks, and The Flying Carriage. I walked right up to them and looked at the brushstrokes. There was so much sense of space in the museum that I could do that without being in someone else's way, and I did it again when I came upon something by Van Gogh, whose up-close brush strokes are incredibly moving to me.

So what's this all about? I think it's about Diligence: Always find something to do. Here I live in this vibrant cultural center, and after almost 20 years of spending time here, I have never been to the Guggenheim Museum. Now, it's not like I sit around all day watching Survivor (actually, I have never watched Survivor. Shit, does that mean that now I have to?) but I think I could be more diligent about discovering New York. I should ask all the New Yorkers I know to make me a list of their favorite things to do here, and I should check to see if I've ever done them. I know some things I've never done: I've never gone to the Bronx Zoo, or to City Island, or to Roosevelt Island. I've never eaten street meat, or gone into FAO Schwarz, or swum in the Hudson (but I have plans to quite soon!) I'll make you a deal. For every idea that you give me that I've never done, I will 1) do it and publicly thank you for the idea, and 2) the day I do your thing, I will not complain about the things that usually make me complain about New York. Deal?


  1. I suspect that you have already done some of my favorite things: riding the Staten Island ferry, hanging out in Brighton Beach, going to the beach at Brighton, Coney, or Riis, and visiting the High Line. I know that you haven't really explored the Ikea park. Have you been to Governor's Island? Have you heard of the Shorewalkers?, Have you toured the tunnel built under Atlantic Ave in 1844? Have you taken a Circle Line around Manhattan?

  2. Jenny, I visited the Guggenheim the last time I was in town because as many times as I'd been to Manhattan, I'd never gone. It was wonderful. Now, do go to FAO Schwarz, but take a young child. When I took Maddy and Miles (my grandkids), and we walked in the door, Maddy said "Oh, gramma, it's like a dream come true!" These are kids who are used to having no money to spend so after we'd seen everything, I gave them each $15, and they spent another hour deciding what to buy. You could spend a million dollars in there. But you can also get away with only $15. Or none. The look on a kid's face: priceless.

  3. Also, I went to see Judy Chicago's Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. It's on permanent display now. I recommend that for sure.

  4. I am now inspired to think of what I have never done before. Although admittedly some of those things I don't ever want to do. Is that bad??

  5. Rimma -- SI ferry and Brighton, Coney, and Riis: YES; High Line, Governers Island, and Circle Line: YES. Shorewalkers and Tunnel exploration: NO!

  6. Sandra -- I've seen the Dinner Party! Thanks for the idea!

  7. Susan -- I think about this all the time. Like, do I really want a tattoo? (I kind of do.) Do I want to ride a roller coaster or get married? I really really really don't. (Let's not look too closely at why I might have made that coupling...) I don't think it's bad -- I think it's what comes from knowing ourselves, but still, sometimes when I push myself, I'm pleasantly surprised. I didn't want to suck helium, but it was pretty fun. I didn't want to sell out and buy any iPhone aps, but now I use my MLB (major league baseball) At Bat 11 all the time.