The High Line, once a suspended railway link running through the industrial Meat Packing District of new York and now a beautiful promenade park.
I have just got back from New York where I went to see “Dust and Shadows” on show at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circus. The museum is very impressive with galleries on five floors and a fantastic rooftop restaurant with spectacular views over Central Park. It was strange to see the cabinet lost in the greatest city on earth but reassuring to know that it was safe and well cared for at the museum. Curator David McFadden asked me speak to a party of VIP’s about the work and critic Ken Johnson writing in the New York Times described it as “the show’s most conceptually intriguing piece”, which I think is meant to be a compliment.
I saw a huge quantity and variety of art while in the city – from modern and contemporary at MOMA and in Chelsea to ancient and traditional at the Met. My highlights were mostly new discoveries and one revisit, all linked by a spirit of quiet contemplation which I suppose was partly a reaction against hype and crushing crowds. It is perhaps no real surprise that all of my new favourites are of Asian origin.
“Chaos” by Yoon Kuang Cho seen at the Met, a contemporary Korean potter whose piece was shown alongside prime examples of ancient Korean ceramics emphasising the artist’s deep respect and profound knowledge of his tradition. He lives in a mountainous region of South Korea which heavily influences the shapes of his pieces and his free and spontaneous methods of decoration. (www.ceramicart.com.au/yoonkwangch.shtml)
The Rubin Museum of Art on 7th Avenue West 17th Street which specialises in the arts of the Himalayan region and a haven of peace in the busy Chelsea district. Casting the Divine, a floor dedicated to sculptural artefacts from the region which opened in March, is perfectly presented and contains some beautiful objects all in cast metal.
“Wood” by Hu Xiaoyan seen at the New Museum at 235 Bowery as part of “The Ungovernables” triennial show. Hu Xiaoyan is one of the new generation of Chinese artists making a name for themselves in the West, basing her work on her life in Beijing. She, like Korean Yoon Yuang-Cho, also refers to her creative roots whilst acknowledging western contemporary approaches. In this work, 34 pieces of timber found on the streets of Beijing are first covered in silk and the complex patterns of woodgrain drawn in pine ash ink through the semi-transparent material. The timbers are then painted in a layer of white lacquer and the silk re-stretched over the top. The effect is of of ghost trees, indeed Hu Xiaoyan speaks of a tree which once stood on the site of her newly built house, now felled, never to be replaced. a poetic metaphor for the raging redevelopment of her city.
I re-encountered another ghost, an under-rated Vermeer which had stopped me in my tracks on my last visit to New York.
The Metropolitan Museum holds four Vermeers but this early work is believed to have been over-cleaned, exposing some of the under-painting and attendant adjustments. Vermeer’s use of lenses to trace composition and fix the fall of light is now readily accepted but is still startling when you come across it unexpectedly. This is a 17th century photograph where the the camera lens has captured the weak northern light, diffusing edges, creating pearly highlights and grim-grey shadows. The colour gives only a hint of Vermeer’s favoured blue/yellow combination set right back into monotone, a muted tint found in the deteriorated snap-shots of 1970′s photo albums. There is something vaguely unsettling about the girl, actually ‘vague’ is an apt word. She is vague, vacant even, an uneasy presence in the room, perhaps an early study of psychological disturbance. I re-photographed her face to try to get closer, to see the mystery up close, and a miss-calculation of the auto-focus produced an eery insight.