Rachel came by around 8:30am, we picked up Whit at 10:30am and by 11:00am we were at the New York Botanical Gardens. Rachel is a floral arranger and this was my first visit to the gardens with someone so familiar with the aesthetics of plants. She oooh’d and aaah’d as I had my first time finding flowers so impossibly captivating that a portion of my brain refused to believe they were evolved. No, these lotuses must be made, designed to be more vibrant than a neon bar sign. Evolution is a war where standing still means continuous improvement and adaptation. What war could spawn such beauty?

From 2012-08-14 New York Botanical Garden and Museum of Modern Art

I know this is not the case. I know that each of these blossoms is either a direct adaptation or secondary exaptation that helps these flowers attract pollenating insects and that our enjoyment of them too was secondary until breeders began laying their genetic path. Each of these above facts makes them more not less beautiful although the awe response moves from amygdala to neocortex.

Whit is doubled over in laughter at a sign in the sensory garden that says “LOOK” with Braille beneath it.

From 2012-08-14 New York Botanical Garden and Museum of Modern Art

We next went to the Museum of Modern Art. I had never been, Rachel had, and Whit was a member. The top floor held an exhibition space on children which was very well done. The most moving piece there was a set of drawings done by kids showing planes in a dog fight. I remember my friends scribbling the same and smiled until I realized the date and time: Spain during the Spanish Civil War. We had imagined our dog fights, they had not.

From 2012-08-14 New York Botanical Garden and Museum of Modern Art

A floor down lied my four favorites of Magritte, De Chirico, Sheeler and Wyeth. The Wyeth was near a bathroom and I wanted my picture taken in front of it. I stood and waited for the crowd to clear but my presence made the crowd persist so I dodge over a piece until they dissipated and I got my shot or more accurately Rachel got my shot. Christina’s World is my poster child for underdetermination. The print looks like a meditation on distance, or feminine rights, or some other thing until one learns that the woman depicted has polio. This picture shows how she got around.

From 2012-08-14 New York Botanical Garden and Museum of Modern Art

The next object I stared at unflinchingly was Charles Sheeler’s an American Landscape. Charles Sheeler is probably the only artist who I like enough and that is unknown enough that I could become a leading scholar on them. His depictions of American industry are both patriotic and haunting. He paints portraits of technology and progress almost entirely devoid of humans or their affects. I first saw A Classical Landscape in a textbook in 10th grade and have loved him since.

The final two pictures were Magritte’s Empire of Lights, II and Dali’s Persistence of Memory. I much prefer the former as an original work and he matter-of-fact depiction of the impossible challenges the viewer to remember the limitations of painting. What is on the canvas is only as real as the paint it is made of and no more.

Persistence of Memory was quite small. I figured it’d be 16″x20″ or so not the 9.5″x13″ of its actuality and getting a shot in front of it was tough as it is comparatively dark. Compare this to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon which is almost 64 square feet.

We saw Starry Starry Night, we saw the masters of Suprematism, and we saw more Monet than I ever again wish to. The next floor down was 1940-1980 and very quickly I lost interest. Conceptual art by and large doesn’t move me as I think the concepts artists reflect upon are small and much better expressed in science and math. A fractal or algorithm shows repetition much better than several not quite identical boxes.

We went to PizzArte for dinner and I threw keto to the wind consuming four slices of very good pizza. Almost immediately insulin stalked my blood stream and I nearly fell asleep at the table. Whit thought I was faking it until I started slumping over and had trouble asking questions.

The ride home was quiet and the day was over before 10. It had been a while since I’ve had one stop so early.

A friend and I met up in New York City to take in the Whitney Biennial, one of the largest and most highly regarded shows of contemporary art in America.  I consider myself a fan of art and eagerly awaited the wall of amazing pieces the Whitney would contain.  What ensued was a two and a half hour odyssey of confusion and farce.

Again, I like art well into the Modern period.  I don’t mind Jackson Pollack and enjoy Mark Rothko and even have a soft spot for Kandinsky but the biennial contents were largely an emetic.  Modern art was allowed to not make sense as it reeled from the horrors of World War II.  Contemporary art has no such excuse as “the world is moving too fast” is a complaint not an observation.  The pace of change at current is understandable and while you can talk about your feeling of alienation don’t expect that to be the norm.  Value systems aren’t suddenly breaking down, they’re being challenged, and some people fall into ennui when there is no clear winner.  I find this scenario exciting and neat and there were no pieces that in any way reflected that sentiment which mildly irked me.  There was a lot of cardboard, a lot of string, a lot of blather on placards but nothing that either spoke to me or reflected what I considered to be the “now”.  The reflective pace of art is somewhat slow compared to essays, photographers, and even architecture as the community collects, defines, and then creates.  I will hopefully go to the biennial in two years and see if the contemporary art community has at all gotten its shit together.  If it hasn’t, then figurative art of this kind may be left behind as social commentary.

[flickr album=72157630035878554 num=10 size=Thumbnail]

Before breakfast, I hit Facebook to check for messages from my next host and was greeted with this:

Geolocation is spectacular

Richard and I had breakfast at Chez Cora’s whose definition of “mountain of fruit” should be “a diminutive hillock of fruit” which topped a bullet-stopping crepe and an acceptable waffle.  The servers here fulfilled the notional requirement of speaking French but the conversation was refreshingly gauche as two servers talked about whether Metalocalypse would end before its time as Squidbillies had.

I left Montreal and learned that my GPS receiver for my laptop had broken in such a way that it only functioned while upside down.  After mastering this oddity, I drove towards Vermont via back routes through farmland until the road magically turned into a border crossing.  Only one lane was open which made the traffic move slowly but the crossing was very straight forward.

Guard: Did you bring anything back from Canada?
Me: A shirt with a beaver on it that says “Dam It”.
Guard: *chuckle* Welcome back.

Being back on crappy American roads with MPH speed limits, free McWifi, and gas prices which didn’t require a second mortgage was again nice.  My target was Waltham, Massachusetts to meet Steve McGrail/Vulture and Anthony Marquette/Scram Chops and the first meeting place I was given was for an address that didn’t exist.  I shot Steve a text message and then a call to find that I should wait at the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts of which there were two sites on the street.  Two hooligans and I readied myself for fisticuffsmanship but they turned out to be the people I was to meet.

We got dinner at a sandwich shop that made “Philadelphia cheese steaks” and did an interesting interpretation of such.  The sandwiches had julienned beef and a generous portion of cheese which covered the mouth but didn’t have the amount of tongue contact on the beef that I think makes an exceptional sandwich.  The texture difference and the change in the feel of descending foodwad was novel and I think could be a presentable alternative to the normal shredding style that marks the normal Philadelphia-style cheese steak.


Steve approved


Anthony approved

Steve is a design student of the Digital Arts center at which Anthony works and I wanted to see his portfolio but we had two hours to kill until the classes cleared out.  Anthony and Steve are both of the opinion that while there are some talented 3D artists, much of the art is brute-force mastery that Anthony thought still had a way to go before creating a photo-realistic depiction of human interaction.  The claim he made, that may be entirely accurate, is that to make a two minute video of two people talking with body-language indistinguishable from normal human movement would take a single person five years.  Again, neat topics and neat people conspired to whittle away the available time and I got to see some of his rendering work that he has on his Facebook page.  During this time, we met up with Anthony’s girlfriend who is an Adobe Lightroom ninja.    I giggled on like a fool as she showed me a pile of tips which after an hour I felt I like I owed her money, she’s a teacher there as well but the idea of a softitute” seems novel.

We moved to a local bar and shared kindergarten jokes until I had to start making my way home.  Just before I left, Steve received the text message I had sent him six hours ago.  These would be the last team members I’d see on my loop and they were fine ones to have as a capstone.

I have a beautiful framed lithograph of Magritte’s Son of Man which has been leaning on the wall from my desk:

Son of Man

Son of Man

A lot of people laugh at it, I’m not sure why.  The best guess I’ve heard so far was that it was a portrait of Steve Jobs.  Anyway, I wanted to mount it but could only find a finishing hammer and a small sledge.  I chose the sledge.
Bad News: The sledge beat out the plaster.
Good News: the evidence is now nicely covered by a beautiful framed lithograph of Magritte’s Son of Man.