Live from New York

30 11 2007

It’s great to be back in New York and I see that the stagehand strike has ended, so Broadway is back in business. We went to a small French restaurant for dinner and the staff was almost giddy with relief that the theater crowd will be back to keep the place going.

I’m exhausted from having walked all over Manhattan today, after rolling out of bed at 4:15 am, but I have a few observations:

1. I see that parking lots in the city are using a sort of “car lift”. In effect, one car is parked on the lift, which is raised to allow a second car to be parked below. Lots of money and technology going into car storage.

2. Observed at 56th & 6th: a cigar bar filled with guys doing what they do at a cigar bar. But unlike a regular bar where friends might be facing each other across the tables, they were all turned, cigars alight, facing the street. Just like sunflowers turned to face the sun. Wish I had brought my camera.

3. Did Frans Hals ever paint women? He had a real thing for militia men, but based on my observations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the closest he came to women was a young boy dressed up as a whore. Hmmm.

4. Coming Soon: An exhibit of clocks and watches at the Metropolitan Museum. It doesn’t open until December 18, but the contemporary interest in tracking the passage of time via clocks and watches is fascinating to me. What a shame that I’ll miss this. I don’t think people were all that interested in watching the clock until they had to work their life around a train schedule, which is a pretty recent development.

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30 11 2007
Foghorn

Frans Hals did indeed paint women. There is one, I believe, at the Frick – a wealthy woman, dressed in the customary 17th c ruffled collar and other finery, who displays the usual force and gravity that his wealthy patrons expected him to express.

The Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem contains several group portraits of rather severe-looking women who were trustees of the local orphanages and almshouses. Again, they are portrayed as serious, dour, responsible and determined.

Then there is the great and haunting Malle Baba, now in the Gemaelde Gallery (a museum) in Berlin, who is a drunken woman holding a beer tankard and on whose shouder sits and owl (recalling the dutch proverb about “crazy as an owl”). There is a very poor copy of this in the current Met show (and it is attributed to a “follower of Hals” or something like that) which does not convey Hals’ expressive power – too bad, since the original is so amusing yet so deeply sad: it’s the barfly who has aged and is, evidently, not only a mess but is probably mentally disturbed.

The individual portraits of women do not generally convey the joie de vivre that his portraits of men demonstrate: often the men’s faces have a ruddy redness, they are smiling at least subtly, and they evidence an element of self-satisfaction and certainly self-knowledge, while the women’s portraits don’t seem to allow this.

On the other hand, the portrait of a woman that seems like something Hals might have painted – the subject is smiling, seemingly witty and intelligent, lively and alert, is in fact Judith Leyster’s self portrait, and I believe that it is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Perhaps Hals is best known for his militia paintings, the best of which are in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem (which is located in a former alms house, the trustees of which he painted and their group portrait is there). These portraits do indeed convey Hals’ appreciation for subtitlies of rank, social standing, power, self-regard and self-expression . . . as well as the lively and indeed even raucous times guys had at militia banquets and other well-lubricated conclaves. Haarlem was, after all, a brewing town, and the militia paintings indicate that the militia’s officers were good customers. They were also chosen by the militia members themselves, and one can easily imagine that militia meetings were then what bowling night, poker night, cigar night, hockey night, softball night and so forth are today.

Anyway, yes, the Met’s show is very uneven, disappointing in its loo-large volume of not-very distinguished works among the very distinguished ones, and it makes one reconsider the notion of museum deaccession: maybe it would be ok to sell some of the lesser works that add volume and breadth to the collection but which add little interest. That’s for the trustees to sort out.

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