A family friend gifted my little fam tickets to see the Van Gogh Exhibit. The tickets were for a Saturday morning. My mom hadn’t been in the city since the end of 2019, which is super weird because she’s a city girl. Here was the perfect opportunity to jump back in.
With luggage for one night, we headed in by train. My instincts to make sure she enjoyed herself consisted of my scolding my mom to not suddenly stop in the middle where people were walking and to not walk near gates that could make her fall over. I’m a bag of fun. She didn’t mind, however, because she did not fall and did not get crushed by the crowd due to my instructions.
The hotel was fine in the way that pandemic hotels are fine. They had no amenities, but the bellhop gave us water when we entered. He was the only person I liked at the hotel. He got a tip. Everyone else pretty much was not up to usual hotel-friendliness. When we got to the room, my mom decided to take a break for a while, and I decided to go outside for a while.
I had no plan. I was in the middle of the city and didn’t know what to do. As we all know, public art is my jam, so I headed over to City Hall Park. There was public art! I made my way around and through the park, taking in the public art, giddy and gleeful to be looking at the art that was public. See? I am a bag of fun!
The Brooklyn Bridge kept showing up at every turn, so I was like, Hmm, maybe I’ll check out that bridge. First, I got a tea from Starbucks because I was thirsty and had nothing to drink because I’d had no plan. Starbucks was super loud, and I’d ordered with a mask on, and I wound up getting the wrong tea. I sipped it anyway because I was thirsty and needed to be hydrated for this walk I was now taking across the bridge. Yes, that’s right, I got to the bridge and kept walking, and now I was in it.
That’s when the overcast day turned to the sunniest day in split second. My wrong flavor hot tea was probably not the greatest way to hydrate, and I had no sunscreen on, and I was holding my elbows out to try to catch a breeze without sweating. People walked by, ran by, whipped by on bikes and other wheeled things. Everyone was alive, and I was once again smiling at everything as if I’d never been outside before.
I thought back to about a decade ago. It may have been 11 years instead of 10. It was the first time I’d walked across the bridge, starting at the Brooklyn side that time. Along The Shore was a Landmark Fellowship for community college instructors to explore Brooklyn—it’s history, architecture, geography, climate, environment, food, literature, and culture. I met wonderful people and learned so much.
Here I was again, crossing Brooklyn Bridge, thinking of the fellowship folks, thinking about my dad, thinking about Whitman. Then I started thinking about how much I was sweating—no shock there—and how some people make dumb decisions like standing on the edge of girder to get a good photo.
After heading back to the hotel and grabbing my mom, we went off to find food. The Oculus was right across the street, so in we went. Then the elevators weren’t working, so she shimmied up and down steps like a pro while I hovered around taking up too much space so that no one could bowl her over. Hangry in the Oculus is not a way to be in the Oculus—we couldn’t find any food (by the way, they list Sugarfina as a place to eat—how about no). We got out of the Oculus with her shimmying up and down steps again (how can elevators be out of service in a place that is all levels?) and found a nice deli that had good food and no stairs.
Fulfilled, we walked to the 9/11 Museum grounds to see a tree that was now roped off and a glade that was also now roped off. At least we could see it from a distance. Then it was time to rest up for our upcoming art adventure.
Then next day was all about Van Gogh. We checked out with the unhappy hotel person at the main desk and asked the very nice bellhop to hold our bags for us. Then we headed down to Vesey, which is right on the water, which is windy. Once again, the morning was overcast, and I’d packed only shorts and a tank top. There I was downtown with the wind whipping around as we waited for my brother to arrive. When he did, he pointed at an inclined park that was a few feet across from where we were standing and told us it was the Irish hunger memorial something or other. This is something only he would know.
Without our asking, the guy at the door said he was going to call an elevator for us. This is good service (Oculus, take note). We walked around the building, got escorted to and up the elevator, and then through half the exhibit to the beginning. We were checked in and we stood there, staring at a wall of flowers and Van Gogh’s very large head. We’d made it!
The first part exhibited a timeline of his life. A short film played. Music played. Some of the artwork was created floor to ceiling—like a large 3D vase that had images of his different flower paintings morphing across it through projection. Some of the artwork was deconstructed in 3D and set up to show layers. All of this is difficult to describe and very worth seeing in person.
We then walked around to find the room of wall to wall, floor to ceiling animations. The minute I walked in was the minute projections of candles whipped across the floor, making my vertigo say hello. Meanwhile, my mom was caning her way across the carpet. We both stopped and started laughing because neither one of us was about to fall in public. The security guard pointed me to some chairs for my mom. I thanked him. She found a bench because the chairs were too low. He came back over, concerned that the bench wasn’t comfy. This is good service (hotel staff, take note). I found a chair. Then my brother wandered in, having already seen some of it. He was like, I was in the other room. I was like, what room. He was like, the drawing room. I was like, Say what now? He was like, the room you draw in. I was like, I don’t know what you’re talking about. He was like, there’s a whole other room where you color. I was like, I’m totally coloring after I watch this.
I’m not sure how long the animation is from beginning to end. It’s mesmerizing. We watched the whole thing, and I know this because it actually ends with the candles that made me dizzy from when we walked in. We waited for the candles to stop before getting together again and following my brother into this other room.
We could color in a completed outline of a painting, color in and finish a partial painting, or create our own picture on a blank page. We each chose a partial or color-in painting. We sat. We colored. We finished and my brother proclaimed, Mine is the best. He was not joking.
Then we took it over to be projected onto the wall where it showed up as framed artwork in a gallery. Then we got sticky stuff and pasted them to a different wall. And now we’re famous artists with work hanging in NYC.
PS I compared experiences with one of my yoga clients. They were drastically different. That’s because there are two different Van Gogh exhibits.
When we came out of the exhibit, I saw more public art!
AND while walking across the bridge, I FOUND MY VALET TICKET!!!