Measure of Existence (Apparently, A Tribute)

Two or three weeks ago, I planned to do two things and wound up doing four. Happy to take myself into the city to see art and exhibits and make myself think.

For the past week, I’ve had a stress headache because COVID 19 has taken over the world. It has shut down the city and the suburbs.

So here’s a way to get out of your head if not out of the house. I’m going to remember my experience in a way that might let you live it for yourself. (My creative writers and my lit readers would be very excited that I’m practicing what I preach about second person pov). And away we go.

It’s the first time you’re using the MTA app’s eticket for your train ride into the city. You don’t have any idea if you need to leave it open, leave your phone on, if you can use other apps. You brought your charger in case your phone died on the ride but also you charged it until the minute you left the house even though it was already at 100% and you thought somehow it would suck in some energy reserves. You are in a car with the bathroom because nine times out of ten, you manage to sit in the car with bathroom. You activate your ticket only to realize there’s like a quiz to take to make sure you mean to activate your ticket, and really, this is not the kind of decision you thought you’d have to make, so now–as usual–you’re breaking out into the nervous sweats. Then the conductor comes by and barely says anything to you because your little eticket is flashing pretty colors. You let your phone sleep as you read your book that you started a few weeks ago and haven’t gotten back to because all those papers and meetings. You change trains and your eticket continues to work as you continue to read. You stop sweating. Sweet relief.

You take a walk downtown to find the David Zwirner Gallery. You already missed the doppleganger exhibit, so there was no way you were going to miss the Doug Wheeler one. You walk down and across and down and across and finally get to the street where the gallery is, and there are other people trying to find the same gallery because there are a lot of choices of doors. The sun is out and it is windy and the galleries are by the water so you are a little chilly as you try to choose the door that will get you to the exhibit. It’s kind of like Let’s Make A Deal for the art world.

The couple with the stroller ahead of you have chosen the correct door, which means they win! Which means you win because you get to see the artwork, too! The exhibit on view is a light exhibit. It looks like this.

Zwirner Gallery February 2020 (1)

And maybe that looks interesting but also some may ask, Why did you walk all that way on a windy day to see a framed box of light? Then you realize that this photo does the exhibit no justice. Here’s what it looks like again:

Zwirner Gallery February 2020 (6)

Ahhh, an entire lit up room wall thingie of light! It’s pretty groovy. You walk up to the light to see where it’s coming from. The wall curves under the floor. The light emanates and radiates from all around the wall that seems to be attached but also not attached to anything. You stay for at least twenty minutes, watching people look at the wall.

When you decide you have seen enough of the light wall, you leave the gallery and see a sign for Basquiat. The other side of the sign says Warhol. Go you must. So instead of keeping with the plan to go straight to the museum, you head over to Taglialatella Gallerieson 10th Ave. Your first fun find there is Einstein. He’s got a good message.

Free Art NYC February 2020 (4)

You go inside for the Basquiat, but before you even get to that, you’re floored. They’ve got Keith Haring. They’ve got a bunch of sparkly silkscreens from Russell Young. There are artists with names like Jerkface and Mr. Brainwash. And then you turn the corner and Good God! It’s a Lichtenstein! (That’s for your brother). You do find the Basquiat and the Warhol, and you bask in their artistic genius. (For more about your experiences with Basquiat and Warhol, you can go here ).

Because you’re so close to it, you head up onto the Highline. It’s got free public art! And RuPaul!

You realize that it’s cold up here on the Highline, so you walk quickly. The sun comes out, and you slow down to bask. The sun goes back in, so you pick up the pace. Some young woman runs up behind you, calling out, Hey excuse me! You turn and see she’s holding out a $5 bill. She says, You dropped this. You say, Oh, hey, thanks! She runs off, and you almost skip the rest of the length of the park because there’s still human kindness in this world.

So happy are you that you overshoot your landing and get down off the Highline around 14th when the Rubin is on 19th. Then? You. Get. Lost. You look at street signs, expecting to see numbers and instead you see the word Washington or something. What is this non-numbered sign all about?

You decide to walk away from the water. Two reasons that will help: 1. it’s warmer away from the water. 2. it’ll take you closer to 7th, a cross street. Your spatial ineptness is in full swing, but this decision makes sense a little at least.

A few more turns and double backs, and you finally find The Rubin, your new home away from home. You are so thankful that you’ve found it because you’re super cold now and you have to pee really bad. They have a bathroom! You know that bathroom well because it’s the bathroom you brushed your teeth in when you slept there a few months ago. (Here, “slept” means “had weird half asleep dreams while half asleep writing them down only to find they make no sense and your handwriting looks like the writing you find in a journal kept by a murderer).

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You check in on your old friend, the Bodhisattva.

Rubin February 2920 (13)

Then you venture into the exhibit you’d been itching to see, Measure Your Existence. The main reason you wanted to see it is it has interactive components, and you love to touch things in a museum.

The first piece is a carpet of candy. You get to take a piece of candy. As the pile dwindles, the museum replenishes it. Measure the existence of candy.

You take some candy. You eat a piece of candy. You enjoy the candy. You enjoy the fact that you got to take something from the museum even more than the candy itself.

Then you come upon a wall of letters. Anyone can write a letter to anyone. You can seal the letter and address it. You can seal the letter and not address it. You can leave the letter open for other visitors to read. You read a letter. And then another. A lot of people have a lot of guilt and write a lot of letters apologizing. Some ask for prayers.

Then you see a little booth. You have to take off your shoes to go inside. You can write a letter in there, too, so you do just that. You seal it and address it. The museum will eventually send it.

When you emerge from the letter hut and put on your boots, you notice a woman sitting at the other writing desk, and she’s weeping. You teared up writing your own letter. You assumed a lot of people probably cry when writing. Here is the proof.

Around the corner you watch a snippet of a film about a guy calling different companies and talking to whomever answers as if he’s talking to his mom, and then he realizes his mom is dead. It’s subtitled. It’s a weird concept. You stop watching.

You then watch an animated film and listen to the meditative soundtrack. You’ve got those big headphones on again. You always wear headphones in some capacity when you come here.

Then you decide to shake hands with a bronze hand. You’ve seen it before and have not shaken the hand. Today is the day you shake the hand. It’s not creepy. But actually, yes, it is.

You think about going to see the Impractical Jokers movie but the movie times don’t jive with your train times. You walk back to Penn, taking in more art along the way.

You wind up waiting at Penn for half an hour, which gives you plenty of time to start worrying again about using the MTA app eticket. It also gives you time to read more of your book, and you get halfway through it.

Then about a week later, you get some mail that makes you smile.

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You know that the only true way to measure existence is in gratitude. You thank the universe for everything, every single thing.

Warhol Ukrainian Style

In keeping with the theory that there’s never enough Warhol, I stayed at work late one night to hear a lecture by the author of The Factory. There were slides and a good amount of Warhol history. Then there were YouTube videos of interviews. I kept texting my brother with excitement: Now he’s talking about this! Now he’s talking about that!

Then on a sunny yet rather chilly Saturday, I made my way from Penn to Cooper Square, wandered around looking at the map on my phone and street signs in a rather circular path, and then found 6th Street mostly by accident. There stood The Ukrainian Museum. Inside was Warhol, awaiting our presence.

Once my brother arrived, we headed straight to the second floor where the rather small but really neat exhibit stood. There were some ink and paper drawings, one of which is a collaboration between Warhol and his mom who did calligraphy. There were pieces that copy his soup cans. There was his mom’s prayer book that had a cover make out of a Chivas bottle’s box. The main show were several prints of endangered species that looked pretty psychedelic.

Side Note: We didn’t find this on our own. S’s mom tipped us off. How she knew about this tiny exhibit in this tiny museum is a mystery. I mean, I could ask, but what fun would that be?

We couldn’t take pictures, so I took some pictures, and all the while my brother was like, The guard is right there…the guard is right there….the guard is right there. I’m not a jerk. I’m not sharing the photos. I did take a picture of his signature on the wall which was before the sign that said no pictures, so I’m assuming that’s not copyrighted.

On the first floor was an exhibit of Ukrainian garb. Lots of intricately woven shirts stood in several displays. Interspersed throughout were also skirts and table cloths, and we realized that telling the difference between them was difficult unless we read the labels on the displays. Both kinds of textiles have very pretty intricate patterns.

When we were about to leave the museum, the guy at the front desk told us to take the elevator to the basement because there was one more exhibit. Enter Christina Saj’s Re:Create–the best exhibit around. Each painting uses a steel canvas so that you can add your own magnetic pieces. My brother became a bit focused on finding birds to add to each piece. I added some abstracts to several pieces. Then we found these magnetic sticks and collaborated on a piece together. We could have added letters to make words, but then a group of children came in, which cued our departure.

Ukrainian Museum ReCreate (3)

Portrait: Bird

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I added the flowery things.

Ukrainian Museum ReCreate (7)

Another bird! The light hits this one perfectly.

Ukrainian Museum ReCreate (10)

We added the straight lines.Β 

Now that we were artists, we stopped by one final small gallery on the first floor and headed out. I was fortunate enough to get an impromptu tour of former music venues that my brother pointed out as we looked for a place to eat. (You, too, can soak in this NYC knowledge by booking a tour with my brother who can’t help but give tours whenever we’re walking around NYC. Greenwich Village, East Village, Brooklyn Bridge, he’s got the skillz: http://newyorkbroadwaytours.com/private-nyc-walking-tours/).

We found a BBQ place that I tried to reserve on OpenTable to get points, but this location didn’t offer points. (BTW: If you’re on OpenTable, make sure you toggle on. There was an app update that made earning points a choice–why else use the app other than to get points? Whatever. Toggle on, people.)

When we went inside, we saw it was an order-at-the-counter place, which is why I couldn’t reserve. What I lost in points, I was made whole by the decadence of sweet potato casserole. We feasted. Thank you, Mighty Quinn’s, you do good BBQ.

Mighty Quinn BBQ (4)

After following my brother to get to a subway (he’s a tour guide! he knows how to get to the subway!), we took a train back to Penn where I left him to get home. I found a train waiting for me–this keeps happening, perfect timing!, no jinxing–so I settled in. Then I saw this little guy hanging out on the ride home.

Train Fun