When I was 22, I was introduced to Grapefruit by Yoko Ono for the first time. The book had been deconstructed into individual pieces as part of an art installation, which consisted of the artist serving us tea and pages from the book in the form of koans.
Last night, I saw one of the Grapefruit pieces on display in the Brooklyn Museum at a wonderful exhibition–consisting largely of ephemera, books, and other textual items–that focused on Lucy Lippard’s Six Years project. The memory of that moment (nearly a decade old) came rushing back. The person who took me to that first show is dead now–or, rather, she is leaping in the air somewhere, Yves Klein-like, in a place beyond our sight–but I remembered not to forget her, or these small ways that we can change.
This facade is a milestone on my walk home and the cranes like familiar creatures at this point. I’ve seen this tableau against stormy skies, in the rain, in sun even brighter than below.
I like that trees, weeds, and other forms of life are continually battling against this wall, breaking through the idyllic scene of a bulldozed field in some distant pine forest.
A green heron was spotted in the water not too far from here, and a spotted sandpiper up in Newtown Creek, too. But for now, these mechanical structures are the only bird-like things that stay in place.
I found fences made from wire and wood.
Stairs made out of stone.
“We must become preoccupied with and even dazzled by the space and object of our everyday life, either our bodies, clothes, rooms, or, if need be, the vastness of Forty-second Street.” (Allan Kaprow, The Legacy of Jackson Pollack)
On the first day of my thirties, I found a world full of bridges and signs, some familiar and some new to me. Embarking on a long walk with other like-minded people, I crossed from Brooklyn into Queens, and then from Queens into the curious no-man’s land of Ward’s Island. Finally, we walked into the Bronx, where the streets were truly unknown to me, and then to the end of the trip. A ride on the 6 (memories of Pelham Bay!) returned me to Manhattan .
Curious sights abounded along the long walk. For example, did you know that there is a salt marsh reviving in the middle of the East River beside a stunningly blue stadium that faces a concrete field and then the far skyline? While pondering a newly-constructed birds’ nest (knit with shreds of plastic) in an incongruous reed beside a shallow stream of water, I thought about how very spacious and strange New York can be if only you know where to look.
The Kaprow quote above was almost literally the first thing to strike me in this new decade, and was certainly the first bit of text that I underlined and filed away for further contemplation. And, of course, heeding this morning’s readings, I made sure to disembark at Grand Central to see just how vast Forty-Second Street could be on a blustery March day. I walked past the NYPL Main Branch and through Bryant Park, which is currently being reinvented for spring by bulldozers.
And finally, returning home after my long day, I was dazzled by the view from the Pulaski Bridge, and I watched the light on the water for a while.
I found a really wonderful series of murals on the fence that lined a playground at a public school in Sunset Park. The murals were all painted by the school’s students, and they describe the narrative of the immigrant experience. The central motifs were colorful and bold, but behind the central figures was a gray desert landscape, populated by bluebirds flying north.
I lived once near a park that featured steps and walkways and waterways and grand balustrades made from a early form of concrete that was filled with glossy pebbles. Built near the turn of the nineteenth century, the philanthropic figures behind the park’s creation were aesthetes of the highest order, and, to them, concrete represented a new, formidable, and beautiful artistic form. I’m with Edith Wharton on this issue of brownstone–to my eyes, it is a suffocating and dull medium. But concrete captures my gaze, and my heart, sometimes, and I think, who will write its elegy now that modernism is dead?
I spent the weekend wandering around with friends, but I kept thinking about these ruins. They intruded into my reveries, and all the parched greenness. Silent and thoughtful things.