The United Nations Headquarters
UN Security Council chambers
UN General Assembly
Dali exhibit at MoMA
Claude Monet “Reflections of Clouds on Water-Lily Pond” triptych, circa 1920
Andy Warhol’s soup cans
Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon”
The thrilling architecture of the MoMA
Our final two days in New York City were most pleasant. By this time we’d learned the subways, we’d established north from south and east from west. Only once did I convincingly stray us in the opposite direction during the trip. And yes, I did get flack for it. How married we indeed are sometimes…
Friday morning, we visited the United Nations Headquarters. I focused on international relations in my political science degree in university, so the UN is right up my alley, and I was looking forward to drudging up some of the old terminology and putting reality to some of the spaces I’d only read about and seen on TV previously. The United Nations Headquarters is ‘international territory’ therefore not part of the USA, technically, and features an expansive garden, several sculptures – gifts from member countries, and enormously obvious yet un-oppressive security. We had bags checked no less than three times on the way into the building, plus metal detectors. The guided tour into restricted areas costs $13.00 for adults and takes about an hour. We visited the chambers that house the largely symbolic and ever-so-frustrating Security Council, as well as the economic council chambers, where some tens of billions of dollars are allocated to United Nations NGOs such as UNICEF and UNAIDS each year, and also the General Assembly complex.
Designed back in the ’40s and ’50s by architects including Le Corbusier, among several others, the UN shows in vivid, corduroy and leatherette reds and greens that it hasn’t been renovated since. Apparently there is a $1 billion renovation/overhaul planned for this year, with expected completion in 2012.
Our guide was Albanian, and while very handy with the English language, the tour was quite fluffy and she was happy to whisk us through as fast as possible. I grinded out some details, however, asking current events and geeky questions, frankly because I wanted to know what the Communications department had been mandating their guides to say. In case anyone is wondering, evidently, the Security Council is not intending to meet regarding Zimbabwe because member states (and Zimbabwe is one) cannot have unprovoked action taken against them. Ah, politics…
From the UN, we made our way to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art). A truly beautiful building, MoMA is some six stories tall, and elegantly designed with open-to-the-interior bridges, skywalks, glass railings and windows, and many other disasters that cause knees to tremble for those with a fear of heights (such as myself). The feature exhibition was on Salvador Dali, and this was one of my favorite exhibitions that we saw all week. I never really understood that Dali was such a nut job. He was intriguing and yet creepy – morbidly so – to the extent that if he were alive today, I guarantee he’d be giving the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Frank Miller a run for their money. The fact that he was so recklessly eccentric, psychologically violent and visually talented, back in the 30s and 40s no less, toyed with convention and I’m sure everyone’s patience. He created set pieces for Hitchcock movies, wrote his own screenplays (some of which were shot but were banned from public viewing for decades) and painted truly bizarre artworks that gleefully capture your imagination in some very sinister ways. Regardless, his was a talented hand, and an unequivocally brilliant eye. Dali’s attention to detail is dramatic. My favorite piece in this exhibition was likely the Dali money shot painting everyone is familiar with, Persistence of Memory. Small, but incredibly detailed and some very interesting tributes and symbols, such as the undoubted Catalonian mountains in the background, the fleshy mound that looks like a profile of the artist himself underneath one of the melting clocks, and the ants on top of the pocket watch which are common amongst his works.
The remainder of the building was divided into modern painting and sculpture, architecture (Ikea furniture, Band Aid, Slinky, etc), photography and contemporary (aka bizarre) art. My favorites were some of the world’s greatest paintings, such as Warhol’s soup cans, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and a few dozen Cezannes, Matisses and Van Goghs. Oh, and the 20-foot-long Monet triptych that was painted in 1920 when the artist was going blind. If I had to pick one, well, the Monet is very impressive indeed, but Picasso’s Demoiselles is a truly masterful piece in its sheer beauty, and also in understanding the impact this painting had in its time. Can I have both?
On our final, abbreviated day, we thought we’d head into Central Park for a relaxing time before heading to the airport for our evening flight. However, we discovered taht there was a free Bon Jovi concert that evening, and they were rerouting the subways and streets to accommodate between 70,000 and 150,000 patrons. This clearly changed our minds. So instead, we headed to a late breakfast with our host and her friend in Tribeca, and then meandered our way up through Chelsea’s art galleries before returning to the apartment to make our car for the harrowing trip to the airport. Chelsea is a laid back, mostly commercial warehouse-type neighborhood, full of small gallery spaces. Truthfully, none of the galleries blew us away, and our ever-developing leg and back pains sped up our departure. The flight home was uneventful.
New York is a classy, unfiltered city that I think everyone needs to spend a few days in, just to see how life, in its most stripped down form, is lived. The streets are dirty, the people unapologetic, and residents’ dogs pee in the middle of the sidewalks. But on the other hand, if you want some of the best art, food, fashion, and unadulterated culture in the world, this is your place. Heck, if you want an orange or a bottle of wine or just need to get your hair cut at an Aveda salon at 11pm, you can have it in New York. Right up the street, actually.
I have a feeling we’ll be back. New York has guts and a soul, and part of me (and I suspect everyone) departed for home with a little bit of both stuck to my shoe, and a longing for more.