One way to cleanse the esthetic palate (or palette) for a new year delving deeper into a new century is to reflect upon the works of art which have most profoundly influenced our lives.
For most of us this will be a far smaller list than those works we merely like or, for those with deep pockets, wish to buy. These are works we have seen in person rather than in reproduction (and these days it is most difficult to differentiate betwixt the two!). What first springs to mind for me is the large Barbara Hepworth bronze outside the United Nations building on First Avenue, which looks like a large bottle opener. It symbolizes the place of hope I visited as a schoolboy in the 1950s and the place I passed every Saturday as a middle-aged man, in a taxicab, to visit my mother when she was dying in a nursing home.
As a youth I loved the vitrines of jewels, sparingly identified, in the basement of the Museum of Natural History, an era without the oppressive wall texts of today. Those laxly guarded gems disappeared in 1962 when a Florida man named Murph the Surf rappelled down a rope and snatched the Star of India, the world’s most famous jewel.
Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jesus with its two-faced psychology anchored me at the Met (the work is now attributed to Rembrandt’s studio), as Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis, as perfect a sublimation of color to form as exists, warmed at the old, cozier Modern.
The Lincoln Memorial, where I wandered in my cups the night before my first wedding wondering what I was up to, has mixed, but regal, associations, as Turner’s packetboat pulling into Rotterdam at Yale’s Center for British Art makes me smile: I proposed to my second wife there.
Turner was my first love in art and Pollock the second. I carried around a small Pollock monograph and Coltrane’s Meditations album, taking the bus across Central Park to typing school in 1967, when I was 14. Full Fathom Five always grabbed me, as small and jewel-like in reproduction as it is in reality.
Art evokes a sense of place from the past: the crowds of artists on Saturdays in the ‘70s outside 420 West Broadway, the royally appurtenanced back offices at Andre Emmerich on 57th Street, the sofa next to Ron Warren’s desk at Mary Boone’s Chelsea ark. How fortunate we are to have witnessed the parades of creation which trumpeted by there and everywhere. Formerly, the fair came to us, and perhaps, someday, it will again. Happy New Year.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).