Somehow it happened that in all my years of living in Brooklyn, I'd never been to the Upper East Side. But when I heard that there was a place called "The Metropolitan Museum of Art," I decided it was as good an occasion to venture beyond Houston as any. I loved art. Art was one of my favorite things! I'd loved art ever since I saw a Takeshi Murata video piece on Vimeo, and this noise show at Goodbye Blue Monday last year only made me more excited to visit an entire non-warehouse building full of "art." Little did I know the horrors that awaited me.
So on Thursday night I boarded the L train (heading away from Morgan Ave.) and made my way to socialite-town. But apparently this museum closes at night?! So the following afternoon, after brunch, I tried again.
I'd heard from some kids I knew who went to Bard that the Upper East Side is a charming neighborhood inhabited by ancient, well-appointed relics of a glamorous bygone era, or like a Woody Allen movie maybe, with jazz and tiny dogs. And a park almost twice the size of McCarren Pool. But I'm what you might call a bona fide Brooklynite, in that after I graduated from Hampshire I moved into the McKibben lofts, after the first time but before the second time New York Magazine mentioned them. I've been to Park Slope—how exotic could the Upper East Side really be?
Perhaps my kiffiyeh and bespoke Air Force Ones weren't the best choice for the day, but I overcame the fact that I was a total Park Avenue misfit and hoped my foreigner status wouldn't be glaringly obvious to the natives. (It was.) After narrowly escaping death by dog-walker on the 86th Street subway platform, I made my way to a castle in what felt to me like Connecticut. (It wasn't.) Dozens of signs directed me toward a grand hall that reminded me of nothing so much as that new Trader Joe's on Atlantic Ave, where campus security promptly pawed through my messenger bag and asked to take my BAPE hoodie.
I'd planned on paying, perhaps, an optional five-dollar cover that entitled me to a Bud tall boy or two, since I hadn't brought my usual 40 of OE, but instead I was told the suggested donation was $20—twenty dollars!—and they didn't so much as explain if it went toward the band's gas money to get back to Baltimore or whatever. Fuck Bud, they better have some fucking vodka, I thought, as I handed over the "emergency" AmEx my dad pays for.
I went upstairs and waited for something to happen. I began wandering through labyrinthine rooms looking for the art, but I couldn't find a single found-object installation. Not one collage applied directly to an exposed brick wall, nothing incorporating a cavernous former industrial space, nothing even vaguely graffiti-inspired. It took me an hour to realize that the "art" was the Holiday Inn paintings and Pier 1 sculptures everyone was staring at.
Most of the "art" was on the walls. Not projected on the walls, no, but actually just hanging there, static. Hardly anything looked as if it'd be awesome to stare at while shrooming. None of the artists were even there, as far as I could tell! Without forcing the audience to become an active and integral part of the installation, how would these jokers ever shock me out of the waking dreamstate of late capitalism? With a fucking painting of Jesus that didn't even look like it was made by a schizophrenic homeless dude? No one even touched me! I was flustered beyond belief, but the setting was so impersonal that there was no escaping without seeming totally intolerant and disrespectful.
Jacob van Ruisdael was a Dutch landscape painter, meaning that he drew a bunch of pictures of trees. "Wheat Fields," as the little card warned, is a "monumental" and "ambitious" 1670 oil painting of some wheat fields with a "centralized recession into space." I guess I should've taken it seriously. The painting was more than a yard long, and it made me feel small, and sad. The clouds were kind of scary. It made me want to listen to music that sounded like Arthur Russell programming a Gameboy while watching a light show instead. This was just a big empty landscape of some grains and trees and clouds!
I'm not passing judgment. Really, I'm not. But I couldn't shake the creepy feelings inspired by the massive landscape. It was almost as if I was being encouraged to contemplate an awesome spectacle over which neither I nor any of my socioeconomic peers had any authority or authorship. It seemed absurd that this crazy notion of my own grand unimportance could possibly be sparked by a drawing of some lame trees and grain. Crazy, right?
I have no doubt "Wheat Fields" will appeal to a certain subset of museum-goers, many of whom no doubt will find it illuminating and inspiring. But for the more alt audience member like me: don't be fooled by naked pregnant lady performance pieces or awesome stencils: art is a more unsettling and much more boring experience. (Did I mention that there was no beer?)
I left the giant castle slightly shaken up and eager to get back to The Wreck Room. After this experience, I'm fairly certain that's exactly where I belong.
(image of Jacob van Ruisdael's "Wheat Fields")