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View from the Moma, photo by Jessica Libor

View from the Moma, photo by Jessica Libor

This weekend I spent an entertaining, delightful and educational weekend in New York City. The entertaining part was from spending Halloween there with some friends, and getting to see first hand all the revelry the city had to offer. What struck me most was how almost every person we saw was dressed up in some interesting costume, had painted their face in an artistic way, or was at least wearing an eye catching hat. My favorite costume was two people dressed in white, who had a cloud-like hat on their heads, glowing with blueish white lights. From the cloud-like hat ribbons of white streamed down, also lit up at intervals with the sparkling blue-white lights. At first I was confused. Were they clouds? Angels? Ghosts? But as the pair moved down the sidewalk and the ribbons gently swayed backwards, I got it. They were jellyfish.

While in town, I stopped into the Modern Museum of Art to see what was there. Going through the galleries, I stopped at what was interesting to me. I don’t know about you, but when I go to a museum, I feel guilty if I don’ t stop, look at, and read everything. But under time constraints, I let go of that guilt and just stopped at the pieces that struck me. I tried to disassociate myself from being an artist and trying to learn something–to be a person just enjoying the art.

Looking at Jacob's Ladder.  Photo courtesy of John Warner.

Looking at Jacob’s Ladder. Photo courtesy of John Warner.

I liked Jacob’s Ladder by Helen Frankenthaler, an American artist who lived from 1928 to 2011. The label said, “Although it shares a name with the Biblical tale of Jacob’s dream ascent toward heaven, and with an ancient Egyptian toy, Frankenthaler insisted this work had no preplanned illustrational intention: “The picture developed (bit by bit while I was working on it) into shapes symbolic of an exuberant figure and ladder: therefore “Jacob’s Ladder.” Working in New York in the 1950s, Frankenthaler painted large-scale unprimed canvases on the floor to explore new ways of handling distinctively thind paint. The artist said she borrowed from Jackson Pollock her “concern with line, fluid line, calligraphy, and…experiments with line not as line but as shape.”

My favorite piece was a huge installation/sculpture by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang called “Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows. It was made in 1998 and had to be over 20 feet long, and was suspended from the ceiling high above you. It immediately had a magical, transportative effect on me when I saw it–the whimsical nature of a flying boat, and the feathery aspect of all the flocked arrows stuck into it, immediately had a “wow!” effect and also made me curious what it was all about.

The wow factor.  Photo by Jessica Libor.

The wow factor. Photo by Jessica Libor.

The story behind the piece made me even more fascinated. The label said, “The work of Cai Guo-Qiang often merges cultural and political concerns of both the East and West. This fishing boat, excavated from his hometown of Quanzhou and flying the Chinese flag, is pierced with thousands of arrows. The title refers to a legendary episode from the third century in which a resourceful Chinese general had to replenish a depleted store of arrows. According to the tale, the general tricked the enemy by saying across the Yangtze river through the thick mist of early dawn with a surrogate army made of straw, while his soldiers remained behind yelling and beating on drums. Mistaking the pandemonium for a surprise attack, the opponents showered the decoys with volleys of arrows, which the general then appropriated, returning triumphantly with a freshly captured store of weapons. This work suggests the enduring importance of cunning and strategy, not only in the distant past, but also in the present, as geopolitical power dynamics seem to be in constant flux.”

The piece, even though it was about war, politics and cunning, was still magical and beautiful. It reminds me of a quote I read recently by Lera Auerbach in her book Excess of Being, “An artist should never avert his gaze. Look at it. However awful it may be, it’s life, real life in all its majestic and gory glory. What do you see? What do you see? Now, give it form.”

Another view.  Photo by Jessica Libor.

Another view. Photo by Jessica Libor.

I came back refreshed and excited to work on my own art again, with lots of new ideas. That’s what travel is all about, I think–getting outside the normal routine of your life and seeing new things, people, and places, so when you return you see your own home and life with fresh eyes and appreciation.

Waterfall park...photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mier.

Waterfall park…photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mier.