Some of the RMIT Art students in front of one of Dan Flavin’s light artworks at Dia Beacon.
by Deborah Sippitts
Halfway through the RMIT School of Art Study Tour there is a free weekend to check out more art, sightsee and explore … so much art, so much to see, not enough time!
On the Saturday I walked the length of 5th Avenue taking in famous landmarks along the way – the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, the infamous Trump Tower with its full-on security and permanent protest on the pavement opposite, New York Public Library – where the original Pooh Bear lives, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the famous Christmas windows at Bergdorf’s and afternoon tea at the café there, Tiffany’s including a light dusting of magical real snow, light leopards climbing up the newly refurbished Cartier store, and a bit more of Central Park in the dark.
On Sunday, I visited Brooklyn with one of my friends and fellow travellers, Bronwyn, to catch-up with her cousin who lives and works in NY. We were treated to wonderful hospitality and a scrumptious bagel breakfast with scrambled eggs, salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, juice and more.
On Monday we visited the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in midtown Manhattan. Founded in 1929 as an educational institution, MOMA is dedicated to being the foremost museum of modern art in the world.
At MOMA we got to see amazing world famous modern art from Andy Warhol’s Marilyn and Campbell’s soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art, to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and Piet Mondrian’s red, black, blue, yellow and gray squares … as well as art from Jackson Pollock, Bridget Riley, Yves Klein, Lee Bontecou, Max Ernst, Edward Rusha, Claes Oldenburg and many more. Amazing stuff and incredible to see it in situ in person as well.
The famous Ed Sorel Jazz Age mural at The Monkey Bar.
After an art-soaked morning at MOMA, a group of us went to The Monkey Bar at the Hotel Elysee for lunch. With appearances in Sex and the City and Mad Men, the Monkey Bar has a great atmosphere, cool retro décor and a wonderful mural in the main dining room. Renowned illustrator Ed Sorel was commissioned to paint the three-panelled mural paying homage to great Jazz Age figures, who once sailed through the Saloon doors including Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.
One NY hamburger lunch and stylish location ticked off, and it was back to MOMA for more modern art treasures, including an exhibition of artwork and band posters from San Francisco’s summer of love,1967.
Tuesday was a busy day for art – first over to Brooklyn via the subway for our second artist’s studio visit, this one with Nancy Brooks Brody. In her sparse white studio we got to see and find out about a range of artwork that she produces – drawings made from thread; Portraits of Days achieved by using lines, squares and rectangles of block colour; her Glory Holes in varying shades of black, white and grey; and her movable contrasting Color Forms.
One of Nancy Brooks Brody’s Glory Holes at her Brooklyn studio
I found the way Brooks Brody approached and talked about art – in a very logical and even mathematical way – really intriguing. I loved the minimal aesthetic, clean lines and limited colour palette.
After the studio visit we hung out at a café in Brooklyn for a while, then headed to The Guggenheim Museum for an exhibition by Agnes Martin.
Born in Canada in 1912, Martin was an American abstract painter. Her work was often referred to as minimalist, but she considered herself an abstract expressionist. We saw a retrospective of her works from the 1950s to 2004.
Viewing the Agnes Martin retrospective at The Guggenheim.
Again I loved Martin’s artwork – from a painting called Friendship from 1963 – which featured gold leaf and gesso on canvas, to one of her subdued stripe paintings such as Untitled 2004, acrylic and graphite on canvas. I loved the variety of simplicity in her art … as we walked to the top of the iconic Guggenheim building and then spiralled down its circular walkway taking in the exhibition.
A stunning and beautiful building, The Guggenheim is not necessarily the most perfect venue to display all types of art. But the Agnes Martin exhibition worked well in the circular gallery setting, with its minimal yet different, beautiful and at times mesmerising paintings.
On Wednesday we visited the Judd Foundation located right in the middle of SoHo. In 1968, Donald Judd purchased 101 Spring Street, a five storey cast iron building constructed in 1870. It was the first building Judd owned and it served as his New York residence and studio. It is also considered to be the birthplace of “permanent installation” art.
We enjoyed a guided tour of all five floors – with all the works on view remaining as they were installed by Judd prior to his death. Judd spent a great deal of time placing the art and designing the renovation accordingly, consequently the dialogue that has developed between the building and the artworks is still tangible for visitors today.
Each floor featured thought-provoking modern art including work by Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg and John Chamberlain. It was an interesting tour to see where permanent installation art started and how the Judd family lived here surrounded by art in the 1970s … a hallmark of contemporary art and an art time capsule.
Lunch was at Fanelli’s Café, just round the corner from the Judd Foundation. Affordable food in a dark café that opened in 1922 and operated as a speakeasy in the 1920s and 1930s during Prohibition – loved the black and white photos of boxers up on the walls.
On Thursday we were treated to a talk by Judd Tully an Art specialist, critic and journalist. Also based in SoHo, Tully talked about how the New York art scene, galleries, artists and art world work. Art is huge in New York in all forms – as our tour leader Robin Kingston said: “Art really matters in New York, like sport does in Melbourne.”
As Tully explained the ins and outs of how art works in New York, he had a totally different take on how to get noticed, how to succeed, what you have to do and a probably more cynical viewpoint than your average artist … but an interesting and pertinent one nonetheless.
After lunch at Café Gitanes in SoHo – which we visited several times over our stay for its fresh French-themed salads and food, cool atmosphere and friendly staff – we made our way to the New Museum for Contemporary Art for a survey of the work of Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist.
A still image from one of Pipilotti Rist’s video projections, part of the Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest retrospective.
Born in 1962, Elisabeth Charlotte “Pipilotti” Rist is a visual artist who works with video, film, and moving images – which are often displayed as projections. Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest was truly an amazing and mind blowing exhibition … from laying back on beds to view a projection of underwater photography sloshing on the ceiling … to more videos of lights and hanging lights in a light-filled room that constantly changed colour … I was captivated. I ended up watching the video projection from the bed three times as it was soothing, meditative and soulful to watch.
And suddenly, just like that, we reached the final day of our School of Art Study Tour of New York … our day trip to Dia Beacon.
Occupying a former Nabisco box printing factory on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon in Upstate New York, Dia Beacon presents a collection of art from the 1960s to now. The 1929 building was adapted to create a 21st century museum, an appealing site for contemporary art with more than 34,000 square feet of skylights. The skylights provide wonderful natural light and establish Dia Beacon as a “daylight museum” – a truly amazing space for huge works of art.
But first, we had to get there … meeting at Grand Central Station at 8.15am was an order from our extremely well organised and knowledgeable tour leader, getting on the train to Beacon and watching the Hudson River glide by was fun, and the walk to the museum on a cold bright morning was pleasant … but it didn’t prepare me for what was ahead … Dia Beacon blew me away.
From Michael Heizer’s deep, unfathomable and sometimes sad impressions, to Robert Smithwood’s jagged glass sculpture of the lost city of Atlantis; from Dan Flavin’s stunning light installations, to Richard Serra’s huge rusty iron sculptures; from Louise Lawler’s audio recording of bird calls to more of Agnes Martin’s subdued, haunting paintings … Dia Beacon did not disappoint.
At one time during the day, I sat in a spacious white room surrounded by the grey glass reflective panels of Gerhard Richter and thought about how astonishing Dia Beacon was and how lucky I was to be part of this remarkable study tour.
I headed back to the reception and café for lunch … then suddenly pandemonium broke out. Someone had spotted the actor Chris Noth, aka Mr Big from Sex and the City, and there was a wild goose chase by the art students to find him. I didn’t see Mr Big … a shame … but I did see some astonishing art in an amazing space.
After Dia Beacon in the fading afternoon light, we walked in the cold winter air for 20 minutes to downtown Beacon to visit artist Melissa McGill in her studio.
McGill does amazing work in the local landscape around Beacon – her latest work, Constellation, was three years in the making. A large-scale public art project 50 miles north of New York, Constellation also takes into account beliefs of the indigenous/Native Americans of the area, of Opi Temakan, the “White Road” or “Milky Way” connecting our world with the next. Every evening as the sun goes down, starry points of light emerge one by one with the stars of the night sky around a castle ruin on an abandoned island.
Hearing McGill talk about her work, watching multi-media about Constellation and seeing other projects and artwork in her studio was a real treat at the end of Week 2 of the tour.
The very cold walk back to Beacon station to wait for our train to NYC was bracing and a bit sad too. An 80 minute train ride brought us back to Grand Central Station, where a large group of us had dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar … oysters and seafood from California and Washington State to Maine, Nova Scotia and Long Island … absolute yum to finish up the last day of the study tour.
Grand Central Station, New York – trains and oyster bar!
group of us met up again on Saturday morning for breakfast at the famous
Balthazar restaurant in SoHo … another classic New York experience. After that
a bit more shopping – Century 21, Nordstrom Rack, MOMA SoHo outlet, Chelsea
Markets; lots more sightseeing – Staten Island Ferry, Statue of Liberty, 5th
Avenue (again), the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism retrospective; and trying to
fit far too much in to the last weekend … we finally boarded the plane back to
Melbourne on Monday.
I didn’t want the art, the study tour, or New York to end. I loved every minute of the trip, the art, the tour, the cocktails, the food, the endless walking and pounding the pavements, the iconic buildings and more. I can’t wait to get back for more of the same … bring on NY trip 2.0!
P.S. All the gallery shops were excellent for books on art, books on everything, as well as small gifts, unique and quirky souvenirs. The MOMA outlet shop in SoHo is particularly good for cool ideas for gifts and stuff to use on your trip.
*Oral history interview with Agnes Martin, 1989 May 15. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The School of Art Study Tour 2016 took place in November/December 2016, this blog post is about Week 2 of the tour.
Photos by Deborah Sippitts
Photos by Deborah Sippitts