Apologies for the lack of updates, friends of the interweb. I had a busy week and only now have the chance to recap my adventures for you.
I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was off from work this past Monday by doing something in Manhattan that I had never done before. I’ve lived in the shadow of the Big Apple all my life, and yet there’s still a lot I haven’t experienced. Particularly embarassing is the fact that virtually every museum, save for the Met and the Natural History museum, are still on my lengthy New York “To Do” list. Always looking for a challenge, I set out for the Guggenheim.
I considered this a challenge because I’m not really an art guy. I have no understanding of specific movements, styles, or artistic concepts, and I’d be hard pressed to put certain painters in their proper time in history. I’m used to going to see the dinosaurs over on Central Park West, so I just assume that if it’s in a museum, it’s ancient. Well, we know what happens when you assume.
Before going to the Guggenheim, I checked their website to make sure they were going to be open on the holiday. They were, but they went to great digital pains to emphasize that, due to ongoing installations, parts of the museum would be closed. Consequently, they were lowering the price of admission. Well, what could be better? It was now going to cost me as much to wander a museum full of priceless art for the whole afternoon the same it would cost me just to get there in the first place. Who doesn’t love a bargain?
There certainly was an awful lot of work going on in the museum. I’m used to museums being quiet, sterile places (barring the migrating herds of rowdy middle schoolers); at the Guggenheim on Monday, sawdust was in the air, circular saws were humming, and ladders were being collapsed and re-opened with little delicacy. I paid for my significantly discounted ticket and was handed a map of the museum. The dude behind the counter then whipped out a Sharpie and circled two rooms on the second and third floors. “Unfortunately, these are the only areas of the museum open today,” he said. The trepidation in his voice told me that he had been on the receiving end of more than one angry tourist tirade today, so I just smiled and said, “No problem.” Besides, I had done my research, unlike those fanny-packed yokels. I was ready to look at some art.
The Guggenheim, it turns out, showcases modern and contemporary art. I wasn’t initially sure where one ended and the other began, but that’s why you should always read what’s on the wall nearest to the entrance of every room of a museum. One room was full of paintings by Kandinsky and his pals from the Expressionist movement. Curious name, since all paintings seem to me to be fairly expressive, but I found myself enjoying them, particularly Kandinsky’s work. Big, bright, and generally just nice to look at.
Downstairs was the Thannhauser Collection, which is basically a modern/contemporary art Greatest Hits room. Here’s where you can find the big names: Picasso, Cezanne, and so on. This room was more hit and miss than the Kandinsky room. There were two curious things I observed while passing among the paintings, though.
First, there were bodyguards present. Not for a particular visitor, but for the paintings. Strategically placed throughout the room were stern, humorless-looking individuals wearing suits and earpieces. They never said a word to anyone; even to me when, like the asshole I am, I inched as close to a Degas sculpture as possible without looking like a pervert.
Second, there was a tour going on with a particularly vocal docent. Normally, I’m sure she keeps things fairly quiet, but with the dull roar of construction going on elsewhere, she had to project. She was mid-lecture in front of a Manet when she says to her group, “Excuse me for a moment,” and runs out of the room as fast as her skirt will allow. She was gone for a good five minutes, and then calmly returned, picking up exactly where she left off. Was there an art emergency somewhere else in the building? Had she gotten the high sign from one of the sentinals in the room? Did she have cheap Mexican food for dinner the night before? The world may never know.
In just over an hour I had seen everything that the Guggenheim currently had to offer. I had planned a whole day around this, so as I walked back down 5th Avenue, I brainstormed for other diversions. Rather divinely, I found myself standing at the entrance to the Central Park Zoo after a dozen blocks. What luck! Something else I’d never done before.
For just a few bucks more than Discount Day at the Guggenheim, I got into the tiny but well-stocked Central Park Zoo. I first visited the Rainforest Room (the exhibit, not the failed theme restaurant). Instantly, I was in love. It had to have been about 78 degrees in the zoo’s rain faux-rest, all humid and wet. I planned on spending hours in there, until I noticed something unusual. The exhibit, filled with tropical birds, had no barriers other than waist high bamboo railings. The marvelous aves of the Rainforest Room were free to flit about as they pleased.
Now, I like animals, but this was a little unsettling. First of all, these are wild animals. Kind of. My point is, they aren’t canaries or cockatoos. They’re not pets. Secondly, they aren’t all that small. I’ve seen dogs smaller than some of these birds. I wasn’t measuring wingspans or anything, but some of these creatures could probably put up a fight if they wanted to. Third and finally, our feathered friends at the Central Park Zoo don’t have great depth perception. Twice I was almost the victim of my own personal bird strike.
Trying to get out of what seemed to be the most popular flight pattern, and avoiding one particularly pugnacious pigeon purposely planted in my path (woah alliteration!), I ducked into an enclosed part of the rainforest exhibit only to find myself face to face with a horde of bats. Thankfully, there was glass between us. Not enjoying the sight of these winged hairballs spinning in tornado-like formation, I ran for the door.
The rest of the zoo was much more agreeable. There were harbor seals that may or may not have been animatronic (they swam in the same circle ceaselessly–and again with the alliteration!). There was a camera-shy red panda. There were penguins who, even behind glass, were very smelly. My favorite, though, were the polar bears, mostly because the Central Park Zoo’s exhibit allows you to get pretty darn close to them. And they are big. Really big. Boring after about fifteen minutes, but big. They weren’t the pure white color you see on the Discovery Channel. Maybe they needed a bath. Who’s job is that? Talk about a challenge.
A sea lion feeding was scheduled for 2:00, but I didn’t feel like waiting an hour, so I headed home. It was a fun day. I practically got into a museum for free, I learned a teeny bit about art, and I was attacked by birds. It certainly beat being at the office.