My mother warned my sister and I of the danger to our physical well being if we came back to New Zealand having not gone to see New York’s premium art institution, The Museum of Modern Art. Like dutiful children, we paid the entry fee and filed in through the gates, with high expectations of the visual treats in store for us both.
As we rode the escalator up to the first floor, we came across the first exhibition, an installation by a Scandinavian artist, challenging the way in which we look at the world. An entire corridor was bathed in harsh yellow light. After a moment, our eyes adjusted to the glare and we realised that everything and everyone around us had become black and white. Our clothes, skin, the walls, the floor, all a varying shade of grey.
Moving throughout the different rooms I encountered Cubism with Picasso, pop art by Roy and Andy, including 50 different soup cans prints – they even had old fashioned chicken gumbo, exquisite paintings by Matisse, my favourite was the portrait of his son practising piano, then into a space that made my heart stop. Before my eyes was a 10 metre wide triptych of the Water Lilies by Monet. I sat on the black leather couch provided for such purposes and gazed upon this feat of artistic mastery with blissful abandon, listening to a curator tell the story of the full mooned night when Monet walked a group of friends and supporters into his studio where the exquisite paintings were lying on the floor. One by one each friend paid their respects to him, not unlike one would do when meeting a monarch – such was the reverence with which he was held.
I don’t know how long I spent looking at the Monet but finally I moved on in search of my number one favourite – Van Gogh. A few years ago while in Rome I remember walking through the many rooms leading into the Sistine Chapel and happening upon a small flight of stairs going up to an unoccupied side room which held among other, lesser works, a heart wrenching Pieta by Van Gogh. Sometimes the best things are those off the beaten track. So, my head set on beholding the object of my desire, I pinned my ears back and walked swiftly in the direction of the room housing his work, glancing at the numerous paintings adorning the walls along the way, and OOMPH! I ran straight into a 70 year old woman, almost knocking her down. After numerous apologies – a thousand times I am sorry – she just looked angry, her husband even angrier, and I decided my best course of action was to continue, at a speed a septuagenarian couldn’t keep up with, this time taking more care to watch where I was going. I reached the room and smiled as I recognised Starry Starry Nights. The colours, the brushstrokes, the emotion!
So Mum, rest assured. I went, I saw, I conquered…if conquering is the right word for almost breaking an elderly woman’s hip?