New York City: Days 3-4

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Oh look – an actual photo of me on this blog!

Of the three most famed museums New York has to offer, the MoMA is currently my obvious favourite. The Met was a mess. It began assuredly enough; the Hellenic halls flowed chronologically from the fifth millennium BC to AD 3, revealing an intriguing progression of techniques and themes. Sure, even there, some sculptures were dubious – a surprising number were mere replicas or ‘reconstructed’ from a single limb. Not sure how they deduced that an isolated torso belonged to a centaur. Not sure how accurate the head, arms and equine body they added are either. Within each room, there was also little rhyme or reason to how they arranged the artefacts. It was often impossible to judge each item’s relative importance. I suspect the curators simply grouped similar-looking objects to sufficiently fill the space.

But where it really started to break down was when I stepped out of the Greek and Roman wing. And immediately into Oceania. Wait, what? And as if bewildering its visitors is the primary objective of the museum, the artefacts in this hall were not even arranged chronologically. In fact, I doubt they were arranged at all. The next hall was the Modern Art section, which should not have been too hard to organise. Yet the paintings were grouped neither by artist nor by date. Picasso portraits sporadically appeared at the beginning, middle and end. There was a random ‘sculpture’ in one corner. The Met was, quite literally, a labyrinth.

The Egyptian wing was particularly perplexing. Several instalments felt as if they belonged to a history museum instead: the tomb, the room of miniature dioramas, and the incongruous modern map of the Nile. These exhibits were obviously not displayed for their artistic merit, yet the accompanying plaques encouraged only a terribly contrived historical understanding. I would rather spend an afternoon in the Victoria and Albert, thank you very much.

The American Museum of Natural History had some awe-inspiring fossils and life-size models. But as a whole, it was somewhat underwhelming. The building felt much smaller and less impressive than, for example, the British Museum. And it was nothing like the grand hallways I saw recreated in Night at the Museum.

The MoMA, however, knew what’s up. Monet’s Water Lilies triptych was deservedly given a prime display space, taking up three entire walls in a room without any other distractions. The Starry Night and Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31 were likewise given centre stage. Picasso had his own room dedicated to his astonishing stylistic evolution. Everything was purposeful. And as I walked among Frida Kahlo’s Fulang-Chang and I and Oppenheim’s hairy teacup and Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, quiet reverence pervaded the atmosphere. It was surreal to finally see these works in person after years of studying them in secondary school. Beyond the famous works, I especially liked Untitled (Dreams) by Louise Lawler with its cheeky postscript almost buried beneath the long list of references: “This will mean more to some of you than others”.

Day 3 was also the day of this trip’s main event: Jewels. I am no ballet critic, but it was spectacular. Perhaps the Parisians were a tad too chic in Emeralds – the female soloists were a little too polished to be the spry wood sylphs I always imagined the roles to be. But Teresa Reichlen was a powerhouse in Rubies, partnering not one but four men. And the Bolshoi’s Diamonds was phenomenal – the finale with everyone dancing in complete unison was so breathtaking, I had chills. And to think Alena Kovaleva only joined the illustrious Russian company a few months ago! Flying halfway around the world for this was not a bad decision.

To conclude the weekend, we went up to the Top of the Rock. Sadly, it was a cloudy evening, so we weren’t able to catch one of New York’s cotton candy sunsets. But at least it did stop raining during the hours we were up there. There was also an unbreachable wall of tourists packed against the wall facing the Empire State, so no photos could have been taken until the sun was well below the horizon. Still, I like to think it was less crowded than the Empire State itself. And you can’t see the Empire State from the Empire State. So the Top of the Rock is definitely my recommendation for getting that perfect skyline selfie in the morning or late afternoon for a clear, blue expanse, or braving the gathering sardines at dusk for a sienna sky.

For Day 1, please click here.

New York City: Day 1

Today, I touched down in the Big Apple. Alone. Two months ago, I had impulsively bought tickets for a ballet half the world away from home. To celebrate its golden anniversary, three of the most renowned companies are collaborating to perform an act each of the late, great Balanchine’s iconic Jewels. The cast is so apt it is almost poetic; the Paris Opera Ballet will perform Emeralds, a piece heavily inspired by the French Romantic aesthetic; New York City Ballet, for whom Balanchine had originally choreographed Jewels, will take Rubies, a staccato archetype of Balanchine athleticism; and the Bolshoi Ballet will take Diamonds, the regal finale that radiates Imperial Russian grandeur. A tortuous 16-hour flight later, I have finally made it.

While I did spend most of the day (or night, by Hong Kong standards) wondering whether I would develop deep vein thrombosis like so many of the cases we had discussed in our tutorials, it still was not as uneventful as I would have hoped. Critical note to self: Always look behind you whenever you leave a seat. Or risk leaving your phone in the airport like I did in Hong Kong. By the time I had finally realised, the plane was already taking off. So now I’m alone in New York without a phone.

I also learned that a 16-hour flight is really long. If flight times and our perception of time were graphed, it would show an exponential curve. Just a year ago, 12-hour flights were my norm. I was never bored; a movie fit snugly between take-off and the first meal, and afterwards I would always spend the next eight or nine hours struggling to get as much poor quality sleep as I could with some wailing infant a row away. But when you add just four more hours, you can suddenly read an entire book, watch two movies, get a solid eight hours of sleep, and still have an exasperating stretch of time to stare into the darkness and contemplate your chances of getting a pulmonary embolism from all your inactivity.

Anyway, besides the ballet on Saturday, I still don’t know exactly what I will be doing here. I quite literally came all the way to New York ‘just’ to see a ballet. Of course, I have a general list of things (MoMA, Museum of Natural History, The Met, The Whitney…), but no set plans at all. I suppose I do have some time tonight to allocate the destinations to days. If I don’t nod off from jet lag first.