Thursday, July 2, 2015


Floating out over the West Side Highway to its west and the High Line to its east is the new Whitney Museum. Designed by Renzo Piano the building terraces out providing views over the city both up toward the brownstones of Harlem and down to the spires of Wall Street.
The Whitney's collection is devoted to American contemporary art from the twentieth century through the present. Painting and sculpture, representational and conceptual, moving images and collages are all represented in the collection.
It was a warm Sunday when I made my inaugural visit to the Meatpacking District. One of the first things I saw once I took my eyes off the structure itself was the cluster of vendors peeking out from between the throngs of people crowding the streets either on their way into the Whitney or approaching the staircase leading up to the Highline. Whether the hat vendor held a permanent place at the corner of Gansevoort and West Twelfth Streets or if he was taking advantage of the day's heat
I had no way of knowing but what unconsciously filled my imagination even before I got into the museum was the amount of visitors who had donned hats for the day and their connection with the imagery of hats in the museum's collection. It was the hook that drew me from floor to floor in the museum and started my finding places where I could snatch moments of time with my camera of the interaction of patrons, their hats and the art.
He felt judged by the men in top hats staring out from the canvas as he walked by. He couldn't or wouldn't make eye contact even though he knew they were mere representations. Still it felt as if their eyes were following him. He couldn't forgive himself for the way he treated her leaving her sitting in the café her napkin wet from tears with streaks of black mascara smudged in its folds. He'd have the word, "asshole" tattooed to his memory for the rest of his life.
The rim of her hat gave shade to her face even inside away from the direct rays of the sun.  Her folded arms gave her an air of haughtiness. She stood aloof from the argument in motion beside her, her disdain separating her from everyone around her. The field of disgust had even pushed her husband to a safe distance behind. Her beams of disapproval made even the paintings on the wall begin to blush.
He had to turn away from the gaze of the man in the painting. Forty years ago he would have met those searing eyes with an unspeakable resentment spitting at his shoes as he walked by. Today the look only brought pain from a lifetime of being on the wrong side of love.
The sophisticated ladies had their admirers. Everywhere they went they'd draw a crowd of whispers and discrete finger pointing.
It wasn't long before another group of faceless gawkers stopped to admire their chic appearance but their ruby red wooden lips never cracked a smile until the woman with blood rather than sap tried on the tallest one's black bowler hat.
Mama had a hip displacement years ago that left her favorin' her left side makin' her walk stooped and limping toward that shorter half. Over the years the constant pressure on her left side caused that hip and butt cheek to bulge and grow like a batch of kudzu many sizes over its original while her right side dwindled to nothing more than a shadow of its former self. When Henry saw pinned to the wall what reminded him of Mama's flesh colored underwear hanging from the backyard clothesline he couldn't help but pull out his iPhone. He'd snapped the photo and then delete it. Shooting and deleting was what he had wanted to do to Mama's underwear hanging on that line for all his buddies to see and have reason to tease the hell out of him. Shooting and deleting that piece tacked to the wall finally gave him a way to rid himself of the embarrassment of Mama's undies that had dogged him his entire life.
Both men looked at Phil, one from underneath a baseball cap and the other from underneath a straw Panama. Their partners walking away oblivious to the turmoil Phil was roiling inside each of them. Each of them wrestling with the question, "Should I stay or should I go?" One would stay, but one would go.
Everything seemed very black and white but the reality was there was a hell of lot of grey going on. There was a grey cast to the walls. The painting was loaded with greys. There was a greyness to the bearded man's intent. The guards decision to engage rested in that grey area between acting and staying back.
Time may change what we wear, a tie over an unwashed shirt on a working stiff - a pair of Ray-Ban shades hanging from the neck of a hedge fund manager, but not what we struggle with. Whether personally or occupationally we all find ourselves at some point just trying to get a mule and a plow.

Starbucks: Harlem, New York City, 2001
Alice Attie, photographer
In the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum New York
Represented by the Foley Gallery, New York City

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