Monday, December 23, 2013

Vermeer on 5th Avenue.

The Frick Museum on 5th Avenue, between 70th and 71st Sts.

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I walked through the humid sump which had descended on New York--it was frighteningly warm at 70-degrees--to the Frick Museum, a marble palazzo on 5th Avenue that was built by steel tycoon, Henry Clay Frick.

Once, considered the most-hated man in America.
Frick, back in the 19th Century, was one of the most hated and reviled men in America. He amassed Croesus-like wealth while denying his workers either humane and safe conditions or a living wage. During the Homestead Strike in 1892, he hired hundreds of armed Pinkerton guards and called in 8,000 troops from the state militia to quell the fury of those protesting working conditions in his factories. Machine guns and cannon restored order.
The workers are revolting.

Today, the Frick Mansion occupies all of 5th Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets and houses an extraordinary permanent collection of art. Recently an exhibit comprised of 15 Dutch Masters opened and we headed there to see some Vermeers (including "The Girl in the Pearl Earring,) some Hals, Steens and even a Rembrandt or two.
Considered the Dutch "Mona Lisa."

Of course, the place was packed to the marble-clad gills with others there for the same purpose. However, the Frick's management kept things moving with Prussian efficiency. As crowded as it was, you could stand and stare in front of "The Girl," with only a small amount of interference and jostling. My wife and I examined it for a good ten minutes, unmolested, then walked away to view the other masterpieces, then went back for one last look.

There are a lot of horrible things you can say about humanity. We seem to have forgotten that we're all supposed to be brothers. We seem to have forgotten virtues like kindness and compassion. Even Christmas seems to be more about wretched excess and football than about something fine and holy.
Our National Motto: "Faucibus donec stillabunt." Shop till you drop.
 Whether or not you believe in a divine being, as a culture, we gave something up when we abandoned the notion of the Sabbath. We have forgotten to take a day off. We have forgotten the need we all have for a day away from cellular devices, away from crass commercialism, away from Duck Dynasty, etc.

In 2014, I will try for such a day once a week. I will make every attempt to not open my Mac. To not watch the concussive violence of American sport. To not engage in the banalities of the 24-hour news cycle. Instead I will listen to Maria Callas, and read whatever I am reading.

Maria Callas. She's no Carrie Underpants.
We need a day, every so often if not more often than that, to look at Vermeer. And to breathe.

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