A few days before Christmas, Lois braved the airless space, and masses of bodies, that defines Times Square, and met me at the Museum of Modern Art. I had dangled the prospect of seeing the Ileanna Sonnabend show, which had just opened. Sonnabend was a pioneer, and premier gallerist, who had an eye for seeing: she discovered Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. To make the prospect a bit sweeter, I added in a promise of a long schmooze, and a martini, after the “culture” part of the evening.
But we reversed the schedule.
I was waiting for Lois to walk uptown from Penn Station at The Modern, the bar in the museum, and as soon as Lois walked in, I could tell from the look on her face that before any art excursion, a cocktail was necessary.
So our intended 100 minutes of art and 15 minutes of cocktails was turned inside out to 15 minutes of art and 100 minutes of cocktails.
But those 15 minutes of art were worth it. The galleries were empty and we had an unfettered bird’s eye view of Rauschenberg’s bald eagle assemblage from 1959 called “Canyon:”
It turns out that that bald eagle spawned a mini legal drama when Sonnabend died because the IRS valued the piece at $65 million, and her estate valued the piece at 0. The estate did not have the bucks to pay the taxes on it, and could not sell the piece to pay the taxes because of the bald eagle. It’s endangered and therefore, dead or alive, it cannot be sold. A settlement was reached. Taxes would be forgiven if the piece was donated to a museum. Now it is owned by MoMA.
Meanwhile, while gazing at Canyon, we met Nelson, a guard at the museum who led us on a mini-tour of the show. He pointed out a piece of sculpture by Giovanni Anselmo, which features a head of fresh lettuce.
After we passed it, Nelson turned to Lois, and said, “Oh no, look what you did!”
But he was only kidding. It’s part of the “performance” art. As the head of fresh lettuce wilts, it seems granite dust is released and, of course, viewers will interact with the dust.
Then the announcement came on that the museum was closing, and there was still a whole bunch to see. Our attempt to charm the guards to let us stay for five minutes more was useless, so we decided to grab a bite to eat at Trattoria Dell’Arte, or as Lois likes to call it, “the nose place,” because it is decorated with paintings of famous noses.
It’s delicious, the pours are generous, and every once in a while you score a free glass of Prosecco, or perhaps some fresh chocolate chip cookies. We split spaghetti carbonara and meatballs, and when we finished the meal, the waiter brought over two glasses of limoncello. We toasted each other, and headed into the balmy and hectic streets to walk way down there to 34th Street so Lois could catch her train.