Thursday, November 17, 2005

Enter: the Architect

I met Frank Lloyd Wright on the Zabar's condiment aisle. Our paths converged in the way that hand meets hand in a mirror. At exactly the same speed and similarly cuffed at the wrist in black, our outstretched fingers curled toward and around one particular bottle of specialty vinegar from Jerez. At this juncture, all motion ceased simultaneously, and then, still along the parallel plane, our hands withdrew quickly away from each other.

[exclaiming in surprise]: Mr. Wright!

WRIGHT: [arches an eyebrow, politely]

[continuing]: I've just spent the afternoon in one of your buildings...the Guggenheim...looking at art, of course. [babbling, uncharacteristically] There's a great exhibit right now, so well-conceived and informative, very poignant. It traces a path [gracefully drawing an upwards spiral with one finger] through Russian art history.

WRIGHT: [arches the other eyebrow to match the first, then relaxes all the muscles at once. His face lacks expression, but his eyes occasionally dart to the bottle of vinegar.]

[trying to sound more esoteric, perhaps wanting to impress]: Your museum is a ruckblick. I mean, it allows one to "look back." I can't imagine being an artist and having to put on a show there-- [making an absurd face and leaning in confidentially] Hanging square paintings in a round space? You're so mean! --but I love how the space invites the viewer to keep glancing backwards. So Brahmsian, like that movement in the third piano sonata. [humming softly]

WRIGHT: [blanches, noticeably]

[rolling eyes]: yeah, yeah, yeah. Brahms is so out of favor these days, isn't he, and "developing variation" is practically a dirty word. But [with one hand fluttering skyward] who cares? Today, I couldn't help but hear the opening of that movement, how it [humming a pretty descending pattern, briefly] strolls slowly along and then stops, punctuated by a triplet figure in the bass: [singing, with chin comically tucked in, very low--too low--and jabbing a finger towards Wright who recoils in perfect rhythmic unison] pa-pa-pa pum! Brahms looks back at the second movement and sees something familiar; the descending thirds, now so staid and cautious, were once yearning and surging more hopefully. In RUSSIA! (the exhibit) I found myself stopping and looking back, sizing up the progression of themes and styles. Whether in fancy, royal portraiture or more common scenes of life and work, the Russian painters go straight to the soul, letting a facial expression speak of politics and social hierarchies. As the viewer, you will not forget the emphasis on the people, on their lives, situations, and emotions; the curvature of the building demands a constant over-the-shoulder glance and bridges century to century. That, to me, is very much like a musical variation that proceeds ahead, not so much forward and away, but back 'round [again drawing a spiral, whimsically with one finger] its point of origin. Very musical, Mr. Wright, very musical.

WRIGHT: [reaches deliberately for the bottle of vinegar but then hesitates]

Ah! You want your sherry vinegar--such an underrated kitchen essential--and here I am talking your ear off...

WRIGHT [coolly interrupting and looking farther down the aisle]: I think, my dear, I just need some [his tone changes, with some sense of foreboding] salt.

[curtain, immediately]

And so we spoke of architecture and music, of art and backwards glances. We introduced Brahms to Russia [the spine tingles] and parted ways over the finest sherry vinegar. Only in New York City.


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