Monday, January 11, 2010

Magic Circles

Last Saturday, for 45 minutes, I race-walked the ramp of the Guggenheim, reveling in the magic and beauty of one dazzling Kandinsky after another.

An hour would have been better, two hours would have been better still, a night in the Guggenheim would have been great, a week in the museum might have been ideal.

But 45 minutes were all we had, and we made the most of them--30 minutes up the ramp, with a quick detour to take in the prints, and 15 minutes down, as lights were being turned off on the levels above us.

To earn those 45 minutes, my friend Jeff and I had spent an hour shivering in the slow-moving line that circled the Guggenheim, wondering whether we would actually get in. It was pay-what-you-will evening--a paltry two hours (5:45-7:45 pm)--and we'd naively assumed that the cold would be enough of a deterrent to fellow art-lovers that we'd get in quickly.

I'd have happily paid the usual admission for this show, steep though it is, but given work commitments, this was my last chance--which I'd have missed entirely if not for Jeff's email earlier in the day.

Once inside, there was yet another line to stand in, though a faster-moving one. A sign said the last tickets would be sold at 7:15 and we made our token payments at 7:12, wondering if someone would bother to tell those still waiting in line outside that they hadn't a chance of getting in.

Usually when I've sped through a museum like this, it's been for work that I have a more casual interest in, not for radiant, powerful paintings like Kandinsky's.

This felt like speed-watching, a few seconds at most for works I'd have entered if I could, or sat down in front of and taken in without thought of time.

Or gorging on the richest of meals, engaging in a 45-minute caviar-eating competition.

On the way down, we looked at more labels to find out where besides the Guggenheim we might be able to see some of these again--Moscow, Munich, Paris.

But for now, brief though our visit was, my winter, my year, my life, have been illuminated by images and colors that still burn in my brain.

If you're in or near New York City and haven't seen this extraordinary exhibit, go if you can. Your last chance will be Wednesday, January 13. If you're a grown-up, you'll pay $18.

It's worth it.

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