One of the raison d’etres for being in New York is to attend the opening of the PRA’s exhibition at Friedman Benda on W 26th. Street. He’s done a lot of new work for it, freer and more abstract and more fluid than in the recent past. Someone said that it’s a walk through art history. It’s not as simple as that. The works have references to history and to his deep knowledge of the history of art, but I do not regard the works as historicist. They have absorbed visual traditions, so that they are structural references, not quotations. Frank Stella gave a brilliant brief introduction referring to Charles Le Brun and Delacroix and Guston. But the more obvious references in the exhibition are late Turner and Monet and Rothko.
One of the things I’ve discovered in my current trip to Manhattan is that it’s surprisingly easy to walk. In the past I’ve always travelled by yellow cab, which whisks you from place to place with considerable speed but no regard for the intervening journey, or by subway which has its own romance of travelling in a loud and noisy underground. But Manhattan is more compact than I’d realised. I’ve been walking to breakfast at the Carlyle, a mere fifteen blocks up Fifth Avenue, whilst the doormen hose down the pavement. And this morning I walked from the Financial District where I had a meeting to Greenwich Village, thereby connecting the bottom of the island to Tribeca and through Soho to Washington Square. Of course, it wouldn’t have been enjoyable if the sun hadn’t shone.
I was asked to lunch by a long standing supporter of the RA at La Grenouille between Madison and Fifth. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Four Seasons Grill Room: the original place for ladies who lunch, it’s family owned and full of flowers. The experience was nearly as rich as the cheese soufflé. Americans come to London to experience long-established traditions, but frankly one can do this just as well in New York.
We had dinner tonight in the Lotos Club, a new one for me, but familiar to most of the other guests. It was founded in 1870 for literature and the arts, taking its name from a poem ‘The Lotos Eaters’ by Tennyson. It occupies a grand French Renaissance mansion, designed by Richard Howland Hunt, on 66th. Street, and I was told that it had louche paintings downstairs in the Grill Room. They’re not very louche, but the Grill Room is certainly well worth seeing.
I regard no visit to New York as complete without spending a bit of time in the Frick, snatched between meetings. I don’t think that there is any collection which has quite the same combination of great art and shared ownership. I love it all – the slightly hushed atmosphere, the posh lady at the ticket desk. I particularly love the array of Gainsboroughs in the Dining Room, including The Mall in St. James’s Park (he’s so much better at atmosphere than Reynolds), and the combination of pictures in the so-called Living Hall in the middle – Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, El Greco’s St. Jerome, Holbein’s saintly Thomas More facing his surly Thomas Cromwell and Titian’s Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap. Not to mention the predella from the Maestà. Where else can one see such a group of pictures in a semi-domestic space ?
This is the Frick from outside:
I was pleased to see the Whitney before it goes downtown into a building by the Highline, while the original Marcel Breuer building is transferred, at least temporarily, to the Met. The building is such a muscular and intense piece of brutalism, if such a description is appropriate to the work of one of the high priests of Bauhaus modernism:
By special request, I am including an additional photograph of the entrance façade which is more legible:
I had lunch today with someone who whenever he is in New York has lunch in the Four Seasons Grill. I can see why. Even if Philip Johnson no longer occupies the corner table and Henry Kissinger is no longer holding court, it still has the atmosphere of 1960s power lunching. I had bison which I’ve never had before. The curtains shimmered as they have done ever since they switched on the air conditioning. Only the Picasso tapestry was missing because they removed it on Saturday to the New York Historical Society. This is the room:
These are the window curtains: