A last day at MOMA

Today it was the turn of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.

 It is a very impressive building (which, I know, is a little like saying a book is printed on good paper). 

Here there was a very interesting German painter: Katharina Wulff on show. She reminded me of Edward Burra in the way she encompassed both the urban street and landscape and incorporated, as did he, elements of the surreal, the humorous and the shadowy. One of her landscapes, untitled, is above. She does not, however, have Burra's depth - neither the depth of re-imagined place: Burra's are particular, actual places, Wulff's fade into the non-specifics of dream nor of metaphysics: of the exaltation and tragedy of Christianity that haunts Burra's spaces, as here, in Landscape near Rye.

There was a wonderful room of Mexican painters - Rivera, Kahlo and Rufino Tanayo. Tanayo I had not seen before but there was a delightful painting of his 'The Lovers' a stylized man and a woman holding hands in a sitting room all tenderness and delight in an utterly domestic yet symbolic setting. In the background, a subtle, ambiguous touch: a caged bird - the capitivity of love that is both delight and potential shadow. 

Then it was occasional pieces, among the grind of the contemporary, those vast canvases of unrealized colour or its absence with which I have a glancing sympathy at best or the 'conceptual' whose sterility I am afraid never ceases to amaze. There was an Edward Hopper of a solitary woman at the cinema that displayed all his gifts of the realistic symbolic, a Mondrian so orderly and light filled, and a fabulous Rothko. Sitting in front of this pulsating painting that saturates, I realized you have to be very grounded to receive that intensity of transcendence and,sadly, Rothko was not. In Zen, after satori, there is the practice of 'polishing the stone' of being en-grounded in 'enlightenment', finding it in the contours of the everyday. You have to able to withstand truth as well as understand it. Spirituality has to be horizontal as well as vertical.

I went for a last walk, dropped in on City Lights once more and guiltily found several books I wanted, and noted them down for later internet purchase. I could excuse myself with the thought of long distance travel; however, guilt won out and I bought a book on Cranach and Luther. 

On my way back to the hotel my final stop was to call into Grace Cathedral (Episcopal/Anglican) two of whose Deans I have known (I realized). It is spacious, wealthy and prim.The stained glass, however, is rich and luminous and tracing its narratives is enjoyable and often unexpected. Martin Buber pops up in one for reasons I could not trace!

Tomorrow it is on a jet plane...


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