Sunday, October 11, 2009

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

In 2003, when Elizabeth Gibson unwittingly rescued Rufino Tamayo's Three People (Tres Personajes) at a curbside where it was waiting to be hauled away by the Sanitation Department, she gave new cachet to the pastime of dumpster diving. Almost two years ago, the Tamayo was auctioned at Sotheby's for just over $1 million, and Gibson received a nice finder's fee.

So on our way to The Japan Society for the opening of the Serizawa exhibition, we were not above stopping in front of an array of garbage probably 25 feet long to inspect a 34" x 50" framed cotton textile with psychedelic '70s characteristics carelessly placed on a discarded sofa that had clearly seen better days. Jean guessed, with admirable accuracy, that it was a Marimekko. Printing on the selvedge identified it as "Eve" by Katsuji Wakisaka, from 1972. In a moment, like car thieves, we were working - in all our finery - to strip the print from its frame so we could pocket it and get to the opening. But the framer had stapled the textile professionally, and as we had both neglected to bring our staple removers with us, we were forced to make a decision. We took the Marimekko home in its frame, making us late to the opening. (Well, what would YOU have done?!) While not exactly a million dollar lost Tamayo, it was nevertheless a small and enjoyable coup.

From the small Marimekko Outdoor Art Fair we proceeded to the rather more lavish show at The Japan Society. We went to the Serizawa exhibition primarily to have a look at his wonderfully idiosyncratic kimonos which, given their large size, allowed Serizawa to make some very bold and original statements. Keisuke Serizawa (1895 - 1984), designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government, was beloved in Japan for his lyrical color combinations and immediately identifiable woodcut-like designs. Check out the link above to see some of the wonderful pieces selected for the show. Here we are with Roxane Witke, a fellow admirer of all things Japanese.

Reluctantly, we rushed through the exhibition, because on this particular night we were faced with the singular pleasure and dilemma of two shows to see on the same night. (By a stroke of luck, we had separate benefactors who invited us to the same Whitney reception and guided tour.) So off we rushed to the Whitney for a small evening tour of the new "Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction" exhibition.

We flagged down a sweet young taxi driver who peppered us effusively with questions ("Where are you two going dressed like that?" "Do you always wear such hats?") and compliments ("You both look great"), leaving us in great spirits as we alighted, and ready for the next part of our adventure.

Our readers might remember that we were recently able to take photographs of ourselves inside the Guggenheim Museum. Having been raised in the '50s, when the zeitgeist turned away from the fast-talking women of the '30s and the capable, sacrificing women of the '40s, and morphed into the culture of that miserable Good Girl Who Values Her Reputation Above All Else, we are still trying to shake off the last vestiges of that deeply ingrained early training. Sometimes that means daring acts of slightly uncivil disobedience, like taking surreptitious photographs in museums. Our small group of about 15 people was followed everywhere by a guard (since the very informative and thoughtful tour was conducted after hours), so we took very few photographs. Just small gestures, really -- mostly to prove to ourselves that we are indeed Very Bad Girls. Below you can see Jean, apparently following the talk yet standing just slightly apart from the crowd, while Valerie, ostensibly resting her feet (why isn't there a bench in every room?), takes the forbidden picture.

We had more than enough time to see everything at the Whitney, and the paintings showed a side of O'Keeffe that is less known than -- but every bit as interesting as -- the O'Keeffe of gigantic sensuous flowers and stark bleached skulls. It didn't hurt to hear our guide tell a few Bad Girl tales about O'Keeffe, either.

After the tour, we looked for a small cafe in the neighborhood where we could have a wee post-lecture drinkie. At the first place we tried, which had two tiny tables free in its charming picture window, we were only invited to sit in what were clearly its "B List" seats. The waiter insisted that even after 9pm the petite tables at the window were reserved for patrons ordering dinners, not wee drinkies. This was puzzling because the tables were barely big enough to fit our elbows, much less dinner plates, but never mind. Off we went to the welcoming arms of Lumi's, just a few blocks south.

Lumi's is a cozy Italian bistro that one steps down into, giving a fresh perspective on passersby as one gazes out the windows, and the sprial staircase in the center of the front room also delights the eye. The staff invited us to sit wherever we liked, so we chose to sit in the back, warming ourselves after the chilly evening walk and the chillier reception at the previous restaurant (which we shall not name).

After ordering champagne cocktails, we realized that we were being photographed by a gentleman at the table next to us. He introduced himself as Fadil, and said he was a professional photographer. When he told us that he and the party at his table (including Lumi, the welcoming young owner, and Patrick, her gallant husband) had been talking about us and LOVED our style and our hats, we were hooked. (How easy it is to flatter us.) But when Fadil further stated that he was meeting the peerless Carmen dell'Orefice there for dinner, and that he would introduce us when she arrived, we were floored. Carmen is a role model for all women of a certain age, and all women who will one day become women of a certain age. She was the subject of Fadil's Rolex ad campaign geared to our demographic of choice.

Although mourning the loss of her dear friend Irving Penn (whose obituary was The New York Times' front page news that morning), Carmen arrived looking flawlessly beautiful, and Fadil, true to his word, kindly introduced us (and took the photo above). We mentioned having seen Carmen's '50s fashion shots at the International Center of Photography's "AVEDON FASHION" show (May-Sept 2009). Carmen was as warm and gracious as she was stunning. When we told her we'd admired her pictures at the Metropolitan's "Model as Muse" show in the Costume Institute, Carmen conspiratorially shared that she'd had to stand in heels for hours at the exhibit's opening night, striking a cord with us! To further underscore her point, she then drew one of her feet out from under the table to reveal that she was wearing flats. A fellow traveler on the flat road! By way of contrast, Lumi then showed off her black Alexander McQeeen studded stilettos to our oohs and aaahs. As their entrees arrived, we bid the merry quartet adieu and headed off into the night.

After that serendipitous encounter, our high spririts could not be daunted even by the vagaries of the New York City subway system. Despite the fact that the entire floor of our subway car was sticky with spilled Dunkin' Donuts flavored coffee, and the aroma of hazelnut wafted through the air, we were positively giddy as we reflected on the events of the evening. Our good humor and high style were memorialized by a fellow traveler in a photo finish.

Jean is wearing a black feathered '40s vintage hat (purchased at last spring's Metropolitan Pavilion Vintage Show), black Comme des Garcons wool jacket (with shoulders like a linebacker), black Michiko Koshino skirt, painted wood folk art rosary necklace from New Mexico, black Linda Leal long sleeve T-shirt, Dansko clogs, Gucci glasses and Lounge Fly bag.

Valerie wears a pink spiral velvet vintage Bonwit Teller hat, black silk Elizabeth Arden coat, black and gray shibori'd Gianni Versace jacket over a black Ivan Grundahl dress, James Minson glass necklace and black Aerosole flats.

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