Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Kings and Queens

The Guggenheim curls upward like a bowl of steps, itself a work of art just like its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright intended. Staring up from the lobby, tourists and locals dot the interior as if they were paintings themselves, walking past exhibitions on its sloping floors curated by Jenny Holzer, Carrie Mae Weems, and other people I don’t remember. Some kind of pastel peach mural doubtlessly beloved by Instagrammers introduces the show, waiting in the lobby for SJT and I, but we are not here to see it. Instead, we ride this red-lined, round-walled elevator, perfectly integrated, crafted into a seam of the building to the fourth floor, where the Robert Mapplethorpe show is on view.

We wander the halls of the gallery, set aside from the rotunda and noted for its mature content, longtime fans of the artist and his muse, Patti Smith. In my favorite image from the show, the innards of a flower hang erotically near its petals, sloping and curving, covered in the finest hairs. While many images of the show feature explicit content—a man urinating into another man’s mouth, for example—I find this one the most sensual of all, startling in its intimacy and metaphor in the same way Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings are.

I had seen a few of the images in the show before, but this one was new to me. As was what SJT called “the whip picture,” which he mentioned before we arrived at it.

“I don’t know if I know that one,” I said.
“If you don’t know if you’ve seen it, you probably haven’t,” he said. He was right.

In it, Mapplethorpe stands naked, bent over away from the camera but facing it, a whip dangling from his [writer’s note: I do not know how to elegantly phrase this, so might as well just be explicit?] asshole.

While it’s been the center of many controversies since it was first on view so many decades ago, I’m curious about how Mapplethorpe envisioned his own work, made in the age before easily accessible pornography and in a time when queerness was deeply cemented in so many closets. Shot with a medium format camera, which pushes crispness into every corner of its signature square, there are no details left to the imagination. As quiet as they are in soft light and creamy black and white prints, they are also so loud with defiance as he puts into the spotlight people and situations and life forces society had previously condemned, shaking viewers to see beauty in the places they’ve been told not to look.

Sun spools in from a skylight as we walk through, imagining the parts of his life and the lives of so many others traditionally hidden from public view, ones so private he chose to publicize them. In the gift shop, a tote bag bearing his image sells for $75. I think he would be amused.


The Queens Night Market is not as difficult to get to as I thought it would be, merely a long sneeze on the 7 train that’s mercifully running on schedule that weekend. The sun is still warm in the sky when we get there around 6pm. We follow the music once we enter Flushing Meadows, and the coterie of vendors are abuzz with bodies. We’ve been meaning to go for the last two years, always missing it because of the symphony of summer plans that arrive once New York puts away its snow boots and sweaters for good. We resolve to take turns choosing what we want to eat, striving to always try something we can’t easily get in the city or at some other kind of food festival. Bengali-New York-inspired jhal muri—crisp, crunchy rice with cumin/turmeric chickpeas— spam musubi, Filipino palabok—noodles with shrimp bisque, baby shrimp, jammy eggs, and a lemon wedge—Iranian eggplant dip mirza ghamesi, Puerto Rican pasteles with pork stew, fluffy pandan cakes, and Portuguese pastéis de nata, a warm, petite creme brûlée surrounded by a croissant-like pastry that burns my mouth but oozes so much creaminess with crispy, buttery edges that I don’t even care. And all at about $5 each. Twilight sets in as we leave, having consumed the perfect amount of food to sit comfortably on the train and swim in the euphoria of having eaten well in an exciting new place, surrounded by people equally excited to be there, far removed from the assholes who go to Smorgasburg.

Another long sneeze later, we’re back in Manhattan, at a wine bar called Amelie, a grapefruit-forward Cote du Gascogne for SJT and a blissful peach/pear-noted Albarino for myself. My feet burn blissfully with the ache of a day spent walking and standing, legs taking me to see one beautiful New York moment after another.