People Come First

BFF S came to visit this past weekend and we had a wonderful few days filled with great conversation, food, walking and art. We spent a day in the city visiting museums, something I realize I haven’t done in a couple of years, what with the big swath of time taken up by Covid. The city streets had more people than during the height of the pandemic yet fewer than it typically would on a beautiful summer day, when weekday workers would merge with tourists. (There are fewer of both right now.) The museums were crowded, which was reaffirming, that great exhibits will lure people inside – all masked yet crowded together.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we took in the spectacular Alice Neel show, called People Come First, and the gorgeous Medici exhibit (which could have been called rich people and popes come first : ) The juxtaposition of the two, literally side by side in the same floor of the museum, was stark.  Both focused on portraiture but with different eras and vastly divergent approaches to their subjects.  Both were riveting so it was a double feast for the eyes and soul.

Alice Neel, born and educated in Philadelphia, then living most of her adult life in various neighborhoods in New York, including what was then bohemian Greenwich Village, and Spanish Harlem, painted a wide range of subjects: art critics and curators; Communist organizers; naked women, many of them pregnant; Andy Warhol and other well known artists and writers alongside her neighbors in Harlem.  She was inclusive in the best sense, a kindred spirit to S and me.

Neel’s eclectic egalitarian mix and lifestyle was in stark contrast to the Medici show, which covered the period from 1512 to 1570, when Florence was transformed from a republic with elected officials into a domain ruled by the Medici family.  Elite, precious, yet utterly exquisite. 

I usually don’t take many photos of art but nothing feels normal these days, and I felt a need to capture some of the beauty I drank up in those few hours of museum going.  [I realize these are all of men when Neel  painted so many women; perhaps it’s something about the female gaze on the male form that I was especially taken with. The Medici show, as depicted in the last two images below, was of course comprised of all male painters and subjects.] 

Today I walked to the public library to return a museum pass to the Museum of Modern Art, which we also visited. It too was crowded and by the time we got there, walking alongside Central Park and then through midtown Manhattan, I was bone tired. I don’t have the energy I used to have, decades ago I used to walk home (on 14th Street) from the Met (on 81st Street) like it was nothing. Still, at a slower pace and with more frequent stops to rest, somehow we walked over 16,000 steps – around 8 miles – in the course of the day! (We both have watches with step counters.) It was great to be out of the house, out of my usual dull routine, out with a dear friend.

I thank the librarian profusely for the wonderful service, promising myself I’ll be back soon for another museum pass, then walk to the pool for a swim before I have to get home for V and another typical day.

4 thoughts on “People Come First

  1. Such a beautiful day with such beloved company. So wonderfully, insightfully captured in your writing. Thank you for your hospitality and thank you for sharing it through your blog. ❤️


  2. Thanks for the inspiring tour of Art and Culture, enjoyed with a special friend.


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