from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pittsburgh, etc. Dispatch

Pittsburgh: I knew Elise's one request was to visit the Andy Warhol Museum, he being a native son of the city; I knew the North Shore neighborhood near the museum, where I found a nice AirBnB room for us, also has another museum called the Mattress Factory. "Randyland" kept coming up on my research in the vicinity, though no one ever mentioned what it was.

Once we arrived at our room in a row house, we were ready to find dinner. Elise is an excellent navigator via her cell phone; this is how we ended up anywhere we wanted to be in Pennsylvania! She found only a couple of restaurants in the area, as this neighborhood is in the process of being restored and revived (and I felt very much at home after living for several years in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland during a similar renaissance). As soon as we we emerged from the alley, a vision arose on our right:

And standing alongside the building in the act of painting:

He called out to us from across the street, introducing himself as "Randy;" if you haven't already guessed, we had arrived at Randyland. Randy explained to us that he works as a waiter, making $20,000 a year, but dedicates the rest of his time to this happy-making project. A documentary film is about to come out about the happiest people in America, and he's featured in it! He convinced us to step inside the courtyard while there was still daylight. I won't go on...the place speaks for itself:

Randy very kindly suggested a shorter route to our chosen restaurant which would take us through the alley with the 'Poet's Houses.'

There are four houses and some pavement of the alley dedicated to poetry, a couple of South American poets represented and this calligraphy house by Chinese poet Huang Xiang. We were liking the neighborhood better and better. As we walked on, we passed this sign:

Yep - the other place not to be missed, though, thankfully, it was closed and we could march on to dinner without feeling torn. After another twirl around Randyland the next morning, the Mattress Factory was our first destination.

It is described by Wikipedia as "a museum of contemporary art that presents art you can get into — room-sized environments, created by in-residence artists from around the world." It used to be a mattress factory, no doubt.

We started with breakfast in their chic cafe. I think the mattress springs make for wonderful, appropriate art!

Here is "Red, 1996" by Rolf Julius (German); vibrations from the black speakers cause a visual and audial bubbling in the bowls:

The American artist, James Turrell, created absolutely pitch-black corridors as part of his installations. They led, according to a posted map, to three different pieces. Elise and I clung to each other like orphans in a storm, as we are both claustrophobic-yet-hungry-for-art! Our favorite payoff was his "Catso, Red," 1994, which appears to be a luminous, floating red box, but is a projection:

Interestingly enough, one of his pieces required two viewers only at a time, fifteen minutes duration, and a bit of a wait. The previous viewers informed us that they were still in the after-discussion (though there was only silence), so after they exited, we clung like hell in the darkest of the dark spaces, following instructions to hold on to two railings on each side, then seat ourselves on two chairs whose backs were at the railing level. We sat and waited, both half-terrified of the endless black space. Nothing. We began to get increasingly disoriented, then slightly nauseous and a bit panicked, at which point we gave up. Who knows what happens in there? I assumed, in lieu of whatever experience we missed, that we were to at least observe our own (and the culture's) impatience for immediate gratification; but then, we didn't plan on losing our breakfast in the dark, either.

Yayoi Kusama, Japanese, is famous for her polka dots. Here is her "Repetitive Vision" from 1996, which makes me think of the Japanese flag, among other sensations:

The museum shop is pretty fabulous. We found some nice little treasures.

The afternoon was dedicated to the Andy Warhol, which is a beautifully laid-out museum. One begins on the 7th floor and works down, through galleries that follow a chronological order. I was astounded by the degree of genius hitting me, as I hadn't seriously appraised Warhol's overall contribution. The pop culture images he chose to portray in his singular way, including cultural icons, celebrities, lesser-knowns who paid well for portraits of themselves, the ephemeral aspect of life - are given their due by this American original, who will be famous for more than fifteen minutes!

This is a Warhol sculpture; the pillows float endlessly around the space, propelled by a fan - mesmerizing to watch. We were allowed to gently touch one!

Warhol's collaboration with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, as well as his black and white films from "The Factory" allucidate darker sides of his era more explicitly. His superstar, Edie Sedgwickwho died young of drug use, figures in many of these films. Warhol's grotesque shooting in the gut by a radical feminist in 1968 also dramatized the excessive culture he plumbed. He religiously documented his exploits in brown cardboard 'time capsule' boxes, all of which are housed at the museum.

I actually have an autographed Warhol "Interview" magazine in storage that he signed for me at a space in Soho in 1978; my second sighting of him was early '80's in Central Park. That shock of hair...

The Warhol Museum shop was another great source of treasures. I will be framing my pink cow very soon!

Elise and I splurged for dinner (hors d'oeuvres) at the elegant Le Mont, which sits atop Mount Washington, one of four main hills that offers the best views of Pittsburgh. It was still daylight when we arrived, then we had the great pleasure of seeing the city through twilight into night:

This view of downtown captures "the Point," where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. 

Pittsburgh became quite an impressive smaller city (population 305,000) by way of it's former heyday as a steel and electronics hub (the population in 1950 was 680,000). According to Wikipedia, "The industrial base continued to expand through the 1970s, but beginning in the early 1980s both the area's steel and electronics industries imploded, with massive layoffs from mill and plant closures." The previous wealth "...left the area with renowned museumsmedical centers, parksresearch centers, libraries, a vibrantly diverse cultural district and the most bars per capita in the U.S."

The steel baron, Andrew Carnegie, not only furnished this city with a prominent university and museum, but built public libraries in communities across the United States, Canada and Britain. I found the combination of this rich heritage of Pittsburgh, yet with very manageable traffic, completely appealing!

I took Elise to the Pittsburgh airport the next day to fly home to Los Angeles, then persevered for eight hours of driving (with only two short breaks!) all the way east to Nyack, New York. My beloved friend, Lucia, saved me with some wine, a delicious dinner and her rarefied company in her homey refuge, which exudes her creativity and her artist's eye. 

There was much gabbing; fascinating film art at the Edward Hopper Gallery (across the street from our old house) by our friend Kris Burns; lunch in NYC with my old friend and Lucia's new friend since Jake's wedding, Nancy Taylor; and a visit to the Guggenheim Museum. It made a nice bookend to be in a late Frank Lloyd Wright structure! We did not feel nourished by the Italian Futurism 1909-1944 exhibit, which emphasized muscular industrialization, but the Latin American exhibit was fun, especially this tortilla piece by Mexican artist Damián Ortega:

After discovering that she feels better eating an occasional burger after years of restricted diet and a fortune's worth of a nutritionist's supplements, Lucia inspired me on our last night to eat my first hamburger in fifteen years! I had been thinking about burgers. It was delicious.

I was then off to Easton, Connecticut for two nights with friends David Barrow and Helen Webb and their poised, mature, brilliant fourteen-year-old daughter, Amelia. They have a real 'cottage' and a real 'pea patch' in a beautiful setting, recalling David's own English countryside, all swathed in the charm and taste of two accomplished designers. Besides all that, we've known each other for decades via the textile industry (Helen became an interior designer after she was a textile designer), and we have plenty of shenanigans to recall! But I now have a new hilarious memory, funny especially because David did not actually die choking on the floor with giggles from the David Bowie episode of Ricky Gervais' "Extras." Yeah, it's funny.

Helen, Amelia and I had an outing refreshing for the soul: a hike in the woods with a cascading stream and a visit to my mecca, Trader Joes, for groceries to bring back to Brazil. We're enjoying the salami we spirited past Customs and the Belgian chocolate, pesto, olive tapenade, spray olive oil, and more. 

Rarefied company again.

And, speaking of good company, I found an overnight parking deal in Manhattan one block from my friend Carolyn McMonegal's apartment on East 40th, so had twenty-four hours to visit with her and her cat, pick up my new glasses ordered before the wedding, and work in plenty of gabbing at another perennial comfort zone of mine - her richly colored and beloved-artifact-laden living room. We also go decades back via textile design; she was a doyenne of the rag district! She is agile and beautiful as ever. 

Next assignment: pick up Newton flying into Newark Airport from Shanghai. We had one last fun night at my sister Donna's in New Jersey, then a huge luggage packing project, rental car return in Hoboken, and taxi ride back to Newark to fly to Brazil. We caught this view of the new World Trade Center on our way:

What a trip; from the wedding to my travels and fantasticBest of all was the precious time with people I love. Writing about it all astounded me all over again.

With huge affection for all who participated and for all who persevered to the end of these dispatches,


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