I was recently in New York where I spent three days walking around the city with my mother. It was a landmark weekend, so much excitement in the streets after the Gay Marriage Bill passed late Friday night.
My mother is super social and she must have chatted with a zillion people as we wandered around (businessmen buying chicken shwarma from trucks, girls teetering drunkenly through Koreatown, doctors with conference badges waiting for elevators, folks in security-guard uniforms and fancy women holding chihuahuas…) “Mum, can we please keep going?” I’d finally whisper. And she’d say, “Chotto Matte. In a minute.” It was fun looking at art and eating food in tucked away corners of the city. But the highlight for me was taking her to the Noguchi Garden Museum in Queens. I’ve been several times before. It’s such an unexpected oasis, nested in a gritty neighbourhood, within spitting distance of a giant Costco.
The Museum’s collection is a testament to Isamu Noguchi’s brilliant career but it’s the simple garden that brings me back.
My mother and I spent a long time with this sculpture. The beautiful water feature is hard to capture in a photograph. Imagine water flowing endlessly from the dark hollow center, glazing the stone sides, reflecting the sky and sun, the weather of the garden. (Sculpture is so wonderfully physical and sub-verbal—it’s that feeling of meeting something intimately, body to body, matter to matter.)
Just as we were preparing to move on, a couple walked over. Within an instant, the man was nattering on to his girlfriend about the piece, going into hydraulic detail, explaining that the “best angle for planing stone is…” and “the water is meant to symbolize the…” and “Noguchi’s obvious influences were…”. (Okay, I’m being intolerant but we’ve all encountered him, the know-it-all art expert, squasher of delight, a figure parodied recently in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.)
Anyway, at some point my mother interrupted and started telling the man everything she knows about Noguchi (“He was married to the most beautiful Japanese woman…A spy!”)
The man’s girlfriend and I just smiled at each other, turning back to the sculpture. I realized that the best thing about the water was the way it brimmed, in that way a glass sometimes bears overfilling, forming a lip of liquid that holds for a moment before releasing, sweet and generous.