Thursday, April 14, 2016

I and the City @ The Neue Galerie in New York

I'd be hard pressed to tell you why this is my favorite painting. I saw it back in January for a few moments when I was last here but ended up regretting that I didn't spend more time with it. I figured it got packed up and sent back home after the exhibition it was featured in. 

I came back for another exhibition and it's still here!

The past few months I've been thinking about it so much. I looked for a print but none are out there. I looked for a decently printed book to tear a page out and frame it. I found two but both were too good to mutilate. It's also the wallpaper on my phone's lock screen. 

So I'm looking at some cool stuff when I turn my head and my heart almost stopped. The last time that happened to me like that was when I went to see the Tel Dan inscription at the Met that is the only extra-biblical mention of King David. I turned around then and saw the Taanach cult stand and the Cyrus Cylinder (both big deals for understanding the history of the bible). It's better than running into a famous person or anything else that hasn't proven its ability to matter in the long term. 

The painting looks so cool in person! It's Ludwig Meidner's "I and the City" from 1913. For me, it's the greatest depiction of anxiety in a world that feels like it's spinning all the time, where technology, clamor, and frenzied activity leaves someone in populated isolation, confused and on glassy eyes wonder. It's the world when you go beyond just noticing things but REALLY noticing things and trying to make sense of it. We look for meaning by instinct and that's born of our ability to reason. Sometimes drawing simple correlations will do. Other times jagged juxtapositions force an obscure, esoteric interpretation beyond the sensible. And still other times we're confronted with things that, deep down, make no sense and are irreconcilable. 

If you hit that point you have to find a way to move beyond the bewilderment because there's no use in staying in a stupor about things either. Realizing the absurdity of things (LOTS of things) can be a way of zeroing in on the things that matter. I think too many things entice us to give them meaning but are ultimately a waste, taking energy and time but leaving us with nothing. It's not that there's no meaning at all, it's just that not everything deserves your attention to cohere and bond with it. People matter, relationships matter, family matters, God matters. These things, in a Christian worldview, will still exist when everything else passes away. Anything that makes your head spin too much is likely a selfish, dying thing. 

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