The leaving is the hardest part. Call me complacent, or merely a homebody—whether departing for Rome, Beijing or even upstate New York, a mourning state comes over me whenever I must leave Manhattan. Maybe it’s always hard because I can’t forget that this was where my life truly began, which means that all its signposts—its streets, the people and my family of friends—are freighted with emotional history; to lose the things you love, if only briefly, means to lose a part of yourself, tough business when that self was so hard-won. Though I suspect the real fear is going away to face the measure of yourself as a writer. And I was told there were bears.
My friends are laughing as they read this: “Ennis, it’s only a month.” Oh well, once a drama queen…still, before I head to Woodstock and a month-long writing residency at the Byrdcliffe Colony, lots of stuff calls my attention. Had to get to the Sean Kelly Gallery to catch 50 Americans, a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective with a twist: the works were chosen (from over 2,000 images) by a cross section of Americans diverse in age, occupation, race and background hailing from every state of the Union. The result is a fresh re-contextualization of the stately and profane that is Mapplethorpe’s stock in trade. The shows serves as a reminder that no matter the subject (breasts, a black penis, landscapes and flowers all share space), the beauty he unearthed retains its power to mesmerize. As illuminating are the accompanying texts that express why people choose what they did, and what the image means to them: from them you get a collective sense of our prejudices, yes, but also our ability, when nudged, to set preconceptions aside, to look past controversy to bring our own notions of beauty and aesthetics to bear on the life and art before our eyes. In short, people thinking for themselves—I can think of no better corrective for those sects of conservatism and hate whose voices find their way to the media. 50 Americans aligns the works of this late modern master with the minds of everyday folk; the effect is incalculably moving and not to be missed (Sean Kelly Gallery, 528 West 29th Street, on view until June 18)