Daniel House

Landed

When Good News Hurts

 
Triangular surface in space, kykuit modern art
 
 

Millie walked through the guild doors at quarter past ten. She was beautiful as ever. She’s that sort of beauty you know requires no effort at all — and you can be sure because if you ever take a trip with her, you know she carries an old duffel bag with little more than bobby pins and some Q-tips to get ready for the day. And yet, she always seems to be prepared for whatever she’s facing. I have no idea how she does it; she always wears pearl earrings.

Actually, in a way, she’s a little like the RW Guild. Gorgeous, but not fussy. Usually, she’s a little like the chicken and rice stand on 6th Ave and 52nd Street too. Every visit to the chicken and rice stand leaves you completely satisfied (this is not meant as a euphemism — as a rule, I just can’t stand vulgarity). But today, she let me down hard.I don't remember what the food at RW Guild tastes like. Ask Millie, maybe she knows. All I remember is I had to get out of there fast, before the tears started streaming. 

They were still in that pooling stage when I stood in front of the Metro North ticket dispenser at Grand Central trying to decide which of the my possible destinations sounded the most cathartic. I picked Sleepy Hollow, because as we all know, legend goes you might get your head blown off by a cannon ball there. That sounded nice. I didn't wonder what I would do when I arrived; subconsciously, I think I already knew.

“One ticket for the 1:45 tour,” I said. “Will that be the Classic or the Grand Tour,” the clerk replied. “What’s the difference,” I inquired. “The length, mainly,” he quipped, “you’ll get extended time in the gardens so you can look at all of Nelson’s sculptures,” he said, “Nelson was the last of the Rockefellers to live in the house, so anything modern is his.” Bit of a generalization for the home of a family who supported the Museum of Modern Art from its infancy, I thought silently, but in the main he was not wrong. “Grand,” I decided. Anything to keep from going back to Benedict’s parents empty house in Connecticut. I sauntered around the gift shop as I waited for the bus to the property to arrive. What a bunch of junk, I thought. Who buys this? 

I’d been to the Rockefeller Estate a handful of times before. Never with Millie, thankfully. On my first visit, I was unimpressed. But I had been primed by a bunch of brilliant and calloused architectural historians who felt it was a little formulaic and didn’t offer anything significant to the course of art in the world. I wasn’t going there to think this time. I was there to do just the opposite. 

The stuffy historians are wrong— behind a rather pompous facade, the inside of Kykuit, gigantic as it is, is totally cozy and scaled perfectly to oscillate between a nice family home and a pleasure palace for grand entertaining. It’s by far the comfiest of these Beaux-Arts mansions I know. But I came here for fresh air and expansive views. I would have gone to the cloisters, but the walk from the subway to the museum itself always left me depressed and the whole monastic experience seemed perhaps a little too foretelling at the moment. I intended to sneak away from the docent and extend my garden time even more than “The Grand Tour” allowed. 

I remember on one of my visits a guide told me Nelson had altered the sunken lawns on the south near the tea pavilion to be swimming pools. That sounded fun. I guess the historical society didn't want to host any pool parties. Probably didn't tell the Rockefeller story they were keen to tell. 

I lamented their removal then as I did now. If there were swimming pools, how many more delightful moments might have occurred here. What’s so wrong with delight. Removing the pools to return the land to its original way is just another example of how seriously everyone thinks they have to take themselves. So Jack has taken a job at HSBC. Big whoop. He probably hates swimming pools too. Actually he doesn’t; he can be a pretty fun guy. One time back at NYU, I remember him instigating a romp in the Washington Square Fountain the first day it was turned on for the season. I was the stick in the mud who refused to go in. Tiny snowflakes had begun to fall after sunset and whoever decided the fountain should be on must have had a serious laps in judgement. Maybe I’d be the one who would tear out the pools Jack put in. I moved on from the sunken lawns to a more serene setting. 

I go to see my favorite sculpture near the northwest corner of the house. It’s probably why I knew I was coming here before I even selected Sleepy Hollow as my destination. It’s called “Triangular Surface in Space” by the sculptor Max Bill. At least that is what the guides tell me. I’m not one to research contemporary sculpture too thoroughly. Set at the end of a colonnade, it seems first about itself, but as you get nearer it, rather like a sage, begins to offer a perspective about the landscape beyond. Perspective, that’s what I’m looking for today.