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               > Wystan Curnow's Place > Castor Bay > Climbing Rangitoto
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Climbing Rangitoto

Descending the Guggenheim
 

1.
Lucy, Pam and Bruce’d made it ahead of us, are stretched out up on top of the old concrete bunker next to the trig station, about 3 I’d say.

 

1.
An opening.

 

2.
all the way up to 56th St, (that’s Mel) . pair of painted ladies come jiving up from the manuka scrub.

 

2.
to what? 5th floor elevator door slides back: Acquisition Priorites: Aspects of Post-War Painting in America.

 

3.
this here is: sky. there’s Brown’s Island (another volcano), east of it: Waiheke Island, squalls raking it. tugged it out of my hip pocket, find some space between Wordsworth’s letters and the trip to Sydney, start writing from memory to begin with: Lucy, Pam and Bruce’d made it etc.. fast, fast.

 

3.
for God’s sakes, Henry! this tall, elegant elderly, blacktied, up against me. pink chin, white hair, moustache

 

4.
didn’t know you could ride a bicycle up. still Mel, flopped supine, head back on my jacket, and his sweater, from the sea it’s 3 miles across rocks, 654ft. up. talking now.

 

4.
to whom? this short, I should say, rotund one in front twists back, florid face, glasses (rimless), full grey beard, the operator waits, hand on jamb.

 

5.
as I watch, squall’s moving off, heading North, sun lights the sea beyond it. I ’d been in New York ten years and. red dirt, among (blighted) manuka twig: small white flowers, apartment buildings, check: 3.10, afternoon, Sunday, October 13.

 

5.
and then, while all stumble out: some-thing about not having the beard then being the reason, i.e. by my reckoning at least eight years ago. so I’m eavesdropping this all into place — according to Calvin Tomkins, Henry Geldzahler started to grow it again in ‘68 which fits, so there’s art history for you. and into my notebook here and now, now being 10.30pm, November 16. how come he who knows Henry don’t know Hockney?

 

6.
then Sixth Avenue looked like Third around 46th. 360 degrees of it, in fact, from this (the Southwest) lip: the whole Hauraki Gulf, Pacific Ocean, the Barrier and Coromandel Peninsula (faintly), Tamaki Estuary — this’s going clockwise — the Manakau Harbour to the South and thence (Westwards) to the Tasman Sea, Waitakere Ranges, back down to the Waitemata. high rise living. Harbour to Rangitoto Channel down there, to Whangaparoa Peninsula, then Tiri, the Noises, Rakino,Motutapu, and then, Waiheke, again, oh really? (that’s Eric), jet’s metal roar heads straight for the Pacific.

 

6.
here is: a low white wall, one tree (tubbed), bourbon (the third) beside me. getting it down, on the ground floor, which, says Kay, is going to collapse one day into the basement auditorium and she should worry because she’s the projectionist when they show movies down there, this helix, tight-pitched, takes eyes aloft, willy nilly, one hundred feet, recollect operator’s orange hair, basin-cut, elevator’s maroon half-cylinder, Max. Capacity: six persons at a pinch. ‘Paintings now in the Guggenheim’s collection are distinguished from loans which have red labels. Through generous help from friends a few loans have already been transformed into acquisitions, and we hope others may follow in due course.’ in front of The Gate, bay two, two slim young men, one mimes ‘push-pulls’ for the benefit.

 

7.
Bruce, can I bludge one of those? (that’s me speaking), fades in the wind, comes back, fades now — is, out of ear shot, cumulus build up over Motutapu. What’re you writing? um, ah. no time for explanations: I like writing on the lips of volcanoes, ask anyone, that’s it, keep out of it — so’s the words get in.

 

7.
1 didn’t know you were at Art Park. Is this, then, the third degree; all down the ramp, the entire quarter mile: charades? we, Dieter and me, on this tour of duty — Davis, Albers, Hofman, Tobey, Tomlin — slow for a Rothko: Brown, Black on Maroon (1957), red label, lighting’s hideous (Dieter), sure is, what it does is: shine out the brown above, shade away the maroon below, the greenhouse glass back of it is. can I get you another, what did you have? it’s in front of the shrubbery shielding eyes from 88th St., so are: silk pants, buttocks, etc

 

8.
recall this: at first sight the crater’s not what it should be, a great empty (therefore, strange) pit, is lined with young trees, tasteless (?) combinations of brick reds and juicy greens, looking down on tree tops depths got dissolved. I feel like we if we stay up here we won’t get rained on, it’ll just go round and around (this’s Lucy now), the writer bears no resemblance to persons living or dead (i.e. me, again, to myself, no need now, the talk’s moving on. I’m out of it, free to note resemblances between a crater full of trees and the rain’s going round and around if there was the time). Lucy keeps flicking hair from her face, her eyes move quickly with abrupt, another Super 8.

 

8.
in front of Adolph Gottlieb’s Mist : Dieter! she’s in black, large maroon beret, lipstick likewise, White Women (Helmut Newton) under arm, still man­aging to hug the big guy Dieter, ah, this’s Wystan Curnow, Marcia Resnik: hi — hi. that review in the Times (Dieter) it was really odd. which review was that? Said yours’ were good examples of the really hideous works in the show, and then they printed one of your photographs! Tworkov’s Red Lode has me thinking of Mrkusich. the Newman before that, called Yellow Painting, whereas it looks green or whatever ‘s between; which whereas and whatever ‘s what the three stripes are involved in.

 

9.
 You’ve no idea what they go through to make (this’s Lucy still), laughs, there’s that slightly girlish dip of the head, her quick mouth (thin-lipped) closes, she pauses, swivel, face North, just looking at: what a Gulf is. waiting for the words to report, long before Rangitoto exploded up out of the sea bed, the land sank, let the ocean in. clouds there shed shadows on the sea, make sandstone cliffs North of Castor Bay go a vivid cream, swell, in this absolute TV Voice. Mel snaps the city. You’ve got colour?

 

9.
you’re drawn to the balcony, especially at this point: almost full circle. Kelly’ s rainbow hits the ramp floor opposite, then a late Louis props the next one up and — this’s going counter-clockwise — the great knuckle of a Motherwell. and your eye rifles down to where the blacktie crowd ($250 bucks a head) swarms, hubbubs. Getting it down, when up comes this girl in short furs and long (white) boots: didn’t I meet you at Cage’s? no, I’ve never been to Cage’s place, oh; you look a lot like someone I met there. Are you sure? oh, well, I’m Judy. I’m Wystan.

 

10.
reclining, taking one hand off the concrete bunker roof, putting it on top of a now upraised knee, she turns, her back to the city. Mel’s on his elbows. Bruce gets to his feet — whatever, it’s a pose, a gesture, on top of a volcano, the rest goes in the bank, college education, it being Sunday, there’s scatterings of sails flecking the harbour, a recap: image of Mel (pale face, black hair) gold-rimmed sunglasses looking into the viewfinder. they said he could make $100,000 a year but my (Lucy’s that is) Puritan background, keep out to keep up, with, for instance, this, or that which nearly got lost or that which did. the horrible thing was all the kids that he’d ever known recognised him on TV. that’s creepy, heaping clouds still hover over the Gulf, under them the sea’s purple — great areas of it edged here in turquoise, there, to the West, in silvers, then off-whites, then greys.

 

10.
Whistler? No, W-y-s. whereupon she opens her jacket and there’s a notebook, on a string, tied to the lining; fishes pen from pocket and begins: W h. no, not ‘h’ -’y’: you’ll have to turn that upside down, so what does she do but write W-h-s-t-a-n (upside down). Are you an artist? No, I’m a critic. Oh, you just look at lots of art and write things? Something like that: are you an artist? I guess I’d have to say I was an artist, yes. after which she got boring, as I did. under financed companies.

 

11.
Jeez, it’s a beautiful sight! (that was — who?), especially Abigail, wind’s dropped, to a breeze: haze blurrs the North Shore far as the golf course. Dean of Sarah Lawrence, in this warmth, we’re inclined to, loll, but our eyes, think this out: compulsively, say wide, awake with the freedom, thing to be talking about TV commercials on top of a volcano, my God (says Lucy). Waiheke coming out green now and rain squalls over Motutapu. the sheltered waters between Rangitoto and Motutapu are (as yet) dark and bright, shadows strike deeper down the crater wall, the yellows, though up there, high on that cloudmass, it’s an almost painful white, get over there Lucy and I’ll (Mel) take your picture.

 

11.
Dieter circulates amongst SoHo gatecrashers here now in force, lowering the tone. Up there says: this’s not much of an opening, usually there’s three times as many. And, yeah, I can see it, a few feet out from the Louis and the Olistski, the crack, erratic circumscribes much of this high society. Now: de Kooning, Woman Sitting (1943-44), pink breasts tucked into green canvas. You know, I didn’t used to like, do you realise? (this’s Henry again, pointing Composition (1955). Edward Dragon’s black enamel Pollock’s diabolical, Rauschenberg, Reinhardt, Johns, Warhol, etc., and we’re off the ramp and into the bourbon again, who was that? is Rose Hartman (boots and camera) was gossip columnist for SoHo News. I’m a stockbroker, she’s the expert; I don’t know very much about all this, but it’s very exciting.

 

12.
someone says: commercials are about the only local content we have, drops abruptly to what’s left of the original crater 100ft. below and then slopes gradually out to the rocks. Paul Maunder, a semi-documentary on mental illness in New Zealand (this’s Pam now), clear sky behind her, over the city, the Waitakeres. Fraser MacDonald, Jim was there, to get their views, all across the Gulf dark clouds sag, downpours either side of Tiri. orange and black butterflies whirl — briefly, crazily — in the crater, have you ever made a film, Mel? the easterly’s fresher now and — striates is the word. “New York Corridors”, oh, yes. I saw it.

 

12.
long-haired blonde in black hat hangs a hand on shoulder of older man, puts lips to his ear, briefly looks him in the eye. I’m from Spain. I’m from New Zealand. Pair of bowties. I tire, retire, get out my notebook: an opening, right after Dieter’s story of the collector (fish importer) who’d been put inside owing him and others a cool 45,000 bucks and the same in caviar. Remember Auckland, writing round the edges of dead volcanoes. Recall: Wright’s building opened 17 years ago this month. Memo: read up on Haacke debacle. Take Newman up on Who ‘s Afraid of Red, Yellow, Blue?. Excuse me, miss, are you famous? Kay, non­plussed, no. ah.

 

13.
things I know about Rangitoto: we bought it off Maori for 15 pounds, rangers periodically cut down any exotics found growing, as the sun hits Motutapu, Tiri disappears. like something Yvonne Rainer would’ve had at the back of her dances 4 or 5 years ago (suggests Mel to Eric), vegetation, pohutukawa mostly, except for the large flows of bare, black scoria, last erupted only 700 years ago. the boots? There’s a shoestore just across the road from the Museum of Modern Art. when Cook first saw it, 200 years back, it was uninhabited, not a plant on it. Rakino’s blacked out. above Bruce’s head, red beard, sunburnt cheeks, and navy sweater, in the still crater green lichens cover heaps of aging scoria, trees are shaggy with it. what? wind whips words out of ear shot, how long’s it take to get back, Pam? (that’s Mel).

 

13.
show me someone who is famous, please? oh, I can’t see. to Dieter, then: my name is Alexander Panel, I sculptor, you sculptor also? John Wilcock, ex-English confidential SoHo agent wants another drink, shoots off to see if they’re still serving. Turns out Alexander’s from Russia, and recently; Father Jewish, which’s a break, two months in Vienna waiting on a visa, loft in Brooklyn now. this is a free country; here you can be what you want. Dieter: just barely. Berlin, you are from West or East? West, though my family’s from Prussia. Outside, Kay says: that’s an odd name for a Russian. What? Dunhill, its an odd name for a Russian.

 

Written November -December 1974
Published New Argot March 1974

 

Written 1977
First published together with
Climbing Rangitoto in The Bulletin of New Zealand Art History, 1979