Archive for ‘Winter’

July 6, 2016

Remembering Bill Cunningham

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My husband died on November 3, 1989. I was invited to the opening of Jenny Holzer’s landmark show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum that December, and it was my first outing. I struggled to get there from the Berkshires. I ran out of gas driving to the Albany train station. On the train, I spilled my Coke and dissolved into tears (a kind train conductor saw what happened, and replaced the Coke, but that’s another story). It was the first time I put on lipstick in six weeks.

I wore a rust-colored Issey Miyake dress as big as a pumpkin, as flat as a pancake. There were slits for my arms and head. (It was the perfect dress a decade later when I was nine months pregnant.) I could hide in the trademark pleated swath fabric, which rolled up like a diploma when it sat on my shelf. I had no idea how to clean it, so vowed not to sit down.

I walked into the rotunda and saw someone I knew: Count Giuseppe Panza. I didn’t know a lot of fancy people, but he had been kind to those of us working on MASS MoCA in the early days, and he greeted me warmly. I chatted with him and his wife Giovanna, and suddenly Bill Cunningham was swarming around us like a bee, snapping away. Assuming that he wanted to photograph the Italian Count and Countess, I left them and headed up the ramp of the rotunda. To my surprise, Bill Cunningham followed me. He photographed me as I walked (pretty self-consciously) up the ramp. It was the dress, of course. People stared. I was embarrassed and flattered. And for a moment, just a moment, I was transported from my misery, my psychic confusion, my pain.

I don’t recall exactly what happened next. I do remember that Tom Krens, totally out of character, appeared and took my hand, engulfing my fingers in his large palm as he escorted me to dinner, his tuxedoed figure towering over mine as he seated me at the head table. It was a kind gesture I appreciate to this day. It was an evening that Bill Cunningham captured, and created. I remember it 27 years later.

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