At 7:15am on a Wednesday morning, it occurs to me I’ve never seen the gates open at the Museum of Modern Art before. I am here, with a very obliging friend, for Quiet Mornings, the museum’s program to open its fourth and fifth floors at 7:30am for reduced admission every Wednesday in October (a partnership with culture website Flavorpill). There is an optional meditation session from 8:30am to 9am, and then the museum closes until its regular opening time of 10:30am.
The smattering of people outside the building is comprised of more city dwellers than tourists; perhaps these locals are seeking a break from their usual pre-work routine of coffee and a bagel. Inside, a wealth of cushions and folding stools are set up on the floor of the lobby for the meditation later. I remember going to MoMA a few years ago in hopes of seeing an exhibition and having to wade through floods of aimless visitors to reach it; this is not the case today. My friend and I slowly make our way through the fourth floor galleries showcasing work from the 1960s. It amuses me to enter the first room on this Quiet Morning and be greeted with the periodic shrieks of John Whitney’s 1961 video of revolving, brightly colored shapes, “Catalog,” but otherwise MoMA is very quiet. I admire sculptures like Yayoi Kusama’s “Accumulation No. 1” (1962) and Claes Oldenburg’s “Floor Cone” of the same year. Their curving shapes are comforting as the clock approaches 8am.
My friend and I come upon Julian Stanczak’s 1963 painting “The Duel,” an Op art composition in black and white with lines popping simultaneously toward and away from the eye. “I can’t take this picture this early in the morning,” my friend says, walking away. While I feel energized by this particular work, I begin to echo his sentiment as I approach Paul Thek’s “Hippopotamus Poison” (1965), a wax sculpture meant to evoke rotting meat, and a video of Carolee Schneemann’s 1964 performance piece “Meat Joy,” in which a series of mostly nude couples writhe together, slapping each other with various meats and dead fish. Yes, it is much too early for this, I think.
I am reinvigorated as I enter the 1967 gallery, where Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” plays in the background. It’s not too early for Grace Slick, I think as I peruse the museum’s wall of neon-colored concert posters from the era. It’s only when I enter the adjacent gallery filled with 1960s furniture that I realize the sun has begun to shine outside. Since many of the galleries are shielded from exterior light, this Quiet Morning at times doesn’t feel like morning at all, doesn’t feel too different from visiting the museum at any other time of day — save for the unrelenting caffeine deprivation addling my brain and eyelids.
At 8:30am we make our way downstairs to the cushions and stools now filled with people. The lobby is brimming with sunlight and a guided meditation, led by expert Biet Simkin, begins. She purrs instructions and the entire crowd shuts its eyes. While I, neurotic writer that I am, am not often prone to a meaningful pause in mental activity, my blood begins to buzz, vibrating in response to the sinuousness of her voice. For once, I don’t think of anything except how much I love this feeling pulsing through my veins. When the meditation ends, Biet releases us into the October morning with wishes of positive energy and self-reflection.
My friend begins chatting to me as we leave MoMA, but for a while I can’t respond, and don’t want to. I just want to feel my blood and hear the honk of taxicabs, the roll of tires across pavement, the buzz of the New York morning.