Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Pictorial Aside: A NEW YORK AUTUMN

This post is mainly pictorial: a medley of my recent photographs, selected chiefly because I found them visually interesting and, in some cases, significant as documents.   As a group, these 49 photographs represent no particular theme or topic.  Still, I have grouped them into eight categories as a way to control their arrangement.

My first category does refer to the one feature shared by all 49: they were taken this autumn, somewhere in New York City.


Phillip Haas, Summer (after Arcimboldo), 2011, Bronx, New York Botanical Garden

Phillip Haas, Winter (after Arcimboldo), 2010, Bronx, New York Botanical Garden

Summer has gone, winter approaches.  Changing seasons are a time-honored theme, and few artists have personalized the changing seasons as compellingly as the Italian Mannerist painter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  In the mid-sixteenth century, he painted his own self portrait as each of the seasons, depicting (or assembling) himself through composites of the plants and fruits that characterized the four times of year.

This summer, American artist (and filmmaker) Philip Haas installed his fifteen-foot high, fiberglass, sculptural versions of Arcimboldo's paintings in the New York Botanical Garden. I offer two details of his sculpture (above), while this link shows an entire view of each of the four. 

Nelumbo, Alba Grandiflora, Bronx, New York Botanical Garden

Cercidiphyllum, Katsura Tree, Leaves, Bronx, New York Botanical Garden

Of course, every plant in the Botanical Garden indicates those early transitions to autumn.  This single bright, yellow leaf of the Katsura tree even hints at the tree's other fall colors to come--pink and orange-red--and once these leaves begin to fall, they will produce a sweet scent of burnt, brown sugar.

So, too, the lonely bean pod of the Nelumbo nucifera, or Sacred Lotus, has lost its flower petals, ripened, enlarged and taken on a beautiful red-orange tone, dropped its seeds, and subsided into the water.

Apples [R--->.L]: Bramley's Seedling, Pink Pearl, Cox's Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet from Black Diamond Farm

Zea mays indurata, Indian Corn (also Flint Corn)

Yet, we hardly need go back to the Renaissance nor look at exotic plants to know that autumn is upon us.  Indian Corn has appeared in the local farmer's market (I got these at Union Square), as have apples that will never be found in our grocery stores. 

The four apples I picture in the top photo don't even make an appearance among the many delicious varieties to be found in Union Square.  These I bought at the Ithaca Farmer's Market on a late September weekend trip, and a mix of them made one of the best, ever, apple pies.

The Bramley can be traced back to 1809 in Nottinghamshire.  The Pink Pearl was developed in 1944 in Northern California, and its flesh is streaked with red.  Cox's Orange Pippin was first grown in 1830 in Buckinghamshire; and the Egremont Russet is a product of Victorian England and may first have been grown in Sussex by the Earl of Egremont.  These, and dozens more, come from the Black Diamond Farm in Trumansburg, New York.

Central Park, 86th Street Transverse Road, Manhattan New York City

With Central Park at one's doorstep, or a few subway stops away, one hardly even needs to drive north to enjoy autumn foliage. When Olmsted and Vaux designed the Park's four, sunken transverse roads, they separated them from the Park above by seven foot high walls, planted embankments above these, and curved them to conform to the Park geographical contours. Thus, even when one is on a major city artery, the "natural" organicism of Central Park denies the city's "mechanical" grid and provides us with an opportunity to take autumn "picture postcards" that compete with anything to be captured in rural New England, all right here in the heart of our city.


Janet Cardiff, The 40 Part Motet, 2001, Installation at the Cloisters, Fuentidueña Chapel, 12th century (Spanish)

Janet Cardiff, The 40 Part Motet, 2001, A Listener, Installation at the Cloisters, Fuentidueña Chapel, 12th century (Spanish)

Consider forty speakers arranged in an oval;   each on a stand representing (and recording) a single singer;   eight groupings for the five voices: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass;   all installed within the reflective, stone walls of a transplanted, 12th century Spanish chapel;  and all becoming a single "choir" of forty voices singing a 450-year old choral composition, Spem in Alium, by Thomas Tallis. 

The musical composition may be old, but the presentation and its technical demands are wholly contemporary--the work of the Canadian installation artist, Janet Cardiff.   Had I gone to the Cloisters with my own recorder, I would have spent several minutes in front of each (or at least many) of the speakers as well as holding my recorder at the center foci of the oval.  Maybe somebody did make such a recording; if so, it would give you a sense of standing directly in front of a single, singing mouth, while the rest of the voices provided background.   The effect is mesmerizing.  In lieu of this, here is a link that offers a very good description of the Cardiff installation, 9:27, and then a large choir recording of the Tallis piece, 12:57.

In an article for the New York Times entitled, "Moved to Tears at the Cloisters by a Ghostly Tapestry of Music," Jim Dwyer writes of "the sound, from invisible people, as if from ghosts, feels like charged, living sculpture."  Cardiff's performance plays all day in a loop of about eleven minutes.  Regretfully, the installation closed this past Sunday, December 8.   Like my photograph of the gentleman in glasses, standing, eyes closed, nearly every listener appeared to be transported to some distant, less physical, realm.

Ned Rorem [foreground, standing], NYFOS Program: Ned Is Ninety, Merkin Concert Hall, Manhattan, NYC

On November 5, 2013, the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), celebrated the 90th birthday of American composer, Ned Rorem. Here we see Rorem, standing next to the edge of the stage at the end of the program of a delightful evening of song.   The two singers (standing, on stage) are mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and baritone, Andrew Garland.   Hidden behind Mr. Garland is the pianist and artistic director of NYFOS, Steven Blier.  At the piano on our right is Michael Barrett, co-founder and associate artistic director of NYFOS.

One of the many things that delight me about living in New York is the high quality of music reviews (which can be quite challenging to write well); read, for example, Fonseca-Wollheim's review of this program, "Poetic Tribute to a Composer."  Another delight is the fact that I never have experienced even a so-so performance in the NYFOS series.  Every one has been thoroughly engaging, highly educational (read Steven Blier's always amazing program notes), and musically first-rate. NYFOS is the only series that I will subscribe to blindly.

By the way, Ned Rorem may be ninety and uses a cane, but he looks no more than seventy, and he actually attempted to hop up on the stage.   Closing in on seventy-three, I would never even attempt this!

Brandon Ellis, Cabaret Performer in support of Miranda Jonte play, Greasemonkey, at Don't Tell Mama, Manhattan, NYC

I and a few friends are supporters of a young and talented playwright, Miranda Jonte, especially after seeing a first run of her play, Greasemonkey at the Robert Moss Theater on Lafayette Street in February: it was clever, snappy, well-paced, and kept our attention--steps above a few plays I saw this year across the street at the Public Theater!

Brandon Ellis, part of the cast of Once, was one of several friends of Miranda's who performed at a cabaret to raise money for Greasemonkey, opening in Chicago's Greenhouse Theater in June-July, 2014.

Beat Boxing, 125th Street Station (IRT East Side Line), Manhattan, NYC

There always is some interesting performance at the 125th Street Station, especially on a Friday or Saturday night.  This fellow, whose name I did not to get, is a pretty good beat boxer.  Beat boxing entails the producing of percussive sounds, sometimes while singing, imitating other instruments, or making other forms of musical sounds, using only one's mouth, tongue, lips and voice. The name of this medium derives from its early use to imitate drum machines ("beatboxes").

For a particularly amazing example of what can be done in this medium, watch this Tom Thum video,  part of a TED Talk in Sydney, 11:39. 

Dusty, 2nd Avenue Station (IND Sixth Avenue Line), Manhattan, NYC

I found Dusty late one night as I was making my way up to the #6 train and then home to the Bronx. He's a pretty decent horn player, but my train came too quickly for me to enjoy very much.  New York subways are full of musical buskers.  Apparently the word, "busker," is derived from "buscar," the Spanish word "to look for, to seek," as in people seeking recognition and, maybe, fortune.  For an informative article on subway buskers in New York, read this Times article by Jake Pearson.


Manolo Valdés, Untitled, 2013, Marlborough Gallery, Manhattan, NYC

Valdés, a Spanish artist living in New York, recently had a major show at the swanky Marlborough Gallery.  I include this piece mainly because his abstract compositions of radiating rods lend themselves to further abstraction when photographed as details. I also was interested in the relationship of his sweeping compositions, formed as they are by straight lines, to the ruled surfaces of projective geometry. 

William Kentridge, Showing & Vanishing/The Shadow of a Shadow, 2013, Marian Goodman Gallery, Manhattan, NYC

An even more intriguing gallery show was at the Marian Goodman Gallery of the work of South African artist, William Kentridge.  Here I show a detail of a larger piece in which he has drawn figures and scenes on pages of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary using ink, charcoal and pastel. Most of Kentridge's work alludes to socio-political issues of South Africa and social injustice. 

All of it is representational, at least initially.  To quote him, "my drawings don't start with a 'beautiful mark'. It has to be a mark of something out there in the world."   Where he then takes it is another issue, as his drawings are only the beginning.  Often, he erases and re-works his drawings, filming each alteration to make highly expressive and captivating stop-animation films and videos. The Goodman Gallery show has closed, but one may view Kentridge's powerful installation of sound, light, film and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled The Refusal of Time (through May 11, 2014). 

Michael Rees, Converge: Ghraib Bag, 2008, Broadway (between 58-59th Streets), Manhattan, NYC

Another museum show--running through July 6--is the show at the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle called Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital.  All of the works exhibited in this show are produced through advanced methods of digital fabrication, many through 3D modelling and printing.

Michael Rees' Converge: Ghraib Bag is one of two such works that the museum installed outside, in public space, and this sixteen-foot piece was milled by a machine from a cube of plastic.  Its form suggests a knot of several wrestlers, all arms and legs, or possibly an ambiguous, contemporary Laocoön (below, left).  

Laocoön & His Sons,  2nd C. BC, Vatical Museum, Rome

Pyramid of Naked Iraqi Prisoners, 2003-4, Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

But then, Rees' sub-title, Ghraib Bag, as well as the tangled form of his sculpture, implies a connection to some of the pictures that documented sadistic and criminal atrocities committed by American soldiers on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (above, right). Given the fact that Poseidon sent a serpent to punish Laocoön, might we not view all three compositions of intertwined bodies as representations of punishment, divine or otherwise? 

Attilio Piccirilli, Columbus, D'Aurio Murphy Triangle, 184th Street, Bronx, NYC

Located at the south end of Arthur Avenue, famous as the Bronx's "Little Italy," is this small park with a bust of Christopher Columbus.  The bust was carved by Attilio Piccirilli in 1925 and was only moved and installed here in 1992, when the park was re-designed.

Piccirilli was one of six master stone-carving brothers, whose much more famous contributions are the carving of the Maine Monument in Columbus Circle and the carving of the final, monumental, seated figure of Abraham Lincoln (designed by Daniel Chester French) inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Opportunity Reflection, Art In Odd Places Festival, Union Square, Manhattan, NYC

Coming in from Denver, CO to participate in New York's Art in Odd Places festival this fall was this group which called its project, Opportunity Reflection.  They constructed elegant mirror boxes, into which the viewer peers (see the box on the far left with an oval cut-out for one's face). 

First, however, the viewer selects one of several recognizable, faceless heads, such as the one of Mitt Romney that Peter (on the far right) is holding up.   Then, while peering into the box, one contemplates herself/himself as the celebrity selected. You never know what you will find in Union Square.

François-Xavier Lalanne, Sheep Station, 2013, Installation at Getty Gas Station, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Lalanne died five years ago, but his sheep continue to find (grazing) venues. In this case, the Getty Station on the corner of Tenth Avenue and 24th Street. Real estate developer Michael Shvo will soon begin construction of a luxury building on this site. In the meantime, he was able to appease his interest in art collecting, with the help of art dealer Paul Kasmin, by creating this wonderfully surreal, outdoor gallery in Chelsea.

Anonymous, You Are Loved, Street Art, Inkpen Graffiti, West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

A stylized cartoon head and the words "you are loved" are quickly drawn on the indented panel of an old cast iron pilaster in Chelsea.  This is one of those bits of under-the-radar graffiti that have a way of bringing mirth to the day those still willing to walk the city with open eyes and pocketed cel phones.

Tribute to Fallen Street Artists, Revok & POSE, 2013, The Bowery Mural, Houston & Bowery, Manhattan, NYC

The Bowery Mural is a venue for changing displays of some of the best graffiti art, or street art, if you prefer, from around the world.  Real estate developer Tony Goldman has owned the wall since 1984 and initiated it as a type of outdoor gallery with the assistance of gallerist, Jeffery Deitch.   This latest mural, by the two artists Revok and POSE, is intended as a tribute to many graffiti writers, now deceased.


Red Riding Hood & Friends, #6 Subway, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Mad Hatter Rides the MTA, #6 Subway, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Adrianna & Eddie, #6 Subway, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Of all the costumes I encountered on my brief swing through Manhattan on hallowe'en night, I give the prize to my very first encounter: Adrianna made up as a Roy Lichtenstein girl delineated by selective black line and Ben-Day dots.

Mad Tea Party Table, Preserve 24 Restaurant, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

One of Preserve 24's large, communal tables became a thematic still life for the restaurant's Alice in Wonderland hallowe'en theme.

Ghoul, Times Square, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Guy Fawkes, Duffy Square, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Muammar & Friends, Times Square, Hallowe'en Night, October 31, 2013, Manhattan, NYC


Churches Are Fake (Jesus Told Me So), Union Square, October 18, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

I wished that I had talked to this young woman who is carrying that large, red banner urging us to "seek the living Jesus," but she had enough struggles fighting the wind that worked its mischief on her banner.  Clearly, some heavenly force was testing her commitment.

Her message, however, is as old as the church itself, which many were already challenging in the 3rd-4th centuries A.D., as organized religion began to displace personal commitment. A contemporary example (which may be connected to this young woman) admonishes that “the lord Jesus is not in any church.”

Pre-Earth, Union Square, October 18, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

On October 18, 2013, representatives of the Latter Day Saints commandeered the central part of the south edge of Union Square, and many of its young adherents took chalk to pavement to sketch out visual representations of the Mormon Church's "Plan of Salvation."   This section represents us as disembodied spirit children, living with God before the world was even created: thus the Mormon reference to pre-earth.

WAFU, Busker Acrobats, Union Square, October 18, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

Union Square is a "happening" place, and one can learn a lot about communication and marketing techniques by watching some of our acrobatic buskers play a large crowd with wit and impeccable timing.  Then there is the physical act(ion), which can only be captured in a video; this link provides one example from this same group. 

By the way, I failed to discover what WAFU, embossed on their October 18 uniforms, stood for.

Bubbles in Vanderbilt Hall, Sonia Kashuk Promotional Event, Grand Central Station, November 4, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

When you have made your name marketing bath and body products and have teamed up with Target stores, as Sonia Kashuk has done, you no longer need to find open space in Union Square to market your product. 

Instead, you can rent Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Station for a day and install a pop-up store.  While ladies purchase washes, shower gels, body lotions and fragrances, and also take advantage of free make-up services,  their gentlemen companions circled the central kiosk, necks craned skywards to gawk at a sexy model lounging in a bathtub.

Pardon the historian in me, but I can't resist comparing this image to and enjoying its contradiction with that iconic Indiana farm-woman of 1928 who explained why she owned a car but no indoor plumbing: "You can't go to town in a bathtub."  Maybe today, however, you can go to town in a bathtub, only you had better use the train.

Mile 20, Elite Men, New York Marathon, November 3, 2013, 3rd Avenue, Bronx, NYC

This photograph was taken a block from where I live, recording the marathon's token foray into the Bronx.  At mile 20, eight of the elite men runners are still running in one bunch.  Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai, seen here on the far right, would pull away from his peer group two miles later to win the race by 52 seconds in a time of 2:08:24.

Talking Transition, Transition Tent, Duarte Square, November, 2013, Manhattan, NYC

This temporary structure--a glass tent on Duarte Square--was designed by the firm, Production Glue, and its glass walls and roof are meant to be emblematic of transparency and openness (dare we hope, in government?). 

The design also made major use of plastic milk crates: for a sort-of entry propylaeum in front of it;  for that big red arrow that you can see pointing down to the entry door;  for large, block lettering that identifies the side of the tent;  and for chandeliers, soapboxes and other interior decorative features. 

How fitting for milk crates to appear so prominently in a building meant as a locus for an on-going dialogue between the people of New York City and their incoming mayor, whom many call "a man of the people!"  After all, the ubiquitous plastic milk crate is probably second only to duct tape when it comes to products closest to the heart of the common man--all-purpose, do-it-yourself materials.

Mayor-elect De Blasio anticipates that this Talking Transition tent will expose him to grass roots solutions and "hidden gems."  He was quoted as saying, “if you give people a chance to offer their ideas, you’ll find an extraordinary number of New Yorkers who have positive, productive ideas.” 

This is a "'think tent' instead of a think tank" said Christopher Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations.  Open Society (which is run by George Soros) and nine other groups developed the idea of Talking Transition well before New York had held its elections, by the way.

Over the fifteen days that Talking Transition took place, tens of thousands of New Yorkers participated in a wide range of events, talks, and opportunities to offer suggestions. The event ended with a "Town Meeting" in which a packed tent and on-line participants discussed three major issues that were prioritized from the two weeks of surveys: education; housing; police-community relations.

Among the participants were several veterans of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and one of these, Goldi Guerra (of Occupy Staten Island) pointed out the delicious irony of having the setting in Duarte Square:  "It's really great that rich people finally think it's cool, putting up tents in Duarte Square, 'cause this is something Occupy Wall Street tried doing two years ago, and all we did was get arrested."


Sleeping, Union Square, Manhattan, NYC

Homeless on Broadway, Broadway between 14-13th Streets, Manhattan, NYC

Homeless: Happy Halloween, East 14th Street, Manhattan, NYC

Homeless: I Don't Hurt, East 13th Street, Manhattan, NYC

With hand-written signs on cardboard saying things like "homeless, no family, no support,"   "happy hallowe'en, please help, some change, a dollar,"   or "I'm homeless, I don't steal, I don't hurt people I ask,"  the homeless of New York City have been making a reappearance on the streets in recent years. 

"Homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s."  Wages for low-income New Yorkers has fallen and, even more importantly, the number of affordable housing units also has fallen.  Be aware that this June, New York had an all-time record of 52,400 homeless people, but these are only the ones who were sleeping in municipal homeless shelters.  We have no idea how many "unsheltered homeless" there are--like these people, pictured above, on the streets.

The homeless issue will be a challenging one for the De Blasio Administration.  However, we should keep in mind, as Ian Frazier wrote in the New Yorker, that "during the twelve years of the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless people has gone through the roof they do not have." 

Clearly, the tragedy of America's homeless is not the result of liberal policies.   Rather, it is the result of "The GOP's Poverty Denialism," as Michelle Goldberg puts it.  As she notes, in contrast to earlier Republican leaders who at least acknowledged the plight of the poor, today we "see on the right a combination of poverty denialism and outright contempt."  Of course, this attitude has its roots in an even earlier Republican, as Peter Dreier documented in a 2004 study for the National Housing Institute entitled, "Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America."


I included my photograph, You Are Loved, in the section on "Gallery Art & Street Art," but it could just as well be here.  These photographs capture those urban details that one might easily overlook or that will last only fleetingly.  Each one can be a small, poetic encounter.

New York's Finest, West 42nd Street, Manhattan, NYC

Missing Avonte, Poster, Canal Street Station Elevator, Manhattan, NYC

A graffiti-etched glass wall on Canal Street and a ripped poster of a missing, autistic fourteen-year-old make up a heartfelt poem, easily passed-over amidst the visual cacophony of Canal Street.

Become Your Dream, James De La Vega, East Meadow Walk, Central Park, Manhattan, NYC

James De La Vega is a muralist and street artist. He was born in East Harlem and holds a BFA from Cornell University.  Besides large murals, he also makes quick chalk drawings on the sidewalk, the most common of which admonishes us with the message, "Become Your Dream." 

He has used this title for an autobiographical movie as well as a small museum downtown; still, this message sticks with us because of its appearance and re-appearance on the sidewalks of our familiar haunts.  What does it mean, really?  What if our dreams are nightmares; should we still become them?   One clue may come from an early chalk drawing, in which De La Vega elaborated:  "the pressure of survival in the big city will make you lose sight of your dream...hang in there." Still, his brief admonition has poetic ambiguity--and it's more terse than a haiku! 

Coffee Break, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

Lipstick Break, Stairwell Window Ledge, DUMBO, Brooklyn, NYC

The inspiring poetry in what's left behind on a window ledge.


Turning West at Mile 20, November 3, 2013, St. Jerome's Church, East 138th Street, Bronx, NYC

Another photo from this year's marathon, but really to present the background church of St. Jerome. It's an elegant, well-proportioned bit of Italianate Baroque dating from 1892.  Its main Baroque features are the two broken pediments which define that central section above the three entry arches.

Bronx Residents have fond memories of St Jerome's, in particular because of the three-decade tenure of Father John Grange, who fought selflessly for the church and its parishoners. He was reassigned in 2008 and died two months ago.

La Main de Madame, Madame Tussauds, 42nd Street, Manhattan, NYC

Madame Tussaud offers a bit of surrealism to Times Square (which already is pretty surreal).   I imagine that the hand--besides acting as an attention-getter--may refer to the fact that Madame Tussaud wax museums offer its visitors the opportunity to cast their own hand in wax.  Thus, once sated with the museum's 225 life-like effigies of stars and icons, you may "take your wax hand home and display it with pride, showing your friends and family that you are a star too!"

Putti, New Victory Theater, West 42nd Street, Manhattan, NYC

Ringing the dome of the New Victory Theater at its springing are these sculptures of putti and lyres.  As the lyre is an instrument that accompanies public song and recitation and the putto is often associated with mirth, this decoration seems quite appropriate for a theater that now presents work for children.  However, the theater, which was built by Oscar Hammerstein I in 1900, began as the Theatre Republic,   then was converted into Minsky's Burlesque house in 1931,  and became a movie theater--the Victory--in 1942. So, lets just enjoy the decoration and forget about its iconography. 

Frieze & Beam, Spring Street Station (IRT East Side Line), Manhattan, NYC

This is one of the original stations of Manhattan's first subway, which opened in October of 1904.  I imagine that this terracotta frieze with stylized acanthus was part of the original design by the architects, Heinz & LaFarge.  I am drawn to the urban collage of old and new, formal and practical, seen here in the clash between the elegant decoration of the frieze and the rough, rusting, purely functional steel plate inches above the frieze.

Blue Shoes, Valentino window at night, Madison Avenue at 69th Street, Manhattan, NYC

Thor R Us, Times Square, Manhattan, NYC

Finally, certain urban details just jump out more when encountered at night.  I don't know if blue is the fashion color for this season, but at night one can hardly miss these electric blue shoes in Valentino's window.  

As for Thor (or actually Thor II, as in Thor: The Dark World), he (it?) has bulled his way well past $500 million in global ticket sales and past the first Thor, which earned $449 million.  Thus, fittingly, as one of those heroes so many empathize with, Thor not only visually blends into the toy store logo at night, he emotionally becomes us: therefore my title, Thor R Us.