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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Postcard from New York

Gramercy Park

Although it takes five modes of transport to get from Fire Island to Manhattan, it only took us three hours. When it works, it works. But as soon as we got into the taxi line at Penn, we knew it was going to be an oven. We still used the subway a lot because the cars are air conditioned, but waiting at the stations in the middle of the day is a descent into hell. The sign on a church in Gramercy Park said, “The devil called. He wants his weather back.”

Our neighborhood church tells it like it is

The diner at the corner of East 22nd and Third near where we usually stay has been reborn as a Greek restaurant. Nothing fancy, but very fresh. Perfect for the hot weather. The other food highlight was probably the Union Square Café, which was delicious this time.

Mural at Union Square Café

Our regular breakfast meeting spot is Maialino, another Danny Meyer gem. It was one of those places where you have to make a reservation for breakfast, but it wasn’t so crowded this time of year, because the neighbors can afford to get out of town. If you need another breakfast spot in Gramercy, Friend of a Farmer is a good second choice. One place to avoid for breakfast or lunch on the Upper East Side is E.A.T. The food is tasty, but the prices are stupid expensive. Speaking of avoiding places, we were treated most rudely at the Standard. It is not a hotel for the over-30 crowd. Although I still like the spatial experience beneath the pilotis when you stand on the High Line.

The very rude but handsome Standard Hotel

A good friend of ours was able to get us tickets to Book of Mormon. Given its extreme popularity, you wonder if it can be that good. It was. Even Paul liked it. As with other big Broadway hits, the authors built a base with a popular media brand, in this case the irreverent television show South Park. While it makes fun of the absurdities of Mormonism, it isn’t mean. The thread is that we all tell stories to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense. And if you want a wild story, Mormonism is it. Even Kolob is mentioned. Don’t know about Kolob? Worth a Google search.

Book of Mormon

It was a stunning museum summer.

One of our favorite shows was also the most modest. William Menking, founder of the Architect’s Newspaper, and Wolfgang Forster have mounted a simple show about social housing in Vienna at the Austrian Cultural Forum called the Vienna Model. I had never visited Raimund Abraham’s slender landmark on East 52nd Street. The guard only lets you into the exhibit, but even the detailing on the handrails is exquisite. Using construction scaffolding, the curators create a varied armature to provide dimension and variety for what is basically a show of photographs. The catalog won’t be out until the fall, but it will be a valuable tool for all of us who care about social housing. The show reminds us that the original promise of modernism, beautiful housing for everybody, need not be dull or oppressive, but can be life affirming and joyful.


The exhibit constructed of scaffolds.

A handrail at the Austrian Cultural Forum.

At the high end of architecture exhibit budgets, MoMA has mounted Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes. It can be read in any number of ways. Most reviewers like to say his buildings were better than his paintings. I would say his paintings were better than his master plans. Some of my favorite artworks of his are the bolder tile murals. Unfortunately, those were not in evidence. But the curators did reconstruct his rustic cottage by the sea and a typical double-height living room of Unité d’Habitation, which gives the viewer a sense of the beauty of his most modest spaces. They’ve hung a beautiful wood model of Chandigarh on the wall, and that reinforces the strong relationship between the artwork and the landscape. The long scrolls are an insight into this drawing/thinking process. Despite all this research and material, I still think his individual buildings were genius and his plans were mad.


Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) with Pierre Jeanneret.
Villa Savoye Poissy-sur-Seine, France. 1929–31.
Wood, aluminum, and plastic, 16 x 34 x 32" (40.6 x 86.4 x 81.3 cm).
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/FLC 

In the next gallery, Claes Oldenburg: The Street and the Store resonated strongly with my own introduction to modern art. When I was about 12 years old, our parents took us to the then-new Berkeley Art Museum, where we saw melting electric plugs, light switches, lipstick, food, and all kinds of wonderful craziness. I had never seen a building like Mario Ciampi’s brutalist masterpiece, nor had I ever seen everyday objects memorialized. It was a turning point in my young life. MoMA is showing Oldenburg’s early explorations in cardboard and vinyl, which he designed to get the viewer to really see the everyday. This was before his work got so smooth, so shiny, so much more like the culture it was commenting on.


"Empire" ("Papa") Ray Gun
Casein on papier-mâché over wire.
Gift of the artist. © 1959 Claes Oldenburg.
Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department

Lunette Flag. Wood. Centre Pompidou, Paris.
 Musée national d'art moderne / Centre de création industrielle.
© 1960 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: CNAC/MNAM/Dist.
RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)
Vinyl, kapok, and wood painted with acrylic.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc.,
Leonard A. Lauder, President. © 1963 Claes Oldenburg.
Photo: David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Over at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the most sublime ceramics exhibit of recent memory. It’s a long schlep to the modern art side of things at the Met, but worth the walk. Ken Price, who passed away last year in New Mexico, stayed true to his West Coast surfing roots and shows that craft can rise to art. Frank Gehry has designed a subtle (yes subtle!) background for Price’s brilliant work. The glazes are unlike any I have ever seen. His forms seem to come from the ocean and are then recast or reshaped into new life forms. Although they are highly sensuous, they are also calming.


Ken Price, Pastel, 1995. Fired and painted clays, 14 1/2 x 15 x 14 in.
James Corcoran Gallery, © Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsenn

PUNK: Chaos to Couture had very little punk and a whole lot of couture. One thing the Met seems to do especially well are costume/fashion shows. Honestly, I am embarrassed to spend more than an hour looking at fashion promoted as art. But the museum is trying to make a connection between couture and culture, and I am a willing audience.


D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Facsimile of CBGB bathroom, New York, 1975
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

But the spectacle of the summer belongs to James Turrell. This summer, there are three unique shows devoted to his work in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. The accomplishment is mindboggling. There will be more on all three shows in a separate blog entitled “Summer of Turrell.” Suffice it to say, it is worth a trip to the Guggenheim to check it out. Go early, avoid the weekend, and buy your ticket ahead of time.


James Turrell Aten Reign, 2013 Daylight and LED light, dimensions variable
© James Turrell Installation view: James Turrell, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York, June 21–September 25, 2013 Photo: David Heald
 © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Ronin, 1968 Fluorescent light, dimensions variable Collection of the artist
© James Turrell Installation view: Jim Turrell, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam,
April 9–May 23, 1976 Photo: Courtesy the Stedelijk Museum

For you light and space fans, Robert Irwin’s Scrim Veil—Black Rectangle—Natural Light from 1977 has been reinstalled at the Whitney. And what a triumph it is. In his quiet but sure way, he takes the measure of a place and then makes the most subtle and powerful intervention, thereby transforming the space and asking you to question your perception. While I love what Turrell is up to with his complex lighting, angles, and apertures, I am also very drawn to the simple line that Irwin traces through space.


With a bit of scrim, metal, wood, and tape and just daylight,
Irwin gets you to question what you are seeing.

If you are a Hopper fan, there is also a fine show that links his sketching to his most famous works. You get your money’s worth at the Whitney! We will be sorry when they leave the Marcel Breuer fortress for the light-filled Renzo Piano jewel box down in Chelsea.


Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Study for Nighthawks, 1941 or 1942.
Fabricated chalk and charcoal on paper; 11 1/8 × 15 in. (28.3 × 38.1 cm).
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;
purchase and gift of Josephine N. Hopper by exchange 2011.65

Image courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop in
collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners

And this year Grand Central Station is a century old! Talk about enduring design.
Mural at Union Square Café

1 comment:

cherie said...

Excellent overview of some very exciting exhibits! I hope they're all still up when I get back to NYC in the coolness of October. Thanks for braving the heat for art, Kenny.