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Showing posts from September, 2007

Keith Tyson: A Wiz of a Wiz at Pace Wildenstein

I instantly clicked with British artist Keith Tyson's installation extravaganza, Large Field Array, currently on view at Pace Wildenstein. The veritable flea market of diverse squared sculptures, all telegraphing the dominant signs of an omniscient memory - the face of Ronald Reagan, ruby red slippers, a photo cube, the levitating woman, the horn of plenty, the coffee cup from the Friends TV show, to name just a few of the 230 individual pieces that are arranged here on a grid, necessitated walking through it and forming associations this way and that. Some people go both ways.

As a flâneuse I engage in this sort of practice every day, and so upon walking into the installation space I first resisted this uninvited busman's holiday. If you have stumbled across this website, for example, and surveyed it long enough to see that walking in New York leads to topics such as medieval life, Leon Trotsky, inexpensive hotels, Diane Arbus, The Patty Duke Show, Alex Rodriguez, the fairy …

Absinthe: Its Many Uses in Medieval Times

Unfortunately I have never witnessed a vision. Not one of the 12,000 saints has ever said so much as 'Good day' to me, but since I was first at Lourdes ten years ago I have realized that the phenomenon of visions is something that concerns us all. " - Erich Von Däniken, Miracles of the Gods, 1974*

I'll wrap up the visit to The Cloisters with a few observations, because I plan to return to Chelsea today to better contrast medieval and contemporary art. In the near future I'll put all the related Cloisters stories together and post an official walk on the sidebar where it belongs.

When visiting a museum I recommend picking just three or four rooms and then spending quality time with a handful of objects. This focused visit yields more powerful results than the superficial overview. While visiting The Cloisters, for example, I decided I would only care about the Ermengols, the herb garden, and the dogs in the Unicorn Tapestries and then come back for more later.

While t…

The Cloisters: The Unicorn Tapestries and Their Provenance

Much of the world's greatest visual art hangs in private residences, inaccessible to public view. Anonymous buyers at the world's auction houses squirrel away great treasures at the close of the sale, wonderful works of art only to be viewed by close friends and family. Even Walking Off the Big Apple possesses a great treasure trove of art in her home, including humble vernacular items of the American South, highly skilled paintings and drawings of formally trained artists in academia, and even a page from a 13th century music manuscript that makes her feel like a Morgan. This last work is so private that it's stashed under a stack of blankets in the linen closet, and I forget it's even there.

From 1922 until 1937 the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries, arguably the most exquisite objects of their era, dating from 1495 to 1505, adorned the private residence of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Prior to his acquisition, the tapestries belonged to the Rochefoucaud family in France, bu…

The Cloisters Up Close: Ermengol X

Ermengol X (1254-1314), Count of Urgel, wore pointy shoes, organized a lovely tomb chapel for family members, and he died without heirs. I know this because I researched his life. I spent part of Sunday in the Gothic Chapel at The Cloisters drawing his shoes, and it seemed kind of rude not to know more about him. I don't know how to pronounce his name.

I wasn't at all familiar with the territory of Urgel, Ermengol's home base, but I have since learned that the area belongs to Catalonia, Spain, and it's near the Pyrenees. The area also benefits from historical ties to Andorra.

The Ermengol family looked comfortable enough in their tomb effigies (other members are in the same chapel at The Cloisters), despite the fact that Ermengol X intended everyone to stay together at the Church at Las Avellanas back in Spain and not at the Cloisters at Las Henry Hudson Parkway in Nueva York. I doubt he expected to have his feet sketched and blogged 700 years later by a Texan.

In tomb ef…

Walking Video

On YouTube I've found some lovely vintage footage made by the Dutch beat band, The Motions, as the group toured the US in 1969. Several clips fall under the title Walking in New York. I'm charmed by their NY street interview with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones of The Monkees.

Here they come, walkin' down the street:

The Cloisters: A Quick Overview

During the Middle Ages, aggressive and illiterate 20-year-olds in bad health crowded the cobblestone streets, much like the (Goth)am of our own time. The 20-somethings of today may be taller and cleaner, but to their credit, the brutish, nasty and short Goth counterparts of the 13th and 14th centuries kept themselves busy as farmers and craftsmen and did not lounge around the Village eating brunch. Medieval village dwellers had little in common with the crusading orders, busybodies who lacked humor and were obsessed with recapturing the Middle East from Muslim rule.

Like our own era, medieval European artisans made visual art with the intent of frightening people. Monstrous visions of damnation, carved upon columns, pedestals, and church doors, could spook more people than your average Andres Serrano photograph. Thanks to the French revolutionaries of the 18th century who let their monasteries go down hill and to the restoration zeal of "Junior "(image above: John D. Rockefel…

New York Yankees Post-season Diet Challenge

I love the New York Yankees, especially Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, so I'm excited about the prospects for the post-season. The Yankees are the main reason I visit the Bronx.

I've devised a post-season diet challenge for Yankees fans, especially for those who would like to lose a little weight. Though I imagine all of you to be thin, a few of you may want to lighten up before the holidays.

Here's how it works: Select the number of the player's jersey that matches the number of pounds you would like to lose. See the active roster here. Now imagine that the player whose number you've located is your diet buddy. For example, if you think you need to lose 13 pounds then Alex Rodriguez could be your diet buddy! If you're a zoftig individual, then maybe you'll need to buddy up with Joba Chamberlain (62!) Or if you just want to lose a couple of pounds, then Derek Jeter (2) is your guy. Lucky you!

The fun part is that once you start to lose weight, by walking of c…

E. 1st Street and Red Velvet Cupcakes (on E. 4th)

(Ed. note: To appreciate this post more fully, please read the post, 1917: Trotsky's Flâneur Boy Wanders Downtown.)

Yes, Seryozha, there really is a First Street, and it's still here in 2007, ninety years after your daddy took you home so he could lead the Red Army. Considering what befell all of you, I wish you had stayed in New York and grown up in the city. I will tell you about First Street in 2007, a charming and humble byway in what we call the East Village.

We'll walk from west to east on First Street, beginning at the Bowery. The famous anarchist Emma Goldman first lived on the Bowery when she arrived in the city, and she came to see your daddy deliver his farewell address in NYC in 1917.

The first block, Seryozha, between the Bowery and 2nd Avenue, has sadly been colonized by bourgeois arrivistes. Breaking the heart of the late Jane Jacobs, developers replaced vibrant street life with overly pricey nondescript condominium developments called Avalon. I visited thei…

1917: Trotsky's Flâneur Boy Wanders Downtown

Leon Trotsky lived with his family in New York for two months in 1917. In his autobiography, the revolutionary tells a charming anecdote about his younger son*:

When I telephoned my wife from the newspaper office that Petrograd was in the midst of revolution, the younger boy was in bed with diphtheria. He was nine years old, but he realized definitely – and had for a long time – that revolution meant an amnesty, a return to Russia and a thousand other blessings. He jumped to his feet and danced on the bed in honor of the revolution. It was a sign of his recovery.

We were anxious to leave by the first boat. I rushed from consulate to consulate for papers and visas. On the eve of our departure the doctor allowed the convalescent boy to go out for a walk. My wife let him go for half an hour, and began to pack. How many times she had gone through that same operation? But there was no sign of the boy. I was at the office. Three anxious hours; then came a telephone-call to my wife. First, an …

Walking Off Class Struggle in New York

My entire possessions consisted of five dollars and a small hand-bag. My sewing-machine, which was to help me to independence, I had checked as baggage. Ignorant of the distance from West Forty-second Street to the Bowery, where my aunt lived, and unaware of the enervating heat of a New York day in August, I started out on foot. How confusing and endless a large city seems to the new-comer, how cold and unfriendly!*
-Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Vol. One, Page 1


Walking Off the Big Apple is increasingly concerned about the appalling division of social classes in the city. Though an ever-present part of the city's life, documented over the ages in fiction and non-fiction, the current configuration of hedge fund managers on top and the working poor at the bottom bothers the moral conscience. Thusly, I am rummaging through the grad school shelves for wisdom on the topic - Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, Karl Marx's articles for the New York Daily Tribune,…

Diane Arbus and the Hotel Chelsea Walk: No Freaks, No Punks

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Based on its reputation, I expected the Hotel Chelsea (or Chelsea Hotel) to be charmingly worn and tattered, populated by romantic drunk poets, eccentric artists and punks shooting up in the hallways. When I visited the hotel on Friday I found instead well-dressed and well-behaved tourists, attractive furniture and appealing colorful art. With many of the rooms starting at $250 a night, I suppose I would expect some level of decorum, but then again I didn't go into any actual rooms. While the hotel still houses long-term residents, artists among them, its new corporate managers may impose a more orthodox style and attract a more bourgeois crowd. Too bad. An excellent blog that keeps abreast of the hotel's history and alarming attempts at gentrification may be found here.

My immediate reason for the walk was to visit the building in the West Village where Diane Arbus died. The Westbeth building on West and Bethune Streets, the former home of BellLabs, was conver…

Raffetto's Italian Grocery: Where Diets Go to Die

The passage of the cold front yesterday morning awakened an autumnal appetite, and I found myself walking automatically to Raffetto's on Houston St. Last year, after I found Raffetto's and its array of affordable take-home Italian food, I gained 17 pounds.* I'm not kidding. I spent all summer walking it off and eating small servings of yogurt instead of Raffetto's hand-made cheese ravioli, zucchini cakes, meatballs, and marinara sauce.
This year I'll try better to balance Italian food with a commitment to exercise. I left the store without a zucchini cake. Maybe I'll buy one in November.

*OK, maybe just 3 pounds. I'm from Texas and allowed to exaggerate. I attribute just one pound to Raffetto's. Another came from Bruno Bakery, where I often stopped on the walk home from Raffetto's, and the other from Eli Zabar's E.A.T. on the Upper East Side.

Back-to-School Art Supplies Walk

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Want to draw or paint but need something to draw or paint with? Visit three New York art supply dealers, see some architecture, important cultural landmarks, and find places to sit, draw, and eat on this self-guided tour.
I'd rather spend my money in art stores than in clothing boutiques, because I can always find something beautiful, affordable, and a good fit for me. That said, I have bought more supplies than I need - handmade pastel chalks, empty sketchbooks, watersoluble ink pencils, watersoluble color crayons, variously hued chalk pastels, graphite pencils, etc. I like to look at them all, and I enjoy imagining that I will make beautiful drawings very soon.

For details of the tour, please enlarge the map.

See also Drawing Sessions: The Walk-in Ateliers of New York.

Walking Off New York Food Distance Chart

Starting in Battery Park (BP) and continuing north on Broadway, please find the distance up Broadway needed to walk off common New York foods for a 140 pound person walking at a moderate pace (approx.):

slice pepperoni pizza (200 cal) = BP to W. 3rd St. (1.9 miles)
cafe latte grande (260 cal) = BP to Union Square Park (2.5 miles)
bagel (320 cal) = BP to W. 25th St. (3 miles)
chocolate croissant (340 cal) = BP to W. 29th St. (3.25 miles)
pad thai (380 cal) = BP to W. 35th St. (3.5 miles)
black and white cookie (430 cal) = BP to W. 45th St. (4 miles)
NY cheesecake (480 cal) = BP to W. 54th St. (4.5 miles)
pastrami sandwich (1010 cal) = BP to W. 150th St. (9.5 miles)

Remember that next time you are at Katz's. I will.

Walk and Draw: A Back-to-School Special

On this bright clear morning, Walking Off the Big Apple almost collided with several cell-phone-toting undergrads, and I realized all too clearly the implications of this annual fall invasion. The lines at Pinkberry on Spring Street will now be near impossible, and finding a vacant, or at least quiet, table at a nearby cafe will be a joke. Otherwise, I welcome the purple people eaters from NYU and am here to help them navigate the exciting streets of the big city.

Now that Labor Day weekend is over, the city woke up this morning to a quicker pace. It's Back to Work for a lot of people, as well as Back to School, and so the happy-go-luckiness of the summer has rapidly given way to the career-minded anxiety of autumn's potential failure.

Thinking of these undergraduates and their blossoming hopes, the time when it is still possible to talk in terms of one's potential, I am reminded that we all can go back to school at whatever age. I myself have taken advantage of both formal …

Chelsea and West Village Walking: Specific Observations

The spectacular weather of this Labor Day weekend in New York seems to have prolonged the increasingly mandatory event called BRUNCH. New Yorkers and visitors have so ensconced themselves in their outdoor seats that I imagine many will find a way to stay through dinner. Everyone should make brunch reservations.

A friend suggested a visit on Friday to the josée bienvenu gallery in Chelsea to see the exhibit microwave, five. The exhibit demonstrates the skills of artists willing to patiently create obviously obsessive objects of beauty, thusly separating themselves as artists from the general population. I made the mosaic-like drawing of my dog as the Lion of St. Mark (the one in a previous post) over the course of a couple of months (maybe a year!), and while I like it, the process was so tedious I won't do it again.

Aside from this exhibit, Chelsea is sleepy, so it's not a great time to visit. Some shut down completely in August. Most are gearing up for openings in the next coup…

Walking to Chelsea Is Not Impossible

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I've had occasion to walk around Chelsea and the far West Village for the past couple of days, and I finally figured out how to walk from Washington Square Park to Chelsea without wanting to kill myself. When I visited art galleries in Chelsea in the past, I would take the subway from W. 4th to 23rd. and 8th Ave. and then walk these increasingly endless blocks over to 10th and 11th Avenues. By then my feet hurt, and I would end up hating the art that I would have found enlightening had I taken a taxi.

But since I walk everywhere now, I thought I could find a more rational and yet entertaining way to get to Chelsea. Summoning a map, I realized I could zip up in a NW direction on Greenwich Ave. and then make my way to Chelsea Market for a little break and some refreshment. I found gelato works as a quick pick-me-up before art browsing along the west 20s.

Once I satisfied my art needs, I made my way back through the charming world of the far West Village. It's the on…

Walking Off New York with Other Species

I see lots of dogs when I am walking around New York, and frequently I bring along a couple of handsome hounds myself. But after seeing the movie Village Sunday, the one I presented to you in a previous post, I got to thinking about the cute pet primate in that film and how that wasn't unusual around here.

Lately I have seen a woman that takes her cat out for a walk. I was in Duane Reade the other day when I found myself behind a woman who sported a live cat on her shoulder. The cat was on a leash, it was well-behaved and seemed to take interest in the transaction at the counter. The clerks engaged the woman in some chit-chat about her cat, and the woman said that, yes, her cat loved this sort of excursion. When she left I have to admit that there was much eye-rolling and knee-slapping, that sort of thing.

My favorite, however, is a woman who takes her pet turtle out for a walk. I saw them in the courtyard of an apartment building, and I was startled to see a turtle in the first …