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Showing posts from February, 2008

Feed Your Head: Design and the Elastic Mind at MoMA (A Review)

A few months ago, when I read that a certain type of printer was capable of producing three-dimensional objects, I had a hard time getting my head around the idea that I could print out a lost toothbrush. I completely forgot about the invention until I came across some of the printed objects in MoMA's new head-blowing exhibit, Design and the Elastic Mind. Now that I better understand the technology that allows me to print out an attractive bowl for the table - it involves resin and layers, I think I want a 3D printer in the worst way.

The exhibit at MoMA, some of it interactive, does toy a bit with this sort of high-tech consumer fetishism, but its deeper motive is to explain the more profound intersection of design and science through the lens of "elasticity." Defined in the exhibit as "the product of adaptability plus acceleration," elasticity implies movement - soaring arcs between shimmering points of light, walls that bend, micro-organisms that grow and cha…

The Weird Sisters at BAM (A Review): Macbeth

It's a shame that a play as old as William Shakespeare's Macbeth should seem so relevant, but it is, anyway you slice it. Watching the Chichester Festival Theatre's compelling production, now playing to sold-out audiences at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and set in a bleak totalitarian landscape, I was reminded too many times of the cruelties of contemporary warfare and the devastating consequences of acquiring political might for its own sake. Also, Nature gone haywire is a strong theme of the play, so the political tragedy is conjoined with environmental destruction.

Director Rupert Goold stages the play in a cold prison-like room, equipped with a refrigerator, a sink and a gated elevator with prison bars, that serves as torture chamber, operating room, military operations room, and banquet facility. Blood and wine, ripped flesh and a sandwich all share the same room. The effective lighting and sound design send up harsh lights and loud sounds, leaving little else to hum…

Roundup: The Plaza Hotel, Sondheim's Seurat, the Texas Primary, and the Upcoming Gelato Showdown in the Village

As I gather my thoughts about the Chichester Festival Theatre's entertaining production of Macbeth that I saw last night at BAM, I would like to pass on a few updates and news items:

• I've now assembled all the posts from The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect self-guided walk onto new pages and placed them under the list of walks on the site's sidebar. I've added a small slideshow of more images of the buildings.

• The Plaza Hotel reopens Saturday, March 1, and I look forward to visiting. I've been meaning to comment on the story, "It's Lonely at the Plaza Hotel," by Christine Haughney from the February 17, 2008 edition of The New York Times. Apparently, the new condo owners are lonesome, as not everyone can afford a place in their legendary hotel. The story quotes one woman who told the reporter that she "wouldn’t mind meeting someone other than the decorators, real estate brokers and other service workers fussing over the apartments." I k…

Schnabel, WOTBA, and Venetian Masks: Most Popular Search Terms

I like to know the means by which new readers come to this website, and perusing the list of most popular search terms from time to time, I begin to ascertain patterns. I am also curious how well I help new readers find the information they need and how I can better meet the needs of the global audience.

Here is the list of the five most popular search terms from the past month that have directed people to Walking Off the Big Apple. I will follow the list with a brief analysis of these findings:

1. "Julian Schnabel"
2. "Julian Schnabel building"
3. "Walking Off the Big Apple"
4. "Venetian masks"
5. "How to make Venetian masks"

Julian Schnabel: recent Academy Award nominee, major contemporary visual artist, friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat, raised in Brownsville, Texas, interior designer for the Gramercy Park Hotel, mover and shaker. I don't know Julian personally. What else do you need?

Oh. His building in the West Village. I wrote about his…

Jasper Johns: On the Cold Gray Stones (A Review)

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.” - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Jasper Johns, the seafaring stranger," I thought. The sea kept sweeping through the galleries during my visit to Jasper Johns: Gray at the Met - images of a drowning poet, symbolized by Periscope (Hart Crane), Tennyson, the Poet Laureate who lived on the Isle of Wight, and the bridges, evoked by the Catenary series, leading voyagers to the edge of the sea. Johns has lived on many islands - Manhattan, the island, Edisto, the haunted sea island off the South Carolina shore, and the island of St. Martin, one of Johns' homes. Even circumstances of Johns's friends bring to mind the sea - Bob Rauschenberg, a child of Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf, and Frank O'Hara, the poet who died on Fire Island.

The Met arranges the grays thematically and, more or less, chronologically. After stating the thesis, well-made in the pres…

More Scenes From the Snowstorm: Central Park, February 23, 2008 (A Slideshow)

The Jasper Johns exhibit took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this afternoon, but the snow took me to Central Park. After looking at all of Johns' gray artworks inside the museum, I decided to take a stroll and surround myself with the bright white of the fallen snow. At some point, I wandered into a wild...dare, I say, mad?...tea party, as you will see. Maybe I just fell into a rabbit hole.

"Things the Mind Already Knows:" The Drawings of Jasper Johns (A Review)

Forty of Jasper Johns' drawings of the last ten years, currently on exhibit at Matthew Marks (522 W. 22 St.) in Chelsea, recommend themselves on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. I was struck not just by his continuing obsession with the images he's made famous over the years but by his obvious love for drawing and drawing materials. He's said this before, but it's clear he loves seeing how his targets, flags, numbers, etc. change from one medium to the next, how they emerge so differently on various material surfaces. He makes them all look new.

As much as I like looking at Johns' canvases, I love seeing these images played out on paper, created with all sorts of combinations of ink, acrylic, pencil, graphite, watercolor, etc. Artists with a large body of drawings gain my trust, as I believe that there's something deep about a compelling need among true artists to express themselves visually with whatever materials are at hand.

The exhibi…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: The Walk, and a Map

Visiting the four major building projects of architect Raymond Hood - the Daily News Building, the Radiator Building, Rockefeller Center, and the McGraw-Hill building, constitutes a pleasurable midtown stroll of approximately 2.5 miles. I'd throw in another mile for wandering around Rockefeller Center.

I haven't included Hood' earliest project here, the renovation of the small building on Bleecker Street, on this map, because after repeated alterations throughout several decades, the building is undistinguished. On the other hand, I enjoy shopping at the new art supply store that occupies the space (the other storefront occupant is the ubiquitous Duane Reade).

The walk presents opportunities to explore other landmarks along the way, including Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library. Keeping with the theme of Art Deco architecture of the 1920s, I also recommend a visit to the beautiful Chanin Building at 122 E. 42nd. Murals such as "The City of Opportunit…

"Mrs. Clinton, of New York"

The august New York Times, keeping to its long tradition of referring to news subjects by the titles "Mr." and "Mrs.," refers to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as "Mrs. Clinton, of New York." As I was reading this morning's NYT front page account of Senator Barack Obama's impressive margin of victory over Senator Clinton in yesterday's Wisconsin primary and Hawaii caucuses, I thought, "Wow. "Mrs. Clinton, of New York. - That's her problem right there."

The Times keeps the style of Mrs. consistent, as far as I know, throughout the paper. Scanning other political stories of the day, I can read, for example, the account of Mrs. McCain's smackdown of Mrs. Obama. I'm still a little shocked, however, when I read the title Mrs., especially before the name of a woman who, though married, exercises a fair measure of independent political power.

When I was an aspiring ambitious youngin' in the great state of Texas, older unc…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: Final Thoughts

Raymond Hood did not live to see the completion of the vast Rockefeller Center complex. An untimely death in 1934 at the age of 53, he had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. His architecture practice had already slowed down, largely due to the economic effects of the Great Depression. He worked on a project to house the poor, but the finances for the project didn't materialize. More shocking, he received a letter threatening to kidnap his children. Gravely concerned, especially at the time of the Lindbergh tragedy when others received such threats, Hood sent his family to Bermuda and followed them a short time later. Upon hearing the news that the perpetrator had been caught, he collapsed, and after returning to his home in Stamford, Connecticut, he never regained full health.

Rockefeller Center is still unequaled as a grand modern urban plan, at least one so popular with the public. Though the buildings share some uniformity, the variation of taller and smaller buildings within t…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: Rockefeller Center

Walking the long cool dimly-lit black and gold power corridors of the GE building in Rockefeller Center, beginning my journey at the west entrance on the Avenue of the Americas and moving toward the east, I feel like I've fallen into a liminal pre-death dream state, a wandering soul pushed toward the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The cool black hallways and the low lighting, the main source of which are illuminated numbers, discourage sounds above a whisper. "Shhhh....that's NBC over there...and look!, over there - if you've been good in your mortal life, you may ascend to the Rainbow Room." The darkness continues unabated, enveloping the visitor with the signifiers of a higher power. This must be the work of a medieval-loving man of great largesse, I think, someone who has inherited an empire.

After the dark journey through the long corridor, the pilgrim enters the Grand Lobby. Enveloped now by golden images of muscular semi-nude figures, the mythica…

FOCUS on POTUS: The Two Washingtons of the Washington Square Arch

Officially, it's still called Washington's Birthday, though Presidents' Day has become the accepted name, mostly as a way to include President Lincoln.

The day's meaning usually signifies a break from work or school or the arrival of a sale. In the United States Senate, however, there's at least one formality. One senator is selected to read Washington's Farewell Address. The practice began in 1862 as a way to cope with the dark days of the Civil War.

This morning I visited the statues of the two Washingtons - the military George and the civilian man of peace that grace the north side of the Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park. Sadly, in the ever-increasing disruption caused by the renovation of the park, the arch itself is now inaccessible behind a metal fence.

The arch served to commemorate the Centennial of Washington's Inauguration, an event that took place downtown. The pier statues were added later -"Washington at War" on the le…

Luc Tuymans' Wonderful World of Painting (A Review)

Belgian-born artist Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) brings his painterly virtuosity to the kingdom of the mouse in his new solo exhibit, Forever, The Management of Magic, at David Zwirner. The image fragments of Walt Disney's electric magic empire, painted here like faded film stock in the blues and mauves of cotton candy, conjure a dusty collection of peripheral memorabilia. With these eight wonderful paintings and a side room of gouache drawings, Tuymans opens up a service entrance to the back lot of utopia. No mice here, this is Walt, the utopian urban planner, the maestro of the energy-draining world of tomorrow, the extravagant Robert Moses with electric turtles. Pay no attention to that man that Tuymans has almost cropped out of the painting.

Wonderland, one of the two largest paintings (at 138.98 x 215.35 inches), is based on a still from a family home movie made at Disneyland. Tuymans paints the trip through the Alice in Wonderland attraction from the perspective of the amateur filmm…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: The McGraw-Hill Building

The McGraw-Hill Building at 330 West 42nd Street, built in 1930, is unusually blue-green. In fact, architect Raymond Hood's use of glazed terra cotta tiles in shades of blue-green constitutes one of the most ambitious applications of this material in the history of architecture.

A splendid example of the streamlined moderne style, the McGraw-Hill Building, built on a steel frame skeleton, sports plenty of light along its striped exterior and linear decorative stripes throughout the lobby.

Many architecture historians consider the McGraw-Hill building to embody the transition from Art Deco to the International Style largely due to its lack of ornamentation. Hood was a follower of the modernist master Le Corbusier, especially in his advocacy of a city of towers, and, certainly this building is a far cry from the Gothic idiom of the Radiator Building.

When I visited the building a few days ago, I was surprised at all the hustle and bustle around the lobby. Many kinds of businesses, ar…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: The News Building

In 1919 Chicago Tribune co-publishers Joseph Medill Patterson and Robert R. McCormick couldn't agree over the content of the newspaper, so they decided Patterson should start a different newspaper in New York. Inspired by the popularity of a London tabloid, The Daily News emphasized photography, celebrity news, and a focus on city politics. New York commuters loved the paper because it was easy to hold and read on a subway.

John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood, the architects of the Chicago Tribune building, were tapped to build the new building for The Daily News. Patterson initially wanted a large enough facility to hold the paper's staff and printing facility, but Hood talked him into the lucrative proposition of building an office tower on top. It hadn't occurred to Patterson that he could make money from rent-paying businesses.

In designing the tower Hood had to deal with a new city zoning law, one that prohibited the construction of large massive buildings that blocked l…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: The Radiator Building

After architect Raymond Hood finished the renovation of Mori's restaurant in Greenwich Village in 1920, he found success designing radiator covers for the American Radiator Company. The income allowed him to move with his bride and growing family to an apartment on Washington Square. In 1922 John Mead Howells invited Hood to join him on a design competition for the Chicago Tribune Building, and when they won the $50,000 award, Hood finally emerged out of debt.

Winning the prestigious Tribune competition allowed Hood to secure his first important New York commission - the new building to house the American Radiator Company at 40 West 40th Street. In designing a tower that would symbolize the company, Hood designed several unusual features, including the use of black brick. He didn't want anyone to work after dark in the building, thinking that the illumination would disrupt the overall impression of mass and solidity. He couldn't control the workforce, of course, and George…

Wee Willy WOTBA's Downtown Chocolate Walk

Yesterday was the colonel's birthday, so he asked me to go over to Bruno Bakery and buy a couple of cakes for an impromptu celebration. It's a hard job, but someone's got to pick out the chocolate cakes. Now, facing the prospect of Valentines Day, I must once again go back into the world and find chocolate candy. Gee, life's tough. Fortunately, chocolate has known health benefits, so I can rationalize any purchase. Buying a little chocolate also helps the economy by boosting consumer "sentiment."

I first devised this self-guided chocolate walk for visiting friends who expressed interest in such a thing. I sent them to chocolate meccas in SoHo - Vosges, Mariebelle, and Kee's, stores within just a few blocks of one another. Now I feel compelled to broaden the walk to include Jacques Torres and a few pastry shops that also feature quality chocolates. I'm also partial to the very elegant La Maison du Chocolat up on Madison, but that's too far off my p…

Raymond Hood Designed My Duane Reade, Well, Sort Of

Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island on March 21, 1881, Raymond Hood attended Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Hood returned to the United States and established an architectural practice in New York in 1914. He didn't have much work, but he got a lucky break in 1920 when his landlord, Placido Mori, commissioned him to redesign his popular Greenwich Village restaurant on Bleecker Street. According to biographer and architect Walter H. Kilham, Jr.'s account, Mori gave Hood the assignment because, as Mori said, "He must be a genius–he eats so much!"*

As part of her epic journey documenting a vanishing New York, photographer Berenice Abbott took a photo of the restaurant in 1935 (see Museum of the City of New York website), and comparing her image with the image here it's easy to notice that some of the details of Mori's remain today. Hood added the top apartments, the Federal lintels above the windo…

The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect

During the heady years of the late Jazz Age in New York, architect Raymond Hood (1881-1934) presided over some of the city's most dazzling projects. Catapulted to fame after winning the 1922 competition to design the Chicago Tribune building with partner John Mead Howells, Hood quickly built a reputation in New York. Architecture critics and historians denounced Hood's winning Chicago Tribune design as too safe and too neo-Gothic retro, especially in comparison to the competition of European modernists, but he would come to shed these retro design sensibilities, embracing the sleeker lines of art deco and simpler geometries.

Hood's American Radiator Building at 40 W. 40th Street in New York, his first major New York commission, echoed the Gothic lines of the Tribune building but with the added drama of black brick and gold trim. With the Daily News building and the McGraw-Hill Building on 42nd Street, and as lead architect for the team that designed Rockefeller Center, inc…

The Girl With The Purple Umbrella

After a forecast yesterday that called for rain or snow in the morning, followed by a chance of flurries or some rain later in the morning, and then some rain around noon, nothing really materialized until the early afternoon. Then, a wild but brief sideways snowstorm blew in fast and furious. It was not like fluffy snow or freezing precipitation but more like being caught inside a shaken snow globe.

I chanced to look out the window at the blowing wintry precipitation - the kind that the weather service might characterize as "unknown," when I spotted a young woman with a purple umbrella standing in the middle of the intersection. I didn't think she was in too much danger, Sunday afternoon at that hour is fairly quiet in the Village, but I did worry that she was fairly vulnerable to a speeding taxi. As we say in Texas, usually about politics, "Only thing in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos."

I watched her for several minutes, though s…

Inside the Daily Planet

Image: "Clark Kent Contemplates the Gulf of Mexico."

Lobby, The New York Daily News building, 220 East 42nd Street (at 2nd Ave). 1930. Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, designers. Photo: WOTBA, February 7, 2008. Visiting the Daily News building should be on every visitor's list. The building is only a few blocks east of Grand Central Terminal. Only the lobby is open to the public, but that's the part you want to see.

Lost in the West Village? So Eat

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Last week I walked down E. 4th Street and noticed that the color red dominated the visual landscape. Walking on W. 4th the palette veers to the blues, greens, and teals. The cool colors dominate on the west, while the hot colors splash on the eastern blocks of 4th Street. I attribute this visual duality in large part to the cultural history of the two areas - the West Village is more Western European while the East Village blends southern European with Latin American cultural heritage.

The West Village is often confusing and disorienting, because the streets run off grid. I spend a lot of time helping lost souls regain their bearing, and sometimes I'm lost myself. Last week a woman approached me near the intersection of Bleecker and Thompson and asked me how to get to Washington and Perry. She actually looked lost, with that glassy-eyed averted glance of trying to understand the mysteries of space and time. I had to go into a trance to be able to help her.

I attribute…

The Foodie Blocks of Bleecker Street, and a Map

I feel like such an enabler. Some people come to this website seeking help on walking to lose weight, and I stick up pictures of food in their face. I should explain.

Bleecker Street, just a few steps out my door, is a well-recognized food haven for many visitors and New Yorkers. I am of the opinion, however, that beautiful food, made locally by people who are trained in tradition, adds to the quality of life. In an earlier post, I extolled the virtues of handmade gelato. The people who make my favorite gelato consider themselves true artists. A sense of artistry is part of the best culinary traditions, just as many craft traditions maintain the standards of beauty that mass production forfeits.


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I often visit the food blocks of Bleecker just to pick up the lasagne at Murray's, the bread at Amy's or the pignoli cookies at Rocco's. Even during the times when I'm shopping at Pet Central acquiring the gourmet items for Snoopy and Lassie (not their real names)…

Among Yesterday's Other Spectacles, A Fire On Bleecker Street

Out and about yesterday, gelato cone in hand, strolling Bleecker Street with the celebrating NY Giants fans, I smelled a delicious barbecue. Unfortunately, it was not part of the Super Tuesday New York Giants Mardi Gras celebration, but a fire in the building that houses Indian Taj on Bleecker Street.

Many people gathered to watch the firemen tear out the roof. The intersection of Bleecker and Macdougal near the fire comes as close to the heart of the Village as any one place, so I'm glad that the firemen saved the historic block from complete ruin. The history of the Village is fragile.

I've dined at Indian Taj. The food is good, and the servers are gracious, so I hope they'll be back in business again soon. Pinkberry, the trendy gelato place next door, should already be back in action.

Given the popularity of firemen among children, many were enthralled by the truck, the red lights, and their hero figures in full gear.

A New York Giants Mardi Gras: Awash in a Sea of True Blue

After voting in the late morning I spent an hour walking west on Bleecker Street and then up and east over to Astor Place. I expected to see plenty of people out and about carrying Obama and Hillary signs or wearing campaign buttons, especially near NYU, but I've seen very little visual evidence outside my polling place that today is the important Super Tuesday New York primary.

I did see the New York Giants fans out in full force, dispersing from downtown's parade in the Canyon of Heroes. Several Giants fans wore both the team jersey and Mardi Gras beads, but I kept hoping to see one that wore a NY Giants shirt, some carnival beads, and an Obama button. Maybe I just missed that person.

It's Fashion Week in New York, but it's hard to see that, too. Only True Blue looked fashionable on a day like today.

Images: top, the window of Ottomanelli's Meat Market, 285 Bleecker St.; Giants fans, in their lucky "away" colors, along LaGuardia Place; selling the tabloids…

NY Party Time for Super Tuesday, the NY Giants Parade and Mardi Gras

Call it a Trifecta, but the convergence of the multi-state primary day, including New York, this morning's downtown ticker-tape parade for the Super Bowl Champs, and Fat Tuesday make for a mighty Party Time Harmonic Convergence.

Time to pull out the cookbook. Pigs in a blanket? A little guac? How about a Mardi Gras cake with a little figurine of Eli Manning or Ron Paul hidden inside?

I just discovered the delightful Betty Crocker's Cookbook for boys & girls (1975) at the Internet Archive. For anyone who enjoys the artistry of baking and cooking, I think it's time to put kids back in the kitchen and whip up the magic for the whole family.

I'll be reporting on the exciting events of the day, in addition to items previously scheduled. The only bummer is the weather forecast - ground lightening is forecast for later this morning around the time of the Giants ticker tape parade. Also, Transit Advisory! The Mayor (who sort of runs for President) asks that anyone going to th…

Monday Morning Quarterbacking, and The Flâneuse of Death

As I write this post on Monday morning, I see a mixture of large snowflakes and blowing rain coming down hard outside the window. What a contrast from yesterday's bounteous warm sunshine! At least the nasty weather held back until the end of last night's revelries. You may have heard that the NFL home team here, the New York Giants, staged an improbable underdog victory over the New England Patriots in the final minutes of the Super Bowl, and as soon as the game ended, excited fans poured out of the bars and into the streets. I enjoyed falling asleep last night to the noise of so many people whooping and hollering.

Yesterday, as I roamed the West Village, I took several pictures of places and people, more of which I'll share in upcoming posts. I remember taking the image of the woman in the black coat walking past Father Demo Square, the recently renovated space near 6th Avenue, Bleecker and Carmine Streets (and Our Lady of Pompei Church where Father Demo served as pasto…

Not Letting a Beautiful Day Go to Waste

After a stretch of gloomy days, the bright sun and warmer temperatures drew thousands of New Yorkers out of doors today.

The surprise gift of a beautiful day served as a way to open many conversations. It was a day to sit outside at the cafe, buy some tulips, or play handball in "The Cage." The dogs seemed to love it, too.

Weekend Frivolities: Spring, Says Chuck, the Staten Island Groundhog, and More Signs of an Early Spring

We have some exciting days ahead in the big city. Today, the New York Giants play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. On Tuesday, another Super day, New York voters will go to the polls and pick their party favorites. And today's weather forecast calls for clear skies, calm west winds and temps in the low 50s.

"Well, he's a New York boy so he's going to be hardcore and real, and he seemed happy and that definitely means spring," said his handler Doug Schwartz.- from NY1 Top Stories, February 2, 2008.

Chuck may be right. Spring is near. That's not to say that New York won't see a serious snow storm around Lincoln's birthday. Many of the largest snowfalls in New York history have arrived in February, especially in the February 11-14 period, so I wouldn't be surprised to see several inches of snow again here in a couple of weeks.

Still...Chuck, the groundhog in Staten Island (if he lived in Manhattan, he'd be named Charles, in Brooklyn, Char…