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Showing posts from October, 2008

George Tooker and Ralph Albert Blakelock at The National Academy Museum

Visitors to Museum Mile this fall should stop in the National Academy Museum at Fifth and 89th Street to see the remarkable George Tooker retrospective. While there, also find the set of stairs at the back of the exhibition galleries to see the landscapes of Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919).

The building itself is noteworthy. In 1942 the museum moved into this Fifth Avenue mansion, once the home of Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. In 1913, Huntington hired architect and interior designer Ogden Codman, Jr. to expand the space. Codman, a friend and collaborator of novelist Edith Wharton, refashioned the space in French Renaissance Revival and neo-Grec styles. The Huntingtons lived in the space until 1939 when they gave the space to the museum. The National Academy Museum offers regular tours of the house.

But by all means, visit the revelatory George Tooker exhibition before it closes at the beginning of January 2009. An American artist of mult…

The Guggenheim's Iteration of the Great Whatever: A Review

An informal review of the exhibition titled theanyspacewhatever
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
October 24, 2008–January 7, 2009

A year ago, Unmonumental, the inaugural exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery, brought us a little unkempt assemblage. In the spring, the Whitney Biennial unleashed youthful MFA mayhem within the museum and in the Armory. Now, the Guggenheim, in celebration of its extensive renovation, brings us Part Three of the Great Whatever.

In contrast to last year's New Museum exhibit (WOTBA review), one in which the curators boldly established an overarching aesthetic of the re-purposed "unmonumental" sculpture, and in contrast to the Whitney's celebration of "lessness" and "non-spectable,"(WOTBA story), the Guggenheim, reflecting on its glorious and problematic Frank Lloyd Wright spiral environs, has thrown its curatorial hands up in the air with its new exhibition titled theanyspacewhatever. Iamnotkiddingitscal…

Edgard Varèse Lived Here

Edgard Varèse (1883-1965), a French-born composer, moved into a house on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village with his wife Louise in 1925. He became an American citizen the following year. While he was alive, people strolling by the townhouse must have been struck by the frightful sounds emanating from the basement. The timbres and rhythms from strange and unearthly instruments seemed like something out of a horror movie. The composer was not unfamiliar with the genre. He played a bit role in the 1920 film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the one starring John Barrymore.

The music Varèse created challenged the existing paradigm of composition. "Organized sound," as he called it, grouped rhythms and timbres with others of similar qualities. He said he was not a musician but a "worker in rhythms, frequencies and intensities." In the 1910s he started exploring the idea of music made with electronic instruments, but many people found his ideas too unconventional. I…

The New York Pumpkin and Jack-o'-lantern Patch: Some Smashing Links

Cleverly-carved Jack-o'-lanterns will soon be taking their places in many New York windows over the next week. Large field pumpkins make great decorations such as Jack-o'-lanterns, but many professional cooks think they're too stringy for making most pumpkin recipes at home. Smaller sugar pie pumpkins are tastier, and a 4-pound pumpkin will yield enough puree for the traditional pie. I've tried to cook fresh pumpkin in the past, with mixed results. I mainly like looking at the varieties of these beautiful but often comical-looking squashes. And if the folkloric purpose of the Jack-o'-lantern is to ward off evil spirits and demons, we may need a few more this year.

What follows is a list of pumpkin-related links that caught my eye. The most eye-catching pumpkins that I found on my walk through the Village yesterday were the Jack-o'-lantern breads featured at Amy's Bread on Bleecker Street (picture). Also, be on the lookout at this time of year for New York pu…

Tips for Spending Time and Cash in New York: How to Keep Style Without Breaking the Bank

Among the millions of people that visit New York, many spend too much money. I've seen it. In most of these cases, the over-spending is driven by a set of preconceptions about what one is supposed to do in New York - stay at a well-known midtown hotel, eat dinner in a famous restaurant, secure good seats at a Broadway show, shop in designer stores on Fifth Avenue, and buy things in the museum stores. I just added up these items in my head, and the bill came to over four figures.

Before I continue with this discussion, I would like to first offer a word of thanks to these visitors for spending their hard-earned money in the city. The lifeblood of the city, after the financial industry, depends upon tourism.* Most of us enjoy sharing the city with others and helping people find their way when lost.

As a resident, I'm not under pressure to see everything in New York in 72 hours, so I don't try to consume the city in one fell swoop. My best days in the city involve just walking …

Visiting New York on a Monday

Mondays are OK.

Let's have a look at some of the museums open Mondays -

• American Museum of Natural History
• Jewish Museum
• Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
• National Museum of the American Indian
• Neue Galerie
• Guggenheim Museum
• South Street Seaport Museum

Any of these museums could be paired with a nearby restaurant or bar, making a complete full afternoon or day in New York. Monday is especially good for a museum visit, because the crowds tend to be thinner, and restaurants, too, tend to be less busy than on a weekend.

A fun museum and bistro walk on the Upper West Side would be a combination of the American Museum of Natural History and the nearby Cafe Lalo on W. 83rd St. I also would suggest a pairing of the Neue Galerie with a nearby cafe, but the two cafes inside the musuem are so good, why go anywhere else?

Image above: The Guggenheim on left and Beaux-Arts townhouse on right. View from E. 88th St. by Walking Off the Big Apple.

Weekend Frivolities: Making a Mask for Halloween, Part Two - The Finished Project

In the previous post I explained the steps for making a Halloween mask in the Venetian method. Those who followed along may have found the process complicated. So it is. Creating a sculpture and then fashioning a plaster mold that will likely destroy the sculpture seems pointless. It is not. All one has to do in the future is to line the mold with strips of glue and paper, creating a new mask to paint and decorate. One can then use the mold repeatedly, making an infinite variety of masks based on the basic shape. The basic shape I demonstrated is that of a large mixed breed dog, part Rottweiler, part Chow-Chow, but I also have made ones of a tabby cat and a toy fox terrier. The large mixed breed dog and cat mask molds are large enough for making adult masks. The terrier masks fit only children.

Yesterday, we left off at the point where the mask needed to be decorated. I explained that for Halloween I was making a mask based on the ghost of Warhol's fictional Superstar dog, Sparko V…

Weekend Frivolities: Making a Mask for Halloween, Part One

Recently, I noticed a sizable bump in hits on the perennial favorite Walking Off the Big Apple post, Weekend Frivolities DIY Edition: Venetian Masks. Of course, now with Halloween approaching, some people are looking for time-honored ways to make a fabulous mask to wear to a party or parade. In the aforementioned post from December, I decided it was too hard to explain how to make a complicated well-crafted mask, so I directed those interested to an excellent Italian video from a famous Venetian mask-making shop.

Now that I'm making a mask for Halloween, I decided that it was time to put up or shut up. I'll explain in this post how to make a mask, going step-by-step in the process of making a mask in the Venetian method. As you follow along with the instructions, you will see that my process differs from the classic commedia dell'arte and carnival Italian traditions primarily in four areas - content, shape, decoration and quality control. You will find no plague doctors wea…

How to Prepare for Halloween 2008 in New York, and Why

Just look around you. Everyone is spooked in New York these days, especially in the Financial District (scared of falling stocks), in the hotel lobbies (scared of falling tourism), and in retail establishments (scared of falling sales). Also, spooks abound in the political arena. For example, some political robots are busy this weekend calling prospective voters and trying to frighten them about the leading candidate for the highest office in the land (see NYT article). It won't work with me.

I don't know about you, but the combination of the financial crisis and the election has been powerful enough to unsettle my normal routine and work habits. These days, instead of attending to the task at hand, I find myself looking up the meaning of "Libor rates" or checking the latest poll data from Wisconsin. It's totally distracting. On the other hand, it's nice to see people talking about politics and economics for a change, instead of vapid conversations about where…

Exploring the East 70s between Park Avenue and 3rd Avenue

Many people explore the Upper East Side by walking through the east 70s closest to the park, near Fifth and Madison, but try venturing through the area east of Park Avenue. Lexington Avenue, along with 3rd Avenue, features a greater mix of stores and cafes than the wealthier avenues to the west and a more lively street life. I find Lexington and 3rd more comfortable for me personally, and by extrapolation, for all members of social classes below that of extravagant and inherited wealth. Due to the crisis in the financial world, I'm not eager to run into those people, but I'm aware they will venture into a few of these places I'm about to describe.


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I once worked in this neighborhood, and each day I would arrive by the 6 train at the 77th Street stop. It's a busy station, primarily because of the proximity of the Lenox Hill Hospital across the street, and in the morning great hordes of unsmiling people pour out of the station, trudging up the subway stairs …

Mapping Holly Golightly: Walking Off Breakfast at Tiffany's

The world of Holly Golightly, as depicted in Truman Capote's 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's, is set largely on the Upper East Side in the East 70s. In the novella, Capote does not specify an exact address for the brownstone he shares with Holly, although the movie version uses 169 E 71st St. for the location shot. Throughout the story, Capote mixes fictional locations such as an antique store and a hamburger diner, for example, with real-life addresses such as P.J. Clarke's and Tiffany & Co.

Part of the poignancy in Capote's telling of the tale is framing the story as a flashback to 1943 from the perspective of the mid-1950s. The narrator refers to several locations that he experienced with Holly as places that no longer exist. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Holly herself has taken leave of the city, but the reasons for her departure from New York are not explained until the end of the novel. The disappearance of the New York locations mirrors th…

Holly Golightly: A Child of the Great Depression

I'd wager that millions more people have seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's than have read Truman Capote's story. While I plan to discuss the movie version in a future post, I'm gripped by the original novella. I haven't seen the film in a long time, but I've recently read the story for the first time. While I can certainly remember Audrey Hepburn's defining portrayal of Holly Golightly, the character that jumps off Capote's pages is memorably different, a street-wise young boyish woman who would seem at home in a Depression-era two-reeler.

And so she is. Capote's story is mostly set in New York during World War II, and the narrator, a budding writer, tells the story of Holly Golightly, born in 1924 (same year as Truman Capote) as a flashback from the vantage point of 1956. Attempting to understand this beautiful self-made and self-invented character of his memory, Capote reveals bits and pieces about her childhood as the story unfolds. The narra…

The Golightly Variations: Shopping for the Most Affordable Thing at Tiffany's

In the spirit of first-person participatory literary criticism, I visited the flagship store of Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue this afternoon to see if the store could make me feel like Truman Capote's Holly Golightly, a place to beat the "mean reds." In her conversation with Capote's narrator in the novella, she describes the "mean reds" as different from the blues, a normal sadness. They're "horrible," Holly explains, a mixture of fear and anxiety without a rational explanation or source - "something bad is going to happen, only you don't know what it is."

Holly's way of coping is to get in a taxi and go to Tiffany's:

"It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets."

Her quest is to find a place for herself that makes her feel as secure as she feel…

The Golightly Variations: Introduction to a Walk

Most know Truman Capote's 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's from the 1961 movie directed by Blake Edwards, adapted by writer George Axelrod, and starring George Peppard as "Fred" and the unforgettable Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. The movie's theme song, "Moon River," with music by Henry Mancini and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. For decades since the movie's release, young women have dreamed of emulating Hepburn's trim elegance as Holly – her black evening dress, pearls, the swooped-up hair, cigarette holder, and sunglasses, and many have attempted the effort. The other day, as I was passing the famous store on Fifth Avenue, I spotted yet another wannabe, all decked out in black and pearls and posing for photos in front of the main entrance.

For reasons of personal and intellectual biography, I am intrigued with the novella, even more than the film. The literary version reveals Capote's origina…

Upper West Side: Cafe Lalo for Lunch, and a Stop at Tip Top Shoes

It's hard to know how to react to this financial crisis, but I definitely needed to get out of the apartment today, meet a friend for lunch and then pal around and look at architecture, streetlife, and some shoes. Maybe this is what we do in New York, have lunch and shop for shoes.

This afternoon I met a friend for lunch on the Upper West Side at Cafe Lalo (201 W. 83rd St.), a charming cafe that fashions itself in the tradition of the classic French Belle Epoque cafe but with a palatable Upper West Side vibe. After sitting down at a sunny table facing the street, it took me a long time to read the menu and to decide what to order, as I was somewhat paralyzed by the extensive dessert offerings on display in the counter when I first arrived.I finally decided on the spinach quiche, a great choice it turns out, because the combination of spinach and cheese with a generous crust was the best I've had in the city. The Mediterranean salad that accompanied the quiche was delicious, wit…

Fun Facts About Previous Mayors of New York City, a.k.a. "Fun City"

With Michael Bloomberg urging a change in term limits so he can run for Mayor again, let's enjoy a few anecdotes about a handful of previous mayors. There are so many to choose from. From the city's beginning as a Dutch colony to the present, dozens of men and many zeros of women have presided over the ever-booming metropolis that we know as Gotham City. Many of them served only a year, as back in the day, term limits were imposed at times. While there is no one type of Mayor, many rank among the wealthiest city residents of their eras. More than several earned the right to be called "colorful," and other terms not as polite.

William Peartree (ca. 1643 - 1714) was Mayor of New York from 1703 to 1707. Peartree made some serious money early in his career as a planter and privateer in Jamaica, and when the island suffered in the earthquake of 1692, Peartree made even more money by beating the French and Spanish at their own shipping game. He moved to New York, another is…

The Changing Village, and the New Economy of Vintage Clothing and Donuts

When I'm not out pacing New York streets for the themed walks on this website, I routinely walk closer to home in and around the area south of Washington Square Park. It's remarkable how things are changing now along LaGuardia Place, Thompson, Sullivan, Bleecker, Macdougal, and W. 3rd St. Over the last few months, for example, I've seen the closing of several restaurants, with a few of the vacant spaces staying empty. The number of chain franchises (MacDonald's, Five Guys, Subway, etc.) has me worried that the area will soon turn into the Greenwich Village Food Court. Now please add to the list a Qdoba Mexican Grill at the corner of Bleecker and Macdougal in the spot previously occupied by Café Figaro. The new management has painted over the charming cat and coffee mural on the side of the building and replaced it with the company logo. Say goodbye, too, to café-style seating on the sidewalk. The restaurant space on the northwest corner of the intersection has been emp…