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Showing posts from July, 2009

Finding Balance in MoMA's Sculpture Garden

The goat you see in the picture is Pablo Picasso's She-Goat (1950), a bronze sculpture the artist crafted out of discarded objects, and its grazing area is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at The Museum of Modern Art. On most days when the weather cooperates, this modernist oasis becomes one of the city's most popular retreats. I've written before about similar escapes in midtown, mostly small plazas and walkways, but MoMA's garden could be considered the penultimate modernist refuge in a busy city.


The design of the garden insures that visitors may choose among a variety of activities such a taking a lunch break, talking in groups, walking around, or sitting and thinking quietly. The museum can offer several challenging art experiences, so the garden makes a good place to process one exhibit before moving on to another.

The sculpture garden can also serve pleasantly as its own destination, a favored place to sit and look at art. After seeing one of the mu…

The Time and Place for James Ensor, Unmasked

Artists who express a fondness for masks aren't necessarily kooky. Carnival masks often show up in the art made in joyous seaside cultures whether it's Venice, New Orleans, Rio, or yes, Ostend. A major seaside city that rose to prominence due to the importance as a harbor, Ostend, Belgium, home to artist James Ensor (1860-1949), is well known among tourists for its esplanade, scenic cityscapes, and seasonal events. Among the latter is the popular carnival (external link ) at the beginning of March, a traditional event that includes clog throwing, dress balls, and something called a "Cimateire-parade." Ensor's parents sold masks for carnival revelers, along with other theatrical fare, and so the painter would often leave his attic studio to walk downstairs to borrow anything that would serve his artistic whims. Masks and skeletons, imagery a Cimateire-parade would inspire, became the props for his satire, iconoclasm and importantly, for wild artistic experimentati…

25 Great Things to Do in New York City

Some favorite New York experiences, old and new, from Walking Off the Big Apple

1. Visit Roosevelt Island and walk south to see the Renwick Ruins. "The Gothic Revival structure, granted the status of Landmark Site by the Landmarks Preservation Committee in 1975 on the basis of its picturesque ruination, is now undergoing a $4 million stabilization process in order to stem the tide of accelerating decay."

2. Shop at a bookstore and then visit a nearby cafe.
"In the olden days, many of us liked to shop for books and then go to a favorite café to read or write. We never worried about the availability of electrical outlets or a wireless cloud."

3. Read up on the history of Audubon Terrace and visit the Hispanic Society of America.
"Flash backward and imagine the estate that once belonged to John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and explorer, and then jump forward to the early 1900s when railroad heir and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington commissioned this acro…

A Visit to Audubon Terrace and Environs

Note - The Hispanic Society Museum is closed for renovations through the fall of 2019. See museum website.

Though far from the state of dilapidated ruin that would excite the fantasy of the modern romantic, the worn facades of the monumental museums that make up Audubon Terrace in Washington Heights look sufficiently weathered to induce a civic form of melancholia. Step into the courtyard of this once bright place and see verdigris on copper doors, layers of city dirt wedged into the carved incisions spelling out names of Spanish conquistadors high along the walls, grasses peaking up between the cracks.

Flash backward and imagine the estate that once belonged to John James Audubon, the famous naturalist and explorer, and then jump forward to the early 1900s when railroad heir and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington commissioned this acropolis. But flash-forward again to the present, and closer investigation hints not of signs of decay suggested on the surface but rather points to simm…

French Lessons: Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art's New American Wing, and Paris Photographs from the Second Empire

The New American Wing, the second phase of the renovation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's American collection, has opened to the public, including the Charles Engelhard Court and the period rooms of decorative arts. In spite of the name, the wing feels as much French as American, given the museum's strengths in French-influenced artists like Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, collaborators on several occasions for projects favored by East Coast patricians. Richard Morris Hunt's French-style lamps that once graced the entrance of the museum take a new place in the airy room, a court that echoes the classical mindset of the Founding Founders (of the Met and of the nation) and the aesthetic preferences of its early tastemakers.

The museum has repositioned many of its decorative objects, making new use of the balcony space. While new computer screens aid in understanding the form and function of the decorative objects, the works themselves, alth…

New York, in Vintage Black and White, and Photography Posts on Walking Off the Big Apple

Some see the world through rose-colored glasses, but many of the city's most famous image-makers prefer to see New York in black and white. Street photographers, portrait photographers, documentary photographers, photojournalists, almost every variety of shutterbug finds a soft place in the heart for black and white film. You remember film. Photographers Diane Arbus, Weegee, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Margaret Bourke-White, Garry Winogrand, Edward Steichen, James Van Der Zee, Helen Levitt, Berenice Abbott, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Alfred Stieglitz, and many others selected and shared with us impossible, scandalous, mundane and beautiful moments of the city's story. It would be entertaining to select the most famous photographs of New York or of New Yorkers, but near the top of my list would be Alfred Eisenstaedt's "The Kiss at Times Square," the one of the sailor kissing the nurse during a V-J celebration on August 14, 1945, or Diane Arbus'…

American Cultural History on Walking Off the Big Apple: A Chronological Guide to a Selection of Posts

Over the course of the last two years writing Walking Off the Big Apple, and it's been two years this week, I realize that many posts situate themselves in a category that would best be described as American cultural history. While I spend most of my time on contemporary issues and urban matters, I often explore topics in the history of visual and performing arts, literary history, and architecture.

When I'm out looking for the past, I often find that historical walks find their way into current preoccupations. For example, last fall when I was trying to recreate the fictional world of Lily Bart and her creator, writer Edith Wharton, the Wall Street collapse drew immediate parallels with the writer's time. Even seeing an art exhibit on Babar drew parallels with the Gilded Age.

To better understand the city involves being able to perceive the layers of its history, so when I'm out walking I often chase the furtive shadows of the past. I've put together a chronologica…

The "fresh, green breast of the new world" - Mannahatta/Manhattan

A particularly noisy robin lives near me, perched somewhere in a sycamore tree on the east side of our building. Already sensing the light of day and anticipating the morning, the bird chirps incessantly through the hours of nautical and civil twilight until shortly after the sun rises. At this time of summer, on the island of Manhattan, the tweeting often begins around 4:20 a.m. and continues until 6 a.m. I've heard the bird for a long time now, and only this week, while out on the first dog walk of the day, have I seen it with my own eyes and caught it in its song. While I live on the west side of the building, facing the sunset over Greenwich Village and the Hudson, I wonder how anyone on the east side of the block could sleep through this incessant chirp.

Yesterday, while visiting the enthralling exhibit, Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City at the Museum of the City of New York, I thought about my bird when I came across the following quote from an early vi…

From The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway's Walk, A Slideshow and A Map

Note: The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Lurhmann, opened in theaters on May 10, 2013. The post below dates from the summer of 2009.

The New York zeitgeist this summer seems interested in revisiting F. Scott Fitzgerald's acclaimed masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, first published in April 1925. Director Baz Lurhmann has bought the rights to make a new film version, the radio program Studio 360 featured an in-depth look at the acclaimed novel, and even the Mannahatta/Manhattan exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, the one that investigates the island's verdant Eden, prominently features a quote from the book on the wall. One reason for the resurgent interest is Fitzgerald's vivid portrait of New York culture during the Jazz Age, a time that invites a comparison with the city's most recent boom years and its subsequent loss of relative affluence. Beyond this interpretation and the literary ones mentioned by your high school English teacher, the book makes a good sum…

Sunday Excursion on the 5th of July: Bicycling Off the Big Apple

After a relentlessly long and rainy June in New York that seemed to literally dampen summertime spirits, during a time that has many questioning how they can personally manoeuvre this changing urban economy, following what must be an unusually dark, often bizarre and fast news cycle for the summer, the dawn of a serene 4th of July weekend seemed like a gift from the heavens. Saturday was a tad breezy, but our city managed to get through the whole day and into the night for the spectacle of fireworks on the Hudson and the opening of the Statue of Liberty's crown without one drop of rain. Given our state of mind, it felt like a miracle.

Sunday the 5th turned out even more miraculous weather-wise - low humidity with a cool morning with the clearest of skies. After walking the dogs, I felt an instant urge to see the city. Many residents had abandoned the city for beaches, and while most Sunday mornings prove a quiet time, I knew the moment of this particular Sunday morning, the 5th of…

A Visit to Astoria, Then & Now: The Marx Brothers at Paramount Pictures and Notes on Contemporary Attractions

The Marx Brothers at Paramount Pictures

(Updated 2011) In 1929, in the wake of their stage successes, the Marx Brothers signed a five film deal with Paramount Pictures. During their stage run in Animal Crackers at the Forty Fourth Street Theatre, the Marx Brothers traveled to Paramount's New York facility in Astoria to film The Cocoanuts, their previous Broadway hit. Paramount had built the facility in 1920 as a convenience to New York-based actors who could not leave town. Monta Bell, the production head of the Astoria Paramount studios, assigned the script to Robert Florey, the director. When Florey asked about shooting background locations in Florida to "open up the production," Bell declined the request, commenting that it was pointless to shoot realistic scenes for a movie in which one of the lead actors insisted on wearing a fake moustache.

With the picture entirely shot on the sound stage, the resulting film is quite static, although watching The Cocoanuts gives a …