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Showing posts from August, 2009

Art and Spectacle in Nineteenth Century New York

In the spring of 1857, artist Frederic Church (1826-1900) traveled throughout Ecuador, making sketches of the country's mountainous landscapes. Two years later, working in his studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York, he painted a large canvas titled The Heart of the Andes, a spectacular and detailed landscape that opened a window into another world. White-capped mountains under a partly cloudy sky set off the closer rugged peaks of the mountain range. In the middle, a golden-lit green peaceful valley serves as home to a small mountain village, Christianized with a humble church on the lake. A waterfall tumbles toward the viewer, a miracle of playful nature. In the foreground to the left, a well-beaten path takes us to the sight of two reverent souls, clad in the traditional custom of the region, visiting a gravesite marked with a white cross. On the right, delicate blue flowers and large-leafed plants frame the bottom of the picture. Native birds of South America pe…

The Tenth Street Studio Building and a Walk to the Hudson River

The Tenth Street Studio Building at 51 W. 10th Street was demolished in 1956 to make way for an apartment building. Though not as high profile as the destruction of McKim, Mead, and White's Penn Station, the Greenwich Village building nevertheless held historical importance as the center for artistic life in New York in the 19th century. In 1857, enlightened entrepreneur James Boorman Johnston hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a workspace specifically for artists, some that included living quarters. Finished in early 1858, the three-story building featured studios designed around a communal gallery space. The gallery had a domed skylight at the top, a source of light that would provide the right kind of luminosity for the paintings below.

An Unconventional Summer in New York: When Geography, Nature and the Weather Dominated the Conversation

The summer is not technically over until September 22, 2009 at 5:18 p.m. (for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere), the date of the autumnal equinox, but with the nearness of Labor Day (Monday, September 7) and the subsequent start of the school year, it's nearly over for most practical purposes. It's not just the calendar that's bringing the season to a close but the subtle perception of the shortening days as the north pole tilts away from the sun. Along the shoreline of the Hudson yesterday afternoon, with the sun playing hide-and-seek from behind the clouds, the summer looked like it was winding down.

From Summer 2009
Summer never fully hit its stride this year in New York, with June and July staying under the 90 degree mark, and many August days have been compromised by erratic pop-up storms. A recent violent storm caused an extraordinary amount of damage to trees in the city, with the northern section of Central Park particularly hard hit. The storms became a fre…

Bye Bye Penn Station: Mad Men Takes on an Epic Battle

In Season 3, Episode 2 of AMC's Mad Men, titled "Love Among the Ruins," Pete Campbell, the Co-Head of Accounts for Sterling Cooper, the fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency at the center of the series set in the early 1960s, chairs an office meeting with the representatives of Madison Square Garden. The plans to raze one of the greatest Beaux Arts buildings in New York, designed by McKim, Mead and White and built in 1910, and replace it with the more modernist arena has set off a storm of protest. The Garden officials have a PR problem on their hands. During the meeting, the copywriter Paul voices his opposition to the destruction, siding with the protesters. The conflict sets up the ensuing drama.

Don Draper, the series' central character, a man with a shadowy past, woos the Garden men in a subsequent meeting with a line out of John Winthrop's 1630 sermon to the Puritan colonists. The past, he argues, should be ignored in favor of a new New York, a modern…

The Educated Artist: A Guide to Continuing Education Classes and Workshops in the Fine Arts in New York City (Revised and Updated)

Living in a city with so much art, it's not surprising that so many people who are not professional artists occasionally like to draw, paint, sculpt, and take pictures. So it shouldn't be surprising that many area arts schools, colleges, and other institutions offer a range of art courses and workshops. Nevertheless, in compiling this survey of continuing education classes in studio (and outdoor) art classes, many of which begin in the next few weeks, I was impressed with the range and scope of offerings for all levels of artistic skill - beginning, intermediate, and advanced. A few of these programs offer a drawing course, or at least a class session, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a classic way to improve artistic vision.

In addition to improving artistic skills and learning new techniques, participating in an art class is a fun way to meet others in the city who share the same interests. Based on my own experience taking continuing education art classes, classmates will…

Some Serious Wi-Fi: The Edna Barnes Salomon Room at the New York Public Library

Needing a change of work space other than my own living room, one with more gravitas than a place where dogs bring me squeaky toys, I went uptown to the main branch of the New York Public Library this afternoon. I mainly wanted to try out the new wi-fi room the library made available this summer - the Edna Barnes Salomon Room. on the library's 3rd floor. Across the way from the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and the Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest, and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room (we can sure name them here, right?), the 4,500 square foot space has just the right amount of ambient light and classical proportions for concentrated work. After looking at the paintings along the wall, including many portraits of the Astors as well as other notables, I chose a space at a table in the back of the room near a 1971 portrait of Truman Capote. I remembered that Capote set an important scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's in the reading room of the main library.

Cooper Union's Architectural Advancement

Visitors to Astor Place, the Bowery, or the East Village may find themselves stopped in their tracks these days, confronted for the first time with the Cooper Union's new, although unfinished, academic building on Cooper Square between 6th and 7th Streets. Designed by architect Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis, in collaboration with Gruzen Samton LLP of New York City, the building appears like an oversize robot caught in the middle of some sort of action or in the midst of a mechanical speech. The big gash on the building facade looks a bit like the Kool-Aid Man - "Oh yeah!," as if the building is beckoning the students inside.

Actually, the building creature can cool off its academic visitors. The exterior mesh screen will help cool the building in summer and warm it in winter. A green roof with low maintenance plantings will keep the city atmosphere at bay. Carbon dioxide detectors will detect empty rooms and turn down power. The smiling gesture on the outside also …

A Guide to Gramercy Park: A Checklist, But Not a Key, & Dining Suggestions

From Summer 2009
"At noonday the landscape is just as fine, just as mysterious and just as significant as it is at twilight." - Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923)

The scene is cool, summery and inviting, but this attractive corner of Gramercy Park is off limits to those without a key. It's one of the only two private parks in New York City. The other is in Queens. When I walked around the park last week, the only residents I glimpsed through the fence were toddlers in strollers accompanied by their nannies. An older residential section of Manhattan to the east of Park Avenue South and between E 20th St. and E 21st St., Gramercy Park exudes an aura of elite privilege and discretion.

Home to well-known actors and famous artists as well as members of New York society and politics throughout its history, the neighborhood makes a particularly good strolling destination. There's not much to do here except look at the buildings surrounding the park and on nearby streets (e…

Architectural Highlights Along NYC's Summer Streets: A Guide and a Map

Update 2010: Summer Streets for August 2010 will take place August 7, 14, & 21.

For three consecutive Saturday mornings in August, the city of New York shuts down major north-south thoroughfares to vehicular traffic so that residents and visitors alike may enjoy the streets without the presence of cars and trucks. Most ride bicycles, some walk, and a few skate, but by whatever preferred means of transportation thousands of New Yorkers have been taking advantage of the Saturdays to exercise and to explore the streets in this novel way.



The event offers a rare opportunity to look at some of the city's great architecture from a new perspective. Sitting in a moving car, a driver can't fully enjoy urban architecture, or they shouldn't be, and even passengers who might be interested in sightseeing can't see through the roof of the car (unless they are in a convertible) in order to admire the top floors of buildings. On normal days, walking along the sidewalk allows views…

E. B. White and the New York of Stuart Little

(updated July 31, 2017) Of the many books that give young people their first and almost always glamorous introduction to New York City, one of the most loved is E. B. White's Stuart Little, published in 1945. Yet, while Hollywood made an enchanting film of the classic in 1999, one that further glamorized the city adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick C. Little's proper little mouse boy, the original tale is a curious story that breaks several conventions.


For starters, in White's book, unlike in the movie where the Littles find him in an orphanage, Stuart is the Little's biological child (!), albeit an unusual one. He looks like a mouse, can walk within weeks after he's born, and he never gets taller than a fraction over two inches. In modern parlance we might describe Stuart as "a special needs child." He requires necessary adjustments in his domestic arrangement so he can climb up to the bathroom sink to brush his teeth.

The largest problem is that he…

Home Again, and The Road North

During the drive home to the city on Saturday afternoon, capping a week's vacation in the Adirondacks, meandering south on Albany Post Road (Route 9) and passing its gentle towns on the Hudson - Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Ardsley-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson, I spotted the skyline far to the south. We were driving through Yonkers, I think, when the apparition of the city caught me by surprise. At that distance, the tall buildings appeared in a shade of soft violet blue and as nondescript rectangular shapes, with only the Empire State Building discernible in identity. After days looking at the shapes of mountains, the fog and the mist settling in valleys, the still waters of lakes and the flow of clear streams, approaching the city through the Hudson Valley seemed a more gentle transition to the landscape of streets and avenues than a ruder awakening via the Lincoln Tunnel. Driving though the tree-covered reaches of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx and then easing onto th…