Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from April, 2011

New York Street Scenes: Pictures from April 2011

As April ends and May begins, here are a few everyday pictures of spring unfolding in the city. While we're a city of walkers, the sights of New York are hardly pedestrian.

In some pictures, the natural world is barely visible, so it's the quality of the light that signifies the season. In others, new blooms are apparent. In all, this is the look of a city that's ready to be young again.




New York's Legendary Club Days: In the Limelight

One of the Spotlight selections at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the feature documentary Limelight by drug-specialist filmmaker Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) explores the story of nightclub owner Peter Gatien and the creative drug-infused party world of New York in the 1980s and early 1990s. At Gatien's places like Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and Club USA, disco queens and Club Kids mixed it up with celebrities and the bridge and Tunnel crowd, partying under strobe lights all night long to the throbbing rhythms of techno and hip hop. While girls danced in cages, partygoers found discrete places for quick sex or brief romance, and commonly, they found Ecstacy. The film contends that Gatien, an eye-patched business genius surrounded by outlaws and poseurs, fell victim not to his own questionable associates but to Mayor Rudy Giuliani's quest to clean up the city.


Though Corben at times loses his core story focus, the documentary does prove an eye-opener for those thi…

On the Met's Roof Garden with Sir Anthony Caro

On Monday morning, an overcast but warm spring day on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the younger-than springtime British sculptor Sir Anthony Caro (b. 1924) turned around and gestured toward his artworks and the sweeping backdrop of Central Park, proclaiming the scene "a lovely place to show." Indeed, this week's opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Roof Garden, with its heady mixture of park views, social mingling, and world-class art, has now become one of the perennial signs of springtime in the city. With this "mini-retrospective" for the one of the most influential sculptors of his generation, the five abstract steel works fit well in the lofty urban landscape. "I have a great affection for New York," Caro said. "It's a spiritual home for my work."

Caro, who lives and works in London, represents a living, breathing connection to the traditions of both modern and contemporary sculpture. In creating work…

Beats, Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (A Review), 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

A word to the wise - Those wishing to make a documentary about live human beings should get ready for a potentially rough ride. They risk a post-production drama that may overshadow the film and thus leave those of us who would like to talk about the film itself to force such discussions into a lengthy footnote (see footnote).

This is not entirely the situation of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, receiving its New York premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and directed by actor Michael Rapaport, but according to some media reports, some of it may be true. Unfortunate, but not surprising. The documentary tells the twenty-plus-year story of the influential jazz-influenced hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, leaning heavily on the remembrances and sometimes divergent points of view of its four members - Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White.

A Tribe Called Quest emerged out of a time and place when music literally started on the st…

In Chelsea: Movies, Food, and Walks

For those out and about in Chelsea, perhaps catching a movie at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas or the SVA Theatre on W. 23rd St. (among the venues for the Tribeca Film Festival this week), the map here provides bountiful food choices as well as local diversions.


The 23rd Street subway stop is close to the cinema.


View Chelsea: Movies, Food & Diversions in a larger map

New York, New York Films at the 10th Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival begins this week, and following tradition, the 10th iteration of the homegrown festival includes several films that show off the enduring cinematic power of the home city. This year's documentaries include a portrait of a 1980s-era New York club owner (Limelight), the story of September 11 survivors who help other communities in rebuilding (New York Says Thank You), the influence of a hip-hop group from the early 90s (Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest), and the journey of a brilliant young chef trying to find his moment (A Matter of Taste).

Of the New York-centered featured narratives, look for the story of an ex-roadie looking for meaning as he returns to his home neighborhood in Queens (Roadie) and a tale of a successful married New York couple testing fidelity (Last Night). The festival closes with Edward Burns’ Newlyweds, shot on location in Tribeca, about the often challenging extended family relationships inherited in mar…

Finally, the Look of Springtime in New York

Over the past week, many of the flowering trees in New York have started to announce themselves, and rather than setting out on a fixed path, I've let the sight of trees pull me in their direction. Around the neighborhood in Greenwich Village and south into SoHo, the streets flow under graceful canopies, many of which are furnished by callery pears. In Central Park, especially deep into the Ramble, young green leaves of many trees catch the light, setting off a fine contrast with the pink Saucer Magnolias and Yoshino Cherry trees. In winter, when the trees are dormant, we hardly notice their existence. But when they wake up, it's difficult not to stare.




Scenes from a Visit to the United Nations

Because of its high-profile global role in matters of war and peace, the United Nations complex on 1st Avenue between 42nd and 48th Streets, just off the East River, attracts a million visitors a year, many of them from overseas. While several of the most notable art and architectural features of the General Assembly Building can be viewed for free in the Visitors Lobby, including the hauntingly beautiful Chagall window and a Cold War model of Sputnik, a paid guided or audio tour beyond the Visitors Centre provides access to much more - the important assembly hall itself, several galleries of donated artwork, and exhibits highlighting the organization's humanitarian mission, among others.



When the narration gets into the latter topic, this is not a lightweight tour. In fact, the tour comes on pretty heavy, assuming the weight of the world.



The original UN complex, designed by an international committee of architects and built in 1949-1950, has for some time looked outdated and wo…

A Walk for the Optimistic Modernist: From MoMA to the United Nations

Great modernist architecture and design, in form and function, should be uplifting, utopian, and optimistic, embed with hope for the future. Some people loathe modernist architecture, but it's usually a dislike directed toward the sort of buildings that have corrupted and ravaged this hope, structures that end up crushing the human spirit rather than uplifting it. For fans of sleek International Style and postwar design, and I am one of them, a walk connecting several fine modern buildings and public spaces in Midtown can lift up the spirits.

An architect friend, a self-professed fan of modernist architecture, claims New York is still basically a 19th century city. He has a point. Many of us spend our New York days surrounded by less-than-modern buildings, from the residential townhouses dating from the mid-19th century to cast-iron buildings popular in the 1870s and 1880s to Beaux-Arts-style commercial buildings and monuments. We're well-versed in Gothic Revival, Italianat…

Negotiating a Walk Through Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir’s BORDERS at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza

A Sunday walk to the United Nations complex turned up a lot of revelations, but near the top would certainly be the surprising encounter with several statutes stationed along Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza (consult for place and map). Presented by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, BORDERS by Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir (b. 1955) consists of twenty-six life-size figures, half in aluminum and half in cast iron, created specifically for the urban park. It's the largest exhibition to date at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza.





Ludwig Mies van der Bear: Urs Fischer's Giant Teddy Bear Meets the Seagram Building

The steel and bronze Seagram Building (1958) by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the corner of E. 52nd and Park Ave, set back from Park Avenue behind sleek fountains, stands as a paradigm for the well-made modern glass office building. Sleek, soaring, and minimalist, clad in bronze and glass, the building recalls the type of structure that the architect envisioned for Berlin in the 1920s. Along with Philip Johnson, who was responsible for the interiors, the Seagram influenced many copy-cats, but few were as successful in sensitivity to site or design. The building introduced the modern plaza, a space still frequented by midtown workers during pleasant weather.



The Noguchi Museum

(updated 2016)

Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), the prolific Japanese American sculptor and landscape architect, was involved in the most important art movements of the 20th century - modernism, surrealism, social realism, and abstract expressionism, and he was in many places - Paris, Mexico City, Greenwich Village, Tokyo, among them - at just the right time. A special exhibition at the museum illustrates this man of the world. But how he came to this industrial stretch of Queens is an important part of the story.  


Born in Los Angeles to a Japanese father and American mother, Noguchi was raised in Japan. At the age of 13, he traveled by himself to Indiana to attend boarding school. After a year in Connecticut to serve as an apprentice to a sculptor, he left for college in NYC to study pre-med at Columbia. Meanwhile, he took sculpture classes at night. A major life moment was meeting sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1976-1957). Noguchi lived in Paris from 1927 to 1929 on a Guggenheim Fellowshi…

A Twilight Walk on Thompson and Sullivan Streets

The old English word "gloaming" as a synonym of twilight brings with it a slightly mournful sound, and indeed the gloominess of gloaming implies a melancholy light. An early evening walk through the South Village down Thompson Street and then back up Sullivan Street can at times feel tinged with a little sadness. The shops that are lively by day have closed, and bars and restaurants are beginning to fill up with patrons. At sunset, these pleasantly-scaled streets, the kind suitable for human interaction, can envelop a solitary walker in a wistful mood. "Twilight" works fine, too, especially for those of us who do not immediately equate the word with vampires.


The South Village was settled by Irish and Italian immigrants with the latter group becoming dominant in the area by the 1900s. Many residents were working poor. Look up above the storefronts. That's where they lived. In fact, several of the Italian-American young women who died in the Triangle Fire lived …

The Statue (and Stature) of Andy Warhol

Artist Rob Pruitt unveiled his statue of Andy Warhol in Union Square on Wednesday, and it didn't take long for passersby to whip out their cell phones and take pictures of the famous artist. Such is fame. Covered in chrome, Warhol is dressed in jeans and a jacket with tie, the kind of mix of informality and formality that signifies the departure of buttoned-down culture and the dawn of the a more liberated era in the United States. We recognize the figure is Warhol from the chiseled cheekbones, wig, and glasses. In his right hand he's carrying a "medium brown bag," the signifier of the upscale Bloomingdale’s department store, the kind he would use to hold copies of Interview magazine, the oversize splashy publication he started in 1969. Around his neck is the strap for the Polaroid camera, one of the artist's favorite and instantly gratifying media for capturing an image, a necessary component of fame.

It seems fitting, of course, that in the presence of a famous…