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Showing posts from September, 2011

Situating Zuccotti Park: The Landscape of the Wall Street Protest

The nerve center of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest, one that began September 17, is a gently shaded urban space called Zuccotti Park, once named Liberty Plaza Park and now renamed Liberty Square by the protesters. The park is situated on prime real estate in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan. The boundaries of the park are Broadway on the east, Trinity Place on the west, Liberty Street on the north, and Cedar Street on the south. The site of the World Trade Center is a block away to the west. A prominent feature is the bright and tall red steel abstract sculpture titled Joie de Vivre (1998) by Mark di Suvero.



Brookfield Properties, the developers of One Liberty Plaza, the skyscraper just to the north - formerly known as the the U.S. Steel Building and built in 1973 - are the owners of the park, but the large real estate company made an agreement with the city of New York to operate the park as a space with 24-hour access by the public. Such an agreement is typical in …

The Cheerless Life of the Umbrella Maker, circa 1853

The 25-year-old umbrella maker depicted in this illustration, one of scores of girls making such a profession on Nassau and William Streets in the 1850s, did not have an easy life. She had run away from her poor family of Jersey, all of them "charcoal burners." Arriving in New York, she had a hard time finding work and was abused by some of her employers. She said, "There are more rascals in New York than I thought crawled on the whole airth, when I was a young girl out in the charcoal region."



She finally found a woman who gave her room and board and taught her how to cover umbrellas. But the woman had an ulterior motive for hiring the young girl. The woman wanted to lure her to the prostitution trades. When she made this demand explicit, our umbrella girl punched her employer and knocked her down. Another man soon hired her, also giving her room and board, but he, too, harbored similar motives. She explained that after she got her wages and a loan, she called him…

A Sense of Place: Reading Willem de Kooning's GOTHAM NEWS

The exhaustive Willem de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art boasts nearly two hundred works by the influential postwar artist, so to select only one work out of so many potentially worthy candidates seems somewhat perverse. Yet, an in-depth look at a particularly hectic mixed media canvas, Gotham News, a work dating from 1955, can begin a stimulating inquiry into multiple facets of the artist's life as well as the social context of making art in New York City in the mid-1950s. Mining the painting for meaning and context becomes something like an archaeological dig, beginning quite literally on the surface of things.

Good for MoMA that Gotham News is best viewed in person, because reproductions cannot convey the textual richness of de Kooning's large and thick brushstrokes. Measuring 69 x 79 inches, the painting presents a busy traffic jam of complementary colors, near accidents between red and green, blue and orange, or black and white. If it could talk, the wor…

The Feast of San Gennaro Begins, and A Cold Front Arrives

The popular annual Feast of San Gennaro has begun.

While famous for its abundant opportunities to overindulge in food and drink, Little Italy's Feast of San Gennaro is at heart a religious festival, a celebration of the Patron Saint of Naples. On September 19, 1926, immigrants from Naples who lived along Mulberry Street decided to maintain their homeland tradition of honoring San Gennaro on his saint's day. Over the years, the feast has expanded in duration from one day to several days with multiple events and, of course, many chances for feasting.




This year's festival began on Thursday, a day that coincided with the passage of a pronounced cold front. During my walk down Mulberry Street, the winds started whipping around from the north, and brief showers sent festival-goers to shelter under street awnings. Fortunately, dozens of Italian restaurants had set up covered dining areas along the street.





If you go to San Gennaro, go hungry. For those with strong stomachs, here&…

Downtown Beauty: Louise Nevelson and Jean Dubuffet

Not too many regular folk I know have business to do at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, but it's worth taking a trip downtown to Maiden Lane and Liberty Street (converging just past William St.) to visit, or at least revisit, the triangular park just to the east of the bank - Louise Nevelson Plaza. At times over the past few years, Nevelson's lyrical steel structures, titled Shadows and Flags (1977), have been somewhat obscured by the plaza's own renovation.


Around the corner and up the stairs at Chase Manhattan Plaza, Jean Dubuffet's fantastical Groupe de Quatres Arbres (1972) still surprises, and, in fact, the Chase plaza's elevation provides a perfect vantage point to look at the Nevelson pieces from on high. Handsome artwork by a woman and a pretty work by a man are frequently worth checking out, especially in tandem.



Dubuffet's Group of Four Trees (the English translation) came first, in 1972, a gift by bank chairman David Rockefeller for the plaza …

A Walk to St. Paul's Chapel and to the World Trade Center

On Saturday, September 10, I walked south on Broadway from near my place in the Village all the way down to St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway at Vesey Street. The first few blocks of my walk seemed rather normal, just another Saturday in the city, but south of Canal Street, a sizable police force on the street indicated that life was far from normal.



One way I felt like spending my 911 remembrance weekend was to attend the brief service the church has held every day at 12:30 pm to offer prayers for social justice and peace. In the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, St. Paul's Chapel became an important makeshift emergency and community center for families and first responders. While it continues to offer religious services, the chapel also functions as a museum of sorts, with exhibits illustrating its remarkable history from colonial days to the present. But 911 is its most remembered story for those of us living, and the fact that the chapel survived at all gives…

A Walk Into the Night: Fashion's Night Out 2011

On Fashion's Night Out, a festive atmosphere pervades the evening, out on the streets and in the boutiques, especially in fashion-rich SoHo. Meeting new people requires little effort, and a little champagne and a little chocolate, or a lot of it, helps to get the conversations flowing. Given the nature of the event, everyone looks pretty great.




The Island Holiday: Picturesque Scenes from a New York City Vacation

I never made it out of town this summer. While I did take some time off from regular editing and writing tasks, I mainly stayed within the confines of the island of Manhattan. I did manage to visit Brooklyn a couple of times.



I never stopped walking, however.




I suppose I tried to assuage my longing for a traditional vacation - and, no, I never made it to New York beaches, alas - with long sojourns in the parks and along the waterfront.



The approach of a hurricane, one that touched my part of the city relatively lightly, seemed to reinforce the city's geographic characteristics as a maritime metropolis.



While walking the promenades, river walks, and pathways in the city parks over the past few weeks, it looked to me as if Nature was insisting on the upper hand. For a couple of days, Nature won.