Monthly Archives: May 2010

Live from the People’s Garden

Frank, sitting pretty

Which people, you might ask. According to Frank, caretaker of the Lower Ease Side People’s Garden,  all people. Not bad.

For those of you just tuning in, I’m in Chinatown and while looking for a cottage-industry tannery somewhere near the Bureau Gallery, I stumbled across this gem of outdoor space in New York City.

If you’re one of those bridge and tunnel people like myself, vacant lots turned into mini tomato, zucchini, and potato patches are both totally awesome and  pretty common.

However, in addition to fruits, Frank’s garden also has:

Bon journo!

It’s really the tinfoil roll in back that makes it art. And that’s not all.

Ahhh! A skeleton....candle holder!

Herbs and a wooden boat

A lot of community gardens are just for the members, which is all well and good. But what about the rest of us who have neither the time nor the money to go digging in the dirt and want to enjoy the urban outdoors?  Sure there’s Central Park.  But who wants to take the Lexington Line? Or circumnavigate the perambulating  Met-goers in a trance from all the Greco-Roman art?

It’s also the size of the People’s Garden, or rather, lack there of, that makes it appealing. At less than a quarter acre, it gives a sense of intimacy that you can’t get in the larger, more crowded public spaces of NYC. In fact, it’s a bit like Gramercy without the locked gate and old money waving you off their lawn with canes.

But, the greatest thing about the LESPG (Lower East Side People’s Garden – I have a thing for acronyms) is the kitsch, the perfect campyness of it. And not in a bad way. There’s about a thousand and one aspiring artists in Williamsburg who would give their right eye, leg, and arm to be able to curate a space this cool.  It’s authentic, welcoming, and utterly Lower East Side.

What's he looking at?

Tomatoes!

But of course, I forgot to write down where this is, so your only choice is to wander aimlessly until you find it. Having done it myself, I can tell you it’s not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, you couldn’t do much better.

Later this week, the roller coasters of Coney Island. You must be at least this tall to ride.

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Chinatown: Beyond the Thunderdome

One dangerous thing about having no idea where you’re going is you, or rather I, end up covering the same ground multiple times.  So, after snapping a few more photos at the Sun Tak Buddhist Association, I headed back down to street level and tried to go a different way than I’d gone before, whichever way that was in the first place.

Success! And I almost passed a very small, very well curated art gallery at 127 Henry Street (this is not from memory – I got their business card).  Bureau is owned and directed by one Gabrielle Giattino, who is in my opinion, too young and attractive to have her own gallery in Manhattan -it’s just not fair to the rest of us. Additionally, she has good taste. Also annoying.

The piece:

Untitled, Daniel Lefcourt

is 6×8 of oil on linen and a lot more amazing in person. Lefcourt has a talent for drawing immense volume out of his strictly black paint to the point where one feels enveloped by the potential context of a seemingly contextless figure. A rock, for god’s sake. At least, I think it’s a rock.

This piece:

Small Chocolate, Viktor Kopp

also in Bureau’s current show, is far more whimsical, though no less technically proficient (and yes I just gave myself away, all you art critics. I do think craft is important, so sue me, as people used to say.) If  you click to enlarge, you’ll see the bottom right piece is melting.

Unfortunately, my photographs or Barb Choit’s photographs came out awful, surprise, surprise.  Unfortunate especially since she, and they, are amazing. As Giattino explained, the basic idea is this: If you break a teacup, tumbler, plate, ashtray or any other vessel of glass or ceramic, she will ask you for it, archive it, and photograph it. Archeologizing (can that be a word, please?) the near past. (If you didn’t see it before, her name’s linked to her site.)

Not having spoken since I got to Chinatown, I was a little tongue tied with Giattino. Still, she was gracious enough to let me take pictures as well as nod and smile when I tried to sound artsy. She suggested I go by a cottage industry tannery run by two old ladies around the corner. I looked, got lost and ended up meeting Frank, caretaker of the Lower East Side People’s Garden. But more on that tomorrow. For now though, I’ll just say that he too has a unique sense of aesthetic not to be missed.

Disco in the People's Garden

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Chinatown in the year 4708

On a blustery Mother’s Day I got off at the Grand Street stop  in New York City’s Chinatown in this Year of the Tiger, 4708. No really. That’s the year according to the Chinese Calender. Makes 2010 seem a bit paltry, no?

More than any walk I’ve taken so far, I had no idea where I was going or what I was looking for. Having had perhaps one too many the night before, my head was, shall we say, a bit hazy as I ascended from the subway. Luckily, in Chinatown a willingness, if not aptitude for getting lost, will get you everywhere, and I ended up going, uhhh, that way!

Whichever way that was (I could not for a million dollars retrace my steps), turned out to be the market district of Chinatown – and not the one near the Canal street stop either. This was the real deal.

At first I was a little reticent to take pictures. After all, I wanted neither to appear to be a tourist, nor to have an orientalist fetish. But after bypassing a few jaw dropping sights, I pretty much got over whatever fears I had.

Noodles!

More Noodles!

Even More Noodles!

Okay, I realize I got a bit carried away with the noodles there, so forgive me in advance for the proliferation of sea creature photography:

Fish in a Box

Fishy

Crayfish in the City

They're Alive!

Oh man... how'd I get here?

But I just can’t help myself. There’s something so intriguing about walking around Chinatown’s market district. It gives you the sense you’re in a world other than your own. Not that this particular American mutt was treated with anything but the utmost courtesy- everyone let me take photos and I got to taste some dried abalone gratis. It’s just the non-packagedness of it all. Fish are still wrapped in newspaper. You get your lobsters with rubber bands on their claws. The noodles are tied with ribbon! More than the language, this is the difference. The lack of over sanitization, separation, alienation and all kinds of other lefty words ending in ation. In a world of styrofoam meat and genetically engineered produce, it’s nice to see crabs in a basket from time to time. But speaking of produce:

no one could tell me what these were

Daikon

Eggplants

Yams?

After about half an hour of dodging and weaving through the crowds while trying to snap a few photos in between, I needed a little respite and headed off to one of the side streets to see what I could see. What I found was no less interesting.

This piece of public art:

remains mercifully without a explanatory placard. I’ve named it the Great Wall of Chinatown. While it looks wooden (to me, in any case) from a distance, it’s actually made of brick.

Just beyond this, on what I seem to recall being Division Street, I saw a rather placid looking statue towering above the passersby.

With trepidation, I climbed the stairs to the Sun Tak Buddhist Association. Is this trespassing? Am I defiling a religious temple? Thinking about these things, and not really looking where I was going, I almost ran into a worshiper coming down. Apparently used to curious twenty somethings, he jumped out of my way. “Sorry!” he said. I assured him the fault was mine.

While this temple is above a 99 cent store, no kidding, it’s no less peaceful for it. You can’t see the people on the  street, and they in turn can’t see you. There are any number of store front temples in Chinatown, but with a little room outdoors, the Sun Tak Association is able to create an accessible, yet solemn space.

Offerings to the Triple Gem

Blooming Lily

Guanyin?

Later this week, the best little art gallery this side of the Iron Curtain, The People’s Garden, and what I had for lunch. (Sow’s ear in red sauce for one thing. Delicious!) If you’re still hungry for  more pictures of Chinatown foodstuffs, just scroll down. See you soon.

How much is that lobster in the window?

It's a King Crab

this speaks for itself

Newspaper adds to the flavor....

Pears in white

Restaurant window fish tank

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