Tag Archives: art

Grady Playground Proves Modernism is Fun!

Playgrounds these days are way too focused on safety and learning. What’s with those number blocks? Who wants a twisty heat-resistant plastic slide you can’t get any real speed on? In my day it was cement and steel. And might I say, it prepared me for the real world, people. I remember in kindergarten we had a ten foot tall slide you could fry an egg on come summer time. Skinned knees are a right of passage, not a reason to put down rubber mats! So, it was much to my relief when I came upon Grady Playground, an homage, if you will, to the way things used to be. Only cooler.

Why so amazing? you might be asking. Whoever designed this little wonderland had a rather urban sensibility. Uber-urban really. The whole place looks like a miniature city.

Visions of Gotham

Doesn't this look like DUMBO?

Calluses Abound

As I was getting trigger happy with my camera, the person in charge of keeping Grady Playground litter free (he does a good job), questioned my motives. “It’s for a blog,” I said and he nodded to indicate approval. We chatted a little, though he didn’t stop working while doing so, a man committed to his task.

Larry, who works much harder than me.

As it turns out, not only does Larry keep the park clean, but he keeps the kids out of trouble, and off the top of the monkey bars – he told several girls to get down while I was there. He also informed me that later this month the architectural wonder that is Grady Playground, will be razed. “They’re re-doing the whole thing,” he said.  “But it’s so cool!”  I cried out in protest.

Why NYC Planning Commission? Why?

The metal slide, an endangered species.

Unbeatable

Sadly, the powers that be weren’t around to hear my well articulated case for keeping Grady Playground the way it is. Even if the were, the soft allure of plastic swings and rainbow shaped fountains would probably cloud their judgment. Alas! Again the old must make way for the new, and I slinked off with only my photos as conciliation. Melodramatic! Who’s being melodramatic?

But, as if the gods were listening to my sorrow:

That’s right. The Cyclone, that 80 year-old wooden roller coaster of possible death and definite back ache open for business, baby. Just what I needed. Next time.

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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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Robot Art and Soccer

For those of you just tuning in, I am currently lost in the great industrial hallways of Long Island City. Though, after two hours of meandering, I was starting to get a little tired and  asked directions from one of the few human beings I had seen thus far. 21st Street (where I got off the train), he informed me, was about a mile away, exactly back in the direction I came. But did I follow these directions? Or did I get distracted by, say, the Guatemalan National Anthem emanating from a public park with a Caterpillar backhoe in the center?

When I got there (obviously I didn’t follow direction people, come-on) I found these guys :

About a hundred in all, they waited impatiently for their soccer season to start while the MC went through all the people to thank and all national anthems of the players. Mothers handed off babies to the uniformed husbands for snack runs. Stray soccer balls from the next generation of players veered between the lines. Nevertheless, the MC was adamant in his duties and in about twenty minutes I was getting a little antsy myself. But there was a novelty to consider: the “field” was a disused concrete basketball court. Besides, I had started chatting with the only other English speaker in the crowd – Doug, from Canada (he came up with the nomenclature). Apropos of last post about LIC re: yet more gentrification, Doug  had a home renovation business and had just been with clients looking to upgrade their condo. Despite going through our abbreviated life stories, a few jokes, and wonderment at the soccer players’ dedication to the game given their playing surface, the MC was still going. Wait!  He’s handing the mic off….no. More speeches. Doug and I went our separate ways with promises of FaceBook friendship. One thing I will mention before leaving this scene however – given the skill of the kids practicing while they waited for their fathers to start, in about ten years American soccer won’t be so import dependent. So keep practicing! There’s only 3 World Cups before you have to be ready!

Now, from my last visit a few years ago, I had a vague memory of what P.S. 1 looked like. Yes, yes I know. That structure and all the art that it holdeth should be emblazoned on my brain. However, not so much. But I was pretty sure this was it as I approached a enormous red-brick building in a sea of cement. The diligent security guard informed me, kind of – I had to go around to the front. This last hurdle jumped, I entered the rather prison-like  courtyard,

one of my favorite parts of the museum. No really. It’s a mostly blank space void of visual stimulus before entering the world of over-stimulus. Moreover, you have a choice to walk on the gravel, or the sidewalk. The sidewalk may have been placed their for handicap access – but it still gives you the choice to interact with the gravel – which creates both texture and sound – or walk dolefully on the concrete.  Brilliant.

Less brilliant was the sign in the front lobby informing me I couldn’t take pictures of the artwork. No matter. I decided to take pictures of things that were not art like this:

and this:

hoping to get in trouble so as to have more to write about. No such luck. The one security guard who did catch me, who shall remain nameless, gave me a momentary scolding and told me I’d have to get a press pass if I wanted to take photographs. But then, without my protesting even a little, he said, “Go ahead. Whatever.” But, I had already told him I was doing an “art project” about things in museums that were not art and didn’t want to blow my cover.

Unfortunately, about 75% of the museum was closed due to installation. So, I spent a lot of quality time in the video art room – a medium I wasn’t  particularly keen on – until now – thanks to Rosum’s Universal Robots.

This guy is from a 1930s film adaptation of Czech science fiction writer,  Karel Capek’s play about robots taking over the earth (among other things, like um, socialism). That, I assure you, has nothing on the video at PS 1. First of all, it’s not a play – it’s a ballet. A robot ballet with amazing robot costumes – think robot tutu – and  sets built by the incredible Frederick Kiesler. I was mesmerized throughout. If anyone out there in cyberland knows were to get a copy of this cultural gem – let me know!

To conclude, I will just mention that I passed by the soccer game on my way back. They were just getting started.

Next New York City neighborhood: City Island. Where’s that?

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Long Island City, yo

The main advantage I have as an urban spelunker is that I have absolutely no sense of direction. This may seem counter-intuitive, but I assure you, it is not. When I disembarked again from the trusty G train in Long Island City, I had every intention of going to P.S. 1 – the famed contemporary art center housed, as the name suggests, in New York City’s fist public school.

According to the map I had drawn before hand, I was just a block from there and so headed in what I supposed to be the right direction. I went the exact wrong way. However, this, shall we say, detour, took me to streets I otherwise wouldn’t  have ventured down.

Long Island City is neither a city, nor is it on Long Island. However, at one time it was a city with a mayor by the name of Patrick Jerome “Battle-Axe” Gleason. Take that Jackie. Now, Long Island City is a neighborhood in Queens, just north of Brooklyn on the East River. Originally an industrial area with warehouses galore, it seems destiny that it should find its next form as home for artists and tag-along yuppies who like their luxury condo balconies with a view of the Manhattan skyline. To be fair, it is quite a view, and one that’s often bettered by what lies in the foreground.

But, there is something to be said for the aesthetics of industrialism. Take for instance this water tower and smoke stack.

or this fire escape

Neither would one call pretty. But they are interesting, beautiful even almost in their lines, in the unexpected dash of yellow in the latter, in the lack of color and rigid form juxtaposed with the blue sky in the former. More than this the aesthetics of industrialism allows, if not creates, a healthy sense of solipsism (healthy, at least, for artists). Walking around the industrialized zone of LIC it’s easy to get the idea that the world is blank, empty and waiting desperately to be filled. Don’t believe me? Check out the courtyard in front of P.S. 1:

Yes, I finally found it

Soccer on Concrete

If that’s not an industrial space, I don’t know what is. More on what’s inside later this week along with these guys:

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Beautiful Bushwick

Morgan Lofts

Okay, full disclosure. I used to live in the neighborhood known as Bushwick (arguably between the Morgan and Dekalb stops on the L) on the very unfortunate corner of Knickerbocker and Suydam where nightly, stereos turned up to 11 would set off all the car alarms in the vicinity. But! It’s got some great graffiti – especially off the Morgan L stop – home to the Morgan Lofts.

For those unfamiliar with this particular complex of converted warehouses, they are a veritable hive of artistic activity (and, of course, all night bonanzas of bargain beer and designer drugs). Huge, cheap, and in what was not too long ago a no man’s land, the Lofts now form one of New York’s most vibrant artistic communities. That’s the upside. The downside, as always, that scourge: Gentrification. But, beyond politics, there’s something interesting going on in Bushwick, mostly on the sides of buildings.

After another long, long ride on the rickety but lovable, G train, then a transfer to the not so lovable L, I emerged from the underground into the thick of it, and this sweet face:

Awesome

With miles of empty and unpoliced streets at their disposal, Bushwick artists have created a better public art program than anything the government has done since circa 1934. Thanks budget cuts.

This is 10 feet tall

They’re not the only ones, however. Traditional graffiti artists, employing text as their principal subject,  have long reigned over these gritty corridors, rivaling their fine art competitors with nothing more than a cache of spray paint cans.

It always befuddles me how it is they do what they do without a brush. Notice, for example, the belly button in this one:

Yes, but she's wearing a hard hat too...

Where it gets really fascinating is the point of intersection between these two styles. While say, wheatpasted sad boy:is clearly of the Morgan Lofts variety and this giant tag of illegible (to me) letters:

obviously falls into the traditional category, there are examples aplenty where distinctions cannot be so clearly drawn. Take this tag – curvy letters, crowded canvas, sure.

But pastel? That’s an odd color pallet for a tagger.

Or what about this flying pig?Pop art imagery – but attached to flashy orange letters.

My favorite is the block long mural which seems to be a perfect collaboration between these two modes, comprised of both uber-script and incredible pop-art figures.

From the same mural

Also, I would mention, there is nothing behind this wall. It’s just a wall.

Zig-zagging between Morgan and Jefferson for the better part of the morning brought on a wave a nostalgia for my good ol’ days of hard Brooklyn living. Falling asleep to fist fights, waking up to roosters, and parties full of aspiring artists of every ilk. Park Slope (where I live now) certainly has its attraction, but you’re not  in the thick of the counter culture’s vanguard, nor do you have a living museum outside your front door. Let’s be honest. A trip to Bushwick is a trip back to 21. You wouldn’t want to stay. But my God, is it nice to visit.

At about noon the many, many churches burst forth their Easter parishioners like a great tidal wave of pastel and lace. At this point I thought it best to explore my other favorite Bushwick phenomenon – 99₡ stores. More on that later this week. For about a thousand pictures of graffiti, click over to Artifacts. I went kind of nuts with the camera.

They’re not the only ones, however. Traditional graffiti artists employing text as their principal subject  have long reigned over these gritty corridors, rivaling their fine art competitors with their cache of spray paint cans.

It always befuddles me how it is they do what they do without a brush. Notice, for example, the belly button in this one:

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