Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Week 5 New York Saturday 21 Nov - Saturday 28 Nov

Thanksgiving holiday week is seeped in American history - celebrating the Pilgrims first harvest in their new country, and then the more recent celebration of everything commercial with the huge Black Friday sales that follow. Being in NYC we enjoyed all of the iconic Thanksgiving traditions, old & new, with zeal!

The Macy's Parade is a tradition which began in 1924, and an estimated 3.5 million people line the parade route to enjoy it. Arriving at 7am to wait 2 hours for a parade to begin is not my idea of fun, but even arriving late, the balloons they use are so large that the floating characters are easily visible. Predictably, it was indeed a spectacle of American proportions - huge colourful items and equally huge marching bands that elicited similarly huge smiles!! We followed that with a walk through Central Park and a traditional Thanksgiving lunch at the New York Athletic Club - soaking in all the Thanksgiving tradition enmass.

The next tradition we partook in was a little more exhausting and one we do not need to repeat for some time. The Black Friday sales, the day immediately after Thanksgiving are bigger than the Macy's parade and it certainly felt like more than 3.5million people were in attendance when we visited Woodbury Common. About one hour from NYC by bus, this open air shopping complex holds all the usual mid to high end brands and was incredibly busy the day we visited. The prices are good, the environment quite pleasant, but my enthusiasm for shopping, just for the sake of it, is considerably less these days, so it was  a long day. All in all I would say the effort was worth it as we did most of our Christmas gift shopping, but it was indeed a big effort.

We saw several more plays this week, with the best being "Ugly lies the Bones" starring Mamie Gummer. Her character, a seriously injured war veteran returning from Afghanistan, desperately trying to resume life whilst dealing with crippling pain, is acted with believable determination, sensitivity and grit. The interesting title given by playwright Lindsay Ferrentino, comes from the Einstein quote "Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bones. Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds it own". Very well written, Lindsay Ferrentino, is certainly a playwright worth following.

The construction of Brooklyn bridge to connect Manhattan & Brooklyn, was a considerable feat when it was began in 1869. 3 years later when it opened, people doubted it would be able to hold the necessary weight and feared using it. So Mr Burnum, owner of Burnum circus, took a parade of 21 elephants across it - both to prove its stability and in the process promote his circus - what a spectacle that must have been in 1874! On our walk across it during this week, there was no such spectacle but there was certainly no doubt the original construction has stood the test of time. It's iconic cable and suspension architecture was even more impressive when viewed up close.

A visit to the Frick collection is another of my favourite things to do in NYC. This magnificent 5th Ave house, designed by Thomas Hastings in 1913, holds an impressive collection of art in an intimate calm oasis that was once Henry Clay Frick's home. His intention, right from the architectural design stage of this home, was to leave the house and the extensive art collection as his legacy. We took a tour of this serene, restrained space where, to my mind, the art and the architecture hold equal billing - high praise considering the art collection consists of many priceless European artists. 

A few more Jazz nights this week - Birdland Jazz club has become 'our local', more visits to Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney kept us busy and enjoying all this fabulous city has to offer. 

Woolworth Building - completed in 1913 was one of the early New York skyscrapers and
sits at the NY side of the Brooklyn bridge 
View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge

View of Central Park from the New York Athletic Club
The beautiful serene Winter Garden in the Frick museum

Friday, November 27, 2015

New York Week 4

For a Saturday matinee, New York turned on one of the best plays we have seen here so far. Arthur Miller's "View from the Bridge" was well acted, engaged the audience with a simple and very effective stage set, and culminated in a dramatic finale where red water poured out of the ceiling drenching the actors, simulating the bloody ending. Powerful design always delivers!

Another few visits to the Whitney museum saw us decide to join as founding members - the 'members only' viewings are a wonderful way to view the exhibitions with limited audience. The current Frank Stella exhibition is a wonderful expose of his life work - it is curated in largely a evolutionary format from his first exhibition in 1959 at age 23. The work thoroughly engages through its exuberance, from the original linear largely monochromatic works to the widely energetic more recent works which literally jump off the walls. We have booked to listen to him speak personally about his work next week so are really looking forward to that as there is nothing like getting the story directly from the source.

The Whitney also contains the new "Untitled" restaurant on the ground level - we couldn't resist trying its delicious food on a few occasions. And this week they also opened the 'Thea Westreich Wagner & Ethan Wagner collection' - a donation of 800 pieces of contemporary art which definitely had one discussing the notion of appropriation and 'what defines art' - a question as old as time itself. To me, Robert Gober's "Ascending Sinks" (1985), and Dan Vo's "Late Nineteenth Century Chandelier" (2009) (shown below) are both an evolution from Duchamp's "Fountain". I realise the difference is Gerber's sinks are sculptures made to resemble the actual. Vo's chandeliers, dated when exactly removed from their original hotel placement, divorce function from historical importance, challenging the notion of context versus art. However I think both ideas "borrow" from the signed urinals Duchamp placed in a gallery - labeling them art merely because of me Gober & Vo appropriate rather than invent a new idea. Maybe the intention of both artists is to challenge the notion of appropriation! Whatever the answer, the collection is worth seeing to question and debate.

The NYC Documentary festival showcased a fabulous film called "Janis Joplin - little girl blue" which uncovered new material to present her life story. The insightful interview afterwards with the Director and other pertinent people in her life delivered a sliver of the opportunities that living such a metropolis gives one. A beautiful, sensitively curated film.

On Tuesday we sat in front row seats to see Al Pacino in "China Doll". Although well acted, we were both really dissatisfied with the ending - I likened it to when you eat at "a Michelin starred restaurant and leave feeling like you would have preferred your family run local"! 

The Guggenheim has an amazing Alberto Burri collection on show - his art which largely dates to the post WW2 era looks surprisingly contemporary in the serene Guggenheim space. I also took their architectural tour, (which I have done previously but being a Frank Lloyd Wright fan you can never have too much) - and our guide told us that the space and shape was influenced by the Guggenheim's Kandinsky's paintings which FLW definitely saw in Solomon Guggenheim's living room. The gallery owns one of the largest Kandinsky collections and they are currently on show in one of the intimate side galleries - seeing them en-mass in a small space was awe inspiring.

Another Art Walking Tour of the Bushwick area was fascinating - emerging artists in an emerging area always means you will be challenged and extended - can't ask for more really! An added bonus was the incredible graffiti/mural art on the exterior of buildings as we walked from one gallery to the next in upcoming this area mix of industrial (original), residential (limited but increasing) and commercial area. I have no doubt that a return visit in even 12 months will see great changes.  

We finished week 4 with another late night visit to Birdland to watch the Django Reinhardt Jazz tribute - incredible musicians playing equally beautifully music.

Textile & Photographic (the eyes) self portrait by Korean artist Yoon Ji Seon - it is very captivating and I have returned several times to view her pieces.  She photographs herself, then transfers the photo to canvas, then spends hours at the sewing machine sewing thread over the surface, leaving only the eyes as the original photograph. The loose threads tell a story as much as the ridged material. In the process the rear becomes a reverse picture as important as the one on view - often quiet different in feeling because the opposite thread is the dominant one (the reverse of this is actually largely pink but equally as gorgeous as this one)
This Video art by Meriem Bennani at Signal gallery in Bushwick utilities various sized canvases to create a concave feeling when the video is projected onto it. The convex shape with the same video is projected onto the opposite wall and together the 2 create an interesting immersive feeling 
Graffiti/mural art in Bushwick Brooklyn

Frank Stella's Protractor series
Frank Stella's Moby Dick Series

Robert Gober's "Ascending sinks" (1985), Josphone Pryde's "Relax" (2004) & Dan Vo's "Late nineteenth century chandelier" (2009) in the current Thea Westreich Wagner & Ethan Wagner collection at Whitney museum

This photo has not been digitally altered - some nights, particularly the cold ones, the sunset colour is absolutely incredible! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New York City - Week 3

By now, week 3 in NYC, we are really beginning to feel like "locals" - it appears a huge number of people living in Manhattan were born elsewhere, so surely after 3 weeks we too are "locals"? Spending extended time here is so exciting - we love it - hard not to with the incredible plethora of shows to see, interesting lectures to attend, places to eat and kaleidoscope of modern art exhibitions to experience.

This week saw us attend the unconventional & very exciting play, "Sleep No More" - this interactive dance production/play had been on my radar for some time, so visiting it was a delight, if somewhat unusuall! Set across 5 dimly lit levels in a Chelsea warehouse which has been purposely redesigned, it is the first play I have ever been to where not one word was spoken, and this actually enhanced the experience. The actors dance up the walls (literally), through beautifully curated rooms that the audience, wearing obligatory Venetian-style masks for anonymity, wandered freely. The plot is supposedly loosely modeled on "Macbeth" but I think loosely puts it mildly, not that this is an issue as it was so much fun that the plot was not the focus! With an enormous number of different rooms to rummage thorough at one's desire, plus dozens of actors performing and moving across all 5 floors, ones senses were on high alert for the whole 3 hours. As a consequence each audience member experienced their own unique version of the play depending upon the actors you followed or the rooms you visited. I love the ingenuity & creativity of the mind that dreams up such wonderfully inventive experiences! So NYC!!

It was a big art week. We had more MoMA art history classes - very good lecturers who expertly link the various concepts that make up the modern art movement. Plus we went on a wonderful walking tour of the "best" contemporary private art exhibitions at private galleries in Chelsea.  Chelsea has 300+ privately owned galleries and our guide Rafael edited this to show us the most interesting 6 current exhibitions. Obviously this is subjective, but the virtual reality art by Rachel Rossin, the enormous 30+mtr piece made from the ash of incense burnings collected from Buddist temples by renowed Chinese artist Zhang Huan, and the beautiful photographic & textiles self portraits by Korean artist Yoon Ji Seon, were all intriguing and a wonderful cross section of artistic styles. 

Later in the week we took a private art tour with the same guide, Rafael, -, to view some of the emerging artists around the Lower East Side. I am fascinated by the concept of "What makes the next big thing" in the art world - it appears to be nebulous, but obviously there are significant players who impact the direction. We viewed 9 artist's exhibitions in largely emerging galleries, including Serge Attukwei Clottey from Ghana who makes pieces from discarded plastic water containers, Lucy Dodd whose art and detailed studio installation is a work in progress (she literally works in it and changes things daily), Jeffrey Gibson who works with bells beads & ribbon to make beautiful intricate sculptural works and Cynthis Daignault who took a road trip across USA, stopping every 25miles to chronicle her journey in paint - the resulting 360 pieces titled "Light Atlas" are being sold as one progressive piece. All the galleries and artists imbued an intoxicating mix of energy and excitement which really sums up the New York art scene. Our tour also emphasized the fact that every society has a need for artistic expression and since WW2 New York really sits as a world barometer of the modern movement. What we saw this week were cameos of this and it was thrilling to be a part of it, even if in a small way.   

We saw several more plays this week including Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf in "Misery" - well written & thoroughly entertaining though Laurie definitely won the acting award on that one. Plus we went to another performance of Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Brass Band - our third week in a row attending the same Birdland Jazz (never the same score) - they have been performing there 5pm every Friday for 9.5years, so we have a long way to go to get to their record!

And it is hard to get more of a "New York Experience" than ice skating lessons at the Wolman rink and bicycle rides in Grand Central Park, of course followed by a couple of good red wines. NYC - soooooooooooo much fun!   
Serge Attukwei Clottey makes his art from discarded water containers (seen here on left)
Serge Attukwei Clottey makes sculptural pieces that are decidedly human!
Lucy Dodd's artworks include the canvases and the entire studio which is a work in progress

Jeffrey Gibson uses beads, bells & ribbon to make intricate sculptural works  
Cynthis Daignault's Exploration of America in painterly format 

I love a good busker, & this one in Central Park made everyone smile - simple but so effective!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

New York City - Week 2

Beginning week 2 with a trip to the borough of Brooklyn was a pretty good way to start. In all the many times I have been in NYC I have never ventured over the bridge to Brooklyn, not because I didn't want to, but more because Manhattan had soooo many things to occupy my time. Now with more time I was determined to see this new 'Hipster' thing that I keep reading about in Brooklyn, so a few hours at Saturday's 'Brooklyn Flea' is the perfect way to do it. With the approaching cold weather, this market has now moved inside and houses an eclectic mix of good vintage clothes, handmade items and delicious food. We followed this with a big injection of US culture - viewing the extensive Halloween dress up. Apparently Bleeker St in Greenwich Village is the place to see it all and they certainly go all out on those costumes! I particularly loved the ones where the entire families - adults, young children and babies in prams were all dressed in some dramatic theme. Clearly more for the adults than the children!

Sunday we wandered the flea market in 25th St - small but worth a rummage & the Flatiron area is such a lovely part of town to meander on the weekend with great restaurants and a really nice vibe set against a backdrop of spectacular 1930's architecture. The unseasonably warm weather was a perfect accompaniment.  

This week we began art history classes at MoMA - booked in to do 2 different classes - "4 ideas that changed how we see Modernism" & "Icons of Modernism" - each class is 2hrs, 1 day/week for 4 weeks and although we have both previously studied many University art history classes, nothing beats an indepth discussion whilst standing in front the actual artwork. This gallery, with its fabulous bookshop, serene sculpture courtyard, lovely restaurants & extensive collection of Modernism has long been a favourite, so spending time here with highly qualified lecturers is a true joy.

Thursday we took a train to New Canaan Connecticut, to view an Architectural icon I had long admired. Philip Johnson's "Glass House" built in 1946 seems to float among the picturesque autumn landscape. Together with a handful of other iconic houses around the world, it redefined the notion of "house" by paring back the unnecessary to focus on structure, geometry and proportion and in the process allow one to engage with the surroundings through transparency. To most it would appear architecturally simple but meticulous detail enables the occupant to feel as if the walls do not exist - Johnson himself called the glass walls "his changing wallpaper" and this aptly describes the feeling of being inside this beautiful building. The 46 hectare property, with a multitude of other interesting structures containing his large art and sculptural collection, a library, a guesthouse and numerous follies, is beautifully preserved and definitely worth the 75min train trip from NYC.

I am continually delighted and still even surprised by the options NYC offers so we have definitely been availing ourselves of as many as possible. This week we saw 2 more plays, some awesome jazz with Tommy Igoe who we saw last year in San Francisco so knew it was essential to go again and the very extensive Picasso sculptural exhibition at MoMA. To sate my love of cleverly designed interiors we have also been to the Ace Hotel designed by Roman & Williams - quirky, rich use of varied materials and a wonderful sense of fun, BG restaurant in Bergdoff Goodman designed by Kelly Wearstler - elegant and glamorous & the gorgeous timber lined 1936 interior of the New York Athletic club with a spectacular view of Central Park - a very easy place to pass a delightful few hours!

MoMA's Picasso exhibition has a huge collection of his sculpture 
Fabulous Chelsea Shop "Olde Good things" sells a myriad of assorted interior essentials such as this Statue of Liberty!

Phillip Johnson's iconic Glass House built in 1946 - no room to house any clutter! 

Robert Rauchenberg "Bed" 1955 - Asemblage, one of the 4 ideas that defines Modernism
We were shown the groovy bedroom interiors at the Ace Hotel - just in case you play the guitar!
Bar of the Ace Hotel - an emphasis on faux taxidermy gives it a fun quirky vibe 

Monday, November 2, 2015

New York City Week 1

With our last conference finishing in New York mid October, and the next one beginning in New York just before Christmas, we decided that rather than return to Australia, we would take the opportunity to stay and enjoy magnificent NYC for 2 months. Whilst we are still working, and with Australia's having a 13 or 14 hour time difference, means the working day is totally out of kilter, that is a small price to pay to be able to wander the streets in New York for the next 2 months!

So as the Fall weather slowly gathers pace, I intend to post weekly reports on our sojourn in NYC. My list is long, and 2 months is short...... so there is definitely no time to lose.

When our ship sailed into New York Harbour, we were the first passengers to alight - happy to carry our own gear so we could beat the crowds and ensconce ourselves in our Midtown apartment where we are staying for the next 2 months. On the 24th floor we have awesome views over the Manhattan skyline, including a balcony to enjoy a wine while the sun sets over the Hudson. Furthermore we even have a gym & glass roofed heated pool & spa on the 44th floor that has an incredible views over Central Park and will be fun to swim in as the serious winter weather sets in. This is my kind of NYC!

So, an essential start was our stay was a trip to Union Square farmers market where the product was so fresh it was almost jumping off the tables! We also delighted in watching an expert "pumpkin artist" carve a portrait of a man into pumpkin - he was incredibly good and I am surprised how seriously they take the whole pumpkin carving (ie, Halloween) artistry! 

Fabulous arrival timing, as I was thrilled to be in town for a very exciting visit from my Godson George and his Mum Steph, who were visiting from San Francisco to celebrate George's 8th birthday. My gift was a surprise helicopter ride over NYC - the absolutely best way to see NYC (why fight the crowds at Liberty island when you can see it from the air?) and a huge hit with George! It takes alot to impress an 8 year old but I think I managed it with this gift. Cupcakes from Magnolia bakery were a pretty good follow up (though I admit I think it was more for the adults than George... we LOVE that frosting!) and then a lovely wander around Greenwich village which was Steph's old 'hood' when she lived here years ago. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed an 8th birthday as much as this! 

The rest of the week was very busy indeed - a visit to the new Renzo Piano designed Whitney Museum of American Art, with a interesting guided tour of some of their special pieces. A fabulous walk on one of landscape architecture's world masterpieces (my opinion, but trust me I am correct) - the Highline - the re-purposed elevated cargo train track. The clever thing about this space is the very well considered textural planting that responds to seasonal change, the integration of public seating and extensive artworks that surprise & delight. I love the vision & passion that turned this into such a loved space in NYC - without doubt I will visit at least once a week over the next 2 months as there is no better space to soak in the change of season than this elevated 2.33km public walkway - it will definitely make you smile!

NYC also has seemingly unlimited entertainment variety  - so in the past week we have enjoyed 2 very high quality jazz shows that kept us tapping our toes for hours after the shows finished and a very good off Broadway play called "Barbeque". We have also been cycling in Central Park, visited Ellis Island (despite many previous visits to NYC we had not been to see USA's immigration entry point - just a tip, I think it is better seen from the helicopter - many exhibits have been removed since Hurricane Sandy 3 yrs ago as they wait to build the climate controlled spaces they require, so wait till they do!) 

We have also eaten at the iconic Oyster Bar in Grand Central station, with its original 1920's architecture, visited the very groovy Gansevoort food market in the eclectic meatpacking district and eaten at one of Frank Sinartra's favourite Italian restaurants, Patsy's, (plus booked to attend one of his 100 year birthday celebrations in December). A week in NYC would not be complete without several hours in our favourite bookstore, The Strand, (& a purchase of a dozen+ books... this time, more to follow I am sure, books here are very well priced and the options seemingly endless) and somewhere in the midst of this week I have even managed to squeeze in some retail therapy (limited so far, but the days are young.....).

I am always surprised how quickly one settles into a routine wherever you are in the world, and ours begins with opening our apartment door to collect the delivery of our New York Times. I know we probably appear 'old school' but not much beats opening the NYTimes first thing in the morning as the cafeteria begins to percolate. This is shortly followed by a visit to our favourite Italian coffee shop 1.5 blocks away, then the day can truly get underway.

Across the past week we have walked hours and hours each and every day and yet only covered a fraction of the boroughs which constitute NYC, so..... lots done but way more to go..............


Initial nerves, then absolute delight!

Ellis Island Processing room - one could almost feel the equal measure of relief & fear
A view from the balcony of the Whitney museum onto the Highline
Ganesvoort Food Market - cool fitouts, equally cool food

Art is a every turn along the Highline

Iconic 1920's architecture still exists in the very busy Oyster bar in Grand Central Station