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Jazz Loft Project

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jazz loft.jpgHave you been listening to the Jazz Loft Project radio series airing this week on WNYC? If not, it's not too late to catch up. Episode Three's coming this afternoon. The whole thing is highly recommended.

Here's an overview from the station's site:

"Photographer W. Eugene Smith moved into a loft at 821 Sixth Avenue, in the heart of New York's Flower District, in 1957. The place had already become a hangout for artists, writers and especially jazz musicians, who rehearsed and jammed there. Among the visitors to the loft: Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, Steve Swallow, Mose Allison, Bob Brookmeyer and hundreds more, over a period of about 8 years." (Read more here.)
Smith eventually recorded over 4,000 hours of life in the Jazz loft, from jam sessions to conversations to what happened to be playing on the radio or television. The tapes are an audio supplement to the 40,000 photos he took during the same period -- or vice versa: maybe the photos supplement the audio tapes.

Either way, the series makes for a fascinating slice of New York's arts scenes in the late 50s and early 60s. Sam Stephenson of Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies discovered the tapes in an Arizona archive in the late 90s. No one had listened to them in the 20 years they'd been housed there. In addition to producing this radio series with WNYC's Sara Fishko, Stephenson's also written a book that's due out next week, and the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts will host an exhibition of Smith's photography.

Start listening here. Much more, including a blog, at the project's home page.

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Thanks to Bowery Boogie for posting this today. It's the life cycle of a single block on Eldridge, between Rivington and Stanton:

See a slower version here, which will also allow you to progress one year at a time or to click on individual buildings for more info. The artist, a Seattle-based web designer and writer named Zac van Schouwen, explains the project's origins:

Awhile back, I was trying to find out the history of a building that my great-great-grandfather had lived in -- an old five-story tenement on Eldridge Street in Manhattan. With some help from Christopher Gray's guide to researching New York City buildings, I discovered that the building had been erected in 1834, on the site of an old house. It was demolished in the 1940s; its lot later held a garage, then a housing project.

My mystery was solved, but the project had piqued my interest anyway. I decided to try a more mammoth task, compiling a complete record of the life cycle of a single city block. That's what I've presented here. Beginning in the 1780s with James Delancey's farm, and ending with the present public housing structures, erected in 1985, this is a record of eight generations of buildings on two-thirds of an acre. (There is a brief gap from about 1802 to 1808, during which I've made educated guesses as to the state of construction.)

Clicking on any building here will give you more details about its history. The tenement that sparked this interest, #218, is a good place to start. My great-great-grandfather lived there in 1860. Keep an eye on it in 1922. Enjoy!

My favorite part is the fire-escapes that pop up in the early twentieth century. 1978 is the saddest year of all.


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AHNY friend and former Writing New York TA Spence Keralis passes on a link to a wonderful, continuously expanding site sponsored in part by New York Public Library: Abecedarium:NYC.

The project's blog describes the site this way:

Abecedarium:NYC is an interactive online exhibition that reflects on the history, geography, and culture -- both above and below ground -- of New York City through 26 unusual words. Using original video, animation, photography and sound, Abecedarium:NYC constructs visual relationships between these select words and specific locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

Each word -- whether it's A for audile or Z for zenana -- leads to a different short video and a location in the city that you may never have experienced before. In selenography (the study of the moon), amateur astronomers celebrate the wonders of the night sky at Staten Island's Great Kills State Park. In open city (a metropolis without defense), the ruins of military installations throughout the five boroughs decay with time. Chatty teenagers in a Flushing, Queens cafe drink bubble tea in xenogenesis (the phenomenon of children markedly different from their parents). In diglot (a bilingual person), a Chinese accountant, Albanian baker, Palestinian falafel maker, Argentine film archivist and Cuban cigar maker speak candidly about their daily routines. In mofette (an opening in the earth from which carbon monoxide escapes) mysterious gases flow from gaps in the streets of Manhattan.

The experience of visiting Abecedarium:NYC is more than watching, listening and learning. Visitors to the project are invited to respond to existing content as well as to share their own experience of New York City by contributing original videos, soundscapes, photos or texts to the project blog. As more users contribute, the project grows in size, scope and experience, and transforms into a destination for sharing and learning about every facet of the city.

The blog itself is a little odd: if you want to see posts in chronological order, you'll have to search under the "dates" tab at the head of the welcome page. The whole thing seems designed to lead you down the path of hours spent exploring.

The perfect site for people who love words as much as they love New York.

Howl! Fest 09(!)

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Grieve has some pictures up -- including the one above -- of the Howl! Fest's kickoff arts event at Tompkins Square Park.

Complete schedule of events for the festival can be found here.

Info on volunteering can be found here.

Mocha Dick in Felt

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Tristin Lowe's Mocha Dick at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. [Photo: New York Times]

Tristin Lowe's life-sized sculpture Mocha Dick, executed in industrial felt covering a specially designed balloon, is tribute to the whale that served as one of the inspirations for Melville's Moby-Dick. You'll have to travel south of New York to Philadelphia to see it, though: it's on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, which is devoted to "creating and exhibiting new work in new materials and new media in collaboration with emerging and established international artists." 

The whale Mocha Dick terrorized sailors in the waters near Mocha Island off the coast of southern Chile in the early nineteenth century, and he was, according to legend, almost entirely white. You can read first-hand accounts of the whale in a piece by the explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds entitled "Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a Manuscript Journal" and published in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker magazine. Reynolds notes one unusual feature of this particular sperm whale:

Viewed from a distance, the practised eye of the sailor only could decide, that the moving mass, which constituted this enormous animal, was not a white cloud sailing along the horizon. On the spermaceti whale, barnacles are rarely discovered; but upon the head of this lusus naturae, they had clustered, until it became absolutely rugged with the shells. In short, regard him as you would, he was a most extraordinary fish; or, in the vernacular of Nantucket, "a genuine old sog", of the first water.

The barnacles feature prominently in Lowe's depiction of the whale. According to The Artblog, "Terraced scars are carved into the felt, and zig-zag in stitches across the body. Beautiful barnacles are appliqued, flowering across the old survivor's skin in colonies.  In Melville and in Lowe, it is man's nemesis, man's alter-ego, and the engine of man's greatest folly." [You can read their full account of the sculpture here.]

Mocha Dick, detail. [Photo from The Artsblog]

The entry devoted to Reynold's account at reminds us of Herman Beaver's theory of how "Mocha Dick" became "Moby Dick":

"By July 1846 even the Knickerbocker Magazine had forgotten its earlier version [of Reynold's article], reminding its readers of 'the sketch of "Mocha Dick, of the Pacific", published in the Knickerbocker many years ago...'. That account may well have led Melville to look up the earlier issue, in the very month he rediscovered his lost buddy of the Acushnet and fellow deserter on the Marquesas, Richard Tobias Greene, and began 'The Story of Toby' [the sequel to Typee]. May not 'Toby Dick' then have elided with 'Mocha Dick' to form that one euphonious compound, 'Moby Dick'?"

If you're interested in venturing down to Philly to see Mocha Dick, take a look at this recent New York Times article, which discusses a variety of exhibitions currently on view in the city.

marialevitskythunderbolt.jpgVia WFMU's Beware of the Blog: One of my favorite freeform DJs, Maria, has a show of architectural photos opening tonight in Manhattan:

Deborah Berke & Partners Architects LLP

Maria Levitsky
Building Photographs

Opening Thursday May 21, 6:30-8:30pm
220 5th Avenue, 7th floor
New York, NY
212 229 9211

Open all summer 2009 by appointment

In her artist's statement she relates her craft, in a way, to the work of historic preservation:

It is this evidence of disappearance that I desire to record in my photographs. I look to create images that incite the imagination to ask the question what could have happened here? and who left these traces? The photograph itself becomes a trace as the scene continues to change in time, as many of the locations are demolished or redesigned.
I'd like to think that she conceptualizes recorded sound in similar ways. Among other audio treasures, Maria introduced me to the bass player Henri Texier: I remember very clearly the first time I heard him on her show. (It was one of those moments you drop what you're doing and call the station to see what's playing.) I'll forever be grateful -- and can't wait to see what visual treasures she's captured in her exhibit. If you want to listen to her radio shows online, click here.

The 2001 photo shown above, left, is of the now-demolished Thunderbolt roller coaster at Coney Island. At the website linked you'll find historical nuggets like this: "In the "American Experience" documentary Coney Island: A Documentary Film, Mae Timpano described her years living under and working at the Thunderbolt, 'We used to find teeth in the yard. We used to find wigs, glasses, guns. Everything we found in the yard ... nobody came back for them, though.'"

118flightmural.jpgOn public art in Queens: An excerpt from Public Art New York, by architect Jean Parker Phifer and photographer Francis Dzikowski [Newyorkology]

Coke with that slice? DEA busts drug-dealing pizza parlor in the Bronx. [Animal]

A guide to Boerum Hill [Lost City]

Images of America publishes new volume on St. George, Staten Island. Plus: "town" or "neighborhood"? [Walking Is Transportation]

The making of Manhattanville: What will be lost when Columbia expands? [, via an older post on JVNY]

Bonus: From my own back yard -- if you haven't seen Jon Kessler's amazing installation "Kessler's Circus" at Deitch Projects (76 Grand Street) you've only got through tomorrow. Here's an older VBS.TV documentary series on Kessler, set in his long-time Williamsburg studio, that should give you a feel for the work.

Image from Newyorkology:

James Brooks, Artist, 1938-40
Collection of the City of New York
Marine Air Terminal
Delano & Aldrich, Architects, 1937-40; Restoration by Beyer Blinder Belle, Architects, 1995-6
West end of LaGuardia Airport, Flushing

WNY Whitman

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The subject of my lecture this morning in our Writing New York class is "Walt Whitman: High and Low." I'll try to tell two intersecting stories about Whitman and U.S. literary history. The first is the "high" story about his engagement with New England Transcendentalism and, particularly, the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The "low" story concerns Whitman the man of Brooklyn and New York, who works for the penny press, draws on sensationalist writing, and is inspired rather than revulsed by the influx of immigrants into the city. Along the way, I'll give a quick tour of poetic forms, from Barlow to Bryant, to try to get across just why Whitman's poetry looked so different to his contemporaries that some of them (most famously Whittier) refused to think of it as poetry.

The lecture makes use of clips from Ric Burns's film New York: A Documentary History, which does a marvelous job of offering both insightful commentary (including choice words from Allen Ginsberg) and wonderful period images.

We read Whitman's poetry in the light of Tom Bender's essay "New York as a Center of Difference," presenting Whitman as a cosmopolitan thinker who embraces difference in a variety of different forms. Near the close of the lecture, we'll listen to what is thought to be the one recording of Whitman reciting that survives, a 36-second wax cylinder recording of the poem "America," published in the New York Herald in 1888:

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love, 

[The last two lines, not in this recording, are: 
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.]

You can listen to the recording here at

And we'll close by thinking of Whitman as a realist, an inspiration to the painter Thomas Eakins. This gives me an excuse to talk about the French Realist painter Gustave Courbet (that's "Realist" with a capital R) and to show his painting The Origin of the World (1866), currently on view at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris:

I'll suggest that Courbet's painting is analogous to Whitman's poetry in terms of its shock value, using Le Printemps, painted by the "academic" artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau in the same year as Origin to offer a contrast:

This, by the way, is probably the painting that Edith Wharton was thinking of in The Age of Innocence, when she described the scandalous painting by Bougereau that Julius Beaufort has the "audacity" to hang in plain sight for his guests to see. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...

[The photograph of Whitman above was taken in 1888 or so and served as the frontispiece for November Boughs. It and other images can be found at the]

New York Modern: Paul Cadmus

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In my seminar on New York and modernism last fall, we used New York Modern: The Arts and the City by William B. Scott and Peter M. Rutkoff as our point of departure. In their introduction, Scott and Rutkoff make a distinction between the terms modern and modernism:

We use the term modern to denote the broad range of art produced by artists who defined themselves as modern. We use modernism, or modernist, in reference to the much narrower, but still broad, rangeof European art that consciously rejected realism and historicism. European "modernists" insisted that art should not be mimetic, should not correspond to sensory experience, but rather should express artists' inner consciousness, their subjective perception of sensory experience.

The argument of their book is that New York modern is a continuing style that predates and outlasts formalistic modernism and grows out of the realism of Walt Whitman, Edith Wharton, and Thomas Eakins.

Scott and Rutkoff argue that the Museum of Modern Art adopted "an essentialized definition of modern art" based on the formalistic modernism of "nonmimetic European or European-inspired art." In contrast, the original Whitney Museum in the Village adopted a collecting style that reflected the openness of "New York Modern."

We spent one of our classes at the Whitney Museum, now on Madison Avenue, and I asked the students to find and discuss two works, one that seemed to them to embody "New York Modern," the other "modernism."

Today, I present two responses to a work identified with New York Modern, Paul Cadmus's 1938 painting, Sailors and Floozies.

Paul Cadmus was 94 at the time of his death. A native New Yorker, he was discovered in the depression era when he was commissioned to paint for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), for which he completed his first piece The Fleet's In! in 1934. He painted in a style that is referred to as magic realism.

The painting Sailors and Floozies is a picture that depicts sailors in Riverside Park, near a monument called the sailors and soldiers memorial. Three sailors are meeting their lovers (the floozies) and there is garbage and litter all around them. Interestingly, Cadmus paints the frame with graffiti as well, so that the artwork extends out of the picture onto the actual frame.

According to New York Modern: The Arts and the City by William B. Scott and Peter M. Rutkoff the painters that had their art on exhibition in the Whitney "offered sober, critical, and satirical images of contemporary life." What Cadmus achieved with his painting was very "modern" because he displayed something that many people might not even have thought of as art, and he painted it in an interesting way. The painting was very controversial; many critics thought that it was "tawdry, repulsive, and unpatriotic" because it depicted drunk sailors during the dawn of the Second World War. This wasn't Cadmus's intention though; his image is more about homoeroticism than patriotism.

-- Akeelya McKenzie

Paul Cadmus was a Manhattan-based painter who was one of a group of artists favored by the Whitney Museum due to their proximity to the Village and past study in the Arts Students League.  Cadmus's subject matter was often erotic and socially critical, or at least socially provocative.  For instance, Sailors and Floozies, an oil and tempera rendition of one Marine and two Navy sailors on leave with their female companions brought about so many objections when first put on display, it was into the lives of removed from the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1940.  However, it eventually became part of the permanent Whitney collection, alongside many other works that were not considered to be acceptable examples of modern art. 

The Whitney's acceptance of all styles of modern American art allow it to have a much broader range of works with a much more eclectic offering. Sailors and Floozies doesn't follow exact standards of other modernist formats, but displays Cadmus's vivid and expressive "magic realist" style, as it is often called. Cadmus's pieces of this style have also been called cartoons due to their somewhat exaggerated and "caricaturistic" appearance.

Unlike the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum welcomed undefined styles and the relatively unknown artists who heralded them, such as Paul Cadmus and his magic realism. Whereas MoMA aimed to leave out politics and society from the works in its collection, art such as Sailors and Floozies at the Whitney aimed to provide a window Americans across the country.
-- Ian Rahman

Akeelya McKenzie and Ian Rahman are both first-year students at New York University.

I Lego NY

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In case you missed them in the Times the other day, you can find several NY-inspired lego creations by the Berlin-based illustrator -- and former NYer -- Christoph Niemann by clicking here.

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