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A century-old faded ad for Bloomie’s, Lexington btwn 115th and 116th [What about the Plastic Animals]

Have you explored the South Bronx Cultural Corridor? [Bronx Arts]

Inauguración de LUIS MARQUEZ EN EL MUNDO DEL MAÑANA: LA IDENTIDAD MEXICANA Y LA FERIA MUDIAL DE 1939-40, Domingo 14 de noviembre, de 15:00 a 18:00, with a special offer for the Museum’s twitter followers. [Queens Museum]

Brooklyn Historical Society workshop: “Research Your House,” Saturday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. [Brooklyn Heights Blog]

Great Kills Park Nature Walk on Sunday [Staten Island Museum]

Timely pre-walk reading and welcome news: After a year’s hiatus, the Staten Island blog Walking Is Transportation is back … with some thoughts about honoring solitude.

“Harlem Fall”: photo by Yojimbot at Harlem Hybrid.

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It’s been a decent week for NYC poetry. Amiri Baraka read at St. Mark’s on Wednesday. Taylor Mead reads next Monday at Bowery Poetry Club. And tonight John Giorno, a fixture of the city’s poetry scene since the 60s (and star of Warhol’s film Sleep), presents new paintings and reads poetry tonight in Chelsea. Here’s a taste of his performance style. He’s reading “Thanks for Nothing”:

Friday, May 21, 7 pm
Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery
526 W. 26th Street, No. 213
New York, NY 10001
P. 212.243.3335
F. 212.243.1059

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The NYU Dept of Comparative Literature, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, and NYU Dept of Media, Culture & Communication are pleased to present a public lecture by internationally renowned South African artist William Kentridge tomorrow night, February 9th at 8 p.m. at Cooper Union’s Great Hall (7 E. 7th Street at Bowery). The talk is free and open to the public. Photo ID is required for entry.

Kentridge’s talk “A Universal Archive … with Some Remarks on Black Holes” will explore visual memory, the need for dis-remembering, studies in the speed of light, and other topics and themes at the edges of the artist’s work.

William Kentridge is known for his stop-motion films of charcoal drawings as well as for works in etching, collage, sculpture, and the performing arts. An exhibition of three decades of Kentridge’s works will be at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Feb. 24-May 17) later this year.

In March, Kentridge will direct a production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera House. The production features Paulo Szot, who won a Tony Award last year for his performance in South Pacific at Lincoln Center. (Click here to watch a video about the Met’s production featuring an interview with Kentridge.)

Museum-of-Chinese-in-the-Americas_V2_460x285.jpgI can’t remember when I first visited Museum of Chinese in the Americas in its old location, the second floor of the big red school building at the corner of Bayard and Mulberry. One of our Writing New York TAs, a former museum employee, had offered to take members of our class on a walking tour of the neighborhood — or was it an earlier class on The Port of New York the first time she led that tour? I can’t remember. Either way, we met at the museum for a pre-walk discussion, as we have the several times I’ve taken that walk since then. “Walking tours are a dangerous epistemological activity,” she told us as we headed out toward Columbus Park, by which she meant that as a Chinese American woman from suburban Atlanta, was she an “us” or a “them” when she talked about the neighborhood and Chinese immigration more generally?

The collection at the old space was quaint in some ways — made up mostly of materials that had been scavenged by the museum’s founders (a couple grad students, including our NYU colleague Jack Tchen) as an older generation of Chinatown residents passed away and their kids threw away unwanted old belongings: suitcases, clothing, bottles, letters, laundry signs. Curators had used this cultural detritus to create a compelling account of the issues faced by new arrivals to New York’s Chinatown over several decades.

The walking tour is hands down my favorite in lower Manhattan: I continue to be blown away every time I walk through the old secret tunnel running from Doyers Street to the Bowery: once a getaway route for gangs and bootleggers (see Freeland, ch. 2), now a subterranean arcade/strip mall of herbal medicine vendors, temporary employment agencies, and English lessons. As such it continues to teach about the history of immigration to this neighborhood.

So it was with some sadness that I realized, last spring, that my class’s Chinatown walks would no longer include a stop by that DIY museum space on Mulberry. But my disappointment was more than compensated for by the awe-inspiring Maya Lin-designed space on Centre street, slated to open officially this Tuesday, the 22nd.

moca.jpgThe museum’s scope and capabilities — not to mention funding — have expanded dramatically and the new space will host exhibitions that range far beyond the history of New York’s Chinatown. The two inaugural shows suggest the range of what MoCA will now be able to offer visitors: The new core exhibit, With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America, will focus broadly on the history and experience of Chinese immigration to the Americas. From the museum’s site:

The core exhibition presents the diverse layers of the Chinese American
experience while examining America’s journey as a nation of
immigrants–from an historical overview of Chinese immigration to the
United States, to the individual stories that reveal what it has meant
to be Chinese in America at different moments in time, to the physical
traces and images left behind by past generations for us to consider,
reflect and reclaim.

A key element of the exhibition is its dialogue with Maya Lin’s
architectural centerpiece – a sky lit courtyard at the heart of the
museum. The exhibit wraps around and engages with the courtyard, which
represents the idea of China – a collective origin, which for many
after the first generation, becomes a constructed, rather than an
actual, memory. Not unlike the rooms of a Chinese house, each section
of the exhibit is connected to the courtyard via portals. Each one
containing films of people narrating personal life stories,
demonstrating how history is propelled by individual moments of
decision-making in the face of circumstances larger than themselves.
External walls dialogue with the inner, in order to provide the larger
historical context for Chinese American struggles and achievements.

The second major exhibit opening Tuesday, Here & Now, focuses on contemporary Chinese American artists in New York:

The exhibition will also be accompanied by a series of panel
discussions, artist workshops, and a full-color, illustrated catalogue
that features interviews with artists Xu Bing and Wenda Gu. The
exhibition is organized into three seven-week long chapters–Visual
Memories, Crossing Boundaries, and Towards Transculturalism.

The first chapter, opening September 22 and running until November 2, features the following artists:

  • Xu Bing (b. China, 1955; U.S. arrival, Wisconsin, 1990)
  • Yun-Fei Ji (b. China, 1963; U.S. arrival, Arkansas, 1989)
  • Lin Yan (b. China; U.S. arrival, New York, 1986)
  • Cui Fei (b. China: U.S. arrival, Pennsylvania, 1996)

The subsequent chapters of the exhibition will be mounted on November 19, 2009 and on January 10, 2010.

In other words, repeat visits will reward you. And you can still book the walking tour I love so much. Take note: The first five days will feature free admission:

Tuesday, September 22: 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm (last entry at 3:30 pm)
Wednesday, September 23: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Thursday, September 24: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Friday, September 25: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Saturday, September 26: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)

Given that the museum is just down the street from where I live, I’m digging the ways in which it’s evolving into a vibrant artistic and intellectual center that will impact multiple neighborhoods.

Oh, and p.s.: If you missed City Room’s three-part Q&A series on Chinatown gentrification (with Hunter College professor Peter Kwong), it might make good reading before you head down to the museum sometime this week.



Cyrus and I spent the entire day today with a group of really interesting folks — several of whom had written books I own and sometimes teach — powwowing with the directors of the South Street Seaport Museum about their institution and its possible future directions.

No word on that project now: this was a very preliminary conversation about changes that will be years in the making if enacted. But I left feeling hopeful about a museum I’m very fond of — especially the buildings it inhabits and the boats it owns — and having had a nice day talking to smart people who care about a lot of the same stuff I do.

But here’s the part I really wanted to crow about: I need to go back, because we really only had a couple minutes to run through it, but the big new exhibition they’ve just installed for the Henry Hudson 400 looked absolutely fantastic. Co-sponsored by the Dutch National Archives, the show, “New Amsterdam: Island at the Center of the World” has all sorts of treasures on loan, some of which will be familiar to people who’ve read even a small amount of illustrated New York history. One of the big draws, certainly, will be what some have called New York’s “birth certificate,” also known as the “Schaghenbrief” or Schaghen letter. It’s the letter home to Holland that notes the purchase of the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of 24 dollars. A steal of a real estate deal or colonialist exploitation? You decide.

The show is named, obviously, for Russell Shorto’s deservedly popular history of New Amsterdam, which works well in the undergraduate classroom and is a lot of fun to read, in part for its relentlessly and self-consciously anachronistic narration: references to New Amsterdam’s “bar scene” for example, or — my favorite — to Peter Stuyvesant’s Giuliani-like “quality of life initiatives.” We were fortunate to have Shorto himself walking us through and pointing out highlights.

So many other pretty pieces of paper. Like this one, a view of “Amboina,” or Ambon Island, the HQ for the Dutch East India Company in the 1610s:


I was also smitten with the original of the Castello Plan — a map made just before the turn-over to the English in 1664 — on loan from the Italian House of Medici. Shorto pointed out that it would have been colored, originally, like the image above, had the Medicis not left it exposed to sunlight.

All afternoon I’ve been contemplating the prospect of a New Amsterdam tattoo …


The show — which seems to overlap pretty significantly with the one that was on display in Amsterdam earlier this year, titled “Return to Manhattan” — will be at the Seaport Museum through Jan 3, 2010. 

lost_new_york_cover.jpgBryan and I are planning a conference called “Lost New York, 1609-2009,” which will be held at NYU on October 2 and 3. Our speakers will include Joanne van der Woude (Harvard University), Elizabeth L. Bradley (New York Public Library), Lytle Shaw (NYU), Daphne Brooks (Princeton University), Sukhdev Sandhu (NYU), David Freeland (author of Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure), and Marshall Berman (CUNY). We’ll also have a panel of bloggers who write about vanishing New York.

The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Fales Library, curated by four of our doctoral students — Jane Greenway Carr, Kristen Doyle Highland, John Easterbrook, and Melillo — each of whom has also written an essay for an accompanying volume. The cover is shown at left. The book was designed by the folks at NYU’s Office of Advertising and Publication, and it looks smashing (if we do say so ourselves). It’s also fascinating reading.

We’ll have more details about the conference in the coming weeks, but for now save the dates: October 2 and 3!

UPDATE: Full schedule here.


Not sure exactly how this sign ended up at the Morgan Ave. stop on the L, but according to New York Shitty it’s connected to the MCNY exhibit Cyrus wrote about here some time back. Exhibit has a nice coffee-table book associated with it, too. I’ve got a birthday coming up this week. I’m just putting that out there.

Photo warms my heart for some reason. (h/t Jeremiah)


mcny_manna.jpgI finally made it up to the Museum of the City of New York yesterday, which I hadn’t visited in a very long time. The impetus was provided by my father-in-law, who was visiting from out of town — isn’t that always the way? In light of the “Lost New York” conference that Bryan and I are planning for the first weekend of October at NYU, several of the exhibits held a special interest for me. The first was the ongoing exhibit on “Trade,” which traces the rise and fall of the port of New York and features wonderful wooden models of old sailing ships.

Two special exhibitions, however, are particularly worth visiting in this year of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s first visit to New York. The first is Mannahatta/Manhattan, which presents a natural history of the island from 1609 to the present. A 3D topographical map with a projected overlay of rivers and forests gives at the center of the exhibition gives you a real sense of how hilly the island was originally (a fact underscored by the walk from the 103rd St subway station, which takes you under the Metro-North el). My kids loved the computer program that allowed you to move from a present-day Google Maps aerial view of the city to a simulated aerial view of the city in 1609, which enabled them to watch our neighborhood transformed back to its woody state of 400 years ago. My favorite insight, perhaps, was the idea that the topography of today’s Times Square (a meeting place of streams) made it a crossroads even then. Mannahatta/Manhattan runs through October 12.
Thumbnail image for mcny_hudson.jpgFrom there you can go to the exhibition Amsterdam/New Amsterdam, which traces the rise of the city after Hudson’s arrival. The exhibition hall is about the length of Hudson ship, the Half Moon, and the exhibits are hung on displays that are arranged to suggests its outlines, complete with a prow. Although the introductory blurb highglights the idea that New Amsterdam “came to exhibit a comon spirit with the American city it would become — marked by unusual diversity, economic innovation, and contentious politics,” the exhibition does a good job of showing that these politics were more about more than economics and included moments of religious intolerance that have something in common with the colonies up north in New England. The exhibit closes on September 27.

Amsterdam/New Amsterdam is part of the city’s NY400 Celebrations and is co-sponsored by the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in New York. You can find out more about events related to the 400th anniversary at www.ny400.org.