Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wave Hill (Riverdale): 242nd Street & Independence Ave

Flower Garden
Do you believe in synchronicity?  A couple of weeks ago, I heard about Wave Hill from 3 different sources--in a card set that tells of 52 things to do in NYC which is sold at the MOMA gift/book shop, from my Citizen Pruner class instructor (see my prior blog), and then from a friend who was recommending I visit the gardens now that the weather is more consistently nice in NYC.  According to Deepak Chopra, synchronicity is a sign that one is on the right path so I made a plan to visit Wave Hill and today was the day.

I'll admit that this is not the easiest place to get to, but then again, many things that are worthwhile take a little effort.  Actually, taking Metro-North's Harlem line to Riverdale and taking the free shuttle bus was relatively easy, as I live close to Grand Central (I took the shuttle and the 1, A, B, and E subways to get home, but I thought I would try both ways so that I could let blog readers know the difference--it took 3 times as long and about half the non-peak price ($5.75)--it's definitely worth using the train if possible).  Also on Tuesday and Saturday mornings admission is free (check out their website for the latest if hours, tours, etc. at Wave Hill Info).

When I got to Wave Hill, I first went on a 45 minute tour at the Glyndor Gallery.  They are currently displaying the work of three artists, Philip Taaffee, Fred Tomaselli, and Terry Winters, who have been inspired by nature and created numerous pieces for the Glyndor Gallery.  Taaffee used screen printing, collage, and marbling washes to create layered pieces with direct references to sea life and indirect references to cacti.  Tomaselli layered collage from magazines and catalogs as well as resin and acrylic paint to create transformational and accessible psychedelic art pieces (see "Dahlia" above left and bird images created using outerwear clothing catalog images at right).  Winters does more abstract work that only references the balance of flowers in nature in his series of Hexagrams in oil, collage, and embossing.

View of Wild Garden from Beneath a Shady Trellis
Aquatic Garden
After the tour, I walked the main part of the grounds, particularly enjoying the Flower Garden (see top photo), the Wild Garden (see left), and the Aquatic Garden lined by trellis walkways (see below right).  Of course I also stopped by the Perkins Visitor Center and Gift Shop, where they had various appealing jams, chutneys, honeys, lotions, nature inspired jewelry and books.  By the way, if you are coming to spend a long time at the gardens, you may want to pack a snack, as they do not have much in the way of real food for sale.

But surrounded by all of this natural beauty, I was glad I brought a sketch pad and some pencils so that I could practice drawing and take down some of my impressions (not just by camera).  I sat at various Adirondack style chairs (they are littered around the garden) and stone benches in the shade of trees and trellises for about an hour and took in beautiful vistas and natural details.  It was a wonderful way to spend a sunny (and not yet too humid) afternoon.

I don't want to give people the wrong impression, this is not the size of the NY Botanical Garden or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (see my prior posts on each of these).  In total, Wave Hill is about 28 acres and the conservatory (see photos below) are more like green houses.  However, if you want a less crowded, lovely garden filled with breathtaking views of the Hudson, this is a fantastic "hidden" spot in NYC.

Garden Chairs Planted with Succulents at the Conservatory Entrance

Cactus and Succulent House, Part of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory

Tropical House, Part of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory

Sunday, May 29, 2011

NYC Street Fairs: Variable

I don't usually go out of my way to attend the seemingly ubiquitous fair-weather-time street fairs in NYC, but today I had a couple of things to search for that I knew would be plentiful at a street fair.  The street fair season has been extended so much -- NYC collects some significant fees -- that now I think they are put on throughout the year except in the winter. You can check on locations and times of street fairs at NYC Street Fairs Info.

There are always numerous vendors of sun glasses, costume jewelry, dried spices, refrigerator magnets, handmade soaps, purses, house plants, funnel cakes, Thai food, cut fruit, Italian sausages, arepas (grilled corn cakes stuffed with cheese), roasted corn on the cob, etcetera.  If you are in need of inexpensive items in any of these categories or want to stroll through a street fair munching on street food among the masses, NYC street fairs may be just for you.  By the way, this is also a dog-friendly activity.

Queens Museum of Art: Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Ok, so I got turned around going to the Queens Museum of Art (QMA, QMA Info), but luckily it was a gorgeous day yesterday so I just took in the sights and enjoyed the walk.  I had done my pre-visit research online at QMA Directions but had failed to look at the more detailed map that showed that the 111st Street subway stop was much closer and provided a more direct route to the QMA than the Mets-Willet Point stop (and the website's instructions are not clear).  Anyway, after a 20 minute walk meandering through the Shea Stadium parking lot, lots of questions to people passing by, and trekking over NY Parks fields, I got to the iconic Unisphere (see photo above, that huge metal globe from the 1939-40 Worlds Fair), which marks the front of the QMA.

I don't know if Queens residents are intentionally keeping mum about the surrounding park and treasures at the QMA so that they can enjoy all of this without the hoards of Manhattan invading, but WOW.  From afar it looks like the site is fairly abandoned.  The front of the QMA looks like it has not been touched since the 70s (see above) and the Unisphere pond is empty of water.  To enter the QMA you have to go to a small nondescript side entrance by the small parking lot.  Once you do, there is one woman manning a small desk that accepts donations (there are no maps or guides) ($5 suggested donation for adults).

Perhaps it is that Queens folks believe that people should really put some effort into their visit and thereby "earn" the rewards.  In any event, the reduced and currently-shabby QMA (they are renovating and expect to be done in 2013) offers the determined visitor some unparalleled gems.  They have a small collection of modern art from contemporary artists, a unique topographical map of the NYC area (see above), a beautiful small Tiffany art glass collection (see left and right), an interesting exhibit about both Worlds Fairs that took place here, and most famously, they have The Panorama (see photos below).

The Panorama is a detailed 3D map of all the buildings in NYC that was first built by Robert Moses (actually there was a building crew of over 100) for the 1964 Worlds Fair and last updated in 1992 (so it still has the World Trade Center Towers).  The Panorama takes up a huge room lined with walkways so that viewing can take place from all sides, and it is so detailed that photographs cannot do it justice.  This 9,335 square foot architectural model includes every single building constructed before 1992 in all five boroughs; that is a total of over 895,000 individual structures!  It is built to an exacting detail in a scale of 1 inch = 100 feet.  It is simply AMAZING (and I use that word with its intended meaning, not the way people use it today in every 5th sentence).

PLEASE visit the Panorama and take a look for yourself if you have any interest in architecture, city planning, NYC history, Worlds Fairs, models, or anything of the sort.  You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Louis Armstrong's House (Queens): 34-56 107th Street

Ok, it is not the easiest place to get to from Manhattan via public transportation, but it can be done (even on a weekend when trains run less frequently), and it is definitely worth it.  Take the 7 train to the 103rd Street stop and you'll have to walk about 5 minutes.  Unfortunately I took a round-a-bout route from the Queens Museum of Art (see my next blog posting), but even so, I thought it was a great little museum/historic landmark to visit.

Louis Armstrong was married to his fourth wife, Lucille (the first dark skinned African American dancer at the famous Cotton Club) when he purchased this, his first home in Corona, NY.    He was 43 years old and was already a jazz legend, having toured all over the world, acted in numerous movies (he was in over 30 in total), and was a millionaire, but he and Lucille chose to spend the rest of their lives in this modest little home (see photo at right).

The home is furnished much the way it was when Louis Armstrong lived there, with original wall coverings, furniture, art, appliances, etc.  They lived simply, but with particular attention to a well-appointed kitchen (see photo of kitchen with custom 6 burner stove, turquoise-enameled wood cabinetry, built in electric can opener and paper towel dispenser, and Sub-Zero refrigerator) -- Louis loved food -- and a small den where Louis listened to all types of music (opera, The Beatles, Spanish ballads, etc.) and made numerous recordings of every guest and friend that visited the Armstrongs at their home.  During the 45 minute tour of the house, visitors are treated to excerpts of these recordings so you can hear his velvety voice, his contagious laughter, and the ambient noises from his wife and two dogs (Trinket and Trumpet).

Tours of the house are given at the top of every hour during open hours ($8 for adults).  Check Louis Armstrong House Info for current details.  There are many special events planned for this summer and they are hoping to expand across the street in 2013.  The tour guide we had today was so enthusiastic and so clearly loved and admired Louis Armstrong for his musical genius but more importantly for his character, leadership, and strong position on racial equality, that by the end of the tour, one could not help but be in awe of the man (even if one is not a fan of jazz at all).  Our guide referred to Louis Armstrong not only as the Father of Jazz, but also the King of Pop (no offense to Michael Jackson) as well as a pioneer for racial equality (making an allusion to the fact that Louis shares the same birthday -- just 60 years earlier -- than President Obama).

The end of the tour ends in the garden (completed just months before Louis' death in 1971) (see above).  Louis and Lucille had purchased the lot next to their home and planted a lovely Asian-style garden.  It is a charming, restful place and I would recommend buying an Italian ice or an ear of roasted corn from a street vendor (vendors line the streets adjacent to the subway exit) and enjoying it in the garden.

All in all, it a lovely way to spend about an hour.

Friday, May 27, 2011

MOMA Courses: 54th St and 5th Ave

Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building of the MOMA
OH MAH GAH.  I had the best time last night at my first studio course session at the MOMA.  I have been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, but with work, space concerns, and well, just "life" I had let my passion lie dormant for years (I haven't been in an art class since high school--and that is a LONG time ago).  In this time I'm take from work, I have finally had the luxury of mental energy, space and time to sign up for a studio drawing and collage class at the MOMA.  Classes meet at the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building on 54th Street, which has a great modern art collection itself (see the Judy Pfaff sculpture below left, called Blue Vase with Nasturtiums).

I was definitely rusty (I'll have to put in much more time sketching on my own--and I'm excited to do it!), but with a little instruction (about drawing materials and techniques) and no expectations about my abilities (our instructor, Katerina Lanfranco, was encouraging, informative, and not judgmental at all), I was relaxed and eager to jump in.  I was relieved that my drawing skills came back and I really enjoyed the overview of the German Expressionist exhibit at the museum (Our class was after-museum-hours so we had the MOMA virtually to ourselves--what a treat!). 

After some discussion, we each chose a piece to study and draw.  I chose Kathe Kollwitz's "The Widow I" block print (see photo of my sketch at right).  I was really drawn to the piece and in awe of how the artist was able to capture such expression, loneliness, and despair with the angles, some lines, and shadows.  We then went back to the classroom and discussed our work with the others in the class.  It was great to see everyone's work and hear their take on the exercise.  Finally we ended the evening with a 10 minute self-portrait sketching exercise in the severe, aggressive style of the German Expressionists.  Surprisingly I liked my sketch (perhaps I'll share it with you all next week--I left without taking a picture of it).

I felt invigorated, dreamily pondered a possible next career in art, and floated home.  I was so energized by the experience that I didn't fall asleep until 2 in the morning.  If you can control your schedule enough to commit to a class at the MOMA (whether it is a studio class like mine or a traditional study course) I would highly recommend it.  Most classes for this session are still open for registration; check it out at MOMA Courses.  These classes can feed your soul.

Austrian Cultural Forum: 52nd St btwn Madison and 5th

In my walks around the City with my little dog, Biscuit, I noticed a small (and I mean small) entrance of a skyscraper (24 stories high).  On closer inspection, I found out that this was the Austrian Cultural Form and that it was open to the public.  After doing a little bit of online research at http://www.acfny.org/ I discovered that the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria provides architectural tours M-F at 4 pm of the Raimund Abraham designed landmark.

The tour was led by a young intern, and although a little disorganized, she provided great handouts with building statistics, showed us (3 were on the tour, and they seemed surprised to have any of us) all of the public spaces, and even gave us a bonus peek at her office.  While she showed us the 12,000 volume Austrian-focused public library, the 74 seat performance space (they have over 200 events here a year!) with the piano elevator (see photo at right of the ceiling panel and lift grooves of the elevator), and an overview of the gallery space and the "scissor" fire escape staircase, my favorite part of the building (aside from just the dramatic facade (see left), was the smaller meeting/panel discussion space (see below).  The small space was spectacular, with its floor to ceiling window wall that overlooked the Gothic church across the way juxtaposed against the modern steel beams of this building--beautiful.

They also recently re-opened their gallery space with a showing called "FÜNF RÄUME" (which means Five Rooms in German).  The exhibit basically covers one floor up and one floor down from the lobby entrance level.  The building is so narrow (it has the same footprint as the original brownstone located here) that they have made stairway landings into 5 gallery spaces.  Each of the five contemporary Austrian artists in the exhibition got a gallery space to design as they pleased in a one week period.  Most of the installations didn't do a whole lot for me, but I thought that the foam core spatial study piece by Esther Stocker was interesting and drew me in (see below right).  Somehow just the positioning of what seems like deceptively random shapes cut from foam core was compelling.

A look through the gallery and the architecture tour can be enjoyed in about 30 minutes so if you are in the neighborhood around 4 pm, take a look.  You'll be educated, interested, and absorb some international culture--all available in NYC for free!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paley Center for Media: 52nd St btwn 5th and 6th Aves

I wanted to watch The Oprah Show's final episode with other fans and in NYC there was no better place than The Paley Center for Media.  I've been to a handful of events there for work but this time I just wanted to enjoy television (one of my favorite things) with other fanatics. There wasn't a dry eye in the place by the end of the show, but the "ugly crying" only touched a few viewers.

The Paley Center has numerous events that are open to the public (just check out the calendar online at Paley Center Info and register--many events are free!) and, of course, lots of events for members.  It is a great media resource and historical archive with two locations (one in LA and the other right here in NYC).

I thoroughly enjoyed the event and it couldn't have been easier.  They have a beautiful space (just next door to the famous 21 Club restaurant and across the street from a great Indian place called Bombay Palace) and they are very well organized.

If you are looking for something different and interesting to do, check out The Paley Center--one of the next events open to the public is "An Evening with Marlo Thomas" ($20 for general public and $15 for members).  They are very welcoming and just want to share their love for media. Join in if you get the chance.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scandinavia House: Park Ave and 38th Street

I took a quick visit to the Scandinavia House to take a look at what they had to offer in this, the 100th anniversary of its incorporation.  I had lived just a block south of this place for several months when I first moved to NYC but had never gone in before.  On their main floor there is a good gift shop and a restaurant with a fantastically large "tree" in the middle of the dining area (see below).

On their third floor (the elevators are in the back just across from the main gift shop), there is a free exhibit, open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 (see Scandinavia House for more info).  The current exhibit, called North by New York: New Nordic Art is a small overview of recent art from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Curated by Robert Storr and Francesca Pietropaolo, the works - including painting, sculpture, photography, and video installations - draw attention to the diversity of contemporary Nordic artists.

Some of the art looks like it could have come from China and others are very political.  I particularly was transfixed by a video tracking the 99 year life of a woman.  I'm not sure why, but I was glued to the headset that told the summary life of a simple woman, just living (having children, getting ill, being there when her husband passes away, and then finally expiring herself).  I took a snap of the video (see right).

It is a small gallery space so really you can just stop by for about 15 minutes.  What a nice way to take a little respite from the hullabaloo of Park Avenue, Grand Central (just a few blocks north) and NYC in general.  Light and easy doses of modern art!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Museo Del Barrio: 104th St and Fifth Avenue

Last night I finally motivated to go to the Museo Del Barrio (the museum is free Wednesday evenings from 6-9p and every third Saturday), and boy was I glad that I did.  I will admit that I was a little intimidated walking from the subway to the museum (perhaps it was all in my head), and I was glad that I was going during the day (and made a mental note to leave before dark).  I turned my rings around on my hand, held my head and gaze straight ahead, and walked with purpose and determination.  No one bothered me, but I was very conscious of all the people loitering in the streets and in the parks by the projects.

The museum and the staff are very welcoming.  I had made a last minute decision to attend, and not only did I get to join a gallery talk led by a NY artist, Adam Pendleton, of the museum's Luis Camnitzer exhibition, but I (along with about a hundred other visitors) got to experience their weekly Wednesday night live performances.  It was a unique experience that I would highly recommend to those who are open to trying new and different activities.

I don't think I would have appreciated all of Camnitzer's art nearly as much without joining the tour.  Pendleton had prepared quotes from Camnitzer and tour participants had a chance to first tour the exhibition on our own, forming our own opinions, and then discuss various pieces with Pendleton, fellow visitors, and Deborah Cullen, Director of Curatorial Programs.  For me, it elevated the somewhat stiff, commercial, typographically plain works.  Through discussion, I was able to appreciate how Camnitzer uses language to underscore issues of power and commodification (see "Signature by the Slice" at left), exploring the relationship between images, objects, and texts.  We discussed the futility of trying to communicate exactly when each individual brings their own perspective and experiences to any communication.  I particularly loved the "Windows/Ventanas" piece that consisted of a "window bricked-in with concrete and books."  This piece says so much... books are a window to the world, yet they are limited, perhaps forming a prison.... (see above right)  Truly innovative.

The modest permanent collection at the museum is also worth a walk through.  I was drawn to the untitled piece by Karlos Carcamo who provocatively placed a red bandana and a blue bandana in flag frame holders, the way an American flag would be.  It was an interesting commentary on the allegiances that gangs exact from members.

The "Action Actual," in-house performance art was introduced with a welcoming DJ in the lobby (this week was DJ Pampa) and drink specials in El Café.  There were performances of all types including interactive creation with Susana Cook, a political short film by Cuban soldier/artist Adonis Flores walking through Havana in daisy-covered fatigues (see left), "reverse archeology" by Beatrice Glow, fortune telling entitled "Praxis" by husband and wife team Delia Bajo and Brainard Carey, and the list goes on and on.  If you get a chance to attend one of these special Wednesday evening free performance events, you'll be in for a novel, fun experience.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Eastern Parkway Station on Washington Ave

Japanese Tree Peony Garden, with flowers the size of melons

My favorite flower is the peony--the "king of flowers."  And currently the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) Japanese Tree Peony Collection (a gift from the people of Yatsuka, Simane Prefecture, Japan after September 11, 2001) is in full bloom and glorious.  I know if I had gone to the BBG in the last week or two, I could have caught the cherry blossoms at their height, but to me, well, nothing beats a peony.  I took an inordinate number of peony pictures (with which I will not bore you all--ok, just one more--see right), but really, I just kept turning around and seeing yet another bloom that was too gorgeous for words.  You can check what is currently in bloom at BBG's Current Blooms.

I also took the time to check out the BBG's website to see if there were any events or tours that I could join, and lucky for me, in celebration of NYC Wildflower Week and in honor of it's 100 year anniversary, curator/gardener Uli Lorimer led a free tour of the Native Flora Garden, highlighting indigenous flowers and plants, such as the aquatic Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum) (see left) and the yellow lady-slipper (once plentiful but now rare due to human and deer activity), that are native to the 100 mile radius of NYC.  Uli gave us an up-close and personal view of some amazing local plants, cutting some samples and letting us hold and smell plants like the Shooting Star (which shoots out pollen at a force of up to 30 Gs when certain bees hit the right chords) (see right).

He also showed us the Solomon's Seal (which smelled like soap) (see photo at left of plant branch and row of flowers turned upside down); the May Apple (which spread through rhizomes and had cute, round flowers under big flat leaves (see right); and the Squaw Root (which is a parasitic plant that lives off of the sugars created by neighboring trees and that is only visible above ground in the spring in time to drop seeds from their yellow cones).

He also pointed out some endangered plants like the S1 (meaning fewer than 5 exist in the state) Coast Violet (see left), a recently (April 2011) fallen Scarlet Oak that died after being weakened by fungal disease, as well as the BBG's oldest tree, which is a 125 year old magnificently gnarled Black Cherry (see right).

After the hour-long tour, I took the garden map and went through most of the highlights of the 52 acre garden.  In addition to my favorite tree peonies, the Louisa Clark Spenser Lilac Collection was in full splendor as were the Annual Border of tulips (some of which were the size of my palm!).  Also worth a long meander was the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden (with its ducks, turtles, and carp) and the Osborne Garden (with its formal Italian, wisteria-draped pergolas) (see above left).

I also thought that the BBG was particularly innovative with the way they featured fragrant plants in raised beds for the visually impaired to read about in braille and touch and smell.  They also creatively displayed over 80 flowers, herbs and trees in the Shakespeare Garden with poetry or quotes from Shakespeare's works that featured these plants (see right).

My tour ended with the Steinhardt Conservatory, which shows over 8,000 plants grown in climate controlled desert, tropical, aquatic, and warm temperate pavilions as well as a special bonsai museum (the oldest one I saw was 310 years old!).  Well actually my visit ended with a little plant shopping in one of the two gift/plant shops where I purchased air plants (yes, no dirt needed), which were highlighted in the tropical pavilion and a succulent, which was shown in the desert pavilion. 

While the three subways is a bit much for me (I probably won't go back any time soon unless I'm invited to a wedding there or I decide to visit the Brooklyn Museum, which is at the same subway stop), I will say that if it was just a little more convenient I would seriously consider taking one or more of the several classes the BBG offers.  Classes are offered in, among other things, floral arranging, landscape painting (Can you imagine a more inspiring locale?--see photo above left of Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden), poetry writing, composting, plant identification, drawing, tai chi, and, of course, gardening.  Definitely worth a look, visit BBG Classes.