Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taking a Break

Despite invitations to attend and/or review many arts and cultural events this month, it is time to take stock and enjoy family and friends. Karen 5.0 will be back in January 2010. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Meg's New Friend

Meg's New Friend is a timely examination of how we (try to) talk about race today. Coincidentally enough, David Mamet's Race opened on Broadway this Sunday. One reviewer noted that Race did not probe deeply enough into the subject matter and that Mamet's dialogue was not as biting as usual.

I invite that reviewer to see Meg's New Friend, which will continue through December 20th at Manhattan Theatre Source, a tiny, 50-seat venue in a former brownstone in the Village. Every time I've been here, the set designers manage to create a completely new environment with few props and small stage.

Meg is played by Megan McQuillan, who was excellent in The Blood on the Rocks and is excellent here. She is a local New York TV reporter who meets an African-American yoga instructor. The problem is that he is involved with Meg's boyfriend (Sam)'s sister, Rachel. Meg realizes that she does not have any African-American friends and wonders if her attraction to Ty (the marvelous Damon Gupton) is because he is a charismatic man or if it is because he is African-American or both.

Playwright Blair Singer said that his inspiration for the play came from a conversation he happened to overhear in which a white woman was pleading with an African-American man to come to her Super Bowl party. Singer got the distinct impression that she was pleading with him so desperately because she wanted her family and friends to see that she had diverse friends.

Singer has a gifted ear for dialogue. He does not shy away from plumbing the characters' most intimate thoughts and prejudices. All four actors are riveting as they form alliances, break apart, and then come together uneasily at the end after facing themselves and each other. What they discover is not pretty, but it is real, and reflects the way many of us approach the subject of race. Plays like this one call our attention to the fact that we are far from feeling easy about this topic; it also encourages dialogue and a deeper examination of a subject we thought we ought to have been comfortable with by now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Visitor and Other Buskers

Yesterday afternoon, I was on the train headed to see a play in the Village (review to come). All of a sudden, I heard cello music. There he was, this musician, complete with a little folding seat. A cello! How hard was that to lug down into the subway? How hard is it to keep your balance AND play with one of those things between your knees as the car lurches spasmodically towards its destination. The music drowned out the screech of the train and calmed me and the other riders, too, if I may speak for them. I gave this man $1. I think I was the only one who gave him any money.

There was an elderly Chinese man who used to play music regularly at my station. His choice was the erhu, another favorite stringed instrument of mine. I always gave this man money, too. I wonder where he is these days. His sad but lovely music reminded me of my time in China.

There was a man who played in the underground passageway of the railway station in Opole, Poland. I served in that city as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, from 1990 - 1992. He had a beautiful singing voice and played the guitar. I gave him many zlotys over those two years, and each time I did, he bowed deeply to me while continuing to play and sing.

Busking is an important theme in an excellent film I saw recently, The Visitor. I think it was premiered at Sundance last year. It is one of those rare films that I think about every day, especially when I hear music in the subway. Would it be too much to ask for piped-in music if there aren't any good buskers playing? Things always seem to go better when you are surrounded by pleasant sounds.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Antagonist Art on Avenue A

If you want to see interesting, emerging art in an informal setting, head to Niagara in Alphabet City on Thursday nights beginning at 9pm. Antagonist Art organizes this weekly event (and many others) to offer artists an opportunity to showcase their art, music, poetry, etc. 

Thursday evening's exhibition, entitled 25p, was curated by Pittsburgh-born, Berlin-based Fridey Mickel. According to Ms Mickel, "...[the show] uses a concept of film-making (more specifically found-film material and old super8) as a key to understanding art. The underlying concept of the show is based upon establishing a personal connection and dialogue with the visitor, by taking a closer look at the element of narration in art and how it interacts with the narratives of the other pieces to make a bigger story...The show takes 25 positions of drawing, painting and video works, examining the visual (and non-visual) elements making up each piece, in a way that the viewer can consider for themselves what the complete narrative is." The artists in this show are, for the most part, based in Berlin. 

I spoke with Elizabeth White, whose piece, Finding, intrigued me. Ms White said that she chose the images in her work by doing key word searches on the Internet using the words "borders" and "boundaries." She then arranged the elements she found in thematic groupings that suggest habits, processes, interiors vs. exteriors, and the progression of individuals as they move through the world of images. Every time Ms White installs Finding on a wall, it is a different artwork, based on her perception that day. 

For those of us who look at a lot of art, it is easy to stay with the tried-and-true (and prohibitively expensive for most collectors) galleries in Chelsea, for example, or in the older, established spaces on 57th Street or on the Upper East Side. I think it is always more rewarding to seek out smaller, lesser-known venues like those that you can find scattered throughout the Lower East Side. Although a growing number of the latter are smaller outposts of the larger Chelsea galleries (and therefore showcase blue-chip artists), there are still plenty of venues in which to see younger, less-established artists. It is important that these artists be given the chance to exhibit their art. It is admirable that groups like Antagonist Art allow this to happen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Sri Lankan Architect at Asia Society

When most people think of architecture, they picture creations by Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Zaha Hadid, and Mies van der Rohe, to name just a few. Not too many (including me, until last night's lecture at Asia Society) conjure up Sri Lankan architect Chelvadurai Anjalendran.

Anjalendran said that he prefers blending his creations with the landscape, resulting in organic buildings as opposed to iconic structures which are characteristic of traditional Western architecture. He designs with harmony between man and nature in mind. The Sri Lankan architect has created homes which incorporate banyan trees (because "trees are human, too"), stones, and various-colored earth and mud found in the immediate area. Anjalendran also incorporates Hindu and Buddhist elements such as stupas in his design. He said that Buddhist architecture always inspires tranquility.

In the spirit of "life can be more than just a box," and "creating magic from nothing," Anjalendran is perhaps best known for his remarkable SOS Children's Villages, or orphanages, which are as far from Dickensian orphanages as you can imagine. The architect is also committed to creating buildings for the Youth and Farm Projects, which provide work for boys and young men. Anjalendran believes that architecture can heal and that it can greatly influence the way people interact with each other. In war-torn Sri Lanka, this is a welcome and much-needed improvement in quality of life.

Anjelendran credits architect Geoffrey Bawa, the man behind "tropical modernism," as his most important influence. Serving a ten-year apprenticeship under Bawa prepared the Sri Lankan to forge his own style. From Bawa, Anjelendran embraced two critical ideas - to cut down on pretensions, and to realize that architecture should be the background from which you view the landscape. Unfortunately, he told us that buildings designed for a tropical zone have not fared well in colder climes. It would be a lovely surprise to see one of these creations in Manhattan one day, if only to prove that our jungle does not always have to be concrete.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday at The Met

My friend and I spent nearly three hours at The Met yesterday. I can usually only engage in activities for 1.5 - 2 hours before becoming antsy, bored, restless (thanks for this trait, Dad!), so I was pleasantly surprised that I had surpassed this stage to reach one of Zen-like calm and enjoyment.

We first visited the exhibition entitled American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765 - 1915, which can be seen through January 24, 2010. Among our favorite works were the following: subversively feminist artist Lilly Martin Spencer's Young Husband: First Marketing, 1854; Henry Bacon's First Sight of Land, 1877; William Henry Burr's The Intelligence Office, 1849;  Mary Cassatt's A Woman and a Girl Driving, 1881; Thomas Wilmer Dewing's A Reading, 1897; Thomas Eakins' Between Rounds, 1898-99; Winslow Homer's Croquet Scene, 1866 and The Gale, 1883-93; John Singer Sargent's A Street in Venice, 1880-82 and In the Luxembourg Gardens, 1879; and John Sloan's Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, 1912.

Robert Frank's collection of black-and-white photographs was first published in 1959 in The AmericansThe book was criticized initially, but is now acknowledged as having captured the essence of American life in small towns and big cities during a cross-country road trip Frank took in 1955-1956. Jack Kerouac, Frank's friend, wrote the introduction to the book. Many of the images in the exhibition are iconic, such as Trolley - New Orleans, 1955, Political Rally - Chicago, 1956, and Rodeo - New York City, 1954. However, the show left me yearning for the more candid, less posed photographs taken by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, the latter an acknowledged and powerful influence on Frank. Still, there is a beauty in the bleakness of Frank's images, which leave one with a distinct sense of his disenchantment with America.

Johannes Vermeer painted The Milkmaid in 1657-58. According to The Met's website, "it may be considered one of the last works of the artist's early, formative years." Milkmaids had long been regarded as "...having an amorous disposition." Since this particular milkmaid will be going back to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in exactly one week, my friend and I had a look at her. She is lovely, but we agreed that there were other Vermeers that we like better. For example, one of my favorites is at The Frick - Mistress and Maid (pictured above left). Another one I love is at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC - Girl With the Red Hat. And of course, The Met owns five wonderful Vermeers, including Study of a Young Woman and Woman with a Lute.

Finally, we went to the Vélez Blanco Patio on the first floor to visit the controversial sculpture that is believed by some art experts and scholars to be an early work of Michelangelo. Young Archer is on loan to The Met by the French government for ten years. The piece was one topic of discussion at an Art Law panel my friend and I attended last Friday, so we wanted to see it for ourselves. An interesting theory put forth by Columbia University's Professor Lynn Catterson (one of the panelists) is that the sculpture was carved down from its original size, possibly accounting for the disproportionately large head on a slim, boyish body. It brought home to us once again the difficulty of proving that an object is what it is - experts can be fooled and often the truth can only be guessed at.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gagosian Uptown and Law Downtown

While waiting to attend an awards ceremony for Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat tonight at Gagosian uptown, I quickly took a peek at the 4th, 5th, and 6th floor galleries. Richard Prince photographs and Cy Twombly sculptures are on 6, the work of South African photographer Roger Ballen is on 5, and there is a gem of an exhibition on 4 that includes an assortment of Picassos, a Rothko, a Pollock, a few Smiths, and some Giacometti sculptures.

The Ambassador was honored for his immeasurable contributions in the area of Holocaust art restitution as well as his significant efforts to obtain justice for victims and their families who suffered under the Nazi regime. The evening was the prelude to tomorrow's New York County Lawyer's Association Art Litigation Seminar downtown. I am looking forward to the panel discussions about Holocaust restitution claims, proving the provenance of artworks, biennials and art fairs, and expert appraisals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Do Not Go Gentle into Those Good Woods

Welcome to the Woods, a play written by celebrated Dutch filmmaker/playwright Alex van Warmerdam, has been described as a cross between Revolutionary Road and Little Red Riding Hood. It premiered on Saturday night at the Witzenhausen Gallery in Chelsea. The "white cube" art gallery was transformed into a menacing patch of forest, thanks to several strategically-placed floor lanterns and a lot of mulch. Audience members at the sold-out show were seated in the woods on the fringes, but very much a part of the scenario.

Two women - Dora and her friend Fannie - temporarily and perhaps permanently escape their tedious lives to enter the woods for reasons unknown. [Don't they know that danger lurks in the woods? Yes, they do. Anyone familiar with Grimm's fairy tales knows that a visit to the forest may be one-way.] Dora and Fannie are undaunted however, and throw caution to the wind. They meet a man (the wonderful Jonathan Co Green), who has a ball playing "All Forest Creatures" according to the Playbill. These creatures include: a satyr, an elf, a preacher, Dora's husband, and a hunter. In each of these guises, Green coaxes and cajoles Dora and Fannie to explore their darkest, most forbidden desires and fantasies. Carl Jung would have approved.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Frick Collection - Two Special Exhibitions

The special thing about The Frick Collection is that you can enjoy remarkable British, French, and Dutch Master paintings in the setting of an art connoisseur's home. A visit to The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC provides a similarly intimate experience, in which the beauty of the objects complement one another in a way that cannot easily be duplicated by larger museums or galleries. 

Now through mid-January 2010 at The Frick, you can see Watteau to Degas: French Drawings from the Frits Lugt Collection. Frederik Johannes (Frits) Lugt was a Dutch art historian and connoisseur whose extensive collection of 18th and 19th century French drawings includes the work of Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, David, Ingres, and Degas. The landscapes and portraits are remarkably fine. 

In 2008, a large dish painted with a narrative scene inspired by Raphael's The Judgment of Paris was gifted to the Frick Collection. This piece, along with five other related works on loan from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, form Exuberant Grotesques: Renaissance Maiolica from the Fontana Workshop, also on view at The Frick through mid-January 2010. Maiolica is a type of ceramic pottery developed in Italy during the Renaissance, and is characterized by a high glossy glaze. In The Judgment of Paris, the famous scene is surrounded by dainty grotesques, a signature of the Orazio Fontana workshop in Urbino. 

Often overshadowed by its larger neighbors on Museum Mile, The Frick Collection is a quiet gem off the beaten path that will reward visitors with its calm sanctuary.   

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Cities of Jean-Michel Berts at Sous Les Etoiles

The Cities of Jean-Michel Berts are ones with which you may already be familiar, either through personal visits, postcards, or books. However, Berts depicts these cities - Venice, Tokyo, New York, and Paris -  in a way that you have probably not seen before. They are ghostly, surreal, black-and-white apparitions of places that are usually portrayed in color and in a far more commercial manner. He uses a large-format camera and Technopan film, which when combined with the carbon printing technique, create images that incorporate a wider spectrum of whites, grays, and blacks. The result is astonishing photographs that glow. Venice appears even more otherworldly, as do Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Monsieur Berts told me that he does quite a bit of prep work beforehand to set up the shot, but the actual moment when he takes the photograph is brief, the mark of an assured, practised eye.

From now until January 29, 2010, Sous Les Etoiles presents the work of a photographer who captures these iconic cities through an eerie, dramatic lens. Don't miss it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Slice of Pie with Alanna Heiss at apexart

Last night at apexart, the dynamic Alanna Heiss entertained a SRO audience with anecdotes from her past. She told of personal adventures that have included chicken rotisseries and communes. She described her upbringing in a musical family in the Midwest, where she had played piano and violin, intent on becoming a professional musician. Ms. Heiss changed courses when she was told that she would only be good enough to be second violin, second chair, in a minor orchestra.

After relocating to New York, where she became a part of the Downtown tableau for a time, Ms. Heiss headed for Europe during the Vietnam War years. She eventually returned to New York, and in 1976, she became the Founder and Director of  P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of The Museum of Modern Art, and the oldest and second largest non-profit arts center in the United States solely devoted to Contemporary art. She was and is dedicated to transforming alternative spaces in New York City into exhibition, performance, and studio spaces for artists. During her tenure, she curated more than 700 exhibitions at P.S.1 and elsewhere.

Ms. Heiss left the position in December 2008 to establish in April 2009 Art International Radio (AIR), a Web radio station and arts center operating out of the Clocktower Gallery in Lower Manhattan. Her affinity for the vastness of radio "space" she says, can be attributed to hailing from the Midwest, which has always had a strong radio presence. Ms. Heiss wants Clocktower to be an artists’ space, a performance space, and envisions creating sets which are used by actors and writers in an ongoing narrative radio series. She imagines having endless vistas of space for dancers, sound, and abstract works.

Ms. Heiss said that her successor at P.S. 1, Klaus Biesenbach, has a “ferocious agenda” for the museum, which includes ensuring that its shows are historically documented in catalogue format. She also noted the likelihood that there would be fewer shows per year than in the past. Interestingly, she advised people in today's art world to "carry weapons." And she did encourage us to eat pie – it was lemon meringue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Visions for Collecting

Last night, I attended Visions for Collecting, a panel discussion hosted by Sotheby's and organized by The Professional Organization of Women in the Arts.  Moderated by Lisa Dennison (Chairman, Sotheby's, North and South America), the panel included the following: Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, Curator at Large, Dia Art Foundation and Chief Curator/Deputy Director, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; and Alison Gingeras, Chief Curator, Palazzo Grassi.

According to Ms. Spector, The Guggenheim continues to follow the mission of its founders to collect Non-Objective Art, building upon its extensive Kandinsky holdings which form the basis of the museum's original collection. The museum's Contemporary Art collection - in particular, Conceptual Art - is built on the Panza Collection it acquired in 1991-1992. Ms. Spector acknowledged that The Guggenheim has many critical gaps in its holdings. The institution obtains the majority of its works from the primary market and from work it commissions. The Guggenheim is scheduled to open its location in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in 2013, adding to its network of museums in Venice, Bilbao, Berlin, and New York.

The mandate of Reina Sofia, a national museum in Madrid, Spain, is to represent Spanish artists, while also including the work of international artists. Ms. Cooke noted historical and political factors such as the Franco years, which have interfered with the museum's ability to accumulate a substantial collection and have affected funding. She envisions the Reina Sofia developing its Latin American art collection and is excited about the future prospects for her role as Curator at Large for the Dia Art Foundation, which has recently announced plans to build on its former site in Chelsea.

Ms. Gingeras was a curator at the state-funded Centre Pompidou in Paris, and is now Chief Curator at Palazzo Grassi, which houses the Contemporary Art collection of luxury goods magnate Francois Pinault. Mr. Pinault has built his collection of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist work by looking beyond the artist's passport to focus on the art itself.

Ms. Dennison asked all three curators about the future of collecting. Ms. Spector stated that collections will be more global. She advised collectors to see as much art as possible and to build an individualistic collection with pieces that have a story behind them. Ms. Spector further suggested looking at art that artists themselves are excited about. Ms. Cooke believes that museums and other cultural institutions will continue to develop specialty collections. Ms. Gingeras advises anyone who wants to collect to get obsessed with something and to avoid putting together a contrived collection.

Despite the recent CNN Money article which reported that curators are among those who have the most stressful jobs, these three women seemed to be quite happy, fulfilled, and comparatively stress-free.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction at The Whitney

Georgia O'Keeffe is that "woman painter" who was obsessed with painting pastel flowers that suggest female genitalia. Georgia O'Keeffe is the one that does those desiccated skull paintings against the backdrop of the tawny Southwestern desert. Georgia O'Keeffe had a passionate, unfortunate affair with (and marriage to) Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia O'Keeffe's work amounts to "...little more than tinted photography," in the words of art critic Clement Greenberg. Everyone claims to know Georgia O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe grew increasingly perturbed that the erotically-charged photographs Stieglitz took of her seemed to forever cast her own work in a sexual light. I remember thoroughly enjoying a film shown at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in which her annoyance with this narrow view of her work was apparent. Instead of acknowledging O'Keeffe as being an important member among the tight-knit circle of vanguard Modern artists which included Stieglitz, Arthur Dove, and Marsden Hartley, many chose to marginalize her work in a way they could understand.

The ubiquity and universal appeal of O'Keeffe, the woman, and O'Keeffe, the artist, give one a false sense of knowing her. I thought I knew her, too. I was glad to see an earlier side of her last night at The Whitney's exhibition, Georgia O'Keeffe: Abstraction, which runs through mid-January 2010. After that, the show travels to The Phillips Collection (one of my favorite museums) from February to May, and then to the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (another excellent venue). The Whitney show includes more than 130 drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs, many of which capture the early years of O'Keeffe's career. It is her boldest, most experimental work. In particular, charcoal drawings such as No. 17 - Special, 1919 (pictured above left), an oil on canvas entitled Red & Orange Streak, also from 1919, the Black Spot series (also pictured), and the exquisite little Alligator Pears from 1923, reveal an artist in her nascent, and most interesting, form.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Acting Alone at the ArcLight Theatre

The ArcLight Theatre is located in the lovely basement of The Church of the Blessed Sacrament on the Upper West Side. It was a fitting, intimate venue in which to experience Acting Alone, a drama about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. The play opened last night and will run through November 21st, the day before the 46th anniversary of Oswald's assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was written by David M. Korn and directed by Lee Gundersheimer.

All involved with Acting Alone deserve praise for staging a play whose timing and subject matter could easily be described as sensitive, even inappropriate. But the writing, directing, and acting did not allow for this. Korn has written a poignant story that invites audience members to immerse themselves in the life of a vilified man as seen through the respective lenses of Oswald's mother, brother, and wife. It became apparent how these strong figures exerted their influence over Oswald's life and provides possible explanations for his erratic behavior, resulting in deaths including his own. The narrative of the quotidien events in his life, when punctuated by phrases such as "Dealey Plaza" and "Texas Book Depository," caused the frisson that comes from knowing that no matter how the story is told, it always has the same ending.

Nick Scoullar as Oswald had the right blend of swagger, innocence, and charm to bring the notorious man to life while simultaneously invoking the right amount of pathos. Stephen Graham as Lee Harvey's brother, Robert, and stage veteran Vivian Neuwirth as Oswald's mother, Marguerite, were both excellent. They successfully captured the surprise, hurt, and feelings of betrayal that can occur when family members realize that they are enigmas to each other.

But it is Monica Hunken as Oswald's Russian-born wife, Marina, who was the star of the show. In addition to her mastery of Russian-accented English, her body language and nuanced facial expressions conveyed every emotion flawlessly. It is through Marina's character that Lee Harvey Oswald emerged as a man who was loved and it is through her that we pity him his short, frustrated life, uncomfortable as it is to admit.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Parlor Entertainment in Harlem

If you ever find yourself with some free time on Sunday afternoon from 4:00-6:30, make it a point to stop by Marjorie Elliot's apartment (3F) in the historic building at 555 Edgecombe Avenue, the former residence of such icons as Count Basie, Paul Robeson, and Charles Buchanan. The building is located directly across the street from Morris-Jumel House, another treasure in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem. 

For the past 18 years and on every Sunday afternoon, Ms. Elliot has opened her parlor to all jazz lovers. There are three sets, in which guest musicians accompany Ms. Elliot as she plays her piano. The atmosphere is relaxed and convivial, with treats served during breaks. Although it is free, please contribute to the tip jar. Whatever you give, you'll get back ten-fold, not only musically, but also in the knowledge that perhaps your feet have touched the ground where history has walked.

Anything Boys Can Do

Anything Boys Can Do is a 1996 film directed by Ethan Minsker, founder of Antagonist Art, a movement whose mission is to encourage artists of all kinds to create art that provokes. [Please see my earlier post on this movement, its founder, and one of the films I viewed.] Anything Boys Can Do was screened Saturday afternoon at The Brooklyn Museum.

In many ways, the film is a detailed sociological case study of "girl bands" involved in the punk scene of New York City and San Francisco from 1993-1996. Groups such as Tribe 8, Sexpod, Thrust, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Vitapup, The Wives, and Maul Girls were interviewed with the same set of questions. It was interesting to hear the variety of the responses to questions such as "Are you a feminist?" "Do you feel discriminated against because you are a woman in the music industry?" and "What message are you trying to convey on stage and with your music?" While there were common threads, several groups had different missions.

Not much has changed in the past 15 years or so, at least as far as the percentage of women in the music business is concerned. Even today, the numbers stand at around 90% male groups and 10% female groups. Of the above-named groups, only The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black is still in existence. Attrition affects male groups as well, but when a female group disbands, it is all the more noticeable because of its rarity in the first place.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Crossing Bridges at Angela Royo Latin American Art

I first encountered Angela Royo Latin American Art at the Affordable Art Fair in June 2008 and again in May 2009. Ms. Royo represents Latin American artists who work in a variety of media. She shows the artists' work at her home/gallery semi-in situ, thus enabling the viewer to imagine the art in their own home.

This morning, Ms. Royo hosted Crossing Bridges, a show featuring the most recent work of the Dallas-based husband and wife team of Hugo G. Urrutia & MK Semos, an architect and photographer respectively. The artists's collaborative process involves the use of a Russian-made Holga, an inexpensive medium-format camera which has been described as "a rangefinder version of the Kodak Brownie." It is also known for its light leaks, a "flaw" which Urrutia and Semos use to their advantage to create striking, overlapping images that merge up to three negatives. They use a process similar to silk screening to mount the photographs on unusual materials such as the tinted rear window of a truck, the wooden floor of a building, acrylic, and glass. Chemical processing in a photo lab adds to the surreal quality of the richly-saturated color photographs.

Bridge images are dominant in the show - as its title suggests - but London, New York, and Mexico City street scenes also feature prominently. My favorite pieces are Bridging Thailand I, Brooklyn Bridge I, Sin Limite, Liverpool Station, and Wooster Street. See Crossing Bridges at Angela Royo Latin American Art at 401 East 60th Street until the end of the year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One Hour in Chelsea with John Lurie, Abby Leigh, and David Hockney

John Lurie is a modern-day Renaissance Man. He is a musician known for his work with The Lounge Lizards and for numerous soundtracks, including the award-winning Get Shorty. Lurie is also a film and television actor - he has appeared in Jim Jarmusch films such as Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law, and had his own TV series in 1991, Fishing with John. But Lurie is also a painter - and his artwork is what I wanted to see at Fredericks & Freiser in Chelsea.

Lurie's paintings have been described as "Basquiat-by-way-of-Dubuffet," and I would agree with this characterization. Lurie goes further by adding a narrative element to the pictures with titles that suggest humorous, witty, even morbid back stories. Examples include the exhibition's title - The Skeleton in My Closet has Moved Back Out to the Garden - as well as You Have the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness. Good Luck With That. You Have the Right to Bear Arms, and This Was the Exact Moment Marge Decided to Kill her Husband. But don't be alarmed by the bleak titles - many of them belie whimsical images. If you are alarmed by the titles, take a look at  Hummingbird and This is What I Really Call a Message, aptly named. The show will be in view until November 7th.

The Betty Cuningham Gallery is the place to see Abby Leigh: The Sleeper's Eye, now through November 14th. In a recent interview with Leigh in The Brooklyn Rail, the artist talks about her profound myopia and the effect it had on her work until Lasik surgery eight years ago corrected her vision. [I can relate, having had the same surgery in 2001.] The twelve paintings and sixteen works on paper that form the exhibition are quite beautiful, many of them circular, and in gorgeous hues like rose, russet, and pale green. Instead of being unnerving, gazing at the soft-focused "eyes" is intensely relaxing.

From Yorkshire to L.A. and back again - David Hockney, now 72, has been painting landscapes of his native Yorkshire since 2005, the year he returned from L.A., where he had been based for nearly 30 years. The PaceWildenstein Galleries in Midtown and in Chelsea will show 28 of these works this week through December 24th. I was two days too early to see the show in Chelsea, but I did see Hockney himself, who had stopped by the gallery to check on the installation progress.

Friday, October 23, 2009

From Tiffany's to ARTJAIL (and what happened in between)

My dear friend and former DC Marathon buddy was in town this week and we met yesterday afternoon at Tiffany's, where she wanted to look for a gift for her sister. The high-end bling-filled first floor was relatively devoid of customers, but the third floor - where we went to look at silver items - was as hopping as a Clinique gift-with-purchase promotion at Bloomingdale’s. Silver is cheaper yes, but does that explain the frenzy? No recession woes here. Or perhaps its serious denial.

“Let’s go to the park and enjoy the spectacular day,” I suggested. My ulterior motive was to enjoy a hamburger at the Central Park Boathouse. We imagined it was summer again as we watched people paddle on the pond. “Now let’s look at Bethesda Terrace and Poet's Walk.” You can’t go wrong with this itinerary.

The day got better and better. My friend and I were joined by a third friend at Hôtel Plaza Athénée’s Bar Seine, where the three of us imbibed Orchid Cosmopolitans and enjoyed the African and Southeast Asian décor. Afterwards, we parted ways – they went north to a benefit and I headed south to the Village to see a free screening of Captured at The Cantor Film Center.

I first saw this film at The New Museum last year. I did not get the opportunity to speak at length with the film’s subject, photographer Clayton Patterson, at that time. But last weekend at the Royal Flush Film Festival, I happened to attend the same two films Mr. Patterson did and had an interesting discussion with him about art. For the past 30 years, the Lower East side denizen has documented the idiosyncratic residents of the area, most notably capturing on videotape the 1988 Tompkins Square Riot. Patterson refused to give up the tape to the District Attorney as evidence against the police who had committed brutalities and was subsequently sentenced to 90 days in jail, during which he went on a 10-day hunger strike. With the meticulousness of a historian, Patterson has recorded the transition of a neighborhood once described as feral, punk, crime-ridden, drug-addled, hellish, and violent to one now filled with gentrified lofts, trendy boutiques, hip nightclubs and expensive restaurants. Patterson acknowledges that this is the way of the world, yet greatly laments the "metamorphosis," signifying as it does the end of the neighborhood’s character and artistic esprit de corps.

After the film, I walked south to Chinatown to attend a gallery opening of the show, “Gauge,” curated by my friend Joyce Manalo. There are worse things than doing time at ARTJAIL. You get food (home-made jambalaya, vegetarian and meat-filled), a generous assortment of beverages, an eclectic crowd aged 5 - 55, unusual artwork, and music. For me the most interesting was the musical performance of Honne Wells, who came to New York by way of Baltimore and the American Bible Belt. Wells experiments with sounds and old-fashioned recording techniques. His distinctive voice and style put me in mind of John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly, two obvious strong influences. The musician’s persona - tall frame, dapper dress, and authentic, semi-broom handle mustache - was an art form in and of itself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

50th Anniversary of The Guggenheim - Kandinsky + Kapoor

I have always liked the idea and the mission of The Guggenheim more than my actual visits to the iconic museum. I'm fairly certain that this is not what architect Frank Lloyd Wright intended, but there is something about the place that never fails to provoke intense sensations of claustrophobia, dizziness, and disorientation. Additionally, I usually leave the building feeling as though I haven't seen the entire place - the annexes throw me off. The interior does not appear to match the exterior; I am reminded of the bizarre house that features prominently in Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Strangely enough, I've experienced the same unease when I've visited Wright-designed homes throughout the country.

So why do I keep going back? Today, it was because admission to the museum was free in celebration of the Guggenheim's 50th anniversary. I also wanted to see Anish Kapoor's Cor-Ten steel torpedo-like sculpture, Memory. I was only able to see parts of it – perhaps the artist’s intention was to show us the futility of remembering things in their entirety.

But the main attraction at the museum is the Kandinsky exhibition. The show follows the course of the Russian artist’s career from his beginnings in Moscow, then in Munich as part of The Blue Rider Group (characterized by the powerful horse-and-rider motif), through his involvement with the Bauhaus, to his final, biomorphic phase. His deep spirituality and love of music, which he considered to be the highest form of art, emerged in paintings that pack a powerful punch of bold colors. Examples include many of the works that form the Impression, Improvisation, and Composition series. Kandinsky's friendship and collaboration with the Swiss artist, Paul Klee, resulted in striking geometric patterns and shapes. The triangle symbolized action and aggression, the square peace and calm, and the circle the spiritual, cosmic realm.

The show is well-curated and includes paintings from the Guggenheim's own important collection of Kandinsky's work, as well as works from Paris' Centre Pompidou, and Munich's Stadtische Galerie Im Lenbachhaus. Wall text provides information for the visitor without interfering with the art. Don't miss the drawings and watercolors on the 4th level; in many ways, they are more interesting and beautiful than some of the paintings. The exhibition continues through January 13, 2010.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stanley Bard's Chelsea Hotel

From an ethnographic perspective, artist Sam Bassett has done us a great service in making his film, Stanley Bard, which was shown at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village on Sunday night, the last night of the Royal Flush Festival. Mr. Bard has run The Chelsea Hotel for the past 50 years and was awarded an honorary MBA from Harvard for his business acumen. Artists from A-Z (most notoriously, those with surnames beginning with letters towards the end of the alphabet - Sedgwick, Spungen, Vicious, and Warhol) have lived and worked at the hotel, pursuing their passions, both licit and illicit. The film is a compelling testimony to the man who fostered an environment of creativity. Bard was a champion of the downtrodden, despite the fact that the downtrodden often bit the hand that fed them. The iconic status of the hotel lives on, although Bard stated that the current management has taken a more corporate, less Bohemian, approach to running it. No doubt a number of infamous past tenants would not be allowed in these days. Last night, Stanley Bard received a "Skullie" award for Best NYC film.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Real World: Berlin

The Royal Flush Festival runs from October 15th through today, and is dedicated to promoting independent art, film, and music. It began in the East Village in 2005 as the E. Vil City Film Fest, and has recently joined forces with Royal Flush magazine. Last night, I saw This is Berlin, Not New York, directed by Ethan H. Minsker, founding member of the Antagonist Art Movement. The film, which received a "Skullie" award for "Best of Fest," records what happened in 2007 when ten New York-based artists lived together and spent ten days artistically interacting with Berlin's denizens and environs. The artists included: Arturo Vega (artistic director for the Ramones), Ted Riederer (who has shown at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center), Minsker, Richard Allen, Brett Farkas, James Rubio, Un Lee, and Crispy T. The personality and art of these individuals translated well to film. I especially liked the Bukowski-esque, Bowery-inspired poetry (and reading style) of Richard Allen. Lee is a gifted artist, Rubio is quite funny, and Riederer admitted to talking too much. Interestingly, Reiderer also said that while he is proud of the cross-cultural exchanges Antagonist Art supports as a critical part of its mission, he would like to see a better quality of art emerge from these brief forays into new cities, acknowledging the difficulty inherent in doing so.  

The Antagonist Art Movement has existed in various forms since 1988 and is "...made up of artists, writers, poets, law breakers, aliens, and, most importantly ... non-conformists who are into creating art that does not fit into mainstream society." After the film, Minsker encouraged all artists in the audience to contact him to show their work in venues throughout the city. The Movement has a blog as well. Next on the horizon, the artists will travel to Lisbon and Tokyo. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

El Museo del Barrio Está Abierto

At the northern-most reaches of Museum Mile, across from the still-colorful Conservatory Garden and one block up from the Museum of the City of New York, I was outside with hundreds of excited people listening to the Latin rhythms inside, as we waited to enter the newly renovated El Museo del Barrio. Originally established 40 years ago by and for Puerto Rican artists, the museum's mission now includes celebrating Latin American and Latino art and culture. From humble beginnings in various storefronts and brownstones, in 1977 the museum moved to its present location at 104th and Fifth Avenue, a building which was once an orphanage. One pleasant testament to this is the Children's Theater, which contains 12 lovely murals by Hungarian artist, Willy Pogany, as well as stained glass scenes from children's literature.

The main exhibition is Nexus New York: Latin/American Artists in the Modern Metropolis. Between 1900-1942, artistic and intellectual exchanges flourished among artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Francis Picabia, Marius de Zayas, Luis Hidalgo, Alice Neel, Carlos Enríquez, and Florine Stettheimer. The synthesis was often fuelled by the revolutionary fervor of the time as well as the artists' sense of belonging to the vanguard of Modern art.

The museum's permanent collection of Puerto Rican, New York, and Cuban artists contains over 6,500 objects. Some are religious and devotional, while others reflect Taíno culture, which was dominant in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas from 1200-1500 A.D. The centerpiece in this gallery is undoubtedly Pepón Osorio's Baroque piece The Bed (1987), a loving and meticulous tribute to the woman who was Osorio's caretaker and who later became the family's housekeeper. Other outstanding pieces include Argentine writer/poet Leandro Katz' Lunar Typewriter, and Puerto Rican artist Rafael Colón Morales' Son of Darkness, a beautiful painting of ghostly horses and doves set in a rose-purple background.

The Mexican Modernists have a gallery to themselves where you can see some of the politically-infused work of Orozco, Siqueiros, and Rivera, who lived in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Rivera's original drawing for his infamous mural, Man at the Crossroads, which was commissioned for Rockefeller Center (and later destroyed), is placed near Miguel Covarrubias' amusing piece on what might have occurred when Rockefeller discovered that Rivera had snuck in a portrait of Lenin.

Finally, there is a gallery devoted to the work of artists associated with Surrealism and Automatism, e.g. Salvador Dali, Rufino Tamayo, Frida Kahlo (although she would probably object to being included in this group - a quote on the wall indicates that she never painted her dreams, just her reality), Matta, Robert Motherwell, and Marcel Duchamp. I liked the pieces by Tamayo, Kahlo, Matta, Motherwell's Memory of Coyoacán, and Duchamp's bizarre Origin of the World-like Étant donnés. Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins, the wife of the Brazilian ambassador to the United States, was believed to have been the model for this sculpture.

My visit to El Museo del Barrio was invigorating. In addition to the contagious energy and the chance to see the work of Latin American and Latino artists I already admire, I encountered new ones as well. The experience made me think more deeply about the cross-cultural pollination that happens all the time, all around.

"The Archery Contest" at P.S.122

For the past 30 years, Performance Space 122 has offered cutting-edge contemporary dance, theater, and performance art by artists including Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, Karen Finley, Eddie Izzard, and John Leguizamo. The theater operates in what was formerly a public school (P.S.122). I had passed by this East Village site many times on foot or on the bus, but last night was my first time inside.

The Archery Contest cannot be easily described. Conceived and directed by John Jahnke, it has elements of a mannered, Restoration comedy with stylized costumes and sexual references...and in this play, eventual nudity. Themes of death, religion, lust, infidelity, and betrayal are explored by actors wired with microphones that distort their voices to the background accompaniment of a scratchy-sounding Victrola record. The so-called theater-in-the-round is actually a theater-in-the-square, built in such a way as to conceal the lower half of the actors. It is as if you are watching a puppet show. Scenes are projected inside and above this square and the actors use the few props available to them as they talk past each other, never looking at or connecting with each other. They do look at the audience, however, or rather through the audience, who become a part of the scenario as the performers make their stage entrances and exits. The effect is highly disconcerting.

There are five characters in the play - a married couple (The Reverend Kendrick and his wife, Mercy), a girl named Orpha and a boy named Dory (Isidore), and The Sexton Hawthorne, who is the catalyst for some of the action in the play. Mercy and Dory get together, as do The Reverend and Orpha, as do The Sexton Hawthorne and Dory. There was definitely a bit of Dangerous Liaisons - the bored married couple seeking to spice up their lives by corrupting young innocents.

As the play progressed, the walls literally and figuratively came down. Body parts, emotions, and what the characters were truly thinking were revealed. The lighting became harsher, less hallucinatory. The characters' nicely-distorted voices (think of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey) also became harsher. They challenged each other in an archery match, the girls against the boys, during an eclipse. And Mercy is killed - or not - at the end. Again, it defies easy description.

I think that Jahnke took the Lennon-McCartney approach to creating The Archery Contest. He assembled fragments of language, style, distorted sound, and color to devise his very own Sgt. Pepper, complete with kaleidoscope eyes. I confess to being a bit transfixed for 100 minutes, but one of my friends did not share my reaction. At the end of the performance, she asked "What just happened?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Art of Walking

"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre" — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a sainte-terrer", a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which indeed is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels."   ----Henry David Thoreau

I don't think that Central Park is The Holy Land, nor do I pretend to be a walker on the order of Thoreau or Wordsworth, but I am a walker nonetheless. I'm also a runner. Today however, instead of running my customary 3-4 miles to, in, and from Central Park, I decided to saunter. I walked from my apartment up to the northern-most point of the trail that loops around the Jackie Kennedy Reservoir. All in all, it was about an eight-mile round trip, including the zigs and zags I did through the park before and after the Reservoir.

Not surprisingly, at this much slower pace, I noticed more than I usually do when I run. I had thoughts beyond just what I was going to eat at the end of the run, focused on things other than my breathing, and looked all around instead of mostly down, which is what I normally do while running to avoid twisting an ankle. I saw lavender flowers and ones that were a deeper purple. Also white flowers. Leaves falling down - not too many red ones yet. Blustery skies with fast-moving clouds alternating with warm sun. The statue of Balto, the sled dog who saved Nome. Ducks in ponds. A plaque dedicating some cherry trees to Otto Marx. Benches dedicated to people I will never know. Lampposts, which someone once told me indicate how far north, south, east, and west you are in the park in case you become disoriented - just look for the little plaques near the base. The way the El Dorado apartments are reflected in the Reservoir.

Although my walk was not quite the crusade Thoreau described, I nevertheless got a lot of thinking done. In that sense, my mission (if I had one) was accomplished.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Inside the Artists' Studios - The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation

Last night, I attended a tour of several artists' studios in the South Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO. In conjunction with Sculpture Center, the tour was led by Lowell Pettit , an art consultant whom I had the pleasure to interview for my Master's thesis last year. Mr. Pettit organizes tours such as this one for the New Art Network (NAN), a young patrons' group he co-chairs with Elana Rubinfeld.  

For the past 18 years, The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation, has provided studios for visual artists for one-year periods. Sharpe was a Colorado Springs philanthropist who created the Foundation before her death in 1985. This year, the foundation moved from its former TriBeCa location to its new 20 Jay Street home. A jury of artists selected 17 recipients this year from 1150 applicants. Our group had the pleasure to get acquainted with artists Kate GilmoreDavid OpdykeDavid Brooks, and Rob Swainston.

Gilmore is from the suburbs of Washington DC, which she told us has influenced her work. She comes from a sculpture background, which she uses in her performance pieces, many of which are then videotaped. She admires Hannah Wilke and Vito Acconci, among others. Gilmore uses her rage and aggression to "break through," but also sees herself as an athlete who sets up systems to accomplish concrete goals. However, this rather serious description contrasts with her cheerful demeanor and hearty laugh.

David Opdyke comes out of a painting and sculpture background. He used to build architectural models and this is evident in his work today, as is his interest in suburban themes. In the early 2000's, Opdyke's intense interest in the political climate at the time had a direct effect on pieces such as Taste Test - a red state-blue-state map forming "Coke v. Pepsi" and created of Monopoly hotels arranged in a suburban cul-de-sac configuration. The Iraqi conflict influenced Greenback (above left), a beautiful partial image of a dollar bill made of golden tanks and soldiers. Now, Opdyke is at a stage where he struggles between creating larger works and smaller works.

The very witty David Brooks, from Brazil, Indiana (you know it? he asked us) has an art and architecture background. He makes Brutalist-type sculptures and likes to mix the very old with the very new. Brooks creates caricatures of the ecosystem by mixing reinforced concrete with palm fronds, as an example. He is also interested in conservation biology and has been involved with a fish tagging project on the Venezuelan border and he has designed a boardwalk through a national park that incorporates the tree trunks within it, instead of outside of it.

Rob Swainston has a background in drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and collage. He likes to create non-site-specific installations that are nevertheless specific to a site. Swainston works as a master printer and teaches printmaking at Columbia University, one of his alma maters. He is a member of Vox Populi, a Philadeplhia art collective.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"No Money, No Problem" at the Invisible Dog Gallery in Cobble Hill

Sisters Emma and Ani Katz are the young co-founders of Recession Art Show, whose latest endeavor, No Money, No Problem, began this afternoon at the Invisible Dog Gallery in the Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn. The show, whose purpose is to match affordable art with buyers, is on the third floor of the burgeoning art center at 51 Bergen Street, a former belt factory, whose previous owner - a pilot - created the faddish Invisible Dog (the leash that creates the illusion that you are walking an invisible dog). The atmospheric, rustic space will continue to host rotating art shows, while the second floor is comprised of artists' studios and the ground floor is home to the Shopart gallery. 

Fifteen artists were chosen in a juried selection process for the recession-themed show. I liked the work of photographers Kristen Doetzkies, Lisbeth Kaufman, Danielle McDonnough, and Danielle Scruggs, but was especially taken with Catherine Gavriel's pieces made of found objects including a Christmas ornament, light bulbs, hooks, hammerheads, and yarn mounted on wood. Lori Nelson's Souvenirs From the Recession 2009, also captured the zeitgeist with a piece that consisted of wooden plaques interspersed with sale tags with answers from people responding to the question: What have you been doing differently in the past year because of the recession?

Highlights for me included the following:

"wearing clothes 3 times before washing :-("
"ride my bike whenever I can"
"I stopped buying lunch. Making lunch. Save $200 per month."
"Kids get no summer camp. (I get no peace)."
"I thought I'd graduate and make $ as a photo assistant. Instead, I worked for free for a year."

But the best response of all - maybe because it is particularly apropos for me - came from Elizabeth, a writer in Brooklyn, who said "nothing has changed for me. Now, more people live as I do."

Friday, October 2, 2009

New York Art Book Fair at P.S. 1 - Deitch Studios Benefit

Now in its fourth year, The New York Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter, Inc., opened last night at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. Featuring over 200 international publishers of contemporary art books, art catalogues, artists’ books, art periodicals, antiquarian dealers, and independent artist/publishers, the free fair will run through Sunday, October 4th. A special exhibition entitled Richard Prince: Calling All Readers is one of the highlights. Despite last night's chilly temperatures, many art and book lovers were in attendance.

At about 8 pm, people began to make their way to nearby Deitch Studios, which hosted a benefit for the book fair. Empanadas and Campari - an unlikely but surprisingly synergistic duo - were available to those willing to brave the extremely long lines. In addition to artwork courtesy of Deitch's eclectic group of artists and an assorted hodgepodge of scenesters both young and old, music by the electronic band Silk Flowers (who did they remind me of? Joy Division, sort of), provided the backdrop for the event.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Poetry at apexart

Last night, I learned to look at poetry in a new way courtesy of Luis Sagasti, a native of Bahía Blanca, Argentina. Sagasti is a multi-faceted man - he is a poet, a lecturer, a curator, as well as a novelist. TriBeCa non-profit apexart hosted Sagasti as part of their residency program, in which artists get the opportunity to immerse themselves in New York City for one month. Read about Sagasti's impressions of the city and his views on writing on his blog.

The Argentine poet spoke with Raphael Rubinstein, a NewYork-based critic, author, and former senior editor at Art in America. Sagasti emphasized the similarities between poetry and religion - both attempt to rejoin or reconnect seemingly disparate thoughts and objects in order to transcend the quotidian. To write poetry, he said, one must recover the intensity of experiencing moments for the first time and with the wonder of a child, tempered with the experience of an adult. A combination of William Blake's notion of innocence and experience perhaps? Sagasti believes in living in the moment but not killing the moment, which he says that photography does without fail. 

Rubinstein remarked on how modern poetry has avoided unity; it has been characterized by fragmentation and disunity. I hope that Sagasti's passion for unity will signal a more thought-provoking poetry for our times.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Bargain at Half the Price (or Less)

You may be aware that I am an ardent fan of The Strand Bookstore (see earlier posts from spring and summer.) Yesterday, I finished Eileen Myles' The Importance of Being Iceland, and since my local branch of the New York Public Library is closed on weekends, I was faced with a potential book withdrawal situation. I had dutifully read all the formerly non-read books on my shelf, all the magazines in the laundry room in my building, and the free weekly newspapers that appear in my lobby. What was left?

I had no choice but to fortify myself with some Thai food and head over to The Strand to behold the bargains that surely awaited. Fortunately, I did not have to advance beyond the $1 carts that form a protective shield outside the store, luring in stray passers-by in the very best of ways. For the low, low price of $2.52, I purchased the following: Out of Africa, Snow, and Say Everything. Inside each of these books - and this is just one of the reasons I like buying used ones - I found clues to the previous owners.

Out of Africa (Karen Blixen, pen name Isak Dinesen) - tucked into the back of an unusual Penguin copy of this book ($.48), I found a Mastercard receipt (complete with full number) dated September 21, 2003. [What I was doing then? I believe I was in India with some friends from the Embassy and we were getting ready to embark on a camping and whitewater rafting trip to Rishikesh.] The receipt indicated that the book was bought at the Heathrow airport, Terminal Four, for £4.04. It is hard to tell from the signature whether the buyer was a man or a woman - I wonder if he or she read the book? As for me, I have only seen the film, and this will undoubtedly influence my experience. For example, only one chapter in, many pages are devoted to the sights, sounds, and smells of the beautiful African landscape - something which Sydney Pollack was almost able to capture in a single panning shot. I think to experience Africa the way Karen Blixen did, you had to have been there yourself. If not, reading her words is a lovely alternative.

Snow (Orphan Pamuk) - nestled within the pages of this Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author's book, I discovered a wallet-size photograph of an infant. Was it the child of the book reader? I gently placed the photo on top of the Strand cart and added the book to my pile. I am one chapter into this story of an exiled poet who returns to Kars,Turkey, to report on a rash of female suicides. There is also a love component to the story, whose narrator resembles the person next to you on a train who can't help but let you in on a secret. Very interesting so far. The New York Times Book Review voted Snow Best Book of the Year in 2004.

Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters (Scott Rosenberg) - I purchased this uncorrected proof, not-for-sale, copy for $1. There are no page numbers in the index and some typos already in the first chapter. Inserted in the front of the book was a letter from Crown Publishing which lays out the campaign to promote the author's book. Rosenberg was a cofounder of, and here, he describes the history of blogging and offers explanations as to why people feel compelled to share their lives with the Internet and why that is both good and bad. My favorite line so far (I'm also one chapter into this book) has to do with whether all the hyperactivity of a particular blogger represented fecundity or incontinence.

It is my greatest wish that my blogging efforts fall into the former category and not the latter.