Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bingo, Black Swans, and C***s

Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes we have already won the ultimate prize out there - we are alive, all Black Swans - thanks to a remarkable combination of randomness and plucky DNA. But the vast majority of us take that prize for granted. Not content with this small miracle of life, we play games of chance and take risks. Why?

I've played a fair share of games and have won a few prizes in my time. But perhaps none was more unusual than the one I won playing Bingo last night at (le) poisson rouge. In fact, I would be willing to bet that it was the first time in history that this prize has ever been won. Hosted by drag king, Murray Hill (aka "the hardest working middle-aged man in show business") and his lovely sidekick, drag queen Linda Simpson, the dynamic duo have taken their bawdy Bingo west of The Bowery Poetry Club. Some of you may recall that I won something at one of these events last year. The two prizes don't compare.

Murray and Linda were in fine form last night, alternating between insulting each other and the audience in equal measure. An inebriated, passed-out patron had to be escorted out by security. Murray claimed this was a record - it was only 7pm and the games had just begun! Both hosts had some choice words for several listening-challenged audience members who falsely proclaimed to have Bingo - these people experienced thinly-veiled humiliating remarks throughout the course of the evening as a result of their errors. Later in the evening, Murray apologized for the "noise" coming from the room next door - the "noise" was a band playing and (le) poisson rouge is a music club. He said they were working on getting the walls soundproofed so that future Bingo games would not be thus disturbed.

Afterwards, as my friend and I headed to the E train, a fleeting thought crossed my mind. What would have happened if - Heaven forbid - I'd gotten mugged and my bag had been stolen? The thief would have been pleased with the contents of my wallet, could have had fresh breath from my mints, could potentially have had nicely-filed nails thanks to my emory board, would have had no problems with a runny nose thanks to my packet of Kleenex, no chapped lips thanks to Chapstick, and could have even benefited from the wisdom and astute insight of the thoughts in my Moleskin notebook. But most rewarding of all (especially if he'd had crayons) - my thief could have had great fun with The Cunt Coloring Book, my Bingo prize.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Berlin at the Wall - Paintings Meet Music

Berlin at the Wall  is an exhibition of work by German painter G.L. Gabriel. Originally shown at the DietzSpace Gallery to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Ms. Gabriel depicts the city's transforming landscape. Incorporating Skia Photography, she starts with high-resolution photographs of large panoramic images on barite photo paper and selectively paints thin layers of color onto the images. Thus, bleak abandoned factories along the Spree River, the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, and the demolition of the Palace of the Republic, take on an Impressionist aspect. 

Now through April 22nd, Berlin at the Wall can be seen at the German Consulate General as part of Paintings Meet Music, an ongoing collaboration between Ms. Gabriel and German musician Rainer Oleak. The prolific Mr. Oleak has composed music for films and television, as well as arrangements for other musicians. For this event, he chose a choir song, a Beethoven concert, a rock concert, and atmospheric sounds which he then played on old tape recorders and mixed back in to the original composition in order to "reinforce the authentic aura." Paintings Meet Music has the artistic synergy to invigorate every sense.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Roman Polanski - The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski's latest gem, The Ghost Writer, is based on the Robert Harris book, The Ghost. This past weekend, Polanski won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival. In a way, the film could almost be called The Ghost Director - Polanski did much of the post-production work in Switzerland, where he has been under house arrest since September 2009. Yet Polanski's characteristic mise-en-scène is present, with the ghost of Hitchcock hovering in the background nodding his approval (I like to imagine).

The mood of the film is bleak. It is either overcast and rainy or dark and rainy throughout. The dampness even gets into your bones. The story takes place mostly on Martha's Vineyard (but was actually filmed in the north of Germany), a perfect setting for the alienation felt by the two main protagonists- a former British Prime Minister and his ghostwriter. 

Then there is the music. Alexandre Desplat delivers an understated score - a true film score rather than a tedious collection of inane songs, which seems to be the default mode for most of today's film soundtracks. Desplat keeps things quiet when they need to be and then sends chills down the spine with a well-placed shriek of violins, a la Hitchcock. 

Thanks to Mr. Harris and faithfully followed to the letter by Polanski, the plot is sinister yet credible. And the actors are superb: Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, the British Prime Minister; Ewan McGregor as the ghostwriter (he is never named in the film); Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang; Kim Cattrall (casting off SATC Samantha's shackles once and for all, we hope) as Amelia Bly, the PM's assistant; and Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, James (fka "Jim") Belushi, and Eli Wallach shine in supporting roles and cameos. What is going on here? How did the ghostwriter's predecessor really die? Who is working for whom? The story moves along with plausible (and shocking) twists that tease and reveal almost everything in their own time.

Maybe you appreciate films that don't insult your intelligence or force you to painfully suspend your disbelief for two hours. Perhaps you are a fan of Polanski and Hitchcock. If so, may I recommend The Ghost Writer

Friday, February 19, 2010

DecoDence at South Street Seaport Museum

Little, Brown, and Company creative director Mario Pulice's fascination with luxury ocean liners began when he was 12 years old. Citing his grandparents, who often traveled by ship, as an influence, he began sending away for memorabilia from a number of companies. But he fell in love with the SS Normandie, which operated for the French line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) from 1935 - 1940. For the first time, Mr. Pulice has loaned some of his collection to the South Street Seaport Museum for its new exhibition, entitled DecoDence: Legendary Interiors and Illustrious Travellers Aboard the SS Normandie, which will be on view through January 2011. 

Curated by author and maritime history authority William Miller, aka "Mr. Ocean Liner," visitors can imagine what it must have been like to be on board the finest liner of the era, perhaps even in the company of Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Salvador Dalí, Joseph Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway, and Josephine Baker, to name just a few of the ship's most famous passengers. The SS Normandie was France's "floating ambassador" for the best of what the country had to offer. In addition to tapestry chairs, a baby grand piano, and bronze doors, there are over 100 items including tea sets, crystal, and silver, created by the most important Art Deco names of the time - Lalique, Dupas, and Patou. Nearly everything, including toothpicks, was mongrammed "CGT" to further underscore French pride. First-class passengers received special handbags created by Hermès as well as a Jean Patou specially-mixed perfume, Normandie. 

One highlight of DecoDence is a 30-minute color film made in 1939 by a CGT Paris-based employee. Discovered recently by the filmmaker's son, the film captures life aboard the SS Normandie on one of its dozens of voyages from France to New York. Seeing the elegantly-dressed passengers, exquisite suites, outdoor activities on the deck (including men playing tennis and badminton wearing suits and ties!), and dining rooms (one is pictured above) make one long for the time when people took pride in their appearance and paid attention to their surroundings. Mr. Miller told us that a typical transatlantic crossing took five days, required three complete costume changes per day, and according to Kitty Carlisle, shoes alone required several trunks.  

Scenes of the liner docking at Pier 48 in New York's Chelsea area are remarkable and serve as a poignant reminder that the Pier was the ship's final resting place. The SS Normandie was in New York when Germany invaded France. The United States took control of the ship, rechristened it the USS Lafayette, and had begun transforming it into a military vessel when in 1942, the ship caught fire. To douse the flames, too much water was used and the ship capsized and sank. In 1946, the USS Lafayette was sold for scrap metal in New Jersey. Fortunately, Mr. Pulice and others passionate collectors have salvaged the glamor of what was one of the finest ships to sail the sea.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Bitter End

Some friends and I went to The Bitter End last night to experience The New York Songwriters Circle Series. According to the web site of the nearly 50-year-old music club, " for over 19 years, singer/songwriter Tina Shafer has been producing and directing the circle, producing bi-monthly shows...Showcasing artists such as Norah Jones, Jesse Harris, Lisa Loeb, Vanessa Carlton, Gavin DeGraw and Chris Barron, the circle [has become] one of the most popular music events in the city, attracting not only the best up and coming songwriting talent from around the world, but also top music industry executives looking to discover the next big thing."

We especially enjoyed the quirky, talented Nashville duo, Channing and Quinn. Channing has a gorgeous powerhouse of a voice. Her chilling refrain in their song The Vanishing Act ("I can make you disappear") provoked nervous titters of uneasy laughter in the audience, who had no doubt that she probably could.

We also enjoyed Rachael Sage, a consummate performer who we saw last April at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side.

The Bitter End has been the venue for countless entertainers including Woody Allen, Dr. John, Tori Amos, Joan Armatrading, Taj Mahal, Les Paul, Stevie Wonder, Little Feat, George Carlin, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Odetta, Patti Smith, Etta James, and countless others.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Waxing Poetic - Martin Felando

I visited California-born, NoLIta-based artist Martin Felando, who creates his work by dripping a mixture of candle wax with various shades of paint onto a canvas. The results are unusually lovely. Large bodies of water inspire Felando. His new series includes paintings entitled The Red Sea and The Keys (both pictured). 

Felando has no formal art training; he has written over 30 screenplays and worked on Wall Street. Yet, art clearly took center stage 15 years ago after a number of life-altering events. If Felando had been producing art from a young age, he might now be referred to as a mid-career artist. It is more accurate to describe him as an emerging artist. But not a typical emerging artist. 

During my conversation with him, I was reminded of one of Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating New Yorker essays which have recently been compiled in the book, What the Dog Saw. The article, "Late Bloomers," compares the career trajectories of two authors and two artists. One author receives instant fame as a result of his first novel, written at a young age. The second author single-mindly researches his subject for many years before writing his masterpiece and attaining success. The two artists in Gladwell's article are Picasso and Cézanne - the former was enormously successful from an early age and throughout his long life, while the latter painted his best works near the end of his career.  

Friday, February 12, 2010

mdh fine arts - The Flower Show

For those of you who are, like me, tired of looking at things that are various shades of brown and gray this winter, stop by mdh fine arts in Chelsea to visit The Flower Show, running through March 6th. You will be surrounded by an array of flowers ranging from Donna Senger's lovely black-and-white Flora/Pod, Flora/Peony, and Flora/Sunflower; Milton Sonday's beautifully rendered drawings of Hippeastrum buds; Joseph Radoccia's Red Gerbers, Red Dahlias, and Rose Hips; and my friend Shelley Haven's Heliconia I and Heliconia II (pictured). Spring might just be closer than you think.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

West Side Art Walk

After my appointment near City Hall yesterday morning, I took advantage of the sunny day and walked to apexart in TriBeCa to see The Incidental Person, on view until February 20th. Curated by Antony Hudek, the show takes its name from British artist John Latham's name for a person who "engages in non-art contexts - industry, politics, education - while avoiding the for/against, you vs. me disposition typically adopted to resolve differences." 

I continued up Broadway and veered west to walk by cultural institution Westbeth Center for the Arts, which houses artists, their work, and The Brecht Forum, where two years ago I enjoyed a discussion of the Eliot Spitzer scandal by performance artist Karen Finley. 

I continued north and finally got to walk along The High Line. It follows the elevated tracks that railway cars used to deliver their products to The Meatpacking District. Walking under the imposing Standard Hotel, I gazed to the west to observe the industry of the Hudson River. I looked to the right to observe the lovely architecture of this part of the city. I recalled riding the Ravenswood El in Chicago, feeling as though I was physically entering a 3D Escher drawing of a vibrant city. 

The remnants of a vanished era, combined with sparse winter foliage was highlighted by the discovery of Spencer Finch's The River That Flows Both Ways. According to the accompanying placard, "...the title comes from the original Native American word for the Hudson River, Muhheakantuck. This work is the semi-enclosed former loading dock between 15th and 16th Streets, where the High Line passes through the Chelsea Market building. Finch transforms the site's existing casement windows with 700 individually crafted panes of glass representing the water conditions on the Hudson River over a single day. To create the project, Finch photographed the Hudson River 700 times from the deck of a boat and then carefully matched each unique image to a pane of glass." It is quite arresting (see above). 

Afterwards, I visited Printed Matter, Inc.which proudly boasts that it is the "world's greatest source for artists' publications." They have some unique Valentine's Day items, in addition to their usual array of original artwork.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ida Applebroog at Hauser + Wirth

Bronx-born artist Ida Applebroog told us on Friday that she doesn't speculate about why she makes a particular work of art, she just makes it. Her comment was in response to the frequently-asked question of why she created a series of more than 150 drawings of her genitalia. In 1969, Ms. Applebroog was living in California with her spouse and four children. She found sanctuary in the bathroom taking long, restful baths. Her inspiration for the drawings came from self-observation during this time. Many assume that she was influenced by the strong wave of feminist art of the time, but Ms. Applebroog stated that this was untrue; artists create what they create because they simply have no choice. 

Now on view through March 6th, Hauser + Wirth in New York is hosting Monalisa, a collection of these drawings recently discovered after having been in storage for nearly 40 years. Also on view are several vivid portraits as well as the remarkable Monalisa house, which has been said to suggest to viewers both Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) as well as Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnés. Constructed of Gampi (a vellum-like paper made from the bark of a Japanese tree), mylar, ink, pigment, oil, watercolor and wood, visitors can catch glimpses of the interior through narrow gaps, without being allowed inside. 

Once you become acclimated to the subject matter of the delicate India-ink drawings, they take on a lovely, abstract, almost topographical quality. Ms. Applebroog said that all artists create work that is informed by their sexuality, whether the result is landscapes or portraits. Monalisa conveys the subtle strength of the artist in work that is neither landscape nor portrait, but is perhaps the best of both.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Own Little (Mostly French) Restaurant Week

You know how when you wake up on a cold, gray, semi-snowy morning and decide that nothing will stand between you and a Quiche Lorraine and a cup of French Roast? It happened to me this morning. I got on the E train to 22nd Street and made a beeline for Le Grainne Cafe, my favorite French place in Chelsea. I have never been disappointed the many times I have come here and today was no exception.

On Thursday, I met up with a good friend at A.O.C. in the West Village. It's a sweet little French place that serves a spectacular burger (those who know me well know that few things come between me and a good burger). They also have a nice wine selection.

Wednesday night, it was Rouge Tomate, a Belgian place on the Upper East Side that participated in New York's Restaurant Week. My friends and I enjoyed a delicious tuna sashimi appetizer, a pork tenderloin main course, followed by an exquisite dessert. Rouge Tomate prides itself on being green and sustainable. The food is prepared using only olive oil to cook (no frying or grilling at all) and incorporating locally-grown items. There is a full-time nutritionist on staff who ensures that all of the dinner combinations are under 1,000 calories. We could all hear each other speak without shrieking, and the overall experience was superb.

On Monday before my gallery visit, I had the great pleasure to sample a hamburger (and hear mostly French spoken all around me) at Bar Tabac on Smith Street in the Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. This area is home to approximately 20,000 French nationals and boasts the largest Bastille Day parade outside of France. Up and down Smith Street, you can find one French restaurant or bakery after another. I will be going back there soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Clover's Fine Art Gallery - Boerum Hill

About a year ago, a Jamaican woman named Clover opened an art gallery/coffee shop at 338 Atlantic Avenue in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Clover's Fine Art Gallery, a light, airy space in what was formerly a garage, is currently the setting for New Beginnings, a group show of five intriguing artists. They include: French painter Sophie Sejourne, Stockholm-based artist Karolina Mikulska, Rachel Krause, Armenian-American artist Eileen Karakashian, and New York emerging artist Terri Frohman.

Curator and gallery manager Charlotte Moquin has put together a fine show which connects themes of travel, archaeology, and semiotics with a pleasing balance of color and texture. Ms. Sejourne takes her inspiration from postcards that inspire her choice of pastels that radiate outwards on the square canvas. Ms. Mikulska uses mixed media to produce wonderfully abstract pieces that reveal hidden meanings upon closer examination. Likewise, the work of Ms. Karakashian, which on the surface, contains more overt, recognizable letters and numbers, but which fails to reveal all. These paintings caused me to wonder about the delicate figures emerging from the smoky depths - I loved them (see A Message, above left). Ms. Krause, perhaps channeling Georgia O'Keeffe, creates marionettes and "fossils" from found animal bones. Her paintings contrast the ancient world with maps of the new world, enforcing the theme of life's continuum. Ms. Frohman uses silhouettes, stencils, and sewing to communicate Victorian themes in a modern way. Her work reminded me of Kara Walker's.

In addition to showcasing emerging and established artists, Clover's Fine Art Gallery is also host to musical events. On February 6th at 7 pm, the jazz ensemble Opposite of a Train will perform. Ms. Moquin told me that she is currently planning for upcoming shows throughout the year and would like to include art talks and lectures. The gallery is exploring ways to merge art, music, education, and food. Spaces like this are becoming the norm in a time when formerly-thick walls must come down in order for the arts to survive.