Sunday, January 29, 2006

Leavin' on a Jet Plane...

Left very early Saturday morning on work/semi-vacation trip to Florida, and probably won't be posting for a few days. Check back soon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Last Call at New Museum

I posted recently about the last exhibit to take place at the Chelsea location of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and today I went to a preview of the show with the artist, Andrea Zittel. The exhibit, Critical Spaces, is the first comprehensive survey in the US of her work made over the last fifteen years. She lived in Williamsburg from 1990 to about 2000 before moving to Joshua Tree, California.

Conceptually, her work revolves around the contradictions created by everyday life. Public versus private space; how limitations can create a sense of freedom; how we yearn to belong but struggle for independence. The art works themselves are an impressive array of objects from a carpeting study to dresses and uniforms, escape vehicles and living modules, sculpture and drawings.

When she's addressing how everyday objects and the spaces we occupy shape the way we live, her work is at its best. Not as successful is a piece that attempts to address, as she said this afternoon, how we are affected by time. She spent a week in a windowless, basement studio in Berlin with nothing around to give her any indication of what time it was, and the result of that experiment is confusing. Her work around personal space (as opposed to time) is much better conceived:

I was also impressed with the simple quality of work. Any aspiring designer would be thrilled to produce the crocheted dresses and "personal panels" (below). It's amazing that the same person who welded together escape vehicles also made watercolors and knitted tops.

The show opens to the public on January 26 (through March 27) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Graffiti -- Not Just for Hoodlums (or Hoho) Anymore

The corporate "graffiti" thing has been cracking me up for awhile now ... you know the street advertisements for things like Hummers that are made to look like graffiti. Taking it to a whole new level is the new branch of North Fork Bank at the corner of 2nd Ave. and E. 10th Street. I noticed it a couple months ago when the branch was under construction: "graffiti" inside the bank, underneath the teller windows.

I seem to recall people were all up in arms about promoting graffiti when Howard Dean (aka Hoho) held a huge rally at Bryant Park in the summer of 2003 when he was running for President; the stage backdrop was decorated with graffiti art. I haven't heard any outraged commentary leveled at North Fork or any other corporation about promoting criminality and destruction by attempting to connect with the "youth market" through graffiti art -- not that they should be criticized but because it was absurd to level the charge at Hoho in the first place.

Post Script: I stand corrected. Apparently Gothamist has taken Sony to task for their corporate graffiti campaign. Of course, I was alerted to this by Curbed.

Corporate Graffiti [Polis]
City Hall Tags Dean for Using Graffiti [NY Daily News]
Graffiti Artist Who Create Dean Mural is Held [NYTimes]

H.C. Bunner

We think of the last five years as a unique time in the New York real estate market, but in fact, it is a very old story.

The Story of New York House was first published in serial form in Scribner's magazine in 1887. It is a lovely bit of historical fiction (although that term wasn't yet coined), which begins in 1807 and takes place over several decades. The story, or allegory, is about the inexorable march of development followed by decline and finally transformation.

It was written by H.C. Bunner, a prolific urban journalist, fiction writer and editor who lived and worked in New York City almost his entire life but has been all but forgotten. He was the long-time editor of Puck magazine (which gave the Puck building at the corner of Houston and Lafayette its moniker). Puck was one of the earliest humor magazines and had a major influence not only on that genre, but on cartooning as well. It was one of the first magazines to use color illustrations that lampooned politicians and the bourgeoisie. Below is an illustration drawn by the magazine’s publisher, Joseph Keppler, whose name is more associated with the magazine’s than Bunner’s (to see more Puck prints and posters, click here). The fat cats are in color and are casting shadows of the poor and decrepit behind them.

Anyhoo, H.C. Bunner, in addition to being a great humor magazine editor and novelist, was also a serious urban journalist, chronicling life in New York City with a very modern sensibility. When he dealt with the rich and famous, his pieces were every bit as snarky as the soon-to-be-defunct New York Observer. When he chronicled the life of the poor, it was always with respect minus the romanticism, i.e. without the paternalistic Victorian sentimentality that characterized reportage of the poor at the time. One particularly beautiful piece he wrote for Century magazine was entitled Shantytown. Here is an abridged version of the opening graph:

"The great city spreads itself day by day ... crawling ceaselessly northward, it divides and subdivides its habitations; gardens disappear and tenement-houses rise; every man’s allowance of space is cut down to its lowest possibility ... And there is still not room. One day, a full block of brown-stone houses, climbing up the rocks by Central Park, cuts right into a gypsy camp of superfluous poor, squatting outside the gates—a peaceable and well-organized colony that could not find room for itself in the regions of brick and mortar."

Bunner clearly spent a lot of time at the “gypsy camp” to write Shantytown, which might have been the first “experiential journalistic” piece to chronicle the life of the poor. It was published in 1880 and Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives, which first appeared as an article for Scribner’s magazine, wasn’t published until 1890. (Interestingly, the Scribner's article was accompanied by illustrations that were drawn from Riis’ photos, even though it would later be his photojournalism of the poor that he became famous for.) What’s more, Bunner’s style in Shantytown and all his other urban chronicles was neither paternalistic nor moralistic, and brings a recognizably modern sensibility to subjects that were either ignored, pathologized or romanticized.

I keep thinking I'm going to undertake a long-term project to resurrect H.C. Bunner as a very talented urban journalist. But until I get to it, for more info on H.C. Bunner, click here. For the entire series of The Story of a New York House, links are below.

The Story of a New York House, Jan. 1887.
The Story of a New York House, Feb. 1887.
The Story of a New York House, Mar. 1887.
The Story of a New York House, Apr. 1887.
The Story of a New York House, May 1887.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Central Park Sunset

I happened to be in Central Park at sunset on Saturday evening and had my new digital camera with me (click to enlarge).

Friday, January 20, 2006

Closed: In The Woods

Photos taken Jan. 8, 2006, the last day of business at In The Woods, which had operated on St. Marks Place since 1961. The former owner, Charles FitzGerald, and his longtime store manager, Millie, are in the bottom photo. (Click to enlarge pics.)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Old New Museum

The final exhibit at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in its Chelsea location is an exhibit exploring a concept near and dear to my heart: How our physical environment affects the way we live. Critical Space, which opens on Jan. 26, surveys a large selection of Andrea Zittel’s domestic spaces, uniforms, installations, drawings and documentation. More than 75 of these objects, produced between 1991 and 2005, will be on view at the New Museum, including A-Z Escape Vehicles, small transportable capsules customized by individuals seeking an ideal place for introspection, and A-Z Raugh Furniture, faux-rock landscapes substituted for indoor furniture, meant to hide dirt and serve multiple functions (pictured above).

This is exactly the type of exhibit that the Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff -- in his rave review of the New Museum's new building in the Bowery, which doesn't open until late 2007 -- says is filling a void left by the the elder statesmen of the museum world. "The informality of the arrangement reflects how the contemporary art world is changing as barriers between the various arts dissolve. Creation is a collaborative act in which the audience plays a role: at the New Museum, art, architecture, graphic design, film and the public will all jostle for attention."

The New New Museum [Polis]

Monday, January 16, 2006

Trolley Folleys

Since I'm on a transportation kick, I thought I'd do a little round-up of transportation alternatives that probably won't ever happen, despite people's best efforts.

A piece in the Times yesterday highlighted Arthur Melnick's long-time dream to bring trolley cars back to Brooklyn, and he's identified the East River where the Brooklyn Bridge Park will be as the perfect place to start (these perfectly wonderful and sane ideas always have a semi-fanatical proponent behind them, n'est pas?).

If Mr. Melnick has his wish, they may be revived. In 2002, he formed the nonprofit Brooklyn City Streetcar Company, and he has spent the last three years meeting quietly with community leaders and city officials as a one-man advocate for trolley lines in Brooklyn.

The last trolley rumbled through Brooklyn in 1956, according the article. Maybe the idea would gain traction if it were sponsored by a Brooklyn knish brand รก la Rice-A-Roni.

Another transportation pipedream: Vision 42 has been advocating for an auto-free light rail boulevard along 42nd street for years. A quick check of their website reveals that Maura Moynihan has joined the organization's advisory committee. It would seem the daughter of Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have her hands full getting Penn Station rebuilt at the Farley Post Office to take on another quixotic campaign.

And then there's the Williamsburg Car Free Bedford Avenue idea, which seems to have no legs at all, no pun intended. The website has been under construction for as long as I've been aware of it. Still plenty of cars on BedAve as far as I know:

I wish them all the best of luck! You just never know.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Subway Stations: Let There Be Light

Forgotten New York has a great piece about the original 28 subway stations, four of which are closed, including the City Hall station opened on Oct. 27, 1904. The site has some photos from the 100th anniversary when it was opened up for tours. Above shows the curve (one of the reasons it was closed ... new subway cars couldn't make the turn) and how important skylights were to letting light in. When did that little bit of genius get lost? Fortunately it's been belatedly rediscovered in Lower Manhattan, with the Calatrava Path Station and the redesign of the Fulton station (renamed the Fulton Transit Center, interior rendering below). Of course, the finances of MTA could use a little sunshine as well. But that's another post.

Friday, January 13, 2006

WTC: Another Edition of Breathtaking Inanity.

The weekend edition of "breathtaking inanity" is supplied by The Gutter, normally an architectural blog so dense with inside baseball BS, I don't even bother. But in an item that reacts to the NY Post's absurd article asserting that all systems are go at the World Trace Center memorial, The Gutter is for once worth quoting at length:

Fact: When completed, in 2000-whenever, the WTC memorial will immediately become a plum target for nemeses and ne'er-do-wells, far and wide. Fact: The interiority of the memorial—all those grievers sandwiched underground between concrete walls—will increase this danger. Fact: Massive, disruptive, airport-style security will be required at all entry points, coloring the experience of 9/11 remembrance with a reminder of its cause. Fact: Until this basic reality is acknowledged, excuse our French, it's a death trap.

Okay, even if it weren't going to be a death trap -- which is the most important point, since it will be -- it is hardly all-systems-go. How this has all unfolded has got to be one of the biggest disappointments imaginable. The only thing worse is if it DOES get built the way it's currently "planned" and people do get hurt. We would be much better off if it laid fallow for another decade until everyone really had a chance to integrate what happened there and how to address it.

WTC Site Planning (Or Today's Installment of Breathtaking Inanity) [Polis]

Reason to Party: Bubble Not Yet Totally Deflated

As real estate parties go, last night was a fun one. Inman News, Curbed and Craig's list sponsored a post-real-estate-conference shindig at an $11 million Chelsea duplex loft that was packed to the rafters with a bunch of suits who were clearly from out of town by the way they wielded business cards and ogled anything that remotely looked like an available woman. Ahem, did I say fun? Well, yes. The fun part was chatting up Craig, who told Joyce Cohen that the recent profile of him by New York Magazine was about 85 percent accurate. He also mentioned, almost off-handedly, that earlier in the day he gave a speech to State Department people and had his picture taken with "Condi"! And we all known Craig doesn't boast or lie. I hereby officially launch the Craig for President write-in campaign of 2008. But I digress. The party ... drinks were consumed, jokes were cracked, women were ogled (in a Chelsea loft, no less!). Fun was had by all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Lollipop Building: Queer as a Three Dollar Bill

This past weekend in the Arts section, Herbert Muschamp of the Times demonstrated why he achieved such heights as an architecture critic, even if he wasn't always beloved by everyone in that position (he was moved over and replaced by Nicolai Ourousoff). Muschamp's manifesto in defense of Edward Durell Stone's "lollipop" building, The Secret History of 2 Columbus Circle, is one of the most brilliant pieces of cultural/architecture reportage I've read, with these graphs worth quoting at length:

I HATE TO BE THE ONE TO TELL YOU THIS, but the old, relentlessly mourned Pennsylvania Station was a dismal piece of architecture. A late arrival in the City Beautiful movement, the building tried to augment meager conviction with extreme colonnades. Walking into its cold, cavernous spaces was like arriving in Philadelphia two hours before you had to.

But so what if Penn Station wasn't Grand Central? It was a crime to tear down a building that had become so deeply impregnated with New York's emotional life. The yawning interiors had a distinctive atmosphere. Like a vast sponge for intense expectations, the station soaked up the psychic energy of arrival, departure, separation, reunion and waiting that had accumulated over the years along with the soot, water damage and flimsy commercial intrusions. The station met the new arrival with a dare: can you make the big city know that you're alive? There's nothing like debased Beaux-Arts design for throwing out a frigid welcome.

A building does not have to be an important work of architecture to become a first-rate landmark. Landmarks are not created by architects. They are fashioned by those who encounter them after they are built. The essential feature of a landmark is not its design, but the place it holds in a city's memory. Compared to the place it occupies in social history, a landmark's artistic qualities are incidental.

To find out why the building is "queer," read the whole article here.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bryant Park Ice Pond

I took some pics at the Bryant Park Ice Pond this afternoon. Is there anything that New Yorker's won't do while using their cell phones? (Click photo to enlarge.)

For a short slide show, click here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

If I Can Make It There ...

You know you've made it when you get mentioned on Curbed ... and then slammed in the comments. If I were in bed with brokers, literally or figuratively, then I certainly wouldn't be staying in a dump on St. Marks Pl.

New Year's Eve 365: Sales Booming at 1600 B'way [Curbed]

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Times Squared

Finally managed to get a post up on the New York Times real estate blog, The Walk-Through, about the fast-selling 1600 Broadway, the only luxury condo in Times Square.
Check it out here:
Times Square: Living La Vida Loca.

Best of Tropolism

My favorite architecture blog, Tropolism, has posted the Best of 2005, determined by the number of clicks each blog item received. Numero Uno: 55 Water Street's newly refurbished elevated public plaza, which Tropolism himself was involved in creating. I used this site as an example in a Times article of a private developer doing the right thing by creating real public space in exchange for a density bonus. For the rest of Tropolisms's top ten, click here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Wall Street Conventional Wisdom (Or Another Installment of Breathtaking Inanity)

Floyd Norris of the Times' business page gets a mention on Polis for helping with today's installment of "breathtaking inanity." From an article titled, The Wisdom of Wall Street? Sometimes It's Wrong (the title alone conjurs up a snicker):

"As 2006 begins, the great American housing boom is going to weaken, if not collapse. But that will not hurt the economy very much, and growth will continue at a good pace.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom."

In Mr. Norris' able hands, this absurdity somehow comes out to seem not quite so absurd. Read the whole article and judge for yourself. But I ask thee, have we once again lost our minds? I've said it before, and I'll surely say it again: "breathtaking inanity" is the new "irrational exuberance."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Art and Architecture

My two favorite things are coming together in a new show: photoghraphy and architecture. Opening on Jan. 5th at the Center for Architecture is a multi-media exhibition showcasing new photography by Esto, an architectural photography collaborative. Buildings and structures located in New York City will be featured, (many of them award-winners), including Danny Meyer's wildly successful Shake Shack at Madison Square Park, and the Staten Island September 11 Memorial by Masayuki Sono (pictured).