NYC: August 2009 Archives

color: it only looked really white in bright sun; when we left at 6 it actually was more of an eggshell

Barry and I almost missed another show which we had decided long before was a must-see. But yesterday we headed for the Guggenheim, where the newly-restored museum's fascinating exhibit, "Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward", closes tomorrow, Sunday.

The show is part of the Guggenheim's celebration of the 50th anniversary of its landmark Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, whose exterior renovation was completed last year.

I've been a fan of Wright's almost from the moment Hilla Rebay and Solomon Guggenheim first approached the great man to design a permanent home for the Museum in 1943. I'm pretty familiar with his work, and not blind to his inadequacies (or those of the Guggenheim: "The Art of the Motorcycle"?), but I was often surprised by what I learned from the materials assembled for the show, and my criticisms of certain of Wright's obsessions have been somewhat blunted after my progress down the Guggenheim's ramp. Yes, we took the elevator up and walked down the ramp, which is how I always experience this museum (and what I understand Wright himself thought was the proper approach), even though we soon realized this exhibit is clearly arranged, chronologically, to suggest a progress up from the bottom.

I go back and forth on which of Wright's work excites me more, the private houses or the public designs. Although it actually doesn't really matter, even to me, this handsome retrospective didn't resolve my ambivalence. Until we got down to the second-level annex we saw not one house design. While I was very much aware of this, and mentioned it to Barry, for almost two hours I was pretty much lost inside the grand schemes of his larger projects (which I was happy to be reminded had actually included apartment houses). Then we were suddenly looking again at the brilliance - and the variety - of his plans, over seven decades, for single-family dwellings - some specifically designed for pretty modest budgets.

My favorite new discovery within this part of the exhibition was the beautiful small unattached house which was a part of the architect's "American Ready-Cut Houses" project. It was represented by a pencil drawing on a single sheet of paper of an elevation and plans for two floors of what Wright described as "small town house - plastered 1912-1913". There seemed to be another (half?) floor below the first, which had a sun room and a small balcony, and a roof terrace above the second, bedroom floor. Lovely.

Thinking now about Wright's sketched plan for the first floor, which included furniture outlines, I'm reminded of how here and in most of his other living room plans, even though there's an eating area off of the kitchen, a handsome collection of table and chairs dominates the floor area of the room, unless the client can afford a particularly large living space. Our own apartment has a conventional living room arrangement, and we're lucky to have a dining gallery as well, but I think that I would be quite content with entertaining people sitting around a dining-height table. There food, drink and anything else which could be spread out might be shared along with the conversation. I could pretty much do without a lounge area altogether. It's very much how we live now, whether we have guests or not.

elegantly sufficient, sufficiently elegant still today

The visit would have been worth the trek uptown on a sweltering day, the long line, and the cost of the tickets, just for the look into a few of Wright's more iconic designs alone. For me the most amazing, and melancholy, almost-discovery was his huge body of work devoted in 1957 to "The Plan for Greater Baghdad", intended for an undeveloped island in the middle of the Tigris and of the city, sadly, unbuilt of course.

Although there are plenty of other candidates for an appreciation of his genius, I'm thinking especially of the 1913-1922 Imperial Hotel, and of course The Illinois of 1959 (unbuilt), Wright's magnificent, plant-like, utopian (he would probably eschew "visionary", since he believed it was totally practical) skypenetrator which has captivated me for half a century:

FL_Wright_The_ Illinois.jpg
I swear I saw gold leaf near the very top, probably intended to show the sun blessing the hero's tower

Did I mention the line? We were both aghast at the appearance of the ground floor lobby when we first walked into the museum. It was Friday, a weekday, and the time was 2:45:

at least there's no door person at the end, ready with a thumbs down if your look's not up to snuff

These people are slowly advancing between row after row of ropes in order to get to the desk to pay for admission ($18, students and seniors $15, or order on line for a little more). It took us a full half hour to get to the head of the line, although this being New York there was good humor and a certain amount of eye candy for entertainment while we shuffled back and forth.

[image of "The Illinois" from the website of Rich Hilliard; that of "a small town house" from]


I couldn't stand looking at it any more, even if it shows a tweaked image of the Whole Foods logo, one which now serves as the symbol of a national boycott. I'm referring to my last, melancholy post, "Whole Foods' John Mackey wants us unwholesome". So, thinking I might not be the only one so depressed, I decided to upload a picture of some flowers I snapped up on the High Line at around 4 o'clock on this warm, sleepy afternoon. I was walking back from Buon Italia in Chelsea Market, a really, really, wonderful sort-of-smallish, genuine food emporium for anyone interested in Italian food, now destined to become an even more important part of my food shopping rounds.

Then, remembering how few people I saw up there today, I thought about how the beautiful slim park, which has quickly become the site of a documented neighborhood passeggiata, manages to look very different at various hours and on various days of the week. Here are a couple images showing just how popular it is on weekends. Both of them were taken on the first of August, a Saturday.

These pictures remind me of why I decided years ago that I had to move to New York permanently: Weekends here seemed to have been arranged mostly for visitors, and they still are, although back in the early 80's I was thinking of Downtown music, theater, dance bars and performance, which were always much more interesting on school nights.

take a number

but it can look like a commercial travel brochure


I'd love to find some excuse to continue shopping at Whole Foods, but I just couldn't live with myself if I went with anything I can come up with.

I am a serious cook, I make a real dinner for Barry and myself virtually every night, sometimes including friends as well, and I take my food sources very seriously. I was delighted to learn around nine years ago that a branch of Whole Foods was going to be opening at the end of our block. We already had Garden of Eden on 23rd Street, about the same distance away, and I could easily visit the Union Square Greenmarket, Citarella in the VIllage, Balducci's on 14th Street and Buon Italia and the other shops in Chelsea Market. I could reach just as many more good food outlets if I ventured a little further, and I often did.

I immediately found Whole Foods very convenient, and I had a certain amount of confidence in the quality of what they sold, perhaps buying too much into its own hype and the excitement of its fans. The store became a very big part of my hunting and gathering activities. I soon began to think of the store as almost indispensable. It didn't hurt that since it was only a few hundred feet from our apartment I could walk out my door at 9 in the evening or even later, having no idea of what I was going to buy, and still get back in time to make a proper dinner for the two of us.

But Whole Foods has been out of my life since last Thursday (except in the telling of this story). I'm going to have to make some adjustments and I'm definitely going to be planning ahead from now on. I regret having to make the adjustment, but I may be more disturbed about the fact that it took me too long to get to this point.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that for a long time I found it convenient to ignore what I began to hear early on about the Whole Foods management preventing its employees from unionizing (I did not then know the extent of its larger political involvement fighting the union movement, including opposing the Employee Free Choice Act). And then late last week the news broke about co-founder, Chairman and CEO John Mackey's Thursday Wall Street Journal op-ed on health care, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare". I could no longer ignore the fact that my money was supporting reactionary politics (the agent of the transaction was boldly broadcasting it to the world). Mackey opened his odd, obsessional piece with an ignorant, plainly specious quote* from scary Margaret Thatcher, and went on to argue against President Obama's health reform proposals. In fact he railed against any government involvement in the regulation of health care, positing instead eight of his own ideas for reform.

My favorite:

Revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

From its beginnings this food chain, anointed (with some justification) as more wholesome than any of its competitors, has assiduously cultivated an image of social responsibility. But it's an image which is, at the very least, at odds with much of its social and political conduct, especially because of the activities of the increasingly-eccentric John Mackey. The long arm (money, power, influence) of this very successful, wealthy corporation now manages to touch the lives of everyone, even those who have never entered one of its stores.

Even if the expected (and already dramatic) negative reaction of Whole Foods customers to the revelation of Mr. Mackey's Right-wing adventures isn't enough to frighten the corporation's investors, I would be surprised if they haven't already started to question his judgment, his ability to perform his job. Any competent CEO is well-advised to avoid political activities which offend and damage the best interests of his firm's clients and customers - or at least avoid being discovered or outed as an extremist nut.

I'm not going to pretend that my decision to no longer darken the threshold of the Chelsea Whole Foods outlet is of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, but I know I'm not alone in wanting to see John Mackey relieved of his duties. Stranger things have happened, and corporations are not known for courage, or preferring stupidity over the bottom line.

Should he be removed, John Mackey, the free market libertarian, should be able to appreciate the irony of the marketplace deciding that it had to be.

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."

[image from gezellig-girl's Flickr photostream]

backstage at 6 pm: the battleships await their crews

Duke Riley's rich, seriously-ambitious, aggressively-unprecious but still whimsically-theatrical large-scale piece of interactive art, "Those About to Die Salute You", unfolded across the plains and the seas of Flushing Meadows on Thursday night, managing to exceed all expectations, probably including those of the artist himself.

The Queens Museum of Art commissioned the work from Riley earlier this year and this resourceful, heterodox (and genuinely-communal institution) got just about exactly what we saw described in the event's press release:

Those About to Die Salute You, a battle on water wielded with baguette swords and watermelon cannon balls by New York's art dignitaries, will take place on Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 6 pm in a flooded World's Fair-era reflecting pool in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, just outside of the Queens Museum of Art. Various types of vessels have been designed and constructed by artist provocateur Duke Riley and his collaborators: the galleons, some made of reeds harvested in the park, will be used to stage a citywide battle of the art museums in which representatives from the Queens Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and El Museo del Barrio will battle before a toga-clad crowd of frenzied onlookers.

And the people came.

No words can do more than begin to describe what they saw - and what they contributed themselves. There are already enough images posted around the blogosphere to make anyone who wasn't there feel a bit like what now seems to have been the handful of people who didn't get to Woodstock forty years ago. I missed Bethel myself, but, especially since I had been following Riley's projects for several years, I wasn't about to miss Corona Park, only one transfer away on the subway. Besides, as a student of the classics, I just couldn't, and if I had given it a pass, when could I expect another invitation to a Naumachia?

Barry and I got there a bit before 6, as all the announcements had suggested, but after we had checked out the boat yards at one end of the flooded "lake", we learned that the sea battle itself wouldn't begin until after 8 o'clock.

Populi entertained by Hell-Bent Hooker, including band-engineered special effects

We headed for the Museum, where an artist friend, one of Duke's "herohelpers", invited us to visit the now-nearly-empty and very dusty 40,000 sq. ft. "studio" where the battleships had been constructed. We stood next to an incongruously-shiny large black motorcycle with a box of cookies balanced on its seat: "Take some cookies; a nice Italian lady with her kids left these for us," offered a long-haired gentleman with a deep, froggy voice just before he headed off to the other end of the space. I later recognized him as the lead in the metal band which was the evening's early entertainment. We took two cookies, and they were the best: delicate, chewy macaroons.

La-Vein Hooker (Hell-Bent Hooker vocals) and affectionate Roman fan

I guess we spent too much time mingling with all the Romans eating and imbibing in and around the Queens Museum and enjoying a bit of the evening serenades offered by Hell-Bent Hooker, so it was already twilight when we finally headed back to the site of the featured event (so featured that there was a box to one side, designated ESPN, where the faux anchorman for the proceedings was ensconced). There we found another huge crowd, and unfortunately all the spaces close to the water and the powerful spotlights had already been taken. In the end, while our late arrival meant I couldn't capture any decent documentary images, it also meant that I saved my camera from encounters with water balloons, ripe tomatoes and rotten melons.

Duke-emperor, artist and prime mover, observing from the darkened wings

I've included a few of the pictures I took with available light while holding the camera high above my head. They're pretty "impressionistic", but the blurriness may convey a small bit of the excitement of the spectacle.


Queens Museum battleship and crew, later to be declared the victors

I'm not sure what's going on in the next image (the camera saw much more than I did, and it can't talk to me), but it looks a bit like a victory celebration.

Neptune's rowdy crew?

That whoopee came just after the sinking or withdrawal of the last manned and womanned battleships, and just before a reed-and-paper-constructed Queen Mary 2 slowly glided toward the head of the lake. Riley and the Queen have a history: When the artist tried to maneuver his one-man submarine near that vessel while it was docked in Red Hook he was arrested and his own ship was temporarily seized. Two nights ago Riley oversaw the replica go up in flames amid spectacular fireworks - turn over, and sink.

The crowd, which for several minutes seemed to be somewhat in shock and awe as they saw and heard the Roman candles going off, then went wild.

but no one's suggesting actual sorcery is involved

This page is an archive of entries in the NYC category from August 2009.

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