January 06, 2017

A New Subway for a New Year!

New Yorkers had an extra special reason to celebrate this New Year's Day!  With well-deserved fanfare, the Second Avenue Subway was at long last opened to the public.  It's almost like the impossible dream come true as the project was decades in planning, years of construction, and billions of dollars in cost, but now the chronically delayed Q Train extension will finally carry passengers from Coney Island, Brooklyn, to 96th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.

And carry them in style!  Not only are the new subway tracks cushioned for comfort and quiet, but the subway stations are bright and clean and actually welcoming.  Adding to the amazement factor are the special art commissions decorating the new stations.  All the hoopla in the the press seemed too good to be true, so when I found myself on East 85th Street the other day I thought I'd better check it out for myself.

Now I've lived in New York for a long time and I do ride the subways when traveling longer distances, but I can't say I've ever really "enjoyed" the experience.  To say this was a pleasure may sound ludicrous, but that is indeed what it was.

The new subway stations are two-tiered meaning that one does not descend directly onto the platform, but first to a mezzanine level, through the turnstiles, and then down again via escalators, elevators or stairs to the trains.  There was not a piece of trash or graffiti in sight, the equipment was all operational, there was a surfeit of uniformed personnel on hand and the trains ran on time!  But what was really remarkable, was the profusion of museum quality public art that decorated the tile walls.

For example, the 86th Street Station features the work of Chuck Close (b. 1940), an artist known for large format portraits usually executed as paintings or photographs.  Here, his massive close ups are created using glass mosaic, some in color and some in black and white, and all are impressive.

Chuck Close "Self Portrait", 2016

Uptown at 96th Street, the terminus (for now), the entire station is decorated in a blue and white mural by Sarah Sze (b. 1969).  "Blueprint for a Landscape" is an all-encompassing installation covering the ground and first levels, including the escalator tunnels.


Heading back downtown, I stopped at the 72nd Street Station which is now populated with "Perfect Strangers", more than three dozen characters created in glass mosaic by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz (b. 1961).  A testament to the diversity of subway riders, there are people from all walks of life, like the businessman whose briefcase contents are flying in the wind...

The lady in a sari checking her phone and the gentleman carrying home the ingredients for dinner...

The father and his young daughter with their huge bouquet of balloons..

And the police officer enjoying an ice cream..

Each depiction is life-sized and according to the MTA website, is derived from a photograph of a real subway rider.

Finally we come to the newly re-constructed 63rd Street Station, where the new subway tunnel connects with the original Q line.  The art in the station is also a connection between old and new as "Elevations" by Korean-born Jean Shin (b. 1971) references the historical elevated subway lines but with a futuristic slant.

I still can't believe my own ears when I hear myself urging friends to take a ride on the Second Avenue Subway as a form of recreation, but it is true.  And I am certainly not alone.  For the first time in memory, the subway is a destination in itself with people taking photos and gleefully talking to fellow strap hangers.  How long this enthusiasm will last is anybody's guess, but for the time being, the new Second Avenue Subway is the talk of the town!

December 29, 2016

"Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age"

One of the exhibitions I most wanted to see this season is "Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age, 1900-1918" on view until January 16, 2017, at the Neue Galerie.  So I took advantage of a rainy Thursday between Christmas and New Year's to stop in and catch the show before it's too late.

Although he never married, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was certainly a ladies' man.  He fathered 14 children by his models and other working-class women, and he counted some of the most prominent ladies in fin-de-siècle Vienna as close friends.  Indeed, Klimt expressed his admiration for these women through some of the most beautiful portraits ever painted, many of which are on view here.

Ironically, Klimt was not primarily a portrait painter.  Known initially as a Symbolist and later as a founding member of the Vienna Secession Movement, Klimt's earlier works tended to be allegorical in nature and were often overtly erotic.  It was his reluctance to conform that induced him to refuse State sponsorship which in turn resulted in him relying on private commissions for economic survival.  These commissions were principally portraits of wealthy patrons that he completed at the rather stately pace of one per year making the twelve on view in this exhibition a very large portion of his output.

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer", 1907

If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting the Neue Galerie, you are already familiar with the fantastic Klimt paintings, both landscapes and portraits, on permanent view.  Even if you have never visited the Neue Galerie, you are probably aware of the star of the collection, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (also known as "The Woman in Gold"), confiscated by the Nazis and restituted to the family after an eight-year lawsuit after which it was acquired by Ronald Lauder at public auction.  For the duration of this special exhibition, visitors can see not only this masterpiece, but also its successor, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II", on loan from a private collection.

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II", 1912

Of course, Klimt painted other women as well.  His main patron was Szerena Lederer, the Hungarian born wife of a wealthy industrialist, who commissioned portraits of herself and her daughter and at one point had amassed the largest collection of Klimt paintings in private hands.

"Szerena Pulitzer Lederer", 1899

"Elisabeth Lederer", 1914-1916

The exhibition also features 40 drawings, both preparatory and finished, relating to Klimt's portraits and a fine group of decorative objects like fans and leather goods that a Viennese lady may have used.  Also of interest are several examples of contemporary dress by Shanghai designer Han Feng that draw on the reform fashions of Klimt's companion Emilie Flöge.

Of course, no visit to the Neue Galerie is complete without a stop at their Viennese inspired restaurant, the Café Sabarsky.  As usual, I am unable to resist the temptation of a Kaffee und Kuchen and I enjoyed every morsel!  My wish for you, my dear readers, is that year ahead brings you beauty and sweetness is all you do, and that we can share many more adventures together in 2017.  Happy New Year!

December 28, 2016

Loving "La La Land"

If you're looking for a few hours away from shopping and cooking and entertaining this holiday season, I have the perfect suggestion.  Pack up all your cares and woes, even the house guest who's getting on your nerves, and head to the nearest cinema showing this season's must-see hit "La La Land"!

Set in the Los Angeles of today, the movie is an homage to musicals of times past.  It follows the story of Mia, played by Emma Stone, an aspiring actress employed part time as a barista in a coffee shop on a movie lot while running from audition to audition, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, a jazz pianist forced to play in mediocre cover bands to earn a living while longing to open his own club.

There are several factors that make director Damien Chazelle's take on this love story different from the usual boy-meets-girl, the main element being the location.  Audiences are used to romantic movies taking place in romantic cities like Paris or New York.  Chazelle, a native of Rhode Island, chose Los Angeles for its historic attraction as the land where dreams can come true.  Though Los Angeles cannot be considered "charming", it does have a nostalgic attraction especially for aficionados of old movies.  "La La Land" is shot almost entirely on location using a CinemaScope wide screen format that adds to the film's retro appeal.  Though definitely a contemporary story - Mia drives a Prius and both use cell phones - it has a certain timeless quality as far as costumes and styles.  Add to this mix references to Hollywood classics like "Rebel Without a Cause", "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and you have all the makings of movie magic.

The Opening Scene of "La La Land"
Ensemble performance of "Another Day of Sun"

It's popular to lament the dearth of quality entertainment in the movie houses these days, but "La La Land" is like a step back in time, yet refreshingly original.  It is a modern day relationship between two people dedicated to pursuing their dreams and it does not have a story book ending.  Though I couldn't hum a single tune from the soundtrack, I thoroughly enjoyed the song and dance routines from the fabulous opening number shot on a car pool ramp where the 105 and 110 Freeways intersect, to Mia and Sebastian's first duet on a cul de sac overlooking L.A. (below), to the dancing on the Milky Way at the historic Griffith Observatory in "Planetarium".

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
"A Lovely Night"

The two hours just flew by and judging from the audience's reaction, we were all sorry to see it end.  "La La Land" has already been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and I think it will figure prominently in the Academy Awards as well.  It is a rare gem of a movie - nostalgic and modern, romantic and realistic, dramatic and funny - and ideal entertainment for this holiday season.

December 25, 2016

A Visit to The Morgan Library

While department stores were jammed with last-minute shoppers in a desperate hunt for something to put under the tree, Christmas Eve found Manhattan museums an oasis of calm!  I took advantage of this lull to pay an overdue visit to one of my favorite small but very fine cultural institutions, The Morgan Library, to catch several exhibitions before they close.
Pencil sketch autoportrait, c. 1834

Let's begin in the upstairs gallery with "Charlotte Brontë:  An Independent Will" an celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the writer's birth.  Similar to the title character in her 1847 novel "Jane Eyre", Charlotte Brontë was a woman ahead of her time.  Not content in the traditional female occupation of governess, she pursued, and succeeded in, a career as an author at a time when the options for gainful employment for women were slim.

The earliest surviving manuscript by Charlotte Brontë
written when she was 12 for her younger sister Anne

This exhibition brings together a collection of original manuscripts and letters, early publications, her portable writing desk and paintbox and even a dress she wore in 1850.  It marks a remarkable collaboration between The Morgan, New York, The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, West Yorkshire, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, who contributed items never before seen in America.  Charlotte Brontë's life may have been short (she died at the age of 38), but it was remarkable and she is honored here as a symbol of what a determined spirit can achieve.

Downstairs, just off the main atrium we find a small gallery dedicated to a recently re-constructed altarpiece by Flemish Renaissance painter Hans Memling.  Here, re-united for the first time since it was taken apart in the18th century, is the magnificent "Triptych of Jan Crabbe".  Created in Brugge circa 1470, the altarpiece is typical of Memling's attention to portraiture and his ability to represent both religious and secular subjects with equal skill and importance.  Two of the panels had been in Mr. Morgan's original collection and are usually on permanent view in the museum's library.  The other panels are on loan from museums in Vicenza, Italy, and Brugge, Belgium, in a remarkable collaboration to present the altarpiece is as close to original condition as possible.

 
Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder
"Martin Luther with Doctor's Cap", c. 1520

Located in a nearby gallery is an exhibition devoted to one of the most influential people in Christianity - Martin Luther.  "Word and Image:  Martin Luther's Reformation" explores the man and his movement through manuscripts, paintings and sculpture and some of the earliest examples of the printed word.

Commemorative portrait of "Martin Luther with Luther Rose" c. 1572

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the church door in Wittenberg thereby challenging the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope and creating a new option for Christian believers.  He did this peacefully using some of the newest technology available at the time - the printing press.  On view is one of the six examples of his "Ninety-Five Theses" still extant, over thirty examples of Luther's publications, as well as numerous works by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Foreground:  Conrad Meit "Adam" and "Eve", c. 1510, boxwood sculptures
Background:  Lucas Cranach the Elder "Adam and Eve", 1532, oil on board

Stepping (briefly) back into the 20th century, we cross the hall to "Dubuffet Drawings: 1935-1962", an exhibition featuring approximately one hundred examples of works on paper by the French artist.  Known primarily as the founder of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet was an early proponent of naïve art and his drawings and watercolors are particularly notable for their childlike imagery.

"Michaux griffures blanches [Henri Michaux with White Scratches]", 1942

Using techniques of layering, collage, scratching and rubbing, Dubuffet sought to imbue everyday things with a new life, to be seen in a fresh perspective.

"Vache [Cow]", 1954

Though Jean Dubuffet has enjoyed museum retrospectives around the world, this is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to his works on paper and as such presents a unique perspective on this influential artist.

 
"Galeries Lafayette", 1961

The last stop is Mr. Morgan's library which is always a pleasure to visit but especially so on the day before Christmas as the Morgan's own original manuscript of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is on display for the holidays.  This year the manuscript is opened to the page where Scrooge is coming to the end of his encounter with the ghost of Jacob Marley and, terrified, he is witnessing a scene full of phantoms - many of whom he recognizes.  The original "A Christmas Carol" is just one of the many treasures acquired by J.P. Morgan that is now part of his collecting legacy -  legacy that  I would encourage you to enjoy at his eponymous Library and Museum anytime, but especially over the holidays!
"Mr Fezziwig's Ball"

December 22, 2016

It's Christmas in New York!

One of my favorite holiday traditions is to take a walk down Fifth Avenue one evening in December and enjoy the wonderful decorations.  This year I was waiting for a visit from my French "son" to show him just how beautiful New York can be when enshrouded in colorful lights.  I confess, I did a little reconnaissance before the tour so every stop was vetted and the final version elicited just the "oohs and aahs" I was hoping for!  So here is a recap of Georgina's Holiday Highlights!

Beginning on Fifth Avenue at 59th Street, right in front of the Plaza Hotel, is the Pulitzer Fountain with its concentric circles filled with little evergreens lit with white lights.  It is understated but always one of my favorites with the graceful statue of Pomona at the top like the angel on a Christmas tree.  One block south is the deluxe ladies department store, Bergdorf Goodman.  Housed in the former Beaux Arts mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Bergdorf Goodman caters to the most stylish and upscale fashionistas on the planet and their windows are some of the best in town.  Needless to say, they pull out all the stops for the holidays and this year's edition, entitled "Destination Extraordinary" is extra special as it celebrates the emporium's 125th birthday.

 "The Scenic Route"

"The Book Club"

Kitty corner from Bergdorf's is another iconic shopping mecca, the legendary Tiffany and Co.  Not satisfied to simply decorate the windows, for the past few years the designers have covered the exterior walls with lights making the six story building look like a giant, sparkling piece of diamond jewelry.  The large star is actually suspended over the intersection of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Since 2002 it has been re-named the UNICEF Snowflake and this latest version is the largest outdoor crystal chandelier of its kind.

The Tiffany show windows are always exquisite, but especially at this time of year.  I thought one of the best was this dining table set for a feast complete with miniature Tiffany place settings.

Continuing down Fifth Avenue we passed the Cartier mansion with its massive red bow - now made of lights rather than fabric ribbon - and enhanced with white light versions of the Cartier panther climbing up the corner and lurking on an upper edge

Just past Saint Patrick's Cathedral, now even more splendid after a major cleaning and restoration project, is yet another luxury department store, Saks Fifth Avenue.  The windows at Saks have never been my favorites, but this year it's a different story.  The designers have animated the story of "The Nutcracker and The Mouse King" in a series of six windows called the "The Nutcracker Sweet", and they are marvelous.  Judging by the crowds straining to get a good look, I wasn't the only one enthralled by these confections.



As if these magical windows were not enough, the entire ten-story high facade of the store is covered in lights which blink and flash in a spectacular light show put on every ten minutes from 5 - 11 PM.  

Directly across from Saks is the "grand daddy" of New York Christmas displays - the Rockefeller Center tree.  A slow promenade down the Channel Gardens past its white angels with their heralds held high brings us to the famous skating rink.  Here, skaters of all abilities swirl and stumble beneath the spectacular 94-foot-tall Norway Spruce wrapped up in 5 miles of LED lights.  This was the moment we had been waiting for and it did not disappoint.  My French visitor was open-mouthed, and so, even as a jaded New Yorker, was I!

And now I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my wonderful readers a blessed Christmas filled with the many joys of this very special season.  May the magic of Christmas remain with you throughout the year.

December 15, 2016

"Artists and Lovers"

One of the most recent additions to the New York gallery scene is a pop-up satellite of London-based Ordovas.  Owned by the glamorous Pilar Ordovas, this small but very elegant gallery is discretely located in a townhouse on East 77th Street.  Its inaugural exhibition is a continuation of a critically acclaimed show that opened in the Savile Row premises in September.  Titled "Artists and Lovers", the exhibition explores artistic partnerships of the 20th century's greatest icons.

Superbly curated, the show presents separate works created by husbands and wives, lovers and soulmates, with the idea that no one creates in a vacuum.  These sculptures, paintings and objects demonstrate that while each artist is an individual, there is a creative dialogue between artistic partners.
Frida Kahlo "Autorretrato", 1940

Some of the pairings are quite familiar like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock and Elaine and Willem de Kooning.  Others are less well known like Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy and Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst.  And a few are rather surprising like Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell!  Every work presented is a lovely example of the artist's oeuvre and the overall effect is very impressive.

 Bartender working with a Merce Cunningham dance video in the background

In addition to traditional artist couples, Miss Ordovas has also explored relationships between visual and performance artists through a program of live presentations.  Last month, in the London gallery, she offered a series of concerts by pianist Annie Yim playing music by John Cage who had deep personal relationships with the artists Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.  Last evening, in New York, I had the great pleasure to be invited to a soirée featuring performances of Merce Cunningham's "Cross Currents" a collaboration between the choreographer and John Cage that debuted in London in 1964.

 
Executed by one man and two women dressed in black tights and white tops, each dancer had his or her own, separate, rhythm but came together at the end of the phrase.

The dancers moved like a pendulum from one end of the gallery to the other with the beautiful artwork as a backdrop.

Accompanied by a piano, the dancers played separately and together as had the artists in the exhibition worked alone and in concert with their mates.  It was a short but impactful performance and a very good metaphor in these unsettled times - we can all strive to be unique but together at the same time.  "Artists and Lovers" will be on view at Ordovas until January 7.

November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Greetings!

One of my favorite days of the year is Thanksgiving - a uniquely American holiday celebrated by everyone regardless of religion or region or race.  While the rest of the world is slogging through another November Thursday, Americans are enjoying a holiday that is focused on friends, family and feasting!

Two "Pilgrims" Riding a Turkey Float

Of course the turkey dinner is the centerpiece of most Thanksgivings, but many start the day off with another great American tradition - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!  2016 marked the 90th Anniversary of this wonderful event which begins its track on 77th Street and Central Park West and passes quite close to where I live.  This morning, as I have for the past 19 Thanksgiving mornings, I joined the approximately three million other spectators who lined the parade route to cheer the floats and bands and especially the humongous helium balloons for which the parade is famous.

Charlie Brown

Fortunately the weather forecasters' predictions of rain showers did not come true, but the sky was overcast and the temperature a chilly 44 degrees.
Some of the balloon characters were familiar to all...

Ronald McDonald
Some less so...

Hello Kitty

Some I had to rely on the children in the group to identify...

Wimpy Kid

And some I still don't recognize!

???

One of the highlights for me was the New York City Police Department Marching Band...

And their balloon mascot...

I wasn't the only one who loved this band...a police officer proposed to his girlfriend on the street right in front of me!  He got down on bended knee, and fortunately she said "yes"!!!

Everybody seemed to be having a great time - especially this young man in his turkey hat!

In the spirit of this great American holiday, I'd like to wish my wonderful readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May your feast be blessed with friends, family and good fortune.