September 26, 2012

"Discovering Columbus"

As we all learned in elementary school, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and discovered America.  400 years later the event was commemorated with a marble statue of the explorer by Italian artist Gaetano Russo.  For 120 years, Christopher Columbus has witnessed many changes from atop his 75 foot perch at the intersection of Eighth Avenue, Central Park West, West 59th Street and Broadway, commonly known as Columbus Circle.  But despite his central location, this is one statue which is never really looked at by most of the passers by.

At least until now!

Under the auspices of the Public Art Fund and thanks to the generosity of private and corporate donors, the Master Mariner is now the center of a new art installation project that will knock your socks off!  For a limited time, visitors to Columbus Circle can view the statue practically at eye level and in the comfort of a living room.  That's right - a living room!  As imagined by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, the 13 foot tall statue of Christopher Columbus is now surrounded by a fully furnished living room with windows looking East, South and West! 

I had noticed the scaffolding going up around the statue's base and then I heard something about an art project but nothing specific until last week when The New York Post featured a color photo on the front page of the paper.  I HAD to go.  In fact, I went the next day to pick up my free timed-entry tickets from the information counter at the Time Warner Center (they are also available on-line at  This afternoon I joined the queue and waited my turn to climb the six flights of steps inside the scaffolding to mount the base of the statue to the top.
Like many other people I have passed by Christopher Columbus hundreds of times, on foot, in a cab or in a city bus, but never paid it that much attention.  I was therefore surprised to see the beautiful bronze ships' prows and anchors that decorate the granite column.  Upon arriving at the top, my group was greeted by a very friendly guide who welcomed us to sit on the furniture and take all the photos we wanted but to please not touch the statue.  We then entered a sort of front hall/foyer that led to the main attraction.

My immediate reaction when I turned into the pink wallpapered penthouse was to burst out laughing.  I was not alone.  Imagine entering a living room with a sectional sofa, a flat screen tv, bookshelves, paintings and, oh yes, an enormous marble statue on the coffee table!  The idea was so preposterous that it was really funny.  Here, standing very nonchalantly in the middle of a fairly ordinary living room, is Christopher Columbus, one hand on his hip and the other steering an imaginary vessel's rudder, with his gaze fixed on Eighth Avenue! 

"Discovering Columbus" remains open to the public until November 20th at which time he will be treated to a long-overdue face lift and restoration.  I can't wait to go back and see it again - maybe in the evening when the city lights are on or on a rainy day or when the leaves in Central Park have changed color.  What an absolutely fabulous way to celebrate this icon of the New World!

September 23, 2012

"Up in the Old Hotel" - New York Stories by Joseph Mitchell

When I moved to New York at the tender age of 21 it was a dream come true.  I was in love with the city, and the fact that it was dirty and dangerous in many places only added to the allure.  I couldn't believe that I was actually going to a Broadway show, shopping at B. Altmans, eating bagels and lox, and being a "New Yorker".  Now, nearly thirty years later, the city has changed but the romance for me continues and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Recently, a friend was astonished that with my unwavering infatuation with the city I had not read "Up in the Old Hotel".  I ordered it immediately and have been engrossed ever since.

Although Joseph Mitchell was born in North Carolina in 1908, he, like me, moved to New York when he was 21 and made it his adopted home.  He began working as a reporter for The World, The New York Herald Tribune and The New York World Telegram before being hired by The New Yorker in 1938.  It was here that he produced his best work - sage and witty observations of New York City and its inhabitants, and it is the best of these essays that comprise "Up in the Old Hotel".

The 37 short stories reproduced in this volume are divided into four books and cover the period from the Great Depression through 1964.  The prose is simple and judicious but very descriptive.  With short sentences written in the present tense, Mr. Mitchell creates tension and suspense as the readers wonders what fate will ultimately befall the characters.   Some are factual and some are fictional, but all contribute to the color of Old New York.

Take, for instance, the story of "Mazie", a "bossy, yellow-haired blonde" who works as a ticket seller at The Venice Theatre on Park Row.  By no means a wealthy woman, Mazie has a heart of gold and when her shift is over, she wanders The Bowery giving money and food to anyone she finds who is down on his luck.  Or "The Don't Swear Man" whose mission in life is to rid the world of cussing, one convert at a time.  Or "Old Mr. Flood", a 93 year old "Seafoodetarian" who firmly believes that a diet of shellfish will keep him alive for another twenty years.  Or the compelling description of the Mohawk Indians, originally from Quebec, who gained fame and fortune as steel beam riveters working on the high rise building for which the skyline is now so famous.

It was all I could do not to race through the book and read one story after another so they finally blurred together.  Instead, I practiced what was for me remarkable discipline and savored one or two essays at a time.  It would be impossible to pick a favorite, but I must say the story of an itinerant called John S., or "Santa Claus" Smith, would be a contender.  Mr. Smith was in the habit of rewarding those kind folks who gave him a lift or a meal or simply a smile, with a "check".  Written on the imprint of the already defunct Irving National Bank in amounts ranging from a thousand to over a half million dollars, these check were sheepishly submitted by the recipients to its successor, the Irving Trust Company on Wall Street.  The fact that the checks were bogus is completely overshadowed by the exuberance and generosity with which they were written and offered.

Reading "Up in the Old Hotel" was like stepping back in time.  Not necessarily a nicer time, but an epoch in the rich history of this wonderful, ever-changing city.

September 18, 2012

Announcing Catalogue Number Seven!

I am pleased to announce the publication of my seventh catalogue!

Georgina Kelman :: Works on Paper presents Catalogue Number Seven, offering a choice selection of fine prints, drawings and watercolors by European and American artists from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age. This year you will find items ranging from a Belle Epoque theater program that folds out into a fan to Henri Evenepoel's charming lithograph "Au Square", from a risqué quartet of etchings depicting the four major arts to the elegance of James Tissot's "Quarrelling".  Once again it is an eclectic mix with something for everyone and every budget.   Please feel free to contact me for your copy.

In the Kelman house, the launch of my catalogue marks the true beginning of the fall season.  I hope you will check back often as I explore what's new here in New York and wherever my travels take me.  Bye for now!

September 03, 2012

"Dürer and Beyond" at the Met

Generally considered the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) did not live and work in a vacuum.  Indeed, he influenced not only his contemporaries in Italy, Germany and Holland but the reach of his theories of perspective and proportions extended to artists, particularly printmakers, for generations.

Modern museum-goers tend to frequent shows that pack a popular punch - something hip and sexy like Andy Warhol or Alexander McQueen and certainly not Old Master drawings and prints.  However, in an effort to give greater exposure to their fine collection of Renaissance works on paper, one of the Met's summer offerings was "Dürer and Beyond:  Central European Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1400 - 1700".  The exhibition showcases not just Albrecht Dürer, but also his compeers and his imitators in Nuremberg, Northern Europe and Italy and demonstrates just how profound an influence he had in the art world of that time and beyond.

I am not usually a procrastinator, but for some reason I could not seem to get to the Met to see this show until I realized that it was literally now or never.  So the Friday of Labor Day weekend, a beautiful summer afternoon here in New York, I walked over just to see the show before it closed.  I'm glad I did because there were some really superb examples of 15th, 16th and 17th Century drawings on display, but I was a little disappointed that the Dürers comprised only a small percentage of the exhibition.

Some of my favorite works included "Six Studies of a Pillow", 1493, a sketch in pen and brown ink by the master himself.  I also loved Dürer's very early pen and ink drawing entitled "Fortuna in the Nude", 1498, that demonstrated his fascination with human proportions.  Finally, the "Head of a Young Woman Facing Left", a 1522 chalk drawing on green paper was exquisite (see right).

Other outstanding works by some of Dürer's followers would have to include an illustration from a late 16th century "Album of Tournaments..." that depicted a design for a parade sleigh in which two apparently naked men are playing chess while bathing in a tub being pulled by a horse!  Also an absolutely darling watercolor on vellum of a hedgehog done in 1584 by Hans Hoffmann, that looked so real one wanted to pick him up.

Finally, I was fascinated by a pair of works, one a pen and ink drawing and the other an oil on panel, both done in 1630 by Nicolaus Knüpfer on the theme of Venus and Cupid.  Each image depicts a nude Venus reclining on a divan but in one Cupid is freely urinating on the carpet nearby and in the other Cupid is on the bed with her but she has knocked over a nearby chamber pot with her foot.  Rather than being merely vulgar scatological references, this iconography referred directly to intercourse and therefore the fertility of love.  Live and learn!

I was very glad I made the effort to catch "Dürer and Beyond" before it closed and I'm sorry to be so late in mentioning it in my blog.  Suffice to say, any chance to catch a future show of his prints or drawings should not be missed.

September 01, 2012

A Visit to Historic Charlottetown, PEI

The waterfront city of Charlottetown has the soul of a small town but the energy of one much larger.  Although its population comprises just 35,000 residents, it offers cultural and educational opportunities far beyond the usual scope of a community of this size.  And as the Capital City of the Province of Prince Edward Island, it is the Seat of a small but fully functioning Legislative Assembly.

The name "Charlotte Town" was adopted in 1764 by the British Surveyor General, Captain Samuel Holland, in honor of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.  With the growth of Charlotte Town as the administrative center of the island province and as a military headquarters, it became a city in 1855.  By then the island's legislature had outgrown its haphazard meeting spots in pubs and private salons and an imposing three story stone government building was constructed in the center of town.

It was here in "Province House" that the leaders of Upper Canada (now Ontario), Lower Canada (now Quebec), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island first met to discuss the possibility of joining the colonies together as one.  The agreement reached in Charlottetown on the 1st of September, 1864, provided the foundation for what ultimately became the Dominion of Canada on July 1st, 1867.  The title "Birthplace of Confederation" is proudly proclaimed to this day!

I first visited Charlottetown with my parents on a summer vacation in the 1960s and have returned regularly over the years.  Each time I go back I am impressed with how perfectly the city has adapted to the expanding population of both tourists and locals.  With a very keen regard for its impressive history, Charlottetown has managed to accommodate 21st Century needs with a very genteel sensibility.  Historic homes and buildings are beautifully preserved and sometimes re-purposed to compliment the changing times.  To walk in downtown Charlottetown is to tread a lovely path between the past and the present.

Have a seat and a chat with
Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada!

I have been familiar with the very high quality of the Charlottetown theatre scene since I saw my first production of "Anne of Green Gables", a musical adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's marvelous children's novel, at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in 1969.  The show is still playing to packed houses 48 years since its premiere and I must admit I have seen it (and loved it) several more times!  But there is a lot more to Charlottetown culture than the ubiquitous "Anne".  Both within the Centre and at various surrounding venues there is no shortage of opportunities to enjoy great live theatre or music from Ceilidhs to Johnny Cash.

Another great reason why I keep coming back to Prince Edward Island and Charlottetown is the fabulous food!  Over the past few years an explosion of fine restaurants featuring excellent local products prepared by a new generation of chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of Canada, in the City's Holland College.  A visit to a local eatery, no matter how humble, is a gourmet experience.  Local breweries provide hearty ales to accompany delicious fish 'n chips.  Canadian wines are the perfect choice for a lobster dinner preceded by PEI mussels or oysters on the half-shell.  And the perfect dessert - an ice cream at Cows!

Of course, part of the charm of Prince Edward Island is a chance to recapture nice memories of my youth, but nostalgia only goes so far.  It is the Island's unfailing ability to cocoon its visitors with the best of both past and present that makes an annual trip to PEI something to look forward to all year long!