Tagged: NYC

Two Rolled Steel Slabs, Two Ways

I saw a lot of art on a recent trip to New York, but I think the works that made the biggest impression on me (not literally, thank goodness) were four steel slabs by Richard Serra, two at MoMA made in 1974-75 and two at Gagosian from 2013.

Inside Out (2013) at Gagosian

At Gagosian’s hangar-like Chelsea space, Serra has set up two undulating arcs of beautifully rusted steel about ten or fifteen feet high and 80 feet long each forming corridors and cul-se-sacs for visitors to wander around in.


Some of the spaces are narrow enough to make it awkward to pass other people and others are almost cathedral-like.


The rusted steel looks almost like velvet in some places and its shape and angle reminds you of the hull of a ship.


In at least one spot, you can see bootprints on the steel, and the seams where the plates are connected are not hidden but neither are they ostentatious.


Delineator (1974-75) at MoMA

In an otherwise ordinary gallery space at MoMA, a piece called Delineator is installed. It takes a moment to even realize there’s something there.  On the floor, a slab of steel with a smooth finish that you’re invited to walk upon.


As you do, you notice the second slab, attached to the ceiling right above but offset 90 degrees from the one on the floor. The slab on the ceiling seems to have a rougher texture, maybe because nobody’s been walking on it.


Once again, you are in a sense “inside” the work, even part of it, but this piece from the ’70s contains a lot more menace than the sensual curves of the 2103 work. You’re forced to touch the work by walking on it and you’re forced to ponder what’s keeping the 2.5 ton slab up there. Where Inside Out is welcoming and even playful, Delineator (as the name suggests) asks point blank, “are you in or are you out?”

I’d rather live with or in the 2013 Serra, but the 1975 piece appeals to me more as art that makes you think a little as you pass through it. It’s nearly impossible to “get” these pieces from pictures or blogs, so see them in person if you get the chance.

Look closer at big abstract paintings

Have you ever waited for-effing-ever for some inconsiderate nerd to stop communing with the art and step away from right in front of a painting in a museum so you could get a clear photo of it? Well, at least in some cases, I am that nerd, and you should spend more time looking at the painting before you photograph it anyway.

MoMA wall text next to Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis

If you don’t know Barnett Newman’s work, you should. If you’ve seen it but never gotten real close, shame on you, get back there and get right up in there. At the very least, get close enough that the painting fills your field of view and you have to walk or move your head to see the edges. With Vir Heroicus Sublimis, which is about 8 feet tall and over 17 feet wide, that shouldn’t be too hard. Here’s a sample.

Part of the middle of Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis. Click to enlarge.

OK, maybe not the most accessible part of the work, but that’s all the more reason to go see the real thing.  It’s at MoMA. There are other Newman paintings elsewhere, too. Here’s a full view to give you a sense of scale, by flickr member Hank. Color balance is as color balance does, I’d say the truth is somewhere in between, less orange, more carmine.

Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Hold up a rock where Stieglitz stood

I read in the New Yorker (well, on the New Yorker’s Goings On About Town app) that Giuseppe Penone had installed three life-size and lifelike bronze trees in Madison Square Park and balanced some boulders up in them.

The most understated and ecologically minded artist of the Italian Arte Povera movement has planted a trio of bronze trees, the largest of which weighs twelve thousand pounds. Boulders, placed in the crooks of their branches, appear to defy gravity. The trees were cast in pieces and reassembled on location; the results look at once vital and petrified. It’s not apt to call the Italian sculptor’s work site-specific—Penone’s uncanny arbor could be installed anywhere—but in the heart of Manhattan, the transformation of nature into culture has a particular bite. Through Feb. 9.

This I had to see, and so I did. The bronze trees are – or at least appear to be from the fence that protects them from us or vice versa – amazingly life-like and not immediately distinguishable from their wooden neighbors until you notice the boulders and if you look for them, the seams where sections are welded together. But I have to disagree with the writer at The New Yorker about the site specificity – sure, they could be anywhere, but they are special here.

Ideas of Stone, by Guiseppe Penone,  in Madison Square Park

The media photos for this work carefully ignore Madison Square Park’s most famous architectural neighbor, the Flatiron Building. Some of the photos show the Empire State Building, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but once you put the Flatiron into the picture with Penone’s trees, I think you’ve got no choice but to call to mind Alfred Stieglitz’s (or if you insist, Edward Steichen’s) iconic photo of that building through a tree.

As I had some years earlier, I tried to find a composition similar to Stieglitz’s but this time using one of Penone’s trees. Instagram doesn’t have a setting for Camerawork Gravure, but it adds a little fake nostalgia. Yes, I know it’s not really at all similar.

Flatiron Building and Bronze Tree with Boulder

I suggest you get there if you can, the installation will somehow be removed February 9. If you witness that, please share photos.

The most uptowniest Starbucks in Manhattan is not on the island of Manhattan

I thought I was so edgy, I checked in at the Starbucks on 181st street in Washington Heights and noted that I was at the northernmost Starbucks in the borough of Manhattan. How wrong I was, by two coffee shops and an interesting carto-historical technicality.

Like many Manhattanites, I was guilty of conflating the island of Manhattan, the borough of Manhattan, and the civilized world. Understandable, I’m sure you’ll agree.  But what gives about the most uptowniest Starbucks? Well, it turns out there are two Starbucks establishments in Marble Hill, a chunk of political Manhattan physically embedded in the Bronx thanks to the motion of history and the Harlem river.

If you look at maps closely, you’ll see the border line. Marble Hill has a Bronx zip code and Bronx school district, but Manhattan representation. It used to be part of the island of Manhattan but was made an island by a canal and later joined to the Bronx by the infilling of the original course of the Harlem river. The more you know.

For extra credit, check out the excellently named Spuyten Duyvil Creek, anagrammed subway station maps (Damn Tyck Trees!), and Vanshnookenraggen’s excellent subway map poster showing the Marble Hill stop on the 1.

November Redemption

A casual Yankees fan at best – I fail all tests of fanaticism for sports – I watched the 2009 World Series with more than passing interest, and it delivered the bookend I had hoped for, closing a chapter opened at the 2001 series.

In 2001, the world series was delayed – but not canceled – by the September 11 attacks. The series started late on October 27, and finished with game seven on November 4.  The ninth inning opened with the Yankees ahead of the Diamondbacks 2-1 and seemingly untouchable closer Mariano Rivera on the mound.  Arizona scored two more runs and won the series.

The Yankees made it to the World series just one more time for the rest of the Bush administration, and lost that one four games to two.

In 2009, the series started on October 28 and finished with game six on November 4.  The ninth inning opened with the Yankees ahead of the Phillies 7-3 and all too human closer Mariano Rivera on the mound.  And close the game he did, and the Yankees won their 29th title.

Sure, an eight-year drought is nothing compared to what other teams have gone through.  But I felt that New York (the city, not the team) needed a win in 2001 more than just any year, and I’m hopeful that this win in the first post-Bush series indicates a positive reversal of fortune for the city, the country and maybe even the world.