Tagged: NYC

Invisible Manhattanhenge

Last week saw the second and last occurrence of Manhattanhenge this year. If you’ve been blissfully slumbering under a rock, or for some reason just not using Manhattan as the measure of the world, Manhattanhenge is when the setting sun lines up with the (approximately) East-West grid of Manhattan streets.

They say it’s best to observe the ‘henge from as far East as you can get on a wide street that has a clear shot through to the Hudson river. I don’t really relish standing in the middle of such a street to get a shot, so I chose 72nd street at Central Park West, where I could stand just inside the park and get a clear shot down 72nd at least to Riverside Park. There were dozens of others with just the same idea, but we were all foiled by summer haze.

Manhattanhenge, really

I mentioned the phenomenon to a friend who asked, “is it only in Manhattan?” I suppose you can observe something like this anyplace with a regular enough street grid, or even on any single straight street that at some point lines up with the setting sun, but of course (most of) Manhattan has a famously regular street grid, and famously deep canyons of tall buildings.

I also wonder why it’s only at the sunset and not the sunrise – that would give you two more occasions a year for dramatic photos. I guess New York is the city that never sleeps, but not one that gets up very early.

There are probably more elegant ways to figure these things out, but I rather like the view you can get from Sundroid, an app that, among other cool functions, shows the angle at which the sun rises and sets for a given place on a given day. You can find your own personal ‘henge this way.

Manhattanhenge Sunset

This weekend in wooden maps

While hanging out on the LES with the young lions of fintech, I stayed at the newly soft opened Ludlow Hotel and was enchanted by this coffee table in the shape of Manhattan with the street grid incised in it. It sort of reminds me of Max Becher’s Chocolate Broadway.

Manhattan coffee table at the Ludlow Hotel on the Lower East Side

It’s made of wood and it’s a map, what more could I ask for? How about a Central Park filled with actual plants? Done! Sure, you could argue that other parks are not given this treatment or that the reservoir or other major bodies of water are missing, but hey, it’s a coffee table, not google earth.

Manhattan in wood, Central Park in moss

I didn’t have a chance to ask the hotel staff where they got this wonderful thing and the closest I’ve been able to find online is the superficially similar (and unavailable) Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge of (California-based) Galerie Sommerlath.

Manhattan Coffee Table by Doug Edge

I give Edge much credit for including the transit lines, but I prefer the darker finish – and distinctive Central Park treatment – of the hotel’s version. I wonder if the concierge uses it to give directions.

The farther I get from u(niversity)

They say that your MIT credentials get more impressive and valuable the farther you get from MIT. This is nicely illustrated by this thing that happened to me in New York the other day, which most certainly could not have happened in Cambridge. It also, by the way, could only have happened to a reader of paper (not e-) magazines.

I was sitting on a bench outside a Swedish coffee shop reading the MIT Tech Review and not paying much attention to the two guys on the adjacent bench who, as it turns out, were scheming to disrupt the entire world of institutional trading. I put the magazine down and started to gather my things, and the two guys, one British and one South African, commented on how impressed they were with MIT. Assuming they were scientists or engineers, I deflected modestly, “I just went to the business school.” That was all the entree they needed to launch into an NDA-free discussion of their disruptive plans. I won’t describe them here here but if these guys pull it off, you’ll be hearing all about it soon enough.

As we belatedly introduced ourselves, I revealed myself as the fossil I am by handing over a business card. I might as well have offered a clay tablet. They politely photographed the card for storage on their phones and suggested that we connect on facebook as well. I then showed myself to be a luddite by saying, “I declared facebook bankruptcy years ago, the account is there but I never log in.” This was nearly inconceivable. How do I even exist without facebook? They declared that they had to make a video, as if they had spotted the last passenger pigeon or an albino whale and their friends would not believe them.

Fossil, luddite, and to that add antisocial killjoy. I nixed the video but agreed to a selfie (it’s not really a selfie to me if somebody else takes it, but I was in his selfie I guess) that would be shared on twitter.

Bros icing institutional finance

I left the disruptors with the magazine – no doubt they’ll show it to friends and laugh about the use of wood pulp to transmit information – and moved on with a distinct sense of aged decrepitude. On the other hand, if this is the rep that MIT carries with folks from Europe and Africa, maybe I should pack my (stainless steel) brass rat and head farther afield than New York – but only after bringing my facebook page back up to date.

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.