Month: June 2009

Dan Graham is kind of awesome.

Tonight I attended at Sotheby’s Institute talk with Dan Graham.  The talk was open only to interns in the New York area, so there was an interesting spread of people from the Whitney, the Guggenheim, Sotheby’s auction house, and various other galleries and institutions. Sotheby’s was clearly trying to court us into their program: there were numerous brochures advertising Sotheby’s graduate programs in art history and art business in New York, London, and Singapore.  They also fed us cookies.  No one can resist cookies.

Anyhow, the program started a little late (of course).  First one of the directors of Sotheby’s spoke, then the head of the Contemporary Art program in NYC spoke.  She’s friends with Graham and spent about fifteen minutes listing his accolades which are vast and we get it already.  Dan Graham, in the meantime, sat in a leather chair looking pretty much like a snow-bird: old brown pants, black shoes, striped not-matching socks, and a really fantastic quasi-Hawaiian shirt with a blue checkered background and bright green flowers.  He wears glasses, has white spikey hair that stands up straight, and has a beard, also white.

After the talk facilitator finished proclaiming Dan Graham’s victories the talk commenced.  And many things were learned.  For instance, remember that article I posted the other day from the NYTimes about Dan Graham?  Ignore it.  Dan Graham hates it.  He called it a “dangerous and misleading” article.  He also hates the NYTimes, and thinks they have dull and poorly written articles.  He prefers the Daily News, says they have better sports columns.

Dan Graham was really fascinating.  I’ve been to some artist talks where the artist never really answers the questions and refuses to reveal anything personal about him or herself.  Luckily Dan and the facilitator clearly had a friendship and rapport, so he was open to her questions and also to some of the questions asked by interns at the end of the talk.  Graham has a stutter and sometimes it can take him awhile to get a thought started, but once the idea kicks in he is on a roll and is awesome.

He talked about how he wanted to be a writer and never really considered himself an artist until later on in his career.  The 60s art scene was evidently better than todays in that categories did not really exist: everyone considered themselves writers/artists/performers.  The divisions we have today did not exist.  Graham briefly had a gallery on the UES that showcased work by Lewitt, Judd, Smithson, and other conceptual artists from that time, and it is clear that he really admires and respects their work.  He does not shy away from openly claiming that other artists have influenced him.  In fact that kind of hero worship is an integral part of his work, as evidenced by a piece in the Whitney Retrospective that is a slide show of artists and works that have influenced him.  He is not impressed by today’s critic-driven, young-hot-new-artist-obsessed art market.  He thinks that the internet is dangerous and full of misleading, incorrect information.  He feels similarly about television.  He loves cinema, however, particularly the experience of watching a film in a cinema filled with other people. In fact the idea of social spaces and social groups is evident in all of his work.  Graham prefers that his pavilions be in lobby areas–places where people interact and socialize.  He wants his art to be populist and democratic: accessible to all.  I know a lot of people think his art is highly conceptual–and it definitely is–but it seems to me that Graham really wants people to just experience his art–emotionally, physically, viscerally–without making intellectual/academic/theoretical leaps.

Graham also seems to dislike the academy.  He stated that people do their best art/writing/work before they get all scholastic and such, and that once people start down the long path of the academic institution their work becomes sterile and lifeless.  Graham himself is not trained.  To Graham, training equals creative demise.

Graham loves rock and roll and the “ecstatic” experience of observing a show in a small cavelike space (he believes all shows should be performed in small dirty clubs) with other people.  I asked him a question of how religion and spirituality plays into his works, as seen in his seminal rock and roll film Rock My Religion (which draws comparisons between rock and roll and Shakerism and positions Patti Smith as a neo-goddess figure) and a “pavilion” (the interactive installation spaces for which he is known) he designed in the shape of the Star of David.  He stated that he isn’t particularly religious and is more interested in that idea of group ecstasy.  He is, however, Jewish, and at one point was commissioned to do a piece in Austria.  At the time Austria was led by a former Nazi (this story is as told by Graham, mind you, so I might get the facts wrong, I was scribbling furiously in my notebook) and he refused to work in that country until that particular politician was out of office.  However, the owner of the old castle where Graham’s work was to be displayed prevailed upon the artist.  Graham designed a subversive Star of David shaped pavilion that sat on the water so that you had to “walk on water.”  The Star of David could only be viewed from above.  Graham called this “Jewish humor,” then went on a tangent about how humor is important in his art and how he loves Mel Brooks and Andy Kauffman and, well, Graham is really awesome y’all.

Yes Graham is incredibly oppinionated and a little perhaps, controversial, but he is also nearly 70 and one of the most important figures of twentieth century art–I think he has every right to his divisive opinions and when I am nearly 70 I hope that I have the chutzpah to say whatever I want without giving a damn as to other people’s reactions.  Graham was really fascinating and inspirational and he gave me much to consider and many new names–writers, artists, curators, filmmakers–to research over the next few weeks.  One of the most intriguing, interesting figures I have encountered in a long, long time.  If you get the chance to check out the Whitney retrospective, do it.

Weekend Update: Part III

Sunday was fairly uneventful in the morning: just laziness and lolling around the apartment.  After Jon left to go to the airport I hopped on the subway to head downtown for the Pride Parade.  I’d always wanted to observe NYC Pride, so I figured I’d go walk along the parade route.  The route started on 5th avenue in the 50s and turned onto 8th Street to head into the West Village and, of course, Christopher Street.  I joined the parade at 23rd Street and walked downtown with the parade to Christopher Street, which was (of course) a madhouse.

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The 20s were fairly calm: lots of flags and music (Madonna, Cher, Black Eyed Peas, anything danceable with a bass beat).  I saw some boobs (evidently toplessness is allowed, or at least ignored, both within the parade and amongst the watchers) which really should not have been displayed.  I picked up a flag around 14th Street.  Lots of older couples were walking around with cute dogs.  The sidewalks also hosted numerous confused tourists, who clearly weren’t sure what precisely they had discovered.

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Yes these are Pride flags with Israeli flags.  Awesome.
Yes these are Pride flags with Israeli flags. Awesome.

Once the parade veered into the Village things got a little crazy.  I ended up alongside the Caribbean Gay Pride contingent for awhile: lots of well-muscled men in feathery outfits.  The woman on the adjoining float was from Trinidad, and once the parade hit Christopher Street she led the crowd in the chants “I like pussy!” (for the women) and “I like big cock” (for the men).  Good, clean, classy fun folks.

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I had to flee once the parade hit Christopher Street.  I was able to see the Stonewall Inn from behind the gates of Christopher Park, but I decided I’d had enough of the heat and the crowds.  People kept asking me where the Pier was (the place where the after-Parade dance party is held) and I had to tell them that I had absolutely no idea.  While I’m glad I got to see the energy in the Village, I think that watching the parade in the 20s, 30s, and above is the most pleasant and least crowded experience.

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Of course there were a lot of marriage-themed floats and marchers.  I think a lot of New Yorkers are angry that the state of New York is less progressive than the state of Iowa.  Overall, however, the mood was joyous.  I’d read an article earlier during the week in New York Magazine about the generational divide separating middle-aged homosexuals and homosexuals in their twenties, and the generally joyous mood of “protest” caused me to really consider what was stated in the article.  An interesting read, if you have time.

After peeling away from the parade I realized I was a) hot b) tired and c) by Bleeker Street which has a ton of frozen yogurt shops (of course).  My sister had told me to check out Yogurtland, a self-serve fro-yo place, so I stopped by and got a mix of green tea, plain tart, and taro (my new favorite flavor) yogurts and doused them with mochi, strawberry, and white chocolate chips.  Self-serve fro-yo isn’t a bad concept but the yogurt was a little too icy for my taste, so I think I’ll return to Red Mango.  Still, a nice pick-me-up after several hours of walking around downtown.

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I headed back uptown, grocery shopped, and ran in the park for a bit before calling it an evening and returning home to tidy up the apartment.  Now all my guests are gone, the apartment is back in order, and I’m trucking through Week Five.  Weekend has been updated, check back for updates from the week!

Monday Sugar Rush: Lady M.

I’ve walked past Lady M., a fancy, snooty looking pastry shop on the corner of Madison and 78th.  SeriousEats has written it up (of course) and evidently they are known for something called a mille crepe, which the website describes as numerous crepes layered with custard.  They also have other lovely cakes, all of which you can view on their website.  The “boutique” (as the shop is described) is stark white with chandeliers and fine china and lacquered tables and chairs to better suit the ladies-who-lunch crowd.  The interior was so stark that I decided to take some cake to enjoy in the comfort of my own apartment.  I ordered a slice of mille crepe (because it is the thing to get) and a slice of strawberry shortcake (because I’ve been feeling fruity these days, as you will soon read).

DSC05443 The shopgirls (there is no other word for them) behind the counter  wrapped my cake slices in plastic paper and placed them a fancy little box with a fancy little sticker. I took the box home to enjoy some of the cakes–don’t worry, I didn’t eat either slice in its entirety.

Both cakes were very light and airy, clearly made with excellent ingredients.  The mille crepe was sweet but not too sweet, but it was a little soggy for my taste (I actually preferred the hardness the cake gained after it spent some time in the refrigerator).  The strawberry shortcake was also excellent, though I wish it had contained more strawberries.  Still, the cake was light and the strawberry-infused cream yummy.  If I go back to Lady M. I’d probably try one of their chocolate cakes, but these two were a treat, and certainly a testament to the cake-making skill happening at Lady M.  If you like your sweets subtle, head here.  If you like to be walloped over the head with processed sugar, head elsewhere.  DSC05444

Pardon the plastic wrap in these pictures.  I wanted to wrap the cakes up again post-sampling, and so didn’t remove the covering all the way.

Mille crepe.

Strawberry shortcake

Weekend Update: Part II

Saturday also involved sleeping in, because sleeping in is awesome and site-seeing is exhausting.  The first stop of the day, after Jon and I became people, was the Whitney, because Jon should see where I work.  I showed him the whole museum–easy to do, as the museum is small–and attempted to explain the Dan Graham retrospective but as was evidenced in the article to which I linked in an earlier post, Dan Graham is difficult to explain.  Still, I appreciated people who don’t know art but are still interested and curious about said art, and Jon is certainly interested and curious, so it all works out.

We then went on a hunt for NYC hot dogs, and ended at the Gray’s Papaya on 3rd and 86th.  We each had a hot dog and shared an order of large spicy curly fries and a large papaya drink.  Awesome.  (The trend of the weekend was not healthy, eating, as you can tell.  Sometimes you just have to go for it).

It was rather hot and sunny outside, so we walked crosstown to seek solace in the air-conditioned confines of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We started in the Egyptian galleries, because Egyptian art is neat (and the Met has tons of it) and because the Temple of Dendur is impressive.

Impressive.
Impressive.

The rest of our time at the Met was a walking tour of various cultures: China and the really fabulous Astor Court, India, a breeze through Europe to see the Goya painting I love and Michelangelo’s so-called first painting, etc.  We wandered through the Francis Bacon retrospective, which I would like to revisit–his work is creepy and visceral at first glance, but I’d like time to really study it.  We also went to the roof to see the Roxy Paine installation, “Maelstrom,” and it was actually one of the more striking rooftop shows I’ve seen at the Met. The installation is one large single-piece sculpture (it is site-specific) that sort of resembles an eerie, frozen, leafless forest.  If the sun catches the metallic limbs just right the structures looks as though it is blanketed in snow.  You can wander in and around the sculpture and you can touch it, so it is definitely an interactive space.  Which, of course, I love.

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After descending from the roof we took another jaunt through the museum to see Damien Hirst’s icky formaldahyde shark (also known as “The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” from 1991″) and then decided to head back to my apartment to rest our sore and tired feet.

After a brief rest and a bit of fandango-ing we took off, once again, to see Up, which neither of us had seen (evidently we are behind in regards to the cultural zeitgeist).  Pixar really cannot fail.  Though I do not think that Up is better than recent films such as Ratatouille or Wall-E(easily my favorite Pixar film) it is still better than most movies that are currently playing in theaters.  Also, the sideplots involving the dogs were hilarious, and the spectacle of countless colored balloons lifting a house was really beautiful and touching.  Some people also think that the marriage montage at the film’s beginning was a little manipulative, but I found it quiet and lovely and honest.  If you haven’t seen Up (you probably already have, I was a bit behind) then go check it out.  Pixar is victorious again!

After the movie, continuing our busy Saturday, we took the subway downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop to take an evening stroll across (and back across) the bridge.  It had rained while we were in the movie (perfect timing!) so the evening was lovely and cool; earlier, the day had been blazingly hot.  Also, the rains left behind a bit of a rainbow.  The Bridge walk was beautiful.  The city seems peaceful and full of possibilities when you are not actually in the thick of it.  One can understand how people romanticize Manhattan when you are viewing it from a bridge above the river.DSC05373

The Statue of Liberty, waaaay off in the distance.
The Statue of Liberty, waaaay off in the distance.

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We walked to Brooklyn, and then walked back (rather than hunt around DUMBO for a subway).   We then took the subway back uptown to get New York style brick-oven pizza at the Upper East Side location of Totonno’s, the famous Coney Island pizza joint that was established inthe 1920s (and which suffered a major fire late last year).  The UES location did not, thankfully, suffer a fire.  Also, it is much closer than Coney Island.

We arrived at the restaurant around 9:15, starving and tired–I don’t understand how people in this city eat dinner at 9:00, but I guess one adapts.  We split a half-white half-magherita pie with sun-dried tomatoes.  Jon preferred the magherita side but I actually liked both sides, though I think I liked the white pizza a bit more (it was nice and garlicky).  I loved the charred crust, though I wish the pizza had been served a bit more piping hot.  However we were sitting outside, so the breeze could have been a factor in the rapid cooling of the pizza.  Also, the pizza doesn’t reheat that well–the crust gets tough.  Still, for better-than-average New York pizza without trekking to Brooklyn or downtown, the UES Totonno’s more than delivers.

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Sometimes hunger trumps photographic integrity.

After dinner I introduced Jon to Pinkberry (Red Mango please come to the Upper East Side) and then we stumbled home, exhausted and footsore after an extremely long but extremely full day of running around New York.

Almost caught up with the weekend.  I’ll try to post tonight about Sunday’s activities, which mostly involved the NYC Pride Parade!