Day: July 22, 2009

Studio Museum in Harlem

Today the intern group headed uptown to 125th street and the Studio Museum in Harlem.  Since I spent my last year of grad school deeply steeped in African American art via a Harlem Renaissance Seminar and TAing for African American Art History,  I was really excited to see the museum.  125th Street is the main street of Harlem; the Apollo Theater is on 125th, and it seems as though it is a location where the community congregates.  Harlem is actually fairly pretty, architecturally; lots of lovely old brownstones.  The Studio Museum is located on 125th and is a primarily contemporary institution focused on the nurturing and display of artists of African descent.  The museum also has a really famous residency program and has an annual high school program based on the photography of James Van der Zee.

The museum currently has an exhibit of work by the British-Jamaican artist Hurvin Anderson, which provides a formal analysis of the medium of painting while also covering the Jamaican community in London.  The work deals heavily with issues of visual memory as well.

The permanent collection is represented in several areas.  A collection called “Small Things” is a really wonderful display of objects from the collection that are smaller in size.  This exhibit has some real gems, such as a wonderful collages by Wangechi Mutu, a works by Eldzier Cortor and Romare Bearden, and a hilarious smashed piggy bank installation by David Hammons.  A nearby exhibition focuses on works which historically fall into the “craft” category, including works made in a primitive style and works that focus on actual crafts such as knitting and woodworking.  A downstairs permanent collection display called Black and Blue draws from works that are primarily black or blue.  This formal study of course takes on a metaphorical meaning in the context of the Studio Museum–black is obvious, blue is for the blues, etc.

The Studio Museum got its name because it was envisioned as a place for new black artists to work (studio) and grow.  This program matured into the artist-in-residency program.  Each year three artists are chosen and given space to work, a living stipend, and a show at the end of their tenure.  Well known artists have emerged from this program, such as David Hammons and Wangechi Mutu.  This year’s artists are Adam Pendleton, Dawit L. Petros, and Khalif Kelly.  Pendleton is an untrained artist from Virginia who works a lot with language and mirrors and plays upon our conceptions of how language is used in art.  Petros works a lot with color and ideas of reducing life into color, which results in a series of minimalist style works.  Kelly was by far my favorite artist: his works are giant beautiful colorful fauvist canvases painted in a pixellated, early-video game style that tell the story of two characters on a life-changing journey.  I really loved these works; they are whimsical and really steeped in art historical knowledge and an awareness of modern day graphics and imagery.  I’ve remarked lately how impressed and pleased I am by developments made in “high” media–painting and sculpture–as opposed to new media such as video and sound.  Kelly once again proves that some of the most exciting art produced today is being made in the most traditional of forms.

The high school program is also a yearly program where local high school students are taught about the work of James Van Der Zee, a photographer who lived in and photographed Harlem for sixty years.  He was also a prominent photographer of subjects during the Harlem Renaissance.  The high school students are then given a camera and taught photography, and their projects are exhibited at the end of their year-long program.  I was actually really impressed by some of the work displayed by these students: they captured their subjects really sensitively and even broached some historically difficult topics, such as issues of beauty and hair in black culture and issues of the queer black community.

We were given a tour of the museum by the assistant curator.  Evidently Thelma Golden, the museum’s director and a celebrity in the contemporary art world, usually gives the tour but she was off doing fund-raising stuff.  Uber-sad, it would have been incredible to meet her.  Regardless we had a great question and answer session at the end of the tour with the assistant curator and the head of the PR department.  The discussion was extremely interesting and covered everything from the museum’s decision to focus on the entire diaspora as opposed to only African American artists to the museum’s attempt to maintain neutrality despite its being a museum for the display of work pertaining to the African diasporic experience.  Two-thumbs up for the Studio Museum, especially their artist-in-residence program.

After our tour Theresa and I headed on a journey to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to see Aaron Douglas’ Aspects of Negro Life series.  The work consists of four murals that were commissioned for the then-Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library (now Schomburg Center) and now they hang out in the Schomburg Center’s reading room.  These are works I have seen a lot over the past year, so I really wanted to see them in person.  I have to admit, actually seeing the work made me fearful for their well-being.  The paint seems to be fading in many of the canvases, and some of the areas are even a little splotchy.  i’m glad I finally saw the works in person but I hope that they are being well-preserved.  Fingers crossed.

After stopping by a shaved ice carts to get a mango snow cone (these little carts are all over the city, I figured I’d give one a try), I headed home to eat my leftover pizza from last night (still delicious) and to read my book/relax in preparation for meeting some old family friends at Nobu 57.  That was a fabulous meal, but you’ll have to wait for the next post for pictures and description!


Last night I met a friend at Kesté, which New York Magazine rated as making the best pizza pies in New York City.  Kesté is on Bleeker between 6th and 7th, on a stretch that includes numerous restaurants including New York Hot Dog, Amy’s Bread, Murray’s Cheese, the Lobster Places, the venerable John’s Pizzeria (literally right across the street from Kesté) and Rocco’s.  Among many other restaurants.  It is a testament to both Kesté’s word of mouth as well as the actual awesomeness of the food that on a rainy and horrible night there was a wait of over an hour for a table.  And yes, my friend and I waited that hour.  And yes, it was absolutely worth it.

Kesté is old school Neapolitan pizza: San Marzano tomatoes, sparingly used mozzarella, fresh basil, delicious and cheesy crust, all baked in an oven whose construction was porn for the food world even before the restaurant had opened.  Kesté’s owner and head chef is the president of the American Society of Neapolitan Pizza or the American Neapolitan Pizza Society or some variation on that name, so he takes his job seriously.

The restaurant’s owners are clearly intelligent and care about what they do and their clientele.  The host, a dapper Italian man, was constantly popping outside to check on the line of patrons waiting in the rain.  On some of these jaunts he’d come baring pizzas sliced into mini-pieces, which the hungry crowd descended upon like wild wolves.  I tried a white slice, which was covered in a deliciously tangy cheese (maybe goat? I couldn’t tell, I was too hungry) and then a mushroom slice.  Really excellent, and very smart of the restaurant in terms of keeping the crowd semi-satisfied.

We were seated after about an hour of waiting and were immediately taken care of by a cheerful Italian waiter with curly hair.  We ordered promptly: a house salad, a magherita pizza with mushrooms for me, and a sausage pizza for my tablemate.  The house salad came quickly and was dressed in a light vinaigartette and pleasantly studded with grape tomatoes and small chunks of mozzarella cheese.  I also really liked the bread served on the side: it was chewy, with a lovely yeasty flavor.


The pizza was really divine.  The sauce with flavorful and sweet, the cheese really mellow and fresh, and the fresh basil gave the pizza a lovely punch.  The dough was fantastic and really well charred, and the crust was huge and chewy and especially flavored with a lovely smokiness from its char.  Even the mushrooms were great.  Sometimes mushrooms can get lost on a pizza but these had a meaty, woody taste that added to the overall flavor.  Really fantastic, fresh, Italian tasting pizza.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the New York City slice places, but this was an excellent change.  Definitely a great pizza, and worth the wait.


While waiting my friend and I had ogled two women splitting a dessert pizza which looked like pizza dough stuffed with nutella and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  The dessert looked amazing but by the time we were done with dinner we weren’t hungry, so we skipped said carbohydrate-filled-nutella-goodness dessert.  If anyone tries it, let me know.  In the meantime, get thee to Kesté for an affordable, extremely New York City food experience.


Today the intern group took a field trip to Sotheby’s main location on York and 72nd.  We were there to learn about the auction system from Sotheby’s head auctioneer, Hugh Hildesley.  Hildesley has been at Sotheby’s since the 1960s, and is a dapper older British man who basically fulfills every stereotype in your mind but in the best way possible.

Hildesley explained the auction process to us, from how to participate in an auction to issues of commissions etc., and then conducted a mock auction (or Mocktion) as I call it.  We were all given paddles and budgets (I had a pithy budget of $130,o00) and then we had to battle it out over eight lots of Americana from the 1800s.  On the last lot Hildesley claimed to have “lost his voice” and asked for a volunteer auctioneer.

Who do you think volunteered?

I figure, I can talk fast, I’ll be fine.  No.  Running an auction is hard.  I climb up in the little fancy podium where Hildesley was standing and get clipped with a microphone (I stood where many expensive art has been sold, that must count for something!) and I got to hold the pen and the gabble.  I called the lot, a lovely chest with inlaid wood from Massachusetts…and then the bidding started and I lost all sense of intelligence and logic.  I miscounted the bids, I got confused with all the flying paddles, the phone bidders to my sides were distracting me.  Somehow I skipped a bunch of numbers and got to $100,000 dollars without realizing is and it was just DREADFUL.  I think I called the item at $240,000?  Anyhow, I was an utter failure as an auctioneer but whatever, at least now I know that running auctions is not my calling.  Also, every now and then I like to shake myself up to ensure the longevity of my chutzpah.  I think it is up and running.

Moral of the story:  running an auction is really hard, and I have supreme respect for people who choose this profession, as it is not for the faint of heart.