Monday, November 13, 2017

Turning Neon into Art: Patrick Nash Returns after 20 Year Hiatus (Garment District, Manhattan)

My friend Patrick Nash, who has kept his talent for creating fine art like the proverbial lamp under the bushel for two decades, surfaced on the New York art scene in the last few weeks with a show at SL Gallery.

Tonight he gave a Q&A about his work and career, painting a picture of the East Village as it used to be, full of abandoned and semi-abandoned buildings and full of people who saw in the devastated urban landscape an invitation to create. Eventually, however, he invested his time in something more remunerative than pure art to start Patrick Nash Design, which has done all kinds of amazing installations for big and small businesses and well-known artists. It was only when Bill Schwinghammer invited Patrick to install a show in his gallery that Patrick's love of art for art's sake (and neon for neon's sake) was rekindled. Or maybe the love was always there but the bandwidth wasn't. 

In any event, as he related during the Q&A, his 20 years of creating signs and installations for others combined with his always active imagination, led him to create one amazing piece after another, like the work in the photo above, a delicate argon-infused circle around a block of cement suspended like a thought bubble over our heads.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Lively Offering for the Day of the Dead (Mission District, San Francisco)

Although it was a few days after El Dia de Los Muertos when I encountered these marigolds on 24th Street in the Mission District, they were still as vibrant as ever.

Are Buttons, Bells and Buzzers a Vanishing Breed? (Mission District, San Francisco)

Some day everything will be activated by our irises. But until then, I plan to enjoy the beauty and tactile satisfaction of doorbells and buzzers.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

In New York, You Have to be Camera-Ready, Even When You're Homeless (Midtwon Manhattan)

Living the dream? On first impression I was upset, thinking a bunch of tourists were being ironic by filming this homeless guy and then I saw the massive camera and realized this wasn’t a casual endeavor but a major investment and they must be making a film. The so-called homeless dude must have been an actor or maybe even the director, because he was discussing the filming with the crew in a relaxed, collegial way. And, as I walked away, I was still upset.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How Much is that Performance Art in the Window? (Garment District, Manhattan)

Grazia Capri takes the stage in the storefront art gallery known as ChaShaMa on 37th Street in the Garment District. About five us stood in the rain to watch her performance through the window. She retained sharp focus, staring toward us but through us, as she moved through the precise steps of a solo performance she calls "Corpi in Vertigine#2".

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Brick City is Full of Murals (Newark, NJ

I spent a day recently in Newark, NJ, and was surprised--and pleased--to see murals wherever I went. Not only were the images and the stories they told captivating, it was wonderful to see that they hadn't been defaced with graffiti. To me, this speaks to the respect people have for public art. When politicians oppose money for the arts, they should consider the power of public murals to bring beauty and instill community pride. And while pols may think that funding art is a lower priority than, say, funding police departments, they should consider that the lack of graffiti reflects the public's appreciation of the form. Or they can look at research, which has shown "the great power of public art to influence how we move, think and feel in city environments."

Monday, August 7, 2017

The New York Skyline Keeps Changing (Midtown Manhattan)

I had a chance to visit the roof of my office building and was reminded that nearby the construction of skyscrapers in Hudson Yards continues apace. Buildings--especially large ones--always seem so permanent, and yet the massive project, which is taking place over 28 acres in Manhattan, reminds me that buildings come and go. If people are so good at creating cities that reach the sky, why can't we solve world hunger, end poverty, bring everlasting peace? Is it really a defect in human nature or is it just misdirected resources--i.e., if the $20 billion being invested in the Hudson Yards were spent on public health we might be able to, say, end malaria. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

There are Surprises on Every Corner Thanks to Montreal's Embrace of Street Art (Montreal, Quebec)

Montreal is full of street art, and much of it is sanctioned by the city and celebrated each year with a festival. Here's just a tiny sample of what I saw as I wandered around the past week. (Ufunk has more photos of murals from this year's festival and even some images of the artists at work).

The mural on the left took on a very different feel as I walked down the street and saw what was behind the tree.

(This one is signed by Jason Wasserman)

Friday, July 7, 2017

I'm Seeing More and More Platform Controllers, but Can They Alone Solve New York's Subway Crisis? (Times Square Subway Station)

I'm seeing more and more folks in the New York City subways wearing vests that say "Platform Controller." The people who wear them carry flashlights they use to signal to the conductors when they can close the doors and sometimes they shout instructions to stand aside to let people off and not block the doors when people are trying to get on. They definitely provide a sense of order to what often feels like chaos, especially during rush hour, but lately they seem to be the only strategy the MTA is applying to address the growing delays that are snarling travel. On one level, it's reassuring to be reminded that humans can step in when technology fails. But obviously a system that moves 6 million people a day needs more than a few people in smart vests to solve its problems. Cuomo recently declared a state of emergency in the subways, pledging $1 billion for improvements, but with subway delays jumping to more than 70,000 each month, from about 28,000 per month in 2012, the improvements can't come fast enough.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Did the Motion Picture Begin Where Macy's Now Stands--or Not?

I walked passed this plaque the other day. In fact, I've probably walked passed it many times over the years, but this time I noticed it.  Naturally, I thought "Wow! Really?" To think that the motion picture--one of the most influential forms of art and propaganda, that touches literally billions of people, that not only entertains but educates, that not only spreads truth but also lies, that has generated billions of dollars and driven people to suicide--in other words, something that does just about everything--started right here, right at this spot, at a place that once bore the charming and now ancient-sounding name of Koster and Bial's Music Hall?

And then I Googled it. I'm not saying Googling is the be-all and end-all when it comes to fact checking; after all, the internet if full of fake news. And yet I found what I read here on a site called untapped cities under the headline "Lost and Incorrect Historical Plaques in NYC" persuasive:

"It may have been Edison’s first, but not where the motion picture began. The showing in 1896 was just the first showing of Edison Kinetoscope films on screen to a paying audience, not the first screening of a projection film which happened in Paris 1895, by the Lumiere Brothers. In fact, Edison only allowed this 1896 screening to happen after there were “wide-spread projections of the Kinestoscope films by unauthorized showmen,” reports Raymond Fielding in A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television."

So apparently even plaques, which seem inherently honest in their fixity and stolid plainness can be as slippery as a Sean Spicer press conference. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

In a World of Fake News, is Graffiti More Reliable (Times Square, Manhtattan)

When I've traveled to Latin America, I've often seen political graffiti decrying the abuse of those in power or promoting the agenda of a particular party. But I rarely see political messages scrawled on American walls. This one, scrawled on a door near a subway exit/entrance was short and sweet--"Trump WW III?"--but it kind of says it all.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Handmaid's Tale meets Alien in Times Square

Often on Saturday, a choir (I think they might be Amish) sings in the busy Times Square subway station. They set up in front of a panel of back-lit ads that changes from week to week. On a recent Saturday, the juxtaposition of puritanically-styled singers next to a promo for the latest Alien flick seemed to carry a hidden message. The end is near? Ain't life funny? What we define as 'alien' is only a matter of perspective?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Over the Hillz (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

As Hillary fades from history (although hopefully she still has more to contribute) so do the posters that had tried to turn her into an icon. And threw Mao in just for the hell of it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Empire State Building (Midtown Manhttan)

It's a wonderful New York tradition that the Empire State Building changes its colors to celebrate various people, places and causes. Today the ESB turned magenta in honor of International Women's Day and HeForShe (which I'd never heard of but sounds pretty cool.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Moonlight Memories (Lincoln Center)


I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Moonlight last October at the New York Film Festival. I remember reading the description of the film and thinking, "A movie about being black and gay? Sounds interesting." And of course I was happy we bought the tickets because it turned out to be amazing.

I never posted the photos because I took them with my phone, which does a lousy job in low light. But in honor of Moonlight's Oscar win, I thought I could celebrate by sharing them.

Congrats Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, and the rest of the creators, cast and crew!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fighting for a Free Press (Times Square, Manhattan)

In the desire to protect American values — and rights — that are under direct fire (this week the vulnerable value is a free press--see this, this and this) a demonstration started at The New York Times building and wended its way to the studios of Fox News.

Protest signs are the new street art, but the best signs at this protest were real signs but the tape some people wore over their mouths (although I also liked the "unpaid protester" sign, visible just above the hat of the woman with the blue tape.)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Pigeons in a Tree (Upper West Side, Manhattan)

These three birds were sitting in a tree as a I exited the subway. Pigeons, of course, are common in the city--flying rats, some people call them. But I rarely see them sitting in a tree. Usually they're strutting across the pavement or perched on a fire escape or window ledge. And they also seemed oddly personable, sitting calmly as they were just a few feet from a busy subway entrance/exit.

Maybe they were behaving strangely because the day was strange--over 60 degrees in the middle of February, another sign that we've entered an alternate universe.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Subways need cleaning too (Times Square, Manhattan)

Subway stations in New York City tend to be filthy. The tracks are often filled with muddy puddles and festooned with trash--old papers, discarded food wrappers and the rotting detritus of urban life. Not to mention rats. There are almost always rats splashing in the puddles, investigating the garbage, scaling the rails and then vanishing seconds before the train arrives.

And the rafters are equally disgusting. If you look overhead, the girders and beams are covered with soot and stalactites of grime. Compared to rail and rafters, the platforms tend to be clean (although I've seen plenty of trash and the occasional rat there as well). I suppose it's because the Transit Authority actually sends employees to clean the platforms--or at least they did at 1 a.m. on my way home. The crowd stood to the side to avoid getting wet, but I'm pretty sure we all shared a sense of amazement that someone was applying soap and water to a place synonymous with dirt.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Protest, Protest, Protest (Lower Manhattan)

It's not surprising that "the most unpopular new president in modern times" is generating daily protests, including a vow to ensure rallies follow him wherever he goes. The remarkable thing is how many people show up at these rallies--three times as many showed in Washington for the Women's March as attended his inauguration (and 2.5 million joined them around the world). Of course, numbers can always be questioned but with the president making such a big issue out of them, people seem to be more meticulous in their counting.

These photos are from a protest and march against Trump's executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-dominant countries. The march went from Battery Park to Foley Square. Media reported that about 10,000 attended but, as Trump would say, it looked like more than that to me.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Sense of Risk: Culture, Trampolines and Mexico (Parque de España, Mexico City)

When I was a little kid in Illinois, I remember some neighbors had toy trampolines in their backyards. But by the time I was eight or 10, they had all disappeared, and I remember my mother telling me they'd been banned as toys because too many people were getting injured.

Although I can't find any record via Google that a ban actually occurred in the 1970ws, there's plenty of information today regarding the risks of casual trampolining and the precautions people should take. That's why it was both alarming and refreshing when I saw these folks setting up a big trampoline for kids to play on in a public park in Mexico City.

Of course, safety is crucial. Playgrounds should be safe spaces. And I'm not saying that trampolines without safety belts and mats are safe toys. But I sometimes get the feeling that the average American playground is too safe.

Does every swing and jungle gym need a mat under it? Isn't it sometimes OK if a kid, while playing, gets a scrape or a bruise now and then?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Three Cultures (Plaza de Tres Culturas, Mexico City)

The Plaza of Three Cultures / Plaza de Tres Culturas is remarkable not only for the collision of past and present but the numerous tragedies that have occurred there, starting with Cortez' massacre of the Aztecs followed hundreds of years later by the Army's murder of hundreds of student protesters in 1968 and finally the 1985 earthquake.

We visited on a bright quiet day and there were only a few other tourists but the place was crowded with lessons and, no doubt, ghosts.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Doggy School (Parque de España, Mexico City)

Dogs are a big deal in Mexico City, and folks who live near the Parque de España like their pooches well trained. A trainer takes one dog at a time for a lesson in heeling while the other students wait their turn.