Hunting a City-wide Art Installation: Ai Weiwei’s Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Imagine an art installation with more than 300 separate pieces, scattered throughout all five boroughs of New York City. The scale seems almost impossible, but that is exactly what Chinese-born artist Ai Weiwei has accomplished with his new exhibition, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. The exhibition, which is sponsored by Public Art Fund, draws its title from the line of the Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall.” Ai Weiwei uses his art to draw attention to the plight of the millions of refugees around the world seeking shelter from violence in refugee camps and through immigration. Some of the sites symbolize the types of barriers that exist for refugees, while others personalize refugees’ experiences. Some are constructed of heavy, cold metals; others of flimsy panels that are moved by the breeze. It’s a rich treasure trove to discover, if one is persistent and has some endurance.

Because of the scope of the exhibition, I’ve focused my attentions so far on Manhattan, where the largest number of sites are located. Over the course of two days I walked more than 15 miles, scouring neighborhood after neighborhood: the Lower East Side; the Financial District near the World Trade Center site; Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park; the Flatiron District; Midtown and the southeast corner of Central Park; the Upper East Side; and East Harlem. During my walks, I found numerous parts of the exhibition, usually with the help of this online map, but I have so many more that I want to discover. I guess it’s a good thing that the exhibition continues through February 11, 2018. Each piece I found added another nuance to my understanding of the whole, and it was just as delightful to find a small banner as it was to see a large installation.

So let me give you a visual sense of the exhibition, starting with the larger, metal structures. My favorite of these is Gilded Cage, located on the southeast corner of Central Park. When I clicked on this site on the map, I found this explanation of Gilded Cage:

For the entrance to Central Park, Ai has created a giant gilded cage that simultaneously evokes the luxury of Fifth Avenue and the privations of confinement. Visitors are able to enter its central space, which is surrounded by bars and turnstiles. Functioning as a structure of both control and display, the work reveals the complex power dynamics of repressive architecture.

From the outside, Gilded Cage looks like this:

From the inside, the view depends on where you look. The installation very much feels like a cage, as you can tell from this photo (and makes a good backdrop for personal photos as well).

But when you look up, the view is different, with the open design at the top somehow giving me a sense of hope, an alternative perspective of the problem.

Then there is this 37-foot tall structure, titled Arch, placed in the center of the Washington Square arch.

Or how about Five Fences, with each “fence” covering a window of the Cooper Union building near Astor Place.

There are smaller structures built around certain bus shelters, less imposing, like the one visible here.

There are also Greek-style friezes and photos on advertising platforms around the city, but my favorite parts of the exhibition are among the more than 200 banners attached to lampposts around the city. Each one has an image from a different photograph, historical and modern, of immigrant and refugees. The online map provides more information about when and where each banner photo was taken, but I’m going to focus on the images on the banners in my photos below. These photos also show the interesting contrasts you’ll sometimes see between banners and nearby buildings, as well as the challenges associated with finding and photographing banners among the trees. The images are reach, showing the full range of human emotions.

For my last photos, I’ll show you the banners at the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side. These banners are attached to the side of the building and are in stark contrast to the vibrant mural painted below. If you look closely at the banners, you can see a scene of refugees attempting to make their way to safety.

A final note: One of the benefits of writing this blog over the past couple of years is that I’ve had the opportunity to read many other blogs as well, and in the process of made some blogging friends around the world. Today’s post is dedicated to two of those blogging friends. First, to Meg, an Australian who writes the blog snippetsandsnaps ~ Potato Point and Beyond. Meg celebrated a birthday last week, and I want to wish her a happy birthday! She recently read a NY Times article about the subject of this post and has been patiently waiting for me to get my post up. Second, to Jo, an Englishwoman with Polish roots who craves the sun of the Portuguese Algarve region. Jo writes a wonderful blog called Restless Jo and hosts the weekly Jo’s Monday Walks. Since I walked so many miles on my hunt for Ai Weiwei’s installations, I will offer this post for next week’s Monday Walk as well. So here’s a blog toast to two blogging friends, Meg and Jo!

A Leisurely Sunday Stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

As Halloween is fast approaching I thought I would take you on a leisurely Sunday stroll through Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Cemeteries often have the reputation of being spooky or haunted, and Green-Wood likely has it’s share of ghosts, but it’s a lovely, serene place for an afternoon walk.

Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, not only because of its longstanding role as one of the city’s cemeteries but also its status as the site of a major Revolutionary War battlefield, the Battle of Long Island. In the 19th century, New York City residents would pack picnic lunches and spend weekend afternoons wandering the cemetery’s park-like grounds. In fact, in the second half of the 19th century, as many as half a million people a year visited the cemetery. Today, it is still a great place to spend an afternoon. The cemetery is large, encompassing 478 acres (1.9 square kilometers). I spent almost five hours meandering along the paths among the graves and still did not see the entire cemetery. (More than 500,000 people are buried in the cemetery, just to give you a full sense of its magnitude.)

The grandest entrance to the cemetery is this Gothic Revival structure on the northern side, accessible from Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue. The gate was built in the 1860s.

A closer view shows detailed religious carvings above each entryway. The gate above was designed by Richard Upjohn, while the carvings were by John M. Moffitt.

Throughout the cemetery we come across many mausoleums – in fact, Green-Wood Cemetery has one of the largest collections of mausoleums in the United States. They represent a range of architectural styles and tastes, and many offer beautiful details as well. Here is just a sampling of what we discover.

Here’s my favorite mausoleum, an Egyptian-inspired pyramid with statues of Mary and Jesus, a male Catholic saint (anyone know who it is?), and a sphinx.

Then there were the monuments and memorials. First, there was this one to DeWitt Clinton, former governor of the state of New York in the 19th century and credited with building the Erie Canal.

There’s this Revolutionary War monument by sculpture Frederick Ruckstull titled Altar to Liberty: Minerva.

Or how about this monument dedicated to New York City soldiers and sailors who fought in the U.S. Civil War? It has some beautiful details.

Then I found this simple memorial with a tragic story I hadn’t hear before. In 1876, a fire at the Brooklyn Theater killed at least 278 people, although some accounts say that the number was closer to 300. This monument marks the common grave of the 103 victims who were never identified.

There are so many more to discover but I will show this one last one, a bronze statue by sculptor John Coleman titled “The Greeter,” which marks the grave of 19th-century artist George Catlin. Catlin was most famous for his depictions of the American West and Native American culture.

Green-Wood Cemetery is home to the graves of numerous famous people, but my favorites were some of the most simple. Here is composer Leonard Bernstein’s grave, among the most humble I saw in the cemetery. Visitors have left the small stones on his grave in his memory.

And here is the grave of Louis Comfort Tiffany, most known for his stained glass windows and other glass art. (As you can see, he outlived two wives.)

Although I’m not the biggest baseball fan, I loved the gravestone of Henry Chadwick, known as the father of baseball. Visitors had also left offerings at his grave, this time baseballs that are now in various states of deterioration, and there was a giant stone baseball on top of the pillar. (I felt a little sad for Chadwick’s wife, the former Jane Botts, who had to share this monument rather than having something that celebrated her life independent of her husband’s.)

I found graves of two founders of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They are significantly different from each other. My favorite of the two was this one, James M. Hart’s.

Here’s a close-up view of the decorative plaque.

The other one is Henry Bergh’s another pyramid with an interesting sculpture by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich and John Terken titled “Humility of Man Before a Group of Ageless Animals.”

The cemetery grounds have gentle hills, providing ample opportunity to stretch my legs. At the top of one, I caught this view of the Manhattan skyline, a little hazy in the distance.

Not far from this spot, I found these flowers laying on a park bench. A small plaque on the bench had this poignant inscription: In loving memory of our mummy, Ranjani, 1952-2011.

On one hill is this unusual art installation by Sophie Calle, titled “Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery.” Visitors are invited to write their secrets on sheets of paper and insert them into the slot on the obelisk. Calle will return to the cemetery periodically over the next 25 years to remove the secrets and “cremate” them in ceremonial bonfires. The art installation is unexpected in the middle of a cemetery.

Now I think we’ll wander further, admiring some of the other statues and gravestone throughout the cemetery.

And finally, we’ll stop by the chapel, which was completed in 1911.

The chapel’s interior is small but intricately decorated, with beautiful stained glass windows.

Want to visit Green-Wood Cemetery yourself? You will find directions on the cemetery’s website, here. If you wish to tour the cemetery on your own, you can pick up free maps at the entrance. The cemetery also offers ticketed trolley tours on Wednesdays and Sundays. You can find more information about the tours here.

I think this would be another good post for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Socrates Sculpture Park: Nari Ward Exhibition

We’ve visited the Socrates Sculpture Park before, quite some time ago (you can find that post here), but I kept seeing photos of the summer exhibition on social media and had to get there before it ended. For the first time in its history, the park hosted an exhibition featuring a single artist, Nari Ward. Ward was born in Jamaica but currently makes his home in New York City. The exhibition, titled Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again, was both challenging and intriguing.

One of the things that makes this exhibition unique is that the art was created on site. As visitors roamed around the park, the most common features of the exhibition were the concrete goats. The park’s website contains this explanation of the exhibition’s name and the artist’s use of goats to convey his message:

Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again examines how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. … G.O.A.T. is an acronym for Greatest of All Time, a phrase commonly used in American sports, made famous by Muhammad Ali, and in hip-hop, most notably, as the title of Queens native LL Cool J’s best-selling album. The title alludes to the African-American experience and political theater – common themes in Ward’s work.

The figure of the goat features prominently in Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again as the artist’s articulation of social dynamics, conjuring the animal’s attributes and symbolic connotations, from an ambitious climber of great heights to an outcast. A flock of goats cast from lawn ornaments traverse the landscape, both in groups and as solitary individuals, manifesting the show’s title. The appropriation of the word goat, turning an insult into a moniker for excellence, demonstrates the power of wordplay, while the modifier again implies historical repetition. Scapegoat, a forty-foot long hobby toy further develops the goat metaphor and highlights another strand of the show: the satirization of virility, masculinity, and monument.

Intrigued about these goats? Here are some photos of the exhibition. It had rained heavily the day before our visit, hence the puddles, but there were plenty of dry spots to walk on.

The exhibition also included a piece titled, “Apollo/Poll.” Here’s a description of the piece from the park’s website, as well as a photo of what it looked like.

The visual anchor of the show is Apollo/Poll, a towering sign that reads ‘APOLLO’, the letters ‘A’ and ‘O’ blinking on and off to spell out “POLL.” The red LED-lit letters echo that of the iconic neon beacon hanging over Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a renowned venue for African American musicians and entertainers. Ward imagines the sign as a reflection on the enterprise and art of self-promotion, performance, originality, and the meaning of communal acceptance.

But the Nari Ward exhibition was not the only thing I found in the park. There were also these examples of community art projects, although I couldn’t find specific explanations of them.

And there was also this discovery, a free mini-library. Visitors were invited to take a book or leave a book at the site.

This exhibition has now ended, but another great exhibition has recently opened. If you’d like to visit the park, you can find directions here on the park’s website.

A Late Summer’s Day in Washington Square Park

Summer’s gone, but the memories remain. Here’s a glimpse of a late summer day in Washington Square Park. The park is a hub of activity, drawing local city residents, tourists, and students from nearby New York University. Whether you wish to people-watch, hear some music, or watch some performance art, there’s always something for everyone – regardless of the season.

 

 

Want to visit Washington Square Park? The West 14th Street subway station is only a couple of blocks away to the west, accessible by the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, or you can take the R or W trains to the 8th Street station and then walk to the southwest.

Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade

New York City has a parade to celebrate almost anything (and anyone) but among the best is the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade. Billed as the largest dog parade in the world, the annual parade includes hundreds of costumed dogs and their owners. Anyone can participate – no advanced registration is necessary, and the suggested registration at the door is only $5.00. Some dogs wear store-bought costumes, and others sport costumes made by their owners. In fact, some dog parents get in on the act, dressing themselves to match the theme of their dogs’ outfits. There are even prizes for the best costumes!

Here are some of my favorites from this year’s parade, which took place yesterday. It was a warm, sunny day, perfect for watching or participating in a parade.

First, Chihuahuas Tansy and Corazon, who as a lobster and a mermaid were definitely a sweet catch. (They have their own Instagram account: @TheLilGremlins.)

Our other Instagram couple had more of a political leaning, probably making the most sense for my American followers – here are a couple of members of the current president’s press team. This is Itty Bitty the Griff (@ittystagram), playing the role of Kellyanne Conway,  and Ralphie (@ralphienyc), playing Sean Spicer.

Aside from these more famous participants, there were plenty of other options out there, from pizza pups to the Pope.

How about a bark-ista from the nearest Star-barks?

Several dogs, like this one, appear to have been inspired by the novel and TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

There was the Weber grill dog, complete with shish kebabs.

How about the “Chick Magnet”?

And finally, one of my favorites, who looked like one cool pup.

We left inspired for next year’s parade, when our dog Newton will be old enough to participate. What kind of costume do you think we should create for him?

Exploring Elizabeth Street Garden: Nolita’s Little Gem

Throughout the summer and early Fall I’ve tried to stay outside as much as possible, and New York City has offered up many treasures for me to explore further. One of my favorites is the Elizabeth Street Garden. The Elizabeth Street Garden is unique. I’ve found many beautiful gardens in the city’s public park system, and others that are local community gardens. But the Elizabeth Street Garden is of a different type altogether. Although there are many trees, shrubs, and flowers throughout the garden, the main draw is the sculptures and other architectural details salvaged from torn-down buildings over the years. (Some are evidently reproductions as well.)

The site of the Elizabeth Street Garden has a long history as a public space, tracing back almost 200 years to its time as a public school’s open space. Eventually, the school closed and apartments and other businesses were constructed on the school property, but the open space remained. The property became overgrown, and in 1990 the owner of the Elizabeth Street Gallery leased the space and began using it to display some of the gallery’s sculptures. The garden became a beautifully landscaped space, and it was eventually open to the public during limited hours. Unfortunately, in the past few years local residents have learned of the lot’s inclusion in an urban development plan. The garden’s supporters have organized to find a way to protect the garden for the future, but if something doesn’t change the space will likely become a housing development for senior citizens on limited incomes.

The garden is a magical place, a little wild and eclectic. There’s something delightful to see anywhere you look, and plenty of places to sit down in the shade or sun, depending on your preferences, and enjoy the sights, eat a picnic lunch, or read a book. The Elizabeth Street Garden is a neighborhood space. You’ll find parents pushing their babies in strollers, employees of nearby businesses taking their lunch break, and the occasional wanderer (like me) seeking a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.

If you want to visit the garden, it is located on Elizabeth Street between Spring Street and Prince Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Nolita. This website shows its open hours. If traveling by subway, the closest stations are the 2nd Avenue Station (F train), the Spring Street Station (6 train), the Prince Street Station (R or W trains), or the Broadway-Lafayette Station (B, D, F, or M trains).

NYC’s Korean Day Parade

One of the things I’ve always loved about New York City is the variety of parades. We have parades for almost every major holiday – among them the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Easter Bonnet Parade. And then there are the parades celebrating this city’s history as the home of immigrants. We have the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (celebrating the Irish), the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Chinese Lunar New Year Parades, the Greek Independence Day Parade, the German-American Steuben Parade, the Tartan Day Parade (for the Scots), the Hispanic Day Parade (celebrating immigrants from Latin America), the Columbus Day Parade (celebrating the Italian-American community), the Pulaski Day Parade (celebrating Polish-American immigrants), the West Indian Day Parade, and so many more.

This is a holiday weekend, with many New Yorkers having an extra day off because of Columbus Day. The Columbus Day weekend brings three annual parades to New York City. Yesterday, the Korean Day Parade marched down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Today, despite light rain at the start, the Hispanic Day Parade was held, and tomorrow is the Columbus Day Parade. Having not attended the Korean Day Parade before, we decided to check it out. I’m so glad that we did!

The parade contained marchers from a variety of religious, business, and social organizations. I’ve picked a few of my favorite photos, presented below, to give you a sense of the colors and traditional Korean clothing. I hope that you enjoy!

 

An Open Day at the New York City Marble Cemetery

Green space has always been at a premium in New York City, and historically the public parks were few and far between. So where could the city’s residents relax on a summer Sunday afternoon, perhaps with a good book or a picnic? As strange as it may sound today, New Yorkers of the past often headed to the cemetery. Today, there are only a handful of of cemeteries in the borough of Manhattan (property values pushing most cemeteries to the outer boroughs), but there are still a few historic cemeteries around.

One special cemetery is the New York City Marble Cemetery, founded in 1831. The cemetery is designated a New York City Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the cemetery isn’t usually open to the public, there are designated “open” days several times a year. On those days, it is possible for visitors to experience life as it was in the nineteenth century, picnicking and relaxing in the park-like space.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery on one of the open days. It was a beautiful day, and visitors had gathered to explore the cemetery and relax on its grounds. Here are some photos from my visit.

Want to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery yourself? It is located on East Second Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway stop is the F train’s Second Avenue station, and the M15 bus runs up and down First and Second Avenues as well. Make sure you check the cemetery’s website, available here, for the dates that the cemetery is open to the public. (Note: There’s another historic cemetery named the New York Marble Cemetery, a short distance away on Second Avenue. It’s also open to the public on occasion.)

 

Subway Station Art: Christopher Street Station

It’s been quite some time since I last featured some of New York City’s wonderful subway art, so I thought I thought I would show you the mosaics at the Christopher Street station today. These twelve mosaics, collectively known as “The Greenwich Village Murals,” show some of the interesting and diverse history of the Greenwich Village neighborhood surrounding this station. They were created by ceramic artist Lee Grozwol, in collaboration with fifth and six grade students from a local school (Public School 41).

The murals are divided into four sets of three murals each, with the following subtitles: Bohemians, Founders, Providers, and Rebels. There is a key for each set of murals on the wall nearby, helping visitors to identify each person featured in the murals.

For example, here are the Founders:

And here is the key for that set of murals:

Here are the Providers:

Here are the Bohemians:

And finally, here are the Rebels.

Want to see these wonderful mosaic murals in person? Take the 1 train to the Christopher Street station. There are different panels on each platform, so you will have to switch sides to see them all.

Experiencing Community in the LaGuardia Corner Gardens

The past couple of months have been busy ones, taking me away from my blog for a time as my students have required much of my time. (I’m an assistant dean at a law school, and my classes began the last week of July.) But I’ve still been exploring this wonderful city I call home, and I’ve got a stockpile of treasures I’ve discovered to share with you in the coming weeks. It was such a nice summer I’ve spent much of it outside – walking up and down streets of intriguing neighborhoods, looking for art, architecture, and other delights; hunting down the ever-renewing street art throughout the city; finding moments of quiet contemplation in public parks and community gardens; and even wandering a historic cemetery (or two).

For my first post in quite some time, I thought I’d take you to the LaGuardia Corner Gardens, located in Greenwich Village. I was walking past when the open gate drew me in, and I was glad I stopped. The garden isn’t huge, but there are several shaded spots to sit and enjoy the views.

The garden felt a little wild, and as I’ve read about it more I discovered it is intentionally so. Many plants are volunteers, growing where last year’s seeds dropped. That means a little more work to make your way through the garden, but it’s no reason to deter a visitor seeking a quiet space among the greenery and flowers. It also gave the community garden its own personality, making it a special little gem in the neighborhood that reflects the volunteers’ commitment to maintaining its character.

There were dozens of different flowers and plants throughout the garden. Here are some of my favorites.

If you look up instead of down, however, you’ll be reminded you’re in the middle of the city. These sunflowers made a fun contrast with neighboring buildings.

And then I came upon this little surprise – an heirloom tomato!

Finally, I was excited to capture this photo of a bee. So often, my bee photos turn out blurred, but this one was a success!

Want to visit the LaGuardia Corner Gardens yourself? It is located at 511 LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and Houston Streets. The gardens are only open limited time periods – I recommend checking the Gardens’ official website, found here, for seasonal hours.