Pieces for Peace: A 2005 CITYarts Mural

On the north side of Manhattan the Jacob H. Schiff Playground, part of the NYC Parks system, is host to a special mural. Titled Pieces for Peace, the mural was created by artist Peter Sis with the help of community volunteers in 2005. I spotted the mural quite some time ago, but there are usually soccer players practicing – or even games – on the weekends when I have the chance to walk by. Finally I had the chance one day to edge my way around the soccer field to see the mural up close, and it was certainly worth my efforts.

Here are a few glimpses of the mural’s details. Time has dulled the mosaic tiles in some places, but the message of diversity still shines through.

If you’d like to see the mural yourself, the Jacob H. Schiff Playground is located on Amsterdam Avenue in northeastern Manhattan, between 136th and 138th Streets.

Photos on the Fence: Holocaust Survivors at the United Nations

Last weekend I had the chance to go see a special installation displayed on the fence outside of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. The photos are one half of an exhibition memorializing the victims and survivors of the Holocaust titled Survivors, Victims and Perpetrators, and were taken by Italian photographer Luigi Toscano as part of the Lest We Forget project. (I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the other half of the exhibit, which is located inside the Visitors’ Center.)

The photos are larger than life and intensely powerful. The survivors’ faces engage the viewers; both hope and sorrow are visible in their gazes. Each one is accompanied by a small card that gives each survivor’s name, place and date of birth, date and details of arrest and detention, and information about liberation. Some cards had additional heartbreaking details about what happened to other members of the survivor’s family during the Holocaust. Two even had the caps they had worn in the concentration camps.

Here are some of the photos that stayed with me even after I left the site.

I’m going to stop with these, as I don’t want to ruin the exhibition for those who have the chance to visit it themselves. Hopefully from these you can understand why I found the photographs so gripping.

Want to see this powerful exhibition in person? It’s located at the entrance to the United Nations headquarters on First Avenue, between 46th and 48th Streets. (The M15 bus runs north along First Avenue, if you are traveling by public transportation.) Survivors, Victims and Perpetrators is only on view through the end of February 2018.

Subway Station Art: Grand Army Plaza Station

The art in the subway station at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn is both distinctive and beautiful. The installation, titled Wings for the IRT: The Irresistible Romance of Travel, is by artist and public-interest lawyer Jane Greengold.

Ms. Greengold has provided the following explanation of Wings for the IRT:

This project is based on the sculpture on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza, the dominant structure in the Plaza above the station. On the arch, winged victories lead in a chariot bearing Columbia, symbol of the victory of the North in the Civil War. In a subway station, commuters most want to celebrate the arrival of the train, so here, the victories lead in a train. The original logo for the IRT was a winged train, so I used the old-fashioned train and banner from that logo, thus making the image about both the surrounding neighborhood and the subway system itself. At each entrance to the station there is also an individual winged victory, and a small bronze plaque based on a winged woman from the stone work on the Arch.

Unfortunately, I somehow missed the one tile piece that included the train with the winged victories, but you can see an image of it here. I did find these lovely terra cotta tile wing victories however, as well as smaller bronze works.

If you want to see this beautiful art for yourself, the 4 and 5 trains go to Grand Army Plaza station. Once you’ve had the chance to see the art, head above ground to explore the park above.

Looking Back at the Holiday Season: The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

December is always a magical time in New York City, with the city dressed up in its holiday finery. There are Christmas trees and giant menorahs in many locations, and the department store windows sparkle with competing themes. It’s always my favorite time of the year, but this year was particularly busy. I didn’t get anything written about my December adventures at the time, but I thought I’d let you in on some of what kept me busy then. And there’s an added bonus – I get to hang on to the holiday season just a little bit longer in the process!

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is visit the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights during the month of December, as it is known for its holiday spirit. Homeowners in the neighborhood decorate their homes with Christmas lights and other holiday decor, making it a wonderful place to explore between Thanksgiving and New Year’s each year. In fact, Dyker Heights is famous throughout the United States for its Christmas decorations, as it has been featured in television shows about the topic! The only reason we haven’t gone in prior years is that Dyker Heights is a little complicated to get to if one doesn’t have a car. The subways don’t go to the neighborhood, so it requires a combination of subway and bus if you are traveling by public transportation. This year, we were fortunate to go with a friend who has a car, and so there were no transportation challenges. Having explored the Dyker Heights Christmas lights once, I think it will now be part of our annual traditions.

So let me give you a glimpse of the lights. As you can see, they vary significantly in style, from the elegant to child-like Christmas glee. After walking the neighborhood, visitors were guaranteed to be in the holiday spirit!

So which do you prefer? The delicate, elegant lighting that casts a magical glow, or the fun, over-the-top exuberance of the blow-up decorations and their accompaniments?

Fire Patrol No. 2: A Bit of NYC’s Firefighting History

Isn’t it funny how you can walk down a street a hundred times and miss something in plain sight? Recently I walked parts of Greenwich Village in my hunt for the Ai Weiwei installations (I wrote about those previously here), and I noticed something I’d never paid any attention to before: Fire Patrol No. 2. This time it intrigued me, and I took several photos, determined to research and learn more about it later.

From searching the internet, I discovered this building has an interesting history. I had assumed that the firehouse was part of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), but it turns out that it actually predates the FDNY. Built in 1906 by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, Fire Patrol No. 2 housed part of the New York Fire Patrol. The New York Fire Patrol was a private firefighting organization with roots going back to the early 1800s. It was funded by fire insurance companies that wanted to protect the city buildings they insured.

The New York Fire Patrol was disbanded in 2006, and the firehouse’s future was in question. At one point, there was concern that the historic building would be torn down to make way for new development, especially after it was denied New York City Landmark status. Eventually, Fire Patrol No. 2 was purchased by CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper, who renovated the interior to make it into a private home while meticulously restoring the outside of the building. Finally, about four years ago, the southern part of Greenwich Village achieved city landmark status, protecting the firehouse from future threats. (Wonder what the firehouse looked like before its restoration? The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has several photos, as well as a more detailed version of the building’s history, here.)

One of my favorite firehouse details is this sculpture of Mercury, symbolizing swiftness. Speed would definitely be a virtue when responding to a fire.

On a more solemn note, I noticed this plaque honoring Patrolman Keith Roma, who lost his life while saving people at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Only 27 years old at the time of his death, Roma was the only member of the fire patrol to die that day.

Fire Patrol No. 2 is located at 84 West 3rd Street, between Sullivan and Thompson Streets.

A Longstanding Tradition: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

I’m not a native New Yorker, but there’s one quintessential NYC event that is part of my earliest childhood memories – the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Growing up, my Thanksgivings were filled with traditions. The family would get up early to get Thanksgiving dinner started, and then my sister and I would sit down in front of the TV to watch the parade. I remember our excitement as we watched the oversized character balloons making their way down the city streets, the sound of the marching bands, the Broadway song and dance routines, and the glamorous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. We’d get so excited as the end of the parade drew near, knowing we’d soon see Santa Claus and his sleigh. After the parade was over, the family would sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. Later, after the dinner dishes were washed and put away, we’d put up our Christmas tree as Elvis Presley’s Christmas album played in the background. Thanksgiving was the beginning of our holiday season.

Despite watching the parade every year on TV – in fact, I don’t think I’ve missed the parade in almost 50 years – I never had the opportunity to see it in person. Since we moved to New York City a few years ago, we’ve talked about it but haven’t gone. That ended this year, when we woke up and realized the cable television was out. If we were going to continue our parade tradition, we were going to have to do it in person. We quickly threw on some clothes and rushed to the subway, hoping to get to the parade route before the start of the parade. We headed to the west side of Central Park, near the start of the parade route, and arrived just in time to claim a good spot.

Ready to watch the parade with me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although we didn’t get to see the Broadway productions or the Rockettes on our part of the route, the parade still brought back all those lovely childhood memories of the holidays. And we agreed that going to the parade will be part of our future Thanksgiving traditions!

So what are your favorite holiday traditions?

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.