Seated Ballerina at Rockefeller Center

Recent visitors to Rockefeller Center in New York City might have discovered this interesting sculpture by artist Jeff Koons titled Seated Ballerina.

Part of what makes this sculpture unusual is that it’s inflatable nylon – not something you normally see in an outdoor public art installation. It’s scale is also impressive. As you can see from the photograph above, the sculpture towers over bystanders. It is 45 feet high, not including the wooden base.

 

What also makes this sculpture special is Koons’s intent in creating this work. Koons wanted the sculpture to bring public attention to the plight of missing and exploited children in the United States and around the world during National Missing Children’s Month. As part of that goal, efforts have been made to raise donations for the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Rockefeller Center website provides this additional description of the sculpture:

Often referencing historical imagery and found objects, Koons based Seated Ballerina on a small porcelain figurine. The sculpture acts as a contemporary iteration of the goddess Venus, and symbolizes notions of beauty and connectivity. Its reflective surface mirrors its immediate environment and engages with each viewer.

I thought I’d leave you with one final view of the sculpture. I think this photograph shows some of the interesting details, including the sculptures structure.

Seated Ballerina was only on exhibition until July 5, 2017, so I’m afraid that if you haven’t already seen it you will have to rely on the photographs instead.

Subway Station Art: Kosciuszko Street Station

Recently I was hunting for street art in Brooklyn and took a subway line I don’t normally travel. In the part of Brooklyn I was in, the line goes above ground, and as we approached the Kosciuszko Street station I spotted a mural on a nearby building. Although I originally intended to travel a station or two further, I decided to go ahead and get off the train here. And was I glad that I did! Not only did I find numerous murals in the vicinity of the station, I actually found some subway station art I hadn’t discovered before as well.

The Kosciuszko Street station is home to a series of 16 stained glass windows designed by artist Ronald Calloway. Collectively, the installation is called Euphorbias. Upon further research, I discovered that Euphorbia refers to a “large genus of plants in the spurge family.”

The MTA Arts & Design website provides this description of Calloway’s Euphorbias:

In Euphorbias, the artist used botanical imagery as a metaphor for life and growth in the communities that surround the elevated Kosciuszko Street station. The artwork … creates the sensation of growth, as if energy is radiating outward from the center of the images to the tips of the forms. Brightly colored plants, some of which resemble the sun and its rays, are in full bloom on the platform.

Here are some examples of what you will find at the station.

 

Want to see Euphorbias for yourself? Just take the J train into Brooklyn to the Kosciuszko Street station.

Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every May, regular visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art know that one of the best exhibitions of the year is about to open –  the Costume Institute’s Spring Exhibition. The exhibition begins with a grand, star-studded gala. Famous musicians, actors, and public figures dress in festive attire inspired by that year’s exhibition theme, and then throughout the summer visitors flock to the museum to explore it. This year’s exhibition is a real treat, a fashion-based art exhibition that requires visitors to interrogate their own assumptions as their ideas of fashion are challenged. Titled Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between, the exhibition focuses on the avant-garde work of designer Rei Kawakubo.

Here’s the museum’s overview description of the exhibition (you can find the full exhibition guide here on the museum’s website.):

The galleries illustrate the designer’s revolutionary experiments in “in-betweenness”—the space between boundaries. Objects are organized into nine aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness.

There are approximately 140 designs in the exhibition, making it a feast for the eyes. I’ve included photos of some of the designs below, with notes about what aesthetic themes they are associated with. As you can see, there is a real range of ideas represented in Kawakubo’s work.

First, we have Object/Subject:

This one is Good Taste/Bad Taste:

Here, we have Elite Culture/Popular Culture:

Now, Male/Female:

This striking piece is an example of Fact/Fiction:

And this one is War/Peace:

I love the contrasts between these next two, labeled Beautiful/Grotesque:

And finally, ending with my favorite gallery in the exhibition, Order/Chaos:

Comme des Garçons – Art of the In-Between is open to the public through September 4, 2017, so there is still plenty of time to see the full exhibition in person.

Human Structures

Next to Madison Square Gardens and Penn Station in New York City, there is a new pedestrian plaza named Plaza33. The thing that drew me to this plaza was a sculpture by artist Jonathan Borofsky titled Human Structures. According to the plaque next to the sculpture, Borofsky describes Human Structures in this way: “It’s humanity connecting together to build our world.”

One of the things I enjoy about this sculpture is how it looks so different from different angles. I love the different colors used for each metal human outline as well. It draws you in to interact with it, which is exactly what the artist intended.

The sculpture somehow mirrors the neighboring skyscrapers – appropriate considering the artist’s description.

Human Structures is easy to reach by subway. Plaza33 is located along 33rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Take the A, C, or E to Penn Station, or the B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, or W trains to 34th Street-Herald Square (only a block away). Penn Station is also accessible by Long Island Railroad, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit.

Subway Station Art: The 1 Train’s 86th Street Station

I write about art in New York City subway stations fairly regularly; the art at the 1 train’s 86th Street station should be on the list of places to visit if you have an interest in public art in subway stations. Once you arrive on the station’s platforms, you will discover a series of 40 ceramic glazed tiles, each with an image of life on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Titled Westside Views, the project was a collaboration between artist Nitza Tufiño and 17 young people, mostly from the Grosvenor Community House educational programs in the neighborhood.

The project was very successful. Here is what Nitza Tufiño had to say about it: “As an artist, if I take my brushes and my skills and I invest in the lives of young people, then others can see what is possible … I believe human beings can do anything, if we find something that would positively influence them.”

Here are some examples of the Westside Views artwork.

So what is your favorite? I have several. The clown made me laugh (although I find clowns a bit creepy). I love the dads pushing their kids in strollers, as well as the last one with the hot dog stand.

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part II): Community Murals

A few weeks ago I was able to take two Jane’s Walks in the NYC neighborhood of East Harlem. (For a description of what a Jane’s Walk is, along with the description of the other Jane’s Walk I took, see my earlier post here.) Today, I want to focus on the second walk, titled Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem, which was led by Kathleen (“Kathy”) Benson Haskins. Kathy had actually tagged along on the first walk I took that day – she was the person who told us about the Manny Vega mosaic I talked about in my previous post – so by the time the second walk started we had already been introduced.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a real fan of public art and street art, so Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem was the perfect walk for me. The main theme I took away from this Jane’s Walk was the importance of public art in creating and serving as the meeting point for community in this neighborhood. The area we explored in the second walk is the Latin-American part of East Harlem also known as El Barrio. The neighborhood is a treasure trove of community-focused murals.

A second important theme of this walk is the ephemeral nature of street murals. Without constant care and regular restoration, outdoor murals fade. They may be defaced, and, importantly, they and the building they are painted on may be torn down as a result of development and gentrification. There were murals we only heard about, as they no longer existed. Unlike unique buildings, which may be saved because of their architectural or historical importance, murals are not covered by federal or local landmark laws.

We learned about two artists with roots in the neighborhood and have multiple examples of their art on display. First, there is the artist James De La Vega, whose painted several portraits of Latino cultural leaders, including this one of Pedro Pietri, a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican-New Yorker) poet and playwright.

A few streets over, I found this mural of a different style, also by De La Vega.

The second artist was Manny Vega, whose art we were already introduced to in the prior walk. Vega’s work comes in many forms in East Harlem, but it’s always delightful to discover. For example, there was this mosaic memorial to Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican poet and activist who lived the last part of her life in New York City. We learned the tragic story of Julia’s death at the age of 39. After collapsing on the street and not being identified, she died of pneumonia in a nearby hospital and buried in a pauper’s grave. After her identity was determined later, she was returned to Puerto Rico and reburied.

A short distance away I spied these hand-printed posters expressing concerns of members of the community. As Kathy explained, the murals and protest posters marked spots where people would gather to share their concerns and organize.

Manny Vega’s art comes in other forms as well, such as the mural Espiritu. Here are a few of the images that are part of that mural.

Vega’s art also decorates local businesses, this time painted instead of tile mosaics.

There were even these more temporary wheatpaste-style images by Vega on the side of another building.

Vega also has a connection to this amazing mural, titled the Spirit of East Harlem. The mural was painted by artist Hank Prussing beginning in 1973, and Vega helped Prussing to complete the mural during the next 5 years. Years later after the elements had caused the mural to deteriorate and vandals had damaged it, Vega came back and restored it. One of the things that makes this mural special is that it portrays actual people from the community.

I love the fact that this mural shows men from the neighborhood playing dominoes, as during our walk we stumbled upon a domino tournament at a local democratic club.

Vega also created this mural for the East Harlem Tutoring Center. Located in the building’s lobby, the delightful mural shows teachers and students gathered outside.

Hanging on the outside of the Tutoring Center building was a large banner, designed by the students with Vega’s guidance. The theme was a response to the new American president’s anti-immigrant policies, which have created much anxiety among many school children in New York City who come from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. The message of this art: #BuildLove, with a celebration of the city’s diversity.

As we continue our walk, we see many other examples of public art in various forms. There’s this colorful entrance to a small bodega.

There was this protest mural demanding the release of Oscar López Rivera from federal prison. López Rivera was associated with a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization seeking Puerto Rican independence. That organization was associated with more than a 100 bombings of U.S. targets, and López Rivera served 35 years in prison before being pardoned by President Barrack Obama during his last days in office. (There has always been some debate over López Rivera’s degree of involvement in the bombings, and much activism on his behalf. He’s still a very controversial figure.)

We can barely glimpse another mural behind a drummer at a street fair going on in the midst of our walking route.

And here are details from a large mural celebrating Latino pride and activism. The portraits are of Pedro Albizu Campos and Che Guevera.

Wait – through the fence we catch a glimpse of a garden and more art, owned by the community organization Hope Community, Inc. That organization has also providing support for many of the other mural projects in the neighborhood.

We learned about the “RIP” murals, sometimes painted to commemorate the lives of people who died in the community. Often, the subjects of such murals are really more like anti-heroes, possibly killed because of illegal activity. We came across this RIP mural, with candles and empty bottles clustered at its base.

Let’s end with this “postcard” style mural of the word “Harlem.” It’s a fun one, although as you can see below it’s difficult to capture in a single photograph. The vibrant mural incorporates the work of a number of prominent street artists.

But before we end, here is a picture of our very knowledgeable leader on this walk, Kathy. Kathy has significant knowledge of this area of East Harlem, and she worked until her retirement at the Museum of the City of New York. (Coincidentally, MCNY is one of my favorite museums in the city – I’ve written about it before here and here.) Kathy has offered Jane’s Walks in East Harlem for multiple years, so make sure you keep an eye out for her tours next year.

This is another great walk for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part I)

This past weekend marked an extraordinary event in New York City and more than 200 other cities around the world: Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is named after Jane Jacobs, a journalist and urban activist who pushed city governments to include local residents in decisions regarding neighborhood development. As part of her efforts, she is often credited with leading opposition to the proposed construction of an expressway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan in the late 1960s, preserving that neighborhood’s character to this day. Now, every year, local volunteers take people on free tours of their neighborhoods. In New York City, those tours are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society, which also offers other tours throughout the year.

This year, there were 68 pages worth of Jane’s Walks to choose from in New York City. I decided to explore the neighborhood of East Harlem in Manhattan, also sometimes known as El Barrio. I actually took 2 walks on Saturday, both in that same neighborhood but focusing on different themes and traveling on different streets. My feet hurt by the end of it, but both walks offered rich treasures.

The first walk, which I will focus on in this post, was named “The Heritage of Italian East Harlem.” It was led by LuLu LoLo, an artist, playwright, and actor who traces her family history in East Harlem back more than 100 years. Here’s a photo of our fabulous guide for the walk.

I knew that this was going to be a fun walk, as it was like we were all great friends from the start. (Well, some people actually did know each other already – this tour attracted a number of walkers whose families had lived in the neighborhood.) Although we had plenty to see on this walk, what made it special was LuLo’s stories about growing up in the neighborhood, and her explanation of how the neighborhood has evolved over time. Much has changed in recent decades, but LuLo brought old family photos to provide a bridge between the present and her childhood memories of East Harlem.

From our starting point, LuLu drew our attention to a faded advertisement for Bloomingdales Department Store located on the side of a nearby brick building. Although the sign has faded beyond legibility, it has been there since LuLu’s earliest memories. (And LuLu admitted, upon one walker’s nosy question, that she is in her early 70s.) See if you can make out the weathered sign in the photo below.

LuLu spent some time describing the early makeup of the neighborhood, where immigrants had settled next to others from their old communities. On this street, on this block, lived the Italians from the province of Basilicata. Another street was home to Germans, another Irish, another Russian. Over here were Puerto Ricans, and shops owned by Jewish immigrants, with living quarters behind the storefronts, were there. Further down were African-American residents. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity, the complexity of East Harlem.

Along with the diverse population came complex politics. This corner, and a neighboring one before it, were known as “Lucky Corner,” the place where a stage was set up during campaign season for candidates to speak to the crowds. Want to gain the votes of the people in the neighborhood? Then you knew you had to come to Lucky Corner.

We learned about Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who earned a reputation as the protector of the working class, regardless of race or ethnicity. LuLu shared precious childhood memories of the congressman, who died of a heart attack at a young age, as well as Leonard Covello, an educator who became principal of a local high school and persuaded immigrant families to let their children go to school. As we walked along 116th Street, LuLu pointed out where these and other Italian Americans of note lived, as well as the music store that has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the building formerly home to the Cosmo Theater, a row of tenement buildings where immigrant families have live generation after generation.

Soon we pass a community art project. Along one side of the art project, there is a suggestion box. Members of the community are invited to make suggestions about what the next version of the art walls will look like. The current theme: environmental concerns.

As we walk further, LuLu tells us more about her parents, Rose and Peter Pascale, who were long-time community activists. For many years, Peter ran Haarlem House, a settlement house that served the immigrant community of East Harlem. In recognition of his years of service, part of the street has been renamed Pete Pascale Place.

Here, our group stands in front of La Guardia Memorial House, built on the site of the old Haarlem House after the city determined that it needed replaced. The new community building is named after Fiorello La Guardia, onetime mayor of New York City. A senior center located on site is named after former Commissioner of Immigration Edward Corsi, another of East Harlem’s past residents.

On the side of this building we found this beautiful mosaic mural commemorating Dr. Antonia Pantoja, who spent her professional life taking care of the community of East Harlem. The mosaic is the work of local artist Manny Vega.

LuLu pointed out the former Benjamin Franklin High School building, where Leonard Covello was once principal. The building is now home to a specialized public high school known as the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

Our final stop was the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of only four Roman Catholic Churches designated as Pontifical Shrines in the Western Hemisphere. LuLu explained that Italian workmen labored to build the church in their off hours, but in the church’s early history the Italians were relegated to the basement for religious services and not allowed to worship in the main sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church’s exterior is concealed by construction scaffolding as the building undergoes repairs, so the only photo I could get outside was of this intriguing bulb-lit sign. (The shrine’s website has a photo of the building without the scaffolding, if you are interested.)

The interior was beautiful though, and here are some photos of the sanctuary and adjoining space.

At this point, the walk disbanded, and each of us went our own way. Despite my tired feet (walking on concrete has that effect!), I trekked to my next Jane’s Walk – also located in East Harlem – which was due to start soon. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

As I think about it, a Jane’s Walk is a perfect fit for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Harlem Murals – Creative Art Works Projects

Not long ago I explored the campus of City College, looking for gargoyles or grotesques. (You can find that post here.) As I made my way from the campus back to the train, I stumbled on two special murals on 138th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place. The murals come from Creative Art Works, a nonprofit organization that engages young people through art. From what I understand from the Creative Art Works website, they hire youth age 14 to 24 to complete these public art mural projects, working under the supervision of a teaching artist.

The first mural, painted in 2016, was supervised by teaching artist Lunar New Year. The mural is titled “The More You Give, the More You Grow.” Here are photos showing some of this mural’s details.

The second mural on 138th Street is titled “Dreams of a Creative Revolution,” and it was created under the direction of teaching artist Maria Berrio in 2012. Two years later, the mural was restored by teaching artists Gera Lazano and Max Allbee’s crew. Here are some photos of some of the mural details. As you can see, it truly has a “dreamy” quality.

 

If you want to see these murals in person, the easiest way to get there is to take the subway. Take the 1 train to the 137th Street-City College station; the murals are only a short distance away. After you’re done viewing the murals, continue up the hill – the gargoyles are only about half a block away.

Albert Capsouto Park

Nestled in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca is a small, triangular green space named Albert Capsouto Park. This park is a recent addition to the NYC park system, having opened in 2009. Despite its short history and limited size, the park has already changed names once and offers several special features.

First, the name change. When the park first opened in 2009, it was known as CaVaLa Park. The unusual name came from the park’s location, as the park’s three sides are bordered by Canal Street, Varick Street, and Laight Street. If you look closely as you explore the park, you will find the dedication plaque with the park’s original name.

In 2010, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation renamed the park in memory of local restaurant owner Albert Capsouto, who was known for his efforts to obtain financial support for small businesses in the area after the September 11 attacks. (The park is less than a mile from the World Trade Center site, and local businesses experienced significant economic challenges in the aftermath of the tragedy.)

Now for the park’s interesting details. My favorite details are found on the large granite posts next to each of the park’s three entrances. The park’s designers installed a series of etched steel plates highlighting historical images and maps of the neighborhood around the park. (Original images are part of the collections of the New York Historical Society, New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.)  Here are few examples of those images, which illustrate the evolution of Tribeca.

As you enter the park, you will immediately notice another feature – a long sculpture/fountain (depending on the time of year) that stretches for 114 feet. The sculptural fountain was created by NYC artist Elyn Zimmerman, and draws inspiration from the canal that used to stretch along what is now Canal Street. When I visited, the Parks Department had not yet turned the water on for Spring, but it is even more beautiful when the fountain is running. (Although there was a little standing water because of a recent rainfall, so you get a little sense of what the fountain is like when it’s running.)

And nearby there are benches and these tables, perfect for picnicking or a game of checkers or chess! (In case you can’t tell from the photo, each table has a checkerboard built in.)

Want to visit Albert Capsouto Park yourself? Take the 1, A, C, or E trains to their respective Canal Street stations. The park is just a short distance away.

Subway Station Art: 125th Street Station

One of my favorite subway stations, in terms of art, is the 125th Street Station in Harlem. Artist Faith Ringgold’s mosaic murals, titled Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines, draws from the neighborhoods rich history and culture of her birthplace. The art is colorful and distinctive – there’s no chance that you will think you are anywhere other than Harlem.

Each section of the murals has an image of an iconic example of Harlem architecture (some no longer in existence), as well as historical figures associated with Harlem’s African-American history. For example, here’s the famous Apollo Theater, with images of Dinah Washington, Florence Mills, Ralph Cooper, Billie Holliday, and the Ink Spots.

Upon closer inspection, the murals details are spectacular.

This next one includes the Cotton Club, a nightclub from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith, who performed at the Cotton Club regularly. (I learned in my research that the establishment unfortunately illustrated the highly segregated society of that era – although African-Americans performed at the venue, only whites were allowed in as customers.)

Here’s the Harlem Opera House, with soprano Mariam Anderson and singer and actor Paul Robeson.

And Yankee Stadium, with boxers Joe Lewis and Sugar Ray Robinson overhead.

Here’s Madame Walker’s Beauty Parlor, with Madame C.J. Walker hovering over it herself, next to Olympian Jesse Owens. Notably, Owens appears to be jumping out of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Marcus Garvey and Adam Clay Powell, Jr. float over the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

And Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rise above the Theresa Hotel, at one time known as the “Waldorf of Harlem.”

Here’s W.E.B. DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune, associated with organizations they founded –  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), and the National Council of Negro Women (N.C.N.W.).

Above the Schomburg Library, a New York Public Library Center devoted to the study of African-American history, literature, and culture, you’ll find writers Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston.

And Augusta Savage, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and Aaron Douglas keep the Studio Museum of Harlem company.

Finally, you’ll find tile work related to the station itself, including the historic 125th Street terra cotta station signs and trim, as well as a rather out-of-place modern mosaic and tile sign.

If you’d like to see Flying Home in person, take the 2 or 3 train to the 125th Street Station in Manhattan.