Archive for the ‘City’ Category

A Tale of Two Architects: Upjohn & Cram in Carroll Gardens

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Billed as “the largest architectural event in the United States,” Open House New York Weekend is this Saturday and Sunday, October 9th and 10th. Landmark buildings of historic architectural importance all over the five boroughs of New York City will be open to the public for viewing each day. Among Brooklyn’s  architectural wonders participating in the Open House event will be St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Carroll Gardens, situated on the corner of Clinton and Carroll Streets.

Originally designed by Richard M. Upjohn (1828-1903), St. Paul’s was built in the Gothic Revival style popular during the 19th century. (R.M. Upjohn and his father also designed Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery Gate, just a few miles away in Sunset Park). After a fire damaged the church, Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was commissioned to redesign the interior in 1907, and this is where the story gets interesting: Cram is noteworthy among early 20th century architects for his resistance to the overwhelming current of early modernism. He’s been referred to by at least one writer as the “high priest of American Neo-Gothic,” in deference to his passion for pre-renaissance, medieval, Gothic architecture.

An agnostic in his youth, Cram underwent a dramatic spiritual conversion during a Christmas Mass in Rome and subsequently became a fervent Anglican—in fact, the Episcopal Church has honored Cram, along with Upjohn and John LaFarge, with a special Feast Day on the liturgical calendar, December 16. St. Paul’s, an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church, is the only place where the work of these two important architects, Upjohn and Cram, is layered together within a single structure. Along with his writings on Religion, Art and Architecture, Cram is also the author of a book of ghost stories, Black Spirits and White.

“Gothic is less a method of construction,” Cram once suggested, “than it is a mental attitude, the visualizing of a spiritual impulse.”  In the early twentieth century, this kind of attitude went against the grain of the growing, dominant trends of Modernism with it’s trenchant iconoclasm and absolute disdain for anything that valued a sense of continuity with the past. Cram’s sense of history and place, his embrace of mystical philosophies and eloquent theological musings on the nature of art were simply out of place in the cultural milieu that eventually gave us Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum or the austere, curtain-walled designs of Mies van der Rohe’s glass box buildings.

The following information comes from St. Paul’s Press Release for the 8th annual Open House New York Weekend:

“On Saturday, October 9th from 11 am to 5 pm, there will be ongoing guided tours and self-guided tours in conjunction with “openhousenewyork.” On Sunday, October 10th, there will be an Organ Recital by St. Paul’s Music Director, Andrew von Gutfeld at 1:30 followed by guided tours and self-guided tours from 2-5 pm. Naturally, the parish welcomes everyone to Sunday’s 11 am mass.

“St. Paul’s has a rich history that dates back to Brooklyn’s pre-Civil War era, having been founded in 1849 by Irish Protestants, an often overlooked but important early New York emigrant group. In 1866, the parish asked R.M. Upjohn to design its church, which celebrates the Gothic Revival architectural style that was so popular in mid-nineteen-century America.

“In the decades following 1874, the year St. Paul’s Church was consecrated, the parish faced an identity crisis, with many of its original families having moved away, uncomfortable with Brooklyn’s increasingly non-protestant feel. However, the parish ultimately adopted Anglo-Catholicism, a popular reform movement that combined medieval ritual and community service.

“During this time, the parish commissioned prominent architect Ralph Adams Cram to redesign St. Paul’s interior, after a fire damaged the church in 1907. Cram, who designed the nave at St. John the Divine in Manhattan, gave St. Paul’s interior the Neo-Gothic flavor that it retains today.

“It is important to note that St. Paul’s enjoyed a racially diverse congregation since the 1920s, as it attracted members of Brooklyn’s West Indian community, who worked mostly as servants for wealthy families in Brooklyn Heights.  Irving King, a current parishioner of West Indian descent, said his mother liked St. Paul’s because it was the first church where she was not “told where to sit.”   This was at a time when segregation in many churches was the norm, when even the taking of communion itself was a segregated act—but not at St. Paul’s.

“Like Brooklyn itself, the church has always changed with the times and reinvented itself, welcoming newcomers in the last twenty years who have gravitated toward an increasingly gentrified Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. St. Paul’s today attracts a wide range of people from a range of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, drawing in many young families new to the neighborhood. ”

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Henri Matisse at MoMA, Drawing on the F Train

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

It’s been so hot and humid in New York this month that I’ve just been carrying around a little pocket sketchbook with a pencil and a pen to do light drawings with. No book bag to carry on the train or my bike!

This last Monday I took the F train up to MoMA, and did some drawings on the way. I didn’t think I’d get in to see the Matisse exhibit—they’re doing a timed-ticket entry to help facilitate the crowds—but after seeing the Picasso Variations exhibit again and the Alternative Abstractions show, I took the escalator up to the Tisch gallery on the sixth floor anyway;  it was already after five o’clock, and traffic was light enough that they were allowing folks to walk through. What a treat:  I had several of the galleries practically to myself while the guards were winding things down for closing time.

I’ll go back for another visit, but for now my favorite things were the little line drawings done on paper, some of them not much bigger than a matchbook, and the large Bathers by a River from the Chicago Art Institute.

I made this little Flash Movie from some of the pages in my sketchbook—all done with rapidograph pen and pencil.  Some of these are subway riders, others are quick sketches copied from Matisse.

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St. Mark’s Bookshop Poetry Reading Series at Bar 82: Geoffrey Nutter & Dorothea Lasky

Friday, April 30th, 2010

The Saint Mark’s Bookshop Poetry Reading Series was held at Bar 82 tonight.  Geoffrey Nutter and Dorothea Lasky are two wonderful, amazing poets who each read from their recent work.  Mr. Nutter read from Christopher Sunset, and Ms. Lasky read from Black Life, both recently published by Wave Books.

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David Dunlap at CUE Art Foundation

Friday, January 8th, 2010
Note: please click on an image to view a larger photo, then click that photo to get even larger:

Notes on David Dunlap at CUE

The CUE Foundation is showing the protean work of Iowa City artist David Dunlap in their Chelsea gallery on west 25th street.  This is an installation by an important and influential artist who has been deserving of larger recognition, at least in the New York art community, for a long while.

For the past four decades artist David Dunlap has been keeping a series of daily notebook journals and sketchbooks–a kind of stream-of-consciousness diary of daily life and reflections on art and the world, which he presents in various formats, each one showcasing a different incarnation of the artist’s ongoing work.

Empty, luminous, dream-like, ungraspable and mysterious:  the current exhibition, Mr. Dunlap’s first solo show in New York City, has as its centerpiece a section of a fifty-foot high plywood house the artist constructed in his back yard in Iowa City.  Inside and around the “house” are numerous hand-made book-cases displaying the many notebooks, sketchbooks and project-scrapbooks that have continued to accumulate like deposits in an ever-expanding coral reef of memories, dreams and doodles.  In the middle of the house is an enigromatic object:  A Device for Detecting the Presence of Martin Luther King, Jr. Along the walls of the exhibition space are displayed individual, framed drawings–many of them small pages pulled from the ubiquitous wire-bound notebooks Mr. Dunlap carries with him, while others are larger-format drawings, often executed with a ball-point pen:  homemade calendars illustrated with abstract doodles and mysterious shapes.  Most any mundane, ordinary event becomes the jumping-0ff point for long, meandering riffs on various fantastic and often funny drawings–abstract patterns that morph into figures and symbols which populate the daily calendar of a life lived with friends and family.  Enigmatic phrases headline and punctuate the sprawling installation of imagery:  Dreaming, He is At Work, Hitler Dream Analysis, Give Us Back Our Flag You Waterboarded, This is Always Finished,  Free Art School!

Egolessness and equanimity are seemingly rare in our world, and this is particularly true in the New York “Art World” where egos are often large and tending towards the loud and self-important.  The spirit of David Dunlap’s work seems to be gently calling us to look beyond our limited view of what art could be about and towards something larger, more wholesome and inclusive–and possibly more fun!–than the self-preoccupation and blustery careerism of much contemporary art.

Equanimity means recognition of our interdependence:  our lives do not unfold in a vacuum, but in a context of relationships.  The poet Allen Ginsberg once wrote, “Art’s not empty if it shows its own emptiness.”   Empty here does not mean nihilistic and despairing, but rather that emptiness is always empty of something:  empty of permanence, continuity and a solid, indestructible, independent self.  Art, like life, is relational, in other words, and the artist’s production arises in interdependence with the environment that the artist works and lives in.  David Dunlap seems to revel in this empty, selfless aspect of his work, often collaborating with others in the seemingly large, rich tapestry of relationships he has cultivated over the course of his life.  “The Men’s Fylfot Cross Correspondence Club” is one such ongoing collaboration of drawings passed between friends, with shapes that mutate and change as each person adds something on to the accumulating imagery, like an ongoing musical jam-session happening on paper.

My only criticism of this exhibition is that it is not nearly large enough to encompass the entire scope of David’s work—indeed, the present (though wonderful) installation is really only a small, modular piece of a much larger, ongoing work in progress.  The largest exhibit of Mr. Dunlap’s work that I have seen to date was at the Des Moines Art Center in 1989, an enormous multi-room installation with wall-paintings, timelines, furniture, and of course the artist’s books.  While browsing through the beautiful, gem-like installation at CUE, I kept imagining what it would be like to fill one of the Whitney Museum’s floors with a full-scale exhibit of Mr. Dunlap’s work, or possibly the expansive Marron Atrium at MoMA.

One of the unfortunate drawbacks of life in the Big Apple is that New York City often has a myopic eye when it comes to appreciating the rich variety of art work that exists in our great country outside the city.  The CUE Foundation and the Reeder Brothers deserve a warm thanks for bringing generous work like this to New York.

Additional Notes from the CUE Press Release:

“His materials of choice come from the everyday – clothes, notebooks, calendars, automobiles, even paint made from mixing walnuts and buckets of water. Yet, while the base components may imply simplicity, they are far from easy to digest. Containing the recordings of thoughts and memories like daily journal entries or logbooks, the work provokes a cryptic sense of voyeurism. Dunlap employs an elaborate and deeply personal symbology in all of his work, linking the seemingly mundane and the profound, the personal and the cultural, the historical and the present. An intimate mythology is generated through his unique lexicon used for documenting his life. Recurring symbols like Martin Luther King, swastikas, dates and flags are found throughout his work, constantly being reworked within new contexts of his own personal documentation. However, Dunlap does not stake sole claim on the work; as with many of the symbols used, all of his work is open to interpretation, redefinition and re-appropriation. Through the resulting installation the viewer is led to question their initial conceptions of these “stock” images, underlining the obstructiveness of readymade thought and ideas.”

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Snow on New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

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The Blizzard of 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Happy Holidays everyone!  Here are some photos I made of the snow in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; click on each photo to see a larger image:

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View Out My Windows

Friday, December 18th, 2009

28°F Friday December 18, 2009
S’posed to snow maybe tomorrow–need to water my plants–Wes Montgomery on the radio


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Winter White Opening at Tria Gallery

Friday, December 11th, 2009

As the first big cold front of the season began making its way into the City, I stopped by the Tria Gallery for some warm Holiday Cheer and to visit with friends at the Winter White exhibit.  Here are some snapshots that I made at the crowded opening:

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Harold’s Favorite Art Exhibits of 2009

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

James Ensor at MoMa


Drawings from the Compass in Hand exhibit at MoMa

YellowFever Live at the Whitney

YellowFever Live at the Whitney

Walking out of the Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum and looking at the beautiful Joachim Patinir triptych in the European Paintings Galleries.

Walking out of the Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum and looking at the beautiful Joachim Patinir triptych in the European Paintings Galleries.

The Alice Neel show at David Zwirner's Gallery in Chelsea

The Alice Neel show at David Zwirner's Gallery in Chelsea

Another Alice Neel

Another Alice Neel

The Caillebotte show at the Brooklyn Art Museum

The Caillebotte show at the Brooklyn Art Museum

To be continued . . .

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Philip Guston Small Oils 1969-1973 at David McKee Gallery

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

When Philip Guston began showing this work at Marlborough in 1970, the negative reaction of the established New York art world was so overwhelming that the gallery would not renew his contract to exhibit there.  Hilton Kramer ridiculed the new paintings, and much of the art world dismissed the work as being “impure”—it was simply too transgressive for the sensibility of the art establishment, which revolved around a received notion that painting had to be “pure” to be seen as authentic.

Guston eventually moved to Woodstock, withdrawing from the city to focus on his new artistic direction.  The David McKee gallery began showing Guston’s new work and continued to do so until the artist’s death in 1980.  His painting output during this time period became a lightning rod for subsequent generations of figurative painters, who drew inspiration from his courageous break with the dominant trend of abstract expressionism.  Guston once said, “I’m puzzled all the time by representation or not, the literal image and the nonobjective. There’s no such thing as nonobjective art. Everything has an object, has a figure. The question is what kind?”

The current exhibit at McKee is a great opportunity to visit some of the very earliest of these protean works, which still pack quite a punch after 40 years.









James Kalm Visits the McKee Gallery: Philip Guston Small Oils 1969-1973

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