Distinguished Concerts International NY – The Power of Classical Music

I recently attended a performance at Carnegie Hall of Requiem and Cantata Memoria for the Children by Sir Karl Jenkins. I didn’t know either piece, but I was moved by the performance.

DCINY, ‘Cantata Memoria For the Children’ – Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor; Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Composer-in-Residence; NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE; photo by DCINY Production/Nan Melville photography; Photo Courtesy of DCINY

I was also impressed by the fact that there was not only an orchestra, but also several hundred singers in the chorus on stage. I tried contemplating the logistics of putting such a group together, but my mind kept short circuiting. So, I met with Iris Derke, the Co-Founder and General Director of Distinguished Concerts International (DCINY) which produced the concert, and Andrea Niederman, Associate Director of Marketing and Promotions and Box Office. I attended the concert as DCINY’s guest.

Liz Daly: Now that I’ve seen one of your concerts, I’d like to get a sense of what you do, and what your impetus was for founding DCINY – I think it’s a unique entity.

Iris Derke: The start of DCINY … Jonathan (co-founder Maestro Jonathan Griffith) and I are both musicians – Jonathan is a very fine conductor as you saw – and my background is as a flautist and a concert promoter. I’ve always enjoyed the behind-the-scenes of what makes these concerts happen. We had both worked with companies that had done similar types of things – at one point we worked together for the same company, which we left and pursued different paths.

I started receiving phone calls from people I had worked with who said, “Can you help me make a concert happen?”   Jonathan had a similar circumstance, and since we had worked well together, we decided to do a couple of concerts. We’re both passionate about what we do and the people who called us are passionate. We learned very quickly that when you bring passionate people together, who have some know-how, you can make big things happen. That first season we did, I believe, 12 events, when we thought we would only do a few. We decided that the first concert would be the music of Karl Jenkins – that was January 2008 – and it’s grown to us celebrating our 10th anniversary next January, again with Karl Jenkins – we’ve commissioned a major work from him.

Liz: How many projects do you do a year?

Iris:   About 20 to 24. Our main stage events, like the Jenkins concert, average 12 to 15.       Of the remainder, some we do in Weil Recital Hall, featuring solo artists and small chamber ensembles; we also feature smaller choirs and instrumental groups at Alice Tully Hall and other types of events.

Liz: Let’s talk about how an event like the one I saw comes together – a couple of hundred people on stage – and they’re not all from the Bronx and Brooklyn – how far in advance do you start this…. (Editor’s note: the chorus is comprised of singers and chorus members from professional, semiprofessional, and amateur ensembles, as well as individual singers, from around the world)

Iris: Right now we’re working one to three years in advance. Our 2018 season is pretty much built, and we have interest for 2019 already being tagged.

The choirs that you saw on stage were the work of conversations and relationships of our whole team: me, Jonathan and our development team reaching out to choirs, conductors, composers and artists around the world. Some were referred to us. We also have about a 40% return rate of choirs and directors, who, once they’ve done it, have to come back again. All choirs go through a rigorous audition process; we want to make sure that they’re of a certain level, that they’re pointed towards the right repertoire, the right conductor, that it’s the right fit for that particular entity. When those choirs arrive in New York they’re already fully prepared, so that the work in New York is about fitting them together as one large ensemble.

Liz: I was going to ask about how you rehearse such a large group, because it looked like you had about 20 different choirs onstage.

Iris: We had 10 to 12 different choirs with each act, for approximately 280 to 290 singers; those are the types of voices and the types of power you need for the works we do. That’s why we very much pair projects with the right choirs. We wouldn’t do a Bach suite with 300 voices, but a Handel’s Messiah, like we did in the fall, is glorious when you’ve got so many voices.

Liz: How long is the final rehearsal when they all come to New York?

Iris: Everyone arrives already fully prepared – that’s integral to the success of the performance. When they’re here they have two half days of rehearsals – choir and piano with a conductor – those are quite intense. But, many see it as the most important part of the residency, because it’s very much a workshop; we want them to go back as an even better choir than they were when they got here. Then we have the general rehearsal at the hall, which puts everything together with our professional orchestra and soloists… and then the performance. It’s a lot of very good work done in a very intense, focused amount of time.

Liz: You’ve been doing this for almost ten years now, and I’m sure that your background and Jonathan’s make it easier.

Iris: For us at DCINY it’s almost ten years, but the collective experience – Jonathan has conducted around the world and he’s also an educator; I’ve been producing events and performing for well over 20 years, and our team: our development, production, promotion and PR teams, Andrea and audience development… so much talent, passion and drive with our team – it’s impressive what can be accomplished when you harness that energy with one focus. There are so many aspects to what we do and what we enjoy doing.

Liz: What are the major challenges to putting on a concert?

Iris Derke, Co-Founder, General Director, DCINY

Iris: We don’t have two days here that are the same, and we have a team of people who embrace that. You need to have that flexibility in the arts in order to produce the best possible results. It’s that happenstance of life and logistics that I think we see as a plus: flying in for 23 hours from New Zealand, the bus not being at the airport, not being in the right seat at the beginning of the performance, but ending up in the right seat because you met two people from Japan and China who are now your best friends, that you’ll be traveling with next year …it’s that spontaneity and surprise that produces a delightful and exquisite experience like no other.

We always have special cases, special music requests, but that results in each concert being infused with its own unique and incredible experiences. That’s why we have concert capsules on our website giving one a perspective, or at least a glimpse, in to what happened that day!

Liz: I would imagine that if you’re participating in a performance like the one I attended, that it’s a chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t encounter.

Andrea: We invite all our singers into private Facebook groups so they can get to know each other and ask each other questions; when you get to rehearsals, you’re looking out for other people.

In concert, you’re seated by height and voice part, not by the choir you’re in, so you’re forced to meet the people next to you, you mingle at breaks, then there’s a big party after the concert… it’s a lot of fun.

Iris: Again it’s personal, for all of us in this office we’re here because we personally feel plugged in to what we do, and we want that experience for everyone. We get letters back from our soloists – these are professionals who are hired, many from the Met – who write “that was the most amazing experience, let me know when I can perform with DCINY again, because I want to be a part of this!” That makes me so happy.

Liz:   At the Jenkins concert, there were two children’s choirs. Do you often work with children?

Iris: We work with all ages. It depends on the needs of the project. For example, in June we have a concert where one act features children’s voices. We engage guest conductors who are really tuned into children and know how to harness their best work and produce incredible experiences. We often work with Francisco Nunez, Artistic Director of the Young Persons Chorus of NYC. He jumps on the podium and the kids just come to life and sing and perform with every part of their being and soul.

Andrea: Conductor and composer Cristian Grases is just remarkable – he will be conducting a world premier for us. I oversee audience development, and it’s so much fun when the audience gets into it, and connects, and the conductor connects, and the choir…. then we’re making music and everyone’s involved. That’s the best.

Liz: I’m sure for those kids on stage, they’ll carry that experience with them for the rest of their lives, whether or not they continue with music. DCINY’s tag line is “Changing lives through the power of performance,” can you elaborate?

Iris: It’s very important to us. We like to set up collaborations and partners to affect as many people as we can. It’s true that everyone who’s on stage performing with us may not go on to become professional musicians, but when they go home, they continue with their musical activities, and when the NY Phil or another traveling musical ensemble comes into town, they purchase tickets and attend their performance. They keep classical music alive because they remember how it felt and understand how important it is, whether it’s on-stage performing or sitting in the house and hearing a concert. At the Jenkins concert, people were crying around me – and there are fewer and fewer opportunities to touch people like that…

Andrea: While we’re fortunate to be growing, we’re cognizant of our place, and we like to give back. We’ve worked with Highbridge Voices in the South Bronx (they’re on our YouTube page). They raised money for their programs via Ticket Funder – they sell tickets to the concert they’re performing in, and keep a large portion of the proceeds for their programs.

At the Jenkins performance, you saw the call to action [asking the audience to make donations to organizations that work with children]. We try to do as many things like that as we can, to give back, to partner with organizations that are doing good.

Liz: Andrea, how did you become involved with DCINY?

Andrea Niederman, Associate Director of Marketing, Box Office and Promotions, DCINY

Andrea: I sang in choir and was a theatre major, so when I saw a posting that looked interesting – it mentioned Carnegie Hall – I applied (it was for a different position).  This is my sixth season here. My job, along with my assistant Catherine, is to fill the seats with enthusiastic audience members who are responsive and will give the performers on stage the experience they’re expecting, and vice-versa. The audience is not filled with family and friends – we have a loyal following of New Yorkers. Our tickets cost less than a movie ticket and every concert is different, so you’re not hearing the same thing every time.

Iris:   We did our first live webcast last April with video game composer Christopher Ten (Civilization 4), who is the only cross-over musician to win a Grammy for video game music. He has a huge following that brings us new audiences. We decided to do a live webcast with him; by the end, we had almost 800,000 hits. And we just did the same for the Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall in the fall; and we plan on doing it for the Karl Jenkins concert in 2018 for the opening of our tenth anniversary.

Liz: You started out 10 years ago with just two people?

Iris: In the beginning, just Jonathan and I did everything. It’s truly amazing and humbling to see how we’ve grown.

Liz: How many are you now?

Iris: We have 22 full-time people on staff at DCINY, and we also have our own part-time production staff, about 18 people who just come in to take good care of our artists over those important rehearsal and performance weekends.

Liz: That’s great growth – I think the statistic is something like fewer than half of new businesses make it to five years, so to be looking at 10 is fantastic.

Iris: We’re thrilled – I still can’t believe that we’re soon to celebrate our 10th anniversary – our gratitude to all the people who helped us get there is beyond words. For us the tenth anniversary is about saying “Thank You,” not only to our own team – because without each other we wouldn’t be here – but to all the performers, conductors, composers, and audiences as well as the fantastic venues and their crew and vendors who have joined us over the years and have contributed to some truly spectacular performances. We wish to celebrate them all for helping to push our mission forward every day: Changing Lives through the Power of Performance. We have people signed up for January 2018, who say, “I was there for your first concert, I’ve got to come back for this one and celebrate with you. I wouldn’t miss it!” – it’s all so exciting.

Liz: Do you still perform?

Iris: I do … from time to time on our series … I’ve done a few concertos. One of the artists we work with often, DInos Constantinides, surprised me – when I came back from a trip, there was a flute concerto he wrote for me sitting on my desk, just like that! So we’re thinking about scheduling that for 2018.

Liz: Do you still sing, Andrea?

Andrea: Yes, James Meaders, our Associate Artistic Director and I started a choir, Urban Konterei, which is on hiatus right now, but we’ve performed with DCINY and in our own concerts. That’s been a joy, to express myself through music.

Liz: What’s coming up for 2017?

Iris: We’re right in mid-stream on that. In February we have 4 concerts: 2 main stage at Carnegie and 2 at Weil; 4 concerts coming up in March – we go right through to the end of June – and we take a little breath in the summer, although we will be in Barcelona in July, performing a Verdi requiem with Jonathan conducting – we have singers from around the world joining us for that particular performance. Then we take another breath, and we’re back in November. Our year goes in cycles and always stays chock full and interesting.

Liz: This morning I received an e-mail from you, about auditions for singers for 2018?

Iris: We’re very excited about 2018. We sent an e-mail blast for singers who want to audition to perform on April 8, 2018 at Carnegie Hall with conductor and composer Eric Whitacre (if you want to sing, click here ) It’s rare for him to have the time to do these kinds of events. He did one of the first virtual choirs – talk about bringing people together and garnering emotions from people through their computers! It’s a testament to his music and what he’s able to accomplish. Also in 2018, The King Singers will be making their 50th Anniversary performance with us at Carnegie Hall.

We’re filling up the dates for 2018 and hope to close many of them soon, so we can shift to the music focus and know that our performing groups are all set.

Liz: Thank you Iris and Andrea – this has been fun.

Iris: Thanks for helping us get the word out; this is an opportunity for us to make personal connections, with you, with your readers, to create that spark “Oh, I sing with a choir, I’d love to find out more…” to reach those people who haven’t even conceived that there’s an opportunity for them to work with Karl Jenkins or to be on the Carnegie Hall stage…. and the audience – it’s great to see people hopefully changed a little after a night with us.

You can find more information about DCINY, including their scheduled concerts, and how to audition for them here.

Karl Jenkins: Requiem, Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Sir Karl Jenkins, DCINY Composer-in-Residence; photo by DCINY Production/Nan Melville photography; photo courtesy of DCINY

Outsider Art Fair – Going Strong at 25

Last month The Outsider Art Fair celebrated its 25th anniversary.  Although it might seem as if outsider art is now mainstream and that a fair devoted to this genre – encompassing art brut, folk art, visionary art, self-taught art – would now be outmoded, this edition proved once again why the fair has staying power.    Here are some of my favorites.  There were many others.  

Gilley’s Gallery, Baton Rouge, LA, showed Melrose Plantation Quilt, made in 1970 by Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), one of Louisiana’s most famous female artists. The quilt is named after the plantation – and artist colony – where she lived and worked for many years first as a farm hand, then in the house.  A self-taught artist, she started quilting in her 40‘s and painting in her 50’s, documenting life on the plantation. 

detail, Melrose Plantation Quilt, Clementine Hunter, 1970 at Gilley’s Gallery

Nearby was a special display of the quilts by women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a small, rural town whose inhabitants are mostly descendants of slaves who worked on the Pettway plantation.  They use recycled clothing, feed sacks and fabric remnants to create unique quilted masterpieces, which have been shown in museums across the U.S. (A portion of the proceeds from the sales of these quilts were donated to God’s Love We Deliver)

Quilt from Gee’s Bend

Pardee Collection, Iowa City, IA, featured work by Oliver Williams (b. 1946), now a retired draftsman, who has been painting for fifty years.  Many of his images are inspired by dreams and old family photographs, or memories of his rural childhood.  I was attracted by the intensity of his palette, and how straightforward his images are (although I do wonder about that baby…)

Lion and Baby, Oliver Williams, oil at the Pardee Collection, Iowa City

I always stop by Fountain House Gallery’s booth, not only because of their programs for people with mental illness, but also because the work of their artists stands on its own.   I especially like Alyson Vega’s Beach Quilt, made from sewn paper, sand, and paint.  When I commented on it’s geometric qualities, the gallerist told me that Ms. Vega had been a math teacher! Often her images are cut from magazines and math text books. Her teaching career ended after 22 years, when she had surgery for a brain tumor.  That’s when she began making fibre art.

Beach Quilt, Alyson Vega, 2012-16, sewn paper, sand and paint, at Fountain House

Galérie des Nanas, Danville, Canada, displayed this magnificent hand-made coat by Danielle Jacqui, an 83 year-old artist who lives in Provence, where every inch of her house, both inside and outside, is covered with her art, and is known as “The House of She Who Paints.”

Hand made coat by Danielle Jacqui at Galerie Galerie des Nanas, Canada

Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, NY (which also owns the fair) exhibited several ink and pastel works by Domenic Zindato, an Italian artist who lives in Mexico.  The artist uses nibs and fine haired brushes to create extremely elaborately patterns, that only reveal themselves close up, giving his work an affinity with aboriginal art. I especially liked his sense of color.

The Never Seen I Bring You as a Gift, Domenico Zindato, 2015, ink & pastel on paper, at Andrew Edlin Gallery

Webb GalleryWaxahachie, TX, exhibited a wonderful tapestry of string and yarn by Robert Adale Davis. The fluorescent colors and complex, layered, obsessive stitching, combined with Insular-like images of people and animals (think Book of Kells), set against patterned backgrounds give it an other-worldly feel.  I was not surprised to learn that the artist researches the physics of vibrations.

detail of Tapestry by Robert Adale Davis at Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, TX

Cavin-Morris, New York, NY, displayed a fabulous mixed media collage, New York, by Dutch artist Herman Bossert, who unfortunately died two days before the fair opened. This is one of many works Bossert made using ink and watercolor with a semi-automatic scratching technique, to create different drawings (often of different sizes) which were then placed next to each other.  The cars, buildings and highways seem to spill off each of the drawings,creating the impression of gigantic metropolises.  Even though Bossert had never been to New York, he certainly captured its energy.

New York, Herman Bossert, mixed media collage, Cavin Morris Gallery

Brooklyn-based Cathouse Proper’s booth was again composed solely of the works of Daniel Swanigan Snow, whose career as an actor infuses his mixed media assemblages that are created from found objects such as broken toys, car parts, discarded appliances, antique tools and hardware, and often incorporate flashing lights and/or video. While they address serious topics, they’re often infused with humor.

Daniel Swanigan Snow at Outsider Art Fair, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cathouse Proper

Chinese (Lunar) New Year Festivites

Chinese New Year, by Zhang Min, giclée print, 1997 at Museum of Chinese in America

Saturday, January 28th, marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar year  4714 , also known as the Year of the Fire Rooster.   The Chinese zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle, with other Rooster years falling in 1945, 1969, 1981, 1993 and 2005; however, the last Fire Rooster year was 1956. 

Lunar New Year, heralding the beginning of the Spring Festival, is celebrated by many countries in East Asia, where it is also known as Chinese New Year, Sŏllal (Korea), Tsagaan Sar (Mongolia), Losar (Tibet), Tet (VietNam) and Imlek (Indonesia).

Families gather together for a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and clean their houses to sweep away bad fortune on New Year’s Day.  Traditionally, children would be given red envelopes stuffed with ‘lucky money’ and positive wishes on New Year’s Day, but now, there’s an app for that!

Year of the Rooster red envelope

Fire Roosters are known for being trustworthy, punctual and responsible (especially at work), not to mention active, amusing, popular, outspoken, loyal and charming. On the other hand… they are also known to enjoy the spotlight – but can be vain and boastful.  Serena Williams, Eric Clapton, Beyonce and Roger Federer were all born in the Year of the Rooster.

The traditional holiday lasts for 15 days, culminating with the Lantern Festival for young lovers. Here in the Big Apple there are a number of celebrations over the coming weeks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, January 28, the Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival, gets things going at 11:00am, at Sara D. Roosevelt Park. (Grand Street at Chrystie St.)  There will be performances, vendors, and giveaways. The main event, the Firecracker Ceremony is scheduled for noon. You might want to bring your ear plugs!

Starting Saturday, January 28th, with the Chinese New Year Temple Bazaar, Flushing Town Hall in Queens will be hosting a variety of events throughout February to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

At the Asia Society, celebrate the Year of the Rooster on Saturday, January 28th with crafts, music, kung-fu demonstration and theatre.  More information here.  Their New York location is at 725 Park Avenue (70th Street), with offices in 11 other cities around the US and the world.

Join The Korea Society on Saturday, January 28th, to celebrate Sŏllal, the Korean New Year,  a day of fun-filled family activities: enjoy storytelling based on Korean folk tales, play a Korean hand-drum, learn brush painting, compete in traditional games, and more! The Korea Society is at 950 Third Avenue, 8th floor.

Sunday, January 29th, join the festivities at Madison Street to Madison Avenue  which include a variety of  cultural performances and a wide-range of fun, kid-friendly activities inside heated tents, including Chinese face painting, calligraphy demonstrations, paper-cutting, and a themed photo booth. Starting at 11:00am, inside the Harman Music Store, 54th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.  Sponsored by the Confucius Institute for Business (CIB) at SUNY.  

Sunday, January 29th, Celebrate Chinese New Year in Sunset Park, NY’s “other” Chinatown in Brooklyn, with a parade and free performances. A fun family outing whatever your ethnicity, Chinese New Year events in Sunset Park are organized by the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, a community service organization founded in 1987.  Noon to 1 p.m.: Parade starts at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street in Brooklyn.

Saturday, February 4th, Celebrate the Year of the Rooster in the most diverse community in the United States! March with the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce in the Flushing Lunar New Year Parade organized by the “2017 Lunar New Year Festival Committee,” a coalition of community groups led by the Flushing Chinese Business Association (FCBA) and the Korean American Association of Queens (KAAQ).  Meet up with the Flushing Chamber (39-01 Main Street, Suite 511) between 10:00AM and 11:00AM for some hot coffee and donuts … then, head off to the parade which lasts approximately an hour.

Saturday, February 4th, China Institute will host Chinese New Year celebrations, including family workshops and a concert.  You can find more information on these and other programs here.  You’ll find the China Institute at 100 Washington Street; note that there’s a temporary entrance: 40 Rector Street, 2nd Floor.

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is hosting several  Lunar New Year events:   you can start on Saturday, February 4th, and learn how to make dumplings with Joanna Lee and Ken Smith, authors of the Pocket Chinese Almanac (you can listen to my podcast with them last year here); Saturday, February 11th, MOCA will have zodiac themed arts & crafts, lively dance performances, festive food sampling, storytelling, and much more for the whole family; and  on Sunday, February 12th, you can join Joanna and Ken at the Golden Unicorn Restaurant, where they’ll teach you how to order dim sum.

Sunday, February 5th, from noon to 4:30 pm, Check out Chinatown’s Annual Lunar New Year Parade for tantalizing visuals, delicious treats and mesmerizing cultural performances. This party features all sorts of vendors, food, and festivities for all ages to welcome the Year of the Rooster. The parade winds its way through the main streets of Manhattan Chinatown on February 5, and parade starts at 1pm. Show up early to grab a prime spot along the route! Suggested viewing locations: East Broadway or by Grand Street / Sara Roosevelt Park.

February 8th, 6:00pm, the Flushing Chamber of Commerce Lunar New Year Celebration   attendees will enjoy family-friendly performances and get to savor Lunar New Year delicacies include a prosperity toss, roasted suckling pig, golden dumplings, longevity noodles, and more.  6:00pm – 8:30pm Flushing Town Hall, 173-35 Northern Boulevard   

Saturday, February 11th,  Ring in the year of the Rooster at Brookfield Place in partnership with the New York Chinese Culture Center. Get ready for energetic dance and music performances, as well as demonstrations of Chinese customs such as a martial arts demo and theatrical players in full traditional makeup-up and regalia. Guests of all ages should show up early: there will be a dynamic, colorful Lion Parade led by lion dances throughout the space before the show begins. Starting 1:30pm

Looking further ahead, from March 9th to the 18th, you can enjoy Asia Week New York, an annual ten-day celebration of Asian art  with exhibitions, auctions and special events presented by leading international Asian art specialists, auction houses, museums and cultural institutions.

Dia: Beacon – Modern Art in the Hudson Valley

In late fall last year I found myself in Beacon, NY for a meeting, so before heading back to the Big Apple, I made sure to stop into the Dia: Beacon.  Nestled in lovely grounds on the banks of the Hudson River, this former Nabisco box-printing factory’s interior was redesigned by Robert Irwin, and houses their collection of modern art – primarily sculpture that is minimalist, abstract and conceptual – from the 1960’s to the present.

Dia: Beacon

While many of the works are large scale, the spaciousness of the galleries, spread over three levels,  allows them to breathe and be shown to their advantage.  Even if you’re not a big fan of this type of art, I think you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the craft and (some of) the theory that underpin these works. 

Greeting you after the entrance is Walter De Maria’s 360˚ I Ching / 64 Sculptures, 1981 consisting of 576 white-laquered wooden rods on a red carpet, divided into 64 hexagrams, each composed of 3 solid and 3 broken lines, based on permutations of the hexagram found in this ancient Chinese text.   Occupying 10,000 sq. ft., it’s a fitting way to begin your exploration of the galleries.

Walter De Maria, 360˚ I Ching/64 Sculptures, 1981. © The Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York, courtesy of Dia

Walter De Maria, 360˚ I Ching/64 Sculptures, 1981. © The Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York, courtesy of Dia

Also on the ground floor you’ll find a series of “monuments” for V. Tatlin (1966, 1968, 1981), Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light structures which reference the Russian Constructivist’s ambition in uniting art and technology, although Flavin’s use of ordinary fluorescent light bulbs which burn out and need replacing, provide an ironic counterpoint to the notion of “monument.”

“monuments” for V. Tatlin, by Dan Flavin


In the back gallery are Michael Heizer’s North, East, South, West,  four geometric pits (together 125 ft. long and 21ft. deep), whose forms – square, cone, triangular trough – are separations of void and solid mass, highlighting negative space.  This work, commissioned by Dia, has it’s origins in an outdoor negative sculpture, North, South that Heizer created in 1967.  In the next room is Heizer’s Megalith #5, from 1998, a 15ft. high menhir-like stone inscribed in a rectangular space – awe inspiring. 

North, East, South, West by Michael Heitzer


On the opposite side of the building are Richard Serra’s 48 maquettes for Torqued Ellipses – you’ll find the fully realized versions on the lower level.  The models are very useful for understanding the various choices – and engineering challenges – facing Serra when he fashioned these huge steel rolls into sculptures which people can walk inside and around.  Your sense of perspective and space changes as you walk through each one of them, as they’re all  contorted at different angles.

Maquettes for Torqued Ellipses, Richard Serra

Torqued Ellipses, Richard Serra



Also on the lower level, in a cavernous, dimly lit space is Dan Flavin’s 1973 work, Untitled (to you Heiner with admiration and affection), whose optical properties and physical dimensions demand appreciation – a row of 4ft. wide modular square green fluorescent lights arranged one behind the other at 2 ft. intervals – creating an optical and physical barrier, while flooding the space with green light which changes with the natural light coming through the windows.  I spent a fair amount of time with this work, which is perfect for this space.  The piece is dedicated to Heiner Friedrich, Dia’s co-founder.

untitled (to you Heiner with admiration and affection), Dan Flavin

detail from Untitled (to you Heiner with admiration and affection), Dan Flavin

If you go up to the top floor, you’ll find work by Louise Bourgeois, including her famous 2003 Crouching Spider – very impressive – as well as a number of small works.

Crouching Spider, Louise Bourgeois, 2003


Back on the ground floor, be sure to stop at John Chamberlain’s candy-colored painted steel sculptures, which incorporate scrap metal and crushed car parts, and often have a playful feeling to them – the titles are especially whimsical.

Three Cornered Desire, by John Chamberlain, 1979


There’s a lot more to see – the museum has work by over 20 artists, including Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Agnes Martin.  If you’re looking for a nice day excursion out of the City, you can catch a train at Grand Central that will take you straight up there (get a combo ticket that includes entry to the museum).  The town of Beacon is lovely, with many small shops and restaurants. 

Dia also has a gallery in Chelsea, as well as site-specific works, in New York City, Utah, Germany and other locations.  You can find the list here.

Dia also hosts concerts, readings and lectures – you can find the calendar here.

Alvin Ailey Dance Review

r-Evolution, Dream Choreography: Hope Boykin
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik
studio@paulkolnik.com nyc 212-362-7778

It’s been a while since I’ve been to see dance, but the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s performance of three very different pieces – Deep, r-Evolution Dream and The Winter in Lisbon – showed me why I should go more often.   It’s modern dance, and very athletic, with a classical grounding underpinning it all.

The evening opened with Deep, a world premiere ensemble routine by Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti (newly appointed director of La Scalla Ballet), set to music by Ibeyi, French-Cuban twin sisters who sing in French, English and Yoruba.

This was followed by r-Evolution, Dream choreographed by Ailey dancer Hope Boykin, who was inspired by a visit to the Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta where she heard an excerpt from “The Drum Major Instinct”  sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King.  She also commissioned an original score by Ali Jackson of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; throughout the performance you’ll hear historic and original text narrated by Leslie Odom Jr. (from Hamilton).

The last piece was my favorite, as it was set to music by Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Fishman.  The Winter in Lisbon was choreographed in 1992 by Billy Wilson, and restaged by Masazumi Chaya.  With its vibrant score, costumes and movement, you feel the teasing and romance of the dancers. We all left the theatre feeling uplifted.

To get a taste, check out the video’s on the Company’s website.   Then run to City Center –  you’ve only got until December 31st to catch these wonderful dancers.   Don’t delay! 

New York From 1609 to 2050

Native American Ceremonial Club 1600’s from Johan Printz, Governor of New Sweden

Have you ever wondered about the earliest days of New York City – before it was a city?  Or how it became a global capital?  The new exhibit New York at its Core  at the Museum of the City of New York aims not so much to answer those questions, as analyze how the Big Apple came to be, examining the City’s development through four foundational lenses:  money, diversity, density and creativity.

Divided into three parts, this $100 million dollar renovation of the first floor starts with the Port City, covering the years 1609 through 1898, from Henry Hudson’s arrival to the year when the city was consolidated into the metropolis we know today.    You’ll find bays with historic artifacts organized around individual topics, such as the Lenape Indians, the arrival of the Europeans, religious pluralism…  There are also interactive kiosks where you can find out about the people and important events and topics such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, slavery, oysters…  On the back wall images of the modern day streetscape fade into a view of the same scenes from the 18th and 19th centuries, allowing you to really appreciate how the City changed and grew.

Cover of Trumpet Battle album of 1957 and trumpet owned by Roy Eldridge

The second gallery, World City, covering 1898-2012, is about not only the development of the port, but also about the lively cultural scene that had developed, in part due to NYC’s diversity:  between 1880 and 1898, there were over 1 million foreign-born people living in Manhattan and Brooklyn, who were served by papers in 13 languages.  This era also witnessed the birth of the Bowery theatres and Coney Island, which were followed in the early 20th century by the rise of Broadway and the Harlem Renaissance.  Other bays examine the decline of New York between 1960 and 1970, with the pressing issues of that period such as war, civil rights and de-industrialization. I’m happy to report that there’s also a display New York Comes Back, which examines how the City became the global capital we know today. On the back wall of the gallery, clear silhouettes parade against a background of city scenes.  Each silhouette corresponds to one of 40 influential people; you can click on their image to learn their story. 

Mapping the City display with over 100 digital maps of various demographic data, i.e., where people live, where the jobs are, how they get around

The Future City Lab was the most amazing for me, as it allows you to imagine the city of the future through five challenges:  housing, ecology, transportation, work, and diversity.  You can explore each of these areas in detail at individual computer stations, and propose your own solutions – your chance to play urban planner!  It’s a lot of fun, but it also makes you realize how hard it is to design a city. The stations will show you different neighborhoods and the current strategies for their development; you can design a street, a park or a building, and you can see how your proposals rate on various metrics such as affordability and sustainability.  Your solution is then projected on a very large screen that you can step into.  There are also display tables with general information on New York such as our religious composition, the age of the population, origin of our immigrants – 38% of New Yorkers were born abroad, and you can see how we stack up against other cities.

Future City display showing the results of a visitor’s building design

A little more “low tech” is the “What if” table, which contains blocks with questions and answers from knowledgeable New Yorkers; you can submit your own questions or solutions.

This has been a very, very brief overview of the wealth of information you’ll find in this exhibit, which is a permanent one – but don’t wait forever, get up and see it now;  you’ll want to go back!

Artists Equity Show

Leni Liftin and her painting School Bus

I got to the opening the the Members Invitational, a juried group show of work by Artists Equity members at their gallery on Broome Street.  

Artists Equity was founded in 1947 by over 160 leading American artists – including Will Barnet, Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson – to promote opportunities for artists, and to educate their members on legal and business issues as well as advocating on their behalf, which the organization continues to do today.

While the show is small, about a dozen works, the quality is very high.  I’ll let the images speak for themselves;  the exhibit is up until January 14th!

What Happens Now by Ambre Kelly







Transformation by James Buxton









Ultra Lux by Kambui Olujimi



Philanthropy and Higher Education in Africa

(l-r) Naomi Moland, Teboho Moja, Fabrice Jaumont at the Albertine

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know and admire Fabrice Jaumont, the education attaché at the French Cultural Services who’s done so much for dual-language French-English programs in NYC public schools.  Fabrice recently published Unequal Partners: American Foundations and Higher Education Development in Africa, and the Albertine book store hosted a discussion between Fabrice and South African educator and author Teboho Moja,    which was moderated by Naomi Moland.  Below are the highlights of that conversation.

Private philanthropy has helped fuel the growth of higher education in Africa – as of 2014, there were 1639 higher education institutions throughout the 54 countries of the continent (as compared to only 31 in 1944).  While many are state-run, private institutions are also springing up to meet growing demand – as in the rest of the world, higher education is seen as a driver of development and income growth.  Over 300 U.S. foundations are investing in Africa, with the big foundations – Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon – trying to transform education on the continent. Of the $4 billion that was invested between 2003 and 2013, most has been in English speaking countries, especially South Africa, with very little going to French or Portuguese speaking schools.  Funding from non-US sources tends to  come from governments, and follows the old colonial paths.  While funding for building both capacity and buildings has made higher education more accessible, there is often a mismatch between the priorities of foundations and the recipients – the people on the ground know what is needed, but the donors have the money and so determine priorities.  The speakers cited the example of a foundation that wanted to fund classes in women’s studies, but the university would have preferred to spend the money on upgrading Internet access; this clearly highlighted the need for the relationship between the donor and recipient to be negotiated, so the donors can be involved in setting agenda. Funding by private foundations raises several larger questions:  Who owns development? What is the African model of education? Should countries follow US model?  The speakers noted that the African Union takes a regional approach to higher education that cuts across colonial lines (in it’s Development Plan 2063, NEPAD has placed higher education in the center of its strategy).

They also mentioned initiatives that seek to address these issues, such as as the one by the Carnegie Foundation which sends diaspora members to Africa to work with schools. Carnegie is also working with a group of about eight universities to help them strategically transform themselves into more research-oriented institutions, to enable their students to better compete in the knowledge economy.

While the speakers concluded that philanthropy and foundation funding are necessary for the continued growth in higher education in Africa, they did ask the question  of what happens when the funding stops – will Africa be able to do it on its own, or will the continent look to another source, such as China, to grow its education sector?

All in all, a conversation that gave me a lot to chew on, and made me want to read Unequal Partners.  You can watch a video of the talk here.