Last Look Before the Curtain Descends

Deborah Berger (1956-2005) "Mask" Knitted orlon 26 1/2 x 33 1/4 x 13" Collection American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, gift of the Art Council of New Orleans, FIC.2014.67 Photo by Mary Dwan Courtesy American Visionary Art Museum

Deborah Berger (1956-2005) “Mask” Knitted orlon
26 1/2 x 33 1/4 x 13″
Collection American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, gift of the Art Council of New Orleans, FIC.2014.67
Photo by Mary Dwan
Courtesy American Visionary Art Museum

Hurry and see “When the Curtain Never Comes Down” , the wonderful exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum  before it closes on July 5th.  I have to say this has been one of my favorites, showcasing the work of 27 self-taught artists from various countries, who have incorporated some form of public performance in their art.  Several of the artists (Vahan Poladian, Charlie Logan)  made highly ornate costumes – coats, pants, jackets festooned with beads, coins, found objects and often with elaborate embroidery – think Elvis or Liberace – which they would wear when they went into town. One artist, Palmerino Sorgente, thought he was the Pope, and created elaborate Papal hats.   Giuseppe Versino crafted coats and pants from cleaning rags, which he would tear apart and reweave into complete garments, which he wore, even though they could weigh up to 100 pounds.  Deborah Berger knitted elaborate masks, one of which is in the photo at left.

I was a bit overwhelmed trying to think about the planning and labor that went into making each of these costumes, – the deliberateness of their construction, the care in their ornamentation – and how they transformed not only their wearers, but also the materials that went into their fabrication.

Not all the artists shown personally transformed themselves.  Bill Anhang imbued his cast aluminum hats and breast plates with LED lights.  Others created machines, sculptures, writings, structures, light art and sound art.  No matter what the art work, it is clear that a lot of love went into their creation, and they each had deep personal meaning for the artist.

In addition to the exhibits, there are oftentimes accompanying videos, photos or sound recordings which provide an extra dimension to the displays.

This show is worth rearranging your day for.

Science & Art

"Green Frontiers" by Mayandi Sivaguru; Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

“Green Frontiers” by Mayandi Sivaguru; Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Made it to the opening of “Seeing the Art in Science” a new exhibit at featuring 20 microscopic images of the cellular structure of organisms such as corals, honey bee brains, plants, pollen, leaf cells, etc. The images were made  by scientists at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois , using equipment manufactured by Ziess, and were subsequently artistically enhanced and rendered on a much larger scale.  The image at left is a close-up of the  three-dimensional structure of the anther (pollen producer) of the Arabidopsis, the first plant to have its genome sequenced. The evening, hosted by the German Center for Research and Innovation  also featured a panel discussion on genomics and art, and a lively Q & A  with scientists from the University of Illinois and Carl Zeiss.  For a video of the event, or to see more images, click here   The exhibit will be up until at least the end of July at the German House  (German Consulate) on 1st Avenue at 49th Street.

Chelsea Music Festival

I first attended the Chelsea Music Festival last year, when it featured a German-Brazilian theme, so when this year’s iteration was announced I got tickets.  The 2015 Festival celebrates the music of Finland and Hungary, performed by top-notch (if not household names) musicians.  In addition to works by well known composers, the program includes several commissioned pieces.  On Saturday, the program featured works from J.S. Bach, Erno Dohnayi, and Jean Sibilius, as well as specially commissioned pieces by Ilari Kaila.  The finale, refractions on several preludes from Bachs’ Well-Tempered Clavier, was really a conversation between the jazz pianist Adam Birnbaum and the drummer Olavi Louhivouri.  And it was wonderful.   Wednesday, I attended Immutable Dreams, a program of Hungarian Jewish composers such as Karl Goldmark and Joseph Joachim, whose work I didn’t know, but was delighted to hear.  The level of musicianship in this Festival is quite impressive, and I hope you’ll get to hear some of it before it closes on June 20th.  Take a look at the program here .

Folk in the City

Odetta's guitar & dashiki

Odetta’s guitar & dashiki

The recent death of Ronnie Gilbert of The Weavers   put me in mind to see the newly-opened Folk City   exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York .   This comprehensive multi-media exhibit traces the roots of the folk revival – it was great to hear Leadbelly singing “Good Night Irene” again – and goes on to document how New York City became the center of this revival, especially in the 1960‘s.  Some of the other highlights for me were seeing Leadbelly’s 12-string guitar, Odetta’s guitar and Pete Seeger’s banjo, as well as the videos and blow-ups of the newspaper headlines that brought back so vividly the mix of politics and music that defined the era. The New York Times gave it a great review today.

Even though its not really a companion piece, the Activist New York  exhibit has much of the same feel, showing how New Yorkers fought, and continue to fight for social issues, whether  women’s suffrage, civil rights,  historic preservation, better wages, etc.  (it has a great set of posters). 

Getting even more specific about activism in the Big Apple is Saving Place  an exhibit – with fabulous building models, photos and videos –  about landmarking and historic preservation in New York over the past 50 years.

New York by Land and by Sea

The summer’s a great time to go exploring, especially in the Big Apple.  At almost 305 square miles, there’s a lot to see.  

If you’re interested in the City’s historic districts, check out the walking tours offered by the Historic Districts Council   all across the 5 boroughs. Through the end of the month, explore historic Jackson Heights, Long Island City, Greenpoint, North Crown Heights, South Street Seaport, and Tottenville.  HDC is working with these and other neighborhoods to achieve their preservation goals.  Read more at  6 to Celebrate  

Focusing on the built environment, the Municipal Art Society offers a wide-ranging program of walking tours.  This month’s highlights include Cobble Hill, the Neon East Village, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay (who knew?)  For a complete list, click here  

One of the best ways to see the city is from the waterfront.  The Municipal Waterfront Alliance   hosts several activities on the water this summer, including canoe trips on Newtown Creek and the Bronx River, and a family-friendly Hidden Harbor Tour  (the container port is really cool).  You can find the complete program here .

Happy trails!

Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in Gotham

Since the Chelsea Music Festival   is focusing on the music of Hungary and Finland this year (both countries’ native tongues share a common linguistic ancestor)  I thought I’d write a bit about the cultural organizations in New York from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. 

The Balassi Institute of Hungarian Culture is hosting Budapest Pop-up during June featuring classic and contemporary music.

Czech out the films, concerts and other offerings at the Czech Center (you knew there was going to be a bad pun)   Through the rest of June, they’s showing the Czech that Film festival, and hosting a concert of new composers.   Their rooftop-ciné series on Tuesdays in July and August features live music and early 20th century Czech and American films on the theme of the “fallen woman”.

The Polish Cultural Institute   promotes a wide range of cultural programs in music, art, film, theatre and dance.  On their website  you can find out more about Polish artists performing in New York  such as the Polish National Ballet at the Joyce Theatre  through June 21st, or the  Obara International Quartet at Jazz at Lincoln Center  on June 30th, or the works by  Pawel Althamer and Agnieszka Kurant which are included in the Storylines exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum .

The Romanian Cultural Institute hosts concerts, lectures and exhibits throughout the year; when this blog went to press, their summer calendar wasn’t posted.

Scandinavia House offers a wide range of programs from the Nordic countries, including  exhibitions, lectures, jazz concerts, kids activities and Nordic noir films (need I say more).  You can find the full schedule here    Be sure to check out the gift shop for some truly unique items, or enjoy lunch or dinner at Smörgås Chef.

The Finnish Cultural Institute  offers a residency for Finnish artists, designers and architects.  This year, they’re celebrating their 25th year in New York, with the theme of Urban Nature.   In July, catch “The Powers That Be”     an exhibition on physical energy at  Station Independent Projects  on the Lower East Side.

The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue

Image 5

Stained Glass – Eldridge Street Synagogue

I first visited the The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue some years ago when I attended a reading produced by Origin Theatre.  The building fascinated me, and finally this week I took one of the guided tours to find out more.  I learned not only about the building, but  also quite a bit about Jewish life on the Lower East Side.

When this National Historic Landmark opened its doors in 1887, it was the home of a vibrant Orthodox Jewish congregation for many years.  As the community dispersed, the main sanctuary was closed, and fell into disrepair.  Starting in the mid 1980’s, over a 20-year period, the synagogue was restored to it’s former splendor, and now has a stunning new stained-glass window by the artist Kiki Smith and the architect Deborah Gans.  The Museum is closed on Saturdays and major Jewish holidays, when it is used as a synagogue.

The Museum has ongoing cultural and educational events.  Check out the Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas street festival  Sunday, June 7th,  from noon to 4:00, celebrating Jewish, Chinese and Puerto Rican cultures and cuisines.  

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum

Even though it can seem like New York City is getting more and more crowded, and apartments are getting smaller and smaller, it’s nothing compared to the way people lived on the Lower East Side in the mid-19th to early 20th century.   The tours at the Tenement Museum (recreated apartments in a 5-storey,1863 tenement building) give you a good idea of the living conditions successive waves of immigrants encountered when they arrived on these shores. Imagine living in one of the 20 apartments in the building in the photo!

I took the “Irish Outsiders” tour, which recounted the lives of Bridget and Joseph Moore, who in 1868 moved from 5 Points to Orchard Street  (then called Kleindeutchland), with three daughters (and left with two).  Through their story I learned much about daily life of the mix of immigrants on the Lower East side (Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews): how they tried to keep their cultural heritage while assimilating, and their struggles to find decent jobs, housing and education – issues immigrants still face today.  The Museum can only be visited through guided tours.  Find out more here

The gift shop is a terrific place for NYC-centric gifts; their book selection is great!