Alice in the Big Apple

IMG_1050If you’re a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you’ve got a lot to celebrate on this 150th anniversary of its publication. The Lewis Carroll Society of North Americas has organized a series of events (lots for kids)   not only in NYC, but other parts of the US and in the UK over the next few months.  I caught two exhibits that I’d like to tell you about.

Start at the Morgan Library, where their “150 Years of Wonderland” exhibit serves as a kind of tasting menu, peppered with interesting tidbits about the origins and history of this seminal work. It seems that Charles Dodgson – who we better know as Lewis Carroll – got his start storytelling early on, as he was the oldest of 10 children, in an age when there was no TV, movies, video games…  He was also an accomplished photographer, no mean feat when taking a photograph meant putting a wet glass plate into the camera, having your subject stay still, then removing the plate before the chemicals dried…

You’ll find several photos Carroll took of Alice Liddell, the girl for whom he wrote “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It took Carroll three years to write and illustrate a tale he told Alice and her sisters on a boat ride on July 4, 1862.   You’ll also see the handwritten version Carroll first gave to Alice, with his illustrations , which he titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” (this is usually in the British Library and rarely travels).  The exhibit has a digital version where you can “leaf” through the pages.  Though he was a competent draftsman, we are lucky that Carroll was able to have John Tenniel illustrate the final version, and there are several lovely hand-colored proofs as well as watercolors and gouaches over pen & ink.  By an illustration with the Cheshire Cat, is an explanatory label speculating that this character may have been inspired by a cheese in the shape of a grinning cat that was sliced starting at the tail end…

Interestingly enough, Tenniel didn’t like the quality of the first edition, so the publisher sent it to the US for sale here, as America was seen as a secondary market!  One of these “suppressed” editions, of which about 30 survive, is in the exhibit.

There’s also a very short sepia film from 1903 in which several scenes from “Alice in Wonderland” are enacted with costumes and sets based on the Tenniel drawings. 

I took a docent-led tour, and would recommend it.   For more information about the Morgan Library exhibit, which ends October 11th,  go to their website

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Maltese

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in Maltese

Further uptown, the Grolier Club has a great exhibit, “The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece” – into176 languages – including the Scouse dialect of Liverpool, Braille, Lao, Maylay, and 6 Celtic languages, not to mention some extinct languages like Gothic.  The show starts with background on Carroll’s life – he was a mathematician, teacher, photographer and letter writer. The main features are the translations which are grouped geographically.   It’s interesting as you go from language to language to see not only how Alice’s name changes but also the different illustrations on the book jackets. 

Edition in Pitjantjatjara, an aboriginal language of Australia

Edition in Pitjantjatjara, an aboriginal language of Australia

Translation is an art, and under the best circumstances with a straightforward text, it is still not easy to render words from one language into another.  A work such as Alice in Wonderland is especially challenging, as it contains invented words, rhymes, nonsense, and specific cultural references.  One of the debates among translators is whether a translation should reflect the culture of the original language, or the culture of the language into which the work is being translated, and you can peek into this discussion in the New Republic article by Vladimir Nabokov (who translated “Alice” into Russian), on “The Sins of Translations” as well as Umberto Eco’s book, “Experiences in Translation”.

Alice statue in Central Park

Alice statue in Central Park

The exhibit continues through November 21st.  There will also be a 2-day conference in October.   You can find more information here 

And, if you’re in Central Park, stop by the east side at 75th Street  where you’ll see her bronze likeness holding court with the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and a dormouse.

Theatre Recommendation

If you’re wondering what a petty thief, an Irish nun, and a roll of film have to do with oil and corruption in Nigeria and Western Europe, you’ll have to see “Little Thing, Big Thing”   the fabulous production by Fishamble, which is part of the 1st Irish festival   There are more characters than just Larry and Sister Martha in this play – Donal O’Kelly and Sorcha Fox not only play them all – they also give us scene descriptions and sound effects, as the stage consists mostly of 2 chairs and fencing.  But you’ll get drawn into this well acted tale of murder, betrayal and attempted redemption as our protagonists drive across Ireland in this dark comic thriller, whose ending is rather a surprise.  I recommend it.

At 59 East 59th Street until September 27th. 

Folk Art & Modernism

Federal Sideboard Table, New England 1810-1830, Photo by John Parnell

Federal Sideboard Table, New England 1810-1830, Photo by John Parnell

Between now and September 27th, if you’re over by Lincoln Center,  be sure to stop in the American Museum of Folk Art.  Their current Exhibit, “Folk Art and American Modernism”  has works owned by collectors, artists, and dealers who were instrumental in bringing “folk art” to prominence.  These pieces – by American’s earliest self-taught artists – exerted a strong influence on the modernist artists of the 1920’s and 30’s.   The exhibition is grouped according to the individual collectors, showing paintings, objects and furniture in the same space, which takes a bit of getting used to, as you don’t have the thematic feeling you often get in museums.  But they all had an eye for the well-made. 

Some standouts for me:  In the collection of Jean and Howard Lippman, you’ll find painted wooden desks, bureaux and chests from 1760-1825, some of which employed faux grain, trompe l’oeil, as well as vinegar painting techniques. There are also several watercolors, portraits and landscapes from the 19th century.  I especially liked the watercolor and ink painting of the Oswego Starch Factory; it’s straightforward depiction clearly demonstrates the economic importance of this manufacturer, whose box factory, starch factory, carpentry shop, stables and storehouses seem to overwhelm the surrounding town.

Exotic Bird and Townscape, Montgomery County, PA, ca 1830-1835, attributed to Abraham Heebner

Exotic Bird and Townscape, Montgomery County, PA, ca 1830-1835, attributed to Abraham Heebner

The collection of Edith Halpert contains “Exotic Bird and Townscape” a watercolor and ink example of Fraktur art, a kind of illuminated manuscript, usually with calligraphy that was used for certificates and blessings, rather than the secular subject depicted here.

The Abby Aldridge Rockefeller collection includes an exquisite theorem painting (made using hollow stencils) by Matilda Haviland, a cast iron horse weather vane from 1875, and a set of 6 wooden toy animals.  Linger at Joseph Pickett’s “Manchester Valley,” a peaceful depiction of a high school, its surrounding town, and the train and stream that run through it.  By combining sand with oil paint, Pickett has created a subtle 3-D effect in the trees, stream and brick buildings.    

In the Ogunquit Modernists collection, the standout for me was “Woman with Red Shawl” by Ira Chafee Goodell.  It’s aptly named – but that shawl gets competition from the sitter’s blue, blue eyes.   The workmanship of the tulle lace bonnet and ruff are exquisite.

Exhibition “Folk Art and American Modernism” American Folk Art Museum, New York Photo by Caroline Voagen Nelson © American Folk Art Museum

Exhibition “Folk Art and American Modernism”
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Photo by Caroline Voagen Nelson
© American Folk Art Museum

Juliana Force was director of The Whitney Studio Club, and the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.  In this section, all of the pieces are outstanding, but I especially liked  “Baby with Cane” (notice the pose);  “Coryell’s Ferry” by Joseph Pickett (contrast his textured surfaces of the animals, water and trees with those of “Manchester Valley” cited earlier); and the surreal “Girl in a Garden” (contrast her with “Girl Seated on Bench” in the AA Rockefeller section).

On the wall with Elie and Viola Nadelman’s collection, you’ll find Asahel Power’s portrait of Dorothy Dandridge, otherwise known as Mrs. Patrick Henry (give me liberty…), with it’s subtle notes of gold in her necklace and the background ribbons a counterpoint to her somber expression.

There’s lots more in this exhibit – paintings, furniture, duck decoys, trade carvings, weathervanes, hooked rugs and a quilt.   

Take your time and see them all. 

The Museum will be hosting a talk on Monday, September 21st:   “Investing in Folk Art: The Remarkable Edith Halpert and her Downtown Gallery,” by Lindsay Pollock, Editor-in-Chief of Art in America.  On September 24th, they will host Dialogue & Studio on stencil painting, with artist Katarina Lanfranco.  You can find more information here

Theatre Not to be Missed

1st Irish image I’m so glad the 1st Irish Theatre Festival is back for its seventh season.  Produced by Origin Theatre Company, 1st Irish is a mix of top-notch plays, readings and works in progress, by playwrights from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.   I’ve attended a number of productions each year since it first started, and I’ve not yet been disappointed.

This year the Festival is offering a number of FREE productions – I’m hoping to get to Breaking Ground  on Saturday, September 19th at 3:00;  this is a series of readings of works in progress;  one of the presenters is Jimmy Kerr, who’s a fabulously funny playwright (Ardnaglass on the Air, House Strictly Private)  

I’m also looking forward to seeing Pondling.   I attended a reading of this piece by Genevieve Hulme-Beamanthe, its playwright, who will be performing;  she was wonderful.  The story’s a bit fantastical, but very funny.

Another show on my “to see” list is Celebrity Autobiography also on Saturday, September 19th, but at 9:30 in the evening.  Geraldine Hughes is one of the performers – need I say more?

The wonderful Fishamble Theatre Company from Dublin  will stage “Little Thing, Big Thing,”  a comedy thriller about an ex-con and a nun…

There are lots more, so take a look at the 1st Irish website ,then grab some friends and go buy a ticket or two – you’ll be glad you did.

Back to Culture

IMG_1006 - Version 2Labor Day has come and gone – now it’s back to school, back to work … or, as the French so elegantly call it, la rentrée.  In this spirit, let’s take a look at our university playhouses, where you can not only see a future Denzel Washington (he started with the Fordham Players) but where world-renowned artists often come to perform.  And they tend to have very reasonable ticket prices.

Up in the Bronx, Lehman Center for the Performing Arts kicks off it’s season this Saturday with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra;  also on the schedule this year are Ballet Folklórico de México, the National Circus and Acrobats of the Peoples Republic of China, as well as flamenco, ballet, classical music, theatre and more.

Hostos Center for the Arts kicks off it’s season in October with Arturo O’Farrill and his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  Later in the season you can see Choco Orta and Danza Fiesta, and more!

At Queens College, The Kupferberg Center for the Arts will be hosting concerts by Patti LaBelle, Brian Wilson and Vox A Cappella, among others, while the Aaron Copland School of Music will be hosting a chamber music concert series this fall  

Queens College also administers the Louis Armstrong House Museum, where you can get to visit Pops residence, and learn about his life and music.

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College  is where you’ll find “Oliver Samuels in Divorce Papers”, “Michael Feinstien’s Sinatra Centennial Celebration,” “Black Violin” and other performances sure to delight.

Kingsborough Community College will be hosting “Tap City,” “Mammoth Follies” and Lorna Luft this fall.

In downtown Brooklyn, LIU’s Kumble Theatre’s  fall offerings include comedy by Robin Cloud and Maria Costa, as well as the 10th Annual “Big Eyed Blues Festival”

The Miller Theatre at Columbia University hosts a wide range of events, including Matt Haimovitz performing he complete cello suites of Bach, jazz with the Anat Cohn Quartet, and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic silent film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc accompanied by a live score of medieval music

Fordham University hosts productions by its faculty and students in it’s Lincoln Center Campus.  This year’s theme is “a season at the mountaintop”;  the productions will feature alternative strategies that address the abuse of power, starting with “Force Continuum” by Kia Corthron.

Also at Lincoln Center you’ll find Juilliard students and faculty in musical, dance and dramatic productions such as August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, and New Dances 2015.  Some performances are FREE.

The Gerald W. Lynch Theatre at John Jay College of Criminal Justice will be featuring a FREE performance by Mark Gindick, a FREE performance by La Chiva Grantiva, and a production of “Gross Indecency – The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”

The Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College will showcase theatre productions such as “This is My Brave” and “Eight Parts of Life” as well as musical performances by Greek singer/songwriter Lavrentis Machairitsas, and The Little Orchestra Society.

The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU‘s fall season will feature “Tango Lovers”, the Peking Opera, Waiting for Godot, Hamlet, The Mikado, Heidi Latsky Dance, Circus Now  and many, many more shows.

In Lower Manhattan, the Schimmel Center at Pace University  has a full schedule of dance, film and stage performances including the New York Theatre Ballet, NY Gypsy Brass Showdown and an evening with Johnny Mercer.

Over in Staten Island, Wagner College begins it’s season of student performances with  the Twelfth Annual Italian Idol Singing Contest bringing together the College’s finest singers to compete for cash prizes performing Italian art songs and arias.  In the Main Hall you’ll find productions of “Damn Yankees,” and “The Most Happy Fella.”

The Center for the Arts at the College of Staten Island starts its season in October with a concert by singer and actor Michael Amante;  in December, “A Christmas Carol” will be its featured production.  The Center also has events tailored for kids  such as “Goodnight Moon and the Runaway Bunny.”

Who says back to school is no fun!

Labor Day Weekend Fun!

West Indian Day ParadeWhat to do on a 3-day weekend if you’re staying in town?  The first thing is to make time to take in the West Indian Day Parade  on Monday, September 7th, along Eastern parkway in Brooklyn. This is one of the biggest parades in New York City, so get there early.   There are also several concerts in the days leading up to the parade to get you in the mood.  

On the other two days, I’d say get close to the water, and take advantage of how much we’ve reclaimed our shoreline.

Sculpture, Governor's Island

Sculpture, Governor’s Island

Governor’s Island  has lots to offer:  art exhibits scattered across the island, activities for kids (miniature golf, tree house);  bicycle riding – bring your own or rent one, but be forewarned, there are a lot of bicyclists.  You can learn about the City’s early defense systems at historic Fort Williams, a circular fortification built in 1811 to protect the City’s harbor.  Standing by the fort you can look over at the skylines of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, and see how they’ve changed.   Don’t worry about getting hungry –  there are lots of food vending trucks.  There are ferries to Governor’s Island leaving from Battery Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

If you’re in lower Manhattan, stroll over to and through Battery Park – take a ride on the Seaglass Carousel,  then head over to the South Street Seaport.  Or, you can hop a ferry to Governor’s Island.  

From the Battery, you can also continue up the west side along Hudson River Park  where you’ll find lots of things to do, such as taking a Nature walk or going  fishing on Sunday.  The park runs along the Hudson River up to 57th Street, with passive recreational areas as well as a wide range of sports and other activities

Also on the west side, climb up to the High Line  – I guarantee it will give you a new perspective on the City.

When I moved to Brooklyn, the waterfront now known as Brooklyn Bridge Park  was nothing but dilapidated piers and empty warehouses.   The transformation still astounds me.  What I especially like about the park is that you can just sit and watch the boats sail by, or stroll along the water’s edge and admire the public art or if you’re up for some sports, go over to Pier 2 , that has areas set aside for basketball, handball, soccer and other sports.   You can also bike through the park.

There’s a ferry  that goes from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Governor’s Island, so you can visit both in the same day! 

In addition to it’s regular concerts,  Bargemusic, located at the Fulton Landing end of the park, will be offering a free concert on September 5th at 4:00 

The Queens waterfront I’d save for the evening.  There are two parks that offer stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, but are really designed for more passive activities, such as sunbathing, and don’t have a lot of trees to shade you from the sun. 

Long Island City boasts some fabulous museums – take the LIC Art Bus  which runs on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 6:00 from MOMA PS1  to the  Noguchi Sculpture Center  (galleries will be open but the garden closed) to the Socrates Sculpture Garden .

The Living Pyramid, Agnes Denes

The Living Pyramid, Agnes Denes

The Socrates Sculpture Garden  has a great location on the water, with some lovely small gardens, but there aren’t a lot of trees, so it can get very hot during the day.  Over the weekend, there will be free dance performances in the early evenings, and Agnes Denes sculpture, “The Living Pyramid” will still be on view.

At the other end of Long Island City (Hunters Point) is Gantry Plaza State Park   a small local urban park, with wooden-planked walkways and nicely designed chairs, great for enjoying the views.

While you can bicycle from the Socrates Sculpture Garden to Gantry Plaza, don’t try walking – I have the blisters to prove it.

If you’d rather swim in the ocean, New York City also has several fine beaches:

In the Bronx, you’ll find Orchard Beach – when you’ve finished cavorting in the waves, head over to City Island for some seafood.

Coney Island Cyclone

Coney Island Cyclone

In Brooklyn, you can swim at Brighton Beach  and/or Coney Island , go on the rides at Coney Island, then grab a bite on the boardwalk or at one of the nearby neighborhood restaurants.

In Queens, there’s the Rockaways  for your inner surfer  

Outside the City, Jones Beach is still one of the best. 

And, if you’d rather bike around the City, be sure to download the NYC DOT BIKE MAP  

In case you’re wondering about the Labor Day Parade, it will take place next  Saturday, September 12th , at 10:00 am at 5th Ave & 44th Street.   

Whatever you do, ENJOY!!