Open Show NYC #21 is now accepting submissions – DEADLINE IS NOVEMBER 19TH – for their next Open Show screening, Apply here: www.openshow.org/en/nyc Open to photographers of all stripes, from student to professional. Any and all styles and subjects are welcome. Photo projects should consist of 15-25 images and video projects should be 10 minutes or shorter. SUBMISSIONS DEADLINE IS NOVEMBER 19TH The next Open Show Screening will be held at the Bronx Documentary Center on Thursday, December 8th.
Perhaps no other American author is as associated with Halloween as Edgar Allan Poe: lyric poet, inventor of the modern detective story, and master of the macabre. Born in Boston in 1809, he was an orphan by the age of 3, subsequently living in many places: Scotland, England, Richmond, VA and Baltimore, MD, among others – but it was during his stay in the Bronx that he penned some of his best-known works: The Bells, Annabelle Lee, and The Cask of Amontillado. You can visit his former home, Poe Cottage, on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx (it was originally at Kingsbridge Road, some 450 feet south). Poe moved there in 1846 with his wife, Virginia, and his mother-in-law (and aunt) Maria Clemm, when the area was known as Fordham Village, in the hopes that by living in the “country” Virginia’s tuberculosis would be cured. Alas, this was not to be – Virginia died there in January, 1847. Poe lived in the cottage for almost another two years during which he used the library at my alma mater, Fordham University, which was then St. John’s College. It’s been claimed that The Bells was inspired by the chimes from Fordham’s chapel?? Poe died on October 7, 1849 in Baltimore – to this day, the cause of his death is still unknown.
Poe Cottage is a lovely one and a half story white wooden frame farmhouse, built by the Valentine family for one of their farmhands. Even back then, it was like many homes in today’s NYC – not enough space.
And it also has very low ceilings. On the ground floor you’ll find a kitchen, a living/sitting room with fireplace, as well as the very small room where Virginia lay bedridden for some six months.
The house was known for being sparsely furnished, and a few of the original furnishings are on this floor. The small space upstairs had a bedroom and Poe’s study. I took a guided tour, and had a great time. Even if you don’t make it to Poe’s Cottage for Halloween, get up to see it another time! The Cottage is owned by the NYC Parks Department, which has more information on its website ; the Bronx Historical Society administers the Cottage and there’s more information on its website.
On Saturday, October 29th, from noon until 3:00 pm, From Poe’s Porch will feature poets who will read from The Cottage’s porch from 12:00-1:10 P.M. This will be followed by special workshops and panel discussions in the adjacent Poe Park Visitor Center, from 1:30-3:00 P.M., just steps away from the historic house landmark. Tours of The Cottage will be available and both programs are free. More information here
If you can find Hal Willner’s Closed on Account of Rabies, a record featuring actors and musicians such as Christopher Walken and Marianne Faithfull reading works by Poe, grab it! You can find bits and pieces on-line at Open Culture – Iggy Pop’s rendition of The Tell Tale Heart is not to be missed!
Holidays such as Halloween, All Souls Day, and the Day of the Dead remind us of life’s temporality, while giving us occasion to reflect on loved ones who have died. It is this impulse to remember those we’ve lost that propelled the painting of posthumous portraits in the 19th century – the age of epidemics like cholera and dysentery – an era when about one in every four children died in infancy. Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America, the new exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum, explores how families of that time created remembrances of deceased loved ones, especially young children, through painting and later photography. I confess I really didn’t want to go see it, but I think the exhibit lets you understand how this genre could reinforce a sense of grief, yet provide comfort.
If you were to view the show without knowing anything about the subjects, you might conclude that you were looking at portraits of living children, painted in a recognizable self-taught, folk-art idiom: often life size, with large heads, expressive eyes, oddly-proportioned bodies, many wearing a dress over long pants, almost always facing the viewer. To determine if the subject is a boy or a girl, the presence of play props – such as whips, balls and hammers that are associated with boys – help us figure that out. But it is the use of various symbols – many Christological – that clue us into the fact that we are looking at a posthumous portrait.
In George G. Hartwell’s Child Holding a Doll and Shoe, we find many signposts: a child in a rose colored dress, sitting in a field strewn with roses (symbol of the Virgin Mary) while in the background, on the left is a ship, and on the right side is a dead tree; in the sky we see the setting sun, all symbols of death. The motif of a child wearing only one shoe has as its antecedent a Byzantine icon, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in which a sandal dangles from the left foot of the infant Christ, while the other is still affixed to his right foot. In Baby in Blue by William Matthew Prior, we find another symbol: an unspooled bobbin of thread, referencing the ancient Greek fates who cut life.
You’ll also find portraits of children painted together, such as Heavenly Children by William Matthew Prior (above) which, in contrast to the other portraits in the exhibit, depicts his subjects in a rather cherubic manner, one of three styles in which he worked.
In the rear of the main space, you’ll find several beautiful paintings of children and families, which include both the living and the deceased – Deacon Robert Peckham has two very expressive ones, which are also notable for their size (about 4’ x 5’ and 5’ x 5’). In the center of the room are scrims with photographs of gravestones that have portraits of the deceased, both children and adults, some life-like, some very stylized. There’s another set in the smaller gallery space.
The Martinson Gallery contains a collection of postmortem Daguerreotypes, in pocket-sized gilded metal cases. Photography eventually replaced painted portraits, as it was seen as a quick way to catch flashes of the subject’s soul, and was much less costly. The wall label informs us that “‘Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades’ became the calling card of the photographer.”
At the entry to the main space, on the wall there’s a glass box covered with a cloth; when you lift it you’ll find a locket with a piece of ivory on which P.R. Valee painted a watercolor and graphite portrait of Hariette Mackie (the Dead Bride) aged 17, who passed away days before her wedding, making this the “quintessential Gothic portrait.”
At the end of the exhibit, you’ll find the “Epitath Project,” which began in Los Angeles in 1995 – that lets you write an epitath in chalk on a slate gravestone. You can see what others have done on Instagram, at #securingtheshadow
This exhibit is quite moving; you not only see the skill of the artists who rendered their subjects so life-like, but, in some way, you can also feel the love of the families who wanted a permanent reminder of their deceased child. I recommend seeing Securing the Shadow before it closes on February 26th.
The Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos is once again hosting a terrific exhibit, the 5th Bronx Latin American Art Bienal/Biennial. Featuring about 20 works by artists from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Cuba,Venezuela and Peru, this compact show offers a variety of styles and media. Let me give you a few of my favorites:
Sandra Mack-Valencia, who hails from Colombia, has three paintings on wood panels which revolve around the theme of “home”, especially the American dream of home ownership vs. the reality, so in all three pieces you’ll find homes floating in a cloud-like atmosphere. In the foreground of The Dog House, a stack of gold and red houses run up the middle – underneath the top house, there’s a small picture of an elderly couple – and in the background small doghouses are scattered about. While the painting could be a riff on the expression, “to be in the doghouse” the artist told me that perhaps something else is going on – she wants the viewer to make their own interpretation.
Freddy Rodriguez, who hails from the Dominican Republic, is showing two pieces, both acrylic on canvas. In El Creador, vibrant patches of bright aqua, yellow and white burst from a black background, on which he’s painted, in Spanish, a quote from the Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar (Hopscotch) “The Creator is always forging himself” which mirrors Rodriguez’ own philosophy that work always needs to change, whether in technique or subject matter. “And,” Freddy added, “it should have a sense of humor”.
Theories of Freedom: Golden Landscape by Scherezade Garcia (Dominican Republic) is a powerful wall installation composed of inner tubes painted gold and blue, some bearing airline luggage identification tags (often decorated with an image of the Statue of Liberty) and tied together with plastic safety ties, that speaks clearly to migration – both historic and current – by those fortunate enough to fly and those forced to flee on rubber rafts, as well as the enslaved people who were bound and forced to migrate.
The rear space of the gallery is given over to Puerto Rican artist Jose Morales’ commanding installation, Puente/Socorro (which means Bridge/Help), which is in two parts: the above structure and…
on the walls, a series of cross-hatched panels, each with one letter of the word Socorro inscribed on their surface, recalling the scratches that prisoners leave on their cell walls.
The next time you’re in midtown, be sure to get over to the lobby of 1133 Avenue of the Americas (43rd & 44th Street) to see Yard Works, an exhibit of textile art made by the members of the Textile Study Group of New York . If you’re not in midtown, it’s worth a trip from wherever you are. The show, which will be up until November 16th, was organized by Chashama, which partners with property owners to use their available space to show artwork and stage performances. The title, Yard Works, refers to a restriction that was imposed on the participants: their work had to be on stretched canvasses one yard (36 inches) in length (but could vary in width from 12 inches to 36 inches). The resulting 21 pieces employ a range of fabrics, techniques and embellishments. The caliber of this show is very high, and I’ll let the photos do the talking:
Behold the Hostas in Our Back Yard by Margaret Cusack, is an appliqué scene of her back yard. I’ve long admired Margaret’s work, but the cutting and sewing of this piece are a testament to the artist’s patience and skill – the paving stones and the cut out work in the table in the lower right corner are amazing.
Out on a Limb by Deborah L. Brand, is a mixed media which incorporates metal, paper, lace, paint and beads. The beaded birds are fabulous.
May Your Hands Alway be Busy by Barbara Schulman, a mixed-media piece whose bright colors will catch your eye, but be sure to look a bit deeper for the hand motif which appears very subtly throughout.
Colors of the Southwest by Larry Schulte, offers a different take on textiles: the piece, with its stunning colors is made from painted paper which was woven.
Laundry List by Kathryn Kosto is a very clever interpretation of its title: look closely and you’ll find not only clothes pins, but rulers, buttons, lace, a needle package, and other surprises such as an ad for a mop wringer from 1830!
This is a small selection from the show which will be up until November 16th. Be sure to see it!
Too often, when people think of the Bronx, they think of abandoned houses, empty lots, gangs, drugs and fires. While that description certainly applied to a large portion of the borough for many years, today you’ll find vibrant communities in previously devastated areas, as well as neighborhoods that are rebuilding themselves. Developers are now actively pursuing projects in locations they wouldn’t have dared walk through 20 years ago.
But before the Bronx burned, it was a largely middle-class, prosperous place, even in areas that were later ravished by drugs and abandonment, such as Morrisania, which is profiled in a new book, Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life in the Bronx from the 1930s to the 1960s . I recently attended a talk by the book’s authors, Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University and Bob Gumbs, a graphic designer, artist and author. Having grown up in the Bronx, in Hunts Point and later in the Castle Hill projects, to me this book is a much needed corrective to the popular image of the borough. As a Fordham alum, I’m proud that they’ve created the project that inspired this book, and published it. Through the voices of seventeen people, who grew up in one neighborhood, Morrisania, the story of the Bronx comes alive, and provides a vantage point from which to consider the effects of private market practices (especially in real estate) but also public policy.
The book had its genesis in an oral history program, the Bronx African American History (BAAH) project, that Fordham University started 14 years ago, with an interview with Victoria Archibald-Good, the sister of the basketball great, Tiny Archibald, who recounted her happy recollections of growing up in the Patterson Houses, which, at that time, was a multi-racial, middle class neighborhood with great schools. Then Bob Gumbs got involved with the BAAH and over time more community members told their stories.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, blacks from Harlem, the South and the Caribbean settled in the Morrisania section of the Bronx – in contrast to other neighborhoods, they were welcomed there, by landlords trying to fill apartments that had been vacated by tenants who had been evicted or had moved to the suburbs. Through the recollections of individuals who grew up there, the book provides a snapshot of a stable community – which also had its problems – that provided the foundation for the success achieved by many of its residents. The neighborhood’s history is told by residents who went on to become teachers, musicians, public servants, a theologian, an architect and sports journalist. A strong work ethic was central: many of the families had fathers who had steady employment as Pullman porters, mail carriers, tailors, and some who had second jobs. Neighbors watched out for each other’s children, and didn’t hesitate to tell them when they were misbehaving. The churches were also integral to peoples lives, providing not only spiritual nourishment, but also community, youth activities, and a link to larger forces, such as the civil rights movement. The book’s participants speak about attending schools that were racially integrated; caring teachers; after school programs that went on until 9:00 pm; and community centers that provided activities which kept them away from gangs. The Police Athletic League offered community programs led by police officers, allowing for friendly contacts between NYPD and local youth. But it’s music that permeates this chronicle: public school music programs that let students take instruments home for practice, providing training for a future musical career (Jimmie Owens, Joe Orange, Arthur Crier), and mentorship and camaraderie for the kids. There were also plenty of opportunities to mingle with neighbors from the area’s diverse populations and musical traditions: salsa, soul, doo-wop, jazz, rock…. In the local clubs you could listen to Herbie Hancock, Edddie Palmieri, Valerie Simpson, the Chantals, some of whom grew up in the area.
Before the Fires also raises the question of how Morrisania, and so many other stable neighborhoods fell apart. Through the individual stories, it becomes clear that drugs, especially heroin, were a major culprit, as were the loss of decent paying jobs, especially in manufacturing, the disinvestment in cities by the Federal government, and worst of all, in my estimation, the disinterest and neglect by the City of it’s public housing stock, and its public schools, especially the defunding of music and arts programs, as well as after school activities.
The voices and stories in Before the Fires are not only authentic, but engaging – if you’re interested in urban history, this book is a must read.
The Bronx African American oral history project continues at Fordham: to find out more, or to listen to some of the stories, click here
I hadn’t been to Bushwick in a long time, and boy, has it changed. I went up to see the open studios last weekend, but I never got out of 17-17 Troutman Street. Walking from the train, I was impressed by the quality of the street art, which was way beyond the graffiti tags of yore. (Photos are on my Instagram feed).
I’ve always liked open studios because you get a chance to chat with the artists, and see work in a wide variety of media and subject matter. I started out in the studio of Lulu Yee, whose colorful, quirky ceramic figures – especially the Norse god Loki in his salmon disguise, and the Tree Creatures – brought a smile to my face. Lulu also displayed her 2009 wedding dress, which was a fabulous marriage of art, community and functionality. She and her husband-to-be asked their family and friends to send them a good luck flower that Lulu then sewed onto her plain garment, which is now covered in 280 of them. Absolutely Wonderful!
Amy Talluto was exhibiting several graphite drawings on paper of the landscapes of upstate New York, especially the Catskill Mountains area. She’s a fabulous draughtsman, whose detailed depictions of the local trees, mountains and rocks capture the essence and form of nature in this region.
Mona Kamal displayed brightly colored abstractions and floral pieces, from her Drawing Series. On one wall were 6” x 8” gouaches on paper, patterned with abstractions inspired by nature, in the manner of tile mosaics found in Islamic architecture. Another series is composed of abstractions of gouache on veneer, about 8” x 8”, where the artist uses the pattern of the natural grain of wood. Yet another series has floral themes painted on birch bark of varying sizes. I have to admire the painstaking technique necessary to do this, and I think the artist has a great sense of color.
Jonathan Chapline creates large scale collages composed of on-line photos from magazines, movie scenes and mobile phones to create fantasy spaces that seem real, but have an alternate dimension, containing many simplified objects (some were on display), as well as suggestions of objects. He also has a wonderful sense of color, which adds to the mystery of his work.
Gordon Fearey was showing his large-scale textile paintings, in which a garment (or undergarment) is painted over to create an entirely new image with three dimensionality. He has a fantastic sense of color and composition, and his brushstrokes give an urgency to his work.
Unfortunately, I was running out of time, so I only paid cursory visits to Ned and Shiva Productions a collaboration between Javier Barrera and Shiva Lynn Burgos, were displaying stills from American Gothic, a series of 25 individual prints (some of which are presented as lightboxes); Abel Lenz, who had intriguing miniature motorized animals and people from his Protoype Horse series; and Brian Bald, whose photographs of drying paint are amazing – and not retouched!
My only regret is that I couldn’t visit more studios, so I’m putting this event on my calendar now for next year!
This past Monday, Origin Theatre held its awards ceremony for the 9th edition of its annual 1st Irish Festival (to see the list of winners, click here). Held at the American irish Historical Society, the evening featured wonderful tap dancing and singing, but it really showed how much this festival has to celebrate
This year I got to one book reading and three performances – Quietly (reviewed earlier); How to Keep an Alien, a droll and heartwarming tale of how playwright Sonya Kelly fell in love with Australian Kate, and her dealings with the Irish immigration authorities as she tries to get Kate the necessary papers so they can live together in Ireland; and Appendage, which follows the encounter of Peter and Jack, and their revelations about each man’s relationship – or the relationship he thought he had – with Peter’s late wife Jill.
I’ve been attending this festival since it began, and what I find so wonderful – besides the exceptionally high caliber of the productions – is the way it brings together not only playwrights from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (they’ve presented the work of over 160 playwrights in 9 years), but also its embrace of the wider NYC theatre community. While it is still rooted very much in Ireland, the festival has reached out beyond its natural base. Shows are not only in venues such as the Irish Arts Center or the Irish Rep, but also in theatres like The Cell and 59 East 59th Street – this year the festival collaborated with 32 cultural institutions in the US and Ireland.
What I find most encouraging are the number of young people who are now being drawn to this art form. Broadway is becoming more expensive and less accessible, so its audiences are older, or people who may take in a performance only once in a while. It’s festivals like 1st Irish that replenish live theatre and take it to new audiences, assuring it’s renewal and survival.
Kudos to George Heslin and his team for another wonderful 1st Irish! I can’t wait for next year!
Got up to the opening of Elizabeth Dee’s gallery on September 24th. I first met Elizabeth this past March when I volunteered for the Independent Art Fair which she runs. I had a great experience, so I’m glad I made it to her gallery’s new Harlem home (it had been in Chelsea). Located at 126th Street on Fifth Avenue, the two-story space is comfortably large and airy. The inaugural show, entitled First Exhibition, consists of works by 18 artists, including some new pieces by gallery artists who will have solo shows in the coming season.
The ground floor space prominently features four word art canvases of John Giorno (Spending Quality Time With My Mind) , but you’ll also find the wonderful photo-text collage Decide Who You Are #19: Torch Song Alert, by Adrian Piper, which, even though it dates from 1992 is timely; Joan Wallace’s Split Girl / Man Sleeping (Trying to Keep Things Still), silkscreen images mounted on a deconstructed frame within a frame; and Flag, Philippe Decrauzat’s 2015 acrylic whose delicate red wavy lines give this piece a floating, 3-D, op-art feel.
Since I’m an embroiderer, it was Joel Ottenson’s new textile pieces on the second floor that grabbed my attention. At the top of the stairs you’ll find Flies on the Wall, a long panel of bright kelly green silk: starting at the top, take in the panels embroidered with red and gold flowers recalling imperial Asian silks; let your eye travel down the expanse of green, and near the bottom you’ll espy two large black flies (of glass, onyx and spinel beads) who seem to be casually strolling along in different directions… Across the room, on Fly on the Wall, you’ll find – another fly! – just hanging out at the lower portion of a panel composed of delicate, golden tea-colored vintage lace squares. In a different vein is Mixed Marriage, a long, low-slung rectangle of mahogany and other woods, two of whose sides have panels covered with Persian carpets. There’s also a fabulous piece Reweave 8, by husband & wife Mark Barrow & Sarah Parke, who hand-dyed and unraveled linen fabric, then rewove it, creating a new piece possessing an ethereal quality.
Also on the second floor, in a smaller room is a retrospective of works from the 1980‘s by Annette Lemieux, who brings a wry eye to works that play with history and narrative. I really liked Nomad – covering one wall, black and gray footprints swirl across a white background, seemingly not sure whether to walk out of the canvas; It’s a Wonderful Life, a large canvas painted with circles, whose title is in press type on a vintage globe atop a wooden plant stand in front of the painting, effectively extending the painting beyond the canvas; and on the floor in the center of the room, Formal Wear, a bronze casting with a dark patina of a fedora, its insert and its hat box, arranged on a wood platform, to resemble artifacts the artist saw when she was in Pompeii.
There are many more works to see in First Exhibit; be sure to get up to Elizabeth Dee’s gallery before the show closes on October 15th. (The Annette Lemieux show closes on October 22nd)