New York trip / Whitney Biennial / New Museum / Opera / Lower East Side / Meatpacking District

Friday April 9th 2010

My daughter Robin and I arrived in New York just after 3PM EST. We took a cab into Manhattan. This was my daughter’s first trip to New York. She was extremely excited in anticipation of finally getting to experience the only true world city in America.

I chose the luxurious Cooper Square Hotel, a large two bed room, upper floors, so that we could see the city at night from the room. I also chose this location because we would be able to walk to Joe’s Pub from our hotel on Saturday nite, and to the New Museum after we arrived.

The hotel is quite elegant. When we arrived we were taken to a lounge and offered water, wine or champagne. We took the latter, and sat down while hotel staff greeted each of us and the other guests with our room keys. We did not go to a reception desk, but straight to our room. Pretty cool. We found out that there is a live music venue on one of the upper floors.

The Cooper Square Hotel at Bowery and 5th St.

Cooper Union’s new Engineering building is the Cooper Hotel’s next-door-neighbor.

This is St. Mark’s in the Bowery in the 1930’s, just a few blocks from the hotel. The transition that the Bowery and Lower East Side have undergone is nothing less than astounding.

Photographer Jay Maisel purchased this 72 room abandoned bank at 190 Bowery for $106,000 in 1966 and renovated it for his family and studio. He endured many years of the neighborhood he described as having been “more disgusting than dangerous”. It is now worth between 30 and 70 million dollars. Now it is the most desirable “new neighborhood” to live in New York City. The space is six floors. Maisel uses several of them for his work.

One floor of Jay Maisel’s New York City studio.

After we checked into our hotel and got a shower and fresh clothing on, we started our New York City adventure at Pulino’s, which was about a 5 minute walk away. My daughter Robin ordered a pizza with smoked olives that was unlike anything we’ve ever eaten in LA. It was intoxicating in its taste. We arrived early in the evening, had cocktails and beer and I had the sausage pizza, which was good but no match for the smoked olives version. I think I also had a shot of tequila, before we headed off for the New Museum’s collector’s show that was still causing lots of heated discussions in the artworld about the roles of museums and collectors My daughter loved this initial experience of dining in NYC.

We walked to the New Museum to see the collector’s show.

The giant afro on this phenomenal sculpture by Liza Lou was marvelous to behold. Equally impressive was the amount of work that had gone into the production of this sculpture, of Foxy Brown. I don’t remember seeing anything similar to this anywhere else, especially of this caliber of craftwork used for sculptural purposes.

Charles Ray "Revolution Counter-Revolution"

This is Cattelan’s sculpture of JFK with an erection even in death. I missed seeing this on my previous visit in March during Armory Show week.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s work.

After the New Museum show we took a cab to 5th Avenue, near Rockefeller Center, in midtown Manhattan. I wanted my daughter to see some of the shops on 5th Ave., and to do just a bit of shopping, before we walked to 57th and 5th ave. We walked across the street to the Apple Cube, the sensationalsculpture-as-entrance to Manhattan’s flagship Apple Store. We took the Star Trek-like elevator to the lower level, where there were what looked like over a thousand people shopping. The Genius Bar is manned by 100 people. The store never closes, just like New York City itself.

After more sightseeing near Central Park, we walked west and south towards Times Square. My daughter had never seen such a light display ever before of this magnitude. I asked her how does it compare to Hollywood Boulevard? I told her some of the history of the area, and how it too had been transformed as if by a magic wand from one of the most crazed places in America, to the light show in Las Vegas, right in the heart of Manhattan.

After our tour of Times Square at night, we went to the 4 floor Madame Tussaud’s house of wax, right on 42nd Street. I was expecting to see lots of the old style not really impressive waxworks. I was wrong. The same incredible technology that was used to fabricate astonishing sculptures was being harnessed to create ultra-lifelike hauntingly real wax figures of movie stars, entertainers, and famous personalities such as Bill Gates – who is much longer in body that I expected! The works were so real looking that I guarded myself against them of a sudden moving and causing me to scream! There was also a small haunted house section, which we went through quickly, but it was fun and made us laugh. After this we caught a taxi to the Meatpacking District, to Spice Market. It was just about 11PM EST.

The Meatpacking District, New York City, yet another utterly dramatic transformed neighborhood in The City.

Our destination was the Spice Market restaurant. After we exited out cab, two young women approached us, asking: “DO you know where the bars are?” My daughter said: There’s was one behind you. I was a little surprised that someone had come into the city from who knows where and not have in mind anything more than a general neighborhood as a destination, when they could miss out on some remarkable good fun by not being more selective and choosing the best New York has to offer at an given time, which changes so fast it’s crazy.

The Spice Market, Meatpacking District NYC. It was my second visit in as many years.

Our dinner was wonderful! It seemed that our tongues had gone from total bland living to a world of sublimely spicy foods. The only similar encounter we’ve had in the past several years was dinner at Jitlada in East Hollywood. The food is awesome at Jitlada, but the place is in a dumpy and dirty strip mall, and the room is pretty low rent as compared to even more modest rooms in NYC, and cannot hold a candle to Spice Market in terms of it being a spacial place to take someone and impress them with just gorgeousness, massive scale of the room, actual elegance. Jitlada has great cooking and terrific spice combinations but the setting distracts from what could be an otherworldly experience with food in Los Angeles. Not so at Spice Market in New York, which is a gem.

Jitlada, in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

After dinner we took a tax back to our hotel. It was about 2AM when we fell fast asleep.

Saturday April 10, 2010

I woke up about 6AM EST and started reading on my laptop. Bloomberg Television was on, which I had never seen before.

I decided I would take my daughter to the Chelsea Market for breakfast, where she could choose from several places to eat. I told her about Amy’s Bread, and she said she would like to try it, so we hopped into a taxi and were driven for a short while before we were again in the Meatpacking District, literally a couple blocks from where we had been for our late night dinner.

So here we were at Amy’s Bread. This bakery is a sensation. It also gets some of its bread from Polaine’s in Paris. We were able to order and found two empty seats inside.

After breakfast of delicate and delicious pastries we started walking into Chelsea, to see a few gallery shows.

My daughter had mentioned wanting to see the show curated by Shaquille O’Neal at the Flagg Foundation.

I decided to show her a few of Chelsea’s most excellent exhibition spaces, choosing Barbara Gladstone, Gagosian, and David Zwirner galleries.

We started out with Banks Violette’s show at Barbara Gladstone. Several persons inside the space were taking notes as if they were in a class. I don’t recall ever having seen this before in Los Angeles. This was my first chance to see this artist’s work live. The presence of the works was overwhelming in its power. It was some of the first 21st century sculptures I was getting to see that did not seem to merely be duplicating or watering down the achievements of the past. Even though I had been in NYC just a month before, I immediately had the sense of missing out on being there all of the time. I enjoy and certainly appreciate my life in Los Angeles, and the fact that I can travel to Vegas, San Francisco, and San Diego and even Scottsdale and Phoenix in just a handful of hours. But there is no place like New York City for seeing art in this country. The grand exception in terms of sheer excellence and scale of exhibitions is SFMoMA. LA MoCA has had many stellar exhibitions, but SFMoMA is for me just a much more enriching experience, and it isn’t as focused solely on Conceptual Art and Modernism as has been LA MoCA.

Banks Violette at Barbara Gladstone galleries, New York City 2010.

Our next stop was Gagosian, the vast space that this gallery has been using as a kunsthall for several exceptional historical exhibitions. I understand this gallery is doing a late Monet painting show in May 2010, and a Rauschenberg show in the Fall of 2010. With any luck I’ll be able to fly out for the show in the fall.

The next gallery we visited was the block of spaces that comprise the David Zwirner exhibition complex. There was a group of visitors from Japan resting on a stoop just next door. Zwirner had a Marlene Dumas show in several spaces, but we moved quickly through them to the R. Crumb exhibition of his drawings based on The Book of Genesis.

There was an explanatory text on one wall written by the artist, that stated R. Crumb had gathered different versions of the bible and cobbled together and sometimes combined differing versions of aspects of the stories in the Book of Genesis. There were some source materials in the room in vitrines. He stated he had used Hollywood films as a source, before getting far better materials from a person familiar with the actual landscape of history that the Bible was written in in North Africa. The book was for sale as well. I decided to wait until I returned home to buy it lest I get charged more for my luggage on my return flight. The volume of drawings were most impressive. I had heard about this artist when I was in high school in Cleveland, Ohio. I found it interesting that such a hard core Conceptual Art and Painting gallery was showing the works of an underground cartoonist.

Flagg Art Foundation

Flagg Art Foundation

Chelsea Arts Tower, the first custom built from the ground up art gallery building in the United States.

The Flagg Art Foundation is inside, along with several major commercial galleries.

After the galleries were got into a taxi and headed to Lincoln Center, where we had tickets to see Madame Butterfly at the New York City Opera.

"Sharpless with Butterfly's son, Sorrow, who is about to go to America."

The completely absorbing and simple stellar performance ended just after 4pm. During the past few hours we had been transported to another place and time of wonder and beauty, of pain and anger, of denial and shame. It was a magnificent performance!

We again jumped into a taxi and made our way to the Guggenheim for the video art and photography exhibition that turned out to be a real disappointment. Fortunately it was pay what you wish evening, so it didn’t cost anything but time from our lives.

My daughter did get to see the best looking and largest pretzels we’d see this day at the street vendor just outside the museum.

So after the highly disappointing museum show, we again took off in a taxi, to the Chinatown Brasserie. which was just blocks from our hotel.

We arrived just before 8PM. The Chinatown Brasserie has a stunning room, as you can see from the pictures. The food was fun but not in the league of Spice Market, which I knew, as I wanted to have just this particular experience, and have the added feature of being able to walk back to our hotel from our dinner. Good thing we had reservations though, because the place was packed. My first choice would have been Ippudo Noodle, but I did not want to use up an entire evening waiting in line to eat exquisitely prepared Ramen Noodles. So after our meal we walked to Joe’s Pub, where we picked up our tickets for the concert at midnight, before walking to our hotel. It was about 9:30PM.

Joe’s Pub, part of the National Public Theater in NYC.

Around 11:35PM I awakened my daughter to let her know it was time for us to get a move on it and make it over to the club. Joe’s Pub is an internationally know major music performance venue. I have been once before to see D.J. Spooky and a Japanese music group perform together. That was an exceptional encounter – I expected the same would be true tonight.

Meshell Ndegeocello was not yet on stage when we arrived. We had tickets to stand in front of the bar area, with excellent site lines. We were maybe 25 feet from the performers. Meshell was a dream. It was 1970’s rebel love music mixed with political pop and romantic tingly sounds. She started out doing covers of Gil Scott Heron and moved into more recent sounds. At times she shut down her sound to let just her individual band members perform off the charts colorful solos. My daughter texted her friends in LA: “I’m at a midnight concert at Joe’s Pub in NYC!!!” Meshell took in all of the love and given to her by the audience, which was of such a grand mixture of old heads and new faces on the block, itself a wonderful testimony to the thrilling experience of seeing this performer go off live and in living color. After the concert ended, near 2AM, I walked with my daughter south down Broadway, through Soho, until we reached Chinatown and turned north and headed back to the hotel. When we hit the sack it was just after 3:30AM EST. On the way I told her stories of old NYC, of the gallery scene that was such a part of the New York artworld in the 1980’s that I had personally experienced by attending openings at Leo Castelli and Mary Boone galleries.

Sunday 4.11.2010

We woke up pretty well rested from sleeping in such luxurious accommodations at the Cooper Square Hotel.

My daughter decided she wanted to have breakfast at Pulino’s, so we took the short walk there and found we were a bit too early before they opened. We then took a short walk down a few nearby streets and saw several dazzling boutiques and shoe stores. Then we by accident discovered this wonderful two level bookstore, basement and street level, where we spent a few minutes until it was time for Pulino’s to open. In no time the room filled with guests. We savored every bit of our meal and then again hailed for a taxi, this time going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which became the highlight of many of my daughter’s first trip to New York City.

Chestnut Pancake.

Sausage-Egg Breakfast Pizza.

I asked the driver to drop us off at 81st and 5th Avenue. We had checked out of the hotel before leaving for breakfast. We had about 3 hours in the Met before we had to return and get to JFK. I was really excited about my daughter finally getting to see the far and away greatest Art Museum in the United States history.

Needless to say that the size, depth and scope of the museum left her completely mesmerized.

I made sure she saw the Arms and Armor Court, which has been expanded to include Asian cultures. I whisked her through dozens of galleries of Egyptian, Greek, Roman art, and through several painting galleries. I wished we had one more day to visit MoMA, but that will have to wait until our next adventure to New York.

During our flight back to LA I told my daughter about the experimental music venues that were also in walking distance of the hotel. I also told her about Williamsburg, the amazing artist’s neighborhood in Brooklyn, which I want her to experience during a future trip. I told her about the East Village, which is it’s actual counterpart, and said we would spend time there on our next trip to The City. For the first time in her life she has a sense of what New York is all about. My daughter tells me about neighborhoods she hears about or sees in TV shows, and now she has a better real picture in her mind as to what that world is all about. I can’t wait to go again and show her even more of the wonder that is New York City.

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles

Liquorama (Los Angeles). 2003. Vincent Johnson

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles

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