Neighborhood Review: UES, NYC

I’ve embraced a lot of newness in my life recently: quitting smoking, getting married, and moving uptown. Tell me all you want that I’ve sold out (mostly about moving uptown), but I’m thrilled to meet this new me. I’ve lived a lot of life with NYC. It’s grown with me and continually challenges me, allowing me to take what I want and occasionally dishing out what I really need.

This is why we all came here, right? Well, it’s why I did. I love NYC for so many reasons. The potential to turn a corner and have life change in an instant, to meet the best and brightest people and trip in and out of endless opportunities. That is the way I want to live my life, and it all happens here.

Coming from Nolita, the Upper East Side could almost be another city completely. I hadn’t realized how narrowly I’d folded myself into one small corner of NYC. Truth, I might not have come to this drastic of a move uptown all on my own, but I’m finding out more and more how grateful I am for this shift. NYC is the kind of city that will change you while also changing with you.

Once I settled in uptown, I made like the natives, slapped on my first pair of lululemons, and went exploring. Beyond the obvious wins like being close to Central Park, Museum Mile, and Daniel, here’s what I’ve found:

1) The East Pole212-249-2222 133, East 65th Street btw Park & Lex. There isn’t a wild wonder why I feel so at home here, since this spot brings downtown flavor from the same owners of Fat Radish. Like me, the uptown version is a trifle less lush, but nonetheless delicious. I’m charmed by the cozy, farm table interior and emphasis on local, organic produce. The menu shifts some with the seasons, but when in doubt, the burger is a decent decision. Come here for brunch or a quiet weekday dinner date.

Standout sip: Mexican Standoff (grilled jalapeño-infused tequila, canton ginger, regans’).

2) August212-935-1433, 791 Lexington Avenue btw 61st & 62nd. Another downtown delight grew up and came uptown. August does elevated rustic American fare. Details go far in my book and that’s what makes August more special than it seems initially. We came here with friends, so I got to try a lot off the menu. I’ve seen most of their cocktails before, but they did the trick.

Best bite: Crispy brussel sprouts with honey-sriracha glaze.

3) Bröd | Kitchen212-600-5202, 1201 2nd Avenue (at 63rd). This is not your average neighborhood bakery. I’m usually the plain croissant and coffee type (file under: habits picked up while living in Paris), but I have been seduced by these sandwiches. They are as beautiful as the flavors are balanced, and the bread is freshly baked. Also, the iced coffee is perfect for these 60°F December days. Bröd recently opened up another location near NYU (West 4th & Greene Street). So maybe the UES and downtown aren’t so different, after all.

Brod

I’m still on the search for a yoga studio and a bookstore. Any suggestions?

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Art Review: Heather Nichol’s “Soft Spin,” Brookfield Place, NYC

I have a passion for public art. The city, especially, creates a powerful canvas for imagination and art. Living in NYC for the past few years, I have both intentionally and unintentionally participated in a lot of public art (I would argue that most of life lived here is participation in public art–what with the sheer amount of architecture and human interaction–but that’s another thought that I will save for another day). Suffice it to say, I constantly find myself in the presence of beauty and inspiration, and that is one of the major reasons that brought me here and that aids my endurance of this frenetic city lifestyle.

Heather Nichol, a Toronto-based artist and curator, is showing a site-specific sound and sculptural installation, Soft Spin, in The Winter Garden at the Brookfield Place New York in Lower Manhattan. Nichol’s installation challenges the everyday idea of the “sculpture.” These soft, rotating skirts-resembling-flowers paired with sound are sensual and sharp all at the same time. I was not a huge fan of the vocals. I would have liked to meditate under these flowers, and my thoughts were distracted and directed elsewhere. Since the expansive space amplifies the ambient noise of the bustling Brookfield Place already, I would have been challenged to meet my mindfulness, anyhow. Nonetheless, I rationalized the vocals as, at the very least, intentional (a quality I quite admire in an art piece and person).

This piece brings to mind the artist Janet Echelman‘s 2011 Ted Talk, entitled “Taking Imagination Seriously” (video below). Echelman centers her talk on explaining how she came to her current success with unorthodox city sculptures by way of a “failure” in her pursuit of painting. What I find fascinating about both Nichol and Echelman is that they had the ability to take something ordinary and transcend the original meaning of the given objects and spaces.

Both artists bring to cities what we all hope to do in our everyday lives. These undulating art pieces move and shape-shift with the wind. There are wonderful meanings that can be made from a more interactive, fluid art form. They become part of the environment. They change with our moods and with our attitudes. The space is illuminated by imagination, and I’m grateful for having participated in this study.

The New York Times recently reviewed the Brookfield Place and the surrounding neighborhood of Battery Park city, calling it “revitalized,” elevated to a “dynamic destination.” Paola Singer attributed this to the influx of high dining, but I’d like to add that it’s also the art. As I scoured the web for images of Soft Spin, I noticed a trend. Many young mothers (instagram: thebabybumpdiaries and monicastorch), indigenous inhabitants of this neighborhood, have been early evangelists of this art. This is what I’m talkin’ about! What is so lovely about public art is that it is for everyone–not just the hoity-toity traders who need a cultural outlet for their funds.

I also love that kids are interacting with art. Artists deeply seek to leave a legacy, and I think that one of the most fascinating and important audiences is the child. I grew up watching Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (which you can watch on YouTube). As an anecdote: when we were children, my parents took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art often. On a particular trip, my younger brother (at age 5) strode up to a still life and, after regarding it for a moment, correctly identified it as a Cézanne. Parents, you won this one.

All in all, I feel strongly that the space is worthy of the sculpture. Bravo, Brookfield Place and Heather Nichol. I hope to see more inspiration in The Winter Garden as this space and neighborhood take new shape.

Art Review: “Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949,” MoMA

I spent yesterday with my father meandering about the MoMA and there are some incredible things showing right now. I used to hate the MoMA as a child. I know, I was superbly petulant. I still have a slight visceral reaction even upon entering the lobby. It’s crowded and loud and I didn’t always appreciate art. My family is very intimidating intellectual, and as a child I sometimes let my self-consciousness trump my curiosity. It wasn’t until I impulsively applied to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London (the impetus being a boy) and actually had to eat my actions and go, that I learned this love.

I went immediately to the Thomas Walther Photography Collection (“Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949”), showing through April 19, 2015. Karen Rosenberg for the New York Times called this show “Black and White and Accessible All Over,” and I want to hate how that’s articulated, but I agree.

Photography is an interesting animal of the art world. “The question of whether photography ought to be considered fine art was hotly contested from its invention in 1839 into the twentieth century” (exhibition notes, MoMa). This debate still stands, and is sadly reflected in the average prices photographs can command at market. There are, I grant you, artists that transcend this standard and have pioneered in terms of prices. Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) holds the title for the most expensive photograph sold on the market with his Rhein II (1999). This was at Christie’s in November of 2011, and at USD $4,338,500, the price is still pretty paltry compared to other art forms.

To say I am passionate about photography is an understatement. Although only a hobbyist, myself, I am a dedicated collector and connoisseur. I trained in Paris alongside some intensely talented peers. However, my heart wasn’t in it. Let’s just say that I render the extent of my experience as having a good lens, but no focus.

But let’s get back to the art of the matter. The show was curated carefully (by Quentin Bajac and Sarah Hermanson Meister), and there is an extensive and impressive online catalog/map/comparison tool that is a wonderful resource. I am fascinated by the way cultural institutions have integrated into digital. It’s funny. Some of the works online are in higher resolution than the originals. I do still suggest that you get your ass to the exhibition, in person. Although this digital integration is necessary and beautiful, I believe in the power and purity of committing your person to the experience as a whole, and the meanings you can make from the moment.

One of the more powerful pieces was Joris Ivens’ short film entitled “Rain” (full video below). I wasn’t acquainted with his work, but I watched the whole way through. I asked my father, “What is it about this work that commands our attention so thoroughly?” I’ve contemplated the power of the moving image, or video, at length recently, but in a different context. These days, the saying “content is king” is something you hear a lot in marketing. I spend a lot of time considering this. Recently, it seems, there has been a distinct emphasis on video content. Facebook gives you visible view counts strictly on videos, Ted rewards social shares with influence analytics.

I believe this all ties back to the accessibility factor. There is something scary in the static. It is bold and beautiful, but it is something outside of our experience. We are never stopped in time. Video, even cut and spliced at an artist’s whim that might, stylistically, lie outside of your aesthetic experience, is fluid where photography is fossilized.

Movie Review: “Wild” Is My “Boyhood”

Wild sang me a song of myself. Where Boyhood missed, for me, Wild took me places. Before you jump to judge, I will preface by saying that there is nothing at face value about my childhood that directly aligns with that of Cheryl Strayed’s. But just because I had a privileged childhood sans an “abusive, alcoholic asshole” for a father does not mean for a second that I didn’t have my share of struggles and consequent sojourns.


Although there’s something very expected about the plot, the arc, and even the central characters, I didn’t much mind. At times, I found the dialogue contrived and the male supporting actors miserable. Thomas Sadoski brought little to the film. Not to hate, I think he was fabulous in Newsroom, but he requires ignition from excellent, dialogue-driven screenplays (don’t get me started on my adoration of Aaron Sorkin). This was not it. (But it wasn’t really about him, so it didn’t need to be).

Reese Withersppon was awesome. Although I don’t think her performance as a whole in Wild can eclipse her work in Walk the Line, she deserves a lot of credit for her commitment and courage. She possesses a great, wide range that sings on the trail and off. Never overreaching, she carries into each moment the whole life of the character with her, like the pack on her back. I imagine this is what they try to teach ballet dancers: extension.

Director, Jean-Marc Vallée is cited as the “unsung hero” of the film, and I think there’s certainly something to be said for his cuts and control. I could see how it might have spiraled out a bit without decisive direction, what with the fairly linear hike plot peppered with an inconstant quality to the flashback scenes. Wild gets right to it. It would have been easy to languish in some of the heavier moments, but it almost accelerates through them. So, when we come to a scene with Strayed and her younger brother praying in bed, the impact is palpable.

The little things really went the distance for me with Wild and especially with Witherspoon. She embodies in her acting the essence of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my short life: obstacles are opportunities. Struggling over that first big obstacle, that hugeass rock, unsure of her footing and timidly testing her instincts, as opposed to her sure-fire, yet still fumbling, attempt to ford that river, breathes depth where dialogue dwindles.

This speaks to me in a way in which none of the characters actually uttered. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not always about success by someone else’s standards. She almost gets swept away in the waters. It was graceless, yet calculated. Strayed had learned to trust herself that she would get to where she wanted to go, hindering hesitance.

Sometimes, also, those obstacles are yourself. At the top of my Google search for “Wild film” is Leah Finnegan’s (of Gawker) haterade unconsidered, click-bait meltdown. She claims that Witherspoon “couldn’t act like a sympathetic character if there was an Uzi to her back.” I actually kind of like this, Leah. This, to me, proves that Witherspoon got it just right. I don’t believe Cheryl Strayed is, or was, meant to be a sympathetic character. She struggles sympathizing with herself.

This is a flawed review, and I’m not simply saying so because I take a fundamental stance against the argument. Finnegan even, nay especially, cannot divide the character from actress. She goes on to write, “Witherspoon is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch…” which should read, “Strayed is a sniveling, Flickian, narcissistic bitch.” Which, at times, she is. This is developed in the heart-wrenching scene with Strayed quips at her mother for not having been nearly as sophisticated as she is at her age. If she wasn’t so flawed, and I’m not talking just about the heroine use or the cheating, why would she be so preoccupied with redemption?

Other high points for me included:

– How clean Strayed nails were at the beginning of the film when she dials her ex-husband. This is a curious, clean canvas.

– The select times she regards herself in the mirror. These moments are literally reflective, but also serve as cinematic commas. It is beautiful to notice when she allows herself visual self-reference.

– The role of animals. The fox was a bit forced, but the rattlesnake and the llama were great as they both confronted her, challenging the wild inside. The horse? Well, the horse was heartbreaking.


I want to emphasize something that probably isn’t a common take-away from this film. Children, especially girls, need to be encouraged to explore. Believe it, or not, I was a tomboy until I “came of age” and got a party dress for my bat mitzvah. I did the outward bound summer outdoors, cargo shorts and all. This is something that I am so grateful for. I learned, from a very early age, that I can survive, I can surmount, and it’s ok to struggle. I don’t want my future daughter to have to find these things out after I have left her.

That’s not to say that I haven’t ever lost the plot. I have had considerable doubts in myself and have almost crumbled under some of the issues in my life. But, like riding a bicycle, I was able to bounce back faster than the textbooks tell. I owe a lot of that to my childhood spent barefoot in the woods.

Neighborhood Review: Nolita, NYC

When I was a girl, and Sex and the City was all I had for an NYC cultural compass, I dreamed of living in a Carrie Bradshaw-esque apartment in the West Village (even though she was supposed to be in the Upper East Side…at least I knew where those brownstones really were).

A decade later and a decade wiser, I decided that I had the rest of my life to live in the West Village (as well as, regrettably, a bunch of money to make before I could afford the whole brownstone). I had just returned from living in Paris (#leftbankbitty!) in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Thus, it made sense that I set my sights on SoHo.

I trudged all around town with my realtor. It was the winter and I was crestfallen at a) the prices, b) the prices, c) the space (or lack thereof), and d) the fact that nothing came with a terrace. I was just about to give up when I found a miracle: a penthouse (avec une terrasse!) on Elizabeth Street and East Houston. Not quite SoHo, but close enough. The catch: I didn’t have a job. Another catch: it was with a stranger. She turned out to be lovely, and in retrospect she got the short end of the stick getting matched with me, but I had arrived in Nolita.

View from the top!

View from the top!

Another catch was that it was a short term rental, and it was priced affordably because, since it was winter, the outside space was deemed “useless.” Fortunately for me, it was a very mild winter, and I was sunbathing by the turn of spring. My heart was broken when they presented me with the summer prices.

I bid that apartment a sweet goodbye. I wasn’t used to that. I realize now, two years later, that it is very common to live a quasi-nomadic life in NYC. Most people I know move every year, and some even more. However, I was hooked. I was bound and determined to stay in Nolita. And here I stayed.

There are numerous reasons why I love being a Nolita Queen. Here’s why (and here is where it becomes abundantly clear that I don’t do much besides eat):

1) Ceci-Cela. Two words: coffee and croissants. I owe a lot to this place and the wonderful people who make sure I am caffeinated and fed, each morning. The coffee is the best in the city and the croissants are the closest to the authentic, Parisian thing. I am going to stand atop hyperbole hill and venture to say that I couldn’t live without this place.

2) Cafe Gitane. Say what you want, NYMag, I am a sucker for avocado toast. Hey, if Olivia Wilde is doing it, it can’t be bad. I can sit here all alone and feel absolutely comfortable. This place has become like my living room (especially since my actual living room is minuscule, as to be expected). I’ll bring a book, sip on some mint tea, and sit and snarkily Tweet silly things I overhear across the small tables.

Olivia Wilde - Gitane Avocado Toast

3) Tacombi. #TacoThursays! I am unhealthily obsessed with this place. I gather that it might even range on annoying how enthusiastic I am about this place. I will not relent. Barbacoa, bitches. But, I’m not alone in this love affair. Corn esquites with a side of corn esquites, please! Oh, and don’t forget to chase some tequila down with the very best verde juice.

Tacombi

4) La Esquina. Skip the food, go downstairs to drink. Take a left at the kitchen and boom. Often playing random ’90s music (I shine here, because I have somehow retained every lyric to these songs), I actually really enjoy their Moscow Mule. However, as a wise friend once said, “Nobody regrets a pitcher of margaritas.”

Honorable mentions: Balaboosta, Ruby’s, Rubirosa.

My only real qualm with my neighborhood is: the San Gennaro Festival. It’s been going on for nearly 90 years and I really wish it would stop there. Leaving the house during this week is futile. Taking a shower is, too, because the minute you leave the house your hair instantly smells of street meat (très sexy). But you know what? I can tolerate it for the ten days.

#lovewhereyoulive!

Art Review: Paula Hayes “Gazing Globes,” Madison Square Park

One of the many reasons I love NYC is its potential for public art. This is exquisitely fulfilled by Paula Hayes‘ first outside exhibition in this city, Gazing GlobesOn view until April 19, 2015 in the “West Gravel” area of Madison Square Park, Hayes’ orbs stand on snow white pedestals like mutant techno-terrariums.

There is an element of found art that I really enjoy in this work. Noble & Webster come immediately to mind. These shadow sculptures epitomize found art, summed up by illuminated trash heaps to create the truly unexpected and incredible from the dingy and downright disgusting.

WASTED YOUTH, 2000  Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood

WASTED YOUTH, 2000
Trash, replica food, McDonalds packaging, wood (click through image to see more).

Hayes’ globes are divine rather than disgusting. The glass globes vary in size and are filled with an array of discarded technology such as “fairy dust” made of pulverized CDs. These crystal balls hold some magic, for me. They are simply mesmerizing and symbolize both a sense of whimsy and melancholy, simultaneously.

The truth of the matter is that there is trash everywhere and nobody recycles. There is nothing beautiful in that. Our poor planet is swathed in the refuse of generations of extravagance and irreverence for the environment.

Tirade aside, I highly suggest taking a walk over to the park and looking into these crystal balls. Perhaps you will learn something of your future, or elicit something from your past. And, if it is to snow tomorrow, I suspect it would be stunning to experience this art piece amidst a flurry.

© 2015 Claire King Photography

© 2015 Claire King Photography

Birdman Review: The Best Film I’ve Seen in the last Decade

Everyone flipped over Boyhood. I mean, I watched it. I found it poignant, and applaud it for what it stands for as a work in its vision, ingenuity, and the commitment it must have taken through the 12-year process. However, and this may be because I’m not a boy, and this also may be because I don’t have children of my own yet, but it didn’t resonate with me.


But now to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). For one, I’m a huge Raymond Carver fan and a student of his work. The adapted short story as the play-within-the-film, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is a powerful choice and stands as a fascinating foundation. I’d even say that some of Carver himself runs through the veins of Birdman, in that the concept of love in its many forms is a central theme; but I would strongly disagree with Jonathan Leaf (for Forbes) who writes that “Birdman betrays Raymond Carver.” Not that I believe anyone staunchly adhered to the original short, but it’s actually moot in my point of view, as the film was not intended to be an adaptation of Carver’s work. It was the backbone, but not the heart of it.

The reason why I love Birdman is in its entirety, as a work. The acting was magnificent. Michael Keaton delivered a gorgeous performance imbued with…well, truth. Some say this is, in part, from his experience portraying Batman. I don’t even care. That helps, sure. Everyone works out of experience. You can’t escape experience; but I believe Riggan wrestles with something we all, as creators and humans, face, namely: vulnerability, the desire to be validated by others, and downright loved. (As an anecdote, Keaton will always be Dogberry to me from Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing; I couldn’t care less about his role as Batman).

The supporting cast, too, was awesome. But the filming of the movie reached divinity. Blocking, timing: these are all things that are paramount in stage work, but that don’t always have dire consequences in film production. However, the long takes that contribute to the seamless, seemingly-single-shot scene left little to improvisation, and were drenched in intention (in the best way possible).

I haven’t even gotten to Alejandro González Iñárritu. He brought such a genius and dynamism to this film. One of the most important parts, for me, was the quality of magical realism he gave Riggan and this imagined world. Oh, sure, he’s moving things around with his mind. There is a great Latin American heritage that deals with magical realism. I spent a semester studying this, and Iñárritu joins the ranks of BorgesGarcía Márquez, Allende, Esquivel, and others in doing so in a way where we all suspend our belief and board that bridge between magical and ordinary, without question.

“Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.” -García Márquez.

I just, I can’t even try to be cool about it anymore. I loved Birdman. I can’t think of a film I’ve seen in the last decade that fulfilled me this entirely. Was that an oversell?