Friday, June 29, 2007


Walking through the Dia Art Foundation's upstate Beacon location this afternoon, I was struck with a rather broad-sweeping notion: This site, this building, this repurposing of a '20s-era box-printing factory on a train line along the Hudson River, is a reminder of what civilization can be, of what civilization can choose to spend its time, effort and money on. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Not with the whole darn-those-avant-garde-artists-and-their-collective-waste-of-space mentality, but in an impressed, thankful, blessed-feeling kind of way. I compare the experience to making a pilgrimage to a shrine in the woods and then walking the stations of the cross. Which is not to say that the artists represented are to be worshiped or anything. But the physical act of catching a train ride out of the city for the sole purpose of visiting this collection of art, arranged by artist, not period or genre or theme, then walking through the galleries and contemplating each artist's vision of the world, feels like a secular humanist's version of the religious trek mentioned above.

And just as doing the stations of the cross can be an exhausting and rewarding process, so to was my visit to the Dia:Beacon today. Part of it is that my concentration in art galleries starts to wane after about 90-100 minutes of focusing. I can only take in so much before it gets to be too much, and I start glossing over things. And this is true even though I love visual culture and seek it out whenever and wherever I can. I find it's especially the case when dealing with contemporary art that can be really opaque at times. That said, I really enjoyed my visit and gained a new or added appreciation for the work of On Kawara (with whom I share a fascination with the concept of time), John Chamberlain, Walter De Maria, Robert Smithson, and Michael Heizer. I was especially affected by Richard Serra and Max Neuhaus' pieces, both of whom also have works in New York City to be enjoyed.

I loved the Serra exhibit at MoMA and upon my return this afternoon I revisited Neuhaus' "Times Square" installation. It was one of those things I've noticed before without realizing what it was -- the low ringing-rumbling sound emanating from the ground in the middle of the square between 45th and 46th. It's so easy to dismiss it as some unknown vibration of the city if you don't realize it was placed there consciously as an intervention into the already cacophonous surroundings of the "world's crossroads." One of the reasons it's so appealing is that it's literally under your nose (and ears) in one of the most overly exposed intersections in the world.

The Dia in general champions art that breaks out of the box of the traditional museum: De Maria's Lightning Field and Smithson's Spiral Jetty are two of the best examples of pieces that truly do require dedicated pilgrimages. (They're not really on easily accessible train lines.) But even the Dia:Beacon, while one could argue it is a museum, doesn't feel that way. It's definitely worth the trip, even if I spent just about as much time in the space as I did getting to and from it.

A third station on my presets

One of the things I miss about Philadelphia is WXPN, the eclectic radio station run out of the University of Pennsylvania. Of course, I can listen to it online, but when my computer's not on, I just like to turn on the radio the "old fashioned way." But then I discovered WFUV, which is Fordham's station, and plays a lot of the same kind of music I used to hear on 'XPN. Yes, it's taken me three years to discover this, but it already has a proud place on my presets next to WNYC and WQXR.

Arrangement in Blue and White

Paula West and John Pizzarelli

Well, it did rain Wednesday night. Or at least it was threatening to do so around the time the two jazz artists listed above were to take the stage at Rockefeller Park downtown in the B.P.C. But luckily, nearby Stuyvesant High School's auditorium was employed as the rain location, just like last year's Maude Maggart River-to-River show. And as much fun as it is to see a free show outside, you're able to focus more on the music when you're inside. So what you lose in summer-evening ambience, you gain in appreciation for the artists on stage. I knew Pizzarelli as the son of Bucky and the husband of Jessica Molaskey, two great musicians in their own right, and mostly from hearing work by the three of them on the weekend afternoon shows hosted by Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC.

JP did not dissapoint. He does this pretty amazing scat singing while in tune with vamps on his guitar that's quite exhilarating to watch. I liked his solo-heavy version of "I Got Rhythm" as well as his quieter rendition of "God Only Knows" and an Italian bossa nova tune called "Estate." Plus, I enjoyed hearing for the first time "Manhattan" sung live.

The opener, Paula West, was quite a treat as well. You know it's a good show when you can honestly say you'd come back just to see the first performer on her own. She opened with the extremely catchy and wonderful-mood-settling Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March" ("A stick, a stone ..."), another tune I heard first on Schwartz's programs. And I also really loved her singing of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Her band was led by pianist George Mesterhazy, who adds such a great kick and twinkle to a lot of her songs.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

O for 2 ...

On the Central Park entertainment front so far this summer. La Boheme by the Met? Rained out. Romeo and Juliet at the Public tonight? Really rained out. (Or at least it was still pouring when I left after half an hour.) What next to be rained out for me? Oh, right, the Philharmonic!

It's off to Boston this weekend, then down to the Jersey Shore and up to Beacon next week. Plus John Pizzarelli at Rock Park downtown: yet another opportunity for Mother Nature to ruin my free arts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Building talk at 125th and Lenox

During my early years in New York (OK, that's stretching it a bit, I realize), I spent many a bus-waiting moment at the corner of Lenox Ave. and 125th St., often staring up at that big, mostly vacant edifice that took up the southwest corner and for much of the time acted mostly as a billboard for Adidas or whatever. Headed over to meet H. at El Paso in SpaHa on the bus tonight, I actually did a double take when I realized ... it's gone! The multistory building that used to house several shuttered shops is no more. All that remains is a thin layer of rubble. (Kind of like the one behind my apartment building lately.) So what's going up there? I'm so out of the loop these days I don't even know if it's been mentioned on you-know-where. And even though I spend so little time over in that neighborhood now, I have to hope it won't lay fallow as long as the old Harlem Park site has.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Really amazing restaurant

Before I forget and the week gets away from me, a quick pick for a special dinner out. Just around the corner from the occasionally delightful tackiness of West 4th Street in the Village is Perilla. On Jones Street. Not to be confused with Great Jones Street, we learned.

I'll admit that I was a bit hesitant when I heard the resto's claim to fame is that its chef won the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef." But I have to say Harold Dieterle deserves whatever recognition he's gotten or will get. An almost divine dining experience. Mouthfuls of joy. Decor and space could be a smidge better, but that really doesn't matter when you're eating such wonderfully prepared foods. The lamb was some of the best I've ever tasted: no joke. Oh, and one of their signature cocktails: the 9 Jones? Officially on my top five list of best drinks ever tasted. Is there anything ginger doesn't make better?

Missed connection

I got on the 1 train at 110th St. tonight. Our eyes met. I knew her. Did she remember me? She was the best friend of someone who played a not inconsequential (or so it seemed at the time) role in my life for a year or so (more?) of my teenage life. I'd spent some time with this best friend as a part of her group of friends. How much? I can't quite recall, besides the instances she showed up in pictures from the time. But I know it was more often than just those times. I sit down in the only empty seat on the train. It is opposite hers, but there's someone in the way. It's not really her, I say to myself, doubting that first impression. But before I can think for very long, we're at 116th St., the Columbia stop, and she's getting up to leave. Not a glance in my direction. I follow her with my eyes as she walks away from the train. For a second or two, I consider leaping out and tapping her on the shoulder. Were you friends with ... ? Because I still can't remember her full name, although I have an inkling about her first one. I hesitate. I'm headed farther uptown. I hesitate some more. The doors close and I miss my opportunity. There is a good chance it would've been awkward. Then again all this happened several years ago now. Still, I kind of wish I hadn't hesitated. You never know who you'll see or what part of your past will be resurrected on the subway.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Jerry Likes My Corn" and I loved this show

I've been singing the praises of Spring Awakening the past few months, and I was really planning on pulling for it this Sunday at the Tonys. But now having seen Grey Gardens, I have to say, Sarah was right. This is a really great show. And while it doesn't make Spring any less fresh, I have some deep respect for Christine Ebersole's amazing work in this musical, inspired by the Maysles documentary about the Beales. Oh, and it has one of the quirkiest songs I've ever heard -- see the blog title -- fully explicated here on the TheaterMania site.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Recent highlights

Massive, space-carving, slightly dizzying Richard Serra steel sculptures in the garden, second floor and sixth floor galleries of the MoMA, along with a feature on Picasso's Les Demoisells d'Avignon at 100. ... Celluloid Skyline exhibit at Grand Central Terminal, including some great "reality" footage of New York circa many, many years ago and some original faux backdrops used in movies like North by Northwest (the scene at the UN). Oh, and a repeat visit to the Whispering Gallery outside Oyster Bar (still works). ... Sushi, tea and beer in the East Village: Shiki Kitchen, Sympathy for the Kettle, Stillwater. ... Thai and ice cream in the West Village: Isle, Mary's Dairy. ... RELATED: The Serra Tilted Arc kerfuffle.