Daily Archives: November 18, 2013

CityPASS New York: The Guggenheim Museum

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Full disclosure, I only discovered the Guggenheim Museum 5 years ago after watching a Sex and the City episode.  Horrible, I know.  But it is the truth.

I knew that when I was in NYC last week, the Guggenheim Museum would be a part of my journey purely so I could swoon over the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building not because of Carrie Bradshaw’s influence.

A little history about The Guggenheim Museum, in June 1943, Frank Lloyd Wright received a letter from Hilla Rebay, the art advisor to Solomon R. Guggenheim, asking the architect to design a new building to house Guggenheim’s four-year-old Museum of Non-Objective Painting. The project evolved into a complex struggle pitting the architect against his clients, city officials, the art world, and public opinion. Both Guggenheim and Wright would die before the building’s 1959 completion. The resultant achievement, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, testifies not only to Wright’s architectural genius, but to the adventurous spirit that characterized its founders.

The Guggenheim Museum’s proximity to Central Park was key; as close to nature as one gets in New York, the park afforded relief from the noise and congestion of the city.

Nature not only provided the museum with a respite from New York’s distractions but also leant it inspiration. The Guggenheim Museum is an embodiment of Wright’s attempts to render the inherent plasticity of organic forms in architecture. His inverted ziggurat (a stepped or winding pyramidal temple of Babylonian origin) dispensed with the conventional approach to museum design, which led visitors through a series of interconnected rooms and forced them to retrace their steps when exiting. Instead, Wright whisked people to the top of the building via elevator, and led them downward at a leisurely pace on the gentle slope of a continuous ramp. The galleries were divided like the membranes in citrus fruit, with self-contained yet interdependent sections. The open rotunda afforded viewers the unique possibility of seeing several bays of work on different levels simultaneously. The spiral design recalled a nautilus shell, with continuous spaces flowing freely one into another.

Now that I understood the back story to Wright’s vision I decided to delve into the art that lay ahead within the space.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the Christopher Wool exhibit (running from October 25, 2013–January 22, 2014) at first.  I loved the punk rock, spray, black and white grand scale pieces but was confused about his intent.  The pieces had a NYC accent and reminded me that I was in NYC experiencing NYC as I glided through the space.

The silkscreen has been a primary tool for Wool since the 1990s. In his earliest screen printed paintings, he expanded on the vocabulary of the pattern works, enlarging their stylized floral motifs for use as near-abstract units of composition. In this period, Wool frequently sabotaged his existing forms as a way to covertly generate new ones, layering the flower icons in dense, overlapping configurations that congeal into a single black mass or become obscured with passages of brusque over painting. He also introduced a new, entirely freehand gesture in the form of a looping line applied with a spray gun—an irreverent interruption of the imagery below that evokes an act of vandalism on a city street.

Wool’s first major photography series Absent Without Leave (1993) was interesting. Taken during a period of solitary travels in Europe and elsewhere, the images are saturated with an atmosphere of alienation and shot in a raw, abrasive style that disregards any concern for technical refinement. A similar spirit of disaffection pervades a parallel body of photographic work titled East Broadway Breakdown (1994–95/2002), but in this series Wool focused on a more familiar topography, documenting his nightly walk home from his East Village studio. Highlighting the city’s unadorned, off-hours existence, the photographs depict a nocturnal landscape emptied of citizens and stripped down to a skeleton of street lamps, chain-link fences, blemished sidewalks, and parked cars.

Indeed very Punk Rock and raw.   I felt like the ghosts of Johnny Ramone, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen stood around greeting Guggenheim guests as I peeked at the photos posted.

In contrast the Kandinsky in Paris, 1934–1944 (running from June 28, 2013–April 23, 2014) was all class.

Perhaps more than any other 20th-century painter, Vasily Kandinsky has been linked to the history of the Guggenheim Museum. The collection includes over 150 of his works, which are regularly presented in a dedicated gallery at the museum. The current selection, Kandinsky in Paris, 1934–1944, examines the last 11 years of his life. After the Nazi government closed the Berlin Bauhaus (where he had been a teacher) in 1933, Kandinsky settled in the Parisian suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. In France, his formal vocabulary changed, and diagrams of amoebas, embryos, and other primitive cellular and plant forms provided the sources for the whimsical biomorphic imagery that would be predominant in his late paintings. Instead of his characteristic primary colors, Kandinsky favored softer, pastel hues—pink, violet, turquoise, and gold—reminiscent of the colors of his Russian origins. He also increasingly experimented with materials, such as combining sand with pigment. While Kandinsky found that his art had affinities with Surrealism and other abstract movements in Paris, he never fully immersed himself in the city’s artistic environment. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, this intimate presentation features paintings from a prolific period of Kandinsky’s career.

The Guggenheim Museum provides a wide variety of modern to classic art to absorb.  It is easy to navigate which is so unlike the MET.  Starting from the building’s fifth floor and working my way down was a delightful way to experience art and be in art.

The hidden spaces which held additional art, respite to catch your breath or a bathroom break, photography, museum curated snapshots, an open space lobby to loiter and have a chin wag over what you have just seen provided for a well rounded and fulfilling artful experience.  I wanted to sit in the space all day and people watch.  Thank you for the romance, Guggenheim Museum.


An Open Letter To The Beastie Boys

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I went on a hunt for Beastie Boys haunts whilst in NYC.  It’s always been a dream of mine since I was a teen.  Growing up to their tunes not only brought me joy but introduced me to new and exciting music in the process.

Thanks to Michael Kearney over at MCA Day who is heading up a strong contingent of folks to keep the legacy of past Beastie Boys MCA’s (Adam Yauch’s) memory alive.  Michael Kearney was able to secure a Beastie Boy Walking Tour map for me before I left Toronto.   Talk about the Willy Wonka golden ticket!  I was now able to narrow down my searches for specific Beastie Boy’s landmarks by neighbourhood.

For me, the most important visits were Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn and the Paul’s Boutique location from the Beastie Boy’s album cover.  Those held a special significance for me.

Luckily on the day I was in Brooklyn, my friend Ham’s and I popped over easily to Adam Yauch Park.

Adam Yauch Park was quiet on that Fall day.  No kids were around and the leaves had nicely nestled under the colourful jungle gym furniture.  There was even a bear and cub statue lingering in the background which was lovely in providing an even more familial feel.  It was a tiny park but a perfect space to honour someone as special as Adam.

Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys were a big part of my youth.  Their music uplifts my mood, has taken me out of dark places, gets me ready and jazzed for work or better yet decompresses me after a long day at work.

Many times I have played ‘Jimmy James’ as I rode the subway in and out of downtown Toronto wondering what it would feel like to ride a NYC subway to the same tune.  I got my wish and it felt so different.  Far more gritty.  Far more painful.  The perfect NYC edge and swagger.

The day Adam died it came as a shock to a lot of us.  I remember texting one of my best mates Andrew and we both felt the rumble.  Adam always seemed like the quieter Beastie.  He was more content to let Mike D and Ad-Rock fill the hype.  As years passed his quieter voice became louder when it came to issues he believed in.  As their songs and messages changed – we also as listeners began to open our minds to other possibilities and ‘working for the greater good’ as Michael Kearney has said to me recently.

I made my peace at Adam’s park.  I was able to pay my personal respects in a small moment.

A few days after visiting Adam Yauch Park – I happened to be visiting the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side.  Thanks to the Beastie Boys Walking Tour map I scouted out the location for the Paul’s Boutique album cover.

Time has certainly passed.  The neighbourhood has had a dramatic face lift and not at all the same gritty album cover that I used to lie in bed looking at wondering how and where those tunes were crafted.  But lovely to see and have chin up time with.

The Beastie Boy’s Walking Tour map added a different flavour to my trip to NYC.  It cajoled me into discovering neighbourhoods perhaps I wouldn’t have checked out, it taught me a lil bit more about these boys and even about myself.  Indeed the Beastie Boys are one soundtrack out of many from my youth.  I have come far from being that young girl in North Toronto – a professional, settled and comfortable in her skin.  Thank you Adam, Adam and Mike.

Lastly, check out Michael Kearney’s MCA Day Celebration for 2014.  It will be their second year anniversary and I hear they have some amazing things planned for the day!



Brooklyn Museum: ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’

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It was a no brainer that I would venture out to the Brooklyn Museum when I heard that ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ had opened just days before my arrival to NYC.

How could I pass that up?  It was truly a once in a life time experience.

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the country. Its holdings include objects ranging from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art and represent almost every culture. The Museum is located in central Brooklyn, a half-hour from midtown Manhattan and has its own subway stop. The 560,000-square-foot landmark Beaux-Arts building, designed by McKim, Mead & White, is set on Eastern Parkway, one block from Grand Army Plaza, in a complex of parks and gardens conceived in the nineteenth century that is also home to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (with which the Museum shares a parking lot), the Prospect Park Zoo, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

When I arrived at the Brooklyn Museum there was already a long queue of people waiting to get into the Gaultier exhibit.  Again for a girl on a tight schedule I felt a lil bit anxious but I preserved through.

‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ opened on October 25, 2013 and will conclude on February 23, 2014.

The Brooklyn Museum is the only East Coast venue for ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’, the first international exhibition dedicated to the groundbreaking French couturier, organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The critically acclaimed touring show, already seen by some one million people, spans the Paris-based designer’s thirty-seven-year career and includes iconic examples never before exhibited. The Brooklyn presentation includes new material not shown in the previous venues, including ensembles from his recent runway shows. This dynamic, multimedia contemporary installation devoted to Gaultier explores in depth his fashion themes of equality, diversity, and avant-garde design through more than 140 cutting-edge couture and ready-to-wear garments for both men and women. It also features film, dance, and concert costumes, including the conical bra and corsets Madonna wore during her 1990 Blonde Ambition World Tour and her wardrobe for the 2006 Confessions Tour, costumes from the films of Pedro Almódovar and from the 1997 film The Fifth Element, and photographs by Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Herb Ritts, and Mario Testino, among others. Video and television clips are featured as well as other archival sketches. The material on display dates from the mid-1970s to 2012.

‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ exhibit did an exemplary job of painting a gorgeous portrait of how Gaultier’s child hood influenced his design esthetic, drive and work ethic which propelled him into fine tuning his artistry within haute couture.  I always find it fascinating to see how fashion and art mavens develop and preen their talents to bring them to such acclaim.

Viewing haute couture pieces like Gaultier’s up close at the Brooklyn Museum was like eating ice cream for dinner.  You are able to view the handiwork, rips, tears, seamless garments and embroidery crafted into the likes of corsets, gowns and trousers.  I only wish we could touch them.

‘Perfection is relative and beauty is subjective’.  Indeed.  I remember watching Gaultier’s run way shows on Fashion Television as a teen and thinking ‘Wow, this guy is bold!’.  Models from different ethnic backgrounds, tattooed and pierced gents and rounder than the average run way models; Gaultier gave me permission to be myself and experiment in the comfort of my North Toronto home.

The pieces represented in this collection at the Brooklyn Museum were decadent.  I appreciated that the pieces were coordinated within themes:  denim, camouflage, runway, punk rock sensibilities clashing with traditional French tastes, Madonna’s tour wardrobe, photography and early Vogue magazine shoot campaigns.  It was a cohesive storied collection that you can walk through with ease, inhale and revel in the beauty of the wardrobe’s architecture.

Be prepared for the life like mannequins who speak to you, roll their eyes, dispense attitude and create an instant atmosphere.  These elements added an even sexier layer to the already provocative exhibition.

Gaultier isn’t perfect.  There was some strong cultural appropriation and cross referencing of religious motifs in this collection – let’s face it.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t call it out.  A wedding gown with a First Nation headdress?  A sweaty and almost naked Madonna (not Ciccone)?  Hmmmm.  Indeed inappropriate and I can see how fashionistas could gravitate to this as ‘cool’ or ‘avant garde’.  That aside, it does create a dialogue.  I would be lying if I didn’t think the overall design wasn’t daring and still trying its best to honour the roots of its inspiration.

Is it worth the trek out to Brooklyn to catch the ‘The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’?  Yes.  Walking in the Brooklyn Museum’s space was a lovely departure from the hustle and bustle in downtown NYC.  I enjoyed taking my time, examining pieces like a couturier and when I was done with Gaultier I went on more adventures within the other floors of the Brooklyn Museum for a further buzz.