Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look Through Any Window II

Smoke shop, the Netherlands, 1917
When I worked in advertising, I heard a thing that made sense to me. A guy who specialized in advertising for chain restaurants said that if you want to raise a store's income by 10%, just give it a coat of paint and clean the windows.

Our local Chinese restaurant got caught up in an endless station renovation that routed people away from its door for about two years. Somehow the business survived — probably via take-out. Now that the subway work is almost complete and the scaffolding has come down, the store's windows are thick with dust. I want to tell Mr. Lee, "Wash your windows! Throw some paint on the walls! Look what this store did with a display about milk!"

Rothschild's, Ithaca, NY, 1917

This is my second post about shop windows. (The first is here.) This time, have a look through some windows from the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands and South Africa. The photos date from the early 1900s through the 1940s. Everything says "Come on in."

A ladies' dress shop, Amsterdam, 1915. Note the absence of today's fierce mannequin faces.

Look at this swoopy thing with its Vogue magazines! It's in Newcastle, England, in the 1940s.

Have Hollywood on your mind? This is the Hollywood Hat Shop, also in Newcastle.

World War II was beginning, but these young American boys
seem to have been mesmerized by all the Chinese Checkers sets.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The best of New York City on $0.00 a day

 "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."
~ Thomas Merton

Going to art galleries is one of the best deals in New York; it's free and just about any time you go, something will fill you with wonder. Right now, the galleries in Chelsea have so much wonder on their walls, I hardly know where to begin.

Andre Kertesz: "Bockskay-Ter, Budapest"

"Night" is the name of a moody, noirish photography show featuring the work of four great photographers at the peak of their powers: Robert Doisneau, Ilse Bing, Brassai and Andre Kertesz. The images above and below are two examples. See them all at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery through June 2nd.

Robert Doisneau: "Mademoiselle Anita"

From 1927 to about 1935 Marie-Therese Walter was the love of Pablo Picasso's life as well as his model and muse. Picasso and Marie-Therese: L'amour fou, a selection of the extraordinary work that came from that relationship, just opened at the Gagosian Gallery (April 14 – June 25). The exhibition is a remarkable thing to see for its diversity — paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, even a wall hanging — as well as its intense beauty. In addition to Picasso's work it includes photographs and a few seconds of film of Marie-Therese at her beautiful, glowing and playful best. Here she is in her red beret.

Pablo Picasso: one of several paintings of Marie-Therese in her red beret

If you know Kara Walker for her intricate, kinetic, witty silhouettes portraying black history and life in the U.S., her show at the Sikkema Jenkins gallery (through June 4th) will come as a bracing shock to the system.

Kara Walker: "Louise Beavers"

Titled "Dust Jackets for the Niggerati-and Supporting Dissertations, Drawings submitted ruefully by Dr. Kara E. Walker," it is a sprawling, raw, impassioned series of drawings and prints about dreams deferred, co-opted, sold out and destroyed. The block-printed image above is a "dust jacket" blurb written about the actress Louise Beavers.

Jasper Johns was an established art star when I was a student, and he's still going strong at 81. Patterns, numbers and alphabets continue to inspire him, but he's added some new (to me) elements in his current show at the Matthew Marks Gallery (through July 1). In a room devoted to prints and paintings in the series "Fragment of a Letter" (based on one of many letters written by Vincent Van Gogh to his friend Emile Bernard), he incorporates American sign language into his work. 
Jasper Johns: "Fragment of a Letter
The familiar witch-or-urn optical illusion inspires another series of  images. In the intaglio print below, he combines urns, witches, sign language and what he calls "shrinky dinks." The man is having fun. 
Jasper Johns: "Shrinky Dink 4"

We wandered into the CRG Gallery when we saw Ori Gersht's images through the window. Once inside, what appeared to be paintings turned out to be delicately beautiful photography. The series, "Falling Petals," seems to have been shot in Japan in the height of cherry blossom season. The image below is not my favorite, but it's the only one available online.

Ori Gersht: "Falling Petals"

While Ori Gersht's photography sometimes looks like painting, Mary Henderson tricks the eye the opposite way. She is a skilled hyperrealist whose paintings and watercolors might easily be mistaken for photos — until you realize they reveal more than any photo you're likely to see. "Bathers" is the name and subject of her current show at the Lyons Wier Gallery. The painting below amazed me from its use of light to the strands of hair and the grains of sand on the beach towel. See the gallery website for more.

Mary Henderson: "Back"

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
~ Pablo Picasso

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Optical illusion as architectural metaphor

“Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul.”
~ Ernest Dimnet

Can the crane lift the Chrysler building? No, it cannot. Can the crane remove the Chrysler building from view? Yes, it can.

Last December I wrote about waking up one foggy morning to discover the beginning of the end of the New York skyline view I've lived with and loved for 30 years. This is what I saw through my kitchen window that day.

Construction has moved along at a rapid clip in the last five months, revealing a building far worse than my wildest imaginings. The developers have dismissively turned the building's back to the community. They have replaced the beautiful skyline with a featureless, sand-colored monstrosity. If the building is to have a good side, it will face the river. And it gets better: This building is the first of five.

What puzzles me is, what will prospective tenants think about coming home to the visual equivalent of the servant's entrance every night? What will they tell their visitors? I can hear them now: "Just head toward the waterfront and look for the ugliest building you've ever seen. That's us!" Or perhaps the developers expect everyone to arrive by boat.

New York is not just the city that never sleeps. It is the city that never stops reinventing itself. But surely we can do better than this.

"The materials of city planning are sky, space, trees, steel and cement in that order and in that hierarchy."
~ Le Corbusier