Over the hills and through the woods

On this beautiful, crisp day, I took a ride in the country to the Katonah Art Museum in upstate 2013-12-27 12.15.22New York.  I don’t know exactly where I left one state for another, but the winding roads, the rise and fall of the hills, and the roadside stone fences topped with snow were as pretty as a holiday card.




I passed several frozen-over lakes covered with a white blanket of snow.  A huge hawk, that looked like a peregrine, flew right above me, before landing on an electric wire along the road.



Just a bit over an hour after leaving New Haven, I made it to see the exhibit “Eye to I…3,000 Years of Portraits” at the museum.  What I didn’t realize until looking at the object labels is that most of the 65 works came from private collections.  After spending over a year tracking down one painting from a private collection for my thesis, I wondered how in the world this tiny museum and its staff could ever mount such a show.

Turns out, Katonah is a very wealthy town, unlike much of upstate New York, and locals put up objects from their collection with such diverse art historical greatest hits as works by Andy Warhol, Édouard Vuillard, Chuck Close, Robert Henri, John Singleton Copley, Duane Hanson, Cindy Sherman, Félix González-Torres, Diane Arbus, and Gordon Parks.  An ancient Egyptian bust of Amenhotep III is placed next to a Rodin bronze head of the artist’s lover and housekeeper Rose Beuret, a Nigerian mask with the computer-generated imagery “Mirror No. 12” by Daniel Rozin.

Rozin’s work engages the viewer in a particularly intriguing and interactive way.  A mirror incorporates the 2013-12-27 11.22.34viewer into a computerized view of the gallery.  The image is then shattered into shards, the color flattened, and the scene slowly sways from side to side.  The curator describes the result as “digital but incredibly painterly.”  Can you make me out in this image?




Here are a few other works I really liked.


My girl Florine Stettheimer is represented.  How rare to see one of her works, and this is a famous portrait she made of her friend, and supposedly her lover, Marcel Duchamp in 1923.  Of her limited catalogue, I can check off another I’ve seen in person!



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Diane Arbus’s photograph of “Soothsayer Madame Sandra California, 1963.”  Did the woman ever make a photograph that wasn’t a classic?







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Same with Gordon Parks.  Here is “Little Richard, Harlem, New York, 1967.”  I really like those 1960s photographers.







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Anne-Karin Furunes, “Portraits of Archive Pictures” uses optics to confound, then allow our ability to see.  She appropriates archival images and then tampers with the image.  At varying angles, it’s unreadable, emerges like a ghost, then clarifies as Anne Frank.

Julian Opie plays with how we see, too.  “This is Monique” from 2004 shows this seemingly static portrait of Monique.  If you stay with her…

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she starts to smile (it gets bigger than this).






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frowns (it gets deeper than this),







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and seems to react in surprise at something you say to her.

Talk about unexpectedly interactive!





These works won’t be readily seen again, as they mostly live in private collections.  So if you get a chance to run up to Katonah, the show is on until2013-12-27 12.04.19 February.  The pretty drive alone is worth it.  The portraits create a dialogue to take you home.

Unless you want to linger and visit John Jay’s homestead.  It was closed today, but I enjoyed walking the grounds a bit, seeing some of the farm.




I headed home via Litchfield, CT, where I met with woodworker Tom Kyasky.  He’s going to build a bed for me in the style of Duncan Phyfe.  Pretty classy, eh?  Very soon, I will get to have a little bit of American decorative arts history to lull me to sleep, after a satisfying day trip over the hills and through the woods.




Handle with Care

The non-football-loving Jews were all at “Handle with Care” to see Carol Lawrence in a role a long way from Maria in “West Side Story.”  Cheekbones and sparkling eyes intact, Lawrence plays the dead grandma from Israel, whose body gets lost in Virginia (don’t ask).  Okay, we see her alive in flashbacks from the day before.

Despite the presence, or loss, of the dead body, this is one delightful, sweet, thoughtful dramedy.  It really doesn’t have to be handled with care.  It reflects on whether we/the universe is guided by random chaos or a master plan, free will or fate.  With a very light touch, we consider how to handle the people in our lives with care, no matter the philosophical underpinning.

The same can be contemplated about the ‘fresh’ piece pictured below, now at the Museum of Modern Art.  Although the exhibit of Ileana Sonnabend’s collection centers on a controversial Robert Rauschenberg combine, my interest went elsewhere.  The combine with its stuffed eagle is a beastly ugly piece, which the Sonnabend estate donated to MoMA to avoid the taxes on its $65 million worth.

2013-12-22 13.46.48How much more fun to contemplate the juxtaposition of materials of Giovanni Anselmo’s Untitled (Eating Structure) from 1968.  So we have  forever granite plinth with a temporal head of lettuce, strapped to the stone with wire.  When the lettuce wilts, the small stone on top of it falls off.  Well, I looked and looked for that stone.  Shouldn’t it be obvious?

I asked one, two, then three guards.  Where’s the stone?  The third explained.  This time, the wilted lettuce slipped out of the wire and fell on top of the stone, hiding it.  Aah, I get it now.  A bit of the chance element.  They won’t touch the lettuce until tomorrow, when the art handler will replace the head.  So you tell me:  master plan or random chaos?  Regardless, handle with care!

2013-12-22 13.58.54For a long time, I watched the 1972 piece by Janis Kounellis, Inventing on the Spot, originally commissioned by Ballet Rouses.  The painting on the wall has snippets of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, played by the violinist until he tires and improvised by the ballerina. 2013-12-22 13.43.31










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A mesmerizing act of free will, handled with subtlety and care, plus an experience for the senses–a synesthesia–that literally reverberates throughout the exhibition.


To get a sense of it, check out my little video:

I spent a lot of  time with the divinely silly William Wegman video Stomach Song from 1970-1.  You know, he of the witty Weimaraner photos.  Here, he makes facial expressions with his chest and belly.  The sound track is his body-face speaking, then singing a song.  You don’t have to believe me…just take a look at the video.

So as you continue through this holiday season, whether along a master plan or swinging with freedom and chaos of it all, handle it with care, joy, and if at all possible, a laugh!

A close shave

Navigating the streets of New York can be a challenge this time of year.  The bodies blob together and form an unmoving mass on Fifth Avenue and all through midtown.  The blob is unmovable and refuses to part.

2013-12-19 16.27.49What’s a fast walker to do?  Find the mid-block  cut-throughs, of course.  Today, I happened onto a kind of alleyway filled with sculpture, like this Leda and the Swan by Botero.  Love it.

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And this perfectly silent walkway with fountains and lights–more magical than any Bergdorf window.

A close shave averted…for the moment.  I decided on an early Thai dinner at a restaurant so tiny that I can napkin-daub the lips of the person at the next table without straightening my arm.  I arrived at the unfashionable hour of 4:45 and was seated right away at the last remaining seat.  At the bar, I discovered that one has elbow room, but is knocked continually along the backside.  Still, the food is good, cheap, and fast, which works because I had places to go and people to see.

Laurie Metcalf in jeans, Jeff Goldblum in his costume--a suit

Laurie Metcalf in jeans, Jeff Goldblum in his costume–a suit

I wanted to hear what Jeff Goldblum would say about his character in Domesticated, during a pre-show conversation at Lincoln Center.  Not only did that cast have time before their 8 pm curtain, but so did I.

Goldblum plays a womanizing gynecologist (ewww) turned philandering politician (how obvious).  What makes the show different from the headlines is what happens next.  I saw the play a couple of months ago, but vividly remember his close shave with the dark side consequences of his affair.  But another tight corner was avoided by both Goldblum and his co-star Laurie Metcalf by discussing the play’s process, not their characters.

My favorite close shave of the day belonged to the Met, and its new exhibit on dressing tables through the ages.   I’m newly in love with the Met.  Every time I go now, it is such a joy.  This small exhibit gives you plenty of time and space to savoy reach gem.

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The ancient Egyptians loved their makeup, and formulated the concept of a box of vial and jars of stuff on a table just for that purpose.






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Look at the intricate beauty of the inlaid patterns and scenes on This dressing table for Madame du Pompadour.  This table was designed with all her passions included–gardening, architecture, nature–the motifs are all there to please her.

Several more French, Italian, and even American examples each sing their glories.

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Elegance was not reserved for women.  The shaving table was essential for the eighteenth-century gentleman.  And check out the wig cabinet, all the rage after Louis XIII started the 2013-12-19 11.17.15courtier-gentlemanly fashion of wearing a wig in 1624.

Give me a box like this, and I might don one, too, when visiting court!





2013-12-19 11.12.47The lady needs a place to keep her combs, of course.  The dense-teeth side was inserted into the hairdo, while the fine side was used for combing out lice.  Ah, the costs of beauty.

Still you might forget all your cares if you use this 1736 Chinese jewelry box.

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Hogarth spoofs the way the privileged turned the private function of the toilette into the public, blurring the intimacy of a flirtation with the boudoir as public reception space.



2013-12-19 11.11.03Fun fact: in the Renaissance, toilette shifted from being an object (a box with jars and pots of creams) to an activity.  Think about it.  As more time was spent with the action of preparing one’s face and hair and…, the more specialized the tools became, necessitating a table to hold all those goodies.  A medicine cabinet today, though, is a pretty dispiriting  swap for this set.

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Instead you might want this spectacular 20th-century-modern jewelry case for holding your JAR jewels.  No, not a jar of jewels, but Joel A. Rosenthal’s contemporary, bejeweled creations.





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For a mere $4000, you can even buy a small piece of his at the Met’s gift shop.  Then you have to get your antique dressing table to house it and your jewelry case.  You’ll be all set for the holidays, unless you need a close shave.  Then you’ll need this shaving table…

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A Beautiful Path

Edward Steichen did things backwards.  He became a commercial artist at age 44, after succeeding as an art photographer.  Most artists start with advertising and fashion and portraits, until they get recognized for their ‘fine’ art.

The Whitney show challenges the notion of commercial and high art being separate and unequal.  WitSteichen, Strange Interludeh their recent gift of Steichen works from the 1920s and 1930s, this small exhibit shows how the Steichen Pictorialist sensibility carries over into his work for hire.  His trademark atmospherics and beautiful ambiguity are evident in this ‘celebrity’ photo of Lynn Fontaine, called Strange Interlude from 1928.




The Modernist aesthetic of clarity and highly-contrasted light and shadow are all over this wonderfully linear abstraction of forks, knives, and spoons–for an ad for Gorham Silver, 19292013-12-12 12.21.38.  Look at how voluptuous the bowls of the spoons are against all that verticality.  What a fun addition to any kitchen, and I don’t mean the silverware.






Steichen, VogueI can’t help equating this Asian-inspired, 1937 Vogue Magazine photograph,called Six P.M., Shining Hour, with the painted still life The Mannequin by my Elizabeth Okie Paxton.

Once again, Paxton predates the other work, Paxton, Mannequin, c1920this time by 20 years.  But unfortunately, what also hasn’t changed is the woman-as-beautiful-object available for consumption.  That would take another fifty years for the change-dialogue to even start.

But that’s a story for another day.

First Snow

So hard for me to be in two places at once, but happily Matt was on the scene and captured the first snow…

… the garden

…and at the house in general.

Like fairy land!

Artists and the New York Coop

Charles Fourier
by Jean Francois Gigoux

Putting the word ‘artist’ and ‘coop’ together may evoke lots of possibilities, but real estate developer probably isn’t among them.  The walking tour I did today demonstrated how artists were essential to the New York real estate cooperative.

Charles Fourier’s ideas  influenced artists in a lot of ways, but the Fourier lifestyle ideas are what’s relevant to today’s exploration.  He believed that marriage trapped women and encouraged them to take seven lovers.  I didn’t ask why seven, but my fantasy is a different lover for each day of the week.

Fourier also developed an assessment of personality types and encouraged those of similar types to live together, which would foster the most creativity.  An architect Huber brought these ideas to New York, when the Rembrandt opened on 57th Street in about 1880.  While that project was apparently a bust, the cooperative style of living wouldn’t be.

Victorian mores discouraged living in close proximity to people you don’t know, which made the craze for single family homes.  On 5th Avenue, this meant mansions.  On the other side of the park, the cooperative reemerged in the early 1900s, when artists were desperate for affordable housing.

A group of artists became real estate developers by building five buildings on W. 67th Street.

File:Hotel des Artistes jeh.JPGHotel des Artistes

These artists were innovators, too.  They developed the studio apartment–one room where the artist could live and work in a studio.  Meals were prepared in a cooperative kitchen and provided in a common dining room, which is why each apartment’s kitchen is lousy.  The idea was to create collective space where ideas could be shared.  And the artist wouldn’t be burdened with the mundanities of life.

The Atelier

The Atelier





The buildings still suggest their historic roots, named for example, Central Park Studios and Hotel des Artistes. Of course, today these buildings are wildly expensive coops, with that New York exclusivity.  Pretty far removed from the original egalitarian vision.

Those original groups of artists glamorized the idea of unrelated people living together under one roof.  Soon buildings were springing to life all over this new neighborhood west of the park, borrowing that cooperative idea.

The Presada

The Presada

But apartments grew into 7000 square feet.  Elegant lobbies were used as marketing tools to attract the upper echelon.  New York real estate was growing into the miasma it is today.  All started by a bunch of artists.

The Presada

The Presada


2013-12-05 16.50.01New York’s a pizza town.  So is New Haven, and the Elm City has bragging rights for the first pizza oven in the country at Pepe’s.  I’ve toured several of the New Haven spots, so it was time for the comparison.  My foodie friend Katherine and I signed up for Scott’s Pizza Tours, “the cheesiest guided tour,” and tonight Scott was our very own guide–for just the two of us.

We started at Keste, Katherine’s favorite pizza place.  It’s Napolitano, and since Naples was the founding location for pizza, Keste was a good starting point for our taste tour.

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Pizza started in bakeries in Naples, when bakers wanted to cool the oven down.  They would throw dough into the too-hot oven with whatever stuff they had around, like anchovies.  It was trash food.  And look at it today–probably the favorite food in America.

Chemistry is important.  The Napolitano style uses low-protein flour, so that the dough is very soft.  After fermenting for two days, the pie men at Keste leave the dough outside for two to three hours to get chilled.  I don’t know what they do in the summer.

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Then to work the dough, It’s merely pressed down gently.  Tossing the dough?  Never!  This is a marketing gimmick, originally used by Americans to attract the neophytes to their pies.  Americans have high-protein, high gluten flour that can stand up to a toss.  It would tatter the low-protein dough.  Now you know.

2013-12-05 17.07.53The wood-fired oven heats up to 920 degrees for the pizzas, and the wood fire is only on one side.  The domed oven, with no vent hole, then creates a convection, with the heat circling up around the dome.  Standing in front of it was pretty intense.  Our margharita pie took one minute and 25 seconds to cook.  Hot mama!

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Pizza is only good for a couple of minutes after leaving the oven.  Even five minutes after, it’s moister (read soggy).  Lesson learned:  eat fast!

Scott spied a pizza being made for another party, and we decided to get it, too.  Smoked mozzarella, basil and lemon slices.  For Katherine and me, the world stopped turning with this pizza.  And I was done for the night.  We went to two more places.

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But after a bite at one, coal-fired and basically disappointing, and nothing at the last (a traditional New York slice), I knew that the Sorentina pie, referencing Sorrento lemons, was the nirvana of this night.

The conversation was better than the later pizza, as I listened to the two foodies go at it.  What did I get from that?  Well, I have to try the pickle soup at P.J. Bernstein.  And food is all about good chemistry.

So speaking of chemistry, I think Katherine and Scott were hitting it off.  After all, they discovered that they each carry their own pepper grinder.  So I made my exit, heading for the train and looking forward to my next New Haven pizza.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll find one with a lemon slice!

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Winter Garden

The garden has been coming together. The rhododendrons were so overgrown as to be growing into the foundation.  Matt, the garden genius, moved all of them successfully.  Look at what was involved.

Landscape, moving big rhodie

Backing one out of the driveway.

Then around to the side of the house.





Here is a slide show of the construction, when fall foliage was still around.

Today’s addition, the wind sculpture by Lyman Whitaker.

The sidewalk had to be redone.  Here’s how it’s looking as of today.

Connecticut Bluestone

And here’s a slide show of how the garden looks at the moment, in winter, almost complete.  We’re still missing a few trees and shrubs not available until spring.


Steps Away to Step Back in Time

The Orcheftra of New England performed tonight just steps away from home.  But from the moment we entered the United Church, one of three historic churches on the New Haven Green, my neighbor Penny and I entered a time machine.

ImageMr. James Sinclair, the director, was born in Cambridge, Mafsachufetts in 1724 and prides himself on bringing the latest music from overseas to the colonies and now new country.  This night was the premier of the new ‘Hayden” Sinfony in D.  And it was a charmer.

But the former-war-correspondents-turned-entertainment-critics sitting in the balcony couldn’t resist a heckle or two.  They were especially hard on the organ meister from Leipzig Mr. Hall, as they complained that Bach “has too many notes.”  They adored the soprano Mifs Alison2013-11-30 20.23.22 King, even as they chastised Mozart, the younger, whose works she excerpted.  “An upstart,” one declared.  Mr. Sinclair replied, that he is young, but has “some worthy music.”

They were not following the expressly written rules:

“Silence is requefted during the performance of the several Pieces.  No laughing, talking very loud, or squawling.  No overturning of the Benches, &c.”

My friend was concerned that “the Dogs being employ’d as Footwarmers be walked periodically, outfide the Meeting-houfe.”  We hoped we could comply.

The familiarity of several of the pieces made this particular rule difficult for me:  “That there be no whiftling during the playing of familiar Tunes…”  You know me, I’m a whiftler.

In addition to glorious music that sounded exquisite in the church, the banter and character of the performance was unforgettable.  Hope you get a sense from this slide show:

Balancing suffering with humor

After a longing to read it for many years, I finally dug into Stella Gibbons’ hilarious novel Cold Comfort Farm.  Yes, I was that person on the subway laughing to herself…

But really, the Starkadder horses are named Travail and Arsenic.  And witty Flora Poste changes all the Starkadder lives with good cheer and a dose of pragmatism.

Turned out to be the theme of the day.

Chris Burden tortured his body in the name of art, notorious in the 1970s for setting himself up to be shot in the arm and slithering naked over broken glass.  Well, he lived, and like most of us, he grew up, tempering the way he expressed struggle in his newer sculptural pieces.

I hadn’t really wanted to see the show at the New Museum, but I am in a Body Art class.  What I couldn’t anticipate is the humor in his work.  He erects a beautiful bridge with an erector set 2013-11-30 12.03.49(memories of my childhood that makes me want to see the new, erector set exhibit at the Eli Whitney museum in New Haven even more).  Then he points a cannon at it.  Creation and destruction.  And humor.

Even his 1981 Tale of Two Cities, destroying each other through war, has a wink in it–it’s a whole world made of miniatures and toys.  The binoculars posted nearby will help you see it better.  Burden and his team took three weeks to install it in the gallery.  Talk about suffering!

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My favorite is his 2013 work Porsche with Meteorite.  If you saw that title on a novel, wouldn’t 2013-11-30 11.55.57you want to read it?  As you can see, it’s enormous and playful, as if alluding to some vast teeter-totter or the Scale of Justice belonging to the gods.  It’s not as absurd as Big Wheel from 1979, which serves no functional purpose, despite appearances.  But that, you argue, is art!  Yes!


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Here’s a youtube video of how the Big Wheel gets going:

I appreciate anything that makes me laugh, so I forced myself to see Becoming Dr. Ruth.  I’m basically neutral about her, but her life is a celebration of choosing joy over suffering.  And the one-woman show about her life demonstrates just that.

Perhaps the ‘wisdom’ that comes with age is knowing that suffering is part of life.  The phrase Tikkun olam means ‘repair the world’.  That call is one of the ways I identify with being Jewish.  The way to repair the world for Dr. Ruth is through sex.  For me, it’s laughter.  Let’s do it!