Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Oldenburg & Le Corbusier at MoMA + Summer Reading

On an insufferably hot and humid day (Tuesday, July 23rd) this past week, we lunched on 9th Avenue, in mid-town (@ The Ember Room; discussed in my April 25th blog post), now "reformatted" & reinvented as Obao Restaurant) ... and then proceeded over to MoMA (on 53rd, between 5th & 6th).  
MoMA - Rain Room, 2012
We consciously passed up the Rain Room, a popular installation housed just outside & west of the museum's main building. Featuring a "large-scale interactive environment," the exhibit (thru July 28th) consists of "a field of falling water that visitors may walk through and experience how it might feel to control the rain."  

Oldenburg - Giant Hamburger w/Pickle (MoMA)

We had, however, other things in mind:  a major Claes Oldenburg retrospective exhibit and (right next door) a large & commanding show examining the life, projects, thought & thought processes of Le Corbusier - displaying a broad, idiosyncratic & diverse career of architectural design & building, writing (30+ books), painting & more. Le Corbusier was, of course, an architectural giant & "big thinker" (there is an interview with him and a lecture on the philosophical underpinnings of his large body of work); and Oldenburg, you might recall, introduced the world to the possibilities of the commercial product and street-based refuse as viable forms of art - designing, and focusing in on, brightly painted sculptures & "sculptural reliefs" ... from a giant hamburger (see MoMA photo) to such subjects as lingerie, pastries, pies, eggs & omelettes, hats, suits, ties, jumbo sneakers ... focusing, that is, on all sorts of socio-cultural artifacts and, writ large and colorful, making them art!  Hence the title of the show: "Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store"(running thru August 5th).  

Oldenburg - Pastry Case, I
According to the museum's online curator-based discussion of the show, "... Oldenburg's audacious, witty, and profound depictions of everyday objects have earned him a reputation as one of the most important artists of the 20th century."  And the current exhibition, they continue to note, aims to reflect & penetrate the early phases of Oldenburg's career "... with an in-depth look at his first two major bodies of work: The Street (1960) and The Store (1961-1964)." And both components in Oldenburg's early & developing sculptural  idiom are, I should emphasize, equally fascinating, with the larger pieces - components of The Store - possibly the more audacious, memorable & fun.

Both of these shows - the Oldenburg & Le Corbusier ("An Atlas of Modern Landscapes"; thru September 23rd) - present, for the viewer-attendee, rich, complete, entertaining, complex (culturally, artistically), circumscribed environments and equally rich & entertaining experiences. You owe it to yourself to get over to MoMA and see one or both of these, well, major events before they close!
On another note entirely: I'd like to propose some summer reading material for those upcoming August, "dog-day" afternoons or leisure-laden evenings.
Andrea Camileri

First, let me propose the Andrea Camilleri mystery series (now in Penguin paperbacks, @ Amazon.com) in which the action is based in northwest Sicily. In some 12 or 14 books (translated efficiently, effectively & responsibly by Stephen Sartarelli), we follow Inspector Salvo Montalbano battling all sorts of crime of the most riveting variety - featuring daunting criminals, bizarre cases, and equally entertaining & oddly depicted cops. But the real pleasure is as much (or more) in the character, habits & interests of Montalbano, himself, as it is in the narrative & context of the case under investigation. For me, the fun is simply underscored by the allusions to the food and culture of Sicily that Montalbano concentrates upon & addresses, day & night, in a variety of matters, along the way. 

And, as I was saying to my ole friend, Leonardo L., just the other day, in an e-mail response to his letting me know how much he enjoyed The Shape of Water (volume #1 in the series), this detective series is full of humor & humanity; it is interesting and entertaining; positively rich in local "color" - culture & food(!) & books & Sicilian locales; somewhat light in texture & tone (but only somewhat); and full of ongoing philosophical probing and existential issues. You would do well to take a look at one of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano mysteries!

My second suggestion for summer reading material (in this case rather rare and, possibly, out of print; consult ABE.com) consists in four novels by William Cooper, the British novelist (published in the U.S., beginning in 1950, by E.P. Dutton) who influenced the likes of John Braine, Kingsley Amis (think Lucky Jim!), Malcolm Bradbury, and, even, David Lodge. Cooper's lyrically comical novel series begins with Scenes from Provincial Life, focusing on, and tracing, the life of one Joe Lunn, narrator & would-be novelist - his life, loves, doings, involvements, friends, dreams, likes, interests, limitations - as he moves through adult life and through a series of three additional equally comic, lyrical novels - Scenes from Metropolitan Life, Scenes from Married Life & Scenes from Later Life. I suspect you'll be intrigued by this relatively obscure but influential novelist, and will agree with Library Journal in their abbreviated & pithy assessment of William Cooper's oeuvre:  "Finely crafted, witty, and highly civilized." 

Consider yourself set, now, for the remainder of the summer, through, say, Labor Day weekend, at the very least  ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From PS1 in Queens ... to MoonDance on Pier 84 ... & More!

Summertime in the New York area this year is, well, hot &
MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens
humid ... or, as my mother used to say, very close And while the living ain't exactly easy, it is, indeed, replete with all kinds of wonderful choices, unique activities, all manner of possibilities - cultural, entertainment, culinary and more. Our first choice, during the past few weeks, centered on MoMA's PS1(22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City),
and entailed an outing to this MoMA branch in Queens for two essential reasons: the "culture" (the art) & the culinary. 

M. Wells Dinette, PS1
Actually, in terms of our trip out to PS1, the culinary proved the greater motivating factor; that is, we were (for a long while) intent on dining at M. Wells Dinette, the new bistro-like restaurant on the main floor of the building and established by French Canadians (from Montreal, I believe).  The focus appears to be on all things fresh (vegetables, soups, salads) and, primarily, on an ever-changing variety of meat plates.  The resto is housed in what was the original public school ("PS-1") cafeteria and has the odd feel, now, of a school lunch room cum bistro (see photo). It is a bit noisy dining there & chatting amidst the elongated cafeteria-type tables and the extra high ceilings, but the food is excellent (the menu changes almost daily) & the service is as friendly & helpful as your sweetest & most approachable (or, on our  visit, avuncular) 1st-grade teacher.
Pork Chop w/truffles & mash potatoes

We were two couples and we each began the meal with an inviting, interestingly spiced, large bowl of gaspacho (@ $8) which proved a great starter for this outing and what would come next ... and after that!  (I highly recommend the gaspacho and would opt for it again if it happens to remain on the menu.) Two of us, next, had selected the pork chop with truffles & mashed potatoes ($16) ... which proved very tender & very tasty, an enjoyable dish reflecting a harmoniously constructed "take" on a somewhat traditional theme. My wife chose the liver & onions ($16) entree with snippets of bacon bits atop the veal liver; also a nicely prepared plate reminiscent of yet another (traditional) hardy theme. The 4th entree that arrived was an interesting amalgam of foie gras & rabbit pate (@ $18), a country French dish that, in terms of the natural blend of the two major components, metamorphosed into, well, none other than an epicurean delight! 

Petit Cochon
As a complement to our food choices we ordered what turned out to be a refreshingly smooth bottle of Petit Cochon, a rose from the Languedoc ($32; 2012, Domaine Rimbert); we savored the mixture of grape varieties -  Grenache, Syrah & Cinsaut - blended within this lovely wine from the south of France.

Coupled all around with cups of rich & robust black coffee, we ended our "school cafeteria" visit with a dessert suggested by our waiter: an extra large "bowl" of raspberry-inflected creme brulee ($15) which we four shared. 

Indeed, both the creme brulee & the resto, itself, scored a solid hit with the four of us.

Moonrise - Hernandez, NM; c. 1941
And our visit to the museum proved equally worthwhile, with lots to see, to savor, to linger over & discuss. Tops were the  large rooms full of stark, powerful, enigmatic Ansel Adams black-&-white photos. Entitled by the curators - "The Politics of Contemplation" - these celebrated photos depict the harsh elements of nature, highlighting stunning contrasts between earth and sky ... AND focusing on such things as "Yosemite's grand mountains, melancholic forests, falling rivers, operatic geysers, and sci-fi moonrises [from Expo-1: New York]." 

Brodno People - Pawel Althamer (Warsaw)
Also impressive was an installation called Brodno People, actually a series of sculptures - in metal, soft medal, plastics, celltape & LED light - created by Pawel Althamer (Polish; born 1967) and a group of his neighbors who lived in an apartment block in the Brodno neighborhood of Warsaw. The installation-sculptures depict (see photo) these people - "in a range of techniques and styles" - in self-portraits posed as a group of robots, cyborgs & astronauts as if in a science fiction film ... "each figure an imagined persona from a dystopic future."

MoonDance Sponsor
Salsa w/Los Hermanos Colon
On a somewhat lighter, more "swinging" note, MoonDance (2013; July 14th - August 11th; & FREE!) began this past Sunday evening on Pier 84 (at W. 44th St.). A wide variety of people - old & young, experienced dancers & beginners, dancers from every ethnic group - come out & "boogie" along the Hudson River. Sponsored by City Winery and supported in every way by Dance Manhattan, MoonDance provides you with your "chance to strut your stuff under the stars ..."  in a program series featuring alternating evenings of swing, tango & salsa. Live bands start playing at 7:00 pm and free dance lessons, courtesy of Dance Manhattan, begin at 6:30. 

George Gee Swing Orchestra
The irrepressible George Gee Swing Orchestra kicked off the MoonDance series on this hot summer evening and my wife (a superb, intuitive dancer!) and I were out there for better than an hour doing the swing, the Lindy Hop & a mixture of the two ... with cool, penetrating Hudson River breezes preventing us - and all on the dance floor -  from the damaging "rages" of the latest New York area heatwave. Come on out and join the festivities next Sunday evening (July 21st) for salsa with Los Hermanos Colon!
7th Ave. South @ Bleecker
Finally, if you happen to find yourself hungry in the West Village - prior to, or just after, a movie, say, at the Film Forum - consider walking a few blocks back uptown for a light lunch or early dinner at Hummus Place.

Falafel plate
This little culinary gem at 71 7th Ave. South, at Bleecker (actually one of three Manhattan locations), features everything Middle Eastern:  from falafel (5 balls served on tahini & green sauce; @ $4.50) & shakshuka (a substantial omlette-type "stew of tomatoes, peppers & eggplant topped with 2 eggs over easy"; $8.95) ... to crunchy salads & silky hummus of every (popular) Mediterranean provenance ... along with some pretty fabulous desserts (try the kadaif @ $5; "dry kadaif topped with vanilla-infused ricotta cheese, halva shreds & honey date"). A wide variety of hot & cold drinks is available, as well ... an incomparable "house" mint tea ($2.50), "homemade" lemonade, Turkish coffee ($2.50), espresso & a short list of beers (@ $5), from Brooklyn Lager to Heineken to Goldstar (a bottle beer from Israel). 
Those fluffy pitas!

Best of all, perhaps, are the unusually thick & fluffy pitas you will surely consume & strategically apply to remnants of anything accidentally left on your plate! 

Simply do yourself a favor & give Hummus Place a try when next you're in the neighborhood!