Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Small Museum Exhibits / Two Small Restos - Up & Down Manhattan Island + Some Notes on Stefan Zweig

M. Bochner - "Going Out of Business"
Two small but highly worthwhile exhibits have recently surfaced at opposite ends of Manhattan Island - one, "Mel Bochner: Strong Language" (through September 21st), featured at The Jewish Museum (5th Ave. @ 92nd St.) and the other, "Exposed," a unique show at The Fashion & Textile History Gallery at the Museum at FIT (7th Ave. @ 27th St.) reflecting a brief history of lingerie (running through November 15th).

Both exhibitions cry out for our attention for very different
Mel Bochner
reasons. One, the former, emphasizes language and what Mel Bochner (b. 1940; American), in his "painterly" vein, says "has a lot to do with the devolution of language [see, up & to the left his 'Going Out of Business'], its corruption in public and political discourse in ways ... even Orwell could not have imagined." In case you're not familiar with Bochner' work, the museum's curatorial material points out that he was a founding father of the Conceptual Art movement dating back to the early 1960s. 

M. Bochner - Nothing, 2003
This new exhibition, however, has gathered a number of his more recent works spotlighting those which focus centrally on the "artist's engagement with the possibilities of language as image, medium, and content ..." including both his early conceptual items right up through "vibrantly colored and lushly executed recent paintings." [italics mine]  Indeed, The Jewish Museum exhibit curators go on to note that Bochner's "use of words as sources for painting" originates in his "interest in philosophy" on one level and humor, wit & popular culture on another. In  varying his techniques & the differing media in which he works - using "paint on canvas and velvet, drawing, print making, wall installations" - the painterly items tend to "riff on words and meaning in countless permutations."

M. Bochner - Contempt, early 2000s
Indeed, for Mel Bochner, the Thesaurus (the reference volume) becomes reified & alive as “a warehouse for words,” a basis for ready-made text for his "billboard-like pictures." Finally, Bochner's work proves alluring, unique  & witty as he incorporates "word games, [verbal] incongruities, and even visual slapstick to draw the viewer into linguistic, phenomenological, and social puzzles."

Lace corselet, c. 1954
"Exposed," the other exhibition, well, focuses on undergarments (but not those always worn underneath a woman's external dress) and graphically attempts (successfully, I think) to signal - to communicate - that "... lingerie is the final barrier to the fully nude body, and thus inherently erotic ..." strategically alluring, revealing, concealing & highlighting "the wearer's form." [from "Exposed," an MFIT pamphlet, developed by curator Colleen Hill, that summarizes the content of the show]
Bra/USA, 1949 & petticoat/France, 1951

While both shows directly communicate their content to the viewer, each, perhaps, in its own conspicuous way, they provoke our concentration in very different ways, through the use of very different media contexts: Mel Bochner - in "painted" words - using colorful language (in both meanings of the term colorful) and adding up to an assault on our visual and linguistic senses, in an emphatic & hyperbolic re-imagining of words bombarding us in our daily lives; and the content of "Exposed" gently sweeping us through history and, as we proceed from the 18th century and its "decorative corsets" to contemporary more erotic items, catching our eye through the use of mannequins modeling a wide variety of lingerie & related garments and lingerie-like clothing forms & fashions ... from, say, the modest "camiknickers" of the 1920s, to Dior's "voluminous petticoats" of the 1950s, to "today's overtly erotic styles" from Agent Provocateur.
Bustier, USA,, 1988

Indeed, as Ms. Hill & the MFIT exhibit reveal, and argue for, "lingerie remains a topic of enduring fascination" to us all, male & female alike!

But words, too, tend to have a large impact on our psyches & fascinate us, male & female alike, as Mel Bochner - and George Orwell - have demonstrated for us in the enormity of power in the repetition of words & phrases. Just think, for example of any number of verbal constructs appropriated by governments, political parties, PR firms & Madison Avenue, the NRA, "big Pharma," lobbyists & K-Street ... and you will immediately have identified a plethora of potentially insidious contexts involving linguistic manipulation or verbal abuse.

M. Bochner - Blah, blah, blah, blah ...
And who is to say which is the more fascinating area to dwell upon, and in which ways, and for whom:  women's fashion undergarments & the benign (?) world of lingerie (bustles, bras, bikini briefs, bustiers) or words and phrases that taunt, excite, intimidate, persuade, perturb, dishonor, frighten & manipulate?  Different strokes, I guess!  Or, perhaps, the same kind of person might simply recognize the impact - for good and for ill - of (or in) both of these domains. 

MFA thesis exhibit, 2014
J. Merz, Asch Building on Fire, collage
At any rate, you must avail yourself of one, or both, of these singular, memorable & deftly curated exhibitions currently on view in different sections of the Borough of Manhattan through the frenetic Fall museum-going season. And while you are visiting MFIT, consider saving some time to walk through the "Class of 2014" show entitled Chroma in which several MFA students are participating in a "Visual Thesis Exhibition." Two students, for example, whose work enthralled us as we meandered through Chroma were Jennifer Merz of Allendale, NJ (@ & Sam Kalda (@ Simply have a brief look, following your prolonged, conversation-inducing visit to "Exposed."

After your visits to the two museums and their exhibitions (delineated above), you might also want to stop for lunch or dinner (depending, of course!) on the upper East Side, where you'll find Pascalou (1308 Madison Ave. at 92nd; tel. 212/534-7522) a small but cozy, and friendly, contemporary French-inspired bistro ... just a block, or so, from the entrance to The Jewish Museum.

Polenta lamb bolognese
Pascalou has much to offer, including a 3-course lunch prix-fixe menu (@ $18.95; with appetizer, soup or salad; main; & dessert) and a formidable series (for so small a resto) of à la carte menus, as well. Two members of our party of three diners opted for the prix fixe; one (moi) ordered baby Caesar salad and the polenta lamb bolognese (prepared with melted mozzarella in a mildly spicy tomato sauce & chiseled bite-size "cuttings" of grilled lamb); the other diner who decided to order from the prix fixe lunch menu (ma femme) tried the mozzarella, basil & tomato salad & selected, for her main, the grilled salmon (light, moderately rare, juicy & well-prepared, with mixed vegetables & steamed white rice ... and without the added affectation of any sort of "fancy," cloying sauce). 

Pascalou - Diamarine rosé
Both of us received the house chocolate mousse (the daily option) for dessert, along with solid cups of robust, black coffee ($2.75) to seal the proverbial deal. In addition, we had chosen to complement our lunch with a couple of glasses of a "standard" Sauvignon Blanc (@ $9) & a pretty solid Diamarine rosé (Provence, 2013), which exuded watermelon & strawberry notes, and proved nicely dry with a crisp finish ($10). 

Gazpacho à la Pascalou

Our companion, F.L., ordered a few small plates & a cup of gazpacho from the à la carte lunch menu, most notably the Pissaladierre, a rustic onion tarte with roasted tomatoes, black olives & thyme (@ $14.50) and sauteed fresh foie gras with sweet & sour currants, balsamic onions & orange confit ($15). In all, a lunch, well, fit for a recovery - a renewal - after having perused the highlights of The Jewish Museum, some of its current exhibitions ... and the Museum's two very attractive gift shoppes!

Prince St. Cafe - Interior view
And post-"Exposed" - after your visit to the Museum at FIT (MFIT) - you might want to head for any number of restos in the immediate Chelsea vicinity, or else follow our lead and trek a bit downtown to 26 Prince St. and check out Prince St. Café (betw. Mott St. & Elizabeth St. in Nolita; tel. 212/343-7310) and spend a bit of time sampling the culinary creations of chef-owner Kostyantyn Prokoshyn, in an area just steps from the increasingly well-known landmark, McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St. betw. Lafayette & Mulberry; tel. 212/274-1160), where you just might have an author-related event to attend ... a panel, say, on the works of Stefan Zweig, new editions of some of his novels & novellas, his celebrated memoir, The World of Yesterday (London: Pushkin Press, 2009; translated by Anthea Bell), and the new biographical study of Zweig's later life & work by George Prochnik, titled The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

In fact, my wife & I had actually attended the rich & insightful panel focusing on Zweig at McNally Jackson ... the very literary panel to which I refer, above, focusing on:  the man & his dissection of the slow but emphatic collapse of what had been the "secure," leisurely, and "civilized" Habsburg Empire & the societal climate that flourished (and Zweig well knew) in the late 19th & early 20th century, before the outbreak of the Second World War; his rather sprawling historico-geographical reach; and the depth & breadth of his influence during the pre-war Europe (particularly Austria, Germany & France) cultural and
Stefan Zweig
political context
in which he found himself. The event, and the speakers involved, including Mr. Prochnik, tended to re-kindle my continued interest in Zweig's work, his singularly important & informative memoir, his brilliant novellas, and many of his great (grand?) stories!

Indeed, you might have guessed that I am just now & for a good long while enthralled by Stefan Zweig, his work, his artistic/literary vision, his emotional & intellectual state(s), and, generally, the period in which he came of age ... and, then, of prominence.

Chess Story, or The Royal Game
Doubling back along Prince St. to Kostyantyn Prokoshyn's Café, we, once again, indulged in a 3-course prix-fixe dining event. While the wines we drank by the glass were satisfactory (@ $5.00, or so, for each fill), Mr. Prokoshyn's cooking demonstrated his mastery of (and beyond!) traditional French-continental cuisine ... and that fare proved generously plated & truly sumptuous. 
For the record, the chef offers a Beef Wellington entrée on his menu but doesn't seem to have gotten (or so he has indicated) too many diners to order this rich continental beef-enshrouded item ... and most of his diners would be, he adds, hard-pressed to even describe the dish let alone show an interest in ordering it. So, while listed on his menu, should you want to sample this intriguing, traditional entrée, you must simply contact the chef a few days before and reserve the dish for dinner, for two!  (And we plan to do just that in the very near future!)

Lamb shank
But, on this more immediate occasion, and, really, in order to get a feel for the chef's talents & preparations, we stuck to the  somewhat more mundane - but, ultimately, tasty, well-prepared & well-plated - offerings that added up (for us) to the 3-course dinner (@ $22, complete!) ... & comprising a choice of soup/salad or appetizer, an entrée & dessert.  We began with an exquisite rendition of butternut squash soup (my wife's choice & a favorite!) ... and yet another, however non-traditional, not very orthodox, thickly creamy version of Caesar salad, pour moi.

Grilled salmon fillet
Each of our entrée selections proved successful, substantial & succulent, as well:  my wife opted for the completely moist, finely grilled salmon fillet (plated with tender, buttery-garlicky green beans); and I chose the falling-off-the-bone tender lamb shank, offered up in a wine infused, moderately spicy sauce (along with an assortment of broiled vegetables partially encircling the meat).  We concluded this early evening dining adventure with dark, near-ebony cups of coffee accompanying a creamy, chocolate-based bread pudding, on the one hand, and an unusually "fruity" version of crème brûlée, on the other (each shared fairly equally despite our somewhat satiated state).

Crème brûlée
At this point, we remind you and the staff at Prince St. Café - yep, here & now - that we will certainly return soon; we do, indeed, plan to follow up with the chef on that neglected, quasi-mysterious "would be" menu item, the Beef Wellington! You might want to do the same ...


  1. Hi Howard: Thanks for your usual readable post that manages to combine art with cuisine. I've seen Bochner's work here and there and he doesn't rank very high in my pantheon of artists. I consider him a gimmick artist of the sort that can become popular in the New York art world. Len Lev

  2. Len Lev: I think Mel Bochner's work is interesting, not gimmicky, perhaps "pop-art" (in this category, along with artists like Roy Lichtenstein). But Bochner teases us & provokes (I think these might be the right words to use) with wit and emphasizes, exaggerates & attacks our language use and highlights the implications of our language use in a variety of socio-political contexts ... all deftly & strategically accomplished and, for me, stimulating & certainly purposeful! His use of color(s) to accentuate (even to personify?) his words & phrases and for background contexts is pointed and striking, as well. H.J. Scheiber, PhD