Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gauguin & Lygia Clark at MoMA; Casellula, a theatre district cheese & wine cafe; AND Left Bank, an impressive "American" resto in the (far) West Village

Ceramic Idol

Painting - Tahitian woman
It was a Sunday, a few weeks ago - the last day of the Gauguin exhibition at MoMA - and we made it our business to be on hand to witness and stroll through Gauguin: Metamorphoses (March 8th - June 8th), a colorful exhibit displaying lots of the nubile, naked & near-naked Pacific islanders (predominantly, or perhaps exclusively, Tahitian, if memory serves) depicting heads, busts & female bodies, incorporating both cunningly enticing portraits, audacious island scenes, ceramic sculpture, and subtle, varied, and seemingly rough (indeed "primitive") wood carvings & totems. According to the museum's online curatorial discussion of the work on display, the show "focuses on Paul Gauguin's rare and extraordinary prints and transfer drawings [hybrid forms], and their relationship to his better-known paintings and his sculptures in wood and ceramic." [italics mine]

Tahitian Woman w/Evil Spirit, c. 1900
At this point, though, I am sorry to say, you are simply a couple of weeks too late to view this array of interesting, intricate, inspiring samples of Gauguin's art & vision and the somewhat inscrutable wiles of these Pacific Island women (both youthful and mature). Unfortunately, you will have missed the museum's first & only "exhibition to take an in-depth look at this overall body of work" which was "... created in several discrete bursts of activity from 1889 until his death in 1903."  
Portrait:  Gauguin with Idol
Perhaps there will be another chance - at some other exhibition, in the not-too-distant future - for you to survey at least a circumscribed portion of this particularly interrelated group of Gauguin's "remarkable" products and, too, explore a creative process frequently "involved [with] repeating and recombining key ... [elements] from one image to another, allowing them to evolve and metamorphose over time and across mediums." [italics mine]

Lygia Clark
But, if you missed the Gauguin exhibition, there still remains plenty of time to see the Lygia Clark show at MoMA, entitled The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988 (May 10-August 24), taking place in the multi-room Tisch Exhibition Gallery on the 6th floor.

L. Clark - Bicho Maquina
Within the extremely broad world that demarcates & solidifies the oeuvre of Lygia Clark (1920-1988), there seems to be a great passion for the purity (perhaps sterility) of art while, at the same time, demonstrating an evolving passion for art in its function to educate the public, the interested viewer. This passion surfaces increasingly as one proceeds from one room to the next, from one decade to the next, despite what, to the uninitiated viewer, appears initially to be an art - an aesthetic - that projects the mere mechanistic, the technical, even the architectural ... both harsh & hard-edged. 

L. Clark - After All
But there is also a softer side to the works of art & installations on display and a political, educational & therapeutic side that became, for Ms. Clark, a fully formed philosophy toward the latter part of her life, in the 1980s. Indeed, "After All" represents this latter, softer side of her oeuvre; it is a three-dimensional installation that must, of course, be seen close up in order to absorb its full effect (and its boundaries) and to enable the viewer to contrast this work with the more mechanical-technical works displayed "earlier" (in time & in sequence) in the exhibit.

Brazilian Constructivist
I should also underscore - as do the MoMA curators responsible for the exhibit - that Ms. Clark's influence and "legacy in Brazil" has been "profound" and that this current retrospective event has continued to garner international recognition for her work:  "... bringing together all parts of her radical production, the exhibition seeks to reintroduce her into [the various & interrelated] current discourses of abstraction, participation, and a therapeutic art practice." In the online discussion of Clark's multi-decade output and in the online publicity for the show, the MoMA curators go on to widen the context for her work: "trained in Rio de Janeiro & Paris" during the late 1940s and mid-1950s she became "a leading abstract artist at the forefront of the Neo-Concretist movement in Brazil ... fostering the active participation of spectators through her works."   

Arte Pinterest
In summary, MoMA curatorial & PR staff note that "during the late 1960s through the 1970s she created a series of unconventional artworks in parallel to a lengthy [involvement in] psychoanalytic therapy, leading her to develop a series of therapeutic propositions grounded in art." They also impress upon the visitor that "Clark has become a major reference for contemporary artists dealing with the limits of conventional forms of art." [Italics mine]    

Analise de obra de L. Clark
For a comprehensive examination of the interrelationships of Clark's art, her therapeutic ideas, and her efforts in the environment of psychoanalytic therapy, see, for example, the Ohio University Master's thesis - entitled Restoring Subjectivity and Brazilian Identity: Lygia Clark's Therapeutic Practice - completed by Eleanor R. Harper (2010).

Casellula - Extenal view
Following our Sunday visit to MoMA, a bit fatigued from viewing the numerous Gaugin works in various mediums and the intensely wrought, extensive retrospective collection of multi-disciplinary pieces created by Lygia Clark between the 1940s and the late 1980s, we next trundled (quite easily) across town along 53rd & 52nd Streets seeking out the Casellula Cheese & Wine Café (401 West 52nd St., near 9th Ave.; tel 212/247-8137) which we had researched & then sought out to "discover." 

As we entered the Café, a bright late afternoon sun was streaming in through the large front
Casellula -  the Café
windows and all, at that moment, seemed right with the world (at least with mid-town Manhattan)! We were shown to a nice table in the center of the room, not far from the bar and the food preparation area and we could see the cheese plates being crafted and the wine (a
rosé) just then being poured, a
rosé that we were told was delicate & delicious - not too sweet, not too tart, nor too full-bodied, reflecting a lightly tinted pale salmon color. 

Chicken liver pâté
I ordered a glass to complement our first plate: chicken liver pâté, with crunchy baguette slices, rhubarb marmalade & house crème fraîche (@ $12). The pâté with all the "fixins" proved delectable ... and, if you take a gander at the photo of this "medium-size" plate, you'll readily understand that this item has (had) such great potential and
tasted so rich, so soft, so delicate, so creamy!  This splendid rendering of traditional chicken liver pâté was shortly followed by an endive salad, studded with Danish blue cheese & macadamia nuts in a pear vinaigrette ($14).  

Another glass of the rosé (On-the-Spot, Pinot Noir; NY /
Rosé & Riesling
Finger Lakes, 2013; @ $10) was requested, as well as a glass of Riesling (Brooks; OR / Willamette Valley, 2010; @ $12) for my wife. These we knew would pair especially well with the next food items we'd ordered, including:  the warm calamari salad (
another "medium" size plate) ... with Israeli cous cous & hearts of palm in a taragon infused vinaigrette combined with sliced navel orange sections & browned croutons ($15). The calamari salad proved yet another sumptuous item that we shared & scarfed down with vigor & enthusiasm. 
"Pig's Ass" sandwich
Next, and fully last in the savory "department," came Casellula's signature "Pig's Ass" sandwich, filled with "5-spoke creamery tumbleweed," Fol Epi, B & B pickles, and chipotle aioli on a pressed/toasted Cuban-style roll ($14). As one Yelp reviewer emphatically pointed out, "where else ... [in the Theatre District] can you get a 'Pig's Ass' sandwich [replete with such] Pig's Ass-y goodness?"

We ended our meal at Casellula with one of their signature "sweets," the bruléed cheesecake, a rendition of traditional crème brûlée, packed atop with Arethusa Dairy farmer’s cheese ($10) & sipped a couple of glasses of Oremus "late harvest" Tokaj (Furmint / Hungary, 2011; @ $13). No coffee served at this otherwise noteworthy mid-town (west) cheese & wine café!

Left Bank - External view, front
A final note - of import:  After introducing my ole college
roommate, Steve, and his lovely wife, Beryl, to the pleasures of peregrinating along The HighLine (from our entry on 10th & 23rd to our exit at 14th), we all dined together in the far West Village at a restaurant we selected ... aiming to please our special out-of-town friends from Chicago:  Left Bank, @ 117 Perry Street, corner of Greenwich Street (tel. 212/727-1170).

Left Bank - Inside view
"At its core," Left Bank purports to be - and, based on our visit, succeeds in being - "an American tavern ... inspired by Greenwich Village itself and influenced by European sensibilities."  Exhibiting an "unpretentious style of cooking and service," their food proves singularly inviting, interesting, exceedingly well-prepared ... and influenced by local farmers, by recipes of a former time, and by the "relationships" that accrue with their clientele, or, as they suggest, their "guests." We all made a la carte dinner choices, but I want to point out here that Left Bank offers a $20 "happy-hour menu" - 1 appetizer & 1 pasta dish - daily from 5 - 7:00, and serves drinks at substantially reduced prices during the Happy Hour time frame (e.g., $4 beers, $5 wines by the glass, and $6 cocktails). 

While the basic menu is neither terribly broad in scope nor utterly varied & vast in overall numbers of items to explore, there are, indeed, superb possibilities for all guests
Chicken liver pâté
to select from & indulge in!
And what we indulged in - what we actually sampled - was drawn from most of the categories ("appetizers," "vegetables" & "meat/ poultry/fish") featured on the daily menu. In order to quickly "decompress" from our slow 12-block HighLine hike, we began the meal by ordering a couple of "house special" cocktails (@ $6, each) - one with tropical fruit juices & mild spices; the other (also) fruity with a jalapeño infusion at its base, along with a lingering but subtle sweetness: both cocktails proved rich & cold, crisply robust, unique beverages what with shots of tequila blended into the proverbial mix. My wife chose a GL (off-dry) Riesling and we (together) quaffed a follow-up dry white "house" wine (a sauvignon blanc, if I recall, @ $5). 

Iron roasted "split" chicken
Thus, we had sufficient alcoholic refreshment to accompany our upcoming appetizers & main plates, beginning with a sumptuous version of chicken liver pâté en beurre, with pickled shallot & mustard seed (@ $12). Next, we - that is, our wives, specifically - had each selected roast cauliflower romesco, shallots & parsley (from the menu's vegetable section, @ $8) to supplement (in Dalia's case) a small plate of lobster (-filled) puffs with champagne cream sauce ($10), while Beryl simply added a roasted "cauliflower salad" to her iron roasted split chicken, with "caesar" greens, garlic croutons & parmesan (@ $24)

Grass-fed bavette - "bar steak"
Steve had chosen the delicately prepared, light & juicy mahi mahi, with blood orange & pine nuts meticulously
intertwined in a green garlic yogurt sauce (@ $27); and I, intrigued by the solid, hearty description of the bavette "bar steak" - featuring duck fat roasted potatoes & green peppercorn jus - quickly decided upon that plate (@ $27). I recall that the bavette "bar steak" and the duck fat roasted potatoes just hit the spot, rather emphatically - in terms of tenderness, portion size, presentation & (somewhat smokey) taste!

Lobster puffs - Champagne cream sauce
We finished up the meal with an order of light & creamy profiteroles ($10) and a small slice of (well, somewhat chewy) maple syrup pie (@ $10), and topped off the meal with two cups of "Americano" coffee ($3 each) and two cups of teas, "veritable verbena" & "Yerba Mate," at $5 each. 

Overall, a solid & impressive performance by the chef(s) & servers at Left Bank. We exited the "taverna" both filled & fulfilled and our friends from Chicago were, it seemed,
sufficiently impressed with our restaurant selection ... most notably with the "farm" fresh, well-prepared, first-rate food; the unique pre-dinner cocktails; the casual, calming & only moderately hectic ambience! Yes, a winning combination, indeed, gently urging a second visit, soon.