Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

A “distinctly vulgar scene” at Coney Island

August 22, 2014

Painter George Bellows depicts a day at the seashore in “Beach at Coney Island”: shirtless boys, a passionate couple, and girls in white bathing attire, all in close quarters at the city’s tawdry summer amusement playground.

GeorgeBellowsSceneatConeyIsland19082

Suggestive, sure, but it’s hard to believe that the painting was considered vulgar by critics.

“His Beach at Coney Island (1908, private collection) signals the relaxed moral codes associated with this locale on Brooklyn’s south shore,” states this page from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which included the painting in the big George Bellows show from 2012-2013.

“One leading critic described Bellows’s teeming view as ‘a distinctly vulgar scene,’ not least because of the amorous couple shown embracing in the foreground.”

A city street photographer’s loners and misfits

August 18, 2014

Louis Faurer, a Philadelphia native born in 1916, made a name for himself as a photographer for top New York-based fashion magazines in the 1940s and 1950s.

Faurerfromtimecapsule1960s

[Above, a still from a silent film Faurer shot in the 1960s called Time Capsule]

Yet he was captivated by the ordinary tide of unbeautiful people that passed him regularly on city sidewalks, at bus stops, under theater marquees.

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["Women Waiting," 1949]

Faurer turned his camera toward their faces—capturing raw, intimate portraits of the lonely, the haunted, the outcast, and the weird through the early 1970s.

Many of his images had a film noir feel, all shadows and silhouettes, highlighting the melancholy and chaos of urban life.

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[Title and date unknown, above]

He particularly focused on people he found in Times Square, where he walked every day in the late 1940s and was attracted to “the hypnotic dusk light,” quoted Christoph Ribbat in Flickering Light: A History of Neon.

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["Horn & Hardart Junkies," 1947]

In an era remembered for its conformity, Faurer sought out individual quirks and oddities. He captured dissonant, uncomfortable moments, but he never sought to exploit his subjects. His aim, as his photos reveal, was to show their humanity.

New York, 1971

[Above, "Chelsea Hotel," 1971]

FaurerphotoselfIn his 2001 obituary, The New York Times stated:

“For the catalog of a 1981 solo exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of the University of Maryland in College Park, he wrote, ‘My eyes search for people who are grateful for life, people who forgive and whose doubts have been removed, who understand the truth, whose enduring spirit is bathed by such piercing white light as to provide their present and future with hope.”’

Louis Faurer, above. More of his images can be found here at this University of Pennsylvania page.

A Riverside Park Holocaust memorial never built

August 18, 2014

Riverside84thstsign“On Sunday, October 19, 1947, fifteen thousand people gathered in the rain to witness the dedication of the site for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial in Riverside Park,” wrote Wayne Jebian in the Columbia Journal of American Studies in 1995.

On that gray day, Mayor O’Dwyer spoke; Jewish leaders and 100 survivors of Buchenwald and Dachau appeared at the ceremony.

RiversideparkmemorialnytThe stone plaque placed in the ground was supposed to be the cornerstone of a larger Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, one of the first Holocaust monuments planned in the United States.

But it was never built, and 67 years later, the cornerstone and the plaza surrounding it have become the memorial.

Considering that the postwar Upper West Side was home to many concentration camp survivors and Jews who fled war-torn Europe, what happened?

“Over several decades sculpture proposals for this location were submitted by Jo Davidson, Percival Goodman, Ivan Mestrovic, and Erich Mendelsohn and Nathan Rapoport, among others, but none received funding,” states the NYC Parks Department website.

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That’s because city officials in charge of approving sculptural monuments rejected the proposals as “too ugly, too depressing or too distracting for drivers on the West Side Highway,” wrote The New York Times in 1993.

One sculpture that did get city approval. “On June 17, 1951, the New York City Art Commission unanimously backed the design by Mendelsohn and Yugoslav sculptor Mestrovic,” wrote rememberwomen.org.

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“The sculpture was to be of an eighty-foot pylon of two tablets on which the Ten Commandments would be inscribed, a 100-foot wall of bas-relief depicting humankind’s struggle to fulfill the Commandments, and a giant carving of Moses. When Mendelsohn died in 1953, the momentum seemed to die with him.”

The idea for a memorial was scrapped in the 1960s. These days, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is commemorated every April at the cornerstone, the Upper West Side’s de facto public Holocaust monument.

A 1930s painter’s gentle, downtrodden New York

August 9, 2014

New York artist Raphael Soyer’s style of painting was seriously out of fashion during his lifetime.

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["Nocturne," from 1935, inspired by Soyer's "Bowery Nocturne" lithograph done two years earlier]

Born in Russia in 1899, his family arrived in the Bronx in 1912.

Soyer soon went to work, holding menial jobs. But throughout the teens, he also studied art, taking free classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students League.

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["Employment Agency," from the 1930s]

Rather than the abstract style that was popular in the 1930s and beyond, his work was realistic—he cast his eye on the lonely and downtrodden working-class New Yorkers he saw in bars, employment agencies, and on city streets.

Raphaelsoyerofficegirls1936

["Office Girls," from 1936]

With his twin brother Moses and another sibling, Isaac, he was a leading Social Realist.

Soyer sketched and painted compassionate images of lonely and dispossessed Bowery bums, shopgirls, and secretaries going about their lives and appearing ordinary, unheroic, yet deeply human.

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["Sixth Avenue," 1930-1935]

His 1987 New York Times obituary contains an exchange Soyer once had with Jackson Pollack, which Soyer recounted in an article in Art & Antiques magazine:

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["Cafe Scene," 1940]

“Without greeting me he rudely said, ‘Soyer, why do you paint like you do?’ ” Mr. Soyer wrote. ”He pointed to an airplane. ‘There are planes flying, and you still paint realistically. You don’t belong to our time.’ ”

”I could have said to Jackson, ‘If I don’t like the art of our time, must I belong to our time?’ But I did not say that. I merely said that I paint the way I like to.”

Magic and motion of 1920s Broadway at night

July 28, 2014

It’s an enchanting night in Times Square in this colorful postcard, and the Paramount Building, with the Paramount Theatre at street level, takes center stage.

Opened in 1926 in an era of grand movie palaces, the Paramount captured the city’s attention and imagination.

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The lobby “was modeled after the Paris Opera House with white marble columns, balustrades, and an opening arms grand staircase,” explains Cinema Treasures. “The ceilings were fresco and gilt. . . . in the main lobby there was an enormous crystal chandelier.”

During World War II, the globe and clock were painted black, so potential enemy invaders couldn’t see.

The Paramount Theatre bit the dust in 1964, and the building is now used for offices. Here’s a much more sedate daytime version of the same stretch of Broadway just a decade earlier.

A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids

July 28, 2014

I’m not sure exactly when the first New York City fire hydrant was wrenched open so neighborhood kids could play in the cool rush of water on a hot summer day.

Citykidslotharstelterhotday1952

But this very New York way to chase away the heat may have caught on and been officially sanctioned in the late teens, when John Hylan was mayor (below, in 1921, in a NYC Municipal Archives photo).

“The mayor is particularly good to children,” the Queens borough president was quoted saying in a New York Times article from 1925.

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“It was his great heart that ordered the streets closed so that children could have a safe place in which to play, and it was his heart that ordered the policemen and firemen in summer to give the children baths from fire hydrants so that they might keep cool.”

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Since then, the spray—or trickle, as this NYPL photo of some boys on the Bowery in 1919 shows—from fire hydrants has cooled off millions of little New Yorkers, legally or otherwise.

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This AP photo was taken on Mulberry Street in 1936, the year of an exceptionally brutal heat wave.

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Turning Mulberry Street into a river looks a lot more exciting than hanging out under a giant shower at Lexington and 85th Street of “Croton surf,” as the caption to this 1920 NYC Municipal Archives photo calls it.

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New York in the 1960s could be pretty gritty, but at least the hydrants worked. Photographer Bruce Davidson captured this photo in 1966 of a boy on 100th Street.

A 10-day heat wave gripped the city in 1953, and Life magazine photographers captured some wonderful images of kids opening a hydrant (and then a police officer putting a stop to the fun).

[Top photo: "Hot Day," Lothar Stelter, 1952 ©Lothar Stelter]

A map of the trendy 1983 East Village art scene

July 21, 2014

“East Village galleries are multiplying like white rats,” wrote Carlo McCormick in the East Village Eye in October 1983.

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“What was once a small handful of peculiarly out-of-place storefronts that even this rag ignored is now an ever-increasing network of more credible and slicker galleries being written about by the likes of the Voice, the N. Y. Times, Art News, Arts Magazine, and Art in America plus a host of Japanese and European magazines that always seem to know what’s going on here before we do.”

Eastvillageeye1983artmap

While the 1980s East Village art scene went bust before it could live up to the promise laid out in the article, this accompanying map gives a small sense of the neighborhood 31 years ago.

Another East Village Eye guide from 1985 runs down the club scene and bars where you’d be drinking if you lived there in the Reagan era.

Hmm, how many of these addresses are now fro-yo shops or bank branches?

Swingset and sandbox on the East River in 1901

July 17, 2014

Ashcan School painter Maurice Prendergast was known for his bold, colorful depictions of leisure and play in European and American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This view of the East River looks like a tapestry or a mosaic.

Mauriceprendergasttheeastriver1

Is it showing Carl Schurz Park, on the Upper East Side? The way the land across the river looks, plus the small houses, could be Queens.

Update: David Patrick Columbia over at New York Social Diary took a look at the painting and wondering if this was Carl Schurz Park too. Here’s his investigation, with photos that seem to make the case.

The anonymous men who built Central Park

July 14, 2014

When Central Park opened in stages in 1859 through the 1860s, designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux scored much of the credit for the park’s beauty and brilliance.

Centralparkbuilding1859nypl

But what about all the anonymous men who did the physical work—the laborers tasked with taking 843 rocky, swampy acres and reshaping it a man-made oasis of nature?

[Below, finishing the staircase at Bethesda Terrace]

Centralparkbethesdastairs1862nyplHere’s a little of what we know about them. “By the spring of 1858, more than three thousand men were busy dredging, clearing, grading, and planting—laboriously remodeling every feature of the rugged landscape,” wrote Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: an Illustrated History.

“There were German gardeners, Italian stonecutters, and an army of masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and road-building teams.”

Most of the low-level laborers were Irish and German, “often paid only a dollar a day and drawn, Olmsted said, from the ‘poorest, or what is generally considered the most dangerous, class of the great city’s population.'”

Centralparkpipesreservoir1862nypl“To prevent any trouble with the Irish, African Americans were excluded from the workforce entirely,” state Burns and Sanders.

It was grueling, dangerous work. Boulders had to be blasted out of the ground with gunpowder, then loaded onto horse-drawn trucks; “blasting foremen” were paid an extra 25 cents a day, according to The Park and the People, by Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar.

[Above: the pipes running under the new reservoir]

Centralparkarsenal1862from6thnyplAfter the ground was ready, “workmen installed ninety-five miles of underground pipe, creating an artificial drainage system—itself a masterpiece of sanitary engineering—then set to work relandscaping the entire site with 6 million bricks, 65,000 cubic yards of gravel, 25,000 trees, and a quarter of a million shrubs,” wrote Burns and Sanders.

Pavers working on the park’s walks and drives were also paid more than day laborers, as were stonecutters, who ended up making $2.25 a day in 1860—an improvement over the wages paid in the late 1850s, on the heels of the Panic of 1857.

[Above: the view of the Arsenal from 6th Avenue]

Where did this army of workers live? “A park laborer’s average income might pay the rent for one room with sleeping closets in a Lower East Side tenement or for an uptown shanty,” write Rosenzweig and Blackmar.

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Though many lived downtown in boardinghouses or with other laborers’ families, “the relative absence of park workers from the city directory, however, suggests both their transience and their concentration in uptown wards.”

[Images: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Leaping off the roof and into the Hudson River

July 10, 2014

Was it safe to swim in the Hudson River in 1948? Probably not, but that didn’t stop this boy from jumping three stories from a pier while his friends watched from the roof.

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It’s a wonderful image captured by photographer Ruth Orkin, perfectly titled “Boy Jumping Into Hudson River.”

Orkin was a commercial photographer and filmmaker who moved to New York in 1943. An archive of her images can be browsed here.

[©estate of Ruth Orkin]


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