Archive for the ‘Music, art, theater’ Category

Beautiful sailing ships at the South Ferry station

September 29, 2014

If you’ve ever taken the 1 train to its last, lovely, looping stop at the South Ferry/Whitehall Street station, you’ve probably seen them—15 beautiful terra cotta plaques depicting a sailing ship on the water.

Southferryplaque

The officials in charge of building the first New York City subway line in 1904 did a lot of things right. Not only did they hire brilliant engineers and planners, but they brought in designers to create inspiring decorative features on platforms.

Ceramic plaques like these were installed in the earliest stations. Each plaque reflects something about the station’s neighborhood or history: a sloop for South Ferry, a beaver at Astor Place, a steamboat at Fulton Street.

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South Ferry’s ships might be the most magnificent of all, and it’s one of just a few stations that has a monogram panel with the station’s initials.

The lost dinosaurs buried under Central Park

September 22, 2014

Mastodon bones and other fossilized creatures have turned up occasionally in New York City. But dinosaurs? Here’s the story.

In 1854, British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built giant models of dinosaurs, which were displayed at the Crystal Palace.

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Hawkins didn’t exactly know what dinosaurs looked like, but he based his models on the limited fossils available at the time.

CrystalpalacehadrosaurusHis models must have been impressive, as his show was a great success, thrilling audiences in England.

So in 1868, Andrew Green, one of the city planners in charge of Central Park, invited Hawkins to build dinosaur models in New York.

The models were to be housed in a Paleozoic museum planned for the new Central Park. Hawkins took Green up on the offer and began constructing his dinosaurs out of brick, iron, and concrete in a studio (above).

“In a studio in Central Park, crowded with his gigantic skeletal and full-bodied models, Hawkins worked on a 39-foot hadrosaur; his sketches show ferocious giant lizards: a large and scaly iguana head here, certain dragon features there,” states a 2005 New York Times article.

1869 Central Park Dinosaurs Hawkins full

Unfortunately, Hawkins’ work and the entire idea of a Paeozoic museum came to a halt thanks to William “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt Tammany Hall political chief who took control of the park in 1870 and had no interest in building anything devoted to science or education.

Hawkins“The next year, a few months after Hawkins spoke out publicly against both the decision to forgo the museum and Tammany Hall itself, the Tweed Ring sent vandals to his studio to smash his models and dump them into a pit in the park,” the Times wrote.

Hawkins, understandably, left New York and went back to England. In the ensuing years, Hawkins’ (below) dinosaurs were mostly forgotten.

Despite periodic searches, his sabotaged dinosaur models have never been found.

“They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields,” states this CUNY site.

“Could one of the pitchers’ mounds really be a small embankment covering the severed head of Megalosaurus? Who knows, maybe so.”

One painter’s dreamy scenes of New York at play

September 22, 2014

Though he spent much of his life in his beloved Paris, Alfred Henry Maurer was a New Yorker from beginning to end.

Maurerrockawaybeach1901

Born in the city in 1868, he was the son of a German immigrant who worked as a talented lithographer for Currier and Ives.

After studying with William Merritt Chase, Maurer took off for Paris, the center of the art world at the time, where he worked in a mostly realist style, depicting beautiful women and cafe life in the city of light.

Maurercarrousel19011902

Briefly, Maurer returned to New York at the turn of the century. He won acclaim and awards, and in 1901 and 1902 he painted these enchanting scenes of New York’s Gilded Age leisure class at play.

Two paintings depict Rockaway Beach, the popular amusement playground developed in the early 1900s.

Maurerrockawaybeachwithpier1901

Another painting shows us a carousel in Brooklyn, with mothers and children watching the painted wooden horses under darkening skies.

MaurerselfportraitMaurer (in a self-portrait, right) didn’t stay in New York long—nor did he stick to his usual realist style.

Back in Paris again, he abandoned realism in favor of Matisse-influenced Modernism, doing abstract portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. Examples of his later works can be seen here.

World War I forced him back to his family apartment in New York City, where he continued to paint and take part in exhibitions, but garnered little of the critical acclaim he’d had as a younger man.

He died in Manhattan in 1932, committing suicide by hanging in his father’s West 43rd Street home.

Gilded Age nightlife venues live on in today’s city

September 13, 2014

Hippodrome1900sApartment buildings in the city do it all the time: they take their name from a previous structure that once occupied the site in an older New York.

There’s the Lafayette apartment building on East Ninth Street, which harkens back to the old Lafayette Hotel that attracted artists and writers in the early 1900s.

And Harsen House, on West 72nd Street, got its name from the 19th century West Side village of Harsenville.

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But it seems like fewer commercial structures take the name of the building they’ve replaced—which is why it’s refreshing to see that a 1950s office tower at 1120 Sixth Avenue calls itself the Hippodrome.

Hippodromewiki2014What’s the Hippodrome? Built in 1905 by the creators of Coney Island’s Luna Park, it was a 5,200-seat theater of vaudeville stars and spectacular exhibits, many with animals.

New Yorkers flocked to the Hippodrome to see operas, the circus, and even a famous 1918 show where Harry Houdini made an elephant disappear.

Tastes and neighborhoods change, and by the 1930s, the Hippodrome was hosting Jai Alai and wrestling before being demolished in 1939.

An even more illustrious spot in New York’s entertainment graveyard is the Haymarket, the notorious dance hall that was the center of the Tenderloin.

thehaymarket1

This was the late 19th century city’s vice and sin neighborhood, the subject of a famous John Sloan painting from 1907 (above).

050 Headlines se FINAL.inddThe Haymarket, which featured risque can-can dances and female customers who were actually prostitutes, was situated at 66 West 30th Street from 1878 to 1911.

The building is gone, of course; right now, the site remains unoccupied. But not far away at 135 West 29th Street, a loft building rose earlier in the 20th century.

Haymarketbuilding2014The owners officially dubbed it the Haymarket Building and installed a nice plaque with some interesting backstory, a nod to one of the most famous nightlife venues in New York history.

[Hippodrome building today: from Wikipedia]

One photographer’s abstract, shadowy New York

September 8, 2014

Some photographers turn their cameras to the faces of people, capturing depth and unguarded emotion in human expression and behavior.

Alvin Langdon Coburn found quiet, abstract beauty in the light and shadows of the landscape of turn of the century New York City.

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["The Coal Cart," 1911]

Born in 1882 in Boston, Coburn received his first Kodak as a child in 1890. Infatuated with this relatively new medium, he learned the craft and experimented in the darkroom.

In his 20s, he traveled to New York City and Europe to study with greats such as Edward Steichen. Like leading photographers Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, Coburn was part of the Pictorialist movement.

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["The Octopus," 1912, taken from the top of the Met Life Tower in Madison Square Park]

Pictorialists “argued that photography was a creative art form, on a par with other visual arts including painting, and not simply a mechanical means of objectively recording the world,” states this post from amateurphotographer.co.uk.

“They used a wide variety of techniques to express emotion and mood, and were particularly known for producing atmospheric, soft-focus portraits and landscapes.”

["Fifth Avenue From the St. Regis," 1913]

Coburn exhibited photos in galleries and was commissioned to do portraits of notable men of the era, such as George Bernard Shaw and Henry James. Soon, his work took a more abstract turn.

“Like many photographers associated with Stieglitz, Coburn by 1910 sought to shed the romanticism of the pictorial movement and bring photography more in step with abstract painting and sculpture,” states the National Gallery of Art website.

“He made photographs looking down from the tops of tall buildings to explore the use of flattened perspective and geometric patterning. During World War I he became involved with the Vorticists, a group of British artists, including Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, who sought to construct a dynamic visual language as abstract as music.”

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["Broadway at Night," 1905]

“As a photographer of cities and landscapes (1903–10), he concentrated on mood, striving for broad effects and atmosphere in his photographs rather than clear delineation of tones and sharp rendition of detail,” states MOMA.

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["Flatiron Building," 1912]

“He was influenced by the work of Japanese painters, which he referred to as the ‘style of simplification.’ He considered simple things to be the most profound,” continues the MOMA website.

AlvinlangdoncoburnselfportraitCoburn didn’t stay in New York long. He moved permanently to the UK in 1912.

By 1918 he had given up photography professionally, devoting the rest of his life to the study of mysticism and the occult.

He died in Wales in 1966, leaving a legacy of enchanting images of the New York of a century ago: the soft glow of early electric lights, 22-story skyscrapers casting monstrous shadows over parks and sidewalks, and the presence of powerful machinery interrupting the serene beauty of nighttime streets.

[Right: self-portrait, 1905]

The fading 9/11 Memorial under Union Square

September 8, 2014

Unionsquare9:11memorialhallwayInside the Union Square subway station, just past the small transit police precinct, is a long, sparsely populated corridor. At about the halfway mark is an understated wall of remembrance to the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

It’s right out there in public along a wall of white tiles. As visible as it is, it’s also one of the quietest and most unassuming 9/11 memorials in the entire city.

Office-like paper labels have been affixed to the tiles, each with the typed name and hometown of one of the dead.

Unionsquare9:11memorialwall

There’s no bronze plaque, no poetry, no pomp, no statues. Just names on tiles, some marked by poignant handwritten notes from loved ones.

Unionsquarememorialfisher

It’s been up since 2002. “Erected this month by the Manhattan-based nonprofit group ArtAid, the memorial’s missives grow daily,” states a Daily News article from March 30 of that year, which noted that the MTA had no plans to take it down.

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Time has taken its toll on the wall. Some of the labels have fallen off or otherwise disappeared, while others are fading out and hard to read.

Still, if you like your public memorials to be uncrowded and inconspicuous, or you remember how Union Square become kind of a gathering place for New Yorkers in the days after the towers fell, this is the place to be on September 11.

A winter view of the Brooklyn Waterfront in 1934

September 2, 2014

I’m not exactly sure where this scene of a much more industrial Brooklyn waterfront is. WPA artist Harry Shokler painted it in 1934, in the middle of the Depression.

Titled simply “Waterfront—Brooklyn,” it shows us factories, smokestacks, trolleys, and diners . . . and it hasn’t resembled the Brooklyn waterfront for decades.

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“Many artists during the 1930s focused on laborers and industrial scenes to emphasize the value of hard work in pulling the country out of the Depression,” states the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where the painting hangs.

“The smoking chimneys, groups of workers, and tracks in the snow evoke a sense of activity and perseverance in the face of hardship. To Americans in the 1930s, the skyscrapers of New York symbolized the city’s achievements and sustained the hope that the country’s economy would recover.”

A golden goddess topping Madison Square Garden

September 2, 2014

She was the second statue of Diana to grace the top of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden, the sportsman’s playground with the glamorous roof garden that opened in 1890 on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.

Dianamadsquaregarden1905

But this figure of the gilded goddess was the most famous, a 13-foot huntress who balanced on one toe aiming a bow and arrow for 32 years.

Illuminated at night by electricity, her slender form, the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, could be seen as far away as New Jersey.

Dianamadisonsquaregardenfaraway

And it goes without saying that her nudity offended some New Yorkers, particularly Anthony Comstock, head of the self-created New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Newyorksocietysuppressionvicelogo“The naked figure immediately caused outrage in some, and delight in others; it became known as the Statue That Offended New York,” states Atlas Obscura. “Critics led by the moralizing Anthony Comstock demanded it be taken down, whilst others flocked to see the sensuous Diana, glittering in the sunlight.”

To shush the critics, White had Saint-Gaudens drape a pennant over the statue to obscure Diana’s private parts. It quickly blew off in the wind, much to White’s delight.

DiananytDiana scandalized some residents, and she was witness to a scandalous murder on the roof in June 1906.

That’s when White was shot dead by Harry Thaw, the jealous husband of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit. White had carried on a relationship with Nesbit since she was 16.

In 1924, Madison Square Garden was set to be demolished. Diana’s fate was hotly debated.

Some wanted her to grace the Municipal Building; others thought she should go atop the New York Life tower, which was replacing the Garden.

Where did she end up? In storage for six years, and then the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she greets visitors in the entrance hall to this day.

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.

Faurerwomanbar

[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.


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