Sunday, January 29, 2012

Midtown Gallery Going.

A cold, wet and rainy day is the perfect backdrop to seeing art. Especially when you're planning an all B&W day. My friend Craig, a new New York friend, but also an old friend from my college days, joined me for three stops: the Howard Greenberg Gallery, the Robert Anderson Gallery and the International Center for Photography.

Taking the subway up to 53rd Street was a bit atypical. Most of my previous gallery going was constrained to a few inviting blocks near the water in Chelsea, but today I'd planned a different sort of day, a Midtown kind of day. Our first stop was the Howard Greenberg Gallery at 41 East 57th Street. Walking into the art deco building I realized I didn't know what floor to go to. The security guard helped me with that little problem and I stepped into an elevator bound for the 14th floor, where I was joined by several delivery men, one wafting a cloud of cologne along with his walkie-talkie and wet poncho.

I had read about the Vivian Maier show in the latest New Yorker and was intrigued by its premise. As the press release says: A nanny by trade, Vivian Maier's street and travel photography was discovered by John Maloof in 2007 at a local auction house in Chicago. Always with a Rolleiflex around her neck, she managed to amass more than 2,000 rolls of films, 3,000 prints and more than 100,000 negative which were shared with virtually no one in her lifetime. The black and white photographs–mostly from the 50s and 60s–have been re-printed for us by John Maloof along with a small amount of prints found in the archive. The photos and the story of Maier evoke a woman on the periphery, always looking but never included. Her photos take you back in time, they all feel "of the past". There is a competing show at the Stephen Kasher gallery in Chelsea. This show features Maier's prints from a different collection–apparently the two men have both been acquiring her negatives–but aren't working together. It seems strange to be fighting over, and benefitting from, a dead woman's photo library.

The next stop on our gallery hopping was to 24 West 57th Street. We popped into two places. At the first gallery they were hanging a new show of paintings. The collection was very textured and sculpted work, 2D paintings but with noses and hands and clothing that jumped into 3D. We didn't stay long since they weren't done setting up–and because we were photo focused. From there we moved on to the Robert Anderson gallery to see an exhibit of photographer Barbara Mensch. Ms. Mensch has been photographing her neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge, for the past thirty plus years. The photos in the show are all current but they evoke a past shrouded in the elements: misty, cloudy, murky, dewy, fuzzy. All the y's. The gallerist was a charmer and walked us slowly through the show, telling us where each photo had been taken, along with details about Ms. Mensch. The show is up through March 3rd, it's nicely curated and would be a perfect lunch break.

We ended the day at the International Center for Photography to see The Loving Story, a group of photos by Grey Villet who was a LIFE magazine photographer. The Lovings, an interracial couple banned from their state because of their union, were fighting Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws–and all race based marriage bans. They were successful, but only after a tenacious legal battle. The exhibit is small but worth stopping by. A documentary about their story will be appearing on HBO on February 14th. Valentine's Day, an overly cute coincidence.

There are two other interesting shows at ICP: Weegee, Murder Is My Business and Magnum: Contact Sheets. The Magnum exhibit walks you through roughly a dozen contact sheets from Magnum photographers, showing how they have captured and edited their best shots from the 1930s to the present. There is a laugh-out-loud contact sheet from the infamous Salvador Dali picture, the one with the jumping artist, flying cats and a stream of water. That bit alone is worth the stop. The show is a compelling look at an almost forgotten bit of photographic history. I can't help but mourn the loss of contact sheets. The accompanying book seems almost coffee table in size, which was a shame,  I wanted to buy it but couldn't bare to lug it home.

What is it about red lipstick?

An essay of mine was featured on the homepage of on Saturday, January 28th. Very exciting. You can read it here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Seven Second Delay.

307 West 26th Street. The UCB Theatre sits dark and forgotten next to the brightly lit mega (their word not mine) Gristedes grocery store–it's as if it had been picked up by a tornado, somewhere from the East Village maybe, and then re-plunked here, on this unexpected block. It doesn't fit in. But it doesn't stick out either.

Walking down the stairs I wonder if I'm going back in time, or rather down in time. In a way I am–I've arrived at the UCB Theatre to see a live taping of the radio show Seven Second Delay which airs at 6pm on 91.1 WFMU. Actually I've come to see AND hear. It isn't often we get to see the voices behind the radio speaker, so when my friend Laura, the producer of the show, invited me, I jumped. I quickly found her walking around, looking busy and important but carrying a beer. She evokes the show Portlandia, by way of Brooklyn.

There are only a few people scattered about, seated amongst the narrow rows of aging red velvet chairs. I pick a seat three rows back and get settled in for the show. It takes me a few moments to get comfortable, the springs in the seat circling their way up to my backside, ensuring I don't fall asleep (as I am known to do anytime the lights go out). Laura had warned me to be on time for the start of the show, and, as promised, it did, with fan fair from the squirrelly-haired keyboardist running his fingers up and down the keys to get the audience in the mood.

The mood adequately set, Ken and Andy, the two hosts, walked out to our applause and began the show with an announcement that they were having a contest to see who could hold their bladder longer, or maybe who could drink more water, or just who could avoid leaving the stage first. They'd each had one liter of water before the show and downed one more in the first ten minutes. There was talk of urethra's and ways to hold your bladder, Andy threw out his idea of cheating which was to just put "a little dab of crazy glue" to keep it in. Andy was the one sitting behind the desk, so he also pointed out that he could basically pee at any time and we wouldn't know it. Ken doubted he could keep it so silent. The bet was for $40.

The guest list was short (three) and comprised of two bloggers and a Brooklyn-based band called Hospitality. Julieanne Smolinski, the first blogger was amusing. She bantered and joked with the two fifty plus radio hosts with ease. Her 15-minutes of fame currently surrounds her recent coup in getting Will Shortz, the puzzle master for The New York Times to kinda, sorta admit that one of his clues was maybe wrong-ish. His incorrect clue was: Wack, (in Hip Hop) and the answer was: Illin'. Julieanne begged to differ. She also handed out his email address, which is wshortz at I love meeting "older" people with email addresses, it's almost as if I can hear the modem dialing.

The next blogger almost put me to sleep, so let's skip him. The hosts then did some speed interviewing of audience members which proved fascinating and funny. And then the band came on, the singer, the only girl, was shy and jittery. They were adorable and I liked their music–a little raspy, a little unfinished. Their album comes out on January 31st on Merge records and on February 3rd they have a CD release party at Glasslands. I hope I can make it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Flying.

January 17th, 2012. I am flying from Hailey, Idaho to New York. Via Los Angeles. Yes, I'm going a little backwards. I board the plane by doll-sized stairs at the back. One can also enter from doll-sized stairs in the front. It's about 7 degrees out. I take the window seat which isn't so great for legroom because the airplane is so curved that your left foot has no place to step, and has to move over into the space of your right foot. The man sitting next to me is about 60 years old–give or take a few. After stowing items above, taking items out, pushing items below, he sits and takes out the in-flight magazine. We're flying Horizon Air, not that it matters. As we take off I read a book, Joan Didion's essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The pages flip by with a speed that comes from focus and an incredible lack of distractions. (I have no window to look out of–which is usually the reason I even take the window seat–this seat should be called something else.) Windowless and uninterested in talking I read, yet, as I read I manage to take in all the details of my seat mate. He has hair the texture of dried shrubs. It's the color of sun-aged tracks in mud. His glasses are standard issue men-over-fifty, gold-framed bifocals. He wears a Sun Valley sweatshirt.

At the beginning of the flight I noticed a little more: the personal pillow on the back of the seat, The North Face backpack stowed under the seat in front, two protein bars–strangely without any branding, stuffed into the seat back in front of him. He took out a Ziploc baggie holding half a piece of bread, banana probably. The last thing I noticed was his book. Worn at every corner, curled at the edges–it looked thumbed through by generations of thumbs.

We exchanged a few "airplane" sentences–about the weather, the flight, meaningless words not to be bothered with here. Before we took off he ate the banana bread.

As we flew, and as he read the in-flight magazine, his eyes darted everywhere: through the slice of space between the seats in front of us, down the aisle, across the aisle, towards the back but never, or so it seemed, towards me. I thought to myself he definitely has some kind of attention disorder. The darting unsettled me. The flight attendant came by with drinks & snacks. She handed me a tiny package of biscotti. I asked for pretzels, in fact I said, "Do you have anything salty?" The man looked over at me during this exchange. On second thought I think I said,"Do you have anything that's not sweet?" and then I probably said the salty line. The plane lady did have something but she didn't look happy about giving it to me. It: a tiny bag, big enough for three bites. She then turned to the man and remarked how she had seen him a week or so ago, and then she walked off. The man ate the biscotti, then turned to me and said, "Yes, these are sweet." He said this with a bit of surprise. I decided not to point out that they were cookies, which are intrinsically sweet. He then ate his un-branded protein bar. As he ate it he smoothed down the wrapper in order to review the ingredients.

At this point he moved from the in-flight magazine to his book. Opening it up I noticed the headings–the book seemed like a combination bible and self-help book. The bold headings said things like, How To Talk To Your Children, followed by a short paragraph. It was at this point I recalled that the man had been on my flight eight days ago, from LA to Sun Valley. Reading the same book. He had sat across the aisle from me and while I couldn't read the words, I recognized the format. Do you ever notice the same people on a flight, you notice them on your outbound and then recall them on the inbound? I do. I'm both amazed it happens and impressed my memory captures their faces long enough to categorize them and to pull them back up when seen again (man on plane, January 9th). It's as if my brain is one of those microfiche machines, less controlled but always impressive when the data is returned.

When we finally land at LAX he stands up and pulls his things out from the overhead bin: a pair of white sneakers, a cane, and a plastic bag that says the Virgin Islands. "Have a nice trip home," he says. As I thank him, and, as I write this now, I wonder at my minds ability to see (visual) and to read (verbal) simultaneously. I wondered what to do with the useless information I had just catalogued on our two-hour flight. Now that it's down here maybe I'll have room for other things. Boarding my flight to JFK, I find my seat,  open my book and look to my right. Well, hello seat 19J...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Great for the Plane

I've decided there should be a new category of films. Along with Thrillers, Romantic Comedies, Action & Adventure, Drama, Chick Flicks, Bromances and the like, I think we need a new category called Great For The Plane. I just watched a film tonight called Morning Glory. Utterly basic in its premise and storyline but you know what, it totally made me happy through and through. Can I recommend it to friends? Well, I'm not sure. If it had it's own category, something that says Yes, It's Good But.

But, it's not Oscar good or art house good or Sundance good or date good or anything like that good. It's just a wonderful way to spend two hours with a smile on your face. Who wouldn't want to pass two hours on a plane (or late at night) with relative ease? I can think of a few other films to include in this category: About A Boy, Sliding Doors, No Reservations, Hitch, Friends With Benefits and Lucky Seven. Do you have some you can add to the category? Leave a comment if you do. Maybe if we get enough Netflix will add the category.

UPDATE: I just flew to NYC from Los Angeles on American Airlines and while I have dreamed up this new movie category I'd like to go on the record and say that many airlines are doing a terrible job with their own category. The movie shown on my flight was Footloose. Not the original starring Kevin Bacon but a remake. A Remake! How many times have you been on a flight where the movie featured is something you can't bare to watch?

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Look Back At 2011.

When the new year hits we always seem to look ahead but then I thought, why not take a second to look back at 2011 and review what the heck I actually accomplished. It's my own little top 10 list that doesn't involve films, books or movies.

Top 10 Things I Did in 2011

10. Learned to skate ski in Idaho. (February 2011)
9. Attended my first SXSW with Derek and ALV. (March 2011)
8. Registered for Grad School. (April 2011)
7. Helped lead my first class at 18 Reasons. (April 2011)
6. Road Alpine Dam (aka Seven Sisters), a ride I had always wanted to do, but been afraid to do, with Bill and Yannis. (June 2011)
5. Packed, moved out and rented my San Francisco apartment. (June 2011)
4. Moved to NYC (July 2011)
3. Found an apartment in NYC (August 2011)
2. Found an even better apartment in NYC (November 2011)
1. Finished my first semester in my MFA program. (December 2011)

I can't wait to see what happens in 2012.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Didn't I Take A Cab.

My stairs are steep. They are narrow. I am wearing boots with a two-inch heel. As I pull my bags out the front door I eyeball them, and then I glance down those steep stairs. I wonder for just a moment if I can manage all three bags: the colossal duffel, the dense shoulder bag and the small lunch sack. No surprise that I am running late to the airport. No time to doubt my abilities, no sherpa to assist me, I shoulder the three bags and wobble slowly down the mountain. A neighbor on the second floor comes out her front door, looks up at me and says nothing. Ok, so maybe it's early, but she doesn't offer any help, doesn't offer a grimace to commiserate with me, if only to share in the pain by a turn of her lips. She just heads down the stairs, leading the way like a helpless guide. Continuing my downward spiral, just a little behind the nameless neighbor, I get down to the ground floor and make my way through the narrow hall towards the two front doors I must maneuver next. The first door you have to turn a handle and pull towards you. The second door, once you've made it through the first, has a large red button you must push (which then emits a warning buzz, which I've never quite understood) and then you pull the door in. The neighbor has made it through both doors, without a single glance back.

Exiting the complicated 2-door entry I stop on the street, confronted by the frigid air. The cold slices through me despite the heat I've just generated from the journey out the building. I decide not to put my gloves or hat on–the effort out the building already has me huffing and I think the heat is enough to take care of my extremities. Leaning down I pick up the handle to the giant duffel bag and begin the four block journey. As I pull it along I am slightly ashamed at the largeness of it, like it shouts to everyone that I don't know how to pack light. Three minutes later, proven dramatically wrong about heat spreading, I stop to put on my gloves and hat. The three minute exposure to the early morning wind is already too much; my hands are pink and stinging.

Walking again I can feel my torso throwing off more heat. I want to unzip my jacket. Again: foolish thought. As I near the station entrance, I mentally count off the steps remaining to boarding the train: down one flight of stairs, through the turnstile, wait on platform. Three more to go. I make it down the stairs without sideswiping any humans. Approaching the turnstile I realize there's no way we can all fit through. I drop the bag that feels as heavy as a dead horse, should I have ever felt the weight of a dead horse, and I ask the subway attendant what to do. She looks at me like I'm an idiot and says, "Swipe your card at any turnstile over there (pointing left), then walk through that gate over there (pointing right)." I do exactly as she instructs and make it to the platform just in time for an M train to pull up–it's not the train I need so I stand there and try to compose myself. I am sweating profusely and I feel weak.

As the M-train pulls away I look across the tracks to the other direction to see a J-train pulling up. That's when I realize I am on the wrong side of the tracks. Not only am I missing the train I need but I have unanticipated stairs ahead of me. I heft my bags up and onto my shoulders, move down a long flight of stairs, walk over to the other side and tread (slowly) up the final two flights of stairs to the correct platform. I throw my bags down, I rip off my leather jacket and I wonder to myself for the hundredth time: why didn't I take a cab?