Run-On, Rambling Letter from New York

May 19th, 2015  |  Published in May 2015

Lone surviving tree at World Trade Center site

From LGA, cab to the Bowery via the Williamsburg bridge (that much I’ve learned), the 6 train to 51st, walk to D. Wigmore Gallery in the Crown Building on 5th Avenue at 57th to see the 1960’s Op Art of Tadasky, eye wobbling crazy candy in a serene and classic mid-town gallery, then a short walk to the Fuller Building (remember the Fuller Brush Company?) on 57th and up to the Alexandre Gallery, the walls chock full of great stuff, including a show of Emily Nelligan’s elegant charcoal drawings paired with her late husband Marvin Bileck’s etchings, an understated antidote to the Tadasky’s psychedelic-lolly-pops– Nelligan’s charcoals are small wonders, foggy and mysterious, yet detailed and evocative, they come from a 90-something year old Mainer who has really only been discovered in recent years and is one of the many fine Maine or part time Maine landscape artists (many of whom the Alexandre Gallery seems to handle) such as Lois Dodd, Neil Welliver, Fairfield Porter (even Alex Katz in his landscape mode), and worth a visit as are, I’m sure, other mid-town “academic” galleries, but time to cram my way onto the 6 back downtown to meet at Primi, corner of Bowery and Bond for, what else…a Manhatten, some food and a visit.

Day 2 and a nice walk cross-town to pick up the Highline and saunter North to whatever stairway takes you down into the steroidal world of Chelsea and to the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery at 19th Street and 11th Avenue where Alma Thomas, deceased, African-American, mid-century abstract expressionist painter who painted in multi-color daubs, streamed into perfect rectangular or circular paintings that make you want to be a hedge fund manager so you could afford one or two, and it wouldn’t really matter which ones because they’re all great and they make you smile and the space at Rosenfeld is sunlit and beautiful and New York and on and on, and not a panhandler in sight, not at the street corners with their hand lettered cardboard signs like at every other corner here in Cincinnati, where the unemployment stands at 4.5%, but that’s hard to believe because 4.5% of the city is standing on street corners with cardboard signs and at least another 4.5% must be just hanging out smoking weed, and I’m sympathetic and probably give them a buck 50% of the time, all of which has very little to do with Alma Thomas’ great art, but does have something to do with Manhatten getting so scrubbed-clean in the last couple decades so the masters of the universe can stroll around and buy beautiful or gimmicky art without guilt, and walk, as I then did, to Eately at the corner of fifth and 23rd street, a massive market,  where all manner of foodie hysteria abounds, the huge space broken into a maze of small specialty markets and restaurants, be it pasta, olives, fresh produce, pastries, wine, meats, fish, sauces, coffee and you’re lost in this maze, doubling back and spiraling out, then sitting for a soup and panini and scurrying out to the relative sanity of the street, but already wishing you could carry a  sustainable bag of fine groceries home, except you’re not headed home but to the hotel and then an early show at the Jazz Standard, Vijay Iyer, a pianist and his  band, a unique jazz trio, very rhythmic, at times avant-garde, at times melodic and forceful, building on the same theme to a near-frenzy, and they serve pretty-damn-good BBQ, so it’s a fine day’s end.

Alma Thomas paintings at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Day 3, off to MOMA to see the Jacob Lawrence show, the Migration series of 60 paintings, all together for the first time in many years, as MOMA owns every other one in the series and the Phillips Collection owns the other every other one, so even though I’d seen half years ago at the Phillips, the entire narrative is much better in the whole—it tells the story of African-American 1930’s migration from the South to the Northern urban areas, seeking work in industry, populating tenements, making great music and becoming integral to those cities—Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and others—and Lawrence wrote the captions or narrative before he then painted them in assembly line fashion, pencil outline for all sixty, followed by whatever color, say blue for all sixty, then to the next color for all sixty, so the whole body has a graphic-like consistency of color and it’s like this great storybook stretched out over four museum walls, with some ancillary works in adjacent rooms and even a room that focuses on the music and artists that were spawned by the migration, making for a powerful lesson in art and history, but that’s it for high-brow, time to have lunch and wander the streets, work our way back downtown, through beautiful Grand Central to the subway to Bleecker Street, then later to a great dinner at Le Philosophe, one of so many great East Village, Noho, West Village bistros, this one Frenchy and near perfect, the walk back just a couple of blocks, but past Bowery Electric, one block north of the former CBGB’s but of that era, so how could we resist a 9:00 show, the Fleshtones, one of NYC’s venerable 70’s-80’s garage rock bands, still having fun with their sloppy bar room rock, the crowd full of aging downtown New York rockers, Ramone haircuts and black leather, the cave-like basement club packed, standing, hot and sweaty, beer-fueled and proof that people well into their 50s or even SIXTY can still engage in youthful passions and bookend their days with the high-brow and the low-brow.

The Fleshtones at Bowery Electric

Day Four: it’s time I visited the World Trade Center site and I’m glad I did as the fountains are beautiful, sort of fountains in reverse, as they flow down into negative space, rectangular and dark, making a beautiful statement about loss, in the same way the Maya Lin Viet Nam Memorial in DC is beautiful and effective and affective, and then there is the lone surviving tree from THAT DAY and it’s a pear tree in full and glorious bloom, but the actual 9/11 Museum is backed up with a long line of people and I have to pass on it, so we walk toward the river and along a snaking park fronting the river and surrounded by major new development, high-end apartments and offices and an indoor mall of fine stores and restaurants that all lack a little of New York’s personality so that I feel compelled to cab back toward Soho and have lunch there before it’s time to head back to LGA, trip over.

–Kevin Ott

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