Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flatiron in my back yard

For a long time now I've been plotting and scheming a move to NYC and here we are.... doing it. David shifted his work base from the northern VA suburbs of Washington DC to the Manhattan office and we rented an apartment in the Flatiron district. As easy as that?! Well no, actually behind the scenes  it's a logistical nightmare, fraught with angst, second guessing and profound exhaustion. But on the whole it's exactly what I interesting diversion from the "aging in place" scenario (aging somewhere completely different) and a 5 year fling before retirement. So when I'm pounding the concrete walking 5 blocks and back in the searing heat just to buy a light bulb from Home Depot, thinking "who's big idea was THIS?" I have only myself to blame.

We chose the Flatiron district for several reasons, it's busy and touristy but it's within walking distance (for hikers such as ourselves) of the office and all our favorite downtown haunts. There's good food and coffee on hand. Plus you can see sky, there's a lovely little city park with music and art events happening and of course there's that omnipresent, iconic Flatiron building overseeing it all.

Here she is in the early morning before the crowds converge. Isn't she beautiful? I have always been vaguely interested in this building but now I have a distinct feeling of falling in love. So elegant and skinny, such stunning architecture just outside my front door. This is where I drink my morning coffee from now on, in the company of a typical city mix of the prosperous and the homeless, the energized and the jaded.

 Madison Square Park 

 Falun Gong, apparently.

I'm always impressed by the dedication required to lug a piano to a park.  

We've gone from this.....

to this.....

Home Sweet Home! 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

Ever since we first saw his enormous fantastical chandeliers at the Corcoran in DC I've been a big fan of Dale Chihuly's glasswork. My old post on our Studio 155 exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum last year shows the beautiful amorphous Chihuly glass shapes displayed against the hallway windows there. I'm longing to visit his main working studio in Tacoma,Washington, but it's 3,000 miles away on the west coast, as far away from Virginia as England!
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I did get to Seattle for a few days, which is just north of Tacoma. I was accompanying Chloe to her annual Art Therapy Assoc convention and one of the big attractions for me, other than some quality mother/daughter bonding time, was the new Chihuly gallery on the campus of the 1962 World's Fair. It turned out we arrived a day early for Chloe's sessions (that's my girl!) so we had a whole day free to enjoy ourselves.

The gallery is laid out in separate, themed rooms. Many of the exhibits, such as this one, are in the dark and on a mirrored surface so the reflection is highlighted along with the glass. I should also say they are enormous, this was several feet high and stretched far to the right and the left. It reminds me of flamingoes.

This is a detail of a HUGE one, reminiscent of the chandeliers. 


This is a ceiling in a walkway between 2 rooms. Everyone was craning their heads up, trying hard to take a photo that would begin to do it justice.

Details from ceiling......

                                                                Absolutely gorgeous!

                     This whole room was taken up by a gondola of glass on a mirrored floor.

                          These photos are of a massive glass forest you could walk right round.

                              Some of Chihuly's energetic drawings and paintings are also on display.

By this time it was such a visual overload experience, even the neon exit sign looked pretty special!                                          

In the gift shop the umbrellas had been hung from above to echo the ceiling height exhibits. I quite wish I'd bought one now. 

The gallery is called Garden and Glass. The sheer scale of this magnificent room! It's a transition to the outdoor garden exhibits. The weather is rather like Britain..... grey skies and drizzle. 

Outside that same room you can see how the landscaping is carefully color co-ordinated with the glass, so the exhibits are quite camouflaged. The photo above shows how the orange of the glass flowers in the transition room behind is echoed by the beautiful foliage. You almost don't notice the massive amethyst tower and the orbs that look like boulders.

The shapes and colors are so organic, sometimes you have to look carefully to see the glass.

My lovely daughter! We're in beautiful Seattle and the weather is good enough to eat outdoors. What could be nicer?

Friday, July 5, 2013

No disappointment

This year's July 4th firework display at Wintergreen Resort, VA was like no other I've seen. It had rained on and off all day despite a better forecast, and we wondered whether it would be canceled. Hard to do last minute though as there were bands booked to play, craft stalls, food vendors etc already set up and it's always a very well attended event. So they obviously decided the show must go on.

By 9.30 pm the clouds were low over the ski slope and there must have been a lot of moisture in the air. The fireworks produced their own smoke which got trapped in the atmosphere and the effect was as if they were going off behind a gauze curtain, even the bangs seemed muffled. I thought it was quite a beautiful effect, albeit low key compared to the normal colorful show. The crowd usually "ooooh"s and "aaaaah"s and the occasional child usually has a crying fit, but there was none of that this time, the atmosphere was very subdued.

                                                    The metal pole is a snowmaker.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chaos, Couture and Impressionism

A visit to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in NY is akin to going to Ikea for me in some ways. Granted, the items on view are beyond comparison, but the effect both have on me is very similar.... 1/ I wanted to be there,  2/ I'm completely overwhelmed, 3/ I can't easily identify the way out of the maze. Instant panicky fatigue sets in.

Last week I had my most positive experience so far at the Met. All the familiar anxiety symptoms were present but it was well worth suffering for. In a very under marketed (in my opinion) way there was a superb juxtaposition of 2 exhibitions, the first one being Chaos to Couture, a fashion exhibit which brilliantly showed how the punk street fashion of the '70s ended up influencing the major fashion houses like Givenchy, Prada etc. Beautiful clothing, room after room of it, ...... the things that you and I were wearing back then, or at least observing, and examples of the way it has since been adopted and re-marketed as high fashion. It was FABULOUS, if you like that sort of thing. A magnificent shrine to the evolution of the People's politically and socially stimulated creativity, factoring in our lack of money which made the black plastic garbage bags, the safety pins and torn, embellished t shirts so attractive as a fashion statement,  to the glamorous high end fashion industry's cashing in on it over the subsequent decades.
Why don't I have photos? Because sadly the Met won't allow it and I don't have an iphone to be discreetly rebellious with.

Walking 40 blocks up 5th Avenue the next day it occurred to me to test the theory by looking in all the designer windows. Not a punk inspired garment in sight, not one! I got very excited when Bergdorf Goodman had some definitely '70s derivative stuff in it, but sadly it transpired that they were a sponsor of the exhibition so that didn't count. I do buy into the premise though, the exhibits definitely bear that out. I don't believe that New Yorkers have ever worn that stuff to the extent that Londoners did, and still do.

Window gazing in the sunshine

Didn't I used to know you?

The next door exhibit was entitled Impressionism:  Fashion to Modernity.
I was very enthusiastic to see it, mainly because I really appreciated the implied link between the two and also, though on one hand I feel like I've seen too much Impressionism to be very impressed anymore, respect is definitely due.

Apparently it occurred to the Impressionists to paint people in the garments they were wearing at the time, pictures of stylish men and women reflecting the spirit of the age.  This caused a considerable outrage in the Art community. Their pictures were banned from major exhibitions and ridiculed for lack of classicism.  Who would think it would be so controversial?
Each room of the exhibition was devoted to a theme.... black dresses, white dresses, daydresses, accessories, menswear, umbrellas, corsets....  There were actual garments, as depicted in the paintings, preserved behind glass. It was by far the most endearing glimpse into the lives of the Impressionists I have ever had. They revealed themselves as not only brave, ground breaking artists, but real men and women leading real lives who posed their long suffering family members again and again in different outfits in order to complete a painting and bucked convention as surely as the punks of the 1970s.

My favorite painting in the exhibition, from the Musee D'Orsay, Paris,.... just stunning, the composition and the beautiful light....  In The Conservatory (Madame Bartholome) painted by her husband, an artist I didn't know at all, circa 1881. She died a few years later but he still had her lovely outfit and here it is today in New York.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Brian Eno, New York

Eno then.....

......Eno now

David's birthday last week and we were going to be in NY so I scouted around for something that would interest him. Turned out that there was the perfect event..... an audiovisual installation by Brian Eno and then a related lecture by him at the Great Hall at Cooper Union a few days later.

Problem was, I was late to the party and the lecture was already sold out. So for the first time ever I succumbed and responded to an online ad for tickets at outrageously inflated rates. They arrived overnight in a plain wrapper with no accompanying paperwork, looking as suspicious as can be, but turned out to be legit. (Thank goodness, or it would have been embarrassing at the door)  Albeit 5x original price, it was worth every penny. The installation was very interesting but it added a lot to the experience to hear him explain it all.

77 Million Paintings

296 original projected light works,  patterns and colors overlaid randomly within a grid, several at a time, very slowly fading in and out in different combinations. Eno's gentle Ambient music is also arbitrarily generated so you never see and hear the same image.

We entered a large, dark warehouse space. There were a few velvet sofas to sit on, a giant projection on the wall and some cones on the floor. It had a rather somber, church like atmosphere.

You can just see the silhouette of 2 people sitting on a sofa several feet from the wall, to get the scale of the projection

It's so gradual I didn't notice the image was changing at first and I thought it was all too minimalist for my jumpy brain to tolerate for long, but gradually I relaxed and began to really enjoy it. We sat down and stayed half an hour or so and as we left I noticed a guy on the sofa behind us was fast asleep and snoring. Eno said over the years he's observed this behavior many times, people will come in and scope it out, maybe with some skepticism, then get interested enough to sit down, then fall fast asleep. (This being a good thing!)

In Hove, UK, a new private hospital has built a permanent small relaxation room showing the installation for patients undergoing cancer treatment to "think, take stock and relax", the thought being that it helps lower anxiety levels, blood pressure and so on. A surgeon commissioned it after noticing his very hyper mother calm down when seeing 77 Million Paintings at a festival. Eno also mentioned that over the years many women have told him they chose his music to give birth to.

We were lucky with the lecture. He said people always want to hear about the past but he prefers to talk about the present and the future. However, he was making an exception in this case and putting this work into the larger context. So we were treated to a very entertaining couple of hours with a slideshow of his life starting right back at childhood, showing many of his early influences (I took note of Mondrian and Terry Riley's IN C as I could see both of those in this work) and the musical and artistic collaborations he's been involved in over the years. A lot of candid, behind the scenes shots of him working with Roxy Music, Fripp, David Byrne, Bowie, U2 etc. And artwork going back to his first prize winning drawing as a child in Woodbridge, Suffolk, through art school in the '70s, to today.

He explained in some detail his creative thought processes and showed slides of how, practically, he sets about putting things into action. As an endorsement of what he espoused..... the idea that you can hold 2 opposing thoughts in your head at once about art,  A/ "that's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life" and B/ "I could do that!"....... we both came away very inspired to get on with life and just DO things instead of sitting around endlessly thinking about it.

photos...., David's illicit Cooper Union shot, a few of the many, many we took in midtown, show handout.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Billy Bragg at the Birchmere

For a self proclaimed journal blogger, I let a lot go under the bridge undocumented. This week was particularly memorable however as we saw Billy Bragg at the Birchmere: a shared table, dinner club type of venue just outside Washington DC. We've seen many favorites there over the last 25 years.... Steeleye, Fairport, String Band, Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn, Livingston Taylor.... you get the picture.

Vegas....  are we having fun yet? 

David had been in Las Vegas a few days at the annual company/customer shindig. I include this photo in case anyone wonders why I don't go with him. He assures me they were handed these props purely for the shoot.

Anyway.... I picked him up at the airport, he recovered a little and then we hit the rush hour beltway traffic. It wasn't ideal timing but it was worth the effort. Quite a considerable cultural contrast, straight from the extraordinary glitziness of Vegas to the down to earthness of a Billy Bragg concert.... part overt Socialist political rally as we sing about Power of the Unions backed by the "anti Fascist rhythm section", part stand up comedy act as he is very funny, part tear jerker as he still throws in the occasional poignant love song just to throw you off guard. He didn't seem to have changed much since the "80s when we last saw him in Leeds.  A bit older, (he mentioned his full beard "hiding a multitude of chins")

You'd think the audience for a Billy Bragg concert would be pretty self selecting but it turned out the young couple we were sitting with were both Republicans. "I just don't agree with that" said the mild mannered, beautiful Stephanie, a Capitol Hill lobbyist from Alabama, when he talked about the British National Health System and the inability of the rest of the world to understand America's reluctance to provide universal health care for its citizens.
Proof, possibly, of the incendiary effect of such an unusually (for here) left wing tone to the evening was a little skirmish at a table near us of the "F... you" "No, F.... YOU" variety. That sort of thing just never happens normally.

This concert was one of those times I feel as if a neurosurgeon has stuck a probe into my brain and touched a little area that stimulates my Britishness as if to remind me it's my "real self". The rest of the time I feel like an American with a British accent.

After the show we joined the line for the meet and greet. We told Billy Bragg the first time we left our  daughter with a babysitter was to see him in concert. She's 30 now. You can see that we were a lot more excited than he was, but he couldn't have been nicer.

The patient smile of a seasoned after show hand shaker.

On the way home David accidentally crossed a bridge into the city. It's easily done, especially when you're jet lagged..... one false move and there's no way out of the situation, you've just got to add another 15 minutes onto your ETA back home. I snapped this picture of the Lincoln Memorial out of the car window to take my mind off it, in the interest of maintaining marital harmony.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Sublime to the Ridiculous

I am much better at planning ahead than seizing the day, a lot of time can drift emptily by while I make detailed itineraries for the future.  After a typical post weekend Monday slump yesterday, consisting of too much desultory Facebook monitoring and NPR,  I hit on a new way to counteract it: instead of the bucket list approach, which I find can trigger a little demotivating depression,  I decided to designate one day a week as a vacation day..... what would I do today if I'd gone to a lot of trouble and expense to be here?

My number one choice would have been to see the Durer exhibition at the National Gallery but DC was a zoo because the Supreme Court was debating same sex marriage and thousands of people were demonstrating for and against. That in itself could have been interesting, but we live in (officially now) the worst area in the country for traffic and I just was not up for that.

So, a mixture of reliving last week's light show and homesickness for England led me to the Cathedral.

 Shades of home! But this "neogothic" cathedral, the sixth largest in the world, was only completed in 1990.

This is the mandala "Rose window", (seen from the front on the exterior shot). On a sunny day it projects its image beautifully onto the nearby wall.

One of my favorites, although it's modern design is out of synch with the rest of them, this is the Space Window.  It incorporates a piece of lunar rock from the Sea Of Tranquillity donated to the Cathedral by NASA in 1974. The rock, in the center of the top circle, is enclosed between 2 pieces of tempered glass and sealed with stainless steel in a nitrogen environment to prevent deterioration. Well, that's what Wikipedia says anyway.

There's nothing particularly special about this window except it's position. The sun catches it and sets it on fire. The colors on the left are the reflection on a stone column.

I am always intrigued by the beautiful reflected light patterns on the stone architecture and marble flooring tiles.

These lovely reflections from the top level of windows are on a massive net. It's been strung right across the ceiling of the Cathedral because there's repair work in progress after earthquake damage in 2011.

Scaffolding and "hard hat" areas all around as repair work commences after much fund raising

Some of the pieces that fell off in the earthquake

Outside there are designated parking spaces for Cathedral officials. Next to the Bishop of Washington (awol, but, to be fair, it was lunchtime) I found this interesting job description.....

On behalf of the Ordinary, I would like to thank him for showing up today in his nice silver Lexus :)

Then onwards to the gift shop, full of what my parents used to call "knasty knick knacks". They would not have been disappointed!

Gargoyles and angels are in charge of t shirt sales and taking it very seriously....

....... in with the bibles I found some apocryphal gospels....... 

....... a design competition is to be thanked for the Star Wars inspired gargoyle and it is featured very prominently.....

There was a lot more tackiness but I began to feel a little too jaded to record it and it was a relief to step back outside again. In the Bishop's garden I found these very appropriate Lenten roses

To get my shot of the full frontage of the Cathedral I had to keep moving backwards over the lawn until I reached the far fence, whereupon I stumbled upon a most suspicious looking package in the undergrowth. It turned out to be reassuringly labeled on the duct tape. Well, it's not going to say "explosives" is it?